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Job Search: Claiming Your Je Ne Sais Quoi!

Author : Dilip Saraf
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je ne sais quoi: French, noun phrase: An indefinable quality, something indescribable or inexpressible

Recently, I conducted an experiment to improve the selection odds of clients through the job interview process. What I found in many cases that involved my clients going through a series of long, rigorous interviews at almost all levels of screening was that they were assured of their selection, only to be rejected in a single round of a final interview, typically involving the CEO or someone with a veto power. In such cases everyone involved, including the hiring manager, starting with the recruiter, were convinced that my client was a shoo-in and the final round with the head honcho was a mere formality. What I found was, quite to the surprise of all involved, my client did not receive the offer they were expecting, with little or no insight as to what happened in such a peremptory rejection.

I started this experiment about a month or so ago and of the four candidate clients that were the use cases for this idea, three, who were going to be rejected in the final round, were turned around each getting an offer, and the fourth one is pending as of this writing.

The experiment comprised of handling the selection process with a slightly different strategy. The strategy was to develop one or more champion(s) during the selection process starting with your immediate hiring manager. To win someone as your ally early in the process requires diligent preparation, near-flawless interviewing skills, ongoing follow-up, and building strong relationships with everyone in the interview chain, especially with those whom you want as your champions. Once you have this champion allied with you after you win their trust they will often coach you to further navigate through the interview process. They will tell you about the people you are going to meet during your subsequent interview rounds and how you can win their nods, which will take you to the next stop.

If you have come this far with someone giving you advice on how to ace the ratcheting rounds of interviews you can be sure that you have someone, who wants you to get the offer and join their team. In cases where you clear all the serious interview rounds and are told that there is yet one more final round with veto power (although no one will say that, but depending on who that one interviewer is you can infer this on your own) you need to get coached by your champion(s) so that you have the best chance of presenting yourself to this majordomo!

However, this does not mean that your winning answers are what this person is now looking for. On the contrary, they are looking for some mysterious je ne sais quoi that only that person has any calibration on. So, the best strategy you can use in this last round is to leverage all the tips your champions provided to you to ace this final round and just act normal without trying too hard to deal with the indefinable. If you go on that route to second-guess what that might be youll lose because it will show how you come across with your ersatz charms and you will vitiate your own purpose to get the final offer. Being aware of this is critical. With this in mind you have now completed your veto round with the head honcho. If you are concerned about knowing exactly what your je ne sais quoi is that they are looking for, dont worry; youll soon find out!

When your champion loops back with this head honcho with their veto power they will hear the reason why they have decided to pass on you. Because your champion has already a vested interest in protecting their desire to hire you they will dig deeper into the reason with the big boss to find out where you came up short. It is in this discussion that your champion will uncover your je ne sais quoi that the big boss was searching for.

Let me now tell you about the four cases, each one looking for that je ne sais quoi and how we overcame the objection the big boss raised, by claiming it:

Case 1: As a VP-E candidate, my client brought every attribute the hiring manager, founder (CTO) was looking for. After my client received tips from the CTO, the veto interview with the CEO went well and was about one hour. The CEO decided that my client was not aggressive enough to deal with the fractious team he was inheriting and did not have the minatory demeanor he was looking for to hold the team accountable for the slipping milestones. He told that to the hiring manager.

So, when the hiring manager called my client telling him that the CEO wants to look for another candidate who is more aggressive and mean looking, we decided to send a Thank-you note to the CTO acknowledging how he (my client) may come across as a nice guy, but also describing instances from his immediate past where he had whipped his team into shape, including firing some under performers, who were not strong team players. When the CTO saw that Thank-you note, cleverly written do showcase what they CEO felt was missing, he realized that CEO was merely judging the book by its cover. After seeing that Thank-you note the CEO changed his mind and my client got the offer the next day.

Case 2: As an SVP candidate my client had gone through five rounds of interviews with various high-level executives at a large conglomerate. His hiring manager was an EVP reporting to the CEO who had championed my client all through these five interview rounds. He was sure that the CEO would be a mere courtesy stop to get his blessing for this hire. Once again, the CEO interview was about one hour and he was looking for that je ne sais quoi to qualify my client. After that interview my client got a call from his hiring manager, EVP, and told him that the CEO felt that my client lacked the spark he was looking for to galvanize the global team, which was mostly comprised of Gen-Y and Millennials. My client was in his mid 40s. The EVP felt that this was going to be a deal breaker.

Once we knew what the CEO felt was missing in my clients attributes we wrote a detailed Thank-you note to the EVP (with the full expectation that he would pass that on to the CEO!), cleverly showcasing my clients team, which comprised of all those age groups and how he had inspired them to deliver some awesome products during his previous stints. Sure enough, that note got passed on to the CEO and he changed his mind. My client got that offer he was expecting within the next few days.

Case 3: Lead Architect: In this case my client was interviewed for a Lead Architect role at a fast-growing software product company. She had gone through four different rounds involving both technical and management interviews and was considered a shoo-in for the role. Here, too, before the offer stage my clients hiring manager called for one last round with the SVP and told her how to deal with any objections the SVP may present. So, my client prepared for that veto interview with all those inputs and felt that she did great with the SVP throughout that interview.

Once again, the hiring manager, who had championed my client called and apologized for the SVPs decision to continue looking. When pressed for more details the hiring manager told her that the SVP felt that they needed a person who was more of a manager than a nerdy architect, someone who could build a collaborative ethos across the growing organization and who could act more like a leader than as code pusher. The hiring manager told my client that although everyone loved her except the SVP, but for that attribute, she was sure that the deal was off!

Taking that input we wrote yet another Thank-you note to the hiring manager clearly showcasing how my client had worked in the previous roles to build cohesive teams across the companies and how she had led initiatives that went beyond her exceptional architectural abilities. Here, too, that note got passed on to the SVP and they decided to move forward with hiring my client in a few days.

Case 4: In this case my client was a Biz-Dev leader in large companies where he had opened up new alliances that were breakthroughs in that ecosystem. Here, too, he went through many rounds, with his immediate hiring manager becoming his champion. When the final veto round came with the CEO my client felt that he had done well, but the hiring manager came back with the show-stopper that surprised my client: He had no start-up experience!

Here, again, in our Thank-you note we responded how my client had built these entrepreneurial teams in large companies, where he had worked and how he had created that start-up ethos to get things done despite the prevailing bureaucracy. This is the response that is still pending as it just was presented a few days back. We are awaiting their final decision.

Although this idea of claiming your je ne sais quoi by waiting till the veto round is in its early stages the successes so far have been encouraging. Most candidates merely take the veto input and move on, disappointed. The main challenge here is framing that Thank-you note in a subtle yet forceful way to not betray your champions confidences and positioning it in a way that it would be presented to the veto authority! It is tricky but doable as you can see here.

Good luck!


About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.

Website: https://dilipsaraf.com/job-search-claiming-your-je-ne-sais-quoi/


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