Education Career Services

July 20, 2010

Managing Upward

Submitted by Rob Swanson, CPRW

An executive is, by definition, a knowledge-worker possessing the power to deliver results.  In this regard, communication, motivation, and various “soft” skills are required.  In other words, knowledge, in and of itself, makes NOT an executive. 

Communication is critical; we know that, many of us read books on becoming more effective communicators, and yet we focus those hard won skills downward and perhaps sideways – to those who enact our plans – but do we focus them upward?  Not just for buy-in, but for management of our upstream directors?

Managing upward…” It sounds almost subversive, doesn’t it?  We manage our direct reports not our boss.  But if you think about it, you will realize your best direct reports are those who manage you!  There is very little guesswork involved with your top employees.  They will let you know of their success (or of their failure, rest assured). 

Since most executives are responsible for “functional” duties as well as planning, attention is visited there with validation or correction.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to become consumed by the functional and forsake the intellectual side of the job; fine if you want to be a functionary, but to be a strategic partner in growing the company you must generate ideas, document them and communicate them upward.

Keep your director informed of what you’re working on.

Unlike functional work, which has standardized procedures, knowledge work is freeform.  You may – and should – have an effective way of generating ideas (charting, mapping, brainstorming, etc.) but it will be your way.

Managing upward has several components:

Being clear about what your directors expect of you.  This is your responsibility not theirs.

Being clear about what you expect from your director.  What do you expect?  If you want weekly evaluations, prefer a certain form of communication, want a director’s presence (or lack thereof) make sure it is agreed upon and understood by the boss.

Coordinate priorities.  Have a discussion about what’s important and what’s not.  Be clear, specific, and get buy in.

Establish clear forms of evaluation. Don’t wait for quarterly reviews; seek feedback in a manner that is acceptable and consistent.

Negotiate methods for directors to be effective in helping you.  Your job is to make your company great; directors don’t want to hinder that effort and, indeed, want to strengthen it.  Ideally, every action is supposed to increase productivity; management likely has a purpose for their action and if it isn’t working, help them fix it.

*   Be a solutions provider, not a problem reporter.  You were hired to make things work better.  Always bring a solution when presenting a problem.  If you don’t have a perfect solution, at least provide a) a logical analysis of the problem, b) a goal to be achieved, and c) at least a partial solution.  Take ownership of problems and work to alleviate them; don’t drop them into management’s lap like a poison snake.

Managing upward is simple communication to facilitate effectiveness.  The best employee is one who helps upper management manage him or her optimally.

Thanks Robert, your timely submissions have been missed.



February 8, 2010

A Receptionist by Any Other Name

Occupying a hiring position for many years, I rely on nonconventional ways to filter through candidates quickly (on paper and in person).  Place yourself in my shoes for a minute and imagine the wasted time it takes to review a hand-load of under-qualified non-motivated people looking for a paycheck for doing as little as possible. 

With this said, how many readers fall into the pushing-the-envelope category?  I did see a few hands begin to rise.  Proving yourself as a viable and respectful candidate begins before you leave the house or submit an application.  The amount of preparation and diligence can’t be fooled; it’s obvious for the trained executive.  With this said, if you are not serious, don’t waste anyone’s time, even your own.

Back to the basics for a second; there I was, a Vice President of Operations with a sudden burden to interview and hire quality employees.  Not only is the chore to secure innovative employees time consuming, I have to perform my regular ten hour responsibilities.  Given this, shortcuts are not only common, they are demanded.  A primary shortcut many executives and hiring managers take advantage of is right in front as you open the door.

For this segment, we will summarize the “pre-interview” impression and rapid filtering system known globally as “receptionist respect” (Okay, so I just came up with that term).  In other words, even before you meet me, you meet me through the eyes and ears of my receptionist.

Receptionists are informed to provide feedback to specific preset questions only she (or he) knows.  These questions assist in the decision making process and are scored before the candidate and hiring executive shake hands.  Let’s take a sample peek at a few questions YOU are being graded upon BEFORE the interview begins.  This is not an all-inclusive list and varies per company (but that’s a little secret you did not hear from me):

          * Was the candidate respectful to you?  This includes a proper greeting and smile
          * Did the candidate arrive at the proper time and appear prepared
          * Did the candidate possess a positive attitude
          * Is the candidate dressed appropriately
          * On a scale of 1-10, what is your overall impression

The above are a few items used by many hiring executives to get a “first” impression—before the official first impression.

So, what do you do and how can you transform this information into your advantage?  The easiest and most effective way to form a pre-first impression is to be respectful to everyone you encounter—remember behavior and attitude can be developed from the parking lot to the elevator and to any chance intersection.

Breaking it down: keep a solid attitude and display professional courtesy at ALL times.  You may be surprised at how influential those you meet in typical settings are in the hiring process loop.  You may also be surprised at the number of well-qualified candidates who lost the edge due to not preparing for the pre-first impression. 

You DO have the power to shape your career destiny.

Always available to help,


March 26, 2009

Is FEAR controlling your career?



 Being an executive career coach, writer, and textbook author, I discuss career issues daily with individuals across all industries, levels, geographic regions, and experience.  For those allowing fear to control your career, you are not alone.


How does one know if fear controls your career?  An incomplete listing vicariously experienced within the past month includes:


  • Angry at a world for not giving you the chance to prove yourself
  • Depressed and wondering if waking up is worth the effort
  • Staying home, rarely networking with friends, social groups, or professional associations
  • Ready to give up before trying
  • Feeling under-qualified for positions you are clearly qualified to handle


In today’s tight economy and angry-mob attitude, what can we do to control our career?  I believe the first step is to recognize our own value.  Believe it or not, uniqueness is a benefit in many arenas.  But before anyone is able to recognize value, confidence must be addressed.  From the classroom to seasoned professionals, displaying confidence is an asset many are falling short on.  No doubt some have been rejected so many times that confidence can be a limited resource.  Still, we need to strap the boots on every day and accept progress, not regress.


I hear the outcry and am reminded daily that rejection is a part of life.  On a personal note, I wrote a wonderful piece of fiction several years ago (450+ pages of adventure and thrills), believed it to be an instant classic, and sent it out for publishing consideration…


Result: over 50 rejections in 6 months (any publishers looking for a great piece of literature?).  Perhaps this is not the example I should use?  Then again, I am a published author now (just not from my creative work—yet!) and colleges, universities, libraries, and career-minded individuals are receiving benefit from my pages.


For too long I allowed fear to control my life, my career.  For those ready to take control, the first steps are hard…accept that there will always be struggles, no matter the number of steps; and remind yourself that “easy” is also a four-letter word.


Today is the day to take control of your career by:


  • Not being angry at the world; individually one can change the world one step at a time
  • Throwing off the cloak of depression; confidence is a natural reaction to value—and we all have value
  • Packaging yourself and letting the world know who you are; the total package secures offers
  • Never allowing obstacles outside of our control to dictate action
  • Knowing the contributions you will make and displaying those contributions in a way that draws hiring managers to you; recent graduates, transitioning professionals, and entry-level candidates all possess skills – do not sell yourself short

 Fear and anger are nasty words and in my house, they are words without a room to call their own.  With this submission, I will conclude by visiting a statement from a rather old/but relevant movie; many will recognize its origin:


I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!


Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

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February 20, 2009

Resume Darwinism

Survival of the fittest;” these four words highlight our current economic and employment condition.  According to NPR, global layoffs for 2009 alone will alter 50 million families negatively.  To remain on top, the best defense is a strong offense: one must actively engage in a proactive approach in their career management strategy or suffer the consequences.


The “resume” has changed over the last ten years, dramatically over the past two years.  The days of “resume as biography” are extinct and with it passive verbiage, extended length, and over-sized generalities and have been replaced by “resume as marketing tool” with a leaner, stronger, and metric-based approach.  Take a moment to objectively review your resume, taking specific note on its:


  • Focus: clear, concise
  • Tone: aggressive, confident
  • Verbiage: lean, metric-based, non-repetitive
  • Appearance: audience focused, ideal length
  • Strength: survivor or soon to be extinct

We have all seen significant changes within the social, cultural, political, and economical arena.  Adaptation is no secret and key to survival.  Resume expectations have also progressed.  The Career Management Alliance states it clearly: to survive, executives must update their resume once a year or will fall prey to those displaying progression.


Yesterday’s biographical essay has now been replaced by a marketing resume.  Has yours?  There is no better time than now.  As a professional resume writer, I have seen a ton of outdated material.  If you are a student or a seasoned executive, you owe it to yourself (and future) to review your documents often and objectively. 


If you need any quick reviews or have specific questions, do not hesitate to contact me via blog or email address.


Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

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February 18, 2009

They Come Bearing Gifts

windows-vista-icon1I had one candidate bring me flowers at the interview; another brought donuts and coffee (had they been Krispy Kreme, he might well be CEO by now); one fellow tried to give me Orlando Magic tickets, bless their hearts.


Payola?  Desperation?


Maybe, but I choose to believe they understood interviewing is seldom enjoyable for the hiring manager.  Tangible gifts, of course, aren’t the right way to go; being prepared and upbeat is.


Except in rare circumstances, a hiring manager has a full-time job apart from interviewing.  It is a necessary evil fraught with things to make that manager feel truly crummy.  The fact is, you can only hire one person per position and you have to go through a lot of people to find that individual.  That means the manager will be dealing out a lot of rejections.  Few managers are so sadistic that such a thing is enjoyable.  Nonetheless, the interviewer is on your side; we want you to be the one so we can stop looking.  Let’s run down the candidate possibilities from my personal experience.


The Bad Interview:  The candidate sits like a lump and answers questions in one or two word replies.  Or shrugs.  Conversely, there’s the candidate that runs off at the mouth and never answers the questions.  I ache for these people.  They probably have value but can’t express it, so there’s nothing I can do for them.  If I have to pull teeth to learn anything meaningful, you’re blacklisted.


The Bad Candidate Who Isn’t Qualified:  She thought she was perfect for the job and I disagreed. Normally not a problem but she wouldn’t let go.  Even when I told her I need these certain skills she didn’t have (and wasn’t teachable), she argued with me.  Never a winner.  In another similar instance, he begged.  Personally, I’d rather argue; at least there’s some vindication in say no.


The Bad Candidate Who Is Qualified:  He nailed the requirements, but his demeanor was so uptight and arrogant that there was no way I’d hire him.  Other such candidates include the gossip who could do the work but would be so busy chatting the work wouldn’t get done.  Another is the profanity captain who couldn’t keep a civil tongue in just a half-hour interview.


The Great Candidate Who Isn’t Qualified:  He came in wearing dreadlocks and a three-piece suit… and made it work.  Within moments I knew this articulate, talented fellow had every skill that I didn’t need and none that I did; he was such a great interview I wanted to hire him but I couldn’t.  I was completely impressed and told him so; I just didn’t have anything for him.  I remember this young man’s name (a feat for me) and have his resume handy all the time.  Even if I don’t have a position for him, I keep my ears open for other opportunities I can recommend him for.


The Great Candidate Who Is Qualified: You know you have magic right away.  Professional, up beat disposition; meets all the requirements and seems a good fit for the team.  This is what the interviewer prays for.  Little bumps are easily overlooked (one said, “I know I talk too fast, can’t do anything about it, sorry” with a great big smile.  She also brought in a well organized portfolio that was outstanding.  At that point I was afraid I couldn’t afford her.  Fortunately we came to an understanding and she’s the best employee I’ve ever hired.)


Do you see how important it is to be a great candidate?  Well-prepared, great presentation?  In both cases, when I hired and when I didn’t, I want nothing but the best for the candidate.  That means looking out for ways to benefit the great candidate I couldn’t hire.  I’ve received two jobs by referral from interviewers who didn’t hire me.  And to be fair…


Sometimes Hiring Managers are Wrong: I recall a conversation with one of my best employees, telling him how glad I was I hired him.  He pointed out I’d rejected him the first time he applied.  I was surprised.  “Yeah, I wore short sleeves so my tattoos showed, I had a nose rings, six earrings, and a lip ring, and I let my hair free, fanned out to my waist.”  I did recall that interview.  I’d made it short and didn’t try to break through the dark façade.  He hadn’t made it easy and I didn’t do the work.  Fortunately for me, he reapplied a few months later without the hardware, in a long-sleeve shirt, and his hair tied back in a ponytail.


Make it simple for the hiring manager; if you’re the one for the job, deliver enough information to make it clear; if you’re not, ask for a referral and move on.  The great candidate will find a good job, so be that great candidate.


Rob Swanson, CPRW, DTALM

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