Three Things Every Job Seeker Needs to Know, with Tia Coachman

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 254:

Three Things Every Job Seeker Needs to Know, with Tia Coachman

Airdate: July 29, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

The sponsor of our show is TopResume. Top Resume has helped hundreds of thousands of professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

What do the best job seekers have in common?

Today’s guest has hired thousands of people while working in the government, the private sector, and the nonprofit world.

And she says, the most successful applicants always know three things about themselves.

Joining me to talk about this is Tia Coachman.

She’s the founder of Affirma Consultancy.  Her company provides bespoke human resources and executive search services.

Tia joins us today from Portland, Oregon.

Tia, let’s jump right into it. You say a job search should begin by knowing 3 things about yourself, and to be self-aware, in short. Why is self-awareness important when you’re looking for work?

Tia Coachman:

When you’re looking for work, Mac, you want to make sure that you know what you have to offer. When you’re engaging in an employment relationship, it is, in fact, transactional. You come to the table with something and you’re getting something out of the relationship, as well. So, you want to walk in knowing what you have to offer and knowing how you can expand and broaden that relationship.

Mac Prichard:

Many job candidates treat the search as if it was an NFL draft; they just wait to be picked and they think their qualifications are enough. Why isn’t that the case when somebody like you is sitting on the hiring manager’s side of the table?

Tia Coachman:

Because it’s not enough to just bring the tools, it’s not enough to bring the skills and the knowledge and the abilities that you have. That’s great. Knowing what you know is the first thing that you need to know as a job seeker, but you have to also be willing to learn. You also need to recognize that there are things that you don’t know. Because that is where you provide room for your skills to be deepened and strengthened, or your knowledge to be broadened, or your abilities really to be honed in on. And so knowing that there are things that you don’t know is the second best thing that you can do when you’re walking into an interview or into an employment relationship.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about those 3 things; you’ve got a list of things you say every successful seeker knows. The first one is to know what you’re good at, and you touched on this already, but tell us more about that. Is it just understanding what your skills and certifications are, or are you talking about something else or something more, rather, Tia?

Tia Coachman:

It’s your hard skills and the soft skills, Mac. It’s those hard skills, those tactical skills, that you understand Excel really well, or that you understand coding really well, you know those really technical and tactical skills that you have. Yes, you need to know those things but you also need to know how well you work with other people. What kind of people do you work best with? What type of environment do you work well in? What kind of learner are you? Are you visual or are you audio? Do you need to try it on your own before you can really grasp the concept of it?

There are all those other kinds of self-awareness, soft skills that you need to know that really amplify your…not an asset, but what you bring to the organization.

Mac Prichard:

Tia, in your experience, do you think most people know what they’re really good at, or do they have some blind spots?

Tia Coachman:

I think most people definitely have blind spots but that is where the benefit of a mentor comes in. And that is where the benefit of feedback, asking for feedback, either from current managers or former managers or even at their…you know, you’ve had an interview but you didn’t get the job. Asking for feedback on how you showed up in those interviews is very important and critical to your self-awareness of what you’re bringing.

If you are someone who has bombed an interview, and hopefully, you know…we’ve all bombed interviews, right, where you have done that and you ask for feedback, and they say, “Well, you didn’t answer the questions. You didn’t answer the questions because maybe you were nervous or maybe you didn’t understand or maybe you didn’t have the KSAs. Maybe you didn’t have the knowledge, skills, and abilities of what we were asking in the interview.”

That gives you time for pause, that gives you time for reflecting on what it is that you need to level up on. It also will tell you what you maybe did right in those interviews, and so that’s why it’s a holistic reflection of knowing what you know. Having confidence and feeling like an authority over the things that you…those KSAs. I always go back to them because that is what you bring with you.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned a number of ways to get clear about what you’re good at, talk to a mentor, ask for feedback from a hiring manager, perhaps after an unsuccessful interview. Do you have a favorite tip, Tia, that you share with job seekers to get clear about knowing what they’re good at?

Tia Coachman:

Yes, be humble and get vulnerable because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to receive the feedback that you need to then walk in confidence of what you know and who you are.

Mac Prichard:

The benefits of this, what I’m hearing, is when you know what you’re good at, you’re a more confident and attractive candidate, aren’t you?

Tia Coachman:

Absolutely. People want to work with people who are self-aware. And we don’t talk about that enough, but we want to work with someone who knows what they’re good at, knows what they’re not so good at. Because they know then to lean on others to help build that part up, or to lean on the expertise of others and not try to stand in expertise when they don’t actually have it.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned humility because it’s good to know what you’re good at, but you don’t want to be arrogant about it, do you?

Tia Coachman:

No, because people don’t want to work with anyone who exudes arrogance either.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, agreed.

Now, the second item on your list is, for every job seeker to know that there are things that you don’t know. Tell us more about that.

Tia Coachman:

Again, this is having a willingness to admit that there are things that you don’t know and things that you should learn and could learn, and those things will help you get to where you’re wanting to be. Whether it’s a certain job or a specific promotion that you are looking to get, you have to realize that your knowledge, your skill level, and ability level are capped at some point and then you have to break through that threshold in order to progress further.

Mac Prichard:

How do you get clear about, not only what you don’t know, but the things that you don’t know you need to know? Because, obviously, there’s so much we can learn but our time is limited and we need to be strategic, so what would you say to a job candidate about identifying those gaps, the ones that matter the most? How do they get clear about that?

Tia Coachman:

It goes back to that tip of being humble and vulnerable. Ask questions, be curious about other experiences, be curious about what’s outside of the box of your realm of knowledge, skills, and abilities, be curious as to how other people got to where they are. Because that is how you learn that there are other things out there that you could also learn. If that makes sense.

Mac Prichard:

It does and I’m curious, Tia, as a hiring manager, how did you react when a candidate said, “Well, I don’t know that.”? Was that a sign of weakness or what was your reaction?

Tia Coachman:

I appreciate when candidates can acknowledge that they don’t know something. Even if they had anticipated that that was a question that I was going to ask and there was an expectation for them to have an answer. To say that, “No, I don’t have that answer but I’d love to learn it.” Or, “I’m very curious about it. I read an article, or I heard about this topic in a podcast and I’m really interested but I don’t know enough about it to really show up as an expert right now.”

That is self-awareness, and that is admirable and attractive to a hiring manager. Because a true manager who is leading a team will want someone who can come in and be a sponge and absorb. So, being willing to learn things that you don’t know and acknowledging that there are things that you don’t know is fundamental.

Mac Prichard:

What about candidates, I’m sure you ran across them, who thought it would be a sign of weakness to admit that you didn’t know something, and they tried to pretend otherwise? What was your reaction when you ran across a person like that?

Tia Coachman:

Well, hopefully, those people are listening to this podcast. You know, I have had those experiences where I know of candidates or I’ve been in interviews with candidates when they pretended to know something that they did not know, or they were hesitant to really say, you know, “I really don’t know that.” Or they start to beat themselves up and you can see it, in not only what they say but how they say it. And I am a firm believer of immediate feedback, so I would tell them, “It’s okay if you don’t know.” And there should be more hiring managers and employers that are doing that.

Especially for generations that are below them because there’s this expectation to always know and be on when you’re just not there yet, and that’s okay.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to a candidate who meets a manager who might have a different perspective than you and expects you to know it and is disappointed that you acknowledge that you don’t know a topic or a subject? Is that a company where you might not want to work?

Tia Coachman:

Exactly. I would reflect on that experience with that hiring manager or interviewer to say, “If you’re expecting me to have all the answers right now, what are you willing to teach me? Are you willing to teach me anything?” And I personally would not want to move into an organization that is not offering instruction and learning and development.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to take a quick break. When we come back, I want to get your reaction to a phrase we hear a lot in the workplace which is, “Fake it until you make it.” So hang on.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Tia Coachman.

She’s the founder of Affirma Consultancy.  Her company provides bespoke human resources and executive search services.

Now, Tia, before the break, we were talking about the importance of acknowledging what you don’t know, and I hear this all the time in the workplace, and I’m sure you do too, there are people who say, “Well, don’t admit that you don’t know something. Fake it until you make it.” What do you think of that, Tia?

Tia Coachman:

You know, I actually enjoy that type of guidance because to me it’s aspirational. To me, it says that you acknowledge that you don’t know everything. So, that’s the first step, but you also know that there are things that you know and that is how you are able to fake it. You are able to show up in a way because you may not have all of the pieces together, but you have some and lean in on those and by doing that, by trying, you will likely succeed in whatever it is that you’re trying to do or show up as. I see it as more aspirational as opposed to, “Act like you know everything.”

That’s not what that statement says to me, what that phrase says to me. It says, “Acknowledge there are some things that you don’t know, you’re not an expert right now. However, there are some things that you do know, so lean into those and you will show up closer to what you think people want you to be.”

Mac Prichard:

Being candid, and being willing to take risks, those are appealing qualities to a hiring manager.

Tia Coachman:

Absolutely. Business is all about taking risks, right? So, you should have employees who are also doing that.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, any final tips about how to talk about a subject you don’t know well that might be an important requirement for a job, in either the interview or the application materials? Again, acknowledging that you don’t know something, but how can you do that in a strategic, thoughtful way?

Tia Coachman:

Understanding how that one thing that you don’t know well impacts other things. Because there may be some factors that can be partnered with the thing that you don’t know that you do know. So, if I am a candidate who, I don’t know, let’s say, diversity and equity work, which is very close to home for me, but I know HR. I have the fundamentals of HR and you know how to take care of people in a workforce equitably but you may not be well-versed in terms that are frequently used for diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t do that work. It just means that you’re going to have to balance and level up with what you do know about managing teams, and managing diverse teams, and having equitable systems that you operate, and really just balance that with the work that you don’t know, that equity work that you don’t know. It can be done, you just have to find the right balance.

Again, it goes back to knowing what it is that you know. Reflecting on that, what are you bringing to the table, and balancing that with the things that other people are bringing to the table. I hope that makes sense.

Mac Prichard:

It does, and I’m glad we’re talking about this second point of what you don’t know, because I think many of our listeners understand this, but no employer expects a candidate to meet 100% of the requirements or know everything that a job might require. Isn’t that true, Tia?

Tia Coachman:

Right, no one is perfect. No one has 100% of what is needed, but here’s the thing, what is needed today is going to change tomorrow. So, we need to be hiring for the future, which means we need to be hiring for people who have baseline KSAs but have capacity to learn and to adapt.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific.

Now, the third thing on your list of things that every job seeker needs to know is that there are things that you don’t even know. Tell us more about that, Tia.

Tia Coachman:

There are things that you have not experienced yet. When you are an individual contributor and you have not yet managed a team, you have not yet lead managed-people processes, and you’ve done so well as an individual contributor, that you’ve been promoted to this new role, you’re going to be exposed to a whole different world which is called management. Right?

Mac Prichard:

Right.

Tia Coachman:

What is happening is that we’re having employees, and I’ll get to candidates, but we’re having employees who are in this new world of management that they didn’t even really know existed. They didn’t know what it would take to manage successfully and be a successful individual contributor at the same time, and their minds are blown and that is why we have leadership coaching. That is why we have management training because there are things that you didn’t even know existed when you were just a junior-level team member.

Mac Prichard:

Many people who go through that transition from being a contributor to being a manager, they think the management skills should be natural and come easily, but that’s not the case, is it, Tia?

Tia Coachman:

It is not the case and it takes time and it takes getting some things wrong. But when you start to get it right, you need to reflect on those things that you are getting right and as you are…when you go from employee to candidate, and now you are applying for other jobs elsewhere, you need to be able to say, “I’ve gotten these things right. I’ve been exposed to this new world.” Especially if it’s a leadership or a senior management position where you will now be managing people and people processes.

You have to be able to say, “Not only can I contribute as an individual to this work and do that well, but I can also contribute as a manager and manage people and processes as well.”

Mac Prichard:

Many people who are in a contributor’s role, they may never see themselves as a manager and I think that’s another thing that you’re getting at with this point. What would you say to somebody who is thinking about promotion and says, “Well, I could never do that.” How does this play into that?

Tia Coachman:

It’s true, there are people who should not ever be managers.

Mac Prichard:

Yes.

Tia Coachman:

Hopefully, they themselves know why they should not be managers. Again, it goes back to, take an inventory of your hard skills and your soft skills, your emotional intelligence in addition to your general intelligence. Because if you don’t have that EI and you don’t have the necessary soft skills to truly manage people, then you’re going to fail in management. And so, taking that inventory is important, and then there are those who just haven’t experienced it yet. They haven’t had a taste of it to even know whether or not they would be good but they have, maybe a desire.

I would recommend that those people really reflect on why they have that desire. What is it in them that makes them think that they could be good at it? And then, identify what it is that they need to learn to get better, to get prepared, to get ready for that next step to dive into that world of the unknown, which could be management for them.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend they do that inventory besides self-reflection? What concrete steps do you recommend people take?

Tia Coachman:

Again, asking for feedback. Asking for others to put a mirror up to you and say, “This is how you show up in the workplace, this is how you show up in the world.” You know, go back to your performance reviews and see if they were aligned with how you really felt about your own work performance and with your managers. Take those reflection steps.

I mean, self-reflection shows up in so many different ways but these are some, I think, critical, actionable steps that people can take. Asking for feedback is the top of the list, and again, being open and vulnerable to hear some things that you may not have thought about yourself, or you didn’t see yourself in that way, and being committed to changing where necessary.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve interviewed hundreds of people, probably several thousand over the years, can you tell when you talk to a candidate if they’re aware of these 3 things?

Tia Coachman:

Most people are somewhere along the spectrum of knowing some of the things that they know but not really feeling confident in them, all the way to thinking that they know everything.

Mac Prichard:

I think we’ve all met those colleagues along the way, haven’t we?

Tia Coachman:

Right, we have, and yes, I can tell in an interview. In any interaction with people when they have walked into that experience with me feeling good about the things that they know, knowing what they’re bringing to our conversation. I can also tell when people are willing and open to learn something new. That means they don’t center themselves; they listen attentively and actively, they will acknowledge that there are things that they want to learn, that they don’t yet know. And the harder thing is to know when to recognize when those people show up who think the world that they see is the only world that exists.

Mac Prichard:

How do the people you meet who have figured this out, how do they do it, Tia? Did someone coach them along the way? Was it trial and error? What was their secret, do you think?

Tia Coachman:

I think it’s realizing that, in the workplace, especially in a diverse workplace, that you will come with only your story. You will come with only your experience and your KSAs, but that others around you will come with theirs and it will be different than yours. And so, the people who can grasp that concept are the people who will succeed and be able to really digest what we’re talking about today.

Mac Prichard:

Again, as someone who has made so many hiring decisions and recommendations along the way, why does that stand out for you? If you’re looking at two candidates with equal skill levels, but one has those three insights and the other doesn’t, why does that make them so appealing?

Tia Coachman:

It makes them appealing because, one, they’re coachable. That means that I can mold and help to shape their career, not just this one job. It means that they will make my company better. They will make the work that we do better because these people will look outside of themselves for ways to level up because they have done that work for themselves or will be doing that work for themselves. That is what is going to make that candidate really attractive versus someone who walks in thinking they have all of the answers and they are exactly right and perfect for this job.

I don’t want the person that’s “perfect” for the job, I want the person who wants to make the job better.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Tia. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Tia Coachman:

Well, Affirma is growing. We have our roots in the creative industry and advertising, but we are branching out into nonprofits and fashion brands and all kinds of different industries. And that was our full intention, and so, I’m excited about the scaling and the reach and the impact that we can have on workforces without industry boundaries.

Mac Prichard:

I had the chance to look at your website. You’re doing terrific work and you’ve got wonderful clients. I know people can learn more about your practice and your services by visiting www.affirmaconsultancy.com.

Now, Tia, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about the 3 things every job seeker needs to know.

Tia Coachman:

Be confident in what you know, be open to learn what you don’t know, and believe, believe please, that there exist things out there that you haven’t experienced yet.

Mac Prichard:

Are you still working on your resume?  Let the experts at Top Resume help you finish it. Get a free review of your resume today.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

And if you like this show, sign up for our podcast newsletter.

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Go to macslist.org/shownotes.714003

Next week, our guest will be Debbie Lipton. She’s the founder and owner of Lipton Career Management.

Ageism in hiring is illegal. It’s also a fact of life. Debbie and I will talk about five stereotypes about older job candidates and how you can overcome them.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you’re looking for a job, self-awareness is the most important thing you bring to an interview with a hiring manager. Knowing what you know is important. But even more important, says Find Your Dream Job guest Tia Coachman, is knowing what you don’t know. Tia says you have to be willing to share what your limitations are and what you need to learn in order to reach new levels. Admitting what you don’t know shows a potential employer that you are teachable and that you have the humility necessary to do the work required to level up to higher responsibilities. 

About Our Guest:

Tia B. Coachman is the Founder/Principal Consultant of Affirma Consultancy which provides bespoke HR Advisory and Executive Search services.

Resources in This Episode: