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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Brownoff

Over the past few years the world has seen an exceptional amount of change. With major shifts in global leadership, there is a marked level of uncertainty at all levels of society across the globe. Along with global trade agreements up in the air, fluctuating world oil prices and polarized political positions, Canadian businesses have been challenged with recruiting and retaining high-quality employees, attracting and maintaining a loyal customer base, sustaining profitable results while adapting to changes in technology.

Later today, Canada will have democratically chosen the political party charged with the responsibility of governing the country. Whatever the outcome, there will be as many people cheering joyfully as there will be people throwing up their hands in disgust. Whichever side you find yourself you will likely be looking down another uncertain road.

What does this mean if you are a business owner?

Over the years I have heard from various business owners regarding their views on business survival in Canada. Their comments have been surprisingly diverse- considering they all are in similar situations while experiencing the same global uncertainties. Some businesses seem to make inroads regardless of the unforgiving business landscape, while an unsettling number of owners throw their hands up in despair and lament that the world (economy, government leaders, technology ...) will be the ruin of their business.

Why do some businesses thrive while others crumble when faced with uncertainty?

Upon close examination. the reasons are rarely based on the amount of education one group has and it certainly not because of luck either.

The owners of thriving businesses do however:

  • Reach beyond their comfort zone and strive to improve their business’s position regardless of the global or local situation.Less fear, more action.

  • Embrace change head on, formulating effective plans for the various scenarios, minimizing negative impact when decisions are out of their control.

  • Create opportunities when uncertainty surrounds them, taking advantage of the things they can control.

  • Avoid wasting time and energy on blaming others, but take that energy back to their teams to develop a plan to get them past obstacles.

  • Embrace technology and use it to advance their people and their industry position

3 Important Tips from Successful Business Owners in Uncertain Times

  1. Don’t Panic- Breathe. Gather facts and eliminate fear. Take a closer look at the change and ask yourself, how does this change impact my business and, how can my business address this change?

  2. Review your processes. Evaluate what is working and what is not. No successful business can continue doing things the same way over time. Uncertainty makes you sit up and take notice. Tip: Embrace technology to help your business be more profitable and customer centred. Use it to help prioritize your business' needs.

  3. Develop your leadership skills. This is the time you need to show what you are really made of. This is where you will define your character and be evaluated as to whether you are a leader worth following. Keeping your head and your team focused will be the most important thing you can do to ensure your business moves with the changing business terrain. Keep a close eye on the important numbers for your business and avoid knee-jerk reactions to protect the bottom line. Avoid the temptation to cut staff and slash prices. While you are looking at ways to be more productive, consider cost saving options such as reducing building size by having staff work from home and subleasing space. Being creative in challenging times will strengthen your leadership credentials.

A.C.T.I.O.N. Take aways:

Uncertainty is a major part of our business landscape. The world is changing and that is the constant. The silver-lining is that it forces us to stand-up and take notice, to have an opinion and stay involved. To take responsibility and choose impactful action because going with the flow is not an option.

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So you are about to hire for that important position. Are you dreaming about all you could accomplish with the right person in the role? Exciting times aren’t they?

But finding the right candidate for a position can be a daunting task. From creating the position, posting it for public viewing, fielding the responses, vetting the applicants for possible consideration and conducting the all important screening calls. Then the interviews begin.

The time and energy commitment required, even before you offer the lucky candidate the job, is enormous. It is interesting that even with all of this calculated effort, there are times when the successful individual does not fit the position or the organization’s culture, after all. Unfortunately it happens more often than you realize.

You may know of people who “interview well” but lack the proof that their resume and references promised.

Most interview processes follow a similar approach:

“tell me about your experience…”, “ have you ever had to deal with a difficult situation…”, “why are you leaving your current position?”, “why do you want to work here…”

These are all excellent questions but they are also so standard that everyone comes prepared to answer them…at least they should.

But how will you know what really makes the candidate tick or react when things are not expected.

Let’s face it, business is built on unpredictability and your team has to be able to assess the situation, respond and explain their actions. You need to hire thinkers so conduct your interview to let the best thinkers rise to the top.

Here is a list my favourite top 10 questions that I use to shake things up and see what the candidate is really all about. It is a great way to identify important characteristics that may not come through in a standard interview. These questions evoke unrehearsed answers that demonstrate quick response, creativity and personality.Listen for the explanation behind the response to get a true picture of whether this person will fit the role and be a great addition to your business culture.

Top 10 Unexpected Interview Questions:

1) When was the last time you bent the rules and why?

Good for determining whether you have a rule follower or an independent thinker.

2) Describe the colour yellow to someone without sight.

Excellent for a position requiring: sales, marketing, mentoring/ training, managing, leading, and communicating

3) Teach me something- anything in 5 minutes

This gets the candidate in their comfort zone. It is fun and very telling, showcasing skills such as: communication, ability to interact, and personal interests. I have been taught how to tie a bow tie, do a proper arm curl, how to select bed sheets, how to make an origami crane… It is a fabulous way to learn about your prospective new hire.

4) Last gift you gave someone, what was it and why did you give it to them?

This explains their state of “awareness”, attention to detail, and ability to be others focused and their creativity.

5) If you were a new addition to the crayon box, what would you be and why?

This answer tells you a great deal about how the candidate sees themselves as a team member. Some colours are bold and stand out, while others are harmonizing and supportive, some cheerful and energetic and other calming and contemplative.

6) Other than money, tell me something about your last position that would have inspired you to stay?

This provides important hints as to what is required from you and the position, if they were offered the job.

7) What advice would you give your previous supervisor?

This is a good test for observing diplomacy skills. It is important to hear their response as they may be giving you clues as to how they prefer to be supervised.

8) First word that pops into your head…

What word would your staff use to describe you?

What would your colleagues say to describe you?

What would your supervisor say to describe you?

Do this in rapid fire. First words that come to their mind will often be most accurate. No time to hunt for the better word.

9) If you were given the option to have one super hero power and your choice was to fly or be invisible, what would you choose and why?

This is a fun question that shows the candidates thought process and problem solving skills for selecting between options.

10) If you had the ability to invent something that doesn’t yet exist what would it be and why?

This is a great question to tap into a creative and innovative side of the candidate. Perfect for roles that are responsible for growth and improvement- which should really be every position in the company.

Add these questions to your interview process to help you find the best fit for your business now and in the future.

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If you or someone you know is contemplating a career or employment change, you are going to want to check out these 5 avoidable blunders that are costing experienced candidates their chance at getting the job, or the very least getting on the shortlist.

I am frequently asked by clients to assist in the interviewing process for some of their key positions and I can tell when a candidate will get a call back- and when they will not.

Currently the economic climate has provided an abundance of highly qualified individuals looking for work. At the moment, the businesses have the advantage of selecting from a rich pool of talent.

Beyond the obvious expectations of candidates highlighting their skill set, experience and results, there are some critical and yet simple actions that put their resumes, in the call back pile.

You might be a perfect candidate for the position but if you are going to stand out and be noticed you must avoid these five common errors when you get called for that all-important initial interview.

Top 5 Interview Blunders that Will Keep You Off the Shortlist

1) Not creating an easy-to-follow resume

Resumes have evolved significantly. In the past, the rule of thumb was for a resume to be 2 pages. Now the focus is on a single page with succinct and relevant information that will make it easy for the reviewing parties to identify education, experience, interests and outstanding achievements. A popular new format provides a single page with a thumbnail photo and key sections that include infographics. Providing pie and bar graphs offers a quick visual on the candidate’s fit for the position. This allows the interviewers the ability to focus on the interview and not on trying to sift through papers in the process. This format isn’t necessary and the traditional format may be more appropriate depending on the position, but it does stand out from the traditional resumes. Regardless of the format always think of the interviewer. Make it easy for them to maneuver so that you can showcase your skills and be memorable.

Note: The one page infographics format may seem easy but it will take time to get it right. Don't try to "wing it" with a Word Document. Use a professional template. If the information is not lined up in an easy-to-follow-format, the reader will get frustrated and move on. It will also speak to your lack of attention to detail, so make it right.

For professional, online templates check out Venngage, Hloom and Canva.

2) Not researching the company and providing a generic cover letter that does not integrate the position’s requirements

Cover letters are still a must for professional applications. It gives the business a glimpse into who you are and it sets the tone for the interview. Do your homework. The Internet has a wealth of information- use it to your advantage! Check out the business’ website and social media posts to gain insight into the company’s position in the industry, its current activities and future projects. Investigate who the decision makers are before the interview and look them up on LinkedIn or other social media sites. Include relevant points from your experiences that will catch the attention of your interviewers. This will show that you have initiative and are willing to go beyond the basic information that the position posting may have provided.

3) Not asking questions about the position or the company

One of the most disheartening ways to end an interview is to say that you do not have any questions, when asked. Always come prepared with 2 or 3 questions that show your interest in the company. Ask questions that highlight the business’ possible hot buttons. Consider topics such as; business growth challenges, or customer service goals, or potential product and services expansions. This will start a new dialogue and if you did your homework, noted in point 2 above, you can speak to how your expertise might assist that area.

4) Not engaging with the staff upon arrival

NEWS FLASH! The interview does not begin when you sit down with the interviewer. Not by a long shot! The interview starts the moment you interact with any member of the company you are hoping to be part of. This might be a preliminary screening phone call or possibly when you walk into the business on the day of the interview. Many business’ include their staff in second interviews so the impression you make with those people that say ‘hello’ as you enter or offer you a coffee while you wait, may be part of the decision making more than you know. I was recently involved in interviewing for a client and after each candidate left we interacted with the staff. Even if we had an excellent interview behind closed doors, if the staff felt the person was not a good fit, the candidate was eliminated from the shortlist.

Engage in friendly conversation as you wait. Get people’s names and shake their hand when you introduce yourself. Even small talk makes an impression. Make eye contact and smile at everyone that you contact. If you arrive early and are required to wait, ask if they might have any brochures on the company’s products and services that you could peruse. If they have a showroom ask if you could wonder through and take a look at their offerings. If you have, and you definitely should have, done your homework about the company, this is a good time to show it. If you are offered a coffee or water- take it. It doesn’t matter if you really want it or not. Accepting hospitality puts you in a positive light.

5) Not engaging with the staff upon leaving

When you are leaving, remember to engage with the staff on your way out. This is your last chance at a last impression. Smile, say thank you for the coffee, and wish people a good day. Even if the staff is not directly involved in the interview process you will likely be working with them if you are the successful candidate, so do everything in your power to make that a successful transition. Never assume the interview is over after you leave the interview room. Use the staff’s names as you leave. “Thanks for the coffee Bob, best cup I’ve had all morning!”…”Appreciate you showing me around the showroom Linda, it’s really impressive”… These personal touches will go a long way to keep you top of mind and in the lead for the race to be the successful candidate.

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