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How to Talk to a Prospective Boss

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Perhaps the greatest challenge in business relationships is learning to establish and maintain effective boss-to-subordinate relationships.

There's a common myth in business that employers prefer employees who flatter them, who are subservient. On the contrary, most bosses hire people who have enough confidence and self-esteem that they can establish a relationship of mutual respect.

Of course, it's often difficult to maintain an attitude of respectful equality as a candidate for a career position. When faced with a pair of seemingly cold, beady eyes across a large desk and asked to explain why you deserve a job, it's easy to forget that bosses are human, too.

So how do you hang onto your sense of self-worth and establish a relationship of mutual respect from the beginning? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Avoid the traditional across-the-desk, resume-based interview. Most of these interviews focus on historical credentials, such as past employment and education, rather than abilities. Instead, concentrate on exploring with a prospective employer ways in which you both might benefit from working together.

  • Understand the psychological forces affecting the prospective employer. He or she doesn't want to commit to anything that might jeopardize his or her position. This is why as many as 90 percent of open positions are filled through private contacts. It's easier for a boss to take a chance on someone whom he or she meets through a friend than to hire a stranger off the street. Once you understand this, you can focus on becoming better known and thus, be seen as an attractive candidate.

  • Remember that the prospective employer fears rejection, too. Surprisingly, I've found that an employer may be very interested after the first interview, but will hesitate to call the candidate again for fear that he or she has already accepted a position with another employer. Rejection is especially difficult for the employer when he or she begins to think that you are the right person for the job. That's why you must be the one to keep in contact.

  • Expect to spend time developing a relationship. Don't expect to really get to know a prospective boss in the first half-hour interview ... or the second ... or even the third. It takes repeated contact to really begin to build trust and respect.

  • Realize that employers often deliberately refrain from showing enthusiasm for any one candidate. As many as 50 people may be interviewed for a single job. Knowing that 49 of those candidates will be rejected often makes an employer defensive and embarrassed. He or she tries to avoid encouraging any of them so that final rejection will be easier.

Bosses want to be listened to and to be understood. Very few people ever stop to think about the stress and anxiety experienced by bosses. Several executives with responsibility for hundreds of people have confided to me that they sometimes wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what will happen if no one shows up for work the next day. Because these kinds of worries often seem silly to subordinates who perceive bosses as "having it made," subordinates overlook opportunities to understand how they fit into the boss's concerns and overall vision of the business.

Understand that 75 to 80 percent of hiring decisions are based on personality. That's difficult for many candidates to accept and it's almost impossible for most employers to admit. Bosses do not like to appear irrational, and candidates don't like to admit that their long list of qualifications may not matter It's easier for both sides to point to lack of education, too little experience, too much experience, salary demands that are too high, etc.

Go beyond the overworked, superficial concept of net working and informational interviewing. In pursuing our career plans, we all need to develop the ability to establish beneficial social and business relationships. However, it's important that these relationships be based on sincere interest in the individual, not on the need to find a job.
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