Recommend: Effective Communicator and Interviewer Conference

Waking up in my own bed again after two days in Palo Alto for the Manager Tools training on DISC (Effective Communications Conference — ECC) and interviewing (Effective Interviewer Conference — EIC).

Bottom Line: I recommend them, both.

The Experience

The setting was intimate. There were 11 attendees the first day and seven the second. In a group so small with high-energy interactive training it is easy to become intimidated or threatened. Our instructors, Dani and Sarah, managed that very well by keeping it professional and low-key.

When I say, “professional” I mean Dani and Sarah stayed on their feet with clear voices, clear speech, varied tone and examples to make sure the subject matter was thoroughly explained and engaging. Every question was welcomed and answered thoroughly while staying fanatically on-time.

Before explaining, ”low-key” I need this set-up: as a long-term listener I was intimidated by my preparations for this conference. Mark Horstman is the voice of manager-tools and there are a lot of meticulous shows in the library covering grooming and social protocol. It’s all helpful stuff, but if you’re a rule guy like me it means, “Hey, that’s a lot of rules I might accidentally break.”

Dani and Sarah went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Each of them introduced themselves to me individually during early breaks in the conference. They made some small talk about things I mentioned in my brief attendee introduction. They took time to connect with me personally without making me feel processed.

I’m not naturally good at meeting new people. I had a goal to meet as many new people at the conference as I could. Dani and Sarah made that easy and I felt a genuine rapport with them.

The Content

A great deal of the conference material is covered in the free podcasts. If you have limited resources you can go a long way through free (as in beer) self study.

If you do have the chance to come to the conference I recommend it.  You will hear things in person that you would gloss over in the podcasts. You will meet people that you want to meet. (That’s attendees and presenters.) These people share some important interests with you and you’ll be enriched by knowing them.

I myself have been a long term listener. I started listening for free in 2010 because I knew my manager was listening to them. That became a great way to learn good things and connect with my manager.  I bought a personal license in late 2012 because I was applying for a management position and I wanted to be able to visually scan and review the show notes. This did a lot to prepare me for the interviews. In late December 2015 my current manager identified funds to send us both to ECC and EIC.

The January conference dates conflicted with a cornea transplant that I had to schedule six months in advance.  I was motivated enough to get there that I moved my cornea transplant up by 16 days so that I could be out of the two weeks of post-op recovery and attend.

Totally worth it.

No, it’s not magic. Neither is Apple, or the Super Bowl, or anything else that has fan boys. But I’m definitely a fan.

P.S. I already had received their most popular Effective Manager Conference materials via video. Recommend that as well. 🙂

STAR Interview Tip

If an interviewer asks you a question like, “Tell me about a time when you evaluated a new technology to solve an old problem,” be sure to use the STAR Model to help yourself give a satisfying answer.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s great for answering all sorts of questions about your past performance. (Google “STAR answer”.)

For example, an answer to that, “evaluating new technology,” question might sound like this:

Situation: “I was a junior developer at company X last year. We had a site for selling a product with a lot of options that could all be toggled on and off. This updated the product preview.”

Task: “We had to add some more options and I noticed that several relevant frameworks had become popular since we first wrote it. I thought one might be a better fit than our entirely custom code.”

Action: “Over a few days I used spare time to pick three frameworks. I implemented dummy options in all three. I took notes on which ones were easiest to use. I did simple performance tests of my examples and collected some online benchmark data. I picked the one I thought balanced performance and ease of use and presented a recommendation and my notes to my supervisor.”

Result: “My supervisor agreed with my pick but said it was a bad time to add a framework.  We wrote a story about adding the framework and prioritized it in the backlog.  After a couple of weeks we played the story and added the framework. It took some getting used to for a couple of team mates.  After a couple more weeks we agreed it had been a good move.”

I just timed myself giving that answer in a normal, unhurried tone. It takes less than a minute.

Don’t get into the weeds in your initial answer. Giving a STAR answer first and letting the interviewer probe for details allows you to focus on a complete and brief answer.

Behavioral Interviewing

By the way, that kind of interview question is from a “behavioral interview.” The premise of behavioral interviewing is that, while imperfect, past performance is the best indicator of future performance. (Google “behavioral interview”)

Rather than ask a brain teaser, or hypothetical question about what you might do in a situation, behavioral interviews ask you what you did do in a certain kind of situation.

If you are just getting into a certain job market (like web development) then still answer behavioral interview questions using your past experiences.  You may be asked, “How did you evaluate a new technology for an old problem?” and your answer doesn’t have to be about web development.

Bonus Tip: Put the “I” in Team

Remember that the interviewer is going to hire you and not your team. So make sure it is clear what your contribution was.

Also remember that you are being hired to work on a team. So don’t sound like a glory hound.