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Transcript: Thursday, June 29, 2006, 11:00 a.m. ET

Get Weird to Get Hired

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John Putzier
Author; Founder and President, FirStep, Inc.
Thursday, June 29, 2006; 11:00 AM

Avoid: sweaty palms, white socks, long-winded answers and little white lies to clinch a new and better job. You can learn more about every stage of the job hunt, from recruiting to networking to transitioning to a new career, by checking in with our Hiring Squad

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John Putzier believes that the secret to professional success is being your own crazy self. He has written, coached and spoken on this subject. His most recent book, "Weirdos in the Workplace -- The New Normal...Thriving in the Age of the Individual," posits that quirky traits are indicative of brilliance.

John was online to take questions about emphasizing your creative side to score a primo position.

The transcript follows below.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello

I am smart, hard-working and have great skills and credentials. I currently work in the nonprofit sector and am in a midlevel position. I have a question regarding career moves as I aspire to move upwards and perhaps into the private sector. Will unconventional political beliefs be a liability? I am a big supporter of causes such as Labor unions and have been known to be part of groups described as "lefty" or even "Socialist" -- will my political beliefs be a liability the higher I aspire to move up and the more I step outside the political, public policy and nonprofit world? I know that there may be laws prohibiting discrimination based on political beliefs. But I think such a thing can still happen.

Thanks

John Putzier: Hello Washington Leftie!

Regardless of your political slant, I recommend to all aspiring workers to keep three things to themselves at work. They are politics, religion and sex. Although we have freedom of religion in society, it does not exist in most workplaces. So, to answer your question, it should not affect your career aspirations if you know how to stay under the radar. That's true for anyone, regardless of their politics or religion. Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: "Be eager... But not too eager." "Be yourself... But don't act unprofessional." These are two mixed messages. Why wouldn't a job hunter just play it as safe as possible -- good manners, smart responses, clean fingernails, etc.? These days anything can be used to hurt you.

John Putzier: Dear Safe and Sure:

You are correct. When I say to "be yourself" I am referring to be true to your values, your interests, your skills, etc. I am not advocating wearing purple hair and nose rings to interview with IBM. I was afraid people might get the same impression you did, so thank you for the opportunity to clear that up. I do believe you need to "stand out" from the crowd with your interview answers, presence, etc.

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Washington, D.C.: If weird can be good, then how much weird is too much weird?

John Putzier: Weird is good, when weird brings value. Think of eccentric artists, diva actors, difficult athletes, etc. I call it the Weird:Worth Ratio. The more you are worth, the more you can be weird. It's all covered in my second book, "Weirdos in the Workplace! The New Normal...Thriving in the Age of the Individual."

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Layout, Ore.: I've heard of a couple graphic designers, or others who call themselves creative talent, presenting their resumes in unconventional ways. Examples include a resume that looks like a spiffy ad and another that was laid out as a newsletter. Is that playing it far too much or brilliant if done right?

John Putzier: Great question! My advice is to consider the position and the company for which you are applying. Getting "creative" with resumes and other tools is perfectly acceptable, and can even be advantageous if applying for a "creative" position. Just using neon paper is stupid. But I have even had candidates send me their resume in a bottle as though they were "lost at sea." At the end of the day, you have to get the interview and then the job on your own merits, not the slickness of your resume. Resumes get interviews. Interviews get jobs. Get the interview first!

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Washington to Raleigh?: Here is one for you about career growth and possible career suicide. My family and I are looking to move to Raleigh N.C., and I have been offered a job with a large company in the area. It is comparable to my current position in every way except one thing -- the title. I am currently a director in my organization and in the new position I would be an analyst. The new company has a very flat org structure etc., that justifies the titles there -- my level of management does not even exist and I would be the same number of "steps" from the C-level executive in my dept. Am I making a mistake by taking this position? Thanks so much.

John Putzier: Dear Title Conscious:

You are not making a mistake if the total "package" is worth it to you and your family. Titles don't mean squat if you aren't happy. Money helps, but it still doesn't make you happy on a day to day basis. Forget about the title, if everything else, in total, is better than what you are leaving. You can always explain it later if you find yourself on the job search market again.

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Washington, D.C.: Once you get to the interview stage it is easier to display some personality, but how do I convey individuality and creativity in a resume and cover letter without diverting too much from the accepted standard format?

John Putzier: Another great question!

I am not an advocate of standing out merely by using neon paper or odd size paper, etc. I AM an advocate of writing in a non-generic style. For example, don't start your cover letter with "I am writing in regards to your position of..." No kidding! Use journalism 101, and start with something with punch, like "My experience as a _____ makes me uniquely qualified for your position of _____. etc. Also, do not just regurgitate your resume in the cover letter. Tell them things you can't tell them in the resume. I could go on, but there are tons of other people in line here, so just be smart, not weird.

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Silver Spring, Md.: When you interview two or three times with the same people, do you need to send thank you notes/e-mails every time?

John Putzier: I recommend sending a thank you note or card to whomever can impact the hiring decision. Not e-mail. Today it is much more "stand out" to get a good ole fashioned piece of snail mail that was actually hand written. And, when I say anyone who can impact the hiring decision, it could even be a receptionist. You judge. But one is enough. I think sending a thank you card/note every time you speak with someone kind of dilutes the impact, and can even be overkill. Good question!

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Alabama: What's the line between being assertive in inquiring about a position and being a pain in the neck? I've been speaking on and off with a prospective employer for about a month now; our first phone conversation was very positive, but whenever I call my contact (not a full-time HR person, but a person who has hiring among many other duties) she's extremely busy and can't speak very long, or provide new information about the job. I've been calling every week just to say hello; should I tune it back? Or resort to e-mail?

John Putzier: One question I would ask, if you haven't, is "when do you anticipate making a decision on this job?" This will give you a sense of timing and urgency (or lack thereof). In fact, I recommend asking this question in the interview, so you can plan accordingly. You need to be the judge as to whether you are being a pain in the  _ _ _  by the person's response to you. There's nothing wrong with just asking if it is OK to call them back in a week, so you have permission, and it won't be perceived as intrusive.

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"weird" answer gets me no callback: I told an interviewer who asked about my five year plan that I thought it was best to be flexible since I would have never pictured myself in my current place five years ago. Confusion ensued. The interview stared at me and then cleared her throat and proceeded. I assume being weird doesn't mean being blatantly honest.

John Putzier: Dear Totally Honest:

I have a list of "Gut Wrenchers" i.e., the 50 toughest questions you can get in a job interview, and that was one of them. My rule of thumb for ANY question is 1) keep it positive, and 2) keep it job related. You did that, but the "textbook" answer for that question is that you prefer to do the best job you can in the job you are in, and let the future take care of itself. Many times interviewers don't really want you to be aspiring to bigger and better things before you've even proven yourself on the job you don't even have yet! Make sense?

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Washington, D.C.: I have not read your book, but I would like to know how weird or creative behavior cultivates an innovative work environment.

John Putzier: This question requires a whole book. OH, I have one! It's called "Get Weird!" and "Weirdos in the Workplace!" Let me give you a couple of my weirdisms. The more weirdos you hire, the fewer you have. Think about that one. There are no weirdos in San Francisco. Weird is normal! In terms of creativity and innovation, "diversity" is essential, and I am not referring to race, sex, etc., but INDIVIDUALITY!

If you have "tapped your natural weirdness" you have found the intersection (or your AIM) of your Abilities, your Interest, and the Market, i.e., AIM. It doesn't get any better than that!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, perfect timing! I have a second interview this afternoon for a director-level position at a small nonprofit. I am really interested in the job, but am concerned that it's "over my head." I'm just finishing grad school (next month), and while I have many of the requisite skills, there are a couple of glaring gaps. Still, I am confident that I could conquer the learning curve if I just had the chance.

So my question is: In this interview, how do I gloss over (what I perceive to be) gaps in my experience/training?

John Putzier: Dear over your head:

You got the interview! NO, you got the 2nd interview! Do you think they would waste their time to call you back if they didn't think you had a snowball's chance in hell?

OK, tough love. Call upon your past accomplishments as evidence of your skills that are relevant to the position. Take a few minutes to list as many accomplishments as you can, even non-work, on a piece of paper, then go back and ask yourself what "skills" it took to accomplish them. This is your core skill set. Then ask yourself which of these skills are transferable to this position. There is no career ladder anymore. It's a career scaffolding. Many people go sideways to go up. Go Get 'Em!

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washingtonpost.com: John has a place to catch. Thanks very much for the great questions, everyone.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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