With much success comes a certain amount of failure. Over the course of my career recruiting civil engineers I have not only had to turn lemons into lemonade myself, but I have been fortunate enough to coach candidates to do the same. Here are some tips from two decades of recruiting civil engineers on how you can turn lemons into some freshly squeezed, refreshing lemonade:
Looks Do Matter. When you are at the grocery store hand selecting the right lemon to buy, you pick it up, give it a little squeeze, look at the color, look for soft spots, bruising, etc, all before you put it in the cart. The same concept should apply to your resume before sending it out. I have talked to some great candidates over the years who were having difficulty generating any interest from any firms. After evaluating their resume, I understood why. It has been documented that hiring managers view resumes in seven seconds or less; so no matter how great your experience is, if your resume is sloppy, dis-organized, and generally unappealing to the eye, it may end up in the big stack, and not the short one, if you know what I’m saying. So take your lemon of a resume and organize it well; be consistent with your font and font sizes; use a mix of bold, italics, underline, and bullet points (but don’t go overboard), and turn it into a tall glass of cool lemonade that anyone would enjoy picking up and sipping on. Taking the time to do so shows you care.
The Results of the Taste Test Matter. Unfortunately, not every interview will lead to an offer; on those occasions where they do not, one should ask for honest feedback from the hiring manager, or if you use the services of a recruiter, from the recruiter. Informing a candidate they did not make the “cut” is never an enjoyable experience, but I try to provide honest feedback so they can improve their interview skills and learn how they fell short. It could be simple items like not making eye contact or seeming dis-interested; it could be lack of energy; it could be failing to do the necessary due diligence on the firm prior to the meeting; it could be failing to sit down the night before your meeting to reflect over your career, projects, roles, etc in order to properly prepare yourself to answer all questions that come your way. In the end, you just did not come out on top in the “taste test.” Whatever the case may be, reflect on your experience and gather all the information you can to turn that sour tasting cup into some sweet lemonade which will take first prize in the next “taste test.”
Don’t Just Drop The Ball (or Lemon). I recently had a really strong candidate who was a finalist for a position to lead a new office that my client was opening. Part of the final evaluation between the final two candidates was to have them develop a business plan that would show what the first, third, and fifth years would look like. One particular candidate spent a good twenty hours doing research and reaching out to peers and business contacts, only to end up taking second place…and it was a strong plan. Now that’s a lemon. But lemonade could easily be made over time by proactively reaching out to other like firms who may have an interest in opening an office in that particular market, and actually marketing your plan and ideas to them. If one takes the time to put a plan like that together, it is safe to say that their level of excitement is pretty high. The detailed plan, along with the passion that would likely come through in presenting that plan to different organizations is bound to appeal to at least a few organizations.
Toss the Sour Lemons. Chances are you will encounter some “sour lemons” over the course of your career, and no one likes sour lemonade. Inept managers, unethical firms, stagnant or toxic work environments, inflexible employers, brutal commutes, old-fashioned or uncreative cultures…all are viable examples of “sour lemons.” Everyone’s palate is a little different, but don’t be afraid to toss those sour lemons and move on. As you progress in your career, you will be able to refine what you believe to be the best lemons to generate the perfect glass of lemonade, and hopefully you find that recipe sooner than later. The sooner you create that recipe the longer you will be able to enjoy it.
I love hearing and sharing stories, so if you have a story to share about how you turned a lemon into lemonade, please let us know below in the comment section!