I must have “talked shop” with several thousand managers in Germany by now. One question that I love posing to employers is: “When you think about all your former employees, which one was the best? And what did they do differently?”
Because if this person is really the best, then he or she must have done something different or exceptional. Otherwise they wouldn't be the best, right?
I love this question, because I get to hear inspiring stories of extraordinary professionals, their struggles and victories. Over time I've noticed something: nearly all managers name one of these three strengths that leads to their choice of “the best” employee:
- “She takes ownership of her project. She puts all her heart into delivering the best result.”
- “He is constantly developing himself. I always see him with a book or going to a seminar – and I see the progress that he is making.”
- And finally: “This person has my back. She understands what I am trying to achieve and she sees the bigger picture.”
There are a number of lessons here.
Although qualifications are important in Germany, once you get in the door that's not the focus anymore. What employers really value is not your degree or even a specific skill. I've never heard an employer here praising someone’s elite university when they talk about their extraordinary staff.
Instead, the managers always talk about their employee's attitude. This is what's important:
- Taking responsibility for yourself
- Developing yourself and skills
- Being loyal and caring about the manager’s success
See yourself as a consultant.
When I say employer, I don't mean human resources. I am talking about the manager, your direct supervisor. The manager has goals to achieve, deadlines to meet and problems to solve.
The manager has a stake in the game and cares if her or she finds the best colleague to help her succeed. (Unlike HR for whom you are just a file on their desk).
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When you get to talk directly to a manager see yourself as a consultant, not a job-seeker. Make the conversation all about the manager's goals, their motivations and problems. Then offer a solution based on your actual work experience.
And finally you can't just say that you take ownership, that you develop yourself and are loyal. You prove it.
You prove it by asking in detail about the manager’s goals and challenges – this is developing yourself for the task. Then you share a relevant experience from your own work history that applies to the manager’s biggest challenge – this is taking ownership. And then you offer your help in solving the problem and achieving the manager’s goals – this is loyalty.
Don't say you have attitude – prove it in your actions with the manager.
ABOUT CHRIS PYAK
Chris Pyak is the Author of “How To Win Jobs & Influence Germans“. The managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH has worked in four different cultures and lived in five different countries.
Chris returned to Germany in 2011. His mission: Bring the Immigrant Spirit to his home country. Chris introduces international professionals to employers in Germany.