Monica Ross’s Answers to Key HR Questions for Diverse Professional

I have applied for multiple positions at my company for which I’m qualified, but I haven’t been selected for any of them. How do I know if race or gender is playing a factor?

If you have the experience the position requires and good performance reviews, it may be tempting to wonder about the factor diversity dimensions play in the selection process, particularly if your company has a diversity initiative. Before going there, I’d ask a few questions — Am I being selective in applying for the right positions that truly play to my strengths? I’ve seen many instances where employees put in for jobs using the “shotgun” approach, hoping that after expressing interest in many opportunities, one will stick. You don’t want to be known as a “serial applicant.” It sends the message you may be desperate and trying to get out of a situation rather than strategically move to a new one where you can have the greatest impact. I’d also ask if my resume strongly reflects the background and skills I have that are required for the job. How does it read to someone who may not know anything about me?

I once counseled an employee who had a great background in sales, but over a period of several months, applying for every sales position that came up, had no luck.  We worked together on the presentation of his experiences via his resume and two weeks later, he landed a sales-training role, which was perfect for his background.  Hiring managers were having a difficult time understanding the strength of his sales background due to the presentation of his resume. Make sure your resume reads in a way that speaks strongly to the attributes required for the job.

Last, how are your interviewing skills? Are your answers relevant, and succinct yet impactful to the questions being asked?  Practice interviewing with a co-worker, spouse or friend. Video yourself. There are a number of ways you can assess your interviewing skills. Once you have done all these things and still find you’re not landing the opportunities you want, talk to Human Resources. There could be other issues with the organization you are pursuing that you may not know about, such as an imminent change in leadership or a re-organization. If race or gender is playing a factor, a good HR professional will sniff that out, without you having to ask them to check into it. However, bringing up your concern to HR is fair game as well. Just make sure you’ve done your homework in advance and polished the presentation of your skills so that your not being selected is tough to attribute to other factors.

I do a good job at work, but no one knows me. How do I raise my profile inside my organization?

One of the most common misperceptions diverse employees have is,” if I just keep my head down, work hard, and do a good job, eventually someone will notice me and opportunities will come.” Wrong. In today’s dynamic, fast-paced environment, you have to work it. Continue working hard and doing a good job, but pursue projects at work outside of your day-to-day job that will lend itself to greater visibility. Sign up to work on that project presented in the department staff meeting, for example. If you’re not sure where to start, let your manager know you’re interested in contributing your skills to an initiative outside your everyday role. Cross-functional projects are great for building your visibility; your skills can be observed not only by those in your department, but throughout the company.

It’s great for your profile to have positive buzz about you coming from outside your immediate workgroup or business unit. Do you have some suggestions for how to improve the annual sales conference? Find out who’s responsible for organizing the event and write he/she a letter with your suggestions, emphasizing that you would be happy to help implement them. You may just open the door for yourself to work on the sales conference committee, or better yet, lead the group responsible for implementing your ideas.

Other options may include volunteering your time for one of your company employee-affinity groups or signing up to work with your employee activities association. Involvement with organizations outside the company helps raise your profile inside the company as well. If your time allows, don’t be afraid to take an officer role within your local chapter of a professional association or sit on the board of your favorite non-profit, asking your company to make a donation.

By doing some of these things, you will position your skills to be seen by many others from inside and outside the firm, further increasing your visibility. By distinguishing yourself this way, you’ll find yourself stronger networked and better informed about the various opportunities available.