ed muses upon

2011/05/13

Target Employers

Welcome to the third installment in the Job Search Best Practices blog series! Although I touched on the subject of targeting specific employers in a job search process previously, I felt it merited more specific focus.

Archer releases arrow at target

Image courtesy of Free Things To Do In Los Angeles

I’ve always had a fondness for archery. When I was younger, I was a Boy Scout and one of my merit badges was in archery. There was something I always found appealing about the simplicity of shooting an arrow. You hold a bow by the grip, nock the arrow and in a smooth motion, draw back the bowstring. Then there’s a moment of calm as you hold the bowstring in place, take aim and release the arrow. I always did, and still do to this day, find a real elegance in the simplicity of that act.

Irrespective of whether a job seeker is remaining in the same industry or attempting to break into a new one, it is important to identify target employers where he or she wishes to find employment. There are several reasons for this, and the relevance of each will likely vary for any given job seeker, but broadly speaking, it’s important for two reasons: research and networking.

Research

I’m very fond of a quotation by Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Perhaps owing to my youthful experiences with the Boy Scouts, I’m a big fan of good preparation.

This relates directly to the job search process. If suddenly thrust into a situation in which you can speak with a decision maker at an organization that interests you, you’ll make a much better impression with him or her if you are able to ask intelligent, informed questions about the organizations, current challenges it may be facing or offering congratulations for a recent accomplishment.

This is ultimately a matter of ensuring you are position to propagate your personal brand, as previously discussed. So by researching organizations where you want to work, you’ll be prepared to take fullest advantage of an unexpected opportunity. And if you get the opportunity to talk with a representative of one of your target employers, think about how well you’ll be able to customize your unique value proposition to the organization’s current needs. If your target employer is completing an acquisition and your skill-set revolves around business process integration, this is an organization that has a specific, time-sensitive need for the value you offer.

Being at the right place at the right time to have that kind of conversation can be dismissed as a matter of luck, but as we already know, it’s more: it’s a matter of preparation and making your own luck.

Networking

Every job seeker has heard the old chestnut that 70% of jobs are landed through networking: it’s a subject I’ve previously addressed. But networking without any specific direction will yield connections that may not be as directly beneficial as may be ideal. So while attending these events, having a target list of employers gives direction to your networking efforts.

If you are able to tell people you are interested in learning more about what it’s actually like to work for Amazon (for example), people will have a clear way to help you. Maybe they don’t know someone who works there, but perhaps they know someone else who does. In this way, having a target list of employers helps give focus and direction to your networking efforts when you meet people. It makes it easy for people to find powerful ways to help you.

There are many job seekers who are unfamiliar with the importance of targeting employers with their job search process. It can be difficult, especially in the case of a more radical change, such as moving to a new geographic area, or changing industries—or both. In these cases, the importance of informational interviews cannot be overstated.

But there isn’t a doubt in my mind that targeting specific employers is indeed a job search best practice.

Advertisements

2011/04/06

Personal Branding

Welcome to the second installment of my new, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed previous installments, you can find them here if you’re interested.

Ever since Tom Peters first wrote The Brand Called You [1], the phrase “personal branding” has had an incredible impact, from those who read it when it first appeared August 31, 1997 and all the way down to the present day, as others first encounter the concept. In its original context, Peters meant it from a career management standpoint—but of course, like any good idea, it didn’t take long for smart career management professionals to see its applicability to the job search process.

Today, Dan Schawbel[2] maintains a personal branding blog and even a LinkedIn group, the Personal Branding Network[3]. And if you do a search on the phrase “personal branding” on Google, you’ll get 1.88 million results in 0.09 seconds[4]. Personal branding is everywhere but let’s talk about why it’s so important: where it really delivers ROI[5] for the job search process.

Let’s begin with something very basic. We all know the stat about 70% of jobs being filled through networking, so presumably, educated job seekers are attending networking events to maximize the likelihood of being in that 70%. But I think we’ve all had this experience: we attend a networking event and afterwards, when that person reaches out to us, we don’t remember them. Or worse, maybe you want to reach out to him or her, but you don’t remember a blessed thing about that person or perhaps how to contact them.

That’s an embarrassing situation to be in, but imagine how much worse if you’re the one who’s failed to make a (positive) impression. Indeed, perhaps you’ve even been in that position, too, unbeknownst to you.

The solution is personal branding.

As Peters himself put it:

“What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.

If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.

Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”

A lot of people make the mistake of interpreting this as being about marketing. And make no mistake, personal branding is part of it. But to dismiss it as being nothing more is missing the forest for the trees. At its heart, a personal brand is your professional essence.

It’s crucial to understand that understanding one’s personal brand requires a thorough understanding of one’s strengths, aptitudes and experiences. It doesn’t work to hear someone else’s great branding statement and adopt it wholesale, as it speaks to strengths, aptitudes and experiences that another person will not possess. That isn’t personal branding, because it addresses the superficial without engaging the substantial.

So why does it matter?

Two words: corporate culture.

People have been discussing corporate culture and how it can provide a competitive advantage since the 1980s, but at its heart, I think it’s fair to say that corporate culture is really about “the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization”, per Wikipedia.

For several years now in staffing circles the big question is fit: does the candidate fit? Sure, he or she has the right experience and skills, but is this candidate a good fit for our organization?

Doesn’t this sound to you a lot like: is this candidate’s personal brand a match with our corporate culture?

This is why you care.

By now, we’ve discussed personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why you care. So let’s discuss how to propagate your brand and let the world know what your accomplishments are.

In ways both large and small, here are some ways to do so.

  • First things first, business cards. Not just for the employed set, business cards (available for just shipping & handling at VistaPrint.com) are a great way to incorporate a little pizzazz in your typeset contact details. If you’ve ever tried to read someone’s e-mail address or phone number from a smudged, hastily-scribed piece of paper, you’ll know just how important this is.
  • Social networks. Not just LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but also some others. If you have sufficient experience and facility with the written word, try blogging. And even if you don’t, try writing a guest blog for a blogger you respect and with whom you’ve established a rapport. Hint: you can easily forge a rapport with a blogger by commenting on his or her blogs consistently. Bloggers love commenters because even a blogger with a great read/comment ratio is 12:1, so by commenting, you stand out above 11 other readers. And offering to guest blog? The odds are very good the reaction will be more than mildly positive.
  • Speak at events[6]. There are tons of local networking events going on. You can use LinkedIn Events or Meetup to identify them and the organizer(s), who will likely be open to you giving a small talk, maybe off the formal agenda at first.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of other methods whereby one can propagate one’s personal brand. So what did I miss? Comment and let me know!


[1] Even now, 14 years after the fact, it’s a great read.

[2] whom Fast Company, publishers of the original Tom Peters article, dubbed a “Personal branding force of nature”

[3] Fittingly, this is an open group.

[4] That’s what I got when I wrote this.

[6] I can’t take credit for this: this is from Keith Ferrazzi’s excellent Never Eat Alone.

Welcome to the second installment of my new, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed previous installments, you can find them here if you’re interested.

Ever since Tom Peters first wrote The Brand Called You [1], the phrase “personal branding” has had an incredible impact on those encountering it, from those who read it when it first appeared August 31, 1997 and all the way down to the present day, as others first encounter the concept. In its original context, Peters meant it from a career management standpoint—but of course, like any good idea, it didn’t take long for smart career management professionals to see its applicability to the job search process.

Today, Dan Schawbel[2] maintains a personal branding blog and even a LinkedIn group, the Personal Branding Network[3]. And if you do a search on the phrase “personal branding” on Google, you’ll get 1.88 million results in 0.09 seconds[4]. Personal branding is everywhere but let’s talk about why it’s so important: where it really delivers ROI[5] for the job search process.

Let’s begin with something very basic. We all know the stat about 70% of jobs being filled through networking, so presumably, educated job seekers are attending networking events to maximize the likelihood of being in that 70%. But I think we’ve all had this experience: we attend a networking event and afterwards, when that person reaches out to us, we don’t remember them. Or worse, maybe you want to reach out to him or her, but you don’t remember a blessed thing about that person or perhaps how to contact them.

That’s an embarrassing situation to be in, but imagine how much worse if you’re the one who’s failed to make a (positive) impression. Indeed, perhaps you’ve even been in that position, too, unbeknownst to you.

The solution is personal branding.

As Peters himself put it:

“What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.

If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.

Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”

A lot of people make the mistake of interpreting this as being about marketing. And make no mistake, personal branding is part of it. But to dismiss it as being nothing more is missing the forest for the trees. At its heart, a personal brand is your professional essence.

It’s crucial to understand that understanding one’s personal brand requires a thorough understanding of one’s strengths, aptitudes and experiences. It doesn’t work to hear someone else’s great branding statement and adopt it wholesale, as it speaks to strengths, aptitudes and experiences that another person will not possess. That isn’t personal branding, because it addresses the superficial without engaging the substantial.

So why does it matter?

Two words: corporate culture.

People have been discussing corporate culture and how it can provide a competitive advantage since the 1980s, but at its heart, I think it’s fair to say that corporate culture is really about “the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization”, per Wikipedia.

For several years now in staffing circles the big question is fit: does the candidate fit? Sure, he or she has the right experience and skills, but is this candidate a good fit for our organization?

Doesn’t this sound to you a lot like: is this candidate’s personal brand a match with our corporate culture?

This is why you care.

By now, we’ve discussed personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why you care. So let’s discuss how to propagate your brand and let the world know what your accomplishments are.

In ways both large and small, here are some ways to do so.

  • First things first, business cards. Not just for the employed set, business cards (available for just shipping & handling at VistaPrint.com) are a great way to incorporate a little pizzazz in your typeset contact details. If you’ve ever tried to read someone’s e-mail address or phone number from a smudged, hastily-scribed piece of paper, you’ll know just how important this is.
  • Social networks. Not just LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but also some others. If you have sufficient experience and facility with the written word, try blogging. And even if you don’t, try writing a guest blog for a blogger you respect and with whom you’ve established a rapport. Hint: you can easily forge a rapport with a blogger by commenting on his or her blogs consistently. Bloggers love commenters because even a blogger with a great read/comment ratio is 12:1, so by commenting, you stand out above 11 other readers. And offering to guest blog? The odds are very good the reaction will be more than mildly positive.
  • Speak at events[6]. There are tons of local networking events going on. You can use LinkedIn Events or Meetup to identify them and the organizer(s), who will likely be open to you giving a small talk, maybe off the formal agenda at first.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of other methods whereby one can propagate one’s personal brand. So what did I miss? Comment and let me know!


[1] Even now, 14 years after the fact, it’s a great read.

[2] whom Fast Company, publishers of the original Tom Peters article, dubbed a “Personal branding force of nature”

[3] Fittingly, this is an open group.

[4] That’s what I got when I wrote this.

[5] Return on Investment.

[6] I can’t take credit for this: this is from Keith Ferrazzi’s excellent Never Eat Alone.

2011/03/22

Job Search Strategy

Carl von Clausewitz, painting by Karl Wilhelm ...

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to the inaugural installment of my new series, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed my blog entry introducing it on Monday, you can find it here if you’re interested.

Let’s start with what we mean by strategy. According to the wiki, a strategy may be defined as “a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.”

From this, it is clear that the goal of a job search strategy is to achieve desirable permanent full-time employment efficiently.

But what about the plan?

There is an old saying: “No plan survives contact with the enemy[1]”. The observation is from On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th century Prussian military officer and philosopher. This book, first published posthumously in 1832, is widely regarded as the foundation of most modern conceptions of war. To this day, it is still on military academy syllabi and continues to inform military and sociopolitical thought to this very day, close to two centuries after its initial publication.

And this drives home an important point: plans of action—or strategies—often require fine-tuning once more information becomes available. Military strategies are often formed based on a suspicion or hypothesis of what the enemy will do, but once the enemy has been met, suspicion gives way to facts.

The question is how does one design a strategy for a job search? Along the way to answering that question, there are several subordinate questions that we will explore:

  • What is the importance of having a job search strategy?
  • What are the tactics I should deploy in pursuing my strategy?
  • What are the best practices related to job search strategy?

So let’s talk about the strategy—or plan. Specifically, let’s start with its importance.

Importance

The job search is a journey. It really is in even the most literal sense: after all, what else is a search but a journey—either literal or metaphoric—to find what you seek? Like any other journey, you will proceed from Point A to Point B. After all, if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re headed, it’s going to be impossible to map out a route. No matter how much energy you expend, if it isn’t productive, you might very well be going in circles.

As anyone who’s used a GPS device can tell you, it’s important to verify Points A and B. Are you certain you’ve got the right address for Point A? And are you sure you know the street address for Point B—are you sure you will recognize it upon reaching it?

Point A

This is where you are right now, yes, but there’s more to it than just looking at the GPS: are you ready and properly equipped to commence the job search process? If you have just found yourself thrown into a job search, the answer might very well be no—and it’s important to understand that. Most people need around some time to get their heads straight before they are ready to identify the next step in their career path.

In short: point A is about self-awareness and self-assessment.

Point B

This can be trickier. A lot of people find themselves exiting the industry they’ve been in for years or are otherwise examining alternatives. In such a case, it’s critical to understand what your transferable skills are: in what kinds of environments can your skills and experience add value?

Tactics

There are a host of tactics that you may wish to deploy in the process of developing your job search strategy.

Self-Assessment

Certain skills are transferable: knowing how to close a sale, understanding the influencing skills critical in keep a project on schedule, or having a knack for picking up new technology tools. These are all critical ways in which you add value. So take stock of your skills. On what strengths or talents do you find others most often compliment you? This process can be facilitated by reaching out to former colleagues: it is critical to understand the full scope of your strengths in order to build a bridge between points A and B.

At the time of this writing, there are several tools for self-assessments listed by the Riley Guide.

Once you’ve done that, you can start identifying: a) your target industries and b) your target employers.

Target Industries

Maybe you will remain in the same industry, maybe not, but it never hurts to cast a wider net than a smaller one in this process: too many opportunities is always better than too few. If relocation is not an option for you, that simplifies the matter—but otherwise, keep your options open. What are attractive industries to you? Are these industries expanding or are they contracting? Maybe it’s an industry that’s experiencing consolidation—which may make it an uncertain place to be for a few quarters.

It’s important to explore several industries, because the economy doesn’t treat all industries identically. There’s a saying on Wall Street: even in a down market, someone is making money. Knowing your target industries is a great way to avoid the kind of instability that might lead to reorganizations and layoffs.

Target Employers

This requires understanding the corporate culture in these organizations[2] to ensure that you’d be happy working there. Some companies are all about the bottom-line, and if that’s your biggest priority, you’ll probably be happiest in a similar environment. Others put a priority on corporate citizenship, so if volunteering is important, that should factor into your process in identifying target employers. And of course, make sure you understand the organization’s financial health. If they are publicly traded, they are required to disclose their fundamentals (cash flow, income statement and balance sheet) every year. See what the equity research says about them.

At the time of this writing: for privately-held businesses, you’ll have to check out Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database, or perhaps the site manta.com. For public companies, their financials and equity research should be available on the Motley Fool.

Best Practices

First and foremost: periodically re-examine your Point A, Point B and your strategy. You may find that your understanding of your strengths or of your desired destination may evolve, and of course, these may materially impact the utility of your strategy.

On a quarterly basis, assess the tactics you deploy in pursuit of your strategy: as new tools become available, other tools become less relevant or meaningful. And don’t be afraid to solicit criticisms on your origin point, your intended destination or your plan of action from a few trusted advisors.

Keep an eye out for new tools or tactics that you might be able to adopt and where possible, share your knowledge with others. This can be a powerful form of networking and a great tool for personal branding.

Conclusion

The specific tactics that any given job seeker deploys to develop an effective job search strategy will vary as time passes. The situation may change such that relocation becomes an appealing option, or perhaps vice versa. Perhaps the desired point B has changed radically—maybe going from Wall Street to the non-profit area, or a target industry becomes less appealing due to an economic downturn.

But the objective in this blog entry isn’t to build a comprehensive list of tactics. It is to develop a set of best practices whereby the tactics employed to develop an effective job search strategy can be reviewed.

And I believe that this has been successful in so doing. What about you?


[1] On War, Carl von Clausewitz.

[2] This is a great basis for an informational interview request

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: