ed muses upon

2010/06/17

Staying Focused: Extra-Ordinary Networking

How we implement our job searches depends upon our needs and the job search techniques that suit our strengths.  But we can’t afford to ignore networking.  We all know the statistic: 80% of jobs are filled through networking.  Yet the nitty-gritty of how to network can be tricky.  Networking can seem not genuine, or artificial.  So how does one avoid that?

For me, successful networking depends upon my ability to solve someone else’s problem.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking with a hiring manager or someone else who’s in transition: the principle remains the same.  So I want to share some networking strategies I’ve observed that you might not have encountered.

Opportunity Knocks: Are You Listening?

My mother is difficult to shop for: she’s quite particular about things.  As a consequence, my siblings and I are in the habit of putting our heads (and wallets) together to find a suitable gift.  When I was younger, my sister despaired of ever getting useful ideas for presents from me: I routinely had no ideas to offer.  It took me years to understand that I should be on the lookout for present ideas as a matter of course.

We all have the same tools available to us to help someone else solve a problem: contacts, knowledge, or just serving as a sounding board.  So permit me to ask you a question: have you positioned yourself to see what those problems might be by asking what they are?

Asking such questions can be a powerful tool for engendering trust and goodwill—which leads me to the next point.

Specific Trumps General

It is very easy to say to someone, “If you need anything, let me know”.  In fact, it’s so easy that sometimes, we might say it before we realize we’ve done so.  I know that I have.  The problem with saying something general like that is that it’s so commonplace that it doesn’t actually mean anything.

When the checkout person at the supermarket asks “How are you”, he or she doesn’t want an actual, honest answer.  And for many of us, it’s a reflex to respond “Fine” in response, without even thinking about it.  But when a checkout person at a store asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for”, we’re more likely to respond meaningfully, aren’t we?

But both of these ideas, of always being on the lookout for opportunities or of being specific rather than general, can be distilled into a guiding principle: be extraordinary.

It’s worth noting the definition of “extraordinary”: beyond what is ordinary.  There are certain traits we each possess, certain skills or perhaps experiences, which make us unique.

I believe there’s a huge desire among people towards conformity: a desire to fit in or be part of the crowd.  But it’s our differences, how we stand out, that draw an employer’s attention.

Keith Bogan, founder of the Whine & Dine network, made this point explicitly: according to him, a recruiter gives a resume less than 20 seconds to catch his attention.  And note the phrase: “catch his attention”.

In other words: a recruiter is looking for something that does not conform.

Being extra-ordinary is ultimately a key part of how you execute your job search, because at the end of the day, being extra-ordinary will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next job.

2010/05/18

Staying Focused: Best Practices & Your Elevator Speech

I participate in many conversations about elevator speeches in various networking groups. A question often raised in these conversations is how to convey our key information succinctly and memorably. The elevator speech needs to achieve both of those objectives, but the optimal verbiage to accomplish both can be elusive. So I want to share a summary of the best practices I have encountered thus far about crafting the elevator speech.

It’s a Commercial:

The elevator speech needs to be brief, between 30 and 60 seconds according to most sources. These time constraints underscore the aptness of the other name for an elevator speech: the 30 second commercial. And just as a commercial’s purpose is to make you pick up a product in a store several days later, yours should intrigue the reader or listener enough to ask follow-up questions.

Authenticity:

Many sources about elevator speeches stress that it must sound natural, an honest reflection of your passion for the work and the way you speak. This is important for one very simple reason. If you pique someone’s interest and they ask follow-up questions, an abrupt shift from the highly polished 30 second commercial to a something much less polished may harm your credibility with the listener. While your elevator speech may be so finely crafted that it resembles the work of William Shakespeare, if you don’t usually speak in Elizabethan English using iambic pentameter, using it is probably not the best idea.

Uniqueness:

We each possess a unique set of skills, aptitudes, work experience, and qualifications which make us great candidates. From that rich background should flow the success stories of your work history. Perhaps an idea you had saved your employer millions of dollars. Maybe you landed a significant client—or retained a major client that was considering moving on. Or did you streamline a process so that it required 25% less time, thereby freeing colleagues to spend time addressing other pressing matters? In like fashion, your success stories should underscore the unique combination of talents you represent. While you likely will have time for only one success story when you give your elevator speech, it’s important to have several on hand, because the conversation may lend itself to including a different success story in one circumstance than another.

Adaptability:

Your elevator speech, no matter how polished, natural, or engaging, is never really “done”. As you encounter new situations or new advice that resonates with you, it will continue evolving, a mirror reflecting those experiences and that advice. You would be very unlikely to deliver your elevator speech in a networking group the same way you would in an interview.

And this is a good thing! This need for constant change serves as a valuable reminder that, as with any other best practices, relentless commitment to excellence is the single most important part of the equation.

And at the end of the day, best practices in crafting your elevator speech helps you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next job.

2010/04/16

Staying Focused: Learning from Actors

There’s an old actors joke: an actor looks to the director and demands in distraught tones, “what’s my motivation?”  It’s a joke, because as any actor will tell you, it is his or her job to know the character’s motivation in any scene.  The actor should be an expert on his or her character.

In job search, motivation can be hard to find some days.  There are certainly days when my motivation is subpar, and I think I’m far from alone in that respect: maybe it’s been a while now; maybe we haven’t been getting responses.  So not often, but sometimes, at some point, the negatives start to outweigh the positives.

Yet just as in acting, it’s our job to find motivation, isn’t it?  And to be clear, the issue isn’t being unmotivated per se: we understand what’s at stake.  We would like nothing better than to be able to stop the job search process.

So the question isn’t really how to find motivation, so much as it is how to renew motivation.  And honestly, I find that being able to help someone else in their own search is the most helpful way to achieve that renewal of purpose.

One way in which I try to set myself up for success in this regard is to talk with people I encounter.  Just as I will forward a job posting to someone I think is a good fit, trying to connect two people who might be able to help one another can also be helpful to their job search and by getting to know people, I can position myself better to do that.  When you put two people in touch who find that connection mutually profitable, you get a good feeling from having facilitated that introduction.

Another way that works for me is to get a little perspective.  The news keeps telling us that the economy is bad: yes, we know.  But as a member of PSG and other networking groups, I see practically every week that people I know are landing positions. From this, I conclude at least some businesses are hiring.  And this means that there’s HOPE (Helping Other People Excel).

There will be days when the cynical voice in the back of your mind disagrees with everything, no matter how logical.  I don’t get them often, thankfully, but I do get them.  And on those days, maybe the best thing to do is to “take a mental health day”.

It’s like taking a sick day.  If job search is itself a full-time job, then just as an employer gives sick days or vacation days, make sure you are giving yourself the same benefits.  By doing so, you empower yourself to be an effective job seeker the next day.

We are each of us experts on our own respective job searches, just as actors are experts on their characters.

At the end of the day, learning from actors helps you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next job.

2010/03/09

Staying Focused: Demonstrating Leadership

Everyone likes team players, people who are just looking to get the job done: complete the project, stay on budget or remain on schedule. Team players are the cogs making up the well-oiled machine that meets business or organization needs, the conventional wisdom goes.

But the fact remains that teams often need leaders: someone who sets direction, herds cats and makes sure that business or organization needs are being met. Teams need someone focusing on the strategic needs as well as the tactical needs.

Teams need someone like you.

You might protest, “I’m not a leader: I’m a team player!” And I’m sure you’re right: just as we’re socialized to be modest, we’re socialized to play well with others. A friend of mine is fond of saying that long-term, cooperation is the best success strategy and I think he is absolutely right.

But that does not in any way mean that being a team player and being a leader are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the two go together, hand in hand.

Sports metaphors sometimes can be hackneyed but to me the mark of a great coach is someone who puts his or her players in the best position to succeed. Is that any different from a leader in the workplace?

Several months ago at a networking meeting, I met an administrative assistant who is in transition. She was concerned that employers are seeking leaders but didn’t see how she demonstrated leadership in her job. I observed that by preparing the executive she supported and keeping him or her as free of distractions as possible, she was demonstrating leadership. Positioning others for success is the mark of a leader.

Leadership is peculiarly democratic: anybody can demonstrate leadership. From the perspective of positioning others to succeed, I think it’s clear that leadership is exhibited at any level of an organization, from C level executives to every other part of the organizational chart.

For most of my career, I did not think of myself as demonstrating leadership. Yet once I began to understand this truth, I realized that for years, I was selling myself short. In my first experience hiring, my then-manager offered me some invaluable advice: I wasn’t hiring someone to perform the position in the job posting but rather, someone who could do that and also be promotable thereafter.

He wanted me to hire a leader.

At the end of the day, demonstrating leadership helps you land your next job.

2010/01/26

Talking with the Job Seeker in Your Life

Filed under: job search, professional service group, PSG — Tags: , — edmusesupon @ 3:35 pm

It can be difficult to know how to talk with a job seeker.  The process of managing a job search is emotionally—and sometimes physically—exhausting.  Not just for the job seeker, but also for those who watch him or her continue to apply for jobs, go to networking meetings and attend job fairs, without getting the job, or sometimes, even an interview.  There are a lot of ups and downs as someone goes through this process.

The job seeker in your life knows full well that you want to be supportive but it can be difficult to know how to talk to him or her.  As someone who’s been through the process more than once, I want to share a few ideas about how to be supportive and most helpful to the person in your life who is weathering a career transition in this economy.

Do:

  • Focus on the positive.  This cannot be stressed enough.  Sometimes, we will reach for a position for which we may not, at first blush, seem like the best match for us  If we have made the decision to apply, that is our decision.  This is our job: would you welcome someone else telling you how to do yours?
  • Keep us informed about events or networking groups.  We may not wind up participating in them, but that you’re looking out for us is always appreciated, and sometimes, that concern means more than the tip you send our way.
  • Ask us about particular employers we might be researching and look for opportunities to facilitate an introduction to someone within those organizations.  And please continue asking periodically: our goals may shift as our search lengthens.
  • Encourage us to track the calls, letters, e-mails, meetings and other activities which comprise our job search.  Job search as a process rewards effort and persistence, and having a metric to gauge both gives us some means of seeing our progress.

Don’t:

  • Talk about our (or other people’s) horror stories, or the crummy state of the job market.  Job search is one of the most emotionally difficult things people do.  If we wanted to be depressed, we’d read some of our high school poetry.  We want to be around positive people because we need that.  If you aren’t being one, don’t be surprised if we start becoming scarce.
  • Begin every conversation with “How’s your job search going?” The simple truth: it’s discouraging, and sometimes exceedingly so.  We know you want to help, that you’re asking because you’re concerned.  But understand that everyone else around us is starting conversations that way.  Asking the far more general “What’s up?” will accomplish the same.  If there’s no news, you have saved us from having to repeat that for the umpteenth time.  If there is news, we’ll tell you—in fact, we’ll probably be shouting it from the rooftops!
  • Forward our resume to people we do not know.  Most of us have multiple versions of our resumes, and if you forward our resumes, we have no control over the message we’re putting out there.  Instead, offer to introduce us to people—ideally, face to face, if possible.  A face to face meeting, just for an informational interview, can be worth tons more than a simple e-mail, and is really our objective: not an e-mail whose status we will never know about firsthand.
  • Tell us if we need anything, call/e-mail/text.  This gesture, however well-intentioned, will in the vast majority of cases result in our responding, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind” and result in…nothing.  The problem is that it’s open-ended and vague, like suggesting, “We should catch up, it’s been forever!” without any follow-up.  A superior alternative: suggest something specific.  Offers to review resumes, share contacts, or an invitation to dinner just to catch up—with a specific date and time—are always welcome.

As stated previously: we know that you want us to succeed.  We know that you are concerned.  And we appreciate that a great deal.

We just want to empower you to be helpful in ways you might not have considered.

2009/12/15

Herding Cats

One of the challenges in coordinating activities in a volunteer group of professionals is that of empowering professionals properly, so that the energy and work are focused properly and achieve the desired objectives. This becomes increasingly so when discussing several such volunteer groups that are just starting to coordinate objectives and processes. Indeed, it’s probably fair to refer to it as herding cats.

But I am firm believer that the key to addressing a challenge remains in understanding why the challenge exists in the first place. In this case, the challenge exists for two reasons:

1) PSGs are comprised of professionals in transition. Therefore, activity is in some measure inversely correlated to the economy–that is, a strong economy = less PSG activity and vice versa–and therefore, members land jobs, the critical mass of people needed to maintain a group’s activity is potentially threatened.

2) No matter how effective or over how long, most PSGs have had bouts of inactivity, and whatever practices or institutional knowledge was built-up prior was then lost.

So now that the why is understood, how can this be addressed and avoided going forward?

The nature of the group cannot be changed: a group of professionals helping one another find their next jobs is by definition going to be composed of job seekers. But this time, we are making sure that does not happen again by making sure we leave records of our institutional knowledge. We are establishing independent online presences such as web sites, social media and LinkedIn groups. We are coordinating with one another to share, establish and document best practices. And most importantly, we are creating succession plans so those who follow us need not reinvent the wheel.

I have long felt that the best legacy any member of an organization can leave is a method or process that remains in use thereafter.

I feel very good about what ours will be.

2009/12/08

Staying Focused: Paying It Forward

If you were to see me at a networking event, I would strike you as a fairly sociable sort. When I attend networking events, I really get a charge out of meeting someone I don’t know…these days. The majority of such meetings are larger groups than I prefer, but I tend to do fairly well with them.

The funny thing about all of this is that even a few years ago, I would have described myself as shy and afraid of public speaking.

Shyness isn’t exactly uncommon, and fear of public speaking might with some justice be said to be a pandemic: according to WebMD, public speaking is the single most common fear in the US.

Now, reading this column will not make you a better public speaker—although this link might be helpful in getting you through it. Instead, I want to share with you a technique that gets me over my own anxiety.

And it’s very simple: by paying it forward.

That might sound glib, but it’s honest…and true. It’s taken a while to understand this, but I realized that yes: I do have something worthwhile to add to a conversation going on around me. And so do you.

What changed for me was entering conversations with the honestly and sincerely-held intention of trying to help someone overcome whatever challenge he or she was facing. While it’s true that this isn’t always an objective that can be realized, in the vast majority of cases, it can be. We all know other people who are employed, and we might even know hiring managers who have a need but don’t know of suitable candidates. We can certainly all add value to someone else’s job search.

And let’s not pussy foot around the fact that job search can be exceptionally discouraging. For my part, I spent the first six months of my own job search not getting anything more than an automated “thank you” for applying for a job. I didn’t get so much as a single “we’re going another direction, thank you” response in that entire time—never mind an interview.

When I can genuinely help a fellow job seeker, that’s positively huge! There is such a dearth of interaction in applying for jobs—it can be incredibly discouraging. Being able to be helpful to someone gives you a measure of control you might have difficulty finding otherwise. Indeed, if I am able to help someone else in their search, I consider it a pretty big win.

Knowing that you were able to help someone else in their job search is a great feeling. I cannot state this strongly enough: helping a fellow job seeker is incredibly valuable.

It is valuable, neither because it gives you a sense of accomplishment—although it certainly does that—nor because that person might then be inclined to help you, although that too might also be true. It isn’t even that positioning other people to help you by helping them land a new job is good, even though this too may be true.

No, it is incredibly valuable because it empowers us. Without that, it would be all too easy to curl up in a corner and not emerge for days at a time.

At the end of the day: paying it forward helps you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next jobs.

2009/11/13

How PSG Adds Value to Job Search

The Professional Service Group, or PSG, adds tremendous value to the job search process for professionals in transition. The following is discussion of my experiences with this extraordinary group.

I have been involved in the PSG of Mercer County since January. I first discovered PSG through the Job Seekers networking and support group, and as a professional in transition, quickly found a group of like-minded professionals with an interest in taking ownership over the job search process, committed to thought-leadership and passionate about best practices.

As the name suggests, PSG is a group that provides a service to professionals: getting back into the workplace. Past members have held certifications such as PMPs or CPAs, with degrees ranging from an associate’s up to a doctorate. And as a group of professionals for professionals, we help one another land our next jobs.

With the support of the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, we have access to tools such as computers, phones, faxes, copiers and printers. But I want to discuss what the members provide that makes PSG so valuable.

According to numerous sources, 80% of jobs are filled through networking, and PSG is a great way to network. When you work alongside somebody on a project, you know better what he or she is willing to and capable of doing, and they know better what your strengths are. When you complete a project, you have kept your skills fresh or perhaps you learned a new skill, which means there’s something new to add to your resume. But beyond that, each week the Training Committee provides a presentation that directly addresses concerns or topics of interest for job seekers: job leads, resume tips and mock interview workshops featuring members, to name just a few.

I am aware of no other resource offering such a rich toolkit of job search tools and tactics. While there are other counties across the state with their own PSGs, this is a toolkit not available in neighboring states: neither the Pennsylvania, New York, nor Connecticutt state governments provide an analogous such framework that empowers professionals to conduct a more effective job search.

With the NJ unemloyment rate at nearly 10% at the time of this writing, it is important that both prospective employers seeking local candidates as well as transitioning professionals know about this unique, free resource.

2009/11/09

Staying Focused: Tracking Progress

It can be dispiriting to put in so much effort into job search and often not even get an acknowledgement, never mind an interview. I know I face that frustration myself often and doubt that’s unique to me. But I found a way to combat that frustration.

I was privileged to hear a presentation on job search methods given by David Shultis recently through a networking group. He shared a lot of excellent ideas, but there are two in particular I wanted in turn to share with you.

Some years ago, I was let go from a major financial services firm and part of that included several months with an outplacement firm, Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH). One of the ideas LHH had, which Mr. Shultis also recommended in his presentation, was the idea of developing a method of tracking the progress of your job search. Think of it as applying metrics to any other work.

The idea itself is simple: create a chart for each day of the week, in which you track calls attempted, calls made, specific e-mail inquiries sent, general e-mails sent, informational meetings, meetings with possible employers and with whom, interviews with possible employers and with whom and networking meetings.

Assuming you are using a spreadsheet such as Excel for this purpose: create one worksheet for each month. Being able to review when you’ve been most productive can give insight about ways to optimize your efforts Beyond that, the ability to track the effort you are putting into job search is not just sound project management, it’s a great motivational tool for you as well.

The second idea Mr. Shultis shared, and this was new to me, was the idea of a buddy group: a small group of people who can share networking info and offer support. Networking groups can sometimes be a bit large for some to feel comfortable, so the idea of a smaller and more intimate environment fired my imagination, and reminded me of something that happened at my last job.

A little over a year ago, I began a new position. On my first day, I met another new hire, waiting patiently in the lobby while waiting for the HR orientation. We learned that we were going to be coworkers in the same department and we bonded immediately. Although both of us were let go from that position, L remains a dear friend, and I know she and I both felt having a support group was helpful in getting oriented in a place that employed several hundred people.

While of course your friends or family can be great assets, there’s something to be said for getting outside of your comfort zone with other people who bring different perspectives and insights. The strain of being unemployed is hard to appreciate unless you’re in it, and who’s going to get it better than other folks facing the same kinds of obstacles as you?

I mention these two ideas together because individually, they’re pretty useful ideas—but using them together can make them even more so.

Use the buddy group to be accountable for progress, in terms of calls, e-mail and meetings. In turn, everyone in the group analyzes the results your respective job searches yield and you can help optimize your efforts. You may find that calling on Mondays or Fridays is tricky in the summer because people take long weekends when the weather’s nice. If that’s what your research shows, you just saved your buddy group hours trying to reach people who are sipping umbrella drinks, not their morning joe.

At the end of the day, tracking your progress helps you to stay focused on the big picture: landing your next job.

2009/10/05

PSG? You mean the utility company?

One issue that plagues most Professional Service Groups (PSGs) is the fact that their existence depends on a critical mass of people who are committed to the group and willing to do the work. When that critical mass is absent, PSGs fall into inactivity.

In this respect, the PSG of Mercer County is no different: its current incarnation came about through the hard work of several people, ultimately yielding that critical mass in September 2008. I first learned about PSG from a networking and support group that meets in Princeton called JobSeekers, the longest continuously-operating such group in the region. Several of those key people are members of JobSeekers and spoke of getting PSG up and running again. The idea was win/win: it would be a great way both to exercise my professional skills and to network with the people involved.

And that’s precisely what’s happened. People talk about tactics we can deploy in job search: networking, job boards, support groups, job search buddies, some people are still talking about newspapers…there’s a number of tactics, all with implementations that will work optimally for us. But PSG isn’t a tactic: it’s a strategy. When I write my monthly article for the newsletter, I keep my writing skills sharp. When I attend a presentation by the Training committee, I learn something new or participate in a workshop that helps me refine my interview skills or elevator speech. When I help lead the weekly LinkedIn Lab, I hone my presentation skills and sometimes even learn something myself. And without fail, in the weekly general membership meeting, I always encounter someone with whom I want to network: either because I can offer something useful to that person, or vice versa.

Working alongside other professionals to achieve a shared goal provides the sense of accomplishment that I’ve been missing since becoming unemployed.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: