ed muses upon

2011/07/26

Staying Focused: Perspective

One-point perspective. Tennoji Park, Osaka, Japan.

Image via Wikipedia

“I’m good at offering people advice that works well for them. I just can’t seem to do that for myself.”

Does this sound like someone you know? For that matter, does it sound like you?

This happens to me fairly often and I bet it’s a sufficiently common phenomenon that the odds are good that if you’re reading this, it might sound like someone you know, if not you.

Or maybe this situation sounds familiar. A friend has asked you to review their résumé and see if you can offer some insight. Maybe it’s someone you’ve known for years, maybe it’s someone relatively new to you that you’ve met through networking, but we’ve all been there: someone wants your input on their résumé. And you probably saw a few things that you could suggest.

Perhaps they’re still using an objective, when summaries are now in vogue. Or perhaps it’s something really substantial, like the résumé is lacking in accomplishments, so each position consists only of a list of duties. It could be something as simple as including the LinkedIn public profile URL with the rest of the contact details. Whatever the case: you were able to help your friend make some edits that were helpful and left the résumé stronger than when you first saw it.

I think we’ve all been there.

When I went through outplacement some years ago, a group exercise in which I participated was reviewing one another’s résumés. It was a thought-provoking and instructive exercise. What I learned through that experience was how much easier it is to write about someone else rather than ourselves.

In my experience, I find that quite often, job seekers are reticent to speak confidently about what we have accomplished in the past, and perhaps as importantly, what we expect to achieve in the future.

So let me pose a question: if it’s easier to offer advice to others and it’s easier to write about someone else than about ourselves, how do we improve our résumés?

There are several possible answers, but I can’t help thinking that if it’s easier to talk about someone else, why not leverage that tendency? Why not get together a few friends and get their input?

Part of my branding strategy involves the word “wordsmith”—anyone who’s heard my elevator speech has heard this. Some time ago, a recruiter I know expressed some concerns about the fact that, as a recruiter, he will never do a search for a “wordsmith”. People who want someone with a way with words will never try to find someone that way: they will look for a writer or a copy editor. And if I didn’t use those terms, I would be harming my candidacy.

It took him telling me this to understand. I need to step outside of myself and be sure that how I present myself to others—whether online or otherwise—is understandable. It was an important lesson to learn—and underscores the importance of stepping outside of ourselves. Without his input, I would never have thought to broaden my branding.

That was just one person’s input. Imagine what more any of us could learn if we had more input from people whose views we trust?

At the end of the day: perspective may just help you stay focused on what really matters in your job search process: branding that helps you land your next opportunity.

2011/06/01

Staying Focused: Meaningful Metrics

A donut chart

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Some years ago, I was involved in a project that required negotiating with several dozen data vendors and stock exchanges around the world, both in developed and emerging markets. It was a high-profile mission-critical project so I allocated my time accordingly, working practically around the clock. When I first undertook this project, success was defined as an executed agreement with a data vendor or stock exchange for a given market.

As time went on, I grew increasingly frustrated because these conversations took a considerable amount of time to complete. More often than not, at the end of each week, I could not report the satisfactory conclusion of any such discussion. While discussing this issue with my manager, he observed that I was tracking the wrong metric: completed agreements.

In the ensuing conversation, he noted that where results are not directly related to effort, tracking effort was more appropriate. I had no control over whether or not any given negotiation would conclude on a given timetable: I could only control the effort made to facilitate such a conclusion. And so long as I communicated the effort clearly and my strategy made sense, the lack of completed contracts became less vexing.

This experience relates directly to managing one’s job search. It’s very easy to get hung up on the big events in job search, such as interviews or offers. But not all job seekers have a skill-set and orientation that affords such a volume. So instead, track the effort: number of applications completed, informational interviews, new contacts, networking events attended. These are metrics over which you have much greater control than interviews or job offers.

I have two suggestions for methods to help feed one metric over which you have control: the number of informational interviews you have.

One method to feed your metrics is the Follow Company feature on LinkedIn. Open up any company profile on LinkedIn and in the upper right corner of the page is an option to follow the company. Going forward, LinkedIn will keep you informed about promotions, departures, new hires and new LinkedIn job postings. This is a great way to stay apprised of new opportunities but also possible candidates for informational interviews. It’s important to recognize that this information is based upon when a LinkedIn user updates his/her profile to indicate that they are now working at the organization. Presumably, someone would not so update their profile unless they had been in place for a few weeks and are feeling comfortable letting their professional network know they have landed there.

Another simple way to do so: when attending job search groups, incorporate three of your target employers in your elevator speech. This approach can be particularly effective when you are new to a group. By providing this information, you offer a natural icebreaker to other attendees and better enable them to offer suggestions for informational interviews.

Together, these two steps should yield many more prospects for informational interviews. This is important, because feeling good about your effort in job search will otherwise be very hard to find.

In closing, think about what job search metrics you are tracking. Do they make sense to track week in and week out or do you need to add some good, achievable metrics? I suspect it’s the latter. Success breeds success: succeeding with challenging but attainable goals will help you remain on target.

Tracking achievable metrics will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

2011/02/09

Staying Focused: LinkedIn, Your Second-Best Friend

linkedin

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Anyone who has heard me talk about it, and especially those who are connected with me on LinkedIn, know that I am big fan of LinkedIn. I’m a fan for several reasons, not the least of which is because I think it’s clear that LinkedIn is a job seeker’s second best friend.

Any job seeker’s best friend is him or her self: nobody will ever be better positioned to advocate for why you are the best candidate for an opportunity. But as far as tools go for propagating your personal brand and your unique value proposition as a candidate, you cannot beat LinkedIn. And I say this for several reasons.

Networking

We know that networking is how 70% of positions are filled, courtesy of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS report. LinkedIn offers an incredible wealth of opportunities to network professionally, which empowers job seekers to get maximum return on investment (ROI) for staying in touch with professional contacts.

But far beyond merely keeping the lines of communication with existing connections, LinkedIn users can prospect new connections. In group discussions, job seekers can raise their visibility among thought leaders and prospective hiring managers. By adding value in this way, a job seeker can win mindshare from professional peers. I’ve received and sent invitations to connect from others solely on the basis of contributions to groups in which I am active.

Personal Branding

Although the networking opportunities in LinkedIn are of obvious relevance to a job seeker, the prospect of establishing and controlling one’s personal brand is less obvious—but potentially more important. A lot of people have been talking about personal branding in the past year: Google shows 7.8 million hits on that search phrase.

Personal branding is simple: it is a job seeker’s unique value proposition: a combination of experience, training, skills and aptitudes no one else has. Identifying your unique value proposition can be a challenge, but pays great dividends. It provides a theme for elevator speeches, LinkedIn summaries and any other content a candidate develops to raise his or her visibility. And the best way to leverage your unique value proposition on LinkedIn is to incorporate it in your LinkedIn headline.

The headline always appears with your name anytime your name appears on LinkedIn, a fantastic branding opportunity! I’ve seen a lot of profiles in the years I have used LinkedIn. Many job seekers have as their headline, “[industry/job function] professional”. But in a job market like this, the odds of someone having an identical headline are quite high—the very opposite of a unique value proposition.

Applications

LinkedIn offers a wealth of applications: pieces of software that each LinkedIn user can choose to incorporate into their profile. Several are of very broad utility: Box.net allows users to share electronic files with others connected with him or her. This is a superb place to house your market plan, so your connections are better empowered to act as advocates for you. This is a far better solution than sharing your résumé, which will almost necessarily be at odds with the experience listed in your profile if you are following the job search best practice of customizing your résumé for each position.

Other applications have a more targeted appeal: the SAP Community Bio and Creative Portfolio Display are only relevant to certain professionals—but for them, may be of considerable significance.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, investing the time to learn where LinkedIn empowers your job search most will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

2010/11/09

Staying Focused: Moonlighting & Your Job Search

Some years ago, due to films like Grosse Pointe Blank and Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, eighties music was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. My wife and I were leaving a music store and as we were leaving, two teens walked into the store in mid-conversation. Just before the doors closed behind them, we couldn’t help overhearing one exclaim to the other, “Cuz 80s music is, like, the best music evar!!!”

As a child of the 80s, my preferences in music sometimes revert to the music of my high school experiences. As the foregoing illustrates, some of it remains very catchy. But it’s hard to discuss one’s high school experiences without addressing the subject of what was on TV at the time.

One very popular show of the time was Moonlighting. The Cybill Shepherd/Bruce Willis vehicle that vaulted the latter into stardom was a favorite of mine. The show featured some of the snappiest dialogue on television when it premiered in 1985. Something I always appreciated as a writer was the quotable lines the cast delivered with impeccable timing. One quote that has stuck with me ever since was delivered by Bruce Willis: “Everyone’s perfect at something”.

Things have their intrinsic meanings and then the adding meanings brought by circumstances and whim. That’s the case here, too.

Everyone’s perfect at something.” In your professional experience, I am willing to wager that was true of almost everyone you encountered. If I ask you who has the best PowerPoint skills, you probably can think of a name immediately. Who was it that could consistently un-jam the photocopier? When you couldn’t get Excel to do what you needed, wasn’t there someone you always turned to?

I’m assuming that the answers to those three questions are all different. So let me turn this around: if I asked all of those people what you were perfect at, what would they say?

Several groups, including the ETP Network, are big proponents of identifying a job seeker’s “unique value proposition”: the unique blend of skills, experience and aptitude that a candidate offers. And yes, it is unique: no one else has the same exact skills, experience and aptitudes you possess, in the same measures.

That is what you’re perfect at.

Once you have identified what you’re perfect at, it’s a matter of helping the recruiters and hiring managers who need you to find you. Everyone talks about networking as the biggest source of jobs (per the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70%). It is in this way that you are able to demonstrate why you are a great fit for the demands of an opportunity.

At the end of the day, a quote from Moonlighting might just help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

2010/11/03

Staying Focused: Fortune Favors the Bold Job Seeker

In his work Phormio, Roman playwright Terence introduced the expression fortes fortuna adiuvat. The motto of several military units in the US and British armed forces, this phrase is most commonly translated as “fortune favors the bold”. Although Phormio dates back to the second century BCE, the observation remains just as apt today, over two millennia later. Even today we often say “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, which is a re-formulation of the same sentiment: bold action is rewarded.

Looking across classic mythology, we see this sentiment echoed—from an infant Zeus leading his siblings in revolt successfully against their father Kronos all the way to the success of the Trojan Horse, brainchild of Odysseus. Through centuries of mythmaking, the ancient Greeks affirmed their admiration for boldness and ingenuity time and again.

And we are not much different from the ancient Greeks: this same admiration continues unabated in the modern day. In the past several years, popular entertainment is littered with tales of clever, admirable scoundrels as heroes, from the Ocean’s films starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt to the TV show Leverage. While the popularity of the grifter in entertainment is in part a function of broader societal disillusionment, the criminal has always had appeal. How else could one explain five separate big screen films about Robin Hood or the enduring popularity of Bonnie & Clyde?

But this isn’t an exploration of the cultural subconscious. This is about how to draw lessons from the cultural subconscious that will help ramp-up your job search. These are the four lessons that each job seeker should take:

Build Interest

Publicize your résumé bullet points. Your accomplishments are impressive: others deserve to know about them! Talk about one when you deliver your elevator speech—and if you attend a regular job search or networking group, highlight a different one each time. Your professional value is far more than just one achievement.

Own Your Mindset

The abbreviation GIGO—Garbage In, Garbage Out—applies here. What kind of content you take in is reflected in your mentality. If you are relentlessly reading about the poor state of the economy or the latest share price tumble, it becomes much harder to maintain the positive, confident mentality hiring managers want to see. Consider calling a friend or job search buddy for a dose of good news to get in the right frame of mind. One way to do this…

Live Your Accomplishments

Take a few minutes to review your résumé. Look at your best accomplishment bullet points. Remember how achieving them made you feel. Your résumé is a celebration of the great things of which you are capable.

Deliver

In your job search, you have to deliver for hiring organizations, whether corporate or non-profit. You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. But—with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel—since no one is a rock or an island, you’ve met friends and connections who have helped to progress your job search, either with a shared connection, or maybe a tip, or sometimes the right word at the right time. Maybe you’ve even been able to help a few. Well, consider delivering for a few of them, too.

Because at the end of the day, being BOLD will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

2010/10/26

Staying Focused: Are Your Accomplishments Legendary?

In Greek mythology, Hercules[1] was the son of the Greek god and chronic philanderer Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal woman. More than mildly miffed by this dalliance, the goddess Hera sent serpents to kill Hercules when he was only an infant. Even from his earliest days, Hercules clearly demonstrated that he was destined for great things.

Hercules is best known to modern audiences for his epic Labors, a series of tasks he was assigned as penance for a terrible crime—and again, thanks in part Hera. They have come down to us through legend from slaying the Nemean lion to capturing Cerberus, the three-headed guardian to the underworld. Hercules went on to join the Argonauts, the Greek mythology version of an All-Star game and finished by being elevated to godhood.

It may sometimes be tempting to view oneself as a latter-day Hercules, heroically striving against the mighty challenges an antagonistic figure sets in our way. But the real applicability is in his Labors—specifically, as relates to your résumé.

Imagine what a résumé for Hercules might resemble. What might his professional experience look like?

 

Hero at Large

Righter of wrongs whose boundless energy brings justice, thrills and spills across Greece. Author of heroic feats of strength poets will recount for millennia. Creator of effective solutions for proverbially thorny issues.

  • Overcame Nemean lion through deployment of legendary strength in service to intelligent tactics, ending the lion’s threat to 500+ local residents.
  • Defeated the Lernaean hydra and its many, re-growing heads with the surgical application of medical best practices, resulting in acquiring a unique tactical asset.
  • Won passage to and from the underworld to capture and subdue the three-headed dog Cerberus, the underworld’s guardian, producing the return of Athenian hero and king Theseus.

Examine the accomplishments, each drawn from one of the legendary Labors of Hercules. Although no metrics are included for any but the first, note that the form of each is in the PAR (Problem, Action, Result) behavioral interview question form. In each case, the chief challenge or problem for each task is listed at the beginning followed by the specific action undertaken and closes with the result. And the result is that Hercules looks heroic

Do the accomplishments on your résumé do the same for you? Shouldn’t they?

At the end of the day, making your accomplishments the stuff of legend will yield a more powerful résumé that will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

 

 


[1]Although I use the familiar form “Hercules” throughout, it should technically be “Heracles” as the reference is to Greek, rather than Roman legend.

2010/08/31

Staying Focused: Being the Known Quantity

The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 70% of all positions are filled through networking. The importance of networking, so often trumpeted to job seekers, depends upon that figure. But it’s worth asking why it’s so important. What makes networking so vital to landing?

The answer is simple: it’s how employers know you are a living, breathing person.

While individual businesses may be more or less open to aggressive solutions or thinking, it’s fair to say that as a rule, businesses tend to be risk averse. This is only sensible in a for-profit enterprise: if an effort or initiative requires [x] resources, then [x] must be lesser than the expected revenue/cost reduction or it isn’t worth proceeding.

The costs associated with bringing on a new employee are considerable: the employee needs to be trained, resulting in lost productivity of the person or people involved in that training; the tasks assigned to the new employee cannot be completed as quickly as when an experienced person is in that role; to say nothing of the costs of recruiting and costs in benefits incurred. And of course, if a new employee doesn’t work out, the whole process might need to be repeated. A business is willing to take the hit in lost productivity, but only for the right new hire.

For those reasons, it should come as no surprise that businesses are even more conservative when it comes to evaluating résumés. HR and hiring managers are flooded with dozens or even hundreds of résumés for each job posting. No matter how well crafted, résumés don’t represent living, breathing people to the screener: they are merely skill sets or aptitudes that either do or do not match the criteria in the posting.

A résumé has no face, no sense of humor and no personality. And that’s the problem: a hiring manager isn’t hiring a résumé: he or she is hiring an employee, someone with the optimal combination of required background and ability to fit into the corporate culture. No matter how compellingly crafted or presented, the résumé will always be a poorer sales tool than the product: you.

We’ve all done it: applied for a position, submitted the relevant material into the black hole and heard nothing back with no way to follow up except a general HR phone number or e-mail address—which is to say, no way at all. This part of job search is easily the most frustrating, unsatisfying and soul-killing part: the stakes are very high but you have no control, influence or even means to gauge your progress as a candidate. In this situation, the screener is a faceless, nameless, and hence anonymous figure…just like you.

It is to overcome this anonymity, this facelessness, which makes networking so directly important to job search. Leaving aside the fact that the people we encounter at networking events might pass along useful leads, by networking, you can become a face, a name and a known quantity.

Psychologists have been aware of the halo effect for decades. In HR circles, the term is used to refer to a hiring manager identifying a positive trait that mitigates a candidate’s negative trait(s). As job seekers, we need to make full use of the tools in our toolkit to land.

At the end of the day, staying focused on being the known quantity is at the heart of networking’s importance, and will help you land.

2010/08/10

Staying Focused: Personal Branding

Everywhere I look, job search advice stresses the importance of branding yourself. Rod Colon, founder of the ETP Network, is fond of employing the entrepreneurship metaphor, describing job seekers as the CEOs of Me, Inc. I like this metaphor a great deal: it explains so clearly the ownership and initiative that constitute job search best practices.

There are hundreds of applications for any job posting these days. As job seekers, we know that overcoming the odds means we must distinguish ourselves from other candidates. Just as in any crowded marketplace, our success in our search is dependent upon our ability to communicate our unique suitability in solving someone’s problem. But how we communicate to employers our unique suitability to solving their problem?

The answer: by propagating our professional brands.

A brand should consist of achievements and skills that explain why you are worth knowing. Perhaps you have such an extensive procurement background that if you haven’t bought it, no one needs it, as in the case of one friend. It could be that you are a trainer whose specialty is making information meaningful—which is how another friend and PSG alumna describes herself. Or maybe you are a quality professional who stands ready to address an employer’s quality needs, like yet a third friend.

Anyone who has heard a great elevator speech has heard these taglines clearly communicating their professional brand. But branding is about more than a tagline. Just as an ad campaign for the next big summer blockbuster film is about much more than just one poster appearing in theaters, your brand is about more than a tagline.

This is not to say that a tagline isn’t important: it certainly is. But it’s only part of a much bigger whole; just one tactic deployed in pursuit of your overall strategy.

Certainly, networking is the most powerful way to propagate your professional brand: that’s why there are so many networking groups. But there are ways you can propagate your brand online to hiring managers, and those ways start with LinkedIn. There are ways to integrate a blog, publicize what you are reading, or what events you will be attending through LinkedIn. Sharing this information with people in your network can be a powerful means of propagating your professional brand. A blog can be an excellent way to share your hard-won expertise, so using the BlogLink or WordPress applications would allow you to tie a blog into your LinkedIn profile. A great way to demonstrate thought-leadership or simply that you are staying current in your area is the Reading List by Amazon application. And there is always the Events application, which allows you to find or create events and notify people in your LinkedIn network. Beyond the realm of LinkedIn applications are the LinkedIn Questions & Answers, a tremendous way to raise your visibility by answering questions people might pose from the more than 75 million users of the site.

As job seekers, we have a unique value proposition. We are strong candidates, capable of great things. Out there somewhere is an employer who deserves the opportunity to learn how great.

At the end of the day, staying focused on branding will help you find that employer.

2010/07/19

Staying Focused: Stand Out with Social Media

I finished reading Erik Qualman’s excellent Socialnomics recently.  I want to share some of the book’s insights about the ramifications of social media’s omnipresence that have direct relevance to job search.

First, a caveat: I feel some social media enthusiasts contextualize everything in its terms, losing sight of the fact that social media, while omnipresent, is not omnipotent.  Conversely, it is clear some skeptics dismiss social media as not meaningful.  As with so many cases where a broad spectrum of views exists, I am convinced the truth lies in the middle.

Mr. Qualman provides plenty of examples illustrating the scope and power of social media.  There are several cases of organizations leveraging it successfully and less so, with clear bottom-line impact.  But it isn’t just large, established businesses that can achieve impressive results with social media: it can be used by small groups, too, and was used to great effect in the last presidential election.  The message is clear: social media is a powerful tool which can be transformative when engaged successfully.

So where is the return on investment (ROI) in social media for the job seeker?  Anne Pepper gave an informative presentation recently about job search correspondence.  During the presentation, she shared a surprising statistic: 5% of job seekers send a thank you letter after an interview.  This shocks me: when we do write a thank you letter, we are employing another weapon in our arsenal that the vast majority of competing candidates are not.  Similarly, I find that the majority of job seekers I meet at networking events are not leveraging social media.

At its heart, social media revolves around our personal networks.  They are the original World Wide Web, whose strands are the effective relationships we have forged.  Most of us already use LinkedIn as a tool to help track professional relationships, so in one small way, we are already using one form of social media.  But there are certainly other forms of social media, such as Twitter.  Since December, LinkedIn has practically eliminated the barrier for exploring Twitter via integration of status updates: now you can tweet without ever logging on to Twitter.

One of the points Mr. Qualman makes is that successfully engaging social media requires a distinct voice.  There is so much being communicated through social media, so you must stand out.  In marketing, the objective is to communicate the unique value and suitability of the product.  Well, in our job search, we are the product, and the same rule applies.  We constantly hear that as job seekers, our elevator speeches must distinguish us from others, unambiguously identifying our unique value, our brand.  In adapting our résumés to a job posting, we are creating marketing that highlights our brand.  In the LinkedIn Lab, a workshop I lead, the first thing discussed is the importance of establishing and controlling your professional brand.  In short: it’s about standing out.

Social media can be a powerful tool—it helped elect a president!—that not many are engaging fully for their job search.  At the end of the day, engaging social media by standing out helps you stay focused on the big picture: landing.

2010/06/29

Staying Focused: Perception & Reality

There are few times when the night is darker than when we are in transition. The colors may seem less bright; the flavors, more muted. If you have been struggling with this, this installment is just for you.

There is a quotation from a Star Wars movie that sums up a revelation I had:

Remember: your perception determines your reality.”—Qui-Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace

While some might think it insipid to find meaning in pop culture, I would remind such readers of Shakespeare’s words: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Perception is critical. If we are angry or depressed, we might incorrectly perceive that we have nothing to offer at a networking event and thereby miss an opportunity to hear a speaker who could have provided some great takeaways, or meet a new contact who can really help. Mindset shaped the course of events, in this case by removing us from an opportunity.

This begs the question: how to leverage this truth most effectively and make it work for us? I submit there are two simple and complementary strategies to maintain a positive attitude and enthusiasm.

Control the Inputs

What this really means: manage the information and moods to which we are exposed. For example, I have a friend whose company I enjoy. However, she has a tendency to focus on the negative: the state of the economy; the difficulties of managing job search; the tragic news story du jour…if in a bad mood, I have to avoid taking her call for my own sanity! Conversely, I have friends whose company I actively seek when I am not at my best because they focus on the positive.

Bottom line, moods are contagious: all I am advocating is the metaphoric equivalent of washing your hands and taking vitamin C. Here are a few suggestions along those lines:

  • Most of us have particular music to which we listen when we’re happy—put some on!
  • Try taking the time to fix a meal of favorite comfort foods! A good meal can nourish both body and soul.
  • Talk to an old friend to catch up and help celebrate his or her recent successes.

Control the Outputs

We know a person by his or her words and deeds: together, they are our outputs and speak to the kinds of people we are. Accordingly, they can be great tools in managing our mindsets.

There are of course two sides to this: the things you refrain from saying/doing, and those you do not. The former is easily addressed: avoid wallowing in feeling bad or speaking ill of former employers or the like. The latter is also straightforward: doing something that helps another person makes us feel good. So to focus on the positive: what kinds of words and deeds are constructive?

  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation for a former manager or report—provided of course you can do so honestly.
  • Grow a relationship with a connection from a networking event with an appropriate news story or job posting.
  • Find a charitable organization whose mission you support and donate some of your time.

Bottom line: the things we do and say can and will affect our mindset.

In summary, managing one’s thinking is important, and there are several easy ways to do it. At the end of the day, controlling inputs and outputs will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

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