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

Image via Wikipedia

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.

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.

2010/10/26

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.

2010/09/15

Change Your Perspective!

Filed under: branding, careers, job search, networking, volunteering — Tags: , , , — edmusesupon @ 4:44 am

My wife & I live close to Philadelphia, so we often visit. We are slowly developing knowledge of and appreciation for the City of Brother Love on its own terms.

I recently celebrated a birthday and to mark the occasion, my wife provided a helicopter flight to tour the city of Philadelphia in a way I never had. We went up recently and had a blast!

The weather was perfect: low 80s, low humidity and the bluest sky we have seen for weeks. The helicopter, a Robinson R44, offers incredible visibility, as evidenced by this picture.

Over the course of the thirty minutes or so we were in the air, I was struck by how different the city looked from this height. At street level, it can be jarring, noisy…chaotic. But from about 500 feet up, the city is majestic, serene and surprisingly green. It was great to see Philly from this new perspective and my first experience in a helicopter.

Seeing things from a different perspective is important. One of the things I find most rewarding about talking with experts in their field is seeing something I thought I understood from a new perspective. That new perspective yields new insights—and from such exchanges, my understanding grows. So in a very real way, one can say that changing your perspective grows your understanding.

That got me thinking about résumés and the importance of having someone else review them. Many of us were brought up believing that talking about our accomplishments is immodest and not desirable. But given a chance to extol the merits of a colleague, the same people who keep mum about their own achievements can’t stop talking up their co-workers.

It’s this phenomenon that needs to be leveraged. Writing a résumé is not easy for most people, as discussed above. But talking about the great things someone else has done, this generally comes quite easily.

So if you know someone who is having trouble putting together a résumé, offering suggestions on how to make his or her accomplishments stronger might be a great way to help him or her. You will very likely offer a sorely-needed change of perspective.

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.

2010/08/23

The Importance of Being Busy

Filed under: branding, job search, networking, volunteering — Tags: , , , , , — edmusesupon @ 10:22 am

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of the end of July, the average bout of unemployment lasted 34.2 weeks, representing 44.9% of all unemployed Americans. This means taxpayers without jobs are spending just over 8 months without a paycheck.

A very popular interview question to ask candidates who are between opportunities is “what have you been doing with your time?” I know of several who are dealing with a gap of one year or more on their résumés. It is only natural that a hiring manager is going to ask such a candidate what they have been doing: in what way have they been keeping busy?

Despite the abundant and oft-repeated aphorism that looking for a job is itself a full-time job, “searching for my next opportunity” simply isn’t an acceptable answer to give in an interview. Job search does not generally help one keep professional skills sharp, and indeed, professional skills might even atrophy from disuse, especially if not exercised regularly.

I don’t consider this a problematic question: I have an answer that works for me. But I would submit that job seekers accustomed to or seeking leadership roles would do well to find avenues to exercise the craft of leadership. Tim Tyrell-Smith, author of the Tim’s Strategy blog, recently posted a relevant entry: 3 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership While Finding a Job. His suggestions of blogging, helping others to network and speaking are all excellent. Certainly, offering one’s expertise and experience through blogging, helping others with networking and speaking to others are absolutely ways to demonstrate leadership while in search. But note that all three of these ideas are also about networking.

In any job search process, there’s going to be a question about how to allocate a job seeker’s time. That aphorism about finding a job being a full-time job is right, even though you can’t say that in an interview.

So how should a job seeker spend his or her time? Well, another statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes to mind: 70% of new jobs are filled through networking.

The evidence behind this number is provided by Kimberly Beatty on the Jobfully blog. In brief, it is inferred through three data elements on the BLS JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) report: number of hires, open positions posted and previously opened positions filled by a candidate already known to the employer.

If the majority of jobs are landed through networking—and this conclusion is difficult to avoid—then doesn’t it make sense for a job seeker to spend the majority of his or her time pursuing it?

I think so. How about you?

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.

2010/08/02

How and Why Job Clubs Work

For well over a year now, I have been involved in a job club: the PSG of Mercer County. One of a dozen such job clubs available in the state of New Jersey, the Professional Service Groups of NJ are a program of the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Organized at the county level, PSGs are a self-managing group of professionals in transition helping one another land their next opportunities. This mission is achieved through training, support, networking and each member’s native talents.

It’s been my privilege during the span of my involvement with the PSG of Mercer County to witness dozens of my friends and fellow PSG members land positions. And not just any positions: opportunities in alignment with their expertise and professional objectives. When another member does land, he or she gives a brief discussion about what did or didn’t work for them in bringing their job search to an end.

Without fail, each of the elements listed above–training, support and networking–are cited as the value added by their involvement with PSG. Don’t just take my word for it: I invite you to examine the testimonials of successful job seekers who can speak to the efficacy of PSG.

Not too long ago, my friend Donna Svei wrote a blog entry extolling the benefits of job clubs, including some very interesting metrics, especially the first item: up to quadrupling the speed with which some job seekers can end their search process.

But I would like to offer a few oft-missed benefit of job clubs that I have found true of my experience with the PSG of Mercer County:

  • Opportunities to exercise professional skills and to develop new, marketable skills
  • Maintain awareness of emerging job search best practices
  • Mindset management to remain positive and focused in job search

Each of these are important but I particularly want to discuss the last. As of the end of June, a staggering 45.5% of unemployment persons have been in search of their next positions for 27+ weeks.

Maintaining a positive focus for longer-term employees in transition can be exceptionally challenging but it is crucial in demonstrating the kind of confidence a hiring manager wants to see in a candidate. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I encounter job seekers who struggle with managing their mindsets.

Job clubs can be the answer.

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.

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