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.

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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.

2011/01/12

Art of the LinkedIn Recommendation or: Just When You Thought Gift Giving Was Over . . .

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

The holiday season may be over, but gift giving is a year-round event!

One of the great pleasures in my professional life has been found through colleagues whose work I think is extraordinary. I’ve been fortunate: just about everywhere, my colleagues have been exceptional. These people are so good at their professions that the whole world deserves to know about them! And working alongside them has amounted to real gifts to me.

That’s why, as a matter of professional pride, I write LinkedIn recommendations for people who’ve really stood out without any prompting. I suppose you might say I give those people the gift of recommendations. For example, if a certain previous manager of mine called me out of the blue and said, “Ed, I need you to be within 24 hours on a plane to a city you’ve never been to before,” I’d start looking for an airline ticket and would start packing because that manager’s earned a high level of trust from me.

There’s an art to the LinkedIn recommendation. Recommendations you either receive yourself or write for others constitute a visible part of your LinkedIn presence, and therefore, the professional brands of both the recommender and the recommendee can be harmed by poor recommendations. You wouldn’t be impressed to be told your blind date is “nice” or “has a great personality,” right? Well, neither should a LinkedIn recommendation you write or receive offer such lukewarm wording.

I have a few thoughts about how to make the most of LinkedIn recommendations, whether you write or request them.

Writing a Recommendation

If asked for a recommendation—or if you’re offering one on an unsolicited basis—I urge you to consider whether you should ask or so offer. Can you credibly and authentically state that you witnessed the requester do something truly extraordinary? If not, perhaps someone else who has indeed witnessed such an accomplishment directly should make the endorsement.

But if you can, there’s no sense in doing things by halves. Go ahead and state your opinion powerfully. After all, the recipient is someone you’ve had good experiences with professionally, right? So, tell the world! To that end:

  • Phrase the accomplishment in behavioral-interview (situation, action, result, or SAR[1]) form, complete with a metric. Saying “Joe’s influencing skills are peerless” is good, but saying “Joe’s influencing skills ultimately reduced project costs by 20%, thereby allowing the organization’s bid to undercut that of our competitors and resulting in a $50-million contract” is superior because the precise extent of Joe’s contribution through his negotiation skills is given a clear and unambiguous context anybody can easily understand.
  • Be sure to run your recommendation through both the spell check and grammar check of your favorite word processing application. You may be doing someone a great favor by giving the gift of your good word, but a typographical or grammatical error is tantamount to leaving the store’s price tag on.
  • Ask about the strengths or traits the person is most seeking to communicate at this time and whether metrics can be associated with them—especially if you’re responding to a request for a recommendation. The person who did the work will likely remember clearly what the specifics were and be able to tell you so you can incorporate them in the wording. There’s no reason you should have to wrack your own brain trying to recall a situation that might have occurred several years before.

Requesting a Recommendation

If you’re the one requesting a recommendation, I urge you to consider whether you should do so. Can the person you’re asking indeed credibly and authentically state that he or she witnessed you do something truly extraordinary? If not, consider asking a direct witness.

If the person you ask can vouch, position that person to make such statements powerfully. To that end:

  • Arm the person with information to make powerful statements about your skills. Writing a recommendation can be difficult or time-consuming. If you’re asking someone to do something difficult or time-consuming on your behalf, the least you can do is to make the process easier. Therefore, include an accomplishment in behavioral SAR form (see above) with a metric that speaks to a strength you’re seeking to underscore at this time. If you do this, include an out as well: something like “I felt during the time we worked together that I demonstrated [strength], which yielded [metric], but that’s just a suggestion.” But if you cannot offer this kind of guidance, reconsider whether you should request a recommendation from that person.
  • Consider getting one or more recommendations from former reports if you were a manager. Direct reports can speak to your management style. Depending on your career level, your impact as an individual contributor may be overshadowed by your ability to lead a team to exceptional performance. And don’t rule out the utility of peer recommendation; a well-written peer recommendation can add value—provided clear metrics are included.
  • Do not under any circumstance say, “I’m sure whatever you say will be fine.” If asked to provide guidelines about the kinds of skills or expertise you want extolled, an answer of that sort says, “I’m asking you to give me a gift, but I won’t give you any guidance by telling you the kinds of gifts I most appreciate.”

On LinkedIn, recommendations can be received or given only between first-degree connections: those with whom invitations to connect have been exchanged and accepted. Remember that each of us has accomplished much, as has each of our connections. LinkedIn recognizes that truth, enshrining it in the requirements that your profile contain at least three recommendations to be rated 100% complete. A complete profile is desirable because LinkedIn users with complete profiles appear higher in search results and therefore have greater visibility.

For the sake of your colleagues and yourself, please invest the time to make sure the recommendations you give and receive are powerful. So, if you’re going to give someone a gift, wouldn’t you want it to be one that the recipient will love? And in turn, if you’re the one on the receiving end, isn’t it better to receive a gift that you love?

I want to give people gifts they will cherish. Don’t you?


[1] There are a host of acronyms or abbreviations for this form: CAR, PAR, SAR, etc. Can we instead use BAR (blank, action, result) and be done with it?

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The holiday season may be over, but gift giving is a year-round event!

 

One of the great pleasures in my professional life has been found through colleagues whose work I think is extraordinary. I’ve been fortunate: just about everywhere, my colleagues have been exceptional. These people are so good at their professions that the whole world deserves to know about them! And working alongside them has amounted to real gifts to me.

 

That’s why, as a matter of professional pride, I write LinkedIn recommendations for people who’ve really stood out without any prompting. I suppose you might say I give those people the gift of recommendations. For example, if a certain previous manager of mine called me out of the blue and said, “Ed, I need you to be within 24 hours on a plane to a city you’ve never been to before,” I’d start looking for an airline ticket and would start packing because that manager’s earned a high level of trust from me.

 

There’s an art to the LinkedIn recommendation. Recommendations you either receive yourself or write for others constitute a visible part of your LinkedIn presence, and therefore, the professional brands of both the recommender and the recommendee can be harmed by poor recommendations. You wouldn’t be impressed to be told your blind date is “nice” or “has a great personality,” right? Well, neither should a LinkedIn recommendation you write or receive offer such lukewarm wording.

 

I have a few thoughts about how to make the most of LinkedIn recommendations, whether you write or request them.

 

Writing a Recommendation

If asked for a recommendation—or if you’re offering one on an unsolicited basis—I urge you to consider whether you should ask or so offer. Can you credibly and authentically state that you witnessed the requester do something truly extraordinary? If not, perhaps someone else who has indeed witnessed such an accomplishment directly should make the endorsement.

 

But if you can, there’s no sense in doing things by halves. Go ahead and state your opinion powerfully. After all, the recipient is someone you’ve had good experiences with professionally, right? So, tell the world! To that end:

 

  • Phrase the accomplishment in behavioral-interview (situation, action, result, or SAR[1]) form, complete with a metric. Saying “Joe’s influencing skills are peerless” is good, but saying “Joe’s influencing skills ultimately reduced project costs by 20%, thereby allowing the organization’s bid to undercut that of our competitors and resulting in a $50-million contract” is superior because the precise extent of Joe’s contribution through his negotiation skills is given a clear and unambiguous context anybody can easily understand.

 

  • Be sure to run your recommendation through both the spell check and grammar check of your favorite word processing application. You may be doing someone a great favor by giving the gift of your good word, but a typographical or grammatical error is tantamount to leaving the store’s price tag on.

 

  • Ask about the strengths or traits the person is most seeking to communicate at this time and whether metrics can be associated with them—especially if you’re responding to a request for a recommendation. The person who did the work will likely remember clearly what the specifics were and be able to tell you so you can incorporate them in the wording. There’s no reason you should have to wrack your own brain trying to recall a situation that might have occurred several years before.

 

Requesting a Recommendation

If you’re the one requesting a recommendation, I urge you to consider whether you should do so. Can the person you’re asking indeed credibly and authentically state that he or she witnessed you do something truly extraordinary? If not, consider asking a direct witness.

 

If the person you ask can vouch, position that person to make such statements powerfully. To that end:

 

  • Arm the person with information to make powerful statements about your skills. Writing a recommendation can be difficult or time-consuming. If you’re asking someone to do something difficult or time-consuming on your behalf, the least you can do is to make the process easier. Therefore, include an accomplishment in behavioral SAR form (see above) with a metric that speaks to a strength you’re seeking to underscore at this time. If you do this, include an out as well: something like “I felt during the time we worked together that I demonstrated [strength], which yielded [metric], but that’s just a suggestion.” But if you cannot offer this kind of guidance, reconsider whether you should request a recommendation from that person.

 

  • Consider getting one or more recommendations from former reports if you were a manager. Direct reports can speak to your management style. Depending on your career level, your impact as an individual contributor may be overshadowed by your ability to lead a team to exceptional performance. And don’t rule out the utility of peer recommendation; a well-written peer recommendation can add value—provided clear metrics are included.

 

  • Do not under any circumstance say, “I’m sure whatever you say will be fine.” If asked to provide guidelines about the kinds of skills or expertise you want extolled, an answer of that sort says, “I’m asking you to give me a gift, but I won’t give you any guidance by telling you the kinds of gifts I most appreciate.”

 

On LinkedIn, recommendations can be received or given only between first-degree connections: those with whom invitations to connect have been exchanged and accepted. Remember that each of us has accomplished much, as has each of our connections. LinkedIn recognizes that truth, enshrining it in the requirements that your profile contain at least three recommendations to be rated 100% complete. A complete profile is desirable because LinkedIn users with complete profiles appear higher in search results and therefore have greater visibility.

 

For the sake of your colleagues and yourself, please invest the time to make sure the recommendations you give and receive are powerful. So, if you’re going to give someone a gift, wouldn’t you want it to be one that the recipient will love? And in turn, if you’re the one on the receiving end, isn’t it better to receive a gift that you love?

 

I want to give people gifts they will cherish. Don’t you?


[1] There are a host of acronyms or abbreviations for this form: CAR, PAR, SAR, etc. Can we instead use BAR (blank, action, result) and be done with it?

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.

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