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.

2011/01/12

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?

2010/12/15

Just a Few More LinkedIn Best Practices

This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

Because of the popularity of Just a Few LinkedIn Best Practices (which if you missed it, can be found here), it seemed like a few more are in order.

Thanks in part to the changes recently introduced on LinkedIn, some of the best practices I learned have evolved, while in other cases, new functionality has forced a different understanding. But here is what I expect will be my last blog of the year: Just a Few (More) LinkedIn Best Practices.

Profile

In the Experience section of your profile, where your current and past positions are listed, please make sure that you are seeing a superscript square after the organization’s name. If not, do a Company search for the organization and edit the name in your profile to match the Company Profile you find. The odds are good that due to merger & acquisition activity or simple re-branding the name may have changed since you first walked through their doors. So long as the company’s name is a match for how it appears in the Company Profile.

This is a good thing to do for 2 reasons:

  1. Although this is uncommon, it’s possible that there are multiple organizations with very similar names. In fact, questions and confusion stemming from this appear every week on LinkedIn. Make sure you are not inadvertently representing yourself as a (former) employee of an organization for whom you have never worked.
  1. Listing the organization’s name correctly, in a manner consistent with current branding practices, creates a more professional impression.

Status

I know, I discussed this last time, but I realized there was more that needed to be said here.

When you log into LinkedIn, there’s a slender, rectangular box with the words “Share an update”. In Facebook fashion, you can create an update of up to 140 characters. When you do this, the people in your network receive an update in their LinkedIn “update stream”.

Don’t know what to say? What about some project you recently completed, or a convention from which you’ve just returned? Maybe you just started taking classes for a new certification or license.

Do yourself a favor and update this from time to time. By so doing, you are providing the clearest and most unambiguous indication that you’re maintaining a presence on LinkedIn. I recommend updating no more than once every day, maybe once every other day. This is directly related to the next point…

Status Updates/Twitter

If you’re not on Twitter, you may have recognized that 140 character restriction I mentioned two paragraphs earlier. And if you are, you very likely already knew this.

The temptation exists to integrate your Twitter and LinkedIn status updates. Fight the urge. Fight it very, very hard. Because for the people in your network, filling their LinkedIn “update stream” with your tweets, retweets and the like is a surefire, first-class, all-expense paid ticket to having all of your LinkedIn updates hidden by people in your network—even the really good stuff that’s going on with you.

I’m far from a Twitter hater: I’m on Twitter. I like it a great deal, in fact. But the expected update frequency is very different. On LinkedIn, it’s once/day at the outside. If I’m on Twitter, reeling off literally dozens of tweets (OK, RTs) is normal for me. But I will never push all my tweets to LinkedIn, specifically because I know what that looks like for those not on Twitter.

The truth is that the people who dislike Twitter really dislike it. And I am willing to bet there’s at least a few in your own network.

Heck, on LinkedIn, that includes me, too.

I Found Myself, I’m Right Here

We’ve all heard of the practice of searching (or more specifically, Googling) ourselves, right? Try logging out of LinkedIn[i] and doing a search on your name. If you aren’t the first result, it might be worth asking why not. Having a 100% complete profile will certainly get you higher in the results.

Another, often under-recognized reason to do this is to discover instances in which you might have accidentally created a duplicate profile. This can happen very easily by accident if you accept an invitation to connect that was sent to an e-mail address you haven’t included in your profile.

You can help avoid that situation by adding any other e-mail addresses you have used in the past or are using now. This is done by going to the Settings page (see the endnote re: finding the Settings page nowadays). From the Settings page, select Personal Information|Email Addresses.

It’s important to note that so long as you are not changing your primary e-mail address, it doesn’t matter if you no longer have access to the secondary e-mail address you add: LinkedIn will just create a cross-reference between you’re the one (or more) secondary address(es) in question to the primary address.

Summary

I am sure there are other best practices re: LinkedIn that I neglected to mention either in the last blog entry or in this one. So feel free to tell me what I’ve missed! I removed an entire paragraph because I’m running pretty long here so I can definitely think of one off the top of my head.

In fact, I double-dog dare you.

But whether you can or can’t, a very happy holiday season to you: enjoy the snow in the background!


[i] Perhaps surprising, I do know how to do this. However, due to recent unannounced changes in the user interface, the method isn’t very intuitive any longer. You can do this by hovering your cursor over your name in the upper right corner where it appears on any LinkedIn screen. This will produce a menu with two options: Settings and Sign Out.

2010/12/01

Just a Few LinkedIn Best Practices

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Image via Wikipedia

An abiding passion of mine is best practices. In fact, I think so much of best practices that I consider it one of my core values. In the past three years, I have spent a goodly amount of time learning about LinkedIn. For almost two years now, I have led workshops on it and very few days go by that I don’t learn something new about this tool.

Therefore, I want to share just a few LinkedIn best practices today revolving around profile completeness, Groups, status and Applications.

Profile completeness

This involves several things: a summary, profile picture, headline and three recommendations. A 100% complete profile will appear higher in search results when people search for LinkedIn users. A lot of these searches are being conducted by recruiters, so please do yourself this kindness.

Keyword-rich summary

When those recruiters are searching, they’re generally searching for keywords. Those keywords can be populated in your LinkedIn profile summary. You can see how effectively you have done so by doing a search for your ideal next position based on keywords. If you are not on page 1 of the search results, you may have some work ahead of you.

Profile picture

To achieve a 100% complete profile, you need a picture. It’s important to note that the LinkedIn Terms of Service specifically require a headshot. Most people know a shutterbug: someone in their family—maybe a friend—but someone who’s an avid photographer. See if that person is interested in helping you by taking a picture you can use.

I am aware some are concerned about the prospect of being the victims of subconscious (or even conscious) age discrimination, gleaned through your profile picture. I don’t believe that’s a valid fear because if you get the interview, they’re eventually going to find out how old you are anyway. If it’s going to be a deal breaker, save yourself the wasted effort. Besides, even if you got the offer, would you really be comfortable in such an environment?

Headline

If you’ve spent any amount of time on LinkedIn, you’ll have seen a lot of headlines that say “[job function/industry] professional”. Maybe that’s even what yours says right now. If so, do yourself the kindness of changing it. I ask that you change it because it’s bland, dull…unmemorable. That is the very opposite of personal branding.

Your headline appears on LinkedIn every single time your name does. It’s your own personal billboard: I can’t think of a better branding opportunity.

Give some thought to what you want that message to be. Are you an innovative thought leader in your area who lives on the bleeding edge? Maybe you’re a maven with compliance, skillfully navigating a still-evolving sea of requirements. Or perhaps you are a whiz at logistics, masterminding shipments from developing markets to guarantee expected inventory levels.

Whatever you choose, make it unique.

Recommendations

LinkedIn does not consider your profile complete unless you have three recommendations. The most meaningful, substantial recommendations you will receive are those from direct managers—but do not discount the value of customer/vendor recommendations, where that’s applicable. It’s also important to note that writing a good recommendation is time-consuming and sometimes difficult. Therefore, don’t be afraid to help a potential recommender by providing some guidance—ideally in CAR/PAR/STAR format.

Groups

Associations of disparate LinkedIn users who share a common experience, interest, or perhaps both, groups are a superb means whereby LinkedIn users can expand their reach by literally orders of magnitude. This is because with a group in common between yourself and another LinkedIn user, this can be the basis for sending a message, or even an invitation to connect. Your alma mater almost certainly has a LinkedIn group (common experience). Trade associations (common interest) definitely do: one of the largest is SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. So do certain large employers, who maintain LinkedIn groups for current and/or former employees.

Status

This is a highly under-utilized part of LinkedIn. A status update goes out to all your first degree connections on LinkedIn. Maybe you’ll be attending a conference in your field: posting that status update might well lead to re-connecting with a friend you haven’t seen who’ll also be in town at the same time. That brings me to…

Applications

There are several applications—piece of software that integrate into your LinkedIn profile—that you can add. These are easily accessed through the horizontal menu across the top of the main LinkedIn page. Go to More|Application Directory. Several popular ones include blogs (Blog Link, WordPress), collaboration (Box.net is a personal favorite) and presentations (SlideShare and Google Presentation).

One of the newer Applications is Portfolio Display, which would be of great use to creative professionals. And a favorite of mine is Events, which allows you to view, create and potentially attend occasions that interest you. If you will be attending an event, the organizer(s) almost certainly created the event on LinkedIn: note your attendance, or at least interest. It might also be helpful to see where your contacts might be congregating as well.

Summary

There is nothing wrong with the fact that odds are there are tons of ways that you can leverage LinkedIn more fully than you are right now. Heck, I’ve been teaching people how to do this for close to 2 years now and not a week goes by I don’t learn something new myself. In fact, I literally did this morning.

Are there any best practices I missed? Comment and let me know what I missed!

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