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.

2011/05/13

Target Employers

Welcome to the third installment in the Job Search Best Practices blog series! Although I touched on the subject of targeting specific employers in a job search process previously, I felt it merited more specific focus.

Archer releases arrow at target

Image courtesy of Free Things To Do In Los Angeles

I’ve always had a fondness for archery. When I was younger, I was a Boy Scout and one of my merit badges was in archery. There was something I always found appealing about the simplicity of shooting an arrow. You hold a bow by the grip, nock the arrow and in a smooth motion, draw back the bowstring. Then there’s a moment of calm as you hold the bowstring in place, take aim and release the arrow. I always did, and still do to this day, find a real elegance in the simplicity of that act.

Irrespective of whether a job seeker is remaining in the same industry or attempting to break into a new one, it is important to identify target employers where he or she wishes to find employment. There are several reasons for this, and the relevance of each will likely vary for any given job seeker, but broadly speaking, it’s important for two reasons: research and networking.

Research

I’m very fond of a quotation by Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Perhaps owing to my youthful experiences with the Boy Scouts, I’m a big fan of good preparation.

This relates directly to the job search process. If suddenly thrust into a situation in which you can speak with a decision maker at an organization that interests you, you’ll make a much better impression with him or her if you are able to ask intelligent, informed questions about the organizations, current challenges it may be facing or offering congratulations for a recent accomplishment.

This is ultimately a matter of ensuring you are position to propagate your personal brand, as previously discussed. So by researching organizations where you want to work, you’ll be prepared to take fullest advantage of an unexpected opportunity. And if you get the opportunity to talk with a representative of one of your target employers, think about how well you’ll be able to customize your unique value proposition to the organization’s current needs. If your target employer is completing an acquisition and your skill-set revolves around business process integration, this is an organization that has a specific, time-sensitive need for the value you offer.

Being at the right place at the right time to have that kind of conversation can be dismissed as a matter of luck, but as we already know, it’s more: it’s a matter of preparation and making your own luck.

Networking

Every job seeker has heard the old chestnut that 70% of jobs are landed through networking: it’s a subject I’ve previously addressed. But networking without any specific direction will yield connections that may not be as directly beneficial as may be ideal. So while attending these events, having a target list of employers gives direction to your networking efforts.

If you are able to tell people you are interested in learning more about what it’s actually like to work for Amazon (for example), people will have a clear way to help you. Maybe they don’t know someone who works there, but perhaps they know someone else who does. In this way, having a target list of employers helps give focus and direction to your networking efforts when you meet people. It makes it easy for people to find powerful ways to help you.

There are many job seekers who are unfamiliar with the importance of targeting employers with their job search process. It can be difficult, especially in the case of a more radical change, such as moving to a new geographic area, or changing industries—or both. In these cases, the importance of informational interviews cannot be overstated.

But there isn’t a doubt in my mind that targeting specific employers is indeed a job search best practice.

2011/03/22

Job Search Strategy

Carl von Clausewitz, painting by Karl Wilhelm ...

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to the inaugural installment of my new series, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed my blog entry introducing it on Monday, you can find it here if you’re interested.

Let’s start with what we mean by strategy. According to the wiki, a strategy may be defined as “a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.”

From this, it is clear that the goal of a job search strategy is to achieve desirable permanent full-time employment efficiently.

But what about the plan?

There is an old saying: “No plan survives contact with the enemy[1]”. The observation is from On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th century Prussian military officer and philosopher. This book, first published posthumously in 1832, is widely regarded as the foundation of most modern conceptions of war. To this day, it is still on military academy syllabi and continues to inform military and sociopolitical thought to this very day, close to two centuries after its initial publication.

And this drives home an important point: plans of action—or strategies—often require fine-tuning once more information becomes available. Military strategies are often formed based on a suspicion or hypothesis of what the enemy will do, but once the enemy has been met, suspicion gives way to facts.

The question is how does one design a strategy for a job search? Along the way to answering that question, there are several subordinate questions that we will explore:

  • What is the importance of having a job search strategy?
  • What are the tactics I should deploy in pursuing my strategy?
  • What are the best practices related to job search strategy?

So let’s talk about the strategy—or plan. Specifically, let’s start with its importance.

Importance

The job search is a journey. It really is in even the most literal sense: after all, what else is a search but a journey—either literal or metaphoric—to find what you seek? Like any other journey, you will proceed from Point A to Point B. After all, if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re headed, it’s going to be impossible to map out a route. No matter how much energy you expend, if it isn’t productive, you might very well be going in circles.

As anyone who’s used a GPS device can tell you, it’s important to verify Points A and B. Are you certain you’ve got the right address for Point A? And are you sure you know the street address for Point B—are you sure you will recognize it upon reaching it?

Point A

This is where you are right now, yes, but there’s more to it than just looking at the GPS: are you ready and properly equipped to commence the job search process? If you have just found yourself thrown into a job search, the answer might very well be no—and it’s important to understand that. Most people need around some time to get their heads straight before they are ready to identify the next step in their career path.

In short: point A is about self-awareness and self-assessment.

Point B

This can be trickier. A lot of people find themselves exiting the industry they’ve been in for years or are otherwise examining alternatives. In such a case, it’s critical to understand what your transferable skills are: in what kinds of environments can your skills and experience add value?

Tactics

There are a host of tactics that you may wish to deploy in the process of developing your job search strategy.

Self-Assessment

Certain skills are transferable: knowing how to close a sale, understanding the influencing skills critical in keep a project on schedule, or having a knack for picking up new technology tools. These are all critical ways in which you add value. So take stock of your skills. On what strengths or talents do you find others most often compliment you? This process can be facilitated by reaching out to former colleagues: it is critical to understand the full scope of your strengths in order to build a bridge between points A and B.

At the time of this writing, there are several tools for self-assessments listed by the Riley Guide.

Once you’ve done that, you can start identifying: a) your target industries and b) your target employers.

Target Industries

Maybe you will remain in the same industry, maybe not, but it never hurts to cast a wider net than a smaller one in this process: too many opportunities is always better than too few. If relocation is not an option for you, that simplifies the matter—but otherwise, keep your options open. What are attractive industries to you? Are these industries expanding or are they contracting? Maybe it’s an industry that’s experiencing consolidation—which may make it an uncertain place to be for a few quarters.

It’s important to explore several industries, because the economy doesn’t treat all industries identically. There’s a saying on Wall Street: even in a down market, someone is making money. Knowing your target industries is a great way to avoid the kind of instability that might lead to reorganizations and layoffs.

Target Employers

This requires understanding the corporate culture in these organizations[2] to ensure that you’d be happy working there. Some companies are all about the bottom-line, and if that’s your biggest priority, you’ll probably be happiest in a similar environment. Others put a priority on corporate citizenship, so if volunteering is important, that should factor into your process in identifying target employers. And of course, make sure you understand the organization’s financial health. If they are publicly traded, they are required to disclose their fundamentals (cash flow, income statement and balance sheet) every year. See what the equity research says about them.

At the time of this writing: for privately-held businesses, you’ll have to check out Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database, or perhaps the site manta.com. For public companies, their financials and equity research should be available on the Motley Fool.

Best Practices

First and foremost: periodically re-examine your Point A, Point B and your strategy. You may find that your understanding of your strengths or of your desired destination may evolve, and of course, these may materially impact the utility of your strategy.

On a quarterly basis, assess the tactics you deploy in pursuit of your strategy: as new tools become available, other tools become less relevant or meaningful. And don’t be afraid to solicit criticisms on your origin point, your intended destination or your plan of action from a few trusted advisors.

Keep an eye out for new tools or tactics that you might be able to adopt and where possible, share your knowledge with others. This can be a powerful form of networking and a great tool for personal branding.

Conclusion

The specific tactics that any given job seeker deploys to develop an effective job search strategy will vary as time passes. The situation may change such that relocation becomes an appealing option, or perhaps vice versa. Perhaps the desired point B has changed radically—maybe going from Wall Street to the non-profit area, or a target industry becomes less appealing due to an economic downturn.

But the objective in this blog entry isn’t to build a comprehensive list of tactics. It is to develop a set of best practices whereby the tactics employed to develop an effective job search strategy can be reviewed.

And I believe that this has been successful in so doing. What about you?


[1] On War, Carl von Clausewitz.

[2] This is a great basis for an informational interview request

2011/03/21

Introducing the Job Search Best Practices Series

Cover of "Britannica Encyclopedia (Encycl...

Cover of Britannica Encyclopedia (Encyclopaedia)

Last week, I make about the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in the entire time I’ve been blogging: I started writing a blog entry about job search best practices. By the time I realized what a terrible mistake that was, I was over 1400 words and there was every indication it would easily zoom past 5000 words.

In case you’re wondering why that was such a mistake: it’s a mistake because the fact is that job search best practices are constantly evolving. By the time such a large reference was done, it would be out of date. And perhaps as importantly, it’s missing the point. People want to know about specific elements of the job search.

Nobody wants a comprehensive reference, a la the Encyclopedia Britannica, about every facet of job search, because nobody is interested in trying to see it all at once. They want to refer to it tactically, search for their keywords and find a link.

Besides, even if that was something that people wanted in blog form, I’m not the one to write it. I’m pretty informed about job search and the process, but when you come right down to it, actual career coaches are vastly better qualified resources for this kind of guidance.

And that’s not me.

What I am is someone who knows a lot of career coaches and other career management professionals, who every week talks with literally dozens of jobseekers, and who volunteers with two different job search/support groups. I read dozens of blogs each week by some of those same career coaches and other career management professionals but also of others. I stay well informed as a consequence.

I’ve seen a lot of advice aimed at job seekers, much of which is clear, admirable and insightful. And every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to encounter advice that isn’t clear, whose value isn’t obvious, and the wisdom of which requires careful deliberation.

So I thought it would be a good idea at least to share the knowledge, insight and guidance I’ve encountered in a series, starting this week. I’m going to kick things off with the first installment in the Job Search Best Practices Series: Strategy. This is easily the hardest thing I think for most people, especially those who might have to start a search after some years. So much has changed in every phase of the job search process since I first started my own career, and I think that’s true for almost everyone.

So I hope to see you back here later this week, when I kick off the Job Search Best Practices series with an exploration of job search strategy!

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