ed muses upon

2010/11/09

Staying Focused: Moonlighting & Your Job Search

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what you’re perfect at.

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

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

2010/11/03

Staying Focused: Fortune Favors the Bold Job Seeker

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

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

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

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

Build Interest

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

Own Your Mindset

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

Live Your Accomplishments

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

Deliver

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

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

2010/10/26

Staying Focused: Are Your Accomplishments Legendary?

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

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

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

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

 

Hero at Large

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

2010/08/31

Staying Focused: Being the Known Quantity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010/08/10

Staying Focused: Personal Branding

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

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

The answer: by propagating our professional brands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010/08/02

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.

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