Stationary + Stamp = Standout

thank you noteEvery time one of my children goes to a birthday party, we get a thank you card in the mail. Over the last weeks, as teachers have finished the past year and gotten ready for the next, we have received notes and cards thanking us for the end-of-year teacher gifts. Each time we get one, it brings a smile, a comment about the sender’s thoughtfulness, and some excitement for our kids. What child doesn’t like to receive mail?

The thank you note should not just belong to teachers and kids. I received an email from a client over the weekend. He had been on an interview late in the week and was asking for some advice on follow up. His question: “Should I send an email or a letter?” Definitely go with the letter or a card. Here’s why.

Just as the cards we have received in our home tend to stick around for a while, the same thing will happen with your thank you card or letter. It is a tangible thing that will sit on the receiver’s desk. She might share it with others. If it is nice stationary, he may hesitate to discard it. Can any of us say the same about an email? It could be vaporized on a Blackberry or trashed on an iPad and forgotten, if it is even read at all. The extra effort will make you a standout among your candidate competition.

Your challenge: Visit a store that sells stationary (Staples, Target, CVS, etc.) and buy a package of professional-looking cards. Get some stamps. Over the coming weeks, use the entire package. Are you up to it? You get extra credit if you report back your results to this blog as a comment.

Here are some practical tips on using them.

  • Keep your message concise and clear.
  • Express why you are grateful. Example: “Thank you for the time you spent with me today. I enjoyed getting to know you and I hope that we will be working together soon.”
  • Challenge yourself to send them as soon as possible. We all get busy and the opportunity becomes forgotten and lost.
  • Get creative about to whom you will send them. The people who interview you are the easy ones. How about these people: The person who told you about the job opportunity. People who have helped by reading, reviewing and commenting on your résumé. The person who sold you your interview suit and did such a great job. That person who gave you some encouragement and a pep talk when you were feeling down.

Your gratitude, expressed in writing, will brighten the recipient’s day and make you more memorable. The very act of thinking about what and why you are grateful will lift your mood, too. Have some fun and tell us all how it goes.

Here are two other articles about less-common tactics that should be part of your career management strategy starting today.

Pocket-Size Resume: The essentials on a card.

3x5x30: Create your elevator speech now.

And a reminder of what can go wrong with a poorly written thank you letter.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

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Saying Goodbye

Don’t be a jerk. That’s about 98% of what you need to know about leaving your job before taking the next step in your career. The objective is to go out with class, respect for others – even if you don’t like someone – and respect for yourself. You should know most of this, but here are some quick reminders.

Intellectual Property. Remember that stack of paperwork you signed – either actual paper or electronic forms – that talked about the company’s property and secrets. They meant all that stuff. Avoid the temptation to copy and swipe information. An ethical employer is not going to be interested in facilitating or encouraging thievery, anyway. Plus, it’s just wrong.

Contacts. In our hyper-connected age of social media, you should have all of your contacts already, but you should take time before giving notice to have everything that you will need. Names, email addresses and phone numbers at a minimum. You may never see your desk again after resigning.

Proper Notice. Give at least two weeks for your employer to react, but be ready to see the door from the minute you say goodbye. Some companies will have you stick around; others want you gone ASAP.

Coworkers. Everyone has friends at work, and probably one or two that you won’t miss. Fight the urge to tell people how you feel, no matter how satisfying that may be. Chances are great that you will come to regret what you said, and it comes back to doing what’s right. Be respectful.

Be Thankful. Whether you have been with your current employer for six months or 16 years, your run there began with excitement and optimism. Chances are that you learned a lot and your company invested some time and money into developing you. Say thank you to everyone who has helped you. You will all feel great and you burnish your reputation as a professional. Win – win!

Go out with a smile and help others come to miss you and your positive professionalism. Congratulations on your new job!

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

Social Media Inventory: Unfriend a Few?

LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media can kill your career search. Or, they can be a profoundly helpful. The contributions to your search and the arch of your career are very much up to you. Understanding the importance of these platforms (see this CNN story for a reminder) should give the job hunter the motivation to do some repair work and to take a more proactive stance for future use before it’s too late.

First, understand that it is too late when you have already started an active job search. Should you be fortunate enough to have your résumé get past the applicant tracking system (ATS) and seen by a human, there is a good chance that your social media presence will be reviewed before you get a call for an interview. Your LinkedIn profile and Facebook page are just the beginning. Consider every social media tool that you use, including any comments or interactions that you use with your real name. All of this is very discoverable by drilling down past the first Google search screen.

The time to start is before you start a job search. At the least, review your pages on the big platforms (LI, FB, etc.) Use this criteria as you consider what your presence is saying about you: “If I did not know me, would I want to add me to this employer’s team based on what I am seeing?” If there are posts and pictures and links that leave you uncomfortable with the answer to that question, delete them now.

Next, consider how some of that material got there in the first place. Are your friends and family taking pictures of you and tagging you in ways that will not help your job hunt? If so, ask them to refrain. If they can’t or won’t or just do not understand the reason why, consider blocking or deleting those people during your search so that they can’t continue. If these people are true friends, they will understand. If not, well…

Set some rules for yourself on how and why you will use social media. Those rules may vary from platform to platform. I use LinkedIn and Twitter only for professional uses. Facebook is where I have fun and goof around with my friends and family. No matter what, think long and hard before posting anything that could be controversial or uncomfortable. You may have strong political views. Fine. Choose another outlet for your passions while job hunting. Facebook will be there after you get the new gig.

Finally, be strategic in the future – starting today – with your use of the social media. If you have rules set for yourself on what material goes to which channel, take it to the next step and plan the quality, quantity and timing of your interactions. If you are working to build your brand as an expert in a field, think about and develop content that helps achieve that goal (this blog is an example). If it doesn’t do that, don’t waste your time and that of others with low-value material.

Social media is our new reality. Be diligent and consistent in your interactions in this part of your professional ecosystem. The standard is simple: If your online presence is not helping you, it is hurting.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

Toxic Missile Boss

Almost everyone has a turn with a bad boss. Our careers include time with a bully, a blowhard or a borderline egomaniac, giving us all great material for cocktail party stories, but leaving us with acid reflux and shaking hands. I can think of one in my life (fortunately not a recent vintage), and maybe you can, too. The story of Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly that came out during the week of July 4th struck me, leaving me remembering my days with Godzilla. In case you missed it, here are some details about the general’s reign of terror in the US Missile Defense Agency.

O’Reilly, while considered brilliant and an expert in his field, also bullied and berated his people, at least according to the dozens of statements taken by investigators. His repertoire of supervisory torture tactics included yelling, screaming, threatening, berating, insulting and the creation of a toxic atmosphere that had subordinates either heading for the doors or shutting down in fear. O’Reilly, according to some, frequently killed the messenger.

Dealing with someone like this is one of the most challenging workplace issues, and the military command and control structure made this case that much more difficult for subordinates to navigate. In the private sector, we have more choices, but none of them are particularly easy to execute. Here are a few to consider.

Leave. Yes, this requires a job search and all of the pain that goes with it, but if your boss is that bad, it could be the best decision. The moment of resignation will be a personal victory.

Talk with the Boss. If you have the guts to do it – and we all need to find the nerve at some point – ask for a meeting and ask your boss this question: “How do you think it makes me feel when you yell and scream?” This may, of course, lead you back to option #1 above, but sometimes a direct approach is best.

Take it to HR. If your company has a functioning HR department that acts when complaints are made, this is an option. An important point to consider, though, is your performance before taking this action. You will be seen as more credible if you have good performance. If you don’t, the complaint could be seen as a smokescreen and an excuse for your own shortcomings.

Build Relationships. If you work for a larger organization, there may be opportunities to build relationships that are outside of your current boss’s area. Over time, this could lead to a job working for someone else. Or, it could give you support when the time comes to confront the bully. Finally, these relationships may give you insights about the company, your boss and the issues that you had not previously considered.

Of course, you can always read the articles about O’Reilly. Your boss probably isn’t that bad, right? That will make you feel better.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

Pocket-Size Résumé

Twice in the last week I have participated in conversations about personal business cards, useful for networking events and chance encounters. One conversation was with a friend, another on a LinkedIn group. In both settings, hot topics encompassed what the card should include, what it should not, and the value of this pocket-size résumé. Here are some tips on how to write it and make it work for you.

Let’s Start with the Basics

  1. Include your personal contact information. This means a professional and personal email address, not a work email that you lose when you leave a job. “Professional” means sticking with something that is your name and not much else. Examples: JoeSmith100@—.com, MaryLBaker10@—.com. Avoid potentially embarrassing email addresses.
  2. LinkedIn Profile Address. You have one, right?
  3. One phone number. Your best, can reach number that is yours alone. This is most likely your wireless number. By the way, check the outgoing message. Does it portray you as a professional? Re-record it if necessary. Now.

Brand Statement

What is your profession? What are you known for? Under your name, create a title that is reflective of your skills and career, but that is not dependent on your employer. You may be a divisional sales manager for your employer, but you should come up with something else for your personal card. How about this: “IT Sales Executive: Coach, Trainer and Leader.” This same brand statement could even be used on your LinkedIn profile.

QR Code: Yes or No?

Some people love it, others don’t. If you haven’t used a QR code before, it is that square scannable bug that you see on print advertising. Scan it with your smartphone and it directs you to some online content. The destination could be a personal website, blog, LinkedIn profile or anything else that you want. Be sure that if you use it, the destination is something that you want other professionals to see. If in doubt, leave it out.

Flip it Over

A business card has two sides. Use them. Think about your two or three most compelling selling points that you bring to the job market. Refine them down to a few bullets and get them on the card. Points that you have in your elevator speech can work well here. Or, you might change your elevator speech after forcing yourself to clarify your value proposition by going through this exercise. Whatever the case, be prepared to present yourself to people you meet and use the card to reinforce your message.

Complement Your Résumé

Be sure that the card and your résumé are communicating the same message using the same language. Think of them working together as a marketing kit, both presenting you with the same value propositions and both with special uses. You wouldn’t go to an after-work networking mixer with résumés, and you wouldn’t go to an interview with just a business card. The two work together and must complement each other.

Do you have a card that works for you? I would love to hear about it. Please comment and share your ideas.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

What If There’s Just One Question?

Many people make the effort to prepare for the job interview by considering potential questions, many of which have been covered in earlier pieces on this site (See the “Questions” series). But what if your interview consists of only one question? A friend conveyed a story of his experience about meeting with a top executive of a potential employer. The question: What are you good at?

My friend, being honest and humble, readily admitted that he did not handle this single question very well, but he took it as a learning experience. He is now ready to answer that one if he faces it again. How about you? We learn from our mistakes, but it is better to learn from the mistakes of others; it’s a lot less painful that way. What would you say if faced with this single question? Here are some ideas.

First, think about the things that are important to employers in your industry. It could be a special technology or trend for which you have developed a marketable skill. Be ready to weave that into your answer.

Second, consider the scope and sophistication of your reply. It should be appropriate to the level at which you are interviewing. If you are being considered for a top spot at the firm, your highlighted skills should be at a much higher level than the recent college graduate looking for her first job.

Third, build in examples, or at least short mentions to pique curiosity in the interviewer. For example, you could talk about your superb team building skills as demonstrated when you worked on your firm’s top XYZ account. This will give your interviewer the prompt to ask more about a topic that you want to discuss.

Finally, be sure that you have done you research to understand what is important to this potential employer. You have got to be able to demonstrate that you offer a solution to a problem. You offer skills and abilities that will meet the needs of the organization. You cannot know this if you don’t know anything about the company.

Important: This goes beyond the elevator pitch, which is a brief 30 second self-introduction. It must be concise but it the answer will be developed for a formal interview setting. Add more detail and context and develop it to encourage follow up dialogue.

Summarizing yourself and your career with a concise presentation will not be easy, but it will be worth the effort. You are good at something and likely many more than one thing. Ensure that telling your story about what makes you special one of your top skills.

If you found this helpful, see some other stories to help you deal with common interview questions.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

Newsstand Résumé

Visit any airport news store or a Barnes and Noble, and you find rack after rack of magazines and newspapers, all shouting headlines to get your attention and your dollars. The same is true online, where we are all teased with silly phrases designed to get us to click (I still have never clicked on a “five weird tricks” link). Nobody does it better than the tabloids, though, with huge fonts and the promise of entertainment – and possibly a little news – for a buck.

Imagine your résumé up against this competition. Does yours have what it takes to get the attention of an overwhelmed, overworked and overstimulated screener? Does it say “read me” or “READ ME!”? More simply, is your best stuff in the top half of the first page? If not, your competition may get more attention. Here are a few pointers.

Compelling Headline. Does your headline make it obvious what you do and what you are looking to do next? Do you have a headline? If you can’t describe your career focus in a few words and display it in a headline, start now.

Concise Professional Summary. Develop a two to three sentence summary of what you offer your next employer. DO NOT include clichés that everyone uses and every recruiter hates. Out of the box self- starters with strong work ethics need not apply. IT professionals with experience in data centers and cloud-based application management experience…come right in!

Unique and Valuable Skills. If you have certifications, training or other formal credentials that are in demand, get them into the top half of page one.

You have seconds to make an impression and score an interview. If you are not getting calls, it could be that your résumé is boring and weak. Tighten it up, make it bold and make it work.

New Direction: An Open Letter

Today is the first day of the next step in my career and the first day of full-time self-employment. After years working for top employers, including Target, Edward Jones Investments, Kohl’s and others, Resu-mazing Services Company is now my sole focus. The experiences and responsibilities in the past have been tremendous as I have led teams of up to 500 people, focused on human resources, sales development and business operations and have gotten to know so many wonderful people whom I am fortunate to call friends. Today I must take everything that I have learned and make it work with my own business. I am sharing this letter with everyone for three reasons.

First, to say, “Thank you!” Resu-mazing Services Company started as a part-time experiment three years ago. As my clients had success with their new résumés and other career marketing materials, the referrals started to come. I believe it true that the highest compliment in business is a referral from a delighted client. Those compliments have become a regular part of the growth of Resu-mazing. Thank you to everyone who has made that happen and have witnessed that “Amazing Résumés Work!”

Second, to convey my commitment to you, my clients. So many of the people I have been able to help have become friends. These are relationships that I value and I get excited when my friends have success. By making this work my professional specialty, I will be better able to serve everyone, existing and new clients alike. For Resu-mazing to continue its growth trajectory, I must give it more time.

Third, you will be seeing new services from Resu-mazing. Being more accurate, you will hear more about existing services and a host of new services. You will see cloud-based value added services to make the Resu-mazing experience even better. One-stop personal branding and career marketing services, including pre-scheduled updates and content creation will be available very soon. These are just two services coming this summer.

My family and I are looking forward to this next step in my career. I am looking forward to making even more friends as I help others find success in their searches. You can look forward to more and better services and a true partner in managing and advancing your career. Thank you for reading this and for your ongoing support of Resu-mazing Services Company!

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut.

Three Career Reality Checks

As a pro résumé writer, I am constantly working with people in various stages of career transition. They range from the employed who are just starting to consider making a change to the long-term unemployed, people who have been out of work for a year or more and with few to no prospects for a new job. In every case, these people are in a reflective posture, considering their careers and how to make the next step. Here are a few common discussion points.

Career Velocity. Those doing the same work for years at a time, showing no advancement in their roles and responsibilities, are understandably nervous. They are concerned that the field may be passing them, and they are often right.

The Fix: Step forward and ask for new assignments. Take a class or earn a certification that will make you more valuable to your current and future employers. If employed, explore tuition reimbursement programs. You will still have to do the time and the work, but at least someone else can write the check.

Professional Network. Is your LinkedIn account a reflection of your real network, or is it just a bunch of names and faces, people you don’t really know? Here is a good test: If you called these people on the phone, how many would speak with you? If the number is smaller than you would like, get to work!

The Fix: Start contacting the people in your network. Reach out and say, “Hi!” Share something of value. Let them know what you are working on. Ask them what they are doing. Revitalize the network and make it more valuable.

Your Résumé. Is it current? You should view your résumé as a living document, something that is always current and ready to go in case of emergency. Are you an active job seeker? Are you getting calls for interviews? If not, a poorly written résumé could be hurting you.

The Fix: Invest your time and/or money into this critical piece of your career management strategy. If you don’t have the time or interest in writing it yourself, pay for help. If you do it yourself, review it quarterly and keep it fresh. If you don’t have anything new to add, ask yourself, “Why?”

Spend some time this week reviewing these points and how you are doing. I small investment in time actively managing your career could make a big difference in your long-term success.

Are You Leaking Jobs?

Spend six minutes in sales and you will hear that selling is a numbers game. You need to speak to a certain number of people each day and keep the pipeline or funnel full as prospects will leak out. A contact becomes a prospect and goes through the process until a sale is made or the prospect is written off and eliminated from the call list.

A job search shares a lot in common. The product being sold is the job seeker. The prospects are the potential employers that might hire the candidate. Simple stuff.

I spoke with a person recently whose story had me thinking about this. She had applied to over 200 jobs and had six or seven phone interviews, and not a single face-to-face interview or anything else beyond TBNT (thanks, but no thanks). Here are some points to consider about these numbers and what might be wrong.

Applications to Phone Screens Ratio: The APS ration is what percentage of your applications are generating calls. If the number is low (6 for 200 qualifies), there might be a problem. What does the résumé look like? Does it have obvious defects? Are there obstacles in the candidate’s career history that need to be handled more effectively? Second, is the candidate applying for jobs that s/he is not qualified for or for which the résumé needs an adjustment? It is more work to customize the résumé for every job, but it’s worth it.

Phone Screen to Face-to-Face Ratios: The P-to-F ratio (yes, I am making this up) is critical. Most phone screen interviews are simple and offer the candidate the advantage of being unseen by the interviewer. Notes and scripts should be ready to go and easily anticipated questions should be considered. Prepare answers. If less than half of the phone screens are resulting in interviews, it’s time for a tune up and practice.

You get the idea. Look at each point that could derail a candidacy and work to reduce the chance of a negative outcome. Notes, practice and awareness of the critical nature of each interaction can make a big difference.

Fix the leaks and land that next gig.