Turn On Your Time Machine

I had an interesting conversation with a client this morning about a job she had seen which at first seemed promising. Without getting too far into the details, the position was in high-end personal services, something for which my client has been a customer and was now considering as a potential job.

As we discussed the idea, she told me that the more she thought about this position and the company, the less she liked it. Selling and providing these services seemed much less exciting than consuming them. What can we learn from this?

One point is that things that we do for fun and for their own intrinsic rewards become much less rewarding when we are getting paid for them. Once money and job performance evaluations get into the mix, all of the fun can get sucked out of any formerly favored activity. I think my client was anticipating this sinking feeling.

Second, it makes sense to turn on your own personal time machine and project into the future. Can you see yourself doing this work full time for months or years? If not, stay away, even if you really need the job. The pleasure of the paycheck will fade while the agony of work you hate comes into its full rotten bloom, something that will manifest itself in your performance. None of us have time to waste doing something we loathe.

Flip on the power, watch the lights flash and gyros spin on your time machine. Jump into the future and think before you take that job that will feel like you are wearing someone else’s shoes.

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Assume the Call & Plan for It

Your résumé is designed to do one thing very well: get you an invitation to an interview.

It may or may not be written to fulfill its next important function: guide the interview.

I frequently have a similar conversation with clients to help them understand that a well-crafted résumé will serve this dual purpose. It will get someone from the hiring organization to call you and it will help the interviewer decide what to discuss with you. Be strategic about the next step. What are the stories that you are sharing to influence the tone of the interview?

Career marketing documents that are filled with accomplishments and experiences that set you above the competition will inspire inquisitiveness and curiosity in the people interviewing you. Make sure that your stories have enough detail to engage the readers, leaving them wanting to know more. That approach will give you the opportunity to discuss your successes live, successes that you will share with enthusiasm and conviction. Weak stories will leave the interview open to other directions you may not like.

Also, consider that your résumé will likely be the catalyst that will fuel conversations within your targeted organizations. Many companies use multi-level and/or panel interviews. Your stories of success should give those people something to consider and should leave them wanting to ask more about how you achieved these things, not just what you have accomplished.

Documents with stories that spark the imagination will pay benefits throughout the hiring process. Make sure that yours has spark-worthy material and is not boring. Remember, you are selling. Assume the interview and plan for it by giving your interviewer the best chance of asking you the questions you want to answer.

 

Keeping Your Search Alive

Staying motivated in the search for a new job, especially during times of unemployment, can be one of the biggest challenges in the process. After all, who wants to hear “no” all the time, or worse – nothing at all? Sending out résumés and cover letters for jobs for which one is perfectly qualified and not getting a reply can wear out even the most resilient job seeker. What can you do to stay engaged and motivated? Here are a few tips.

Make a Plan for your Day. Whether you create tomorrow’s plan in the evening or start early with a planning session, make a list of the things that you need to accomplish. Don’t stop until you have completed your list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and something to talk about if there is a significant person in your life who wants to know what you have been doing all day (can you say “spouse”?).

Eliminate the Distractions. While it can be tempting to kill time in front of the TV or with social media sites, set a time limit for these activities and stick to it. If 30 minutes a day is your Facebook budget, don’t stretch it to 35.

Get out of the House. Get your exercise, shower, dress and go meet people. Get out to the job fairs, meet colleagues for coffee and stay tuned in to the current events in your field.

Challenge Yourself to Add to your Network. Your network should include recruiters – both recruiting agency people and staff recruiters – as well as people with whom you have worked and those that you don’t know yet. Attend as many live events with other people as possible.

Don’t Stop with LinkedIn Messages. Anyone can build a network on LinkedIn, but if it is nothing more than a list of people and their pictures – a list of people you don’t know – you have not done enough. Pick up the phone. Send a personal note. Make the connection more meaningful and valuable for you and the other person. You will be surprised at how warmly some will welcome the extra effort.

Learn Something New. Public libraries, state departments of labor and other organizations give you the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people, mostly for free. Explore the opportunities and sign up.

Volunteer. You can add new things to your résumé and meet people while helping others. Don’t discount the value of this activity.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have been doing all of these things and know that you are working as hard as you can to find a job, feel good about your effort. It’s a challenging labor market filled with wary hiring managers and senior leaders trying to chart a course in an uncertain environment. Don’t take it personally and keep at it.

The Right Story at the Right Time

Let me tell you about my greatest success that never happened! I worked on a project for almost two years and in spite of all of my efforts, it never got off the ground. I remember it fondly and consider what could have been, and my hope is that you share the same warm feelings.

What?

There is a time and a place to tell your stories, and knowing when and where to share successes and setbacks is an important part of any job search. Consider that there are two broad categories of communication that all seekers must create and share, as follows.

The Résumé. This is your product brochure. Think about any piece of sales literature you have ever seen. They are all written by people who want to sell you something, and they describe the features of the product or service and the benefits that the buyer will receive. The résumé is your personal sales brochure, and it should be filled with information about the things that make you special and your statistics that are likely to be repeated. It is not the place for full disclosure. That belongs in…

Everything Else. By this, I mean your cover letter and the stories you will tell when interviewed. This would be the place where you may use your story about the one that got away. Many interviewers will ask you about a time you suffered a setback or your greatest weakness. This could be the time to trot this tale around the track, being sure to share what you learned from it. “This happened, and that happened, and I learned that great ideas may never get off the drawing board if every key decision maker is not on board.” Save those stories for this setting. It will sound genuine and you will not have to struggle with one of these negative interview questions.

The sales brochure for that new car you have your eye on doesn’t list the product recalls in the model’s history. Nor does it tell about unhappy customers. It stays positive and talks about acceleration, safety and Corinthian leather. Your résumé must do the same thing. You will have your chance to share the other stuff later.

 

Three Labor Market Sins

Almost every day I hear concerns from clients and colleagues about the challenges of searching for a new job. Here are three issues that I have been talking with people about just this week.

Age Discrimination. Everybody 50 and older has the same concern. “How can I create a résumé that is honest and that also conceals my age?” These people all share the suspicion that once they are identified as older candidates, employers run away. The notion of ignoring an entire class of experienced, knowledgeable and wise people seems foolish. I wonder what company is going to take a leadership position by actively seeking older candidates who can balance their work force and increase internal diversity of thought. Will anyone do it? Come on, decision makers! Give everyone a chance and drop your stereotypes about older workers.

Bias Against the Unemployed. Congress and President Obama are talking about regulations to protect the unemployed as there have been some employers accused of specifically declining to consider unemployed candidates. The leaders of all organizations concerned about public relations and those wishing to do what is right need to consider the decision to systematically refuse to consider otherwise qualified people.

Preying on the Unemployed. Those who have been laid off and have been searching for work are under enough stress already. This stress manifests itself physically and emotionally and has some job seekers at the breaking point. There should be a special punishment for those who take advantage of these people. I am talking about people offering themselves as résumé writers, career coaches and experts who have one interest only: extracting as much cash from the desperate and hopeful as they can while doing as little work as possible.

If you are in a position to improve on these conditions, step out and do it. If you are a job seeker, be aware and be on guard. If we all work together, our small quiet changes can add up to create real change.

Yeah, But What’s the Score?

The New York Yankees took the field yesterday ready to win. Their energy and enthusiasm was on display from the first moments as they ran out and took the field, hosting the Baltimore Orioles in what turned out to be an electrifying game. Derek Jeter was at his best, turning plays, connecting for convincing run-producing base hits and leading his team. He and the rest of the team were motivated to win, self-starters from beginning to end.

Yeah, but what’s the score? Did the Yankees win or lose? By how much?

We live in a world where we own our numbers, and people want to know them. Whether you are discussing your job performance with your boss, selling your company’s products and services to potential clients, or selling yourself to a potential employer in a job interview, the numbers count. No numbers means lots of uncertainty and frustration, just like the sports report above.

Know your numbers. Keep tracking them, understanding how they define your performance and how you can make them better. Specific performance described with metrics is more believable and useful to buyers (bosses, customer and interviewers) than a truckload of self-anointed adjectives like can-do, self motivated, go-getter and other happy talk that everyone uses to describe themselves. Stand out from the crowd with performance. Back it up with the score sheet.

Plan It & Work It

“Hi. My name is Ralph, and I am wondering if you are hiring.” Ralph, in spite of his weak introduction, has stumbled upon a desperate potential employer, a company looking for a sales person and lacking good candidates. Ralph is told to take a seat and the receptionist whispers into the phone, while holding back an eye-roll, that Ralph is here. The sales manager, caught in a moment of boredom, steps into the lobby, greets Ralph, and shows him in to the conference room. The sales manager says, “So, Ralph, tell me about yourself and why you want to work here.” Ralph stutters and stammers, trying to come up with something in the moment that will sound good. A few minutes later, Ralph is back on the street wondering what went wrong.

Ralph failed to plan, missing his big chance to present himself and make a good first impression. Everything that happened could have been anticipated, but Ralph failed to plan.

I am working with a client who is looking for a sales position, and part of his plan is to cold call employers in his target industry. He is going to knock on doors, make introductions and ask to meet the sales managers at these organizations. If he plans it well and executes, he just might get somewhere with this strategy. Here are a few pointers that we discussed:

  • Plan and practice an introduction. He knows that he is going to have to introduce himself, so he should have a great opening ready.
  • Plan and practice his presentation for the manager. If he gets lucky and meets with a sales manager or hiring authority, he should know exactly what he is going to say when given the chance. No surprises.
  • Gather names and contact information. Everyone he meets is a future recipient of a thank you note, an email or some other follow up communication.
  • Dress for success and have the marketing material ready. This should be obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to mention that clean, professionally printed documents carried in a portfolio will add to his image. Bring plenty.
  • Follow up immediately. I hope that my client already has his thank you cards and postage stamps ready to go. Those cards should be in the mail before the end of the day.

I don’t know how this will work, but I will let you know. What I do know is that having a well-developed plan and working it will be a lot better than what Ralph did. I will let you know how it goes.

Looks Awful. I’ll Take It!

I saw a preview for what looks like it could be the worst movie ever. I am going to run down to the ATM machine, grab some cash and take the family out for a rotten evening.

A friend told me that she went to a “taste of” event that a civic organization in her town held a few weeks ago. All of the town’s restaurants were there so she was able to sample food ranging from American to Thai, Chinese to Italian. She found the one she liked least and immediately made a reservation. Knowing that it is one of the highest priced restaurants in town makes it that much better.

Sounds insane, right? Of course, but it is exactly what job seekers are asking potential employers to do when they send off error laden resumes, cover letters and emails. If they are showing their best in this work  – and that is the assumption that employers and recruiters have to make – it is just not good enough.

Why do the headhunters make this assumption? The job seeker has almost unlimited time to create a perfect document, so mistakes in this work must be a predictor for inattention to detail and poor work performance, right? Understand this: resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, personal websites, thank you notes, emails and every other form of communication must be perfect. The notion that you only get one chance to make a great first impression must be top of mind in any job hunter’s campaign. Get advice, get help and get it all right. All of it.

Prepare to Win

Fair Warning: This is going to sound like a victory lap, or maybe an advertisement. It is not meant that way. There is a lesson to be learned from my experiences with a recent client that can be useful to everyone, and I just can’t let it go by without sharing.

Sam is a very smart and technically oriented guy with a career in a challenging field that requires current skills and continuous learning. Sam has had some interesting experiences, though none were create Facebook, imagine the iPad moments. He has just done a very good job working in his niche and he likes what he does.

Sam also was a pretty poor interviewer, something I know because I conducted Skype-based practice interviews with him. By working through some practice interview sessions guided by the accomplishments that we presented on his résumé, Sam got much better. Today, Sam landed a job, getting him off of the contractor merry-go-round and into a direct position with benefits in a city where he wants to live. He couldn’t be happier.

So what’s the lesson? Preparation pays. Sam recognized that his résumé was lacking and that he needed help to slam-dunk the interview. Then he took action and got help. His preparation and investments in time and effort – along with the self-awareness that drove him to get help – brought him to this happy day.

Good luck, Sam, and congratulations on your wisdom and humility that allowed you to prepare to win.

Lay Off? Move. Now!

If you or someone you know has gotten laid off, or expects it soon, get ready to work hard and fast to get back into the workforce right away. If that means working some 12 hours days and weekends during the first days and weeks of unemployment, so be it. A column in Bloomberg Business Week shares some sobering data, including the point that long-term unemployment does not help workers and likely hurts as job skills and professional networks get stale.

What should you do if that pink slip and cardboard box for your personal items comes your way? Here are a few ideas:

Get all of your career marketing materials refreshed. This includes your résumé, LinkedIn profile, executive biography and executive project summary/portfolios, as well as any online presence you may have.

Quickly move to contact people in your network. Let them know that you are available and open to discussing new opportunities. Don’t rely on an email. Pick up the phone and make a call. Buy coffee. Get out there!

Get creative in considering what you will do next. It may be that a less than perfect job now is better than hanging on hoping for just the right thing that may never come. Don’t forget the lessons of the long-term unemployed: it is a downward spiral that can be tough to overcome.

Build a routine to stay sharp. Get out of bed, get some exercise, get dressed and get ready for the opportunity to meet people. What if you pick up the phone – or someone calls you – and you have to get across town in 30 minutes for a cup at Starbucks? Will you be ready?

Plan your day and week like you would on the job. Check off your task list as you complete it. The accomplishments and record of achievement will give you a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

Rely on your support system. Friends and family are going to play an important role. Keep talking and sharing your wins and frustrations. Sometimes talking can make a huge difference as others can give you outsiders’ perspectives on your own blind spots.

Engage in professional groups. This can include on-ground physical groups or virtual groups on LinkedIn, Quora or other forums. This will keep you thinking about and staying current on your profession.

Work hard, work fast and get back to work.