Book Review: Linchpin

I picked up the latest Seth Godin paperback release at the airport bookstore last week and devoured it. After being inspired by The Dip and The Big Moo, I was excited to have the opportunity to grab five hours of flight time for a Seth pep talk. It was worth the 16 bucks.

As an entrepreneur and someone who is constantly working to do remarkable work for my clients, Godin’s focus on artistry resonated and validated what I and many of my clients do every day: Engage in “artistry” (Godin’s term), rising above the pack to add that which cannot be described in a policy manual or procedure, adding that special something – creativity, emotional energy, caring – that sets my work above the rest. You probably do that too, and are at your best and most energized when you are in that zone. Godin profiles people including coffee shop employees, CEOs and sales executives, creating opportunities to identify commonality between the reader and Godin’s subjects.

One of the reasons that I still prefer paper books over the Kindle for non-fiction with lasting value is that I like to scribble in the margins. Stars, checks, lines, comments and other visual reminders of, “Hey, this seemed important at 30,000 feet,” make up my system. This book is now filled with them.

Are you working for someone else? Become a linchpin. Be indispensable be doing more than is expected, by adding the qualities that are unique to you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Work hard, work fast and give you best as a gift to your clients and employees. You too will become indispensable.

Godin’s point is simple, but profound in its ramifications. If your job can be described in a training guide or a policy manual, if it can be automated or given to someone else willing to do it at a lower price, you are cooked. He challenges us to think and act, working to be remarkable, indispensable artists of our trades.

I Can’t Take Your Money

A Note about Work: I am taking the Work blog in a different direction as it becomes more obvious every day that our economy and our work experiences are also shifting. In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, working was about finding a good company, staying there for decades, and getting out with whatever the retirement package the organization offered. While this is still true for some (e.g. public school teachers and police officers), more of us are spending at least some portion of our work lives without the comfort of a paycheck. Instead, we have to spend some time, either by choice or by necessity, figuring it out for ourselves and earning some of our money in other ways. Our employment relationships are more contractual and much shorter-term.

It is with that understanding and the experience from my own entrepreneurial efforts that I am adding this dimension to the blog. While there will still be a lot of useful information (at least I hope that you think so) about job hunting and career management, this extra element will make the blog more reflective of the experiences that my clients, my colleagues and I share. My hope is that you can learn from them and me, both copying the wins and avoiding the mistakes. Please share your reactions and ideas.

Sometimes, you just have to walk away from the money. You get excited about the opportunity to close more business, send out another invoice and watch the money flow. It happens a lot if you are running a successful business – however you define success – but there are times when you just have to say, “No, I can’t take your money.”

I recently worked with someone who wanted me to review some of her work and possibly make some improvements and changes. She mentioned several times that she was willing to pay me for my time. Upon reviewing her material, I realized that it was already very good and that there was very little that I could do to make it much better. Maybe a tweak here and a little polish there, but that was about it. I told her what I thought, gave some advice for free and moved on, thanking her for the opportunity to help.

I am not sharing this to make you think that I am a saint, ready to work for free and give away my services. Instead, I share this because there is more to the story. Because of my decision, this potential client went public with the story and gave me a solid recommendation on a huge social media site. I also know – at least with some certainty – that if she ever has the opportunity to refer someone to me, she will.

Consider the value of the good will that you can earn by doing something for nothing. Whether it is in your own gig or while working for others, sometimes some free advice, a little extra effort with expectation of reward, and a “thanks for thinking of me” can pay bigger dividends than a few dollars in the bank.

Ready for Your Screen Test? Get Hired, or Not.

Have you heard about the latest launch that will have job seekers setting up their tripods and talking at their cameras? GetHired.com just hit the Internet and promises to give recruiters and hunters one more factor to consider and stress about.

Here’s the idea. Job seekers can post a résumé and an audio or video file to pitch themselves to recruiters. Recruiters can see your résumé, your location and whatever other content you post. There is more to it than that, but you can visit the site for yourself if you want to get all the details.

This concept is intriguing, and there may be value in it that we will discover if it gets big, but here are a few warnings that give me pause.

Recruiters: How comfortable are you with defending your decision while avoiding potential liability from perceived discrimination? What if the candidate has a solid résumé, but a video with all the production value of Plan Nine from Outer Space? A bad pitch, poor sound and terrible lighting could cause you to pass on a candidate who may have been considered if it were not for the video. What if the applicant is visibly in a protected class? How will you defend your decision to pass?

Job Seekers: As if being concerned about every letter of your résumé and cover letter were not enough, now you get to make a video. Then you get to wonder if it was the reason why you did not get the call. Won’t that be fun?

Here’s some advice. If you decide to use this tool, do the hard work of producing a quality video. This means having a script, delivering it well and both looking and sounding great. By the way, that will also require attention to lighting, sound (use a clip-on microphone) and the background of the shot.

The idea is compelling, and there will probably be some people who master the tool. Keep in mind that this is extra work, though, and a 60 second video could take hours of work. Should you choose to participate, work hard, and remember that the first step in the process is posting your résumé. That needs to be great, just like always, before you even start your video production.

The Terrible T’s, Shortstops and Quarterbacks

Consider this a counterpoint to the Three R’s (relevant, recent, results). The Terrible T’s are something that should be very limited in your résumé, only appearing if needed to tell your story.

The Terrible T’s are tasks, those phrases and sentences that fill some résumés with what one is required to do on the job, rather than the results achieved. Here are two examples from sports to make the point.

A shortstop takes his position between second and third base, fielding balls that come his way. The shortstop is often the key to successful double play tries, covering second when a ball is it on the right side of the infield. He also bats, taking his turn at the plate.

A quarterback is the leader of a football team’s offensive unit, calling plays, keeping the team together and driving the ball down the field. He uses a combination of running and throwing plays to get the job done, making snap decisions on what to do with the ball all while being pursued by defensive players who want to tackle him and strip him of the ball.

These are boring explanations of the jobs of shortstop and quarterback. Every person who has played either position recognizes it, from kids in their earliest games to pros making millions to do it and do it well. The previous paragraphs are unnecessary in most cases. Here is what is necessary.

Tom Brady had a record setting performance on Sunday, January 15th when he led the New England Patriots with five touchdown passes in the first half of the game. This has never been done in NFL playoff football and sent the Denver Broncos into the off season with a resounding defeat.

Derek Jeter entered the record books in 2011 by surpassing the 3,000 career hits mark. This was just one more milestone in a career with the New York Yankees, one that has included multiple Golden Gloves awards, All Star Game appearances and World Series titles.

Do you see the difference? Is your résumé describing you as a Brady or a Jeter, or just another journeyman player with no accomplishments to share?

TIP: Get a red pen and a copy of your résumé. Underline every statement that describes a task. Then get a blue pen and underline everything that describes a result or accomplishment. If you are seeing more red than blue, you have some work to do. Write your history in blue and leave the red to the employee handbook and job description documents in the HR department.

This Isn’t a Legal Trial

Last night I ran a seminar called Optimizing Your Résumé for a New Year’s Job Search at the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe, CT. The event was well attended and we covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes. There was one idea that several people had that is worth a blog post: “How do I prove my claims?”

The concern from a few people was that they were not comfortable making claims about their performance because there was no record of it having happened. In many cases the employers where the great work was done are no longer in business. The people who could confirm the claims are now difficult to contact. The performance data may be a distant memory with little more than recollection to support it. These are all valid concerns, but not a deal breaker.

It’s important to keep in mind the venue for these claims and how they will be used. If a job seeker states that as a Sales Manager she, “grew sales by 27% over 33 months and opened two new markets,” there may or may not be documentation to support the claim. If she does not have documentation, should she not include it in the résumé? Of course not! It has to be there.

Think about it this way: If a résumé were to only to contain claims that were supported by indisputable evidence, it would be a very short document. Are there things on your résumé that you don’t have evidence to support? Probably. Should you delete that information? No!

Your résumé is a marketing document. The standards are simple. Is it the truth? If yes, go for it. Can you discuss and defend it in a convincing and credible way in an interview? If yes, you’re all set!

Interviewers are looking for cultural fit and evidence of professionalism and potential. They are looking for transferable skills. If the sales increase performance from above leads to a discussion of how the candidate got the results – through market research, powerful leadership, cold calling, tenacious follow up, and other tactics – the interviewer will learn what she needs. The point is not the exact precision of performance claims, but evidence of the talent you bring to the new gig.

Remember that the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s just this: Give some stories that are credible and true that will lead to an in-depth discussion of your transferable talent and how you can help your next employer. Don’t worry that you past company got vaporized in 2008. Sell yourself!

BTW – Be sure to get your copy of 25 Résumé Tune-Up Tips, a brand new eBooklet ready for free download.

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.

 

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.

A Bright Future in Sales

Have you ever heard someone say, “I never want to work in sales”? While we know what that means – not wanting to have to hit sales quotas and relying on commissions to pay the mortgage – every one of us is selling all the time. Rather than sales, we call it persuasion or influence or woo or something else, but the fact is that we all have at least one thing to sell: ourselves.

Think about the other ways that you need to influence people in your life. You have to get your kids to eat healthful foods. You have to present a project proposal and persuade your boss (and her bosses) to give you the approval and the budget to make it happen. If you are single and looking for a partner, you have to sell yourself in ways I won’t cover here. And if you are looking for a job, you have to sell yourself as a solution to a problem. There is work to be done, profits to be earned and we need the right person who will give the best return on payroll and benefits costs expended. Are you that person?

Understanding some basics of sales can help you understand how to market yourself and close the sale by getting the job offer.

First, understand your skills and experience (Sales Lingo: Product Knowledge) and how they are relevant in the employment marketplace. You need to be the expert on you, so if you can’t describe what you do and what you offer, you need to get to work and become the subject matter expert. Now.

Second, understand the needs of potential employers and understand the challenges that they face (Qualifying). Nobody buys anything that they don’t perceive as meeting some need. You must be able to show how you are the solution to whatever problem or opportunity your next employer faces. Do your homework before the interview so you can speak your interviewer’s internal company language.

Third, be prepared to show your interviewer how you understand their needs and show how your profile is a perfect match (Presentation). You will demonstrate this through your experience, accomplishments, understanding of the employer’s needs and your attitude as displayed in the interview.

Fourth, be ready to ask questions that will demonstrate that you are already visualizing yourself in the organization and that you are engaged in thinking about how you can be a new, valuable part of the team (Trial Close/Transferring Possession).

Finally, be ready to ask for the sale (Close!). Practice a summary statement that conveys this: You need someone who can do X, Y and Z. I have the experience, training and track record that clearly demonstrates that I can do X, Y, and Z. When can I get started helping you solve these problems and maximizing on these opportunities?

Take the time to prepare yourself and have a strategy as you get ready to sell yourself in the jobs marketplace. This time and effort will pay off and place you well above many of your competitors who just will not do the hard work. Now go close the sale!

(And yes, the title is a reference to the Fountains of Wayne song)

Independent Thinking

As we flip burgers, watch fireworks and maybe, just maybe, consider the history behind the holiday we celebrate on July 4th, consider your own independence. What are the actions you are taking and the plans you are developing to express yourself and show your independent thinking, motivation and decisiveness? Are you growing, learning and making yourself more valuable, or maintaining the status quo, hoping that the pink slip never comes your way?

If you work for someone else, what are you doing to deliver more value than your pay? In the last 30 days, have you done something creative, original or innovative to show your organization that you are engaged and committed to the mission? Maybe your independence is freedom from the stress that underperformers feel, knowing inside that they are not giving their best.

If you work for yourself, what have you done to bring a new service or product to market, improve service to your customers, or learn new things to give yourself a competitive edge? Have you kept your client relationships alive with relevant marketing and superior service? Are you the first service provider your clients consider when they need whatever it is that
you sell?

If you are the boss, what are you doing to encourage independent thinking and innovation among your people? You can’t possibly have all the good ideas. Encourage innovation and celebrate risk taking.

Independence Day was not the end, but the beginning of an experiment by independent and free people. It’s an experiment that continues to evolve 235 years later. Take a few minutes over this weekend to consider how you can advance your own experiment and solidify your independence. Happy Independence Day!

Manage Your Rep, Save Your Sanity

There are countless companies that want to help you manage your online reputation, but there are things that you can do yourself for free that can make a big difference. Here are a few ideas that can keep the paranoia monster at bay as you take positive action.

  1. Log in to Google Dashboard. Take control of your image by setting up your profile. Not only will you stake your claim using this important Google resource, you can specify the links that Google shows the world when they look for you.
  2. Search for your own name regularly. Using the major search sites (Bing, Google, Yahoo), search for your name and see what comes up. If there is something that shouldn’t be there, Google offers a tool to address the issue: Me on the Web (available on Dashboard).
  3. Generate positive content. Frequent and professional use of various social media sites can dilute the effect of older content that you may not like. Consider setting up a blog (like this one), use LinkedIn and Quora, or create your own website to define the conversation about you.
  4. Be Smart Online. It is easy to let your guard down and say something you may regret. Before you post it, think about how it will look or sound a year from now to a potential client or employer.
  5. Share the Love. If you see a blog or other content you like, let the author know. Link your blog or site to the ones you like. The favor may be returned with an incoming link that will raise your site and its content in search results.

Do you have other thoughts or experiences to share concerning online reputation management? Feel free to share your comments and stories for all to see. Thanks for sharing!