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.


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.  


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)

Face to Face

You have a great résumé and you have found a job listing that sounds like it was written just for you. You send off a perfect cover letter and the best possible thing happens: you get the call and a recruiter wants to schedule an interview.

Now what? Are you ready to sit for an interview and follow up?

First, how much time have you spent preparing for easily anticipated questions? When the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager sits with you, how will you respond to these questions?

  • Please, tell me about yourself and your career.
  • What accomplishments from the last 12 months are you most proud about?
  • Give me details on how you grew sales/reduced expenses/improved profitability as you claim on your résumé.
  • What is your greatest strength? How about your biggest weakness?

Are you going to be ready for these questions, or will you just hope for the best and see what happens? Your competition will prepare and practice and have a portfolio of answers in mind to answer these and other questions. How well do you know yourself and how well can you tell your story in a compelling way that will make the interviewer want to hire you?

Here are a couple of ideas to help you get ready:

  • Research the company you are hoping to join. Complete an Internet search for “(Company Name) interview questions.” That may give you some insight into the questions you will face. Glassdoor is a potential resource to check.
  • Write out your answers to common questions and read them out loud. Do they sound convincing? Try recording your voice – your smartphone probably has a voice recorder – and listen for enthusiasm, energy and conviction. Is it there? No? Try again.
  • Know your résumé from top to bottom. Even if you paid someone to write it for you, this is your life and your career. You need to get committed. (An aside: You can either be involved or committed. When it comes to a bacon and eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved. The pig is committed. You want to be the pig).

If this still leaves you feeling unprepared, get some help. You have come this far. Making an investment in interview coaching can help. Whatever you decide, get ready, because your time to sell yourself face to face is coming.

Just in Case

As the economy recovers and more news stories bubble up with messages about new jobs and opportunities – as opposed to the tales of despair to which we have become accustomed – more people are thinking about change. Rather than white-knuckled grips on their current gigs, no matter how miserable the conditions, some are allowing themselves to think that there are alternatives. Must I stay at this job because I need the benefits? I haven’t had a raise in two years, but what choice do I have? Those questions are being overshadowed by hope and dalliances to consider better choices. Green shoots, anyone?

So what happens when you get a call, text, tweet, email or invitation over lunch to send your resume? As in: “I know some people who are looking for someone with your skill set.” Do you shoot it over from your Android, ping them from your iPhone, or just mumble something like, “Yeah, so, I need to refresh it, so I will get it to you soon…”? Then you scramble, writing and editing through the night, ultimately serving up something that looks like yesterday’s leftovers.

Professionals who are serious about career growth are getting ready. They are preparing to market themselves in a way that reflects well on them and their accomplishments. They are ready just in case that next great opportunity comes their way. Are you?

Maximize Yield

I met with a brilliant scientist last week who took time from her schedule to explain her work to me and some of her success measures. An important measure is the yield realized from the various steps in her processes. Each step needs to deliver the most usable product for the next, so there is something valuable at the end of the chain. Avoiding explosions is good, too.

This effort is very similar to the work the people do when they are looking for new jobs. The seeker’s mission is to increase the probability that she will make it through the long and painstaking hiring process by maximizing the yield of everything she does. This means taking nothing for granted and working harder than everyone else to secure a job offer. Here are a few reminders on how to do this.

Customize your Communication. Every job opportunity needs communication that is tailored to the message’s recipient. If you will not take the time to customize your cover letter, resume and all other correspondence, someone else who is willing to do the hard work will get the offer while you stare at your not-ringing telephone.

Network in Person. LinkedIn is great, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face relationships. If you can’t meet in person, make a quick phone call. Have a pre-written message to deliver to voice mail.

Thank You. Mom taught you to say it. Do it every time someone is generous enough to give you some time. Did a contact take your call? Follow up with a thank you email. Did you get an interview? Send a well written thank you note or letter by snail mail. Don’t overlook this step. It shows that you follow through and pay attention to the details. Many of your competitors will not do this.

Ask for Feedback. Should you be fortunate enough to get an interview but not the job, and you talk with a person about the decision, ask for feedback about your interview and what the hiring decision makers thought were your strengths and weaknesses. You may learn something that will help you next time.

Just as my scientist friend works to maximize yield at every step of the way, think about how you can maximize the yield of the work that you are doing. Are you doing everything possible to increase your chances of success? Or are you taking shortcuts and inviting a potential job search blow-up?

What Papa John Says

You’ve seen the ads. Papa John’s Pizza advertises with the tagline telling us that better ingredients make better pizza. The same idea applies to our careers and the reputations we earn as we live our professional lives. Better accomplishments and results lead to a stronger history, a potentially superior résumé and a more valuable professional reputation.

How can you be sure that you are doing everything possible to create this scenario of outstanding accomplishments that go into a sterling résumé? Begin with the end in mind. If you want a résumé that will open doors, you have to do the hard work to have the accomplishments and results you will need. Here are a few thoughts on how you can make it happen:

Working with Others: Are you respectful and demonstrate a willingness to work hard to advance the goals of the organization, or is it all about you? People will appreciate your partnership and support. They will also see through phoniness and self-centeredness. For which attributes do you want to be known? Who is going to give you a reference? What will they say?

Own Your Results: Every organization has a scorecard. For-profit or non-profit, there are key metrics that measure and define success. If you are in charge, you own the numbers. Do they tell the story of a high-achiever? Do they say something less?

Lifelong Learning: Our economy is knowledge based. Think about the work that you and your friends and relatives do every day. How many of them work as laborers? How many work in jobs that require thinking, planning and cutting-edge knowledge? Are your skills fresh and valuable?

Professional Affiliations: Almost every field has an associated professional group. Seek out the best one in your industry and get involved. This relationship can also help you stay on course to achieve your learning goals. 

Think about the quality of the ingredients in your career history. If you want them to be more significant, make changes. Unlike a bad meal that goes in the trash, you can make changes today to change the mix, the story and your career success. But it’s up to you to make it happen.