Thursday, June 27, 2013

Want Better Results? Begin By Adjusting What You Can Most Influence


Yes, it may sound like a bit of a clich√©, but the mirror is your best starting point. First things first, using a military analogy, I can provide you with all the cool gadgets and gear, the best toys available but, if you don’t know basic soldiering, all that cool stuff is for show and not much GO. In other words, if you don’t know the basics, the other stuff isn’t of much use, and you can’t get more basic than working on the one aspect you can absolutely influence – you.  

On the surface these things sound lightweight and flimsy. However, I find that three traits are the foundation of all your efforts. Sadly, during the last few years there are many who’ve been beaten down, whether they know it or not, and need to regain their footing in order to resume their forward momentum. So where to start; here’s what I’m talking about: 

Belief in yourself and self-assurance is critical. Can you, as an extension confidently express to a potential employer that what you have to offer is of benefit to a company or organization? If you don’t possess this belief in yourself, it’s hard to convince someone else of it. 

Persistence is one aspect that makes the difference between reaching your goals and almost getting there. When you get knocked down you must be able to shake it off and get back up – for as many times and as long as it takes. Does this describe you? I mean really, do you feel this way? 

These first two will determine how able you are to engage in the third. Be honest with yourself, because in order to gain a favorable outcome you can’t simply rely on good timing and dumb luck. When it’s necessary, can you step beyond your comfort zone and do what is uncomfortable, what is new or different? As with any endeavor to do or create something new, to make changes, innovation and adaptation are absolutely necessary, especially when an environment is in a state of flux. Here’s another secret; things are always changing anyway, are you keeping up with the changes? Whether or not we are able to admit it, most people stubbornly cling to what they know and what has worked in the past, almost certainly under different circumstances. Change and fear of the unknown scares many people but it wasn’t always like this. When we were young we didn’t have any problems embracing new things, but we grow more reluctant as we mature. After all, we did learn to read and write; a few skinned knees didn’t prevent us from learning how to ride a bike, did it?  

So if you think this blog entry is insultingly basic and rudimentary, guess again. During my headhunting career I’ve associated and spoken with, attracted, recruited, represented and placed the top 20 percentile of professionals in various business sectors and different professional levels. If there is one set of traits they all have in common, it is the three I’ve just described, and it’s from those that everything else springs. 

Our self image is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, we are who we think we are in large part; we reach the expectations we set for ourselves. So if you think you’re just a number you’ll be treated like one. As many who have become set in their ways – if your way isn’t working, resolve to make some changes or stay right where you are. Remaining in neutral means stagnation, deterioration and rot. It’s not necessary to be a risk taker and since when did trying something new constitute a “risk”? So what, there’s risk of what -- being told no, or getting a disapproving look from someone? If your tried and true efforts haven’t gotten you positive results, then you’re already being told no anyway. For your own sake, and for the sake of others who might depend on you, commit to taking some small steps from the place which you’ve convinced yourself is safe, and in time as you get more comfortable, reach a little further for a different result. Or, stay right where you are, it’s your choice.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Some People Just Won’t Listen


In my last blog entry I posed a question: if someone offered expertise and advice about a subject directly related to what you were trying to accomplish, would you not only be interested in hearing what they had to offer, but also be willing to apply their suggestions to a varying degree?  

Who wouldn’t want to get some advice, right? Most people are glad to receive help with their efforts. But there are those – and we all know someone like this – who will claim one thing but do something else or, worse, do nothing at all. They’ll readily admit they are stuck in a rut and not getting anywhere but will still fight tooth and nail to remain right where they are, all the while complaining about it.  

I recently spoke with someone who told me she is seriously looking for a job, so I asked, “What do you want to do”, “What are you currently doing to help yourself toward the goal of a new job?” 

She said she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do but is open and would consider any good job. My advice: you should have some idea of what you want or you're going to waste a lot of time and it is difficult for someone else to help you if you don’t first know what you want to do. 

She then explained she’d already sent a lot resumes but wasn’t getting any responses. I asked if she’s conducted any follow-up with the companies with which she’s inquired. She was dismissive and said she couldn’t remember all of them. My advice: follow-up should be an integral part of any resume effort and you need to be proactive, able to recall who and what companies have your resume. If it doesn’t matter, why bother in the first place, if you’re just tossing resumes around? In her frustration she said she was not going to send any more resumes and considers making direct person-to-person contact and introductions to be demeaning, as she put it, “I am not going to go knocking on doors like a beggar.” That’s unfortunate, because anyone who reads my blog already knows that is precisely what she should be doing; but she would hear none of it.  

So I asked her what she wanted from me and she suggested she'd prefer to rely on networking and suggested she would get better results being referred by someone like me. My advice: networking is a good and effective way to find a job; the theory being that through a network of people you can capitalize on their extended contacts and referrals as a multiplier to one’s own efforts. When applied in this manner it’s a good strategy and something in which everyone should consider engaging. Although, some people wrongly assume networking amounts to relying on others to get them a job, thereby putting their monkey on someone else's back. Sorry, but that is not how it works and often people who network in this manner find that over time their network shrinks for obvious reasons. Networking is helpful because you can meet people you otherwise might not, however, you must still be able to demonstrate and explain to someone why you are worthy of consideration. No one else can or should be doing that - it still comes back to you! 

Believe it or not, I speak with a lot of people who sound like the person I’ve just described. In all of these examples I’ve shared, rest assured that due to human nature many people are simply reluctant to adapt their efforts. The good news for those who aim to set themselves apart and willing to do more for a better result,  is the majority of people seeking the same jobs won’t and aren’t willing to do more, unwilling to innovate. Furthermore, it isn’t only about doing more or working harder, but working smarter which means you are planning and calculating your moves and at the same time, ready at a moments notice to innovate and adjust as needed. However, before you implement any clever and innovative measures, I suggest that you first consider three of the most basic things that will lend to your overall job search efforts and success; we’ll talk about that next time.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

We’ve Forgotten Our Way


In recent years there have been increased numbers of people looking for work, such as fresh grads with an earned degree trying to secure work in their chosen field; be they Veterans transitioning from their military service, or perhaps loyal and hard-working folks, who ironically, after turning 50 years old, suddenly find themselves having to start all over again. Plus many others who, for different reasons, are struggling among a lot of people vying for seemingly fewer jobs. At one time or another most people have experienced occasional frustration or a sense of helplessness and feel as though they can’t seem to make much headway under the current circumstances. The availability of good jobs is obviously a big factor and indeed there are some things beyond our control, but we bear some responsibility for our own feelings of insecurity. As the title states, we’ve forgotten our way. 

Since the 1990’s, through convenience as a result of the current digital era, for the sake of expedience we’ve all taken shortcuts. As a trade-off, in that we’ve willingly sacrificed much of our innate ability to help ourselves, our senses have become dulled, our instincts clouded, our abilities diminished. When our ability to impact our personal sphere of influence diminishes, so does our self-confidence. The predictable result is atrophy and no doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Generally speaking, we’re losing it all right and we’ve reached a point of diminished ability to fend for ourselves, instead looking, no, expecting someone or something else to do what we once did ourselves. To illustrate my point, do you do simple math in your head or do you reach reflexively for whatever device is handy and use the calculator function? We know how to do the math but we grow lazy and choose not to and from there it goes downhill in short order.

Since becoming a headhunter in 1992, I have witnessed that within one generation a majority of working-age people don’t know what were once considered the most basic skills for how to find work, much less present and represent ourselves in the most advantageous manner. On one hand, there are those who’ve come of age since the middle ‘90s and rely so completely on tech methods they have no idea how to help themselves without the Internet; they don’t know any other way. Many of the rest of us are just plain out of practice and therefore out of shape, our abilities have gotten soft and lumpy, our edge is dull and rusty. Simultaneously, hiring practices and processes have been streamlined with a clear intention of reducing person-to-person contact, resulting in Human Resource Departments which are – less human. We’re all being edged out, with fast-evolving technology as the ready rationale and excuse. It’s one thing to not know and, having lost the ability to be proactive and, worse yet, to not even know how or be able to simply react – but this is where many people find themselves. I can illustrate countless examples; regardless, does this mean you have no options but those that are rationed and doled out to you? So you’re just supposed to sit at your monitor and prove Pavlov’s theory and react only when you see a job post online? So does this mean your predominant option is to email resumes, submit and apply online only to then sit on your hands and wait until called upon, is that it? Is this to what we’re being reduced? I am not trying to be insulting, you know the obvious answer; there are other options available to you – many others. So then what? 

We must get back into shape and it doesn’t happen overnight, but you can, anyone can do it – that is, namely, to re-empower yourself. So where to start? If someone offered expertise and advice about a subject directly related to what you were trying to accomplish, would you not only be interested in hearing what they had to offer, but also willing to apply their suggestions to varying degrees? Next time we’ll talk more about this and I’ll share examples of people who are their own biggest obstacle.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Assembling Your “Win” Book, Pt II


(Cont’d)
Take your “win” book with you when you attend a face-to-face interview. It’s up to you when you want to present it; think strategically. You may want to present it in a first interview, or you may not. In my opinion, presenting it to the interviewer at the end of the second interview is the most powerful. Consider for a moment you are meeting for the second time, which means a number of other applicants have been thinned out and the stakes are rising. You’ve referred to your job performance and, to back up your claims, you are offering documentation and, in addition, you are providing written reference letters before your references have even been requested. Presented in a professional way it suggests, “Go ahead and check me out”. This projects a measure of confidence, does it not? If you fail to present it during an interview and have second thoughts, you can always go back and drop it off, sending it to the attention of the person you recently met. Depending on the situation, it likely will have more impact by leaving it with a hiring official who is in line management. Leaving it with HR during an initial screening interview may not have the same impact. Rarely does an initial interview with human resources result in a serious, nuts and bolts discussion about the job. But you never know, so have it with you, at the ready, and play it by ear. Perhaps you will wait until the herd of applicants has been thinned a bit before leaving it with a hiring official you have met. An example of an exception, when it would be suitable to leave your “win” book at a first meeting, may be a group interview or a job fair, when you have limited time to make any kind of impression. Ensure your “win” book contains only copies of your original documents because, once you leave it, you will look a little silly chasing around and asking for it to be returned. Leave your originals at home unless you are later asked to present them for proof.  

If you are concerned that you don’t have any significant materials because you may be in the early stages of your career, utilizing a “win” book may not yet be feasible. It could be an effort in futility when you bang your head against the wall trying to find or rationalize suitable material. Don’t worry, it is helpful but it is not a must-have item. If you can assemble and make use of one, great, but this is just one more of many tools for you to use in reaching your goal. 

If you worry this technique might make you stand out a little bit, if you are new to this blog, that is the whole point! Like everything else I share, my goal is to help people to help themselves by being just a bit different, which I think is necessary in our current generic, bland, plain-vanilla world where they say, “stand in line over there and wait until summoned”. If you resign yourself to be a part of the herd, surely you’re not surprised if  your results, or the lack thereof, match those of everyone else. If you choose not to be any different, you won’t be. I’m not just a number, I’m an individual, is how to see yourself. Last I checked, beyond the institutional bureaucracy, most companies still seek innovative and self-starting individuals – ironic, isn’t it. If I am wrong, if companies actually wanted to hire cardboard cut-out people, why even conduct interviews when they could just hire anyone lining up and competing for the same jobs, if only having a pulse mattered, eh? 

Next time we’ll talk about the most basic and essential thing to which we all have access  when we search for a job and interview, but sometimes fail to capitalize on.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Assembling Your “Win” Book, Pt I


Everything I share with readers, and all the advice I suggest, is the culmination of best practices I’ve witnessed, learned and apply during the more than 20 years I’ve been a headhunter. They are all proven techniques, otherwise I wouldn’t exercise them; they may evolve to some degree from time to time, but these methods work.  

To set this up, here’s a true story. In the past I was involved in a large recruiting effort in which a pharmaceutical company wanted to grow a nationwide (U.S.), 300 person sales force for a new product launch – no small task. They organized regional assessment centers wherein they funneled applicants. Essentially a two-step process, those who made it through the assessment center successfully went to the next interview and then might receive job offers. It was a brief, fast paced and grueling process, with the primary screening interview conducted, as the best way to describe it, akin to Speed Dating – really, no kidding. They spent 5 minutes per station and then each person moved to the next. It was meant to put people under some pressure; it required them to be decisive. Since there was little time to discuss individual accomplishments they required each applicant to assemble a small binder or folder, what I call a “win” book. I have since adopted this as something I occasionally suggest to applicants depending on their background experience. 

Imagine for a moment if, during an interview, you are questioned about details of an accomplishment listed on your resume and you can reply by stating, “Yes, of course, I have that information right here”, as you retrieve your “win” book. Or, as you exit an interview you can channel Columbo, stopping for a moment to suggest, “One more thing, I have something else to leave with you, it has copies of the source information I refer to on the resume and some additional information.” How much do you want to bet you will have heightened the hiring manager’s curiosity as a result.

A “win” book is the compilation of materials you can present to a potential employer that might enhance your resume and interview performance. Your resume will likely have a listing of your accomplishments described very briefly, but your “win” book has the documentation that backs up your resume and claims. It is a thin but standard size binder or folder within which you can fasten and organize your documents in clear plastic sleeves. It should not be anything elaborate because the binder itself is of the least importance; it’s what it contains that matters. Keep it a low-cost effort because you may potentially create a few of them. Inside, place any documentation that is favorable to you and / or of which you are proud. For example: awards, letters of reference and recommendation, documents denoting exceptional performance. If you are in sales, have sheets showing your successes ranked alongside others; these are examples of what should be contained. You can black out and censor any company-sensitive information, such as the names of other individuals or confidential customer and client info. Ensure the contents are related to your professional job performance and accomplishments. Only if you are a young, fresh graduate and an entry-level applicant should you use scholastic-related items such as student organizational or collegiate sports-related items. Regardless of what you choose to use, it should be relevant information and should not contain fluff and stuff meant only to make it more voluminous -- that is not the goal. Random garbage will diminish the effect you seek. It is up to you, but since college degrees are a dime a dozen these days, I don’t think copies of your diplomas will carry much weight; however, any other certificates denoting specialized status can count. Regarding what to assemble, you might ask yourself, “Of what am I most proud?” as a guideline. It may be 3 pages or 10, depending on your past performance and the depth of that experience. This is also a literal description of what is meant by having a documented track record of success. If you have a lot of material, reduce it to the items with the most impact. If it contains too much or is too large, it is not likely to be passed around and might get lost. Ensure it is labeled “Confidential” on the front cover with your name and contact information, and page(s) should contain your resume.

Next time we’ll continue with more about how and when to use your “win” book.
 
(Part II will be posted on Monday)

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Highlighting Your Accomplishments, Pt II


(Cont’d)
Taking up where we left off; if you are, for example, a recent college grad you might have a few things to which you can refer and note on your resume.  

If you maintained a good GPA and held a job, part-time or more, while also pursuing your studies, that’s an accomplishment. Especially since more people are choosing to finance the whole thing; if you successfully managed your studies’ and a job, note it on your resume. For example; I am aware that among companies that require a college degree, some of them have a threshold that an applicant must have maintained a certain level GPA to be considered. However, if they gained their degree while also working during their studies or participated in sports, they could have a slightly lower GPA and still meet the threshold of consideration. This example illustrates one instance when noting this information on your resume can make a difference and, if you don’t tell’em, how are they going to know? 

But use your head and be aware that something you may be passionate about, such as voluntary petition or food drives, are civic involvement that belong in the Personal Interest section of your resume if you choose to have it on there. Also remember the third rail of conversation with strangers about religion and politics. From my own experience over the years, unless you are seeking to work for a non-profit organization, volunteerism speaks well of your character, and that’s great, but don’t expect it to carry much weight in the for-profit corporate world, sorry. List it if you prefer but don’t expect the kudos you may think you are due. If you went on a Mission for your church somewhere, well, it can’t hurt and it is, of course, likely connected to your chronological time line if you’re trying to connect all the dots. But if you list unpaid political activist stuff, be aware that in our current hyper-polarized society, you are likely to alienate half of those who might review your resume.  

Especially for those who are young, if after you’ve reviewed and sifted through everything and still come up empty handed in the search for accomplishments, don’t worry, it is to be expected. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, that’s the way it is and the way it should be; in the real world nobody really appreciates, nor respects, anything gained that has not been earned with effort and merit without some investment of sweat equity. Nobody is owed anything, nobody’s owed a well-paying job, but everyone should be able to have fair access to opportunity with a chance to prove themselves. So rhetorically speaking, you know the clich√©; when opportunity knocks are you ready, will you be prepared to be at your best and are you yet doing everything you could be? 

Okay, so enough of that - next! Moving on; if you don’t have any accomplishments to list, then you can’t list what you don’t have. It doesn’t mean you are unemployable or even less employable but it means that if you want to set yourself apart from others, you will have to turn to other things that can accentuate what you have to offer, as compared with other applicants, in the eyes of an employer.   

Among the other things may be letters of reference. References written on your behalf can be for more than just a past employment verification. A reference letter can,  depending on the content, carry some weight. Performance reviews can also be helpful; letters of appreciation, the list goes on, which brings me to another item you may want to add to your bags of tricks… 

Next time we’ll talk about something well suited for taking along to your first interview, as an extension of your resume.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Highlighting Your Accomplishments, Pt I


I was recently contacted by a reader who said he works in the retail sector unloading trucks and merchandising. He said he had some performance awards and was utilizing them but asked about what kind of accomplishments he could derive from the actual work he does?

I admit to being an incurable optimist, who thinks you can derive something useful from even the most mundane of experiences and something positive from unfortunate events. Most people, if they are and have been conscientious employees who want to do more than just show up for work, can find accomplishments in their work history with which they can accentuate and elevate their candidacy when compared to so many others. For whatever reason, be it laziness, ignorance or anything else, most people don’t make extra effort, which is always an opportunity for you to shine just a bit more. There may be small things that are hiding in plain view, but you won’t notice them unless you know what to look for. Let’s see if I can help to point you in the right direction and identify items you may, until now, not have considered to be useful.  
 
Be aware that an accomplishment must be verifiable and reference checkable. Fabricated items (lies) will catch up with most people at some point and can seriously damage your potential for future career advancement. If you’re a sales person, for example; finding and highlighting accomplishments will be easier than for the reader who unloads trucks and has merchandising responsibilities. But most people can find something in their work history, and for those who are young and have yet to develop a career track record of success, I contend that even in that case there are possibilities. 

In the case of the reader’s question, merchandising in a retail environment, for example, is not just about stocking shelves, it also can involve the planning, placement and arrangement of products in a manner that will maximize their visibility and display them in the best manner possible. Companies often pay for advantageous product placement. Were you responsible for a certain line of products and their placement? If the answer is yes, perhaps you were able to demonstrate that the sales of the products you are involved with had increased sales numbers as a result of a placement strategy you were responsible for. Did you have any budgetary responsibilities or were you directly liaising with the customer or client? If there is some information related to these activities that impacted your employer’s business in any way in a positive light, these are accomplishments. 

If your work involves loading / unloading trucks, which is a function of logistics, warehousing, shipping & receiving, then perhaps there is a monetary value assigned to the goods you are responsible for handling. Might there be a ratio you can refer to, of broken or damaged goods as a result of handling; has your performance improved turn-around and transfer times? Are you working with sensitive or hazardous materials? Any improvements quantified by numbers and percentages to back up any claim you make provides you with something solid to use. 

Without specifics, I cannot be more helpful but I think you can begin to recognize that, unless you sleep on the job or spend the day watching the clock, you can find something you’ve accomplished with which to notate. An engine running on less than all cylinders is far less than it could be, business organizations operate no different and, at a time when companies are trying to maximize their performance, trying to do more with less, if you can demonstrate that you can add value you can likewise attract more attention. 

Granted, some may interpret the examples I’ve listed above as belonging more in the category of responsibilities, but I suggest they can be explained away as something straddling the fine line between a responsibility and an accomplishment. However, if you can’t claim any in-your-face, tangible accomplishments, these kind-of sort-of items can be helpful. It may take only a few small things to help to set yourself apart and provide an impression of examples of your character and work ethic, and this is what will help to separate you from others, who are listing only a chronological work history and responsibilities (yawn).
 
If you have accomplishments or this information helps you to find some you hadn’t considered, then capitalize on them. If you don’t, find something else to gain an edge - and there are other things. Next time we’ll talk about a few of those other options.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

What Makes a Good Cover Letter, Pt II


(Cont’d)
Ideally your cover letter should be sent to an individual or a specific department with which you would work. As I noted earlier, if it is generically addressed to Human Resources, or opening with “To whom it may concern” it won’t be taken seriously, won’t have the intended effect and, for all practical purposes, your effort will stall right then and there. So invest in some research into specifically where and to whom you want it to go. 

For the opening portion, introduce yourself and state your purpose; it should be a few sentences or a short paragraph. Be professionally courteous but get to the point and, now or at the end, don’t dance around it with platitudes by saying something such as, “I am interested in working for XYZ corporation and it would be the highlight of my career…blah, blah…” Part of being and presenting something impactful, means you'd better be-- impactful. I am all about stripping away unnecessary fluff, less smoke and more horsepower, no hamburger helper, just 100% prime cut meat.  

For most people, the entirety of your cover letter need not be more than three paragraphs (intro/body/close). Ironically, the longer it is the less impact it will have. Write a series of drafts, each time honing and sharpening your message just like creating a sharp blade edge; form a blunt edge and then carefully and precisely sharpen it. For the main body, my best suggestion for content is an adaptation of your F.A.B. presentation, which, as readers of this blog are aware, is the central component of your job search efforts in order to generate interest in you. If you don’t know to what I am referring, review my previous blog entries entitled What Do You Have to Offer, parts I, II & III posted April 15th, 18th and the 22nd. This info, with some minor adjustments, should be the central focus of your cover letter; it provides the foundation for why you should be considered, compared with the empty rhetoric most other people will rely upon.    

Close your cover letter with a positive, affirming and somewhat assumptive statement, such as, “I look forward to speaking (or meeting) with you”. Do a thorough review for typos, mistakes and then send it, get it out there, make things happen for yourself. If you do it in the manner I am suggesting, you are not likely to be sending it en masse, everywhere. Instead, you’ll be selective in where you send them. I think this is more effective than mass mailing generic garbage for yet another reason; you simply can’t keep track of too many sent hither and yon. It will inevitably increase the chance that when you are called, instead of listening and engaging the caller, you’ll be nervously trying to figure out who it is that is calling you since you sent so many letters all over the map – how good a first impression will that leave? 

There is one more step most people fail to do; they don’t follow up with the intended recipient. If you took the time to research for whom it was intended, one week to ten days after they will have received it, call them and introduce yourself, you have a good reason, to verify if they received your cover letter and resume. However, you can do none of this if all you did was send a pile of generic letters to human resource departments addressed “To whom it may concern” because, who you gonna call? On the other hand if you were more selective and specific about where and to whom you sent a cover letter, you know with whom to follow up. Furthermore, doing it my way provides you with yet another means for contacting a decision maker before you speak with HR, then being able to call human resources and say, “Mr. (or Ms.) Smith referred me to you…”

One thing should be crystal clear and that is, anything which will increase your chances of separating from others takes time and effort to be effective. It is up to you how much you want to set yourself apart from everyone else competing for the same job(s). If you choose to use a cover letter, do the work it takes to produce something that will have the intended affect.

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