Monday, December 29, 2014

Why I Write

I write this blog for the same reason I wrote my quick-reference career survival-guide handbook -- to help people improve their abilities in all things related to job search and interview technique. It encompasses the old-school methods, which work even better today than back in the day, primarily because of that which most no longer do, much less even remember to do, in our increasingly plain-vanilla, cookie-cutter everyone’s the same, point and click world.
I recall that last year I was asked if I would simultaneously post my blog to a website with other people giving various advice about searching for jobs, resumes, social networking, etc. After a couple of entries I was contacted by the administrator, who suggested I soften my tone. She suggested that I am too direct and they instead wanted people to feel good about themselves; she suggested I adapt my style of writing. Ironically, it reminds me of the recurring theme of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, in which Howard Roark is accused of being too much of an individual and is urged throughout to “compromise, why go to extremes, there’s always a middle course then you’re sure to please everyone, give in…”, in other words, begin to write the articles as does everyone else, and then I can be like everyone else…. No Thanks.
I am all for people feeling good, but I suggested that my goal is to help people empower themselves and regain a measure of self-confidence. I continued that I would not change for the sake of a group hug but, instead, it is increasingly necessary to re-awaken people to recognize they are fully capable of helping themselves. I politely replied that if my style and manner of writing, if my advice, is too strident for some I would no longer rain on their parade. There are plenty of others writing useless garbage that consumes time but accomplishes little. I’d rather provide readers with knowledge they can actually use, thereby improving their livelihoods.
So, if you want to be told everything’s okay and seek prose that soothes rather than challenges, there are plenty of other places where you can go. The internet has lots of helpful info but it does require effort to separate the wheat from the chaff and I hope to provide the former rather than the latter.  My goal is to, instead, provide serious advice and inspire readers to step beyond their comfort zones in order to help themselves. You be the judge.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Periodic Update of Your Resume

Regardless of whether you are looking for a job or not, everyone should periodically update their resume. Considering the volatile employment market, have no doubts about it, the good jobs everyone wants are available for only a short time. For the harder-to-fill jobs, they call someone like me. Regardless, when you identify a job for which you may have interest and think you can update your resume and send it, or contact the company a week later, you’ll likely be too late.
Now, during the holiday period, is as good a time as any as we look forward to a New Year – are you ready and able to act swiftly when / if a good opportunity presents itself? Whenever you choose to update the document that represents you, don’t simply update the same information. Drawing from more than two decades of experience, I’ve listed for your consideration 21 resume mistakes and tips to improve your own personal product brochure – because that is essentially what a resume is, a brochure about you, more horsepower ready to go whenever you might choose to use it.
(Disclaimer: exceptions to the following advice are if your career focus is within the creative, advertising or arts sectors) 

1 Naming your resume file/document
Many people name their resume document in a manner which harms the chances they will ever be considered after it is filed. Data entry staff likely has their own filing system by which they name and file your resume in their database. However, don’t risk falling through the digital cracks. The file should be your name followed by what it is, a cover letter, a resume or CV, which language version, etc. 
2 Stationary stunts
Some people want to stand apart from the crowd in order to be noticeable in the pile of resumes opting to use unnecessary borders, colored paper, color highlighting and fancy watermarks. Don’t do it, it’s only a tacky distraction away from what actually matters – information about you.
3 Unprofessional Photos
If you use a photograph of yourself on your resume, ensure it is professional. Selfies are childish and using photos from your vacation in which you cut someone out of the photo are also silly. Generally, I counsel against photos on resumes. Some pretty people like to attach photos to their resume, but consider for a moment that some folks are resentful; not everyone likes the pretty people, which can also work against you. Furthermore, resume photos are sometimes fuel for comic relief in office environments. I suggest you not use one at all but if you choose to do so, invest a little money and get something professional.
4 Formats & fonts
Use conventional resume formatting. Fonts are an important consideration because many do not scan well. Do not attempt to be creative in this manner, use primarily Arial, Calibri or Tahoma to be sure your resume can be scanned in the best possible manner.
5 Incorrect or outdated contact info
Don’t skip this vital update step for obvious reasons. It would be a bummer if a company you would like to work for wants to contact you and they can’t.
6 Inappropriate contact info
maddogmike@, quervogold@, hotness10@, princessbarbie@ or some other silly name might be cute amongst your pals but it is sure to diminish your chances on your resume. Most people have a personal and a professional email address. I’m trying to give advice to grown-ups, so if you don’t understand the importance of this item, go back to your video game, Farmville, Facebook or other distraction. Otherwise, establish and use an email address with which you are not embarrassing yourself.
7 Personal information
There are labor laws established to protect you from discrimination and to protect your privacy (what little still exists). Remove your date of birth, marital status and any other non-essential personal or family info, it’s not relevant.
8 Vague / generic Objective
Many people list an Objective on their resume. If you do, it should be short and to the point. Generic things like, Seeking a good opportunity in a growth-oriented company is BORING and not worthy of the space it takes up. My suggestion is to leave it off your resume and use a cover letter to elaborate and more effectively make your point.
9 Career history chronology
To be clear, start with the most recent job and work backwards down the sheet. Resumes, which list your chronologic history starting from the oldest to the newest, are just plain irritating.
10 Dates, time periods
Listing employment periods, naming only years but not listing the month’s gives the impression you have something to hide. Always list the month / year you started and the month / year you left each of your jobs.
11 Unexplained gaps in employment history
Be prepared to explain any time gaps. If you were affected by a downsizing or a layoff, state it on your resume on a small line in italics in between jobs; it will help to explain the circumstance for whomever reviews your resume. If you worked for a company that merged with another and changed names, indicate as much so it doesn’t mistakenly suggest you had two different jobs. 
12 Bland “responsibility” histories with no accomplishments referenced
If your resume looks like nothing more than a transcription of your job description, you’re wrong. If you lack much in the way of accomplishments you can list, so be it. Here’s a question that may help you: in your various jobs, what did you do for which you were particularly proud? What sets you apart from others – in a good way? The answer to this question might qualify as accomplishments.
13 TMI (Too Much Information, save something for the interview)To follow up from the #12- if you have many items you want them to know about, use just the best few for your resume and save the others for the interview. Because, if you put everything on it, telling them your life’s story on the resume isn’t much of a reason for them to meet you – and meeting them is the whole point of the exercise. Try to strike a balance. Another piece of advice: the more recent the job, the more important the accomplishments and the farther back you go, fewer are necessary. Beyond ten years ago, just list the company name, dates employed and job title/role. You can furnish them with more if they request it.
14 Never Complain, never explainRefrain, no matter how tempted, to vent on your resume (or during an interview) or they will (rightly) assume this is the way you’ll be talking about them in the future. Just state facts and no commentary, as no good can come of it. A resume, nor a cover letter, are not documents with which to vent injustices, real or imagined. This same rule applies when you interview face-to-face.
15 Obscure abbreviationsStandard and common abbreviations aside, refrain from using obscure or uncommon abbreviations used to save space. For example, 82nd ABN Div FBNC, 11B2P, Sqd Ldr, Sgt E-5, only makes sense to a small minority of people. If you are not sure someone will understand it - when in doubt, spell it out.
16 Spelling & grammatical errorsThis is one of the most common resume mistakes. Imagine, when 10 people must be selected from 100 or more applicants, you can bet that spelling errors and notable grammatical mistakes will be an easy excuse to whittle down those numbers for further consideration. So the best-qualified person with misspellings on his or her resume, might never receive due consideration.
17 Include no tables or graphsOften, these items cannot be properly scanned nor do they belong on a resume. However, they can be part of accompanying documents you can leave behind, after an interview. For more information, refer to the topic of a “Win”- Book, in my handbook and found on my blog  
18 No logosIt might be eye catching and look good but they can be likewise problematic when you resume is scanned. Likewise, they take up space unnecessarily so don’t use them.
19 Length (too short or too long)Don’t worry about too short or too long if you have good information to share. If you have notable experience and it results in your resume being more than two pages, so what. If you want to save some space you can remove unnecessary things like: Objective, “References furnished upon request” (of course they are)
20 No lies or half-truthsGeneral rule; if you can’t validate or back up any claim with documentation or proof, don’t put it on your resume. Besides, if you get caught in a lie, it’s over.
21 No clever slogans or quotesFor some reason people think a clever quote will demonstrate or symbolize their persona, attitude or to suggest they are clever. Demonstrate your persona and attitude at the interview, leaving the slogans off your resume.
Now, you are prepared and ready to go whenever you choose to act upon an opportunity.
Personally, I think a resume is but a piece of paper with little value in contrast to your own ability to represent yourself, in person. But as our world becomes more generic and the interview process increasingly formulaic in every way, there’s no getting around it, you must have a good resume to get noticed before you have a chance to impress when you meet them. Be aware, a resume is but one aspect of the interview process.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Job Hunting at Holiday Time

Does hiring slow down or stop during the holiday season and if so, is it a waste of time to do anything during that period? Different nations and cultures have their own holiday periods when business decisions seem to take a back seat. But for the sake of this blog entry I am referring to Western holiday period, relatively speaking between Christmas and the New Year. And just to be clear I am not talking about part-time holiday hiring in the retail sector.  
I know from many years of experience that as it relates to concentrating at work, most people’s brains begin to shut down to business matters from about the 10th of December and don’t switch back on again fully until or in the days following the first Monday following New Year’s Day.
As such, most folks assume there is no reason to bother searching, applying for or even trying to interview during this period of time. Indeed, it slows down but part of it has to do with this perception and Groupthink. However, if you are looking for a job this does not mean you should sit on your hands just because so many others do. I’ve been directly involved in scheduling interviews, negotiating and signing final job offers as late as mid-day on Christmas Eve, as well as on New Year’s Eve – and so too in the days in-between Christmas and New Year’s. So yes, it happens.
While many if not most of us look for and find reasons not to work at Christmas time, there is a group and among them key decision makers who have plenty to keep them busy right up to and including New Year’s Eve. While most us are distracted with visions of sugar-plums dancing our heads, business decisions are still being made right up until the last business day of the year.  When do you think they interview for projected first of the year hires? Sure, business slows down but I have lots of anecdotal proof of people interviewing, receiving, accepting and signing job offers right up to the final hours of the year.
So if you are a job seeker what does this mean for you? Well it’s obvious isn’t it that while others are not paying attention you still have a chance to accomplish something. More often than you think, doing the opposite of what the rest of the sheep are doing can have its rewards.
True some first round interviews will be delayed until after the holidays. But my message is simple; with the exception of the holidays themselves – those dates, if you would otherwise be following up on potential opportunities and want to in order to gain any small advantage in comparison with others – go for it. The worse that can happen is that your resume or messages might wait until after the holidays but, yours will be there waiting ahead of others who are still half-asleep when they resume work or searching for work into the first week of the year.
I’m not suggesting you don’t take a holiday break; however, if you don’t want to sit around waiting between mid-December and mid-January while others have been on a mental vacation for a few weeks, your efforts are not a waste of time.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Before You Accept a New Job…

Do you remember the old television detective series “Columbo”? He would always stop before leaving, turn and say, “Just one more thing…” and then throw in one last question or request that always ended up making a notable difference in the outcome. Well, I am suggesting you do something similar as a last point of consideration near the end of a successful interview process.
The next time you are approaching a positive outcome of an interview ritual in which you are being considered, if you have not yet met any of the people you’ll work with, request it. I’m not speaking about those you’ll work for and report to, you’re already meeting them at your interviews, I am rather speaking about your potential co-workers. I am suggesting that you mention to the hiring manager or HR representative, “I’d like to meet a person(s) with whom I would potentially work (before my final decision).” You can learn a lot, in addition to that which is shown in a sterile and choreographed interview structure, within which they show you only what they allow you to see. Of course they’ll show you all the good stuff, but in order to get a better overall picture you need to probe to identify and evaluate any unseen warts, scars and potential problems just beneath the surface in order to make an informed decision. How many who are reading this, have had a moment in their careers when they reflect after the fact and have said, “If I’d only known…” And looking back, is it fair to say that maybe, if you had simply asked, you would have known?
There shouldn’t be a problem with this, if the organization you are considering to join is transparent and also seeks to make the best hiring decision. That said, you may get some reticence (resistance) from a hiring manager, but likely it’s because they aren’t used to getting such requests. Plus, HR might resist, because anything that pushes them out of their standard routine confuses them. It surprises many interviewers when they meet someone who is more engaged. Most interviewees nod and smile without asking any insightful questions – and they just want to get through it in one piece and hope they get an offer, only to complain later. What I am suggesting is an eminently good thing for both sides.
Consider this: you have a great series of interviews, management likes you and you like them and there is a happy ending with a group hug. Aw, ain’t that sweet? So then, on Day One you walk in and in short order you find yourself in the midst of a virtual war zone of office politics and ask yourself how something that seemed so good can turn out to be so wrong. 
Good and experienced hiring managers know this and will strive to ensure you’ll fit into their company culture and office environment before they make a job offer. But, as I have stated many times, a number of people responsible for hiring don’t really know what they are doing. They connect the dots between a person’s resume and the job specs and voila, they think they have conducted a good hire. Increasingly, the human factor is being overlooked in hiring processes, and what I am suggesting is a good thing and benefits both potential employer and employee. Even the use of psychometric testing can be helpful, but it is a tool to aid in evaluation, not a tool upon which to base a decision, as too many lazy bureaucrats increasingly do.
So, you have to take it upon yourself to think ahead even if they fail to do so and, why not? During the interview process it is supposed to be a dialogue, a reciprocal interaction between parties. If all you are doing is what you are told, like a dog waiting to be thrown a bone, don’t be surprised later when no one pays much attention when you voice a concern you could have, but failed to even try to ID, during the interview process. Granted, any new job, company, your boss,  co-workers -- it’s always going to be somewhat a gamble of sorts until you get in there and learn first-hand it is a risk for both sides. Actively participate in the very process that affects you in a most personal manner, to the best of your ability, thereby reducing as best you can the risk of unpleasant surprises.