Monday, November 24, 2014

Resume Photo Pros & Cons

Opinions are mixed about whether or not having a photo on your resume or CV is helpful to your job search efforts. It depends on who is asked. Those who come from a human resource perspective will tell you yes. I do not think it is a good idea and, to be clear, I suggest it can actually be counterproductive to your efforts.
Human Resources, those usually the first to receive and process your resume, will always prefer you attach a photo as part of your resume. But know too their job is not to look for reasons to count you in, but rather to look for reasons to disqualify you. Yeah, okay blah, blah, blah, of course they’ll say they evaluate you according to your qualifications but that’s garbage. Hiring managers are qualified to judge your qualifications, not HR; they are just checking your resume against a very short list of items with which to compare and check off. Unless you are there in person, they are evaluating a document, which represents you, and what they have is what you’ve provided them. Make no mistake about it, in the current digital age we interact increasingly less and less, one-on-one. I say it often, human resources is less human than ever and they don’t want to meet you, nor do they want to speak with you until such time as they decide – if you, or more appropriately your resume, get that far.
Your professional resume is meant to list your professional qualifications, accomplishments and provide a chronology of your work history. Adding a photo is a distraction and, more often than you think, it will be used to judge you rightly or wrongly. But one thing’s for sure, it is not a reflection of your skills or ability so why use it? I suppose those who consider themselves to be among the pretty people, the Barbie and Ken dolls among us, are quick to add their image though even for them a photo can have the opposite effect than they intend.  
Additionally, the kind of photo you choose to use can also influence your fate. Ask any HR person and they’ll tell you they like a photo because it communicates something about that person – that very statement exemplifies you are being judged by your appearance rather than your qualifications. I find resume photos to be entertaining and, I promise you, they become fodder for fun and ridicule among human resources and hiring managers. “What were they thinking” is one of my common responses. What does your photo say about you?
There is their chin resting on their hand; suggesting thoughtfulness and a contemplative personality, perhaps even saying, “I’m relaxed, friendly and approachable”. Or the angular look-over-the-shoulder poses reminiscent of a high school yearbook photo. Or the personal photo from vacation or a company party and maybe even having cropped out whomever was also in the photograph. Are you looking for a job or a date, because sometimes I think a lot of people use the same photos. Some of the funniest I’ve seen are those of real estate agents in the U.S., who use Glamour Shots, the kind that were popular in the late 1990s and in the last decade. Overly-posed photos complete with big hair, too much make-up and maybe even a feather boa. I look at those and think of an over-the-hill cheerleader or prom queen striving to maintain relevance, or perhaps a past their prime stripper making a career change. Have I made my point?
Too often perception is reality and varies widely from one person to another. It is quite possible ten different people will perceive your photo ten different ways and your photo on a CV can help but almost never does. So keep it simple and stick with the facts, your resume is and should be about you and not what you look like, which, by the way, has very little to do with the job you seek. Unless you are applying for a job to read the evening news or provide the weather forecast on television, where’s the added value?
However, if you still choose to have your photograph on your resume or CV, then allow me to make a couple suggestions. Selfies are just plain silly, juvenile and suggest you’re not serious about your career efforts. Photos from your trip to Paris aren’t going to impress anyone nor will the photo you like so much in that great outfit you wore to last year’s party. Ensure any photo you choose is relatively up-to-date as it’s meant to represent you recently, not you 5 or more years ago. Better yet, make it easy and just spend a little bit to get a professional photo taken. It doesn’t cost much and if you get a few extras for Mother or Father’s Day gifts,  voila, now it’s a cost-effective exercise. 
Your attire should be professional, period. Translate the word professional to fit within your career niche. Or, put in the most simple of terms, if you wouldn’t wear it to an interview, then don’t wear it in the photo on your resume, duh! Or better yet, don’t include a photo at all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blaming Others

In the recruitment industry or market we recognize two distinct cycles, employee-driven and company- driven market trends. Put simply, when the economy is doing well it is more employee driven. In other words, as it was before 2008, when there were, in many respects, more jobs than there were qualified employees to fill them. This meant that companies had to offer more and employees could negotiate for better conditions. However, as it is now, it is the opposite and there are more applicants than there are good jobs. This means companies have the upper hand; they can dictate terms to people resulting in lower salaries and less favorable terms. It’s nothing complex, but simply an issue of supply and demand as it relates to the employment market. With this in mind, what you may have been able to negotiate for yourself a few years ago, the last time you interviewed for a job, might not necessarily be possible this or the next time around. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but don’t let your ego be bruised if you don’t get your way – after all, there is a new normal that a lot of folks are already experiencing, even if you have not yet done so.
Regardless, whatever deal you may or may not be able to negotiate for yourself, many people after the fact complain of how they were cheated or treated poorly and got a less than optimal deal. Part of the problem is many people don’t have strong negotiating skills. In order to negotiate one must have a measure of soft skills, abilities that are suffering a steep decline in the last 20 years, as a result of increased online social networking. I am an expert in the hiring process and the negotiations required therein; if anyone wants to avail themselves of a crash course you should get my book, which is easily found on Amazon, but that’s up to you. Other “experts”, whose primary advice focuses on and preaches the virtues of more social networking, miss the point completely. In reality, they have nothing substantive to offer; resume advice and more online activity is mere window dressing.
However, today I want to suggest the most rudimentary and the simplest way to get the best possible deal for yourself when you interview and receive a job offer, even if you possess no ability to negotiate and regardless of whether it is for a good job or that which will suffice until you find a better one. In fact, it is so simple that I feel as though I am insulting the intelligence of many people, though too many fail to do what should be automatic, reflexive and instinctive.
Conduct pre-interview due diligence
Many fail to do the most basic research about a company or job they seek. Easy access to the internet means you have no excuse not to be acquainted with most any organization you may consider working for. Look at their website or search for press releases and new items that can provide you with both positive and negative info with which you can make an informed decision. Career biographies of key company personalities are also readily available with just a bit of effort. Furthermore, you should anticipate one of the most basic questions most interviewees encounter, “What do you know about our company?”, and/or, “why are you interested in working for us?” Even if you manage to get through the process without this knowledge do you have any clue about what and with whom you are trying to join? 
Be an active interview participant
During the interview process many people are passengers and do little more than hide behind their resume, smile and nod on cue to appear engaged when, in reality, they are just hoping to get through the interview with their fingers crossed. I recognize interviewing sucks, nobody likes to interview. But the interview process directly affects you in a very personal manner and the old adage that suggests, “the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask”, applies in this case.
Read the job offer (all of it)
Most people do not read their job offer. Yeah, they read the parts about their job title description of their responsibilities, how much they will get paid, their company benefits – you know, the important stuff. But they fail to read the equally important fine print. For example: many companies who know they call the shots in this so-called economic recovery are flexing their muscles taking full advantage. I don’t fault them for it even if some things they do may be questionable – but I do fault people who fail to review any deal to which they apply their signature without thorough review.  If you need a glaring example, here’s one: there is a very large international company, which has in the fine print of their employment contracts a passage that states that by signing the agreement you waive any right to litigate against them. Imagine, all the labor laws meant to protect you mean nothing if you willingly sign away your rights, but how would you know if you don’t read your contract – all of it. I have read articles in this regard but you won’t find many and I am sure the reason has nothing to do with media outlets owned by large corporations. 
So perhaps you can imagine my lack of sympathy for many who fail to do what is the most basic of responsibilities in their own self-interest, when pursuing and interviewing for any job. If you fail to do what I have described above – which does not require a lot of effort, then you have no right to blame anyone else for what you willingly, albeit unwittingly, agreed to. Shared risk and mutual respect is what should be the basis of any contract between parties, and anything less is simple negligence on the part of whoever fails to pay attention when it matters most. 
For those who think there is an increasingly un-level playing field of late there are two schools of thought; one is that companies, at a time which is more advantageous to them are just seeking the best deal they can for their bottom line (profitability). Others suggest we are drifting towards a techno-feudalism or new age of serfdom, lorded over by large corporate structures, which regard employees as an expendable and easily replaced commodity. Frankly, I can find some evidence of both, but this is a subject for another day. No matter the situation or the cause, all you can do is try to influence your individual situation as best you can – you are powerless only if you choose to be. 
During any process of negotiation, almost no one gets everything they want and there are always trade-offs, resulting in compromises of varying degrees. Anyone who expects to get everything they want on their own terms, when they want it, is either childish or delusional. During the current economic cycle, it is true that companies have the upper hand, although you are a victim if you willingly relinquish your role in the process.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Interview the Interviewer

So many people are nervous about the prospect of interviewing. Most of us hate putting ourselves through it and I don’t know anyone who likes to interview. One’s ability to interview effectively comes down to one primary factor – your own level of self-confidence. Fear and indecision is palpable, our basic animal instincts sense fear. Recognizing it, overcoming it, controlling it requires courage, which Hemingway referred to as “grace under pressure”. Though, for most people this takes time and concerted effort to develop. Regardless, there are a few things I suggest you should recognize on your road to building, re-building and galvanizing your own confidence level.  
There is another aspect to consider that few people want to address honestly – and that is, the manay of those who conduct interviews have no idea what they are doing, they’re following a script or making it up as they go along. I have met hiring managers who were dumber than those they were interviewing but, after all, they have a managerial title on their business card and they might have a degree from a prestigious university. That doesn’t mean they know how to interview, much less attract top talent. And for the managers reading this, don’t kill the messenger, it’s already an open secret. For example: senior company managers are voicing concerns about employees (which include managers), who increasingly lack essential soft skills. But, as I recently commented in another blog entry, the problem is increasingly that their own middle managers themselves lack soft skills and, as a result, are incapable of identifying much less evaluating the soft skills of applicants. I am not ridiculing anyone or being nasty, it is simply the truth and, yet, these are the people who are evaluating you when you interview. Note that when you are asked an inconvenient question you are nonetheless expected to answer, however, ask an interviewer a question that isn’t on their little formulaic list and watch what happens. They’ll get discombobulated if you ask a question that isn’t on their departmental or company-issued FAQ list or talking points, from which they recite nicely wrapped and pre-packaged answers. So I suggest, instead of being passive participants, we should help them along a little bit.
Interviews are by their very nature formulaic because it is, after all, a process, a ritual, with some predictable steps that vary from one company to another. Sure, there are different styles and methods but there are similarities inherent to every interview process. For example: the initial interview is meant to validate you are what and who you claim, as stated on your resume. It is also meant to learn the basics about the job you are considering and being considered for. The second interview is for both sides to gain more details as a continuation of the first. It is also from the second interview stage onward as the appropriate time to discuss money - for more about discussions related to money, see my post from 19 October. All remaining steps concern the finer points of the job as well as meeting others, in order to determine if you fit their company culture (and if they match your expectations).
I want to focus on that all-important first interview where impressions are made. Fortunately, it’s this first real step that is the most predictable. Most assuredly they are going to ask you, “What do you know about our company?” And, “Tell me about yourself?” Identifying the end of the interview is also obvious because near to that time they will say, “So, do you have any questions?” If you know it’s coming, if you want to make an impact and exert a small measure of control over your own fate I suggest you get out ahead of the curve, take the initiative whenever possible; don’t be only reactive, but be proactive anytime you see an opportunity; flip it around somewhat and interview the interviewer.
Instead of just sitting there waiting to be told when to roll-over, speak, beg or play dead – actively engage the interviewer. Let’s put it this way, if you are only speaking when spoken to, you’re wrong. Of course, wait your turn and then impress not only with your qualifications but also your interaction. Take initiative and ask insightful questions, which clearly benefit you as well as demonstrate to the interviewer you are in fact more switched-on than most others they meet. What I am suggesting isn’t as radical or aggressive as it sounds. Here are some easy examples of questions to demonstrate what I mean:
  •  “Beyond the basic job description, as the manager, what are your key factors when considering someone for this position?”
  • “Can you describe for me, what a typical day (in this position) would be?”
  • “What happened to the last person in this role?” Followed up by, “And how long were they in the position?”
  • “How long have you been with the company / organization?”
  • “What made you choose to work for this company?”
  • “For someone who performs well in this position, where is the career advancement?”
  • (your final question of the interview should be) “So, what’s next – do you have any concerns - is there any reason you would not advance me to the next step?” (then stop talking, shut up and listen)
These are but a few examples; there are countless more depending on your particular situation and market segment. Although be prepared, some interviewers resent being questioned. I suggest that if they are difficult to deal with during the interview stage, you might not find them particularly pleasant to work with – but that’s for you to decide. Generally speaking, I find that good managers, the kind you want to work for, react positively to this kind of interaction, and for them it is like a breath of fresh air compared with most droids who nod and smile on cue but offer little else during interviews.
So rather than relying solely on the interviewer to know and show you the way, take responsibility for yourself, take the initiative to exert more influence on your own fate. But, if you’re going to take the initiative you should be fully prepared to be able to back up any claims you make, and be able to prove successes if challenged with provable anecdotal or documented evidence. At the end of the interview, if you feel confident you can take it a step further by offering references before you are asked (provided your references have already been warned ahead of time you may refer to them). Do it with confidence, this kind of toe-to-toe active interview participation differs hugely from most everyone else out there and you will stand in contrast to others. As I stated above from the start, it’s about confidence in your own abilities and rejecting the timid approach to which too many people have been reduced by current trends, which are sometimes designed to diminish you.
If you are looking for yet another reason to do what I am suggesting, if you choose to behave like, sound like, the rest of the sheep, when it comes time for a hiring manager to determine who among the applicants will advance to the next stage, why should they choose you?