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Happy New Year!

And what a good year it is going to be! How can it not be, following 2014, the best we’ve had in the US job market in 15 years? Not to mention that, good as 2014 was, the second half trended even stronger than the first, and the middle two quarters didn’t slump like they did in ’12 and ’13. There’s no need for all the details. I did that in last week’s column, so if you haven’t recycled it yet, go get it.

The point is: We’re on a roll, but what are you going to do about it? My most strongly emphasized theme this past year has been about changing the narrative. In other words, the job market improvement is a given and the ills – all those things you could blame, like massive job losses, persistent and long-term unemployment levels, and a stagnant economy – are gone or nearly dead. So not only are there none of these reasons for not finding the job you want, there are no more excuses. And the narrative changes.

In a job market that’s gone from 6½ unemployed candidates for every job opening down to a 2:1 ratio, that’s akin to going from a mob scene to a fair fight. And that’s exactly where the narrative changes and where you can make concrete plans to go into the fight to win it. It is, indeed, a fair fight, and it’s entirely within your control to come out on top. Instead of talking about all the things that prevented you from landing a job or advancing your career, we’re now going to talk about all the ways in which you are going to succeed.

“I think it is an immutable law in business,” declared Harold Geneen, president and CEO of ITT from 1959 to 1977, when it was the world’s largest conglomerate, “that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises – but only performance is reality.” So I’m sure Mr. Geneen would agree with the three major initiatives I’m herewith suggesting.

1. Be a “Career A.P.E.” The acronym – A.P.E. – stands for Assess-Plan-Execute, and that means taking an honest, hard look at the market and what it is demanding, and yourself and what you offer. The difference is “the skills gap.” Close that gap, and one or more of more than 4.8 million open jobs – jobs that employers would fill if the candidate with the right skills showed up – can be yours. That’s the assessment part. Then comes the planning stage, in which you lay down a concrete plan to acquire the necessary skills, followed by the execution of the plan.
Yes, by the way, there really are 4.8 million unfilled jobs, and with 9.1 million people unemployed, you’d figure those jobs would fill quickly. Not so. Employers have gotten picky – and rightfully so. As a result it’s your challenge to show up qualified, but in a fair fight, you have no reason not to.

2. Understand a key rule of the new game. The rules of the game have changed so dramatically in the last seven years that the game itself has changed, and the most critical change is that now, the job does not necessarily go to the candidate who knows most about the job, but rather to the one who knows most about how to get hired. In other words, career skills are as important as – or more important than – job skills. If you think this situation affects you to any degree whatsoever, go out and do something about it. Developing and improving career skills will make you more competitive in landing the position in which you can use your job skills.

And finally …

3. Keep all five tools in perfect condition. When a craftsman begins a job, he makes sure (a) he has all the tools he needs and (b) they’re all in perfect working order. Your five tools are your resume, your interviewing strategies and skills (with the emphasis on strategies), your job search strategies, your career planning (both short- and long-term), and your career networking. Those are the job seekers five tools, and now that we’re in a fair fight, you need to have all these tools, and they need to be in perfect shape. Good enough is not good enough. So first, make sure your resume is an absolute, drop-dead A+ document. It is, before all, the way the world sees you before it meets you. Second, once that resume makes your phone ring, if you go into the interview without a clear strategy, your game probably ends right there. Strategies outweigh skills every time. Third, how are you conducting your job search? Too many people are running a 2015 job search with pre-2008 strategies (or pre-1988, sorry to say). Let’s change that immediately. Fourth, what’s your career plan? It’s OK if you have to change your plan; it’s just not OK not to have one. And finally, just what does your network look like and how are you using and nurturing it? This, it turns out, is elusive to many people who think networking simply means asking others for jobs or leads.

So be an A.P.E., get with the rule, and sharpen your tools.

Here’s to a great 2015!

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at eli.amdur@amdurcoaching.com or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and “like” him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.

38 Reasons to look forward to 2015

Excuse me, but did anyone just see a year fly by? Something’s going on, and it has little to do with “Interstellar” or any other such time-warp fiction. But one way or another, 2014 happened awfully fast. Why? When good things happen, time passes quickly. So it was for 2014, the best year the job market has seen in a decade and a half – by all measurements.

And so it will be for 2015. I tend to make predictions this time of year – and that one is mine. This isn’t a projection; statisticians do that with mountains of data. I, on the other hand, just try to connect the dots, ask what it means, and offer a reasonable picture. That’s all. But I’ve been right (more or less) for the last six years, so here we go again.

Now, in case you’ve either forgotten or refuse to believe what’s happened in 2014, here are 38 reasons to look forward to 2015.

1) The 321,000 jobs created in November are the most this year; only eight months since 1999 were better.
2) Ten consecutive months with 200,000+ jobs created has happened only once before.
3) Give it a few more months and we’ll have the longest stretch ever.
4) We’re in the longest string of private sector job creation in history: 56 months and counting.
5) Job creation numbers for October and September have since been revised upward by 44,000. Otherwise stated, things are even better than they looked.
6) The total for the first 11 months of 2014 – 2,651,000 jobs – is the strongest in 15 years.
7) And the trend is even stronger. The six-month period of June through November was an annualized pace of 3.076 million jobs.
8) As the first six months produced an annualized 2.738 million jobs, the most recent six months are trending at 12.3 percent better. In tangible terms, for every eight jobs created in the beginning of 2014, there are nine being created now. So you can safely bet on significantly more than 3,000,000 jobs created next year.
9) Unemployment is down to 5.8 percent. Anyone remember 10 percent?
10) Even New Jersey, which has a terrible record over the last few years, saw its rate drop to the lowest in six years. Don’t get too excited over this one, but it could have been worse.
11) More people are back in the game than ever before. The only reason the unemployment rate didn’t fall in December is that an increased number of job seekers re-entered the job market, always a sign
of optimism.
12) There were 4.835 million job openings in October (most recent) – a strong indicator of market strength. Average monthly in 2014 was 4.484 million, second best ever.
13) The 3.6 percent hires rate was the highest since before the recession, translating into 5.3 million hires in October alone.
14) Long-term unemployment continued to fall: now 30.9 percent of total. Anyone remember 48 percent? Over the past year, the number of long-term unemployed fell by 1.2 million.
15) The national unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2 percentage points and 1.7 million, respectively in 2014.
16) More Americans are working than ever before.
17) Contrary to the myth spread by negativists, full-time employment is up.
18) So is part-time.
19) That means everything is up. If you continue to doubt or dispute this, go read the true data.
20) The quit rate is up. When more people voluntarily quit their jobs before securing their next one, that’s a big indicator of confidence.
21) In other words, things are good when you can tell your boss to “take this job and…”
22) The 1.2 percent layoffs rate is the second lowest since this stat was first reported (2000). When was it ever lower? At 1.1 percent: October and November 2013.
23) Wages and salaries are rising: slowly, but they’re rising.
24) So are hours worked per week.
25) Every employment sector has added jobs: business and professional services, financial services, healthcare and social services, retail trade, transportation, food service, manufacturing, and construction. Every one!
26) In 2009, there were 6.5 candidates for every job opening. Ugly. Today there are two. Beautiful!
27) American GDP shows the highest growth rate among all OECD nations.
28) The stock market is roaring, despite a few daily hiccups.
29) The dollar continues to strengthen.
30) Yet US exports of capital goods in October were the highest on record.
31) The US trade deficit continues to shrink.
32) Domestic oil production is booming; we’re now major oil exporters.
33) Oil exports are highest in five years.
34) Gasoline is headed south of $2.00, half what it was.
35) Two bucks for gas. Are you freakin’ kidding me? (Yeah, this comment gets its own number on this list.)
36) Inflation? What inflation?
37) And back on the job front, in my practice I can point to 92 people in the last 19 months who landed jobs at or above their previous level, half of them in the last six months alone.

Pretty good outlook for 2015, eh?

Oh, and reason 38? The Mets will make the playoffs for the first time since before the recession!
Happy New Year, everyone!

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at eli.amdur@amdurcoaching.com or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and “like” him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.

20140511 – Ridiculous interview questions (or are they?)

           Occasionally I get emails or calls asking about answering ridiculous interview questions, and I must say, some of the questions are more than ridiculous. They border on being downright insulting, given your time is more valuable, obviously, than the interviewer seems to think while he’s amusing himself with his own frivolity. On the other hand, some questions which might seem ridiculous really are not; they are responsible questions which can reveal a great deal about how you think and how well you think. So it’s important to pull those apart. Let’s deal with the serious ones and laugh as we dismiss the rest.

For instance, here are seven questions from two readers who recently fielded these in first-round interviews:

(1)  If you were an animal, what animal would that be? Why? (2) Would you rather be President of the United States or quarterback of the Super Bowl champs? (3) How many golf balls fit in a Boeing 747? (4) Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what’s the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you’re given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess? (5) How many bricks are in Shanghai? (6) What would you choose as your last meal? (7) A penguin walks in right now wearing a sombrero. Why is he here, and what does he say?

While you’re evaluating them – laughing at some, I’m sure – let me tell you that, having interviewed people for nearly 40 years, I really like two of them. The other five, though, are jokes, and make you wonder what that person is doing in any position involved in building the future of a company.

I like questions three and four, and here’s why. Although number three might spur you to think about the size of a golf ball, speculate on the plane’s capacity, and then do simple division (all of which I started doing), the real answer is “You’ve given me insufficient information. There are at least six production configurations of the 747. Which one are you talking about?” As an interviewer, I’d want to see that you don’t try to solve problems when you don’t have all the necessary data. At this point the calculation doesn’t matter.

            As for question four, the answer struck me almost immediately. Trying to work it out quickly by imagining a number and then repeatedly cutting the field in half would require about nine steps. But wait; the question asked for minimum number of guesses, not logical steps, and that – no matter what the selected number – is one. Your chances are one in a thousand, but the minimum is always going to be one.

            So much for the smart questions: now the ridiculous. If some dimwit who thinks he’s being clever asked me what my last meal would be – a question that you couldn’t, in a hundred years, convince me is relevant – I’d really be tempted to answer, “What the difference? If I were having my last meal, I wouldn’t be around to take this job.” As for what animal you’d be, how do you answer that without laughing? Childish! President or Super Bowl QB? I’d love to win a Super Bowl at 28 and run for the presidency at 50 as a Super Bowl champ. (Does your HR manual tell you how to interpret that answer, pal?) Bricks in Shanghai? Who cares?!?!? And finally, anyone knows there are no Mexican penguins. Or sombreros in Antarctica. Geez!

The best, most sincere advice I can give you when you hear questions like this is simply to get up and walk out because if you go to the trouble of contorting your brain to the point that you’re actually trying to answer these ludicrous questions – and you get a massive headache in the process – you’ll wind up working with these lunatics! How does that sit with you?                                                                                                                                                         

I’m not just saying that casually. I once walked out of an interview that was getting sillier by the minute. Hardly ten minutes into the interview – when I realized that I had gotten my degree before this little boy who was interviewing me was born – and also that the things he thought were witty and challenging were really pitiful and insulting – I closed my portfolio, stood up, announced I didn’t think this situation was for me, shook his hand, and watched the stunned look on his face as I split. Honestly, could you imagine working there?

That said, it’s up to you to realize the difference between the sublime and the ridiculous, and when you identify a question as being a challenge – as opposed to indicating that Darwin might have been wrong about natural selection and evolution – you have a real chance to shine. You don’t necessarily have to come up with the exact answer. (Does anyone really know how big the inside of a 747 is compared to a golf ball? Does anyone even need to know?) What you have is a chance to show off is how you think, not what you think.

            So, in dealing with any question, first decide if it deserves an answer. If it does, you’re on. If not, don’t laugh too hard until you’re in the parking lot.        

          

20140413 – Perserverance pays off. Ask Mark.

           From time to time I anoint a “new favorite person.” It’s time once again.

            Please read this email from Mark (name changed). With the exception of changing some details to preserve anonymity, this is verbatim.

            First, a quick aside: some of my articles take considerable effort to write, some seem to write themselves, and some get handed to me on a silver platter. With the exception of a few comments at the end, today’s is on a platter! That’s OK. I work hard enough for the three-point shots; I’ll take the layup when I can get it. Here’s Mark.

“I just wanted to update you on my career situation. I last saw you [seventeen months ago, not the first time we had met], three months after I was laid off from [global technology firm]. I am pleased to tell you that this past Monday I just started at [global professional services firm] in my area of expertise, at a salary commensurate with my experience.

“The happy ending had a rocky road. I interviewed for this particular job a month after my layoff, one of five finalists for a face-to-face interview after all the initial phone screenings. Then there was a job freeze, so no progress. The job reopened this past [four months ago] and I reached out directly to the same hiring manager, who put me back in the recruitment queue, and the process started all over: phone interview with the recruiter, phone interview with the hiring manager who had interviewed me the previous year, phone interview with the peer I would be working with (to see if there was chemistry), face-to-face interview with the hiring manager’s boss on a day when we had a snow storm in the morning, and finally the offer.

           “However, I wasn’t sitting on my hands waiting for the job to magically reappear. I was working my network. My primary source of job leads was LinkedIn, from which I applied for at least two jobs a month, and had a constant stream of interviews (mostly initial phoners). The second source was my network. My role is to maintain close relations with research professionals, so I would constantly be in touch with my research friends because they would know about potential openings. In fact that is how I got the job at [company that laid me off 17 months ago].

“Aside from that activity I became active in two professional associations, either moderating or participating in webinars, to keep my name and face out there among my peers who were potential hirers. Through this I obtained some part time contract work which helped keep things afloat, especially after unemployment ran out. And I’ve been asked to be on the advisory council of one of the associations for this year.

“During the entire time I benefited from the strong support my wife and immediate family provided. And of course, every Sunday my wife would give me your column to read. I’d always pick up something, whether it was a new tip, validation of what I was doing, or just encouragement. 

“I also got involved civically, donating my huge collection of DVDs to the town library and starting up a monthly movie night.

“Sure, there were a lot of disappointments. One company interviewed me but felt I didn’t have enough experience (with 15 years in the field), and I just found out that the person they hired has less experience. And there was a former colleague from [that same company that laid me off] who was hiring (a lead from one of the researchers I mentioned above), with whom I had a great phone interview and who asked me to send a list of references, but who then disappeared into a black hole of non-returned emails and a voicemail box that wouldn’t accept messages.

“But I kept at it and just had the opportunity at an industry event to thank in person the analyst who put in in a good word for me with my hiring manager over a year and a half ago, and with whom I will be working once again.

“So there you have it. Thanks again for your help and encouragement.”

            Friends, this one email is a whole course in how to handle unemployment, whether it is a short or long-term affair: positive attitude, clear thinking, perseverance, focus, consistent proactive behavior, seeing past obstacles, accepting disappointment, networking (not just “defensive” networking but real involvement), volunteering (keeping in front of people and always remembering to find a way help others, no matter what), strong family support, and good old follow up and follow through.

            So much for effort; let’s not overlook results. Not only did Mark do all the right things – repeat, ALL the right things – results are the proof of the pudding. This is not the all-too-common story of desperation leading to taking anything one can get. Remember, Mark now doesn’t just have a job, but the one he wanted; he is working for the company he wanted, too; and his salary didn’t take a hit.

            Y’know, if I gathered all my new favorite persons in a room, I’d have one helluva dinner party.

            Hats off to them all – and to Mark!

20140406 – A job seeker in motion tends to remain in motion…

           Whether Sir Isaac Newton ever imagined himself a career coach or not, he would have been a good one, as his three laws of motion have as much to do with job searching as with the physical world.

           I don’t mean to trivialize the thought and work of one of the most influential humans who ever lived but, as we’ve done many times in this column, we can apply great thoughts from one arena to great actions in ours.

            Newton’s three laws of motion have direct applicability to job searching, if only we’d take a minute to revisit them. Yes, “re”-visit: we’ve all learned them in junior high or high school. Problem is, as with most things we “learn” in school, we go through the rest of our lives proving that we really didn’t. So let’s revisit, relearn, and then apply.

            Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it, and that an object in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it. In both cases – at rest or in motion – there is a natural tendency of objects to keep doing what they’re doing. For example, a ball at rest on a flat surface will sit there unless it is propelled (kicked, hit, thrown). Once in motion, it will stay that way unless it is slowed down by friction, gravity, or other impediments.

            Sounds like most job seekers, frankly (myself included, a couple of times in my past). Either we get into a funk at the beginning of the process and just stay in a paralyzed state or we get worn out and come to a halt, usually in a negative (even depressed) mental state. This is as natural as the world of physics Newton described.

            On the other hand, one could also spring into action, actually acting as one’s own “external” force” causing the ball (oneself) to propel forward. That person creates the state of motion in which the velocity does not change – and continues to supply that external force when other natural hindrances (friction, etal.) work in counterproductive ways.

            However, very few of us, if any, can continually provide that external force – that is, after all, what being external is all about – and I include myself in this class. So, realizing that Newton’s first law of motion applies directly to job search – and that we are all subject to it to one degree or another – we must find those external forces to help us stay in motion. Nothing could be more critical or helpful.

 

            Newton’s second law of motion deals with acceleration, and states that the acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object. In other words, the greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to accelerate that object.

 

Isn’t that one of those things that just seems so obvious that we want to say we could have thought of it – like a Jackson Pollock painting that impels many to say that they, too, could have thrown paint all over a canvas? Well yeah, but we didn’t – and Newton and Pollock (and many others) did. So we continue to defer to them. Sir Isaac made it plain, and once again it has a direct and obvious relationship to job searching. Some people (most, actually) represent a greater mass needing greater force in order to get moving. This shows up as attitude more than anything else, but also includes lack of awareness of current job market conditions; lack of appropriate skills for an increasingly complex, technical, and global marketplace; and, sadly, lack of willingness to admit that things have changed, demanding even greater change from the job seeker (the object) in order to achieve that acceleration. The more we recede into these states, the more force we need to get out of them.

 

And then we come to Newton’s third law of motion, in my mind the easiest of the three to comprehend: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Before elaborating, this is an appropriate place to say that, in almost every case, the “object” we’re talking about – the job seeker – does not realize the circumstances and conditions causing the inertia (first law) or vectors (second law). But once the job seeker is made aware, it becomes easier to embrace the idea that taking action creates more action. The “equal and opposite” part of this, in job search terms, refers to everything from strategic plans to specific steps.

 

There you have it: Newtonian physics and the successful job search. And, after 17 years as an independent career coach, how did I get to this now? Simple: I’ve long said that your three most important career skills are critical reading, critical listening, and critical thinking – and then committing the time to do all three.

 

Well, the other day I pulled a layman’s version of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica off my shelf – kind of like “Newton for Dummies” – and committed some time to read and think.

 

      

 

20140323 – The Zen of Job Searching

Since time immemorial, or at least since the very beginning of career advice columns (which, it sometimes seems, go back just as far – archeologists are working on that, I think), you have read – over and over again– advice on strategies, tactics, methods, and approaches of job searching. Here too. After a while the words all start to sound the same. Believe me, I know.

Of course, that won’t change, but from time to time it’s a good thing to focus on things more spiritual, and less strategic or tactical in nature. When we get sucked into the vortex of our lives, it is understandably difficult to step back from the fray and to let go of the plans, the to-do lists, the events and all that – even for a short respite – and to take care of the softer side of things. But that’s exactly what we should do.

So today, here are some random thoughts which I’m sure will help sustain you. They have worked quite well for me – and many others, too – over the years in all kinds of situations, so there is no reason to expect otherwise for anyone else.

  • When you wake up each morning, complete the following statements: “My purpose today is…” and “What I will do today is…” These don’t have to be world changers every day; that’s (a) impossible and (b) too much pressure. And further, it doesn’t always have to be about getting a job; it can be (and regularly should be) about things like volunteering, helping a neighbor, or taking a badly needed decompressing day. But unless you can tell yourself why you’re getting out of bed each morning, you will not have a good day. Conversely, even if you don’t achieve everything you plan, if you wake up with a purpose, you will have a good day.
  • For ten minutes each day, do nothing. Sit in silence. Engage in thought. And if you can do this more than once each day, that’s all the better. This one single ten-minute oasis does not include your regularly scheduled lunch breaks (that’s actually doing something). Really, for ten minutes, do nothing.
  • Keep reminding yourself that although life may not be fair right now, it is still good. It’s your responsibility to make something out of it. Problems are really opportunities poorly dressed.
  • Don’t compare yourself or your life to others or their lives. There’s only one way that turns out: badly. Even if you compare yourself with those less fortunate, you’re still not paying attention to #1: you. Focus on your own improvements and accomplishments, no matter how small.
  • However good or bad any situation is, it will change. Accept that. Sometimes all that’s needed is a night’s sleep, but in a more proactive light, positive change almost always is the result of positive attitude. As such, most change is up to you.
  • Consider what Thomas Edison said: “Most people don’t recognize opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” 
  • Don’t freeze when it comes time to make decisions. All you can be is wrong, and that can be corrected. Worse than a bad decision is no decision at all.
  • Find a reason to laugh and smile each day. Then laugh and smile each day. There is more evidence than you need that proves the benefits of doing this on all fronts: psychological, mental, and physical.
  • Read a poem. Poetry, I’ve always said, is what the soul looks like when it gets dressed up. Start with Longfellow; you can’t go wrong.
  • Listen to music. Not background stuff: music to which you must sit and actively listen. (My most oft-used bookmarked site is YouTube.) Grieg’s Morning Mood is a terrific start; you can’t go wrong.
  • Read that poem while you listen to that music. Now you’ve really got something!
  • Turn off the damn TV. In 1961, when commercial TV was still a rather new thing, Newton Minow coined the immortal phrase “a vast wasteland.” He was right then, and it has only become a vaster wasteland. Do other things. And while you’re at it, get away from your smart phone. The world of social media can live without you for a while – and you can certainly benefit from the separation.
  • The most important thing you can ever do with your life is something that will outlast you. No matter what your personal situation may be, there is something bigger, and it involves others. No matter what your momentary tribulations may be, generations to come depend on what you do and how you act today. “Footprints on the Sands of Time” is how Longfellow chose to depict it (A Psalm of Life).
  • And finally, before you go to sleep each night, complete the following statement: “Today, what I accomplished was…, and “What I am grateful for is…” If you wake up each morning affirming your purpose for the day and your intentions for the day, you’ll be able to go to sleep at night saying these things. Guaranteed.

            Historian and writer Thomas Cahill said, “Out of mortal imagination comes a dream of something new, something better, something yet to happen in the future.”

            So spend time dreaming – while you’re awake.

20140309 – Start your networking affiliations while you’re young.

           Perhaps the most agreed upon concept in the whole world of job searching and career management is that networking is the most effective, far reaching, and long lasting of all approaches. In fact, I know of no one who disagrees.

            There is still far less than unanimity, though, when it comes to exactly what constitutes good networking – and what activities and affiliations should be engaged. However, because answering that question would require “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” (apologies, dear Edgar), let’s focus on just one aspect of networking: belonging to – and regularly attending meetings of – career networking groups.

            Before saying another word, let me point this discussion straight at the Gen-Y crowd, those who were born in 1982 or after, although it’s important for everyone. I’m targeting you Gen-Y-ers because very few of you do this. And all of you should.

            You can imagine how many networking events and meetings I’ve attended in the last 17 years as an independent career coach. Five hundred? Maybe More? With my earlier career added in, it’s much more. All things considered, the one thing almost all those meetings have had in common is the notable absence of people in the early stages of their careers, let’s say the first 10 or 12 years or so. At one event or meeting after another, all I see as I scan the room is, for the most part, a large collection of job seekers all of whom, I’ll bet, have AARP membership cards in their wallets.

            This is, needless to say, wise on the part of the gray-hairs and unwise on the part of the “Yoots” (Did you say “Yoots”?) who need to know better. Now before any of you seniors congratulate yourselves for being so smart, a great many of you never started going to networking groups and events before you had to (read: started getting desperate). Honestly, right?

            OK, you got there anyway. As a result, many of you now know that regular attendance and strong affiliation is a helluva good idea, even when you are in a job. That is what I’d like to get across to the Gen-Y-ers who are reading this or at least getting it forwarded from their parents, a more probable – and much more common – scenario.

            So, Mr. or Ms. Y, start identifying relevant networking groups – industry, profession, alumni, or any other affinity – and start making this a regular part of your life. I know this may seem foreign to you, but that’s because much of what happens in careers has not yet happened to you. For instance, you haven’t yet gotten 25 years into your careers and gotten downsized out a job you were performing quite well, thank you very much, with two kids about to go to college, your mortgage due, and unemployment benefits about to run out. That, unfortunately, is when too many gray-hairs first started going to networking events, realizing they should have done that long ago. OK fine, now they know, but at least they know.

            As we’ve discussed here before, that’s “defensive networking” – a term I use for starting to react to a situation you should have prevented by being a great networker all along. Great networkers can mobilize a great network because it’s been active all along, and you do that in advance, not in reaction.

            Now, lest you think I don’t know what extensive “networkers” you Gen-Y-ers think you are – your activity on social networking sites is legend – let me emphasize something my colleagues and I have hammered home forever (so it seems). Real networking takes place on your feet, not on your keyboard. You can have all the LinkedIn and Facebook connections in the world, but until you shake hands, share a meal or a drink, sit with each other to hear a speaker, trade business cards, get warm and fuzzy – and do that regularly, often, and not just when you’re out of work – you’re not really developing a lasting affinity. People want to help people they care about, and that happens when there is a shared feeling of closeness and understanding, an empathy, based on similar ideas, situations, or interests.

           So in what networking group(s) should you become active? The two most obvious are in your industry or within your occupation (marketing, accounting, HR, and so on). But there are two other types which I think are more interesting: alumni associations and general professional networking groups.

            As for alumni, especially young alumni groups (10-15 years out, since we’re aiming this at Gen-Y), who doesn’t have a strong feeling for someone wearing the same college sweatshirt? That’s easy to figure, so if you haven’t been an active alum, start now.

      Beyond that, though, the general professional networking group, at which you’ll find people from many industries and occupations, is important for another reason; you’ll be exposed to a widely diverse group of people, thoughts, ideas, and – what you’re there for – connections and opportunities.

            Commit to this now, dear Y-er, to membership in and regular attendance at these professional networking groups, and your career may look much different from what it would if you wait too long, like many of your gray-haired predecessors…

            …if you get my drift.

20140216 – The baseball player and the job seeker: a parable

The baseball player stepped up to the plate in the first inning. He struck out, swinging at a curve ball. He came up again in the fourth – struck out again on another curve. In the seventh inning, it was the same story: down swinging for a third time. Another curve!

Long game. Interminably long to our batter, y’know? The pitcher had his number, for sure, and wouldn’t relent. Long game.

He was due up third in the bottom of the ninth with the game in a scoreless tie. As the leadoff  batter stepped up, our three-time strikeout victim, realizing he might be the last guy up in what was, to this point, a dismal game, walked over to his batting coach and asked, “What have I been doing wrong?”

Coach put his arm around the batter’s shoulder and answered, “Two things. The first is, you’re too far back in the batter’s box. That guy struck you out on curve balls each time. His curve moves in and down on you, right into your weak zone – inside at the knees. Your power zone is up and in the middle of the plate, right where the ball would be if it didn’t break. So move up on him, one step closer to the mound, and you won’t let his curve break so much. You’ll get to it before it breaks so far. You’ll get it where you want it.”

Just then, the first batter flied out, and with the second batter stepping up to the plate, our protagonist quickly ran out to the on-deck circle, left there to think about his coach’s advice: move one step closer to the mound, don’t let the pitch break so far, don’t let it leave my power zone. Got it. 

He repeated this mantra, trying to burn it into his subconscious. One step closer, one step closer, one step closer. As quickly as the first batter was retired, the second batter popped out on the first pitch, and now our man’s last chance for redemption was staring him in the face. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, nobody on, scoreless tie. It was now or never. Show time.

With coach’s words echoing, he stepped into the batter’s box and, hardly noticeably, moved one small step closer to the mound. But hey, wait a minute. “Coach said there were two things I did wrong,” he remembered. “What was the other?”

All of a sudden, his trance-like focus on coach’s advice was disturbed. He asked the ump for time, stepped out of the box, and quickly turned and looked for coach in the dugout. Tense as our batter was, he found coach calmly leaning against the dugout wall, arms folded across his chest, smiling an almost Buddha-like smile, like he knew something our batter didn’t know. Coach looked remarkably confident, given a tense, two-out, bottom of the ninth scenario, with a three-strikeout victim up again. Coach gave him a slight, nearly imperceptible nod.

He nodded back and stepped back in the box. As the pitcher wound up, certain his curve would do the trick again, his eyes made contact with the batter’s eyes, not noticing, however, that there was a small difference in the distance between them. The pitcher did not notice that one step.

The catcher gave the first sign, as if he had to, but everyone in the stadium knew it was going to be the curve, the same curve that made the batter look bad three straight times. Catcher set his mitt low and inside, same target he set in the first, fourth, and seventh innings.

So, confident, the pitcher wound up and tossed his curve ball again. But this time, instead of landing in the catcher’s mitt, the ball landed deep in the right field seats. The crack of the bat was unmistakable: home run. Game over: 1-0.

As our hero circled the bases and jumped into the welcoming arms of his teammates gathered around home plate, he looked into the dugout and spotted his coach at the end of the bench. Moments later, with pandemonium and euphoria giving way to post-game locker room routines, our hero again saw his coach enjoying the scene, still leaning comfortably against the dugout wall, still smiling. Walking over to him, he said, “OK, coach, you said there were two things I was doing wrong. We sure fixed the first one, but what was the second?”

Calmly and softly, knowing the question was on our hero’s mind and that it would come up soon enough, coach smiled and answered, “You waited too long to ask what you were doing wrong.”

That, my friends, is the situation with far too many job seekers. The plain lesson from this parable is, find a coach before the bottom of the ninth. Too many job seekers, striking out too many times in the early innings, get into funks because they can’t get out of. They never move that one step closer – or whatever other adjustment(s) they have to make – and their games don’t have quite the same endings. Getting a hit in the first inning changes the game entirely.

Your career is a game of hardball. Who’s your coach? 

20140202 – Mid-life crisis? Mid-life is NOT a crisis!

Two and a half months ago I got a new car. That’s really no big deal: the old lease was up so I drove the old car in and pulled the new one out.

The car, though, is red. That could be a big deal because I’ve never had a red car before, and every little boy likes a red car, right? So, after a half century of driving, I have a red car.

            However, that’s about as big a deal as I make out of cars. I’m not a “car guy” and wouldn’t know a cylinder from a gasket. For me, a car is something to get me from point A to point B, and if it’s a cool car to boot, that’s nice, but that’s the extent of it. Anyway, I got a red car. No big deal, really.

Apparently, though, this new red car is noticeably a big deal, at least to one person; my neighbor called to say she noticed it. Then, engaging in innocent neighborly small talk, she asked if this is a sign of mid-life crisis. She thought that comment was cute. It was harmless and meant in fun, but it wasn’t cute. Mid-life crisis, my foot!

For the record, I’m not having a mid-life crisis, and I offer two statements of proof. First, if I’m at mid-life now, then I’m going to be around to 132, so whatever it is that’s going on in my life, it’s not “mid.” Too late for that. Either my mid-life is way in the past, dear friends, or I’ve got more to look forward to than I thought.

And the second is, simply, that mid-life is NOT a crisis. Or, shall we more aptly say, mid-life is not a crisis unless you think it is. Mid-life crisis is, for many people, that moment when you realize that your kids and your clothes are about the same age. I’m so very far past that, and when I had that moment, I thought it was hilarious, not a crisis.

But my neighbor’s comment got me thinking, not just in terms of my life, but in terms of the millions of 40-something and 50-something job seekers who are in some degree of career distress and who come to see me and thousands of other career coaches and counselors, people to whom mid-life really does seem to be a crisis to some extent or another. I never blatantly ask anyone if they’re having a mid-life crisis, per se, but when so many people of this age start their phone calls or emails with something like “I’m 53 and can’t find a job,” I know there’s an age-related anxiety. Instead of comments about being unemployed, lacking in a certain skill set, or being in a shrinking industry (all of which are more germane), no, it’s about the age thing.

Well, if this is an issue to you, then by the phenomenon of transference, it’s going to be an issue to those with whom you relate. If you give off any vibes whatsoever that you think your age is a problem, then it’s going to be exactly that. It’s like a shark smelling blood or a dog sensing fear.

Now you’ve got a crisis.

Your age is a problem only if you let it be. It’s like playing a porous zone defense and wondering why the other team is getting easy layups every time down the court – and then grumping about losing the game. You let that happen.

I’ve said this countless times before: your age – with all the skills, experience, wisdom, and perspectives that come with it – is your strength, not your weakness. That thought, in and of itself, should make you enjoy – and laugh at – this aging thing. Besides, for every one thing I can no longer do as I age, there are two I couldn’t possibly do when I was younger. How’s that?

The reason I bring this up is that I see so many mid-lifers in my practice and at my seminars, not to mention all the emails and calls I get. Without exception, the ones who make a crisis out of this are the ones who continue to have a hard time in the workplace. Oh, I know there’s age discrimination, but that’s only an excuse to keep on kvetching about your age, to make a crisis out of it, and to blame your situation on it. Sooner or later you start believing yourself, believing you’re in a crisis.

            But if you laugh at it, that’s another story. When Golda Meir became the fourth prime minister of Israel two months before her 71st birthday (1969), she was asked at a press conference if the job would be too taxing at her age. She scowled at the reporter and scolded him abruptly, saying, “Being 70 is not a problem!” After letting a few seconds pass in complete silence (which seemed like forever to the reporter) she hinted at a smile, sighed, and said, “On the other hand, it’s not such a joy either.” The room erupted with laughter.

            If being 70 isn’t a problem, then either is mid-life, whenever that really is.

Mid-life is not a crisis.

 

20140126: Your resume’s regular “maintenance schedule” – Encore!

           More than once, I’ve discussed the urgency of regularly updating your resume. Looks like it’s time to do it again because one behavior pattern that remains widespread and unchanged is that most people don’t do it. Truth is, though, keeping your resume up to date is just as important as writing a good one to begin with.

            But how many people do this? Honest now, when was the last time you updated your resume as a regular exercise, not because you suddenly found yourself out of a job? More than six months ago? Too long.

          In an age when we’ve learned to think proactively about preventative medicine, eating right, exercising, energy, and so on, we haven’t seemed to transfer that thinking to resumes. And in this age of rapid change, keeping your resume current makes even more sense.

            It not only makes sense; now it’s critical. With three straight years of more than two million jobs created (and heading for a fourth in 2014), your resume will be getting in front of more people.

            Anything can happen at any time, and either you’re ready or you have to react. Which one sounds better to you? What if you were continuously in a position of not having to react? What if you were one step ahead of the curve, not one step behind it? What if you were “always tucked up and ready for a start,” in Henry David Thoreau’s immortal words from Walden?

            “Tucked up” means being current in your field, keeping educational and professional development up to date, networking regularly, and having a resume that’s no more than six months old. Of all these initiatives, keeping your resume current is the easiest. Yet it’s the most neglected.

            Not one person who ever called me over my 16-½ years as an independent career coach has ever answered my “When’s the last time you updated your resume?” question with the right reply. (You don’t want to know some of the worst answers!)

            Here are three critical reasons to keep resumes current. First, anything can happen at any time, including losing your job or finding a job opportunity. Things are decidedly improving, so you’ll probably need an up-to-date resume sooner than you think.

            Second, it’s part of proactive networking. Another thing we’ve learned while taking our lumps over the last decade, is that networking is more important than ever, and the cardinal rule of networking is “A.B.C.” – “Always Be Connecting.” So while you’re connecting, you must be ready to follow up and follow through with an up-to-date resume.

            And third, your memory isn’t as good as you think. It’s actually funny (in a self-deprecating way if you’re an older boomer like me), that there seems to be an immutable law of career nature that an inverse relationship exists between length of resume and length of memory. Alas, they go in opposite directions, fellow boomers, y’know? And as for all of you coming up the ranks, it’s coming!

            Seriously, can you remember everything you did since the last time you updated your resume: every project, committee, accomplishment, or result? Of course not! No one can. As time moves on, we tend to forget details first, followed by the bigger ideas, to the point that we forget entire episodes that should be in the resume. But those are all the things that make your resume a compelling document.

            Actually, to do this well, you don’t even want to get to the six-month point and then ask, “OK, what have I done?” Stuff still will have slipped through the cracks. So starting now, make sure you do this twice a year without fail.

            So here are five simple steps to keep your resume current.

1.      Keep a log. Each week, take 15 minutes to jot down the things you’ve done. Surely you won’t be entering major, earth-shattering accomplishments every week, but that’s actually all the more reason to keep ongoing records. Sooner or later, that project is over or that committee finishes its work. The end result is important, but often, interim details matter.

2.      Go back and review. While you’re keeping that log, go back and review your emails and other correspondence. You’ll find nuggets in there, for sure.

3.      Regularly review your goals and objectives. These are your accomplishments waiting to happen. As you reach them, they’re really writing your resume for you.

4.      Critically examine your six-month old resume. And do this every six months. Is that last bullet point on the job from 17 years ago still significant? Are the positive results from one of your most recent accomplishments still coming in? In other words, that client base you expanded to 200 clients, has it grown to 250? Have revenues continued to climb even though you were promoted out of that job a year ago? As time passes, things should naturally fall off your resume as newer ones become important.

5.      Mark your calendar ahead of time. Every time you update, go six months out in your calendar and mark the date for your next update.  Adhere to this schedule.

            Maintain your resume like you service your car – regularly – so when you need it, it will be in good running condition.