20140601 – You didn’t? You should have. Why didn’t you?

            In October 2013, I wrote an article entitled, “The first thing to do when you become unemployed.” To the surprise of many readers (judging by a rash of emails), that first thing was not to apply for unemployment, start your job search, call everyone in your network, hire a coach, or join more networking groups.

            That first thing was – and still is – to volunteer. Any of those other things can be a good second thing to do, but not the first thing. It’s volunteering.

            Now the question is: Why? Well, there were – and still are – a number of reasons, which I will briefly review in a moment, but one of those reasons is why I’m bringing it up again. Here’s what I said back then.

Why make the decision to volunteer before any others? If for no other reason than volunteering is something we should all be doing as an integral part of our lives anyway, it’s a positive step. And starting off your unemployed stint positively makes all the difference in the world. You immediately feel better about yourself, immediately take on a cause, immediately have another reason to get up in the morning, immediately set new goals, and immediately do some good in the world. The importance of this positive energy is impossible to quantify but also impossible to ignore.                                                                                                                                                                    

Now, lest you think this is nothing but do-good altruism, there are personal gains to be made, for sure. By doing skills-based volunteering (marketing, social media, accounting, and so forth), you’ll keep your skills sharp and up to date. Work is work and experience is experience, whether paid or not. Also you’ll put yourself in a position to network with people who can open doors. Further, it puts you in a much more constructive state of mind when conducting your search. You make better decisions.

            Anecdotally, I can tell you that people who volunteered not only had much more positive       attitudes about others and themselves, they tended to be the ones who ultimately got better jobs and got them sooner than the ones who didn’t. Why? It should be self-evident, but – among other things – they had great answers when asked in interviews about what they had been doing since becoming unemployed. And that’s why I’m writing today.

            Hindsight, we all know, is 20-20, and if you didn’t see it ahead of time, let me reflect. Now that the awful Great Recession is history and all the jobs lost have been recreated, and now that the job market is starting to make some sense after all this, it’s interesting to see how people fared. Yes, there are a lot of people who went through long unemployment periods who now have re-entered the workforce, but there are still many who have not. And while I didn’t do a scientific poll or survey, I can tell you – without the hint of reservation – that many of them share one thing in common: when asked what they were doing in their six-month, one-year, two-year, or longer unemployment period, they didn’t have a good answer. The honest answer would have to be “nothing” but of course no one says that. The ensuing calisthenics are so patently and blatantly untrue and convoluted (translate: BS) that these job seekers never get any further in the process. Employers have really sharp BS detectors, y’know?

            On the other hand, job seekers who can truthfully say that they volunteered – whether a day a week or more – providing their professional expertise to a deserving organization, have a much better story to tell. They have better answers to those questions. Further, candidates who can also say they enrolled in a college or community college course to bolster their computer skills, learn about sustainability (think “green”), or get a leg up on a specialty in their field (not just accounting but forensic accounting, not just marketing but social media marketing), have really compelling stories. In the absence of data, take my word for this anyway. I can’t count how many examples I’ve seen.

            Simply, those who volunteered, stayed active, and bettered themselves are – in almost every case – doing quite well, thank you very much. Those who didn’t…not so much.

            The sum and substance of this is evident. First, volunteer because good human beings do that. But that’s nothing new. Beyond that, though, if you need any justification for doing it for personal gain (and you should be entitled to a little of that), then here it is. You will be a much stronger candidate and you stay in the running far longer – all the way to the finish line.

            So when I talk to job seekers – in my office on a one-on-one basis or at public gatherings like my workshops, seminars, and such – and I ask them what they’ve been doing since their last job (no matter how long ago that was), and they don’t have a good answer, namely volunteering, I ask as bluntly as I can, “You didn’t? You should have. Why didn’t you?

            Lesson learned and applied: the first thing you do when you’re unemployed is to volunteer. If I see you soon and you can’t tell me you’ve done it, I will ask again: Why didn’t you?

          

 

20140525 – My observations…your conclusions

For eleven years I’ve offered career advice in this column. (Well, almost eleven: that milestone arrives next month.) Generally, I do it a few ways: relating success stories, analyzing market conditions, offering observations and drawing conclusions from them, professing ideas and strategies, working on tactical nuts-and-bolts issues, outlining best (and worst) practices, and even borrowing great wisdom from Einstein, Darwin, Edison, Thoreau, and a host of other giants who never imagined themselves winding up in a 21st century career coach’s column (LOL).

Today, I will again offer a collection of my humble observations – amassed over the years – but this time I’ll leave the conclusions up to you. Interesting exercise, I should think. I’ve arrived at these inductively; you may deal with them deductively. Possibly you will find some of these 40 observations absolutely worthless but some, I would hope, might be personally meaningful. A wide range of thoughts is to be found here, each of them capable of doing one of two things: (1) lead everyone who reads them to the same conclusion or (2) lead everyone to a different, individual conclusion. Certainly I could spend the rest of the space allotted in offering my conclusion on each (that would fill up the next 39 weeks), but it might lead to a better outcome if you do your own critical thinking about whichever of these you choose to pursue.

These are all my own thoughts (except one that I couldn’t resist), they’re in no particular order, and they do not in any way define the absolute boundaries of my thinking. They’re here for you to do with exactly as you please.

  • ·   Life is one long learning curve.
  • ·   The primary activity in which most adults will be engaging in the 21st century is learning.
  • ·   Internet (In-ter-net) noun: A place where many people who have nothing to say, say it.
  • ·   The surest way to accomplish nothing is to try to accomplish everything.
  • ·   If you can get an Ivy (or other) degree in English without having to take one course in Shakespeare (true), something’s wrong.
  • ·   Live your life like you have double to do and only half the time to do it.
  • ·   Job searching is like flying. Keep flapping your wings, or you’re going to hit the ground hard.
  • ·   One common reason many people fail is that they are not proud of what they do.
  • ·   The world is either an endless flow of possibilities or a limited choice between probabilities. It’s your decision.
  • ·   Unattended over time, opportunities become smaller and problems become larger. There is no exception to this rule.
  • ·   Problems are really opportunities poorly dressed.
  • ·   Our trouble is that we don’t see the world the way it is. We see the world the way we are.
  • ·   A day feels like a year when you haven’t accomplished something; a year like a day when you have.
  • ·   Having a good day depends more on whom you’ve met than on what you’ve done.
  • ·   Making mistakes is not failure. Failure to learn from our mistakes is failure.
  • ·   The most important thing you can do with your life is something that will outlast you.
  • ·   The difference between what is and what “ought to be” is murky subjectivity.
  • ·   Infinite gratitude for all things past. Infinite service for all things present. Infinite responsibility for all things future.
  • ·   “Nothing is worse than a good idea that doesn’t get used.” (In quotes because it’s the only one here that’s not mine. My friend, Professor Danielle Walker, said this. It’s too good to omit.)
  • ·   One hundred percent of resumes need improvement. No exception.
  • ·   The difference between success and failure is…attitude.
  • ·   One step taken in advance is longer than ten steps taken to catch up.
  • ·   Any nation that has more cell phones than people has less to say than it thinks it does.
  • ·   No one has to be bored. Boredom is self-inflicted and, as such, avoidable.
  • ·   Time is our only irreplaceable asset.
  • ·   You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.
  • ·   It’s not the success you achieve for yourself that matters. It’s the success you help others achieve that defines your worth.
  • ·   Determine to engage in something – at least one thing each day – that you don’t understand.
  • ·   There is something new and fresh every day – but you must keep your eyes open.
  • ·   Why are we so good at solving others’ problems but so bad at listening to their solutions to ours?
  • ·   Language – especially English – has become so sophisticated that is has been transformed from a tool to communicate into a tool to obfuscate.
  • ·   Too often, “thinking outside the box” places you in nothing more than a bigger box.
  • ·   Too many people convince themselves they’re right – for no other reason than those around them agree with them.
  • ·   There is almost always more than one right answer.
  • ·   What goes through your mind doesn’t necessarily have to come out of your mouth.
  • ·   Hope is a loyal companion but a weak crutch.
  • ·   When you make plans, tomorrow is more important than today. When you take action, it is just the opposite.
  • ·   Non-verbal communication: The voice that is not heard.
  • ·   Think about it, talk about it, but until you act on it, it does not exist.

 

20140518 – The difference between a candidate and an attractive one

           How many times have you applied for a job, known you had all the technical skills required for that job, and then didn’t get it? Don’t bother to answer – or even waste time trying to remember every time it’s happened. Not one of us has enough fingers on one hand to count the times. Right?

            So then, what’s the deal? Why didn’t you get the job for which you were qualified, in many cases eminently qualified, and in some cases most qualified?

            The answer to that frustrating question is not found in your technical qualifications at all. Those technical qualifications – they’re called “hard skills” – will get you just so far. Sure, you can’t get an accounting job if your Excel skills are low, a biotech research job if you’re weak in molecular biology, a software development job if you’re not up on the latest version of whatever you’re working on, and so forth, but there’s more to it.

            Let’s say your hard skills are up to snuff. The trouble is, though, they are with so many other candidates, too – more candidates, in fact, than there are jobs open. Despite the widening “skills gap” that we keep hearing more and more about – that insidious phenomenon that employers complain more and more about – there are plenty of skilled applicants for many jobs, including the one you’re going for.

            So when employers say they have open jobs they’d fill right now if the candidate with the right skill sets would just show up – and you have the hard skills they want but don’t get the job anyway – what’s the deal? In a remarkable grasp of the obvious, it’s because of what we call “soft skills” that candidates become attractive – and then find themselves fielding job offers.

            Let’s be clear about these two categories of skills. Hard skills are those that are required for a specific job and that are not necessarily transferrable to other jobs. They are built on the specific knowledge and abilities required for success in a given job. Some examples of hard skills include accounting, computer programming, carpentry, medical imaging, pharmacy, jewelry making, repair, fashion design, and HVAC. In other words, hard skills are technical and task-oriented.

Soft skills, also called interpersonal skills, are behavioral in nature and refer to personal attributes that enhance the way you interact with others. Soft skills are clustered: communication, creative thinking, analytical thinking, sales, conflict resolution, problem solving, team building, customer service, and time management. Soft skills are transferable and people-oriented.

Increasingly, employers are putting greater emphasis on soft skills. In the past, a strong set of hard skills was often sufficient to get and keep a job. Today, however, employers are seeking candidates who are not only good at the technical aspects of the job, but who can solve problems, think creatively, and negotiate; communicate with coworkers, clients, and vendors around the world; and contribute to a cohesive team environment.

Validating this, the results of a 2013 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), show that when it comes to the importance of candidate skills and qualities, employers are looking for “team players who can solve problems, organize their work, and communicate effectively.” A close look at the top ten skill sets is more revealing. In order, they are: working in a team structure; making decisions and solve problems; planning, organizing, and prioritizing work; communicating with persons inside and outside the organization; obtaining and processing information; analyzing quantitative data; technical knowledge related to the job; proficiency with computer software programs; creating and/or editing written reports; and selling or influencing others.

Look closely. Only two of the ten are purely “hard” skills (technical knowledge and software) and one requires hard skill subsets (analyzing quantitative data) – and they’re not high on the list. The rest of this list is overwhelmingly “soft” and the weighted averages of the first four are so close to each other that any of them could be in any of the first four positions.

            Taking it a step further, though, the blending of hard and soft skill sets – and the growing importance to employers of this combination – is an issue that clearly points to another level of concern to employers: employability characteristics. Not skills: characteristics. Increasingly, employers are seeking candidates who show not only broad skills sets, but highly desirable traits like enthusiasm, professionalism (punctuality, appearance, manners, presence in the room), self-confidence, positive attitude, strong work ethic, attention to detail, teamwork and collaboration, willingness and ability to lead, complex problem solving, willingness and ability to accept constructive criticism, working well under pressure, adaptability to change, and curiosity.

            It’s an interesting time. While the skills gap is widening, it’s also redefining itself. You can be highly skilled in the technical aspects of a job, but unless that job allows you to work in a vacuum without interacting with others, you’re probably going to hold the short end of the stick when it comes to the employer’s hiring decision. The call to action couldn’t be clearer. Develop both sets of skills – hard and soft – and make sure your resume and Linked In profile reflect that.

            Hard skills plus soft skills plus employable traits equal one attractive candidate.

            That’s the difference.

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.        

          

20140504 – Boomers: The time is now! Take your job market back!

           Today’s column is for Baby Boomers, all 75 million of us who comprise the most talked about generation in today’s job market (still!). On the last day of this year, every single Boomer will be 50 or older, all 75 million of us (There were 80 million of us born; 75 million is who’s left.). The oldest will start turning 69 a day later. Hmmm……

So today we issue a call to action for all Boomers. OK, so this could also be for anyone under 50 who plans to be over 50 – not a bad idea, y’know. And it can also be for anyone who knows someone who is or is planning to be 50 or older. You get it, right? This is for a whole lot of people.

            With all the mounting talk over the last decade about the difficulties Boomers encounter in the workforce – age discrimination, rapid technology changes, shifting centers of influence due to globalization, the demand for continuing education (Yeah, you thought you were done 35 years ago) – one thing has never changed. While there are, indeed, hurdles that older workers have to overcome, we are still the most valuable workers in the American civilian labor force. Period.

            And that’s why we’re focusing on this today. The job market, although not speeding along with a full head of steam yet, has made remarkably steady gains in the last four-plus years. It is not in great shape but it is undoubtedly, irrefutably in good shape. Watch for that head of steam; it’s about to happen.

Since the first Boomers turned 50 in 1996, we’ve witnessed the workforce’s extremes: an absolutely unstoppable job market in the late nineties with unemployment at 3.8 percent (lowest since the late sixties) and jobs being created at a clip of over three million per year on a sustained basis – and then an absolutely paralyzed job market with unemployment soaring to 10.1 percent (the second highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking in 1948) and nine million jobs lost, more than a million and a half of them in two months alone (January and February 2009). The job market went from top of the mountain to the ICU in a decade.

The trouble is that we Boomers have forgotten the good times, are still reeling from the body blows suffered in the recent bad times, and consequently have a less optimistic view of the job market than we should. As a result, we still think the playing field is tilted against us. Think I’m generalizing or exaggerating? Not for a minute! In 17 years of independent career coaching, I’ve worked with, presented to, and heard from vast numbers of job seekers, tens of thousands of whom are boomers. No, I’m not generalizing. I’m using this as the backdrop to the message I’m about to deliver.

Boomers (and others who will be joining the “50-Plus Club”), the time is now to take your job market back! There has never been a better time than right now to assert yourself in a job market that is just begging for your skills, experience, maturity, perspective, wisdom, judgment, patience, breadth, depth, and all kinds of other characteristics that only you have. I keep insisting that one 60-year old has more to offer that two 30-year olds on their best day. Sorry, Gen Y-ers, you’ll just have to work harder and get smarter for a couple of decades before you earn those bragging rights.

Two statistics bear me out. First, while the national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent at the time of this writing (April’s numbers not yet out), the rate for workers 55 and up is only 4.7 percent. Second, while the average job search is 35 weeks, it’s 55 weeks for the 55-and-up crowd. Together this means that older workers are more solid but don’t necessarily know it. That long job search – trust me – is in small part because there is some age discrimination out there, but in very large part because many older workers have just talked themselves into believing it. I see it virtually every day. And you know where that goes: downhill in a hurry!

I am so convinced of this – many readers know that about me because we’ve lost track of how many times I’ve mentioned it – that I’ve decided to sponsor a special one-time-only, two-hour career event just for Boomers (or Boomer wannabees) on May 22 called “BOOM!!! The Ultimate Career Workshop for Boomers” because I am thoroughly convinced you can be a stronger, more competitive candidate, not in spite of being over 50 but because of it. This will be laser-focused on every aspect of the Boomer’s job search: no stone unturned. Please visit my Web site at www.amdurcoaching.com to get more information.

            Because I’m a very early Boomer – older than 94 percent of all living Boomers – I am not only passionate about this, I am deeply empathetic about it. But I’m not fooling myself – or you either – when I say that (a) you are the best of all candidates and (b) you need to be reminded. That’s what May 22 is all about.

           Boomers: The time is now! Take your job market back!

20140420 – That Zen article really hit the mark (mostly).

           When I published an article here a few weeks ago on the Zen of job searching, little did I expect the volume of ensuing responses. I was confident of the value of what I wrote but overwhelmed by the number of readers who read, copied, forwarded, and responded with additions to that piece. I’d say that, aside from my “Fifty for Fifty – 50 reasons to hire the 50+ candidate” column (first published in 2009 and encored twice), a column that went viral and global twice, the Zen column is the one that brought in the most response. How about that, huh?

            That tells me there’s more missing in a lot of lives – and job searches – than just resumes, job postings, search strategies, networking meetings, to do lists, and the rest of the litany of nuts and bolts. But while so very many readers responded with affirmations, thanks, and a range of other positive reactions – on which I’ll expand a little later – there were still some responses that indicated to me that more discussion is in order.

            For instance, one reader challenged me by insisting that I’m in an ivory tower and don’t know what it’s like to be in a prolonged job search, and then quoted a recent tweet I sent out that says, “Job searching is like flying. If you don’t keep flapping your wings, you’re going to hit the ground hard.”

            Well, for Pete’s sake, if that isn’t missing the point! No one says you should stop flapping; even the highest soaring bird alights regularly. In fact (did you know this?), birds spend less time in the air than they do on their feet, in the water, on telephone wires, in trees, in their nests, and so on. The point is, that in order to soar, one must also rest.

            But back to my “ivory tower” – uh, no. Don’t even go there, not with me. Prolonged job search? Yeah, I had an 11-month marathon – with mortgage payments due, the kid’s college fund not yet filled up, and so on. Yeah, I had sudden, unexpected, and nasty dismissals (two). Yeah, I voluntarily left a company when I saw they were a sinking ship – and then found myself out at sea without a life raft. In fact, it’s safe to say that more of the advice I offer is the child of dumb mistakes I made as a candidate than it is of the brilliant ideas I have as the greatest career coach in the history of all mankind ;)

In other words, I’ve been there and done that – and I can tell you, for instance, that one of the best run job searches I ever did began one April when I decided, before jumping into the fray, to take a week off and spend absolutely no time, physical energy, or psychic energy on a search. It could wait, I told myself, until the next week – and I spent a glorious seven days in the back yard doing things like reading three books, planting flowers, playing my guitar, enjoying carefully selected libations at different times during the day, and so forth. I rested, decompressed, dusted off, and then, completely of easy mind, began a fresh and, as it turned out, effective job search.

I don’t wish you a period of unemployment just to test this out, but you should try it if you need to. I’ve advised hundreds of people (if not more) to do the same.

Enough from me: how about some advice from the many readers who responded?

“Try doing some creative visualization,” said Jessica, “a technique where you try to have an effect on the outer world by changing your inner thoughts and, especially, expectations.” Otherwise stated, think about the things you want to accomplish; they become your end game. Now instead of seeing obstacles in the way, think of these things as being steps you have to take.

This is not unlike guided imagery, an alternative medicine technique in which a practitioner helps you develop positive mental imagery to do everything from curing illness to reducing stress. Although traditional guided imagery requires a practitioner, it’s a point well made here to reinforce the creative visualization technique that you can do on your own. You should easily see the magnitude of the potential of doing this.

           “When I face new daunting challenges,” said Louisa, “I immediately shift my short-term focus (for a day or two, sometimes more, sometimes less) to something I have never experienced before, something that requires me to think in novel or unusual ways.” That could include, she added, “going to a place I’ve never visited, attending an art exhibit, going to a lecture, or doing puzzles.” What Louisa does, actually, amounts to brain conditioning, the immediate result of which is a freshness and agility with which to face that new challenge.

             And finally, Mary Anne said simply, “I just play with my dog. Nothing is better than that.” I agree, friends, although may my cats forgive me. I’m really talking about pets, and pet therapy is widely accepted as being viable and powerful.

            So if you have pets, play with them. If not, find someone who does. I swear, it will help your job search!

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.

 

      

 

20140330 – OMG! Guess who’s just turned 50!

           Of all the issues in the American workplace over the last decade and a half (this century, for the most part), the one that has gotten the most play, the most ink, and the most reaction – not to mention the most hand wringing, the most stress, and the most overreaction – has been the issue of age and, with it, age discrimination.

            The way it’s panned out, the “magic number” – the age at which people perceive that discrimination really kicks in – is 50, and it’s become a deeply ingrained thing. That nice round number – that half-century mark, that rite of passage into AARP eligibility – it’s such an iconic thing. Why, I’ll never know, because 50 is just the number between 49 and 51, as far as I’m concerned, but so be it. Fifty is the number, and it’s haunted the Baby Boomers ever since the first of us turned 50 eighteen years ago.

            So much so, that I’ve spent more time on this one issue than on anything else in the 17 years I’ve been in this independent career coaching business. What drives me nuts is that almost all the time I spend on it – in one-on-one sessions in my office, speaking at workshops and seminars, in this column, and in my book – the conversation centers around getting people NOT to get hung up on the age.

            Now that the last Boomers have turned 50 – yes, the entire Baby Boomer generation is now 50 and older – it makes you stop and realize that – guess what! – the first Gen X-ers have just started turning 50 this year. Oy!

            Gen X is now turning 50! And would you like to know how fast? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one person is turning 50 every seven seconds, so since January 1 of this year, when the first X-er got an AARP card, about 1.1 million have hit that “magic number” and every 81 days, another 1,000,000 will join the club.

            Now here’s the interesting thing about that: a few interesting things, actually. First, some Boomers are snickering over this. “Finally,” they are saying, “the young whippersnappers – those rapscallions who have been consistently taking the jobs away from the older workers – are finally older workers themselves, at least officially. Hah! Now they’ll know what it’s like.” It’s an unmerited reaction, I must say, and one that does no good, but I’m seeing this regularly already. On the one hand, it’s not funny, but on the other, if this were in a Sid Caesar sketch it would be downright hilarious. Nonetheless, get over it.

            Second, the result of this is that the 50+ category of workers is now getting more crowded because there are more people in the workforce turning 50 each day than there are who are way over 50 and retiring each day. So, dear Boomers, before you relish this phenomenon too much, realize that you still have to be on your game, more now than ever. The competition is closing in. Hah back! As Jimmy Durante used to say, “I’m surrounded by assassins!” (X-ers, please don’t pretend you remember “The Schnoz.” Boomers, you know.)

Third, by the same token, you X-ers must now understand that, no matter how unfair, you might start seeing the same discrimination we Boomers have been screaming about since you were hardly a decade out of college (or wherever your formal education stopped).

The fourth interesting thing is at the end, but please read through first.

            The true upshot of this is actually good. The aging of our population means the aging of our workplace. We’re headed to 45 percent of the US population being 50 and older by next year (Source: AARP), and 34 percent of the workforce being the same (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). So what’s so good about all this? Employers simply have less of an option when it comes to excluding senior workers; there are more of seniors in the workplace, plain and simple, not to mention the fact that more hiring managers who are 50+ are staying in the workforce, thus bringing the empathy factor more into play.

            Doubt it? I know the comments of just one person are not enough to qualify as a trend, but one 59-year old manager wrote to me and said, “After all the age-related difficulty I had – or, at least, that I perceived I had [I appreciated his candor there] – I am going to make sure my team looks real hard at every candidate, regardless of age, and gives everyone a fair shake.” I don’t think he’s alone. Not by a long shot.

            So, with all this laid out in front of us, I don’t even know if there’s a real piece of career advice I can offer about this – or if there’s a specific lesson to be learned from it – but it’s always a good thing to be aware of what’s going on around us and to try to make sense of it.

            Oh, and here’s the fourth interesting thing I promised. Since more workers are 50+, and since that generally means they bring more experience and skills, I think this foretells a shift back to an employees’ market.

Coming soon.

Hah!

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.