20150322 – The tale of the Woodsman and the Saw

One day, I was walking through the woods. (Right. If you know me, you know I wasn’t walking through the woods. I’m not a walking-through-the-woods kind of guy; I’m more of a central air, good stereo speaker system, comfortable chair, glass of sherry, and good book kind of guy. But I’ve got a story to tell, and that’s a good opening, so stay with me.)

Anyway, there I was in the woods, when I came across a woodsman toiling hard – too hard, it seemed – to cut an imposingly big pile of logs with his large saw. Now, I couldn’t remember the last time I used a saw to cut anything, let along lots of logs, but I was pretty certain he wasn’t getting his work done as efficiently or quickly as he should have. Upon looking closer, I realized that his saw was rusty and dull, causing him to work hard with poor results. With a sharp saw, I reasoned, he would have cut more logs in less time.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but you seem to be working awfully hard.”

Without even stopping to look at me, he answered, “Of course I am. This isn’t easy.”

“Excuse me once again,” I continued,” but if you would stop cutting for a moment and go sharpen your saw, you’d be able to cut a lot more logs.”

Still not even turning to glance at me over his shoulder, he shot back, “I can’t stop. Look at all the logs I have to cut.” He kept cutting.

And that’s the last time I walked through the woods :)

This allegory – The Woodsman and the Saw – is as old as the woods themselves, but it never loses relevance. Four years into what has proven to be a strong, steady job market recovery, many of us still have big piles of logs to cut. In other words, there’s still ground to make up, losses to recover from, or opportunities to seize. Some of us have done that; some still need to. No matter: we each have a log pile.

And what that log pile is, in simple, practical, and non-metaphorical terms, is the immediate task of moving our careers forward, thankfully in a supportive and opportunity-driven market. Which brings us to this: sharpening your saw means making yourself a better candidate for more types of positions, even if it means pausing from the day-to-day routine of job search or even a job itself or, at the very least, conducting parallel initiatives, more than one iron in the fire, so to speak.

More than any other post-recession recovery that I remember – I’ve lived through four major and three minor recessions in my adult working life (going back to 1969) – this one is demanding more of us as we move forward, most directly in the educational attainment we have and in the commensurate skills that come along – or should come along – with it.

Case in point: conservatively speaking, 60 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree. Yet only 32 percent of Americans 25 years old and older have one. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau). That number is ticking slightly higher, to wit, 34 percent of Americans between 25 and 29 have the degree. OK, fine, but that’s going to put upward pressure to achieve more than that in order to best your competition. So then let’s look at the next level, the graduate degree. While 11.8 percent of Americans 25 and older have a graduate degree, only 7.6 percent between 25 and 29 do. Sure, they’re still young, but that’s the wood pile they’ll have to cut.

Before another word, let me be clear about this. I do not believe that simply having that sheepskin makes you more capable than someone who doesn’t, as evidenced by the fact that (and this has been said a million times over) the world’s richest man is a college dropout. However, that comforting thought aside, it’s the marketplace that makes the demands, and it’s demanding degrees. You can argue until you’re blue in the face, but that’s the deal: degrees.

Or, in many cases, certificates. Some sort of tangible evidence of continuing professional development is, with very few exceptions, an absolute must. It follows, then, that with that degree or certificate comes a higher-level, embellished skill set. One would hope.

If that isn’t enough to motivate us, let’s not forget that we humans are different from all other species in very few ways, and one of those ways is our innate drive for personal growth. If we aren’t fulfilling that drive, we are not just putting ourselves in a competitive hole in the job market; we are also not being as fully human as we should. That, in the long run, is an even bigger problem, but I’ll leave that discussion for the philosophy class we should be taking.

So there you have it. You’re the woodsman, the big pile of wood is in front of you, and the saw is in your hands. Before you get to the task of cutting all that wood (metaphorically, your career), sharpen your saw. You never know when you might find someone walking through the woods saying, “Excuse me…”

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150315 – “It’s been a long, cold lonely winter.”

“Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter; little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here.”
If you’re over 50, you might recognize “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, specifically George Harrison. If you’re under 50, you might ask, “Who were the Beatles?”

Yeah, I know…

Never mind. Once again, a great world figure, with no direct connection to career coaching, works its way into this column (with the likes of Einstein, Churchill, Maslow, the Grateful Dead, and countless others who never imagined they’d be giving career advice). Inevitably, there’s a lesson learned and applied.

Today’s revelation is about the renewed opportunity to do some real and future-oriented career planning. Why do I say renewed? Well, let’s take a side step for a moment to understand the framework of this discussion.

In the career coaching world, there are only five things I or any other coach can do for you – provided, of course, we stay within the bounds of ethical practice. Everything we do falls into one of five buckets. First is the written word – resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and social media (kept strictly under control, you understand) – all those things that communicate to others about you before they meet you. Second is interviewing strategies and skills (notice the emphasis on strategies over skills). Third is smart job search strategies: 2015-smart, not 1990-smart. Fourth is career planning, both short- and long-term. And fifth career networking, obviously having gained in importance over the years. A lot of varieties fall into each bucket, but at the end of the day, there are five buckets.

That’s it. Other than the intangibles – building confidence, broadening perspective,
and being an objective sounding board – those five things are the sum total of what a career coach can do for you. It’s that simple – not easy, but simple – and anybody who tells you more is just making it up.

So what am I saying? Well, the last decade and a half was, for the most part, a “long, cold lonely winter” for many people in the job market. Despite the fact that the last four years have brought a remarkable rebound (still on its way up), for many, the effects of the Great Recession far outlasted the recession itself. And don’t forget, the five years before the official start of the recession were no walk in the park, either; that’s when the recession was forming, like the early stages of a massive, ominous, tropical storm.

So during all this time, guess which one of the five things I do became less frequently requested. Right: career planning. As conditions become dire, we naturally do less planning and more reacting, fewer proactive and more defensive things, less strategy and more tactics, less long-term and more short-term thinking. It’s only natural. But now, guess what.

“Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces; little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.” Right. More people are coming in to do career planning, and not just short-term, either. Two weeks ago, this column asked, “Might the time have come to make your move?” Filled with supportive data about the healthy job market, that article discussed the viability of a rather large issue, namely making career changes, not just job changes. Now today, we’re talking even one level up from that.

There is every reason to think in four dimensions – length, width, depth, and time – and to do it with confidence. The security factor – not in any one specific job, of course, but in the market in general – is no longer in question, to wit, the voluntary quit rate (a sure sign of job market confidence as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) is consistently higher than it’s been in seven years, 50 percent higher than it was in 2009, and nearing levels we haven’t seen since before all this mess started. So with the caveat that this is neither simple nor easy, we can now declare that long-term career planning is now not just necessary but possible. Once again.

I love those conversations. They’re positive, uplifting, and creative – and they form the basis of immediate, constructive forward steps. With that, let me give you another reality check. As I said two weeks ago, career planning (and changing) is the target of a lot of outfits trying to get you to take long “tests,” the results of which, generated by a computer, suggest what you should be doing with the rest of your life. Careful! It’s a computer talking to you, not a coach; it’s algorithms, not thought; it’s profiling, not personal. That said, if you want to do that, go ahead, but think about the guy who showed me the reports that said his ideal job would be airline pilot, but didn’t take into account that he’s afraid to fly. True story.

One way or the other, this is your time – and I’m seeing proof of it in my practice every single day. So now look at Harrison’s third (last) verse: “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting; little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear.”

Agreed. “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun. And I say, it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right…”

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150308 – It’s time for a little advice on “advice” again

Here’s an interesting retrospective and an even more interesting realization. I just did a look-back over the last eight years. Since the onset of the Great Recession, which officially started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 (we all know it really started earlier and ended later), I wrote – responding to many readers’ questions about on-line career services – six articles about being careful when taking career advice on line.

Here comes number seven.

But before my entreaty, here’s what’s interesting about this. The first three appeared between early 2007 and mid-2008, the last three between mid-2012 and mid-2014. Do you see a pattern? The first grouping coincided with our fall into the recession, the second with our rise out of it. The four years in the middle? Pretty quiet.

If you don’t see the significance, let me tell you what I think it is – with the emphasis on “think” – as I have no empirical proof – just a strong gut feeling. Opportunism!

Mostly, these on-line outfits are trying to do one thing: sell you off-the-shelf materials while making you feel it’s just right for you. Accordingly, they employ a process that should, to the objective eye, be easy to detect, but to the out-of-work (sometimes desperate) job seeker, could look like a life-saver in rough ocean waters. Pretty tricky process, but in the hands of a good snake oil salesman (no gender restriction here; at least one of these characters is missing the Y chromosome), it’s a pretty good come-on. First, you have to watch a video (which they promise is short but is nowhere near short) during which they do a bang-up job telling you how “awesome,” “amazing,” and “cool” (their words, not mine) their products are. In a few of these, you never see the face behind the voice; it’s off camera while a cartoonist’s hand draws figures on a white board in fast forward speed. Then the most ridiculous implications are made – not direct promises, mind you – including resume and cover letter “secrets” that lead directly to hiring. Really!

Let’s get something straight. There are no “secrets” – not in job searching, not in growing green lawns, not in investing, not anywhere. There are smart strategies and solid techniques. But secrets? No. So the minute you hear that word, it’s time to leave.

Wait. It gets better. Some of them make this look more customized by giving you a “free” test with questions like “Do you prefer to work independently or alone?” After 60, 80, or even 120 questions – and thinking you’re in for some revelation about your career and your life by getting an in-depth report and more unrealistic expectations – you get weak, terribly incomplete sketches, along with the chance to click and start spending money on full reports and, of course, to buy more materials that will “land your dream job.”

I have some background in tests and measurements, and I can tell you unequivocally that these tests are anything but customized. They are algorithm-driven and right probably about 25 percent of the time. But when they’re right, they’re right by accident. So there.

Now look at both of these schemas. See the commonality? Their strategy is the same: make enticing promises, engage you for a long period of time (that video is interminably long and those tests keep you busy for a while), tell you repeatedly how “awesome” they are, and then put on the heavy hit when you get to the end. The promise of a “short” video or test is, if not an outright lie, subterfuge. Simple as that. Simple psychology tells us that the longer I can keep you engaged but not enlightened, the better my chances of getting you to buy something I haven’t given you a chance to scrutinize. And then, of course, there’s something else to buy that the first product tells you that you now need. And so on. Shame! One reader showed me four products she bought, the first of which was only $12.99. By the time she was done, though, she was in for another $260 – and there wasn’t one “secret” in there.
To make matters worse, not only are the come-on techniques pretty thick, some of the “advice” you wind up paying for is just plain bad. To be fair, some of the advice is sound, but none of it is anything that any of these readers didn’t already know from “Job Searching 101.”

Now here’s a disclaimer. It’s terribly important for you to question any advice you get – including mine – for anything you ever do. That’s what second opinions are about in medicine, or a second pair of eyes on your portfolio (broker and advisor), or two neighbors’ opinions about a good house painter. So I’m not saying I’m right and the other guy’s wrong. I’m saying simply that you must think it through. And don’t buy what you can’t fully evaluate up front.

Now then, that’s the retrospective. The realization is that these things tend to propagate during times of change. The first cluster was when things were going south and everybody was panicking. The second started upon universal agreement that jobs were coming back and, with them, hope.

In either case, this is opportunism to the nth degree.

Shame!

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150301 – Might the time have come to make your move?

A million new jobs in the last three months! (That’s for November, December, and January; February’s numbers won’t come out until this Friday.) Be that as it may, the last time we saw a million jobs created in three consecutive months was…the last three months of 1997. Seems like ancient history, doesn’t it? And to boot, our current level of job growth, which will be even higher when the preliminary numbers for January are revised in a few days, has produced a couple of interesting phenomena that, moving forward, we need to examine.

A quick aside. No, I am not abandoning my oft-stated feeling that the only job creation number than really matters to you is “1” – the job you either do or don’t have – and that this is far more relevant than all those macro stats. However, there’s something happening beyond the numbers, but (paradoxically) we need a few more numbers to understand it. So here they are, and then we’ll make something out of them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job openings rose 3.7 percent to five million, the most since 2001. Job openings are jobs employers would fill immediately but aren’t doing so because candidates aren’t showing up with the requisite skills. You’d figure that, with 8.98 million unemployed people in the workforce, employers would be able to fill 5.0 million jobs and, in one fell swoop, bring the unemployment rate down from 5.7 percent to 2.4 percent (I know, unrealistic). But numbers are numbers, and that’s what we’re dealing with for the moment. Further, job openings also reflect employers’ anticipated needs, and when that number is going up, it’s a very strong vital sign. Nonetheless, those jobs remain open. Hold that thought.

Next, total hires also rose 1.9 percent to 5.1 million. Yes, 5.1 million people got hired in December (these numbers lag by a month). At the same time, the quits rate rose 2.1 percent to 2.7 million. That’s how many people voluntarily quit their jobs – without having necessarily secured another. Think about that. When’s the last time we saw that kind of confidence? Hard to remember, no?

Now, while all these things were happening, the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percent to 5.7. On the surface, you might see that negatively, but with all those jobs created, this little blip happened because more than 700,000 people re-entered the workforce, not all landing a job yet. This, by the way, is a key indicator.

So, put it all together, and a most impressive number jumps out, one that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, but one I’ve been emphasizing strongly of late. That number is the ratio of unemployed candidates to each open job, now a peachy 1.7. In 2009, that number was a horrific 6.5 to one – six and a half candidates fighting it out for every available job. As I’ve been saying, that was a mob scene out of your control. But now at 1.7, it’s a horse of a different color. When you realize that 2.0 to 1 is what we’d call a “fair fight” – just you and the other guy – then 1.7 is, if your skills are up to snuff, a fight stacked in your favor. When’s the last time…oh, never mind.

So now, let’s make something out of all this, first with a little historical perspective. Back in 1997, when I started my independent coaching practice (May will be 18 years. Geez!) – and when the job market was roaring – it was easy to advise people to consider making big career changes. That was defensible advice.

Then things changed, and so did my advice. September 11, 2001; an ensuing job market stagnation that saw modest job growth and low but stubborn unemployment rates; a brief but small surge in job growth in 2004-2005; and then the worst economic downturn in 80 years, all made me change my tune. No daring moves, no bold ventures, just do whatever you have to do to hold on tight. And, if you were out of a job, that was no longer the time to jump into a new area; it was tough enough to get back into where you were. So in one decade, we went from “Go get it!” to “Forget it!”

But now there’s plenty of evidence – both statistical and anecdotal – to support new
thoughts of making those moves. Careful though. I don’t want you interpreting that to mean that I’m advising you to throw caution to the wind, but if the sustained numbers and the historical perspective don’t grab your attention, then probably nothing will.

So what are we saying here? Yes, this might just be the time to consider making the big move that was virtually unthinkable for the last decade and a half or so. But be a “Career A.P.E.” (Assess-Plan-Execute), be like the good carpenter who measures twice and cuts once, and then make your move. Of course, this path is not for everyone (not even any need for many people who are on steady career paths), but if this thought has been intriguing you of late, yes, you should have every reason to follow your thinking.

The time may well have come to make your move.

Finally.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150222 – Job search tips for the currently (re-)employed

The subject of today’s column is not new. The conditions under which I’m writing are (or, at least, have been renewed).

Three years ago, when the job market was clearly improving but not yet great, and people who were employed were starting to look around with less trepidation (read: feeling more optimistic), there was still much uncertainty as to whether you were a better candidate while employed than not. Many people were dealing with a dual ambivalence. On the one hand, am I a more attractive candidate when I’m still employed? On the other hand, how do I conduct a full-time job search when I have a full-time job?

Truth is, neither of those concerns was pre-potent. What mattered then, and matters more now, is just how qualified you are and how smart your job search is. Yet the big question on many people’s minds was how to conduct a job search while employed. OK. That’s legit. So in May of 2012 I wrote a column on searching while working – and being careful in the process.

Now here we are in 2015, coming off a blazing 2014, the best year since 1999, with every reason in the world to continue our optimism, and that question seems to be coming up more frequently again. It took me a while to figure out why. You see, back then most people were still afraid of losing their jobs, and looking around for defensive reasons. Today, though, there is a combination of two drivers. One, many people took or held onto jobs they weren’t satisfied with but were thankful to have and now want to leave. Two, there is now a collective sense that it’s safer to venture out, and indeed it is. Either way, we return to the same issue. So let me dust off some of that article. It’s as good now as it was then.

If you’re searching while working, your most important concern is being discreet. Guard your secret fiercely. Use no work contacts at all: phone, fax, email. No exceptions. Put your cell number on your resume, keep the phone on vibrate in your pocket so you always know who’s trying to reach you, let the call go to voice mail, and then get somewhere – a private office or, better yet, your car in the parking lot – to return the call. From your cell phone only!

Another reason not to use work contacts is an ethical one. Using the company’s email or phone for personal reasons is, usually, reason for immediate dismissal. You don’t need that record following you around, do you?

Tell nobody at work that you’re looking. You know how fast things get around, and if you tell even your closest coworker, it will be like going to your boss and just blurting out, “Take this job and…” Remember, if two people share a secret, it’s not a secret.

Don’t post your resume on job boards for all the world to see. If you insist on using the boards, which we know are terribly ineffective, don’t post; just submit your resume for specific job opportunities.

If you will be put through an initial phone screening interview, try to schedule it for a time, like lunch or a break, when it won’t be obvious that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If you get invited for a first face-to-face interview, try to schedule it for early in the morning – and then let your boss know ahead of time that you’ll be coming in a couple of hours late that day. Once you get to a second interview, take a vacation or personal day. Once again, be ethical. Don’t use a sick day. If you’re found out, you’re history.

Also, try to schedule interviews for Mondays or Fridays. It minimizes attention, and many employers schedule interviews knowing this.

Let interviewers know they cannot contact your current employer until they’re prepared to make an offer. Let them make that offer contingent on references. If they’re serious about you, this won’t be a problem. If it is a problem, then don’t be serious about them.

This next point isn’t easy to do, but put on your game face. Don’t let on to what’s doing. Employers are suspicious when any behavior changes – like increased absenteeism, being late for meetings, not returning voice mails or emails promptly, or falling performance – and they’re good at spotting these things. That’s fair; wouldn’t you, if it were your company? Therefore, it’s more important than ever – although your heart is no longer in it – to come to work like every day is your first day at work.

Keep up your level of professionalism, be reliable, and continue your good working relationship with everyone around you. This gets harder the closer you get to your next job, but there are no excuses.

Finally, when you get an offer, insist you be given at least two weeks to give your employer ample notice. Even if you’ve mentally signed off, don’t be a jerk about this. Your reputation is at stake.

But try for more than two weeks, and take the extra time for yourself before starting a new job. It will be a while before your next time off.

Happy searching!

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150215 – When bad things hapen to good employees

“When bad things happen to good people…” It’s an all-too-common scenario, especially on the job.

For example, you’re a diligent, competent worker; you lead when called upon, but are a collaborative team member when needed; you get along well with your coworkers, come in early, stay late, and don’t call in sick; you’ve got a consistent record of meeting goals and helping others with theirs; you’re nice, professional, and respectful. You’re ideal.

And then the sky falls. Your annual performance review – which you rightfully expected to carry fours and maybe even a five here or there, as it did most years past – comes back with threes and maybe even a two here or there. What?!?

Recognize this? Probably, as it happens all over the place. I cannot tell you how many people over the years have come to me for coaching surrounding this one issue alone. Of late, it’s become more frequent, so I figured this is a good time to let fly.

“How can this happen?” you ask. You’ve been labeled a star – even superstar – and now you’re a bum or, at best, a burden to your boss, the department, and the company. And next, coming down the pike, is the dreaded Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is practically never an earnest plan to help you; it’s the company’s convenient “CYA” method – disingenuous but blatantly obvious – of letting you go. They say it’s to improve you, but this clearly walks and quacks like a duck. Improvement plan, my webbed foot!

So how, indeed, can or does this happen? When you pull the thread out of the sweater, the common denominator usually winds up being a new boss who was recently brought in, either from another department or from outside. You’ve succeeded there for years, the new boss shows up, and suddenly you’re looking at a 60-day PIP. Yeah, right. Speculating, I think the reason for the flurry of these incidents has to do with, ironically, the recovery. There are many new jobs, much expansion, and as a result, many new bosses. ‘Nuff said.

So how are you going to defend yourself? You clearly know their intention, and in most cases, as Bob Dylan said, “The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast.” Later in that verse he concluded, “And the first one now will later be last.” So be it.

While Dylan was singing about bigger things than your job, like so many of his gems, this applies. So there you are on your 60-day countdown to – you know it – the door. So while my suggestions may not help you change the outcome, this could very well ameliorate things.

OK, what’s your move? Well, the answer lies not in what to do when the axe is already falling. It’s to be found in three actions: one you should have done on day one of your job, one you should do once (maybe twice) during the year, and one you should do on an ad hoc basis. Here they are.

1. From now on – and on the first day of every job for the rest of your life – print out a copy of your company’s employee manual and take it home. There are things procedural and things legal in that document, you’re entitled to it, you’ll need it one day, but I’ll bet not one in a thousand people reading this, have it at home. “Oh, I’ll get it on my computer at work,” you say. Really? When you’re called in to your boss’ office, and the HR manager is sitting there, and you realize this is it, guess what. Access to the company email was cut off while you were walking from your desk to the guillotine. Now try getting that manual.

2. Print out your performance review every year (twice a year if it’s semi-annual). Take it home. After eight years of fours or better, and the most current less-than-stellar review from the new boss, there’s nothing better than documentation of past continued success on which to base your question, “I’ve been a performer all these years. How do we explain this?” Once again, you can’t get access to this after the fact.

3. Print out every positive, complimentary email you ever get from your boss, boss’ boss, team leaders, coworkers, and so on. Keep a file. It’s another thing you can’t get after you need it.

Now, will all this save your job? Probably not, but it can matter a great deal in negotiating a severance or, perhaps, a transfer to another department, which probably won’t happen if there is a bad review hanging, but can happen in compliance with something in that employee manual, which is in your file at home, right?

For example, Mike, a star for twelve years, suddenly got a poor review (new boss, of course) and was offered one week for every year he had worked. Well-armed with all kinds of good data, he didn’t save his job, but his well-crafted response – with insinuations of possible actions – quickly amounted to two weeks for every year. Your employer may want you out but doesn’t want trouble.

How did Mike do that? He created a big file at home – ahead of time.

Good employees also need to be smart survivalists.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150208 – Writing smart, proper, and professional resignation letters

In career coaching circles, most of the talk about letters focuses on cover and thank you letters, the ones you write to get the job. But what about the letter you write when you leave the job? Your resignation letter is just as important and must be just as good.

In almost every case, your resignation letter should be – in a word – nice. Remember those good first impressions you were trying so hard to make on the way in? How about making an equally good last impression on the way out? In other words, the way you quit should be as well thought out and performed as the way you got hired.

That said, there is no hard and fast rule, for the simple reason that there could be widely divergent conditions that cause you to resign. For instance, you could be on extremely good terms with your employer, you could be on cool yet professional terms, or things could be downright intolerable. We’ll get to the last one later.

Before going into each scenario, keep in mind that this is a business matter, so write the letter in business format. Unless your departure is forced by bad circumstances, perhaps even with legal or contractual ramifications, make your resignation polite, friendly (but formal), and appreciative. Further, you might be leaving, but don’t just walk out on your employer (explanation to come). You owe them something.

First, let’s look at resigning under good circumstances.

Address your letter to your direct boss, using her or his first name: “Dear Mary.” In most cases, it’s not necessary to copy HR or a division head, but if, for some reason, you think it prudent, then go ahead, but that’s your call.

Your first sentence should always state the reason for writing – no beating around the bush
Here: “I hereby resign my position as district sales manager, effective [date].” Generally, that date should be two weeks henceforward, stating that you “intend to finish up any and all work currently in progress.” If you are more senior, though, it might be more considerate to offer more time to help with transition issues. They may not hold you to that, as some employers don’t want you around anymore if you have just quit. They may even escort you out, depending on policy.

In any event, show appreciation, but do it briefly. “Thank you for all the opportunities I’ve had here to grow professionally and to contribute to the organization. I’ve enjoyed working on this great team.” That’s enough; anything more would be more sugar than you can fit on a spoon. Not necessary.

Finally, good wishes make good endings. “I wish you and everyone here continued success.” Then, knowing that this is the last entry into your employee file, which employers feel they should keep as long as our planet will exist, be magnanimous. “If you might need my help after my departure, I will be happy to extend it to you. Just let me know.” Careful here: you better mean that last statement – or not make it at all. Either way is OK. Omitting it doesn’t make this a bad letter. Just remember that if you offer that help, and they call on you but you don’t deliver, your letter will wind up not being the last entry in your file. That could come back to bite you when they’re called as a reference.

Now, what if your relationship is OK but not so friendly? That’s no reason to abandon civility. You may want to lay back a little on the compliments and gratitude, especially if you and everyone else know you don’t mean it. That’s gratuitous, and even though there are some advisers who suggest writing the resignation letter as outlined above, I don’t. The same opening statement, followed by your two-week notice and a formal thank you and best wishes, will do. You may not give them something to feel all warm and fuzzy about, but you won’t give them anything to hang over you, either. Polite, proper, and professional. End of letter.

But what if things are really negative, acrimonious, or even hostile? Although you’d like to tell your boss exactly what to do with this job, this is – more than any – the time for a formal, reserved letter. It’s your record of the fact that you properly – if not collegially – resigned. Write your opening statement of resignation, your offer of two weeks (which ain’t gonna’ happen), and that’s it. Short and out. This might be cold, but at times that’s OK.

Two more suggestions. Under no circumstances – positive, neutral, or negative – should your letter say why you’re resigning. Discuss that in the exit interview if you want, but not in writing. You owe them a resignation; you do not necessarily owe them an explanation, so a generic “going for a new opportunity” is ideal.

Also, unless your location doesn’t permit, deliver your letter in person. Put it in an envelope, go to your boss’ office, ask for a few minutes, hand over the envelope, and say, “Boss, here’s my resignation. [Surprise!] I thought it best to give it to you personally.” You’ll never be faulted for going eyeball to eyeball.

When you quit, quit right.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150201 – The best questions candidates ever asked me

There are more lists of questions candidates should ask in interviews than there are candidates, I think. Problem is – with zillions of lists in books, blogs, Web sites, newspaper columns, job boards, college career centers, and so forth – there aren’t more than a dozen and a half questions or so that show up on them all.

These lists are old and worn out. “What are you looking for in a candidate?” “What will my goals be in the first 90 days?” “How does your company measure success?” “How will I be trained?” “What would my career path be like in your company?” Blah, blah.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these questions; indeed, it’s important to ask them and important hear the answers. But everyone asks them (I would hope), so they’re routine, and if that’s all you’ve got, you’re not going to be memorable. So by the time the interviewer sees or phone screens all the candidates on his “A” list, the only thing he’ll remember is that a whole bunch of people asked about the first 90 days, but none of them stood out. Very blurry. Nothing memorable.

So that got me thinking about hundreds of candidates I’d interviewed over the years, not to mention thousands I’ve coached or spoken to in workshops about interviews. Whom do I remember? Why did a select few rise to the top, get the job, and stay memorable, even to this day, 30+ years later?

Well, there were the usual key factors: relevant experience on the resume to start with, quantitative and qualitative superiority, excellent communication skills, nice to be with, good sense of humor (critical, as far as I see it), and so on. But one thing they all had in common, in retrospect, is that they asked at least one interesting, unusual, memorable question. In virtually every case, at least one of their questions was not only interesting, but even daring, a select few of which are below. But before getting there, here’s a caveat. I’m not suggesting you recklessly go into an interview and start firing off bold questions. Indeed, there are more interviewers who can’t handle that than there are who can, so be like the cat in the tree, and get a feel for your surroundings before jumping off the limb.

But I’ve got to tell you, I loved those candidates who had the flair to ask great questions in great ways. I was always that kind of candidate myself, and while there were times it may have cost me, there were far more situations where I know it moved me ahead. “Behold the turtle,” the old saying goes, “who gets nowhere until he sticks his neck out.”

Here, then, are some of the best questions I (or friends or colleagues) got, questions that immediately made me stop for a second to admire them, say a quiet “hmmm,” think “good for you,” and then continue. In every case, as I reflect, the interpersonal connection took a step forward on the spot.

• “What will I do in the first 90 days to make you brag about hiring me?” Isn’t that a lot better than the predictable (and, by now, boring) question about 90-day goals? Didn’t she show me in one quick, craftily altered question (the thing about making me brag) that she knew what motivated me or any other employer? Of course.

• “What’s the one key driver of success that your company depends on?” Well, I was head of sales and this guy was there for a sales job. Don’t you think I was already projecting him in the role of sales rep, asking his prospect for decision points on our products? You bet I was. And while there wasn’t one key driver – which I knew, he knew, and I knew that he knew – he clearly showed me what he was made of. (P.S. Turns out he was as good a sales rep as I thought.)

• “How do you and your team go about solving really tough problems?” I also used to ask that question as a candidate. It’s light years ahead of the flat, uninspired “Can you describe the culture?” question. My colleague was hiring for an operations manager. Perfect, no?

• “Life balance is important to me. Is it to you, too?” After a half hour of intense discussion about work, achievements, and doing whatever it takes, it was the perfect time for him to ask a question to which I could not possibly say no. Besides, we agreed, and this just cemented that understanding.

• “What’s lunchtime like here? Do coworkers eat together or is everyone eating at their desks?” Don’t you want someone like that in your midst? My friend did.

• “Who are the coolest people on your team? Will I meet any of them during this process?” Yes, you will. Already got ‘em lined up. It’s part of our process, so that’s cool, too.

And finally (at least for now) my favorite, posed quite early in the interview:

• “You’re not going to ask me any of those cute ‘brain teaser’ questions, are you?” Well, I was going to, but you just showed me I didn’t have to. Mischievous? Yes. Risky? Perhaps. But guess who got the job.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150125 – On being both optimistic and realistic

When making plans, setting goals, and establishing strategies, the optimal scenario is when you can be both optimistic and realistic at the same time.

We live in such a time right now.

To back up that statement, let’s look back to a few points in time during the last six years. The first quarter of 2009 was a nightmare, with 2.325 million jobs lost. It was the worst three months since the Great Depression. Not long after that – September 2009, in fact – I wrote in this column, “The job market is ready to rebound. Are you?” I wish I had a dollar for every person who called me nuts (or worse). But six months later, March 2010 began a string of what is now 58 straight months of private sector job growth, up to and including December 2014, and the last eleven in a row racked up more than 200,000 new jobs. No calendar year in history ever did twelve months like that, so this was as good as it’s ever been. These streaks – 58 straight months of growth and 11 straight at that level – are not over. Mark my words.

December – you know, that month in which everyone always says that hiring slows down (the infamous Thanksgiving-to-New Year excuse) – not only didn’t slow down, it performed better (as a percent of total jobs created during the year) than all but six Decembers since 1939. It’s an obscure stat, not reported as such by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but developed by yours truly based on BLS’ numbers. But that’s what recognizing patterns is all about.

While December was busy adding 252,000 jobs, the preliminary job creation numbers for October and November were adjusted upwards by 50,000. So with December yet to be adjusted, we’ve landed at 2,952,000 jobs created last year. And that’s another thing to look back on for a moment. A year ago, when I predicted 2014 would create three million jobs, the most in 15 years, I should have started collecting a dollar for each person who, once again, called me crazy.

And where did we wind up? Within 1.6 percent of my prediction. How close can one get? If only I could pick lottery numbers like that.

We can get more granular if you want, but there’s no need. Suffice to say that every indicator of a healthy job market – and an overall healthy economy – is pointing in the right direction: jobs, job creation in all sectors, unemployment rate, GDP growth, cost of living, exchange rates, import-export, you name it. So much so, we’re no longer seeing reports and news articles just saying that things are getting better, we reading things like “America is back on top” and “American economy leads the way.” Say it a few times. It not only sounds good. It’s true.

Even our home state of New Jersey – where the economic and job creation engines have been sputtering and have been dropping this state further and further behind, with a 6.4 percent unemployment rate vs. 5.6 percent nationally (but December’s numbers for the state are not out yet), has made gains. They’re nothing much to be proud of – and that’s an entirely different discussion – but a small rise beats the alternative. So here in the Garden State we must be looking at our market in the same way many other areas have already done, namely, we’re headed up. Besides, with most of the readers of this paper within commuting distance of the Big Apple, where there are as many jobs as our entire state and 60 percent more than the northeast quadrant of New Jersey, there’s no justification for negative thought or for resignation to the irrational idea that good jobs are not available. That’s nonsense.

So that brings us to the opening thought in today’s column. It was understandable (though not necessarily justifiable, in my book) when people were not optimistic six and five and four years ago, and when they said that optimism and realism were not possibly cohabitants in those times. Now, however, they are inextricable from one another.

That means that the days of “I’ll take anything” or settling for lower level, lower paying jobs are over. It means that ambitious goals are no longer daring or risky; they are de rigeur. It means that smart job search strategies and, in a larger sense, a proactive stance will move you further faster than any time in at least the past 15 years – or more. It means that because the number of candidates for every open job in America has come down from an ungodly 6.5:1 ratio in late 2009 to a 2:1 ratio, with all indications that when the December numbers are finalized, that will even slip to under 2:1, (Imagine that!), you are in a fair fight, a fight for which you can prepare and in which you can compete – if you assess your skills vis-à-vis what the market demands and then do something about it.

It means a lot of things. But then again, it really means only one thing, that optimism and realism today are one and the same, and that there is no reason or excuse to see it any other way.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150118 – On Being Extraordinary

If the last decade has taught us anything – what with the most severe slump we’ve ever experienced (aside from the Great Depression) and then the sustained, and now widely agreed upon, comeback – it’s this. From now on, the most important determinant in ensuring success in your job is being extraordinary. Not good. Not just good enough. Not even great. Extraordinary!

The good news is that this is a harbinger of exciting things to come in a job market that is not only on a strong rebound quantitatively, but also on an upward curve qualitatively. The better news is that – with sharp focus, unyielding determination, and sustained effort – we all have it within our power to be extraordinary.

Before moving ahead, let’s be clear about one fine point. I still insist that in a job search, the candidate with better career skills – the one who knows more about how to get hired (and has an A+ resume, smart job search strategies, interviewing strategies and skills, and so forth) – maintains an advantage over the candidate who might be better suited for the sob. So let’s not forget to keep that on the front burner.

That said, let’s get to the on-the-job scenario. You career skills got you there, but it’s your job skills that will keep you there. The US economy is the envy of the world right now. Really, when’s the last time you saw five percent GDP growth? All employment sectors are expanding, American science and technology sectors are hot, and – well, there are too many more things to list. The whole point here is that this is an extraordinary time and it demands employees who are extraordinary. So aside from the rah-rah, what exactly does that mean? What do you need to do?

In any job, place in front of you three guiding principles.

1. Be extraordinarily good technically. You were hired to do a job. And there are performance expectations, right? You are expected to be good at that job, right? Well?

Commit yourself to excellence. Learn everything about that job and further, about the jobs that surround yours, the products you’re selling, the consumers who use them, the market(s) you serve, the industry you’re in, the competitors you’re fighting. Get training whenever and as often as you can. Don’t stop.

And while you’re at it, make it well known that you have this hunger. Make sure your boss, HR, and the higher-ups know. Don’t take chances that they might not see this.

One challenge here is that most employers have not returned to pre-recession levels of budgeting for training. They will, I’m sure, but slowly. Since this was a heavily-skewed employers’ market, they learned they could sit back and wait for a well-trained candidate; there were so many of them. The pendulum, although not yet fully back to the other side, is getting there. But in the meantime, there’s no getting around it: you must be technically good – let’s make that extraordinary – at what you do, and the only person on whose shoulders that responsibility falls is you. Don’t be just good enough; barrel ahead to be great. As Satchel Paige famously said, “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”

2. Be really good at working with others. Interpersonal, communication, and team skills are ranked by executives and hiring managers as more important than technical skills, and the lack of these qualities drives organizational behavior people absolutely nuts. The better you are at being a team member, the more extraordinary you will become. This means much more than saying good morning in a pleasant way. It means supporting the efforts of your co-workers – and putting that on a higher plane than protecting your turf, let’s say. It means volunteering to serve on an important committee or task force. It means helping to bring diverse factions together to get a big job done. It means collaborative problem solving. It means developing great listening skills. It means working with others, not just among others.

3. Insist on continuous improvement. Become a dedicated lifelong learner. Take responsibility for becoming extraordinary by taking courses or even going for that next degree, attending seminars or workshops, and signing up for in-house training classes. Read. Watch others who are good at what they do and learn from them. Make time to evaluate and improve. Update and upgrade. Promise that you’ll be better tomorrow than you are today. From the Japanese concept of Kaizen, we learn that small daily improvements eventually result in large growth. But be careful here. Don’t try to be better than the next guy; if you do, you’re focusing on the wrong person. Just keep striving to become better than yourself each day. Now you’re focusing on the right person!

That’s as simple as this all is – simple but not easy. There are too many huge forces influencing your career and your job for you to take them lightly: globalism, permanent structural changes in the workplace, changing demographics, vulnerable financial positions, and technologies that appear and disappear so fast (whoosh, there goes another one) that you have to be better at dealing with change than you are at dealing with the things that have changed. And you have to be comfortable with that state of affairs.

Extraordinary, right?

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com