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.

20140316 – What are the two most important letters?

This is no trick question. Linguists might say E, T, or A – the most oft-used letters in English; egotists will choose I or their initials; and philosophers will insist on A and Z, alpha and omega.

But your career coach – yours truly – says your two most important letters are cover and thank you. (You knew that was coming.)

Amazed that people still ask whether to send cover letters, I thought I’d have been done writing about this years ago. Alas.

OK, one more time, but let’s understand why.

Resumes and cover letters should complement each other. It’s not enough to send a cover letter with each resume, and it’s not enough for the letter to serve only as an announcement that a resume follows. In other words, a cover letter that wastes time on what job you’re applying for and that you “read with great interest…blah, blah, blah” is a vestigial organ like your appendix; it’s there but it doesn’t do anything.

Make your resume and cover letter work together. While your resume is the most important piece of communication you’ll ever write, your cover letter may be your only chance to convince someone to read it. So, make your letter an attention-getter – not by making it lengthy (more than three good, short paragraphs and a few bullet points is too much); not by using bloated language (simple, natural language, the way you normally talk, is best); and not by being arrogant (believe it or not, people still say stuff like “If you’re looking for a top-performing sales pro, then look no further. I’m your man.”).  Just make your letter short and to the point. How short? Well, how much time do you think the reader has? The answer is, not much.

So, because you want someone to read it and because you want to convey the message that you respect someone’s time, stick to four guidelines: (1) Start with why you’re writing. (2) Highlight key qualifications and/or relevant accomplishments. (3) Tell them something specific you know about them from your research. (4) End by asking for a meeting.

            All that included, if you can read your letter in 30 seconds or less, so can they.

            And as for customizing, here’s where you say things directly to them that your resume can’t, like “Your ad stated a need for someone who can develop new business. I led our sales force with a 58% increase in new clients” or “My strategic human resources background can help your company’s reorganization efforts.” These are specific statements that compel readers to read resumes. Then, resumes tell the rest of the story.

And that, in a nutshell, is how cover letters and resumes work together.

Now then, with all the talk about great cover letters, we often overlook the importance of thank you letters, which are just as important as cover letters and, if done right, even more – for many reasons.

            Most obvious is that it proves that mama brought you up right, that you have basic manners. Don’t overlook this. Manners matter. It’s also highly professional, and no business transaction is complete without it.

            Further, a thank you letter becomes your second appearance in front of the decision maker. You’ve worked hard to get your resume to the right person who then called you for an interview, right? That’s it? Don’t you want more?

So the key question is not whether, but how, to send it: regular mail or email? The answer is not either, but both. First, email it, being careful to be typo-free. Now, under your signature, write: “PS. Hard copy to follow.” Now send. Next, on nice stationary or a simple thank you card, handwrite the same letter (minus the PS, of course) and mail it, hopefully the same day. What you will have when the hard copy reaches the interviewer is not just one more appearance, but two. Excellent! 

            Thank you letters also let you reinforce an important point that was discussed during the meeting, perhaps the one on which the hiring decision hangs. When the hiring process culminates, the employer has to sort out lots of candidates, conversations, and evaluations, so it’s easy to forget things you’ve said. This is one way to combat that.

            Beyond that, thank you letters can add to the conversation and raise a point you didn’t get to but should have (that happens in most interviews), so this is a way to extend the interview, not a bad strategy. Remember, though, that brevity is critical. You should be able to write a good thank you letter in under 100 words. And finally, thank you letters are placed in your file, and at the end of the hiring process, your file is opened and reviewed. And there’s your thank you letter sitting there. Come to think about it, that’s your third additional appearance.

With all these good reasons for sending a thank you letter, shouldn’t you be doing it? Every single time?

Smart job seekers have thank you letter templates, just as they have cover letter templates. A little customization after each interview, and a great thank you letter is on its way.

             Once more: What are the two most important letters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            …if you get my drift.

20140302 – Career fair this week. What about it?

           Often – very often, in fact – I am asked about career fairs. Are they important? Should I go? Should I spend all that time? Do people really get jobs by going to career fairs?

            Yes, yes, yes, and yes! And if you come up with any more reasonable questions, the answers will be the same. Attending career fairs is an exceptionally good job search strategy – it’s another tool in your bag, another integral part of a comprehensive job search – and it just so happens that a career fair is coming up this week.

            Agreed that not all career fairs are good for everyone, you should make them an integral component of your job search. But make sure to do this right, and that means the following:

·         Scheduling. By doing a basic search, you’ll find career fairs planned for several months out in your area, industry or occupation. Companies that run these fairs – very often your regional newspaper – have employer lists on their web sites, lists that grow each day as the fair approaches. Keep these sites in your sights, check them regularly, and you’ll determine which fairs you would best attend. Mark them on your calendars – and then get thee to the fair!

·         Preparing. As in any other job search activity, preparation is key, and that means establishing your goals for the fair (it’s more than “Duh, get a job.”); researching the companies by doing more than a quick scan of their web sites (this is where your public library and their very smart, resourceful reference librarians can be of immeasurable help; make your A, B, and C lists of employers; plan your day by checking the floor plan ahead of time so you’ll know exactly where you’re going when the doors open; getting there 30 minutes before opening so (if registration hasn’t happened on line) you can register and get ready to be one of the first to enter; prioritize your visits to their tables; bring what you need, including a portfolio, a pen (really, some people need to be reminded),  twice as many copies of your resume as you think you need because, hey, you never know; and (not kidding here) a positive attitude, a smile, a firm handshake, eye contact, and plenty of good questions; and a “punchy” 15-20 second intro – “Hello, I’m Mary Smith. I have an associate’s degree in business from [the community college] and 4 years of experience in market research. I think I’d be a great fit for the marketing position at [Company] because of my past experience.”

·         Understanding the game. From your point of view, there are seven reasons career fairs are a good idea: the chance to make a good first impression, you can meet employers face-to-face, there’s nothing like a smile and a handshake to start things off, in-person meetings increase chances of getting interviews, you can learn more about the company than you did from their web site, you can expand your network (both employers and job seekers), and – how ‘bout this – you could even get a job! And from the employers’ point of view – or, at least the smart ones – they love career fairs because fairs are a highly interactive front end of the recruiting process, much more vibrant and illuminating than simply receiving tons of cyber-resumes. It’s your chance to make that great first impression. Start by… 

·         Showing up like a professional. This is really simple. Conservative business suits and shined shoes. Men, a small patterned or fine striped tie; women, small, tasteful jewelry and a conservative scarf. Hide your tattoos and piercings, and keep the cologne/perfume in the bottle that day (smelling like the cosmetics counter at Bloomie’s is not a good idea). Big hair and untrimmed beards – basically, bad grooming – are killers.

·         Controlling yourself. There are serious taboos. Dressing inappropriately loud is the first. Grabbing all the freebies employers have on their tables – pens, nerf balls, goofy little furry things, mints, key chains, and all manner of unnecessary paraphernalia – is a major taboo, and it’s not why you’re there. You’re there for a job.

·         Not hanging around too long. Once you’re done, leave. Candidates who hang around, even hovering at booths, hoping to get another chance to talk, are not welcome. You’re being either a pest or a stalker, and neither one will move you forward.

·         Following up. Even though this is after the fair, it’s really part of the fair. Follow up immediately via email – and then by phone or letter. If you do this later in the same day as the fair, then the recruiters you just met will get your email first thing in the morning when they return to work (or maybe even that day when they check their smart phones). For sure, not all recruiters give out their emails, but the ones whose cards you get (even though it may list a general email box) will be impressed.

There you have it – in a nutshell, of course because discussion on all these points can be expanded. But they should all be rather clear and not in need of explanation. In other words, in one of my mother’s favorite expressions, a word to the wise is sufficient.

20140223 – Where NOT to look for work, no matter what

           Over the last decade, hardly a person in the workforce hasn’t been tested in some way or another. Whether a newcomer to the job market or a thirty-year veteran, you most likely were challenged by the most extenuating circumstances we’ve seen since the Great Depression. That’s no news: we all know it and we’ve read our share of articles and blogs about it. Enough already, especially in light of the improving conditions!

            But one thing that still needs discussion is something that many people, unfortunately, have bumped into – and gotten hurt in the process, a beast that continues to raise its ugly head, claiming victims long after the worst is over for the job market in general.

            That beast is the job scam – the too-good-to-be-true or too-easy-to-make-sense deal – that takes many forms. Even after the worst is over in the job market, these scams pick up steam, persuading many unsuccessful job seekers to abandon searches for traditional jobs and to reach out for what looks like a lifesaver in rough seas. The cycle is easy to spot (and predict). First the economy picks up (it has). Then the job market follows (it is). But for some who have not yet landed, the scams continue (they are).

            Desperation leads to desperate acts, and the scammers know it. So if you haven’t been able to find or keep a job for a prolonged period of time, these scams start looking like your only chance. It’s understandable, but if you’re not aware, you’re prey. Here are the most common forms of this beast. Beware!

            Work-at-home schemes. While there are many legitimate jobs with reputable companies in which you do work from your house, these real jobs are generally not advertised that way. Ads for these jobs generally discuss the job and the company first. Questionable jobs with blaring ads about working from home and making buckets of money are suspicious, to say the least. Really, who makes $9,500.00 a month working five hours a day at home in a job that requires no skills or previous experience? Yet many otherwise aware people still fall for that.

            Money up front. Many schemes require money up front to buy materials or a “starter kit.” No legitimate job requires this unless you’re clearly taking on the role of a distributor, but in that case, this shouldn’t be presented as a job, but as a business venture. Up-front schemes usually start with a relatively small amount of money that is not too imposing – a couple of hundred dollars, maybe less. Problem is, the minute you plunk it down, you’re faced with one of two next steps: either no further trace of the company or the necessity to buy something else. See what’s just happened?

            Showing just one card at a time. Many schemes start off with a fantastic statement about the job and the money, but tell you little else. You’re led to a web site where they tell you just a tiny bit more before you have to start entering personal information to go further, usually just a name and a password at first. Right there – the password – you’ve got a problem. Many people unsuspectingly use the same password for everything: email, shop on line accounts, on-line banking, and…OMG, they just got your password! Your private information is being sold God-knows-where. If you have to keep jumping through hoops to get more crumbs of information, you’re being sucked in.

            No salary. HUGE commissions. “Make 90 percent on your first sale!” That’s an ad I saw recently. When I visited their web site and saw a man and woman sitting by a pool out behind an enormous mansion, I saw enough. These high commission offers typically involve no salary. Well geez, I could hire every unemployed person in the country under those conditions and, in the process, instantly create the world’s largest company. Sure.

            Guaranteed jobs. There’s no such thing. Any “employment service” that guarantees to get you a job is a fake. There are no guarantees, and anyone promising one is a fake.

            Previously undisclosed” federal jobs. Once again: no such thing. The government doesn’t work that way. I know, I know…after last year a lot of people don’t think the government works at all, but seriously, the government is the most legitimate hiring organization of all. Sure, it’s a painfully long process, but all federal positions are announced to the public and easy to find on www.usajobs.gov. Anyone else claiming to be part of this process is a scammer.

            Credit card, please. Under no circumstances should you give out your credit card or bank account information over the phone or when you get called in for an “interview.” Same goes for your social security number. Think you don’t need to be told? So did many desperate job seekers who found out too late.

            An email from where? Many credible businesses now use social media sites to recruit.  However, be wary of unsolicited emails from unrecognizable sites claiming that a company is interested in your resume, especially if they can’t tell you where they got it.

            So don’t be fooled and don’t let yourself be scammed. Credibility hasn’t changed. Stay the course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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