20150913 – Sea change from short-term layoffs to long-term hiring

Here’s the thing about good times: you have to make the most of them. You have to be on top of your game, even more so than in bad times.

And we’re in one of those good times right now, an extremely interesting time, to boot. The job market has done a full one-eighty from where it was in its deepest, darkest days just about seven years ago: 65 consecutive months of private sector job growth, 13 million jobs created (in all sectors, by the way), unemployment at its lowest rate in seven and a half years, and on and on and on.

But for more than one reason, you don’t need me to feed you those numbers: (1) I’ve been at it for quite some time now anyway, (2) you can get a bright seventh grader to look them up for you in ten minutes, and (3) it’s no longer the numbers that matter. The trend lines are so strong and have sustained themselves so predictably, that the numbers are now just the backdrop for the real story, a story that’s not made up of numbers at all, in fact.
What I’m about to relate comes from my observations and conclusions over the last several years of watching – very carefully – not just who’s hiring and who’s getting hired, but how and why these landings are taking place. Watch something long enough, concentrate hard enough, think critically, and be ready to recognize patterns and trends – and guess what. Discovery!

That’s why I said we’re in an extremely interesting time. Based on more elements that I’d have room for in my next book (hmmm…), let alone relate here, I do believe I spotted something intriguing, namely, when employers were downsizing by laying off millions in a “down” market, they were doing it for the short term, but now that they’re hiring in an “up” market, particularly this one, they’re hiring for the long term. And you better believe they’re going to be looking for the best possible candidates they can find…for the long term.

I am totally convinced of this and totally committed to it.

Why? The feedback I’m getting from employers with whom I interact frequently (both large and small firms), from candidates who landed (and what they told me went on in their interviews), from reports and surveys, and from other career professionals with whom I hang out, is all pointing to this “long term” mentality and behavior. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the job market right now, and while we may not be in the absolute best of times, we sure are headed in that direction.

And that means one thing. If employers are hiring for the long term, you must give them the reason to decide that you’re the one worth the ;long-term investment. Think about that for a minute. Over the last decade, almost no one was thinking in terms of long-term employment; just getting a job (“I’ll take anything”) was the “only port in a storm” we sought. It’s very different now.

The upshot of it all is simple. If employers are taking the long view, they want quality. Real quality. They want candidates with all the great job skills, and they’re finding them by vetting candidates that have all their career skills in great shape: resumes, profiles, interviewing strategies, job search strategies, credentials, and so on. And that’s where you have to take the bull by the horns and make absolutely sure you’re going to be a stronger, more competitive candidate, the one who will stand out in what has turned out to be a bustling crowd of optimistic job seekers. One hiring manager (who asked for anonymity because “we can’t keep up with all the resumes and calls we’re already getting”) told me in simple terms, “The most sweeping change in our hiring and in our management culture has been toward long-term hiring and retention.” Retention!

Sweet, no? After all these rough years, that’s sweet.

But it’s not going to come to you; you still have to go get it – and be the best one at doing so. And therein lies one of my observations, simple as it may be: when opportunities multiply, expectations rise. The more possibilities there are, the better the candidate you have to be, and that’s why you have to be on top of your game even more so than in bad times.

To that end – and because I fully believe that now is the time (if I may borrow that hallowed phrase) – I will be holding the 2015 version of my “Complete Career Workshop Series” – four two-hour sessions on each Wednesday evening of October that will focus on (1) smart job search strategies; (2) resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles; (3) interviewing strategies and skills (with the emphasis on strategies); and (4) career networking. Please visit my Web site, which you can find at the bottom of this column, for detailed information.
The goal of this four-part series is to make you – here we go again – a stronger, more competitive candidate in all facets – and that every tool in your bag is sharp.

Because when opportunity knocks, it doesn’t wait around too long for your answer.

October is right around the corner.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150621 – Where are we going and why are we going there?

Quick! What’s the most common undergraduate degree in America? Graduate degree? The answer to both questions is…Business (2011-12 academic year, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics in the Digest of Education Statistics). Now, what was the answer in 1971? Social and Behavioral Sciences for undergrad (Education was a very close second) and Education by a long shot at the graduate level. Business was nowhere near the top.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to tell you what I think about that, not as an educator (although I’ll accept “damn good teacher,” thank you), not as a sociologist, not as an economist, not as a demographer (all of whom compile statistics and then chew them up and spit them back out into more piles of data), but as a simple career coach who (a) watches the job market closely, (b) tries to interpret data, not just analyze it, (c) is willing to connect dots and tell you what I see, and (d) cares deeply. With that backdrop, I am less than thrilled to file this article today.

Everyone agrees on two grand statements. One, the role of education in 21st century America is in question. Do we educate or train? Do we develop well-rounded, classically educated human beings or offer job training and call it a college degree?

Two, the state of education, by all accounts, is in crisis. While we’re awarding more degrees, we’re lagging in all manner of global competitiveness assessments. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that the U.S., once first in educational attainment (HS diploma or more), is now fifth, and worse, only 21st in student skills, as measured by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Also, according to Global Public Square, the U.S. once led the world in college graduates, but no longer does. Americans age 55 to 64 still have more college degrees per capita (41 percent) than their peers in other nations. However, while that number has flat-lined and is the same for Americans age 25 to 34, 15 nations have pulled ahead in the younger category. Our Gen Y-ers, as it turns out, now rank #16.

This is mortifying from the point of view of this career coach who happens to look at this through a global lens. Bluntly, even though we’re trying to protect American jobs through laws that make it hard (in many cases, impossible) for non-residents to get and keep employment here, by handing degrees to people who can’t perform at the levels today’s globally competitive job market demands, it doesn’t much matter.

Now, up to here, you might already know these statistics. But a more granular inspection leads me to some observations that, as a career coach, I hope will give you pause as you plan your career and even the educational paths and subsequent careers your kids choose. The overarching concern is not how many degrees we’re conferring, but what degrees they are – and what that means.

For every 100 undergraduate degrees issued in 1971 (U.S. population was 208 million), there were 213 in 2012 (population 314 million). In the process, though, degrees in Education dropped from 21.0 percent of all degrees to 5.9 percent, and Social and Behavioral Sciences from 23.0 to 16.1. But degrees in Business rose from 13.7 to 20.5 (this peaked in 1986 at 24.0). Startling!

It’s even more dramatic at the graduate level. For every 100 graduate degrees in 1971, there are now 322. Education was at a dominant 37.2 percent of all Master’s degrees; it is now at 23.6. Business, on the other hand, grew from 11.2 percent to 25.4 percent. And while total graduate degrees jumped by a multiple of 3.22, graduate Business degrees jumped by an eye-opening multiple of 7.23! While all this was going on, here’s what happened in other fields as a percent of total graduate degrees. Humanities, down; Social and Behavioral Sciences, down; Natural Sciences, down; Computer Sciences and Engineering, very slightly up, but down from the 1986 peak.

In other words, everybody’s going to business schools all over the place and (here’s my cents) not necessarily for noble reasons. Many majors in business – economics, finance, accounting – continue to be in the top ten lists for highest paid, the top reason of choice given in many surveys. But I don’t see the state of business, humanity, or world affairs being any better than at any time in the past. And further, I don’t see business degree holders in general presenting much evidence of understanding world events – climate change, poverty, disease eradication, clean water, alliances, migration, innovation, and even education itself – and how (a) these will affect business and (b) how business should take leadership roles in these areas – not from a business point of view, from a humanistic point of view.

Here’s the irony. Science changes the world but not until business says so. As a result, the kinds of decisions that have to be made to elevate humanity, improve quality of life, and save the planet, are likely to be made by generations with narrow focus, limited training, and no grounding in the humanities.

Think that over when planning your career choices or your studies. “Where are we going and why are we going there?” is a legitimate question.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150614 – Your future depends on how you look at it.

During my weekly Sunday reading a few weeks ago, I came across this headline: “Many Gen X-ers say future looks less than rosy.”

Not what I’d call optimism.

The article got darker from there. “Generation X [born 1964 to 1982] has serious doubts it can ever save enough to one day stop working,” referencing a study done by Allianz Life Insurance that revealed that 84 percent of Gen X feel that retiring at 65 and embarking on a life of leisure is “a bygone fantasy.” In other words, they envision having some kind of work-related facet of their lives from age 65 on.

Additionally, a whopping 68 percent of Gen X-ers believe they will never have enough saved to quit working, and 67 percent say traditional financial targets for retirement no longer are realistic. “They are feeling overwhelmed,” said Katie Libbe, an Allianz Life vice president.

Overwhelmed! Sad. I know things have changed and they’ll never change back, but the pessimism was just dripping of the page, along with monstrously negative attitudes.

So I’m here to tell ya’, as the old pitchmen used to say, that there’s another way to look at this. Anything in life depends on how you look at it. As long as I’ve been writing here (and for all my life, for that matter) I’ve espoused the benefits of a positive attitude and eschewed any activities that even remotely resemble complaining.

General Dwight Eisenhower used to say, “Pessimism never won any battle.” And my mother, who was the most resolute woman I’ve ever known and someone who endured many difficulties and tragedies, always used to say, “I don’t have the right, the need, the desire, or the time to complain about anything. “There’s so much I can do instead.”

So yeah, Gen X lost more money during the Great Recession than any other generation,
and yeah, it was hard to keep or regain employment, and yeah the rules of the game have changed. So? That’s reality, and accepting reality – and deciding to do something with it – is the first step to a good attitude.

With a positive attitude, creative thinking, and acceptance of change, this becomes less of a problem and more of an opportunity. Problems are nothing more than opportunities poorly dressed, and agreeing with that is the next step in attitude change. After that, how about seeing how you can make lemonade out of lemons?

For example, retiring at 65 was your grandfather’s dream. But your grandfather’s life expectancy was also 68. For those of us who are Boomers or Gen X-ers, 85 is more like it, so what’s wrong with working longer? Furthermore, social security age is rising and will continue to do so, which is OK with most of us Boomers because, among other things, we like to work. Why? We like: (a) staying active and busy, (b) giving back, (c) having meaning, (d) finding new challenges, and (e) making money. So if it’s OK with us Boomers, get with it, Gen X. This is nothing to complain about; it’s actually a reason to smile. That, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is what a good attitude looks like, and with it, there are no more problems. Just opportunities.

As for the fourth reason – (d) new challenges – that’s another talking point. You know all those new technologies we all have to master just to stay employed? They’re fun! And, at the bottom of it all, isn’t the simple act of learning fun? OK, so nothing is like it was – not the workplace, not your required skill sets, not business conditions and competition, not social structures, nothing. But, as has been attributed to more people than you can shake a stick at, “The future ain’t what it used to be – and it never was.”

So you have two choices. You can wrestle with that or you can embrace it. I choose the latter, and suggest you do the same. My 68th birthday was two days ago and my 65th flew by without one second’s thought of retiring or even slowing down. And you know what? I’ve never had more fun doing this thing called work in my life, my career now spanning 47 years.

Nor have I ever been busier. I do four things to make a living. I’m a career coach, corporate consultant, teacher (two graduate leadership courses at FDU), and columnist (I will, next month, begin my 13th year writing for you). That’s a lot going on, and it’s certainly not what I thought I’d be doing (who could picture this when he’s 20-something?), but it’s also better than anything I ever could have imagined doing. And it’s rosier than many X-ers see their future. And I’m not overwhelmed.

Maybe that’s just how I look at things, just my nature, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to try it on for size.

So, once again, I’m here to tell ya’. Stop being overwhelmed and start figuring out what’s going on. Stop using the word “problem” and start substituting the word “opportunity.” Stop being pessimistic and start putting plus signs on things. Stop hanging on to what’s gone and start navigating the road ahead.

Because, quite simply, your future depends on how you look at it.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150607 – 21 Critical Traits for the 21st Century – A reprise

Five years ago, the leadership team of one of my corporate client (CEO, SVP of HR, etc.) asked me to lead a retreat to talk about the future and how to get there: two of the most mind-stretching, stimulating days of my professional life.

Among other discussions, we asked: To what kinds of people will we hand over the company? What will they be like? What will they be capable of doing? How will they succeed?

Delicious stuff, right? The centerpiece was a meaty list of critical traits (not skills) without which 21st century leaders workers will not succeed. I published a long essay on it.

Well, what do you know? I’ve been invited back to revisit and continue the discussion: a follow-up, a reality check. We all agreed the conclusions were right at the time, remain spot on, and will continue to be relevant throughout the 21st century.

That being so, I thought it prudent to synopsize that essay here – as a blueprint, if you will, of the successful, competitive, happy, and meaningful denizen of the 21st century.

1. Multi-talented – not limited to one specialty. The days of succeeding by being good at one thing only are over. That’s not to say you should be a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. It means being jack-of many-trades-master-of one. Or of a couple, really. So get good at a lot of things and really good at (at least) one.

2. Determined, persistent, stubborn, committed. As opportunities increase so do challenges. You’ll need to learn how not to give up, to see things through.

3. Purpose-driven – on a personal mission. How sad it is that so many people wake up each morning and don’t know why. You need a reason, and the closer it’s associated with something bigger than yourself, the more likely you’ll have a meaningful career.

4. Altruistic – pledged to the larger organization, a larger cause. If your purpose is only you or your family, you’re falling short. You need a cause outside yourself toward which you work.

5. Decisive – calling on resources to make crisp decisions. This is critical thinking, nothing less, but it doesn’t mean bullheadedness (“often wrong but never uncertain”). It means confidence in your decision-making process and willingness to change or alter when needed.

6. Curious – continuously interested in and engaged with what’s around you. “Curiosity,” said Akio Morita, Sony’s founder, “is the key to creativity.” And …

7. Creative – able to see new things, think new thoughts. “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” said Albert Einstein, and it’s more relevant now than when he said it. More new ideas, discoveries, inventions, and fundamental changes have emerged in the first decade of this century than in all centuries before it. Unwillingness or inability to grasp, accept, and act upon newness is a recipe for failure.

8. Empathetic – able to see others’ situations. A feeling of kinship with the human race. We are increasingly intertwined, and so are our problems and opportunities. This is more relevant to career development than ever before.

9. Democratic in character structure – fair and open. Stop thinking you have – or can come up with – all the answers. You cannot, nor can anyone any more. Try coming up with the right questions and finding the people who can answer them. Get your ego out of this.

10. Willing to think – not afraid of mental exercise. Less and less will be handed to you; you’ll have to sort things out. Einstein also said, “We think we are thinking, when all we are doing is rearranging our prejudices.”

11. Planned and prepared – ready for what comes, proactive in thought and action.

12. Broadly educated and keenly aware – 360 degrees. Narrow training will work against you. A broad-based liberal arts education wrapped around a specialty is how you will succeed.

13. Comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and change. You’re going to see an awful lot of it, so get used to it. That’s not a threat; it’s an opportunity.

14. Accountable to yourself – and then to others. It doesn’t work the other way.

15. A team leader – but understanding “shared leadership.” One of the great leadership concepts of the last couple of decades is that leadership can – and should be – a shared.

16. A clear, efficient perception of reality – and a strong, comfortable relationship with it. Your big challenge is: what’s real? It is not easy to be objective, but we have no choice.

17. Problem centered outside oneself. Thinking holistically, seeing the big picture.

18. Autonomous and independent. You want and need the freedom to effectuate your own ideas. If the place you work isn’t built that way, look elsewhere.

19. Wildly optimistic. It’s easy to see the glass as half empty, but pessimists never solved a problem, saw an opportunity, invented anything, or moved themselves and humanity forward.

20. A non-hostile sense of humor – playfully engaged with the world. You should be having fun.

21. Inductive. Right-brainers will understand the 21st century. Left-brainers might not. The pace and scope of 21st century change has defined it as the “Right-Brain Century.” The inductive thinker who says “What’s going on here?” will figure out what’s actually going on here. Nobody’s handing out road maps any more. You’ll need to think creatively and inductively along with logically and deductively.
Have a nice century!

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150531 – How to get – and stay – ahead at work

Two years and two months ago, when the job market was already proving it was well (though there were still many doubters), this column said “How to get – and stay – ahead at work.” The focus, obviously, shifted from getting jobs to keeping jobs: a far better state of affairs, indeed, than what existed for the previous five years.

Well, here we are, 26 happy months later, and nearly six million more people are working than at that time. That, along with numerous phone calls and emails I receive that all say the same thing – namely, now that I got that job, what do I do to keep it? – suggest I dust off and update that article. For at least six million more of you, it’s now relevant.

It’s simple, really. Put yourself in the shoes of your employer. What does an employer look for in an employee? What makes you a keeper? The way I look at it, there are ten things.

It’s not personal; it’s interpersonal. First – and clearly the most important – is to continue to develop your soft skills. Communication skills – writing, speaking, presentation, nonverbal, cross-cultural, and listening skills – are the most desired characteristics in the corporate world, according to survey after survey, and right behind that is the ability to work well within a team setting. Other interpersonal skills of all sorts – like mentoring, coaching, motivation, and synergistic decision making – also play big.

Burn to learn. Continue your overall education. Get an advanced degree or certificates, accumulate CEUs, go to workshops and seminars, keep learning about your industry through research and industry and professional associations, and keep abreast of the news.

Become excellent at something. Of course we’d all like to be good at a lot of things (and, over time, we will), but being excellent – really top notch – at something (sales, graphic arts, accounting, training – whatever) is critical. Rainmakers, for the most part, get hired and
rainmakers keep their jobs.

Do more than you’re supposed to. Volunteer for assignments (committees, task forces), especially ones that let you demonstrate your leadership potential and skills. Those extra projects or the ones others don’t want to undertake are where you show both your aptitude and your attitude – and where you gain altitude. And while you’re at it, dress for the job above yours. While you’re getting noticed for doing so much, let them see you as the professional they want to move up.

Keep networking. Networking got you here; it will also keep getting you places while you’re here. Network internally and seek out learning experiences within the company. Look for a mentor and ask advice. See which departments or teams in your company interest you and take the initiative to ask an executive in each how you can learn more. Show an interest in them, and they’ll develop an interest in you. Senior executives are always on the lookout for “up-and-comers,” those employees they feel could fit into a succession plan.

Make yourself quietly and consistently visible. Executives arrive early and stay late so wouldn’t it make sense to put in extra time at 7:45 AM or 6:00 PM? I’m not suggesting being a workaholic or burning the midnight oil, but at least showing up early and hitting the ground running speaks volumes. No sucking up to anyone, here; just exhibiting a highly desirable – and noticeable – trait: a strong work ethic.

Develop your right-brain, creative thinking. I’ve said it over and over: creativity is your only sustainable asset, as it is for corporations as well. But it’s still rare, and executives know it. Those who can think in new ways will exponentially increase their value. It takes courage to be creative, but it is rapidly becoming the most important trait of all.

Aim high. “Not failure, but low aim is the crime,” said James Russell Lowell, one of America’s “Fireside Poets” of the 19th century. And “It’s OK to have your head in the clouds as long as you have your feet on the ground,” said my mother, Miriam, a pretty smart character herself. There is a caveat here, though, as you don’t want to be seen as a power-grabber or as being obsequious (“kissing up and kicking down”); you just want to demonstrate your desire and ability to play a bigger role in – and make a bigger contribution to – the organization.

Do for others. Be involved in your community. Corporate social responsibility is more to the forefront than ever before, so be there with your organization as it reaches out. Many organizations look for and retain employees who support the organization’s community outreach. This is a big deal; don’t overlook it.

“Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts.” (Albert Einstein: who else?) At work, at least in most workplaces, the intangible things go a long way: attitude, empathy, collaboration, creativity, a smile, non-hostile humor, praise, appreciation, chocolate. (Seriously: ever see someone with chocolate in a bad mood?) You can’t measure these things (well, OK, chocolate), but they are very, very important. On the other side of the coin, those obsessive-compulsive performance review matrices can be awfully stifling and, as a result, amount to just a bunch of statistical wallpaper. So make the things that can’t be counted count.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150524 – Now that you’ve graduated: Networking 101

Three weeks ago, this column’s headline read, “Congratulations, graduate. Now what?” The discussion was all about being proactive in your career and in your job search. Inherent in being proactive is networking, and much was made of it in the article.

However, even though I said I was writing because I’d seen too many recent or soon-to-be graduates who had never visited their college career centers and, therefore, that this might all be new to many younger people, I was still surprised by the volume of emails I got asking for more specifics about networking. Truth be known, by the end of the Sunday of that column, the emails had mounted. It turns out this was prompted by one statement in particular in the article, that professional networking is a whole lot different from the kind of social networking on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest. These things, I explained, tend to be casual, personal, impulsive, spontaneous, reactive, and – often – silly. (OK, in its place.) Professional networking, on the other hand, is a planned, methodical, consistent, never-ending state of being, and those with the best managed careers will confirm that. And then I explained that the cardinal rule of networking, as my colleagues and I always say, is “A.B.C. – Always Be Connecting.”

All well and good, but the numbers of inquiries by the end of that Sunday – like, “Please tell me exactly what I should be doing to be a good networker?” – made it unequivocally clear that today’s column is necessary.

So, beyond the “A.B.C.” rule, there are sound networking strategies, but first let’s establish fundamentally what networking is (and is not). Bluntly, networking is not running around like a chicken without a head, calling everyone you know when you need a job. Yet that’s about the extent of it for many people. That’s not networking; it’s begging. Networking is relationship building. It’s creating a support group in which you offer as much or more support than you get. And, at its best, networking is a proactive method of career planning and career development in which you take total control. Repeat: total control. You can plan every facet of networking and leave nothing to chance. Are there unexpected variables? Yes, but with a good networking plan, that’s what they’re relegated to: nothing but variables. Got it? Now here are seven networking strategies.

1. Identify and use all your resources. Who’s in your network? Identify friends, family, friends of family, family of friends, classmates, roommates, coworkers, professors, and so on. These are all connections you’ve made; keep them alive.

2. Join and go. Good networking means belonging to viable, relevant organizations – alumni associations, industry associations, professional associations, civic groups, recreational teams, and volunteer organizations. It also means devoting the time to go to regular meetings, participate in events (and organize when you can), attending conferences and trade shows, and generally getting yourself out there and making yourself visible.

3. Never break the chain. It’s easy to lose contact with someone; it takes work to keep it going. So keep it going. Actually, it’s not that difficult, especially if you adopt networking as a mind-set, a lifestyle. For instance, my “Six-Month Rule” says to make contact with or receive contact from people central to my network at least twice a year. It’s pretty easy, really, by making sure that each day you make two calls or send two emails – five or ten minutes – and that amounts to regular contact with nearly 400 people. Piece of cake.

4. Help first, then get help. If you expect networking to be all about who can do what for you, you’ve got it all wrong. It’s a two-way street, but now think of how much someone will do for you if you’ve already extended yourself for them, especially when you do it with no expectation of return. Reach out, volunteer, refer people to each other, make introductions. Think of others, in other words.

5. Fill your tool bag. Things you should have at your disposal at all times are a positive attitude (this time it’s “A.B.P. – Always Be Positive”), a professional wardrobe, a good snappy elevator speech, personal business cards, a professional email address, a great A+ resume, a complete and strong LinkedIn profile, and strong references. A full tool-bag.

6. Think big and think small. Yes, people in power (the higher-ups) can help you, but so can just about anyone who wants to. You’d be surprised at just how much help us little guys can be for each other. It’s not just the big dog that counts.

7. Go for quality, not just quantity. Too many people think that the more connections they have, the better their networking will be. Nonsense! Of course your network should be far-reaching, but one strong, quality, ongoing connection is better than 10 I’d-like-you-to-join- my-professional-network “strangers.”

So there you have it. Millions more words can be, and for certain will be, written on networking – and millions already have – but you’ve got to start somewhere, and it’s always good to start anything by thinking about it and strategizing first. These seven strategies ought to get you off to a good start, but remember, it’s up to you to keep it going.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150517 – Feedback on my column on resume objectives

Six weeks ago, the headline here said, “Stop messing around with your resume’s objective.” In essence, I was highly critical of the practice of changing your objective to match every job for which you apply, and I gave what I think is strong rationale. For reference, here’s what I said:

“It causes you to lose focus, blurs your self-image, weakens your resolve, encourages you to stray from your mission (I sure hope you have one), pigeonholes you, muddles your identity, makes you appear indecisive to others (when someone who can help you asks how they can help you, what are you going to say?), actually makes you less decisive to begin with, creates a challenge just keeping track of what you’ve sent to whom, and – in case you worry about things like your ethical compass – makes you less than truthful on all but one of these resumes.”

By the way, I referred to an objective, not a profile or summary, because I was addressing people at the beginnings of their careers. However, this conversation extends to everyone.

Anyway, I expected pushback on that article, and boy, did I ever get it! I got lots of agreement, too, so putting it all together, it got to be a pretty big deal, so today I’m stepping up to take another swing at it. Not that I thought (pre-feedback) that it wasn’t such a big deal – I wouldn’t have written about it if I did – but this appears to be one of those things where a lot of people have their heels dug in. And you know how it is when attitudes and beliefs get entrenched. Wars get fought over less. So it’s a big deal. But it shouldn’t be.

Yes, I know I’m in the minority. I know almost every job counselor, recruiter, blogger, and anyone else with two cents to put in disagrees with me. I know they’re all adamant about customizing (I call it compromising) your objective for very job. And I know many of them categorically dismiss my advice. However, though I’m tempted to say, “Yeah, but I’m right anyway; case closed,” I’ll be a little more reasonable, decorous, tactful, and fair by quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who often said, “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.” I think the truth I speak just needs to be seen – and pondered – by more people.

So for example, Allen (name changed), a reader who took the time to call me, which I appreciated and enjoyed despite his taking a couple of whacks at me, delivered an impassioned monologue about applying for 200 hundred jobs (200!) over the course of his long, 11-month unemployment, and changing his objective for each one. “How’d that work out for you?” I asked. “Great, as you can see. I landed a job, didn’t I?”

A moment of silence, if you please. Allen, what would have happened if you’d have stayed on track? It reminds me of the guy who fires a shotgun against a wall, blowing lots of holes in it, painting a red circle around one of them and saying, “See? I hit my target.” What’s worse, Allan’s new job is a different occupation in a different industry at the wrong level – and he’s now earning 14 percent less than his previous job eleven months ago.

So I asked Allen to email his resume to me, which he did, and sure enough, two things hit me between the eyes. One, Allen had an impressive career, up until the job he lost 11 months ago; and two, as expected, the objective (in his case, profile) at the top was not in sync with the whole resume. See, that’s what I mean by muddling your identity. Everything on your resume should be supportive of what’s above it, and a carefully crafted resume is built not only top-down, but at the same time, bottom-up. Change the objective or the summary, and you immediately lose the contiguity a resume should have. Sometimes this loss is subtle but other times it can be “about as subtle as a cowbell,” as my country cousins like to say.

In Allen’s case, I’m willing to bet a kilo of fine Dutch chocolate – and to double down on the bet – that his outcome would have been far better had he stayed focused. And I’ll place a side wager that his search would have been shorter, too.

Now, I don’t have any broad, longitudinal studies to roll out in defense of my position, but I have, at least, offered my reasoning (paragraph 2), which is more than can be said of the suggestion to “customize” your resume. That’s one of those things that so many people say and that everyone listens to without seeming to question why. Please, when someone tells you to change the objective (or summary) on your resume, ask why. As elsewhere (stock investments, medical procedures, real estate, diet, etal.), don’t you question advice before you take it? Don’t you make the advisor defend the advice? Don’t you then think it over? Maybe even seek a second opinion?

It’s time to do that with your resume’s objective.

Because yes, it’s a big deal.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150510 – “If you don’t change, you have changed.”

I wish I could claim to have authored that great aphorism at the head of today’s column, “If you don’t change, you have changed.” Truth be told, the best I can do is brag that it was a friend and colleague of mine, Tim Powell. Close enough. I’ll take it.

But I have – more than once – referred to this pithy realization which not only has plenty of gravitas, but great inspirational value as well. There is an awesome lesson here for anyone at any stage of his or her career.

That said, lest we remain in the realm of vagueness, talking about change in abstract ways, let’s look at four concrete examples, four cases in point.

1. A January 22 article in Crain’s New York Business reported that, while New York City enjoyed a 2.7 percent private-sector job growth rate in 2014 with some employment segments weighing in at more than five percent, the financial services segment grew by only one percent. In other words, New York is creating jobs without Wall Street, which always led the way in New York in previous recoveries. This difference this time is, in itself, no surprise; the financial services collapse was self-induced. Not to mention the impossibility of sustaining the bacchanalian existence of that business. But too many people in financial services did nothing to add to and change their skill sets or to set their sights on transferring their skills to other industries, some of which are filling New York offices with jobs. Instead, what did they do to get back into the workforce? Applied, with the same skill sets, to the same companies in the same industries that imploded and cut tens of thousands of jobs to begin with. They didn’t change, but they have changed.

2. In an article in The Record on April 19, Hugh Morley reported that in 16 advanced industries in 1980, employment in New Jersey was 1½ times greater than the U.S. average, but today that’s the case in only four industries, three of which were on the 1980 list. Morley cited The Brookings Institute, which defines an advanced industry as one that spends at least $450 per employee each year on R&D and has 20 percent of its workforce in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) occupations. This is clearly a lack of vision in state planning circles. They didn’t change, but they have changed. And with them, so have we.

3. In the same vein, the corporate exodus from New Jersey is nothing new, but the most recent departure announcement – Mercedes-Benz to Atlanta – was an eye-opener, one that wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago. New Jersey once boasted the most highly educated workforce in the country, a key reason for companies to locate and remain here, despite high operating costs, high living costs and high taxes. There were more bachelor’s degree holders per capita in northern New Jersey than anywhere else, so companies stayed. But when Mercedes-Benz decided to relocate to Atlanta, aside from the incentives they got from Georgia (not insignificant but could have been matched), one of the reasons was that the area they selected actually has a slight edge over New Jersey in educational attainment, once never the case. This problem won’t be solved just by countering with tax breaks for companies that have already decided to leave, trying to get the horse back in the corral, as it were. That, too, has changed. They changed; we didn’t, and the “we” refers to each of us individually for not staying ahead, our state’s educational system for not staying at the cutting edge (including financial support), and our state leaders for missing all this. We’re all at fault, but the bottom line here is, we didn’t change, therefore we have changed.

4. A few years ago, I compared the Fortune 100 lists from 1991 and 2011, just 20 years apart. Only two of those 1991 companies didn’t actually make something (cars, petrol, drugs, soda, and so on); ninety-eight of the Fortune 100 made things. By 2011, only 54 did; literally half the Fortune 100 didn’t make anything! So who were many of the new largest companies? Walmart, Bank of America, AT&T, Verizon, AIG, Cardinal Health, CVS Caremark, United Healthcare, Costco, and Home Depot – and we hadn’t even gotten out of the top 30 yet! They don’t make anything; they just sell stuff. And, most revealing, the #7 company – the seventh largest on this vaunted list – is a company that not only doesn’t make something. It doesn’t even sell something: Berkshire Hathaway, a company that simply invests in all the others. By the way, don’t bother to ask for an update; it’s only gone further in the same direction. Things have changed, but people and companies that didn’t change, have changed, either in employment status and/or stock investment (individuals), or market share and/or sheer existence (companies). If you don’t change, you have changed.
And when it comes to change, there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what just happened.

“Change is the law of life,” said John Kennedy, “and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Like Tim says, “If you don’t change…”

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150503 – Congratulations, graduate. Now what?

Dear college senior,

Within the next two weeks you will be awarded your degree. Let me be the first to congratulate you. And let me be the first to ask you, whether you’ve secured your first job or not, “Now what?”

Now, you might take a quick glance at the calendar and ask why I didn’t ask you that question earlier in the year – and you’d actually have a point. So here’s my mea culpa and my explanation.

Yes, I should have, and here’s why I didn’t then and am doing so now. Every year in my practice at this time of year, I see an increasing number of soon-to-be or recent graduates from schools all over the country: your contemporaries. But one week in the middle of April, which is what prompted me to write this article at that time (there’s the explanation), I saw a cluster of five who had graduated since last May or who are about to graduate this month, all of whom had never been to their Career Centers during their four years (in two cases, five) of school. That’s inexcusable. But it’s a sad, persistent phenomenon.

Most college students aren’t motivated or incentivized (yes, you read that right, but that’s another conversation) to visit their career centers. One had an even lamer excuse: “My roommate went there last year and they weren’t helpful, so I didn’t go.” Geez.

So I’m writing to you today because I’m assuming that the following advice might be new to you, but I’m also confident it will be of value to you. The grand theme is simple: be proactive. Nothing in life ever comes to you. Things don’t just fall into place. You have to make things happen. So here are some simple but proactive and meaningful steps you can take.

Understand that your most important career skill is and always will be networking, but please also understand that professional networking is a whole lot different from the kind of social networking you’ve been doing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest. Yeah, they’ll continue to come into play, but as secondary or even tertiary players. These things tend to be casual, personal, impulsive, spontaneous, reactive, and – often – silly. That’s OK, in its place. Professional networking, on the other hand, is a planned, methodical, consistent, never-ending state of being, and those with the best managed careers will confirm that. The cardinal rule of networking, as my colleagues and I always say, is “A.B.C. – Always Be Connecting.” So…

Make sure to establish a professional LinkedIn profile and to keep it active. But also remember that being on LinkedIn is not, in itself, networking. LinkedIn is a wonderful networking tool, but networking is still something that you do on your feet, not on your keyboard. Get out there.

Join your alumni association – right now. You’re an alum, so start acting like one. Call or visit your alumni office and get involved. Sign up for events, offer help with events, get on a committee, and go to meetings and social gatherings. I’ve been an alumnus of FDU for 47 years (and counting), and nothing – repeat, nothing – has ever been more central to my career, or more rewarding during it, than my strong affiliation with my alumni association. I remain active in person and attached to its LinkedIn group, and I can’t give you any better advice than to do the same.

Join an industry and/or professional association. If you’ve landed a job, ask someone at work which association you should join. Then do it. There are regional or local chapters that hold regular meetings. Go. Read their newsletters and blogs. Attend their professional development workshops. Read other relevant publications, web sites, and blogs as well. Meet other people in your industry or occupation. In other words, get into the mainstream. If you’re determined to be in a certain industry or occupation, but not yet employed, join anyway. I hope I don’t have to explain why. Many associations, by the way, have low annual dues for students or recent grads.

Identify your next steps in development: Is it a Master’s degree? Certificates? Continuing education credits? Whatever it is, you must do it. With global competition in every field putting upward pressure on educational credentials, this is no longer a “nice to have.” For all intents and purposes, it’s a “must have.”

And finally (really, first), volunteer. You and the world will be better for it, so I don’t consider volunteering an option. To me, it’s a moral, ethical, social, and personal obligation. Now that we agree on that, if you’ll find an opportunity to do skills-based volunteering, where you can strut your stuff while being a good human being, you’ll see what the combination of doing well and doing good looks like.

OK, so one Sunday column isn’t going to make up for four or five years of not going to your Career Center, but this should be a good start for you. The overarching theme of the things we discussed here is that you must be proactive and involved, and that you have to make things happen.

If you get that – and apply it to everything you do – then you’ll be amazed at how things fall into place.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150426 – So you want to work for yourself, eh?

When I started my coaching practice 18 years ago, 99 of every 100 people I coached were looking for a job; the other one wanted advice on going into business. By the end of 2010, it had become a 75-25 split – one of every four – so I wrote an article about things to consider when going into business. It wasn’t the first article I wrote in the subject; that one was in 2006.

So here we are in 2015, having seen our job market go – in 18 years – from strong (1998) to stagnant (2006) to awful (2008-09) to good and getting better every day (current). Despite the waves, the number of people asking for advice on opening a business remains high (although I sense a small drop due to more job opportunities today).

In those articles (and other writings as well), I discussed why people start businesses; things you should do to improve chances of success; hard questions to ask yourself; and considerations to make regarding family, finances, work/life balance, personal health, and other things that will surround your business efforts.

There is, in essence, much to think about and think through before you go ahead with your business, but there are two realities I’d like to share with you.

I’ve started and run two businesses in my life: my current coaching, consulting, writing business (18 years ago next month) and one I ran for six years in the eighties. It was a conversation I had before I started my first business that I’d like to relate to you. First, the backdrop.

I graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1968 with a BA in Psychology. Among my many campus involvements, I was a member of a fraternity, and our faculty advisor was an accounting professor named Stanley Iwanski, a prince of a man, one of the precious inspirations in my life and in the lives of many other lucky FDU students he touched. Now, most of my fraternity brothers were business and accounting majors, and Stan incessantly used to rib the few of us who weren’t, reminding us almost daily that we were not ready for real life, let alone salvation! It was a running gag, heartily good-natured, and always with a wink and a pat on the back.
Well, off I went in 1968, staying in touch with my brothers and, less often but regularly enough, with Stan. As the years marched on, my interactions with him spaced further apart, as is natural, but Stan never lost track of me, as I found out one day in early 1984.

Having been through a couple of career changes already, I decided to start my own business and was busily planning it out when the phone rang one evening.

“Eli, this is Stan Iwanski,” he announced. “I just heard from Jeff [a fraternity brother] that you’re starting a business. Is that right?”

Thrilled to hear from him and excited to tell him about it, I answered, “Yup. Just registered the name and I’m set to go.” As I started to describe my idea and my plans, Stan cut me off and said, just as directly as he always did, “Sit down and listen to me. You need some advice.” He hadn’t changed a bit. Nor did he think this non-business major had changed either, it seemed. Same old Stan.

As long as I knew him, he’d never led anyone wrong, so I was all ears. And Stan’s two pieces of advice – his two reality bites – are what I want to relay to you.

“So you’re going to be your own boss, eh?” That being a big part of my motivation, I quickly answered. “You bet,” I eagerly responded, thinking that would suffice. Not a chance. “That’s wonderful,” said the sage, “Then you get to work half a day.” I knew I was getting set up for something, Stan being Stan, and here it came: “And you get to pick which 12 hours it’ll be.” Cute. But right on the nose. If anything, that’s an understatement and there is absolutely no getting around it.

So we kicked that around a little and then Stan put the next pearl on the table. “You want to be independent, is that it?” Another check. “Well, independence is a very expensive commodity,” he shot back, and there was nothing cute about the tone of his voice. And oh, was Stan ever right again! Think about funding your business, incurring the expenses with nowhere to forward an expense report, paying rent, hiring employees (which I did in the eighties but don’t now), paying healthcare costs, investing in marketing and technology, having cash tied up in inventory and supplies, carrying receivables, absorbing bad debt, and so on.

Stan – that loving, caring, avuncular prince – was Right! Right! Right! – and I confidently pass his advice on to you, not to dissuade you from starting your business, but to ask you to understand two realities of it.
Because the last thing Stan said to me was, “I didn’t discourage you, did I? I just want you to be ready.”
No, Stan, you didn’t discourage me at all. And I don’t think, 31 years later, you’re discouraging anyone else.

Stan says “Good luck in your business.”

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com