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

20150419 – A word to the wise: don’t get caught unprepared again.

Let’s say you just survived the biggest storm of the century – like Super Storm Sandy, for example – but not without some damage to your house, your car, and other material belongings. Let’s imagine further that this episode not only cost you some serious bucks, but also took an emotional toll on you and the family. You don’t ever want to go through that again. You don’t want to get caught unprepared again.

So you resolve to do some of the structural improvements you should have done before the storm that, had you done them, might have prevented some or all of the damage. Then, you and your family make up survival kits for a blackout and a communication plan for when and if you ever get separated. Next, you decide, at long last, to install that generator you’ve been talking about for years which, had you done it sooner, would have saved a thousand dollars of food in the refrigerator and the extra freezer in the basement. And finally, you re-examine your insurance policies because (dammit!) you weren’t covered for everything you thought.

Congratulations. You’re now better prepared for the next super storm which, you hope, will never show up but probably will. It may not be as bad as Sandy, but it will happen. So you have upped your readiness.

Now, let’s change a few words in this scenario. Let’s replace “storm” with “recession,” and instead of “physical damage,” let’s say “long-term unemployment.” Do you see where we’re going here?

The Great Recession was the biggest job market storm in more than four generations, so now that it has passed, we should ask what we should do to be better prepared for the next one, no matter what its intensity – because it will, to some degree or another. If we’ve learned anything from this disaster it’s that we never want be caught unprepared again.

As Henry David Thoreau said in Walden, 160 years ago, “You must live within yourself, and depend on yourself, always tucked up and ready for a start.” Tucked up and ready. Don’t you love that image?

So here’s what “tucked up and ready for a start” looks like as far as your career is concerned, now that the super storm called the Great Recession is gone but not forgotten.

Do you understand the world around you? In 2010, Google estimated that there is more human-produced information created every two days than existed in the world from the dawn of time through 2003. This information is measured in exabytes, quantities so vast that they are not only incomprehensible but meaningless in a raw sense. And just think how that estimate has been dwarfed by what has been created since 2013. All this data is not the point, though. What we have to realize is that the world of 2015 is a different place than the world of only a decade ago (never mind since the dawn of time) and that if we don’t stay current, the next storm will be even more devastating.

So, are you keeping up with your industry – not just here but around the world? Are you reading publications that matter – especially newspapers – on a daily basis? Do you take time to watch news stations from other places in the world? (That’s easy; we all have more cable stations than we can count. Some of them are even worth watching.) Do you read things you don’t initially understand – like Science Times on Tuesdays, for example – which I love to read not because I’ll understand the science but so that I’ll be aware of what my future will look like? Nobody will spoon-feed this to you, but if you don’t pick up the spoon yourself, you’ll perish of malnutrition.

Are you keeping vigilant? The most widespread problem I saw during and ensuing the recession was that what those who lost their jobs needed the most, they had the least: an updated resume that met the famous “Three C” criteria: clear, concise, and compelling. So what’s the lesson? Now that the storm has blown by, commit to a regular 6-month maintenance plan for your resume. Whether you think it needs it or not, it does – and always will.

And how about your network? The cardinal rule of networking, as I’ve said a thousand times, is “A.B.C. – Always Be Connecting.” Yet too many people slow down the networking when things get better. Just the opposite: every day is networking day.

Further, are you continuously watching for opportunities? In this strong economy and job market, they are popping up all over the place, and if you’ve been doing what was discussed thus far, you’ll see them.
Are you OK with change? You know it’s mandatory, but have you come to terms with it? Are you willing to keep changing? Once again, the words of Bob Dylan: “The line it is drawn the curse it is cast; the slow one now will later be fast. As the present now will later be past; the order is rapidly fadin’. And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’.”

You’ve survived the storm, which means you know how. So are you going to be prepared for the next one?

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150412 – The case for a truly global education

At the turn of the century when the US population was 285 million, we had 123 million Internet users, or 43 percent of our population. From a global perspective, we had 4.64 percent of the world’s population but 29.65 percent of the globe’s Internet users.

Today, in our population of 322 million, we have 280 million Internet users. That’s 87 percent of all Americans (a rate that ranks only 28th, by the way; 27 countries have a higher Internet penetration than we do).
Now look how the global picture has changed in 14 short years. With 4.45 percent of the world’s population – small (but steady) drop – we now have only 9.58 percent of the world’s Internet users, a dramatic shift.

These are not trivial statistics. On the contrary, they shed a bright light on an increasingly important career planning reality, whether you’re starting your career or are at any stage in it, and a simple decision you have to make: global education and awareness are not just nice; they are musts.

And that doesn’t apply only to those in their formal education years: traditionally the late teen/early 20-something continuing on straight out of high school in a community college or four-year bachelor’s degree program. It’s also pertinent for those pursuing graduate, doctoral, or even post-doc degrees, or anyone at any career stage wisely racking up the continuing education credentials.

This is more than lip service to globalization. That we live in a globalized world is a conclusion that was a no-brainer thirty years ago. That we haven’t learned fully what it means or what to do about it, though, is a realization still being reckoned with.

But it should be clear, by looking at the Internet use data, what’s going on. The rest of the
world is catching up – or already has caught up – with us as measured by Internet access, which is not an end in itself but a key indicator of a mighty trend behind those numbers: 21st century development and competitiveness around the globe depends on the Internet, plain and simple. While the US is in a very good position right now – a strong economy, job market, and stock market; high energy production along with innovation in technology, biotechnology, and manufacturing; and increasing exports along with the strengthening dollar – we’ve basically maxed out on our Internet penetration. As an absolute number, that’s probably no big deal, but as a relative number, it is.

In discussing development, think about your high school history lessons. Development of any nation, whether advanced or not, depended on all things physical: the building of roads, cities, schools, homes, and defenses; the exploration of interior territory, including natural resource discovery, navigation routes through rivers, and so on; the location of farms, mines, and forests; the strategic local establishment of banks, sources of money; and the proximity of people(s) to form communities, businesses, and other social or operational structures.

It’s vastly different today, though. In fact, many developing, underdeveloped, and even undeveloped nations have identified the Internet as their key development avenue. For what it’s worth, I believe the Internet is, in terms of impact and reach, the greatest invention in the history of humankind, if you consider how fast it has reached how many people. For the record, the Internet was created in 1969, with one email sent from UCLA to Stanford. That was it: two users. This curious, invisible thing remained unknown to most of us for years; it was something that the Defense Department and some businesses used.

Until a guy by the name of Tim Berners-Lee (Sir Timothy, I should say), a British computer scientist working in Switzerland came along, envisioning users all over the world being connected through an ever-increasing network. That was 1989, and the worldwide web was born (two years later it went live). It’s not quite 26 years later, and 3.1 billion people use it. So in the sense that it took only a quarter of a century to reach half the globe, it’s the human invention that went the farthest, fastest – and the thing with which most people have in common.

Now, back to the relative nature of all this. While the US will not slip in its usage of the Internet, we comprise a decreasing portion of its usage and, with that, our connection to finite global resources and markets. We have, in a word, competition: competition we’ve never had before, competition we have yet to understand, and even competition we have yet to identify. Make no mistake: this is not news to American business, but it seems to be news to an awful lot of people navigating their careers, and that’s today’s point.

You will succeed for the rest of your career, no matter how long that will be, by taking a global view in regard to your skills, experience, networks, and – beneath it all – your education. What constitutes a global education depends upon many factors, not the least of which is your own definition of it. But make no mistake. Not only is the maxim “Most people don’t see the world the way it is; they see it the way they are” more true than ever, it has also become more risky and reckless to ignore it.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150405 – Stop messing around with your resume’s objective.

Dear college senior or junior or anyone else just starting out,

It must be silly season again. Actually, as far as you’re concerned, it’s always silly season this time of year. You’re looking at the last month before graduation (seniors) or summer break (juniors), and although the job market has been getting better each year, you might still be among (preliminary estimate) 40 to 45 percent of your graduating class that will not have a job lined up by graduation day or, for juniors, two-thirds of your class that will not have a meaningful internship.

That’s not the silly part. What’s silly is the way many of you are handling this state of affairs, for the most part based on advice about some fundamental career and job search issues. If I write about them all, I’ll still be writing by the time you get your first job, so how about if we tackle the most fundamental of all – and perhaps help shorten the time until your first job offer?

But first, a backdrop.

With the exponential growth of web sites, social media, and so forth, it’s just about impossible to go through one day without something landing in your in box or social media page that has something to do with career advice. Each day, worldwide, there are nearly 200 billion emails (that’s 2.3 million per second!), 22 billion text messages, four billion Google searches, 3.5 billion blog posts, three quarters of a billion tweets, and 150 million Tumblr posts. This mass obsession is engaged in by 3.1 billion Internet users – rapidly nearing half of humanity – who access more than 915 million web sites (of which almost 50,000 get hacked each day). About 45 percent of all Internet users – 1.4 billion – are Facebook users, by the way. And to keep up with doing all this, the number of devices sold around the world each day is mind-boggling: nearly 750,000 computers, 850,000 tablets, and 4.5 million smart phones. Four and a half million smart phones: that’s greater than the population of 125 countries and/or dependent territories! No wonder we’re flooded.

OK, I’ve strayed off point, but that stuff is interesting, no? It’s also fertile ground for silliness – and it shows how easy it is to get silly and how hard it is to avoid silly.

Case in point: your resume, the most fundamental ingredient in your job search. For college seniors and juniors, this is likely your first resume, and this time of year seems to bring out more advice about it than any other.

Being in the business I’m in, I see a lot of this stuff, and over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten more than a little annoyed at one particular piece of advice that is (a) flying all over the place, and (b) wrong. (Admittedly, this is my opinion, and you can also call it wrong. Fine.)

The “advice” is to write an objective at the beginning of your resume (nothing silly yet), and to customize it for every job for which you apply (silly – very, very silly). There are many reasons this is wrong, but first let’s just see what might happen when you do that. Here’s a true story about Erica, who graduated with a communications degree in May 2014. She applied for many jobs, changing the objective for each, as advised. The problem soon surfaced when two versions of her resume landed in the same hiring manager’s email, and Erica’s credibility sank to zero. How did she find out? She’d been referred in by a friend who worked there, while all along she was sending resumes in response to other jobs on the company’s site. Her friend was tipped off “confidentially” by the hiring manager. That did it for Erica’s chances, which would have been great, given the employee referral. There’s nothing like a good example to make a point.

Examples aside, here’s what’s wrong with this advice. 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.

So (no surprise) my advice is quite different. First, if you’re going to customize anything, customize your cover letter. It boggles my mind when I see people customizing their resumes but sending the same “to whom it may concern” letter out with every resume. Geez.

Your objective doesn’t have to be – actually, shouldn’t be – so specific that you feel you need to change it every time. On the contrary, it should be comprehensive, expressing how your interests and qualifications align, so that the reader is enticed to read on. That’s easier said than done – and takes thought and work – but that’s what will keep you on track.

Stay true to yourself, stay on track, and stop messing around with your objective. Stop the silliness.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150329 – The best thing about telling the truth is…

“What do I say when asked in an interview why I’m not at my last employer anymore?”

That, (and variations on it) could be the most frequently-asked question I get – in my office, via email, and at career events. The reason for most people’s uncertainty is, in my observation, because they’re afraid that the truth (laid off, fired, downsized, or a host of other “negatives”) will work against them, but that telling anything other than the truth makes them rightfully uncomfortable.

So is this a rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma? No, it shouldn’t be, simply because the truth can, if you think this through, work in your favor much more powerfully than it can work against you. The key is to handle it right. Here are some examples.

Sonia has a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Communications, and was planning a career in corporate training. But she had one problem; she graduated in 2011, the third worst year in memory for college graduates entering the workplace. So ten months after graduation – and still no job – she applied for and got hired as a bank teller, not what she envisioned, but a job. Eighteen months later, with only a promotion to Teller II to show for her hard work, she decided to try again to launch her professional career in a vastly improved job market. Her problem now was that she kept hearing that she had teller experience but nothing in training. In a couple of phone screens, she was even asked why she was a teller, given her degree. The nerve! So after a few months of this frustration, she and I sat down to work out her rebuttal.

What did Sonia say after that? The truth. “Look,” she’d reply, “nearly 70 percent of my graduating class didn’t get the jobs we were hoping for.” And then, without hesitation, “But now I will, would love a shot at this training position, and want to tell why I think I’d be a great fit.” Sonia is now a training coordinator, right where she wanted to be, for a year now. She told the truth.

Michael, a rising sales star, was on his way to his second promotion in a couple of years. He had just posted his best quarter ever with the company, got his biggest bonus check to date, and – if that’s not enough – got his best performance review ever. Six weeks later he was fired.

It was a political hack-job, without question, engineered by a couple of people who were jealous of him, one of whom would benefit immediately from him Michael being there. He was blindsided – big time. Life can be unfair and this was proof.

Anyway, the question was, how does he explain this? Of course, you shouldn’t say anything negative about your past employer, but wouldn’t you have loved to in this case? The answer, though, was simple. We decided that he would wait for the “why aren’t you there” question, look at the interviewer with a puzzled look on his face, and say, “I really don’t know. I had the best quarter, biggest bonus, and best performance review ever, but I got walked out. I have no idea why I’m not there.” Not one word of his carefully crafted answer was negative about his employer (although inferences were dripping all over the place); it was all about refocusing the interviewer on Michael’s accomplishments, not his misfortune. That out of the way, he got face-to-face interviews with ten companies, three of which made exceptional offers. Not one interviewer pushed any further on his answer, which was nothing more than the truth.

Kathleen has spent 23 years in human resources, 18 on the strategic HR side, nine with her most recent employer. For the first seven years there, she got strong performance reviews, but the last two years her review was, in her words, “bad, to put it mildly.” Not surprisingly, the dreaded PIPs (performance improvement plans) went into effect, and sure enough, she was out.

OK, how do you handle that? By telling prospective employers that the company was wrong? Or that you disagreed? Maybe even contested it? All this would knock you out of contention for a job as fast as you can say PIP – and it initially did with Kathleen. But truth will prevail, so it’s not a matter of what you say but how you say it. “In a reorganization, I was kept on but my responsibilities were drastically changed. My function was strategic HR. They even outsourced many of the tactical functions (payroll, benefits administration), so I thought they and I were going in the same direction. Then they decided one person in house had to oversee all the contractors as an administrator, and I would be that person. Exactly the opposite direction I wanted to go, and not where my strengths are, but that was the corporate decision, and they followed through.” Once she started telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it took exactly four weeks for Kathleen to land her next strategic HR position.

So other than the truth being powerful and compelling, the best thing about telling the truth is…you never have to keep track of what you said.

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

20150322 – The tale of the Woodsman and the Saw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com

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

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

Yeah, I know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Amdur Coaching: www.amdurcoaching.com