What do You Say? Your Interviews

March 20, 2010

Interviewing can be a harrowing experience. Suddenly the spotlight is on you, the candidate, and they are asking you questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” and “What is your greatest weakness?”, and “Tell me about a time when you failed to complete a project on time,” and “Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor or co-worker and how you resolved it,” and “If you were a fish, what kind of fish would you be?” This is a crucial moment, the penultimate experience in your job search. They actually want to talk to you… So what do you say?

There is so much trepidation about interviewing that the internet is full of interviewing tips, pointers, tricks and advice. Seminars abound. Books fill store shelves. Experts are everywhere. Like most things in this process, there are at least as many different opinions as there are people giving them. But here’s the main thing you need to keep in mind: They’ve called you for a phone interview or for a face-to-face interview, so there’s something in your résumé that makes them think you’re qualified. You’ve made the semi-finals. They have recognized you as a qualified candidate for the job. That’s a huge step. As we say in the Career Search Network (www.careersearchnetwork.org), “You’ve made it to the prom.” Now the interview is the “dance”. You need to be ready. You’re probably going to be scooted around the dance floor by several members of the employer’s team, so you want to make a good impression and dance well with all of them. Following are some ideas I have found that make sense in the interview process. They may help you be a better dancer.

First, know yourself and your accomplishments. Have a vocabulary, developed from your résumé, that concisely describes what you can do to contribute to your new employer’s operation. The interview is not about you as much as it is about how you will fit into their culture and how you fill their needs. Having this vocabulary and a set of stories about your accomplishments will help you speak with confidence and authority about your expertise and how that expertise will help them fill their needs.

Second, research the organization. The reason you’re there for an interview is because they have a need, and they have a high degree of confidence that you will be able to fill it. You need to get up to speed on what their needs are and what the organization is all about: products, services, values, vision, mission, projects, problems, sales trends, industry trends, mergers and acquisitions, recent changes in management, stock price if it’s a public company, government regulations, etc. Again, the interview is not as much about you as it is about how you will fit into their culture and fill their need. Focus on the employer. Learn all you can about them. Some sources you can use to learn about the employer include your networking contacts (current and past employees, suppliers, service providers and vendors), recruiters, the organization’s website, and the internet. You can call and talk to the receptionist, the PR director, the marketing director or anyone who will answer the phone. Often, the research you do will make all the difference, because you could well be the only candidate who took the time to do the research.

Third, practice interviewing, preferably with someone who knows how to do interviews. You need confidence in the interview process, and the best way to build confidence is to practice. Find someone in your professional or personal network who is a recruiter or a hiring manager, and ask for their help. If all else fails, go on the internet and find a list of the top interview questions, print them out, and have someone ask you a few random questions from that list. Behavioral interviewing is a growing trend, so be prepared. These are the questions that start with something along the lines of, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Have you ever…” These questions will usually focus on specific bullet points from the job requisition, but they may also involve bullet points from your résumé. The closer your résumé resembles the job requisition and the better you know your own résumé, the better you’ll do. Often behavioral interview questions will focus on organizational behavior, basically how well you play with others. One major point here is, as always, to be honest. Everyone has had work situations where there were problems, projects that didn’t go well, people who were difficult. When asked about such problems, tell the truth and talk about how you positively resolved the problem at the time or what you have learned that will allow you to resolve or avoid such a problem in the future. This is what employers want to know.

Related to this, if they ask you to name your greatest weakness, be honest about a job-related weakness and what you have done or are doing to overcome that weakness. Let me emphasize that your focus needs to be on job related issues, not issues from your private life. With behavioral questions, interviewers are usually more interested in the way you answer the question than in the actual answer, so don’t get flustered, don’t get embarrassed or angry, and don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details, just tell the truth and focus on the positive outcome. If you can’t think of a positive outcome at this moment, get busy. You need to have your positive, forward-looking responses to tough questions ready to go. That’s the point of an interview. From your résumé and application, they’ve already determined you’re a good candidate. Now they want to know how you will fit into the organization. Be prepared to answer tough questions. The question for which you are unprepared is the question you’re likely to get. That just seems to be how things work.

When you arrive for the interview, remember that you are “on” from the moment you step onto the property, until the moment you leave the property. Greet everyone with a firm handshake, a confident and friendly smile, and look them in the eye. Eye contact sends a message of sincerity, respect and self confidence. Body language, tone of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, posture, how you are dressed, and how well you are groomed all say more than your words, so be sure you’re sending the right message and making a positive impression, ready for prime-time, so to speak. Everyone you meet will form an opinion about you, and the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager may very well ask any one or all of them their opinions. So be on your best behavior. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, treat everyone with kindness and respect. Not only is it just the right thing to do, it’s also in your best interest. When you are hired, these people will be your coworkers, and some of them may be reporting to you. You’ll need their cooperation, support and loyalty. In addition, if the hiring manager is like me, he or she WILL ask their opinions of you when you leave the interview, and will put a lot of stock in what they have to say about you.

Related to this, if the interview involves lunch, dinner, drinks, a round of golf, a sporting event or any other social activity, you’re still on an interview. Don’t let down your guard. Treat wait staff and other service people with respect. Be on your best behavior. Watch your language. Be careful how much you eat and drink. Tension and nervousness can distract you from your purpose. It may be easy to overindulge. Pay attention, because they’re paying attention to you. If the activity involves food, my recommendation is to avoid large, complicated or potentially messy dishes, and I suggest that you avoid alcohol, because you want to keep a clear head. If your host orders alcohol, you might order a glass of wine or beer, but I would nurse that one drink to the end of the meal or event. I also recommend staying on the inexpensive end of the menu. Reducing cost is a priority for almost every business, non-profit or government entity. In almost every case, demonstrating your cost consciousness in a social setting will be seen as a positive thing.

In the interview, don’t answer too quickly. Don’t start answering before they’ve finished asking their questions or making their statements. Wait a beat. Take a second and organize your thoughts. Don’t just start talking to fill silence. On a phone interview, silence usually means they’re taking notes. In a face-to-face interview, they may be taking notes or just waiting to see how long you can stand the silence. Think about your response. Why are they asking that question? What are they really trying to find out? How can you make your answer a positive reason for them to hire you? Be concise. Leave them wanting more and asking more questions, which gives you more time to organize your thoughts. Remember, answer the question, then shut up. Too much information is too much. If you can’t answer the question in less than two minutes, you need to work on the answer. There’s a reason TV commercials have gotten shorter. Our attention spans are shorter. Your answers need to be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.

When they say, “Tell me about yourself,” focus on how you discovered the passion for what you do. This question is not about where you grew up, your hobbies or how many pets you have. It’s about the job and how you developed the expertise that makes you a fit for the job. If you’ve prepared yourself with information about the organization and you have a confident sense of who you are, you can answer this question with a concise, two-minute statement that focuses on how your passion will fill their need. Be prepared to talk about your proudest professional moment, perhaps in context of a list of two or three other proud achievements. When they ask, “How or why did you leave your previous employer,” make your answer positive and focus on why you want to work for this organization. Be honest, but make it as positive and forward-looking as possible. Don’t complain or make negative remarks about your previous boss, coworkers or organization. That’s a flashing, red warning light to the prospective employer, indicating that you are going to be a problem. While you want the interview to become a conversation between professionals, don’t get too comfortable. It’s still an interview.

During the interview the most important questions may be the questions you ask. You need to ask questions that have to do with the organization, the job and how you intend to perform it. Do not ask how soon you will qualify for vacation or what paid holidays are offered. Ask what their goals are for this position. Ask what they see as the biggest challenge for this position. Ask how your performance will be evaluated. Ask what the next steps are in the hiring process. Ask them when you can start.

After the interview, you need to send hand written thank-you notes to everyone who talked to you in the process… that means you get their business cards, and send the notes before the end of the day if possible or the next day at the latest. I’ve heard of people who keep thank-you cards and stamps with them, in their brief cases or in the trunks of their cars, so they can write their notes and send them from the employer’s zip code. I know this sounds really old-school, but bear with me. People like to be thanked, and they like it to be personal. Emails are better than nothing, but are not really good enough, and a text message is almost worse than nothing. A job interview is not just another business transaction or social interaction, it’s the prelude to one of the most important events in anyone’s life; getting a job. Both you and the employer have expended a lot of time, energy and resources to this meeting. You need to give that effort more respect and consideration than an email or a text message conveys. A hand written thank-you note on a professional looking card is a rare and always appreciated gesture. Only about 20% of candidates send thank-you notes, yet I’ve heard that a “Thank You” is more valued by people than money. Like so much in life, some of the simplest things are the most important things. Think about it; has there ever been a time when you did not appreciate being sincerely thanked? The Golden Rule applies: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Send a thank-you note. You’ll be ahead of the pack.

Finally, follow up. If they said they’ll be in touch on Thursday, do not call or email before then, but if you don’t hear from them by the end of the day on Thursday, contact them on Friday. If they asked you to provide some additional information, do it immediately. If you read a relevant article online or in an industry periodical, send the link or a copy of the article with a brief note, “I saw this article and thought it was relevant to our discussion.” Even if you are not hired, don’t burn any bridges, but stay in touch in a respectful and relevant way. Position yourself as a professional resource, someone who can and will help them. You never know where it might lead. If the person they hired doesn’t work out, or if another position becomes available in the organization, you’ll probably be the first one they call.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional


What are You Learning? Your Reading List

December 21, 2009

In an earlier installment I emphasized the importance of differentiating yourself in your job search. There are many talented people in the job market right now, and you have to find ways to demonstrate how your individual contribution will make a positive difference to your next employer. My point was that education and certification can help make that difference. Related to this, maintaining an active reading list of industry books, periodicals and blogs will help keep you up to date in your field, maintaining your competitive edge and your differentiation. There’s not a lot more to be said about it than that. Part of this might include participating in online discussions, webinars, and answering questions in online industry groups. You need to stay involved with your industry by reading as much as you can.

You also need to establish and maintain your involvement with the professional association that represents your field and/or industry. This is another critical factor in keeping in touch with industry trends. This is as important when you’re between jobs as it is while you’re on the job. Probably more important, because it’s much easier to fall behind when you’re out of work. Many industry association groups offer discounted or even free membership renewals for those in job transition. Check with your association to see if they offer such a program. Many associations also provide a job board and even a search agent on their website to help members connect with job opportunities. You need to take advantage of these services and ask for help if you need it.

You need to stay in touch with general business trends as well. No matter what your field, business trends affect it. Healthcare, education, government, non-profit, religious, all these organizations are affected by business trends as they depend either directly or indirectly on donations or tax revenues that are connected to business activity. Keeping up with business news can sometimes be an emotional tight-rope walk, because keeping abreast of the news during these tough economic times can easily lead to depression and despair. You need to keep in touch with what’s going on in business without allowing yourself to get caught up in the bad news. Be aware of what’s going on in the world, but move on and get back to work. Your job is to find a job, and you have to keep a positive attitude in order to present confidence during interviews.

Please review my earlier posting entitled, “What do You Know? Your Education & Certifications”. In many cases education and certification isn’t just a matter of differentiation, it’s a matter of necessity just to get an interview. Remember, your education and certifications are investments in your career and in your family’s future. Don’t just dismiss it out of hand because it will be difficult to do. Give it due consideration in the grand scheme of your vision and mission for your life.

You need to read other things too. Read for pleasure or for spiritual growth as well. Cultivate your own hobbies and interests. There’s an old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.” Spend some of your time reading and learning new things about your hobbies and interests. These things not only provide nourishment for the soul, they can lead to good talking points during an interview. More on this in a future posting, but your interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation. Cultivating your hobbies and interests, and having new things to talk about can open up lines of communication, building rapport between you and your interviewer. While the interview is always much more about the organization than it is about you, it’s also about establishing the likeability factor. Your interviewers want to know how you will fit into the organization, not just as a cog in the machine, but also as a human being in a group of human beings. Part of building the likeability factor is by having something good and positive, beyond business, to talk about.
Read, read, read, and read some more. Surveys have shown that the most successful business people are constant readers and learners. Be one of them.
Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

Where do You Want to Work? Your Target Employers

September 21, 2009

Do you know where you want to work? Do you know who you want to work for? Do you know where you’ll fit in? If you’ve done your homework on who you are and how you present yourself, you’ve taken the first steps in this process. You need to determine where you want to work, what kind of organization you want to be associated with, and what kind of boss you want to report to. It’s tempting, especially in a tough job market, to just say, “Hey, I’ll take anything!” but here again, you might want to rethink that. There are a lot of reasons why you want to find a good fit. As a friend of mine said recently, “You need a job bad, but you don’t need a bad job.” That’s the best reason I can think of to choose your potential employer wisely, but associated with that broad yet spot-on statement is the fact that a bad job fit creates stress and misery for you and disappoints your employer. And that leads, sooner or later, to your looking for another job. Searching for a job is misery enough! Don’t set yourself up to do it again anytime soon! Do your best to choose your next employer wisely. Do your research. Make sure the organization and their culture will be a good fit for you. No job is perfect, but you can and should spend some time doing your part to make your next employment situation as pleasant and productive as it can be. As part of this process, you also need to figure out whether you can or should relocate and how far you’re willing to commute. These issues are important to your overall quality of life.

So where do you want to work? Did you like working for your former employer? Did you like working in that industry? If so, make a list of your former employer’s competitors. As long as you aren’t constrained by a non-compete agreement, start your search by looking for jobs in the same industry in which you worked previously. You know that business, so it should be a relatively easy fit.

Next, look at your former employer’s suppliers and service providers. What companies provided goods and services that kept your former employer supplied and in business? You probably have a lot of industry knowledge and skills that are transferrable because of the relationship between your former employer’s business and the businesses of these suppliers and service providers. Suppliers would include manufactures and wholesalers of goods and supplies that your employer sold, processed or used in their day-to-day business. Service providers would include attorneys, accountants, insurance agents and carriers, computer, electrical and telecom service and repair companies, engineers, architects, advertising agencies, etc. Whatever your former employer did, there were other companies that supported that work. Once again, you probably have industry knowledge and skills that relate well to the support companies’ businesses.

You may want to change industries. In previous posts, I’ve written about the opportunities for reassessment, retooling and renewal offered by this transition in your life. In some ways, it makes your job search much more challenging, but it also offers a lot of new options that may invigorate your work life. What kind of work have you always wanted to do? What kind of organization have you always wanted to work for? What skills do you have that are transferrable to that type of organization? Make a list of those organizations, start doing research on them, and start applying for jobs.

Next, look at the companies you do business with, companies that support your life. You may admire and be interested in working for these companies: groceries, dry cleaners, pharmacies, real estate agencies, doctors’ offices, restaurants, phone companies, cable companies, airlines, credit card companies, etc. Next, think outside the box. Don’t forget that there are dozens of organizations all around you that employ people, some well known, some less so: cities, counties, state government, US government, school districts, hospitals, colleges, universities, churches, private schools, professional sports teams, sports and concert venues, utility companies, natural resource authorities, public transportation authorities, chambers of commerce, etc. Your skills may be transferrable to any number of these organizations.

As you create your list of target employers, I recommend you establish a separate “favorites” or “bookmarked” folder on your web browser for your “job search” and put each target organization’s web address in that folder. If they have a career page on their website, use that page as your favorite or bookmarked page for that employer. It makes it a lot easier to return to. Many larger employers have a “search agent” feature built into their career web page. When you establish a profile and job preferences and activate the agent, it will send matching jobs to you by email.

Out of your list of target employers, focus on an elite, preferred list of employers you really want to work for the most, and spend extra time researching what they do, what their culture is like, and who works there whom you may know. You need to become an expert on their strengths, vision and mission. The “Company Search” function on LinkedIn works very well for this purpose. It allows you to find people with whom you are connected, directly or indirectly, who work in the organization. I talked about networking in previous posts, and this is where your employer research connects with your personal and professional networking, where the power of the internet can facility face-to-face interaction. You’re more likely to get the job if you make a personal connection with someone inside the organization.

Other profiles and search agents you can establish would be on Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo! HotJobs and other big internet job boards. These boards aren’t a lot of help to you in targeting employers, but if a target employer lists a job in your field on one of these boards, you’ll be notified. Other ways to find information about employers is to use Google or other search engines, contact recruiters who specialize in your industry, and go to www.Search4UInc.com, a site established by my friend, Foster Williams, a long-time recruiter and cofounder of the Career Search Network. If you’re in the DFW area, Tomas Jackson has created a list of about 14,000 employers in the DFW metropolitan area based on the US government’s NAICS classifications. You can sort this list by industry, annual revenue, headcount, zip code or city. Go to www.thomasjackson.info and click on the “Sale Fish” icon on the left side of the screen. Similar information can be compiled for any metropolitan area in the US, and Tom tells you how to do it on his site.

Another method to consider is “old school”. Simply go through the phone book and look for companies that might need your skills or where you might want to work. Call and get the name of the president or HR director, and mail them your résumé. The daughter of a colleague of mine got a job in two days doing this; however, that was a few years ago. The point is, not everyone is using the internet to advertise jobs or even to advertise their company, so this is one way to get connected to the so-called “hidden jobs” in organizations. Meanwhile, with newspapers having so much trouble in recent years, some organizations are returning to classified ads, because advertising rates have become more affordable in many cases. Don’t ignore the newspaper. Also be sure to read the business section of the newspaper to find out what companies are moving and shaking in your area. Consider subscribing to a local business newspaper. In the DFW area, we have the Fort Worth Business Press and the Dallas Business Journal. Again, this is where you’ll find articles about companies that are growing, moving up, moving down, moving in or moving out. Remember, if you’re going to mail or hand-deliver a hard copy of your résumé, be sure to print it on high-grade paper and do not staple it. I covered this at length in a previous post. With dozens of people applying for every job, your high-quality document may be the one that stands out in a sea of paper.

Also be on the lookout while you’re driving around town. Every business district has dozens, if not hundreds, of employers. Keep your eyes open for companies where you might want to work or which might need your skills. I’ve gotten target employers from billboards and signs on delivery and service vehicles. You never know where the next lead will come from, so be aware.

Use the resources at your state employment agency. In Texas we have the Texas Workforce Commission, with offices throughout the state and the very useful www.WorkInTexas.com, where you can establish your profile and set up a search agent. They also provide guidance, workshops, information about networking groups and job fairs, and access to computers and the internet to help you with your search. In Texas, you don’t have to be drawing unemployment benefits to use the services of this agency; all you have to be is a citizen of the state. Even if you’re still working, you can use these services. These days, the offices are pretty busy, but they are a valuable resource.

Another source of information about potential employers is your industry’s professional association. For me it’s the Fort Worth Human Resources Management Association (FWHRMA), which is an affiliate of the national Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). SHRM actually has a career page on its website and a search agent. Connect with your professional association, attend meetings, and make sure they are aware that you’re looking for a job.

Attend job fairs and talk to folks at the booths. I’ve said in previous posts that a job fair is a great place to practice and use your 10-second commercial. That’s what sets you apart from the people who are just walking up and asking if they’ve got any jobs. The job fair is also a good place for you to get a look at employers and to get an idea about their culture.

You need to do a little of everything, in your job search. There’s not one single, magic bullet that’s going to deliver a job to you. On average, you’re most likely to get a job through some kind of personal contact. That’s where you need to spend the bulk of your time; meeting and developing connections with real people in the real world, but you need to do your research, and a lot of that research should be done online. Just don’t get stuck in front of the computer. The people who are going to hire you are OUT THERE. Use the computer only as a tool to apply for jobs and to figure out how to meet and connect with them… OUT THERE.

Treat your job search just like a job. You’ve probably heard the saying that looking for a job is the hardest job you’ll ever have. Believe it. You need to be disciplined, systematic, keep records, and put in the time necessary to accomplish your goal, getting a good job with an organization worthy of your talent.

Ret Martin

SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional



To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

Who do You Tell? Your Personal & Professional Networks

August 9, 2009

Who do you tell that you’re looking for a job? The answer to this question is pretty simple. Everyone! There was a time when being out of work was looked down upon. In previous posts I’ve emphasized the fact that unless you were fired from your last job for gross misconduct, being out of work is not your fault. There may still be a few people around who look down on you for being out of work, but they’re out of touch with what’s really going on in the job market. They may even have a fear of being around you, as if they might get some “unemployment cooties” on them. Ignore them. They don’t want to help you anyway. They’re only interested in their own skins.

You need to market yourself to everyone you know and to everyone you meet. You never know where your next opportunity will come from, and it’s generally agreed that you’re more likely to get your next job through personal networking contacts than through any other method. Posting your résumé on the big job boards and applying to posted positions online are necessary tools, but they are only part of the equation. You need to be spending 60 to 70, maybe even 80 percent of your time in contact with real people in the real world.

The first step is to make sure people with whom you are regularly in contact know you’re looking for a job. This is your personal network, including family members, neighbors, people at your church, civic groups, clubs, the gym, your kids’ teachers, your kids’ sports teams, shopkeepers, etc. These folks are in contact with other people every day. They know your reputation in the community and can likely say good things about you. Perfect your 10-second commercial, making sure you can clearly state what you do and the job you want so these folks can remember it and pass it on. And when they ask you how you’re doing the next time they see you, say, “Doing great! Still looking for the right job opportunity.” Also, consider volunteering at your church or community organizations. You don’t want to take too much time away from your job search, but a few hours every week is beneficial. Giving of yourself makes you feel good, and it gives you more positive visibility in the community.

The next step is to reconnect with old friends and former business colleagues. By business colleagues, I mean people with whom you worked both inside and outside your employers’ organizations. This would include, coworkers, subordinates, supervisors, managers, directors, officers, vendors, suppliers, service providers, bankers, attorneys, insurance agents, etc. This is your professional network. LinkedIn and facebook have revolutionized the reconnection process. I recommend that you establish profiles on both sites and start searching for people from your past, and let them know you’re looking for a position. The basic service is free on both sites, which is sufficient for my purposes, but there are additional features that you can buy to enhance the utility of these sites. Blow the dust off your old Rolodex and review your Outlook Contacts. Making contact with email and the good, old-fashioned telephone are still great methods as well. Use all the tools at your disposal, just reestablish the connections and redevelop the relationships. Once again, you need to be clear and concise in describing what you do and the type and location of the position you’re looking for.

If you have not done so already, you need to line up your professional references. Spend some time asking people with whom you’ve worked if they are willing to act as a professional reference, and discuss with them what they will say about you when contacted. If what they say is not really what will help you, just thank them for their time and leave them off your reference list. References should include a current mailing address, phone number and email address. Related to this, you need to request recommendations via your LinkedIn connections. The best way to solicit recommendations is to make recommendations. As I’ve said many times in this blog, this must be genuine. Take some time to develop a thoughtful and meaningful recommendation. Fluff is easy to spot and not very helpful to anyone. Your references and recommendations will establish a common theme around your strengths and your expertise, providing a living testimony of your working history and professionalism. And remember when you’re back at work, you need to cultivate your professional network, both inside and outside the organization. If you leave a path of destruction in your wake, you will have a much harder time the next time you are looking for work. Once again, how you treat people, on the job or between jobs, is part of your brand. If your brand includes things like professionalism, courtesy and kindness, you will have a different – and I think better – experience in the job search than if your brand includes things like selfishness, bitterness and anger. Your professional image on the job matters and has lasting consequences. Remember it.

There are likely several people in your professional network whose opinion means a lot to you. Ask for 15 or 20 minutes of their time to come to their office and to visit with them about your résumé, as you value their opinion and guidance. You’re not asking for a job; you’re asking for their help, and since you’re not asking for a job, a meal or a cup of coffee, it takes a lot of pressure off them. Most people want to help and most can spare 15 or 20 minutes of their time in their own offices. Meanwhile this keeps you in contact with people who are working, keeps your brain engaged in your industry, and will likely give you additional contacts, resources and ideas to improve your résumé and your search.

Third, establish or maintain your membership in professional associations, and make sure they know you’re looking for a job. Many professional associations offer discounts to members who are out of work, and some maintain job boards of their own. Of course, these associations are also conduits, if not direct suppliers, for required continuing education and professional development. Be sure to attend meetings and volunteer. Again, volunteering gets you in front of a lot of people, gives you additional résumé material, and gives you something positive to say when the interviewer asks, “What have you been doing while you’ve been out of work?”

Fourth, make new connections wherever you can. Don’t be bashful. Put on your game face and get out there. Here in the DFW area we have many job-search networking groups, groups of fellow job seekers who get together to develop job-search skills, make new connections, share leads, and generally lift each other’s spirits. If you’re in the DFW area, go to http://careerdfw.org to see an all but exhaustive list of career search networking groups operating around here. There are other similar groups in other areas. Do your research on the web and get connected.

So what is effective networking? It’s an easily misunderstood and abused concept. Some people think if they can just collect as many business cards and LinkedIn contacts as possible, they are somehow networking. These are people who are so busy thinking about what they need or want that they aren’t paying attention to others. That’s a bad habit, because when they get an interview, it will show. The employer has a need that they’re trying to fill. If you walk in there thinking it’s all about you, you’ll be sending the message that their need isn’t important to you. In an interview, it’s all about the employer and how you are the best person to fill their need. Networking is a great place to hone the skill of asking, “What can I do for you?” This may require a fundamental change in your thinking, but it’s critical. Effective networking is about finding out what others need while communicating your skills, your personality, and your desires. Networking is a conversation. It’s about developing relationships that go beyond a handshake and exchanging business cards.

My friend Paul Vercher (http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulvercher) says that your professional network is a “fragile ecosystem.” You need to treat the people in your network with respect. Don’t put undue burdens on them or make frivolous introductions of people you barely know. If you do that very often, it won’t take long for your network to fall apart, because the people in it no longer feel that they can trust you. People almost always want to help, but if they feel they are being taken advantage of, abused or disrespected, they will withdraw their help. Don’t harass your network contacts with constant reminders that you’re looking for a job. Don’t make an introduction if you don’t really know the work, reputation or character of the person being introduced. Spend time getting to know the people in your network, so if an introduction is requested, you can speak with confidence about the person making the request.

You do need to keep your network updated as to your status, but you need to do this in a way that does not come across as desperate or needy. Typing “Still Looking for a Job” in the status bar on LinkedIn, facebook, twitter or your blog every few days is NOT the way to do this. People want to help, but are easily put off by needy, grasping, repetitious or annoying people. It’s human nature. Keep your updates positive, concise and not too frequent. You don’t want to wear people out. People who know you and like you want to know how you’re doing, and as I keep saying, they do want to help you. They just may not know how at this time. If you remind them too often that you’re still in the job market, it builds a sense of anxiety. So update your network from time to time to let them know you’re available, but not too frequently. Keep it brief, positive, entertaining if possible, and remind them what you’re looking for. Ask if you can send them your résumé, as they may not be fully aware of your work, but don’t force it on them. That too can come across as needy.

Develop your personal and professional network. Protect and cultivate it. The way you handle your network is an extension of your personal brand. You want to demonstrate your professionalism in how you manage these relationships, showing that you genuinely care about these people. By doing this well, you will not only improve your probability of landing a job sooner, you will develop a network of people on whom you can rely for advice and expertise, people who trust and care about you, people who could become clients for you or your future employer.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

How do You Feel? Your Emotional Condition

July 19, 2009

How you feel affects your performance. This is as true when you are out of work as it is when you are at work. The problem is, being out of work is generally a miserable condition. It’s a bummer. It stinks. It… well you know what I mean. There’s little or no money coming in, but the bills continue to hit every month. You may have a sense that the world is passing you by and that your skills are getting rusty. You may even feel that people around you see you as a failure. It’s painful and not a lot of fun. Somehow in the midst of this turmoil, you have to be on top of your game when you go for an interview, have a telephone screening, or go to a job fair. You have to convey confidence. You have to appear energetic. You have to look, sound and act like someone employers want to hire. You have to be “on”. They don’t want someone who’s “off”. They don’t want bitterness. They don’t want anger. They don’t want depression. You won’t find any of these traits on a job description. So how do you pull this off?

Well, like the other aspects of your personal presentation, you can’t fake it. Somehow, some way, you have to develop and maintain a positive mental attitude. It has to be real. It’s not something you put on and take off. It’s something you have to believe. I am not a mental health professional, but I can give you some tips that have helped me to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of the job search process. If you find that these tips fall short for you, please take further steps to deal with your emotions in a positive way. There are plenty of career coaches and certified professionals who can guide you through the process. Seek them out, and ask for help. You are going through a very tough time, and there are people ready, eager and able to help. That in itself is one of the greatest discoveries you will make during this process. People do want to help. Take advantage of these resources.

In my first post on this blog, I wrote that the first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Don’t get the idea that there’s anything wrong with you or that you could have done something differently. Unless you were fired for gross misconduct, the situation you are in is not your fault. Although it may feel like sometimes, you are not the Titanic, and your job loss is not a fatal iceberg. You need to mentally wipe off the black mark you think is on your forehead. You’re in this situation as a result of what appears to be the greatest economic restructuring of western society in 70 years. Millions of people are being affected by this upheaval. It’s not just you.

Losing a job is a major loss in your life. It is like a death. Many people don’t realize this. They think they’re being mature to treat the loss as if it’s no big deal. Well, it is a big deal, and I think just about every mental health professional you talk to will tell you that when there’s a death in your circle of family, friends or acquaintances, you have to grieve. Give yourself time to grieve. Emotions are real, both the emotions we think of as positive and the emotions we think of as negative. Love, joy, fulfillment, anger, sadness and longing are all real states that we have to deal with in a positive way to maintain a healthy balance in our lives. Everyone has to deal with this. You’re human. You have emotions. You have to deal with this.

Losing your job is a sad thing. You may also be angry about it. You may even feel relieved, especially if things were really tough at the end. You may feel guilty for feeling relieved. You are bound to have a lot of emotions about your job loss. Give yourself some time to think about these things, some time to unpack the feelings you have, and maybe talk about these things with family, friends, former coworkers, clergy, a career coach or a mental health professional who can help you focus and maintain forward progress. Schedule time to do this. Pay attention to it, place a time limit on it, and move past it. If you don’t, you can expect these emotions to bob to the surface at really inconvenient times, disrupting your sleep, your recreation time with family and friends, or your interviews. Give yourself time to grieve, to deal with the emotions associated with the loss of your job, then move on.

Next, decompress. Give yourself time to relax. If the last days, weeks, months or years on the job were particularly stressful, you need to give yourself a breather. Take a sort of “vacation”. Don’t dive right into the job search. Even if you’ve been in the job search for a while, it’s a good idea to take a break from time to time. What I’m talking about doesn’t have to be expensive or lengthy. It shouldn’t be anyway: a day or two, maybe a week, a drive in the country, a day at the local museum, zoo or a park, nothing extravagant. You just want to give yourself some time to pop your head up above the crowd, the noise and the pressure to get a job, and to look around. If you’ve taken the time to grieve, you will probably see the world in a whole new way. Where you may have seen obstacles before, you may see opportunities now. Once again, pay attention to this. Schedule it. Place a time limit on it, then move on into the job search process, renewed and possibly redirected.

Take care of your mind and body. Catch up and keep up with your reading for your industry. Obtain additional education, technical skills and certifications, and keep current with the certifications or licenses that you have. Eat right, get sleep and exercise. I know a number of people who are unemployed who say it’s given them the opportunity to get into their best physical condition in years. Reconnect with your family and friends. This is a unique opportunity in your life to reset priorities and reduce your stress.

When you’ve recognized and dealt with your emotions, given yourself time to rest, and reset some priorities, it’s time to move on. You will have to continue dealing with emotions, getting rest, and resetting priorities as you go along, but you have to decide to move forward. A ship’s rudder does nothing if the ship isn’t moving. The old job is over. The old career may be over. It is time to move forward. When you’re rested and emotionally recharged, your forward motion will be more focused and productive. Get up and get dressed every day. Treat your job search like a job. Many have said searching for a job is the hardest job you’ll ever have. Handle it accordingly. Don’t become complacent. Act like the professional you are. Put in the hours necessary to get the job done, and take the time off necessary to recuperate and renew your energy.

Turn off the nightly news, and get connected with real people in the real world. It will make a big difference in your outlook, and you’re more likely to land a position through all the interlocking, personal connections. You never know where that lead will come from, so spend time with people, improving your interpersonal skills, honing your message, and grooming your personal presentation. I wrote in a previous post that it’s not the end-of-the-world scenario that many news outlets might lead you to believe. There are jobs to be filled. Life has not come to a complete halt. People are working, manufacturers are producing, people are buying goods and services, and workers are retiring, moving or otherwise leaving the workforce. Those jobs have to be filled. Companies are hiring. Even companies that have a “hiring freeze” are or soon will be hiring, because people in critical positions move on for whatever reason all the time. Hiring freezes are almost always permeable and very rarely permanent, so check back often with that company’s career web page. You’ll see. They have jobs to fill.

While you need to put in applications every week through the internet, you also need to get involved with people out in the community. You have to get out from in front of the computer, just as you have to get out from in front of the TV. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of connecting with people. Community service groups, religious organizations, professional development associations, job search networking groups, your kids’ sports teams, your kids’ schools; schedule time to be involved and/or volunteer with a few of these groups every week. These activities will help provide structure to your week, and will help lift your mood every time. Ultimately, the best leads I’ve gotten have been through face-to-face networking with real people in the real world.

I have found great encouragement through a number of job search networking groups, learning new skills and meeting new people, which has made a huge difference in my outlook, and will greatly improve the probability of my landing a job. Check out http://www.CareerDFW.org for a listing of most (if not all) of the job search networking groups in the DFW area. There are similar groups in other cities across the country as well. You may have to do a little searching via the internet or through the local office of your state’s unemployment services to find them. Some networking groups want to charge you money to join. Be cautious and make sure you’re receiving real value and they’re not charging you exorbitant fees for things you can get for free elsewhere. The Career Solutions Workshop seems to be a truly great value for the small fee that is charged (www.careersolutionsworkshop.com). Everyone to whom I’ve spoken who has participated in this 12-week, modular program has been very complimentary. They have a strong presence in the DFW area. Unfortunately, it’s not available everywhere.

A warning: if you go to a job search networking group and they’re a bunch of sad-sacks, find another group. You need to give and receive positive encouragement. You do not need to sit around and complain about how bad things are. You also need to approach this process with a giving attitude. You’ve heard the saying, “You get out what you put in.” That’s true here as well. If your approach is, “What’s in it for me?” you won’t get much out of it at all. If your approach is, “What can I do to help?” you will reap the benefits of new friendships, improved professional skills and fun… yes, actual fun. The point is, find a group of people who want to help each other find jobs and get involved. It will change your perspective. And when you have those days when you don’t want to go to a meeting, go anyway. You will always be glad you did.

Take some time to go through the process of dealing with your emotions, getting rest and resetting your priorities. Put the old job behind you and start moving forward. For help with this process, contact:

Douglas Anderson
One Life Coach


Diane Siegel
Livingston Siegel Associates

or contact the career coach or mental health professional of your choice. Take the time to get your head right so you’re ready to sell Brand “You” at your next interview or job fair. You’ll find it’s a very worthwhile investment.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

How do You Present Yourself? (Part 2) Your Digital Footprint

July 14, 2009

The importance of your digital footprint, your image in the virtual realm, is growing, as more and more recruiters and employers are looking at it as a means of evaluating candidates. Whether you think you have one or not, you probably have a digital footprint. Want to see? Just Google your name. If you have a fairly common name, you may get millions of hits, and it may take several pages of scrolling to find a relevant post about you. Poke around a little bit and you’ll probably find something related to you. Google your name and your city, or your name and your last employer, and you’re even more likely to find relevant posts about you, and those posts will appear much higher in the stack of results. Now, what you’ve just done is exactly what recruiters and employers do when they get your résumé. They search for your digital footprint to see what it says about you.

What does the internet say about you? Does it say a lot? Does it say what you want it to say? Does it say nothing? It is possible that you’ll find nothing, but that becomes less and less likely every day. If you’re a professional, and Google or some other search engine finds nothing about you on the internet, that’s probably not a good thing. Employers today want people who are up to date with technology, who are in touch with social, technological and geopolitical trends. These trends affect business, and being out of touch with them is not generally considered to be an admirable trait. It’s also possible that what you find is irrelevant or unflattering. Is that what you want employers to see?

There are ways to establish, expand and maintain a positive, relevant digital footprint, and this process is just as important as crafting your personal presentation. Don’t neglect this. Your digital footprint is a valuable asset both while you’re looking for a job and when you’re in a job. There are a lot of professionals working today who have no idea why having a LinkedIn profile might be important. First, it gives you and your company more visibility to current and potential clients and business partners. Second, it give you more visibility to potential employers. You never know when you’ll need that visibility. You want your personal presentation in cyberspace to be consistent with your personal presentation in the physical world. You want it to portray Brand “You” with the same kind of consistency and professionalism as your résumé, the way you speak, and how your dress. If it doesn’t, your prospective employer may well be sitting there looking at you and/or your résumé, then looking at the computer screen and wondering, “Is this the same person?” or worse, “Do I want someone like THIS on my team?” Don’t kid yourself. Recruiters and employers ARE looking at your digital footprint. They ARE looking at MySpace and facebook, as well as LinkedIn. You can try to ignore it, you can pretend it doesn’t matter, or you can take it seriously and put some effort into creating and maintaining a professional presentation.

There are many great resources to learn more about building and maintaining your digital presence. What I’m going to provide is really just scratching the surface, but I can tell you from my personal experience, just the few things I’ve done in this arena have improved my visibility on Google from 1 entry about 5 pages down in the search results to 4 entries on the first page of the search results. If you are very technically savvy, you can improve and expand on everything I’m going to cover below.

First step for the professional: LinkedIn. Go to http://www.linkedin.com and establish a profile. What is a profile? It’s pretty much like a digital résumé, but you can do a lot more with it. My friend Kim Kozak (http://www.linkedin.com/in/kozak) calls it your 30-minute infomercial. Start with your résumé and build from there. Be sure your profile lines up with your résumé with regard to dates, where you’ve worked and what you’ve done. Any conflicts between these “documents” will be a red flag to recruiters and hiring managers. Next, make connections with former colleagues, both from inside and outside organizations where you’ve worked. Once you make those connections, solicit and give honest recommendations. When I ask for a recommendation, I ask that if the colleague feels that he or she knows my work well enough to give me a recommendation, it will be greatly appreciated, and if not, no worries. I value our relationship regardless. I will discuss networking more in a future posting, but you need to understand that your professional network is fragile, so treat it with care and respect. Don’t try to play games with recommendations and connections. Keep it real, and those recommendations will ring true when recruiters and employers read them. There are a lot of features on LinkedIn that will help expand and improve your digital footprint, most of which don’t cost anything to use. You can add links to websites where you might have a blog or an expanded, a personal website, PowerPoint presentations, video presentations, portfolios of your work, etc. The possibilities are endless.

To post a photo or not to post a photo? That is the OFCCP question. Government contractors (and there are a lot more of these than you probably think there are) are subject to enforcement of Equal Employment Opportunity regulations by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Under the EEO, not only the intent to discriminate, but also the effect of discrimination, intended or not, is subject to enforcement actions. To combat potential allegations of discrimination, many recruiters and hiring managers have applied the principle, “If you see a picture, throw it away,” and literally thrown the baby (the résumé of a qualified candidate) out with the bathwater (an attached photo). This same principle, applied to paper résumés in the past, has often been translated to internet profiles. Fortunately, savvy recruiters are now using software that blocks the picture from online profiles, so this should no longer be a problem. Meanwhile, LinkedIn does not consider your profile to be complete without a photo. If your profile is not at 100%, it will not appear at the top of the stack of search results when recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates.

Some people don’t want their picture on their profiles because they are concerned about discrimination, some are concerned about personal safety, and some just don’t have a picture they like. Many have attempted to resolve this by posting some other kind of picture, such as a flower, a sunset, their favorite car, etc. Others have created a business logo and posted that. One way or another, you need to get your LinkedIn profile to 100%, and to do that, you’re going to have to post something for a picture. Make it professional, whatever you do. I do not recommend a picture from your vacation or from last week’s backyard barbeque. I especially do not recommend a picture from any party. I also do not recommend a picture with anyone other than you in it, because it can become very confusing as to who’s who in the picture. My recommendation: a professional “head shot”.

Facebook is another question. While LinkedIn is considered to be the premier professional networking site, facebook has been considered much more of a social site aimed at young adults. The problem is, the young adults who started using facebook some years ago have never stopped using it. The site continues to be dominated by social networking, but more and more people are using the site professionally as well. Since its origins are as a social networking site, a lot of people have used it to post all kinds of personal notes and photos, things they may not be crazy about having prospective employers looking at. In fact, a few weeks ago, a colleague at the Southlake Focus Group (http://southlakefocusgroup.com) was so concerned about this that he actually said that if you’re on facebook, you need to get off. I disagree.

You’re in the job search. You need all the professional exposure you can get, and facebook is just too important a portal to ignore. Fortunately, facebook has tools you can use to CONTROL what appears on your “wall”. First, there is a control in the settings that you can check so that no one can post anything to your wall without your approval. That is step one. Step two: if there’s stuff on your wall you want removed, remove it. Every entry and every photo can be removed. You’re in the job search. This is serious business. I submit that your job search is much more important than any of those pictures of yourself and your friends doing silly things or making silly faces. Step three: you can and should use the controls that allow you to restrict access to certain content on your site to certain people. You can find these controls under the privacy settings. Make use of them if there is content you want to keep on your profile but don’t want employers to see. My point is, control and edit your digital profile. Don’t assume everyone agrees that it’s okay for “boys to be boys” or that “girls just want to have fun.” Many employers see wild behavior as a potential liability. These principles apply to all social networking sites. I don’t know what visibility controls and privacy settings are available on MySpace and other sites, but if they have such controls, use them; if not, be very careful what you include on your profile, delete what doesn’t fit your professional image, and manage how your site appears. Do not assume no one is looking at it. They are.

Be sure your profile is consistent across all the portals you use, including job boards such as Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo! HotJobs, etc. And yes, you need to post your resume and create a profile on these big job boards. You will receive some spam (maybe a lot of spam) as a result, but it’s worth it. If you receive just one job lead that leads to the one interview that leads to your new job, don’t you think wading through some spam is worth it? Remember, you’re in the sales business. You’re selling Brand “You”. There’s no such thing as too much exposure for your product.

An important tip is that once you establish your profile on a job board, you need to refresh it regularly. Some say weekly, some say daily. The purpose is to keep your profile near the top of the stack – there’s that stack again – when recruiters go out and do a search. When you first post your profile, imagine hundreds of other people posting or updating their profiles at the same time. In the next instant after you press “Enter” dozens of other people are doing the same thing, and the second after that, and the second after that, every second of every day. Some of those people are looking for the same jobs you are. Some are using the same keywords you’re using. Now, tomorrow morning, a recruiter goes online and punches in those same keywords to do a search for exactly the kind of job you’re looking for. Where is your profile going to appear? If you posted or updated your profile yesterday, it’s going to appear much higher in the stack than if you posted it last week or a month ago. If it’s been six months, you can probably forget it. So refresh your profiles often, say every Sunday evening. All you have to do is make a tiny change: add a space, remove a space, add a middle initial, remove a middle initial, etc., then click “update”.

Blogging: This is another way to expand your digital footprint. As you can see, I use WordPress, which offers this basic service at no charge. Blogger is another free site. My recommendation is to blog about something relevant to your field. Unless you’re a fiction writer or editorialist by profession, I don’t recommend that you blog about random thoughts or observations. Write about subjects that relate to your work, and post regularly. The more you post, the greater your readership and potential comments, all of which expands your digital footprint. Related to this is Twitter, the mico-blogging site that has grown exponentially in recent months. I use Twitter to point people to my blog on WordPress, but if you are gifted at making a relevant point in just 140 characters, Twitter is a great way to expand your reach. If you haven’t secured your name as a URL on Twitter, WordPress or Blogger, you may want to go do that right away so that an internet search of your name will show these sites in the results. Once again, make sure what you write in any blog is relevant to your work. Employers are not particularly interested in where you had lunch or when you’ve picked up your dry-cleaning. In fact, if you’re blogging about these sorts of mundane activities, how much time are you really spending on work-related activities? That’s a question an employer is going to ask when he or she looks at your blogs.

For additional expertise and examples in the area of improving your digital footprint, check out Doug Caldwell’s profile and associated links at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dougcaldwell. He’s a self-described “social media maven” who has embraced the technology of social networking and runs workshops on expanding and improving your digital presence.

Establish and cultivate your digital presence just as you cultivate the rest of your professional presentation. Maintain consistency and quality across all your digital outlets. Make sure they fit with your professional image. Today, your digital presentation is just as important as your physical presentation.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

How do You Present Yourself? (Part 1) Your Personal Brand

July 5, 2009

What is your personal brand? What are the factors that set you apart from others? As mentioned in my previous post, this is something you need to get a handle on to create an effective résumé, but it also extends beyond what made your work YOUR work. Your personal brand also includes your professional image, how you present yourself. As you work through the process of defining who you are, you will want to consider all the aspects of your personal presentation and keep in mind one thing. Consistency. You want your message, your brand, to be consistently understood by everyone with whom you have contact. The best-known corporate brands work at this diligently. They cultivate their brands. You have to do it as well. Cultivate your personal brand.

This is not to say that you should be fake in any way. Your brand should be an extension of you. It should be so much a part of you that it’s natural for you. If you have to put on some kind of show to communicate your brand to prospective employers, clients, customers, coworkers, vendors, service providers, etc., you will very likely slip up somewhere along the way, bringing anything from minor embarrassment to public scandal. Your personal brand has to be genuine or you won’t get away with it in the long run. Above I mentioned the idea of cultivating your personal brand. That’s the process of building and maintaining the best you possible. If your specialty is growing apples, you want to cultivate the best apples you can grow, and don’t bother with trying to cultivate oranges. You’re not an orange grower; you’re an apple grower. Leave the oranges to the other guys.

You also need to be ready to be “on” when it’s time to be “on”. Being “on” means being ready to tell your story. Being “on” shouldn’t be that far from the natural state of who you are in the first place; otherwise, it becomes too hard to maintain. A dedicated apple grower who loves apples, loves growing apples, loves picking, packing and shipping apples, loves the dirt apples grow in, etc. can tell you his apple growing story at the drop of a hat. Being “on” about apples fits who he is. He probably can’t tell you much of anything about growing oranges, and he shouldn’t try. He’s a perfect fit for the apple growing business, not for the orange growing business. Find your fit, who you are, and stick with it. As Diane Siegel says, “If they don’t like you for you, you don’t want to work there.” (http://www.linkedin.com/in/dianesiegel). Let’s face it, the job search process is too much hard work and anguish to put up with a lousy fit when you do get a job. Be the real you and target organizations that are more likely to fit you.

In my first post, I discussed finding your strengths, and establishing your vision and mission, basically finding out who you are. In the second post, I discussed the importance of education and certifications, basically building the best you that you can be. In my third post, I discussed your résumé and how you communicate who you are and how you fit the job you’ve targeted. That document, and the other documents that it spawns, is a major component of your professional image, your personal brand. When you print it out and carry it with you to an interview, it should convey in its presentation your personal brand. You do not want the interviewer to look at your résumé and then at you and wonder, is this the same person?

Obviously, when discussing personal style, it’s personal. Everyone is different and wants to convey his or her own message, but you should also be very aware of your audience. If you are a professional business executive, there is a set of expectations. If you are an IT professional, there are slightly different expectations. If you are a professional musician, there are different expectations again. Whatever your field, you should gain some insight into how professionals in that field present themselves and make sure your message isn’t too far astray. This is another issue that’s not very fair, but it is the reality of human nature. Human beings tend not to like someone who isn’t like them. This tendency of course has led to all sorts of horrors throughout history, but that’s not a topic for this blog. What you want to do is mirror your style as much as possible, and as much as is comfortable for you, to your target organization. Mirroring is something sales professionals understand. Keep in mind, as long as you are in the job market, you are in the business of selling a product: Brand “You”. You must use the principles used by successful sales professionals. As mentioned above, this should not be fake. You won’t be able to keep it up if it is. You will be miserable and the employer will be dissatisfied, wondering what happened to the person they hired. You need to target organizations where you are likely to fit in, and then put your best foot forward, as the old saying goes.

Keep in mind that everything about you contributes to your professional image. How you dress, how you speak, and how you write; your body language and facial expressions; your personal habits and hygiene; your manners, courtesy and treatment of other people; the accessories you carry and the way you maintain your vehicle; all of these things speak volumes about who you are, what you think of yourself, and what you think of others. Be sure you are sending the message you really want to send, a message that fits who you really are and that fits with the organization for which you want to work. If there’s a disconnect, you need to rethink. Your marketing documents – your résumé, your one-page synopsis, your cover letter, your reference sheet, your business cards, your thank-you note cards, your letterhead – all need to be of high quality and have a consistent theme that fits with your personal brand.

I’ve avoided giving specific tips because of the personal nature of this topic, but some general guidelines should always be applied. Smile. Shake hands firmly and make eye-contact. Male or female, when shaking hands, the web between your thumb and index finger should make contact with the web of the other person’s hand; grasp firmly but not too tightly; make one downward stroke, and release. Listen. Breathe deeply and pause before speaking, giving yourself time to think and your listener time to concentrate on what you’re about to say. Carry yourself with confidence. You know who you are, you know what you know, and you know what you have done. Walk into every situation with your head up and speak with authority.

Avoid jargon, slang and colloquialisms until you get a sense of how they speak, and then be careful to avoid overuse. Mirroring language usage and accent is dangerous and can be misinterpreted. Avoid foul language, jokes and lengthy stories. If they invite you out to lunch, dinner, a ball game or a club, the interview ISN’T OVER. You have to stay “on”. Keep yourself clean, well-groomed and odor-free. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed and your shoes shined. Even if the job requires work boots, jeans and a tee shirt, make sure they’re clean and in good repair. Show kindness and respect to EVERYONE you meet, whether they’re janitors or company presidents or anyone in between. It’s just common decency, but it’s also practical. It is not unusual for the vice president who interviewed you to ask the receptionist what he or she thought of you after you leave. The impression you made could make the difference. You were taught this in kindergarten. Play nice with the other kids.

Create your personal brand around who you are, and display it consistently everywhere and with everyone. A well-cultivated professional image will serve you well, and your reputation will precede you.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

New Profile Picture

July 4, 2009

My new profile picture was taken by Wayne Steele, http://www.kwsphotos.com.

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

What Have You Done? Your Résumés & Business Cards

June 29, 2009

You have a work history. It has given you the experience to develop expertise. That expertise is specific to you, because of who you are. If you write a résumé that lists only your duties and responsibilities, you’re short-changing yourself. Yet that is exactly what most of us do when we sit down to write our résumés. I did, and I’ve seen dozens of other résumés that look a lot like my old résumé. The thing you’ve got to take hold of is that the duties and responsibilities do not define your work. Your expertise, your accomplishments, your style – for lack of a better word – define your work, and that is what differentiates you from all the other candidates who have similar education and similar work experience. The fact of the matter is, employers aren’t particularly interested in experience. If you have 20 years’ experience in something, for all your prospective employer knows, it was 20 years of bad experience. You’ve got to get the word “experience” out of your head, out of your conversation, and off the paper. You need to focus on your expertise, your accomplishments and your achievements, the things that made your work YOUR work. That’s the one thing you bring to the table that no one else has. In this installment, I’m going to talk about how to put this on paper, but you also need to be thinking about this with regard to your interviews.

This is where I insert the usual disclaimer: I am sharing with you my experiences and things I’ve learned on my journey of searching for a job. There are plenty of very qualified people with excellent credentials who can help you with this process. I’m going to point you toward a couple of them. Also, as with most things, if you ask 5 people, you’ll get 6 opinions, but there are some strategies that make more sense than some others in the current technological and economic environment. I submit that you should judge any advice, including mine, against what makes sense in this environment. I would also submit that a very large percentage of what was written on this topic pre-2008 is hopelessly out-dated. Be careful.

Your résumé is not a job description; it shouldn’t read like one. You very likely did not just take up space on an organizational chart. You had an impact because of who you are. You did specific things and accomplished specific goals on the job, goals that you set for yourself or that were set for you. You were confronted with situations, you took actions, and you produced results. This is what employers want to read about. This is the story of how you built the expertise, expertise for which your next employer is willing to pay.

So how do you tell that story? You will need to look back on your career, identify and select your proudest moments, your rock-star moments, if you will, then write them out in terms of Situation, Action, Result (SAR) or the result that was produced due to action you took, led or decided in order to address a situation. This should be written in the form of a concise sentence, and remember, results stated in the form of dollars or percentages have the most impact. Quantify wherever possible. Don’t despair if you can’t quantify the results, but try whenever possible to do so. The sentences you create in this process will form the bullet points of your new résumé. As my colleague, Andy Harvey (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/andy-harvey/1/818/415) says, “Each bullet point should be the first line of a compelling story that the employer wants to hear more about from you… in the interview.”

Unpacking this information may take a lot of time and energy… and paper. You may find it difficult to remember all of the things you did. Again, don’t despair. There are ways to do this. Dirk Spencer (http://www.linkedin.com/in/dirkindallas) creator of Résumé Psychology, uses the analogy of driving a car. When you first learned to drive, you were very conscious of every action you had to take to accomplish the task. Today, you hardly give it a thought. You just drive. Driving a car has become an unconscious competency for you. It is very likely that much of what you did in your previous jobs became unconscious competencies as well. Dirk has established some very useful methodologies for unpacking these unconscious competencies, using audio, visual and kinesthetic engagement. In other words, stimulating your thoughts and memories through your ears, eyes and fingers. Don’t underestimate the importance of this process, especially if you’re having trouble being specific about your proudest moments. One of the tools I used to help me activate these thoughts and memories was a roll of butcher paper. It was my wife’s idea. We rolled out the butcher paper on the dining room table, from right to left, and started on the right-hand end. I wrote down a duty from my most recent job, then beneath that listed all of the tasks that made up that particular duty. Then we pushed the paper to the right and wrote the next duty to the left of the first one, and listed all the tasks that made up that duty, and so on, working our way back over the 25-plus years of my career, unpacking everything we could think of. Having the interaction of conversation with my wife, who was aware of this history, was very helpful, so consider including a colleague or family member in this process to stimulate the audio portion of your memories. As we worked our way back in time, long-submerged memories bubbled to the surface. Before long, we were scrolling back and forth, literally scrolling, jotting additional line items beneath each broad duty. And that’s when it happened. We found those proudest moments, and there they were, the bare bones of the situation, action and result of each proud moment, waiting to be fleshed out in concise and compelling terms and transcribed onto the new, improved résumé. It was grueling, but well worth it. Give it a try.

Now that you’ve got the rock-star moments identified, here are some practical tips for the actual writing. Remember your audience. This document is not for you, it’s for your prospective employer. Make sure your résumé actually fits the job for which you are applying. Your résumé is very likely to be “read” first by a machine, an applicant tracking system (ATS) that dissects, categorizes and scores your résumé based on the number and context of keywords it finds that match up with the job description keywords for which it has been programmed to look. Once again let me direct you to the article, “Résumé, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines,” by Lisa Vaas, http://www.lisavaas.com. Even if the prospective employer doesn’t use an ATS, this process is pretty similar to what recruiters and HR generalists do when they are told to source for a position and they are confronted with a stack of dozens, if not hundreds of résumés. The only way for them to get through the stack is to look for keywords that match the job description. You, as an applicant, cannot rely on the notion that, “If they just read my résumé, they’ll see that it’s in there.” They can’t see that it’s in there, because they don’t have time to read your résumé. It may not seem fair, but it is the way it is. Look for keywords in the job descriptions of the jobs for which you are applying and the keywords used in your field and industry, and incorporate those keywords into your descriptions of your proudest moments on your résumé. Ideally, you should customize your résumé for every application you submit. That means you need to have a “master résumé” that you trim and customize to fit each particular job application you submit. While this is easier said than done, it is much easier now that we have technology more advanced than typewriters. Next, make sure the verbs you use are action verbs that really convey the sense that you did something, not that you sat behind a desk and ticked off boxes on a checklist while others did all the work.

So, you’ve got your proudest moments, written out in terms of situation, action, result, described using keywords from your industry, your specific field and from job descriptions for the jobs for which you are applying, and using action verbs that convey your direct involvement in what was happening. How do you form this into a résumé? The vast majority of the recruiters and hiring managers to whom I’ve talked say they prefer the chronological résumé, technically a reverse chronological résumé, since it starts with your most recent position. In fact, most applicant tracking systems are designed to process data only from this type of résumé. If you use a functional or a hybrid résumé, the ATS will choke, and if a human is actually looking at such a document, he or she is very likely to look across the desk, smile and say, “Have you got a chronological résumé?”

So how should this document look? Your name and contact information should be clearly visible at the top of the page, followed by what you call yourself when people ask, “What do you do?” Network Engineer, Project Manager, School Superintendent, Nuclear Physicist. This can be followed by some over-arching accomplishments, what you are known for in your business. Three or four bullet points or a brief paragraph loaded with keywords, action verbs and indicative of your passion work well here. Next you may want to list your particular areas of expertise, especially if you have proficiency in particularly technical areas within your field. Next, your professional accomplishments. Start with your most recent position and work your way back. Use only three to five of those rock-star moments you’ve worked so hard to craft as bullet points under each position, put your education and certifications beneath that, and your professional affiliations beneath that. That’s your résumé. Another good source to help you craft your résumé is Bonnie Dangel, Résumé Writing Coach. Contact Bonnie at bonniejdangel@tx.rr.com.

Another tip: You need at least two résumés. One that is straight text: no tabs, no centering, no special characters, no bold face, underlines or italics, no hyperlinks, no text-boxes, no pictures, no charts, no logos, no fancy graphics. Instead of bullets, use a dash followed by a space, and that’s only to make it easier for humans to read when they print it out from the applicant tracking system. This is the version of your résumé that you post on the job boards (Monster, Career Builder, HotJobs, etc.) and that you upload when you apply for jobs online. Why? Because all that fancy stuff is wasted on the applicant tracking systems, recruiters and HR generalists that are just trying to get through the stack. They’re looking for keywords in context that match the job description they’re trying to fill. Remember your audience. In addition, if you use all that fancy formatting, your résumé will very likely get gummed up in the ATS, and if it’s gummed up, it won’t be on the top of the stack. Save your beautifully formatted, visually pleasing résumé, printed on that nice, heavy, white or ecru stock for when you physically mail or hand it to a human being. That’s where the human touch is needed. This is your other résumé. The content is the same as the first one, it just looks and feels better.

And another tip: I mentioned earlier creating a “master résumé”. This is a file that has all the tasks, duties, responsibilities, accomplishment and achievements listed from your whole career. Basically, it’s the digital version of my roll of butcher paper. Put asterisks beside your rock-star moments, so you can find them easily and use them on customized résumés, and when you need a specific example of an accomplishment for a specific job application, you can pull it from your master file. If you wore a lot of hats in your past, and if you are applying for several different types of jobs in your search, this will be particularly helpful to you as you craft customized résumés for each job application.

Now you’ve got the basic ingredients for creating other documents. As mentioned above, you have a digital-friendly, text-only résumé to post on the big boards. You have a master résumé from which you can build your online profile on sites like LinkedIn and facebook. From your beautifully formatted résumé you can create a one-page marketing synopsis that you can use at job fairs or hand out at the end of an interview. And perhaps most important, all this work has brought those proudest moments back to mind, and you’ve developed a vocabulary of keywords and action verbs that will be invaluable to you when you are interviewing.

The final tip: Never lie or exaggerate, not on your résumé, and especially not on a signed application. The difference between a résumé and an application is “the whole truth”. As in court, your application should include “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. For your résumé, they want the truth, they don’t have time for the whole truth, but they want nothing but the truth.

Finally, I want to spend a few lines on your business card. If you don’t have business cards, get some. There are some good resources around for inexpensive but professional looking business cards. VistaPrint.com offers 250 free business cards; all you pay is for shipping. Some office supply stores are making similar offers, so check around. My friend Doug Williamson (www.WilliamsonHome.us) has used a Microsoft Word template and Avery #8877 clean-edge business cards. They look very nice as well. His advice, stick with the name brand here, because the others aren’t as clean-edged as Avery. Your business card is your résumé in miniature, your 10-second commercial on card-stock. Don’t ignore it, don’t scrimp on it. It’s part of your professional image. More about that in a future installment. Extending the metaphor of your business card being your 10-second commercial on paper, my friend Kim Kozak (http://www.linkedin.com/in/kozak) says that your one-page marketing synopsis is your 30-second commercial on paper, your résumé is your 2-minute commercial on paper, and your LinkedIn profile is your 30-minute infomercial. More about LinkedIn later.

Unpacking your unconscious competencies and creating a rich and interesting résumé is the key to a lot of your job search activities. It helps you hone and own what you have done in your career. That’s pretty important if you want to approach prospective employers with confidence.

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.

What do You Know? Your Education & Certifications

June 14, 2009

As you continue your journey on the road of unemployment, you should think about differentiation. There are many talented people out in the job market right now, and you have to find ways to demonstrate how your individual contribution will make a positive difference to your next employer. Education and certification can help make that difference.

In many cases, however, education and certification isn’t just a matter of differentiation, it’s a matter of necessity just to get a seat at the table, or in this case, a place in the stack. Many of the jobs for which you are applying probably have education and certification requirements. That’s pretty straightforward. You want the job, you better meet the requirements. Many of the jobs, however, also list preferences for additional education and certifications, qualifications you may not have. You might be tempted to say, “Hey, that’s just a wish list, I’ll apply even though I don’t have that qualification in my toolbox.” You might want to rethink that strategy. When there is high unemployment, it becomes a buyer’s market for employment.  “Wish lists” become “Must have lists”.  How many candidates do you think have the preferred education and certifications for the job for which you just applied? Remember, when unemployment is high, there are dozens, and in some cases hundreds of applicants for almost every posted position. It is much more likely that some of those applicants have the preferred qualifications. If you apply for that job for which you don’t have the preferred qualifications, and some of the people who have the preferred qualifications apply for that same job, do you think your résumé will be at the top of the stack or at the bottom of the stack? Don’t kid yourself. Now I’m not saying that you should never apply for a job for which you don’t meet all the qualifications; I’m saying, don’t expect to get many positive responses from those applications. There’s just so much qualified talent in the job market, it’s very difficult to compete successfully if you don’t meet all the requirements and all the preferences for your target job.

Having the preferred education and certifications for your field is one of the best ways to get your résumé closer to the top of that stack. You might be tempted to think that your experience makes up for it, and that you can overcome any objections of that nature in an interview. In another employment environment, you might have been right, but employers have had the luxury of a large selection of talent during this market cycle. As I said above, it is a buyer’s market for employment. In addition, many employers, and most large employers, are using computerized applicant tracking systems. I’ll go into a little more detail about these systems in a future posting, but in this discussion, it’s important that you understand that these applicant tracking systems are looking for specific keywords from the job requisition in your résumé and/or application. If those words aren’t there, your résumé goes toward the bottom the stack and may never be seen by human eyes at all. So the strategy of relying on experience and overcoming that objection in an interview is very likely never going to be put into practice. That may not seem fair, but consider the recruiter’s point of view. He or she posts a job on an internet job board, or on the company’s own career page, and within days – and sometimes hours – there are hundreds of applications for that job. How are they going to sift through that mountain of information? They use an applicant tracking system, programmed to find specific keywords. In some systems, those keywords, especially those related to preferred qualifications, are given weighted, numeric values so that each application in the queue receives a numeric score. The ones with the top scores get to see the light of day. The rest stay in the system and are likely never to be seen.

For a more detailed explanation of how applicant tracking systems process your résumé, go to the article, “Resume, Meet Technology: How Your Story Gets Read by Machines,” by Lisa Vaas, http://www.lisavaas.com that appears in The Ladders’ online archive. Thanks to Doug Williamson, http://www.WilliamsonHome.us, for sharing this information at a recent Career Search Network Enhanced Job Search Solutions Workshop. Go to http://www.careersearchnetwork.org/ for a schedule of future workshops.

So what do you do if you don’t have the preferred qualifications? Get them. That sounds simplistic, and it may be impractical for you, but that’s the reality. If the job you want lists a preference for an MBA, or a PMP, or a CPA… or an SPHR, you’re just going to have to get those qualifications to have your résumé appear anywhere near to the top of the stack. Either obtain those qualifications or target a job without those requirements. Now I’ve heard some of my unemployed colleagues say things like, “I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for a PMP. Every PMP I’ve ever met was an idiot. I’ve managed plenty of projects without a PMP certification. My record should speak for itself. I’m better than any of those guys.” That may or may not be true, but that guy is unlikely ever to prove such an assertion if he can’t even get an interview… because he doesn’t have the very certification he’s so dead-set against. My contention is, if he’s that good, passing the PMP exam should be a slam-dunk, then (if his assertion is correct) he’ll be the best PMP in the world! And he’ll actually have an opportunity to prove it! Oh, and for the record, most of the PMPs I’ve met are worth their weight in gold, so the guy who made that statement had either very limited experience with PMPs, an excessively high opinion of himself, or both.

There aren’t many advantages to unemployment, but one advantage is that it gives you the opportunity to retool. In my last posting I wrote about finding your strengths and establishing a vision and a mission for yourself. If you’ve taken the time to do that, you need to take the time to retool if your toolbox is lacking the education and qualifications that are preferred for your target jobs. The practical limit of this retooling is obviously affected by your individual circumstances, your available time and your available finances. As you consider these things, recognize one thing; this is an investment in your career and in your family’s future. Don’t just dismiss it out of hand because it will be difficult to do. Give it due consideration in the grand scheme of your vision and mission for your life.

And consider another benefit. When asked during an interview, “What have you been doing since you’ve been out of work?” you can say, “I obtained my __________ certification!”

Ret Martin
SPHR certified Human Resources Generalist & Administrative Management Professional

To read my Endorsement Disclosure, go to the About Ret Martin page of this blog.