Archive for June, 2010

Great worker = Great Job Seeker?

June 29, 2010

Do you believe that because you’re really good at your job,  you’re equally good at getting a job?

I have found that some people assume they are the same thing.  These are the people who are stunned, when becoming unemployed, to find that what used to work for them no longer applies.  Think about it:

  • I follow directions well,
  • I am courteous to my colleagues,
  • I represent the company well,
  • I write accurately and competently.

If you have received feedback like these statements in performance reviews, congratulations.  But these traits do not necessarily equip you to unearth new opportunities, make the most of what and whom you know, or to organize your time for daily activities of the job search.

Face it – the skills required to get the next job are unique, and mostly not taught in school.  It is possible to waste time and tears following the rules of “what has always worked before.”

Welcome to your new job.   You will have to report to your new job after breakfast, work throughout the day, allowing for the usual lunch and breaks, in order to be successful at this new (temporary!) work of finding a job.

  • You will have a boss (yourself),
  • there is a salary (growth and satisfaction),
  • there are benefits (your time is yours to manage, and you can occasionally escape),
  • the dress code is set by you.
  • you will catch up with old friends and colleagues (in fact, that’s part of the job),
  • you will manage your weight and fitness (mandatory!),
  • you will catch on your reading (don’t forget to post a review or two online),
  • you will put more time into your spiritual life, which can provide a framework for this challenging time,
  • you can surf the web,
  • you will have a budget to manage,
  • you can volunteer in the community (in fact, that should be mandatory as well) in something that interests you, furthers your skills, makes the world a better place.

This job is not so great that you want to stay here.  You may look at it as a stepping-stone to the next opportunity.  Meanwhile, you will make the most of those executive skills that will shorten the time spent in this temporary situation.

What did you do today?

June 28, 2010

I had a conversation today with someone who is looking for a job.  He has been looking for longer than anyone should look.  He has excellent credentials, he has solid work experience, and he has been willing to work short-term contracts through temp agencies.  Still, that permanent job that would allow him to care for his health, invest in his future, establish his own home, and feel like a fully-functioning adult eludes him.

Yes, times are tough.  Yes, the competition is vast.  But when we have acknowledged those points, what is left?

I know one thing this person can do.  At the end of each day – each day – have a conversation with yourself.

What did I do today?

Here are acceptable answers:

  • I wrote a letter to the editor of the paper,
  • I posted a review of the movie that I watched yesterday,
  • I helped the new neighbors carry in boxes, introducing myself as I did so,
  • I checked the online bulletin boards,
  • I called my friend from a former position and set up a time to meet for coffee,
  • I walked in the cool morning air (the only time of the day you can do it here in Maryland this week!),
  • I prayed/meditated about my situation,
  • I volunteered at the local (fill in the blank here), offering my best skills, but willing to do anything that’s needed,
  • I sent a copy of my revised resume to a place I had previously interviewed,
  • I despaired a bit and hoped more.

If you look at this list and can say that you did at least 3 of those activities, or comparable ones, then yes, I’d agree that you spent your time well.  If you did not use your day productively and generously, then all the whining in the world does not move you closer to that new job.

Do I sound harsh?  Please remember that a career counselor does not find you a job.  You find your own job.  It is my job to listen to the way you are conducting your job search and suggest ways to make your time more productive.  I’d love to hear from readers about steps they have taken to fill the time productively and creatively.

Cover Letter as online dating: you’re right!

June 23, 2010

I came across a brief article in the Diamondback (6/17/2010), the daily paper of the University of Maryland-College Park. Shruti Rastogi, a recent graduate in journalism, expresses frustration with all those applications that go out and don’t seem to amount to anything. She likens the cover letter to filling out an online dating profile.  How do you make yourself sound wonderful – intriguing – even a little flirtatious – and still professional?  I was struck by the analogy she draws.  Read the article and see what advice you would give (
Shruti, I have several bits of advice for you:

  • you need to get a copy of Shawn Graham’s Courting your Career.  He is masterful at developing this analogy that you’ve discovered – that “getting to know you” phase, as well as other aspects of the job search process as compared to finding a partner.  He’ll make you laugh, I promise.
  • keep writing!  Your article is well done, imaginative, and will be a valued page in your portfolio (you are doing a portfolio, right?).
  • close down the keyboard, let go of the job postings, and get out there.  Go and meet some people.  Make yourself useful.  Networking will gete you much farther than laboring over the perfect cover letter.

And best wishes to all you 2010 graduates.  Don’t listen to all the gloom.  Just get out there and participate.

A Career Message for Fathers

June 20, 2010

As Father’s Day winds down, I hope you dads, grandpas, uncles, big brothers, and other males in influential roles around kids will give a bit of thought to the messages you convey to the children in your life.  They are watching, listening, and learning from you, even when they don’t remotely look like it.

An acquaintance once told me that he thought the reason his children didn’t seem too inclined to throw themselves into the workforce after college might be that he had complained often about an unreasonable boss.

And it’s a standard component of teen rebellion to look at one’s working parent, dressed up, coming and going on a regular schedule, and think or shout, “I’ll never be like you.”

What goes wrong here?  I think our kids don’t really hear the stories about:

  • the younger employees you mentor,
  • the coaching you provide,
  • the problem-solving for which you are known,
  • the tact you bring to a mediation session,
  • the financial acumen that finds a way to save a valuable program.

What if you’re not working?  Your life is really full of teachable moments:  about discouragement and how you don’t give in to it, about reading, doing research, keeping on learning new things, about not being bitter, about showing grace in the face of rejection, about asking for help when you need it, about being ultimately optimistic.

I’d like to make a suggestion.  Try sharing more of the good news.  If you get a thank-you letter, leave it open on the table.  If someone pays you an unexpected compliment, share it with the family. Sharing your work stories is a way to make a connection between your spiritual values and how you implement them.

If you don’t share this good stuff, the kids may think it is all about money, because that’s what they see.  Men, a lot is asked of you these days.  I’m asking one more thing: share your values through stories about work.  Someone is listening.

Happy Father’s Day, and thanks for what you do for the next generation.

An”Outlier” philosophy of work

June 14, 2010

I’ve got a new favorite book, one that I’ve read and am now re-reading.  It’s Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. In nine chapters, Gladwell examines questions of the relationships between talent, hard work, luck, and community.  Study after study is presented that examines and explains the accomplished people in our society from the Beatles (played eight hours a day in Hamburg before making it big in the US) to Bill Joy (hung around the brand new computer center at the U of Michigan, the first group of students to have access to time-sharing on those huge computers before going on to form Sun Microsystems).

Gladwell says that there are three things that most people agree on for satisfying work: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.

If you like reading about astonishing stories of success, reach for Gladwell’s latest.  The takeaway message for me is to keep going, keep plugging away.  Bloggers can get better the more they blog, counselors become more insightful the more they do it, cooks get better,  parents get better…. etc.

Where do you fit in?  What do you excel at?  How much time do you put in?

I have a feeling that this would be a great thing to bring up in job interviews.  How do you spend your time?  Particularly if you are unemployed right now, wouldn’t it be great to talk about the time you have put in (pick one) writing, analyzing, volunteering, brushing up on a foreign language?  Think about it. What if the interviewer has read Outliers and is wondering if you will be a success in his/her workplace?

The Power of the Faith Community

June 12, 2010

How does a faith community respond to joblessness in these tough times? It can offer spiritual sustenance (business as usual), and it can also offer opportunities for the unemployed to gather and share strategies for success.

R was in such a class for job-hunters in my church.  He didn’t say a lot, but he was avidly listening to others tell their stories.  It was clear that he has been looking for work for a long time.

I saw him the other night, and he was happy to tell me that he has two part-time jobs now. Here’s the story:

  • The first job he got through a church member. It gives R an opportunity to write about the arts, his first love.
  • The second job is a managing director for a choral group in the city.  He heard about that position from another church member.

You have heard the statistics about how 85% of jobs are found through personal contact, and I believe that R is the new poster child for the benefit of networking.

So to you job seekers, go ahead and send resumes.  Polish up your cover letters.  Read the online bulletin boards.  Check out the classifieds.

But don’t forget to go to religious services, take a class, and above all, share your story so that your friends will be in a position to help you when they hear of something.

Revisiting Madam C.J. Walker

June 6, 2010

All you would-be entrepreneurs would do well to give a bit of time to reading On Her Own Ground: the life and times of Madam C.J. Walker by A’lelia Bundles (Scribner, 2001).  This hefty tome is a thorough history of  Madam’s life and her astonishing times (1867 – 1919).  You won’t read it in one setting, but you will be rewarded by insight and information by the end of the early chapters .

Courage?  Adaptability?  Imagination?  Vision?  She had them all.

Money? Education? Connection?  Sadly missing.

Yet this woman, daughter of slaves, born in Tennessee, survived by doing laundry, using products that were harsh on the skin.  She might have been doomed to a life of hard work and unrelenting poverty, but she had the good mind to seize an opportunity in the market of haircare products and treatments for African-American hair products.  This book covers her journey from washerwoman to self-made millionaire in a mansion on the Hudson River. She changed her name, but never her commitment to hard work and sharing of wealth.  It is a remarkable story.

What does this have to do with people who struggle to find meaningful, lucrative work?  I believe it has everything.

Do you feel unconnected, uneducated, ill-equpped to face the job market?  So did Madam.

Do you see a need for your idea/pr0duct/service?  So did Madam.

Read this book.  Reflect on how many more opportunities are available to you than there were for her.

If you would like to talk about your struggles, you might consider a consultation with a career counselor.  Maybe you need a reminder of your gifts and a to-do list to tackle your barriers.

Behind the scenes? Smile!

June 3, 2010

Excellent customer service starts from inside the organization.

I went into Macy’s in downtown Washington, DC, in the quest for a wallet smaller than the one I have lugged around for years.  Smaller wallet = smaller purse = less back pain, right?

As I stepped in the door, I noticed a group of very well-dressed men and one woman standing in a group near the front door.  They greeted me in a chorus of “Good morning” and “Welcome to Macy’s” and “Can I help you find something?”

It felt like being in a movie.  Did they think I’m someone famous?  Were they expecting Mrs. Obama?  I murmured good morning, thanks, I don’t need any help.  And walked over to wallets.

But they weren’t finished.  A very well-dressed young woman appeared, smiling broadly, asked if she could help.  I said that I wanted a cloth wallet.  Well, we chatted and finally found one on the sale table.  She turned me over to a sales person, whose smile was, frankly, not quite so broad, more on the normal side.  By the time she finished processing all kinds of discounts and my 20% off coupon, the $45 wallet had become $3.36.  Now I was the one smiling broadly.

As I left the store, the cluster of men and the one woman were still there, still beaming at me.  Did I find everything I wanted?  Well yes, I got a wallet for $3.36. I left the store pleased with my purchase and amazed by all those smiles in dark suits.

I have to applaud the efforts of management.  They were demonstrating what they undoubtedly preach to the sales force, that if they create a happy experience for the customer, she or he will come back for more.

I say yes, that’s true, and especially if the price is right.  You can’t smile at me and expect that I will pay $45 for a fabric wallet with someone’s fancy logo on it.  But discount it seriously?  I’ll be back.

Remember that basic rule in customer service:  treat your colleagues/underlings respectfully and cheerfully and there’s an excellent chance that they will pass this on to the walk-in customer.

Mr. R.H. Macy would be pleased.

Job hunters: what do you do all day?

June 1, 2010

Time management has never been my favorite topic.  It can induce a painful realization that one never does quite enough in the day, or is that just me?

I’d like to examine several approaches to time management that are relevant and useful to the job seeker.  This posting is courtesy of Norma.

Norma, a job-hunting friend, recently shared her strategy for keeping track of her search.  I found her method impressive, and was delighted when she gave me permission to share it.

She has designed a form for each week, a kind of to-do list with room for comments.

Picture the standard paper, with the date of the week at the top.

Down the left she lists the seven days of the week.

By the correct day, she lists activities.  Calls, follow-ups, emails, errands, social events, reading, writing, going to church – it’s all there.  And some of her days make me tired to look at them.

The interesting thing is that those activities are in columns on the left half of the paper.  On the right, just as importantly, is space for comments.  Did they get done?  Is there follow-up?

I noted in looking at a sample week that not all of Norma’s activities rated a comment.  But those that did, she has moved forward to the next week.

What does Norma get out of this?

  • She never needs to reproach herself that she is just sitting around.
  • If the job search is unsuccessful, she will know how to examine what she has been doing and make some changes in emphasis,
  • When she does land a new position, she will have a list of nice people who said “let me know what happens” that she can drop a line to and update them.

I would suggest to Norma that she keep these schedules. I’d also suggest that she use highlighters for the most significant activities or connections.  And I’m really glad that she gives equal billing to friends, family, spiritual and social times.

Norma, thank you for sharing your strategy.  I know your ideas may inspire some other job seekers to get organized and stay that way.

Do the rest of you have some effective means of keeping track of your job search activities?  I would love to hear from you.