Archive for November, 2010

Top Ten Holiday Gifts for 2010: student edition

November 27, 2010

This year, I had the opportunity to spend some time with seniors at St. Mary’s College, the public honors college in Maryland.  To me, they are dream students: articulate, accomplished in their major fields, already drawing on their liberal arts orientation to discuss their lives across academic disciplines. They are tuned in to their options, open about acknowledging their apprehension about life after graduation, and willing to take in new information about what can help.

They also shared what they need to make the transition from student in a very casual, small-town environment to successful jobhunter in (for many) a major metropolitan area.  I am indebted to them for the following list, some of which they specifically suggested, some of which I perceived:

  1. A briefcase.  Because college students are vastly more eco-aware than their elders, be careful about the material.  In addition to leather, there are classy-looking briefcases in hemp, canvas, and other acceptable materials.  It’s all a step up from manila folders or (worse) a sheaf of papers fluttering around.
  2. Business cards.  Does everyone know about Vistaprint.com?  I don’t usually give a plug to commercial businesses, but I happen to love this company. For the price of shipping, you can custom-order 500 free cards.  It’s a really grown-up thing to do.  Plus, you’ll be able to buy an impressive card holder.  The internet has not done away with the need for cards.
  3. An outfit for interviews or that first job.  If you don’t know the person’s precise size and taste, a gift certificate to a shop known for professional attire will be appreciated.
  4. Understanding and patience.  They haven’t even graduated, and already they are sick of the “So, what are you going to do next?” stuff.  If they had an answer, they’d tell you.  It’s embarrassing.  It feels like a failure.  So cool it.  If you are a person who has paid for this education, you are understandably nervous about this question, but – believe me – wait a bit.  The students tell me they would love to be met with a show of confidence that it’s all going to work out.  They particularly do not want to hear about the sure-fire careers they could have gone into like their cousin.
  5. A gadget for their gadgets.  It embarrasses me to admit that I can’t be very specific here. You can research this matter on a blog about blogs about electronic stuff.  Plan to spend some time at  Twelve great gadget blogs for the smart holiday shopper.
  6. Credit for their Skype account – yes, there are some employers who are doing screening interviews in this way.  If they are like me, they will also appreciate a copy of Skype for Dummies, which has lots of tips. On second thought, if they are skyping, they probably don’t need the book.
  7. A gym membership.  Be tactful here. No comments about weight.  Remember that productive conversations can take place in this environment, and your young friend needs a new set of friends, the kind with jobs.
  8. A career consultation.  I’m talking about a coach or a counselor, someone with experience with the new graduate population.  I hope that your young person had access to (and made good use of) a college career center, but that was then and this is now.  If you decide to go this route, ask the career specialist for a reference or two by a client in a similar situation.  I am constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t ask me for references.  There is the problem of confidentiality, but most of us have many clients, satisfied with their work with us, who would be happy to give out a first name and a phone number.
  9. A consultation with a specialist to evaluate and enhance your online reputation.  This is one of the Top Ten suggestions for anyone of any age who is in the process of entering the job market, but it is of the utmost importance for this age group.  If you are worried about your relative/friend’s silly, juvenile, formerly-hilarious online photos and postings,  you can offer to fund a consultation with someone who can find those unprofessional references and remove or minimize them.  There is a special skill in cleaning up one’s social profile, enhancing work experience on LinkedIn, posting a book or product review, or using a website as a display of one’s accomplishments. We all want to be seen as serious candidates, right? You might want to check out a very interesting story on the blog of my British friend Chris Hall.  Hall’s blog was just picked up by the London Times which narrated the story about a new college graduate who posted his credentials online and attracted all kinds of job offers.
  10. A book.  See the previous blog postings for a lengthier recommendation of appropriate books.  These three works are written for young people:
  • Graham, Shawn, Courting your Career (Jist, 2008).  This is a fun and creative book that develops the similarities between establishing a romantic relationship and finding a job.  It’s clever and filled with truth.
  • Pink, Daniel, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko (Riverhead Books, 2008).  For the techie or anime lover in your life.  Reads like a comic book, filled with basic career wisdom.  My teen-aged grandson has no idea he is reading something useful.  He just likes the book.
  • Reeves,Ellen Gordon, Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? (Workman, 2009). This book covers basics for the new graduate, such as what to put on the resume, how to dress, what to expect in interviews, how to talk about salaries.  The format is very clearly divided into sections, which will appeal to those who don’t sit down and read a book from start to finish.

For three years, I have published a Top Ten gift list for the unemployed.  The previous posting has this year’s list, my antidote to Black Friday’s commercial offerings.  I hope you will also read that list and find just the right gift for your relative or friend who is trading up from education to employment.  Wrap the gift with patience, love, and empathy, for we all need that during transition times.  Happy Shopping!

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The 2010 Ten Best Gifts for Jobhunters

November 26, 2010

You want to do something useful/practical/social/spiritual for that special someone who is  currently unemployed.  Here it is: my third annual gift list for the 2010 holiday season.  Yes, you will find a few repeat items scattered in with the new.  Great books and companionship never go out of style.

1. A consultation with a specialist to evaluate and enhance your online reputation.  If you are worried about your friend’s silly, juvenile, formerly-hilarious online photos and postings,  you might offer to fund a consultation with someone who can find those unprofessional items and remove or minimize them.  There is a special skill in cleaning up one’s social profile, enhancing work experience on LinkedIn, posting a book or product review, or using a website as a display of one’s accomplishments. We all want to be seen as serious candidates, right?

2. A great career book.  These are the books I keep close at hand and recommend often to clients.  I have listed them with authors in alphabetical order:

  • Anderson, Maureen, The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love (American Management Association, 2009).
  • Baber, Anne, and Waymon, Lynne, Make your Contacts Count (2nd edition) (American Management Association, 2007).
  • Bolles, Richard N., What Color is your Parachute (2011 edition), (Ten Speed Press, 1970 – 2011).
  • Krumboltz, John D. and Levin, A. S., Luck is no Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in your Life and Career (Impact Publishers, 2004).
  • Pink, Daniel, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need (Riverhead Books, 2008).
  • Reeves, Ellen Gordon, Can I Wear my Nose Ring to the Interview? (Workman, 2009).
  • Sher, Barbara, Refuse to Choose! (Rodale, 2006).
  • Taylor, Karol, and Ruck, Janet, Guide to America’s Federal Jobs (4th edition) (Jist, 2009).

3. An electronic gadget.  When I tried to find some specific recommendations, I realized how hopelessly out of date I am.  I now know that there are blogs about blogs, and I recommend this article to begin your exploration:  Twelve great gadget blogs for the smart holiday shopper.  Each blog takes you into another list, so plan to spend a little time here. No, I can’t be more specific.  You’ll have to figure this out on your own.

4. A contact who might be useful for the job seeker. You have the opportunity to share a bit of your network with the person who is seeking work.  How about a brunch, a lunch, a drink, or supper?  You bring the two together, keep the conversation moving along, and get out of the way if/when appropriate.  You are in a position to give a unique gift – someone you know.

5. An impressive piece of jewelry – at least impressive-looking.  Plain, just slightly noticeable, something that could bring luck in an interview.

6. Your friendship and willingness to listen.  This is in a format that makes sense to the donor and the recipient.  It might be walking twice a week.  Eating better together.  Upholding your friend in prayer.  Painting the porch.  Proofing the resume.  Taking a great photograph for the person’s LinkedIn profile.  Offering a design for a business card. You know what is needed.

7. A grocery store gift card.  Food is a basic need, and this small or not-so-small gift is bound to be reassuring. Perhaps it could be discreetly tucked into a holiday bowl of fruit.

8. Career assessment.  Most career specialists offer a variety of tests to determine appropriate career directions.  Ask a few people for what they offer, what the cost is, and exactly what to expect in results.  There’s a world of difference among personality, interests, values, and aptitudes.  If you don’t know any career counselors or coaches, you could contact your local community college career center for this service. (A personal aside: I find that many clients are applying to a very narrow field of opportunity, when their skills could also be used in other arenas. Assessment can open one’s eyes to possibilities.)

9. Tickets to a movie, concert, play, lecture, or sporting event.  Choose something that the recipient is known to enjoy.  If a person has been unemployed for a time, this is an area that has been cut from the budget.  A couple of hours of fun will help you stay positive throughout the jobhunting process.

10. Skype skills. Did you know that some screening interviews are being conducted via Skype?  The software is free and relatively easy to master.  But you should not wait until you get a call scheduling this interview for tomorrow morning.  Offer your services as a tutor to get the person up and running.

I hope this list is helpful to you.  Tomorrow I’m releasing a parallel Top 10 list for new graduates.  Stay tuned!

More from Karol about diligence and success

November 16, 2010

I welcome back Karol Taylor, of tayloryourcareer.com,  federal hiring expert, to share several thoughts about resumes.  She acknowledges that it is hard, that it takes special information to navigate the system, and that a little slip here or there leads to rejection by the system.  Likewise, defining your terms, following the links that lead to explanations or other kinds of help can further your chances of obtaining an interview and a job offer.

An application may call for Specialized Experience.  Examples of specialized experience are often provided.  Sometimes there is a link to OPM’s site, but I think their link does not help.  If the link is provided, I suggest you go to http://www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/gsseries.asp, and read the first paragraph of the series explanation to determine the skills they are seeking.

The series is the four-digit code you can find in the Overview section under Series and Grade.  They often say GS, then the 4 digits, then the grade(s).  Sometimes other letters are used, but every job has the four-digit code before the grade level.  Look up those four digits using the above link and you will be able to determine the skills you MUST have in order to apply for the job. (I did not know this – Anne)

Applying only for jobs for which you are 1) eligible and 2) qualified will save you lots of time (it takes up to 12 hours to apply for a federal job if you do it properly) and unnecessary stress.

Be sure to use federal terminology, not your own.  The first people to read your résumé are not subject matter experts.  They have a form they follow which has the words they use to assign your application package rating points.  These words are provided by the subject matter expert (AKA hiring official).

If you are able and willing to follow these instructions, you will be surprised at how quickly you will receive an offer of a federal interview.  If not, you will be asking this same question six months from now.

Holiday Shopping List – time for an update

November 14, 2010

Longtime readers of this site know that I release a Top Ten list of gifts for jobhunters on Black Friday, which is fast approaching.  This year, I’ll continue the tradition with one update.  I’m composing a list for the rising college graduate.

Please, readers, between now and Thanksgiving, send me your gift suggestions. You can add them below as a comment below.  Maybe they are costly, maybe they are not, maybe they are gifts of time instead of money.  All suggestions will be considered.  Favorite books, favorite accessories, favorite activities… I want to hear from you.

And remember to check this blog during Thanksgiving to help shape your holiday preparations.

The KSA saga continues

November 11, 2010

Those who reside in Federal Government Land, and those who aspire to it, had better be familiar with the phrase KSA.  Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities is the category title of the essay questions that often accompany position descriptions for federal job openings. The topic is intimidating and distasteful to most of us, although there are hiring agents within government agencies who like them as screening tools for obvious reasons (they are writing samples as well as content-focused).

The writing of KSA essays has become a sub-division of the career counseling industry.  I get calls from prospective clients inquiring if I write KSAs.  No, I certainly don’t.  I don’t have enough inside information to know what an employer is looking for.  I do refer such callers to a colleague who is steeped in information about them because of her former federal employment.

The Office of Personnel Management, who decides on these matters, had promised to get rid of KSAs this year, in fact, by Nov. 1, but it hasn’t happened.

Federal expert Derrick T. Dortch has written an excellent article in today Washington Post, on the federal decision to extend the KSA requirement, and adds some very helpful information on organizing your essays.  It’s one of the cleanest pieces of writing on this topic that I have seen, and I urge you to read this.  You can read it at The Washington Post for 11/11/2010.

I hate to see the federal process be perceived as so intimidating that good people don’t apply.  Please, OPM, get back to reassessing the KSAs, at least as initial screening tools.  And while you’re at it, we’re still waiting for an easier, friendlier USAJobs.gov.  But that’s another story.

Customer service: a scary airline story

November 4, 2010

If you have been reading my previous postings, you know that I am recently back from a vacation in the UK.  And I acquired wonderful stories of excellent customer service in almost every area – meals, shopping, hotels.  But it wasn’t all perfect.

This was our first experience with Virgin Atlantic, and I generously give them a C for customer service.  C :  that falls somewhere between A and F.

What Virgin got right:

  • really spiffy planes, including imaginative lighting and use of color,
  • the offering of an upgrade to premium economy for just one leg of the trip if you want it,
  • a friendly flight crew that seemed to enjoy their work,
  • Quite tasty food, promptly served,
  • a sometimes-user-friendly website.

What Virgin did not get right:

  • a seating policy that ended up costing us more money,
  • a refusal to take responsibility for its own mistake.

I mentioned in a previous posting that we dutifully tried to check in the day before our flight home.  Over and over, we entered data on the website at an internet cafe.  We kept getting a message that our data could not be received.  Sorry, airline, it’s all we had.

Returning to our hotel, we sought help of the concierge.  This nice person contacted Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow number (I think) and put me on the phone with a very polite young man whose name I shall withhold. He checked the booking number and assured me that we were now checked in – we would be able to pick up boarding passes at the airport as we arrived.  Thank you for flying Virgin Atlantic.

Thank you, young man.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived at Heathrow, confidently checked in, and were told that we no longer had seats because they had been released.  You see, we had not checked in.  When I protested and said I had the name of the person who said we were checked in, the ticket lady said, “he’s naughty to say that.  He can’t do that.”  And she produced a list of still-available seats that could be had for an upgrade of thirty pounds each.  Huh?

There was no apology.  Just a hand held out for more money, which we dutifully presented.

So Virgin Atlantic, I am being generous in awarding you a C.  I liked your planes very much, but I am not sure I will fly you again.  I don’t trust you when you tell me everything is in order.  Maybe someone is being naughty.

The concierge: what customer service is all about

November 3, 2010

Have you ever thought that you would like to have your own concierge?  I surely would.  Someone to give you a hand in a new environment?

It takes a special person to answer our questions and meet our travel needs.  It’s a career calling.

I encountered such a person in London.  His name is Carlos and he works at the Waverley House Hotel.  The place is undergoing renovations, so the front entrance is camoflaged behind plywood.  The customer elevator is out of service.  Every path the customer must take seems to be circuitous, longer than it should be, and slightly inconvenient – like traipsing through the dining room, past people peacefully having breakfast, with one’s noisy, rolling suitcase.

You get the picture.  It will take a healthy dose of customer service to keep the clientele happy in this sawdusty situation.

Yet I give the Waverley House Hotel an excellent grade.  One of the reasons is Carlos, the concierge.  The entire staff is friendly and cordial, but we expect this.  Carlos went beyond expectations.

We encountered difficulties checking in with our airline as directed 24 hours in advance of our flight home. The airline website, which we accessed at an internet cafe, would not accept our information.  Carlos offered to get us a phone number, which he did, dialed it, and handed me the phone.  There was a polite, well-trained customer service rep on the phone who gave us his name, checked the reservation, and uttered the famous words that “everything is fine.  You’re checked in and your seats are reserved”.  (Don’t believe it. See the next posting.)

Carlos more than did his part.  He (and we) were confident that all would be well with the flight.

He went outside in the rain the next morning to hail a taxi for us (as we rolled through the breakfast area).

What was right?

  • the hotel acknowledged the renovation on its website, so you can’t claim you didn’t know,
  • the entire staff kept on smiling as they dealt with all kinds of inconveniences,
  • Carlos was knowledgeable about all aspects of transportation options in London,
  • he voluntarily researched our airline contact information and offered to make the contact for us,
  • he kept on smiling while standing in the rain patiently signally for a taxi,
  • he made fine conversation with us about traveling in the UK and in the US.

Thank you, entire Waverley House Hotel staff and a special thanks to Carlos.  You helped create wonderful memories and set high standards for customer service.

More vacation tales of customer service

November 1, 2010

There I was in London, desperately needing a haircut.  My starting point was Regent Street – for those not up on their London geography, that’s a very fancy shopping mecca – Liberty of London, Hamlin’s toy store, etc.  This was going to be not only an adventure, but possibly a pricey one, as I was guided by time and opportunity.  Down the side street, I noted big glass windows and a sign about a spa and hair.

The place was Bloww (www.bloww.com).  Yes, spelled like that.  It listed prices by stylist, star stylist and superstar stylist.  I figured I could afford the just plain stylist.  It was cold and rainy that day, and as I entered the place, warmth and soft lighting awaited me.  The receptionist not only greeted me and assured me that I could be helped very shortly, but took my coat, offered me a drink (the hot tea was delicious) and ushered me to a beautiful seating area.

The courtesy I encountered throughout my experience was extraordinary.  The shampoo room was all dark except for blue lights and ethereal music, the shampoo guy was adept at that scalp massage thing that almost puts you under, and the stylist, Jo, was informative, very pleasant, and expert at cutting and styling.  She told me that the place is in the finals to be the best hair salon in Britain.  How could I have been this lucky in my random choice?

The cost was more reasonable than I could have expected, and it has become a great vacation memory.

What did Bloww do right?

  • they gave plenty of information up front about their costs and services,
  • they greeted me immediately and treated me like royalty,
  • they had a competent and polite staff,
  • the decor was elegant, clean, and restful,
  • they provided excellent service for the money.

Good luck, Bloww, in the upcoming finals of your competition to be the Best in Britain.  In my opinion, you already are!