Archive for August, 2011

Lessons from Steve Jobs

August 31, 2011

Steve Jobs, one of my heroes, has been honored, analyzed, and discussed widely since his recent walking away from the job of CEO of Apple.  Bloggers have had great material in analyzing his impact on industry.  (My favorite is Maureen Anderson’s brief homage in

Newsweek’s cover story (September 5, 2011) looks at Jobs’ impact on industry, the workforce, and product deveelopment.  All good stuff.  But what caught my eye was The Ten Commandments of Steve by Leander Kahney.  As a long-time fan of mac computers (the only ones I’ve ever owned), I read the commandments with interest, and began to wonder if there is relevance for those looking for work.  Do these principles apply only to growing a company?  Or are there wider implications for the rest of us?

For the next few postings, I’m going to lift these commandments from Newsweek and try to apply them to jobhunters.  I know that readers will let me know if I’m stretching logic to the breaking point, or if his techniques are really applicable to a wider audience.  Here goes:

1. Go for perfect.  I like this.  From typos to timeliness, the job hunter must be focused.  If the interview is at 10:00, you are there at 9:45, equipped with extra resumes, a portfolio of work samples, a good pen, a watch, your glasses, a handkerchief.  And whatever else applies to you.  If Jobs could demand perfection of his team, you can demand it of yourself.

Next:  the quality of your support team

A story you’re going to love…

August 26, 2011

It’s my privilege to share a good news story from time to time.  And today, I heard a good one, which my friend Kevin has agreed to share with you.  In his own words….

On the first of March, I signed a one-year lease to move into a one-bedroom apartment in Hyattsville for $909.00 a month, including $45.00 for utilities. I chose this particular apartment based on the income I was bringing in as a temporary employee for EEI Communications and working for the agency’s client, Seamon Corporation (formally B L Seamon), a company I had been with for nearly eight months. 

And then my contract ended. 

By the time I moved into my new apartment April 1, 2011, I only had three days remaining at Seamon Corporation with no immediate prospects lined up, not even a promise for future long-term assignments from EEI Communications.  So, I immediately decided to apply for unemployment benefits for the first time in my life.

While still unable to buy new furniture for my apartment and dreading the rent each month, I turned to my career counselor Anne S. Headley for advice, along with staying in touch with former colleagues from my previous assignment, including Michele Valentine, who had been my managing editor.  I also posted my resume on job sites including Monster, Careerbuilder, The Washington Post Jobs Section, and even Job Services on the Virginia Employment Commission’s (VEC) website. 

Realizing the difficulty I was having in finding work in my own field, I decided to apply for whatever job I could find as quickly as possible; so I turned to Craigslist where I soon found work as an administrative assistant for to a man named Daniel John, who needed assistance in composing and sending letters to U.S. Senators and Congressmen to have his aunt who was suffering from various health problems transported from India and to the United States. Mr. John paid me $10 an hour for two weeks to perform various tasks for him, which during my earlier stay here in this apartment came in handy when I combined his check to the last ones I had received from EEI Communications, including one for the last week of my 8-month assignment at Seamon Corporation, along with one for another short-term assignment at a corporate site in Bethesda, Maryland, also courtesy of EEI Communications. 

Further assignments at EEI Communications became few and far between, lasting less than one week and with even less money, so again I sought other alternatives. By that time, I was finally receiving calls from prospective employers for desired positions, including: Writer/Editor, Technical Editor, Program Manager, Freelance Writer, etc., most of whom had responded to my resume posted on Careerbuilder’s website, among others. Although I was thrilled to receive such attention from so many employers, I found myself more often than not being outdone by other candidates who were considered to be more qualified for those positions. 

While still desperate for steady income, I followed up on an ad in The Washington Post for a part-time Utility Mailer position for the same newspaper, which was a fancy title for a worker who collates newspaper inserts. Soon, I found myself working graveyard hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. wearing a smock and goggles for paid training. 

During the day, however, and thanks to my connection with Anne S. Headley, I was already working as a freelance reporter for an online newspaper called on my first article after Shannon Hoffman, a College Park Patch editor, saw my resume posted online.

Finally, after nearly five months of collecting unemployment benefits, accepting sporadic assignments for less pay from EEI Communications, working nights collating newspaper inserts for Sunday’s The Washington Post, and doing clerical work for a neighbor, I finally found full-time work as a Copy Editor for a government agency called NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).  My resume was discovered online by a recruiter for a temporary agency called the VNS Group Inc., whose client was NIST. For the first time in five months of job-hunting, I felt alive because my credentials were both discovered and appreciated as the perfect fit. And to prove that I was worthy of the attention, I took NIST’s assessment test and passed it with remarkable results.

I’ve learned that it truly pays to explore all the alternates during challenging economic times, even if it means accepting positions that you may not want. I learned that networking is a lifelong process, and that absolutely nothing should be ruled out, as long as it pays the bills. Keeping those things in mind, I haven’t been late one time in paying my rent.

And now, I have officially accepted a full-time position that pays at least one dollar per hour more than the EEI Communications assignment I had lost just prior to moving into my current apartment. Talk about poetic justice! But, I didn’t achieve this goal without settling for less first or staying close to former colleagues and my beloved career counselor, Anne S. Headley. 

So it pays to be humble and assess your situation first, above all else. Not a sermon, just a thought.

Kevin Harris

Dear Kevin,

Thank you on behalf of those who are struggling.  Thanks for sharing those really painful steps during this difficult time.  You remind us that the monthly rent check is a challenge to be kept in mind at all times.  I think it is evident from your letter that you are a person with  good manners,  who understands that people who are recognized will remember you fondly for a long, long time.  I wish you the very best in the new position, and I’m glad you’re going to keep writing for I hope you’ll write for this blog from time to time, especially about letting go of the anxiety of unemployment and enjoying a successful adjustment to the new job.

Great advice from Derrick Dortch

August 22, 2011

I am humbled by the career advice of Derrick T. Dortch, career coach and advisor with a column in the Washington Post.  In a recent column, he shared some serious and (yes!) fresh advice on standing out from the competition in today’s job market.  I applaud anyone who offers strategies that are attainable through hard work and attention to detail.

If you are job-hunting, I am sure you have been bombarded with advice that all begins to sound alike after a while.  I urge you to follow this link for a bit of refreshment.

Most of all, I appreciate his hint about carrying what he calls a career success portfolio, even defining what it is.  I preach that constantly, and am delighted to be seconded by a major player in my field.  Thank you, Mr. Dortch.

Cover Letters: who needs them?

August 17, 2011

A colleague is teaching a class in job-hunting techniques, and asked for my input on cover letters.  I have given this some thought, wondering if things have changed in the past few years as job searching has so heavily shifted to the use of internet tools.  Let’s see:

The effective cover letter has traditionally served three functions:

  1. A chance to personalize your connection to the job possibility.  This means an opportunity to document your link to the organization in question (my uncle, who works in your accounting department, I read with interest your revised goals for the coming decade, congratulations on your being chosen one of the most family-friendly organizations in the county).
  2. An opportunity to highlight a particularly relevant section of the attached resume (during the 1990s, I worked for an affiliate of your company in Baltimore, as you can see by my resume, I am fluent in Italian and French, I note that we are both members of the University alumni association in our city).
  3. A writing sample.  The successful cover letter is interesting, unique, polished, and of course, perfectly presented.  It has been proof-read and spell-checked, not only by your computer but by one or two of your pickiest friends.  And you have listened!
Since you really cannot attach a cover letter to your LinkedIn profile or to your own blog or website, the cover letter also has a new function – that of serving as a targeted letter.  This means a letter that can stand on its own as an introduction to you, your skills and experience.
To convert a cover letter to a stand-alone targeted letter, you will of course remove phrases such as:
  • as you will see in the following resume,
  • I am taking the liberty of attaching…
Please note that the third traditional function of the cover letter is as true today as it ever was.  It is still a writing sample, it must still be perfect, and it should still reflect the effort that you have put into it.
I welcome readers’ thoughts on cover letters of yesterday and today.  What has worked in the past?  What is working now?

It’s August, 2021, how’s your life?

August 13, 2011

Do you wonder about life ten years from now?  I do.  The most important thing I gain from this exercise is an acceptance of age.  I’ll be …. years old.  It’s okay, I said it to myself.  Out loud.  You don’t have to know.

I find it scary to acknowlede that life goes on, the years pile up, and never mind what gravity can do in a decade.

I hope my life is somewhat like it is now – that is, I’ll be facing insurmountable jobs in the yard that never get done, there will be a pile of email to tackle, and I’ll be planning a fast-approaching trip.

I hope that jobs are easier to come by.  I hope that my wonderful clients and friends are as busy as they want to be, doing what they love to do.

I hope my grandson will have completed some aspect of his education and taking steps toward the career of his dreams (currently, living in Japan and designing games).

I hope my daughters are continuing to lead interesting lives, doing useful things that please them.

I hope my husband and I are still have good-natured arguments about where the next trip should be and how we will pay for it.

I hope the decade is gentle on our health and our finances.

I hope time with friends is as special as it always was.

So bring it on, 2021.  One day at a time, please.

After we’re gone…

August 11, 2011

Have you ever engaged in that morbid thinking about how you’ll be remembered when you’re dead?

I was at a funeral yesterday of a lovely lady in my church.  I didn’t know her terribly well, but we enjoyed a congenial friendship with lots of smiles.  As I sat in the service, I marvelled at the things I hadn’t know about her.  She was long retired, and I knew she had worked for Congress, but I never asked.  It just never came up.

Well, it turns out that she was an expert on agriculture, had served on agricultural committees for years, and in retirement, had worked for an agricultural resource firm that advised Congress on pending legislation.  And she played golf (I knew that).  And she traveled throughout most of the continents.  And she had very young grandchildren.

What I knew was her rollicking sense of humor, how she was so grounded that she just didn’t suffer fools gladly.  I loved that in her.

So what will they know about me?  A few people will remember my career counseling, my immediate family will remember my quiche lorraine, long-term friends will claim that I remembered all kinds of trivia, and the rest… well, humor is a darned good legacy.  I’ll settle for that.

Is your focus lost or merely mislaid?

August 5, 2011

I’ve had several conversations with people this week about career focus, and I used to have a ready answer;   know what you want and work toward it.  Don’t be tempted by offers that will take you in the wrong career direction.

Now I wonder.  One acquaintance was offered a job in a direction he had sought to put behind him.  He knows what he wants, he is qualified for it, and he’s working toward it.  And then there’s this offer that came out of the blue.  What to do?

In a better time for jobs, we all know the answer:  stay focused, you can get what you want.

But this is not a better time.  I just hate watching someone take a detour unless it is necessary.

It is necessary.  The new opportunity is not awful.  He doesn’t hate it.  He will take the time to learn some new skills.  He will contribute his talents to the organization.  And he won’t give up on his dream field.

I salute him, and all of you who are doing what you need to do to survive.  In a year – or two or three – the job market will be more fluid and you will be in a stronger position to make a move back into the direction of your dreams.

So take the job, manage the money well, give of yourself, learn something new, and keep on networking.  Congratulations on the new opportunity.

Should your week-end be longer?

August 3, 2011

WordPress asks us to consider if the week-end should be longer than two days, and if so, what would we do with that time?

Consider the larger question of flexible work schedules.  There are now enlightened workplaces that allow four long work-days and a day off every week to two weeks – however the hours work out.

Results? Let me guess:

  • happier employees who do not use their sick leave for routine family business,
  • a way to motivate employees without additional money,
  • a more organized workplace, where people need to meet goals and communicate with colleagues and customers,
  • more parental involvement in schools and activities,
  • possibly less sleep deprivation.
This is a highly unscientific list – the points are drawn from my own experience as well as those of clients and friends.
When talking about work schedules, flexibility comes up so often! That concept is what creative people want.  It’s what families want.  And those with eldercare issues. Errands. College courses.  Household repairs.  And so much more.
If the question of longer week-ends invoked thoughts of extended trips to the beach, well, I thought that, too, at first.  If that is what you want, then drive safely and don’t forget the sunscreen.
But for those of us with all kinds of responsibilities, it sounds like a chance to catch a breath.  Nothing wrong with that.
One organization at a time, it is happening.  Call it flextime or staggered work schedules, it is a huge boost to employee morale.
Yes!  Week-ends should be longer.