Monday, November 30, 2009

Branding redux

I’ve been thinking about “Branding” a lot the last couple of weeks. What is a core skill set? What is a “core strength”? How do I (or anyone else) use those to stay relevant in a world that is changing at the speed of light?

As near as I can tell, all of us have lots of strengths. I have certainly met people who didn’t recognize theirs, but they still had strengths. Equally, pretty much all of us have a wide variety of skills, unfortunately, these have a habit of becoming outdated, so it’s easy to feel like we don’t have much to offer, or what we have to offer isn’t what people are willing to pay for. So how do we build from current to future, using our strengths as a guide? How do we avoid being sidetracked, yet continue to move in a direction that keeps us employable?

The premise here is that in order to identify the ongoing strengths that we want to depend on, that we want to be hired to use, we need to look at our work history and our successes. As we identify those successes and identify the patterns of success, we also identify our “brand”. This allows us to recreate our resumes, profiles etc to emphasize what we are passionate about. This allows us to look at jobs where we will be able to build on our strengths. It also helps us understand the idea that we are creating a partnership with a potential employer.

Let’s face it, we all want a job where we can pretty much guarantee success, where we normally create high expectations that we then exceed. It’s just fun to do. The key is knowing enough about our own strengths and skills so we apply for work that fits that profile. Understanding and documenting a brand that allows us to focus our search and get the job we want.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” or so wrote Charles Dickens 150 years ago, although I’ve certainly heard people quoting one half or the other recently. There was an article in the Seattle Times recently about how tough the market is and how current job descriptions include everything and then throw in “personal assistant tasks” whatever the heck that means. If we include “discouraged” workers along with people still looking for work, unemployment pencils out as 15% or more. We’ve all been impacted by an economy that is the worst since the Great Depression. At the same time, people are going to work. Some of the folks working with NFJS are getting their dream jobs. Some are looking at their careers and saying, “I need to do what I love!”

One woman who has been a participant started out completely desperate for work. While coming to NFJS we helped her articulate what her dream job was and how to accomplish it: Creating an Art School. Eventually her desperation won out (or so we thought) and she took an admin job for the Feds. Within one month, she quit, rented some space and started her school. It’s been about a month since I’ve heard from her, but at that point, she had four classes going and was paying herself enough to stay afloat. It took her about four months to create her dream job at a level that supports her minimum requirements. She won’t buy a BMW this year, but then she doesn’t want one. What she wants is to teach art, and what she’s doing is teaching art. For her this is the “best of times”.

Another member of NFJS came to us looking for manual testing contract at Microsoft, testing hardware or software and complaining about how Microsoft has cut the compensation for contractors. This man did his homework while with us and developed a much better understanding of his own experience, his capabilities and his passions. What he got was an FTE position for AT&T at about 1/5th more than he thought he would be able to ask for as a contractor and doing precisely what he wanted: Leading a team doing automated hardware and software testing of devices.

The point of these two stories is to recognize that we have opportunities in spite of what we might read or hear. It always requires work to become what we want to become, but if we can articulate it and the steps necessary completely, if we can imagine it and the steps to get there completely, then we can do it. For most purposes, we get to choose if this is “the best of times” or “the worst of times”. Creating “the best of times” is hard work, but so is creating “the worst of times”.

Amazingly, the Green Bean Coffee house has been resurrected! Wayward Coffee House has been a great answer for the last month, Thank you, thank you Wayward Coffee House!
The Green Bean is now housed in the “Sip N Ship” on Greenwood Ave. 8560 Greenwood Ave N. Being back at the Bean will be great.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Matt Youngquist, owner of Career Horizons, recently and I was impressed. I’ve been receiving his newsletter for a couple of years and have to say he consistently has great information. His blog is also excellent and on the list of blogs I follow. Career Horizons is a career coaching organization. They help while you’re working as well as in between. Their approach reinforces the idea that job search needs to be a continuous process – whether or not you are looking! This is just one more instance.

Living Life Opportunities Speaking of parts of the job search that are really on-going, networking is a process that requires continuous nurturing. Fortunately, it’s also a completely normal, integral part of our lives. At least two of the members of NFJS have gone back to work through contacts developed in their children’s sports. They weren’t doing something strange, like shouting “I NEED A JOB”. They were volunteering, being themselves and consistently providing the kind of quality that is their norm. They also worked on their elevator pitch hard enough so that when someone asked what they are doing, they responded easily and naturally with the pitch. Sooner or later conversations about work led to understanding, combined with watching how these people conduct themselves as volunteers and “voila” a job offer materialized.

Networking Opportunities There are also times when we have specific opportunities to meet people who might be especially important in our search. These are “networking” opportunities. Maybe it’s a Job Search Social, or maybe it’s a Job Fair. Who we are isn’t going to change, and what we’re looking for isn’t changing. These events may seem to be pretty artificial and when you meet someone there, it is difficult to develop a lot of enthusiasm for them. We don’t really know them, and we don’t really understand what they are doing, or the quality of it. So it’s easy to dismiss these as quixotic – a waste of time.

They don’t have to be though. In order to make one of these events useful, the key is focus on yourself, what you bring; then, how well you follow up.

For instance, there’s a local job fair you see advertised for next week. Preparation includes investigating the firms being advertised as participating. Do they recruit for your industry? If not, then don’t go. If they do, then do they ever have openings for someone with yours skill set? It’s a job fair, then it better be a current opening, or don’t waste your time. If it’s a job social, then current is good, but go either way. Job fairs are a grind, what you want is the card of the person recruiting for your position. It allows you to follow up and separate yourself from the stack they got at the fair. Job socials are better, but the goal is still the card of someone who will be recruiting for your position.

Follow Through What you have now is an opportunity to create a relationship with someone who might be able to help. If there is a current position, then start with an email, then follow up with snail mail. Include in your initial communications an invite to meet and a time when you’ll follow up. Something like, “I appreciated meeting you at the job social last night and would love to follow up in a less frenzied atmosphere. I’ll call you Thursday morning to set up a time for a brief meeting.” Do some more research on the company and then call Thursday Morning.

I understand that this kind of socializing is hard. It’s hard for me too, but the job social/fair isn’t a time when you can get the other person’s undivided attention, nor can you give them yours. Finding a way to represent yourself as you are is your real goal. It’s also an opportunity we won’t get without asking. We may not get it then either, but we at least have a chance this way.