Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten Job Search Tools

Bruce’s Top Ten List got me thinking along similar lines, so here are the 10 things I think are the best tools in job search.

1. Friends; Kind of weird to put our friends in the category of tools, but they are the single most important piece of your job search. Study after study and anecdote after anecdote tell us the same thing, The precise numbers vary, but they all say, “More than 80% of all jobs come with some level of personal introduction.” In other words, a friend introducing you to someone who introduces you to ….. So your friends are your most important tool in job search.

2. Pay-it-forward networking. This is a direct corollary to 1. We make friends by helping people we genuinely like and the people we like are those very friends reviewed in 1. Look at the book “I’m at a Networking Event, Now What” by Sandy Jones-Kaminsky, it provides simple clear tools for effective networking. Its all based on the idea of helping first. Useful networking starts with relationships that go beyond a simple business card and elevator pitch. That comes from trust and common values etc. There simply isn’t a better, faster way of doing this then helping.

3. Linkedin. Speaking of our friends or “network”, Linkedin is the best tool for documenting and mining that network. It’s work related social networking and allows us to understand how to help our friends and allow our friends to help us.

4. Internet “aggregators” . Tools that allow us to set up one search that covers a bunch of web pages on a regular basis. For example, Indeed.com covers several hundred job boards, so we can set up a single search that routinely sends the results to your email, or on an RSS feed. Another one is Linkup.com, it searches company pages with opportunities. Google Alerts does the same thing with information, so if you are focused on a particular company or job title, virtually anything, it will give you a daily list of updates

5. Work-Life DB™. This is a tool we created (and trademarked) and I haven’t found anything as effective or as complete in helping a person document their success and their history. We all know and pay at least lip service to the idea that job search is a sales position. The first step in effective, ethical sales is product knowledge, in this case that translates to the history of our success.

6. Strengths Finder. A corollary to 6. This is an outstanding test/process that helps us refocus our heads on our strengths, those things we naturally do very well… which is the same list of the things we do in a non-voluntary way. Check out my earlier post on this, it’s very cools stuff.

7. Public Libraries. Given that research is one of the crucial steps in job search, there simply isn’t a better place to do research. Locally, King County Library has this amazing list of research tools for job search and researching companies.

8. GIST. If research is one of the keys to success in the job search, then this add-in to either Gmail or Outlook is an amazing shortcut in that process. It automatically collects basic info, actually more than basic, about our contact list. Once someone is set up as a contact, Gist will provide you with an ongoing way of staying current. Is someone on Twitter? It will give you their last 5 tweets each week, Blogger? Their last posting. Linkedin? Any changes.

9. Bing/Google. Our old friends the basic search engines. What can I say that hasn’t been said? I include both because Bing has become a very useful tool and isn’t a clone of Google, so running searches in both tools provides additional information and both are very helpful.

10. Job Clubs. Groups like Notes From the Job Search (check out our schedule in the right column) provide support as we go through job search. So much of job search is incredibly difficult simply because of the isolation inherent in spending time looking for opportunities. Even the most qualified candidates can spend weeks and months sending off 10’s, 20’s even 100s of resumes without any response, so how the dickens can we remember that much of the craziness isn’t personal. Heck, it’s not even related to the quality of your applications. Finding a peer group going through this makes it much much easier.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bruces Top 10 Tips

If you are a regular reader then you know that occasionally one of the participants of Notes from the Job Search writes something to be posted on the blog and this is one of those.  It comes from Bruce Menzies, a network admin type who is in the habit of approaching life as a "learner" and who is also very articulate.  There are a couple of points here I quibble with (you'll notice I use Hotmail, not Gmail) but that's as close as I get to disagreeing with any of it and there are a couple that are incredibly wise! 

Bruce's 10 tips and tricks for Internet and Job Tool Success 2011

1. Get Google accounts (Choose something with your real name) + (another without your real name/ID..its your junk account). Learn to use folders and docs in Google Mail and Docs.

2. Get a Google Voice account with the zip code of your target job city/area. Forward that number to the device (cellphone, land line etc) of your choice. Customize it so it says your first name.

3. Learn Blogging (Google: 'How to use blogger' or use the teachparentstech.org website). Please read the wikipedia.org entry for 'Blog' to understand the implications of blogging. Consider the 'Legal and Social Consequences' section along with the last 4 sections of the wikipedia entry for 'Blog'. This is only for those interested in Blogging.

4. Get a WA state business license (Google: Washington Master Business License) $15 + $5 for each DBA name. Get an EIN tax number. This actually is a good thing. Read up on 'why having a business license is a good thing'....and its cheap!!

5. Research employment/temping trends. Find the skills (which compliment yours) that employers are looking to add. Don't assume you have these already. You don't...really. Use Temp/Contract companies as a resource to query for the most asked for skills. (Get a Temp-Company contacts name. Go to them. Query them in person. Don't ask these questions over the phone). You can show, but don't give them a resume....not just yet. Unless they have 3 possible positions for you that you like.

6. Get a library card...USE the library and its digital media. (This cannot be over emphasised.  If you are a King County resident -- Seattle counts -- the you can get one via kcls.org.  Steve)

7. Information is power and it makes you smarter!!! Chill-out at Barnes and Nobles/Borders bookstores. You don't need to buy anything. READ up on new relevant skills while there. Take notes!!

8. Use posted jobs descriptions as a template for your personal functional resume. (ADD THE MISSING SKILL SETS which appear as common). Use Indeed.com to get notifications of Jobs. Get the latest demo/trialware of new software for improving your tech skills and practice.

9. Network in person: Informal meetings, interviews and using Linkedin. Starting with our Job Search group. Linkedin is not a social network. It is for business and resource networking. Join and use it!!! (Facebook is NOT for personal business or their connections...really).

10. You should not expect a new job/position with exactly the same previous title, responsibility, tasks, etc. Be flexible like a willow tree. (Google: Lessons from a willow tree)

Happy New Year 2011,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It’s amazing how persistent generalizations are. Recently, Manu Sharma posted a blog entry detailing the 10 most overused buzzwords in Linkedin Profiles in 2010.
In early 2009 Squawk Fox posted a great article titled “Six Words that Make Your Resume Suck

What I find especially interesting is how much the two have in common. Both are spot on, but I do admit I think Squawk Fox’s is better, it is crystal clear, funny, and he provides useful alternatives to the clich├ęs.

Start with the bad words… No, not four letter words, just meaningless ones. Manu Sharma’s list:

  1. Extensive experience
  2. Innovative
  3. Motivated
  4. Results-oriented
  5. Dynamic
  6. Proven track record
  7. Team player
  8. Fast-paced
  9. Problem solver
  10. Entrepreneurial

Now from Squawk Fox:

  1. Responsible for
  2. Experienced
  3. Excellent written communication skills
  4. Team Player
  5. Detail Oriented
  6. Successful

Notice the overlap? What do they have in common? I think it’s reasonable obvious, The words on these two lists claim characteristics, rather than demonstrating them.

There is a place on your resume where these are acceptable, even desirable. Using a “Core Competencies” section on your resume, you are telling the reader that you are claiming certain characteristics and/or skills. The rest of your resume is all about demonstrating them.

Linkedin doesn’t really have a “Core Competencies” section, so we aren’t going to be able to set up that kind of a section, and sometimes, the words/phrases above are part of likely “key words” that hiring managers may look for. So how do we balance?

Take “Team Player” which is on both lists, does that mean you were on your high school volleyball team? How about telling us about a team you were on? Plagiarizing from Squawk Fox, let’s replace “Team Player” with specifics:

  • Worked with clients, software developers, technical writers, and interface designers to deliver financial reporting software three months before deadline.

In Linkedin, we could do:

  • Demonstrated Team Player, having worked with clients, software developers, technical writers, and interface designers to deliver financial reporting software three months before deadline.

These are sooo much more powerful! As a hiring manager, these bullets jump off of the page and tell me why I want the guy/gal who wrote it.

So here are a couple of great links and some outstanding advice. Take a look at your profile, take a look at your resume and see if you can implement it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Web mistakes

One of the results of the article in the Seattle Times has been that I’ve been contacted (out of the Blue) by folks with useful stuff they want to share. One of those is a group/web page named OnlineTraining.org. What they do is help people evaluate various online training resources. What specifically caused them to reach out (I suspect at least) was a desire to get a new blog post noticed.

The title is “The 10 Worst Web Mistakes to Keep You from Finding a Job” and it is worth noticing. Their choice of mistakes is spot on and goes well beyond the obvious. We all know that pictures of someone having too good a time can kill an opportunity, even if the good time was years ago, but how thoughtful are we with the contents of our Tweets?

At any rate, it’s one of those that should be required reading for all of us involved with job search.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Resumes that Resume Careers

It’s interesting, every time I go to Deborah Drake’s group for reluctant bloggers, I seem to come back with something worth blogging about. This time, I met another career coach, one who is an author as well. His name is Don Burrows and the book I’m referring to is “Resumes that Resume Careers”. Don’s background is HR, where he spent 30 years of his career and where he was able to function at levels varying from recruiter to Director. The book is packed with wisdom, and while I would love to recap most it, I would really need to copy the whole thing to do it justice. So I’ll suggest you find a copy.

It does have a central theme and that is to write “functional” resumes. It’s an unusual choice as this is the first place I’ve seen the recommendation in a while. As a manager, and as an applicant, it’s what I wanted and what I usually used. However, as a Coach, my normal recommendation has become a “hybrid” format: One that looks like a reverse historical resume, but focuses on accomplishments/functions/functionality and if someone is looking for work in their current profession, I’ll continue to recommend it. The primary reason is that it has the added value of avoiding HR’s filters.

If you are making any kind of break from what you last did, then Don’s suggestion is something you should consider very carefully. His premise is that companies and recruiters care about what you can do for them. He’s right. The person most likely to be pleased with the format is a “hiring manager”. If you have problems that need to be solved, then the easier it is to visualize someone doing so, the easier it is to hire them.

One of the interesting things about the increased use of electronic DBs to store and retrieve candidates is that they aren’t going to care about format. We care, and HR cares. As Don says, “The goal of a resume is to get a recruiter to call YOU for an interview.” In other words, we want to be found when a recruiter is running a search and we want to give this recruiter enough pertinent information so they see us as close enough to a solution to talk to.  A functional resume is very specifically designed to do that.

A little later in his book Don writes, “Please don’t ever forget: the company is not in business to satisfy your wants and needs. YOU are the product and before they will “buy” YOU, they want to know what YOU have accomplished elsewhere and what you’ll do for THEM.” Your resume isn’t really about you at all. It’s about some job and how you will be able to perform it.

Beyond this, Don and I have lots of disagreements about a bunch of little things, like whether to include an objective and how to develop it etc. but those really boil down to style. If you read Don's book and follow his suggestions, you will come up with an excellent resume, one that looks a lot like the ones NFJS recommends.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It’s Thanksgiving Week, and while I only write about attitude once in a while (I think this is the third time), now is a very good time. This is one of my favorite holidays because it is about attitude and choosing to look at all we have to be thankful for. It’s simply a day to focus on what’s working. When we’re looking for work, this is one of the most important choices we can make every day and it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed by the challenge facing us and to allow that single item to become our center and focus. So having a day that focuses on what’s good, is a terrific moment.

It’s well documented how hard job search is, after all what other activity do we have that only has one possible complete success and what other activity is there when this event only occurs once? But if we just change our perspective a little bit, it’s amazing how much we have. For example, look here to see how you stack up against the rest of the world.

The real point is that there are always things we can be thankful for, and focusing on those puts us in a much better position for pretty much everything in our lives. Thinking specifically about job search, we know that we are hired because we can help some company or person, not because we need a job. Well, how do we help, if our focus is only on what we need?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seattle Times Article

Looks like an article that has been worked on for the last several months will finally appear this weekend!  Check out Sunday's Pacific Magazine in the Seattle Times.  It's sad in a lot of ways, because there is a human toll and the author documents that.  The reality is that NFJS is in the business of selling hope, no matter the environment, so we're a lot more positive than the article, but being featured is very flattering.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guidelins for an Elevator Pitch

One of my clients recently asked me for guidelines for the development of an elevator pitch. I had gone through them with her orally, but she’s one of those that likes stuff written down, and I hadn’t written it down. Our version of an elevator pitch is one of those things that has evolved over time. Having read about them a great deal, there were portions of many of them that are strong, but none of them fit our goals. I actually wrote about this in March of ’09 and while what we were working on then is similar to where we are now, our concept of this is much more clear.

The key to this version of the pitch is recognition that a "network" is not some foreign thing that people go and "get" when they need help. Your network is actually your current suite of friends and acquaintances. The people you do Yoga with, go to Church with, play music with, etc. Your work network does focus more on, well, .. work. :) That doesn't mean you should start hanging out with creeps because they might get you ahead, just that there is an awareness of work items when building this group of friends (the same as there was a bias of same age children when our kids were young).

We mostly see networking as a “pay it forward” process. In other words, we interact with our network by focusing on how we can help others. As that happens, people normally want to help us as well, so the pitch should be sufficiently clear to provide direction, but should never de-rail the conversation or work being done.

Given that our fist goal is to help others, it is reasonable to assume than when we state our pitch we are talking with people who are predisposed to helping us and who have enough experience with us so they know we are in fact reasonably competent and conscientious. When we talk with these folks, they want to help, mostly they don't know how. So our pitch is aimed at giving them direction. We aren't trying to prove something, nor are we explaining, nor are we introducing ourselves, we are just giving them some direction. We are letting them know how they can help. We also don't want to get stuck talking about things that aren't especially relevant to whatever activity is going on, be it church or whatever.

With that as background, an elevator pitch should be:
  • short (15 to 30 seconds)
  • direct
  • clear
  • jargon free
  • include elements of you that separate you from the competition.
  • flexible
My pitch goes something like this, “My name is Steve Paul, I’m a career coach: Founder and Director of Notes from the Job Search. I have had the honor of helping people identify the job of their dreams and then get it. Even in a down market.”

In real life, I almost never quote it completely, but I will use pretty much every element which are: 
  1. Name. This is the most frequently dropped portion. I don’t introduce myself to people who already know me. 
  2. Professional Role. This is the most likely part to be stated, it states how I work and gives people an idea of how I can help them and/or their friends 
  3. Introduces Notes from the Job Search. This is an extension of my role and increases the number of ways I can help. It’s very likely to be included.
  4. What makes me (and NFJS) special. This part is included when I think there is an audience for it, which is probably just half of the time.
So that’s it.




Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tuning Linkedin

Recently I ran into a really terrific video focusing on how a recruiter should use LinkedIn. This video is a blog post on http://www.booleanblackbelt.com/. The author is Glen Cathey who at least at the time this video was made was VP of Recruiting for KForce, and this is very clearly intended for KForce’srecruiting staff. This video is a whole five minutes long, so without overthinking it, this is great for job seekers as well.

So what is the magic? What does Mr.Cathey teach his troops?

There are (of course) several points to extract:
  • When we have worked on tuning our profiles so we can be found, we have been somewhat mystified  by the order of who is actually returned—why am I on page two when yesterday I was on page one?. A minor part of his presentation explains it. The default is a combination of “key word” and “connections”. He doesn’t go into the full equation and he tells us how to change it, but it starts with the combination that LinkedIn labels “Relevance”.
  •  He tells his workers how to develop complex searches, which translates to us as needing to tune our profiles beyond a single word.

So what do we take out of this as job seekers? The most important thing is understanding the recruiter’s point of view and not just when we build our profile in LinkedIn. In this context, LinkedIn represents any resume database and if we are to be found any of them, then we need to make it easy.

NFJS is committed to custom resume’s for every job applied for, and this is probably the most elegant argument I have seen as to why. Recruiting databases, whether it be LinkedIn or some custom DB created internally, Microsoft or GE or Apple provide recruiters the capability of identifying a pretty specific set of skills. If we are going to find the job we want and our tool is online applications, then we need to thread that needle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Story of George

This is the story of George (as usual, not his real name) and how taking the application process seriously can be effective.

There is a lot of information both documented and anecdotal that the way to get a job is through networking.  And it’s pretty much true:  approximately 4 out of 5 jobs are a product of networking…  Of course that leaves 1 out of 5 being a product of all the application stuff.  You know what I mean, find an ad on one of the job boards, send in an application etc.

This is the story of one of those.  George is an engineer, laid off in the spring of 2009, he joined NFJS that summer.  Engineers are pretty consistent in that do tend to be organized and George definitely fits that mold.  He is also a good guy and someone who approached his search very seriously.  Normally that means he is a great candidate for a networking referral and he definitely worked that angle. 

He also needed to do his three contacts a week to qualify for unemployment.    This he did with genuine diligence.  It wasn’t going through the motions.  He had set up a daily email on www.Indeed.com sending him a list of potential opportunities, and every Monday morning he scoured through these to find the best three from the weekend, mostly the ads were less than optimal, but he found the best three.  With each of these he would first go through the job description, then do some basic research on the company.  Assuming the company came up as a real thing and not a scam, he would then customize his resume using his Work-Life DB™ and submit it the way asked for by the ad.  By the time this story took place he had been honing his process for a while.  He had done a complete job on his Work-Life DB™ and knew how to cut and paste up a new resume very quickly.  Normal for an application was about a half hour.  He also had very low expectations.  After all he had been doing some variation of this process for 8 months and at best would get a personal turn down a couple of times a month.  In spite of the very low response he got, he continued to go through this process with commitment and respect.

There is a process in psychology called “extinction”.  Basically this is the term used to describe the elimination of a behavior.  It occurs when a behavior is completely ignored:  In other words, exactly what happens with the online job application process.  If you are applying for jobs online, you know what I’m talking about.  It is normal for people to get one response of any kind for every 10 or 15 applications they send in, and of those 75 or 80% are automated.  So actually turning in 3 applications a week for six or seven months is one of the most difficult things in the job search.  A key element in sustaining that effort is efficiency, so are you spending 20 hours a week to get your 3 applications in?  I’ve been helping people with job search for more than 30 years, I’ve been doing it professionally for most of the last two and I have not found anyone who takes that long to turn in their three applications a week and who is still doing it after about four months.  Their behavior has been “extinguished”. 

What George did was find a way to contain this part of his job search to Monday mornings.  Using the tools built through NFJS, he found a way to work past this very powerful psychological block and continue month after month.  In his case, in the end it worked.  In March of this year, he came to our West Seattle group Tuesday Morning at 11:00 and with a dazed expression reported that he had applied Monday (the previous day) and they had already called!!   It did take another six weeks, but that is where he went to work. 
Here’s how George was able to be successful:
  • ·        The Work-Life DB™ is a tool that allows you to collect all of your business success and documentation in one place.  Where you worked, who you worked for, what your accomplishments  were, all of the recommendations that grew out of the job, etc.
  • ·        Job board aggregators” are a class of web site that allow you to set up an automated search of some very large number of job boards and have the results sent to you either through an RSS feed, or via email.  These tools largely eliminate the need to scour the various boards for opportunities.  George set up a search on www.indeed.com that dropped opportunities into his email every morning.  One other worth mentioning is www.linkup.com (not related to Linkedin).  It’s value is that it goes through company web pages and posts new openings as they occur.
  • ·        Reading an advertisement to identify what matters to a company for a position is a very particular skill and George mastered it.  In other words, (and in George’s case) when he saw an ad that asked for an engineer who could “design widgets” he would go through his history and pull all of the proof he had that he could “design widgets”, then he would include it on his custom resume and using the words “design widgets” every time he had some experience demonstrating he would be great at designing widgets. 
  • ·        Promptness is important as well and George had this part down.  In addition to his Monday Morning ritual of getting out his three weekly, he checked his email feed from Indeed every morning and any time he identified something interesting he responded.
  • ·        Persistence is also necessary and George had this part down as well.  He had eight months of futility in this process before he connected, but he did not quit!  Every Monday he got his 3 applications out and every other morning, he tracked what was going on, responding to every good opportunity he found.

The point is that it can work.  It always requires persistence and it requires adequate luck combined with a lot of work. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do what you love and the money will follow

One of my clients recently forwarded an article from a group named “Recourses” about work-life balance and following your passion.

It’s very interesting but actually comes across as a bit of a rant suggesting that following your passion is a great way to starvation…. The article isn’t signed, but my guess is that the company is small enough so that if you are a regular, you pretty much know who the author is.

I think my client sent it to me because I have asked her several times, “What would you do for free?” as we have focused her career search. So here comes someone with a dramatically different point of view, or it sure looks that way to begin with.

The first clue is that he frankly acknowledges that he personally “loves his work”. So how does that fit with the idea that we shouldn’t follow our passions?

I think the part he is actually objecting to isn't that people want "to love what they do", but that many times people don't include market realities. I love music... really really love it, but making a living at it would be more than a stretch.

The challenge isn't so much identifying things that we are passionate about, but things that we are passionate about and that people will pay us to do. He's also ranting about people wanting their job to be all of the good and none of the rest. He's right about this as well, heck even musicians need to practice. The man who invented classical guitar as a legitimate discipline, Andres Segovia would practice a new piece for 2 years before he performed it. When the great Seattle Sonics point guard, Gary Payton entered the NBA, he was amazing at getting to the basket, passing and controlling a game, but he had no outside shot. He spent the next several years shooting 500 shots 4 days a week and 300 on the other 3. He did this on his own time. Was it his favorite part of the day? Probably not, but it was necessary if he was going to be as good as he hoped and it was necessary if he was going to be able to lead his team. I love being a Career Coach, but part of being a coach is writing, which I actually hate,  I also know that I need to continuously research the job market to stay current and to have deep enough pockets to last long enough for it to become a viable business.

The point is that every job has both good and bad. The author uses his own childhood, growing up on a coffee plantation as an example of what it means to work hard at something you don’t care much about. In fact his example of the coffee farming is in many ways apropos, as I do know people who are passionate about coffee and who grow coffee because of this. They know exactly how hard it is and bust their tails doing it. The consequence of this passion is their coffee regularly wins awards, sells for $36 a pound and sells out every year.

Another piece not being acknowledged is what the job market is like right now. Employers have choices. A consequence of this is that they are choosing the very cream at every opportunity and frankly, if you aren’t passionate about what you do, it’s much harder to be part of that cream.

I repeatedly ask my clients “What would you do for free?” The reason is that in today’s market place, if we hope to keep up, then we are studying our profession on our time and our nickel. No one does this when they aren’t passionate.

Going back to the coffee plantation analogy.  My guess that his farm was moderately successful, but the people making more than a simple living are the ones continuously learning and improving their product.

So will the money follow just because you are doing what you love? Maybe…. Will the money follow if you are doing things you don’t like? Probably not. The key in both cases is what you do or don’t do to prepare and doing what you love makes that preparation much much easier.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stories from NFJS -- Fred’s Story

This one is about Fred (not his real name). He joined NFJS as our Work-Life Data Base™ was maturing and he embraced it. What makes his story interesting is the consequence of this process.

Fred’s profession is software and hardware testing, with a strong element of audio technology thrown in. He joined us at the very bottom of the recession when more than half of the jobs being advertised were bogus and at least half of the rest required that you walk on water without looking for the rocks. One job description asked for a web developer who could answer phones, run purchasing and pick the laundry… and the only part I’m making up is the purchasing. Microsoft had just cut what they would pay contractors 10% across the board and was routinely demanding skills that were a full step above the pay they were willing to provide. I don’t ever remember a time when the economy was worse or when finding a job was tougher.

Fred sounded very realistic about his situation. He said that he was hoping for a new contract where his pay would be at least 80% of the last one. I’m very familiar with the skills he described and with the employment environment in that area having recently left the industry myself. When I reviewed his original resume, it sounded like that was a reasonable hope, but he better be capable of making more than a few house payments with his unemployment.

NFJS was just at the beginning of our resume section at that time. We spend four weeks of meetings going over the “How to”. It starts with the basic fundamentals of resume writing and ends with our Work-Life DB™. This is a tool that allows people to document their success and put it in a format that easily translates into a custom resume.

By far the most important part of all this is the Work-Life DB™. The first thing it does is highlight the most powerful stories in their work history. It helps the writer understand that they are not asking for charity. Great candidates are not asking for handouts, they are offering to help a company solve specific problems.

Back to Fred.

He understood all of this immediately, then he did the work. There are three parts that matter in this story. Number one: documenting your success. Fred went back through his history and wrote down what he was responsible for and what he accomplished at each of his previous positions. Number two: putting this information in structures that communicate effectively what he accomplished. And three: Using the language that companies expect and understand.

The result was dramatic: “Executed weekly test passes of more than 5,000 tests (Tux and Tuxnet) generating more than 100,000 results.” Became “Lead the XXXXX automation test lab for the development of XXXXX, maintaining more than 5,000 tests cases and managing the execution of test passes generating more than 100,000 results.” The first one is ok… the second one is excellent. The second one highlights the context in which his work occurred and claimed all of the responsibility Fred had. The first one names tools that are important to Microsoft, but only Microsoft. If Fred wanted to work somewhere else, then the hiring company would either scramble for Wikipedia or eliminate (this is the kind of thing Fred would have included when applying at Microsoft.)

Fred got the job!

The new resume has energy and it has relevance and it has the language that was being looked for by companies that do the kind of testing Fred does and is responsible for. The result of this work was that he got an interview for an FTE position at another company, then got the job! His new role is leading automated testing for both hardware and software for one of the products this organization produces and he got a 20% raise!!!

Yes, Fred is highly skilled and yes, he is in a role that is always looking for quality people, but when he joined NFJS, that was not clear, especially to Fred. As he dug into his experience, he developed an understanding that allowed him to identify, apply for and win a position he had been preparing for, for most of his professional career…. Even while the “economy” totally tanked.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stories from NFJS

My desperate hunting for blog ideas has been solved!

I mentioned that I joined a “support group for reluctant bloggers” in an earlier blog and this week I was able to get to there for the second time. While participating, I had an epiphany as another member talked about the stories of her clients and their success, I realized that I haven't written a single story about the participants from NFJS and what's happened to them. Once that penetrated my thick skull, the hard part is choosing. While I’ve been doing Notes from the Job Search for a little more than a year and a half, the principles I use evolved over 30 years, so the stories end up going back a long time.

Here’s a story about a young soldier reentering the civilian world

Somewhere along the line I learned the value of separating the activity a candidate does from the product they work on. About 3 years ago a young friend of mine sent me an email asking for help. This young man (I’ll call him “Jim”) went to college majoring in Computer Science on an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) scholarship, graduating in 2002. Well surprise, surprise, he was immediately activated and spent the next four years on active duty with the last two being in Iraq as a transportation officer. He mustered out in 2006, took a year off and had been looking for work for six months prior to reaching out to me. In those months, he had received nothing more than an automated response while submitting more than 100 resumes for various jobs in the IT industry. His goal company was Microsoft and he hadn’t even gotten an automated response from them.

I asked him to send me a copy of his resume and upon reading it understood the problem immediately. His resume was completely built around his experience in Iraq and he was applying for jobs as a project manager in IT.

We got on the phone together and I had him describe what he was responsible for. As he was doing this I kept asking him to avoid talking about trucks or transportation and spend more time focusing on his personal responsibilities. So when he said something like, “I had to get trucks filled with medical supplies from town A to town B on a weekly basis while making sure that we had supplies coming in from the States that would allow us to meet our schedules.” I helped him transform that into “developed schedules for multiple teams, coordinating multiple interdependent projects to deliver requirements on time and on budget.” Which is in fact a description of what he did, minus the references to Iraq and the Army and trucks. It is also describing his behavior in IT terms rather than Army terms.

One of the many great things Jim brought to this was an openness and ability to learn very quickly so the time necessary for him to completely re-write his resume was less than a week. When he submitted this new resume he started getting personal responses within the first week, interviews within a month and he received a Microsoft offer (that he took) within 3 months.

The principle Jim implemented was simply describing his experience in terms of what he personally did, not what he did it on, using terms his target audience understood. He did not drive or load trucks, he did plan, develop “critical path analysis”, and coordinate multiple interdependent projects. When put in terms that automated systems expect and that IT recruiters understand, the quality of his experience became obvious, as did Jim’s desirability as an employee. It also helped him understand how to communicate his experience during interviews in terms understood by the people interviewing him.

Most important, it got him the job!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Recession is Over!!

Really? Then why do I have so many clients?
This is one of those times when the economists prove how very silly they can be while being technically correct. We’ve all heard the joke about the Dr who comes out of surgery gloating about what a success the operation was and only at the last moment does he acknowledge that the patient also died. That’s kind of what the economists are saying/doing. The economy hit it’s bottom sometime last summer, and given that what they measure isn’t current health, just relative health, what they are really saying is that the Fall of 2009 was better than in the Spring. Talk about damning something with faint praise!!

I’ve actually never heard of a way to measure economic health. We live in a world where what matters is our ability to pay the rent/mortgage and grocery bills, and while economists live in same world, what they study has some very serious disconnects. So while the “Recession” is over, that isn’t the same as saying the economy is healthy and if we include all of the people out of work and underemployed, then the economy is seriously struggling.

So when I read that the “Recession” over, I’m sure it’s true, it’s just not very meaningful.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stereotypes, Prejudice and Job Search

One of the challenges we face during our job hunt is the unstated beliefs or stereotypes the hiring person/organization have about some group we are part of. An ugly word for this is “prejudice” and we all have them. We all think we can guess what’s inside the book by looking at the cover; at least a little. In my case, when I turned fifty, I realized my view of “old” was completely haywire. My opinion was based on my five uncles, all of whom were pretty much worn out by their 50th birthdays, so when I turned 50, I expected to look in the mirror at an old man. You know the drill: smoker’s cough, balding, gray hair, pot belly, weak back, bad eye sight, maybe some hearing problems....

But I didn’t fit that stereotype

The guy I saw in the mirror had a full head of dark -brown hair, a dark -brown beard, ran 20 or more miles every week and who was just beginning to gain real traction with his career. I found I needed to completely reinvent my understanding of age and aging! I had no idea I was prejudiced, I thought I was right and that “old” men looked and acted certain ways. It wasn’t until I was a member of this group that I understood how completely I had characterized other men based on the people in my past, not on the people I was dealing with.

Unfortunately, this is how all prejudice develops. We know, or have some experience with people who are categorized by their membership in some larger group and we confuse the path their lives took with some predefined/predetermined trajectory that is assigned to everyone in the group.

How does this impact job search?

Pretty simple, we all belong to groups and we don’t know what the hiring influence thinks about these groups. The challenge is dealing with it. My brother talks of “tribes”, meaning a group of people that identify with each other. Our goal is to portray ourselves as belonging to the tribe of people working at this office.

The first part of “dealing” with it is in our written communications: resume, cover letter, email, on-line presence, etc. The second part is in person, when, for the most part, the groups we are part of become pretty obvious. We have a visual presence: short, tall, black, white, fat, thin, old, young, etc., and those characteristics are pretty obvious in person. As soon as we open our mouths, we communicate what other groups we belong to. It is at this point that our interviewer determines, skills notwithstanding, whether you are someone s/he wants to work with. Of course this might take seven seconds or it might take the whole interview. But ultimately, s/he is determining if you are a member of his/her tribe.

Our written profile is reasonably easy to deal with: Things like a professional “head shot” allow us to choose the physical image we project, then when we write our resumes we portray our real experience with the energy and strength we really have. It is key to play to our own strengths. Check out my earlier posts about writing resumes, I’ve been fairly explicit about how to communicate your experience and current skills. A well done resume allows for a pretty complete focus on how you work and the value you can bring to a company.

Picking up new tools is an additional way to demonstrate your energy, commitment, etc. If you are currently unemployed, it’s an even better idea. Communicating that you continue to be committed to maintaining your currency is a challenge and there are precious few more effective ways than taking classes.

When you get an interview, do your homework about dress. After our physical presence, how we dress is the most important indicator of the “tribe” we belong to. Find a way to spend an evening watching the door to the company’s office – the place you’ll be working. What are people wearing? Is it shorts and t-shirts? Khakis and golf shirts? Sport jackets? Think “plus 1” for your interview clothes. If it’s “shorts and t-shirts” then nice jeans or khakis and a golf shirt or sport shirt, “sports jackets” would drive a suit, etc. If we do this right, we should immediately be perceived (at least physically) as potential members of the tribe of this company.

The point of all of this is to say that effectively countering someone’s possible stereotypes of you can only be dealt with via demonstration. My telling you I’m not like my uncles doesn’t mean anything to you. My describing the creation of Notes From the Job Search at the age of 61 creates the image of someone who continues to be passionate, committed to growth, learning and service… much more interesting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NFJS; North Seattle

The Green Bean Coffeehouse has been through an interesting year, but has definitely come out the other side looking very good.  They moved again, hopefully for the last time, into the old McDonalds location across the street.  The new address is 8533Greenwood Ave N.  This matters to NFJS because we are restarting the group that was meeting there with some changes.  It will now be Monday's at 11:00 AM.  They have an actual room that is large enough to hold us and they are making that available!  Starting next Monday Sep 20, 2010!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Creating the "Value Proposition" letter

Coming back to the Value Proposition process. 

You’ve gone through Dunn and Bradstreet, identifying target companies. For each of these you have the name and address of the “Principal”. The titles vary a lot, but D&B has a primary contact. For each company you target, more research will be required to get the most current info. Start with the company web page, then look it up on Google/Bing. Do a LinkedIn search as well. After you have done this, your list should be a bit smaller as some of the companies may have moved out of the area, gone out of business, changed businesses, etc., but you’ll know a lot about the companies that interest you.

Separately, you’ve done your research on what you provide for that company and can very succinctly state how your skill set provides exceptional value. When I look at my own history, I’ve done a lot of stuff and while my design and planning skills are completely competitive, what separates me from my peers is my ability to create very high performance teams that are stable and have exceptional durability.

The next step is to create a letter of five or fewer sentences that highlight what you can do and what the positive consequences have previously been and how those might apply to their company. This letter ends with a sentence stating that you will follow up on a specific date.

Using myself as an example, here’s how I might write a value-proposition letter:

Dear Ms Smith,

Over the last ten years I have had the opportunity to create three teams that support information technology and that have consistent, extraordinary results. In each of these cases, my team exceeded expectations significantly, built exceptionally robust systems and high levels of customer/user satisfaction, while remaining under budget. One of these teams rebuilt a corporate technology infrastructure including development of standards -based computing, increased uptime to more than 99%, and implemented a common “Electronic Client Health Record” across six distinct departments.

I would love to provide a similar level of support for your company and will call you to chat about how I can help on xxxx the xx of xxxx.


Stephen M. Paul


Call on the date and time specified. Say to the receptionist (or whoever answers the phone), “May I speak with Ms. Smith? She is expecting my phone call”. When Ms. Smith answers, say, “Hi, I’m Steve Paul. I sent you a note last week and am following up to see if you would like to chat about how I might be able to help XXX company obtain greater results in (here have a succinct version of what you are good at) testing blah de blah, or developing a larger customer database, or educating your customers on how to use your product.”

Whatever it is, this is the point where Ms. Smith has gone back through the 7,000 emails and letters she’s received and finally remembers that yes (or no) she is interested in talking about what you might be able to do. She does have a problem that you addressed in your letter. So she says, “Yes, Steve, nice to meet you. And yes, I would like to talk about fixing (something). I’m busy right now, but could you drop by tomorrow at 10 in the morning?”

Or she says, “No, we have a very well oiled testing system (or whatever it is) here and don’t need any help. Thanks for calling.” And hangs up.

Remember that if you get one out of 10 to be a positive contact, you are hitting a good sales percentage.

Selling is what you are doing, so learn to sell the fine brand that you are, so you can get a good job.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Featured in Seattle Weekly!

We are featured in this weeks copy of Seattle Weekly!!  :)

A better link is here: Seattle Weekly Article

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dunn & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Database

This post was written by Michael Casey. He is one of the folks working with NFJS and a salesman with a terrific track record who has committed to moving into a role that allows him to drive resource sustainability within a company.Note that the rest of this blog would look a lot better if Blogspot supported imbeded tables or allowed me to simply attach a document, etc. but it doesn't. I'm going to try to be as clear as I can without them. If you follow carefully, it will work. When you go to D&B/KCLS you will find it much more user friendly.

From Michael:
Assuming that you have decided to develop a “value proposition” based job search, one of the first steps is identifying potential employers. What companies look like good potential employers?

If you allow yourself to approach this in a disorganized way, it is pretty darn intimidating. One tool that can greatly reduce this is the Dunn & Bradstreet Million Dollar Database. Normally access to this is very expensive, fortunately there are some very convenient ways to avoid the expense. If you are local to the Seattle area, the King County Library (www.kcls.org) provides this as one of their normal services. My assumption is that in other areas, the first place to check is your local library as well. The following description assumes you have a King County Library Card then becomes a “how to” for accessing via the King County Library. Most of this is how to use the DB.

• Go to www.kcls.org

• Click on "DataBases" (top of page, left side)

• Go to "Subject List of Databases" scroll down to

• Click on "Business Economics and Investing"  (Note that under this tab, you will see more than a dozen options which may be helpful to you. This is a very comprehensive list of the best tools available for researching companies, so explore!)

• Click on "D & B Million Dollar Database"

Congratulations! You are in.....now go get a cup of coffee or a beer, walk outside and get some fresh air, then return to your JOB SEARCH.


We are going to look for some companies that might help someone who is a CAD designer with considerable talent, and look for metal fabrication companies, who have clients that design and then send their product to be fabricated--they obviously have or need to have CAD people designing their stuff.


• Find a company, then put it in the fields and search.
• We will choose a company we know, entering Name, City & State

Company Name:    Magic Metals
City:                       Union Gap
State:                     Washington

This is what is returned:

Magic Metals Inc

SIC Code:       7692
City:                Union Gap
State:              WA USA
Locations:       Single Location
Annual Sales:  $11,887,260
Number Emp   146

We see that the SIC code is 7692....but we want more information, so click on the "Magic Metals Inc".  What comes back is more than a page of information specific to Magic Metals including what their DUNS Number is, what they do, who the President is, how many locations, etc. 

Now look at their SIC codes, they are listed as 7692 welding repair but also 3440 sheet metal work.

“Sheet Metal Work” is also known as “Metal Fabrication” so we have found the SIC code we will use in the next step.

Now we want to go and look for other companies with the 3440 SIC code, because that may lead us to companies that are similar and these are companies we know will use CAD drafting.

Go back to the top of the page, yellow box, and click on SIC and then type in 3444, then eliminate the city, or keep it local, then put your state name in and hit search...:  and we come up with !!!!!! 254 companies.  Too many for practical reasons, so let's limit the search and just put a city back in, like Seattle Wa for the search, see what we come up with---i.e., re-enter SIC code 3444, Seattle for city, Washington for state, then hit search and voila; 34 companies, much more manageable.

1: Lighthouse For The Blind Inc
8331 Seattle WA USA Headquarters $37,597,000 350

2: Ellstrom Manufacturing Inc
2431 Seattle WA USA Single Location $11,500,000 85

3: Pioneer Human Services
8331 Seattle WA USA Branch $9,487,600 200

4: Qual Fab Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $6,600,000 45

5: Pacific Aircraft Welders
3581 Seattle WA USA Single Location $5,000,000 10

6: Queen City Sheet Metal
1761 Seattle WA USA Single Location $4,345,596 25

7: David Gulassa & Co Inc
2514 Seattle WA USA Single Location $3,200,000 26

8: Ballard Sheet Metal Works Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $3,000,000 20

9: Pacific Sheet Metal Inc
1761 Seattle WA USA Single Location $2,900,000 20

10: Park North Heating Co Inc
1711 Seattle WA USA Single Location $2,200,000 16

11: Global Inc
3443 Seattle WA USA Single Location $2,000,000 15

12: Central Fabricators Inc
5051 Seattle WA USA Single Location $900,000 10

13: Williams Form Engineering Corp
3444 Seattle WA USA Branch $737,508 6

14: All Metals Fabricators Inc
1791 Seattle WA USA Single Location $730,000 6

15: Precision Fabricators LLC
3444 Seattle WA USA Headquarters $625,000 8

16: B & D Sheet Metal LLC
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $610,000 6

17: Decorative Metal Arts
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $570,000 8

18: Apex Metal Fabricators Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $550,000 5

19: Canopy World Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Branch $491,672 4

20: Mutual Industries Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $480,000 5

21: North Industries Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $410,000 3

22: A Quality Sheet Metal Co
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $270,000 4

23: Whitehead Manufacturing
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $250,000 3

24: Form Factor Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $210,000 2

25: Kenneth A Edleman
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $200,000 2

26: Pacific Northwest
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $160,000 2

27: J R Grantham Inc
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $140,000 1

28: DK Works
3444 Seattle WA USA Single Location $130,000 2

29: Dockside Repair
3449 Seattle WA USA Single Location $100,000 18

30: McKinstry Co LLC
1711 Seattle WA USA Headquarters 500

Choosing one, say #4, Qual Fab Inc., click on that and once again, we have tons of information:  Location, Sales, CEO, start date, etc.

This tool works for any industry and location. in addition, Dunn & Bradstreet is the tool companies use to check out each other, so it is the most up-to-date available (although it can be as much as six months out of date). It will normally provide the name of at least one senior executive; probably the CEO.  What you end up with is the address of the company, the name of a senior exec, a clear idea of what the company makes, etc. This is a great start.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Value Proposition Campaigns

Pretty much all of my posts so far have been about how to get a “job”, as in an existing, defined role in an existing, defined company. You know the drill, create resume, find an opportunity, then apply or try to identify who the hiring influence is etc. A second process would be to work your network until someone tells you about an opportunity that hasn’t been advertised and follow up with the person who needs the new help. Both of these can work and for many roles those are the two most effective ways for finding a new job. There is another approach and for some kinds of opportunities it’s especially useful.

Smaller companies, say less than $20m in yearly revenue, simply can’t afford hiring one of the big search firms to find their most senior executives, and frankly putting an ad on Craig’s List for a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is pretty tacky and simply not going to net an interesting candidate. So how is this new CFO found?

There are a few ways, but only one of them is the subject of this post. This isn’t especially original, but it seems difficult for people to do; it’s the creation of a “value proposition campaign”. Using the above example, you are a Stanford MBA, CPA and have the requisite experience. For whatever reason you are now looking for your next opportunity and your target is CFO of a medical manufacturing company with between $5m and $20m in revenue.

The theory is very straight forward: Identify the 2 or 3 things you are sure will be needed by every company in this sector and that you have done well and look forward to doing again, write them down (on paper) and snail mail them to the CEO. Follow up 2 or 3 days later asking the CEO if you can sit down over coffee to discuss how this might benefit his/her company. Pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.

Trying to cover the various parts of this process in a single post is pretty hopeless, so I’ll break it into parts:

• This is the intro (of course) and covers the concept and what to expect the next few entries to entail.

• Market research/identification, how do you find the companies you want to send these letters to? What about the name of the CEO? What about whether a company even has a CFO currently?

• Creating the letter

• Getting the interview

• Asking for the sale

This is going to be interesting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sustaining your job search

What does it take to continue something when you get no feedback? No complaints, no compliments, no objections, no heckling, nothing. I ask this because that’s what happens with 90% of your job search. It is also true if you are a blogger. So while I’m not looking for a job, the thing I’m most responsible for (this blog) has at least one element that is the same. I have to admit that I struggle with it. I want someone to comment and tell me how effective and smart I am and how my blog is the very best on the whole web. Having a PBS crew show up to do a special on my blog writing would be pretty cool, too. And it makes no difference at all that intellectually and emotionally I know my wish is both based on false assumptions and impossible.

When you are looking for a job, the problem is really similar. You send out one or two or three applications a week, you set up one or two informational interviews a week, you go to the “networking” events, but no job offer ever seems to appear. Heck, it’s like there is no reaction at all. Most weeks you don’t even get an automated response from the applications. And then the “informationals” feel mostly like you’re just talking to people and the “networking” feels more like a middle school mixer than anything else you can remember!...

How to sustain? What I finally did was join a group of reluctant bloggers. We meet once a week and exchange ideas and support each other’s efforts. It’s a way to get feedback. A little skepticism would be fine to go with this, I get better faster when people tell me what isn’t working as well as what is, but at least I get feedback.

If you are in the Seattle area, there are a variety of groups around. We have the two NFJS groups, look up Job Club at http://www.meetup.com/ etc. The point is to find some support.  I really don't know of a tougher job than Job Search, so allow youself to find that support.  Allow yourself to learn how to get better. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

How to answer (sometimes dumb) questions in an interview

Seems pretty straightforward and simple, but there is art here. Ask any successful salesperson. I’ve quoted Richard Bolles (What Color is Your Parachute) as saying there are only five questions that count, yet somehow interviewers seem to ask a lot more than that! Why?
Most interviewers haven’t articulated in nearly as concise a way what’s important. For example: In technology, we can get totally focused on knowledge around some particular tool and forget about everything else. That doesn’t mean the other information is less useful or important, just that we’ve failed to develop questions that appropriately address everything that matters.

The five questions are:

1. Why are you here? (Why are you applying for this job rather than somewhere else.)
2. What can you do for us? (Will you be able to solve this problem?)
3. What kind of person are you? (Will you fit with us?)
4. What makes you special? (What distinguishes you from the other xxxx people lined up to apply for this job?)
5. Can I afford you? (just what it says)

Mapping those to questions that are commonly asked is not especially straightforward. The only one you are likely to be asked in a clear way is, “Can I afford you?” And even that one can get murky in practice. At some point, though, there will be a discussion of salary and that will answer their question.

Seems like a dumb question, but it has hidden value

So the answers they are looking for are often hidden in seeming innocuous (sometimes called dumb) questions such as, “Tell me about yourself?” I’ve asked that question and here is why.

• Partly I was stalling for time (I just wanted to hear the candidate talk and to get some emotional reaction to them).
• Partly I wanted them to focus on themselves and not on the job description.
• Partly I wanted to see if they understood the job description and if they could translate that into language describing their experience.

In terms of the five questions, it was a starting attempt to answer questions 2, 3 and 4. If I asked, “What is your greatest strength?” then I probably wanted the candidate to tell me how his/her strengths might solve my problem (question 2). If I asked about weaknesses (“What is your greatest weakness?”), then I wanted to know whether the weakness would impact the rest of the team or the project (question 3).

The important take away from this is that I wasn’t especially interested in you “the person”. I wanted to know how you would help me. If you think that is unfair to ask you how you might fit without telling you what you need to fit into, I agree. But for that to happen, you need to ask me about the position/company. As a hiring manager, I actively created questions that didn’t include sufficient information for some definitive answer to be provided because I wanted you to ask.

My point here is that the questions you bring to the interview are just as important as the questions the potential employer brings. In fact if you have done a good job with yours, then translating these into a focused, productive interview is much easier.

Have your stories well practiced

Equally important in your prep is identifying and practicing stories that address the specifics of common questions and illustrate how you can help a company. Stories give you a much better shot in the interview. It is very possible that when you get to the interview, none of the stories apply, yet simply having them ready reminds you of the stories you might use.

I’ll use myself as an example again. If I am interviewing for a job as an IT Director, there are many stories I can tell. If I know their problem is high turnover, I provide one set of stories. If their problem is unstable infrastructure, it’s a different set.

If they ask me what my greatest strength is, then pretty much the worst answer I can think of is “Ideation”. It is my greatest strength but in every interview context I can think of, it would be a show stopper. Telling a story about how my penchant for understanding the underlying theory of network design allowed me to design a new network using tools I had not previously worked with, and how that design was economical and extensible, yada yada, now that’s a good story.

Key to choosing an applicable story is asking enough questions so I know what matters to my audience. One way to do this is simply asking more questions. If you are asked, “What is your greatest strength?” Rather than blurting out the first story that comes to mind (which I have done in the past), pause and ask specifically what kinds of problems they are working on. Something like, “I can provide a variety of stories that illustrate my strengths, perhaps if I understood more about what you are working on, I could choose an appropriate one. So what is it that you expect this new person to do? What is a key problem that you hope to solve?”

The point of all of this:
  • Preparation is key.
  • Use stories (well practiced stories) to illustrate your answer, rather than just blurting out an answer.
  • Ask questions throughout the interview.
  • Cliche questions are our friends because they allow us to prepare.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Linkedin and "key words"

Every now and then someone passes something on to me that I really think is worth sharing and one of those was sent to me yesterday. I've been coaching folks for years to make sure the keywords that matter are repeated early and often (provided that all of the information is true) in their resume. One of my contacts, Selena Rushton, sent me a link for a 15-minute overview on how to optimize LinkedIn with keywords. I had thought about doing this, but hadn't quite gotten around to it.  My profile had been based on what I set up when I was still looking for work as an IT Manager/Director.

Well I decided to put it to the test. First I did a search of "People" in LinkedIn for "career coach" and got 51,115 results. I got bored trying to find me after about the 40th page. Then I spent most of an hour reworking my profile to reflect what I'm doing now and optimizing my experience to reflect my real experience as a coach. Then I searched for career coach again and boom—I was entry number 10—last entry on the first page. This occurred by changing a very few things. I just replaced words like mentoring with coaching. On my summary I led with the fact that I'm a career coach and did the same with my profile. And I expanded my profile to focus more on how I have coached folks for years.

Worth noting, when I searched for "career coach" two hours later, I had already slipped to 12th, so lots of people are optimizing along with me, but I only invested an hour and I became visible. This is something that I will continue.

So here's the link again:


Monday, June 28, 2010

Internet Tools

The longer I work in the area of job search and the more I learn about the various tools available to a job seeker, the more I realize how confusing it is.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is figuring out an appropriate balance. At NFJS, everything we’ve learned strongly reinforces that networking is the key to a successful job search. So it should be obvious, we think networking sites are much more important than any others, heck more important than all of the others combined.

There are really four kinds of web sites that we care about in job search.

Social Networking
The most useful type of web page is a social networking site: Linkedin or Facebook. Each of these provides tools to connect with your existing network. Linkedin is really optimized for your career and is almost required for an effective job search. There is lots to love here, but my favorite is what Linkedin does for allowing you to create intelligence around your network. As in, when you are interested in a particular company, a simple search in of “people” for the company will return how you are connected to the company. Linkedin is a place worth checking every day. Even here though it’s important not to get carried away. The focus of Facebook is your social network, but given that it is still your network, there are lots of ways to use this effectively. Spending time each day on these tools helps. Linkedin will get more results in job search than Facebook, but given that your network is your greatest resource, anything that nurtures your network is a good thing.

Be careful with your posts…. Everywhere. Remember that all of this stuff is permanent and the vast majority of what is posted is visible to a potential employer. You may have been at a great party over the weekend, heck it may have been your wedding, but don’t post a picture of you or any of your friends that got a little bit too happy. What has context with you and your friends doesn’t have context to a stranger.

Job Boards and listing aggregators.
One type not on the list, but very tempting and not very rewarding is job boards. You know their names. Monster.com, Dice.com, Careerbuilder.com etc. Each portrays itself as your one necessary stop on your career search, and frankly they mostly suck time without a return. Of course they actually do have real jobs being advertised…. The solution to this is the next type I do recommend: An “aggregator”. What they do is search through other pages to save you the time. The first of these that I recommend is Indeed.com. What Indeed does is search a large number (200? 300?) of job boards and report the findings back to the searcher. In addition it can be set up to redo a particular search daily then drop the findings into your email. Another one in this group is Linkup.com. It is similar to Indeed, but searches corporate boards instead. Lots of companies are less than excited to advertise on job boards, for lots of reasons, starting with cost. Linkup finds those jobs.

About Companies (as the company sees it)
The third are pages that describe a company. So it starts with the company web page, but also include things like Dunn and Bradstreet. For publicly traded companies, the web page will almost certainly have the most recent annual report and these truly are a gold mine of information. The “President’s report?” (or whatever passes for that) is usually quite accessible and will provide some great information about where the company is going and how it’s dealing with publicly known adversity. Dunn and Bradstreet is the tool companies use to check on each other, so pretty much every company that purchases anything is in here. It may be a little out of date, but never more than a few months, so it’s a resource that can be very useful.

About Companies (as others see it)
Start with Glass Door. It’s sort of rumor central, but take away the flames and the PR and you can get a pretty good idea of what a company is about. Then check stock analysts, business reporters, etc. Go to the library and ask a librarian. These people are amazing researchers and they love to help.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Resilience revisited

I don't usually talk about resilience, but every once in a while, something captures my attention and is worth passing on. This is the case with the book, "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin.

There are several reasons:

• She owns her problems/challenges/etc. There are an infinite number of things we don't control and a relatively small number that we do. Chief among the things we control is ourselves; our attitudes and behavior. If we blame the stuff we don't control, then our lives tend to suck. If, instead, we focus on what we can control, we have a chance to make things better and she does that. It actually becomes a theme of the book. Everything she identifies as making her unhappy she addresses as her problem, not someone else's.

• There is real scholarship being practiced. Not the theoretical stuff that happens in schools, but the real stuff that has evolved over time and has solid practical research at its core.

• Her research and experience points out that her attitude is what makes her more or less happy.

As an example, one of the topics she researches is the old belief that if we "vent our anger" we release it and are "happier because of it." Turns out that's just not true. Being angry will make us more angry. Being happy will make us more happy. What a powerful idea that is.

When we are looking for jobs, all of the stuff she is saying is put into bold relief. There is even less that we can control than during times of employment. There are more reasons to be angry than when employed. There are fewer good things that penetrate our psyche than when employed. One of Ms. Rubin's points is that by finding those positives, those good things and focusing on them, the rest of our lives actually get better.

Back to the idea of "Resilience". When I copied the paper my wife wrote on resilience into the blog a year or so ago, the points it addressed very briefly are many of the same areas as in "The Happiness Project." Ms. Rubin just does a much better job of it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Networking revisited

I went to a couple of networking events recently, intent on working them in “pay it forward (PIF)” mode and I have to admit that I liked the results. The part I liked the most is there were people I actually could help.

My process was pretty much what Sandy Jones-Kaminski suggests in her book “I’m at a Networking Event, Now What???” I simply walked up to people asking some variation on the question, “How can I help?” and found a variety of folks that I actually could provide some help. For a few it was simply asking the question, “How can I help?” and they relaxed and started talking about why they were there. For one person it was direct useful feedback about his elevator pitch; for others it was a variety of other things. One person has become a client. She’s looking for a new job and that is, of course, what I do.

The point is that using this simple approach allowed me to have a very productive couple of hours. It’s so simple. It’s so easy to be intimidated at a networking event, or have expectations that are uncomfortable or a million other things. My first experience of one of these left me very cold as my regular readers might recall, but simply turning the process into a “PIF” event and it totally takes that pressure off.

Success is measured by the number of cards I get, not the number I give. Afterwards, my tasks are pretty straight forward; short intro/thank you/follow up notes to the people who gave me a card. If something more develops, perfect, if not, I did my part. I did what I could do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to flesh out your Work-Life Database™

Keep it simple

You can keep this pretty simple. Stick with the first eight columns and just start adding all the major jobs you’ve had over the years. Write down the title of your job and start identifying the roles you had in that job. All jobs break down into components often called roles. Those components or roles for a job such as technical writer, might be team lead, peer reviewer, help writer, user interface designer and writer, white paper writer, team member, new writer mentor, usage resource, etc. There are usually a lot of different hats that we wear in any job.

So what does this get you? It gets you a quick and easy way to write a customized resume. Once the database is completed (or even partially completed), it is easy to copy and paste the appropriate pieces of your work life into a resume that is responsive to the requirements as stated in job description. In my case, being a writer, I have to fuss with it, but even so, I routinely produce one-off, customized resumes specific to a job description in under a half hour. Much better than the 3-4 hours I use to take.

You’ll see in the template that there are additional columns. “Job type to apply for” column is where I place a job title (such as technical writer) that tells me that this line is suitable for applying for a tech writer position.

Tracking your strengths

For many of us who go through the process of fleshing out a Work-Life Database™, a surprising result often occurs: We start to see what we are good at and what we are lousy at. Trends appear in what we write about in our accomplishments column. And since most of us are unemployed (or underemployed), we often are questioning whether we’ve chosen the right career. But how do we articulate the trends we see in the database? We see them, but what sort of a job might they work well in?

Learn to articulate your strengths

What we recommend to help you articulate your strengths and to help you more clearly see what you are good at is to take a test by the Gallup organization that will help you identify your strengths. This online test is available to you when you purchase one of the Gallup Organization’s Strength Finder books. You can also pay a fee on their website to take the test without buying the book. It is a 177-question test that determines what your top-five strengths are and produces a report that shows your top-five strengths (out of 37 available strengths). It gives you a detailed description of what you are good at. What sort of work you might be good at. And what roles in a job you might do the best.

In our Work-Life Database™ template there is a Top Five Strengths section. After taking the test, place your top five strengths in the column headings. Using your new-found insight into your strengths, start describing how an accomplishment was aided by a strength. Go through your whole history and describe how a strength has aided you on the job. As you do this, you’ll soon see where you’ve been successful because of your natural strengths. This is highly likely to help you more clearly see who you are and where your career possibly should go.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I recently had the opportunity to meet with Casey Hamar from Right Management and before we got together, she suggested the topic of “What works in Job search?” It got me thinking about that. Like most folks doing this kind of coaching, I get pretty focused on a variety of components to the job-search process: interviewing, resumes, internet tools, etc. This question with its elegant simplicity got me thinking about the big picture again. Is there one single central element that will always get you a job? I think there is. In a word, “persistence.”

What we teach at NFJS can make it simpler, reduce the emotional toll, and reduce the length of time spent looking. Heck we can even help you focus on what is most satisfying, but if you keep at it long enough, most processes work. Sooner or later, you’ll find a job. Even the most efficient, successful job search requires it today. One of our folks had ten interviews with a single company without getting an offer!

The point is that job search is hard, sometimes it’s as hard as any job I know of. It is normal for a job search to take six months or a year or even a year and a half and that requires persistence. It used to be that we could figure on one month of looking for every $10,000 of annual salary, in today’s economy it can easily be twice that number. So understand that if you are looking, you are not alone, commit to being as effective as possible in the process and persevere. If you want some help, call us.

To quote Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s Corporation) “Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Schedule change

NFJS has been meeting every Wednesday at 3:00 for more than a year and we've decided to tweek that just a bit.  Make it 2:00.  Still at the Green Bean/Sip N'Ship in North Seattle.  Hopefully make it easier for folks to get to.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview Training

About a month a ago I mentioned on Linkedin how I had developed an “Interview preparation” module that took three hours and how excited I was about it then one of my contacts noted that they were looking forward to a blog entry. So this is that entry; if you can hire us, it will be more effective, and in every case working with someone else will help.

Our outline is pretty straight forward:
Hour 1 – Preparation:. Does the resume you sent in highlight the right experience? Have you researched the company? Have you researched the opportunity? Do you have a connection that can get your resume in front of the hiring influence? How qualified are you for this position and have you done a good job setting up that story?

Hour 2 – Interview 1:  30 minutes of interview, 30 minutes of feedback. Are you prepared? Do you know enough about this opportunity to ask relevant questions? How does your body language work? Do you walk into the room standing up straight, look the interviewer in the eye? Shake hands? Is your dress appropriate for this opportunity?

Hour 3 – Interview 2:  40 minutes of interview, 20 of feedback. Have you learned from the first practice? If you said “mmm” 14 times on the first try is that under control? Have you integrated questions into the answers you are providing?

In many ways the most important hour of this training is the first. It starts with finding a specific job that you are interested in. This should not be theoretical!  The job description will have the key requirements in their hierarchy. That’s the outline for the resume and for preparation. If it says “Seeking team building sales executive” then the resume better include a history of building teams. If it says C# developer, then the resume better include a history of C# development. One of the consequences of this exercise is refreshing your memory of your past success. Another consequence is developing high levels of alignment with the opportunity.

I’ve written previously about “OGOOALS” and “Five Questions that Matter” those are important here because they are key to this preparation hour. The “G” in OGOOALS stands for Gather information and the five questions are just that, five questions that both you and the company need to answer in order decide that you have a good fit. During the Interview Training Module this first hour is all about translating those into specific questions, answers and research into the company, the hiring influence, etc.

Interviewing is a skill, plain and simple. Learning it isn’t that much different than learning our addition tables. The key to success is practice and feedback.  That's the idea behind this module.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I had the opportunity this afternoon to spend about an hour with Kenji Yamaguchi, a recruiter in the Windows group at Microsoft.  It's pretty much impossible for me to provide a complete synopsis, but the blog he contributes to is something that every job seeker should be following.  I've added it to the list of blogs I follow and strongly recommend you check it out.  It is a lot like the conversation was, very wide ranging and informative.  http://www.jobsblog.com/.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Resume construction part 2

Mike will finish his discussion of resume development soon, but in the meantime, one of the regulars at Notes from the Job Search sent me an analysis of how to create an entry or bullet point on your resume and I wanted to share it with you.

She starts with the idea that in the custom resume you deliver to a prospective employer, each role you held should have no more than five bullets. That is different than our Work-Life Database™.  The Work-Life Database™ is the source document  and as such it doesn’t have a limit.  What goes on the resume sent to a some company, comes from the DB. At any rate, here’s what Deborah Arline has to say.

“The first paragraph of a job experience within the resume starts with a statement describing the scope of duties, level of responsibility, number of staff supervised, budget amounts managed, etc. This statement is followed by short sentences describing responsibilities, using words like “Managed”, “Led”, “Facilitated”, “Oversaw”, “Initiated”, “Planned”, “Provided”, “Performed”, “Created”, “Analyzed”, “Designed”, “Developed”, “Achieved”, etc.

“This paragraph is followed by “Significant Achievements”, no more than 5 bulleted items that:
   • Identify an Action, USE A VERB, that demonstrates the value I added or contribution I made; i.e. “Saved money”, “Increased profits”, “Developed staff”, “Decreased response time”, etc
   • Then, the sentence continues to show how I achieved them: “…by deploying”, “…by initiating”, “…by upgrading”, “…by migrating”, “…by implementing”, etc.
   • And may conclude by showing the result of my efforts: “…that enhanced”, “… that improved”, “…that reduced”, “…that decreased”.
   • Then try to quantify the value added; answer the question “By how much?”

Deborah provides a couple of examples:
1. “Delivered $1.2 million annual savings by cutting call handling time 40 seconds per call across all centers.
2. “Improved operational efficiency by designing continuous learning process that provided call centers with structured approach to process improvement and data sharing.”

As you can see Deborah has broken this down to very specific small pieces. When she creates the actual bullet, she positions the element with the biggest value ("$1.2 million annual savings") where it will be seen most easily and have the most impact. It’s almost like we had a bunch of refrigerator magnets, only in this case we are using them to effectively tell real stories and actions we really took.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I hate customizing a resume

Hi blog followers. This is my first entry in our Notes from the Job Search Blog. I'm a career counselor, but also a technical writer of many years experience, so I’ll try to not write like I’m creating a Help topic. I'll make the writing more conversational. Not an easy feat for a guy trained in Journalism and spending most of his working life writing in a terse “just the facts” style.

I thought I’d start off writing about how much I use to hate writing a customized resume and how much easier it is to do one with our Work-Life Database™.

I hate customizing a resume

As an unemployed technical writer, I want to get my next job very much. But what is weird is that I dreaded getting a hot job prospect. What was that? I dreaded having an opportunity to get a good job? And I’m not alone. In our job-search groups, we hear this all the time. The dread comes from knowing that soon I’ll have to go through the painful process of creating a customized resume specific to the job description. Write a few customized resumes and you’ll know what I mean. It is a long, emotionally-draining, frustrating exercise. After 4-5 hours, I produce a resume and send it off to an email address or web site. I call this sending it into the Black Hole because, as often as not, I get no acknowledgement that I submitted the damn thing.

But I no longer dread getting a hot job prospect. I can now produce a customized resume in about a half hour. And it is far less painful. Follow our process as explained below and you’ll only have to go through the pain once.

We still use resumes

Knowing that the best resume is one that is dropped off at HR after you’ve been hired, and that the best way to get to a hiring influence is through an introduction, submitting a resume to a company is still a way that many people get hired. It is still effective.

But the generic resume has gone the way of the typewriter. It won’t get you by the HR Department and it won’t get you an interview. But a customized or tailored resume has a much better chance of getting to that hiring influence. It is what is expected and is much more likely to get you that interview.

Most of us have gone through the painful process of creating a one-off customized resume for a specific job. We have reports of people taking up to eight hours to produce one. 3-4 hours is not uncommon. It is then sent off to a web site never to be seen again and is very frustrating to go through that process just to have no one notice or care. A process most people are only willing to do 3-4 times at most. Many just start sending off a generic resume that has no chance of competing for that job. Others quietly retreat to their caves and hope the world will present them with a decent job.

What is a better way to do this painful, but necessary step? Develop a Work-Life Database™.

Only feel the pain once with the Work-Life Database™

With a Work-Life Database™, you go through the pain only once. Using the Excel template we make available to our participants, go back through your whole working life and start documenting the good things, the accomplishments in the many different roles and jobs you’ve had over the years. In the accomplishments’ column write a one or two sentence description of some accomplishment you had in that role. Write it in a manner that can be used in a resume. Start with an action verb, don’t use personal pronouns and detail the accomplishment.

I think you’ll find that this task will gain momentum and that you’ll find that as you travel back through your history you’ll remember more and more and start adding whole jobs that you had forgotten. I went all the way back to my paperboy days delivering PI newspapers in the Wedgewood neighborhood of Seattle.

My next blog entry will be about how to write the Work-Life Database™ in a simple and quick manner.