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.