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 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 that dropped opportunities into his email every morning.  One other worth mentioning is (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.