Sustainable Career Success

August 21, 2009

Thoughts on increasing your ‘employability’ factor

I was talking with a friend last week and we happened upon the topic of what distinguishes people who rise to the top of their chosen profession and those who seem to struggle through their work life (and maybe even their personal life). As you can imagine this quickly became a rather philosophical discussion, but from the exchange a few key words surfaced. Consistently successful individuals have 3 things in common; Confidence, Competence and Character. Interestingly, 2/3 doesn’t work – it takes 100% to create success. Let’s explore each in a little more detail.

Competent people are those who have invested in themselves professionally. These individuals have an appropriate level of education for their chosen specialty but don’t rest on that initial set of qualifications. These individuals are hungry for knowledge and invest in continuing education, conduct personal research and stay on top of emerging trends in their industry. They are well versed in current events, know what is happening in the world, their local community and when they don’t understand something, take personal time to get educated.

How much time does this take? Competent people really don’t know. Their personal investment in professional development is just part of who they are, the lines blur between their personal interest and their professional endeavors.

Successful people are confident. Careful here, I didn’t say arrogant, I said confident. Arrogant people are not successful – they are usually hiding insecurities. Confident people know what they know, recognize what they don’t know and understand how to ask for help. Confidence manifests itself through actions, activities and stories that demonstrate Competence. See how those two characteristics work together?

Strong Character (a positive mental attitude) is resident in successful people. I realize that you’ve heard this assertion too many times to count, but it’s true. Can you name even one star athlete who has a negative attitude? Here’s a story. I was watching one of the major golf tournaments last weekend and Tiger was not having a good round. He put a shot in the water and threw his club over his shoulder in the direction of his caddie. This public display of poor character was disappointing, and I believe resulted in his loss that day; and ultimately the tournament. He chose to let that shot get to him, and as a result, was unsuccessful.

Why am I focused on this combination of traits for the column this month? Because these three words combined is the foundation of success – in your job search, in your career and in your personal life. Let’s talk about the Halo effect a popular term from a career development book called, What color is your Parachute? The Halo effect is creating a perception of perfection during the interview process. Ok that’s not realistic, but you can strive to be better than your normal self while you’re looking for a job, or while you are on the job.

Susan is a hiring manager who needs to add a new employee to her staff. She begins the interview process with candidates who have been carefully screened by her Human Resources Department. Joe arrives for his interview 10 minutes early dressed in a suit, carrying a notepad and pleasantly greeting everyone he meets. Joe is articulate, organized in his responses and polite. He has the required degree for the position but has also spent time on advanced technical studies recently and understands the challenges that the industry is tackling in the current economy.

Chad is another qualified candidate. He arrives dressed in a wrinkled shirt, empty handed and slouches in the reception chair once he checks in. When Susan greets him he doesn’t smile or make eye contact and seems preoccupied. During the interview Susan asks the same questions of Chad as she did Joe. Chad spends more time talking about himself and how experienced he is than he does answering Susan’s questions. He talks about how horrible his last job was and that his boss just didn’t understand him. He hasn’t cracked a book since he graduated from college because he’s been too busy riding his bike, snowboarding and hanging out with his friends.

Susan completes her interview notes. Both candidates are competent and could do the job from a technical point of view. However, Joe’s demeanor and interview presentation was confident and positive as well. In contrast Chad displayed arrogance and self-absorption along with a negative attitude. Susan will absolutely hire Joe; not because he is more qualified, but because this hire is a reflection of her and will be a representative of her team and the company. She can envision Joe meeting the CEO and knows that this meeting will be a memorable experience. It might even help her career!

Looking for a job is stressful and it’s easy to blame others for the situation. Stay focused on keeping a positive mental attitude, a likeable persona and on making it easy for your future employer to see you as a member of their team.

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The New CRM…

August 9, 2009

Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) for Talent Acquisition

You might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about? If you are hiring today, even a single position, you are probably buried in resumes and submissions for unqualified, overqualified and yes, a few ideally qualified applicants. I’m in the business of sourcing, screening and qualifying candidates and even I’m having a tough time keeping up. If you are wondering why the quality of your job posting response is dropping I’ll give you a few insights. Job board activity is frustrating for candidates – so the smart ones are taking action. They aren’t spending time on the boards any longer.

Your method of finding and attracting great talent is going to change in the next 203 years. Top Talent knows how to find great positions with great companies – and it’s not on the job boards.

Have you begun defining a strategy for tapping into the Talent you need to be successful?

Applicant Tracking Systems are (generally) unfriendly, impersonal, and difficult for users to navigate. These systems were put in place to ensure compliance and track activity. They have absolutely nothing to do with attracting Talent and fostering relationships with future employees.

Do you EVER contact or re-connect with qualified candidates who have applied for positions in the past?

Your success as a hiring manager is dependent on your ability to identify, attract and retain the very best team. One bad hire can derail your momentum and cost you money, employees, customers and – your job.

Do you really take your role as a Manager of Talent seriously?

Fact #1 – Smart People look for Smart Companies to work for

Fact #2 – Communities of Talent are already out there and your competition knows where they are

Fact #3 – New Applicant activity on job boards is down 40% this year

Give ’em a break!

August 3, 2009

Remember your manners during a job search

I’ve been recruiting for 3 economic cycles now (over 15 years) and I’ve noticed some distinct differences in this particular downturn. There are a bunch of folks who, for the first time in their career, have found themselves unemployed or fearful of becoming unemployed. I’ve also noticed that some of these folks are not practicing good manners in their quest for a new position.

Let’s set the stage a bit. There are companies hiring, there are jobs out there, and there are terrific opportunities for career development. The companies who are hiring are also experiencing a tremendous flow of candidates. The HR departments are understaffed and overworked. They not only screen applicants; they also take care of payroll, benefits, 401k administration, year end performance assessments, bonus calculations, employee on-boarding, training/development, payroll – you get the idea. The hiring managers with open positions are trying to hire while already tackling their full time roles. This is a catch 22 for them; they are busy and need to hire additional team members, but because they have open positions they are having a hard time finding space in their calendars to do an effective job of interviewing.

On the other side of the fence are job seekers. Sadly, our society doesn’t spend any time teaching people how to find a job. As a result, when you find yourself in the position to change employers (voluntarily or involuntarily) this causes stress. When stressed you may slide into unattractive behaviors, which compounds the lack of success in your search.

This is where I start with some sound motherly advice. Don’t forget your manners. Common courtesies such as please, thank you, follow up calls, acknowledgements, graceful exits, referrals, straightforward responses and open, honest communication may very well mean the difference between you and another candidate.

It is absolutely critical to be courteous to everyone you meet during the interview process. This means the front desk, security personnel, HR, future peers, passersby; everyone.

Write email thank you notes to everyone who takes time to meet you. Don’[t forget to get their cards or at least name spelling during the interview. Email thank yous are appropriate, especially during a job search. Time is critical, don’t wait for the US Mail to deliver your follow up.

Address direct questions with direct answers. It’s frustrating for the interviewer to listen to a candidate who goes off on a tangent or dances around the answer to a question. You won’t get a job using this approach.

Ask about follow up protocol. If the hiring manager says that she will make a decision in a week then ask if you can call back in a week. If the HR manager says you can follow up in 3 days, then make a note and make sure you keep the commitment.

If the position is not interesting to you bow out gracefully. Thank them for their consideration; let them know that you appreciate their offer and that you will refer friends and associates to them as appropriate.

Looking for a job is stressful and it’s easy to blame others for the situation. Stay focused on keeping a positive mental attitude, a likeable persona and on making it easy for your future employer to see you as a member of their team.

OK, so the economy is not looking its best these days. Nonetheless, companies still need to hire – and hire strong!

You may be thinking that recruiting is easier these days. Well, if you are looking for applicant numbers, then yes, the task is easier. You will absolutely receive more responses to job postings than you did in July 2008, but the quality of those responses will likely be lower. Those who are unemployed are responding to as many openings as they can find.

Are you burning precious time reviewing applicants that don’t match your needs?

You have spent a small fortune on recruitment ads, job boards and resume databases. You’ve kept those resumes, notes and feedback in your candidate database. When a position opens up you immediately go to the database and search for candidates who have shown an interest in your company in the past. Regardless of the position they applied for previously, the most qualified candidate is right at your fingertips!

Are you using the information that you’ve paid for in the past – first?

You’ve hired some really talented people lately. Congratulations! Now, if only you could find more just like them. Well, you can – have you asked them for referrals? Have you openly promoted your referral bonus to your new hires? Great people hang out with other great people –start collecting names and numbers.

Wouldn’t you rather pay a bonus to hire great than a job board fee to hire from the cloud?

Fact #1 – Big Job Board candidate participation has decreased 500% in the last 2 years

Fact #2 – Job Search Aggregators will poll your corporate site if you optimize it for search.

Fact #3 – Google is rapidly becoming the job search tool of choice

I’m just returning from an amazing vacation trip last week. We decided to make an adventure of the Sonoma Coast since we hadn’t experienced this lovely, cooler than Denver this time of year, area of the country before. Oh, and I LOVE wine. The Point Reyes and Tomales Bay area of the Sonoma Coast are breathtaking. Dozens of small communities are spread among the ranches, and even more open space than we enjoy in Colorado – mountains AND the sea – what could be better? Aside from the realization that this area isn’t really into the tech scene like their neighbors 60 miles south (Silicon Valley) we enjoyed all the luxuries that the cold sea water has to offer.

The people are delightful, the food is incredible and it’s not crowded at all. I wanted to write about this experience because I believe we could learn something from the way folks live in this area. The local population are localtarians (no, it’s not in Wikipedia yet, but you can find information about it in Ecopedia). This is the practice of buying and consuming products made within a 100 mile radius of your home. Although the term was foreign to me I like the concept. Now it’s a little easier when you live in an area surrounded by dairy farms, ranches, the ocean, and vineyards I’ll admit but there are some good ideas here that we can absorb into our own daily lives. Why not create strength in our own economy?

  • Support your local farmers’ market instead of Safeway and Costco?
  • Buy from local software companies (and there are a bunch of good ones) instead of Silicon Valley?
  • Recycle unwanted articles through thrift stores instead of adding them to the landfills?
  • Shop for home furnishings made locally?
  • Bypass the big box stores and support local merchants?

No, we can’t get myopic about it but there are some valid arguments for thinking globally and buying locally.’ Let’s do our part to create strength in the Colorado economy.

Back to thoughts on hiring and getting hired next week. Make it a great one!

Get to Work!

July 6, 2009

Are you putting the right effort into your Job Search?

Looking for a job, much like parenting, is not something that we studied in college so many people when faced with unemployment are at a loss for what makes a ‘well-rounded’ job search. Most of us start with the low hanging fruit, the obvious approach; we start mining the job boards. If you work at it you can actually spend the entire day applying for open positions that are posted. That’s fine however you are only applying to about 30% of the open positions using this method. Moreover, if you are a manager/director or other senior level professional postings will net you only 10% of the openings. Let’s take a closer look at what this means to a job seeker.

Brandon is a software project manager with an MBA, PMP certification, an undergraduate degree in software engineering, is studying Six Sigma has a solid work history and a great track record. He’s been unemployed since before the end of the year. He is spending an exhaustive amount of time on Monster, Dice, Careerbuilder, etc and has interviewed, even as a finalist for a couple of positions. He’s hitting obstacles due to the current economic climate (or at least that’s what the excuses are) and just isn’t getting any traction. Brandon’s resume looks just like every other Project Management resume on the big boards. When you Google Brandon, you can’t find him. On Linked In, his name is registered but his profile is non-existent and he has 3 connections.

I asked Brandon what else he’s doing to find a job. He replied “networking with my buddies.” That’s a good start, but are you asking your friends for referrals to other companies that might be hiring? Did you ask what recruiters they know and respect? Do you check the calendar of events in the area to see where you should be ‘hanging out’? Are you making connections with former colleagues, associates, classmates on the social networks? His answer was, “no, I’m too busy looking for a job to do that.”

John is a software architect who was with his last employer for 4 years. He was recruited into that position from his former company and had been there since 1999. Essentially, John has not looked for a job in this century.. However John has more activity than he can handle in his job search. Not because his experience is any better than his peers, but because of his approach. John has been unemployed for barely 4 weeks, has discussions happening with 5 CIO’s and is expecting an offer within the next 2 weeks.

John learned early in his career about the power of building a solid network (outside of your company). He has kept in contact with his former colleagues, helped them in their careers, offers advice, participates in technical forums and has earned the reputation as a genuine thought leader amongst his peers. John spends about 10 minutes reviewing job board results in the morning over his coffee. He does this purely from an information collection standpoint. He is looking for new companies, postings with companies that he is targeting (not his position title, but all position titles) to see where there is activity. Interesting companies are further researched on the web and Linked In.

The rest of the morning is dedicated to connecting with people that are in a position to hire him. He does not call and email the HR department. He reaches out to CIOs, CTO’s, VP’s and CEO’s of companies that he is interested in. John will absolutely follow protocol and get his information in place with HR, but there is no sense in creating extra work if there isn’t a position available right now.

John sets coffee meetings and lunch meetings with people who he knows to talk about their business, their challenges and their opinion on where the industry is going. John is a thought leader, and these meetings provide some great peer discussions for these connections. As well, John makes it clear that he is looking for his next career move and asks for referrals. After his meetings, John heads back home to check his email/voice-mail, returns calls (because he is searchable on the web), completes follow up on the opportunities that he is targeting presently and checks Linked In for the day’s activities (job postings, group discussions, contact updates). To close out a busy day, John makes a list of planned activities for the next day, and enjoys an evening with his family.

Brandon is taking a bottom up approach to his search. He is feeding on the bottom 30% of open positions. Brandon will get a job, but he may not be satisfied and will likely just survive until the economy improves.

John is taking a top down approach. He is looking for the ‘unadvertised’ openings and will be gainfully and happily employed in a very short period. He will continue to build his network and will rise in his career as high as he wants to go.

Which approach – AND OUTCOME – do you like better?

Hire Responsibly

June 22, 2009

Testing and backgrounds don’t necessarily reveal CHARACTER

Although skill-based testing and background checks can help you determine baseline qualifications and keep your company out of the courtroom, these methods don’t help you determine the true character of the person you’re hiring. I’m surprised at how many companies don’t do even the most rudimentary reference checking prior to hiring someone who can have a deep and long lasting impact on your business – and your customers.

The human factor, especially in early stage companies, is critical to maintaining a high level of productive energy in your company. Candidates who spend time with members of their future team, and members of other functional areas will have a much better idea of what your culture is all about. As well, you’ll get a broader understanding of the candidates if each interviewer focused on a different functional area of responsibility = marketing looks for different things in a hire than QA or engineering. I call it ‘checking blindspots.’

Do you have several team members interview each candidate?

Multi-dimensional interviews are always a good idea. Most companies conduct interviews in a vacuum. This is probably because they want to ensure a fair and lawful process however, if you are too clinical about your interviewing, or not detailed enough you may miss some very important information. Interviewing should in a manner that is relevant to the role. Consider modifying the approach.

Do you phone interview candidates who will be working directly with your customers?

Hiring managers are increasingly busy. As a result, the interview process tends to be an exercise in going through the motions to see if there is anything that would keep you from hiring rather than finding the reason TO hire. There is a definite lack of ‘thought provoking’ and interesting discussion during the selection process. An example: “what are your weaknesses,’ is boring and the candidate is prepared for the answer. “If I were to speak with your former manager, what would he/she say are the 2 things that you need to further develop in order to move to the next level?” is interesting, and the candidate is not prepared for the answer, so they have to give it some thought – and you’ll get a gut level response.

Are you REALLY engaged in making the BEST hire?

Fact #1 – Hiring Managers RARELY check references on their recruits

Fact #2 – Most hiring mistakes could have been avoided

Fact #3 – Job seekers are better prepared for the interview than you are

Job Seekers and Hiring Managers – Here is an article about the importance of manging your online profile (and your company’s online profile) in case you really haven’t embraced the Social Media frenzy yet.

Digital Brand Expressions is a high-end search engine and social media marketing consultancy and services firm that helps companies enhance their findability on the Web to drive business success.

When looking for a new job, remember to utilize social media sites, especially LinkedIn. According to Jump Start Social Media, as many as 75% of hiring managers use LinkedIn on a regular basis to research candidates before making an offer, compared to 48% using FaceBook, and 26% using Twitter.

“Social media is not only a great networking tool, it’s also a way for employers to perform reference checks on job candidates,” said Veronica Fielding, president of Digital Brand Expressions and its social media service for consumers, Jump Start Social Media. “Because LinkedIn is the most professionally oriented of the three, it tends to attract hiring managers who are doing due diligence.”

When it comes to sourcing job candidates, more hiring managers again prefer LinkedIn to Twitter and Facebook. Of the hiring managers surveyed, 66% of hiring managers visit LinkedIn, 23% visit Facebook and 16% use Twitter to find job candidates to fill openings.

To ensure that your personal brand is professional, monitor what you post on social marketing sites. Ms. Fielding reminds people, “Whether or not you are job hunting, you should be aware that your public profile is easily accessible so be sure to maintain a professional personal brand.” Social media sites can enhance a candidate’s position or be detrimental.

“Social media tools offer hiring managers the ability to gain a broad picture of an individual,” says Rosina Racioppi, President of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. “I prefer LinkedIn because its focus is on business connections and it allows you to see the professional beyond their resume. Utilizing social media tools enables hiring managers to assess whether a candidate is an appropriate fit for their organization.

The experts at Jump Start Social Media offer these tips for using social media in the job-hunting process:
Become familiar with the popular social media sites so you can participate in important dialogues, including opportunities to network for jobs.

  • Start with one service, get comfortable with it, and branch out from there. The easiest, safest choice is LinkedIn because it has always been 100% business focused.
  • Share links to interesting news stories combined with a sentence of insight, and join groups (your alma mater, former employers, industry associations, etc.) in order to participate in online discussions with the other members.
  • Ask people in your network to introduce you to the people that they know. It’s these dynamic group interactions that help shape perceptions of you and your business acumen.
  • Make sure to finish your social media profiles and keep them updated.
  • If you are “tweeting” on Twitter, share links to stories, reports, interviews, etc. to which you add your insights.
  • Don’t overlook Facebook’s value as a way of keeping in touch and staying top of mind with the business connections you’ve made during your career.

Bring it home: If you don’t already have a personal brand, start developing one. And by all means, keep your social media sites in line with your personal branding efforts. If you don’t want certain people to know something, don’t post it for the whole world to see. Use good judment and common sense at the minimum when posting information on your social media pages.

The Jump Start Social Media survey polled 100 hiring managers at small, mid-sized, and large companies. Polling was done by Digital Brand Expressions and interbiznet.

To learn more about using social media in the job hunt, visit

www.jumpstartsocialmedia.com or www.digitalbrandexpressions.com.

As a Talent Acquisition Consultant I spend a great deal of time talking with people about their careers and companies about their hiring practices. Every month I review hundreds of resumes, professional biographies, vitas and everything in between. I also am asked regularly what a ‘good’ resume looks like and how to get noticed by potential employers.

The books, blogs, websites and professional writers all have opinions on what works (and doesn’t work) to help you land that perfect job. I’m not without opinions myself; let’s take a business approach to the task. The objective of a resume is to solicit interest from the reader (employer) in wanting to learn more about the author (applicant). In web terms, you want the reader to ‘click’ on your resume, spent time there and contact you for more information.

Resume writing is a creative talent that eludes a large percentage of the population. Trying to ‘market’ yourself while making sure that the proper acronyms appear for keyword searches of your resume in the databases compounds the difficulty of this exercise. It’s important that the reader of your resume not only understands what your technical qualifications are, but who you are as a person. Your communication skills, personal strengths and how you articulate technical concepts are all important to convey.

For those of you whose creativity comes in the form of network/application/system/process design and not copywriting, we’ll break it down into more manageable tasks. Here are 6.5 things you can do to increase the ‘click’ factor in your resume.

1. Focus the reader on your content by beginning your resume with a Title. This is similar to the title of the chapter of a book; short, simple, and helps to focus the reader on the content. You may have resumes with different titles if your background is applicable to more than one position.

2. Elaborate on the title with a brief summary of your experience. The summary statement will be between 3 and 5 lines that encapsulate you as a professional. This concept replaces the classic objective which tends to be dry and very general; that doesn’t help differentiate you from the rest of the crowd. Think search results headline, or social site summary category when you are crafting your summary.

3. Front and center – the WOW factor. Support your summary with bullet points that illustrate your most outstanding accomplishments. These might be great projects, awards, recognitions or other times in your professional career that you are proud of. Make these statements short and quantify the results if possible. These are the ‘headlines’ that grab the reader’s interest and get them to keep reading.

4. Let your personality shine. Resumes need to not only communicate your technical qualifications, but also demonstrate that you know how to talk in plain English. Keep the content professional, but explain yourself in words that provide some insight to you as a person. Your ability to connect with the reader will help your chances of getting to the next stage.

5. No more than 2 pages. The objective of your resume is to get you an interview. Resumes should never be more than 2 pages since most hiring managers spend about 15 seconds to scan it and decide if they want to meet you. Additionally, this will help you focus on the important information that you need to convey and leave elaboration for a personal discussion. The experience section might be chronological or functional depending on your personal situation. Education should appear after your work experience unless you’re a recent graduate. Again, you are trying to increase the ‘click’ factor, not write your memoirs. In Amazon terms, you want the reader to BUY.

6. A new section; keywords. Most of the companies you apply to will place your resume into an applicant tracking database. A keyword section will include all the words that you want your resume to surface in a keyword search. There is no need to repeat words that are in the body of your resume, but include additional terms that might be relevant but not included in your resume. For instance, if you list your degree as a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, you might use BSEE in your keyword section.

6.5 Finally, make it easy to contact you. Voice mail messages (on all phones) should be professional and brief. Email addresses should be simple and professional (don’t use your shredder@hotmail.com account for your job search). Include an address, it’s still important to show that you are a real person. Keep paragraphs short for readability. Use bullets to break up the commentary; most people can sight read 3 lines. Unless a specific format is requested, send your resume in a PDF format – try cutepdfwriter (cutepdfwriter.com) for an easy, free conversion application.

Your resume is a living document. Keep it updated, tweak it occasionally and proofread it exhaustively. You’ll also want to keep your social sites updated. You should expect that any potential employer will check you out on the web – probably before they meet you – so keep your online profile clean and consistent.

Job Board post post disappointing scores

I’m talking with more companies that are voicing their frustration with the results of their recruiting efforts related to job board postings. Dollars are tight in the Human Resources category these days so it’s important to make sure that every dollar spent nets maximum return. Let’s focus on some alternatives

Your recruiting efforts should be focused on replicating the very best talent that you have internally. Your current employees, especially the Gen Y employees, are networked. They have friends, former co-workers and professional associates who are looking to grow their careers and work with the very talented folks they know, respect and admire.

Do you promote an employee referral bonus program – LOUDLY?

Savvy job seekers (the ones you want to hire) are not spending their precious time trying to navigate job boards these days. They are networking! Instead of visiting job boards they are visiting company websites to try and find interesting positions with companies who share their personal ideals.

Is your career site indexed so that aggregators (and search engines) can find you?

The top guns out there are serious about their careers. They participate actively in professional organizations; know what’s going on in the community (related to their career) and watch for trends, announcements and news. User Groups, meetups and associations are a great place to find future talent.

Are you hanging out in public?

Fact #1 – Job Boards are going in the direction of classified ads

Fact #2 – Competition for Top Talent is fierce

Fact #3 – Google is the job seekers tool of choice