Unemployed Is NOT Who You Are

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For so many people who they are, is tied into what they do.  I have noticed when you meet someone for the first time; it’s acceptable to ask “What do you do?”

Many people seem to define who they are as a person by stating what they do for work. So then, what happens when you lose your job?

“What do you do?” becomes a dreaded question seeming to require admission that you’re unemployed. As if this is the equivalent of saying you have the plague or you’ve just discovered you are totally worthless.

Being laid off, RIF’ed (reduction in force), down-, right- or smart-sized, redeployed, being part of a simplification, shaping, or optimization of the workforce, having your job outsourced or whatever the term of the day is does not mean you have no value.  If you have never had any of these things happen to you, you are extremely rare!

You are still a person and can still use your career as part of your definition of yourself. It is important to have a positive attitude and a smile!

Some responses I’ve heard from some very upbeat people to the question “What do you do?”

  • I’m currently an unemployed Electrical Engineer, but I’m working on finding a new employer and in the meantime I’m working on some design ideas of my own.
  • Right now I’m a Nutritional Delivery Expert (aka pizza delivery) but I plan to go back to Software Programming and I’m taking on-line courses in cutting edge technology (insert latest software language here)
  • I’m an Accountant. While I’m searching for my next position I’m studying for the CPA exams.

Whatever you say, make it a positive statement that indicates you are seeking something appropriate, you’re not just waiting for a job to fall into your lap, you’re keeping current in your field and you have a sense of humor.

Never under estimate the value of a good sense of humor!

Cover Letters

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I am often asked if cover letters are really all that important. How much work should be put into tailoring and customizing a cover letter to submit with a resume?

My answer is “it depends.” Some hiring managers read cover letters just as carefully as the resume. Some people put more emphasis on the cover letter than the resume itself. Others skip them completely and just focus on the resume.

If the job posting specifically requests a cover letter, omitting it could get your resume rejected automatically.  Including a well-written cover letter, even if it is not required, adds a level of professionalism to your application.  Not everyone takes the time to write them.

However, sending a cover letter that you have cut and pasted from a previous application is dangerous.  The most common mistakes include:

  • Forgetting to change the name of the company
  • Forgetting to change the salutation
  • Forgetting to change the job title
  • Including a detailed list of your specific skills and how they apply to some other job

All of these mistakes will detract from your overall presentation.

Sometimes the request for a cover letter is a test to see how well you follow directions and communicate. This is especially important for management positions and roles that typically require written correspondence as part of your daily tasks.

Cover letters should never have any spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors. If you are a Technical Writer, Marketing candidate or Editor, your resume will be viewed even more critically.

Sadly, I once received a resume from a highly degreed Technical Writer. His resume had thirty-two spelling errors in it.  When I pointed that out, his response was, “Well, if the company can’t see beyond that, then I don’t want to work for them.”  The feeling was mutual.

For some brief examples of poorly written cover letters, see http://www.calm-water.com/interesting-cover-letters%e2%80%a6/

 

Networking Your Way Into a New Job

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Is networking your way into a new job the best approach? When it comes to questions like this my answer is always “it depends.” I don’t see the world as black and white.  To me there are always gray areas.

There is so much black and white/one-size-fits-all advice on job hunting. I see people taking this advice to heart and not getting the results they thought they would get.

Standard Advice says:  Network your way into the hiring manager. Don’t go through Human Resources.  Use social media sites and all of your networking connections to find the name and contact information for the person who is ultimately hiring for the position you want.  Then, contact that person directly and ask for an informational interview.

That advice actually works, sometimes.  Other scenarios I’ve seen have not worked well at all.

In some cases, I’ve seen the job seeker succeed in getting the information.  They have bypassed all the gatekeepers including Human Resources and are in direct contact with the hiring manager.

Depending upon the size and configuration of the company, they may have just succeeded in eliminating any chance of getting the job.

If it’s a very small company, the Human Resources person may be related to the owner/president of the company.  The HR person may have more influence than you think.

If it’s a very large company, the Vice President of Human Resources may have the ultimate signature authority on the position.

Either way, they won’t be smiling favorably on someone who didn’t bother to submit a resume through the proper channels.

“Informational interviews” have become synonymous with trickery.

What used to be a good way for someone to find out if a career field, company culture or company mission was the right place for them, has turned into a sneaky way to get a job interview.

So many people use a request for an informational interview for the wrong reasons now; it is increasingly rare for anyone to agree to it.

While this method of job hunting may still work in some situations, be very careful who you bypass, step on or step over on your way to that perfect job.

Remember, even if you get the job, you will have to work with the people you avoided, alienated and in general ticked off.

 

Why Leave Your Current Employer

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One of the most common interview questions is, “Why do you want to leave your current employer?” There are many old adages that apply here:  “Misery loves company” and “honesty is the best policy” spring to mind.  While it is human nature to complain, vent and whine, be careful when and where you do this.

Sadly, some people just want or need to complain all the time. And complete and total honesty is not always the best response.

If you have a job with a miserable boss, coworkers, environment, culture or something is bothering you and you just need to get it off your chest, that’s one thing. But as much as you might feel better about letting it out, don’t do it all the time and be very careful when and to whom you share. And remember not everyone wants to hear why you want to leave your job.

It’s fine to tell your best friend, a family member, a coworker who shares your point of view, or a counselor. Of course you have to be careful with the coworker confidante because that might backfire on you when your coworker starts sharing your point of view with others in the office.

If you easily fall into the routine of venting about work, you need to be extra careful when you go on an interview. At some point you will be asked why you left a previous job or why you want to leave where you work now.  This is not the time to dump out every horrible thing that has ever happened to you.

Figure out why you want to leave and word it in the most polite and precise way possible. Short, to the point, professional and non-defensive reasons are the best way to respond.  Even if you need to leave because your boss is chasing you around your desk with a meat cleaver, you want to say something less obnoxious and perhaps a tiny bit less honest.

Perhaps you’re looking for an opportunity with growth potential, new and/or different challenges, a shorter commute, a chance to work in a different industry or a more stable work environment.

Even if it’s true; saying your boss assigns everyone in the company days and times to babysit her toddler during work hours, it isn’t going to make a very good impression. And while that is not the strangest reason I’ve heard for leaving a company, who would believe you?

Building a Job Search Team

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Job searching is a lonely endeavor. It doesn’t need to be and it’s so much easier if you have a job search team to help you.

If you were starting a company, you would reach out to various people for advice. You would probably even have a core team of mentors or a board of directors or advisers. These are all people you can count on to help guide you. People you can call when you have a specific question, specialists in various areas where you know you may need some help or are feeling like you just need a sounding board.

The same goes with a job search. Put together a team of friends, family members, career coaches, resume writers, recruiters, etc. As with a board of directors, some of these people will need to be paid. Many of them will be open to just being there for you and helping on an as-needed basis.

Other suggestions for members of your team could be former coworkers or supervisors, members of your church or other groups (e.g., Toastmasters, the Elks, the Rotary, and Masons). Every person you know has connections you don’t know about. Ask politely if they would be willing to “help” you and don’t expect someone to do it all for you.

As a recruiter, I often tell candidates, “Just think of me as part of your job search team. I may have an opening that I think is right for you and I’ll be in touch. If I post an opening and you see it and think it’s right for you, call me!” I have worked with candidates who have connected with me on LinkedIn and see that I know people at a company where they want to work. They call and we talk about whether or not my connections can help provide insight into the company or get them connected to someone who can help them get referred for a specific job. Yes, sometimes that means I get paid by the company for finding and placing a candidate. More often it just means I’ve connected people for free and that’s fine with me. That’s not always acceptable with all recruiters, but it works for me.

My advice is, don’t do this alone. Build your own job search team.

 

 

The Dangers of Applying for Every Job

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You’re new to job searching or you’ve been out of work for months or years. At some point, it may seem like a good idea to apply for every job posting you see.  While there may be something to the technique of blasting your resume out to every job posted….Don’t do it!

While you may just be thinking you would be happy doing any type of work as long as it brings in some money or you genuinely believe you are equally qualified to be a Research Scientist or a Certified Public Accountant, think some more about that before you submit your resume for both.

If you actually have a CPA license and a PhD in Chemistry and have done both jobs over the course of your career, you should have two separate and distinct resumes tailored to pursue these two completely different jobs.

The dangers of applying for every job should be obvious.

First, you dilute your image. If you are submitting your resume for everything, you have likely spent some time rewriting it to make it as generic as possible so you seem to be somewhat qualified for everything.  So when you submit your resume for a job that you truly want and have a stellar background that applies to this job, your resume has been watered down to the point where you’ve left all the good parts off.

Second, if you are applying to the same company or the same recruiter for every job posted, after seeing the same resume multiple times, it will just stop looking right for anything. Most likely, we’ll just stop looking at it at all.

Third, it sends a message of desperation. While you may feel desperate and things may seem desperate to you, the last thing you want to do is present yourself in a manner that makes you look desperate.

One of the most difficult parts of a job search is attitude. Getting to a positive state of mind and staying there is vital.  Do whatever it takes to keep your confidence level up, your sense of self-esteem and that includes being selective about what you are applying for in the first place.

For more information on keeping a positive attitude see:

http://www.calm-water.com/unemployed-doesnt-define-who-you-are/

 

The Importance of Returning Phone Calls

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A quick reminder on the importance of returning phone calls, especially when you re in job search mode. This applies to any phone call for any position you have applied for and even for some you have not, but is most easily demonstrated with the specific discipline of sales candidates.

I have never seen a job description for Sales that does not include phone/communication skills. Therefore, when I post a job for any level or type of Sales opportunity, if the resume I receive looks like a possible match, I reply to the email with a message such as: “Please call me to discuss.”

Close to ninety percent of the candidates do NOT call me. And, yes on many occasions I have called and left messages or sent texts in addition to responding to the email asking for a phone call.

This makes my job easier.  If the candidate isn’t the type of person to pick up the phone and follow up on my email, then they are not likely going to be a stellar sales person for my client.

If you are truly looking for a new opportunity and someone calls you to discuss, it is very important that you actually return the phone call.

Work Ethics

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As a recruiter, I talk with hundreds of companies, ranging in size from one person just starting to hire his or her first employee all the way up to large corporations with thousands of employees and global locations.

One of the major complaints I hear from all of them, no matter the size, is “What happened to someone having good work ethics?”

By definition: “An ethical principle that places greatest value on hard work and diligence.”

In other words, what hiring managers are looking for is:

  • An employee who cares about the company, the product, the service, the mission, and its customers
  • Someone who comes to work when they are supposed to be there
  • Someone who will come in earlier or stay later if there’s a need, without complaining
  • Someone who is dedicated to getting the work done (i.e., figuring out what’s going wrong and fixing it or asking questions if they are stuck)

It doesn’t seem like a huge order to fill, however, not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone who is trying to fill an opening and I hear:

We’re flexible on the skill requirements if they have a good attitude, are willing to learn and have a good work ethic.

We prefer a college degree but if they have a good work ethic and can be trained, we will consider someone without the degree.

As long as the candidate has a good work ethic, we can work around whatever skill set is missing.

When you are interviewing for a new opportunity, I suggest you truly listen to the questions and think about your response.  Then determine how you can showcase your skills as well as your passion, drive and work ethics.

 

What “Tell me about Yourself” Really Means

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It’s a stock question, “Tell me about yourself”, yet it is still consistently used by human resources and hiring managers. It’s easy for them to be able to ask one question, sit back and see where it leads.

It is important to be prepared to answer it in a way that is not too long and drawn out but not so short and blunt it makes you appear uninterested.

I have seen some advice for job seekers saying develop and rehearse your answer to this question. If you are a very nervous person this may be a good idea. On the other hand, researching the company and the position for which you are applying and creating a response to this question that more closely addresses how “you” can solve the company’s problems and will fit in with their culture may be a more successful way to respond.

In interviews over the years I’ve heard some truly amazing responses to this question. A few things that do not work:

  • Do notreally” tell the interviewer about yourself. Don’t launch into personal information that has nothing to do with the job or your educational or professional background. (e.g., Do not start with … “I was born in a small town in…” or “After my divorce or release from rehab…”).
    • Stay focused with a brief sentence or two about your education, your relevant work experience, your interest and experience in the field/industry and how it applies to this job.
  • Avoid droning on about each job you’ve ever held, what all of your responsibilities were, details about your co-workers, how the company was managed, how the department was run and why you left.
    • When describing your past work experience, talk about how it relates to the job you are applying for, how the skills you have acquired in these past positions will help you to be a valuable employee in this company.
    • Do not ever talk about what a horrible boss you had, how awful your previous company was to work for or say anything negative about anyone. This will only reflect poorly on you.
  • Do not tell stories about your college days. How many friends you had in school, how much you partied and how hard your college professors were to please is all information you should keep to yourself.
    • If asked specifically about something, perhaps a senior project, be sure to focus your answer on what you learned that will apply to this specific job. Let the interviewer know if you were the project lead, were responsible for all the equations, or for the final presentation.

What does work: A brief description of what your most recent job is or was (how it applies to the job for which you are interviewing), how much experience you have relevant to this job, what education you have relevant to this job and perhaps why you think you would be a good choice for this job. A good interviewer will ask questions to gain additional information and insight into who you truly are and what you bring to the job.

Dressing for an Interview

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Sadly the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ never seems to apply to people. Within the first ten to twenty seconds of meeting someone new, most people have formed an opinion of you based entirely on what you look like. Right or wrong, they are judging your clothing, hair style or cut, makeup, jewelry and shoes. In some instances they are also judging perfume/smell, eyeglasses, body piercings, tattoos, etc.

This makes it even more important to be dressed appropriately for an interview and for at least your first day at work (until you figure out what the company culture is with respect to clothing). The focus of an interview needs to be on your skills, what you have to offer the company, how your background is a fit for the opening and the company and NOT on what you look like.

In all the years I’ve been recruiting, I’ve near once heard someone say there was a problem with a candidate showing up wearing a suit. Even for a job where you will never wear one in the course of a normal work day, being dressed professionally for the interview is at the very least a sign of respect.

Once you are hired, you may find you are going to work in a t-shirt and pajama pants, but for the interview that sends a negative message.

If you have no idea how to dress professionally, I would suggest you Google it. There are thousands of sites with advice on what to wear. You can even ask the person scheduling the interview what is appropriate for their company.

In many cases I’ve been told to tell the candidate to wear business casual. A suit is not expected or required. That means you need to figure out what business casual actually looks like. Again, in some companies you could end up in pajama pants and a t-shirt, but for the most part you should lean towards something not quite that casual. Remember it is “business” casual not “lying around the house” casual.

To get you started, here are a few links offering advice on what to wear, how to dress for your body type, etc.:

http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/interview-appearance/10-interview-fashion-blunders/article.aspx

http://www.redbookmag.com/life/money-career/advice/g604/job-interview-outfits/

http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/interview-appearance/Mens-Interview-Fashion-Tips/article.aspx

http://www.embraceyourwardrobe.com/handouts