Save the Words!

In my quiet time, I worry about odd things, and one of those is that the English language may lose three important words due to lack of use.  Unfortunately, these are words that we all know, and could, and should, use every day; but somehow we’ve stopped.  Those words?  “Please” and “you’re welcome.”  (Okay – one of those words is really two words, or really three, but give me some literary license, please.)

Let’s take these on one at a time.  I’ll bet that when you were a toddler, your parents told you multiple times every day to say please and thank you.  Somewhere around the teenage years you probably started dropping the please – and maybe the thank you.  As I interact with business professionals all day, many of them make requests of me.  They ask for information, for assistance, to be hired for a job, etc.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times someone included “please” in that request so far this month.  While please may still be common for toddlers, it seems to be slipping from the business vernacular.

As a side-note, “thank you” is not endangered – at least not from usage.  I hear “thank you” and “thanks” all day long.  Granted, many of them are perfunctory or insincere, but the word lives on.  I am concerned that all too often its use is insincere.  What bothers me most is when someone writes or types “Thx.”  Really?  You want to show your appreciation, but you don’t have enough time to use three more letters?  And how about saying the full “thank you” once in a while?  Wouldn’t that be nice to hear?

The first word/phrase I think we might lose is “you’re welcome.”  I rarely hear this anymore.  Instead I hear, “no problem”, “okay”, “no biggie”, “any time”, and other phrases that suggest that whatever they did for me was insignificant and not worthy of being thanked.  In my mind that is plain rude.  If someone is going to tell you that they appreciate what you’ve done for them – presuming that appreciation is sincere – then the least you can do is acknowledge the receipt of that appreciation by saying “you’re welcome.”

So, the purpose of this manners rant?  I wrote a post a while back about the importance of making a good first impression.  You can enhance and sustain that impression by being polite.  When you ask for an interview, say please.  When you get that interview, say thank you.  When the interviewer says, “Thanks for coming in today,” say, “You’re welcome, and thank you for the opportunity.”

Incorporating all three words/phrases into your everyday conversations will not only improve the quality of your relationships, you’ll also be saving these words from extinction.  Thank you for reading this blog. If you are struggling with your job search, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


The Background Check

To get a good job you’ll probably need to go through a criminal background check, a drug screen, and maybe a check of your credit and/or driver’s license.  It is a perfectly legal and extremely common practice to run background checks and/or drug screens on either all applicants, or at least on the finalist, for many, if not most jobs.  You need to be ready and to recognize that your past behavior may affect your employability.

Typically, a company requesting a criminal background check is looking for evidence of violence or theft.  If they are an organization that deals with children or youth, they are specifically looking for crimes against children.  A credit check is typically only used for those people who might be handling finance or accounting.  They want to know if you can manage your own money before they let you manage theirs.  And many jobs involve operating a motor vehicle (yours or theirs) on company business, so you need to have a valid drivers license and not have a history of multiple accidents/tickets/etc.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a perfect record.  We all make mistakes, some just bigger than others.  If you believe your background could make it hard to get a specific job, you have two good choices and one bad choice.

The first good choice is to simply not apply for jobs you know you can’t get.  If you are a registered sex-offender, don’t even try to work at a school.  Bank robbers won’t get jobs at banks.  Huge debt or multiple bankruptcies may keep you from being a CFO.  Those are pretty cut-and-dried.

The other good answer is to be up front.  Let’s say five years ago you got in fight in a bar and were convicted of aggravated assault.  Be up-front about it.  Before you give them permission to run the criminal background check, tell them what happened.  Help them to understand the situation, hopefully that was a one-time thing and what you learned from that.  Admitting that there could be things on your record is way better than the recruiter being surprised to see them there.

The bad choice is to lie, deny, and deflect.  Blaming someone else for your bad behavior or trying to explain to a recruiter how you were a victim of circumstance, or of poor law enforcement, is probably not going to help you get the job.

So, if you have things from your past that might show up on a criminal background, credit, or driver’s license check, be up front about them rather than letting the hiring manager be surprised.  Honesty really is the best policy.  If you are struggling, this might help https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/.


Going Up?

First things first, right? Let’s think backwards from when you start your new job. What steps did you have to take?

1) Pass the background check, 2) Interview (several times), 3) Apply for the job, 4) Find the job, 5) Network, 6) Write Elevator speech, 7) Work on Resume, 8) Get fired…, okay – that’s far enough.

Wait a minute.  Number 6 – Write Elevator Speech?  What’s that?

A key component of networking is to be able to tell your story.  You need to be able to do that quickly and consistently. That story should be rich and compelling.  It needs it to make people want to learn more about you.   Nancy Collamer does a fantastic job of describing how to develop this 30-second gem in this blog post, so I don’t want try to top her. Read her post – twice!

I’ve said before, you should customize your resume for every job you apply for. To an extent you should be prepared to do this with your elevator speech as well.  Point out your skills and accomplishments that best fit the job you are applying for or the industry you are interested in.

Being able to tell your story in around 30 seconds is critical to your job search.  Learning how to write and deliver a good elevator speech, is a fantastic skill that will help you throughout your career.  If you are struggling in your job search, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


Corn Hole Anyone?

Later this afternoon I will be competing in a Corn Hole tournament. For those of you not familiar with the sport, it involves trying to toss a 1-pound bean-bag through a 6-inch hole that is about 30 feet away.  To be clear, this is a charity event. I’m not any good at corn hole, in fact I’ve only played three or four times.  But, I support Rebuilding Together – Kansas City, a fantastic organization that repairs homes for those who cannot afford to pay for repairs.  I fully expect to lose big and lose early, but I also expect to have fun.

I’ve been thinking about this game and this tournament, and how I can relate it to job search. I’ve think I’ve found a few parallels.

  • Corn hole involves repeating the same process over and over.  You might throw as many as 40-50 bags in one game, depending on the skill level of both you and your opponent.  Networking is like that.  You need to keep meeting people, telling them your story, and asking for their help by referring you to others.
  • To be good at corn hole (which I am not) you need to practice and you’ll get better (which I am).  Again, the same holds for networking. The more people you meet, the easier it is to tell them your story and to ask for help.
  • Corn hole utilizes cancellation scoring. For each inning you add up the total score for each team, subtract the lower number from the higher number, and the net is the number of points the team scoring the higher number gets.  Interviewing for a job is like that. In the end, it does not matter how applications you submit, or how many interviews you have. It only matters that for at least one job, you have more successful interviews than the other candidates, and you get the job.
  • Corn hole is a social game (especially at my level).  Competitors talk, laugh, have an occasional beer, and get to know each other.  Networking should be like that as well.  While the end result is to find a job, the process is about getting to know people, making new friends, and personal growth.

I understand that some of this may be s stretch, but I think they hold together.  Have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, enjoy meeting people, stretch yourself, grow a little, and you’ll come out on the other end, not only with a new job, but being a slightly better version of yourself. If you are struggling with your job search, try this: https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/.


Practice, Practice, Practice

There is an old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  The answer, “Practice, practice, practice.”  The same is true to the question, “How should you prepare for an interview?” but it’s not as funny.

All kidding aside, here is what I encourage you to do.  Find a list of the most common, or the best interview questions.  You can Google it, or there is a list of my favorites in the back of my book.  For each question, write our answers. Really. Don’t just think about them.  Write them down.  Work on your answers until you like the way they sound. Then, and here comes the strange part, say them out loud, over and over.

Several things are happening.  When you read the question and think about your response you being to create a short-term memory.  The more you roll that answer around in your head, the more you are likely to remember it. But, if you then write it down, the writing part engages different parts of your brain because now it’s not just a thought, now, you have to cause your hands to move in relationship to the words.  FYI the research supports that hand-writing is even more effective than typing so tell that to your student who is taking notes on their laptop.

Now you’ve thought about that answer, and written down so you’ll have a better chance to remember it.  The next step is to practice saying it.  The act of speaking the words out loud will do two things. One, as you hear what you wrote, you will probably find that you need to change a few words so it sounds like you.  More importantly, you’ve now engaged more parts of our brain and that answer will locked in concrete. The more your practice, the more comfortable you’ll get.

It is very unlikely that an interviewer will ask you exactly the questions you have prepared answers for, but you will know the material well enough that you’ll easily be able to put things together on the fly.  You will come across as thoughtful and well spoken. You’ll be ready for any interview.

This is all about the power of practice – not just thinking about things, but writing them down and then really practicing them out loud.  Your dream job is out there and waiting for you. Get ready for it by practicing.  If you are struggling, this might help.  https://im-fired.com/about-the-book/


Attention Holiday Shoppers!

Just in time for your holiday shopping, I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another is now available in print! Whether your company calls it a layoff, a termination, or a reduction in force, the bottom line is that you are out of a job and need to find a new one. So how do you do that? There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but there are some straightforward techniques that in the end may mean you don’t just find a job, but you build a career.

Buy the book here for a great stocking suffer for the job seeker in your life. Or, if you prefer the ebook, buy the Nook version at Barnes & Noble (also available in other formats from Smashwords).  If you want advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out the I’m Fired?!? blog.

Happy Holidays!


Anticipation Redux

(This is an update to a post from August, 2014.)

What are your great memories of anticipation? Trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve? The last day of school? The last day before school started? How about right before you got married?

Now think again about some of those times. Mixed with that excitement, was there also a touch of fear, or a note of doubt. You were sure that whatever was going to happen was going to be great – or at least you were pretty sure – right?

Your job search will probably be filled these times. Maybe you’re a finalist for job, going in for your last interview. It would be great to get back to work, this sounds a like a good place to work, the people have been very nice, but … the work seemed a little tedious – not exactly what you’d like to do. What if you take the job and it starts off great, but after a few weeks the newness wears off and now it’s just a job. Did you make a mistake? Should you keep looking?

Recently a friend of mine had a similar “problem.” He was getting ready to interview for two jobs. He was more interested in Job A than Job B, but both were better than his current job. He had sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do if Job B made him an offer before Job A did.

Here’s the deal, you need to control what you can control – and that is you. Rather than stress before (or during) the interview about what you’ll do if they do (or don’t) offer you a job, be in the moment. Put 100% of yourself into the process and wait to see what happens. If you are in a new job and feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse – set it aside and do your job the best you can do it.  If, after you’ve tried it you decide you made a mistake, look for a new job.

I heard the phrase once that worrying was “borrowing trouble” – taking tomorrow’s problems and making them issues in your life today. As best you can, don’t do that. Live in the present, do what you can to be successful today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Take it from a guy who’s lost his job six times. Things work out. Control what you can control and let the rest take care of itself.

BTW – Here is some real life anticipation. In 1998, I had an idea for a book and started writing. In 2015 I’m Fired?!? was published as an eBook. Last week I held a proof of the paper version in my hands and it should be available in about a month. Sometimes you just have to learn to be patient.

—————-

If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Available as an eBook and soon in print! Click here for more details.


Focus

Imagine this – you sit down to a networking interview with a guy who just lost his job. You ask, “So what work did you do?” And he responds … “I used Excel, I audited accounts, I did reconciliations, I made journal entries, I filled out tax forms, I oversaw inventory, I prepared financial statements, I managed cash, I worked with banks, I managed the fixed asset system, I calculated depreciation …” Soon your eyes glaze over and you wonder why you agreed to meet this guy.

What was missing from this answer to your question was focus. What he probably should have said was “I was an accountant.” Then through follow-up questions could have learned about what type of accountant and gradually picked up as much detail as you needed. But, by leading with the details he lost you.

Likewise, your job search needs focus. Learn to lead with the general and move to the specific as needed. Help people see the whole you, rather than just the tasks that you know how to perform. While focus is required in all aspects of your search, there are two key areas where that summary comes into play.

The fist is your elevator speech. This is a 30-second description of who you are and what you want. This high-level summary needs to be focused and be the door opener for you to be able to provide more detail. A typical job hunter has only one elevator speech, but if your search is taking you in very different directions, you might have two ready, depending on whom you meet.

The second key area for focus is your resume. I recommend that the first thing on your resume, below your name and contact information, should be a summary. This is no more than two sentences or four bullets that tell the reader exactly why you are the person they should hire for the job you are applying for. This summary leads them into the accomplishments, career history, and education that support that summary – again working from general to specific.

When you are out of work and just want to find a job, you may be tempted to tell everyone everything with the hope that there will be some scrap of information that you throw out that captures their attention. Unfortunately, that technique does not often work. Find your focus and sell the whole package. You have something to offer and someone is going see that in your focus.

—————-

If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Available soon in print! Click here for more details.


How much are you worth?

Inevitably, in your job search the topic of money is going to come up. Maybe you left your last job because you needed more money. Maybe they let you go because you made too much. Regardless, before you accept your next offer, the company has to decide how much they can pay you to do the work, and you have to decide how much your time and effort is worth.

Unfortunately, unless this job is covered by an existing union contract, there is no simple answer. Every organization has a unique perspective on total compensation – a blend of base pay, benefits, paid time off, working environment, career opportunities, performance expectations, and job security – that makes every job offer different. You may be in a position to have competing offers for similar work, but you need to compare so much more than the salary. Will the job provide meaningful work? Will I like my coworkers and the work culture? Will I be able to develop my career and learn new things? Will I have the time to spend with my family? Will I like my boss? Do I identify with the mission of the organization? There are hundreds of questions you need to consider beyond base pay.

But, let’s talk money. One of the best indications of your worth, purely from a base salary perspective, is what you were paid in your last comparable job. Much like the market value of a house is what someone is willing to pay for it, the first step in determining the value of your labor is too look at what someone else paid you – keeping in mind that this amount was wrapped in that organization’s view of total compensation. That organization had to balance what they paid you with what they paid other employees (internal equity) and what other organizations pay their workers (external competitiveness).

You can get a sense of external competitiveness by looking at sites like salary.com, monster.com and other salary surveys. Please understand; the information they are reporting on these sites is a) supplied by the individual, not the company, so there is no accuracy check, and b) they are consolidating this information based on a one-sentence job description. You might be paid more or less, because while the job has the same job title, the responsibilities are very different. Consider that data, but take it with a large grain of salt.

A key component of your worth needs to be what you need. Do you need base salary, medical insurance, retirement contributions, educational assistance, on-site daycare, on-the-job training, a supportive environment, flexible work schedule, lots of paid time off, a career development program, a busy job, a chance to prove yourself, or a place where you can take a step back and not be stressed? All of those things need to go to into evaluating a job offer.

As I said, there is no easy answer to the question. Take time during your search to evaluate you, and figure out both what you need and what you want. Then take time during the interview process to see how the organization aligns with your wants and needs. Then, when you get to the salary discussion, you have a context and you’ll be much more able to figure out what you’re worth.

—————-

If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Available soon in print! Click here for more details.


Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Sometimes the job search doesn’t start because you get fired. Sometimes a friend tells you about an opening, or you happen across something on the web, or maybe a headhunter calls you out of the blue. You like your job and your boss – the pay is okay – you didn’t think you were in the job market. What should you do?

There are those who advocate you should always have your resume up to date and be looking for your next job. They stress you have to look out for yourself and jump at every chance. I’m not one of those people. I don’t think it hurts your career to have periods of stable employment and I don’t like to look at resumes where someone changes companies every few years.

But at the same time, you do need to have a good sense of the world outside of your cubicle. You should always keep your network fresh, meet new people, build relationships, and help others with their job search. And occasionally, when a recruiter calls, answer the call.

Here is the first reality check. You are not the best thing since sliced bread, and just because a headhunter calls you does not mean you need to give your notice. Just because you choose to apply for another job does not mean you should pack your desk – or even that you’ve made the decision to leave. There is always that chance, and it is a very good chance, that you won’t be offered the job, or if you are you won’t like it.

Going on an interview with another company is not like cheating on your wife. You committed to your spouse until death do you part; you committed to your employer for as long as the relationship continues to work for both of you. If an opportunity looks interesting, pursue it. The worst case will be that you’ll get your resume updated, you’ll meet some new people, and you’ll get some reinforcement that you like what you do and where you work. Maybe you’ll find something even better, but don’t turn in your resignation until you get that job offer.

So, here’s the other question, do you tell your boss you have an interview? Probably not. If you have made the decision you want to leave your current employer and you are actively pursuing other opportunities then, maybe, but rarely. If this is just a whim, you don’t know if it will lead to anything, you’re not unhappy, then no – keep that information to yourself. There is little to be gained and plenty to be lost by being overly transparent.

So in short, just because you apply for another job does not mean you plan on leaving your current job – occasionally exploring other jobs is good for you – and if you do decide to look around, keep it to yourself until you accept another offer. (Oh, and thanks to The Clash for my title today!)

—————-

If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to network, or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Available soon in print! Click here for more details.