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!)

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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.


New Year – New Interviews

This month I have been trying to get you in a new state of mind. I’ve talked about new markets, new resumes, new cover letters, new targets, and new networking strategies. For the last post in January, let’s focus on the new interviews.

If you have a good resume and cover letter and you use those with effective networking, I can almost guarantee you’ll get interviews. These techniques will raise you above the average job seeker and give you the visibility you need to be noticed. Then, it will be up to you to use your interviewing skills to move to the next stage.

If you click on Interviewing in the Tag Cloud to the right of this post, you’ll find seven previous posts on interviewing. One of my favorites is Becoming Scheherazade… from just over a year ago. Each of the posts provides some insight in how to make your interviews more successful, but for you impatient ones…

  • Be prepared – go online and find lists of the interview questions. Then write out your answers to those questions. Then practice saying those answers aloud. Be prepared to answer behaviorally based questions (back to Scheherazade).
  • Know who you are and what you want – spend some time (before the interview) really thinking about what you want out of your next job and what you can give. This will drive your elevator speech (last week) but it will also let you answer those questions about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Get off on the right foot – be on time, well dressed and groomed, look the interviewer in the eye, offer a firm handshake, etc. You need to make a good first impression.
  • Answer the questions you’re asked – don’t talk about unrelated subjects, don’t volunteer information they don’t need to know, don’t vent about how your former employer fired you or about how bad your old boss was at managing.
  • Ask questions – use your opportunity to ask questions to show what you know about this company (things you learned while developing your target list, networking, or through research). Asking questions shows that you are interested and want to learn more. Asking intelligent questions really gets the interviewer’s attention.
  • Be polite – enough said.

Losing one a job and finding another can be a challenging, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding process. For the most part the techniques are not rocket-science, but for many they are not common sense either. I hope that these new posts in January have given you the foundation to understand the process and be successful.

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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. Click here for more details.


Enablers vs. Limiters

I realized that a few weeks ago I wrote about Enablers and Limiters, but I didn’t explain myself well. Let me try again.

Your resume and cover letter should be packed with information that makes the reader (recruiter or hiring manager) want to know more. That information needs to relate directly to the job you are applying for. It needs to make the connection that since you’ve done this activity successfully for someone else, you can do it form them also. That information is what I call Enablers.

Enablers tell your story and make links between your skill set and the position requirements. Some enablers might be in your accountabilities – proving you have accomplished before what needs to be done again. They may be in your career history. Sometimes the organization you worked for is not a household name. Giving a 10-word description of the company/industry may help the reader better understand your experience. Maybe your enabler is your education and training.

The dark-side of providing more information are the Limiters. These are statements that cause a reader to stop reading and decide you are not a fit for the job they are trying to fill. Some limiters are obvious like misspellings and poor grammar. Some come from revealing too much personal information like hobbies – if the recruiter is a golf-widow, she may not like to hear that you love to golf, plus, your love of golf is generally not related to your ability to do the job – which is what your resume is for.

Other limiters are a bit trickier. Listing responsibilities rather than accomplishments may suggest this was what you were supposed to do, but maybe you didn’t do it well. Sometimes the companies you worked for can be limiters – touting yourself as a proven executive from Enron or Tyco may be a limiter.

The key to both enablers and limiters is to read you resume and cover letter from the perspective of a hiring manager (have a friend help you do this). Make sure that every word and phrase encourages them to want to know more about you. Avoid mistakes and topics that allow someone to discount your experience or pigeon-hole you in a hole you don’t want to be in.

This is not easy, and it is the main reason that you should review and customize your resume for every job. Information that may be an enabler for one company may be a limiter at another. As you get better at balancing this information, you’ll get more calls, more interviews and more offers.

Are you trying to decide on the perfect holiday gift for an unemployed friend (or spouse)? Give them a copy of I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Click here for more details.


What Makes You a Unicorn?

Recently a friend was told by a recruiter that the reason his job search was taking so long was that every recruiter was looking for a unicorn. The economy is rebounding from several years ago, the number of workers is going up, and the unemployment is rate is going down. But that does not mean that things are going back to where they were before.

In the rescission, companies learned to do more with less, and that is a lesson they learned well. They may be adding staff, but they are doing it more selectively than before. They are looking for people that have exactly the right skills, knowledge and abilities that they need; and because the pool of unemployed workers is still large and diverse, if they wait long enough they can find their unicorn.

Now, you’re looking in the mirror. Only two feet, no glossy white hair all over your body, no long flowing tail, and especially no long pointy horn protruding from your forehead. You scream in anguish “I’m not a unicorn!” But I say, yes you are.

Every job seeker has a unique blend of knowledge, skills and abilities. And the great thing about people? They can be taught! If there is something you don’t know that you ought to know, learn it! If you can access this blog, you have access to a wealth of learning opportunities.

But, maybe your issue isn’t what you don’t know, it is that you’re not telling anyone. Maybe recruiters don’t know that you are the unicorn they are looking for. This is the primary reason you want to update your cover letter and resume every time you apply for a job. Make sure to highlight the skills and experience you have that fit the requirements they are asking for. Show that you do have four feet. Don’t just have one elevator speech, have 10; each one showing a different perspective on the glossy white coat and flowing tail. In the interview, answer the questions in such a manner to throw light on that long white horn.

For most of us, there are some jobs we want, but we really are not the unicorn they want. But for lots of other jobs, we are just what they want – they just don’t know it. We just need to work a little harder, polish up your horn, throw back your head, and make whatever noise a unicorn makes. Be the unicorn and make sure they see the unicorn in you.

For more details about I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another, click here.


The Importance of Politeness

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 them every day; but somehow we’ve stopped. Those words? “Please” and “you’re welcome.” (Okay – one of those words is really two words, 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, some 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 I did for you was insignificant and not worthy of being thanked. In my mind that is plain rude. If someone is going to tell you 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 more details about I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another, click here.


Anticipation

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 your wedding ceremony?

Now think again about some of those times. Mixed in 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 shine is off and now it’s just a job. Did you make a mistake? Should you keep looking?

My advice is to do your best to ignore that little voice of doubt. 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 interview 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.

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. Check back to this site soon. I expect I’m Fired?!? to be available as an eBook in the next few weeks with a paper version to follow not too long after. Details soon!


References – Part II

A few weeks ago I wrote about references, how to prepare your reference list so that you’re ready. In this post I want to talk about serving as a reference for someone else.

If someone asks you to serve as a reference for them, before you say yes ask yourself, “Can I talk positively about this person’s work experience, professional skills and/or personality? Would what I honestly think about this person help them to secure a new job?” Unless you can emphatically say yes to these questions, politely decline to be a reference.

Serving as a reference is often a balancing act. Most people have some things they did well and some things they need to work on. You want to be able to give as much of the good information as you can while only providing the less-good information when required. You may choose to quality parts of your reference with words like generally, usually, or sometimes. That way you leave room between the lines that this person might not be perfect.

In my mind, the most important thing about being a reference is honesty. No one will benefit from you giving false information about another person. Let’s say Bob has horrible attendance – maybe you even fired him for it. Then someone calls for a reference check on Bob and asks about his attendance. Being honest may keep Bob from getting the job, but lying about Bob’s attendance may not help him either. Possibly he gets the job and then gets fired again for attendance. Nobody wins in that situation.

From your employer’s perspective (if you and the job seeker worked together – especially if you were the supervisor) what is critical is that what you say is consistent with the employees’ personnel record. There is no law that prohibits you from giving negative feedback during a reference check. The problems come in if the negative information you provide is not supported by the records. Back to Bob and his horrible attendance. Let’s presume that Bob had horrible attendance and you fired him for it. Then a recruiter calls and asks about Bob’s attendance. You reply honestly and that ultimately you fired him because of it. You were honest – so no problems, right?

The problem comes when what you said is not consistent with the file. Maybe Bob was an exempt employee who did not fill out a time sheet. There is no written record of his poor attendance. You didn’t really write him up for attendance – you just talked to him a few times and then when you were fed up you fired him. In his last performance appraisal you checked “satisfactory” on the attendance line because you didn’t want to get into it at the time – and he had been doing better the few weeks before the review. Now we have a situation where the facts – his attendance was horrible and you fired him for it – disagree with the formal record. If Bob were to file a defamation charge, you (and your company) would not be able to defend your comments.

Serving as a reference is important and if you can do so in a manner that can help someone get a new job, I encourage you to do so. But, be honest with yourself and the recruiter and follow your mother’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

 


References – Part I

This is going well. You’ve cleared the phone screen, had an interview, and done okay on some testing. You’re feeling pretty good. Then the recruiter turns to you and says, “Can you give me some references?” Now what!?!

In a perfect world you’d reach into your portfolio (or pad, briefcase, what-have-you) and pull out a professional reference list. This would have the same look and feel as your resume and cover letter. On the list would be three to five names with their job titles, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You’d hand that to the recruiter and say “here you go.”

It doesn’t always work like that, but that’s your goal. The hard question is, who are those people?

As you begin you job search you need to start lining up your references. You want to build a database of people, ideally 10 to 15. Find people who can talk about your work and work habits in a sincerely positive way. You need a few supervisors who can talk about you as an employee. You need a few coworkers who have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You need a few subordinates (if you’ve had any) who can describe what kind of a boss you are. You could also use a few customers – either internal or external – people who you served in some capacity. An executive mentor would be nice to talk about how you are improving your skills. Finally you need some personal references – maybe a college professor, pastor, good friend, or someone you’ve volunteered with (or for).

You need to approach each of these people with the same request, “can you help me?” Tell them that you are looking for a job and that you’d like them to serve as a reference for you. Talk about the types of things they might say about you. Make sure to gather their personal contact information. Then build your list. Put everybody on that page, organize them by category – boss, peer, subordinate, etc. Then file that away (do not print that version).

You can then go about your search being prepared. When you schedule a face-to-face interview or get a request for references then you being the next phase. Examine both your list of references and the job you are applying for, and pick the references that can provide feedback that is most closely linked to what that company needs to know about you. Delete the others and print that reference list of three to five people. One last thing, before you hand that list to the recruiter, send an email to each person on the list telling them that you will be giving their name to XYZ Company. That way they can expect to be contacted by the company and be prepared to answer the phone or recognize an odd email address.

As with all facets of your job search the key is to be prepared. Solicit your references, get them from all facets of your professional experience, know what they are going to say, warn them before you use them, and present them to the hiring manager in a fashion that is professional and consistent with your other search documents. You can do that – now let’s get out and find that job!

In a future post I’ll talk about the other side of references – being one for someone else.     


Back to Basics

Earlier I mentioned a symposium I attended on helping homeless Veterans find jobs and some of the job seeking advice I heard there. There was one more bit of advice that’s been running around in the back of my head – do I blog about this or not? I decided the answer is yes. There’s nothing earth shattering here but it can’t hurt to get this kind of advice periodically during your job search.

Here are 15 basic tips that you need to aware of when you go to an interview or a networking meeting. Again, I hope there are no surprises here, but if there are, at least someone told you.  These are not in priority order, you need to do them all.

  1. Be on time. Before the interview know where you are going, how to get there, where you will park, etc. Plan to arrive 10 minutes (or so) early. Sit in your car and relax if you’re too early. Use the power building suggestions from by Body Language post while you wait.
  2. Be clean. I shouldn’t need to explain this.
  3. Smell good. This really should be “don’t smell.” Too much cologne or perfume is sometimes worse than none at all. I suggest you be a neutral as possible.
  4. Dress appropriately. I suggest you dress one step above what that office’s every-day work attire is. Guys – a business suit is not required or appropriate for all occasions. If they wear ties, you wear the suit. If they are business casual, you still wear the suit. If they are in jeans you wear dress pants and a dress shirt – tie is optional. If they are in shorts and filp-flops then you’re in business casual. Never less than business casual. Rarely more than business suit. If you don’t know what they wear, call the company and ask the receptionist. You don’t have to tell her your name J. Ladies – sorry but you’ll have to take your dress cues from my advice for guys. I’m not qualified to translate.
  5. Bring copies of your resume. I suggest between 2 and 5 copies. It depends on how many people you expect to meet.
  6. Bring something to take notes on. Not your hand or a pack of post-its. Don’t forget the pen.
  7. Remember your body language – smile, look people in the eye, offer a firm handshake.
  8. Speak clearly. Talk slowly, clearly. Use full sentences. Answer the question that is asked, nothing else. Don’t ramble.
  9. Remember your manners. Say please and thank you. I think you can use “sir” and “ma’am” but be careful. I may get some backlash on this, but some women take offense to ma’am because they say it makes them feel/sound old. I grew up with parents from the South and sir and ma’am are just part of who I am – no offense intended.
  10. Be patient. Take time to consider the question you’ve been asked before answering.
  11. No lying. Enough said.
  12. Ask questions. Be prepared to ask several questions (even if you already know the answers). You can ask about the company history, the strategic plan, their products, whatever – but show an interest in the organization.
  13. Ask when you can follow up. Even if they tell you when they plan to get back to you, ask when you can check back with them. Be proactive.
  14. Relax. This is a job interview. You are not being investigated for murder. The worse thing that can happen is that you don’t get this job. That’s okay – there will be others.
  15. Be yourself. Let them know all the ways you can make their organization better.

There you go – fifteen simple things to remember. Have a great interview!


Be Prepared for Surprises

Despite your best efforts in trying to predict the future, it just rarely plays out like you think it will. A friend recently received a call to schedule an interview. He’d heard about the job through a networking contact. It didn’t really sound like what he wanted to do; the location wasn’t great; he didn’t think they were going to pay very much; and he thought it was part time. In short, he really didn’t want “waste his valuable time” going to this interview.

I reminded him that a) since he was unemployed his time really wasn’t that valuable, and b) if nothing else he could consider it a practice session and hone his interviewing skills. Grudgingly he agreed.

After the interview he was excited. The networking contact had missed most of the good points. It was a full time job; the pay was okay; the location was easy to get to; and the duties were interesting – he could learn a lot on this job. Now he’s on pins and needles because they are supposed call him the next day with a start date the following week.

As a job seeker, you have to be prepared for surprises. He didn’t think this interview was worth his time a now he’s hoping for a job offer. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard of people interview for one job, but then being hired for a different job because of their skill set. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a networking meeting thinking I’m wasting my time and walked out with 3-4 excellent leads.

My advice is to go in to every interview and networking meeting with your eyes wide open. Give them your best stuff and then be prepared to step back and see what happens. Sometimes you’ll get a surprising job offer or networking leads and sometimes you’ll get some good practice. Either way, your job search is moving forward. Keep at it.