Friday, March 6, 2009

I hear you knocking, but I'm pretty comfortable right now. So, come back later.

I am amazed at the speed with which the employment world has adapted to the digital world. Likewise, I am amused at the number of job candidates who are using tactics that are hold-overs from the pre-digital universe. Anyone following the job search etiquette of 1998 will be roller skating in a buffalo herd. Heck, for that matter, anyone following the job search etiquette of 2004 will be noticeably out of sync as well. Why do I bring this up? Well, this morning one of my "digital friends" sent me a Email or a TXT, hmm... maybe it was an IM. I don't remember, but he contacted me the way many 21st Century job seekers do with the following query.
So, I'm sending out resumes...What next? In the business world, it's not like I'd just send out a proposal when I see some company has an RFP out there, and just never follow up. I'd network, cold call before the RFP, talk to those who are reviewing competitors, get to know as much about what the person is looking for beyond the minimums, etc.

What's the etiquette for direct contact? And when you think about it, it's almost like HR departments are set up as buffers to keep you from doing that. I mean there's a reason that HR depts actually have telephones that accept inbound phone calls right?

I understand pro-activity is always best, but what level of pro-activity are we talking about here? When does pro-activity become obnoxious? When does aggressive become creepy?
Taking the questions one at a time, today's entry will be: How to harass, harangue, and harry hiring managers without crossing over into the "Stalker Zone."

I tried to call, but I kept getting a busy signal.
I really wish there was a science to follow up, but there just isn't. I will share what I usually tell students, but it is based on a very unscientific method, which is most of the people that I know that have used it have gotten jobs. Bear in mind, this does not account for their qualifications or the hiring manager's need. So, maybe they would have gotten the job without follow up. Anyway, here are the guidelines.
  • Follow instructions. If the job announcement says, "Position open until 8/12/09" do not call on 08/05/09 or 08/06/09 or 08/07/09. My general rule of thumb is to allow about two weeks before inquiring and with the slow economy, three weeks is not outrageous. If you contact someone and they say that the manager or committee will be looking at applications in about two weeks, don't call in about three days. Be patient. Take up crossword puzzles or XBox or something.

  • Create wiggle room. Contact as directly as you can, but leave folks space to hem and haw. My friend's supposition about HR people being a buffer is correct, so you don't really have to give them room. Don't get cheeky with them but you can be fairly pushy about when interviews are happening and stuff. With hiring managers you should really allow them the courtesy to ignore you. Back in the day, before email and text messages, if I were curious about a recruitment and I knew the manager's phone number, I would call after hours. This way I could be pretty certain that they would not be there and leave a voice mail that was less intrusive, giving them more control over a delicate situation. Email now replaces that late night call. A simple email inquiry that says something like: "Hello. I was curious about the timeline for your recruitment process. I am planning a trip out of town and wanted to be available should you need to speak with me during the next couple of weeks."

  • Frequency. This is a more difficult one. It is the Stalker/Active Job Seeker dichotomy and while an exact answer if hard to craft, I can tell you that daily is too much. Weekly is probably too much. I was speaking with a student about this the other day and what I told her was that it is possible to follow-up too little and it is possible to follow-up too much. When in doubt err on the side of too much follow-up.

  • Read the tea leaves. I realize that there are those of you out there that have difficulty with the nuances of human behavior. I think that a two minute rule will help you out here. If you do somehow manage to talk to a hiring manager directly, you really do not want to take more than two minutes of their time. I know that two minutes does not seem to be a long time, but try holding your breath for two minutes... it can be an eternity. Get in. Make your pitch. Get out. Accept the answer that they give you and thank them.

  • Let them control their schedule. I have hired a couple hundred people over the years, so I have read a couple thousand cover letters and emails. One thing that turns me off completely is this paragraph at the end of a communique. "I appreciate your looking at my resume and qualifications. I will be calling you in next few days to discuss this further." I generally say to myself. "You might be calling, but I won't be answering." Much more appropriate is: "I appreciate your looking at my resume and qualifications. I hope you will find them of enough interest to contact me to discuss this further." I am not a very busy or important person, but I like to maintain the illusion that I am.
I know you are in there. I can see you moving around.
Here's the deal. If the fulcrum to your job search teeter-totter is the realization that the economy stinks, it will be hard for you to sally forth everyday. Remember that it's hard for everybody, and the fact that a prospective employer is not calling you probably has less to do with you than it does the stinking economy thing. Anytime you don't hear from an application, it is depressing. It is more depressing when somebody says, "We'll call you one way or the other in about a week," and you haven't heard from them in four weeks. The catch 22 is that an active job search is most likely to help you score a job, but an active job search will clearly expose you to more disappointments and disappointment tends to make you less inclined to search actively.

At some level, you have to hit the "Start Over" button everyday. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, do it on the weekends... seriously. You're more likely to find answers during the week than on a weekend. Find ways to continue to pursue jobs and opportunities without feeling like you have been reduced to begging for a chance.

Dignity is pretty hard to come by when times are good... it really stands out when times are bad.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Five things you can do to "enhance your career." (Day Five)

In college, I was that guy who asked the annoying questions right at the end of class when you were ready to bail and meet your friends for an afternoon or evening of whatever stuff you did when you got out of class early. I know you didn't like me, I could tell by the way you rolled your eyes and sighed when you saw my hand go up. I'm not gonna apologize because I was not doing it to keep you from a post-class rendezvous. I actually, really wanted to know the answer. If it makes you feel any better, when I was a professor and right at the end of class when I was ready to bail and meet my friends for an afternoon or evening of whatever stuff I did when I got out of class early and a student raised his/her hand for a last minute question... I would roll my eyes and sigh.

My point (and I DO have one) is really about one of those classic dichotomies of human existence. You know. The ones that start, "There are two kinds of people in the world..." and then trail off into something that seems to be intuitively correct. I will add to the pantheon of intuitively correct dichotomies by saying that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who ask questions and those who don't. A word to the wise here... as much as I hated those who asked questions in the last five minutes of class, inevitably they were the ones with the "A's" at the end of the course.

In case you haven't guessed by now, today's thing that will enhance your career is "asking questions."

Them what asks, gits.
My father used to say this all the time, so I thought he made it up. I googled it and found out that Capt Otto F. Unsinn, USCG should get credit for it. My dad was in the Navy for over twenty years, so I assume that is where he picked it up. At any rate, this was the answer my father always gave when my siblings or I complained that someone had gotten something that we hadn't.
"Did you ever ask for it?"
"Uh, no."
"Them what asks, gits."
It has become very clear to me that this is true in the work world just as much as it was true in the why-did-my-sister-get-a-new-bike-and-all-I-got-was-my-brother's-used-bike world.

Sometimes you are at the front of the line. You ARE the line.
A quick story here. When I was in graduate school, I overheard a student in another program talking about a grant she had received. Being that I am just as comfortable asking a stranger questions as I am asking questions at the end of class, I did just that... ask her what grant she was talking about and how much it was and how she applied for it and how long it took. (Yep, you've got it, I annoyed her, too!) I went to Financial Aid and asked even more questions, but found out that they gave two grants of $1500/semester to each of the five colleges on campus and if no one applied from Liberal Arts, but three were eligible from Natural Sciences, then they would award the "extra money" to a Natural Science student. It turns out, however, that eligibility was based on a combination of need, academic record, and a recommendation. While not wealthy, I knew I would not qualify on need alone. As you have figured out by now, I am not likely to qualify for anything based on being smart, but I did have a recommendation. At one out of three, things looked grim. So, I asked the question.
Last year, how many students applied for the grant?
I was startled to find out that 13 students had applied for the 10 grants. I assumed that meant I had a slim chance. I completed the paperwork and got a letter from my mentor the next day. A few weeks later, I was informed that I had been chosen for the $3000 grant at $1500 a semester and 25 years ago that was big bucks! When I went to sign the paperwork, I asked how many people applied and was told that I was the sole applicant from Liberal Arts. When my classmates wanted to know how I had scored such a windfall, I said, "I asked for it."

Here's the deal. Over the years I have asked for and received raises and promotions. (I have also been turned down.) I have asked for increased responsibility and decreased responsibility. Once, when I wanted an extra week of vacation and was told that vacation leave was firm institutional policy and could not be changed, I then asked if I could have a week of "informal educational leave" which was granted. It has never occurred to me to simply take what was offered.

Question Authority... but be willing to listen to the answers.
A couple of years ago, someone who worked for me asked for a raise. I told this individual that the quality of his/her work was good, but not particularly better or worse than anyone else in the unit. I also explained the budget situation and how it was unlikely that anyone, including myself, would be getting a salary increase. I was a bit surprised at the response, which was, "Okay. Thanks. No harm in trying." I was surprised because I would have asked, "Okay, what do I need to work on to separate myself from the pack?" or "What things can I do in the next 6 months that would be of enough value to justify a raise?"

If your question stops at the first level, you will stay at the first level. People who are natural born questioners will continue ask for direction when initially turned down. Non-questioners will walk away disappointed. Those second level questions have to be focussed. Note my thoughts above. If turned down for a raise, your second question cannot be "Why?", it must show that you are committed to the mission of the organization in some nominal way. "What can I do?" is much less threatening that "Why?" It also makes the person being asked feel like they are dealing with an adult rather than a petulant child.

A tip for those uncomfortable asking questions.
I have often found that people who do not ask questions have given up because they did not get what they wanted or they got a completely unexpected response. Those of us genetically programmed to ask questions are unperturbed by the unexpected. Non-questioners sometimes rehearse what they believe will occur when they ask. The rehearsal goes something like this.
I will ask for a new computer and then the boss will ask what kind and then I will say a new iMac and then the boss will say 20" screen or 24" screen and then I will say to save the company money that I will take the 20' screen and then the boss will tell me ok and the next day I will get my computer.
News flash, folks! It is never that straightforward and if it is you don't need to rehearse for it. If you are a non-questioner, preparing to ask for a raise or tuition reimbursement or a promotion or a new office chair, plan what you will ask if you are turned down... not what you will say if you are accepted. It's like the Lotto. One of my co-workers once asked me what I would do if I won the $75 million jackpot. I said, "I haven't really thought about it. I figure things will somehow work out if I have $75 million. I can, however, tell you what I am gonna do if I stay poor."

Bottom line. Ask questions. It's just that simple.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Five things you can do to "enhance your career." (Day Four)

So, I am talking with this guy yesterday who is completely frozen in his decision about "the next step." He point of confusion had to do with the fact that every time he turns around another job disappears. We're not talking about a specific position that has disappeared, but whole job categories. "Example," you say? How about Keypunch Operator? Somewhere back in the 1890's, cards with tiny wholes punched in them were used to automate everything from looms to printing presses. By the 1990's, they were gone, replaced by Data Entry Clerks. Do you know where your job is headed? Here are a couple of resources to help.

How do I find out what I have to do to do what I want to do?
For decades, the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor statistics have... well, labored at collecting the minutiae about jobs and careers. Back in the day, when I was a career counseling pup, there was The Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Occupational Outlook Quarterly, and The Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Thankfully, these have all made it to the Tuberwebs in a couple of forms.

The Occupational Information Network, aka O'Net, pulls together several different functions. It can help you understand exactly what a job title is by defining tasks, interests, preparation, etc. There are extensive lists of knowledge, skills, and abilities (Think Basketball) necessary to excel at a job and emerging trends for various fields. For instance, the field of career counseling is moving more towards a "coaching" style of practice with an increasing reliance on the use of technology and information management. To that end, one of my counselors attended a training for career coaching last year and I have begun... well, this blog.

While you can access the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) and the Occupational Outlook Quarterly (OOQ) from O'Net, clicking the previous links will take you directly there. As you might imagine OOH is a more complete volume and the content can be a bit dated. OOQ is more timely and the content can range from Labor Market projections for the coming quarter to their quarterly "You're a What?" feature (Did you know that Limnologists study freshwater habitats?) To cut to the chase here, all three of the above are helpful if you are concerned that your job or the one you are preparing for might disappear.

Want to join our club?
I grew up on a diet of Little Rascals reruns and remember the camaraderie of the "He-Man Women Haters Club." I'm not sure that would enhance your career prospects, but I would consider joining professional or service organizations. If you are currently a student, membership in professional organizations is notoriously inexpensive. Professional organizations also offer opportunities for at that networky, connecting, making contacts stuff. Google and Yahoo are your friends here. Hit up a halfway decent search engine and type in "professional association" and an occupational title, like volleyball coach or glassblower, and you come up with three volleyball coaches' associations and The American Scientific Glassblowers Association. Try it and join something.

Chance favors the prepared mind.
I always wanted to write that somewhere and in this case it is true. The difference between getting a job or a promotion and not a job or promotion is often a candidate's ability to anticipate what the future of a profession looks like. Starting a blog or learning how to do basic HTML programming may be the difference between me and my competition the next time a raise is on the line. If you are still doing what you were doing last year and if you presume you will be doing the same thing next year, then you probably will be. If you are trying to learn new stuff and do things differently from last year, you may be in the position to do different, creative things in the future.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Five things you can do to "enhance your career." (Day Three)

Okay. I will admit that I was officially freaking out last night. Ask anybody who knows me and they will tell you that I am a bit on the impulsive side. I am great with concepts and big picture stuff, but I generally assume that details will take care of themselves. So, when I started this started this thread a few days ago, five things sounded pretty easy. There should be five things that you can do to enhance your career. By 10:00 last night, I was in a minor panic, screaming to myself, "You idiot! You never plan anything!" That's when the Irony Police knocked on my door and served a search warrant on my weekly calendar.

Planning is for amateurs, right?

I'm pretty sure that my staff is under the impression that this is my motto, but a closer look would reveal that I plan, albeit on a larger scale than many people. A few days ago, I wrote that thread on Happenstance Theory that might have made you think that planning is unnecessary and that one must merely wait for Fate to deliver a gift-wrapped career. Sorry. Not that simple. It is clear to me that many people miss opportunities and adventures because they over-plan, but I must add that just as many people who don't plan, fail to get the most out of the opportunities that they "happenstance into."

Paul Watzlawick once said, “You can’t not communicate,” indicating that when we withhold communication from someone, our silence telegraphs our displeasure. Along the same line of reasoning, I would say "You can't not plan." The point being that people who claim that they don't plan are fooling themselves. They may not consciously, deliberately plan weeks or months ahead, but as they face the crises that continuously erupt in their lives, they micro-plan. Micro-planning is that “Geeze-what-do-I-do-now-moment” that occurs when you realize that you’re busy waving at the camera at 49er’s Thursday Night Game when you told your hardcore Niners fan boss who's probably watching the game at home that you had to be off for a funeral.

Life will force you to plan. The longer you wait to do it, the fewer resources you will have.

The hidden agenda.

Yes, I have a surreptitious side... it comes from the daily dose of irony I seem to get from life. If one is planning, then one should have something remotely resembling goals. I really want to go easy here, because I think that there is a balance we have to strike between being process-oriented and being goal-oriented. This is my recurring theme of making sure there is ample time to pause occasionally to be sure that we see other opportunities and can adjust our course (plans) to accommodate these new possibilities (goals). I have seen students and professionals whose lives were so directed at very specific goals that when they achieve the goal, they realized that the rest of their life is in utter chaos. Likewise, I have seen folks whose aversion to goal-setting (sometimes referred to as "going with the flow") generated its own special kind of disorganization and disarray.

Life will force you to set goals. The longer you wait to do it, the more dissatisfying your choices.

Your "right now" moment.

Yeah, you should do this right now. Don't wait until you finish this entry.

  1. Grab a pen and a piece of paper.

  2. Write down any five goals that you have set for yourself. (These do not have to be huge. Small is good. Seriously. Example: A few weeks ago, I impulsively set a goal of starting a blog. Note here, I said "starting a blog" not "running and maintaining and informative blog." Baby steps. Then on Sunday, I set a goal of coming up with a five-things-that-can-enhance-your-career thread. I have three others, but I will not share them as they involve a 60" plasma TV, a tropical island, and a Pulitzer Prize.)

  3. Choose one goal. (I would recommend a "starting a blog" type of goal as opposed to a "Pulitzer Prize" type of goal.)

  4. Turn over your paper and write words "Plan For" followed by the goal you have chosen at the top of the sheet. (In my case, it would be "Plan For Five Entries on my Blog"

  5. Skipping two lines between each number, write the numbers one through ten down the left margin of the paper.

  6. Write in an element of what you have to do to achieve this goal. Don't worry about order or timeline at this point. (Once again, as an example: Part of my plan was to put an entry on my calendar that said, Blog Stuff. Another element of my plan included reading other career blogs.)

  7. When you have ten plan elements written down, check to see if they make sense in the order in which they were written down. If not, renumber them. By the way, if you do not have ten plan elements, look at those you do have and break them into smaller steps. (I can break down "reading other career blogs into: 1. Googling career blogs. 2. Bookmarking career blogs. 3. Reading career blogs. Cool, huh?)

  8. Guestimate the time it will take you to complete all of the elements of the plan as a whole and put that as the "completion date" after step ten.

  9. Do not do this with anything else on your list until you complete this plan.

  10. When you have completed the plan, make another list of five goals. Hopefully, you have a few new goals. Repeat steps one through nine.

If at first you don't succeed, you're probably like the rest of us.

My final words of wisdom here are related to that whole success/fail dichotomy. I consistently say to my counselors and students, "If you're not making mistakes, you're probably not working hard enough." There are reasons we complete some plans and don't complete others. Some plans are just stupid and ill-conceived. (This blog seemed like a good idea when I started it, I suppose the jury is still out.) Sometimes resources diminish while we are executing a plan. Sometimes our goals change and we re-invest our time and effort elsewhere. We can spend time beating ourselves because we failed to achieve a goal or we can evaluate, reassess, and begin planning what we want to do next.

Plan something. Now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Five things you can do to "enhance your career." (Day Two)

Update your resume. Even if you do not anticipate changing jobs. In an economy as uncertain as the current one, that decision may be made for you. In the few years, we have hired several positions and I am always struck by the care some applicants give to their credentials and the absolute lack of attention to detail by others. Sadly, for some candidates, all we ever saw of them was their incomplete, out of date resume. A few common mistakes.

Titles or promotions.
If a prospective employer cannot reasonably identify your job title, he or she may not be able to determine if the duties you list make sense. (Were you doing too little or over achieving... one is good. The other, not so much.) If your title changed or you were promoted, add it.

Awards & Honors.
I have a friend who received a teaching award from the Panhellenic Council at the small university at which he taught. A few years later, he asked me to look at his resume before starting a job search. I brought it to his attention and he said, "Well, it wasn't really that big a deal. It seemed about as important as that little summer research grant." After some further discussion, I reminded him that he had asked my advice and that both should be included. He sent me an email a few months later to tell me that he had gotten a new position and to admit that the subject of the no-big-deal-teaching-award and the little-summer-research-grant had both come up in his interview. You never know.

Phone numbers and emails.
You know, as recently as four years ago, I was advising students to use their university email addresses as long as possible. It has now become very accepted practice to have a "portable" email address with Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoomail, etc. (As an aside here, if your portable email ID is, consider something a little more sedate, like, Some people have absolutely no sense of humor.)

Same thing goes for phone numbers. In the not too distance past, listing your office number, home number, mobile number, fax number created a sort of telephonic tour de force. Remember my admonition about interviewers looking for a reason to deselect you? Give them four phone numbers and they will simply move on. My best advice these days is just give your cell number... for most active job searchers, it's the one you answer the most anyway. Oh yeah, you don't need to tell them that it is your cell... they don't care. Just list the ten digit number. They're smart. They'll figure out what it is and if they don't, you don't want to be working for them anywayl.

General house cleaning.
Use this time to get rid of the high school awards you garnered back in '91, along with the really fancy font that you chose when you were using Windows 3.0 and remember, just because you have 193 fonts on your computer, that doesn't mean you have to use them all. Ditch the ultra-fancy paper... they're just gonna photocopy it anyway.

Basic Rule of Thumb.
Simple + Professional + Elegant = Easy to read.
Easy to read = Less likely to get tossed.

So, pull out your resume now. Really, now. Update it and put a note in your calendar to do it again six months from now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Five things you can do to "enhance your career." (Day One)

When is the last time you actually reached out and contacted a former associate for no purpose other than catching up. It is a bit awkward and there are several ways to do it, but quite frankly directness is probably the most efficient way of doing it. Try this strategy and see where it goes.
  1. Make a list of all the jobs you have had in the past 10 years. (Include volunteer projects or things you did at school if you are a bit younger than some of us.)
  2. At each place, list the people that you worked most closely with, including both supervisors and subordinates.
  3. Rank the people at each place in relative closeness. For instance, if you had ten colleagues at a job #1 would be the person you were closest to and #10 the person you were least closest to.
  4. Spend a bit of time on FaceBook and plowing through your old email addresses to see if you have any contact information... if it is likely out of date.
  5. Take the top two or three people from each job for whom you have contact information and rank them separately in relative closeness.
  6. Choose the person in the #1 slot and send an email or snail mail. That is similar to the one listed below.
  7. Relax for about two weeks and then repeat with #2 on your list.
Do not assume that burrowing to the bottom of the list and contacting 10, 15, or 20 folks will be even better than contacting just one. It won't. You'll burn out and not do it again. Go through your list methodically at a reasonably leisurely pace. It is highly likely that many people will simply ignore your contact, but surprisingly, many people will reciprocate and keep your network fairly dynamic.

As an aside, don't be devastated if your best friend from a previous job or class ignores you and don't return the favor by ignoring them. Keep a low profile, but do reach out to them regularly every year or so with an update. I am always surprised when people I knew quite well blow me off, but people I thought were more peripheral welcome my attempts and stay in touch.

Here's a sample of what you might send.

Hi! I know it has been a long time, but I hope you don't mind my intruding into your workday. I was thinking about my time at Athabasca Ice and couldn't help but remember some of our conversations. To be honest, I valued you as a colleague and know that unless I consciously keep my work relationships alive, they will disappear. So, you might say this is my "networking letter" for the week. Just to catch you up. In the six years since we were at Athabasca, I have take two other ice-related position. I worked for three years in the freezing department of St. Nick's Icebergs where I was the primary flash-freezer for the California region. Just over three years ago, I took a chance and joined Old Sparky's Thermal Undergarments as the CTO... Cheif Thawing Officer. The company has welcomed me warmly and I am hoping that more opportunities will arise soon.

At any rate, I just wanted to touch base and say hello. I realize that you are probably up to your bergs in cold work and may not be able to respond, so do not feel obligated. Should you ever be in Rejavik, please call and let me show you around the factory.

Best wishes,
Perry J. Penguin

That's it. Simple and direct with no hidden agenda. Try it.