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Friday, November 28, 2008

People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world


When I left my position as corporate recruiter and decided to offer networking coaching as a key component of my business, I realized that while I'd done well networking for the corporation I worked for, I hadn't done much networking for myself.

To remedy that, I joined a few industry organizations and one for business owners of any industry. I looked at about eight different options, the organizations I chose needed to meet four criteria:

1. They needed to be relevant to what I did.
2. They needed to have a face-to-face component and the people there needed to be happy to see me.
3. They needed to be filled with spark plugs - people very excited to be there and to be doing what they did for a living.
4. They needed to be easy to get to and offered at convenient times (ruling out 7:00 a.m. meetings and anything involving rush-hour traffic).

I renewed my Northwest Recruiters Association and National Resume Writer's memberships. One group is nearly all face-to-face and the other is virtual as there just aren't very many resume writers in the world. Then, I joined the eWomenNetwork, which is focused exclusively on teaching business owners and other professionals (not just women!) how to network. Talk about a room full of spark plugs! You could run a small city off the energy at those meetings! If you want to check them out, mention I referred you. You can go to many of these groups once or twice without an obligation to join and some you never have to join if you don’t want to.

I also joined the Puget Sound Career Developers Association, a much more sedate group of people who have been in the career counseling industry for a long time - over 40 years in several cases. This has been a gem of a resource with terrific guest speakers. As an added bonus, most career counselors hate writing resumes and have minimal corporate recruiting experience; many partnerships have formed through this group. More recently, I’ve built my profile on Biznik and have signed up for a few events.

My point in explaining my journey into networking is to illustrate an unexpected issue I faced right from the beginning. Every single time it was time to go to a networking meeting, I thought of a reason not to go. I was too busy. I was too tired. It was cold out. I was in my pajamas. I didn’t really feel like talking to people. Every time I thought of some reason. However, I'd already paid for the lunch or it was a part of my membership, so I forced myself to go.

It didn't take long, maybe three months or so, before I started noticing a pattern. Every time I went to a networking event, something wonderful came out of it. A new referral partner, a business strategy I didn’t know, a new friend, unfathomable resources, and, in many cases, new clients. It was completely unexpected (perhaps I set my expectations too low), but altogether wonderful.

I strongly encourage all of you to get out there, meet people face to face and build relationships with them. Soon, they’ll think of you anytime someone asks them, “Do you know anyone who does…” Now, they know YOU!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Age Discrimination - Interview and Job Search Tips


This article went out with my NRWA newsletter and discusses a topic that many clients have been facing recently. Enjoy!

Age discrimination may not always be what it seems. Besides, if an organization is discriminating based on age, it will likely discriminate for a multitude of other reasons. This is not the kind of organization you want to have anything to do with.

However, there are challenges in the job search that mature job seekers must confront that younger job seekers are not burdened with. So what can these individuals do to turn age into an asset instead of a liability?

Here are some suggestions:

Knowledge: Your education should never, never stop. Go back to school. Take seminars. Do independent research. Do whatever it takes to stay up to date in your profession and demonstrate that knowledge through detailed presentation in your résumé or portfolio.

Industry Contributions: You should be active in industry associations, trade shows, symposiums. Notice I said "active." Simply being a member in name only does absolutely nothing for you. Give industry presentations. The presentation does not have to be on a nationwide level. It could be to your local association chapter. Get published. An article in a local association newsletter can demonstrate you are active and current within your industry. Reference these presentations and activities in your résumé.

Computers: The explosion of computer technology is part of our life. It is not enough to just be familiar with the programs that meet your day-to-day needs. Rather, show that you are state-of-the-art through your knowledge and application of new technologies and methodologies.

Health: Stay fit or get fit. You are more apt to be discriminated against for your weight than for your age. If you have a double chin and pot belly you will be perceived as a health liability who is lazy and without the energy or vitality to work hard, long hours with dedication and commitment. This might not be fair, but it is fact, so get fit. Crash diets are not recommended, but a conscientious effort to improve your health and vitality is imperative.

Appearance: Be contemporary. Too many mature professionals stick with old habits. If you are not contemporary in your appearance, then you will be perceived as not being contemporary in your ideas or knowledge. Get rid of the horn-rimmed glasses, ties that are too narrow, too wide or out-of-style, and suits, shirts or blouses that don't fit and are worn and frayed. If you look sharp, you will make a positive, energetic impression in the interview.

Artificial Obstacles: Although there is indeed actual age discrimination, some times it is due to tactical errors and can be overcome:

Interview question: Are you willing to relocate?

Mature executive response: "No." Or maybe, "I prefer to remain here, but I am open to relocation depending on the city, position, and income. Of course I expect a full relocation package."

Young executive response: "Absolutely! I will go anywhere that is necessary to get the job done. When do I start? I can be on a plane tomorrow!"

Unfortunately, all too often, when the young executive is selected the mature executive might jump to the conclusion that it was all age discrimination, but make sure you did all you could in your interview so you may know for sure.

Attitude: Nothing beats enthusiasm. Don't talk about your grandchildren. Talk about mountaineering, or the marathon you ran, or the tennis tournament you entered, or the college courses you are taking, or the article you just wrote for your industry trade journal. Avoid age issues. For example, don't make the following statements: "I'm looking for one more challenge before I retire," or, "Back when I was your age," or, "I'm 57 years old, but a young 57," or, "You're probably looking for someone younger, but I know I can do the job." Rather than bringing up age issues, you should focus on the needs of the organization and how you can produce results.

Your Résumé: Don't be afraid to mention dates. The minute you leave them out, you have raised a red flag to the employer. The notion that you can fool them and get the interview just doesn't work. If employers want to discriminate based on age, they will. Your résumé should focus on bottom-line contributions and accomplishments. Don't rest on your laurels and try to rely on past accomplishments. Continually prove you are contemporary with the ability to produce results in today's marketplace and you will be a winner.

The job seeker who can demonstrate state-of-the-art expertise with energy, enthusiasm, and a zest for living will have many, many years of a productive career. Age discrimination should not be a factor.

The author of this article, Don Straits, is CEO Corporate Warriors and is an authority on contemporary job search strategies for senior-level executives. I don't know Don personally, but he's got some great articles on his website - http://www.donstraits.com/ if you'd like more on this topic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Free Work Readiness Classes for Bellevue Residents


This is a wonderful service to Bellevue residents. For the past seven years, I've come in on the last day of the quarter to conduct mock interviews and resume reviews for the Prepare for Work class. Without fail, folks have found the class valuable. Plus - it's free!

Bellevue Community College is offering FREE Job Preparation and ESL classes for refugees and immigrants. Students must live in Bellevue and be interested in finding work now or in the near future.

Starting in January, BELLEVUE residents can sign up for:

Basic Computer Skills (level 4/5)
Preparing for Work (level 5/6)
On the Job Communications (level 6 only)

This winter, registration will be held on January 6th at 5:30 pm in room R-101 on the BCC campus. These classes are funded by the City of Bellevue and begin every quarter in: January, April, June and September.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More on Executive Recruiters



I wrote a blog about using recruiters (see below) awhile ago. Here are more of my thoughts on the matter, this time focusing on executive recruiters.

When considering executive recruiters, it's most important to work with individuals with long arms in your industry. You're essentially "allowing" them to work with you (and collect their placement fee from the employer) because you think they can reach places or companies better than you can. Google them, check them out on LinkedIn, ask around - if they have a large presence and seem well connected, they're probably worth talking to.

If a company wants to charge you for the privilege of representing you, look elsewhere. In my opinion, agents who charge thousands of dollars for their services are the bottom feeders of the industry. They prey on desperate job seekers who don’t realize they can’t find the same information (resume writing, interview coaching and job search strategy assistance) for much less elsewhere. Check out ripoffreport.com for more information about some of the worst offenders.

When you talk with a recruiter, find out how they operate - on retainer or contingency. If the latter, ask if they have an exclusive relationship or if there are other recruiters also working on the positions they represent. Pay more attention to retained recruiters, in general you will be treated better and get better information from them because they are closer to the employer. Just realize that they are working for the employer, so listen to what they say about them and then check their facts.

When you do speak with executive recruiters, ask about their recent placements. Good recruiters will be able to rattle off several of their most recent placements, including the level their candidate was hired into, the industry and the name of the company. Pick one or two placements at random and ask when the placement was made. Solo executive recruiters should be placing 8-10 candidates per year if they're running a thriving business. Ask what you could expect from them, find out if they are willing to market you and get a sense of whether you'll enjoy talking with them throughout the job search.

A downside to working with recruiters is the cost to the employer. If you have an "in" via your network, don't use the recruiter to get in to that particular company. Employers are paying up to 35% for finder’s fees vs. a few hundred dollars for an employee referral, so it's much better for employers to find their talent outside of the contingent search. If an employer has an exclusive relationship with a recruiter, they've agreed to route all candidates through that recruiter, so there's no avoiding them in that scenario.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I'm a career changer, shouldn't I use a functional resume?


It's functional resume questions week! (Yes, these things go in waves.)

"My experience isn't related to what I want to do; shouldn't I use a functional resume?"

And the crowd says, "No, No, NO!"

Using functional resumes is risky. It has been my experience, and that of many of my fellow recruiters who are actively recruiting, that hiring managers and recruiters alike hate them. They wonder what you are hiding and often suspect the worst. This may not be such an issue if you already have love at a company and are sure they aren't going to "judge" you (read - toss your resume) for appearing to cover up some significant flaw by using a functional resume. Even then, why would you want to?

My vision for the resumes I write for career changers is to show a successful (if ostensibly unrelated) work history headed by a profile describing interest and goodness of fit for the opportunity at hand, using examples of your directly related experience whenever possible. Hiring managers want to see WHY someone is making a big shift. They want it to be because you love what they do and want to be a part of it. Then, they want to know if you are any good at your current occupation and they will likely extrapolate that you'll bring similar success to their organization. Functional resumes don't show this, hence the pervasive suspicion of them among hiring managers.

I recently worked with a Bollywood DJ who had nearly no PM experience, but wanted to work as a Project Manager at Microsoft. I did just as I described above and emphasized his successes and his abilities to pull concerts together, etc., and voila, he was hired. I had faith in him; soon, he had faith in himself too. Had I glossed over his seemingly non-related experience by writing a functional resume, I’m convinced he never would have gotten a second glance.

I’ve done this myself. As a mental health counselor, I had no recruiting experience when I was hired. None. How did I get the job? By emphasizing transferrable skills.

“So, Ms. Walser, have you ever sold anything?”
“Well, I sold a schizophrenic man on the idea that he shouldn’t discuss his belief that he was Jesus while at work.”

“Hmmm, have you ever dealt with clients who are upset that their new employee didn’t show up for work? How would you retain that client?”
“Well, I convinced a man who was sure he could fly not to jump off the third-level deck at the Kingdome during a Mariners game…”

Hired!

If I can do it, so can you. Don’t sell yourself short. What you did before MATTERS!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why didn't HR give me feedback about my last interview?


As a former corporate recruiter for a publicly traded company, I got an inside look at this process. HR Managers, as you know, are the organization’s sheriff. They don't make the laws; they just interpret them and insist others in the company carry them out. Without perspective and a bit of common sense, deputized recruiters can carry out HR edicts so far that they become counterproductive to the goals of the organization, i.e., appearing so ridiculous and inflexible as to turn off good talent.

I have found that for the most part it is the recruiters (who usually report to the head of HR) with little ability to think for themselves that are the most rigid with rules. It’s very important to know exactly what the rules are and why they were put in place and equally important to use good judgment when working with prospective employees.

The main reason HR doesn't want managers telling interviewees why they didn't get the job is to protect the company from a lawsuit. Disclosure used the wrong way is a loaded gun. However, a smart recruiter can disclose lots of helpful information without equipping candidates with ammo for a lawsuit - so long as that information is based on goodness of fit, job qualifications, problems during the interview process, etc. For example, calling out that the candidate answered questions about key functions of the job incorrectly or took 20 minutes to answer each question is helpful. Telling applicants that they weren’t selected because they were too old to relate to the rest of the team or telling them nothing is just brainless and disrespectful.

As much as I liked recruiting, it’s much more fun to provide interview coaching where I get to tell job seekers about corporate HR’s true goals and provide them with ammunition to cope with the myriad of contingencies that arise during an interview. I also teach candidates how to interview the company. If a dimwitted recruiter with no judgment is calling the shots on behalf of HR, RUN! It won’t get better as you work your way up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What Color is your Parachute?


I had the great treat to meet Dick Bolles, author of "What Color is your Parachute?" yesterday. He met with the members of my PSCDA group and other interested fans of his work at the lovely Lake Union Crew (http://www.lakeunioncrew.com/) facilities. After a day of walking us through some of his more famous exercises - prioritization, transferable skills, etc., we came to the most moving part of the evening. Career counselors, some who had worked with Dick for over 30 years, gave heartfelt speeches of how Dick and his work had influenced their lives.

Throughout the day, I was struck by how humble Dick was. In a room where people were literally gushing about how he completely transformed the course of their careers, Dick quietly focused on each person with whom he was speaking, making them feel that they were the most important person to him at that moment. I thought, what a role model for the rest of us. Give 100% of yourself to the person in front of you. Sounds so easy, right? He seemed rather nonplussed by the plaques, photomontages, and speeches actually, but sitting right across the table from him, I could tell he was touched by how much the speech givers were touched by him.

Knocked about by life several times, a layoff, his brother's assassination, an unexpected divorce, his heart stopping - things like that - Dick, at 81, still had a brightness of spirit and an energy that would put many people half his age to shame. A resilient man, teaching resilience, in a world ready to knock us all down if we let it.

I didn't have a speech for Dick. I’d come into the Puget Sound Career Developers Association (PSCDA) through the back door a year ago. As someone who'd arrived at career coaching only due to a serendipitous mixture of corporate recruiting and counseling careers, I'd never read Dick's book prior to a few weeks before he came to Seattle. When I finally read it, I was delighted to find that I'd stumbled upon many of the same truths about networking, resume writing, interviewing and the desire to share that knowledge with others that Dick had. I'm thrilled that I have another 35 years or so to keep practicing, maybe I'll get half as good. Dick Bolles is a role model worth emulating.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the radio, whoa, oh, oh...


...it sounded really loud
they said it really loud
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio whoa oh oh
on the radio, radio, radio

I had the fun experience of being on The Good Life radio program Monday. If I do it right, you'll be able to hear it via the video link. Try it!

Maurice and Vanessa interviewed me about my business, including resume writing, interviewing and a bit about job search strategy. It was a blast.

The highlight of the day was meeting the original Clay Huntington, KLAY's (get it?) station owner. Clay claims to be 86, but I'm not so sure I believe him. He was adorable. Before getting into radio in the early 60s, he was a sportscaster. Very cool!

Enjoy the broadcast!
video

Friday, May 2, 2008

How to handle reference requests



You've read the ad for your dream job. This is it, the ONE. But what's this? Your prospective employer wants to see your references BEFORE you even get to the interview? What should you do?

First, treat your references list with the same care that you treat your credit card numbers. Identity theft and privacy abuse are real risks. Never put your references on job boards or send them with your resume when applying for jobs. Only disclose them to employers with whom you’ve fallen in love – AFTER the first interview, when you think you’d like to work there. They may ask in advance, who cares? As a corporate recruiter, I’ve never avoided a candidate because they didn’t fork over their references immediately. I actually consider it revealing of a candidate’s judgment and ability to recognize an unreasonable request. It’s a bit of a game, like salary negotiation. I can understand why some recruiters would request references up front. They may have been burned in the past when presenting candidates with weak references to the hiring manager and want to avoid a similar situation. They may be getting their ducks in a row for a demanding or time-strapped manager. They may just think they’re “supposed” to get them in advance. Regardless, this is personal information and should be treated as such, in as graceful a manner as possible. “I’ll zip my references over to you the second I learn I’m a finalist. Can’t wait to get that call!” or “Gosh, it seems I’ve left my references in my other briefcase, I’ll send them over as soon as I find out I’m the top candidate,” or “My ex-boss Joe said he’d be happy to provide a reference. I’ll email his contact information over as soon as we’re at that point.” Smile and change the subject.

If you have several irons in the fire, one strategy to avoid over-burdening your references with phone calls is to ask them for a letter of reference. Offer to write it for their signature if they agree but don’t produce one. Try to get it on letterhead. Having letters of reference available will help you to appear organized and well liked. Note: In the future, try to get this task done before you leave the job. How do you do this without spilling the beans that you’re looking for another job? Say you have a volunteer opportunity and the agency wants to check your references in advance. Better yet – actually pursue a volunteer job where you get to do something that’s a bit of a stretch for you. It’s good karma, great experience, and lovely networking occurs when you’re working alongside other volunteers. Another great time to ask for a reference letter is when your boss is leaving the company. Even when your boss is just moving departments, it’s easy to say, “We’ve had such a great working relationship, and I’ll miss working alongside you. Could you write a letter so that in five years when one of us leaves the company it will be easy to remember my accomplishments in this role?” When you actually announce your departure sometime later, ensure that your manager is still willing to serve as a reference, remind them of the fabulous letter they wrote, and you’re all set.

At the end of the interview, if you’re pretty sure you’re interested, you can show your prospective employer the original reference letters. At your discretion, provide a copy of the letter or offer to email one if you need to buy some time. Pleasantly ask the recruiter or hiring manager to make the reference check call when you’re the final candidate. They’ll already have the letters, so that should tide them over.

Another consideration regarding reference letters is that many agency recruiters and headhunters use references sheets as shopping lists. You’ve provided the name, job title, direct number and email address of decision makers and potential “steals” that they’ve been searching for for months, how nice of you! Sure, they’ll call your references and talk about you, but their objective is also to talk up their agency’s services or a fabulous opportunity with your reference’s competitor. If a recruiter won’t set you up on interviews without seeing your references, that’s a red flag that they are shopping your references list.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Get the pink slip?



So it's over. You'll miss that large fake palm in the corner of the lobby. You know the one, the one the new guy always got in their office until they wised up and put it back in the lobby? You'll miss the new guy too, and especially the long-timers.

Before you leave your job (assuming there's a transition period), do everything you can to connect with each person with whom you have a connection. It doesn't matter how random - maybe it's the guy you always parked next to, maybe your buddy who always ate Indian food with you, or the cute receptionist - but especially your co-workers, your subordinates and your boss. Let them know you'll miss them, be sure to get their phone number and email address, add them to your LinkedIn contacts right away.

Then, stay in touch! People that like and respect you want to have lunch or coffee with you. They want to know how your kids are and whether you've broken par yet. If you decide to go a different direction with your career, let them know. They might have a sister/cousin/neighbor/former co-worker in that industry. Get a new resume? Email it to everyone who likes you and/or whom you respect. Say something cute if it suits you, like, “Here’s my shiny new resume, in case you forgot how wonderful I am.” Whatever - just get it out there so people don’t have to remember all your skills and talents when they’re chatting up their Uncle Hal. They’ll remember you’re an analyst and if Hal is interested, they can forward your resume to him.

Then, get out of the house! Go to industry meetings, attend training seminars, and go to job fairs. Let people who may know someone who needs you get to know you enough to where you become a three-dimensional human being, not just a piece of paper (resume) applying for a job. Work at really getting to know a couple people at each place you go to on a more than just professional basis. People remember people they care about, or those that inspire, amuse or teach them. In addition, attending these events cements the idea that you're really committed to the industry, even if it's a brand new one for you. You'll learn something, have a cookie and be able to put the industry membership or new skill on your resume.

Remember that in every interaction, you're demonstrating how you'll be as a co-worker, boss or subordinate. Will you be natural, insightful and fun? That's whom I'd want to work with! I went to a recruiting industry meeting a couple of weeks ago and folks from Getty were there speaking. They shared a statistic that I've known to be true from my corporate recruiting days - 60% of the folks they hired last year for open positions were referred by someone at Getty or someone who knew someone at Getty. It's who you know. Does that sound bad? It shouldn't. Consider that I trust our mutual contact not to steer you my way if you're obnoxious, careless or otherwise unsuitable. Right there you're more "valuable" than the pieces of paper on my desk. They could be complete whack jobs, but you're golden if someone refers you.

So dry your tears and get out there!

Monday, April 14, 2008

25 Things You Should Never Include on a Resume


I'm often asked why I make certain inclusions or omissions on resumes, so I'm borrowing this great article from HR World Editors (December 18, 2007), which sums up those reasons nicely. Enjoy!

Applying for a new job comes with its fair share of rejections, setbacks, frustrations and perhaps even lonely periods of unemployment. If you've been turned down for position after position, you could be getting desperate and may want to shake things up a bit so that your résumé will stand out from the piles of others stacked quietly in HR. Before you decide to get too creative, there are some rules to résumé etiquette that you should follow. Read below for the 25 things that you should never include on a professional résumé.


What You Hated About Your Last Job: If you turn your résumé into a ranting session, you're starting off on the wrong foot. During an interview, the hiring manager will most likely ask you why you left your last job, but you can use this challenge to remain positive. Explain that you wanted to work with a company that promoted more mobility within the business or that you felt your strengths weren't adequately utilized at your last job.

What You Hated About Your Last Boss or Co-Workers: Even if your last boss really acted like a tyrant or no one in the office could stand that jerk next to the water cooler, complaining about the past only makes you look like the bad guy. Showing that you are able to work with all kinds of people will take you far in the business world.

Irrelevant Job Experience: Job experience that is unrelated to the position you're applying for only clutters your resume and irritates the HR department. Did your lawn-mowing gig or high-school job as a checker at the grocery store really prepare you to be a PR professional? There are other ways to prove your people skills, so stick with the jobs and internships that are most relevant.

Sexual Preference: Your sexual preference has no relevance on how well you can perform the job. Leave it out when writing up your résumé, because according to Emurse.com, "discrimination still exists in the hiring process, and [including this information] may lead to a premature and completely unwarranted disposal of your resume."

Religion: Discussing religion in the workplace is another big no-no for Americans. Including your religion, or lack thereof, on a résumé is too controversial and is irrelevant to the job. So unless you're applying for a job at a religious institution, exclude this information.

Every Job You've Had Since You Were 16: Once you've been a member of the workforce for a few years, it's safe to say that you can exclude those babysitting jobs you had when you were in high school. Employers look for relevant, recent work experience that will have prepared you for the current position for which you are applying.

Age: Like it or not, some hiring managers will discriminate against employees based on their age. Technically, this kind of discrimination is illegal, but if you seem too young or too old to do the job, you may not even get an interview — despite what the rest of the résumé says.

Political Identity: Again, asking your future employer to acknowledge your political leanings is just too controversial. Unless you're attempting to become the next big pundit, it's no one's business if you're überconservative or irrevocably liberal.
Lies About Job Experience: If you haven't worked in a managerial position for more than five years, you'll be outed with a simple phone call to your last boss and immediately disqualified from the rest of the hiring process. If you feel uncomfortable about your lack of skill, focus on the positive and show how other great qualities would make you a great manager or supervisor.

Lies About Educational Background: If you lie about where you went to high school, the hiring manager might not find out, but if you fake the fact that you have higher degrees than you really do, someone is bound to discover your lie. Background checks are standard at most offices, and even if you get the job, your lack of skill will quickly be revealed.

Bad Grammar: Bad grammar absolutely does not belong on a résumé. It shows that you are lazy, uneducated and don't care enough about the job to pay attention to detail. Even if you think you have great grammar skills, it's best to let someone else look over your résumé as a precaution.

Hobbies: While some employers like to see that interviewees are active in the community or have won nonprofessional awards, no one really wants to know that you love knitting with your grandmother or were named the beer-chugging contest winner in college. When in doubt, leave it out.

Social Security Number: As a safety precaution, do not include your Social Security number on your résumé. Chances are, your résumé could be floating around a busy HR office where anyone could pick it up.

Photograph: JobFairy.com reports that hiring departments "legally cannot consider your picture in determining if you are to be interviewed, or hired," and that "many companies won't even consider résumés that are submitted with a picture to ensure that they are in compliance with [the Equal Opportunity Employer]" legislation. Keep in mind, however, that if you are applying for jobs overseas, photographs may be the norm on résumés.

Physical Characteristics: Just as you should never submit a photograph along with your résumé, it's also best to leave out your physical characteristics, such as your height, weight and hair color, in writing. Describing yourself as a "hot blonde" is asking for trouble; conversely, overweight job seekers are sometimes unfairly discriminated against.

Health Issues: Money-Zine.com reports that "an employer has no legal right to know your health status. The only health-related questions that an employer can ask are job related." If you and your doctor feel that your health is adequate enough to complete your job duties as expected, then your health issues are no one else's business.

Information About Your Family Members: Whether or not you're married or have children does not belong on a résumé. Some supervisors automatically assume that a parent of small children will be unavailable to work odd hours, but you should be the one to make that call, not them.

Boring Words: Instead of writing that you are a "dedicated, interesting person," jazz up your vocabulary to stand apart from the crowd. In general, action words are best. Also, use a thesaurus if you're stuck trying to find unique synonyms.

Negative Thoughts, Words or Ideas: Even if you have a hard time believing in your strengths, your résumé is not the place to show weakness. If you know that you're not a born leader, consider writing that you work well in groups or that you take direction well. Putting a positive spin on yourself will help the hiring manager see you that way also.

Blanket Statements: Some companies require applicants to send in their salary requests when they apply for a job; however, asking for a six-figure salary "and not a penny less" marks you as being stubborn and difficult work with. You never know what kinds of negotiations can arise in the person-to-person interview, so keep your options open and avoid making blanket statements.

Criminal Record: While it's generally best to be honest, including any mention of a criminal record, however insignificant it seems to you, is not advisable for a résumé. If the HR department has a policy on criminal histories, they'll ask during the interview.

Prejudices: If you harbor any prejudices against certain groups or individuals, it's best to keep that to yourself (or consider counseling). Advertising the fact that you don't work well with others is not going to get you the job. Office managers want employees who can blend into the workplace and relate to their co-workers in a civilized manner.

A Messy Format: In this day and age of advanced but easy-to-use formatting systems and computer programs, there is no excuse for a résumé with messy indents, unequal spacing and other formatting errors. If you're hopelessly inept at working with computers, ask a friend for help.

Low GPAs: Unless you're fresh out of college and looking for your first big job, don't bother including your GPA. A good track record in your employment history will go much further in impressing the hiring department than a GPA that shows you got A's and B's in psychology eight years ago. This rule holds true especially if you had a low GPA in school.

Sarcasm: Sarcasm does not often translate well through business writing, and even if the hiring manager does get it, he or she probably won't appreciate it. Résumés and the interview process are not appropriate outlets to release your offbeat irony, since you don't know how it will be received and it's just plain inappropriate.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What has been your worst interview ever?


As I’m starting to put my resume writing, interviewing, and job search strategy book together, I want to inject a little humor and inspiration at the beginning of each chapter. For this reason, I'd love to hear your horror stories about the worst interview experience you've ever had as well as any “wow” moments where someone really blew you away during the interview process.

This one's a three-parter, feel free to answer any or all:

First, describe your most memorable experience in a truly horrible interview. What were you applying for, what happened, what made it so terrible, how did it all turn out, etc.?

Then, if you've been a hiring manager or a member of an interview team, what do you remember as the most cringe-worthy moment you've had while interviewing a candidate? What made it so horrible? Did you end up hiring the person?

Finally, again if you were an interviewer, do you recall anything in particular that a candidate did to really impress you? Explain why you felt the way you did. If possible, describe whether that candidate was hired, and how they worked out as an employee.

Thanks posters!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sustainability


"Sustainability" has come up a lot this week, especially in interview coaching sessions. What's not to love about it, right? People are seeking work where sustainability is a key factor. So, in honor of sustainability, I'm recycling an article one of my resume clients (a writer) wrote about me last year, before I left my corporate recruiting job to run my business full-time. I wrote the last bit, you'll see where.

Enjoy!

When to Splurge: Resume Writer


There are times when spending is the same as investing. And when it comes to putting your best face forward in a job search, you should invest in yourself.

Invest... in a resume writer.

I tend to overuse the term 'invest' because it indicates putting money into something that will offer returns of some kind, usually financial. I've had some people say, "You don't 'invest' in dog clippers, Andrea. You buy them." But dog clippers do offer me a return of sorts, because although they cost a good deal of money, they pay for themselves within one to two months, vis a vis savings on dog grooming costs. They could also be used to earn money, should I start clipping the neighbors' Pomeranian (not likely) every few weeks.

So when I say 'invest' in a resume writer, I mean just that. You are spending money on something that might seem unnecessary. However, not only will a brilliant, professional resume land you a good job, but the higher pay that you fetch could affect your income level for the rest of your life.

I should know - I've used a resume writer.

Sure, sure. I'm a tech writer by trade, so technically, I should be able to write. But resumes are a different beast altogether. I can whip up a user's manual like no one else, but when it comes to talking about what I've achieved over the course of my career, I don't always express myself in a way that is impressive to hiring managers. Very few managers will ever come out and tell you this, of course.

In fact, I might still be sending out my old resume and getting nowhere if it wasn't for the fact that I had an interview at a local company, one that does vendor work for Microsoft. I had updated my resume in a hurry, and the result was that there was a typo in one paragraph. It wasn't a big one, and in fact, it was something really simple. But it got noticed by a manager who had no tolerance for typos (which I understand, I really do) and the result was an insanely hostile interview in which everything I said was rudely challenged by someone who clearly wanted to pick a fight with me. Over a typo.

It was such a mortifying experience (and I didn't have the guts to stand up and say "Screw you! I don't need this job, Typo Nazi!"), that I went immediately home and started looking for resume help. And I found Jill Walser, a local HR guru who helps people tweak their resumes and prepare for interviews in her spare time from her business, I got the job!

It turns out that, in addition to the typo, my resume was kind of a mess. Which is really weird, since I wrote it using all those "how-to" books and online guides, and I was pretty confident that it was one bad-ass resume. Turns out that it was just ass-bad.

Jill was able to parse the important information out of my cluttered, 4-page resume, and massage it into a concise, 2-page resume that highlighted my strengths and accomplishments. She interviewed me and asked for more details than I thought anyone needed on a resume.

Immediately after Jill reworked my resume, I got the first job that I applied to.

I've heard people suggest that hiring a resume writer is dishonest, and I take exception to that. A resume writer can help you better express yourself in a way that makes sense to hiring managers. A resume writer does not invent experience for you, they merely guide you on how best to express what you've accomplished over the course of your career.

I asked Jill to give me the lowdown on her job, and why people SHOULD put money into something like a professional resume.

------

Why should someone hire a resume writer?

People who obtain a professionally written resume are (hopefully!) ensured of several things. Primarily, they are ensured that there are no glaring NO!s on the resume like misspellings, misused words, lack of focus, lack of discernible achievements, etc. Additionally, a reader other than oneself is an absolute requirement when it comes to knowing if ones resume is understandable by others. People get into patterns of expressing themselves that make perfect sense to them and to their niche industry, but no sense at all to others.

You'd hire a professional resume writer for the same reason that you'd hire an attorney to write up your will. Yes, you could probably write it yourself, but you might forget something important and you only get one chance to get it right. Either way, you're dead.


How hard can it possibly be to write a resume?

Writing ones own resume can be excruciatingly painful. Like pulling your own teeth. Hours and hours of wandering through websites, reading books, looking at other people's resumes, getting 10 different and conflicting ideas about what must be included, struggling. Doing a "pretty good" job might be OK if one is an engineer, or software developer. As long as they get the basic facts down and don't look like they have third-grade writing skills, their resumes are probably OK. If, however, one is a marketing, sales or administrative professional or *gasp* someone who writes for a living, having a less-than-perfect resume can be the kiss of death.

I have a copywriter opening at work this week. You can bet that the first thing I'll look at is resume quality, even before the quality of their experience. Resumes have to do so much. They are a marketing piece, a business document, a way to convey your personality, and your only opportunity to brand yourself as perfect for the job before the hiring manager meets you. How hard could that be? Exactly.


Isn't having someone else write your resume kind of... dishonest?

Resume writing has become one of the last professional tasks that people feel should still be clandestine. I'm pro-professional. Why should I fix my own car, put 18 million of those little foil things in my hair, give myself a massage, etc.? Sure, I could do all those things myself, but why on earth would I want to? A professional spends hours and hours training and experimenting on other, unsuspecting victims, before she has her craft perfected enough to start charging for it.

On the other hand, I have no problem with people pretending that they wrote their own resume. Its sort of like me telling my mom that I spent hours cleaning before she came by for a visit. Its *kind of* true.


What kind of mistakes do people usually make on their resumes?

What kind of mistakes DON'T they make? Trite objectives, self-aggrandisement, segments that "break" in the wrong places. My personal favorites are those who spell "detail oriented" incorrectly and those who claim to be Mangers. Once a month, I do a search on Craigslist's resume section for Mangers and randomly pick a resume to rewrite and email to the person for free. Reactions are amazingly mixed! Of note, I have yet to meet an actual professional Manger. I keep hoping.

What kind of results do YOU typically get with your reworked resumes?

My customer's resumes get results! They are called in for interviews and offered jobs. They are more confident in their application documents and it shows! The coolest part of this gig is that every single week I get at least one, "I got the job!" email. It's very thrilling to me. The act of going over the resume, answering my homework questions, talking about networking and their career vision makes them better at interviewing, so they get more job offers.

How important is a cover letter?

Its crucial. Its the best way of showing a little glimpse of your personality and demonstrating that you have done your research and really want to work for THAT company. Its a way of showing that you have gone the extra mile to spell their name right. I cannot tell you how disinterested I am in hiring people who cannot even cut and paste my name correctly. There are NO Ms. Waslers that work for my company people! Plus, in the bulleted world of resumes, it's a nice way of showing that you (well, I) can put a few sentences together.

What's the most that someone should pay to have their resume professionally written?

A million dollars. That would definitely be too much. Pricing is all over the place with resume writers. It's hard to know what to charge. Resume writer's qualifications and backgrounds are quite varied as well. I've met resume writers who were actually out-of-work novelists, trying to make some extra money. I may be the only corporate recruiter with a resume business out there. I haven't yet met another.

Personality fit is crucial. If you don't feel your resume writer "gets" you, its going to be a frustrating experience. So it's hard to compare value. I will say that every time I've raised my prices, it's had absolutely no impact on customer traffic. My rates currently range between $95 - $245, depending on employment level. I've done resumes for people with horror stories about paying $400 for a resume that looks terrible. I feel their pain. $400 for a resume that looks fabulous and gets results is not too much. $95 for a resume that sucks and lands in the trash is too much.

Monday, March 3, 2008

This stuff makes my day!


Date: 3/03/2008
Subject: I got the job
Hello Jill,
Today, I started my new job at Cisco, thanks in part to the resume you created for me. Your attention to details and industry insight are invaluable which result in an honest, yet high-impact resume. Thank you.


I get “I got the job!” letters like this all the time and they always warm my heart, but this one is special. This gentleman, for a variety of reasons, hadn't worked for eight years.

I've had several conversations this week with clients about what is "realistic" for them in terms of what jobs they are likely to land with their shiny new resumes, given their work histories, education, etc. What's amazing to me is the lack of correlation between their accomplishments and their perception of whether they'll be victorious in finding a great job. Wildly successful individuals can have terrible self-confidence.

While my answer isn't always comfortable for people to hear, it's always the same. YOU choose how far you can go. YOU choose whether you are going to work towards a goal, or decide (or let someone decide for you) that you can't attain it. I will do my best to position you as a good fit for whatever goal you pick (and I think I do a darn good job at it), but you are the one who truly controls your future. Even if you haven't tried for years, as my client above illustrates, at ANY point you can decide to get back in the game.

Will it be hard? Absolutely! Is it possible? Of course! Think of the people you admire - the people who set their sights high despite improbably high odds and just went for it. Those folks never cared whether someone (their mother, their spouse, their high school math teacher) thought they could do it; they just went right ahead and did it. Were most of them scared to death? Probably, but so what? Those that let fear, or other people, or something they’ve read dictate their options are not running their own lives.

As the former CEO of the corporation said as I left to run my own business, "No guts, no glory." I couldn't agree more. The gentlemen above, who authored that email, has guts. And my admiration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When it comes to salary, he who says the first number loses!


When applying for work, I recommend trying to avoid sending your salary history whenever possible. If the job posting says it’s required, you might eventually have to produce it, but it is never to your advantage to do so. Typically, a company has budgeted a certain salary range for a position and will do their best to stay within it. The budget for the position has likely been a source of discussion for several months by the time the company is ready to start interviewing. The manager likely petitioned for the position with the VP who sat in on budget meetings with the CFO and pitched salary numbers and job duties.

Disclosing your salary history could cost you thousands. For example, if the budgeted salary range for the job is $100-120k/yr, and your salary history indicates that you'd likely accept $90k/yr, you've just "lost" $10k due to disclosure. If you hadn't disclosed, they'd probably have offered you something in their budgeted range.

On the other hand, if your salary history indicates that you made $130k/yr on your last job, they may think you are either 1. Too expensive, or 2. Will leave soon after taking the "cut" in pay for the next opportunity to make more money. Had they not known your salary history and offered you something in their range, you may have been thrilled with the offer for a variety of reasons other than dollars, including commute, love of the company, job duties more in line with your interests, etc.

This is a dance that I see becoming less popular as time goes on. Employers are becoming more transparent about salary range, often posting it on the ad or disclosing it when people ask, and candidates are able to decide for themselves if the offer has value. Aim for companies with solid bottom lines and the number you start with can easily rise in a short time when they've fallen in love with you.

Do what you think is best. My suggestion is that if you are applying for public or private industry jobs, omit the salary history even if asked. Follow up in a week to inquire if they received your resume (attaching your resume/letter again) and ask if they need any additional info. If they ask for it again, send it. If they don't, don't. Adding a vague line to your initial email such as, "Salary expectations commensurate with job duties and experience," should suffice when salary history is listed as "required" in the ad. For government jobs, I'd cough up the info right off the bat. They'll likely have a published range anyway.

On job applications, where it asks for salary, some applicants write “negotiable” or “flexible”. In my experience, this has NEVER kept a great candidate from moving forward in the hiring process. You’re already there and they’ve had a chance to meet you. If you’ve indicated flexibility about salary, chances are they are onto more important considerations such as goodness of fit.

If you are asked about salary requirements in the screening or interview process, I recommend politely asking what the budgeted salary range is, look calmly expectant and wait for their reply. Then state that you are inside that range (assuming you are) and you’re sure something can be worked out that works for everyone. Smoothly change the subject as soon as possible to talk about aspects of the job itself. When they decide they can’t live without you, you can decide whether their offer is good and how it compares with others that you’ve received. Does it drive HR up the wall when you do this? Absolutely, it's their job to find this information out; but they are not usually the final decision makers. You don’t want to irk them, but a pleasant, “I’m sure we can work something out as the process continues”, should take you far in most situations. A good recruiter will push back. Accept this and remain pleasantly vague. Change the subject gracefully.

Benefits like vacation or level of health coverage are very difficult for most companies to negotiate. If they have a top performer in a similar role and they offer you more vacation, they’ll have a very dicey situation on their hands. It can be much easier to negotiate a one-time signing or performance-based bonus.

When you have become an expert in your industry and have skills they can’t get from the next ten people that apply for the job, your negotiations take on a completely different flavor and you can often get away with boldly leveraging one offer for another. Even so, that tactic is never really appreciated, leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the decision makers, and can backfire if you’ve miscalculated.

While your ability to navigate this landmine diplomatically will be closely watched, you really do have the employer over a barrel on this point. They have to put a number on your offer letter.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Are You Linked In?


When you join LinkedIn, you can see who you know from current and past jobs and add those people to your contacts list. Add your friends, neighbors, and family members. As you meet new people, add them. Soon, when you need the inside story on a company, you can easily see who you know that worked or works there (or who your contacts know). Then, email or call them to get the scoop! Be sure they know you'll be there for them too and be very respectful of their time.

A recent resume client wanted to get into Google, but didn’t know a soul there. I told him about LinkedIn, he added people he knew, and sure enough – one of his contacts was friends with a manager at Google. This manager offered to walk my client’s resume through the process. Without LinkedIn, he would never have gotten on an inside track at Google.

Here are some facts you should know about LinkedIn:

- 19,000,000+ professionals and growing by one million members per month
- 750,000+ senior executives
- Executives from all Fortune 500 companies
- 46% are business decision makers
- Average age: 41
- Average household income: $109,000
- Over 450 million page views per month
- Over 560,000 professionals visit the LinkedIn homepage on a typical day
- Average of 42 page views per member per week

Joined LinkedIn. Today. Really, I mean it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is it a good idea to use recruiters in my job search?


Using recruiters from staffing agencies can be a great resource, with one major drawback and potentially one great advantage. The good ones have met the hiring managers of the companies they represent and can offer some insight into personality types of the hiring manager and team, what works and what doesn't to get love from that company, etc. If you don't know anyone at the company who can give you this type of insight, outside recruiters can be a great way to get it.

The drawback is that their services come at a price to the employer, sometimes up to 25% of your first year compensation. For this reason, if you were to approach the same employer yourself (especially encouraged if a willingness to cold call and/or "sell" yourself are core competencies of the job you seek) you'll be more appealing than if a recruiter were to present you. It's also much smarter to apply for a position before the hiring manager has gotten so desperate for talent that they're willing to pay a premium for it.

The potential advantage of going through a recruiter is if the company only staffs certain positions through a particular staffing firm. I've been in this role myself as an agency recruiter where if someone wanted a particular job at a certain company, they'd have to impress me to even get consideration because the hiring managers didn't have time to post ads, wade through resumes, etc. Even so, if you landed on the hiring manager's doorstep without representation, and before she got so desperate for talent that the recruiter's fee was worth it, you'd be 25% less expensive.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Workforce Explorer


I'm driving to an industry meeting the other day, the Puget Sound Career Developers Association (PSCDA), and I'm dreading the speaker. It was raining, freezing cold, and I have to drive INTO traffic to get there (an anathema to a work-from-home type like me). But I go. True to form, traffic is horrible. It takes me 45 minutes to go 5 miles. Remembering my commitment to networking (gotta walk the walk), I soldier on.

Our association president bravely talks up the speaker, an economist with the State of Washington. I'm thinking, man, he's really putting his heart into this introduction; it's not going to be pretty. What could a dryer-than-my-chapped-lips economist, a state employee no less, have to tell me about employment? I was a corporate recruiter after all, I'm out there on the cutting edge, blah, blah, blah. I was dead wrong.

Jane Field, our speaker, opened my eyes about an amazing website that I will use and talk about for years. You’ll get sick of hearing about it, really. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, the state has put together a website using actual data from employers. Quarterly, each employer reports information including salary, hiring forecast, job duties, etc. to the state for each position they employ. http://www.workforceexplorer.com/ has compiled these facts into a *free*, easy to navigate and extremely useful website.

Want to know the average hourly wage for a Purchasing Manager in the State of Washington? It's $45.97. Wonder what their top work task is? It's maintaining records of goods ordered and received, according to the employers who complete the state's paperwork.

Ever wondered what actors make in King County? About $35.11 per hour, on average.

How cool is that?

The site is packed with helpful information. Want to sell paintbrushes in SE Washington? The biggest hobby, toy, and/or game store employer in Asotin County is Wasem's Artist Supply and their phone number and address are provided.

The site is perfect for career changers who want to research an industry and equally great for someone moving from one part of the state to another, to learn the lay of the land.

I'm sure as I explore Explorer further, I'll find even more things to love about it.

My apologies to Jane. I misjudged you. Economists from the State of Washington ROCK!! And while I'm not sure if Jane's personality is representative of others in her occupation, I found her downright entertaining.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome everyone! This blog will include my thoughts on interviewing, resume writing and job search strategy. Your comments and input are welcome!