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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Improv Classes Keep Job Seekers on their Toes

Article by Randy Woods

Maybe it says something about the state of the local job market when professional comedians start acting as career consultants. While seeking employment in this economy is no laughing matter, many local job seekers are turning to the improvisational theater for inspiration on how to think fast during interviews. Last month, I wrote a post about a new class being offered by Seattle's famed Jet City Improv troupe to teach job seekers how to use improvisational skills to nail that next interview. This month, the Greenwood-based Taproot Theater is beginning a six-week course on how to build your confidence in virtually any kind of business environment, from networking to closing a sales deal.

Beginning on Mon., Sept. 21, and running through Oct. 26, Taproot's Improv(e) Your Business Skills! course will use a series of improvisational exercises and theater games to sharpen the mind and prepare students for those moments in a job interview that require lightning timing. Each Monday, from 7-9 p.m. over a month and a half, Taproot instructors Kevin Brady and Rob Martin will bring students up on stage to act out a series of situations--some comic, some that may be experienced in real life.

Sara Willy, director of education at Taproot, says the new course is "a product of what's going on in the economy right now. Jobs are hard to get out there, so some of our constituents asked that we do some classes to relate these improv skills to the business world."

Anyone who has seen Drew Carey's show "Who's Line is it Anyway?" will be familiar with many of the tried-and-true improv exercises used during the course, Willy says. "It's a serious course, but it's all designed to be fun," she says. "You might pretend to sell something while speaking entirely in gibberish, getting your message across only in body language. Or you might pick items out of a hat at random and make up stories on the spot."

Some of the course material will be determined by the attendees, Willy says. "If you already have a job, the classes can teach you sales skills and how to think on your feet," she says. "If you're looking for a job, this will help give you confidence during interviews. We can teach you how to talk while you're walking."

In addition, Jet City is expanding its improv class for job seekers later this month with its new Job Hunter's Survival Kit seminar on Tues., Sept. 29. In partnership with the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ), the all-day course will include sessions on resume-writing tips from career consultant Jill Walser, networking advice from PSBJ's Elizabeth Case and improv exercises from Andrew McMasters, artistic director of Jet City's parent company, Wing-It Productions.

To sign up for the $250 Improv(e) Your Business Skills! course, visit Taproot's registration page. For more information on Jet City's $165 Job Hunter's Survival Kit course, which also includes lunch and a free one-year PSBJ subscription, see Jet City's registration page. Class sizes for both courses are limited, so be sure to register early.

Writer and editor Randy Woods has filled out more job applications than he can count -- so you don't have to.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cyberstalking, Something to Think About

It has never been easier to keep in touch with people online – including those with whom you would rather not.

According to the National Association for Victim Assistance (NOVA), growing numbers of people report being pursued by stalkers via cell phones, Internet services, GPS systems, wireless video cameras, and other technologies. With technology, stalkers have more tools to use against their victims than ever.

A recent Department of Justice report indicated that of the 3.4 million Americans who reported being stalked between 2005 and 2006, 27% reported cyberstalking. Half of these victims indicated that there was at least one unwanted contact per month and 11% said they had been stalked for five or more years.

Stalking is action directed at a person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. In the study, people were classified as stalking victims if they reported at least one of seven types of stalking behaviors on two or more occasions.

The most common type of stalking behavior was unwanted phone calls from the offender (66%) followed by unsolicited letters or email (31%) and the spread of malicious rumors (36%). One-third of victims stated that offenders were likely to show up at places they frequent for no reason. Nearly 75% of victims knew their offender in some capacity, while 10% of victims were stalked by a stranger. Stalkers include former spouses, lovers, friends, roommates and neighbors.

Victims experience a range of emotions. The most common was not knowing what would happen next (46%) and being afraid the behavior would never stop (29%); nearly 10% of stalking victims reported that their worst fear was death. About 130,000 victims had been fired or asked to leave their jobs because of stalking and 12% lost time from work because of fear for their safety or to pursue activities such as getting a restraining order or testifying in court.

One of the ways that victims experience stalking is identity theft; 6% said stalkers stole their identities to open or close financial accounts in their names, steal funds from their existing accounts, or make unauthorized charges to their credit cards.

High-tech stalking comes in many forms:

Caller ID. Caller ID systems on many phones reveal callers’ names and locations. Using an online phone directory to conduct a reverse lookup of the callers number, stalkers can pinpoint a victim’s place of residence.

Cell phones. When cell phones are in analogue mode, radio scanners can intercept conversations.

GPS services. If a stalker has access to a victim’s car, global positioning devices can be installed that pinpoint the car’s exact location. Telephone-based instant-messenger services and some cell phones’ location services are also potential tracking tools.

Spyware. If the stalker has access to the victim’s computer, spyware can be installed to send them notifications listing all websites visited and the contents of every email sent or received. Stalkers can also use keystroke loggers, which record every key typed and thus disclose passwords, PINs, websites, and emails.

Cameras. Cameras today are more powerful, less expensive, smaller, and easier than ever to secretly place inside a wall.

Public databases. A surprising amount of information about individuals is public record. Some counties even publish the names and addresses of individuals who obtain protective orders.

Another type of public database is a job board. Those of you who are clients of my writing services will note that I have left the exact street address off of your resume and cover letter documents.

E-mail and instant messages. Stalkers can impersonate their victims by sending out messages in the victims’ names. One abuser changed his wife’s email password and sent threatening messages to himself from her account. Then, he took the messages to the police and convinced them to arrest her.

The Justice Department report offers some advice for keeping safe from stalkers:
Know who calls you. Use per call (*67) when you get an unknown call, and make sure your phone has caller ID.

Keep your contact information private. Clear your name from any database that might be published or sold from one company to another.

Routinely check your computer for viruses and intruder programs. According to PC World and, Spybot-S&D ( is the best privacy software available.

My next blog will provide specific information on how to protect your identity while using business and social networking websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Did you know?
Bad guys can see all the things you post. You may be revealing personal information that is extremely valuable. Even seemingly innocent information posted on profile pages can sometimes provide opportunities for criminals. For example, names of grandparents or pets in posted pictures can tip hackers off to answers for typical challenge questions asked before providing information about “forgotten passwords” to online accounts. (

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Should I use an objective statement on my resume?

Q. I've been talking with a career mentor who told me to get rid of my objective statement at the top of my resume. She seems to think the statement is useless, and just takes up space that I could be using to help give a thorough snapshot of myself with my resume, and that the place for such statements is in the cover letter, and not the resume. Why do you think the objective statement on a resume is so important, and what should be included in that statement? I'm having a hard time wording an objective statement that is broad enough, yet brief. I have an idea of what my "perfect" job would be like, but since I probably won't find that with my brief experiences having just graduated from college in this economy, I don't want to close any doors where I might have a chance of finding full-time employment.

A. Great question! I'll answer with a story from my recruiting days. When I was recruiting for a publicly traded party goods company, there was one point where I had four positions open in marketing - marketing coordinator, marketing project manager, marketing director and vice president of marketing. When I'd exhausted my network for suitable candidates (they were niche roles - the candidates had to have experience marketing kids products) and started placing ads, I got blasted with applicants. I saw hundreds of resumes, many with "seeking a position in marketing" as an objective, or no objective whatsoever.

As a recruiter, I wasn't a marketing specialist, and while I probably knew more about marketing than many other recruiters, I didn't know enough to read people's minds and discern from their work histories (which I had all of 10 seconds or so to scan) what level of position they'd be best suited for, be happiest in, etc. Most of the time, I was left feeling that if this person couldn't market themselves properly, how were they ever going to effectively market the company's party goods? Someone with a clear, non self-serving objective that told me exactly what they wanted got farther in the process than someone who had a self-serving or absent objective.

Here's an objective statement I wrote recently for someone seeking a marketing job, "Results-driven sales and marketing professional with extensive experience in retail and corporate environments seeks to contribute marketing project coordination skills and an eye for design in a position with .

My client will personalize it each time, to make it clear she wants to work for THAT company (not just anybody) and wants to work in THAT role (knowing full well that a job title on her resume's objective statement will not keep her out of consideration for other positions for which she might be equally or better suited). Plus, it adds another incidence of the target job title on the resume - highly likely to be used as a keyword if the company is using a keyword scanner. I followed with a few supportive statements that emphasized her marketing accomplishments in an opening paragraph. Note that the word "objective" is never a keyword (talk about wasted space!), so I replace that phrase with a headline - often including the job title.

These reasons, coupled with the fact that, according to my research, (conducted personally over many years and gathered from other sources,) 80% of hiring managers never read the cover letter (yet notice when it's missing and take points off), are enough for me to include objective statements on every resume I write. Of course, elaboration in the letter which demonstrates goodness of fit and the reason one is interested in the position, is always a good thing - for the 20% of hiring managers who will actually read it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

To whom do you address your resume and cover letter, when you don't know the name of the person?

When you don't know the name of the actual person to whom you're addressing a cover letter or resume, see what you can find out via LinkedIn or your network. Failing that, go with "Recruiting Manager". It will be tough to know what to do when working with staffing agencies.

When applying online to jobs posted by agencies, you'll want to address your letter to the agency. When you make contact to someone at the agency, let them know you can write a letter for each opportunity for which your materials are submitted if they feel it would be helpful. A good agency recruiter acts as your cover letter - talking up your strong points and emphasizing goodness of fit.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thinking About Moving?

Think the grass is greener elsewhere? Miss your family? Here are some strategies to facilitate your long-distance job search:

1. Read your target city’s local newspapers, journals and publications on a regular basis, for job listings and relevant business news. Note which companies are reducing staff off, who is hiring, who just received angel investments, etc.

2. Join (and start attending the meetings of) at least one locally based professional association or the local chapter of a national professional association. In the Seattle area, is a great resource for networking organizations.

3. Plan to spend time in your new city, to conduct networking in person rather than just over the phone or on-line.

4. Develop a list of potential employers for whom you would like to work and for whom your background and experience are a good fit. LinkedIn, to do your research, including identifying the name of a hiring executive.

5. Send each of the employers a targeted, personalized letter and resume, linking your interest and qualifications to their area of focus. Try to schedule an exploratory interview even if there are no current job openings for you. You will be setting the stage for future employment should their needs change.

6. Consider short-term consulting gigs with area employers. When you meet employers, think about how you might help them by consulting. Do they mention any projects that you would be qualified to do? This would be an excellent way to establish yourself with locally-based credentials.

7. Use the city and state in your contact info, instead of your own. In a tight job market, hiring managers need not look beyond the local area for highly qualified job applicants. They seek candidates who are ready to work without much training, are familiar with the local market and competition, and perhaps have local contacts. Employers certainly prefer avoiding travel reimbursement and relocation costs.

It is important to demonstrate to the employer that you are committed to being in the area for the long haul, not just until the economy turns around. You may want to consider moving in with a friend for a while during your job hunt. Beware that if you are only pretending to have a local address, you may be caught when an employer wants you to interview on short notice or even during the informal ice breaking part of an interview, e.g., talking about the hometown sports teams and weather.