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When in Doubt, Opt for Change

There is not one right career philosophy.  Each of us needs to find an approach that fits us.  I want to share my approach – When in Doubt, Opt for Change –  not simply because I am familiar with it, but also because I think it may be misunderstood and therefore, under-represented.

Concisely, when people encounter a decision point, they have choices – usually two.  If one choice is clearly better than the other, we all choose the better choice.  When it’s not clear which choice is better, most of us gather as much information as possible before a decision needs to be made, until one choice is clearly the best.  In some cases, after gathering the information available, it’s still not clear which choice makes the best sense.  When faced with this ambiguity, most people simply choose the status quo, and stay with what they have.  At the start of my career I adopted a philosophy to push myself out of the status quo comfort zone, and when I was in doubt about which choice was best, opt for change rather than stagnation.

Opt for Change

Photo credit: Natalie Jayne Photography (used with permission)

Baseball provides a good metaphor for career management philosophy   Getting your first job is like getting to first base.  Some people, incorrectly assume if they keep their foot on first they will remain safe.  It’s simply not true, in baseball or a career.  Keeping your foot on first is likely to get you forced out, in baseball, and in your job.  The game keeps moving even if you don’t.  There are times you are going to get forced out no matter what you do; and there are times the guy behind you will hit a home run and you will be carried home safely without any further effort on your part.  But most of the time, being nimble, playing smart, and taking reasonable risks will advance your career more than abdicating influence over your career, and just waiting for someone else to do something for you.   It’s true that you can’t get picked off if you stand on first base, and it is equally true that you can’t steal second with your foot on first.  But the most important truth is that having a good lead, and moving as the ball is hit is the best way to advance to second, and in your career.  

Opt for Change is a blog about taking an active role in your career. It will provide many first hand experiences and observations, but not advice, just the benefit of my experience.  You’ll have to figure out what of it makes sense for you and your personality.

Blue on White Opt for Change

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”
― Katharine HepburnMe: Stories of My Life

Alcohol in Social Media Pics

I couldn’t disagree more with the suggestion that posting pics of yourself with alcohol on your LinkedIn profile is okay.  Maybe on Facebook, if it is rare, but never, never on LinkedIn. To do so brings into question your judgment, as well as the concern of a hiring manager who doesn’t want to be criticized for hiring someone. Most hiring managers like safe harbors, where they can’t be second-guessed for a hire they have made. If the hired employee wrecks a rental car his first month on the job, and someone sees the beer bottles lined up for a background image on his linkedin profile, that will reflect poorly on the hiring manager. If there is more than one viable candidate (and there always is), then why would any hiring manager take the risk?

Beer Drinking

Posting a Picture of You Drinking a Beer No Longer Hurts Your Career, But This Could

The rest of the article I agree with, and would strongly caution against social media comments or “likes” that you might consider joking or sharing, but still touch on any of these subjects:

  • Anything that could be considered bigoted
  • Anything that could be considered illegal
  • Anything that appears abusive of drugs
  • Anything that appears derogatory of a former employer

Also limit your daytime social media activity.

On the positive side, illustrate your community involvement and volunteering with social media posts.

LinkedIn

This  ultimate Linkedin cheat sheet is a little dated and has a UK focus, but it is one of the best, most comprehensive I have seen.  The photo below is just a taste.  Go to the link for entire infographic.

Top of LinkedIn Infographic

The entire infographic is available at http://www.leisurejobs.com/staticpages/18285/the-ultimate-linkedin-cheat-sheet/

 

Reference List

Most employers won’t call your references unless you are the final candidate for the job.  Therefore, I don’t recommend listing or offering references prior to being asked.  You can let the employer know you have references, and you should be prepared to provide them quickly, but I wouldn’t offer them unsolicited.  I usually recommend your references appear on one sheet.  I usually recommend that this information be included for each reference, and that at least three references be provided:

  1. Reference’s name
  2. Reference’s current Job title
  3. Reference’s current employer
  4. Reference’s current employer’s City and State
  5. Company or other venue where you worked together (their company may have been your client or vice versa)
  6. Reference’s Phone and/or cell number
  7. Reference’s E-mail address
  8. Reference’s Relationship to you, the applicant (again, explain the link – for example, if you were both subcontractors to the same contractor)

Although no more than three references are typically required, there are some instances where this is not the case.  For sensitive government or government contractor positions, more extensive references may be required.  Additionally, new reference assessment tools, like Checkster are becoming more common and these will require a minimum of 8 references.

Some candidates have trouble selecting the three best references for a particular position.  It’s acceptable to ask the HR representative who requested the reference what kind of references they would like, but this can be create problems if you can’t meet their expectation.  For example, if they say “we would strongly prefer all three references be from former supervisors” and you’ve only had 3 jobs – you don’t want to offer your current boss for obvious reasons, and one of your prior bosses you didn’t get along with well – you might have a problem that didn’t exist before you asked.

If you don’t want to create problems for yourself, it is generally a good idea to diversify your references, but stay as relevant to the position as possible.  At least one of the three should be a former supervisor, and it’s good if one is currently, or was previously, employed in the same industry as the prospective employer.  Finally, it is a good idea to have one that currently, or previously, performed the same function as the job you are seeking.  It is perfectly acceptable to use a reference of someone who is no longer employed by the company where you both worked together. The most important factor in a strong reference is that they can vouch for your character and job performance.

Whenever you expect that your references may be contacted, it’s important to reconnect with each reference as soon as possible and let them know that they will receive a call from a human resources recruiter, or a hiring manager. Give your references the information they need to be a good reference for you:

  • The name of the company
  • The title of the position
  • The expectations the company has for the position
  • Your primary qualifications for the position
  • Key statements you would like your references to offer

Be sure to send a thank you letter to your references after they have provided the reference.

Reference List

Reference List

Professional Networking for Introverts

Back in 2008 I instructed a continuing education course through the University of North Carolina at Charlotte called “Professional Networking for Introverts.”  Although I’d already been a member of LinkedIn for over 4 four years, it was still a relatively obscure social media platform, but I thought it was a particularly good professional networking tool for introverts.  It’s gone through lots of changes since 2008, but LinkedIn remains one of the best tools to help introverts network effectively.

Professional Networking for Introverts

Professional Networking for Introverts

In 2014 Dorie Clark published a short article in the Harvard Business Review called Networking for Introverts that I think offers some good suggestions for introverts to use in advancing the effectiveness of their job-search networking. She recognizes that most introverts prefer “minimally stimulating environments.”

So one of her first suggestions is to create your own events.  These can be smaller events, focused on subject matter of your interest, and you get to control the size and make-up of the audience.  In my experience, if you are willing to do the leg work, others really appreciate the opportunity to attend these types of small events.  I’ve used this technique myself for networking, though not job-search networking.  I created a Power Podium to bring speakers in to speak on energy topics of interest to the ~25 person office in which I work. In addition, I invite about 5 to 10 other power industry professionals with whom I (and I assume others in my office) would like to network.  We don’t regularly schedule the Power Podiums; in fact some are very opportunistic, like when a speaker happens to be in Charlotte from out of town.  But it provides a forum where I can offer some continuity of speakers.  I got the idea for the Power Podium from when I was invited to speak to the Ministry of Environment in Ontario at their Green Podium.  I was an opportunistic invite who happened to be in Toronto to speak at another conference.

Although not one of Ms. Clark’s recommendations, I often suggest that job-seekers consider creating a group on LinkedIn, or some other social media platform, tailored to a subject area and/or geographic region they know well.  Sharing articles with these groups can be an effective way to both get to know an existing network better, as well as expand your network as colleagues of colleagues are invited or request to join the group.

The article goes on to suggest that introverts

  • Understand when you’re at your best
  • Rate the likelihood of connecting, and
  • Calibrate your schedule

To me these can all be summed up by playing to your strengths.  Go to events where you are likely to be successful, at times when you are likely to be successful.  At large events, think about events within the event, which are going to be fruitful.  When I go to trade shows coupled with technical meetings, I find the trade show floor to be much more accommodating when most of the people are at technical presentations.  So I always pick a presentation time to skip on purpose and go to the trade show floor to meet vendors when they aren’t overwhelmed.  I also find a conference breakfast to be an easier time to meet people than lunch or dinner, so I always try to arrive early and sit with someone I don’t know.  These may or may not be good approaches for you.  The point is figure out the times and places that you can be successful, usually through experimentation.

 

The Rise of the Zombie Connectors℠!

I like to think of myself as one of the early adopters of LinkedIn. I’ve been a Member since February 20, 2004. [If you were an earlier adopter, let me know. I’m always looking for people who remember when you had to connect with people you didn’t know, because there were so few people on LinkedIn, it was hard to find anyone you knew].

One of the great strengths of LinkedIn is that it has morphed repeatedly to new environments; it’s seldom been the best tool you might have imagined for the particular job you want done, but it’s been a pretty good utility tool for a lot of different jobs. I used it early on to meet innovative people, then as more folks joined, I started to use it to reconnect with people. I used it to job search, and I used it to hire employees. I remember all the squawking when profile photos were implemented – some people were sooo against that! But LinkedIn has survived by being adaptive and tolerant of many types of users. For me, it’s not the tool it once was, but it’s still a pretty good tool. For others, it’s not as good, but for many more, it’s just a different tool.

LIONs (LinkedIn Open Networkers)

We’ve always had users who find value in connecting with everyone they can. I’m not one who perceives that value. When your connections devolve into a list of people you don’t know, it just seems like a phone book to me, and I already have one of those that works better and covers more people – it’s called Google. In any case, LIONs usually announce themselves in their Headlines or even their Names, so you know when you’re getting an invitation from a LION. I usually click ignore.

Zombie Connectors℠

There are some people who reach out to connect with me using the standard ‘no message’ option which LinkedIn provides.  Years ago I noticed that when I reached out to these people, they almost never responded back.  I call these people who don’t respond: Zombie Connectors℠.

Zombie Connectors

For several years I have employed a standard practice of replying to those who invite me to connect, but whom I don’t know, with the question: ‘How may I be of assistance?’  It’s really amazing to me but the vast majority do not even respond.  I let them sit there for 6 months, when LinkedIn automatically withdraws their request.  At any given time I have over 100 Zombie Connectors℠ who have invited me to connect, but haven’t responded to my message back.

I can’t emphasize how poorly this reflects on them as individuals, or how it also reflects poorly on their employers.  You don’t want to be a Zombie Connector℠.  If you are going to invite someone to connect with you, you need to be responsible enough to be responsive.  Whether you are actively job searching, or just passively in the market, there is not only the possibility that someone will remember that you ignored them, there is probably a record of it in their LinkedIn messages.

Always Job Search During the Holidays

It’s the best time of the year!
1. Neighbors, friends, former vendors, former suppliers and potential employers are all sponsoring networking events they call “parties”
2. People want to be helpful this time of year
3. Budgets start January 1, and good managers want to have the ball rolling on new hires before then
4. The competition thinks it’s a bad time to job hunt, so they’re watching TV
5. People who are in the office between Christmas and New year’s have time to meet you for coffee or lunch – try to schedule 15 meetings that week.

Infographic: Job searching during the holidays

Holiday Job Search

Emotional Intelligence and “Fit”

If you get through the phone screen, or even the interview stage, but no further, you may have ask for honest feedback and received the statement that you weren’t the right “fit,” or you weren’t a good “fit.”  Liz Ryan says that “companies use it to say “no thanks” in a multitude of different situations” including (1) poor company performance resulting in elimination of the opening, (2) your salary expectations are too high, or (3) your personality is different from the organization culture and they fear it won’t mesh well.  Careerigniter describes “fit” as being push out for “arbitrary reasons.” Ian Welsh has suggested that hiring based on fit “makes little sense.”

In my opinion, most companies are pretty willing to make Liz’s first two statements openly, if not in writing, at least verbally.  I’ve been told twice that I was the last candidate to make it through but for purely financial reasons, companies have elected not to fill the position at this time.  Both times the US promptly went into a recession, so I can’t say it was a poor decision on their part.  I’ve also been told “this is top salary for the position – is that something you can accept?”  It wasn’t, and we saved ourselves a lot of time and effort by getting that info out early.

Unlike some of the other comments above, most career coaches agree with me that fit is real, although companies may describe it differently. They also see it as the interface between company culture and a candidate’s personality.  See Frederick County Workforce Services (“what they mean is that their personality doesn’t match the company, or possibly the supervisor the person would report to”); Dummies (“fit essentially refers to how an individual fits into a company’s culture”); Jaime Petkanics (“they want to assess how you will go about doing the job”).

Kyriaki Raouna says: “When employers tell you that you are not a good fit for the job, it has nothing to do with your qualifications and skills or how good you are for the job. It is simply used to explain how employers perceive you and what they think about your personality and cultural fit. So judging from the answers that you give in the job interview or – even what you post on social media, employers can get a pretty good idea of who you are, what you want, how long you are going to stay in the job and how happy you are going to be in it.”

While many of these coaches will also say that being rejected for fit is for the best, and you really shouldn’t try to change yourself to be a better fit, I tend to disagree.  We should all be alert to feedback that offers insight into ways we can improve ourselves.  If it wasn’t a fit, there is a reason it wasn’t a fit.  You may want to remain genuine to yourself, so if the reason it wasn’t a fit is you are a party animal and when they Googled you they saw that there’s drink named after you at a local bar, and you remain proud of that, just accept that their culture won’t work for you.

On the other hand, if you gave off a very negative vibe and seemed very cynical in the interview, and that’s not what you wanted to project, then you may have an opportunity to improve your emotional intelligence.  The article below talks about 12 competencies of emotional intelligence, at least one of which we can all improve.  When you get the “fit” response to feedback, don’t ignore it.  Look through these 12 and pick one to work on.

Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?

Emotional Intelligence Domains and Competencies

Some Truth About Recruiters

Recruiters come in many different styles. The first distinction is that some are in-house, and some are consultants. The consultants breakdown into retained search (guaranteed fee up front – maybe with a bonus on placement), and contingency search (paid when/if their candidate is hired, usually a percentage of the starting salary). But in all of those cases, the candidate is the product; the candidate is not the client, not the customer, not the decision-maker. Understand that fact.

The recruiter may help you, or coach you, or polish you up because they like you, because they are nice, or because it helps them sell you, preferably at a higher price. But they don’t do it because they have any obligation to you. It is either a gift, or it is a collateral benefit you receive because of something else they are doing. And don’t see yourself as the only product.

The recruiter who authored the article below points out bluntly:
“YOUR idea of “A” candidate and my idea of “A” candidate may be vastly different. I only represent the best of the best, the top 2%, and they aren’t out applying to your online job postings. They are gainfully employed at “A” companies with outstanding pedigrees that other “A” companies salivate over.”
Note that this author/recruiter makes no value judgments about why “A” candidates are “gainfully employed” and why “B” candidates are not. ‘Why’ doesn’t matter to him. Consider two identical i-Phones except one is a rarer color more in demand than the other. The more common one functions just as well. But that doesn’t matter to the reseller on Amazon. The rarer, more popular one brings the higher price. And so it gets sold for a higher price. Why one set of internal parts on the same assembly line got clad with a different color casement doesn’t matter to the reseller. He is not going to sell the more typical i-Phone at the same higher price as he will sell the rarer, more in demand one.

Likewise, why you are not currently gainfully employed really doesn’t matter to the recruiter. It’s your color, and it sets your price. And the reseller will always want to sell the higher priced products most; and will always take more time and effort to advertise them, to get them better portrayed in pictures, etc.

Should you beat your head against this brick wall of a system? You might be surprised to hear me say “Yes.” Yes, but with some caveats. The first caveat is ‘perhaps not today.’ If you are unemployed, under-employed, uncomfortably employed, or unhappily employed, you need to be self-centered for a while and get your employment situation corrected before focusing on changing this system.

For the second caveat I would offer that instead of beating your head against the brick wall, you should use your head against the brick wall. I remember a Bob Dylan quote “you say t’ meet bricks with bricks; i say t’ meet bricks with chalk.” I interpret this to mean instead of meeting hostility with hostility, meet hostility with reason (write on the brick wall – don’t throw more bricks).

I wouldn’t go so far as to call the system hostile, but I would characterize it as callous. So I say, let’s meet that callousness with reason. You’ve probably seen other posts I’ve made about the advantages of hiring the unemployed. For some recruiters, some organizations, that’s the “A” candidate, not the presumption that the current hiring system is built around. We need a more adaptive, less rigid system, that connects more candidates with openings that they can fill effectively.

As a candidate, if you are unemployed, your most likely point of success is not with consulting recruiters, but rather with in-house recruiters who actually don’t want the highest priced qualified candidate, they want the qualified candidate that is quickest to hire.  Be that candidate and sell that attribute.

It is NOT an Honor and Privilege to Work Here!

Recruiters

Smaller Companies Grow Through Organic Hiring

So this article presents an optimistic view of the coming economy that I can’t say I am entirely on board with (though I’m not as negative as some), but I agree 100% with this statement: “Companies that employ several to a few hundred workers make up 99 percent of business in the United States and account for half of private sector employment.” Too many job seekers focus their job search on large companies when the reality is that smaller companies make the most hires.

The President Changed. So Has Small Businesses’ Confidence

Small Business

Networking: The Golden Ticket

LinkedIn is a useful tool to assist networking, but it’s just a tool to help you get face to face with people. Face to face is where the real networking happens. You may hear some people say that most jobs aren’t even advertised. That’s not entirely true – most jobs do get advertised, but by the time they get advertised they usually already have a leading candidate, and maybe two. The golden ticket in job searching is to have a relationship with the hiring manager before the job gets advertised. You want to be that leading candidate. Job openings most open to external candidates occur in growing companies, so you will want to try to network into those companies experiencing growth, even if they don’t currently have an opening that fits you.

So look for companies that are in growing industries that are adding people. If your experience is in a declining industry, think about switching industries. It’s hard, but consider what functions you can perform that are transferrable to another industry. You can change industry or you can change function, but you can’t change both in one move. Larger companies tend to destroy the net number of jobs through acquisitions. There are replacement jobs in big publicly traded companies when people leave, but not much actual growth of new jobs. Therefore in these companies internal candidates get a high percentage of open positions,especially if their current roles are destined for elimination. Smaller companies are the real job creators, and fewer candidates look there. Especially in a contracting industry, the growth companies are the smaller ones, but they are harder to find. You really need to network to find them.

Golden Ticket