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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

Seeking New Opportunities

 

Today I’m rebutting the assertion in this (and many similar) article headlines:

Why ‘seeking new opportunities’ should never be your LinkedIn professional headline!

Your LinkedIn headline should sell a more accurate version of yourself than the article above’s headline sells of itself. If you read this headline you quite probably got the impression that you shouldn’t use the work “Seeking” in your headline. The article is really about writing a good, strong headline, with which I agree. Because it has valid points, I’ve selected it for you to read (the video is a little tedious). But what I disagree with (and why I didn’t bother including other articles that support it) is the headline discouraging the word “Seeking.”  If you are unemployed, I encourage using it. Even if you are employed and job-searching, I would encourage working the word into your headline subtly or even coyly, as in “In-house Compliance Counsel seeking to help my client comply with HIPPA.”

First, the guy wiring the article linked above is from the UK, and I’m from America, and although we have many similarities, hiring processes can be surprisingly different. Be careful applying any foreign job-search advice in the US, and vice versa.

Second, the author touts his 10+ years of experience as a professional recruiter. By ‘professional recruiter’ he means someone who was paid a contingency fee if a candidate he provided was hired by his client. That fee was likely some percentage of the candidate’s annual starting salary. My experience with recruiting, has been, and continues to be, as an in-house recruiter, although from time to time we engage contingency recruiters. Again surprisingly, the experience can be different, and as a candidate you should understand the biases.

Both in-house and contingency recruiters are aligned in looking for qualified candidates. However, their second-tier drivers start to diverge. Contingency recruiters want to place the highest salary candidates they can, because that increases their contingency fee amount. In-house recruiters, while they want to minimize costs of the hiring process (which often comes out of their budget), are more neutral on salary (which comes out of the hiring manager’s budget), but if anything, they want to minimize it. A metric that is more important for in-house recruiters than candidate salaries is “speed to hire.”

If you are unemployed, this distinction is critical in the difference between how your profile will be vetted by an in-house recruiter versus a contingency fee recruiter. As an in-house recruiter I frequently use the words “seeking,” “available,” “opportunity,” and even “ISO” (in search of) as part of my candidate profile search terms. Why? Because unemployed candidates are much, much faster hires.

  1. If I message an unemployed candidate on LinkedIn, he or she usually responds the same day, often within minutes. It’s because unemployed candidates are always checking their LinkedIn, and have the messages coming to their primary email. Employed candidates usually take a few days to respond; some employed candidates never respond because they haven’t updated their profile since the last time they were looking for a job, and LinkedIn still directs messages to their old work email. On average, this is about a 2 day advantage to the unemployed candidate.
  2. Then if I want to schedule a phone or Skype screening interview, unemployed candidates are available this afternoon, any time that’s convenient for me. Employed candidates have to schedule in the evening, after they commute home, if they’re not working late, and they don’t have to take their kids to practice. On average, add another day of delay.
  3. When I schedule them for an in-person interview, unemployed candidates can be here tomorrow, even if I have to fly them in. Employed candidates have to get their supervisor’s permission to take a PTO day, and they want to get in and out the same day, so they only have to take one day of PTO. They are also time constrained when they are interviewing, so I have to change company meetings around so key people can meet them. Unemployed candidates can meet at our pace, at our convenience, and they can spend the night at a nearby hotel, so we can have dinner with them and see them in social contexts. Add an average of 3 days delay to the employed candidate, not too mention more opportunity for social interaction.
  4. Scheduling the second interview, even just a quick meeting with the CEO, can be difficult with employed candidates who don’t want to go back to their supervisor to request another day off on the heels of the first interview.  Add a another 7 days of delay.
  5. Compensation negotiation can be difficult and time consuming with an employed candidate, especially if a recruiter who wants to maximize the offer is involved.  The truth is, the unemployed candidate has little or no bargaining power, so negotiations are minimal.  Add 5 days off delay.
  6. Most companies do drug screen/background checks on their proposed hires.  Employed candidates, very reasonably, don’t want to give notice to their current employer until they have passed all the screening.  Unemployed candidates have nothing to lose, so employers can start them immediately, with continued employment contingent on passing the screens.  Add 10 days to employed candidates.
  7. Employed candidates have to give 2 week’s notice.  Their former employers often ask for more.  Add an average of 12 days.
  8. Employed candidates receive counter-offers. It’s rare that a candidate takes a counter-offer, but they can result in matching the higher offer, and possibly further negotiation delays.  If the employed candidate accepts the counter-offer, if often means the candidate was playing the market to coax his current employer into a raise.  For the in-house recruiter it means starting over.  Unemployed candidates almost never get simultaneous offers.

So even if you are an employed candidate, if you are looking for a new position, recognize that speed-to-hire focused in-house recruiters will be using the term “seeking” in their search terms to locate candidates.  If you want to improve your chances of being in that selected pool, work the word ‘seeking’ subtly into your headline.

 

The Prey Defines the Hunt

At one end of the spectrum are jobs that require a person to think on their feet, to be creative, adaptive, articulate, persuasive, engaging, and to show initiative.  On the other end of the spectrum are jobs that are mundane, routine, rote, repetitive, tedious, monotonous, dull and boring.  Jobs at either end are hard.  Jobs in the middle are hard.  It’s just a different kind of difficult.  Spending 8 hours a day repeatedly asking the same questions like “Paper or plastic?” or “Would you like fries with that?” is actually really hard – it’s maddening.  The repetitiveness makes it hard.  Spending 8 hours a day trying to come up with the right questions to ask in the right order when preparing for a deposition, or when calling on a new customer is also really hard. The creativity, the analysis, the second-guessing oneself, is all very difficult.  As a colleague of mine is find of saying: “Jobs are hard.  That’s why we call it ‘work’ and not ‘play.'”

In this post I offer the proposition that when you are job hunting, the type of job you are hunting defines the type of hunt in which you should be engaging.  If you want a simple, repetitive job – it doesn’t have to be in fast food or a grocery store – it could be at Google or Apple or Tesla (they have routine jobs too), then you should employ a simple, repetitive job hunting technique.  Such a technique would have a single resume (or maybe just your LinkedIn profile) that you would use for every job that has a one-touch or Easy Apply application.  You wouldn’t waste time tailoring to, or maybe even reading, the job ad – just click and send to as many jobs as possible, repeat, repeat, repeat.  On the other end of the spectrum are jobs that aren’t even advertised, that don’t even exist, for which you have to get an appointment, and then go in and convince the company that they need to fill a job they didn’t know they had, and that you’re the person for that job.  That would be the “Not Easy” button.

Most job hunters employ tactics somewhere between these two extremes.  However, as you tend towards one end or the other, I would suggest your outcomes will also tend toward one end or the other.  Those job hunters who tend to apply to jobs online repetitively are more likely to encounter more rejection, but also when they eventually find employment are more likely to find employment that is less creative in nature.  Job hunters who demonstrate the initiative to network into growing companies in growing industries are more likely to have jobs structured around their skills, or at least be considered ahead of other candidates for more tailored roles.

So here’s the observational ‘anecdata’ I offer to support my hypothesis. I coach a lot of people through career transitions, especially job searches.  I find those who follow a network-heavy approach are more likely to find jobs they find satisfying, tailored to their skills and desires.  I find those that follow an approach that is predominantly job-ad responses have a more difficult, longer time to find employment, and when they eventually do find employment, they are less satisfied, and tend to continue their search or within a year, restart a search.

So why do people not network?

There are 4 actions a candidate can take to find a job.  Three are easy; one is hard.  The hard path is networking, and it requires a candidate to actually demonstrate skills that many people will say they have, and may believe they have, but they actually lack.  These are the ability to think on their feet, to be creative, adaptive, articulate, persuasive, engaging, and to show initiative.

THE 4 Routes

Employers will almost always prefer, and pay more for, candidates who come through the networking gauntlet versus the candidates who just push the “Easy” button.

LinkedIn: Open for Opportunities Setting

It is really important, if you are job searching, that you switch your LinkedIn profile status to “Open” for opportunities.  Do this by (1) going to your little picture in the top right of your LinkedIn Home page and (2) clicking on the drop down arrow next to “Me.”  In the drop down menu under “ACCOUNT” (3) click on ” Settings & Privacy.”  In the new page that opens, locate “Privacy” with a shield in the center and (4) click on that word.  Now in the menu on the left, (5) locate and click on “Job seeking.”  (6) Click on “Let recruiters know you are open to opportunities.”  This should bring you to a page that looks like the one below:

On for 90 More Days

(7) Make sure the button is switched to “Yes.”  Also, note where the green arrow above is pointing.  When you switch to “Yes,” LinkedIn only gives you 90 days before it switches back to “No.”  You should make sure you are checking this frequently to make sure it doesn’t turn to “No.”  In fact, I recommend jumping into this page regularly, and switching it to “No” and then back to “Yes” to reset the 90-day clock.

The Emotional Side of Job Loss

Ron Ashkenas in his article Navigating the Emotional Side of a Career Transition addresses an important aspect of job searching.  Ron takes his discussion in a different direction than I will go in below, so I recommend after reading this blog, you also read his article.

Ron talks about issues encountered by someone making a voluntary job transition after a very long period (37 years) with a single employer. In my experience, this is a very rare event. People who voluntarily leave their employers, usually have a mindset that allows them to do so after much shorter periods, and they do so relatively frequently – so that in a 37 year career, I would expect to have met someone who has done this 5-10 times already. On the other hand, most people who have been stable (stagnant, depending on your perspective) at one company for decades and then find themselves in a career transition, usually are experiencing the event involuntarily. While they may encounter some of the emotions discussed in this article, in my experience advising and coaching job seekers, those emotions are usually trumped by grief.

Job Loss Can Be a Life Shattering Experience

Job Loss Can Be a Life Shattering Experience

There are 5 classic stages of loss and grief.

    1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain. This is why I advise people to not make any decisions – for example regarding severance – the day of the layoff, and perhaps for a few days thereafter.

2. Anger

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wane, reality and its pain re-emerge. We may not be ready. The intense emotion is redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our former co-workers or boss. Rationally, we may know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain. We feel guilty for being angry, and this can make us more angry.  Remember that job loss can be traumatic for a spouse as well. In some ways their fears may be worse, because they may have no reference point about future career options in your field, and may perceive your prospects to be more bleak than they really are.  For this reason I coach people to find a friend, not a spouse, to vent to during the frustrations that accompany a job search.  It’s a good idea to warn the friend that you need them for this purpose; it will be easier for them to absorb because they are not as tied to the outcome as your spouse.

3. Bargaining

A normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. This may manifest itself as genuine bargaining – going back to our former employer and asking or begging for the job back, or more rationally, negotiating different, more tailored severance terms to meet your specific needs. It can also appear as preoccupation with “what if” questions – what if I would have taken that transfer 2 years ago? what if I would have gotten that MBA at night? what if I would have been more active in my professional organization and met more people who could help me now? Eventually these will be important lessons learned, but we shouldn’t dwell on them now.

4. Depression

A doctor once told me that if you have a reason to be depressed, being depressed is normal. People who ‘suffer from Depression’ are depressed when they shouldn’t be. Loss of a job is a valid reason to be depressed. But it can last too long, and if it does, seek professional medical help.

5. Acceptance

This is where we need to get to as quickly as possible after a job loss. In my experience, you can’t avoid going through the 4 stages before this one to get to acceptance, but you can accelerate the process by recognizing the stages, and preparing yourself for, and pushing yourself on to, the next one.

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