Tuesday, December 29, 2009

College Grads, Chew On This...

For the new and soon-to-be college graduates out there, I'd like to alert you to a simple fact. As cold as it sounds, once you graduate it's no longer about you. Roles reverse. Circumstances change.

Think of the relationship of students and colleges in a basic way. Students are the buyers. They are the paying customer to the college who is in the role of the seller. In any sales setting it's necessary to make the needs and wants of the buyer the primary focus. Advisers and admissions counselors ask what you want out of life, what you hope to gain from your college experience, and then use that information to show how the college's offerings contribute to those goals and dreams. They outline how your investment in a degree from that college gives you knowledge, experience, resources and a competitive edge.

As a graduate seeking a job, the tables turn. No longer the buyer, the graduate becomes the seller. Corporate America becomes the paying customer prepared to give the graduate money in exchange for him providing knowledge, experience, resources and a competitive edge. Interaction with decision makers has to be less about what you want out of a career and more about what the company is hoping to accomplish and how you can contribute to that goal. Put yourself in the role of figuring out where the company, your potential customer, hopes to go and showing that customer how investing in you sets them on the right path.

Discussing what you want in terms of a career isn't a bad thing. It just can't dominate the conversation the way it may have when discussing course options as a student. The goal should always be to tie points about your career plans back to the interests of the company, the buyer, in some way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Showing My Teeth

No, this isn't about me being viscous. I had a photo session earlier this week, which is tantamount to torture. Cameras and I do not get along. My fragile grasp on confidence gives way and insecurity creeps in. Insecurity isn't something I like to pay much attention to normally, but humanity makes it impossible to ignore at times.

During the shoot, the photographer was assisted by Susan, a woman I know from professional circles. As the photographer was trying to get me to loosen up and show a genuine smile, the kind with teeth, I began peppering him with concerns over double chins, fat angles and gray hair. Susan kept shaking her head at me and laughing. After a bit she commented on how surprised she was to hear me speak of myself this way when I always seem so confident speaking in front of people. Seem is the operative word.

Really, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone when another shows insecurity. I truly believe all humans have insecurity. Some are better at keeping it check than others is all. There are things in life important enough to me that I'm not going to let fear over what others may say, think or feel about me keep me on the sidelines. If something doesn't reach that level of importance, like having my picture taken, then insecurity has the advantage and gets a chance to show itself.

To those of you looking for jobs who are struggling with insecurity, do yourself the favor of acknowledging everyone worries about how they come off to others. Your feelings aren't a defect. Those who are doing the things you're talking yourself out of to secure employment aren't free of the burden of insecurity. They are simply not letting that insecurity play a powerful role in crucial situations. It's one thing when insecurity has you dodging photographs and smiling with firmly shut lips. It's quite another when insecurity checks you out of the job search effort while your bank account drains and opportunities pass you by. Show your teeth from time to time. I did and it didn't kill me. Of course, I haven't seen the pictures yet!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Critical Five

I've mentioned before companies are more inclined to hire by the balance sheet versus by the heart. What does this mean for job seekers? It's critical to focus on how your experience and talents can have a positive influence on an organization's profit margin. Candidates who are able to give a company a clear picture of how hiring them will improve the company's bottom line are going to have the advantage. Although it's a nice plus to be able to emphasize your professionalism, passion for the field, work ethic and credentials, if you aren't tying it in to how the company will benefit you are missing the boat.

So, what should you be focusing on when pitching your skills and abilities to a company? I recommend what I call "The Critical Five."

1. The ability to add business/revenue.
2. The ability to prevent loss of business and/or recapture business.
3. The ability to streamline processes/workloads and reduce expenses for cost savings.
4. The ability to solve a problem that is costing the company money.
5. The ability to add a skill to their environment they may be lacking or light on.

No matter your profession, if you are open minded enough, you can find a way to show how your experience can benefit a company in one or more of these areas. Mentally go through your list of skills and try to come up with a way those skills each translate to helping the bottom line of a potential employer.

For the sake of getting you started, let me throw out a few examples of how to enhance the way you promote yourself keeping "The Critical Five" in mind.

"I'm certified in all Microsoft Office products."

"I'm certified in all Microsoft Office products, which benefits you because I can efficiently navigate the software, format them in the correct way so others can use my work without complication, produce professional looking documents your customers will appreciate and be a free resource to other staff members who may be struggling on the applications."

Do you see how adding a value statement that speaks to the bottom line of the company aids you in the selling process? Let's try another example.

"I have excellent customer service skills."

"My customer service skills are such I am able to build an effective rapport, clarify the true need/expectation, communicate solutions, overcome problems/obstacles, identify additional business potential, secure customer loyalty and inspire referrals to the business."

Speaking to the bottom line of a company accomplishes a few things. For one, it peaks the interest of the decision maker. Secondly, it reaffirms your value in your mind as well as the company's. Finally, it shows that decision maker you truly understand what matters to a company. You get what things businesses need to focus on to succeed in the present and in the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I've Never Had To Look Before

So many talented and skilled individuals are struggling in this current job market. Why? Because they've never had to look for a job before and aren't certain how to navigate this tricky economy. They frequently tell me how, in the past, jobs always came to them. Now they are having to hunt for jobs and it's unfamiliar territory.

My answer to that problem is to make it familiar territory! When you consider the reason most never had to "look" before, it's because they were connected to people in the know who had the power to link them up with opportunities. The proof is in the pudding that finding jobs through connections is much easier than trolling the internet and joining the masses vying for a posted position.

So why is the chain broken now? For some, they've moved and don't have an established network of contacts to work through. For others, they have a network, but those they know currently are out of the loop as a result of the shifts in politics, industry and the economy. In both cases, the solution is the same. The priority is to build a rapport with new people who are more likely to be traveling in circles where opportunity lurks. This doesn't happen by spending countless hours hidden away in your home sitting in front of a computer. It requires a strategic effort and time dedicated to getting out in front of people. News from the business community needs to be followed to identify the industries, professions and individuals with momentum on their side and to find out where they hang out.

There is another reason why someone may not be sought after like they once were. Above, I mentioned how a person's current network may be out of the loop now. What if that's not the case though? It is possible individuals you've known for ages are plugged into opportunities you don't know about. Why wouldn't they be sharing them with you? Perhaps they've known you so long in "XYZ" capacity, their mind isn't allowing them to see you in other roles. It's human nature to file people we know in neat categories. Adding to your current network is always a good thing, but also make the effort to ensure those you've known for ages are aware of how your skills fit the here and now. Few of us are one trick ponies.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Urgent! Must Act Now!

Advertisements and emails tell me everyday to act immediately in order to get in on some amazing opportunity. Of course, the opportunities usually aren't all that amazing. The products or services offered rarely even hit the "I might need this once in a blue moon" spectrum. As much as these messages annoy me, worse are the times I catch myself actually considering something I don't need simply because of the established sense of urgency and importance.

Wouldn't life be perfect if the things truly crucial to our health, happiness, success and well being were promoted in such a fashion? Job seekers stuck waiting for opportunity to come their way would benefit from a call to action. Imagine an email along the lines of "contact Alice today and let her know you are looking for a job because the company she works for will have an opening next Wednesday and you are the perfect fit!" How fantastic would that be?

Interestingly, I find many job seekers already have a sense of urgency in their gut telling them they must do more and do it right away or they'll miss out. They know they need to reach out to as many people as possible, get out and circulate, plug into business news and upgrade skills to increase their odds of success. Their gut telling them to get moving often isn't enough, however. Why? Have all of the external prompts for the meaningless opportunity in our lives left job seekers dependent on them? Are they in limbo waiting for someone else to tell them when and how to do something?

Ignoring that inner voice heightens anxiety during a search. The stress of not having a job is magnified by the knowledge crucial actions needed in order to secure employment quickly aren't happening. It leads to that toxic situation where you're mad at your circumstances and mad at yourself for not doing more to change them.

For those of you reading who have been tuning out your gut and not allowing it to drive you to action, your challenge is to embrace that inner energy. Unlike all of those emails and advertisements attempting to motivate you to do something out of urgency, your gut is more likely to be pointing you in the right direction. Don't fear embracing the things that statistically are more likely to benefit than harm.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tis the Season for Negative Comments

Family gatherings are such a joy for those out of work. There's nothing like the a room full of friends and family members to bring out tons of inquiries on your job search efforts (usually in the form of "got a job yet?"), comments on how bad the economy is, suggestions on what you should be doing differently, and remarks about how you should or shouldn't be spending your money this season. Ahhhhh, comfort food for the soul.

Before you give into the temptation to pour eggnog over the heads of some, keep in mind the intentions of those involved. Most of these people love and care about you. So why are they saying things that beat you down? It could be a few things. For one, they may naturally want to help you and you haven't given them a way to do so. You haven't specifically shared with them connections or ideas they may have access to that would enhance your efforts. If they have any knowledge you are under stress, there is naturally going to be a desire to want to help physically or mentally. If what they are offering in terms of help is off the mark, tell them so in a nice way and suggest alternatives.

Some might say avoiding the topic completely would be best. To accomplish that, you have to first ask yourself what signals have you been giving your friends and family members over the course of time. Has your job search and lack of employment dominated your world to the point it's the only part of yourself you've shared with others freely? Are you so entrenched in the negative people are giving it back to you as a reflex? Often times what people say to us is in response, in some way, to what we've said to them first. People often mirror the actions, demeanor and words of others subconsciously. Before you judge those around you for not letting it go or for continually reminding you how awful things are, replay some of your own words and actions and consider if you've invited this on yourself.

For those who want a more positive experience over the holidays, I have two suggestions. One, come up with strategic ways your friends and family members can help in your job search and use the time with them to plant seeds. If that doesn't interest you, come up with succinct and kind conversation redirects.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Unemployed Have Advantages Too

I promise I'm not nuts when I tell you the unemployed have advantages in the job search process. Yes, employed individuals have the appearance of being in demand and are less likely to receive offers below their true value, but being unemployed has its perks. Let's talk about some of them so those of you clinging to obstacles can refocus a bit.

First and foremost, the employed often have the burden of keeping their job search confidential. That means there are limits to who they can invite into their effort to secure employment. The unemployed aren't bound by the need to be discreet. Many jobs are landed through word of mouth and networking. If you're not working, shout it from the mountain tops. Make sure those you've connected with in the past, personally and professionally, are aware of your search. It could be professional contacts such as former supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, board members, vendors, clients and instructors. Personally, you could reach out to your banker, insurance agent, barber/hair stylist, neighbor, extended family and the like. There are people who know you who are aware of job openings or who could get you connected with those in the know.

Another advantage is availability. There is no need to pick and choose what interviews to pursue. Last minute scheduling isn't an issue. Should the company benefit from an immediate start, it's an option without any concern of burning bridges.

Next, is the ability to dedicate 40+ hours a week to job search. The employed have the responsibilities of their jobs to address in addition to their search. That's no simple task. If the unemployed make their search a full-time commitment and use their time in a strategic and productive way, the advantage is clear. Sitting in front of a computer trolling websites doesn't count, by the way. Too often, this advantage is squandered.

The final example I'll share is the advantage of forced self-reflection. Losing a job is often the catalyst people need to take a hard look at their true interests and abilities. Most of us stay in our professions because it made sense to keep building on a path we chose, or fell into, at a young age. With all of the time in the world to devote to a job search, time can be found to explore dreams and passions in addition to options inline with past experience. Why not go for it and see where you end up?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Buy The Cow?

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? We've heard that before. Usually it's tied to romantic relationships and the quest for commitment. These days some job seekers need to come to terms with the concept professionally.

At a recent round table for job seekers the topic of unpaid internships came up. Heavily experienced individuals were hearing stories about people working for free just to get their foot in the door of companies and wondered if they should consider that option. Check me for a rash. I can feel one coming on.

Unpaid internships are for people with little to no experience who are looking to break into the business world or into a new field. They are mutually beneficial. The intern gains experience and the business has free labor as a payback for them helping them learn the ropes. When a business brings an experienced person on in an unpaid internship, that's not showing someone the ropes. That's exploitation!

An individual with the qualifications to jump right in and do a job for a company should never pimp himself out for free as an intern. Perhaps you could volunteer for something, but allowing it to take on the tone of the company doing some grand favor for you, when you are the one giving, is poor judgment. I suspect it's the job seekers themselves suggesting the arrangement with the hope of standing out.

Those explaining why others were making this decision kept coming back to "the economy." When I hear "the economy" worked into rationale, I want to bang my head against a wall. Yes, we know. The economy is less than grand right now. And yes, there are other job seekers who are making extreme choices in an effort to find work. Perhaps they have to. That doesn't mean everyone is in the same boat. One could choose to follow their lead and cross their fingers, of course. I'd much rather identify those who are finding the paying jobs in their field and emulate their choices.

At the end of the day job seekers have to ask themselves what would they really be getting out of the time they donated to a company? Would using the same time to focus on their job search produce better results? How would it feel if after donating their time in the form of a pseudo internship the company said thanks, goodbye and good luck? I reckon I wouldn't be the only one with a rash at that point.