Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Search for Your Next Job

This slideshow covers the very practical steps you should take to land your next job quickly.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Guest is God

After having lived and worked in India for nearly five years, and now working and living back in the U.S., there is one Indian cultural practice I would like to import: the value imputed to guests.

In most crowded, bustling cities of the world, people behave indifferently to the strangers around them. If one were to greet strangers in a city of 7 million, he would never get anything else accomplished. India is no different. As odd-looking foreigners, my family was often the object of stares or even shock from some individuals who hadn't had much in-person exposure to outsiders.

There was a stark contrast, though, when we went from being a "stranger" to a "guest." As guests in someone's home or at a family event, such as a wedding or even a funeral, we were treated with honor, served food first, entertained and engaged by relatives of our host, and given prominent seats. Some of our friends even asked their grandmother to move and insisted that I sit down in a chair near the wedding ceremony while most other guests stood. We were always grateful to be treated with such kindness and were sure to express our thanks and reciprocated this behavior to the best of our foreign ability whenever an Indian guest visited our home there.

We learned that, when surrounded by strangers and feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, such as when negotiations with a taxi driver weren't going well, we needed to recategorize ourselves in the minds of the crowd around us in order to make progress. If I was haggling with a string of taxi drivers over the price of a trip across town, I simply needed to ask another pedestrian for directions and usually that total stranger would volunteer to negotiate with a taxi driver in my behalf. I went from being a stranger, and thus treated by other people as just part of the scenery, to being a guest. Therefore someone whose name I didn't even know would spend five or ten minutes explaining the best route to get somewhere, getting me a good price from a taxi driver to get there, and then cautioning me about how to ensure I was not going to be taken advantage of.

The phrase I often heard when Indians were discussing the honored status awarded to guests was, "Guest Is God," which I have since learned is from a Hindu scripture and may be best understood as an admonition for someone who aspires to be virtuous: "be the kind of person for whom the guest is God," alongside treating one's mother, father, and teacher as God as well.

I would like to convince businesspeople in America that treating guests, or in their more specific case, customers, as if they were God himself would be a "best practice" when it comes to customer service, product development, manufacturing processes, cost control, and marketing. Unfortunately, modern Western business practices center around the honored place of the shareholder, not the value of the customer or of any other stakeholder (like employees or local communities). There are many exceptions - companies who want to trade goods or services at a reasonable profit - but the vast majority of managers, executives, and administrators have nothing like "Guest Is God" in their value system, but rather they repeat the daily mantra, "Maximize Shareholder Value."

What do you think - how should the classic dilemma between the value of the customer and the value of the stock be settled?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Linking In to a Career

It's important to, at the very least, have a LinkedIn account and manage your brand there well when you're a professional on the job hunt, and connect to all the people you've ever met. Here's an article about using LinkedIn to promote your business or yourself. Here's another article about how to get started on LinkedIn including some information on using it as a job search tool.

Here's my advice for using LinkedIn as a job hunting tool based on what I've been doing, which I gleaned from lots of advice from other people:

First, use the "jobs" tab. Just like any other job search website, LinkedIn has job listings that you can narrow down by location, description, etc. You can save your search the first time, and then it's only two clicks to use the same search terms again. Many companies only list their jobs on LinkedIn, and lots of them allow you to submit your LinkedIn profile in the online application process.

Second, join "groups" that connect you to other professionals with similar experience and interests. There are groups for alumni of various colleges or programs, groups for holders of certificates and certifications, groups based on locality, hobbies, and just about anything else you can think of. Find other professionals in your career field or in your vicinity with these groups. The groups often have new discussions posted daily by members where you can interact, and often there are recruiters who post jobs in the groups instead of listing it on LinkedIn's official "jobs" tab. Seeing a job in groups is helpful because you can often send a message to the recruiter after you submit your application. In groups, you can also start your own discussions, which can be as simple as posing a question to the group, linking to an interesting article that fits the group's interests, or linking to your own blog entry (like I do).

Third, research companies that you're pursuing. This is especially good for finding connections in specific companies - your own contacts, but also second and third-level connections or fellow members of groups. If you have connections at a company, send a message or email them asking them for advice on the company: what's is the corporate culture and work environment like? What is the interview process like? Do they have any advice or recommendations for a job hunter like yourself? If the connection is second-level, then send a message to your first-level mutual connection asking for an introduction - I do NOT recommend using LinkedIn's built-in "get an introduction" feature; instead, message or email your own connection, explain that you're looking at this particular company and saw that they know someone who works there, and ask for an introduction.

If you have a LinkedIn Premium Job-Seeker Account, you can also send "InMail" to people to whom you have no connection, up to five a month. The cool thing is that LinkedIn guarantees a response - if the person you contact doesn't respond within two weeks, LinkedIn credits you with another InMail. This allows you to contact recruiters, hiring managers, or members of departments at your targeted company, asking them for their input on your pursuit of the company. Remember to make your inquiries about their advice to you, not just a request to do some action in your behalf.

LinkedIn is just a platform, but there's lots of great information there about the companies you're pursuing and lots of opportunity to make connections that may be helpful.

How do you use LinkedIn?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tweeting Into A Career

Someone on LinkedIn asked me: if I tweet links to articles and blogs, to whom will I tweet? How do I get people to follow me on Twitter?

That's a great question. Most of us are not celebrities and creating a Twitter account does not instantly gain us a following. If you haven't used Twitter yet, you may not know where to start. Or if you're familiar with the platform, you may be unsure how to get people to pay attention to what you're saying.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social network wherein people "tweet" messages, quotes, and links, all in 180 characters or less. It is useful if you are attempting to increase awareness of your "brand" - i.e., your professional reputation - in hopes of connecting to customers, clients, or a new job. It can also be fun.

When you sign up, you create a profile that includes a username, picture, an autobiographical blurb, and your location. You can make your account public, so that anyone can see what you write, or private, so that only people you approve can read your tweets. If you're using Twitter to promote yourself, I recommend being public.

How Do I Get Followers?

First, go follow other users. Search Twitter for friends, family, politicians, celebrities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Once you find the person/entity for whom you're searching, "follow" them. Then, look through that users' "followers" (Twitter users who are following the user in question) and "following" (list of Twitter users that the user in question is following). Follow some of them. There are automated ways to do find users to follow - for instance, my Android phone finds the Twitter accounts of my Google contacts, Facebook friends, and LinkedIn connections for me - but the point is to follow lots of people.

Most Twitter users will receive a notification when they get a new follower (this is a feature you can turn on or off). They will then come look at your Twitter profile and they might follow you. Make sure that you provide a link to your Twitter profile to your other social networks and blog readers.

From that point on, getting followers is all about your tweets.

On your Twitter homepage, the tweets of those you follow line up for your attention in real time. If you see something you like, "retweet" it. If you see something you want to comment on, "reply" to it with your own tweet of 180 characters or less. Along the right column, Twitter provides you with a list of "trends" - you can click on one to participate in the conversation. You can also add a "hashtag" (e.g. #ILoveKittens) onto the end of your tweets to signify the subject matter of the tweet, and thus the "trending topic" to which you're adding. Recommend other Twitter users, especially on "Follow Friday", when people often tweet the usernames of several Twitter users they recommend followed by the hashtag #FollowFriday or #FF.Any of this activity may gain you new followers.

I try to make sure that my tweets aren't always selfish: I retweet lots of other people's content and share links to new articles and blogs that my followers might find interesting. If I have a new blog entry of my own, I'll tweet a link to it once. If I am promoting an event, I will tweet a link to the information once a day or if information on the event changes.

I have seen other Twitter users send a direct tweet to someone with lots of followers with the request "please retweet" or "please RT", which the popular user sometimes does. Make sure if you do this that you ask a user who will have a genuine interest in your content and who will want his/her followers to see it. If you abuse this, then it will lose its effectiveness.

This is where my advice on Twitter must end because, as much as I enjoy it, I'm still learning how to promote my brand and my content on Twitter. Do you have any other ideas on how to use Twitter to promote yourself effectively?

Next time, I'll go more in depth on how to use LinkedIn for your job search, beyond just branding.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Year of Job Hunting, part 3

In part 1, I shared my thoughts on the frustrations and shortfalls of the online career-search process.
In part 2, I gave the basics for managing one's online brand.

3. Get Out There

How should you network effectively?

First, focus on other people instead of on your job search. Adopt the attitude of a learner. Ask questions that draw out the other person's stories and advice, e.g. "Where are you from?" "What do you do?" "What led you to get into that industry?" "What does your day-to-day look like in that job?" If you're truly focused on the other person, you may even be able to help them - connecting them to another person, organization, or resource.Your focus on their needs, story, and advice will be reciprocated as they find out what you're looking for, what you are lacking, and then they will offer what they can to help, both by giving you information and introducing you to their network.

Second, you have to go meet some new people. Whether you're extroverted or introverted, outgoing or shy, it can be difficult to figure out how to meet the right kind of people who can help you find a great new position. Here are my suggestions:

A. Volunteer: You create a win-win situation by volunteering at a non-profit organization. Most nonprofits could use more volunteers, even if it's only a couple hours a week. The benefit to you is that you get to exercise your professional skills and stay fresh, you get to strengthen your resume, and you get to meet other people with a common interest who may have a connection that will lead to a job opportunity.

B. Find organized networking for job-seekers: In St. Louis, I'm part of GO! Network, a nonprofit organization that provides training and networking opportunities for professionals in career transition. In most cities, there are also networking groups that host events with admission fees or membership fees; some of those allow you to come for free the first time. You have to determine your budget for networking and stick to it.

C. Join a professional organization: If you want a job in a specific field, join an organization that corresponds to that specialty. Toastmasters, The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), The International Society of Performance Improvement (ISPI), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators are examples of professional organizations that have local chapters you can join. There are organizations for just about every specialty you can think of. Their events usually have a structured program where you actually might learn something job-related, and you will get to interact with people in your field who may be able to recommend further resume-boosting trainings or people you should meet.

D. Treat every occasion like it could lead to a job: Running to the grocery store or coffee shop? Make sure your appearance doesn't detract from your credibility. You also need business cards with your name, contact information, your LinkedIn profile URL, and a few snippets about your expertise. Carry a few of these with you wherever you go just in case, but only give them to people who seem genuinely interested in getting in touch with you or passing along your information to one of their contacts.

Finally, follow-up. Successful networking is about getting input from a person, then following up on that input. If someone tells you they will make an introduction for you, then take advantage of that offer. If they invite you to come along to a conference or group meeting, then go. If they recommend a resource, then see if it's within your budget to do so. If they point you towards a training program or certification to pursue, then look seriously at that option. Even if you don't end up ultimately pursuing their advice, treat it with respect and show your gratitude for their investment of time and energy in meeting with you or responding to your inquiry.

What are your other ideas for networking successfully? How has networking worked for you?

A Year of Job Hunting, part 2

Part 1 is here.

How does one network well? If your previous job wasn't in sales or fundraising, networking may be one of your underdeveloped skills. Here's my advice:

2. Get Social!

You may have heard the stories of people who got themselves fired, lost a client, or had their job offer rescinded because of what they posted on internet social networking platforms. Being mean, complaining, or over-sharing on an online social network is foolish because A) it's very difficult to lock down access to only the few individuals who want to be alerted every time your brain synapses fire, and B) the internet is forever: what you say now could come back to haunt you in five or ten years.

On the other hand, giving the internet the silent treatment ends up sending a glaring message of its own. People who can't be found on facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter are perceived to be technologically challenged. Being concerned about getting your identity stolen is good - just use healthy skepticism and make sure all your passwords are not guessable based on your personal information.

You can show your great combination of technical competency and communicative self-control by managing your online social networking well. This is part of managing your personal brand and professional reputation.

I am someone who has "authenticity" very high in my mix of values. I like honesty and openness. So when I first heard someone talking about managing their personal brand, I rolled my eyes and scoffed. However, I use this phrase to mean "helping people's perception of your motives and personality correspond accurately to your real motives and personality." Of course, you can manage your brand to hide the real you - but the truth will out eventually.

As a job seeker, use the online social networks as a tool in your job search. They are not ways to pass the time in between submitting job applications. In its most basic use, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with other professionals who could help you land a job and it shows potential employers your professionalism. At its most basic, facebook allows you to connect with old friends and extended family, and also can bring your job hunt back to the forefront of your friends' minds - they have a vague recollection that you were looking for a job awhile back, but a status update every couple weeks about your job hunt will remind them to keep their eyes and ears open for job opportunities for you. At its most basic, Twitter allows you to help publicize news stories and social initiatives that matter to you and tells recruiters how well-rounded you are. There are many other social networks, but these are the big three right now.

If you say something controversial on the web, make sure you are okay with the consequences: being eliminated from potential job offerings by companies who are managing their corporate brand image. If you try to be facetious, sarcastic, or hyperbolic in status updates, make sure that a total stranger would see that you're not serious. It would be better to add, "Just kidding!" to the end of a post than to lose a job offer because you were misunderstood.

When I was in college, I was a Resident Assistant, which basically meant that it was my job to keep everyone on my floor of the dormitory living in peace and harmony and following the college's rules. Since I thought that sarcasm and harshness were hilarious, I spoke to the other residents the way I wanted to be talked to: by being mean. "Turn down your stereo, are you stupid or something?!" Ha ha, that's funny to everyone, right? Nope. Turns out, most the guys who didn't know me before I was an R.A. thought that I was just a bad person who enjoyed making other people feel bad. Once I figured out that my message wasn't being received as intended, I learned how to communicate better by taking the other person's assumptions and preferences into account. For some residents, I could be sarcastic and jokey as I told them to quiet down, for others I needed to be straightforward and respectful. In the same way, if we post a status update, retweet something a celebrity said, or link to a news article, our intentions can easily be misinterpreted if we don't take our audience's assumptions into consideration.

One of my professors in college called this idea, "the locus of control." We don't take responsibility for our own communication (or for our time management or other decisions) and instead blame other people when something goes wrong. Instead, realize that the locus of control for our lives is, for the most part, in ourselves. Take control of how other people, especially recruiters and hiring managers, see you by managing your brand on social networks.

What do you think? Do you have any strategies for being interpreted the way you intend or managing your brand online?

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Year of Job Hunting, part 1

It was October 19th, 2010, when I returned to America. I had over four years experience living and working overseas and knew that my experience and skills would be in demand, even though the job market was tough. 

A year after returning, I've learned some lessons about what doesn't work and I have some opinions about what does work. In this series of posts, I'll tell you what I've tried, what false expectations I've had, and what I'm doing now. Hopefully you can take something away from it to use in your own job search or to pass along to a friend in the hunt.

1. Don't Send Resumes Into The Black Hole
The tendency of most corporate job seekers is, I think, to treat the job hunt itself like a full-time job (which is good) by sitting in their home office or local WiFi-enabled coffee shop, finding job postings on websites like Indeed, Career Builder, and Monster, and applying for those jobs (which is not so good). They do this for six to eight hours a day, five days a week. Their underlying assumption is that because they have the requisite education, experience, and skill set for these jobs, the hiring managers at those companies will see their resumes and will call them for an interview. HR managers also trust that the online systems are filtering out unqualified applicants and forwarding qualified applicants to the recruiters. Unfortunately, applicants and HR managers have put too much trust in these online application systems.

While the above-mentioned systems ensure that busy recruiters and hiring managers don't waste all their time looking at hundreds of resumes one-by-one, they weed a lot of good out with the bad. 

These recruitment systems have actually spawned a new industry: resume-writing. While it may have existed before, it has certainly taken off now. I met one manager at Walmart corporate headquarters who paid $700 to a resume-writing expert to turn his real skills and experience into a properly-worded document, and then to adapt that document to match a specific job description. The resume that the applicant put together had the same basic information as the one put together by the resume expert; the difference was which key words were used. The applicant got through the application-filtering algorithms by outsourcing his resume writing. Only then did a recruiter look at his resume and decide if he was worthy of a phone screening. Based on what I've heard since then, $700 for this resume-writing service is a good bargain - which means this manager really is well-suited to Walmart's objective of providing Everyday Low Prices.

I've heard statistics tossed around that 5-20% of job seekers get their jobs by responding to online job listings and applying through automated systems. The other 80-95% of people who get jobs get them by a personal connection to someone in the company that hired them. The issue for job seekers is therefore how to invest our time and energy in activities that actually lead to getting hired. The answer, of course, is, "Network!" Which begs the question, "How?" I'll start answering the "How?" question in my next post.

What do you think about online job application systems for professional-level jobs? Did you get a job through one? Have you been frustrated during your job search or are you an HR manager frustrated by the pools of applicants you're getting?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bowl-A-Thon at Olivette Lanes

GO! Network St. Louis is an organization that provides training and connections for in-transition mid-level professionals as they seek to get back to work. I'm a part of GO! Network because I'm an "in-transition professional", and they have helped me a ton as I've navigated the world of unemployment. They're a non-profit organization and provide all their services for free to anyone who wants help.

Saturday, November 12th, 2011, from 1PM-3PM, they're having their First Annual Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser at Olivette Lanes in St. Louis. It's $10 per bowler which includes 2 hours of bowling and shoe rental. They'll have other games, prizes, a silent auction on some cool stuff, and a 50/50 raffle. The owner/manager of Olivette Lanes is donating the two hours of bowling and shoe rentals, and bowlers can find sponsors to help GO! Network get the funding it needs to continue offering free services to in-transition professionals like me. Check it out!