Friday, January 30, 2015

"So what do you do?" is the new "How do you do?"

I love the inclusiveness of the question "what do you do?" It doesn't alienate students and at-home parents. You can answer with information about the hobby that eats your weekends. But ultimately, people want to know what you do for work.

I sometimes fall into the lazy habit of answering with "I'm a Marketing Consultant". I should know better. Most folks, if they give a rip, will ask me what that means and I explain "I help companies connect with people online.  I help them understand their brand and develop messaging strategies."

But even this answer feels a little boring to me. When I think about how much communication related to business happens online and the huge opportunity for companies to make the most of that dynamic, I get excited. When I think about the times I have conducted a brand study and explained to a company why their clients/customers or job candidates care about them, light bulbs go on. And I get excited.

So when people ask me what I do, I really want to be telling them about what gets me excited to work every day.

Here are some ideas on how to answer the "what do you do?" question. But I think my favorite resources is Simon Sinek. Have I not mentioned the big crush I have on his brain? Yeah, me and about 20 million other people.

His TED Talk is about leaders inspiring action, but I like his framework for explaining why anyone does what they do. You have to figure out your "WHY".

When people ask what you do, they want more than your title; they want to know why it matters. And what drives you to do what you do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Because there aren't enough important things to be paranoid about, there's that keg stand you did that one time

I'm so thankful that social media and cell phones didn't exist when I was in college. I have no idea how much irreparable damage I could have done if I were born two decades later. Even nowadays, I enjoy myself in ways that I don't really want to advertise to potential employers. I mean, I think dancing with the dog is legit exercise, but other people might find that weird. I sing in the car; don't need that showing up on Vine. I might sip a glass of wine while I am getting a facial. Ain't nobody need to see that.

Stuff you might post online to share with a few hundred of your besties could be the exact stuff that keeps you from being pursued for a job. Back when I was recruiting, I refused to search my candidates online. I figured we all have lives outside of work and unless it interferes with someone's ability to get his/her job done (and as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else), I don't really care what you do with your free time. I think it's the reason most tech companies don't do drug testing.

But not all employers/recruiters feel that way. Because I guess some people are looking for reasons to say no? I'm not sure. But there are enough companies out there that care what you do on social media for you to at least be mindful. You might say "well, I wouldn't want to work for them anyway", but keep it mind it might be one recruiter at an otherwise awesome company.

Instead of doing a "clean-up" of your online exposure,  I recommend just approaching your use of social media as if anyone can see what you post, and then checking your privacy options regularly. This kind of thinking has helped me establish some guidelines for myself. For example, I don't talk about my clients online. I try to stay out of heated discussions of politics or religion; not always successful, but I err on the side of human rights which feels like a safe bet (in life, in general). I try not to complain about work (we all have bad days but your bad day diatribe can live on in infamy if you make it public. Besides, it's boring.). And I generally don't post any photos that I wouldn't want to show to my elder relatives...the ones I actually like.

"Others can see this" is always in the back of my mind.

Taking an evening to go on an ego-surfing expedition is a good activity to do from time-to-time as well. It will help you uncover anything connected to you that has been posted by others and will also help you see how public some of the things you posted are. What you shouldn't do is stick your head in the sand (in a literal sense, you definitely should not do this) and hope for the best. If there's stuff out there, at least know about it so you can craft your story. "Well, there's a funny story about that kegstand. I was doing it for charity."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Have an interest. Put it on your resume.

You know all that personal stuff you're not supposed to talk about in the interview? As I  mentioned, the idea of not talking about ANYTHING personal in the interview is total bunk. Companies want to get to know you and what you do away from work says a lot about who you are - potentially a lot of really positive stuff.

One of the things I've done in my work is look at the resumes and LinkedIn profiles of employees to understand trends in hiring - specifically what the common elements are in the backgrounds of folks that get hired. And aside from looking at the obvious stuff like previous company and university, I look at hobbies and other non-work activities.

I can't necessarily explain the correlation between some of these activities and success at work - I mean the connection between folks who study music and the ability to program - what is it? But it's there. Easier to explain is team sports, especially competitive ones, or endurance sports and performance in a corporate environment.

Now no company will ever require a music degree for consideration for a developer role, or participation on athletics - they would miss out on people like me who can't read music and demonstrate a tragic lack of coordination. But including these types of things on your resume point to some positive attributes that you may exhibit.

Another reason to include some of your non-work activities is that companies like to hire people who are passionate about something. As much as the word "passion" makes me want to gag, a person who enthusiastically pursues a hobby may find similar satisfaction from their work. I mean if you geek out away from the office, you probably geek out in the office as well.

Some caveats however: there are some activities that can elicit strong negative feelings and of course, you should try to avoid making people sad with your resume. I'm not a recruiter anymore, so I am not actively making hiring decisions these days, but I can tell you that if someone mentions hunting or taxidermy on their resume, I'm personally grossed out. And so I am distracted from all the presumably good stuff on their resume. Same with things people might see as controversial.

So when you consider putting hobbies and interests on your resume, think about what those activities might say about you and how they might relate to your career. For example, a few of this things I love to do are trapeze and home decorating. The trapeze might suggest that I am comfortable with calculated risk and am developing relationships that require trust; home decorating might suggest creativity and a meticulous nature. So those are definitely things that are reasonable to include on a resume and things I am comfortable discussing in an interview situation.

In the past, when people have asked whether it's OK to include non-work interests on their resume, my consistent, go-to answer is that companies expect people to have a life outside of work. In the case of activities that reinforce the your personal brand, including them on a resume is a great marketing tactic.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The possibility that you will look back on this as one of the best things that's happened to you

When I parted ways with Microsoft, a former co-worker said "All good things must come to an end." His trite declaration really irked me because no matter the circumstances, leaving was hard. Working at Microsoft had become a major component of how I identified myself. Leaving meant mourning that element of my identity.

You don't really realize it when it's happening but you become accustomed to the association between who you are and for whom you work. Somewhere in my 12 years there, I became "Heather at Microsoft". I mean, it was my job to be "Heather at Microsoft." The recognition you receive and the reaction of people is part of the deal; you get used to it. It becomes comfortable to the point that you start to think of yourself the way people introduce you. You are more than what you do. But you rarely give yourself the opportunity to step away and dive into the other aspects of your identity.

When you combine the deep association between your ego and your employer with a need to actually go and do something different, things get complicated. For me, it meant staying in a job that was making me unhappy and offering myself up should another round of layoffs be coming. I was scared to leave (I mean, who would I BE if I wasn't Heather from Microsoft?) and I was miserable staying.

This article explains how I was feeling in so many ways. "My heart wasn't in it anymore. I knew it, but I still couldn't leave."

I suspect that it will take a little bit of time for some folks impacted by the Microsoft layoffs to acknowledge that this is also their story - knowing that there is something else out there that they would love to do, but being afraid to go after it because they are so accustomed to having the word "Microsoft" attached to their identity. And then the layoff happens; painful at first and then a relief and an opportunity to explore.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I find the rules about what not to say in an interview a little too rigid...

...but I am an over-sharer. And I probably think I am funnier than I am.

Seriously, with all of the "do this" and "don't do that" associated with applying and interviewing for a new job, you might start to feel like a robot. Wait, robots don't have feelings. I'm confused.

You can pay attention to lists like this that tell you what not to say in an interview, but don't get so wrapped up in this stuff that you don't show your interviewer who you really are. Because they really do want to know what makes you tick.

For example, the recommendation to avoid "I didn't get along with my boss"...well, sometimes you don't get along with your boss. So if you were to follow that statement with "We had different priorities - I was uncomfortable taking some shortcuts on the security product we were working on and discussed this with my manager who unfortunately took this as a challenge to his authority.  I tried to repair the relationship but he wasn't interested in my opinion after this interaction and I felt I would be better off finding a new company that values customer experience as much as I do." Most interviewers I know would value the honesty and the way this imaginary candidate framed the issue really reflected well on her. Besides, your interviewer might question why your last manager isn't on your list of references.

"I'm really nervous": if there's an elephant in the room, and it makes you feel more comfortable to call it out, then do it.  Unless you are interviewing for something in sales, public speaking or other role where you really can't afford to be nervous in front of people. I mean, jeez, we are human. I don't think there's anything wrong acknowledging your nerves if they are obvious to the other person. You could follow up your statement with: "Guess it's been a while since I've had to interview but I'm sure excited to be here. I love the work you're doing with cloud services."

“Then, while I was at happy hour...”: It's hard to believe that someone has a problem with this statement. I mean don't tell them that you were at happy hour and then ripped your pants on the way home and you just don't remember how. But if you were at happy hour with some clients and ended up closing a deal with them because you took the time to learn about their challenges (over a nice glass of Cab), that's a great insight into your ability to demonstrate empathy for your clients.

So my point is to take every list of dos and don'ts with a grain of salt (plus some tequila and lime if you are the happy hour guy). Use good judgment (your own, preferably) and think about how what you say impacts peoples' impression of you as a potential employee. But let that personality shine through too. They aren't hiring a robot.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How not to ask for help from a network connection

Looking at my LinkedIn inbox is guaranteed to produce a few "what the?" moments. Really, without fail.

If you've been job searching and/or networking for any period of time, you have probably heard that you should give before you take; offer assistance before you request it. But with massive and diverse social networks, you can't always provide something of value to each person before you need to ask one of them for help. It's cool...most people get it.

But you should, at the very least, make it easy for the people you ask for help to help you. Here's a scenario:

I get a LinkedIn message from someone who is looking for her next position. She starts out by thanking me for being a contact, then provides a pretty long paragraph on her recent responsibilities. The next paragraph is about the titles and roles that she is interested in pursuing. Third paragraph, she starts talking about a technology space that exists and refers to the TV show I can see it on (I don't watch this show and I don't know anyone who does). Next paragraph, more about this technology and the fact that her network is mostly local. Next paragraph, she is asking me if I can direct her to someone who works with this technology - not anyone specifically, just "someone".

So here is the problem: I had to read almost a whole page before I could tell what she was asking me for help with. Second, she asks me to direct her to anyone I might  know working in this (very) niche technology space when she could have searched my network via LinkedIn herself. Third, by the end of the mail, I can't tell whether she is looking for a job or a sales lead.

I always appreciate it when the person asking for my help has taken the time to do some research and is very clear about what they are asking for. For example, if she sent me an email that said she is looking for a new position in this technology space and noticed that Joe Smith in my network works for a company involved in this space, and then requested an introduction, I would have complied immediately. Instead, I got a rambling email that expects me to do the legwork of figuring out who I know in this space. There's only a certain amount of legwork that one can expect a total stranger to do and it's not much.

So unfortunately, this LinkedIn message gets deleted. A few tips for reaching out to someone in your LinkedIn network:

  • Be brief
  • Be clear (about what you are asking for and get to the point quickly)
  • Be specific - if there's work to be done to determine the specific request you are making (for example, the names of people you would like to be referred to), then you are the doer

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Somewhere between the last job and the next job: some time off

In the past, I'd wondered what it would be like to be European or an American who could take a month off, and then post sunny pictures of my adventures on Facebook to make all my friends jealous. I find it interesting that there are so many Millenials living at home because that was not an option in my family. So when I launched my career smack in the middle of a recession, I got to experience the humbling "scraping together the rent" ritual while I was hostessing at the Cheesecake Factory and then managing a small retail store. My point is, since I graduated from college, I have never not worked. So I always found something mysterious about the folks that somehow figured out how to take extended time off. My recession-era pay rate wasn't going to make that a reality and I am only European by ancestry. I have lost vacation days due to not using them.

Leaving Microsoft and starting my own business was the closest I felt like I would come to taking extended time off; I mean, I wasn't waking up M-F and going to someone else's office. And in fact, the first two weeks post-borg, I contemplated my future while I organized stuff around the house and had deep thoughts about whether I was really going to work for myself (and if so, what would it look like?).  This was valuable time for me and it served a purpose: I needed to pause and think about what I wanted out of the next phase of my career. I was able to disconnect from the mindset of "career development", moving up and performance reviews and decide that *I* was the person I needed to please.

This thinking got me to the point where I knew I wanted to do something creative, I never wanted to have an artificial career development conversation again and that at the end of the day (or really, at the beginning of the day), I wanted to be excited to go to work because I was doing something that made me happy. Those are my career qualifications and what led me to consulting. My career plans are pretty fluid at this point, knowing that a number of different work scenarios could meet my need.

I will admit that I have not been happy every single day of my new consulting career - I have had to fire clients and have made mistakes that resulted in my own suffering (and now I practically meditate on every statement of work before I send it off). But there's a huge difference between how I feel now and how I felt earlier in my career, because I took the time to figure out what was important to me. If that next great thing came along, I wanted to know to say yes to it and more importantly, to say no to the thing that was not going to make me happy.

As I write this, it's the first Monday that a number of Microsoft alumni are not hopping into their cars (or whatever) and headed to work. I know Microsoft isn't an environment that encourages you to pause and reflect, to ground yourself. But you don't work there any more. Over the next months, you'll find yourself re-evaluating a number of things you thought to be true about work. You'll be evaluating your own  professional worth. I can't think of a better time to stop and breathe.

Spend some time outside (I like walking Green Lake), play with your dog, build a blanket-fort with your kids. Step away from the computer. I'm not talking about for an afternoon...seriously turn that mofo off. Give yourself a couple of weeks (if you can) to detox.

For inspiration, here's an excerpt from my goodbye email that has some ideas. The post was titled "Heather Hamilton Has Left the Building"

After 12 years at Microsoft, I’m turning my badge in. Which is unfortunate. Because that badge picture is *awesome*. In 1999, I had no idea I was joining a company that would keep me challenged every day. And it’s been over a decade of awesomesauce. I’ve never taken more than two weeks off at a time…and I think I’ve only done that twice. So I am really excited to be able to step away. Full stop.

You are the people that have made my experience full of fun. And so I thought that instead of a dramatic email, I’d tell you what my immediate plans involve:

1) Naps. Lots of them. The kind where you wake up and wonder where your husband is and then you realize that you are totally not married.
2) Cocktails at lunch. The number of cocktails is unclear. I’ll have to let you know.
3) Trapeze. No, I’m not joining the circus. I checked with them and they won’t have me. I’ll be trying to change their minds. Who doesn’t love the smell of sweat and elephants? No, seriously. Who? Or whom?
4) Motorcycle riding. Man, my mid-life crisis just got good. If you see me on the road, I recommend you give me a wide berth.  I’ll be the one on the Yamaha wearing lip gloss.
5) Writing. Oh how I miss it. I may try to pry a book out of my puny brain. It’s been rattling around in there. It’s not fun to rattle. It makes dating very difficult.
6) Oversharing.
7) Labeling EVERYTHING. Did you know that those labels are waterproof?
8) Updating Facebook on what I had for lunch. Posting pictures of kitties. Mocking celebrities. Ticking off my family.
9) Blogging…with swear words.
10) Wordament word-offs. Dance-central dance-offs. Taco trucks.

 Please take some time to recharge and evaluate what comes next - what is going to make you truly happy. And develop your own list of things to do now that you have this opportunity to take a little time off. I'm happy to report that I was ten for ten on my list and am actually doing work that makes me happy.