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.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fifty recommendations from hiring managers

I like these recommendations except the one that says it's OK to mention that the Cincinnati Zoo is in "(literally)" in your backyard. Because NOT LITERALLY! I was in line at Target a few weeks ago and the teenager behind me in line was telling her friend that the entry for "literally" in the dictionary was adjusted to also define it as "figuratively". Then I realized that her father is probably like mine and likes to tell stupid jokes like that in the hope that he can get you to actually pull out the dictionary to look it up. Mine had be convinced that root beer is made out of roots. I investigated (1976 sans internet). Anyway.

A lot of times folks, especially those that have been looking for a little while, think that applying for jobs is a numbers game. It seems like that sometimes because you feel like once you have submitted that resume, you surrender all control. It doesn't really have to be that way. Few people actually tweak their resume to the job for which they are applying. In many cases it's a missed opportunity, especially if you are making a career change. I was always impressed when a candidate referenced the company or title of the job in their objective. Why? Because hardly anyone does this. Because it shows me that they care about this particular role and they aren't just slinging their resume around online.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Managing your online job search activity

I was just about to tell you that I am a fan of Excel spreadsheet when it comes to tracking job search activity. But then I wondered: is anyone really a "fan" of Excel spreadsheets, at least anyone who isn't in a quant career? What I am really a fan of is organizing and tracking job search activity: making sure you aren't duplicating efforts (gee, this job description looks familiar...did I already apply for this?) and following up appropriately. Managing a job search, you become aware of how little control you have over things moving forward with any particular opportunity. The tracking helps you feel a little more like you are in the drivers' seat.

Here's a post from Glassdoor with some recommendations and tools to help you manage your process.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Use your words wisely in an interview: what to say

King 5 just posted a video on what to say in an interview. It's not as easy as just answering the questions you are asked. You should have an agenda; a few key things you want to get across in the interview. Bob Rosner has some good tips, despite the awkward prompts from the anchors:

What recruiters are thinking when they are looking at your resume (and wish you knew)

Image Courtesy of John Massie, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
It would be nice if recruiters spent as much time reading resumes as candidates spend writing them. But it just can't work that way. If it did, nobody would get hired. Like ever.

Recruiters will spend the least amount of time possible reading a resume before they get to a decision on whether to engage the candidate. If something on the resume screams "nope, not the one!", it's time to move on to another resume. Recruiters are looking for quality but they also have to deal with quantity. Fact.

Because of this, you need the right stuff on your resume and you need to put it in just the right places. This post on TheMuse explains the resume tips they wished every candidate followed.

TL;DR version:

  1. Relevant experience, education and skills go front-and-center (I say: lead with the education if you have 5 years or less experience and at least a bachelor's degree)
  2. Desired career changes should be explained in an objective statement (I say: you can explain it in detail in a cover letter; keep it brief in the objective)
  3. Format your resume for easy skimming (I say: focus on fonts and headings, no tables or columns)
  4. Make sure your resume makes sense to folks less-technical than the hiring manager (recruiters)
  5. Check your contact info for accuracy (I say: and take it out of the header or it disappears when your resume gets scanned)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reverse engineering your job search

Starting a job search includes such enviable tasks as updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, fearing change and trying on old suits. That's some rip-roaring fun right there! It's also an emotional process; I don't care who are, it is. So it's easy to get all caught up in this activity and thoughts and feelings and stuff and plod along on your job search the way so-and-so told you to. You know, apply to jobs online...reach out to your network... etcetera.

 But how do you really know what will be successful? Maybe you've polled your friends and asked your cousin, the recruiter. It's hard to say what's going to work for you. One thing you could do, is reverse engineer the recruiting process; figure out what recruiters are doing to find people and then be where they are looking. Be findable and proactive.

Recruiters are a chatty bunch, for better or worse. I'm an introvert, so you can just imagine how much fun I had at conferences and such. Networking events still give me hives and, invariably, a cold.

Back in the naughts, while I was blogging away, trying to convince folks that Microsoft wasn't nearly as evil as they'd heard, there were scores of other recruiters blogging about recruiting, to other recruiters. The interwebs are lousy with the recruiting blogs. Many a recruiter tried to make a name for themselves with lengthy posts detailing their search techniques. Some of them were actually really good.

You can find recruiting blogs from experts in the art of search and you can find them from the average corporate recruiter looking to build their network or their resume. Maybe target your search to the types of recruiters you most want to be in touch with. Here are a few links to get you started:

Elaine Wherry's blog post: The Recruiter Honeypot
Elaine Wherry is one of the founders of Meebo. This post is several years old but I think her points are still valid. A couple of key take-aways:

1) LinkedIn is a default source for recruiters, so you need to be there.
2) If you are interested in a start-up, consider looking for external (agency) recruiters (my tip: find recruiters that use the word "start-up" on their LinkedIn profile)

What I wouldn't recommend is creating a fake profile like Elaine did. Great for investigation but definitely not part of a search strategy.

Fistful of Talent
I really like recruiters with a sense of humor. FOT has a bunch of really experienced folks blogging about everything related to recruiting. At the bottom of the home page, you'll find a search box. Recruiters refer to the process of finding talent as "sourcing" so that might be a good keyword to start with.  Remember, these are recruiters talking to recruiters.

Boolean Black Belt
This is a blog about Boolean search - all recruiters use it - and knowing how will help you craft a resume, profile or blog that's super findable.

For more, just search "best recruiting blogs". Try searching for recruiting blogs that mention the names of companies you want to work for, industries you work in, etc. Get into the mindset of recruiters and work backward.

Monday, October 20, 2014

First impressions

A lot of interviewing advice sounds trivial...what you should wear, etc. But there's all that talk about the importance of first impressions. And as much as it sounds like a bunch of poppycock, it matters.

At the end of the day, your next employer is going to mostly hire you for your skills. And your ability to do the job should come through loud and clear in the interview. But unfortunately, a lot of other stuff-- stuff that shouldn't be important-- is going to be evaluated in the interview. Sometimes, the interviewer won't even be aware that they are evaluating these things. So you want to make sure you aren't negatively impacting your chances by doing some dumb stuff you aren't even aware you are doing.

Take fidgeting, for example. The interviewer may hardly notice your foot tapping, yet somehow leave your conversation with the sense the you were nervous or uncomfortable. Totally understandable in an interview to be either of those things. But of course, you'd rather not come across that way. And all those little body language signals and verbal tics can add up to a less than polished presentation.

I'm not saying this to freak you out, because I know that's not going to make interviewing any less nerve-wracking (I hate it too). I'm just proposing that you spend significant time practicing your interviews. Do it with a friend or by yourself. Answer the questions in the mirror. Do what you have to do. It will improve your confidence going into the interview and help you work out your posture issues.

Here's an infographic with ideas of things to focus on (including EVEN MOAR interview questions!).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moar questions to ask during the job interview

I recently posted about questions to ask during your interview, you know, when the other person says (invariably) "do you have any questions for me?"

Well I have more questions to share, courtesy of Jerome Ternynck. What I really like about these questions ("What would I be doing that makes your job easier?") is that they really help the interviewer picture you in the job. Plus they show that you're focused on performing, not just on getting the position. And they will turn that uncomfortable volleying of questions and answers into an actual conversation.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Words that are junking up your cover letter

Fast Company's Samantha Cole posted about the words that make your cover letter sad.

I am an offender of the really/very tic. Like often. Really often.

I'm not always a fan of the cover letter in general. It's not always necessary. I'm not sure that it's even frequently necessary as most of the time you should be creating relationships that allow you to forward on a resume without such a formal conversation starter. But Samantha's recommendations are good ones for any kind of writing related to your job search so apply these tips to your resume.

A few more words I recommend avoiding:

"Perusal" - this word is not commonly used in our modern American English so seeing it on a resume always jumps out at me.

"Til Date" - this doesn't even make sense. Aside from the fact that 'til is a contraction (requiring that apostrophe), the word date is used in place of "today". I prefer "Current"

"Helped", "worked on", "assisted" - weak verbs that lack ownership. Try "partnered" or "collaborated" and throw in some "owned" and "led" where you can

And also, keep in mind that long cover letters won't be read. I'd even bet that most cover letters aren't read. Anyway, keep it short and highlight the information that is most important to the audience on the receiving end of that communication. In the case of the cover letter, that's the fact that you are a candidate for the position (if it's for a specific position, make that clear) and what you do ("A Program Manager with a background in distributed systems). I'd also recommend demonstrating some knowledge of the background of the person to whom you address the letter (if it's to a specific person and it's someone you don't already know); something along the lines of "I noticed that you are leading ABC Company's open source initiative and I'm interested in exploring opportunities with your team". And a little sprinkle of company knowledge helps too. Something like "I understand your company is expanding it's development team in Seattle."

You can also use a cover letter to clarify any questions that might arise on a resume. For example, you can use it to explain a recent gap in employment or the reason you are making a career change.

And if you feel all grumpy and annoyed when you are writing your cover letter (and resume), just remember that nobody likes to write these things (I mean, I am seeing an ad for tequila on the Fast Company article and that can't be unintentional). Crank it out and then have friends or colleagues read it and provide feedback. Don't expect to have it perfect the first time you sit down to work on it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Why do you want to work here?"

When interviewing, there's a fine balance between positioning yourself as an in-demand candidate, worthy of the company's every effort to woo, and expressing your enthusiasm for the company and the work they do. When I was recruiting, I would sometimes see interview feedback along this lines of "I'm  not sure s/he actually wants to work here." It's important to companies that the people they bring in really want to be there. Folks who don't will offer limited performance and can be a drag on morale.

I've also had candidates who have told me "I don't care what kind of work I have to do to get into (company), I will do it. I really, really want to work there." Um,no. That doesn't really make me feel good about you as a candidate. Especially since I never hired in the entry-level space. I was trying to hire people who are talented and recruited by other companies but who chose my company because we offered them the best opportunities.

So interviewees need to think about the inevitable question "why do you want to work here?" and have an answer that expresses appropriate enthusiasm while still acknowledging that they have options.

I like to pick out elements of the company vision that appeal to me and then identify some attributes of the actual work that will fit well with my interests and career goals. That way, I can show that I've done my homework on the company and am interested, but also leaves open the possibility that other companies could attract my interest as well. It also helps them think of me as a good investment in both the short term (general work enthusiasm) and long term (agreement with company vision).

The Muse published a post that helps you prepare to answer this question. One point of disagreement I have with this post is the part about viewing the company's website being enough research to determine why you want to work there. Don't just spit a company's marketing back at them. Do broader searches online and develop a point of view on their direction - not one that they fed to you.

And by the way, your answer to "why do you want to work here"should definitely not include the words "free food". You can keep that little nugget to yourself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Three step process for answering questions

Yesterday I wrote about the STAR formula for answering questions about your background; you explain the situation, the task required, the action you took and the result. Super helpful in giving a little structure and bringing your interviewer with you on your journey.

But what about the behavioral interview questions? Or the business challenges the company you are interviewing with is facing - the ones you are asked your opinion on in the interview? You could certainly use the STAR formula adapting it slightly because you are making a recommendation, not recounting a past scenario. An alternative is the A,B,C approach. I swear I'm not trolling the web for question answering solutions that employ acronyms. This just showed up in my feed today.

Whenever I hear advice, I evaluate whether I think it's good, but also whether the particular style proposed really works for me. So maybe another question-answering framework is helpful to you.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What successful interviewees do

I'm a fan of advice that helps you break down a challenge into manageable parts. Aside from being a valuable life skill, this approach helps make problems smaller and reduce the anxiety around them. Anyone else up for a little anxiety reduction? I mean, like interview anxiety reduction.

Minal Mehta posted on LinkedIn today with some interview advice for job seekers and I really like what she had to say. Key take-aways:

1) Do research to identify the intersection of your skills and the position requirements and craft ready-to-go stories around those attributes. I like the concept of working backward from what the company would see as a good fit for the position.
2) Structure your answers using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) formula to draw your interviewer into your story.

You can read the article here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The fine line betwixt interview confidence and outright jerkiness

Does anyone enjoy interviewing?  Seriously, anyone? Even great performers can feel a twinge of nerves and perhaps an urge to overcompensate. Years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to come off as confident-not-cocky in an interview. You can read the whole thing if you want to know more about my since-deceased dog or witness my lack of an editorial process, but here are is an excerpt with the big take-aways:

1) Be cautious of matching your interviewer's level of confidence. You may have heard about mirroring behaviors and while I think that demonstrating that you can fit well into a culture is important, consider that you are being tested. It's a pretty unsophisticated interviewer that conducts an interview session as Q&A without using some "tactics". For example, one tactic could be to test a candidate's composure by regularly interrupting them during their answers. It may not make the candidate love the interviewer, but it will give the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate how they may handle challenging interpersonal situations. Anyway, keep this in mind when you are interviewing. Sometimes a question is not just a question. Sometimes a "Wow, that's an amazing accomplishment. Who else was involved?" is not as simple as it sounds.

2) Always think about why the interviewer is asking what they are asking. When I have been the interviewee in the past, I have done this by anticipating potential questions, writing them down, deciphering their intent and creating a brief elevator pitch of an answer. The best example of this is the "greatest weakness" question. If you think that the interviewer is simply curious as to whether your weakness is significant enough not to offer you the job, think again. It's to assess your self-awareness and how you communicate unpleasant things and how willing you are to make changes to adjust your work style. It's hard to analyze the questions on the fly, but give it some thought before hand. That way, when an interviewer asks you about the secret of your success, you'll consider that they may be wondering whether you are going to step on their neck as you try to get the attention of your business leader.

3) Acknowledge others. It is almost always the case that someone else has played a part in your success. Acknowledging that is a sign of maturity. I think back to the times in my career where I have felt most successful. All of those times had something to do with a positive partnering situation; the time when I weaned a client group off phone interviews because I had built the credibility to select candidates for interviews, the time when I broke the team record for hires in one month (because the hiring group was willing to put in the extra time if I was...we made a deal), a record that I am sure has been broken since. The time when I managed an event that resulted in twelve hires even though a partnering staffing manager thought it was a bad idea (but was willing to support it anyway). Being able to talk about what others contributed to your success allows you to display some humility along with your ability to kick butt.

4) Acknowledge challenges and how you have overcome them. People who will tell you that their success has come easy are boring and, more often than not, liars. They also don't grow professionally a whole heck of a lot. I have learned more from my challenges than my successes and when my successes are a result of overcoming challenges, well, all the better. Take the example of the hiring group I weaned off phone interviews; this was a group of incredibly bright strategy folks. Building credibility with the truly brainy is a challenge. But I figured out who were the opinion leaders on the team and how I could build relationships with them, I determined that they would trust me if I demonstrated that I truly understood their business and I knew that I had to get a few good hires under my belt before I started to ask them to trust me. If I were asked about this in an interview situation, I could easy explain to the interview why I had success, what roadblocks existed and how I overcame them. Being able to do that in an interview situation will make you look insightful and bright, not cocky and insecure.

5) It's OK to be proud. In fact, I think that taking pride in accomplishment is a sign of humility. Reveling in the rewards of accomplishment is a sign of arrogance. Also, comparing ones self to others might come across as overly competitive and needy. Let the accomplishment stand on it's own and let them know that you are proud. And if they ask you why you are proud, feel free to revert back to point number 4, above.

6) When in doubt, stick to the facts. Driving sales up by x percent, executing against goals under a tight deadline, etc. At the end of the day, the company wants to hire someone that can get the job done. It's all good if they ask you about what you are proud of or how you feel about something, but consider the fact that they might simply be asking you what you accomplished and whether it was just what was asked or you exceeded expectations. If it's hard not to let a little self-love into the conversation (and I know some people like this...boy is it hard to manage my facial expressions eyebrows have a mind of their own), then stick to the facts.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Articles and resources to help in your search - October 1, 2014

The Many, Many Things You Should Say No to at Work
OK, so this article isn't really about the job search, but it makes me think about the things I take into consideration when I consider work I want to do. For me, specifically, it's about meetings I don't need to be at (and whether I can say no) and the ability to drive my own priorities. These were pain points for me in my last position working for someone else, and it's something I will always screen for. It also makes me think about work/life balance; because I believe you will never have it unless you are empowered to set boundaries and given the latitude to say no. These days, "no" is one of my favorite works. So is "whee!" but I'm not sure that's particularly relevant here.

The Costs to Consider When You Get a New Job
Look, nothing mentioned here will likely make you turn down a good offer. But knowing these factors and speaking to them during the negotiation process is good for you. I'd speak to them in the aggregate though so it doesn't seem petty. I mean, bringing up a month of COBRA payments might make you look a little nuts. But talking about transition costs, and giving some examples could be a good idea. Specifically, you should be thinking about the one-time costs as part of a signing bonus negotiation and ongoing costs (parking, etc.) as part of salary negotiations.

Your LinkedIn Photo Might Be Why You Aren't Getting Hired
OK, here's the deal: I don't really agree with these 100%. So watch the little video and follow the instructions if you don't work in a creative field. Because I do, I have taken the liberty to blow off one of the rules (no filters, etc.), but I'm not out looking for a job and all my business so far has come via referral. If you're a developer or PM, I recommend these rules. And no ashtrays, bongs, beers, nudity, drunk-faces, illegal activities or general dooshery in the photos. You'd think that would go without saying but...yeah.

The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them
Nothing too earth-shattering here but some good reminders. And anything that will encourage people to be super-extra truthy on their resume if good shiz.

Three Smart Ways to Attract Recruiters to Your LinkedIn Profile
Some good advice here. There's more advice on my LinkedIn reference guide too, including info on where to strategically place important keywords on your profile.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tweaking your resume for a change in job roles or industries

Several of the folks who have reached out to me recently for help have mentioned that they are interested in changing job roles. This always makes the career search a little more challenging and I am open with people about what I think they are up against; companies tend to hire folks that match their job specs and typically that means that they are looking for someone who did the same job somewhere else. Job shifts are more easily accomplished internally, when a company knows you and  your competencies and are willing to take the risk of moving you into a different role.

All of that is not to say that you can't change job roles between employers. I know that significant change of any kind can be challenging so I understand the desire to want to push ahead and make it happen.

This Business Insider article gives tips on how to tweak your resume for the work you want when you are trying to make a shift.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Take timing out of the equation and apply for positions that don't exist

Being hired for a position requires the intersection of two scenarios: a company realizing they have a need and creating a position, and the availability and interest of the candidate. Those two things are really the bucket on the ledge of the Rube Goldberg Machine that is the recruiting process. And in a simple world, the candidate and the company would find each, other proceed through a simple interview process and work happily ever after. Except it's never simple. And there's no universal force controlling the timing.

Have you ever taken a new position only to get a call about your dream job months later? Or search for positions online wondering why that "just right" position for you doesn't seem to be out there right now...while you are looking? Man, I can sure identify with that last scenario. When I was at Microsoft, in my last skip level, I was asked what I wanted to do down the road and when I described it, I found myself telling the person that the work doesn't exist at Microsoft. It should but it doesn't...or it didn't. Again...timing...and stuff. I'm doing that work now so it's all good.

Employers do a good job of exerting some control over the timing problem. When they don't have a candidate for a job, the look for that just right candidate (or typically, several of them) and they reach out and try to sell them on a new position. Recruiting 101.

What would happen if professionals interested in something new took that control and recruited the company they wanted to work at? Could they generate interest from a company the same way a company generates interest from a not-on-the-market candidate? It can happen. I've seen it.

Naomi Garnice wrote a short piece on how to do this.  If you're actively searching, I'm not saying this should be your whole job search plan, but why wouldn't you give it a shot; especially if it meant having your dream job?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What to wear to an interview

This is one of those questions I hear from candidates over and over again. Sometimes I find it stressful picking out an outfit for just a regular old work day. Adding the stress of first impressions and the possibility of sweating? Yeah, that kind of ups the fashion stakes.

As per usual, I have taken the opportunity to over-analyze; in this case, it's the choice of interview day couture.

1) No matter what, unless you commit a major fashion felony, you're OK. I mean, nobody is going to care about our interview fashion choices as much as you do.

I imagine that companies doing plenty of hiring have a steady stream of candidates coming through their doors. And at the end of the day, they want to hire you for what's inside your head, not what's on your body. So just realize that you care more about what you wear than your interviewers do. As long as you don't wear anything completely nuts, they won't even remember what you were wearing the next day.

2) Dressing for comfort is a requirement.

This one is a non-negotiable, folks. You are not going to do well in an interview if you aren't comfortable. Tight waistband, itchy fabric, shoes that are squeezing the bajezus out of your feet. Yeah, those should never happen. This is why I recommend doing dry run with your outfit of choice well ahead of time (but not so far ahead of time that might result in clothes fitting differently). Even you dudes. Whatever you do, give yourself enough time to go shopping and have something altered if you absolutely need to. Then put on your outfit and stand up and sit down. Cross your legs, lean back. Still OK? Good.

Also, think through what your day might be like. Are you interviewing with a company that has a "campus" like Amazon or Microsoft? You might be walking so comfortable footwear is key. Is the company super casual? Is it even possible that a bean bag will be sat in at some point? Maybe a suit would feel a little weird in that situation.

3) When in doubt, dress a little better than you think your interviewers will.

This is always my go-to rule for deciding what exactly to wear. I take what I know about the typical attire at the company and I step it up. Heck, go stalk their building(s) to see what people have on. Then dress just a little bit better. Not flashy better, just more buttoned up. Wear something that puts you in an interviewing state-of-mind.

So, if you are a developer and your colleagues might be wearing this:
(Photo credit: The Muse, Decoded company profile)

Then maybe you think about wearing this:

Let's do it again. Them:
                                                           (Photo credit:

Ladies, them:
(Source:, Mutual Mobile profile)

                                                              (Source: hello gorgeous)
I've heard other recruiters tell candidates to dress just like the rest of the folks that work at the company so you "fit in" and I get what they are saying but the thing is that the people who you are trying to make a good impression on already know you don't have the job yet. As a recruiter, what I wanted to see was someone who was taking the interviews seriously, that they made an effort. I don't want to see a suit, I want to see polish and effort. And please...
  • No flashy jewelry or makeup
  • Wear deodorant and no bed head (check your look from the back, yo)
  • No heavy cologne or perfume
  • No ripped or distressed anything
  • No t-shirts
  • Athletic shoes of the fashion variety only (if you must) and they have to be impeccably clean
  • Do your ironing the night before and have a back-up
I'll let you know if I get any other perspectives of advice from recruiters on this. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes the most direct route is around something.

This is the blog post I wish I'd written. Liz Ryan writes about the idea of networking directly with hiring managers and skipping the job site "black hole". While I don't agree that every job site is a resume super nova (in fact, I do know some companies where recruiters are required to review every resume submitted for a position), I know what it's like to be a recruiter at an employer whose every job posting gets hundreds, if not thousands, of resume submissions. Using searches to cut through the bulk was a necessity; it was a survival skill.

I always engaged my hiring teams as partners in the process of finding candidates. And so when a manager said "I have a candidate for this position," I was thrilled. They were holding up their end of the bargain by also being talent finders. Plus they knew that if they brought that candidate on campus for anything even resembling an interview without me kicking off the process, I would hunt them down, because you just do not mess with legal compliance. I'm boring that way.

So the scenario where a candidate reaches out to a manager with a compelling message about why they can help relieve that manager of some of the job pain they are in? I am all for that biznaz. You're not working around recruiting, you are networking with hiring authorities. And frankly, you are getting your resume viewed by one of the key deciders. You should go do this. I still recommend you work through official processes as well, but definitely be networking like this.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sometimes resumes are cold. Here's an option for sharing a little more about who you really are with the (hiring) world.

OK, resumes are cold pretty much all the time - intentionally so. I mean, you are asking someone to get to know you on the basis of the facts related to your background: where you've worked and when, what you were responsible for. As someone who currently works in digital marketing (right now, I am working with Amazon's Consumer Division on their employment brand strategy), I do find the resume and even the LinkedIn profile a little limiting when it comes to showing an employer who you really are. It's like you need an extra place for all the other awesome you've got going on. Resumes lack the kind of appeal we expect in marketing, so maybe you want to think about how you are marketing your personal brand outside of your resume.

I like to think of the resume as simply a calling card - it's a foot in the door that invites further conversation. When I think about my own resume and compare it to the reasons why my clients hire me, well, there's just something missing. Kind of the essence of who I am as a person. You can only put so much of that into a resume before it looks a little nuts. So I try to put that stuff elsewhere, where potential clients can find it (I even point them to it). And that is personal branding. I know it sounds like a BS term but we all have personal brands - a personal brand is the reason why someone would want to consider you for anything (as a potential employee, date, friend or networking partner - what have I forgotten?). You can ignore it if you want because it sounds like a lot of work to build one. But you have one whether you nurture it or not.

I'm not going to recommend that you start tweeting or fill Facebook with boring articles related to your work. Frankly, if you aren't already doing those things, it's probably because you don't have lots of time and the amount of effort it takes to build up a personal brand on Twitter, for example, could take longer than your job search. Good long-term strategy but not super helpful right now.

 A few months ago, I was sitting with a friend who wanted to easily communicate an aspect of her work but she didn't want to put it on her web page as the focus of the work was inconsistent with her day job. She just needed a little pop-up space to talk about  this new work area - someplace she could point people to. The site I recommended to her is also one you can use as a place to develop your personal brand. It's You can set up a single page and tell the world a little about yourself. It's creative and fun. I use mine as a hub for my professional social media accounts - check it out here if you want. I also set one up for my business in case I want a little more polished version and don't want to send someone to my website -you know if I just want to deliver  my elevator pitch and links to my social media accounts. recently added a new feature called Backstory that  let's you add details of your professional history, similar to LinkedIn. I don't think is going to rival LinkedIn any time soon for the attention of recruiters; I should be clear about that. But I do think it's a great place to point people that might have an interest in learning more about you. I include my link in my auto signature. I expect very little organic traffic to this page so it's all about sending folks there myself. It's my "get to know me!"

If you want to have a little fun and have some time to spare (and let me point out that you are already in the interwebz so you have time to spare, friend), sign up for an account (it's freeeeee!) and hit the discover link at the top. You can see what other people are doing with their pages. You might be inspired. I think you'll definitely notice that you feel you get to know people better on an page than only a resume or LinkedIn profile (it's a great compliment to those other 2 things, not an alternative).

Besides, what else were you planning to do with the single best photos of yourself that you have ever had taken? It's sitting on your desktop right now, right?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Asking interview questions right back

In Pretty In Pink, Andie had the hots for Blane, the popular, rich kid. Adorable Ducky was on his own (poor Ducky). It's a perhaps sad piece of sociology that has people wanting most what they can't have; a little natural selection meets Mean Girls. And there's proof in my closet that when things are in demand by other people, you somehow end up wanting them more. Evidence: two pairs of Uggs. Don't judge.

I mentioned before that it's important in an interview for you to present yourself as someone who is in demand; someone who has choices.And part of doing that is ensuring that as a company interviews you, you interview them right back. Not like conducting a skills evaluation of the person on the other side of the table, but asking the kind of questions that helps you evaluate if this company is someplace where you will do your best work and be happy. You MUST go into an interview situation ready to ask some questions.

Kelly over at Brazen Careerist has 6 questions that you can use in an interview to uncover the types of information that you need to make a good decision (remember, you're in demand, you badass, you) and get the interviewer to imagine you in the job.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

None of these answers to interview questions are acceptable, though we appreciate your ability to cut the bull.

That LinkedIn link on your resume? No bueno.

There's a trend I've been seeing lately and I've got an opinion on it. People are adding a link to their LinkedIn profile on their resumes and I don't like it, 99% of the time. Do. Not. Like.

I think about the resume as real estate and space is at a premium. If you put something on there, there has to be a reason and you need to focus on what your audience wants and what best positions you - everything else is just taking up space. I guess LinkedIn is kind of the de facto online profile, so folks think it's logical to put a link along with contact info but it's rarely a good idea. Here's why:

1) Usually, the resume is a more detailed version of a person's background than LinkedIn. Unless there's additional biographical info on LinkedIn that isn't on the resume, what is the point? The one exception I could think of is if you have a white paper or something on your LinkedIn profile. But even then, it would make sense to just link to the document.

2) Resumes generally get scanned into databases and lose hyperlinks. Searching their internal resume databases is how many recruiters will come across your info. So if you hyperlinked text in your resume to your LinkedIn profile, it won't work in the scanned version and if you paste the full url (especially if you haven't customized your url), it just looks messy. Recruiters are experts at searching and they will have no problem finding you on LinkedIn if they have a burning question about the size of your network or what recommendations you solicited from people you work with (which are all viewed with a grain of salt anyway).

3) The biggest reason not to add your LinkedIn profile to your resume has to do with stickiness, a concept from web content development. When a website is sticky, it is so engaging that it keeps the user on the site. In general, that attention is thought to increase the likelihood of additional clicks and/or conversion - it makes good things happen for you. Essentially, it keeps the users attention on the site because once you send them off it, you lose control of the content that is being served up. Now if you think similarly about your resume; you want to recruiter or hiring manager to spend time reading your resume. Once you send them somewhere else (like LinkedIn), you are inviting competition for their attention. LinkedIn throws a whole bunch of distraction at them. The reader might come back to your resume or they might click on links they see under "Similar Profiles" or "People Also Viewed" or they may think "hmm, maybe it's a good time to do some searches on LinkedIn" or "I wonder what my ex-boyfriend is doing for work these days" or "who is looking at my profile?".

So I generally advocate for leaving the LinkedIn link off the resume, unless your job is writing LinkedIn profiles.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The real interview question disguised as a softball question

In my previous life as a recruiter, I spent many hours interviewing candidates. And I prided myself on the fact that I actually interviewed candidates.No BS HR screen for me. I mean, yeah, tell me about what you did and what you're looking for, but that's just the beginning of the conversation. My role in that part of the conversation was just transcriptionist. I wasn't adding value until you made me think. Also, up until that point I was kind of bored.

The last thing I ever wanted to do was waste peoples' time with unnecessary interviews. I thought of the hiring teams and the candidates as my clients and I only moved people through the process when I felt confident they would perform well in an interview. When they didn't, I thought back on my conversations with them to figure out if there was something I missed. My goal was to get the hiring teams to forego the second phone interview and bring candidates in for interviews based on my recommendation.

So anyway, I think softball questions are fine as a warm-up, but they're kind of like first date chit-chat; if we can't get past it, this isn't going anywhere. And these questions generally do little to help candidates get their heads in the interview game - another thing I think that recruiters should be helping with. On the other hand, sometimes actual, valuable interview questions come disguised as softballs. Like they're baseballs in softball clothing or something. Metaphors are hard. Or maybe, depending on the quality of the recruiter asking the question, they are intended to be softballs but they give you an opportunity to shine like the badass you are.

One of these questions is "Why are you interested in this company?" Simple, right? I mean, like borderline fluffy. But for me, this question was an important one and chances are, if you are talking to good recruiters while you interview, it's important to them too. Here's why...

First, as a recruiter, I want to gauge how serious you are about your interviewing. If you haven't really given this some thought and/or done some research, I'm not convinced that you are serious. And putting you into an interview situation under those circumstances is risky.

Second, the best candidates are in demand and they have criteria. They apply those criteria against the many opportunities that they may be considering. So having criteria suggests to the recruiter that you are one of those awesome and in-demand folks.

Third, and most importantly, I want to know how you think. Making a job change is a big deal, worthy of lots of careful consideration. I'm interested in what the candidate says their reason is but I want to understand how they go there.

So let me give you an example. I'm consulting with Amazon right now so they are kind of top-of mind for me. If I were to interview here for a job here and was asked what about Amazon interests me, I'd say something like this: "I'm looking to work at a company with a vision I believe in. I'm very serious about my next career move; it's important to me to work for a company I feel confident will make good decisions over the long term because I'd plan on being here for a while. I'm a loyal customer of Amazon and appreciate how obsessed the company is with creating a good customer experience. I think that earning the trust they do with customers is what brings customers along as they start to change the way people buy things online - this is the vision I see Amazon pursuing. For example, when Amazon introduced Prime, it changed the way I thought about shopping; the things I would normally run out to the drug store to get, I'd buy online. It wasn't about Amazon getting a bigger piece of the pie, it was about making a bigger pie because it encouraged people to buy things they normally would only buy in person. I really appreciate this kind of thinking. It makes Amazon an eCommerce game-changer, not just a competitor. And I want to work for a game-changer."

See how that answer packs a punch? Much better than "Well, I'm looking to work in marketing and Amazon has a good marketing department and is close to my house."

So as you prepare for conversations with recruiters and hiring teams, think about what is appealing about each company and how you can use the answer to position yourself. Practice on your SO and your friends. Smack that softball.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Do you have an elevator pitch?

Today, I was touring some office space when the guide said "tell me about yourself." Ugh. OK, first of all, I hate that question because I feel like there's something that the person would really like to know but they aren't asking it (or they are totally disinterested and/or verbally lazy). We were actually stepping into an elevator too. It was like the perfect set-up for an elevator pitch and I totally whiffed it: "I'm a marketing consultant and I live in South Lake Union and I need a quiet place to get some work done." So I guess I was telling her what she needed to know (she was outrageously perky and I was immediately thrown into reactive introvert mode. I was thinking "I'm the client. Let's talk less; I'll start." Bad, Heather.). But it would have been a perfect opportunity to practice my marketing.

Since I am a consultant, my company brand and my personal brand are intertwined. So being able to answer one of these mushy, vague questions is good for business. Because you are a job candidate, your personal brand and being able to answer one of these dumb questions is also important, because you'll be interviewing and networking. You are most definitely going to be asked to tell the other person about yourself, probably many times.  If you have a go-to pitch that isn't over-the-top obnoxious but reflects positively on you, that would be super, mmkay?

You're also likely to be asked what you do, which indeed requires a different response than the request: "tell me about yourself." Where "tell me about yourself" is your elevator pitch opportunity, "what do you do?" begs for something a little more punchy.

Today, I decided to write down an elevator pitch for myself to use as an example. I write elevator pitches all the time. But they are a little like porn, I know a good one when I see it but it's hard to define. Wait a minute, I don't think that's exactly how the analogy goes. But you catch my drift, right?

Here's what I came up with:

I'm a marketing consultant who helps companies do a better job of connecting with important audiences online. My interest in this space began during my previous career in recruiting where I was drawn to work that engaged external audiences in an honest and authentic way to enhance Microsoft's brand as an employer.

The last three years, I've worked with companies that need to understand who their audiences are and what they value, develop branding and messaging strategies that appeal to and engage those audiences, and deliver their messaging through digital media.

I really enjoy the combination of creative and analytical skills that my work requires and also that I get to watch my clients start to think differently about what they do. I also like the variety of the work I do. It includes company naming, audience analysis, messaging framework development, creating and branding websites, social media strategy, content development and ghost-writing, and marketing advisory services.

I work with clients that don't have big marketing departments to do this type of work. My approach is scrappy and I bring a lot of energy and momentum which helps clients execute quickly.

I might be a fast-talker but I just delivered that pitch verbally in 40 second. Ta-dah!

And for the personal brand statement (the answer to "what do you do"), I've got this one etched in my brain: I help companies connect with audiences important to their success online through digital marketing and social media strategy. I don't love the grammar but when I say this, people get it. And they usually ask me questions about it, which is exactly what I want.

If you dissect a good personal elevator pitch, there are a couple of elements that I think make it compelling:

  1. A statement of what you do (marketing consultant)
  2. Values common to you and your audience (honest and authentic online engagement, passion around thinking about things differently, appreciation of scrappiness)
  3. What you're good at (combining creative and analytical skills)
  4. How your audience would experience you at work (energy, momentum, new thinking, honesty)
  5. What you enjoy (seeing clients think differently, merging the creative and analytical, being real online)
This isn't an exhaustive list, but definitely some things that help the person on the receiving end of your pitch really get you; not just what you do but who you are as a person, specifically as it relates to your work. The most important thing you can do in crafting your pitch is put yourself in the shoes of the other person. In my case, generally people want to know what I offer, what impact it would have to their business and what it would be like working with me. I feel like the elevator pitch I crafted communicates those things pretty clearly.

What's missing from my pitch is the personal deets. I don't like sharing that kind of stuff at the beginning of an interaction. In my opinion, in an interview setting, if they want to know what you do outside of work, they'll ask. I find that telling people I do trapeze or that I have a motorcycle totally reinforces my personal brand (especially if I want to position myself as a fearless badass who actually steps away from the computer on a regular basis), but it also gets the conversation off-track. I think it's a judgment call whether you want to include this kind of thing in your pitch. Back in ye olde days, when I was a recruiter, I assumed that people had hobbies and I also assumed they were none of my beeswax. I always felt like including hobbies in a description of yourself felt a little too much like a dating site profile. But I'm sure many other recruiters would disagree. Either way, not a deal breaker. 

Here are a couple blog posts I found that might also be helpful, but there are so many others you can find:

How to Create Your Memorable Elevator Pitch
How to Craft Your Personal Brand Statement
How to Build Personal Brand Pitches

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mistakes you might be making in your job search

If you can get past the guy's screen name (and all I can say about that is: reddit), you'll find some great advice from a recruiter.

"The best thing to do is to put yourself in the recruiter's shoes. Look at the job description. If you needed to hire this person, where would you look? What type of person would you look for? What would you want to see on a resume? You need to emulate that person. Know the company, know the job, provide examples of how your experiences meet those qualifications."

(hat tip: Lora)

Demonstrating what a badass you are with dragon-slaying stories

A friend of mine shared Liz Ryan's article with me and it includes dragons and you showing the full extent of your badassery in an interview. Both of these things are happy-making, in my opinion. Liz suggests that in an interview, you find ways to weave in dragon-slaying stories; these are the stories where you talk about how you saved the day. My buddy goes through his resume and makes sure he's got one of these stories for each skill or position on his resume. I like this kind of preparation - kind of anticipating the interview conversation. It's especially helpful if you're an introvert like me. I can come up with the perfect answer to any interview question...the day after the interview.

So yeah, developing these stories ahead of time is a great idea. As Liz explains, there are three elements to a successful dragon-slaying story: the problem statement ("what was the challenge?"), your actions ("how did you react to it?") and the impact ("so what?"). The thing is, in an interview, the person on the other side of the table probably isn't going to tee it up for you perfectly, so you are going to have to find ways to insert your stories into the conversation without it being as awkward as an eighth grade dance.

If you're in the tech space, there's a decent chance you are going to get some behavioral interview questions. In preparation for an interview, head on over to Glassdoor to look at feedback from people who have interviewed at your target company (my opinion on what to make of the rest of the info you see on Glassdoor here). This will most likely give you a good idea of the types of questions you will be asked. Or you can do some broader online research. Google or Bing: COMPANY AND interview AND question* AND (job* OR position). Lots to see.

Aside: I don't hate the behavioral interview questions as much as Liz. I actually think they can be quite helpful in teasing out competencies, especially in people whose experience is related but not exactly the same as the open position or folks with limited experience to begin with. "Tell me about a time you had to build consensus for an idea." is perfectly acceptable in an interview if you are talking to someone who was in a Program Manager role and is interviewing for a Tech Evangelist role. It strips away the interviewers perception around how TEs at their company go about consensus building; it keeps the interviewer open to new approaches that have been successful in a different context. And it gives the interviewee the opportunity to demonstrate their style, versus trying to guess exactly how the company would want them to do it. Yeah, so it might be very 1980s but lots of awesome stuff came out of the '80s. There is nothing better than a good Flashdance sweatshirt. I have never wavered in that opinion despite the passage of time.

Anyway, as you are thinking about your dragon-slaying stories, you might want to make note of the skills or competencies you feel each exhibit. As you identify jobs and companies, figure out what competencies are important to interviewers (you can tell by reading careers pages, job descriptions and searching for info on a company's culture online...some companies like Amazon publish competencies on their sites) and have the stories related to those competencies ready to go for an interview. Because these are the competencies that will likely come up in the interview. Same with skills and experiences.

I'll be coming up with some more interview prep tips for you later this week. In the meantime, if you have any questions you want me to answer or topics I should cover, feel free to drop me an email!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Guest post: Your Resume Isn’t Your Life Raft

I'm excited to introduce guest-blogger Lora Poepping. Lora and I worked together at Microsoft (and both small-business owners now). Today, she is founder of Plum Job Search Strategies, where she assists job-seekers with advice and support during their search . Love this quote from her bio: "What gives Lora tremendous joy is empowering others to find their ideal job. The difference in Lora’s methodology: coming at the search from the employer’s perspective." 

It’s understandable.  After the news is delivered and you’ve cleared out your desk, headed home and shared the news with your partner or spouse that your days at Microsoft are over, you naturally begin to dig up the resume.

If you could just accurately describe what you’ve been doing these past months or years, you’re certain that it will make a significant difference in moving on.  A resume is such a tangible part of the search.  People spend hours and hours trying to craft their story – the document that will make you stand out.

But, what you don’t know is that the document that people fret and fuss about isn’t the most important part of your search.

It isn’t…really.  Your resume is NOT your search.

A resume is a tool in your search toolkit, just like your LinkedIn profile (that’s another blog post entirely).  Sure, your resume needs to be carefully and thoughtfully created to describe your successes, but a resume supports what you say about yourself when you are connecting with others.

Please allow me to repeat this: your resume is not your search.  80% of all jobs are secured through non-traditional means.  Translated: you don’t get a job by hitting the APPLY button and submitting a resume.

Jobs are found in a variety of ways but the most valuable to you right now is leveraging connections that are invested in your wellbeing.  These are people who want to assist you with connecting you to their connections.  Your resume assists these connections in passing along your story in an accurate, thoughtful way.

The most important thing you can do right now in support of your search: understand what the marketplace wants and craft a message that is in-service to the marketplace.  Job search is not about what you want.  It’s about what the job marketplace wants.  Your resume should tell your story – sure.  But, it also needs to “map” to the roles that truly exist.

I’m not saying to give up on that resume.  Rather, do your homework first.  Set of calls with connections and be clear about what you’ve done and what specific type of role you want, and then back up your request with a resume that talks to your successes.

(BTW: a resume should not be a laundry list of what you did in your former role, but a showcase of your accomplishments – Why did it matter that you were part of the team?  When you read your resume, ask yourself: does this showcase my accomplishments and give the hiring manager a clear picture of who I am?)

A resume may seem like your life raft right now.  But, it really isn’t.  So, get off those water wings and swim towards lifeguards that really can help you swim for shore: connections/friends/former colleagues who know and are invested in you.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Glassdoor reviews: how much should you care?

I've been wanting to write this post longer than this blog has been up. Since I have been working in marketing and employment branding, I regularly think about Glassdoor. For those of you unfamiliar, Glassdoor is a site that allows job seekers to view interviewee and employee reviews, salary data and job postings. Employers can use Glassdoor as a tool to tell their stories to job seekers. I'm in touch with the folks at Glassdoor fairly regularly, and I don't think they would have a problem with me sharing my opinion on how much I think you should care about what you see on Glassdoor, specifically when you are researching employers or preparing for interviews.

I'm going to do some plain-talking here and I will try to keep it PG-13 for those of you who don't know me socially. Here are my three big take-aways:

  1. You should assume that a good percentage of the posts are written by opinion outliers.
  2. You should assume that there is an element of truth in every post.
  3. You should use what you find to ask questions, but only rarely should you use it to disqualify an employer from consideration. 
So before I go into any more detail, can we agree that with any job, at any employer, there's a certain amount of...well...crap (yeah, let's call it that), that you are going to have to deal with? Show me any employer you think is BS-free and I will show you an employee of that company who begs to differ. It's naive to assume that there are jobs that don't come with their own special variety of crap and the more honest you can be with yourself, especially during a career search, the better job you will do at picking the right employer for you. You're role, as a job-seeker, is to pick an employer with the brand of crap you find most acceptable. Glassdoor is going to help you decide. It's practically a menu of possible BS scenarios at employers. 

Aside from jobs, you know what else is potentially full-of it? Or who else, I guess? People. I'm not saying that people are trying to deceive. But we each come with our own ego and perspective, the latter often developed to protect the former. Think you're a rock star but then find out you are alone in your opinion? That shows up on Glassdoor as "this company doesn't pay well and their rewards system sucks!" The challenge with  the reviews on Glassdoor is that you don't get the context behind it and you have no idea whether the writer is someone whose opinion you should respect. People are often motivated to write a Glassdoor review when something has gone wrong, and a good part of the time, they contributed heavily to the situation themselves. Likewise with the glowing reviews - they likely come from people who have been treated extremely well and may not represent the opinion of the average employee. I guess I'd just encourage you to keep in mind that what you are seeing are the opinions of the disgruntled and, um, highly-gruntled employees (or former employees) and there's a heap of opinions somewhere in the middle that aren't showing up in the proper proportion.

Having said all that, I think you should consider that there is an element of truth in what you see. This is where I go back to the "pick your crap" mindset. For any employer, I expect to see issues described in Glassdoor reviews. If I don't, I'm suspicious. If I see someone posting about unrealistic performance expectations, I'm going to keep in mind that the company has high standards and actively manages against those standards. Yeah, so the person who posted the review might have been doing their best but they weren't a fit, they may have been a slacker or the employer may legitimately have unrealistic expectations. You just don't know. Even great companies have stuff like this that people don't like. 

As a job-seeker, I'd want to uncover what these potential issues are, as best I could. I find that the easiest way to do that is to identify themes in the reviews that are written in a really balanced way. Think about capturing these themes, especially as you are preparing to interview with a company. They will help you uncover the real scoop, they will show that you prepared, and asking about some of these things during an interview situation shows that you are also a buyer in this little hiring scenario. I mean, in demand folks have choices so of course you are going to ask some questions before you buy.

The one question I will warn you about, though (and really this is more about how you ask it and my warning could apply to many questions) is "what is the work/life balance like here?" Ah, work/life balance...such a loaded concept. Some companies or interviewers view this particular question as a red flag. Even if a company has great work/life balance (or work/life integration, if you prefer), they want people who are flexible enough to go the extra mile when needed. But it's a legitimate concern for anyone, especially folks with family commitments.  It's also a screening question for people who are clock-watchers. I really wish the question didn't raise red flags with some employers. I do recommend you ask questions to understand what kind of commitment you would really be getting yourself into. But I recommend questions that are more specific. "How many hours a week do you work?" doesn't count. Something like: "What are the expectations here around time away from the office? Do most employees log in at night?", "How much fluctuation is there in work load? Are there certain times of year that are busier than others?", "What's the company philosophy on disconnecting and are employees here good at it?"....even "How's your commute?" could give you a good idea. Obviously you will want to pick a really relevant question, but you get the point. 

So yeah, I do recommend that you use Glassdoor for research. I also recommend that you take it all with a grain of salt and do additional research where you can (like asking any people you know who work at the company what it's like).