Thursday, July 31, 2014

Career resource: The Muse

You might be looking for some online resources, especially if it's been a few years since you've written a resume, answered the dreaded networking question "Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?", or went through a full day of interviews.

Over at the Muse, they've got a collection of career resources that might be helpful. There are classes, videos and guides on different aspects of finding a career and growing in one.

Being the word-nerd that I am, I especially appreciate "185 Action Verbs for Your Resume". I also recommend skipping the one on resume templates. Many of them look pretty but break the rules of a good resume. Columns and graphics are a big no-no if you are sharing your resume with recruiters.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Drill down on your vocab and then circle back (The words you use matter - part 2)

If you find it hard to have a work conversation without using any of these words or phrases, you've worked at Microsoft. I asked my Facebook friends, many of whom are alumni or currently employed by Microsoft, to share the grating phrases that are rendered borderline-meaningless due to over-use. Now that I'm looking at this, I'm wondering how "low hanging fruit" didn't make it's way in. An oldie but goodie.

I have to admit that some of these phrases still make their way into my vocabulary, even 3 years after I left. In my defense, I am one of those people that starts picking up the local accent immediately upon landing in a new state or country. And I have woken up the last several days with this ear worm:

I guess I'm just a highly suggestible person. If you are too, be careful because you might go into an interview and explain how you deep dived and operationalized. You know, like in a really planful way.

My point is, it's good to check yourself so you don't go overboard with this Micro-speak business. And in all fairness to Microsoft, a lot of this stuff is perpetuated by other companies too. But at Microsoft, it's practically an art form.

The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Friday, July 25, 2014

When people leave Microsoft, they go to...

Image courtesy of Seattle Times

I've used LinkedIn throughout my career to not only connect with other people, but to conduct research.It's super helpful when you want to understand the make-up of a pool of people that you can isolate with an advanced search.

Today, I thought I'd go in and look at the companies Microsoft folks go to when they leave the mothership. I ran a search of people with the key word "Microsoft" on their profile and listing Microsoft as a past employer. Then I used the filters to identify the top companies people currently work at. This doesn't account for interim moves (because it's only pulling their current employer), but I think it gives some good insight into places where Microsoft alumni might find a happy career home.

My search yielded 209,337 profile matches. I should make clear that LinkedIn does not require any kind of employer authentication. So someone saying they are a former Microsoft employee could be a former contractor, a past employee or completely full of it. So assume that numbers aren't exact but more of an indicator of likely career paths. The search also delivered profile matches of people who list Microsoft as their current employer and it's unclear whether they left and came back or whether they entered consecutive roles at Microsoft as separate positions. All that aside, of the 209K results...

Google - 2652
Amazon - 2281
Oracle - 1154
IBM - 1092
HP - 1090
Cisco - 815
Facebook - 786
Apple - 757
SAP - 660
Dell - 649
Expedia - 577
Accenture - 540
EMC - 520
Intel - 515

That's quite a list of companies that might have an interest in your skills! I then changed the search to filter down to only the profiles of folks in the Seattle area so those people who were impacted in the Redmond-area can see the best local employers for their skills. This is what I got:

Amazon - 1730
Gogle - 500
Expedia - 491
T-Mobile - 416
Boeing - 310
AT&T - 302
UW - 285
Starbucks - 206
Tableau Software - 196 (What? Interesting!)
Facebook - 187
AWS - 167 (that would bring the Amazon total to over 2300...not sure why AWS is listed separately)
Avanade - 149
Nordstrom - 143
F5 Networks - 128

I've got recruiters at most of these companies in my network, so I'll repeat my offer to help you get your resume out to some of these folks. I have already reached out to several of them and will continue to engage more.

I hope this information inspires you to consider some of these companies. Where other smart Microsofties go, there might also be a place for you.

Have a great weekend!

The words you use matter - Part 1

Most of us feel like some kind of nerd. My brand: word nerdery. I love words when they are used well. I get a thrill when I know I've constructed a well written something; website copy, messaging framework, Facebook status update. The flip side of that is that I sometime agonize over words. Sometimes they don't flow as easily as I'd like them to and I struggle over constructing a page, paragraph or sentence.

I once read that it's best to save creative tasks like writing for the end of the day, when you're a little tired. Your brain doesn't have the energy to put up all those intellectual roadblocks. I've tested this hypothesis and I find that I definitely write better at night. But if I have a glass of wine in my hand, I have about a 30 minute window to get my writing done. Because wine does not improve my writing. Fact.

I was thinking about this as it relates to resume-writing because I've been speaking with a number of you going through the resume writing process. If I haven't mentioned it already, everybody hates resume writing. Every. One. My last rev on my resume, I had the benefit of having had someone interview my clients to get feedback about the value I provide. Call it a little voice-of-the-customer research. I identified themes and then made sure that those themes were reinforced throughout my document. Without hiring a marketing consultant, I think you can do a little version of this by looking back at your performance reviews, that kudos folder you have saved somewhere or even by asking people that you worked with. "What is my brand? When you worked with me, what is it that you came to expect? How did it impact you? How did it impact our business?".

Just taking the time to think about this will, I believe, help you create a much better resume than if you focus on listing tasks, bullet-style. All those words next to those bullets need to add up to something that your future employer (or client) really wants.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Be a Pollyanna for a day to figure out your next career move

Having gone through a career transition myself (staffing programs to marketing), and being the introverted over-thinker I am, I have some thoughts on how to go about deciding where you want to be next. I'm not a Pollyanna; I don't even think I'd call myself an optimist. But now is the perfect...PERFECT opportunity to step back and really think about what's important to you in your next role. Be the change you want to see in your career. OK, that doesn't make sense but still.

Here's a little exercise for you: get out a piece of paper or start a new word doc and think back over your life to the times you were really happy. Think about the work that made you happiest, but don't limit your list to just work. For the sake of illustration, I'll use an example: my college years (man, that was fun).

Once you have come up with a few of these happy memories (it can be something that took place over years, something that was momentary or an in-between situation like a special project), think about what it was during each of those times that made you happy. So for me in college, it was learning new things, lots of choices around how to spend my time and the freedom to decide for myself, and great weather. I am over-simplifying, but you get the point. So you'll end up with a list of things that have impacted your happiness in the past and you'll start to see some trends. In my case, the need to learn, try new things and direct my own time were/are a really good fit for consulting (and even though I wouldn't call the weather in Seattle "great", it beats the heck outta those Chicago winters I just couldn't stand anymore). Everyones list is different though so spend some time on this. Ask your S.O. to participate (if you need someone really tuned in to when you were happy).

Then brainstorm what your future, most-happy-making scenario is and what the step is right now that can get you a bit closer. Think of this as a journey toward the ideal situation (because it's extra challenging to make a significant career change between companies, much easier to make one within a company). If you are an SDET and want to work in development on larger scale, more complex projects and you loved a previous job you didn't have to commute to, start to think about nearby employers that operate at significant scale and have good reputations for career development, job-shadowing and internal movement.

This kind of thinking seems obvious, not that we are talking about it, right? But have you ever actually taken some quiet time to think about it in this way?

If you want to get all nerdy and mind-map some of this stuff, I like XMind - you can download it for free. I also like free.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When it comes to resume-writing, spell-check is something but it's not enough

I can't tell you how many resumes I've looked at in my career. My guess would be tens of thousands. At least. I've received a paper resume with cute stickers on it. I've received two versions of the same persons resume with completely different dates of employment. I've seen lots and lots of unnecessary head shots. And I've seen many people make the same mistakes over and over again.

I have no doubt that in most cases, people would be mortified if they knew they were making mistakes on the one document intended to communicate their professional accomplishment (and attention to detail) to a prospective employer. But I think many of these mistakes escape notice until the resume is in front of a recruiter. I'm not sure why, but I could always spot the word "manger" on a resume, where the candidate meant "manager".

Back when we were kids, we had different activities where we were assigned a buddy. We looked out for each other, right? We need resume buddies. I recommend that you get one; someone to read your resume for word selection and grammar issues, and for clarity. Someone to stop you from using all those acronyms that became your native tongue while working at Microsoft. Cease and desist, I insist.

Another thing to keep in mind: there's a good chance the search-able version of your resume is going to lose its formatting, as resumes are converted to ASCII for storage. It's unfortunate that the beautiful layout you took hours to create is not visible in this version. The best case scenario is that your resume looks plain. The worst case: it it's completely unreadable because you used some wingding-type business. This "for dummies" page has some of the things you should avoid when creating a resume. Cliffs Notes version: no fancy characters or formatting and everything must read from left to right.

And if you don't mind me giving you a little resume pep-talk...

Everyone hates writing a resume, everyone feels like they are bad at it. I've always said that the best resume writers are the people that keep needing to find a new job. If your resume does a good job of representing your skills but your formatting looks like everyone else's, you're doing just fine.

You're going to have to network, but it doesn't have to be awkward.

I once heard Oprah say that if you're single and no longer want to be, you need to let all your friends know that you're looking for a mate (what a weird word) and ask them to set you up. Don't judge me for taking dating advice from Oprah. This is just a metaphor.

This same dynamic is true in the search for your next role. The olde process of just applying via career sites is limiting. It relies on the recruiters to go into a database and search applicants (they may be searching broadly on skills, not resumes of applicants for specific jobs). It means that out of thousands (a conservative estimate) of applicants, your resume is going to need to be near the top of the search results. It kind of takes control of your visibility out of your hands.You're counting on the fact that the recruiter is using a certain set of criteria to search and that your resumes matches those criteria better than other applicants. Do I think you should still go ahead and apply for jobs on career sites? Yes. Do I think you need take additional steps to get your information in front of the right people? Yes. Am I also annoyed by this phenomenon where you ask yourself a question and then answer it? You betcha.

Anyway, you're going to have to network. Don't worry; it doesn't mean you are going to have to go to some creepy "networking session" in a rented ballroom at a hotel. You're not going to awkwardly ask strangers for recommendations. You're going to find people who are motivated to help you and you are going to ask them for things that are easy for them to give you.

If you have done a good job of managing your personal contacts, you might have some folks in your email client that you want to reach out to. This is a good starting point. Otherwise, it's time to hit LinkedIn. You might want to consider upgrading your account during your search.  Here's some info on doing that. A premium account is just going to give you a little more power. But even if you just keep your basic account, there's a lot you can do to kick off some really great networking juju.

See that little search bar at the top of the page? It's for sissies. The good stuff is under that "advanced" link. Hit that bad boy.

Now you will get a form to fill with search criteria. Don't go too nuts here because you will have the opportunity to filter your results down. So keep in mind that your results will only show people that match your criteria and no more (duh). Do a broader search and then filter. One caveat: to get even decent results, you have to enter a keyword.

So let's say that you want to see who in your network works at a particular company in a tech position. Use a tech-related keyword (experiment: software, program, technology, technical, C++) and hit return. Then when you get the search results, filter by company (on the left side...note you can add a company if you don't see it sure to pick it from the drop down list that appears as you type). Then, when you decide that you have the right keyword, you can un-check the company and try another company. You can also filter by first degree connections, meaning you can contact them free-of-charge (FOC, as I say). I don't necessarily think you should limit your outreach to first degree connections but I do recommend that you pursue the path of least resistance first.

So what kinds of searches might you do?
1) As I mentioned: people in your network who work at particular companies you know you have an interest in.
2) Fellow-alumni of your previous companies. Former Microsofties like to help other alumni. When you use the company filter, employ the filter for "past company" versus "current company". Once you run the search, then look under the "current company" filter and see what companies popped up. Gotta love dynamic search.
3) I'd do some simple searches on tech keywords that are relevant to your background (and maybe location) to look at the companies that employ people with those skills and keep a list of those companies to investigate

Once you find people you are interested in contacting, review their profile. Many times folks will provide a direct email address on their profile (look at the very top and very bottom). I'd always opt for contacting someone directly via email versus through their LinkedIn account, which they might not check that often. But if you have to contact them via LinkedIn, think about upgrading your account and/or investing in some inmails.

So what might you be asking these people for when you reach out to them? Well, that really depends on how you know them.

  • If you know them pretty well (meaning, you've worked together in some capacity), I'd ask them if they would consider recommending you. If you do this, make it easy on them. Go on their company website and find some jobs that could be a match for you. If there are any job codes, provide them. If you are emailking them directly, include your resume. This helps grease the skids.
  • If you know them professionally but not in any way where you would feel comfortable asking them to vouch for your skills, ask them for advice on getting the attention of the right people (hiring managers or recruiters). They will let you know what they are willing to do. They might end up referring you based on your reputation. Happy employees generally want to do what they can to help get more people hired. Ask them what groups you should consider, if there's anyone you should reach out to specifically or  if they can give you the contact info for their recruiter. One thing to keep in mind: if you ask for them to spend time with you on the phone, you may experience some resistance. They might do it, but I could also see this being a reason why you don't hear back...because people are so busy with high priority work. So give them an out, let them help you via email if possible. 
  • If you don't know these folks at all, think about a few things. First, how big is their network? On LinkedIn, are they an "open networker"? If so, they are probably used to getting requests and you might go down the path of asking them for advice. Otherwise, I might try something like this: "Hi Sam, I am exploring my next career step and have a background in X. ABC Company really interests me and since you are someone in my network who works there, I thought I'd try reaching out to see if you could possibly put me in touch with anyone who would be interested in hiring someone with a background like mine. I'd be interested in speaking with either a hiring manager, recruiter, or anyone else you suggest I engage to help me explore working at ABC Company. I appreciate your time and thank you in advance for your response."
Now, I don't know if you are anything like me, but I'd be keeping a big spreadsheet of all my outreach. Aside from keeping me from contacting the same person multiple times, it would give me a sense of progress and that would be something I'd need at a time like this.

I'll be back with more ideas on networking. Feel free to contact me if you have questions on what I posted here or if there's another topic you'd like some recruiter perspective on. You can reach me at heather(dot)hamilton(at)

Monday, July 21, 2014

First things first

This might be the first Monday LAM (Life After Microsoft) for some folks. I remember leaving and how weird it felt that first day, not having to log on first thing to see what was going on before I fully got my day started.

If you're experiencing that weirdness, or even if you're not, I've got a few recommendations of things to focus on today (or soon).

Check yourself
First thing, check how you're feeling. Online, I saw lots of tenured folks at Microsoft mentioning being impacted. If you're one of those folks and are getting a nice severance check (or have a good-sized emergency fund), you might want to think of this as an opportunity to detox from corporate life a little bit.

My first two weeks PMS (post-Microsoft...see what I did there?), I slept in, cleaned my house, organized stuff, had lunch with friends. I played tourist in my own town. I bought a motorcycle. Especially if your separation was a shock (which it appears to have been from most accounts I have heard), consider taking some time to relax and let it sink in. That's not to say that you shouldn't do anything for those two weeks (or whatever time you deem appropriate), but I'd just encourage you to think about taking care of yourself and spending some time on things you enjoy. It's summer, for crying out loud. Get outside!

Give yourself permission. You may never have this chance again.

LinkedIn Profile
During your detox time, I propose you make some exceptions for tasks that are time critical. One of those is updating your LinkedIn profile. Here's the situation: other companies that hire folks just like you took notice of what happened at Microsoft this past week. They are also aware of the fact that the folks impacted are quality people. Smart companies (in other words, the kind of companies you would like to work for) are online reaching out to Microsoft employees now. Because of this, I'd also recommend this step to anyone at Microsoft who might be thinking of making a move. Take advantage of the attention recruiters are paying to Microsoft right now.

I have a reference guide that is helpful when it comes to updating your LinkedIn profile. It explains the different sections you need to complete and how to maximize your exposure. You can get the reference guide in PDF on my website here. I removed the form that required that you share your contact info with me to get the guide. Just go grab it and use it.

A couple of the things on the guide I want to specifically highlight:
1) Make sure that when you selected Microsoft as your employer, you picked it from the drop down versus just hitting return. LinkedIn has a database on the back-end where they store values for some of these fields. By selecting from the drop-down, you are findable through filtered searches.
2) Also enter your location on your profile and for your employer as recruiters will search and filter by geography.
3) Really pay attention to those keywords. Think like a recruiter and add phrases around functional aspects of your job, technologies used and group names.
4) Update your settings to accept inmails, add your email address so recruiters can contact you directly.

Instructions on all of this in the guide. Let me know if you have any questions.

At the risk of over-stepping with my bossiness, file for unemployment. You should have some info the packet Microsoft gave you on how to do it. Microsoft paid into the system on your behalf while you were working and hopefully, you won't be drawing from it for long. But you just don't know how long you will be between jobs. Better safe than sorry.

Create a ritual
OK, my last thing is to start to think about what kind of rituals you can create during this time. I don't know about you, but I like a little routine in my life. After you get through your first few weeks, I think you'll appreciate a little structure around your job search. And if you are kicking off your job search immediately, that structure may give you a sense of control.

Obviously the routine will be different for everyone but some things to think about...

  • Will you sleep away a good part of the day if  you don't set an alarm? You might want to keep the habit of setting it.
  • Maintain any routine around family commitments, especially if you have kids
  • Dedicate some time each day to reaching out to your connections and developing new ones
  • If you are someone who gets the blues, look at adding some exercise into your day. Or maybe some meditation. There are plenty of online resources that will teach you how to meditate.
I also recommend keeping a spreadsheet to track your contacts and applications. Some other folks may have additional recommendations. 

Let me know if you have any questions!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I have a feeling this family will have no problem bouncing right back...

Daring Young Mom posts about her husband being laid-off at Microsoft this past week. I love to see people moving forward with a positive attitude - it's hard to do (damn near impossible for some).

Any question that this family is going to be just fine?

Friday, July 18, 2014

RIFed at Microsoft? How Can I Help?

If you're reading this, you were probably impacted by RIFs at Microsoft. Or you're concerned about being impacted in the future. Let me tell you a little bit about myself so you will understand why (and how) I am willing to help.

I started at Microsoft in 1999. I'd love to tell you that I started right out of college but I already had several years of experience by that point. Yep, I'm an old. I left Microsoft in 2011. During my entire career there, I was in staffing, but I was in a bunch of different roles - at first hiring tech, then marketing across a bunch of different organizations. I managed teams, got to do some cool compete work, trained hundreds of recruiters and assorted other stuff.

Back in 2004, I started a blog that got a bit of attention. Then I became "Heather at Microsoft" or "that Staffing blogger". Throughout my time in recruiting, I had always been drawn to the candidate experience and I wanted to use the blog to help candidates learn more about working at Microsoft, up their job search game and make good career choices. And I wanted to make people laugh. I am an only child and clearly I didn't get enough attention growing up.

Almost every recruiter I know got into recruiting by accident - it wasn't something they knew they would be doing but at some point, the opportunity made itself available and they took it. Then it turned into a career. That's what happened to me. What really attracted me to, and kept me interested in, a career in recruiting was the idea that I was helping people navigate a really important decision in their lives. Other people could handle the relationships with the hiring managers. Me? I was all about the candidate. And hopefully that came through on One Louder. It was the best part of my job.

After folks started taking notice of the blog, my career forked. I got the opportunity to really focus on candidates and programs that would help Microsoft find and engage them better. Over time, this started to feel more and more like marketing and I was learning a lot and then...well...I found that what I really wanted to do wasn't available to me at Microsoft. I was BORED. 2011. Hamilton out.

Leaving Microsoft was hard but once I did, I re-discovered my juju. I realized that what I was really good at was helping companies connect with people online and I started working for myself. It's been pretty awesome. I've worked with large and small companies and have gotten to do some cool stuff like develop social media strategies, re-brand and build a company's online presence from scratch, do lots of audience research and create messaging strategies, and develop end-to-end employment branding strategies and programs. I'm super engaged in my work and am thankful to be doing what I'm doing. I had 12 great years at the borg, but I have to admit that the best blog post I ever wrote was the last one.

I had intended to keep blogging after I left but found it hard to dedicate the time. I miss having blog conversations and, as much as I know my clients appreciate me, I miss the satisfaction of helping people navigate a career change. I'm  not interested in being in a recruiting role again. Now it seems my work often kind of sits at the intersection of marketing and staffing, so I guess I feel like I'm still in a position to help people.

So as I am reading about the new round of RIFs at Microsoft, and even thinking about my own career change, I felt inspired to start blogging a little bit (I'm thinking about this as a pop-up blog: single purpose and when it's used up, I shall move on), open up my network and help people. Because being RIFed sucks, and finding a new job is stressful even under the best of circumstances.

So Microsoft folks, either RIFed or concerned about being RIFed in the future, here's how I can help you:

  • Feel free to email me your resume (heather(dot)hamilton(at)whizbangsolutions(dot)net). Bandwidth allowing (and we are talking evenings and weekends here for the most part), I will review your resume and provide some feedback. It would be harder for me to have phone calls but the email I can for sure do - at least to start. 
  • At the top of my website is a reference guide on how to maximize your LinkedIn profile for visibility. It doesn't tell how to choose the right words, but how to ensure that you are filling in all the info that the LinkedIn search algorithm smiles upon favorably. I guarantee there's some stuff in there you hadn't thought of.
  • I'm currently doing some employment brand consulting at Amazon. If Amazon is a company you would like to consider, I would be happy to share your information with their staffing teams. If you aren't interested in Amazon, it's also not a problem and our communication will stay between you and me. Just know that it's an option for you if you are interested and there's a benefit to having your resume go directly to the recruiter.
  • Please connect with me on LinkedIn if you'd like. My network is massive and my network is your network. I'm pretty cool that way. Do searches and request introductions to anyone you want to talk to.
  • I know tons of people in staffing. Having a fairly visible blog, hitting the speaking circuit and working at Microsoft for so long, I know so many people in the industry. If there are specific companies that interest you, let me know and I'll see if I have a contact I can introduce you to or get your resume to.
  • And I'm happy to answer questions you have about your job search.
Here's what I can't do:
  • As I mentioned, I'm consulting right now (and I also volunteer for a dog rescue) so my bandwidth is limited. So most of my communication is going to have to be off-hours and by email. If you ask for a phone call, I may have to say no. Don't get mad or I am going to start calling you by my ex-boyfriend's name.
  • Please don't offer to pay me for anything. I can't create more hours in the day and as much as I have given loads of career advice and think there's value there, I don't want your money. Pay it forward.
  • I am not a staffing agency. I won't find you a job or do practice interviews with you. If you want more personal, one on one job search coaching, I have a contact for that. And you don't need an agency. 
All I ask is that if I end up helping you, will you let me know? And if you have specific questions on job-search related topics, please send them my way.