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.