Friday, November 20, 2009

my so-called expertise...

These days one doesn’t have to go far to stumble upon experts in just about every possible category. The interesting thing is that for most situations, there really doesn’t seem to be a uniform method to evaluate whether those who label themselves as experts, do in fact possess any quantifiable expertise.

Perhaps the current popularity in television’s reality show genre would be the ideal way to sort this out. Expert contestants could be judged on their ability to answer questions, complete tasks and compete against their fellow-experts on complex projects in their area of specialization. Audience members, TV viewers and professional industry judges would vote for their favorite week after week until a finalist is selected. Then once and for all we would be able to differentiate the authentic experts from the posers.

An obvious example where some standardization would be useful is in the social media sector. Because of this growing phenomenon’s continuous evolution, there hasn’t been any notable criterion established to actually measure one’s level of expertise or competence in the field. Not only are there countless social media experts popping up daily, but they all seem to devise their own catchy titles to advertise their brand of expertise.

Some of the creative, yet mysterious monikers include social media: guru, maven, strategist, ninja, wizard, high-priestess and miracle-worker. Of course, these names are intentionally vague and give the impression of some special powers that are in high demand.

In fact, the obscure naming strategy seems to be working quite well. If enough of the general population needs to get information, they simply find one of these experts to show them the way. Soon, whether deserved or not, the experts begin to build credibility. Many of them are making a healthy living by offering seminars, webinars, workshops and presentations about their area of expertise.

However, like any trend that grows rapidly, there tends to be a bandwagon effect - making it easy for the opportunistic folks or non-experts to join the fray. When this happens it dilutes the public’s ability to decipher solid advice and knowledge from plain old hype.

No one benefits when that occurs and it causes those who have worked hard on their trade to lose momentum. Unfortunately, they end up spending time trying to undo all of the bad publicity generated by the schemers and scammers. Maybe a reality show styled after Donald Trump’s Apprentice would do the trick and solve this dilemma. Or, another type of show modeled after one of dancing or singing talent contests could be interesting entertainment as well.

The premise would be that before someone slaps on a badge staking claim to an entire segment of knowledge they should be able to prove they are worthy of that identity. Until then, anything beyond “my so-called expertise” seems a bit presumptuous.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

So, what's the deal... for REAL?

Many factors clashing together have made this a time in our economic history like none that we have seen before. With unemployment at a 25 year high, competition is fierce for the limited supply of available jobs. For obvious reasons, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowded applicant pool. These days there is much discussion and debate about the right or best way to find a job in this rapidly changing market.

Like many, my job searching and employment experience pre-dates the Internet, email and online social media tools which have become the norm for many job seekers. Not only that, but due to my insatiable desire for intellectual stimulation and curiosity for new challenges, I feel that I’ve been in a perpetual job search mode all along - in order to expand my opportunities to learn and grow… It has been interesting to observe the evolution from the days of fine stationary snail mail resume submittals to the development of personal websites to display one’s resume content.

What is most evident now is the immediate access to information and the massive quantities to sift through. Several websites, blogs and other publications are dedicated to every possible topic related to careers. One could spend days, probably even weeks, searching, gathering and reading the advice and references on how to build a resume, interview for a job, network, etc. The “old school” style of heading to the library or book store for such information seems like a quaint and distant memory.

One question that often comes up is whether or not job seekers can or should proceed through the complex maze of conducting a job search on their own or seek “expert” assistance to make things happen. There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue. Many LinkedIn discussion groups cover all sorts of variations of this concept. Likewise, there is a never ending supply of places to engage others in this debate. Much of this well-intentioned guidance is supported by personal experience as to why one method is selected over the opposite choice.

As one who falls into my own self-created category of “professional job seeker,” it is hard to resist responding to many of the questions posed by others on these topics. I haven’t kept track in terms of numbers, but I’m pretty comfortable stating that I’ve experienced more than my fair share of interviews as a candidate. Similarly, as a person whose career path and professional life has included hiring hundreds of people, I feel uniquely qualified to contribute from both perspectives on which techniques are most effective.

All of this combined provides a foundation upon which my career coaching advice is based. People who know me personally would attest to my direct (aka: blunt) tell-it-like-it-is approach. On occasion when responding to online posts of strangers, I do feel the urge to just spell it out and say “here’s the deal!” However, I do my best to use restraint even when many of the comments I read are blatantly idiotic or clueless. Here are a few examples of these perplexing situations…

Recently, I perused through some feedback from a post where the original person asked if a professionally written resume was necessary. As expected there were responses supporting that idea as well as those adamantly opposing the idea… Within that same thread of conversation, there were a few who actually posted links to their resumes for others to critique. Now of course, I found that too irresistible to pass up! As tactfully and diplomatically as I could, I offered a few pointers to a couple of these folks about their resumes.

In one case, it was a technical professional’s resume, which happened to be four pages long, included outdated lingo and was written in first person style. Did, I mention that I am incredibly particular and have a number of resume pet-peeves, including each of those…? Therefore, my recommendation was to eliminate the use of “I,” shorten to no more than two pages and leave off some of their earlier skills sets which were not relevant to today’s technology applications. Keep in mind this post stemmed from the debate where many were suggesting that with all of the FREE information out there, any one should be able to whip up their own resume. I don’t disagree at all that everything imaginable (including the type of straight-forward advice I give) can be found for free within a matter of a few key strokes.

The technology person’s reply back to me was that they had no idea how they were supposed to communicate their information without using “I.” They weren’t exactly sure how they would go about reducing the length of their resume and questioned my advice about their ancient pre- Bill Gates programming skills. So much for that… As tempting as it was, I decided against recommending that they inquire back to some of those suggesting that resume writers aren’t equipped to write a resume any better than the person themselves. After all, what do I know after writing too many resumes to count and reading thousands more over the years?

The next resume evaluation was for a gal who had been out of the workforce for many years as a stay-at-home Mom. First of all, I completely respect those that make tough, yet very personal decisions about how they determine the right path for themselves and their families. I think it is incredibly admirable and important for a parent, whenever possible, to appreciate and take advantage of their once in a lifetime opportunity to be present as their children develop. However, it is challenging for anyone to enter or re-enter the job market under the best of conditions, so the obstacles today make her situation even more difficult. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it does take a certain level of skill to transform so-called problem areas, such as large time gaps, into assets.

How this person depicted their non-working time was to use some creative writing about being the CEO of the such-and-such household, complete with executive decision-making, strategies, budgeting, etc. While many may find this cute and clever, my take was that it was a tad risky. Far more may view it as silly and insulting to those who manage to work full time as well as run a household. Another section of her resume contained information about participation in a mother’s club with a rather odd sounding name conjuring up images having to do with breastfeeding and such. I didn’t call attention to that, but several others did suggest that it was not very professional sounding and should be left off of her resume.

Rather than comment directly to either of those topics, I simply stated that she may wish to address her situation in a more neutral manner in order to appeal to a broader audience. And, I offered my contact information should she be interested in hearing some specific ideas to do so. She did follow-up and welcomed my input, which I’m sure will help portray and highlight her relevant employment skills versus her family responsibilities.

A different poster apparently just discovered an early electronic resume “trick” of using white font to load their resume with all of the key words for their field. My main thought on this is, if you have to resort to deceitful tactics to get your resume read, you probably shouldn’t even bother applying to that job. The idea of key words is that you incorporate them into your accomplishments, so that the recipient understands how you are qualified for their opening. Very basic common-sense goes a long way to sell your value-proposition. Misrepresenting yourself isn’t exactly what most employers find attractive and it only serves to damage your reputation by making you look desperate and out of touch with reality.

Obviously, despite so much free, readily available information, there are still many people that don’t seem to grasp how important a well designed resume is and what it is for… That brings me to the origin of the title, “So, what’s the deal… for REAL?” In my practice of resume writing, I use a very simple, easy to understand framework to produce resumes that are what I refer to as REAL!

R = Relevant to your NEXT job
E = Edited well, to be concise & 100% error-free
A = Action & Achievement-oriented
L = Lead to interviews

In my estimation, approximately 95% of the resumes I’ve seen throughout my career were poorly done - all because most people are not equipped to view and assess their own information objectively and from the standpoint of marketing themselves. Contrary to popular belief about other purposes, a resume is simply a marketing document in the same way a product or service might have a brochure to explain the unique features and qualities demonstrating value to the consumer. To illustrate for those that question what a professional resume writer might do differently, dare I say “better” than the person themselves, I offer the following example:

Before: 4 page rambling tech resume stating: I know ABC, worked at XYX, (repeat for several decades & positions) I have learned many important skills, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with your business, but I feel the need to provide you with my career ancestry story anyway. To prove how technically advanced and up-to-date I am on cutting edge technologies used by your firm, I will describe my FORTRAN and COBOL expertise.

After: 2 pages (maximum) beginning with an introductory summary focused on target opportunity(ies), followed by highlights of core technology competencies, business applicability & results. Selective coverage of relevant value added contributions, accomplishments and achievements, in an easy to follow, attractive format for techies and non-techies alike.

My intent here is not to suggest that every job seeker go out and hire someone else to prepare their resume. On the contrary, I personally constantly benefit from free information in many ways and think with a bit of research, preparation and attention to detail anyone can produce an impactful resume. However, as with anything outside of our comfort zone or skill capacity, there is nothing wrong with delegating such tasks to those with more expertise. A small investment of this type can provide priceless ROI. So that’s the deal… just get REAL!

TalentTalks, focuses on providing clients with unparalleled, distinctive talent management expertise in all areas of career management and human resource & organization development functionality – leading to individual and organization success.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Don’t get “ism’d” away from your goals!

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t continue hearing about society’s ills defined by terms ending in “ism.” Those being, ageism, racism, classism, sexism, and any other “ism’s” used to label discriminatory behavior. Sure there are plenty of laws attempting to prevent problems from arising due to stereotyping, but it can be very subtle and subjective personal attitudes that slip by. Perhaps these will always be around to some extent, but perpetuating them through one’s own negative self-concept is certainly not the way to enjoy life. Obviously, as evidenced by recent shifts in our own political, business and social environment, much progress has been made throughout modern society. However, as with anything of this nature, there is always room for improvement!

What I find most disturbing while working with my career coaching clients, is that many women of a certain age, view any challenge encountered in the job market as a reflection of their number of gray hairs or wrinkles. While, that may occasionally be true, what I’ve noticed is that they themselves are far more focused on that possibility than any other reasonable person would be… I don’t mean to dismiss their concerns, but what I am referring to is the aura of self-doubt and under-estimation of their potential that comes across during interpersonal exchanges.

While volunteering as resume reviewer at a job fair recently, I met several women who seemed to have lopsided posture due to carrying around some enormous chips on their shoulders. One lady in particular, had such a negative vibe going, I almost started to believe her claims that no one would be interested in hiring her due to her age. Ironically, had she not pointed it out, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to estimate her age. She and several others had convinced themselves that despite having appropriate experience, qualifications, education, etc., in their industries, they were out of options because all of the 20-30 year olds were more appealing candidates.

I’ve also seen this topic raised repeatedly in various articles and news stories. A consistent theme permeates this phenomenon – which is the perception of some type of disadvantage being used as a way to excuse or place blame on unrelated factors. What really needs to happen is for older women or any other demographic to eliminate irrelevant thought patterns from their mindset. Doing this will enable them to remain confident in their abilities, competence and attributes needed to portray themselves positively.

Using a few sports figures to illustrate the point, imagine Michael Jordon, Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods - three ideal examples of pure athleticism and talent. In Jordan’s case, it seems ridiculous to envision him entering a game without the objective of beating the opponent. Moving to Armstrong, how many Tour de France wins would he have achieved if he let his health or age stand in the way? Woods, from the start was one of the most unlikely golf legends based some traditions and old-fashioned thinking in that sport. Today, it’s hard to remember how dull and uninteresting many people found golf to be before his arrival on the scene. Watching any of these athletes in action is nothing short of edge-of-your-seat excitement, as their passion, determination and skill shines through. Characteristics they all share are: success driven by confidence, persistence, and of course TALENT!

As an aspiring snowboarder, I’ve noticed that when I “picture” myself getting better and more comfortable, I am less likely fall or get stuck. As a non-athletic, self-proclaimed klutz, my earlier attempts at this sport had the opposite results. Every thought that passed through my head was about not falling, not going too fast or too slow, or how uncoordinated I must have looked. Sub-consciously, those internal ideas determined my outcome – which was plenty of falling, going so slow that I had to remove my board and skate, causing even more falls, and of course not making progress to become more advanced.

Regardless of their background, job seekers in this market are indeed faced with steep slopes, icy conditions and many unique and unpredictable obstacles. Like me on a snowboard, they can choose to slide down on their rear as a human avalanche or build their confidence to make it down in style. Attitude and mindset can make all of the difference in reaching one’s goals.

TalentTalks, focuses on providing clients with unparalleled, distinctive talent management expertise in all areas of career management and human resource & organization development functionality – leading to individual and organization success.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TMI, advice, opinions & other confusion for job seekers

These days, there may seem to be a shortage of jobs, but absolutely no shortage of information on how to get one! Recently, I’ve noticed an influx of experts touting all sorts of solutions for job seekers. Various sources of advice label themselves with clever and mysterious sounding titles such as maven, guru, evangelist, and so on…

What stands out is how abundant and contradictory all of their information has become. The phrase “TMI” comes to mind as in “too much information” for when you cringe while hearing something unnecessary, inappropriate and uncomfortable. Likewise, the saying “opinions are like _____, everyone has one and they all stink!” also seems fitting to describe this phenomenon.

For example, many articles, blogs, websites and newsletters cover tips for using job boards, how many pages a resume should be, having a supplemental version of a resume, using social media networking etc. Here are a few selected points I’ve gathered to illustrate the conundrum facing job seekers:

Using online job boards is one of the most effective ways to get a job
Don’t bother with job boards - no one gets hired that way any more

Post your resume as many places as possible for maximum exposure with recruiters
Control where you post your resume, don’t post to the main job boards

Job seekers must identify and work with recruiters for their industry
Recruiters can’t be trusted and only serve their clients, not job seekers

Professionals should have a 1-2 page resume
With significant experience or expertise, 3-4 pages is the appropriate resume length
Keep your resume to one page maximum

Everyone should have a supplemental version of their resume for networking
If your resume is effective, you don’t need an extra piece of paper for special events

Most people get jobs through networking
Traditional methods help more people find jobs than networking

Creating an “elevator pitch” is essential for job seekers
Job seekers should stop using elevator pitches and start using “solution” speeches

If you are not using twitter, you are missing out
Twitter is a waste of time

Your facebook page will only hurt you in your job seekers
Facebook can be a great way to share information about your job search

LinkedIn is the best professional networking tool and should be used by all job seekers
The jury is still out on whether LinkedIn is a valuable connector for job seekers and employers

With so much free information out there, job seekers are able to prepare and conduct successful job searches all by themselves
Job seekers should seek professional expertise to ensure an effective job search

Obviously, these samples have been paraphrased and taken out of context, but they are actual representations of available information. So, what does it all mean? Which version of the opinion(s) does one believe?

Well, my take on this is that it depends… Sure, that is a weak answer, but really truth can be found in most of the above statements. Each person is unique and has circumstances that might make one idea effective today, while a month from now the opposite would be a better option.

Bottom line, my suggestion is that job seekers keep informed about the rapidly changing job market and make decisions based on what works for them. If results aren’t coming quick enough it might make sense to invest in a new strategy and continue to refine it until the right blend is in place.

TalentTalks helps individuals and groups optimize their talent. Our talent coaching consists of personalized support, professional branding, techniques and strategies to make job seekers stand out from the competition and maximize their return on investment.

As a job seeker in these competitive times, can you afford not to invest in your talent? Remember, most job search expenses are tax deductible. Consult your tax preparer, financial advisor, CPA or the IRS for more information.

Creating a Voice for Talent
Career Services, Professional Communications, HR & OD Consulting

Friday, May 8, 2009

Judging Talent by Watching American Idol

While watching American Idol this week, I noticed a distinct difference between two performances... Obviously, the main goal of that show is to identify talent, however just like most aspects of life there are many subjective factors at play. All of the contestants at this final stage are pretty solid singers, though some are better than others at performing. And of course, song choice is crucial to survival each week!

An interesting concept to me as I’ve watched pieces of each season is whether or not the winner is able to sustain the momentum gained from American Idol exposure for a long musical career. There have been quite a few top contenders that went on to achieve successful careers despite not winning. Yet at least a few of the actual winners have rarely been heard from since their season ended. I’m not sure what makes the difference for that to happen. Is it their talent, effort, marketability or some other factors?

Either way, what was most intriguing to me this week was the contrast between Paula Abdul’s performance and No Doubt’s performance. To summarize how this went, Paula came out through a stage stairway lined with dancers, lighting, fog and other flashy “distractions.” Her vocals sounded recorded, however, I’m no expert and don’t have familiarity with her new song to know for sure. One thing that seemed odd was that she was never filmed close up through the entire performance as she swirled about, being handed from one dancer to another. Rather than this performance being memorable or original, it looked more like an imitation of Britney Spears, sequins, cleavage, headset and all…

Next, No Doubt came on to perform one of their more recognizable hits. Immediately, it was obvious that Gwen Stephani was in fact SINGING!!! One reason this was noticeable was that her energy and active performance style caused her to sound almost out of breath a couple of times. Rather than feeling disappointment over that, I was actually impressed. As a singer and performer doing that for a living, Gwen was able to actually legitimately entertain despite a few small flaws.

Now, tying this into a real world - rather than television example… Is talent about flash, fog and fancy footwork or is it about taking risks, doing your best, giving it your all and not being afraid to show the real thing? If I was a judge of talent between those two performances, no doubt about it, I would vote for No Doubt. Sorry Paula, as Simon might say “that performance wasn’t good enough to keep you in the competition.”

What does your professional “brand” say about you? Are you truly talented or are you putting on a show? Do you want to be known for singing along to the music or taking control of the music? Our careers in many ways are like reality shows. Performance is being judged constantly no matter what field you we are in.

Creating a Voice for Talent
Career Services - Professional Communications - HR & OD Consulting

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

social media networking for job seekers

As I meet new clients, I’m continuously struck with how complex and overwhelming the social media environment has become for many people. Whenever I attend industry events or other similar gatherings where business cards are exchanged, one of the questions routinely asked is “are you on LinkedIn?” Well, many times new acquaintances are actively using LI as well as other similar venues. However, in the past two months, I have invited at least a dozen or so new people to join my LinkedIn network only to discover that I just became their first connection! I found this to be very surprising and wondered why that was the case…

In this day and age where there is no such thing as job security, one can’t afford not to maintain an active professional network. Competition is tough and even though the media portrays a dismal economic outlook, there are jobs available. The main difference now is that employers are able to be much more discreet and discerning about how and when they identify new talent. That makes networking even more valuable to those looking for new opportunities.

In the HR arena, there are always articles, studies, surveys, etc., covering the concept of generational gaps in the workforce. Personally, I tend to find the topic overblown and a rather dull form of stereo-typing. One specific element that these sources discuss is the differences in technology use between generations. On that single aspect, I’m not convinced that one’s age or demographics determines the likelihood of participating in social media networking. I do notice that personal networking i.e. myspace, facebook, blogging, etc., have grown quite popular, beyond their original core youth audience. In fact it is rare to come across someone yet to be using at least one form of online media with their contacts.

LinkedIn and Twitter are steadily gaining notoriety in the employment category, due to the extensive population of recruiters and hiring authorities using them as a talent acquisition venue. Based on that factor alone, it is hard to imagine anyone choosing to ignore this so-called “fad.” Statistics suggest that relationship-based hiring methods continue to be more successful and cost-effective for employers. For job seekers, networking results in a much more fruitful and productive job search and creates a better return on investment than relying on other traditional techniques. Yet still there is some resistance by many to embrace this as a viable option…

Maybe for some it is the fear of the unknown or maybe they just haven’t found the social media networking tools personally useful – either way, the following is a list of tips that might help people gain the most advantage from their career-oriented social media networking experiences.

1) Build a complete & professional profile
2) Obtain / exchange solid & meaningful professional recommendations
3) Join & become an active participant in affinity groups for your industry
4) Use the forum for its intended purpose – don’t spam members
5) Engage in discussions, debates, etc., showing respect for others
6) Keep current & focused on building your professional “brand”

Creating a Voice for Talent
Career Services Professional Communications HR & OD Consulting

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

3 signs of an effective job seeker...

Number 1: Your resume tells a compelling story about the talent you have to offer. That means you are much more likely to receive plenty of interview invitations.

Practically everyone has a resume in some form or another. Recruiters and hiring managers receive hundreds for every opening. Of course, each of these candidates believe they are qualified and right for the job - So why aren’t they getting called? At this stage of the screening process, being in the right place at the right time is one factor. The other is having a stellar resume that fits in the right blend of information related to the target position. Many believe this is just a matter of jotting down some bullets of responsibilities from previous work experience along with education and miscellaneous skills. That is quite a common approach, but not necessarily the best way to stand out from the competition. Sure there are plenty of books and online resources to help build a resume, but unless you have an eye for detail and a knack for written communication, that style may not produce desired outcomes either. How about attending a resume seminar or job fair to have someone look over your resume and give feedback? It can be a great place to start and sure to generate some improvement, but still there could be something lacking. That might be the unique recipe that screams “hire me” to the person on the receiving end of your resume. Don’t you want your resume to have that special “je ne sais qua?”

Number 2: During interviews you portray yourself as a confident-competent-complete package to potential employers.
When you do that you are much more likely to be considered as a top contender for a job offer.

No doubt about it, interviews are stressful for most people! The trick is to be prepared and be comfortable speaking authoritatively about your subject-matter. Which of course couldn’t be any easier since you are merely talking about YOU, right? Well, maybe not so much… In the unknown territory of a strange place, meeting new people for the very first time, having the pressure of making a good impression, it is not as simple as it may sound to be remembered for all of the right reasons. Even the most confident, poised and experienced professionals have their nervous moments and miss the mark when interviewing. There could be a very subtle difference between a turn-on and a turn-off to a finicky hiring decision-maker. Could you be inadvertently sabotaging your chances and never know what went wrong?

Number 3: Your job search activities produce new and interesting leads on a regular basis.
This makes you so busy interacting with future hiring managers and employment prospects that your contacts are wondering what your secret is in this challenging economy.

Internet job boards have become the norm to match job seekers with employers for well over a decade. However, depending solely on these venues to learn about employment opportunities can be a huge mistake. Many job seekers assume that once they click “apply here,” there is nothing else to do except wait for the phone to ring. When that doesn’t happen, the complain about the system not reading their key words properly, or maybe wondering if they should have applied on the first day they saw the job versus three days later. Well really, none of that matters much. Taking a passive approach to a job search is likely to produce frustration and long waits between prospects. Statistics suggest that up to 80% of jobs are found through referrals, word-of-mouth, social networking and other relationship-based methods. Therefore, it is more important than ever to recognize the hidden potential and leverage it to your advantage. How intriguing would it be to learn about your next job while picking up your dry cleaning?

How does one become a more effective job seeker to avoid the issues described above? A streamlined job search strategy can give you the advantage you need through the support and advice from your TalentTalks career coach. Partnering with us is an investment in your talent!
Are you treating your professional brand with the attention it deserves?

Kelly Blokdijk 949.394.7371

Creating a Voice for Talent
Career Services Professional Communications HR & OD Consulting