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October 2008

September 2008

Opportunistic interviewing and serendipity

These are the craziest of times, especially if you are looking for a new position. Let's assume you have focused your search on certain types of jobs and types of employers. You have developed a preferred list of both. You have scanned the horizon, conducted research, compiled your questions, and engaged your network for assistance. Your resume is in order. Then job openings start to pop up through various sources---Through your web searches and through referrals. Some seem close but others are are just not a fit. You make quick decisions not to apply to those that are "beneath" you, have titles that appear to be foreign, or are in fields/industries you do not know. You have decided to be focused and only apply for positions that exactly match your search criteria. WARNING! You must resist this classic case of job search myopia. You know, when you look for a tree and miss the forest. Let's be honest, your search criteria is not set in stone. Once you create too many filters and requirements, you can easily overlook and just plain miss opportunities. Frankly, lazy people use this exact match principle, this myopia, as a way to avoid the hassle of interviewing. But in this type of market you have to get out there and actively uncover opportunities. Serendipity is a powerful force. By looking for what you want you discover new things and people discover you. I can tell you hundreds of stories when an interview for an "interesting but not what I want to do" job results in a surprising match. Or when an "overqualified" candidate interviews for one job and is referred to another opening, often not posted. And even, where employers alter the job to fit the interview candidate's unique experience and abilities. My point is: limiting your job search, limits the possibilities.

For those of you who are still not getting what I am saying. If you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do and have some preferences for employers, then the trick is getting inside the tent, the internal network of that employer. If you have the skills and impress, that carries weight in the organization. Employers want to place good people and may even refer you to opportunities outside of the firm. You want everyone you meet to say, "We have to hire this person." Bottomline: Don't dismiss opportunities to interview based upon superficial and narrow criteria. Apply more, interview more and the goal is always to get the offer!

Here are a few reasons and tips why you should interview as much as you can:

1. You need the practice. Some of you have not interviewed for awhile. Answering questions you may have asked candidates is very different. You need to refine your story and you can only do that through practice. Here's a couple of sites to help you Interview Help , 35 questions and answers

2. You refine your search. By getting out there you learn about trends, new positions, your perspective shifts and you see new paths which previously did not exist.

3. Your network gets stronger. You have engaged your network to be referred to preferred employers and to recommend you for specific positions. And you meet new people who are connected to your network.

4. Job search and interviewing is a second or full time gig. Applying for positions, engaging your network, and interviewing takes an effort that can not be intermittent or casual.

5. You are not only a buyer but a seller. Being prepared and asking great questions about the position and the employer shows your interest. You can't just be an effective responder, you need to assert yourelf too. Here is a guide to questions YOU should ask. Questions for the employer

6. Be self-reflective. Show the interviewee you know yourself--your strength and your weaknesses. What areas would present challenges AND how you would address them. Much more convincing than "I have what you need and I can do anything I put my mind to."

Here are the 5 questions I e-mail to all candidates that make the paper cut. I require a written response from VP to assistants before I interview.

*Why are you interested in this position?
*Why are you leaving or why have you left your current position?
*Why do you think you are qualified?
*How does this position fit into your longer term career plans?
*What is your minimum salary requirement?

Amazing the range of answers I get. :)

Take this approach and the job search and interviewing can be a lot more enjoyable and rewarding.

Thanks for reading. John

Essential networking tool: Your resume (and the cover letter)

Before I dive into this topic, let me just give a shout out to the Raytheon employees and Non-Profit Leaders who attended my workshops in the last week or so. Met a number of fascinating people like Linh, Depak, Zoom, Chris, Vu, and many others who are doing extraordinary things. Keep it up!

Now for the dreaded and often neglected resume. This document, which describes our professional life, upon which we heap great expectations to open doors and lead us to a new and better job, never seems to get the attention it deserves. And when you are networking and networking well, the resume is your calling card. We know that the resume is the most important self-marketing piece. It can make the difference of connecting with opportunities or not. We mail and e-mail these two or so flimsy pages to perfect strangers, like some sort of reverse magical lottery ticket we hope gets picked!!!! In the last 2 weeks I have reviewed about 300 resumes for jobs and for friends and for others. It is so exasperating to see what people are sending out. Yikes! Generic resumes that are sent to any employer, show little care for the reader and are ineffective. So I wanted to give you my top 10 tips:

1. More than 1 page okay--Unless you are 21 years old a new graduate or incredibly inexperienced :), your resume can be 2-3 pages if you have a lot to say. (see below)
2. Chronological only!--Other formats, especially functional, appear to be more deceptive and less persuasive. Use months on all dates of employment. Only using years gives the appearance of more deception. You know, 2006-2007, reads Dec 2006 to Jan 2007! 2 months not 2 years.
3. Explain gaps and fill gaps--Don't send out a resume with massive time gaps. The reader assumes you were in solitary confinement. :) If you were being a Mom, caring for a relative, or managing personal matters, tell the story in your cover note. Don't send out a resume that has no current activity. Why make it look like you have been idle for a long period of time? Have you been volunteering, consulting (even without pay), or attending to your professional development? That looks better than a long period of time where no one else wanted to employ you.
4. Who were your employers and what was your job?--Provide a brief description of every employer--who are they? What makes them unique? Don't assume people know who or what they do. Then describe the duties of your job. You managed people, resources, a budget, projects. You were responsible for certain deliverables.
5. What did you do with these employment opportunities?--Try to list a few bulleted achievements under each job. Milestones, goals met/exceeded, awards, increases in efficiency, efforts led, etc etc
6. No career objective--This is for the cover letter where you customize for the employer
7. Education at the bottom--What you offer are experiences, skills, knowledge and abilities. Education is critical but when you are young you lead with it, because it is all you got.
8. Customize for the industry or for the line of work--Use key words, align to targeted jobs, highlight related work. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires writing, then list writing and written reports under applicable jobs. Remember this is a marketing piece and there nothing less effective than a generic that depends on a one size fits all approach.
9. Your story, the one you want remembered: The Cover Letter--A lost art form and may be as important as your resume. Tie everything together in the cover letter. What happened or is happening at your current work to move you to apply. Link your experiences into a coherent flow that demonstrates your qualifications for THIS job. Address gaps if need be. Do some homework about the employer and the job and link your interest and skill set to that position.
10. Be referred to the employer--This is where the power of networking reveals itself. Get a referral to the employer. The higher up the food chain the better. "So and so encouraged me to apply for this position." This immediately distinguishes you from the pack. The reader has to separate this from the pile and it will require more attention. That's a big advantage! Of course you have to have the right stuff if they call, but increasing your chance to be interviewed is the name of the game.

Whether you think these tips are valuable or not, take at your resume and update it!

Thanks for reading. John

Earthquakes and networking.....

On July 29th, Angelenos experienced a jolting but relatively mild earthquake. Always, interesting to see how people react to these types of unexpected events. Newbies to earthquakes are horrified that "the earth moved" and veterans of the tectonic shifts cooly say "I think that was a 5.2". Regardless of your point of view it always gets one thinking about their preparation for a bigger quake and whether their earthquake kits are updated.... In other words when something shakes you up, it can wake you up--even if it is a fleeting reality check.

By the same token, this crazy economy and the instability of many venerable institutions has justifiably disrupted the career sleepwalking of many. You know the robotic habits and motions of some of the "happily" employed. Change can trigger a new awareness of the world around them and what they may want in their lives. Like their earthquake kit, they hurriedly explore their career briefcase and find its meager contents a bit dated--raising questions, "How long can I survive/thrive with this?" Most of those people go back to a post earthquake slumber, others react in desperate ways, and a few take a serious inventory of where they are and what the want.

My worldview is often clouded by the second group--the reactors. Requests for informational interviews, resume reviews, general networking are at all time highs. Never seen anything like it in all my days of trying to help people. While I have always advocated agreeing to these requests, especially if they come from warm sources, people I know and trust. But is a symptom of the ground shaking that people are feeling. Many people who go on these meetings are poorly prepared. They think something lucky will happen just by meeting someone new and have not thought about what they want. The outcomes from these meetings would be dramatically improved if they had done their homework and treated them as "real" interviews. It is well documented that every encounter with a potential employer or referrer is a real interview. I provide these requesters with my SWIVEL doc. It is the pre-req for my sessions. My attempt at getting the interviewee to pause and reflect on what is important to them. Fill it out yourself. Download swivel_new.doc

The third group, those that have decided to listen to their heart and re-discover their calling, I love meeting with them. They are on a focused track to explore career options that they have entertained for many years or just realized. They are not looking for a job but a life's work. They have decided not to settle for what they get but pursue what they want. What a joy to meet them and to draft off their momentum and energy.

Lastly, whenever you get any warm requests for your time, advice, and help, and you may be getting more too, treat them as great opportunities instead of burdensome chores. Believe me, you will get more out of it than you ever give. These interviews yield a rich conversation about who you are and why you do what you do. It will force you to say and think things you have not contemplated for awhile. It will force you to appreciate what is good and identify some new clues about your own path Plus you will help someone you don't know and a member of your network! It is a win-win-win!

In this unpredictable world we have to help each other and we have to wake ourselves up and take inventory-- are we are prepared for next unexpected shake-up?

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Coach John Wooden

pursuit of passion.....

When is the last time you thought about AND acted on your personal theory of change? I mean we all want to evolve and get to that mythical "next level". But when have you taken inventory of pursuing your curiosities, of defining your next adventure--and then taken action?“The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now.” James Baldwin

Just completed my middle daughter's college tour. The search for the right campus but also the search within. Where do I see myself and what do I want to do? Questions we must ask ourselves over and over again. Visited Stanford University and other top schools. When we got to Stanford, my daughter said, "why are we here? I am not going to get into Stanford." I told her, "You have to see the best schools to appreciate what is out there." But what does her old Dad know anyway. Long story short, my daughter whispered to me about halfway into our tour, "I want to go here!" Maybe the old man knows something after all:) Went into the info session. And the group started to naturally divide and separate into sub-groups as they sat down. Large humans, tall, big students and their large parents sat to the left. The geeky gear head kids and their somewhat nerdy guardians sat to the right. The back row was filled with Asian immigrant families with their kids close at hand. The middle section was a diverse group of regular folks. Being smaller framed people and not knowing where we should sit we ended up toward the back on the right side. The info session commenced and we were treated to the usual impressive data about the university. Then a review of admission requirements. This is when the fun began. "You need good grades and scores to get into Stanford", the admission officer revealed. Duh! He was going to skip ahead, when one of the Asian moms in the back waved her hand. "My son has a 4.5 gpa, will he get into Stanford?" The admission rep attempted to be impressed and said, "That's very good, but grades are just one factor at Stanford and no gpa guarantees your admission." She looked perplexed and her son looked to her for an explanation. But the rep continued, and then the Asian mom shot her hand back up and exclaimed with a strong hint of her native tongue, "He also has perfect SAT scores--perfect! Does that get him into Stanford?" The son has now bowed his head and was counting his shoelaces. "Nope," the rep stated politely, "scores and grades are just part of the qualifications for Stanford." He continued uninterrupted now and launched into a speech about passion. How Stanford wants to recruit students who have pursued interests deeply--for four years or more. How the "well balanced" students, students with a couple years of student government, band, community service, athletics were rejected because they were the products of their Svengali like parents. This "well-balanced" student was now a commodity and Stanford many elite schools receive thousands of these pre-fabricated apps. The big people were nodding their heads, knowing athletics was their passion. And the nerds nodded too because their focused erudition would qualify them. A young hip-hop kid in front of me, his hat off to the side of his head, raised his hand at this point. He mumbled his query, "So, what if your passion was say...., video games? Could that be your passion?" A quick glance at the Asian mom saw her shaking her head... The rep said, "Yes, yes! It depends what you did with video games. Are you a game designer, a world champion?--depends on what you did and how you pursued it, but video games could be your passion and that could help you get into Stanford." The Asian mom threw up her hands and her son was more confused than ever.

Moral of the story: Stanford admissions has valued passion for a long time-- "well-lopsidedness" over grades and scores and any appearance of contrived well roundedness. Stanford and many smart people know that after you are qualified, passion is the big differentiator and the greatest predictor of success. What's your passion?