Archives for October 2014

Use Keywords With Care or Beware

Accessibility Cloud by Itjil on Flickr

Accessibility Cloud by Itjil on Flickr

Annemarie Walter, President of My Career Transitions, a local job search support group and valued LinkedIn connection, sent to me a LinkedIn post regarding 42 IT keywords to share with TPNG, the Technical Professional Networking Group, which I co-chair.

 

Before I passed it along, however, there were three important disclaimers about the author’s advice that I wanted to make sure were passed along with it based on my experience as an IT recruiter and my specialized experience in IT résumés and career management. I want to cover them all in detail, but want each to be equally important, so this is part 1 of 3 regarding this post. I thank the author, Greg Lachs, for his list, as I find it to be a very good resource for IT professionals who have been struggling trying to find suitable job opportunities by searching for a title online.

 

Part 1 – I want to make sure that no job seeker takes these keywords and “dumps” them into a résumé or LinkedIn profile in hopes of being found and qualified.

 

Part 2 – How to refer to yourself in your LinkedIn headline and your résumé headline when your title has many variations.

 

Part 3 – Keyword searching for opportunities should occupy less than 10% of the time allocated to your job search. So, what are you doing with 90% of your time?

 

(Follow me now so you know when Parts 2 and 3 come out – share this with an IT job seeker you know.)

 

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It is true that the keywords in this list are probably the same keywords that recruiters are using to identify and search for talent. However, since job boards became popular resources around the turn of the millennium, many tactics have been employed by job seekers to rise to the top of search results, including dumping keywords. Eventually, these tactics backfire.

 

For clarity, dumping means including long list of arbitrary skill sets with out putting them in the context of your actual experience and achievements. When I was an IT recruiter, there were even some sly job seekers who would include lists of keywords in white text so that they were not visible on the copy, but would be stored in a database. Upon searching the actual document for the keywords, however, if the only place I found a keyword was in a list, I considered that candidate under-qualified and moved on, and if it was hidden in this manner, I also deemed them sneaky and blacklisted them – YES, recruiters blacklist candidates. More on that in another post.

 

I could easily distinguish a professionally prepared résumé from an amateur resume. However, what frustrated me about many of the professionally written résumés was the focus on functional details or vague achievements that did not explain the scope of a project or job and lacked context around technical skills.

 

In order to present a candidate competitively against other candidates, I had to be able to substantiate the depth of the candidate’s experience with the technical requirements of the job. There were several ways to do this, including a table or skill summary, but the best way to do this was to include within the professional experience demonstrative details of how that candidate applied technologies to complete a project or perform their job. I often had to procure these details through a phone screen and then coax the client into including them within their résumé. This was challenging for most of them, so if they were presentable enough, I would take it on myself. I happened to enjoy it and was very good at it, hence was born my career as an IT résumé writer.

 

Here is my “secret recipe” for gathering all of the anecdotal evidence necessary to fully substantiate the value of technical skills, as well as soft skills.

 

> Situation – the conditions that existed that necessitated a change or some kind of action

> Challenge(s) – what made this an impressive feat

> People impacted and the impact – who was experiencing the conditions AND who was engaged to address it

> Decision made – and who made it

> Actions taken – and by whom (“we” is not specific enough.)

> Skills, talents applied – “hard” and “soft” skills

> Tools used – technical tools, as well as approaches and methodologies

> Results – what outcomes did the actions produce in as many measurable terms as possible. Think about the PROOF that the action was taken or that it was successful

> Impact – how that trickled down to other people

 

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How to put these details into succinct two-line bullets, well, that’s the REAL challenge. I find that techniques I’ve learned through nearly a decade of experience are much harder to teach, even to those with innate writing talents and highly developed writing skills. If you have an interest in learning, I’d be happy to evaluate adding you to my team, though most people writing this post would probably prefer letting someone else do it, because in the time it would take you to master it, you could have been earning a great salary doing what you are really good at.

 

Here is a hint, though: Start with an action verb conjugated in 1st person and refer first to the the result or impact in measurable terms

 

Stay tuned for Part 2: How to refer to yourself in your LinkedIn headline and your resume headline when your title has many variations.

 

You Can’t Afford Not to Investigate Your Next Employer!

"Office" by Julia Manzerova.

“Office” by Julia Manzerova.

What if you approached your next employer in the same way you would check out the health report of your favorite restaurant? When we job hunt, we mostly fixate on the position we’re trying to land.  We consider salary, advancement opportunities, healthcare benefits, and other employee perks when looking at our next employer. However, we can often go much deeper in the research of our potential employer.  The company you want to work for may not be a good fit for you. Imagine the joy of landing that job, starting work, and the horror of discovering you hate your new company. You could have a problem with way the business is run, or the company culture in general. In other words, after getting your foot in the door, you’re already looking for an exit. Taking the time to dig into the publicly available records of your next employer is a great way to avoid this scenario. Sometimes, you make discoveries you didn’t want to know about. Other times, there are things you have to know about.

Extremely savvy consumers who want to know more about their favorite restaurants will often start with a health report. These reports are made available by state and local governments. Many counties have a convenient list of restaurants available with dated reports. The reports will often list if the restaurants are in compliance, out of compliance, and if the issue was resolved during the visit. (For an example of a local report, read Ardmore, PA’s Taste of Olives’ inspection.) Additionally, consumers who want to learn more about a particular restaurant can turn to review sites such as Zagat or Yelp for customer experiences.

When researching a future employer you can tackle your research in a similar manner. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is a good place to check out the health and safety compliance records of a company. You certainly don’t want to find yourself working for an employer in constant violation of the OSH Act. OHSA has an enforcement inspections database that is searchable by the name of establishments. You can search for employer violations, cases, and inspection dates across federal and state governments. Information is readily available, but it isn’t as easy to interpret as a restaurant health report. OSHA’s Integrated Management Information System is meant for in-house use, despite being publicly available. You can discover if an employer had any violations, if they were fined, and if there was an informal settlement. The number of violations may be concerning, or the complete lack of violations could put you at ease. Just like a restaurant report, an OSHA report is only a snapshot of a company during a specific time.

Job review sites such as Vault or the more popular Glassdoor are a great place to get an idea of a company’s culture, directly from employees. Glassdoor was founded in 2007 and currently has a database of over 6 million detailed company reviews. The reviews cover everything from interview reviews and questions, salary reports, benefits reviews, CEO approval ratings, and even employee recommendations on how the company can improve. Searching for a particular company is as easy as entering a name. Reviewers range from entry-level employees, all the way to up to senior management. The interview reviews provide some insight on the hiring process. Glassdoor is a great way to gather information about an employer. A company with lots of subpar reviews or a confusing interview process may be noteworthy.

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The major downside to Glassdoor is the inability to sort out review by location and career position. For example, you may want reviews from IT Project Managers for Comcast based in Philadelphia. A search of Comcast with those terms yields general reviews of the company from employees in a variety of positions, in numerous locations across the country. There’s no way to hone in on those specific search terms, forcing you to read reviews from similar positions. There are also a lot of anonymous reviews on Glassdoor that tell you very little about a job position. All and all, Glassdoor is still a good resource for researching companies.

Another great way to check out an employer is by word of mouth. Think about it. You would definitely ask your friends about a restaurant you were curious about. In the same way, your friends, social networks, and even networking events can help you determine if a company would be a good match. Don’t be afraid to ask contacts on LinkedIn about a company’s culture. Be sure to ask about company culture from employees at networking events. Facebook posts and tweets make it very easy to get the “word on the street.” Try it for one of your target companies. Often these social inquiries generate leads and introductions without you having to outright ask.

Doing extra research on the front end provides another bonus in your job hunt. If you discover the company is a good match, you will be able to fine tune your marketing efforts. You’ll know enough about the company to hit their hot buttons and land an interview directly with a hiring manager. That’s a huge advantage over your competition!

Researching an employer in the same way you might scope out your favorite restaurant isn’t easy. Searching for work place reports and employee reviews can be a daunting task.  A little work goes a long way in finding out if a company would be a good a fit for you. When taking your career to the next level you want to know as much as possible about your next employer. A combination of compliance information and employee-driven reviews will help to ensure you don’t regret getting the job. The mental stress, depression, and overall frustration resulting from a bad match with an employer can be detrimental to your wellbeing. On the flipside, fully researching a company and discovering they are a good match can help your chances of being hired. Much of what you find out can help you more effectively market yourself to meet their needs. In short, you can’t afford to not thoroughly research a company.

Gin Blossoms – Found Out About You

Music video by Gin Blossoms performing Found Out About You. (C) 2004 A&M Records

Who would you rather hire: the undependable one or the incompetent one?

Photo courtesy of Ryan Dickey.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Dickey.

Here’s some food for thought: If faced with a choice between an undependable and an incompetent employee, who would you rather hire? Let’s be clear, no one wants to willingly hire an undependable or incompetent employee. These types of workers can be toxic to employee moral and productivity. Like a nuclear wasteland, you ideally want to stay far away from this hiring situation. In a perfect world, hiring such people would be a rare occurrence, but reality is rarely so cut and dry. In fact, reality can be quite strange. In 2010 an English recruitment agency boss was told posting an ad for “reliable” applicants could be offensive to unreliable people. Most managers will not face such an extreme situation in the hiring process, thankfully. It is still inevitable that an undependable or incompetent person will slip through the hiring process. Let’s assume you have two employees and you need to hire one of them, despite knowing their issues in advance.

An undependable worker may be an employee who is constantly late, may not show up for work on certain days or is a habitual procrastinator. When they are around, they do their job well and may be quite talented. For example, your company’s accountant may be brilliant with finances, but they make take every other Friday off. Or you may have a social media specialist who is always a half hour late for work. Projects may not be directly impacted, but your more reliable employees may have to work harder in the morning until she arrives.

Undependable workers, especially those who are talented, can be managed. Clear expectations, boundaries and rules are the first step in dealing with an undependable person. Going back to my second example, if your social media specialist has been getting away with constant tardiness, boundaries need to be set. Unreliable employees need to be reminded that their behavior affects the company as a whole. Unless you address the issue, a problematic employee may not see their actions as harmful. If you dig deeper you may even find an underlying reason for their unreliability. Family members may be ill or there may have been a recent lifestyle change in the undependable’s life. Addressing these issues may be as simple as a change of hours, designated coverage for temporary problems, or giving the employee the option to telecommute.

An incompetent employee may present more of a challenge. He or she may have the best of intentions, but constantly makes mistakes while doing the job. They may be eager to please, and may give you the impression they fully understand the task at hand. Despite their hard work, the level of quality is still subpar or the job is done incorrectly. One pertinent example comes to mind. I was once told by a good friend about a part-time mechanic who worked on the truck fleet for a large shipping company. He attempted to fix a broken truck bumper with a forklift (not an uncommon practice). Instead, he made the problem much worse when he accidentally pierced the grill and radiator with the forklift. This was just one incident in a long string of problems stemming from incompetency. The mechanic was ultimately given the simpler task of working on brakes for large trailers.

This anecdote leads me directly to my next point, managing an incompetent person. Once again, clear boundaries and expectations will need to be set. Unlike the undependable employee, the incompetent employee might be willing to improve. An underperforming employee should be reminded of their strengths, while their areas of weakness are defined. Perhaps a particular job task wasn’t explained well enough or the employee is afraid to admit they lack proper training. If an incompetent employee still doesn’t “get it” after explanations and training, they may need to be reassigned to a position that matches their skill level, if possible.

In our theoretical hiring situation, we have the undependable worker versus the incompetent worker. Both problem employees have their potential solutions. One person may perform their job just fine, but may require more flexible hours, while another person may need to be retrained or reassigned. If you look at the situation from a resources viewpoint, the undependable worker is a better choice. You won’t have to expend time and energy retraining or reassigning them because they know how to do their job. If time and energy aren’t a major issue, and the attitude of the incompetent employee fits your company culture, they may be a better choice.

So, who would you hire?

Joe Purdy – Can’t Get It Right Today

Joe Purdy – Can’t get it right today Enjoy!

The unemployment numbers in perspective

Wow. We’ve been through a lot in this past 15 years. If you like to see the data, you will love this video timeline of job growth and job shrinkage during this time. See if you can spot the .com bust, 9/11, Katrina and the Great Recession. Poor Detroit looks like it’s finally making a comeback!

And now our feature presentation:

News summary, from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (10/14)

numbers by Dave Bleasdale

numbers by Dave Bleasdale

The national unemployment rate lowered by .2% over the month to 5.9% with 9.3 million unemployed. The number of persons experiencing long spells of unemployment (over a year) lowered by 105,000 people to 2 million. 3 million individuals had been unemployed for 6 months or more in September, a decrease of 9,000 over the month, and a decrease of 1.2M over the past 12 months. That means about 29% of those who became unemployed 6 months ago are still unemployed today. They are, however, competing with 1.2 million fewer job seekers than they were in March when the unemployment rate was 6.7% and 10.5 million were unemployed. Long-term unemployment has been steadily declining since 2011 when 6.4 million were experiencing spells of over 6 months.

 

The average number of weeks that job seekers are staying unemployed has decreased over the month to 31.5, which is 3 weeks shorter than 4 months ago, while the median went back up to 13.2 weeks, still a huge decrease of almost 3 weeks in 6 months!

 

Such a difference between the mean and the average may reflect that for most industries and geographies, job seekers may be able to transition within 4 months. However, a greater majority are either not be able to effectively execute a transition campaign or may be in adversely impacted geographies or shrinking markets, creating challenges to transitioning that lead to extremely long spells of unemployment.

 

3 Steps To Ensure Your Next Position Is Better Than Your Last One

 

Petrified by Brett Jordan

Petrified by Brett Jordan

 

 

Everyone seems to be running away from something rather than toward something. For example, many clients do not come to me or approach me until they see that they are running out of money, and so they decide to run away from a lack of money. Or others still find themselves in employment situations that are undesirable, and so they come to me wanting escape from their current situation. Yes, I do this.

I do help people relieve financial distress by helping them gain employment that brings in an income that enables them to afford their lifestyles, or better lifestyles. Yes, I also help professionals improve their career trajectory and help them find jobs that fulfill them and pay them what they’re worth.

However, most of them have not yet decided what they are running toward.

 

 

Where do people usually turn to see what opportunities are out there for them? Job boards. Here’s the flaw in that: job boards are not job prophecies. You will not be able to determine your career destiny by scouring job boards. This is what will happen: you will find many, many jobs with a few words that excite you, and you will use those few words as a reason to spend your time evaluating that opportunity and filling out an online application. You will cross your fingers, consider your effort done, and hope and pray that somebody will respond and invite you for interview.

 

Let me ask you, does doing this motivate you to get up every day and repeat the process? Do you really feel any closer to a better employment situation? Are you getting any results from this process? Even if this process does produce interviews, do you really feel like they are the right jobs?

 

It is spectacular to know that what you have currently is not what you want. However, if you are really going to ensure that your situation improves, you have to define what that improvement looks like. And, actually, the more full detail you give to that picture of improvement, the closer you will get to it.

Here are three exercises, consider them career development homework, that will propel you in a favorable direction once you decide that you want your professional future to be better than your past or present.

 

  1. Develop your criteria

Create a table, either in word or an Excel, with four columns at the top and numbers on the left (Excel has these already.) In the first column (A) put all the things that you disliked about your most recent position and any other positions in the past. In the second column (B) type the opposite of that. In the third column make a list of things that you heard other people complain about their jobs that you would not want to experience for yourself. In the fourth column include things that you’ve heard other people enjoy about their job that you have not yet experienced. Use all of the columns to develop questions that you can ask your network and your interviewees (once you land them) to find out if a company is a worthwhile target. In a new spreadsheet, combine columns B and D into one complete list that you will call your criteria. Sort them into order of importance, and make the “make or break” criteria distinct by using colors or bolding. Now, for each company you identify, either through job boards, recruiters, business journals, news articles, leads from your network, etc., add a column and cross reference what you find out about them, through any of the same sources listed above, with your criteria list. Use a simple system, like “X” for any criteria a company doesn’t match and an “O” for each one it does. If the Xs start to add up to more than 20% of the criteria, move on. If not, keep digging and make sure that your network inquiries include requests for introductions with value statements on what you can offer them. (E-mail info@epiccareering.com if you would like to see a sample.)

 

  1. Create a reverse career roadmap.

Assuming all things are possible, how would you ultimately like to end your career? Every answer is okay. Don’t limit yourself, but don’t assume that you have to yearn for the highest possible position either. Use your imagination. If you do tend to eliminate possibilities, carefully evaluate if your reasons are actually valid or if they are manifestations of a self-limiting untruth, an assumption, or misinformation. A really easy way to tell if that is the case is to ask, “Has anyone else ever achieved this?” If the answer is yes, you have proof that it is possible, but even if you don’t know of anybody else who has achieved it, I will quote something I say to my daughters daily – “There is no can’t; only I don’t know how yet.”

Asking questions of your network is a lot easier than asking favors of your network. People love to help and offer their expertise. The caveat: if people tell you something is impossible, thank them and ignore them. They may or may not have their own illusions of reality. Stay focused on the how, not the if.

 

  1. Create a reverse financial roadmap.

Unless you are a financial advisor, I suggest you work with a financial advisor to get this quest completed. As a “rule,” you should increase your salary by 10% every year. Follow this link and use the calculator 2/3 down the page on the right to determine how much you should be making right now based on this rule. Project then, how much you should be making at the age you hope to retire. A financial advisor can help you understand how much you should have saved in order to have money left at the end of your life rather than life left at the end of your money. There should be two numbers – the least amount that you should have saved to cover expenses based on anticipated costs of living, and the ideal number that you should have saved to be able to really enjoy a high quality of life. Obviously, you have to be at least at the bottom of that range, but you should shoot for the top of that range. Furthermore, a financial advisor will help you determine if, based on the rule that you should be increasing your salary by 10% every year, if you can achieve that range or not. If not, some catch-up is required. Based on a Rutgers study on American workers, only 18% feel that they are well-paid. If what you’re making now is nowhere near what that formula says you should be currently making, we may be able to help you reroute and get back on track. We have helped many clients increase their salary by 25 to 100%! Contact us for a free session.

 

Desperately running away from a bad situation often leads to poor decisions, as we have shared before. If you’re in a bad situation, or simply situation that isn’t what you think is best for you, there is no time like the present to make changes, but they should be strategic changes. Considering the amount of emotion around career decisions, it can be a huge challenge to be objective enough to be effectively strategic. Don’t be too proud to reach out for help. Your logic and past experience should tell you that a partner, or even a team, will get more accomplished than an individual. You make the decisions, you are in control, and you don’t have to do it alone.