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To Tout or Not to Tout (Or, Resumes Revisited)

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Most of us are not inclined to “to blow our own horns,” experiencing significant discomfort in describing our work and life accomplishments with anything other than monosyllabic terms like “did” or “made.” Exciting words they are not. If you were to pick up a brochure on a brand new car that was typed on an IBM Selectric in Courier 12 pt. on white copy paper with an austere, word-starved list of options, you’d probably be less than impressed.

Yet that’s exactly what many people do when preparing their resumes! Fearing the monstrous sin of pride, they go to the opposite extent out of an honest desire to show humility. Please don’t misunderstand. I agree that over-inflated egos are not only insufferable but ineffective as lifestyles or marketing campaigns. And false humility isn’t any better. To quote a favorite author of mine, C. S. Lewis, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility.”


So what’s the answer? How can you strike a reasonable balance between turning in a 3×5 card and writing an epic work of fiction?

Much of it starts with language. Words like “exceptional, extraordinary, demonstrated expertise, expert,” etc. may seem to be over the top, but my experience has shown that most of us UNDERREPORT our competencies, what I like to call the “Aw, Shucks Syndrome.” We can take criticism. We don’t like it, but we usually believe it. Compliments are much harder to handle, particularly when they come in our own voice!

When I presented a client of mine with the phrase “possesses an extraordinary work ethic,” he sucked through his teeth and said, “I certainly sound full of myself, don’t I?!” He was virtually incapable of saying positive things about himself. Yet the statement was true. I advised him that I would abide by his decision on the resume (since I wouldn’t be present at the interview to defend his words), but recounted from his own experience why I felt this phrase belonged in his document. Here was a man who treated all he met (subordinates, peers, bosses, outside vendors, etc.) with dignity and professionalism. His word was his bond. As a senior project engineer, he was one of the first on a site and one of the last to leave. He never requested anything from a coworker that he wasn’t willing to do himself.

After making these points to this fine gentleman, I advised him that I did not see this language as over the top but as fact demonstrated by his years of experience. If he wished, I would remove the phrase from his resume, but my vote was to keep it. He hesitated for a moment, then grudgingly agreed, “OK, we can keep it.” He didn’t like hearing it, but he knew it was true!

Following are some guidelines for deciding if a statement belongs in your resume or if you’re signing up for a Pinocchio button:

  • If the language seems a bit over the top but you can cite specific experiences where these skills were demonstrated effectively, I say keep it in!
  • If, however, your work and life experiences seem to bear out that you’re capable but not necessarily extraordinary, scale the language back to something like “solid interpersonal ability.”
  • Be aware that most of us are unable to give ourselves credit when it is due, over-exercising our humility muscles when it’s important to make sure people understand how competent we are. Unfortunately, humility in a resume or during an interview is frequently misinterpreted as lack of confidence. Sadly, they are likely to feel that this lack of confidence is well-deserved!
  • Consider asking a friend or someone who is skilled with words to help you showcase your experiences effectively. Remember that the goal of your resume is to make you worth seeing. No more. No less.

In summary, step back from your self evaluation long enough to recognize where you excel and admit it! For example, if your work and life experiences bear out that you interact with the vast majority of individuals at all levels with success and professionalism, I would argue that your interpersonal skills are “exceptional.”

Remember, if you did it, you’re not bragging!

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In Memoriam: Columbo and the Job Hunt

I can see him now. Rumpled raincoat, stub of a cigar, tousled hair and knitted brow, driving around in his old Peugeot looking befuddled. Yet, from 1971 to 1978, in 55 episodes and 14 specials, Columbo always seemed to crack the case wide open. What in the world, you may say, does this have to do with me and my employment search?

Quite a bit. Let me introduce you to what I like to call the “Columbo style” of job hunting – four key principles that you can apply to increase your opportunity for success.

Columbo always had insight into what was really happening.

If you recall, the episodes started by showing us “who done it,” someone who had carefully prepared an airtight alibi. No one thought that person could have possibly committed the dastardly deed. No one, that is, but Lieutenant Columbo. Somehow or another, he seemed to have an inside track on the events before him.

You also have insights. You know that many of the better opportunities are hidden from public view, will never be acknowledged in the traditional market (Internet, newspapers, recruiters, etc.). You also know that contact with others to seek information, advice and referral can be a powerful and highly successful way to tap into this hidden market. Furthermore, you know that most of the individuals you network with are inclined to feel that the only way they can help you is to either provide you with the Lead of a Lifetime, or hire you themselves. If they can do neither, they feel that they have nothing to offer. You, however, understand that through networking with others, they can become more informed about you and your interests and can begin to connect the dots between your skills and abilities and opportunities they may encounter in their work and life. Not to mention what you can learn from them!

Columbo never tipped his hat on this insight.

He never barged right into the obvious “Where were you on the night of . . .?” questions. He often spent considerable time talking around the issues at hand, to the point of having conversations that seemed totally unrelated to what was really important. One of his typical questions, “What did you pay for those shoes?” even became a famous catchphrase for comedians and impersonators, even though he uttered it only once.

How does this relate to the job search? Just because you understand more about the process of networking than your contacts doesn’t mean you should approach them that way. For example, you should not start out by saying something like “I know you think the only way to help me is to offer me a job, but I know that you’ll come up with contacts, advice and insights that you’re unaware of that will really help me.” Such a lead-in is a recipe for failure. You want to start with friendly, conversational topics that tap into the individual’s interests and activities, then move on into seeking his or her perspective on things. We have a solid article on this very topic called “Networking Questions” you may want to read.

Columbo was willing to be confused to get the answers he needed.

As a matter of fact, more often than not he appeared to be totally perplexed. Of course, that gave the criminal false confidence that this disheveled character was no threat at all, a misinterpretation that the lieutenant used to his advantage every week!

You need to be confused, too. As a matter of fact, you are confused, whether you believe it or not. According to Barbara Sher in Live the Life You Love, most people are natural problem-solvers, relishing the opportunity to figure things out, give advice and share their perspective. You can use this “I don’t know what I am doing” technique to admit to your contact that you are not sure what your next steps should be, wonder if your resume represents you properly, are not at all sure you are identifying the best fit for your skills, etc. Most individuals will rise to the occasion of your “confusion” and provide assistance.

Columbo was always seeking to “put two and two together.”

As he managed to extract the facts from the criminal, he took full advantage of these gems to bring the offender to justice.

Our application? OK, I admit that you’re not trying to catch a murderer or throw the keys away on a blackmailer, but you are seeking to get the key information necessary to take action towards a meaningful, satisfying career. That is where you need to be constantly investigating, considering and applying what you learn as well as continually tapping into the people and resources that are all around you to be successful in your career development.

Skip the raincoat. Forget the cigar. Comb your hair. But stay confused!

It worked for Lieutenant Columbo!

How To Become the Perfect Employee

In applying to jobs, we scrutinize the want ad or job posting carefully, noting every time we can place a check mark (Hurrah! I’ve got that one!) beside a qualification and every time we have to cross it out (Darn! Missed that one!).

 

The Perfect Employee will end up with a document replete with check marks and nothing crossed out, right? So, if you come up short, don’t waste your time. In this competitive job market, they will always be able to get exactly what they want and you aren’t it! Wake up and smell the java!

Without putting too fine a point on this, can I just say “Balderdash!”? (A great word, look it up if you have to). Stated simply, the panoply (another great word) of qualifications listed is, indeed, the ideal candidate, but it’s not fixed in stone. If you are able to match a significant number of the qualifications and don’t come up short on any of the “Deal Breakers” (like a holding a CDL, legal certification, own your own X-ray machine, etc.), my counsel is to “Go for it!”

 

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing your hat in the candidate ring. I once challenged a group of HR types on a panel I moderated: “Do you really need all of the qualifications cited in your ad and, if you don’t, why are they there?” The answer I received was the one I expected. As HR representatives (a noble and challenging profession, to my way of thinking), they are visited with the task of finding the best candidate they can for their organization. This list of skills, experiences, aptitudes, et al is designed to seek out the best possible fit between the person and the position. They may or may not get all they want, but they must ask!

 

Presenting yourself as a qualified applicant who meets a number of the qualifications (even though you may not knock it out of the ballpark) allows them to consider you, something they cannot do if you don’t apply!

 

So, to revisit my question – “How do you become the perfect employee?” – I must respectfully respond, “I’m not sure you can!”

I am sure, however, that you may become an excellent candidate if you make your strongest case for getting their job done!

Are you Bragging on Your Resume?!

To tout or not to tout – that is the question.
Most of us are not inclined to “to blow our own horns,” experiencing significant discomfort in describing our work and life accomplishments with anything other than monosyllabic terms like “did” or “made.” Exciting words they are not. If you were to pick up a brochure on a brand new car that was typed on an IBM Selectric in Courier 12 pt. on white copy paper with an austere, word-starved list of options, you’d probably be less than impressed.

Yet that’s exactly what many people do when preparing their resumes! Fearing the monstrous sin of pride, they go to the opposite extent out of an honest desire to show humility. Please don’t misunderstand. I agree that over-inflated egos are not only insufferable but ineffective as lifestyles or marketing campaigns. And false humility isn’t any better. To quote a favorite author of mine, C. S. Lewis, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility.”


So what’s the answer? How can you strike a reasonable balance between turning in a 3×5 card and writing an epic work of fiction?

Much of it starts with language. Words like “exceptional, extraordinary, demonstrated expertise, expert,” etc. may seem to be over the top, but my experience has shown that most of us UNDERREPORT our competencies, what I like to call the “Aw, Shucks Syndrome.” We can take criticism. We don’t like it, but we usually believe it. Compliments are much harder to handle, particularly when they come in our own voice!

When I presented a client of mine with the phrase “possesses an extraordinary work ethic,” he sucked through his teeth and said, “I certainly sound full of myself, don’t I?!” He was virtually incapable of saying positive things about himself. Yet the statement was true. I advised him that I would abide by his decision on the resume (since I wouldn’t be present at the interview to defend his words), but recounted from his own experience why I felt this phrase belonged in his document. Here was a man who treated all he came in contact with (subordinates, peers, bosses, outside vendors, etc.) with dignity and professionalism. His word was his bond. As a senior project engineer, he was one of the first on a site and one of the last to leave. He never requested anything from a coworker that he wasn’t willing to do himself.

After making these points to this fine gentleman, I advised him that I did not see this language as over the top but as fact demonstrated by his years of experience. If he wished, I would remove the phrase from his resume, but my vote was to keep it. He hesitated for a moment, then grudgingly agreed, “OK, we can keep it.” He didn’t like hearing it, but he knew it was true!

Following are some guidelines for deciding if a statement belongs in your resume or if you’re signing up for a Pinocchio button:

  • If the language seems a bit over the top but you can cite specific experiences where these skills were demonstrated effectively, I say keep it in!
  • If, however, your work and life experiences seem to bear out that you’re capable but not necessarily extraordinary, scale the language back to something like “solid interpersonal ability.”
  • Be aware that most of us are unable to give ourselves credit when it is due, over-exercising our humility muscles when it’s important to make sure people understand how competent we are. Unfortunately, humility in a resume or during an interview is frequently misinterpreted as lack of confidence.
  • Consider asking a friend or someone who is skilled with words to help you showcase your experiences effectively. Remember that the goal of your resume is to make you worth seeing. No more. No less.

In summary, step back from your self evaluation long enough to recognize where you excel and admit it! For example, if your work and life experiences bear out that you interact with the vast majority of individuals at all levels with success and professionalism, I would argue that your interpersonal skills are “exceptional.”

Remember, if you did it, you’re not bragging!

Talents: What are they? Do You Have Any?!

I’ve always wanted to juggle. I have read books, studied YouTube videos, pored over websites, etc. All to no avail. Yet I have family members who have picked up three objects and successfully managed it with ease.

I guess I just don’t have the talent!

Talent. Talent Scouts. Talent Management.  The word turns up a lot. In my reading and musings over the years, I have learned of four key themes that every talent (skill, gift, aptitude, expertise, pick the synonym you wish) seems to have. Maybe they will help you find yours. Allow me to share them with you:

1. You have an instinctive, top of the mind ability to use it. World class athletes don’t have to think about how to stroke a tennis forehand, counselors have an innate ability to hear emotions, engineers naturally gather data for decision-making, etc. You need not think about how to do it. It just happens. It’s hard-wired into your psyche..

2. You have a desire, a yearning to use it, even if you have difficulty describing it! I am constantly amazed by clients who clearly have innate abilities that they practice daily in their work and play, yet are unable to recognize their significance in planning careers and life decisions.

3. When you are called upon to acquire knowledge in this area, it comes easily and quickly. I still recall my struggle with learning geography (“Why bother?” – I asked myself. “That’s what maps and Google Earth are for!”), yet I was able to soak up information on computer technology and New Testament Greek like a sponge!

4. As you look back on the practice of this “talent,” you experience true satisfaction. “Flow” is the term used by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (read my reviews of a number of his books on my Linkedin profile) to describe what he calls the “psychology of optimal experience.” When you are in Flow, you lose track of time and space. When finished, you feel that you have accomplished something worthwhile, something of true value. It was worth doing.

  • If your talent meets these four criteria, then what are you waiting for? Start to use it!
  • Or, if you’re having difficulty finding where your talents lie, we should talk!

Interviewing and the “Lucky” Psychologist

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently read another book by Dr. Richard Wiseman, the author of “The Luck Factor,” a great treatise on harnessing cognitive therapy techniques to increase serendipity (my review is on LinkedIn and Amazon, if you’re interested). This new work, “59 Seconds,” offers a myriad of suggestions on happiness, motivation, relationships, decision making, et al, all of which can be accomplished in under a minute (I hope I don’t have to tell you where to find my review!).

One chapter, Persuasion, includes some fascinating insights on how to have your best performance in a job interview. As is always the case with Wiseman, the three suggestions offered are backed by empirical research. While admitting that virtually all interviewers are seeking to select the candidate who best matches the requirements of the position, there are clearly significant subjective factors that interviewees should consider to improve their chances.

Ready? Here they are . . .

Be likeable. Take the time to learn things you like about the organization and mention them in the interview. Seek to connect with the interviewer in areas of related interest. Feel free to be complimentary to both the individual and the company. Show enthusiasm. Smile frequently and maintain appropriate eye contact.

Be honest. Research seems to bear out that you are better sharing any shortcomings you may have early in the interview, not near the end. This type of open, up front communication tends to boost credibility. Also, save some of your strongest qualifications for the finish. It not only demonstrates modesty, it provides a strong close to the interview.

Don’t panic. Do your best not to overreact if you feel you’ve really made a major mistake. In most cases it is likely more noticeable to you than to the interviewer. Apologizing extensively or focusing on a faux pas tends to accentuate, not correct the mistake. Simply acknowledge it and move on.  For example, one of the experiments cited under this theme involved individuals wearing Barry Manilow T-shirts on a college campus. As embarrassed as the the test subjects were, only 20% on average of the people who saw them even noticed what they were wearing!

As important as qualifications are, research consistently highlighted the following question, per Wiseman: “Did the candidate appear to be a pleasant person?”

See, your mother was right when she told you to “Be nice!”

How to Help the Unemployed

April 6, 2011 2 comments

Many of us are nearby, if not related to, people that I prefer to term as “Free Agents.” That is, for one reason or another, they find themselves unemployed. In conversation with a client today, I realized that we seldom think about how we can assist them in their employment search. After all, if  you can’t provide them with a job lead or a killer networking contact, you can’t help them, right?

Wrong! 

Here are some practical tips for being there . . .

  • Keep them in your social circle. Unemployment is not communicable and we all need interaction with others.
  • Ask for a copy of their resume. Look it over, learn more about them and what they have done. If you have good advice on how it’s written or how to use it, tell them.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity that may interest them, whether it’s an article in the Business Section of the paper, a sign in the lawn in front of a company or a blog you just read.
  • Provide a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear. Job search is tough sledding. They may just need a sounding board at times, not advice.
  • Maintain regular contact and follow up in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Never ask them, “Didn’t you find work YET?!”

Finally, be a friend. They need one now, more than ever!