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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!

Job Fairs & Business Expos – Are they great for career development or just a place to stock up on pens and coffee mugs?

August 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Do your research in advance

Get the most current list of attendees and spend time on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Facebook, their websites, et al, to be as informed as possible in advance of meeting them. Take note of information regarding their industry, products or services, guiding principles, mission statements, careers, etc. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for going into these events without significant business intelligence regarding the occupants of each booth.

Assemble your “package”

Have adequate professional copies of your resume. Consider having business cards (you can get some free at www.vistaprint.com, or print your own with card stock) to trade with contacts. Use a briefcase or portfolio to carry your career “paperwork.” If appropriate, have samples of your work to share, letters of recommendation, perhaps even a list of references. Be sure you have adequate materials to take notes and record impressions. Also, dress and comport yourself conservatively and professionally. If you do so, you are likely to stand out from the crowd. Treat each interaction with every individual as an opportunity to impress them. Don’t be aggressive, however, just be polished.

Plan your attack

Based on the list of companies or organizations you have gathered, identify your key targets for making contact. Upon arrival, note any changes or additions to the attendees and adjust your activity accordingly. Plans are useful, but be open for a serendipitous meeting as well. I have a client who secured very useful information on a company not from their representative (no one was there at the time) but from a former co-worker who was packing up the company display in a nearby booth and happened to know someone who had worked at the target company. Now THAT’s serendipity!

Make a great first impression all day

You are constantly making a first impression, even as you round the corner to saunter down the next aisle. Don’t forget it. Always make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, ask intelligent questions, etc. Every person you meet, pass by, network or interview with is getting an impression of you as a employee, a peer, a customer, or a resource. Make sure it’s a good one.

Follow up

Tap into that wealth of information you have gleaned from the business cards you’ve gathered and the copious notes you’ve taken to send a personalized follow up email or handwritten note to everyone you meet. The best time for them think of you again is within 24 hours of when they first met you. If you’re on LinkedIn, seek them out and request a connection. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn! If they are online themselves, investigate their groups and connections to expand your personal network. Be sure your follow up to them references your interaction in a professional yet personal way (after all, that’s why you took notes, right?!).

Finally, continue to nurture build on these new contacts to increase your visibility and create opportunities for success.

The Phone Interview . . . If a company answers, don’t hang up!

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

“One ringy-dingy! Two ringy-dingys!” (with apologies to Lily Tomlin).

In this crazy world of global economies and national searches, the phone interview is becoming a preferred method for starting the candidate-selection process. After all, if you can call someone up and interview that person for the cost of a long-distance phone conversation, you’ve saved considerable time and expense over flying someone in for a face-to-face meeting. They are often used even for local candidates as a next step in the hiring process.

So, enter the telephone interview. An arranged time for a phone call can allow a company to screen you at a deeper level as a candidate (your resume probably got you the phone appointment) to see if they really want to make eye contact with you. If you’re like me, you may prefer speaking face to face, but you should probably hone your phone skills, since you’ll likely have a phone interview sometime soon.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions for getting your message across through the wires:

  • Use a land line if you can. Don’t trust cell phones. Also, use the handset, not the speakerphone; the technology just isn’t there yet. The company may be using a hands-free system, but they ARE the potential employer. If you don’t have a quality wireless phone where you’ll receive the call, use a standard phone. Sound quality can be a significant problem if your equipment isn’t up to the task.
  • Make arrangements for your phone line to be free, whether you are calling or being called. If you think other people might try to reach you, advise them in advance that you won’t be available and that you need the phone line to remain open.
  • Gather all of the information you can on the company in advance. Have a copy of your resume and work background, key information you want to share, etc., at your fingertips. This is an “open book test,” so be prepared. There is NO REASON not you have all of your “interview ammunition” in front of you for the call!
  • Make sure the house is quiet when the interview takes place. If the call comes when others are around, be sure to make plans for some silence. Interviewing over the cacophony of a barking dog or a blaring rerun of “Sponge Bob Squarepants” is not likely to impress a potential employer.
  • Review what you know of the position and prepare short “experience stories” to demonstrate how you fit the company’s needs. Since you know when the interview is going to take place and have the ability to keep your critical information within reach, there’s no reason not to take full advantage of the situation.
  • Believe it or not, I recommend DRESSING UP for the phone interview. What you wear is often reflected in your voice. If you’re dressed professionally you’ll sound much better than if you’re in a bathrobe and bunny slippers. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s true!
  • Sit in a comfortable chair that requires you to maintain good posture. Once again, little steps like this will improve your delivery. Voices can slouch just like bodies do. Some people find interviewing while standing up works as well.
  • Use your voice to demonstrate interest and enthusiasm. Speak clearly with good diction, varying your voice to make points. Consider keeping a glass of water nearby, perhaps some lozenges, etc., just in case you need them.
  • You may find that interviewing in front of a mirror is useful, providing some visual cues and feedback which you cannot get from the other end of the phone line. This technique will also give you some insight into your posture, energy level and related variables.
  • Have all of the questions you want the company to answer ready in advance. Be aware that the phone interview is likely to happen early in the hiring process, so bringing up issues like salary and benefits is probably not a good idea.
  • Near the end of the interview, consider asking (in your own words), “As I learn more about this position in relation to my skills and experience, I frankly see an excellent fit and am quite excited about the opportunity to join your company. Are there any areas of concern regarding my candidacy that we should discuss in greater detail?” A strong question like this near the end of the interview may help you clarify any areas where the company may be unsure of you as a candidate. (And it makes you sound good!)
  • Finally, never close the interview without the final question: “What’s the next step in the process?” or “When can I anticipate hearing from you?” Be sure that you have accurate information on the name, title and address of the individual(s) you are speaking with so that you can send thank-you correspondence.

Phone Interviews:  Be all you can be when that call comes in!

Categories: Uncategorized

Networking Questions – Stop asking for job leads!

The networking process continues to be one of the most maligned, underappreciated, abused, yet potentially powerful tools in your job search “arsenal.” Suppose that you manage to nail down an appointment with someone to “discuss alternatives,” “seek their feedback,” “bounce ideas back and forth,” etc. Just what does this really mean? How can you assure that you are getting the most out of this process, while treating the networkee with professionalism and respect?

The answers to these questions are not always completely black and white, but I feel that there are some significant keys to effectively using this time to the best advantage of all involved. In considering the questions to be posed during the networking experience, consider focusing your questions around the three key themes of the entire process – Information, Advice and Referral.

Let’s use these three areas of focus to consider some of the key questions that you may want to include on your networking list:

Information

Each individual has a unique perspective on what is going on, both in their field of endeavor as well as in the more global areas of the region, the nation, the hemisphere, even the world. Solicit their “take” on things, as in the following:

1.   How has your industry changed over the past several years?

2.   Who and where are your competitors?

3.   Regarding technology, how does it impact the way your business is accomplished?

4.   Are there any emerging trends in your field that demand your attention?

5.   Is the area in which you are working expanding? Is it a mature market? Is it on the decline?

6.   Are there any key alliances or relationships forming that will be necessary to remain competitive?

7.   Are you happy in your industry and field? If not, in what way would you change your current situation, if you could?

8.   What is your perspective on the economy and opportunities as you look ahead?

Advice

Advice can be both precious, almost invaluable; and it can appear to be worthless. Bear in mind that advice typically costs no more than an investment of your time and attention, and the relationships it can forge may be even more valuable than the information itself! That being said, here are some suggestions for questions:

1.   If you were me, with my background and experience, what would your next steps be? (I believe this may be THE ULTIMATE NETWORKING QUESTION).

2.   What experience or expertise is the most valuable in seeking employment in this field?

3.   Are there any specific areas where you feel I may be “at risk” as a candidate, perhaps in relation to age, technical knowledge, salary expectations, etc.?

4.   As a career changer or someone looking at a new industry, how can I help a company understand my abilities in an area that is somewhat different from my work history?

5.   Regarding my expectations for employment, salary, job search time frame, opportunity, etc., do you see my expectations as reasonable, or should I adjust my target?

6.   Do you have any specific suggestions as to areas for me to investigate? How might I start to make inroads into these areas?

Referral

The referral phase of the networking process is designed to expand on the information and advice that you are gathering from this kind individual. Seeking referrals is most often easier than it sounds. Most people, once they determine that you are “safe” – not pumping them for jobs, simply seeking to benefit from their knowledge, will be happy to share other contacts. I do feel, however that you should approach this final topic carefully, perhaps starting with something like the following:

1.   I really appreciate your time and the insights you have shared with me. I’m wondering if you can think of anyone else that I should talk to, someone that could provide an additional perspective on these issues?

2.   Do you know of anyone in a related field that might have a unique view that I should be aware of?

3.   Are there any people in other areas that you would recommend I contact, based upon what you are learning about me and my interests?

4.   Thinking “outside of the box” is an important part of my investigating options. Are you aware of anyone else that I should talk to help me look beyond the obvious?

As I noted on the outset, these people are doing you a tremendous favor. Be flexible, appreciative. Ask for about 45 minutes – you will almost always get more! Send a thank-you note right away. Be sure to ask for their permission to check back with them regularly (I’m fond of  the two-week time frame as a general rule) with updates on their referrals, more questions, perhaps even a simple “hello.”

You will be amazed at how many people are reading, willing and able to talk, and will think of you if any possibilities come up!