Tips to Help Stay on Track When Looking for a Job

Delay, avoid, procrastinate, ignore….then you need something NOW. I see this time and time again with those in transition. I have had numerous clients that apply this approach with their resume. They delay or hesitate on reviewing the resume I have prepared, or avoid giving me pertinent information and it just lingers. Until I get the call late in the day or evening that, holy cow, I need to send my resume to a company TOMORROW, can you do it tonight? Where were you last week when I was asking for the information?? One of my favorite phrases is, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part”. Seriously, did you forget you were in transition and an opportunity can happen any time any where?? (And yes, I always get it done)

So for those of you that are going through this little traumatic experience at the time you are reading this, shame on you! You should know better. For those of you that have been there, let’s see what we can do to make sure this does not happen again. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are prepared for that opportunity at any time.

1. You should make sure your resume is updated and appropriate at all times. You should have more than one resume and it will be modified for the job and skills for the position for which you are applying. For example, you may be a manager but there are different types of managers. Some management styles fit better with certain organizations rather than others and you will need to decipher what skills and qualifications each company feels are important for their organization. For example Company A may be seeking a very hands-on manager who is skilled at team building, open communication and being able to perform the work as well as lead it. Company B may be seeking a very analytical, time and information sensitive leader who is skilled at direction, delegation and oversight. Completely different perspectives and having a one-size-fits-all resume will not benefit you in the least.

2. You should make sure you understand your resume and can sell it – i.e. sell you. Your resume is your sales brochure. Have you ever encountered a sales person who constantly has to refer to a manual or sales brochure to tell you the highlights of the product? Not very convincing, huh? If I am in the market for a new digital camera, I do not want someone to read me the manual, I want someone who can explain it in my terms, show me the best features – in other words sell me on it. Then I can glance through the brochure to get further information and reinforce my “need” to buy that camera. You, in this little example, are the digital camera and the sales person.

3. You should have your sales materials with you at all times. Sales materials: that means resumes, business cards or skills cards. No, I do not suggest that you hand out your resume at networking events (unless it specifically requests that you bring them), but you should have your resume with you to read through again before you go into a networking event just as a refresher and boost. When you are at casual networking (i.e. ball games, concerts, gatherings, picnics – wherever) you should have your skill summary cards or business cards with you to be able to hand out to someone if they would like to contact you.

4. You should have a tracking sheet. Job searching stinks. You can get to the point that you feel as though you sent out one hundred resumes last week and did not get one single response. I have literally heard this line numerous times. Keeping a spreadsheet of your activity not only helps you gain a bit of perspective, it also helps you keep track of who you have spoken to, what companies you have applied to, when, what positions, what follow up actions you need to take and any important information relevant to your search. Knowing that you sent a resume to Company A last week, perhaps it is time to follow up – you would know this if you were keeping track of your activities.

5. You should be training your friends and family as Sales Associates. One thing I ask people when I teach classes is, “Do you friends and family know you are looking for a job?” Of course everyone looks at me like I am an idiot and say, “Yes, of course”. So my next question is, “If I were hiring and met them casually, would they know what key word I might say that would let them know immediately to give me your name and number?” Normally, those in my class now have a bashful look on their face for thinking I was an idiot only moments before… The point is, if you tell me you are an IT person looking for a job that means nothing to me. And quite frankly it would be a weak introduction to someone looking for a programmer to tell them that I know someone in IT, but no idea what they do. You need to be specific and make sure people understand that. If I were going back into the financial industry telling you I was a manager tells you nothing! But if I were looking to go back into Compliance, now you have a better clue. If I told you that I would love to work for a mid-sized financial company rather than one of the big boys in banking, investments or insurance there is another clue. And if I told you that I was looking to work in the area between and including Indianapolis to Anderson, there is another really good clue. You now have several key words: Compliance, mid-size, investments, insurance, banking, Indianapolis, Anderson – see where I am going here? Never assume everyone knows what you mean, make it clear.

6. You should make sure your references are prepared. Here is another question I ask during class, “Do you have your references ready, you have asked their permission” Again, normally a yes. Then I ask, “Have you asked them what they would say?” The answer to that one is almost always no. In fact, in between 60-80 classes I have only heard two people say yes. The purpose is two-fold. One, you want to make sure what they say and how they say it will be perceived correctly. I am a sarcastic person, it is who I am and I know it. I have to temper it and keep it under close supervision. If one of my references said I was a great leader, motivator and trainer with great sarcastic wit, the prospective employer may not like that whole sarcasm thing. The second reason is those references may see something in you that you may not see yourself. What if one of your references told you that no matter how stressful a situation got you were always cool, calm and collected and they always looked to you at those times. That sounds like great things to emphasize in a resume or cover letter don’t you think?

7. You should only offer what you can produce. Undersell and over deliver is an old motto. In this situation what I mean is do not get so involved in the job search and networking that you have booked yourself out of quality time for self, family, friends, and quality leads. I have seen people get so wrapped up in networking that they are professional job seekers with no real ability to make real connections and possible inroads to future opportunities. Do get out there and meet with people, do not make it a practice that you have no real results or you neglect the things that are important in life. If you are meeting with so many people at all times and if you are promising to follow up, are you able to keep up with the schedule you set? Sometimes we are our worst enemy. Here’s another old motto to help with this one: work smarter not harder – i.e. network smarter, not harder.

8. You should look at alternative ideas to building connections and seeking opportunities. Volunteer. Give yourself a chance to do something you love, help other people, animals or the environment and enjoy it. By doing something that you enjoy, you will meet other people with similar interests and you can get to know them through this common connection. From there, you can find out what they do when they are not volunteering and maybe they work for a company you are targeting or knows someone who does. You just never know.

9. You should be keeping up to date. I emphasized your resume earlier, but now I am expanding on this concept. You should make sure your skills and techniques are up to date. Not just job skills, but networking and interviewing skills as well. Make sure if you have a business social media page it is up to date. Are their groups or discussions you can join or be a part of, and if so, are you active and up to date in what they are discussing? Are you up to date in what is going on in your town, city, state and nation? Events outside our immediate life impact everyone and you certainly do not want to be caught off guard. It would be disastrous if in an interview the interviewer makes small talk and says something to you about the terrible oil spill and you reply, “Yes, the Exxon situation was very sad”.

These are just a few things that you can do to make sure you are prepared and ready when that wonderful opportunity comes your way, or even a maybe/iffy one shows up. If you are in transition your job right now is to get a job – don’t fire yourself by being unprepared!

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If It Doesn’t Fit – Don’t Wear It

Mom & Jake blog picShort, shorty, tiny, pint-size, munchkin – these are all words that I forbid my son from calling me since the age of seven. I knew he was going to be over six foot tall and well, I’m five foot. Maybe a half an inch or inch more, but really, at this size it does not matter. I also made two other rules when he got taller than me: 1. Never pick me up and 2. Never, ever pat me on the head. Trust me this is a daily struggle for a 16 year old kid! And now that I have a 13 year old step-son, well, the fun just keeps coming…

I am petite, plain and simple. And the fact that I have a short torso and very long legs, well I think it is funny looking. When I first entered into the professional world all those years ago, I would wear long jackets thinking they elongated me. Ok, I know, at this height nothing makes me taller. What I did not realize is they made me look smaller, almost like I was a little kid playing dress up.

I finally realized that I needed accentuate my figure and embrace my pettiness. I bought suits that had short jackets and had them tailored. Huge difference! Now I look like a petite business woman, not a girl playing in her mother’s closet. The point of this drawn out story…is your resume fitting you?

Styles change, skill sets change, strengths change – is your resume changing with you? Or is it still wearing the god-awful 80’s hair band style? The one rule I will share with you on resumes: there are very few hard fast rules. Some things do not change, i.e., do not include salary information on your resume, a picture of yourself, any mention of race, religion or age. On the religion front, yes, it is acceptable to list your activities within the church. See, there are always exceptions! But the point is, are you updating your resume for your current style?

Your resume is intended to do two things. The first is to be your personal sales pitch. The second is to help direct the interview. If your resume does not fit you, absolutely like a glove, then it is worthless. If you have to review it before the interview to make sure you are in line with what it says, then there is a problem. It is not you.

I can write you one heck of a resume, but if it is not you I am really doing you a disservice. Shame on me. This is where I surprise a lot of my clients. I insist that we review the drafts together. They must be an active participant. If they say they like something I ask them why. Let me be honest, I am not presenting your resume so to solely trust one person for all decisions and direction would be a mistake. But do not get me wrong, I will guide and steer you to the direction that I think best fits you – but that is another discussion and I do not want to do a sales pitch here.

The point is whether you write your resume yourself or hire a professional, please please please make sure that it represents you well. The last thing you want to do is to be in an interview and be reading directly from that resume like it is the first time you have seen it. Your resume should be a compilation of your greatest skills, accomplishments and history. You – the very best that you have to offer an employer, what do you bring to the table, what problem are you solving for them, how can you make them money, how can you save them money, how can you improve client service – see where I am going here?

If you are asking, “Alright, shorty, how do I know if it fits me well?” I’ll tell you, but really, there is no reason for name calling here. Have someone else read your resume. Once they are done, ask them what they think are your biggest accomplishments and best skills. Does this match up with what you were trying to get across? Good! If not, then what did they read that was different. Did you really emphasize that you are accurate but they got the message of good time management skills? Then there is a disconnect. Is it a matter of choosing different words or a matter or highlighting other examples of your work? Go at this like a High School English teacher who is red pen happy. I know what I am trying to get across in this blog, but it is your interpretation that counts. Same with your resume.

Now you might have the questions, “You mentioned presentation – what is a helpful hint on that?” I will give you an example of how you can think of this in a different way (and thank you for no short names here).

Think of it as a really flowery outline from which you give your speech. Remember your note cards in Speech class? You could not put your whole speech on those cards so you had to put the highlights and fill it in when you were in front of the class. Your teacher graded you on not only content but eye contact. Same principle. You should know intimately every detail listed on that resume so you can give your speech without referring to it during the interview. There is nothing wrong with jotting a couple of key words or phases on your notepad that you take into the interview, but to be best prepared you should know your subject inside and out. After all, it is all about you!

Now, if you will excuse me, the 16 year old just got home. Let the short name parade begin!

Make the Most of Your One Play

jakes catch at hseMy son plays football. The first game he played offense and defense all game. Two touchdowns, an interception for 40 plus yards and was named Offensive Player of the Game. The next game they brought in a couple of receivers to give them some time, he was not pleased, but he was going to play defense all game. Before the game I told him he might get a play or two on offense so make the most of it. He went in for one offensive play. He was a receiver, caught a 35ish yard pass. He also was a maniac on defense and was named Defensive Player of the game. I would say he made the most of it.

Your resume has one chance and maybe 10 seconds to make the most of you. Someone reviewing your resume will scan the top quarter of your resume and decide in those 10 seconds or so if they are going to continue. You need to make the leap for that catch – put yourself out their early to let them know you are here to play the game.

So often I read through resumes and they include really good information. Information about accomplishment, money saved, increased clients, improved client satisfaction employee retention or money made. But these things are hidden further along in the resume – many times on page two. You are making yourself second string.

Once you have your strong Objective or Mission Statement follow that up with your accomplishments. Put the proof behind the words. Not only can you state that you are successful in increasing client base and sales, follow that up with your statistic of doubling sales boosting bottom line over $2 million in less than a five year period. If you state that you implement time and cost savings strategies, follow that up with how you implemented a new project management tracking system that linked all contributors and averaged a time savings of over 20% per job equating to cost savings for company and clients. Pretty good numbers to throw out there, huh?

Putting good solid accomplishments front and center allows you to make the most of your sales pitch (your resume) and gets you noticed more quickly. It also confirms that you have the talent and ability to back up your Objective or Mission Statement. Just like catching that one pass when is most needed. You increase your chances of being put in the game.

Lisa K McDonald

KISS – Keep It Simple Silly

girl yawning readingOkay, so that is not the original acronym, but hey, I am trying to be family friendly and not insult anyone with the first line of my blog! I stress over and over again to make sure your resume is written clearly so those that are not in the position to hire you but are reviewing your resume can understand your amazing qualities, and spot them quickly. The reason – most people have a tendency to skim read. They begin reading and think they know what you are saying so they fill in the blanks if it is too rambling.

My son proved this point to me again this weekend. My son is not a patient person – I take full responsibility on that trait! He definitely did not get my short gene, but he did get my impatient gene. I was on the phone with his grandmother when he walked in my office and started mouthing a question to me. I pulled out a pad of paper and pen and we had a conversation this way. To make a long story short, he got snippy and walked out. After I finished my conversation I called him back into my office and asked in that oh-so-gentle-motherly way what his problem might be today. Turns out he skimmed something I wrote and completely misunderstood what I said. So, again, in that supportive, kind motherly way I sweetly showed him exactly what I wrote and asked him to read it slowly out loud word for word. Hmmm, error found.

When you are writing your resume, you do not have to be flowery and go on and on because quite frankly the reader is going to lose interest and mentally fill in the blanks. I will repeat what I frequently say: teenagers are the best audiences because their attention span is that of a Nat. If they can understand what you are trying to get across or at least read the whole sentence, you are on to something!

Make your works impactful, your thoughts clear and your abilities stand out. For the company for which you are submitting your resume highlight how you can make money, save money or improve their customer satisfaction/retention. Know your audience, what is important to them and communicate that clearly through your resume. And always, always keep written communication between you and your teenager – you never know when it will come in handy!

Practice Makes Perfect – but what if you have bad form?

4487_1096621469122_1634166193_208878_1206885_nOne of my greatest joys is watching my son play baseball. One of my greatest frustrations is watching him drop his back shoulder in the batters box. His warm up swing is great, but once he steps in that box – BOOM, he drops it. Oh, he had been told about this, but he kept doing it – over and over and over again. I finally video tapped him at a couple of games and at the batting cage. I also video taped his warm up to show him the difference. You see, I’m just a mom, what would I possibly know about baseball swings? So I had to show him proof positive. He finally realized that he was practicing at the batting cages dropping his shoulder. We’ll see how it translates when the season starts…

My point is this, you can have an elevator speech and practice over and over and over again – but what if what you want to come across is not coming across at all? The man in the mirror is not going to tell you that. Practicing does not come by just telling your speech to someone else, it comes with asking questions. “What does that say to you?” “Did it feel too long?” “What was your first impression?” “Did I leave you wanting to ask a question?” You must practice on another person and ask for their feedback. As uncomfortable as it is, you must ask.

If you are not going to ask someone for feedback, you might as well practice with your dog. Who will pay very close attention, but then want a cookie for listening. And if your listening partner says, “Oh, that was fine” then you ask them questions. They may feel uncomfortable with giving their opinion, so you must let them know that constructive criticism is what you are striving for here. One question to ask them after the “fine” comment is “so what do you think I do?”

I meet people every day who want me to help them with their resume but they are afraid. It is not that I am scary (I am not!) but they are afraid to ask. They do not want to come across as not knowing what they think they should. You have performed certain skill sets for a number of years; you know your skills and how to do your best. But that does not automatically mean that you can translate that in the written word. We speak differently then we write – at least we should! The hardest thing in the world is quantifying ourselves into a mini sales pitch on paper. For me, that is why the first thing that we do is talk. Same with your elevator speech, you know the lingo, but maybe it is not translating to the rest of us.

This is what I would like for you to do today: find a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a former colleague, a teacher – someone that you can say this first sentence to: “Hey, could I ask your help with something?” Just tell them that you have your elevator speech and you really want to know what it sounds like on the other side. People generally do want to help, but you have to ask! Then, thank them, and start practicing not dropping your shoulder.

Lisa K McDonald

Resumes – Break it Down to Get Rid of Dust Bunnies

cleaning houseI hate cleaning my house. With a passion I hate cleaning my house. It just seems overwhelming to me. I start with one thing – “Today I do all the laundry”. In sorting the laundry I go into the bathroom to gather anything that did not make it into the hamper and I notice that I have not put away the girly things in the bathroom, so I straighten that. Then back I go to the hamper in the closet and notice that I haven’t put my shoes away and there is one in there without a match – so off I go to search for its match, which I find by the bed. But then notice the bed isn’t made so I have to make the bed, then I notice there is stuff on my nightstand that needs to be put away. So I start putting that away and notice there is a glass that needs to go down to the kitchen, so off I go to the kitchen. Do you see where I am going here? One thing leads to another and another and another – I meander from one room to another stopping and doing little things here and there but never really cleaning. Things on the surface look okay, but please do not look closely, there are dust bunnies hiding everywhere. But I am a grown up with teenage boys, dogs and a fiancé – so I have to suck it up and clean. No matter how hard I hope and wish those damn cleaning fairies just never show up in the middle of the night!

My best friend Jackie on the other hand – total Betty Crocker Super Mom! She is awesome and amazing and I want to be her when I grow up. She is focused, organized and an amazing housekeeper – with pre-teen kids, dogs and a husband. How does she do it? She determines what part she is going to do and sticks to it, she goes into the closet, sorts the cloths, gathers them takes them down to the laundry room and gets it done. Does she see the other stuff, yes, but she stays focused on one task at a time. She breaks her house down to little components, makes a list and is able to check things off one by one.

How does this relate to your resume? Take Jackie’s approach. We tend to get so overwhelmed by the entire process that we spend little time on each section but then it reminds us of something else in another section so we start working on that and we end up with a product that is may look good at a quick glance, but then when we begin to look at it closer we see dust bunnies. (And as a side note – why on earth are those called dust bunnies? I think Dust Tumbleweeds is more appropriate, but I digress…)

Remember when you are writing your resume, you know what you are trying to say, but to another person there is vital information missing. I recently sat down with a woman who was a purchasing goddess. She saved over $350k in less than six months just in evaluating a department and the internal system. This was one of her highlights and she stated it as she manages purchasing departments to run more smoothly and effectively. I asked her what does that mean, how does she contribute to making it more efficient? She explained that she would evaluate the people working in the department and their responsibilities making sure that their strengths matched up with the tasks at hand, she was also responsible for training individuals on the internal processes, recruit people, perform internal testing to make sure there were no duplicate procedures – she did a lot more than just “manage”. We talked about how to incorporate the key factors that she did to highlight those in her bullet point.

Instead of “Manage Purchasing Departments to run more smoothly and effectively” we stated with “Manage Purchasing Department systems, controls and personnel by effectively evaluating processes, procedures and individual responsibilities to incorporate time management, system efficiency and development of individuals resulting in a cost savings of over $350,000 in six months.” Now that is something you can work with! You can take that into two different strengths – the development of the individuals incorporating the evaluation, hiring, training and development and the management of the systems and processes.

Take a look at your resume – copy and paste one section, one job or one highlight and paste it into another document. Underneath that statement or section start making notes on what exactly that means. How did you add value, save money, save time or increase client satisfaction? Really break it down. Do not try to put it into pretty resume language, just make notes. Again, just talk plain English as though you are explaining it to someone who knows nothing about what you do. Do not worry about proper grammar or sentence structure, just write. Once you have done this then you have a lot of material that you can work with.

Ask a friend to read your original statement and ask them what that means to them. Is it coming through loud and clear what your strength is in that statement? If not, start to read your notes to them then ask them if it defines what you were attempting to say. More often than not they will tell you that it is much clearer picture.

It is a long and difficult process, but staying focused and breaking down each section bit by bit will create a much stronger resume, one that communicates more clearly what your strengths are and leaves room for an interviewer to ask you follow up questions. And there will be no dust bunnies!

Lisa K McDonald

But What Do You DO??

yawnHave you ever met someone and in polite conversation ask them, “so, what do you do?” and their answer leaves you completely dumbfounded?  Either they are really cute about describing themselves using very creative metaphors or use so much technical jargon that you stifle a yawn and begin to wonder if there is a bar nearby, where it is and what is the quickest way to get there.  So you end up eyes glazed over, smiling nicely, nodding and saying, “wow that sounds interesting.  If you’ll excuse me I just saw someone call me over”.  No need to tell them that someone is Jim Beam….  Have you received that look?  Then, please, read on.

 

Let me step back and paint a picture (no bars in this one.).   My computer broke and I am an IT idiot.  I know “reboot” and that’s about it.  Seriously.  So when I had to take it to the computer hospital I told them I do not want to know all about my operating system and the complexities of it, really I don’t.  My position was: Make it work awesome IT guy, tell me what buttons not to hit again, explain to me as you would a six year old how to get it up and running – that’s all I ask.  Make it simple for me, please.

 

It is similar to when someone asks you what you do – please do not tell them what certifications you hold or the amazing letters after your name, to us lay-people that means nothing.  No, wait, I correct myself, to me that means my brain shuts off (not on purpose) but because you lost me.  I might pick up on a word or two, but I doubt I am going to ask for clarification because I am completely lost, period.  As bad as this will sound for me, you must tell me in simplistic terms what you do or you will lose me.

 

Let me clarify one point – I am not talking about during an interview when you are asked your qualifications or what you have done.  Then jargon away – they will understand you!  I am talking about casual conversation.  Grocery store, party, at the ball game – those types of scenarios.  Networking happens any time, any where, any day – there are no vacations from networking.  You must be prepared to tell anyone what you DO. 

 

So, to the main point of this – when someone asks you what you do, answer them as though you are talking to someone completely unknown to your field.  Explain in a short, simple response your current job responsibilities or what qualifications you are bringing to the table.  Be sure you give an explanation that will invite your conversation partner ask you to tell them more. 

 

And for the record, I admire anyone in the IT field, I really do.  My cousin is an IT person and he is amazing, intelligent and awesome.  And I will not pick on IT any more, not that I was really picking on you, but it was an easy target for me – remember I’m an IT idiot.  So I will use myself as an example from now on.

 

In a former life I was a Senior Branch Operations Manager in the financial industry responsible for all Compliance oversight for our area’s Banking, Brokerage and Trust Departments.   Does that tell you at all what I did?  No, it tells you that I had a long title that you could make it into the acronym “BOM”.  (My son had fun with that one.)  When someone would ask me what I did I would tell them something similar to: “I am a Manager in the financial industry partnering with Brokers and Bankers for your accounts”.  This told people what field I worked in and with whom.  Nine times out of ten people would ask me how I partnered with Brokers and Bankers or what that meant – because I added “for your account”.  It kept the conversation going and gave me a chance to explain a bit more.  I would then ask them if they had an investment account and proceed to explain my responsibilities in correlation to their personal experience.  It was less intimidating, more interactive conversation and people actually understood what I did because I could break it down to something they related to personally or through someone else. 

 

In this difficult time we get so anxious to impress others with our qualifications and hope that translates into a good networking contact that we overstate ourselves.  Just remember, someone cannot be impressed with you if they have no idea what it is you do.  Relax, guide us gently through what you do, even better if you can relate it to something we might know, and we will remember you – not for all the jargon, but for your outstanding qualities!