Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Change ingrained habits

"Sally" is very unhappy in her current job. She has little autonomy and lots of people looking over her shoulder, eager to criticize what she's doing and how she's doing it. The last straw was getting a reprimand for not appearing "concerned about getting things done" despite the fact that she always gets everything done. So Sally wants to leave and get a job where she has more independence and is more valued.

Right now, Sally doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do. She has some ideas but is still pretty vague about what she might investigate. Thus, she needs to gather more information. For instance, she needs to look at different jobs and industries to get more familiar with what is possible and what kinds of jobs are out there. In addition, Sally is in the habit of deferring to other people's wishes for her and has little experience pursuing her own dreams and wishes.

I came up with an assignment to help Sally begin to get more specific about things instead of vague, and to identify some things she can actually do something about NOW - thus beginning to act on her own behalf. The assignment is to:

Get very specific about all the things she is tolerating in her life - the things, people, situations she allows in her life that bug her, that are not optimal for her happiness and fulfillment.

We'll see what she comes up with, and how willing she is to do something different in order to get different results.

*name changed

Monday, July 28, 2008

August is the Perfect Time to Prepare

Use this coming month to prepare for job searches this fall. Marc Cenedella, Founder & CEO of TheLadders.com wrote this on his e-mail this morning:

The next 5 weeks are the perfect time to take advantage of the slow summer months and get your resume, your pitch, your interview, and your job hunt plans in order.

He's absolutely right - because while you're working on your resume, employers are finalizing job descriptions and postings that will start to appear right before and right after Labor Day. Many employers want to hire people right away to handle the expected heavy work load from late September to early December. If you're ready with your resume and cover letter, you'll be one of the first applicants to reach the employer.

It does help to be one of the first to cross the transom, especially in this economy. Employers are always looking for people who really want to work for their specific company, in their specific industry. Applying early in the search process indicates that you are motivated, even eager, to do this job.

Early application means that you stand a better chance of getting an interview if employers use a rolling search process - interviewing candidates until they get the right person. My experience is that very few employers actually wait to review resumes and start interviews until the advertised "final date for application." Thus, it's not to your advantage to wait until the very end of the process.

Don't despair, however, if you happen to see a posting that is close to its "end date" and you think the job is perfect for you. If you are really passionate about the work and the company, you can still put together a compelling cover letter. The cover letter should emphasize two things up front:

1) you just began your search process; and
2) you are so glad to have found this posting because it is absolutely the perfect position for you.

Stating this in the first paragraph of your cover letter can cause someone in HR to give your resume a look. And if they haven't already found the perfect person (or the "good enough" person), you may be in luck.

Remember the old saying that "luck favors the prepared" and have that resume ready to go. August is the perfect time to prepare to land your "right fit" job!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Non-Profit Executive Directors and COOs or Deputies

Recently, I learned that a former colleague is hiring a Deputy Executive Director. It seems he's been there a long time, and either wants or needs to let go of the management reins a bit. Whether it's "wants" or "needs" will have some impact on the level of difficulty he has in following through on this intention.

"Wants to" implies that he's thought long and hard about his responsibilities and realizes that his time is better spent doing more high level things. He already has an agenda and things he wants to concentrate on, opportunities he wants to pursue, expansion he wants to lead. So while letting go will be difficult (simply because he's been doing it one way for a long time), he has a goal toward which he is headed. He is moving toward something. The person hired has a good chance of succeeding.

"Needs to" implies that he is overwhelmed with his responsibilities and needs someone to take over the day-to-day management. It may be that people on his Board of Directors are urging this step. It could be that he hired a management consultant who recommended creating that position. In this case, he is moving away from something and still needs to find what he is moving toward. The transition will be very painful if this is the case, and the person hired may be the "guinea pig" or "sacrificial lamb" who helps the ED figure out what he needs and then is gone (by choice or force).

In either case, the Executive Director in question will really need good chemistry with the person he hires. Giving up some control is difficult for even the best-intentioned ED. The most successful COOs or Deputies are the ones who can put aside their own ego gratification needs and need for control, and concentrate on keeping the ED happy.

There's a delicate balance of keeping them informed and involved at the right level, and doing things they don't need to concern themselves with. Erring toward more information and involvement is better in the beginning, making sure you are aligned re goals and expectations, and what he needs to know about. Even as the COO or Deputy takes on more responsibility, it is incumbent on him/her to continually ensure that s/he is aligned with the ED's goals and thinking. That means "regularly," "consistently," "constantly," and "often." Better safe than sorry, really.

I had a COO who did not do that and it ended badly for her - and was not great for the organization, either. She seemed to want to be co-Executive Director. Unfortunately, I fed that delusion at the beginning and then it was too late to rein her in. There ended up being two competing camps at work - those loyal to me and those to her. When I finally eliminated her position and her, it was really demoralizing to the organization as a whole. Plus I had acquiesced in some misguided decisions in order for her to feel more powerful, decisions that placed the organization in some jeopardy. I had a LOT of fence-mending and organization-building to do to recover from that situation. Today, I'd be clearer at the start that I was not sharing my power; I was delegating some of my power to her. And I'd be willing to let her leave if she didn't like it.

The COO/Deputy is there to be the ED's right hand, meaning that they do things the ED cannot or does not want to do. If the ED wants to be involved in something, the COO/Deputy needs to understand that it's their right to be involved. Certainly, the COO/Deputy can discuss it and try to make sure the ED is involved at a strategic or conceptual level, rather than the level of execution or implementation. That is part of the job, in a way - making sure that the ED is focused on the proper things so as to get the most benefit for the organization. If the ED insists on doing something, however, it's really wisest not to fight with them about it and get on one's high horse about "but that's my job!" It just sounds like whining and annoys the ED, not to mention making him/her think you are trying to shunt them out of the way. Anytime an ED or CEO hears "oh, we'll take care of that for you," a little alarm bell goes off that warns of a power struggle or behind the scenes politicking and positioning. Depending on how often it happens, the ED may get rid of the parties involved.

Would it be nice if the ED was spiritually evolved and not threatened by someone else claiming some power? Sure, and that's a sign that the ED is not long for his or her job. Honestly, it's great to think well of people and curb one's suspicions. However, I've learned through bitter experience that there are just enough people who are not worthy of my trust. Better for me to be on guard just in case. And the people closest to the ED are the biggest threats to the ED's position. So COOs and Deputies who wish to succeed will make darn sure that they never overtly threaten the ED's position, and will seek an ED job elsewhere if they want to move into that position. Because smart EDs sniff out covert power plays and eliminate the threat. I was not smart, that's how I know.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Job Interviews are Information-Gathering Opportunities

I am such a believer in getting interviews no matter whether you're 100% sure you want the job. Interviews go two ways, for you are learning as much about the prospective employer as they are learning about you.

A job posting only gives you a hint about a job, and can tell you that there are some aspects that interest you - just as a resume only gives a two-dimensional, very brief picture of you, the applicant. So if you see jobs that might be sort of interesting, I encourage you to apply and see if you get an interview. My blog (www.growhappycoach.blogger.com) has a few posts that list search sites.

I also encourage you to keep an open mind and think about an interview simply as an information-gathering opportunity. Getting an interview doesn't mean you will be offered or will accept the job. It's just one more step along your path to the "right fit."

One person I know just went on an interview and was quite pleasantly surprised to find that, contrary to the horror stories she'd heard about the place, there was a new spirit and new people who want to create a healthy culture and bring in great people (hopefully like her...). Luckily, she had an open mind and went to the interview. Now the job is a serious contender in her search.

Remember, too, that a great cover letter is the way to get an interview. The best cover letters match your "value proposition" to the stated "market need" in the posting and job description. Of course, your resume has to be in top shape. But for people trying to transition into new sectors, or jump up a level, a carefully written cover letter is key. While it may take several hours and drafts to craft a tailored and targeted cover letter, think about it as an investment in your finding the "right fit" job.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Resumes that Rock: Part 2


Your resume is a marketing document. Its job is to position you to get your "right fit" work. Thus, its content is crucial. It must convey to potential employers exactly what you have to offer them, as well as the results you are likely to produce for them based on your past record of accomplishments. Here's how to do that.

To begin, I advocate putting a profile at the very start of the resume, just under your name and contact information. A profile is not an objective (of course you want a job), nor is it a litany of your skills (boring!). It's a succinct description of who you are in the workplace.

Your profile presents your unique value proposition – what you love to do and are good at doing, the skills you want to use in the future, and the attributes you want to highlight. Your profile also will capture your personality through a judicious use of adjectives. In sum, your profile conveys the substance and flavor of who you are in the workplace.

In some ways, the process of creating the profile is more important than the final product. Developing it gives you the chance to think carefully about your "unique value proposition." In fact, the reader will usually catch the first five or six words of the profile and then move on to Experience. They might come back to it but even if they don't, the profile will make an impression. It says that you've thought about and know who you are.

Everything you say in your profile must be backed up by your accomplishments, which are listed under each employer and job. Essentially, the profile is the thesis that you then go on to prove with concrete examples. It also is useful as a way to ensure that your resume is internally consistent in terms of the message you intend to convey.


The first thing read by a prospective employer is the name of the company for which you worked. Then they usually will glance at the title and years worked - some will read title first while others read years worked first.

Here's the order of information that I recommend for the basic information:

* Employer's name first, in bold, followed by its location, not in bold. Use the city in which employer is/was located. Only include the state if the city is not immediately recognizable e.g. Wareham, MA, or is easily confused with something else, e.g. Springfield, MO vs. Springfield, IL vs. Springfield, MA. Otherwise, New York or Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles is sufficient.

* Dates of employment, not in bold, on the same text line as the employer's name and location. The dates should be tabbed over so they are on the far right of the page, preferably lined up with the right side of your address block.

If you worked at the company in more than one position, put the complete block of time over the far right. Next to each position title you can put in parentheses the dates you held that position. For example, Vice President, Sales (3/02 to 7/05).

Job titles can either be grouped together if your job responsibilities were substantially the same with the most recent encompassing the previous responsibilities plus more. If the jobs were substantially different, I treat each one as a separate job under the same employer.

* Title of your position, in bold and italics, directly underneath the employer name and location.

My experience is that most readers go through the entire resume once just glancing at employer, years and title. If all seems to be complete and consistent, then they glance at education to see if you have any degrees. So make sure you have no holes in time, and no major typos!

Only after that first quick read will they go back to look at individual jobs, starting with your most recent one first. After rereading your employer's name and title, usually readers will move to the body of the entry. Here's what it should contain:

* a brief paragraph describing your job
* bullet points that highlight your accomplishments


In a four to six line paragraph that starts on the line directly underneath the title of your position, briefly describe the company you work for and your job responsibilities. Say "Led all communications and marketing efforts for Fortune 1000 technology firm (STOCK SYMBOL)" or "Oversaw day to day operations for 45 year old non-profit teaching literacy to adult New Yorkers" or "Managed entire recruiting and on-boarding process for 300 person homeless services agency."

Use as many numbers as possible to give readers a good idea of the scope and depth of your responsibilities. For example, say "oversaw $3.5 million advertising budget" or "supervised team of 12, with four direct reports."

Readers' eyes are drawn first to numbers, then to CAPS, then to bold. Italics are rarely an eye-catcher, so use them only to indicate the title of an article or project, not for anything substantive.


Bullets are for accomplishments. I recommend limiting yourself to 5-7 bullets for your most recent job, 4-5 for your next most recent, maximum 2 for the next most recent and none for the oldest ones.

Here are my tips for great accomplishment bullets:

* Lead with the results and impact of your work, when writing accomplishments. Use active, directionally positive words like "increased," "improved," "advanced," "optimized," "enhanced" and "expanded."

* Use numbers as much as possible, especially with dollar signs and percentage signs; they are real eye-catchers and speak to many employers' focus on the bottom line.

* Split the accomplishment into "what" and "how": the impact or result, and how you achieved that result. For example, "Increased revenue year over year by 80%, through redeploying sales team."

* Ask “so what” to get to the impact of whatever activity you want to include. If you want to include it, it’s probably important but only if you can somehow tie it to an impact that is somehow measurable – as in “increased” and “improved” and “enhanced” and “expanded” – or gives clear evidence of major responsibility, as in “directed,” “led,” “managed,” “launched,” and “created.”

* Brevity is best. Limit each bullet to one, maximum two lines.

* Give leading information to cause the reader to ask a follow up question. Remember, the point of a resume is to get you an interview. The interview is where the reader can ask you to explain how you redeployed the sales team and why that resulted in 80% revenue increase.

* Only include things you really want to do again – similar or greater scope of responsibility, the type of work or project, specific skills you really want to use again, or attributes you want people to notice.

The next post will address the remaining parts of a resume: Education, Affiliations, Recognition, and other sections that might be relevant to you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Some thoughts on the for-profit invasion of the non-profit world

The influx of for-profit people into the non-profit field - as Board members, funders, "venture philanthropists," "social entrepreneurs," and staff - can be very a difficult for non-profit staff leaders who have spent a lot of time learning their field and craft. Perhaps it's less frustrating for younger leaders who grew up with the Robin Hood Foundation as part of the landscape that defines philanthropy and non-profit performance these days.

It's not pleasant, however, to be told that one's knowledge, expertise and experience counts for less than squat in the face of dollars and measurements. Nor is it pleasant to see newer folks be brought up short by the unexpected complexities of solving pervasive, long-standing, and seemingly universal problems - problems like poverty, child abuse, hunger, school drop outs, crime, infectious disease, and mental illness.

It gives me no pleasure to see people find out that their neat, slogan-worthy approach doesn't work with everyone or for very long. Because we've now wasted a lot of time on yet another band-aid approach to a problem - that accomplishes basically what the older approaches did because they all engaged in "creaming" - working with the most likely to succeed. We could have been using that time and those immense financial resources to implement social change based on the lessons learned after the cream was skimmed.

There's such an immense amount of information that tells us that poverty will not be eradicated unless there are major structural changes in our economy. That women will not be able to leave welfare and optimally care for their children unless they have satisfying family-friendly jobs paying at least $40,000 a year, subsidized high-quality child care, safe neighborhoods, and easily accessible shopping - especially for healthy, affordable food. That kids will drop out of school unless they perceive it as worth their while instead of simply a time-wasting, boring treadmill designed to make adults feel good about themselves and to keep kids in line and quiet. The list goes on.

Smart people work in the non-profit field and have done so for years. That there have been not-so-smart and not-so-ethical people also in the field has been used as a reason for the new "venture philanthropists" to disrespect those who've worked hard for so many years.

We in the non-profit field are the original "do more for less" people. Give us more money and we can do so much more. Give us the money to run our organizations like you run your businesses and see what we can do. Chances are we'll decide to spend the money on services instead of car service and client lunches. And even more likely is that our for-profit Board members will resist spending any of that money on the infrastructure that would really help us run like a business and increase our effectiveness - like computers and evaluation and planning and conferences and periodicals.

Resumes that Rock: Part 1

You're looking for a job, so you put together a resume. Do you know what your job is when you put together that resume? Sure, a resume summarizes all your work experience, education, and related facts and activities (the word resume comes from the French for "summary"). More important, a resume's job is to make it really, really easy for a reviewer to read and understand that information. So your job is to do all the work for the reviewer. That is critical!! I'll explain how to do that.

Rocking resumes have two essential components: content and format. Both are vital to an applicant's chances of getting an interview. This section deals with format.

Resume Format
You can have the greatest content in the world and still not get interviewed - if you have a bad resume format. The resume format I use is very effective because it's simple, direct, easily sent electronically, and logical to read. It showcases all the wonderful aspects of your experience.

Use an ordinary font, one that comes standard on Word software. My favorite to use is Garamond, sometimes referred to as the "more elegant version" of Times Roman. Serif typefaces, like Times Roman or Garamond, are normally easier for people to read, as well as very familiar and sort of expected. For Times Roman, use at least size 11 font; Garamond is smaller, so size 12 is better. If you really want to use a sans serif typeface, go with one that is elegant while commonplace. While many people use Arial, I think it's boring because of its ubiquity. Tahoma and Verdana are good alternatives, and Trebuchet MS is my favorite because its spacing makes for an easy read. For these typefaces, use at least a size 11 and preferably a size 12 font for Arial and Trebuchet.

One woman I knew sent me her resume for review. A previous version used a very fancy but totally undecipherable type face, so I was quite pleased (though surprised) when the next version used Times Roman. I made comments, sent it back, and was very surprised when she asked me why I changed her type face. Apparently, the type face she chose was so uncommon that Word simply switched to the default typeface. That's why I'm so cautious about formatting, because it can often get garbled.

Avoid fancy formatting, including any lines, text boxes, macros and offbeat tabs. The goal is to make it easy for the reader to read EXACTLY what you want them to read. Fancy formatting often gets garbled, such as bullets on your screen turning into question marks on someone else's. The last thing anyone should see is a question mark before one of your accomplishments. While they may understand that it's a formatting error, it is likely to raise a question about your competence, even subliminally.

It's best to avoid lines for the simple reason that a prospective employer needs to see you as a whole package, not as separate pieces. Lines are visual cues to compartmentalize things, separate you from your accomplishments, skip something or cut something out. You've probably put in a line because you want to look like you understand design or want to stand out. If you're really a designer, you understand that lines are usually intended to create clear distinctions between things. For example, a box within a larger article generally is for a complementary yet unnecessary piece of information - or for an ad, or some other extraneous item. NOTHING in your resume is unnecessary, so keep it visually one whole document, all of which is vital.

Be consistent and predictable throughout your resume. Use a single typeface. Use the same format for each job experience. Skip the same number of lines between jobs and sections. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Otherwise it comes across as sloppy - not creative.

Put your employer's name first, followed by the city and then the date on the same line. Bold the employer's name, but not the city or the date. Tab over for the date. On the next line, put your job title in bold and italics.

Line up your dates on the right side of the page.
All should be aligned with each other, and all should have the same format. It's up to you whether you use 10/02-10/04 or October 2002-October 2004. I prefer the former simply because it takes up less space and leaves a fair amount of white space between the name of the employer and the dates worked.

Describe your basic responsibilities in a short paragraph immediately under your job title. Make sure to convey the kind of employer you work for, the scope of your job, and range of responsibilities. Sometimes you will need to skip a space before you list your accomplishments, depending on how text heavy this paragraph is. Try to stick to 4-5 lines, with very short, compact sentences.

Under that paragraph, use bullets to list your accomplishments. I generally prefer 5 or 6 bullets, and never more than 7. With fewer bullets, people are far more able to focus in on what you believe is really important.

Skip one line between each job.

Skip two lines between each section.

Have a few commonly expected sections.
First is EXPERIENCE, second is EDUCATION, and third is PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS. If applicable, fourth is AWARDS & RECOGNITION, fifth is PUBLICATIONS and sixth is PUBLIC SPEAKING & MEDIA APPEARANCES. Headings are always all caps and bold.

The only time EDUCATION is first is when you have just graduated from college or graduate school and are looking for your first professional job. I've run across two exceptions: one was for a professor who had to conform to a format established by the academic institution. The second was for a lawyer whose schooling was far more impressive than his work history, given the places to which he applied. Had he been out of school more than five years, however, no exception would have applied.

EXPERIENCE means all your work experience, paid and unpaid. Include everything, in order to have a complete time line. Skipping years in a chronology simply raises questions in a reviewer's mind. The only questions we want from a reviewer are those asking you to elaborate on something in your resume.

Some people have significant volunteer and/or non-profit experience. If you want to transition into working for a non-profit organization, I recommend inserting a VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE or NON-PROFIT EXPERIENCE section between the EXPERIENCE and EDUCATION sections. Format it like you format your work experience, to convey the message that you take it as seriously as your paid work.

For AFFILIATIONS, AWARDS & RECOGNITION, PUBLICATIONS, and PUBLIC SPEAKING & MEDIA APPEARANCES, it's wise to add the word "selected" in parentheses after the headings. When in doubt, cut it out. It's better to list three or four really great items than induce a yawn with a minutiae-laden laundry list. The word (selected) should not be bold.

Use white space intelligently. Any reader needs a place to rest his or her eyes; that's what white space is for. White space is that space that contains no text. Something that is too text-heavy feels overwhelming to a reader and the tendency is to skim rather than read. Enough white space balances the text and helps the reader make it through your resume with ease.

White space is your friend in other ways. It allows you to highlight special things, as well, such as your name and your accomplishments. Your name should be on top, centered, in 16 point bold type. Your contact information goes below, spread wide apart toward either margin. Address, including e-mail address, goes to the far left, with telephone numbers to the far right. This creates tons of white space around your name, allowing it to stand out.

A special education teacher told me that readers of English and other Western languages naturally start reading about a third of the way down on the left side of a page. As we read, our eyes naturally go up to the top center of a page, and then fall back down on the right side. So a reader is definitely going to notice your name in the top center position. This positioning also makes it very easy for people to find your resume in a pile.

Aim for a two-page resume. My posts on May 28 and 29, 2008 address the reasons for this.

Next post: Content.