Monday, December 21, 2009

Changing the Habit of Negativity and Depression

The most difficult thing about an extended job search is maintaining a positive attitude and staying confident. I used to say that it was so ironic that I have to be my best self in interviews, when I am feeling the most insecure and incompetent! It certainly did challenge my "act as if" capabilities. I found that when I succumbed to my fears and anxieties, I performed very poorly in interviews. When I summoned up confidence in my abilities and skills, I performed very well in interviews. Confidence is attractive, and anxiety repels people. I don't know why that is, and luckily, I don't have to know why. I simply need to act on the information.

OK, so how did I summon up that confidence? And how do other people summon up self-confidence for interviews, when they're feeling depressed, negative and a little hopeless? Here are a few ways:

1) Review your resume to remind yourself of your abilities. There is plenty of reinforcing material in it, if you have followed the best career advice and included measurable accomplishments and real impact statements. Believe what you have written! Step outside your own brain (always a dangerous neighborhood when alone...) and view yourself as other people will view you. Feel the pride you felt in producing results. Remember how excited you were about a project or set of responsibilities. Take those feelings with you on the interview.

2) Ask someone you trust what they think you do best. This person could be a colleague or a close friend who has seen you in action, or even a spouse. Listen to them. Ask them to be somewhat specific. And believe what they say - as long as it's positive. This is not the time for them to suggest you need additional training. This is simply a time for them to say "you are a great project manager! You organize projects from start to finish and remember every detail. I wish I could do that, and thank goodness, I have you around to do it."

3) Reread the job description of the job you're interviewing for. Underline or highlight the parts that get you really excited or enthusiastic. Jot down ideas you have for what you could do in that position. Make a note of similar responsibilities you had in the past and what you achieved in those areas. See for yourself how your past experience makes you perfect for fulfilling this new job and producing the kind of results the prospective employer wants. Bring that excitement, passion, and specificity to the interview.

4) Make a list of questions you want to have answered. Reread the website and job description, and make a note of areas you find interesting, and places you'd like a little more information. Bring the list with you and have it handy. Remember, too, your "must have" list. You want to know if this is a job and place where you can do your best work. Having your own list of questions can be very empowering and engender your own sense of confidence as well as conveying a confident message to the employer.

5) Wear something professional and comfortable. I recommend an outfit you've already tried out, either on an interview or at work. I heartily recommend polished shoes, but not new shoes unless you are absolutely certain they won't be too tight and hurt by the time you get to the interview.

6) Rehearse the answers to questions you may not be comfortable with. When I'm prepared for almost anything, I perform better. The goal is to reduce all the anxiety-producing factors I can, so I am not worried about anything like clothes, answers, questions, and showing up on time.

7) Act as if you are going to meet great people who want to like you. Because that is true. The employer wants to fill the position with someone, so why not you? If you've already gotten to the interview stage, they liked what they saw so far. Why wouldn't they like you? Be yourself, and have confidence that it is good enough. An affirmation I suggest is:

I did the best I could. If it's the right job for me, it will be enough.

8) Quiet the negative voices when they come up. Everyone has those negative voices. Really, everyone. And they will come up and insist on being heard. More than that, they will insist that they are the Truth. They are not the truth, however. I have found they quiet down pretty quickly when I have a short conversation with them. It goes something like this: "Oh, here you are again. Well, thanks for sharing. Now I'm going to focus on feeling good about myself." And I repeat an affirmation of some sort to replace the negative thought (see my December 15, 2009 post for examples). It is important to keep to a minimum the amount of air time a negative voice gets. The more air time they have, the more believable they are. So as soon as you notice the "I can't" and "I'll never" voices come up, have the conversation with them and return to telling yourself how terrific you are, how the right employer will be fortunate to land you, and that the right job is on its way to you right now.

9) Allow yourself to want the job, and also let go of the results. It's great to want a job, and to tell the employer that you want it. Tell them why you want it in terms that are flattering to both of you. While at times you may feel desperate for ANY job, you don't have to act or sound desperate. You have solid reasons for wanting the job based on your "must have" list - use them! If it is the right job for you, you will get it. If you don't get the job, the right one is coming up.

I know how hard it is to have confidence and faith. I guess the alternative is to give up, and then what? I've come to see that giving up is temporary. My experience is that eventually, I picked myself up and again was willing to take action. That has been the experience of many other people. Sometimes we just need a little break from the search, in order to come back renewed and recommitted. And then these steps can be helpful once again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hidden Job Market

Most people get jobs through their extended network connections. This is even more the case in a tough economy. Employers want to pre-screen as much as possible, especially for a "culture fit." They know that employees or colleagues tend to refer people most likely to meet qualifications and fit into the company culture.

In fact, quite a few employers have ceased posting some jobs. There is a bigger "hidden job market" than ever before. Because the job market continues to be very competitive, it is simply overwhelming for them to wade through the piles and files of resumes submitted by people. Many applicants are complete mismatches for the position because they lack the required qualifications or experience.

In addition to looking for referrals from people they know, employers and recruiters also are combing job sites and LinkedIn for people who have resumes containing plenty of relevant key words. If a job requires certain skills and experience, the search engines are now able to find those people among the many who have posted on Monster or HotJobs or LinkedIn.

This HotJobs article has some great tips on how to find the "hidden jobs."

A key to finding "hidden jobs" is knowing what you want to do, what skills you love to use and want to use again, and the kind of companies you want to work for - industry, market position, culture, impact. Being specific about your goals allows you to do a few things better than most people. You can:

1) Tell people in your extended network - those people one, two or more degrees removed from your immediate circle - exactly what you are looking for. They may not have anything, but they may be able to refer you to someone who does.

2) Craft a resume and LinkedIn profile (and VisualCV) that emphasizes your core strengths and skills, shows off your accomplishments, and makes clear what you want to do next. Employers can then find YOU.

3) Search online for companies that could use someone with your abilities, and target them for introductions, informational interviews, and connections through your existing network. Maybe that company doesn't have jobs open now, but you may be top of mind later if they get to know you and see how interested you are and enthusiastic about working for them.

Getting specific about what you want to do helps you rise above the rest of the people looking for jobs. It conveys self-knowledge, self-confidence, and a sense of the value you can really provide to an employer.

Have Confidence!

Have confidence that you will land the right job for you! It's the theme of the week.

Several people have told me about the little negative, hopeless voice that plagues them. You know the one: "I'll never find the right job!" "It's hopeless." "I've been looking so long, what's wrong with me?" My stomach just turns over when I write these words. They are so demoralizing and depressing. And NOT TRUE!

I suggested to each person that they adopt an attitude of confidence that they will find the right job. And each one of them said "yes, I do know I will find something." So even in the midst of their fear and quasi-despair, each person knew at a fundamental level that their search would be successful. Each person simply had to be reminded of that fact. And each immediately calmed down, leaving that space of anxiety and entering a space of serenity.

Now, each one also hedged their bets right away by saying something like "yes I know I will get the job I want BUT I don't know when!" Somehow, it wasn't OK for them to remain peaceful and confident. Perhaps worry feels like you're doing something. "Well, at least I'm worrying!" It creates the illusion of activity. One of the hardest things to do is take action and let go of the results - really let go, including not worrying about the result.

Sometimes I do something and then think about it later and it occurs to me there is something more I can do. That's different from worry and anxiety, which are simply rehashing what I did and trying to foretell the future. I stay out of the future - it's a scary place of "I don't know what will happen." The present, with all its complexity, is a far more comfortable place to be.

I encourage you to quiet those anxious, hopeless voices with a few phrases:

I have done all I can with this employer. It's now up to the universe.

If it's the right job for me, I will get a call.

I have confidence that I put out my best effort.

I know deep down that I will get the right job for me.

I am getting closer to my desired job.

The more specific I am about what I want to do, the closer I am to getting it.

I am gathering information about my industry and field, information that helps me get clear about exactly what I want to do.

I am doing all I can to find the right job.

I am open to new ideas about where to find my "right fit" job.

I ask for help and suggestions from people who are experts.

I use information to refine my search, I don't let it control my mood.

I have a unique set of skills and ability that will be incredibly valuable to the right employer.

I allow myself to have some fun so I stay balanced and happy while I search for work.

I read career blogs and articles to get new ideas and perspectives for my search.

It's OK for me to feel down for a little while, as long as I vent it and then move on.

The right job is out there for me - I know it in my bones!

Every day, with every action, I get closer to landing the right job for me.

I have so much to offer, it's inevitable that I will be working soon.

When I know what I love to do, I am assured of a way to do it.

I leave no stone unturned in my job search.

I thank people for their advice, suggestions and information, and then take what is useful for my search.

I am clear about the challenges I love to tackle, the problems I love to solve, and the impact I can make.

I know exactly how to answer the question "so what are you looking for?" so people know how they can help me.

My resume presents me effectively so people know what I have done and would like to do again.

When I am stuck, I get even more specific about the impact I want to make.

A final note about the value of being specific: My friend JY just sent me an update. I helped her figure out exactly what she wanted to do, which was very different from what she originally thought. Because of my non-profit background, JY asked me for help in switching from financial services into non-profit work. However, she was not applying for jobs or networking - even though she knew she should. We went back and reviewed her core accomplishments - things she is proudest of doing and really loved doing. Lo and behold! It turned out that what she really loves is training and development, and she'd done that in all her positions. Her new intention was to get a training and development job in financial services. Within 2 weeks, the job of Director, Training and Development opened up at her employer. And within 2 months, she was in that position. Here's what she said:

Just checking in - I haven't worked this hard in over a decade and I'm loving every minute. It really underscores just how important it is to be true & honest about what you want. Sounds trite but so true. Thank you again for leading me to the trough.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Target The Work and Job You Want

Here's the story of one woman I helped. S is an architect specializing in commercial interiors for financial services companies. She decided that she wanted to move into biotech or pharma. S lives in Boston and the market up there for architects is abysmal. Plus she's well over 50 years old. So she was getting all sorts of advice from people to broaden her focus.

What was in her heart, however, was this deep desire to get experience designing lab environments. And guess what? She landed a contract position doing exactly that, working with the kind of people she wanted to work with, at a place that offered great benefits for FT people, and within a 20 minute commute. The only thing not on her must have list was being hired full-time.

The company was hesitant about hiring someone so senior for a full-time job in part because they wondered what would keep her there. We crafted a letter directly addressing this issue, that persuaded them to give her a chance in a contract position. She got a four month contract to start.

Now her contract has been extended for another six months, and it may be that she will be hired full-time. The important thing is that she now has lab experience which opens up a whole new arena for her.

She's just one of several people who got very specific about what they wanted and then got exactly that. I tell you this story to say that you, too, can get your "right fit" work.

It will take commitment and patience. Usually, within the first eight weeks of using the system I describe in my e-book, you will have done enough work to develop a new resume that better markets you toward positions and work you really want to do. You also can have at least a draft of a cover letter that you can adapt to different positions. As you might suspect, the best cover letters are developed with a specific job in mind, and then that method is the template for future ones.

In the book, you'll see what looks like a pretty linear process. I find it vital to use all the tools yet sometimes in pretty random order. It all depends on your sense of urgency. If there's a job you want to apply for RIGHT NOW, work on a cover letter that makes you more competitive. The information from creating that cover letter will help inform how to reposition you and reconstruct your resume. Or perhaps you have the time to go through all the questionnaires and the Must Have List, and then it's time to reconstruct your resume.

Whatever your situation, you will have better luck finding a job if you focus on finding a "right fit" job - one you love. Remember, job search requires work. If you're going to do the work anyway, why not put the effort toward getting a result you really want?

You can get a copy of my e-book Your 'Right Fit' Work: Guide to Finding Work You Love by giving me your e-mail in the blog comments. Because I moderate comments, your information will NOT appear on the blog, as I will reject it after I send your e-book.

If you have requested an e-book and haven't gotten it, somehow your e-mail address was incorrect or you didn't leave it. So let's try that again!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

The most difficult interview questions are the ones you aren't prepared to answer. So be prepared! Anticipate that there WILL be difficult questions.

Often, these questions fall into these categories.

1) Questions you wish won't be asked because you haven't come to terms with or become comfortable with the answers. These include "why did you leave your last job?" when you were laid off or fired, "why are you interested in this field?" when you really want to change fields because you hated your last one, "what did you like least about your old job?" when you hated your old boss and are tempted to bash him or her. If you don't exactly match the job description requirements, it can be tricky to explain why you are still the best candidate.

The best preparation for handling these questions is rehearsing the answers with someone else, until you are comfortable - honest and not defensive or attacking. An interview is not the place to criticize a former employer, ever. Figure out how to phrase things in a positive way, as in "this situation was challenging and I realized that I would be able to contribute much more in a role similar to this one."

If you can, return the focus to the job for which you're interviewing. I was fired and had to develop an answer that indicated that I was not to blame, that it was run-of-the-mill organizational politics, and besides, I'd accomplished all I intended there, so it was actually a good time to leave and find something that offered me new challenges, such as this job.

2) Salary questions also can be difficult. A good thing to say is "I'm hoping to make between $X and $Y, and of course am flexible because I really would like to work at this organization." $X is your “live with” number and $Y is your “want to have” number. Your “live with” number is usually lower than your "want to have number" - it is the number you need to live with yourself. With this pay, you can meet your basic needs and then some; you can look yourself in the eye; you will not have a resentment about your pay; and, you will stay at this job for a reasonable period of time (1-4 years) before looking again.

An alternate response is "I'm sure we can come to a mutually agreeable number if this job is the right fit for me and I'm right for you. I don't want money to stand in the way of my getting this job, so perhaps we can continue talking and see whether this is the right fit." If they don't love this answer, use answer number one.

3) "What's your biggest weakness?" is always tricky to answer, as is "what's the most difficult work challenge you've faced and overcome?" It's best to thread in a little self-deprecating humor there - if you say you have no weaknesses, the interview will think you're arrogant or blind to yourself.

On weaknesses, I like to say "weaknesses depend on the job, of course - I'd like to think I have none but of course I have some! I find myself apt to give people more time to prove themselves on the job when it might be better to let them go." To me, that is a real weakness cloaked in kindness. Then I add "so I've learned to establish very clear monthly benchmarks at the beginning of their employment. That way, I can tell very quickly if someone is or is not going to work out." That's the trick - to follow up any discussion of a weakness with a description of how you have learned to compensate for it.

Regarding your biggest work challenge, choose a story where you succeeded when there were odds stacked against you (e.g. tight time frame, few staff or other resources, external partners or circumstances you had no control over). Rehearse telling this story until you can tell it in about 4 or 5 sentences: Here was the goal, here were the circumstances, here's what I did about them, and here was the successful outcome.

4) "Tell me three words that describe you" is another fun one to prepare for, as is "what would one of your employees tell me about your management style?" That last one was one of my favorites, because it asked people to step outside of their own perspective and look a bit more objectively at themselves.

For both, be prepared with responses that fit with your skills and personality in a positive way, and that correspond somewhat with the job. In a vacuum, my three words are "kind," "smart" and "high integrity." Employees would describe me as "fair," "great leader," and "inspiring."

5) Questions clearly related to the specific employer. Perhaps they ask you to respond to an imaginary scenario and tell them what you would do in that situation. The response clearly should involve some knowledge of the company, but you might not have gone through the website in enough depth.

Maintain Your Composure

When an interviewer asks you a question you didn't expect, there's no need to panic - you know the answer. All you need to do is give yourself some time to remember the answer and formulate the beginning of your answer. Here are some tactics that buy you time, giving your brain a chance to quickly come up with an answer. (Plus each of these tactics has some added benefit.)

* Pause before answering if you are unsure of the answer

* Say "that's a great question" (Saying "great question" flatters them and people like that subliminally even if they think they are cynical about it.)

* Repeat the question back to them "so you're wondering if I _____________" and wait for
them to nod or say yes (Repeating the question mirrors them back to themselves, makes them feel smart, AND makes them feel like you were really listening to them.)

* Use the question as the beginning of your answer. For example, if the person asks "tell me about a time you had to organize a project in a short time frame," you say "An example of when I organized a project that had a short time frame is..." (Repeating the question or using it in your answer focuses YOU and your brain on the question and helps you come up with an appropriate answer.)

Take a pause after you have answered the question - in two to five sentences max - to see if the interviewer has a followup question. I call it "the pause that refreshes."

If you're not sure you've adequately answered the question, STOP TALKING. Say "I hope I've answered your question" or "Have I answered your question?" The interviewer will either say yes or no. If s/he says "no," they will then clarify what they wanted you to tell them.

Finally: Remember to breathe.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Kind of Work Do You Want?

If you are just discovering what you really want to do for work, you are not alone. According to this article on, most people learn what they want they want to do "when they grow up" when they are grown up.

In a survey conducted by British independent education foundation Edge, less than one-third (31 percent) of respondents said they found what they are good at in the classroom. Instead, they discovered their career talent through their first job (26 percent), later in their careers (25 percent), through work experience (18 percent) or through a hobby (15 percent).

That is great news for all the people I know who wonder why they are unhappy in their current work or why they want to change careers or fields. It's normal! That is what happens for we human beings. We do something, gain experience and gather information. Then we process that information in light of our feelings:

* Am I happy doing this?

* Does this work make me smile?

* Is this work fun? Do I like it?

* Am I engaged in and challenged by my work?

* Do I enjoy doing this day after day?

* Is it satisfying my need to feel productive, useful, effective and creative?

* When I do this work, do I feel like myself?

* Is it easy to jump out of bed? Do I look forward to going to work?

* Do I feel good about myself in this work?

* Am I growing in and through this job or career?

If the answer to some or all of these questions is "no," this is good news! It means you are ready to identify what you DO want to do for work. And there IS something you love to do. Just as there are clothes that fit us better, so too are there jobs that fit us better.

Freud said that love and work are the two main tasks of a human being. Others say "love and service" - service being how we help others. And most often that can be done via a job.

There are many tools available for you to uncover what you love to do and can do for work. I have a free e-book you can get as one way to start on your path to your "right fit work." To get it, follow the instructions in my post of November 10, 2009.

Monday, November 30, 2009

You Didn't Get the Job You Wanted

I'm disappointed for you! And I completely understand that you are feeling discouraged. It's a normal part of the job search process.

What does it mean to not get a job you want? I've come to see that it means a) it wasn't the right job for me and I can be grateful I was spared the agony of a bad fit; and b) the right job is on its way and is that much closer. The fact that you got an interview, and you did so well in the first interview that you got a second interview - it means that you are pretty clear on what you want and very close to getting it.

So "courage, ma amie!" as they say in French. I encourage you to allow yourself some down time - an hour perhaps - and then to look critically at the job itself and see what wasn't quite the right fit for you. That will help us focus more clearly on what you really want. And your clarity will help the right job appear.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Personal SWOT Analysis

I'm an inveterate planner. It's one of the best skills I learned through my decades in the non-profit sector. I planned everything: programs, hiring processes, budgets, and organizational strategic direction.

Planning is the means by which I mapped out HOW to get to my GOAL, and WHAT I needed to do and assemble along the way. Usually, I planned with others in a team. We started with some vision of our desired outcome, and then made a plan to get us from where we were at that moment in time to our desired end state.

However, planning was more than simply the process of creating a map. Planning allowed me to enroll others into sharing the vision and joining the team. It helped everyone learn how they did and could contribute to reaching the goal. Planning taught people how to plan, thereby enhancing their effectiveness in every area of their work lives and perhaps also their personal life.

Today, I apply my planning skills, methods, and tools to my own life, and help others do the same. For example, today I talked to someone about doing a SWOT analysis on herself. These are the questions I suggested.

Strengths - What are my strengths? What am I really good at? What are my talents? What skills do I have that I love using? What makes me happiest? Where do I feel best about myself? Doing what? When? With whom?

: What am I not so great at? What don't I like doing? What do I wish someone else could take care of for me? How's my attitude? Am I asking for help?

Opportunities: What exists in the outside world that could help me realize my dreams and achieve my goals? Who do I know? What kind of information is out there for me to gather? What networks could I join? Are there opportunities for me to develop my skills, to discover my talents, to build my confidence, to feel more hopeful and positive? What can I do to give value to others, to be of service? Am I willing to leave no stone unturned in my quest?

Threats: Are there things in the external environment that could upset my plans or hopes? Have I put too much emphasis on one or two options? Do I know as much as I can about myself and my abilities? Do I have ideas and negative thoughts that could trip me up?

The point is to identify those attributes, beliefs, thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that I can a) capitalize on (S); b) compensate for in some way (W); c) maximize (O); and d) minimize (T).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reference Checks

Great news! You've made it through the interview process and now your prospective new employer wants to check your references.

Reference checks are a little complex these days. Many employers no longer permit their employees to give any kind of verbal reference, instead directing inquiries to the Human Resources Department. And HR is only able to verify dates and terms of employment (e.g. full-time, part-time, contract worker). This presumably protects the employer from potential lawsuits by former employees who claim they didn't get a job because of a bad reference. About the only thing a prospective employer can find out is whether you told the truth on your resume and/or application.

Nonetheless, employers continue to ask for references in the hopes that they will get a live person willing and able to talk about you. Fair or not, it may be a red flag to them if you can't name even one person willing to go out on a limb to give you a substantive recommendation. After all, a positive reference would not result in litigation. Therefore, the reasoning goes, you must be a poor employee or colleague if you can't get at least one person to say nice things about you.

Collect at least three references, people you know will give you a great recommendation. Preferably, these people are former supervisors and close colleagues. If you have a lengthy work history, I recommend identifying two supervisors and one close colleague. If you're relatively new to the work world, you can list a former professor and a supervisor from a summer job or internship, plus a current colleague. At more senior levels, it's great to have four or more potential references. Then you can include current colleagues from other companies.

You'll need to do a few things to make sure your reference list is in top shape.

First, make sure you ask each potential reference if they are willing to serve as such. Nothing is worse than someone being surprised by a call from a recruiter. Here's why: It's presumptuous on your part to assume they are willing to be positive about you or give a reference at all. What if they aren't allowed to give references? Recruiters know if someone is surprised, and will immediately give you major demerits for behaving unprofessionally. In addition, the person should have a chance to think about what they might say about you.

Second, it's a good idea to reconnect with references every time you seek a job even if they've agreed to do so in the past. Alert them that someone will be calling to get a reference from her so they are aware and can start thinking of what to say. Plus, you can chat a bit about the position and why you want it, subtly emphasizing the things you want them to say. You also can tell them you want to make sure you are giving the correct contact information.

Third, put the list in writing. Make a Word document that lists each reference by name, gives their current title and employer (if they are working), identifies the nature of your relationship and length of time the person knows you (e.g. direct supervisor at XYZ Company for 4 years), and provides current contact information (preferably a telephone number). If you save it on your hard drive, you can e-mail it or print it out as needed, as well as update it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 12for12K Challenge is Tweetsgiving!

Join a global expression of gratitude on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Posterous and blogs within the 48 hours of Tweetsgiving (11/24 - 11/26).

The goal of Tweetsgiving is twofold: 1) Create a viral expression of gratitude and 2) raise $10,000 in two days for a fantastic yet struggling school in Tanzania.

Tweetsgiving is a chance for all of us to express thanks for whatever we’re thankful for. It could be a new job, overcoming an illness, awakening to something within your life, chocolate chip cookies – anything at all!

Your gift will make your gratitude tangible. I've already made a donation in gratitude for my wonderful nieces and nephew, because I don't know if I'll remember during Tweetsgiving. You don't have to wait until then to make a gift.

The money raised will go to support a primary school in Tanzania. Epic Change and its local partner Kamptoni will build a technology lab at the same school in Arusha where Tweetsgiving helped build a classroom last year. The Tumblr site shows great photos, student comments, and tweets about the classroom's impact and kids' hopes, dreams and struggle. It's very moving.

From the Tweetsgiving site: Epic Change launched the original TweetsGiving celebration in November 2008 as a 48-hour celebration of gratitude and giving that successfully raised over $10,000 to build a classroom in Arusha, Tanzania. Epic Change invested the funds to build a classroom at a school founded by Tanzanian Epic Change fellow “Mama Lucy” Kamptoni, a woman who used to sell chickens and used her income to build a school that now serves over 300 children near her home in Arusha. In this classroom built from gratitude, the Twitter handles of donors are now painted on the walls.

THERE's MORE! A donor has pledged matching funds! So all we need are 500 people to donate $10 each to reach $5000; the matching funds will bring the Tweetsgiving donation to $10,000. We also could use 100 people donating $50... And raising more than $10,000 would provide funds for a dormitory/orphanage, library, school cafeteria and additional classrooms.

Epic Change believes that people's stories are assets that can be used as resources to improve their lives. We help people in need share their "epic" true stories in innovative, creative and profitable ways to help them acquire the financial resources they need to create positive "change" in their communities. "We help hopeful people in need share their stories to acquire resources that will improve their lives."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cover Letters

I look at a lot of cover letters, and find that the majority can be improved with a few key changes.

1) Write it well.

This means good grammar and sentence structure, logical flow and relevant content, as well as perfect spelling. If you are not a great writer, find a friend who can edit your letter. A well-crafted cover letter conveys that the writer is a clear thinker and smart person. Mistakes (like typos or mixed up verb tenses) give the reviewer a great reason to toss your resume into the recycling bin or shredder. Don't do their work for them!

2) Use the cover letter to make the case for why you are the right person for the job.

In marketing terms, your resume is your "value proposition" while the job posting and description put forth the need that must be met. Your cover letter articulates how your value proposition - skills, experience, expertise - matches the stated need. To make that case, you will refer to the job description, often using language taken straight from the ad or posting. This demonstrates that you are paying attention to this employer's specific needs, and that you understand that work is a two-way street. You want a job, they want an employee. You need a paycheck, they need results. Show that you understand that the employer has needs, too, and you will start to stand out from the competition.

3. Give enough specificity to invite more questions at an interview, and absolutely no more.

Cover letters allow you to go into a bit more detail than your resume about specific accomplishments - looking from about 8,000 feet instead of 10,000 - and definitely no lower. No one wants to read every last detail. It's boring and off-putting. One person wrote a letter that gave lots of detail about one accomplishment - it was hovering at about 1,000 feet.

As a fundraiser, I have developed successful proposals to a number of foundations and government agencies over the past 12 years. One example of my success in this area is my spearheading the effort that resulted in a $22,000 planning grant from the such-and-such Foundation to look at increasing the number of older adults in our volunteer base. My analysis of the ensuing focus groups led to our being invited to apply for full funding. We were awarded a $150,000, three-year grant as a result. I continue to monitor the programming and reporting on that grant. In addition, at both MNO and BCD, I successfully increased foundation fundraising and income from billable contracts during my tenures.

The content definitely was relevant; it was just too much of a good thing. Here's a small edit to show how to highlight the essential point, give an example and curtail extraneous detail.

As a fundraiser, I have led or been an integral part of efforts that yielded many millions of funding from foundations and government agencies during my career. For example, I spearheaded XYZ's effort that raised first a planning grant and then a $150,000 multi-year grant from a major foundation. In addition, at both MNO and BCD, I successfully increased foundation fundraising and income from billable contracts.

You might get an interview because the reviewer wants to know HOW you accomplished these things. Then you can go into more detail.

4) Talk about why you want to work for the organization or company.

The cover letter is your chance to show them how you are the perfect fit, not simply in terms of your abilities and qualifications but in terms of their mission and programmatic needs. You certainly are technically qualified. Why should they choose you? What's your motivation for seeking this position? A little flattery goes a long way, as does a thoughtful rationale for why your experience will translate into the new company's focus.

When applying to a non-profit organization, make sure you weave any experience - professional, volunteer or personal, that ties you to the organization's specific mission and issues.

5) Get the reader to go to your resume.

The cover letter is supposed to give employers a slightly different perspective on you. It's the place to amplify the key messages contained in your resume and to make the case for you being the right person for the job. It should not take the place of the resume. It's good to give the reader instructions: So don't repeat everything that's in your resume. Get them to go to the resume by saying things like: "My resume is enclosed." and "As you will see from my resume, I have experience in ..."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Targeted Cover Letters

I just edited a cover letter to add in more specifics about the position and correlate the person's past experience with their needs. Usually, those letters are more effective than the ones that simply talk about your experience.

A cover letter is a marketing tool. The goal of any marketing is to demonstrate that you understand your market's challenges and have the experience and skills to help them meet those challenges. Thus a great cover letter will make the case for why you (the product or service) are the right person for job (solution) at the company (your market). A great cover letter will help an inside connection make the case for you, too.

From my own experience writing and editing hundreds of cover letters, two great marketing tools for a cover letter are:

* Do the analysis for the employer
* Speak the employer's language

Here's a simple way to construct a targeted cover letter: take the lead responsibilities and craft sentences that blend your experience with language from the posting, to show the match between your background and their need. For example, this is the first responsibility of a job for a facilities and space planner at a financial institution:

- Understand key business and market drivers and develop workable long-term and implementation plans that support business needs and meet annual and multi-year portfolio performance targets.

For the cover letter, I take key words and write a sentence something like this:

At [name] Investments, I developed and oversaw the implementation of many excellent and workable facility plans that enabled a range of internal clients to increase their business effectiveness and meet their performance goals.

I used the words "implementation," "workable," "business" and "performance" from the posting to match my experience to that responsibility. Using the word "workable" was key to because it is an uncommon word that is specific to this posting. Words like "implementation" and "performance" are likely to be picked up on a key word search.

I also could have used the phrase "business and market drivers" because it is clearly a buzz term for the company. In a complete letter, I would probably insert this phrase somewhere else to reinforce that I understand their core business needs and fit in with their culture.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Becoming a Consultant

I've worked with a few people to develop a consulting "brochure" to help them make some money while looking for work.

Generating income is one big benefit of being a consultant. Another is keeping your skills current. A third is having a reason to get up in the morning and having actual work to do.

All that may be obvious. A less obvious benefit to developing a consulting brochure is that you get to look at what you really want to do, what skills you love to use and are really good at, and the value you deliver sufficiently to get paid for it.

It doesn't have to be fancy and printed; in fact, it's better as an electronic PDF attachment to an e-mail. You can use it to network, announcing to people that you are launching a consulting practice and they should feel free to pass this on to people who might be interested. In this way, your name gets out there attached to precisely the kind of work you want to do full-time. You never know what will happen. Just yesterday, one person just landed a full-time job doing exactly what she described doing in her consulting piece.

Knowing what you can and want to do is the key to finding your "right fit work" whether that is working at a job or starting your own business. Being a consultant is your own business.

Often, the biggest challenge is shifting your mindset about how you get paid. Employees get a salary and usually work whatever hours they need to get the job done. Consultants get a fee, usually on a retainer or project basis, and sometimes with a daily or hourly rate. Your time and expertise both are resources, and consultants need to understand the relationship between the two.

Here are some ways to start thinking about Fee Structure.

1. How many hours can you give each client a week or month?

* that determines your ideal number of clients
* can have a range of services, some more time intensive than others - all are valuable
* no client needs to know what you do for the other
* Managers have multiple clients all the time; as long as you meet the client's needs, they don't care who else you work for (with some bizarre exceptions)

2. How much client turnover do you expect? Meaning how long will clients sign up for to work with you? AND how much time off during the year do you need, are you willing to give yourself?

* rule of thumb is to figure 40 weeks of the year working (sometimes people figure 32 or 36 weeks, depending on how constant the clients are)

* some of your time has to be focused on marketing your services and getting new clients

* your fees are sufficient to cover all your costs; shared among several clients, you can give them a relative bargain AND make what you want to make

3. What's the basis on which you want to get paid? Here are some options and what they mean.

* Monthly retainer, where over a year the client gets an average number of hours a month, with some months heavy and others lighter. This is best all around because you and they can count on regular income and expense, so it's great for budgeting. Only caveat is you must produce enough outcomes for the client to be satisfied with this monthly outlay. This is a great method when you are involved in a lot of different projects or areas with a client, including "soft" projects like advising, coaching, and strategizing with a senior person.

* Project basis, where you get paid for producing a specific outcome over a period of time. Usually there are several payments, one upfront to get started, then one or more milestone payments tied to progress, and a final payment to be paid after satisfactory completion. This is the best method for facilitating an entire strategic plan (not simply advising), writing a funding proposal (or indeed any kind of writing where there will be edits), and delivering a specific product within a specific time frame.

* Daily or hourly rate, where you are paid for your work based on an estimated time involved. This kind of payment is best when you are doing something that is pretty straightforward and it is easy to give the client an accurate estimate of how much time is needed. Examples of such services are training, word processing, facilitating a retreat, advising on strategic planning, and one-on-one coaching.

So think about yourself as a consultant. What would you do? What services would you offer? What could you do for a client that they would love to pay you for? How would you talk about what you do? What would be your 5-second pitch description of what you can deliver to a client? Chances are that's what you want to do in a job, too. You may even discover that you love being in business for yourself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Creating and Using the Must Have List

Here's a living example of how I guided someone through the questions in the Must Have List, to help her identify what she wants to do next in her work life.

What AC Wants
Say in policy & ownership

* Recognition and appreciation of her value & skill
* Authority and responsibility to determine path
* Leeway to adjust
* Shared ultimate responsibility

Reasonable schedule
Combine practical tasks with relationship building

* Be organized
* Talk to people
* Small things toward a much bigger goal – steps toward achieving goal

People she respects and likes
Dance (but not ballet)

* Possibly more than one company

Well-paid, good benefits

* $100k
* Way to make as much as she wants to afford a house and car and put some away for retirement

Based on this list, and looking at where she naturally goes, a few things became apparent. First, it seems that she is very senior in her industry, and that she is the peer of many of the power players. Second, she is sick of working for people less able than she is. Third, she craves diverse and varied work. Fourth, she really likes having a substantial positive impact without having the entire financial responsibility for a company on her shoulders. So here's the possibility that emerged:

Go into business for herself as independent producer and/or company manager with several clients at a time. This is a way to make money and have a broader positive impact.

Obviously, there is a difference between going into business for yourself and working for a salary. I'll address Becoming A Consultant in another post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Follow-up on Resumes

A coach posted this article that provides more insight on resume length.

Survey Shows Longer Resumes Now More Acceptable

MENLO PARK, CA -- The "keep your resume to one page" rule may be on its way out, a new survey suggests. While more than half (52 percent) of executives polled believe a single page is the ideal length for a staff-level resume, 44 percent said they prefer two pages. That compares to 25 percent polled a decade earlier who cited two pages as the optimal resume length; 73 percent of respondents preferred a single page at that time. Respondents also seemed more receptive to three-page resumes for executive roles, with nearly one-third (31 percent) citing this as the ideal length, compared to only 7 percent 10 years ago.

Both national polls include responses from 150 senior executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation's 1,000 largest companies. They were conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Executives were asked, "What is the preferable length of a resume for staff-level employees?" Their responses:

Current / 10 Years Earlier
One page: 52% / 73%
Two pages: 44% / 25%
Three pages or more: 3% / 1%
Don't know/not sure: 1% / 1%
TOTAL 100% / 100%

They were also asked, "What is the preferable length of a resume for executives?" Their responses:

Current / 10 Years Earlier
One page: 7% / 28%
Two pages: 61% / 64%
Three pages or more: 31% / 7%
Don't know/not sure: 1% / 1%
TOTAL 100% / 100%

"Many employers are willing to spend a little more time reviewing application materials so they can more easily determine who is most qualified and act quickly to secure interviews with these candidates," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Managing Your Career For Dummies® (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

Although employers may be willing to review longer resumes, job seekers shouldn't go overboard, Messmer noted. "Employers want to see that applicants can prioritize information and concisely convey the depth of their experience," he said.

Accountemps offers the following do's and don'ts for determining what information to include in a resume:

• Describe key contributions you made at prior roles and how they impacted the bottom line.
• Summarize software expertise and other specialized skills.
• Devote extra space to describing work experience that is most relevant to the job description.
• Use terms referenced in the job description if they apply. Firms often scan resumes for key words included in the job description.
• Reference your activities with professional civic associations, community involvement and knowledge of a second language -- if they relate to the job opportunity.

• Use exact dates of employment. Months and years are sufficient.
• Include irrelevant details about your personal life or list your hobbies.
• Misrepresent your education or career experience.
• Use professional jargon and abbreviations.
• List references or include a lengthy objective.
• Use complete sentences; short bulleted statements are better.

Accountemps has more than 350 offices throughout North America,Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building a Consulting Business

When people are looking for work, it is helpful to have a few things going on at the same time. I recommend that people engage in consulting - using their skills on projects for pay.

Reason #1: Multiple activities help fight the discouragement that comes from continually looking for and not yet finding the right thing and the "yes, you're hired!" that signals the end of your search.

Reason #2: Usually, people need to make some money to pay bills.

Reason #3: Consulting keeps your skills current, and gives you something to put on your resume that shows you are continuing to work.

Consulting is quite different from working for a salary, and it takes some shifts of attitude and consciousness. It especially takes new skills and knowledge of how to run a business. When building a business, it's good to remember that there's lots of trial and error involved for you to find your comfort zone in terms of fees, scope of work, and time it takes to complete a project.

My friend Sam wrote asking for advice regarding the price she should quote a potential client, knowing that the client doesn't have a lot of money yet is working on a very interesting project. Here are the suggestions I made to her; hope they are helpful to you!

It's obvious that you give your clients a lot of time, more than you originally estimate. My way of estimating time is to double the amount of time I think it will take. Sounds like you are finding that out already - $34/hour is about half your minimum rate!

Re quoting rates to clients, it depends on:

* how much you want to work for the particular client
* how much time you really have to do discounted work
* how much money you need to make within the time you have available for doing the work
* understanding the "opportunity cost" of taking on this work - clients you WON'T be able to take on because you are doing this work
* the boundaries you can put on the work, e.g. I can do one proposal for this price, period.

An effective way to handle pricing in this case is to say something like this:

I really want to work with you and I'm sensitive to your budget issues. My usual rate is $750 a day. I estimate that it will take me 5 full days of work to complete one proposal - including one round of revisions; identify 10 potential funding sources; and submit them. So that would be $3750. Because I really want to work with you, I want to know what you can afford right now. You can always pay me the rest later, but I do need something now.

The thing about this is that you are promising only ONE proposal with one set of revisions, a set number of funding sources and submission. Those boundaries can help you manage yourself, as much as managing her expectations. Part of being in business for ourselves means managing ourselves.

If you're anything like me, you put in a lot of extra work on the job. And when you work at a job, you are recognized and often rewarded for going the extra mile. Going the extra mile in a consulting job is fine, except when it takes away from doing other work. Your time is limited and you need to make a certain amount of money to cover your costs and hopefully put some money away in savings.

So the first thing to do is figuring out how much you need to make. I use a very simple formula:

The sum I want to make per year before taxes, divided by 40 (or 36) weeks. I use that number because I build in time between clients, time to develop new relationships and get new clients (also known as "marketing"), and time off. My client fee needs to be sufficient to cover ALL my costs. To come up with an hourly fee, then I divide that number by 40 hours. For a daily fee, divide by 5.

For example, I want to make $100,000 gross (pre-taxes). I divide $100,000 by 40 weeks, and come up with $2500 a week. My daily rate is then $500, and my hourly rate is $62.50. I'd round that up to $65 or 75 an hour.

These are points to start with.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Resume Length

I just saw answers to the question "how long should a resume be?" on an e-mail from the coaches' special interest group (SIG) to which I belong.

Just as I expected: most coaches believe resumes should be no longer than two pages. Some felt it could be one page for someone relatively junior in their careers, and two for a more senior person. One person said it could go as long as three pages, and one felt it should be no more than one - no matter what.

My experience tells me that successful resumes are as follows:

* one page for a relative newcomer to the world of work - zero to ten years
* two pages for someone with more than 10 years of experience
* possibly two and a half pages for someone who is incredibly experienced and has many awards or publications or affiliations or something really extraordinary. Really, though, all those things should be distilled into two pages with headings that say "AFFILIATIONS (selected)," "PUBLICATIONS (selected)" and the like. If you just can't leave anything out, put them into separate attachments instead of in the resume!

In my opinion, someone who is experienced should always have two pages, because a single page subliminally tells readers "this is a junior person" and "don't bother reading this one." If you're applying for a senior position, that is NOT the message you want to communicate. You want to communicate "I am experienced enough for anything you throw at me" and "I deserve your consideration for this job." On the flip side, if you have more than two pages, the subliminal messages are "this is an arrogant person" and "this person doesn't respect my time." These are messages designed to get your resume put in the NO pile if not the recycling bin.

There are times when people have to produce a resume or curriculum vitae that conforms to a specific format or standard. One person I know, a medical doctor, has a ridiculously long CV - 8 pages at least - because his institution mandated the format. If he is looking for work, however, I'd advise him to develop a two page resume with attachments.

One poster mentioned an incredibly important point: no matter its length, a resume needs to be easily read. The point of submitting a resume is for someone to read it. If the reviewer has to reach for his/her reading glasses, that's a point against you. Our job as applicants is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewer to see our skills and abilities. That means they should encounter no obstacles.

To me, readable resumes avoid fancy formatting. Most often today, people submit resumes electronically. Many times, the fancy formatting doesn't come through accurately. Instead of those beautiful arrows you used to itemize your accomplishments, a question mark appears. Or the line appears as a bunch of dots. Or text disappears or appears somewhere else. Or page breaks happen in odd places and suddenly you have a four page resume.

You get the point. The last thing you could wish for is any implication that there is any question about your accomplishments! So use the dots provided for in Word.

There's an important point in the previous sentence: use Word! It's the most common word processing package; even Mac users have it now. And save it as a "doc." It's the only format that just about everyone reliably can open.

Readable resumes use simple fonts like Times Roman, Garamond and possibly Tahoma or Verdana. The last two are sans serif type faces which are always more difficult to read, so I don't recommend them as a first choice. Times Roman is familiar and that's a good thing. We want the reviewer to immediately feel comfortable with us; it's one less hurdle for us to get over in the job search process.

Font alone doesn't make a resume readable. One also much use a big enough font. I prefer 12 point for Times Roman and no smaller than 11 point. I read somewhere that Garamond is a more elegant version of Times Roman, which is the case. However, it also is a bit smaller, so I opt for 12 point type - never 11 point. Tahoma and Verdana are big enough that 11 point is sufficient.

Legible resumes also follow an easy-to-read format. And that's a post for another day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Starting a New Job

I have the happy news that three people have just started new jobs - jobs that meet their Must Have Lists!

Because they've been out of work for a while (one for almost a year, the others for six+ months), the three people are understandably nervous about how to be successful in this new gig. I suggested that they create some goals for themselves using this framework.

At the end of 90 days, and at the end of a year:

1. What do you want to be known for?
2. What tangible or measurable outcomes do you want to have accomplished?
3. How do you want others to perceive you and feel about you?
4. How do you want to feel about yourself in this specific area?

The answers to these questions can help you set priorities for yourself and organize your efforts and energy to achieve these outcomes.

What are some possible answers?

Go back to your Must Have List to remember your values, the kind of work and activities you love to do, the standards you have for yourself, the kind of culture you wanted to work in, and the kind of outcomes that make you happiest and proudest. This gives you clues for answering these questions.

In my case, after 90 days, some of what I'd want is: to be known as someone who delivers more than I promise, who starts and ends meetings on time, who has integrity, and a good sense of humor. I'd want to meet all my staff and established my standards and priorities, as well as a regular schedule of meetings with my direct reports and leadership team. I will have met many of the key stakeholders and accurately assessed the power dynamics of the organization and begun to make strategic relationships. I'd want to identify some easy early wins to demonstrate my grasp of the subject matter. And I'd have a plan for the next 9 months, with buy-in from the necessary players.

Planning like this can also help with your job search. For example:

* What do you want to be known for by your network and prospective employers?
* How do you want to feel about yourself during the search?
* What tangible outcomes do you want to achieve within 90 days? 6 months?

Structure and forethought really help you achieve your goals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Note Regarding Interviews and Work Transitions

"Helen"* saw a job description for a big job at a non-profit organization and commented: "that's supposed to be even more dysfunctional than the place I work now!"

My response was in the form of a suggestion:

"If it's the kind of work that interests you and the kind of prestigious organization that appeals to you, see if you can get an interview.

An interview is really the only place you can get to know for yourself what an organization's culture is like. The first interview can give you a pretty good gut indicator.

Other people may find a place dysfunctional, and it may be the kind of dysfunction you thrive in. My theory is that most places are dysfunctional in some way, so part of the transition process is to find the one that maximizes my effectiveness and minimizes my dissatisfaction.

That's why the Must Have List is so important - it's the place you identify where and how and in what circumstances you are happiest and doing your best work. Going to an interview armed with that self-knowledge is very empowering - you now are interviewing them at the same time they are interviewing them. It changes the power dynamic from the get-go. Your consequent self-confidence will really help you recognize and then listen to your gut impressions and feelings.

It's also very empowering to go to many interviews, to "try on" various jobs and organizations so you're more and more certain of what fits and what doesn't. And when you find your "right fit," it all just falls into place. Thus, more interviews than less are highly desirable.

Our goal right now is to get you interviews, not to get you a job. That comes later. At this point, interview experience is our data base. Also, did you know we have a sort of brain in our gut? That's the one to start listening to. And that takes practice."

We'll see what she decides to do! As I like to say, more shall be revealed...

* changed to protect privacy

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Acing An Interview

I am prepping several people for interviews - hooray! What a great opportunity for them to further explore whether this is the right fit job for them.

Obviously, in this economy, people are grateful that they have even gotten an interview. It IS wonderful to be asked to come to an interview. Remember that you've gotten the chance because you did your homework and made the case that you would be a good fit for the job. That should help you avoid the temptation to mold your responses to what you think the employer wants to hear.

You clearly have the basic qualifications - that is certain if you get an interview in this climate. There probably are many other people who meet the qualifications as well.

So why did you get an interview? The employer liked the personality and message you initially conveyed.

In the interview, the employer wants to hear more about how you will meet their needs and to see if the "chemistry" is right between the two of you. The interview also is your first opportunity to hear how well the employer meets your must have list.

Here are some things to do that will improve your chances of doing well in the interview.

* Stick to the strategy you used in your cover letter.
In answer to any questions you can, tie your experience and skills to the employer's needs and challenges. Complete your answer and then say how you see this skill or experience as relevant to the employer's situation.

* Tell stories to imprint your experience and skills into the interviewer's mind.
The stories should be short - maybe 30 seconds long, with a beginning/middle/end. Rehearse some stories to illustrate one of your key skills or experiences that relate well to the employer's situation. Then say "I'll do that for you in xyz area" to draw the direct comparison. They need to know the link, and to know that you've thought enough about the situation to make that connection.

* Whenever you can, focus on the problems you'll solve for the employer, and the value you'll provide.
The interviewer is very familiar with the challenges and issues they face, and wants to know that you are also. Make sure you do your research before the interview. Read the website to see the company's purpose or mission, the future plans they may have, market conditions they face, their competition, and key projects and activities. See how your job will fit in with all of that.

* Make sure you tell the employer why you want to work for THEM in particular. Sincere flattery works wonders to impress on an employer that you understand how great they are. Also emphasize that you really want to work on the challenges they offer.

* Ask the interviewer questions that will help you assess how well the employer and job will meet your "Must Have List." If you are concerned about culture, ask "what is the culture like here?" If you want to know about the position's influence and impact, ask what would constitute success in the position. Ask about the company's future plans. One exception: Hold off on talking about compensation. The first interview is NOT the time for that.

* In the interview, remain enthusiastic and friendly. Even if you hear something you don't like, file the information away and continue being open. This is the time only for information-gathering. It is not the time to decide whether you want the job or not. Simply register the information. You will use it later to make a decision.

* Allow yourself to really want the job.
Your enthusiasm for the job and your conviction that it is the job for you will come through as enthusiasm, not desperation. By asking your own questions, you will naturally temper any hint of what could be construed as too much eagerness. In general, employers want to hire people who want to work for them. If it turns out the job is not for you, you can handle the disappointment. By allowing yourself to want it, though, you could give yourself the edge you need to be offered the job.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Job Search: Creating Your "Must Have List"

This is a list of 5-6 aspects of a job or work that you MUST have. This is not “want to have.” This list is the things that you must have in order for you to be satisfied and content in your work, the things that will make it possible for you to be excited to start the day when you wake up every morning.

You’ll want to have a “must have” in most or all of these categories:

1) Type of work
2) Role you will play
3) Impact of your efforts
4) Physical environment
5) Colleagues, culture, emotional environment
6) Compensation

1) Type of work

What do you like doing? What do you want to occupy yourself doing for work? What are your skills, talents, preferences, likes and dislikes? What brings you joy? What can you lose yourself in so time flies? Single focus or variety of tasks?

2) Role you will play

Will you work for someone? For yourself? With others? Be a leader or a follower? Do you like working alone or in a team? Being visible or behind the scenes? Lots of variety or the same kind of role consistently? How much time do you want to spend working? Do you want to be someone others depend on or free of responsibility for others?

3) Impact of your efforts

Does your work need to matter to anyone other than yourself? Do you want to make a difference? If so, what difference do you want to make? Does it matter what kind of company or organization you work for? If so, what kind of company? And what impact will it have? Is there anything that will make it worth doing drudge work?

4) Physical environment

What do you need to be at your best and do your best work? Do you need privacy, light, quiet, noise, open floor plan, a desk and comfortable chair, no desk and always being outside? There are many variations – only you can decide what kind of physical environment you thrive in. Also can be about location, commuting, hours.

5) Culture and colleagues

What kind of emotional environment do you want? What kind of people? Do your values need to mesh with the values of your workplace and colleagues? What kind of atmosphere helps you do your best? Lots of deadlines or little pressure? Competitive or supportive, or a little of both? Structured or flexible? Formal or casual? 9-5 or varied? Task or mission focused? Start-up or established organization/company? Close supervision or self-direction?

6) Compensation

What’s the bottom line dollar pay or salary that you can live with? A figure that covers your basic needs and then some? You can have a figure you request that’s higher than your “I can live with it” figure. Are there other ways you can be compensated, such as time off, benefits, recognition, or travel? How much compensation do you need to reflect your value to your employer, or to quit a temporary or maintenance job to work full-time for yourself?

c Julia Erickson 2007 (with thanks to Linda Hall).

"He can who thinks he can, and he can't who thinks he can't. This is an inexorable, indisputable law." Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

12for12K - Support Doctors Without Borders TODAY!

Today is 12for12K - let's raise $12,000 in 12 hours for Doctors Without Borders - amazing healers going where so many others will not go - JOIN ME! Simply click the title of this post, or click below.


Doctors Without Borders is 12for12k's September charity. Please do what you can to help us meet our goal of supporting this excellent organization, whether by donating or by spreading the word.

From their website: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971.

Today, MSF provides aid in nearly 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need.

What exactly does your support provide?

Your Donation What It Can Provide

$35 will fund Two high-energy meals a day to 200 children

$50 will fund Vaccinations for 50 people against meningitis, measles, polio or other deadly epidemics

$70 will fund Two basic suture kits to repair minor shrapnel wounds

$100 will fund Infection-fighting antibiotics to treat nearly 40 wounded children

$250 will fund A sterilization kit for syringes and needles used in mobile vaccination campaigns

$500 will fund A medical kit containing basic drugs, supplies, equipment, and dressings to treat 1,500 patients for three months

$1000 will fund Emergency medical supplies to aid 5,000 disaster victims for an entire month

$5500 will fund An emergency health kit to care for 10,000 displaced people for three months

Build your cover letter around employer's WIIFM (what's in it for me)

Employers wonder "What's in it for me if I hire you? What are you going to do for ME, if I do this great thing for you - giving you a job and paycheck?"

Use your cover letter to answer that question. The point of a cover letter is to convince the employer that you understand their challenges and have what it takes to successfully handle and resolve them. Your value is in relieving their pain. That's what's in it for an employer who hires you: pain relief and solutions.

Last week, I got two tweets (on Twitter) and several e-mails asking me about cover letters, so the topic is in the air. Perhaps this means there are more jobs being posted. Let's hope so!

To give you a flavor of the questions, here are the tweets, with my responses.

First Tweet
Hi Julia - I'm wondering if you had any tips on writing a winning cover ltr wo sounding fake? Something I've been struggling with.

My Response
Show ur passion 4 emp'r issues. See my recent post (September 22). dm if u need more.

Second Tweet
@juliaerickson: Should I say "I'll work for free." just to get experience on my resume? Accounting is so hard to break into.

My Response
In cover letter cd ask 4 chance 2 wk pro bono (4 free) 2 get experience, volunteer @ non-profit 2 add 2 ur resume

Follow-Up Tweet
Cover letters are so hard for me because I really can't think of why I'd want to work for a particular company, I just want to work.

My Responses
1. what r challenges/problems u love 2 tackle, find in job descrip, say how u'll address them in cov ltr
2. the thing is you'll get the work you really want 2 do & you can muster up wanting 2 wk 4 a company b/c u can do that wk there

How do you create a convincing cover letter?

* Find the challenges and concerns stated and implied in the job posting, and then list them in a word processing document. This will be the beginning of your cover letter.

* Take one challenge, and craft a sentence that uses some specific language from the job posting to show that you have zeroed in on and comprehend this challenge. For example, "Managing both full-time and part-time staff requires great leadership and organizational skills to distribute assignments most effectively, monitor performance, and maintain team cohesiveness and morale."

* For that same challenge, create a companion sentence that shows how your experience and skill is exactly aligned to meet the challenge. For example, "While at XYZ Company, I oversaw 20 full-time and 60 part-time staff and ensured that the team delivered its results on time and under-budget, while having fun doing it. In fact, annual turnover on my team of part-time workers was less than 10%, far less than the industry average of 30-40%."

* Follow this process for at least one more challenge and possibly two.

What you're doing is building a case and telling a compelling story about your history and how it's prepared you to be the person who will solve this employer's problems.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Important to Get Encouragement!

I sent this e-mail message to a client who is pursuing a "dual path" - meaning she has a long term goal which requires her to get additional education and a credential, while also making money to support herself. She had to miss an appointment, and I thought I'd send her a message that would be welcome no matter what emotional state she was in.

I was just telling someone how you had the courage to follow your dream, to
pursue the dual path of a job you mostly like (remember, 60-75% of the must
have list was our goal!) and getting the qualifications to help your
community, especially its children. I'm so proud of you, Ingrid. Your
determination and commitment inspire ME to keep going toward my own
dreams. So thank you!

It turned out she needed encouragement more than I imagined. Here is her response to me:

This email came at the exact right time--I was feeling discouraged.
Thank you so much for your kind words--they meant a lot to me and kept
me focused!

I learned long ago how much I need people who tell me that I'm doing really great things for myself, that I'm on a wonderful path, that I am terrific. It is so easy to listen to doubts and fears and anxieties - both within my head and from other people who have their own stuff. I need to surround myself with people who reassure me that I'm just fine and that it's fantastic for me to pursue my dreams.

Because I have such supportive and loving people in my life, I make it my business to provide that support to other people. Encouragement literally means to give someone courage. And courage is moving forward in spite of our fears.

Who in your life is giving you the encouragement you need to take some risks and pursue the work you really love to do? And who are you encouraging today?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Intention Statement: Be REALLY Specific

Every job seeker needs a powerful intention statement - a 5 to 10 second answer to the question "so what are you looking for?" It has to GRAB the listener immediately.

So over the past few days, I've worked with people to zero in on specifically what they want to do. To be more specific, I want to know exactly what work challenges and issues they want to tackle.

Why am I doing this?

1) Specificity breeds commitment. It's hard to be committed to achieving a generality. "I want to lose weight." Sure, doesn't almost everyone? Compare to: "I want to be 10 pounds lighter in 45 days." It's a SMART goal: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Once I voice that want or intention, I actually am committed to it. Something happens in my brain and heart where it becomes a goal I am motivated to achieve.

2) Specificity allows others to help me. If I say I can do almost anything, that is not helpful to people who want to help me find work. Their next question is usually "but what do you WANT to do?" People need specificity for their brains and mental rolodexes or contact pages to come alive and start spitting out ideas and connections. So if I say instead "I can do almost anything in fundraising" or "I can write just about any marketing piece you need written," there is enough specificity for people to start thinking "who do I know in fundraising, or what do I need written, or do I know anyone who needs something written?"

Even better: "I love to write persuasive materials for organizations with a great mission and low visibility, to invite people to be part of making a big difference in our community."

Or "I love to solve space challenges for companies with big ideas and limited budgets, and make their spaces reflect their brand image and strategic thinking."

Or "I love to help organizations grow to the next level, through identifying new markets, creating sustainable internal systems, and making the most of opportunities."

That last one is still a work in progress, but it's directionally correct.

Another one that is definitely still muddy but headed in the right direction is this one:

"I love to solve big operational challenges for companies in transition or crisis or facing significant market changes, through reengineering processes and people to turn things around and achieve big results."

3) Specificity breeds serendipity. Once you're specific, amazing odd things and opportunities will start to appear. Paul Coehlo said "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." It doesn't mean you won't have doubt or fear or anxiety about whether you'll achieve the goal. And that's fine. As psychologist Rollo May said, "Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of doubt."

Yesterday, Nancy and I were talking about her desire to work in a specific kind of organization in a specific NYC neighborhood. Because it might be difficult for her to immediately get such a position, we talked about interim steps. One possibility was for her to look for a position similar to her current one in her target neighborhood. Then we went on to a job search site, and there was a posting for EXACTLY that kind of job. Obviously, she will apply for the job and network her way into getting an interview. It was just an amazing true story of how specificity can attract the exact thing you want.

Sarah's story is another such example. She was very specific about the kind of job she wanted. Friends and her husband worried that she was TOO specific and would lock herself out of other positions. The thing is, she knew what she wanted. If she didn't find that, she could always expand her search. Why not try for exactly what she wanted first, however? The outcome of that story is that she found exactly what she wanted and got the position.

I hope these examples inspire you to identify exactly what you love to work on, what challenges excite you, what problems you love to solve. And when you find such an opportunity, allow your passion to flow through you into your cover letter.

Never Give Up!

Job searching can be a seemingly endless process. It does have an end, because it had a beginning. We simply don't know when the end will come. Rest assured, it will end with you getting a job.

This past week I heard from two people who've been looking for quite a while (months and months) that they got the jobs they wanted. Hooray! I needed to hear that good news, almost as much as they needed to get the jobs. It was evidence that there really IS an end to the job search.

While I haven't debriefed with them, my knowledge of their process leads me to conclude that a few things were key to their success:

1) Both people were extremely clear on what they wanted - the work, the culture, the role, compensation, impact, physical environment (the Must Have List you'll find elsewhere in this blog).

One had to revise her Must Have List after it became clear that she wasn't taking action toward what she thought she wanted to do. So we looked at a list of the accomplishments of which she was proudest. All were centered on one type of work. Once she was clear that she wanted to do that kind of work, a perfect opportunity presented itself and she easily and peacefully took all the required actions. And she got the job!

2) Both understood exactly how their work history and volunteer work led to and prepared them for the particular job opportunity.

For the second person, the job was a step up from anything he had done previously. He worried that this would disqualify him. Together, we realized that he gathered requisite experience for the new job from all his previous jobs. His combination of experience and skills were unique, and perfectly suited to the job opportunity. He became convinced himself that he had what it took, and he was able to communicate that certainty and confidence on his interviews. And voila! He also got the job.

Clarity is essential, as is commitment. Once these people knew what they wanted, they were willing to do what it took to reach that goal. They focused on what they wanted, without ambivalence or hesitation.

I think it was impossible for the first person to commit to a job search UNTIL she was crystal clear about what she wanted. She got rid of all the "I should" and "they think" ideas, and looked inside and out for the "right fit" work for her.

It was easier to Never Give Up on herself once she was committed, and believed that she would get a job. It was only a matter of time. And it turned out that the time involved was fairly short - about two months from realization to job offer. The same time frame applied to the second person.

If you're in a seemingly endless and hopeless job search, try using the Must Have List guide to get absolute clarity about what you want. It is a great tool and will make it more likely that you will find your "right fit" work, possibly sooner than you think.

On Another Topic: 12for12K Fundraising

I got sidetracked by a conversation about a great Twitter fundraising effort called 12for12K - raise $12,000 in 12 hours for a specific charity.

A non-profit fundraising consulting criticized 12for12K, and in so doing, inspired great outrage and anger on the part of those who are its fans. [full disclosure: I am a fan and have donated to many of the causes.] The founder, @DannyBrown, responded in a measured way, and the consultant has now apologized for her tone and errors of fact.

Now having read the original “rant” and subsequent “conversation,” I’m heartened by the passion inspired by the idea of raising money for charities. I’m delighted to see such a maelstrom of feeling, and now a plethora of ideas for how to use social media for the benefit of non-profits.

Non-profits do some of our world’s most important work: feeding, clothing, housing, educating, healing. And they (we) do it largely with our money – whether through donations from individuals, tax dollars (again, our money), or grants from private sources. In most cases, charities don’t “sell” goods or services; they “sell” a mission, an impact, a vision, a result. Most of all, charities and non-profit organizations offer all of us the opportunity to participate in this incredibly important work. By donating funds, we all get to help heal people or feed or protect them – whatever vital service means most to us.

Long ago, someone told me that if people criticized me, I was doing something right. So Danny Brown and @unmarketing and @sarahrobinson and the other folks who’ve done 12for12K tweeting are clearly doing something right!

The results of 12for12K are wonderful for a couple of reasons. One, it shows that social media can be used to raise awareness of and funds for causes. Two, it shows that social media fundraising is at its beginning, and can improve.

Here’s my 2 cents contribution to the conversation:

* I love the consultant's ideas about helping charities develop a bigger and more effective social media presence. I noticed that Share Our Strength welcomed 12for12K donors when they clicked through to donate and clearly articulated what the fund would accomplish. Other charities can emulate that strategy.

* Some causes may resonate more with the Twitterverse than others. Feeding people is so fundamental and tangible, it may have been easier for people to understand in 140 characters. (Of course, I’m biased – I used to run City Harvest, a prominent NYC hunger-relief organization.) This is only a challenge to the Twitterverse’s marketing mavens and the charities themselves – how can we tell a compelling story in 140 characters? I know we can.

* Charities raise money every day. Internet mavens raise money every day. Maybe there can be a meeting of the minds, a sharing of the techniques, a respect for each other’s expertise and experience. By joining together with good spirit and humility, I believe we can accomplish an amazing amount of good via digital and social media.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Job transitions

Congratulations! You’ve realized it’s time for a new job. But not just any job. You spend 40 to 60 hours a week at work. So now you want to be fulfilled and happy with your work. It’s true that you do have financial obligations. Yet money alone isn’t enough anymore. Maybe you’re tired of office politics or the constant struggle to be best. Maybe you want to spend more time with your kids or working on your home. Maybe the commute is wearing you down and you want to work from home. Or maybe you’ve done all you can or want to do in your career and want to explore some other options.

It could be that you’ve been forced into realizing that you can no longer work as you have in the past. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired – before you had a chance to quit. Maybe you’re having a hard time finding another job in your field. And just maybe you’re having difficulty getting motivated to even look for something new.

If you’re in any of these situations, it’s time for a work transition.

Many people have gone through work transitions. Transition is different than change, according to William Bridges in his landmark book Transitions. A change is usually easy to make and takes a short period of time. A transition is much deeper and more thorough. It often takes a long time, usually involves some amount of struggle, and perhaps even causes emotional pain. Bridges talks about transitions as involving an ending, the neutral zone and a beginning.

Ending means closing the most recent chapter in your life. It can mean coming to terms with the reality that you are no longer the same person you were, or that you no longer like the same things you did, or that you are no longer suited to do the work you once did. It can mean accepting that you now have other priorities, or that you are physical unable to work at your old pace. It can involve processing feelings of shame or guilt or embarrassment. It can require recognizing the compromises and sacrifices you’ve made and realizing that you no longer can or will make them. Bridges suggests that it will be almost impossible to begin something new until you end the old, and experience supports his belief.

The neutral zone is the time and space between ending and beginning. It can be strange and disorienting as well as a time of great self-discovery and excitement. I call it the hallway between one door closing and another door opening. Sometimes the hallway has no light and you can’t see where you’re going. You feel my way along the wall, trusting that there will be another door. Meanwhile, you learn as much as you can about your likes, dislikes, hopes and disappointments, childhood dreams and unfulfilled aspirations, adult satisfactions and congenial environments. During that time, you discover the kind of work you really want to do and set on the road to finding the job that is your “right fit.” You form an “intention” about work that is grounded in your commitment to finding fulfilling work that fits into your life needs and priorities.

Beginning is almost the conclusion of the transition process – but not quite. For beginning something new involves a period of adjustment, of settling into the new space and work. You make a commitment to yourself during the neutral zone, that you only will take a job that is the “right fit” for you. During the beginning, you must constantly monitor yourself to confirm that the new job really meets your “right fit” criteria. If it doesn’t, that’s OK. Nothing has been wasted and you haven’t made a mistake. You’ve gotten more information about yourself that you can use as you prepare for a change.

The point of a work transition is to discover what you want to do, how you want to be, what kind of environment is best for you, how you work best, and who you want to work for and with. You create your own set of criteria, based on your own talents, skills, achievements, pleasures, and satisfactions. Those criteria become the yardstick against which you measure any potential job. There is a “right fit” job for you, like a glove on a hand. Your work involves defining the hand for the glove to fit. It’s exhausting, demoralizing, and stressful to try to bend yourself to meet the job’s needs and requirements. It’s far better to find a job that suits you.

Goal: JOB. Finding out what suits you is the purpose of this journey. Begin by identifying your goal. It can be just as undefined as a "JOB" as long as your intention is for a job that fits your preferences and needs.

Begin Search. The search starts with you identifying some possible options for work. Naturally, some options are related to your previous work simply because that is your area of expertise. Other options may be long-deferred dreams, or returning to something you once loved. Still other options may not emerge until later in the process. It’s not an exact science.

Information Gathering. In this phase, it’s essential to gather as much information as possible about the various options and especially about yourself. This is the gold mine you need to explore.

You can find out a lot about yourself by using some of the tools developed by TransitionWorks and others, such as the lifetime inventory of accomplishments. This involves listing your most satisfying achievements – things you are proudest of and did really well – and then teasing out similarities among them. You could discover that you love working alone, even if you’ve had to work in groups throughout your career. You could discover that you love being in charge of a team, or that you love working with your hands. Other tools can help you identify things for which you have a passion, or themes running through your work of which you were never aware.

You also need to learn more about your potential work options. You need to find out the state of the industry or field, what skills are needed, common work environments, geographic restrictions, pay scales, and more. The Internet and other media are great sources of information, as are friends and neighbors. As a result of this research, you may discard some options, refine and narrow others, or uncover a new option.

The outcome of this phase is your first statement of intention about work. You will come up with a three to four sentence summary of what you’ve learned about yourself and what you’re now interested in doing. You can have more than one interest at first. Your goal is to narrow down your intention so you can eventually come up with your “right fit” criteria for your next job.

You may discover that you need to “dual path” – pursue a job to pay the bills while also pursuing your passion. You may find that your passion requires more expertise, education, investment or sacrifice than you have or can afford right now. You don’t have to put it aside; you can work toward it. Sometimes, pursuing a passion makes a “day job” more tolerable.

Networking and Information Interviews. Networking can sound intimidating. Yet you do it every day without thinking about it. Every time you ask someone to recommend a plumber, you’re networking. Every time you send your friend to another friend for advice about something, you’re networking. Every time you meet someone at a party and end up calling that person later, you’re networking.

In this phase, networking is solely for the purposes of gathering more information about the various options. Using your statement of intent, you let your “natural network” know that you want to learn more about your areas of interest and ask for their help. Your “natural network” is family, friends, neighbors, trusted colleagues and former colleagues – people with whom you feel comfortable. Ask them if they know anyone who works in your area(s) of interest to whom they’d introduce you. All you want is 20 minutes of that person’s time to learn more about what s/he does and the field in which s/he works.

Another "natural network" may be people you don't know at all - yet. Two people I know targeted companies working in the area in which they wanted to work. They wrote e-mails and letters to people at those companies, introducing themselves and their passion for the field, and inquiring about whether they could talk to someone at the company about what the company did. After many unanswered e-mails, both got responses from two companies. One got a job that previously didn't exist - the company created a job for her! They did so because she presented the company with a solution for a problem they were just realizing they had. Her research and thinking allowed her to come up with ideas that the company desperately needed to implement - and she was the right person to implement them. The second person is negotiating with a company for a position they would have to create for him.

The lesson: go with what feels right to you. If you're not comfortable contacting people you know, OK. What's important is that you begin putting your intention out into the world somehow. "Out in the world" is the only place people can get to know what you have to offer.

It’s best if you have some idea of what you think you could do in the area of interest, so people have enough detail to grab onto. If your intention is too broad (“I want to learn more about TV”), it’s hard for people to think of people you could interview. A better statement of intent is “I want to learn more about TV production, especially what goes into making a reality show or a talk show.” This gives your contact enough information to think of people who work in TV production, on reality shows, talk shows, and even cooking, travel or home design shows.

Networking and practice interviews. There is a stage where you start narrowing your efforts and search. You engage in more networking, moving farther afield. With feedback, you refine your statement of intention so it really captures exactly what you want to do. This means eliminating some previous options. Usually now you know enough to draft your “must have” list. In this stage, too, you'll want to go on "practice interviews." This involves applying for jobs that seem to meet at least 50% of your criteria with the goal of getting interviews. You may not know if you actually want the job yet you also never know when practice will yield a real opportunity. So put your heart into the effort and at very least, use every interview as a chance to practice responses to hard questions. Interviews are your opportunity to learn more about field and yourself to further refine intention. You also get to assess jobs according to your "must have" criteria. The more interviews you go on, the more opportunity you have to say “no” to a wrong fit job. Keep networking to get closer to actual jobs that meet 75-80% of “must have” list.

Interviews and evaluating opportunities. On interviews for real jobs, it's important to interview them, too. Your “Must have” list includes things like industry and/or occupational preference, scope of responsibility, preferred compensation, work environment (physical and social), hours required, etc. Evaluate opportunities based on that criteria. Be flexible early on in discussions to keep your options open. Too much rigid adherence to your must have list too soon in the process will result in you being eliminated from the hiring process and you will not get to learn enough to decide if you do or don't want the job. Practice faith that you will find the right fit. If you don’t get a job offer, figure out possible reasons. Was it the right fit for you? Is it a blessing in disguise? Did you really want it? Did you believe it was meant to be yours?

Job offer assessment and ensuring “right fit.” How does this job meet your “must have” list? If you’re dual pathing, does it allow you enough time to pursue your passion? You do get to say no to the wrong fit.