Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interviewing the Employer

I know you feel desperate. I know you think you have to get a job, any job. And I know you think getting a job will make you happy.

I simply want to remind you that the job has to be a good fit for you if you are to be successful in the long run. Here's the thing: it's hard work getting a job. And I'll bet you don't want to have to do the job search again any time soon. So why not structure your job search so you get a job you'll be happy in over a substantial period of time.

Interviewing the employer is the best strategy for you to ensure your own job satisfaction. Every encounter with a potential employer is a chance to learn something about the company, its culture and its values - as well as about the particular job for which you applied.

Pull out your must have list and generate a list of questions
you can ask the interviewer that could get you information about the kind of company it is. Some questions you can ask in the first interview while others may have to wait until you're at a second or third interview.

For example, if you want to know if a company respects its employees, ask the interviewer how long he or she has been with the company and what keeps them there. You can also ask directly "what is the culture here?" If they seem not to understand the question, that's a bad sign: clearly, culture is not a concern and it's likely that employees are undervalued. If they can answer, then at least they talk about culture.

If you want to know whether the organization values employee work contributions, ask how this particular job will contribute to the overall goals of the organization. If the interviewer can't tie the job to a larger purpose, chances are employees aren't aware of how their work contributes to the whole and the higher-ups may not fully appreciate the value of every employee.

Think of what you would want to know if you were interviewing someone to work at your organization or company. Then ask the interviewers that question. It can come up in conversation, or you can ask it at an appropriate time. Questions show you are thoughtful, engaged, and interested in the job, the company, and your potential colleagues. They also show that you are not so desperate to get a job that you'll forgo any due diligence in your own behalf.

Any time is a good time to ask questions regarding the specific job. Ask what success will look like for the person in this job. It is a great question to get at the scope of position and the kind of impact you'll be expected to have. If you have a chance to talk with prospective colleagues or subordinates, one powerful question you can ask is what the interviewer expects a person in this position to deliver. You can learn a lot from asking that question.

Several years ago, I was up for a job in California that I thought I really wanted. When I asked the staff what they wanted from an Executive Director, they were shocked because no one had ever asked them such a question. I realized that the culture was probably not as mutually respectful as I initially thought, and my enthusiasm for the job cooled. I expressed some concern about moving across country, yet went on to a group interview with the full Board. That further demonstrated to me that the organization was pretty stratified and not very collegial. I made a presentation and had difficulty getting Board members to engage with me.

By then, it was clear that it wasn't the right fit for me, something reinforced by the too-low compensation figure they were considering. I was not surprised nor unhappy when they decided to go with someone local. In fact, it was a relief not to have to turn them down. The first sign of a poor fit, however, came after I asked staff what they wanted to see in an Executive Director.

Ask questions, pay attention to the answers, and trust that you will find your right fit job when you are clear about what you need to do your best work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Market Research

In a successful job search, you are marketing yourself to the right audience. This presumes two things:

* you've identified the right audience or market - employers who have jobs that require your specific combination of skills and expertise

* you know yourself - the "product" - well enough to point out all your advantages and how you will solve the employer's (market's) problem.

In previous posts, I describe how you can get to know yourself, and how to target jobs that are the "right fit" for you. What happens once you have identified your "must have list" and some jobs that appeal to you? It's time to do some market testing. With feedback from others, you can revise your resume and cover letter to more accurately and effectively represent you.

Market testing in a job search occurs in several ways.

First, you'll create a resume
that captures your "unique value proposition," the skills you want to use, and the work you want to do. This is your "marketing document" that instantly and accurately describes you - the "product" - to the employer or "consumer."

To find out if your resume does in fact accurately represent you, send it to a few people you trust to give you honest feedback. Ask them "what jobs do you think I can do based on this resume?" and "what message does this resume send about me?"

Example: One woman had "high integrity" in her profile. Feedback indicated this could be a double-edged sword, as some might infer that she felt superior to them or even that she thought many people didn't have integrity. Because she wants to communicate how much she values people, we took it out. Integrity is something she values greatly and so she will look for jobs where she is able to exercise her integrity. She doesn't need to hit people over the head with it, though.

Second, you'll begin to apply for jobs. Market feedback is pretty direct at this stage. Either you get contacted for interviews or you don't. If you don't, then it's time to revise your cover letter, resume or both.

Generally speaking, people don't get interviews when:

* their cover letter fails to make a compelling case for how their past accomplishments will help the employer meet their future goals. It is ESSENTIAL to describe specifically how your qualifications and experience directly match the employer's needs.

* their resume lacks measurable and directional accomplishments that indicate the impact they had on the business and employer. It is ESSENTIAL to tell potential employers what difference you made to your company and industry, how your activities yielded quantifiable or high-impact results.

Be ruthlessly honest with yourself.
Ask yourself: "Would I hire this person based on their materials?" Ask those trusted people what they think. Do they think you made a good case for yourself? Did you present your strengths? Did you spell out acronyms and eliminate industry jargon? Or did you assume that people could read between the lines? The quick initial read most reviewers give a resume means that everything pertinent needs to be made explicit. There is no room for assumption and inference.

An axiom of communication is that if readers don't understand what I am trying to say, it is my responsibility. There is nothing wrong with the reader; there is something unclear, incomplete or muddy about what I have said. It's my job to be simple, direct, crystal clear in what I say. Dr. Seuss's Horton the Elephant said it best: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant."

Third, you'll have some interviews. Interviews are perhaps the best market research mechanism. Click on the title of this post to go to an article about "Turning a Job Interview Into a Job Offer." I don't know if these tips will actually accomplish that in and of themselves, but they sure are great ideas for getting market feedback.

When you're being interviewed, you have a chance to see how someone responds to you, as well as to find out whether the job is as good a match as you thought it might be. Remember, an interview is the continuation of the conversation between you and the company that began when they published a job posting and you applied. Now is the chance for both parties to see whether in fact you and the job are the "right fit." There is a lot of information available in an interview.

For example, watch the interviewer's body language. People leaning into a table are engaged. People leaning back into their chairs are usually disengaged, possibly bored, possibly put off by you. You can reengage people by shifting how you respond to a question:

* Wrap it up if you've been talking for a while.

* Ask "have I answered your question?" or "Does that make sense?" or "I'm not sure I've answered your question?" or "Is there anything more you'd like to know about this topic?" People love it when you show you're paying attention to them.

* Ask the interviewer a question about the position or company that somehow relates to their prior question. "Your question makes me wonder about this aspect of the job. Could you describe that a little more?" or "I was curious as to how that job responsibility supports the company's goals. I have some idea, but could you describe how this job relates to the overall company goals?" People usually like talking about something they know, and you appear engaged and aware.

An interview does give you a great opportunity to fine tune your message and approach. It also is a chance to develop a relationship with the interviewer that could bear fruit in the future. If you don't get the job, you could go back to the person and ask what didn't work for them and how you might improve your approach or message.

Sometimes in an interview you can just sense it going south, and no matter what you do, you can't salvage it. In that case, you've gotten some valuable market information - that this place is NOT your "right fit" and probably it's not a cultural or personality fit. Remember that you are looking at the employer at the same time they are looking at you. So being rejected is probably a good thing in the long run, even if it doesn't feel great (and it never does!).

As the above article says, however, if you really do/did want the job, call the employer two or so months down the line to say you just wanted to check in, see if everything's going well with their new hire, and if there are any other opportunities. That's far easier if you've established some rapport in the interview, and are gracious afterward. Send a thank you note after the interview re-expressing your interest and thanking them for their time.

If you don't get the job and want to create a relationship, send a note after a rejection that reaffirms how interested you were in the position, thanking them for the chance to interview, wishing them and the company the best of luck, and hoping they'll keep you in mind if something opens up in the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Successful Job Search Strategies

Today, I heard from someone I briefly helped with social media aspects of job search, in response to my asking how his search was going. His answer:

I've actually gotten one offer, and in multiple rounds of interviews for three more positions. So I think I am close to the end of my search.

In this market, he's gotten great results in just three months of searching after being laid off. He's a PR and marketing professional, which certainly is not a high demand field right now. So I asked if he would share with me the one or two things that were most useful and productive in his search.

Here's what he said:

I had someone professionally rewrite my resume and cover letter template to make sure I was presenting myself in the best way. I also used LinkedIn to hunt down contacts for open positions. That helped me in a number of ways. But basically, I worked my butt off for 4-6 hours a day to track down leads. And I was fortunate to have gotten calls back in this market.

My takeaways are:

1) Resumes and cover letters are about putting your best foot forward, and you may not see yourself as clearly as a career professional. Even if you are uncomfortable with some language and think it "exaggerates" things, no reputable professional will stretch the truth. What we will do is use more powerful language that casts you in the strongest possible terms without misleading the reader.

2) Social media contacts definitely work, especially LinkedIn. It provides an invaluable service in giving you the ability to network with people currently working at places you want to work. Work your network to make sure you get a personal reference INSIDE every company to which you apply. That may not always be possible, yet it is a goal worth aiming toward.

Historically, 65-70% of jobs are gotten through networking. Today, that percent is probably much higher as employers are reluctant to spend time and money interviewing people who are complete unknowns to them. Employers want to know that you are likely to be the right fit with their culture and work ethic. Chances are higher that you are if an "insider" recommends you.

3) Looking for work requires a lot of time, discipline and persistence. I call it "leave no stone unturned" job search. Others say looking for work is a full-time job. Put together your job search plan and then implement it. Set measurable targets for yourself, especially regarding your contacts with people who could help you or know of someone who could (otherwise known as networking).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Random Thoughts re Job Search

Are you having a hard time networking? Run out of people to meet? Here's an idea that will help you recharge your networking effort:

host 4-5 friends from different spheres to brainstorm with you about jobs and fields for which you are suited based on your resume. This is not to rewrite your resume, simply to use it as a tool to spark brainstorming. Out of such talk should also come a list of potential people to whom you can connect. Usually, people remember people and things more easily when they are in a group talking freely, than when they are talking one-on-one and perhaps feel put on the spot.

Still having a hard time figuring out what you want to do next? Follow your interests to find work. Several people have realized that hobbies and things they see as fun could potentially lead to pay. This is especially important for people returning to the labor force after a period away.

One person said: "food, music, art is the stuff I love - I see it as fun. Other people get paid to do these things, so it could also be a job possibility for me...oh, I get it now!"

Another person wants to create a training and personal development company. Yet she has struggled to narrow her focus. Today it occurred to her that she could look at the advice, help, support and suggestions she gives to her friends and colleagues as the basis for a training program. Clearly, she loves helping people. Also, her guidance has really helped people. If she writes up those "case studies" she'll be on her way to developing a training curriculum. She doesn't have to be the world's best at helping people lead a balanced life (her focus), she just has to do it pretty well and better than anyone who might pay her for her help.

Have you decided NOT to apply for a job based on something you read in the job description? Or are you conflicted about whether or not to apply for something?

Think it through. Do you really know enough to reject the job? If it looks like it won't meet three of your "must have" items, then it's a good idea not to apply. think you might get more information if you get an interview. Job descriptions are simply "small talk" in terms of letting you know what a workplace or job is REALLY like. Your application is your "small talk" response, an indication that you would be willing to continue the conversation.

Remember the goal of an application/resume is to get an interview. It is NOT to get the job. Take one step at a time. You need to find out whether the job and role is all it seems, if the people are "your kind of people" and the culture to your liking, whether the compensation will meet your "live with" number, and whether you like it well enough to move forward in the interview process. Of course, the employer is doing the same thing. Perhaps you'll decide together to move forward, perhaps one of you will end the process after one interview. At least you'll be doing it based on facts, not feelings.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Leadership amidst fear

What kind of leadership do we need now? According to Stew Friedman on Harvard Business Publishing: Adaptive, flexible, and innovative. He sums up the core leadership ability as "playful creativity." (click title of this post to read entire article)

I was struck by his comment that "more than ever in my experience, people are feeling a need for greater control." His solution to this is believing "in your own power to generate new ways of getting things done" and you'll be "less likely to succumb to the stomach-churning anxieties that come from not knowing how you'll deal with whatever obstacle that's next to be thrown in your path."

In other words, have faith in your own abilities to handle whatever comes along and you won't be so afraid. Or, understand that you have control over yourself even if you have no control over other people or events. I get to choose how I respond to a situation. If I choose to go with the flow - and by the way, have a sense of humor throughout - I will be more able to handle the unexpected. If I expect the unexpected, I'll be prepared for just about anything.

Jon Gordon, another writer on leadership, calls for leaders to recognize that today there often is "a void of clear and positive communication" which most people fill with fear. He proposes Five Positive Leadership Strategies. He goes on to say "I’ve realized that great leadership is first and foremost a transfer of belief...Positive leaders share their belief, optimism, vision, purpose and plan with their organization..."

In other words, help others believe that the future is not a frightening prospect. As Gordon says, a vital first step is sharing information about the present, the current situation. Knowing what is happening NOW allows people to breathe and feel more secure in the present. When my feet are firmly on the ground, I can look around and down the road. Even if I don't know what's coming, I at least know where I am right now. Even if it's bad news, at least I know it. It's no longer the "scary unknown" I don't want to find out. It's the known world. Knowing where I am also makes it easier for me to navigate further, to figure out where I want to go, and then establish a direction, a map.

My new acronym for FEAR is Faithless Ego Anticipates Ruin. In these posts, I see how leadership can provide an excellent antidote to fear.

One of the key messages of these two blogs is that leaders are the ones who have faith. Faith in themselves, faith in their followers, faith in the future, faith in their ability to handle whatever comes, faith in positive outcomes, faith in the power of sharing information and including people in the process of planning for and working toward the future.

Ego refers to me, all alone. It is the antithesis of leadership, in my opinion and experience. Being a leader means recognizing that I do not function alone. By definition, a leader is not alone because we have people who follow us. When I believe that I am working WITH others, that I do not have to handle any situation alone, it is very difficult to be afraid.

Anticipating, or projecting, is usually a bad thing for me and most humans to do when confronted with uncertainty. I have no idea what will happen in the next moment, next day or week or year. So let me not go there before time. So I've trained myself to stop projecting into the future, and instead to stay in the moment. All is just fine in this moment. My job as a leader is to communicate enough about the present to reassure my team that I am there, I am looking out for them, I am capable and knowledgeable, and I will be with them and help them throughout whatever comes next.

Ruin - yes, horrible disasters. Hunger, homelessness, friendless, jobless, helpless. Left to my own devices, I rarely anticipate wonderful outcomes. That's true of most people, I've found. I just can't go there. It's like my own private horror movie - I scare myself with stories of the awful future. It could just as easily be a great future. The powerful shift I made as a leader was to envision a great future, share that vision, ask people to embellish it with me, and help them understand their own role in bringing that vision about. We co-owned the vision and became committed to working together toward it. There is no room for "ruin" when we fill our eyes and minds and hearts with a powerful vision.

So the opposite of fear is having faith, being with others, staying in the now, and expecting a positive outcome. And of course, there is no room for fear when we are laughing together.

Employers and the Great Recession

Click this post's title to read what Alison Green tells us the recession jobs marketplace looks like from an employer's side.

She confirms what we all know:

More and higher quality applicants, including those that meet EVERY single requirement. Lower and more realistic salary expectations from applicants. And desperation.

Desperation is apparent in what she reports as highly overqualified people applying for internships and lower level jobs, and for jobs that do not make any sense in someone's career path.

Her advice? "Make sure you're really targeting your job search to positions that are a strong match."

I understand desperation. I've been there. People I know feel desperate to get a job, any job. The hardest advice to hear and take when desperate your job search to what you really want and for which you are qualified.

Yet, what else can you do?

Desperation is destructive and unattractive. Desperation keeps me awake at night. Causes my stomach to turn over. Makes it difficult for me to think straight. Keeps me in a constant state of anxiety and fear. And people - especially employers - can smell desperation. They don't like it. It's as if it's contagious and people don't want to catch it. Certainly they don't want it around them.

It's such a horrible paradox that we have to put our best face forward when we feel terrible about ourselves - during the job search. You know, because "everyone loves a winner" and "people want to hire someone who's confident in themselves." Those kind of statements always felt tyrannical to me, not to mention unfair and next to impossible to fulfill.

Nonetheless, that's the game. So step back just a moment from the precipice and breathe. There are some ways to reduce feelings of desperation. They do require persistent use and the suspension of cynicism, as well as willingness to push off your desperation when it tries to resurface ("OK, I'll feel you later. Now I'm doing this.")

Here's what worked for me, and seems to work for people I hear from and work with:

1) Pull together your "must have list." Figure out what you love doing, do well and want to do again, where you will do your best work, with whom, and how much you need to live on. Use it to decide where to apply.

2) Use your must have list as a guide to interview employers. Just as they are deciding if you meet their requirements, do the employers meet YOUR requirements? This is not to suggest that you be arrogant and behave in an entitled way. This is suggested as a way for you to convey confidence, self-knowledge, and a sense of your own abilities and cultural fit. Whenever I approached an employer with an air of curiosity about them, I did much better on my interview.

3) Remember the employer needs to hire someone. Why not you? I mean, someone's going to get the job. It might as well be you as anyone else. What this really means is that the employer is looking for someone to like. They WANT to find the right person. They WANT to like you. If they've invited you for an interview, they definitely liked what they saw on paper and over the telephone (if there was a pre-meeting). So you've already passed that test. They like you already! You don't have to prove that you are likeable. You simply have to show up and continue the conversation. And maybe you won't like them. Or maybe they won't like you as much as someone else. Which leads me to...

4) Have a little faith. Even if you don't have a spiritual foundation, it is possible to develop some kind of belief that all is unfolding for your highest good. If you don't get that job, it wasn't the right one. When it is right, you'll get it. Easy for me to say, you may think. Just look at some of my posts about my two year job search and being about having to develop faith!

I guess the ultimate message is that it will pay off for you to calm down instead of giving in to the desperation. I don't know when you'll get the job. I just know you will get it. Will you need to make hard decisions, perhaps scale back your standard of living, move? Maybe. I don't wish those changes on anyone. I do know that every time I've faced extreme difficulty, my attitude has made it much easier to adjust to the inevitable changes. Desperation doesn't work for me, it works against me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Depression in Job Search and related constructive thoughts

The article reached by clicking on the title is about depression affecting your job search. Jason Alba, the author, founded 3 years ago - it seems that creating a company was the outcome of his job search. A follow-up article is found here:

While you may not create your own company as a result of looking for work, there is a great principle at work in Jason's story: he used his job search experience as fodder for getting his "right fit" work. From my outside perspective (I haven't interviewed Jason), it appears that he got so good at organizing all the elements of his job search that he realized his tools could also help others. He was open to opportunity based on looking at what he did really well, what he spent his time doing, and what gave him satisfaction and yes, even joy.

I talked to someone today who was relating how she didn't write her cover letters. Instead she researched and then secured sea bass on a Sunday for a dinner with close friends.

I was struck by how differently we viewed that project, for project it was. To her, it said "AVOIDANCE!" She didn't do what she was "supposed to do" and instead did what she wanted to do. She was doing an excellent job of beating herself up.

To me, it said "I LOVE THIS!" She learned a lot about a topic related to a field in which she wants to work - food, nutrition, obesity, public health - and she delivered a necessary resource on time to the cook.

This experience tells me a few things, information that she can use:

1) The jobs she thought about applying for are just not compelling enough - yet. Her desire to work is not strong enough yet to overcome her fear of the unknown. The posted jobs may contain things she doesn't like - or thinks she doesn't like. Or she fears that she doesn't have the skills and doesn't want to risk being rejected.

2) She needs more experiences doing things for other people, feeling how great it is to deliver on a promise. Then she can extend that to feeling how great it is to deliver on a promise to herself. She's still in the habit of disappointing herself, even as she expects someone else to swoop in and "rescue" her by dropping a job in her lap. In some ways, the habit is one of thinking that she disappoints herself, of setting herself up to let herself down, rather than actually doing so. If instead she were to look at what she IS doing, instead of what she is NOT doing, she might be surprised at how much she's doing that is bringing her closer to her goal of getting satisfying paid work.

3) Her fear of applying for jobs is greater than her desire to work - for now. There's a real reluctance to be rejected, as well as some distrust of her ability to pick a good work situation. She's reentering the paid workforce after several years and some deep disappointments at previous employers...there's a lot of stuff to clear out of her path and it is taking time to wend our way through the piles, spot the valuable nuggets and set aside the dross of negative thinking, low self-esteem, fear of making the wrong choice, the "imposter syndrome" that besets so many ("they'll find out I'm really no good...").

4) She is naturally drawn to certain kinds of activities, activities that can easily be done for pay: project management, resource development, research, networking, sourcing, vendor relations, food service. When you do something because you love it, it doesn't feel like work. So I think: look at those things you do for fun, as a hobby, and identify the skills, abilities, talents and activities involved.

The key message is that instead of engaging in self-flagellation, take a good look at what you did instead of what you thought you "should" do. There are good reasons for our choices. Abandon the judgment long enough to observe yourself. My experience is that when I stopped choosing to feel terrible about myself, I emerged from my depression. And it is a choice that needs to be made consciously at first until it becomes a habit.

I don't claim to know about everyone's situation, I only know what has worked for me and some of the people around me. Today, I will go to any lengths to feel good about myself and my choices - including doing the things I wish someone else would do for me but they can't. Only I can do them, and while I may not always like being a grown-up, it's a relief to know that I can feel better by taking an action rather than sitting around thinking about all that I should be doing.

The other day I came up with a new meaning for the acronym FEAR: Faithless Ego Anticipates Ruin. Taking action in the now, the present, is the best antidote for fear that I've found.

I guess I didn't change until I was so sick and tired of feeling afraid, of letting myself down, of allowing the outside world to control my inner world - that I was willing to see what it felt like to just do the next thing in front of me without projecting into the future or assigning it any meaning beyond its intrinsic meaning.

I have no idea what will happen in the next hour, never mind next week. All I can do is my best with what's in front of me. That freed me from a lot of depression in job search and other aspects of life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Job Search Fatigue

It's very common to feel a little exhausted and down at some point in your job search.

Usually a little "job search fatigue" sets in after a few months into your search. You get your hopes up then dashed, raised again and disappointed again. This often leads to a little desperation, a little depression, some anger, and even bitterness.

Following this may come some lowering of your expectations and putting your priorities in a slightly different order, based on the feedback you've gotten from the job marketplace. Perhaps you revise your resume, refine your cover letters, and get back in touch with the people you contacted months ago.

Many people then surrender to the reality that "this job search stinks" and ultimately "I'll just keep putting one foot in front of the other." Because what other option is there?
It's then that:

* You begin to remember people in your network who might help you.
* You become more open to attend networking events, industry conferences on your own dime, job fairs, and other gatherings where you can meet people and be less isolated.
* You may start to ask folks for a recommendation on LinkedIn.
* Perhaps you realize that you need to be more assertive and persistent in your communications with potential employers.
* Maybe you begin to see that you are not talking about yourself very effectively, that you don't project confidence in your abilities or that you don't completely "own" your past achievements.
* Or you realize you need to get some job simply to make money, increase your self-esteem, and keep your skills sharp.
* That may lead to talking to people about consulting or short-term gigs, as well as doing volunteer or pro bono work.
* You might investigate new job search tools and ways to market yourself, e.g. Twitter and VisualCV.

Job search is a process with ups and downs, ins and outs, highways where you can go fast and byways that seem to lead nowhere. If you know where you want to go, it will be a whole lot easier to get there. And by having a destination in mind, you can use the compass of "is this leading me closer to or farther away from my goal?" as you evaluate your activities every day.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Networking Followup

You've networked with so many people, some of whom said they'd keep you in mind and you think they really could be helpful. You want to get back in touch with them because you still are looking for work. How can you do it without sounding desperate for a job?

There are simple ways to use language and structure to continue building the relationship with your contact. Relationships will be rewarding no matter what happens, and ultimately they will yield meaningful work. Historically 65-70% of all jobs are gotten through personal connections.

Based on my knowledge of direct mail and direct response, I dissect and improve a networking followup letter from one of the people I help. She did a great job, and I give the reasons for that. You'll see her text, my additions in bold, and comments in italics.

Dear Glenn,

[Give a reason for the communication. It certainly makes it more comfortable for you to pave the way for the rest of the note, and the person then has some context instead of getting something out of the blue. Whatever your purpose in sending the note, it is more sophisticated and sensitive to open with a pleasantry instead of jumping right into your purpose. The recipient gets a little space to remember you and mentally prepare themselves to hear what you have to say.]

As we move into summer, I thought I would update you on Company's outsourcing plans and my job search status.

[Now you can move into your update and request. This author relates a little about her state of mind, which revelation contributes to developing the relationship. She is upbeat and looking forward. And then she reminds the reader of how they originally met and makes her request.]

Here’s what I know:
[Add this to tell reader that you are beginning to talk about one topic. This phrasing also reminds the person that YOU are the person who is giving the reader the inside information. A casual tone helps continue the development of your relationship with this person.] XYZ Company continues to move forward with their outsourcing reorganization, although the project has been delayed several times. They have not replaced Sanjiv Soandso and it is still unclear what they plan to do with the strategic planning function. A peer of Sarah Doe's has been appointed to set up a "clearing house" for head count/space requests, and she has been working with the Company Consulting group to set up the function. Where and how long term strategy is developed has not been announced. I will let you know when I hear more. [This last sentence tells the reader that the writer will continue to look out for him/her, will seek ways to do them a favor, and will be in touch again in the future.]

About my job search: [This additional phrase announces that you are starting a new topic. It's a friendly way to direct the reader and allow them to decide which paragraph to read first.] As we moved into Q2, I was encouraged to see the job market open up slightly. I have recently had several job interviews and continue to work on some possibilities. I am still very interested in a position at Company2 and hope you will keep me in mind if one comes up. [This reiterates that you want their help, in a low key yet pretty direct way.]

I hope that you are well and are enjoying the beautiful weather we are having. [Closing on a personal note reinforces the relationship between you and the person with whom you network. You are interested in them as a person, not simply for what they can do for you. Most people tire of being asked for something without developing a more personal connection with the asker.]

Best regards

Jane Doe

In addition to the specific messages here, two more takeaways from this exercise are:

1) any time you network with someone, make an effort to learn about the other person and see if there is anything you can do for them. Being able to do something for the other person - even if it's very small (the name of a website on a topic you discussed, an article or book related to their work) - creates a sense of mutuality. You are not just "getting," you are also "giving."

2) guide people through a communication, giving them direction that makes it easier for them to navigate your letter. It unconsciously helps them see you as a clear, effective communicator.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Having a hard time in job search? Vent!

I am a big proponent of venting during your job search process. Venting is when you talk with someone trusted about all the obstacles, problems, fears, anxieties, anger, and frustration you feel and encounter every day and week. Venting is vital when you are under pressure - and a job search is definitely pressure-filled. Pressures are varied:

* Maybe you are worried about being able to pay your bills, keep your home, care for your children, replace worn shoes.

* Or maybe you're tired of the cycle of networking - seeing so many people yet no one has a job for you.

* And maybe you simply are out of hope for the moment.

I believe venting is very different than complaining. To me, complaining is blaming someone or something else for my situation. Venting is simply acknowledging that a job search is difficult work, stuff happens, I don't always like it, and I need to get it out of my head and body in order to move on.

Think about a pressure cooker: when a pressure cooker vents, it doesn't explode. Similarly, people in stressful situations need to vent in order to stay healthy.

There are many ways to vent the unpleasantness: talking, crying, whacking your pillows with a plastic bat, or writing. Seek out and use whatever mechanism is most jelpful and least harmful to you.

I observe that it is most helpful to people to vent to a sympathetic person who listens and doesn't try to fix it. When I listen, I do a lot of validation: "that does sound awful!" and "I am so sorry you are going through this." My approach stems from having gone through many down and depressed times in job searches; it never helped to have someone try to "fix me." What helped most was someone being kind when I was crying from frustration or hurt. Recent studies actually do show that crying with a sympathetic person is the most healing of all tears.

Usually the person talks him or herself out of the down state of mind; I rarely need to encourage them to focus on the positive. I can always tell that someone has vented sufficiently when they start looking at the bright side of things and begin to notice positive things.

@valueintowords, a job search coach on Twitter put it this way: "'venting' helps you to emerge from a cloud of negativity and regain optimism; this is important for job-search success."

She's right, as potential employers expect applicants and interviewees to be positive, forward-thinking, enthusiastic, and energetic. I've always thought it the supreme irony that we are expected to present our best self when we feel worst about our abilities. I think: "I'm unhappy where I work or I got fired or laid off - and you expect me to be up, up, up?" Well, yes, yes they do.

Venting is the best way I know to move through and past fear and depression into hopefulness and excitement about the future. So find someone who can listen to you sympathetically and objectively.

CAVEAT: Significant others rarely can play this role simply because they are so worried about you and have a vested interest in you being fully functional. Instead of putting further pressure on your SO, find a job or career coach who has worked with lots of people. S/he often is the best person to understand and help you process your venting.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Difficult Interview Questions

Everyone has a "difficult interview question" they need to answer. One of my Twitter pals (my "tweep" Cynthia Y.) suggested this:

I always say - don't be afraid to breathe in an interview. Take a moment to reflect difficult questions before you interview!

I love that and call it the "pause that refreshes," to swipe an old ad tagline.

Here's how I answered this question from someone today:

"I've sent some resumes out and it just occurred to me... what do I tell an interviewer when they ask me why I left my last job? I don't want to trash the org, but not sure if telling them I was fired is good either."

My Response

I also was fired and for a while found it difficult to talk about why. So I really have gone through this and come to a great place of peace with what to say. Here's what I say about why I left my longest job:

I was there a long time and accomplished so much. The time had come for me to go. The organization decided that it wanted to go in a different direction, as well, so it worked out for all of us.

You also can say "there was a change in leadership, a new COO came in, and I felt it was a good time to leave."

We want to state things as neutrally as possible. No potential employer wants to hear you say bad things about a past one, and you don't really want to get into what happened.

Another option for you: say you were hoping to set up in your own business, realized you don't really enjoy working on your own, like to work on a team, that's why you're applying for this job. This seems like the kind of place you could make a real contribution.

That way, you are refocusing the conversation on the job at hand, leading them away from the difficult question.

Also, remember the (fake) 12 step program "Extra Sentences Anonymous" for people who say too much. You may feel uncomfortable about what you intend to say to the employer, so just practice, practice, practice keeping it short and sweet without an edge or nerves or a sense that there might be more to say. Find someone you can rehearse with, so the answer just flows from you during any interview. The more comfortable you are with what you say, the more comfortable they will be with the answer and the less likely they are to suspect that there's more to it.

So tell the truth, in a way that you feel confident and good, that puts everyone in a good light, and that is complete yet short enough to make them feel you've disclosed and come to terms with what happened - and then move back to the job in question.