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 ..."