Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to Answer "What Are You Looking For?"

On WNYC's HelpWanted Facebook page, someone asked this excellent question:

When thoughtful people ask "What kind of work are you looking for?" is it wrong to ask "What have you got?" in return? I'm passionate about my field but I'm also open to new things.

Here's my thinking about this:

With people you know well, that response may work fine. With people you meet via networking, I'm not sure it's all that useful. You've put the ball in their court, making it their responsibility to do your work for you. And even if they want to help, most people don't want to do your thinking for you. They want some guidance, and they want a sense that YOU know what you want to do.

It's very hard for people to know how to help you when you don't know what you want
- specifically the kind of challenges you love to tackle, the problems you love to solve, the skills you love to use. So it doesn't have to be occupation or field specific (although that does help). Also, remember you have 5-10 seconds to capture someone's attention, so your answer does need to be concise.

It's really helpful for people to know that you are confident in what you can do and to have some kind of direction for how to think about you. You do know yourself, so let others in on it. I like people who say "I'm looking for a chance to use these skills, hopefully in this field or in this kind of role. I've worked in xyz field and am interested in abc as well. That said, what is it that you had in mind?" ... See More

Specificity also sparks people's imaginations.
If you say you want to use your planning skills, someone might think of city planning while someone else might think of strategic planning. Those may or may not be up your alley. If you say you love helping an organization identify and achieve its goals, especially using your planning, management and leadership skills - well, that makes it easier for someone to say "hey, I know of a job as a COO or as a project manager."

The bottom line is that your job is to make it as easy as possible for people to help you.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Resumes That Work

Here's how to make your resume an effective marketing document - marketing YOU and your abilities to a prospective employer.

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


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

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

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

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



These are bullets that cite your core skills, industry-specific skills, and specialized abilities or knowledge. If you can, match your skills with key words from the job description so your resume will be selected by any computer program searching for key words (e.g. on LinkedIn or within a company).


These are stories that highlight the impact you have had on companies or organizations. They emphasize measurable accomplishments and briefly describe what you did to produce the result. The stories can elaborate on an accomplishment you list further along in your resume. There needs to be a headline that encapsulates the accomplishment, and hopefully entices people to keep reading.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what the body of your resume should contain:

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


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

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

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


Bullets are for accomplishments. I recommend limiting yourself to 5-7 bullets for your most recent job, 4-5 for your next most recent, maximum 2 for the next most recent and none for the oldest ones. Quantifying these bullets is important. Those are the things that will get you the interview. The interview allows you to fill in more detail and also to talk about accomplishments that weren't listed.

Here are my tips for great accomplishment bullets:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Your Impact

It's critical to include accomplishments in your resume. Here is a simple way to identify them.

Make a four column, four row table. On top of the columns, list these questions across the table (one per column).

* What did you succeed at or accomplish?

* When, where and with who did you do this?

* How did you do this? What actions or steps did you take?

* What was most satisfying about it and why?

Remember that accomplishments are about impact - on the job, the field, the world, your life. Ideally, impact can be measured with numbers (e.g. percentages, dollars, amounts) and is directional, meaning you moved something from one place to another (increased, improved, raised, launched, etc.)

I like to use positive words because people usually like to be associated with something growing, expanding, opening up, happy and forward-looking. In some cases, words like "reduced" and "decreased" are appropriate.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Improving a Good Cover Letter

Last week, I read a cover letter that was pretty good at explaining the applicant's credentials for the position. While I didn't see the job description, I presumed that the specific job called for the various skills and experience the person cited. That's good, because key word searches use the job description as a starting point. So definitely list those skills you have that also are called for in the posting.

You can strengthen the letter by stating the very obvious fact that your experience does match, as in "My experience matches the requirements in the job description." And after you state your experience, say something like "this is the kind of work I'll do for you." Employers care whether your past experience is going to help them achieve their future - that's the only reason they will interview you. If they think your experience is exactly or mostly like what they need, employers are much more likely to pull your resume out of the pile and at least have a conversation with you.

Some people have taken to putting together a brief chart that shows that match. They list the four to five top responsibilities and skills called for in the job and in the next column, indicate how they have used that skill or had that experience. It's one step further in doing the work for the employer so it is easy for them to see how well you fit their requirements. I don't know if it's appropriate for every situation, however. It's probably most appropriate for:

* entry-level jobs where someone is screening quickly and a table will stand out

* administrative jobs that require organization and use of Microsoft office (you demonstrate mastery right in your cover letter!)

* quite technical jobs that require very specific skills and experience.

(Another way to highlight your match for specialized jobs is by adding a "Core Capabilities" section to your resume that lists the things you do really well, including industry- or job-specific skills, technology, software and processes. It doesn't make the marriage between you and the job in question, though.)

The main thing I'd add to any letter is the impact of your work. You say you have experience; what was the result of your experience? What did you achieve? What was the outcome? Employers won't take your word for it that you are experienced. They are looking for evidence that you can stick with something and produce results similar to the results they want.

Lastly, I suggest talking a bit about the company itself. What does it do? Why do you want to work there? Use language from the job description, from the website, to show that you are familiar with the company and its work. State that you want to be part of helping it achieve its goals or mission. Flattery definitely works! And companies now can choose who they want to interview and hire - they usually choose people who say they want to work for the company and give a reason.

In this competitive job market, it pays to give yourself every advantage. So tell them about why you want to work for THEM, how you can solve their problems, and the kind of impact you'll help them have. Ordinary cover letters talk only about your needs; superlative cover letters focus on the employer's needs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Are the Right Jobs for You?

What if you have lots of skills and abilities? How do you get specific about what you want to do?

Instead of thinking about the kind of job you want, think about the skills you love to use and the impact you want to have.

You can do lots of things. However, there are some things you like to do more than others. What are those? What are the things you do that make you lose track of time? That bring a smile to your face without your even knowing it? That you always gravitate to, and do even when you seem not to have time or patience to do some other things?

Then, think about the impact you want to have with your work. You've identified the skill syou want to use. Now consider what those skills will do. What effect will you have? What's your purpose in using these skills, talents and abilities?

One great exercise is to write your own elegy, in the voice of someone who loves you. In other words, what would someone who really loves you say about you at your funeral? What will be your legacy in all aspects of your life? When I did it, I found the elegy incredibly revealing about what matters to me and my life purpose.

Taking these two threads together - skills and impact - it's possible to search for occupations that use those skills and aim for that impact.

* When you know your purpose and what you love to do, you can ask people at informational interviews where you might fit given those parameters.

* You can search job boards for job descriptions that contain YOUR keywords.

* Search the web for companies that focus on the kind of impact you want to make, and see if there is someone there you can talk to about the skills you want to use.

* Use LinkedIn to search for people who might be in your extended network, either at relevant companies, or who are using the skills you have. See what jobs they have or had.

This way, you begin to form a sense of the kind of jobs you could apply for. And when you find those jobs, you can compare them to your skills "wish list" to see if there really is a match.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Now Available: Free E-Book to Finding Your "Right Fit" Job

Now available is my e-book Your "Right Fit" Job: Guide to Finding Work You Love.

The guide is like having me coach you through your job search process. You will follow the same step-by-step process I use with people who get the jobs they really want.

Your "Right Fit" Job is based on two main premises.

The first is that you can get work you really love to do. If you're already searching for work, you know that job search is a long and sometimes painful slog. I say that if you are already working hard, you might as well devote that energy to getting the best possible outcome.

That leads to the second premise: job search is essentially a marketing campaign, where you are the "product" and the specific kind of work is your "market." Successful marketers know their product and target market really well. Using Your "Right Fit" Job, you will get to know yourself extremely well, including your "core value proposition" - what you offer employers that is unique to you and very valuable to them. You also will know what kind of job or work you want - where and how you will do your best work and be happiest. Being very specific will help you find a job.

Then I will help you develop really effective marketing materials (resume, cover letter, 5-second intention statement aka "elevator speech")and a networking strategy to help you get interviews. The guide gives great advice on how to handle interviews, especially difficult questions. I also include suggestions for how to battle "job search fatigue."

I believe that when you do your "right fit" work, you will be happy at work. And when you're happy at work, you'll be happier in life. Use Your "Right Fit" Job: Guide to Finding Work You Love to direct your job search efforts most effectively and find the "right fit" for you.

To get your FREE copy of Your "Right Fit" Work, put your e-mail contact information in the comment section. It won't show up on the blog; I moderate comments so have to view it first. I promise not to publish it on this blog, but simply to use it to send you your copy of my e-book.

If I don't have your e-mail address, I can't send you the book. So remember, put your e-mail address in the comment section!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gather Information to Improve Your Job Search Results

You had your heart set on getting that job! It was your dream job. And they turned you down.

Disappointed? Yes. Crushed? Probably. Deflated? In all likelihood. A little despairing? Maybe. Curious? I urge you to adopt this attitude even as you are having all the other feelings. This might even be good news!

While you're searching for your "right fit" job, you can gather useful information. Every interaction with the job market contains riches, if you know what to look for.

* If you apply for lots of jobs and get no response, that is a "market response." The job market is saying "this material isn't compelling enough to warrant further investigation." It may also be saying "you are looking in the wrong area." And it definitely is saying "Focus on making a match. Tell us why we should talk to YOU."

I read about people who are unemployed for two years, who've sent out hundreds of resumes, with no response. That is inaccurate. They got a response, just not the one they wanted. The response of resounding silence tells me, and could tell them, that they need to use a different approach, or target different jobs. If your approach is not working, change it! One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Stop the insanity!

The goal of a resume is to get you an interview. Period. If you are not getting interviews in response to your resume, you need to redo your resume. And redo it again, until you start getting interviews.

Similarly, a cover letter's job is to make the case for why you are a good match for the job in question. If you don't get called for an interview, your cover letter may need to be rewritten. Every cover letter needs to be tailored to the specific job. Generic "to whom it may concern" letters DO NOT WORK.

* If you get interviews and no offers, the market is speaking loudly.

One possible message is that you need to improve your interview skills. That means:

1) Getting fully prepared. Do you have ready answers for common and difficult interview questions? Do you know a fair amount about the company that's hiring? Do you have questions for the employer? Have you practiced answering challenging questions until you are comfortable and confident in your answers? Do you have stories ready to illustrate your relevant experience and skills?

2) Practicing being interviewed with someone who is kind of tough on you. It's far better for you to be uncomfortable with your friend than to be surprised and flustered at an interview.

Practice really works. It gives you a chance to think through your answer before the interview, instead of at the interview. In my experience, unrehearsed answers are too long, rambling, off-point, and unimpressive. What employer will hire someone who doesn't even do their homework for a job interview - arguably one of the most important events of their present life? If you don't prepare for interviews, why would an employer think you'd be prepared at work?

You may also need to look at why you don't interview well.

* Are you really nervous? Lack of preparation eats away at one's confidence. It's impossible to be confident or exude confidence if you don't know why you would be perfect for the job before you go into the interview. It helps even more if you know why the job may be perfect for you. And practice helps.

* Have you applied for the wrong job? Sometimes, you can make the case in your mind and on paper, and then realize during the interview that this is not a good match. That's excellent information to have. It means that you can refine your job search to jobs that more closely match your "must have list."

* Do you not like the interviewer? Culture is a critical aspect of any workplace, and your chances of being happy at work are often determined by the culture of the place. An interview is a fantastic place to gauge the culture. If you find yourself getting flustered or uncomfortable, that's your gut telling you that this is not the right place for you. Pay attention!

These last two options are REALLY useful information. They mean that you can be thankful that you didn't get an offer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Many Jobs: A Good Thing!

I just read a note from Mark Cenedella at The Ladders who said he's had 27 jobs. I added up mine: I've had at least 24 different jobs. Those numbers do include part-time, temporary, college, high school and moonlighting jobs, as well as the regular full-time gigs.

Here's my list:

1) Summer babysitting
2) McDonald's (a year)
3-6) Financial aid jobs at college
- washing dishes
- stacking books in the music library
- helping kids at the local school library
- staffing the student government office
7-8) Summer Research Assistant for a special project (twice)
9-10) Summer Research Assistant for two separate professors
11) Teaching Assistant in graduate school
12-14) 3 lengthy temp assignments (one of which offered me a full-time job)
- NOTE: this was in 1981, the last time the unemployment rate was so high...
15) Fundraiser/Program Developer at a non-profit in the South Bronx (3 years)
16) Fundraising consultant at a small firm (7 months)
17) Assistant Director of a department at a large NYC anti-poverty organization (6 years)
18) Cook for caterer (moonlighting job)
19) Demonstration cooking at the Food Emporium (Saturdays)
20) Associate Commissioner at a NYC government agency (4 years)
21) CEO of a non-profit (11 years)
22) Consultant (several months)
23) CEO of another non-profit (1 year)
24) Writer/Coach (present)

Looking at this, I realize a few things:

* I spent the beginning of my work life assembling many experiences and skills that I then put to use in leadership positions. No experience went to waste. While my main jobs were varied, the common thread was that all of them contributed in some way to the foundation I was building in organizational management and leadership. I wasn't really conscious of a goal most of the time; I followed my curiosity about how organizations operate and took jobs that illuminated various aspects.

* It took years to achieve my goal of being in charge of an organization. I learned patience, and gathered a lot of information - including what I call "negative powers of example." Those were behaviors and policies I vowed not to repeat when I was in a position of authority. I was always on a trajectory to get more control over my work environment and job duites, though.

* The side jobs I took to make a little extra income used my love of cooking.

* These are only the jobs I got; I was a perpetual job seeker, however. I constantly updated my resume, went on informational interviews, perused want ads, applied for interesting jobs, went on interviews, and even turned down a few offers because I realized that my current job was comparatively good.

How many jobs have you had? How are you using your previous work experiences in your current search? What trends or common threads are there in your jobs?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Your LinkedIn Profile Can Make Things Happen!

Four recruiters and four screening interviews. Two recruiters and two phone interviews, plus lunch with a connected colleague. An informal reference check.

These are the recent results when 3 jobseekers updated their LinkedIn profiles, to better reflect exactly what they want to do next and the skills/talents they want to use in their next gig.

Updating your profile does some really important things:

1) Signals to your world that you are active on-line. In a world increasingly influenced by social media, this is good! It shows that you are current, up-to-date, forward-thinking, and just plain smart.

2) Kicks off a job search or revitalizes an existing job search. Lots of people do a minimal profile when they have a job. Announcing that you have a fuller, more thoughtful profile can mean just one thing: you are looking for another gig.

3) Allows "right fit" employers to find you. Your targeted, key-word rich profile will attract an employer who needs what you offer and hopefully offers what you need. Your specificity makes possible those matches.

The primary audiences for your new profile are:


More and more recruiters are using LinkedIn to find qualified candidates. Using keywords from their search parameters, recruiters - internal and external - look for people who meet both basic and specialized requirements.


When you update your profile, a notice goes out to your network. Seeing that you've updated your profile can trigger someone into action. Maybe they click on your profile and see what you've said. Or just give you a call to see how you're doing. This is the beginning of your job search networking!


This is a group different from recruiters. They are people at companies to which you've applied. They can do an informal reference check when you include a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile on your resume. The more complete your profile, the better. Reading your recommendations gives employers a great sense of who you are and how you work. They also can see if they know anyone in your network (1st, 2nd or 3rd degree connection) and reach out to get a little more information about you.

What makes a great profile? I'll write about that next week.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Procrastination is more than a five-syllable word for sloth. Sometimes it is just putting vital things off to do something useless. More often for me, it's an indicator that something's going on that is:


Two examples from today:

Linda didn't write the networking letter this week, as she planned. It turns out that she had a very emotional reaction to a networking event, that she did not express to anyone. When she finally talked with me and got it out, she got newly energized to do some networking. Together, we removed the emotional obstacle.

Maryanne has been putting off rewriting pieces of her website. Today, we discovered that she feels overwhelmed because she doesn't really know where to start. So we talked it through and got her a few starting points. Re-energized, she is taking action now.

I know that the tendency is to judge ourselves for putting things off that we know we "should" do. Instead of being mean to ourselves, I suggest looking for a reason behind the symptom of procrastination. Maybe there is something you don't know, or some emotion that's blocking your path. Maybe you need to break down the big task into several smaller ones so it doesn't seem so overwhelming. Maybe you need a break without guilt, so you can recharge and come back to things with new perspective and vigor.

In a job search it can be difficult to give oneself a rest. Yet it's important to take breaks. It lets your body rest, and your unconscious work on your behalf. Ideas often emerge about next steps to take after you get a good night's sleep or go for a walk or watch a TV show.

If you find that you are not doing things over a long period of time, perhaps you need some help discovering why that is. One person found she was looking for the "wrong fit" job, so she resisted taking any action. Once we came up with her "right fit" job goal, she took immediate action and was met by the universe in the form of the perfect fit job. She ended up getting that job within weeks - after months of seeming procrastination.

Just consider that you're not lazy. Consider procrastination a symptom of something else and you can then go on the voyage of discovery to learn about yourself and find out what's holding you back.