6 sources of accomplishments for your résumé

The other day one of my résumé writing workshop attendees told the group she couldn’t think of any accomplishments from her last job. As I’m known to do, I told her she wasn’t thinking hard enough. Silence.

She’s an administrative assistant and, like we’ve all heard before, she was just doing her job. I began by asking, “Did you reduce your boss’ stress?”

“Yeah,” she said. “He told me I organized his life. He’d be lost….”

“Do you have that in writing?” I interrupted.

She smiled. “He sent me e-mails saying this. They were really great to read.”

“Did you keep them? Forward them to your personal e-mail? Did you keep a brag e-mail folder?”

No she hadn’t. I’m not one to harp on past mistakes; but this was a mistake, and a good lesson for the rest of the group. I didn’t need to say more; the lesson was learned.

Normally we think of quantified accomplishments as the only ones that matter—they matter a great deal—but what others write and say about you also matters. Take the following accomplishment for an administrative assistant:

Created an electronic filing system that reduced paperwork and increased productivity, prompting the following statement from the VP of operations, “You’ve made this office much more efficient.”

There are very talented people who don’t have access to dollar amounts or percentages to quantify their results. This is where what their boss said can be used as an accomplishment. If this is the case with you, consider the following sources of accomplishments for your résumé:

  1. E-mail is fair game. If you’ve received e-mail from you supervisor that touts your accomplishments, hold on to it and store it in a safe place, like a brag e-mail folder. I do this when I get e-mails from my customers thanking me for the help I’ve given them.
  2. Voice-mail can be used, as well. If your boss compliments you, consider using it on your résumé and other written communication. You might want to get your boss’ approval before you use her words in a public forum; it’s only courteous.
  3. Performance reviews are an obvious source of fodder for your résumé. These are professional documents that are often placed in your employee folder, used to justify promotions and raises if your performance is consistently good. Receiving outstanding marks on your performance reviews are certainly reason to tout them on your résumé.
  4. Verbal comments from your former boss can also be used on your résumé as quotes. “Director of marketing commented, ‘Josh, your ability to build and foster relationships has helped Company X achieve the financial success we’ve striven for.'” It’s especially important that you’re both on board with this, just in case she’s questioned about it during a reference check.
  5. Thank you cards from customers/clients speak to your customer service and other skills you’d like to highlight on your résumé. Have you received cards that thank you for your help and caring nature, or assistance in closing a large deal? If so, ask the sender if you can quote him on your résumé.
  6. LinkedIn recommendations have been used by my customers as fodder for their résumé. Not all employers will see your LinkedIn recommendation, either because they’re not on LinkedIn, or aren’t Internet savvy; so take advantage of what your connections have written about you.

Given that it’s difficult to think about accomplishments that are quantified using numbers, dollars, or percentages; don’t discount what your supervisors and manages have written or even said about you. You may want to set them apart as quotes or integrate them with accomplishment statements. Keep in mind that some industries, particularly high tech, may not fond of quotes. To others, quotes carry a lot of weight.

Being selfish and 3 other tips on leading a successful job search

meAfter sitting with a customer to talk about her job search and realizing she wasn’t allowed to conduct her search the way she had to, I think it’s necessarily to remind all of you in the job search that nothing should impede your progress.

We often think of the job search as consisting of writing our marketing documents, preparing for interviews, networking, and using LinkedIn. But there are intangible factors that need to be considered by the jobseeker; the first of which is being selfish. Maybe this isn’t the optimal word, but it comes down to demanding the time you need to conduct a successful job search.

Being selfish (demand the time you need). This is one of the messages I impart to my Introduction to the Job Search workshop attendees. I tell them, “OK, I need to tell you something; and I want you to listen.”  And for effect I pause to make sure all eyes are on me. They must think I’m going to say something brilliant, but what I tell them is:

In your job search, you can’t let anyone get in your way of looking for a job. You can’t let anyone tell you to watch the kids or grandchildren. You can’t let anyone tell you to do some errands that will take up your whole day. No home projects, unless the pipes have burst. Do you get what I mean?

Almost everyone of my attendees nod in agreement; some lower their head and look at the desk. After another moment of pause, I tell them that there are other things to consider when they’re conducting their job search. Things other than their résumé and interviewing skills.  

Show a positive attitude. Throughout your job search, it’s important to display a positive attitude. The operative word is “display.” I’m not going to preach the importance of feeling positive and all happy inside. I’ve been unemployed and know how it sucks, so how you feel is really a personal matter.

I am, however, advising you to appear positive. This begins with the way you dress for the day. Because it is entirely possible that you may run into someone who may have the authority to hire you or know someone who has the authority to hire you, it’s important that you are dressed well. Not to the 9’s mind you, but certainly not in sweat pants and a Tee-shirt.

Other ways to show a positive attitude have more to do with your behavior, such as suppressing anger, wearing a friendlier countenance, making an attempt to be more outgoing, and (this is tough) not showing your desperation. One of my customers comes across as angry. He always mentions how long he’s been out of work when asked to talk about himself, a no-no when asked to explain the value you present to employers.

Dedication to your job searchIf you’re going to demand the time it takes to conduct your job search, you have to show your loved ones that you are serious about your job search; not rising late, lounging in you pajamas, watching Ellen, going out with the buds at night, etc.

How can you rightfully deny those around you who need your assistance when they don’t see any effort from you? You can’t. They don’t see any dedication in the job search from you, so naturally they’ll want you to pull your weight in other ways.

I ask my customers how many hours they worked a week when employed. Most of them report more than 40 hours. I then ask them if they need to dedicate this much time to their job search–to which they say yes. To their surprise, I disagree with them. Thirty hours a week is plenty, I tell them. Any more than this may lead to burn out. I say look smarter, not harder. But looking smarter requires a well thought-out plan.

Have a plan. The best way to strive toward a goal is by creating a Career Action Plan (CAP)  and following it as closely as you can. Sure there will be times when you slip and miss a date or change your plan around. This should not discourage you and cause you to abandon your plan. Your plan may look similar to this:

  1. Early-morning: take a walk or go to the gym, then eat breakfast.
  2. Mid-morning: attend a networking group, or go to workshops at your local career center.
  3. Noon: gather with some networking buddies for lunch (you can write these lunches off).
  4. Mid-afternoon: Volunteer at an organization where you’re utilizing your skills and learning new ones.
  5. Evening: eat dinner with family or friends.
  6. Early-evening: use LinkedIn to connect with more people.

Note: Your activities will vary from day to day, and you may include other activities, such as meeting with recruiters or using job boards or going door-to-door and dropping off a résumé (yes, this works); but the outline is similar.

When you show those around you your CAP they’ll realize you’re serious about your job search and will most likely encourage you to follow through with your objectives. Keep them updated during your week to show them your progress, or post it on the refrigerator. Most importantly you’ll feel better about your job search, especially if you’re meeting the majority of your objectives.

Being selfish…I mean demanding time for their job search…is difficult for some folks, who feel the need to be of help to others before helping themselves. But it’s a necessary component of a successful job search . Of course I stress to my workshop attendees the importance of supporting those around them when they have spare time…but only when they have spare time.

Going back to work is like getting back on a bicycle

bicycle raceIt’s much easier said than done, but going back to work is like getting back on a bicycle.

I remember that day, more than 10 years ago, like it was yesterday. After six long months of being unemployed, I was driving to an interview. It was time to get back on my bicycle.

Those six-months of unemployment were the worst of my life, bar none. As I drove the 45 minutes to the interview, I was consumed with the thought, I’m not ready to go back to work. I didn’t feel the confidence I would need do well at the interview. I was surely going to bomb for sure.

I felt like getting off at the next exit. Just turn back and go home. Not only was I interviewing for a position I wasn’t familiar with; I was about to change my career. Going from marketing and attempting to enter career development wasn’t going to be easy. “I’m going to bomb,” I told myself.

Prior to the interview my wife and I had a blowout fight—one among many during my unemployment. You see, what they don’t tell you in the school of the job search is that being out of work affects not only you, it strains relationships with the people you love, as well.

Depression,  anxiety, anger, feelings of hopelessness, and other maladies are not uncommon during the course of unemployment. It’s not something people want to succumb to; it just happens. Unemployment is a test of couples’ will, and it impacts families and friends. Most will go through a period of grief, others will seek the help of a therapist, and others will require medication.

My job search hadn’t been a smooth transition. I went on interviews for positions that weren’t in marketing and didn’t do well. I stayed with three young children who demanded constant attention, so there wasn’t a lot of time to focus on the steps to take necessary for a successful search. My dog walking business felt more demeaning than productive, and being the only father at playgroup was embarrassing. So now it was time to get back on the bicycle.

The director, Sharon, and I sat side by side with a small table separating us. I immediately felt like she was in my space. I was going to bomb. She asked me questions about my background, questions that seemed more out of curiosity than trying to find faults in my character and employment history. I asked questions at appropriate times throughout the interview. She led the interview like a discussion.

I had this sense of calmness and lucidity, evolving into confidence and enthusiasm. Hell, I didn’t know if I could do the job, but I was willing to try. The argument I had with my wife was buried in my mind. My answers were direct and articulate. They must have impressed her. I wasn’t going to bomb. “I want you to meet our marketing manager,” she said.

Pat welcomed me into her office like a school nurse. The only question I remember during the entire interview was hers, “What do you look for in an office environment?” I told her a professional environment but also one with banter and practical jokes. A smirk appeared on her face.

I was offered the job that day. All that was left to do was spend a day doing intakes with my job developer. I wasn’t getting paid for it; it was more like a situation aspect of the interview to see if I was right for the role and the role was right for me. Then I would tell Sharon if I wanted the job.

My wife told me I should take the job even though it paid 18K less than my previous one. The commute will suck I told her. I don’t know if I can handle the job I confided. Don’t know if I’ll like it. A lot of uncertainty, a lot of doubt, not sure I wanted to return to work.

Another thing they don’t tell you in the school of the job search is nothing’s for certain. There isn’t a crystal ball that will predict your future. Coordinating a program to help people with disabilities learn how to use Microsoft applications sounded interesting, but could I do it?

It turned out that I excelled at this new position. I learned more in three months than I did in seven years while peddling software applications I didn’t particularly care for. In this new position I was making a difference in people’s lives. I was a natural.

Most importantly…I got back on my bicycle. And things went back to normal.

Photo courtesy of dnuospeelsa, flickr

7 reasons to contribute on LinkedIn

girl writingRecently I spoke to a person who uses LinkedIn on a fairly regular basis—at least four times a week he said. When I asked him how often he shares an update, contributes to discussions in groups, or shares his thoughts in general; he told me never. So naturally I asked him what he does on LinkedIn; to which he said he reads what others have to say.

So I’m trying to figure out why someone would only read what others write. What fun is that? I’ll be the first to admit that I over contribute. I joke with my workshop attendees that I am probably the most hidden person on LinkedIn (people hide you when they’re tired of seeing your face on their homepage). In fact, I probably am.

Which isn’t to say I don’t read other’s updates and share articles written by others. A great deal of what I know comes from reading articles about the job search, LinkedIn, and introversion. I am constantly trying to increase my knowledge so I can share it with my customers and colleagues. Call me an equal opportunity contributor.

Back to the person who told me he doesn’t update, contribute to groups, or share his thoughts in general. Here’s the thing: LinkedIn is a platform that encourages its members to share information. Thus its recent roll out of the publishing feature—yes, I’ve contributed posts on LinkedIn—which gives anyone the ability to share their words of wisdom and thoughts.

For those of you who are on the verge of contributing on LinkedIn but haven’t taken the plunge, here are seven reasons I hope will urge you to make that leap.

1. You become memorable. Many of my connections will write to me, “I’ve enjoyed your posts. I find them helpful.” I am glad that first, people are reading my posts and second, they are gaining something of value. And it is a boost to my ego to be remembered by people.

2. It gives you a voice. Whereas some people are verbal communicators, others are written communicators. They find comfort in being able to express their thoughts without interruption. Updating and contributing to discussions in groups follows Parliamentary Procedure which allows one to speak, receive feedback, respond to feedback, and so forth.

3. LinkedIn is educational. When you write an update, contribute to a discussion, or post an article; you challenge yourself to present viable information, which means it’s best if you do a little research to back up your assertions. Similarly you can be assured that what others write is well thought out and educational.

4. What you contribute isn’t done with impunity. On occasion I’ve been told my blog posts are utter shite, so I have to brace myself for this possibility. When this happens my first instinct is to feel hurt, but then I think, “Hey, people are paying attention.” And that’s a good feeling. Sometime you need to have a thick skin.

5. Contributing to LinkedIn can position you as a thought leader. Not everything one writes is worthy of a Pulitzer. But when you contribute to a group discussion with well thought out content or write a post that adds value; you’re positioning yourself as a thought leader. I encourage my jobseekers to write articles on their area of expertise, even if they feel deflated from being out of work.

6. It’s fun. This is a matter of opinion. I find writing on LinkedIn extremely fun. For the five reasons listed above—plus an escape from the demands of daily life, as well as not having to watch mindless television—I love expressing my thoughts. My family doesn’t understand it until I ask my girls why they spend endless hours taking photos for Instagram. Enough said.

7. You become part of a community. You will interact with other people who contribute on LinkedIn. Many of the people I know on LinkedIn are also writers and contribute to discussions in groups. Do we all agree with each other? No, but we’re still online friends.

These are my seven reasons for contributing to LinkedIn. To simply read what others write and not write stuff of my own is not my idea of fun. I guess if I were a more understanding of people who feel shy about writing, I’d come up with seven reasons why it’s cool not to contribute. I can’t think of one, though.

Photo courtesy of Alex Couros, Flickr

5 times to send a thank-you note during the job search

men-shaking-handsMy son and I were treated to tickets to a New England Patriots versus Green Bay Packers game in majestic Lambeau Stadium. The benefactor of these tickets was my brother’s father-in-law. Needless to say my son and I had a great time attending the game and standing very close to rabid football fans in zero degree temperature weather.

I mention this not to brag about seeing two great teams play. I mention this to admit that I haven’t yet thanked my brother’s father-in-law for the tickets. I’ve never been good at sending thank-you cards or e-mails for gifts received; however, I am considerate to those in my professional life.

Sending a thank-you note after a face-to-face interview is a no-brainer. But sending e-mails or an old-fashioned thank-you card, or even a gift card from Starbucks; are important at other instances during your job search.

When are the times you should send a words of thanks in one form or another? Here are five when you should definitely send a unique thank-you note during your job search.

1. After a telephone interview. Many people don’t think about thanking a recruiter for the initial interview. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t make the final decision. But if you think about the reasons for thanking the recruiter, it makes a lot of sense. Without him you probably wouldn’t know about the opportunity. Through developing an extensive network of employers (his bosses), he does a great deal of legwork for you.

Another reason to thank the recruiter is because he may be a valuable addition to your network. In your job search your network is your must valuable asset, so treat it appropriately. Other people in your network to thank will be discussed below.

One bit of advice is to wait until after the face-to-face interview if one is in the cards. Instead, prepare for the upcoming interview. There is a lot of research you’ll have to do on the position and company, so focus on that; the thank-you note can wait.

2. After the face-to-face interview. It surprises me how many candidates don’t send a unique thank-you e-mail or card to those who interview them. I always tell my customers that the interview isn’t complete until they send the thank-you note/s. Those guilty of not sending a thank-you note assume once they’ve shaken the interviewers’ hands, that’s it.

Your thank-you notes are not only meant to show professionalism and your gratitude for the valuable time the interviewers spent interviewing you. There’s much more your thank-you notes can include, such as remarks about interesting points made during the interview. This is also an opportunity to elaborate on any answers that need more explanation. And, of course, this is your opportunity to reiterate why you are the person for the job.

3. After a networking meeting. If you’ve ever granted an networking meeting (also known as an informational interview), you know how time consuming they can be. You’re providing valuable information or advice to someone who needs to learn about a position and the company for which you work.

Now you understand why this person deserves thanks for his time. You have also gained a potential, valuable contact for your network. Treat this person like gold. In your thank-you note provide him with information that would be valuable to him, perhaps an article or two about his industry. As well, reciprocate by offering him some contacts who might be of value.

4. After a successful interview. Once you’ve gotten over the elation of landing your new job, send thank-you notes to everyone involved. I mean everyone. Start with the person who mentioned the position when you were standing side-by-side on the soccer field. Or your LinkedIn connection who introduced you to your future boss. Or your neighbor who handed your résumé to the hiring manager in the marketing department.

One of my former customers rewarded me with a gift certificate to the Cheese Cake Factory. I previously joked with him that when he lands his next job, he owes me a cheese cake…not a meal for two. I will always appreciate his generous gift and help him in his future endeavors. The message here is that any type of thanks will earn you the loyalty of people who can offer you future assistance.

5. After an unsuccessful interview. Do I hear a long pause? Yes it hurts to be turned down for a job for which you’re qualified. But consider that the position came down to you and another candidate and that the employer probably wished he could hire both of you. If you were to burn a bridge by expressing your displeasure, your opportunity to work for the company in the future would be ruined.

The best approach here is to send thanks and mention in your note that if they need your services in the future, you’re at the ready. In some cases the person who they go with either leaves on her own volition or is forced to leave. Being their second choice, you may get a call from them in the future. As well, more than a few people haven’t worked out.

Note to the above paragraph: One hiring manager who is now trying to fill a position is seriously considering the runner-up of a previously filled position she filled. She said she may not even consider others for said position.

I finally got around to thanking my brother’s father-in-law for the Patriots/Packers game. It was long overdue, but I’m hoping he’ll see it as an oversight. In the business world there is less understanding, believe me. Don’t be remiss in sending your follow-up thank-you note.

Hope and 3 other attributes necessary for a successful job search

hopeJob-search advice is available to jobseekers from pundits, friends, family, and other well-wishers; but the most important factor to success in the job search is the internal fortitude that keeps jobseekers going.

Without this inner strength, advice about résumés, interviews, networking, LinkedIn, etc., doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

To achieve success, one must understand the importance of never giving up, to not admit to defeat.

Hope: I’ve often preached the need for hope in the job search.

When customers tell me of the multiple interviews they’ve attended and how they’re making it to the last round but lose out to another candidate, I don’t see that as failures. Rather I look upon those setbacks as opportunities that will eventually come to fruition.

You’re almost there I will tell them. Don’t give up hope. Now it’s time to practice your interview skills, I add.

Hope is one of four attributes jobseekers must maintain throughout the job search; the other three are optimism, persistence, and enthusiasm. In combination, one will prevail in whatever challenges present themselves.

optimismOptimism: Those who are optimistic encourage optimism in others around them. It shows on their countenance and is noticeable to everyone involved in their job search. This includes people with whom they network.

One of my favorite customers  was out of work for almost a year, until a week came when she had three job possibilities leading to one offer. She remained optimistic in her job search, sometimes lapsing into self-doubt, but saw the potential of success.

Persistence: This personality trait is something great athletes have. Like a baseball player who is in a slump batting .200 in May, a jobseeker goes six months, nine months, or a year without landing a job, but never gives up. He bounces back from rounds of interviews with no job offers, finally landing a job before his unemployment ends. Similarly, the baseball player gets out of his slump to bat .300 in October.

This was the case for one of my customers who was out of work for more than a year. Although he had interviews almost every week, he came up short. His persistence coupled with a positive attitude was apparent in the e-mails he sent to update me on his progress. He is now gainfully employed as a director of marketing and offers help to my customers.

enthusiasmEnthusiasm: Jobseekers who are enthusiastic walk into a room and light it up. I can tell a jobseeker will shortly find work by the way she embraces the job search, rather than surrender to defeat. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophesy. I will conquer this challenge, they say, and so they do.

One of my customers who has a physical disability is enthusiastic and confident in her ability to return to management in her prior industry. I recently met with her to critique her résumé. Prior to the critique she had attended an interview. After the critique she was scheduled for a phone interview. The last I heard, she was granted a second interview for both positions.

Having hope is one of the four aforementioned traits, optimism, persistence, and enthusiasm. Together, these positive traits contribute to psychological capital, which guides us through the challenges in life. Psychological capital isn’t something that can be purchased, but it is something that can be developed through a positive attitude. Many times we’ve been told to be positive. Never has a greater truth been told.

7 job-search sins

apathyDuring one of my recent morning walks, I listened to a great podcast from NPR about the 7 deadly sins, and like many times when I hear a story, read an article, or see an event; I think about the job search. There are actions, or lack of, that can affect your job search in negative ways. I wouldn’t call them deadly, but they are sins to avoid in the job search.

1. Apathy. This is the first sin of the job search. Too often jobseekers tell me they are just starting their job search after exhausting their six-month severance. At this point they’re living off their unemployment insurance and have a gap on their résumé that puts them in the long-term unemployed, or LTU, category.

Studies show that people who are out of work longer than six months have a much harder time landing a job than those out of work for three months or less. For various reasons, employers are reluctant to hire people out of work this long. Don’t wait until your severance has run out; begin your job search as soon as possible.

2. Pride. Ironically, this is one of the seven deadly sins. By this I mean jobseekers who have been out of work for many months and still haven’t told their friends, neighbors, relatives, former employers, etc., that they are in transitions. It’s pride that’s hindering their job search because people, who could possibly help, are unaware of their situation.

I understand you may be embarrassed or shameful because you’re unemployed (been there). But most intelligent people know that the economy is still volatile and that layoffs, terminations, and voluntary separations, are a fact of the employment landscape. Give your potential networkers an opportunity to help you.

3. Selfishness. It is a sin to expect help from others but be unwilling or oblivious to helping others. In fact, helping others first should be your mindset, as help will be returned to you. Maybe not from the person whom you helped, but definitely from someone else. Pay It Forward is the mantra.

Kevin Willett, a local business connector in my area, makes it a point of helping people and organizations without expecting something in return. He’s been a guest speaker at our career center more than anyone else. Because of his desire to help as many people as possible, he receives help in various forms from local businesses and individuals.

4. Stubbornness. This sin is particularly evident in jobseekers who are given advice on their résumés, LinkedIn profiles, networking, interview techniques, and other job-search strategies. Whether feel they’ve done as much work on their documents they’re willing to, or they don’t respect the opinions of others; they lose out on valuable advice.

I’m thinking of a woman who asked me to critique her LinkedIn profile. As I was addressing her small number of connections, she adamantly argued that in her industry (education) people don’t connect with other industries. She also disputed my recommendations for her Summary. As our hour critique came to an end, I got the feeling she hadn’t heard a word I said.

5. Indifference. This sin is characterized as staying within your comfort zone. What do I mean by this? When attending an organized networking event, you stand alone and make no effort to talk with unfamiliar people.You expect people to come to you. You think an opportunity will eventually come to you, and it may; but not as quickly as if you make the effort.

Here’s the secret to going beyond your comfort zone. Act natural and make others feel comfortable. Set the tone for a natural conversation. Don’t feel that the conversation must be about obtaining leads or giving leads. Show interest in others’ personal lives, or talk about current events, your favorite movies, etc.

6. Humility. To brag is sinful, to not promote yourself is also sinful. In my business–career advising–I encourage the appropriate amount of self-promotion. Someone who is too humble or degrade themselves is perhaps worse than bragging. It implies to employers a lack of confidence which results in a poor performance during an interview and, inevitably, no job offer.

Many times I’ll sit with our career center customers to talk about their accomplishments. Without failure they tell me they have no accomplishments. But when I ask probing questions, the accomplishments come pouring out. They don’t like to brag, they tell me. I don’t want them to brag, but I also don’t like them not taking credit for the great work they do.

7. Ingratitude. This sin is unforgivable. People who take from others without expressing their gratitude have used their Receive Help card for the last time. Have you helped someone get a job and not received even a verbal thanks for your efforts? Doesn’t feel good, does it?

On the other hand, when I helped someone land a job, I was reward with a simple thanks. Some years after he landed his job. I went to his house to collect some mulch we agreed to buy together. After loading up my wheelbarrow, I knocked on his door and asked him what I owed him. He gave me a big bear hug and, in tears, said, “Bob, you don’t owe me a thing. You helped me get a job.” That’s all the thanks I needed.

Although the sins I’ve described are not deadly (Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth), they are detrimental to your job search. Don’t commit the following sins. Act immediately upon losing your job. Let go of your pride. Don’t be selfish. Listen to others. Leave your comfort zone. Promote yourself. And, finally, be grateful.