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.

6 suggestions for paying someone to write your résumé; and my thoughts on installing a screen door

Last spring I made an attempt, albeit a weak one, to install a screen door on my house. As my wife stood watching hopeful that our house wouldn’t look like something from a ghetto, I kept thinking, “No way is this going to happen.” So it didn’t.

It should have gone this way: first, install the top, hinge, and latch trim; second, attach the 40 lb. door to the hinge trim; third, install the hardware that would make all this work, such as the handle, and the thingy that makes the door close slowly….

This is how it went: I called a contractor who said he would do the job for $35 an hour. I happily agreed.

Putting the screen door on my house got me to thinking about how writing a résumé for some people seems out of the realm of possibility; much like getting that damn screen door on my house to satisfy my wife. I started to empathize for people who feel paralyzed when they have to write their résumé.

Look, I come across people who haven’t written a résumé in years, maybe never. They haven’t used a word-processing application, don’t have a relative who has the time or inclination to write their résumé, and the thought of writing a résumé scares the hell out of them.

Here’s what I suggest for paying someone to write your résumé. Get the help you need immediately if you’re one of these folks who is paralyzed by writing the most important document in your life. Find a reputable agency that will take the time to write your résumé right the first time, and thereafter will update it for a very reasonable fee. Make sure of the following:

  1. Said agency has a stock of samples to show you and one that fits your needs in terms of a résumé and cost. A work history time-line and a list of keywords does not constitute a résumé. Believe me, I’ve seen these so called résumés.
  2. The person writing your résumé should guarantee you at least an hour or more to interview you to understand exactly what you do. Not someone who will note your occupation, go to his/her computer, create a cookie-cutter résumé, and take your $700.00.
  3. Those who require an executive résumé and can afford more than what is charged by an agency, should seek the help of a high-level writer who will focus more on accomplishments than simple duties. These expert résumé writers will charge significantly more, but their services will return your payment tenfold.
  4. My colleague, Bill Florin, makes a valid point. “An objective third party (pro writer) will see things in your history that are marketable, often things that you would discount or downplay entirely, Many people don’t like talking about and selling themselves.” Professional résumé writers make you talk about yourself.
  5. If you only require a basic résumé—truth be told, some people have minimal experience or have only done an adequate job—don’t be satisfied with a statement like, “Drove a truck from here to there.” You and your writer must get creative with your basic résumé. “Hauled an average of 20 tons of retail product, traversing the U.S.A. Driving record is spotless and time of delivery consistently met employers’ expectations.” Remember, you still have to separate you from the rest of the pack.
  6. Lastly, make sure a “soft copy” of your résumé is provided . Some writers will choke you for updating your résumé every time you need it sent out–this is after you’ve already coughed up $700.00.

Oh, if you’re a contractor who can install screen doors and perform other household tasks for less than $35.00 an hour, contact me. My house requires stucco repair and a bunch of other upgrades, as well.

The best way to answer an interview question; Prove It.

Woman Job CandidateYou’re asked the interview question, “what is your greatest strength?” To which you answer, “I would say customer service is my greatest strength.”  Paus…. Long silence between you and the interviewer…. Interviewer writes on her notepad…. She clears her throat…. Next question….

What did you do wrong?

If you say you did nothing wrong, that you answered the question by addressing the major skill the employer is seeking; you’re partly correct. What you failed to do is prove that customer service is your greatest strength. Here’s how to prove your greatest strength.

Take a breath before answering this question. “I would say customer service is my greatest strength. I listen to the customer’s needs, always asking how I can help him/her. When I understand the customer’s needs, I do my best to meet them. Can I give you an example?”

The interviewer nods and waits with anticipation for you to prove what you assert. To do this you’ll tell a story using the STAR formula, which may go like this:

Situation: One of our longstanding customers had left us prior to my arrival at Company X. I had heard the customer was unhappy to the point where he said he no longer needed our services.

Task: My vice president wanted me to persuade the customer to return. As the new manager of a group of five furnace technicians, it was my mission to win back this customer.

prove itActions:To begin with, I had to understand what made our customer unhappy, so I asked one of my subordinates who was close to the situation. He told me it was because the person who previously worked on his furnace did shoddy work and wasn’t responsive.

With this information in hand, I called out customer to introduce myself as a new manager of the company and ask him why he was unhappy with our service. At first he was justifiably angry, telling me he would never use us again. He revealed that his furnace was never cleaned, that it still smoked..

This was going to be a tough one, based on the tone in his voice. I listened to what he said and told him I really couldn’t blame him for being upset. I agreed with him that he wasn’t treated properly. I was going to make it right. Too late, he told me; he was going to go with a competitor of ours. He hung up before I had the chance to talk with him further.

I decided to go unannounced to his house to introduce myself from Company X, I was met with, “Boy, you’re persistent. I apologized for coming without warning and asked him if I could look at his furnace. He didn’t seem to mind and told me to go to the basement through the back.

“But I ain’t paying for nothing,” he told me. Fair enough, I told him. We want to regain your trust, and if I can’t fix what’s broken, I wish you the best. I am still sharp with my technical skills, so I was sure I could fix his furnace and win back his business.

I spent two hours fixing what was broken, namely the exhaust pipe was full of soot, which required vacuuming. In addition, the oil pump had to be replaced. This was not news our customer wanted to hear, but he was happy I was honest with him and for the work I had done. He also said the former technician didn’t catch these problems, or didn’t care.

When he asked me what he owed me, I told him there was no charge. I just wanted to be assured that he’d stay with our company.

Result: My customer told me that I had regained his trust. Further, he appreciated my honesty and concern that his furnace would be fixed right the first time. He returned to our company. For my efforts, he tried to give me forty dollars “to take the missus out for dinner.” Of course I refused his money.

From the above story, you see how the job candidate proves how he provided customer service in this instance. Of course the interviewer will ask more questions about customer service, both requiring positive and negative outcomes. Although this story exceeded two minutes, the job candidate was able to grab the interviewer’s attention.

Still talking about “we” during an interview?

Well, knock it off.

Commission having a Job interview.Some job candidates don’t think it’s a big deal to say “we” during an interview, when what the interviewers want to know is what the candidates have accomplished. Hiring authorities are sensitive to the constant use of “we.” If you’ve been saying “we” instead of “I,” you need to knock it off.

Employers want to know what you’ve accomplished, what value you’ll bring to the organization, what roles you played in your teams’ efforts. They could care less about what your past teammates accomplished. You are in consideration for the job, not your former teammates.

I tell my workshop attendees that now is the time to talk about themselves. Some of them struggle with this concept; they they’re so proud of what they and their team members managed to accomplish because of the Herculean efforts to complete the projects or assignment. I couldn’t do it without them, they’d say. To that I say, “Where are your teammates now?”

Not to rain on your parade, but where are your teammates now? Who’s on your team in the job search?

As a former manager or a team leader, the use of “we” is more understandable, as you were the one who oversaw the team; your name is on the projects and assignments. But you should still insert “I” whenever you can; for example,

“Some of my sales people needed some guidance on installing our software at user sights, so I went with them and led them through the process. This cut down installs by at least half the time it would take. In addition, I liked interacting with the customers.”

Job candidates should answer questions by using a story format whenever possible. Given the following question: “Tell us about a time when your manager opposed one of you ideas, but you were able to persuade him/her t to adopt it.” In this case use the C.A.R formula.

Challenge: I approached the vice president of marketing to suggest we implement social media marketing, as there was none at the credit union at that time. He was reluctant to start a social media marketing campaign, especially since this was a small credit union.

Actions: Instead of arguing with him about my idea, I decided to persuade him by showing him the benefits. I took a number of actions.

  1. The first of which was to find as many credit unions and banks as possible on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I was somewhat amazed by the number credit unions represented on each platform.
  2. Once I had a sampling of ten institutions, I next began studying how many connections, followers, and friends each one had.
  3. I determined that 8 of the 10 credit unions had a good presence on all three platforms, so I developed a spreadsheet that would show the analytic data of each company.
  4. I felt the best way to really figure out how prominent a role social media played for each company would be to enlist help from my assistant. I asked him to call the companies to ask them if they new the ROI from their social media campaigns.
  5. With a great deal of hard work, he was able to determine that six credit unions benefited greatly from all three platforms and came up with some great figures. With his information, I was ready to approach the VP of marketing and make my case.
  6. At first my VP seemed agitated that I continued to press him on this matter, but I stood my ground. I showed him the research on a detailed PowerPoint presentation my assistant and I created, letting him look at it for half the day.

Result: By the time I approached him to finish the conversation, he asked me how I would have the time to head up this new social media marketing campaign. If you’d like to hear about how I instituted a very successful social media marketing campaign, I’d be happy to tell you the story.

In my Interview Boot Camp workshops, and when I conduct mock interviews, I occasionally hear the absence of “I” in my participants’ answers, and I call them on it. What’s more, so do the other participants who are there to critique each others’ answers. When they hear “we” instead of “I,” they realize how important it is to take credit for their work. You have permission to take credit for your work.

Not sure which skills to endorse your LinkedIn connections for; just ask

Great JobBy now the raging debate over endorsements and recommendations is subsiding; at least I hope so. I know on which side I stand. To me recommendations have more merit. They require more knowledge of the person being recommended. It also take a bit of courage to ask for them.

Endorsements, on the other hand, can require very little to no knowledge of the recipient; and one doesn’t even need to ask for them. They’re like a gift.

But this is not a post on the great Endorsement/Recommendation debate. This is a post about how to better endorse someone. This is about truth, not clicking on a skill you’ve never seen someone perform. This is about engaging with your connections. This is the answer to your worries about doing the wrong thing.

How to endorse someone the proper way.

It occurred to me one time when I wanted to endorse one of my valued connections for his skills that I knew nothing about how well he performed them. So I decided to ask him. “Greg,” I wrote, “I want to endorse you for some skills but don’t know which ones.” His reply was to endorse him for his top five (he didn’t want to be greedy). So that’s what I did.

I could have done what every other wrongful endorser does, which is to endorse him for the skills that have the most endorsements, but I wanted to be truthful…to the best of my knowledge.

What is your next move? Whenever you see that blue box that appears at the top of your profile–The one that suggests endorsing your connections–ignore it. In fact, turn off the feature that allows you to see that hideous, shameful box. This box encourages you to do exactly what many complain about, endorse people for skills you may have never witnessed.

Shutting this box off is very easy to do. Go to Skills and Endorsements section of your profile; next click on one of the pencils next to any skill; and finally deselect “Show me suggestions to endorse my connections.” By doing this you won’t be tempted to wrongfully endorse someone.

Instead you’ll have to visit your connections’ profiles to check which skills are listed, and manually write a note to them asking, “I’d like to endorse you for your five (or ten, if you’re generous) best skills. Which are they?”

But, you may contest, what if they’re not really proficient in those skills, that they only want to build up some of their other skills? You’ve got me there. I’m guessing you’ll simply have to trust them. I trusted my friend, Greg, because I’ve built an online relationship with him that has lasted over time. If I were to ask any of my other connections, I’d have to put trust in them, as well. Even if my interactions with them were limited.

How can I assist my connections to endorse me without asking?

This is something I wrote about in March of 2014. I called it 2 important hints about LinkedIn endorsements. In the post I suggest that you arrange your skills in the order in which you want your skills to be endorsed. Not by the default setting, which is the largest number of endorsements in descending order. I’ve noticed that increasingly more of my connections have taken this hint, whether they’ve heard it from me or someone else.

You can help by endorsing your connections’ skills in the way they’re organized in descending order. The way your connections arrange their skills is a refection on their brand and how they want to be known. Unfortunately many LinkedIn connections will hone in on the skills with the largest number of endorsements, which doesn’t help branding the recipients.

By theory, asking your connections how they want to be endorsed should work.

We all know how our best intentions turn out. They can work majestically, gain some traction, or crash and burn. Where one person may appreciate being asked about which skills she’d like to be endorsed for, another may feel self-conscious, maybe a little creeped out. I leave it up to you to do what you feel is best. You can continue to endorsed someone based on his greatest number of endorsements, or you can ask.

I think I’ll ASK.

You’ll receive many opinions of your résumé; rely on 10 sure things

10Whose advice should you follow when you’re writing your résumés? Knowing the answer to this dilemma may require a crystal ball, for without it you won’t be 100% sure of who will provide the right answers.

Do you heed the advice of professional résumé writers, recruiters, HR, or hiring managers? They all offer good advice, but their advice will be different. In fact, you can ask 20 résumé experts their opinions on how you should write your résumés, and you’ll get 20 different answers. So who is correct?

The answer is the person who invites you in for an interview is correct. Résumé reviewers are somewhat subjective when they read résumés, and sometimes there’s no rhyme nor reason.

While one person may like accomplishments listed upfront, another may prefer them listed in your employment section. While one person prefers two-page résumés, another might favor one-pagers. While one person may not be concerned with flowery prose in your professional profile, another may hate it, as I do.

The point being, you’re the one who needs to decide if your résumé is ready to go. Do you want to drive yourself nuts by having a slew of people give you their “expert” advice, revising your résumé twenty times over?

Now, there are certain rules on writing effective résumés that you should heed in no particular order. These are ten sure things that need to be in place to offer you the best chance of success.

  1. Quantified results are a must*. Employers are not interested in a grocery list of duties; they’re drawn to significant accomplishments that are quantified with numbers, dollars, and percentages. Did you simply increase productivity? Or did you increase productivity by 55% percent?
  2. Please no clichés or unsubstantiated adaptive skills. The new rule is to show rather than tell. Yes, you may be innovative; but what makes you innovative? Did you develop a program for inner-city youth that promoted a cooperative environment, reducing violent crime by 50%? If so, state it in your profile as such.
  3. Tailor your résumé to each job, when possible. Employers don’t want a one-fits-all résumé that doesn’t address their needs or follow the job description. It’s insulting. By the way, for all you job board junkies, a résumé using the Target Job Deconstruction method is an adequate alternative to tailoring hundreds of résumés.
  4. Your résumé needs to show relevance. Employers are interested in the past 10 or 15 years of your work history; in some cases less. Anything you did beyond 20 years isn’t relevant; the technology is obsolete. Age discrimination may also be a concern, so don’t show all 25-30 years of your work life.**
  5. Keywords are essential for certain occupations that are technical in nature. They’re the difference between being found by the applicant tracking system (ATS) at the top of the list or not at all. (ATS are said to eliminate 75% of applicants.) Again, job board faithfuls must have their keywords peppered throughout their résumé.
  6. Size matters. Some employers are reading hundreds of résumés for one job, so do them a favor and don’t submit a résumé that doesn’t warrant its length. The general rule is two pages are appropriate providing you have the experience and accomplishments to back it up. More than two pages requires many relevant accomplishments. In some cases a one-page résumé will do the job.
  7. No employer cares what you need. That’s right; employers care about what they need. If you happen to care what they need and can solve their problems and make them look good, they’ll love you. So drop the meaningless objective statement that speaks only about you and not how you can meet the employer’s needs.
  8. Start your résumé with a punch. Below your name and contact information lies your branding headline. Within approximately 90 characters you can capture the employer’s attention with stating what you do and in what capacity. Project Manager doesn’t do it like: Project Manager | Lean Six Sigma | Team Building | Enhanced Product Line.
  9. Make it easy to read. Your résumé should  not only be visually appealing, it should be visually readable. Employers who read hundreds of résumé s will glance at them for as few as 10 seconds before deciding to read them at length. Make your résumé scannable by writing shorter paragraphs, three to four lines at most.
  10. WOW them. Use accomplishments in your Performance Profile. That’s right, grab their attention with quantified accomplishments early on. “Volunteered to assume the duties of website development and design, while also excelling at public relations, resulting in $50,000 savings for the company” will entice the reviewer to continue reading.

At some point you need to go with what works—a résumé that will land you interviews. I don’t care if it’s written on a napkin and delivered in a Starbucks’ cup (it’s been done). If it’s getting you interviews, go with it. If it isn’t getting you interviews, there’s something lacking on your résumé, but carefully chose one or two people who can offer you sound advice. And remember the 10 must have’s on your résumé.

* It is agreed that not every positive result can be quantified with numbers, dollars, or percentages, particularly if you don’t have access to these figures. To simply say you increased…or decreased…can be enough.

** In some cases, executive-level jobseekers, more years of experience may be more helpful. A superintendent of schools with 30 years of experience will probably have more luck than one with only five years of experience.

Photo from Andrea, Flickr

6 tips for getting out of the house during your job search

messy officeOne bit of advice I give my career center orientation attendees is to get out of the house every day. I know that some of them are sitting behind their computers until their eyes ache and the computer is humming at them. I also know it’s not healthy to be alone with one’s despondency. Been there.

When I tell them, “Get out of the house,” some laugh and nod with approval, others look at me with interest, and others with amusement. This advice, I give them, is perhaps the most important message they’ll leave with.

Having been out of work for 10 months more than 14 years ago, I understand how it is important to leave the house to escape the computer, the kids, the television, the cleaning. All of it. You know the saying, “If I knew then what I know now…” So let me offer you some suggestions for getting out of the house.

1. Go where people are. If this means going to your local career center, a library, Penera Bread, Starbucks, a park; then do it. Being around people has a therapeutic effect. Hearing the voice of others provides you with the distractions you need in order to avoid the deep well of despondency. It can reduce the loneliness you may feel from being cooped up at home.

Talk to people, even if you don’t know them. But understand if they’re not amenable to a discussion. Keep it short if you sense they’re busy or focused on something else. When they keep their eyes on the computer screen, this is a hint that they’re not open to a dialog.

2. Go to the gym or take long walks. How you prefer to exercise and let off steam is up to you. I find walking to be a great way to clear my mind, as well as strategize about what I need to do. While I was out of work, I increased my walking regiment from 45 minutes a day to 90 minutes. I walked and walked and walked. Bonus: it’s free.

Keep your routine. You’re no longer waking to go to your former place of employment, but you will continue to rise at the same time to exercise. I always suggest to my career center customers that they increase their exercise or start exercising if they’re not already doing it. Develop a plan that is doable for you, whether it’s everyday, or every other day.

3. Coordinate a small networking meeting, better known as a meetup. This might include gathering with other professionals, such as project managers who have an interest or knowledge in Lean Six Sigma. Although the meetup is for educational purposes, it’s a great place to connect and share employment possibilities. Here is the link for Meet Up.com.

An alternative to a professional meetup could be gathering for various interests. Perhaps one of your interests is reading, and a group of locals meet to pontificate on science fiction or nonfiction. Use this opportunity to unwind and put the job search behind you for those two hours. You need a break from your search.

4. Attend networking events. For some people networking is a bit intimidating because they feel forced to talk to people they don’t know. Attend a few networking events to get the hang of it. If you need to stay back and listen at first, that’s fine. However, eventually you’ll get the hang of it and feel more comfortable.

Determine some goals before you go to the networking groups. You may decide you only want to talk with a few people at each event. Perhaps you plan to meet someone you know or, better yet, you travel together to an event. Some groups specialize in particular industries, such as IT, medical, finance, legal, etc., so you may want to focus on one where you’ll be with people of the same interests.

5. Volunteer at an organization that needs your talents. You’ve probably heard a great deal about how volunteering is great for your job search. And you probably think, why should I offer my services for free? I get your concern. Who wants to work without getting paid?

Think about it logically. By volunteering you’ll enhance the skills you possess, as well as possibly learning new skills. You’ll not only increase your skill set; you’ll also put yourself in a place to gather labor market information and network. Keep in mind that some say by 27% by volunteering.

6. Ask for networking meetings. I don’t call these informational interviews for a reason. When you ask someone for an informational interview, their reaction won’t be as positive as if you were to ask her for some advice. Tell her you’re interested in gathering some information about a new career or one in her type of company, not her company.

You’re the one asking the questions, so make them intelligent questions. The goal is to impress the person with whom you’re speaking so if there’s a position developing at the company, she might suggest your name to the hiring manager. At the very least, try to leave with other people with whom you can speak.


As simple as it sounds, getting out of your house can greatly help your job search. It helps your fragile state of mind to get away from your computer or, worse yet, the television; and increases your networking opportunities. My strong suggestion is to dress business casual when your out and about, as well as present a positive attitude. You never know when you’ll meet a potential employer.

Also keep in mind that your job search is important and that others’ needs will have to take a backseat to your activities. In other words, be selfish. You can’t watch the kids or grandchildren when you have a workshop or networking event to attend. You have to meet with a networking colleague for coffee, no questions asked. In other words, BE SELFISH.