Monthly Archives: September 2011

States with the most volunteers have the lowest unemployment rates…5 reasons to volunteer

A recent report by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) claims that volunteering can contribute to reducing unemployment rates. This study points to volunteering in the community and for nonprofit organizations and says this about volunteering:

“Participation in civil society can develop skills, confidence, and habits that make individuals employable and strengthen the networks that help them find jobs. 59% of volunteers in national service programs believe their volunteer service will improve their chance of finding jobs, perhaps because it helps them learn marketable skills or because it broadens their professional contact networks, or both.”

Let’s revisit why volunteering is beneficial to your job search success.

1. Volunteering is a great way to do a positive thing. You may consider choosing an organization where your efforts are meaningful in a big way. The Salvation Army comes to mind. Every year around Christmas holiday thousands of volunteers ring the bells in front of businesses. All for the sake of helping the less fortunate get by during the holidays. A customer of mine said she volunteers at a soup kitchen. While she’s an accountant, she has a soft spot in her heart for the less fortunate. This appeals to employers.

2. Volunteer to network for your next job. Choose an organization that’s in the industry in which you’d like to work. If marketing is your forté, approach a company that needs a graphic artist or publicist to design some art for their website or write a press release or two. This organization in which you’ve managed to get your foot in the door can help you with leads at other organizations, especially if you do a smashing job. The director will want to help you because you’ve come across as competent and likeable. Who knows, you could possibly join the company if a position opens up…or is created.

3. Develop or enhance some skills that will make you more marketable. You’ve had it in your head to start blogging but haven’t had the time to dedicate to it. The organization that took you on as a volunteer in their marketing department not only can help you network; it can assist you in enhancing your diverse writing skills. Your approach might be to offer starting a blog for them, as the rest of the marketing department is up to their elbows in alligators. They gain a talented writer to write entries, and you learn the fine art of blogging. “Tie the skills needed to do the volunteer position back to the skills needed to support or enhance your profession,” says Dawn Bugni, owner of The Write Solution. “This keeps your skills sharp. You might learn something new….”

4. Feel useful. Yes, instead of sitting at home and watching The View, you can get back into work mode. Do you remember work mode? It begins with getting up at 6:00am, doing some exercise, leaving for some job from 8:00am to 5:00pm, all the while having that feeling of productivity. When you get home from volunteering, you can watch those episodes of The View on DVR.

5. Volunteering will pad your résumé. Yes, employers look at gaps in your work history. Instead of having to explain (or worse yet, not having the chance) why you’ve been out of work for three months, you can proudly say that you’ve been volunteering at Organization A in their marketing division where you authored press releases, created their newest website designs, and started them on your way to a new blogging campaign. Of course you’ll indicate on your résumé, in parenthesis, that this experience was (Volunteer) work. Nonetheless, it was work.

Any time you feel ripped off for working without pay, remember why you’re doing it; to do something positive, to network, to develop or enhance new skills, to feel useful, and to pad your résumé. If these five reasons aren’t enough, then by all means stay home and watch The View.


Companies that are doing it wrong, you might learn some things from “Blink”

The book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, talks about decisions made from our unconscious and the negative or positive consequences such decisions produce. Some may call them split decisions or acting without thinking; Gladwell calls this phenomenon “the power of thinking without thinking.” The point is that whether we know it or not, there are decisions we make based on what little knowledge we have of a situation. 

Two specific examples in the book stand out for me. The first one: four policemen in Brooklyn, New York, shoot an innocent man because of their instinctive reaction to a sketchy situation. This is a sad occurrence as a result of not knowing enough about the situation, relying completely on “blink.”

The second and most poignant story Gladwell tells is about how the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra hires a talented Italian trombonist player. The search committee, striving for total objectivity, sets up a screen so the auditioning musicians cannot be seen. They hire the best trombonist they hear. To their chagrin, the musician they choose as the best player is a woman.

The consequence of this instance of “blink” is hiring the best trombonist for their orchestra—a far cry from unloading 42 bullets into an enclosed entryway and killing a man because he was reaching for his wallet. Nonetheless, they are devastated to find that the winner is a woman.

This second instance of “blink” makes me wonder is this is a viable practice all employers who are hiring jobseekers for positions should practice. What the Munich Philharmonic accomplished was to prove that total objectivity yields the best result, albeit not what they wanted in terms of gender. Perhaps employers continue to use ineffective ways of hiring people because they make their decisions based on biases, or…they’re given the opportunity to think.

Following the practice of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra would most likely preclude employers from discriminating against various populations, including the disabled; minorities; woman; one of the hardest hit populations, the older workers; and other groups. In other words, the most qualified candidates would be hired the majority of the time. But there could be some drawbacks for employers who, for instance, are trying to get a viable “fit.”

How would employers emulate the success of the Munich Philharmonic?  To safeguard against preventing them from discriminating against the aforementioned populations, they would have to abide by the following rigid steps:

Step One. Conduct telephone interviews to determine minimum technical requirements met and salary expectations are in synch with their budget. The telephone interview remains pure and objective to this day. Next a face-to-face interview would be scheduled if the two issues are ironed out.

Step Two. Candidates, like the musicians who auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic, would enter the interview location unseen and unheard. Interviewers would not see their bodies and faces—it’s a well-known fact that the “blink” phenomenon has played a role in determining a person’s perceived greatness. (Ex. The notorious President Warren Harding, explained by Gladwell in Blink, was elected, in part, because of his physical stature.)

Step Three. Interviewers will literally conduct all interviews with a twelve-foot screen separating them and the job candidates. All candidates would be equipped with a voice scrambling device, thus disguising their gender, ethnicity, age, or vocal disability.

Step Four. There would be no trick/illegal questions asked to determine candidates’ isms. Questions like these would be forbidden:

  • “What country are you from?”
  • “When did you graduate from college?”
  • “Do you favor the current President, or the opposing party?”
  • “Who is the breadwinner in your house?”
  • “Do you require any special accommodations?”

Interviewers may ask questions that are neutral and reveal the candidates’ required skills and experience. These could include any technically related questions, behavioral-based questions, and questions that get to the applicant’s personality fit.

Step Five. Once the interviewers’ decision is made, based on objective, unbiased questions; it is final. Had the interviewers hoped for someone in his/her 30’s; tough. If they wanted someone who was a man, or woman; too bad. Tough cookies if they wanted someone as healthy as a horse but ended up with someone in a wheelchair—install a ramp.

What are some possible drawbacks of this approach to interviewing? Interviewers would not see the candidates’ body language and visa-versa. Interviewers would have to rely on the content of the candidates’ answers to ensure overall fit, including technical, transferable, and personality skills. Further, candidates would not be allowed to see the companies’ facilities in order to maintain total anonymity. The personal nature of the interview would be eliminated.

The likelihood of employers conducting this kind of interview is very slim at best. Employers have a right to hire who they want. But to “blink” and not be given time to think, would eliminate some of what’s wrong with the interview system. Let’s look at the Munich Philharmonic’s example of objective hiring as something that’s attainable in a theoretical way. Lord knows too many qualified people are slipping through the cracks.

Don’t neglect this components of your LinkedIn profile; the Summary

To make your LinkedIn profile appealing to employers, every section of it has to stand out. I wrote an article on the LinkedIn photo and branding headline and how they can contribute to your personal branding. Now I’ll address one of the most important LinkedIn sections, the summary. In my mind this section is neglected by far too many people, greatly reducing their personal branding potential.

Let’s look at three points to consider when branding yourself with your LinkedIn summary.

Don’t recite your résumé summary. Some jobseekers, against the advice of Professional Résumé Writer Tracy Parish, use their summary as a dumping ground for their résumé’s summary. In other words, they copy and paste the summary from their résumé to their LinkedIn summary. Is this utter laziness or poor branding? Both.

Tracy writes, “The summary section on LinkedIn is probably one of the main places people miss out on a great opportunity to showcase what they have to offer. This is NOT the place to copy and paste your résumé, and it’s not the place to skimp on critical information. As a jobseeker, it is critically important to create a ‘Wow Factor’….”

One major difference between the two summaries is the number of characters allowed on LinkedIn and the number of characters your résumé’s summary should contain. You are allowed 2,000 characters for your LinkedIn summary. So use them! On a résumé this number of characters would take up three-quarters of a page, much too long for a two-page document. A proper number of characters for a résumé should not exceed 1,000 if written well.

You have a voice with LinkedIn. You’re given more freedom of expression on LinkedIn; use it! Be creative and make the employer want to read on. This is what effective branding does, which includes your voice. It should be some of your best writing and can be written in first person or even third person.

Most pundits lean toward first person, as it expresses a more personal side to you. A summary written in first person seems to invite others into the writer’s life. To me, the first person voice is more natural. Look at Jason Alba’s summary written in first person. It is personal and makes you feel like you know him. Jason is the author I’m on LinkedIn, Now What??? and founder of

Not many people pull off the third person voice well. In my opinion, the third-person voice can sound stilted; but if done right, it can make a powerful branding impact. Dan Schawbel is one person who makes it work, primarily because he is a reputable branding expert. His summary brands him extremely well.

Decide how you want to deliver your personal branding. How you brand yourself through your summary depends on the type of work you’re pursuing, your skill set, the story you want to tell, what you want to reveal about your personality, and other factors.

Darrell Dizolglio, a Professional Résumé Writer who also writes LinkedIn profiles, says it depends on his clients’ talents and career goals. “I have found by helping hundreds of clients over the years that the greatest results come when you use the LinkedIn summary to open yourself up to multiple opportunities/positions, while your résumés can zero in on just one position very effectively. Naturally, you can/should have multiple targeted résumés out there at work for you. However, you are allowed only one LinkedIn summary per person.”

If you want to state your accomplishments in the summary, this can be an effective way of grabbing potential employers’ attention. This is the “Wow” factor of which Tracy speaks. Some prefer to use the work history section for presenting their accomplishments, and, in fact, the history section should be all about accomplishments. Save the mundane duties for your Job Scope on your résumé.

Wendy Enelow , author of numerous job search books and a world renowned Careers Industry Leader, gives us her take on using the LinkedIn summary for telling a story. “If I’m working with a client who has a really great career story to tell, then I’ll definitely use the LinkedIn summary to tell the story. Perhaps they were promoted 8 times in 10 years with IBM, or moved rapidly from one company to another based on their strong financial contributions to each organization.”

Martin Yate says it all with his summary. He combines an out-of-the-gate introduction of himself, with a little bit of philosophy on the direction of your job search. Martin is the author of the Knock ‘em Dead series. Here’s a snippet from his summary:

“I make it my business to teach you how to navigate [the career search]. Over the years, it’s become my mission to show you how to survive and prosper through the twists and turns of a 50-year career. Whether it is in a book, on the radio, during a webinar or a video – my goal is to provide advice, actionable takeaways, and integrated strategies, because you have no time to waste and just one chance to get it right!”

As for my summary, I decided to use more of a philosophical/functional approach, describing my strongest skill areas. I put most of my effort into the summary section of my profile but don’t skimp on my work history. While every section is important, it is a heinous crime to neglect the summary section of your profile. Next I’ll talk about the work history of your LinkedIn profile.

One more argument for volunteering your way to a job

Before you say, “I’m tired of hearing about volunteering,” take time to read what I have to say. I’ve ignored newspaper articles on what’s happening in the labor market because, quite honestly, they depress me.

But this morning I was drawn to an article that offered no groundbreaking great news; in fact it was dismal. But through the fog of negative reporting, there was one bit of good advice.

The article of which I speak appeared in the Boston Globe (Sunday, 9/18/2011). It pointed out the difficulties veteran workers in the IT sector are having getting jobs due to lack of experience. One example given was a software engineer proficient in C++ but lacking Java.

In certain positions, like software engineering, the disparity in technica skills is hard to overlook. But there is hope, as long as you’re willing to invest the time to overcome a deficiency you have in your skills.

I wrote an article on the importance of volunteering while conducting your job search, and I stressed volunteering at a company for which you’d consider working. There are two major reasons for this. First, you can network more efficiently while you’re back in the industry among professionals who are privy to possibilities, and who would like to help you.

Second, you can enhance your skills and learn new ones. The situation where the software engineer lacks Java experience is a perfect example. Taking courses will certainly give you some knowledge in the software required to land a job, but hands-on experience using the software is far more valuable. And sometimes required by recruiters, according to the article:

“The ability to learn new skills is rarely at the top of a recruiter’s job orders; many companies demand candidates with skills that perfectly match their requirements.”

I had a jobseeker who worked at Raytheon, where she was a productive engineer using C++. She never had training using Java, as it was not required for her position. As she combed the want ads, she discovered that the majority of jobs available were for Java developers. She was in a hole. But she wasn’t going to give up. I would see her reading texts books on Java scripting.

The solution, as stated above, is to gain hands-on experience in a skill that you’re lacking. Continue to self-educate yourself on the skills you notice are in demand, as my jobseeker did; but go one step further and approach companies in your industry that need engineers, marketers, sales people, nurses, accountants, etc., and volunteer your services—with an understanding that you’re not looking for a job at said companies.

This is precisely what the Boston Globe reported: “’If you want to be anywhere close to the cutting edge, you can’t expect that you’ll have a [paying] job when you start,’ said Stephen Flavin, dean of academic and corporate development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. ‘If you really want to learn it you have to volunteer your time.’’’

I hope that if you’re in this situation, you won’t give up hope. Many of my jobseekers have landed jobs in their field by volunteering; some of them at the company for which they volunteered.

Be prepared for the big and little things at an interview

The other day a job seeker named Bill came to my workshop carrying a newspaper article from the Boston Herald titled: “Be prepared for [the] unexpected at [the] job interview.” It’s not often someone brings in a newspaper article for me to read, nor do I often see a newspaper. So I was a bit stunned.

I was grateful for the article Bill brought me because much of what was written confirmed what I tell job seekers about the interview process. Not what questions to predict; not how to successfully structure their answer to a behavioral question; and not how to negotiate salary. The article talked about the simpler acts interviewees sometimes take for granted.

Two of the do’s some job seekers take for granted, according to this article, are maintaining eye contact and arriving on time. Weren’t we told many years ago that these faux pas are unforgivable? Reading that these interview mistakes still occur is almost incomprehensible. In the worst economy of our time, I can’t see any room for even these minor mishaps. Sweaty palms, a bit of hesitation, some “umms” here and there, are borderline acceptable.

So what goes wrong after job seekers zip off a great résumé and cover letter, pass the phone interview, and head for the all important face-to-face? Some of it can be attributed to nerves and downright fear, and some of it can be because the interviewee doesn’t have the common sense of a Labrador Receiver.

Marvin Walberg, the author of this article, writes that a survey was conducted by Accountemps to see what the kinds of silly mistakes are made at interviews. The mistakes go beyond not maintaining eye contact and being late; we’re talking about other more serious mistakes, definite interview killers.

Of more than a thousand hiring managers, six blunders stood out more than others. The percentages indicate which mistakes came to the managers’ mind first.

1. Little or no knowledge of the company: 38 percent
2. Unprepared to discuss skills and experience: 20 percent
3. Unprepared to discuss career plans, goals: 14 percent
4. Lack of eye contact: 10 percent
5. Late arrival: 9 percent
6. Limited enthusiasm: 9 percent

The first three failures point directly to unpreparedness. What more can job search professionals tell jobseekers? Prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s that simple. If you’re not prepared for the interview, your raw intelligence, good looks, and charm will probably not land you the job.

Questions about the job: Expect questions regarding the company and the job. Interviewers want to know why you want to work for them, what you know about their plans and goals, what understanding you have of their products and services. And they also want you to sell their company to them.

Knowing the company’s competitors will be an added bonus. Going to the interview loaded with all this knowledge can solve the employers’ last most common mistake, failing to show enthusiasm.

Be able to discuss your skills and experience: “Know thyself” is such a well known cliché, but it’s true. You have to know what duties you’ve performed, how well you’ve performed them; and it all has to relate to the position you’re seeking. As we’ve read hundreds of times, quantified accomplishments sell.

People with good recall usually have no problems recounting their experience, so those whose memory isn’t that great need to study their résumé before going to the interview.

Know your goal plans: Where do you plan to be in five years? Who the hell knows? At least show your ambition by telling employers that you reach for the stars and won’t be a clock puncher—in at 9:00 out at 5:00 on the dot.

If you want to be an individual contributor and are tired of the management route, demonstrate your desire to accomplish great things in your new role. Let them know you want to help the company’s bottom line. This is providing the role doesn’t have management responsibilities in the future.

The last three, my friend, are simply common sense. If you avoid peoples’ eyes, are constantly late, and show no enthusiasm, it’s time to do an about face and change your ways. I’m glad some people still read the newspaper and are thoughtful enough to bring in the cut-outs.