How to Eliminate or Explain Your COVID Resume Gap

They are going to ask, so you better have an answer. And it better be a good one because given the choice between someone who worked at anything during the time the government was paying people to stay home, and someone who decided to stay home, it’s the person who did not let their professional ego get in their way and did what they could who will get the job offer.

So how do you explain the COVID resume gap? There are four acceptable justifications for having let the government pay you to not “work,” and they all relate to real “work” you were doing, although (sadly) most people don’t consider it “work.” They should all appear on your resume, listing your responsibilities and accomplishments, so there is no gap! Here they are:

  1. Child care. You had to stay home while your spouse went to work. Nothing wrong with that. Good for you. Or, you are a single parent and had to stay home. More power to you!
  2. Adult care. You had an elderly parent/relative/friend for whom you had to care. Ditto.
  3. Education. You spent the time to further your professional education. You can prove it with certifications in this, that and the other thing. You are now a better employee. Well done!
  4. Death. A loved one died and you had to take care of the estate. My condolences.

All of these should be a source of pride. And when you are proud of something, it will come across in a job interview. What you did was important. Just itemize on your resume what you had to do, your responsibilities, like with any other job. The patience you had to display, the self-control, involved in child or adult care, could be, should be, a ticket to a customer service or trainer position at any forward-thinking company. Education speaks for itself. As for learning probate, it shows, as does being a caregiver, that you learned how to navigate a new (complicated) bureaucracy.

Going back to child care, literally list the skills you taught your children. Instead of watching television, playing video games, or going on the internet, you taught them to be responsible and that (school) work comes first. You taught them discipline. You taught them the value of work. You taught them the importance of keeping to a schedule and a daily regimen. Those are all skills smart employers want in their employees.

And they also want honesty. So if you foolishly just took advantage of the situation and let the government pay you not to work, admit your mistake. Most people can be forgiving. Just say, “I was an idiot. I made a mistake. I know now I should not have done it. I learn from my mistakes which is the only thing I can say in my defense. I don’t make excuses. I never repeat the same mistake twice!”

Depending on the type of professional you were pre-COVID, it just may be enough to convince an employer to give you a try.

Need personal advice? Schedule a free 15-minute career counseling consultation today!

When Building a Team, it’s Not Seats on a Bus it’s Cells of an Organism

Jim Collins, in his classic Good to Great, advises when building a team to first get the right people on the bus, then get the wrong people off the bus and, finally, make sure the right people are sitting in the correct seats. It’s a great visual that even the most inept team builder should be able to understand. And now I propose throwing it away and going back a century, to Sigmund Freud’s 1920 essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Freud wrote, “One cell helps to preserve the life of the others, and the cell-community can go on living even if single cells have to perish. We have already heard that also conjugation, the temporary mingling of two unicellular entities, has a preservative and rejuvenating effect on both.”

The beauty of Collins’ metaphor is it’s simplicity: When building a team you have to hire the right people for the right job. The problem is, you are not just building a team, you are building a company and a company should be viewed in the Freudian sense of building an organism. An organism is living, breathing and evolving. So too should be your business. A bus is static; it never changes. Not good for your business!

So, instead of thinking that you are filling seats on a bus, perhaps it would be better to think in terms of connecting cells to form an organism that will survive for decades and not decay by rust over decades.

Let’s parse Freud:

One cell helps to preserve the life of the others… When hiring you cannot just think of the hard-skills the person has, their ability to do the job, but also their soft-skills, their ability to help others. Just as one cell helps to preserve the life of others, one employee helps to preserve the careers of others. And by so doing, the company is strengthened and survives. That said,

and the cell-community can go on living even if single cells have to perish. So, if someone has to be fired, resigns or for any reason leaves, the company is strong enough that their loss will not be seriously detrimental to it. Like Freud’s “cell-community,” it will “go on living.”

Many companies rightly take out life insurance policies on their most important employees. If it’s their salesperson who brings in the majority of their business, the policy will give them some breathing room until they find a replacement. But if the person is not a revenue generator, it won’t help all that much. Money can replace money, it cannot replace skills or knowledge. Which brings us to…

We have already heard that also conjugation, the temporary mingling of two unicellular entities, has a preservative and rejuvenating effect on both. So, it all comes down to hiring people who can work together for the common good, which, for present purposes, we can define as preserving and rejuvenating peers. Which means that not only do employees have to work together, they have to be preserved and rejuvenated meaning that the employer has to care for their professional development, keep them motivated and challenged. If not, the organism dies which, in business terms, means selling before you want to, shutting down, or filing for bankruptcy.

So hire to build a living organism, not to fill seats on a bus.

Common Mistakes Speakers Make

For over three years I have been a professional speech writer. I started off using the freelancing site Fiverr, but departed as their rules were simply not worth the bother. (The final straw was when, a month and a half after I had submitted a speech and their system marked the order closed, they informed me that the buyer had reported that I had delivered the speech late. That was incorrect and I proved it with screen shots. They refused to acknowledge that I had submitted the order on time and threatened to dock money from my account. As I had already withdrawn all the money from my Fiverr account, the only thing they could do would have been to remove money from my bank account. I informed them, in no uncertain terms, that if they did that, I would file criminal complaints against them with the authorities. Since the buyer’s claim was ridiculous, and he is a police officer, I demanded that they confirm that he had been notified that his account, which I believe to be the case, had been hacked, and inform me that they had done so. They refused and I closed my account.)

During my time with Fiverr I wrote over well over 200 speeches. Some people asked me to write their speech, providing little direction. Others wanted their speeches edited. Most of those had to be rewritten because of the following errors:

1) Don’t forget your audience. You may have things you would like to tell the world, but the world may not be interested. Too much information can be as bad as too little. I am reminded of two clients: The first, a rape victim, wanted to share details of the attack which no one wants to hear. She wanted, and probably needed, to vent. But that’s why there are mental health professionals. When giving a TED talk about overcoming personal tragedy, you say what the tragedy was, rape, and then how you overcame it.

At the other end of the spectrum was the speech I wrote for a product launch. The speech I was sent to edit merely said what the widget did, what it cost, and how to order it. Hardly what an audience wants to hear. So we added a couple of case studies about how the widget had already helped customers and how, like WD-40, customers discovered surprising ways to use the product that the manufacturer had not realized.

2) Don’t use PowerPoint unless your audience has to see something to understand what you are talking about. Most people don’t remember the slides. I know of presenters who literally spent weeks preparing graphs and flow charts which no human being could possibly follow. The only time I use PowerPoint is if I need to show my audience something, for example, the LinkedIn page where you eliminate the option of showing viewers of your profile similar profiles viewed by people who viewed your profile. After all, they are your competition, so why promote them?

PowerPoint is great if you want to remember what it is that you want to say. In that case, each slide should have no more than six to 10 words. Don’t read them! No one wants to hear your read. Talk about the significance of the words.

Remember, you want your audience to listen to you, not to be distracted by slides with long quotes, funny graphics, or complicated charts with writing so small they cannot be read.

3) If you are no good telling jokes, don’t tell jokes. And if you are speaking to an international audience, don’t use any humor. Humor can be dangerous. What you find funny someone else, even from your own country, may find offensive. So, don’t use humor.

4) Start with a meaningful story. Parables are great! Personal experiences are better. Just make sure to tie the story to the presentation. Thank the people who need to be thanked, then tell the audience what you are going to do and then do it! When you have finished the speech, connect it back to the story. You have to go full circle, so to speak.

5) Finally, end with a call to action. There has to be a point to the speech. You have to want your audience to do something. Tell them what to do. But don’t turn the speech into a commercial for your products or services. That’s it a huge turnoff. You will lose your audience. This is even true for a product launch. It’s a little harder in that case not to make it sound like a commercial but a professional speech writer knows how to do it. If you prove that you are the professional in your sector, the sale will take care of itself.

Follow these five rules and your speeches should be impactful and effective.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid!

It’s 4:30 PM on a Friday. (Bad news always comes late afternoon on a Friday or holiday eve!) The Chief Technology Officer’s phone rings. It’s Tony. Tony has had a bad week. On Monday he was informed that someone had filed a harassment complaint against him. His supervisor, who informed him of the development, explained that Federal law and HR policy require him to avoid common work areas. He has to stay in his office. He, the supervisor, hopes to be able to provide details by the end of the week, Monday at the latest. The supervisory calls him at Noon, apologizes and says he will have to hold on until Monday. Tony informs the CTO:

“I just got what I thought was an email from the Acme Company (not a real name!) and, since I was expecting to receive a bid from them, I clicked on the attachment. I have been so stressed out about this harassment businesses that I did not realize that the email was from a .co and not a .com address. I am pretty sure it was a phishing email. I turned off my computer, followed the protocols, and am now calling you.”

Now this could be as innocent and understandable as presented. Or it could have been retaliation for the way the harassment charge was being handled. But Tony, in his defense, would say, “If I wanted to retaliate, after clicking on the link, I would have gone to the Men’s Room, waited until I packed my bag, and then shut off of the computer and never would have reported the incident. That would have given the hackers plenty to time to do whatever they wanted to do and this may not have been discovered for months.” Also a perfectly logical response.

Employees leaving under less than optimal conditions are threats to a company. Even an employee who seems to be leaving under optimal conditions could be a threat. You can never tell. So what’s an employer to do?

Before you fire someone, deny them access to your network. When you punish someone, limit their access to your network to only the areas that they need to do their work (which could be a good policy in any event!). It should be the same policy for someone who announces their resignation.

As has been well recorded, small businesses, subject to a cyber attack, can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and the majority go out of business within six months. It’s not worth the risk to have a disgruntled, angry, or hurt employee having access to your computer network and corporate data. At a minimum, you must monitor everything your employees do on their computers, especially those who may be holding a grudge along with a mouse. It is not an invasion of their privacy; it’s protecting yours! And, it should go without saying, you have to have security protocols, policies and procedures, in place to protect your computers and network from malicious activity.

And it ain’t much better for job seekers.

You apply for a job on a job board such as Indeed, Zip Recruiter, Monster, or even LinkedIn (assuming, of course, that they have the best possible cybersecurity available) where you announce for all the world to see that you are “Open to Work” or “Looking for New Opportunities.” If you include your email address on the resume you upload to the sites, or on your LinkedIn contact information, everyone knows how to reach you…including the bad guys.

So they, the bad guys, see that you are (a) an accountant, (b) looking for work and (c) they know where you live. So they fake an email from a prominent company in your area. Or, they pretend to be with a recruiting firm. In either case, they compliment you, build up your ego, and attach a job description. You click on the job description and now you are the victim of a cyber attack.

Usually, the goal of a cyber attack is to get data and hold it hostage, or to gain access to a richer target through the computer of, let’s say, a smaller fish in the ocean that is the Internet. Yes, they can steal your money or your identity but, no offense intended, you’re not really worth the bother. But now they know that you are, I shall be diplomatic, unsophisticated enough to click on a link without checking the email address from which it came. And you are none the wiser. Eventually, you get a new job and post it on your LinkedIn profile. So the bad guys figure out your new corporate email, send you a message and, once again, you click on their attachment. Oops!

Or, I may be wrong. They make it a ransomware attack and freeze your computer and hijack all your data, and threaten to send embarrassing emails to all your contacts, including all of the employers to whom you have sent your resume. But, being the nice bad guys that they are, they’ll return everything to you for only $250. You pay. It’s worth it. They do it to a few thousands of people, and they have a very nice pay day.

The good news is that you can avoid all of this. First, remove your resume from all the job sites, along with any indication on LinkedIn that you are looking for a new job, once you have the new job. But, in the meantime, start using something called “Multifactor Authentication” or “2-Factor Authentication.” What that means is that you will receive a text message with a code whenever someone tries to send an email from your account. You can also purchase a security system from your email provider that will protect you if you click on that which should not be clicked! It takes very little time to setup, and doesn’t cost enough to think about.

Bottom line, whether an employer or job seeker, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And when it comes to a cyber attack, the worst is really bad.

I don’t believe I have ever recommended a service provider before, but if you need help securing your network or email, I recommend contacting Peter Fidlerfor whom I have provided recruiting services in the past, or Bob Michie, with whom I am a member of a New Jersey professional networking group.

Think of Your Job Search as a Game

There are countless definitions of “game theory.” The one thing they all have in common is that they give the reader a headache. So I am going to be bold and propose my own definition: Game theory is a tool to help describe and forecast the result(s) of interactions between people. In other words, you pretend a real situation is just a game which you play to explain what has happened, or to forecast what may happen, by considering possible human interactions. It’s a brain teaser something akin to an Einstein thought experiment.

In university I studied game theory. Our focus, since I was studying International Relations, was primarily on two games: Zero Sum and Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Zero Sum is simple: You win, I lose. There is no in-between. Whatever is to your benefit is to my detriment. For a job search, that would mean I get the job offer (and accept it) and you don’t. Not exactly a mind-boggling insight.

Then there’s Prisoner’s Dilemma. This one is more complicated:

Two people are arrested for a crime. The Police put them in separate rooms. They cannot communicate with each other. Before they did whatever it was that they did, they agreed not to talk if arrested. But now they have a problem:

Whoever talks first and incriminates the other will go free and the other will be sent up the river for a long time. But, if neither talks, neither will be prosecuted. If they both talk, they will get less time in the “Big House,” then if only one talks. So what should they do? According to game theory, their best move would be for both of them to talk. That way, they can minimize their punishment. (If you look up “Prisoner’s Dilemma” you will find subtle differences in the explanations, but the above is pretty close to the consensus.)

Thinking about this, I could not figure out how it could be relevant for conducting a successful job search. I recently had a long chat with a potential career counseling client, and I happened to say, and this is accurate, that “a job search is a numbers game.” After we hung up, the word “game” stuck with me and I thought about game theory. Was there a way, I asked myself, to use game theory to improve one’s chances of getting a job? I did not know. But just because I could not figure it out did not mean someone else hadn’t.

It was then that I discovered Messrs. Bennett and Miles’s book, Your Career Game: How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals, which I highly recommend. (The page numbers refer to the eBook edition.) That said, the focus of their book is on having a successful career, not on conducting a successful job search. But, the two are not totally divorced from each other. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

Using game theory to advance your career is relatively easy as you can identify your competitors (basically, your colleagues). The same is not true for a job search. You don’t know your competition. It may be an internal candidate, a friend of someone at the company, or an external candidate like yourself. And then there are the countless decision makers! You just don’t know. And not knowing is what makes the job search “game” so difficult to play.

Bennett and Miles remind us (p. 3) of two important insights: General Eisenhower believed that plans were useless but planning was essential. And Samuel Goldwyn was of the opinion that the harder he worked the luckier he was.

Both comments are relevant to the job search game. First, you have to be able to think on your feet. (As a matter of fact, the authors put “agility” at the top of their list of necessary qualities to have a successful career.) You never know what is going to happen in a job search, especially in an interview. You can’t plan the entire process. (As Field Marshall Moltke famously said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”) So you have to be ready to make the right move at a moment’s notice. (“Agility.”) Unlike, for example, chess, where you know your opponent and what they can do with each piece on the board just not what they will actually do, in a job search you do not know your opponent or what move they will make. There are no certainties in the job search game so you have to be ready for whatever move your opponent makes. What makes this more difficult, except when the “opponent” in an interviewer, is that you actually do not know everything that is happening. In fact, since you only know what you are doing and what you are being told (which may be honest or deception) you really know very little, if anything, of importance. The only good thing is that things become somewhat clearer when you reach the end of the game. Then, you may be able to plan.

Like Mr. Goldwyn said, if you work hard you can get lucky. Researching the company, and, most importantly the interviewers, may give you some insights into how they may act. Perhaps they have written or responded to posts on LinkedIn. Reading their writings you may be able to learn their thought processes. Reading their LinkedIn profiles can give you an idea of how they prioritize and organize their thoughts. Seeing who has most recently been hired by the company may give you an indication of what type of people they want.

In any event, Bennett and Miles are correct when they write (p. 7) that “one individual’s best move is often dependent on the anticipated moves of other players.” The “other players,” in our case, are the interviewers, decision makers (hiring managers, supervisors, owners) and, other candidates. Because you are dependent on them, you must know as much about them as possible.

One other point the authors make which is very valuable for a successful job search, is that “Making predictable moves in a multiplayer game is rarely a winning game strategy” (p.8). You have to be able to set yourself apart from the competition. The “unpredictable” move that I recommend is asking surprising questions. For example, as I have previously written, perhaps the best question you can ask an interviewer is, “If I get this job, how will I be able to make your life easier?”

To be perfectly honest, the reason I liked that question was because I saw it as the focus of the subsequent thank-you letter that my career counseling clients send to interviewers. But, within the context of game theory, there is a much more important reason for asking the question.

One way to “win” a “multi-player” game, like a job search, is to form partnerships. By asking the question, you imply that if they hire you, you will be working on their behalf, helping them to achieve their goals. (This is an exceptionally good strategy in the case of an older candidate being interviewed by someone who is worried the boss will decide to replace them with the candidate!)

Thinking of a job search as a game will help you focus on the bad and the good. The “bad” comes first because there are more bad aspects to the game than there are good: There are no set rules, you do not know everything about the players (or even who all the players are) and you know nothing about the competition. But the “good” is that you can prepare to differentiate yourself from the competition (even though you really don’t know what they may do) by having great questions to ask and knowing how to answer the questions you will be asked in a unique way.

Bottom line: Thinking about a job search as a multi-player game, and strategizing accordingly, could be the key to getting a job offer. Literally sitting down, closing your eyes, and picturing your job search as a board game, may help you to think in new ways. Simplifying a complex situation may, in the end, be what game theory is all about and the key to your getting that job offer!

When Hiring, Job Searching and Communicating You Need a Soft Landing

The following is based on a presentation I made to the PRO-G Networking Group in Parsippany, New Jersey.

PILOTS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO NEED A SOFT LANDING!

Hiring, job search, and communications all share one thing in common: If you mess up it could cost you dearly. A bad hire can be destructive to a company. A bad interview can be devastating to a job candidate. And amateurish communications, whether verbal or in writing, can be damaging to the communicator. So how can you increase the odds of success – a soft landing – and decrease the odds of embarrassment – an ugly crash? Let’s consider each separately.

Hiring

If you are using a recruiter, in-house or external, and they tell you they have never made a mistake, they are either new to the business or lying through their teeth. We all make mistakes. It’s called being human. The key is to know how to minimize those errors and increase the odds that the candidate, if hired, will remain on the job for a long time.

The first thing is to conduct a reference check. You want to speak to the reference. They may say the right thing but their tone of voice may send a contradictory message, and that’s the message that’s important! Letters of reference are worthless. They could be forged. Or, they could have been handed to the person simply to get them to vacate the premises. And, for the record, LinkedIn references are meaningless. The candidate has complete control over their profile and can reject any reference they do not like. Moreover, and this has happened to me, many people offer to write positive references in exchange for receiving one. And if that does not convince you, one person told me that he had the most references of anyone on LinkedIn. So I printed out the first page of references, told him to send me the phone numbers of the first ten, that I would choose three, notify him in advance before I called them and…I never heard from him again!

You want to conduct a reference check because the most important thing for a successful hire is to make certain the person will be a good fit with your corporate culture. You can only find that out by talking with people who have worked with them in the past. More on culture in a moment.

The opposite side of the reference check coin is the background check. Some people believe that a background check should be conducted on all hires. I don’t argue the point. Just make sure (and I believe the law requires it) that you inform them of the results so they can dispute anything negative. (I had one candidate whose background check came back stating that there was an outstanding bench warrant against him for a crime he had committed when he was four-years-old! The court officer had made a mistake when recording the Social Security number…!) In any event, a background check should be conducted for any hire who will come into contact with money, financial data, or any confidential information.

The way that I provide my clients with a soft landing, the only way I know, is to offer a six-month guarantee that if for any reason a placement does not work out, I will find a replacement at no charge. If the recruiter does not offer a guarantee, or a short one, weeks not months, that tells you everything you need to know about them.

The reason my guarantee is so long is because I believe in my process. Which brings me back to culture. Culture is not free lunches, being able to take a vacation whenever you want, or showing up for work at your pleasure. Those are all fads. True, they speak to a certain mentality, but not culture. For me, and I am stealing from Tolstoy, culture is how you think. If you will, it is your decision making processes. And the most important part of that process is providing a safe environment where employees can disagree with their supervisors and the boss without fear of retaliation. If a person wants to hire someone who will agree with them all the time, I advise saving money and simply buying a mirror.

The way the employer reaches decisions informs their culture. The same is true for candidates which brings me to my next topic: Career Counseling or, for present purposes, the Hiring Process. (Job seekers should note that the following is from the employer’s perspective which is important as it never hurts to think like an employer when you are looking for employment!)

The Hiring Process

Ask for a cover letter. If all you receive is a form letter, move on to the next candidate. If they could not be bothered writing a unique letter for you, don’t waste your time with them. If they forget to send a cover letter, you know they can’t follow simple instructions. If they can’t follow simple instructions, they won’t be able to follow the complicated instructions involved in the job for which they applied, so, again, move on to the next candidate. And if they do send a cover letter, and they can’t write a proper business letter, you don’t want them.

Obviously, ask for a resume. But before you read the resume, look at it. It will tell you everything you need to know about how the applicant organizes their thoughts and how they prioritize. How they market themselves will be the best indication of how they will market you. Everyone is involved with marketing and selling. If they cannot market and sell themselves to your satisfaction, move on.

Also, check to see if they understand the latest technology, Applicant Tracking Systems. Many companies simply scan resumes into their data base without a human seeing them. The bad systems, and you always have to assume the worse, have difficulty “reading” anything in headers or footers, printing on a colored background (black background/white font), and get confused by hyperlinks (for example, for email addresses and LinkedIn profiles). It should not disqualify a candidate, just raise something to be pursued in the actual interview.

In the interview, although this should have been done by the recruiter, confirm that they are qualified for the job. Then ask what I call personality questions.

The first “question” is not a question but an opportunity: Tell us about yourself. If all they do is summarize their resume, then they do not recognize and do not know how to take advantage of a golden opportunity. So why would you want them?

Next, ask them what is the accomplishment of which they are most proud. Then, ask them why they did what they did. How did they reach the decision to do things one way and not another? What you are really doing is checking to see if they can handle criticism, are open to other options, are willing to learn, and if they can think on their feet. Now you will know if they are a cultural fit. Their decision making process must complement yours. Period.

Since you are hiring a complete person, and not just a salesperson, marketer, controller, CIO, or whatever, ask them about what they are curious. You may learn a lot from their answer. Also, ask them for examples of how they have dealt with adversity. The advantage will be to the older, more experienced, candidates, but it’s an important thing to know even for someone with limited experience.

During the interview, pay attention to their body language. Can they read the room? Do they know when they are doing well? Are they animated? Do they appear to be truly interested in the position? Sadly, because of all the Zoom conversations we have all been having, this is a lost art. But non-verbal communication is still important.

My two favorite questions are: How did you prepare for this interview? and What do you know about us (the interviewers) and the company? The answers will tell you everything you need to know about what they do to prepare for a meeting and how accurate are those preparations. If they can’t do it for a job interview, they can’t do it for a meeting with a client or a prospective client.

It’s all about presentation, which brings me to my third focus: professional communications.

Professional Writing Services

The first thing about communicating, whether in writing or verbally, is to know your audience. Your presentation must be relevant. With a written document, it is best to get right to the point. The fact is, people don’t like to read. And if the document is too long, that may indicate that the author can’t prioritize.

On the other hand, if you are making a speech, it is best to start with a story. Just make certain that at the end you connect your conclusions with the story. In any event, tell the audience what you are going to do and then do it. Don’t turn a speech into a commercial.

I can remember (being conned into) attending a presentation where the presenter said he was going to tell us how to double our sales within 30 days. He spoke in generalities and then, at the end, he told us that if we signed up for his services on the spot, he would only charge us $999.99 and he would provide us with the specifics to reach the goal! To the best of my recollection, everyone walked out disgruntled, to say the least.

That said, you do want to end your speech with a call to action. Tell the audience what they should do to justify the time they spent listening to you. Which reminds me, always keep in mind if you are writing to be read or writing to be heard. There is a huge difference.

If you follow this advice, I am confident that you will have a soft landing with your hiring, job search and communications processes.

The One Thing That May Get You the Job Offer

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it might get you the job offer.

Years ago I attended a lecture at New York University by a former college president. She was having a really bad day. The first thing she said was that women were more philanthropic then men because of biology. (The consensus among the men was that the buffet was impressive so, even though there was probably more nonsense to come, it would be worth the wait. It was!)

The third thing she said (and that’s not a mistake on my part; the second thing will come next), was that human beings are the only animals that show empathy, sympathy for others, and care about family. Every hand went up. There were stories about pets – dogs, cats, even birds. Instead of admitting she was wrong and had to rethink her hypothesis, she dug herself in deeper. (Rule Number One: When you find yourself in a whole, stop digging!) She said that individual stories reflected the prejudices of the pet owners. They saw what they wanted to see. (That did not go over well…) Then someone mentioned elephants and noted he did not have a pet elephant at home. Neither did the woman who spoke about horses. But it was to no avail. Then I remembered I had a copy of National Geographic with me and had read an article on birds sacrificing for the family unit. I raised my hand, stood up and, without being called upon, I said I thought that two short paragraphs from the article would end the discussion. The speaker let me read and then said she wanted to move on. (We, the men, now joined by the women, wanted to move on to the buffet!)

But it was the second thing she said which stayed with me. The speaker informed us that what separates humans from other animals was that we human beings are the only creatures on the planet who are curious. I found that an ironic statement because she obviously was not curious enough to check her facts. (No one responded because of what came next!)

This was the first, and only, time I can remember no one having a question for a speaker at the end of their presentation and everyone standing up and heading for the food as the moderator thanked the speaker. So why did her “curiosity” statement stick with me?

Back then, when I was at NYU, I was a fundraiser. The topic of the presentation was supposed to be “Women and Philanthropy,” an extremely important topic at the time as it was estimated that trillions of dollars were going to be bequeathed to women in the coming years. I, if you will, was curious and wanted some insight into how to approach elderly women, widows, to ask for donations without sounding like a fool, or worse. Needless to say, from that perspective, it was a wasted evening.

But the issue of curiosity always interested me. Why is it that we humans have always looked to the heavens and asked questions about those flickering lights in the sky? Why do we want to know why the sky is blue? Why do we want to know why men have nipples? Why… You get the idea. (And for the record, why do dogs literally stick their noses where they do not belong?) The answer is curiosity.

Perhaps the best question an interviewer can ask a job candidate is, What are you curious about? And if they don’t ask the question, perhaps the best thing a candidate can do, when given the opportunity to tell the interviewer(s) about themselves, is to say, This is what makes me curious.

It does not have to have anything to do with the actual job. In fact, it might be better if it were totally divorced from the job as that will show that the candidate is a “complete” person. I, for example, am curious about how one molecule can be in two places at the same time in the realm of quantum mechanics. I am also curious about why otherwise intelligent people would become engaged without signing a prenuptial agreement.

Of course saying that you are curious about something is not enough. You also have to prove that you have tried to find the answer. For example, the two explanations for my molecular problem that I kind of, sort of, understand, is that it has something to do with gravity or it is a question of timing, when the molecule is observed. But I readily admit I am not intelligent enough to be able to explain either explanation or to know which, if either, is correct. But that’s perfectly alright. Admitting ignorance is a strength, not a weakness, and should help, not harm, a candidate in a job interview. The important thing is the search for the answer.

So my advice, for what it is worth, is to tell potential employers what makes you think. What grabs your attention. What makes you curious. And they may make you a job offer!

Oh, and as for the pre-nup question, it seems the reason is simply the person declining the pre-nup is focused on having a successful divorce, not marriage. (That one I could not Google; I had to ask!)

The 3 Skills That Will Keep You Employed

In his book, Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution, Guy Perelmuter writes (p.55), “The use of subjective judgment, emotional intelligence, and adaptability to unexpected situations are emerging as important characteristics for the employees of the future since these are features that are quite uniquely human and will very likely not be replaced by a machine in the foreseeable future.”

This quote is important for two reasons: First, Mr. Perelmuter is correct. Second, this is a great example of why job seekers can better spend their time reading books by legitimate authorities on the future, especially scientists and engineers, than reading “how to” books about getting a job, with the obvious exception of mine!

I have two rules about competitors. First, I never acknowledge anyone as my competitor. The minute I would do so, I would be telling potential clients that they, the competitors, are as good or better than I am. Why would I do that? Why would anyone do that? Second, I never try to build myself up by knocking someone else down. When I am asked about a competitor I always reply, “I don’t know enough about them to comment. All I can do is tell you about myself.”

No one can possibly be offended by that response. And it will work nicely in a job interview. This is especially so given that employers are not going to tell candidates against whom you are competing. That being the case, candidates have to assume that their competitors may have more direct experience than they do or may be younger. The first is faced by some veterans (although many have far more relevant experience than civilians); the second by older workers.

In either case, you never want to say, “I have experiences that no one outside of the military could bring to the table.” Or, just as bad, “I have more experiences than some twenty-something.” After all, you may be insulting the person who is interviewing you.

So ignore the competition. Don’t forget them; just ignore them. The inference will be that you have what the others don’t.

Which brings us back to Mr. Perelmuter. What are “subjective judgement,” “emotional intelligence,” and “adaptability to unexpected situations?”

First, they are all connected, in one way or another, to something I wrote about some time ago namely, on what older workers/candidates should focus in a job interview. My answer was then, and is now, dealing with adversity. In my career I have had to deal with death, criminality, and technological breakdowns, to name but a few. I guarantee I can “beat” you on your example of your worse day on the job. Someone with, let’s say, five years’ experience just can’t do that. They may have one example, but not enough to show that they can handle Perelmuter’s third point, which I will deal with first.

A good interviewee (candidate) politely takes control of the interview. They refocus the conversation to their benefit. Think about what talented politicians do in an interview. They answer questions by refocusing. (I think it was Churchill who said something on the line of, If I don’t like your question, I’ll respond to it; if I like your question, I’ll answer it!) You, the candidate, should do the same. Answer the question you are asked but immediately add a caveat. Say something like, “But what is also important is to prepare for the unknown. We do that all the time. That’s why we have insurance. That’s why we have virus protection on our computers. But, of course, we can always be surprised. No plan is perfect and no protection is fool-proof. Let me give you an example.”

I promise you, a veteran and an older worker will have a much better example than someone who has never served in the military or who has an employment record that can fit nicely on half a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.

Which brings me to “emotional intelligence.” I have read a great deal on the subject and, with all due respect to the experts, I still like my one-word definition the best: maturity. People with emotional intelligence do not panic. If you will, they do not get emotional. So, when giving your above example add, “As always, when the unexpected happens, I take a deep breath, and then begin to calmly respond. If I panic, everyone else will panic, and a bad situation will only get worse.”

And that brings us to “subjective judgement.” It’s “subjective” because it is yours. You are judging the situation. If everything works out, you are a hero, if not… Of course, in the example you will give, you will be right. So the emphasis is on “judgement.”

Now that you have explained that you do not panic, that you are mature, you have to tell the interviewer how you reached that decision which proved to be correct. In this case it is important to emphasize two things: First, experience. Briefly recall similar situations you had and what you learned from them. You can even include a failure. Recognizing your failures is a sign of strength, not weakness and, as everyone should know, you can often learn more from failures than from successes. Second, and just as important, make sure to say that you consulted with your team prior to making the decision. Team members want to have their leader agree with them but, more importantly, they want to be heard. Explain to the interviewer that you always explain to your team members why you agree or disagree with their recommendations. By doing so, you gain their support and everyone should implement your decision without bitterness.

Such a strategy in an interview should impress the interviewers and help you to secure the job offer.

When is It Time to Jump Ship and How Do You Do It?

It’s only human nature to sometimes want to quit your job. You are having a bad day. Your boss is a jerk. Your colleagues are idiots. Your clients are fools. Then you go home, have a shower, a good meal, watch some television, read a book, play with the kids, get a good night’s sleep and, in the morning, the boss appears to be no longer such a jerk, your colleagues are no longer such idiots, and your clients are not all that foolish (except for that one…there’s always one!). There may even be a few people at work that you actually like and respect.

But there are times, we have all had them, when we realize that enough, really is, enough, and it is time for a change. As I have written previously, change is the only constant in the universe. Most people are afraid of change. “Better the devil you know…”​ as the saying goes.

When it comes to employment the adage is, “It is easier to find a job when you have a job.”​ If you don’t like that one, there’s another, “Don’t quit your job until you have a new one.”​ Both say the same thing; both are correct.

So what are the rules for looking for a new job?

First, I have what is called the “Sleep Rule.”​ When I make a difficult decision, if I sleep well that evening, I know it was the right decision for me. So if you can literally “sleep on it,”​ go for it. By the same token, if you are so upset about work that you can’t sleep, it is definitely time for a change. If your job is making you sick, there’s nothing to discuss.

Second, you may not want a new job. If you like your boss, colleagues and clients, perhaps you are just bored. I have had a number of clients with whom I have worked on convincing their bosses to give them new/additional responsibilities. In the end, everyone was happy.

Third, if you really do want a new job/employer, be aware that the more public your job search the less confidentiality you will have. If the boss finds out, they will start looking for your replacement. That is why preparation is so important. You have to have a network of professionals whom you can trust to advocate on your behalf. Most jobs are not advertised so you will only hear about them from private sources. (And, for the record, those jobs are the best jobs!) So it is important to build your network now so you will have it when you need it.

Fourth, if you do not just want to change jobs but professions, make certain you have all the qualifications for a new profession and be prepared to start at the bottom. If you have been in marketing for ten years, and now want to work in cybersecurity, that’s great. But you have to go to school, learn the trade and get the certifications. And then, professionally, all you will have to show that is relevant to your new profession is ten years of customer service experience. You will be competing against persons with actual relevant experience so it is important, when you choose the school (it can be an unaccredited trade school) that you choose based on their record of finding employment for their graduates. A degree in Computer Science from Harvard may be impressive but, if all you have on graduating is a piece of paper, debt and an appointment to apply for Unemployment, maybe a degree from a school on the second floor of a shopping mall, where they can actually get their graduates employment, with little to no debt, is a better option.

In any case, to know what you need for your new profession, just look at job postings. Focus on the qualification. While, usually, all that is important is to have the “required”​ qualifications, since you are starting from scratch, so to speak, you should also pay attention to the “preferred”​ qualifications as well. And, here’s the hard part, keep in mind that the job descriptions of today may not be the job descriptions of tomorrow!

Fifth, regardless of whether it’s a new job or a new profession, do not be emotional. You must be rational. Prepare for the worse case scenario: Your boss finds out and replaces you. So you must have a minimum savings of at least six months to make sure you can pay your bills.

Sixth, when you resign, be nice about it. Not that it really matters what an employer/supervisor puts in your personnel file, but you want to make certain that your letter of resignation leaves the right impression. Thank your employer/supervisor for their support and mention some of the accomplishments you had. Make certain to include in the letter your contact information and a statement that they can reach out to you if they need any help. You should also write, and reference in the letter, a report on any outstanding projects, what needs to be done and how best to do it. That way, the record will be balanced.

Seventh, when you resign, if your employer makes a counteroffer, reject it. Your colleagues will be jealous that you quit and then got a raise/promotion/whatever and they, despite their loyalty, received nothing. You will not be the favorite person in the Lunch Room. The boss won’t trust you and you can forget about any promotions. Nothing good comes from accepting a counteroffer.

So be confident in your decision. Discuss it with people you respect. And, as I said, sleep on it. Your subconscious will tell you what to do!

Equality Does Not Exist and That is How You Build a Great Team

When people talk about the need for equality, I laugh. (I was going to write that the only place people are equal is in the grave but even that is not true!) Equality does not exist. The only place where there should be equality is in the courts. Of course, that is a fiction. The person who can afford the most intelligent/talented (not necessarily the same thing) attorney usually wins. I assume that means that the only real equality is that everyone’s dollar bill is worth the same as everyone else’s. But then, the number of dollar bills in anyone’s pocket ends the discussion about financial equality.

I fully realize that equality, and the striving for that unachievable goal, is a popular talking point among many people. So there will always be people, in love with the sound of their own voices, screaming for equality. (For the record, I just want everyone to have a fair chance to achieve their goals.)

My response is, if everyone were equal then “equality” would be “average” and what type of goal is “average?” I have worked with many “average” people. For them, mediocrity was an achievement. It would be nice if we were all equal as far a opportunity was concerned, with everyone having the same chance as everyone else. It doesn’t exist. (Well, maybe in North Korea, but who wants to live there?)

I was thinking about this after I heard a commercial for Southern New Hampshire University. I like the one where the president says, “You were smart before the tassel turned.” (I actually used that line, giving him credit, in a speech I wrote.) I could not believe it when I heard him say, on a different commercial, “The world equally distributes talent but not opportunity.” (I waited until I heard it twice to make sure I had heard it correctly. Sadly, I had.)

Everyone, even intelligent people, are entitled to say something stupid. But this is a great example of the need for having a few layers of people who check, double-check, and triple-check something that is going to be published. I am certain that SNHU’s president is an intelligent man. I have no idea what he was trying to say, but talent is most definitely not distributed equally.

Some people say I am a talented writer. Some people say I am a talented recruiter. Some people say I am a talented career counselor. Some people say I am a talented speaker. Some people say I am an idiot. Some people say I am a babbling fool. I’ll tell you one thing for certain: I can’t do math. I can’t explain quantum mechanics. I can’t sing. I can’t draw. I can’t play a musical instrument. My IT talents are very limited. And if you want to lose all your savings, come to me for advice on financial planning. We are all talented in some spheres and wonting in others.

Equality is a fiction. And the sooner you acknowledge and accept that the better off you will be. You are not equally as talented as everyone else. You have to determine where you strengths, your talents, lie and build on them. That is how you will become a successful professional.

For the record, finding people who are talented in different realms is how you build a successful team. Yes, they should be equally talented at what they do. Employers should always strive to hire the best. So if that is what the president of SNHU wanted to say, he spoke poorly not foolishly.

The only way you can have equality is if you embrace the lowest common denominator. That means you will achieve nothing but failure. Equality of opportunity is a goal. Again, everyone should have a fair chance. But, in the real world, that is a dream that will never totally be realized because we are not all equally talented. It would be nice if we were but we are not.