Being Desperate Can Be a Good Thing

Ever thought of taking a vacation to beautiful Hawaii?  You can sit on the beach.  What passersby.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Or participate in the Iron Man Competition.  It begins with a friendly 2.4 mile swim, followed by a casual 112 mile bike ride, concluding with a scenic 26.2 mile marathon.  OK.  It’s not friendly, it’s not casual and I assume it’s scenic but I doubt the participants care.  But imagine you have just traversed the 140.8 track and you stumble across the finish line into the waiting figurative arms of a water vendor.  Are you going to say, “Excuse me my good man.  Could I trouble you for a bottle of your finest?” or are you going to grab him by the collar and say, “Give me water!  I need water!  NOW!”  I’d be willing to bet the latter.  Why?  Because  you are not going to negotiate.  He’s got what you need and he is going to give it to you whether he likes it or not.  Great strategy for Iron Man competitors.  Not a great strategy for job seekers.  With employers, you have to negotiate.

Everyone gets it.  You have done nothing wrong.  You are avictim of the economy.   You have been looking for a job for months.  You have only gotten a few interviews and you have never been invited back.  You don’t know what you are doing wrong.  You are frustrated.  But if you come across as desperate no one is going to hire you.  Desperate is great for those dying of thirst.  It’s death to those looking for a job offer.

So how do you cope with desperation?

First, admit that you may be wrong.  In the previous scenario I wrote, “You don’t know what you are doing wrong.”  Well, perhaps you are doing nothing wrong.  In executive recruiting, I only “win” when the client hires my candidate.  I can submit the best candidates in the world to my clients but if they change their mind and decide not to fill the position, or someone close to them, like a board member, suggests someone else, I’ll lose.  They won’t hire my gal or guy.  That’s the life of the recruiter.  Same of the job seeker.  You can do everything correctly, make no mistakes, and just lose to a better candidate.  That’s life.  Deal with it.

How do you deal with it?  Make yourself a better candidate.  Improve your resume.  Don’t sit around doing nothing waiting for the phone to ring.  Take some classes to improve your skills and your mind.  Accept some part-time jobs or consulting assignments.  Make yourself more interesting to interviewers.

Third (second was making yourself more interesting),differentiate yourself from the competition.  As I have noted elsewhere, a great site to visit is http://www.helpareporter.com.  A free service, it puts reporters and researchers in touch with sources.  You should become a “source.”  Every day, three times a day, you will receive a number of e-mails, depending on your preferences, with a host of questions ranging from health issues, to employment, to family, to vacations, to food.  It could be anything.  And if the reporter chooses to use your answer in her article, or to invite you to her radio or television program, you become, by definition, “a recognized expert” in your field.   Your competition may not know about the site.  Or they might not think it important for them.  Or they may ridicule the site because they have low self-esteem and realize nobody would ever be interested in their opinions.  It doesn’t matter.  By choosing not to participate they are doing nothing wrong.  And just as you have been doing nothing wrong in your interviews, and lost out, now it’s their turn to lose out even though they have done nothing wrong…except for the fact that they have not been able to differentiate themselves from you!

I once did some research on how individuals market themselves.  Instead of looking at resumes, I went to dating websites.  The funniest one that I saw had drop-down menus for everything.  You were not able to write unique answers, you had to use theirs.  For appearance, for women, one of the options was “My mother says I’m pretty.”  I guess that’s the Internet equivalent of, “She has a nice personality.”  I now use the term, “My mother says I’m pretty,” to describe the opening paragraphs of resumes that far too many people actually think does not offend the intelligence of the resume’s recipient.  Do you honestly believe that anyone every gives any weight to a candidate claiming to be “A consummate professional with over 15 years experience who has surpassed all of her employers’ expectations, producing unprecedented results never before obtained?”  Of course not!  And, for the record, “unprecedented” means “never before obtained” so, besides not thinking too highly of the person reading the resume, you are also showing them that you have linguistic issues along with a bit of narcissism.

So fourth, and finally, begin your resume with a section titled, “Selected Accomplishments.”   Provide a few bullet points describing without superlatives, just the facts, some things which you have done that speak to the job for which you are applying.  That will make life very easy for the recipient.  They will know exactly why they should consider you without having to read your entire resume.  You are making their life easier for them.  You are differentiating yourself by content and style.  And that, based on a growing number of cases, may very well get you that job offer!

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Revenge and How to Get Invited Back for a Second Interview

There was a time, a few centuries ago, that an insult, or worse, was handled by “gentlemen,” on the “Field of Honor,” at dawn, with pistols – as in the famous case of Messrs. Hamilton and Burr.

I was thinking about this because of a recent incident.  I had a career counseling client who came to me because he just could not get a second interview.  He had no problem getting initial interviews, just the follow-ups.  That is an immediate sign that the problem is not with the resume but with the interview.

To say that he has an impressive resume would be an understatement.  The format is perfect.  He’s very good at what he does.  The problem is, he was fired.  And he is bitter about it.  And he wants revenge!

In ancient times the person who was insulted would slap the insulter with a pair of gloves and challenge him (it was always a man) to a duel.  The dueling metaphor is in place because, as he was sitting in my office talking about his previous employer, he was holding his gloves in his hands and squeezing the life out of them.  (This year it got cold early in Manhattan!)

Career counseling clients pay me to listen.  So I listened.  And I watched.  This man is bitter.  He is angry.  Big time!

When he was finished I asked him, “Do you want a job or do you want revenge?”  He was honest and replied, “Both.”

My response to him that while he “wanted” revenge, he “needed” a job.  So the first step had to be getting that follow-up interview.  He explained to me, and I have no reason not to believe him, that he was calm, cool and collected until he was asked why he left his previous job.  Then the anger came out.  He knows perfectly well that interviewers like direct answers to direct questions.  I told him that henceforth he was not permitted to speak for more than 10 seconds when answering that question.

He immediately said that it was not enough time.  I told him, “It’s two and a half times life.”  I had served in the military and from the time you pull the pin on a grenade to the time it explodes is exactly four seconds.  In terms of a grenade, four seconds are a life time, 10 seconds are an eternity.

Next, I told him that no one is going to hire an angry person.  No one is going to hire a person who bad mouths his past boss.  So he can’t be angry and can’t say what he wants to say.  So what should he say?  I call it “The Three ‘T’s.”  Tell The Truth.  In his case, “I was fired.  I disagreed with the boss on an ethical matter and refused to follow his instructions.  I’d do it again.”

He gave no details.  He was not insulting.  I did not tell him to say, “The boss was unethical.”  It’s implied but not said.  And by saying, “I’d do it again,” he challenges the potential new employer to talk about his or her ethics.

Additionally, I told him that if they ask for details, and they usually do, all he should say is, “I don’t do that.  We disagreed.  I had worked there for three/four years.  Obviously up to this incident everything was normal.  I would not want him judged on a unique situation.”  In other words, he was taking the high road.

He then surprised me.  “OK.  So I get the job.  How do I get the revenge?”

I reminded him that the Chinese have a saying, which I am probably misquoting, “He who seeks revenge should first dig two graves.”  I actually happen to disagree with that.  I have found that revenge can be positive if it meets three criteria: That the injured person is made whole; that a precedent is set so that others will know not to repeat the same mistake; and that there is a societal good that comes from it.  Otherwise, you just look like an idiot.

A second saying is more accurate.  “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”  So, after explaining to him my three rules for revenge, I told him that the starting date is always six months later.  Why?  First, the person against whom you want to seek revenge has no doubt forgotten about the incident and his defenses are down.  Second, a six month cooling off period, and that’s what it is, gives you time to reflect and put things in perspective.  Is he really worth it?  And third, the odds are, you’ll be so busy that you won’t have time to do anything.

Revenge in the workplace is common.  I’m not talking here about madmen who return to work and kill colleagues.  What I am referring to, and I have seen it all too often, is someone who quits their job because the boss would not give them permission to do something.  They then convince the new employer to OK the project.  When the project is completed, the employee “throws it in the face” of his previous employer.  Problem is, that was why he wanted to do it in the first place.  It was not done to benefit the new employer.  And, once the project was over, he had nothing more to contribute.  This has happened at former employers of mine not just once.  These hires never last.

Before he left I told my client about one of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H.   BJ tricks Hawkeye into a bet that he, BJ, can “get him.”   BJ enlists the help of everyone.  Klinger fakes a fire bomb going off in a file cabinet.  Potter uses “poisoned” tooth paste.   Everyone helps out.  Hawkeye is so proud of himself.  The next morning, when the bet is over, he thinks he’s won.  BJ “got” everyone but him.  The problem was that Hawkeye only thought that BJ had gotten everyone else.  As stated, they were all in on it.  So the only one who “got gotten” was Hawkeye who slept the night in the middle of the camp, on his cot, surrounded by a barbed wire fence.  The great “get” was the one that never happened.

I told my client that his great revenge could also be the one that never happened.  Instead of doing something to hurt him, in the classic stupidity of revenge, why not do something to help a new employer who would not be a new employer were it not for his having been fired?  “How will your former boss feel when you send him a letter thanking him for having fired you, explaining all the successes that you brought to your new boss, the implication being that if he had listened to you in the first place he could have reaped those benefits?”

Something tells me that in six months, that’s exactly the “revenge” that he’ll take on his former employer.  And yes, he has gotten a second interview.

An Animal’s Perspective for a Successful Job Search and Job Security

I may remember incorrectly, but if memory serves, in Camelot Merlin tells the future King Arthur to consider his kingdom from the perspective of animals.  What does the lion see as he roams the jungle?  And what does the eagle see as it soars in the sky?  Think like the eagle, Merlin advises.

Good advice!  For job hunters as well.  And also for individuals who don’t want to have to go through a job hunt during the next recession!

The United States may be the most powerful country on the planet, but it only represents five percent of the world economy.  Not very impressive, is it?  Well, that’s not fair.  Depending on your definition, there are something like 223 countries.  So the fact that one country accounts for a twentieth of all economic activity is certainly nothing to sneeze at.  But that does not mean that one should ignore the other 95%.

Companies that have the best chance to withstand turbulent economic times are those that spread themselves out.  I said “out,” not “thin.”  Expansion for the sake of expansion is a prescription for doom!  Just as financial advisers preach diversification of one’s financial portfolio, I would advice job seekers to look for companies that have a global presence.  When the economy is shaky in one country, stability in another can help offset corporate problems.

The irony is that we have outsourcing to thank for our ability to benefit from globalization.  Here’s something very few people seem to know:  Outsourcing is good!  Inc. Magazine reported in its April 2006 issue that for 2003 134,000 jobs were outsourced, while 5.4 million jobs were insourced.  In other words, for every American who lost a job which went to a citizen of a foreign country, 40 Americans received work in the US from foreign employers.  Lose one job, get 40 jobs, net 39 jobs.  Not bad!

Of course, from the perspective of the individual losing a job, it’s a catastrophe.  It’s also an opportunity – although it won’t be looked at that way.

But let’s continue.  These statistics were from 2003.  I’m still trying to find more recent statistics.  My failure, according to a friend who is an economics professor in Boston, may be because of a lack of a definition.  It’s not clear what “outsource” really means.  No matter.  According to this month’s issue of Fast Company, quoting the McKinsey Global Institute, for every one dollar outsourced just to India, the US gets back $1.14.  Outsourcing is good!  So look at things from the perspective of the eagle… but don’t forget the lion.

The largest purchaser of goods and services in the world is the US Government.  Federal jobs are, however, in jeopardy every two years or so.  But what is not in jeopardy is the fact that the Federal Government will always need to purchase good and services from vendors.  So from the lion’s perspective, the largest prey worth hunting in the US jungle is Washington.  Job seekers should therefore consider companies that sell to the government.  Government contracts can last for years before they are up for renewal and automatic renewals are common.  Government contracting is lucrative.  Look for government contractors.  They benefit from a high degree of stability.

And, in case someone is going to write to complain, I have nothing against fish, dolphins or any of their fellow sea-creatures.  It’s just that the view of the lion, and that of the eagle, are better!

Veterans Entering the Civilian Work Force

Veterans Day just ended and, despite what I believe was the largest Veterans Day Parade ever held in Manhattan, it really did not register around the city.  True, the banks and Post Office were closed, but it was just a regular work day.

There are two things that I tell my fellow Americans that my fellow Canadians do better than they do.  The first, we Canadians went on the metric system.  I remember it well.  Soon, no doubt, there will be a president in the White House bold enough to sound the death knell to feet, yards, quarts and gallons, not to mention Fahrenheit!

The second thing is poppies.  I still remember the opening lines to the poem, “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses row on row…”  From October to November 11, Remembrance Day in Canada, everyone wears a poppy in their lapels.  Veterans sell them on street corners for a quarter.  It just is not done that someone would walk around without one.  At least in my day that was the case.  I remember one member of Parliament being chastised for appearing in Parliament without a poppy.  It was on his overcoat and he forgot to put it on his suit jacket when he entered the Chamber.  He did not have a good day.

Of course, poppies are symbols and you can’t eat symbols.  The only tangible way to recognize veterans is to help them get a job.  That, as most readers of this blog know, is the mission of my company.

The good news for veterans is that they are beneficiaries of assumptions.  If someone served in the military, and was honorably discharged, by definition they have to be responsible, dependable, and professional.  They must be able to take orders.  Whenever I say that to a veteran, regardless of rank, they always smile and react the same way, “Boy, could I tell you stories!”  (Surprisingly, the Marines don’t say that!)

And they are, of course, correct.  There are soldiers and there are soldiers; there are sailors and there are sailors; there are airmen and there are airmen, there are officers and there are officers, and there are even Marines and Marines.  But all, and this is a good thing, are given the benefit of the doubt, or the misconception.

One of the negative assumptions, especially as concerns officers, is that they are not team builders.  They are used to giving orders and having them followed, no questions asked.  Not so!

First, as it has been explained to me, when an officer is given an order he, or she, relays it to the troops who will actually carry it out.  The good officers always ask for input about how best to succeed.  There is never a debate about the ends, only a discussion about the means.  What could be better?

Second, many officers have civilians working for them.  You can’t bark orders at a civilian.  So these individuals know exactly what it is like to be part of the civilian workforce.

The major problem that veterans face, from the perspective of finding work is, to quote Cool Hand Luke, “We have a failure to communicate.”  Let me explain:

Let’s say I have a client in Brooklyn who needs a warehouse manager.  I’ve got the perfect candidate.  The man was responsible for a warehouse in Iraq.  The client’s warehouse stores textiles.  The candidate’s warehouse stored munitions.  Who cares?  Thousands of unique items stored in a huge facility, everything computerized and scores of workers.  A warehouse, is a warehouse, is a warehouse.  It’s the same job.  The warehouse owner will fully understand what the veteran did.  They speak the same language.  The same is true for administrative personnel.

The problem is when the veteran had a job for which there is no corresponding position in civilian life.  The best example I have is a resume I received from a sniper.  I read his resume and had to laugh.  There was nothing funny about his work.  He was and is a hero.  But I was imagining the face of the HR director who would receive the resume.  She would smile and say to herself, “I would love to hire this guy.  There are a few employees…”  Well, you get the picture.

I called him up.  A nicer person I have never spoken with.  He had a great sense of humor.  I told him to forget about what he had actually done in the military.  “No one is going to hire a sniper!”  But then I told him to definitely note that he had been a sniper and to explain what that meant.  He can work alone, understands the importance of teamwork (no contradiction), is exceedingly patient, can remained focused, can handle stress, and is a decision maker.  Additionally, I suggested that he mention his supervisory experience and the dollar value of the equipment for which he had been responsible.  I also told him not to be humorous on his resume, but in an interview, after mentioning the above referenced character traits that made him successful, I suggested he add, “and if you need someone who can hide and run real fast, I’m your man!”  He laughed.

There are plenty of advantages to hiring veterans.  Employers could be entitled to tax benefits.  (Check with your accountant.)  And, with very few exceptions, from what I have seen from the scores of veterans who I have interviewed, especially from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are some really stellar people out there who will make their employers proud – just like they did their country.  So hire a veteran!

The George W. Bush Guide to Hiring

I am reading President Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points, and am honestly surprised by how much I am enjoying it.  As a student of history I have read scores of political autobiographies.  I do not recall anyone being so candid.  That’s Bruce Hurwitz the Ph.D. in International Relations speaking.  The Bruce Hurwitz who is an executive recruiter was surprised by something else:

In Chapter 3, “Personnel,” Mr. Bush writes:

As a small business owner, baseball executive, governor, and front-row observer of Dad’s White House, I learned the importance of properly structuring and staffing an organization.  The people you choose to surround you determine the quality of advice you receive and the way your goals are implemented.  Over eight years as president, my personnel decisions raised some of the most complex and sensitive questions that reached the Oval Office: how to assemble a cohesive team, when to reshuffle an organization, how to manage disputes, how to distinguish among qualified candidates, and how to deliver bad new to good people.

I started each personnel decision by defining the job description and the criteria for the ideal candidate.  I directed a wide search and considered a diverse range of options.  For major appointments, I interviewed candidates face to face.  I used my time to gauge character and personality.  I was looking for integrity, competence, selflessness, and an ability to handle pressure.  I always liked people with a sense of humor, a sign of modesty and self-awareness.

My goal was to assemble a team of talented people whose experience and skills complemented each other’s and to whom I felt comfortable delegating.  I wanted people who agreed on the direction of the administration but felt free to express differences on any issue.  An important part of my job was to create a culture that encouraged teamwork and fostered loyalty-not to me, but to the country and our ideals.

Let’s review the order:

  1. Create an organizational chart.
  2. Focus on building a team.
  3. Create job descriptions, focusing on qualifications.
  4. Consider a number of candidates with varied backgrounds.
  5. In-person interviews are primarily to determine a candidate’s character, personality, and values.
  6. Focus on problem solvers and persons who can handle stress.
  7. Choose people you personally like.
  8. Never hire “yes-men.”

All politics aside, he’s right.  The only addition I would make is to hire people who will grow in their positions and thus grow your company or organization.  I always describe “failure” as a successor being given their predecessor’s job description.  When I meet with a candidate I always want to know what their contribution has been to their present and past employers.  If it’s not the most important thing, it’s pretty close.

Endorsements on LinkedIn

There must be something in the LinkedIn water.  Over the weekend I received a request from one of my (12,700) LinkedIn contacts for an endorsement.  The man wrote that he has spent scores of hours on his LinkedIn profile.  He even wrote that the time he has spent on his Profile was worth something like a quarter of a million dollars!  According to his Profile, he’s certified, well educated, a published author and very well respected.  After all, he has endorsements after endorsements.  People sing his praises!

Just one problem, I don’t know the man!  I wrote to him and told him that the fact that he would ask a stranger for an endorsement pretty much discredits all of the endorsements on his Profile.

His letter to me was long and nuanced.  His answer was short, sweet and to the point.  He doesn’t send SPAM and does not know who sent the request.  He didn’t.

I had pretty much forgotten all about this until a few minutes ago when I received another request for an endorsement from a different LinkedIn contact.  Also a stranger.  This one did not even bother to write anything.   She used the LinkedIn endorsement request form.

So what’s the problem?, I hear you asking.  The problem is that LinkedIn profiles are sometimes used as points of comparison to actual resumes.  Discrepancies lead to questions being asked.  This does not just hold true for employment information, but also for endorsements or, to be precise, references.

As a general rule of thumb, because of confidentiality, a recruiter or employer should never contact anyone about a candidate without the candidate’s permission.  But that may not be the case with persons making endorsements on someone’s LinkedIn Profile.  The owner of the Profile has to grant permission for the endorsement to be posted.  That could imply permission to contact the endorser.

I have never done it, but I don’t really think there is anything wrong with a potential employer contacting someone who posted an endorsement on a candidate’s profile confirming the legitimacy of the endorsement, as long as they don’t mention the fact that the person is looking for a job.  If the person making the endorsement is a stranger, it could be problematic, not to mention embarrassing for the candidate.  Of course, the better tactic would be for the employer to specifically ask the candidate for permission to contact all the persons who endorsed them on their LinkedIn Profile.  If the candidate refuses, that could be a sign of trouble.

LinkedIn Profiles are actually important and taken seriously.  Don’t play stupid games with yours!