Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Executive search and recruitment: Who to trust...!

Many job seekers are often perplexed about how to handle unexpected calls from executive search or recruitment consultants, quite understandably because even in a Web 2.0 world, the process essentially involves releasing personal information over the phone to total strangers which is somehow more intimate! So how do you respond to those cryptic messages and conversations which could indeed lead to a golden opportunity for the dream job, but could equally turn out to be pernicious scams?

Why so cryptic? Discretion is in everyone’s interest. It is important to understand that very often the consultant’s hands are tied by their client who want any executive searches or recruitment drives kept under the radar for operational and strategic business reasons. Many companies don’t want their competitors to know what their plans are. Also as a potential candidate you may not want the process broadcast either. One high flying C level executive was approached by an executive search company to join a competitor. Somewhere during the process, (from the client not the search company I should add) confidentiality was breached and the exec was subsequently “let go” by his existing employer.

So how do you know who to trust? What is the best way to deal with consultants who might contact you?

If you follow the basic guidelines you will be able to establish pretty easily who can best represent you and the sort of red flags you should be looking out for.

1. Establish the identity of the caller: Get all the contact information immediately. Ask for the name of the consultant and the company they represent. Verify spellings, web site details and phone numbers. If possible ask about the specific opening they are calling about, the job title or level, the client company and any other details. Do not be overly concerned if the consultant will only give a thumb nail sketch - it is quite normal to be very discreet at this stage. A good, experienced consultant should be able to outline a position succinctly in a matter of minutes. I would suggest that there is very little to be lost at this point other than some time to at least hearing more about the opportunity if you are open for a career move
2. Schedule a call at a later date: preferably from, and to, a land line. Most ethical and professional recruiters are happy to oblige. If they are not prepared to do this, the chances are that they are working to meet daily targets. I would advise you to consider that thought seriously before continuing.
3. Environment: Arrange to speak in a quiet environment away from disturbances and interruptions. This could be that dream job we spoke about! Cars or kids combined with mobile phones are both high risk!
4. Research the caller: Check out the recruiters profile on Linkedin or the company web site. Check if the company is a member of a professional body. If the consultant lacks experience in search (e.g. if he/she were selling real estate or shoes 3 months previously) and doesn't have the necessary professional qualifications - be cautious. As someone who contacts candidates regularly I am happy to let anyone know how to check my credentials. My LinkedIn profile reference is included in my email address. All my qualifications and experience are listed in full on LinkedIn, together with professional recommendations. My email address also includes blog details which has an informative bio at the side. All this indicates to candidates that I am exactly who I say I am, so I never have credibility issues and am actually never even asked.
5. Research the opportunity: so you can present yourself in the best possible light and prepare appropriate questions. This call is part of the selection process and should be treated seriously. First impressions do count.
6. Verify the relationship with the client company: This is another way of asking if the consultant actually has the recruiting assignment. Some unethical recruiters go on fishing expeditions to harvest CVs to sell on later.
7. Is the arrangement for the search exclusive? This will let you know if they are a retained search company or if they are competing with other companies to present their candidates.
8. Query your suitability: Ask the consultant why he/she believes you might be suitable for the position. This opens a discussion that indicates if the consultant understands the job profile. It also tells you what you need to know so that you can orientate your CV if you decide to proceed.
9. Ask about the time frame and the process: If they are evasive - that is a red flag. Companies quite often ask for confidentiality because they don’t want competitors to know that they are recruiting key personnel. This does present issues for consultants, but an ethical consultant should be able to outline the process with a broad brush time frame. Thorough searches generally take between 3 and 6 months.
10. Ask for a profile. Preferred suppliers usually have an outline of one as a basic minimum, or can make a profile available after the initial contact. Clients don't want organisational details flying around cyber space until there is confirmed genuine interest. If there is any continued evasiveness, even at the client level about the job content, reporting arrangements, how performance will be measured – be very cautious

What to look out for….
1. CV Harvesters : if a recruiter can’t specify a specific search or a company – be cautious. Sometimes, as I explained, the company name is confidential, which to be fair happens frequently. However, a consultant can say for example “ US, multi-national, Fortune 500, B2B electronics , based in xx” etc)
2. Protect your contact information if you have any doubts: CV harvesters can pass on your resume to aggregators. These CVs are then used to cull contact information which is subsequently sold to the highest bidders. Don’t include your home address and do use a public email such as hotmail.
3. Vague or unresponsive to your direct questions: usually indicates a lack of knowledge = competence and perhaps even integrity. See above
4. The Trojan horse: Occasionally recruiters contact companies with known preferred suppliers, but where they are aware of an open vacancy. The consultant will go through the motions of presenting you as a candidate, even though candidates from the preferred supplier will get priority consideration. There is a risk that your application will be associated with a disreputable recruiter, which may jeopardise future and genuine applications.
5. Sales Targets: Some recruiting companies have a resume quota for their recruiters. They have to make x calls per day and receive x CVs per day. This encourages new recruiters to get resumes with any story possible. The chances of your resume being used for anything positive are very slim.
6. Arbitrary circulation of your CV: Resumes are randomly sent to prospective employers, with the recruiter’s contact information, not yours. Most companies do not follow-up on unsolicited resumes submitted by unknown recruiters. At best it will disappear at worst it will be associated with a poor recruiter.
7. Beware of job boards: Some unethical companies submit CVs to job boards. There your name and contact information are deleted and substituted with the recruiter’s details. Companies interested in your credentials, then have to go through the recruiter and split fees. One photovoltaic expert looking for a candidate for her own department, found what could only have been her own doctored CV on a job board!

Most search companies especially at the higher end of the market have strong reputations and would not want to damage those with unprofessional conduct. They are bound by codes of ethics from their professional bodies. These are just words of caution to protect against the odd " cowboys" that occasionally creep into any sector!

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Job search for the 50 somethings

One of the most vulnerable groups in this or any other recession is the 50 somethings. This is not necessarily because they are poor performers, but usually because they are simply more expensive than junior employees. Severing a few senior execs or older employees can make an instant and positive impact on any organisation’s salary bill. Additionally, at this level employees are also costly in terms of perks and benefits, with company cars, phones, lap tops, health and pension plans and longer holidays etc all contributing to reducing a company’s overheads when they cease. So whether you’re pushed or decide to take advantage of voluntary early retirement schemes, there are lots of things to take into consideration.

So what can you do ?

Emotional support : The higher you are - the further the fall. Losing your job is hard for anyone, but being displaced from near the top of the chronological or professional pyramid can be especially tough. Quite often there are angry thoughts about how many years you’ve put in and perhaps how little time you have left in your career. Deal with the anger, grief and anxiety and any perceptions of failure you might have as effectively and as early as you possible. All of these challenging emotions will impede your ability to move forward. Set up some coping strategies, a structured daily schedule to support yourself through this difficult time. My friend Sarah Robinson calls this structure “Walking the Grid”(
www.themaverickmom.com) She uses this strategy when “ ..I really don’t know what to do next, where I feel like I am grappling in the dark …” It might be walking, gym sessions, talking to close friends and family, networking, job search activities, relaxing, sleeping and eating correctly.

I knew one Coachee who didn’t tell his wife he had been laid off until 3 months after the event and every day he left the house as if setting off for the office as usual. In fact he was just sitting in cafés and parks until he came home at the normal time. So if your own efforts don’t work consider seeking professional support or visit your doctor.

2. Take stock: What do you really want to do? List your passions. How so you want to spend the rest of your career - your life? Consider personal development programmes: think about training in another field or updating old skills. An old college friend, Russell Lewis, an ex-lawyer has retrained in dry stone walling techniques and thatching– simply because he wanted to spend his post- retirement career working out of doors. What do you want to do?

3. Update your CV: many older job seekers have not looked for a job or written a CV for a number of years. It is key to update it in line with current job search developments and presentation techniques, as well as to keep abreast of modern technology in this field. This is one age group which I strongly believe benefits from professional career support. You are no longer obliged to state your date of birth, or even the year you graduated on your CV, but most experienced recruiters are savvy enough to work out if you try too much camouflaging

4. Indentify your transferable skills: look at the challenges in your life and career and ask how these can be used in other fields or sectors . You have amazing life and career experiences to call upon, so make these your USPs.

5. Update your professional skills: it is really important now to be on top of all the latest developments in your field, profession or sector. You may not be operational in all of them, but being out of touch with current trends dates you.

6. Interim assignments: 50 somethings are quite often attracted to interim assignments, although this is a sphere that is challenging to break into because the Catch 22 applies that previous experience is quite often required. This is an deal sector for candidates who are nationally or internationally mobile and have had experience of hitting the ground running as project managers during their careers.

7. Networking: now is the time to really tap into your network. All those extra miles on the tires means lots more contacts on the Rolodex, which is a huge bonus. Maximise those connections. Make sure you attend all professional and alumni events. Sign up for news letters.

8. Become familiar with social media: make sure you have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any social media pertinent to your field. This is not just about raising your visibility , it’s also about being seen to be current! 50 somethings who
dismiss social media and modern technology out of hand and do so volubly, are immediately indicating that they are not at least in touch with modern trends. As a minimum you need to understand what it is all about and how it functions. If you reject it, do so from an informed position. It means that you can communicate with the 25 – 45 age group without your eyes glazing over or looking panic stricken.

9. Assess your image: now is the time to objectively ( and tastefully) update your image and make sure your clothes, hair style and general appearance are at least from the 21st century.

10. Look after your health: If you look healthy and fit ( and hopefully are) you will appear energetic.

11. Interviews: there is a strong possibility that everyone in the process might be younger than you. Try not to let this bother you. Don’t assume that because you are older, you know more, or better. Your area of expertise is just in another area. Appearing flexible, current and open will be key factors to emphasise. Try to keep your points of reference relatively recent. Referring to experiences from 30 or 40 years ago, unless it is of specific value, dates you. So forget Flower Power, Glasnost, Thatcher, Mitterand and Clinton and make sure you have a good general knowledge of recent national and international events plus general cultural developments. If you don’t know what an Ipod is you might be in trouble.

12. Re-location: older employees are sometimes less tied to specific geographic areas because of young families etc. If you are able to extend your job search net wider, so much the better.

13. Volunteer: Not- for-Profit organisations are happy to have senior level volunteers. This is always helpful for networking, refreshing old skills or learning new ones.

14. Become an Expert: Offering pro- bono consulting services is another way of raising your visibility and show casing your area of expertise. Write a blog or articles for your local newspaper or your professional newsletter, which also increases you visibility. Set up a web site. You have a lot to offer. There are certain areas where “Village Elder “ experience is invaluable. E-How (
www.ehow.com ) offers the opportunity to make money on line by writing and publishing your own content.

15. Anti – social hours: Consider working hours that younger workers with families won’t/can’t work.

16. Is this the time to be self employed? With your wealth of experience could you start up your own business or join forces with someone else with complementary skills . You Noodle is a place to discover and support the hottest early-stage companies and university innovation. They develop decision-making technology and tools for the start up world. (www.younoodle.com) Check it out.

Some companies actually value expertise and experience. I hope you find them!

Six of the most costly words in life or business can be " This is what I've always done."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some recruitment myths debunked

Today, not only are there fewer job opportunities, but many individuals come away feeling disillusioned, depressed, inadequate and somehow short changed after their dealings with recruiters. A recent survey conducted by FPC Workplace Web Poll Data between March and July 2009, indicates that having no response at all to resume submissions is actually the greatest challenge to job seeking in this economy ( cited by 42% of the poll) .

In the last months I have talked to many job seekers who complain about poor experiences with recruitment and search companies, and a number have asked for support to explain how to negotiate what at times can actually be a more disheartening process than being out of work.

At the root of all of these issues seems to be mismatched expectations by potential candidates of the people, the process and the organisations involved in job search. It might be helpful to map out what you can realistically expect from any recruitment or search organisation. What can you do differently to avoid disappointment?

The recruiting process in a business context
· Talent Management / Human Capital / HR, whatever you want to call it, can be very much the poor relation in many organisations ( why is a whole other topic). Sometimes the function is not even represented at executive board level. This can weaken the strategic voice within a company.

· During the downturn, as a service function, HR professionals have seen their teams cut and many are simply overworked, under supported and beleaguered. They are caught between demanding executive committees and angry, confused employees. You may have read about demonstrations and actions taken against HR professionals as the “company voice” in many parts of the world, which is even called “ Boss Snapping” in France.

· Any pressure HR professionals are under to reduce their hiring costs, are then passed onto search and recruitment organisations. Sometimes companies will give the same assignment to multiple recruitment companies who will compete against each other to place candidates. The unsuccessful organisations will have invested resources in good faith in this process and will not receive a fee.

· At the same time recruiting companies themselves have been hit by the downturn and have laid off large numbers of staff , so many are also operating on reduced budgets and manpower. Some work on contingency (no placement = no fee) and it is not economically viable to invest time in candidates that are not on target. Additionally they are dealing with huge numbers of unsolicited CVs during this recession with lower staffing levels.

· When there is a drive to reduce costs in whatever sector you are in – this can impact the quality of the final product and service.

Anders Borg, President of Hansar International and current global Chairman of the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) comments: " A retained executive search firm is in the Leadership consulting business and helps client corporations achieve their strategic goals. Talent acquisition is one of the activities, the goal of which is to give the client company an optimal return on investment. The global spend on recruitment is currently down by a considerable number, even in the retained executive search talent base. With an overall drop between 30-50% , hundreds of consultants are now leaving the profession".

Who do recruiters work for? Not you!
This is the first job search myth that needs to be dispelled. The recruiter works for the hiring company not you. Hoisting that one simple fact on board will help enormously in managing your expectations of the outcome of any contact.

There are a number of ways career opportunities come to the market but whether the company is a retained executive search company or a recruitment company working on contingency, in all cases the client is the hiring organisation – not you.

How do I find a high calibre recruiter?
There are large numbers of highly qualified, skilled and committed search professionals throughout the world. But clearly, as in any profession there are cowboys and there will always be degrees of excellence, or lack of it with the people you encounter.

The AESC is the professional body overseeing executive search and recruitment organisations and their members adhere to a globally agreed code of professional ethics and conduct. It is best to select organisations that are members of this body, or other similar local or regional groups. Nevertheless still a word of caution from Anders: "Beware though that it is not the firm's brand name that is the key attraction. It is still the individual consultant that counts".

In many countries there are no professional barriers to entry which allows anyone with limited or no relevant academic qualifications or even functional experience to set themselves up in this arena and claim to be a recruitment professional. If your consultant was selling real estate 3 months earlier – be cautious. It is perfectly OK to check them out as individuals before finally committing and to shop around until you find someone with the type of experience you are looking for. LinkedIn or the company web site would be a good place to start any verification process.

Anders advises " As in all professions, some are excellent, a few are abysmal and the rest are somewhere in between. Try to seek out the excellent ones."

Why won’t recruiters give me career advice?
While many recruitment consultants are also certified coaches (as I am) most are not. They are not your personal coach and their role is not to motivate you or help you map out your career path. Many will be helpful, but others may have little understanding that even throw away phrases can have a very negative impact on anxious job seekers. There is no ill will usually involved in this, they simply don’t know any better and have their own stresses to deal with.

Why do I get no response to my job applications?
The worst experience job seekers claim they have, is no response at all. Uploading your CV and it disappearing into the ether of cyber space and having no idea what, or if anything at all will happen to it is very disheartening. You should understand well that indeed nothing is happening to it. 97% of CVs are not identified by ATS systems.

Why do recruiters never follow through?
Many recruiters are working on contingency – sometimes multiple companies working on the same assignment competing against each other. If they don‘t place a candidate they don’t get paid. Consultants are working to targets and focus on candidates they can be sure of placing. Many will take the time to develop candidate contacts but others do not have time or resources for professional courtesies and admin, so their dealings can be transactional. It is up to you if you decide to work with such organisations – but at least you know now in advance that this is what is going on.

Generally it is better to have a few solid trusted contacts than sending out your resume to every search company on the internet. Focus your time energy on raising your general visibility and connectivity and making your job search strategic.

What can you do?
Don’t let your desire to spread your job search net as wide as possible cloud your judgement about which recruiter to use. Cherry pick. Job search strategies are just that - strategic !When you contact search or recruitment companies Anders suggests "Focus on transferable skills and spell out how they would be of value in different environments. Leadership qualities and change management experience are often the key factors in this context".

- Research the company beforehand. Check if it is a member of the AESC or perhaps a similar regional or local professional body. Very often the names of practise heads are published on the web site. Assess the experience levels of the consultants who are usually listed.
- Check if there is an open assignment section and see if anything is appropriate to your skill set.
- Sign up for alerts
- Upload your CV via their web site or by email using strong vocabulary, mirroring techniques (as appropriate) and keywords to make sure your CV comes to the top 3% that get past keyword recognition software. If your CV is regularly disappearing into the job search ether - you need to do something different and change your key words or personal branding presentation
- Understand that consultants are unlikely to contact you unless they have a specific opening. It’s a fine line to tread between being tenacious and a nuisance, requiring empathy and marketing skills when you contact these organisations.
- Absolutely do not pay any fees - If a recruiter asks for a fee just to receive your CV , they are not a recruiter. By definition, no recruiter should ever charge the candidate. If they have a search, the company pays. Just let that go. That process should not be confused with an outplacement or career coaching where a tangible service is provided and YOU become the client. Very often the company that has made you redundant will pay that fee and you should look into that too.

What to do when you find a recruitment or company to trust :
1. Develop a relationship with the recruiter: People work with those that they like and trust.
2. Be correct, courteous and efficient in all your dealings - remember first impressions count
3. Add value : Source colleagues, friends or even competitors who might be suitable if you are not. Recruiters appreciate and will remember that courtesy.
4. Develop a reputation as an industry or sector source or technical specialist. If you gain a reputation in this area then the chances are that the recruiter will come back to you.

Coming next! Tips on :
- Inside recruitment and search companies
- how to handle recruiters and search professionals when they contact you

With Special thanks to Anders Borg: President Hansar International and Chairman of AESC http://www.hansar.com/

Friday, July 31, 2009

Facts Talk

Last week I posted a blog about dealing with negative thinking. Surprisingly, two words prompted more response and questions than any other part of that piece. Facts talk. What did I mean? My response was met with disbelief! Facts get us out of our comfort zones.

Here’s why it shouldn‘t be!

A commonly used acronym for FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real. I first saw that phrase in the early 90s, but ironically, I have actually seen it twice in the last week alone in blogs written by Lolly Daskal and Conrad Palmer. It's worth repeating.

When we feel any sort of pressure or stress, we all have a tendency to lose sight of things as they really are. This is no "holier than thou " stuff, so don’t think I've got it all sorted . You are reading someone who has begged for air-rescue from a bunny ski slope! Essentially we become fearful (full of fear).

When we all lived in caves that sensation very conveniently kicked in to make us more alert for any potential "attacks". To protect ourselves against lions, tigers and bears our bodies are hard- wired to educate us to anticipate risk ( things that may or may not happen). So adrenalin kicks in and we shift into fight or flight mode, activated by the best kind of stress - motivation, energy, whatever you want to call it, the upward part of the curve. Now this good feeling switches to anxiety, when at a basic level we "fear" that we don't have the resources ( physical or psychological) to cope with perceived threats to our security and well being. We believe rightly or wrongly, that ultimately we might fail. Good stress therefore becomes bad stress (de-motivation). When lions, tigers and bears are involved, one could reasonably be forgiven for preparing for a gory death, a horrific maiming, or perhaps a long hard run for it.

Clearly now in our more evolved state, that is less likely to happen. However, our primal response facilities are still in place. Nobody told our DNA that. These fears are activated by more subtle circumstances: the unknown, rejection, or people discovering who we are, with all our weaknesses and flaws and that we will be deemed unworthy. For most of us, being full of fear is not the greatest sensation ( racing pulse, churning stomach, sweating, high pitched voice) The best way to avoid feeling out of breath, nauseous, sweaty and sounding squeaky, is simply to avoid fear inducing situations. Makes sense right? This means that we withdraw into a nice safe place when we feel fearful. Or we don't act at all. This means we stay in our nice safe place to prevent feeling fearful. In my case the hotel lounge!

We all have different things that make us anxious ( our weaknesses, actual or perceived ), so it is impossible to make sweeping statements in any generic fashion. But happily that too enables us to escape discovery. Someone might skydive with impunity, but worry about writing a mission statement. An engineer might deal with complex technical problems, but feel nervous about interviews. A graphic designer might make brilliant lay outs, but have no idea how to write a CV. Who would have thought? Exactly! No one. We're free and clear plus totally undiscovered. But wait...

At the same basic level we know that we should be out doing the things that make us breathless, sick and sticky, ( aka guilt). We have bills to pay, expectations to meet and our partners or friends are asking probing questions, so we have strategies in place to convince ourselves and "others" to create smoke screens. A computer is great for "busy-ness" and not doing anything. We tell ourselves that it is simply events or circumstances that are conspiring against us. Today, more than ever we are able to pass on our individual responsibility ( blame) to something amorphous and unaccountable. The recession.

But sometimes "others" don't buy into what we're saying , because they have "other" fears and somewhat inconsiderately, they feel perfectly comfortable with the job search process. Then we start making excuses. I could fill a whole page with the reasons I have invented not to ski so I wouldn't look "less than" or disappoint people who were important to me. Some of them were very creative. So in the words of Peter Williams " Unworthiness is the foundation of the comfort zone" .

Finally we're here. This is where facts talk. Facts are a big step. They get fear and guilt out into the open. You can then see that although everything is not perfect (nothing is ever perfect) , but they can be perfectly manageable. Facts provide messages. Messages lead to thought. Written thoughts leads to actions. Actions lead to solutions.

When looking for a job everyone should keep a job search log/progress sheet whatever you want to call it. Doesn't matter. You can make one yourself or use an online tool such as Jibberjobber (http://www.jibberjobber.com/) Keep an accurate record of all the positions applied for and each stage of the process with dates: position, company, contact, date CV sent, method ( direct, on-line), response( telephone interview, direct interview etc) feedback. Most people, when asked, have no idea how many jobs they've applied for. Most people claim that they spend 6-10 hours a day looking for jobs. I can usually tell by the results, how engaged they are. It's quite often less than 6 -10 hours. If they need to network and only have 10 LinkedIn connections - I know they're not putting in the hard yards and so do they. More guilt. Having all that information laid out in factual form enables you to easily track all the detail relating to your job search and time management. Even not having feedback sends you a useable message.

So, if you are sending off CVs (more than 10- 15 depending on level, function, geographic location) with no response at all, what is that telling you? You need to play around with the CV, change something and monitor that result. Change it again if that doesn't work. If you get no further than a telephone screening - could it be that your telephone interview techniques needs some work? Same if you fall at the interview stage. If you can't find any jobs to apply for ( and there are still some jobs, they are just not advertised as openly) then perhaps you need to expand your network or online presence. But unless you can see it written down you will convince yourself that you are active on the job market, when really, although you're in front of your computer, perhaps spending more time reading something of personal interest (sports results, celeb gossip, international affairs) than researching openings. So track your time too - keep a time management log. Be brutally honest. Are you really engaged as much as you say, or just fooling around on Facebook or Twitter? Facts talk.

If you are struggling with any parts of the process over an extended period, please look at seeking support from friends, family, your network or a professional. You are your best asset - it's an investment in your future. If you don't act, you won't fail, but you won't succeed either.

Remember .. as Audrey Hepburn suggested, the letters in impossible also write I'm possible!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mind Management - No More Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly - but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (" busy-ness") when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage "mind over matter". Or mind matters!

I'm not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don't know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase "drowning in my own thoughts" to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times " being out of work for 2 years" and a need to explain a " 2 year gap on my CV". I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we're now July 2009 - how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was " opting out" and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is - a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you're reading this!)

So if you feel that anyone doesn't understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can't see what you're about - perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you're choosing to work with.

Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let's pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

ORIGINAL THOUGHT " Hmmm... I should apply for that job" write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait... if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won't know what to say ... **then I'll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview... **then they'll know how useless I am..** then I won't get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone....**then everyone will know I'm stupid and laugh at me.. **then I'll let my whole family down... ** then I won't get any job anywhere, ever... **then I'll never work again... then I'll have no money so I'll be bankrupt ... **then I'll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I'll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box ... **then everyone in the world will hate me...then

Hmmm ... OK.... I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower ...I'll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you're a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn't know you. Keep a job search log so you can't convince yourself into thinking that you're active when you're not. Facts talk.

The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink to job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don't want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The recession's silver lining: FunEmployment:

We are now heading towards the summer and those that can afford a holiday are looking forward to a break. Some are nervously awaiting half year results. Companies in all sectors are trying to find ways to reduce their salary bills, to synchronise operational activity with reduced customer demand. Some have made straight lay offs and redundancies, others are able to be more creative. Organisations from BA and KPMG to smaller companies in addition to forced lay offs, are offering employees voluntary extended vacations, sabbaticals,and reduced working days or weeks. The hope is that when the economic upturn does kick in, they will not have lost the pool of talent that has taken years to recruit and train.

In the past 6 months as a coach I have seen individuals transition from grief, shock, panic and despair, through adaptation and acceptance, but increasingly (in the last weeks only) to the slight beginnings of optimism, even from those who had to deal with the out- of- the- blue shock of losing their jobs. This is not to detract from the reality of everyone's situations. I am absolutely not doing that. Pensions and property values have been slashed the world over, bills still have to be paid and life savings are dwindling wherever you live. Out of work young adults are returning to the family home, with other unforeseen consequences, plus a myriad of other things too numerous to mention

What I am saying is despite all of these clearly negative experiences, it is amazing to observe a shift in response. People still claim, somewhat surprisingly, to see an unexpected "silver lining" in their circumstances.

I talked to an HR Director in the hospitality sector last week and he maintains that the response to his company's offer for employees to voluntarily reduce hours or take extended vacations has been very positive. "Employees seem to be jumping at the chance, even to take an unpaid sabbatical." he stated.

I wondered if my observations were regional. To test the water I put a mini-poll out on LinkedIn and found that the international responses did actually coincide with my own personal and local experiences. Yes, there was residual anger and unease about the future, but for most people there had been some very positive outcomes. Those that have opted to take reduced hours or were forced out of the job market, have now found that once they cut their cloth to match their new, reduced budget, they are enjoying a slower paced life.

So what are the overall benefits can individuals see in this dark cloud?

  • people have more time and energy to spend and share with their families and partners or nurture other close relationships
  • people enjoy waking up in their own homes and eating proper meals
  • some are travelling - perhaps on a budget, but getting to see new places now they have time
  • others are studying, renewing old qualifications or learning new skills
  • some are volunteering
  • almost all said they were focusing on their health dealing with weight or exercise issues
  • many said they are taking up the hobbies they had always wanted to, or picking up old ones
  • others are enjoying the extended vacations or sabbaticals - they had simply never been able to take the time out of the office or workplace before
  • some are working from home or looking into new business ventures
  • many said they hadn't been happy in their jobs anyway

Paul, a Customer Service Manager from Minnesota had his working week reduced to 4 days in January wrote " I initially panicked, wondering how we would survive financially. But then I realised I had been working 50 hour weeks, maybe more for years. With a 32 hour week ironically my hourly rate is probably higher than it has been for a long time! "

Christophe, was laid off in the chemical sector in Belgium earlier this year and as a gifted linguist is using his period of unemployment to add to his skill set by learning Dutch. He is also supervising the remodelling of his house himself, something he really enjoys, but would have previously outsourced to an architect simply through of lack of time. The upside of Michael's period out of full time employment is feeling fitter, healthier and weighing in 14 pounds lighter! He is spending time with his wife and kids, as well as playing some golf. With a long career in the IT sector he is working from home as a consultant and looking at joint ventures and start ups.

Shawna from Oregon describes herself as recovering workaholic. " For me, being laid off meant the opportunity to not be in an airplane all the time, the chance to work on home improvement projects that were too big to do when I had a full time job. .... "She explains how she wanted to get beyond the pain points " I typically chose to feel that since I don't want to regret the things that happened, I can always use the events to learn from and get stronger. That doesn't make the event positive or negative - it just means I re-tell the event as a positive so that I can work with it, instead of against it."

Marina from San Francisco added "If I had not been laid off recently I would have missed out on some wonderful and necessary things. "

Will this feeling of enjoying the moment last? I have no idea. One discussion the recession has generated is the perennial chestnut of work/life balance. I think we have all been profoundly changed by what has gone on around us - hopefully for the better. It will be interesting to see if when economies do pick up, whether we will have learned any useful lessons, or we will all drift seamlessly back to our old ways.

It seems that a year ago, we might have had more money in our pockets but perhaps we were less well off in other ways. Somehow, are we seeing that now?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How's your cyber footprint?

A Twitter connection asked me the other day, somewhat to my surprise , if I had an alias for my "fun and social side". I have to say an eyebrow was raised! The thought of myself skulking around cyber space with a nom de plume or an alter ego, stretched the imagination. However the question was actually entirely serious and raised a very valid point that I had been discussuing during the week with fellow professionals and coachees. What impact does our cyber foot print have and how much should we be mindful of it?

As a transition coach I talk to individuals constantly about raising visibility and the job search process changing from looking for a job, to becoming a need to be found. So they are coached through a process to raise their SEO and their Google ranking, to connect on Linkedin and to be active on other social media. Some I encourage to have a blog and a web site, all to enable job search specialists to easily locate them. All the time, this supposes that they are being tracked for their excellent professional backgrounds and first class, on- target experience, rather than photos of them stealing signs during their college days, or messages about whooping it up at some party. So my visibility suggestions are also accompanied by equal doses of cautionary tales to be careful about what is posted by and about them, not just in their own posts, but via other people's.

But it's not that that really concerns me now.

Shankar Srinivasan a Recruitment Technologist in his blog of July 1st ( Glimpse into the Future of Recruitment Technology) brings to our attention the future of recruitment ,with all the new technological developments in the pipeline. One of these is candidate profiling from social media content. Eventually he anticipates that profiles of candidates can be drawn up from input to sites such as Facebook,Linkedin, Twitter and so on. So all sorts of conclusions can be drawn from even the most harmless, innocent and banal details which send out messages to others about our personalities, our values and our skill sets: in photos, web sites, texts, messages and tweets. I suspect this might also ultimately have an interesting impact on psychometric testing.

I actually don't have an alias! I believe that people do business with and recruit people they like and trust and you can't give an all round impression of yourself if you only display one side of your character and keep the other half hidden. But then I don't have a terribly wild or mysterious life either and as many of you already know, the organisation of it all would simply confound me! I think I would also find having two different personas quite hard work. So no, I don't have a professional and a social account. But I do understand why some people do this, even though I believe that software spiders will eventually be able to penetrate even private social accounts to glean any information they're looking for. So in time it won't make any difference if they are separate or combined .

But I am also mindful that I am constantly leaving cyber messages on a daily basis, not just about my professional life, but also about my personality, my skill set and deficiencies (some of them very obvious) hobbies, interests, family, values, opinions etc . Each time we send a message, post a blog, write something on someones wall, tweet, answer a discussion,join a professional network, we are telling the world something about ourselves. How we engage, react, the vocabulary we use, the topics we that we pursue,all tell a story about who we are.

We can't control how people react to us, but we can manage the message. By that I don't mean being fake. For me it just means treating cyber space as you would any other networking or social arena. Social norms still prevail. Why should things be any different because you're on line? The only thing now is that everything is in writing and can be traced. Nothing will disappear the day after. It can come back to haunt you and it might well. They say that 47% of candidates are rejected based on on - line content, although that figure is not very meaningful. The same people may have been ruled out in a networking event.

So what are basic rules or guidelines? Same as in actual life I think. Don't be rude, bitchy, abusive , crude or aggressive. Don't swear. Anything private and intimate - should be just that... private. Don't over share! Just as it's inadvisable to drink and dial - don't tweet when tight. Don't bad mouth your boss, company or co-workers! They will find out . Keep language constructive and it might even be be wise if inflammatory topics are kept for email or phone contact. Would you try and flog someone a timeshare or marketing programme the minute you were introduced at a party? No. So why do it on-line? In all, it's just commonsense.

I actually think that people, whether fellow professionals or recruiters, do want to see the lighter sides of their professional on - line connections in the right and appropriate context of course. Just as you would off line. Otherwise the process becomes only about information exchange, rather than authentic engagement. I still think that despite all the technology that surrounds us, that's what we all want. To engage.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by @WallyBock

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He's an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That's pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English "vet" is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase "war veteran".

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It's key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day. It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don't? I'm not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

I coached someone recently who used this phrase "Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly"

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can't specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company's bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?

I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective "brand" language ( vocabulary), but quite often it's more than that.

So what needs to be done?

Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements - I know I keep bashing on about this - but it is key. If you don't know what you're good at - how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don't have time to look for sub - text and to analyse the possible implications of what you've been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well - this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in "daily contact" or the person who " spearheads"?

External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that's about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that's about lying). It's your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a "brown fizzy drink" Probably not. Suggesting "refreshing" and "thirst quenching" or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.

If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn't your first language ,enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words? You don't want to be a "brown fizzy drink"!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom” Aristotle

Multi - tasking is our norm.

Many of us are so caught up in corporate “busy-ness” that we operate on automatic pilot, lose focus and stop paying attention, not just to our surroundings, but to ourselves. We do as many things as we can at one time in and actually take pride in it. Even boast about it! Constant contact is often not only expected, but demanded by bosses, peers and our families. For the few remaining hours before we finally sleep, we field never ending demands generated by our partners, kids, parents, hobbies, friends, homes and any other relationships in our “free “time.

At the same time there has been a marked cultural and economic shift to self- help. Many activities which were previously managed by a service provider we now do ourselves. Our personal hard drives are overloaded with processes we didn’t need to know before: shopping, banking, checking-in, ticketing and reservations, are all done on line. So our “busy-ness” has increased even further, but it has also led to a loss of basic daily interaction that makes us stop, think and engage with other human beings. A smile, a touch, an idle chat. Twitter is the new water-cooler time. Now, if we don’t pay much attention to ourselves, we pay even less to other people.

Scientists believe that as little as 1% of our brain is actively engaged in the activity we are presently “focused “on! I use the word “focus” lightly! This is not even when we are stressed when problems become our central focus when our capacity to pay attention is reduced further. According to Pareto, 80% of our activity generates only 20% of the results. Have you ever opened the refrigerator door and forgotten what you were looking for? No? Lucky you! You can see, with the complexity of modern living, how easy it is for “life” to take on a momentum all of its own, and how effortless it is, to drift. To re-act, not act.

David E. Meyer, Professor of Psychology, in the Cognition and Perception Program, at University of Michigan, writes extensively on multi-tasking. He believes that excessive multi-tasking “can lead to chronic stress, with potential damage to the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems”. He maintains that flitting from task to task interferes with demanding and complex mental activities such as reading, having conversations and planning. This all contributes to an increase in the incidence of error. Tasks then take as much as 100% longer than they should to be completed. When we under perform and expectations (perceived and actual) are not met, stress levels increase yet again.

Clients in transition often expect me to write their CVs for them because they believe that I will do a better job than they would. Superficially, that might possibly be true. I could certainly write a successful looking document, but it would lack depth and as a career search tool its value would be for a limited period only. As I strongly believe “Find the key to yourself and every door in the world is open to you”, I have to refuse.

Some career coaches maintain that no one knows you like you do! I’m actually not so sure. My observation is that quite often people are so wrapped up in “busy-ness” that they don’t take/make the time to get to know themselves. So I always think it’s a good idea to at least check where they are on the “know thyself” spectrum. I ask clients to set aside some time, to do one small thing differently, anything that prompts them simply to think, to engage in what they are doing and to be in the moment they are actually doing it in. I encourage them to slow down and to get to know themselves, just thinking.

When I outline this idea many clients look at me askance, as if I’m asking them to sit cross legged in a corner, wearing orange robes, chanting and using “F” words ( no not that one – the other ones …Feelings.) ” What’s this got to do with my job and you writing my CV?” these hard headed executives ask. My personal belief is that it’s all key.

As coaches we all recommend different strategies to create some moments of focused thought - mono-tasking. To purists it’s not even mono-tasking – but I live in the grey world of approximation! Just eating, just jogging, just driving, just looking at a view, with no other distractions – only thoughts. Most people find it harder than they imagine.

We spend about 76000 hours in our lives working, so it’s important to get it as right as we can. So what do I suggest clients should be thinking about?
*What am I passionate about?
*What do I believe in? ( values)
*What are my life goals ( general)
*What are my professional goals (specific)
*What have my challenges in life been?
*How did I deal with them?
*What did I achieve?
*What skills did I call upon?

We then need to check that all these thoughts are aligned, so our chosen professional path is what we want to be doing, or somewhere close. I am passionate about tennis, but given my skill level, and any potential to improve being close to zero, clearly I can’t make a career out of it! So compromise and prioritising is required and some will be deal breakers and others won’t.

When we have completed this process and start to get to know ourselves, we can begin to take control and articulate our own message successfully and independently, in all circumstances. We might need some help – but no one can do it all for us. To make this happen, we need to be prepared to stop and just think.

For many of us, making even the smallest change can offer many new and exciting options.

First published June 16th 2009 edition of MindTram: Coaches Mojo.

Contact Colin Lewis : email: colin@lewisfields.com web site: http://www.mindtram.com

Monday, June 22, 2009

Small decisions can create BIG changes

We all think we do absolutely the best we can to resolve issues that challenge us. Losing weight, getting fit, looking for a job. But do we really?

As a recruiter and coach I play an active part in professional networks and also Linkedin discussion groups. I hear and see individual cries of frustration and anger every day: confused posts in group discussions or I take part in anxious telephone conversations or meetings. There is always the same underlying theme. Individuals are sending out their CVs to all and sundry, networking flat out, and are doing absolutely everything they possibly can to get a job. But something simply isn’t working. The economy, recruiters and HR are all working against them. Their pain is palpable.

There are a few that specifically catch my attention and I always check out their Linkedin profiles or look at their web sites and when I do, I can immediately see, as most career transition coaches could, where some difficulties might be rooted. It can be any number of things, incomplete Linkedin profiles, spelling mistakes, poor lay out on CVs and confusing web sites, a low number of connections and so on. So although these are tough times, there are still ways to improve those job searching odds of at least participating in the process.

It may just mean you have to do something different, something very small.

My observation is that it is the very act of being open to change is absolutely key. So I suggest looking at the following as a first step:

1. Log your results: Keep a log of all your job search efforts by date and detail each part of the search process . Each call, each CV you send out. Each networking event. What were the results? Is there an underlying pattern? If you are not making it out of the CV reject pile then you should consider examining the early part of your search- what can you change there? If you are falling down after an interview, evaluate that part of the process. Sometimes people lose track of exactly what they’re doing and especially when we’re stressed, our memories play tricks. We also fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing things in a certain way, when we’re not. Keeping a log gives an incontestable factual record, where no one can be fooled, not even ourselves.

2.How well are you communicating your message? Make sure your message is clear and strong. We tend to think what we’re doing is perfectly obviously to everyone else, but sometimes it isn’t, especially if you have a hybrid or highly technically function. I frequently see documents where what the individual is doing or has achieved, is not really clear, or sometimes not even stated at all. I don’t have time to search through a rambling 3 page CV trying to figure it out. Ask someone neutral from outside your function to review your web site,CV or elevator speech. If it’s clear to them, then it should be clear to everyone else.

3. Is your message powerful enough? I recently coached someone who had trebled the turnover of his business unit in his last job,but that wasn’t even mentioned on his CV. Another guy had closed a $ 0.5 billion ( yes billion) deal at head of state level and he hadn’t stated that fact in those exact words. So use strong vocabulary to market your skills and qualify all achievements with numbers. Don’t worry about boasting. Stating a fact isn’t bragging. It’s all in the delivery and manner and it is possible to recount your achievements without seeming egotistical .

4. Networking: Are you effectively tapping into your direct network and maximising all your contacts? The more people who know about your job search efforts the better. If you struggle with this as many do because being in transition isn’t easy, take steps to build up your resilience and confidence. Read my post: Action does overcome Anxiety.
http://bit.ly/B7Hgn. Do this before anything more serious such as depression kicks in. That is clearly going to lead to general health issues, as well as being a barrier to career success.

5. Connectivity: How well connected are you? Look at the number of connections you have on Linkedin. If you are not widely connected you will appear on a limited number of searches only. Remember this is a global database for recruiters and it's all about the maths. Numbers count. If you pride yourself on only being connected to people you know – now might be a good time to re-think your strategy. People who don’t know you could be searching for you. But you don’t know that. I am not an open networker, but 26000 people joined my network in the past 3 days. Your direct network will of course be extremely useful – but it would still be very unwise to rule out indirect networking.

6. Visbility: Raise your professional visibility both on line and off. On Linkedin you can monitor the number of times you appear in searches - check that out on a regular basis. Change key words and see if that makes a difference. Join groups. Participate in discussions. Answer questions. All of these things help raise your profile. Off line, volunteer for any sort of activity that will raise your visibility in your community, sector or profession. Attend networking events, write professional articles, join professional associations. Once again anything to raise your profile. Do you have business cards? How many do you give out a week?

7. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback from any or all of the players in the recruitment process. If that’s not possible, many say they can’t get past gatekeepers or only get indifferent and unhelpful neutral answers, brainstorm with a trusted friend, peer or mentor who can communicate constructively possible areas needed for improvement.

If any of this fails consider enlisting professional help.

Socrates said that " Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change" As all of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum - give change a whirl.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When does " tailoring" your resumé become falsification?

I have recently become involved in several quite heated discussions about both "beefing up" resumés, or "dumbing" them down. Where do you draw the line when you are desperate to find a job that might be crucial to your economic survival? As a coach , I am obviously empathetic to the challenges of being unemployed and encounter clients’ job search frustrations daily. From a purely ethical point of view, my personal position is to always suggest that honesty is the best policy. But ethics and integrity aside, which can only be a matter of individual conscience, as a recruiter I can tell you some of the practical dangers of crossing the line.

By this I don’t mean writing a powerful resume, enhanced by strong vocabulary and key words to give a “ sales spin”. Or “tailoring” your CV towards a specific opening, emphasizing certain qualities and down playing skill or experience deficits. Unless you are applying to companies with a high churn, where clearly employees are not a high priority, or encounter an incompetent recruiter , then I suggest you factor in some of the following before you make a decision, because misrepresentation it is not without risk:

• A skilled recruiter will research you prior to interview. The internet is a global data base and recruiters use it constantly – so any changes or modification to your CV would need to be made consistently on every platform. You would need to check where you are listed, or if any reference has been made to you on any other documents, or in any circumstances, anywhere, even photo tags, which can be traced in cyber space.

• You will need to be prepared to account for any missing years , or perhaps convey that your seniority and experience in your previous employment was different to the reality. This might involve economy with the truth or outright lying. If discovered later there might be negative consequences which could damage your later career.

•You will need to prime your referees. They might have to misrepresent or even lie - same possible consequences as above.

•You might be asked to take psychometric tests or be given a behavioral interview where skills levels, either claimed, exaggerated or missing, should normally be identified.

•If discovered, you may alienate a company who could be a potential future employer.

•While you do all this you might miss a job, for which you are perfectly qualified, because word recognition software will by-pass you, because you are now presented differently in all media.

This is before even going into what might happen if you are hired and become that square peg in a round hole, combined with the stress of possibly being found out and the fear of constantly slipping up.

If you can openly and genuinely persuade a company to hire you at any level, with authentically presented qualifications and skills, that is very different to withholding or distorting information to get a job. As Mark Twain said “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”

This article was first posted in CareerRocketeer on June 12th 2009, http://www.careerrocketeer.com/2009/06/when-does-tailoring-resume-become.html?
at the kind invitation of Chris Perry: Brand and Marketing Generator careerRocketeer@gmail.com Twitter Follow @CareerRocketeer

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Job Search: Action Does Overcome Anxiety

I frequently hear clients telling me of their struggles to let people know that they are now unemployed.

Small things like writing an end date on their CV or Linkedin profile, for what is now their old job, are very challenging. Responding to the inevitable questions in networking events “Who are you with?” or “ What do you do?” leaves them feeling profoundly inadequate and nervous. Adjectives they use to describe themselves are “ stupid” and a “loser” .

In the words of Nina Ferrell "No pronouncement about you has value unless you agree with it." But when those thoughts are internal messages coming from YOU – how do you manage your mind to maintain motivation? Fortunately, your reaction to anything is one of the few things you can control and here are just a few strategies to help put these experiences into context:

Reframe the experience:

Examine the facts:

  • How many people are unemployed in your country, region or sector? You are one of many I would imagine, so the odds are stacked against everyone. When unemployment levels are at over 9% today there is no stigma to being without a job.
  • You are “ stupid” or a “loser” - lets look at this. One dictionary definition of stupid is " marked by a lack of intellectual acuity". What are your educational levels? What has your career and personal experience been to date? How would you describe anyone else, a neighbour or a colleague, with these levels of achievements, either academic, personal or professional? Where on the spectrum would you put “stupid” ? I imagine - nowhere. You are simply between jobs and in transition. Actors call it “ resting”, an excellent phrase.
  • Look at those same achievements and understand and acknowledge what you are good at. Keep a log of that list and read and update it regularly.
Turn transition into a positive experience

  • Look at your skill sets and identify areas where you could enhance existing skills, or gain new ones: learn a language, do an on-line course, do voluntary work. How you are responding to this “resting” period will be useful later on.
  • Use the time to formulate an action plan and set new achievable goals
  • When you achieve these goals –acknowledge that success, write it down and reward yourself. Remember this is a numbers game and initiative is better than inertia and action and activity overcome anxiety or angst .
  • Keep a log of your job search efforts so you can see in quantifiable terms exactly what you are doing.
  • Monitor your progress. Ask for feedback in case you need to do something differently.
  • Stay flexible and open minded.
Learn from previous experience

Look at the other challenges in your life and how you dealt with them. The skills that you had then and called upon, are basically unchanged ( unless there are health issues, which should be dealt with separately) and therefore still in your “tool box ” So you should be able to carry on using them.

Which challenges impacted you most?

  • How did you deal with them? Can you use those skills again?

  • Did you seek support? If so from whom?

  • What did you learn about yourself and others?

  • How did you inform yourself?

  • What made you feel more positive about the future?

  • Have you ever supported anyone else through a similar situation?

  • What did you say to them?
Log your negative messages

  • Identify and log your negative thoughts and see if they have appeared in your internal dialogue before. If they do, what are they? You will be able to see the ones that reoccur most frequently - check if there’s a pattern, and try to identify the ones that you are most anxious about. Acknowledging the existence of these thoughts is the first step at dealing with them. If you find this difficult, imagine advising a friend or colleague with the similar thoughts. Write down what you would say to him or her.
  • Sit down and challenge the negative thoughts that you have identified. You have them written down so examine every thought on that page. Now look at each one rationally. Ask yourself where you would place these thoughts on a “reasonableness scale 1- 10”? What actual evidence is there for and against? If you have a thought " I am never going to work again... ever" spend some time researching economic trends and re-frame your thought in the light of what experts are saying.
Take care of yourself

Now especially it is really important to look after your physical health and emotional well -being. Eat healthily, exercise and keep an eye on any symptoms of stress. But if you do struggle with anxiety over a long period, please do consider seeking professional career support, consulting a doctor or a counsellor.

But above all remember “There's no failure, only feedback. No mistakes, only outcomes" Thomas Hardman

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Interviews and Non - Verbal Communication

Your lips may not be moving and you haven't said a word, but you’re actually sending a message in all sorts of other ways without even realising it. You just have to make sure it's the right one.

So you‘ve been called for an interview for a great job. Your amazing CV has missed the reject pile, you’ve survived a telephone screening and now you think all you have to do is knock ‘em dead with your perfectly honed interview pitch. Right? No…. sorry… wrong.

Remember that first impressions are created within the first 10 seconds to give a lasting impression. 55% of a person’s perception of you is based on the way you look, the rest is split between how you say what you‘re saying, and finally, after all that, what you actually say. I know.. tough! So even assuming you’re suited and booted in absolutely the right way, you're completely prepared but will that be enough? No - afraid not. Non verbal communication is paramount. The way you look is significant , which incorporates, not just what you wear, but your posture, body language and general demeanour. These reveal more about you to the interviewer, than you will ever know. You want to show that you are calm, confident and professional, without being arrogant. Then you tell them how good you are.

So what to think of ?

· Smile – Remember we all smile in the same language. It’s the classic ice breaker.
· Handshake - should be firm - but not bone breaking. Ladies, this is really important. No limp finger tip tickling.
· Eye contact - is paramount -without looking crazed. It shows people you are engaged and interested. Erratic eye contact is associated with shiftiness and glazed eyes indicates lack of interest.
· Introduce yourself - OK, I know this is verbal, but it is too closely related to first impressions to be excluded. This is particularly important if your name has a difficult pronunciation, or the interviewer has a different first language to your own. I thought I had a sure fire way around any misunderstanding by saying ” I’m sorry – how do you pronounce your name?” The guy didn’t miss a beat and replied “Mike “. Didn’t do that again. If you’ve misheard – just apologise and ask them to say their name again.
· Repeat - the interviewers names a few times in the early part of your conversation ( without sounding robotic) more verbal communication - but for the same reason. This is a trick our US friends employ perfectly and one we Europeans could well emulate.
· Posture - Sit or stand straight if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair, perch on a desk or lean against a wall, you look tired and bored. No one wants to recruit someone who looks lethargic and lacking in energy.
· Body - The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what's going through your mind. Leaning in shows interest, leaning or turning away the complete opposite. That says "I’ve had enough” Adding a nod of your head is another way to affirm that you are listening
· Head - Keeping your head straight, will make you appear self-assured and authoritative. People will take you seriously. Tilt your head to one side if you want to come across as friendly and open.
· Arms - crossed or folded over your chest suggests a lack of openness and can imply that you have no interest in the speaker or what they are saying. This position can also say, "I don't agree with you". You don't want to appear cold - I don't mean temperature here. Too much movement might be seen as erratic or immature. The best place for your arms is by your side. You will look confident and relaxed. If this is hard for you, do what you always do when you want to get better at something - practice. After a while, it will feel natural.
· Hands - In the business world, particularly when you deal with people from other cultures, your hands need to be seen. Make sure your fists aren’t closed – it suggests aggression. When you speak –don’t point your index finger at anyone. That is also an aggressive move. Having your hands anywhere above the neck, playing with your hair or rubbing your face, can be perceived as unprofessional.
· Legs - A lot of movement can indicate nervousness.The preferred positions for the polished professional are feet flat on the floor or legs crossed at the ankles. The least professional and most offensive position is resting one leg or ankle on top of your other knee. It looks arrogant. That's a guy thing (normally).
· Personal Space -there are lots of cultural differences regarding personal space. Standing too close or "in someone's face" will mark you as pushy or even aggressive. Positioning yourself too far away will make you seem remote. Neither is what you want, so find the happy medium. Most importantly, do what makes the other person feel comfortable. That shows empathy.
· Listen well -Active listening is a form of non verbal communication.It is a real skill and demonstrates engagement and empathy. Paraphrase and ask for clarification of any points, to make sure you have fully understood. Modify your body language to indicate you are fully engaged - leaning in slightly, making eye contact and nodding affirmation.
. Smell - if you're a smoker do try not to smoke any time before your interview. The smell lingers and some people, especially today, find it offensive. I'm personally relaxed about perfume/aftershave - but others aren't, so once again err on the side of caution.

Now you can make your elevator speech!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Twitter: Cynic to Convert in 10 weeks

Hello, my name's Dorothy.I'm a Twitter convert!

About 10 weeks ago @MD60 ( brother) suggested I sign up for Twitter. He insisted that it would be fun and a way for our dispersed family to stay connected. Unconvinced, mainly because of what I'd heard and read, I did finally register, but truthfully, it was because President Obama used it, rather than any family loyalty.

My efforts were rather half hearted. I followed @MD60, plus a couple of well known British celebs, which actually turned out to be duller than watching paint dry (sorry Bro!) I posted a few mundane things myself, trying to enter the spirit of it all. The minutiae of their daily lives held no interest for me at all. Cosmo Landesman of The Times (London) suggested that Twitter made even interesting people seem dull. I was in total agreement. I even bored myself.

But a few people, even through cyber-space, picked up on my "lost caused -ness". @karenpurves, @colinudelewis and @nicolabird and @judethecoach, all came to the rescue and went to huge lengths, with super supportive basic tips about choosing the right people to follow, posting a photo, leaving myself open to be followed (hadn't realised I was closed) and some of the other protocols. But even then, despite their encouraging words, cynicism still prevailed. Honestly... I did try - but the whole thing just completely eluded me. I sensed the tearing out of cyber hair.

Then one day - something kicked in. I have no idea really, even now, what it was. I think more by accident than design, I left the social media robots behind and finally started connecting with people with 3 digit IQs. Their tweets caught my eye and I started reading and responding. I engaged. I began to get, just a little, the Twitter etiquette and protocols. Gradually, there seemed to be a few people I was connecting with on regular basis who seemed fun, on the same wave length and prepared to give, rather than send automated messages and self publicity. I finally understood ( after 8 weeks - I know a slow study ) that I needed to download Tweetdeck to manage the activity.

Don't worry I'm not going to launch into a " How to..." pitch! Wouldn't dream of it! There's clearly no way someone can advise people on the detail of this process, when they only found the Tweet shorten button today! This is just to share my own Twitter journey. Sometimes the voices of the clueless, resonate as much as the voices of experts - a bit like Forrest Gump.

Generally, as an almost total beginner, what I look for are people that I find fun and interesting and are active in my areas of general interest. That's all. Nothing strategic or sophisticated at this point. I have no master plan. I make it a basic rule to only connect with people who have a photo or a convincing bio, wearing clothes. They do make a difference - so are mandatory, for me at least . I only follow animals if they are extremely funny.

I look at the stats just to check they're balanced and I can see that the individuals are active. I avoid braggers and give anyone pre-occupied with target-reaching a miss. Same for anyone who tries to hard- sell me anything early on. I am gradually identifying the egoists and I can see now that there are people who have the same messages on automated feeds which come around and around, 24/7. You know who you are! Guys, change the tape or stream ( or whatever it is that goes round) I suspect I will eventually decide to "un-follow" some of them, when I summon up the courage. Apparently this is " not a good thing". Whole contentious blogs are devoted to this process, with a slew of vitriolic exchanges in their wake.

So what has this got to do with a European Career Transition and Executive Search specialist? Why since last week, have I included a section introducing it into in my coaching programme? Don't worry - not the detail, just the principle.

At the moment 47% of Twitter traffic is US based, but that will change for sure. Just like the Big Mac, it will take root here in Europe. As more and more corporate HR and recruiters use it as a network, it will be another opportunity for candidates to raise their visibility and connectivity, in the hope of being found. With a job loss: job creation ratio at 3:1 in Europe, right now, job seekers need that. The churn on Twitter is huge, but people leave their bio details, and provided that the contact info doesn't change, that's great for internet sourcers.

But for me personally, and this is the message I share currently, the greatest value is the high speed communication of really useful, up to date information. Having it distilled and recommended by trusted sources is a major bonus. It's the sheer pace of the circulation that is amazing and fascincating. It's a wonderful way to stay in touch and keep a finger on an ever changing pulse. It has not only saved me hours of time, but brought my attention to sources and resources that I may have over looked or not even considered at all, simply because I didn't know they were there.

Earlier this week, I had dinner with a Tweet buddy @marionchapsal who was visiting Brussels. We had connected via Twitter. Despite mutterings from @MD60 about meeting strangers from cyber space, and the lady from Lyon turning out to be a potential axe murderer ( that thought is rooted in extensive knowledge of heinous on-line scams, following a long career in internet security) we had a wonderful, fun evening, sharing experiences and getting to know each other. What was most interesting, was that I saw immediately how 140 characters can convey a person's personality. She was exactly as she seemed in her Tweets! It was simply global networking at it's best. Virtual, became actual. Would our paths have crossed otherwise? Probably not. Just brilliant!

Somewhat approropiately, the restuarant of choice was the " Idiot de Village". Nothing lost in translation there.