Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Your Resume: A Work In Progress

Your resume. Your professional life summed up in one or two pages. I have lost track of how many times I have fine tuned, polished and picked apart my resume. Every time I think I have it perfectly done, I will submit it to a resume writer, or read another article that speaks of including or doing everything I'm NOT doing in mine. To put personal interest or not (it allegedly can either make you approachable or make you sound amateurish), to include years enrolled or not (some say it will tell your age), to open with an objective or not (many claim that this is "fluff" and that recruiters feel that this screams rookie) ... the arguments are endless to do this or that.

There are approaches that advocate countless directions so what to do?
Polish it, fine tune it, read it over and over again, read your friends resumes, examine the job posting, research the company ... and then tailor your resume to what feel like YOU.

After years of getting the interviews I wanted (and some of which I wanted but didn't get) I can tell you this; get feedback. Often we are too close to our own resumes to really be objective. While I never used a resume writer, I did get their feedback. Often resume writers will provide you with critique if you ask for it, aiming to sell their services. A good resume writer sometimes cost up toward $500 (and more for execs) to rewrite your resume. Few can afford it, but if you can, I say do it. However, if you are a good writer and have good feedback, just keep tweaking your own. Invite feedback from your friends whose opinion you respect. People often don't want to critique someone's resume out of worry that it will offend the recipient. Let them know that you are looking for critique and welcome it. Trust me, suspend your defensiveness (even if you have slaved over that resume for months on end) and open yourself up to opinions. It will give you a whole new perspective.

FYI, I speak from experience: I recently landed an executive job with my dream company. It's another Fortune 500 company, but in an industry I'm fiercely passionate about. It took me months on end of tweaking my resume, but it paid off. It was a humbling experience at first. No matter how good you think your resume is, it will inevitably have to compete against several hundred others who also consider their excellent.

Remember that most recruiters and hiring managers get absolutely swamped with resumes for any good job. I recently received close to 200 resumes in one business week, for an entry level marketing position. Needless to say I was not able to read every resume I received, but I did scan through them and a few did catch my attention. The cookie cutter ones who read (and looked) like they had been taken out of a Word template did not make the cut. Beware of templates; they are widely recognized.

Imagine yourself a hiring manager ... what would get YOUR attention?

Monday, August 20, 2007

"I don't have the time" ...

I've been bad, I admit it. Jason Alba, whose blog JibberJobber I faithfully read on a weekly basis, once wisely counseled me that a good blogger should write a minimum of 3 posts per week. His most recent post, linked above, is clearly a good reminder of this consistent practice as I often check in on his posts using my beloved RSS reader, and usually expect to find something good and new in there (I'm rarely disappointed). Personally I have gotten away from writing in the last couple of weeks because ... "there has been so much going on". Novel concept isn't it"? It definitely echoes the typical excuses we all make about most things in general; we don't have the time/energy/fill-in-the-blank.

In reality, we do have time, and energy. We just don't want to. Think about it, do you make time to read a blog? Watch your favorite TV show? Attend happy hour? The things that bring us enjoyment, and which we don't deem as "work", we make time for. Few are the people that truly "do not have the time". There might be a select number of individuals who are go-go-go from the minute they wake up to the second they close their eyes. I just don't know any.

So when I say that I haven't had the time to write, or call that long lost friend, or send a birthday card to a team member, I don't mean I
really don't have the time. I just mean that I haven't prioritized it. Watching "Top Chef" just kind of seemed more important (See, I could try to make myself sound terribly important by saying I was in meetings from early morning til dusk but you would all see right through me anyway ... ). Forget location, location ... these days it's all about priorities, priorities.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Survey Paranoia

Employee Surveys. You either love them or hate them. For those that love them, you probably feel that as a whole they usually do make a difference and call (management’s) attention to areas that need improvement in a company. For those that hate them, you might be rolling your eyes and dismissing them as a “corporate fluff” and assume the position that survey results never get acted upon. I’ve heard arguments for and against surveys, yet I truly do believe that they make a difference – if employees are truly honest in their feedback, which brings me to the topic at hand; paranoia. It’s quite common that regardless of how many times management assures the work force that the results are anonymous and confidential, the majority of folks still believe that their answers are somehow tracked and that they will derive some kind of punishment if they get overly critical.

People. Stop. Being. Paranoid. Confidential surveys ARE confidential. Usually conducted by outside agencies or companies, they are designed for anonymity. Answers are tallied up by an independent third party and the individual answers never shared with ownership or management. In addition, do you know how expensive it would be to track each person’s IP address, match it up with the survey answer and then set out to analyze the degree of criticism in a large work force? Even in a 50-person office, this would probably cost more than the survey itself. Owners or managers who put forth an employee survey are not interested in using it as a punishment or tracking tool. The goal is nearly exclusively always to learn more about the organization and what’s on the mind of employees.

If you just mindlessly find yourself clicking through a survey without much thought to your answers, you would do everyone a favor and not engage at all. Employee surveys are VERY costly to design, implement and analyze. They provide employees with an opportunity to stop complaining under their breath, and to put forth some actual engagement into improving their work environment. If you provide only positive feedback (yet in reality feel miserable about work), you are only sending a thumbs up message to management that what they are doing is working. Consider yourself fortunate if you get an employee survey as your management is clearly investing in you and hope you will do the same in return, by providing constructive, honest and engaged feedback. The goal for management and ownership should be to keep the survey results transparent and communicate an action plan for follow up (UPS does this very well). The feedback loop is thus closed where the employee feels empowered to give feedback because he/she is actually heard.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Don't Exit With a Bang

In 15 years of being in a corporate environment and management I have seen plenty of Corporate Rockstars come and go, some more talented and memorable than others. The one defining departure factor has usually been surrounding dissatisfaction with a particular manager and/or corporate culture issues. Having gone from a small company to medium size to now very large, I can easily say that this is a universal exit factor regardless of size or structure. There will always be that one manager that you either do not like nor get along with. Some folks manage to exit gracefully, others less so. There are plenty of urban myths out there about exiting a company, many of which play into people’s daydreams of what they really would like to say to their nemesis manager upon departure. One in particular, a disgruntled employee supposedly sent this resignation letter to his boss, sparking a shock wave across the web as it first was published. Many a cubicle warriors snickered as they got it, secretly wishing they too could write something similar. People wanted the letter to be real, hoping someone really had “stuck it to management” like this. Sorry; urban myth # 456334. Letter was made up.

Funny? Yes. Smart? Not so much. The resignation letter above may be just an urban myth, but the sentiment behind it is not. The disgruntled employee/boss relationship has existed for eons. That said, there is a lot to be said for not burning your bridges, hard as that may seem to do when you feel like you want to skip out of the department singing with your new job offer in hand. You never know what may come down the road; lay offs can happen in your new company, you don’t meet expectations during your probationary period or you may find yourself on the job market again several years down the road, in need of a career reference and history. Employers may not be in a legal position to comment on your character or performance, but make no mistake, they can send a strong message using tone of voice and enthusiasm when saying “Yes, she/he used to work here”. Regardless of how you feel about your boss or management, always exit gracefully and professionally. It will reward you down the line.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Developing Leaders

Here is the difference between a smart professional and an equally sharp college grad: assertiveness. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no magic bullet to leadership, no "secret", no ingredient other than time. Folks who have been in a corporate environment for some time know to take risks; they put their ideas out on the line and they back them up, even when the boss questions or challenges them. College grads, or less mature professionals, usually back track, pay lip service (to the boss) and/or acquiesce. Mind you, compromising is not a bad thing and in my opinion, highly underrated. However, there is a thin red line between compromising and not fighting for your ideas or giving up. Know when you are doing what.

I often look around my office and our meetings, observing people and how they present themselves as well as their projects. We have a director who likes to play devil's advocate and who thinks in a very linear fashion (all together now; "
IT GUY!"). As such you can rest assured that nearly every idea or project you will put forth will be strongly challenged, if not even shot down at first glance. Argument after argument is dissected and sometimes dismissed, with only the most assertive (strongest?) still standing firm when the meeting is over.

The less assertive folks nervously nod in agreement, while their gaze is fixed into the table in front of them, as if some magic spot in the cheap wood veneer will calm their upset and rejected selves. I've done it, we've probably all done it. However, as the years went on and I truly believed in my ideas (while making sure I was darn well researched and informed prior to going into the meetings!) ... I grew more assertive, more confident and more strong. Nowadays, being assertive on business issues is second nature to me but it took time.

It should be noted that sadly, some managers or senior business folks never get there, regardless of tenure. Makes you wonder about the quality of leadership in Corporate America today, or rather, the LACK of leadership. True leaders develop leaders, over time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

"I'm Working On It ... "

Welcome to the Oh-Well parade. One of my biggest pet peeves in Corporate America today is the lack of accountability when it comes to meeting deadlines. Between the indifferent co-worker, cable company or tech representative, I’m ready to tear my hair out. Does anybody care anymore??

Most companies will never fire you for missing deadlines or for over-promising and under-delivering; something many employees working for them take advantage of. “Not my fault”, they claim while shrugging their shoulders, “I’m just waiting on XYZ”.

Toll free tech support operators “accidentally” hang up on you, often after you have been patiently waiting in a twenty minute phone que (make no mistake, this is no mistake!). The graphic designer who assured you the website would be finished by end of week is nowhere to be found, email or phone. The bank manager who guaranteed that the erroneous bank charge would be reversed (you know, the one that cost you $120 in overdraft fees??) by tomorrow morning “apologizes sincerely” when it wasn’t done.

We all know the stories, we all get equally frustrated at the lack of service and accountability, yet none of us know what to do about it. I suggest that we can only start with ourselves; create a personal credo to do unto others the way you would have done to you. Provide the best service, be utterly reliable and most importantly; stand by your word if you give it, whatever it is and to whomever it is, even if that customer is a faceless voice on the other line. It could be your self.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Keep It Brief

While driving to work this morning, listening to my favorite radio station (Sirius: Lime), I literally wanted to zap a lady who was on via phone (with the host). She was going on and on about her point, all the while the radio host was trying desperately to get her to wrap up. Finally, the host had to just literally cut her off mid sentence and go into break. Recently a similar incident happened at work where a fantastic (but long winded) co-worker of mine was going on and on to a senior executive who had asked for her feedback about a topic. As my colleague was waxing on about her experiences, it was quite evident that the executive’s eyes had glazed over and that she was already thinking about her next meeting. The entire point of the conversation was for naught as the point was lost in excessive verbiage.

Coming from someone who likes to talk (this is where my husband would nod vigorously while rolling his eyes), even I know when to keep it brief and concise. Brevity seems to be a lost art in the business world today as most of us just experience verbal diarrhea when asked about our opinion (or decide to provide it unsolicited!). It seems that that worst offenders are those who aren’t good observers of people.

If you observe your listener, you will know immediately when their attention starts to wane and when it’s time to wrap up or turn the mic back to the other guy or gal. Eye contact is lost or weakened, their “uh huh” and “oh, interesting” responses start to fade and their notepad doodling gets increasingly artistic. Seth Godin, someone I consider the God of Permission Marketing, has a very good point when he points out (about blogs in general but still … the point is the same): people really just want to hear your story or point as it relates to them or put forth in a summarized manner that might apply to them.

So keep it brief, keep it concise and above all … observe the body language of your listener (if via phone or web, listen to your listener … when they get too silent, take your cue). Brevity is often king.

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