Making Relationship-Building More Effective for a Successful Job Search: Six Pitfalls to Avoid

There are two common comments that students and clients will commonly present to me in a first meeting about a job search, and these comments will immediately let me know what’s wrong.  The first is “I’ve sent out at least 1,000 resumes, and am not getting any interviews.”  Of course, that one’s easy to explain.  The job seeker is depending on non-targeted, passive search methodology which simply won’t work 99% of the time.  Success here is equivalent to incredible good luck with very low odds. 

The second, and the topic for this piece,  is “I’ve met with at least 40 people so far in trying to build an effective network, and it’s not working.  I feel like I’m spinning wheels.”  Or, “I’ve met with a bunch of people, and have really enjoyed it – but nothing’s happening.” 

I’ve learned that there can be at least six possible reasons why the networking might not be working. 

1)            Not enough discipline and consistency. 

Are you approaching your search in high-activity blasts or are you moving it along with a consistent pace?  If you’re working full-time, then that means that you should aim for at least one live meeting a week, and should do something job-search related every day of the workweek, even if it means only 15-20 minutes daily.  That would include research, record-keeping (essential), email writing, following up. 

If you’re not working full-time, your goal should be 4-5 meetings a week, with every other aspect mentioned above amped up significantly.  Job search is a full-time job. 

Time off is ok for mental health during what is always a difficult effort, but not for long periods, i.e., the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day or summer.  A loss of momentum will make the search much longer overall, and any good relationships that have been started will lose impact.  Trying to restart an interrupted search is difficult and frequently demoralizing.  Keep it going as part of a regular, structured schedule.

2)            Not meeting the “right” people.

Who are these “right people?”  Relationship-building efforts are usually built around peers, at least at the beginning.  This is great for getting good information, finding out about markets, penetrating organizations that interest you, and getting some affirmation that the target is a good one.  Over time,  meeting peers can be a major wheel-spinner.  Why? 

Peers are usually not the decision makers.

After building a peer-based network, the goal should be to get those contacts to introduce you to others, who can get you to decision-makers.   That’s a major objective. 

3)            Not structuring a networking meeting. 

This is where those in career transition may get lost.  A meeting is not about having just a pleasant chat, and then hoping that things will just move in the direction you want. 

The answer to this problem is simple, which is to structure the meeting with questions.  There are three basic types of questions that should be utilized.

First, the personal connection.  This is the “chat” part, the small talk, the possible exploration of the other person’s career. The humanizing aspect that can make you memorable.  It’s always a good idea to ask “So how did you get to this place in your career?”  It appeals to ego, gets the other person talking, and…you might find some possible new ideas for yourself.

Second, and this is the bulk of the questioning, information and advice questions.  Information questions are designed to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, and have done your homework.  These are going to be questions oriented towards what the organization does and what you’ve learned about them.  Advice questions are personal, about what they may perceive about your potential market, about how they think you might fit into that market, and suggestions about how you might best position yourself.  Of course, you never would ask for a job, because that would put them and you in an awkward position, with a low odds chance for actually uncovering something at that moment. 

Third, and at the very end of a conversation, building your network.  This could be in the form of “Would you suggest anyone I speak with, in the same manner we’re speaking today?” or “I have a list of organizations I’m interested in; what do you think of the list?”  With the latter question, it’s a direct cue to get the person to think specifically about those companies – and whom he/she might know there, but without putting them on the spot. 

If you can hit one of these three benchmarks, you’ve had a successful meeting.  If more, you’ve had a great one.  But it won’t work because of…

4)            Not following up (the key ingredient).

One meeting won’t accomplish much.  Your goal is to create a relationship over time, so that when your contact hears of a possible situation, they think of YOU.  Of the six pitfalls of networking, this is the key one, in my estimation. 

Follow ups include the thank you email immediate after the meeting.  This is not just a perfunctory thank you or plain etiquette; it’s a thank you, plus a recap of what you discussed – as a reminder of who/what you are.  Your branding.  Maybe you could add something that you didn’t get to discuss. 

Another subsequent follow up could be a second thank you if you’ve made contact with a referral from that person. 

Yet another could be a quick question.

Even another could be an article you have read that might be of interest to your contact.

Basically, this is sales technique, a method for keeping in touch with someone over a period of time, and keeping your name out there. You won’t do this with everyone because not everyone will be supportive or helpful or particularly responsive. 

5)            Not listening.

Active listening in all meetings is important.  One of the critical aspects of building new relationships is to hear opinions and experiences – both of which could give you new ideas.  Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of going on automatic when either meeting new people or even on job interviews.  You’ve got your pitch down, your stories ready, your answers to difficult questions all queued up. 

It’s important to be flexible, and be able to think and improvise a bit.  You want to be responsive to what the person is saying and adjust accordingly.  Sometimes, an opinion or experience can totally shift the direction of the conversation - and the search. 

6)            Not handling the search like the sales situation that it truly is.

This is the psychological part.  There is always a significant amount of rejection in transition.  There is also too much bad advice and bad behavior, which has to be sifted carefully, not to mention the negative advice.  Make sure that your decisions are based on several opinions, and not just one or two. 

How to deal with rejection?  Or the sense that you’re feeling as though you’re walking around with hat in hand asking for handouts?  You must internalize the notion that all of this relationship building is a business proposition, on both sides.  There’s just as much in it for them as there is for you.  Hard to realize that, right?  Smart professional people understand that the more people they know, the better.  Even the incredibly busy ones. 

Very few of my clients and students actually enjoy networking.  Only the true mega-extraverts do.  The skill can be learned, and even end up being somewhat comfortable.  As the numbers will always show, it’s statistically the highest chance for success, by far, of all job search methodologies.  

A Networking Story: The Benefit for the OTHER Side

Building new relationships is an essential part of career transition. But it often causes discomfort. One of the common questions I receive from clients and students is, “Why would anyone respond to my request for an informational interview?”

They don’t understand why someone, especially someone they don’t know, would want to talk with them about their career.  

After we spend time discussing possible ways of expressing the request, i.e., “I’m doing some market research in…” or, “I’m performing some personal due diligence on next career options in…” there is still this issue of “Why would someone spend valuable time talking with a stranger?”

While it’s true that some will not respond well to these requests, begging off because of time issues, or thinking that it’s a direct job request (which it most certainly should not be), I’ve always thought that people interested in building their own careers should be amenable to a reasonable request for their time from those in career transition.  

Even more important, I believe saying “yes” to those requests may have a significant career benefit – for both sides.

I figured this out in my own career several years ago when I began to notice that when I agreed to meet with people who were attempting a move in my field, sometimes these people were able to help me out later on.  

There are many examples of these incidents that I enjoy telling my clients and students in order to make them more comfortable with building new relationships; the following is my favorite.

Around 8 or 9 years ago, the Dean of the program where I have consulted for the past (almost) 14 years, asked me if I’d talk with someone who was an alum of the program, and had done some advising work for it, as well. Of course, I agreed, for many reasons – it was a favor for the person who had hired me and she was the person who sent in my invoices every month.  (I also like her a lot.)  

Her referral was unable to meet with me in person, so we set up some time on the phone, and had – as I learned later – a good talk.

About a year later, the Dean and I were interviewing candidates for the Director’s position in the program where I was consulting. I particularly liked one candidate, as did she, and he was hired. He was very impressive and I thought he would be great for the program. He was, and is.  

Here’s where things get complicated for consultants. When a new head of a program is hired, the consultants usually are the first to go, because that new management person will want to bring in his/her own professional associates. I was convinced my tenure was about to end shortly. The new Director was very connected to the school, so I figured he had lots of people he would want to bring in to replace me. 

We did hit it off, though, and began to significantly add to and build the program.  We spent a great deal of time conceptualizing the growth of what evolved into a ground-breaking department in its field (and still is).

But I still wasn’t comfortable, even though my hours had increased.

Then, he changed our arrangement to put me on retainer – every consultant’s ultimate goal.

I began to realize that maybe I was going to stay.

One day I asked him why he had been so nice to the guy (me) who had been left over from the previous regime. He looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “Don’t you remember that you spent quite a long time with me on the phone a few years ago?  You were really helpful.”

I didn’t remember.  

“Do you remember that I sent you a bottle of wine to thank you?”

This I remembered.

Then I looked it up in my notes and saw that we had indeed met.

I love torturing him about this story (especially in front of large classes), saying he needed to improve his presentation to create a more lasting perception (this always gets a big laugh). Truth is it was my memory that was the problem, and certainly not the way he presented. As I mentioned before, the guy is impressive.  

The real point of the story is that I had created a relationship that came back to reward me in a very significant way. I hope he feels the same.  

I had been on “the other side of the desk,” and there was at least as much in this interaction for me as there was for him – probably more, in the long run.  

The relationship continues, and has resulted in the most gratifying and productive consulting assignment I’ve ever had. All because of one phone call.

A Simplified, Three-Step Approach to Salary Negotiations

The most important part of salary negotiations ISN'T the actual face-to-face, back and forth part.

What’s important is the setup.  Nearly everyone thinks of a salary negotiation as that point in an offer process when you get to hammer out all the details, starting with salary, moving on to bonus and benefits and cars and cell phones and laptops, etc. That's actually the easiest part.  

The following is a negotiations strategy is based on three steps:

Step 1 - Setup: Avoiding the Issue/the Right Mindset

The setup is not only the most important part of a negotiation; it’s also the aspect so many people find uncomfortable. 

There is something about "making the ask" or pushing back that creates an urge to say yes to everything and just be done with it. Or there's a fear that if you don’t agree right away, the offer will be rescinded. (Whenever an offer is actually rescinded, which happens rarely, it's almost always a clear signal that something's wrong with the position and/or the organization.)  

It's important to go into any interview situation, including a phone screen, with a positive mindset  -- you feel like you've earned it, you have the background and skills, and you're qualified to not only get the offer, but also to be paid accordingly. You're prepared.   Going in with a sense of desperation or urgency (You’re finally ending the search!  You’ve hit your dream job!) will be counter-productive. 

Whenever the subject of money is brought up, at any point in an interviewing process, the negotiation has started. That could include a five-minute phone screen, even if you haven’t had a formal interview.

Here's the hard part mentioned earlier: You must try to avoid the subject of money for as long as you can. The longer you defer the better. The longer you defer, the more opportunity you have to build value. The longer you build value? The better total compensation you will be offered.

If you don't set up an optimal situation for making the best deal you can, then you could easily get stuck later on during reviews with those dreaded COLA raises or some other organizational limitation.  

There are many ways to avoid the topic. 

For example: "Money is very important to me, of course. But, if it's ok with you, could we defer this discussion until we figure out if there's a good fit?  I'd hate to knock myself out of contention because I'm coming in too high or too low early in our conversation. I'm confident we'd be able to work it out."

Or, if that doesn't work, how about, "Could you give me an idea of your range?" If the interviewer does respond with a range, and it's anywhere near where you think it should be, you just say there will be no problem working it out if you get to that point.  

Or, if you perceive the interviewer getting impatient, you say you'll be looking for an "all in" (including benefits, bonus, 401K match, everything) of __________. That, of course, is if you're looking to bump your total comp up significantly. If you're seeking to keep it lower for other reasons, then you say you'll be looking for a base of ____________, which is close to what you're currently earning, or maybe an average of the last four years’ bases. 

Or, if the interviewer is insistent, you'll have to give in and tell the real numbers. You cannot fabricate your history; it's easy to verify. All the interviewer has to do is ask you for a previous W-2.   

Even if you have to give in, you've at least set a precedent where the interviewer will know you're not going to be a pushover in any subsequent compensation discussions. That's creating a strong brand. 

This pushback, of course, will be continued in the actual face-to-face negotiations later on.  Collegial and friendly, but still a pushback.  

One note: Working with HR professionals or recruiters makes this much tougher. They're there to screen. It's why I encourage clients to do their best to get to decision makers, who will usually be far more amenable to the approach described here. 

Step 2 – Defer: Don’t Negotiate at the Point of Offer

You’re in no shape to begin a negotiation at the point of the offer.  No matter how well prepared you think you are, or how unemotional you may be in the interaction, your emotions of the moment will cause you to make mistakes, or forget critical questions.  You need time to develop a strategy. 

If the offer is low, say that you need some time to think it over, that you will have some questions about the position.  Then mention that the offer seems a bit low, from what you’ve determined in your market, but you still want some time to think it over.  On the other hand, you’re excited about the organization and think there’s a great fit; always make an employer know that you’re enthusiastic about the position.  No one wants to hire a candidate who doesn’t seem to want the job.  That way, you’ve planted the idea that there will be some discussion about comp.  And you’ll have time to plan a strategy.

If the offer is in the right range, same response – except for the part about the comp being low.  And the excitement is there, too. 

If the offer is great - again, same response.  You still might have other issues to clarify.  You could even mention that there won’t be a problem with the compensation, but you’d like to be sure about all aspects of the new job, and look forward to closing the deal the next time you meet.

Do NOT negotiate via email.  Tone is lost, and there will be problems.

If the offer is long distance, try to negotiate via Skype or Face Time.  You want to be able to read the other person as well as possible.  Phone is ok, but you prefer to actually see the other person. 

Step 3 – Negotiate: The Actual Face-to-Face Negotiation

We hope that it’s face-to-face, because that provides the advantage of checking visual cues. 

The balance of power has shifted once the offer is made.  They want you, not their second or third choice.  Keep that in mind.  They do not want to start over or settle for someone else, and want the job filled. 

If steps 1 and 2 have been followed, you’re in an excellent position to begin the negotiation.  First, before you start, decide what your “drop dead” numbers and situations are.  In other words, what’s your bottom all-in comp number?  Does the job match up well with your expectations – or not? Don’t go into the negotiation without thinking those issues out.  What is important to you?  Be prepared to discuss every loose end. 

Prepare a list, one that you can bring with you and place in front of you.  It’s your best opportunity to not only set up the perception about how you conduct business, but to make the “ask” for every item that’s important to you.

My favorite words in negotiations are “we” and “clarify.”  Never “I need.”  We talk about what’s going on in the market, rather than what we “want.” 

My suggestion is that the list of questions creates a “win-win” rather than “I won” or “they won.”  For example, don’t start with the most critical items.  Start with something easy like a job description question, addressing something that wasn’t clear during the interview process.  Ask about the 401K or 403B, if that hasn’t been described.  The #3 question should be your biggest issue. 

For some, that tough #3 issue is base salary.  For others, it’s bonus structure.  Or perhaps reporting relationships.   Or vacation. 

If your “#3” is base salary, most of the time the organization will have more money to offer; most hiring managers or HR professionals will start as low as they think they can get away with.  If the offer was low and/or you think you should be paid more for this position, discuss your research into what the market is for your level of experience, education, and expertise – and be prepared to discuss where that information came from, if pressed.  Sometimes, it comes from salary websites such as Glass Door or any of the many other surveys, sometimes from peers, sometimes from previous and ongoing interview situations.  They are all part of the research. 

Do not expect that the person offering the position will be prepared to immediately respond.  They may have to go back and discuss with others in the organization.  This is part of the process, so don’t be concerned that there’s not a quick decision. 

If the big issue is bonus, do not accept the word “discretionary” as a satisfactory response.  Ask what a good year means for you and for the company, or a bad one, or just an average one, and what your upside might look like.   Is there a formula for part of it?  Take notes; you may need to refer back to those later on.  (That’s also sending a message, too!) 

Now’s the time to ask all of the questions you’ve been deferring throughout the interview process. Technology? Office space? Work culture issues?  Reviews?  Severance policy (yes, even that)?  Start date?  Anything goes on the table here.   

By not negotiating, you are almost always leaving money on the table.  Remember, it’s expected.  Using these three steps should improve the outcome of most compensation discussions.  Nothing to lose, plenty to gain.  

Professional Presentations: Key Ingredient for Professional Mobility (Part 3)

I hate to sound superficial, but let’s lay this out: The material might be great, incisive, brilliant – but packaging is essential in order to sell it. Maybe sometimes even more important. 

It’s why, when I teach or coach Professional Presentations, I’ll spend more time on the delivery aspect of the three key ingredients (analysis, design, delivery), by far. 

Not everyone can be a natural, dynamic speaker. Talent does play a part, and you can’t create talent. But you can become effective by learning some key delivery skills.

MAJOR DELIVERY POINTS

Here are what I consider the critical issues:

Eye Contact:  In any presentation, you are having a conversation with your audience, whether it’s a small departmental meeting or a group of 500. Looking above them, or at the floor, cuts off the conversation. You create a more impactful impression by utilizing this connection. If it’s a large audience, pick spots that cover the whole audience, perhaps two people on the sides of the front, a couple in the middle, and a couple on the sides of the back. That way, the audience feels you’re making the connection.  If it’s a small group, try to connect with each participant with an “eye lock” for at least five seconds.

Posture:  Obvious, but a mention is necessary. Bad posture will create a perception you don’t want. Good posture connotes confidence, whether you have it or not.  Remember, we’re trying to create perception here, and our true feelings about presenting don’t need to be demonstrated.

Gestures:  This is sometimes a cultural issue, not just a matter of discomfort. Some ethnic/national groups are usually “hand” people (Mediterranean, Latin American) and some are usually not (Scandinavian, East Asian). Hands behind the back could give the impression you’re hiding something, and hands frozen on the sides show a stiffness or anxiety. Neither makes an audience comfortable. Gesturing can underline what you’re saying, or emphasize key points. If you’re not in one of those gesturing groups, you’re going to need to practice. It’s a key form of expression. You want to use as many of the possible delivery tools as you can handle. 

Facial Expression:  Later on in this piece, I’ll mention monotone and inflection as important aspects of what you should and shouldn’t do when speaking publicly. Facial expressions fall into the same general category, as in when a presenter’s facial expression stays the same throughout. If you’re saying something serious, show serious. If funny, smile. (As a matter of fact, smile a lot, anyway, unless your presentation is deadly serious material.) Show what you’re thinking and saying; it’s another method of underlining the points you’re trying to make. 

Podium:  Simply, I don’t like them.  I think they cut off part of your expressiveness.  As mentioned earlier, you want to try all of the tools at your disposal, and your body is one of them. People at the podium tend to grip it for security, stare at a script or computer screen, and lose direct contact with the audience. That could deaden a presentation.  If you need to look at notes, and don’t want to depend on your visuals for cues – which I think is the best way to keep on script – walk away from the podium and walk back when you need the cue. Or have them on cards nearby, written in large letters.  Don’t hide behind the podium. Keep your contact with the audience. 

Distracting Mannerisms:  There are so many.  Playing with a laser pointer or a pen.  Jiggling change in a pocket. Most common, and probably worst of all, dancing.  Yes, dancing. That’s moving from side to side, a clear expression of discomfort. I think you have a choice here. Either you stand still and swivel your body in order to make good eye contact. Or, you take a few steps, and stop. Then a few more steps, and stop. But you don’t move back and forth, which is distracting to an audience.  You also don’t want to do the professorial pacing, either, which can be seriously distracting – and tiring for the audience. 

VERBAL TECHNIQUES

There are many verbal techniques which can enhance any presentation. These may include:  positive, assertive, directive language; good articulation (avoiding poor grammar); comparisons/contrasts; quotations; stories; humor.

A note about humor.  Please don’t be one of those people who think it important to start a presentation with a random joke. If you want to start with humor, start with a funny story that is immediate relevant to the group or topic you’re addressing. Otherwise, it’s too much of a risk, and you certainly don’t want the presentation to fall flat in the first minute.

A good technique for starting a presentation with an attention-grabber, is to start with a startling fact about the subject matter, something that might surprise the audience, or something that will draw them in quickly. 

My personal favorite verbal technique is stories. If, say, I’m teaching a class about presentations, I like to tell a story about how, if you make a mistake, the show must go on. The point of the story is that you don’t freak out and make the audience uncomfortable; you use a little composure-gaining silence to gather thoughts and just move forward.

One of my stories on this topic is a bit dramatic, but it makes a good point and I hope the illustration will create a lasting point, rather than just a simple statement. 

Here goes: Many years ago, when I was a pianist/music director with cabaret singers in New York City, I was working with a singer who liked to make her entrance from the back of the audience. The owner of the cabaret would darken the lights, announce her name, and I’d begin to play. She would start to sing, in the darkness, and by the time she’d get to the stage, she’d have the audience’s attention.  Very effective technique, which I learned to use in some presentations, as well.  (But that’s not the point of this particular story.) 

One night, the announcement was made, the house lights were darkened, and I began to play. I also noticed at that moment that the wheels on the bottom of the piano were not locked, and the piano began to move across the stage. 

Panic. In another minute or so, the piano would’ve rolled off the stage.  An interesting possible moment in the performance, but…I had to think fast, and just moved the bench while I was playing, trying not to miss a note, and hoping that the cabaret owner would see what was happening and catch the piano before it crashed. He did. (My alternative plan would’ve been to jump up and stop the show, but that would’ve ruined this story.) The singer and I did not miss a note. Although the front of the audience could see what was happening, it didn’t disturb the performance, and…the show went on.

I’ve been able to utilize stories for all types of classes and presentations, and have found them invaluable in not only getting an audience’s attention, but also emphasizing a point strongly. 

VOCAL TECHNIQUES

Vocal techniques can be aspects of public speaking that could make a significant difference in overall effectiveness. Here’s where the speaker can differentiate in even more significant ways than described above. Some vocal techniques worth working on:

Volume:  Varying volume helps to maintain interest. If you’re a low talker, then vary it to make a point. If you’re a louder speaker, then you’ll get attention for a specific point by lowering your voice. Variation, again, is the key.

Expressiveness:  This is much the same idea as facial expressiveness, mentioned earlier. A voice can get an emotional point across more effectively. If it’s serious, then a lower, graver tone will help underline. If it’s exciting, a variation in volume and excitement in the voice will get the point across. Once again, the variation is the key aspect.

Inflection:   One of the main speech-killers is monotone. That problem can actually apply, as well, to volume, expressiveness, and most of the other vocal techniques. A lack of inflection is a guarantee way to lose an audience, no matter how compelling the topic. We’ve all seen experts and remarkably experienced professionals fail in the presentation because of this specific issue.  This is another instance of where the framing might be as least as important as the substance. 

I use a simple exercise in workshops to prove this point, using the sentence like “No, I did not forge the prescription.”  (I used this particular sentence in a pharmaceutical company.)  Each participant was asked to emphasize only one word in the sentence.  Try it. You’ll see that not only is the sentence more interesting to listen to, but that the emphasis on some of the words actually changes the meaning of the sentence! 

Rate/Speed  This is another example of how variation helps create interest in the subject matter.  Slow it up.  Speed it up. Don’t stay at the same pace throughout. 

But a word on the subject of speed.  Something strange happens when you’re in front of a group. Time speeds up. Sometimes, you just want to get it over with, and it shows. What you think is 15 seconds is really one. When in doubt, slow down.  Your slowing down will probably end up being normal speech patterns. What you think is normal is probably speeding, when you’re “up there.” 

Dramatic Pauses: A wonderful…technique. You want to make a significant point? Well, then, slow it…down. For emphasis.

And last, but certainly not least of the vocal techniques:

Non-Words: This is the one you don’t want to use. Um, uh, well, you know.  This may be one of the most difficult aspects of public speaking to avoid. The “non-words” occur when the speaker is struggling for the next word or section of the presentation. An amazing thing – silence is far better than a non-word. Audiences notice the non-words, which show discomfort. A silence is not distracting, and never as long as the speaker thinks. 

A FINAL WORD

You know the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall?  No, the answer is not “drive south on Seventh Avenue and hang a left onto 57th…” The answer is “Practice, practice, practice.”  As I mentioned earlier, talent helps a lot, but nothing works as well as getting yourself up there and…(pause for dramatic effect)…practicing.  

Professional Presentations: Key Ingredient for Professional Mobility (Part 2)

In the first part of this piece, I wrote about how important effective presentation skills are for visibility in an organization – essentially a political skill.  

Now comes the tough part: How can you get past the terror of public speaking? The answer is simple – preparation. There are three essential elements that go into effective public speaking: analyzing the audience, designing the presentation, and developing superior delivery technique. 

I hate to sound superficial, but I strongly believe that the last item is the most important. It’s like interviewing; the packaging is as important as the content, maybe even more so. Without it, the content doesn’t always come across that well.  

1) Analyzing the Audience

A presentation will be more effective the more you know about your audience. Even if it’s a staff meeting, do you about know everyone in the room? Chances are there might be someone from a different department. Maybe that person could change the dynamic of the room (maybe it’s the EVP of the whole department?).  

In a larger group, with perhaps a more formal presentation, do you have a real sense of the room? This could be a critical element in the effectiveness of your presentation. A canned presentation given without consideration of the audience has less chance of success.  

Several years ago, I was asked to do a yearly presentation for a large group – usually about 300 - at an open house for a departmental program at New York University. It was impossible to figure out the audience in advance, because it was open to a large community. So, in order to get a real sense of the audience, I would show up about a half hour early, sit in the back, and listen to people as they walked in. This always gave me a good sense of what the tone of the overall group was going to be.

Sometimes, if I overheard something that was relevant to the presentation, I would address the person who said it, and incorporate it, which is always a great way of getting audience members involved. Make it personal. Establish a connection.  

When you do have the opportunity to analyze the audience in advance, there are several questions you need to address before designing your presentation.  

  • What is the level of experience in the room?
  • What is the context of the presentation?
  • What are the group’s expectations?
  • What are the potential benefits to the audience?
  • What is the overall attitude of the audience?  

You can’t always figure out all of these in advance, but the more you know, the more you can adjust the presentation to the needs of the group. For example, if there’s a wide range of experience, then a major presentations skill is to be able to teach to both ends of the spectrum, as well as to the middle. Something for everyone.  

2) Designing the Presentation

The first critical aspect of design is to figure out the purpose of the presentation. Is it to inform? To persuade? To motivate? Or some combination of the three? That will certainly affect the tone.

Second, what is the objective? Even if it’s a 10-minute presentation to a group of five, make sure that you know what your main point is. When I teach a 45-minute introductory class about presentations – or any class, for that matter – I’ll always announce at the beginning why we’re doing it. (More about that opening in a bit.)

Here’s a suggested order for putting the presentation together:

  • Organize content
  • Select and sequence key points
  • Prepare transition statements
  • Develop a closing that summarizes
  • Develop an opening

See something strange in the order?

The last one is preparing the opening! It’s last because it’s the hardest, and because it’s tough to prepare unless you know exactly what the content of the presentation will be. An unclear opening will lose the audience, and will make it difficult to get them back. I suggest the following elements in an opening:

Introduce yourself, even in a small group where you know everyone.  Maybe there’ll be one person you don’t know. Don’t assume.  

  • Announce your objective.
  • Describe the agenda of the presentation, i.e., the main points to be covered.
  • Announce whether you’ll be taking questions during or after the presentation.
  • Tell approximately how long the presentation will be (your audience will be grateful).

Be certain to outline the presentation – do not script. The outline will help you stay focused. A script will lead you to memorize, which is not a successful or reliable technique for public speaking. Memorizing makes you focus way too much on the material, when you should be focusing on how it’s being presented. If you lose your place, it becomes a distraction – to you and to the audience. Prepare by rehearsing off the outline, or off the slides in your deck. That will make the presentation flow better, and sound more spontaneous and conversational. It’s also much easier for your audience to listen when your presentation doesn’t sound so rehearsed. Practice is the key.  

Make sure there are connections between the key points. If a presenter just announces what the next topic is, it’s not always clear what the relationship is to the previous segment. That relationship should be spelled out.  

A closing is not “Well, that’s it!” It’s a summation of the main points that have been covered. An audience should know what’s going to happen; what’s happening as the presentation unfolds; and, ultimately, what was covered. Make it easy for the audience. Remember – a successful presentation is geared to the audience. If that works, then the presenter looks good. Which brings us back to the politics of professional presentations, which we discussed in Part 1.

In Part 3, I’ll discuss the actual mechanics of delivery, which, as I mentioned early, is probably the most important part of effective presentations.  

Professional Presentations: Key Ingredient for Career Mobility (Part 1)

I’ve been teaching Professional Presentations for many years, in two-day workshops in large organizations, one-on-one coaching, as well as one-hour versions in graduate school classrooms. Initially, the purpose of the programs, from the vantage of the sponsoring organizations, was to help participants improve their public speaking skills in meetings and larger gatherings. This coaching and teaching also was intended to assist in getting past the profound fears of public speaking that most people experience.  

Very slowly, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is this fear-inducing skill important in many work activities – but it’s an important political skill. The political angle is simple. If your co-workers and management don’t know you’re doing a great job and possess critical skills, it’s almost like that tree in the forest. If they don’t hear or know about your accomplishments, then maybe you’re not so successful after all.  

The perception is key.  

The ability to present can mean as little as an important conversation with your boss or a job interview. How well prepared are you? How articulate are you and how effective is the manner in which you present? Are you getting your point across well?  

I certainly don’t mean to indicate that everything you say has to be prepared as though you were giving speeches all day.  In many circumstances, though, it’s important to be prepared. The most devout introverts need to be heard at staff meetings. Not everyone can speak easily without preparation, although the ability to speak extemporaneously is a talent that can go a long way in advancing a career. 

Whenever I prepare to discuss this subject, I’ll start with a conversation about fear. It’s important to identify the level of the fear. I like to ask people how they’d rank that fear from 1 (abject terror) to 5 (willingness to speak with minimal preparation to a group of 500). Usually, the results average somewhere in the 2-3 range.  (Of course, some of the groups are self-selecting and included many terrified public speakers.)  

If you’re fearful of public speaking, even in very small groups, you’re not alone.  I like to research, at least once a year, recent surveys of common fears. One of the most recent lists of most common fears, in order:

1)                 Snakes
2)                 Public speaking
3)                 Heights
4)                 Being stuck in a small space
5)                 Spiders and insects
6)                 Injections
7)                 Death 
8)                 Dogs
9)                 Crowds
10)               Going to the doctor

Tough not to notice that “death” is #7, and “public speaking” is #2.

It’s probable you’re in the majority when it comes to fear of public speaking – but in order to move your career along, it would help to improve. I never suggest that everyone must become a brilliant orator; what I do encourage is to try to become at least competent, or somewhat more comfortable when addressing groups or individuals in important situations.  

Just in case I haven’t made the point that presentations skills are important political attributes, I’m going to refer to yet another list. There have been many of these lists compiled where senior executives of large organizations are asked what the qualities are for predicting individual success in an organization. As you’ll see in a current list below, I’ve used this to prove my point.

Criteria for success (in order):

1)                 Clear articulation
2)                 General communication skills
3)                 Presentation skills
4)                 Listening skills
5)                 Simple etiquette
6)                 Appropriate business attire
7)                 Organizational skills
8)                 Telephone courtesy
9)                 Post-secondary school education level
10)               Previous experience

See something unusual in there? Aside from presentations skills being #3 as a critical component for success in an organization, also notice that the only “hard” skill listed is #10, “previous experience.” I search for these lists yearly; sometimes there are no “hard” skills listed at all, and sometimes as many as two.  

In other words, it’s not what you know or have done that counts most; it’s how you package it. Those so-called “soft” skills may mean more than the skill set. At least according to these lists.  Clearly, the same goes for an ordinary job interview, as well.  

Which is what brings us back to the issue of presentation skill. Not only is it important in career mobility, but it also frequently involves overcoming a significant level of fear.

In the next blog, I’ll tackle key elements in getting past the fear by thorough preparation, and improving your overall presentations style.  

Volunteering - a good idea for career transition?

There has been much discussion about whether volunteerism is a useful technique in career transition. I remember a Washington Post article about a year and a half ago that cited a study claiming that 27% of volunteer jobs lead to other full-time paying jobs.   

I'd like to expand on that idea. I don't think volunteerism is only beneficial to the lower-skilled job seekers mentioned in that piece; I think it's good at any level. Since the article focused on that particular group, I'd like to talk about the others who are more skilled and experienced.

On a purely emotional and practical basis, volunteering is a great idea for building structures into your day. That's always a big problem with people who are out of work all of a sudden - their regular structures, and peers, disappear.  

I don't encourage clients and students to seek full-time volunteer positions, though, because it would take them out of their regular, structured search activities, and the loss of momentum is problematic. Go for part-time. Three days a week would be fine. No more, because it won't leave enough time for a reasonable job search, or at least my version of one.

I think finding the right volunteer situation is critical for those who are more educated and skilled. By "right," I mean something that might add a skill necessary for your targeted career goal, or might reinforce an existing one. If you're an events planner, for example, getting involved in fundraising activities for a non-profit would be a great idea. Or if you're in finance, why not offer services in the financial area of a non-profit? Even though it might not be the same as the jobs you've been doing, it's something you can point to when going out on the job market.  

There's one part of this most people overlook. If you're going to offer your services for free, you can negotiate! Yes, negotiate. I frequently tell the people I work with that they should discuss a few items up front:

•    Ask if you can be called a consultant, rather than a volunteer. Looks better on the resume, and sounds better in networking and interviewing.

•    Be sure what the role is, that it won't be a bait and switch situation. For example, you've been told you're going to help them design a new system for membership, and then you find out after you start you're doing data entry. Not useful for you.  Don’t do it.

•    Ask if they'll provide excellent references for you (calling you a consultant, of course), assuming you do the terrific job that you will.

•    Also, if you're going to do that terrific job for them, would they assist you by perhaps providing some help in building new networks?

•    And . . . perhaps, if things work out well on both ends, would there be a possible position that might become available (if you're interested, of course)?  

I'm not surprised by the 27% number provided in the article. I’ve always thought that volunteering during a search is a no-lose proposition, if set up well.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

10-Lesson Career Strategies Video Series Available on Curious.com

Career Strategies That Work is a 10-lesson video series I've put together for Curious.com. The full course is now available, as well as free preview. 

For readers of this blog, many of the topics may be familiar 

  • Interviewing techniques, 
  • Networking strategies, 
  • Dealing with unexpected job loss
  • Considering bridge jobs


but I know from my experience dealing with thousands of clients and students, that sometimes you need to hear and see the person who's handing out advice for it to really click. 


I hope you'll take a look and let me know what you think. 


Ellis 

Career Transition Mythology - Part Two

The more I think about it, the more career transition myths I come up with, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll keep it to ten – for now. Here are five more to add to the previous list:

1) The myth: If you have a terrific interview, with instantaneous great feedback, the odds are good that you’ll get an offer.

The reality: Think of the interview as just the first part of a process.  What happens after the interview is almost as important as the interview itself.  

A follow-up email is imperative, within 24 hours. It’s not a matter of etiquette. It’s about marketing, and about solidifying the points you made on the interview. You want to reiterate why you think the position is a great fit (“fit” being one of my favorite job search words). You may want to add something that you may have not had the opportunity to include in the interview. You know how you sometimes leave an interview and all of a sudden realize that you left out a critical element? The follow-up email is the opportunity to fix that.  

Keep the email short and business-like, with short paragraphs, or perhaps bullet points. Make it easy to scan, like all business communications. Reiterate your interest in the position.  

Another follow-up element is staying in touch. Never let more than five to ten business days elapse without some sort of contact. It should be a low-key voicemail or email, just “checking in” on the status of your candidacy. Maybe if the process drags out (more common than not), you offer to come in again to make their process easier. Maybe that sounds a bit presumptuous, but I think it’s a “why not?” if the process is lagging. Nothing to lose!  

2)The myth: Spending a couple of hours a day calling contacts and answering postings should just about do it for allocating time to any job search.

The reality: Time management and prioritization are critical elements of a successful career transition. For the unemployed, it’s a full-time job. Research, building and maintaining a contact database, maintaining accurate records of all activities, reaching out, and aiming for as many as five live meetings a week should create an extremely busy schedule. A truly proactive search is time-consuming.    

For employed people, it’s tougher. I highly recommend a quota system for those on a search, i.e., a certain amount of dedicated time per day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of reading about a targeted area, that’s part of the process. The key is to maintain momentum by aiming for some time every day, whether it’s reading or making a phone call, or trying to get one live meeting per week.

3) The myth: “Networking” means calling everyone you know, and asking for job leads and new contacts.  

The reality: Real networking is a process.  It’s not a quick introduction, or one meeting. As with sophisticated sales technique, it’s cultivating relationships – over a period of time. It’s also more subtle than just asking friends for leads. Another label for the concept is “indirect marketing.”  

Each meeting should have three objectives, which is a good way to measure its effectiveness. 

  • First, the relationship itself is key; so is maintaining it after the initial contact.  
  • Second, the meeting should be structured around prepared questions that both reflect your knowledge of the industry, and the self-marketing questions you wanted to ask in the first place. 
  • Third, what you may have thought the whole thing was about, a chance to expand your network by asking if there’s a possibility of referrals to others who might be helpful.  

4) The myth: A great 15-second “elevator pitch” is critical to your success in any career transition.

The reality: The very idea of a 15-second pitch strikes me as ridiculous.  Yes, it might be appropriate for that elevator, but who wants to be pitched on an elevator? It also might work well at a social or professional gathering, since you don’t want to corner anyone with a full pitch. Your objective there, after all, is just to get some business cards for future reaching out.

A pitch is a 1 ½ - 2-minute summary of who you are, what your skills and experience have been, something memorable that makes you different from others, a one-sentence job history, and a summary of all of it to cement what you’ve already stated. 

A great pitch is one of the hardest aspects in transition and one of the more critical. It’s not only imperative for the “tell me about yourself” question on an interview, but it’s also a great introduction in a networking meeting, a way of establishing yourself on a new job, a good outline for scripting your approach and follow-up emails. In other words, it’s your brand, and you want to use it as the cornerstone of your transition.

5) The myth: Cast a wide net in your search. Apply for everything. Talk with everyone. The numbers are bound to work in your favor.

The reality: Designating clearly defined targets (Plan A, Plan B, and maybe even Plan C) is the critical first phase of any transition. It’s not necessarily what’s available out there; it’s what you want, and what is feasible.  

After figuring out what the possible targets will be, it’s important to then research what their markets are. If it’s a target which may have only two or three organizations that might hire into those positions, it’s not a great statistical target – unless the other(s) have more possibilities. Overall, you want a high probability of success, contingent on a large number of possible options in the target.  

An unfocused search might work, just by sheer randomness – but not that often. A targeted search will work faster and better, assuming you’ve performed a basic due diligence on the feasibility of those targets first.  

Here’s a good philosophy to stick to: The best work situation is one where someone in career transition looks for what fits his/her life, rather than fitting the life to the career. This will add to the necessary focus.  

Avoiding these myths will help keep any career transition on track.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook.

Career Transition Mythology - Part One

There are so many faulty and widely-held convictions about how to execute a successful career transition that I thought it might be helpful to address a few  – and debunk them. What follows are some of the most common:

1) The myth: In order to defuse some of the more painful aspects of all the rejection and difficulties inherent in any search, it’s a great idea to share your feelings freely. 

The reality: You don’t want your brand out there to be a negative one. The last thing you need is a general perception that things aren’t going well, or that you’re discouraged, or that things aren’t working out. Think about it. Why would people in your personal or professional network want to refer you to others if they perceive you as somehow damaged or discouraged goods? The perception you want to create is what I like to call “sunshine, light, and success.” It’s all going well, even if it isn’t.  

But you do need to vent and troubleshoot during this process. Limit that to one or two close friends, professional associates, or family members.  Try hard to keep the venting to a minimum with significant others. It’s tough for them, too, and you would much prefer they be more positive and supportive, rather than experiencing exactly what you are going through. A strong emotional support system is an essential piece of a successful search.

By the way, it’s absolutely permissible to take some time off. While I think that search is a full-time job, breaks are important. (That doesn’t mean take the summer off, or give up during the holiday seasons.) I’ve frequently observed that not taking time off will often make the search less effective and less energetic.  

2) The myth: Answer as many job postings as possible; the more resumes out there, the better.  

The reality: Sending out large volumes of resumes (even with great cover emails) is usually a waste of time. It’s reactive – or passive – job search. What many people hope is that by sending out large volume responses to postings, or sending out resumes blindly to various human resources departments, there will be market saturation and, by sheer statistical probability, many responses. In other words, they can just sit there and wait for the world to come to them. The phone will ring. Emails will magically appear. It doesn’t usually happen that way, but it’s definitely a great wish.  

One of the most negative images I have of a futile job search is someone in transition staring at both their computers and phones – and waiting.  

Statistically (since we just mentioned numbers), a significant proportion of jobs are found through relationships, not through sending out resumes or calling search firms.  

You need to take responsibility for your own search, in a proactive fashion.  That means while you may answer postings, you’re spending most of your time researching your targets, working on your self-branding, and developing relationships that will lead to learning about new possibilities. That’s a full time job, and it’s hard work.  

3) The myth: After having built those above-mentioned relationships, you can relax after you meet new people, and wait for the job possibilities and leads to roll in.  

The reality: We’re back to that proactive notion again here. One of the most common problems I hear about in transitions is that my clients or students have met many people, but that alone has still not led to job possibilities.  

Having one meeting with a valuable contact is not enough.  

An effective networking approach, one that is consistently proactive and does indeed lead to finding out about position openings, is one that involves tending those new relationships. That means multiple follow-up contacts – including a thank you/marketing email for positive reinforcement right after a meeting, then perhaps multiple communications  afterward, as many as you think reasonable. One of those might be telling the contact that you’ve met successfully with someone they’ve suggested. Or another might be sending a clipping about a relevant topic that was discussed in the meeting. Keep the communications short and unobtrusive.  

What we’re talking about here is pure sales technique. A contact won’t remember you from just one meeting, and especially not from just one phone call. (I always encourage, whenever possible, that meetings be in person.)  There have to be repeated contacts to create memory and relationship. This is more hard work.

4) The myth: When you think that an offer is about to come, suspend all other job search activities. You don’t want to have to cancel meetings and offend people.  

The reality: It’s dangerous to stop a search when an offer, or offers, seem imminent. Momentum is lost. So much can happen with that assumed offer. Funding could disappear, an internal candidate could appear; any number of variables could mess up your offer. So why rely on what you can’t control?  Keep things going.  

When I said “dangerous,” I meant that when all activity is stopped in anticipation of offer(s), and those don’t work out, it’s very difficult to get activities started again. It’s demoralizing to try to rebuild the search at that low point. Search is hard enough without adding unnecessary detours.  

If you do get the offer, and successfully negotiate it, then great; you can always cancel the other meetings you’ve scheduled.  

5) The myth: The more people I talk with, the better.

The reality: Volume doesn’t equate to success in job search. High numbers are better than low, but not enough. As mentioned earlier, I’ve heard many job seekers say they’ve met many people, and some may even enjoy the process (that always surprises me, because I’m not one who will talk about what a wonderful experience career transition is).  But they wonder why the volume hasn’t resulted in new job leads or at least new, reliable information.  

I recommend a system for analyzing the quality of your networking contacts.

  • Level One contacts are peers, or just those who might be able to help you penetrate an organization, or simply give you industry information that you need to make yourself more of an “insider.” Level One is where most will spend significant time, particularly in the beginning of search – when you’re looking to validate your targets. But if a search continues to be only Level One, this may be a key reason why it’s not working.
  • Level Two contacts are the right people in the right organizations in your target areas – and could also possibly lead you to decision makers, otherwise known as Level Three.  These Level Two contacts are great sources of information about your targets and your potential market.  
  • Decision makers (Level Three) are those who make hiring decisions.  They are your eventual targets in search.  

If your search is stalled, chances are there are mostly Level One contacts in your network. If you’re making progress, you’re seeing Level Two and Level Three contacts.

In Part II I'll talk about more myths and other factors in successful search.   

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Closing the Deal - The Wrong Concept for Interviews

When I’m analyzing a client’s or student’s career transition, trying to create a diagnosis of what may be going wrong , I’ll take a look at several critical elements:

  • Are there two or three clearly defined targets?  How were these chosen?
  • Are there well-designed pitches for these targets that will establish the value and unique qualities of the job seeker?
  • Is his/her networking leading to contacts with decision makers?
  • Are networking meetings resulting in new information, a reinforced or new relationship, and new potential contacts?  
  • If interviews have taken place, is there a problem getting to the subsequent rounds? 

It is the last item on this checklist that is one of the most difficult to figure out. The job seeker is getting interviews, which is usually the most difficult part of the process. That means all the other components are working, indicating that what I consider to be the toughest aspects, especially relationship-building, have been successful. And she or he is getting past the first round of interviews, also a tough obstacle.  

Getting to the next round

I think the interview is generally the easiest part of the career transition process to fix.  

Learning how to answer the difficult questions, how to present well, how to actively listen and respond accordingly are more mechanical and direct than the somewhat amorphous nature of building networks.  

But something goes wrong when the applicant doesn’t get past that second round. Sometimes it’s pure chemistry, and sometimes it’s just not a good match. It can also be luck of the draw, perhaps even the timing of the interview. And, too often, it’s impossible to figure out what didn’t work; prospective employees end up trying to read tea leaves, endlessly.   

When the process ends after the second or third round (or later), I will ask a client or student to tell me details of all of the interviews. What I’m particularly interested in is – what was the difference in substance and tone between the second and third rounds or between subsequent ones?  

Where job seekers go wrong

In a majority of situations that haven’t worked, I have learned that the applicant’s tone has changed. 

The problem, then, might be one of two issues that occur in the advanced stages of an interview process. First, there’s the sales notion of “closing the deal.” In other words, pitch and sell hard. Be more direct. Change tone and be more assertive. 

Don’t.  

I usually advise job seekers to maintain the same tone that got them there in the first place. If an applicant gets past the initial screen, it means a representative of the organization feels it’s a good fit, stylistically and substantively. So why change in the next – or the one after that - round? 

I think it’s important to stay the same throughout the process, continue being the person they thought was a good fit at the beginning. The only thing that should change, perhaps, is adding more “war stories,” more behavioral examples of accomplishments.  

The other potential problem in advanced rounds is an assumption that it’s “in the bag,” so acting like it’s a done deal, with confidence, will reinforce the interviewer’s positive perception.

Don’t.

Never assume anything. The selling nature of interviewing should be continued throughout the entire hiring process, including negotiations. It doesn’t stop. Not even when a decision-maker indicates that you’re the lead candidate. (How many times have job seekers heard that one, and then never heard from the person again?) The tone should stay the same, and the selling should continue. 

What works

For as long as I can remember, I’ve advised people in career transition to always stick to my version of President Kennedy’s often-quoted inaugural speech, “Ask not what the organization can do for you; rather, ask what you can do for the organization.” That should be the focus of all interviews, and especially the later ones. With no change of tone.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Drawing the Line - Vacations (and Work)

I couldn’t make this up.  

A young investment banker client, a guy who had significant work/life balance issues, wanted to ask me a personal question. He knew well that he had lost his perspective about how much is too much when it came to his work ethic. All he knew was working insane hours was bringing him a terrific income and a relatively secure career path – but was having serious ramifications in his personal life. (The fact that he didn’t like his work much was not yet the issue it became later.)  

He was about to go on his honeymoon in Hawaii. I knew exactly what was coming next. He asked if I thought it would be terrible if he worked on his smartphone during the honeymoon. He said it would only be a “couple of hours,” sometimes more, each day.  

He was completely serious. Talk about boundaries! And it wasn’t the only time I had heard about this kind of work issue. It’s quite common in certain professions.  

I asked him if what he was currently working on was high priority, and whether it was expected that he be on call during his honeymoon. Of course everything, in his mind, was urgent, which was a whole other problem. He did realize that management at his company did not expect him to be available during this particular time, but they did expect him to be somewhat accessible during regular vacations.  

My advice to him was that if I were his wife and saw him working, I would throw the phone into that beautiful Hawaiian ocean. He agreed that would be a reasonable reaction. Our compromise was that he would dedicate a maximum of one half hour a day to answering and reading emails, and he would do it completely out of sight of his wife. Hotel bathroom, honeymoon suite, whatever. Just away from his new wife.  

When he came back, he told me it had worked – and he had been happy with his new-found freedom from the device, and from work. He admitted that the company hadn’t fallen apart due to his not being constantly available.  

Easy for me to say, right? I can just hear some of my clients asking that.  

Try a quota system

Ok. I’ll admit I’ve been a serious offender myself. Due to the nature of my business, I tell clients that I am available for emergencies, meaning a lost job or a negotiation, during vacations. Plus it’s tough not to check email for the possibility of new business.  

On one vacation, I checked email a couple of times a day, and by the end of the vacation, I realized I hadn’t had such a great time. It’s tough to relax when you’re constantly going to work, even for short periods. I had been thinking too much about work issues and had spent far too much time on business email. I resolved that the next big vacation was going to involve some kind of quota system.  

The first time I tried a quota system, it was limiting business email to one half-hour run-through a day, and voicemail once a week. Still too much. Still thinking about work on vacation too much.  

Last summer, I think I finally got it down right. Three days a week, quick scan of emails, maybe 20 minutes max, and the one phone check per week. It did work. I limited most of my computer time to reading the online newspapers and used the iPad for books. Period.  

I strongly urge my clients to withdraw from their devices as much as feasible when on vacation, because it’s good for mental health. That’s the point of vacations. And, if absolutely necessary, limit communications to a set time each weekday or maybe even two-three times a week. Sometimes I’ll encourage clients to think that vacation is part of total compensation (it is). If you don’t utilize your vacation, then you’re leaving money on the table. I’ve never been able to figure out clients who don’t take their full allotment of vacation time – and brag about it! That’s like those Wall Street professionals I work with both in my private practice and at Columbia Business School, who will boast about how many hours a week they work. A very New York City thing.  

Many professionals have realized they can fully withdraw from their devices because of the nature of their businesses, and how things are covered back home when they’re away. That helps create a true vacation experience.  

Limits do work.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Why See a Career Advisor?

For the past year, since the publication of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job:  Career Strategies That Work, I’ve been answering readers’ questions on the Ask Ellis pages of the book website. There are some questions I’m asked so frequently, I wanted to choose one of the most popular, and the answer, here.   

Question: I'm out of work and short on funds.  Is it worth spending the money to see a career advisor?

Dear Ellis,
I've been out of work for six months. I've always been good (successful!) at search, and have been resourceful enough to figure out the best techniques. Yet, something's not working this time. I've been told over and over that I should find a good career advisor to help me, but I hate spending the money during this time when I don’t have much to spend, and don't quite know what to expect from an advisor.  
John R.

Answer: You’ll gain perspective and a whole lot more

Dear John,
This one is always a bit uncomfortable to answer, because it's tough to avoid appearing self-serving. Obviously, I think seeing an advisor is a great way to help you get through this difficult time--otherwise, I would've chosen a different career myself. (Sometimes, though, there have been times when I have told prospective clients that they might benefit more from consulting with professionals in another field.)  

Okay, that's out of the way, and I'll be as objective as possible. 

My major reason for suggesting a career advisor is about the emotional aspects--search is isolating. You've been separated from your routine, from a part of your identity, and from people you may have liked. Left on your own, you ruminate. You try to interpret every aspect of the search, for example:

  • Why is this person not calling back? 
  • Why isn't my resume working the way resumes should? 
  • Why is it five days since they said they'd call and they had promised three? 
  • Have I made the right choice in what I'm seeking? 
  • Maybe it's time for a radical change? 
  • And, my favorite: Why are so many people so incredibly rude during this process?   In the last interview, they told me I was the lead candidate!  And I’ve been unable to contact them again.  Total radio silence.

You go round and round in these thoughts (and so many others), don't get anywhere, and start to over-think every aspect. Some people end up reworking their resumes 10 or 12 times, almost always a serious waste of energy. Sometimes, the result of all the rumination is to make bad career decisions, just to avoid the anxiety of the process itself.  

If you have a significant other or family or both, that will probably add to the stress, no matter how supportive friends and family may be. After all, if there’s a significant other, for example, that person is just as stressed about the situation as you are. Maybe more.  

What's lacking here is perspective, and I think that's where the experienced listener and advisor play a most critical role. It always amazes me that at the end of a successful client experience, one of the comments I have heard the most over the years is--"You really understood what I was going through." 

The comments are not usually about the technical aspects of the transition, even if we spent several meetings reviewing networking, resume, and all the rest.  

An experienced consultant will be knowledgeable about the (over-hyped) significance of resumes, will help with decisions about appropriate targets, will work with interview presentation and content, will teach the value of high-touch relationship building, and, I hope, will understand and show the value of social media and social intelligence in the process.  

As for the money--if it helps you, it's worth it. Don’t think about the immediate cost; it’s all about the big picture and achieving the desired overall result. Another perspective is that it’s an investment--in you.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Seriously - Does the Fun-Forever Job Really Exist?

Since my book, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job, was published last year, I've received reviews and comments from readers who thought the title meant the book was going to inspire readers to find that elusive “fun-forever job.” Actually, the title was meant to be somewhat ironic.  

Why I Chose that Title
The title came from my daughter who, at age eight, wrote and illustrated a “book” called “When I Am Grownup.” I’m not sure most eight-year-olds would be concerned about professional choices or involved in much self-reflection, but she was the daughter of a career consultant and a psychoanalyst and could hardly avoid this type of thinking. It was genetically predetermined.

In her book, Hannah ruminated about her possibilities. She felt she’d want an “unushowoll” job “that I can do most anything I want in, something like the fun-forever job.” She worried such a job might not be available and considered other options (a headshrinker or a headhunter) but continued to feel concern about even those jobs working out.

The Wish
What was particularly striking to me was that so many of my clients and students have expressed a similar wish for a totally fulfilling career, as if they hoped to discover their perfect, passionate calling out there somewhere. 

The concept of a “fun-forever job” seems funny to me because most people—including, perhaps, Hannah at age eight—knows it’s probably unobtainable. This does not appear to prevent people from wanting it anyway.

Of course there are a few lucky people who seem to have found that fun-forever job, but the number of such people is most likely very small. I’ve only met a few over the years.  After all, a job means work, meaning on a daily basis, on most days of the week. Seeking consistent passion puts a heavy emphasis on something that is rarely achieved and often leads to disappointment and discontent at work. 

The Reality
Of course, it’s possible to love a job or be passionate about a career, but forever? Every day? That’s like looking for a lifetime soul mate who’s great-looking, rich, witty, sexy, and sensitive—someone you’ll feel excited about all the time for the entire relationship. I know too many people who think that way about relationships. Definitely not a fun-forever situation, either.    

To some degree, the search for the fun-forever job has continued for Hannah, as it has for many of my clients, although they refer to it in different terms. Sometimes, it’ll be “something totally exciting” or the frequent “all I need is challenge,” and other times it’s as basic as “something I won’t dread every day,” or “any job that won’t make me feel sick on Sunday evening.”  

What It Takes to Find a Job that Suits You
I believe career development should be a process that includes figuring out what works and doesn’t work, clarifying personal values, understanding personal style, and leveraging that knowledge moving forward. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime or permanent decision.  Do you hear that, recent graduates?  (Take a look at last week’s blog.)  

Sometimes it may mean that your job only needs to be reasonably good if it supports you and provides you with a salary, security, and benefits, and you can gain the passion part from what you do outside your job. Or you might turn your full-time job into a part-time one and work on several different activities and interests outside of your core job. 

There are many other permutations; the key is to not put the pressure of the Big Decision on yourself too early and to realize it may take some time to develop a career that works for you.  My core philosophy of career development is that you should focus on making the career fit your life, not the other way around.  

My own career path, as I explain early in the book, is a good example of the many twists and turns you may need to take to reach that point where you feel pretty good about your career choices. I’ve written about my own experience in the hope that others who find the career development process complicated or painful may understand better that it often involves a series of realizations and changes—sometimes even circling back to what you knew in the first place.

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Should New Graduates Have a Career Path?

While I’ve talked to students on many different occasions throughout the academic year, I’ve never been invited to give a commencement address. That hasn’t stopped me from thinking about what I would like to say, if asked. (I’d even be happy to wear a cap and gown.)

The Graduation Address I’d Like to Give if Only Someone Would Ask

What I want to say to you today is what I wish someone had said to me at my graduation. (Never mind that I didn’t attend. That’s another story.) 

Commencement season is much more than students protesting speakers and speakers telling graduates about the impact they can make on society.

It’s a time for celebration, yes. But underneath all the excitement, there’s a profound level of anxiety. Anxiety about what kind of job you should be looking for. Anxiety about whether you can afford to live on your own or will be moving back home. (My apologies to the parents for bringing this up, but I’ve seen statistics claiming anywhere from 53-85% of college graduates move back home.) Anxiety because now is the moment when you really have to decide what you want to be when you grow up.

But my question is this: should you really be asked to make a decision for life at 22?

I’ve been a career consultant for more than 25 years so I know that some of you will make bad career decisions just to avoid the anxiety of not making a decision at all. Sometimes that means law school, sometimes medical school, sometimes another professional graduate program. Or just any graduate school, in order to avoid any decisions and stay in a relatively safe place.  

I frequently joke to my graduate students--who carefully made their very expensive decision to go to business school after at least six or seven years in the workforce--I am grateful for all those who chose to go to law school right after graduation, because they will form a strong base of referrals for my private practice later on.  

Why? Because their decisions were usually based on all the wrong factors. Choosing a profession for life at 22 because of a need to make a decision, any decision, is a bad idea. 

Where bad decisions will take you

While I like getting the business from all those unhappy attorneys, at the same time I’m very sorry to see so many clients who are miserable in their careers as a result of faulty decision-making. And too often, they stick with those bad decisions for far too long.  

Why do they stick with those decisions? Because they worry about not knowing what they really want to do. A kind of infinite loop.  

I then end up working with many 40-45-year-old attorneys who will claim that they hated law school at orientation, but could never figure out how to extricate themselves from the security of a steady job and a good paycheck--the “golden handcuffs.” 

Or I work with the many doctors who have enrolled in the Executive MBA program, where I consult, because they’d never liked clinical work much, were not that interested in medicine to begin with, and wanted to do something much more business-oriented.  

Or I speak with information technology professionals from abroad who chose their careers because they saw those careers as the best possible shot at upward mobility in their countries, and then later realized that they were far more interested in the business end of things.  

When I meet students, like you, about to graduate from college who are thinking about the law school thing, I’ll ask them why. Their first inclination is to think of law as a safe, secure choice. Funny thing about that. It isn’t, anymore. 

But if they don’t have a substantive answer to why they’ve chosen law school, I will suggest that they try clerical or paralegal work in a law firm or other legal area for a year. Otherwise, they have no real idea whether or not the field is interesting. 

What kind of decision should you be making? 

First, let’s take the pressure off. It is not necessary to make a lifetime decision right after college graduation. Let’s take that even further. I’m a career advisor who doesn’t believe in long-term career planning. Yes, there are some who do have a vision; some of my students, at age 31, know exactly where they want to be in 30 years. Most don’t. 

I’ve never been able to figure out why making a lifetime decision is so important to so many people, and why it’s a normal expectation. Maybe it’s the result of so many parents and friends asking, “So what are you going to do? What’s your career goal?” I think that the 20’s are the perfect time for exploration and figuring things out. Lifetime planning for most of you is not feasible. More than that, it’s probably the cause of so many bad decisions.  

But what should a graduate do? If we’re talking about someone who, like the vast majority of graduates, doesn’t have a clue about what he or she wants in the long term, let’s start as I already said by taking the pressure off. 

The decision about that first job should be based on – 

  • What do you find interesting? 
  • What have you enjoyed doing to this point?  
  • And what is important to you in terms of your personal values?  
  • Then I’d ask you to think about what are the upsides of a first job?   

I suggest including the upsides to help you understand that this initial decision isn’t one that can never be altered. Or that if you make a mistake it’s a career killer (ridiculous). At your age, no job should be thought of as make or break. What this initial job should be is a skill builder, and an exploration.  

Let me give you an example.

A recent college graduate client was determined to get into advertising. He was a talented writer, and had a serious creative gift. But entry-level jobs in advertising are hard to find these days, in a seriously contracting and quickly evolving field. Thanks to his skill at building networks, he managed to find a job with a firm he soon realized was not a good fit for him. To put it mildly, he despised the people and the culture. But he stuck it out to gain experience. He left for an unpaid internship, which helped him clarify his interest in the creative end and helped him develop a strategy. The internship recently ended.  

He’s on search once again now, and is still angry about his initial experience. I pointed out the upsides-- both the first bad experience and the non-paying experience not only gave him skills to describe to prospective employers, but also helped him discover exactly what it was that he wanted to do in advertising. I also pointed out that everyone has terrible jobs, maybe a few of them, and it was just unlucky that his first one was such an unpleasant experience. But at 24, he now has a much better grasp on what he wants to do and the steps he’ll need to take.  

Most careers are not linear. What’s important to keep in mind is that you can make mistakes, you can choose wrong paths, you can be downsized or terminated, and you can still have a successful career.  

And when you start thinking about careers as an evolutionary process you begin to understand that there is no absolute decision to be made at a set time. I know lots of very successful people who made their defining career decisions in their 40s . . . or even 50s. 

Assess your interests and values
 
Once you understand that it’s not imperative to make the Big Decision at age 22, figuring out what your first steps should be is critical. Do a self-assessment of your interests, clarify your personal values, and research potential job markets--those are the key elements in starting. Learning as much as possible about the field you’ve chosen will help you become an insider even before you’ve landed a job. And it will set you apart from other job candidates.  

You don’t need to make a life decision, but you do need to have an initial target. As I point out in In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work, targets are the first objective in any job search or career transition. You can’t just “cast the wide net,” and hope that something will just happen by chance. A targeted search, with a carefully crafted marketing plan will get things going.  

But before you begin, you need to take the pressure off. Aim for the first job, not the total career. Eliminating the anxiety will help the process immeasurably.  

By the way, congratulations on your graduation! 
Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

iStock/© CareyHope

Unintentional Behaviors Can Damage Your Personal Branding

Personal branding
When I teach classes in what we call “social intelligence” at Columbia Business School, we stress that a personal brand is not only what you present in networking or interviewing situations--it has an impact on many of your professional and personal interactions.  

We show a PowerPoint slide in several of those social intelligence classes that has a picture of Big Brother (is Watching YOU), from the novel 1984, with the flashing graphic, “Networking is Everywhere.” It’s not intended to create paranoia. 

Creating perceptions
The point of that slide is: Even if a student is trying to make an appointment for advising, the email request will immediately create a perception. While it’s not especially important for a student--or a client in my private practice--to make a good impression on an advisor, it certainly does create an initial framework for the interaction. The positive perception helps. The negative one sets the wrong tone. Here’s an example:

Ellis, I need an appointment tomorrow. I’m freaking out, because I’m about to graduate from the program, have never engaged with anyone in Career Management, and have no idea what I want to do. I’m available at noon.

There are so many things wrong with that brief communication. The tone is off-putting.  It has a demanding feel to it, especially the part about scheduling. It conveys that the writer hasn’t exactly been proactive in her career planning while in graduate school and is probably going to be complicated to work with. There is no opening courtesy or closing to the note--a necessary minimal courtesy, especially in a first communication.  There’s a sense of urgency, but the problem is a self-inflicted one--the student has waited until the last possible second to ask for assistance. The foundation for the interaction has been created, and while the perception can easily be changed, the start is not good.  

Thinking beyond yourself
I, of course, saw this student (but not at 12 the next day). We managed to get her going in her career planning. I pointed out to her that her style of communicating by email would not help her in her professional, and possibly her personal, life. It was a good opportunity to get her focused on how she was going to market herself during her next move. 

It was not her natural style to think of the person on “the other side of the desk,” and she understood that she was going to have to think of her interactions as two-way. She had to think about how the other person, in all communications, was going to perceive her. It wasn’t always about how well she presented her credentials; the real issue was thinking about how the other person would hear what she had to say. 

Starting off right
The following email sets a completely different tone. This was also from a student:

Ellis,
I have sat in on various programs that you have conducted and I have enjoyed them. I have made numerous changes to my resume that you have recommended to the group, including moving to two pages.  

I am not sure if you could comment on “at a distance” resume review via email within your department. Is that bad form? Do you review resumes like this? 
 
Thanks for your help.
Jamie Smith

This one sets up a meeting that starts right away with a positive tone. It actually made me want to meet this student. Trivial example, but a definite signal to me that this student was going to understand well the importance of interpersonal relations to her transition and her career. And it was nice to anticipate that she’d probably be pleasant to work with, too.  Setting the tone is critical.  

Getting it wrong
The two examples above are minor situations. I recently witnessed an example of a client whose general self-awareness in her transition showed poor social intelligence-- and may have ruined her chance of a job possibility.

The client was returning to the workforce after having taken ten years off to raise her two children. She was hoping for a part-time job with flexible hours. I always hate to tell clients that finding part-time jobs in professions like hers (media), and many others, is going to be difficult. Usually, the best way to get part-time jobs is to have a full-time job and then negotiate down after the job is secure. Otherwise, I frequently suggest to clients that they consult, which, while difficult to launch, might create the desired work/life balance.  

We began to work on a methodology for building a consulting practice. She had good skills, had stayed in touch with colleagues while staying home with her children, and had kept current in her industry.  

On the same day I met with her to discuss how she might build a consulting career, I heard from a former client who was looking to hire part-time experienced professionals --in media! Great timing. The work wasn’t exactly what my client was seeking, but it would be a great way for her to get back into the industry, and was close enough in its requirements for her to express interest.  

She hadn’t completed her resume yet, so I suggested she send me a brief bio by the end of the day, and I’d forward it to the former client.  

She didn’t send the bio.

I wrote to her the following day to ask why she hadn’t sent it, whether she was actually interested. She said she had been “too busy.” I was surprised by the response, and asked if she still wanted to pursue the opportunity, so I could tell the person who was hiring for the position. I had already written to him to say I had an excellent candidate.  

Think about the dynamic here. I was going out of my way to help a client, was conscious of maintaining a good relationship with the former client, and . . .  no bio. No follow-up whatsoever.  

When I wrote again, she spent a great deal of time explaining why she hadn’t sent the bio, and then . . .  still didn’t send it.  

It came two days later. I sent it to the contact, who wanted to know why my client hadn’t completed her LinkedIn profile, since she hadn’t yet done a resume. He also asked why the client had responded so slowly after my initial contact; did it mean my client wasn’t really interested?  

The client said she hadn’t had time. Maybe there were other factors about her life that could have interfered with her moving forward, but she wasn’t working and did say she had the time to engage in a job search, and did tell me to go ahead and make the contact.  

The damage had already been done. The job contact now had a negative initial impression because the transaction had taken days, which to him indicated that my client was not that interested.  

Missing opportunities
Fortunately, the hiring manager was interested, and asked that I have my client contact him directly.  

Two days later, my client hadn’t contacted the hiring manager.

The job opportunity disappeared for her because of that lack of response. This then became an issue in my interactions with the client about why she seemed to be fearful of moving ahead. It also introduced a new issue--how she could gain the confidence to launch her search.  

The bad perceptions ruined a perfectly good opportunity, a difficult one to find.

The importance of soft skills
It has become obvious to me over the years that these “soft skills” are more important than the actual professional skills themselves. The self-marketing and the perceptions created are critical--but most important, thinking about the other person is usually the key for a successful professional interaction.  

*POSTSCRIPT
I used to think that I’m usually aware of the importance of “the other side of the desk.” Or at least sensitive to others’ perceptions.

Turns out there have been times when I wasn't.  

Several years ago, I had an appointment with a doctor in a large medical facility. After I was done with that appointment, I ran into another doctor I had been seeing at that time.  

I said hello and immediately launched into a complicated question about something he had suggested to me a couple of weeks earlier.  

What I didn’t know on the other side of this particular desk was that the guy had no idea who I was. Not only that, he was not in his office, not seeing patients at that moment, and clearly irritated that this guy (me) had walked up to solicit  professional advice. He suggested I make an appointment.  

For about a minute, I was offended that he wouldn’t answer my question right then and there, but I soon realized he (1) did not know who I was, because he probably had hundreds of patients, and (2) it was completely inappropriate to ask those questions in that setting. He was absolutely right in asking me to make an appointment.  

This instance has stuck with me. A great illustration of not paying attention to the situation or the other person--and creating the wrong perception, too.  

Ellis 

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Interviews are Getting Trickier - 5 Tips for Avoiding Pitfalls

I started to notice around 10-15 years ago that many organizations were taking much longer to hire. It was especially noticeable right after recessions in 2001-2002, and again in 2008-2009. 

The big investment banks were an exception to that change--long, involved interview situations have been part of their hiring process for years. 

In general, though, what used to be 2-3 rounds of interviews at most organizations somehow has evolved into 5-6. Gradually, more hurdles have been introduced into the equation. Assessments. Interviews with potential subordinates. Group interviews. Initial phone screens (more and more common). Delays. Lack of response. All resulting in a much longer process.  

I'm not sure that the increased hurdles have yielded better results, but one thing is certain--organizations are afraid of making hiring mistakes, and want to try to guarantee a successful hiring process. Yes, it's expensive to hire the wrong candidate, but it’s not yet clear whether the new, extended interviewing has guaranteed the desired results.  

Unfortunately, job seekers will encounter these labyrinthine processes more often than not, and it's important to try to get through them by avoiding some of the pitfalls.   

Let's take a look at a few possible steps you might face in a protracted process: 

  • Group interviews 

Group interviews are tough. You never know whether to address the questioner or behave as if the interview is supposed to be a performance for an audience. 

I always think it better to address your answers to the person who asks the question. That way you can avoid the anxiety of having to perform for a group; the others in the group will hear the response, too. Responses to individuals are also more personal.

  • Interviews with potential subordinates 

Interviews with potential subordinates are tricky. You're always wondering whether the subordinate has already applied for the same job and been turned down (and may be a political problem later on). Or, you're thinking you need to impress with your command of the situation. 

I think the best way to handle this kind of interview is to treat it the same way you would treat any other interview situation. Be prepared with those war stories that are addressed in the interview chapter of The Fun-Forever Job ("Would You Please Remove Your Blouse?"), to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, and you've done your due diligence on the organization.

  • Phone screens

I recommend what my senior sales clients have suggested, which is to have some scripted bullets in front of you, so that you don't go too far off target (time is limited and you want to make best use of it). Use a headset, so you can gesture, which adds energy to your phone manner. Stand up and walk around, which will add some depth to your voice. Don't worry about not getting much feedback; few phone screens yield any significant feedback, and you can't read the body language. Just accept that, and realize it's more typical to walk away from the interview not knowing anything than feeling optimistic about it.  

  • Delayed response

I think it's an unwritten law that hiring managers and/or human resources professionals will not respond when they say they will. 

I can think of many reasons for this, but it's important to understand it's not usually about you; it's about not being able to get a decision together from many decision-makers. Or a requisition signed. Or funding secured. Or a person terminated (sounds awful – but that's frequently the case). So the applicant ends up reading tea leaves, endlessly ruminating and interpreting the signs, which is rarely useful, while sitting by the phone or at the computer. 

My general thinking is you never let more than 5-10 business days go by without reaching out. A simple email or phone call restating your interest, or restating what a great fit this job is--and why, and a request about the status of the situation. At this point, I love to ask my clients or students, what do you have to lose? Ego can’t be that important anymore. You just want an answer. 

Years ago, when I was doing heavy recruiting at a large bank, if I didn't hear from a prospective employee, I would assume the person had lost interest, or found another job. So what's the harm in expressing interest, in a low-key manner? No desperation, of course, and no accusations of "You said you'd call me…"  Bottom line--be proactive.   

Here's where you'll need to do some juggling. Be proactive but don't try to "close the deal." Closing the deal means a change of behavior. That's the exact opposite of what should be done. If you've been asked back several times, that means they're interested. Why change your tactic? Be the same adorable, charming, brilliant person you were all along, because that's the person they've asked back--not the person who changes tone and becomes someone different (the deal closer). There is an old baseball adage that applies here: Dance with what brung ya. In other words, use the same strategy that got you that far.   

Assessment seems to be gaining some traction in some companies. That's a topic for a whole other blog. Tricky issue.  

You need to stay steady through all these steps, maintaining a consistent tone and building your value by showing what you can do for "them." I hope most readers won't have to go through all these steps, and can get to a decision with maybe two rounds. But it's always good to be prepared. 

4 Ways to Improve Your Success in a Long Distance Job Search

I often hear from people who want to relocate--some want to stay in the same field, others are looking for a career change--but can’t figure out how to expedite a long distance job search. 

Their questions are usually along the lines of:

  • How can I keep my current job and still search somewhere else?
  • Is an out-of-area address an immediate rejection?  
  • How do I network in a place where I don’t yet know anyone?

Conducting a job search long distance isn’t easy. But often clients go about it in some low probability ways--sending out resumes before they're requested, asking for leads before laying the ground work. When they don't get immediate results, their frustration can create a problem all by itself. They lose perspective. They want this whole thing to end fast, and end NOW. But like any job search, it's still going to be a process, when you do it right. And it’s a lot of work.  

The following four points can help improve your odds at landing a job in a new location.  

1. The Out-of-State Address
First, let's get rid of that address problem. It’s true that adding the possible relocation expense might be a problem for a prospective employer – although you will try to negotiate that when you get an offer.  

Many of the people I've worked with have, as a matter of course, dropped addresses from resumes. It seems to be a trend among younger members of the job force. An email address seems to be enough. A telephone number with an out-of-state area code doesn't seem to be a problem anymore; people take their cell numbers with them everywhere they move. So . . . no home address necessary.

2. Understand Networking
Second, you need to fully understand what networking is. It is not just asking everyone you know if they know of openings or jobs. That's a sure-fire way of scaring them off, because people feel guilty when they have to say, "No, not at this moment." And that means you've burned through a contact, making it difficult to stay in touch. 

Networking is all about maintaining relationships over a period of time, a form of indirect marketing-–not cornering your valuable connections and pressuring them into a yes/no answer (usually no).

The point is to build business relationships, maintain them by staying in touch, so that when your contacts hear of appropriate situations, you’re on their mind. That's how the vast majority of people find jobs, either by circumstance or by design.  

3. Set Up Phone Meetings
Since you can't be constantly traveling to your intended destination, you set up phone meetings instead of in-person meetings. They may be a little less effective than personally meeting others, but if you cultivate the relationships through following up regularly, you can make that relationship work. 

In addition, if you find some of your targeted people are amenable, you might say to several that you will be in the area during the week of ____________, and hope that you could meet them in person. Believe it or not, this works better, most of the time, than asking someone in your home area for a more open-ended time slot.  

4. Use LinkedIn
For building networks in an area where you don't know many in your profession -- try LinkedIn groups. Assuming your profile is up-to-date and promotes your skill set well, look under "Interests" on the top of the home page. There is a subset called "Groups." Then, look for affinity groups. Punch in your field and see what comes up. Maybe a professional group you’ve already joined. Maybe 10 others that are related. Maybe one in your intended geographical area. Join. Get involved in the online conversations. If someone sounds interesting and knowledgeable, try to link in (with a personal invitation, not the LinkedIn template). If he/she responds, then perhaps you write a skillful introductory (brief) email requesting a short conversation because you're researching the market in their area and want to learn more about it.  

It always comes back to: Technique, Discipline and Consistency
This is just a beginning. Clearly, there's much more you can do. I can think of a recently published book (mine!) you might read which will thoroughly take you through the process -- In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work, on Amazon

Looking for work long distance is eminently doable, even with the tough market conditions. Great search technique, coupled with discipline and consistency, will usually trump the difficult market

Or pick up a copy of Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need to get the short course on how to make the contacts that lead to the job you want. 

Photo: wojciech_gajda 

Out of Work and Short on Funds - Should I Spend the Money to See a Career Advisor?

For the past several months I’ve been answering readers’ questions on the Ask Ellis pages. There are some questions I’m asked so often, I wanted to repost them, and the answers, here.   

Question: I'm out of work and short on funds.  Is it worth spending the money to see a career advisor?

Dear Ellis,
I've been out of work for six months. I've always been good (successful!) at search, and have been resourceful enough to figure out the best techniques. Yet, something's not working this time. I've been told over and over that I should find a good career advisor to help me, but I hate spending the money during this time when I don’t have much to spend, and don't quite know what to expect from an advisor.  
John R.

Answer: You’ll gain perspective and a whole lot more

Dear John,
This one is always a bit uncomfortable to answer, because it's tough to avoid appearing self-serving. Obviously, I think seeing an advisor is a great way to help you get through this difficult time; otherwise, I would've chosen a different career myself. (Sometimes, though, there have been times when I have told prospective clients that they might benefit more from consulting with professionals in another field.)  

Okay, that's out of the way, and I'll be as objective as possible. 

My major reason for suggesting a career advisor is about the emotional aspects - search is isolating. You've been separated from your routine, from a part of your identity, and from people you may have liked. Left on your own, you ruminate. You try to interpret every aspect of the search, i.e. Why is this person not calling back? Why isn't my resume working the way resumes should? Why is it five days since they said they'd call and they had promised three? Have I made the right choice in what I'm seeking? Maybe it's time for a radical change? And, my favorite: Why are so many people so incredibly rude during this process?   

You go round and round in these thoughts (and so many others), don't get anywhere, and start to over-think every aspect. Some people end up reworking their resumes 10 or 12 times, almost always a serious waste of energy. Sometimes, the result of all the rumination is to make bad career decisions, just to avoid the anxiety of the process itself.  If you have a significant other or family or both, that will probably add to the stress, no matter how supportive friends and family may be.  

What's lacking here is perspective, and I think that's where the experienced listener and advisor play a most critical role. It always amazes me that at the end of a successful client experience, one of the comments I have heard the most over the years is, "You really understood what I was going through." The comments are not usually about the technical aspects of the transition, even if we spent several meetings reviewing networking, resume, and all the rest.  

Of course, an experienced consultant will be knowledgeable about the (over-hyped)  significance of resumes, will help with decisions about appropriate targets, will work with interview presentation and content, will teach the value of high-touch relationship building, and, I hope, will understand and show the value of social media and social intelligence in the process.  

As for the money, if it helps, it's worth it. Don’t think about the immediate cost; it’s all about the big picture and achieving the desired overall result.  

To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work

My new ebook Career Strategies That Work:Networking will be out next week. Check back for details.