Monthly Archives: August 2010

Planning to Get the Top Job

Over the years I’ve worked with men and women who were seeking to run a company, organization, division, or business.  “Would you look over my resume and see what you think?  Check my cover letter for spelling?  I want to make sure I get everything in there.” Really.

That’s not how it works when you want the top job, whatever the top job is.  When you want to be the one in charge, the one with the vision, the one with all the accountability, you have to show everyone what you can do.  What would it be like if you ran the zoo?  What would it be like to work with you?  That’s not a resume-and-cover-letter thing.  That’s a comprehensive campaign kind of thing.

There are lots of different kinds of campaigns—you can run a subtle, reserved, and reflective campaign, or bring on the flair.  Even if you learned of the opportunity via and are working with a search firm, there is no reason to hold back on your planning, your vision, your enthusiasm, or your efforts to advance yourself as The One.  If the job isn’t open but you are fairly sure it will be soon, whatever the reason, now is the time to figure out how you are going to get noticed and get the job.

This is work.  There is nothing simple or straightforward about it.  You can’t do this without taking some risk.  You have to assume that others are mounting their own campaign strategies, tools, and allies.  They are, I promise you, and I’m also sure you don’t even know who they are.

You don’t have to be perfect.  You do have to be thorough, focused, accessible, leaderly, inclusive, and especially, communicative.  And, if I might make a suggestion, agile (as opposed to ponderous).  Light on your feet.  Succinct and straightforward.  Don’t use all that corporate buzzword stuff to make your thoughts seem . . . longer.

Successful corner office people communicate a lot, incessantly, in fact.  They may make decisions in their heads, sort details on paper, and reflect in the dark of night, but to be successful you have to listen, explain, articulate, discuss, organize, and summarize.  All of these are communication functions.  Communication begins and ends with information.

Successful corner office candidates begin that process early in the game, by playing back to others what they heard, adding new dimension to the discussion, offering insight, asking questions, and seeking more communication.  And, the wise ones do this in documents—letters, summaries, diagrams, reports, research, and whatever other means are suitable to the occasion.  Committing your reactions and impressions to paper or pixel is an act of courage, of course, but not doing so is likely to slip you and your leaking dinghy below the horizon while another candidate’s ship heads for the harbor.  Courage is the exact thing you want to convey.

Here is a menu of planning tools that you should have before you begin your campaign:

  1. Correct and official name of the organization/company,
  2. Correct title of the position you want, name of the incumbent and prior incumbents.
  3. Last position description, if available, or make one up for your own use,
  4. Annual report, published articles about the company, industry, or region,
  5. Names of board members and brief bios of selection committee, at minimum,
  6. Names of your friends who might know them or their friends,
  7. A  list of your allies in the field.
  8. A list of your detractors, and how you will neutralize their influence if you have to,
  9. Names, titles, and position descriptions of anyone at all that you know at the target company,
  10. A checklist of items that you think are important to find out about this company and the reason why,
  11. A list of all the competencies that you believe are important for the person in the job you want, and the reasons why,
  12. An outline of the offering that you believe the board or selection committee SHOULD want to see before making a decision,
  13. A list of all the major stakeholders in the future of this company, organized as you might organize them based on their . . . stakes,
  14. A preliminary list of your questions—perhaps based on what, among the above items, you have not been able to find, but that you believe may be important.
  15. A framework for proceeding; that is, your ideas for how you might move forward to distinguish your candidacy from others.  That is, what is your distinctive advantage, competency, or offering?

Is this starting to look like a campaign?  This is why tooling and crafting your perfect resume is a waste of time.  In your head, you have to be in the job, or feel sufficiently aligned with it and urgent about it to convey your future in it better than the other candidates.  Answer the question about why you should be given it, not with a rundown of what you did in your past—but a clear vision of what you will do, why you will do it, and what will happen to the organization and its stakeholders when you are successful.

What is Job Search Research and Why is it Important?

If I told you that in order to develop a useful career plan or job search strategy, you would have to do some research, what picture might show up in your mind’s eye?  A visit to several databases, a trip to the bookstore or library, a day with a search engine?  Research is how you get answers to your questions, so you need the questions first.  Your questions might be big and fact-oriented (What is the size of ABC’s primary market?), or simple and relationship-based (Would I like working at XYZ?).  Either way, asking questions and finding out the answers keeps you from misleading yourself by making wrong assumptions.

You can research from at least two directions:  1.) What are characteristics of/facts about the company I’m considering, and 2.) What are characteristics of/facts about me that would affect my job or career there?

Questions about the company to which you might want answers:

What business is the company in? Looks simple and straightforward, but isn’t.  I once worked for a medical device company, but not that many of the folks I interviewed for jobs there knew a.) what that was, and b.) why it was important.  Do you?  Many industries are regulated, and that limits their choices about marketing, sales, and accounting, among other things.  Your interview performance may depend on knowing why this company does things the way it does.

Is the company a division or subsidiary of a larger company?  If so, where are the headquarters and what is the operating strategy? Your day to day life is heavily influenced by this piece of info.  If you were the top accounting dog at your last company and this looks like that job but at the division level, you might check into that.  Matrix structures. . . .reporting relationships. . . . all give new meaning to who really provides your performance feedback, if any.  And, your interviewer will be looking to see how your past reporting relationships will fit into their structure.

What constitutes financial health for this company? I keep hearing, for example,  that many new entrants into the unemployed or soon to be unemployed ranks declare that they are ready to “give back” and put their for-profit skills to work in the nonprofit arena.  I can assure you that nonprofit companies are complex, under-resourced, and on most days,  competitive places to work.  “No margin, no mission” is both overused and underapplied.  And, a lot of nonprofits are government contractors in disguise, with important regulatory obligations, thin contract margins, and a scary amount of direct responsibility for human lives.  How your target company earns its organizational living, in detail, is not a small matter.  Who pays for the product or service is material to the organization’s well-being.

What is it like to work there? This is one that I should have asked, more than once.  And, it’s the one I always told the candidates the truth about (especially those about to plunge into a difficult or crisis situation).  If you get different answers from different sources, find out why.  If universally, your sources say exactly the same thing, check the web site for the source of the Kool-Aid they drank, or the spin.  If there is spontaneity and joy in the source, press for the reasons.

Those are questions about the company.  What about you?  What do you need to know–not just affirm–about yourself?

Who are you? Just like a company has a brand, a leader, and a plan to deliver a product or service, so should you.  Know your value and be specific about what you really want in return for your efforts.  What is important to you will come through your interactions and priorities every day; plan for a good fit, not a forced march.

What do you want to do each and every day? Jobs have to give something back at regular intervals, not once every few months or so.  The hours you spend on the job have to provide you with some kind of satisfaction.  It’s one thing to be a teacher, another to actually get to teach every day.  If you don’t like negotiating, don’t go into human resources.  It’s all those folks really do (IMHO, sorry, friends, it’s just the way I see it).  If airports, cars and hotels aren’t your favorite hangout, don’t ignore the fact that the job is 75% travel–that’s three full weeks a month.

How much feedback do you need and want? Do you want other people to like and admire you or are you more about results. . . and do you realize that the two might be mutually exclusive?  If you are hungry for recognition, you might be more short term oriented, as an example of the importance of the question.  Do not fool yourself into thinking that this is not material.  Your expectations around rewards and recognition are powerful forces in your work life.

What makes you happy? For some people, this might be as simple as summers off with the kids not in school.  For others, it’s as complex as saving a corner of the world, a life, or a million dollars to spend on a cool retirement.  Whatever it is for you, be sure that whatever you do is going to get you there–if not now, then somewhere along the line.

Research–like everything else–can’t live just in your head.  Document your questions, and add the answers or working hypotheses as you come upon them.  You won’t be tempted to gloss over a truth just because you wish it weren’t true, if you pursue the answers to your questions in an objective way.  Building a plan for a good career or getting a good job is not a matter of luck; it’s a process of learning, growing, and strengthening your value.

Next time:  Research Methods

Organizing Yourself

Regardless of your age, capacity for remembering important details, or improvisational skills, there are cardinal rules for career plan organization and  management.  They are:

1.  Your written and detailed strategic career plan must have at least two homes: a digital home (on your hard drive, with back ups, a cd, a zip drive, or an online venue of your choice) and a paper version, in a binder or organizer file.  You will need access at times when you are not plugged in, I promise you.  You can ask someone whose name you can’t quite connect to the right opportunity or company to wait while you reach for the binder and turn to the right page, but you cannot ask someone to wait while your Office 2007 fires up and runs the antivirus software you have set to automatic.

2.  Date and time stamp everything you do.  I mean that figuratively, of course, but you can do it with electronic and digital media and you should do it with the notes you write by hand while on the phone or in a meeting.  Write the date and time on everything, or attach something with the date and time on it if you don’t want to violate or make a mark on an original document.

3.  Do not play with your computer or other digital or electronic stuff while talking to anyone about anything.  It’s tempting to take notes while interviewing or networking.  It’s fine to write them longhand.  But tapping on your keyboard, while it may seem efficient to you, is very different from an open pad and pencil or pen on the table.  For one thing, your guest can’t reach for it and say, here, let me write down a few names and phone numbers for you, or let me sketch that out, or here’s the map.   Second, it’s not clear what you are doing and it has an unpleasantly isolating effect.  If you are both tapping, it’s just weird.

4.  Just like you pay your bills on the same day of the month, or review your budget, or call your family, or go to yoga class, you have to make time for your goals and to do lists.  You can’t do the audit checklist once and walk away.  Even if you don’t have time to revise, even if you just want time to think through a passing encounter with an ambiguity or anomaly you just thought of, you have to go there.  Make a note.

5.  You must have an organized workspace in your home.  If your home is 300 square feet and you share it, you still have to have a few square feet—it might do double duty—where you store, review, and update your plan, and ponder the possibilities.  Place is a powerful and important trigger for ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

6.  Don’t bring your career plan to work.  I’m pretty sure this requires no explanation or elaboration, but here it is anyhow.  Sharply separate, physically and administratively, your present circumstances and your future prospects, simply because it is the right thing to do.   But, you say, the recruiter (my friend, my mentor, the names sourcer, the president of the company I really want to work for) called me (or emailed me) at work.  No—you happened to be at work when they called you.  You may now say, “What is a good time for us to reschedule this conversation?”  It is never ever appropriate to take yourself and your cell phone or Blackberry outside and return the call from the sidewalk.  Please. The same principle applies to texting or emailing from work or a work-related activity.  It is not done that way.

7.  Do not fib or lie, about anything.  It is not worth it.  It sticks to you and makes you feel bad.  Then, it makes you look stupid, which is almost as bad.

8.  Thank people a lot, much, much more than you think is enough.

9.  Remember things.  Especially little things about other people.  That’s why we write them down.

10.  Take time off from thinking about and acting on your career.  Go away from it, take your focus elsewhere for a time—scheduled by you, for as long as you feel you need.  But write a goal on that subject and schedule your timely return, and resume your progress.

Remember–whatever it is, it isn’t real unless it is written somewhere.  The things that live their whole lives in your head are just dreams.

Summer Networking–What Not to Wear

Not long ago, I dashed out of the office for an afternoon meeting that I’d almost forgotten.  As many of us do, I’d dressed for a day of writing, phone calls, and stuff like that.  Not a quick meeting with friends working on an event, for sure.  I wore linen.

So when I ran into the room to see my neatly pressed professional friends, I could hardly miss the fact that I was wrinkled, deeply wrinkled, from head to toe in a linen pants suit (check: linen pants, linen jacket, linen blouse, yep, head to toe).  It didn’t quite look like pajamas—it was taupe—but I did look like I’d been sleeping in it.

When is it networking and not just an errand?  Always, when you are making or trying to make connections that might lead to a professional opportunity.   If you are an artist, looking for an artist job, you might look seriously artistic dressed in paint-stained clothes.  But if the job ever involves presentations to someone’s clients, you won’t look sensible; you want to blend in a little, even if your work stands out a lot.

Here are some basic dress rules for summer networking success:

1.  As I may have said, avoid the Full Blown Linen look.  Scrunch wrinkles look bad on everyone, distractingly so (worse on men, though).  Tropicals are for vacation.

2.  Flip-flops are for the beach.  In general, sandals are riskier than you think.

3.  Sleeveless, men or women: Sorry, NO.  Strapless: NO!  For those who will offer me an issue of a current and reliable fashion magazine containing an article on what to wear to work that shows an actual picture of a sleeveless top: 1.) Once you have the job, do what you think is right, based on what you see around you, and 2.) Magazines rely on ads, the fashion industry relies on profits, and clothes without sleeves are less expensive to manufacture.

4.  Jewelry should be minimized and should not distract.  I once wore three or four inexpensive strands of large beads wound around my neck to a meeting of a networking group.  Fashionable, absolutely (and really cute).  Sensible for the occasion, not so much; it was a bad decision.  You don’t want comments on your jewelry, period, men or women.  Leave all expensive jewelry in a safe somewhere.  Wear earrings or a bracelet, pearls or a ring.  If you have a big honking engagement ring, good for you, but you would be amazed at the ridiculous people who believe that suggests you won’t need to work once you are married.  And, if you are married, the plain band is a safer choice.

5.  Wear a plain, basic watch.  A watch is not jewelry for this purpose.

6.  Hosiery.  Well, now.  After my first August in the Sunshine State I discarded all hosiery except opaque hose, which I wear with flats instead of boots on the coldest days of winter.  But I don’t recommend abstinence from hose for anyone seeking employment.  Many, many employers don’t want to see bare legs and feet on men or women, so I don’t recommend taking the risk until you are on a payroll.  With your suits and dresses, wear nude hose (I know that every fashion editor from here to Seattle is shuddering), which means closed toe shoes, because open toed shoes with hose is just wrong.  (Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, is from Clearwater, and invented the original footless Spanx prototype out of her determination to have her hose and wear her mules and sandals correctly, too.)  Men—black socks or socks that match your trousers.

7.  Handbag (if any): small, plain, shoulder bag, or briefcase style shoulder bag—because you want hands free for handshaking.  Stay uncluttered; if you have to rummage for a business card you look unprepared and disorganized.  Your wallet should be plain and simple and well-organized.  I was once interviewed by a woman who pulled out her wallet to pay for lunch and I immediately heard an alarm go off in my head.  It was pink (I think) scuffed and bulging, filled with junk and random photos, notes, and dirty dog-eared cards.  If she’d extracted a hundred dollar bill to give me I’d have hesitated before touching it.

8. Men and women, if it is 96 degrees and a hundred percent humidity, remember the building will still be air conditioned.  Yes, wear the jacket.  Women, you can indeed wear a dress (with sleeves) with nothing over it.

9.  Men—ties for professional events, with a long-sleeved shirt in white, blue, or a pinstripe.   I personally believe undershirts are a wise choice but not everyone agrees with me and that’s okay.  If you are the guy in the polo shirt, the tropical print, or the guayabera everyone will think you are retired.

10.  Hair:  kempt.  I’m a student of the Diversity School of Hair Discussions, so I believe this is a cultural thing, as are tattoos, and I’m going to resist the temptation to be critical of hair.  If you are a woman, a ponytail is the equivalent of rolled up sleeves (as if to get to work), and if you have long hair, looks neater (assuming it is a neat ponytail) than long, stringy, frizzy, or poorly cut hair.   Short, neat hair looks efficient, for both men and women.  That said, I’d make sure it is mostly the same color, a color that real hair might be (i.e. not green) and that it appears to have been attended to with a comb within the last day or so.  Keep up to date with your haircut.

Last piece of advice, really.  Do not wear cologne; limit yourself to a small amount of scented lotion for women; a tiny pat of aftershave for men, and don’t reapply it at any time during the day.  I guarantee that your networking opportunity will be shortened in direct proportion to the distaste that your companion(s) have for your splash of Shangri-Lalala.  Taste in scents is very personal and allergies are widespread. I once rode on a convention outing bus for what seemed like centuries.  My seatmate was wearing Eau de God-Knows-What, applied with a heavy hand between the day-long program and the dinner out in the middle of nowhere.  By the time we “landed” I had a blazing headache and could not run fast enough or far enough or gasp enough fresh air.  Don’t be that seatmate.

One last story.  I was recently asked to lunch by a young woman whose job search was not going well.  I was astonished when she arrived with wet hair, dressed in shorts and flip-flops, a bathing suit under her parachute silk parka.  “Coming from or headed to the beach?”  I asked.  “Maybe this isn’t a good time?” (thinking how hard it would be to coach someone with her head in the sand). “Nope,” she said, “I wouldn’t dress like this for a meeting, of course.”  Really; what is this if not meeting?  If I hook her up with a contact will she show up appropriately attired or decide it isn’t a real meeting?

Let’s be clear.  For now, they are all meetings.  Anyone who can connect you to an opportunity might as well be conducting an interview: he or she can choose you to help and support, or choose someone else.  That’s the name of the game when opportunities are in short supply and people who need them are plentiful.