Category Archives: Finding a Job

All about organizing.

Think About What You Publish

Your career development and job search processes will involve publishing. When I say publishing, I mean publishing in the sense of planning, writing, producing, and sending forth into the world written words that represent you. You might publish letters, resumes, a blog, a Facebook page, a website, a LinkedIn profile, a series of articles, or other representations that can help you–or disadvantage you–in your career quest.

Life used to be simpler; a resume was a cream colored vellum page with black ink.  It left your hands in an envelope, to join a pile of other similar resumes, most of them also cream vellum.  It usually got photocopied, by the way, so that the decision maker had the copy paper version anyway, and the quality of the copier and its paper could undermine your publishing investment.

Now, you need a publishing strategy to get your stuff noticed.  And you have a lot of choices.  But the little things can still undo your careful plans.  Here are five things about publishing that people often get wrong.

1.  A lot of people say that your resume should be no more than one page.  This is not true, and is especially not true if you begin to have trouble condensing it to one page or even thinking about doing that.  Here’s the thing:  it’s not about the number of pages.  It’s about what is on the pages and in your description of where you’ve been and what you’ve done.

I believe in brevity (sort of).  I had a wonderful English teacher in 11th Grade, Mrs. Barone, who called me Brenda (which is not my name) and taught me to take words out of my sentences and paragraphs.  Even though they were often some of my best words (like brevity), I had to admit that the result was better writing.  But remember, if you take all the words away you may not tell the right story, and resumes have to tell a good story.

Your resume should be as long as it needs to be, to make the point of your  story to your reader.  Your resume walks hand in hand with your cover letter (always). Together they are your surrogate self, compelling someone to meet the real you and learn more.

2.  Some people say that your resume need not include irrelevant work experience, temporary work,  or irrelevant education.  First, I struggle with the notion that any work experience or education would or could be irrelevant. Your work or education story should not have holes or gaps.  Second, all it takes is one interview question about what you did that summer of ’06 for you to start stumbling all over your answer: that you didn’t think inbound call center sales and service was important enough to put on your resume.  If that happens, and it might, it will raise the question of what else you chose to exclude.  And it will raise suspicion, which is never good.

All work contributes to skills, competencies, and pride in your accomplishments in even the worst jobs or assignments you have ever had.  A resume that shouts “I love work!” is going to get you noticed.  Spelling out the point of each job–what you got paid or thanked for–makes clear you knew its value in the world.  Remember that: The value of the work to others is more important than the value of the job to you.

A good rule of thumb is that employment of a week or two, or less, can be left off your resume.  Another is that employment that is more than twenty years in the  past is far enough in the past to let go, unless in either of these situations, the work is a special honor or critical turning point.

3.  Some people think that you can rewrite the rules of composition to make your resume stand out, as long as you make up your own rules and apply them consistently. Don’t do that.

Mrs. Barone was a real grind when it came to the rules about grammar, spelling, word usage, syntax, punctuation, and capital letters.  But she was convincing, and Martha Snyder and I (who took her very seriously and responded well to being called by other people’s names) competed with each other for various high school composition prizes and honors, and we graduated from high school thinking we were set, composition-wise, for life.  Not so much, as it turns out; these style things change over time.  We all need to check on the rules and your best bet is to apply them correctly and consistently.

Invest in a stylebook and use it.  The AP Stylebook or Elements of Style are two of the best known references for writers of nearly anything.  Do not think for one minute that getting fancy and offbeat with your cover letters or resumes is a good idea; it isn’t worth the risk to drop the capital letters or skip the periods.  Or to add them in.  Noting that I often Blog Creatively, ignoring Mrs. Barone’s most basic rules, let me say that blogs aren’t resumes.

4. I am in favor of blogging to advance your career and your job search.  I am not among those who advise against putting your opinions and ideas out there–recognizing that “out there,” if it is too far out, can be limiting.  Blogs are accessible examples of your voice, your writing , and your personal brand.  Blogs are likely to be more fast and approximate than crafted and precise, but any time you advance your ideas you want to make sure that you represent your very very very best self (yes, I know, I left out the commas and insulted a perfectly good adjective). On the net, things linger.  If you do publish a blog, it should be noted on your resume.  If you don’t put it on your resume, it will be unearthed anyway, and lead to the question of why you didn’t mention it.

I once did some research on (Googled) an opponent in a Neighborhood Association/Land Development dispute.  I came across a letter he had written and posted to a website, on why women should not be admitted to a well-known exclusive men’s club.  It didn’t matter in the dispute, but I learned a little about my friend.  On to other online matters:  Facebook.

5.  A lot of people will tell you to stay off Facebook if you are looking for a job, or if you are serious about your career.  Not me.  I am on Facebook (but not as The Job Whisperer).  I am very careful (that is not to say guarded, which is different) about my comments, my likes, what I share, and what groups I join.  Anyone who friends me can see that I am interested in many political viewpoints, those I don’t agree with as well as those I do–because my Facebook friends are my Real friends from my whole life, and are all over the political map.  I have a variety of diverse interests represented on my page.  I am careful with my Privacy settings and I don’t post photos (or my travel plans).

Having a Facebook page is neither here nor there, but having good judgment is important.

Publishing is part of your personal brand offering.  There are many more opportunities to advance who you are and what you offer than ever before.  But that means taking careful stock of the impression you want to leave and the focus and consistency of your message, across all of your publications.  Little things–a comma here, a word choice there, a defining blog post–can make a big difference.

What to Believe and What to Ignore

In the world of information, there is a difference between what is real and what is spin.  Real is substantial, backed with facts you can act on, and distributed without bias or filter; it just is what it is, and someone can explain it to you without editorial comment.  Spin, on the other hand, says “Buy me.”  Meaning the spin itself.  When someone wants you to believe something, you ought to think about why they want that so very much.

In a job search or a career management context you may come across A LOT of spin.  Here are some examples of what you can safely ignore:

Promises or guarantees.  Whether you hear them from a recruiter, employer, or your bff, promises are not real in terms of a job, this one or the next one.  A good example is a promise to move you to a higher paid position when one opens up, if you just take this lower paid one right now.  That almost never works out very well for anyone.  The antidote is an employment contract that spells out what is going to happen, when, and under what contingencies.

Feedback on your interview. As in, you are one of the top candidates but the hiring manager is going on an extended vacation and the decision won’t be made until he or she gets back.  As in, he really likes you but we have four other people to see.  As in, you did great but hang in there for six more months.  It doesn’t matter, you see.  You can’t do anything with that information except convince yourself you might get this job, which can only encourage you to stop looking for other opportunities.  Not in your best interest; spin designed to give the employer the upper hand.

Self-reported salary information. Not useful ever, whether on a website, in a newspaper article, or over lunch when delivered by a coworker, mentor, friend, or stranger you met at a party.  No one gives good numbers, no one knows what they include (like pay at risk or ssi benefits), and the only useful numbers are on your own check or in your own offer letter.

News of the lousy economy. It will not help you at all to bring The Economy into your job search.  Spin like that renders you helpless and erodes your confidence.  Lots of people get great jobs and opportunities when The Economy sucks.  That said, do your own research on your field to find out where the best chances are.  Clues are in the news, but you shouldn’t over-personalize the drama that sells news.

Anything you hear about gimmicky solution sets. Elevator speeches.  Speed-networking.  Expert Resume Writing Services.  Please.  You are you and if any of these things provide you with insight into how you can be or do better, by all means accept a free new tool.  But don’t get on elevators with the perpetual hope that your next employer is riding up and down 27 floors looking for you and your 50 second summary, or that instant karma is at the Chamber of Commerce event that you have paid a fast $20 to participate in…er, get whiplash from.  And,  don’t ever pay anyone to write a resume for you.

It’s not easy to sort through the voices and the language.  Take it from a woman who loves feedback: it’s hard to be objective and harder still to be patient when you are looking for hope.  You can be hopeful, though, without being naive.

Get commitments in writing and have an attorney check the language.  Validate and verify all claims of truth.  Read for ideas and understanding, not pat solutions or blanket philosophy.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone but not into a circus.  Pay attention to who is getting paid for what, before you buy into whatever you think you just heard.

If You Just Got Laid Off: Do These Things First

I’m so sorry.  This is not fun; it is especially not fun if you were among the first, if you weren’t expecting it, and if you don’t have a plan for what to do if it happens to you.  However, there it is, and there is nothing you can do about it now.

First, do not linger in the present or the past.  This is a good time to refrain from affiliation with the folks who are a.) former office buds who are still employed where you are not, and b.) the rest of the crowd who got their bad news when you did.  Once upon a time, this happened to me, and the first thing I asked for was a different outplacement place.  I struck out on my own, cut myself off from the commiserating crowd, the well-wishers, and all the consuming gossip about who’s going next.  It is all completely irrelevant to you from now on.  This is like ripping off the bandage, I know, but you have to do it.

Second, write three sentences about your present circumstances.  The first one speaks to who you are professionally, i.e., “I’m a skilled food stylist. . . . ”  The second one says what brought you to where you are now, i.e., “I was hired by NBC to bring Matt Lauer’s segments up to Food Styling Nirvana standards. . .” And the third one explains today’s problem, “There were six of us, and with fewer Holiday Parties Segments being produced, they let four of us go yesterday, including me.”

Just the facts.  This all answers the questions, especially your own, and keeps you focused on the facts.   There is a tendency to start veering off the emotional tracks and getting in your own way, like this:  “I’m older, I’m depressed, it’s the holidays, I’m in the wrong state, I’m an idiot, I should have seen this, I made a wrong move ten years ago. . . blah, blah.”  Whatever.  None of that is real, none of that is important, and none of that will help you, so just write down the things that we all can agree are true.

Third, decide what you really want, and take no more than three days to do it.  I mean it: three days.  It would have been three years, but you screwed up and didn’t do it three years ago, and now you don’t have that kind of luxurious time.   You can do whatever you want in the three days–call everyone you know and ask them, call no one and listen to Motown classics for 72 hours, or ponder your options by writing them all down.  It’s up to you, but you have to decide what profession, job, geographic location, career objective, whatever “what I want” translates to for you.   Within three days.  Not “after the holidays.”

You can change your mind, of course, but you have to start down a path, and make even a temporary decision.  Once you have decided, you can begin to research your objective.  You go from “I was a Food Stylist” to “I want to Style Food for XYZ.” Or “I am looking for work as a Catering Manager,” adding “at Marriott,” or whatever.  It is the path that matters.  You must begin.  Now.

Beginning with these simple steps gets you over the hump.  There is a real hump, by the way, like a speed bump to keep you from doing really stupid things, like posting your nine-page resume on Facebook, and stuff like that.  The hump is when you feel the worst or the best, depending on whether this is temporarily liberating or temporarily depressing to the point of madness.  It is temporary, though, for sure.

Use the hump time wisely and monitor your behavior.  The best thing for you to do is to stabilize yourself, because you are your most important resource.  If you are engaging in self-destruction at will, by drinking, writing stupid things on Facebook, saying dumb things to people who still work where you don’t (which by the way, they are repeating to others), staying up all night playing Angry Birds, or wallowing in whatever way you wallow, you aren’t there for yourself.  And that’s a big mistake that you just don’t need to make.

Instead, during the hump time,  make lists of all the things you will do differently in the future, the things you’ll leave behind, and your ambitions for the next chapter.   Three days after you begin all this, I can promise you that you will feel a whole lot stronger, and much more intentional.  Ready to move on.

Next blog: Take Inventory

What Do You Bring to the Party?

Companies make hiring decisions on more than one level, even if they claim to focus on skill sets and job specs.   Once it’s clear you can do the job itself (and if you are coming in as a trainee, associate, or intern, remember there is no real job–yet) your less obvious gifts come in to play.  Are you hyper-responsible, affiliative, competitive, or tenacious?  Does the employer you care about care about any of the gifts you can bring to the party?

There’s the job, there’s the company, but then there is the organization you are joining.  Organizations, being made up of imperfect people as they tend to be, look for people who can add dimension, energy, enthusiasm, or even a moderating influence when the forces of go-go-go need a good set of brakes.

You have to know who you are in order to know what you can bring, and you have to be able to articulate that information in the appropriate way.  That means you don’t state it like this:  “I’m the kind of guy/gal who . . . . ”

Of course, if you have arrived at the time and place where you can say anything at all, by building relationships and making friends with people you’d like to work with, they already know you and the discussion is elementary.  But if this is different, then take these steps:

1.  Ask people you trust what it’s like to work with you on the kinds of things you’d be doing.  Accept the answers graciously, but not necessarily literally.  Everyone is different, every experience exerts different influence and calls out different behavior in each of us.   The important thing is to listen and draw some conclusions for yourself.

2.  Reach for the defining stories of your work life, within yourself, and write them down.  The writing down part is very important; things aren’t real if they aren’t written.  Shape the stories to articulate how you influenced the outcomes you wanted, not just in terms of company outcomes, but in terms of your own future and your own priorities.

3.  Consider how you serve those around you, and in what manner you create the environment you want to live in and work in.

My favorite work story of all time is this one (name changed to protect my friend):

We hired a new secretary for one of the office departments; his name was Darrell.  Darrell identified himself as a really terrific assistant, organized, detail oriented, active, engaged, and especially, he noted, helpful to everyone.  Making him very much unlike every other secretary in the division.  On about his third week, and still during his “tryout period” (also called probationary in some places) we had a scheduled “all hands” meeting, in which the big boss would speak to the entire employee population.  Save one person: the receptionist, whose job it was to answer phones while all of this communicating with employees was underway.  The receptionist, lowest on the secretarial heirarchy, never got to go to the State of the Company meetings.  The other secretaries declined to provide back up, and their bosses backed them up.

Until Darrell came along.  Learning of the situation, he went to his boss and said that he’d be happy to get a briefing from the others after the meeting, and would be pleased to fill in for the receptionist for the duration of the meeting.  Since most of the calls were from customers, he felt sure he’d be useful in the role, and he was the right guy for the job.  Maybe in the future they could all take turns, he said.

So was the course Darrell set for himself.  Soon his value as a willing partner with initiative and a rational sense of right, his pleasure at being able to do favors for coworkers, his knowledge of how the office really worked, and might work better got him coveted invitations to sales conferences, trade shows, and meetings, as the set-up and go-to guy.  You could not miss the renaissance in the ranks of support staff.  He went from tryout to full-time regular with no delays or questions.

He was not a likely candidate for leading culture change.  But he was hired not because of his secretarial skills, which were certainly more than adequate.  He was hired because he noted, convincingly and with examples, his helpfulness.   In doing so, he brought fun to the interview and communicated with considerable confidence just what he might be like to work with.  He expressed personal interest, wasn’t stuffy, and asked really good questions.  We knew we’d like him, and so would everyone else.

The point is that part of why we get hired is not just what we can do, task-wise, but who we are and how we get things done, and help others get them done.  Although human resources professionals and hiring managers will speak in terms of competencies and cultural values, what is really at the heart of the question is “What’s it like to work with you?”

Are you patient?  Judgmental? Critical of others?  Blameless at all times?   Caring?  Authentic?  Self-aggrandizing? Administratively challenged?  Organized?  Need to be right? Focused?  Self-righteous?  Driven to pursue excellence?  Creative?  Friendly?  Kind?  Understanding?  Do you even think about these things?  I.e., do you know what you bring to the party, or why you might not be invited?

Getting Your First Real Job: How to Begin

This is not what I was going to do this morning, but yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a meeting that caused me to halt in my tracks and think about young people and what they need.  I believe the most important graduation gift you can give to yourself is a plan.

If you are a student about to leave the academic world, there are lots of opinions on whose job it is to get you a job.  Let’s start right here—it is your own responsibility to sort through advice, make mistakes, make good friends who you trust and who will help you, master the use of reliable basic tools, and above all to care about, think through, and reflect on your decisions along the way.  You are accountable for yourself and all of your actions.

But how do you begin to organize yourself so that you can evaluate your own performance?  First, you have to create a plan; your plan has to be written.  It is not real if it is not written. As you know by now, documents are easily revised, so plans can be changed, but you do have to have one and it has to be real.   Until you have a plan (and a plan is much more than a job objective), you are a bit anchorless and untethered, and that’s how you are going to look to others.

Your plan reflects your career strategy.  A strategy is simply what you want to do with yourself and your resources.  A career strategy, however, has to be integrated into your other plans and other things that you want for your life.  A career strategy speaks to how you will fund your life and your purpose, whatever it is. Career is your professional, commercial, or economic platform.

Supporting  that platform are your professional or commercial competencies and skills, political competencies and skills, social competencies and skills, and your resource management competencies and skills.  When you go to school, much of what you learn in the classroom and via planned learning experiences is in the commercial arena.  But the other platform support areas are just as important, and at times even more important.  Career management and job acquisition depend heavily on social, political, and resource management competencies, which are far less likely to be taught, designed, or structured for you in the course of your formal education.   If you don’t have an adequate supply, acquiring the right competencies should be one of your plan objectives.  This is your plan: put into it what you believe is important.

The strategy part of your plan should answer three questions:

  • Where do you want to go?
  • What is on the road ahead?
  • How will you get there?

Not easy questions, I agree.  And you may change your mind tomorrow; no argument from me.  But you have to have a distinct career identity and some clarity around your values in order to convince others to support you on your journey; “I don’t know” is not as good as “I believe” or  “I think” or “I like” when the subject is what you want.

The rest of your plan should include:

  • An appraisal of where you are right now; this is your starting point.
  • Acknowledgment that the past is past; you’ve let the past go in specific ways.
  • An inventory of your personal resources, assets, and attributes.
  • A list of your allies and advocates.
  • A description of your purpose and your values: what you will and won’t do.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses as you understand them.
  • Obstacles in your path or in your head.
  • Three things that you absolutely must do to be successful.
  • Long and short term goals.
  • Performance measures and a timeline.

Notice that your resume is not on this list.  There’s a reason.  Resumes send our vision backwards, and tend to make us want to cling to our past accomplishments. You will need a resume, most certainly.  But the best resumes are accompanied by forward-thinking and forward-looking cover letters that tee up the resume contents by pointing out what they mean for the future.  You can’t do that very well until you know where you are planning to take yourself, and how, and why.

The most important part of the career development process is the plan; the plan leads you to an understanding of yourself.  You can’t shortcut the plan, it’s like leaving the directions behind when you head for a place you have never been.

Does this look like a lot of work?  It is.  And most of you want to mention that no one you know has such a plan and they are getting exactly what they want (or exactly what you want).  Now is exactly when you should turn off the Friend-O-Meter that makes you look around to see what everyone else got that you didn’t. It simply doesn’t matter, it isn’t a race, and you don’t have to run.  What you do have to do is be prepared when your own opportunities pop up, and that is the function of a good, solid, well thought out plan that is all your own.

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.

The Importance of Cover Letters

The June issue of Inc. magazine contains a great article by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals and co-author of Rework.  Fried and the hiring managers at 37 Signals ignore resumes, maintaining that “Resumes reduce people to bullet points, and most people look pretty good as bullet points.”  I’d add that most bullet points look alike, since there’s a limited supply of action verbs that can be used on a resume, and only so many relevant things in a job or a company that you could have done by yourself. You’d be surprised at how obsolete those things look after a few short years, too.

But, says Fried, “Cover letters say it all.  They immediately tell you if someone wants this job or just any job.” Yes, I say, yes!   And therein lies the magic of career planning.  It helps you identify and intelligently and confidently communicate what you want, why you want it, and what you offer in return for the opportunity you seek.

If you don’t know anything about a company, you can’t write a cohesive letter explaining why you want to join it.  And as for the sadly shallow advice to parrot the bullet points in a job posting with your own bullet-pointed section illustrating you’ve “been there, done that,” how many of those letters do you think might be sitting in that file?

A career planner doesn’t wait for the posting. If you know what you want, why wait passively for some sort of perverse permission to ask for it?  If you don’t know what you want, how can you make a good case for yourself as the best candidate for anything?

Fried doesn’t hire people when 37 Signals doesn’t have a need to fill, and 37 Signals doesn’t go looking for new needs in order to justify a hire.  But clearly when it’s time to hire, they think through the offering that shows who has been readying himself or herself for such a career opportunity.