Category Archives: How to_______

Dressing Up for Halloween at Work

In my neighborhood, Halloween is the big holiday of the year.  We have Easter parades, of course, and nicely lit palm trees for Christmas, but Halloween is the blow-out, overdressed, crazy over the top opportunity to show off.  But what about dressing up in a Halloween costume for the big day when the office is your destination and the party is in your workplace?

Well, as usual, that depends.  And, as usual, it depends on what you want to convey.  If this is a sponsored workplace tradition, it’s important to take part.  Your team expects this of you and you can’t sit this one out without looking a little disapproving.  But even if your boss shows up all Luke Skywalker or Lady Gaga, it doesn’t mean that you are best served by adopting the same attitude.  That is never true; you should not always do what others do.

1.  Whatever you decide, it should be planned in advance.  Don’t wake up on the morning of the day in question and start groping around for things that look like a cowhand or a clown might wear them.  It just looks half-assed, and that’s not what you want to convey.  I hope.

2.  Flexibility is good, however.  Most often, there are pockets of social enthusiasm in workplaces, and you need to move among them with ease if you want to move ahead.  They might be stratified (all the upper level people wear funny hats, while the clerks go wildly complex), or departmental (did you see the Harry Potter video that Marketing created?).  Your challenge is to invent your own strategy that somehow fits both.

3.  The party can come to a screeching halt, however, in the form of a crisis involving something that requires your serious attention.  In that case, having to remove layers of cat makeup before calling a meeting will not add to your credibility.  Nor will talking to your boss or anyone else’s, the press, a subordinate, or a customer, while wearing it along with the usual whiskers and perky ears.  So, easily removable (mask) has always made sense to me.

4.  You can make your reputation as a Creative Type on this particular occasion.  Or a Resourceful.  That is actually a very good thing, no matter what your field is–stuff like that can stick.  Detailed execution, beyond the reasonable, can be tricky, however.  Just make sure your work is way ahead of schedule before you sew all those feathers on Big Bird.

5.  Taste is a big deal.  Racial or other stereotypes, large expanses of exposed skin, political statements, social stereotypes, and the other usual suspects have a tendency to stick to you in a bad way.  If your costume involves a female wig and you are male, makeup to change your skin color, fishnet stockings, any kind of sexual apparatus or organ facsimile, a mask intended to look like a current or former president, or anything that looks like anyone’s religious garb, you might want to rethink that.   If you truly feel compelled, you might want to rethink your career goals.

Office parties always look so benign.  They aren’t.  These rituals are important, how you handle them is important.

Here’s my best advice:  Go for the Highly Creative conceptually and Neatly Executed, Not Overdone.    And Removable–like a cereal box (grains are rarely controversial), with passable business casual underneath.  Mask instead of make-up.  Wear it for the festivities, park it in your office and periodically offer to let others try it on.

Just in case it is true that a sugar high makes you excitable, a little foggy, and talky, try to stay away from the treats at the office.  And do not jump out from anywhere and yell “Boo!” to anyone while at the office.


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.

What are You Currently Paid?

I can defend the question, “What is your salary requirement?” but I’m not really able to offer reassuring advice on how to answer a question about your current pay.  Personally, I don’t believe it’s relevant to anything at all, and for those of you with a little bit of HR background, you know that the question has a potential problem associated with it.  If you use current salary to establish a starting salary for a new employee, you may be perpetuating illegal pay discrimination.  So I would never ever ever ask it.  But I digress.  Let’s say it is asked of you.

Here are your choices: answer truthfully or don’t answer. Both come with risks.

The risk of answering truthfully:

The information is confidential, and it won’t be for long if you tell it to anyone. Applications, interviews, all that HR stuff that is supposed to be confidential?  It isn’t always so.  There are no guarantees; people talk, and phrases and numbers are flung about in lunch conversations in the cafeteria and all over town.

Your compensation cannot be reduced to one number. If you are asked for the number you want, that’s one thing.  But reducing the value of your entire compensation package to one quick response is not only risky but  inaccurate on most days.  Don’t forget your 401K, your upcoming bonus, your disability and life package, your car allowance, your cell phone, and so on and so forth.  The inability to answer accurately is a reason not to answer quickly.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the job you want, and therefore it can’t help you. Pay is usually a function of both the value of the work of the job to the company and the value of the incumbent’s experience to the organization. The longer someone has been in a job, the more he or she is likely to be paid. Your tenure at your last job will not be taken into account by a prospective employer who is establishing your new salary, unless it is to tell you that you seem to be a bit overpaid.  Nor will your last employer’s values, workload, complexity, or other variable.  Companies mostly care about their own work.  And the third leg of the pay stool–market value of a particular skill or profession–isn’t a matter of what you have been paid, necessarily.  The company does its own studies and makes its own decisions about leading or lagging the market.

The risk of not answering:

It’s awkward. Usually the person you are talking to or the anonymous staffer who sees the incomplete materials is not in a position to evaluate a nonresponse accurately.  A refusal to answer will be interpreted as either poor corporate citizenry, a critical lack of agility, or worst case, hostility.

It’s situation-dependent. If the question is on an application, and the screen won’t budge without your numerical answer, you’re done.  If you are in an interview or phone screening, you might be able to nonanswer, and still be accurate (“I’d have to check with my accountant, to be completely accurate.  XYZ Company, like you guys, has a lot of different kinds of comp.”)

It takes you out of the running. Once again, if you have thrown your resume over this transom, it’s a first line staffer who has to have all the dots and lines on the form who is establishing your fate in this process.  So you aren’t in a good place to begin with; there are candidates in there with advocates.  Everyone at ABC Co. has forgotten why this question is important, but the first line staffer’s boss doesn’t want to see incomplete reports.  Kind of like the Office Space TPS reports; more dialogue about compliance than substance.  But there you are with an empty space where your current salary would otherwise be.  In the Incomplete or the No pile.

Here’s what you can’t do:

  • Lie or fudge or fake the number in any way.
  • Become indignant about the very question.
  • Give a speech.

But try this, if you are in interview or phone screen situation.  Ask a question, to clarify what is needed and imply that this is not that simple.  For example:  “Do you mean average annual compensation?”  “Do you mean total compensation? In estimating that, I usually include the value of the 401K match, incentives, the value of other plans.  That is what you mean, right?” “Do you mean year to date?”  “Do you include the value of stock options in that?”  And then, “That’s not something I keep on hand, as it varies, and everyone calculates it differently.  If it becomes critical I can look into it and discuss it then.”

Of course, this whole matter hits sales representatives and sales managers the hardest.  In that case, you are more likely to be tested up and down on compensation, because it is assumed that your compensation is a direct function of your sales performance, and therefore your anticipated value.  You are also more likely to be asked to produce a w-2 showing your recent year’s earnings.  I really hate that practice, but I know it is done.   And I know you are done if it turns out you fibbed.

Once you are really in the running for something, your current pay is more likely to be used to negotiate against you, which is the main reason you want to be careful from the very beginning.  If you aren’t earning much, a lowball offer is assumed to be better than your current pay.  but this is where things get tricky, if:

  • You got a large sign on bonus in the past, to make up for some lost previous perq, or the fact that you could not be brought up to a higher level because of internal equity issues.  Meaning, no one there was paid anywhere near what they would have had to offer you.
  • Your last company paid for a move you wanted, that had exceptional value to you.  You pay tax on some of these things, on other things you don’t.
  • You own equity in your present company.  You regularly get stock options, stock, or the equivalent.
  • You previously received substantial bonuses and your pay was higher five years ago. And are therefore looking for new worlds to conquer.

This is why the question of pay cannot be reduced to a box on the form.  Be careful to present a professional front in all matters of compensation; do not give in  easily to the notion that the employer holds all the cards.  Keep your info clear and accessible, but don’t negotiate against yourself by failing to define terms, set boundaries, and manage yourself at all times.

What is your Salary Requirement?

There it is on the online application—the question no one can figure out how to answer.  It is usually accompanied by: Do Not Leave Blank, and if you are online, this is a required field that will not allow the screen to progress unless you fill something in.  You are stuck.  And in your mind, screwed.

Why do they need to know this?  For many reasons, most of them not helpful to your end of the negotiations that you  imagine have begun.  You think you have opened what will become a negotiation process:  “You give me this job and I will give you something of value,” is the message I assume you want to convey.  Answer this question wrong, in your mind, and the negotiation is over before you get to really offer the value.

It is not a trick question.  At this stage, the employer is not in negotiations.  The employer isn’t looking for a few words that suggest you are willing to take whatever the job pays because it is your only goal in life to get this amazing opportunity.  The employer just wants to know the part of the value equation that is not on your resume.

Time, money, information, humans are all scarce resources in organizations, and spending time, money, information or humans on you has to be justified.  If your salary requirement is out of the ballpark, it’s over.  But “out of the ballpark” is an interesting issue.  Recruiters are paid to spot value, and if your requirement is high, and your offering is exceptional, you might get a call asking you how firm that requirement is, and seeking at least a phone screening.  Employers know that pay is not one number.  They have the means to work with you, if you are chosen and if you choose them.

On the other hand, if you price yourself so far below the market that you look strangely out of sync, you will be assumed to be puffing up your resume, or desperate, or uninformed, or not worthy.  In this case, you are less likely to get a confirming call.  Applicants who undervalue the job by reporting that they have low expectations are not as desirable as those who overestimate the needs of the company.

The reasons for asking the question are:

  • The employer (or recruiting firm) wants to validate that you are in the labor market that was targeted for this job, and the pay point is a good clue.
  • Your expectations are material to the question of whether or not you are worth the time it will take to court you, meet you, evaluate you, present you, keep you interested, and get you hired.  The farther above the employer’s highest number your own number resides, the less worth the effort you appear to be.  If you turn down the job after a long process, it affects the morale of all involved, and that really is important to the organization.
  • The employer wants to validate that you and your resume are legit.  Organizations study compensation and they know what jobs pay and what industries are leaders or laggers.  If you are off in a corner doing everyone else’s work for nowhere near what the job you say you have should pay, it’s going to look like something is wrong.  Wrong looking things aren’t appealing to someone who is seeking to mitigate as much risk as possible (i.e., a first line recruiter).
  • The employer wants to manage turnover.  Sure you know you were overpaid.  Sure you would be willing to accept less.  Sure you know that job is three levels below where you last sat in the org chart.  And you also know that your decision to pursue a lesser job is part of a deliberate decision to do things differently, right?  Take less responsibility, work fewer hours, don’t bring the problems home, enjoy life more, give your spouse a turn at the wheel, live each day to its fullest.  To some employers, that represents probably turnover.

How to handle the question:

  • Research the industry, job, geography, the company, and any other special circumstances.  Know how pay works, and target the number that makes sense to you based on all the things you know.  Stay focused on the company, not on the cost of your commute, the pay you got on your last job, or what your roommate or spouse is making.
  • Provide a real number, not an excuse for a number.  Don’t insert the word “negotiable,” it just takes points off, and could get you relegated to a maybe pile instead of a follow up file.  It only takes a few competitive apps to get you knocked out of the running for something silly.
  • Pick a round number, one with zeroes in it.  It looks more negotiable than the word negotiable.
  • Do not establish a low-ball number because you think it will make you look competitive.  It makes you look ineligible.
  • Do not report that you are only working for benefits, whether you are young, older, or the member of your family that isn’t self-employed.  This is not a good idea.  I will do a whole blog on this subject, but not today.
  • Tell the truth.  You do not have a leg to stand on if your answer isn’t somewhere close to the actual truth.  Eventually you won’t remember what you wrote down, and then you will be in an interview, and the issue will come up, and you will say something that isn’t what you wrote.  On this subject, the truth probably is that most of us don’t really care about the hair splitting number, but we do have a big rounded-off number in mind.  Use that one.

My last words of advice on this are what I usually say.  You should not be blindly completing online applications unless someone who already has your resume and your back has directed you to, at which point you’ve been given the answer to the question already.  When you see a posting or learn of a job, think of whom you might know in that organization.  Your real challenge is to get into a conversation with a decision-maker who can and who wants to help you elevate your candidacy before you have to answer the questions in the boxes on the application.

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.

Career Advancing Things to Do Indoors in the Heat of the Summer

Honestly, it’s too hot to do much of anything, isn’t it?  But, if you are looking for a job or if you have a job and you are looking for a different one, you don’t want to slow your momentum just because it’s July.  It is true that lots of people you would otherwise be meeting with are on vacation.  Interview schedules are dragging way out because of vacations, and if you are in the south, the oil spill may have everyone holding a collective breath.  In general summer makes things slow down.

So take your plans indoors, or if you aren’t air conditioned, to an indoor venue where you can work on your search.  Here are some basics that will keep you from having to start all over in a few months:

1.  Reorganize yourself and create a re-launch strategy for yourself.  Gather your cards, files, notes, telephone logs, articles, and the other collectibles you have been neglecting and sort.  Once Sorting is done: Pitch what is begging to be pitched–and that includes ideas that didn’t work or never got off the ground.  If you didn’t make the call or write the letter three months ago, either do it today, do it tomorrow, or give it up.  But somewhere in that pile o’ stuff is a good idea, an inspiration, or a sudden “what the heck” that can re-invigorate.

2.  Build a plan around the heat of July and August–set a schedule for the rest of the summer–what to do each day until fall arrives.  See how long you can stick to it.

3.   Update your research.  Either go to the library or go online and see what is going on with your target companies and their hiring plans or marketing strategy.  Changes might mean opportunity.

4.  Start your blog.  Begin by beginning.  You can spend a few days on this–did you have anything else to do, really?

5.  Write an article about something current in your profession or about your professional interest.  Even if it isn’t a great effort, spend some time learning about where you might publish it, if you ever wanted to.  Edit it.

6.  Write some letters or emails getting back in touch with your friends.  Or buy some cards and write personal notes to folks who might welcome them.

7.  Update your online profiles–Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever your preference.  New photo, new status update, whatever is new.  It’s time to refresh.

8.  Get a haircut.  You know you need one.

9.  Read a good book that is related to your professional field or one that you aspire to.

10.  Write down your new re-launch plan.  If it isn’t written, it isn’t real.  If it doesn’t have goals and a timeline, it isn’t likely to get done.

I’m sure I’m not the only grown-up who still thinks that September is the start of a whole new year.  Old habits and perceptions don’t really leave us–new school clothes, pencils, notebooks and a lunchbox marked a new opportunity to achieve.  So start your homework now. . . . .

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.

How to Start Networking, Today

I wrote yesterday’s post fully aware that it was not a recipe, but a Cook’s Illustrated style preamble to the recipe itself.   Before you bake a cake, for example, you have to be sure you have fresh baking powder, a couple of eggs in the fridge, and the right kind of flour.  At least.

But if you have never introduced yourself to someone you always wanted to meet, if you are not the one in your crowd who strikes up a conversation with the person in front of you in the check out line, then the steps don’t come naturally.

I don’t think that networking is my strongest suit; I especially don’t do that well when placed in the company of all-star networkers like those found in the Chambers of Commerce and Leadership organizations around the world.  Networking is a lot like flirting—it isn’t that substantial, it’s more of a process.  You can’t be serious or substantial when you do it.  You can’t be weighty.  Your needs can’t be the subject (or the predicate).

So here is a simple review of the process of networking.

Step 1.  Forget the word networking.  Just like the recipe has no place in the actual cake, at the end of the process, you will celebrate and enjoy your new friends, not your network.  Make the word go out of your head.

Step 2.  Identify your objective.  Do you want new friends, different friends and acquaintances, ideas, clients, information, facilitation, donations, more folks who know who you are?  If your only answer is that you want a job, think hard about what will happen when you get that job.  I can only say that I have spent a lot of time with people who befriended me in the interest of getting a job, who I never heard from again after they got it.

Step 3.  Create a database.  Oh this is so hard for people to do.  You must, must keep track of your connections and their contact information.  Make notes.

Step 4.  Set goals.  Meet new people every day, every week, or every month.  The time frame isn’t important, the goal and the filter is.  Your job is to meet people and get to know them and what they are interested in.  To share a moment and express your interest in them.  Ask where they got the blouse.  Note the book is one you have read and liked, or one you might be interested in reading.

Step 5.  Practice the art of making friends everywhere you go.  Start by smiling and making eye contact.  Strike up a conversation; if you do not get a response or the response you want, let it go and move on.

Step 6.  Call someone you don’t know, to ask for information.  No, I didn’t say email them.  Phone call, please.  Identify yourself.  Tell the person who answers the phone who you are calling and why.  If you get through to the person you want to speak with, thank him or her for taking the call.  Ask your question, get your answer, say thank you, say good bye.  Follow up with letter, note, or email.

This doesn’t always go the way you want.  You have to practice, you have to try, and you have to get comfortable.  I can’t stress enough that having a smile on your face will put a smile in your voice and will make you feel better no matter what the outcome.

Step 7.  Make a date.  “Can I buy you a latte?”  “Can we talk over lunch?”  “Would you like to come to our meeting?”  “Jan and I are putting together a group?”  Sooner or later you have to make a move.  Prepare more for the acceptance of your offer than for the rejection you might get.  The answer to the “no” is “perhaps another time; I’d love to get together.” And let it go; the next offer should come from them.

When you offer is accepted, get to the place of meeting first and wait for your acquaintance.  Pay for the coffee or lunch, or split the bill.  Keep your conversation low key.  Agree on your commonalities, but reserve the right to get to know someone and reflect on the meeting before you agree to anything else.  “Let me check with my (calendar, banker, spouse, assistant, or accountant) are all fair responses to most requests.  Then respond later as you wish.

Step 8.  Be honest with yourself.  Not all prospective friends can end up being friends.  Let it go as soon as you know it isn’t for you.  Some folks, if you hang with them long enough, will do more than just not be helpful:  they will hurt you.  Your instincts on this may be better than you realize—if you are not comfortable, let it go.

Step 9.  Circle back and stay in touch.  Don’t let too many people drift out of your life—time goes by very fast.  When you do reconnect, establish just how much time went by.  This is when a database can help.

Step 10.  Stay connected to people, but not to slights, wrongs, or hurts.  Sometimes a misunderstanding is just that.  Give folks a chance to grow and a chance to clear things up.  Get into the habit of sending a personal note or an email when you come across an interesting tidbit that might interest the other person.  Do not send your email lists links to spam.  Those jokes and funny writings that circulate are busily picking up URLs that will soon receive a fair amount of advertising garbage.

It is a little like dating, but making new friends is never exclusive.  It always leads to more friends, broader relationships and understanding, and a better understanding of yourself and what you can do for others.