Monthly Archives: September, 2014

Learning New Things

I had a great-aunt who lived to age 109 (really) and although she experienced some physical decline as she aged, her mind was sharp until the day she died. She played Bridge well into her early 100s and my mother and I were convinced that all that card-counting and trick-taking is at least one of the reasons her brain stayed so sharp. I’m planning to follow my aunt’s example because I believe that learning new things is a great way to keep my brain active and engaged, even if I don’t actually live to be 109.

I have to learn how to play first, of course. I know enough to know that Bridge isn’t easy, or maybe I should say that playing Bridge well isn’t easy. Plus, my best skills are in the area of words and language, not numbers, but that’s exactly why I believe that learning and playing Bridge will be good for me. It will exercise my brain and help keep my cognitive skills sharp. At least I hope so.

If playing cards doesn’t appeal to you, how about learning to cook? A foreign language? Chess? My point, of course, is to learn, to challenge yourself, to get better at something. We all know that physical exercise is beneficial but I’ve come to believe that mental exercise is important too. Card games like Bridge have the added benefit of being sociable, something I can do with other people.

If I live to be a really senior citizen, I hope I’ll be spending a good chunk of my time sitting around a square table with playing cards in my hands, adding up points and calculating how to fulfill a Three Spades contract. I’ll be having some fun, hanging out with friends and keeping my brain sharp. Hand me the cards, I’ll deal.

Kimberly Hanes is a writer with a passionate love for words and ideas and extensive experience in business communications and event planning.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Number Stories

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

When did you complete your college degrees?

So, in what year did you earn your latest degree?

Both this question and the title of this post assume that readers are likely to have more than 1 college degree; that is why I am using the plural and the superlative here.

Here is my reason for opening this post with that question. Shortly before a recent job interview, I received an email from that prospective employer in which they stated something like this; “You do not have graduation dates on any of the education you have listed”, and subsequently, they asked for that information.

I must point out that I did not include the years that my degrees were completed on the resume that I had sent them, because I had been advised some time ago that it is better to leave the year that a degree was earned off of the resume if it was not recent. No need to shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t have to. (I realize that this may send up a “red flag” to a prospective employer, but to me, the main purpose of a resume is to help a job-seeker get a job interview, and not disqualify that person from one.) But because they asked for that information, and because I did not want to appear to be un-cooperative, I gave it to them in my reply to that email.

Picture_01

Within 2 days of that interview, I received an email informing me that they had selected another candidate, who probably was more qualified for that position than I was.

I am not complaining here; I’m just using this as an example to prove that leaving the year a degree was completed off of a resume may actually help a job-seeker get a job interview. I still believe that it’s impossible to get a job without first going through the interview process.

Back to the advice I mentioned earlier in this blog post. First, the word “recent” needs to be defined. Some people may draw the line between recent and ancient at the 10-year mark; others may draw it at the 5, or even the 3 year mark. This assumes that the most recent degree is relevant to the job that a prospective employer is trying to fill.

Second, as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t much difference between a degree that was earned in the 1970’s and that same degree earned after the year 2000. There are some exceptions to this. One exception would be a degree in history, since it’s always being added to. Other fields whose degrees and qualifications could change over time would be the technical fields, such as Information Technology, and health care.

Others may disagree, but in my opinion, a liberal arts degree is a liberal arts degree, no matter when it’s earned.

Now again, in what year did you complete that last degree?

Dave Vandermey is a web developer.

“Give me a buyer who wants to buy, and a seller who wants to sell…

…and I’ll do the rest.”  This quote is from Janice, a very effective realtor who worked with me as I shopped for my first house.

Before meeting Janice, I’d already worked with two realtors.  To assist, I’d created a list of “Absolute Must Have,” “Highly Prefer,” and “Nice to Have” aspects of my ideal home.  This list also included my target price-range.  For whatever reason, none of the homes I viewed completely provided my ‘Absolute Must Have,’ and each of these two realtors eventually decided, after 3-4 house hunting visits each, that I was a lost cause.  One wrote me a letter which listed the homes we’d visited, noted how each met some of my criteria, and concluded that I would have to relax my criteria or price range.  He actually built a case to convince me that I would not be successful.

Based upon a co-worker’s recommendation, I contacted realtor Janice.  Within a month, (and a similar investment of 3-4 visits), Janice showed me a unit which matched all of my stated “Absolutely Must Have” criteria.   Curiously, this house was in a subdivision that the letter-writing realtor had brought me.  Although this unit had been available, and in the vicinity… he hadn’t brought me to see it.  Since I loved it when I viewed it with Janice, I have no reason to believe that I wouldn’t have loved it had I seen it with him.

Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

 

In job search, it is important for you to know which aspects of your next role are an “Absolute Must,”  “Highly Prefer,” and “Nice to Have.”  For me, a commute well over an hour each way would place the opportunity into the ‘do not move forward’ bucket.  It is important to write these down.  This way, you’ll have an unbiased set of criteria available  to assess a future opportunity.  After an interview, or even a phone screening, you begin to develop biases toward the position and opportunity.  When you receive a written offer, your mind will have many aspects to juggle and balance (and likely with a short response time), so don’t expect to have the ability to generate an objective list at that time.  Having a pre-written list will ensure you evaluate that opportunity as thoroughly and objectively as you can.

The nature of job search includes receiving many negative responses, or even not getting a response, from companies with whom you’ve talked.  Those responses should not deter you from holding onto your personal set of goals and job-criteria.  Their perspective should never be considered an impartial judgement.  It is up to you to decide which (if any) of your “Absolutely Must Have”  criteria that you might waive.  That is a personal decision, and not one that any other person, or company, has a right to determine.

I never informed my letter-writing realtor that I had indeed found a home which matched all of my criteria, as my energy was spent toward moving into my new home.  Although it was in his interest to match me with a home that met all of my criteria, he chose to identify my list of criteria as a fault and a shortcoming (of me).  Someone who saw it as an opportunity was able to be rewarded by it (repeatedly, as I happily used Janice’s realtor services three years later when I sold that home).

Allan Channell is a new ‘Blog to Work’ contributor.  He has experience in software development, project management, and interests in communications, Tai Chi, and humor.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Truth Or Consequences

Do you know who David Tovar is? If not, you should, because his story is a stark lesson in what not to do. Tovar was a Vice President of Corporate Communications at Walmart. He was being vetted for a promotion to Sr. VP when a background check uncovered the fact that he didn’t actually graduate from the University of Delaware, as he claimed on his resumé. Oops.

Here’s how Tovar explained the mistake, from businessweek.com:

Tovar said that the résumé “error” was spotted in an outside background check as part of his promotion to senior vice president. When asked about it by his employer, Tovar said he was “100 percent transparent.” He explained that he had walked in the university’s graduation ceremony, only learning afterward that he was a few credits short. He doesn’t seem to dispute the no-diploma problem.

Tovar then left college and got a job in New York. “I really didn’t think an art degree would matter in communications,” he told CNBC. 

Note that Tovar walked through that graduation ceremony in 1996, which means it took 18 years for the deception to catch up with him. He might argue that since he was successful enough in his VP job to be selected for a promotion to Sr. VP, how much difference does one little piece of paper, the diploma, really make? Not much, maybe, but the diploma isn’t the problem. The problem is that he misrepresented his credentials. To be blunt, he lied, and even after 18 years that’s not OK.

I’ve been thinking about David Tovar. Did he lie awake nights, fearful of the day his lie was exposed, or did he tell himself that after almost two decades, with a solid record of professional success, he was safe? Maybe he had more or less forgotten about those pesky credits he didn’t actually earn. Regardless, he eventually got caught, a reminder for all of us. Presenting ourselves, our education and our experience in the most positive light is OK. Lying isn’t.

Kimberly Hanes is a writer with a passionate love for words and ideas and extensive experience in business communications and event planning.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Making It Count

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity.  How it means a whole lot more than it has come to represent, at least from a broad economic sense.  Economically, productivity is getting more for less.  Put less resources in, but get more end result.  Increase productivity.

 

It would seem from that definition that the time between jobs would not be productive.  But I don’t think that is true.  There is so much that is done, can be done every day that can be considered productive.  And feeling productive makes a person feel valued, and we all want to both feel valued and feel like we are providing value.

 

Plenty probably told the Wright brothers that they weren't being productive.  (public domain image)

Plenty probably told the Wright brothers that they weren’t being productive. (public domain image)

Learning is valuable and productive.  There is so much that a person in job search could learn, and so many places to go to learn.

 

Sharing what you have learned with others is definitely valuable and productive.  There is so much that a person in job search could learn that it isn’t possible to learn it all yourself.  Sharing knowledge makes it more possible.

 

Helping somewhere, almost anywhere is valuable and productive.  Plenty of places could use a bit of help.

 

I found quite a few ways to feel productive during my search.  I went to my library to learn about current information and trends in job search and took classes toward a certificate.  I joined a couple of job search groups where I could share information and get support.  I created a presentation and gave it.  I joined Toastmasters.

 

There are countless ways to be productive, to provide value.  It takes a bit of concentrated thought to start being aware of all of them.  Asking others questions to find out what they do to be productive is a way to start.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Disabled?

Could a man in a wheelchair be elected President of the United States? In 2016, almost certainly not.  No matter how brilliant that candidate might be, today’s 24/7 “style over substance” press coverage and depressingly uncivil political atmosphere pretty much guarantee that a man (or woman) perceived to be disabled or physically weak could never be elected president.

What you may not know, or may have forgotten, is that we’ve already had a president in a wheelchair. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president from 1933-1945, was a paraplegic as a result of having had polio at age 29. At the time, most Americans didn’t know that the president couldn’t walk; in those pre-television days, presidential secrets were easier to keep, and there was an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement” that the press wouldn’t mention FDR’s disability. The picture below is one of only five that exist of the president in a wheelchair.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was our longest-serving president and the only one to be elected four times. He led our country out of the Depression in the 1930s and to victory in World War II in the 1940s. He is considered by many scholars and historians to be one of the three best presidents we’ve ever had. And he did it all in a wheelchair.

In job search and in general, I find the FDR story to be hugely inspiring. If you would like to learn more about FDR, his wife Eleanor and their cousin Theodore, check out the new documentary by Ken Burns, The Roosevelts – An Intimate History.

Kimberly Hanes is a writer with a passionate love for words and ideas and extensive experience in business communications and event planning.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Temporary Shelters – Part III – Joining Groups

lonely-bird  By Cynthia Simmons

Temporary Shelters – Part I – covered the emotional process of seeing the need to create a Temporary Shelter. Part II is about taking responsibility for the practical side of things and beginning to put the pieces in place to erect this shelter. Part III is about Joining Groups.

That sounds like common sense, why bother to mention it? Well, there is much more than meets the eye. The topic of “Groups” covers a lot of ground. I see groups as sorts of tribes. What groups do I belong to? Family, church, old friends from work…. no, no, this sounds like I’m beginning the famous networking lecture. That every job searcher hears many, many times.

These first groups are where you find support and advice before you really begin the networking conversation. Where you can show up frustrated and anxious, or maybe you’re just very, very curious and you have impolitely long lists of questions. So, once again, family, church/synagogue, old friends, and neighbors. People you trust and who already know you.

These groups will show you the ropes of how to do a job search. They may be support groups at a church (most church/synagogue support groups are open to anyone). A community college, or a community job support group. A career center, perhaps. Another person to add to your list or resources is a reference librarian who can help you to find these support groups.

The next type of groups to join is virtual social groups online. Like Facebook.

With each degree of dfile0001880536195istance though, more discretion is needed. Because online groups include strangers and when you regret posting something online, deleting comments and pictures is not entirely possible. When you post to Facebook, you are stepping away from a support group, and out into a networking environment. You may interact socially with someone and later find that they are professional contacts who you need to impress, by how professionally you conduct yourself.

LinkedIn is another, even bigger jump in distance, out into a professional online networking group. When you put up your profile and interact on LinkedIn, you are in the professional marketplace. You are onstage. Under review. You are telling the world, “These are my skills. And this is who I am.”

LinkedIn is not a “Temporary Shelter.” It’s an important tool to promote your professional reputation and marketability. It requires your ongoing attention.

Other groups are more optional.Osprey

Ephemeral groups include Twitter and Instagram. Like Mayflies that live for a day? Or flocks of wheeling birds, constantly changing direction, following what’s “trending” – the brightest objects shinning in today’s sunlight.

Professional groups on LinkedIn are good choices, so that you can listen in on discussions. And when you are ready, you can make your own comments and participate.

You may also choose to “follow” people, topics, publications, blogs, and companies, and that will make you a member of other groups.

My blog has covered the topic of “Joining Groups” as a general process. There are many, many more details.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional.
Photo credited to the morgueFile.com
© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Have we really simplified some things during the last few decades?

I believe there are some instances, in job-searching as well as in other things, where the following statement applies. “The more we try to simplify some things, the more difficult they become”.

Allow me to explain.

Below is a picture of 2 television sets. One television set is new, and the other one isn’t. It shouldn’t be too difficult to determine which one is the older of the two. (Here’s a hint; it is the one with the 2 circular dials, and the 2 small knobs on the front of it.)

CaptureOf_2014_0908

The purpose of this week’s blog post is to comment on the changes in the way we do certain things today; as compared to the way we did those same things about the time that the television set on the left was bought.

The television set on the left does not have a stand attached to it, (and never needed it) while the television set on the right cannot stand on its own without one. This leads to the fact that anyone purchasing a TV set today is at the mercy of whoever writes the instructions on how to assemble a TV stand, and then, to connect it to the actual television set. While I can claim to be at least a little bit mechanically inclined, and to have studied a few foreign languages between high school and college, I haven’t quite been able to translate those small pictures and symbols that appear in an instruction manual. A few more words in the illustrations that are in manuals would help.

The television set on the left was simple. After you bought it and brought it home, you simply hooked it up to your antenna, plugged it in, and started watching it. Cable TV came a few years later, and sometime after that, we began using a “remote” control.

Now, with the new television set, I have to use another “remote” control in addition to the one I used for the old TV.

Just as things have changed in the way we set up our TV’s, so have things changed in the way we search for jobs.

I was “in transition” for one month during the year before I bought that old TV, and because I still have a good memory, I also have a pretty good idea about what a job-seeker had to go through back then.

The most prominent difference between then and now is the way a person looked for a job that actually existed. Back then, a job-seekers’ primary source for job leads was in the classified section of the local newspapers. When you found a job that you liked and felt you were qualified for, you looked at the contact information in the ad, and either called the phone number that they listed, or you mailed them your cover letter and resume.

In today’s world, the equivalent operation for a job-seeker going after positions that exist goes something like this. You now have to look for those jobs on the internet, and then submit your resume electronically. If you have an account with a job board, you might even have an electronic “agent” which can send you an alert when jobs are posted which ask for those same skills you listed with your “agent”. And if you are lucky while responding to one of these job postings, the company receiving your information might not swamp you with a whole bunch of behavioral questions.

Maybe my opening statement should have been, “The more someone tries to simplify some things, the more difficult those things become for everyone else”.

Dave Vandermey is a web developer.

Me and You, In the Interview

We are sitting down at the interview table, having just shaken hands, ready to start as hiring manager (me) and potential candidate (you).  We are both hoping that this is the one, that you are the successful candidate.

 

Let’s backtrack and think about each of our preparation for this moment.  Mine started weeks or maybe even months ago when I sought approval for this position.  I reviewed and updated, or created, the job description at that time.  I talked to HR about posting the position internally and externally.  If HR was responsible for the initial interviews, I filled them in on what I was looking for in terms of traits, background and experience.

 

I’ve also put some thought into the dynamic of the team and what I plan to accomplish in the coming year.  What weaknesses I want to shore up and strengths I want to increase through the new person.  While going through the pile of resumes, I keep all of this in mind.  Who might fit the bill?  These go on the yes or maybe pile.  The yeses will get a phone interview.

 

I’ve done all of this, fitted into my regular day, as I could arrange it.  I’ve done my best to read each resume with a clear mind, but they tend to blur together and I am quickly looking for reasons to put each one on one of the three piles – yes, no, or maybe.

 

Before we get back to the two of us sitting opposite at the interview table, what did you do to prepare for this interview?

 

Did you just use the quick apply option on one of the job search websites and send me your standard resume that you have sent out hundreds of times?  Or did you take some time to research my company, and tailor your resume to the position that I have posted by highlighting your skills that match my requirements?  (Even before that, did you have someone proofread it for errors and clarity?)  Have you practiced your responses to standard questions with someone who will help you to present yourself in the best light?  Can you tell me examples of your work efforts clearly?

 

Have you taken a breath and told yourself that you will do your best?

 

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Now we are back at the table and ready to get started.  Both hoping this is the one.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved