Monday, December 28, 2009

Social Networking and Brand Management

People who have known me for some time in real life or on the Internet know that I'm resistant to hop on the bandwagon whenever a new social networking fad hits. In fact, my wife has consistently harassed me by saying that I'll be the last human being to join Facebook. She and everyone else does not understand that I already spend far too much time reading the news (and the local newspapers hate me for it); posting on my favorite gaming website (www.teamwarfare.com); playing games; recording music; etc. I have no more free time in that I don't know what to do with myself, so anything new has to be added to the waiting list, prioritized, etc. Facebook would simply suck away so much time that all of the things I want to do now would suffer as a result.

So when I joined Twitter last week, it was equivalent to the Second Coming of Christ (my apologies if people consider that heresy) in terms of the surprise that people had when they saw me tweeting of all people. After all, Twitter is probably just as much a time hog as Facebook.

The difference between the two is in the value of the site. I could just as easily claim that LinkedIn is a time hog when you consider the time I would spend answering questions, sending messages to my network, etc. But any activity on LinkedIn is considered an investment since it yields a benefit for my career. Can the same be said of Twitter?

Absolutely. Recall the two part blog (part 1 and part 2) where I talked about things that could be done to ensure that you get the maximum benefit out of a professional networking site. In part 2, I specifically discussed how I use LinkedIn to ensure that my value as a professional is proselytized to the maximum amount possible. Twitter is an extension of these efforts since LinkedIn now has direct links to Twitter.

The difference between LinkedIn and Twitter is in how you use each site. Telling you what you already know, Twitter is great for publishing short statements about anything you want. Given the integration that many websites now have with Twitter, it's very easy to share an article on a relevant topic with your followers. Links to the article are frequently shortened (using a site like Ping.fm, Bit.ly, etc.) giving you as many characters as possible to put a short message.

Frequently, sites put a message (similar to the article's headline) there. But this is an opportunity for you to increase your value in the eyes of those that follow you. Accept the headline? No way. Put your own spin on things, and if you can provoke some thought before they click on that link then you will be perceived as having value in their eyes.

(A secondary benefit, more for someone who is going senile like I am, is that when you are ready to write your blog entry for the next week then you have a week's worth of things that you found interesting documented in your list of tweets over the prior 7 days. I definitely plan on taking advantage of this in the future. But I digress...)

So if you haven't yet embraced Twitter, "there's gold in them thar hills." And if you want to hear my thoughts on relevant topics, feel free to follow me @foolomon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

P-cubed

This week's exciting news is that - ta-da! - I have received and accepted an offer at a Fortune 1000 software company selling IT Security solutions. After I received the formal offer, I was reminiscing on the journey to get to this point and decided to share some of these thoughts.

In any business endeavor, whether short- or long-term, it is foolhardy to "just do it" without any forethought regarding the consequences. From personal experience, I have had a few times in my life where I've said or done things and then (sometimes immediately) wished that life had a Backspace key or that I could somehow press Control-Z (Command-Z for you Macheads) to undo what just occurred. Therefore, if you are going to set your mind to accomplishing a particular goal, you should keep the following three things foremost in your thoughts:

Planning. Planning is a necessity regardless of the importance of the task, and I wrote about this in Be Your Own CEO of the Decade (November 23, 2009). Without planning, you won't have given any thought to what can go wrong; what to do if something does go wrong; how to maximize a successful result; etc.

Persistence. It's very easy to get frustrated when things don't go according to schedule. In fact, frequently things will not go according to plan. (Forget worrying about a schedule!) Yet as long as your execution is salvageable you should still carry on until you've reached an end point, successful or otherwise.

Patience. If you are doing something that provides instant results and/or feedback then you are fortunate. However, there may be times when all of your efforts will not yield a tangible harvest until some time in the future. Just because you've planned and executed does not mean that there is not still some work, or at the very least oversight, that needs to be done.

Applying these three principles to my job search over the past 7 months, my plan was to ensure that I was successfully selling myself when people either read my LinkedIn profile or my resume and then to successfully promote my personal brand by blanketing to the greatest extent possible the entire LinkedIn site with reminders of my existence. (Think of that last statement like a bunch of prairie dogs that keep popping their heads up out of their holes. Whack-a-Me? No way!)

After I had a plan, my persistence was tested when, month after month, things got more dismal. I still believed I could get a job that I wanted and not just a new source of income, but with 127 resumes sent out in two months and only 5 replies it wasn't looking good. My wife kept telling me how her father, in a similar situation, took a job at Home Depot stocking shelves and the guilt of thinking how I wasn't providing for my family like her father did for hers certainly shook me to the core at times. Yet I did not abandon my goal, and I carried on.

I've been talking to my new employer since the end of August. In the third week of September, the head of the Sales team for this division and geographic region said to my new manager that he was satisfied and that my manager could proceed to negotiate an offer. Yet my new manager wanted more things to be done and checked before moving to the final stages of the interview cycle. It is the end of the year and other people at this company are busy closing deals and such, so expecting them to find time to speak with someone they've never heard of before is difficult at best. Patience? Jokingly, I'll say that I should be beatified. It finally took an additional 3 months for me to get the offer. Had I no patience, I would have been looking elsewhere; would not have continued to follow-up with them; and who knows what my employment or financial situation would be right now?

I've applied those principles to the experiences of my job search, but I am sure you can find other business situations where they are equally applicable. Let these be your guideposts to success in all that you do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peace and Goodwill

This is the wonderful time of the year when you get your Year in Review edition of Time in the mail and read similar nostalgic pieces around the web. Personally, I think it's a cop-out on the parts of editors and authors because this seems to be a "softball" that the calendar gives them. However, it's not politically correct to have a Scrooge-ish attitude, so in the spirit of the holiday season I bring you this week's blog entry.

When I was a lad, my parents had on their bookshelf a book entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The cover looked boring, and I was only 9 so the outdoors were calling a lot more than reading some unknown book with a stodgy cover. Over the years, I heard now and again how this book was the definitive source on the topic and even recently learned that many considered it a "must read" for salespeople.

So while I was in Manhattan last week, I stopped by a Barnes and Noble. I was intending on buying The One Minute Manager, an excellent book that I used to own but since misplaced. But after I looked at the book, the name of Dale Carnegie floated across my conscience. I left with his book instead with a pep in my step, for I was finally going to satisfy my curiosity that had been fanned over the years by all of those people that recommended it so highly.

Realize that the book was written in 1936, so allusions to John D. Rockefeller and his ilk take on a special significance. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if the book was no longer relevant due to the fact that it is 70 years old.

I have read the first three chapters, and feel that the book is very timely indeed. In fact, I can see why so many people fawn over it. I asked on LinkedIn if I was alone, and resoundingly I heard that it was still a book for the ages and that it contained advice on how to manage one's relationships that will never go out of style.

This is the time to spread peace and goodwill, and this can easily start with the way we interact with our customers, peers, spouse, children, et al. Why not pick up a copy of the book that tells you how you can do this while making yourself a better person at the same time? You never know: maybe your success in managing relationships will translate into success in business much like the book tells.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Management 101

William Hammer, who is a good friend of mine as well as the founder of Vanderbilt Securities, once told me (paraphrased): "it's a Management 101 concept to stipulate a 'due date' whenever you need something to be done. Otherwise, there will be a lot of hemming and hawing, and you'll never get the information you need."

I couldn't agree with him more, but since he said this to me about 10 years ago I'll take it a step further: with the sheer number of hawkers vying for one's attention it's tough to stay focused. In fact, it's so tough that you cannot rely on someone to remember something they promised much less deliver it when you need it.

When I was a senior at Clemson University, I had already spent two, seven-month periods working as an intern at IBM's Application Systems Design Lab in Cary, NC. But I had set my sights on their T. J. Watson Research Center for my last seven-month stint before my graduation. My soon-to-be manager, Jerry Cuomo, wanted to fly me up for an interview but was unable to justify to his boss why they should do so since I was "just an intern."

In the end, he hired me for that internship. When asked for clarification, he said that it seemed that I would be a contributor and, more importantly, he liked my determination. (For the record, what he really was saying was that I was a pain in his ass during the decision process. But I digress...)

Determination can be annoying to others, but only when they don't properly appreciate the gravity of the situation. This was alluded to back in my first blog entry, Everyone is in Sales!, where I stated that the onus is on you to convince others of your cause. Beyond this, there is also the question of "what's in it for me?" or, put another way, "why should I help you?"

The point that I'm trying to make here is that your goals will rarely be unilaterally executed, i.e. you'll always need help from others. Those goals may be short term, tactical ones like liaising with another division in your company so that you can answer a customer's question; or they may be strategic ones like finding a new job that moves you along the career path that you've envisioned for yourself. To make these goals reality, then, it is important to remember the following things (summarized from above):

Sell your need. Properly convince others of the importance by ensuring they realize the benefits they'll receive from their efforts. It may be altruistic, i.e. "the company benefits" (vs. them benefiting personally), but that's okay too.

Set deadlines. Part of the "sales" aspect is explaining the due date for the action (unless the importance of the item in question is extremely low) and why that due date needs to be adhered to. This avoids the instance where someone will abdicate themselves from the responsibility of doing their part because "you didn't tell me you needed it yesterday!"

Be determined. I'm not condoning riding someone like a horse until they finish their part in the task, but you should definitely take an active interest in their progress. Be compassionate, though - they have other things that are demanding their attention.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Relief

Warning: if you're here this week to read a business-minded blog entry, you will be disappointed. Instead, this week's entry is about relief.

"Relief from what?" you ask. Relief from a lot of stress and anxiety is my answer. While the vast majority of America was relishing (pun intended) in the taste of a properly cooked turkey, my wife and I were unpacking in our new residence in NJ. On Tuesday, she came here as the vanguard to accept the keys from our landlady; Wednesday found me riding behind the moving truck as all of our possessions were transported from Great Neck, Long Island to the new place in Crystal Springs (technically a resort, but we live in the residential area of the development).

"Moving is a form of relief?" you reply. When you consider that my wife, my 14 month old, and I lived in a 600 sq. ft. apartment where I alone had enough possessions to fill the entire place then you can understand the stress. Now we live in a 2,000 sq. ft. condominium so, yes, it is a form of relief. Finally, we get to spread our wings and fly, almost literally, through the basement, which is bigger than our former residence. Let's add the main floor, with a proper kitchen, dining area, and a master bedroom that contains a walk in closet as big as our former kitchen as well as a proper bathroom. Now, we can breathe.

Granted, we are further away from the city than we were before. After completing college, I moved to the NYC area (from my hometown in Beaufort, South Carolina) and put my roots down in the New Hyde Park, New York area of Long Island. My friends, my church, my oldest daughter, and my memories are there. But my wife's family - who I have gotten to know quite well - live here. And now my oldest daughter has a place to sleep finally, so she will paradoxically be spending more time with us here, 90 minutes away, than she did when we lived 15 minutes away.

Selfishly, the greatest thing about living in a bigger place is my "man cave." For those who have never heard the term, Dr. John Gray (who penned the well-known Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus book and subsequent tomes in the series) described this as a place of retreat for men when they need to just shut themselves away from the rest of the world for an hour or two (or five). Since then, the term has joined the vernacular and even has a reality show dedicated to it on the DIY Network.

My man cave is a resurrection of something that I had before: my digital recording studio. To those that don't know me in real life, music has been a passion of mine since I first picked up a guitar at age 8. Since then, I have taught myself several instruments; marched in a parade or two playing the alto saxophone; played keyboards when the band I was in played for 2,200 screaming fans as the opening act for Air Supply in April 2006; and as you can see in the picture written and recorded a few songs.

But when my fiancée (now my wife) moved in to my "matchbox apartment" in 2007, my music equipment went into storage. I kept a guitar or two around to fiddle around with, but that was the extent of it. And when she took the baby to the Mommy and Me class weekly, I would crank up my Marshall amplifier and relive the youthful exuberance I had for music during the 90 minutes that they were out of the house.

No longer, though. Now, I have everything at my disposal, and I couldn't be happier. This is my pride and joy (of all things that aren't living), and I have relief that once again I can escape to lands far away, limited only by my imagination. And - who knows? - I may end up on stage again now that I have the facilities to practice playing like I did so many years ago.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Be Your Own CEO of the Decade

Steve Jobs was deemed to be the CEO of the Decade by Fortune Magazine. As they put it, he not only revolutionized one industry, but he revolutionized four industries. And he did it when there were already other established leaders in each, unlike his compatriots Josiah Wedgwood (chinamaker), John D. Rockefeller (oil), Andrew Carnegie (steel), Henry Ford (automobiles) and Estée Lauder (make-up).

After reading the 31 page exposé about him, one thought struck me like a wall of bricks crashing down: how do I ensure that I am more than a footnote in history? Will I ever leave a lasting impression on something more than just a gravestone?

The only effect I seem to be leaving right at this moment is the effect that I'm not as good a planner as I thought I was. I intended on writing about a few things I read in Entrepreneur, but due to the fact that we are moving from Long Island, New York to New Jersey on Wednesday I mistakenly packed the issue in question away and don't remember in which box it went. This is an unfortunately good illustration of something else I read in the same issue of Fortune: "good execution beats a bad idea."

The author, Wilbur Ross (CEO of W.L. Ross & Co.), described his experience buying mediocre performing steel companies and then combining them to form International Steel and the steps he took to turn them around so that the combined strength was greater than the sum of the parts. In effect, the great execution of his acquisition plans more than compensated for the fact that the companies he purchased where not in the best financial health.

The opposite effect can be seen in my predicament for this week. I know I write a blog entry every week; I knew when I read that issue of Entrepreneur that I wanted to use it for this week's entry; yet I not only neglected to leave it on the coffee table, but I also packed it away in a box that is in a community of 7 stacks of boxes (piled 5 high) making it virtually impossible to find.

Translating this to the original question ("how do I leave a mark on the world [of business]?"), one should realize that any idea is better than no idea. After all, the quality of the idea will not amount to a hill of beans in the long run. Instead, it is the forethought that you put into the execution plan and its eventual execution that will really separate you from the rest of the pack.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Imaginations Run Wild

One day, several years ago, I was eating dinner with some Chinese new friends in a small, Chinese restaurant in Flushing, NY. After the food was gone, I turned to Jeff who was sitting next to me and watched him eat the rest of his bowl of rice by itself.

The young, philosophical me had a picture in my head. I could see the women in their bamboo hats, ankle deep in the mud of the rice fields. So I asked him at that point, "are you eating the rice because it symbolizes the hard work of the laborers in the fields and you don't want to waste it?"

Jeff assessed my mental state for a few moments, then resumed eating his rice. It turns out he was just hungry, and plain rice was better than no rice.

Elegance is...well...elegant. It's nice to devise a solution to a problem that you feel would qualify for a place in the Museum of Modern Art, but sometimes the best solution is the easiest. We know this as the Keep It Simple, Stupid or KISS principle.

(For the astute reader, this posting is different than another one that I wrote using KISS as the premise for the discussion.)

So why am I writing about a topic with which we are all familiar? (I wonder what the rice workers would give as an answer.) I'm sure we've seen situations where such emphasis is placed on developing an elaborate solution that it paralyzes the team. The final solution isn't started, much less finished, until well after something simpler could have been implemented and the rewards realized. Therefore, it's worth reminding ourselves that frequently simplicity is best even if it means that it may only address 95% of the requirements for a solution.

For example, my family and I are currently preparing for a move from Long Island, New York to New Jersey. We have a small apartment now, but it still needs to be packed. During the time that we've lived here, we've managed to accumulate a fair amount of small "stuff" (with a nod to George Carlin). Given that moving companies have a reputation (unfairly attributed, I'm sure) to manhandling one's possessions, we could organize everything in the boxes neatly and wrap everything up in bubble wrap to ensure its safety.

What would that accomplish? Honestly, it would do nothing but waste a substantial amount of our time. Instead, we have recognized that a lot of our smaller possessions would not be missed (much) even if they were pulverized. Therefore, we are simply putting things in boxes without much regard to organization with the recognition that the odds are greatly in our favor that nothing will get damaged.

Does the story of the tortoise and hare ring a bell? In this instance, however, the hare wins. Steady persistence (the tortoise) in one's efforts to find the best solution have more potential in terms of benefits provided, but (to paraphrase a basketball coach whose name escapes me) "potential means you ain't done shit for me lately."

On an unrelated note, I get asked somewhat regularly where I get my graphics from for the blog. I use an amazing site, full of free and royalty photographs: stock.xchng. Unfortunately, they are having stability issues at the time of this writing for the first time since I started using them, which is why there is no spiffy graphic in this installment.

See you next week.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Bigger Picture

Yesterday morning, I panicked because I had not written a blog entry for this week. When I first started this blog, I had so many things that I wanted to share with the world, but new topics weren't arriving as fast as I had been spending my philosophical coin.

There have been plenty of distractions here too: I've been out of work since the end of May; we have (as of this month) depleted our savings account and in fact are a few thousand dollars in short-term debt so that we could meet our financial obligations for the month; we accepted an offer on our apartment out of necessity (since we didn't know when we'd get the next offer...we had already been on the market for 18 months) that resulted in a 27% loss in two years; we're moving from NY to a location in NJ that is a few hours away; etc.

This isn't an excuse, but it is worth noting that the stress level that I have been exposed to on a constant basis has been quite high. And while I've been trying to keep my chin up, it's difficult and my frustration at the state of my life (especially my inability to provide for my family) has spilled out into my marriage.

I wanted to write this blog entry because, regardless of what's going on in your life, you cannot forget the bigger picture. Granted, this doesn't necessarily apply directly to those of you who aren't married, but I think you'll get the idea. The bigger picture is that there are always things to be thankful for in one's life, and even though it's tough to plod on day after day those positive aspects should be enough to give you the energy to continue.

Of course, this means you have to see and value what you have first. I had forgotten for a time that this woman living with me is my wife and the mother of our child; worse, I had forgotten why I married her in the first place. And it wasn't until we were fighting for a few days straight that I gave myself a time-out; put myself in the corner; and gave myself a few moments to think. Only then did I realize what had happened.

So I wrote her a love letter, and told her all of the things about her that I love. And it wasn't until then that the bigger picture came in focus once again.

The next time you're on yet another business trip because you travel 75% of the time; or you're working until all hours of the night; or you're upset because you were stuck in traffic and drove a total of 6 hours for a 2 hour meeting; etc. take a few moments to step back and admire what it is you have in your life already. You won't be sorry that you did, and neither will those that love you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bored? Now what? (Cont.)

Last week, I talked about how I didn't take advantage of extra time in an attempt to influence my future when I knew my employer was not in the best financial and sales health. I'm sure that after reading that, especially with my opening line stating how I've been unemployed since the end of May, many of you are wondering "have you learned from your experience?" Obviously, if I'm unemployed there are things that I could be doing right now to lessen the stress level and more quickly reenter the workforce...

...right?

Last week, Donna Sweidan posed a question on LinkedIn that followed a similar vein. She's currently finishing up a book / DVD set on using LinkedIn effectively for a job search, and wanted some final input. Specifically, her question was:

"What do you do on a daily/weekly basis to maintain your networking momentum? It seems a given today that networking for your job search is as important as exercise is to a healthy lifestyle, but just like so many of us have a hard time keeping up with an exercise routine, I am seeing too many job seekers who tell me that they don't network nearly enough! I think it's pretty clear though, that consistent and strategic networking is probably the most important job search activity a job seeker can be doing in this current market. So, my question to all of you who are doing it successfully: what is your secret? What one or two tips can you share with others that help you maintain your networking mojo? What do you do on a daily or weekly basis to keep the momentum going?"

This, I feel, is a nice segue from last week's topic especially since the landscape has evolved considerably since my previous experience several years ago. So without further ado, here are the things that I have been doing.

Write a blog. I write this weekly blog. To promote it, I use ping.fm (but feel free to use any of a number of similar services) to add a brief, one sentence summary of the blog along with a link to it.

Promote your professional wisdom. I publish (using LinkedIn's Google Presentations application) a 3 slide PowerPoint to my LinkedIn profile when my blog entry is published. It summarizes the blog entry with a plug and a link to the blog on the last slide.

Stay in contact. Every few days, I scan through the network updates on LinkedIn and send 2 or 3 emails to people that I have worked with in the past and with whom I have had limited contact during the past 3 months. The email is typically something innocuous like "I'm just checking in" and is intended to spark a brief conversation that does not necessarily have to have any business relevance.

Get on their radar. I answer questions on LinkedIn, because I know the fact that I answered them will show up in my network's updates.

Just recently, I was asked by a potential employer for 2 managers that I reported to and a contact that was a customer of mine earlier this year at a particular Fortune 100 company. I called up the contact, introduced myself, and asked if they remembered me.

"Of course I do," they replied. "Plus, you seem to be all over LinkedIn."

The fact that I do a lot of stuff on LinkedIn ensures that I stay on people's radar. Couple this with the fact that I have purposefully built my network to be filled (to the greatest extent possible) with people who hold positions of influence, and you can see why the momentum I have maintained is so important.

Another example of the success of a strategy like this came in the form of an email that I sent to a former colleague (see item 3 above). In my email, I asked how he was doing. He responded, "I'm great - thanks. I see you're pretty active [on LinkedIn]." Again, this is a validation of my efforts to stay on people's radar.

Efforts mean little without demonstrable results, correct? After the demise of my position I immediately reached out to my network and consistently contacted them to see if anyone knew of any position that could take advantage of what I've demonstrated over the past number of years. Frequently, the response was similar to the following: "you have exactly the skills and experience that we need...but we have no budget / headcount / etc." However, now that things are turning around - and I won't deny that I feel that a large part of this is due to companies, in advance, deciding to freeze hiring until Q4 of this calendar year, which ended in September - I have seen a noticeable uptick in activity. In fact, I have recently completed interview cycles with 3 companies currently vying for me and am entering the negotiation stage with 1 of those 3.

It remains to be seen what the future holds, but because of my efforts to ensure that I remain relevant I am cautiously optimistic about the weeks ahead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bored? Now what?

It's no secret that I've been unemployed since the end of May. And although I'm sticking by my decision to take my time and find the right position that satisfies both my responsibility to provide for my family and my desire for career growth, I won't deny that the past few months have been tough. In fact, with my wife having her own, home-based business, we are frequently ready to maim each other simply due to my ennui and our constant exposure to each other.

This "I'm so bored that I want to gnaw my fingers off" feeling can happen at other times too. Several years ago, during the last business downturn (or, more specifically, during the Internet bust that occurred earlier this decade), I was working for a small company that produced web-based software. Our pipeline was in the dump and there was little to do, which was scary considering that we had 150 people and a rapidly dwindling bank balance.

To put it bluntly, even though we had some small consulting engagements that kept my team busy some of the time, there was never enough work to engage all of us on a regular basis so we did things to keep us busy. There should be no surprises here: one colleague played an acoustic guitar; another (a foodie) took us to various (and excellent) places for lunch; the rest did other things like surf the net; I played games and chatted with my family via instant messenger.

Even though it was no surprise that the company was going down no one in the development side of the house seemed to take the news seriously even after two rounds of layoffs. And when the company finally made the really hard decision to let go of 50% of the remaining staff (starting with the resignation of the executive management team), we found ourselves wondering how we were going to bounce back.

Well, I didn't (not quickly at least). I was out of work for 4 months, used a significant portion of our savings, and only because a friend of mine had a lot of contacts did I start work again as an independent consultant doing application development at one of the media companies.

If I had the wisdom to do so, there were several things that I could have done that would have lessened the blow of my layoff.

Education. .NET was already in the late stages of its beta and was already generating huge amounts of buzz. I had not bothered to look at it (mostly due to Microsoft's never ending reputation of not being able to release something worthwhile in its first release; I decided to wait until version 1.1), yet I could have been on the cusp of one of the biggest software development movements in recent memory.

Adapt. My colleagues in sales, marketing, and other areas of the business were busy to some degree but not so busy that they wouldn't have been able to show me what their job entailed and especially how they fulfilled the responsibilities that their position carried. This exposure, while it would not have made me an expert, would have added to my overall value to the organizations that I worked for in the future.

Market. I knew that my position didn't have enough activity to warrant me staying at the company (unless the company's fortunes reversed), yet I didn't take the opportunity to sell my worth to the decision makers in the company. And while blogs weren't yet all the rage, there were still other ways to get on people's radar (namely the USENET groups, writing letters to the editors of major trade publications, etc.) that I didn't take advantage of.

Look. By the same token, I knew that my job was in jeopardy. I wasn't willing to admit that the job market, though, was in such a sad state that it would take a few months to find something comparable. Had I done so, I could have started looking for a new position much sooner.

My point is that in depressing times it is easy to allow yourself to give in to despair, yet this is exactly the time when you can take advantage of slower periods of activity to better yourself as a professional. Louis Pasteur once said, "luck favors the prepared mind." Prepare yourself, then, for changes ahead and you'll be able to focus on the execution when those changes occur rather than lose your focus as you wonder what to do next.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Repetition

Anyone who is a baseball fan has to wonder what is going on in the Angels' heads based on the way they are playing. I can't easily recall two games that were filled with more game-changing blunders than the two that I've watched between the Angels and the Yankees. It sometimes makes you wonder if the Angels have even practiced much.

Maybe they should take a cue from Direct TV. Craig Calcaterra put it in a humorous light in his NBC Sports blog Random observations from ALCS Game 2.

As I sipped my beer and waited for the commercial break to end, I wondered to myself: "is there a single person watching this game who said 'you know, I wasn't going to get Direct TV, but now that the Black Eyed Peas have weighed in on it, I'm going to take the plunge.' "

He is talking about, if you haven't watched the games yourself, the incessant commercials that feature Fergie and Will.i.am overdubbing their own music video (for the song Meet Me Halfway) with a plug for Direct TV. These commercials seem to be on every minute at least, and pretty soon you are tuning out the sound and thinking about the list of things you need to get from the grocery. ("Beer? Check. Toilet paper? Check. Chips? Check.")

Once, Fred Voccola who was at the time the Head of Sales at the now defunct Identify Software (and is now, contrary to what his LinkedIn profile reads, the President of Trellia Networks), said during a sales meeting that the reason why you see 100 Ford F150 commercials during the Super Bowl is because they know you will forget the commercial as soon as it stops showing. Having so many of them ensures that you remember the product long after the game.

If that's the case, then we should be remembering Direct TV for quite some time.

In all seriousness, we should all take a cue from this annoying marketing tactic. While there is definitely the risk of being annoying, I claim that there is a middle-ground where you can ensure that people know who you are or what you are selling without making them want to gouge their eyes out with the back of a spoon when they see you coming. In other words, develop a 15-30 second pitch to remind people of what you represent and then find some way to weasel it in to your conversation, preferably at the beginning.

The advantages of this approach? If designed properly, the pitch will constantly set expectations of what they can expect you to deliver. Or, more importantly, they will know what they should not expect you to deliver. And that may be the most important message of all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Customer Focused, Part 2

Last week I discussed how having an eye for the needs and desires of the customer can translate into real, tangible benefits for your company. Since then two other incidents have occurred that I feel a desire, almost an obligation, to share with you.

We've been looking to relocate to NJ to be nearer to my wife's family. With the real estate market there is in a real slump - that's relative to the rest of the country, where things are bad as well - there are some great deals to be had. We stumbled across one of those deals when my wife chanced across a bank-owned, previously attempted to be auctioned off but failed property that is listing at 50% of what it was sold for in 2003. We looked at the property on Friday night; saw the apartment to be in rather good shape (not perfect, but who's going to argue about minor stuff with a Viking Professional stove and Subzero refrigerator in the kitchen?); and as we contemplated our next step found out that the bank was going to make a decision on what bid to accept on Monday morning at 10am.

Panic panic panic. What to do? We had to find out all sorts of information about the property to determine a reasonable bid. (We did not, at that time, know about the 50% discounted price.) The realtor representing the bank said a formal offer letter would be needed as well as a pre-qualification letter from a lending institution or a mortgage broker.

The Wrong Way
I had been pre-qualified by a "one stop realty shop" early this year so, after tracking down the number of the person with whom I spoke at that time, I gave him a call. It was just after 1pm on Sunday afternoon, and he remarked that he was leaving the office to go home and watch the Giants game. But he assured me that he would be able to speak at 7pm that evening and gave me his cell number so that I could call him.

7pm came, and I made myself ready to speak with him, i.e. I went into my "home office" (read: kitchen), prepared myself with whatever information he would require to look up my credit score, etc. Then I called but got no answer.

"Ok," I thought. "Maybe he's at the office and is on another line." So after leaving a message on his cell phone, I called the office but received no answer there either.

After spending the next 2 1/2 hours "blowing up" both of his phones (as my wife calls it), I gave up.

The Right Way
I had assumed that, since I had been pre-qualified by this person already that it would be easier to get the statement refreshed. I had assumed that it would be impossible to get such a letter from another institution on such short notice. But now I was in a bind, so I tracked down another mortgage broker that I know online; asked to call him; then told him of the situation and asked for advice.

What was David Archibald's (of ICC Mortgage Services) response? "Call me at 8:30 tomorrow morning and, based on what you're telling me now, we should have the pre-qualification letter for you in 15 minutes." True to his word, I did and we were able to submit a bid for the property 30 minutes before the deadline.

The Result
The bank ultimately rejected everyone's offer (but that's a story for another day). Yet in spite of the fact that I will not at this time require financing, I'll leave the guessing to you as to which of the above two companies will get my business when I am ready.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Customer Focused

Lately, I've been looking at the finer details of people's experience, especially those who are in senior positions within their respective companies. After noticing a lot of MBAs in the group I asked Tom Schodorf, who is the former General Manager of BMC's Services Delivery business unit and now has his own executive consulting company, what work experience or other tangible credentials / certifications a CEO needed to have to be successful. His response was insightful:

"Very few things sharpen the senses more about the needs of your customers than having a quota and selling the product quarter after quarter. Experience in sales and marketing as an individual contributor and in management helps you understand nearly every facet of your own business as well and is very valuable experience for future CEO's."

If I may summarize the first point it is "be customer focused." I would argue that this is not only necessary for a CEO to be successful but that it applies to the entire company in general. Some examples of this are listed below:

"Editor in Chef"

In a previous life, I published a magazine for several years that was aimed at the OS/2 development community. (Yes, I'm dating myself.) Early on, I recognized the need for business cards since I was fully expecting to attend trade shows and report back on trends in the marketplace that were relevant to my readers.

I worked with a printer to design an appropriate card for myself (and my columnists); placed my order with them; and waited for the cards to arrive. When they finally did arrive, a glaring error caught my attention. Instead of being listed as the Editor in Chief, I was the Editor in Chef. (Food Network, here I come!)

I called the printer and explained the situation to them. Realizing that the PC Expo in NYC was only 2 days away, they rushed a corrected print job and hand delivered the cards to my doorstep in spite of the fact that I lived 30 minutes away by car.

The Free Upgrade

In 2008, I purchased one of the most amazing pieces of music software I have ever owned: Celemony's Melodyne pitch correction plug-in for Steinberg's Cubase music production system. Unfortunately, I was unable to install it for just over a month, which wouldn't have been a problem except for one thing: soon after I did install it, they announced a free upgrade to a new version that had mind blowing features. The catch? You had to have registered it before a certain date.

I had registered mine less than a week after the deadline even though I had owned it for several weeks already. "Not a problem," said Celemony's user support team. They said they would honor the free upgrade for me in spite of the late registration.

The point that I'm trying to bring up is that companies these days have the power to define their relationships with their customers, whether those customers are the individuals like myself or huge companies like the global financial services companies. And with the lightning fast speed that information is disseminated over the Internet, the perception that their customers have regarding the relationship and the degree of importance that suppliers place on that relationship can be communicated to a vast audience in relatively short order.

Can this actually have an effect on a company's bottom line? Absolutely. Consider the following example:

In early November of last year I became aware of a stalled sales opportunity at a large insurance company. They already owned some of our software, but we were trying to sell two new sets of technology to them that we knew would have large repercussions on their effectiveness as a company. Unfortunately, due to the corporate culture there, the new technology was undergoing a review that was more rigorous than was probably necessary.

I already had a strong existing relationship with the Economic Buyer there, which I leveraged to not only broker a meeting between the Sales Manager and him but ensure that the necessary information was extracted from the meeting to put together a very aggressive close plan. The result? A deal was closed within 4 weeks of the meeting that was worth over USD$1mm in revenue.

Would the deal have closed without my involvement? Undoubtedly. The Sales Manager was very good. But unfortunately he had not yet met the Economic Buyer so there was a long road ahead of him before he would reach his goal. My involvement wasn't critical but because of it the deal closed by the end of the calendar year, which coincidentally was the end of the purchaser's budget cycle.

Relationships can indeed be a deciding factor in your business. Build and foster them with the decision makers in your own company or in your customers' companies and watch your success grow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cloud and You (Cont.)

Last week I wrote about how Google and "the cloud" seem to be synonymous due to the bevy of highly visible applications available by the company that are typically free for non-business use. I wanted to explore the topic a bit further, so I had an e-chat with Gabrielle Smith, VP of Enterprise Sales at LTech, a Google Applications Premier Edition (GAPE) reseller.

Me: Cloud computing has always been a term that, in my opinion, has never had a concrete definition. Can you provide a definition?

Gabrielle: I'm stealing this from NIST who defines it in the following way:

"Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three delivery models, and four deployment models."

Me: I realize that I'm greatly simplifying it but that definition essentially says that cloud computing is the ability to run your application on a bunch of computers without having to own a bunch of computers first. This isn't an Earth-shattering concept, nor is it new. Larry Ellison proposed proposed something similar with the Network Computer in 1999 and Marc Andreessen had LoudCloud in 2001. So what makes cloud computing now, as a reality, different?

Gabrielle: I think the biggest driver today for the adoption of SaaS and cloud strategy is evolution of hardware. We have gotten to a point where the processing power of hardware and data storage capability can scale with limited disruption. Ten years ago, the same was not true.

The concept of the cloud has been around for many years, even prior to 1999, but the technology that was necessary to support its success was not available yet. In my opinion, the adoption of cloud computing is truly being driven by cost due to the struggling economy. Companies are being forced to rethink current policies and strategies. Every company is under scrutiny to be cutting costs and reducing expenditures. Leveraging the economies of scale in the cloud for basic functionality and enhanced features is a win for these companies.

Currently, this is a perfect storm of sorts. The economy is driving for lower cost options; big name providers like Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft have built out secure infrastructures and tested them for long periods of time; and the technology and processing power has caught up to the market demand.

Me: You mentioned Cloud Computing and SaaS there. Would you say that the two are synonymous?

Gabrielle: No. SaaS can mean various things. I have seen hosting vendors market as a SaaS organization. I think to truly consider something as cloud based it needs to be leveraging large scalable infrastructure. Although both offerings in essence provide users the ability to access applications, I think the definitions are still too loosely defined to agree they are one in the same.

Me: Does the fact that the software runs in the cloud limit what functionality it can provide since it has to run in a web browser?

Gabrielle: Quite the opposite. Software running in the cloud gives the user a greater amount of efficiency and flexibility. For example, John Smith CEO of ABC Company is traveling to India for a meeting with a large investor. His laptop crashes on the trip over. Under a traditional software model, John is out of luck and would require a new preloaded/configured machine shipped to him. Under the SaaS model, all of John's information is located on any computer that can afford him access to the internet.

From a functionality standpoint, many users are going to see increased functionality as cloud based technology allows for instantaneous upgrades to be rolled out with little disruption. Google Apps adds features to its solution roughly every 2 weeks. Since all of the information is accessed through a web browser, users also have the ability to collaborate in real time and maintain various versions of documents.

Me: What about the competitive landscape with “traditional” software companies (ISVs)? One would think that either they have to lower their prices, offer “lite” versions of their products, or try to differentiate themselves based on features and functionality in order to win deals vs. a cloud computing-based offering.

Gabrielle: I would agree with this. Niche software will most likely remain as premise based or traditional for a while still, but contextual applications like e-mail, office systems and collaboration tools will most likely all have to be available in a "lite" or cloud version in order to be competitive. The cost comparison currently for cloud based applications vs. traditional software apps is over 60% lower.

Me: Won't there be challenges doing that? For example, I’ve seen companies who already had “traditional” software consider converting to the functional equivalents in the cloud. Yet, time and time again, there seems to be a large degree of inertia due to the data migration effort, fear that some feature(s) will not be supported, etc.

Gabrielle: The decision of companies to migrate over to cloud based technology is becoming more and more the norm. Although there are still areas within most organizations where high-end functionality is necessary - finance for example that requires use of pivot tables and linked data sources - 95% of end users within an organization are fully supported by cloud based applications such as Google Apps.

In looking at the most common migration path of enterprise customers, they will leverage the cloud computing utility model for applications like e-mail and collaboration first. As they become more comfortable with the security of the cloud and what the other applications have to offer, they slowly move off traditional software.

For example, a large enterprise that is looking to leverage the cloud yet still have offline document functionality and high-end use of applications can utilize Open Office (free) and Google Apps. This gives them the cost savings thy are looking for and no loss in functionality. Many of the cloud technologies are "open" format which allows them to play nicely with all applications, premise based or otherwise. The data migration when done correctly becomes a seamless transition and then allows users to choose how they want to work and which platform suits them best for the task at hand.

Me: So this seems to be a win-win, but I can hardly believe that the benefits of cloud computing are ubiquitous. Are there areas is which cloud computing not applicable? I can imagine areas like High Performance Computing (HPC) wouldn’t benefit. Are there other, more highly visible swaths of the market place where cloud computing will not have any penetration?

Gabrielle: As cloud computing becomes more and more mature, I don't think there are any organizations that will not benefit from this to some extent. Based on the specific requirements of business, some organizations may be able to leverage the cloud more than others. For example, some more regulated areas like healthcare and finance may choose to have a split model. They would leverage cloud technology for e-mail and collaboration, but may choose to handle document storage on-site for records protection purposes.

Although many of the cloud providers today offer SAS 70 Type II compliance and multiple levels of data and privacy protection within their contracts, certain industries with more stringent requirments on data storage may opt out for the short term. In the long run, however, I feel that we will see the cloud as the wave of the technological future. It allows for low cost alternative and full fail-over as well as truly operating within the world of "business anywhere."

Me: Thanks for taking the time to help me understand this topic better.

Gabrielle: You're welcome.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Cloud and You

In college I worked for the collegiate computer department, chaperoning any of the various labs that peppered the campus several times a week. I would arrive for "work," collect Student ID cards in exchange for a 5 1/4" DOS floppy, and then do my homework or play Ultima III. (Yes, I'm dating myself.)

One evening I was working in the lab that was located in the Finance building, when one young gentleman gave me his card and dutifully took his floppy disk to a computer a few rows back. Inserting the disk, he pressed the button on the computer monitor and waited.

And he waited some more.

And he waited even more, occasionally checking his surroundings to act like he knew what he was doing.

After 20 minutes, I felt sorry for this person who was obviously a Mac user and went over to show him that you also had to turn on the power for the computer.

Apple has consistently shown itself to be an innovator in design, whether in the grandiose things (iPod anyone?) or the tiny things (like having a single power button). And ask a result, the value of its vision has risen exponentially faster than that of its stock or any other measure of the company. It has always been considered the vanguard of "humanly designed" products, and it should be revered as a result.

Lately, and I use this term loosely since this isn't something that's happened during the past week or two, Cloud Computing has been all the rage. And at the forefront of this charge is Google with a stable of products that "run in the cloud" that are somehow amazingly easy to use.

Gmail? When this was first in beta as a "by invitation only" product, people scrambled to get invited to it. Now, it's the fourth largest email service.

Google Maps? The Blackberry version of this application has saved my skin on several occasions. And the seamless integration with your smart phone's GPS doesn't hurt either.

Google Documents? With the exception of a few bugs (such as the one that is currently preventing LinkedIn users to use the Presentations application) this handy replacement to commonly-used office productivity applications does much of what you need for free.

Google Voice?

What? You've never heard of it? You better start listening then. Google Voice is a new product that is finally bringing to reality the vision that I've had for several years: being able to use one number as a central contact point regardless of what phone you are using. Yes, call forwarding has allowed this for decades, and other, commercial services offer similar services. But this is Google doing it, and therefore it will be sexy.

Currently available by invite (at the time of this writing), it allows you to have a single number that will ring on your home, office, cell, and any other lines. This is ideal for small business owner that works out of their home who wants to be able to give out one number only instead of having to 1) give out their personal cell number and 2) make their customers have to guess as to which number they should call. Of course, there are several other features like automatic transcription of voice mail messages to email (tolerably accurate, I've been told...I'm still waiting for my invitation from "my connections"), etc. but the single number access is the only one that matters to me.

How does Google plan to pay for this service? I asked Alan Warren (who is officially listed as a Director of Engineering at Google but is someone I refer to as my "big cheese" there) about Google's propensity to develop amazing applications that are...well...free. Specifically, I have always secretly wondered if Google would be doing such altruistic things for the general public if it didn't have the advertising revenue that it gets (USD$21B dollars in 2008, according to its Investor Relations group). His response was simple: "there is a starter consumer version that we give away, yes. But the [business] productivity apps market is huge. And we don't give that away."

In other words: "who cares?" If Google makes money with these applications and I am legally able to use them without paying a cent then that is the ultimate definition of "win-win" in my opinion. Next week we will continue to look at Cloud Computing as it pertains to businesses and the opportunities it presents to them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Out of place; out of (my) mind

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

The song above, from Sesame Street, was a catchy one. And it ended up in the strangest places too. My brother was harassed with this song by his sergeant during Air Force boot camp when his dresser drawer wasn't organized properly.

Lately, I've been noticing things in the strangest places too:

- A sign on the wall of a Victoria's Secret that is under construction. "Reopening Fall 2009. Visit us at our temporary location next to The Disney Store." (Women's lingerie next to a children's toy store?)

- A Chinese er hu (a two-stringed "violin") playing the melody to Dave Brubeck's famous anthem Take Five. (Paul Desmond be damned!)

In the business world, we're in the midst of one of the largest acts of "out of place" ever witnessed. Specifically, a lot of companies are more worried about the short-term reaction of Wall St. instead of their longer term viability. As a result, there is a notable lack of investment in the nurturing and development of their staff or worse they are laying off people en masse to save a few dollars.

Last year when it became apparent that the economy was tanking, ZDNet reported on a study by IBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) that linked this nurturing activity with financial results. Specifically, they said:

"Last spring, researchers from IBM and HCI surveyed 1,900 professionals in over 1,000 public- and private-sector companies, from a range of industries, geographies and organizational sizes. Respondents scored their companies in 30 specific competencies, which fell into six key practices of talent management: strategy development, attracting and retaining, motivating and developing, deploying and managing, connecting and enabling, and transforming and sustaining.

Companies with high scores across the board were more likely to have strong financial performance, based on reported change in operating profits between 2003 and 2006. 'It's not the first research to show a correlation between talent management and financial results,' admits Allan Schweyer, executive director of HCI and one of the authors of the report, 'but it's one in a handful, and I think it really adds to that body of evidence that is helping organizations to build a solid business case for investments in talent management.' "

Regardless of the correlation between internal development and financial performance, many companies are instead more focused on their stock price than anything else. And when the economy is causing top line revenue numbers to shrink, the next target in the quest to increase bottom line results is operational cost. To you and me, this means the cost of paying salaries, benefits, etc. of the employees that make the company run. And the easiest way to reduce this cost is to lay people off regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Yet this makes no sense. I know plenty of intelligent people via LinkedIn who are struggling to find work in spite of the fact that they were great contributors in previous positions. Even I am a member of this crowd (as of the time I write this, August 8, 2009). Yet because of shortsightedness (or, worse, financial astigmatism where the balance sheet for the next quarter has been distorted to appear far more important than it really is) companies are sacrificing their ability to operate efficiently in order to meet artificial targets like "whisper numbers."

The cost to replace talent that has been lost is very real too. Using calculators such as the Cost of Employee Turnover Calculator, you can plug in your own numbers to get a resulting cost. The numbers may surprise you. I used the following:

  • $150k for the salary of the person lost;
  • $100k for the cost of the HR and training person;
  • 90 days (1 quarter) that the position was vacant;
  • 20 hours for resume screening;
  • 10 hours for interviewing;
  • 20 training days; and
  • 180 days (1 half year) before 100% productivity is reached
The total cost of one position using these (somewhat conservative) numbers? $109k. Yet the intangible cost is far greater, especially if you consider the knowledge loss that occurs.

"But isn't that covered by the 'days until 100% productivity' number?" you ask. Perhaps. But consider the synergistic relationships that can occur between sales teams as an example. One team may be responsible for one product line, yet if a different product line will satisfy the need of the customer a Sales Manager with some tenure at the company will be able to make the appropriate referral. A new person may lose the business instead and the company's bottom line suffers as a result.

The cost of human capital is far greater than the dollars that are reflected in the bottom line when people are let go. Although current economic conditions dictate that money should be saved wherever possible, some thought about the long term effects of decisions made today should be given. Otherwise, the recoveries of individual companies that do not will take longer than necessary in addition to the detrimental effect their decisions have on the lives of those affected. This is a lose-lose situation that is only made worse by the fact that it is avoidable.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Learning hard stuff the easy way

My 9 year old daughter told me recently that she wants to "do something." When I asked her to clarify she said, "I want to get a job." Now that was interesting. I stifled the urge to laugh (because I can hear her as an adult saying how she wishes she didn't have a job, but I digress) and discussed it with her in a serious fashion. We decided that she could put her great imagination to use and start a "clothing line" that she would sell through CafePress.com or a similar site.

I will proudly state that my 9 year old is extremely intelligent and has the vocabulary of a 15 year old, but even that doesn't mean she would automatically "get it." So, for several nights after she expressed her desire, we spent some time each night talking about concepts like product design, marketing, and sales. What I found was that I had to put an extraordinary effort into internalizing the functions of business so that I can synthesize new ways to describe them to a 9 year old.

In other words, the KISS principle applies here in spades.

Guy Kawasaki, a well-known venture capitalist, has a concept he calls the 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint. In short, he states that a Powerpoint presentation should be no more than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes, and contain no fonts less than 30 points in size. While I won't debate the merits or flaws in the concept (I will state unequivically that I love it, however), I do want to point out that it encourages the same, simplified thinking through deconstruction of complex topics.

Can you put together a 10/20/30-compliant presentation that describes your work experience and skillset? You better turn off the Autofit feature before beginning, because I suspect you'll have trouble doing so. In fact, I'll claim that if you don't have trouble doing so then you aren't doing it correctly.

Is this just an exercise of futility? Absolutely not. By forcing yourself to distill what you do and have done into a succinct, summarized format, you really learn to throw out the irrelevant crap and polish up the stuff that helps you to shine. Extrapolate this exercise into other areas of your professional life, and you'll quickly begin to see what's important to you as a salesperson, a market strategist, a technologist, etc.

Esther Schindler
wrote in a recent article on the topic of "getting resumes past HR" (geared toward technologists), "That is, [the recruiter told me], 'Create a resume that a layperson will understand. Yes, include the technologies used and maybe a bit about your methodology, but make sure it's readable to the point that a non-techie friend can get the gist of what you've accomplished in each job. Keep that tech-oriented résumé for the hiring manager to review.' "

So if we're to boil down our backgrounds to just the bare essence, what do we do with the rest of it? It belongs in the magical circular file cabinet underneath your desk that gets emptied every night.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Think Different"

I wanted to entitle this Think Outside of the Box but that expression is so overused that I realized no one would read this if I did. Yet, just like Apple did with the brilliant marketing campaign that upset every English teacher in America, that is exactly what I am condoning here.

"Yes, yes," you say, "I've heard this a million times before. And I do try to look for new approaches to common problems that I encounter." It's great that you do, but I offer that you need to do it as your modus operandi, i.e. your current way of doing things should be the "outside of the box" in the future.

As a simple example, let me describe a situation that happened to my wife's business. My wife, a professionally trained makeup artist (shameless plug: with experience in film, TV and special effects) that provides hair and makeup services on location to brides and their bridal parties, is receiving more requests for weddings that will occur on Long Island, NY. In spite of the fact that we live here, the majority of the business she receives is for NJ, since she was very well-established there prior to our own nuptials.

Since her staffing numbers reflect the distribution of business, the majority of her artists live in NJ. But with the increased demand on Long Island, she needed to find more artists that live there in order to serve her clientele.

The obvious location for a small business owner to look for artists was CraigsList since that is free...right? When she decided to post to the classified ad section, she found CraigsList recently decided to assess a $25 fee for each posting in that section.

"What?!?" she exclaimed (much to the chagrin of my 4th grade teacher who told me that you can't have multiple punctuation at the end of a sentence).

Instead of posting a single classified ad with multiple positions for employment described inside (in order to save money), she opted to post in another section of CraigsList that wouldn't be - at first blush - the first place you'd look for employment. But, it was free, which is important to a small business owner who is experiencing a lot of downward pressure by clients on her prices.

The result? After 12 hours, she had over 20 responses to the posting, which was far more than she ever received when she posted in the classified section of the website. She found herself struggling to answer all of the inquiries and now is cautiously optimistic that she will be able to staff her Long Island operation in anticipation for the late 2009 / 2010 wedding season.

Someone once commented to me about my pool playing by saying, "you always come up with creative but sensible shots that people wouldn't typically think of." (Believe it or not, they were sincere; and given that they are a good player themselves, it was a compliment.) I wanted to tell them that it's because I am really not a good pool player (from the Latin i suckus, which translates literally to "I suck") so I'm forced to do this. As a matter of fact, I recognize my limitations as a pool player and attempt to circumvent them so that I can still come out on top. (That particular night, I beat him 9 games out of the 10 we played. Yippee!)

Think about your limitations and how you plan to use them to your advantage by devising creative ways to highlight your strengths or at least mitigate the risk of exposing your weaknesses. Next week, we will be discussing then an incredibly powerful concept introduced by Guy Kawasaki, a well-known venture capitalist, and you'll have the chance to bring these thoughts to the fore in an exercise that we'll be doing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In 200 words or less...

"First impressions last a lifetime," it is said. When a potential employer reads your resume, what impression does your Summary section leave behind?*

* I'm assuming that you aren't seeking your first job, which would mean that your Summary section would instead be entitled Objective and would describe what you're looking for. Everyone else should omit the Objective section and instead summarize what they have accomplished professionally.


Here's my 30 minute resume makeover.
  1. In 30 seconds, choose as many one word nouns that describe yourself. Don't try to overthink this: the first words that pop into your head will be the ones that you feel most comfortable describing yourself as. (Example: strategist)

  2. In 1 minute, choose a single one word adjectives for each of the top 5 nouns. Do not use the same adjective twice. (Example: excellent strategist)

  3. In 5 minutes for each pair of words, write a single sentence that justifies the adjective-noun pair based on your work history. (Example: Excellent strategist. Defined, developed and implemented a 12-24 month strategic plan that resulted in a 12% OpEx savings for the entire IT division.)
Add a prefacing paragraph and you have an excellent starting point for your starting point. Just like bait on a fishing hook attracts the fish to investigate further, this starting point will literally pull the reader into the rest of your resume to discover what other treasures lie within.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Read between the lines

"Job titles don't mean shit," he said. (Okay, so maybe I took some "creative liberties" there. Sue me.)

I was a young kid with only a few years' of experience trying to claw my way up the corporate ladder by taking new jobs with more responsibilities. At that moment, I was arguing about wanting to pursue jobs that had specific titles with Ryan Abbott, a "wet behind the ears," junior recruiter at some no-name agency. (He is now, by the way, the Director of Recruiting at Tuttle and is one of only two recruiters that I trust completely).

Ryan's argument was that job titles vary from company to company but job responsibilities will always tell the true story. (A running joke from when I worked on Wall Street was that even the janitorial staff had the title AVP. Does this sound familiar in your company or industry?) During the interview process, the person asking the questions will be able to tell if you are a director level person in title only or in reality.

The beginning of a somewhat famous proverb goes like this: if you saw a man walking down the street in a finely made, Italian suit made of hand cut silk you'd immediately know that they bought it at a tailor.

The question that I pose to my audience this week is: do people know that are you a tailor? Can someone tell what you are capable of by looking at what you've done? And, more importantly, does it matter what titles you've held in the past?

Consider the following: never in my life have I held the title Technical Account Manager (TAM). But I have been a very successful one before by virtue of the fact that I was at one point in my career responsible for 57 accounts varying in size from very small to very large. In this company there did not exist a formally defined TAM role. Instead, the responsibilities of the role were delegated to my peers and me, and I did everything that you would expect from someone with these responsibilities.

So would I let the fact that I've never had the official title stop me from applying for these types of positions? Never. In fact, I am probably more familiar with this role due to the success that I enjoyed than I am with other positions that I had in an official capacity, so why shouldn't I pursue these types of positions?

The hat trick here is to sell yourself. Read between your own lines to determine the types of positions for which you are not only qualified but would excel in doing, and then include them in your stable of career possibilities for the road ahead.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Summary...

It was once told to me that when someone says "to summarize" (or something to that effect) you typically get 30 seconds of absolute focus. I honestly hope it's not because my presentation or discussion was so boring that they started mentally composing a list of items to get from the grocery store on the way home. But I digress...

Someone recently asked on LinkedIn how one can effectively negotiate a job offer, so I immediately responded that you need to communicate your value to the company as a basis for any negotiation. My answer started the gears in my head that perhaps a summary of some of the points that I've made so far in previous blog entries would be useful.

@You: don't think the following is a 30 second read, but "in summary" here are some things to consider when establishing a baseline of your value to a company.
  1. Stay relevant. I used the "@" sign not because I have a Twitter account (my wife says I will be the last person on Earth to sign up) but because it makes me look like I'm 23 and not that I have 23 years of experience. (Okay, 21 but what's 2 years among friends?) In all seriousness, you have to be on top of current trends in your areas of expertise so that you can have an intelligent conversation.

    Not too long ago, Delta sent me a notice that a minuscule number of miles were about to expire. What did I do? I applied them to subscriptions to Forbes, Fortune, Money, Fast Company, Inc, Entrepreneur and a few other related periodicals. I may not get to read them all every week but using the bathroom is now a much more educational experience. [Laughing]

  2. Businesses operate on the principle of value. In other words, no one cares what your job responsibilities were in previous positions. What were the results of your fulfillment of those responsibilities? That is what they want to know because ultimately the answer to that question can be translated into dollars and "sense."

  3. Your network is your best friend. When you've accumulated 15+ years of experience, unless you've had absolutely zero vertical movement in your career, 60-70% of the jobs that you'll get will be through connections you've made through the years. Many people that I once worked with are now C-level executives (or equivalent). You can bet your bottom dollar that I canvas my network in a huge way before I even consider visiting LinkedIn's Jobs section, Dice, HotJobs, etc. However, if you neglect it all of that "muscle" will turn to flab and you'll get little response from them; so be sure to reach out to the movers and shakers once in a while just to say "hi."

  4. No one can sell you better than someone else. The reason why you need to stay on top of your network is so that you can get your references in line. Choose quality references that not only can speak about your accomplishments and skills but can also rapidly establish their own credibility. For example, the references that I use are all C-level executives (or equivalent).

    Before you give out their contact information to anyone requesting it, send them a note and include the version of the resume that the potential employer is viewing; a brief description of the job you are seeking; and what you've told them so that they can corroborate (and even add to) what you said.

  5. "Amateurs practice until they get it right, while professionals practice until they cannot get it wrong." Use every opportunity to rehearse answers to anticipated questions during an interview. It should be like "muscle memory" when the question is asked, i.e. no hestitation. "Just do it!" to quote Nike.

  6. Do your homework. Before you meet with anyone about a potential job, ensure that you've googled the company, refreshed your memory on any job concepts that you may need to know, etc.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Ni jiang yi yang de hua ma?"

Last week, I wrote about the necessity of having a clear message. Because this topic is so important I decided to follow-up with another entry on this general subject. This week we will approach it from another angle.

(For the curious, the title says "Do you speak the same language?" in pinyin, which is a transliterated Mandarin Chinese.)

Recently, a good friend of mine (who is Chinese, ironically) and I were playing pool. He had to bank the 8-ball in the pocket to win the game, and since it was an informal game and bank shots are my area of expertise, he asked me for advice.

I told him, "you just need to strike the cue ball with medium speed so that it hits the 8-ball right in the middle." He didn't believe me so we marked the positions of the balls, and then he took his shot only to watch the 8-ball sail past the pocket.

"A-ha!" he exclaimed. "I told you it wasn't that easy." But when we reset the positions and I made an attempt the ball went right in the pocket.

So what went wrong?

The problem is in my use of the word medium to describe the desired speed of the cue ball. Such subjective words have, by definition, a wide range of meanings depending on how the listener (or reader) wishes to interpret them. Problems down the road can be avoided by using words with precise definitions, and standards like ITIL attempt to clear the confusion by strictly defining IT process concepts such as incident, problem, known error, etc. You don't need to wait until ITIL can be used, though, since the idea of precision in communication has applicability everywhere.

For example, can you imagine the following scenario?

CIO: so why should we buy your product?
You: because it does a lot of great stuff.

"Great?" "Stuff?" Vagaries such as these are a recipe for disaster, and it is for this reason that presenting a business case is essential in sales: they describe, in quantifiable terms, the exact benefit (typically in dollars / euros / pick your favorite currency) that a business will receive.

How about this situation?

Interviewer: so why should I hire you?
You: because I've can do amazing things for your organization.

Is this any better? Of course not. The response deserves some credit for attempting (in spirit) to sell the value of the person, but it falls flat on its face for not being specific at all. (Note to self: tell this to my wife who writes out the vaguest grocery lists and then yells at me for not buying the right brand names.)

Being able to recognize the possibility for gross misinterpretation takes practice. You could say "red ball" and people may point at different shades of red as their definition. This isn't a disaster (in my opinion) even though your red and their red will likely differ by some amount. At least you can have some degree of confidence that they would not select orange.

When you are answering questions or presenting your side of an argument, choosing your words with surgical precision has irrefutable benefits. Maybe you are hoping to close a large sales deal; receive a better job or promotion; or just give directions (to your house for a fête; to install a newly purchased software application; etc.). Your chances of success increase exponentially when care is taken in choosing the words you use.