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 fĂȘte; to install a newly purchased software application; etc.). Your chances of success increase exponentially when care is taken in choosing the words you use.