Archive for March, 2008

Soft Skills Get the Green Light at B-Schools

The April 7 issue of BusinessWeek reminds job seekers that “soft skills”  are important and valued in the workplace.   (Note:  my search for a link to this story reveals that an expanded version appeared online.)

Business schools, including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, the University of Virginia and Babson College are offering management communications classes to teach “soft skills,” such as teamwork and leadership.  Courses such as theatre are intended to enhance communication skills, build confidence and foster team building, all important managerial traits.

You can bet that top business schools would not spend their time teaching Shakespeare  if employers weren’t seeking these important job skills.  Don’t overlook your emotional intelligence.  Highlight skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership in your resume and demonstrate how you have been successful using them!

Keppie Careers will help you highlight all of your key skills with a top-notch resume.  We advise, encourage and enlighten job seekers:  www.keppiecareers.com

Counter-intuitive Advice: Talk to People Who “Can’t Help You”

“You don’t know enough to know what it is you don’t know.”

Does that describe you?  I bet that it does about some things.  Hopefully, there are areas about which you can confidently say you know a lot, but for most of us, especially in our high tech, ever changing world, there is always more to learn.  How many are experts in everything?  I would challenge you to find someone who could give you good advice about anything you might ask.

As part of my work for Keppie Careers, I keep a close eye on career and resume trends by reading books, blogs and keeping in touch with my advisory board of professionals in an array of industries.  

When I’m not writing resumes, coaching, blogging and reading, in the spirit of “practice what you preach,” I also frequently meet people for “informational interviews.” I attend Chamber of Commerce meetings, visit close-contact networking groups and seek out an array of networking opportunities.  It is amazing to me how our  need for networking (as entreuprenuers and as job seekers) has spawned a whole industry of people for whom networking is actually their business!

I’ve been to coffee with real estate professionals, a dentist, investment advisors, life coaches, travel professionals, vitamin sales people, photographers and a salesperson trainer, just to  name a few.  It never ceases to amaze me how much we have to share with each other, and the possible “touch points” between our businesses or our networks. 

Taking the time to meet these professionals offers me the opportunity to share information about my business, but more importantly, I have a chance to learn about programs, events and opportunities I might never have considered.  I also try to share something that will help them and offer to be a resource.

In a recession, it is even more important to expand our circles when job seeking. 

Some lessons:

Never underestimate the possibility for really interesting common ground.  Some of the meetings I’ve least felt like getting up at 6 a.m. to attend have been the most productive in terms of what I’ve learned.

Just because someone isn’t in your field doesn’t mean they don’t have useful information for you.  (Or you for them.) Our lives intersect in so many points.  Think of someone you consider least likely to be able to share good information with you for your search.  Meet for coffee.  You may be surprised!

Open your eyes to the opportunities!  Seek out places to meet new people.  Join an organization, a new health club or take a class.  Google “networking opportunities, (your city)” and see what comes up!  Then, don’t just attend, be an active participant.

I attended a great meeting last night.  It’s a networking group for women and is held at a home over dinner.  We all shared information about our businesses and there was time for chit-chat.  It was up to all of us to see how we could help each other.  I could have done my “elevator pitch,” listened to everyone else’s, and left.  That wouldn’t have been networking, though.  That would have been attending an event. 

I challenge you – find a new place to meet people and engage them.  You never know how you might be able to help each other.  Networking, or netweaving, is all about giving and getting.  I was a lot of fun for me to be able to connect several of the women at the event last night to other contacts in their fields, even though we had no obvious professional commonalities. 

Engage – ask questions…be able to explain who you are and what you do.  Don’t underestimate the value of every connection.  Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows something.  Inserting yourself as part of the chain is a great step in the right direction!

Networking sounds too hard? Even if you are shy, you can learn how to be effective at networking!  Keppie Careers will help you.  Need a great resume?  Mock interview?  Contact Keppie Careers.  We advise, encourage and enlighten job seekers and offer a toolbox of practical tips and support.

Tips to Control Job Hunt Overwhelm


Photo by tsgentuso (used by permission)

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain, in The Success Principles, by Jack Canfield

It seems obvious – you can’t be successful until you get started. You can’t get started on everything at once, so break it down and work on one thing at a time. My friend and business coach Cindy Petersiel introduced me to a term that describes this basic, yet important idea: “chunk it down.”
As a career coach, I advise my clients to “chunk down” their tasks so they won’t be overwhelmed by the process of finding a job. It’s great advice for any of us facing lots to do and not enough time. (That pretty much describes most people I know!)
Some tips for “chunking it down”:

1.) Review your assignments and goals.
Create a list of everything you need to do. Make sure you have a complete picture of the tasks and create a time frame.

2.) Break down the project into natural segments.
“Write a resume” may be one project. “Make a networking plan” is another task. Prioritize the segments and think about how much time each piece will take to complete.

3.) Focus on one thing at a time.
Compile a daily “to do” list. Make sure it is reasonable; don’t give yourself too many tasks on one day. Depending on the job and your patience, you may need to further chunk down the steps. (No one should expect to write a resume in a day!)
To decide what to do first, consult your list of priorities. To keep your focus, try to include some fun, interesting or simple tasks early on. If you’re doing things you enjoy or finish rapidly, you’ll give your project a boost and quickly check things off of your “to do” list.

4.) Plan ahead.
Make sure you have everything you need to work on your task as scheduled.

5.) Seek help.
It helps to have a good support system. Ask for advice when you’re really stuck and to ensure that you are on the right track.

6.) Reward yourself.
Celebrate your accomplishments. Do something fun!
Get ahead by getting started… timeless advice for job seekers!
Keppie Careers will help you chunk it down! Or, we’ll do the hard work for you. Need a resume? Cover letter? LinkedIn.com profile? Contact us for expert help: www.keppiecareers.com

Discover Your Value Propositon – The Elevator Pitch, Part II

In a previous post, I outlined the importance of writing your value proposition or “elevator pitch.”  To recap, this is a short (30-second), prepared speech that addresses the questions, “Who are you?” and “What do you have to offer?”

In Part One, I suggested writing down your top five work and personal accomplishments. 

Now, think about what you want to achieve.  Tie these achievements to the target’s needs…

What problem do they (or their organization) have that you can help solve?  Remember, although the pitch describes what YOU offer, it is really about your target.   In fact, you should alter your pitch depending on your target.  (Once you have something solid worked up, it will be easy to adjust it depending on your audience.)

Offer specifics about your skills and accomplishments that address the target’s problems. Are they lagging in sales?  Maybe you have a fabulous sales track record.  Do they need new written materials?  Bring up your background and accomplishments in revising or creating such materials.  In other words, you are the answer to their problem!  (Who doesn’t want to meet the person who solves their problems?)

Demonstrate your interest and excitement about your work.  No one wants to engage a cold fish.  Don’t go overboard (no jumping on couches a la Tom Cruise), but be sure that you sound passionate about what you have to offer.

Practice your pitch.  Memorize it until you could say it if someone woke you up from a nap.  Once you know what you have to offer, it will be easy for you to tweak your pitch depending on the target and what their needs may be.

You may be surprised at how useful it is to have an elevator pitch ready at a moment’s notice.  It’s useful for networking as an answer to the question, “What do you do?” and you can rely on it as an introduction to a great “gate opener” (someone who has the potential to connect you to someone who may be instrumental in your job hunt).  

By sharing information about who you are and what you do that is targeted to the individual who could use your services, you are several steps ahead of most job seekers and professionals who are not prepared to describe what they offer.

Keppie Careers can help you with every aspect of your job search.  Need a resume?  Help with your linkedin.com profile?  Interview prep?  Take advantage of our experiencewww.keppiecareers.com

Should You Have a Board of Advisors?

Recently, Marci Alboher’s Shifting Career’s article in the New York Times hosted a guest author on the topic of a personal board of advisors:

A personal board of directors is simply a collection of people who know you, are interested in your well-being, and have useful points of view. You consult with them on a regular basis -– say once every six months….A person doesn’t have to be famous, influential or even successful to be a good board member. All that’s required is knowledge in a particular area. Your sister may offer better insight than the head of a trade association.  

In the comments section of Alboher’s post, many laughed at the idea, suggesting that these advisors use to be called “friends.”  However, as Alboher notes in her introduction, assembling a personal board  is not a new concept.  In the press toward personal branding, professionalizing advice that we might normally seek from friends and family is not a surprising jump.

Someone who is stuck in a career or job and doesn’t know what to do next can benefit from purposefully assembling advisors. Networking throughout your career is one way to create an informal group of advisors (maybe even a mentor if you are lucky). 

Of course, it is important to vet your advisors.  You don’t want people who will always agree with you, but you do want people who know you, your situation and are skilled in the topic about which you need advice.  Asking the wrong people (those who don’t have your best interests at heart or don’t know what they are doing) defeats the purpose.

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to hire advisors.  For example, if you need tax, financial planning or legal advice, you may want to consult a professional.  (Shameless plug:  if you need a resume written, do seek advice from those in your field, friends and relatives, but recognize that most of them probably do not have resumes that optimize their skills and accomplishments. You’ll do better if you hire someone to write it for you.  I’m not the only one offering this advice!)

Keppie Careers has a board of advisors to inform us about career trends in various industries.  Need a resume?  Job hunting advice?  Keppie Careers will help you every step of the way!  www.keppiecareers.com

Don’t Flush Your Interview Down the Toilet…Top Interviewing Blunders


A recent survey of hiring managers compiles the Ten Wackiest Job Interview Mistakes

Suffice to say that it isn’t a good idea to allude to your plans to go out drinking after the appointment, flush the toilet during a phone interview or explain that you were fired for beating up your last boss.  (Another pet peeve I’ve seen is when interviewees answer a phone call DURING the interview.  Not a good idea.)

Some interesting and useful information to note from the article:

More than half (51 percent) of hiring managers cited dressing inappropriately as the most detrimental mistake a candidate can make in an interview. Speaking negatively about a current or previous employer came in second at 49 percent and appearing disinterested ranked third at 48 percent. Other mistakes included appearing arrogant (44 percent), not providing specific answers (30 percent) and not asking good questions (29 percent).

Don’t flush your interview down the toilet!  Keppie Careers can help with a mock interview, brand-new resume and career coaching:  www.keppiecareers.com

Connect the Dots Resume Writing

Initially, readers may give your resume a 7- to 10-second glance.  Really.  (When I started this work over 10 years ago, we use to say it was 20 seconds.)

You have a very small window of opportunity to make an impression.  It is your job to connect the dots between what you offer and what the employer seeks.

You could be perfect for the job, but unless you quickly capture their attention and connect your skills with their needs, you won’t land an interview. Consider how to make yourself the perfect candidate. Specify your skills and accomplishments in your resume; don’t assume the reader will stop to think about what you have to offer. It’s your job to fill in the blanks and help the reviewer envision you working for them.

Two key “dots” for you to connect involve:
(1) knowing your skills and what you have to offer and
(2) having a clear understanding of your prospective employer’s needs.

At Keppie Careers, we are skilled at helping with these important steps. Some strategies to consider…

** Knowing Your Skills **
Assess your skills and accomplishments. How? Talk to your friends and co-workers. Review written evaluations of your work. Think about the skills you use/d in your positions. Study a skills and accomplishments list.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy? What type of work do you hope to do in the future? What skills do you have that will be the stepping stones to getting to the next rung of your career ladder? Once you identify what you have to offer, it will be easier to connect the dots between the employer and you.

** Knowing the Employer **
What does the organization value? Use the job description as a guide and research the company using the internet and any available published material. For example, if the organization uses the words “team player” four times on their company home page, you will want to emphasize your ability to work well in teams. If possible, conduct informational meetings with people in the organization or those who know about it.

Once you can articulate your skills and you know what the employer wants, target and tailor your resume. Communicate exactly how your skills are a good fit for their position. Include accomplishments and buzz words that support your candidacy. The more specific connections you draw between you and the job, the more likely you are to land the interview.

Consider these sample resume bullet points:

Before:
Conducted patient interviews and managed data collection for large survey.

After:
Demonstrated analytical skills and cultural sensitivity as leader of team conducting, coding and verifying 1000 patient interviews using SAS software.

The original bullet point expects the reader to jump to the conclusion that the applicant analyzed data. “Managing data collection” may imply analysis, but it is best to be specific. The terms “coding” and “verifying” clarify additional explicit skills.

The “After” bullet quantifies the size of the study and notes the applicant’s abilities regarding cultural sensitivity, which the writer knew from her research was something this company valued. It also mentions the software used.

Detailed descriptions are the keys to effective resume writing. Clarify skills and include quantifiable information whenever possible: numbers, percentages and dollar amounts all resonate with employers. Bring your resume to life!

Do you need to re-write your resume for every job? That would be impractical for most job seekers However, if you want to get your foot in the door, your resume must clearly outline how your skills and accomplishments solve a problem for the employer.  It is your job to offer clear reasons to interview you.

Let Keppie Careers help you create a resume that can be tweaked to appeal to a variety of jobs and organizations!


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