2012 Year In Review: Lessons Learned December 23, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, job search, leadership, networking
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It’s that time of year when many folks look back to review the events of the last twelve months. I’d like to believe that I’ve somehow improved myself, if only slightly, during my time traveling around the sun once more. Here’s a summary of what I’ve learned, or re-learned, in 2012.
- In January the company I worked for filed for bankruptcy. That set in motion the chain of events that ultimately led to the end of our local division, but in the weeks immediately following the filing we had no idea what parts of the company would survive the restructuring. For the product development team I was managing the biggest immediate impact was to our planned expenses, which were essentially re-set to zero. Believe me, it’s not easy to do hardware design, prototyping, or testing when you can’t spend any money. What I learned: how to lead innovation and product development under a tight budget.
- From February through March I was one of many managers in our company trying to keep up the team’s morale while we waited to learn the fate of the division. Senior management did a great job keeping everyone informed about all the filings and proceedings, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise when the announcement was made that a workforce reduction plan would be implemented in early April. What I learned: how to maintain morale and communicate with honesty and integrity in tough times.
- Unfortunately my team was among those designated for the workforce reduction in April. I’ve been laid off before, but for many other folks this was their first experience. I’ve been in perpetual job-search mode, or at least “open to all possibilities,” since 2008, and I guess some people consider me to be a knowledgeable resource about effective strategies (even if those strategies haven’t necessarily worked for me). What I learned: the importance of helping your team, “paying it forward,” and maintaining professional networks after you’re no longer working together.
- I’ve been actively networking throughout the year, but that became even more important after being laid off earlier this year. I’ve met a lot of great people who have generously offered advice and connections, but what I’ll remember most about the networking events this year is an excellent presentation by Cita Walsh (http://citawalsh.com/) about applying traditional marketing techniques to job search. What I learned: why it’s necessary to create a personal brand and use social media in ways that reinforce that brand.
- This year I’ve had a number of phone screenings and job interviews across the country, including one with a company in China. It’s been a frustrating experience, especially for someone like me who’s interested in feedback to improve my performance. More often than not I don’t hear anything after the interview, much less constructive criticism. What I learned: I’m a unique collection of skills and experiences, a purple squirrel; and although I really need to be working right now, I’m going to stop wasting time applying for jobs that I don’t really want.
- I haven’t just been waiting for the phone to ring for the last few months. This blog has provided a great way to channel my thoughts about how I would start a new job in product development, quality engineering or program management (See for example my posts “Starting a Product Development Team,” and “Designing a Quality System.”). In September I decided to get certified as a PMI Project Management Professional (PMP), and I passed the exam in October. I’m scheduled to take the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt exam in March 2013. And, I’m in the interview process for a teaching position at a local campus of a nationally-known for-profit university. What I learned: it’s important to acquire new skills and maintain the old ones throughout your career. Continuous improvement applies to individuals as well as businesses.
Here’s hoping for a another year of learning in 2013.
Establishing Credibility When You’re an Unknown September 9, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: job search, networking
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Here’s another thing I’ve learned during my current job search: it’s harder to convince people that you’re qualified for a job and deserving of consideration when you’re just another faceless applicant. I’ve written before about networking as a way of distinguishing yourself, and specifically why it’s important to create and maintain connections with people, ideally with those who have experience working alongside you (see The Value of Networking). A recommendation from a former or current colleague carries a lot more weight than almost anything you include in your resume about experiences and accomplishments.
However, the recommendation is more significant to the recruiter or the hiring manager when it comes from a known, reliable source. If they don’t have a personal or professional connection to the person who’s vouching for you, then that recommendation may not have a big impact.
Which brings us back to your resume. It seems to me that there are really only two things in your resume that can help establish your credibility as a job applicant: what you know, and what you’ve done.
What you know is represented by your degrees and certifications and other credentials. I realize that there’s a wide range of intelligence and capabilities in the population of alumni from any degree or certification program, but successful completion of that program does imply that you’ve acquired some specialized knowledge. A job description includes education requirements because the person who occupies that position is expected to have that specialized knowledge. Completion of the program also means that you set a goal and achieved that goal, which I think is an under-rated feat, especially for those who had to struggle with financial or other personal barriers.
Quick aside: I could be wrong about this, but it seems that professional certifications are becoming more important and meaningful than academic degrees for job seekers, possibly because certifications are considered more practical in the real world of business.
What you’ve done is your experiences and accomplishments, but here’s the catch: a lot of what you’ve done doesn’t matter. You might want to argue that your accomplishments can be generalized to many different kinds of jobs and organizations, but if you make it hard for the recruiter or hiring manager to make the connection between what they need and what you’ve done, then you can forget it. You have to customize your application and resume and cover letter to put a spotlight on the subset of things you’ve done that are relevant for this job.
So, that’s what I’m trying to do now. This reminds me an advertising campaign that relies on television commercials. You have to create a message that appeals to your target audience.
Hired Because of Talents, Not Skills August 26, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: career growth, hiring, job search, job security, networking
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During my current job search I’ve been thinking a lot about the previous job transitions I’ve made during my career, looking for patterns and best practices that might be helpful this time around. There were times when I got a job by applying for a position after reading a job description and deciding that my experience and qualifications were a close match for the published requirements. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, applying for jobs that I’m highly qualified for, but there are a lot of qualified people looking for jobs these days and it has become hard to stand out in the crowd.
There were other times when I was recruited by people who found me, either from word-of-mouth referrals or, more recently, from my public profile. That’s the networking strategy for job search: leveraging your network of friends and former co-workers, and getting out there to make a good impression on new people who might introduce you to other people who know other people, eventually leading to a job offer from out of the blue.
And then there were a few times when I was offered a job that was completely different from anything I had ever done before, when my experience up to that point was clearly and objectively a poor match to the published requirements. I had never worked in marketing, and then I was hired to be a product marketing manager. I had never worked in software, and then I was hired to be a software quality manager. I had never worked in a factory, and then I was hired to be a factory quality director. How did that happen? And what, if anything, can be learned from those career discontinuities?
I can only guess the reasons why I was asked to take a job when I seemed so unqualified on paper, but I think it’s because in each case the hiring manager saw something that wouldn’t have been flagged by a keyword search on my resume. In First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999), Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman make this distinction between skills and talents: skills are things you can learn, talents are things you are born with. “A love of precision is not a skill. Nor is it knowledge. It is a talent. If you don’t possess it, you will never excel as an accountant.” (Page 85)
The people who hired me when I wasn’t qualified valued my talents, not my skills. They knew I would have to learn certain specialized skills in order to achieve success, but they also knew a person without certain talents would not succeed. Your talents may be visible and meaningful to those who have worked alongside you or know your reputation. Unfortunately they’re harder to discern and generally irrelevant to companies that are focused on hiring the best match to their job description. When there’s no allowance for a learning curve, there’s no tolerance for lack of knowledge or skills.
For job search, I think the lesson is that the people in your network who understand your talents might surprise you with a suggestion that seems inconsistent with your past experiences. I’ve had an interesting career, in-part because of the variety of jobs and experiences. My worry is that a career path with discontinuities that relies too much on “talent recognition” has turned me into a purple squirrel. More on that in a future post.
The Value of Networking July 5, 2012Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: hiring, job search, networking
I’m back on the job market. I’m not sure I ever really left, but now I’m actively pursuing a new position, not just idly looking at new postings on the internet job boards. The best resources for any job seeker are their personal connections and extended network (see my previous post Job Search Lessons Learned), and learning how to leverage those relationships can make the difference between getting an interview and being discarded in the circular file. To that end, job seekers are encouraged to go out and meet new people in order to create new connections. The ultimate goal of all this networking is a referral to a hiring manager or other company insider who is willing to review your qualifications, either for an advertised job, or one of those jobs on the “hidden market” that are waiting for the right person to come along.
I don’t know how often it actually works that way, but you’ve got to be realistic about the likelihood of finding a job through someone you’ve just met. A recent acquaintance who you’ve shared a cup of coffee with really has no basis to recommend you, except perhaps their first impressions about your sociability and speaking ability. The best you can hope for is an introduction.
My point is that the valuable part of your network isn’t made up of people you’ve just met, it’s those people who have direct experience working with you in some capacity. Obviously that includes co-workers, suppliers, and service providers from your previous jobs, but it can also include people you’ve worked alongside in volunteer roles or non-profit organizations. Regardless, these are the folks in your network who can provide a meaningful recommendation because your time together is more relevant to those who are trying to assess your skills.
If you’re currently “in transition,” you can expand your network by attending meetings and introducing yourself to new people. It’s also important to create a more effective network by finding opportunities to help others understand what you can do: volunteering, teaching, writing, speaking. The introductions you get from people who really know you will be much more effective.
As for my own job search, I’m feeling optimistic today. It’s my birthday.
Managers Who Aren’t Leaders, And Vice Versa December 30, 2011Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
Tags: career growth, change management, leadership, management, networking, organizational models, power, project management
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This recent post by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback from the HBR Blog Network got me thinking: “I’m a leader, not a manager”. One highlighted quote from that post: “Both leadership and management are crucial, and it doesn’t help those responsible for the work of others to romanticize one and devalue the other.” The authors suggest that the emphasis on leadership starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s came about in part because “traditional management as practiced by U.S. businesses didn’t promote change and innovation.” This has led to a devaluing of the skills traditionally practiced by managers — including “steady execution and control” — and a romanticizing of leadership.
It does seem that the practice of leadership has come to represent a noble endeavor in the business world. I think it’s pretty widely-understood that you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. One could even argue that a leader who isn’t burdened by the administrative responsibilities of personnel and expense management might be more effective in building cross-functional networks, organizing others to execute plans, and driving change. I would go further and say that a person should be considered qualified for a management position only after they have demonstrated their ability to do all these things in a non-management position.
Note that aspiring managers can learn resource management skills in a program/project management role that does not include accountability for the performance of subordinates, what I sometimes call “management with a small m.”
Management (with a capital M) is clearly an important practice in any organization, and it’s hard to imagine how a business can succeed with leaders and no managers. That being said, I recall an interesting HBR case study from my MBA years involving W.L. Gore & Associates and their flat organization structure with no formal chain of command and “associates” who follow leaders rather than “bosses,” but this is an uncommon model that has not been widely adopted (Why? Is it too risky or “unnatural?”).
Managers are vested with authority for work assignments, performance reviews and administration of HR policies, however managers who are not perceived as leaders risk becoming marginalized as bureaucrats who strictly follow established processes and are not open to new ideas. Managers who feel threatened by leaders from outside the chain of command may use their positional power to maintain the status quo and resist needed change. Businesses need effective leadership and effective management (small m or capital M), and a culture that balances and values both practices when they’re exercised throughout the organization.
Raising Visibility During a Job Search November 8, 2011Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: hiring, job search, networking
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I was taught that it’s a virtue to be humble; keep a low profile, don’t blow your own horn, and wait for others to notice your talents. That’s not considered an effective strategy when you’re “between jobs” or otherwise actively looking for a new position. At a local networking meeting I attended in early 2009, one of the facilitators stood up and asked how many people were “in sales.” A few people raised their hands. The facilitator shook his head and repeated the question. A few more people raised their hands, but now he had everyone’s attention: “If you’re looking for a job, you’re in sales.”
The thing is, not everyone is suited for sales, and it can feel particularly unnatural when the thing you’re selling is you. The idea is to leave a favorable impression that ideally gives people some insights about your talents and what kind of contribution you would make. You want to be recognized as knowledgeable and authoritative, someone worth listening to.
For those who are reluctant to blow their own horn, here are three suggestions:
1. Certainly it’s important to attend networking events and meetings of professional societies, and the informal “cocktail party” conversations with the people you meet there can hypothetically give you a lead on a job, but the odds are against you. It’s unlikely that you’ll have a 1-on-1 with everyone in the room. You can increase your visibility by asking a question in front of the entire audience during open Q&A sessions, such as those that typically follow a presentation by a guest speaker. Raise your hand, stand up, walk to the microphone, and introduce your question with a passing reference to your credentials (“When I worked in China …”), but resist the temptation to answer your own question. Listen, follow-up with another question that shows you were paying attention, thank the speaker, and walk back to your chair.
2. LinkedIn is a great networking resource, and unless you’ve been under a rock for the last five years you’re already active, but there’s a little known feature that can help enhance your online reputation. Under the “More” tab on the main page is a pull-down menu that includes “Answers.” LinkedIn members submit questions in a wide range of categories, and anyone can answer, regardless of whether they’re connected. What makes this useful is that your answer becomes part of your LinkedIn Profile (which should be already referenced in your resume). Choose questions that give you an opportunity in your answer to demonstrate your knowledge and credibility, illustrate your thinking process, and even show your writing skills.
3. Speaking of writing skills, consider blogging, especially if you’ve got some time on your hands. Write about the things you’re passionate about, not just the things you know. There’s something about blogging that reminds me of the journals we used to keep back in college, and your reading followers might not be a very large group, but it’s a fairly safe and controlled way of sharing more information about who you are, and isn’t that really what “selling” yourself is all about?
Job Search Lessons Learned December 30, 2009Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: hiring, job search, networking
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Recently several people have asked me for tips regarding job search strategies in the current economic environment. I’m not sure how valuable my advice is given that I was out of work much longer than I wanted to be, but job searching was a full-time position for me during that time and I guess I did learn a few things along the way.
First, the bad news:
1. Applying to jobs on-line: slightly better odds than the lottery, but not by much. With unemployment still running north of 10% in most markets, hiring companies and managers have a very large pool of highly-qualified candidates to choose from. Of course “you can’t win if don’t play,” but you have to be realistic about your chances of landing an interview based on an on-line application, regardless of how well-written your resume and cover letter might be.
2. A pretty good fit is nowhere near good enough. With so many applicants per position, hiring managers and their helpers are looking for ways to quickly weed out candidates. These days it’s not enough to meet most of the job requirements with proven ability to learn and contribute in a new environment. A lot of people get eliminated from consideration because they don’t have direct experience in the target industry. It has nothing to do with how hard it is to learn, but right now managers can afford to be picky, and any learning curve can be seen as a liability, regardless of your long-term potential.
3. Third-party recruiters: how much can they really help? Honestly I’m not sure what the future is for third-party recruiters in the current job market. I believe that hiring companies are having no trouble finding qualified candidates just by posting positions on their own internal job boards or the popular sites like CareerBuilder, Yahoo HotJobs, Monster, and The Ladders. I’m sure there are some specialized positions that can benefit from a focused candidate search, but otherwise I don’t think recruiters provide much value. On the job seeker side, I don’t believe there is a “hidden job market” that only recruiters know about. The last few times I heard from a recruiter, it was about a job I had already applied to. If you’re seriously looking for another job, you’re probably have the same information the recruiters have.
Look, don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some great recruiters, very hard working people who are dedicated to helping job seekers. I just wouldn’t sit back a wait for them to do all the work.
4. Save your money, don’t pay for job search. I got the big pitch several times: pay us several thousand dollars (“an investment in your career, you’ll earn it back in no time after you land your next job”), and we’ll re-write your resume and give you access to our exclusive job listings. I understand that some people may need help with their resume and “marketing plan.” In my case I got some great advice from an outplacement service that was included in my severance package, and my support group of fellow job-seekers helped a lot as well. Recruiters should be paid after they help you land a position, not before.
OK, so what should you do instead?
5. Marketing plan: do your research and sell. More than ever this is the time to target your job search and learn how to sell yourself. You’ve got to be ready to convince someone that you’re exactly what they’re looking for, the perfect fit. There are many on-line resources for researching industries and companies to help you learn more about their culture, history and likely future needs. Figure out who your target companies are and why they should hire you. I attended a networking meeting with other job seekers earlier this year where the host started by asking how many people worked in sales. A few raised their hands. The host shook his head and asked again, eventually helping us understand that we were all in sales.
6. Network: it really is all about who you know. This might be hard if you’re an introvert, but you have to get out there and make contact. Everyone you’ve ever known is a potential lead, and most people understand that what goes around comes around, and you might be in a position to help them someday. After all your friends and former co-workers know you’re looking for a job, it’s time to meet some new people. Ideally you’re trying to meet people who work at your target companies. It doesn’t matter if they have a job posted or not, you’re trying to make a strong impression that could lead to something unexpected, whether now or further down the road. I’m convinced that this is how almost everyone gets a job these days, although obviously it often takes longer that we would like.
7. Get support: everybody needs somebody sometime. Job search is tough emotionally, and friends and family might not be enough to get you through. I regularly attended networking meetings with other job seekers, sharing leads and strategies, and sometimes just crying on each others’ shoulders. After awhile it felt like an AA meeting: “Hi, I’m Tim and I’m looking for a job. It’s been X months since my last pay check,” but believe me, it works.
8. Sharpen the saw: use the time to learn and give back. My dad used to say “there’s a time to fish and a time to cut bait.” This is a great time to take classes, get that certification, and generally build your skills, if for no other reason than to be able to answer the question: “what have you been doing with yourself since your last job?” In my case I wish I had done more with my “off-time,” but I always thought that next job was right around the corner. I’d also recommend looking for ways to help others, whether volunteer work or consulting at non-profits who can benefit from your experience.
I hope that helps.
Job Search, Part 2 May 30, 2009Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: hiring, job search, networking
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About a month ago I had a great meeting with a person who works for a medium-sized company in town. This person used to be with one of my former employers and left a few years ago to join their current firm, and I managed to get an introduction through a mutual contact. I was very interested to learn more about their transition, and specifically how they were able to jump into a completely different industry without previous experience in that industry. I’ve been trying to leverage my general engineering management skills into the same industry, but, just like this person, without previous experience. I was hoping to hear that it can still happen, that there are companies out there who value underlying skills, understanding that it’s possible to learn what you need to succeed in a new industry. See my previous post “Job search paradox” from May 17.
The advice I got from this person was surprising, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since. They told me that it was extremely unlikely that their current firm would be interested in someone like me, someone without industry experience. Instead, this person suggested that I try to find a company that looks today like the company they joined a few years ago, in other words, a smaller, less mature company, possibly even an early-stage start-up.
I didn’t want to argue with someone who generously gave me an hour of their time, but that doesn’t seem right to me.
A younger, early-stage company needs people with domain expertise and industry experience. They literally can’t afford to let people learn on the job.
As a company matures and grows, jobs become more differentiated and other skills are more valued. These companies should already have plenty of people who understand the industry or core technology. Hiring at this stage can focus on filling gaps with specialists, and bringing in people with a track record of success in different industries who can help them push to a higher level of performance. That’s the kind of opportunity I’m looking for.
Sidelined May 19, 2009Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: job search, networking
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The hardest thing for me (and probably others as well) during this “in transition” interval is sitting on the sidelines. I’m eager to get back in the game and do what I do best. I am staying busy with the job search: submitting applications, attending networking events, researching companies and industries. I enjoy providing support to my fellow job-seekers, sharing best practices and contacts, and in some ways it’s similar to the coaching role I’m familiar with. I’ve got a lot of energy and talents, all dressed up with nowhere to go.
I know some folks who are contributing their skills to non-profits. That sounds good, and it’s something I’d like to investigate, but I need a paying job and I don’t feel like I can devote too much time on activities that don’t directly contribute to achieving my goal.
Consulting is another possibility, if I could figure out how to get started. It seems like there are a lot of people in the same situation offering themselves as consultants, not an easy sell in these times of budget cuts.
I haven’t found my path forward yet, but I’m working on it.