Thoughts, Ideas, and Concepts by Sandra Parks

Networking

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of status updates on business and social networking sites that say things like, “Project Manager professional looking for work” or “Looking for work in a tough economy” or “Just received my degree in accounting — looking for work.” While I understand that these job seekers are trying to advertise their candidacy online, I don’t recommend broadcasting this specific message in your status updates. Here’s why:

  1. Blasting this message to your entire network makes you look desperate. You might as well rent a billboard to promote your job search … Yes, I know there are stories about people landing a job this way, but these tactics get old fast. (And by the way, the guy who landed a job by wearing a sandwich board saying he was looking for work is “so 2008.”)
  2. Posting this message makes people in your network uncomfortable. Imagine agreeing to meet someone for coffee and before the coffee is even cool enough to drink you say, “I’m looking for work.” It’s awkward. It places an unrealistic expectation on your contacts to come up with a solution for you. The same thing happens online when you announce that you are looking for work.
  3. Sending this message leaves you little wiggle room for a follow-up message. Think about it. If you are still in a job search next week, what will your status update be? “Still looking for work” isn’t going to cut it.

Status updates on business and social-networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are a way for you to build rapport with a community and deepen the relationship with your contacts. Choose messages that showcase your expertise, share valuable information, give kudos to others or broadcast an exciting endeavor you are working on (even if it is volunteer work). Here are some examples of alternative status updates you might want to adapt for your situation:

For a fundraising executive:

  • “Volunteering at the American Cancer Society walkathon on Sunday; hope to raise more than $2M.”

 

For an HR professional: 

  • “Attending a seminar on compensation plans for 2009 and beyond at (share the link)”

For an advertising professional: 

  • “My colleague, John Smith, just landed a major account with a leading luxury goods company. Way to go, John!”

For a CIO: 

  • ”Reading an interesting article on new technologies in health care at (share the link)”

For a financial analyst: 

  • “Boning up on study materials for the CFA Level II exam … looks like it’s going to be a long night!” 

Create status updates that invite questions and further conversation, not ones that make your network run for cover. Remember, online networking, like face-to-face networking, is a process. Whenever possible, give before you get and you will be surprised how quickly you get something back in return.

Back when I was in a relationship, there were a few things I missed about being a single girl. I had been in a great relationship with myself for two years and for all the pleasures of having a boyfriend, I also missed some parts of my former life. Now that I’m Jessica, Party of One, again, I think it’s time to revisit some of the single girl stuff I have to celebrate…

  1. I have the whole bed all to myself.
  2. No one makes a face when I bite my fingernails. (Although really, I should stop doing that.)
  3. I’m eating eating less meat because I barely ever cook it for myself.
  4. No one is scratching their balls and then touching the remote control/fridge door/pillows. At least, I don’t think anyone is.
  5. Lots of uninterrupted vibrator time.
  6. I don’t feel guilty about the smell when I paint my nails.
  7. Not washing anyone else’s laundry or dishes!
  8. I don’t have to worry about being cheated on because there is no one to cheat!
  9. When I wear sweatpants to bed, no one complains about it.
  10. The Millionaire Matchmaker” can play for an entire hour without anyone whining.
  11. Who cares how hairy my legs and armpits are? Not me.
  12. I’m the only one using my expensive shampoo and conditioner.
  13. I made out with a cute guy on a date last week and I really like him!
  14. No more roommates I don’t get along with.
  15. I feel more kinship with other single women — Frisky staff what what!
  16. I’ve seen more of my sisters, my nieces, my nephew and my parents than I have in the whole two years that I was in a relationship.
  17. I can blog about whatever I want regarding my personal life and no one will ask me to explain it later.
  18. Weekends are for me and my family, not anyone else’s.
  19. The next time I go to the movies, I’m almost decidedly seeing a chick flick.
  20. I wake up when my alarm clock goes off without someone pressuring me to hit snooze and give them a little somethin’-somethin’.
  21. Lipstick, lip gloss and lip balm actually stay on my lips now.
  22. Spending about half as much on coffee, seeing as I’m not offernig to buy it for someone all the time.
  23. Sleeping with my childhood teddy bear again … without shame.
  24. Don’t have to share the iPad (or as we used to call it, “the baby”) with anyone.
  25. Flirting without guilt.
  26. My parents’ dog doesn’t have anyone to embarrass me in front of by trying to hump his leg.
  27. Deepening friendships and making new friends with all my free time.
  28. I don’t have to shower as much.
  29. No one has asked me why I need so many shoes, clothes, books, magazines, or TV shows in the TiVo queue. I just do, OK?
  30. NO FOOTBALL!

Interviewing

How to Ensure Your References Are Gender-Neutral

 

Studies indicate the language often used to describe female professionals weakens their appeal to hiring managers. What can you do to level the playing field?

InterviewingDo job references describe men and women in different terms?

In subtle ways executives routinely use different terms to refer to men and women in recommendations, negatively affecting job candidates they are effectively trying to praise, according to a new study. Executives, men and women alike, routinely praise women using terms “helpful,” “kind,” “sympathetic,” “nurturing” and “tactful,” all of which are less valued by recruiters and hiring managers.

Even recruiting professionals don’t always realize the gap between the ways professionals are described by their peers.

A case in point is Jill Knittel, vice president at ER Associated, an executive recruiting firm in Rochester, N.Y. When asked to comment on how a reference might use different words to describe male and female candidates’ qualifications for the same position, she said, “I don’t run into that issue. As you become a C-level professional, it’s not an issue.”

Then, to prove her point, she searched her files for recommendations she has received for male and female candidates being considered for a midlevel finance position in a public accounting firm. What she found challenged her assumption.

First, she retrieved this recommendation for a female candidate: “She cared for her clients and took very good care of their needs.”

Then, this one for a male: “He had strong relationships with his clients and was very reliable.”

“Holy cow!” said Knittel, realizing her experiment contradicted her theory. “It’s really subtle, but it happens.”

Yes, it does, and even the best-intentioned people making those recommendations may not even realize what they are doing. A recent study by researchers at Rice University concluded that the words used to describe the qualities of men and women job candidates differ. While subtle, those differences can make or break a woman’s chances of being hired or promoted.

The study focused on jobs in academia but offered lessons that can be taken to the executive level.

The researchers, Michelle Hebl and Randi Martin, along with graduate student Juan Madera, reviewed 624 letters of recommendation for academic positions at colleges and universities nationwide, and found that the letters praised women by using adjectives such as “helpful,” “kind,” “sympathetic,” “nurturing” and “tactful,” along with behaviors such as helping others, taking direction well and maintaining relationships. When those recommendations were reviewed by volunteers who were unaware of the gender of the candidate, said Martin, “the more communal the characteristics mentioned, the lower the evaluation of the candidate.”

Lisa Torres, a former professor of sociology at George Washington University and now a social science analyst at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in San Francisco, notes, “We expect women to have certain skills, such as communication skills, empathy and communal traits. Yet these skills are not always valued. In some cases they are penalized. But, if women are described as assertive, self-confident and accomplished, people will question, ‘Where is the team building?’ It’s sort of a Catch-22.”

Changing Perceptions, Changing Language

The way for women to deal with this issue, says Torres, is to understand why people choose the words they do, and be proactive about changing the way they think. “When you ask someone to be a reference, whether he writes a letter or speaks to someone on the phone, there’s nothing wrong with giving that person some idea of what you’d like him to say about you. You need to take some control over that message.”

Knittel agrees, saying it is imperative that job candidates — men and women — take control of the reference process.

“The first thing you should say to a prospective employer after giving her the names of your references is, ‘Give me 24 hours to get in touch with these people to let them know you are going to call.’ ”

This, Knittel said, gives you time to do two things:

  1. You ensure they are available to speak to the recruiter or prospective employer.
  2. It gives you time to brief them on the job, and explain to them why you are a good fit. “Tell them what skill set you would bring to the company. Remind them of that acquisition you worked together on, or the client you brought in. Use the language you would like them to use to characterize your skills.”

Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm in New York, instructs her clients to prepare their references as part of the job-seeking process. “Educate them on what qualities and skills you want them to highlight, and give them specific examples of your work that speak to these skills. It can help avoid a well-meaning reference from giving a lukewarm recommendation.”

Educating your references, as well as the people who are reading them, will ultimately make a difference for women seeking to move up the ladder. “Subtle gender discrimination continues to be rampant,” said Hebl, one of the study’s authors. “It’s important to acknowledge that because you cannot remediate discrimination until you are aware of it.” It will take a great amount of education, among both employers and employees, before people will stop making gender-specific characterizations, said Torres.

“I can’t legislate these changes,” she said. “But I can start from the bottom up. When I write a recommendation for a female graduate student, I’m watching the words I use. I instinctively want to say what a nice person she is. Instead, I should be saying she’s brilliant.”

 

Tips for Executives Re-entering the Job Market

The challenges of returning to the workforce after an absence.

Job SearchSenior-level executives who left the workforce and wish to return face a challenging environment. Whether you’ve seen your savings or retirement decrease and are coming back to the job market for needed income or you’ve decided you’d like to be more involved in your industry’s work, prepare for a learning curve.

Today’s environment is not always welcoming for even the most successful, passionate, capable and proven individuals. There’s a frustrating disconnect between candidates’ expectations and actual employment opportunities.

To be competitive, returnees have some unique challenges – the least of which is the gap in their employment history.

Challenge 1: Automated Screening
The first challenge is often getting past computerized or human gatekeepers. One of the reasons why re-entry candidates face a daunting job search is that companies and search firms use automated candidate screening and recruitment processes to triage applications and resume submissions. These computerized systems don’t accommodate for and can’t appreciate exceptions. For this reason, re-entry prospects may be eliminated before any human actually evaluates their application. Given the obvious employment gap, re-entry candidates may be excluded automatically at this stage.

Your strategy? Bypass automation.

An effective technique for boosting a candidate’s potential is having an inside contact at the company personally usher a candidate through the corporate maze. The prospective employee needs to convey his or her unique value contribution to this intermediary and encourage this contact to champion the candidate up the ladder to a hiring decision maker, not just HR. A personal recommendation goes a long way to grab attention. Then it is incumbent on the candidate to follow up personally and interact directly to nurture a relationship with the hiring authority to develop trust and prove ability.

Your tactics?

  • Show, don’t tell. Persuade decision makers by unmistakably proving that you meet their criteria. Voluntarily prepare presentations, write white papers and garner support from references. Increase visibility and credibility: publish work, comment on blogs, post on listservs and forums, and attend and present at conferences.
  • Specialize a niche expertise to attract more attention. Trying to be something to everyone often results in being nothing to anyone. Illustrate capabilities with concrete solution examples. Support extraordinary skills and talent with compelling achievements that overcame sizable challenges.
  • Put skin in the game. Show confidence in your anticipated ability to deliver with a heavy portion of performance-dependent compensation.
  • Communicate your value with consistent messaging. Your resumes, bios, online profiles and quotes must all tell employers about your potential contribution, reinforce your trustworthiness and highlight your strengths. Demonstrate that you are the first-choice, go-to expert.
  • Think positively. A job search is a marathon, not a sprint. Candidates should be screening prospective challenges as carefully as employers investigate new team members.

Challenge 2: Dry Networks
Returnees may find their networks, once the source of lucrative offers and discreet networking inquiries, are not delivering good leads like they used to.

How will you get from where you are now to where you want to be next? The preferred job search method is the same as ever: connections. Networking is the means to a swift, successful landing. However, your once-reliable contacts have lost their value or left the field. Freshly minted re-entry candidates rarely fit the perfect candidate descriptions listed in advertised job postings. Rarely are these under-the-radar candidates sought out by search consultants or recruiters to fill openings for exacting corporate clients.

Your strategy? Connect with decision makers.
Jumpstarting your search campaign requires designing and purposefully creating a new network of relationships. In today’s competitive and risk-adverse job market, networking purposefully is the way to find a new position that matches your requirements for personal, professional and financial rewards. The critical element for success is getting attention now and then being remembered later by hiring managers and decision makers affiliated with appropriate opportunities. Candidates must carve a direct path to senior management and then present a remarkable and memorable value proposition that fosters a meaningful dialogue about mutual interests.

For candidates with a break on their resumes, personalized introductions explain unusual circumstances and pave the way for meaningful dialogues with prospective employers.

After getting comfortable with a candidate’s abilities, the employer may decide that the formerly imperfect prospect can be a great employee for an opening, or the company may create a new job just for this individual. Notably, the ideal candidate and the ideal employee may be different. Only the hiring decision-maker can bend the requirements, reorganize resources and do what it takes to make an offer. That’s why connecting with the appropriate inside authority is key to generating a new career opportunity, whether a job is advertised or part of the hidden job market.

Your tactics?

  • Target employers within a specific industry niche. These companies are more likely to appreciate your background and recognize your qualifications.
  • Initiate contacts and stay connected. Identify key players; obtain recommendations about who you need to know; research speakers, trade publications and online resources to connect with current industry thought leaders. Cultivate relationships that are likely to generate job leads, increase credibility and provide future mentoring opportunities.
  • Connect with “insiders” affiliated with target employers. This is the best way to be one of the first to learn about and be presented for unadvertised opportunities.
  • Be bold, be persistent. Network Purposefully to make new contacts in your search. Networking is about relationships, not single-use transactions.
  • Give back. Make introductions when you see synergy. Contribute advice, help others and provide counsel before being asked. Networking is not just for job searching.
  • Initiate contact directly with hiring decision-makers. Call outside typical business hours. Use snail mail creatively to attract attention. Leave enticing voice-mail messages communicating what is in it for the employer. Leave them thinking that not returning the call would be a mistake.
  • Follow up on connections. Be courteous and respectful while pursuing leads to new opportunities. If you are not persistent, someone who does follow through is likely to get the job offer that is perfect for you.

For re-entry candidates, these tips can accelerate your job hunt progress.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

I’m back. And I’m so sorry that I stayed away so long.

Unexpected rate hikes. Over-limit fees. Double-cycle billing. Those are just a few of the credit-card practices that have trapped millions of consumers into a life of constant worry over mounting debt. In less than a week, these practices will be history.

Unexpected rate hikes. Over-limit fees. Double-cycle billing. Those are just a few of the credit-card practices that have trapped millions of consumers into a life of constant worry over mounting debt. In less than a week, these practices will be history.

Exceptions, Caveats, Loopholes:

• Rate hikes are allowed if you’re more than 60 days late with a payment.
• Some banks have already found a way around the rate-hike issue, by increasing card users’ regular interest rates to as high as 29.9% and then refunding a part of that rate for each month that the customer pays on time.
• Double-cycle billing, although prohibited, can technically still exist for credit cards that don’t have grace periods.
• Issuers have been calling consumers asking them to opt in for over-limit fees in exchange for lowering that fee, says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, a consumer advocacy group. What they’re not saying is that if people don’t opt in, the transaction will be denied and they will not be charged over-limit fees in the first place, Wu says.

Billing Statements, Payments and Disclosures

• Billing statements must be sent 21 days before the due date.
• Your due date should be the same date each month.
• Payments are considered on time when received by 5 p.m. on the due date or the next business day after a holiday or weekend.
• Payments above the minimum must be applied to the highest-rate balance first.
• Each monthly statement must include information on how long it would take you to pay off your balance if you make minimum payments only and the total you’ll pay, including interest and principal; and how much you need to pay each month in order to pay off your balance in 36 months and the total you’ll pay, including interest and principal.
• Statements must also include a warning that by making only minimum payments you will pay more interest and it will take you longer to pay off your debt, as well as a toll-free number to call if you want to be referred to a credit-counseling service.

Exceptions, caveats, loopholes:

If you make a purchase under a “deferred-interest” plan (such as “No interest for six months,” for example), the company may let you choose to apply extra amounts to the deferred-interest balance. Otherwise, for two billing cycles before the end of the promotional period, your entire payment must be applied to that balance. Carrying a “deferred-interest” balance is a risky proposition altogether, says Wu: Unless the balance is paid in full over the specified period, the company will charge all interest retroactively once the promotional rate expires. “We think deferred-interest plans should have been banned,” Wu says.

College Students and Young Adults

• No credit cards for college students unless co-signed by a parent or they can demonstrate “ability to pay.”
• No credit-limit increases if you are under 21 and have a co-signer without that co-signer’s permission.
• No credit-card marketing and freebies on college campuses.

Exceptions, Caveats, Loopholes:

• Issuers will likely start appealing to parents to co-sign their children’s credit cards. And the Federal Reserve has specified that issuers have the option of keeping the parent on the hook even after the young person turns 21, Wu says. “If that younger person keeps the credit card for 20 years, the co-signer is liable that whole time.”
• Issuers are not allowed to give out freebies for signing up for a credit card on or near a campus — which still allows them to set up shop near popular off-campus venues and offer freebies to everyone, whether or not they apply.

Job Search

The concept of “hump day” has had a long history – too long, in fact. 

For many years employees and managers alike have talked about the importance of getting through hump day (aka Wednesday) and making it to the weekend. Unfortunately, hump day is a career killer. 

Hump-day employees look at every week as the process of starting at the bottom of the hill on Monday morning at 8 a.m., climbing to the top by Wednesday at noon, and then coasting down to the bottom of the hill by 5 o’clock on Friday. These people haven’t gotten anywhere during the course of the week. They are back where they started on Monday morning, week after week after week. 

Imagine a college athlete who performs exactly the same way at the beginning of every season. Those kinds of players never get off the bench, assuming they can even keep their spot on the bench. Intuitively, we know we must continually improve if we want to take our careers to the next level. With a hump-day approach to the workweek, we sabotage productivity and psychologically set ourselves up for a mediocre week and a mediocre career. 

Study Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and a host of other great achievers. They didn’t push forward for 52 working hours and then slump backward for another 52. They raised their bar of achievement, and then set the bar higher again and again. 

Instead of working for the weekend, try filling out a “Leap-Day Worksheet” at noon Wednesday. (Maximum time investment: 35 minutes.)

1.      Make a list of the meetings/activities /events that have occurred so far this week.

2.      For each entry in Step One, answer these five questions in less than five minutes:
a.       What did I do that was effective? 

b.      What did I do that was not effective? 

c.       What could I have done to be more effective? 

d.      What did I learn from this experience? 

e.       How can I use what I learned to perform at a higher level for the remainder of this week? 

From now on, make Wednesday at noon your weekly inflection point to capture key lessons and catapult to a higher level of performance over the remainder of the week. After all, the greatest performers in history didn’t rise briefly and then fall backward. They leapt forward to higher and higher levels of achievement, and hit repeat.

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