Thoughts, Ideas, and Concepts by Sandra Parks

Posts tagged ‘Employment’

How to Handle ‘You’re Overqualified’ in Interviews

So  what should you do if you’re credentialed with good experience and advanced  education, are looking to become re-employed and are even willing to take a  lower-level position? Here are a few tips:

Don’t  Be Tempted to “Dumb Down!”

This  strategy moves your career backward. You typically end up frustrated, not hired  or worse — you find a new job you can’t wait to move out of. Most employers  today actually want you working at your highest ability level since productivity  is key to everyone’s success. They also want to retain you past the many months  it takes to train you for the job, so you can begin to make a contribution to  the company.

Do Some Soul Searching and Savvy Preparation.

Acknowledge  that employers are reluctant to hire a person who is overqualified because they  think the person is unlikely to be happy, won’t stay long, might want the  interviewer’s job or may expect fast promotion. Remember that you can be  threatening to the interviewer, especially if you are truly suited for the  interviewer’s job! He may think you aren’t seriously interested in doing the job  for which you’re being hired — nor do employers want someone who’s burned out or  sees the job as an easy paycheck.

Examine  why you want the position. “I need a job!” is not a response that will endear  you to him. You must use your communication skills to convince him why a  demotion is a good option. You must create a reasonable explanation. Try  this:

“My  current position as Regional Sales Manager requires me to cover 14 states, and  the job had grown into 15 nights of travel per month. This has become an  increasingly difficult sacrifice for my family. I have decided to seek a major  accounts-rep position that allows me to focus on my strengths — selling,  sustaining top-notch client relationships and up-selling — but also allows me to  go home most evenings. This is not an option at my current job. It requires a  lot of out-of-town travel to do the job, which I am no longer willing to do. I  believe my extensive marketing and sales skills would greatly benefit your  organization in a positive way. I see this as a win/win situation for both of  us.”

Don’t  Show Desperation.

You  may feel it, but it will work against your getting hired if you show how frantic  you are to get a job. Too often an executive says, “I’ll start at any job just  to get my foot in the door.” That won’t work — it’s an outdated strategy. Being  willing to take any  job often makes the interviewer disqualify you. She needs a competent  person to perform the specific job she’s hiring for.

So,  you must show not only that you can do it but also that you want
to do
it. You can offer some advantages, gained from your experience, such
as: “My ability to solve problems and train others would be a major plus in the  position.” Many employers are slow to hire, yet pay well when they select
someone for the position, so patience is essential.

Look  Harder for Positions for Which You Are Qualified.

Employers  want a good fit and an individual who delivers results. Customize every cover letter you write and tweak your resume to match the
opportunity. Be sure to address the major needs required and demonstrate results  you’ve achieved in line with the level requested. A former CEO at a smaller  company might only be a midlevel executive at a larger organization, so be clear  as to how you’re leveraging past experience and leadership to help a potential  employer excel.

Networking  Is Key to Hearing About and Landing a New Job.

Ask  colleagues, friends, former employees, college alumni, and other contacts for  referrals to new people who can help you uncover unadvertised positions. An  introduction to a senior executive can open new doors and even create a job when  no advertised one was available. Department of Labor statistics reveal that 63  percent of all jobs last year were found through contacts, so network, network,  NETWORK!

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10 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Mentor

How can a mentor improve your business and career advancement? Many ways: A mentor can guide you, take you under his wing and teach you new skills. Research has shown that mentoring relationships succeed and are satisfying for both parties when both the mentor and the person being mentored take an active role in developing the relationship.

Here are 10 tips you can implement to ensure you get what you need out of the relationship.

  1. Be clear on why you want a mentor and why you are meeting.
    Define what type of help you’re looking for in a mentor. Are you looking for someone with similar skills or someone with a very different skill set who can coach you? Are you looking for someone who has gone up the corporate ladder and can advise you on the ins and outs of corporate politics?
  2. Establish goals for the relationship.
    Discuss and agree upon the goals of the relationship and what you, personally, are doing to make it a successful venture. Review these goals from time to time to be sure the relationship is working; if not, adjust and refocus.
  3. Network, network and network to find a suitable mentor.
    Once you decide on the type of mentor you need, participate in functions and professional associations where you might find this type of person. For example, scour your chamber of commerce events, alumni and professional associations or even your owncompany. If you do choose someone from your own firm, it’s best to select someone other than your direct supervisor.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to one mentor.
    You can establish multiple mentoring relationships with individuals who can help you grow in different aspects of your life. Think of it as building your own personal board of directors. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a ‘peer mentor’ or someone at your level who has complimentary skills and experiences — even if you think you’re on the same level, you can learn a lot from their previous experiences.
  5. Establish communication methods and frequency of contact from the beginning.
    Talk with your mentor to determine the lines of communication that will work for both of you. Will you meet face to face or communicate mainly through e-mail and the telephone? Make sure you meet/talk enough to suit both of you.
  6. Manage expectations and build trust.
    Mentoring takes time and implies sacrifices for both the person being mentored and the mentor. Be respectful of your mentor’s time and the other priorities in her life, such as family, travel and community activities. Avoid any trust-breaking behaviors such as canceling appointments or not following through on leads and contacts given to you by your mentor.
  7. Acquire mentoring skills and competencies.
    Pay attention to great skills that you notice in your mentors; these skills include listening, guidance, recommendations and wisdom. When you receive corrective feedback from your mentor, don’t be defensive. Listen, digest and take immediate steps to apply what you have learned.
  8. Be respectful of your mentor’s time.
    Do not overburden him by demanding too much time or too many contacts. Understand that the moment you decide you need information might not be the best time for him, so be patient.
  9. Express your gratitude.
    Your mentor is likely to give a lot more than you do in the relationship in terms of time and contacts. Be sure to express regularly that you value and appreciate your mentor’s guidance.
  10. Vary the activities you do together.
    There are numerous activities you can do with your mentor, such as talking about your past experiences, goals, plans, and skill development and attending meetings, conferences, and other events. You can also shadow your mentor at work or exchange and discuss written materials like your resume or an article one of you has written.

ROADMAP TO YOUR JOBSEARCH

Today’s job searches are taking longer to produce results than even a year ago. But that reality doesn’t have to put a damper on your campaign to land that plum position! Stack the odds in your favor by creating an effective road map that covers all the best job search strategies.

First Impressions

Begin the journey with a professional cover letter and resume. You want to engage hiring managers and build interest in you as a viable candidate. That first impression can become a wave you ride into the interview room. Carry that professional image through in every interaction you have within your network or with any representatives of the companies you contact. Meet every deadline. Arrive early for any type of appointment. Be prompt and courteous. Above all, behave professionally.

Actions Speak Loudly

Follow up with hiring managers to produce results long after the first contact you have with a company. You might call to be sure your resume has been received or to inquire as to the need for additional information. Sending a thank-you note following an interview is par for the course, but also send one to acknowledge any assistance you received, such as to the contact who helped get your resume to the right individual. Even if you don’t land an interview initially, state your intent to touch base periodically. See this as part of your network building. By sharing the latest industry information or just chatting informally, you can turn these contacts into enjoyable social encounters. Your persistence and interest in the company are communicated by consistent actions, which carry much more weight than empty words.

Network Effectively

Take advantage of job fairs, community gatherings, andprofessional organization events to keep your finger on the pulse of local and national job markets. Not only are these excellent opportunities to network, but also to understand movement in key positions at companies of interest. Consistent networking, even if you aren’t actively looking for work, can lay the foundation for subsequent job searches. Read local business publications to stay on top of regional business news and opportunities. You may discover new businesses before they open where you can submit an early resume ahead of the competition.

Do What You Love

Professional passion and interest in your field of work cannot be overrated. Only you can determine whether this is the time to follow your heart and create a new direction in your career or if it’s better to stick with a sure thing. Though family and financial obligations may be pressing you in one direction, if you are unhappy in your current situation, it may be negatively affecting your overall quality of life as well as your job search. Although it may seem like a bit of a detour, review what makes you happy and do what you can to increase a sense of meaning and satisfaction in your life. Believe it or not, that kind of energy can also fuel your job search forward.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you are continually looking for opportunities and feel stymied by the lack of results. The sheer number of job listings and sites makes the job search feel even more challenging. Realize it is not necessary to mobilize every strategy in your job search road map at the same time. Keep diligent records of your job search and organize contacts so you don’t inadvertently duplicate your efforts. You may also use a spreadsheet for usernames and passwords to various job sites.

Pick Up the Phone

Use the resources available to you. Call the new company in town and introduce yourself. Share your interest in the company, but more importantly, use your elevator speech to broadcast your skills and value. Follow up with a resume. Ask for a meeting. Give hiring managers good directions in identifying your strengths and linking those to the needs of the company.

Work to gain clarity in your job search for greater effectiveness and consistent progress on the journey. Target positions and employers you are interested in and systematically follow your road map for success!

Networking Is Your Status Update Still ‘Looking for Work?’

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.

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

 

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.

Hump Day Fallacies!!!

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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