Thoughts, Ideas, and Concepts by Sandra Parks

Posts tagged ‘jobs’

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.”

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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.

Why Not Brand Yourself!

Personal Branding

Job seekers think they need to be salesman, never storytellers. Nevertheless, storytelling is part of every job search. How well you tell your story in cover letters, resumes, networking meetings, interviews — even negotiations — will directly affect your success in the job market.

Storytelling doesn’t mean telling tall tales! It’s amazing how many people ask for help with their resumes by saying, “I’ve got to find a way to make this look better than it really is.” Exaggerating accomplishments and misrepresenting facts is never an acceptable approach. Nor is it necessary. Instead, when people take the time to remember the actual details, a more compelling and truthful story almost always emerges.

The problem is that people don’t naturally think about telling their story.

Your challenge is to find a way to describe your involvement so potential employers clearly see the before and after. In other words, how did you make a situation better because you were there?

You can’t get there simply by rattling off a list of accomplishments; by themselves, accomplishments rarely tell the story. Knowing how much time you saved or how much money you made for the company is of limited use if it isn’t presented in context. To appreciate the importance of your work, the scope of what you did must be clear. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What problem were you solving?
  • How long had it been a problem?
  • How many people were affected by the issue?
  • What was the cost of not solving the problem? (e.g., lost revenue, frustrated customers, low morale)
  • What, specifically, did you do to address the issue?
  • How did you get involved?
    • Were you asked to address the issue? If so, by whom?
    • Or was your involvement the result of your own initiative?
  • Did solving the problem require an investment of time, money or resources by the company?
    • Were you the person who convinced management to invest in the solution?
    • If so, how did you sell them on the idea?
  • How long did it take to solve the problem?
  • Were there any unexpected results?

Good stories surprise you

Once you have answered these questions, be sure to include the most surprising and memorable details when you tell the stories behind your accomplishments. This is the key to being remembered at the right time for the right reason.

Sadly, few people manage to include these crucial details.

Rather than tell memorable stories that might get people interested in their backgrounds, they rattle off job titles, responsibilities and other unrevealing aspects of their past.

For example, I vividly remember “Eric” (not his real name), a client who had a long-winded, fluffy summary statement that could literally apply to anyone. In it, Eric described himself as an “innovative problem solver.” Unfortunately, this was not supported anywhere in his resume or cover letter. Nor did he spontaneously offer any examples during the course of our mock interview.

Only when I probed extensively did Eric reveal a fantastic example to support his claim:

In his most recent position, Eric worked at a data center that handled transactions for financial institutions. At the time, the company was actively acquiring other data centers. Eric’s job was to help merge the operations of the various data centers the company acquired.

Throughout the process, Eric’s company relied on several highly paid consultants from a well-known firm to evaluate the acquisitions and make recommendations regarding the best ways to merge the technologies. In one case, the consultants concluded that the technology of a recently acquired company was incompatible with the firm’s operations and recommended running the data center separately. Eric didn’t accept that as an answer. Instead, he spent the next month researching and examining alternatives on his own, outside regular working hours.

Being quite resourceful, Eric networked his way to a person overseas who had successfully solved a similar challenge. By taking the time to learn how the other person solved the problem, Eric devised a way to implement a workable solution. Within a few weeks, Eric successfully converted the new data center to the company’s technology.

This is a great example of innovative problem-solving. It wasn’t one Eric had ever thought to share on his resume, in interviews or in any of his networking efforts. Nevertheless, it remains among his most memorable and compelling experiences. That’s the goal of storytelling. You want people to think of you and make the connection between what you have done and what they might need you to do. Potential employers and networking contacts should look at you and think:

“I remember her! She’s the person who _________.”
(Fill in the blank with whatever experience powerfully demonstrates your ability to excel in a particular area.)

Interviewing Tips!!!

Interviewing

Picture this: The job interview is (almost) over.

You’ve answered all their questions..
You’ve jumped through all their hoops.
You’ve taken all their tests, assessments and personality profiles.

Meanwhile, your brain hurts from over thinking. Your butt is numb from over sitting. And by now, you’ve managed to sweat right through that crisp, new white shirt you bought just for today.

“Just hire me already!” You think.

Not so fast. There’s still one thing left to do:

Walk out of that interview in a blaze of glory.

Today I’m going to teach you a job-hunting strategy that will instantly make you more approachable; hireable; employable; promotable; buyable; bookable; unforgettable; and, most importantly, call-back-able.

And all of it hinges on your ability to respond effectively to one of the most common (yet one of the most under leveraged) interview questions:

“So, do you have any questions for me?”

Prospective employers almost always ask this one – especially at the end of the interview. And most job-hunting books, interviewing resources and career coaches will advise you to respond with intelligent, creative questions such as:

  • Why is this position vacant?
  • Do you promote from within?
  • Do you have a formal training program?
  • What are the future goals of the company?
  • How will I know that I have met your goals?
  • Why did you choose to work for this company?
  • How would you describe your company’s culture?
  • How will my performance be evaluated, and how often?
  • What is the average work week of the person who will fill this job?
  • Will I be hearing from you or should I contact you?

Those are great questions. They’re smart, focused and goal-oriented.

There’s only one problem: Everybody else asks them, too.

And that instantly eliminates the probability of standing out.

Here’s the reality

The less boring and normal you are – and the more rules to which you are the exception – the more hireable you will become.

So, try this: Next time your interviewer asks, “So, do you have any questions for me?” I triple-dog-dare you to answer with one of the following responses :

  • Do you see any gaps in my qualifications that I need to fill?
  • Are there any reasons I’m not fully qualified for this position?
  • Is there anything I’ ve said today that might hurt my chances of being hired here?
  • Now that you’ve had a chance to meet and interview me, what reservations would you have in putting me in this position?
  • What have I accidentally said or done during today’s interview that’s inconsistent with your perfect candidate for this job?

Here’s why this strategy works:

You put the interviewer on the spot. After all, you’re not the only one being interviewed here. So, turning the tables in this manner helps you maintain power because – contrary to popular conditioning – the listener controls.

You prove counterintuitive thinking. I don’t care if you’re applying to work the night clean up shift at Reggie’s Roadkill Cafe – employers love people who think this way. Not just someone who “is” unexpected – but someone who actually thinks unexpectedly.

You demonstrate openness to feedback. My great friend, Joe Rotskoff, HR manager at Crescent Plumbing Supply in St. Louis, was the person who first educated me on this interview approach. “The secret is twofold,” Rotskoff said. “First, you display openness to how others experience you. Second, you show a dedication to improving self-awareness. And that’s exactly the type of employee companies seek to hire in this tough economy.”

You exhibit dedication to personal improvement. Which makes you an employee who adds value to the net worth of her human capital – and, therefore, the net worth of the company’s assets – every day. Wow.

You close the sale. Job interviews are sales calls. Period. You’re selling the company on you, your skills and your long-term potential as a valued asset to the team. So, when you ask closer questions like these, you’re essentially “asking for the sale.” And you’re doing so in a professional, tactful, confident manner. How could they not say yes to you?

Now, here’s the worst thing that could happen

Let’s say you ask one of these questions. And let’s say the prospective employer (unfortunately) responds with an answer that indicates you’ve done something wrong. Or missed the mark.. Or come up short in regards to the position.

Fantastic! You’ve just received specific feedback that you can leverage to add value to yourself and become more hireable in the future.

So, if this is the case for you, here’s my suggestion: Physically write down his response to your questions, right then and there. This demonstrates active listening and further reinforces your openness to feedback.

Then, when you write your thank-you note to the interviewer later that evening, be sure to:

1. Thank him again for the helpful feedback on your performance

2. Explain what your commitment plan is for remedying that inadequacy in the future. Hey, he might even change his mind after that!

But here’s the best thing that could happen

Picture this: The interviewer’s jaw hits the floor, his pen falls to the ground, and he stares at you like you just told him that his company was going to be featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

Then, once he mops up the puddle of drool on your job application, he racks his brain trying to come up with an answer to your powerful question.

But he can’t find one.

Because there isn’t one.

Because you, my unemployed friend, are pretty amazing.

And you deserve this job a hundred times more than every other candidate who walked in the door before you.

Resumes!

A job title can make or break a good first impression. You certainly don’t want to lie about your job history, but you do want to be descriptive. For example, “Accounting” is too vague, while “Management of A/R and A/P and Recordkeeping” carries both far more information and way more impact. How do you make sure the job title you use on your resume will be accurate and impactful?

We’re not talking about changing the title or position you held in a previous job, said Marsh Sutherland, president of Walden Recruiting. There’s no way he’d tinker with a client’s actual title, he said. Doing so “could be considered misrepresentation” on both his part and that of his client — far too steep a price to pay in return for more impressive-sounding titles. We’re talking about the title of your resume, what you call yourself and how you define what you do.

Top of the resume

The job seeker’s title sits at the top of the resume above her Summary section, right below her name and contact information. Sutherland said he usually advises his clients to take cues from the job they’ve applied for. “I will often put the title of the job (on the top) so at first glance it appears the candidate is a perfect fit,” Sutherland says. “For instance, I am currently sourcing candidates for a Search Engine Optimization Analyst position. Guess what? I put ‛SEO Analyst Professional’ at the top of my resume submissions.”

Typical title mistakes

One common mistake seen by Beth Colley, principal of Chesapeake Resume Writing, is not including a title anywhere on the resume.

Another mistake she often sees is when job seekers include the old-fashioned “Objective” section, a section that nowadays is considered irrelevant and whose inclusion marks the resume subject as being out of touch with the current professional resume format. It might have been acceptable in years past to start a resume with an objective about how a job seeker is “seeking a position where I can utilize my gifts and talents in marketing and advance to a level of increasing responsibility,” but nowadays an objective at the top of the page simply means a job seeker is thinking of himself, not how he can help his potential employer.

Colley also sees unacceptably vague titles such as one resume that said “Public Advocate.” That job seeker’s profile included her “ability to direct complex projects from concept to fully operational status,” and it mentioned personality details such as being “highly organized” and a “detailed problem solver” who was “self-directed” and “creative.”

Just what type of public advocate, for what industry, was “not clear,” Colley says, “I totally didn’t understand what she was looking for.”

How to craft a title that’s broad, specific and narrowly targeted

Colley advises job seekers to use a “fairly broad title” that still targets the right industry but to then pair it with something they possess that’s in high demand in their industry.

Colley sets this type of title up in the format of “Broad title”—“Specific industry,” “Specialized skills or certifications.” For example, rather than using a broad title such as Project Manager, which could “literally be anything from construction to IT,” she advises her clients to use a slightly more targeted title heading. Some examples:

  • Project Manager – IT Industry, DOD contractor with active Top Secret Clearance
  • Project Manager – Civil Engineering, LEED & GBE Certified

Here are some other examples Colley cited that expand on less-informative titles such as CFO or Customer Service Representative:

  • Chief Financial Officer – CPA, MBA with Controller and Financial Analyst Expertise
  • Customer Service Representative – Inbound Call Center, 8 years of experience

“The whole point of resume development is to target the resume to a particular field or industry,” Colley said. “Job titles vary from one company to the next, so you want to pick a title that is recognizable to most employers and recruiters. By highlighting a marketable aspect about yourself or industry, the recruiter/employer will read for further information to see if you ‛fit the bill.’ Remember, if they read your resume for more than 15-20 seconds and you get a phone call, the resume has effectively done its job.”

Post-Recession Job Market

The past year has undoubtedly brought many changes and challenges to both employers and employees. Layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs have been widespread, thus contributing to a job market saturated with qualified candidates competing for fewer jobs. Despite this steep competition among candidates, employers struggle to find professionals with in-demand skill sets.

Along with these continued battles, employers face a new challenge: ensuring their companies are prepared when the economy does make an inevitable turnaround, which will give them a competitive advantage.

A new survey, the 2009 EDGE Report from Robert Half International and CareerBuilder, provides answers to many of the lingering questions surrounding today’s economy and job market: Where will jobs be added first in the recovery? What challenges will employers face in recruitment? How will compensation be impacted? And how will employers retain the talent they’ve preserved during this difficult time?

To take advantage of an improving economy, employers that cut staffing levels extensively are taking a close look at the core skills needed in new hires in order to rebuild their rosters once the economic recovery takes hold.

Fifty-three percent of employers said they plan to hire full-time employees in the next 12 months, while 39 percent will add part-time employees, according to a new survey. Forty percent will hire contract, temporary or project professionals.

Here are several key other findings from the report:

Where jobs will be added first
Hiring managers currently consider customer service as the most critical to the company’s success, followed by sales, marketing/creative and technology. Public relations/communication, business development and accounting/finance round out the list.

When the economy does start to rebound, respondents said technology, customer service and sales departments will add positions first, followed by marketing/creative, business development, human resources and accounting/finance.

In the meantime, hiring managers continue to appreciate employees who can perform multiple functions. Employers cited multitasking, initiative and creative problem-solving as the most valuable characteristics in ideal new hires.

Retaining talent
Although many business leaders have plans to add new employees to their organizations in the coming months, they also have to consider how their decisions during the financial crisis have impacted job satisfaction and loyalty of their current staff.

Fifty-five percent of workers polled have plans to change careers, find a new employer or go back to school once the economy recovers. Forty-nine percent said that the most effective way to keep them on board will be with pay increases; in fact, 28 percent plan to ask for a raise.

Employers are aware that competitive pay and benefits will play a critical role in retaining talent. Forty percent of employers said that they plan to increase pay when the economy improves and 20 percent said they hope for better benefits and perks.

Continued challenges in recruitment
Although there is a greater pool of available talent among job seekers, employers are still having trouble finding qualified professionals for open positions: 47 percent of employers cited under-qualified applicants as their most common hiring challenge. Employers said that, on average, 44 percent of the résumés they receive are from unqualified candidates.

As a result, employers are open to paying for great talent; 61 percent said their companies are willing to negotiate a higher salary for qualified candidates.

A common complaint from job seekers is the amount of time the hiring process takes; however, this is one area where employers won’t budge. The average time it takes to recruit a new full-time hire is 4.5 to 14.4 weeks. Employers say that in order to avoid costly hiring mistakes, it’s necessary to take their time reviewing and screening a high volume of résumés, and also to carefully evaluate those invited for interviews

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