Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Week two begins.

I know, I know, on Monday I said "week two begins," but that was week two of the job search. This blog started a week ago today. So there we go. Anyway, however you want to count it, I'm still just beginning my job search, and I taking today to remind myself not to fall into either of two dangerous and complementary traps: cockiness and complacency.

I love writing this blog. I like putting my words out there for an audience, and I love getting comments back. I've been getting some great ones, both here and on LinkedIn. It's really gratifying to know I've sparked discussion. It's also really gratifying when someone finds my words of enough value that they want to add me to their LinkedIn network. That says to me that either they're willing to help me in my search, which is wonderful, or they think I can help them in theirs, which is flattering.

In addition to the new LinkedIn contacts, I've gotten a few requests for resumes. Wow. That's even more flattering. Companies in my industry seeking out my resume? Oh, yeah. I mean, I must have it going on, right? 

Easy, there, tiger. First, the cockiness: nobody's that good. Just because someone wants to see a resume, doesn't mean they want to hire you. It means they want to know more. You've already gotten a toe in the door, the resume is the rest of your foot. You've still got impress them enough that they'll invite you the rest of the way over the threshold.

Second, the complacency: this is early days. You can't throw a couple of resumes out there, brush off your hands, and say, "Well, that takes care of that." Finding a job is a job, and you have to work at it every day. If you slack off at a paying job, you don't get paid that week. If you slack off on a job search, you don't get paid ever.

That's a sobering thought, and that's what I remind myself whenever I start to think this is going to be easy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just a couple of questions

Writing yesterday's entry got me wondering, so I thought I would pose a couple of questions here, and see what you all think. This isn't a scientific survey by any means, I'm just really interested. I suspect many of you are too, so leave a comment and let us know how you feel about any or all of these questions.

1) If you're a hiring authority or recruiter, how important are spelling and grammar on resumes and cover letters? Do you allow for an occasional typo, or do you expect a perfect product?

2) If you're a job seeker, have you ever seen a job ad that was so full of errors that, even though the job sounded interesting, you couldn't make yourself apply for it? If so, how bad does an ad have to be to make you walk away from it?

3) Hiring managers/recruiters, do you write your own ads, or does someone else write them for you? Have you ever found that an ad was so poorly written that you weren't getting the right applicants? HOW did you find out? 

4) Do you think it's appropriate for us as job seekers to apply the same standard of "if you can't look after the details, why should I think you'll look after me/my company" that hirers apply to applicants?

5) Finally, I suspect most applicants would welcome feedback from employers saying, "You didn't get the interview because your resume was poorly written." Is it ever appropriate to tell an employer, "Here's my resume. Here's my cover letter. By the way, your ad had misspellings here and here, and grammar errors here and here"? What if the ad is for a proofreader?

Just a few questions that have been running through my head. I'd really like to hear from you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

You-know-who is in the details.

That, my friends, was a very nice weekend, but now it's Monday, and it's back to the work of finding work. Since I'm still at the beginning of the effort, that means a lot of searching and reading and hunting.

I've got my basic resumes ready, just waiting to be sent out. I've spent a lot of time writing them, rereading them, and rewriting them. I've always been a fanatic about language, but it's especially important now that  it can have a direct effect on my future.

It's funny how often people get complacent about that sort of thing. Not just in resumes, and not just applicants. I've been reading lots of advice columns on job search websites, and, while I'm not going to call anyone out here, I'm amazed at how many of them are full of typos and grammatical errors, like using "affect" instead of "effect," or the dreaded "greengrocer's apostrophe." Just as bad is when people use expressions that they only think they understand. Things like "one in the same" (which should be "one and the same"), or (I've actually seen these) "flay minyawn" for "filet mignon" or "wallah" for "voila." Yes, the internet is full of poorly-spelled websites. But if you're putting yourself out there as a professional, you should take the time to do it right. These sorts of mistakes make it hard to take what is otherwise good advice seriously.

They also make it hard to take an otherwise ideal candidate seriously. The last thing I want when I send out a resume is to have a typo or an egregious grammatical error. Especially if, as in my case, I'm applying for work as a writer, or a proofreader, or a copy editor. I know if I were hiring, a resume with easily correctable errors would end up right in the round file.

I'm lucky. My wife is also a professional copy editor, so she gets the final pass on all of my resumes. If you haven't had someone proofread yours, you're taking a risk that could cost you any chance at an interview. Just make sure it's someone you can count on. A boss, a mentor... even a professional editor. And then, check it again yourself, and ask the person about any changes they made. That way, you learn. And discussing it with them should also help catch any errors they might have missed -- or made. Because even pros can make mistakes.

You know, when I started writing this blog, I didn't think of it as "advice to job seekers," because, well, I am a job seeker. I still don't really think of it that way. I'm not here to tell you how to get a job. I'm here to share what I'm doing to find a job; this blog is sort of "me, thinking out loud." If my thoughts help you, I'm glad to have been of assistance. And if any recruiters are out there, well, I hope you like what you're reading, because otherwise I'm in big trouble, aren't I?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gone Fishin'

No, I haven't given up on this blog already. But something I overheard today got me thinking, and (lucky you!) I decided to share my thoughts here.

These two older gentlemen were sitting around, talking about fishing. Now, I wasn't eavesdropping (much), but their conversation wasn't about the fish so much as it was about the bait. They each had some pretty strong ideas about what sort of bait to use for what sort of fish, and although they didn't always agree, it was clear that they both knew that what catches catfish doesn't necessarily catch bass.

Turns out, the same is true for resumes. Another thing my newest best friend and hero Bill (remember him, from yesterday?) taught us was the value of the targeted resume. Most folks, he said, use a template they got from the internet, and it lists every job they had, starting at McDonald's, through Home Depot, to Bob's Used Car Sales, to Sales Manager at the biggest Dodge dealership in Memphis, in reverse chronological order. Which is fine... if you've already got the job.

A targeted resume, on the other hand, is specific to the job you want. Which means you write a new resume for each job you apply for. You include in it all the "applicants will" requirements from the ad, because if you don't tell the hirer that you can, well, it's the round file for you. It's easier if you make a master resume first, then cut and paste each time you need one.

So yesterday, I went fishing. I sent out three different resumes, to three different places. One for a writing job, one for a linguist job, and one to a job board. Let's see if I get any nibbles.

Oh... I also got a bunch of nice comments and new connections over on LinkedIn. So, thanks for that. You can comment here, too, if you want. But anywhere you want to comment, thanks for stopping by, and come back again soon!

But not tomorrow. I'm taking the weekend. Today's my 18th anniversary, and I've got plans.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What you know, or who you know? Both!

If you're not in the military, and haven't been, but you have been watching the news lately, you might be surprised to learn that the US armed forces don't just pat you on the back and wave you out the door when your service ends. There's actually a rather robust (some might say intrusive) series of classes that are given -- some optional, some mandatory -- to help prepare us for life in the free-for-all world of civilian life. We get counseling on how to prepare a budget, how to look for life insurance, and all sorts of other things.

But for us, the best part was the employment seminar. When we first heard of this, it was explained as, "well, they'll help you write a resume, and show you how to contact job banks, and that sort of thing."

Oh, no. That description does this seminar the gravest of injustices. Yes, we learned about resumes. Remember, we've been in the military, many of us for all of our adult lives. We've never had to so much as read a resume, let alone write one. But there was so much more. We learned about veterans' preferences. We learned about how to talk like a civilian, not like an Airman in civilian clothes. And yes, we learned about job banks, and veteran's assistance bureaus, and how to get a leg up when applying for a federal job.

But the two most valuable things we learned were these two (apparently contradictory) things:

  • It really is as much "who you know" as "what you know"
  • If you don't know "what you know," it doesn't matter "who you know."
So how do we resolve this? This is where Bill comes in. 

Bill Warren is a Transition Facilitator, contracted by the US Department of Labor to run employment workshops for the US military. He proclaims that this is his dream job, and sitting in the room with him for three days, I have no reason to doubt it. 

The first question Bill asked us was, "How many of you have a LinkedIn account?" He went on to explain, with data, charts, and graphs, that most employment decisions were made because someone knew the applicant. Referrals work because the company has already vetted you - through your contact. It might not be a deep investigation, but it's enough to make the difference.

He also told us that just the size of our LinkedIn network can be a factor. If a company wants a sales rep, don't you think they're going to want someone with contacts? Of course they are.

Now, there are lots of websites out there that will tell you how best to use LinkedIn, and I'll leave it to you to find the one that fits with your particular job search. But Susie and I spent a couple of hours that night refining our LinkedIn profiles. (Want to see mine? There's a link to it over on the right!) I looked at my tiny 12-person network, and started adding. All my coworkers. All my friends. Everyone I knew on Facebook. People I hadn't spoken to in years. (Side benefit: I got in touch with some old friends!) And my network grew. It's only about 100 or so now, but it's getting bigger. I'm connected to everyone that my connections are connected to. And I joined groups. I posted some things in the groups. And I found out that LinkedIn works. And that's ME talking, not Bill. I'll explain in a moment.

The second bullet above may seem, well, philosophical, but bear with me. I've spent 20 years in the Air Force. I've been a Cryptologic Linguist (by one name or another) the entire time. That means the Air Force pays me to learn and speak foreign languages, to use that skill to analyze intelligence, and to report that intelligence to the people who need it. How the heck can I do that in the civilian world?

Back to Bill. He reminded us that everything we did was made up of other things. Report intelligence? Writing! Analyze intelligence? Critical thinking! Foreign languages? Communication! No, you can't make things up, but if you're honest, you can find relevant experience everywhere, if you know where to look.

Nearly every job I'd ever done in the Air Force could be taken apart, massaged, and turned into a set of skills appropriate to, well, jobs I'd never even considered. Not just that, but jobs that I should consider, maybe even in completely different fields. New jobs, in new areas, because if ever there were a time to make a new start, this was it.

So I took my old performance reports, and all the things listed that I'd done over the years, and "civilianized" it. I thought about the kind of work I might like to do, and decided that I'd like to write. I targeted a resume, pointing out that my skills make me a great candidate for a position as a technical writer, and posted it on a job board.

Now, for the bit about how I know LinkedIn works. Susie and I started growing our networks in earnest on Thursday.  On Monday, one of Susie's connections passed her info on. Someone else saw her profile. By Wednesday evening, Susie had been offered one independent contractor job, been given a "there's a test you  have to take but it's mostly a formality for you and we can't wait to start working with you," and there's a full time telecommuting position that's still a strong possibility.

I received an offer from one of the groups I'd posted in. An unpaid volunteer opportunity, but, as Bill says, "it gets your foot in the door!" Two other contacts each separately suggested I contact another volunteer group and offered to be references. Oh, and I had an email from a recruiter, who saw my resume on the job board and wanted to know if I was interested in a job in Georgia -- which isn't a LinkedIn story, but it's still cool.

I would never have thought to do any of this if it hadn't been for Bill. His enthusiasm for the course and the information he had to offer, and his obvious caring for us and desire to see us succeed, made the difference.

I don't work for LinkedIn, and neither does Bill. But I'm here to tell you, if you're not starting there, you're missing a trick.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Three months ago or so, my wife and I made a decision. The Air Force was offering to waive certain service commitments as an incentive for members to take an early retirement.

In my case, "early" was relative. I'd be eligible for a full 20-year retirement in January, but I'd agreed to serve a minimum of 10 extra months in order to pass on some educational benefits to my family. That extra 10-month commitment was what they were offering to waive, if I were willing to retire in August. That's well over a year earlier than we'd planned, and six months short of a full 20 years, at a relatively minor reduction in my monthly pension.

To be honest, I'd grown disenchanted with being in the Air Force of late. The reasons aren't important; I'll go so far as to say it had nothing to do with anyone I worked with or any specific work or assignment I had done. Nonetheless, I felt it was time to "punch out," as we say. I'd accomplished pretty much everything I was going to be able to, and sticking around wasn't going to get me anywhere.

So I came home at lunch, and broached it with my wife. Susie is my rock, and the steadying influence on most of my impulsive tendencies. She knew how I felt about the Air Force, and after a surprisingly brief discussion, she agreed: I should apply for retirement.

Looking back, that was, perhaps, a bit rash. We'd planned to have almost two more years to prepare; now we had about six months. We'd just returned from an overseas assignment of eight years, and bought our first home. The kids were in new schools - American schools, having been in the English school system all their lives. We didn't have jobs. We didn't even have PROSPECTS for jobs.

We were in denial. We'd been doing rather well for ourselves, but the reality was that, after factoring in the loss of special pays, housing allowances, bonus pays, money for food and clothing, a retirement paycheck that is, after all, 50% of your base pay is, in fact, at LEAST a 75% reduction in income. And that doesn't factor in the free health and life insurance I'd now have to pay for.

A military retirement check sounds generous. But really, it's enough to pay the mortgage, gas and insurance for the cars, and the military health insurance (TRICARE) that we remain eligible for. That's pretty much it.

Not food. Not gas, lights, water. Not ballet lessons or driver's ed.

We realized that we really need to find work. And fast. Fortunately, last week was a turning point for us (more on that later).

This has all happened in the last 90 days. My retirement date is 90 days away. Between now and then, my wife and I have to make sure we find work that pays AT LEAST enough to keep us, not in the style to which we've become accustomed, but in the style that keeps us fed and healthy. It's a frightening prospect... or at least, it was.

Last week, we participated in a US Department of Labor-sponsored employment seminar. The facilitator was absolutely wonderful, and we came out of the three-day course with a renewed confidence in our prospects for both the immediate and long-term future. We found skills we didn't know we had, discovered that our interests and passions could potentially provide paying work, and made networking connections that are sure to prove invaluable.

But we're not there yet. And that's what I'm writing about here. This blog is my journey. I'll share tips I've learned. I'll admit my mistakes, so you can avoid them. I'll have a thing or two to say about other job search blogs and websites. And, I hope, I'll find work.

So, all you recruiters out there, here I am. But maybe I'll find you first.