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Three Suggestions for the Unemployed

Seth Godin’s blog post today is incredibly valuable for anyone who is out of work and would like to return to earning. He gives three suggestions of high-value, attention-getting expertise you can provide:

  • Learn to sell
  • Learn to write
  • Learn to produce extraordinary video and multimedia.

 

 

You may have to do one or more of these (I do all three–sales trainer & prospecting subcontractor, copywriter & scriptwriter) as a freelancer, especially starting out, but the work is interesting, you’re making contacts, developing a reputation, and not sitting on the couch worrying.

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“I’m Looking For My First Job — What Should I Do?!”

I know it’s been awhile since my last entry, but there’s a good reason: I’ve finally been allowed to work! That’s right, my US work authorization is now approved. And what a surprise, there are people here who need writing expertise. I’ve been helping businesses in Wilmington, NC attract more potential customers to their websites or places of business. Now I’m on the tail end of a weekend, though, and have some time to pen an entry here.

So lately I’ve been encountering, online mostly, young people who are about to enter the job market. Typically, they tell me they don’t have a resume at all or that they’re proud to send out, and they don’t know what to do to find work. What I’d like to do here is share what I’m advising them to do about that. These are some of the things I wish I had been told way back when!

If you’re in high school, you’re probably looking for part time or a summer gig…maybe one that you can pick up again next year if you like. If you’ve graduated from high school but haven’t had any work experience yet, this is for you too.

First of all, it’s easy for you to get work.

Truly! Entry-level work is the simplest to be hired for. Here’s what the employer is looking for, to decide whether to hire you or not:

  • Will you show up?
  • Are you honest?
  • Can you follow directions?


The employer is trying to avoid these problems:

  • Some people will frequently call in sick, or not at all, leaving the employer in the lurch with an understaffed operation.
  • Some people will steal, money or goods or both, costing the employer.
  • Some people will cause hiccups in production, delays, lost items, and arguments because they can’t do what others want them to, and this costs the employer time and money.

That’s pretty much it. Now the fact is, many people (young and experienced) cannot say “Yes” to these things. Take stock of yourself. Can you say “Yes” to all three? If you can’t, there are positions for you and we’ll discuss them below. The one I’m especially concerned about is the third: Can you follow directions?

The reason I ask about this question is not because I think you may be stupid. In fact, you may be too smart. Some people like to figure out things on their own, and are wired to find it difficult to conform to someone else’s idea of the way something should be done. This isn’t “wrong,” or “bad”; however, you do need to know it about yourself if it is true, because taking a job where you have to follow highly-supervised, detailed operations to the letter is going to make you miserable.

Now back to all three questions. The employer looking for entry-level wage help is probably not seeking skill. They likely want simple, repetitive tasks to be done over and over the same way by friendly, accommodating employees. That’s fine and we as job hunters need to know to expect it. You may change their mind later about you, but at the start this is the pile you are lumped in with.

THE RESUME

Take those three questions and use them to drive the layout of your resume. Of course you don’t have any experience yet—that’s why you’re looking for an entry level position! They know that. So don’t let it bother you.

Writing your resume, start with your name, address, and phone number (and email address if you want). Don’t worry about a “career objective” yet. We’ll discuss that below.

Since you have had little or no work experience, put down the paper route or odd jobs you’ve done. Now we’ll answer those three questions.

In your life you have done things that exemplify “Yes” answers to those three questions employers are asking. Maybe you took band in school. Perhaps you had a 7:30AM math class you had to show up earlier than the rest of the school for. Swim team member? Did you go every second Saturday to take care of your elderly grandmother for the morning? These all tell employers that “Yes,” you will show up.

The second question, honesty, can be difficult to quantify or write something down about. Employers may take it as a given, or accept so many of their hires will turn out to be dishonest. If you have any volunteer experience, any cash handling experience—even if you’ve been given an allowance in exchange for doing chores—any tasks where you’ve been left alone in a room or facility or home that wasn’t yours or your parents’, list that here.

For the question about whether you can follow directions or not (assuming you can and are comfortable with it), think about activities you have done with others. Maybe you helped your Dad change the car oil. Do you like to cook with your Mom? Have you gone shopping with either parent, and been asked to do something like get all the dairy products and bring them back to the cart? These show that you can follow directions and work with others.

So you get this resume put together and use it. Of course it’s an entry-level resume, and once you get some experience you’ll eliminate some things and add your first job onto it. For now, though, employers are going to know you’re new to the job market, but they’ll see some things that will probably trigger some realizations about your character. Remember, it’s No Big Deal that you’re looking for your first job.

After these things, put down anything you’ve done that was out of the ordinary. Did you make a flash game for a school project? Represent your school at a spelling bee? Think here about anything that makes you distinctive…something that, when the employer meets you, will jog their memory and make them say, “Oh yeah, you’re the person who…”

Lastly, back to the “career objective” section just under your name and contact info. I wouldn’t put a title or the words “career objective” here: I suggest a sentence or two saying what kind of position you are looking for.

“Um, Jason…what am I looking for?”

THE JOB

Since this is your first job search, you’re actually in a neat position. You don’t have any experience, which means you’re a clean slate from the employer’s perspective. You don’t have anything to “unlearn,” and you don’t have any bad habits. But where do you look? As an entry-level candidate, you have the choices of Restaurant, Retail, or Office positions.

Restaurants have front of house (waiter, busboy, host/ess, runner, cashier) and back of house (dishwasher, prep cook, cook) positions. Front of house naturally deal with the public. Back of house roles often have less pressure. Restaurant people are usually quite friendly, fun to work with, and in my case have made for some friendships that have lasted decades—far longer than the time working there.

Retail operations have roles like inventory/stockperson, floor salesperson, cashier and loss prevention officer. They are often higher pressure than other positions. I have little retail experience, but have done loss prevention in high-end operations and naturally look around when I’m in stores to see how they operate. Finding one with a friendly supervisor who isn’t on a power trip (same everywhere, really) is key for your happiness.

Offices have positions such as receptionist, clerk, delivery driver, marketing assistant and others. You may be able to find some atypical roles like sample tester which puts you in a back room away from the public. Generally, the closer you are to the public, the higher the pressure but also the higher the pay.

Each of these environments will color your outlook as you get experience. The choice will also close the other doors to you—or at least make it more difficult to open them later. Generally, with three years or less of experience in one of these three environments, it will be easy for you to change from one to the other. Over that, and you will start getting typecast.

Once you’ve made up your mind which field you’d like to get into, write a line or two such as “Seeking a front of house role in a fast-paced restaurant” or “Seeking a retail sales position with a fashion-centric, well-branded store.” Now the resume is complete and you can start sending it out. When you interview, all the things you’ve written down on it are talking points, and things that will sell you to the employer because they answer “Yes” to those three questions they worry so much about.

Now what if you’re the person who said “No” earlier: “No, I don’t like to follow directions; in fact, Why Should I? I know this stuff better than anyone else and who’s to tell me how I should accomplish this?!” This isn’t because you’re arrogant, I know. It’s about competency and ability. The example that leaps to mind is a young person who programmed some cool app or game in their school class—put something together in a way nobody else ever thought of. Thinks differently and shouldn’t be stuck in a repetitive job with others.

OK. What do we do with you? Whatever it is you’re such a hotshot at, and you want to work at so badly, put that in your “career objective” spot. That’s like, “Intent on creating iPod apps that blow the minds of users!” Then you put whatever it was you did that makes you special right underneath that: your very first “experience” line item. Explain in detail. You must look different and stand out to employers.

Follow that with all the rest we discussed above. Now because you want a less restricted work environment, you’re going to have to do a little more legwork than the average first-time job hunter. You’re also going to end up with a higher pay rate, too, so stick it out. Find organizations that are doing what you want to do. Get you resume in the face of people who are looking for you, whether they have a job advertised or not. See, what makes you unique is the thing they may need so badly they’ll hire you before someone else steals you.

If you have any questions about what to do if this is your first job search, please post a comment or send me a note. I’m here to help!

Seeking killer job hunting tips for a really low investment? Check out my ebook, “Get Hired FAST!


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“Global Talent”?

“Global Talent” is a big buzz phrase these days, isn’t it? Yet the more I talk with companies, the more I find this buzz phrase only applies to the really big firms…if at all.

When you go looking for work, do you limit yourself to a small geographic area, say about a half-hour radius around your home? Many people do.

Also, almost every job interview I went to in the greater Vancouver area included questions about my living in North Vancouver (accessible only by a couple bridges and backed up a mountain range across an inlet from the rest of the region): (Strategic Pause) “…Two bridges? Are you sure you can handle that?” In Vancouver, it’s two bridges to practically anywhere else, and the single highway is terrible. Yes, I’ve had to spend about an hour each way on the road every day for my entire professional career. So what. That’s where the good opportunities are, not in my nice safe bedroom community.

I guess to other people this matters. You’re limiting your opportunities to those within a very small distance. And most employers—they’re waiting for the perfect candidate to drop in from down the block! “Oh, this guy doesn’t live in Surrey, where we are. Cross him off the list.” Isn’t this ridiculous?

My personal recent favorite was a guy looking to build an international business, connecting North Americans with Europeans for something called dental tourism…and he was expecting to find an appropriate, talented partner in his small, inland town. In fact, he wouldn’t consider anyone from outside of his little burg. Riiiight. (He’s still looking.)

How much are you limiting your opportunities by searching only within a tiny region? Are you really in the “global talent” pool?

Seeking killer job hunting tips for a really low investment? Check out my ebook, “Get Hired FAST!


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For You or Them?

When I see long, in-depth resumes (and this means three pages or more), I get worried. Why?–because at this length, the resume is more about who you are than what you can do for the employer.

To clarify: The employer, at the time of screening resumes to decide who to interview, does not care who you are.
 

All the employer cares about when they’re sifting through a pile of resumes is finding out, quickly and concisely, what you can do for them.

Juxtaposed with this is the fact that you need to stand out. You want to show them you’re different. I understand. But is telling them about your kids’ interests truly helpful at this point?

Save that stuff for the interview. That is the time to show them what a warm and wonderful individual you are. On your resume, stick to what you can do for them that makes you different.

Example:

1. I have both sales & marketing and production management experience. This makes me stand out to employers, because it means I’ll ‘get’ why and how things happen in different departments within their organization–and how to grease the wheels to ensure they happen more effectively. (If you’ll forgive a gross generalization, in all honesty my perception is this: most people think that they, in their department, work their butt off, and everyone else and especially in every other department is a lazy idiot.) That goes way up top on my resume.

2. I have an interest and training in tarot card reading. This nugget of information has, in fact (I was told so by the person who became my boss for the next four years), helped push the curiosity factor over the edge for the employer to want to meet me. Yet it does nothing to actually help my employer, so it goes at the very end of my resume–if at all.

 

Your resume is not for you.

It is for employers, to assist them in determining that you are a suitable candidate for them to meet. Employers, like everyone else, are self-interested, and want only to know what you can do for them.

Make sure the prime real estate–the top 1/3 of the first page–of your resume isn’t wasted. Keep it clear. How do you benefit them? Keep the warm and fuzzies for the bottom, or the interview.

If you want expertise to help you get started on a winning resume right now, click here.

Seeking killer job hunting tips for a really low investment? Check out my ebook, “Get Hired FAST!


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Job Hunting: The Wrong Approach

There’s something I don’t understand. Maybe it’s a product of sloppy thinking, of nobody ever taking people by the hand and explaining it. The issue is this: when the vast majority of people look for work, they get all scared, rushed, and want to take the first thing that comes along. They fall into jobs without any thought as to whether it’s a good fit for them, or if it will make them miserable, or even if in the long run this is helpful to their progression.

Why do you do this?

I don’t. I have made a long study of job hunting, the whats and whys, how things really work. I don’t understand why most people have this weak-kneed reaction and find it very frustrating to witness. Is your sole concern the money? There are plenty of jobs paying about the same amount. Do you really want to get into a situation that, a few months into, you say to yourself about: Well, I really don’t like it here, but I’m staying ‘cause I need the money…

Why do you do this?

Do you feel compelled to repeat the same bland things everyone else has listed on their resumes? How is this helpful? The only way you get an interview call is by standing out. As someone who has been a hiring manager, I simply don’t believe you when you list that you’ve got “exceptional problem solving and communication skills”. I just don’t buy it. Everyone says they have those abilities, but few actually do—and I’ll make you prove it or fail in the interview.

My approach is to define you clearly to employers so that they can quickly determine whether you’re a potential fit or not for them. Let’s say there are 30 jobs available right now in your industry and town. Using my methods, it’s true that maybe 25 employers would screen you out as not a fit. You panic when you read this. But why? You would be unhappy there. Is the lure of some money so great for you? It’s available everywhere. Now look at the flipside. The remaining 5 employers have determined that you, yes you, are most likely a really good fit for them. Because of your specific description of interests and how you will benefit them, you stand above all the other candidates. In other words, your chances of getting one of these 5 jobs is far, far greater than any other candidate’s.

So which situation would you rather have:

30 slow-moving, very diluted chances of randomly ending up on employers’ call lists, probably just to round out a pre-selected number of interviews someone said they’d do (“OK boss, I’ll interview four people, but only one is really any good for us”)?

5 fast-moving, excellent, clearly understandable chances of definitely ending up on employers’ short lists, because they want to talk to you specifically?

Me, I’ll take the 5 sniper-accurate opportunities every time—my job search will be much shorter and I’ll be a lot happier.


What have you been doing to this point with your job search? Diluting yourself down in the frightened hope of generically appealing to everything in sight—and getting left on the bench—or being super clear about who you are and what you bring to the game, and getting good chance after good chance to prove you should be on the team?

If you want expertise to help you get started right now, click here.

Seeking killer job hunting tips for a really low investment? Check out my ebook, “Get Hired FAST!


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The Importance of Clarity

I run into this kind of thing all the time when helping people with their job search (see if this sounds like anyone you know):


Me: “So, what do you do / did you do at work?”

The Other Guy: “I made sure stuff turned out. I understand business goals, and I worked with (programmers, engineers, accountants) to achieve the outcomes the client wanted.”

Me: “And that means?”

The Other Guy (TOG): “There was a (programmer, engineer, accountant) who was really good at the technical side of things, but they only had one speed: fast forward. Whatever the client asked for, this person would say sure, they could do it.”

Me: “So what did you do?”

TOG: “I was the contact between the clients and the technologists.”

Me: “So what was it that was special about what you did or how you did it?”

TOG: “I made sure the projects resulted in what the clients expected…”


As you can probably tell, this isn’t very helpful. For your job search, your resume and what you say to potential employers, you’ve got to get what it is you do clarified.

If you ever want to make above-average money, and get your job search over with quickly, you are going to have to stand out to employers. If you are unclear about what it is that you do that makes you special, you are going to be just another commodity. Commodities live and die by price. Cheapest supplier wins. Hello, low salary. You have to be unique. The key to being unique in an employer’s eyes is to be clear about what it is you have to offer.

The rest of the applicants are going to blubber and go on and on as in the above example. If you are able to communicate the key few things you do well so that the employer gets a ringingly clear picture of how you are going to benefit their organization, you’re going to stand out like crazy. And when it comes to salary discussion, you’ll have much more leverage at the negotiating table.

If you’re having trouble being able to clearly define what makes you special, get me involved today. If you want expertise to help you get started right now, click here.

Seeking killer job hunting tips for a really low investment? Check out my ebook, “Get Hired FAST!


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The Master of Incorporating Sources Into Writing

For those of you who love tales that embark on a path that leads to growth of the soul, I have a favourite in mind that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find you’ve never heard of.

This work of art was published first in 1949, and if you’re lucky you can find a copy of the Ace paperback edition that brought it back from limbo in the mid-80s. Mine is pretty tattered, the victim of being my company on several air trips, and I am darn sure it’s a replacement for one or more previous incarnations loaned out and never seen again.

The Ace edition has three forwards (three!), individually penned by Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, and Larry Niven—master writers all. The man who put this literary clockwork together knew more about myths, heroes, religions, blackguards and wretches from history than I ever will…and that’s why I’ve been reading and rereading the book every so often since I was 16 or so. I’m resisting the urge to start reading it again now, because I’m in the middle of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which — while being hilarious and brilliant itself, I have already interrupted for another turn at The Guns of August — became assigned bedtime reading as a Christmas gift.

  • Robin Hood
  • Beowulf
  • Paul Bunyan and the blue ox, Babe
  • Hamlet
  • The Green Knight
  • Zeus’ philandering
  • Fautstopheles and the Divine Comedy.

These and countless others are to be encountered, sometimes in easily recognizable form, sometimes not; poetry, wenching, duels, song-singing and battle twist their way ‘round one another as a boring, burnt-out sot (with a BA in Business Administration!) gradually finds meaning in life.

That one man could himself be so aware of all these stories, and wind them together in such an entertaining, well-written and engaging manner is…well, it’s about as rare as finding the Hope Diamond in your back yard.

Perhaps some of you don’t like ideas. Maybe, even in this Internet age, the idea of Reference Hunting has never occurred to you (I’m a guy who looks newly-encountered things up immediately) or puts you off. If so, then Silverlock by John Meyers Meyers isn’t for you. “Incomparable…Glorious,” Anderson called it. Niven exclaimed, “You’ll get drunk on Silverlock.” Pournelle labeled it “A Masterpiece.”

For a delicious instruction on how to work sources into your proposal, you can learn at the knee of the master with Meyers’ Silverlock. If you find you need help with your writing, let me know.

If you want expertise to help you get started right now, click here.


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The Power of Reframing

Reframing is a powerful perspective-changing tool with which someone takes a thing out of its expected context and forces the viewer to re-experience it as something that completely changes his or her mind about it.

Ronald Reagan did this to Jimmy Carter in 1980. President Carter was going on about something anti-Republican in that year’s debates, and Reagan busted him up on national television saying “There you go again…”

And in ’84, when a much-younger Walter Mondale was trying to make his opponent seem too old, Reagan replied that he had no intention of making an issue of the Democratic candidate’s “youth and inexperience.”

For those readers that were born after 1984, let’s take an example served up to us by director Quentin Tarantino. At the end of part one of his two-act play Kill Bill, Tarantino uses a piece of music that I’ll bet for thirty years had been laughed at as “lame” and “girlish” to thunderclap the piece to a close. It’s James Last (and oh yes, I remember James Last Does His Thing on LP from my childhood) and pan flute player Zamfir combining for “The Lonely Shepherd”, backed by a rockin’ updated bass and horn beat. Now Zamfir may have sold 40 million recordings, but did you ever hear anyone offer up one of his albums as a Saturday night suggestion?

This is the power of reframing. Millions of people who never heard of Zamfir and never would except for Tarantino’s winding of a flute-playing Bill into the mix were exposed to this music and loved it. For those of you who need to listen to it now, it’s here.

That’s the power of reframing. How can you use it to turn what was the geeky and awkward into a success? If you’re looking for ideas personalized to your situation, let me know.

If you want expertise to help you get started right now, click here.


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Quantify, Quantify, Quantify

Six years of grant applications for municipal funding of non-profit society programs crossed my desk from 2003 to 2008. Half the time somebody else would drop the ball and as chairman I’d have a last-minute assignment to complete their assessments, too. As a business administration and operations management grad, the financial and functional sections were no big deal. But here was the kicker:

  • no matter how much I liked the organization
  • no matter how good I felt the program they were offering might be
  • no matter how much they insisted their program was unique and helped people

I was held to a strict criteria of evaluation in order to determine whether funding ought to be recommended or not.

One of the major “quick checks” I had to go by was this…How many residents of the municipality were served by the program? Exactly how many?

You can do a lot of thinking about numbers like this. Such as–is $1000 that helps 100 people deal with having a stroke, or $10 per person helped, better than $8,000 to help 8 blind people have seeing-eye dogs?

But the sad truth is, I rarely arrived at this kind of question (I had written ‘dilemma’, but that’s a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives…). The fact of the matter is that the large majority of organizations seeking municipal grant support were unable to clearly or believably quantify how many people in that municipality that they actually helped with their program.

If you’re writing a proposal or a grant application, don’t go on and on with warm and fuzzies about how great you are and that you “know” you are or are going to help people. Quantify. Tell the reader, at least as an estimate, how many people you’re going to help or how much money you’re going to save or how many hours you will shave off a process. Quantify. Yes, you’re going to have to build in a feedback loop into the delivery of your program. But you should have that anyway–not just float from year to year, executive director to executive director, sometimes paying more attention and sometimes not. Quantify. You’ll see your successes grow.

If you’re having trouble quantifying how your proposal will be deemed as a success, and want to get the attention of The Powers That Be, drop me a line.