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"And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."
   — T.S. Eliot

Tips, techniques and teachings on the job search from the facilitator of the Marketing Professionals Network.

Marketing Professionals Network

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Why Some People Don’t Follow Up on Networking Contacts When They Know It’s in Their Best Interest

At our last meeting, we discussed why some people don’t follow up on their contacts — even good quality networking contacts.  During the course of our meeting, some explanations came to light Here are some of them plus a few I added on for good measure…

•      Fear of rejection: Even though someone has referred you to a good contact, you still hesitate. Why? Because of that innate fear of rejection that we all have buried down deep somewhere. One way to get around this is that after you make a couple of calls that go well, pick up the phone right away without thinking and call that person you were putting off calling.

•      Self-doubt: Roz Chast, the famed and quirky cartoonist for The New Yorker, probably expresses our sense of self-doubt better than anyone I’ve seen. Go take a look at some of her cartoons and you’ll realize just how wracked with self-doubt we all can be. Perhaps you’ll then realize how absurd or wildly magnified your self-doubt can be and then follow through as planned.

•     An a priori sense of failure: Some people can sit at their desk, look into the future as if it’s a deep, dark hole and see that they will fail…without a doubt. So why bother calling at all? Besides some meds, the best way to defeat this is to talk to yourself; chant your mantra; stand in the “champions” posture…and then just do it! If it’s going to end up all bad, it won’t hurt to call, now, will it!

•      ADD/ADHD: That magic acronym upon which one can blame all sorts of failings including following through on commitments to connect with someone. If you’ve got it in spades, it’s something you have to live with and work around; if you’ve got it in small doses, you can overcome it by constant effort and persistence. Just don’t go dealing your Ritalin to high school kids!

•      Inertia/Depression: These are tough to overcome, especially in the dark months of winter. So don’t put yourself down too much. A little lightbox therapy every morning, plenty of exercise, and, if necessary, one of those magic pills that are now prescribed to Americans by the boatload should help. Any little movement will help… as action begets action.

•      Rebelling at authority: Ok, someone told you to do something and you’ll be !@#$%^*! if you’ll let anyone tell you what to do. Sounds pretty adolescent doesn’t it? But I’ll bet your therapist might want to bring this up again and again until you realize that you’re sinking your own ship just to spite those infant authority figures. Not to mention the monsters in the closet. We miss you already, Maurice Sendak.

•      Analysis/Paralysis: This one is a beaut. And it’s damn hard to break. At any suggestion that one might contact someone to help them, the person immediately starts analyzing what will happen and that the contact really won’t be able to help them because after all… and on and on. They’re helpless to begin with. This is where the therapist bills get expensive. But we’ve seen people break out of this habit of obsessively negative thinking and get out and network and find a new job. You can, too.

•      The Neutral Zone: Finally, there is a far more amorphous, and far more long-lived in some cases, reason for not following through: “the neutral zone”.  The term was coined by William Bridges in his seminal book, Transitions, which was published in 1980. In it, he posits that in order to have a successful transition, you must go through three stages: first, a full ending to your past life, job, situation, etc.; second, a neutral zone in which you are locked into a space of seemingly no growth, no effort, nada; and, third, the beginning of a new life. A totally simplistic rendering of an elegant theory. But if someone suggests that you are in the neutral zone, while you are feeling down and out, take heed…and take heart. Having just come through one myself, I can promise you: you, too, will get there.

In fact, all of these reasons are just reasons: figments of our very active mental constructs. And many job seekers have overcome them and moved on. I know. I was one… and I’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds break these habits of thought. Just like you will, too.

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Keeping Commitments; Following Up with Contacts

Our Table Topic today, Are You Following Up on All of Your Job Leads and Networking Contacts? raises a key challenge that everyone faces, not just active job seekers: How do you keep your commitments? How do you manage to do what you say you will do? Not just today, this week, but time after time after time?

For some people it’s easy. It’s built into their character, their sense of time, and their need to have closure. (My wife and most members of my family were this way.) They’re driven to be sure that everything is crossed off their To Do List. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, known to many of us as the MBTI, can often indicate whether you are good at getting things done on a timely basis or not.

Which means that there are many people out there (like myself) who are not and have to work at it, day after day, to stay up with their many commitments, often well intentioned, by the way. Coincidentally, The Cynical Girl, one of my favorite bloggers, spoke to this very point in her blog post recently.* Just insert the word “commitments” for “ expectations” and this really works for our Table Topic:

“Most people don’t understand how difficult it is to meet expectations. Spouses. Partners. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Colleagues. Clients. Friends. Children. Cats. Work. Life. Internal expectations.

“It is tough to be consistent. It is tough to do the right thing when you are constrained for time. It is really tough to deliver a solid quality, product or experience when you’re stretched too thin and struggling for scarce resources.

“Which is why I always tell people that you cannot exceed expectations before you meet them. First, try to deliver on what has been promised. Then do it again. Then do it one more time. Then wow me.

“This applies to your job where you are paid to do very specific things. Please do those things. Do them well. Be happy when you meet expectations. When you get into the groove and have a consistent track record, build on your success.”

What specifically can you do? I’ll have a better sense after the input from our meeting today. However, for those who are meeting all of their commitments, keep doing it…but try not to judge too harshly those of us who struggle. For us, it’s a matter of constant work, vigilance, and then, ultimately, forgiveness of our own selves. Which doesn’t give us license to stop keeping our commitments and learning new techniques to meet them. It just means we don’t need to slash and burn our sanity when we don’t live up to our own expectations—the ones that count the most…to all of us including those who already have this under control.

* http://thecynicalgirl.com/meeting-and-exceeding-expectations/

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Is Your Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

This old chestnut, which I believe dates back to an ad for the Peace Corps from the Sixties*, still confuses me. Seriously. If my glass is half full does that mean that it’s a good thing, and if it’s half empty, does that say that I’m a bad person? Or vice versa?

Maybe I drank too much? Beer, wine, whatever. Or maybe you’ve been drinking too much of the “Kool-Aid” if you subscribe to too many of these easy solutions to hard problems.

You should be an optimist in the Warsaw Ghetto in ’43? Sure. I just heard of an incredible story of a woman who managed to escape… without her mother and her memory. But what the hell… You should be an optimist in Tibet with the heavy thumb of the Chinese government pressing down on your neck? Sure. You can always self-immolate yourself.

The Dalai Lama’s solution is to take it one breath at a time, which actually has a lot of merit to it, but since he lives a life of non-attachment, he doesn’t care whether the glass is half full or half empty. So he doesn’t count in this discussion! Sorry Dal.

Today, our MPN Table Topic revolves around the issue of optimism and its role in getting a new job. Americans want to hire people who are optimistic. Who wants a Debbie Downer in the office every day? Which is understandable.

(And how come it’s “Debbie” and not “Donnie”? Another blog…)

I have also read that studies show that pessimists are more frequently right about things. That optimists, in their cheery disregard of reality in favor of their own brand of what’s best for them, miss out on what’s really happening.

No matter. The fact is, sometimes we miss the point of optimism and pessimism. As Bruce R. of MPN said this morning, “Optimism is overrated.” And he’s right. On the other hand, the concept of visualization has grown in popularity over the past few decades and that is a different notion. The idea is that if you take time to actually visualize yourself doing something – like A-Rod hitting a home run in October or a successful business meeting in which you get the order – that it will more likely happen. Don’t ask me how… but it can’t hurt.

Ultimately, whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, as long as you handle the job search in a professional manner and present your best side – for your LinkedIn photo as well as for the hiring manager – you’ll be fine.

Maybe the worst thing about being spoon fed such platitudes as “Is the glass half empty or half full” is that if you feel you must be optimistic – and fail –you’ll feel even worse than when you started!

Why don’t you try to be yourself instead – well, maybe your best self?

Our articles for discussion today were from the NYTimes blog, “Well”:   cf. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/a-richer-life-by-seeing-the-glass-half-full/
and http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/how-to-make-optimism-work-for-you-2/

* A quick Google search suggests that the “Glass half full…” phrase goes back even further than the Peace Corps ad, most likely to the 1930s.

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Websites: Can’t Live with Them, Can’t Live without Them!

We have just launched what is, I believe, our third iteration of the MPN Website. This one was created by what looked to be a Dream Team of MPNers: those with the time and willingness to chip in with their expertise and create the website to top all websites.

That was back in December. It’s now May according to my calendar — although the infamous Mayan calendar may differ on that! Since that time, four of the six members went off to new jobs, either contract or full-time positions: Libby Dilling went over to MIT to handle the marketing chores at the MIT Sloan Fellows program; Mark Sandman went to Stratus for a highly intense and productive six months of marcom output; Audrey Lazewatsky landed in the center of the financial district doing graphic design; and Lee Bodzioch has just completed his third graphic design contract at Progress Software.

In other words, we only had Barry Tuber, our devoted, not to mention long-suffering webmaster, to hold down the fort and keep me from screwing things up too much, which he did time after time — although I did manage to slow things down considerably. So it goes…

Barry, by the way, has been quite busy in his own right as he has taken on the creation, redesign and maintenance of more and more websites, most of his work at the back end of the process: in other words, the complex task of coding and structuring sites so that they work seamlessly for the user. Fortunately, he’s about as smart as anyone I know in this business so his clients are doing well indeed.

Ultimately, though, the MPN website will be the product of you, the MPN member, and how you use it and how you suggest we can improve it… and how you interface with other MPNers. As hard as it was to bring this version online, it will be worth it if we all can live with our new website… at least until next week!

Hopefully, it will be as the saying goes: all to the good.

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Plan B: When it comes to seeking new ways of making a living, leave the contraceptives at home!

I ran a workshop recently entitled, “Plan B for Backup: What Other Options Do You Have for the Future in Terms of Your Career and Making Money?” Not a very felicitous title, but I hope you get the idea. I started by calling it simply, “Plan B”, but it was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms by a fellow career coach that Plan B was a contraceptive device, but not for job seekers.

And therein lies the problem for some job seekers as they go about trying to define a new direction. It’s easier to be naysayer to a new aspiration than it is to nurture it to life.

The process of developing a Plan B is really one of internal and external conception: coming up with ideas for new paths in life; allowing yourself the space to, as one participant put it so rightly,  “daydream” about all the ways you could make money that you had never before dared envision; and then going out and testing the waters.

But we saw in the workshop that there are those who can’t get away from the notion of contraception: all the reasons why the workshop was wrongly named and all the reasons why you can’t do this job or that one. For example, one person briefly considered working at a museum given her love of the fine arts, but she was quickly reminded that there was fierce competition for those positions and they paid poorly. So much for that hot idea; it got a quick bath of cold water and sizzled on the workshop floor.

Developing a Plan B requires not only the courage to be unbound by the past or by negative thinking, but also a willingness to enthusiastically complete the workshop activities including (1) contacting old friends and colleagues to poll them on your strengths; (2) scoring potential Plan B “survival jobs” for your degree of acceptance in doing them; and (3) taking a long hard look at your interests/passions to see which ones you could profit from now.

Let’s face it: it ain’t easy coming up with new directions for your work life and there are lots of naysayers out there who are more than happy to squelch your idea before it gets off the ground. Parents who want you to fulfill their own dreams; colleagues stuck in a rut who don’t want to see someone else fly high — don’t forget what happened to Icarus; and fellow job seekers who can’t help but project their own natural and understandable frustrations upon you.

What’s a jobseeker to do? Simple. Choose your confidants carefully; let your daydreams rise up freely as cumulous clouds on a warm summer day, and curb your inclination to share too much too early. Wait until you have something of substance going before sharing it too widely.

We also took a few minutes to review some of the Plan B “survival job” choices that previous members had opted for and here are a few that proved particularly successful as transitional experiences for those who did them: Loews Paint Department salesperson; Whole Foods Cheese Department server/expert; Audi/Porsche salesman; Best Buy computer salesman; bakery owner; paralegal; mortgage broker; personal tutor to high school students; substitute teacher; acupuncturist; Boston tour guide; Williams Sonoma retail sales person and cooking demonstrator; wine salesperson and distributor; and housepainter.

As for the workshop facilitator, I learned my lesson: next time we do the Plan B Workshop, we’ll ban the Plan B contraceptives, but nourish the Plan B conceptions for those ready for finding new types of jobs.

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Questions, Questions, Questions…

Many job seekers focus on the answers they need to deliver, but the questions you ask can be just as crucial to your chances of success —if not more so.

For example, one of our members, Jacques, went into an interview prepared with a list of questions for the interviewer. The hiring manager ushered him into his office, sat back in his chair, looked him over, and abruptly asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Jacques whipped out his list of printed questions and away they went. His list contained a few favorites that he always asked, plus others tailored just for this interview and company. The interview was deemed a success.

As for the questions, you can ask open-ended questions or closed questions. Examples…

Closed question: What time am I expected to be at work?

Open-ended question: Can you tell me a little about what the workday is like here at Crab Apple, Inc.?

The former will give you a definite answer, but not much more. The latter gives the interviewer a chance to provide more information, and, hopefully, a way for you to build on their answer.

Key point: Your questions should not only be designed to elicit information, but also to generate an active conversation between all the people at the interview.

Just the other day, another member of our group, Dustin, went to a small company where the key players, who weren’t particularly schooled in interviewing, gathered for a four on one interview. After about 15 minutes of desultory conversation, they asked him whether he had any questions, whereupon he whipped out two pages of questions and away they went. (The party had begun!)

Here are some of the questions that members suggested along with the reasoning behind their usage:

Q. Why did you bring me in today?

Great way to find out what it is they liked about you and, even more vitally, what they are looking for in a candidate. Another way to elicit a similar response is:

Q. What was it about my resume that you liked?

This might be even better because it allows you both to talk about the resume, a third party to the conversation, as it were, rather than to force early judgments of your candidacy.

Q. In six months, how will you know if you’ve chosen the right person for the job?

This gets to the real reason they are hiring. Job descriptions are too often unfocused and without clearly stated priorities. A laundry list of what they’d like, but not of what they — and the hiring manager — really need. A variation of this query is:

Q. What metrics will be used to judge my performance?

This is a great question to pose to a manager whom you think is factually oriented, someone with the classic business mentality of: “If it is not measured, it’s not manageable; and if it’s not managed, then who cares?”

Here’s a question that may get to the core of the business problems of the hiring manager – something you’ll need to know to present your accomplishments in terms that will convince them that you are the right person for the job:

Q. What keeps you up at night?

Simple, straightforward and to the point. As long as the interviewer didn’t just read the John Cheever short story, The Swimmer, and is out trying to replicate the suburban hero who swims in neighbors’ pools at night!

Oh, and at any point that you’ve been asked and then answered a question, feel free to follow up with:

Q. “Did that answer your question?”

Not only does this make sure that you understand what they are looking for, but it also allows you to be brief and to drill down only if they invite you to.

For a good question on the culture of the company:

Q. How are decisions made in the company? Top down; bottom up? Are they made collaboratively or by fiat?

The answer to this question should be taken with a grain of salt, but as long as your b.s. meter is working, you should get some valuable intel.

Near the end of the interview:

Q. Is there anything that you see or sense that would prevent us from moving forward with the process?

Or something along these lines so you can elicit and then answer — on the spot — any objections the interviewer may have. Then…

Q. What are the next steps? What’s the timeframe here? When can I get back to you to find out how things are progressing?

And, finally, don’t forget to ask for the order!

Q. I’m really interested in this job; when can I start? !!!

Enough already for today! For a great book on questions, read 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview, Second Edition, by John Kador.

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Is It Time for You to Do A LinkedIn Makeover?

In our ongoing discussion of how to use LinkedIn to find a job, we started to get into the subject of keywords, naturally — except there’s nothing natural about the process of creating your keyword list.

No, this is the domain of the database, rule-based, computer-driven abstractionists. No dirt, no plants, no sunny days, no rainy days, no DNA, no bad moods, no vicissitudes… no fuss, no muss. Just clean, clear, rational office work for knowledge workers.

One of our members took the discussion to heart and got right to work polishing her LinkedIn profile. Eve had been working as an editor, proofreader and writer for a medical advertising agency downtown for seven years. It was time she did a LinkedIn Makeover!

Here’s what she did: under the Specialties she added:

Line editing, proofreading, AMA style expert, content management, process maven, style sheet creation.

She also changed her Summary slightly to read:

Versatile and adaptable communications professional well versed in both client- and agency-side operations in the medical device diagnostics, and specialty pharmaceutical industries. Sharp-eyed editor, proofreader, and content manager. Subject experience in biomaterials, cardiology, dermatology, nutrition, orthopedics, pediatrics, oncology, ophthalmology, and wound healing.

Note the number of specific industries she’s listed above; all the better to attract candidate-hungry HR recruiters

In Eve’s case, she just used her native intelligence to fine-tune her profile, but you can go about it in a more systematic way. (Keep in mind that when we refer to a keyword, it can be a single word or a string of two or more words; e.g. “content manager”.) Here are five steps to get you started:

1) Sit down and do some thinking. What words make sense for your career? Your background? Your career? And your future? Write them down on a list.

2) Pull out descriptions of jobs from your files that you were most interested in and/or applied for and/or held. Pull out the keywords and add them to your list.

3) Now, go to Google AdWords and enter one of the keywords that seems to be the most natural one for a search. (There’s that “natural” word again! How about we say your “best guess” for a search instead?)

4) Study your Google AdWord list. You’ll find a count of both “Global Monthly Searches” and “Local Monthly” searches. Add the ones that appear most often to your list, if they’re not there already. Keep an eye out for different spellings of keywords’ you may want to salt them in somewhere down in your profile. Now, do it again with other keywords.

5) Now look at other people on LinkedIn with the same general career track as your own. See if you can find more keywords in theirs, especially from people who might work or have worded at one of your target companies.

From all of these sources you’ll have plenty or words to choose from.

Now put them in a food processor, add about two tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and blend at high speed for about 15 seconds. You should now have a list of keywords to add to your LinkedIn profile!!!

You can add the keywords in a list to your specialties section, but you also will want to be sure that they appear, or at least the key keywords appear, in your summary statement and in the detailed portion of your profile.

 

As for Eve, her polishing of her LinkedIn Profile didn’t take long to generate results. Literally, within two days she got an email from one of the top agencies in the city! They were looking for a freelance editor/ proofreader for a very busy account. The HR manager said that Eve popped right up on her LinkedIn search “because her key words were great!” She’s now got a job that fits her — and her LinkedIn profile — to a T.

Now see if the same magic that happened to Eve doesn’t happen to you soon, too!

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Steve Jobs: Change Agent for Our Time

In Monday’s MPN Meeting we viewed the second half of Steve Jobs’ memorable Stanford commencement address in 2005 and then discussed it in terms of the job search. The discussion was spirited, if not electric at times, as his speech struck a deep chord of yearning in all of us.

His mantra of “Don’t settle”, for instance, was particular nettlesome to some as they are beset by bills and family obligations — and frankly, it’s not fair to ask them not to settle if it means jeopardizing the health and futures of their family members. Others, however, have followed their hearts and intuition, as he urged, and despite protracted periods of unemployment appear to have reaped (or about to reap) the rewards of holding out.

One aspect of Jobs’s speech that doesn’t get quite as much attention is how he talks about death. He did have pancreatic cancer. Imagine sitting at your college graduation listening to this slightly hoary, if iconic, guy talking about death. Graduation is about stepping into life… isn’t it?

He said then, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Many people don’t realize that Jobs is/was a long-time Buddhist. His statements on death and your life’s work may have surprised if not darkly challenged many in the audience both at Stanford and on Monday. Yet it’s perfectly consistent with Buddhist philosophy. After all, the Buddha was supposed to have said that “death is the greatest teacher”. And, in fact, meditating on one’s death is a fairly common Bhuddist practice. So it’s only fitting that Jobs should have said and meant it too, so deeply so, that, “…Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” Just as Steve Jobs was an incredible change agent.

Now it is up to us to be challenged by his death to “ follow our hearts” and find the work that is right for us: maybe not right now, maybe not at your next job, but ultimately, to do what you must do.

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LinkedIn: Use It or Lose…Out.

Just this weekend I was talking with a senior-level recruiter in Manhattan and he happened to mention that they use LinkedIn all the time. No surprise there. But it was his matter of fact tone that got me to thinking. LinkedIn is now without a doubt, especially if you want the attention of either in-house or out-house recruiters, a key element of your search. What to do? This may be old news to many of you, but still, it’s worth repeating. Your profile should be rated at 100% by LinkedIn, as some recruiters only look at those that 100% — after all, why should they bother with the laggards?

If you see a job listing that interests you, you should immediately start tracking that company. It’s a little like the college interview process: you must show your interest in the company/college by following them/visiting the college to be taken seriously as a candidate. You should have some recommendations — how many is a matter of opinion. Just be sure to avoid reciprocal ones as it looks a little fishy.

LinkedIn is far more robust than just a list of connections though. There are groups to join where, by the by, juicy job leads may be posted. Don’t have a good target list yet? There’s a functionality to search for particular kinds of companies in your area. Use it. And, also, let everyone know you’re in the game by updating your profile with changes and/or news bits on a regular basis.

Finally, what to do about targeting your profile to a particular job opportunity? Good luck on that one. There’s no practical or easy way to do it. Like many aspects of the job search process, you can’t control everything. If you think there is no such thing as luck or chance or fate or kismet or “God’s plan” or whatever you want to call it, just ask Red Sox management this morning about that!

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Labor Day: It’s for Those Looking for Work, Too, You Know.

It’s Labor Day weekend so one’s thoughts turn naturally to the state of labor in the country, and, in particular, since this is an MPN blog post, to the state of employment in the marketing and associated industries. Is the job market up? Or down? Or in between? Hard to say, except that it sure ain’t booming, especially if you’ve been in the business long enough to be deemed either “over qualified” or “over priced”. Then again, for some MPNers, there has been some success this summer. Some have landed very sweet full-time positions, others contract jobs with the strong potential for extensions. As for the media, here’s a quick wrap-up: 1) The latest ADP National Employment Report (Aug 31, 2011) says that employment increased by 91,000 with 88,000 of those jobs created by companies with under 500 employees. [Ital added] Not too impressive, especially as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ own numbers were even flatter. As for the self-employed, the recession has treated them dismally according to Bloomberg (Sept 1, 2011): “More than 1 million self-employed Americans are no longer in business almost four years after the last recession began, as the economy constrains entrepreneurial activity and small-business job creation.” That data certainly is consistent with our experience at MPN where we’ve seen more independents — copywriters, designers, consultants, etc. — coming in out of the cold, as it were. But it’s not all bad out there. And that’s the rub. You’ve got to find your niche, be strong in that niche, and then get out and spread the word. By mouth, by email, by blog, by LinkedIn, by Twitter, but, most importantly, by as many face-to-face meetings as you can garner. So for those who have been doing the kind of hard labor it takes to find a new job this summer, we wish you an especially sunny and bright Labor Day holiday!

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