Posted by: wendywerner | May 14, 2014

The Narrowing of Job Descriptions

One of the side effects of the recession has been the narrowing of job descriptions. Employers, aware that there are many skilled employees searching for jobs, have written job descriptions that ask for a skill set both more broad and also more focused than most candidates would be expected to have. It is one of the reasons that employers say that they can’t find ‘qualified’ people.

Most jobs require a certain amount of training – and this is also an area that experienced a drop off over the past five years. What is a candidate to do?

Candidates must understand that job descriptions are written for the ‘ideal’ or perhaps unattainable candidate. Employers hire people, not descriptions. Your ability to find out more about the job and access the inside track of people already inside the organization will have a significant impact on your ability to land a job.

While most job descriptions are written for the ideal – your job is to try to learn about the essential functions of the job. What are the most important skills and background that the employer is looking for? If you are able to talk with insiders – it is likely they can share more about what matters most; and what is necessary to win the job. So rather than being discouraged, mine your contacts to find someone who can tell you what is really essential; and see if they can help you get a face to face meeting.

When you start looking for a new position, there is no doubt that one of your primary reasons is that you would like to find a job more suited to your skills, interests and long term career goals than your current role.  While it only makes sense to have your own best interests in mind as you begin this very time consuming task – when it comes to making contact with an employer remember that it is all about them.

One of the biggest mistakes that candidates make when they write cover letters to prospective employers is to tell the employer why the job would be good for them.  While this may be the case, as soon as you enter the candidate phase of a job search, all of the best interest needs to be directed to the needs of the employer.  Specifically, you want to be able to tell them the ways in which you can help meet their needs, serve their clients, and/or increase their bottom line.

To that end, if you are sending a resume and cover letter to an employer on-line, or through an email application, make sure that you make it as easy as possible for the employer to save your documents.  Sending a resume titled “2013 Version 2” may help you keep track of the document, but it does little for the employer who doesn’t really want to rename your resume.  So send it in FirstNameLastNameResume format.  The same goes for your cover letter.

The same advice continues when you get to the interview stage.  While it is fine to know that you will further develop your skill set on the job; what the employer wants to know is what you can do for them now.  So pull together all of your stories of past successes that could apply to your prospective employer’s position.  Until you get to the offer phase and salary negotiation stage of the process – it is really all about them.

Posted by: wendywerner | June 6, 2013

Resume to follow

Many people in the job search process today are concerned primarily with how their resume looks as they get started looking for a position. I agree – it is important, but if I have learned anything through this economic downturn it is that face-to-face contact, and getting in front of people is still (and always has been) the best way to conduct a job search.

I hear constant concerns about how the job search has become all about posting resumes to employer sites, but I while I know that you have to follow the ‘rules’ of the employer, in the end you can often backload that process once you have found out more about the position through a process of learning about the organization.  If you spend more time building your network you may find that a position that you thought you were interested in isn’t a good fit, and one that you hadn’t considered at all might be something that makes more sense for your background and experience.  And once you have entered into the process, you want to continue to be an active participant in your own candidacy.

I heard a terrific story last week from a job hunter that illustrates how much that can be gained by engaging your allies in the search process. It was a highly sought after position. This candidate made the cut to the top five and then was told she was no longer being considered. Rather than accepting the rejection – she rallied her supporters and had them contact the employer on her behalf. And yes, she was put back into consideration. And yes she was subsequently hired. There is nothing that you can do in a pure internet job search that would create such an outcome.

Part of the reason this candidate was able to get back into consideration is because of what she had learned about the job during the interview process and while meeting with her network throughout the process.  And it was also because of her robust network that she had people who were both able and willing to call on her behalf.  It was a bold move – and it paid off.   So as you get started remember to engage those who can be of assistance – and use your resume to follow.

Posted by: wendywerner | March 23, 2011

Times New Roman retires

For many years I have recommended that people use a font other than the Microsoft default Times New Roman to create a resume.  Most people are reading resumes on line these days and you would be hard pressed to find a website that uses Times New Roman as their default website font.  It just doesn’t look that good on the screen.  The little additions to the tops and bottoms of letters on Times are called serifs.  Evidently serifs are useful when reading significant amounts of text.  They supposedly help keep our eyes from tiring if we are going to be reading a lot.  But when it comes to a resume, I have always encouraged people to use a sans serif font – one without those letter additions.  Microsoft has helped make that persuasion easier, I hope.  Word 2007 debuted with Calibri, not Times New Roman as the default font, and that is also the case for Outlook.    While I like Calibri a lot (okay, I’m kind of a font geek) Ariel is also a nice resume font. It’s narrow so you can fit more words on the page without crowding.  Verdana and Tahoma are also attractive resume fonts.  If you aren’t sure what to use, try out a variety and see what looks attractive to you on screen, and also in print form.  When it comes to having an interview your resume will appear in hard copy form and you want to make sure it looks good to you in that format as well.  While your resume won’t get you a job – it can be a key element in getting to the interview phase and you want it to look polished and professional.  So I consider Times New Roman retired.

Posted by: wendywerner | March 16, 2011

Get Linked

While there are 500 million users on Facebook, and only 90 million on LinkedIn, it is much more likely to get you to a job than its more social counterpart.  Today I recommended a recent college graduate use it to start building a professional network.  If you have an account, it is likely that it is the first thing that will show up when someone looks for you on Google. 

Take the time to create a complete profile, including adding a photograph. When you are trying to reconnect with college or professional contacts from long ago, the visual representation helps jog people’s memories.  Your profile can also become your on-line resume, so think about it in those terms.  In addition, you can add groups of which you are a member, and seek and offer recommendations to others.  It can help build credibility. 

But the amazing part about it is the  “Kevin Bacon” like degrees of separation that you will soon discover as you populate your account.  It doesn’t take long to be secondarily connected to literally thousands of people.  If you are looking for a job, a new client, or a referral, the robustness of the site will become clear.  I have heard stories of people going to a networking lunch armed with the names of five of their friends’ LinkedIn contacts to learn more about them, and possibly get a referral.  It is a much better way to ask for assistance than going to a meeting and simply asking for referrals.  It helps the other person to really be of assistance.

Posted by: wendywerner | December 4, 2009

Accentuate the Positive

I have more and more come to believe that work performance is enhanced by positive feedback, rather than corrective or negative feedback.  This morning I heard that perspective reinforced on NPR by the TCU football coach.  While I would hardly call myself a sports fan, the team (the Horned Frogs and I’m not kidding)  has had an undefeated season and some impressive wins over much larger schools including a big win over Utah. They are ranked #4 in the country.  Gary Patterson, the coach, indicated that it was his change in attitude – toward the positive – that has made the difference.   Watchers believe that Patterson has a knack for spotting talent overlooked by bigger schools and turns them into great players.  He says he came to understand that his negativity was about him, not the players.  He believes that his change in attitude – toward what they have to do rather than their possible downfalls has turned them from also rans into a successful team.

I think this is a story that can translate effectively to all other kinds of work.  Despite the many books written about spotting good performance and rewarding it (remember The One Minute Manager?) I think we still spend too much time in the workplace trying to catch people making mistakes and correcting them.   When you think about your interactions with your supervisor (or your subordinates) how much time do you or they spend trying to reinforce strengths as opposed to correcting weaknesses? 

It might be an interesting experiment to put yourself on a critique diet for a week.  When you are tempted to ask an employee to do something differently, or critique their performance – don’t.  Instead spend as much energy as you can for that week on finding things that your employee/s do well.   Then observe the impact on employee morale and performance at the end of the week.

This kind of behavior can be even a greater challenge for lawyers. Many have told me, “My people know they’re doing well if I’m not yelling at them.”  Imagine their surprise if you walked into an office and reinforced something that they had done well during the week – no matter how small. 

Another lesson of the coach story was about spotting talent.  It is a difficult skill to cultivate but I think it can be done.  The problem is often that people don’t really know what they are looking for in an employee, and lots of people end up chasing the same few potential employees.  Despite concrete evidence to the contrary, lots of Fortune 500 companies are often chasing the same CEO candidates.  The Jim Collins book, “Good to Great” studied the performance of a group of stellar companies.  None of them had well-known, publicity oriented CEO’s.  Yet we still operate in the cult of the Jack Welch executive.  So when you go out looking for employees, what is your gift for finding overlooked talent that can help your organization rise to the top?  It’s an interesting question.

Posted by: wendywerner | October 23, 2009

The Benefits of Socializing

Yesterday I had a greater than usual number of social events to attend; including two receptions.  Both events, one held at a bank, and another at a law firm were extremely well attended and were notable for how long people stayed and how engaged everyone seemed to be with one another.  Today I talked to one of the members of one of the hosting organizations, and she reported that guests were still hanging around at her business at 9:00 for a reception that had started at 5:00. 

What struck me is how hungry people are to get out and talk to business colleagues, and to meet new people.  Many people that I talk to these days are feeling very ‘hunkered down’ at work.   Entrepreneurs that I talk to are concerned about the impact of the economy on their businesses, and many lawyers that I talk to – even if they aren’t billing the whole time they are at work are afraid to be out of the office in case they might not be seen as serious enough about their work.  In general people seem pretty down trodden by this economy, and  going out to a happy hour might seem frivolous.  But showing up at an open house at a client location – or somewhere where you might meet others – that seems like a different thing altogether.

The other thing that I noticed at last night’s events was a general sense of generosity on display between parties meeting each other for the first time, or people running into old friends.  There seemed to be a strong interest  between parties for what others might be going through, and I noticed more of the exchange of business cards and professional information than I might have seen a few years ago.  People looked to be happy to be out and with each other. 

The timing was good too.  In general it seems that holiday events are jammed in with so many obligations that people make a token appearance and get on with the rest of their activities.  But these events came during a time of relative quiet.  The message to me was to get out more.  It was good to see some people that I run into fairly infrequently, and to meet some new folks.  And it never hurts to have a good time.

Posted by: wendywerner | October 23, 2009

Welcome

After several years of encouragement from such blogging luminaries as Dennis Kennedy and Jim Calloway I have decided to join the ranks of those who write in this format on a regular basis.  While my primary musings are likely to be about law practice management, and career development for lawyers and other professionals, I am likely to digress into other areas of interest – including photography, travel, and dining.

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