Credit where credit is due

It’s time for a round of applause for job seekers who have found success and some encouragement for those who are still on the hunt.

The situation out there is still bleak (though it’s significantly better than it was at the beginning of the year) and we  haven’t declared that we’re out of the recession nor are we sure when we will be. It’s still a little miserable out there.

But sometimes you gotta look past that and focus on the good.

This post is dedicated to a friend of mine and reader who got a job offer and graciously accepted. How did he do it? He went to a job fair, he made a connection with a recruiter, he listened to what that recruiter told him and made changes to his materials, he followed up appropriately, he struck a chord with his interviewers – and the rest is history.

So congrats to him on getting the job and congratulations to the employer on getting an outstanding employee. All around good news!

Do you know anyone who’s gotten a job recently? Give them a shout and congratulate them if you haven’t already. Looking to help people find jobs? Try connecting with JobAngels to do your part. Still looking for a job? Keep positive, try new things and remember that it only takes one yes to get where you want.

The More You Know

Today’s post comes at you in the form of a PSA-style announcement. Even if you don’t have benefits, hopefully some day you will and it just makes good sense to have some kind of awareness of what you’ll be dealing with.

For a lot of companies, this is the time of year when open enrollment strikes. I won’t get on my high horse and rant about how people typically handle it like I did last year (though I feel the same way, trust me).

With the rise in health care costs and general economic woes, there has been a heavy increase in the interest in the High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and the accompanying Health Savings Account (HSA). No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

  • HDHPs have significantly higher deductibles (as the name suggests) than traditional PPOs and HMos that you need to reach before the insurance coverage kicks in
  • Because your deductible is so high, the premium tends to be much lower than those PPOs and HMOs
  • You can put money into an HSA on a pre-tax basis that’ll help you hit that deductible and pay for other health care stuff, but whatever you don’t use will roll over from year to year, accruing interest all the while (and in some cases, you can invest it if you choose!)
  • Some employers (like mine) will contribute money to your HSA

Who does it work best for? Well, in my company, we have two core groups. The first is made up of those bullet proof 20- or 30-something singles who don’t ever have to go to the doctor. The second is the 55+ folks who are already maxing out their 401(k) and looking for another tax shelter – they can max out their HSA contribution and pay out of pocket for health expenses.

As we head toward the new year, like I mentioned, it’s generally a good idea to get more familiar with your benefits. Most non-HR people aren’t so entertained, but they do affect you directly, so it’s worth getting a little more knowledge about them.

Have any random benefit questions as we head toward the New Year? Drop me a line and I’ll be sure to answer them.

Happy benefit-ing!

Social Media and Social Good

One of the best things about social media is the power that is has to spread a message, and do it fast. There are plenty of things out there that do go viral that have are high on entertainment but have limited value – the Prince William and Kate Middleton engagement as well as the trending hashtag #thingswomendontdoanymore that was going on last night both spring to mind.

But at the same time, there is so much social good that can be done by leveraging the power of relationships and quick message sending capabilities through Facebook, Twitter, etc. Mashable actually dedicates a whole portion of its site to that very topic, encouraging its numerous followers to contribute to a better society by using the tools that they’re so devoted to.

I tried my hand at the same thing. Annie Stela, an artist that I came to know and love, asked for fans to respond to her and let her know if they wanted her to play in their city. I jumped at the opportunity and asked her to come to DC and she graciously agreed. At the same time, since she was playing for free, I turned it into a benefit concert and got involved with Citizen Effect. While we were enjoying the awesome music, we were also helping HIV-affected youth in Rwanda get a secondary education. Pretty sweet, right?

Well we’re not done yet. I’m using this post as a plea for you to help me complete the project. Take a look at my project page where you can learn more about the project and check out the video we took of Annie playing her heart out. If you can, make a contribution and help us reach our goal of $250. We’re so close, but we just need your help, and anything you can do will really help the kids in Rwanda.

That’s the power of social media for ya! Let’s make it happen!

Milestones

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I teach my students as a latin dance coach and how that applies to learning about my own career.

This past weekend, there was a big competition and I was pleased to see how my students did. They didn’t make the final, but the level of improvement that I saw was noticeable and was, frankly, brilliant.

I told a few couples the same thing. This isn’t the end. You can see how far you’ve come from the beginning and you can track your progress up until now. This is a milestone on what will hopefully be a long career. You’ll be able to reflect on this later, but you’re still working toward something coming down the road.

The same applies to you in your professional career. Regardless of where you are now, job seeking or not, happy in what you do or just seeing your job as nothing more than something that pays the bills, entry level or senior management, this isn’t it. We get really wrapped up in knowing where we are right now (and for those of you who are unemployed, I appreciate why that’s more true for you), but we tend to forget that it’s the collection of milestones – the journey, if you will – that makes a career. It’s how you work to shape the journey that matters.

As we get close to the end of the year, and as we approach performance review season for those of you that have that kind of system in place, reflect on that and consider your milestones and what kind of milestones you expect and hope for in the future. It’s a pretty personal topic, so I won’t force anyone, but if you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.

Agree to…agree.

I spoke on a panel for social media trends as part of the NAIOP Northern Virginia Developing Leaders program yesterday. It was a great experience and I was thrilled to be asked.

The other three panelists and I come at social media from very different angles. I, of course, got the privilege of talking about social media from the combined HR and employee communications side. Erin Orr looks at it with a blended communications and marketing eye. Tim Klabunde admitted that he is a pure marketer. And Tim Hughes views social media through the lens of his legal background. And despite the variance, we agreed on a couple of things as we shared our stories:

  1. It’s all about relationship building. The whole point of getting online is to engage with people. We sounded like broken records with this one.
  2. Social media platforms are tools to help us with our day to day efforts. And since our efforts are typically dedicated to finding new work or new talent or new media sources, depending on your role, that usually involves building relationships (see #1), so use these tools to help those efforts.
  3. While there isn’t a one size fits all strategy that applies to social media, social media is something that can greatly impact the way in which we all do business. We’re big fans of applying it to businesses large and small, to companies that are public or private.
  4. Time is a the enemy up front. It does require the strategic decision to invest in social media up front. Ultimately, the payoff is going to be great – and all of us have seen some of that payoff already.

While we all agree, our different perspectives can guide us in so many directions. Because these are just tools in our toolbox (see #2), they open up different doors that we can choose to walk through at any given time. My focus doesn’t have to match that of my fellow panelists, but I can still sit with them and talk about the advantages that social media will provide for my company. In fact, it’s this holistic approach across disciplines that gives the bigger picture of what social media can do. I think that message started to sink in for some of these folks.

What a win for social media, eh?

Do creative types really need their own resume guide?

Editor’s note: I made some minor edits from the original post. Thanks to keen eyes for noting my initial proofreading failure. The content is the same, but the spelling and grammar edits have been corrected.

I got a tip from Bryant Turnage (aka @turnageb), one of my awesome readers, about a resume guide for creative professionals put together by Derek Leavitt, an architect. While resumes are typically textual in nature, this guide makes the point that designers are significantly more visual in the work that they do, so their applications should reflect that.

Working as an HR guy for an architecture firm, this was right up my alley.

For those of you who aren’t in creative professions, don’t worry, this actually applies to you just the same. You may not have the expectation to build in imagery (and if you’re a lawyer or an accountant, for example, it’s probably discouraged), but many of the principles are universal.

I’m on board with the philosophy. There are no “must have” things for your resume, no key phrasing or imagery that will automatically signify that you’ll get the job. But honestly, there are no limits. Often times, you should break “the rules” and try something different. One small change: you should be trying to be bold and different AND creating something of enormous value – it’s not easy, but when you do it right, you’ll speak to employers on two levels.

Moving on to format, I’m in more of a disagreement mode. Yes, please add imagery to your standard resume. Nothing’s bores me more than seeing the Microsoft Word template replaced with your name and job history. But please DON’T send me a print resume booklet. We’re desperately trying to go paperless (sustainability, anyone?) and keep better track of our candidates to be able to call on people well after they apply when we have an opening. If you send me a resume shaped like an origami crane, as beautiful as that may be, I can’t possibly store it anywhere. What I’ll do is take the key information and log it into my database and then throw it out. No, I won’t feel guilty about it – my desk is cluttered enough as it is.

To the next point, go ahead and put your website and YouTube videos together, but make that a supplement to and NOT a replacement for the standard resume. That one’s actually to help hiring managers. I’ll do my research based on what you give me, but I have a hard time convincing those folks to do multiple clicks for the sake of a candidate.

As far as content goes, this is actually pretty awesome. Less is definitely more. Be personal and tell me about yourself. I’ll add that I want to know who you are and why you want to work with us (and not just how awesome you may be). And the last one is the kicker: show off your business skills. Even designers have to have them, so don’t ignore that. 

One change: I don’t want a picture of you on your resume. The ones that come with photos are, honestly, a bit creepy. And more seriously, photos can potentially lead hiring managers to make decisions based solely on what they see, which is a clear violation of Equal Employment Opportunity laws. You’re better off not dealing with that and helping employers reduce liability.

And here’s where I lose it. Don’t do anything on this Delivery page. At all. If you want a job, don’t ask for an informational interview – that’s a waste of everyone’s time and I promise you I won’t hire you if you lie and disturb my employees because of that. As for submitting materials, most places have a process written on their website for applying. If we wanted something else, we would have that up instead. Not following the rules is just going to annoy whoever is supposed to receive your resume. And definitely don’t stop by to ask what to do. That’s just not necessary. Don’t you dare give me a call after you’ve submitted your resume. It’s one of my goals to write everyone back, so I do, but I understand that I’m in the minority – not everyone has the time. So if that’s the case, calling to ask if your application was received and what the next step is certainly not going to make people happy to talk to you.

So while this does have specific tools for you as a creative professional, ultimately, you’re in the same boat as everyone else. You do have expectations related to your imagery, but as far as philosophy, format, content and delivery go, it’s no different for you. I’ll repeat, gimmicks don’t work. If you’re the best candidate, prove it on your application. Plain and simple. What you should really be focusing on is building the relationships in advance and then developing a position in conjunction with HR and hiring managers. If you do that, all of this stuff becomes significantly less important, doesn’t it?

YOU be the judge.

In my previous post about finding a job through significant persistence, I wrote about my experience as a ballroom dance judge. There are so many people out on the floor that sometimes some of them can get lost. Sometimes, this happens to applicants as well, but it’s not a reason to despair.

In response, the awesome Matt Hawk asked this in the comments:

Mike, as a ballroom dance judge you mentioned you were unable to notice all the dancers. I’m sure it wasn’t a day-glo orange safety vest, but how did you use that knowledge to become more noticable when you did go back to the dance floor? Crisper steps, higher kicks, brighter outfits?

What tactical advice would you give a job seeker? Paper weight/color? Font? Language style? I’d be curious to hear.

Equipped with the knowledge of what a judge is doing and looking for, I made almost no alterations to my practice habits. Sure, I continued working with my partner, improving my technique and enhancing my presentation like I had already been doing, but beyond that, I didn’t make any changes. What’s the alternative? Positioning myself directly in front of judgse so they have to see me? Well, that actually guarantees I won’t be picked. Get a flashier outfit that calls attention to me right away? I’ll admit that my costume is flashy enough as it is (yes, there are rhinestones) that too much more would be tasteless and would turn judges off. The moral here is that gimmicks don’t work.

What did differ was my mental state. Knowing that my dancing would shine though if it was good enough and that the only thing I could do was to dance my best, I stopped feeling like I had to force the issue to be seen and simply danced my heart out while having a good time – I stopped caring about the judges and focused more on what I was doing. In others, I instilled a level of confidence in myself that I didn’t have before.

And that is exactly what I would suggest to job seekers out there. Make your work your best. Show off who you are in the best way possible. Be proud of the work that you’re putting out there. But be sure you put down who you actually are and not who you think someone else wants you to be. No, you won’t get picked every time – I certainly didn’t get called back for every round – but when you do, it will be for the right reasons, because that employer is interested in meeting the candidate represented by the piece of paper.

I recognize that it seems like I’m telling you to do nothing. No, don’t change the font size or the weight of the paper (though there shouldn’t be a paper weight since you should be using e-mail nowadays anyway…). Again, gimmicks don’t work (and you don’t want to work for an employer who responds to gimmicks anyway because that means that the employer only responds to neediness and cries for attention).

What I am suggesting is that you change your state of mind – express your passion for the things that you want. Don’t hesitate to let loose and be honest about who you are (within reason, of course) and what you’re looking for. Employers will respond to it eventually, you just have to give it some time.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?