Archive for June 2009

The ‘UN-COVER’ Letter

June 30, 2009

I love my local bookstore. Walking down each aisle, I look at one book after another, usually only stopping to review those books that catch my eye, either because of the title or because of the cover picture or a graphic that piques my interest.

While there are certain books I seek out, because of my own interests based on subject matter important to me, all the books I walk past have the potential to wind up in my library.

There is no such thing as a quick trip to the bookstore for me.

Once a book calls to me from the shelf to the extent that I stop to look closer, it has only one chance at securing its place on one of my bookshelves. And that one chance is determined by how I feel about it after reading the synopsis on the cover.

This may seem a little short-sighted to some of you. And admittedly, I have probably put back many a good book based on this method, but I gave those books the same opportunity as the ones I did take home. It’s not my fault they didn’t pull me in. I wanted to like them or I never would have picked them up in the first place. They simply did not give me enough information, or the right kind of information to deserve the time commitment I must make to complete the entire tome.

So it is with the cover letter, or the ‘un-cover’ letter, more aptly.

A busy manager looking to fill a post in his organization will have to sift through many resumes in his search for the right candidate. So that cover letter better stop him in his tracks or there is a good chance the resume will remain on the shelf, eventually finding its way to the bargain bin, and ultimately to the trash bin.

It should uncover some of what waits for the reader inside, clearly and concisely crafted to beg the manager to look a little deeper, bidding his attention to the point where he has no choice but to “buy in.” This sheet of paper will be your first impression, and you know what they say about first impressions.

So if you wouldn’t buy the book your cover letter is attached to, don’t be surprised if it continues to collect dust on the shelf.

‘STEEL’ YOUR CAREER

June 23, 2009

“Steel is an alloy consisting mostly of iron, with a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.14% by weight (C: 110 – 10Fe), depending on grade,” according to Wikipedia’s definition.

Steel begins its life as iron ore. Once the ore is mined, oxygen is removed, and the ore is combined with a preferred chemical partner such as carbon.

This process is known as smelting.

I’m sharing this information with you because of the car that sat in front of me at the bank window recently.

The car itself wasn’t very old, and already the back end had been caved in by, either, a tailgater who wanted to find out how much of his own car would fit in the backseat of this one, or the inadvertent chance meeting with “tree-that-appears-out of-nowhere-while-I-was-in-reverse-looking-out-of-my-back-window-rearview-mirror-and-both-side-rearview-mirrors-all-at-the-same-time-an-aircraft-ground-traffic-flagman-was-guiding-me-out-of-my-driveway” tree. You know the one.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the steel that had been exposed by the paint and primer that had been chipped away during the accident, was already beginning to rust.

So, here you have a product that is used for everything from bed frames to space shuttle parts because of its strength and ability to be molded into so many different shapes and sizes. A material so vital and so flexible that without it I would have to say we would have few if any of the products that we take for granted on a daily basis. Bridges that take us across great chasms, automobiles that get us from point A to point B in relative comfort and speed, the machinery that protects our nation, the cutlery we use to feed ourselves, and the list goes on and on.

Yet, without a layer of primer, the air itself will destroy this amazing discovery. And of course a paint color of your choice aids in protecting as well as giving the steel-made product an appeal unmatched by, say, painted plastic.

How like our own career paths steel is.

First, our careers must be mined from the schools and institutes of learning we participate in. In those places, our career is but raw ore; it sits below the surface of our desires and aspirations waiting to be unearthed and brought to the surface through our dedication of searching the correct location.

Once it sees the light of day, we begin the process of purifying this treasure. Much in the same way ore must be rid of oxygen, we must rid ourselves of bad habits or thought processes that prevent us from achieving that which we so desperately dug for to begin with.

Now, fast forward a few years, you stand a newly minted whatever. Diploma in hand, you begin your job search. You are as strong as you will ever be, you think. You are a brand new sheet of steel, and the molding process is about to begin. What shape will you take as you go forward?

You enter your career field and this is where you really begin to take on your new shape. You’re expertly molded into what you have worked so hard to become. Once that shape is fully realized, a coat of primer is added protecting you against the harsh elements that can sometimes be found in the workplace.

A few more years and promotions and now the paint has been added making you attractive to not only your present employer, but those at other firms take notice as well.

This is the place where, like a great coat of wax, your resume adds just the right amount of gleam to showcase what you have become.

Your career is still that strong piece of steel, the primer added during your developmental stage is still holding and protecting, and the paint still looks good. But oh, what a wax job would do.

Wax, like a good resume has the ability to showcase, in brilliant vibrancy, that which already exists, but may be somewhat subdued by paint that may have lost some of its original sheen.

THE ROLE OF CAREER STRATEGY IN REPAIRING JOB-SEARCH BREAKDOWN

June 5, 2009

My husband and I launched a new hobby last year: sailing. If anyone reading this article knows about sailing, they know that the lifestyle is replete with challenges. Our most recent (and current) challenge has been the breakdown of our boat’s motor, critical to getting in and out of the harbor. It recently occurred to me that the mystery of how to repair the sailboat motor might resonate with job seekers, and thus also my esteemed career strategy colleagues, as you manage the fears, anxieties and frustrations of your job seeker clients.

Job Search Often Requires Hours of Mind-stumping Retooling

Often, prospective resume and job search clients approach me in an aggravated mode, having spent days, weeks or months in what feels like wheel-spinning motion, feeling their job-search strategy is broken. My husband and I have been battling the broken-motor problem since the end of last sailing season, but most heartily since March of this year, when we were able to de-winterize the boat and begin retooling various parts: carburetor, distributor, fuel tank, etc. Each time my husband retooled a part (often, after hours of back-aching work spent stooped over the engine), he looked at me hopefully, turned the key and kerplunk, it didn’t fix the problem.

As with fixing a persnickety engine, job search often requires hours of mind-stumping retooling only to find, hours or days into the execution, that the job search strategy still won’t turn over a new job interview or job or at the least, it won’t stimulate an effective job lead. Instead, it feels to the job seeker he is investing time and resources into a black hole.

Modeling my job seeker clients, my husband and I have tapped various professional resources to try to get our boat engine running again. As when career bumps detract from once thriving careers, our boat engine’s demise stalled our sailing life, all at once making us feel stranded on our dock.  So we called upon service experts specializing in just the type of motor we have (Atomic 4, fuel engine), paid for new parts and advice, tapped our local marina’s service department aspiring for an appointment with a master mechanic (is a waiting-in-line issue during this busy boating season; plus, we have a specialized engine versus the more-common motorboats that Midwest marina mechanics tend to prefer working on). Still, after all this, the engine is fettered with what seems to be a systemic mechanical issue.

We feel we have thrown money and time upon more money and time only to find the problem to be amorphous and unending. Our patience wears thin.

This process has further upped my empathy for job search clients intent upon navigating the winds of a stormy job-search climate, where effectively communicating their value proposition, ferreting out their unique personal brand, planning the perfect networking strategy, appropriately and impactfully networking … and so forth unceasingly fill their job-search prep and execution lifestyle, often with what appears to be little positive result.

What I Tell My Job Search Clients to Quell Frustration:  Reason to Hope

As a result of my motor-boat problem, some solutions and tips that I have gleaned for my job-search clients and prospects, follow:

  1. Don’t give up. As for my husband and me, our boat motor will either get fixed … or it won’t. Either way, we will not quit sailing. For example, recently, we adapted our harbor exit and reenter process to allow us to sail a full day in 85+ degree, sunny weather, exceeding our earlier expectations, when consumed by our broken motor. Similarly, in a job search, you may need to circumvent what’s blocking your progress and find another way to get into the job-interview harbor. If that means that you are going against the grain a bit of what mechanically feels like the right fix for the problem, take the risk and just do it (don’t dwell).
  2. While you are trying new tactics and strategies to get the wind in your job search sails, as you are opening new channels in which to sail through to an interview, also be thoughtfully planning new ways to fix that broken job-search engine for the long-haul. This plan may include better, ongoing job-search maintenance as well as investing yourself in niche experts that really know their stuff — though you may be an expert in your career profession; e.g., project management, finance, sales, marketing, technology, human resources, operations, etc., you likely will never be a job-search expert unless you become a full-time, trained professional career strategist.
  3. When immersed in the problem to the point of being emotionally wrung, unplug. Find a smile, find laughter, step away! Come back later refreshed and renewed. It WILL pay off in the long run. You will either find a whole new way to address the same problem, or you will deflect the problem, and plot an entirely new job-search course to navigate the choppy career waters.
  4. Invest in yourself in a meaningful way. Don’t just throw good money after bad in job-search services. For example, if you are hunting down a great resume service to partner with, be bold; be prudent, be hopeful. Spending $200 for a value-proposition-focused career document probably won’t cut it! This dynamic document is intimate, detailed and tailored and is your public relations voice. Don’t shortchange it, as the repercussions will put your search right back into choppy waters or beach your job-search boat entirely.
  5. Does all this sound specific, but at the same time, a bit vague? Yes! But as in all of life, job search (as well as sailboat maintenance) is an art that is fluid, creative, pragmatic, results-oriented and risky. This risk is not without rewards: Just keep on tacking, adjusting your sails, finding new wind, plotting and adjusting your course to ensure you navigate toward the rewards, which, over the long haul, most definitely will outweigh the risks.

Originally published in Career Alliance Connection, Career Management Alliance’s member newsletter.