The Library

I haven’t been to the library for a while.  I was out shopping yesterday and went into a bookstore.  There were a couple books I wanted to pick up but I thought “hey, the library will loan this to you for FREE”.  In tough economic times free is good.  So I still have $40 in my wallet and now I have 4 new books.  I’m looking forward to digging in because I know they will inspire a number of blog posts.  I got a book on interview questions you can expect and how to answer them, a book on questions YOU should ask and a book on overcoming barriers to employment.

My goal is to spend more time reading over the next few weeks and less time in front of the TV and computer.  Hopefully we’ll both learn something from it.

Job Fair – the Ugly

Yesterday I talked about the Iowa State Fair.  When you go to the state fair generally it’s hot outside so you wear shorts, a short sleeved shirt and comfortable shoes.  When you go to a job fair you wear business attire that does not involve short sleeve shirts or shorts.  Comfortable shoes are a must, but they need to be dress shoes.

Ugly.  The college age kid walking around in cargo shorts, a tee-shirt and flip flops.  When he stopped by our booth I told him that we were an IT services firm, he told me he was a biology major.  Apparently the colleges aren’t teaching common sense these days.

Ugly.  The guy who wore matching dark red shirt and baggy shorts.  I’m not a fashion guy so I can’t tell you what the pattern was but it had squares in black stripes throughout.  I thought he looked like a lumberjack on vacation in the Bahamas.

Ugly.  The guy with the short sleeved dress shirt and a tie.  Have we degenerated our professional dress expectations to Dwight Schrute level?

Really ugly.  The guy who was “saggin” so low that his pockets were basically at his knees.

Proper attire at a job fair falls into one catagory, professional dress.  I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to wear a suit, but at the very least a pressed button down shirt with a tie and nice slacks for the men and a blouse / skirt and/or pants for the ladies.  Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Proper Job Fair Attire

Acceptable Career Fair Attire

Not Proper Attire

Casual

Sure, these kids are hip.  They’re cool.  They obviously follow the latest fashion trends.  They love to express their individuality.  They aren’t afraid to take chances.  They hang out in all the best clubs.  They can dance.  Their datebook is full.  They’re the best dressed kids at Rauls Velvet Room – which is the venue for this type of clothing, not a job fair.

casual2

Which leads to me to other important first impression issues.   Take it easy on the perfume / cologne.  There’s a lot of people highly allergic to that stuff.  If you smoke, don’t smoke for several hours before you attend.  Make sure your clothes don’t smell like smoke (you may not smell it – we will).  Don’t eat a salad with onions for lunch.  Pop breath mints periodically in between booths (but don’t talk to someone with a peppermint in your mouth – use TicTacs – they dissolve fast).   Get a haircut.  Trim your facial hair.  You know, basic grooming stuff.  If you want nail polish don’t use “hooker red”.  How you look makes a difference.  Think understated.

lauren-mixon-nose-piercingI’m sure this will be controversial and you have to understand, I’m a middle aged conservative guy.  Jewelry:  Rings are fine as long as the count remains reasonable.  7-10 rings WAY too many.  5-6 is pushing it.  4 is borderline in my book.  Get the picture?  Bracelets / necklaces are fine if they are tasteful and not overdone.  ”Bling” does not belong at a job fair.  Earrings – if you’re a guy I’d probably leave it at home.

If you’re a gal one per ear is perfect.  Two is one more than you need but not terribly obnoxious.  Three is too many.  Which brings me to this point.  Any other visible piercing other than your ears crosses the professional dress line.  I know – you can’t take the stud out of your tongue without a big hassle and it possibly healing over.  Too bad – it’s disgusting.  Especially if you’re a man.  Grow up.  And pierced cheeks & lips will also limit your career opportunities.  If you have a piercing that I can see anywhere on your head other than in your ear your chances of working for me are low.  No, that is not discrimination – look it up.  We’re running an IT business, not a bar.  We also make five times what we’d earn in a year hustling drinks.  Yeah, I’ve gotten a little off the job fair appearance track, you can show up at a job fair and get some leads with a 4″ hole in your earlobe and a tongue stud.  Just not from me.  The nose ring is not going to help you get a job, but it will hurt you…..

One final comment.  Tattoos.  I don’t have a tattoo.  Not that I haven’t thought about it.  Maybe at some point in my life I’ll have one.   If you just got into college and think it would be great to have a neck tattoo be prepared to have that decision work against you in the future.  If you get “Love / Hate” tattooed on your knuckles that’s going to limit your career opportunities.  It’s kind of like piercing only way more permanent.  But please think before you ink.  This chart should help with your tattoo decision making:  Tattoo Location Chart.

Appearance is very subjective and there are a few tasty jobs out there for you rebels, but generally if you want a job with top-rated company with a career track and something that is going to put you in the well above average income bracket you need to be professional in how you present and conduct yourself.

Job Fair – the bad

Do you love the smell of funnel cakes?  Me too.  I grew up in Iowa.  One of our late summer traditions was going to the Iowa State Fair.   The lights of the midway, the smell of the food stands, the crowds, the concerts….   I know many people who plan around the fair and attend almost every day.   When I was selling pianos I stood in an un-airconditioned barn 10 hours a day for 10 days straight selling while my hay fever attacked me.  That kind of did it for me and the fair.  The last state fair I worked was 1996.  Maybe I’m ready to go back.  Maybe.

You’re probably asking yourself at this point.  “Dave, why are you writing about the Iowa State Fair?  I want to know about the job fair”.

Bad. At the job fair was I had a “familiar” moment.  In the Varied Industries building at the Iowa State Fair hundreds of vendors set up booths to sell everything from insurance to car wax.  Thousands of people would “browse” as they walked by your booth.  Looking, but afraid to make eye contact or start a conversation for fear of being “pitched” to.   Yesterday when I was standing in my booth with 15 open job reqs to fill I had people walking by with the same vibe.  “I’m interested in what you’re doing, but don’t talk to me”.  I’M JUST LOOKING!   Hello?!  This is a JOB FAIR,  not the State Fair.  If you are engaged in the process of finding a job you need to talk to EVERYONE!  You never know when a contact will turn into a lead.

A job fair is not a time to be a lookee loo.  If you have targeted employers you want to talk with get to their booth and talk to them.  If you have secondary booths that you want to hit go talk to them.  They hand a brochure to you at the door with company names and booth locations.  If you don’t know what someone does stop by and talk to them.  If there’s someone you’re not interested in walk by.  Don’t stop in front of a booth, look at the table, smile at me and walk away.  You’ve just wasted an opportunity to talk to someone that can help.  And you just reminded me that I spent 1,000 hours of my life selling pianos downwind of the sheep barn.

Bad. I saw a woman in very casual dress (what essentially was a t-shirt and terrycloth-ish shorts) with her 18 MONTH OLD DAUGHTER in tow.  At that point I was convinced I was at the state fair.  It was obvious both she and her mother (also along for the ride) were looking for a job.  Here’s a hint for next time ladies.  Keep the fussy child at home and one of you watch her in the morning while the other puts on professional clothing and comes to the job fair.  Then switch it up in the afternoon.  What’s REALLY bad is that while I was watching in amazement as the trio was assaulting the Silpada booth that a man and his wife / girlfriend showed up in the Triple I booth WITH THEIR TODDLER in tow.

HELLO!  Unless you are a horribly bad parent scouting for a shoe company that employs extremely young labor LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN AT HOME!!!!  It’s a JOB FAIR!!!!!!!  Ok, I got that off my chest.

Bad. The lady who was meandering up and down the aisle fairly aimlessly.  When I engaged her in conversation I found out she’s not looking for a job.  She’s a veterinarian.  She was shadowing her 25 year old son who was looking for a job.  Uh, mom – I got this one.  That one was more weird than bad.

Bad.  The guy at the end of the day that came up to me and said “Electrical Engineer” so soft that it took me 3 times of asking “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you” to catch it.  This I can understand – you’re shy.  This is not your thing.  But you’re going to need to project a little more vocally.  I bet you’re a hell of an electrical engineer.  Auctioneer is not your thing.

Bad. The guy who didn’t bring his resume, business card or anything else to hand me.  Uh, and where did you think you were going this afternoon?

Bad. The lady who lost her voice.   I actually feel kind of sorry for her, but once your voice is shot it’s time to go.   First of all it’s not a great way to make a first impression.  Secondly it makes me think you might have something causing your voice to go besides talking.  I talk for 8 hours at a time frequently and rarely lose my voice.  I was glad to have my hand sanitizer after she left.

Really bad. The guy who said “Thanks for dismissing me” to a very nice and trusted competitor.  Even if you think you’re being dismissed don’t say that.  It’s rude and obnoxious.  We have hundreds of people that want to talk to us.  Often times they’re lined up.  If we don’t have much to offer you it’s going to wrap up quick.  My apologies, but that’s how it operates.

Tomorrow –  The Ugly.  (Yeah, there’s more)

Job Fair – The Good

Today was Monster’s national “back to work tour” job fair at the Hyatt in Kansas City.  I have to put it to Monster – they picked a top-rate venue and spent some dollars to bring job seekers and employer together without a direct ROI in mind.  There were probably 50 employers at this fair & not one paid a dime to be there.  Very different from the days just a few years ago when at 10×10 space with a table and two chairs would cost you $1500 to speak with potential employees.  They even had a nice breakfast and lunch for the employers, a very nice touch for those of us who spent the whole day there.  So kudos Monster – you took a step forward in my book today.

The fair opened at 10am and when I got there at 9:45 there were easily 50 -75 people waiting in line for the doors to open.  A participant in the career ministry yesterday said that his experience with job fairs were high expectations, low results.  I’ve participated in plenty of job fairs – I never have had expectations of making a placement at a job fair.  I usually expect to make a few contacts and if I get one hot lead that’s gravy.  But I never expect any hot leads – a job fair is simply a chance to get out and meet new people to me.

I got two hot leads at the job fair today –  one of them unprecedented.  We’ve had a “out of specialty” job open for a few days – one that our team has struggled with in terms of sourcing.  I ran into a guy that lined up with the job pretty well.  It so happened that the client was 4 blocks away and my salesperson had been spending most of her time there today.  I called her and told her about the lead and long story short I walked him over to the client for an interview.  Sounds like it might actually happen.  So this guy comes to a job fair and ends up with a face to face interview with a hiring authority.  That kind of thing never happens.  He coaches his son’s soccer team and had to miss practice – I’m guessing that he was ok with that decision.  In the “that’s very weird” catagory, it turns out his wife was my son’s first grade teacher.

Hot lead number two was a candidate with a very marketable skill set to several of our clients that I will be interviewing Monday. Yes, it was a banner day at the job fair and well worth the 8 hour investment.

The other good thing at the job fair is I talked to at least a dozen people who were unaware of the support they can get through a job club.  These are people who are frustrated with their search and need to be involved in a group that can give them a fresh perspective and some encouragement as they look for the next job.  I look at it this way – if you’re not in IT I still can help.  Hell, I’m “That Job Guy”.  What kind of job guy would I be if I didn’t care about your situation.  I know there are some people that left that job fair encouraged, not because of a job lead but because I took a sincere interest in their situation and gave them some advice that may help.

So to wrap up, the job fair was certainly worth my time.  I went in with fairly low expectations and packed up my business cards with two solid leads and dozens of new contacts.  Plus a free lunch.  It was a good day indeed.

Tomorrow – “Job Fair – The Bad”

Some would say I'm certifiable

In the IT world there are more certifications that you can imagine.  MCSE, SJCP, SSBB, ITIL, PMP.  The list goes on and on.  Microsoft alone has at least twenty different certifications you can pursue.  The burning question is do they mean anything?

I’m a basketball referee – I’ve been doing it for the past 5 seasons at the rec and competitive level.  This year I finally decided to get certified.  You know why?  Because I can make $6 more per game with the certification.  The certification costs $45.  I referee 3-4 games a week for 2 1/2 months.  That’s an extra $200 in my pocket with a certification so I come out $155 ahead.  Yes, it’s worth it.  It was an easy decision – I’m working with concrete numbers.  Unfortunately most of the time it’s not this cut and dried.

If you are looking to switch careers a certification can demonstrate proficiency, but it’s not necessarily going to get you a job.  In IT there are training centers that will help you get whatever certification you please, but without the hands-on experience it’s going to be a tough road to break into the IT field today – there are simply too many people on the market with the experience.  I’m not saying you would be wasting your time gaining this knowledge – anytime you can develop professionally you’re gaining something.  I’m just making commentary on the IT job market and the difficulty someone who just finished a “boot camp” program will encounter.  Other fields are different – if you become a certified medical assistant it’s very likely you will be able to find an entry-level job in that field.  If you’re already on a career track a certification can certainly help make you marketable.

Here’s some food for thought.  The states of Missouri and Kansas both have Workforce Development programs.  The state and federal governments are funding these programs right now and if you’re out of work there is probably some money available to you for continuing education.  I know several people who have been given several thousand dollars for training.  You might want to look into it.

One other point I wanted to make.  I see a lot of resumes with some college completed but no degree.  If you are a year or two away from a bachelors degree I wouldn’t invest in certification training, I would invest the time and money in completing your degree.  Here’s why – to be a certified referee I have to show up at two meetings and take an open book test at home.  My college degree wasn’t quite that easy.

Recruiters and HR professionals often look for degrees for a couple of reasons.  Number one a college degree is tough to attain – you have to work at it.  Number two it demonstrates that you can set a long term goal and achieve it.  I have always believed that a college degree is going to open more doors than a certification.

With all that being said, each situation is different.  Certifications often do carry weight and sometimes are necessary to hold a job.  They can be used as leverage when negotiating salary.  They can be the difference between you getting the job or coming in 2nd place.

There’s no doubt I’ll be a better referee with the knowledge I’m about to gain.  There’s also no doubt that there will be parents and fans in the stands that still don’t think I have a clue.

Coming Soon – Video Blogging

One of the exciting things about my new Macbook Pro is going to be the ability to do some video blogs.  I was experimenting with a couple ways to do it and think I’ve got it figured out.  Keep an eye out for it.  Video blogging is also a great idea to employ in a job search.  It gives potential employers a glimpse into your areas of expertise, giving you a chance to showcase your talents.  It also gives potential employers a look at your personality and how you handle yourself verbally.  It also will help you stand out.  I have never, not once – in 9 years of recruiting – had a link sent from a candidate to a video blog.  I’d much rather watch an informative and maybe even slightly entertaining  / creative video than sort through the resumes stacking up in my inbox.

Video blogging is something that isn’t terribly daunting for me personally – I am an extroverted person so public speaking, meeting new people and expressing my opinions all comes fairly naturally.  But I know that there will be readers who would rather have their wisdom teeth extracted than get up in front of 20 people and give a presentation.  Unfortunately conducting an effective job search requires getting outside of your comfort zone.  Sometimes WAY outside your comfort zone.   But it can be done if you follow a few key strategies.

Strategy #1:  Get comfortable with your elevator pitch.  Everyone has something they bring to the table, everyone is passionate about something, everyone has a story to tell.  You need to have a rehearsed 30 – 60 second speech that you can recite to anyone that will get them engaged in the process of helping you.  Here’s a good article on some Do’s and Don’ts for your speech: http://www.quintcareers.com/elevator_speech_dos-donts.html

Strategy #2: Get involved in Toastmasters.  This is an organization that is dedicated to getting you to be more comfortable with public speaking.  If you are thinking to yourself “there’s no way I would EVER make a presentation in front of a group – I just CAN’T do it” then you need to go towww.toastmasters.org RIGHT NOW and sign up.

Strategy #3:  Really connect when you network.  Start in a comfortable place (maybe church or a PTA meeting) and introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met.  Don’t start with your commercial, start with your name.  “Hi, I’m Dave – I don’t think we’ve met”  When they introduce themselves engage them by asking questions.  Start general.  (i.e. What do you do for a living?  What part of town are you in?  Where did you go to school?  Do you have children?)  Then dig deeper.  (What do you like about your job?  What’s the best part about being a parent?  What are you passionate about?).  Be sincere in getting to know them.  At some point in the conversation they’re going to ask you about you and that’s when you can work in your commercial.

Strategy #4:  Follow up.  A job search is a sales process.  Make sure that you follow up with everyone that you’ve met.  Send them a note after your initial conversation.  “Nice to meet you, I really enjoyed speaking with you about….”  If they’re on LinkedIn connect.  If they’re on FaceBook connect.  Follow them – if there’s something that is exciting or interesting that they post reach back to them with an appropriate response. ENGAGE with them – they are your new friend, you need to care about them and the things going on in their lives.

Strategy #5: Practice.  The longer you are outside of your comfort zone, the more comfortable it will become.

I know I diverted from talking about video blogging.  This was more about getting out of your comfort zone and getting into the sales process.  I have been in sales in one form or another since my junior year in college.  The basic steps to getting a sale are prospecting & follow up, establishing a relationship (trust), identifying a need, building value and closing the deal.  If you’re good at the first four steps the close is easy.  These are the steps you’re going to need to take to find a job.  It will come natural to some and be very uncomfortable to others, but that doesn’t change the steps.

Out with the old….

I’m writing this post on my new MacBook Pro.  That’s right Bill Gates – I’ve had it with Vista.  Every time I log on I get update notifications asking for disks I don’t have for an update I don’t need.  I have to spend money to keep the spyware and ad blasters off my O/S.  I put up with continual pop ups, reminders and other annoyances that simply have made my computer experience miserable.  The Mac ads got to me.  That hip, easy-going 20-something Mac guy making things so smooth while the stumbling, starched-shirt PC guy defends his O/S.  I can relate to that guy.  I WAS that guy.  But no more.  Mom, you were right.  Mickey Mac has grown up and become a real computer.  I’m having crow for dinner.

I’m excited.  I ordered my new Mac a week ago.  I’ve been tracking it via FedEx since it left China.  When I logged on today and saw it was on the truck for delivery it was Christmas morning.  When I saw that FedEx truck round the corner it might as well have been Santa Claus and his sleigh!  I’m not going to do too much to it until I have my first appointment at the Mac store, but I certainly can get the wireless set up and start browsing and blogging!

Which leads me to the reason behind this story.  Losing a job sucks.  It’s a blow to your ego, it’s a blow to your wallet, it’s taking something that is comfortable away.  In terms of stress it ranks right up there with divorce and death.  I don’t pretend that my experience with Vista is anywhere near as bad as losing a job, but there are parallels in the transition.

I’m excited to learn this new computer.  I don’t know a lot about how it operates, but I am looking forward to the adventure as I figure it out.  I am looking forward to the day that I can make my own movies and music on the computer.  (Has anyone ever used Windows Movie Maker – what a joke!)  I’m looking forward to having my somewhat computer illiterate but completely wonderful wife learn how to actually USE this thing.  Who knows, maybe she’ll start a blog!

When you lose your job you need to take time to grieve.  To be angry.  To be frustrated.  Upset.  Let it out.  It will help.  But then it’s time to move on.  There’s something you can do about it.  If you’re getting the blue screen of death it’s time to upgrade!  A wonderful opportunity is waiting for you, all you need to do is get out there and find it.

Unemployment eventually ends.  Sometimes it ends in a great job that is your life’s calling and those are heady days my friends.  I think we’ve all experienced that to one degree or another.  Sometimes it ends in a survival job, but even those are blessings.  There is a day in your not to distant future where you will walk into a building and be greeting by all your new coworkers, be given a desk and workstation and there will be great and wonderful challenges for you to meet head on.

The adware & spyware is gone.  The keyboard feels better.  There’s so much to learn and so much to do.  The past is past, the future is yours.