Orlando

Where do I start?

Where does it end?

Another ideologue selects a target ending dozens of lives and changing hundreds, perhaps thousands of other lives forever. My heart breaks for the victims, their families, and their friends.

Family members & friends who still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. They were told to come back in the morning. Prayers for closure, comfort in this time of deep loss, and healing as the days pass.

There are victims still fighting for their lives. Pray for them. Pray for the doctors and nurses who are caring for them.

We are a nation mourning yet another mass shooting. We are angry. We are in shock. We are looking for a reason. We want a way to stop it from happening again. Pray for peace.

This is an act of evil, but we cannot let evil prevail. We WILL NOT let evil prevail.

We MUST love one another, even if we don’t agree with one another.

May God be with us all.

Kids, STEM, Sausage-Fests, and why it matters.

According to the White House, there are currently half a million unfilled technology jobs in the US and that number could more than quadruple in the next two years. This is a big deal folks. Big enough that President Obama used January’s State of the Union speech to announce his “Computer Science for All” program.

I applaud the President for championing this issue. As our economy has shifted from a manufacturing base to a service base the demand for home-grown technologists is higher than ever. Unfortunately student enrollment in STEM programs is on an opposite trajectory and something needs to be done to reverse this trend.

One of the most exciting parts of Obama’s initiative is the opportunity it holds for women. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked through a software development shop, but if you do you’ll notice the cubes and offices are predominantly occupied by men. LOTS of men.

Consider the following:

  • In 2014 the US World & News Report wrote that only 13% of four year degrees earned by women were STEM related (compared to 28% for men.)
  • 2015 Department of Labor statistics show women making up 49% of the overall workforce but only 24% of the information technology workforce.
  • According to the Girls Who Code home page 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM, but only 0.4% of high school girls select computer science.

I’m not sure what study that last bullet quotes, but it’s the most extreme example I could find to prove my hypothesis: technology is pretty much a sausage-fest.

Fortunately the Obama administration’s high level plans addresses this glaring gender gap and along with many grassroots organizations we should be able to build a more diverse technical workforce.

So what should you be doing?

If you’re in the business share your passion for technology with your kids. Get involved with robotics. Teach them to code. Build some nifty IoT stuff that will feed the dog or flash lights on and off at 3am in a sibling’s room.

Even if you’re not in the business there are local groups and programs that can help you get your kid get excited about a STEM path.

If you’re a woman who’s already out of school but interested in seeing what opportunities exist for you start with one (or all) of these groups:

I’m excited about what opportunities are ahead for people who choose a path in technology. One STEM guy made it possible to buy a self-driving car on the Plaza, landed a rocket on a platform on the ocean, and is hell bent on putting a colony on Mars. Imagine what a girl could do.

Aptitude vs. Experience

ap·ti·tude (ˈaptəˌt(y)o͞od/)

a natural ability to do something / suitability or fitness.

ex·pe·ri·ence (ikˈspirēəns/)

practical contact with and observation of facts or events / encounter or undergo (an event or occurrence).

When you consider these definitions, is aptitude or experience more important when making hiring decisions? Should we place more emphasis on natural ability & suitability or on encounters & events? As a hiring authority it’s important to understand these questions and get the answers right.

There are careers where experience has to trump aptitude. You may have natural ability as a physician, but without experiencing an education and hands-on clinical training no one will hire you as an MD. The same holds true for any career that mandates some level of higher education and/or specific training (lawyers, teachers, electricians, truck drivers, and a whole host of others.) In these cases experience is critical.

What about careers that don’t mandate education or training credentials? Examples include software development, financial analysts, sales, public relations, and many others. Does experience matter? Maybe, maybe not. When I was eight I talked a shop owner in Central City, Colorado into some free candy because I didn’t have any money & my parents were in the store next door. It wasn’t clear to me at that time, but it’s obvious even early in my life I had an aptitude for sales.

All too often I see too much emphasis being placed on experience. Consider people who don’t like their jobs. While there are other factors, lack of interest is among one of the leading causes of people to be dissatisfied with their work. They have a mortgage, a couple of car payments, and college to fund so they will tell you how much they like their work in an interview, but that is a fable. When you hire someone to perform work they don’t like their experience will be detrimental to their performance. In cases like these aptitude rules.

Experience is fluid because it is completely dependent on external factors. Aptitude is fixed because it is absolutely dependent on the individual’s psyche, intellect, morals, and values.

No doubt you’ve heard the old adage “you can’t teach someone to care.” You can teach someone to execute and they will gain experience on a daily basis. How quickly they pick up on the job is completely dependent on their aptitude. Do they have a natural inclination for the role? Do they care about the work they are doing? Are they coachable?

Aptitude + Experience = Passion. Spending years doing a job that doesn’t align with who you are as a person isn’t much fun.

Experience can be necessary. Experience can be important.

If you want a super-star aptitude is the key because experience can be an 8 year old with some free candy.

Consumer Review Sites

Everyone has an opinion. With so many voices wanting to be heard in today’s hyper-connected and information saturated world, it’s no mystery why online review sites have become so popular.

Google’s review platform allows you to share your opinion on any product or service in a Google search result. Interested in researching a company? Glassdoor, Yahoo, and others offer options.Traveling or looking for a new place to have a nice meal? Check out Yelp or TripAdvisor. You can even check out reviews for a gallon of milk on Amazon.

If you clicked on the link to the milk reviews you saw the humor of some online reviewers. However, reviews don’t have to be absurd to be viewed with skepticism. There certainly are pro’s and con’s to using online reviews as a source of information.

The Pro’s:

Accessibility to Information. Before Al Gore invented the internet there were a handful of print publication that provided this type of information Today that has all changed. Before we step foot in a business we have an opportunity to form an opinion based on “word-of-mouth” (“word of internet?”) information.

Positive Reviews drive business. Yes, I check out Yelp before I try someplace new. The places who “delight their customers” have been rewarded with new customers. However, there’s another edge to this sword – if the reviews are consistently 4+ stars I also go in with high expectations.

The Business can improve and/or make amends. A negative review gives a company a chance to learn from mistakes and provides an opportunity to reach out to an unsatisfied customer to rectify a situation.

Global Impact. If you’re unfamiliar with a city you plan to visit or live in this information can impact many decisions you need to make. Online review sites expose businesses to an audience beyond their immediate neighborhood.

The Cons’s:

Michael Scott (Dunder Mifflen Regional Manager) once said “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Review sites are no different than the rest of the intrawebs – everything must be read with a critical eye. Just because it’s written doesn’t make it real.

Focusing on the Negative. You know the old adage “if you like something you’ll tell one person, if you don’t like it you’ll tell ten.” As authors review sites give us a forum to vent our frustrations. As readers we like “the dirt.” Expect negative reviews – you can’t please everyone.

Dated Reviews. Our world moves at a fast pace so reviews have a fairly short shelf life. The positive or negative experience from two or three years ago very well may be a completely different story today.

Anonymity. If you so choose, you can remain anonymous on every review site. In some cases (such as Glassdoor) nearly every review is anonymous. If you have an ax to grind there are no consequences for providing  misleading or false information.

If you post nothing but negative reviews your credibility as a reviewer is in question. Make sure you’re singing the praises of the organizations that get it right as much (if not more) than the ones that get it wrong.

Conclusion

As a consumer be discerning about available information. Reviews often are born from a strong opinion or experience so the number of reviews should be considered. Look for trends in the reviews. Is the majority singing their praises or complaining?

Above all, formulate your own opinions and check things out with an open mind. Make decisions based on your experience, not on opinions and experiences of people you’ll never meet.

Need Not Apply

When I graduated from college I diligently scoured the classified ads for jobs leads. Armed with overpriced paper & envelopes, a bottle of white-out, and my IBM “Selectric,” I launched a career that has lasted for the better part of three decades.

Applying for a job in those days took time. Each resume needed to be typed from scratch. Each cover letter thoughtfully composed and accurately transferred to bonded paper via “the ball,” a late ’80’s state-of-the-art typewriter invention. You had to be careful not to make too many mistakes – employers would often overlook one or two smudges of white-out but beyond that your carelessness was sure to get your information in the circular file (or so I thought.)

This process also put a pretty good dent in your wallet. The bonded paper was $20 per box ($41 in today’s dollars.) The matching bonded paper envelopes were $10 per box. Even stamps cost $0.29 per application.

Sound a bit archaic?

It was.

Today this process has all been handed over to our buddy the internet. Press one button and you can apply to any job in the world from the Indeed mobile app. Not qualified? Who cares? Hit that button! You never know what might happen.

Well, I’ll tell you what happens. Nine times out of ten you’ll be lucky to get an automated “thanks for applying” email. Every once in a while you’ll hit pay dirt and get a call. Yet, there are opportunities posted online that should not be ignored.

I recommend spending no more than 20% of your job search time sourcing jobs posted to the internet. Because the internet is open 24×7 this is an ideal strategy to pursue in the evenings and on the weekends. When you do find a good match here’s what I recommend:

1. Be selective about your applications and make sure you can justify your background as a reasonable match. (I recently received a resume for a senior level technology manger job from a candidate who has spent the last six years as a lunch lady.)
2. Customize your resume to address specific points in the job description. If you have a twenty year career in manufacturing processes and you think you’re qualified to write software you better tell me why quickly. Otherwise the delete key is top right.
3. If the system allows you to write a short introduction (i.e. cover letter) that’s great, but don’t upload a cover letter with your resume.
4. Don’t hit submit and wait for the phone to ring. Find someone on the inside that can advance your cause and let them know you’re interested.

It’s too easy to apply to a job these days. The volume of incoming resumes is overwhelming and the competition among qualified candidates is fierce. Streamlining an archaic process doesn’t always make it better. Don’t let this broken process determine your path.

“Excellent Communication Skills”

I’ve read tens of thousands of resumes and job descriptions and nearly all have one thing in common. “Excellent communication skills” or a variant is written somewhere on the page.

The irony of this “phrasology” is it often comes in the form of a poorly worded bullet or sentence such as

Excellent communication skills both written and oral.
If you’re going to butcher the English language, at least use a comma after “skills.”

Ability to communicate both written and orally.
Structure is better, but not great. By the way, what is the fascination with the word oral? It’s a little to Freudian for me. How about we all agree to use “verbal” in professional communication context? Hmm?

Brevity is a lost art and removing unnecessary verbiage will attract top performers who live in a world where 140 characters has become a widely accepted form of written communication. Adding “Excellent Communication Skills” to a job description or resume is a waste of valuable space.

Employers!

It’s wasted space because you aren’t going to hire someone that can’t at the very least least learn to communicate effectively. Why not add “must be able to fog a mirror” or “heartbeat mandatory” to the job description?

Side note: I’ve seen job descriptions that say you have to know how use a phone and enter and exit a vehicle which also fall under the “you are wasting space and turning people off” category.

With some coaching and confidence building even the most introverted person can learn to communicate effectively. Remember Milton from Office Space? I felt bad for Milton – he obviously was a talented engineer (otherwise he never would have been hired) but no one took him under their wing and taught him the value of communication. They didn’t need to turn Milton into a gregarious, life of the party guy. Someone simply needed reinforce the value he had at Initech and teach him to speak and write with more confidence.

Rather than chewing up space with the tired communication skills cliché promote why your company is better than the three other firms a top-shelf candidate will be considering.

PS: If written communication skills are up to snuff, you can evaluate verbal communication skills in an interview.

Job Seekers!

It’s wasted space because I’ve seen hundreds of poorly written resumes with “excellent written communication skills” somewhere in the content. You are contradicting yourself on your resume. Rather than take space to say what everyone else is saying and risk hurting your communication cred, demonstrate your written communication skills in your resume & cover letter, a blog, or in your LinkedIn profile & posts just to name a few.

While you’re reviewing your content, get rid of the other over-used skill buzzwords like “organizational” and “detail-oriented” without supporting information. If you have an eye for detail don’t say “detail oriented,” provide an example.

Pay attention to what you have to say. Good written communication doesn’t contain nonsense like “project managed projects” and “I hope you find me as a good hand to have handy.” (Real world examples quoted.)

Avoid ten dollar words. If you feel the need to use one to sound smart make sure you know what it means. Recently a resume was touting “tangential customer service” which by definition is touting erratic customer service skills.

Ultimately you want to convey to employers that you can use communication (and interpersonal) skills to convey ideas, persuade, and build trust and rapport with others. That sounds a lot more enticing than “excellent communication skills,” don’t you agree?

What is a Recruiter?

Not all recruiters are just recruiters. Human Resources generalists are recruiters. Hiring managers are recruiters. CEO’s are recruiters. If you’ve ever suggested someone apply for a job you are a recruiter.

Usually when the word “recruiter” is used the perception falls into one of two camps – the corporate recruiter (HR) and the agency recruiter (headhunter.) These roles can be very similar, but the job seeker “customer experience” can be very different.

Corporate recruiters are almost universally attached to the Human Resources department. Along with the legal department part of  HR’s responsibility is to protect the interests of the company so they follow set procedures. The corporate recruiter role is more all-encompassing, so training and experience is more diverse. Unfortunately, talent acquisition tasks are often overshadowed by tasks related to existing employees such as benefits, training, compensation, retention, employment law, and employee issues. If you’d like to read about challenges faced by someone who is not 100% dedicated to recruiting impacting experience with the process I posted “Should Human Resources be Recruiting?

Even though they may not be dedicated to the recruiting process, they are on the “inside” which can be an advantage. If you’re hitting a wall with a corporate recruiter understand their situation and continue to persist, just don’t become a pest.

Agency recruiters are usually “compartmentalized” to a specific discipline – technology, medical, light industrial, finance & accounting, or clerical / administration are the major agency categories. Agencies are sales organizations so recruiter training and experience is much different and focused purely on talent acquisition.

Because they usually have a more sales-oriented mindset they can be a great resource tailoring your resume & cover and preparing you for an interview. They are not recruiting for one company which will give you more market coverage. If a job doesn’t work out they can help you find another. Just because they’re not on the “inside” doesn’t mean an agency recruiter isn’t your best angle to a corporate job. Sometimes internal hiring processes are “broken” at a company so the agency recruiter will be in a better position to get the decision maker’s ear.

Remember that an agency recruiter is looking to fill jobs, and they may feel you are not their best candidate to accomplish that task. A good recruiter will be honest with you about their client relationship and the competition you face within the agency. If they have a candidate they feel is better suited for the job don’t be offended – chances are pretty good at some point that will be you.

Recruiters

2016 marks my sixteenth year in recruiting which means I’ve spent approximately 40,000 hours of my life helping thousands of people explore new career opportunities, and have placed hundreds of them in new careers. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers. The rule states that if you spend 10,000 hours doing something correctly you’re going to build what Gladwell calls “world class expertise” in that field.

While I don’t claim to have “world class expertise,” I think my years in recruiting have taught me a thing or two about the business.

One of the things that I’ve learned is not all recruiters are equal. Some are exceptional professionals who know how to cultivate relationships and leverage connections to the benefit of all. Others care more about hitting metrics than they do about the candidate. Believe it or not, some of them will lie to your face to get what they’re after.

Good recruiters are a valuable asset in a job search & can be worth their weight in gold. Bad recruiters can put you into a bad situation. Be discerning.

Another thing I’ve learned is not all candidates are equal. Some are exceptional professionals who know how to cultivate relationships and leverage connections to the benefit of all. Others don’t appreciate the value a good recruiter can bring to the table. Believe it or not, some of them will lie to your face to get what they’re after.

I’ve interviewed thousands of job seekers – you can bet I’m discerning.

New Year. New No….

One of my favorite people in this world is fellow Cubs fan Brian Swanson. Brian is the Youth Pastor / Leader at Woods Chapel Methodist in Lees Summit & preaches in our Worship Center a couple of times a month. I stole the title of this post from his sermon, so I wanted to make sure he got full credit.

Brian’s point regarding “New Year – New No” was this – commonly used New Year phrases like “New Year – New Me” and “My New Year resolution is not to have a New Year resolution” or commonly broken resolutions “Exercise more, Eat better” are just that – phrases and resolutions we’ll probably break. Saying is not doing.

I’m going to start this year with a simple word – Action. My first action will be to look back on last year to answer two questions.

  • What action from 2015 should I be taking in 2016?
  • What action from 2015 should I NOT be taking in 2016, and what action will I take in 2016 to fill that valuable time?

The answers will provide my road-map for 2016 objectives.

Another over-used catchphrase is “easier said than done.” Typing those words was easier said than done because EVERYTHING is easier said than done. There’s no plan to post my answers to the questions. I’m just going to get it done.

Holiday Job Searching

It’s here. Christmas lighting up our neighborhoods and homes. Eight nights of lighting the Menorah and reciting blessings. The Feast of Sacrifice. The Winter Solstice. Camping out at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving eve with hundreds of others so you can buy a $259 55″ POS flat screen at four in the morning (what’s up with that anyway?)

Whatever you celebrate, this time of year is full of tradition.

Here’s another common tradition. “Nobody is hiring in December so I’m going to put my search on hold until the first of the year, right?”

While it’s true there will be more hiring activity after the New Year hiring does not come to a complete stop. I started my first job out of college the day after Christmas. During my 15 years at RiverPoint we’ve had double-digit Decembers on more than one occasion. Hiring DOES NOT stop in December, so neither should you. Quite to the contrary, you should use this time to double-down on your search for many reasons.

There’s less competition. Lots of people put their search on hold this time of year. They’re busy decorating the house, the kids are home from school, travel plans get in the way, etc… Why go to all the effort of making calls, networking, and connecting when everyone is on vacation? I’ll start looking after New Years. Get a head start on these people. Make the connections now and you’ll be at the front of the line when hiring decisions are being made.

There’s budgets to burn. Common thought is budgets are already spent, but not everyone is sitting at zero dollars available. They need to spend them now so they have them again next year. Why not put them in your bank account?

Holiday Hiring. Plenty of retailers would love to have you come in and help them through the peak season. Sure, retail doesn’t always pay great, and the hours aren’t the best, but $10.hr is better than zero dollars per hour. Even a low paying job can help put a few presents around the tree.

Time of Giving. This is a time of year when people are feeling more generous than normal. I’m not saying someone will think “let’s be charitable and hire her,” but people will be more helpful in making connections and generally helping you take a few steps forward. It’s also a great chance to get out to Harvesters, Hillcrest, Habitat or any of the many charities and help – lots of organizations do community service this time of year – never know who you’ll meet.

Don’t stop because it’s Christmas. If anything, increase your efforts. 2016 is right around the corner – with a smart strategy and some hard work you will have a very Happy New Year in your new job.

Merry Christmas everyone!