Ever been to a motorcycle rally? We have them all over the place in Florida. The big daddy, of course, is Bike Week in Daytona. But there are rallies in most of the major cities and even some of the minor ones. The Leesburg Bike Fest has come to be known as Spring’s alternative to Bike Week. Don’t like the crowds and over commercialization of Bike Week? Then head to the far side of Lake County and enjoy Main Street the way it was meant to be!

I rode over and here’s what I learned this weekend…

Know what your audience wants to hear and PLAY IT LOUD!
Riding an air-cooled motorcycle for an hour or hanging around them for most of the day will make your ears ring. Not quite deaf, but just that muffly-muted sensation coupled with a background tone that makes it hard to hear nuances and talkative passengers. To entertain riders, bike rallies will set up multiple stages for cultural expositions such as musicianship, artistry (i.e., tattoo shows) and beauty contests (i.e., wet t-shirt contests). When it comes to music (notice how deftly I skip over tattoos and t-shirts!) most people who attend bike rallies like classic rock. ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company… Fortunately for bikers, this music is best enjoyed, at Nigel Tufnel amplification levels. I say fortunately, because, to cut through the ringing noise in everyone’s ears, you have to make it heard!

For job seekers, make sure the most pertinent qualifications that you possess cut through the ringing noise in recruiters ears. Recruiters view stacks of resumes all with the same vomit-inducing Objective statement, managers interview dozens of interview-suited little punks like you, everyone has “strong communication skills” and a “track record of success.” Identify 3-5 SPECIFIC qualifications that you possess and keep going back to those themes. Lead your resume with these skills, work them into every response you give, and include references top them in the questions you ask. Amplify your argument to 11 by supporting your candidacy with a simple, straightforward case that’s based on behaviors, not clichés. What are you doing when you communicate strongly? What did you do to succeed? Describe those behaviors repeatedly to your audience to cut through the numbing buzz of applicant exhaust noise.

Where’s the beef?
Damn, bikers like meat! No, seriously. In one small block you can eat burgers, hot dogs, smoked turkey legs, BBQ, grilled sausages, Philly cheesesteak, Chicken on a stick, and almost any other mammal that possesses a mother and a face. Want a nice green salad or some poached asparagus? Better go look elsewhere! Come on, everyone sing together! Old MacDonald had a farm…and then the biker ate it…

When you are describing your top-shelf behaviors, make sure you have specific EXAMPLES. Think of a recruiter looking at your resume like those three little old ladies on the Wendy’s commercial. If all you offer is fluff someone is gonna bust you like Clara Peller. Be descriptive. Take your behavior descriptions to the next level by supporting your qualifications with metrics. Analyze what happened so you show you’re capable of complex thought. Competence is the beef recruiters seek!

Posers can’t help but look the part
You always know who really rides their bike, and who only rides it so they can park it somewhere and stand next to it. As silly as those reflector-suited guys look on their BMWs, you know they ride some serious miles. Likewise, no one goes through the pain to squeeze sausage-like into riding leathers to just stand and bake in the Florida heat and humidity (PU!!). Additionally, comfy jeans and a t-shirt doesn’t mean you don’t eat up the miles. But if your outfit is too coordinated, you just look silly. Really, high heeled riding boots? Chaps with your butt hanging out? Ironed jeans?

Similarly, if you go into an interview thinking you’ll just wing it or if you apply for a job that you aren’t qualified to do, you’ll be quickly identified and culled from the heard like a wounded yearling. Recruiters are trained to pare a large pool down to a small subset quickly. Good recruiters can do it without thinking. Why? For the reasons I state above. If you have qualifications for a job you can give examples and metrics. If you have a passion for an industry or job, you can talk about it. If you have properly researched an employer you can relate your skills to the mission and values the company espouses. Don’t be a generic poser. Know what you offer and get into your craft. Find a passion and pursue it.

Your dream bike isn’t always your first bike…but it taught you how to ride!
Posers aside, the best part (if there is one) of going to a bike rally is just looking around. People, bikes, and their collected personalities come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and functions. If you like machines then just walk up and down the street. Yes, there are lots of Harleys. But they are parked next to sportbikes, power cruisers, Goldwings, custom bikes, and cobbled together Dr. Frankenstein two-wheeled visions. People range in age from a few months to what looks like a few hundred years. This year I saw a guy with a customized Honda Trail 70. SWEET!! In 4th Grade my Dad brought home a beat to hell blue one and that was my introduction to motorized two-wheeled transit. Didn’t go more than 20 miles per hour, smoked like a Jersey barfly, and looked like it had been dragged behind a truck. Been in love ever since.

If you talk to other riders they started out on a relatively narrow band of “starter rides.” Small displacement cruisers, sportbikes and trail bikes are most common. Then you get good. You develop skills. Maybe even take a few falls. But, just like you, the folks on the bikes that make you salivate; the sleek Ducatis, radical ‘Busas, long-forked choppers, mile-munching touring rigs, and even home-built bobbers all started on something simple and easy to ride. New grads need to remember that to get to their dream job, they need to start out in a relatively “un-glamorous” entry-level job. Build your skills. Learn to fail. Learn to learn from your failure so you don’t do that again. Then, when you have the requisite competence you can get that sexy red job that corners like Nicky Hayden!

Be aware of your surroundings
Some jackass behind me at a red light honked the other day when I was turning right. I guess I wasn’t aggressive enough in my decision making on when to turn right on red. I generally don’t like turning right on red when I’m on my bike. At least not unless I can see lots of clear road to my left. This was in traffic with a steady line of oncoming cars making a right turn. I generally prefer to wait. I also look around a lot when I’m riding. I look at brake lights in front of me, drivers who feel it’s necessary to ride next to me, trucks entering from the right and left, and even the asphalt when I put my feet down at a stoplight. I’m hoping all of this will extend (and increase my enjoyment of) my time in the saddle.

Applicants should adopt this “swivel-headed” approach to employment. If you are going to apply for a job, be aware of the qualifications the company wants. And have them! Watch your interviewer’s body language. If they smile, they like what you’re saying. Smile back. If they furrow their brow as if in thought, better explain how what you’re saying relates to their question. If they frown, don’t do what you’re doing. If they look serious, be serious. Research your target companies. More than just on Wikipedia! Look at their financials. Look at their Directors. Look up the person who will interview you on LinkedIn. Google the manager and see if they’ve been in the news lately. And then, when you get the interview, keep looking around and processing what you see and feel to decide if this is a place where you can be successful.

Ride hard, have fun, be cool, be safe!

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“Hate” is a bad word. Beyond the obvious issues, it’s also abrupt and rigid. It’s an absolute. Not much more negative than hate. But people throw it around easily these days. They hate this TV show, or hate that politician, or hate someone’s behavior. We even use say, “I hate it for you” as if we are obliging someone and doing them a favor by lending them our hate. People also say, “I hate to be a ____,” but… Guess what, if you were so negatively pre-disposed to being that, you wouldn’t. Be honest with yourself and just say, “I’m a _____” and be comfortable with it. Or change your behavior and don’t be it.

But there is one thing I hate….”have to.” It’s just like hate, it’s an absolute. You have to pick up your clothes, you have to behave a certain way in public, you have to eat turkey at Thanksgiving or you’re a booger-eating pinko Commie bastard. Remember President Bush (the first one) saying he didn’t eat broccoli because as a kid he “had to” and now he was President of the United States so he wasn’t going to eat broccoli. Good stuff! When you get to be President, there aren’t a lot of “have to’s.”

You know where else there are a bunch of “have to’s”? When you look for a job! Here’s a brief list of our favorites:
You HAVE to go buy an interview suit
You HAVE to get an interview haircut
You HAVE to take all that crap out of your face…yes, the nose ring too.
You HAVE to cover up your tattoos
You HAVE to take the color out of your hair
You HAVE to shave your legs and wear pantyhose
You HAVE to wear socks and a tie…..no, not a bolo tie Woody
You HAVE to arrive at least 10 minutes early, just not too early. Twenty would be too much. And you BETTER NOT be late!
You HAVE to know what you want to be for the rest of your life even though you haven’t really worked a freaking day in your life, have no idea what it’s like to deal with office politics and the break room fridge, have no idea what “corporate culture” is and have never really publicly failed at anything and been held accountable for it……PHEW!!!!

What the hell is up with all the “have to’s”??? I remember when I finished grad school. I had a ponytail that reached the middle of my back. It was my calling card. People referred to me as the “guy with the pony tail.” Who do I have to go see about renting equipment? You can go to that desk and ask the guy with the pony tail. Who has the keys to the truck? The guy with the pony tail took them. Then school was over, time to grow up again. With one well placed snip I re-entered the herd. Why? No one’s going to hire me looking like that, I thought. You HAVE TO get a regular haircut if you want to get a job.

Last week an older student (i.e., closer to my age) came to my office for help. He’s in a career transition phase. He has over 20 years of sales experience and is just now getting his MBA. He’d like to get out of sales and in to the operations side of hospitality, an industry he’s served but hasn’t worked directly in for a while. Hospitality is big here in Touristland. He’s not working now, a casualty of the recession and getting his MBA was part of his recovery plan. That said, he’s willing to take a few steps back if that means moving laterally into hospitality. One of his concerns, rightly so, was if employers will be hesitant to hire him for a lower level job because of his age. The HR guy in me gets indignant about that and wants to say, why no! It’s ILLEGAL to disqualify someone because of their age! We have laws, good laws, that make it a crime to pull that crap! But it happens all the time. Companies find other ways around it and middle-aged unemployed workers are finding their recession may last a lot longer because of it. So what did I tell him? Yes, it could be an issue. Are you married to the beard? The guy was sporting a full on, mostly grey, Dan Haggerty special. It seems like an innocuous bit of advice, but are we telling people to homogenize for the sake of “fitting in”?

Beards, tats, hair color, fashion; people use all of these things to express their individuality. We usually attribute most of this to traditional students (translation: twenty-something Gen Y’ers.) But everyone looks for that thing that makes them…them. And when it comes to looking for a job, there’s a tendency to mute one’s individuality and idiosyncrasies. In this age of behavioral disorders brought on by the pressure put on young people to conform and fit in, it almost seems counter intuitive to tell someone who has discovered a vehicle for self expression to mute it and look like that line of kids falling into the meat grinder in “The Wall.” On top of that, you WANT to stand out and make employers remember you from that vast, undulating sea of dark power suits and frothy white dress shirts. But it’s a Catch 22 (thank your English teacher for making you read that book!) To be noticed you have to stand out, but we (society) tell you to mute what really makes you an individual.

So, do you HAVE to take out the nose ring? Well, if you want to get an entry-level job with a big employer, move up through the ranks, and eventually be a member of the leadership then, yes. You have to ditch all the frosting and just be cake. But, if you plan on wearing it when you go to work and you feel like it makes you who you are, then no. Leave it in. Focus instead on finding an employer that doesn’t think a nose ring is a big deal. Focus on a trade or occupation where you see others sporting their little silver rings of individuality. And be ok with the impact your individual expression will have on your career. As long as you are cool with all that, then there’s only a few things you HAVE to do:

You have to know what you want to do
You have to pay your bills and support your family
You have to be comfortable with…strike that…LOVE who you are
You have to be ok with the consequences and rewards of your decisions

Oh…and you HAVE to figure out how to stop hating. Seriously, it sucks.

S*** My Students Say…

April 2, 2012

“I’m cool with anything, minus a lot of things…”

I think I’m going to rename this blog after a short-lived William Shatner sitcom, “S*** My Students Say.” I spend the week doing my job, but in the back of my mind I’m always looking for topics or news of interest to pass along in this space. Facebook passwords from job applicants, Orlando’s employment scene, health care reform and company health benefits, entry-level job opportunities, networking; all of these have crossed my mind as meaningful topics, but only half of them made it to post. Why? I work with MBA students at the University of Central Florida helping them find job and project opportunities. So I talk to people for a living. And people say some really thought-provoking s***!

This week I was talking to a young lady about her impending job search. My first question when I’m helping a student form a career plan is always, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a fairly simple, straightforward question; one that parents have been asking their kids since before kindergarten. But it’s probably the hardest question for students to answer. This week we were talking and when the discussion got to careers her answer was that she was pretty much open to anything, with certain restrictions. In other words, she THINKS she’s willing to look at any job. But in reality, her, “I didn’t go to college for X years to do that job” filter is kicking in. She’s not alone. It’s actually easier to talk about the jobs students DON’T want to do. I’ve seen “the look” a lot the last few months.

I don’t fault new grads for thinking they should expect a good job after graduation. Their professors tell them all about their exciting and exotic consulting assignments (getting PAID to just give your opinion, oh yea!! I’m full of opinions). Their parents, so proud of their academic accomplishments, have told them how smart they are. Society and the media tell them that having a degree, especially a graduate degree, is their ticket to stability in this highly unstable time. Movies and TV are replete with young hipsters sipping latte on worn leather sofas in a trendy little café. Looks like a great life to me!

So what I’m going to do this week is throw out a few “inconvenient” truths for my students to ponder…

Inconvenient Truth #1: Friends, Sex and the City, CSI…ARE ALL CRAP!
The lifestyle presented in these television shows is out of the reach for most new grads. It’s TV. It’s fake. That’s why you watch it. No one has budgets to hit at work or bills to pay at home. Their jobs are swarthy and exotic. They wear snazzy clothes, get their nails done and eat at cute little bistros. Want a bit of truth? According to a recent survey 85% of recent college graduates will move back home with their parents. Unemployment of recent grads is decreasing slowly, but student debt and stagnant (or commission-based) wages in entry-level jobs make that “made-for-TV” lifestyle impossible for most grads. Pop culture is NOT a realistic indicator of twenty-something living. I’d also like to add that most adults over 40 are full of crap as well. It’s been almost 20 years since we looked for an entry level job with no job experience. Unless we’re in the business of hiring people, our opinions are simply a guess at best.

Inconvenient Truth #2: No one will hire you to manage something you haven’t already done
Poll graduate business students and their top job choices will include consultant, financial analyst, investment banker, and baron of private equity. I recently polled a sample of HR professionals and their overwhelming entry-level job recommendation was administrative support and “overhead.” Positions generally categorized as overhead include IT support, HR administration, and customer service rep. Sales was a strong second. Large companies that have “pipeline” management programs (including most large retailers) will have the new hire work and show success in a variety of support positions including sales before moving on to more responsible positions.

Inconvenient Truth #3: People who make lots of money, don’t draw a salary
If you have an aggressive salary in mind (and almost every student who has come to see me does) then you can’t think in terms of a salary. New business grads who earn “good” money right out of school tend to work in jobs that have performance-based pay structures. That means they have to work really hard and they have to perform really well. They don’t sit in a cube (or trendy, brick-walled office like Truth#1) and put in a normal work week. They don’t talk about shoes, clothes, basketball, or weekend vacas with co-workers. They don’t put numbers in a spreadsheet and analyze data for someone else to review. They hustle. If you don’t want to sell something, then going back to Truth #2, you will probably enter the workforce in an administrative or overhead support position. Nothing wrong with that, the positions exist for a reason. Learn your job, hone your craft, and position yourself for promotions. But don’t expect to get rich immediately.

Inconvenient Truth #4: Words that end in “n’t” will severely limit your opportunities
I watch BBC’s “Top Gear.” Love the show. In one episode Richard Hammond was in Asia and needed to pick out something to eat. “Don’t like…” was what he kept saying over and over again. Consequently, he went quite hungry during the show. When employers hear grads say, “I won’t…” or “I can’t…” or I don’t…” they quickly lose interest in the grad and go looking for one who will. As they say on Top Gear, a new grad “top tip” would be to ask the Recruiter about their first job. Talk to the hiring manager about how they started in business. You’ll probably hear more stories about jobs that were quite humble and not very exotic.

Convenient Truth: You’ll probably lose this job in the next few years
Remember your high school sweetheart? Is he or she sitting next to you? Today the chances are much higher that if you do have a seat mate, you’re sitting next to someone you met later in life. Why? Options. Personal growth. Expanded communication channels. Individual fulfillment. Blah, blah, blah…. Same thing with careers. How many people do you know who’ve had the same job since graduation? How many have had more than one job, either at their employer’s request or their own? Your first job is not what you’ll do forever. Rather, it builds skills, traits, and accomplishments that will not only populate your resume but make you a better, more effective job candidate. If you narrowly define that “perfect” first job you may not ever find any first job in the same way your weird old spinster aunt or creepy bachelor uncle never found a mate.

Why is this last one a “convenient” truth? Because this truth is the one that should make new grads happy. Your first job will set you up for success in the future. You’ll build professional skills, gain experiences, and begin to shape a personal brand that can lead to that sexy / exotic / super cool job that you wanted out of the gate. The job might be with the company that hired you or it might be with a different company. It could be in the city you started in, or a different city (even one with trendy cafes, worn leather sofas, and a decent latte!) The possibilities are there, if you are open to anything!

Networking Pre-work

March 7, 2012

I work with an International student and she was telling me about how employment works in her home country. “Here, you network as part of finding a job. At home, the only way to find a job is through who you know.” She went on to tell me that a small network of powerful elites still control most of the post-Communist economy. The job market is closed and there are no want ads, no applicant tracking systems. Her story got me thinking about the challenges new grads face as they enter a new market where they may not have many connections. For example, Orlando can, at times, have established and mature networking circles that are hard to penetrate. So what is a new job seeker to do? Here are some hints…

Know WHY you are networking. Do you have a job already and you’re selling a product? Are you looking for a new job? Do you have a “school” job and you’re looking to move into a professional job? Are you just looking to expand your circle of contacts? Do you need a mentor to help you through the first few years of your career? All of these are valid, but you need to be specific with the people you reach out to regarding why you’re reaching out. That doesn’t mean tell them in the first sentence (we’ll discuss that later) but do some self assessment to know WHY you need to network in the first place.

Know what you have to offer. A former student of mine who is now a successful business owner summed networking up this way, “I never think about what I’m asking for, I spend time finding out helping others with what they need.” In other words, give and it comes back to you. But…to do that you have to know what you have to offer. If you’re looking for a job, you offer experience, skills, talents, and qualifications. Be specific. Write out a series of “I can…” statements. Something like, “I can think creatively to solve problems.” Or, “I can interpret a financial analysis.” If anything it can serve as a morale booster during what can be an arduous and humbling process. A lot of this is obviously on your resume, but be able to give tangible examples (with results and outcomes!) of times when you’ve done the things you say you can do.

Know what you need. I used to teach a class on Recruiting and Selection. I told my students that the hiring process was a lot like dating. The first step in finding a person who will be a good match for you is to know what qualities that person should possess. In the same way, a good hiring manager knows the skills and qualifications a person will need to do the job they are trying to fill. Fail on this and just jump in and you’ll soon see why your new significant sweetie is running off with your roommate and stealing your CDs! Bringing it back to networking, when you know what you need it not only guides your actions on where and with whom to network, it keeps you from asking for things that don’t help you with why you’re networking. I said before that networking is all about giving, but you need to know when to say, “Thanks, that would be helpful” when it comes back to you.

Identify places and groups. So now you’ve done the self-actualization thing, what’s next? We’ll, as your mama used to say, the measure of a person is who they choose to surround themselves with. Go back to your lists of what you offer and what you need. Do you offer a Human Resources degree from UCF? Then get involved in the alumni association. Join SHRM and the Central FL HR Association. Get some cards made up that you can hand out. Include your contact info and a few highlights from your resume. Leverage social media tools like LinkedIn to frame your identity and engage in conversations. Join groups and get involved in the discussions that take place.

Ask lots of questions. When I worked in the car business, I learned that the best sales people, the one’s with a book of business that could choke a mule, that never had to take an up because they worked repeat customers and referrals, the ones who had the highest customer service scores, the ones who had the best closing rate, the ones who were the best at what they did, didn’t really say much. They asked lots of questions and found out what the person thought, felt, needed, etc. Want to see how this process works, read The Trail and Death of Socrates. See the Socratic method in practice and take that lesson with you to your next networking event.

From this point on you can find plenty of guides on networking. It’s probably the most overused tip in career advising today. But remember that until you’ve done some self evaluation, you won’t know where you’re going. And if all you do is talk, no one’s going to ask you to come back!

Lonny

Without a doubt, the most difficult decision a business student has to make is what kind of career they want to pursue after graduation. Oh sure, there are those who graduate high school knowing they’ll be an Accountant or take over a family member’s business. But business school isn’t like engineering school. If you graduate in Electrical Engineering, there a pretty good chance you’ll look for work as an Electrical Engineer. But degrees in Management, Finance, Economics, or Marketing pretty much leave life’s screen door wide open.

So now you’re getting close to graduation. What’s next? Can’t go back to school…don’t want to join the Peace Corps…couldn’t do a sit up even with the drill sergeant screaming at you…yep, you’re stuck like Chuck. Gonna have to go to work! Having trouble deciding what to do? In my first post I said that a contributing factor to Orlando’s Identity Crisis was recent college graduates’ lack of knowledge about the entry-level job market. Some of the feedback I’ve received supports this idea so here’s my two cents…

Figuring out what you want to be can be accomplished by combining the “Three A’s”:

Ability – I worked with a guy who said he never worked a day in his life because he got paid to do what he loved. Everyone knows someone like that. My friend loved working on old cars, was a talented body man, and made his living running a chain of body shops. Sounds simple enough? Not so fast, I like to cook, but I certainly don’t do it well enough to make a living. Focus on those things where you have true talent. What do you do well? If you don’t know what you do well, then look to “A1.2” – Assessment. There are a lot of skills and personality assessments out there that can help you identify your core competencies and suggest careers that utilize those competencies. In our office we use CareerLeader, a product used by many graduate business career offices that was developed by the Harvard Business School. Once you’ve done all that and figured out your talents, remember an extra piece of advice my friend gave. Learn to live within the means that your talent provides. If you have talents that point to a career in Human Resources, but want to live the life of a Wall Street Investment Banker, then you probably won’t be successful or happy. Note to students…do this BEFORE you get too far along in school. Don’t get a degree in Accounting just because your dad told you that’s what you should do.

Available – I hear it all the time, “I’d like to get a job in a corporate headquarters and work my way up in the organization.” Cool…where are you moving? Orlando is not exactly a hub for corporate headquarters. We all know the big names; Darden, Tupperware, um…can I buy a vowel? This “A” is all about research, knowing the jobs in the local economy, learning how to live off the land and surviving on what’s available. Ever watch Survivorman? If he’s been ditched way up in the Alaskan tundra, he’s not living off spit roasted Cottonmouth. Why? No sticks to use a spit! Oh…and no Cottonmouths, either. He’s living on what he can find where he is. Job seekers must also learn to live on the jobs that are available. Want to live in Orlando, then get to know what kinds of companies and jobs that are available in Orlando. The Orlando Business Journal publishes its “Book of Lists” each year with dozens of lists and hundreds of companies. Want to know what community banks are in Central Florida? There’s a list of them in…The Book of Lists! Then look through a localized and targeted online job board like OrlandoJobs.com to see what’s being advertised in this area. This is basic supply and demand economics. Successful job seekers are supplying something that’s in demand.

Ask Around – One of the best things a soon to graduate student can do is stop just talking to other students and start talking to people who are working. Formally this is called conducting an “Informational Interview.” Informally it’s called chatting folks up. Be curious. Ask people what they do for a living. Ask them how they like it. Ask how they got to that position. Ask if they needed additional training or specific experience to get there. Ask them what kinds of tasks they work on each day. What do they like doing? What do they not like doing. Why do they like doing the things they like. Ask what other people in their office do. When you can’t ask any more questions, ask if they could recommend other people you can talk to. Who do you talk to? Everyone. Go to networking meetings. Be active in your alumni association. If you’ve targeted a job, look for professional associations.

A colleague of mine told students there was a “rule of three” in her class. If you had a question, you needed to try to find the answer in three different places before coming to ask. The “Three A’s” are your career “Rule of Three.” Good luck!!

Lonny