Quit Yer Bitchin’

June 2, 2012

Yesterday we heard that unemployment ticked up slightly from 8.1% to 8.2%. With this news the posturing, primping, hand wringing and (worst of all) finger pointing began. Congress, pass this bill! Mr. President, you suck! Oh yea, well you suck! Well you’re a feckless booger head! Well you’re a girly petunia schmeghead! Well you were born in a van by the river! Well you read Twilight…and liked it!!! WOULD YOU ALL SHUT THE HELL UP!!!!

Damn, am I the only one who thinks it’s like listening to elementary school girls arguing on the playground! The only thing worse than the figure heads bickering is the sound of their supporters, surrogates, and brainless followers playing a collective game of, “Oh yea, well yer mama!” When I was a kid my parents were friends with a couple that used to fight constantly. I was the same age as one of their sons so I used to hang out with him a lot. I can remember his mom and dad getting liquored up at night and fighting. They’d get mean; yelling, screaming, calling each other names, threatening to walk out. Stuff no kid should hear their parents say to each other but because they were on a booze-fueled roll, it came out at full volume. I can remember looking at my friend and he’d be sitting there in his room coloring or playing with a car acting like he didn’t hear it but I can only imagine how it made him feel inside. I was too young to get it, but now I reflect and realize what a lousy situation those two selfish parents put their kids through.

Now I’m watching our elected leaders, the people who want to be our elected leaders, and their collective hangers-on, behaving in the same selfish way. Throwing around words like “feckless” and “vulture” and “weak” and a “load of you-know-what” they talk about each other in a way that makes their rabid followers feel better but does nothing to actually solve anything and makes those of us who would like to see the situation improve feel like they are more focused on Michael Jackson’s man in the mirror than anyone else in the room. Again, it’s all finger pointing and name calling. Let’s put this situation into focus…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are currently 12.5 million unemployed workers in the US. Additionally, there are 3.7 million unfilled job openings. As previously mentioned, the unemployment rate is 8.2%. Gotcha. Also according to the BLS, that unfilled req number is trending up, meaning companies are slowing their hiring activity and letting unfilled jobs stay vacant. So what if we held a giant job fair and filled all those jobs? Seriously.

Recruiting and Staffing professionals are generally held to a metric called “time to fill.” In other words, they are measured by how quickly they fill a job opening. If your time to fill is too long, you get fired. If your time to fill is fast, you do well. In this case, without any government program, intervention, stimulus, or tax, we could drop the unemployment rate to 6% by just filling the job openings that are currently on the books. Really. Companies can make a decision to act on their own. I know this is a concept that is becoming more and more foreign in a capitalist economy. Seems like we’d rather complain about the barriers to open and free commerce than actually engage in it.

Ok, so in theory my idea sounds good but realistically I know that will NEVER happen. Why? Couple of reasons. First off, companies can be like that guy you knew who kept waiting for the perfect woman to come along. You remember him. Everyone was either too this or too that. Weird laugh. Blue eye shadow. Loved her cat. Creepy oil painting of her last boyfriend surrounded by candelabra… Whatever. Basically he never made a choice because he’d set too high of a standard. A standard that didn’t exist. He just kept seeing what was out there. Eventually he became your old, bald confirmed bachelor friend who your kids called “Uncle.” Point is, like your friend, these companies may be retaining a nice wad of cash in their pockets and keeping their options open for the next best thing, but in the end they’ll be alone and largely unproductive. They’ll leave open job reqs that you know will not be filled. Seeking entry level accountant with CPA and five years experience, $10 per hour. Really?

Second, on the other hand, some jobs really are that hard to fill. They require skills and qualifications that aren’t in great supply. Remember the Star Trek movie where they went back in time to get a couple of humpback whales to save the Earth. I think it was called “Star Trek: We Saved Spock, Now What the Hell Do You Want Us to Do?” Anyway, in that movie Scotty had to invent transparent aluminum for some company so they could build a tank to hold the whales. Why? Because to do their job, they needed a commodity that didn’t exist. So what can a company do? Well, back in the olden days when I was a young HR whipper-snapper we had this thing called Training and Development. It was a novel idea where companies would actually invest in real and useful lessons that built employee skills. What happened to mess this up? Two things, since training people involved identifying skill deficiencies and then developing tailored programs to address those deficiencies it’s kinda hard. It’s a lot easier to just do “leadership training.” So we invested in management while leaving our worker bees to figure it out on their own. As punch presses became CNC milling machines we just laid off the button pushers and went looking for programmers. Second, everyone realized that training, good training, was expensive. When faced with cutting costs, training unfortunately is a commodity that gets cut early on.

This is not to say that it’s all industry’s fault that reqs can’t get filled. Job seekers can be fickle as well. Check out a couple of my earlier blogs and you’ll see that I skewer them as well for being unrealistic about the jobs they’ll take. Instead of truly considering an “entry level” opportunity as a chance to get a foot in and grow with an organization, they instead hold out for some glamorous yet illusive, Nietzsche-esque uber-job. Problem is pop culture jobs just don’t exist in the real world. On TV people have the exotic assignments in fabulous locales surrounded by beautiful and interesting people. In the real world people go to work. Seriously, that’s it. Go to work, eat dinner, try to raise your kids not to be assholes, repeat for the next 50 years. It really is just that simple. In between you try to do good things and maybe make a positive impact on the world, but in the end, Mad Men is a bunch of bullshit.

There are plenty more reasons why my idea won’t take hold. Demographics, the locations of job openings vs locations of available workers, etc, etc. But instead of firing off a comment and reminding me of some obscure reason that I failed to list, think about this. Maybe we just don’t want to fix this problem for the same reason my parent’s friends stayed together. What would we bitch about?

Whence cometh loyalty? For some reason this topic has come up a few times for me in the last week. Initially it was a conversation with a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel who was doing a story on whether or not young workers lack “professionalism.” Since then I’ve seen stories in the media about what new grads will need to do to maximize their success in a slowly improving job market (be professional, communicate, network, etc.) and had a conversation with an employer about how he only wants “hungry” students willing to prove themselves (in an unpaid internship). Then about a week ago I was sitting in a focus group for a colleague and the conversation turned to skills needed by young workers. Most of the employers at the table were adamant that Gen Y lacks the professionalism and drive needed to be successful, and that colleges of business should be teaching classes to address this. It was the same, tired argument about a lack of enthusiasm, drive, ambition, and enterprise that generally emanates from well-seasoned groups like this. During the conversation, the talk turned to employee longevity and the loyalty that goes with that. The older employers at the table said that younger workers job hop too much and they wouldn’t interview anyone whose resume didn’t show longevity.

I couldn’t keep it in any longer… In 15 years of HR experience I have been part of the elimination of almost 3000 jobs. Some were through reductions in force, some were location closings. But all had the impact of eliminating jobs and putting people out of work through no fault of their own. All were economic decisions driven by company leadership as either part of a strategy for cost reduction or in response to reduced demand for products and services. Now before you start calling me some kind of pinko commie one-percenter, let me say that I totally get the need to reduce staffing when you don’t have anything for them to do. I’m not saying keep unneeded resources the way my nutty neighbor hoards old newspapers and empty prescription bottles. That’s just dumb, in BOTH cases!

Funny that I feel the need to head off that kind of argument before I’ve even made my point. Must be watching too much cable news….

Anyway, I told the collected employers that my experience in the people business has shown that most companies operate in order to make a profit for their shareholders and that means that, if necessary, they will eliminate jobs and shed the associated costs. It’s not a good or bad thing, it just is. People are a resource that cost money and depending on the company’s philosophy, sometimes you have to eliminate jobs to cut costs.

However, I entered the people business at the beginning of the late-80s recession and since then have been in it in one form or another. In that time, most of today’s young workers were born and grew up (gad, it pained me to say that!) So, if I’m busy laying their parents off and shutting down where they work and sending them home sometimes with no prior warning, how does that impact their views of “company loyalty”?

One of the employers said that his company provided outplacement services to laid off employees. That’s great, I responded. But that’s not always the case. Out of all the layoffs I participated in, we only did that once with a small pool of upper-level employees. In most other cases we laid people off that day with no warning whatsoever. We also brought in security and did other things to protect company property from the ravages of a rioting hoarde…a hoarde that never rose up. But didn’t it look comforting to have the Pinkertons at the ready just in case some ne’re-do-well decided to get out of line. Looked really good on the Channel 9 news.

How did it really look to the people impacted? On one of those occasions I ended my job by laying myself off. In that case I knew it was coming. In another case my boss let me go with no warning after I had let half of my team go. I got to go home and tell my kid that the good news is we’d have more time to hang together. The bad news is that was about all we’d be able to afford to do! In another case, I saw my Dad retire after more than 30 years with his employer. This, you’ll want to say was the pinnacle of traditional employer/employee loyalty, right? A young man joins a company at its lowest ranks and rises to become a senior executive before retiring. Great story. Except for one fact. My Dad accepted an early retirement package. That’s a nice way of laying off old people who have been there a while. Was he ready to retire? Probably, my mom was sick and he wanted to spend time with her. But was retiring his choice? Was his time as productive worker at an end? Probably not. Then again, some older workers haven’t had the option to “retire.” In many cases I just told them that what they were going to do was up to them, they just couldn’t do it here anymore.

Not to get off track, but come to think of it, what do these folks retire on? It’s certainly not a company paid pension in most cases. Those are as rare as an Edward Cullen steak. No, they have to retire on a 401K that they contributed to and hopefully managed well. Over the past 10 years many companies (again, in the spirit of cost savings) have cut their contributions to this benefit, or stopped contributing all together.

What has the collective impact of all this been on young people just entering the workforce? Well, I haven’t studied all the empirical evidence, but I have a hunch based on conversations and observations of this group. Their experience is that companies, in general, are not loyal to the employees who work for them. We have created an environment where, instead, employees look out for their own best interest. If that action benefits the company (and many times it does) then cool, but if not, so be it. And if it be, then I’ll take my ball (knowledge, skills, connections, program, Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, etc.) and go play elsewhere.

This isn’t to say that layoffs and plant closings are the only factors contributing to a demise in perceived loyalty. It’s more the product of an increasingly self-absorbed society. Heck, if you want to be a sociologist about it, what impact has free agency in professional sports, musical frontmen “going solo,” and the inability of anyone who wins The Bachelor to get married and have a normal boring life had on society’s views of loyalty. Private equity firms rape and pillage the countryside! Sports teams pack up and leave town under the cover of darkness! Sammy Hagar replaces David Lee Roth only to have the Van Halens kick him out and bring Diamond Dave back! I’d say it’s anarchy, but it has become such the norm that it can’t be anarchistic.

Josiah Royce writes, “There is only one way to be an ethical individual. That is to choose your cause, and then to serve it, as the Samurai his feudal chief, as the ideal knight of romantic story his lady, — in the spirit of all the loyal.” To him, loyalty was the product of serving one’s cause, sometimes forgoing individual needs, and continuously honing in on one’s core mission until you surrounded yourself with people and resources that support that core mission. When you’ve reached a level of full commitment to the cause, you are loyal. Loyalty, then, is something directed to “things” more than it is to people. In today’s terms, young people are committed to causes more than they are to people. To them, people come and go, but the cause can remain constant. Through this we see a rise in social activism, possibly fueled by equal doses of naivety and enthusiasm, but the level of dedication is greater than seen in previous generations. We also see a rise in entrepreneurship, a desire to be in more control of one’s own destiny and less subject to the whims of leaders and strategies they don’t control.

So what happens when that cause is ill-defined? Take the rise in corporate gobbledygook known as “Mission Statements.” These useless code phrases dot the landscape like so many vacuous billboards. “We change people’s lives.” “Driven to be the best.” Give me a freaking break. In both cases the core mission of both enterprises was to deliver maximum return to shareholders. Period. Again, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But because we muddy the water by believing our own bullshit and insisting that these half-baked catch phrases are really what we do, we cloud the true mission of the firm and, in Royce’s view, fail to clarify our cause. No cause = no loyalty.

What was interesting to me in that focus group was the reaction of one of the employers to my hypothesis. An older gentleman responded politely saying he heard what I was saying, but still wasn’t going to hire anyone who jumped around. That’s fine, I thought, most of the best ones are doing their own thing and won’t want to work for you anyway!

Learning to Fail

May 3, 2012

So, how many times have you screwed up? How many times have you misunderstood, misinterpreted, or just misjudged? How many times have you been wrong? How many times have you failed?

As they say in motorcycle racing, crashing sucks! And if you’ve seen the way they go down, you’d have to agree that wrecking while wrenching a 300 pound machine just inches from the ground at 120 miles per hour is pretty much the apogee of failure. Nothing like racing forward at full speed with your desired end result in mind, possibly even in sight, and having it all go to hell with one miscalculation. Most times it’s easier to handle, though more disappointing, when it’s your screw up. If it’s someone around you or even someone on your team, it can send you into freakout mode because their mistake caused you to fail.

Failure sucks for a bunch of reasons. Mostly it sucks because, well, you failed! You didn’t accomplish what you wanted. But it also sucks because there’s usually negative consequences associated with failure. The bridge falls, the car won’t start, dinner tastes like a wet sock, you lose money, your CUSTOMER loses money, your girlfriend splits with half your stuff…the list goes on. If it’s a work-related failure there’s usually a butt-chewing that follows. Might even be a documented butt-chewing. Might even be a FINAL documented butt-chewing. Might be a smile and a wave as you pack your box.

But failure teaches us so much. For starters, it teaches us what NOT to do. Ever stuck a penny in an electrical outlet? Ever did it again? I didn’t think so. I remember getting my first ten-speed bike (yea, I’m that old…). Grabbed a handful of front brake and went tumbling over the front wheel. Did it right in front of a pack of kids from school who thought it was so funny as I tumbled through the air and across the asphalt. My pride was bruised, my back and shoulder were scraped, but my brain was smarter. Note to self, don’t try to stop quickly using just the front brake…especially with people around!

Failure also teaches us how to fix stuff. As a manager, I don’t want people who can just come in and do stuff. I want people who can come in and do stuff BETTER. I want people who can look at what we’re doing and say, I have an idea on how to improve that. And then I want them to shut the hell up and do it! I want people who can take responsibility for something and make it awesome. I want people, who can fix things. And how do you learn to fix things? Well, most times you learn by having broken it at some point. My Dad told me this awesome story about when he was a teenager and learning to work on cars. He pulled the distributor out of my grandfather’s 1958 Chevy. His uncle looked at him and said, that’s nice. Put it back. So Dad did. And the car wouldn’t start! Seems you have to have the distributor lined up just right, you can’t just shove it back in. Took my Dad the rest of the day and most of the night to figure it out so my grandfather could go to work the next day. I can identify. As a new HR person I was given the task of planning an employee picnic. It was an unmitigated disaster. After that I knew everything I should do to make it better. Still can’t stand employee picnics, though…

But more importantly it teaches us that we are not infallible. In an era of participant ribbons and no scoreboards and over-complimentary parenting sometimes we have to learn that we aren’t as freaking wonderful as we think we are. Sometimes we do dumb stuff and when we do there’s a negative consequence. The truly brilliant man is not the one who can tell you everything he knows, it’s the one who realizes there’s so much more to learn! Sometimes it’s a skill we need to learn. Sometimes it’s the application of the skill that we need to learn. Sometimes we just need to stop believing our own bullshit. Most times we fail because we don’t know something about ourselves.

So what’s the difference between messing up and learning from one’s mistakes? Well, first is a level of awareness. You have to be able to recognize situations where your actions, or the actions of those around you, have lead to failure and be able to quickly dispense with the excuses and get to the mechanics. Many times getting past the excuse phase is hard because we want to focus on WHO failed rather than WHY we failed. And in most of these cases, everyone played a role in the failure. Healthy self-awareness is being able to admit our own role in the failure then quickly get past that and on to the repair.

So, next is the competence to fix whatever it is that contributed to the failure. This shouldn’t be mistaken for fixing it yourself. Going back to self-awareness it’s important that you know your limits and seek out expert advice. If I’m sick, I go to a doctor. I know people who like to self-medicate. They take herbs and roots and berries and all that stuff when what they need to do is go see a doctor. Call me when WebMD has taught you out how to carve out that brain tumor and I’ll say it’s a good idea. Until then, I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. I’m gonna get help with the stuff I don’t know.

Finally is the support structure that not only allows, but encourages periodic failure. I remember my son tooling off down the street on the little trail bike I bought him. I almost threw up….. I knew he was going to run into a car, or a tree, or a dog, or just fall and break some random body part (going back to the top, that’s why crashing sucks!). But, he wasn’t going to learn to ride unless I let him ride. He still rides today. Does pretty good. But I’ve also worked in HR long enough to know that everyone is just one screw up away from getting canned. With that in mind we sometimes work harder to cover our ass or set others up to take the fall for our mistake (for reference, see the lyrics to, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid”).

On that note, ever been stabbed in the back? It sucks worse than crashing, but it’s a special kind of failure. It’s a failure in trust and judgment. You put your trust in someone else, and they violate that trust for their own self-interest. I wrote about inconvenient truths a few blogs ago. Here’s another one. Some people are just assholes. Learn to deal with it.

To new grads I say, get out of your seat and go fail. To their future bosses I say, don’t be a jerk. Let them fail then man up and support them when they do. Failure doesn’t make either you weaker, it makes both of you stronger!

Shoot me a note at UCF_OCC@yahoo.com if you think I’ve failed in my reasoning. Send me a note if you think I’ve succeeded. Whatever the reason, get out there and talk to folks. Peace!

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!

Why Your Resume is Killing Your Job Search

Conventional wisdom says to get a job, you need a resume. Conventional wisdom says employers will hire you based on the skills and experience you possess. Conventional wisdom says your resume is a snapshot of your skills and experience. So…the sum of this wisdom would lead you to believe that if you write out all your experience on a piece of paper, name it “resume” and send it out, you’ll get a job. Right? WRONG!

Most applicants don’t get past the first screening. Why? Their resume suffers from one of Lonny’s “Deadly Resume Sins.”

Blandness
Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored…… That’s how I feel when I read most resumes. Send me your “generic” resume and I start looking out the window at the kids playing hacky sack. Yay, the universal diversion! EVERY time you reply to a job posting you need to alter your resume to fully meet the requirements of that position. Met someone at a networking event? Find out what they do or what they want to do with your resume and tailor it again. I heard someone advising a student the other day saying that’s what the cover letter is for. POPPYCOCK!!! No one reads cover letters. Ok, maybe some people do. But like a collection of rural Louisiana liberals, collectively they could fill a phone booth. The 70s are over, no one buys an album to get one or two hits. Every song you put out needs to stand on its own merit, every resume needs to target a specific opportunity.

Objective Statement
I need you to sit down and take a deep breath. Ready? I don’t give a rat’s a$$ what you want to do when you grow up. I want to find someone to fill this job who is going to be a rock star and eventually let me retire to a small tropical island with Herve Villechaize and a dozen employees of the month from Hooters. I’m going to read maybe the top half-ish of your resume. You better hit me hard in that first few lines with what you bring to the table and how that relates to my business. When you read a good book, the author hits you from the first paragraph in a way that keeps you reading. Makes you want to continue. An Objective Statement does nothing to hook me because in the end, your only objective is to get a job. If you wanted to do something else, you’d be starting the company yourself.

Irrelevance
If I post a job or I tell you I’m looking for someone with ____ skills, don’t send me a resume that shows you don’t meet those qualifications. If I say I need someone with sales experience then you need to have sales experience. If I say I need someone who can grow new business then you need to show what you can do in business development. If I say I need someone with a Bachelor’s degree, then you need to have a Bachelor’s degree. People don’t go to the grocery store saying, I’m making spaghetti so I need pasta, tomato sauce and meat then feel like they have what they need by picking up the ingredients for apple pie. A recent survey conducted in Central Florida listed “unqualified applicants” as one of the major impediments to hiring in this area. Recruiters and employers feel they are spending more time looking through more resumes that are less qualified. Annoying an employer is no way to build a relationship. Just because you WANT to do that job, doesn’t mean you CAN.

Focusing on the Past
Someone tell me what other marketing media focuses on the past? Beer commercials tell you about all the fun dudes and hot chicks you’ll meet. Insurance commercials tell you how much money you’ll save. Chew this gum and you’ll have white teeth; take this pill and your sweetie will think you’re Captain Morgan straddling a cannon shouting, “Yo ho ho!!” Want to be a lady’s man? Just color your hair like Emmitt Smith….oh, and be an all pro Running Back with big muscles and Super Bowl rings and a padded checking account. That helps too. Your resume is your primary piece of marketing collateral. It needs to create an image of the kind of future the employer can expect from you, not just what you did in the past. You raised $1000 for charity. Good. Your mother is proud. What will that do for me? Don’t assume I know. I’m already consumed with other stuff. Create a vision of the future for me.

Coming Before You
I’ll give you that when you apply via a job posting, the first thing the employer sees about you is your resume. But, if that’s your ONLY approach, then you’re in trouble. Find a reason to put on pants. Get out and mingle. Talk to people. NETWORK!!! I was talking to a student the other day who is getting his MBA at night because he’s an engineer with 12 years of experience and has discovered he doesn’t want to be an engineer anymore. He wants to be an accountant. So he asks me how he finds accounting jobs. How did you decide to change careers, I ask. A test at work that the HR department did. Really? Did you talk to any of the accountants at work, maybe speak to a manager, maybe talk to the HR person about your test results and see if there are lateral opportunities. You, personally, are a better piece of media than a piece of paper. You can answer questions. You can ask questions. You can smile and be charming. You can show interest. You can be humble and thankful. Get out there and talk to people and let your resume FOLLOW you for a change.

Errors (Real or Perceived)
A real error would be employment dates that don’t make sense. A perceived one would be leaving your email as BigBootyDADDY@yahoo.com. It’s still your email, but it sucks. Change it. Other errors include mis-spelled words, formatting errors like unaligned borders or mis-matched bullets, fonts that don’t match, or simply making statements that the employer may know to be false. This one is simple, don’t stretch the facts and check your work. Finally, anything you do that makes it hard for a recruiter to read your resume is an error. Make sure sections like Experience and Education are clearly identified and easy to read as are dates of employment, contact info, and key qualifications. This is your first assignment, the first sample of the quality of your work. Mess it up and how can I trust you to do anything else right?

Dumb Stuff
This is a very broad one. Dumb stuff is basically anything else that I haven’t already listed that the recruiter / employer doesn’t care about and isn’t pertinent to the position being filled. How much space did you dedicate to a job that has nothing to do with the position I’m trying to fill? Are you listing school projects that, though interesting, aren’t tied back to what makes you qualified for the position to be filled? For example, this is more of a personal pet peeve, but I’d rather you pick ONE phone number where I can reach you and stick to it. Don’t give me your cell number, home number, and mom’s number. Unless your name is Stifler… It can even include using distracting fonts or colored paper. One time I was on a search committee for an Outdoor Recreation Coordinator and an applicant put their resume on paper with dolphins and undersea life all over it. BLECH!!! Then there was the hot pink resume I got with a big flower at the top. DOUBLE BLECH!!!

Despite some rumblings here and there, resumes aren’t going away anytime soon. A few larger companies are taking the resume upload option off their career sites and making all applicants fill out an application and some executive search firms are using candidate profiles rather than sending out resumes of their clients, but for the most part, there is still a need for job seekers to have a synopsis of themselves ready for distribution. Be smart about what you say and don’t let your resume kill off your opportunities!

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!

“Sales.” I said it. I said it loud enough for the sleepy young lady in the back row to be annoyed by my inflection. I smiled when I said it. And I watched their cherub-like exuberance slowly melt into an ashen repugnance. They were budding MBA graduates. A sales job is beneath them!

A month or so ago I wrote that in Orlando, “you either sell to those who serve, or serve those who sell.” It generated a LOT of discussion in various circles. Some thought I was castigating professional sales as a career path for new college grads (including those newly-minted MBAs) but I want to make it clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Sales, in fact, is an EXCELLENT way for new grads to gain entry into a firm.

Why? It’s the best way to show what you, individually, are capable of achieving. It’s also the most effective way to learn about the firm’s core product or service. Career-wise it’s a good move because companies will generally lay-off overhead and support positions before touching revenue generating positions. It’s also the best position to be in to interact with every operational unit at every level of the organization. From a control standpoint you generally enjoy a performance-based pay structure, are given a great deal of flexibility to self-manage, and initiate most of your interactions. Intrinsically you get to experience the highs and lows that come from setting and achieving goals along with helping your clients operate their businesses or live their lives better.

So why do students have an aversion to sales? Some claim they don’t like the reputation a “sales job” has. They immediately think of a used car huckster or other dishonest caricature. I know this picture well. I worked in the car business and there are a lot of folks whose actions keep that reputation alive. Slicksters, cheaters, sloths, and just outright crims dot the dealership landscape like so many potted plants. But it’s too easy to blame the profession for some bad seeds. I think that’s a convenient excuse for not really knowing all it takes to be a good sales professional.

Sales is hard. To be a good sales professional you have to be smart. You have to be able to retain tactile facts about the product or service you offer, you have to be able to communicate with and relate to your customer, you have to listen to their needs, and ultimately be able to apply what you know to create a solution for your customer. When I was teaching I used to say it’s one thing to barf up a list, it’s another thing to be able to pick through the chunks and identify what made you sick.

Sales takes discipline. Good sales people have to be smart enough to create a plan and have the discipline to stick to it. You have to manage your own activity, manage your time, and stay organized. It also takes interpersonal discipline. You’ll be challenged and questioned. You’ll be rejected. You’ll have to “suck it up” and make amends when your plan falls through or someone outside of your sphere of control fails to perform effectively. You create and maintain the image of the company you represent. Ask Charles Barkley, being a role model takes discipline.

Sales means you have to perform. In sales there is no cover. You either did it, or you didn’t. Your performance is out in the open and subject to evaluation. Some people are not comfortable being held accountable. In sales if you don’t perform you can expect corrective feedback. You have to be mature (and disciplined) enough to take the feedback and improve your performance. If you don’t improve your performance, you will eventually pay the ultimate price and be removed from your position.

Finally, sales is less about talking and more about relationships. In the days of sailing ships the British Navy would solicit new recruits by just cracking them over the head. You’d wake up miles out to sea with a knot on your head. Sales professionals understand that long-term success comes from building a relationship with their customers, not cracking them over the head. Only thing is, it takes time, effort and talent to build a relationship. I’ve heard people say, “So-and-so is a great talker, he should get into sales.” Wrong! The best sales professionals are the best LISTENERS, not talkers.

Regardless of the job you have, you need traits like these to be successful. Accountants have to interact, consultants have to influence their clients, analysts have to be capable of complex thought, HR generalists have to build relationships. All of these are critical competencies to a professional sales person in the same way that all of these are critical competencies for a professional business person.

I still feel Orlando needs a more diverse Entry-Level employment base if it’s going to retain the best and brightest local college graduates. Everyone can’t be expected to sell or work in the service sector waiting for their break. Especially if that break is just a higher level position in sales or service. The graduate talent pool is just too diverse. However, a lack of options, doesn’t mean those options are bad.