Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Power of Networking

Anyone who fishes knows that you can catch only one fish at a time, unless you use a net. To find a job, you also need to use a net. To snag multiple job offers you need a network.

A simple definition for network is: a netting or a net. That is fine for fishing, but to find a job you have to use a social network, which is: an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance or helpful information. However, I think most experts at finding a job will tell you that the people in a social network do not have to have a common interest, except may you. That is, you are their common interest. What does that mean?

Your social network can be just about anyone. Your parents are in your social network. Your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are in your social network. In other words, just about everyone around you is part of your social network. You see some of these people almost every day, but some of them you only see occasionally, and some you only see on holidays. Also, there are people you know that you have not seen in years, since you worked with them.

In my opinion, your social network is the best tool at your disposal for finding a job. While I have found jobs in other ways, the main way I have found the jobs I have had was because someone knew about a job and knew that I was qualified to do that job. Plus, that person was willing to vouch for me, to put in a good word for me with the potential employer. Think about it. When you want to see a movie or read a book wouldn't you rather see a movie or read a book recommended by a trusted friend? Granted, most employers are not going to put much stock in what your mom or dad tells them. But they might know someone an employer would trust.

Not everyone in your network is going to recommend jobs to you and you to employers. However, just about everyone you know in turn knows several other people (their social network). And, you guessed it, each one of those people know several other people. You are a friend of a friend of a friend for hundreds of people. What are the odds of one of those people knowing about a job that may not even be advertised yet? And your friend's friend will suggest you because they trust your mutual friend's opinion.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes. The moment you realize that you need a new job, for whatever reason (graduating from college, tired of your current job, loss of current job), let your social network know. Tell your mom and dad, your neighbors, people in your religious group, anyone who will listen. You never know where that next job might come from and who will suggest it. You probably do that instinctively without even realizing that you are networking.

Networking is such a powerful tool, it has now been formalized on the internet in several different ways. I was aware of and, but just recently heard about These sites (and many others) take social networking into cyberspace. Each site can be used to showcase ... you. Some are better for showing the away-from-work you and some (like LinkedIn) are better for housing your career information and work history. In the case of LinkedIn, you can list as much or as little about your work history as you feel necessary. And, each site has its version of making connections to others on the site. At LinkedIn, you can make connections, and give and receive recommendations from other members who know you. At FaceBook, you can make friends and post photographs.

There are many things to do when you are looking for a job. Networking is one of the most important and probably one of the most fruitful things you can do. Alert everyone you know and mobilize your social network. Google "social networking" to get more networking tips and check out,, or other social networking sites to increase your job search network and possibly add some people to it that you haven't seen in years. Who knows, Kevin Bacon might even be a friend of a friend of a friend ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Get Your Résumé In Order

Whether you are looking for your first job or a new job, you will need a résumé. says a résumé is ...

a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional
qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

A résumé is basically a summary of your skills and a history of where you have worked. It should describe your education, whether you finished high school, have a BS or a BA, have a masters degree, or maybe even a doctorate. I think most people who hire other people to work for a company (or any establishment that has employees) use a résumé as a screening device. There are no doubt computer programs that read résumés by the hundreds, looking for key words like "writer", "carpenter", "bilingual", or whatever they are looking for to fill a position. For that reason I have had to remove details about being a computer programmer early in my career (I am now a technical writer). Job sites, like, will send periodic lists of jobs to your email address based on the résumé and profile you have submitted.

Humans who read résumés also scan for key words, according to my wife who was once a Human Resources person at Apple Computer. HR departments get stacks of résumés when they post a job and even when they don't. People like me go to the websites of local companies and submit a résumé even if they are not posting any jobs that are right for me. Who knows, something might pop up in the near future and they already have a qualified candidate -- me. I would bet most companies dump those submissions fairly often, so you might have to reapply occasionally.

If you have never created a résumé, there are people and services that can help you do it, and many of them are free. You might even get a friend (especially a writer) to help you create a résumé or to, at least, review and edit it for you. I would suggest that you not go overboard if you are looking for your first job (I'm not even sure McDonald's or Burger King require a résumé), but some expense might be worth it if you are looking for a highly professional job.

There are many résumé styles, but most are either chronological or functional. The chronological format actually lists the things you have done in reverse order. In other words, it lists your most recent job first, then the previous job, and so on. Then is lists your education and any other activities (like clubs and hobbies, if applicable) that you are proud of. This format is good because the person reading it can read as far as they want and stop. I have recently been told that you should only list job experience within the last 15 years. This is good news for older job seekers. I have no doubts that at least some résumé readers screen for age. Listing only your most recent work details may get you by that screening process.

The functional format presents your skills and accomplishments by grouping information based on function. This format highlights what you have done, not where and when you did it. The functional format might be better for first time job seekers or people who have gaps in their employment (like staying home with your new baby for the last several years). Of course, the company to which you apply will most likely have some sort of application form that requires places and dates that you have worked. So have that information handy if it is not in your résumé.

Some job seekers create a résumé that targets a specific job or position. This may seem a bit deceitful, but not really. The targeted résumé simply saves the reader time because he or she does not have to read about all the wonderful things you have done that have nothing to do with the job for which you are applying. For example, there was a time that I was just as adapt at computer programming as I was at technical writing. I could have had a résumé that targeted programming jobs and a résumé that targeted writing jobs. The targeted résumé can be formatted either chronological or functional.

No matter what style (one column or two) or format (chronological or functional) you use, you most likely need a résumé. Do some research online and see if you can find examples of résumés best suited for the job you are seeking. If you are just starting out, you can even ask people who interview you what they are looking for in a résumé, and whether they could make any suggestions on your résumé. Most will be glad to help.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Would You Hire You?

Comb your hair, put on your makeup (optional for guys), and put on an outfit that you would wear to an interview. Go and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Take a good look. Now ask yourself, "would I hire me?" That is one hard question.

Take a really good look and remember that you have not said a word yet. The person that is going to interview you has only seen you. He or she has not heard your dazzling voice or the brilliant things you have to say. The interviewer has read your resume. Do you think he or she believes, after looking at you, that you are the one your resume is talking about? Can someone that looks like you be as intelligent and knowledgeable as the person described in your resume? Those are more hard questions.

Let's face it, people do judge a book by its cover, and interviewers are people. You can be assured that you would not have made it to the interview if being male or female mattered. That is pretty hard to downplay in a resume and almost impossible to disguise once you get an actual telephone call from the interviewer. Your color might be a surprise, but it had better not matter these days. Same goes for your race. If religion comes up, get ready to sue. Your accent (if English is not your native language) may be a problem, but probably not, if you got the interview after that telephone conversation.

There are lots of ways interviewers judge us, but our looks rank right up there with our attitude. As you gaze at yourself in that mirror, ask yourself whether you look like someone that would do the job for which you are about to interview. Think about it. The interviewer knows everything there is to know about your work history and qualifications for the job. They have asked you to come in, and meet them face-to-face, so they can get a look at you. Of course, they want to check out that other main thing they are evaluating--your attitude.

I suspect that ones attitude actually trumps the way one looks. Otherwise, some people you see at companies would never have gotten through the door. Or maybe their appearance has changed since they were hired. Most companies want someone who has a good attitude and has a good appearance. And there is another thing that the interview achieves. The interviewer has called you in to make sure you are not crazy; that you have not disguised the true you in your resume.

Did you ever wonder why you don't get immediate responses to that outstanding resume of yours? It is because people in charge of hiring new employees are scared to death of hiring psychos or people who have too much drama in their lives. These days, when you commit to hiring someone, it is darn near impossible to fire them. The benefits issues may cause them to screen out older candidates. You can hide your age in a resume, but you cannot hide your age when you meet with the interviewer. For that reason, I never try to hide my age and I don't waste my time applying to companies that are probably looking for younger employees. Of course, there are things you can do to minimize the visual impact of your age. I recently read a suggestion to color gray hair (easy enough) and slim down (not so easy), if you are an older job hunter. Doing contract work can overcome the benefits issues. The interview process helps the person doing the hiring to decide if any of these things are factors with you. Of course, you will never know the real reason you are denied employment. You can get mad and try to make a lawsuit, but my philosophy is: if they don't want people like me, I don't want to work there.

You have a lot to think about as you stand and look in that full-length mirror. Would I hire me? Would you hire you? Make sure you look your best for the job you are seeking, and then make sure you get an interview, if you really want the job. In the interview, prove to the person conducting the interview that you are not crazy, you have a great attitude, and you are not over the hill yet. Lose some weight, if you need to and can in time for the interview (start that today). Dress in your most flattering outfit and color your hair, if necessary. And don't forget to smile.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Who Am I?

Who am I and how can I help you find a job? I am just a guy like you, a guy that has to look for a job from time to time. I was once a computer programmer and now I consider myself a technical writer. I am not sure whether I can help you find a job, but you have to admit the price is right -- free.

I am not here to sell you my secret for finding a job because I don't have one. I am here to post my thoughts about getting a job. I am currently looking for a new job myself. If there is a secret to finding a job, maybe we can discover it together.

There are books about finding a job, like What Color Is Your Parachute, which I read a long, long time ago. The guy that wrote that book has updated it several times since it was first published in the early 1970s, probably because what worked then does not work now. The basic premise of that book was: figure out the job you want, how far you want to commute, and the companies that meet those requirements. Then you find a way to get into those companies with your resume and talk to someone that might be able to hire you. Why it takes so many pages to say that is anyone's guess.

That basic routine should still work today. You have to figure out what it is you want to do for around 40 hours a week, you have to have a resume, and you have to get into an acceptable company and talk to someone, face to face. Sounds pretty easy, right? Not really. Lots of people have read that book since it came out, and a lot of those people run companies and work in the Human Resources departments of those companies. And those HR people do not like to be bypassed by people trying to talk to the boss or managers of the company.

One of the hardest things I have had to figure out is what I want to be when I grow up. I am one of those guys that never took charge of my career. I also read a book about that -- Taking Charge of Your Career. I suppose I have done that to a certain degree. When presented with a job opportunity, I take charge and say yes or no. But does anyone have much more control than that? Even lawyers or doctors are always lawyers or doctors (unless they change careers altogether). It is just a matter of where, and maybe when, they practice their craft. As I recall, that book was suggesting that we should all be a little more proactive about where that next offer comes from.

I am not sure about you, but I have always been one of those guys that works mainly to make money with as little hassle as possible. Consequently, my career has been a series of happy accidents. I have a degree in mathematics and computer science, so I became a mainframe computer programmer. In my second company, I became a quality assurance manager. In that same company, I was asked to manage the documentation department, which got me into the technical writing and documentation business. I have done technical writing jobs since then. I worked for two different companies during my first twenty years after graduating from college. After being downsized out of the second company, I have worked at maybe six more companies, mostly as a contractor.

As you can see, I have reinvented myself along the way. I called my career a series of happy accidents because, with every new job, I have moved closer to something I like to do. I was a math and computer science major in college, but I also took a lot of writing and English classes as electives. So maybe my progression wasn't an accident. Maybe I have just been moving from jobs I can do to jobs I want to do. I have no secrets about finding a job, but I would say the secret to doing a good job is doing something you like to do because you are going to be doing it most of your days.

Another piece of advice that I have always heard is that you should find a new job while you still have a job. I have always admired people who do that. I usually like the job I am doing, but, even if I don't like the company where I work, I figure why jump from the frying pan into the fire. What if I take another job and it is worse than the job I have? I have known people that change jobs like that and soon they are back (if possible) or looking for another job. Of course, many successful people move from job to job, climbing the ladder. That brings other thoughts to mind like the bigger they are, the harder they fall and the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle says "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence." Yes, there was a book written about that, too, in 1968 (see Wikipedia for the full story). That makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Everyone finally gets to a point, if they keep taking on more advanced jobs, where their knowledge runs out. Most everyone finally takes a job for which they are not qualified. Why do you think you have had so many incompetent managers? They were probably great at doing the work, but they stink when it comes to being a manager. That is not always the case, but many times it is.

I suppose all that is a bit off the subject, but your career path does play a part when it comes to finding a new job. Do you want to keep doing the same job somewhere new or do you want to go a different direction? Just about every time I lose a job or my contract ends, I throw up my hands and try to figure out some new way to make a living. I think of playing the lottery in hopes of striking it rich, of inventing something like the Flow Bee, or of starting my own business. Many people turn one of their hobbies into a business. I recently heard about a programmer who lost his job and started a photography business. He uses his programming skills to display and advertise his photography on his webpage. About the only hobby I have is playing the guitar. I used to do that for money, but I doubt that I could support my family by doing that these days. I do write songs, most of which only have one verse. Not many singers want to buy unfinished songs.

Anyway, your expectations have to be realistic. While I might be able to land some kind of writing job other that technical writing, I am not likely to be hired as a medical writer. If you are a bread truck driver, you could probably become a FedEx truck driver, but you are not likely to become a FedEx airplane pilot without some serious training. That goes back to managing your career. You could take airplane lessons in your spare time and then you might become a pilot for FedEx sometime in the future. I know a lady who was laid off not long ago. After trying to find a job for a while, she decided to take a project management course. She is now certified in project management and soon found a job with a consulting company. The last time I spoke to her, she was managing an account on site at a local Fortune 500 company. So, if you can afford the training and can afford not to be working for a while, you might consider updating your skills to fit the requirements out there today. Your present company might even pay for training that would help you move into a higher-paying job in your current company. I have personally taken advantage of that in the past.

I suppose that is enough for an introductory post. I have been told that no post or documentation item should be more than a couple of screens long because hardly anyone has that much of an attention span these days. I know I don't.