Friday, August 28, 2009

Twitter Tips for Job Seekers

I think most job seekers have gotten the word that they need to integrate social media into their search efforts, but I’m getting a bit alarmed at what some of them are Twittering.

“I’m eating a baloney sandwich.”

“I’m totally hungover from last night. Don’t even know the guy in my bed.”

“I hate my life. I hate looking for a job. “

Then, there are the bios: “A party kind of gal who loves Beanie Babies and eating raw cookie dough.”

Or, “Crazed man with a mission to break as many laws as possible.”

OK, enough. While there are plenty of tutorials about how to Twitter, I’m going to give tips specific to job hunters.

1. Fill out your bio. This is your chance to grab the attention of potential employers or other professionals. Don’t EVER leave it blank. If you don’t care who you are and what you have to offer, no one else will. Keep it professional. If you want to include a personal detail or two, keep it tame: “Cardinals baseball fan” or “avid skier.”
2. Post a professional photo. Don’t use photos that qualify you for the cover of Maxim or show you in your Captain Kirk outfit.
3. Provide a professional link. In your bio, provide more information on LinkedIn or another professionally focused site.
4. Be a valuable Tweeter. No employer cares what you had for lunch. Provide links to current industry news, or information on how to solve a problem – or how you solved a problem.
5. No whining. We all know the job market is tough and looking for work can be difficult. But employers want to get to know people who confront challenges and are energized by them. When you blame outside forces for your woes: “The economy sucks. My state sucks. My school sucks,” employers fear the bitching could extend to them if they employ you, so they move on.
6. Clean tweets, only. Don’t tweet – or retweet – anything profane, racist, sexist or anything you wouldn’t say to your grandmother.
7. No inanities. Employers don’t care if you’re going to bed, what you had for lunch or whether you are going shopping. If you can’t think of something valuable or interesting to tweet, don’t tweet at all.
8. Never use the word “desperate.” I’ve seen people say they’re “desperate” to find a job, either in their bio or their tweet, or both. Big mistake. Employers never hire “desperate” people.
9. Sound smart. Use proper punctuation, grammar and spelling. Using all lower case and lots of text acronyms makes you look and sound like an eighth grader.
10. Forget the personal health issues. You want employers to see you as robust, energetic and raring to go. If you tweet that you’ve got bunions, a urinary tract infection or a “weird rash on your leg,” they’ll move onto healthier prospects.

What are some other tips for job seekers on Twitter?


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Can We Learn From the Bad Job Market?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal talked about the cycle of "boom and bust" and what we can learn from it in today's economy. (And just for the record, I never invested in more than two -- OK, three -- Beanie Babies, and I never spent more than $100 on a purse. OK, maybe once.)

But that brings up another point besides my sometimes dubious purchases -- what have we learned from the "boom or bust" of the job market? That's a question I examined in my latest story for Gannett:

The last year has certainly been rough for both employer and employee. But now that there are economic signs that the worst may be behind us, what lessons can be learned?

For employees, it may be that they never again let their networks lag and their skills become outdated. For employers, it may be that they listen better to their workers and be more aware of what makes top performers happy.

“I really do think there is going to be fallout as far as the way people manage their careers, particularly when you’ve been laid off. It changes you in very significant ways,” says Jennifer Kahnweiler, an Atlanta-based executive coach and founder off AboutYOU, Inc.. “I think after something like that, you will always look over your shoulder.”

She adds that even those with jobs have been changed by the spectra of layoffs and may be much more proactive about their careers in the future. “You talk to people and they’re just so overloaded at work. They’re grateful to have jobs, but as soon as things get better, they may jump ship. A lot of them have expanded their skills by doing more work and so can go elsewhere.”

An Accountemps survey found that when workers were questioned about any positive impact the recession had on them and their jobs, 53 percent said they had taken on new projects, while 52 percent said they have gained responsibility and 52 percent had more challenging work.

And it’s those more skilled workers that are worrying many employers right now. Beth Carvin, a human resources expert and president and CEO of Nobscot Corp. in Honolulu, says that companies have seen a dramatic drop in the number of employees quitting their jobs. That means that employers are now concerned that those who have “hunkered down” and become even more valuable to bottom-line success will leave once the job market heats up.

“It’s not going to be difficult for some companies to poach workers. Some people have stayed just out of need, and they’re waiting for the second they can leave,” Carvin says.

She says companies are “just now beginning to talk about what the recovery will mean for them.” One of those key areas of concern is the mindset of their current workforce.

“The people who have remained are the key employees, and retaining them is super important. That’s why companies are now being more proactive. They know they’ve got to keep people happy in order for them to stay. So, they’re asking workers questions like: ‘Are you frustrated? Are you burned out? Are you tired? What can we do to help you?’”

For many employees, losing a job was a learning experience in itself. A survey by SnagAJob found that four in 10 workers who had been laid off found their job loss to be a blessing in disguise. Specifically, 49 percent used the time to reconnect with family and friends, while 62 percent said they now know how to get by with less.

Some 28 percent said they feel better prepared to handle life’s next road bump.
Kahnweiler says that people have spent more time in self-reflection, considering mistakes they’ve made and what they can do differently in the future, such as being better prepared when job loss comes their way.

“There has to be real pain for people to make a change, and there has been real pain,” Kahnweiler says. “For those who get work, it’s going to be important for them to keep the fire in the belly and remember that while it’s nice to have a job, it could go away.”

That’s why Kahnweiler says that when the job market improves and more people do go back to work, they should continue to network online, and to make an investment in their skills or training at least once a year, even if the employer doesn’t pay for it.

“You’ve got to always have support in order to sustain change,” she says. “So, get yourself a coach or get together a group of people to help keep you on track. Learn to practice what you preach.”

What lessons should be learn from this job market?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Julia Child's Passion Brings Employees Together

I recently saw the movie "Julie/Julia," and was so inspired I made Julia Child's roast chicken the next day. While I won't go into details, suffice it to say that it was a hit at my house and my family wants me to now make all my meals with two pounds of butter.

While watching the movie, I reflected back to a story I recently did for my Gannett/ column. The story was about building teams through cooking, and while researching it, I came across some information about Julia Child and her career. The thing that really struck me was the enthusiasm and passion she had for what she did. It's something I'm sure most of us dream about, and some of us even achieve.

I thought Julia was the perfect person to introduce the story about the joys of cooking and sharing a good meal with colleagues. Here it is:

Famed cook Julia Child once said that cooking is “just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving or music.”

Some employers are also hoping it’s a surefire recipe for motivating and inspiring workers.

At a time when employee engagement is critical because of reduced staffs and increased competition in tough economic times, employers are seeking ways to help employees bond better not only with co-workers, but with managers . They’re stepping into Child’s world – the kitchen – to do just that.

San Francisco-based Parties That Cook stages team-building cooking events for companies where employees work together to create a meal that they then eat together, all under the watchful eye of a professional chef. Often held at a boss’s house, the event mixes together employees in different departments and focuses on each team preparing a dish by a deadline with certain ingredients.

For founder and CEO Rene Lacerte , the kitchen offers just the kind of team building he needs for his start-up company’s 16 employees.

“When I have people to my home, the message I’m sending is that I’m opening my arms and home to them,” Lacerte says. “It’s making a very personal connection.”

With the average employee age around 30, and most of their culinary skills leaning toward peanut –butter-and-jelly sandwiches, Lacerte says his employees were “kind of nervous.”

“But that was OK because I want them to see if they take risks and work together as a team, they can make it work,” he says. “They’re not allowed to pair up with their buddies, so they’re working with people they don’t normally work with. They get to have fun and celebrate with a meal. It’s to remind them with immediate results of what working as a team can accomplish.”

Lacerte says this bonding experience is comparable – or even a bit cheaper – than what it would cost him to take employees to a restaurant, but has the added benefit “of creating a real connection” with the company.

Bibby Gignilliat, founder and executive chef at Parties that Cook, says that while her business has “ebbed and flowed” with the economy, employers are still want to find ways to build strong teams, especially with more companies merging departments or businesses. With prices ranging from $75 to $185 per person, depending on the food and the event, cooking focuses on creativity, communication and trust, she says.

“The cooking is a microcosm of the work environment,” she says. “It levels the playing field because you might find that some star performers are not the best cooks. Or, someone who hasn’t been a star at work is a great cook. You get to see the creativity and personal side of co-workers.”

Lacerte says that employees seem to enjoy the events, especially since they get the added benefit of learning their way around a kitchen and perhaps becoming less intimidated with the thought of cooking at home. “I don’t have a super kitchen, but they see they can make it work,” he says. “And they learn that there’s nothing better than homemade pasta.”

He adds that with employers trying to keep workers focused and enthusiastic despite any bad economic news, team-building events such as the cooking parties are even more critical.

“People sometimes underestimate the value of these kinds of events that remind people of why they do what they do and why it matters,” he says. “Those are feelings that you can then take back to work.”

Notes Gignilliat: “Food is the universal language. Nothing brings people together more.”

Have you had a great team-building experience? What made it great?


Friday, August 14, 2009

Holding Your Own Against a Motormouth

If your strategy is to fly below the radar in meetings, secretly checking messages on your Blackberry or working the crossword puzzle, you may want to re-think your game plan.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, author of "The Introverted Leader," told me that meetings are important for your career because that's where "impressions are formed."

"If a boss is asked about you, he's going to think about the way he sees you behave, and that means how you behave in meetings. If you sit there quietly and never say anything, then his impression is going to be that you don't show initiative, that you don't speak up," she says.

Perhaps you get intimidated in meetings. Perhaps you get nervous, not sure what to say, or you feel overwhelmed by a "talker." If that's the case, Kahnweiler offers some tips on how to deal with meeting motormouths:

* Don't smile or nod your head in agreement. That only encourages the long-winded participant. Maintain a flat expression.

* Don't get into a shouting match out of frustration. Offer to discuss the topic offline or table the discussion until things cool down.

* Hold up your hand with the stop signal, especially if the talker is going on and on. Then say, "I would like to say something."

* If cut off, take a cue from the pundits on the news shows' split screens. In a strong voice say, "I am speaking and would like to finish my thought."

* Prepare and make your comments with confidence.

* If you miss your opportunity in the meeting, don't hesitate to talk to the person afterward.

How else can you make yourself heard in meetings?

Monday, August 10, 2009

5 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

Are you your own worst enemy?

If you don't think so, read this column I wrote for Gannett, and you may just change your mind:

Maybe you put countless hours into carefully crafting a resume and cover letter. Or you sweated buckets over the details regarding your meeting with a key client. Perhaps you had weeks of sleepless nights as you planned your new company.

But then it all came crashing down – all with the click of your computer mouse. It all came undone because you didn’t think about the fact that some of the “unprofessional” items you posted online were viewed – and judged – by the very people you wanted to impress.

“Your digital life is just like real life. It’s not outer space. That’s why you must be very conscious of what you put online,” says Larry Weber, a marketing and online reputation expert. “What’s online is a very important part of the way people are hired, the way people get things done.”

Weber, author of “Sticks and Stones,” (Wiley, $24.95), says that too many people are lazy about their online reputations, or think that what they post doesn’t really matter or won’t be seen by people other than friends or family.

The key, he says, is remembering that from the moment you go online, your reputation is being formed. For example, he says that at Harvard University they view a variety of records before admitting a student – and one of those involves a check of online activity.

“They take out their laptops and check out Facebook. If there are pictures of you drunk, you can probably forget about Harvard,” he says.

So how can you best manage you online reputation that aids you professionally? Weber advises you to:

  1. Lead separate lives. Use LinkedIn or Plaxo for your professional resume, accomplishments and business networking. Use Facebook to connect only with people you know well in your personal life, such as friends and family. At the same time, sever connections online with people who will drag down your professional image. In other words, don’t “friend” someone on Facebook or through your blog who posts obscene comments or has racy photos.
  2. Look for the right groups. The online community is becoming more segmented, and this can benefit your career. Search for groups to join that will connect you with industry leaders or others with similar goals. “You know how your mother told you to hang out with certain groups of people. This is the same thing,” Weber says.
  3. Build social equity. Sometimes it comes out the blue: Critical or derogatory comments about you online. In this case, your network can help you by coming to your defense and posting positive remarks that help thwart your attacker. But the only way this works is if you’ve been a good supporter of others and their work in the past. You must sincerely work to connect with people and help them when you can so they will return the favor.
  4. Remember that nobody likes manipulation. “The Web has been very good at policing itself,” Weber says. “It doesn’t like liars and manipulators, and they’ll be outed.” That means if you try and push people into supporting you or try to “spin” your story to get them to write positive commentary about you without earning it, it usually will backfire. “The more you try and spin it, the more you will hurt yourself,” he says. “The push is really for transparency.”
  5. Understand that bad can be good. No one is perfect, either online or in real life. Don’t worry if there are some less-than-stellar comments about you online, as long as the good outweigh the bad. Having flaws adds authenticity, and makes it easier for others to identify with you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Has Workplace Loyalty Gone to the Dogs?

Loyalty in the workplace isn't something you hear much about these days. Employees are bruised and battered (at least psychologically and financially) by companies who have sacked them, forced them to take unpaid leave and slashed pensions and medical benefits. It's no wonder that workers may contend that the only loyalty in their lives right now comes from the family dog.

That's why I was interested when I heard that we may actually NEED loyalty in the workplace in order to be happy. Here's the story I did on the subject for my Gannett column:

If you’re miserable at work these days, don’t blame your employer. Blame your lack of loyalty.

“After all these layoffs, people like to say that they’re loyal to themselves, not an employer,” says Timothy Keiningham. “But the problem with that is that it’s not a virtue to be loyal to yourself.”

Keiningham, a loyalty guru, says that unless you have a sense of loyalty to the people you work with and what you’re doing then you are likely to be unhappy, no matter how much you’re getting paid.

Further, this lack of loyalty begins to seep into other parts of our life – we may see it start to adversely impact our personal relationships, our communities and even our governments.

The problem, he says, is that right now worker loyalty is dropping – little surprise with unemployment expected to reach 10 percent and the exposure of outrageous executive compensation packages. But that declining loyalty has led to some real bottom-line consequences for companies: According to a loyalty survey by Leadership IQ late last year, 74 percent of those who “survived” a layoff said their productivity had dropped, with 64 percent saying that co-worker productivity had also declined.

So, at a time when companies need workers to be their most focused and their most productive, they instead are confronting a cynical labor force that is less inclined than ever to give them their full effort. Right now, Keiningham says that less than 30 percent of U.S. employees say they are loyal to their company.

“When you’re not loyal to your employer, you’re more just like a hostage,” he says. “Employees who are not loyal are thinking about when they can leave. They’re not improving their productivity. They’re not giving an employer their best, most innovative ideas – because when they leave, they plan on taking those ideas with them.”

In his book with Lerzan Aksoy, “Why Loyalty Matters,” (Benbella, $24.95), Keiningham says that loyalty has not just recently taken a hit with the latest recession – workers and companies have been at odds for a long time when it comes to creating good relationships that breed loyalty among managers and among co-workers.

For example, the authors use the example of former Scott Paper CEO Al Dunlap’s conversation with an employee who told Dunlap he had worked for the company for 30 years. Dunlap’s response: “Why would you stay with a company for 30 years?”

Those kind of management blunders continue today, Keiningham says.

“Mangers right now need to be upfront about how much it hurts to lay people off,” he says. “They need to explain why things are happening. They need to share the credit religiously with the people that are there. They need to take 20 seconds and specifically thank someone for what they’re doing. We must understand that this lack of loyalty is our own fault.”

At the same time, Aksoy says workers need to see how their own behavior impacts their loyalty – and their happiness on the job. Right now, fewer than 1 in 20 workers invests time in others at work.

Aksoy says that studies show that people often believe they are more loyal to colleagues at work, than those co-workers are to them. “Basically, people are always putting the blame on others,” she says. “Individuals need to do a self-assessment and determine their level of loyalty. How are they really connecting? What is their relationship DNA?”

In the book, the authors outline this relationship DNA by looking at various “styles” such as someone who is high in empathy. In that case, this person may win the “admiration and affection” of others, but such a nature also may be a burden to them and make them “feel that others inadvertently take advantage… by consistently seeking” advice and help.

“While there will be others who possess relationship style that’s similar to ours, no one is exactly like us. In fact, we are able to build strong, loyal relationships with one another precisely because each of us is different. It is our differences that allow us to enrich one another’s lives,” the authors say.

Notes Keiningham: “Loyalty is a lot like love. When you get jilted, you can’t just give up.”

Do you think workers will become loyal to their employers again?