Job Search and Life Challenges

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley” or, in other words, “sometimes our plans go really wrong.” One situation where that can have repercussions is when your job search collides with a major life event that you couldn’t foresee and might have little or no direct control over.

I’m a big fan of making good plans, whether it’s for a job search or career change or for something more on a personal level. However, as many of you might also have experienced, I’ve found more than once that my plans can get derailed–temporarily, longer term or permanently. Here are just a couple of examples from my own experience that might resonate with you in some way:

  • In 1999 my mother passed on unexpectedly. My son and I shared a home with her, and that was where I ran my full-time business. She had also been my chief supporter and cheerleader since I started the business in 1991. Clearly her loss was a major life event that I had no immediate control over. I had to deal with all the related personal issues and responsibilities while doing my best to resume normal business activity as soon as possible–clients were counting on me, of course, but even more important was that my son’s well-being and mine depended on keeping things running. That was 15 years ago, and I’m still here, but of course I had to regroup and change some of my plans to fit the different situation that had come into my life.
  • Several months ago my son and I began planning a two-week trip to England to visit some friends of mine and do a lot of sightseeing. That trip occurred in late May and early June of this year. In large part it went as planned. However, since our return, events have not followed the expected pattern, which is why this is my first blog post in about two months! Unforeseen challenges have included ongoing family health issues (not mine), two beloved dogs suffering annual allergy problems, and more. I had to cut myself some slack as a result, prioritizing my business and personal activities to take care of the ones that seemed most critical and putting others on a back burner.

Obviously, this is not one of my “standard” blog posts, but it’s one that comes from the heart. You might find yourself in a situation where you have planned your job search or career change as thoughtfully as you can and put a lot of good energy into it, only to face something that challenges you to rethink or regroup in order to move forward productively. What I’m basically saying is that you can do yourself a favor by allowing for the possibility that things like this can happen, even to those “best-laid plans,” and you don’t have to let them throw you for an absolute loss.

I belong to a small group that has a twice-monthly phone call where we share our experiences and learn great things about how to handle a variety of situations. Usually these are business-related, but there’s often a personal aspect as well. A recent topic was “resilience.” I think it’s a good concept in connection with today’s blog post! When job search and life challenges collide, resilience might be a key factor in your ability to move forward.


LinkedIn Endorsements and Your Job Search

Controversial topics can enliven your job search–for instance, they give you opinions on multiple sides of an issue that potentially affects your ongoing career success. LinkedIn’s endorsements feature is one of those topics. I’ve written about it before, but based on what I’m reading and hearing these days, it merits another look.

What People are saying about LinkedIn Endorsements

I have just been reading a thread on LinkedIn by people commenting on the Endorsements feature. Out of dozens–maybe hundreds–of comments, not one comment was favorable! The thread apparently started around mid-2013 and has continued as of April 2014. As near as I can tell, all the commenters on the thread are job seekers or potential job seekers. If any were hiring managers, recruiters, etc., I missed those.

The views ranged from “a waste of time” to “potentially damaging to your career image.” Frequent themes centered around the feeling that LinkedIn has essentially forced endorsements down the throats of its members and is 100% non-responsive to their unhappiness. Basically, these people feel as if they’re seeing a corporate mentality from LinkedIn that says to members, “If you don’t like our rules, take your marbles and go home.”

Can You Opt-Out of LinkedIn Endorsements?

Some people indicated that they have participated, reluctantly, but have made an effort to limit the level of inappropriate activity–such as people endorsing them for skills they either don’t have or don’t want to emphasize in their LinkedIn profile. Others mentioned their efforts to opt-out of the endorsement feature in one way or another.

If you go to the LinkedIn Help Center and search for “Opting Out of Endorsements,” you will find tips on how to prevent endorsement suggestions from displaying on profiles you view or on your own profile when other people view it. However, in order to completely opt-out of endorsements, you have to select an option that hides all of your endorsements already received. That could leave an obvious hole in your profile, and you might not want to do it, but it’s something to consider.

By the way, the Help Center instructions suggest unclicking the two items about endorsement suggestions on profiles viewed (which will supposedly prevent those suggestions from appearing). However, I already had those unclicked on my LinkedIn profile and I still get those suggestions, so I think their “system” for that procedure is flawed.

Who Cares about LinkedIn Endorsements?

Besides LinkedIn, that is. Employers/recruiters might. One thing I’ve read is that LinkedIn designed the feature primarily so recruiters could search for candidates with specific skills because they want to increase revenue from recruiters (or their companies). I don’t know if this is a fact or not, but I suppose it’s a possibility.

I haven’t seen much, if anything, from employers on this subject so far, and it might be that they appreciate the endorsements feature more than job seekers do. I wonder, though, how happy they would be if they had reliable data on just how inaccurate the lists on members’ profiles can be.

For example, my list used to include “career counseling”–I didn’t put it there. Other people endorsed me for it, despite the fact that although I do provide career coaching, I don’t do career counseling (which requires a counseling degree). If someone were looking to hire me for career counseling, they’d be disappointed. (I removed that item from my list, with the associated endorsements.)


Company Loyalty: A One-Way Street?

Have you ever had a job where you knocked yourself out for the company, putting in a lot of unpaid effort, only to be caught in a subsequent layoff round because your pay level was higher than the employees they kept? If so, you know that company loyalty isn’t always a two-way street.

Company Loyalty as a One-Way Street

Most, if not all, companies expect you to put in considerable effort on their behalf, respect their confidential information, protect their reputation, etc., in return for your regular paycheck. And sometimes the return they receive from you is disproportionately larger than the value of your check.

That’s part of the one-way-street picture. The other part is that too many companies consider employees expendable, a disposable resource if things start getting a little tight. It’s true that sometimes companies don’t have a choice about layoffs and other difficult actions, but that’s certainly not always the case.

Best Companies to Work For

Every year Fortune compiles its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. While you could argue about some of their choices, based on your personal experience or on information you’ve gained from sources you respect, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the list.

Along with that, Fortune separately breaks out a list of 24 companies that are hiring. Purportedly those companies each expect to hire 1,000 people or more in the coming year.

Again, this is subject to change and to a certain degree of personal interpretation (possibly skewed one direction or another), but worth looking at when you’re planning your next career move.

Company Loyalty as a Two-Way Street

Large, small or somewhere in between, you can probably find a number of companies that respect and value their employees, provide them with a positive work environment, encourage them to grow professionally and don’t take unfair advantage of them “just because they can.”

That’s not to say your search will be easy or that you won’t hit a few bumps in the road along the way. However, I believe it’s essential to start your job search with both a positive attitude and a determination not to settle for less than the best in your employer–for as long as you can.

You will, after all, probably have to live with your choice for a while.

P.S. You might have noticed that my blog posts have been pretty sporadic lately. They’re about to get even more so, because I’m preparing for a long-awaited (and, I believe, well-deserved) vacation from work. I will be away from the computer at least from May 26 through June 9, but I’ll be thinking of you…not :).


Communication Tips–Before the Hire & On the Job

Communication. What a vague and potentially meaningless term! Note that this doesn’t mean it’s unimportant–far from it.

Communication comes in two forms, broadly described as written and oral (spoken). For greater success in landing a new position and doing well afterward, you need to have strong skills in both areas.

6 Tips for Effective Communication

Whether in a job search or after you’ve been hired, you need to ensure that what you put in writing reflects not only solid knowledge in your area of expertise but also the ability to communicate critical points clearly to the intended audience. If your purpose includes persuading people to adopt a certain point of view or to take a specific action, your written communications need to present a compelling reason for readers to do that.

3 Tips for Good Written Communication:

  • Get to the point. Don’t ramble on and put your readers to sleep.
  • Avoid ambiguity. Determine your intent, focus on it and then double-check to make sure you’ve expressed it clearly.
  • Know your audience. Use wording and concepts that will speak strongly to them. Otherwise, you risk losing their attention.

3 Tips for Good Oral Communication:

Actually, the previously listed tips for written communication are good here as well! However, here are some that are specific to oral (spoken) communication:

  • Watch for body language in your listener that tells you they’re tuning out.
  • Maintain a moderate pace as you speak. Remember that people can listen faster than you can (or should) talk, but avoid the temptation to talk too quickly.
  • Make sure your voice quality (tone, volume, pacing, etc.) is as “listenable” as possible. Have someone else listen to you speak if you’re not sure how you come across.

Communication Before the Hire vs. On the Job

Before you’re hired, your main concern probably is to convince the company that it should hire you rather than one of your competitors. You’ll be looking at every aspect you can reasonably include that will help you achieve that goal. This includes both written and oral communication methods. Among other things, you’ll want to emphasize the value you can bring to the company in the open position.

On the other hand, once you actually land the job, your focus shifts. Now you need to look at convincing the company that it made a wise decision by hiring you. What you say/write and how you do that will play a big part in the way you are viewed by your boss, his/her boss, your subordinates (if any), colleagues–everyone inside the company that has anything to do with you.

The same obviously applies to your external communications–with customers, vendors, regulatory authorities, whoever you have contact with as part of your job. They could be your valuable supporters or your detractors, depending on how you handle communications with them.

In other words, it’s still about value, but now it’s time to, as the saying goes, “put up or shut up.” In short, don’t just say or write it–prove it.

Final Communication Tip

If you lack confidence at all in your ability to communicate well before the hire or on the job, do something about it! Get help if necessary to identify your most critical “needs improvement” areas (written or oral) and take appropriate action to correct them ASAP. The last thing you want is to have weaknesses in this area hold back your professional growth and career success or to sabotage the new job you worked so hard to capture.


Part-Time or Full-Time Employment: What’s Best for You?

If you need full benefits and/or a substantial salary, the question of part-time or full-time might be easy for you to answer. However, in many cases, it’s not so straightforward.

Part-Time vs Full-Time Trade-Offs

Clearly, you stand to receive more income if you work a full-time position, and the employment package generally includes at least some benefits, such as vacation and health insurance. For those of you who are the sole or primary breadwinner in your household, that’s a key factor to consider.

On the other hand, part-time employment can provide significantly more flexibility regarding your overall schedule and (often, though not always) the location you work from.

Job sharing is one form of part-time employment that’s been around a long time, but I’m not sure (based on what I read and hear) that it’s widely enough accepted to represent a viable option for many of you who might otherwise consider it.

One advantage of part-time employment that’s not always considered is that some of your expenses could be noticeably lower than for full-time employment–for example, commuting (gas, bridge tolls, etc.), wardrobe (fewer suits, etc.), child care if you have young children, and so on.

Part-Time Opportunities–Even for Executives

We used to think of part-time employment as something for the hourly rank-and-file employees; however, it appears that trend might be changing.

In an article titled “Trends in Hiring Executives with Part-Time Schedules” Sara Sutton Fell, CEO/Founder of FlexJobs, references a 2013 story by Alison Maitland called “The Part-Time Executive.” It mentions a study of 50 executives in the United Kingdom who work part-time.

How the executives (most of them women) managed their schedule varied–for example, compressed work-weeks and three-on/four-off (but available). Some of the part-time executives provide services to more than one company, much like a consultant. Typically, of course, they don’t receive benefits.

Can Anyone be a Part-Time Executive?

As Fell’s article indicates, not necessarily. “Lea Paterson of Bank of England says it perfectly: ‘To be a good boss you need to be able to delegate, to recruit good staff, and to trust them to get on and do the work without checking on them every minute.’ Paterson continues: ‘When you’re part-time, you’re forced to do this anyway.’”

You also need to have exceptionally strong skills in areas other than your primary career focus, including organization/time management and communication/relationship-building. These can be a critical factor in helping you overcome the gap caused by not being present all the time.

Who Gets to Choose?

The reality is, of course, that you might not have a choice between part-time or full-time employment. Part-time work might be the only game in town for the kinds of jobs you’re seeking or the locations where you want to work.

Conversely, your field of expertise might consist mainly, if not entirely, of full-time positions–even more than full-time, if they involve typically long hours and you don’t have the option of working fewer hours.

In the end, as with many things, you might have choices to make, based on your particular situation, and the final choice might not be entirely yours. However, it’s to your advantage to consider the pros and cons, the cans and can’ts, and make the best decision you can under the circumstances.


Two Ways to Do Your Resume: DIY & HAE

Boiled down to its simplest level, you have two ways to create or revamp your resume: Do It Yourself (DIY) or Hire An Expert (HAE). Since my profession is resume writing, you might guess I’m not going to tell you you should always do your own resume, but I will say that sometimes “it depends.”

Having made my disclosure about possibly not being 100% impartial, I’ll still do my best to give an unbiased view of the two ways you can choose to do your resume.

Write Your Own Resume (DIY)

In some ways, you know yourself better than anyone else does. That means that, theoretically at least, you’re the one who should be most familiar with your strengths, skills, achievements and so on–the elements that will form the basis of your resume.

Here are a few questions you should be able to say yes to if you plan to write your own resume:

  1. Do I have strong writing skills?
  2. Do I have a clear target or direction I want to pursue?
  3. Can I take an objective look at my current situation and identify what I need to do to move forward?
  4. Am I up on how things are done these days? If not, can I spend the time to get up to date on them?
  5. Do I know what to do next after I get my resume finished?

Hire An Expert Resume Writer (HAE)

For some people, hiring experts to do things they don’t have the expertise, time or interest to do for themselves is a no-brainer. They consider it a good investment in themselves and don’t need other reasons.

However, you might be one of those job seekers who either believe you should do your own resume or feel you need to save your money for other (“more important”) purposes. That’s fine, if it works for you. On the other hand, you might want to think about one or more of the following:

  1. You might be very good at what you do for a living–whether it’s sales, operations, or some other role–and know what it takes to be successful in your job. However, do you know how to communicate your value in that role to potential employers?
    Knowing how to DO the work and knowing how to communicate your value in doing it are two different things.
  2. Employment and job search trends seem to change constantly. Keeping as up to date on them as possible is a critical element of a successful job search. That means it’s critical for your resume.
    For instance, how much do you know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)? Do your resume and your LinkedIn profile work well together?
  3. Well-qualified resume writers can bring an emotional distance that allows them to see important aspects of your situation that you might be too close to. That doesn’t mean they’re disinterested in the outcome–far from it; but they can look at the situation objectively.

How Do You Choose Which Way to Do Your Resume?

No answer is perfect for the entire population, and ultimately no one can decide the answer to this question but you. You’re the one who has the most at stake.

You can, however, consult with people whose opinion you value and give some consideration to their input. In addition, you can do some research into various options and try to evaluate them with regard to your needs and goals.

If you choose to hire an expert resume writer, just make sure the person is reputable and not a fly-by-night operation or a resume mill that churns out $50-$100 resumes on an assembly line. I don’t know any professional resume writer who will come close to doing that!


Toxic Work Environments

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about toxic work situations–including toxic bosses. However, it was prompted by a recent comment from a new client that was fairly disturbing.

He indicated that even though he’d had a successful record over the past three years, he was very concerned about the situation in his company. Many people had quit, including his last two bosses, and a number of others had been fired.

He felt strongly that the company’s culture was fear-based (using fear as a tactic), which had not only created a toxic work environment but also resulted in an abnormally high attrition rate. He found the whole situation alarming, and I don’t blame him.

Are You in a Toxic Work Environment?

So how do you determine if you’re currently in a toxic work environment? Of course, there could be obvious signs, such as managers who regularly scream and rant at their subordinates. If you’ve found yourself subjected to that type of inexcusable treatment, you might already have started taking steps to move out.

On the other hand, you might be in a work environment where the toxicity is less obvious but potentially just as damaging to your career and personal well-being. For example, your boss might be the kind of person who leads you on with promises of a reward if you accomplish an important assignment and then consistently “forgets” the promise or denies having made it.

To assess your work environment toxicity, you need to start by keeping a record of key events and their related circumstances. Then plan to review it periodically. This will help you evaluate situations a little more objectively than you might be able to do in the heat of the moment (when you’re in the middle of a situation).

Toxic Work Environments–Stay or Go

This is also something I’ve written about before–deciding whether to look for a way out or stay where you are and work (or hope) for some kind of acceptable resolution of the situation.

If, as appears might be the case for my new client, the entire company constitutes a toxic work environment, you probably need to consider one critical fact. Either senior management is directly the cause of the mess or they are at least not doing anything (or not nearly enough) to correct it.

In such cases, you might not have a choice. You either bail at your earliest opportunity or you resign yourself to living with imminent disaster–professionally, personally or both.

Occasionally you might face a situation where it’s just your department/boss that’s the source of the toxicity. That offers you a potential solution that doesn’t involve leaving the company altogether. For instance, if you can take advantage of an opportunity to make a good career move into a different department, you might achieve a win-win outcome.

Toxic Work Environments and Work-Related Stress

Workplace toxicity and job stress are tightly linked. To quote from an article titled “Chronic Job Stress is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease” by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., “Job stress is widely experienced, and so pervasive that it’s been found to affect people from all industries, ranks and socio-economic status levels. And because so much of our lives are spent at work, job stress can create stress in other areas of life as well….Because of a close link between job stress and chronic stress, job stress can take a significant toll on overall health and wellness….”

Clearly, you need to be alert for indications of a toxic work environment and do your best to (ideally) avoid getting into one or (next-best) remove yourself from it ASAP.


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