Career Success with a “Stretch Team”

You might be the independent type who prefers to “go it alone” and achieve whatever your goals are without outside help. In that case, you probably do not have what writer Jon Gordon calls a “stretch team.” If that works fine for you in your career management and job search plans, maybe the stretch team concept is something you can afford to ignore. Maybe. However, I’d be willing to bet that most of you could find such a team highly effective and beneficial.

Why Might You Need a Stretch Team?

Gordon’s post on the subject of having a stretch team gives a pretty good indication to me of why you might find such a team valuable in managing your career and job search. He had recently completed a 5-mile run over some challenging terrain after not having run that far in about 20 years–running obviously wasn’t something he did for a living or even as a frequent hobby! However, he humbly and gratefully acknowledged that he would probably have given up by mile three or four if it hadn’t been for the strong encouragement and support he received from two other runners. Did he feel good about completing the run? Absolutely. Did it bother him that he needed help to achieve it? Not in the least.

What he did was to acknowledge the contribution those two individuals had made to his success in the run. That in no way diminished what he had accomplished. As he put it, “No one creates success alone. We all need a positive team to push and encourage us. Success is a team sport.”

How to Build Your Career Success Stretch Team

Those of you who already have a strong stretch team in place can skip this part, LOL. For the rest of you, I have a few recommendations:

  1. Take a few minutes to read and think about Gordon’s brief message, using the clickable link I’ve included above. It’s well worth the small amount of time it takes.
  2. Review (at least mentally) the colleagues, mentors/coaches, bosses, family members and friends in your wide network of professional and personal contacts. Use that as a starting-point to build your own stretch team–people who will “help you stretch and grow,” as Gordon says.
  3. Remember the give-back principle and offer (or accept an invitation) to serve as a member of another person’s stretch team and encourage him/her to achieve a challenging goal. Both of you will win that way!

I know I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have without that kind of support and encouragement. How about you?

Background Check Tip

A client recently brought this subject up because of an experience she has had that made her wonder whether something that was actually pretty innocent might boomerang on her in her job search. If you are in a job search now or considering one, this is something you should seriously put some thought into. Otherwise, an item in your past that you never even thought of being concerned about might smack you in the face when you least expect it. In a job search, that’s especially not a good thing.

Why Background Checks Should Concern You

My client had a short sale of her home a few years ago. That’s something that has happened to a LOT of people over the past several years, since the housing market and the economy started skidding south in a huge way. Figures I’ve seen suggest that a large proportion of homeowners today have mortgages that are “under water” (the home is worth less–sometimes substantially less–than they still owe). If the homeowner loses his or her job and can’t keep up the mortgage payments until the situation might have a chance to improve, a short sale could become the only viable option.

Caution: If you’re in that boat, make sure you talk with a highly reputable and respected real estate broker about it; sharks and vultures can spot an easy mark from miles away. I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know all the ins and outs of a short sale, but I looked the subject up online, and it seems that a short sale can impact your credit record but not as much as a foreclosure. (If you’re interested, here’s an informative article about short sales versus foreclosures.)

How does this relate to background checks when you’re in a job search? If a prospective employer runs a background check on you–or, more likely, hires an outside service to do it–a foreclosure could cost you the job opportunity. I’m not sure a short sale would have that same effect, but you might want to check to make sure.

What Would A Background Check Show about You?

If you are concerned about your situation and can afford it, the wisest course of action could be to pay a reputable service to run the check on you, just as an employer would do. That will tell you what employers are going to see and could give you an opportunity to take steps to offset the impact. Try to find out at what point a prospective employer is likely to initiate a background check on you. Maybe you can find a way to take the initiative and let the employer know you have had an issue in the past but have worked past that and are back on track.

For example, if you or your spouse lost a job–or both of you did, which is not unheard of–that could have compounded the economic problems our whole country has been experiencing. It doesn’t necessarily suggest that you are a poor risk as an employee! You want to impress upon prospective employers that you have great value to offer and are enthusiastic about the possibility of doing that at their company, in the job you are applying for. If your record of contributions at previous employers is strong, that’s what you want to emphasize, because that’s much more relevant to the prospective employer than an innocent glitch in your background check.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only familiar with one company that runs background checks: Allison & Taylor. They also do a lot of reference checking, and you can hire them to do that for you as well. According to their website, their fee for background checking is $99; for reference checking it’s $79. However, you might want to research online and see who else provides similar services, then do a comparison of what they offer and what kind of reputation they have, before you decide.

Are You an Engaged Employee?

I have probably talked about this subject before, but employee engagement (or lack thereof) continues to be a topic-of-interest in the employment world…from the perspective of both employers and employees. If you as an employee are not substantially engaged in or with your job and your company, at some point the situation will begin deteriorating. Eventually, it can lead to your departure–either voluntarily or involuntarily. Fairly recently, I have seen at least two articles touching on various aspects of this topic. The most recent to catch my attention is titled “I Don’t Mean to Be Offensive, But Your Employee Engagement Stinks” by Teresa Hopke.

Is Your Engagement Level in the 37% Minority?

Hopke cites a Towers Watson survey indicating that 63% of workers are not engaged and are struggling to cope with work, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that only 37% of you are reasonably engaged and satisfied. The article is addressed to companies, which Hopke is taking to task for not doing their job in terms of developing strong employee engagement. What I see as important here for you as a job seeker and/or self-career-manager is that you might want to take a serious look at what your current employer is or is not doing to engage you and keep you engaged. If the company is doing a decent job–maybe even a great one, if you’re lucky–you can congratulate yourself on having picked a good place to work! On the other hand, if you’re in that 63% majority who would probably like to be working somewhere else, and soon, you have some work to do to change your situation.

For the moment, though, I want to touch on a big point that Hopke makes in her article. She talks about companies needing to “earn” the engagement of their employees, and she gives as an example her attendance at a Neil Diamond concert. Here’s just part of what she says about it: “He came out on stage, told us that he has been playing that particular venue since 1971, and then proceeded to say ‘We want to earn your loyalty tonight.’ Imagine after 40 years of playing a venue and 20,000 people paying big bucks to see his show, he walked out on stage with the goal of earning his fan’s [fans’] loyalty!

What if your company had the same goal each and every day your employees arrived for ‘the show?’ What would it look like at your company if your main goal was to earn the loyalty of your employees? My guess is that productivity would increase, engagement would skyrocket, customer service would improve, and turnover would plummet.”

Improve Your Work Engagement Situation

Back to the question of what you can and should do if you are among the 63% of not-too-thrilled employees. You might be stuck in a company whose management gives only lip service to employee engagement, if it does anything at all. Or you could work for one that makes stabs at it but doesn’t consistently put enough muscle behind it to make the effort successful. In those situations, you probably don’t pack enough individual clout to change things there and might need to initiate a selective job search (if you haven’t already started one). However, if you see at least a glimmer of hope that you can help improve the situation, figure out the best way–and most likely effective allies–to tackle that challenge. Just bear in mind that in the same way that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” your effort will probably need to be persistent and sustained over time. Quick fixes only happen in the movies and on TV!

Tip: If you’re considering a change of employers, be sure to do your due diligence before accepting an offer–preferably even before you submit your resume to the company for consideration. Somewhere in the vast ocean of data available, you might be able to dig up some information that gives you a clue as to the kind of company the target employer is–in other words, how it views and values its employees.

Tragedy and the Choices We Make

This post is off-topic (not about career issues) because it has been prompted by the recent shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. I could not bring myself to write a business-as-usual career post while that tragedy was sharply fresh in my mind. Instead, it has caused me to think about the choices we make that have outcomes we would never have expected. We might think we can do something later, that there is plenty of time for certain things to happen down the road. So we choose to postpone whatever it is. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the time later that we think we will.

How many times do you tell yourself, for instance, “I know I should take a vacation but I am really too busy right now; I’ll do it when I have time”? Or, to give another example, “I should increase my professional qualifications by taking that new technology course, but there’s no way to fit it into my schedule this year. I’ll do it next year for sure, though.” Or maybe you’ve been meaning to thank someone who supported and encouraged you when you went through a tough time, but somehow you just haven’t gotten around to doing it “properly,” and you tell yourself, “I’ll give her a call later this week–next week at the latest.”

We can’t claim a future that hasn’t happened yet. Circumstances totally beyond our knowing or control can put that future forever out of reach. We might make innocent choices that put us in the wrong place at the wrong time, and someone else might make a horrendous choice that robs us of our future. Every time you tell yourself, “I can do it later,” remember this: For 12 people in Aurora, “later” will never come.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims in Colorado and to those who survived the attack and now have to cope with the aftermath. I’m focusing my thoughts and prayers on them, not on the person who perpetrated the tragedy. Their road will be unimaginably hard, but I hope they will eventually find a sense of peace and be able to move forward with their lives, not be forever haunted and held back by the tragedy of the past.

Job Leads, Job Clubs and Networking

In the past I have been asked more than once to provide a short presentation at a local job support group. The last time I did one of these was a few years ago, but I think job clubs and job support groups are either one-and-the-same or at least have a lot of similarities. The question for today is, does that kind of activity produce job leads and, if so, how useful are those leads? According to a recent blog post called “Say No to Job Leads” by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter), not very.

Why Getting Job Leads from Job Clubs isn’t Networking

The problem seems to be that the people who are providing those leads to you at job club meetings–if they’re actually providing any–don’t really have first-hand knowledge as to the specifics, including whether the position is even still open or not. As Corcodillos puts it in response to a reader’s question, “Getting job leads at job clubs is not networking. What you’re doing wrong is wasting face time….Not all job leads are the same. While getting a lead at a meeting might seem more personal, it’s very different from a personal referral from someone who knows, respects, and trusts you–and who has true insider connections. The leads you’re talking about could originate anywhere. They are more like job listings than leads.”

This suggests to me that there might be some similarities between job leads from job clubs and sales leads from generic lists–there’s a good chance many of the leads will go nowhere. A good salesperson knows that he/she has to qualify the prospects before investing much time in pursuing business with the company. Overall, it appears that job club leads don’t warrant spending any time trying to follow through on them. If you’re attending job club meetings primarily to gain those leads, you are probably wasting precious time you can and should be spending elsewhere.

Do Your Research to Hone In on Job Opportunities

Again, Corcodillos makes no bones about telling you you shouldn’t devote time to job leads from sources that don’t have a genuine connection–leads that might not only be old news but also not even a desirable place for you to be. He says: “The age of job leads isn’t the only issue to consider before you quickly tap out a resume submission on your smart phone. That lead–even if it’s sound–is for a job that came along, not one you developed yourself. This is an important point. While you’re likely to chase what comes along, by quickly e-mailing an application on a lead, you’re probably far more motivated to invest in a more effective approach if the job (or employer) is one you carefully researched and decided was a top-quality target for you.”

No Free Lunch in a Job Search

It looks as if the proverbial statement about “no such thing as a free lunch” applies to getting job leads. You need to be willing–even determined–to put the right kind of energy and focus into executing a job search that targets desirable objectives, rather than attending meetings willy-nilly and hoping good job leads will fall into your lap. Not going to happen!

Your Resume and the Hiring Process

You might understand that your resume becomes part of the hiring process as soon as you start submitting it to prospective employers for positions you know they have open. However, you might not realize some of the ins and outs of how recruiters and hiring managers deal with your resume as part of their hiring process. I believe any insights you can get into that could prove useful in conducting a successful job search. That’s why I particularly enjoyed reading a new article by Dr. John Sullivan, “What’s Wrong with Using Resumes for Hiring? Pretty Much Everything.”

Problems regarding resumes and the hiring process

I’ve read a number of articles by Dr. Sullivan, and I don’t always agree with everything he says, but this article makes a lot of good points, so I highly recommend reading the whole thing (I can only touch on a few high spots in this post). Sullivan lists 30 problems and divides them into 5 categories:

  • Top 5 factors that most negatively impact the quality of hire.
  • Content-related resume problems.
  • Non-job-related factors that could impact the quality of the submitted resume.
  • Format-related resume problems.
  • Problems with the typical resume assessment/screening process.

Job seekers’ perspective on resumes and the hiring process

Sullivan’s articles are generally written from the perspective of HR/recruiting professionals, but he does sometimes include points that can be useful to you as a job seeker. For example, in this article he mentions the following:

“Resumes do not include information on all of the key assessment criteria – candidates are generally assessed on four criteria: 1) are they qualified? 2) are they available? 3) are they interested? and 4) do they fit? Because most resumes are really simply job histories, they thus only address the first criterion … are they qualified?….If you ask candidates a simple question — Does your resume accurately reflect what you are capable of doing? – the answer is almost always no.”

My comment here is that your resume absolutely should not be just a “job history” and absolutely should reflect, to the greatest extent possible and reasonable, “what you are capable of doing” for the prospective employer. Otherwise, it will probably make you sound like all the other applicants who are pursuing that position. Standing out from the competition as a highly qualified and potentially valuable candidate is what it’s all about! If you’re simply #499 in a line of 500 applicants, why should the company want to consider you?

And here’s another critical point: “The candidate’s job results may be impossible to verify — many candidates fail to include the results and quantify their accomplishments, making the quality of their work difficult to assess. Others include results and numbers that may be exaggerated. Unfortunately, in most cases it is simply impossible for the resume reader to verify the accuracy of these numbers.”

What can you do about that? Possibly several things, but especially these:

  1. Use only facts (statistics, etc.) you are comfortable discussing in an interview. That means, for starters, that you know you achieved those results and can speak about them confidently. Also, you’ve presented them in a way that doesn’t violate the company’s confidentiality rights.
  2. Stick to the facts and provide solid support that indicates their validity, even if you can’t provide all the details in the resume. Whenever possible, use facts that can probably be verified in some way.
  3. If you can, use independent, third-party testimonials and verification in your resume. For example, a short quote from a senior manager or someone else with clear relevance to the situation can make a point that it’s hard for you to make on your own behalf. You don’t necessarily even need to use the person’s name, but his/her title (position) should be noted.

Again, I encourage you to read Sullivan’s entire article. It’s worth the few minutes it will take.

Facebook and Your Job Search–Another Tip

This is not the first time I have talked about Facebook and your job search. The topic is one of those that refuses to go away for job seekers, however much they might want it to! However, this tip actually is not one of mine; it comes from a blog post by Joshus Waldman of Career Rocketeer, titled “How to Protect Your Private Life on Facebook During Your Job Search.” If you are not using Facebook at this point, the tip might still prove useful in the future.

How to Protect Yourself on Facebook during Your Job Search

Of course, the simplest way would be just to not participate on Facebook at all, but that’s probably a bit extreme. Whether or not you actively use Facebook as a tool in your job search (some do, some don’t), you don’t necessarily want to exclude yourself from it just because you happen to be conducting a job search. While there’s more than one approach you can take to participating, one no-brainer is to consider carefully before you post personal items you might not want prospective employers to see. This also requires reminding yourself that anything on the Internet has–or at least can have–a life that goes on practically forever. I’ve talked before about protecting yourself and your online reputation by using various means to drive potentially negative information way down in the search results, but it’s certainly much preferable to keep such information from appearing in the first place, if you have the choice.

Waldman’s Tip about Facebook and Your Job Search

Waldman has written a new book called Job Searching With Social Media For Dummies, and his post refers to information that appears in that book. In particular, he talks about what you can do if you receive a Facebook “friend” request from someone who’s a recruiter at your dream company. If you’re uncomfortable giving that recruiter access to all the material you post on Facebook but don’t want to make him angry at you, what do you do? Briefly, this is what Waldman recommends:

  1. Create a Limited Access friends list using the Account drop-down menu and the Edit Friends option.
  2. Set up custom privacy settings–again, with the Account drop-down menu and the Privacy Settings option.
  3. Add your new Limited Access list in the Hide This From section and click on the Save Setting button.

Caution: Facebook doesn’t have the best reputation in the world for managing its privacy settings as carefully and consistently as you might like, so I suggest checking periodically to make sure they’re still the way you want them. That applies especially to situations such as maintaining a Limited Access friends list. You want to avoid inadvertently granting access to your “excluded” information by assuming that your privacy settings will remain the way you established them.

Keep Your LinkedIn Profile Current

You hear repeatedly that you need to be on LinkedIn and that employers look there to source and check out potential employees. Maybe by now you think you have heard this enough times and really should not have to hear it one more time. Sorry! I need to beat that drum again, along with many of my colleagues and writer Maureen Sharib, who wrote an article for called “LinkedIn Lemons to Lemonade” about outdated LinkedIn information. You see, it just isn’t enough to put your data into your shiny new LinkedIn profile and leave it there indefinitely.

Why Keeping Your LinkedIn Profile Current Matters

The thrust of Sharib’s article actually had to do with a client who gave her a list of people she might want to add to her database and the fact that she found many of those people weren’t at the companies listed anymore or had been promoted, with a new job title. However, she used the initial names as subtle leverage to find out the names and titles of relevant individuals who were currently employed at those companies; those individuals were potentially of interest and use to her as a recruiter. While that’s an interesting fact from her perspective, it might not mean much to you unless you’re a recruiter.

However–and it’s a big however–it should mean something to you that the people who were on that original list might have missed out on potential job opportunities because they weren’t keeping their LinkedIn profiles up to date. If, for example, you currently work at a company that someone is interested in recruiting people from, you might not turn up in the search because you neglected to add your present job to your profile. The recruiter would have no way of knowing that you work at the company of interest.

Reason #2 for Keeping Your LinkedIn Profile Current

When you apply for a new position and that company checks you out on LinkedIn, which happens a lot, the fact that your profile shows you as still at the company where you previously worked suggests you don’t invest enough effort in staying on top of things. Your online presence represents a key piece of how you market yourself to the world, both actively and passively. It can and should stay current. What’s more, it doesn’t really require a huge amount of time and energy. Add it to your auto-reminder list or however you keep track of the tasks you need to complete periodically. Then take a few minutes to visit your LinkedIn profile and make sure it’s current and as fresh as possible. If you take on a new responsibility at your company, work on a high-profile special project, etc.–that’s worthwhile news to add to your LinkedIn profile, unless all or part of the information is company-confidential/proprietary.

Bonus point: If you use your profile headline to showcase your current title, you’re not maximizing a valuable piece of real estate. Saying “Vice President of Operations, ABC Corporation” advertises ABC Corp. as much as it indicates your level and area of specialization. That information will be in your Experience section, and if desired, you can even include a reference to it somewhere in your Summary. Consider using the headline to say something unique about yourself instead. Maybe something like “Successful Startup-to-IPO Strategist,” for example. (I threw that one in off the top of my head. You might be able to come up with something better if you think about it.)

Checklists for Your Job Search

Whether or not you consider yourself a well-organized person, it’s likely that adopting a relatively organized approach to your current or next job search will produce worthwhile benefits. The process of finding and capturing a new job has become more and more complex in recent years, and that trend appears likely to continue into the future–possibly even at a faster rate than it has done in the past. Unless you have an encyclopedic mind and can also manage multiple, sometimes conflicting priorities at a time without missing something, a degree of organization is essential to a successful job search. That’s true whether you’re a senior executive or a recent college graduate with limited business experience.

Why use checklists for your job search?

Checklists enable you to accomplish several desirable goals, including the following:

  • Lay out all the critical steps you need to take and develop an approximate order and timeline for completing them.
  • Identify “missing pieces”: possibly useful actions you might not otherwise have considered.
  • Track your progress and spot actions that haven’t been completed yet but need to be done soon.

They’re also customizable to your preferred style of operating. You can make them as simple or as involved as you choose, because you’re the only one who is going to use them. If challenges arise and you need to reschedule an item on your list, no one is going to hassle you about that. As long as you’re fine with it, it’s okay.

What kind of checklists should you use?

As mentioned above, you get to choose how you develop and use your job search checklist. You can design your own or get ideas from lists that others have used and tailor them to fit your needs. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the type of checklist. Personally and as a business owner, I like project checklists that give me a column for the target completion date and another column to check the items as I complete them. That style can work well for a job search, too. You can also make use of a number of high-tech tools, including resources like, to help you manage the list.

You can and probably will want to incorporate a variety of items in your job search checklist. The following are useful to include:

  • Source of the position you’re pursuing (online posting, referral from a friend or colleague, etc.)
  • Company, title and brief description of the position
  • Date you submitted your resume and cover letter or other materials
  • Return contact(s) you received (phone, email, letter, etc.)
  • Dates of interviews scheduled and completed

The beauty of using checklists for your job search is that it helps you manage diverse important tasks even while other demands on your time and attention preclude devoting your full time to the job search. It’s easy to keep tabs on what’s happening, what you have and haven’t done, and so on, without making yourself crazy over it. Job searching can be enough of a hassle without subjecting yourself to that!

LinkedIn Connections as a Career Management Tool

Unless you’re a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker) whose goal is to collect many thousands of connections in your network, you probably don’t spend a huge amount of time trying to increase your network. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whom you ask. As a disclaimer, I should mention that I’m a conservative LinkedIn member. I currently have somewhere between 300 and 400 connections in my network–I don’t keep constant tabs on the number, so that’s all I can say without looking it up–and it has taken me a few years to reach that point.

Questionable LinkedIn Advice on Adding Connections

I’ve been troubled at the switch LinkedIn has made from advising you to add only people you know personally or have a strong link to (such as a 2nd-level connection through someone you know well, who has requested an introduction from that 1st-level connection). Now they say, “Why might connecting with _______ be a good idea? __________’s connections could be useful to you.” My concern about this is reflected in an article I just read on, “How having as Many LinkedIn Connections as Possible Will Increase Your Revenues by 42%,” by Carol Schultz.

Schultz comments that she appreciates the value of creating future opportunities; however, “I just believe that connecting with total strangers is not the best strategy for creating those future opportunities.” She also says that “although I connect with people I know, others don’t….So what good do they do to have them in your network?” Good point! I’m definitely not comfortable recommending someone I don’t know, so if you are asked to do that by someone, how comfortable are you going to be with responding to that request? Conversely, if you have a request to make, is it going to feel awkward, be unproductive, etc., to do that to someone you have no real connection with?

Career Management LinkedIn Strategy

As Schultz also indicates in her article, you need to have a genuine LinkedIn strategy, so you’re not “just slinging spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks”! You need to determine the following, for starters:

  • Why you’re on (or considering joining) LinkedIn
  • What you hope or expect to gain from being there–similar to the item above
  • Whether you have–or can create–a profile that’s professionally sound and communicates strong value
  • If sheer numbers are your focus, maybe Facebook is a better place for you to be

LinkedIn can be and has been a powerful career management tool; however, it’s not magic. You must do a lot more than wave a wand in the air, mumble incantations or amass thousands of LinkedIn connections to obtain useful results from it. Career management really doesn’t offer much, if anything, in the way of easy shortcuts; an effective LinkedIn network isn’t one of them.