Thom Allen was one of the earliest friends I met when I moved to Utah. I’ve networked with Thom over the years and we’ve consistently had a funny conversation: “Thom, explain to me again exactly what you do?”
Thom would always tell me something cool.. but the more I learned about Thom, the contracts he had, his professional passions, the less I understood about him. I guarantee that some of you, reading this blog post, have the same issues communicating your personal brand. Let’s take Thom’s blog post and talk about some of it:
Speaking of the first person Thom met at a particular networking event, he says: “In the software development world, Alistair is the rock star God of the agile methodology.” I love that Thom writes it that way. He makes it clear that Alistair doesn’t have a branding problem, unless of course Alistair doesn’t want to be known as the “rock star God of the agile method” in the entire software dev world. That’s a powerful statement and observation, and something that some of us want to shoot for: a very high level of clarity and accuracy of how others talk about us.
Thom writes, “At the end [of my conversation with Alistair], he started to ask me what I did. First sign the night was going to be rocky.”
Uh-oh. If you are going to a networking event, and you aren’t prepared to answer the most common question you’ll hear, multiple times, during that meeting, you got a problem. It’s definitely going to be rocky.
Thom says that he shook hands with various guests, “many who I knew,” and Thom writes “Most asked me again, what I did. I wondered where these people had been. Why don’t they remember?”
Thom continues with his networking story, and says he was surprised that he was introduced to a small group of networkers as he was “connected to everyone.” He writes “it feels unnatural when someone says that about me.” He later asked that same friend “why do I have such a hard time getting people to remember what I do?” The friend’s response was awesome:
“Because no one really knows what you do! Most people think you do everything, but no one knows what you do. You’re always vague.”
Thom talks about having an elevator pitch, which is something that he says he told others to do, but he hadn’t taken his own advice.
Look, I think most elevator pitches stink. When I present, I say 99.999% of elevator pitches I hear stink. BUT, not having a pitch allows others to misinterpret who you are. Why didn’t Thom do that? The same reason many of us don’t. He writes:
“I guess my failure to successfully convey what I do stems from years of not wanting to be defined by my work. So I kept it vague. But as a business owner I can’t do that anymore. I need to clearly define what I do. There’s no way I can network without being able to convey what I do. It’s not the part I want to be, but it’s the part that I need to be.”
YOU need to get here! You need to have enough frustration that you choose to finally narrow your brand messaging down so people (including yourself!) understand it, and can even easily communicate it to others. Yes, you can have a breadth of passions and interests. But at some point you also have to help people understand what they should understand about you.
I’m a sucker for a good job search story. Enter a LinkedIn article by Liz Ryan, where she shares an awesome, inspiring letter from one of her job seeker clients, and then her reply. Please read the entire thing – it’s kind of long but if you are in a job search, this will give you a boost that you just can’t get enough of!
Doug’s story is our story… your story, my story. We think that if we do a great job, we’ll have security (“I thought I was going to retire from that job.”). We think that we can send out hundreds of resumes, because it’s a “numbers game,” and eventually someone is going to interview us and hire us. We are absolutely appalled at the resume black hole and the salt-in-the-wound auto-responders. Finally, when something comes along that gives us a semblance of control, we gravitate towards that. We thirst for control, since we feel like we’ve been thrust into this dark fantasy world where we have NO control. Doug talks about “Pain Letters” and a “consulting business card.” It’s a great letter – read it here.
Liz responds with two awesome follow-up assignments that EVERY job seeker should do. The first is to get on LinkedIn, and get a good profile. The second assignment is awesome:
This is such a powerful assignment. I don’t even want to call it a recommendation because I think that devalues it. It’s not a suggestion… this is a must-do assignment.
I have heard from hundreds of coaches and career professionals that they all say something like this: “when you land your next job, you need to continue networking!”
And the job seekers says “Yes, of course, I’ll never let my network get stagnant again!” You feel repentant, you are humbled, and even though you don’t like networking, you swear you won’t fall behind on your relationships again.
BUT YOU DO. You get busy onboarding yourself at your next job. You can take a breather and release the stress of being unemployed. You get to play a bit, and of course you don’t have to go to any networking events. Whatever resolution you had gets swept away in the new routines.
YOu aren’t bad… you just need some ideas on how to network moving forward. And Liz’s assignment, to reach out to every person you met in your job search (and the people you knew before that, who you were in touch with during your job search), is THE TACTIC that you need to pursue.
Awesome stuff. Click the image to read the whole thing:
Let’s dig into the post from yesterday, and dissect some of Louise Kursmark’s advice. It’s a short article, but there’s simple stuff that every job seeker needs to be doing. Lines from her post are in bold, my comments are not bold, and indented.
>> I think that obsession(with gaming the ATS systems) is a distraction from the real work of job search.
Again, you are hiding from the job search. There is no silver bullet. ATS is one tiny aspect of the job search, don’t become obsessed with gaming it.
>> Even if your resume is a perfect match for the job posting, you have a very small chance of being chosen for an interview.
Why? Because statistically, jobs posted online are not real jobs that are begging real people to apply. Some (probably those from big companies) have already been filled with internal candidates, but are posted just to satisfy regulations or policy. Others are, unfortunately, and without integrity, fake jobs that are luring people in just to collect names and numbers. Sometimes they are just feeling out the market, and seeing what’s out there. But for the real ones… have you heard how many people apply to openings? It’s way to many, really. And those that are getting through are not necessarily the right candidates. Many right candidates are getting weeded out through errors in the logic of the automated system. They don’t call it the “resume black hole” for nothing.
>> … it’s easy to spend a lot of fruitless time trying to rise to the top of a very large pool.
Lots and lots of people are playing this losing game. Why throw your hat into a system that is proven to be so ineffective and discouraging, and really, one that doesn’t really work? Especially when there are more effective ways to land a job.
>> My advice: Have a keyword-rich, simply formatted resume that stands a reasonable chance of making it through the ATS.
And here is the simple truth about what you need for a resume. Keyword rich and simple format. That’s it. Do that, then MOVE ON to the next part of your job search strategy!
>> Then, spend less time applying to posted openings and more time getting referrals into the companies you’re interested in.
Get out of the resume black hole and go compete in a different space… the competition is much easier, and nicer, because too many people are afraid to network, or are doing it entirely wrong. Be the person who learns to love it (you don’t have to be an extrovert to love networking), and do it RIGHT! Also, to Louise’s points, do this purposefully and strategically, not haphazardly.
>> Use your network to find a connection, ask for an introduction, and start a dialogue.
This, my friends, is networking. This is more effective than going to network meetings, being nervous or shy, and then going home thinking “I networked!” You may have, but what Louise is suggesting is to do it right, and go deeper, and be relationship-focused.
>> Rather than applying for a job, have a conversation about the company’s needs and how someone with your background might be able to help.
>> Become a real person rather than a piece of paper or collection of keywords.
You do this by focusing on conversations, relationships and real networking, rather than throwing your resume into the black hole…
>> Even if you don’t (get interviews), you’ve built another strand in your web of connections that will ultimately lead you to your next job.
Building these strands, or let’s go further and say this fabric, is what I call career management. It is having strong relationships over time, not just during this hard transition, and it is helping people understand who you are (and how they can help you)… it is long-term. It is the new “job security,” and it’s all in your control. It’s why I say you need to use JibberJobber, forever! (yes, a little fanatical there, but I get to do that on my own blog )
>> And isn’t it more satisfying to have a colleague-to-colleague business discussion than to be judged (and rejected) based on a mysterious set of keyword qualifications?
You know who has control over the keywords? NOT YOU! You have control over, which means influence on, your relationships and communication, but not on the arbitrary keywords that someone chose. And you don’t have control over who else applies, or how their resumes compare to yours in the ATS black box logic. Work on what you can control… !
I love Louise’s no-nonsense advice… thanks again for letting me share it!
The comments are pretty lame, however. It’s sad what people say when they are anonymous. Here’s the first comment, from “anonymousl_66″):
This is a brilliant assumption. I had the same assumption assumption when I was in my job search. If someone “knows me,” then why in the world would I have to tell them who I am, or what I do, or what I’m looking for, or how they can help me?
If they care about me, they’ll definitely know the answers to all of those things, right?
Okay, maybe *some* of your friends will know what you do, but do they really know what that means? If someone is talking to them about a problem they are having, will they know enough to say “oh, my good buddy Dippy_66 does exactly what you are talking about! He says he’s a product manager, but I know he specializes in all the stuff you are talking about!”
I bet less than 5% of your “friends” know enough breadth and depth about you, what you have done, and what direction you want to go, to really help like this.
The other 95%?
They want to help, but they might not know what you do, or what you want to do.
You see, product manager, as well as most other job titles, can be ambiguous and misleading. They might not know that you are a master of getting a product from idea to completion, or taking it to market in a big way. They might not know that you specialize in B2C… or wait, is it B2B? And what do those things really mean, anyway?? You can summarize “product manager” as easily as you can summarize “HR” — they are just too broad.
It’s easy to “assume” that our contacts “know” what we do, but sometimes we don’t even understand the full breadth and depth of what we do!
Further, perhaps someone knows us from five or ten+ years ago. Back when we were an Accounts Payable manager… they don’t know that since then we’ve finished school, got an MBA, and have been working as a finance executive. They might remember that we were really fun to work with. We did a good job, but in the downtime we had fun hanging out, playing pranks at the office, etc. What are they going to tell people – that we were the funnest person in the office? While that might be a cool distinction, it’s not necessarily going to help you in your job search.
Is that what you want them to communicate about you?
Even further, what if they knew us to be that AP manager, and they heard we were going to go to school to pursue a career as a finance executive. What they might not have known is that when we went to school we realized we hated all-things-finance, and went on to work in the non-profit space… they won’t know that we’re looking for opportunities in that field.
Or what if we did have a great career in finance (and they knew that), but now we want to change careers and do something completely different?
Assuming our network knows what we do, or want to do, is a gamble.
When I was in my job search my wife of 11ish years asked “what do you do?”She seriously asked me what I did for a living, and what I was looking for. She was asking because her friends were asking her, and she didn’t know how to communicate it. She needed me to share, in my own words, what I was looking for, so she could empower her friends (aka, contacts) to help us. She had been there during the degrees, the job promotions, etc., and I thought she “knew” me well. She should have known the answer to her own question. But she couldn’t communicate it right, or even well.
Anonymous_66, take that gamble if you want, but I have learned there is a simple fix to not lose everything. That is: communicate effectively, and empower your network to work with and for you! This is one reason I’m SO BIG on recommending that job seekers send a monthly newsletter.
One last story. When I started speaking professionally, I would be asked “how do you want us to introduce you?,” or “do you have a bio we can read?”
I wanted the introduction to be casual, informal, and not read like a robot, so I ignored the professional speakers advice and responded with something like “you know me well enough – I’m sure you’ll do a good introduction. Just don’t make it too long.”
That’s my style – casual, friendly, and let’s get to the main event. But I didn’t realize what people would actually say about me. I wanted them to focus on X, and was pretty sure they would. But no one focused on X… they all focused on A, B, C, or Y, Z… anything but X. It was frustrating listening to these introductions, and I finally broke down and wrote introductions for each presentation.
The same thing is happening with your network. They don’t know about your X… but they might remember A, B, or C. Or they might assume Y or Z.
This is exactly why job seekers need to continually clarify who they are, and what they are looking for… even (especially) to their besties, even (especially) to their spouse, and to anyone who is willing to help them in their job search and networking.
Stephen is a very smart user who has emailed my team with a number of ideas enhancement requests. Stephen said that he uses JibberJobber to track jobs that he applies to, but also to track jobs he doesn’t apply to. I thought this was interesting.
Why would you track jobs that you aren’t going to apply to?
To gain insight into other needs of the company, departments, systems, etc.
To perhaps identify issues the company has (like high turnover)
I would add:
To understand what the market is currently looking for, with key words and phrases I could use in my marketing (networking, cover letters, resumes, interviews, etc.)
When I was in my job search I learned about a job title that I really hadn’t understood or thought about while I was looking for openings. There is great information in job descriptions… are you tapping into that information?
When you find a word, phrase, or idea to enhance your knowledge or marketing message, keep track of it!
To do this in JibberJobber, I would simply tag each job I am not applying to as “reference” (or some other tag that makes more sense for you). Then, you could filter the Jobs List Panel like this:
This would give you a list of all of the job descriptions/postings for your research.
In addition, I would make Log Entries (or Notes) on WHY I saved the job.
Remember, putting a job posting into JibberJobber will save it there forever, but if you just save a link, the link might be dead in a few months. Jobs don’t stay on job boards for long.
Last week I was doing a LinkedIn consultation with a professional who had taken time (a couple of years?) off to care for her father. She has had a fantastic, awesome career, but didn’t know how to explain her years off. She asked me how to explain this, and I reached out to career professionals in the Career Directors LinkedIn Group for advice. The experience these professionals have is broad and deep, which is why I like getting input from different professionals. Below is what I learned. I hope this can help you if you are in this situation:
Hi Jason – I would also use a sabbatical statement such as the ones Don provided. I also might just insert a statement such as:
“Took two-year leave to serve as caretaker for parent. Stayed current on industry trends and learning to remain fully prepared for next corporate challenge.”
Employers want to know that your knowledge is up-to-date as far as their needs, and that your skills aren’t rusty. There are plenty of free online courses to help even those very immersed in their caretaker roles.
Jason — I don’t think it requires a big explanation. I would either put “Family sabbatical,” “Personal Sabbatical” or “Professional Sabbatical” without adding anything else in either resume or cover letter. It just accounts for the time. And I only use years, not months/years.
There are millions and millions of Baby Boomers taking care of parents (myself included). And over the past several years I have worked with many people who have relocated, quit their jobs or took part-time work to handle what their parents need.
It is very common now and nothing your client should be nervous about. You never know that maybe the person reading would have given their eye teeth to be able to take time off work rather than feeling guilty that their job was keeping them from doing it..
I moved my mother with Alzheimer’s into assisted living in January. I was at part-time work until about the end of July because none of her affairs were in order. And I’m still dealing with two attorneys, etc. even though I’m close to full time work now. I would have had to quit a corporate job.
But in the first half of the year there was absolutely no way I could have been doing anything related to my work for keeping up with my industry or anything else. I was up to 3 am, 5 am and more trying to sell my mother’s home and everything else. I would not have been able to even think about online coursework because it frankly was not my top priority and I was exhausted.
And I wouldn’t include “fully resolved” because I think it then puts the reader in a slightly awkward position of assuming that mom or dad actually died.
Jason, I try to be as straightforward as possible, composing a quote based on the client’s circumstance. Also, I usually refer to it as a “professional leave” or “career break” because I feel the word “sabbatical” has some nuances that don’t necessarily apply to every situation.
I place the quote under the Professional Experience heading.
2012 to Oct. 2014: “I took a professional leave to attend to my terminally ill brother; following his passing, I engaged in a variety of professional development opportunities to maintain credentials and volunteer roles to keep abreast of industry trends.”
You get the gist. It may be wordy and it may be slightly shocking, but on the other hand, it leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. Plus, the dates will (ideally) be captured by ATS.
Thanks to Don, Mary, Irene and Christine for sharing their thoughts – if you have a different idea, please share it in the comments below!
I get David Safeer’s newsletters, and this was had an idea that was too good to not share. David is a management and leadership consultant – read about him on the front page of his site. He’s done a very nice job communicating who he is and why he is relevant to his right audience.
In his most recent newsletter he shares his “business principles,” which are business principles “to achieve outstanding performance.” It made me wonder, what are my business (or life, or marriage, or father, or entrepreneur, or CEO, or product manager, etc.) principles?
He says he wrote these almost ten years ago, and that reviewing them now, there are NO changes to make. To me that indicates they are indeed principles instead of tactics, which can and usually should change over time. Go check out his list – it really reads like a short book on how to do better in business.
As I read his list I had three thoughts:
His list is about people and relationships, not about numbers. He says: “I am convinced that people are THE key to a successful organization, so my thoughts about business principles turn often to the people side of things.” Where do your thoughts about your principles turn?
Can you create your own list of principles? This could be like a personal business plan, or map, that helps you make decisions and be true to yourself. What would be on your list?
Once you have a list, this is a great way for you to stay relevant. How? Read on…
Being relevant is an interesting concept. When I started JibberJobber I thought people would talk about me and JibberJobber for a long time. I got interest and buzz at first, but then things died down, and I found I had to continually put something interesting and/or new in front of people. I wrote a book on LinkedIn, and that did it (for a while). But then 40 other people wrote books on LinkedIn, and I wasn’t THE expert anymore. I was losing relevance. I had to do other things, which I did. I still do other things to stay in front of people and try to stay relevant.
Why do you think LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make so many changes to their systems? Some are good and needed, others are simply to get press.
Think about this for YOU. What can you do to remain relevant with your audience?
Don’t get me wrong, this is not just a branding/networking thing. I think having guiding principles is AWESOME. I encourage you to work on your own. And, use what you come up with as a reason to get back in front of your network contacts and create a bit of buzz or conversation.
I get Liz Handlin’s newsletter. She gave me permission to post this from her newsletter… I thought it was interesting. Liz says these are her questions and his answers over coffee (learn more about Jeff Browning here):
Liz says “Jeff may see more resumes than any other recruiter in Texas so his perspective on what a resume should say and how it should look is crucial information for job seekers.”
In this eight-year-old blog post, I give my opinion (read: OPINION) about what your email provider says about you. I talk about gmail, juno, aol, hotmail, mac, your employer, and your own private domain name.
1. What do you use?
2. What do you think? Are people really judging others based on the email address – the part after the @ symbol – and perhaps discounting you as someone who is obviously behind-the-times?