Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Be an Impact Player

Most resumes I read have a fairly familiar pattern. For each job they list their job title, include a paragraph describing the company and their role and list their responsibilities. Some will also include their accomplishments. This isn't a bad format but it doesn't get at what I think is something much more important - the impact you had on the company.

Every job comes with a list of responsibilities. Responsibilities describe what you are accountable for accomplishing in your job. If you're a software developer, for example, your responsibilities might include documenting end user requirements, creating system design specifications, writing code, testing, etc. If you're a good software developer you become good at translating end user requirements into specific requirements, you write good system design specifications, and write good, efficient code. These are all very important and valuable to your company. After all, that's what you were hired to do.

Your brand, though, should say more about you than "I have the following skills", or "I do a good job at performing my responsibilities which I've listed below". What is much more powerful (and interesting) to someone reading your resume is to talk about the positive impact you had on your group, department or company. In other words, think about what your net effect has been. Continuing with the software developer example, did you dramatically improve the process to make it more efficient, did you significantly improve the quality of applications or products developed, did your user requirements documentation and design specifications significantly improve the responsiveness to customer needs? Present you case as a before and after scenario and use as much hard, quantitative evidence as you can to build your case.

When you talk about the impact you had it makes your pitch more compelling and makes the reader visualize what it would be like if you worked for their company. It elevates you above other candidates by making the hiring manager feel like they would get more value for the money than just a good employee. You position yourself as great rather than just good. It also shows that you see yourself as an integral part of the organization. You're a team player but you also bring initiative and leadership with you.

I also think it's healthy for career growth and personal satisfaction to evaluate yourself as a neutral third party would in terms of how you have made your organization better off than when you came. It feels good to believe you have had a real impact.

This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of Apojigo. Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Changing the Way We Work

The May 23, 2009 issue of Time Magazine has a cover story called “The Future of Work, The Way We’ll Work” that I think is very relevant to this discussion forum. It talks about ten significant ways that the workplace will change as we climb our way out of this recession.

“Though unemployment is at a 25-year high, work will eventually return. But it won’t look the same. No one is going to pay you just to show up. We will see a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world. It will be run by a generation with new values – and women will increasingly be at the controls.” – Time Magazine, “The Way We’ll Work,” p. 39, May 23, 2009.

I think the article is a good start in helping us to try and “see over the horizon” to get a better view of the landscape we and our children will be working in. For example, according to the article we’ll probably work many more years and have many more jobs than our parents; there will be a much higher expectation of productivity from our employers; perks and retirement benefits will be shifted more and more from the employer to the employee; etc. The article doesn’t place values on whether these changes are good or bad, but rather presents the case that they will lead to different opportunities, many of which we can’t yet foresee.

This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of Apojigo. Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prepare for Court

What if you had to go to court in a lawsuit and prove that you had actually performed the responsibilities on your resume? While that's not likely to happen, when you go for an interview your potential employer is going to want to see evidence of your work. These are your artifacts - your official exhibits as to how well you perform your job.

So, when you say you're a great project manager and describe how organized you are, how you pay attention to detail, and how your projects always come in on time and under budget your employer will probably want to see how you accomplish these amazing feats. You would be surprised how many times I interview someone and ask them for some examples of their work and they say "oh, I don't really have any examples", or "I can't really show you anything because it's all proprietary". Really, you don't have any examples of scope documents, project plans, work breakdown structures, risk mitigation strategies, performance monitoring, etc.? You're just going to wing it and talk about how you did these things? How can I possibly tell how you think, document, manage, and report progress without looking at one or two actual examples?

Needless to say, the candidate that comes prepared to an interview with a professional portfolio of their work and is prepared to walk me through a couple of real examples has a huge advantage over the candidate that shows up empty handed. In fact, I will posit that having a portfolio should be a minimum requirement when you apply for a job. Walking through a project plan or documentation you've prepared let's you practically exhibit how you think and organize yourself.

As you're doing your job you should always be thinking about what artifacts you want to preserve to potentially include in your portfolio. So, keep copies of your work, especially those artifacts that you're proud of and that really show off the caliber of work you do. If you're worried about confidentiality, black out identifying text or substitute place holder text. You can also consider developing a new artifact which displays your skills in the same way as the original work product but does not reference any privileged or confidential information. This should be noted in the description of the artifact. In some cases you can ask your employer if they mind if you keep certain artifacts for your portfolio. Likewise, if you receive accolades for something you've accomplished save the email or memo to include in your portfolio.

Make notes on the artifacts you save that highlight what is especially noteworthy. For example, if you're a purchasing agent and you developed a spreadsheet or report to improve visibility of future spend that shortened delivery times and helped to improve cash flow make a note of that and stick it to your spreadsheet artifact so you can highlight that when you discuss it. The important thing is to start now and continually update your portfolio as you go. If you ever get laid off you may not have the opportunity to go back and retrieve information or you may not remember all of the details.

So, get ready for court and start populating your portfolio today. You know you will need it.

This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of Apojigo ( Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pay it Forward

We need to stop living in the present and look to the future. Too often we are so wrapped up in the day-to-day stress of our operational job responsibilities that we forget to look forward. We need to think of ourselves as movie script writers and create our next scene. Start thinking today about what you want to write for your next resume entry. Do it before you get bored with your current job and want to start looking. Do it while you’re still satisfied and engaged. Start paying it forward now.

You have responsibilities which you will, of course, excel at executing. That’s your day job. Your extra credit night job is to start creating now the achievements you want to put in your next resume entry. What do you want to be able to tell your next potential employer (i.e., client) that you achieved? You want to list two or three key achievements that had a positive and measurable impact on the company. These achievements are going to be about how you personally implemented initiatives that improved the company’s bottom line either by reducing costs, improving processes, introducing efficiencies, improving sales, improving revenue, etc. For example, if you’re a software developer you might want to say that you took the initiative and created and chaired a task group that recommended and implemented a streamlined code review process that reduced the overall review process from three days to one day resulting in $x of savings.

Remember, you have to think like an entrepreneurial CEO, not a worker. Take the time to look around and really understand your department and the company. Talk to people inside and outside your department. Do research on your industry and competitors. Read press and third party reports on your company and industry. Pay special attention to best practices in your industry. Use your social and business networking sites like LinkedIn to talk with colleagues and other people in your industry. The more you understand about your company and your industry the more ideas you will generate about how you can make improvements.

Keep a list of ideas you have about improvements you can make. Rough out details on those ideas that look promising. Include the level of difficulty and pay out. Focus on those ideas that have the most payout/benefit with the least complexity of changes and disruption of current procedures.

Zero in on one idea and map out specific improvements. Visualize the end result by writing your resume entry describing what you did, how you achieved it and the positive impact it had. Now, make it happen. Develop your pitch. Pull together a small group of supporters and advocates to flesh out specifics and build support. Think about quantitative metrics that you can use to measure the success. Tie it to industry best practices. Make the pitch to management. Implement the process and, most importantly, measure the progress against your success metrics. Now you’ve created a powerful achievement that you can write about on your resume and talk about in your next interview (i.e., sales presentation).

This will take extra time outside your day job but the benefits will far outweigh the cost in additional time. You’ll find that your job is more interesting and the reward of having a direct, measurable impact on your company is invaluable. And, you’ll be improving your brand and increasing your value in the job market.

This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of
Apojigo ( Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.

More Is Better

I'm in the recruiting business. I spend this day, as I do most days, sifting and reading (well, skimming) dozens and dozens of resumes. And, now with the economic downturn the inflow of resumes has gone from a flood to a tsunami. I simply receive too many resumes each day for a given position than I or my colleagues have time to read. So what do we do to cope? We cheat and we cut corners. We do this not because we don't care about the individual hopes and aspirations represented in each resume application for a job, but to survive. And, in the process we know we will miss some shining stars.

Every resume is the same. Oh, applicants try to stand out with formatting, fonts, and white space. But the truth is when you read resumes for a living they're all the same - a lot of black text crammed on white paper, usually read on a computer screen. So, we cheat and take short cuts to get through the deluge. We pick two or three keywords from a hiring manager's requirements that we think matter the most and we look for those keywords on a resume. In fact, surveys show that Human Resource and recruiting professionals typically spend less than 20 seconds per resume. Kind of discouraging if you're the author of your life's work and you've spent so much time choosing your action verbs and showing the "value you provide." You look at your resume as an autobiography of your life's achievements and you're proud. You read your resume and say "Wow, I sound pretty good. I didn't know I had achieved so much." And then a hiring manager or recruiter like me cheats and skimps, spending less than 20 seconds reading your prolific prose.

So, how do you stand out? You stand out by providing more information about yourself, not less. There are three things you need to get noticed:

  1. A great cover letter. Target it specifically to the job requirements. Bullet out the three or four key requirements and write two or three lines about how you have those skills and how you've used them. If you have employment gaps, several short employment stints, career changes, etc. explain them.
  2. A resume. Think of your resume as an application form. Make absolutely sure your resume backs up how you have the skills in the job requirements. Use a yellow highlight to highlight the matching skills - just like a recruiter or HR manager will do.
  3. A Web professional Profile. Provide a link to your Profile in your cover letter and resume. Your Profile should contain more detailed information about you and must include a Portfolio with artifacts of your work. It should contain nothing that is not professional and every single item in it should be there for a reason - to provide the recruiter with information that intrigues them and makes them want to talk to you.
This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of Apojigo ( Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.

Stand Up and Stand Out

A key tactic to advance in your job and build your own, independent brand is to make a conscious effort to work very hard to establish your value within an organization. When people mention your name, what do you want them to say about you? Are you the guy with good ideas, are you known for your organization skills, are you a leader, are you the technical guru, are you the best numbers guy, the creative genius, a good facilitator, a great writer? Well, you get the idea. What are you known for -- and why would someone want to put you on their project team? Just like in high school when they were picking the dodge ball teams, you want to be the first person the captains pick for their team, not the last.

First, your colleagues need to remember who you are. You need to stand out in your department. You need to be known for something. And I’m not talking about being the funny guy, or the nice guy, or the guy everyone wants to go to lunch with. I’m talking about the guy they want on their project because you add tangible value, they can depend on you, and you’ll help them be successful and get accolades for their work.

The notion that you can get ahead by just quietly doing your job 9 to 5 and blending in is not very realistic (or safe) anymore. You need to stand up and get noticed. This often means being willing to take on risk because you’re going to put yourself out in front, in full view of your colleagues and boss.

To get started, you’re going to go out of your way to look for opportunities to expose yourself. You’re going to step outside your comfort zone. You’re going to stand up and shout “hey, I’ve got an idea,” or “hey, I want to be on that high profile project because I can contribute x.” It means you’re going to work longer hours at the office and home, you’re going to take on more stress, you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re going to really sweat because now you’re exposed. They know your name now, and you will be associated with the project’s success or failure. You’ll probably even make some enemies along the way. You’ll also have to develop additional skills like planning, organization, public speaking, anger management, negotiation, and learning how to manipulate people whose work you need to help you complete your tasks. But developing these extra skills and putting in the extra time and enduring the extra stress will make you successful. And being successful will get you noticed. And getting noticed for your contributions and accomplishments will build your brand. And the joy of feeling a job well-done will make the stress, sweat, and extra hours worth it.

So, stand up and stand out. You won’t regret it.

This discussion is presented in collaboration with Rob Main, co-founder of Apojigo ( Apojigo is your own personalized Web space for presenting your professional Profile and Portfolio.