Welcome to SixFigureStart®

Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

When Is It Okay To Ask For A Job Lead?

After a workshop I led, an attendee connected to me via LinkedIn.  Shortly thereafter, she asked me for an introduction to a few of my contacts.  I recommended that she find connections who might know her work better than I.  She then responded with a very good question that I bet is on the minds of many:  a lot of the advice out there promotes networking as a way to access those jobs and companies you want, but as you meet more and more people how do you know when it’s okay to ask for referrals?

Kudos to this jobseeker for a number of things: 

1)       She expands her network.  We connected (as it happened via LinkedIn but you can also use email or other social network);

2)       She stays in touch.  Some people stop after one contact;

3)       She doesn’t stop at No.  She didn’t push back on my hesitation for a referral but she did ask for more information (she asked why).  So while she didn’t get exactly what she asked for, she got more information and that will help her search.

You can’t expand your network if you always only focus on people you already know.  You have to take a chance, like this person did, and reach out to people.  Attend social events, go to conferences, take classes, participate in community activities, and then actually reach out to the people you meet.

You also have to follow up because even if you do manage to introduce yourself and get this person in your LinkedIn network or on your email list, if you don’t correspond further, it doesn’t really matter. 

But, the follow up stage is a long stage.  The best follow up is non-committal.  You focus on the other person – just saying hi or giving an article, a recommendation for a good book, a holiday greeting.  Give something that is welcome and doesn’t require a response.  This way, you build familiarity and rapport without bothering the person.  Then, when you have established familiarity and rapport, you might try asking for something.

A connection/ referral to someone else is a big favor.  When you make a referral for a job or even an informational meeting, it is a reflection on you, so you want to make sure that before you refer someone you know them.  Likewise, asking someone else to refer you is a risk for them.  They need to know that you will reflect on them well, so don’t jump the gun to ask your network for this.

Asking for information is less of a favor, so if you’re not sure where you stand with a contact, ask your connection for information on a company or type of job.  The contact may offer on their own to introduce you to someone they know at the company or to pass on your resume for that type of job.  This way, you have put yourself out there, made your aspirations known, but also not imposed too much on the other person.

People have different comfort levels for sharing contacts and referrals.  So when you are expanding your network and not quite sure where people stand, be conservative and assume that you need to know the person very well.  Then be generous and patient with your network so it becomes connections you know very well.

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Reader Question: How Do You Talk About A Personal Leave of Absence?

This question came after a webinar I led called: “How The Hiring Process Really Works.”

It was mind blowing to learn that my resume will probably not make it through the resume screening stage due to my current year-long (and counting) resume gap due to having a child (Note: in the webinar I mentioned that gaps of any kind, not specifically family-leave, raise red flags in a resume screen). In the meantime, how do you recommend mothers address a resume gap for time taken off to have a child and/or raise a family? In the beginning of my job search, I was very open to explaining that the gap was due to having a child, but I sensed some hesitation from several prospective employers once I revealed that tidbit of information. Lately my strategy has been to ignore the gap and only volunteer my motherhood status if asked. Should I explain the gap in my resume? What about in a cover letter?

Yes, you should explain the gap in your resume. No, don’t highlight the gap in your cover letter. And definitely NO, don’t attribute the gap to your kid(s).

First of all, for readers who haven’t heard me talk about gaps, I am a big believer from my 10+ years in recruiting that gaps are big dealbreakers in a resume screen. They are not dealbreakers for your search overall. It is actually not that difficult with the proper positioning to turn a gap to an inconsequential factor or even to your advantage. But that is only when you have a chance to position your gap – i.e., talk about it – and leading with your resume means you don’t have that chance to talk about it.

So, focus on networking and getting access to people so you can tell your story in a way that explains the gap in your resume. Mention the year (or more) as time you took for personal reasons. Then quickly move on to highlight what you did during the gap that is relevant to the employer at hand. If you studied something, talk about that. If you completed project work (whether volunteer or pro bono consulting or internships), talk about that.

You don’t want to dwell on the why of personal reasons because it’s not relevant, and you want to focus on what’s relevant. You also don’t know how the interviewer will react. You don’t know how they feel about working parents (or any other personal time off). Maybe they think you took too little time. Maybe they will start thinking about their own choices and wax nostalgic about their own family leave or get pangs of regret for not doing what you did. Maybe they will feel resentful that you made a choice they wanted to. Maybe they don’t care and will wonder if you always talk about personal things during a business meeting.

As you can see, there are many things that might occur if you bring personal issues into the discussion but they are all distractions. The best thing you can do is move on. This is the same reason why you don’t highlight the gap in your cover letter. The cover letter is to sell the good stuff, not the potential distractions. In the cover letter, you should mention the studies, project work, or whatever you did during the gap, so it’s clear there really is no gap, but don’t put any reasons there. Let them call you in based on what you did, not what you didn’t do.

The capital NO for not discussing kids is because it’s a distraction (as per above), but also because it is a hot button issue for some people. As a recruiter, I always wondered about candidates who freely brought up kids in the interview. Are they not aware that I am not supposed to discuss that in the hiring process – who doesn’t know that by now? Are they aware and trying to make me uncomfortable – what type of person would do that? Are they just unaware of the distinction between personal and business – what will they be like with clients if that’s the case? You can see that no good can come out of volunteering this topic. It is not about hiding anything. It is about having boundaries for yourself and for the prospective employer.

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SixFigureStart Quoted In Yahoo Finance On “6 summer job options for college students”

SixFigureStart is mentioned in the section on Work Study Jobs:

“If you’re smart about picking a work-study job, it can actually give you more real-world experience than a summer retail job,” says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach and founder of SixFigureStart consulting in New York City.

Read Christina Couch’s full article, “6 summer job options for college students” with several tips and strategies for college students:

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/6-summer-job-options-for-brn-2314699084.html?x=0

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When Is It Okay To Ask For A Job Lead

After a workshop I led, an attendee connected to me via LinkedIn.  Shortly thereafter, she asked me for an introduction to a few of my contacts.  I recommended that she find connections who might know her work better than I.  She then responded with a very good question that I bet is on the minds of many:  a lot of the advice out there promotes networking as a way to access those jobs and companies you want, but as you meet more and more people how do you know when it’s okay to ask for referrals?

Kudos to this jobseeker for a number of things: 

1)       She expands her network.  We connected (as it happened via LinkedIn but you can also use email or other social network);

2)       She stays in touch.  Some people stop after one contact;

3)       She doesn’t stop at No.  She didn’t push back on my hesitation for a referral but she did ask for more information (she asked why).  So while she didn’t get exactly what she asked for, she got more information and that will help her search.

You can’t expand your network if you always only focus on people you already know.  You have to take a chance, like this person did, and reach out to people.  Attend social events, go to conferences, take classes, participate in community activities, and then actually reach out to the people you meet.

You also have to follow up because even if you do manage to introduce yourself and get this person in your LinkedIn network or on your email list, if you don’t correspond further, it doesn’t really matter. 

But, the follow up stage is a long stage.  The best follow up is non-committal.  You focus on the other person – just saying hi or giving an article, a recommendation for a good book, a holiday greeting.  Give something that is welcome and doesn’t require a response.  This way, you build familiarity and rapport without bothering the person.  Then, when you have established familiarity and rapport, you might try asking for something.

A connection/ referral to someone else is a big favor.  When you make a referral for a job or even an informational meeting, it is a reflection on you, so you want to make sure that before you refer someone you know them.  Likewise, asking someone else to refer you is a risk for them.  They need to know that you will reflect on them well, so don’t jump the gun to ask your network for this.

Asking for information is less of a favor, so if you’re not sure where you stand with a contact, ask your connection for information on a company or type of job.  The contact may offer on their own to introduce you to someone they know at the company or to pass on your resume for that type of job.  This way, you have put yourself out there, made your aspirations known, but also not imposed too much on the other person.

People have different comfort levels for sharing contacts and referrals.  So when you are expanding your network and not quite sure where people stand, be conservative and assume that you need to know the person very well.  Then be generous and patient with your network so it becomes connections you know very well.

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True Confessions of a Recruiter

Last week, I posted my “True Confessions of a Campus Recruiter”.  Here are my True Confessions of a Recruiter (of experienced candidates).  I hope you enjoy reading it:

Forgive me, job search candidates, for I have sinned.  It’s been 20+ years since my last confession.  I ran recruiting efforts for Fortune 500 firms that included Citigroup, Warner-Lambert, and most recently Merrill Lynch and during that time, I committed many sins.  I seek atonement through this article.    

Sin #1:  I made instant judgments about what types of candidates they would be in the first three seconds I met them.  It’s true, I sized them up.  I’m guilty. 

I wanted to tell them that they should have tried that suit on two days before the event, so they could have gotten than stain off of their tie or jacket.  I wanted to tell them to look me in the eye versus over my left shoulder. I wanted to tell them to use breath mints, because they were leaving dead bodies in their wake. 

But alas, I sinned and said nothing.  I just selected the candidates that had polish, that prepared, that took care in their appearance from their hair to their nails to their shoes.

Sin #2:  When candidates asked why they didn’t make the cut, I never truly answered them.  Instead, I avoided any potential litigation and simply said “It was a competitive process.”

I lied.  I didn’t tell them they didn’t answer my questions directly, or completely, or enthusiastically, or in a “results oriented” way.  I didn’t tell them that they should have clearly identified how they solved problems for their past employers – how they eased their pain!  I didn’t tell them that I heard negative comments in their responses to my questions because any mention of anything negative will immediately shift me to the next candidate.  I didn’t tell them it was because they were five minutes late to the interview and I feared they would be late to a client meeting as well.    

Instead, I sinned and gave no feedback.  It wasn’t my job to give them feedback.  It was my job to hire the best candidates who mastered the art of the interview and who answered my questions directly, effectively and in a results oriented manner.  I hired the person who proved why they would be indispensible to my firm.

Sin #3:  When I asked the question, “tell me about your strengths”, and “tell me about your weaknesses”, if a candidate looked like they hadn’t a clue, I would move on to the next person.  If they aren’t self-aware, they could never truly improve as an individual.  And I didn’t hire anyone who wasn’t in a constant state of improvement.

I sinned and said nothing.  I didn’t give feedback, because it wasn’t my job to do so.  It was my job to award the job to the person who did a self assessment in a meaningful way.  I hired the person who invested in being the best interview candidate possible. 

Sin #4:  If candidates didn’t maintain good eye contact, I silently shouted “NEXT!” in my head.  If they didn’t look me in the eye when they shook my hand, they received a negative mark right off the bat!

I wanted to tell them how body language speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what they are saying, and that the more you looked me in the eye, the more I trusted what you had to say.

But I sinned and said nothing.  Instead, as they looked over my shoulder while talking to me, I turned to see if there was someone behind me.  There never was.

Sin #5:  If a candidate didn’t ask good, thoughtful questions at the end of the interview, I went on to the next candidate.  Not having insightful questions shows a lack of preparation and interest.  It’s a rookie mistake that I won’t overlook. 

I wanted them to know that a little research goes a long way.  They could have walked into the interview with 5 – 7 questions written down on their portfolio pad, and they could have easily referenced those questions at the end of the interview.

But my sin was my silence.  I just hired those candidates that were thoughtful and prepared, and that impressed me with their questions.

My atonement has been found in my past three years as a career coach.  I tell the truth now:  the good, the bad and the ugly, so candidates can improve, and so they can launch effective and successful job searches.  My clients can now find the job of their dreams because I give them immediate tactical and strategic feedback from my 20+years of hiring thousands of individuals.  I can rest easier now as my clients are landing the jobs they want.  Amen.

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Integrating Personal and Professional Goals

I recently led a workshop on Resilience for HR executives at a financial services firm that had recently undergone a major restructuring. One VP asked: “How do you allocate time between your personal and professional goals?”

It’s a fitting question for that particular firm because many of the attendees were juggling several jobs and new roles. There was uncertainty, anxiety, and overall fatigue. Yet, the question is fitting for many executive women who juggle multiple roles all the time. How do you keep track of everything and ensure that nothing gets short shrift?

Drop the guilt.
The attendees seemed relieved when I told them to just drop some things for now while the restructuring was at its peak. The reality is that there will be times when your life is one-sided and unbalanced. In the long-term you want to even out those cycles and ensure that you build in breaks to refresh and renew. But in a crunch period, it’s more effective to just accept that you have to let some things slide to incorporate whatever extra responsibility has come onto your plate.

Play favorites. It is not about giving the same time and attention to each of your priorities. At times, some will need more or less time. There might be a lull at work, perhaps budget season has passed or the product development cycle is complete, and you can use this time to get your personal taxes in order, get doctors appointments out of the way, or get traction on your exercise plan. I recommend having one personal and one professional favorite at most times, so that you never get too concentrated in one area or another.

Use parallel processing.
You always have to ride multiple tracks. Even if we isolate professional goals and discard all personal and even if you like your job, you still have two tracks: your current role and your overall career. These are not the same things. Executing well on your current job does not ensure your overall career. You still need to make sure that the right people know about you, that you stay abreast of market trends, that you maintain and improve your skill set. So regardless of how narrow you want to define your goals, you will always have at least two, and you must budget your time and attention in parallel.

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True Confessions of a Head of Campus Recruiting…

Forgive me, career services professionals, for I have sinned.  It’s been 20+ years since my last confession.  I ran campus recruiting for Fortune 500 firms that included Citigroup, Warner-Lambert, and most recently Merrill Lynch and during that time, I committed many sins.  I seek atonement through this article.    

Sin #1:  During company presentations and marketing events, I secretly wished that candidates would stop flapping their lips at record rates, talking about their focus, their past experiences, their talents, their wants, their wishes, their GPAs, their GMAT scores, their successes – even before they said hello to me, before they knew who I was and what business I represented. 

I wanted to tell them that they need to have posture and presence, as that got my attention much more than lip flapping.  I wanted to tell them to ask open-ended questions during marketing events such as “How did you get into this business” and “What trends have you seen recently?” and actually listen to the recruiter’s response.  I wanted to see their sincerity and their confidence even though they were truly nervous, because if you have tenacity, if you differentiate yourself, and if you create a support system, all will work out in the end. 

But alas, I sinned and said nothing.  I just targeted the students that had posture, that prepared, that were a pleasure to speak with, and that go to the events early. 

Sin #2:  I made instant judgments about what types of candidates they would be in the first three seconds I met them.  It’s true, I sized them up.  I’m guilty. 

I wanted to tell them that they should have tried that suit on two days before the event, so they could have gotten than stain off of their tie or jacket.  I wanted to tell them to look me in the eye versus over my left shoulder. I wanted to tell them to use breath mints, because they were leaving dead bodies in their wake. 

But alas, I sinned and said nothing.  I just selected the candidates that had polish, that prepared, that took care in their appearance from their hair to their nails to their shoes.

Sin #3:  When candidates asked why they didn’t make the cut, I never truly answered them.  Instead, I avoided any potential litigation and simply said “It was a competitive year.”

I lied.  I didn’t tell them they didn’t answer my questions directly, or completely, or enthusiastically, or in a “results oriented” way.  I didn’t tell them it was because they were five minutes late to the interview and I feared they would be late to a client meeting as well.    

But alas, I sinned.  It wasn’t my job to give them feedback.  It was my job to hire the best candidates.

My atonement has been found in my past three years as a career coach.  I tell the truth now:  the good, the bad and the ugly, so candidates can improve, and so they can launch effective and successful job searches, both on and off campus.  With immediate tactical and strategic feedback from a career coach, who is not beholden to any company, my clients can find the job of their dreams.  Amen!

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Job Search Success Stories: What Works In This Market

In the last few weeks, a flurry of our coaching clients have gotten jobs.  There is no industry connection — financial services, media, digital strategy, healthcare, academia.  There is no functional connection – the roles have been entry-level to executive and spanning sales, HR, marketing, research, and communications.  So what do these success stories have in common?

Tenacity.  Our clients did not apply for one job and magically get hired.  They had lists and lists of targets – different companies, several names within each company, networking contacts inside and outside the targets.  Some of these leads never materialized.  Some leads seemed promising and then fell through unexpectedly.  (One of our clients had two jobs that were rescinded due to budget constraints before having this final one stick!).  Some leads turned out to be the wrong fit.  But through it all, these successful jobseekers are joining the ranks of the employed because they tenaciously stayed with their networking meetings and interviews until the timing clicked.

Differentiation.  All of our clients struggled to follow our advice on cold calling, avoiding recruiters, and narrowing their search rather than casting too wide a net.  Yet, differentiating your search tactics is what is going to get you results that other jobseekers miss.  The masses will do what is easy, and therefore they will tap into the most competitive markets.  When you differentiate your job search, you stand out and you retain control of your search.

Support.  Good support systems include specific days and time blocks set aside for job search activities, a job search buddy or group to meet with regularly and maintain accountability, a mentor or coach that knows the job search process and can keep you from getting into a rut or repeating mistakes.  Some jobseekers are paralyzed by a seemingly endless to do list.  Some jobseekers stay busy, but do the wrong things or do things in the wrong way.  Some jobseekers start and stop their search and never get traction towards getting hired.  Without support you risk falling into any or all of these traps and derail your job search.

Will you stick to it despite the ups and downs?  Can you stand out and do the nuanced difficult work that other jobseekers will not do?  Do you have support in place to move you forward?  The market is picking up, and now is the time to ensure that your job search skills are competitive.

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Positioning Yourself for Big Versus Small Companies

One reader asked:  What are the differences between hiring objectives of a small (startup) company versus a bigger corporation?

The job search does differ when you are targeting start-ups versus established firms. Getting information on and networking into smaller, newer firms requires deeper research and more resourcefulness. You probably have just one chance at the hiring manager in a small firm, while at a larger firm, there are more potential points of entry. Finally, as this questioner mentions, the hiring objectives and practices of a start-up will differ from a bigger corporation, and you will need to adjust your search accordingly.

Your role will be different depending on the size of the firm, even for the same functional area. Your team size, budget, and other resources will vary, and therefore you need to position your skills specifically against what your target requires. For the start-up, you may want to highlight your flexibility and resourcefulness. For the corporation, you may want to elaborate on your relationship-building skills.

Your career path will vary. When you talk about your ambitions, you want to position them to match what is available. For a start-up, there may be no clear path, or it will likely include lateral and cross-functional moves. For an established firm, there may be a well-defined path and clear rules of engagement for next career steps.

The differences in culture and opportunity presented by big versus small firm require you to be clear about your motivations. Why do you want to work at an untested, lesser known, possibly volatile start-up? Why do you want to work at a staid, Fortune 500 bureaucracy? When I recruited for start-ups, I was suspicious of candidates who didn’t know my client because they seemed to be chasing any start-up rather than my client specifically. Likewise, when I recruited for Fortune 500 companies, I was suspicious that candidates who couldn’t articulate clear reasons for wanting my client were just chasing the brand.

Size does matter in your job search. The skills you highlight, the plans you share, and the preferences you reveal all position for companies of a specific size and history. It’s okay to pursue both targets. Just remember to adjust your messaging accordingly.

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Cold Calling For Your Job Search

As a former recruiter, I will be the first person to recommend against cold calling a recruiter.  In addition, those job postings say, “No phone calls, please” for a reason – calling to follow up on your application is not a good use of time.  However, does that mean you should never cold call in your job search?  Not at all — I am a big advocate of cold calling prospective employers in your job search for the right reasons and with the right technique. 

Cold calling covers more ground:  finding a personal introduction for a “warm” call might be impossible for certain firms where you just don’t have a lead.  Cold calling is faster:  when you rely on someone else to make an introduction you are hostage to their timetable (and no one will have the same urgency about your search as you will).  Cold calling keeps the ball in your court:  you know exactly how you’re going to pitch a cold call, but you can’t control how someone talks about you when they refer you, regardless of how well-intentioned they are.

But cold call hiring managers, not recruiters.  My job as a recruiter was to find the best match for my client, not help you with your job search.  It was rare that an unsolicited call was from a candidate with the exact fit – if you have the exact fit to an open job, the recruiter will likely find you.  The irony is that, as a recruiter I had the perspective to often see how someone without the exact background or experience could do the job, but I was not in a position to advocate for that person.  A recruiter’s role is to make the exact match and keep everyone else out.  Hiring managers, on the other hand, are the decision-makers for the actual job and don’t need to focus on keeping people out, just getting the right person in.  You want to cold call the hiring manager.  This means you need to identify who is the decision-maker for that job. 

Your cold call to the hiring manager needs to demonstrate that you are that right person for their job.  A lot of jobseekers focus their pitch on who they are – where they worked, what they did.  The prospective employer cares about how their new hire will work for them and what they will do for them.  Frame everything you did in terms of benefit to the hiring manager.  It’s not just about having done extensive market research for Old Company A.  It’s about being able to research this Market-You-Care-About for Target Company B.  This means you need to know your target intimately – what they are working on, what keeps them up at night – so you can position yourself as the answer to their prayers.

Identifying the right people and positioning yourself in a way that gets noticed is hard work.  But it’s the difference between the average jobseeker with little to no results and the star candidate with multiple offers (yes, people are getting multiple offers in this market).  Identifying hiring managers and pitching yourself well, while difficult, are skills that can be learned.  Many of my clients didn’t believe in cold calling till they did it and got jobs because of it.  So get the support you need to do it right and cold call away.  Cold calling is an effective job search strategy.

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