Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Twitter, Offline

Though many friends and acquaintances are on LinkedIn or FaceBook, Twitter is still a novelty to most in my circle. I’ve often heard Twitter “non-adopters” make dismissive remarks. My husband went so far as to suggest that I was addicted to the application, and he sometimes seems to imagine he’s in some sort of competition with my followers. I didn't take it too personally; I know I have probably failed to adequately communicate just how deeply I’ve benefited from living in the “Twitterverse.” For example, I am in daily contact with hundreds of bright, talented, high-energy people who are the forefront of their industries or professions. It’s extremely egalitarian; I can follow and be followed by everyone from intern to CEO, and we all have much to offer each other. Twitter is a living, breathing, dynamic laboratory for learning and exploring; synergy, sharing and collaboration abound, and creative ideas begat more creativity.

Needless to say, many people would probably not describe their own life experience or their own workplace as glowingly as I described the Twitterverse. Which got me wondering how we could adapt twitter principles to quote, unquote real life; how can we "tweet offline," so to speak?

Questions to consider about taking the Twitterverse offline:

RT (Re-Tweeting or forwarding others posts): Away from social media, how often do you pass on other’s great ideas, blogs, articles and contributions? Doing so is an integral part of the twitter culture.

Tweeting (Posting): Are you talking to yourself in a monologue, or are you engaging in two way conversation, building connections and relationships? Does what you say add value to others’ lives? If not, on Twitter, you’ll eventually be un-followed. Offline, people just tune you out or fail to take you seriously.

Follow Friday (Recommending other people to your following, typically done on Fridays): How often do you recommend others to increase their sphere of influence, realizing that it detracts nothing from your own stature and in fact adds to it?

Trending Topics: Do you staying current with emerging trends in your field?

Followers: Are you actively seeking out new people to add to your circle of contacts? Are you networking? Can you see every interaction (lunch counter, elevator, train station, etc.) as an opportunity to reach out to others? Are you able to learn from everyone you meet, not just those who are at or above your perceived social standing?

Twitter & Me. For me, joining Twitter has been a shot in the arm of creativity. I’ve met fantastic minds and I’m loving swimming in a sea of knowledge, new ideas, with unlimited opportunity for self-expression. And I’ve been more intentional about increasing my network away from my computer, tweeting offline. I hope your own experience has been similarly positive.

And to my husband: honey, I’ll be more than glad to follow you online or off!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life is Short: Eat More Chocolate

"Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon." The Dalai Lama.

This week, Michael Jackson's death is all over the news. In fact, several U.S. celebrities in their fifties passed away in quick succession. Also this week, the Internet reunited me with a close childhood friend I'd lost touch with after leaving boarding school in Africa. In her second e-mail, Piper caught me up on her life and mentioned her husband "left 10 years ago for an older woman with a large backside."

"If only I'd known," she declared, "I'd have eaten more chocolate!"

Both events got me thinking about the lack of guarantees in this human life. Life is short, too short. A loved one passes before we can say all we wished we had spoken. Or hubby is here today, gone tomorrow, leaving the wife regretting missed confectionery opportunities. In fact, Piper suggests, she could have kept her man by indulging her tastes. Her sacrifice was all for nothing.

How often do we put something off, hide our true selves, delay our dreams, all for a relationship or in the delusion that we have all the time in the world?

The fact is that all we have is today. More accurately, all we have is the present moment. What are you going to do with it?

Me, I'm going to savor a square of exquisite chocolate, cuddle up to my husband, and contemplate my dreams.
photo by FUNKYA, flickr

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Basic Resume Tips

I’ve said it before: I’m not a purist, and I’m not a perfectionist. Still, I’m surprised every day at the some of the really basic mistakes I see in resumes, cover letters, and e-mails from applicants.

Following these quick tips would take care of some of the most glaring errors and help your resume be taken seriously.

1. So much information is available on the Internet, including free resume templates arranged by job title. Use it rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. College Grad.com and Resume Templates.org
are two I found in five seconds with Google. There are a zillion others; compare a few and see what works for you.

2. Someone in your circle of influence—maybe your cousin, former co-worker, or ex-boyfriend’s mom—knows how to find a job. Find that person and take advantage of their expertise! They will probably be glad to help you.

3. If speak English as a second or third language, I applaud your linguistic abilities because many of us in the U.S. speak only one language. But it’s all the more reason to double-check that spelling is correct, phrasing sounds natural, and that you've followed resume protocols of your new culture. Have someone read and edit for you.

3. Native English speakers, spell-check. And it never hurts to have someone proofread.

4. Cutting and pasting your job descriptions into your resume makes for a long document, much of which does not pertain to the job for which you’re applying. (What are COADD reports in PDD-format, anyway?) Keep it short and concise, two pages maximum. For each job, focus on your biggest accomplishments and the most critical job responsibilities. Stay away from minutiae.

5. If you are applying for different kinds of jobs, e.g. both administrative and social work, have different resumes for each. Further customize resumes with key words from the position description.

6. Know that in larger companies, a computer will probably have the first pass at your resume. It’s best not to get too fancy with your format, and key words are all the more crucial.

7. HR folks and recruiters are on the fence about “Career Objective” statements. They don’t have much meaning to me, and it seems to be an easy place to make mistakes. For example, many candidates forget to update it for their current job search. My bias is leave it off your resume and treat your cover letter as an opportunity to expand on your objective.

8. When e-mailing the recruiter, use more formal language than you might with your friends. Capitalize, use full sentences, spell-check.

Free bonus tip

9. If you use the phrase “detail-oriented,” if will only make any errors all the more glaring. Consider leaving that one out and let your flawless resume speak for itself.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

13 Things Your HR Person Won't Tell You

Have you read the Readers Digest series: Things your (hairdresser/waiter/boss) won't tell you?

Let's do thirteen things your HR manager won't tell you. Write your comments below and maybe if we get good response, we can send them on to Readers Digest.

For example:

I'm human and it is not easy to give people bad news or to see people suffer after making mistakes. For example, I have seen people waive health insurance and later change their mind but it's too late; the carrier won't let them on. And on my desk right now is a request for an employment verification concerning a previous employee. The person was termed for falsifying timesheets. Maybe he is hoping I can spin it, but I can't. It is what it is.

Follow-Up to Resume: Quality vs. Quantity

The question of follow-up is about as heated as any other I’ve seen on career advice and human resources sites. Jobseekers complain bitterly about deplorable lack of communication from potential employers, while HR folks with share scary stories candidates who call and show up unannounced with stalker-like flavor.

Even in the HR world, perspectives vary widely. A recent recruiter blog urged “Call, follow-up; otherwise, how else will I know you’re interested?” My opinion, which is mine alone and not necessarily aligned with the rest of the HR world is this: follow-up conservatively and with intention. Quality over quantity any day. But do consider your job function in the equation; for example, if you are expected to be aggressive on the job (think sales) you probably want to be more aggressive with your resume follow-up than might otherwise be the case.

As you plan your follow-up strategy remember that HR people, especially those who wear multiple hats, truly are very busy people. I won't bore you with the long list of tasks on my to-do list, but I do get busy, and honestly, the issues are sometimes life or death material. Keep that in mind when you pick up the phone to follow-up with an HR contact.

I’m not saying don’t call, I’m just saying plan your strategy. When I attempting to expeditiate, say, a life insurance claim, and the phone rings and the following transpires, it is both a disruption and a source of frustration.

“Ah, hi, this is Annabelle Smith. I’m just calling to follow-up on my resume.”

“How are you,” I answer, “this is Krista Francis.” A moment of silence. You say you are calling to follow-up, so I am waiting for you to follow-up. This is your moment. A few more seconds of silence pass. But for some reason, you seem to think the ball is in my court, and you wait for me to speak.

So that’s what NOT to do. You want to stand out in a positive way; in other words, no offense, but give me a reason to be glad I put something else on hold to answer your call.

Let me give you an example of a ‘value-added’ follow-up. The phone rings and I answer. You say: “Hi, this is Janella Kohn! The receptionist said you just got out of a meeting, so I thank you for taking a minute to talk. I have three years experience at a similar nonprofit in Pennsylvania, and I would love to come to work for you! I say that because I spent some time on your website and I’m so excited about everything I saw. I sent a resume earlier this week. Do you have time to talk now, or can we schedule a time later?”

Halfway through that speech, I am salivating. The life insurance issue is momentarily on hold and I am jumping up and down while--no joke--the song “I’m Walking on Sunshine!” is starting to play in the background like a movie soundtrack!

Now that’s a follow-up!

And it doesn’t have to be by phone; an email is very unobtrusive and works just as well, often better.

Interview as a Conversation, Not a Contest

We all have defining moments, and this was mine. As an HR newbie, I chatted with another nonprofit manager during a seminar break. My colleague, who also worked at a disability agency, generously shared her hiring approach with me:

“I don’t consider the interview to be complete until the applicant is in tears.”

My response is forgotten, but her words are embedded in my brain. I was aghast. Tears? Tears are required to determine whether the candidate is the right fit for your agency? What does that say about your organization? And why would the candidate even want to work there after such an ordeal?

I decided on the spot to take an opposite approach. First of all, no trick questions. (Well, I admit I’ve experimented with asking “Tell me about a time someone did you wrong. How did you handle it?” Here I’m looking for someone who doesn’t have a long list of stories and a pile of bones to pick.) I don’t ask you what books are on your nightstand or what animal you embody, I ask behavioral questions about your experience and the job in question.

Secondly, I’m Mr. Nice Guy. I believe that the more relaxed someone is, the more likely it is they will share what I need to know. And they may also notice that it's not just me who is 'nice;' the front desk staff were welcoming, other counselors stopped by and introduced themselves, and that people are generally smiling and happy to be at work.

Thirdly, I believe an interview is a conversation, not a contest.

None of this should suggest that I’m an easy interviewer. I’ve interviewed thousands of people—mostly would-be counselors to support people with disabilities—and I know vey quickly how applicants stack up against all others who have come before.

I am pleasant, I ask questions that relate to the job, I watch and I listen to what they say and what they don’t say. A person can memorize answers but they can’t change their fundamental language patterns. Their use of language tells me all I need to know.

And what is it that I need to know? Sorry, I can’t give all my secrets away!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ace the Interview by Being the Right Person for the Job—

(Not by Memorizing Answers to “10 Interview Questions You Absolutely Must be Prepared to Answer Right Now in the Current Economic Climate.”)

Articles coaching candidates to ace employment interviews sometimes leave me feeling a bit alarmed.

Sure, it’s great to be well-prepared. It’s essential to know resume and interview protocol. But I often feel the articles are somehow missing the point. Beyond the basics, the best way to ace the interview is to be the right person for the job. But in what seems like a short-sighted move, many job search articles tell you how to be the right person for the interview. As an HR person, I wonder: So what if you’re the best person for the interview? The interview only lasts an hour! But the job, if you land it, continues for months or years; are you going to keep up your perfect interview persona for the duration of your job?

Lets think first interview as analogous to first date. What would happen if you were coached through the first date (think Will Smith in Hitched), with no regard to the truth or to the reality of your life? When they ask “ABC?” it’s as easy as spitting out your memorized “XYZ!”

You practice and you role play and you get it right. "Why did your last relationship end?" Truth: "She caught me with her sister." Cleaned up date answer: “I love to spoil a woman. I found that I was giving, and giving, and giving; and eventually I had to face up to the fact that the balance of reciprocation was just not, uh, balanced.”

“What do you do in your spare time?” Truth: “I watch a lot of reality TV, I chew my nails, I surf porn.” New and improved first date answer: “I research cancer cures and I read Tolstoy when not preparing for my next triathlon.”

I don’t think I need to spell out how destructive it is to start a relationship based on deceit or even half-truths or white lies.

Well, guess what? Employment is a relationship, and the same principle applies!

As an HR person in charge of both recruitment and retention, I want to know if you’re the right person for the job, not just the interview. An interview is only one step in the process, and I’m well aware that the skills you use every day on the job don’t necessarily correspond to acing a job interview. Would you believe that I have hired applicants who committed one or more of gaffes?

1. Arrived late.
2. Forgot to bring their resume
3. Weren’t wearing a suit. (Hired a lot of those.)
4. Stumbled over an answer.
5. Totally blew a question.
6. Didn’t submit a cover letter even though I expressly asked for one.
7. Had two or more spelling or grammatical errors on application materials.
8. Were a little socially awkward.
9. Hadn’t researched the company.
10. Didn’t send a thank you letter.

I’m not saying you should fail to prepare or that you should flout convention, I am just saying that I see our interview as a conversation, not a contest. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to make stuff up in order to work for me. Not only have I hired people who made the above ‘mistakes,’ but some of them turned out to be pretty darn good employees!

It’s easy to forget the big picture in the current job market, but the truth remains: you need to be the right person for the position, not just the interview.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What HR *is*

Yesterday we had a little fun talking about what HR is not. I'm not your hall monitor, concierge, therapist, or minute-taker!

Today let's talk about what HR *is*. Tell me, in your own words: how do you see your role/function/job? Don't give me a textbook or classroom answer, use your gut, tell me from your heart! Why do you do what you do? What drives you? What's the job all about?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Not Your Late Nite Foodie Call

When my husband suggested I run out for a speciality food item, I burst into song: "I'm not your late night foodie call."

I'm not sure he was impressed with my cleverness, but the tune got me thinking about work. Specifically, my role in human resources; what my job is--and isn't, since confusion seems to abound about the purpose and role of Human Resources. In this post, I thought I would elaborate on and invite other HR professionals to chime in about what HR isn't. In another post, we can talk about what HR is.

Here goes:

I'm not your concierge.
I'm not your therapist.
I'm not your party-planner.
I'm not your golden ticket.
I'm not your Fairy Godmother.
I'm not your knight in shining armor, swooping in to solve all your problems for you.

HR folks, let's hear from you!