The Career Branding Hype Print E-mail
The newest buzzword in the career marketing industry is career branding. But what exactly is career branding? Essentially, it is a new term for something that we Americans have not found to be as trendy as it once was - a good reputation. It is hype because it is touted as something that is essential for successful career advancement and the term serves to provide career professionals with something new to sell.

Ask any marketer how to sell something that has been around for a long time, and they will tell you to change the name and called it new and improved. Coming up with the term career branding has given careerists something new to sell. They have taken the old, tried and true job search techniques, given them a new name, and call it new and improved. It sells services and books, and paints the careerists as being on the cutting edge of the industry.

Career branding is simply building a good reputation in your chosen industry and then making sure you market that reputation effectively in your resume and job search activities. What's so new about that? That's what we have been doing at our firm since 1994 and its no different today than it was then.

If you look at the technical term of branding, it is establishing a recognizable presence in the market. Coca-Cola is probably the king of branding. Coca-Cola is recognizable by the label or even the style of writing world-wide. There are probably few people in the world who don't know what Coca-Cola is. That is branding on a large scale.

Large scale branding on a personal basis is impossible. There are some individuals who have successful, widespread career brands - Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell. These guys don't need a resume simply because they are recognizable individuals who have famously proven their worth. In some small, niche industries or career fields, some individuals have high profile career brands; they are recognized by name by colleagues and employers within their industry due to their accomplishments and industry involvement. Establishing a career brand recognizable across broad industries such as mortgage brokerage or floristry (for example) is generally not something that can be done.

When you enter into the job search process, you want employers to get excited when they see your resume and you want them to place you at the top of the list after the interviews are conducted? How do you do that? You have a great resume developed and you work on your interviewing skills. Interviewing is something that improves with practice and so spend time working on your interview skills. Get your resume developed by a professional. Be ready to conduct a thorough job search by getting some sound advice from a professional who cares about your success, not just if you are going to buy the newest book.

The other key to successful career management is thinking ahead and working hard. Build a strong reputation as someone who is a hard worker and who knows his/her stuff. Become the expert in some area of your work. Be on time and give a full day's work to your employer. Support your co-workers and team members through servant leadership practices. Study to better yourself and your industry knowledge. Seek out opportunities for challenge and growth.

Reputation is built through time, not last minute sound bites created to portray a false image. If you want to be remembered, build a memorable career.
Theory of Employment Relativity Print E-mail
I visited a museum recently where an exhibit on the accomplishments and life of Albert Einstein was on display. There was one panel of some of his quotes, many of them displaying his obvious dry sense of humor. One of them gave me great pause, however, because it is almost totally opposite of what is the trend today. The quote was: "It is best, it seems to me, to separate one's inner striving from one's trade as far as possible. It is not good when one's daily break is tied to God's special blessing."

Einstein himself spent his early career as a patent clerk. He had barely passed college and his grades were not good enough to secure a teaching job. He was a substitute teacher for awhile before landing the job with the patent office. It seems this suited him quite well, though, because it was a low-stress, non-mentally challenging job and he could do it while working on his theories concerning the nature of light during breaks and off-time. In other words, he did one thing to put meat on the table and used his spare time to really delve into his love of physics. Considering his quote above, I wonder if he would have ever come up with his breakthroughs in relativity if he had been a whiz in college and landed a professorship right off the bat. Would working every day, day in and day out, in the world of physics burned him out on his inner striving?

The trend today in employment advice is to tell clients do what you love and the money will come. I wonder if that is really true. If you do what you love for a living, what do you do for fun? Is there anything left?

I once wrote a resume for one of the most unique jobs I've ever known and one that I thought would be fantastic to have - a Lay's potato chip taster. The client was a lady in Georgia and her job was to sample each batch of hot, fresh chips as they came out of the oven and through the salter mechanism. I love potato chips and that just sounds like a wonderful job to me, but the lady hated it. She said she no longer liked potato chips and couldn't wait to get a job doing something else. Maybe that is what Einstein was talking about. Too many potato chips could spoil the flavor.

I have a relative who is a very smart man. He has a Bachelor of Science degree and spent four years in the military in a technical field. For a few years after graduating college, he worked in his major field of study - professional photography. One day, he simply quit. He said the stress was too much and he no longer loved what he did, even though it was something that he had wanted to do for years and was quite talented in it. Since that day over twenty years ago, he's driven a forklift in a warehouse job. He's turned down multiple opportunities for promotion into management. He has not picked up a camera since. Another example of too many potato chips.

I don't advocate working in a job that you hate. That's not good in any situation. At the same time, if you are working in a so-so job to support your family or to make ends meet, don't consider that shameful. We've lost sight of the fact that work simply for the sake of work is an honorable thing. You will not always be employed in a world-saving, money-making, high-minded, soul-satisfying job. Sometimes you just have to do the job, go to work, keep your head down, and save fun for evenings and weekends.

I think maybe Einstein had a handle on this, too, because he also said, If A equals success, then the formula is _ A = _ X + _ Y + _ Z. _ X is work. _ Y is play. _ Z is keep your mouth shut.
Job Market is Supply and Demand Print E-mail
Remember the good old days of the dot com era when job seekers could choose between three or four different job offers? The inflated bubble of the late nineties-early millennium had minimum qualifications for some candidates as having a heart beat. Those days have been relegated to the past along with other relics such as dial-up Internet connection and ping pong tables in the employee lounge. Like other markets, the labor market is a creature of supply and demand. Demand was high and supply was low so job seekers controlled the market.

That all turned around with the events of 9/11 and the recession that followed. Employers cut budgets and job seekers who had enjoyed endless options in the market were left high and dry. And, like other markets, the labor market is cyclical. Now we are starting to see a more evening out in the job market with employers finding it more difficult to find qualified candidates and job seekers enjoying more options in the market.

A recent survey conducted by RHI, Inc. and Careerbuilder showed that hiring managers report finding qualified candidates to be their biggest hiring challenge. Twenty-five percent report they are able to now offer better compensation packages than a year ago and approximately thirty-three percent say they expect budgets for compensation to increase over the next twelve months.

That's good news for job seekers. The same study also reported that twenty-eight percent of employees say they are currently seeking new positions and about half say they will be looking for a new job within the next three years. Churn in the market is coming but with a solid majority staying put in their current positions and with employers looking for talent, it looks like now is a good time to look for a job.

The same survey reported that about half of the employees said it was hard to find a job last year and the same half still view the market as challenging today. Job search is always challenging but can be less difficult when armed with the right tools such as a killer resume and cover letter, interview coaching, and a great portfolio. I liken it to climbing a mountain: there isn't anyone who would say mountain climbing is easy, but some find it easier than others. They are better prepared physically, mentally, and have better equipment.

Want to make your job search less challenging? Be better prepared.
Anatomy of a Cover Letter, Part II Print E-mail
In the previous post, I talked about making the most of your cover letter by making sure you have a good, solid introduction and that you demonstrate interest in the job and company. Paying attention to both these elements can help make your cover letter a job search tool that contributes to the success of your job search rather than something that gets ignored.

In Part II of this post, I want to address the meat of the cover letter. The main purpose of the cover letter is to highlight the qualifications you have for a particular job. The challenge is to do so without repeating the content of the resume word-for-word. It is tempting to copy/paste sentences directly from the resume into the cover letter. Do not succumb to temptation! It's lazy and it's a glaring shortcut to the hiring manager.

The trick to composing good meat in a cover letter is to customize each cover letter to the individual position. Read the job posting closely or research the requirements for the job (if its not an advertised position). Hiring managers have concrete, must-have requirements and then they have would be nice to have qualifications. They generally list these in the job description. For example, look at the job posting for an accountant below:

The ideal candidate will have a minimum of five years related experience with responsibilities that include expense and revenue allocations by project, maintenance of general ledger, accounts receivable and accounts payable. Working knowledge and experience with MS Office and ADP electronic payroll reporting is preferred. Experience in the professional services industry is mandatory. Experience with Sema4 accounting software is a big plus.

There are two points that are concrete in this job posting - five years experience and professional services industry background. If you were an accountant applying for this position, it would be crucial to have these two concrete items under your belt and to mention them in the cover letter. These are the bare minimum skills that are required to even be considered for the position.

There are three skill sets in the job posting that serve as the separating skills. These are what will separate candidates from the generally considered pile to the interview immediately pile. These skills are software experience with MS Office, ADP, and Sema4. If you are an accountant with the necessary years of experience in professional services industry AND you have good background in these software packages/technologies, you have a good chance of getting an interview if you don't kill your chances with a bad resume. To maximize your interview chances, you should discuss your background in working with these skills in the cover letter, making sure to paint a picture of the environments in which you used the software and the outcome of your work.

Using the cover letter to hone in on what the employer is seeking in a candidate will win greater attention given to the resume. Remember, the cover letter is written for each individual employer or job opening and serves to focus the employer's attention on how you fit the parameters for the job. A generic, blah cover letter won't do that and will simply be wasted space.
Anatomy of a Cover Letter, Part I Print E-mail
Resume and cover letter. They go together like peas and carrots as Forrest Gump would say. A resume is always prefaced with a cover letter, but a cover letter can be the more difficult document to write. In a very small amount of space, a cover letter must accomplish several key tasks: introduce the job seeker; show interest in the job and company; highlight key elements of the job seeker's experience without being repetitive of the resume; and finally, compel the reader to read the resume more closely. That is a great deal of work to be accomplished in about three paragraphs. Many resume writers confess to finding the cover letter more difficult to write than the resume.

Let's break the cover letter down and take a look at the tasks a cover letter must accomplish.

Introduce the job seeker. It is important to make a connection with the reader in the first sentence and that usually is done with some sort of introductory sentence. Such a sentence will provide a frame of reference to the reader so he/she knows the purpose or instigating factors of the cover letter. Why has the cover letter been sent or what has motivated the job seeker to make contact? If you have been referred by someone who is with the company already or who has close ties with the company, this is the place to mention that person by name. Employers always like to hire from within or by word of mouth so mentioning a referrer will give your resume added weight.

Often, the first sentence is a sheer attention grabber. For instance, one of the most compelling introductory sentences I've seen in a cover letter is Project management can be like herding cats. What a vivid mental picture that sentence paints! It compels the reader to read further to find out more about the writer and what he/she knows about project management. It also demonstrates imagination and an out-of-the-box approach. Rather than the boring, rote Enclosed you will find my resume in interest of the position of widget maker. Instead of being boring, make the most of that first sentence.

Show interest in the job and company. Research is crucial to success in job search. The more you can demonstrate your knowledge and interest in a company, the more you will stand above the crowd of other job seekers. Mention new company initiatives in your cover letter or recent news events that have occurred. Possibly allude to your skills in solving a problem the company has or may be experiencing and use that to tie into your background information. Praise the company for recent gains or recognitions. By showing you are informed and well-read on the company, you improve your chances of getting the interview; it shows you are interested in contributing to the company rather than simply focused on what the company can do for you.

Next edition: highlighting the resume without repeating it.
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