Thursday, February 18, 2010

Avoid the Resume Black Hole

CNN published a great article today on avoiding the resume black hole. Jessica Dickler, in "The Job Application Black Hole" informs readers that applicants are one of hundreds for each job (not breaking news), that you must pass an initial questionnaire perfectly before moving on to the next step and that you must pay attention to the date of the posting to avoid a stale, already filled "phantom posting."

What I am here to tell you is that 99.9% of the time you will not get a job by blindly applying online. It's just not going to happen. In any market, but particularly in a market where you're one of hundreds applying for a single role, you must have someone on the inside to physically walk your resume over to the hiring manager's desk and follow up to gain valuable feedback.

How do you get someone on the inside, you ask? You exploit LinkedIn's most valuable function: Search.

On the top of the page, right-hand side, there's a search field called People. Enter the organization to which you would like to apply. Anyone in your immediate network work there now or in the past? Perfect, Link up to them if you haven't already and let them know you're applying. Ask for help in the process. Ingratiate yourself. Buy them lunch or coffee and send an email thank you immediately and then a written thank you note. It's a crowded market, you need to stand out.

No one in your immediate network related to that organization? No problem. That's where the beauty of LinkedIn really shines. You have access to your network's network, like a giant game of six degrees of separation. Identify secondary or even tertiary contacts, and select Get Introduced. This allows your common contact to make an easy online introduction and you two can link up.

Once linked, ask your new inside contact a couple of questions about the position. Thank them profusely for their time and if they offer more help, take them up on it. Again buy lunch or coffee and again, send an email thank you immediately and a written thank you note straight away. And, thank your contact that made the introduction. Gratitude is free and is your secret weapon to getting the job you want during the Great Depression.

It sounds a little tricky when reading about the process but try it. It works. Please post success stories here!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Former SAHMs: You Got the Job, Now What?

Much noise has been made in the media, and on our own blog, about mothers returning to the workforce during the Great Recession. While mothers return to the world of working for a paycheck during all economic cycles, the process is even more daunting when the market is as flooded with applicants as it is today. The good news? Many women, even those out of the job force for ten or more years, are getting the jobs they want and need.

This can largely be explained by two factors: industry and networking. Many fields dominated by women (education, healthcare, even accounting) are hiring. For niche skill requirements, employers understand the resume gap and hiring mothers back into the workforce. Secondly, women- especially mothers- are natural networkers. Whether it's running school fundraisers or church development boards, women are in their communities making connections and impressing all around them with their organizational, leadership and networking skills. In an era where you simply won't get a job by blindly applying online, this attribute is invaluable.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Sue Schellenbarger's article When Getting the Job is the Easy Part describes the challenges -both personal and professional- for women returning to the workforce after a prolonged absence.

New technology, changing office culture and a substantial decline in both pay and title are all challenges these women face. You can combat these challenges by staying in tune with your industry while out of the job force in professional association local chapters, strategic volunteering and freelance work.

Perhaps the hardest professional challenge is the dramatic decrease in compensation (on average, 37% decline if out of the job force 3 years or more) and title. The flip side to this challenge is that everyone is in the same boat. We're seeing salaries down 20-30% off 2006-2007 figures so a returning-to-work-mom is in the same boat as current professionals.

But the challenges don't end at the office, they spill over into your home. And how could they not? Mothers returning to work in this article find that there's tension in their marriage, that children have to become more independent and that somehow, the housework still has to get done. Stay tuned to read more about how you can divide the labor, prepare your kids and let go of "perfection" expectations when you are returning to work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revisiting the Resume

We're not sure if it's all of the frustrated snowed-in moms across the East Coast reading our blog or further confirmation that the prolonged recession is driving more women back into the workforce, but a quick analysis of our blog shows a huge up-tick in readers looking for resume help for moms returning to work. We provided several tips in June, but it's worth revisiting.
  • Address the Gap: Avoid clever terms like "household manager" on your resume for time spent away from the workforce but instead highlight your volunteer work, continuing and professional education classes and anything else over that tine period that would be relevant to the hiring manager.
  • 5 Red Line Edits: Get at least 5 people (husband, friend, neighbor, even kids!) to read your resume with a keen editorial eye. A single typo or a format that's not pleasing to the eye is enough to knock you out of consideration in this very crowded market.
  • Change the Layout: If you've been out of the workforce for more than 10 year or you are switching fields, you might consider a functional format. Check out our website for a good example of how you can highlight your functional skills in a non-chronological format.
  • Objective: Add an objective at the top of your resume that lets the resume reader, who statistically spends an average of 14 seconds on your resume, know who you are and what you're looking for. Make sure you modify that for every single job to which you are applying.
And if you get stuck, reach out to us. We've got fantastic resume writers on staff who can provide advice, assistance and the professional voice your resume is missing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flexibility: From the Top Down

Apparently the Commander-in-Chief has figured out what working parents have long known: you can get all of your work done and attend your daughter's band recitals. It simply requires prioritization, flexibility and the support and buy-in from your support team.

In yesterday New York Times article He Breaks For Band Recitals, Sheryl Gay Stolberg describes how President Obama left crucial health care talks for several hours to attend his daughter's band recital. He left his advisors with assignments, returned after bedtime, and the talks went on until 1:30 AM. Stolberg describes a similar scene during an automotive bailout strategy session. The President left at 6 PM for family dinner, returned at 8 PM after tucking his daughters in, and resumed the talks.

Here's what we've learned from the President:
  1. Prioritization: You can be the leader of the free world and have dinner with your family every night. He might miss many other important daily events but to him, family dinner is sacrosanct. His staff knows it, it's blocked off on the calendar, and all work can resume after 8 PM.
  2. Flexibility: Work doesn't have to occur between 9 and 5. Clearly the President and his staff are working much earlier and later than that, but the lesson is the same. Knock off at a reasonable hour to spend time with your kids while they're awake and need you and wrap up your work after bedtime or before they get up (author's note: I am writing this at 6AM)
  3. Support: It is widely known that President Obama intended to run a family-friendly White House. From the swing set on the front lawn, to monthly date nights and his daily presence at the family dinner table, he's saying to the world that even though times are really tough, family should and can come first. He delegates down to his advisors to get the job done in his absence, his staff helps him achieve his flexibility (e.g. scheduling overseas trips during the children's spring break) and, most importantly, he encourages it in his own staff.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Recession Moms

Today's Washington Post article by Donna St. George, "Recession Has More Moms Entering Workforce," reflects what we've seen over the last 18 months. Industries dominated by men- finance, construction, automotive- are being hit much harder than more recession-proof, female-dominated industries like education and health care. As husbands lose jobs and take pay cuts, women are returning to the workforce in droves, often for the first time in more than ten years. It's a tough transition on everyone in the family: mom misses her family time, Dad has to take over more of the family responsibilities and kids need to be more independent.

But here's the thing, there's always a strong demand for more flexible jobs for working parents. Working parents didn't suddenly decide they wanted to spend more time with their families. In fact, given the financial and emotional stress of the longest recession in a generation, there's a strong argument for more flexibility in professional roles.

And the strange thing with this recession? Working parents are, in many cases, the winners here.

Businesses are hiring, but in niche areas and for employees with high-demand expertise. If you have that expertise, say in Federal contracts management or fundraising using social media, you can in many cases command the schedule and flexibility, if not the compensation, you want.

And when businesses are hiring, they often don't have the funding and demand for a full-time role. What they do have is the need for a part-time professional, and we're seeing this in law firms, investment management boutiques, management consulting firms and non-profit organizations. For many women, this is the dream job and work-life balance they never thought they'd achieve during the Economic Boom.

And sometimes these business have the full-time need now, but can't commit to a longer term employee. They just aren't confident about their pipeline and future revenues, and want to hire contract workers. No, these contract jobs don't come with job security or benefits, but they do allow working parents the chance to work now and end the contract, say around the end of June, when, if it ever stops snowing, the kids will be out of school. Working parents the world over know the challenge of working while younger school-aged children are home in the summer. Camps (often costing more than earnings) and the logistics of swim team and pick-ups by 4pm often make that impossible. Take the shorter-term contract and spend the summer with your kids at the pool. At least that's what I'm day-dreaming about as I see 3 1/2 feet of snow outside my window.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowed In But Still Working

No, I didn't start drinking at lunch time as the fifth major snow event in two weeks rolled into the greater Washington, DC area. This is one of the many "snacktivities" I've conjured up to keep my 3 boys busy both inside and out while I try to get some work done.

So far my winning strategy for actually working while the kids are at home is getting up and working for two hours before they wake. We then play outside, get them worn out, bring them in for a short video and snack while we dry out our snow gear. Sneak a call or two while Sid the Science Kid teaches jingles about how glasses improve vision. Do an indoor activity, then get geared up for another round of outdoor play. Lather, rinse, repeat until they crash at 7pm, exhausted from so much snow day fun. Again, another two hours.

What's also working right now are some play date swaps with neighbors. Sometimes another kid in the mix is the perfect solution for bored and fighting siblings and it gives each parent a couple of hours to regroup, clean up and work. Another great solution is to invite a 9-12 year old over to play with your younger children. These mothers helpers, both boys and girls, are probably banned from Wii and TV by now and would welcome the opportunity to earn a couple of bucks building blocks and playing play-doh with your kids while you crank out a few emails.

Here are some of the tried and true activities that keep the Folsom Boys happy:
  • "Snacktivities:" Build with pretzel sticks and mini-marshmallows (eat 'em up afterwards), build Egyptian pyramids with sugar cubes and Elmer's Glue (don't eat those, obviously) and make Jello. It's probably been in your pantry for a good long while, add some grape "olives" and a fancy glass and you have quite a fun activity. Melt dark chocolate in the microwave (if you still have power) and banana halves, strawberries and Kiwi slices in. Dry on wax paper for a delicious after-dinner dessert.
  • Fill spray bottles with a few drops of food coloring and water. Your gloves will never be the same but the kids will have a blast spray-painting the snow.
  • If you have little ones that don't last too long outdoors, have an indoor snowball fight. Make a fort with couch cushions, ball up paper, and let the games begin. When you're all done, play "Basketball," shooting all paper balls into your recycling container.
What are your favorite snow day activities? Please share! We're all running short on ideas during the snowiest winter in Washington, DC history.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Building Your Personal Brand

One of the things we've seen over the last 6-12 months is that hiring is on the upswing for specialists and in niche areas. Generalists are not getting a second look.

Part of what we do in the Momentum Resources process is to divine exactly what our candidates want to be doing, what they're good at how and how we can help set them apart in a very, very crowded job market. One of the least helpful things a candidate can say to us, even if it's true, is "I will do anything."

Once we identify a good role for a candidate, we present our candidate to the hiring manager with what we so eloquently call "the blurb." This is essentially a 2-3 sentence elevator pitch that says who this person is, what they're looking for, what their expertise is and why they're good for the job. What we're doing is introducing our candidate's personal brand.
  • BAD: IT Project Manager seeks flexible full-time job
  • GOOD: Business Process Management guru with 5 years of Federal Agency IT management experience and PMP certification is returning to work after an 18 month hiatus for child-rearing. Sally led a similar effort within the Dept. of Transportation right before her hiatus and would bring her BPM and high-level client management skills to your project at Health & Human Services.
Catherine Kaputa, author of The Female Brand, has an excellent blog post on this very topic. I advise readers to link through and have a serious look at this article, but she basically says:
  • Identify your personal brand before you start promoting it
  • Focus your brand (no generalists!)
  • Avoid adopting a copycat brand
  • Behave consistently
  • Don't ignore social media
  • Don't over-promote
If you're in the market, think about your brand. How do you describe yourself? Do you have an elevator pitch ready to go? Are you practicing it? What is your area of expertise? How can people find you or learn about that expertise?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mother Nature Makes the Case for Flexibility

The flexible workforce used to be a nice-to-have for working parents, mostly mothers. Phased return to work for new mothers, job-sharing, alternate work schedules; these seem like almost quaint strategies to help employers attract and retain their top talent.

Then the economy collapses and, when faced with shrinking profit margins, employers began to hire part-time workers in both contract and permanent position in droves. This flexibility, while not ideal for many, is a huge positive for working mothers, returning-to-work baby boomers and grad students seeking supplemental income.

The fall of 2009 turned into the winter of 2010 and the country was faced with a massive H1N1 outbreak. As employers prepared to deal with highly contagious sick employees and absenteeism while taking care of sick children, we recommended many reasonable accommodations for creating flexibility in your workforce to keep people working while out of the office.

As H1N1 faded out, many smart employers maintained those flexible work policies to keep business moving as the Mid-Atlantic got slammed with several historic snowstorms. With 2 1/2 feet on the ground now, my street still unplowed and another 5-10" expected tomorrow, it's clear that I won't be making it to our new DC area office anytime this week.

Here's what we're doing to keep our business on track as Mother Nature continues to throw us curveballs, make that snowballs:
  • Laptops, high-speed internet access, and cloud computing. Important documents on shared servers or Google Documents for version control.
  • When the power flickers out, charged smart phones (like my iPhone) save the day.
  • Google Video chat and Skype allow us to conduct candidate interviews, client meetings and internal meetings without digging out our cars.
  • Working very early (I prefer 5-7AM) and late (after bedtime) to spend the daytime hours building snowmen, sledding and enjoying an historic winter.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Balancing on my Toes

Last week was just one of those weeks. My husband was on West Coast travel, my 2 year old was sick for 9 days with the flu, and business was booming. See, we've been very, very busy in 2010, which is a good thing, no- scratch that- amazing thing, but it seemed like it was all coming at me at once.

Trying to keep my own life in balance, I vowed to make it to not one, but two, yoga classes last week. In Monday's class as I sat in toe balancing pose (some call it butterfly), our teacher instructed us to leave prayer position, lift our arms to the sky and "carry the world" with our arms. Losing my focus, holding the "world" literally on my shoulders while balancing on my toes, I fell over.

And no surprise really, when I considered all that was going on. It was time to regroup. I asked a neighbor to help me get the older kids home from school, I took two other friends up on their offers for dinner delivery, and cut out all that was not urgent. I made a list of all that had to be done that week and put the rest of until the weekend, when I could hole up in my office as Dad held down the fort at home.

It worked beautifully! Kid #3 got healthy, Kids #1 and 2 had a good week, husband returned home safely and with the help of our Richmond office we made a lot of clients happy last week. As another busy work week comes to an end and yet another major snowstorm threatens to throw all plans off track, try to keep it balance, do what you must, let go of the rest.