Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to Work: Ace The Interview

Interviews are never easy, and the skill comes more naturally to some than others. But that’s just what it is, a skill, and it must be practiced. If you’ve been out of the workforce for more than 5 years it’s perfectly conceivable you haven’t interviewed in the better part of a decade. You need to prepare, practice and follow up.

  • Prepare: Know everything you can about the company and the organization. Use LinkedIn to find an “insider” in your network’s network who can give you the inside scoop. Aside from website research, Follow the company on both LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to get a sense of the culture, trends and most recent news releases. Review the LinkedIn profiles of the mangers with whom you’ll be interviewing. Develop a list of thoughtful questions that demonstrate your industry and company knowledge. We had a candidate not get selected for a second round of interviews because the client interpreted her lack of prepared interview questions as a lack of enthusiasm for the role.
  • Practice: It sounds silly, but you need to do some mock interviews. Ask your spouse, neighbor or best friend to grill you. Start out with easy, standard interview questions (walk me through your resume, strengths/weaknesses, tell me about a time when….) and then try and get to more difficult questions. You want these answers to be polished and roll off your tongue. The most difficult question to answer is “how can you transition back to work after such a long employment gap?” (or some variation thereof). Have this answer ready. It might be something like “I’ve been a member of XYZ industry group, have attended networking events, learned about recent policy changes such as ABC law and have volunteered on such-and-such committee.” If you’re a bookkeeper, let the interviewer know that you took an online course to get certified in the latest QuickBooks version. Demonstrate enthusiastically that you’re prepared to hit the ground running with minimal onramp time.
  • Follow Up: Similar to the networking informational interview, this is the part that most folks forget. Ask for a business card from each person with whom you interview. Send a thank you email immediately and a written thank you (on professional cardstock) straight away. Be specific in your interest and sincere in your gratitude.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back to Work Resume: Address the Gap

We’ve touched on the resume before, it's a bit old school in today's connected world but it’s still a necessary evil. Set aside some quiet time to work on it, and:

  • Old or New? Make the decision to either start with your last professional resume or start from scratch. There are pros and cons to each, but either way you’re essentially creating a new document- and it has to be perfect.
  • Format: I’m still a fan of the chronological resume format, but there are some real benefits to a functional resume format. There’s a good template on our website, and this format essentially calls out key skills and experiences in bullet points and merely lists employment dates below. This is the right format if you’ve had a very long paid employment gap, if you’re looking to switch job families or industries or if you’re looking to leverage volunteer or community experience in your job search.
  • Professional Profile: Or Career Objective or Summary, call it what you want but at the top of your resume, right below your contact information, say who you are, what you do and what you want in 2-3 sentences or key bullet points. Employers are inundated with resumes, a recruiter spends approximately 14 seconds reviewing yours, make it stand out.
  • Contact Information: This might be the most important part! List home and cell phones, your LinkedIn profile name for easy connection and review and a professional email address. We’ve seen some doozies over the years, and your mail job search email should not be cutesy, a shared family or spousal email address, just your.name@majorwebmailcarrier.com.
  • Relevant: If you’ve been out of college for 10-20 years, your resume could easily be 3 pages long. Remember, recruiters aren’t getting past the top half of the first page. The key here is to include only relevant information. List all of your employment dates and organizations, but call out only the most important information for the job to which you are applying. This means you’ll have several versions of your resumes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
  • Ditch the Cutesy Titles. Believe us, we know firsthand just how hard you’ve worked raising your children, running your household and heading every darned committee the school handed you. But please do not put “Domestic Manager” or “Household CEO” on your resume. Just don’t.
  • Address the Gap: What (besides the obvious) have you been doing while out of the paid workforce? Hopefully you’ve done something that is related to an eventual return to the land of the W2 employee. If you’re an attorney that has taken CE classes to maintain a bar license, list “Continuing Education” with course titles and dates. If you’ve had community or volunteer experience that’s relevant to your career goals, list those. For example, we had a candidate who correctly listed her role as a volunteer Red Cross Fundraiser just as she would a paid job (most recent work experience, key accomplishments, dates) because it was absolutely relevant to her desire to return to the Major Non Profit Development World. If you’re in Human Resources and you were on the committee to select and interview the school’s new Headmaster, or if you’re a CPA and you were the PTA Treasurer with a $25K budget, list those!
  • Review. Let me say it again: review, review, review. Ask your spouse to read it. Ask three friends to read it. Ask your former assistant who’s now working as a manager to read it. Make sure it’s relevant to current market conditions, most recent industry trends and typo-free. That's an opportunity killer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

FOUND: Kid Lunch Solution

In the interest of spreading the news about all time- and sanity-saving household solutions, I wanted to share my latest discovery: Easy Lunch Boxes. Packing healthy lunches for somewhere between 2 and 5 Folsoms every night was just one more task at the end of a long day, and the management consultant in me was looking for efficiency in this repeatable process.

Stressed out by the Bento Box-type solution (all those little mismatched tops and bottoms! Really? My kids' lunches need to be healthy AND pretty? Who has time for sandwiches with teeny little faces from flax seed on top?) so I looked for alternatives. I like these because they're one solid piece and top, go in the dishwasher, microwave and freezer and are $13.95 for 4. Of course I bought 3 sets.

Now I make all the kid lunches on Sunday night and each boy is responsible for tossing it in his lunch bag along with a thermos of water and one snack from the snack basket. An added plus is that it works really well (hello, portion control!) for grown-up lunches from leftovers.

What are some of your favorite lunch packing strategies? What's easy, fast and loved by your kids at the lunch table? Share with the crowd!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back to School, Back to Work: Rebuilding Your Professional Network

If you’ve been away from the professional world, it’s time to rebuild the network. Take heart, even those working for a paycheck ignore this supremely important aspect of career development. The upside is that you have expanded your network through all of your community and parent-related activities, and these new contacts can be part of your professional world.

There are two parts to rebuilding your professional network: online and offline.

In the online world, nothing beats LinkedIn. Although some equate it to “Facebook for work,” there’s really much more to it. We recommend you use LinkedIn by:

  • Build out your professional profile based on your resurrected resume. Use the online template to get recommendations from prior colleagues and managers. Remember the job descriptions you reviewed for job families on your target list? Make sure the keywords from those job descriptions are on your LinkedIn profile, because that’s how recruiters are going to find you.
  • Reconnect with EVERYONE you’ve ever worked with. LinkedIn practically does this for you by matching up employment dates to other members with the same organizations and dates of employment, all you have to do is Link up. Remember the bad old days when switching internet service providers meant switching email accounts? It was very easy to lose track of former colleagues, this process makes it easy. With a wide employment gap you’re much more likely to be hired by someone you know, who knows your work and results, than applying into the black hole of a career site.
  • Join industry and job family-related groups. These are free and a great way for you to network with peers online. Learn about industry-specific job fairs, new policy and regulations in your field and learn about job openings from group members. There’s a fee for employers to post a job opening on LinkedIn, but free for group members within the group setting (under Discussions), so many post there.

You can use all sorts of online resources to rekindle your professional network, and even expand it further, but it’s the online portion that’s going to get you your next role. Nothing beats the face-to-face interaction and follow-up of an online meeting to build an actual relationship. And that’s what the network is all about.

· Coffee: I’m a big fan of the, “can I take you to coffee?” as the opening salvo to building a professional relationship. 20 minutes, $5, and everybody loves the opportunity to talk about themselves over a mocha-whatever. If you’ve been following this process step-by-step, you’re in the process of networking yourself into your target roles and organizations, you’ve connected online, and now you’re meeting in person. Do your research (on your coffee date via LinkedIn, on the company and industry with various resources) and ask very specific questions. Pick up the tab, send an email thank you that day, and send a written thank you note. In an online world, meeting in person and sending paper through the snail mail sets you apart in a very crowded hiring market.

· Follow Up: Again, this is the whole key to rebuilding the professional network and the step most job-seekers overlook. Whether you’re meeting someone at a networking event or over coffee, send an email right away and a written thank you in the mail. I cannot overstate this. Busy people are taking time out of their day to help you, express sincere gratitude. Hopefully in your relationship-building meeting you learned something about the other person, pay a favor or introduction forward to build what we call “good networking karma.” If your coffee date is late because there was a plumbing emergency at home, email over a great recommendation from the plumber you’ve used. If he or she mentions that they’re really struggling with Search Engine Optimization, forward an article you’ve recently read on the topic.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dinner Planning Scramble

Traffic was terrible on the way home, your toddler is over-tired and hungry (aka "hangry") at pick up and your 6 year old needs to be at soccer practice at 6:15. No problem, except that you still have to feed them dinner. Details......

Blog readers know I've personally struggled with taming the evening beast, particularly when it comes to dinner time. But believe me, the secret sauce to a delicious dinner is in the meal planning.

A friend recently solicited some advice when moving from a full-time with daycare schedule to part-time with nanny scenario, and realized she had to step up the meal planning.

Here's what has worked for me:
  • Keep it simple. We have food allergies and sensitivities so there's a lot of broiled salmon or grilled chicken, veggies and fruit. You're not looking for Julia Childs here, you're getting dinner on the table.
  • Make Leftovers. Everyone can eat leftovers for lunch, and plan to use those leftovers in other meals. Try pork tenderloin, it's super easy to cook and comes seasoned. Slice the leftovers on sandwiches in the week. Or try the Purdue Oven Roaster, completely fool proof. Clean up is easy (it's in a bag) and have roast chicken one night and the left overs for a quesadilla later on in the week and chicken salad for lunch. We had a 6lb $8 bird a few weeks ago and ate it all week, with the best being homemade chicken noodle soup at the end of the week. Again, I'm no Jacques Pepin, but it's homemade stock from your carcass, chopped up chicken and half a box of pasta. That's it.
  • Cook on Sundays. Make your most complicated meal on the weekend when your spouse is home to mind the little ones so you're not breaking up sibling squabbles while trying to double recipe ingredients in your head.
  • Double up: Speaking of, if you make a meatloaf, make two. Double your batch of turkey chilli. Freeze the second. It doesn't take any more time to double than to make a single and you'll have something in the freezer later on for busy weeknights
  • Planning: MUST.HAVE.PLAN. I start with the weekly family schedule (do I need a meal a babysitter can assemble? People coming over? Swim lessons at 6pm two nights this week?), examine what's already in the pantry/freezer/fridge, and come up with a meal plan. I go to my normal grocery store's flyer, figure out what meat is on sale as the loss leader for the week and plan out based on existing recipes. My criteria is healthy, easy and affordable. That can be tough! But have your go- to meals, sprinkle in some new ones with recipes you see in magazines or from friends, and congratulate yourself for pulling off another amazing meal during the witching hour.

Back to School, Back to Work: You Need a Strategy

So you’ve imagined what both the ideal role and more realistic roles look like, now what? You need a strategy, and we’ve seen the best results by taking this approach:

· Say What You Want: Get your 30 second elevator speech down, and let everyone you know that’s what you’re looking for. The least helpful opening I get from candidates is “I’ll take any job, I just want to work.” Now, you and I both know that’s not true! What’s most helpful? “I’d like to leverage my volunteer fundraising experience in the non-profit world. Ideally, I’m looking for a mid-sized trade association in the Alexandria, VA area.” I can work with that, and now your friends and family can keep their eyes and ears open for those roles when they see them.

· Target List: Dust off those Microsoft Excel skills and make a job target list; one tab for job families and the other for organizations for whom you’d like to work. Make a list of all the jobs you’d like. For example, if you’re a CPA, you might have roles like: Big 4 firm, boutique accounting firm staff accounting, non profit controller. On the second tab, list all of the organizations for whom you’d like work. Wondering how you come up with that list? Think about companies you admire, past clients or vendors, and organizations where your friends and family work that have great things to say about their jobs. From a balance perspective, it’s always good to start with the “Best Companies” lists, either in Working Mother or other local publications, but I think the more telling list comes from observing the world around you. Who’s in heels at the bus stop? Where do they work?

· Build the Resume: We’ll cover this more extensively in the “Back –to-Work Resume” post, but you need resurrect the last resume you had and decide if you want to work from that or start from scratch. Consider the chronological verses functional format (and there’s a template on our website) and set aside some quiet, uninterrupted hours to work on this. You’ll likely get your next job from someone you know, but the resume is a necessary evil in the job search process, your paper-equivalent of an introduction, and it has to be perfect. One typo or inaccuracy kills an opportunity.

· Marry Them Up: Armed with your resurrected resume, use your rebuilt professional network (more on that later) to network your way into these roles. Ask everyone you know in your job search team if they know anyone with the job family roles on your target list. Who on your PTA committee knows someone at the companies on your target list? Add the organizations on your target list to the “Search” function on LinkedIn to find out who in your network’s network (think Six Degrees of Separation) works, or has worked, at that company. Use the online introductions to get into those companies. While you’re there, “follow” those companies to look at internal job postings, recent hires and press releases.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Back to School, Back to Work: Are you Ready?

As you begin to embark on your return to the paid workforce, the very first step should be imagining what the whole scenario might look like. Is it full-time work with full-time childcare, or part-time childcare after school? Or just working during “school bus hours?” What are you ready for? What is your family ready for?

  • Imagine: See if you can conjure up the perfect balance of work content, hours and compensation. Smile, and then acknowledge it doesn’t exist. Instead, think about which of those three factors is most important and then where your parameters are on each of the other two legs of the “Momentum” triangle. Be really honest with yourself, your capabilities, and desires. If you tell me you’re ready to work 30 hours per week, don’t tell me you’d rather work 15-20 when I present a 30 hour workweek opportunity. That builds distrust and lack of enthusiasm around your job search team (recruiters, friends, colleagues) and they’re less likely to bring you opportunities going forward.
  • Build Your Team: You’re not going to get this done alone, you need a team. Your job search team should include prior colleagues, friends, family and trusted recruiters (like Momentum Resources!) You’re going to need 3 people to peer-review your resurrected resume, folks to give you mock interview questions. Identify these people now, do something nice for them in advance because you’ll be calling for favors soon!
  • The Big Talk: It’s time for the come-to-Jesus conversation with your significant other. If you’ve been running the home front for the last few years, those responsibilities have to be divided and conquered. Accept that things will not be up to par with what you’ve done in the past, and go with it. Take my advice, nearly a decade into the working mom adventure: play to your partners’ strengths. My husband is an expert laundry folder and in a household with 3 boys, I do loads every day and leave the folding to him after bedtime. And praise substantially! If this method doesn’t work make a list of everything that needs to be done on a daily basis and find a fair and equitable way to divide household responsibilities. And remember, something’s got to give. One look at my lawn and flower beds full of weeds shows what “gave” in our house this year.
  • The Big Talk, Part 2: It’s for the kids to man up. If you’ve been staying home with them, they’re likely used to a built-in playmate, resident playdate manager, picker upper of all toys and last minute classroom cupcake manager. Don’t kill yourself, hand over age appropriate tasks where strengths and interests lie and let go of ideals of perfection. I cringe every time I see the bulging, cramped drawers of my 9 year olds’ dressers but they put their own clothes away, one less task on my to do list.
  • Child Care: It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, but you need your childcare set up in advance of having a job. If you apply for a job to our company, I expect you to be available to interview on one business day’s notice. That’s just the way it is. We’re all working at the employer’s convenience. And if we present you with an opportunity and you say that you need a month’s notice to start because you don’t have childcare lined up, we likely won’t bring you another opportunity. It’s time to call in favors from friends, family and neighbors. Put them on notice. Pay favors for back up babysitting forward so you can call them in when needed. One of the best strategies I’ve seen from our candidate on the child care front was a woman who booked a sitter for two mornings a week. She used these 6 hours to aggressively job hunt, set up informational interviews, and when I called her for interview availability she simply said, “Sure! Anytime between 9am-1pm Tuesday or Thursday.”


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Can Brown Do For You?

We interrupt this back-to-school, back-to-work series with a great story about using all of your resources and relationships to get the inside scoop for the right job.

I've long said that although all of the "Best Places to Work" lists are a great place to start a job search when you're looking for great work-life balance, but the more telling sign is "who's in heels at your bus stop." Who in your own network is making it to the bus stop and doing meaningful work. Where does she work? How did she get that job?

This theory was highlighted yesterday when talking to a friend with an active job search. She admittedly didn't do enough research in advance of taking her current job and didn't heed the subtle advice from folks in her network about the personality and management style of her current boss, and got herself in a rotten work environment. Actively networking and interviewing, she runs into her old pal, the UPS man, "Donnie."

Donnie asks where she's currently interviewing and offers a candid assessment of the work environment as only a quiet, efficient third-party onlooker to an organization can, and friend quickly heeds this advice.

Further, Donnie knows from his trusted position as daily UPS carrier that so-and-so is leaving at another firm. Donnie's worked with friend for years and know it'd be a great fit. Did friend mind that he shared her contact information with the hiring firm?

Uhm, no! Interview set up the same day, results pending.

But even if an offer doesn't emerge, the story here is great. Use your entire network when engaging in a job search. Be specific, and make sure everyone you know (from the preschool teacher to your former assistant) knows exactly what kind of job and organization you'd like. Use your "market intelligence," the inside scoop from the people you know and trust, to focus on organizations where there will be a strong fit. And most importantly, treat all of the people in your professional network with kindness and respect - from CEO to UPS guy- and it will come back tenfold.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to School, Back to Work

You can almost feel it in the air. The crisp evenings, the sounds of the school buses rumbling through the neighborhood, the smell of newly sharpened #2 pencils: the kids are back in school. If you have taken a break from the paid work force to stay home with your children for an extended period of time, you may be thinking about returning to the working world.

If you’ve been at home for more than five years, let me be the first to say you’ve got your work cut out for you. I don’t mean to discourage you at all, but think about it. Five years ago Facebook didn’t even exist and now companies are using it as a significant recruiting tool. iPhones, let alone iPads, were but an apple in Steve Jobs’ eye and now apps lead business productivity discussions. Bottom line: Things have changed in the workforce. And things for you- and your family- have changed, as well.

The good news is that we’ve seen some very warm market reception to a number of candidates lately with significant paid employment gaps. Even in the Great Recession. Because the truth of the matter is that there’s a sharp demand for very smart, well-qualified, dynamic employees (particularly in a few hard-to-fill job families) and the candidates with the best reception show personal and professional preparedness and a strong job search strategy.

Over the next few blog posts, we’ll share what we’ve seen work for returning-to-work parents in current market conditions. We’ll touch on addressing your own personal and family preparedness, building a resume to address the gap, rebuilding your professional network, job search strategy, and interview preparedness. Along the way I’ll pull in real-world examples of Momentum Resources candidates using these tips effectively to return to the paid workforce. And soon you’ll be packing your own lunch to head back to work!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trading Dollars for Flexibility?

At Momentum Resources we always fight hard for fair, market-driven compensation rates for our candidates. But when considering compensation levels, and believe me, it's all over the place in this market, it's important to consider the whole picture.

Typically, this sort of holistic comparison has included things like benefits (particularly retirement plan contributions, but moreover health care premium costs) but lately, workers seem to be taking flexibility into the equation. Would you trade a portion of your compensation for a more flexible schedule?

Business Insider reports that the majority of workers (regardless of age, gender and professional status) are willing to trade 10% of their income for more schedule flexibility.

There are absolutely some real-dollar cost savings to a more flexible schedule, mostly in commuting costs and additional child care. But I'd caution that this is a very slippery slope. It shouldn't matter when and where the work gets done, so long as you're meeting (and exceeding!) expectations. Taking a discount for flexibly-produced work implies it's somehow less valuable, and that's just not the case.