Monthly Archives: October 2016

Job Title and Job Search

Sam has a title problem. He is VP of IT for a small company. He basically manages all aspects of IT, from infrastructure and application development to information security and cloud computing. He manages a couple of technical resources. But now Sam wants to change jobs. He seeing layoffs at his company and hears rumors of financial insecurity. Now he’s started a job search targeting larger, more established firms.

But, guess what? He’s not qualified to be a VP of IT for a mid-sized or large company. BUT, he might be able to get a job there but hold a less senior title. He sees a Senior Project Manager job he thinks would be a good fit. He would be managing a globally distributed development team of 30. He would also be making more money than in his current job, even though the title is two to three management levels below his current title.

But, if he doesn’t do something about his title, he may find his resume never makes it past ATS (applicant tracking systems) to the recruiter seeking to fill the open position. (The recruiter will be searching for the keywords “Senior Project Manager.”)

If his resume passes the ATS hurdle, it still has to convince the recruiter that Sam has the skills, knowledge, and experience required.

Let’s say Sam can work the keywords into his resume so it gets retrieved in a search for “Senior Project Manager,” what does he do then about conveying what he has accomplished as VP of IT? The recruiter won’t work hard to see if somewhere in his current job he has done the duties of a Senior Project Manager and demonstrated relevant skills. S/he will want to see terms like and content about: “project life cycle management” and “Agile/Scrum.” Sam has to make that experience abundantly clear. (And probably strip away much that he accomplished that isn’t immediately relevant.) You can see the challenge here.

Titles for managers in technology have proliferated. And, as you can see, they often differ significantly from company to company both in the actual terms used and in the responsibilities associated with them.

Why is this a problem for you? Because you need your target title keywords in your resume, even though you haven’t held the title. And, your current title is probably the single most important part of the recruiter’s first impression of you. And if it’s different from the job title you are applying for, most recruiters will not take the time to go deeper and your resume won’t make the interview pile.

Increasing, I’m seeing clients with title problems. Some are like Sam’s. But here are a few other common scenarios:

  • A job seeker has a VP title but it is ideosyncratic to his current company. Some very large companies have title progressions that don’t correspond to the common title-and-responsibility pairings in most of the rest of the corporate world.
  • A job seeker has managed 100+ resources at the C-level in a small company in a previous job, but he has been working at a large company for several years and holds the title “Manager,” not Director, VP, or CIO/CTO. How does he get back into the executive ranks?
  • A job seeker is a Senior Director in his current company but has huge responsibilities, hundreds of reports, large strategic impacts. He is obviously under-titled. How does he get the recruiter to see him as a VP or SVP?

These are some of the challenges my clients are facing everyday.

It’s tricky to write a resume or LinkedIn profile so that a recruiter sees the job seeker as qualified if some of the above scenarios pertain. I recommend that job seekers work with a qualified and experienced IT executive resume writer. As you know I usually provide DIY solutions for issues I raise in my blog posts, but this particular one needs broad knowledge of the IT landscape and top-notch strategic resume writing skills.

Personal Information Should I Disclose When Interviewing

Debra WheatmanI have recently re-entered the job market, after being in my previous position for nearly ten years. One of the reasons that I stayed in that role for so long was that it offered enormous flexibility of schedule. I have a special needs child, and I really need the ability to work from home as needed to accommodate things like doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions, and meetings with school. Should I be up front with interviewers about my personal situation, and my need for flexibility?

Thanks,
Jocelyn

Hi Jocelyn:

Thanks for writing. The issue you describe is a fairly common one—people become accustomed to the perks of a certain position, and those non-monetary perks become perceived as non-negotiable for their next role. However, it is important to keep in mind that the interview is really not the time to talk about yourself. That’s right. You might think that you’re there to discuss your achievements and accomplishments, but you’re really not. You’re there to talk about a specific business problem and how you might be able to solve it.

I don’t think that you should bring up your home situation with an interviewer. Right or wrong, that is going to send the message that you are someone who has excessive commitments in your personal life, and that you may not be fully dedicated to your job. The interview needs to focus on what you can do for the employer, and how you can help with the current business need.

Question Marks Around Man Showing Confusion And UnsureWhat I do think you should do is to wait until the offer stage, and then negotiate a flexible work arrangement, like two days from home. You have a decade-long tenure at your previous company, and your references should be able to speak to the quality of your work, thus reassuring your prospective manager that you can get your work done regardless of your location. You needn’t mention your child at all. Many, many white collar employees and employers see telecommuting as a reasonable, inexpensive employee benefit.

Best Career Planning Inspiration

Details of your career planning process might vary from those of other career-minded professionals, because each of you is a unique individual–coming from different backgrounds, possibly targeting different overarching career goals. However, the crux of the matter is: Are you staying on top of your own career planning?

WHAT DOES YOUR CAREER PLANNING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?

I don’t have space to go into details, and you probably wouldn’t want to read them all anyway, but I wanted to touch on a few key elements.

First, it’s important to mention that career planning is not something you do at the very beginning of your professional career and then file away as a done deal. It’s an ongoing process. So, even if you’re now a senior manager or executive, it wouldn’t be a smart move to ignore career planning in your professional activities.

Just as you need an effective plan to conduct a successful job search, you need a well-thought-out career planning process.

The three phases shown in the accompanying graphic are self-assessment, exploration, and taking action. In this post I’m focusing on exploration and taking action.

CAREER EXPLORATION: WHEN DO YOU DO IT?

What you do in the way of career exploration could look quite different depending on what stage you’ve reached in your career. Early on, you’d probably do a lot of activities such as informational interviewing (one of my colleagues calls it intelligence gathering). Mid-career or later, you might spend more time on activities such as workshops and conferences related to your field or industry, where you could find out about potentially interesting possibilities from your peers and other individuals to help you map your next moves.

If you’re thinking of breaking new ground – i.e., taking your career in a direction it hasn’t gone before – you definitely need to explore your options and the pros and cons of each course. Big moves, big accomplishments, don’t happen by accident!

The main purpose of career exploration, though, is to scope-out near-term and long-term career opportunities that appeal to you, offer good potential for professional growth, and have reasonably robust prospects for the future. For example, they’re in a growing industry rather than one that’s declining, technology  matches well with them rather than sidelining them, and so on.

CAREER PLANNING – TAKING ACTION IS CRITICAL

It’s no use doing thorough planning if your plans never get off the drawing board. Once you’ve decided where you’re heading next, you need to implement the actions that will help ensure you get there.

Logically, you’ll want to consider resources that fit where you are in the process. Some of your actions might involve the application of low-tech measures, such as good, old-fashioned, in-person networking and relationship-building. Done right, low-tech is a perfectly workable approach and can help you reach your goal.

Stuck Holding You Back

I have talked to about a dozen job seekers over the last two weeks that are stuck.

They are waiting until they perfect the language on their resume before they send it out, and they keep asking for feedback.

And they get different feedback every time, so they are in constant resume editing mode, but not contacting anyone for interviews.

They want precisely the right list of contacts to reach out to before they start reaching out.

They want to have interview preparation down pat, yet they haven’t sent out a resume.

This is one of the bigger ‘stuck’ scenarios: One person is worried about getting an offer at a company he is not entirely sure he likes, where the recruiter called with interest stemming from his LinkedIn profile.

Except he hasn’t called back or submitted a resume yet.

Although I feel honored to hear these stories, it pains me to hear them.

I could feel the pain and frustration experienced as each person told me their story.

Assuming things had to be perfect before moving forward.

Worrying about a problem they didn’t have yet.

We want progress – not perfection.

Perfection is paralyzing.

And it’s subjective.

You are chasing something that is different for everyone.

And here is the best news.

You are already perfect.

Stand with that knowledge.

Send what you have.

Reach out to one person to start.

And then the next person.

Do as much research as you can to prepare for an interview and know that you, as you are, are enough.

If you get an offer you don’t resonate with, you can always turn it down.

That’s a great problem to have.

I tell my kids: You are always going to have problems.

Always.

So get good problems and not bad problems.

An offer you don’t want is better than no offer.

Some interview prep with a confident stance is better than too much prep and stressed out or no prep at all.

Sending out an awesome resume and making connections is better than making your resume perfect (whatever that is) and not chatting with anyone.

You get unstuck by doing what’s in front of you imperfectly.

Interview Lessons Tips

By now you’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey’s unfortunate performance on New Year’s Eve. Some of the things that occurred reminded me of similar things that can happen if you are unprepared for an interview. And while you most likely won’t be interviewing in front of a million or more people, here are five takeaways that can help you be prepared for your live performance.

1. Know your material cold before the big day. It’s unconfirmed whether Mariah forgot the lyrics to her songs or just didn’t want to sing live, but either way, she came off as unprepared. Many job seekers choose to “wing” their interviews rather than rehearsing beforehand and often their interview performance suffers because of it. Craft an elevator pitch to communicate your value proposition and be prepared to give accomplishment-focused, metrics-driven examples of how you have helped the companies you’ve supported do things smarter, faster, or more efficiently. Just regurgitating your resume or speaking about general job responsibilities won’t cut it.

2. Test for any technical problems. Was there a technical malfunction during Mariah’s performance or did the singer just get caught in a lip synching fail? In any event, it always makes sense to test your equipment before any type of performance or presentation. If you are conducting an interview via Skype, make sure your background is not distracting, your lighting isn’t too bright or too dark, your sound is at an appropriate level, and you have a working mike. If you are interviewing in-person, map out and time your route to the office beforehand to ensure you are on time and check your wardrobe for any potential malfunctions (missing buttons, etc.).

3. Expect a few curveballs. Whenever you do anything live, there is always the chance that something will go wrong. The key is to recover quickly. While unfortunately this wasn’t the case for Mariah, you can anticipate certain challenges that may occur the day of the interview. The one people fear most is not knowing how to answer a particular interview question. I like to remind people that they are the most qualified person in the room to talk about themselves. If you get a question you are not quite sure how to answer, you can ask for clarification or say, “That is a great question; let me think about it for a moment.” Then you can draw upon one of your success stories that is most similar to the competency they are trying to understand if you have.

How Do You Handle Stress and Pressure

In any job interview, you’re bound to be hit with one or more “behavioral” questions, the ones that ask you to describe your response to real or hypothetical work situations, and one of the more popular questions concerns your reaction to stressful situations in the workplace.

It’s a reasonable question. No job is immune from stress, whether you’re a retail clerk trying to cope with an irate customer, a programmer faced with an insane deadline or the head of Wells Fargo Bank facing a committee of hostile Senators. The stakes may vary, but performing well under pressure is something that all employers value.

As a result, your answer can make or break your interview performance.

What to Say

You can attack the question from several angles, opting for anything from a simple declaration to a more elaborate explanation. As long as you choose an approach that feels natural to you, you’re off to a good start.

For example:

    • I do some of my best work under pressure, and I relish the challenge.

 

    • I enjoy working on multiple projects at the same time, and the opportunity to do so has been a chance to really refine my organizational skills.

 

    • When faced with competing, high-pressure demands, I’ve learned to prioritize, and I’ve learned to call on supervisors, teammates and subordinates to sort the priorities and identify those that matter most to the organization.

 

    • Stressful times call for bringing out the best you have to offer, but it’s more than an individual test. It’s also a test of your ability to work well with everyone who’s trying to cope with those same pressures. It’s a test of your entire team, and that means that you need to pay attention to team functioning when the pressure isn’t necessarily at its peak. Waiting until the heat is on can lead to problems. Preparation matters.

 

  • I look on stressful situations as a challenge and an opportunity to grow. I learn new ways of coping all the time, and working under pressure has actually been great for my organizational skills.

As noted, though, those are only places to start. For best results, don’t stop when you’ve described some abstract skills that you’ve developed and deployed. Instead, make it concrete. Tell a story.

Think of an example that shows your highly stressed self in action. Perhaps you were under immense pressure because of a number of competing deadlines. You prioritized. Perhaps you enlisted your supervisor’s help to determine which projects needed to be first on the list. Perhaps you called in another team member who was working on a lower priority project for a temporary assist. Perhaps you rearranged things with some other piece of the project’s structure to accommodate the deadline that truly mattered.

If it helps, organize your story in terms of situation, action and result, the “SAR” approach. What was the situation? What actions did you take? What results did you achieve?

It’s not the details themselves that matter. It’s the fact that you back things up with details in the first place. That’s what makes your answer believable.