Volunteer to keep your corporate skills sharp

Since I was laid off, I have talked to a lot of job hunters who share my dilemma: how do we keep our skills sharp when we’re not working 40 – 50 hours a week?  I believe the answer lies in assisting non-profit organizations.

Do you picture volunteerism as painting a house for an elderly homeowner or cheering at a Special Olympics event?  Now think ‘behind the scenes.’  Non-profit organizations are discovering the benefits of the corporate skill set many volunteers possess.

If you’re a job hunter interested in offering pro bono support, keep these points in mind:

  • Service is a plus on resumes. Being out of work for a long time no longer raises red flags. However, recruiters ask what you did in that time.  They like to hear that that you pursued professional development and training, worked freelance, or provided your services to charities.  They don’t care that you attended your daughter’s soccer games or refinished the living room floor.
  • Resources can be limited. You might have come from a business sector that provided a generous budget. Non-profits rarely have that edge, so don’t assume anything. Just ask what they can and can’t provide.
  • Avoid long-term projects unless you are confident you will have the time after you land a job. If you’re not sure, then think short-term.
  • Non-profits need more than muscle. Apply your brains and experience to assist with inventory control, purchasing negotiations, process management, record-keeping and auditing, project management, human resources, information management… the list goes on and on.
  • Pick up some new skills. Shy about social networking? Have someone show you the ropes. Rusty in event planning?  Ask for an opportunity to polish those abilities.

Volunteering IS its own reward. However, you never know when the folks you help could be the contacts you need for a job. Either way, everyone wins.

If you’re interested in working as a skilled volunteer in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, check out the skilled volunteer program described on The Volunteer Center web site

Inexperienced recruiters can put job hunters at disadvantage

My friend Tom (not his real name) recently shared his frustrations with inexperienced recruiters interviewing him for senior positions. 

Whether it’s a phone interview or face-to-face, the recruiters appear uncomfortable, sometimes rushed, and intent on following a script, he said.

“If I feel the recruiter didn’t ‘get me,’ I go around Human Resources and contact the hiring manager. I usually hit a home run with the manager. So why didn’t I get the same response from the HR rep?” he asked.

He’s not the only one baffled. Tom has spoken to several of his job-level contemporaries, and they experience similar challenges.  A representative with a large recruiting firm told Tom he feels that most recruiters today are drastically undertrained and doing more harm than good on behalf of their employers.

A  retired HR representative agreed that there is a lack of training in a majority of in-house recruitment staff, especially the junior employees, and offered Tom some insight.

“The first thing he addressed is that I need to get rid of my anger,” Tom said. A valid point, since our frustrations and fears as job hunters can be perceived as anger directed toward the interviewer.

The HR rep also suggested Tom (a) learn to speak their language, think like they think; (b) play the game and make it fun, and (c) become the teacher: educate them about you, the position, and the company.

That advice was more aggravating than helpful, Tom said. “We research the firms and the key personnel, write great resumes, network, thank everyone we meet, network more, have a great portfolio, work on eye contact and body language… and now we have to help them do their jobs, too?”

I have no expertise in the HR field, but I do know of senior HR personnel who took early retirement packages to help their companies’ efforts to reduce headcount and salaries. The more junior HR staff lost not only their leadership but their mentors. This could be contributing to the conflict.

What can be done to improve the interview experience between job hunters and less-practiced recruiters?

Author helps job seekers embrace the potential of Twitter

Twitter is no longer a social media channel that would be “nice to understand” but a tool that serious job hunters must embrace.

Among the more than 20 million people who visit Twitter every month are hiring managers, human resources staffers and recruiters covering every industry, profession and geographic area, according to Marci Reynolds, CEO of J2B Marketing.

Reynolds has written How to Use Twitter for Your Job Search, a 15-page e-book packed with clear explanations, examples, and tips that even the most non-technical person can appreciate. She is confident that users of Facebook or LinkedIn will have no trouble getting up to speed on Twitter.

I have been tweeting in a small way, but the author packed a lot of key information into one easy-to-read manual. Topics include using Twitter to:

  • Increase your online visibility
  • Become Google friendly
  • Find real time job postings
  • Follow and connect with recruiters
  • Follow and connect with target companies

Reynolds points out that savvy “tweeters” could be alerted to jobs posted on Twitter before the competition sees the same posting elsewhere on the web. Posting jobs on Twitter is free (at the moment), while sites such as Monster, The Ladders and LinkedIn require a fee.

In my opinion, Twitter also might be a way to get the attention of recruiters and HR managers in a way that e-mail and snail mail fail to do. Its spontaneous nature encourages lively (yet concise) dialog. You can comment on a recruiter’s post, ask questions, and get your name “out there.”

How to Use Twitter for Your Job Search can be purchased for the ‘cheep’ price of $5 (sorry, couldn’t resist) and can be downloaded into your computer or Kindle. For more information about Reynolds and her business, go to www.j2bmarketing.com.  And, of course she is on Twitter, at twitter.com/marcireynolds12.

3 ways to know when you’re sleepwalking, not job hunting

I have read a lot about the first few months of unemployment: The initial shock, anger and panic, all the advice on resumes and cover letters, all the assistance with interviews and follow-ups.

Six months later, you have networked with hundreds of folks, read countless articles on self-improvement, and perhaps reconsidered your job goals a few dozen times or so. I think this is the trickiest time for job seekers. 

I haven’t had a regular full-time job since January 2009. In November I began to feel tired–we’re talking bone-numbing fatigue. Networking events and reading job hunter advice was giving less and less juice to my personal battery.  

I had a lot of practice so I wasn’t rusty. I felt more like a favorite book that had become dusty with neglect. Here are some of the signs:

  1. Letting appearance slide.  I thought less about my appearance than I used to.  I was content to throw something on instead of putting thought into how I looked to attend a networking shindig. I dived into the holiday cookies not caring if I fit into my suits in January.  My dyed hair looked dingy.  Money wasn’t the issue, since there are several beauty schools in my area offering stylish do’s and manicures for cheap.
  2. Not updating information regularly.  I was working as a freelance writer and now I’m teaching part-time. I didn’t add the information to my resume and CV until recently, though. Why? I didn’t think of it.  You don’t have to obsess over every detail, but checking what you posted once a month is a good idea.
  3. Being sloppy. I was rummaging through my closet when I noticed a stain on one of my favorite skirts I wear to interviews. I should have brought it to the cleaners right away. Instead, I put it in the closet and forgot about it. What if I hadn’t noticed the stain until I was in the car and on the way to my next interview?

For some people these are signs of depression. However, sometimes we’ve just done the job hunting “thing” for so long that we fall into ruts. We think, “I’ve done this so many times I can do this in my sleep.”  Then we sleepwalk through our job hunt.

Last week I updated my resumes, renewed my contacts with networking friends, cleaned my suits, and even dyed my hair (darker for winter) so I don’t look like Two-Tone Cher. If someone asks me to come to a job interview tomorrow, I’m ready. You should be, too.

How you grow depends on if you feed or starve your curiosity

I am not one to make a big deal out of New Year’s Resolutions (capitalization is intentional). I have been without regular employment for a year, though, and it seems appropriate to evaluate what I can do differently to make 2010 the year that a great company selects me to work for them.

My biggest resolution is to attack my laziness. My kind friends don’t see that I’m lazy. They point out that I stay in touch with hundreds of network contacts, placing calls, writing posts, talking to those in my field (both employed and unemployed) and seeking short-term projects if not regular employment. How is that lazy?

Ah, but we know ourselves, don’t we? I read about a new book on crowd behavior and my lazy side said, “Augh! Statistics! Stay away!” A book on media, marketing and psychology is published and I don’t inquire if my library carries it. My lazy side says, “I’m tired of all this. You’re not even working so why do you need to learn all that stuff? Let’s sees what’s on TV.”

If laziness is sucking away my ambition and optimism, then learning is the antidote. Marketing expert Greg Santell writes an incredibly thoughtful column called Digital Tonto. Recently he listed many of the books he has referred to over 2009. I intend to read as many as I can over the next several months:

  • Six Degrees (Duncan Watts) and Linked (Albert-László Barabási) explain how Network Theory developed and works. 
  • Related to Network Theory is the emerging science of Chaos. I’m leaning toward Benoit Mandelbrot’s The Misbehavior of Markets and James Cliek’s Chaos.
  • How the Mighty Fall, by Jim Collins, is an overview of how companies get into trouble and how they might be able to pull themselves out.
  • Santell also recommends Talent is Overrated by Fortune editor Geoff Colvin.

Ambitious reading perhaps, but I don’t want to be content just learning what is—I want to understand why. I have gotten as far as I have personally and professionally as a result of my curiosity. It’s time to feed that curiosity again.

Job seeker explains how networking got her results

After 12 months of determined searching, Lisa P. recently landed a job with a major firm. In her words, she explains how she made her job contacts, the interview process, and responding to other job seekers now that’s she employed. Her story perfectly illustrates how networking can generate results.

“I attended an event at St. Hubert’s jobs ministry and I met a woman in one of my smaller break-out groups. I told her I was applying for a position at the company and she gave me a contact name and information for that company. 

“Her contact was someone who sincerely wanted to help me. She passed my resume along to her Human Resources contact, Jan*. When Jan called me, she said they didn’t have anything at the moment that fit my background, but she was impressed with my experience and would keep her eyes open for me. I didn’t think I’d ever hear from her again, but a month later Jan emailed me to say she submitted me for a position and that I should apply for it on the company web site.

“I was interviewed by HR, the hiring manager and the hiring manager’s manager. To prepare for each interview, I examined the job description and matched up my accomplishments with the job requirements. I studied the results and then talked to each of those points.

“I told the hiring manager that I could see myself in that role and in the company. He seemed impressed with that. Both the hiring manager and his manager said that they were looking at each candidate’s personality as well as experience, so see if that candidate would fit in.

“After the third interview, they told me they knew they wanted to hire me but they had to get the approvals first. Fortunately it was only a month and not six months or more before I got an offer.

“I have tried to thank the woman who shared her contact information with me by taking her to dinner, but I never heard back from her.

“Since starting my new job, I’ve gotten a ton of requests asking for contact information, many from people I don’t know.  I wish I could help everyone because I’ve been in their situation, but it’s company policy that I can’t refer someone until I’ve been here six months, and I don’t want to do anything to rock the boat at my new job.

“I learned a lot through this process. I met some great people who just wanted to help, and the HR manager did what she said she would do. There really are some good people in this world.”

*Not her real name

Serving coffee and a smile goes a long way

I’m unemployed, but I still go out for a cup of coffee now and then.  It helps me feel less isolated from the rest of the working world. I chatted with my waitress and, as usual, I mentioned I was looking for a job. She nodded her grey head knowingly.

“This place should be packed for breakfast this morning, ” she said. “But not anymore. Coffee, maybe a muffin or a bagel. But not the big breakfasts.”

She leaned forward, speaking more softly while pouring my coffee. “We used to charge extra when a couple would order just one meal and split it–a ‘plate charge,'” she said. “We don’t do that anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true.  We’re all doing what we can, and we have to eat.”

Then she straightened up and smoothed her smock with one hand while holding the coffee pot in the other. “And so what if you’re just having coffee?  You still deserve service, getting cream or whatever you need.  There’s no need to rush out, so stay as long as you want.”

“The manager says we’re lucky to have customers coming here at all, and that’s true! Once the economy gets better–and it will–the folks who remember that we gave them good service will be back to order meals again.”

Sometimes our situations feel bleak. I know I have felt that way at times since starting my job search (for the third time) 12 months ago. Sure networking is vital, but sometimes a trip to the local library or a stop for an inexpensive cup of coffee gives an essential boost.

I’m going back for more coffee tomorrow–and I’m hoping the same server will be there.  She serves a great cup of cheer.