It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I still have to find a job)

disney-chicken-littleThe sky is falling.

The US lost millions of   jobs last year.

Layoffs continue to happen – and I STILL need to find a job.

With the huge number of layoffs and a slow economy, it will be tougher to find a job in the next few years.    As the old saying goes “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, but what does that mean?  Do you need to work harder this year to find a job?  For most people the answer will be a resounding ‘YES’.  But what about working smarter?  Are there ways that you can get more out of your job-search time?  Yes, there are – organization and focus will help you ‘work smarter’, but how can you improve your organization and focus?  Well, you could integrate the common tools you use, set-up a to-do list and calendar to schedule your time – basically use better tools.

VirtualJobCoach is the site that was built to integrate all common job-hunt tools, processes and advice to make your job-search easier.

Can you afford to run your job-search the way you did last year?

So while the sky may be falling, the question is what you will do differently to compete?

Only you can answer that question.

7 ways to answer the weakness interview question – interview tip

Obviously, no one likes to admit that they have any weaknesses, especially in front of a potential employer. So what do you do? Here are seven different tactics for dealing with the question.

Strength as weakness:

Give a weakness that can prove to be an asset. Conventional advice tells you to give a weakness that really could be taken as strength, such as: “I’m a workaholic. I spend a lot of time at work.” As you can probably guess, while it sounds like a smart answer, employers usually see right through this because it’s self-serving. A better answer is to mention something that may be perceived as a weakness but, in the proper context, constitutes a genuine strength

Correcting a weakness:

This tactic acknowledges you have a weakness but you recognize it and are working towards overcoming it. Always provide examples of the steps you’re doing to fix the problem, How far you’ve come, and how these changes will help the employer.

Learned my lesson:

Similar to the correcting a weakness tactic, this approach acknowledges you made a mistake but it’s within the context of you then learning a useful lesson from it. You’ll need to demonstrate what you learned from the mistake. The expectation is that the employer will deem you can learn from your mistakes and that you’re unlikely to make this mistake again. Like, the correcting a weakness tactic, see if you can imply how these changes will help the employer.

Plan to learn/overcome weakness:

Similar to the correcting a weakness, this approach admits you have a weakness, but will start working on it. This is a useful way to handle the situation where you know you have most but not all the skills required for the position. Since you acknowledge the deficiency, and what you plan to do about it, you present yourself as someone who knows themselves, what’s needed in the position and are prepared to overcome weaknesses when required to do so.

Unrelated weakness:

Not every weakness will affect your job performance. This tactic suggests you pick a weakness that, while a genuine weakness doesn’t interfere with your ability to do the job. This requires you to know what the job needs and being able to proffer a “safe” weakness.

None that apply:

This tactic is like trying to answer the question by not answering it, or deflecting it. The tactic here is to answer the question by admitting you have weaknesses, but can’t think of any that would be relevant to the job. Be wary of using this approach as it will come across as evasive and may prompt more digging by the interviewer, or worse they may perceive you to have too many weaknesses and don’t want to admit to any of them (also a bad thing).

Unspoken Question:

Providing you feel the interview is going in the right direction you may be able to try this tactic. Here you respond by asking the interviewer if there is a specific reason they asked the question i.e. they believe you may be missing something. The aim here is to bring out into the open a concern they have (if they have one) and allows you to speak to it, rather than approach it like a question that needs an answer.

Do you have any other tactics for dealing with this supposedly innocuous, but potentially damaging question?  Let us know and we’ll  share it.

Simon at

Social networking for connections not results

Robert Angulo’s article “Networking is an Effective Recruiting Tool, Social Networking Not There Yet”  has great insights into how social networks are used by recent college graduates and alumni.

What surprised me about it is how social networks are actually being used; Roberts comment clarifies it as “…..but rather, that they do tap friends and family, but in a real-world setting, and not online”.

But that’s not what I actually wanted to highlight, it’s the top-line stats they describe:

  • the most common job search action is to look at job boards (71.9%)
  • 78.1% of people were “having difficulty” in finding work – 4% (19 people) found it easy to find a job.
  • those 4% who found it easy their number 1 job search tactic was to “speak to someone who works at the company of interest”.

Here’s my take away from this.

1. Create a target list of companies and

2. Network your way into those companies

Happy hunting


Landing an appointment – Part III

This three part series (Part I, Part II), is based upon material provided by and conversations with an old friend of mine, John Burke. In the tough times that we need alternatives to the traditional submission of a resume.

Under your signature and title (Principal, Partner, President, whatever works for you) make note that the profile is attached. Do NOT cc: the names of the other executives targeted in this space. I don’t generally include a business card, because I want the correspondence to look more personal than a pitch for their business.

Write three of these letters which are all identical except the intended executive changes, as does the two other names in the first paragraph, and of course, the names of their respective assistants. You need three envelopes addressed to each of the three executive targeted. Be careful with the merging here because it can get a little confusing after three or four different companies. Use a postage stamp and omit a return address – looks less like junk mail.

Time for follow up. Contact the assistant directly, if they’re not there, call back later. Do not leave a voice mail. Introduce yourself and tell them you’re following up on a letter that was sent to their boss a few days ago, and suggest that they’ll remember it by the fact that it was also sent to two other executives. They usually remember this because it is somewhat unusual and was stated in the first sentence of the letter. If the assistant doesn’t recall seeing the letter, tell her you’ll fax or email a copy to her directly and follow up in a day or so after they’ve had a chance to run it by their boss.

You’re calling to see if their boss saw the letter and to find out what his/her decision was, i.e. who did he send it to? On the off chance that the assistant suggests you can speak with their boss right while you’re on the phone, do not accept the offer (the executive you speak with over the phone will use the limited time he affords you to screen you out). Inform the assistant that you’re more comfortable with he/she as your point of contact to arrange a meeting or direct you to the right individual.

The beauty of this strategy is that the individual to whom this correspondence is ultimately directed can’t ignore that the letter came from the boss in the corner office and they had better have an answer if questioned as to what it was all about. When you call the recipient’s assistant, reference the fact that so-and-so recommends that you and the recipient meet and can the assistant set up an appointment for you. Again, it’s best if you don’t speak to the recipient on the phone if you can help it – always push for a meeting.

Standard meeting etiquette applies. Tell them how much time you’ll need, and don’t exceed that time limited unless you’re invited to. There are two schools of thought regarding time planning: suggest it will be less than a half hour so that it doesn’t threaten to eat up too much of their day, or make it just shy of an hour to be realistic and to lend credibility. There’s no right answer, but I favor the latter. Regardless of the time requested, be prepared if asked to tell how you plan to use the time and what you hope to discuss.

Good luck to all


Landing an appointment – Part II

This three part series (Part I, Part III) is based upon material provided by and conversations with an old friend of mine, John Burke. In the tough times that we need alternatives to the traditional submission of a resume.

There are plenty of books on how to create a profile, but the essence of the collateral is to convey, what you do well, how you did it, who you did it for, and the conditions before, and after you plied your competency. You can get really fancy with some testimonials.

Next is to pick your targets. You’re better off if you cast the net wide and consider those enterprises that you would be willing to do project work, if it turns into a job, all the better. With your industry knowledge it shouldn’t be too difficult who may have a need for your set of problem solving skills. Keep the list limited to no more than 10 (this strategy will yield appointments so you don’t want more action than you can reasonably book).

At this point we need to do some minor research. In addition to the Corporate address and phone number, we need the names of three top level executives who presumably have an interest in our proposition. Typically that includes the CEO, the CFO, and a perhaps an appropriate functional VP. Ask the switchboard operator if they know the name and the correct spelling of the executive’s assistant. If the operator is reluctant to share that information, ask for the assistant directly and get the information from them. (If the target company is too small, the intended executives may not have assistants and the strategy becomes somewhat challenged.)

Time to craft the letter. I try to keep it to one page (we mail two with the profile) and it is in the standard format of a business letter – if you have letterhead, all the better. Now here is the key: after the salutation, in the opening sentence of the very first paragraph we state that we are writing to the addressee, the CFO (by name), and the VP (by name) with the hopes one of them will direct you to the executive most concerned about … and you briefly state the problem.

The following paragraph or two describes your value proposition, what you do, how it has helped others in similar situations, and what will be the desired results.

Close the letter by stating that you will be in touch with their assistant (by name) on a specific date to learn whether the executive contacted will meet with you or perhaps someone they have delegated. The question you want answered if the executive doesn’t meet with you is to whom was the letter directed to. Take note of the name and validate the delegate with the other two executive’s assistants – they may tell you someone different who is actually the point person you need; time will tell.

Good luck to all


Landing an appointment – Part I

This three part series (Part IIPart III) is based upon material provided by and conversations with an old friend of mine, John Burke. In the tough times that we need alternatives to the traditional submission of a resume.

Sending an unsolicited resume with an appropriate cover letter is seldom the most effective way to crack a target employer (particularly if there is no job posted); your resume is likely to get lost in the shuffle, discarded by an errant key word search, or simply fail to meet the fancy of a first tier HR administrator. You’re out before you’re invited in.

We all know that when on the hunt for a project or position, nothing happens until you actually meet with the decision maker. Our initial efforts should be totally devoted to securing appointments with multiple employers. At this point in our careers, we don’t actually need more interviews, we need appointments for exchanging information with interested executives. We need to alter our mindset from one of an applicant to one of a consultative vendor.

By framing your strongest competencies as the solution to Executive’s most ubiquitous issues, the appointment is ultimately controlled by you, the available expert. You are expected to ask the questions, rather than recite interviewee answers. The hat changes from applicant to vendor and your contact becomes a customer, rather than an employer.

That transformation alone makes it easier for you to get in.

As a vendor, you would never consider approaching the pertinent “buyer” of your services by submitting your credentials to the Human Resource department; as gatekeepers, their job is to screen you out unless there happens to be an open position for which you appear to be an absolute perfect match. Now that you represent yourself as a solution, all you need is the power to get appointments.

There is an insightful book called The Power To Get In, by Michale A. Boylan, that goes into some detail as to how to attain this power. I’ve used Boylan’s principles for years with great success and am not ashamed to admit that he’s the genius who created this winning strategy. It works something like this:

The first task is to take your resume and distill the information into a one page profile that describes what you do well. The document should have no resemblance to a resume: no objectives, dates of employment, chronological listing of employers, not even any titles or where you graduated – if it looks anything at all like a resume it will never see the desk of the intended recipient.

Good luck to all


Networking – Quick Tip

I recently answered an online question that said “What I need help with is networking. I am not as good at it as I need to be”

When faced with difficulty in growing your network focus your mind and that of your network contacts on a specific list of organizations. Send the list to your contacts in advance of your meeting and let them know you are looking for help to access these specific businesses.

Even if they have no contacts there your contact may know people in similar organizations and can help you along the path to success.


Resume spelling mistakes and who’s opinions really matters!

The Hr guy has a fantastic blog on why he doesn’t care about spelling mistakes on a resume, and the comments the stance has generated is well worth reading

But here’s where I think job-seekers, despite Lance’s stance, need to make sure their resumes are squeaky-clean.

Lance is talking form the point of view of an HR person and not the persons direct manager. HR people see you on the way in and on the way out for the most part, those times in-between they leave everything to the manager, who has to deal with you 8 hours  a day, five days a week. And with the fall-out with peers, colleagues customers etc.

If a manager hires the wrong person, letting them go from the company is a very time consuming and costly (both financially and emotionally), and that’s not taking into account the costs of hiring you, any customer impact, and how the managers “hiring skills/ability” will be judged by their manager.

The selection process, for managers, is as much (if not more so) about avoiding hiring the wrong person as it is hiring the correct person.

Also consider that a resume is the only (data point) or information I have about you. With the current economic climate, there are going to be 4 or 5 times as many people applying for the same position. As a recruiting manager if I have 30 good resume and the ability to only interview 20 of them, then I need to find some other criteria to de-select 10.  Spelling mistakes are an easy criteria in this case.

And this is why, as a job-seeker, you need to avoid anything that raises any doubt in the managers mind about your hire-ability, and I’m not talking about the HR people here, I’m talking about the people you will work for.

The fewer reasons you give them to de-select you, the greater your chances of landing the job.

I’m also curious since Lance doesn’t elaborate, how much/many spelling mistakes we should tolerate? 20% or what about 75% of the resume.

So while I applaud Lance’s stance,  until substantial HR and hiring managers feel the same way, it’s spell check, check it again and check it yet again.

Simon at

Understanding a Resume

There are three key issues to understanding a resume. They are The Audience, The Author and The Content. Each of these components requires careful consideration when developing your resume to ensure that you achieve the best possible results. At times such as now when the job market is tight it is more important than ever that your resume stands out from the crowd. Remember a simple rule, Less is More, you would not tell all on a first date, you would tell enough to make yourself interesting and the same rule applies to writing your resume.

The Audience in this case can be either human or mechanical and we have to consider both of these entities. We also have to consider another scenario, that of networking where the resume is used as an introductory tool rather than as a direct job application. In the case of the human audience we are most often considering a recruiter and secondly the networking contact. The recruiter is usually busy and pushed to giving each resume the briefest of scans. To overcome this issue we need to make the resume easy to read, so easy in fact that the information jumps off the page straight into their mind. Long, complicated sentences in the opening summary can jeopardize your chances of having your resume passed on to the hiring manager. The mechanical audience is usually some form of scanning system that is looking for key words. The objective is to make sure the correct words are in your resume.

The Author can either be the person who is the subject of the resume or someone who is employed by that individual. Every time that you show your resume to someone else and ask for their opinion your will receive constructive criticism. There is a fine line between constantly changing your resume for the needs of the opportunity you are chasing and doing it because someone else has made a comment. When choosing a writer to work with make sure that they understand you and your goals, this is not a five minute exercise but requires multiple conversations before a satisfactory result can be obtained.

The Content is the most important piece of the puzzle. This is normally divided into 3 main sections, The Summary, Experience and Education. There are many variations on this theme but in essence the goal in all resumes is to know your target position, research it carefully and focus your resume on answering the needs of the company. The Summary is where you make your first impression; this is the area where you have the first 20 seconds of the recruiters time. Make the best of this and deliver a clear, easy to read section. In the Experience section we are dealing with your accomplishments, we are looking for thoughts and ideas that make you stand out from the crowd. The final section, Education is where we list College and Corporate training information unless we have recently left school where we may also list our High School information.

In summary, a well written summary section focused on what you can deliver to an organization, an author focused on building a great resume that is focused on them and a content section that demonstrates your strengths and accomplishments will provide you with the finest resume.