The World of Work

July 30, 2009

If you’re looking for a job, you’re probably doing so with two strikes against you.  I realize that’s a harsh statement, but sadly, it’s almost certainly true.  Why?  Because most of the people in the job market today conducted their last job search prior to December, 2007, the date today’s Great Recession began.  The conventional wisdom on which they relied, therefore, was designed for a very different time and a very different employment environment.  This recession hasn’t changed the rules of the game; it’s changed the game, itself.  What was right for conducting a job search BGR (before the Great Recession) is totally wrong for doing so AGR (after the Great Recession).  Yet, that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing.

It’s understandable that so many of us still believe we can find a job the old fashioned way.  After all, we know how that approach works and have grown comfortable using it.  Moreover, conducting such a traditional job search was based on an assumption that was especially easy to accept:

• Our careers were stable so we could put them aside while looking for a job.

The economy may have contracted, but a recession didn’t fundamentally alter the way business was conducted.  Those in transition, therefore, had but one task to accomplish: getting themselves reemployed.  It was always a challenge, of course, but at least it was a single challenge.  We didn’t have to multitask.

That assumption was bolstered by a second assumption that was equally as easy to accept:

• The disruption caused by a recession was painful, but transitory.

Recessions forced employers to implement temporary reductions in force.  As soon as the economy began to strengthen, therefore, they would quickly refill their empty positions and even add new ones to accelerate their growth.  The resulting “more jobs” recovery meant that those in transition could get by with tried and true job search techniques: they would send out a slew of resumes, do a little networking around the edges and, before too long, have several job offers, including at least one that was better than their last job.

These two assumptions underpinned the BGR conventional wisdom.  It enabled us to view our being in transition as simply an interruption in the norm.  The world of work was basically unchanged, so our careers remained intact even as we moved from one employer to another.  In effect, we had a “come as you are” job market.  There was no need to shore up our occupational prowess or to add ancillary skills that would extend our range of contribution or to revitalize our network of professional contacts.  Our careers were good enough just as they were.

This Great Recession, however, has reset the dynamics of the American workplace.  The downsizing we are witnessing today is not a temporary reduction in force; it’s a permanent reduction in structure.  Employers are shaving huge chunks off their organizational charts, and those jobs will never be replaced.  As a result, what began after the 2001 recession as a “job less” recovery has morphed into a “less jobs” recovery after this recession.  There will simply be far fewer positions available even as the economy begins to grow.

What does that mean for you?  If you’re currently employed, it means you’ve lost your job security.  If you’re in transition, it means the quest for reemployment is now considerably more difficult.  For both of you, it means accepting two new and very different assumptions and, without sugarcoating them, these truisms impose additional obligations on you:

• Careers are now in flux so you must take charge of your career and take the steps necessary to protect its health.

• Workplace disruption is the new norm so you are always in transition and must make those moves serve your best interests.

I realize that this unconventional wisdom is tough to take.  I understand you would rather that I tell you the world is as it has always been.  I can’t.  I owe you the truth.  I have too much respect for your inherent talent to spin a fairy tale that makes you feel good but sets you up for failure.  The AGR workplace is already emerging, and there is no going back.  To put it bluntly, you can embrace this new reality and position yourself for the real and sustained success it offers or you can pretend it doesn’t exist and lock yourself into an ever smaller and more desperate box.

What’s the best way to embark on the positive course?  If you are actively looking for a new job, you must first accept that your quest is now more challenging than it has historically been and then adopt an appropriately tailored job search strategy.  If you are currently employed, you must first accept that your job security has now disappeared and adopt the same tailored strategy as your peers in transition.  Here’s what it entails:

Attention.  As it was BGR, finding a job AGR is a full time occupation.  Forget “funemployment.”  If you’re in transition, you need to be working on your job search 100% of the time and with all of the talent and energy you can muster.  If you’re currently employed, on the other hand, forget comfortably coasting along.  You also need to be searching for a job, as well, only the one you seek is the next opportunity you’d like to have.  It may be with your current employer or with another organization, but wherever it occurs, it must enable you to extend your development and contribution in the workplace.

Guts.  Unlike during the BGR period, finding a new or another job in the AGR era requires that you also take a second job.  Not everybody is going to be willing to do that.  It takes courage and self-confidence.  You have to push yourself outside your comfort zone and tap into more of your talent and energy than you’ve probably ever used before.  You must be both a proactive job seeker and a proactive career self-manager.  Your second job, however, is not a secondary endeavor; it is every bit as important as your first job and should be given the same priority and level of effort.  Said another way, working on your own career is just as critical to your success as working on-the-job for your employer.

Readiness.  To be a successful career self-manager, you must become an expert in and regularly practice “career fitness.”  You must accept responsibility for the health of your career and act to execute that responsibility every single day.  You must know how to increase the strength, endurance and reach of your career and be dedicated to performing the activities that will achieve those outcomes.

One of those activities, for example, is to “pump up your career’s cardiovascular system.”  The heart of your career is your professional knowledge and expertise.  When you’re looking for a new or better job, therefore, enroll in a professional development course to bring your skill set up-to-date.  Then, tell your supervisor what you’re doing and/or add the activity to your resume with the annotation “On-going.”  That simple step will signal to employers that you realize the importance of staying current in your field and that you take personal responsibility for doing so.  There’s no more powerful statement than that of your workplace character and potential contribution.

A new era is dawning in the American workplace.  Coming as it does after the Great Recession and shaped as it is by that extraordinary event, it is most appropriately described as the AGR world of work.  It is an environment unlike any we’ve ever seen, but one that holds great promise for those who can and do adapt.

Who is Peter Weddle?

Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator.  Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment.  He has authored or edited over two dozen employment-related books, including his latest, Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System, and has been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com.  Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources.  WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.” 


In Search of (Personal) Excellence

July 30, 2009

We’ve all heard of the alpha male and female. The dictionary defines them as the dominant person in a group, the one everybody emulates and follows. The term was originally coined to describe behavior in wolf and dog packs, but for most of the 20th Century, it also accurately depicted the way we interacted in our careers. One person was on top, and the rest of us brought up the rear.

While wolves and dogs are stuck with this leader-follower relationship, however, we humans have an option. We can pull ourselves out of the back of the pack—out of the pack altogether, in fact—and assume a new role. I call it the “alpha career athlete.” It recognizes our innate ability to act as individuals and to set our own unique course in the world of work.

More often than not, the alpha career athlete still finds their employment in an organization. Most aren’t free agents or independent contractors. They work in teams, on projects and for departments and they report to a boss. Their on-the-job experience is similar to that of every other person in the workplace. What changes is their view of who they are working for and why.

An alpha career athlete works on themselves for themselves. They are interested in learning just how good they can be in their profession, craft or trade. They accept a job because it challenges them to be better than they have been, and they devote all of their talent to passing the test. Moreover, that same commitment to self improvement also enhances the value of their contribution to their employer. In effect, they protect their employment and preserve their paycheck by persevering in their determination to excel.

In Search of (Personal) Excellence

In 1982, Tom Peters wrote a business classic called In Search of Excellence. The book’s popularity was largely based on the author’s research into how companies achieved superior performance. It outlined a number of practices that other organizations could implement in order to achieve their own version of excellence.

What many readers missed, however, was the underlying premise of the book: success was best achieved through a commitment to excellence. If you wanted your company to prosper, it wasn’t enough to be good or even very good and certainly not mediocre or just enough to get by. The one sure pathway to prosperity was excellence.

What was true for organizations in the 20th Century is true for individuals in the 21st Century. Success is not achieved by being loyal to one’s employer or by knowing how things get done inside an organization. It is not assured with years of experience or even with a knowledge of the current state-of-the-art. What produces sustained career advancement in today’s world of work is a commitment to personal excellence.

It is what drives the alpha career athlete. He or she is “in search of excellence.” They are on a quest to become the champion inside them. This is not some quixotic adventure, but rather an entirely rational determination to express and experience the talent with which they (and all of us) were created. Alpha career athletes believe that, just as every company can achieve superior performance, so too can they. And they’re resolved to do so.

Companies, however, have Peters’ guidelines with which to work; alpha career athletes need something else. They need a set of practices that will engage, refine and unleash the excellence within them. What follows are what I think those practices must be:

I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System.   The heart of your career is your occupational expertise. Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress so that you are always adding depth and tone to your knowledge and skill set.

II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System.   The wider and deeper your network of contacts, the more visible you and your capabilities will be in the workplace. Make nurturing professional relationships a part of your business day.

III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups.   The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work, the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed. Develop ancillary skills that will give you more ways to apply your core expertise in the workplace.

IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion.  Moving from industry-to-industry, from one daily schedule to another or even from one location to another is never easy, but your willingness to adapt will help to keep your career moving forward.

V. Work With Winners.  Working with successful organizations and coworkers enables you to grow on-the-job, develop useful connections that will last a career and establish yourself as a winner in the world of work.

VI. Stretch Your Soul.  A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well. A personal commitment to doing some of your best work as good works for your community, your country and/or your planet is the most invigorating form of work/life balance.

VII. Pace Yourself.  A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you’re on-the-job. Discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.

All of us have the inherent capacity to be an alpha career athlete because all of us have an inherent talent that wants to be—deserves to be—discovered. Humans are the only beings, however, who can willfully choose to ignore their gift. And happily, they are also the only beings who can choose to recognize it. So, become the alpha career athlete you were meant to be; put yourself in search of (personal) excellence.

Who is Peter Weddle?  Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator. Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment. He has authored or edited over two dozen employment-related books, including his latest, Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System, and has been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com. Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”


Defibrillator Jobs – CDM EIF

July 30, 2009

Being in transition is tough so advice is often offered with a spoonful of sugar.  While well intentioned, however, that approach sends the wrong signal to those most in need of candor.  So, being as frank (and respectful) as I can, here’s the unvarnished truth.  This job market is filled with “irrational expectations.”  You cannot find a job today using job search strategies and techniques that were devised for yesterday’s workplace.  To put it more bluntly, you won’t find work—any work—in such a tough environment with a weak career record.

And sadly, that’s what a lot of people are bringing to their job search.  They haven’t kept their skills up-to-date.  Their ability to make a contribution commensurate with their experience has atrophied.  Even their network of contacts has all but withered away.

Historically, such an out of shape career didn’t matter much.  You could be laid off and, with little or no change in your credentials, hit the job search trail and in relatively short order, find another, similar (or even better) position.  Basically, we had a come-as-you-are job market.

Unfortunately, those happy days are gone and gone forever.  Why is that?  Remember the jobless recovery of the 2001 recession?  Well, this recession built on that development to create the “less jobs” recovery.  When things start to get better, there will still be fewer jobs—not more or even the same number—as there are right now during the recession.  Jobs aren’t being left open until things get better.  They are being destroyed.

What does that mean for people in transition?  Now, you have to enter the job market in a very different way.  If you want to find employment in the new world of work, you have to fix your career first.  Or, at a minimum, you must be fixing it while you’re searching for a job.  But, the point is that Step 1 in a job search today—not step 2 or 3 or 4—is to upgrade your capabilities and your credentials.  Whether you have 20 years in the workplace or 20 minutes.  From now on, you have to have a strong career if you want to conduct a strong job search.

And then, once you find a job, you have to go on building up the strength of your career.  You can’t stop simply because you’re earning a paycheck.  Why?  Because only a fit career will enable you to hang onto that job you have and get an even better job once the recovery starts.

How do you build career strength?  It takes a regular and repetitive commitment to seven kinds of activities.  As detailed in my book Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, they are:

I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System  The heart of your career is your occupational expertise, not your knowledge of some employer’s standard operating procedures.  Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress so that you are always been adding depth and tone to your knowledge and skill set and memorializing that enlarged capacity on your resume.

II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System  The wider and deeper your network of contacts, the more visible you and your capabilities will be in the workplace.  Adding to your network, however, means exactly what the word says—it’s netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-it’s-convenient.  Make nurturing professional relationships a part of your normal business day.

III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups  The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work, the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed.  Develop ancillary skills—for example, the ability to speak a second language or knowledge of key software programs—that will give you more ways to apply your primary capabilities in the workplace.

IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion  In the 21st Century world of work, career progress is not always a straight line, nor does it always look as it has in the past or stay the same for very long.  Moving from industry-to-industry, from one daily schedule to another or even from one location to another is never easy, but your willingness to adapt will help to keep your career moving forward.

V. Work With Winners  Successful organizations and coworkers aid and abet your ability to accomplish your career goals, while less effective organizations and less capable peers diminish it.  Working with winners enables you to grow on-the-job, develop useful connections that will last a career and establish yourself as a winner in the world of work.

VI. Stretch Your Soul  A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well.  A personal commitment to doing some of your best work as good works for your community, your country and/or your planet is the most invigorating form of work/life balance.  It regenerates your pride in what you do and your enthusiasm for doing it.

VII. Pace Yourself  A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you’re on-the-job.  The human body and mind have limits, and those limits cannot be extended by multitasking or even a Blackberry.  Instead, you have to discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.

Understanding what’s involved in these exercises and then performing them on a regular basis is the foundation of a “system” for building Career Fitness.  Think of it as a strategy for surviving and prospering in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace.

Who is Peter Weddle?
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator.  Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment.  He has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com.  Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources.  WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”


We Don’t Do Careers

July 30, 2009

We Americans have any number of attributes that uniquely define our culture.  That’s true in society at large and in the workplace.  Normally, these characteristics are healthy and helpful.  Sometimes, however, habits that were once benign can suddenly become foolhardy and even harmful.  We love our cars, for example, and although many of us have long driven them to work, that easy, comfortable way of doing things now threatens our wallets as well as our environment.

This good-to-bad transformation also applies to our careers.  Historically, if you put 100 Americans in a room and asked how many of them set goals for their career and then direct their employment toward the accomplishment of those goals, fewer than ten would raise their hands … if they were answering the question truthfully.  The reality has always been and remains to this day that we don’t do careers in the U.S. of A.

You can, of course, put a positive spin on that habit.  You could say that we have ignored our careers because we were focused on our employers.  Since the 1920s, when President Calvin Coolidge first articulated the notion, most of us have believed that The business of America is business.  What was good for General Motors was good for America.  And, if we helped make GM or Lehman Brothers or Enron or MCI or any other American employer successful, we would be successful too.

No less important, there are only so many hours in the day.  Every minute we spend on ourselves is a minute we take away from our employer, so being a loyal, heads-down, hard-at-work employee is simply a part of the way we earn our paycheck.  We put our job ahead of our career because we are sure that our employers care about our well being and, therefore, we can do no less than reciprocate.

Now, I’m all for positive thinking, but that view clearly doesn’t correlate with our present day reality.  In the past, you could treat your career as an afterthought because the world of work just wasn’t very dangerous.  Stick with that habit today, however, and you’ll likely find yourself stuck in place as the world passes you by.  The American workplace is no longer filled with numerous, sturdy career ladders held up by our employers.  It has morphed, instead, into a single, huge jungle gym on which there is no prescribed path to success.  If you want to survive—let alone prosper—in this vastly more dynamic and demanding environment, you have to do careers.  More specifically, you have to do your own career.  If you don’t, it will do you.

How do You Do a Career?

The hardest habit to break in doing a career is getting yourself to stop putting your career second.  In today’s workplace, you and your career must come first.  Why?  Because what your employer deserves in return for its paycheck is not a lifetime of loyalty, an 85 hour workweek, or 24/7 connectivity via your Blackberry.  While those metrics have, unfortunately, come to be seen as our modern measures of individual performance, they are not what your employer (or any employer) needs or even wants.

What best serves your employer isn’t harder work or more work; it’s your best contribution.  And you can’t make your best contribution if your career is weak.  To put it another way, you can’t take care of your employer unless you take care of yourself—and your career—first.  Unless you devote the time and attention required to make your career strong.

What does a strong career look like?

As I explain in my book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, a strong career is one with seven attributes.  It’s a career where:

  • you refresh and expand your expertise in your field of work so that you are always able to perform at the state-of-the-art;
  • you extend and nurture your network of contacts in your field and industry so you are always top of mind when opportunities come up;
  • you add ancillary skills (e.g., a second language, the ability to use a new software program) so that you are able to extend the contribution you make with your primary area of expertise:
  • you push out the limits of your comfort zone so you can work in the widest possible range of situations and circumstances;
  • you work with those individuals and organizations that will support and advance your career so you are always in an environment where you can succeed;
  • you volunteer your talent to community, social service or environmental groups so you can contribute to others’ future as well as your own; and
  • you pace yourself with appropriate downtime and vacations so you preserve and reinforce your enthusiasm and commitment to doing your best work on-the-job.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is—at least in comparison to the effort we expend when we don’t do careers.  As onerous as such a commitment may seem, however, it begins to make some sense if you remember the Golden Rule.  With a slight modification, it holds all the justification you should need to invest more time and priority in your career.  In the treacherous and demanding world of work that is now our present and our future, Do your career as you would like your career to do for you.

Who is Peter Weddle?
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator.  Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment.  He has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com.  Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources.  WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”


The Weak Link Syndrome

July 30, 2009

It was partly my own fault.  I realize that now.  I naively accepted an invitation on LinkedIn to connect with someone I didn’t know.  I did confirm that this person was in the employment field, and since I’m terrible at remembering names, I thought that we may have met at a conference somewhere.  I still don’t know whether that’s the case, but as soon as I accepted the invitation, this person started to spam me with email after email about openings he was trying to fill.  And therein lies the central problem with LinkedIn, at least as it is currently used by a very large number of people.

LinkedIn advertises itself as a networking tool for professionals.  That’s fine.  But building up a huge (or even a small) address book of contacts is not networking.  In fact, given that networking is actually a form of dialogue that is most appropriately practiced as an integral part of one’s business day, what’s going on at LinkedIn today is best described as “notworking.”

You see, the Golden Rule of Networking is that you have to give as good as you get.  It’s fundamentally an exchange of information, ideas, and/or assistance from which both parties derive value.  That mutual allocation of benefit establishes familiarity and trust, and those two factors are the twin pillars of a relationship.  When networking is working, that’s what it creates—a relationship.

How Do Relationships Happen?

Now, if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know two things about them.  First, you quickly learn that they are hard work.  That’s why the word is spelled the way it is: it’s netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-you-feel-like-it.  And second, you come to appreciate that relationships take time to develop.  They don’t happen with the click of a mouse, whether you’re on LinkedIn or Facebook or any other social or professional “networking” site.

And sadly, my connection on LinkedIn understood neither of those points.  As he put it when I asked him to stop sending me his intrusive email, “When you linked to me you agreed to receive email notifications and to network with me.”

Well, my friend, that’s not networking.  First, you’re not working at building a relationship with me.  You’re spamming me with unwanted email.  Second, there’s no reciprocity here.  All of the value in our interaction accrues to you.  You want me to provide the names of people I know for your openings, yet you haven’t taken the time to get to know me or to offer me anything of commensurate value.  You aren’t giving as good as you get.  You’re just taking what’s useful to you.

Now, I’ve heard the stories about people finding a job through their LinkedIn contacts.  That’s great.  But those situations are the exception to the rule.  There are more than 36 million people with profiles on Linked, and most have fewer than 10 contacts.  In other words, they’ve checked off the online Social/Professional networking box on their to-do list—they‘ve joined the latest and greatest job search tool for the 21st Century—but they haven’t done anything with it.  They aren’t investing the time and effort required to build up their Web of relationships or enrich them.

I call this situation the Weak Link Syndrome.  It produces two harmful consequences.

  • First, a lot of people in transition who have now joined professional networking sites believe they’ve strengthened their ability to find a new or better job, and they haven’t.  They think they’re using a state-of-the-art tool to enhance their personal performance, and they aren’t.  They’re wasting their time and talent fiddling with a technology—online professional networking—that isn’t working for them.
  • Second, the absence of so many job seekers networking effectively online has created a vacuum.  And into that vacuum has flowed a crowd of individuals who are happy to misuse the system.  Like my former connection on LinkedIn, they are clueless about the true nature of networking and feel entitled to use some malformed version of their own.  And that misappropriation of the online networking experience diminishes it for everyone else.

 
So, what do I recommend?  I think we have just two options.  We can either devote the time and energy necessary to extend our online professional networks far beyond their current meager limits and then transform those contacts into genuine relationships or we should abandon the sites that are supposed to nurture them and turn our time and talent to more productive activities.  As the old truism notes, it’s not worth doing something unless you’re going to do it right.

Who is Peter Weddle?
Peter Weddle is a recruiter, HR consultant and business CEO turned author and commentator.  Described by The Washington Post as “… a man filled with ingenious ideas,” Peter has earned an international reputation, pioneering concepts in human resource leadership and employment.  He has authored or edited over two dozen books and been a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The National Business Employment Weekly and CNN.com.  Today, Peter writes two newsletters that are distributed worldwide and oversees WEDDLE’s LLC, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources.  WEDDLE’s annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the “Zagat of the online employment industry.”


Resume Don’ts from Hiring Managers

July 27, 2009

I have been doing some research lately that has involved talking to a number of hiring managers in various scientific industries. In doing so, I have collected a list of a few things they don’t like. In some cases, these small things are enough to knock you out of the running for a position, no matter how good your technical qualifications are. Here, in no particular order, are things that have been mentioned to me.

Resume Portfolio

In the sciences, your “resume” is really more of a resume portfolio. It should include a cover letter, a resume customized for the particular recipient, a research summary, a patent/publication/presentation list, and perhaps other documents that the employer has requested. Depending on the type of employer, this may include a list of references, management philosophy (for senior industrial positions), teaching philosophy and research proposal (for academic positions), and so on. While the resume itself should only be 2 pages, all the supplemental material can bring the page count significantly higher.

For hiring managers, having all this information at the start of the process is a big plus. If they’re interested in you, they can dive right into the details instead of having to wait for more information. Having it electronically is also an asset – this makes it much easier to store and access from multiple places than paper copies.

However, if each piece is a separate document, this significantly increases the amount of overhead required to open and print each file, not to mention keeping them together and making sure each one has been read. Putting all the information in one file – with clear headers and delineations, makes it easier for the recipient to keep it together, not to mention being able to print and search the whole thing easily.

One hiring manager mentioned getting a resume in which the objective was a particular type of position in the pharmaceutical industry. That would be fine, except her organization is not in that industry – in fact, it’s a government agency and not an “industry” at all. She says she often gets resumes/cover letters that talk about wanting a position in “industry”, and those go directly into the trash can. After all, if you can’t be bothered to check the details on something as important as your resume, how can she expect you to be careful with details on the job?

I have often said that my claim to fame is that in the 15+ years I have been a volunteer consultant, I have never seen a resume in which I could not find at least one typo. Sometimes it’s just something that looks like a typo (for example, a strange formatting choice), but that’s almost as bad. Having a typographical error in your resume is another way to get a quick trip to the trash can…who wants to hire someone who does not pay attention to detail on something as important as their resume?

Always make sure to have someone other than yourself read your resume carefully. Pick someone who has an excellent command of the English language, whose opinion you trust, and who will give you honest feedback without worrying about hurting your feelings. Only that way can you make sure you are putting your absolute best effort forward, and have the best possible chance to obtain the job of your dreams.

This article was written by scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).


Job Interviews….Trust Your Instincts

July 20, 2009

Over the years, I have been on both sides of the interview table many, many times. But the strangest job interview I ever had happened a few years ago, at an unnamed company in the midwest.

I arrived at the company at 9am, as requested, and was ushered into a small conference room right inside the front door. For the next several hours, people came in and out to ask me questions, but I never left that room. At about 1pm, my host escorted me out of the building, right past the company cafeteria. No tour of the facility, no seeing where I would work, no meeting all my potential co-workers, no giving a talk on my research. Being very hungry at the time, I could only assume I had not done well, and they were not interested in hiring me.

To my surprise, a few days later I received a call offering me the position. After I got over my shock, I asked if I could come back in and have a tour of the facility. My host reluctantly agreed, and a few days later I went back in. They didn’t have employees chained to the walls, and I could not figure out what it was that they had not wanted me to see. They also seemed very nervous during the whole tour, which also struck me as strange.

After the tour I went home and contemplated their offer. I had no other immediate options, but did not feel good about that company. Something strange was going on, but I did not know what. Eventually I made the decision to turn them down, and ended up starting my own consulting business. (Which has worked out very well, incidentally.)

I remained in that geographic area for several years, and became involved in the local section of the American Chemical Society. Over time, I met several people who worked at that company, and eventually even one in the department for which I would have been working. I was finally able to find out what had been going on – the company had been under a hiring freeze, and the department was trying to get me in without the human resources department finding out. That explained all the secrecy and nervousness on the part of the people with whom I interviewed! I’m still not sure how they were going to hire me if I accepted – probably into a temporary position that would not have been frozen.

I often wonder what would have happened if they had been honest and told me about the hiring freeze. I would not have felt so uncomfortable, and probably would have accepted the position.

Still, when I look back I am sure I made the right decision. I didn’t feel comfortable there, and working under those conditions would not have been pleasant. I learned that when evaluating potential employers, you should trust your instincts – if it doesn’t feel comfortable, it probably won’t be a good match, and you should let the opportunity pass. In my case, another option did come along, even though it took me awhile to recognize it. But that’s a story for another day……

This article was written by scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).