Education Career Services

April 30, 2009

Job Search Success, Part Two: Selling the Softer Side

Filed under: Career Cafe,Career Development — EducationCS @ 6:02 pm
Tags: , ,

marshmallowYesterday, we defined hard and soft skills and talked about the importance of leading your résumé and cover letter hard…with a clear, compelling discussion of your technical skill set, knowledge base, and professional expertise. Today, we’ll cover how soft skills set you apart…and how to demonstrate them effectively.

Soft with Specificity
Only individuals who have the right hard skills will be considered for a position, but it will often be the soft skills that separate the successful candidate from the also-rans. Because we instinctively know how important these characteristics are, many candidates devote their cover letter and résumé to describing at length what nice, friendly, hard-working people they are.

Unfortunately, these documents will not work!

Discouraging as it may be, a hiring manager doesn’t care about you UNTIL she knows you are a strong candidate to fill the opening. Only after you communicate your hard skills can you discuss the soft skills that make you stand out.

What’s more, mentioning a soft skill doesn’t carry much weight. Everyone says they’re a team player, a quick study, and so on. It is difficult to speak of soft skills without straying into generalities. To be effective, you must PROVE that you possess relevant soft skills through your achievements.

Consider leadership. Saying you’re a capable leader isn’t enough. But what if you list on your résumé the size of the teams you’ve led? What if, during an interview, you tell an anecdote about bringing a group together to reach a specific goal? You’ve backed up a general assertion with specific detail. Now the hiring manager has a basis on which to judge your abilities.

Application or Interview?
As a rule of thumb, focus your résumé, cover letter, and written elements of your application on hard skills. In other words, show the level of competence you’ve reached in your field. Soft skills should play a much smaller role and should only be mentioned 1) if they differentiate you and 2) if you can provide quantifiable achievements to back them up.

The interview will be much the opposite. In all likelihood, your hard skills will be quickly established (by your documents, some technical questions, or any testing process the company may employ). Once you’ve cleared these hurdles, the hiring manager will try to determine if you’re a good “fit” for their team.

This is your time to shine! Demonstrate your soft skills by being a good listener, explaining yourself clearly, and so on. Then seek out opportunities to discuss (with specific examples!) the soft skills that make you the best candidate for the job.

Your Turn
Whatever your mix of talents, you must develop a strategy for making the most important and relevant skills known to a potential employer-in the right way, at the right time. Get started today. Make a list of your top 10 hard skills and your top 5 soft skills. How can you best leverage your documents and your interviews to convey this information?

Have questions? Need some feedback? Talk to us in the comments section.

Amy Lorenzo
Senior Writer
Career Services International – http://www.careersi.com
Education Career Services – http://www.educationcs.com

April 29, 2009

Job Search Success, Part One: The Hard Sell

Filed under: Career Development — EducationCS @ 9:54 pm

brickA job search requires a candidate to convey a lot of information to potential employers within a structured process. This two-part series will help you organize your presentation for maximum effectiveness. We’ll open with a hard sell followed by a soft finish.

First, Some Definitions…

Hard skills are technical skills and procedures in the broadest sense. Whether you can use Microsoft Office Suite, solve differential equations, play Mozart on the violin, market a new product, read a heart monitor, or design a structurally sound bridge …you get the idea. Hard skills are specific and can be taught with relative ease.

To take a simple example, if you don’t know how to operate a cash register, I can show you. Similarly, if you can’t sew, solve a quadratic equation, or fly a plane, you can ask someone or take a class. It might take some time, but you’ll get it…and once you do, you’ll have another hard skill to add to your list.

In fact, much of your time in school has been spent developing hard skills-whether hair styling techniques or legal arguments. Hard skills comprise the content about which you have become knowledgeable.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are characteristics and behaviors that contribute to your success. Many of these could be termed “people skills,” such as being a good listener, a hard worker, a collaborative team member, or a motivational leader.

Soft skills are just as important in the total picture of a job candidate (who wants to work with a poor listener, lazy worker, belligerent team member, or a pompous leader?). Yet soft skills can be difficult to put your finger on.

Consider what makes your favorite teacher so great. Sure, he or she knows the material (a hard skill), but so do plenty of less effective instructors. There’s something else going on. Maybe it’s his enthusiasm, the clarity of his explanations, or the degree of patience he shows in helping a struggling student. These personal traits are vital, but they are difficult to teach-and just as hard to quantify.

Clear the Hard Skills Hurdle
If you don’t have the hard skills required for a job-for example, the advanced mathematics background of an engineer or an accountant’s knowledge of the tax code-no amount of personality, leadership, creativity, and drive will make you effective.

Therefore, on your résumé and in your cover letter, you must first demonstrate that you possess the necessary hard skills.

In some cases you will list them; e.g., if you are a graphic designer, you might list Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and other programs you know how to use.

In other cases, the skills will be communicated by your education or experience. Possessing your Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certificate from an accredited institution conveys that you can apply certain healthcare techniques, including taking a pulse, administering a shot, and reading a heart monitor. Having been an interior decorator for five years implies a similar knowledge of home design.

Hard skills are, in general, easier for employers to gauge and will be the elements by which candidates are screened out. So make sure your professional documents (résumé, cover letter, etc.) clearly and compellingly demonstrate your relevant hard skills or you won’t get in the door!

Now you know…give them the “hard” sell first. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss when and how to cover all those soft skills that make you who you are!

Amy Lorenzo
Senior Writer
Career Services International – http://www.careersi.com
Education Career Services – http://www.educationcs.com

April 28, 2009

Interview and Non-Verbal Impressions: Yes, Chairs DO Care!

As promised, we will uncover a few more non-verbal forms of communication as the week progresses. Yesterday we looked into the “fish or fresh” approach to hand shaking – check it out if you happened to be at the lake and missed it.  Once the handshake is over and you have been escorted to an interview room (typically the hiring managers office), what next?

 

After walking into the room and noticing several empty chairs scattered in front of the desk, do not make haste and sit in any location.  Wait a brief moment and, if the interviewer has not indicated which chair is recommended, politely ask the interviewer for instructions.  Now that you have the location settled, body language kicks into play…

 april-28-2009

The manner in which you sit is just as important as where you sit.  Remember, this is not your home or friendly neighborhood diner and you should not sit like it is.  Yes, there are perceptions in this area too…and you thought an interview was just about answering a few questions!

 

It is generally recommended that you slide to the back of the chair, sit tall, and sit in a straight (not rigid and overly stoic) position.  This type of posture will display to the interviewer that you are comfortable, respectful, and also confident.  On the other side of the posture position, you should not sit close to the edge of your seat (I have a habit of making this error in judgment).  Sitting on the edge may give the impression you are scared, over-anxious, and/or ready to make a quick run out of the room.

 

Women should:

  • Sit with knees close together
  • Not cross their legs

 

Men should:

  • Not sit with legs wide apart
  • Not cross legs with the ankle on the knee

 

One more thing, make sure you keep a comfortable distance, about three feet from the interviewer.  Shortening that space can feel invasive and inappropriately close.

 

Now that we know a bit about handshakes and the manner in which one should sit, let’s call it a moment and begin thinking about how hands and eyes convey messages… yes, we will be detailing a few hints on that specific subject soon.

 

Until then, have a great day and let me know if you would like us to focus on anything specific.

 

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

dhuffman@careersi.com

Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com

Career Services International: www.careersi.com

April 27, 2009

Body language speaks volumes during an interview

Over the past weekend I was asked to review elements regarding the interview process; the result of the april-27a1conversation will be displayed throughout the week in our blog (I always invite your input and stories).  Though common sense typically defines professional behavior and consequence, sometimes it’s good to have an outside source confirm your suspicions. 

 

The most important communication during the job interview is often what your body communicates as opposed to the mouth.  Without any doubt, body language (that thing called nonverbal communication) has a huge impact on the truth of how you are perceived by giving the interviewer an opportunity to tap into who you are without the benefit of filters.  One of the problems of subjective perception (as you must be aware) is that each individual brings his or her own background interpreting YOUR behavior.  In other words, what you do and how you act may seem normal (and without baggage) to one person, but to the next person, the “reality” may not be so kind.  Let’s take a quick look at one nonverbal act of communication (not too worry, we will go through several looks as the week progresses):

 

Fish or Fresh

Several individuals came to my office last week in response to a job posting.  To me, and to the two other interviewers in the room, the first impression by way of physical contact is an important moment.  In just about all interview settings, a handshake will be the first physical contact and with it, certain expectations should be considered.

 

For example, I don’t know many people who like or appreciate holding a limp fish… a handshake without confidence, without pressure, and without any response is like holding a wilted trawl.  Needless to say, not a good impression and one which will (more often than not) be a topic of conversation once the interview concludes. 

 

The initial interview handshake must:

 

  • Not be a fish, limp and iced down
  • Be responsive, firm, and fresh
  • Be confident and confirmed with direct eye contact
  • Last no more than a few seconds—over 2 seconds may become uncomfortable  

What is the impression you make with a handshake?  No matter if you are sure of the message being displayed, ask a peer or friend for an honest reaction to your handshake.  Sure, it may seem silly at first, but the consequence of asking your interviewer to handle a fish is not in your best interest. 

 

No matter the situation, you should never be intimidated (nor should you intimidate anyone with a superhero handshake), do not be afraid when approaching any hiring manager, and never be timid with your first contact impression.  

 

For today, everyone should become familiar with the manner in which they shake hands.  Tomorrow we’ll look at another nonverbal act of communication…

 

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

dhuffman@careersi.com

Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com

Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

April 23, 2009

Workplace Etiquette, Students Should Care!

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of being on an advisory board for one of our local colleges.  The main topic of the afternoon was curriculum development but that soon moved onto workplace etiquette.  Granted, theoretical knowledge is a mainstay element of any job and the importance of curriculum should never be ignored.  Still, the general consensus of the group was: supply a decent education while making sure graduates know how to act once a position is secured.

 april-23-20091

Hmmm, must admit, I have hired a handful of recent graduates and many (okay, most) were not only lost upon their first day of work, they remained clueless regarding business etiquette.  To bring this home, the following is a brief list of (mentioned by the group) workplace infractions:

 

  • Coming to work late (one of my (ex)employees would sit in her car and fix her makeup for over ten minutes each morning—here’s the issue, she felt that being in the companies parking lot constituted being in the office—so, by her time schedule, she was “at work”); not acceptable.
  • Receiving and responding to personal calls and emails; some individuals new to the workforce culture do not realize companies hire them to work, not respond to personal issues.
  • Possessing an unfriendly attitude and appearance.  Granted, you are hired to work, not be social, but getting along with others and simply saying “good morning” can go a long way (warning—being too friendly and looking like a sycophant can be even more damaging—use common sense).
  • Disallowing adaptability; in today’s lean business model, graduating students (and seasoned professionals) must broaden their skills and value.  In other words, learn more than what is expected!

 

The advisory board members were clear on the above concerns (naturally there were more) when employing recently graduated students.  For those executives and employees from all levels, the mentioned bullets do not discriminate.  Thus, if you are looking to progress in a company, consider how you are perceived by your peers and supervisors.

 

Take a few minutes and share experiences (direct or indirect) related to the topic at hand, no doubt it will be entertaining and valuable for our readers.

 

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

dhuffman@careersi.com

Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com

Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

April 22, 2009

The Power of a Little Black Book

As I struggle to write a client’s resume today, it seems a perfect time to discuss the Little Black Book.  No, not that one.  I suppose it doesn’t have to be black, but something a little more substantial than a notebook because this collection of data is too important to lose track of or get damaged beyond repair.

This career journal is solely for capturing your work history and achievements.  Memory can be a treacherous companion, so take the time to regularly capture employment data while it’s fresh in your mind.  Especially if you’re just starting out in your career (and don’t forget to include college information as well)   There is the common information:

  • Job Title
  • Company name and address
  • Dates of employment (day, month, year)
  • Supervisor’s name and number
  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Record of promotion and compensation increases (date and amounts)

“Wait!” you might be thinking if you’re a regular reader of this blog.  You know that most of the above points aren’t for your resume.  True enough, but they are necessary for job application forms.  This journal is for information gathering, not screening.

Even more important than the above are your quantifiable achievements.  How did you go above and beyond?  How much money did your actions save the company?  How much money did you bring in?  What improvements did you make and how can it be measured?  HOW DID YOU MAKE YOURSELF VALUABLE?

The client I’m working with right now didn’t have this information.  It had never occurred to him to keep a record.   He’s hoping to go back to former employers and gather that data .  From experience I can tell him (and you) that it is very difficult to even remember everything let alone getting past employers to surrender their information (if they even have it).

Do yourself a favor; if you don’t have an Career Journal, get one and start keeping detailed records.  It will be invaluable for advancing your career.

Rob Swanson
Managing Writer
Career Services Internation, www.careersi.com
Education Career Services, www.educationcs.com

April 20, 2009

Beach: a story of metaphoric consequence

This past weekend I went to Clearwater Beach, Florida for a quick getaway.

 

You’re asking what does this have to do with career management.  Right?  Let me get to the story…early yesterday we walked along the beach to enjoy the solitude and limited crowd.  As we walked I couldn’t help but notice trash (cups, wrappers, toys, plastic bags, napkins, etc) littering every few feet (literally).  At this time, more people began walking the beach, intentionally stepping over or ignoring the filth.  Not sure what they were thinking but it must have been: “won’t worry about picking up the trash, I didn’t throw it away so I don’t need to clean it up.” 

 

Before 20 minutes I collected two loads of trash. 

 

Now we’re getting to career management….

 april-20-2009

Is the “I didn’t create the mess so I don’t have to clean it up” philosophy carried over to employment?  Like it or not, there’s a mess out there!  Who is going to fix the problem?  I suspect the first thing to do is examine the roots of the economic / employment problem and then develop a plan to resolve it.  To most (as witnessed on the beach), the attitude of “I will let someone else fix it—perhaps the government,” remains status quo.  Besides, what can one person do with such an epidemic?

 

Much like my picking up litter on the beach, we all need to do our part…okay, so what is my or our part?

 

I believe parents, teachers, community, and the media share a piece of the responsibility equation.  In other words:

 

  • Parents should create a home environment conducive to educational advancement; where excuses and circumstances are not allowed. 
  • Teachers should pick up students falling behind, losing sight, being ignored, and/or or those being intentionally side-stepped…giving each student a foundation of belief and confidence.
  • Community must be a place where fear, intolerance, crime, and prejudice are eliminated.  No doubt the supporting cast runs deep and affects each one of us.  But each one of us can dedicate time to tutor or donate books, supplies, etc. to a worthy cause.
  • Media must display the value of education and the benefit that care will bring not only to the initial recipient, but to the countless of others who will be touched.  The media has created a social and economic paradigm following the tenets of instant gratification while undercutting the moral fabric of which built this country.

 

Our economy has issues, plenty of them for all to share.  Looking at a gestalt approach to resolve today’s ailments, each piece is just as important as any other.  If we want to progress, it must begin with sacrifice, dedication, and hard work—even if it means bending over and picking up items often ignored or intentionally thrown away. 

 

Together is the only way to beat the greed, the hatred, and the fear.  

 

At the end of the day at the beach, I saw just as much litter as the day before…as if my effort was a futile attempt to make a difference.  Perhaps nobody cares about our beaches, about our economy, or about the next generation.  I’m not buying into that.  

 

I’ll continue to believe parents, teachers, our community, and the media have the capacity to make a difference….what do you think?

 

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

dhuffman@careersi.com

Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com

Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

April 17, 2009

Education? No question about it!

Dealing with college and high school students across the nation, the “value” of continued education seems to always come up.  As a former college professor and dean, I am passionate about preaching the benefit of a college education to all who listen.  Getting those around us, like our children, is no easy task.

 april-17

I found many students were either not concerned about getting a job upon graduation or not concerned about graduating.  Perhaps we can blame this attitude on the instant-gratification culture?  I am confident high school, college, and university career specialists have come across the same issue (most likely on a daily basis).  For those in the field of recruitment, I take my hat off to you every day!

 

How does one convince a current or potential student to seriously pursue their education?  I’ve had many parent/student consultations and quite simply I have found the answer is: money.  True, the cost of attending college may be cumbersome and the time to study can place a hamper on partying…but let’s look at the numbers and consequence: 

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of March 6th, education is right on target as the national unemployment figures directly relate to the level of education achieved.

 

National Unemployment Rates:

 

12.6% for those with NO high school diploma

 

8.3 % for those with a high school diploma

 

4.1% for those with a college degree

 

The numbers literally force one to take pause.  I understand how certain circumstances may prevent an individual from pursuing a college degree but those are far and wide between.  With an overall unemployment rate approaching 10% (and many economists believe we will pass 10% by the end of this year), there is no better time than NOW to continue educational dreams.  

 

Transferring the numbers into dollar figures would be the natural step.  For example, a few years ago my son, Andrew, came home with a proud look on his face.  He was proud of his paycheck (and rightfully so) as he received a substantial monthly bonus.  This was also at the same time I happened to secure a nice freelance contract job (wrote a career centered booklet about resume and cover letter development) and I showed him my contract.  Needless to say, he was able to internalize the value of education and intellectual capital in less time it takes to find and dial college registration. 

 

It’s all about the money and sometimes one simply has to lay it on the table.  For a moment reflect on the unemployment rates mentioned above…the answer and solution is there—all we have to do is recognize what we see. 

 

Oh, what happened to Andrew?  He graduated last year, moved to New York, and is doing well (so well in fact that he needs to begin paying me back for all the support during college—or am I dreaming?).

 

I guess that’s the real trick, recognizing what we see…can it be that simple?

 

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CPCC, CEIP

dhuffman@careersi.com

Education Career Services: http://www.educationcs.com

Career Services International: http://www.careersi.com

April 16, 2009

Less is More

Filed under: Uncategorized — EducationCS @ 6:18 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Less is more. Since when?

I have seen my fair share of interesting resumes – some are fifteen pages with little useful information and some are one-and-a-half pages with…no useful information at all. It’s tough deciding what information is pertinent to include and what can be better left for an interview, especially if you’re looking at it subjectively. That being said, sometimes I get some initial push-back from clients when I turn their multi-page resume covering over thirty years of experience into one, sometimes maybe two pages. The reality is that decision-makers and even human resources professionals no longer have time to read through tons of information to maybe get a hint of the value you might bring.

Be stingy with the amount of information you choose to reveal about yourself and your career. Make them ask questions. When you get a phone call from a potential employer or even a recruiter asking for more information or asking you to come in, you’ll know the resume has done its job. Your objective with the resume is to garner some interest in what you have to offer.

What do you have to offer? Although you technically have a limited amount of space to work with, this is your chance to showcase achievements that are unique to your career. Instead of handing out a paper that lists the same responsibilities for each position or that looks the same as everyone else’s, show them what you can and have already done. Be specific without boring the reader with mundane details. Confusing? Consider the following two job descriptions – same person, same position:

  • Responsible for managing and supervising engineering team and department budget. Managed software development, including requirements gathering, management presentations, project scope and costing, contract development, and delivery. Handled training, end-user support, testing, and troubleshooting. Reported to the vice president of engineering and developed and submitted progress reports.

 

  • Led 35-person engineering team through full-phase software development, managing $30M annual budget; facilitated training, testing, end-user support, and troubleshooting.

The second example brings in the specifics without including information that is already assumed. Of course it’s easy to just add and add to a resume as the years go by, but by the time 20 years goes by, your fist position as a business analyst doesn’t mean as much anymore.

With recent or soon-to-be graduates, it’s always difficult to know what to include when information is sometimes scarce. However, what you have been doing in school, whether projects, internships, co-ops, or volunteer work, can be easily adjusted to show that you have the transferable skills decision-makers are looking for.

  • Communication (one-on-one and group)
  • Technical Knowledge/Skills
  • Team Collaboration
  • Time Management
  • Loyalty/Realistic Expectations
  • Writing Abilities
  • Professionalism (appearance and attitude)

Are there any instances where you demonstrated these skills, but thought it would never be important to mention? Share your experiences.

Sigmarie Soto, CPRW
Senior Writer
Career Services International

April 15, 2009

Who are you? Who-who? Who-who?

Filed under: Uncategorized — EducationCS @ 2:04 am
Tags: , ,

If you’re from my era, you are now hearing Roger Daltry’s throbbing guitar riff that follows the title question.  I really want to KNOW!

And so do hiring managers.  The problem, they discover, is that few candidates know who they are in a properly defined and carefully refined professional sense.   A hiring manager is like any other discerning consumer.  With shelves of stock to choose from, they want to know what makes a given product unique.  What particular value is found by plucking it off the shelf and putting it in the employment basket?

Exactly what a hiring manager values isn’t in your control, so it’s better to take stock and figure out what your unique selling-proposition is and find the hiring manager it appeals to.  Are you a sugared cereal with tons of flavor and little nutritional value, driven by the toy surprise inside?  Or are you the smart choice, fortified with iron and minerals?  Okay, I’m getting carried away with the metaphor, but there’s something to be gained from it.  Sugar sells by the surprise; quality by the packaging.  cereal

While the truth is that hiring managers want quality, unless it’s packaged well, they aren’t going to recognize it.  You have to help by identifing and articulating your unique value.  What makes you different from the drones?

When the hiring manager asks two seperate questions, he’s really asking one:  “Tell me about yourself” equals “Why should I hire you?”  Your answer to both is that unique selling proposition.

I’m looking for unique comments on this one: don’t discuss the topic, give me your value statement!  Make it two or three sentences long, compelling, and active. 

Ready? GO!

Rob Swanson
Writing Manager
Career Services International – http://www.careersi.com
Education Career Services – http://www.educationcs.com

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