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What Color IS your Parachute? – A Review

October 24, 2011

Dick Bolles, or Richard Nelson Bolles- as many folks know him, has been writing his ‘Parachute’ books on career development for 40 years. The latest edition of his signature series continues to be a must-read for anyone looking for a new career or the thousands of career specialists who have followed in Bolles’ footsteps.

You might think that, at 84, the internet or current events might have passed Bolles by, but his 2012 “What Color is My Parachute,’  is up-to date and filled with the same kind of useful information contained in the other 39 versions. In addition to the links I was particularly impressed with his comments about the Microsoft purchase of Skype and what it might mean for distance coaching.

You may not agree with everything he says or suggests, but he lays out sound guidance on everything from finding your mission to negotiating pay.

What you won’t find is any reference to parachutes or colors- a burden that Bolles has been saddled with, since the title of his book was first suggested. When I met Bolles recently he was careful to explain where the phrase came from – an offhand remark he once made about some Episcopal ministers who were going to be out of jobs soon – and that it really has no relationship to his lifelong work.

Bolles uses the tried and true techniques he discovered by accident 40 years ago and combines them now with web resources to create a modern tool for job hunting. His links and references, which are also available on his website, are well worth the price of the book.

They key component of his work is the self-inventory ‘Flower Exercise’ that he suggests everyone use to both define their job search and their skill set. The reality is that you don’t have to wait until you need to look for a job to use the exercise since  everyone should probably do this kind of self assessment on a regular basis.

Starting the search for a new job does not just occur when you are out of work but can happen any time.

Bolles writes in a simple, folksy style that is easy to understand  and very clear. There is no professional gibberish or double-speak that many professionals like to use. It’s just information, suggestions, strategies and real world common sense.

You may not use everything, but it can be a helpful foundation for self exploration as well as practical tips for interviewing and research. I have some issues with his suggestions for trying to research jobs by setting up informational interviews. I don’t think it’s as easy to do as he suggests but I would never suggest that you shouldn’t try.

Bolles, a former Episcopal minister, makes no secret of his faith and its role in his life and career. He makes no apologies, but tries to limit his faith-based approach to the ‘Pink Pages’ in the appendix but it doesn’t detract from his advice and the usefulness of the book.

Bolles also offers advice for career coaches. In fact it seems at times that his book is directed at coaches and not just the average job hunter. But in my mind that just makes it more useful. His suggestions for finding a coach are important no matter what side of the equation you are on.

One note: I bought the e-book version of the book and while it makes it much easier to get directly to the many links listed, it has made a mess of the charts and graphics. Having read other e-books I know this does not have to be the case, but it’s unfortunate. I hope it will corrected, but I plan to purchase a printed edition anyway.

In short, not matter what version you buy, read the book and you’ll be much closer to a successful career.

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Tough Time for Job Hunters

December 6, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:15 am

If you’re looking for a job, December is a tough month. If you are among the 9.8% of the workforce counted as unemployed or the 17% that is under-employed  you can’t help but be a bit depressed by the thought of trying to stretch what income you have, to buy presents.

If you’ve been out of work for a while, you now have to worry about losing unemployment benefits.  (although it appears Washington politicians have worked out a compromise today) It’s tough to stay optimistic about the upcoming job-hunting season.

But, now is the time to summon whatever optimism you can and start working on possible strategies. Even if you think you’ve tried every method you could think of , it’s time to start again.

It’s a good idea to at least question your underlying assumptions on a regular basis. Basics such as career fields, location, pay level, or training should all be re-assessed regularly.

A few suggestions might be in  order.

Try not to use the New Year as an excuse to wait a few more weeks. Traditionally few companies do much hiring around the holidays. It used to be that they didn’t do many layoffs either, but the pressure for quarterly results has ended that and the public relations disaster of being the Grinch who stole Christmas doesn’t seem to worry most companies. As a result, there’s a lot more movement this time of year.

Also, if you call  now and the hiring administrator puts you off until January, that’s one step closer than calling in January and getting put off until February.

This is the time of year when most firms are doing their planning for the year ahead so they will know about possible openings.

Except for retail, things can be pretty slow for many businesses. Yes, that can lead to some “out of office’ replies on emails, but it can also give employers more time to get to know you.

While holiday parties and get-togethers can be uncomfortable when everyone asks what you’re doing, force yourself to go. It’s just networking with eggnog. Try not to turn down invitations because you’re embarrassed, you need to be out in public so people know you’re still looking.

I’ll repeat what you already know – 75% of jobs are not filled through the formal application process and more than half of the jobs are never advertised.  Taking advantage of your network contacts can help you get an introduction, find out about a job or even meet someone who does the hiring. You never know what ‘friend of a friend’ might be helpful.

If you haven’t already, learn how to use online networking. It doesn’t cost anything to join Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn or any of the hundreds of other social media sites. Learn how to find school classmates and old friends. And find out how to use groups to broaden your list of contacts.

Don’t be bashful about telling people you are looking. How else will they find out. Your profile is your resume.

Finally participate in online forums in your field and consider starting your own blog so that potential employers can get to know you better. But don’t just ramble on about current events, comment on issues in your field. Avoid politics at all costs.

It’s tough to sugarcoat job hunting, and it’s tough to be optimistic, but you have to remind yourself that your attitude comes through to everyone you meet, so you’re better of believing that your new job is just around the corner.

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What to Wear

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 8:11 am

The Boston Globe had a nice photo feature recently on what to wear to an interview.

The only thing I would add is the reminder that 85% of communication is non-verbal and clothes are definitely a key.

And secondly, you have to remember where you are interviewing, but even in Silicon Valley, where businesses casual is sometimes taken to a whole new level, it’s better to be over-dressed than the alternative.

That being said, I have to admit that the wrong clothes or hair style is not always a disaster. I can remember interviewing a candidate whose wardrobe and physical appearance raised more a few eyebrows as she walked through the newsroom to my office. Her resume looked great and once we started talking she clearly knew new her stuff. She was personable, knowledgeable, friendly, inquisitive and understood the news.

I considered the rather conservative environment of my newsroom and hired her on the spot. I thought a little disruption might be good. turned out I was right. She did a fine job.

But being unconventional often means you have to work extra hard in other areas to get your message across. You may not always be successful.

Take a look at the photos on the Globe website, some of which are over-dramatized to make a point, and take a look at what you wore to your last interview. If there’s any similarity – you might want to make a change.

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Career Night Success

November 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 9:39 pm

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the Kensington Career night.

We had a nice group of area residents all anxious to hear how they could improve their resumes and broaden the chances of finding a job.

Recruiter Mary Pueringer and I spent almost 3 hours reviewing career options, job hunting techniques, and resume details.

We hope to have another event in January when the job hunting season is in full swing.

Thanks to everyone for making our first career night a success.

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Free Career Advice

November 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:32 am

Last days to register for this Tuesday’s free career workshop in Kensington, CA.

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Business Ethics 101-Case Studies

October 18, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 1:11 pm

Ethical business decisions come in all forms. Here are two that I came across. Your comments are welcome.

A client wanted to explain why she was l00king for a new job so she related this story from her most recent position. She was not my client at the time.

She’s an HR specialist with over 25 years of experience. She had decided to explore other options, as they say, and had applied for a number of positions in her field. She got an interview for a senior position at a firm about 300 miles away. Close enough to drive for an interview but certainly requiring relocation if she got an offer.

She went to the interview and a few weeks later got a call from her would-be manager with a job offer. They negotiated the usual, pay, moving expenses (none) etc. and she decided to uproot and take the job although there was a 6-month probationary period.

Five  months later she was laid off when the woman who was apparently out on maternity leave decided to return to her old job. Still on probation she was an at-will employee and had little recourse, but throughout the interview process no one ever mentioned the employee on maternity leave, and while she was working, she was never led to believe she was not doing a good job.

In hindsight she notes that she should have realized that getting an offer just two weeks after the interview was too good to be true – especially in HR. But apparently the firm was so desperate o fill the job they didn’t feel any ethical need to say that the job might be temporary. Probably because no one would have taken the gig.

I find the company’s action reprehensible, even if there had been no relocation involved.

OK, second example. Met a man who is responsible for finding new locations for a major retailer. As part of the job he negotiates ‘tax incentives’ that states offer to lure businesses. His firm is a multi-billion dollar firm which is often a destination site and also offers on-line purchasing.

As a requirement to get a new location he asks states to forgo the sales tax on internet purchases. For those of you unfamiliar with the law, in most cases you don’t have to collect tax if their is no retail site in the state. But once a brick-and-mortar store is built, you are supposed to pay the local  sales tax if there is any.

He admits that he is asking the states to ‘look the other way,’ and allow his firm to have their cake and eat it. As he noted, “There will never be one of these stores in California, because they won’t agree. It’s their loss there are plenty of other states who think the agreement is fine.”

My response, “Go back to any of those states who signed agreements  to forgive the tax requirement a few years ago and see if they wish they wish had said no.” I think they may be regretting their decision.

Again, is it unethical to make the request, or is the ethics question just an issue for the state?

I know, the state is lured by the promise of jobs and a retail center that may attract others, but with internet sales increasing faster than in-store purchases says you have wonder if it’s a deal with the devil.

Your comments are welcome.

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Corporate Rudeness

October 14, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 9:33 pm

A recent business forum I follow was focusing on rudeness in the workplace and how to create a better corporate culture. One participant suggested that HR professionals needed to introduce courses to teach employees how to behave.

The issues this brings up are numerous, but I will leave some of them for future posts. For now, I would suggest that if you did not learn how to treat others – friends or co-workers – when you were growing up, taking a course now is not going to help. It’s like teaching business ethics to MBA students: it’s already too late.

Rudeness and it’s related activities are part of any business’s corporate culture. That culture is created at the top. If the chief executive allows  it in the executive suite, it will be tolerated in every corner of the business.

If the CEO creates an environment based on civility his or her managers will run their departments the same way.

Examples are numerous but even this week the impact is clear. When the Chicago Tribune suspends an executive for sending an improper email just days after the New York times featured a lengthy report on the ‘bankrupt’ corporate culture at the newspaper the connection is obvious.

Unfortunately, chief executives often fail to see the connection and will ask a coach, or management consultant to come in and ‘fix’ the problem. I’m more than happy to take the corporate money, but unless the ‘fix’ starts at the top, anything I do will only be temporary.

Next: Corporate culture and productivity

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What Does a Coach Do?

October 7, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 7:46 am

I met  a potential new client today. He wasn’t looking for a career coach and I wasn’t exactly looking for him but our paths crossed and he asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a coach.

I should point out that ‘Nelson’ is a recent college graduate with a degree in criminal justice and was working at the kind of first job everyone gets. No relation to the field he wanted and no prospects for advancement. Naturally, he hated it.

I asked what he wanted to do and he rattled off a few possibilities but admitted he didn’t really know. At one time his goal was law school but he did poorly on the LSAT  (twice) and didn’t have any money to take it again, so he figured that wasn’t meant to be.

“So,” he said, “you don’t like, coach football? That’s the only kind of coach I know, but you don’t look like that kind of coach.” I had to laugh – if you’ve seen me you’re already laughing too – but I explained that I help people make decisions.

I tried to use an example he could identify with. “If you go home tonight and tell your dad you want quit, he’s gonna have 12 reasons why you shouldn’t and why your ideas about what you could do won’t work – probably because they didn’t work for him,” I told him.

But if you tell me,  a coach, I don’t offer an opinion, I just help you go through what it would take to get you to the goal you want. It’s up to you to decide what’s right, and any decision you make is the right one as long as you understand what it means.

He smiled, like he had already had the  conc0versation I described. and offered a few more ideas about what he might want to do, including a small business idea, getting an MBA and three or four other possibilities.

After 45 minutes we had taken cursory look at most of them and he said he had to leave but added, “That’s the first time I ever had a conversation like that with anyone, that was great.”

“So.” I said, “Now you know what a coach does.”

“Yeah,” he said taking a bunch of my business cards, “But when I call, I know I’m gonna have to pay you right?”

Maybe he doesn’t need that business degree.

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The Perfect Resume

October 6, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 7:21 am

I have yet to see the perfect resume. I’ve helped a lot of folks write resumes and they are all ‘right’ when we’re finished but I’m not sure I would call any of them perfect.

The purpose of a resume is to get an interview. The purpose of the interview is to get a job offer and then you can start negotiating for the actual position. This progression is easy to write and most people understand the words but few understand what they mean.

People seem to think that the resume has to a multi-page treatise on their life. Rather than a document that explains the unique experiences and skills that make you the right candidate for the job opening.

Organizing your resume chronologically by position makes the reader search for items that suggest whether you can perform the functions of the job that’s open. It’s your job to connect the experiences to specific skills and relate them to the job you want.

Even if you have relatively few work experiences – as a recent college graduate, or an older worker re-entering the job market – you have skills that you have learned. They may be from part-time summer jobs, or from volunteer positions at a local community group but they are skills.

When I put together my first resume – typing and retyping – on my trusty Underwood (or later a Smith-Corona), creating a separate resume for each job was a difficult proposition – especially for a two-finger typist. But now with ‘copy and paste’ on my Mac, crafting a resume with specific skills and listing relevant jobs is easy.

Believe me, if you don’t take the time to customize you’re already behind the competition and might wind up  in the circular file. Remember, anyone looking at resumes in this environment, is just looking for ways to edit the pile, so anything can be an excuse to put you out of the running.

Graphically it should be easy to read and the layout should emphasize the message. It’s not an exercise to show the HR folks how many typefaces you can use. If the experience you have that’s relevant to the position does not include a specific job, you can either leave it out or relegate it to a single line.

You can always add details during the interview.

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We Need the Sounds of Silence

October 1, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Tech — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 7:55 am

I always been a walker/hiker. No big deal, I like to walk in Hawaii, in Yosemite, around my own neighborhood, wherever… it’s a good way to meet people and see what’s going on. Just observing the world and listening to nature.

Since MP3 players, primarily iPods and their kin, became popular there seem to be a lot more folks walking around listening to music. I have no objection to music  but it seems to me. if you’re hiking, or even jogging in a beautiful natural setting, listening to the birds would be pretty good music.

Not to mention how those little earbuds close you off to the world. They prevent even a pleasant ‘hello’ or ‘good morning.’ Maybe that’s the intention but chance encounters make life more interesting.

This week I finally found someone who agrees with me. Please listen, he knows what he’s talking about. He must, he’s speaking at a TED Talk.

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