Friday, October 23, 2009

LinkedIn: The Power of Numbers

Can you have too many people in your professional online network? Are you a LinkedIn "megalomaniac"? Or the more the merrier? 

From NYTimes article "Networks Too Big for Their Own Good":

"Online social networks like LinkedIn, which have created something of an electronic scorecard in the networking game. LinkedIn can be a very effective tool, provided that members are circumspect about whom they add to their professional networks."

But some people end up erecting professional networks larger than the populations of some small developing nations. Can these LinkedIn megalomaniacs really know hundreds upon hundreds of people so well that they’d be willing to put their reputations on the line and vouch for their entire network’s professional competency?"

The crux of this article is that recruiters and hiring managers put too much weight on personal networks, and questions the validity of an online professional network that extends into the hundreds. But as someone who has hundreds of LinkedIn contacts, and who has use the site very actively in recruiting, hiring, coaching, and job searches, I think the author misses the point on 2 counts.

1) I don't think any user would mistake that having someone in your contact list means that you unreservedly endorse their "professional competency." It simply means that you share some professional connection - they could have been your boss, your vendor, your intern, or the guy in the next cube whose job description you are unsure of. 

Just because I have a former coworker in my list of contacts doesn't mean I'd necessarily recommend them for a job. And for those who do actively ask you for a recommendation that you don't feel comfortable sharing, you can always politely decline (I have).

2) More importantly: there is value in having a lot of people in your network, even if you don't know them well. Here's why: LinkedIn enables you to create a giant, searchable database for you to utilize on your job search. Each person you connect with (1st level contact) adds their contacts as well (2nd level), and when you do an advanced search it adds THEIR contacts (3rd level). 

In other words, you create an exponential increase in the efficacy and power of your database with each person you add. My 600+ contacts enables me to have a database of 4 million+ people. Why does this matter? 

Let's say you are on a job search, and you create a list of companies that you might want to work for - HBO, PBS, and CBS, for instance. I don't know anyone who works at HBO, but wow, a lot of my first level contacts do. But even if THEY didn't know anyone who works at HBO, with 4 million people in my database I receive search results on 1000+ HBO employees. It gives me a sense of who works there, what kind of positions are available, and who I might approach directly with a job inquiry or a request for an informational interview. I am able to figure out who might be most receptive to my approach (by how many connections they have, their social networking profile, and if we have anything in common in terms of career, groups, education, hobbies or interests). 

On the flip side, LinkedIn is one of the most used tools in a recruiters' toolkit. The more connections you have, the higher the likelihood that a hiring manager will locate you. 

It's true that having hundreds or thousands of connections isn't indicative of deep relationships, or a vast pool of vetted candidates. But there is still great power in numbers on LinkedIn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You and Your References

Q: I want to keep my current references (i.e. employer) happy, while looking for something else. What is the best way to make that transition?

A: Hiring managers at other companies understand that you can't allow your current employer to know that you are looking, so they will accept other references - such as former employers, high-level coworkers at your current company, or former clients.

A few other helpful hints on references:
  • Don’t wait until you are on a job search to dig up a reference from years ago. References should be trusted connections, and it’s important to cultivate these relationships over the years – not just when you need something from them. And remember – it’s a two-way street – be sure to take an interest in their careers as well.
  • References are typically requested during the “end game” of the hiring process – and it is an expression that the company is very serious about your candidacy. Therefore, references should NOT appear on your resume.  If you supply them, you won’t have control of when your references are called, and you won’t be able to prep them adequately about any particular position.
  • Typically 3 references are requested – it’s a good idea to have 5 on hand in case someone is unresponsive.
  • If you have a line such as “References furnished upon request” on your resume, remove it. It is a given.
  • Be sure to circle back with your references. If you got the job, let them know, and thank them for being a part of it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Helping your Boss Help You

The recent NY Times Career Couch column The Promotion That Got Away deals with how to deal with the disappointment of being passed over for a promotion. While in today's job market, people overall are more focused on getting or keeping a job than angling for promotions, but losing out an an expected advancement - either in title or in salary - can certainly sting. The main takeaway from this article is learn to temper your emotions around this event - it's important not to express bitterness or resentment towards your boss or coworkers. Instead, allow time to process your feelings, and if you are still feeling slighted, wait a few days before attempting to talk to your boss about it. When you do talk with your boss about the promotion, ask her productive questions, such as what could you do in the future in order to be considered for a higher-level role? The article points out that your boss will likely feel a bit uncomfortable in this conversation - it's important not to put her on the defensive, but instead work with her to find out you can do to improve your value.

This brings up another topic that I think about frequently - how to empower your boss to be an advocate for you. What does this mean? It means that your boss may in fact want you to have a raise, a promotion,  a better title, to work fewer hours, to get an assistant, etc. But you will never know if you don't ask, and when you ask, you need to be prepared to give concrete reasons why you deserve these things.  The key is to concentrate on accomplishments - not just what you do (eg: work many hours) but what you get done (eg: deliver multiple high-profile projects, handle the biggest caseload in the office, bring in the most bacon). In a lot of situations, it's productive to view your boss as a member of your team - one that needs to be provided with the necessary rationale to be an advocate on your behalf.

With many people's annual reviews coming up, this is a good thing to keep in mind. Many people view the annual review as a meeting in which to receive criticism and accolades. A better approach is to view it as a touchpoint with your supervisor to let him know what you've accomplished this year (or period, if it's a periodic review), and to find out from him where you can do better. It's a good rule of thumb to be prepared by keeping a running list of achievements throughout the year, and be sure to have examples from the current quarter, as those will have the most resonance. If you don't have this running list (and don't worry, most people don't), sit down before your review and take some time to create this list for yourself. You can use this list of accomplishments not only for your review, but also to add to your resume and your LinkedIn profile.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Article: Deducting Job Hunting Expenses - including Coaching!

There is a world of assumptions about what can and can't be deducted when you are on a job search. This Wall Street Journal article breaks it down for you. The most important thing to remember is the "same occupation rule"- that is, if you are a changing careers, or just graduated from school, you may be &*%! out of luck. However, if you are looking in the same occupation (think job role and function, not title), you can deduct travel expenses, career-coaching services, and resume preparation services. Sadly, the IRS will not let you deduct your cell phone, (or landline, if you still have one), internet, or personal grooming - even though "these things are almost mandatory in today's job search environment, the IRS will say they are nondeductible personal expenses. Sorry." Sorry indeed. 

It's easy to make erroneous assumptions about what can and can't be deducted - this article really contains a lot of valuable information, and I highly recommend reading it in full if you are currently on the hunt.

Suspect a colleague is slacking off? Are you sure?

Think before you act on your suspicions. The New York Time's Career Coach covers the perception of slackerdom in others in Q&A column When a Colleague Doesn't Pull His Weight. First question to ask: does your perception of a coworker's slacking match his or her productivity? Does it actually affect your work?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Article: Make the most of your employment gaps

This article from Career Rocketeer provides very good advice about how to best present any employment breaks in your job history, as well as how to make the most use of your time between jobs.

I do disagree, however, with the recommendation of using a skills-based resume to cover up time gaps. No one is fooled by this - better to include what you were doing during that time if at all applicable - eg: creative work, internships, volunteerism, education, travel. Hiring managers prefer linear presentations, so they don't have to work too hard to reconstruct your job history.

Check out this very helpful article here:
Enhancing your employability despite those employment gaps

TIP: Use Your First and Last Name

Years ago, I worked for a terrific boss in the film industry, who used to get red in the face when we'd forget to introduce ourselves using both our first and last names. "If you don't use your last name," he'd say, "you are just Rebecca who works at my office." 

This caused some eye rolling between me and other younger staff members, but it was an invaluable lesson. It was somewhat early in my career, and the idea of self-promotion seemed distasteful to me at the time - and I was also a bit shy.

But the habit reinforces the identity - as I introduced myself by both first and last name, I found I took myself more seriously as a professional. The film industry relies heavily on personal connections and endorsements, and the more your name is out there - as a distinct brand - the better. 

In sum - unless it is truly unique on its own - your first name alone is not a brand.

Even if others aren't introducing themselves using their last name, jump in and use yours - and ask others what theirs is too. It increases the possibility of name recognition, which may lead to other mental connections - perhaps you have heard of each other through mutual friends, or are aware of each other's accomplishments or industry reputations. If you introduce yourself as "John," the chances of this happening plummet.