Friday, April 29, 2011

Your Image Is Important

Today I spent hours shaking hands and talking to strangers, it’s just another thing that I love about my job. It is called recruiting. Today I went to one of the better advertised job fairs in the OKC metro area, the Workforce Oklahoma Spring Career Fair, held at the Coca-Cola Event Center in downtown OKC.

If you are someone who is just fascinated by people and enjoy "people watching", then a job fair to you what a candy store is to a 5 year old. It is fascinating!

I never cease to be amazed at the wide array of candidates that rush through the door in search of a job at 10am when the flood gates are opened.

Let me describe for you from a recruiter’s perspective what we see. There are a few categories of people that frequent job fairs. First, there are the very high class professional (suit and tie) candidates that come in well polished and ready for the job hunt. Then, there are those that appear to have stumbled upon the event while meandering through the streets with nothing better to do, so they came inside. Then there are many who are somewhere in between.

Remember, this is not a shopping center either. I realize recruiters bring lots of free goodies, which of course being free means you can have one. Notice, I said, ONE! Any person who walks up to my table with a bag or purse who litterally scoops a handful of pens or other give-aways into the bag WHILE asking me about a job, is immediately going into my NO pile. That is NOT the impression you want to make! In the back of my mind I'm thinking, so if I hire you will you do that in the supply room too?

Who do you want to be in the eyes of someone who holds the job you covet during that first impression? Well, a lot of that depends on the position you are seeking. If you are in the medical profession, it might benefit you to show up in scrubs (nice clean, pressed and properly fitted). This is something that immediately catches the eye of the healthcare recruiters. However, if you are applying for an accounting position and show up in scrubs, you won’t give the impression of the most qualified candidate for that position. You should dress the part.

More importantly, think about the impressions you DON’T want to make! Do NOT even walk in the door if you are in PJs (yes, I said pajamas, and YES there have been people who have done this at a job fair, crazy right?) You do NOT want to come in where something that you would wear out to a night club. Again, yes, people do this (and unless the night club is there and hiring… they leave the way they came in… still looking for a job).

Also, don’t bring your kids. They are adorable, yes, and I love kids. However, I leave mine with a sitter to come to work, and if you can’t find a sitter long enough to find a job, recruiters will assume you won’t be able to find one long enough to work when they need you. NEVER, and I repeat, NEVER bring your children to job interviews! This will NOT help your chances of getting the job. If you don’t have a sitter, daycare, family or friend to help, then find a church that offers a Mommy’s Day Out program and plan your interviews during that time.

Finally, bring more resumes with you than there are companies there to accept it. If you say to a recruiter, “Oh, I am very interested but I just handed out my last resume…” The conversation is over. Immediately, the recruiter thinks, well either this candidate handed a resume out to everyone that would take it or they came unprepared, either is not a good first impression. Remember, we will see several hundred people during the event and are not likely to remember you from the crowd without an impressive and up-to-date resume.

The only thing worse than not having a resume at a career fair is having one that is out-dated or irrelevant. You should have several resumes that focus on different career aspirations. If you want a job as an accountant, but would also accept an office manager position, then focus the accounting resume on your accounting experience and education. Have another resume prepared that focuses on the office management experience for when you apply for those positions. If you tell me that you want the job I have as an office manager, but your experience on the resume only speaks of your time waitressing for the past 6 months while searching for the right job… you’ll still be searching. However, if you showcase the last 7 years of administrative and office management experience and then explain in a brief statement that the employment gap has been filled with temporary work, that keeps you on my YES pile (which is where you want to be!)

Also, for students out there that come to career fairs expecting to go from recent college graduate to Corporate VP, be realistic. That won’t happen overnight. You need to make strategic moves to get there, and that will require building your resume with work experience to compliment your degree.

Happy Job Hunting!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

HR Champions

It is great to be able to champion a cause that you believe in whether that be saving a rainforest (a noble and global cause) or mentoring and developing others to assist them in transitioning to the right career path (a worthy cause on a smaller and more local scale).

I know that HR is not the most glamorous career choice, and if it gets you famous it may be for the wrong reasons (like a class action lawsuit from poor HR management practices... Wal-Mart comes to mind right now as they are in current headlines.)

However, it is a career that can be rewarding not just financially but with a great intrinsic value. For someone in a leadership role in HR, there is a serious power to influence people management philosophies in the organization. If done right, then HR can truly add value to an organization through realizing the value in its most fundamental resource, PEOPLE! Retaining workers can have a huge impact on the bottom line which speaks to the CEOs of the world. What is even more valuable than that, is the ability to develop people within the organization to BECOME the CEOs of the world! This CAN happen, but often is not the focus of employers.

I love the story recently highlighted on ABC’s ‘World News with Diane Sawyer’ where Diane interviewed McDonald’s President Jan Fields who worked her way up from an entry level crew leader position to where she is today at the executive table. This is a beautiful example of utilizing people’s talent within the organization. Unlike many executives, this “MickyDs” President has a true understanding of what it takes to run the business from the front line perspective all the way up through the management hierarchy. This allows her to understand the needs of the customers as well as the employees so that she can make better strategic improvements in the organization and its processes. I think Jan hit the nail on the head when she said, “Our restaurant employees are the foundation of our business. They are the men and women who interact with our customers every day, enhance the McDonald’s experience, and continue to help make our business strong… a McJob is one with career growth and endless possibilities.” – Jan Fields, President, McDonald’s USA.

For anyone who is as passionate about people development as I am, I hope to see you at the 2011 Oklahoma State HR Conference coming up in May where keynote speakers will talk in depth about people management skills and best practices. If you haven’t yet registered, there is still time to do so. Read more about the event at If you can’t make it, check back here after the event has started for my favorite highlights. As a member of this year’s blog squad, I will be providing real-time updates from keynotes and sessions using social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Growing Pains

Yesterday an amazing opportunity presented itself to me. I was asked by a college student, who is studying human resources, if I would be this student's mentor. For someone to ask this of me is quite an honor, and it made me think about who my mentors have been. Although I never asked for a mentor, I was truly blessed to be put in a situation to have one (actually several).

When I began my journey into HR, it was by chance. I was working at America Online (AOL/ Time Warner), and I had started out in an entry level position which really left me feeling that I was not challenged enough and that I was not meeting my potential. However, I was still very happy in that position because AOL took good care of their employees with awesome benefits and employee appreciation. However, an internal job posting went out and my supervisor brought it to my attention. Although in reading through the job description I didn't meet all of their preferred requirements, I did feel that it was a good fit for me based on my past employment experiences and skills; so I applied.

In the interview I experienced my first behavioral interview, which seemed completely foreign to me at the time. I remember when they were asking me for an example of a time that I walked into a situation, saw a problem and resolved it, and I tried with all my might to think of a shining bright example with which to dazzle and impress them from my prior work experience... but I drew a blank. No doubt seeing my glazed over expression, one of the interviewers said, "It doesn't have to be a work related example. You can just tell us about a personal example that would answer the question." So, I did. I told them about a PARTY that I had gone to at a friend's house! (After the interview I really thought I had blown it here.) I explained that I had walked in and there was an area cleared for a dance floor, but that I noticed the positioning of the snack table looked like an accident waiting to happen. I moved the table to a better position because I didn't want anyone to trip and fall.

Thinking back on it, I had just shown a "natural talent" for looking at safety, which is an important function that typically falls under the HR umbrella. However, at the time I thought to myself, "Well I just blew it. Who brings up a PARTY at an interview? They will never take me seriously after that." Of course, they asked many other questions which I had better answers for, and as it turned out I was selected for the position.

When I moved into the HR Specialist role I quickly learned that the person who had the job before me was basically a glorified receptionist (nothing wrong with that, it just wasn't what I wanted). As I began to better understand the needs of the HR department I quickly found areas where I could make improvements and where I could do more. I did so without really sitting down and having a conversation about what I thought my role should be, but then one opportunity came up that I didn't even think to tackle... this is where I gained my mentor...

Another person in our department unexpectedly left and her work obviously still needed to get done in the interim as a replacement was found. I honestly didn't know much about what she did, and I never thought to jump in, raise my hand, and volunteer to learn it and do it. This is when the HR department head said to me, "That train drove right past you and you never jumped on board." I had one of those "ah ha" moments after that and realized, that if you want to grow, you have to jump in and do it at every opportunity because your boss may never think to ask you if you're interested if you don't speak up.

From that day forward, I went out of my way to communicate more with my department heads and to volunteer at every opportunity. Yes, it was a lot of work and was challenging, but it helped me to grow and learn more about HR which had turned out to be my career passion. Thinking back to past positions, I have really had a few great mentors whose advise I still use today. There are times when there was tough criticism about personal attributes (like my tendency to be stubborn and hard-headed) where I felt knocked down and had to brush myself off and keep moving. However, as I progressed I learned to take those criticisms constructively understanding the motives behind them were as they should be, just to help me improve. I only hope that I can be as good a mentor to others in the future as what I have been fortunate enough to receive.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

More Resume Insights

I recently talked about resumes and the fact that they are still very necessary in today's professional job market. (Although for more entry level jobs, they may not be required since applicants will probably be using an online application system, it never hurts for even an entry level candidate to be prepared with a well written resume. It can give the needed competitive advantage to put you ahead of peers in the recruiting process.) After a week of sorting through a few hundred resumes, I feel there is a bit more that I need to say on this topic.

Recently I have been spending a lot of time recruiting for executive level positions, and I have been amazed at how poorly marketed many of these polished professionals are in their resume. In many cases, had I not personally known these candidates from professional associations, I would not have even considered them based on the resume alone.

A resume speaks volumes about a person's computer, communications, and presentation skills without even really reading the content. If a quick glance at a resume shows a lack of organization, no punctuation or use of bold, italics, or *bullets* to make pertinent information stand out... or worse yet, EVERTHING is bolded or bulleted or CAPITALIZED, then the first assumption is that this person is not going to be able to present ideas, proposals, or research data to me in a user friendly format when I need it nor are they likely to be someone who can put together a good training presentation, etc. If you are applying for a position that will require these skills, which includes most management positions, then you are selling yourself short with a poorly written resume.

Another resume pet peeve (that most hiring managers have) which you should be aware of... overly lengthy resumes with little content to justify the length. If you are a recent graduate with no experience, then you certainly should have only a one page resume, but you will need to make it stand out with academic accomplishments and volunteer experiences that are relevant to the job you are applying for. If you have 30 years of professional experience, it is expected that you probably won't fit all of that on one page. However, if you can't fit it on two pages, don't expect anyone to read what you've put on the 3rd page. When 100 or more resumes stream in for a highly sought after executive level position, hiring managers do not have time to read every word of every resume. Hiring managers will scan for highlights, achievements, tenure, job titles, and company names to make a quick determination of fit for the position to narrow down the pile from 100 to approximately 10 for initial interviews. If none of those 10 are a good fit, they may go back to the stack, but the trick is to be in that first group they select.

Some of the resumes I’ve seen lately are like the equivalent of dressing up in your finest suit and then throwing a trash bag full of garbage on top of yourself right before you try to make a good first impression. It makes no sense to be a polished professional with a resume that makes you look like a slob!

If you can’t afford to have a professional bring a facelift to your resume, that’s ok. Here are some very simply steps to follow that can make a big impact. First, DO NOT BULLET EVERYTHING!!! Don’t use all capitals either. Make company names and job titles stand out by bolding them which helps separate one job from the next (but don’t start changing fonts). If the job you had is very self-explanatory, like accountant or secretary, don’t waste a lot of space regurgitating a job description on your resume. Instead, focus on the times in your job that you went above and beyond the call of duty, such as spearheading a project, or changing a process to improve efficiency that saved the company time and money. Use bullets only to highlight major accomplishments. Say what you need to say succinctly with short concise wording that gets your point across without wasting space. Condense your resume to one or two pages (no more than two.) If this means you have to drop off 10 years of experience off your resume, use a carefully worded letter of interest to discuss other RELEVANT experience that they may wish to know about that didn’t make the final cut on your resume.