Five Consulting and Job Search Parallels

I recently had lunch with a friend and former co-worker. When we met back in 2010 and compared notes on our respective job search activities, we learned we had competed against each other for many of the same open positions in the Rochester, NY area.  We ended up working together for a large, local corporation. While our contracts there have ended, I am happy to report that each of us has since moved on to new and better opportunities.

She asked how my consulting business was doing.  As I explained the ebb and flow I’ve experienced, five parallels between part-time consulting and job search immediately came to mind:

Rain and drought:  “When it rains, it pours” is the old adage and I’ve experienced that with both the job search and part-time consulting.  I’ve had weeks without a single phone call or email inquiry and I’ve had weeks where I’m seemingly over-booked.  It’s important to not get too high or too low as riding that emotional roller coaster will make you sick.

How hot is the fire?:  Another old adage I used when I was looking for full-time employment was “irons in the fire” to describe how many opportunities were in various stages of progress.  At various times, I had several positions I had applied to, several I had interviewed for, and several I was waiting for an offer/rejection.  Some weeks, with so many “irons in the fire,” the fire seemed quite hot!  Other weeks, I was hoping for a spark, let alone a flame or a fire.  This hot-cold pattern isn’t always predictable, but know that it won’t last forever, good (hot) or bad (cold).

Personal branding:  If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to differentiate yourself.  You must determine what makes you different from all of the other job applicants.  Then, market yourself and highlight how you stand above the crowd.  As a marketing consultant, I too have developed and maintain a personal brand.

Visibility is key:  Without a marketing/advertising budget, I rely on referrals and word-of-mouth for my consulting business.  The key to that is being visible.  Similarly, job seekers need to be visible.  When a job lead for a sales position comes across my inbox, odds are I’m forwarding it to the first person I think of who’s looking for a sales position.

Networking is mandatory:  Whether I’m meeting with job seekers or prospective consulting clients, I try to network weekly (and in-person whenever possible).  The key to effective networking is practicing a “give to get” mentality.  Help the person you’re networking with first.  They’re then more likely to assist you.

For those who navigated the unemployment waters and have landed, what parallels have you noticed?

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LinkedIn Policy Is Guilty Until Proven Innocent

LinkedIn, LinkedIn Jury Box, LinkedIn Guilty Until Proven Innocent, LinkedIn Guilty“Guilty until proven innocent” is the message that LinkedIn is sending with one of their recent changes (and there have been many) that you probably have not heard about.  LinkedIn is making a concerted effort to reduce spam in groups.  That’s a good thing!  The problem is, they’ve created a new policy that’s an over-reaction along the lines of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Group managers in LinkedIn have a lot of power.  They can create rules for their group and decide if group membership should be open to all or closed (requiring approval).  As a closed group, they’re able to create criteria to join the group.  They have the ability to restrict the types of discussion posts that are allowed.  They could move a discussion to a promotions or jobs board instead of the main discussion board.  Group managers are able to delete a discussion they felt was inappropriate for whatever reason.  Further, should a group member be a repeat offender or have an egregious post, a group manager could place that member into a restrictive status where future posts would have to be moderated for approval.  As a final step, group managers have the ability to remove someone from a group and/or block them.

That’s a lot of power!  And as a Voltaire (allegedly) originally said (in French), “with great power comes great responsibility.”  If you belong to groups on LinkedIn, you undoubtedly belong to some groups that are managed well and some that do not.  That’s either the hard work and dedication of good group managers or the failure of poor ones.  Either way, it’s on the managers’ shoulders (and should be).

LinkedIn now has a policy that if one group manager or owner flags just one of your discussion threads as spam, your account is flagged as a spammer.  As a result, your account is flagged for moderation in every group you belong to, not just the group that originally flagged you.  It’s automatic.  There’s no review of your posting history.  There’s no investigation to see if what was posted was truly spam.  There’s no appeals process.  You’re guilty.  Period.

What constitutes “spam” becomes arbitrary and inconsistent.  If you want to be unrestricted, you have to ask the group owner/manager of every group you’re a member of to remove you from moderation.  It places additional administrative work on both the user and the group owner/manager.  Rather than letting managers manage the groups the way they want to, LinkedIn has become “Big Brother” and will paint its users with a broad brush, fairly or unfairly.

Yes, LinkedIn is a free site and they get to make their own rules.  But, with great power comes great responsibility.  Unfortunately, LinkedIn’s efforts to curtail spam by assuming guilty until proven innocent is lacking responsibility.  What’s your opinion of LinkedIn’s policy?  Is it appropriate?  Effective?  An over-reaction?

Update as of March 20, 2013:  Read my follow-up post here:  http://wp.me/p1LHj0-n7

Are You Still The Rat?

I often think there are two types of people in this world, those who love famous quotes and those who don’t.  Consider me in the latter group, not because I don’t find value in them.  There’s simply a glut of quotes on social media.  For me it’s overload to the point that I tune them out.

The other day, however, one from Lily Tomlin caught my eye . . . .

Rat Race, Running the Rat Race

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” ~ Lily Tomlin

What’s interesting is, my job search a few years ago felt the most like a rat race to me.  I easily logged 60+ hours a week on average.  It felt like a never-ending treadmill of looking at postings, attending networking events, having 1-on-1 informational meetings, monitoring my online presence, speaking with recruiters, preparing for interviews, following-up on applications and interviews, etc., etc.

But this is where I diverge from Lily Tomlin’s quote.  As I look back on my stretch of unemployment, it really feels like a sabbatical since I ultimately re-landed with the company that had down-sized me.  During my job search, I was able to learn new skills, I met hundreds of new people, I sharpened my existing skills, I re-energized my outlook and perspective, and I returned to full-time employment better than I was before.  In that sense, I no longer felt like the same “rat” who had been running the job search rat race.

If you’re currently looking for work, my challenge to you is . . . what will you do now to improve yourself?  What will you do once you return to work?  Will you continue to network and help others as you were helped?  Will you emerge from the job search rat race a new and improved person, or will you go back to your old self?  Will you make personal and professional changes to shorten and minimize future, unexpected job search rat races? Or . . . will you still be the rat running the same rat race?

photo credit: http://www.domainofhope.com

Is Social Media Right For Your Business?

I recently consulted with a business regarding their various marketing needs.  One of the topics we discussed was social media.  After our initial consultation, they decided to hold-off on moving forward with social media for a few reasons/concerns.  I hear these a lot, so I thought I’d share them (and my opinion) with my readers.

“I’m not sure I’ll do it correctly.”  While it’s not super-complicated, there is a marketing science (and etiquette) to using social media correctly.  In a nutshell . . . you need to determine if your customers are using social media, what platforms they engage in and what their expectations are.  You need to determine goals and objectives for your social media and create a strategy/plan to meet those objectives.  You’ll also need to determine what metrics you’ll use to evaluate your strategy.

“I’m not sure it will pay off.”  If you’re expecting an immediate and significant boost in sales by suddenly engaging in social media, you will likely be disappointed.  Social media is more about relationship and community building, interacting with customers and a gradual build.  It’s about sharing and providing something of value.  It’s about the art of attraction.  It’s not a soapbox to promote your business with 90%+ of your posts.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to generate content.”  Don’t let that stop you! Chances are, if you Google the product or service you sell, you’ll find millions of hits on that search.  Which is a good article?  Which is a trusted source?  Use your industry knowledge and experience to become an information filter for your audience.  That filtering of quality information provides value, builds trust and attracts others.  Over time, it positions you as someone with subject matter expertise.

Is social media right for your business?  It can be, if you use it correctly (or hire someone who does).

Social Media Days of the Week

In social media, it seems as if every day of the week is devoted to something.  Marketers will use any excuse they can to get their message in front of you.  There’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, Wear Red Day, etc., etc.  This can be both good and bad, depending on your perspective of marketing.

In social media, there are certain “events” that occur on a weekly basis.  Perhaps the most well-known is “Follow Friday” on Twitter (#FollowFriday or #FF in twitter-speak).  This is a way for Twitter users to make a recommendation that their followers should follow certain individuals.  Sometimes it’s for a specific reason (industry, location, interest) and sometimes there’s no apparent reason for the recommendation.

A few years ago, Hire Friday (#HireFriday or #HF) became a variation of Follow Friday.  Job seekers were encouraged to tweet about their job search including location, industry, a keyword or two, a link to a professional profile, and of course include the hashtag.  Those on Twitter, especially recruiters and HR professionals, were encouraged to re-tweet these messages to give job seekers added exposure.  The power of Hire Friday (and Twitter) is real, as I experienced an increase of resume views of 4x-5x compared to other days in the week when I was looking for employment.

I recently read a blog post from CAREEREALISM where they’re trying to encourage “Endorse Monday.”  They’re asking LinkedIn users to take 10 minutes each Monday and endorse people within their network.  This is a great way to be active on LinkedIn and it’s a perfect example of practicing a “give to get” networking philosophy.

Unlike Twitter, where the previously mentioned #hashtags in your stream will serve as a weekly reminder each Friday, I think LinkedIn will need to aggressively promote “Endorse Monday” until this becomes ingrained.  Endorse Monday may not have been LinkedIn’s idea originally, but they’re obviously in favor of it since they referenced it in a Facebook post recently.

As someone who embraces and practices “give to get” networking, I truly hope Endorse Monday takes off!  What other special days do you participate in using social media each week?

Social Media Days of the Week

Filtering Facebook

If you’re active on Facebook and have friends like I do, you’re encountering plenty of “soapboxers” who believe their political commentary and posts will somehow magically persuade you to vote for their presidential candidate in less than two months.  On a personal note, I can’t wait until I can once again enjoy pictures of cats, pictures of kids and postcards with snarky quotes without having to navigate articles that are obviously and blatantly biased for one side of the aisle or the other.  😉

If you feel that way too, the good news is you don’t have to wait until after the election is over!  Here are two areas in Facebook where you can filter what you see.

The first is to filter the ads in the right-hand column/panel.  If you hover over the ad, a small “x” will appear to the right.  If you click on the ad, it will remove it and you’ll have the opportunity to provide Facebook with information on why you chose to remove it.  In theory, Facebook will learn your likes/dislikes to show you advertising you’re interested in.  Since Facebook is a free site, advertising is one of the ways it makes money, so the ads are not going away.  You might as well see ads that are interesting.

A second is to limit the content by specific friends.  To do this, go to your friend’s timeline or find a recent post of theirs in your feed.  Hover over their picture and then hover over the “friends” button.  Then click on settings.  From there, you can control the frequency of updates (all updates, most updates, only important updates) as well as the type of updates you see (life events, status updates, photos, games, comments and likes, music and videos, other activity).

As with most social media sites, there’s often more than one way to change settings, so it’s not limited to the method I’ve detailed above.  The Facebook filter is not an ideal one, but it’s better than nothing.  When you’re ready to un-filter that soapboxing friend, the steps are the same.

I can say that once I filtered some friends, Facebook became more enjoyable.  Have you filtered content or friends yet?

Networking When You Least Expect It

“Always be prepared” is the famous motto of the Boy Scouts, but it also applies to networking.  You’ll be able to seize an opportunity no matter when or where it presents itself, if you’re prepared.

I recently co-hosted a birthday party for my youngest child at a local indoor play center.  My wife was asked to wear a name tag for security purposes so one of us would be immediately recognizable to staff and parents.  While watching the kids enjoy the various inflatables, a parent from another birthday party recognized our last name and asked her if she was related to me.  When my wife confirmed it, this person shared that she’s seen my posts and activity in many locations, especially on LinkedIn.

She then brought her over to introduce her to me and we were able to chat for a few minutes while our kids were engrossed in a climbing maze.  It turns out we had many common connections in our networks.  She’s the president of a recruiting company in Rochester, NY and I continue to run social media for The August Group which facilitates networking opportunities for those looking for work.  It was a great professional connection to make when I was least expecting it!  We both had business cards with us and each of us listened (above the joyful screams of playing children) to how we could help the other.

Most people can prepare in advance of a scheduled networking event by bringing business cards, rehearsing an elevator speech and/or identifying key attendees he/she would like to meet.  But are you prepared for that chance encounter that can happen anytime, anywhere?  If not, it could be a golden opportunity that slips through your fingers.

Looking back on your professional networking, what were the most unusual circumstances surrounding a connection you made when you were least expecting it?

Authenticity in Social Media

I intentionally try to avoid traditionally controversial subjects in my blog such as politics and religion to name a few.  I have other things I’d rather write about and want to keep my blog on more of a professional level than personal level.  I’d also rather not add fuel to the fire of a rumor.  So, it’s with some hesitation that I write this post.

I read an article on The Hill about Mitt Romney’s Twitter account that I thought was rather interesting.  Presidential candidates seemingly have everything scrutinized with a magnifying glass these days.  Someone noticed that Romney’s account, which had been averaging 3,000-4,000 new followers daily had suddenly picked up almost 100,000 followers in a two-day period.  And, this increase occurred without any significant change in his engagement with followers.  Immediately the speculation was that his campaign was buying Twitter followers.

This certainly is not very newsworthy, especially since it’s speculation at this point.  But fact or fiction, it is a great example of the importance that authenticity plays in social media.  In a previous post that still generates weekly views, I offered 3 reasons why quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media.

The number one reason I listed in that post is that when fans/followers can be bought, your authenticity comes into question.  Whether it’s a politician or a consumer brand, most people won’t tolerate a fake.  Engagement cannot happen with fans/followers who do not have a true interest, let alone may not exist in the first place.

Don’t just take my word for it.  A recent research study from About.com demonstrated that activity (i.e., engagement) on a Facebook page was a better indicator of trust than the number of “likes” a page had.  In fact, 84% said that being trustworthy is a requirement before interacting with a page or info source.

Again, fact or fiction, here’s a current reminder why quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media.  What are your thoughts when it comes to authenticity in social media?

Biannual Apps Audit

Can you believe the year is half-over already?  Now is as good a time as any to review the social media apps you’ve granted permission to and see if you still want/need them accessing your data.  I’m sure some of you reading this post won’t even know what the previous sentence refers to.  So, let’s start from the beginning.

As you interact in social media, certain applications request permission to access your account in order for the interaction to occur.  One quick example of a good time to revoke an application permission could be when you enter a contest on Facebook and the contest has ended.   Another example could be an application that allows you to share content to your twitter account, or one that even analyzes social media stats.

Changing the access permissions of social media applications in Facebook and Twitter is easy to do.  In fact, it’s just 3 quick steps for each!

On Facebook, here’s where you can find the applications you’ve granted access to and how to discontinue their access should you desire.  There are actually two ways to get there, but this is one of them:

1)  In the upper right corner of your Facebook toolbar, click on the downward arrow and select Account Settings:

2)  Select “Apps” in the left-hand toolbar, which will bring up a list of apps you’ve granted access to:

3)  For each app you want to check/change, select the “Edit” link in the far right column of the list.  It will open a gray-shaded sub-menu that will allow you to remove the app or alter the privacy settings of the app:

On Twitter, here’s where you can find the applications you’ve granted access to and how to discontinue their access should you desire.

1)  Click on the person icon toward the right in the upper toolbar and select “Settings:”

2)  Select “Apps” in the left-hand toolbar:

3)  A list of applications will appear, with a description and the date you granted the app access to your Twitter account.  If you’d like to remove the app, click the “Revoke Access” button:

I try to make a habit of reviewing my settings twice a year.  Like tending to a garden, it’s easier to stay on top of things if you weed more frequently.  This time around my “Social Media Audit Scorecard” was 5 Facebook apps and 7 Twitter apps that I revoked access to.

As privacy continues to be a big concern for many using social media, it’s important to monitor apps’ access your information.  So how many apps did you change permissions for or delete entirely?

Social Media Experiment Results

In my post last week, I asked for your help in conducting a social media experiment to see if I could get blog/site views from specific countries for the first time.  I was hoping readers would share their favorite post of mine via social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) and try to target some of the countries listed.

Immediately after publishing that post, one of the subscribers to my blog was kind enough to tweet it and reference some countries using hashtags.

In less than an hour, someone from Iceland had visited!  My excitement grew at the idea that the map would quickly fill.  I scheduled a few more tweets for the next few days with countries listed, paying attention to the time difference so the tweet would launch during business hours in those countries.  However, no new countries had visited and my tweets weren’t being re-tweeted.

I took to Google+ and tried to get some additional country views using that platform.  While it did bring in some additional views and was on-par with my normal quantity of visits, they weren’t from any of the “missing” countries I had specifically listed/identified.  I changed my LinkedIn status to see if anyone in my network could help.

So with Mike’s comment on my update, I set my sites solely on Greenland, perhaps the largest country missing from my map (land size).  Tweets referencing Greenland weren’t working as quickly as I hoped.  With a promised update for this week’s blog, time was running out.  I took a more strategic marketing approach and searched LinkedIn Groups using “Greenland” as a keyword.  I further narrowed the search to “open groups” plus English-speaking and found a few I could post a discussion thread to without first joining the group.  I decided to post one of my more popular blogs to date, The Lost Art of the Thank You.

Within a day, I had two site visits from Greenland!  Buoyed by the success of this new approach, I tried something similar with China, South Africa, Finland/Scandinavia and a few other countries.

I’m happy to report with just a tiny bit of extra effort this week, I’ve added 9 new countries to my map (many I specifically targeted):  Panama, South Africa, Greenland, Japan, Iceland, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Mongolia and Slovakia.

The biggest lessons learned?  Be targeted, provide something of value, be timely, monitor your progress and be willing to adapt/alter course as needed.