How I’d spend my first few months in a new job

Can you demonstrate your ability to meet the challenges of your new job and hit the ground running?

I was recently asked to write a plan outlining how I’d approach my first few months in the job I’m interviewing for.  A few people (a couple of recruiters among them) commented on how unusual the request was, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

The interview process can be a beauty contest, with its emphasis on scripted answers and connecting with the interviewer.  This task requires the writer to demonstrate an understanding of the role (which probably requires that he or she did a good job asking questions during interviews) and of organizational needs and priorities.  It also tests your writing and organizational skills and also provides some insight into your leadership and management style that may not come out through your scripted responses.  I kept mine to two pages, so I was forced to balance the creation of a simple, easy-to-understand strategy with the desire to give the hiring manager a sense that I understand the scope of the challenge and will hit the ground running.

The process will also help me in future interviews with this employer — assuming I get one — because I now have additional questions that I will bring to the table, because I’ve thought through ways I’d approach different problems the organization faces, and because I will have better examples of ways I’ve resolved similar challenges that I might not have come up with in a conference-room setting.

One tip:  There aren’t many good templates for this task, but Harvard professor Michael Watkins has written a great book on this subject called The First 90 Days, which provided me with a great starting point. 

All in all, I will use this in the future when I’m trying to choose between qualified job applicants who want to demonstrate their ability to help us achieve our goals.

Readers, how about you?  Have you been asked to do a 90- or 100-day plan?  How did you approach it and what impact did it have on your candidacy?

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Five ways to improve your LinkedIn profile today

Give your LinkedIn profile a helping hand.

I’ve been helping some job seekers improve their LinkedIn profiles in an effort to increase the number of recruiters and potential employers who can find them online.  Here are five ways I think you could improve your results if you’re not already doing them:

  1. Write a Compelling Headline.   It’s one thing to list what you do if you already have a job (and in that case you should include your company’s name).  It’s something different if you’re looking for work or clients.  Would you read a newspaper story that says Dog Bites Man?  Probably not.  Grab the reader’s attention.  Keep in mind that it’s what people see when they accept your invite.
  2. Change your Status Update regularly.  I know someone who provides employee-communications services who changes his status update nearly every day.  My impression?  He’s always busy and probably has a lot of people working for him.  I was really surprised when I had a chance to work with him recently to find that his was actually a pretty small shop.  But I suspect he gets a decent amount of business from people who see the activity and regular updates on LinkedIn and view those as de facto referrals.  The same thing is true for job seekers: Show activity, direction, and motivation through your Status Updates!
  3. Focus on your Summary.  First, you need to have one.  I’ve been surprised to see how many people who are actively looking for jobs are only using the Experience sections.  Talk about what you do most often, what you want to be doing, and explain why someone would want to hire you or work with you.  Show what makes you special and/or different from everyone else who’s searching for people.  Make them want to contact you.
  4. Proofread it.  People who know me know that I’ve rejected great job candidates because of a typo in their resumes.  I believe typos are the best indication of your attention to detail.  If you don’t care about your resume or LinkedIn profile — also known as your most important marketing document — why would a prospective employer or client think you’re going to care about their project?  Check your spelling.  Check for run-ons and fragments. Take a look at it after you save it; you will often get weird breaks within paragraphs. 
  5. Ask for Recommendations.  Be smart and provide clear direction.  Ask people who really know you to focus on the skills that are most likely to get you hired.  Getting a recommendation that talks about your negotiation skills isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you’re trying to get a job writing business plans.

I’m a big believer in karma when it comes to job searches.  One other thing you might do is go through your list of Connections and pick a couple and send out an unsolicited Recommendation.  Take a look at their summaries and see what they’re looking for and tailor your recommendation toward that.

Take a journalist’s approach to your resume, elevator speech

Where's your focus when you look at this statue?

As I listened to a group of unemployed executives deliver their personal elevator speeches (i.e., their 30-second commercials), that little voice in the back of my head was working overtime.

“Don’t bury your lead,” it kept screaming at them as I had eerie flashbacks of my time as a newspaper editor talking to young reporters.  Time and again, the really interesting stuff — the great visual images, the jaw-dropping results — came at the end while the beginning was filled with standard phrases like “results-oriented” and “IT executive.”

In the newspaper business, the lead is normally the first paragraph that contains the essential elements of the story.  A well-written lead keeps the reader reading…rather than turning to another more interesting story.

When it comes to Simplicity, journalists have the roadmap.  Most of their stories are written in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important piece (the widest part of the pyramid) at the top and the rest of the information in decreasing order of importance.

Let’s face it.  As a reporter, a job-seeker, or someone presenting your important business idea at work, you’re competing for your audience’s attention…and they have lots of alternatives.  Time and again over the past few weeks, I’ve heard stories that a job posting had generated 200-300 responses within just a few hours.

Successful reporters agonize over their leads because it’s the most important investment they make in their stories.  A great lead makes the rest easy…and it makes their editors’ job easy because under pressure they can just cut from the bottom and print what’s left for their available space.

If you think of your boss or the recruiter as your editor, this concept becomes easier.  As they write and edit, reporters often find that their best stuff is in their third, fourth, or 10th paragraph (hence the phrase, bury the lead) so they move it up.

Think about what makes you or your idea memorable.  Now take a good look at your resume, your elevator speech or 30-second commercial, or your presentation.  If you’re making your reader work hard to find that special something, then odds are that your idea, your resume, or you are about to be placed on the No pile.

It’s not easy.  We often get so bogged down in the details that we lose our core message and bury our lead. 

Who are you?  What makes you different?  What value do you provide?  What problem can you solve?  Get that into your lead and you’ll be much closer to grabbing your audience’s full and undivided attention.

Must Read: Bootcamp for great ideas

 I see a lot of job postings where an MBA is required.  I don’t have an MBA so that’s a problem.

That’s why a recent NY Times article about reinventing the MBA curriculum got my attention.  As one person put it, “At business school, there was a lot of focus on ‘You’ve got a great idea; here’s how to build a business out of it.’  The d.school said, ‘Here’s how you get to that great idea.'”

The “d.school” is a reference to the growth in “design thinking,” which emphasizes a focus on human needs to decide what problems need to be addressed.  There’s an engineering focus to all this (the Stanford d.school is part of the Engineering School), but that’s missing the point of today’s posting.

So here’s the point of the blog.  The Stanford d.school has posted a terrific document on its site that is a fairly short primer on the various concepts that drive the development of great ideas.  The D.School Bootcamp Bootleg starts with seven mindsets — including “Bias Toward Action” and “Create Clarity From Complexity” (my favorite) and “Show, Don’t Tell.”  It goes on to introduce modes like “empathize,” “define,” and “test.”  And then it outlines a variety of strategies (or methods) that are integral to design thinking.

Lest this sound overly academic — and some of them will lead your eyes to glaze over a bit — there are some great ideas you can use to better understand your customers or come up with that “one big thing” before you go too far down the road. 

Business books seem to be getting shorter lately…and packed with more usable information.  This one is less than 40 pages and well worth your time.

Read through it.  Think about how you’ve used the concepts without actually knowing you were employing design thinking.  Pick some things to try.  Keep them if they work and try something else if they don’t. 

Use this document — but think of it as a toolkit — and when the time comes perhaps you can overcome the lack of an MBA with a skill set that enables you to develop great, marketable ideas.

How about you?  How have you used some of these methodologies — interviewing for empathy, powers of 10, and so on — to fine tune your ideas?  What worked and what didn’t?

Lemons to lemonade: Refusing to let the job market get me down

I was laid off nearly 11 months ago, along with a few close friends and co-workers (we were just the first wave).  As we packed our boxes, I recall someone telling me that we’d have a great time spending time with our kids at the pool in July, and me responding that if I were sitting around a pool in July I’d be twitching like I’d been exposed to a nerve agent.  With my experience, I figured I’d be out of work for three or four months, max.

In the past 11 months, I’ve started a blog; helped one son get his life on track and back to college; figured out my “brand;” and done some consulting on some fun and different things.  I’m trying to figure out if I can make consulting work on a full-time basis (with two in college and two more at home growing very quickly) or if I need to really ratchet up my job search.

I’m really looking forward to this movie.  If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s worth clicking on.

Just wondering, how are you turning your situation into lemonade?

Proofread to make a great first impression

I’ve always had a hard-and-fast rule about typos in resumes. If I see one, the person doesn’t get an interview. I may have lost an opportunity or two along the way to find a great person, but I believe candidates with mistakes on their single most important personal marketing documents aren’t going to pay any better attention to detail on their day-to-day work assignments.

Full disclosure: I ignored this rule once with a referral. Turned out to be a bad mistake and cost me hours in performance-management time before we finally parted ways. Painfully.

I bring this bias to restaurants. It is beyond me how someone whose livelihood depends on the customer experience cannot pay attention to the one thing everyone looks at. Particularly when someone like me points it out (to the chagrin of my wife and kids) and I go back a month later and they haven’t changed it. I know, I know. Who cares, if the food is great? I do. Because it makes me wonder about their attention to detail in places I can’t see. Like kitchen cleanliness.

Bulldog Simplicity Rule #1:  First impressions matter.  Typos are a distraction and a big indicator of your attention to detail, whether it’s in a menu, a resume, or anything your customer sees. If you’re not good at proofreading, find someone who is. Click on this Proofreading Tips link for a Freebie from my website that may help. Many people particularly like the one about reading backwards.

Now let me get out of here and Spell Check this before I post it.

Must Read: Corner Office by Adam Bryant (NY Times)

In a previous life, I was the editor of the Southern Connecticut Business Journal and was lucky enough to hire a guy right out of Columbia named Adam Bryant.  We all saw great things ahead for Adam, and we weren’t wrong.

Even if I didn’t know Adam, I’d rush each week to download his Corner Office feature from the Sunday New York Times, where he interviews corporate executives about their leadership styles, strengths and weaknesses, business successes and failures, approaches to interviewing job candidates, and giving feedback and advice for their kids or people starting out in business.  It’s a great read…and can provide some terrific insight for readers working on their own personal brand, preparing for job interviews, or managing their careers. 

My only quibble is that I’d like to see a bit more context around why each person is worth spending time with, some context on what that person has accomplished.  For most of Adam’s subjects, it’s obvious.  But with others, a bit more detail would be nice.

Here’s a link to last week’s article on Maigread Eichten, who heads FRS, a maker of energy drinks.  Previous profile subjects include Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, John Chambers of Cisco, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, and Clarence Otis of Darden Restaurants.  Use Corner Office in your search on the New York Times business pages and you’ll find all of them.