Taglines: Is yours a home run?

Tyler chose his college on Thursday.  He’s headed to Washington, D.C. this fall to American University and its terrific film school.

At the risk of oversimplifying, American has a great tagline — Media That Matters — and a group of passionate people who believe the mantra and communicate it consistently.

From the academic counselor to the professors to whom he spoke to the School of Communication’s materials, the message is consistent and to the point.  Had I had my work hat on, I’ll bet I could have stopped anyone involved in the Film and Media Arts department and heard the theme (or a tight variation on it). 

Tyler wears his heart on his sleeve…and his eyes don’t lie, and both his mother and I knew the moment he made his decision.  It was when he heard “Media That Matters.”  He wants to make a difference.  He wants to make documentaries and touch people’s lives.  His path could change over the next four years, but I kinda doubt it.  The medium could change — film, Internet, or something else — but the direction and passion won’t.

As good as the tagline is, American backs it up with strong supporting messages…a great story, if you will.  Where better than Washington if you want to get involved in effecting change? If you’re interested in documentaries and environmental film, we have Centers devoted to those disciplines and we work closely with National Geographic, Discovery, the Smithsonian, and so on.  We have professors who work in the business and are looking for passionate students looking for experience.  You get the idea.

Media That Matters.  Three words that resonate with a kid like Tyler.  Three words that tell a story.  That ignite passion.  That change lives.

What’s the tagline for your business or your job search?   Is it simple enough?  Does it tell your target audience who you are and what you do?  Do you support it with all your other marketing materials, from your resume or company fact sheet and collateral to your LinkedIn profile?  And perhaps most important, does your tagline tell the person who’s reading it how you’re going to “scratch their itch” (i.e., solve their problem or address their needs)?

If it doesn’t, it won’t matter how terrific you actually are.  You just may finish second to someone who gets it right.

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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.

Portfolio Careers: Is consulting in your future?

If you're at a fork in the road between consulting and your full-time job search, keep in mind that consulting is no walk in the park.

So you’ve been out of work for far longer than you — or anyone else in the family — ever expected.  You had — or more correctly, have — something special but nobody seems to be seeing it.  You keep hearing that good jobs that seem to fit you perfectly attracted 200+ resumes in three hours.  And nobody’s calling back.

And now your severance is gone.  Or will be soon.  What’s next? 

Assuming the issue is not your failure to develop a compelling personal brand or effectively help recruiters and hiring managers find you,  for many people, the answer to the What’s Next? question is exploring consulting or 1099 work (and there is a difference, but that’s a different post). 

The New York Times says we’ve lost 8.4 million jobs in this recession and many of those jobs aren’t coming back.  As many as 23% of U.S. workers are operating as consultants, freelancers, free agents, contractors, or micropreneurs, according to the Wall Street Journal.  The percentage of unemployed workers starting companies rose to 8.6% in 2009, a four-year high, with the biggest increases among people 55 and over, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm.  The underemployment rate — which counts people who have given up looking for work and those who are working part time for lack of full-time positions — has been hovering over 17% for a few months now.

The trend toward “portfolio careers” — where employees cobble a career together from multiple consulting (or 1099) engagements is growing and demand for high-end temporary business talent is not focused on cost-cutting projects but on driving innovation.

But not so fast.  Even with a great value proposition or skill, it’s not that easy.  First you need to think through whether you have the temperment for the ups and downs of this strategy.  Then you need to think about company structures, the sales process, and a myriad of other things.

Recapturing what you used to make may not happen for years, if ever.   The percentage of new projects you capture will be much lower than you might expect.  You can’t do aa full-time job search and consult at the same time…at least not effectively. For many people, the process of selling yourself is more daunting than a root canal and may require skills that are somewhat alien to those you had when your company was giving you direction.

On the other hand…

The best way to find a full-time job may be through an “audition strategy,” where you demonstrate your value to a full-time employer prospect through a short-term project.  Many people think that’s the best way to separate themselves from the masses these days.

And this may be a way to pay the bills and prevent you from taking a job that will make you miserable.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be blogging on some of these considerations and assessing the market for offering services that help people like you (the ones who have read this far) make the decision.

So two requests.  First, let me know what concerns you about making the leap to consulting.  What do you need to know before making the decision?

Second, if you’d be interested in learning more and finding resources that will help you make the decision or be more successful if you do pursue consulting as a full-time career choice or a short-term bridge to something else, please send me a note at peter@bulldogconsultant.com.

I look forward to hearing from you.

The benefits of an edgy brand

"Holy cow, the opportunity to mess with one of the most recognizable icons on Planet Earth," says Junction Point Creative Director Warren Spector, who's working on the Epic Mickey game.

Epic Mickey could be my new hero.  At the very least, he’s proof that redefining my brand in an edgier way is a good idea.

Here’s the back story.  Disney protects Mickey Mouse like a mother bear protects her cubs…if Mama Bear also had a battalion of lawyers at her beck and call.  But Disney is rethinking this approach…worried that Mickey has evolved from beloved character to corporate symbol, it’s taking the risky step of re-imagining him for the future.

They’ll start the tweaking next year with a video game, Epic Mickey, in which squeaky clean  Mickey shows traits like cunning and irritability — along with being heroic — as he travels a forbidding wasteland.  This is the first step in a bigger project to rethink Mickey’s personality — including the way he appears on the Disney Channel and how our kids interact with him on the Internet — and raise his appeal with edgier tweens and teens.

I’m not equating my brand with Mickey’s but there are some parallels.  I’ve struggled to define my brand as I look for work in an environment where hiring managers seek reasons to eliminate you rather than reasons to hire you.

In my previous job, I was known for my passion and intensity.  I was seen as someone who could get difficult tasks done.  I was once cautioned to keep the “body count” low, although in my defense that had more to do with my willingness to address bureaucracy head-on and my refusal to accept the status quo than it was a view that I had an “anything goes” mentality.

I was once described by MBNA’s chief marketing officer as a “bulldog” to a large group.  She meant it as a compliment.  I was the guy top management asked to fix the issues that came up in those annual “what keeps you awake at night” exercises.

But as I started my job search, I avoided that description.  I went vanilla, because I was worried that “bulldog” traits would cost me interviews and job opportunities.

But as time went on, I realized — thanks to the advice of friends and mentors — that I’d be wasting my time interviewing with companies that would feel my approach wouldn’t fit their culture.  In short, I needed to embrace my “inner bulldog.”

So I named my consulting company Bulldog Management Solutions.  I have built a brand focused on Bulldog Simplicity.  My LinkedIn profile doesn’t dance around the subject.

I’ve probably lost some interviews and consulting jobs.  But it makes it easier to talk about my strengths…and my weaknesses.  The approach hasn’t resulted in a full-time job yet, but I’m convinced that when it does, I’ll be happier and able to demonstrate the passion that has driven my success over the years.

What about you?  Have you taken an “edgier” approach to your personal brand?  If so, what have you done?

A strong narrative can keep your message from getting lost

Gordian Knot 1
Without a strong narrative, your story can get tied up in knots.

I’ve spent my career trying to craft simple messages that tell our story to customers, prospects, investors, employees, and team members.  But I’ve struggled with creating my own personal narrative since leaving Bank of America in December.  I have a few  strong marketable skills…which has led to multiple resumes and multiple job-search objectives.  And that can cause a problem when the time comes to market myself through social media and with prospective employers: The message gets lost.

With that in mind, I took particular interest in a great column by Thomas L. Friedman in today’s New York Times.  Friedman makes a terrific distinction between communications and narratives.  Responding to people who ask what he thinks President Obama really believes, he argues that while Obama doesn’t have a communications problem — he’s certainly given many speeches laying out his positions and making the case for them — he has struggled to tie all his programs into a single narrative that reignites the passion that got him elected.

At a time when many job seekers must now meet all 15 of a posted job’s requirements to even have a shot at a second look, building that narrative becomes even more important.  I struggle between being a consultant and being open to a full-time position, fully recognizing that prospective clients worry about my commitment and potential employers assume I’m not interested in anything full time, when the truth is in the middle:  I see consulting as a bridge, as a way to demonstrate my value to a company outside the interview process.

When I started my job search a number of months ago, my elevator speech focused on my communications skills (Communications Windex!).   But I got a lot of well-meaning advice that I should also stress my negotiations skills and my ability to simplify processes.  And my ability to build execution-focused teams.  And…well, you get the idea.

But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is not a market where you can be all things to all people, and hope someone will make the effort to figure out which of your skills are what they need.  They have too many other resumes on their desks.

That’s Friedman’s point.  As important as the one-off discussions are, you have to have something that ties it all together or your message gets lost.  For Obama, according to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, it’s about recapturing the poetry of his campaign. 

For me, it’s finding a memorable way to combine Bulldog Simplicity with Communications Windex.

What is it for you?