December 19, 2008

The Nanny Chronicles: Part I

I think it may be time to find a new sitter. What does this have to do with a blog about careers? Well, this blog is about more than just work advice...this blog is about work and life and, sorry to break it to you, there is no way to keep them separate. Sometimes, life just happens.

I have been telling my husband forever that I think we need a new sitter but it is so hard to make the decision to cut the ties. It almost feels like what I think divorce would feel like. We are attached to her, she is attached to my daughter, we expect things from her and know what to do and what not to do during certain much we can get away with and how much we can't...just like in a marriage. Yet, there comes a time when you realize that the dance is not worth the sore legs later. Such is the case today.

So, let me give you some history. My daughter is 16 months old and has been with my sitter since she was a month old, so we're talking about 15 months of bonding here. Now, all in all, my sitter is really great. She takes care of only my daughter and treats her like her own child. She is passionate and affectionate and caring and everything else you could want in somebody watching your child...she just doesn't understand her role, which is this: She is the sitter and I am her employer. Her job and my main priority is with her watching my daughter. That is what I pay her to do.

Over the course of our relationship, she has asked me from time to time if I could pick my daughter up early because her son had a weekend camping trip or some other affair that she wanted to attend. I didn't really mind because these events usually landed on Fridays and I looked forward to the opportunity to dodge out of the office a bit early to start the weekend. This was still during a very busy time at work and as the HR Manager, I had a full plate that I would often bring home with me to finish, anyway.

Things started to really slow down at work so I would take the time and opportunity to plan doctor visits for the kids and often when I would take my daughter to get her shots every three months, I would just keep her home with me so I could keep an eye on her. I explained to the sitter that work was slow and that on these days I could afford to just work from home to be with my little girl. I guess she took this as her opportunity to take advantage.

The requests for me to pick up my daughter started coming more frequently, where it seemed like at least once a week, she had something to do, either at her kids' school or otherwise. Now, I understand that she has kids and that she wants to do things with them but, if that was the case, then she should not have agreed to become my sitter. I am busy too and obviously I need a sitter or I would not be paying one. I don't like daycare but that's a whole other story. Anyway, I digress...

I think what is quickly becoming the last straw is that ever since Thanksgiving, I have had to pick my son up from school at 2:15pm everyday since his after care closed down (the economy is affecting everybody, I guess). About two weeks ago, she sees me at the school (her kids go to the same school as my son) and she has my daughter. Of course, I see my baby and I want to take her home with me so I do. Now, maybe this was a mistake on my part, but it seems like ever since then she'll text me (yes, I said text...that is a whole other post in and of itself!) every day to ask whether or not I am picking up my daughter when I pick up my son!! Ummmm...NO!! If I want a part-time sitter then I will pay you to be a part-time sitter. I still have errands to run or work to do or writing to get done that I can do with an 8 year old who plays outside or can otherwise keep himself occupied (and yes, I am sure I will hear about how I am a bad mother for not playing with my son during working hours, but whatever). My daughter is a baby, on the other hand, and wants constant attention...the kind I can not give her when I have conference calls or reports to run or fires to put out.

I try to explain all of this to the sitter and you know what she tells me? "Well, I have things to do too and sometimes I have to take (insert my daughter's name here) with me." Well, too freaking bad! That's what you signed up for. It's your job to watch my daughter between the hours of 7am and 6pm. If I choose to pick her up early, then great for you, but if not, then that's that...don't expect it.

Which brings me to today. My son's holiday party was today at his school. I want to try to be there for my kids as much as possible so I volunteer to bring in cupcakes and cookies and stay to help out. I had made mention of this to my sitter through casual conversation a few days ago and she made it a point to inform me that she was planning to go to help out with her kids as well. No problem. So, last night, she texts me (man, does that bother me!) to remind me that she is going to the school with her kids to help out and what do I want her to do with my daughter? WHAT?!?!?! Is she serious??? So, I text her back (hey..two can play at this game) and I ask her what she means. I tell her that she is putting me in a bind and I would expect her to watch my daugher. Besides, I said, what would she do with her if I was actually at work? She sends me a message to say that she will take her with her but just wanted to find out if I was planning to pick her up. Man...the nerve!!

Then today as I am pulling out of the parking lot of my son's school, she sends me another text asking if I am getting my daughter now or if my husband will be picking her up later. I quickly send her back a text to say that he will get her later and that I have some things to do. Do you know that she had the nerve to text me back to say that she has things to do too and now she has to take my daughter with her??? Are you kidding me? This is what I pay you for!! I don't care that you have things to do. I don't care that you want to volunteer at your kids' school and take them places during the day (yeah...yeah...say what you want). I don't pay her for me to care...I pay her to provide a service, for which she is not doing such a good job.

Whew!! I vented and I said all of that to say that I am torn. I don't know whether to break the bond that she and my daughter have and commence on the never-ending quest for the fantastical, non-existing perfect daycare or put up with the BS that I do because my daughter loves her and beyond all the mess, she really is good with her. As any working mother (or hell, even fathers these days) can attest to, the balance of work and life is a precarious one. Everyday there is an unsurmoutable mountain of issues on top of work that need to be dealt with and the pressure can sometime be unbearable. As you can see, I don't have all the answers, but sometimes venting can be powerful and who doesn't need to let off a little steam every now and then?

So, thanks for listening. Until next time...

December 17, 2008

Money Talks...So Speak Up!!

I often get questions from colleagues and friends on various career dilemmas. Today was no different. I received a call from a friend who is in the initial interview stages. She made the contact with the company, was shown interest and was invited to fill out an application and schedule to take assessment testing in preparation for the all-anticipated interview.

"When can I ask about salary?" she asked me.

"What do you mean when", I was perplexed, "you mean, you haven't asked yet?"

"No, I didn't know when the right time to bring it up was or how."

This is a part of the process that seems to literally terrify people and I don't understand why. Inquiring about compensation is as basic as asking questions about job responsibilities and's all about making an informed decision, for all parties involved.

I advised her that she should definitely find the courage to ask about compensation. Just like she wouldn't want to jump through fire-brimmed hoops, just to get to the end to find out that the prize was not what she had imagined, the employer does not want to go through the process of putting you through your paces just to find out that you are way outside of their budget. Both parties need to know where they stand and how do you plan to find out unless you ask?

To be quite honest, I was surprised that they hadn't asked her was her comp. range was at this point. As a former recruiter, our job is to weed through candidates as much as possible to get to the most qualified candidates and you better believe that compensation is as much as qualifier as education and previous experience. Learning a candidate's salary expectations is one of the first things I of the first things that all recruiters should ask, but if they don't, do not be afraid to volunteer this information or even ask what their budget is for the position. Most employers would be happy to oblige.

But what if I price myself right out of the running? This is another question that I get asked a lot and one that I will cover more fully in a future blog, but for now, I will say this...How do you price yourself out of a job? If you have done your due diligence and understand not only your worth, but the bottom line figure to keep you economically afloat, then you can't price yourself out of a job because you leave little room for negotiation. You need what you need and they can afford what they can afford...quick and simple. Again, I will be sure to fashion a blog around this subject in the near future.

Remember folks, interviewing is a two way street and while the interviewer tends to hold the higher hand, the street runs both ways. The interview process is as much about you learning about them as it is about them learning about you. And while it may not be easy to ask about salary, there is no time like the present.

Learn to Auction Yourself...

In one of those rare moments when I actually get a few moments to myself, I happened upon a story on the news about public storage units being auctioned off once payments get grossly past due. People store all of their personal belongings in these often small, tasteless and austere units. Some of these items are auctioner made off with thousands of dollars in gold and diamond jewelry at an the more sentimental, such as family heirlooms and old children's toys and clothing. All of these items are released to the highest bidder during the auction and the auctioner can walk away feeling like a winner or, in some cases, a loser, depending on what was received in the bid.

This got me to thinking about real life and, of course, work. Now, how can I possibly relate an auction to your career, you muse?? Well, simple. In your career, especially during times of high economic stability, we would often find ourselves the lucky victims of multiple job offers..."Yes, Virginia...they really did exist." During these almost phantasmagorical times, you would send out your well-written and concise resume, receive and submit to multiple calls for interviews and, in the end, if you had played your cards right, received multiple job offers. When this happened, you probably just sold yourself to the highest bidder...much like in an auction.

While the economy may have tanked and there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs availabe, there is still a chance to auction yourself off to the highest bidder, if you are willing to recategorize what "highest bidder" means and also willing to seek out some divergent types of auctions.

What do I mean by this?

Well, in today's economy, not only do you have to find ways to make yourself stand out in the crowd, you also have to sometimes reinvent yourself and redefine your goals and expectations. Yes, you've been a corporate trainer for 10 years, but training has still not reach the ranks of profit-center yet, despite all of the talks of strategic partnerships and "gaining a seat at the table". Instead, corporate training and development is still considered a cost center...yet that is a post for another day. I say this to say that if you really want to jump back on the saddle and get back to work, then you may have to depart slightly from what you are used to and find a way to use your knowledge, skills, and abilities in an industry that is hiring...say a high school career that you not only gain effective yet diverse skills but you also stay current and fresh in the market.

To that end, there is still a chance to sell yourself to the highest bidder, as long as you are willing to change what you consider a bid. It may no longer be a six-figure income and a corner office, but instead look more like more time off and not having to wear a suit everyday, or the simple joys of getting off of work in time to beat the rush of traffic from those lucky corner office folk that still pile onto the expressway at 5pm. Maybe your idea of a high bid is more like extra time with the kids (or the two dogs and three cats that share your space) and the ability to give back to the community.

Whatever it is, remember there are still opportunities to sell yourself to the highest bidder if you know where to look...

Resumes Speak Volumes...Without Saying a Word

I reviewed and revised my umpteenth resume this morning. A friend of mine, who is looking to advance in her profession and move onto to a new and exciting opportunity asked me to review her resume and make suggestions for changes. Now, I normally reel at the very thought of reviewing, let alone revising resumes, as often the resumes are so befuddled with irrelevant and useless information or hopeless spelling and grammatical errors, that I end up having to nearly rewrite the darn things! Well, this is a friend, so I did not feel so much loathing and dread as I did honored that she thought of me as enough of an expert to define for her the one piece of the candidate portfolio that is arguably also the most important piece.

Now I say "arguably" because inevitably there will be mass critics that will argue that the resume is but a stepping stone to an interview and is really not as important and the KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) that you bring to the table.

To that I say, " a dregree."

While KSAs are truly important attributes of any candidate it is the resume that even gets you in the door to showcase you knowledge skills and abilities. A well-written and concise (key word: concise) resume is key to opening the gates and receiving a sought after invitation to interview with the company of your choice.

"This resume is actually not bad," I thought as I red-lined, deleted, and added information to her resume.

The formatting was great...simple, with neat lines and plenty of white space, but the context was rather circumlocutory; rambling, incoherent explanations of unecessary facts and overstated, yet easily misunderstood definitions of organizational experience. There was just too much information to read and decipher, and as a previous recruiter (although I still play one on TV sometimes), I can tell you that the last thing we have time to do is decode a voluminous resume.

So, here is the advice that I gave her that I think everybody should take heed to:

1. Keep it short - Try to minimize your resume as much as possble, without detracting from the meat and potatoes of your experience. If possible, keep the resume to a single page but no more than two pages. Don't get too bogged down in the deatils...we won 't. Most recruiters, especially in today's economy get inundated with hundreds, if not thousands of resumes a day. If we have to read a novel to gain a better understanding of your worth, please believe that we won't. We need to know, in as little words as possible, what you bring to the table and what makes you better or more qualified than the rest.

2. Keep it sweet - We don't need your entire life story...just give us the basics. Stick to the essential functions of the job...those things that could not have been done if you weren't doing them. And be realistic. Granted, while you may have been Queen of the copy maching, I am sure that if you fell off the face of the Earth, somebody could pick up the slack. Also, If you have been in the industry since before dinosaurs walked the earth...good for you...just don't tell us. We really only need to know what you've been up to for the last 10 years or so, anything beyond that and you could be inadvertantly facing age discrimination (hey...I'm not saying I've done it, but trust me, I've heard the stories).

3. Spellcheck and then check and recheck you resume - Spellcheck is not fool-proof as it only catches those words that are absolutely spelled incorrectly. It will not pick up on grammatical user errors, such as the difference between their, there and they're so it is up to you to ensure that you are using the correct word choice. One of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, believes that while typos are a fairly easy way for you to be counted out of the running, they are not total deal-breakers. As she puts it: "You sent your resume with a typo? Get over it".

4. Chronological Order is the best order - There is much debate over chronological versus functional versus educational resumes out there on the web. Chronological, or reverse chronological, in which all jobs are listed from most recent to oldest is the easiest resume format to read and understand. Functional resumes, which only list your experiences not the companies you worked for, titles you held, and length of time on the job, were the fad for a while and may still be necessary or common if you are changing fields or have been out of the workforce for a while.

According to Drs. Randall and Katharine Hansen, "Some employers are unaccustomed to functional formats of any kind, finding them confusing or even annoying". This former recruiter couldn't agree more. In the five to ten seconds that we spend skimming your resume, we want to see: a) what you did, b) who you did it for, c) when you did it, and d) what you accomplished while there. Simple as that...

5. Speaking of what you accomplished - Make sure that we know, right up front, what you are proud of acomplishing in your last position in accurate and quantifiable prose. The resume is the best and often, most appropriate time to toot your own horn, so don't waste it. Remember...quantifiable terms. While it may be great that you implemented cost savings initiatives at your last job, we are more concerned with how much you saved the organization. A more appropriate entry would be something like:

"Reduced costs by 18% while increasing productivity by 7% in nine months."

Now that's quantifiable.

Remember, too much information, is just that...too much. I could go on and on with other things to take out of your resume, but that would just be too much information...

December 16, 2008

Find Opportunity Everywhere...Not Just Online...

An associate of mine (and also my faithful, although sickeningly optimistic SPHR study partner) emailed me today and asked me if I could review and possibly revise her resume.

"Sure", I said with no hesitancy or second thought.

She called me a few hours later to further expound on her request. In this tight economic market, my dear associate and study buddy has two jobs. Her "real" HR job as the Operations Manager for a healthcare company and then her fun part-time job an a wine store. Well, it was while she was at her part-time job, oozing her social butterfly charm and pouring rounds of 3oz. glasses of the latest wine paramour to self-absorbed neo-socialites that she was asked if she liked her job. One of the neo-socialites was spell-bound by my friend's high-energy and ability to simultaneously appropriate bottles of fairly priced but over-prententious wine off the shelves while pouring diminutive servings of visceral liquid, all the while maintaining a positively radiant smile.

So, my friend (she really is fastly becoming a great friend...) tells the customer that the job she is at now is just a part-time gig and that she lives in the real world of HR. Coincidentally, this customer just so happens to be the VP of HR for a large home improvement store and asks my friend if she is interested in outside opportunities. Of course, to this, my friend projects an emphatic "yes". The customer and my friend exchange pleasantries along with their business cards and that is that.

Until my friend realizes that she is not prepared to "network" her way into this job.

"The hard part is over", most of you are probably musing..."she made the contact, now all she has to do is sell it, right?"

Well, yes and no. She has to sell it but just like with most things in life, making the connection is only the beginning. To land the gig, you must present and sell yourself. Well, in interviewing, your resume is your presentation and the (hopefully) resulting interview is your pitch. This is where her troubles come in, but that is not the meaning of this post. I will further explicate on my advice for her resume in a post to come.

I write all of this to say never know when an opportunity may land in you lap, or in this case, your glass of Pinot Grigio. With the advent of online networking sites, many of us have lost the finesse of real-time, real-world networking. My friend, being the person that she is, shines in any situation and has a power to draw people to her like the proverbial moth to a flame. But most of us do not think or care that people may be watching and it is exactly those people that could hold the key to your career in their hands.