Thursday, December 3, 2009

It’s Party Time!

Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza: You can’t turn on your electronics without someone inviting you to spend your money. Everyone is gearing up for the holidays, albeit in a more reserved way. Despite the economy and high unemployment numbers, Americans will put on a happy face and smile through the celebratory gatherings and office holiday parties.

Attending an office party may be the very last thing you feel like doing. Not too much to celebrate these days, but I say — go! First of all, it’s an opportunity to get in front of people who are — dare I say it — working! And guess who the first people will be to hear about employment opportunities within their organizations? Yup, you guessed it. Secondly, people will ask you what you do and you will have an opportunity to tell them. Is your pitch ready? Is it current? Do you like how it sounds?

For those who are working but “looking” or “open to hearing what’s out there,” (which includes just about everyone) it’s a chance to connect with folks in similar jobs or jobs that have a high level of transition opportunity for you to move into. Get out there. This is networking folks!

The holidays are a great time to job search. Hiring managers and senior executives trim their travel schedules big-time in December. Everyone wants to stay close to home this month. Connecting with co-workers, former co-workers, relatives, and friends to celebrate the season is networking at its best. Don’t be among those who say “Yup, I’m going to start things off right in 2010.” “I’m going to really get serious about making a change once the holidays are behind us.” Remember, those who network in December are among those who get hired in January. So get out your tie with the Santas on it and dig up those earrings with the little bells and get ready to PAR-TEE!
(If the pitch needs a little polish — call me!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Know Someone

Here’s why the President is speaking Thursday:
Tune in to the Job Summit on December 3 to hear what he has to say. Call your friends -- tell them to watch. It's important.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Learning From Life

A friend called this week to tell me she got laid off. Her tone, her words, all told me that she was among the newly wounded; still looking in the rear view mirror of job loss. "Maybe if I had started that new project", "made the boss shine more", "stayed later every day" . . . a difficult place to be.

At one time or another I think we’ve all said: “You don’t understand.” “You don’t know what it’s like to have this happen to you.” Truth be told though, whether it’s a job loss, a family loss, a lost opportunity, the loss of a friendship, a lost puppy or lost luggage, we can’t get too far in life without experiencing loss.

Loss always teaches us something though, there’s always that “take-away.” Something the mind stores away. . for next time. Here’s what I’ve learned about loss: I learned that it’s really not about loss — it’s about life. Anyone out there that’s never experienced loss, please step forward.

Life is all about preparing for loss, isn’t it? It's the reason we have Wills, life insurance, car insurance and life jackets. It’s why I talk with clients about having a “Plan B” for their careers even though I can see that even the thought of a "Plan B" makes the hair stand up on the back of their necks. Just like having a will and insurance — you’re going to need it — one day.
By the way--do you wear a seat belt when you drive? Just wondering.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Continuous Learning

I just returned from Orlando, FL where I attended the Career Empowerment Summit hosted by Career Directors International of which I am a proud member. The conference was like a "immersion” course for professional coaches and resume writers. Smart people talking about the most important issues of the day in the career business. Topics like: where the jobs are, new trends in social networking, managing your on-line identity, writing outstanding LinkedIn profiles, and new trends in employment compensation.

I listened, took copious notes, networked, made new friends, and added to my own professional growth as a writer and coach. I don’t think there’s a topic related to jobs, careers, or resumes that I couldn’t have an answer for or expert I couldn’t reach out to or refer a client to in 15 minutes!

Today’s take-away: Research the professional associations for your industry, join them, and most importantly, attend the meetings and conferences. Talk about ROI – this will be one of the best investments you could make in your career and professional development!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why The Giants of Wall Street Stumbled

With the financial meltdown about a year behind us now, what exactly have we learned from the tsunami that took down Lehman and brought other major banks to their knees? As an avid news-hound, I read all I can about the industries and trends that affect my clients; banking is one of them. I follow what businesses are doing and how they maintain a competitive edge. I stay on top of where the jobs are and the industries and companies that are hiring — that’s my job. I have clients, colleagues, friends, and family who work (or worked) in the financial services industry and am myself a veteran of Wall Street.
People ask me “when it will be safe to work in a bank again?” Folks rely on me for straight-up, no-spin answers, so my reply is: “If you like risk, now is the time to be working in a bank. If you are someone who values job security — look elsewhere.” Why? Because the accountability factor is still missing in the banking industry.

It’s a bank’s job to be profitable which in turn keeps the economy healthy and people employed. Banks should not take risks that will cause the government to step in, pick them up when they stumble or worse yet, put them on life support when they sustain a life threatening blow. I’m not seeing that though. What I see are banks that are beginning to walk the same paths that caused them to fall down in the first place. Now, instead of trading mortgage backed securities, banks are trading on life insurance policies. So who exactly is watching the store these days? Seems to me that Jane and John Q. Public (us) are pretty much pre-occupied with holding on to our jobs and paying down debt. Yes, the banking giants are paying back the stimulus money, not because they no longer need the dollars, they don’t like the accountability that comes attached to the stimulus money. And they certainly don’t like the government telling them how much they can pay in bonuses. So banks are paying the money back as quickly as possible to get out from under the compensation accountability that came with accepting the tax-payer funded bailout. This worries me.

I’m not a financial expert — I’m a career expert. But I have common sense. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I saw some responsibility placed upon banks accompanied by some big, fat fines if they take dangerous risks with other people’s hard earned money. Let’s face it — Wall Street loves risk — it’s like dangling red meat in front of a predator. The very symbols of Wall Street, the bull and the bear are both ferocious animals. Would you like to come face to face with either of these animals without being protected?

I have to applaud Andrew Cuomo, New York State’s Attorney General. He’s holding some feet to the fire on recent bank debacles. He wants to know who knew what and when exactly they knew it. It was after all, someone’s job to know what was going on. Accountability is the great equalizer. Thank goodness someone is asking the right questions and acting as a lifeguard in the pool of life.

For those of you who are still employed at a bank, please post a comment. I’d love to hear what your employers are doing to safeguard the little guy – you know him, he’s the one at the shallow end of the pool, holding on to the edge, the one who never learned to swim with the sharks.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I finally planted the Black Eyed Susans that we purchased at a farm stand on our way back from Milford, PA almost three weeks ago. They sat patiently in the pot, right at the foot of my front step, waiting for me to find just the right spot in my garden. And there they sat, for almost three weeks, waiting. Finally it dawned on me that getting them planted was more important than where they were planted. Getting them in the ground, where they could receive nourishment from the soil, spread their roots after being cramped up in the pot, was more important to their survival than where they got planted.

Isn’t it the same for anything we want to accomplish in life? It comes down to the same thing: taking action. I needed to put the shovel in the ground, dig the hole, remove the plant from its confinement, put it in the ground, cover it with soil, gently water it in and let the sun do the rest.

It occurred to me that this logic can be applied to many of life’s situations by people with different sorts of dilemmas— like parents who are having trouble with their teenager who won’t go to school, or do their chores, or adhere to a curfew. “No, I’m afraid to put too many restrictions on her/him, afraid that will drive them further away.”

Or, the woman in the supermarket with her baseball cap pulled down low on her brow in an attempt to cover her black eye— “Why don’t you leave; get to a safe place?” “I can’t right now. The kids are starting back to school in a few weeks … maybe after the holidays.” Or, the unemployed colleague, beleaguered by the search process and too many rejection letters, or, worse yet, receiving no responses at all after so many months of trying to find work. “How’s it going?” “Not bad, I decided to take the summer off, enjoy life a little. Too many people out of work right now. I’ll get back into search mode in the fall.”

You know, I get it. I really do. Sometimes it really is easier not to do something. But I’ve learned that easier isn’t synonymous with better, ever! All those years in corporate America taught me that successful people were the ones who learned how to take appropriate risk. That it’s better to stretch beyond the comfort zone, reach out into unknown territory, because that’s where the growth is.

When I went out to retrieve the papers from the driveway this morning, I noticed those Black Eyed Susans. Yesterday they were drooped over the edge of the pot. This morning, they are standing tall with their faces turned toward the sun. At least now, they have a fighting chance.
“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
~ Phil Jackson, Former Coach of the Chicago Bulls

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Getting Noticed

Did you hear the one about the guy who walks into church with his cap on? As he approaches the entrance one of the ushers taps his head and whispers, “Your cap.” The man walks on, down the aisle, to his seat. One of the parishioners smiles and motions to his own head and whispers “cap.” The man smiles and looks away. The service begins. As the celebrant comes down the aisle he leans over to the man as he passes and whispers, “your cap.” After the service ends everyone processes out where the celebrant is already greeting parishioners as they exit. He asks the man with the cap why he never removed it while he was in church. “Father,” he says, “I’ve been coming here for four years and this is the first time anyone has ever noticed me.”

So what does this have to do with work, job search or your career? It begs one question and one question only: What am I doing to get noticed? — by my boss, my employer, an interviewer, as I send my resume over the internet in response to an ad?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Half-Time Check In

The 4th of July is officially history for this year. We had the BBQs, enjoyed the fireworks and wore the red, white and blue. We’ve passed the half way mark in 2009 and it’s time to check our progress on the things we promised ourselves we would take care of.

What about that job you took after the layoff—the one that gave you benefits and kept a positive cash flow coming in. The one that was meant to be temporary. You accepted that job with the understanding that it would be a short-term fix not a long term solution, right? OK, that was a good idea — then. Many folks made similar decisions in this economy. There’s something noble and downright responsible about doing something for the greater good like keeping a roof over your head and the family insured.

So now that we’re several months into the year, what are you doing to move forward? What are you doing to put your plan back into active mode — or did you just settle in?

It’s time for a little introspection. Are you ready to take the deep dive? Ready to ask yourself the hard questions? Questions like: Why haven’t I done anything about my job search yet? . . . . . .updated my resume? . . . . . hired that career coach? Did you get comfortable? Figured any job is better than no job? OK. But if you’re waking up at night wondering where you go from here, it’s time to put first things first.

Half the year is over and yes, unemployment hit 9.5% in June and yes, it will probably go into double digits soon. But there are jobs out there. I have clients that are getting offers and landing jobs. Why? Because they’ve been working at it. Stephen Covey, in his book First Things First, had the perfect response when someone asked the difference between “urgency” and “importance.” He said: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

It was urgent to get a job after the layoff; it’s important to find a job that feeds you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Oracle of Omaha

Warren Buffett made good on a promise this week. Once a year he raffles a lunch to the highest bidder and gives the proceeds to charity. This year Zhao Danyang won the opportunity to have lunch with Warren Buffett at Smith and Wolinsky’s in New York City and it only cost him $2.1M.

I like reading about Mr. Buffett to see what I can learn. I’ve been following news stories about him since my days at Salomon Brothers when he was one of the primary stockholders. It was always news when he was in the building and everyone rushed to the auditorium at 7 World Trade Center to hear him speak.
What did I learn? Simple things really. He drove a used car, lived in a modest house and believed in saving for a rainy day. He held fast to his values despite his exorbitant wealth.

I was surrounded by big money when I worked at Salomon. In the summer, the limos would begin lining up in front of 7 World Trade starting around noon on Fridays, waiting to take the million dollar brokers to the Hamptons for the weekend. They had big cars, big money, big houses and big egos. Working in HR, I saw the compensation numbers – they were big! I also saw the other side: the burn out, the high divorce rate, the substance abuse and more.

So what’s this have to do with Mr. Buffett? He traveled in the same circles; he made even bigger money but had something that money couldn’t buy . . . . balance. Most of the folks thatheaded for the Hamptons are long gone now and sadly, so is 7 World Trade Center. Mr. Buffett survives. He had a two million dollar lunch Wednesday at Smith and Wolinsky’s.

Balance. . . it’s a beautiful thing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Branding: Why It's Important

It’s about marketing yourself. In today’s fast paced world, it’s about telling your story, telling it succinctly and telling it so people can see the benefit to them. Your brand needs to be communicated clearly: in your resume, in your pitch and in your interviews.

You know what you’re good at. You know how you’ve gotten hired in the past and you know what people have valued about your work. If you don’t know these answers, we should have a conversation. But for those who have this part nailed, you’ve already mastered the most difficult part of self marketing: knowing your product inside and outside, backwards and forwards. You know the products’ highlights and lowlights; you know what it can and cannot do. You know what it does well and what it does less well. You know yourself. This is good—because YOU are the product!

Next, create interest in the product by creating excitement around what it does. Here’s what I mean: my computer got a virus that was reaping havoc on my life. Technology is my main form of communication with the world—I need my computer! I needed someone to fix it yesterday. I called The Geek Squad, which by the way, has great marketing and hefty prices (someone has to pay for the marketing campaigns.) They responded within 24 hrs. They arrived in a Volkswagen Beetle with “Geek Squad” logos and marketing all over it. Their technicians wear “geekie clothing”: black pants, white collared shirts with thin black ties. What, no pen protector? But here’s the best part: the technician knew his stuff, absolutely! Not only did he nail the virus in no time at all, he explained everything as he went along, showing me things my computer could do that I didn’t even know about and sharing shortcuts I still use. He was friendly, professional, knowledgeable, efficient and thorough.

OK, so let’s say I’m interviewing him for a position in my technology company. He has all the techno buzzwords; he’s taken the right computer programming courses. I ask him to tell me about himself and he says:
“I’m an experienced technician and have been with the Geek Squad for 5 years. I’ve worked on a variety of computers types and am familiar with several computing languages.” OK.

Now, here’s his co-worker interviewing for the same position. I ask him to tell me about himself and he says:
“I’ve been using computers almost as long as I’m walking! My parents started me off with an Apple when I was three. Eventually I started taking them apart so I could see how they worked. My parents relaxed a bit when they saw that I could put them back together and they would work! I’m a senior technician with the Geek Squad, great place to work by the way. I’ve learned a lot from them these past 5 years, especially around advanced programming techniques and the importance of delivering outstanding customer service.”

Which one should I hire?

Friday, June 5, 2009

People At Work in Brooklyn

As a career coach I find it interesting to observe what others do for a living. What calls them to the work they do? Did they pursue their life’s work consciously, did they sort of tumble into it? Were they taught? Were they born with some innate talent? Whether a physician, laborer, artist…how did they get there?

I met my cousin Nancy last Friday at The Brooklyn Museum to see Gustave Caillebotte: The Reluctant Impressionist. Nancy is an artist, so visiting an art museum with her is a wonderfully enriching experience. Not only is she enjoyable to be with, she has an artist’s eye. I get an art lesson just being there with her. She’s smart, not preachy; and knows her stuff. She would make a wonderful teacher. Caillebotte’s famous Floor Scrapers are his rendering of the actual workmen he had hired to refurbish his Paris apartment. He painted them as they worked.

My personal favorite was a painting by Francis Guy: A Scene in Winter. Painted in the early 19th century, Guy depicts his neighbors going about their daily lives when Brooklyn still resembled a small Dutch village. It was difficult to think of Brooklyn as the village it once was, especially as I drove down Flatbush Avenue. But Guy’s gift with a paint brush allowed my imagination to take off. A Brooklyn native myself, whose ancestors had a farm on what is now Bedford Avenue, I thought it was entirely possible that some of the townspeople depicted in the snowy scene were family members from 200 years ago.

Caillebotte was wealthy and could well afford to paint while others worked. Francis Guy painted what he saw from his window. Did anyone work at regular jobs like the rest of us? Certainly not either of these gentlemen. But one thing became clear to me. Whether we scrape or paint, we seem to migrate toward what feeds us. Do we choose our life’s work because it provides the income to feed us physically or because it feeds us in ways that are more important to us? Which comes first? . . . something to think about on my way home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

6 Tips For Getting Hired in this Economy

With unemployment numbers climbing and people needing to keep a positive cash flow, you could find yourself interviewing for a position that you may be overqualified for, not all that interested in and yet really need. Here are some basics to keep in mind:

1. Be enthusiastic.
Even if the job is not your #1 choice you need to act as if it is ~~ if you want to get hired, that is. When I interviewed candidates, I would explain what the job entailed, what the responsibilities of the position were and what the successful candidate might look like. You, the candidate, need to keep the conversation interactive. I can’t tell you how many candidates lost out on employment opportunities because their enthusiasm level was imperceptible. Tell the interviewer why you want to work at this company and why you are perfect for the job. She/he shouldn’t have to check you for a pulse ~~ not in any economy!

2. Have a great resume.
Your resume is your #1 marketing tool, absolutely! Professional resume writers know the importance of branding, positioning and value statements. It’s our job to write resumes that get noticed. Make the investment here; it will pay solid dividends for you.

3. Be able to articulate your accomplishments.
Be prepared to talk about your accomplishments using the STAR acronym. Have examples ready. Explain your achievements in terms of what the Situation was, the Task(s) you performed, Action you took and Result achieved.

4. Know what’s important to the company you’re interviewing with.
Utilize your local library and introduce yourself to the Reference librarian. These folks are a job seekers best friend. They know their stuff and they know how to get to it fast. Do your homework; know what the company is about and what is important to it.

5. Know what you are worth.
When the interviewer asks what salary you are looking for, know your value. Know what the job typically pays; know what your experience is worth. Take current market conditions into consideration so you don’t price yourself out of the competition.

6. Be able to explain why you should get the job.
There are more people competing for the same jobs these days. Add in the folks that were laid off from jobs they were good at, and it’s easy to see that “there’s a lot of talent on the street” as we say in HR. You need to differentiate yourself from the competition, know what makes you unique. This is an important job search technique to master.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Serendipity in Seattle

Don’t you just love it when things work out exactly how you hoped they would? Talk about being in the right job, in the right place at the right time… I loved this story: A senior loan officer for Sterling Savings Bank in Seattle, gazing from his office window about a month ago, noticed that a duck had laid her eggs in the overhang just below his window. The eggs hatched on Monday.

Next thing he knows, Mama Duck glides to the ground and calls out to her ducklings to join her so they can all go for a swim in the river across the street. He watches as the first one gets into position. He flies out of his office, down to the street just as duckling #1 is getting ready to take a leap of faith and off he goes. He catches him, Mama's watching from the sidelines. Duckling #2 makes his way to the edge and takes a flying leap! The banker, Joel Armstrong, catches him and places him on the ground and watches as #2 joins his mother. #3 steps to the edge, boom takes a leap, the banker catches him too. A crowd has gathered watching this scenario unfold on a bright sunny morning in Seattle. And so it goes until all twelve have joined their mother. The crowd erupts in applause. People have joined in to help, someone shows up with a box to place the hatchlings in so they can get across the street to the river. With all her ducklings in a row behind her, they make their way through traffic (with a little help from their friends), finally making it to the other side where they jump into the river for their first family swim.

I just love it when the universe aligns and places people in the right place at the right time. Some believe it’s the universe that brings this about. I believe it’s the One who made the universe that brings about these serendipitous moments. Not sure where I read it, but someone once said: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I like knowing there’s Someone looking out for us all, don’t you? It gives me comfort.

Morale of the story:
Know that for today at least, you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Blog is Born

There’s nothing like a layoff to get the creative juices flowing. Mine came the first week in January after five and a half years and just three days after receiving the latest recognition award for my credenza. My manager, who clearly brought his heart to work that day, had tears in his eyes as he delivered the news. His own severance package came shortly thereafter when our national division was eliminated causing many others across the country to lose their jobs as well. The largest bank in the country was scaling back.

I worked with some incredibly smart, grounded individuals who continuously supported and celebrated the success of their peers. The job itself was never my passion. Coaching held that honor which is why I did it as a sidebar to full-time employment for more than fifteen years. I regularly attended industry meetings, took advanced training and gave lectures on timely career topics, all to stay connected; to keep the “saw sharp.”

I hibernated most of the winter, reading and writing then writing and reading. I needed the recovery time. I always loved to write, loved everything about it and would look for any reason to do it. I was quick to oblige when someone needed a bio written, a self evaluation, or help drafting an email.

As the snow fell, I read “Stillness Speaks” by Eckhart Tolle and learned the importance of emptying the mind so the voice within can be heard. The economy continued to deteriorate. Loyal clients called needing resumes updated, guidance on job searches, new positioning statements. Colleagues from the bank needed the same, voicing concern about getting hired in this economy. The writing continued. I made more and more time for solitude. I watched Captain Sullenberger put that plane down in the Hudson River with 154 people on board. I listened as reporters interviewed survivors whose lives changed that day, asking them how it felt to be given a new beginning.

A modest severance package gave me a soft landing and time to think about “what now?” After reading Eckhart’s book, I started each morning with15 minutes of solitude. I got quiet enough to hear the voice that said: “Write, just write.” And so I did.

I came to the realization that maybe I wasn’t destined to write the great American novel after all. I had always been a stronger writer with the shorter snippets. Maybe it was time for the career website I always talked about and never had time to do when I was so consumed with making my numbers for the quarter. And so it began. I started writing content for my own website.

Then it clicked ~ a Blog ~ write what you know and share your perspectives on work and life. After all, my NYU certification is in “Career and Life Planning.” Two things have come out of my winter solstice: and a blog to go with it ~~ TA-DAH!

After sending off final copy to the web designer, I went for a manicure for the first time in six months. Patti asked how things were as she deftly worked the knots in my neck during the gratis massage that accompanied each visit. “How are you Cheryl?” “Long time since we’ve seen you – how’s work? I paused for a moment and said “Things are good Patti. I am a fulltime Career Coach now. I write resumes and help people change jobs.” “That’s great. A lot of people need that now” said Patti. “Have any business cards?” She took the cards and put them into a lucite card holder that she just happened to have and placed them on the counter. They are the first thing you see as you enter the salon.

Then it hit me. No longer was I looking in the rearview mirror; I was looking through the windshield at my future.