I Accidentally Connected with My Boss on LinkedIn. Should I Disconnect?

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

I can't tell you the number of times clients have asked me a variation of this question:

Jared,

I'm not sure how it happened, but it appears that my [current boss] is a first-degree connection on LinkedIn. I usually don't accept connections from people I'm currently working with. Let alone, my boss!

Is there a way to remove him without any notice?

Jane

Here was my email response to this tricky matter; edited for confidentiality.

Hi Jane,

Ah, the conundrum of removing a connection, and what it all means. Let's think it out.

As a member of the C-suite, yourself, what's the harm? Does it really hurt to be connected to your CEO? Here's a somewhat long-winded reason why it might not matter.

For starters, remember to always think of LinkedIn as a tool for business, not an online résumé. Even though LinkedIn fancies itself as just that—an online résumé (and then wonders why more people don't engage)—executives should not treat LinkedIn as an online résumé. This fundamental misconception will continue to dog LinkedIn until they realize the inherent problems with people, especially senior professionals, treating their profiles as online résumés. Too many potential serious pitfalls.

That said, I'm increasingly writing LinkedIn profiles for executive suites—meaning the entire C-suite contracts me to write profiles that complement each other, while demonstrating the collective credibility to customers, stakeholders, and other key external audiences.

While a simple 4-6 paragraph executive bio on a company's website is common and perfectly fine, a LinkedIn profile—perfectly conceived in concert with other members of a team—is like an executive bio on steroids.

"LinkedIn for Business" profiles can outline company priorities and initiatives (so long as they're okay to share publicly), champion a workforce, reinforce a company's culture and values, and a host of other beneficial non-self-serving purposes. (Because if they were self-serving, we'd expect that the profile owner was looking for a job, no?) 

"LinkedIn for Business" profiles can also help unify employees around their leadership, which has become critically important in a social-sharing age when employees can anonymously champion or anonymously trash their employer with a few keystrokes.

Keep in mind that we wrote your profile so it "champions the business and demonstrates your credibility at [Company Name]." Right? But remember that there's a byproduct to that approach, especially as you're looking to conduct a stealth job search.

It just so happens that retained search firms—the ones who hold the keys to the best and most interesting executive leadership roles—love that kind of approach because they want to imagine that they're "finding and plucking happy people" into roles that those people might see as a good next step in their career. (Also, they won't likely realize your "LinkedIn for Business" profile was written with them in mind, even though we wrote it to appear as if you are happy at CompanyX.)

You might even suggest that you take it a step further and truly change the way you think about and use LinkedIn, so it actually becomes a tool for business. This might mean, then, that you'd connect with other senior leadership—and even champion the "LinkedIn for Business" idea to peer leaders. (Just omit the "positioning for recruiters" idea. They don't need to now that part, and the profiles will still serve everyone very well.) 

Maybe the whole leadership team models their profiles after yours and creates a complementary story? It's where I see LinkedIn going, whether LinkedIn knows it or not. They'll figure it out someday.

If you still want to remove the connection.

So, if you're still intent on severing the connection, here's LinkedIn's help page. (Better to let them do the talking.)

There, LinkedIn states that removing a connection won't notify that person that they've been removed. However, circling back to the technical glitch issue, you just never know. A client experienced a pretty miserable event in 2007, and when he reached out to LinkedIn their response was "technical glitch." Alas, that "technical glitch" caused all sorts of awkwardness for him. Ever since I've used LinkedIn as if something could go awry at any moment.

Which all makes me wonder. What if your CEO already knows that you're connected, and then somehow notices that you've severed the connection. Would that plant a seed of doubt? Or open up more of an awkward conversation than if you left it alone?

Final thoughts.

Only you can make the decision, but I hope these ideas will help you work through the pros and cons. As for the C-suites starting to use LinkedIn as a credibility builder / tool for business, they're looking at what their profiles say to all of the audiences I discuss in my various tutorials. How will regulators view the material? Will the press find it helpful? Will analysts read between lines and make predictions? Are any of the profile accidentally giving away competitive information? How will the many potential readers regard a leadership team's profiles as a set? You remember all of my many warnings, no doubt.

Take care!

Jared 

Can You Introduce Me to Your Recruiter Friends?

From time to time, clients ask if I would consider introducing them to my friends who are still recruiting. 

It's a logical question because we've usually just spent a solid 1-4 months aiming for an upcoming job search, whether imminent or a year from now—which may involve recruiters.

There's nothing I'd rather do than make those connections, but I've never made one that I can remember. Even when I was still in retained executive search and moonlighting as a résumé writer, I never crossed the two audiences.

Here's why.

My connections are in the retained executive search world, which means they are looking externally for ideal candidates. They generally don't announce positions, and if they do, it's usually after an exhaustive search has already been conducted and come up empty. They also don't list the client name. Retained executive search firms are hired to find people through their own sophisticated research and outbound headhunting efforts.

Retained executive search

Retained executive search consultants are looking for people who are happy in their current positions, and for whom something new might be of interest. In fact, those happy potential candidates are often so happy where they are, that they're not expecting the call, and the art of recruiting becomes essential in engaging them in the first place. As the retained search recruiter, you have to demonstrate the match because your candidate is likely not looking to move.

Retained executive search represents a fairly narrow band of recruiters, and frankly they're in a unique world. Their databases often contain their own research, that research is often generated anew for each search, and the engagements are exclusive with a premium client company for a very senior, well-pedigreed, and sometimes hard-to-find candidate.

Imagine filling the shoes of someone like Richard Branson, Janet Yellen, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Sergey Brin, Angela Ahrendts, Larry Page, Bill Gates, or Anna Wintour when they decide to move.

Who's going to replace them? 

Those searches are complex, take a long time to complete, are often part of a known succession plan, and frequently require a highly specific blend of education, experience, and skills. You can imagine why it's unlikely that simple job postings would suffice in identifying the right candidate. 

You can also move the lesson to lesser-known, but equally important leadership roles across the Fortune 500, and you see my point. 

From there, it's helpful to know that by definition, an inbound résumé—no matter where it comes from and no matter how senior or experienced the person—represents someone who is potentially unhappy, and thus, not an ideal candidate.

Why? Because it's an overt expression of someone wanting a change, which means there could be a pain point somewhere and you (the search firm) don't know if that pain is coming from the company or the candidate, and in any event, you can't risk placing the wrong person. 

The inbound résumé might not even be entered in the database. (This is changing slightly in recent years. Stay tuned.)

From every angle, an inbound executive résumé can have diminishing returns with the retained search firm colleagues I know.

Contingency recruiting

But there's another side to the recruiting world called contingency recruiting. (Wikipedia has a great page on distinctions you'll want to know about.)

Contingency recruiting is a bit more knock-about by nature. It's faster. It's usually not exclusive, meaning that a company needing to find an employee can hire multiple contingency recruiters or firms to conduct a search. The firm that presents the right candidate gets the fee.

Real estate agent comes to mind as a good example of how this works. They don't get paid unless they sell the house, so they're trying to beat every other agent in making a match.

This means that contingency recruiters may be more willing to have a peek at your unsolicited résumé. Even if they simply add you to their database, at least you're there.

How to distinguish retained executive search from contingency recruiting firms

Retained search will often use the phrase "retained search" in their communications. Visit the firm's website. If it says "retained search," or some variation of the word "retained" and you'll know.

Contingency firms, however, won't generally mention the distinction, which may indicate that they're contingency, which means that they may be more open to receiving your inbound résumé.

I highly recommend subscribing to Nick Corcodilos' "Ask The Headhunter" newsletter. His straightforward style and insights about working with recruiters is superb, not only in his e-newsletter, but also in his book: "How to Work With Headhunters." (I don't know Nick, I'm just a fan.) Some time back, ExecuNet interviewed Nick and published this timeline advice: "Whose Side of the Table is the Recruiter On?"

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, and norms are ever-changing.

Take LinkedIn, for instance.

LinkedIn has become an ideal way to get on the radar of both retained and contingency search firms.

Build your LinkedIn summary (heck, the entire profile) around the keywords and phrases that a recruiter might input to find you, and you'll have a much better chance of being found passively. Present material as if you're happy where you are—in fact, use your profile to truly do business—and recruiters of all stripes should be able to translate and still view you as a possible target of acquisition. (They usually need only a handful of questions answered to decide if they should keep talking, so be flexible and kind, and avoid feeling like you're being used or not respected. They have a job to do, and there's little chance that you'll know or could even surmise the details of the spec or the motivations of the company, so don't try.)

Side note: some recruiters will be abrupt, some recruiters will ask why you haven't "placed your accomplishments" on your LinkedIn profile. Those folks don't understand that LinkedIn profiles might give away trade secrets, so don't try reasoning with them. Trust your decision not to place competitive information online and let them move on.

Never before has such a virtuous cycle existed: you put yourself there, you have a stronger chance that the right people will find you. If you look like a possible fit, they may reach out. Now, or in ten years. I've had more than one "purple squirrel" client who was found via LinkedIn, precisely because of the odd blend of education, experience, and skills they possessed. (And those stories were all told within the framework of their current jobs, so we didn't tip off their boards, bosses, employees, partners, etc.)

LinkedIn is among the best ways right now to be found passively by a recruiter. There are also a host of other important, career-related uses. These two concepts along represent the reason I've shifted from LinkedIn-phobic to cautious LinkedIn champion. 

Retained executive search firms

For our purposes here, it's helpful to know that most of the big search firms, and many of the smaller ones, have a Twitter presence.

Here are a few you might start with:

Twitter

I can't believe I'm writing this, since I was so Twitter-phobic for so long, but there are entire Twitter accounts dedicated to specific industries, their standards, and best practices, niche pockets of intelligence, and areas where you can get or give targeted advice. I follow several through my own Twitter account, @TheResumeStudio, and I'm amazed at how many opportunities (and how much good intelligence) flow through my Twitter feed.

Research and find your own opportunities, and develop careful strategies to reach your long-term goals. It takes some elbow grease. You'll also gain tremendous insights simply because you paid attention.

Overused Words Every Executive Résumé Should Avoid

Ever fallen in love with a word or phrase, only to discover that everyone else is loving it, too? A word we all seem to be loving a bit too much right now is "amplify," so it's only a matter of time before it ranks on one of the interweb's "most overused business phrases" lists. 

In case you've been living under a rock, here are just a few of those fun lists:

Even finance has gotten in on the action, with Ben Carlson writing "Words & Phrases That Should Be Banished From Finance." I've shared that post with more than one CFA.

Too many of these lists, and we'll all be staring at blank pages with nothing left to say. But there's merit to rethinking how we communicate. In my line of work, I walk a sometimes-treacherous line because in some cases a client needs specific keywords and phrases to be ranked and readable by an applicant tracking systems. At the same time, s/he really shouldn't sound like every other person in the business world. If three equally qualified CTOs were lined up alongside each other, all using the same written language, how could we differentiate them? 

There's something to be said for having a point of view and sticking to it.

That said, I’ve had countless clients present me with a first crack at developing their professional brand, and even the most pedigreed people in the world will use words that are so overused that they've lost their meaning.

It underscores a fairly consistent problem: human beings tend to want to fit in. As such, we tend to mimic each other, and ultimately fall into patterns. Which ultimately lack originality, and soon fall on deaf ears. And then become fodder for jokes, mockery, and side-eyes.

But before I hop my high horse and present my own list of no-no words, I should mention that I sometimes fall prey to my own favorite words. Which I mention because this post isn't meant to be judgey. I'm simply an idea partner in this bigger thing we call persuasive writing. And yup, I suspect "idea partner" will someday be a no-no word.

Here's my list of words and phrases executives (and their résumés) should avoid:

Highly-motivated

If you weren't, you wouldn't be in your current company/role.

Organized

Same. If you weren't organized, you wouldn't be where you are. (I'll use the word "same" to drive home this point below.)

Detail-oriented

Same. Arguably, some senior leaders are not, but then they shouldn’t be stating it anyway. They should have people to take care of the details, or be in roles where the details don’t matter. Nonetheless, “detail-oriented” is better shown than stated.

Results-driven

Show them, rather than tell them.

Demonstrated ability

Same story, same song.

Skilled (or Particularly Skilled)

Just because it doesn't make it so. You've got to give more.

Deliver results/optimal results

Again, show the results rather than telling that there are some. One could, however, talk about optimization in terms of team efficiency, productivity, etc. In all cases, though, is should be material to the story, not simply a claim without evidence. 

Proven

Trust me, this one makes most recruiters, hiring entities, and résumé writers roll their eyes wildly. Let your breadth of work and contributions to business do the proving. 

Effective

Same.

Accomplished

Do I sound like a broken record? Show it, don't state the obvious, or worse, suggest that the opposite is true by showing nothing.

Highly effective

Surely there are more inspiring descriptors!

Multi-tasking

I like using “prioritizing” for this one when it pops up, e.g., “prioritizing and mapping" to business needs.

Demanding environments

I prefer talking about the kind of environments (e.g., public companies, highly regulated practice areas), rather than simply stating that they are demanding environments. Demand levels will often be self-evident because of the company’s profile or your seniority. The sheer (but simply expressed) scope of one’s work should say enough.

Impeccable (and other hyperbolic adjectives)

Yes, your job is to show yourself in the best light, but sometimes things can just go too far. Even if your career, skill set, and valued insights are beyond reproach, there's something to be said for modesty. If you really love inflated language, have someone else write a recommendation about you and ask them to use words like "impeccable." You might just find that asking someone to write about your impeccability frames the very reason you shouldn't use it. (This dovetails with another sticky question: "Should You Call Yourself a 'Thought Leader' On LinkedIn?")

Now, you might rightly ask: “If those are your ‘no-no’ words, Jared, why do so many show up in every other job description?” Ah, yes. A classic conundrum when it comes to the hiring world and its weaknesses, and it'd be a huge digression if I addressed it entirely here.

Here's the quick answer:

Remember how human nature leans toward copying everyone else (a la "nothing is new under the sun," "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery")? Also, when you think about it, writing a job description is probably lowest-of-the-low on most people's "this is fascinating work" totem pole.

Combined, that means that job descriptions are filled with recycled language, which is then dumped into candidate résumés—a feedback loops that ultimately creates into a mighty loud echo chamber. 

Here's what I suggest:

When thinking about including keywords and phrases in your rrésumé that will satisfy the applicant tracking system, lean toward the hard skills listed in the job description, rather than descriptors and traits. When thinking about writing good content for the human reader, be yourself.

Don't Call it an Interview

Back when I was in retained executive search, we rarely called interviews interviews.

We called them meetings.

Why?

Because no matter how successful many professionals become, when it comes to job interviews, too many default into fresh-out-of-college mode.

Or worse, compensating behaviors.

Interviewing is one of the least practiced skills, yet interviewing well is essential to one’s career.

Today I counsel clients to think about interviews as meetings.

Thinking of interviews as meetings is profoundly subtle, but it helps everyone keep their footing.

It helps people speak and act with professional certainty and authority.

Don’t get me wrong, a certain level of nerves and energy can fuel job search activities and help you present “you on your best day.” But you’re really looking for a two way meeting between professionals.

Next time you accept an interviewor heck, when you call someone in for an interviewthink of it as a meeting and watch the conversation flourish.

Looking for a Bay Area interview coach? Here are two resources. Let them know Jared Redick sent you:

Should You Call Yourself a "Thought Leader" on LinkedIn?

Imagine that Miss USA had a LinkedIn profile. Now imagine that somewhere in that profile she included the phrase, "I’m beautiful." Why? Because she believed it was a keyword or phrase by which others would find a beauty queen.

Now imagine that the late Steve Jobs had a LinkedIn profile, and somewhere in his profile he said, "I'm an innovator." Why? Because he had a hunch that someone might enter “innovator” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search tool to find someone like him.

Do either of the above scenarios sound right? 

These people simply are those things, and to say so—out loud or in writing—might leave the reader to conclude that person's arrogance or question their professional judgement. The reader might even rightfully question the claim’s veracity.

I even raise an eyebrow when someone in finance makes a point of saying they are ethical. Really? The fact that one is explicitly stating such a hopefully obvious point makes me question its truth. Especially if one is a CFA or a CPA or has a FINRA license. The notion of ethics is embedded in the very make up of those designations.

I mention it because a phrase my clients frequently want layered into their stories has increasingly become some form of:"I am a thought leader."

When clients ask me about its inclusion, I share with them the examples above and then we decide how we can "show" instead of "tell" the reader that they are thought leaders.

The challenges with explicitly saying you are a thought leader:

  • If you have to say it, then you probably aren't. (It's never too late to start.)
  • If you say it, you might come across in a way that contradicts your carefully curated brand.
  • If you say it, you may one day have to defend the claim.

Ways to frame thought leadership when you are a thought leader:

  • Through another lens. For instance, you can discuss your team's thought leadership, which then shines favorably back onto you.
  • Through the eyes of others. Ask others to explicitly use/discuss/mention the phrase in a LinkedIn Recommendation. Only if you are truly a thought leader, of course. No need to make your friend squirm. (This LinkedIn post will help them with the task of writing your LinkedIn Recommendation.)
  • Through various LinkedIn profile sections. LinkedIn offers a way to present yourself as a thought leader via  "Publications," "Projects," "Patents," and other credibility-confirming sections.

More showing. Less telling.

The Uncommonly Candid Career Story of Andrew M. Cuomo's "Counsel to the Governor"

Posted moments ago, my friend and colleague Shauna C. Bryce, Esq., interviews her longtime friend, Alphonso David, Esq.—chief counsel and principal legal adviser to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—and tells his astonishing story.

Part of BryceLegal.com's How I Got My Legal Dream Job Series, "How to Become One of the Most Powerful Lawyers in New York State Government," reflects Shauna's unparalleled access and gives the world insights into the decisions behind one lawyer's rise to influence. It's an uncommonly candid story of quiet struggle and ultimate triumph.

If you love reading non-fiction, there are moments here that will take your breath away. Here's an excerpt:

Your Star-shaped Peg Isn't Meant to Fit in that Square-shaped Hole

As infants, we learn that star-shaped pegs fit only in the star-shaped holes.

So why do we backslide as adults and start thinking our star-shaped pegs should suddenly fit into square holes?

The analogy illustrates a challenge faced by many successful people.

I work with stealth job seekers. People who are ostensibly happy in their jobs, but open to change. Yet even sitting solidly in their leadership positions, they say things like:

  • A recruiter called and didn't like X about my background. 
  • My friend told me my résumé was missing Y.

To which I say, "You might be missing the point. Your background and future career interests don't have to fit a recruiter's spec just because s/he called you."

In fact, thinking back to the thousands of people I called as a recruiter, odds were exceptionally low that the background of my prospect would be a fit. I had a long list of possibilities, but it was my job to find the right person. Only a handful on my list of 300-500 names would even make the first cut. 

Even purple squirrels become purple squirrels when the right, oddly-precise opportunity comes along. 

A needle in a haystack has more guarantee of being found! Recruiting didn't earn the headhunter nickname for nothing.

And as for what's missing on your résumé, how on earth can your friend know which parts of your background matter with respect to where you want to go in your career? YOU might not even know the answer to that question, so how can even the dearest, most trusted friend advise you about what should and should not appear on your résumé?

Here are some simple ways to start thinking about a shift in your career:

  • Be honest about where you'd be willing to go in your career. 
  • Create a realistic list of things you require to make a move. While you're at, include your deal breakers. 
  • Get real about what's feasible, and if you find technical gaps between your experience to date and where you want to go, decide if it makes sense (time-wise, economically) to fill those gaps.
  • Stop twisting yourself into a pretzel to meet the spec of every recruiter who comes along. Be grateful they came along in the first place, have a short and pleasant chat, and sit tight for the right opportunity when it surfaces.

Be your own personknow and be your brand. You'll attract the right opportunities. Opportunities that value the pieces of you and the skills that light you up. Opportunities that make you happy. 

The more I do this work, the more I realize how many people grow in terms of skill, expertise, and seniority, but never move beyond the "Pick me! Pick me!" mentality that we all adopt as we leave college and head into the real world. If you're 15-25 years into your career, you're being sought and paid for how your leadership will impact a company, not the other way around. 

Pithy blog posts and rant-filled articlesthis one included, perhapsdo not, alone, represent the Holy Grail for your future, so stop trying to fit your star-shaped peg into square-shaped holes. Instead, start the hard work, decision-making, and preparationhell, do a Job Description Analysisnecessary to architecting the right next step in your own career.   

Garbage In, Garbage Out: Two Keystrokes that will Transform Your "Advanced Search" Results on LinkedIn

Yesterday, I hung up the phone with a client—a well-known, recent retiree from one of the world's largest investment banking institutions—and immediately drafted this blog post.

The experience was like many others before, and served as the perfect example of how a few keystrokes can transform search results when using LinkedIn's "Advanced Search" feature.

I'm guessing a lot of LinkedIn users don't even know Advanced Search exists, let alone how to use it effectively. Hence this post.

So, my client is in the trenches at the moment—developing the strategy and story needed to position himself for a public board director role.

One seemingly simple, but not-so-straightforward, task is to settle not only on the job title he'll use in a new consulting practice, but also to decide on the professional headline he'll use on LinkedIn.

Professional Headline on LinkedIn: The field immediately following your name on your LinkedIn profile—just below or to the right of your profile photo.

Also: One of LinkedIn's most important fields with respect to being passively found (based on my own LinkedIn user experience).

Do this: Infuse the keywords you believe others will use to find someone like you when querying LinkedIn's Advanced Search function. (As well as Google Search and other public search engines.)

After all, formerly timeless job titles like "Principal" and "Consultant" don't necessarily help tremendously (at least as keywords) when an executive search recruiter is looking for the right public board director and their first step is to type job titles and other defining content into a search bar.

Enter "Principal" into LinkedIn's Advanced Search tool, and you'll get everything from "high school principal," to "principal, eminent domain," to master cupcake baker who uses agave nectar as a principal ingredient.

Remember, this whole thing came up because my client's assignment was to research LinkedIn to identify how he might position himself going forward—not only in his new practice as an advisor, but also as a passive(ly findable) board candidate.

Unfortunately, he hadn't had much luck navigating LinkedIn's Advanced Search function.

Sharing screens, so he could follow along, I entered, "board director [industry]." (Board director wasn't in quotes, by the way. They're included here for clarity.)

What we ended up with was a list of people who are on the employee side of his industry, or who presently hold nonprofit board leadership roles at professional associations within the same industry.

The results weren't helpful for his purposes, so instead, I entered, "board director [industry] -association" (again, not in quotes).

Notice that we included a minus symbol before the word "association."

For good measure, I selected "Harvard Business School" to refine the search. 

Suddenly, our LinkedIn Advanced Search results were transformed, and we were seeing people closer to his peer set.

While our original intention was to see how others in similar circumstances had, and are, presently using LinkedIn, the minor refinements unlocked the value of the search results. The experience underscored the "garbage in, garbage out" adage, and made me think, again, about the many millions of users who complain, but don't look beneath LinkedIn's surface.

By the way, this is a bright guy, recognized for his intellect, intuition, and industry intelligence. His opinion can make or break markets. At least if investor behaviors have any influence on markets. He's a top-performer who has reached what many would consider to be the pinnacle of a professional career in the United States—maybe the world. And if he had an aha moment (after all, who sits around thinking about LinkedIn all day long), what does it say about the average LinkedIn user?

If you haven't discovered the wonders of the minus symbol when querying LinkedIn search, or the benefits of incrementally refining search parameters using other query features, take a moment to tinker and see if LinkedIn doesn't finally become the business tool you can't live without.

The Google Search Every Prospective Public Board Director Should Conduct

Searching for tips on how to write a public board director résumé?

I've worked with quite a few board directors exploring the possibility of a second board role—or senior executives looking for their first appointment—and there's a dearth of online job descriptions for public board directors on sites like Indeed.com and Monster.com.

Perhaps because board director searches are so often conducted by search firms.

Well, if you're angling for a board role and you've been searching for a life raft, you might start rejoicing knowing that one search term holds an almost magical key to unlocking many of your questions:

"governance committee charter"

Yep. Right there for all of us to google and find is the holy grail of board job descriptions we all wanted to find.

Here's the Google search result as of 8/5/16, but perform it on your own to find the latest lineup.

While you're at it, Spencer Stuart published an insightful blog post in May 2016, "How to Get on a Board." It's a realistic, expectation-setting peek at the steps needed to become a public board director.

Why the Writing Process is a Great Tool for Decision-making

A CTO client of mine recently referenced another writer with whom he was working on a twenty-page RFP. 

"Of course I have to rewrite about half of it, like always," he lamented. My client is, indeed, a good writer himself, so my immediate reaction was, "Oh, that other writer must suck. Too bad for them." 

Then I took a beat and realized the odds were high that if my client—a leader in a well-positioned company—was hiring a writer, the other writer was likely vetted. And hence, a good writer. 

Whether my client realized it, he wasn't referring to grammar, punctuation, and order; rather his remarks pointed to the tough decisions inherent to arranging words on a page. 

Taking and explaining a position so others will join your vision ... be convinced ... believe in you ... is hard work, and seeing words come back "wrong" is often the confrontation needed to make corrections and get the message right.  

Words spoken slip by like a vapor. They can range from hyperbolic to self-conscious, and in a conversation the listener can roll their eyes, stop listening, ignore, or not even unwittingly embrace words that sound substantial but aren't. 

But words written—at least with lasting authority—must be defensible and balanced. 

That's what I mean when I tell people that the writing process is a tool for professional discovery. Not to mention a tool for interview prep, or public speaking prep, or even internal problem solving around career choices.  

When you're forced to answer questions under the bright light of reality, assuming you're reasonable, you face yourself warts and all. Ninety eight percent of the people with whom I've worked over the years have had self-confronting, a-ha moments on the road to presenting clear and coherent stories.

Perhaps that's why some later report that the writing process is like therapy. The work isn't based on therapeutic principles; I'm not a therapist and I don't know much about therapy, generally. Rather the work required to get clarity seems to force the subject (client) to confront themselves. Decision-making and forward-facing self-reflection all at once. 

If you write for or on behalf of others, embrace this tricky space. Don't take offense when your subject doesn't instantly love your work. Unless you're not a good writer. In that case, realize that we should all push to grow and improve. 

If you're working with a writer, get comfortable with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and occasional fear that can accompanies good, clear, and unobscured writing. Every decision along the way—major or minor—is essential to turning word soup into a clear message. 

Read These Entertaining Tech Company Reports with a Heavy Dose of Skepticism

Screenshot from Fast Company's article, "Where Google, Apples, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next."

Screenshot from Fast Company's article, "Where Google, Apples, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next."

I love articles like Fast Company's "Where Google, Apple, and Amazon Employees Want to Work Next." 

They're hard not to click on. I seriously can't resist Fast Company and INC.com's headlines. Someone poach those headline writers, they're the best!

But while the article referenced above is quite interesting, there are a few reasons to read it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The reports and surveys cited are blended ... perhaps advantageously

Paragraph one references a Fast Company report, paragraph two references a PayScale survey, and paragraph three references a Dice survey of 1,600 technology professionals in the U.S.

I love the collective insight, but when you think about the sources, they're kind of apples and oranges, so you can't look at the findings as a single harmonious conclusion. 

The numbers might be deceiving

Statista.com says that "Apple reached more than 80,000 employees as of 2013."

So do those "1,600 technology professionals in the U.S." offer an authoritative enough sampling to represent all or even many technology professionals? Even within just one of the companies cited, the numbers polled represent a fraction of actual employees.

Each with his and her own very real employee experience and story.

The respondents' pain points might be magnified

Since those surveyed are apparently on job seeking / posting platforms (Dice, Anthology/formerly Poachable, which was a great name, but I can see why it was abandoned), the odds are probably high that those cited are somehow dissatisfied with their careers. You know, because they're poking around to see what's next in their career, not because they're entirely satisfied. 

This isn't a bad thing. Seriously. Poke around! It's just a lens through which we need to examine the article's broader assumptions.

There are insights to glean

My naysayer ideas aside—and remember, I'm a fan of these publications—there are kernels along the way that I recognize. In my work with stealth job seekers (inbound and outbound) at Google, Apple, and Amazon, I offer the following anecdotal and collective observations from my own practice. 

  1. Program management roles can indeed be akin to mini-CEO roles. Pushing a product (much less multiple products) from inception to ship is big work. But to move into a CEO role from a program manager role ... you probably need to (a) have a well-known name or (b) launch your own start-up and proclaim yourself the CEO. In other words, you need to either have an advocate in your corner (i.e., people saying you can do the job) or you will likely have to take the risk of assuming a new skill. What is that skill? P&L management. It has to be somewhere in the mix of a career to move into a CEO role. None of the program managers with whom I have worked at Google, Apple, and Amazon have P&L experience. Massive budgets? Yes. P&L? No. Much to their chagrin. (Even very senior clients from Oracle and IBM haven't had P&L ownership, much less exposure.) If you're looking to move into the C-suite, you need to reverse engineer how you're going to fill in the P&L blank within your current job, so start looking now for exposure. Otherwise, you need to found and build a start-up of your own, which inherently involves P&L. A move like that is all about the risk involved. Where you find the rare person who went from product manager to CEO, you'll probably find a person who took the risk and succeeded. 
  2. People at Google, Apple, and Amazon—and most other large companies—have preferences about the kinds of companies and cultures for which they will leave. Some want to spring from one public company to another, while others want to quietly leave one of the "not traditional, but no longer terrifically disruptive" tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon to blaze into a well-funded startup. Trouble is, they don't always get what they want because the right corporate culture doesn't suddenly open just because they are ready to move on. It's for this and many other reasons that stealth job seekers—or passive job finders like those Anthology serves—need to plan and wait. Get your ducks in a row and be ready to compete when the right opportunity and culture comes along.   

Oh, and following up on another of the article's tenets: Amazon's recent headlines seem to be uncomfortable for most, if not all of the corporate employees still on the inside.  

Overlooking the Obvious After Taking a New Job

Sometime things are so obvious we miss them entirely. 

That's what happened this year when a client's new job was mentioned on Fortune.com. His LinkedIn profile had worked like a charm, and his executive résumé and other materials were there to support his candidacy for the right company.

Ready for a new step in your career? Are you sure? Start finding out using Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis.

Ready for a new step in your career? Are you sure? Start finding out using Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis.

Turns out, he was that company's purple squirrel.

But when Fortune announced his new role, guess who was still championing his OLD company on LinkedIn! 

Noticing all of this while vacationing, I emailed him and said, "Pull down your summary ASAP!" 

I know he was swamped with interviews, negotiations, press, and the whirlwind of settling into a new high profile role. But imagine what people thought when they cross-references him between the Fortune article and his LinkedIn profile. 

When you get a new job—especially if you've been conducting a long, intentional stealth job search—be sure your entire online brand quickly aligns with your new role before it's announced.

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for doing business. Yes, LinkedIn serves your long-term stealth job search, but don't forget that it also serves your every day work life.

Want to Live Long and Prosper? Ten Tips

screenshot from uscf.edu/news

screenshot from uscf.edu/news

This is a don't miss post from UCSF if you're interested in living long.

And happily!

On Monday, a dear friend and I spent five hours chatting at a Fremont Panera about our respective businesses 

It's an every-six-weeks-or-so habit we established nearly a decade agoalternating visits between San Francisco and Fremont, California.

She mentioned Dr. Ephraim Engleman, a 104-year-old rheumatologist, recently passed, who a few years ago recorded a video sharing his "secrets of longevity." I followed the link she sent and it's worthy of a gander if you hope to live long and prosper. And you appreciate centenarian wisdom and wry humor!

For those who don't care to watch the video, here's a distillation. My commentary is in italics.

  1. Select parents with the proper genes. (Where's my wincing emoji when I need it?)
  2. Choose the right spouse. Having children is optional.
  3. Enjoy your work, but don't retire voluntarily.
  4. Exercise is overrated, do a little but not too much. (Can't agree, but I haven't lived to 104 either! On second thought, maybe I fall into the "a little" camp....)
  5. Avoid diets, vitamins, organic foods, fish oils, and other so-called nutrients. Don't weigh yourself. (Guilty. Entirely. Again with the "not agreeing," but zero personal proof)
  6. Keep your mind active. Poker, checkers, music, crossword puzzles.
  7. Avoid travel by air. (Okay, he's definitely a comedian.)
  8. Do not fall.
  9. Avoid illnesses like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and arthritis.
  10. Be happy, lucky, keep young, and keep breathing. 

For everyone else, the video is below. A stirring tribute to his humor and 104-year-earned wisdom.

Meanwhile, UCSF's post from September has delightful photos of Dr. Engleman's early years at Stanford and his wedding day, among others. 

I can't help thinking about Dr. Engleman would have big ol' chuckle at The Atlantic's mid-life slump article I highlighted in November.

Ah, life. 

 

I can do that job! Why won't they hire me?

A well-pedigreed client recently returned for a résumé and LinkedIn update. She's a lot of fun and exploring a new direction in her career. 

Big Job Small Job.jpg

Part of our conversation turned toward a set of fictionalized addenda that I use to inspire new ideas and draw focus.

Her response to the examples (edited for clarity):

"Looking at the scope of work performed [in these stories], I find it sort of crazy that the work is all the same. It's just the size of the budgets handled that make something seem more executive in function. The exact same talent is getting poured into different sized initiatives."

She's right, of course, that at least similar talent is poured into difference sized initiatives. But that, perhaps, is exactly the rub, and it's a "reality check" conversation I frequently have with clients.

Here was my response:

"It's interesting right? I know from [retained executive] search that a key differentiator between "exact same talent" and their tasks is the size and type of the institution (public, private, NPO, government, regulated, etc.) and then the scope of professional oversight (team size and geography, budget size and complexity, requirements, etc.). 

I've come to learn that [a big part is] the amount of risk and [how the ideal candidate's] expertise mitigates that risk. It's a big reason why recruiters usually stick to a sure thing when recruiting a high profile role, and why it's important for someone who's a ways into their career—but not at a level they'd like to be—to have an advocate on the inside. In other words, someone who's willing to stick their neck out and vouch for them."

Size matters.

Indeed, the management of a $20M regional budget is very different than managing a $350M global P&L. Managing a 12-member local team is very different from managing a 200-person team on four continents. 

Contacts matter.

Another differentiator I neglected to mention in my note to my client is the contacts that a very senior, high profile person brings to a new role. A very senior person from a very large company who is sought by one of the Big 4 accounting firms is going to need a major book of business. So while the activities s/he performs may be "exactly the same" as someone at a small to mid-sized company, the Big 4 firm is going to prioritize the contacts that come with someone from a very large company. 

I should note that this isn't a positive or a negative on its own. It's simply a career planning tool. Awareness is a critical step to making the right, realistic plans.  

Networks matter.

It's for these reasons that so many people in the career development world harp on the power of networking. (See my recent post, "Networking: Essential or Overrated?") And not only networking, but networking authentically. You know ... making and keeping friends in business.

It's too late to start networking when you suddenly need a job. 

Planning matters.

Also, when suddenly looking for a job, many people think they are going to be every recruiter's dream candidate. And why not? Recruiters find ideal candidates, right? I'm suddenly available, so of course they're going to pine over me! Who else would they turn to? 

Unfortunately, too many otherwise brilliant minds default to this line of thinking, and it really couldn't be farther from the truth. Legitimate recruiters are, in fact, all different (retained versus contingency) except in one way: recruiters are hired by companies to find ideal candidates. They are looking externally for a specific blend of skills, and it doesn't matter how perfect you might be, it's all about the blend of that perfection (experience and skills) compared to what is being sought.

At this level, they're not looking to take a chance on what is possible. They're looking for proven leadership.   

Nothing of note happens overnight. 

Whether it's fine wines, cheeses, or executives. It's all careful cultivation and months to years of nurturing. 

As such, my quick takeaways for executives interested in cultivating a long-term career strategy are:

  1. Learn what you're dealing with. What are the pros and cons in terms of where you are (who you are, what you offer) and where you want to go. I happen to have a "Job Description Analysis" tool for that. Just last night a client emailed me, saying this: "This was a very meaningful exercise. It gave me more clarity into how I see my career progressing.")
  2. Develop and cultivate your network authentically so when the time comes, your "ask" isn't only genuine, but also heard and cared about. 
  3. Take a long view and develop your LinkedIn profile so you're not only using it for business, but also visible when a search firm is retained to look for someone just like you. 

For more, check out my LinkedIn Post article 6 Career Positioning Metrics Every Management Professional Should Cite.

What Are You Doing This Sunday Morning?

Screenshot from HRGrapevine.com.

Screenshot from HRGrapevine.com.

HRGrapevine.com recently revealed the morning routines of successful leaders. Quick and easy read, whether you spring out of bed or linger.

Fast Company did a similar piece, saying: "These routines might inspire you to create your own."

Rather than creating a routine, I might suggest listening to and building around your natural biorhythms. 

But heck, it's Sunday, what am I talking about? Linger! Relax! Grab a second cup of coffee! As for me, I'm off to the gym. Again. That miserable place that makes the rest of my life so much better....

Why Job Boards Aren't the End All-Be All for Job Seekers

Except for the purpose of research (yes, I wrote a toolkit about that purpose), I've disdained and largely decried online job boards for years. But somehow, until last night, stumbling across Nick Corcodilos' 2013 CMO.com article "Fired! Job Boards Get Their Walking Papers," I hadn't really pieced together that online job boards are basically glorified job ads in the back pages of newspapers.

I'll admit that the last time I replied to a newspaper job ad was as a 17-year-old applying for a bank teller job in 1987.

Job ads in the back of the newspaper died in the late 90s, giving way to the promise of online job ads. Monster was among the first and biggest, but even as a recruiter in New York more than a decade ago, we eschewed the monster. We used niche job boards, and we had pretty good results.

Later, as a retained search recruiter in San Francisco, we didn't even advertise jobs. Our role was to research, identify, and convince the right people that the jobs we were recruiting were right for them.

In fact, we basically ignored inbound résumés because the résumé submitted by a person actively looking for work might mean there was something wrong. And retained search doesn't play with fire. Retained search plays with certainty. So it was far better to pursue than to be pursued. 

If you're thinking about uploading your résumé to a job board, don't. For oh-so-many reasons. If you're relying entirely on job boards, don't. If you want to know why, read Nick Corcodilos' insightful and convincing article. It's as good today as it was when it was uploaded in 2013.

How Important is P&L Management for Up-and-coming CEOs?

Imagine you've had a storied leadership career to date. You're hovering around the 18-22 year mark ... right at that point when a retained executive search firm approaches you about a great next step: successor CEO for a company where the founding CEO is participating in a search to replace him.

The stakes are high and you're interested.

After being vetted by the search firm, your first official meeting (interview) is dinner with the founding CEO. Skip to the front of the line! 

Before you order the first appetizer, he ask you this: "So how large of a P&L have you managed?"

You freeze. 

You've managed 400 people globally. You've managed budgets totaling 50 million dollars. You've mentored 12 high performers into senior leadership roles. You've driven several billions of dollars in annual revenue for crying out loud!

But you have to confess: "Well, I've never officially managed a P&L."

The founding CEO doesn't beat around the bush: "Well why the hell did they send you to me?!" 

Dinner is over early.

This is a compilation of two people in my experience; both of whom had careers that many might consider exceptional. They both continue doing impressive work in tech. They're game changers in their fields.

But the P&L hiccup held lessons for both. Three lessons, in fact. One, P&L management matters. Two, not all search firms are built equally (the firm should have done better). Three, the CEO in question might have been short-sighted by not exploring a bit further.

The important lessons are still there for all to see.

Note that both came from flat organizations and neither had previously realized the importance of P&L management experience, nor been handed P&L authority. Both were walked to the door when they should have been walking through it. Both are now looking for ways to get their hands around P&L management ASAP so the issue doesn't flare up again.

BlueSteps.com underscores the importance P&L management experience holds for senior executives.

BlueSteps.com underscores the importance P&L management experience holds for senior executives.

As an aside, I recently began researching how many CEOs in the Fortune 500 founded their own companies or firms in the early parts of their careers, and the percentage is becoming convincing. Guess what starting your own company or firm involves? P&L management.

BlueSteps.com's "5 Characteristics a Senior Executive Must Possess to Assume P&L Responsibility" 2010 article still resonates today. Important read for management professionals with an eye on the C-suite or senior executives with a gap or two to fill before reaching CEO.

Clear Writing is Hard Work

One of my favorite Facebook and Twitter memes is the Einstein photo with the quote overlay: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Alas, skeptics.stackexchange.com is only one site questioning the quote's veracity, offering this lively crowd-sourced discussion about the claim. 

Attributable or not to Einstein, the truth within the quote is worth embracing. 

As a young New Yorker in 2000/2001, I thought I was a pretty great writer. Turns out, I wasn't. Thankfully, the partner I worked for was not only a hard-ass, but apparently had the patience of Job, because she endured the several months it took me to relearn how to write for business.

Equally patient—ometime during those same years—was my dear friend Marquel. She spent one memorable hours-long session with me on the Barnes & Noble Lincoln Square floor surrounded by piles of business writing books. She also listened to my belly-aching about the struggle! Major points for Marquel.

Of the six books I bought that night, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia O'Conner proved the most helpful. And the funniest. I could probably stand to read it again, come to think of it.

So that's the back story to the joy I felt upon reading Victoria Clayton's superb October 26, 2015 article in The Atlantic: The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing. 

I've been working with a lot of PhDs-to-be lately, and am happy to report that they write clearly, by and large. Their curiosity and intellect is obviously deep, but they also have a fresh sensibility about and interest in communicating with the world outside of academia. I haven't read their dissertations—most still in progress—but their résumés and cover letters are clear and straightforward.

If you struggle with hyperbole, sentence structure, overwriting, lack of clarity, and beyond, you'll find all of the links in this blog post to be helpful resources. And take it from the guy who once relearned how to write who now makes his living writing: it can be done. You just have to realize the problem, and then set your mind to it.

My One Word is Practical. What's Yours?

If you're looking for a personal challenge this morning, read Susan Chritton's recent LinkedIn post, "What is your One Word?" 

As a branding strategist and executive coach, Chritton opens with a challenge for readers: "If you could be known for one thing, what would it be?" She closes with, "You must be able to live up to your word." 

Reflecting on what might be my one word, I wanted it to be "strategic" or "insightful." Or even "creative." But at the end of the day, the word I hear most from others that resonates with me is "practical." 

"Practical" lights me up more than the others, because "practical" translates into "useful" and "actionable," and without action and usefulness everything else is imaginary. 

Time to start weaving "practical" into my brand. 

Good quick read if you're feeling self-reflective.

Fact or Fiction? The Midlife U-curve Slump

Leave it to The Atlantic to have a contributor who thinks this deeply. And it's science?

If you're over 40 and you've ever thought, "Is this all there is?" This article is for you. I've emailed it to 30% of my clients, and it resonates with all of them.

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis, by Jonathan Rauch. Must read. Maybe even for young professionals before they've reached midlife. Good to know ahead of time!