That Old Saw: What Defines a Leader?

Leadership Is.jpg

Occasionally, I stray from this blog and post something on my LinkedIn profile. Usually when a topic is evergreen and I think it might be helpful for years to come.

One of those recent topics was about what a leader is, and I suppose by the nature of that reveal, what a leader isn't.

Many of my clients are clear that they are leaders. Their job titles, in fact, begin with a "C," and they have a great deal of vision and responsibility. Plain and simple.

For other clients, however, they're still feeling it out, or they're laying their leadership groundwork, or they're sensitive about calling themselves a leader. Still others say they're a leader, but have little to prove it.

My LinkedIn post, "Who or What is a Leader?" offers a simple method for determining whether you're a leader, or still a leader in the making. 

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.

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.

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.   

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 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-respected 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. 

Staking 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 very exercise needed to make corrections so you can get the message right.  

Words spoken slip by like vapor. They can range from hyperbolic to self-conscious, and during conversation a listener can roll their eyes, stop listening, or ignore what is said. The listener can even unwittingly embrace words that seem 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 I view the writing process as a tool for professional discovery. Not to mention a tool for interview or public speaking prep. Writing can even help resolve internal questions or conflicts around career choices.  

When you're forced to answer questions under the bright light of reality, 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 was like therapy. The work isn't based on therapeutic principles and I'm not a therapist. But the work required to get clarity seems to force the subject (client) to confront themselves in a clearer way than talking along. Writing is decision-making, forward-facing self-reflection, and "deciding what one stands for" 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. Be ready to guide them through your reasoning, or better yet, include them in the entire process. It's their story, after all, and they will someday need to defend it. If you find that you need to improve as a writer, push yourself to grow. Using the writing process as a tool for decision-making inherently sets us up to be both teacher and student. 

If you're working with a writer, get comfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty that precedes good, clear, and unobscured writing. Every decision in the writing process—major or minor—is essential to turning your word soup story into a clearly-branded message. 

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.

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!

 

How a Plate of Nachos Turned Into Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

So, alright. I talk a lot on my blog about what other people and organizations are saying about career development.

I've watched a lot of colleagues and thought leaders publish important career development and awareness tools.

But today, it's my turn. I'm over-the-moon excited to share my first and only published resource to date: Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis.

The Job Description Analysis was born out of frustration, honestly. In 2009, a client gave me a spate of job descriptions for which he felt qualified, but they didn't hold a cogent through-line when I considered the entirety of his career. In fact, feelings rarely tell the whole story, nor lead to coherent decisions.

What did I do? I printed his materials and took them to a now-defunct neighborhood Mexican joint, of course! 

Which is where Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis was born. Over a plate of nachos, basically, and with a heaping sense of overwhelm.

Since then, the Job Description Analysis (called "the JDA" by many) has become a deceptively simple self-awareness tool for people with whom I work—baked into my one-on-work with clients.

Whether it's the head of mobile devices at a Silicon Valley consumer tech darling, one of the senior lever pullers at one of the nation's stock exchanges, or a scientist at one of the world's renowned medical device makers, the result is the same: "OMG! I had no idea!"

It's really a tool for everyone.

Basically, you look at your career through the proverbial windshield instead of the rear-view mirror to figure out whether the direction you intend to go is a suitable next step. Or maybe a few steps away. Some find that they've personally undersold themselves, while others find that they've over-shot their abilities. Or that there are a few technical gaps between where they are and where they want to go.

Either way, the scales are removed from their eyes and they learn a great deal about next steps in their careers. And/or they learn about the questions they need to ask to move forward. 

Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is available, happily, to everyone as of October 29, 2015. The first 40 buyers can purchase the tool at $13.95 versus $24.95. I hope you'll find it helpful, and that you'll share your findings with me. I might want to publish them to this blog because we're all looking to move forward, and if I could tell your story, it might help someone else.

Let me know! 

If You're Looking to Brand Yourself or Your Business

Somewhere between 2009 and 2010, I was working with a team to develop a now defunct version of my website. 

In thinking about what I wanted to highlight on my new website, I realized that I wanted to reach people who cared about what *I* cared about. People who got it. People who were interested in uncovering the value they brought to the world.

Part of that work involved branding; a concept that has been increasingly appropriated by individuals who, instead of companies -- and perhaps rightly -- consider their personas as full-fledged, sale-able brands in the digital world. (Paris Hilton anyone? Kim Kardashian? But I digress.)

As part of that branding exploration -- for myself and on behalf of my clients -- I stumbled upon Simon Sinek's TedX Talk, "How great leaders inspire action," which fundamentally changed the development of my then website. Not surprisingly, Sinek's insights have made their way into the development of my new website (yet released), as I continue to tighten my brand in an effort to work with clients who are "just the right fit."

Why am I blathering on about this? 

If you're considering the development of your own brand, or merely thinking about how to become a better leader, I urge you to invest the 18 minutes and 4 seconds it takes to learn the science behind Simon Sinek's quintessential TedX Talk. 

There's a reason he ranks highly on Ted.com's most popular talks of all time. 

Are You a Multipotentialite? TedX Challenges Us Again

A colleague and dear friend emailed Emilie Wapnick's recent TedX Talk to me yesterday.

At age 65, my friend is an executive résumé writer and career coach with a more-than-interesting professional history.

Indeed, she began her résumé writing practice after at age 50 after stumbling into contingency recruiting three years earlier. 

Prior to that she earned a PhD and an MBA in unrelated fields, ostensibly for the joy of it, and before that, she grew up studying the organ! We bonded over J.S. Bach, love him or hate him, as I studied the piano for many years myself.

Like so many who spend their 75 to 90ish years on the this planet smearing together the humanities and the sciences, this TedX talk resonated with my dear friend. 

It's worth the 15 minutes you'll spend watching it and challenging yourself. 

Are you a multipotentialite? If so, what the hell are you doing about it? If not, are you giving room to those who are?

Networking: Essential or Overrated?

A client recently asked early in her Career Planner / Changer Program whether I could point her to some good resources about how to begin networking for a new job.  

My question was: how quickly do you need to move? 

A major component of networking, as classically defined in the career development world, is realizing that networking is a long-term investmenta concept that Shauna Bryce speaks eloquently about in our joint Eye on the C-suite presentations.

Indeed, networking is about developing real and authentic (to overuse that word) relationships that don't hinge on the singular hope that those real and authentic relationships will necessarily lead to a new job.

I recently concluded a multi-year coaching, in fact, during which the client and I talked at least once a month, developing and executing an incremental networking plan based on each month's efforts. His real and authentic activities and relationships ultimately turned into a role that he and I couldn't have predicted. 

So networking as a concept has its champions, realists, skeptics, and naysayers, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. As so often happens, when you find yourself thinking a lot about a topic, it's soon all you can see.

Two stood out recently, coming from pretty different perspectives, both of which I respect immensely.

First up, Nick Corcodilos, who publishes the only newsletter I read every time it shows up in my inbox. In his article, Please! Stop Networking!, Nick boils the networking conundrum down to its essence. Here's a screen snip of Nick's on-point thinking. Click through the article link for the whole article.

The second came from BlueSteps, which is a product (or is it a service?) of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC). Using the Twitter hashtag #ExecCareer, BlueSteps crowd sourced from executive search consultants the dos and dont's of networking. Here's a snippet, with the rest available in the article and presumably available by searching the #ExecCareer hashtag.

Here's what I think: 

Too many people come to the "I need to network" realization when they're recently or soon to be out of a job. This is perhaps a reason why networking gets such a bad rap, because networking should actually just be building and cultivating friendships, and you can't falsely build real friendships just because you need something from people. The friendships already have to exist. 

Odds are high that you'll switch jobs sometime in the next few years. Why not start building your network of friends now? 

 

The Surefire Way to Gamble With a Recruiter's Patience

As a former retained executive search recruiter—that is to say "one charged with finding needle in the haystack candidates for some of the world's largest companies"—I can't tell you how many times I had a simple problem.

I sat there with a golden ticket for someone. I had my target list of potential candidates, carefully assembled by our research team. And on that list, I would periodically come to names that I couldn't readily pronounce.

It's a quick business at that point, so asking others or searching for online pronunciation isn't feasible. So as I dialed, I would simultaneously sound out the name, hoping for the best. And by the best, I mean that the person will state their name upon answering.

RING!

Inner dialogue: "Oh dear good graces of the universe and beyond, please let them say it before I'm forced to stammer through it." 

RIIIING!

Then they say it.

Hello?"

More inner dialogue: "Doh!"

So I roll the dice and utter a series of syllables as sensibly can, but that really sound more like this:

Hi there ... may I speak with ... Bee-nolo-block-dee? It's Jared Redick calling from [Firm Name]." 

And then I'm corrected. I practice the name aloud a few times, and hopefully gain traction on a call that's awkward from the start.

There are at least two reasons to state your name when answering the phone:

  1. Pronunciation
  2. Privacy

Following are three ways to pave the way to an easier conversation.

1. Make a habit of answering, "Hello, this is [Your Name Here]."

I answer the phone this way if I don't recognize the caller, and my name is simple. Jared. (Although leave it to the Starbucks barista to muck it up.) At the very least, I want the caller to know they've reached the person they intended, even on my private cell phone.

2. Provide a phonetic spelling on your résumé.

If you're a job seeker, a helpful solution is to place an asterisk behind your name in your résumé's masthead, then a corresponding asterisk in the footer, where you can include a phonetic spelling.

The international phonetic alphabet (IPA) is a universal tool across many languages, but not recognizable by everyone, so this website might help in your effort to illustrate both vowel sounds and syllable stress.

3. Leave your name in your outgoing message.

If you're actively job searching, anticipating an active job search, or simply open to passive opportunities when recruiters find you on LinkedIn and call you—make sure your name is spoken aloud in your outgoing message.

Robo messages like, "I'm sorry. 5-5-5---5-5-5---5-5-5-5 is not answering. Please. Leave. A. Message." They just don't cut it.

Frankly, when I was still recruiting and got those messages, I dreamt about leaving this message: "7-7-7---7-7-7---7-7-7-7 has called with an interesting job opportunity and a possible fifty percent increase in income for 5-5-5---5-5-5---5-5-5-5. Alas, s/he was unreachable and this opportunity will go to someone else." (I jest, of course.)

Here's my suggestion for a simple outgoing message:

You've reached [Your Name Here] at [555-555-5555]." One beat pause. "Please leave a message and I will call you back." Wait two beats, then beep.

This may or may not come as news, but people know what to do when leaving a voice message. It's not 1984, so there's no need to instruct callers to "Leave your name, phone number, and a brief message." 

And yes, I realize that in today's world, they might not even listen to it! 

A note about privacy.

If you let robo-voice simply state your phone number in your outgoing message, your caller won't be guaranteed to have reached you. And if you simply say, "Hello?" your caller has the awkward task of verifying whether they've reached the right person.

Many hiring managers and recruiters are rightly cautious about leaving any details at all when they may have reached someone besides you. Your spouse? Your assistant? Or anyone else who might not know you're conducting a stealth job search?

The list is long as to why recruiters care about confidentiality. Don't make them leave a benign message because they're not sure the recipient is you; or worse,hang up without trying.

Takeaways.

I'll admit that I've come to the point where I don't care much for voicemail. I'd rather be texted. But voicemail communication is still a part of business.

Recruiters and other folks who may represent career opportunities still make phone calls. Don't give them a reason to avoid calling you or leave a message because of a simple thing like your name.

●●●●●

San Francisco-based corporate copywriter, executive résumé writer, and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of résumé writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to writing helps companies and executives understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.

Giving Up On Writing a Friend's LinkedIn Recommendation? Try These Ideas First!

Let's face it. Writing a LinkedIn recommendation—even a really good one—isn't going to win you any literary awards. In fact, your beautifully crafted copy will these days be cemented to the absolute bottom of your subject's LinkedIn profile. No fame for you today.

So why try to write a great LinkedIn recommendation? Why not just dash off a few lines of well-trodden, risk-free copy used by so many others? Examples (stifle your yawns):

  • John is a proven leader who is passionate about his work."
  • Jane is a go-getter who gets things done."

Yeah. Basically, this kind of copy tells us zilch about John and Jane. 

Sure, a recommendation like the above bullets and their ilk will technically add one more recommendation to your subject's recommendation pile. LinkedIn likes high recommendation counts, according to a Bay Area LinkedIn pilot of which I'm a part right now.

In spite of the profile basement location of today's LinkedIn recommendation, I still think it's worth writing copy that feels more like a human being and less like a beaten up job description.

So, What to Do

Theoretically, writing a LinkedIn recommendation should be a simple enough task. More privilege than chore.

Unfortunately, many—myself included—struggle with uncertainty and utter blankness when finally sitting down to write one.

In this post, I try to unravel a few of my own approaches so the next Sunday morning you're sitting at your laptop wondering what the heck to say publicly about your nearest and dearest, you'll have a few ideas to jump start the effort. 

Start With Who They Are

Several of the (wonderful, amazing, worthy) people I've recommended show up in the below screenshot. Notice how each starts with a teaser, hopefully prompting the reader to click for more. But I like to think there's actually a bit more behind each opening line.

Have a gander....

What do you notice? Each leads with what the subject brings to the world, professionally.

I'll explain the trickiest as an example.

Victoria Ahlén and I went to school together. I’ve admired her work from afar, but since we've never officially worked together, I can’t speak directly about her work today.

However, I remember Victoria from school as a smart woman with deep core values. She cares intensely about things that matter to her. She's also a person of immense integrity. Born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, Victoria's international perspective helped me see beyond my own backyard all those years ago.

So it took time to develop a strategy for Victoria’s LinkedIn recommendation, but I finally led with “even before she was a branding guru,” which gets who she is out the gate fast. By framing it this way, I acknowledged her now, in a way that lets me speak authentically about Victoria as I knew her.

While closer chronologically to my life today than Victoria, you’ll notice the same approach when I wrote recommendations for my colleagues / friends, Shauna Bryce of Bryce Legal and Jennifer Quinton of Quinton Design Studio. In each example, the reader knows who the subject is without having to click for more.

And perhaps that approach breathes a bit of life into the reader experience. After all, professional writing doesn't mean stale writing.

Be Honest

There are two ideas under the honesty category.

First, be honest when asked to write a recommendation: 

  • If a friend or colleague asks you for a recommendation—and it’s easy to say yes—by all means, do it. If you’re less than eager, or uncomfortable, say it! Evaluate why and take a bit of care in explaining why you might not be the right person to make a recommendation. It can be especially tricky if the person has written a recommendation for you. But in this case, it doesn’t have to be quid pro quo. It must be genuine.
  • If you’re at all concerned, be resolute. Say no thank you now, nicely, before you write a recommendation out of obligation and proceed to live with something the world can read for the rest of time. Being honest with yourself and your contact—no matter how awkward—is always better in the long run.

Second, be honest when writing a recommendation:

  • Choose something you know for certain about your subject. Don’t invent anything and don't be vague. Don’t misrepresent anything because you’ll have to live with it.
  • Write something interesting and meaningful from your unique perspective as a friend or colleague. Be appropriate and make it interesting. It’s a recommendation after all, not an obituary. Nor is it a vapid job description. Put some joy into it!

Be Strategic

Go ahead and talk about strategy with your subject before you get started. It makes everyone’s job easier.

If there’s something your subject would like you to focus on, you’re in a unique position to write something s/he alone can’t say without sounding braggadocios or goofy.

For instance, a client recently said he stays calm amidst chaos and that he always sees the big picture. These are important things for me to know as an executive résumé writer. They’re important traits for most professional positions, in fact. Certainly executive roles. But they’re overused in résumé writing and can lose their impact. They begin feeling like filler unless backed up in some way.

But a third-party perspective can change everything. As a peer, former boss, employee, or board member, you can speak about calm-in-a-storm, big picture viewpoint and other over-arching strengths in a way that your subject can’t. Especially if you tie in a strong example or two.

Let’s say your friend wants to stress the international part of his or her career. Consider starting with something like, “John is no stranger to the international arena.” Get it out there. “John is a citizen of the world” is a great opener when it’s true, genuine, and written from a third party.

Say your friend wants to emphasize her start-up experience. How about, “Susan’s start-up growth strategies are unmatched,” and build from there.

Build a great recommendation from a strong strategy. Have fun with it!

Be Specific (And Genuine)

So many businesses and product lines enjoy success because they serve a niche audience. By definition, niching means that some people will be drawn in and others will walk away. That’s called being real about what you bring to the table. Borrow the niching concept when writing about your subject. Be specific. Your colleague or friend doesn’t have to be all things to all people, and your recommendation doesn’t have to be either.

You’re not obligated to write “Everything I ever knew about Jack.” Focus on one or two things you know about Jack and get it out there. Keep it short. A terse, genuine, lively, well-written recommendation stands a better chance of being read. A big, fat block of unfocused copy will be overlooked.

In all things, brevity.

Which is a great signal to wrap this article. What do you think about writing recommendations? Do you squirm a little? Do you excel? Have you struggled through them, but discovered a principle that might help others? Please, do share!

●●●●●

San Francisco-based corporate copywriter, executive résumé writer, and career transition coach, Jared Redick, works with senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies and beyond. He draws on early experience in retained executive search and nearly two decades of résumé writing to help stealth job seekers re-imagine the marketable intersection between their background, interests, audience expectations, and career goals.

Jared's strategic “purpose, content, design” approach to writing helps companies and executives understand their value, develop their unique professional brand, and position themselves online and on paper.

Reach him at info@theresumestudio.com or 415-397-6640. Follow @TheResumeStudio.

Graceful, Shrewd & "Deceptively Simple" Hiring Advice from Apple's Angela Ahrednts

Recently, I followed Angela Ahrendts on LinkedIn. As former CEO of Burberry and current senior vice president of retail and online stores at Apple (also #25 on Forbes' 2015 list of the most powerful women in the world), she clearly serves a role model for people wanting to become better leaders and hire better teams. 

Angela's three LinkedIn Pulse posts, as of today's date, reflect a professional who is in possession of her strengths. Her June 23, 2014 "Starting Anew" post is particularly reflective, as she offers insights into the first 30-90 days of her own new job at Apple. 

Then on September 2, 2015, LinkedIn's Talent Blog posted "What One of the World's Most Powerful (and Richest) Businesswomen Looks for When Hiring," featuring more insights into how Angela thinks about hiring. 

Photo of Angela Ahrendt from a Talent Blog post on LinkedIn by Paul Petrone.

Photo of Angela Ahrendt from a Talent Blog post on LinkedIn by Paul Petrone.

The simplicity is astounding, and perhaps deceptive, because in addition to being smart, experienced, and caring, she is also clearly shrewd. 

What lessons can today and tomorrow's leaders learn from Angela? Look her up on LinkedIn and follow her to get insights that will either confirm what you're already doing, or perhaps steer you in a new direction. 

Are CEOs Born or Molded?

Those considering the C-suite, and particularly the role of CEO, will do well to read Korn Ferry Institute's recent article, "Formative Experiences May Be Key for CEO Readiness." 

As an executive résumé writer and career coach who has long-worked with Fortune 50 executives, I've also long-noticed that CEOs—somewhere in their early careers—either founded a company and drove it to success, or in some other way faced a wall of professional accountability that might have crushed their peers. 

I've noticed and wondered about it so much, in fact, that I have a researcher looking at the backgrounds of current Fortune 500 CEOs to see if this hypothesis holds any merit. 

Meanwhile, Korn Ferry Institute may have shortcut my research. The article is worth a read for professionals with an Eye on the C-suite.  Here's a glimpse into the key takeaway. 


Fun Friday: Are You Half Extrovert, Half Introvert? You Might Be an Ambivert!

At last! My absolute comfort onstage and at parties with friends aligns with my need to visit a Bay Area trail every Monday to escape the madness.

I first learned about the new "ambivert" designation over lunch this week from a fellow apparent ambivert. Janet and I concurred that we've never felt right about identifying exclusively as introverts or extroverts, although both concepts have been attached to both of us, individually, depending on the environment.

In her August 12, 2015 CNN.com article, "Are you an ambivert?" Jessica Singal not only points to the newly emerging identification of this overdue concept, but also suggests a variety of famous faces who might share the trait.

Take a sneak peek below, then click the graphic to swing by Singal's illuminating article.