Life as a Network-Agnostic

I have a blog all about resumes, developing your career, organizing your life, and blogging itself, but I have a confession to make:   I am very skeptical about networking.

Sure, there’s a baseline of networking that I find valuable.  The general people-skills like listening to others, learnign more about their business and plans, sharing yours when asked, and passing along opportunities.  That’s ok.  But it doesn’t take long before I loose patience with networking as a process.

What are my issues?

  • This is its own job – you’re self-marketing here and you have to take the time to carefully craft every message, photo, and piece of media.  It seems like it should be faster, given our technology and 24/7 pace.  But the ease and speed with which one can communicate should make the writer slow down.  You can and should take your time when tweeting and blogging to make sure you’re representing yourself and your business or project properly.  that’s fine, but consider how much work this is.  This is why scheduling is so important.
  • You have to become a detective – It’s not enough to produce your own message and get it to others – you have to connect with them.  This means you really should investigate each invite and follow personally before you accept.  Who will you be tagged with? What are they doing?  Do you agree with it?  How will it affect your brand – or your personal integrity?
  • I doubt this actually leads to anything – This point is more about jobseeking than promoting a blog or self-owned business.  You can brand, tweak, connect, and link until the cows come home, but if the companies and industries you want to join are not hiring, they are not hiring.  And this is not your fault.  The rhetoric of networking places the onus on the “jobseeker” (not person, mind you, but “job seeker”) to “land” that job.  Sometimes there are problems bigger than you.

 

Still, we are in a networking world, and one must participate.  As skeptical as I am, I’ve tried to find some benefits to this process that make it sound more appealing and me sound less cranky.

  •  Job hunting, especially when unemployed, is incredibly isolating.  This does have a profound effect on your psychology.  It could be helpful to talk to people, even if you’re in the same boat.  Networking is, after all, talking to people.  Even though I have disparaged it from time to time as a simulacrum of activity, I have to admit it can have a therapeutic value – it gets you in public again, not hiding in shame.
  • You will practice professional skills.  If you’re new to working or restarting a career, this is a great way to practice, practice, practice your skill sets.  And I don’t mean just what buzzwords are popular today.  I’m talking about basic things like handshakes, eye contact, body language, listening, and actual communicating beyond pitching.
  • You can learn new skills entirely.  Say you’re new to social media.  You’re pretty much obligated to form some manner of internet presence when job-hunting or working your network for other reasons.  You’ll learn quite a bit of technical knowledge (how to post, security settings, and so on) as well as social knowledge (how to package and deliver your message, learning your audiences’ expectations).  These are yet more things to add to your resume or profile.  This whole process, when approached with an open mind, is very educational.
  • It makes you keep a routine.  Networking behaviors give you “homework” – you create things you have to do, which can be a grounding source of routine if you’re unmoored in your professional life.

Wordplay I: Verb! That’s What’s Happening!

 

Ok, this is adorable, and very useful.  Our generation and its younger cohorts may not be familiar with Schoolhouse Rock, but we all should be.  In the 70s-early 80s ABC ran a show called “Schoolhouse Rock” between cartoons on Saturday mornings.  These were cute animated shorts with really catchy music that demonstrated grammar, science, American history, and civics.  This one here is all about verbs, the action words of the English language.  I’ll put this first to refresh everyone on the usefulness of verbs, and a reminder to have fun:

 

OK, while you’re still singing “verb!  that’s what’s happening!”, I want to ask you a question you may not get that much.  How interesting is your resume to read?  I’m not talking about the fascinating jobs you’ve had, but instead the style.  Are you using powerful, direct language?

It’s true that your resume will be read very quickly.  You still have to carefully write and revise this document, but it may only have a few seconds under a recruiter’s eyes.  How can you sell yourself that fast, especially when the sum total of your experience and abilities are reduced to a resume and letter?

Verbs!  Use your action words!

However, as useful as these words are, there is no magic formula.  There is no one combination of really popular verbs that will guarantee you an interview.  This is something that requires constant practice and refining.  So please avoid cliches: we all know the jokes about synergizing your leveraging potential.  Don’t do that.  Use your verbs to connote action, but make sure you make sense!  Above all, be concrete, be objective, and be succinct.

  • Be concrete

Look at your last job.  Did you do anything?  Say it.  You developed lesson plans, you tested products with focus groups, you compiled reports, you coded software for XYZ.  The fact that you did things is important, but so is how you say it.  Putting the action words first saves time, and gives the recruiter a better idea of your abilities.

Look at the job posting.  What verbs are they using?  Use those in your resume.  If they are looking for a lot of community outreach, choose verbs that highlight your people skills and communication.  Page 14 in this wonderful booklet from Rutgers University Career Services has a list of verbs in case you’re stuck.

  • Be succinct

No one, especially a busy hiring team or manager, wants to read what texts I assigned to my students in 2012, and why I chose those essays, and what writing behaviors I was trying to make them practice, and how the weather was, and what color sweater I was wearing and…and…and…

See what I mean?  You don’t even want to read that and you’re here on this blog by choice!  Wouldn’t you rather read that I:

Developed unique lesson plans for first year students, focusing on structure and grammar.

Boom.  Done.  The fictional manager gets the idea that I can be creative and practical, and work with a higher goal in mind (developing students).  I’ve bolded those words only for you here – don’t do that on your resume.

  • Be objective

You are fabulous, worthwhile, and an awesome person, and I’m sure you’ll make a great employee.  You are knowledgeable, capable, dynamic, and generally helpful.  But there’s no room for that in your resume.  You have to trust that you experience and your skill set will speak for you.  That can be scary, but you have to do it.

Your new potential boss doesn’t need to read about how loved you were at your previous job, or how much you enjoyed it.  Tell them what you did, how you did it, and make sure they know how you can do it for them, too.  It’s all about what you can bring to the new position, not you personally.

Monday Micropost: Using Google Calendar to schedule blog maintenance

Hi everyone!  I’m popping in before my morning begins to let you know of a great scheduling idea for bloggers.

I’ve seen many creative, well-written blogs suffer from what I call BlogBlight:  highly irregular posts.  This can not only loose readers, it looks like the blogger doesn’t care, even if she does.   This is especially important if you’re trying to start and maintain a business using a blog as one of your networking and sales tools.  Or trying to grow a blog all about writing, work, and professionalism.  (Where could I find one of those? hmmm….)

But life does happen, and there will be days you are too busy with other concerns.  That’s ok – it is healthy to deal with life first, rather than make the blog or the twitter feed your absolute top priority.  But one has to be careful to control for the times where the obstacle to writing is not life so much as it’s lack of confidence, or anxiety.   I deal with these two often, and they produce incredibly distracting thoughts that keep me from writing:

  • I’m not good enough
  • Noone will read or if they do, they won’t like it
  • Noone will care
  • I have nothing to offer with my writing
  • I have no talent
  • I don’t have the discipline to do this regularly

I’m quite used to thinking all these things, often all of them at once.  Not fun. The way I deal with that issue  is to make routines.  This works for me since it gives me a sense of security, which allows me to do what I have to do rather than waiting for the mood to be right.  Because some days, if I wait for my brain to shut up, I’ll never write a word.

This is my solution: the blogging schedule.  I have 2 active blogs besides this one, The Diamond Lens and Lady Lazarus Designs.  How can I keep them all active and free of BlogBlight?  I do have plenty of ideas for posts, so writing isn’t an issue.  But that’s quite a lot to juggle.  Enter Google Calendars!

blogging calendar
screencap of my blogging calendar for today

 

These are customizeable, can be color coded, and can have notes attached so they’re not just telegraphic reminders to “blog!!11!” What I did was to make a separate calendar for each blog, assign it its own color, and schedule what I want to have happen with that blog that day.  I’ll try this for a week and see how it works, modifying the schedule as I go along.

Tuesday/Thursday happen to be my Thinking 30-Something days, but I thought a quick little post each Monday might be a good idea.  Especially with a memorable name like “Monday MicroPost”.  So I scheduled that in.  At some point, each Monday, I’ll post something small and useful, rather than my usual essay.

So you can see that today is largely dedicated to my sideline jewelry blog, Lady Lazarus Designs (LLD for short). I’ve scheduled in not just new posts, but social media outreach as well.  It’s ambitious, but flexible:  Since I have 2 days dedicated to LLD, I can let myself fulfill that mini to do list any way that I can.  I can tweet, comment, and post all on Monday, Wednesday, or slice it up how it fits my actual week.

It’s important, when blogging, to remember not just to produce good content, but to actually interact with others.  I struggle with that, so I made it a point to build it into my week.  Eventually, this will become a habit.  But the calendar will be there as a handy reminder.

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Remember to be realistic in your scheduling.  If you’re a slow writer like me, you may only be able to do one original post a week.  And that’s ok – no one expects a writer to be a machine, but we should be consistent.  This has the additional benefit of helping to manage anxiety for anyone else out there that’s dealing with it, and finding that it gets in the way of, you know, doing stuff.

Build in flexibility.  You may notice that I didn’t assign times to these tasks.  That’s because I have a day job and I know I’ll need some downtime when I come home.  But I can rig the calendars to remind me each morning of what I have to do with each blog each day, that way I can be more free with my time, but still get things done.

Visual cues are helpful.  One downside to the old pen and paper list is that it’s static – write it and it’s done.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, but if you have to stare into a screen as much as I do all day, sometimes your mind needs a little boost.  I find that visual cues like chunks of time, color coded documents, and (if you can) font size changes helpful in focusing my attention.  I’m not alone in this.  You did notice I bolded the point of this paragraph, and even started off with it, instead of burying it in my sentences (I hope you did!) I bet you’ll retain that better than if I had made a large, traditional ‘graph!

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So there we are, folks!  Enjoy the first of (hopefully) many Monday MicroPosts!

Breaking the Hourglass: Thoughts on Time Management

I’ve been really curious about time management lately, since I keep hearing it everywhere.  Curiosity led to googling, which led to a lot of reading, and eventually this blog post.

This phrase seems like a buzzword at first, like those old chestnuts “synergize”and “leverage”.   But this is more than words-that-say-nothing.  What does this mean?

“Time management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on            specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness,efficiency or productivity It is a meta-activity with the goal to     maximize the overall benefit of a set of other activities within the boundary  condition of a limited amount of time”. (visit the wiki)

Googling this term will get you endless lists of suggestions and activities to help you make the most of your time. Everyone seems to have the magic answer, the right combination of scheduling, personal planners, and prioritizing. You will be counseled to schedule conversations, or delegate parts of your work to others, or even use a kitchen timer to make chunks of time.  There’s a lot of advice out there about re-imagining and manipulating time.

To summarize the many, many sites out there, time management is about setting boundaries.  You have to own your time, decide for yourself what you need do do in a given chunk of time, and decide what steps you can take within that time to achieve or get closer to that goal.

This is a tall order, especially for the younger folks in this crowd.  When you’re in your twenties (and let’s be honest, your thirties) you are expected to do more, more, and more.  And precisely in that order.  This is the “paying your dues” time of life.  And in some ways, yes, you will have to pay your dues.  You will have to be green and naive and then you’ll have to learn.  To a point that’s ok.  You have to know some stress in order to appreciate the good things in life.

But there is definitely a point where working or living on a crisis-by-crisis basis will get old.  Also, if you’re not empowered in your life or at your job, if your  priorities and activities are set *for* you routinely,  you will be unable to effectively carry out your day, or your larger projects with any level of effectiveness.

To be “empowered” (watch those buzzwords, Liz!)  you have to make some decisions, and own them.  Start with the small ones and work your way up to build your confidence.  I’m kind of surprised that time management advice doesn’t talk openly about developing self-confidence.  That is the only way to effectively manage your hours, days, weeks, and so on.  Setting boundaries is something that gets easier with maturity, so perhaps they coaches and mentors out there are really suggesting baby-steps to confidence, and time management.

After reading a while on this subject, you will notice that another common thread in time management is learning to prioritize.  What is really important in the next 5 minutes, the next 30, the next 60?    And this carries into larger chunks of time: what do you need to get done today, tomorrow, this week?  Especially if you have multiple projects going on, learning how far to push each one every day is crucial.

Part of prioritizing is also learning what you can let go: if you have XYZ going on, can you put off ABC for another day?  Prioritizing is not so much about controlling everything than it is about being realistic.  I used to feel guilty if I didn’t finish my entire to-do list in a single work day – and I mean the entire one, with minor tasks and all.  This led to a wild imbalance between my work day and my personal time, and my happiness – and my productivity – suffered for it.  Now I check in with my list 2-3 times a day and ask myself What needs to happen?  What can wait?  What are the consequences and can I handle them?

All this comes easier with practice.  And it will never be perfect, but those reflexes will kick in eventually.  But the more you practice owning your time, and thinking of it as there to help you, the faster you will develop the abilities you need to get closer to your goals.

Details are important: How will you arrange your resume?

Ok, I admit it, I find resume-writing a chore.  It brings up so many insecurities and worries.  Do I have enough marketable skills, is my font size large enough, will the formatting go bananas when I upload it?

But I’ve found something interesting about it, the Skills-based resume.  To someone used to the traditional chronological resume, this looks topsy-turvy.  Instead of entries that detail your entire work history, you list your skillset and demonstrate how you used those skills at various jobs and projects.  This is a great alternative for those of us with the dreaded gap in our work histories, or those of us that need to make a career change.

In a skills-based resume, you still include your employment—but you’ll stick it at the bottom of the page. By eliminating the focus on your previous positions and titles, you’re able to highlight experiences and skills from all facets of your life and provide a more comprehensive view of your abilities. (Forbes.com Is the Skills-Based Resume Right for You?)

This is, in its own way, a more demanding form of resume-writing than the chronological model.  You must remember to tailor this resume to each job you apply for.   Also, you have to be specific as possible.  It is good to know that you excel at public speaking or bookkeeping.

Say one of your special abilities is event planning in an academic office, and you’re keen to apply to a busy non-profit.  You’ve run several large events, perhaps with 100+ people at each.  Say you also spearheaded those events: catering, setup, logistics, and more.  You delegated tasks to other people, and you helped publicize your office.

For a non-profit, you’ll have to do a lot of fundraising and you’ll have to be a jane-of-all-trades, able to carry on any (and all) aspects of the project. You’ll have to have very strong communication skills that you can use with many different groups of people.  You have to have excellent follow-through skills as well, since donors are your support.

But these are two vastly different environments, you say.  Higher education versus a non-profit organization?  Surely what you did at one can’t apply to the other.  Wrong!  At their heart, many fundraising and event planning projects are very similar, even if the business or entities that house them are different.

When you make your entry for “event planning” on your resume, you’ll describe what you did for each event, and give names, dates, and amounts whenever possible:

Event Planning:

-Planned successful fundraising gala for XYZ department in April 2013, acquiring over $2000 in donations from

alumni, and publicized the department to over 200 students.

It’s not enough to say you know how to do these things, but to give some sort of tangible proof you can do them well.  These tangibles will help if you are trying to make a career change.  Remember the nonprofit I used in my example before?  Its management will be interested in knowing you can plan, execute, and secure donations.  In a university environment, you may or may not be dealing with money.  But you will be advertising your office or unit, and you may be involved with donors, as I have included in my example above.  If this is the case, this is something you should emphasize to your desired employer.

But what if none of your events involved finances?  How can you communicate your abilities to this new business?  Do the next best thing, add the numbers you do have:

Event Planning:

-Led planning committee for ABC fair to advertise major to approximately 5,000 undergraduate students in

September 2014, leading to a 30% increase in declared majors within the department

Even though this event was not for donors, this description contains hard figures and thus demonstrates your ability to get results, not just have a crowd of happy people in a room.

The skills-based resume is a unique style with its own demands, but it  is a very useful tool to have in your job-search kit.

 

Resources on skills-based resume writing:

Beginnings

Hello and welcome to the flagship entry of The Thinking 30-Something!  This is where I will be collecting writings and commentary about the unique issues others in my generation face in developing their careers and trying to start off in the world.

You’ll see essays on these ideas and more:

  • Choosing the right resume
  • Managing your brand in a rapidly changing world
  • Pros and Cons of networking
  • Common management issues
  • Common working issues
  • What does “professional” even mean anymore?

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