Don’t Make Me Use My Patronus On You

harry potter job searchHarry Potter. HARRY Potter. HARRY POTTER.

I can’t get away from him. He’s in the paper. He’s on the Internet, my radio and the television. I can’t escape him at the movies or in the bookstore (which I did not brave this weekend). All weekend I was force fed Harry Potter.

I wasn’t even safe at work, when at 7:55 a.m. Monday, a co-worker asked me if I bought the book and then offered me her copy since she was done with it.

That’s when I started thinking about what Harry Potter character she’d be (Ginny Weasley).

Who would I be? I was intrigued. I took several online quizzes at lunch and the results were inconsistent at best. According to the highly (non) scientific surveys I am the following HP characters:

Hermione Granger: Hermione is a wiz kid, so much so that at times people make her feel ashamed of her intelligence. She is a leader and will tackle anything she puts her mind to. However, she is a bit confused about her romantic interests (does not apply to me). When she goes with her gut instinct she is seldom wrong. In the workplace, Hermione would be ambitious and confident. However, she’d need a strong mentor or boss like Professor McGonagall to rein her in. Her desire to master everything could be her downfall by spreading herself too thin and burning out early.

Harry Potter: He is courageous and very loyal friend. He is not afraid of challenges and is always looking for adventure. Harry loves family but sometimes wishes he was just an average person, which he is definitely not. He is special and important. At work, Harry would be the one to question why something is done a certain way, and then he’d provide a better solution. In his unassuming way, Harry is an innovator. He’s the golden child with a one-way ticket to a corner office.

Draco Malfoy: He tries to influence people, but for all the wrong reasons. Draco picks on his schoolmates. He’s the classic workplace bully. His own insecurities feed his unhappiness and create the desire to harm others. Well, that and the fact that he rides his father’s coat tails and did not have the best family upbringing. One day he will cross paths with the wrong coworker (wizard) and lose his tough-guy status.

When I finished with the quizzes I thought about my high school teachers and how they resembled the Hogwarts faculty: geometry (Severus Snape), drama (Sybill Trelawney) and Spanish (Pomona Sprout).

I daydreamed some more and reflected on some of my past bosses. I ranked them according to how Voldemort-like they were. The list was impressive, but I realized I had never worked for a Dumbledore.

That gave me the motivation I needed. I could become a Dumbledore to my team. I might not ever make it, but it’s a much better path to walk than the path “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” took.

Do you work with a Harry Potter character? Do you hide in fear when your Voldemort-esque boss turns the corner? I’d like to hear your stories.

What Not to Do When You’re Job Hunting

Countless eager job seekers are going to extremes to stand apart from the crowd. But, their efforts, though well-intentioned, can miss the mark. Last year, one video resume from an aspiring job seeker  became a YouTube sensation when it was posted without his consent after he sent it to several Wall Street recruiters. The resume and the buzz it generated subjected its creator to internet ridicule – and didn’t exactly help his job prospects. But in some cases, a video resume has been just the ticket. Another job seeker, featured by Career Journal, actually landed four job offers from his video resume.

Video resumes aren’t the only new trend being used by job seekers to stand apart from the crowd. Recruiting bloggers often post horror stories of job seekers trying too hard to set themselves apart from the pack – from dressing up in costume to sending lavish gifts to hounding recruiters with frequent calls and e-mails. So how can job seekers figure out if these efforts will help or hurt their job search?

The Brand Dame, a professional recruiter, recently posted a list of things not to do in a job hunt – from the perspective of the person picking through resumes. Though it sounds a little harsh, her insights should be taken seriously by job seekers. Recruiters, she says,  “…are looking for reasons to eliminate you.” It’s your job to sell yourself as the right candidate for the job, not eliminate yourself by making a dumb move. And in a competitive job market, it can be hard to find the right balance between not trying and trying too hard. Here are a few top ways you can ensure your resumes gets put in the “no” pile. (Hint: Avoid these at all costs.)

  • Try too hard. Give your job search serious effort, but don’t become a nuisance to the recruiters and hiring managers you are applying with. A unique way to stand out from the crowd isn’t necessarily a wrong move, but whether it’s a right one or not will depend largely on the type of job and industry you’re trying to get into. An off-the-cuff video resume probably won’t appeal to conservative companies or industries, but it might work for creative fields.

  • Oversell yourself. Some people can make themselves sound pretty impressive on paper. Others just make themselves sound self-absorbed and self-important. Present your skills and your abilities for what they are, and keep it at that.

  • Bribe. Recruiters don’t take kindly to being bribed for an interview. Some have legal obligations with the companies they work for to not accept any gifts or outside compensation for their efforts. Don’t go overboard on gestures you send recruiters. Keep your efforts professional, simple and to-the-point.

  • Lie. Don’t say you graduated from Yale, with honors, if it’s not true. It’s the job of recruiters to verify your resume for facts, and these days, a simple Google search or call to a university can quickly uncover the truth and lies behind applicants’ resumes. A recent story on Career Journal highlighted how one woman’s high-powered career fell apart after it was discovered she fudged the truth on her resume when she lied about her credentials.

  • Hassle/harass. Yes, believe it or not, recruiters have been hassled, even harassed or stalked by overly eager job seekers. While a thoughtful gesture can set you apart from the pack, showing up at a recruiter’s front door with a singing telegram and a $100 flower arrangement probably isn’t going to land you a job. Unless you’re applying to be a birthday party clown.

Do you have any stories of job hunting tips gone awry? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Care for a Mint?

Jerry Seinfeld shared the following quote during one of his monologues in season five of Seinfeld.

“I really feel as human beings, we need more training in our basic social skills. Conversational Distance. Don’t you hate these people that talk to you – they talk into your mouth like you’re a clown at a drive-through.”

In this episode (“The Raincoats”), Elaine’s boyfriend is a “close talker” (CT), a man who invades your personal space.

I ran into a close talker this week at a business lunch and it still has me shook up.

The man was the same height as me. We were both dressed in suits and ties, had similar builds and the same color hair and eyes.

He approached me with a question and steadily began entering my personal space like Napoleon plowing through Europe. In about 20 seconds I was pressed up against the wall, and I had yet to say anything. But I could tell he chose the tuna salad.

This experience was exactly like a scenario I read about in the USA Today on Tuesday. The article “Does height equal power? Some CEOs say yes,” offered some good insight into social domination.

In the article, Lara Tiedens, an organizational behavior professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business stated that people often use height, or the appearance of height (high heels or lifts) to look more powerful. She describes these power players who look directly at others, use an open stance and vigorous gestures, speak loudly in a deep voice, interrupt at will, and lean in close or otherwise reduce the space of others and expand their own.

Since “CT” and I were so similar, I contend he chose to invade my space to gain an advantage. I observed him speaking with others, mostly women, and he kept a comfortable distance. Then again he was taller than them.

Have you met a close talker? How do you think height affects power plays at work? Please share you experience.

Next time I run into a close talker, I hope he’ll pick the chicken salad instead.

Who’s Facebooking You?

The social networking site Facebook is now the most used people search engine on the
Web according to data reported by Inside Facebook, an independent blog dedicated to Facebook news. And, according to Wikipedia, the site is now the 7th most visited site in the U.S. and has 30 million registered users.

What does all this mean to you? That friends, acquaintances and employers could be searching Facebook for information about you. If you have a Facebook account, the thought of your boss or a random neighbor perusing your profile may not sit well with you – depending on what you have posted there.

The content on Facebook profiles has created career hiccups for some. For example, Miss New Jersey was recently involved in a blackmailing fiasco that threatened to end her reign as a result of some questionable photos on her Facebook page. 

According to CBS.com research, about 20 percent of employers are routinely scanning the Facebook profiles of applicants. When employers stumble upon racy or questionable content on applicants’ profiles, it can do serious damage to the applicants’ chances of landing an interview, let alone a job.

But just because employers are browsing social networking sites for information on candidates doesn’t mean you should delete your Facebook profile. Online profiles can actually be used to your advantage. For one, they give employers an inside look at your personality, interests and creative abilities – all of which can help you stand out from the crowd.

If you’re actively applying for jobs and you have an online profile, consider including some of your career strengths and interests on your profile in case a recruiter finds you online. Or if you have content on your profile that you don’t want prospective employers to view, make your profile private.

What’s been your experience with Facebook and other social networking sites? Have you searched co-workers, applicants or employees on these sites? How would you feel if you knew a recruiter had looked at your profile?

Wanted: Fuel Counselor

A co-worker of mine only buys $15 of gas at a time. She’s been doing this since gas was 98 cents, and $15 used to go a lot further. It used to fill up the entire tank. She still pays the same amount when she fills up because it is psychologically easier on her.

This morning I looked at my car’s gas gauge and wondered if I could make it through the week with only one-third a tank of gas. I was relieved when I did the math. If I only drive to and from work, I’ll make it with two gallons to spare.

The topic was fresh on my mind, having just read the nationwide AAA gas price survey. The report was disturbing.

Nebraska has the most expensive gas in the nation – their average is $3.34 for a gallon of gas – 29 cents above the national average of $3.05. Rounding out the top 10 are Wisconsin, Indiana, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Kansas and Iowa

South Carolina has the cheapest AAA gas ranking, at $2.83, followed by New Jersey, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

I know that on Friday it will cost me more than $50 to fill up my car. Something I know is inevitable, but it will nonetheless ruin my TGIF celebration. I’m making alterations to my lifestyle this week by only eating meals I prepare myself. No take out or dining out until I fill up my vehicle.

Pinching pennies is a necessity because I make the same amount that I did when gas was $1 a gallon cheaper. I’m thankful I now work 12 miles from the office instead of the 40 miles I used to drive. Moving closer to work was a lifestyle change as much as it was an economic decision.

If gas prices keep escalating I might forgo asking for a raise and ask for gas vouchers instead.

What about you? Do you fill ’er up or only purchase a set dollar amount? Are you changing your lifestyle to adjust to paying more at the pump? Looking for work closer to home? Riding your bike?

That’s a Good Question

I’ve been on my fair share of job interviews. Now that I’m a manager, I appreciate the importance of a good first interview. Committing to a long-term relationship with a relative stranger can be intimidating for the interviewer and the applicant alike.

Yesterday, I counseled a colleague who is re-entering the job market after a six-year departure to raise her son. She was looking to improve her interview skills.

I shared with her the top three things I look for in a successful interview. If a candidate can demonstrate aptitude in these three areas, there’s a good chance there’ll be a second interview.

Problem-solving skills. Creativity and thinking logically are only part of the equation. What I look for are concrete examples that prove a candidate can solve problems by providing workable solutions. This gives the applicant a chance to provide real-life experiences of past successes or how obstacles were overcome.

People skills. I actually had a candidate for a receptionist position tell me that she didn’t really like people. That interview ended about three minutes later. You might not have a job that interacts with clients, customers or suppliers, but every job has some level of personal interaction. You need to be able to demonstrate that you’re trustworthy, accommodating and a team player. I’m especially interested in a candidate’s listening skills, which are as important as speaking.

Follow through skills. I look for people who possess follow through and can get things done. This is another opportunity to share a story of how you closed the deal or completed the project. In the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” there is a line that refers to the ABCs – Always Be Closing. It is important that you can demonstrate that you can complete projects and not just move from project to project.

When you are asked questions about your skills, try to focus your responses in one of these three areas. What do you think is important to convey in a job interview? What question do you dread being asked?

Plan to Change the Plan – Career Surprises Reward the Flexible

Some people have a clear plan, a timeline with goals and strategies, to get where they want in their careers. They’ve laid out how they’re going to get there in a year, or 5 years or ten years and are moving forward in that direction. These are the type of people that more spur-of-the-moment people, like myself, often admire. We look at their spreadsheets and to-do lists and wonder how they got it all figured out.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for flexibility and going where life takes you. While I’m not saying it’s a good idea to have zero career plans, I am wondering about the value of having a more liquid idea of the future.

Instead of focusing on a particular job or career path, I generally think about my strengths and what I’m most passionate about. I don’t have a concrete 5- or 10-year plan, but I do plan to be using my strengths in a field that I’m excited about. This type of plan may not sound as impressive, but it’s worked out pretty well for me so far. It also seems to have worked out for Eric Nakagawa.

On the USA Today blog, Small Business Connection, blogger Jim Hopkins posts about how former software developer Eric Nakagawa became an “accidental entrepreneur” when he posted a humorous picture on his website of an overweight cat.

That picture became the catalyst for the “I Can Has Cheezburger” blog, a site featuring photos of animals with comedic captions. The site now garners about 200,000 visitors a day and thousands of advertising dollars. It’s unlikely that Nakagawa had a five year plan that included: “Start successful blog featuring cat photos and bad grammar.” Being flexible when there’s a fork in the career road gave Nakagawa the opportunity to do something he probably never planned for.

Do you have a 5, 10 or even 20 year career plan? Or, are you taking things one day at a time? If you have a plan, have things turned out the way you expected? If you don’t have long-term plans, how has that affected your career?