What Was He Thinking?!

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to misremember anything.”

(Mark Twain, almost)

I will admit it. I have been a Brian Williams fan for a while now.  He is suave and debonair and exudes an aura of professionalism.  My wife likes his ties.  Until now, his credibility had been stellar.  But in recent weeks, he has been the target of much criticism by the media (ironically).  His Wikipedia page now includes the new revelations starting with just the second paragraph!

The extent to his professional recovery after his 6 month suspension remains to be seen.  I am not a reputation rehab professional.  Beyond some form of public expression of contrition (please, not on Twitter!), I am not sure what I would advise him or his agent.  But at this point at least, there might be three employment-related takeaways which can be gleaned from these new developments.

  1. Lies will catch up to you: A 2014 study by Careerbuilder reported some seemingly high percentages of embellishment on a resume.  While resume professionals will advise that it is best to put one’s best foot forward on a resume, it cannot be someone else’s foot.  One of my favorite case studies in this regard was one in which a hospital administrator at a state hospital in Crownsville, MD was discovered for falsifying information on his application.  He had claimed to have had two Masters degrees, one doctorate, and somehow led a Kansas City mental health program, at the age of 13!  As it turned out, after he was dismissed from his position in Maryland, he pulled the same thing at Blue Cross in Michigan!  Are you kidding me?!  The lesson here is be careful what you put on your resume and information expressed in a job interview.  Arguably, a celebrity figure like Williams is held to greater scrutiny and levels of discovery by fact-checkers.  But, the average Joe or Jane should also make sure that information, listed, posted or otherwise stated is factually correct.
  2. In an instant: A colleague once told me that it sometimes takes 20 or 30 years to build a reputation, but that it can be lost in an instant. In Williams’ case, it may not have been exactly in an instant.  Nevertheless, the allegations (still emerging) came to many including me, as a complete surprise.  So, I would say that our professional lives are represented by a continuous span of reputation building and maintaining activities.  The reality is such that much of our lives are public.  Sometimes we choose to make stuff public in what we say, text, write, or post on social media.  Other times we are just being monitored with the potential for retrospective discovery being great.  So, be careful.  The Internet not only does not forget, but may also find you.
  3. What was he thinking?:The compelling question is why Brian Williams would do that. He is an anchorman at the top of his field.  His job has been relatively simple.  Read the news on national TV.  He is not event a media commentator where opinions are part of the job description.  Perhaps in today’s era, there are certain contractually obligated activities expected by an employer.  His being scheduled on talk shows and other venues like college commencement addresses may have ultimately been orchestrated in order to bolster ratings when he next goes on the air.  In those contexts, he has had various opportunities to recount “war stories”.  So, the need to appear as “real”, rather than stiff or pompous, likely caused him to ‘misremember’.  On the surface, Brian Williams is a seemingly decent human being with a straight-arrow persona.  In retrospect, we could conjecture whether all of the now-questionable vignettes enhanced his positive reputation over the years.  Or were they merely superfluous, and in hindsight, they were simply not worth it?  I am not sure whether we will know the answer to this question.  Perhaps time will tell if and when he returns.  But the fact remains that he was being paid handsomely to engage in an endeavor where he was supposed to report on the news, not be a part of it.  Athletes sometimes try to opt out of being role models so that they need not behave in a ideal ways off-the-field.  But, it comes with the territory.  Whether professional sports teams are doing it because it is the right thing to do or because of reputation management, they are starting to incorporate additional codes of conduct clauses into athletes’ contracts.  Now, the leagues themselves are doing the same thing as a consortium to help support the brand that is their sport.  Whether this will lead to a long-term improvement of moral, ethical, or social behavior in sports or other avocations, remains an open question.

Brian Williams may in fact be a kind, sensitive, and ever otherwise moral person.  And deep down, he may in fact even be humble.  In certain ways, the one whom he most harmed has been himself.  Then again, given his position as Anchor and Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, he has brought damage upon his employer and to the field of journalism in general.  Some of his stories have also been an affront to those who have actually been in dangerous real-life situations.  But, his job has been to be a reporter of the news and not a commentator.  Journalism is supposed to be objective and factual.  So, this is a violation both a public trust and an affront to the industry.

The challenge for all of us is to live our professional lives, putting in an honest hard day’s work.  Some jobs are more in the public eye.  For most others, few will ever know about them.  Nevertheless, the above lessons are just a few that we can all take to heart.

7 of My Communication Pet Peeves and How to Address Them

guy in water on cell phone

Communication skills are a prerequisite in the workplace and in life.  It has been my observation that many overrate their competency in this area.  In many job announcements you will see “excellent communication skills” listed as a requirement.  I often say that if I polled an audience of 100 and asked “how many of you have excellent communication skills?”, almost all of the hands would go up.  This is based on self-overrating and the overall social desirability of that response.  But in fact, it is totally subjective and no one wants to essentially declare “I am anti-social” publically.  It is for that reason why I personally place little value on including that component in a job posting.  Because it is not measurable, I recommend that the “requirement” be left out altogether.  That being said, we communicate in different ways.  We communicate by phone, in writing, and in person (to individuals and groups).  In today’s electronic age, we also have digital versions of the above which include channels such as Skype, email, and through social media channels.

I have been privileged to know people who are either communications professionals or regular people who simply know what to say as well as when and how to say it.  (In part, this speaks to their emotional intelligence, which is a topic for another blog post someday.)  I have gleaned much from interacting with them and reading their pointers.  Some of those who excel in this area are “naturals”.  They may have had a solid upbringing or otherwise picked up important tips along the way.  Others were not predisposed towards excellence, but have developed themselves into being sharp communicators.  This manifests itself whether speaking to large audiences, smaller groups, or one-on-one.

Because I have become more sensitive to this area recently, I have come up with a list of some of the communication pet peeves that I’d like to put out there to my readers.  The purpose of drawing attention to these is to enhance awareness and lead to more effective and crisp communication, especially as it relates to those in the job market.  I should mention that some of these points are more observable in generational cohorts like Millennials.  Others are across-the-board.

(1) Gracious, polite, but not over-the-top: In many cases, when you reach out you are asking someone for his or her assistance. It might be a simple piece of factual information which you are after.  In making the initial request, review your email or verbal language.  The words ”please” and “thank you” should probably appear once, at the beginning and end of the message respectfully.   After the person has gotten back to you, a simple “thank you” or “I appreciate it” will suffice.  Overusing “Thank you so much” for very basic requests merely trivializes the gratitude being expressed.  Obviously, more extensive requests for assistance should come with a commensurate expression or even a token of appreciation.

(2) Clichés and fillers: We all have our “go-to” phrases or expressions. However, we do not want to come across as over-using them.  To help with this, a literal or figurative thesaurus comes in handy.  One such expression which has become more popular of late such is “At the end of the day…”.  One rule-of-thumb is if you hear a friend parodying you with your catch phrases, it might be time to try to decrease its frequency.

Fillers are words and nonverbal sounds which are used to close gaps or pauses.  Common mid-phrase fillers include “uhm”, “you-know” and “like”.  A common filler (popular among Millennials) when beginning a thought is “So…”  That word is a transition word and is most appropriately used in the context of a logical conclusion only after other information has been presented.  I have previously written in more detail on the topic of fillers here.  The first step in improvement here is self-awareness.  This might start with listening to a recording of yourself.  Make a mental note of what your go-to fillers and how often you use them.

(3) Subject line anyone?: It takes only a few keystrokes to put a subject line into an email. But it can make the difference between your email reaching its target and going into Spam (many filters will block Subject-less messages.  Plus, a subject line provides context and help keep threads organized.  Then there is the “recycling trap”.  That is when you forget someone’s email address, search on the name, and reply to an email with a Subject line from 4 years ago.  Not good form.  Copy the email address and pasted it into a new email.

(4) Up-speak (or up-talk): I’m not sure when and who started it, but I seem to hear it more and more. This includes intelligent and otherwise articulate individuals.  Up-speak is when the pitch of a person’s voice rises at the end of a sentence or phrase.  The result is a thought being conveyed as a question mark.  Therefore, it comes across as less than definitive statement.  This is not a good idea especially when you are introducing yourself and appear unsure of the autobiographical information which you are expressing.  A good description of the phenomenon and how you address it described by Allison Shapira of Global Public Speaking, LLC can be seen here.  My colleague Lynda Katz Wilner of Successfully Speaking addresses up-talk in this clip in the context of a job interview (specifically at the 4:50 mark).

(5) Common grammar blunders: There are many from which I might be able to choose.  Ostensibly they should apply equally to writing and oral communication.  But, some tend to be more prevalent in one or the other modality.  I will point out two here:

“Please see Darla or myself after the interview”.  The correct word should have been “me” which is an object pronoun.  The word “myself” is a reflexive pronoun and only should be used in limited cases.  For instance, in a scenario where you are already in the picture, the reflexive pronoun is appropriate in context.  “I hurt myself” or “I decided to print out the document myself” would be correct. (Thank you Mrs. Brannan!)

“A company has to make sure that their advertising campaign is relevant to potential customers”.  This is an issue of old-fashioned subject-verb agreement.  The word should be “its advertising campaign”.

I could go on and on.  But suffice it to say that proper grammar will always make you look good.  And the way to improve one’s writing is only a matter of looking at what Microsoft Word has marked up for you, taking that to heart, and making the necessary changes.

(6) What is your background?: In today’s mobile phone age, we are constantly reachable wherever we might be. When taking a business call you should be sensitive to where you are and what someone else might hear in your background .  This would ostensibly also apply to calls to and from landlines where the other party can hear kids fighting in the background.  Whether you are initiating a business call or receiving something which might be important, please move to an uninterrupted space.  Other opinions would be to let it go to voicemail or offer to call the person back from a quiet place.

(7) Pardon the interruption: Have you ever been at an event, you are engaged in a conversation, and someone intrudes to speak to either the other party or you? It’s annoying, right?  When the person leaves, you often find yourself asking “where were we?” in resuming your conversation.  So, when you are in the other position, it is best to just wait quietly, maintain your distance as to not appear as if you are eavesdropping, and then find a pause to make your move.  Such politeness demonstrates your patience and reflects well on you professionally.


I will frame this as just pointing out a few things and to kick off the conversation.  There are obviously going to be many “what about _______?” suggestions.  That is what the Comment section is for.

How Are You Coming Across? 7 Common LinkedIn Mistakes

LinkedIn Logo

OK. I’ll admit it. I am a LinkedIn addict.

For those of us living in the professional world of 2014, we know what a valuable and really critical resource LinkedIn has become. It is essential for developing a professional presence, keeping in touch, and networking. Since something tells me that I might already be preaching-to-the-choir, I will end the infomercial here.

Having been an active LinkedIn user for close to a decade, I thought I would share some observations relating to LinkedIn profiles and activity. There are obviously many more points to present. But here, I address 7 of them which I have noticed and have been on my mind recently. They include just some simple basics for avoiding common pitfalls and establishing and maintaining your online professional credibility. Heavy LinkedIn users will surely have others. Please feel to offer your own favorites in the Comments section.

(1) Are you in the game or not?: When someone is looking you up on LinkedIn and you only have a single-digit number of connections, you will not be taken seriously. If you have decided to join LinkedIn, you must establish yourself by showing that you have a network. It speaks to your professional credibility as well as your ability to add value to others.

(2) Pass incomplete: What often happens is that someone was convinced to start an account and a profile, and never finished the job. In some ways, it might be better if the person had no account at all. The account may only list a current job without a professional history or not list any educational background. I find it puzzling how some people who have large numbers of connections can still have a relatively empty profile.

(3) Selfie?: While it might appear to be a trivial detail, having a quality professional picture as part of your LinkedIn profile is important. While it is rare for a standard resume to have a photo, the absence of a picture on LinkedIn looks half-baked. It is not narcissistic to post a photo. Not all photos are fair game however. What I can say, by way of guidelines is: no selfies, pictures taken at the beach or at the glamour studio in the mall, wedding shots, poorly-cropped pictures of you with some random hand on your shoulder, or any image which is dark or grainy. It pays to spend the time getting a formal high resolution head-shot of you taken against a neutral background. Wear professional attire, nothing revealing or distracting. Also, once you have a solid portrait uploaded, do not feel compelled to change it every month. (Below, I explain that profile changes might be picked up and your whole network will be notified.) If your picture has been taken by a professional photographer for another purpose such as your company’s website or industry publication, request a digital copy which you can post.

(4) Have you proofread?: Make sure to proofread your entire profile. Pay attention to spelling, spacing, punctuation, and capitalizations. And after you have proofread yourself, ask 3 other close colleagues to do the same and give you feedback.  Let them edit all those things that you missed (Thanks, Julie!) Nothing looks worse than when a job seeker describes himself as “detail-oriented” and there are errors in the profile. Errors and omissions will force the reader to conclude the opposite.

(5) Up-to-date?: It goes without saying that you should keep your profile current in terms of employment and education information. For the most part, your LinkedIn profile should match your real-time resume. So, if something changes in your professional or educational life, make the same adjustment to LinkedIn.

(6) Check your settings: Check to account settings to see if each and every update will be made public. If things are set like that, then each and every time you touch something in your profile, it will go out to your entire network as a job change or milestone. Your first-degree connections and fellow group members will be getting multiple notifications of any such updates and you don’t want to appear digitally redundant.

(7) Are you a Citizen?: Always be a good LinkedIn citizen. This applies to when you reach out to people in requesting to connect (always customize that default message to make the pitch compelling). It also pertains to the content you post in a given status update. What you post should be professionally relevant to your network. Occasionally, something “light” would be acceptable to present. But, do that selectively. You do not want to come across as having a persona that is exclusively frivolous. Feel free to post articles and links of professional interest, even re-posting content from someone else in your network. The rule of thumb is to be judicious and exercise common sense before you post. Don’t feel compelled to post something multiple times a day to merely show that you that you still exist.


Keeping these points in mind will go a long way in creating a compelling presence either as an active job seeker, passive job seeker, or credible professional in your field.

If You Want a Job, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee


I must confess.  Although I like gadgets, I am not a techie per se.  Many of us enjoy technology and believe that we are well versed in it.  But, I would call that the End-User Syndrome.  That is, we enjoy the benefits of our smart phones and mobile devices.  We love to be able to do all sorts of things online, including looking up answers quickly, making purchases, and paying bills (OK, that’s not so much fun).  However, few of us would ever be interested in assembling hardware or even writing the code which drives the Internet or the apps we use.

Today, I had an opportunity to meet with recruiters Alexa and Lee at a technology recruiting company in my area.  Following an explanation of what I do, I asked them about their staffing needs.  I also asked them what areas were hard-to-find and therefore represent opportunities for current and future job seekers in our community.  They replied, practically in stereo, “Java”!  And they did not mean the kind from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.  I then asked them to list other areas of IT and we came up with the list which appears below.

Caveat:  I mentioned that I am not a techie, right?  So, I cannot say that I am conversant with these languages or platforms.  I can’t say that I fully understand the descriptions which I gathered from my research.  But, what I can say is that based on this recent meeting and the information I have gleaned from other IT professionals, these represent current, imminent, and future skill areas which are in demand.  The Baltimore-Washington corridor is full of government employers, contractors, and commercial technology companies who are starving for these skill sets.  There are many quality jobs out there which are ripe for the taking, if people would have these skills.  Within Information Technology (“IT”) the unemployment rates range from less than 1% to just over 3%, which is half of the national rates.  See this graphic.

It would therefore be important for parents of young people to pay attention to what is out there by way of available jobs and those skills which will be needed for kids to achieve gainful employment.  Peruse job descriptions and titles.  Look at the experiential and education requirements.  Young people should be encouraged to learn these areas early and often, in school and at home.

So in that spirit, I am presenting some areas which came up during my meeting, starting with the coffee (which they did offer me, by the way), or more importantly Java.

Java (not to be confused with Java Script) is a programming language that is concurrent, class-based, object-oriented, and specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible. It is intended to let application developers “write once, run anywhere” (WORA), meaning that code that runs on one platform does not need to be recompiled to run on another. Java applications are typically compiled to bytecode (class file) that can run on any Java virtual machine (JVM) regardless of computer architecture. Java is, as of 2014, one of the most popular programming languages in use, particularly for client-server web applications, with a reported 9 million developers. The language derives much of its origins from C and C++, but it has fewer low-level facilities than either of them.

Ruby on Rails (or “Rails”) is an open source full-stack web application framework written in the Ruby Programming Language. Rails is capable of gathering information using pages and applications from the web server and can interact with a database and can retrieve information from the database. Rails works as routing system that works independently from the underlying web server. Rails is designed to make building web applications simpler by utilizing convention over configuration. In doing so Rails greatly simplifies the creation of certain applications while complicating the creation of others.

Python is a widely used general-purpose, high-level programming language. Its design philosophy emphasizes code readability, and its syntax allows programmers to express concepts in fewer lines of code than would be possible in languages such as C. The language provides constructs intended to enable clear programs on both a small and large scale.

Extensible Markup Language (or “XML”) is a markup language that defines a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all free open standards.

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet). Clouds can be classified as public, private or hybrid.  The term “moving to cloud” also refers to an organization moving away from a traditional CAPEX model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the OPEX model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as one uses it).

MapReduce is a programming model and an associated implementation for processing and generating large data sets with a parallel, distributed algorithm on a cluster.  A MapReduce program is composed of a Map procedure that performs filtering and sorting (such as sorting students by first name into queues, one queue for each name) and a Reduce procedure that performs a summary operation (such as counting the number of students in each queue, yielding name frequencies). The “MapReduce System” (also called “infrastructure” or “framework”) orchestrates the processing by marshalling the distributed servers, running the various tasks in parallel, managing all communications and data transfers between the various parts of the system, and providing for redundancy and fault tolerance.

Apache HTTP Server (or “Apache”) is a web server application notable for playing a key role in the initial growth of the World Wide Web.[3] Originally based on the NCSA HTTPd server, development of Apache began in early 1995 after work on the NCSA code stalled. Apache quickly overtook NCSA HTTPd as the dominant HTTP server, and has remained the most popular HTTP server in use since April 1996. In 2009, it became the first web server software to serve more than 100 million websites.

Apache Hadoop is an open-source software framework for storage and large-scale processing of data-sets on clusters of commodity hardware. Hadoop is an Apache top-level project being built and used by a global community of contributors and users.  It is licensed under the Apache License 2.0.

Pig Script (or “Pig”) is a high-level platform for creating MapReduce programs used with Hadoop. The language for this platform is called Pig Latin. Pig Latin abstracts the programming from the Java MapReduce idiom into a notation which makes MapReduce programming high level, similar to that of SQL for RDBMS systems. Pig Latin can be extended using UDF (User Defined Functions) which the user can write in Java, Python, JavaScript, Ruby or Groovy and then call directly from the language.


The $64,000 question is from where and how skills in these areas are to be obtained?  Well, a first step is to get our youth interested in IT fields such as programming (or “coding”).  Here are some helpful resources for parents.  For parents of younger children, see here.  For older children, there are a bunch of often free online tutorials which can be accessed here, here, and here.  For information on the up-and-coming specialization of robotics, please see here.

Another step is to encourage local educational entities to get on board in terms of added focus and classes.  Our middle and high schools, colleges, and experiential training environments need to be encouraged to offer classes these areas.  These classes will serve to expose students to as well as hopefully cultivate interest in IT (I have previously expressed the same for all of STEM fields.)  Given the current and emerging opportunities in the Baltimore-Washington area, this would serve to align our youth with a path towards gainful employment.

Another step is to seek out training opportunities.  These might come in the form of experiential scenarios like internships and entry-level jobs in IT.  Since much of what goes on in IT is gained on the job, exposure to current and emerging technologies might be more important than what could be taught in a classroom.  This does not obviate the need to consider degree programs or industry recognized certifications in various technologies.  For some jobs, an IT degree is required and will often be critical to career growth to management or higher-level positions.

One comment which I frequently get from parents and young people is “if the technology is constantly changing, what I learn or train on today will be obsolete by the time I will be looking for a job”.  While that might sound logically true, it is in fact erroneous.  What a person learns today will provide the foundation of the fundamentals for how things work within IT.  Therefore, exposure and experience today will lay the groundwork for the future.

In closing, I will add a few points:

  • Qualified IT professionals are in very high demand, and will be, for the foreseeable future. There are many vacancies and recruiters struggle to find suitable people to fill them.  However, not all credentials are the same.  Degrees from accredited, recognized, and respected institutions will always garner significantly more interest from employers than certifications from dubious ones.
  • IT degrees are a great investment. To earn such a credential requires much less investment of time than the training required in obtaining comparable levels of employment and compensation.  A solid Bachelor’s degree in IT will usually result in positive job prospects upon graduation.
  • The Baltimore-DC area has many government bureaus, security agencies, and contractors. Because many such employers require U.S. Citizenship as a requirement, people born in the U.S. are often at an advantage, if they are qualified technically.  Furthermore, those born in this country may have an easier time being issued a Security Clearance, which is also required for many well-paying IT positions.  So, the combination of technical training, skills and being from this area will make for a very compelling resume.
  • The incredible popularity of portable computing made possible by smart phones and mobile devices will only increase as new devices and technologies are introduced. Consequently the skills listed above will be even more marketable.

The world is rapidly changing and so is IT, perhaps even more so.  In a very different context during my years in summer camp, we were told that “learning never ends…clean-up begins right now”.  For IT as well, this is so true.  The proper perspective is to not only gain skills at the entry-level but maintain currency.  This requires a mindset of continuous learning and adaptability to whatever comes down the pike.


[Blogger’s note: I wish to thank Alexa, Lee, and Sam for their helpful technical input in preparing this, as well as Wikipedia for translating many of the technical terms into plainer English.]

How Common is Your Core?


There is much discussion today about the adoption of “common core” curriculum in Elementary and High Schools.  I can’t say that I have a definitive opinion on that.  So, I will focus my remarks on college coursework and graduation requirements.   Anyone who has gone to college knows that every institution has courses which must be taken in order to earn a degree.  This applies regardless of your major.  Courses might include a class in English, Math, and Science.  They might be called core courses, general university requirements or something similar.  The reasoning behind such requirements is that the college wants graduates who receive its diploma to be minimally literate or “well rounded” in those areas.  That’s all fine and appropriate. However, I believe that it’s time to add one or two courses to that list.  My proposal will not mean any additional time to graduate.  In fact, I guarantee that these courses could certainly take the place of electives such as “Pop Culture in the 20th Century” or “Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond”.

The value of college education and degrees has been scrutinized of late.  Most studies which I have seen have concluded that those with a Bachelor’s degree are better off and will earn more than those without one.  However, many college graduates find themselves either unemployed or not working in a field that they were planning on.  Based on anecdotal and hard evidence, there is growing cynicism about the value of college education.  In some cases, there is despair; in most cases, there is the burden of student load debt.  These sentiments are perhaps accentuated for some Liberal Arts degrees, for which there is no logical conduit to a job or job family which will capitalize on what was learned in that major.  We have heard of college graduates who “boomerang” and move back home.  That is because without a decent paying job, they can’t afford to live on their own.  Yes, parents who have missed their kids might enjoy the empty nest temporarily being replenished.  But, this comes at a cost when young adults are delaying their achievement of independence and “moving on with life”.  This post-college transition has always been part of normative human development.

Some of the reasons for this trend are as follows.  First, there is a lack of alignment between many college curricula and the skills needs in today’s workforce.  The business community has been saying this for a while now.  Second, there is often a lack of workplace readiness on the part of college students which are the result of attitude, expectations, and behavior.  As such, there is an incongruous worldview relative to that of those within the prevalent generational cohorts in the workplace.  Third, the job search of 2014 in and of itself requires specific skills, tools, strategies and prerequisites.  My modest, but hopefully significant proposal, touches on the first factor (which is a topic certainly worthy of independent debate), but primarily speaks to the second and the third.

Every legitimate institution of higher education has a Career Center.  The mission of any Career Center is not to teach specific subject matter, but to facilitate workplace readiness.  Its metrics of performance are primarily the number of students serviced and job placement rates of graduates.  In speaking with career center colleagues and students, I have gotten the sense that those departments are a combination of being underutilized and understaffed.  A single hour-long appointment at the Career Center in four years of college is simply not enough!

What I am proposing here is a semester-long course, as early as possible during undergraduate study, but most logically positioned no later than the first semester of the Senior year.  The instructor for such a course might very well be a staffer from the Career Center.  Or he/she might be some other career professional.  I recently presented to a group of Career Center professionals in Maryland and pitched this idea.  Based on my day job as a career conduit and a part-time academic (often being asked if I know of internship and job opportunities), I believe that I have a unique perspective.  My idea is to develop a 16 week semester-long course on the job search and career readiness.  (I am open to nominations for the actual course title.)  This course would supplement what has hopefully been a quality education in one’s major together with important experiential learning which might come in the form of internships.

Below, I present the syllabus for what I would cover in such a class together.  There would be lecture, class discussion, as well as assignments, assessments, and feedback.  The class would meet for 3 hours, once a week.  I would make this course mandatory for any student to graduate from any college.  Parents should demand it.  Students should demand it.  University Presidents should demand it and fund it.  The job search of 2014 is unlike the way it was 20 years ago and even 5 years ago.  Consequently, students must be positioned technically and socially in order to successfully integrate into the job market.  I will go out on a limb and assert that this course will be more important than any other course taken in college, certainly as it contributes towards the goal of gainful employment.

Syllabus for Career Readiness 101

Week # Topic(s)
1 Introduction: Job Search in 2014, Overview of the Job Market, Employers, Recruiters
2 Overview of generational cohorts in society and in the workforce, multiculturalism and diversity
3 Resume Writing
Assignment: draft proper resume, order business cards
4 How to Write Cover Letters
5 How to Search for a Job, Where to Search, How to Apply, How Not to Apply; making use of and leveraging the resources of your university’s Career Center
6 Technology I: Coding (HTML, etc.) Crash Course*
7 Technology II: The Cloud, Building a Personal Website
Assignment: build website
8 LinkedIn: How to use, how to navigate, how to search
Assignment: get a professional photo and build LinkedIn profile
9 Networking: Purpose of, importance of, how to; joining professional organizations; Seeking out and engaging a professional mentor
10 Communication: in-person, phone, email; how social media like Facebook and Twitter can be a liability
11 Self-presentation: appearance, dress; Interview Preparation (how to prepare, what to bring)
12 Making a presentation: personal brand, elevator speech, avoiding “fillers” and up-speak, etc.
13 How to select and prepare work samples for presentation to an employer
14 Workplace professionalism on-the-job
15 Review and critique of students’ LinkedIn Profile, Resume, Work Samples, Website
16 Final Exam: Mock Interview (recorded and critiqued/graded by volunteers from the business community)

*The second required course would be a semester-long “coding” class in a current programming language taken in the Junior or Senior year.  The exact language might be a “moving target” and change with the times.  With so many jobs in every field requiring this, having these technical skills is often a necessary condition to be seen favorably.

I would encourage all colleges to consider this class as a requirement to graduate.  It’s not rocket science, but mostly practical tips and common sense.  Having this course under your belt will hopefully make you good-to -go.

Please Hold the Phone: Seven Tips for Remote Interviewing

As part of the recruitment process, many companies will opt to conduct phone interviews with candidates.  Phone interviews are practical and economical since they do not take as long, require travel, or take up staff time.  With many applicants who need to be evaluated to decide who moves forward in the process, phone interviews (a.k.a. screens) are effective and efficient.

OK.  Let’s say you have made the cut.  The recruiter, someone from HR, or even a hiring manager obviously thought that you were enough of a fit to reach out to.  You get an email or a call to schedule a time to have a conversation with a recruiter.  How should you prepare?  What should you wear?

My general advice is to prepare in a manner identical to how you would for a regular in-person interview.  Keep in mind that the person who will be interviewing is most often not the hiring manager.  The representative of the organization has a defined task with which he/she has been assigned.  It went something like “please get me a short list of candidates who meet my criteria”.  In advance of such an experience, I present the following nuggets of advice as you prepare for a phone interview.

(1)    A Plus: First, there is an advantage to a phone interview.  That is you can treat it like an “open book test”.  This means that you can be sitting at a desk with your resume in front of you and have the organization’s website open in your browser.  You can even have Google at-the-ready should you need an impressive sound bite.  If you have some “intel” as to the type of questions you might be asked, you could also have some notes that might include some specific examples of how you handled situations in the past.  While reading them off of the paper in-person would not play well, given the remote context, you can get away with it here.  Just as with an in-person interview, have a pad of paper ready to take notes during the questions, in order to better inform your answers.  The plus here is that you can take more detailed notes, without feeling quite as self-conscious.

(2)    A Minus: Then again, there is a disadvantage to the interview.  The interviewer cannot see you.  Consequently, if you are the type of person who presents well, you cannot leverage that image in your favor.  The flip side is that as an interviewee, you cannot see the interviewer’s body language.  You don’t have a visual of how much writing of your responses he/she is doing, which might give you a clue as to how well you did on a particular question.  Therefore, try to pick up on subtle cues that are audible.  In addition from your perspective, please make especially sure that you are being heard clearly throughout the process.  After all, the interviewer is only hearing you, without eye contact, and cannot give you any benefit of the doubt if something is missed.  In addition, make sure not to interrupt or otherwise “talk over” the interviewer.  Wait for a pause on the other end of the line before speaking.

(3)    Get familiar: It goes without saying that you have thoroughly reviewed the job posting, the description, and website.  You have also tried to gather additional information about the organization or position through other means.  Take an opportunity to mark-up your resume with underlines, highlighted words, and other notes.  You can then draw from this in answering questions.  This of course, also applies to traditional interviews.  The difference is that a heavily marked up job description might not look good if brought into an interview.

(4)    Scheduling: Make sure that you are clear on not only the time but also who will be calling whom and at what number.  Given that you might prefer to be contacted at a number which is different than that in your email or on your resume, you want to make sure that you are on the same page and don’t somehow miss the call.

(5)    Who’s on the phone?: Please keep in mind that phone screens come closer to the beginning of the process.  Furthermore, they are typically not being conducted by the hiring manager.  The interviewer could be someone from HR, a 3rd party recruiter, or a consultant.  Therefore, the person might not have the same level of technical knowledge as someone in the program, who might be the next interview.  To the extent that you can anticipate the level of question and effectively tailor your responses to that, you will perform better.

(6)    Go into time-out: When you respond to the one arranging the interview, you obviously want to ensure your availability at that day and time, free from any conflicts.  You also want to envision where you will be at the time.  At that time and place, there should be no noise from kids running around or sitting on your lap.  You should also not be walking down a city block or on your car’s speaker phone.  The room which you select should be soundproofed.  You might want to have a hands-free phone to help with your taking notes.  Disable call-waiting if possible and make sure that there are no other distractions in the room at that time—including your cell phone and anything else you have open on your PC.

(7)    You might be what you wear: As corny as this might sound, you might want to actually get dressed up the same way as you would for an in-person interview.  It might serve to put yourself into a professional “zone” that could actually help you out mentally.  The upside is that you don’t have to contend with traffic and parking and won’t be as uncomfortable in your interview attire.  Then again for some, there is stress associated with interviews.  So, if the opportunity to “dress down” will indeed put you more at ease, then go for it.  So, what you wear is a personal judgment call.

In this piece, I have tried to deal with potential differences between live and phone interviews.  There is so much more to say about interviews and how to present yourself and answer questions effectively, which related to interviews in general.  But that is beyond the scope of this article.   Furthermore, with advanced in technology, some employers have started to use Skype for the same practical advantages as doing them over the phone.  I would say that Skype interviews should be treated the same way as in-person interviews (with the additional suggestion to test out your equipment and Internet connection beforehand.)  The main point is that you should always strive to be at the top of your game and cannot let the phone channel cause you to slack.   Hopefully, by preparing and attending to these points, you will maximize the probability of a call-back.

Free Samples, Anyone? Seven Ways for Being Favorably Seen as a Job Seeker

Everyone likes free stuff.  In fact, I recently attended an HR conference and picked up a bag full of pens, stress balls, and business card holders.  I grabbed some great giveaways like screen squeegees and light-up super balls, which I did not previously realize were absolute necessities before then.  From the dental benefits provider, I took one new  toothbrush for each of my family members and all of my neighbors four blocks away.  Hey, no one wants to haul all of that stuff back to the office, right?  But, I digress.

We are exposed to free samples in stores, in the mail, and online.  Another instance of a free sample is something which you can provide to potential employers to bolster being considered for a position.  It’s one thing to say that you have done something in the past; it’s another to provide concrete evidence of that.  Work samples show what you have done, with the logical inference that you can do the same for another employer.  They might also convey your style or approach to your job.

Here, I present seven types of (free) samples.  Six of them are those we share intentionally.  The seventh is a category of sorts which includes samples which are out there for anyone to see which are not deliberately offered per se.  Yet, they are quite available to others in their formulation of an impression of you.

(1)    Cover Letter: One of the first things which you might send to a prospective employer is a cover letter.  In most cases, it will be paired with a resume.  A cover letter has an obvious purpose, which is to convey interest in being considered for a position with the organization.  Sometimes, cover letters or required with instructions to include specifics such as salary requirements and what qualifies you for the job.  A quality cover letter will point out aspects of your background on your resume and beyond which will make you a fit for the job.  But, a cover letter also represents a sample of your writing.  On a basic level, a cover letter shows your ability to put sentences and paragraphs together.  Here, typos and grammar errors will be picked up and give an indication of your written work, if you are hired.  In addition, if you recycled an old cover letter to another job or company, that will show your lack of attention to detail.

(2)    Resume: For almost every job, a resume will be required and submitted to be considered.  Similar to a cover letter, a resume will be a representation of your work.  A good resume will include your skills, experience, and credentials which would be of value to a potential organization.  It should not contain extraneous information and include that which is relevant to the job and organization.  What will make a negative (first) impression is formatting issues like margins, spacing, and alignment on the page.  A resume must pass the initial test before the substantive content is read.

(3)    Website: In some cases, you will have a website which you have created and might contain relevant information about you and your work.  You should include the URL on your resume or LinkedIn profile.  If and when you do, make sure that the website is current, and highlights representative work.  This could include creative materials or links to articles which you have written.

(4)    Blog: Do you write or maintain a blog?  Here, I am not referring to a blog regarding a hobby (that’s for Pinterest), but one which is professionally relevant.  As a thought leader, you may have committed your thoughts and observations to a digital diary known as a blog. That might very well be a great idea.  It goes without saying that your presence here should not contain anything inappropriate or negative.  If there is and you are in the midst of a job search, you might want to go though and do some editing and/or deleting.  If the blog is industry-related, it should appear on your resume and LinkedIn.

(5)    Portfolio: At the time of an interview, there might be an opportune time to do some show-and-tell.  Being able to show and hand-off samples of your creative or technical work would bolster your professional credibility.  Creating a hard-copy portfolio need not be expensive.  Go to Office Depot or Staples and pick up a folder and perhaps some sheet protectors to display samples of your work.   Definitely, use a quality color laser printer.  You might consider including slides from a Powerpoint presentation, newsletter, a white paper, sales presentation, or quantitative analysis.   Make sure to edit out any proprietary information from previous clients or employers.

(6)    Digital portfolio: In 2014, it has become more common for people to burn materials onto a CD and perhaps have an imprint on the outside of the CD some personal brand.  If you have writing or creative work samples, you might want to consider preparing such a CD to bring to a job interview.  There is free software available out there will walk you through this.

(7)    That brings us to #7.  Until now, I have been focusing on things which you could be intentionally sharing with a prospective employer.  However, there also are samples of your work and who you are professionally and otherwise, which are “out there” in the public domain.  You have not deliberately furnished any of the above.  Yet, recruiters and employers will be looking for and at other data, as representative samples of who you are.

  • How you present on the phone: Are you polite, gracious, and professional sounding?  This applies to whether you are initiating or receiving a call.
  • How you present in person: This is how you comport yourself in person, especially in an interview will lead to conclusions about you.  So, be aware of your body language.
  • How you present in an email: Given that the first contact with a potential employer might be through email (i.e., sending in a resume in response to a job posting), please pay attention to your grammar and tone and how you address the organization’s gatekeeper.  Be gracious.  Spell the person’s name correctly and address him/her by the proper title.  Also, having a neutral and professional address from which you are sending the email will present yourself in a more positive way than justinbieberwannabe@gmail.com or thesituation@jerseyshore.com.  An address like FirstName.LastName@gmail.com will play much better.
  • Responsiveness and timeliness: Whether corresponding by phone or email, make sure that you get back to the organization after they have reached out to you.  Please note that they might be using conventional email or phone to do so.  They might not text a reply or post a message on Twitter with your name as the hash-tag.  Therefore, check your messages, including voicemails on a regular basis.  When you respond, take your time in formulating a professional response.  In most cases, that will require more than 140 characters.
  • Internet and social media presence: Many job coaches will recommend that you Google yourself every so often.  That’s prudent advice because many recruiters and employers will do the same.  It’s free and can be done instantly.  How do you appear online?  Is it innocuous, professional, or might you be seen in a negative light?  What appears on your Facebook page or Twitter account?  Photos of drinking, partying or other revelry will not play well in creating a personal that would make you desirable to a company.  There should be no off-color language or any comments which disparage others (including current or previous employers).  While some states prohibit employers from requiring candidates to furnish social media passwords, there is often enough incriminating information which can be gleaned from the public domain.  On the positive side, I would strongly recommend building a positive professional presence with a solid LinkedIn profile.  Join relevant groups, make appropriate connections, and make useful posts. 

This last point is quite significant because in most cases, you will never receive feedback as to the reason for which you did not warrant consideration.  It might have been that picture or comment on Facebook.  In a competitive job market, you need every edge you can get and don’t want to squander a job opportunity based on inferences which others are making about you.

So, as you can see, samples of your work are quite free.  They can be made available by you with or without your tacit knowledge.  Therefore, it is critical that you pay attention to what is out there as it will convey much about you and have an impact on if/how you will be considered.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Revisited: Less is More

A while back, I posted “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” on points which might be turnoffs to readers your resume.  As you might know, I interact with many employers and recruiters. In working with them, I have shared thousands of resumes for some response.  In some cases, I forward a resume to be considered for a specific role; for others, I am sending the resume for general reaction to see if the person might be of immediate or future interest.  Just recently, I had a chance to sit down with a recruiter who sources talent in the Sales sector.  We went through a batch of resumes from job seekers with whom I am working currently.  Some of her reactions were really reiterations of points which I presented in my previous post.  But, others were a bit different.  So, I am taking the opportunity to mention them here.   It was really amazing how she was able to size the person up, right or wrong–but mostly right, from a 15 second scan of each resume.  While these were the reactions of just one recruiter, I suspect that they are representative of others.    It is no wonder that when someone tells me that “I have been sending out hundreds of resumes in the past several months, and I have not gotten many interviews”–that sending the resume which is in front of me does not initiate much interest.

Keep in mind that reviewers of your resume are looking at it through a specific lens.  That might be for a specific job that they are hiring for, a job title, or within an industry sector.  They make a quick decision of whether the resume is worthy submitting, saving for a future opportunity, or committing it to the circular file or digital black hole.  While some recruiters will go the extra mile, most are too busy.  And it is not their responsibility  is not to give you the specific feedback on how to improve your resume.

The following are some “red flags” on a resume which can drop someone out of consideration before even getting started.

Education Entries: One of the resumes which I shared had varied institutions listed.  The list was a combination of online education, what seemed to be part-time, and a track which ended 7 years ago that indicated “Incomplete”.  The lesson learned here is that you should only put relevant degrees earned, or those which are in progress (with an anticipated completion date).  If there is no degree in the past or in the future, but some coursework, then just state the institution and that very fact.

Are You Online?: Some job seekers make reference to a website which they have built, designed, maintain or otherwise operate.  But, if there is no URL listed, that will give the recruiter some pause.  If you were a webmaster, then a way of cross referencing what you built or the type of organization you worked for would be of positive value.   If you have indicated that you are a blogger and have no name of the blog (with the URL) indicated, then that is a missing piece.  If you have a LinkedIn profile (and in most cases you should), that web address should be listed for cross-reference at the top of your resume.

I was the Founder and Owner…: Another observation on one resume is that for many of the roles the person held, he was either the Owner or Founder.  This indicated to the recruiter that the guy never really worked for anyone else.  So, how could he be able to work in a job where he would have a boss, which calls for different working relationships?

I currently work at JPD Enterprises:  If the name at the top of a resume is John Paul Doe and one of the jobs is “President of JPD Enterprises”, that’s a dead giveaway that the guy is self-employed.  Similar to that is if the person uses a non-descript company name (without the initials) and indicates a job title of “Consultant”.  As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.  But, when such entries represent a significant portion of work experience, that will often be a concern.

Self-Employed: Similar to the above, a person might come out and identify as “self-employed”.  When such entries represent a significant portion of one’s work history, that might be a red flag.  The reason for that is that there is no formal oversight over tasks or the requisite accountability that one has when working for an organization.  Therefore, any duties performed, accomplishments, or accolades have no corroboration.  In addition, like it or not, recruiters will see self-employed that as a code word for “unemployed” with all of the stigmas attached to that.  If you have to go that route, make sure to identify business and customer relationships with known corporate entities.  Whatever is stated needs to be able to be validated, at least potentially, to be legit.

I’m not following: In some cases, there will be overlapping stints of employment, based on the dates.  It is impossible for someone to have two or more full-time jobs.  However, the assumption is that unless otherwise stipulated, the job listed is full-time.  If a job is part time, it should be specified as such.  One way of making the resume even clearer is if there is a separate section for “Other Employment and Activities”.  There, part-time employment including relevant internships could be listed.

The Kitchen Sink: I am not saying that every resume has to be limited to one page.  Your background may in fact require two or three pages to record.  But, you should ask yourself the following.  Is this information objectively relevant to my getting a job in this company or industry?  The information could be a job previously held, a degree, or even a volunteer activity.  The answer to that should not be based on hearsay such as your being head of a high school play has given you the leadership experience to be the COO of a billion-dollar company.  In this respect, most recruiters will say that less is more.

The Obvious: One of the most glaring resume issues is short employment stints.  While that was addressed in my first post, it is a pattern that recruiters and HR people will always notice.  Some people feel that they need to fill every gap, even a couple of months with some job.  As impressive as that job might look, if it was only held for a few months or a year or two, the recruiter will hone in on that.  In a competitive job market, hiring managers are seeking people with “stable work histories”.

While it is possible to make some adjustments to your resume to obviate one or more of these concerns, it is not always possible to “turn back the clock” and change reality.  Even if you try, perhaps creatively, many recruiters are savvy and will pick up such attempts to hide or divert.  This might include switching to a functional resume.  As such, job seekers just need to “move on”, keep searching, and identify other opportunities which are closer matches.  Furthermore, job seekers need to seek out expert advice from people who have been there-done that to identify the necessary experience and training that will be beneficial in being positively seen through a resume.

Finally, here is a message to young people who are either entering the workforce or are early-career.  As you “build your resume”, please keep in mind the above points.  Ultimately your resume and how you convey what you have done over your work history will elicit various “hypotheses” about you.  In this regard, it is a good idea to consult with a mentor who has been-there-there-done-that.  You should do that early and often.  Your mentor should be someone who has had success in your field of choice and can provide you with real-time information and sometimes a reality check.  Relying on hearsay and assumptions from others, as well-intentioned as they might be, can very well be misleading.

The Broncos Score Only 8 Points in the Super Bowl?! 8 Points Job Seekers Might Not Think About When Using Email

While it seems like an innocuous thing, email addresses are important.  If you have been following the news, mail traffic for the U.S. Postal Service has declined (the price of stamps just went up, again!) as email is carrying the bulk of correspondence.  Email is faster, cheaper, and greener.  Today, email is used for a combination of mundane, frivolous, and business. Email is used in managing personal finances, blasting out jokes and hoaxes, and for professional correspondence.  While many have resorted to texting for short messages, email is still a key part of our digital communication.

This is especially the case for job seekers.  If you are a job seeker, you might learn about a job from an email sent your way.  You might apply to a job by sending a resume and cover letter to be considered via email.  As the sender, your email address will be evident (and it will also appear at the top of your resume).  You also will be using email as a means of communicating with an employer during a recruitment process.  This could come in the form of a follow-up ‘Thank You’ email after your interview.

As an ode to the Broncos’ Super Bowl offense, I present 8 points to consider relative to your email identity and use.

(1) That’s so 80’s!: If your email address is still *@juno.com, that will be a clue that you are not living in the modern era.  While I have nothing against the company or its founders, seeing that will conjure up memories of a dial-up connection.  (Note: For Millennials who are too young to be familiar with what “dial-up” means, trust me, you didn’t miss much.  They were not good times!)  I would suggest having an account from Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail for job search correspondence.

(2) Where’s the beef?:  You want to come across as professional or someone to be taken seriously as a job seeker.  Therefore, don’t use cutesy email addresses such as callmeroastbeef@gmail.com (I really did see that one!), partygirl123@hotmail.com, or godsgift2mankind@yahoo.com (I won’t say which one was close to an actual account from which I once received correspondence.)  Stick to something conventional (i.e., boring) like firstname.lastname@gmail.com.

(3) None of your business: One very common faux pas I see is when job seekers are actively looking for another job and send out messages from their current work email address.  That is ill-advised for a couple of reasons.  Even if the NSA is not monitoring your messages that day, any work email can be monitored by your employer.  Such correspondence is stored on the company server and is property of the company.  This is the case when you are on-the-clock and even when you use your work email account after hours.  Do they really check every email message that goes in an out?  No.  But, a random audit could look at your account and see that you have been sending out resumes for a new job.  Or if something goes south with you and your company, they may decide to look at your communication after the fact.  A second reason is that when a potential employer received your resume from your current company account, it sends a message that you don’t care about that employer.  As such you might not be seen as a desirable employee if they hired you.

(4) Return to sender: Pay attention to your email settings.  When you send an email to someone else, how do you appear on the other end?  Ideally, you should come up with your first and last name.  I have seen many people whose emails to me just have initials, a first name, or the email address show up.  It must be clear as to who you are and not force people to try to figure that out.  This will also make you more easily searchable (for potential job leads) through previous emails you have sent.

(5) Check mate: If you are a job seeker, it is possible that important messages will be sent to you by email.  If you are a serious contender, you will be checking your email regularly throughout the day and acting on anything that is time-sensitive.  It might be a job lead or a request for an interview.  How often should you check your email account?  If you are in the hunt for a job, I would say 2-3 times daily.  When I get back a response from a job seeker along the lines that “I only check my emails at night”, that shows me that he is not living at the speed of 2014.  With smart phones and other mobile devices having become the norm, there is added opportunity to check your account remotely.  Employers and those trying to support you in your job quest will also have that expectation of you.

(6) Dual identity: If you somehow have multiple email accounts, try to stick to a single one for job search correspondence.  If you are sending messages to an employer or recruiter from different accounts, that will be confusing.  Furthermore, unless you are checking all accounts with the same frequency, the other party might send you something critical to the account that you are not checking as regularly.

(7) Playing hard to get: How discoverable is your email address?  If you are a job seeker it might be to your advantage to be accessible.  Some of that could be through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook where your email address is obscured on the back end.  But, in some cases, having your email address out there, as to invite inquiries to you might be a good thing.  So, if you are a job seeker, you might want to selectively post your elevator pitch with your email address clearly indicated.

(8) Keep the change: There are various reasons (including the above) when you will need to change email addresses.  If and when you do change your email address, remember to set up some sort of forwarding channel.  It might be an auto-reply message with your new email and a note for the recipient to change it is his/her address book.  Most reasonable employers will allow this to happen from the old business email address for a grace period of time.

Of course, there is much else to say about how you correspond through email in terms of content, style, spelling, and grammar.  That goes beyond the discussion here.  But, suffice it to say that your email address says much about you.

The State of the Job Market Address for 2014: Observations, Predictions, and a Message to Parents

Because of my professional vantage point, many people approach me inquiring as to the status of the job market.  Some questions will come from those already in the workforce.  Other inquiries might come from parents who are trying to guide their children in a career.  Now, we are in the season of various “State of the _______” speeches.  So, I humbly present my “State of the Job Market Address” for 2014.

I am by no means clairvoyant, but I do operate professionally within a context of employment, skills, and trends.  I do quite a bit of reading about what’s happening in the job market.  I am in regular contact with employers and recruiters.  I also speak to professionals in various occupational areas.  One thing is for certain.  The job market is continuously evolving.  In 2014, some fields which had opportunities and were stable 30 or even 10 years ago may no longer be so.  For example, Law and Medicine have fundamentally changed and will continue to be that way.   It has been reported that last year, law school applications were significantly down.  Furthermore, the supply of graduates from Law programs appears to be significantly exceeding demand.  I have seen some degrees valued and others deemed irrelevant.  Therefore, to rely on legacy information and invest precious resources and energy in training for “traditional” fields, without examining likely outcomes, is unproductive and even counterproductive.  Furthermore, it is important to research overall trends, rather than pointing to convenient examples of seemingly successful individuals.  Those individuals might very well represent the exception.

Obviously, young people, parents, and those already in the workforce each have different perspectives.  Young people are just starting out.  They may be involved in different endeavors and might be financially dependent to some extent.  Parents are responsible for educating, nurturing, and mentoring.  Adults, already in the workforce, are responsible for themselves, their living expenses and eventually their families.

Work is a part of life and preparing for it should be taken seriously.  The specific field that one chooses starting out is beyond the scope of this article.  In short, it should be a combination of acumen, passion, and practical viability.  Given that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, preparing for it, and decompressing from it, career planning deserves mature and informed attention.

Let me start within the context of some statistics.  Nationally, the official unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7% from above 7%.  Before anyone gets too optimistic, another index which I look at is the “U-6” which includes those receiving unemployed benefits in addition to those whose time has run out for than, those who are underemployed, and those who have essentially dropped out of the active workforce.  That is now over 13%!  In Maryland, the numbers are a bit better (at 6.4%), but that percentage might benefit from areas like Montgomery County (4.5%), with the Baltimore Metro area being closer or above the national average.

A recent survey by Harris Interactive which was reported on Careerbuilder indicated that there has been an increase of 7% in job dissatisfaction among employees.  This might be contributing to the finding that 1 out of 5 currently employed individuals will be searching for a new job in 2014.  From the corporate perspective, a TweetMyJobs survey found that two-thirds of companies will be increasing their social media recruiting efforts.  This has implications for how organizations will be locating talent.  But, it also should send a message to job seekers as to how what they need to do in order to be found.

Furthermore, I have come across some more specific data to provide an indication of how the major occupational categories have fared recently for the college graduating Class of 2013 entering the workforce.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conducts an annual salary survey of different types of jobs (see Table 1).  Not surprisingly, the top starting salaries are for two “STEM” areas, Engineering and Computer Science.  Business is also high, perhaps being the beneficiary of many who go into that major might already have business experience and are going back to school for their degree.

Table 1

Average starting salaries for 2013 college graduates by discipline (from www.naceweb.org)

Occupational Category

2013 Average Salary

2012 Average Salary

% Change









Computer Science












Humanities and Social Science




Math and Sciences








In terms of specifics, as far as earnings go, the top jobs over the past few years (see Table 2) are consistent with the NACE report.  They include IT roles in the form of Software and Web Developers, Financial Analysts and Petroleum Engineers.

Table 2

Top jobs requiring a Bachelor’s degree which have grown at least 7% (based on 2010 – 2013), with projections to increase in 2014 (from Economic Modeling Specialists International and Careerbuilder)



Hiring Trend


Software Developers

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $45.06


Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $29.10


Training and Development Specialists

up 8% with median hourly earnings of $27.14


Financial Analysts

up 7% with median hourly earnings of $37.34


Physical Therapists

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $37.93


Web Developers

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $27.84



up 10% with median hourly earnings of $35.08


Database Administrators

up 10% with median hourly earnings of $37.39


Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $25.56


Interpreters and Translators

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $22.39


Petroleum Engineers

up 21% with median hourly earnings of $63.67


Information Security Analysts

up 8% with median hourly earnings of $41.62

*Rankings based on total employment in 2013 and include jobs which pay $22/hour or more

Based on my unscientific observation, here are eight job categories which are in-demand locally now.  My commentary is included:

  • Java and .Net Programmers– These are just examples of programming platforms that is much in demand.  Other examples of IT specialties in demand include Cloud and Mobile App Developers, Cyber Security, Linux Sysadmins MySQL, and Oracle Database Administrators.  Given the dominance of and dependence on technology, much has been said about how critical it is to be able to “code”.  In some respects, coding is just as important as spoken or written English today.  I would point out that in many respects, this changes with new technologies introduced.  Being able to learn and adapt is one of the reasons that skilled IT people are in high demand.
  • Web Programmers and Designers– Please note that these are two different skill sets.  While some people will have experience in both, each is in demand.  Every organization has a web presence and someone needs to build, modify, update, and manage content.  Designers are typically more aesthetically astute, frequently with insight into the Psychology of the user experience.
  • Social Media professionals– Here I am not referring to someone who goes onto Facebook five times a day.  These are people who know how and where to post information on behalf of companies for marketing and customer engagement purposes.  The growth of online marketing via collaboration, copy, graphics, and video is transforming how many organizations will engage and solicit new customers.
  • Analytics– With “Big Data” being the rage, companies need people who can analyze, make sense of, and report on the data to provide useful competitive information to the organization.  This applies to financial as well as other sectors.  Analytics often involves statistics, math, and visually reporting usable information.
  • Paralegals– With law firms not hiring as much at the Associate level, they are seeking less expensive staff that can perform tasks such as document reviews and preparing legal briefs.
  • Physician Assistants– Even before “affordable care”, PA’s have been in demand to support health care providers, especially given the shortage of primary care physicians.  There are a few programs in Maryland, which have become increasingly competitive.  An alternative might be Nurse Practitioner programs.  Of course, in the healthcare sector, the options to practice will depend on the state.  So, inquiring into and possessing the appropriate certifications and licensing is important.
  • Administrative Assistants– Quality and skilled Administrative Assistants are always in demand.  However, the skill set expectations have increased beyond reception, filing, and data entry.  Those who can do that and just want a comfortable job will not go far.  Companies are seeking people who are tech-savvy and proficient in all of Microsoft Office.  Most likely, they will be performing Accounts Receivable/Payable and expected to be skilled in Quickbooks.  Most of these positions are full-time, but many have competitive compensation and benefits for the ideal person.
  • Accountants and Bookkeepers– Accounting appears to be a field that is making a comeback.  This speaks to the idea that record keeping in any organization (and for individuals) is so integral to keeping an organized reality.  Furthermore, doing so is required by law.  However, many job openings which I have seen in Accounting require a B.S. in Accounting and solid work experience using current systems.  Full-charge Bookkeepers, while not having the credentials of Accountants, are also much in demand.

This is not to say that there are no other job opportunities in other fields.  There certainly are.  It is up to each individual to do his/her due diligence to speak with people already in the field and find out the facts on the ground.  Having a mentor is so critical to career success.  Having a faculty advisor and utilizing a college career center are all resources of valuable information.

Here are some general workforce trends which I have observed over the past five years:

  • Technological skills are now part of every job and therefore all job seekers have to possess them.  This is multi-faceted.  At minimum, it means being connected through a smart phone, perhaps having a tablet, email, basic web navigation.  In many cases, it means being up to date with the latest systems used within a given industry.  This would include hardware and software.  Not being well-versed in technology or reticence to use it is no longer a viable excuse.  If you have a chance to take one or two programming classes and can learn how to code, I highly recommend doing so.  It will either set you apart from your peers, or keep you on par with them.
  • Jobs have changed.  That means a few things.  First, there are many new job titles out there, which did not exist 20 years ago.  Some are specializations.  Some might be new jobs created due to technology.  Others are essentially the same jobs which have been rebranded.  Someone who leads a Human Resources function in a company might be referred to today as a “Chief People Officer”.  Beyond the labels, even jobs which do hold roughly the same responsibilities, will almost always be performed differently today than the way they were performed a generation or two ago.  Reasons for this might include technology, job consolidation, legislation, or social initiatives.  For example, a construction manager is essentially responsible for overseeing building projects.  But now, such a function must also be current on “green” and sustainability concepts which have significantly affected the construction industry.  Another example is in areas of commerce.  Recent well-publicized security breaches in retail and elsewhere have increased the focus on cyber security functions.
  • Hiring Managers are being patient to get their ideal candidate based on a preconceived profile.  They want to only interview candidates who have 90% or more of their wish list for the position.  They are not hiring based on potential, but based on the here and now.  They give preference to those who have been-there-done-that and require minimal learning curve or training.  That is why it is so important for job seekers to read job descriptions carefully and limit applications to jobs for which you qualify.
  • Those evaluating resumes will favor someone with relevant experience over someone with a degree alone.  They will look at this experience in terms of quantity and quantity.  While a degree might also be required, in most cases, the degree alone will not substitute for the experience.  The type of experience that companies are seeking is going to be with industry-standard systems, technology.  Plus, this experience is expected to be recent and full-time.  For example, resumes which include a college degree and three years of full-time corporate experience will most often be valued higher than people with an advanced degree, who do not have the recent experience.  Within IT, professional have reported to me that while degrees are still important, recent full-time experience along with a degree is valued more than an advanced degree without experience.
  • While written communication skills are key to most every professional job, I have observed a decline in both the content and format of work products.  Spelling is important.  Subject-verb agreement is important.  Quality writing is the result of foundations instilled high school teachers (thank you, Mrs. Brannan!).  It is reinforced through practice in writing papers in high school and college.  Furthermore, one must understand the time and place for different styles.  Some settings call for technical writing.  Others will allow for a more casual style.  But with tools like Word, as well as taking the time to ask others for critical feedback, writing can be improved to where it needs to be.
  • Social skills are always going to be relevant.  This means being polite and gracious, as well as having respect for all others.  In some cases, having appropriate social skills might be the decisive factor in landing or keeping a job.  One of the challenges today is blending social skills with technology.  This means knowing when to use the technology, but also when the human touch is needed.  Another challenge is setting the appropriate boundaries on technology in terms of time and place.
  • I saw a recent survey of the top five attributes which employers will be looking for in 2014.  In In addition to basic social etiquette, they are: agility and adaptability; international experience; the ability to become part of a team; and having the latest certifications and training — or at least a willingness to learn and generate results.  The last point is so critical.  Many believe that once your schooling is behind you, you only need to keep up every now and then.  However, it is necessary to immerse yourself in lifelong learning.  You might need to develop new skills, change jobs, or even change careers multiple times in your life.  So, you have to be open to learning new things.
  • Employers and recruiters will tend to favor experience with companies that are familiar to them.  In addition, employers prefer individuals with a solid and consistent employment history.  That is seen as an index of work ethic and success.  Once on the job, employers will get a sense of whether an employee cares about the organization and is punctual.  They will get a sense of this through requests for time off, in terms of frequency and for what purpose.  They will also observe whether you work well in a team.
  • Many jobs today are found through networking.  Networking includes effectively navigating the Internet, social media (e.g., LinkedIn), and traditional ways of meeting helpful people and establishing professional relationships.  Some of this is initiative.  Some of this is developing the social skills in order to be able to cultivate and enhance those relationships appropriately.
  • As things go, we all need and benefit from the “divine intervention of serendipity”. Sometimes, we are fortunate to have an unusual or unexpected opportunity put in front of us.  As a lead is presented, it must be researched to confirm that it is both real and realistic for us.  But, being open to stretch our comfort zone is ultimately going to be essential towards a path of continuous career and life growth.

I will conclude with emphasizing the importance of developing a career plan.  Parents should have the conversation with their children early.  The conversation should be revisited regularly.  Parents also need to research what educational paths are available to their children.  This often involves making difficult choices and supplementing educational paths as appropriate.  The goal in this regard is twofold:  The first is to take parental ownership while children are young.  The second is for parents to empower ownership as their children emerge into adulthood and independence.

But the plan does not stop there.  Even as adults, the landscape is often changing.  Stability is sometimes elusive.  The “new normal” might very well be recreated every few years rather than every few centuries.  This requires constantly keeping an eye out as to what is here and now as well as what’s next.

(Note that I recently was interviewed on Baltimore’s FOX affiliate to discuss this topic.  The clip can be viewed here.)


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