Friday, September 30, 2011

Your Job Interview = A First Date

Think of it that way, gentle readers.

Those of you who've had eyes on this tome for a while now know that your MatchGirl knows of what she speaks.

You were lucky enough to get that first interview... so now what? You feel nervous and anxious and not sure what comes next. Right? Yep. That's just like dating.

Just like on a first date, you want to show your future employer the very best you. Here are a few tips to make that happen.

Dress to impress. Even if you know the place is a jeans and T-shirt kind of tech start-up, take it up a notch and dress up.

No cell phone. Turn it off. Or at least silent. Don't leave it on vibrate, you'll still notice it and get distracted. Your attention needs to be fully on the person you're with.

Make eye contact. It's the best way to engage someone. Don't stare them down, of course, but definitely hold their gaze.

Listen. Being an attentive listener will help you make a great impression.

Ask questions. As much as you are there to sell yourself, you're also there to listen. And learn. Even if you did a ton of research on the company (or Googled the bejeezus out of the date) or if the person you're meeting told you every possible thing under the sun, make sure to ask some relevant questions. It will make it seem like you were paying attention while they were speaking.

Count to three. Before you answer a question. And think about the answer. Even the most anticipated question, with the most practiced answer, might require a different approach when you're inside the conversation.

No gum. Seriously. No one wants to talk to someone chawing away on a hunk of chicle.

What are your best job interview/fist date tips?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ghosts In The Machine

As we go through this life, there is a constant ebb and flow of people we meet. Of people we lose. Of people we loved but we'll never see again.

Your MatchGirl, gentle readers, has been seeing ghosts. Not the kind that horror movies and Halloween specials are made of but ghosts of the past.

Maybe visions is a better word.

It's funny because in the age of social networks, we forget how easy it once was to lose hold, to lose track, to lose contact with people. But I think it still happens. And when you come face-to-face with one of those ghosts again, it brings you back to another time and place.

Your MatchGirl writes here, often, about using social media for your job search, about the importance of networking and keeping track of who you meet - of heling others because one day they might help you. We forget sometimes, though, in our push for the next big thing - the next job, the next promotion - that there are people from other parts of our lives who have helped us grow to where we stand now.

I was interviewed recently and asked, "What do you wish you knew when you were in college?" This is something that your MatchGirl has thought long and hard about. And the answer is something that brings ghosts to mind:
I wish, when I was at school, that I had known it was OK to follow my gut. I listened to a lot of advice from a lot of people, including some who told me I could never be more than I was – that I wouldn’t make it – and I wish I had known it was OK to ignore those people. That all advice should be taken with a grain of salt.
Because a lot of those people offering advice were not professional advisors (though a couple might have been professors). They were friends and lovers. They were people who saw me the way they imagined me to be, not the way that I could be. Not the way that I saw myself. When I was in school, I was not agressive about my wants and needs, I, for the most part, kept them hidden (this is something that started in elementary school, when it was not OK to speak up). In retrospect, I guess I was embarrassed to share my dreams and to show that I could make them happen.

This certainly held me back. But it also helped me to get where I am today. And every now and then a ghost pops up to remind me of the way things used to be and the way things might have been.

I'm curious, what ghosts are haunting your progress? Are there any visions out there holding you back?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Higher Education Reform?

Your MatchGirl is worried, gentle readers. If the economy doesn't improve, unemployeds will have to take jobs that are well below their education levels, well below what they were making in the past. And those just graduating from university will have no chance of getting a foot in the door. We need more training. We need more education. We need to reform education.

We need to let people know that it's OK - maybe even awesome - to go to technical schools and community colleges and get themselves on the right path for the future. We need to let people know that university is not only for expanding ones mind, but it's a place to learn to cooperate, to get along with other people (maybe some not so similar to you)... but that it doesn't guarantee a job right out of college.

This is the hardest the job market has been in a long time and we need to be realistic in what we tell kids entering the higher education system. Your MatchGirl went to a fancy university and got good grades. She partied hard and worked harder. She did the extra-curricular activities. She graduated with awards and honors. But none of this helped her focus on what she would do with it in the future - for her future. I could do "anything" and because of this, it took me a long time to figure out what that was. And I lived hand-to-mouth in the process.

A college education is necessary. It's the only way to get ahead. To get promotions. To get in front of the crowd. But there are a lot of options today - many that were not there when I was in school - that can help put today's young people on the right path. Maybe it's time we let them see all the options available, and give them the tools to decide the direction that will be the best fit for them.

After all, the days of going to school, playing it up a lá Animal House and starting a great job the day after commencement are long over...

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Can We Make Things Better?

Yes. The amount of people living below the poverty line is growing. And growing.

The rich are getting richer while the middle class slowly (maybe not so slowly) slip down into poverty.

What do we do? How can we make things better?

Where do jobs come from?

Your MatchGirl doesn't have the answers, certainly, but she can see so many of the problems.

We're fast approaching election season - the one that people come out and vote for - and these are the questions that everyone is asking: What can you do about the economy? Where are the jobs?

Your MatchGirl is not sure that the federal government is positioned to fix this mess. Perhaps we're better off looking to our local governments and voting in those little elections - you know, the ones for city council and boards of advisors and superintendents. The ones for the people who make things work where we live...

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Use Social Media To Your Job Search Advantage

Gentle readers, if your MatchGirl knew half of what she knows now when she was unemployed ... or ... if she was unemployed just a teensy bit later (seriously, so many Hire Me Martha copycats out there right now!), she might not have been unemployed for so very long.

Of course, without spending time amongst the long term unemployed, your MatchGirl might not have become so committed to this little tome.

Putting yourself out there on social networks is all the rage these days (goodness knows your MatchGirl practically lives on them!), so why not make it work for you?

Be an expert. You can do it. You're focused. You know a lot about your chosen field. So prove it. Get yourself on Quora, search LinkedIn discussion groups and answer the questions. On Twitter, search for key words in your area of expertise and start replying to people asking questions about them.

Be a star. Get yourself a Tumblr, a Wordpress site, a Blogger account, a YouTube channel - and start talking. Make video blogs offering advice or how-tos within your field. Your MatchGirl doesn't care if your a pet groomer, a barista or a lawyer. Turn on that webcam ans start talking. Wrangle your roommate into taking video with your digital camera. It doesn't need to be perfectly shot. You just need to say the right stuff.

Don't let others tell you you're crazy. It's a tough world out there. Competition is huge for any job you apply for. Just getting your resume and cover letter seen is like climbing Everest. Why not take advantage of all you've learned farting around social networks and websites and make them work for you?

Good luck, dear readers. Your MacthGirl knows you can do it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Follow Your Dreams

This morning, I woke up in a hotel in Bogotá, Colombia.

I'm here to represent my company for Social Media Week. And I'm stoked.

With my recent promotion, to Head of Social Media, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what got me here and where it can take me. I've been thinking about the people who have helped me along the way and what I have learned from all my experiences.

This path is my own.

No one else could have made it for me. I could not have imagined it five years ago, let alone in the mid-90s, when I was graduating from University.

Catching up with a friend the other day, I told her of the new title and she looked at me, eyes wide, and said "That is so perfect for you."

It might have taken me a long time to get to where I'm going, but I'm very happy to be on the right path!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Money Talks

A few weeks back, gentle readers, your MatchGirl published a post highlighting the importance of getting paid what you are worth. This is something, unfortunately, that plagues so many as we continue in this economy.

There are people who are employed, full-time, but still struggling to make ends meet.

There are people who are under-employed, constantly struggling.

There are those who are unemployed, who are happy to take any job that comes their way.

And then there are those who make plenty to live on - perhaps not luxuriously so, but enough - who complain that they still need more.

It's rough in a city like New York, where the cost of living is so very high, but these people exist in every corner of the globe.

Though your MatchGirl knows it's impolite to speak of money, sometimes, one needs to talk about it. Sometimes one needs to get out there and make their voice heard. Because how else are you going to get paid more money? How else are you going to talk to your boss or find a new job or let your network know that you need something more?

Your MatchGirl, dear readers, knows that it's hard to talk about. She has the same problems as you do.

So here is the question for you - how do you approach these issues? These conversations?

You're valuable. How do you make sure to get paid what you know you're worth?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Job Of The Future? Will They Be Inspired By The Past?

Your MatchGirl, gentle readers, has been thinking about the jobs of the future, about how to get them and about what they might be.

I have been thinking that the job I currently hold, Head of Social Media, didn't even exist when I was at university. People barely used the internet. I had a roommate who wrote her term papers on an electric typewriter (for the young'uns - this is what that looks like). To say that I could have been working towards a career as a social media professional would have required some amazing foresight and, perhaps, a time machine.

And when I think of the jobs that are to come, I know that there will be jobs like mine - as technology changes - that one can only prepare for by living life and learning and adopting and adapting.

But your MatchGirl thinks, dear readers, that some of the jobs of the future are jobs that we already know how to do. Or we did at one time.

I watch the people around me, my friends, and the paths they are on. I am lucky to live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and have as friends and neighbors some true artisans who are interested in looking to the past to provide for the future.

I have a friend who keeps bees and chickens and teaches classes on urban farming.
I know a woman who runs a rooftop farm.
I live down the street from the lovely couple who make bacon marmalade.
I am pleased to know a woman who wrote a book on homemaking in the modern age.
I have friends who have an ice cream empire.
I know the people behind The High School for Public Service Youth Farm.

I know canners and sausage makers, chocolate crafters and pizza makers.

I know people who have taught themselves to do things that their parents might not have even known how to do. But things that sustained their grandparents.

Is it possible that to prepare ourselves for the future, we need to look to the past?

Your MatchGirl thinks this might be the case.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Making The Most of Long Term Unemployment

Recently, gentle readers, your MatchGirl posted about the cycle of long term unemployment. She also posted about how more and more employers are saying that unemployed need not apply to their job listings.

This is a trend that troubles your MatchGirl. Unemployeds are the ones who need the jobs being posted. Of course, there are plenty out there who are under-employed, and could use a leg up, a better income or a job more fitting with their education and training. But, at the end of the day, right this second, the people who really need that job you've just posted are the unemployed.

Here's an idea for the long term unemployed, looking to make themselves more appealing to hiring managers. Volunteer.

LinkedIn, the social network for professional people, has recently updated their formatting to let you add volunteer experience to your online resume. And this is great.

Part of the reason that businesses are not keen to hire the long term unemployed is because they feel that they must be lazy people. They feel they are the kinds of people who take the east way out or mooch off the system or are not going to be able to play well with others. A significant gap - and unexplained one - on your resume, is never going to look good. So add the work you've been doing that you're not getting paid for.

This is something that your MatchGirl did, when she had been unemployed for a while. She added a related experiences section - to the top of her resume - to highlight the activities she was participating in during her unemployment. I'm certain it helped my resume get a little higher in those piles on the HR guy's desk.

You not only need a job, you want one. You're not lazy. You know it. Now - prove it to them. Get yourself out there and do some good work. And don't forget to tell the world.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Jobs For The Future? Rethink Education

Gentle readers, your MatchGirl read an interesting piece over on Seth Godin's blog on the weekend, and she thought she should share it with you, here.

The piece is entitled Back to (the wrong) School and it shares some perspective on the evolution of the modern public school educational system - where it started and where we're at. As kids all over the country embark on another year of school, your MatchGirl thinks this is something that we need to look at.

I don't have kids. Some day I might. I might not. But I think about the educational system in America - my mother is a teacher as are several friends - I hear a lor from them, on their views on what works and what doesn't and how kids are treated (and how parents, teachers and administrators are treated). It's been a long time since I've been in a public school classroom, but I'm not without perspective. I wonder what can be done to fix a system that is so very broken.

And I wonder how many people actually care.

I remember going to school board meetings when I was a kid and having old men stand up to speak against new initiatives, saying "It was good enough for me, it should be good enough for these kids." These guys are still around. And their voices are loud.

We live in a country that places such little value on education. We live in a society that makes fun of and diminishes smart people. We live in a country where people decide who they'd like to be President by whether he's a good bowler or if they'd like to have a beer with him. We live in a society where if you are different, you are bullied.

And it's getting worse.

As this election season gets under way, your MatchGirl worries for the future of America. She worries what will become of the schools. She worries what will become of the next generation, and the one after that. Not only is the country not creating jobs for the future, we're not even making sure the next workers we're raising can do the ones of the present.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Retail Taught Me

Monday, Labor Day, there was an interesting edition of the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC - replaying some interesting segments looking at working in America (to be fair pretty much all the programming was on this topic). The one that caught the ear of your MatchGirl was about the Politics of Retail. This is something, gentle readers, that rests close to my heart.

You may not know, but your MatchGirl spent over a decade working in the retail industry and she is familiar with the trials and tribulations of it. From working for a big chain, where every moment is clocked and accounted for, mystery shoppers coming in, a lot of protocol to follow to working at a mom'n'pop where there wasn't even a safe, and the cash just hung around in the back (above the stereo) - I've run the gamut in retail.

This is what I know. Retail taught me loads. I stayed in it too long - partially because I was lazy and partially because it's hard to transition out once your resume is loaded with retail jobs - but it taught me everything I know.

In a retail environment, you need to be able to size the customer up in about 10 seconds. You need to know who they are, what they're looking for and if they can afford it. You can't judge too closely by the clothes they wear or the handbag they are carrying. One of the most wealthy, and most consistent,  customers I ever had was a gentleman who looked like he stepped out of central casting for a homeless person. He was rich and eccentric and had a standing lunch reservation at the Ritz. You can't always tell.

In a retail environment, you need to listen. Going back to my number one networking tip, listen. If you need to make that sale to meet your goal, you need to know what the customer is looking for. But it's more than just hearing what they said they came in for, it's about listening to what they are saying. In my experience, what a customer knows how to ask for and what they are really looking for are often different things. A pro knows how to suss the difference.

In a retail environment, you need to communicate. You need to be able to talk to, and get along with, a wide variety of people. You need to be able to let them know what's going on and to hear what they're saying. Even if your each racing towards your own commission goal, a little communication will help you all out along the way.

In a retail environment, you need to be able to turn on a dime. The customer comes first and it doesn't matter if you're manager is expecting you to finish inventory of a wall of product by noon. If a customer comes in, you need to drop what you're doing and help them. You need to, in simple and catch-phrase terminology, prioritize.

I could go on for a lot longer. I could start talking about how people, especially denizens of New York, don't treat retail workers right. I could write a companion book to Ms. Kelly's piece. I won't do it here.

Retail is a hard job. A really hard job.

I don't want to go back. But I'm glad I did it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Turn Turn Turn: The Cycle of Long Term Unemployment

In a recent item on The Huffington Post, Alan Krueger's study results announced that the long term unemployed looked for jobs less and slept more.

Gentle readers. Your MatchGirl is no scientist. But she was among the long-term unemployed.
Krueger and Mueller offered three likely explanations for the decline in job-search durations. First, workers could have run through most of the decent jobs to apply for. Second, they could have gotten better at searching and needed less time to scan and respond to ads. And third, they could have gotten discouraged and quit looking.
And as someone who was unemployed for 18 months, your MatchGirl knows a thing about the cycle of unemployment. Someone who is among the "long term unemployed" is someone who has been without a job for six months or more. And, as many of you know, gentle readers, from your own unemployment (as that's how so many of you came across this little blog), in this economy that time is often longer.

I remember the days of unemployment existing in cycles. Some weeks would be all about the hustle, writing emails, sending resumes, working on cover letters and scouring the job boards. But other weeks would be slow and depressing. Because there would be no worthwhile, or, you know, paying, jobs to apply for and there would no one to send anything to. In those times, your MatchGirl worked on her own creative projects and her own blogs and took classes, but not everyone does that. Not everyone wants to. Not everyone can.

Job searching is a job in itself. And rarely a rewarding one. Some mornings there are loads of jobs to apply to and a ton of business cards in your pocket to reach out to. Other mornings... not so much - just the same six jobs that had been taunting you for the past three days. What are you supposed to do? Then you take a day or two (or more) off from truly looking because, though you've followed up with everyone you can, you can't even get a response to an email, let alone an offer of an interview. And who wants to be so bummed out? So you surf the web and play Words With Friends and you watch some daytime television and fall asleep early. Then you wake up one morning excited to look again and you send out some emails and ... And so the cycle goes.

Someone who has never been one of the club cannot truly and fully appreciate the nuances and difficulties of this cycle. But we can, gentle ones. We've been there. We know how the story ends.

So, forget this study. Sleep if you're tired (though not if you're depressed, that's just no good). Look for jobs. Apply for things that are worth your while. And make your own magic happen.

Good luck, dear readers. I believe in you!