#h#Jobs for Recent Graduates: Jo Leonard#/h#

College seniors and recent graduates — and their parents — need to take a deep breath. Yes, the job market is still stagnant. No, most companies are not desperate for 22-year-old philosophy, sociology, or fine arts majors. They’re not even in hot pursuit of computer science or business majors. But there are openings, and the good news is that freshly-minted graduates have some important job-hunting advantages over the competition.

Jo Leonard, whose Lumberville, Pennsylvania, career counseling business (info@joleonard.com) focuses exclusively on brand new job hunters, makes the case. "Somebody who is 40 or 50 is looked at as a whole package," she points out. "They need a track record. They need actual case studies, and technical skills as well." Besides, these older workers are more expensive. Employers, she says, know that they can get five entry level employees for the price of one vice president. Taking on the young beginner is far less of a risk.

"If he blows me away with his communication skills, if he’s organized and looks great, I don’t care what degree he’s got," says Leonard, summing up the thinking of hiring managers across all industries.

In a winding career path, jolted in a new direction by 9/11, Leonard made it her business to learn exactly how hiring decision-makers think – and what job candidates need to do to impress them.

She was raised on the south coast of England where her father, now retired to Spain, owned a hotel. She tells her clients to cast a wide net in assessing their strengths, and she does so as she talks about how a hotel childhood contributed to her communication skills. "I grew up in a hotel dining room," she says. She had to be poised, gracious, and well behaved. More important, she had to learn how to converse will all kinds of people.

She enjoyed the experience, but was eager to leave small town life. As a teenager, she worked part-time for Chase. When she was 20, the bank offered her a short-term job in New York, and she jumped at the opportunity. She didn’t like the job very much – "too math-based" – but she loved the city. "At 20, who wouldn’t?" she asks. Realizing that the lack of a college degree was a significant barrier to advancement, she enrolled in Montclair State, working her way through as a legal assistant. She had no idea of how to choose a college. "It’s such an art form in this country," she says. So she looked for one that was relatively inexpensive, and within a reasonable commute to the city.

College degree in hand, she landed a temporary job at an advertising company. After her assignment was over, she was told that there were no permanent openings. Undeterred, she proceeded to create a job description for herself, presented it to management, and was hired. The morale of this story: "If you want a job you can get it created if you go the extra mile."

Working on the account side of advertising, mainly for pharmaceutical clients, she learned the basics of marketing – "how products become successful." She enjoyed the work, but after 9/11 it suddenly seemed hollow. She was living on the Upper West Side, and working in Mid-town on that day. "I walked six miles north, " she says, "trying to get friends on cell phones."

Immediately after 9/11, business at her agency, Omnicom, fell off. She was moved from an account she enjoyed to one she didn’t. At the same time, she began to feel that "it all got rather silly after 9/11." The work she was doing no longer seemed important. She wanted to leave the city, and she wanted to do work in which she saw more value. She decided she wanted to work with downsized people, and got a job with the Princeton office of outplacement company the Ayers Group.

She spent much of her time in business development, but says, "my favorite part of the job was working with downsized HR execs." She created a networking group within Ayers that anyone who had lost an HR job could join free. "I fell in love with the whole concept," she says. She also made a lot of friends who are now valuable contacts. "I built a fabulous network of HR people," she says. "They provide me with the resources to help kids. They’re on the front line of hiring."

She left Ayers in June to launch her new company, Jo Leonard LLC. She sees the service she offers as filling a crucial education gap. Not only is there no college major in career search, she points out, but there is rarely even a course. Having spent four years and up to $120,000 in obtaining a college degree, many graduates have little idea of how to find a job, especially in this economy, let alone how to build a career.

In a four-week course, for which she charges $400 to $600, Leonard seeks to provide a game plan that will turn recent graduates into the kind of candidates who excite hiring managers. She also aims to arm young people with a plan for turning a first job into a stepping stone to a satisfying career.

Develop your personal profile. Who are you? What do you want to do? The simple questions are the most difficult. Ignore them, and there is a good chance that you will quickly join the 80 percent of the population that consistently reports major job dissatisfaction. You cannot count on an employer to intuit your creative problem solving skills, amazing ease with people from all cultures, and fascination with African wildlife.

Look at all you are, all you have done in every context, and all you want to do. Such clarity will help you decide where you want to be, if not in this first job, then down the road, and it will translate into confidence when you meet with potential employers.

Make your resume reflect all that you are. Recent college graduates can rarely boast in their resumes of top salesman status or vice president-level responsibilities. No matter. Employers don’t expect to see the kind of achievement trail they look for in mid-career folks. But, says Leonard, they do look for achievements of some sort, and chances are that you have them.

Don’t just list grade point average, honors, and campus affiliations, she says. Think about all of your activities, both on and off campus. Dissect volunteer work, part-time jobs, travel, and community involvement. But no not just list these experiences. Don’t say you were chair of a homecoming event, for example. Rather, break the experience down into its tasks, and state that you recruited, organized, and supervised 50 people who worked together over a period of three months and raised $1,300 for a children’s charity. Highlight the success of your efforts to gain publicity for the event by letting prospective employers know that three newspapers, two radio stations, and one network affiliate covered the event.

Ace job fairs. During her last year at Ayers, Leonard arranged a job fair for the children of the agency’s clients. "Half of them showed up in blue jeans," she says. A number were carrying dog-eared resumes. Most handed their resumes to recruiters without shaking their hands.

At the end of day, Leonard made the rounds of the recruiters, asking if they had seen anyone who impressed them. Their answer: "Not really."

"You have 30 seconds to make an impression," she says. In that length of time, a recruiter will assess your economic status, education, confidence, and communication skills. The basic drill is to show up in clean, pressed, professional clothing. When approaching a recruiter, stand tall, look him in the eye, smile, and extend your hand for a firm handshake. Have a brief introduction prepared. Ask intelligent questions about his company.

Make sure that the materials you leave behind are clean, typo-free, and carefully crafted for each company. Leonard recently heard of a case where a recent graduate listed his job objective as "to work as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company" in a resume he left with a representative from an ad agency.

Prepare carefully for interviews. Of course you need to arrive on time at the right office carrying crisp resumes. But you need to do much more. If you win an interview for a sales position at Johnson & Johnson, for example, locate and contact two or three sales reps to find out all about what the job entails. Go in with solid information about the company’s most important current initiatives.

Also be prepared to talk about yourself. Anticipate common questions, including those dealing with any weaknesses on your resume and in your record. If your grades are poor, for example, you need to divert attention away from this sad fact. Give a quick explanation, she suggests, and let it serve as a bridge to more positive ground.

Say, for example, that you chose accounting as a major, but later realized that your strengths were more aligned with marketing. If this is the case, state so simply, and then quickly turn the conversation to the success you had in promoting the college’s theater series.

Take a whole new look at networking. Most college students are either completely turned off by the whole concept of networking or go about it all wrong, Leonard finds. The transition from college friendships to networking relationships is not an easy one. She lets her clients know that it’s not about selling out or using people. It’s about forming long-term mutually beneficial relationships. It’s as much about giving as about getting. And it’s an absolutely essential skill.

She says a common first attempt at networking goes something like this: "Hi, Mr. Brown. I’m Joe. Do you have a job for me?" This one-step networking works about as well in the career arena as the lottery does as a retirement planning tool. Solid, successful networking is made up of a number of steps. Perhaps Mr. Brown would be willing to meet you with you to talk about his job. Perhaps you can help Mr. Brown by learning of his interest in near-by skiing resorts suited to the skills of his 10-year-old and suggesting some that would be a good fit.

The goal is to begin to form a relationship with Mr. Brown from which both of you will benefit for years to come.

Another key aspect of beginner networking is to realize that absolutely everyone should be included at some level. You rarely know all the ways in which casual acquaintances are connected. Leonard says that she often gives her card to young salespeople she finds exceptional, offering to include them in her network. Not one of these people has ever contacted her. Not one has found out that she maintains close ties with dozens of HR decision makers.

Turn the starter job into an opportunity. Given unlimited backing from mom and dad it is often possible to hold out for a job right in line with your skills and aspirations. But sometimes it is necessary to accept a less than perfect job to get the rent money flowing.

That can be okay, says Leonard, who points out that, after all, today’s college graduates are not heading for "30 years with IBM" anyway.

The important thing is to use the job as a stepping stone. It is all too easy to get lulled into accepting the status quo. You can work at Ann Taylor, spend all your money on clothes, and look no further. Or you can take every opportunity to show your boss that you are star material, looking for every chance to outperform. Then you can seek promotions, or you can take your stellar sales record and move on, perhaps to a retailer with an exceptional management training program, or to another industry.

Leonard, though her extensive network of HR contacts, keeps her pulse on the hiring climate. It could be better, but nonetheless, she says "whenever I talk to corporations they say `I’ve got jobs. Do you have anybody?’" There are jobs out there. To get one, learn how to stand apart from the crowd.

#h#Ageism Can’t Stop Energetic Candidates: Dina Lichtman#/h#

Studies have found that it takes a 55-year-old job hunter twice as long to find a job than it does a younger person. Look beyond the statistics, says outplacement counselor Dina Lichtman. "Some of those people have gotten a two-year severance package," she says. "They don’t even look the first year. They take a break."

Sure there is ageism. Lichtman, who is with the Princeton office of Right Management Consultants (Dina.Lichtman@Right.com), doesn’t deny it. But she sees no reason why a person over 55 shouldn’t be able to find the job he wants.

"I have 55-year-old people who look great, have energy up the wazoo, and find significant jobs in three months," she says. Fifty-five is not the cut off, either. "I’ve got a 61-year-old who just landed a great job," she says. Two of his contemporaries, both of them scientists, were just snapped up, too. "Employers fought over them," says Lichtman.

Handling the victims of major downsizings, Lichtman routinely sees disorganized 30-year-olds who can’t get out of the starting blocks, while their elders sprint right back into good positions.

A good number of job counselors steer the over-55 crowd toward early retirement or consulting, but Lichtman doesn’t go along with this advice for two reasons. For one thing, 55-year-olds are all over the place in terms of lifestyle. Some are empty nesters with paid-up mortgages who might well want to consider travel, a part-time job, or volunteering as options. "You may decide you want to contribute to the world," she says.

But a good many others, she points out, have second families, which include young children. A significant percentage married late, had children late, and still have prep school bills, orthodontia, and college tuition ahead of them. For most of these people, semi-retirement is not an option. "They can’t just play golf," she says.

As for starting a business or going into consulting, Lichtman says this choice is just a pipe dream in most cases. "Consulting is scary," she says. "I see people who say `I can do consulting!’ But in most cases, they are underestimating the difficulties. "You have to form the business," she points out. "You have to sell. You have to build up the business. You need health insurance. For the vast majority, consulting is not an option.

"If you’re starting a business because you need a job," declares Lichtman, "you’re doomed to failure." That leaves getting a job.

Lichtman, age 56, is proof that it can be done. She changed careers at 52 without significant difficulty. Like so many healthy Boomers, she is bursting with energy and enthusiasm. "I’m going to climb Machu Picchu next week," she says before a year-end holiday to Peru and the Galapagos Islands. "I have tons of energy."

Energy is important in over-55 job hunters, and that is where Lichtman’s advice starts:

Look as good as you possibly can. Lichtman says this over and over. Sometimes she stops herself and backtracks to tone down the message, but it comes through loud and clear all the same. Barring unusual circumstances, the great jobs going to people over 55 are going to those who look terrific. A big part of this look is intangible. It is confidence, enthusiasm, and yes, energy. Energy, energy, energy. Lichtman, mentions it again and again.

She is realistic as far as physical appearance is concerned. "Look," she says, "most people who are over 55 have tummies." A lot have gray hair, too. Never mind. She is not a proponent of Grecian Formula hair dye. Gray is okay. Even the tummy is okay, up to a point. "I don’t tell people to get surgery," she says.

But it is absolutely imperative to wear good quality clothes that fit impeccably. She cannot stress this enough. "Buttons that pull are a big, big turn-off," she says. As for showing any flesh in the tummy area, well, let’s just say there will be no second interview. Ever.

Do not show up for an interview in too-short pants, either.

When work codes are casual, and suits rarely leave the closet, they sometimes become too small. If that is the case, replace them. No job-hunting money will be better spent.

"Go in there crisp," she says. "Everything should reek of good value."

Oh, and speaking of reeking, she emphasizes "No cologne! That’s so old," she says. "Young people don’t wear cologne." One more point on the "reek" issue. Do not smoke on the way to the interview.

Watch your attitude. Lichtman has had candidates who are perfect for the jobs for which they interview. They are superbly qualified. They look great. And yet they never make it to a second interview. Upon questioning, these executives generally reveal that they have displayed arrogance in their meetings with the junior people who often conduct first interviews. They let these gatekeepers know that they are smarter than they are. More savvy than they are. Far more able to do their jobs than they are.

Tone it down, Lichtman tells her clients.

"So many people go into interviews with negative attitudes," she says. "They’re condescending, and it comes through. If you sit down with someone and think `I could do your job,’ it comes through."

The same is true with a chip on the shoulder. Bruised after being tossed aside by a company to which they feel they gave their best years, many older job hunters are angry. They valued loyalty. They played by the rules. And they were found to be dispensable. Purge these thoughts before getting to the interview stage, she commands, for they will show through.

Lichtman tells her clients who have attitude problems "if you want this job, you have to get through these first interviews." When they go back in with a little more respect for the gatekeepers, people who may be the same age as their children, they are much more successful in getting a second interview.

Wear your passion on your sleeve. Young job hunters gain a leg up when they can talk about what they have accomplished. Started a tech company at 23; managed an IPO at 27; ran an international sales division at 30; that’s so impressive. But somewhere north of 50, accomplishments, perversely, begin to work against a job candidate in many circumstances. They become so much old history.

"Don’t talk about what you’ve done," says Lichtman. "Talk about what you want to do. Talk about what you love, your passions. For people our age, it’s about doing something you love."

Skip the games. Lichtman says that many job counselors advise their clients to hide their age. They rig resumes to show only recent experience, and to hide any early successes or clues about age. Forget it. "Let’s face it," she says, "they’re going to figure out how old you are."

Be upfront about money. Don’t play games about how much you want the job either. Money is one of the biggest hurdles older workers face. Sometimes it is unsurmountable, Lichtman admits. If the gatekeeper is a 35-year-old who has been told that filling the job for the least amount of money possible is paramount, you’re not getting through him.

But if you really want a job that carries a salary that is significantly less than what you were making, go for it. If you can explain why this job, at this time in your life, is exactly what you want, you may get it. Conversely, if you are just desperate for a job, any job, and plan to move on as fast as possible, that attitude will come through.

"Don’t try to game people," says Lichtman. "They’ll see right through it."

After doing careful research, she identified her perfect job, the one she now holds, and took a pay cut to get it. That was four years ago, and she has no regrets.

Offer the fix. Older workers are worth a great deal. There really is no substitute for experience. Let employers know "I can fix your problems," says Lichtman. The desire for older workers is cyclical. They tend to get tossed out when a budget crunch hits, but are often hired back — often for more money — when the corporate ship, bereft of experienced hands, begins to drift.

In a related phenomenon, this just-in-time economy values people who can jump in and make a difference quickly. One of Lichtman’s clients, a man in his early 50s, just landed the top sales job with a mid-sized pharmaceutical company. He was chosen because he was the person who could contribute the most in the least amount of time.

"In a project world, it’s easier for an older person," she says. "It’s so much about how you can present the skills you have in a way that the company can use them immediately in a cost effective way."

Fight the stereotypes. It’s not only age, per se, that is a handicap for the over-55 group. There is an additional prejudice against any of these older workers who spent 25, 30, or 35 years with one company. Once seen as a badge of honor, this loyalty is now seen as freakish.

"They have a harder time," Lichtman says. "Interviewers see them as someone who can’t change. Someone who is not a risk taker. They wonder `How could you stay in a company 30 years?’"

There is an answer, she says. Head the interviewer off at the pass by stating that you kept seeking progressively greater challenges every time that you began to get bored.

Pay careful attention to the basics. So sure of their place in the world for so long, many older job hunters brush aside the basics. "I’ve seen 30-year-old business cards with things scratched out," says Lichtman. "It’s unbelievable."

Make sure that all collateral job hunting documents are perfect. And for heaven’s sake, begs Lichtman, "don’t send something that looks goofy because you don’t know how to send it on the Internet."

Check your humor at the door. "There’s something about the older man," says Lichtman. "They may think it’s cute to say certain things." She is referring to certain slightly off-color things that, in today’s workplace, are decidedly un-PC. "You would think in this day and age that people would know," she marvels. But, that not being the case, she is strict with her clients. Her command is "don’t say anything that could possibly offend anyone."

When clients protest that they just wouldn’t be themselves without a little humor, she begs them to keep it in the closet during the first interviews, and to use it only sparsely thereafter.

"I spoke with someone who had gotten lots of first interviews, but no second interviews," she recounts. "He was a funny guy. I said `don’t be funny!’ He’s now CIO of a giant company."

Getting a job at 55 or 60 is not that different from getting a job at 35 or 40, in Lichtman’s experience. "It’s all about timing, fit, and tenacity," she says. "I’m not saying that ageism doesn’t exist," she says. "I’m saying that I think it can be an excuse."

#h#Mid-Career Planning: Ron Paxton#/h#

Prime time job hunting may be the most difficult of all. People from their mid-30s to their mid-40s are right in the thick of the competition in a game where rules are changing by the minute. As if that weren’t enough, many are gaining awareness mid-way up a career ladder their parents set them on, looking around, and deciding they don’t like the view.

"This is the defining moment," says career coach Ron Paxton (rpaxton@strategiccoachingnetwork.com). "People look at themselves and wonder if they’re doing the right thing."

For some, there is a crisis of uneasiness that makes a job look like a trap. Others, ready or not, have been sprung from jobs that they loved. In some cases, their last few weeks were spent training people in other countries to take over their jobs.

"I considered myself an IBMer," says Paxton. "I was there for 12 very satisfying years." The world was full of people with similar affiliations. Their ties with Merck, or AT&T, or Bristol-Myers, or Lucent made them part of a club. It was their culture, the source of their friendships, and a matter of pride.

All that is over forever, says Paxton. "You have to give up the notion that you are a (fill in the blank) er. You are a free agent, working for X at the moment."

Or maybe not working for X, or for Y, or Z either.

"I’m coaching a guy who was an IT professional," Paxton says. "He was very busy until two years ago. Then the roof fell in. Since 2001, he was out of work for a year-and-a-half. Before that, he had never been out of work for more than two weeks." More and more of the work this formerly-high-paid IT pro was doing is being outsourced. The thinking, says Paxton, is "why pay $80 an hour for a systems programmer when you can go to India and get one for $10."

Jobs, and even industries, have gone away before, but never so quickly. Still, as difficult as the labor environment is for mid-career workers, it also offers opportunity, especially for those who have not looked forward to going to work in a long time. There are ways to achieve career satisfaction, and there are even ways to increase the odds of hanging on to a job in an industry in transition.

Cut expenses. Unemployed people generally look around for ways to trim costs right away. Paxton suggests the exercise for everyone. It buys freedom. How much happier are you behind the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne than you are behind the wheel of a Honda, he asks, wondering "does anyone need an $80,000 car?"

Instead of looking for a new job that will keep an old lifestyle going, consider cutting back on that lifestyle. He talks about a client on the West Coast who told him she could live on $8,000 a year. Her frugality buys her the freedom to do absolutely anything she wants.

There is an excellent chance that mid-career professionals and managers will face multiple downsizings throughout the remainder of their careers. Smaller bills take out some of the sting and provide the breathing room needed to maneuver into a new job or a new career.

Focus on skills. The IT professional Paxton is coaching used his downtime to add to his skills. He earned a PMP certificate, and, says Paxton, "Right away he found an opportunity that required that certificate." Jobs are still coming up, even in the tightest industries, he says, but "the requirements are becoming more specific."

Distinguish yourself, he says, understand the hot skills required. Getting additional training or education costs money, and seems to counter his lean-living thesis, but Paxton says skills training is definitely not the place to skimp. "It’s an investment," he says.

Get the cash flowing. After cutting expenses, and assessing the possibility of getting more training, many mid-career workers need to focus short-term on pulling in money. Of all the age groups, it is these people who tend to have the greatest responsibilities.

Look to existing skills for income possibilities. Paxton knows one IT professional who was a paint contractor before the boom. When IT went bust, he went back to painting. It may not be his ideal job, but for the moment it is a lot better than sitting around wondering how the boom could have collapsed so quickly.

Look to all your resources. After a downsizing, the easiest strategy, in most industries, is to look for a job doing what you were doing before. But if you truly hated the work, assess your situation, and see if there is a way to switch into another career or another industry.

One of Paxton’s clients was working for a big accounting firm, and was miserable. Asked what he would do if money were no object, he said he would love to do environmental work. His hidden career-switch asset turned out to be his wife, who went back to work so that he could find a job in the field.

An additional resource this mid-career job hunter had was volunteer experience. He had given his time to an open space preservation group through the years, and it helped him to win a job with a coalition to preserve New Jersey rivers.

Seek alignment. Paxton uses what he calls an ATM career model with his clients. He likens it to the money machines used to fuel a lifestyle. The goal of his ATM is the fueling of a life. The first step, the "A" is alignment. He urges mid-career job seekers to take the time to decide what it is they really want to do — to identify what it is they would do without any pay if they could.

Grabbing any job at all is a nearly impossible-to-resist impulse, but there is a much better chance of success — and of a longer tenure — if the work is a good fit.

Make a transition strategy. This is the "T." It is a plan from moving from one point, be it unemployment or job dissatisfaction, toward more fulfilling work. Often it is a matter of mapping a series of steps. For people in mid-career, who do not typically get golden parachutes, it often must be accomplished a little at a time.

The important thing, says Paxton, is to begin moving toward the goal. An unemployed IT worker with a yen to be chef, for example, might not be able to move right into that field, but he might be able to do some freelance web designing to finance part-time study at a culinary institute.

A disenchanted attorney with a scuba diving business in mind might spend a vacation talking to people who make their living this way. He might research financing options and take small business classes. Meanwhile, he could save money, downsize his lifestyle, and sell his family on the idea.

Become as good as you can be. After landing a new job or switching to a new career, it is time for the "M" step. This is mastery. It is Paxton’s theory that a lot of downsized individuals would still be working if they had achieved this state. "Rarely," he says, "is the top 20 percent of a profession out of work. It’s the bottom 20 percent. The more mastery you have, the more solid you are."

While it’s fine to be solid in your career, it is vital to remember that you are a solid vessel rolling around in an unstable sea. At 35 or 40 or 45 you are midway through an adventure that will invariably feature a number of plot twists. The one constant is that you, the protagonist, can never forget that you are a company of one. You are lending your talents to your firm on a temporary basis, and you need to be ready to shove off at any time.

#h#For Career Changers#/h#

With today’s tight job market posing a challenge to those who are out of work, many adults are returning to the classroom. Those who want to train for a new career quickly can turn to Mercer County Community College’s Center for Continuing Studies. The Center offers short-term, noncredit courses year-round, designed for adult students. Most classes meet in the evening or on weekends, and the instructors are working professionals in their respective fields.

For the budding new entrepreneur, a series of courses will focus on small business management, beginning Thursday, January 29, with "Starting Your Own Business: The Business Plan," taught by veteran trainer Nunzio Cernero. In three evening sessions students will learn the key elements of a successful small business, including funding, marketing, financial management and legal issues. Tuition and fees are $153.

In February and March the small business series continues with evening and Saturday morning classes that cover borrowing relationships, legal formation, financial statements, marketing, accounting systems and technology.

Also for career changers, "Consulting Made Easy" will cover how to jump start a consulting business in a highly competitive market. The class meets Wednesday, April 28, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Another innovative course that can change a career, offered for the second time after proving very popular last fall, will be "E-bay Simplified: Easy Ways to Make Money," coming Monday, February 23 from 8 to 9:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 31, 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition is $30 for the two-hour session, which promises to teach students how to use E-bay as a full- or part-time business venture, or just to turn unwanted attic and basement items into profit.

"Exploring the Small Farm Dream," taught by Pam Flory and Laura Sayre, helps people explore the vision of starting a small farm of their own. The course, which welcomes students of all levels of experience and capital, will meet April 20 to May 11. Tuition and fees are $150.

For more information about the hundreds of courses offered through the MCCC Center for Continuing Studies call 609-586-9446, E-mail ComEd@mccc.edu (www.mccc.edu).

Below is a small selection from the dozens of conferences/workshops beginning in January.

January 12 to February 11: How to Prepare a Federal and State Income Tax Return. Monday and Wednesday, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition and fees $240. Instructor: Alex Ermoloff, IRS Enrolled Agent.

January 12 to February 9: Construction Blueprint Reading. Monday and Wednesday, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuition and fees $200. 2 CEUs. Instructor: William Winterbottom, NJ Building Authority.

January 20 to February 24: Effective Business Writing. Tuesday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition and fees $165. 1.5 CEUs. Instructor: Ellen Benowitz, MCCC faculty member.

January 22 to February 19: Fundamentals of Finance and Accounting for Non-financial Managers. Thursdays, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition and fees $270. 1.5 CEUs. Instructor: Kenneth Horowitz, CPA.

January 29 to February 12: Starting Your Own Business: The Business Plan. Thursdays, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuition and fees $153. 9 CEUs. Instructor: Nunzio Cernero, MCCC assistant dean.

#h#New Rules For Resume Writing#/h#

Resume rules change more quickly than the seasons, and with each evolution they become more rigid. Once upon a time, when a big issue was whether to play it safe and print on cream-colored stock or to be bold and go with pale blue, few misjudgments were fatal. Now an infraction against a resume rule could easily send the vital document straight to the trash. Well, not actually the trash, but rather a black hole in cyberspace.

Susan Guarneri, who headed up the Job Club networking group for years before moving to the Midwest last year, has crafted thousands of resumes for her clients. A Certified Professional Resume Writer, she operates in an electronic world and can be reached at wwww.resume-magic.com or www.careermagiccoach.com

"People tell me they sent out 100 resumes, and got no responses," she says of a common scenario. Of course, there’s no telling for sure what forces were at work, but, she says, the reason for the resounding silence could have been something as simple as leaving the subject line on the E-mail carrying the resume blank.

Employers and executive recruiters now overwhelmingly prefer an electronic resume to one printed on paper. Once the E-resume is received, it’s all about getting it into a database. Quickly. Some resumes will make it no farther. Those that make it to the next level — a trip to the printer — will have made the cut, in no small part, because they were written not with a human reader in mind, but rather with an eye toward wowing a piece of software.

So job seekers need to know how to create a resume that will impress a keyword-scanning piece of software, and they need to know how to transmit that resume to an employer in a manner that ensures that he will open the E-mail, be able to get the resume into his database quickly, and will see a clean, relatively short document when he prints it out.

"A seven-year-old resume is really old," says Guarneri. So old that it is useless. That is because optical character reading (OCR), introduced into personnel departments in or around 1993, has shifted the job of resume review from humans to machines.

Efficient, speedy, and non-discriminatory, the software is not as flexible as the human mind. "It can’t figure out where you would fit in the company, what job would be good for you," says Guarneri. They search for specific information, and categorize resumes based on what they "see," not what they intuit. There are no "Ah!" moments when the machine, pausing to study a resume, thinks "I never thought of it before, but this guy would be perfect for that recreational director/corporate outing position."

No, the resume must be oh-so-clear on exactly where its owner would fit in, and on what open position he is qualified to fill. Matching up in the age of evaluation-by-software means crafting a resume with just the right keywords, and then transmitting it so that it is easy to open, print, and read. Here is Guarneri’s advice on getting it right:

Figure out your focus. Some clients ask Guarneri for a generic resume they can use for the three of four types of jobs they would be happy landing. "It doesn’t work," she says. "It totally confuses the system." For each resume you must be clear on whether you want to land a position, for example, as a geriatric social worker or a teacher of social work at the graduate school level.

Get the keywords up high. Create a qualifications summary near the top of the resume, and pack it with keywords.

Use synonyms and abbreviations. Look at your keywords. If they are sometimes abbreviated or if acronyms are sometimes used in place of the full word, make sure that every possible variant appears somewhere in your resume. Some electronic resume readers will search for a key requirement several ways, but others will not.

Follow the rules. Name always goes on top of the resume. "Not the word `resume,’ but name. Always name," says Guarneri. Next comes the qualifications summary, and make sure to include all relevant degrees, certifications, and licenses in this section. She sees many clients who put education down at the bottom of the second page, but the software may not get that far, and will toss them out for not having the degree or degrees that it is programmed to see as required keywords. More details on degrees, certifications, and licenses can be added after work experience, which should be listed in reverse chronological order.

Paste the resume into an E-mail window. After all the work is done, and the keyword resume is complete, prepare it for the E-mail window. Do not just send it as an attachment. "I know recruiters who refuse to open any attachments at all," says Guarneri. Most employers are leery too. Viruses, including a virulent one named "resume" that circulated recently, have everyone scared.

To make sure your resume is not summarily deleted, send it in the body of an E-mail. Prepare it to be sent this way by saving it as an Ascii file. When you do so, a menu will appear. Choose the "text only with line breaks" option. Then rename the file, close the window, and look for the notepad icon on the desktop. Open the notepad, count 65 characters — including spaces — and insert a hard return. Then put in a hard return at the end of 65 characters in each line. This takes time. "There’s no way around it," says Guarneri. But omit this step and the resume will appear in the E-mail window as one long paragraph.

Prepare an attachment for printing. Sending an E-mail stating that a resume is attached is no good, but that said, there should be a resume attachment in addition to the resume in the body of the E-mail. This is so, says Guarneri, because an employer might want to print out the resume.

The Ascii version of the resume in the body of the E-mail is, of necessity, stripped of all its formatting, including bolding and bullets. An attachment will look a lot better. It will also be shorter. Because of the small number of characters per line in an E-mail window, an E-mail prints out about twice as long as an attachment. A two-page resume printed from an attachment will be four pages long if it is printed from the E-mail window. The shorter, better formatted document is more pleasing to the humans who take over when the keyword software has done its job.

The attachment can be sent as a Word or RTF document, but Guarneri says it is a good idea to consider sending it as a PDF file instead. Opened with Adobe Acrobat, a free program most employers use, the pdf file "really is a picture," says Guarneri. It will look exactly the same as a paper resume — bolding, color, stylish bullets and all.

Add a cover letter. Prepare a short cover letter, just two brief paragraphs, and use it as an introduction to the resume that follows in the E-mail.

Pack the subject line with information. Never send a resume by E-mail without filling in the subject line. That is how viruses often are sent. Employers and recruiters know this and often delete E-mails carrying no subject line without ever opening them.

Many job hunters just put the word "resume" into the subject file. That is no good, says Guarneri. It just forces the overworked recipient — an employer or recruiter, who may receive hundreds of resumes daily — to rename the file. When responding to a posting for a specific job, start the subject line with the job code. Follow it with a dash. An "n" dash, Guarneri states, convinced that nothing should be left to chance. "That’s the short dash," she explains. Leave a space on either side of the dash, type in last name, followed by a dash, and job title, followed by another dash, and then years of experience.

The subject line can be rounded off with anything that sets the candidate apart, perhaps an MBA or other advanced degree, knowledge of an highly-desirable computer language, or niche experience. This sounds like a lot, but Guarneri points out that subject line holds from 60 to 80 characters, and that it is perfectly all right to use standard abbreviations.

The focus of resume preparation has shifted from personality to technical knowledge and a firm grasp of what keyword software looks for, and Guarneri says this is not a bad thing. "I’ve seen too many people who don’t figure out what they want to do, and put it on others," she says. With the keyword resume, there is no waffling. The job candidate must be crystal clear about who he is and just exactly where he fits in.

#h#Ace a Job Interview#/h#

Acing a job interview involves getting comfortable — but not too comfortable. "It’s like acting," says Julia Poulos, an actress and management consultant who looks at the interviews from both sides of the desk. The principal in All the World’s a Stage (www.savvypresentations.com) at 20 Nassau Street, she advises corporate managers on how best to communicate in every situation, including interviews with job candidates, and she consults with individuals who need to excel at business communications — including job interviews.

Poulos, who holds a master’s degree in theater from Penn State, is finding that managers are looking for "soft skills," but often find it hard to figure out whether a particular candidate has them. Right now, managers are telling her, these qualities include a good work ethic, flexibility, a high tolerance for stress, and the ability to multi-task and to work well on a team with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds.

It may be up to the job candidate to bring a discussion of these qualities into the interview. This is part of the process of acing an interview. Some of the other pieces:

Preparing carefully. Just as an actor memorizes his lines before he steps onto a stage, a job candidate needs to go over the points he needs to make during an interview. Just reaching the interview stage may be the culmination of months of intense job hunting. It is vital to be fully ready to do well.

Being conversational. Interviewers look at your whole communication style, although they may not be conscious of doing so. Adopt a conversational style, but "don’t be too overwhelming," says Poulos. Make eye contact, but "without eye lock."

Pause before answering a question. "Take your time," says Poulos, explaining that this lets interviewers know that you are carefully considering your answer.

Asking for clarification. Interviewers frequently ask questions that are overly broad. Try to narrow the question. Does he want to know about an individual project or a team effort? Is he looking for insight into how you handled a personnel crisis or a crisis involving damage control with the media? Focus the question and there is a better chance you will deliver exactly the information the interviewer is seeking.

Telling stories. Everyone loves a story. Prepare several. For starters, Poulos emphasizes, these tales should be true. They should illustrate how well you achieved a goal at another job, in school, or perhaps in a community project. The stories — prepared in advance of the interview — should include mention of the key soft skills. Perhaps one story could mention long hours of juggling several projects — easily tolerated because of the rapport within your team.

Including lots of details. Whether answering a question or bringing up a success story, include specifics. "Details increase credibility," says Poulos. "They make it real for the listener."

Being assertive. Don’t be aggressive, but, says Poulos, "managers expect you to be assertive." Don’t sit back, waiting for the questions to come. There are points that need to be made, points that demonstrate why you are the best person for the job. It is up to you to make sure the interview doesn’t end before all the important points are made.

Remembering the interviewer’s concerns. Don’t pepper the interviewer with questions about benefits. Don’t regale him with tales of family obligations that will make it impossible for you to work late on Fridays or travel internationally. The interviewer is focused on what the company needs. It is your job to demonstrate how well you can fill these needs.

#h#Contrarian Advice#/h#

Dick Stone, an HR consultant and the founder of the Princeton Human Resources Network, an HR networking organization, reports that "there are still tremendous layoffs." But, he adds, "it doesn’t take any longer to find a job than it ever did."

While he spends much of his time giving job hunting advice to HR professionals, his unusual strategies work equally well in other fields.

Think small. A native of upstate New York, he recalls that at one time an outsize percentage of his neighbors and friends, and even his siblings all worked for just one company — GE in Schenectady. One of his brothers was in advertising, one in engineering, and one in recruiting. It was the same in New Jersey, he points out. "The biggest change in the nature of jobs," he says, "is that there is no more AT&T with 385,000 jobs." The mega-employer is gone, and is unlikely to return. "not even in pharma," he says.

Job hunters need to widen their scopes to locate employers whose names are anything but household words. This reality makes the job search more difficult, Stone admits. But that can’t be helped.

Hustle right along. One of the biggest mistakes job hunters make, says Stone, is wasting time in researching a company. Common wisdom mandates finding out all about a prospective employer’s products, markets, and missions before an interview. Forget it, says Stone. "The company knows what it does," he says. "It wants to know what you can do."

Scanning annual reports and digging deep into company websites just eats up precious time.

Contact at least 100 companies a month. "I ask people how many companies they have contacted," says Stone, "and they say 13." Contact 100 companies, he says, and you will get 10 interviews, and 1 job offer, "two if you’re really young."

#h#Job Seekers Groups#/h#

Career Networking Group, 100 Scotch Road, First Presbyterian Church, Ewing 08628. 609-433-6191. E-mail: espfletcher@msn.com

Networking and topic-based discussions, fourth Tuesdays, 7 to 9 p.m.

JobSeekers, 33 Mercer Street, c/o Trinity Church, Princeton 08540. Niels Nielsen, coordinator. 609-924-2277. E-mail: ungersar@trinityprinceton.org. Home page: www.trinityprinceton.org

Education, instruction, networking, and support group for people changing jobs or careers, free, Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.

Professional Service Group, 506 Jersey Avenue, NJDOL Department PSG, New Brunswick 08901. Virginia Daly, coordinator. 732-418-3304. Home page: www.dol.state.nj.us

Professional Service Group of Mercer County, 650 South Broad Street, Trenton 08650. Cheryl Manson, facilitator. 609-278-4834.

A self-help, volunteer non-profit outplacement organization. Sponsored by the labor department and Workforce Investment Board, it meets Mondays at 9:30 a.m.

#h#First Days on the Job#/h#

Keep the cape in the closet. At least for the first three months on the job. Coming on like Superman can be a mistake for the newly-hired, says career counselor Don Saturia. "You have two eyes and one mouth," he says, tongue only a little in cheek. "Use your eyes twice as much as your mouth."

Saturia, principal in Union-based CareerQuest (www.careerquestcentral.com), specializes in working with Gen Xers looking for career satisfaction, middle-aged executives and professionals hitting a wall, and over-50s trying for a place in a youth-oriented workplace. He says that the statistically average Gen Xer will have four or five careers — not just jobs, but careers — over a 40 to 45-year work life. For Boomers, it might be just three careers. But it is clear that nearly every worker can expect a whole lot of first days on a new job.

Most, says Saturia, will not be prepared to put down the groundwork that will lead to a good run. Worse still, a good many will set the family photo on a desk where they are immediately unhappy.

"I tell all of my clients to do due diligence before accepting a job," he says. "Ninety-nine percent of people do not do this." Employers scope out their new hires, he points out, and the new hires need to engage in some investigations of their own.

"Arrive half an hour early for a job interview," he suggests. Use the time to observe interactions — and to covertly gather information. Is the atmosphere formal or informal? Do your future co-workers engage in pleasant conversation as they pass one another? Do they appear to respect and like one another? Can you see yourself dressing the way they do? Do you think you would fit in?

Ask to use the rest room, and engage anyone who happens to be there in conversation. Spend a little time in the parking lot, too. If possible, collect a few phone numbers. Ask employees how they like the company. "At a Merck or a J&J, you find happy campers," says Saturia. The same may not be true at some other large companies and at any number of small and mid-size companies. Better to find out before signing on. Making a quick — and graceful — exit soon after starting a job is not easy.

If the job is not what it was supposed to be or what you envisioned, or if it is clear that unethical practices are the norm, it is essential to get out fast. Otherwise, it is important to settle in smoothly. Saturia offers these tips:

Watch for any undercurrents. "Things are not what they appear on the surface," says Saturia. Every office has a power structure, and it probably has little to do with the pyramid on the letterhead. "There are alliances you don’t know about," he says. Sit back and observe.

Absorb the culture. Even within the same industry, every company has its own mores. Your goal as a new employee, says Saturia, is to "be absorbed without making waves."

Join some teams. In the early days, it is often a good idea to put your own ideas for projects on hold and pitch in to help others with their work. Do so, and you will be accepted as a team player.

Analyze the company’s communications network. Find out to whom you should report. Does the boss welcome questions? Or does he prefer that queries go through his assistant? Does he prefer E-mail to voicemail, or does he like to have his underlings drop by for in-person chats? Is it okay to float ideas in other departments?

Join the grapevine. There are official lines of communication and then there are unofficial lines of communication. The latter are by far the best, says Saturia. If you want to know what is really going on, hook into the grapevine. Doing so requires an ability to be a good listener, and to respect confidences. "Don’t back-bite," advises Saturia. "Don’t pass on gossip. Be non-judgmental. Be non-moralistic." Strive to be trusted, and the grapevine should open wide enough to let you in.

Don’t bad mouth yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, especially in the first weeks on the job. Apologize to your immediate boss, and get on with your work, says Saturia, who has observed a tendency for public self-flagellation. Spreading the word that you goofed up, even in private conversations after hours, can badly damage your reputation.

Leave the family’s problems at home. Should a relative’s illness mean that you have to be late for work, tell only your immediate boss about the situation, and even then, give him only the most basic information. Talking at length about the kids’ brushes with the law or going into detail about a parent’s health problems are not a good idea. Says Saturia, "your personal life is strictly off limits."

On day one memorize names. On the first day, you are likely to meet 20 people or more. Saturia keeps a tiny diary in his pocket and discreetly records names of people he meets. He suggests that new employees do the same. Another way to get the names down is to collect business cards. There are also memory programs that teach techniques for memorizing dozens of names. Whatever the method, he says that learning names quickly helps the new employee stand out.

Greet co-workers by name on your second day on the job, and they will be impressed, he says.

Be the first one in. On day two, pull into the parking lot a half hour early, and then leave a half hour after the official work day ends (but make sure you know the company’s alarm system first). "That makes a tremendous impression," says Saturia. Keep this up for several weeks, and you will be seen as a hard worker. First impressions tend to stick.

Keep a file on yourself. It is oh-so-easy to forget the details on the contributions you make to the company. Come review time, or an interview for a new job, and it will be difficult to remember just how much money you saved the company through which project. Saturia insists that it is essential to keep a file of written notes for each and every project. He has even created an acronym for this — PAR — "What was the problem, what action did you take, and what was the result."

Bring your PAR file along on your performance review and it will be a help not only to you, but also to your boss. If it is difficult for you to remember all of your contributions, how much more difficult is it for your boss, who has lots of other things on his mind?

#h#Build Your Own Sabbatical#/h#

With the economy souring, Hollie Gilroy (gilroy@hinj.org) "fired herself" and spent a year learning all about sailing and thoroughbred horse racing. Back at a desk now at the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey, she looks on her self-styled sabbatical as a smart career move — and so much more.

She had moved up the ladder in her public affairs career, finding satisfaction in, among other things, lobbying on behalf of New Jersey’s community colleges. After helping to secure a key legislative battle on behalf of the schools, she moved on to a job with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers, where she was recruited to be the director of community and public affairs. The job did not turn out to be a good fit. Her entrepreneurial personality chaffed at the bureaucracy at the huge institution of which the Ag Station is a part. She says she did give the job a real chance, but after year, she knew it wasn’t for her. Still, she did not want to start "pounding the pavement" to look for another job.

"I was at a place in my career where I thought it was better to take a break," she says. "It was time to take a big step back, and decide what I wanted to do next. A break was a great way to objectively look at my career path without the stress of a job. I could make a better decision, and not be emotional about the situation."

In her opinion, the pressure of leaving a job that is not a good fit and jumping right into another job can be a recipe for going from the frying pan straight into the fire. She decided to take another route to her next career move, and arranged a sabbatical for herself. While few jobs outside of academia offer sabbaticals, she says that with enough planning, anyone can create one. Here’s how:

Talk to people who have taken a sabbatical. Through a network of women professionals with whom she maintained contact, Gilroy learned of a woman who had done what she wanted to do. "She was a year or two younger," she recounts. "She was on the fast track in a high-powered Manhattan job, engaged, and living a wonderful lifestyle. But she wasn’t enjoying her life." The woman told Gilroy she had met with a career coach to uncover her true abilities and interests. She then took time off to travel in Europe before finding work at a non-profit.

"It was a story I could relate to," says Gilroy. "It’s nice to have a nice resume with awards, but you need to honor other parts of yourself." The early years of a career are all about acquisition, she says. Promotions, titles, an increasingly upscale wardrobe, the corner office, a bigger salary, these things become all-consuming. Stepping away allows space for introspection and re-evaluation.

Build up a nest egg. Academics often can take sabbaticals with pay. Some corporations and non-profits — but not many — grant sabbaticals at full or partial pay, and some continue health insurance during the time off. None of this applied to Gilroy. She knew she had to finance her own sabbatical. To do so, she saved every other paycheck for a year. It was tough staying on at a job she did not particularly enjoy for 12 more months, but that was the only way she could do it.

The lifestyle adjustment was not particularly difficult. "I’m not a person who needs a new car, who needs to live in the biggest house," she says. "I don’t need a million cable channels. I don’t need to eat out every night." Her husband, Michael Skowronski, is a self-employed inventor, so one thing she would need was health insurance. She would have to pay for that too, which she did through COBRA.

Make a plan. She chose two main activities. First, she would become a sailor, learning not only how to sail a ship, but also how to repair it, and how to navigate. Growing up near the Jersey shore, this was something she had dreamed of doing, and she thoroughly enjoyed becoming a competent skipper.

She says her stay at the Ag Station, while not perfect, was a learning experience. One thing she came away with was a deep appreciation of thoroughbred horses. For the second part of her sabbatical, she spent her days at a stable, learning all about horses and horse racing.

Make sure the plan is flexible. Scheduling every minute forecloses the possibility of losing a precious opportunity. So it was that Gilroy, about to wrap up her sabbatical after about seven months, was approached by Raritan Valley Community College, and asked to teach communications for a semester. She accepted on the spot, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Don’t worry about finding another job. When Gilroy first decided to take a self-financed sabbatical, the economy was rocketing to new heights, and gobbling up every worker it could get. By the time she had saved up enough to take the leave, the economy was softening perceptibly. But she did not let the situation dissuade her. "You can always get a job," she says. Finding a year to explore new interests, in her opinion, is not so easy. She was not going to let a budding recession get in her way.

In any economy, she advises, the beginning of a sabbatical is definitely not the time to worry about — or plot — a reentry into the world of work. "You need to make a clean break," she says.

Play up the sabbatical on resumes. With her sabbatical nearing an end, Gilroy did begin to think about her next career move. She first decided that she did not want a career change, and then made a list of all the things she had liked — and disliked — about previous jobs. In the end, she decided that a job in a relatively small non-profit, perhaps in the healthcare industry, would be a good fit.

She told employers, right up front, that she was returning from a sabbatical, refreshed and ready to go. She also detailed what she had done with her time off. Intrigued, a good number of employers called her in for interviews, and wanted to hear all about the sabbatical. Rather than being a liability, the break had turned into a substantial asset, inspiring wistful admiration in the desk-bound.

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