Christmas ballsAs the holiday season bears down on us all, the pressing questions for the job hunter/careerist are: Should I take a break? Is anything really going to happen in the job market before the New Year? Don’t I deserve a respite from this brutal process and relax by the fire with eggnog?

Well, yes and no. To be sure, taking some time during the holidays to enjoy the delights of the season and appreciate those around you is an excellent idea. This is certainly NOT the time to pull out the plastic and run up a tab with the retail industry, but having a sensible, enjoyable holiday time with family and friends is something you DO deserve.

That being said, please allow me to make a case for maintaining a certain level of activity between now and the waning din of the noisemakers on the first day of the New Year.

  1. There is no better time to network.

The holidays represent an extraordinary number of opportunities to see and be seen by family, friends and folks from all over. It would be foolish to not consider all of this “face time” as a resource to increase your “Positive Visibility.” Please understand the importance of your attitude and approach, however. Nothing can put the damper on a festive gathering more quickly than someone who is pumping the crowd for job leads, or who has the “deer in the headlights” look of someone whose career is stalled! Be sure to focus your contact with others in a positive manner, seeking information, advice and referral to investigate and consider alternatives. Remember that most individuals truly would like to help, but are at a loss on how to be of assistance. Allow them the luxury of simply giving advice rather than 1) feeling pressed to deliver that killer contact for you or 2) staring through you to someone, anyone at the other side of the room. My experience has been that, in such cases, most people will choose Door Number 2!

An additional word of warning: be sure that your solicitation of “next step” options and advice is not the first question on your list, nor is it the only item of conversation. Ease into these topics. Ask how they are doing, what is new in their lives. Show honest, genuine interest and concern for them as people, not as networking contacts. Also, help them realize that you are in the investigation mode, not desperate for a pay stub or a lead to that next great promotion.

  1. Many decision makers are at home, not on the road.

One of the challenges of job search and networking is navigating through the maze of individuals who need to participate in any decisions being made. In mid-August, for example, it is often difficult to get the right people in the same room (or even in the same state) long enough to give their opinions, since Smitty is at Myrtle Beach and Ms. Jones just left for New England. This is not as true during the holidays!

Many people will be staying nearer to home, traveling less and becoming more accessible. Although staffing issues may not be at the top of the holiday list, there are still decisions being made, perhaps even more quickly due to the availability of decision-makers. In addition, the end of the year is often the time when budgets are being reviewed and finalized, and new business plans are starting to take shape. Remember: The best time to get connected is always the present!

  1. Your competition may be reduced.

This is one of my personal favorites! Many of your fellow careerists may decide that this is simply not the time to think career at all (for all of the reasons we recounted earlier) and mothball their power suits until the New Year. As a result, there is high potential that your competition will dwindle. Why not take advantage of this “thinning of the field” to forge ahead? As others decide not to take any action until early next year, your well-placed voicemail, LinkedIn update, tweet or short e-mail may improve your standing. After all, in the wild and woolly world of careers, you need to work every opportunity to your advantage!

  1. Most individuals are more open to being helpful at this time.

Admittedly, this will not always be the case. Certainly I would not recommend an intense networking contact at the checkout counter on Christmas Eve! It is true, however, that many are more full of the “milk of human kindness,” more willing to share and provide honest insights and assistance to a well-placed question or request.

  1. Pace yourself!

Now that I’ve made my unassailable arguments for burning up the snow-covered pavement with your career development, I want to introduce the other side of the issue – it IS the Holidays! Be sure to take time to care for you and yours, to be thankful for what you do have, to count your blessings. And perhaps, even sip a flagon of eggnog at least once in front of a crackling fire! Sounds good, doesn’t it?!

Happy Holidays and best wishes to you and yours!

Social Media IconsThat IS the question for many of us — careerists, employers and employees. And the answer is not as simple as it may appear to be.

Can time be wasted, hours of unproductive time spent posting mundane (What are you doing right now?) notes on any of these online programs. That answer is easy – YES!

…not to mention the possibility of sharing confidential information, posting inappropriate content or leaving something out in cyberspace where you have limited control over who reads it. Oh, I know there are privacy settings and related controls to reduce this possibility, but my rule of thumb has always been to assume that anyone may bump into your digital musings (your mother, your boss, etc.) and I type (or text) accordingly!

Even with these caveats, many reputable organizations are creating Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s) for social networking applications, fully aware that they are true opportunities for their appropriate and professional use. I have  had the opportunity to speak to universities, professional networking groups, Human Resource organizations, etc. on the potential use of applications the likes of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as bona fide business tools.

Here are a few examples of how Social Networking could benefit:

  • Seeking real world, almost immediate feedback from peers, customers, contacts on “what’s happening,” their perspectives, insights and thoughts.
  • Providing collaborative opportunities with peers in virtually every extant industry or disciplines that’s in existence.
  • Opening up a communication channel to interact with others any where in the world.
  • Creating an on-line presence for you or your organization that enhances your “Brand” in the marketplace.

Do these potential benefits have their downside? Most certainly, but in this global, digital age, failure to consider the appropriate use of some of these potentially troublesome applications may leave you out in the cold!

First of all, WHAT is it?

Fuzzy Job Hunting (or Career Development) is a term I’ve coined, based upon the computer process known as Fuzzy Logic.Fuzzy Dice Fuzzy logic is an approach to computing based on “degrees of truth” rather than the usual “true or false” (1 or 0, on or off) Boolean logic on which the modern computer is based. It was first advanced by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh of the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960’s as he was working on the problem of computer’s understanding natural language. Computers are literal – they always do what we ask, not what we mean – while human beings are a bit “Fuzzier” in our ways of communicating and interacting.

Fuzzy Job Hunting implies that there is No One Distinct, Guaranteed, Always Successful Method for achieving meaningful employment or career satisfaction. Career Development is a moving target, requiring continuous action, adjustment, revision, sometimes even radical change in what you do and how you do it! This “Fuzzy” approach may relate to your vocational targets, your actions, your thought processes – everything involved in the career development and job-search process.

Let’s take a look at WHY you should employ Fuzzy Job Hunting.

1.   It will increase activity.

That old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is quite true. There is however, another phrase: “paralysis by analysis.” In a desire to have your act completely together, your resume absolutely perfect, your career path target razor sharp, your employment search plan mapped out in 15-minute increments, you may never get started. Fuzzy Job Hunting encourages you to get an inkling of what and where and start moving. Laser-guided job search can create strategic and efficient action, if you ever come up with The Target! In the meantime, you are mired in the morass of planning the best course of action and end up going nowhere.

I like to think of this as selecting a basic direction for movement – Northernly, for example. As you move ahead, keep your eyes open. Maybe you’ll end up going Northeast or North/Northwest (with apologies to Alfred Hitchcock!), but at least you’ll be moving in a direction that is generally correct! If you never strike out in a direction, you’ll never see any sights at all!

2.   It will create opportunities.

I once heard that “If you aim at nothing, you will surely hit the mark.” Well said! As noted above, pick a direction and start moving. Fuzzy Job Hunting creates the potential for Serendipity, “the faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident” (The American Heritage Dictionary). Things happen when you are in action.

As Barbara Sher wrote in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, “The amount of good luck that comes your way depends on your willingness to act.” When your job hunt is “Fuzzy,” you tend to move more, get more visible, interact with more people, create more networking opportunities. Oh, sure, some of this may appear to be a waste of time, but how do you decide where the best contacts should be made? Many of my clients have found the most productive contacts they ever made came from the most unlikely of sources. Fuzzy Job Hunting gives you the chance to discover and be discovered.

3.   It will introduce new perspectives.

As open-minded as you are, there is no way to have much of a viewpoint on reality other than your own. As you employ your Fuzzy Tactics, you will get introduced to new ideas, new alternatives and other ways to look at things. Do you remember the story of the four blind men and the elephant? They each approached the animal from a different vantage point. One touched the elephant’s side and declared, “An elephant is like a wall.” The second reached out to the animal’s leg and said, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” The third tugged on the elephant’s tail and stated, “You are both wrong. An elephant is like a rope.” Finally, the forth reached out and touched the beast’s trunk, declaring, “None of you knows what you are talking about! An elephant is exactly like a snake!”

Who was right? They all were, each from their distinct perspective. The Fuzzy Job Hunt works much the same way by allowing you to benefit from the views of others. Each person you meet will have a slightly different slant, evaluating things from another side. Take advantage of their perspective.

4.   It will provide results.

Fuzzy Job Hunting increases activity, visibility and alternatives. I’ve said it before and will say it again: the traditional approach to the job market is chaotic and ineffective. It does not work particularly well, either for employers or for job seekers. The vast majority of job-search success (at least 85%) is through “nontraditional” methods, such as research, networking, social media, volunteering, etc. There is no better way to tap into the “hidden job market” than by thinking and acting “Fuzzily.”

foam_fingerDeveloped by Frederick Taylor, who was shocked at the inefficiency of a metal products foundry where he worked (much to the dismay of his wealthy family), “One Best Way” became perhaps the first of thousands of management fads that have been foisted upon the working world. In a nutshell, Taylor studied each step a worker took to complete a task, seeking to arrange the work setting to get the most efficient use of time, equipment, energy and materials. He then determined the average production a worker could be expected to complete in a work day, creating opportunity for incentive-based “raises,” identification of superior employees, evaluating employee performance, etc.

Not surprisingly, this was not all that popular with the working class, although “Taylorism” came to be applied rather extensively with the advent of World War I. (Interestingly, it’s worth noting that Taylor and his cohorts did build some “fudge factor” measures into the data, realizing that it was impractical to think that workers could maintain optimum levels of production for an entire shift.)

I ran into an alternative view of Taylorism a few years ago while reading the excellent book Free Agent Nation by Dan Pink (my review of it is in Shelfari, by the way). Pink changed the term to “Tailorism,” work that is designed to provide the highest degree of personal satisfaction, meeting the needs and desires of the employee. For the self-employed (Dan Pink’s primary audience in the book), this is done by fashioning your own career, becoming a true “Free Agent.”

However, for those of us who employ, are employed, or seeking employment as “Free Agents,” I see an equally useful application. As I identify the key skills, values and abilities for myself and those around me, seeking to find ways to apply them to my work and life, I can become something of a “Free Agent” for an organization. My “One Best Way” becomes the way that maximizes my contributions to the organization by tapping into what I have termed in earlier blogs as my “Best Stuff,” benefiting both me and my company. This same process can and should be applied to virtually everyone in the organization, seeking to assist them in identifying, applying, and fostering their “Best Stuff” daily.

Now, THAT’s a “One Best Way!”

Perfect 10In applying to jobs or aspiring to a new position in our organization, we scrutinize the job posting carefully, noting every time we can place a check mark (Hurrah! I’ve got that one!) beside a qualification and every time we come up short we cross it out (Darn! Missed that one!).

This is based on the belief that The Perfect Employee is always out there, and will end up with a resume or work history replete with check marks and nothing crossed out, right? So, if you come up short, don’t waste your time. In this competitive job market, they will always be able to get exactly what they want and you aren’t it! Wake up and smell the java!

Without putting too fine a point on this, can I just say “Balderdash!”? (A great word, look it up, if necessary). Stated simply, the Panoply (another great word) of qualifications listed is, indeed, the ideal candidate, but it’s not fixed in stone. If you are able to match a significant number of the qualifications and don’t come up short on any of the “Deal Breakers” (like a holding a CDL, legal certification, own your own X-ray machine, etc.), my counsel is to “Go for it!”

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing your hat in the candidate ring. I once challenged a group of HR types on a panel I moderated: “Do you really need all of the qualifications cited in your ad and, if you don’t, why are they there?” The answer I received was the one I expected. As HR representatives (often a noble and challenging profession, to my way of thinking), they are tasked with the responsibility of finding the best candidate they can for their organization. This list of skills, experiences, aptitudes, etc. is designed to seek out the best possible fit between the person and the position. They may or may not get all they want, but they must ask!

Presenting yourself as a qualified applicant who meets a number of the qualifications (even though you may not knock it out of the ballpark) allows them to consider you, something they cannot do if you don’t apply!

So, to revisit my question – “How do you become the perfect candidate?” – I must respectfully respond, “I’m not sure you can!”

I am sure, however, that you may become an excellent candidate when you make your strongest case for getting the job done!

Yogi Berra“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

One of a panoply of “Yogi-isms,” this pithy comment has direct application to a successful job hunt. “How can this be?” you say?…. Consider some of these “antique” employment search techniques:

Phone Calls – With the invention of and annoyingly universal use of email, many of our contact requests are lost to inboxes, buried in the ever increasing piles of digital missives, a majority of which may exist only because the sender hit “Reply all.” Here’s a thought: Why not pick up the phone and CALL?!

Faxes – How many faxes do you receive in this day of email, IM, Skype requests, texts, etc.? Very few, I suspect. Individuals that are loathe to respond to these ever increasing list of messaging systems are likely to be intrigued by receiving a fax, something akin to a message delivered by the Pony Express!

Showing Up – Here’s a radical idea: put on your best job search outfit, pack your resume in a portfolio and walk in the front door to introduce yourself to a company of interest. You’ll stand out more that someone showing up in a jump suit juggling chain saws! To be sure, there’s no guarantee that anyone will have time to see you, but there is also the possibility that someone will! Also, remember to be polite and appreciative to those you meet as you enter the building – they are your first chance to make a positive impression (and they deserve your respect).

Drive By Job Hunting – This may be my favorite. When you are working, you typically see only two things: your parking spot in the company lot and your driveway when you mercifully arrive home. Between these two locales is what is called your “commute.” This commute likely passes other companies, organizations, industrial parks, etc. where opportunities could exist. Take the time to notice them and invest time in checking them out. By the way, this should be your practice whenever you are in travel mode (even by foot).

A CAVEAT – It is true that the vast majority of positions come through networking and you should invest the bulk of your time in this practice. However, to quote psychologist Abraham Maslow: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Consider adding some of these arcane techniques to your employment search toolbox. They just may yield results!

Ready to increase your vocabulary (as in Readers’ Digest “Increase Your Word Power”)? Here’s the definition of counterfactual (n): a conditional statement the first clause of which expresses something contrary to fact, as “If I had known.”.

In his excellent book If Only: How to Turn Regret into Opportunity, Neil Roese describes the two directions wFail Hashtaghich counterfactual thinking can take, explaining why the Bronze Medal Winner at the Olympics is happier than the Silver Medal recipient. Even though Silver is #2 in the world in their sport, they focus up to missing the Gold while the Bronze recipient focuses downward to see what they have accomplished (I almost didn’t medal)!

Here’s the Career Application: this “downward” thinking causes the Bronze Medal careerist to be better equipped to learn, to develop insights, to challenge themselves to greater accomplishments, while the Silver Medalist (without the benefit of downward counterfactual thinking) may find themselves in a self-defeating “woulda, coulda, shoulda” spiral.

Let’s close with a few timely quotes on Failure:

“There are defeats that carry with them the radiant promise of coming victory.” – F.W. Boreham

“We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing. “ – Robert E. Lee

“Failure is always an option.” – Adam Savage, Mythbuster

“Make excellent mistakes.” – Dan Pink (via Johnny Bunko)

So, the next time you “fail,” think downward!