Category Archives: Job Search

Confusing the Search for a Job with a Validation Check

I have gotten good responses when I write about skills and I have been working on a potential post about the difference between job skills and job search skills when I was distracted by a more powerful idea, the implied relationship between validation and a job.  We all encounter, need, fight off a range of internal and external motivators.  Some people are greatly influenced by the external, some greatly by internal and the rest of us fluctuate between moderate areas of these two extremes.


People who regularly read this blog know that the idea of value comes up here quite frequently because fulfillment of value (meaning worth) is right there after fulfillment of our basic needs.  Validation is closely related.



verb (used with object), val·i·dat·ed, val·i·dat·ing.

  1. 1.   to make valid; substantiate; confirm: Time validated our suspicions.

We like to get our parking fees validated, consensus validates our opinions – and so on.


photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

Sometimes we too closely relate our value to the money that we are able to make and therefore our job becomes our greatest validation of worth.  Making job loss equate to lack of validation; which then brings us to run the risk of becoming unsubstantiated in our own minds.


Which couldn’t be further from the truth – circling back to value as an example; each of us is a bundle of unique learning and experience which is valuable in and of itself.  Add this to a life scenario – work, personal – and we can bring value to bear in sharing, building, striving.


A job is a productive use of our time, education and effort for which we are monetarily compensated.  But it is only part of the overall value that we can offer.  Job seeking is an effort to find a new position, which will allow the job seeker to participate in a productive mutual activity.


Validation comes from all of the facets of our lives, in all the many ways that we can provide value – community, family, friends, with work being part and parcel of the whole.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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You’ve Got Skills

I went to the library on the advice of a new contact looking for a book called Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus, and drat it all my library doesn’t have it.  But I did get a different useful book from Peggy, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.  (I love to support my library, and also get a chance to try out books before I decide whether I should buy them.)


We all know the importance of our thinking skills as knowledge workers, but it is good to actively think about the state of these skills, how current they are and how best to cultivate them to keep them relevant.  This is a nice quick read, and broken up so you can dip in over the course of your library’s borrowing period.


“While hard skills refer to the technical ability and the factual knowledge needed to do the job, soft skills allow you to more effectively use your technical abilities and knowledge.  Soft skills encompass personal, social, communication, and self-management behaviors.  They cover a wide spectrum of abilities and traits: being self-aware, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, critical thinking, attitude, initiative, empathy, confidence, integrity, self-control, organizational awareness, likability, influence, risk taking, problem solving, leadership, time management, and then some.”


In other words, technical skill and knowledge being equal between two or more people, the levels of soft skills between the people are what set them apart in a spectrum.


Taking that even a bit further, it behooves each and every one of us to keep these skills polished up at all times, on our own time and with our own money if necessary because this is an investment in self that will pay off.  (Investing in you starts with you – and often these days, ends with you.  Believing that you can’t increase your skill set because your employer is unwilling or unable to foot the bill is self-limiting.)


Plus, just like checking this book out from the library, the investment can begin just with your time.


Peggy is on my list of smart women I would love to meet, and Brag is on the list that I carry around with me for that off chance of time to wander a book store.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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The Data Paradox (Or Why Professionals Benefit from a Successful LinkedIn, While Using the Freemium Option)

Few of us are fond of being boiled down to just a set of statistics and yet our interest in something is often sparked by the statistics that are offered (read Charles Seife’s Proofiness) by a company, in an article, etc.  Business is driven by data – what data to collect, how to collect it, how to best utilize it and on and on.  We humans are fascinated by quantification, but skeptical of being lumped into the underlying statistics.


Marketing companies that design successful rewards cards or programs have found a way into our data paradox sweet spot – offer something that we want or need, don’t sell the resulting data directly tied to our personal info and we will be more likely to sign up and give the company access to our volume of purchase data.  Don’t make our direct benefit clear, or make your data needs too obvious and death to your marketing effort.


Being someone who is fascinated by process, I often like to pull back the covers to see if I can figure out how something is a sustainable business – look at how Facebook is making various money grabs now that they have gone public.  (I used to wonder how they could afford all the employees and sweet digs…)  Unlike many, I don’t resent a company’s ability to make money from their interactions with me, as long as my benefit is equal or greater than the one I perceive they are receiving.  Someday I might be able to reverse that dynamic and gain some business advantage of my own from the relationship.


I think that it is this perceived benefit that is at the bottom of the social media opinion that many people hold.  It is their skepticism of the benefit they will receive versus their sketchy understanding of the value of their appearance on social media.  In my opinion, there is plenty of benefit to professionals to put moderate effort into creating and maintaining a profile on the LinkedIn site.  But the reactions of folks I talk to range from strong agreement to vitriolic dislike of the pull of social media in general and LinkedIn particularly.


These people in the strong dislike category usually object based on their skepticism of putting their personal information online.  When I have the opportunity to delve further with them I like to find out if they have other social media presence, if they hold a credit card or any participate in any rewards programs, do online banking.  More often than not they do many of these other things, but have not associated these activities with the data mining that occurs in these arenas as well.  Hmmm.


I was first introduced to LinkedIn in 2009 by a co-worker.  I wasn’t on any social media site at that point and I am not an early adopter of anything.  So I thought about it and she mentioned it a couple more times and then sent an invitation through LinkedIn to join.  A forum for professionals, interesting – so I created a basic profile and mostly left it to its own devises and accepted invitations to connect from folks.


It has only been in the last few months that I have become a proponent of the site and the benefits.  In my opinion, LinkedIn offers solid benefits in exchange for data mining my business information for their own purposes.  Where do you stand?


Related Data Filled Article:

LinkedIn Connection-Obsession on


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Writing as a Means to an End

Defining something clearly for yourself helps you to own it – now you finally know why you had to write your vocabulary words in a sentence every week back in elementary school.  When you own something, then you can repurpose it in whatever manner suits your current needs.  A kitchen towel is meant to dry dishes (for the few of us who still do dishes by hand) or your hands but it can be used as a hot pad to set down a dish, an oven mitt in a pinch, a cover for bread when it is still new and pretty, or for a child it can be a superhero cape.


The ability to write clearly and convey your message in a manner suitable for your intended readers is a versatile tool.  And a skill which can be developed, as long as you see the validity of writing’s importance in your work life.


We seem to have somehow convinced ourselves that writing is a talent that we either have or do not have – and there are certainly those for whom writing is a wonderful talent, writing is a skill and therefore learnable by anyone with an interest.


Job Search Writing

You can hire someone to write your resume and cover letter for you in the hope that these professionally written documents will give you an edge.  But in the spirit of teaching a man to fish over giving him a fish, you will do yourself a greater favor if you tackle this task for yourself and show that you have written communication skills which are sought after in many businesses.


While your goal is a new job, it is very important to pay close attention each step in the process – difficulties at any step can end your path to the goal of that particular position.  Sometimes job seekers focus too much on that prize and miss the pitfalls in the many steps between themselves and that job.  Refocusing on the steps and tools in between will help to ensure success.


Fair or not, the personnel responsible for filling the position are looking for reasons to eliminate a candidate.  While you have the job description from the ad, there are many components which are unspoken and possibly not clearly defined on their part.  Telling yourself you will reach the goal of the job when there are these nebulous components between you and this goal makes this achievement more difficult.  Focusing your attention on doing your best with each known component gives you more power to be ultimately successful.


RESUME:  Your resume is a document that is meant to show your past achievements and career progression.  Similar to any financial prospectus that you may have read, it has a disclaimer that all HR and hiring personnel see – past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance.

  • Your resume is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

Your resume has just a few seconds to catch their attention and get you in the yes or maybe piles, so less information – which is tailored to the needs that they expressed in the ad – is more.  If they have to sift through what is to them extraneous information that alone is a reason to put you in the no pile.


COVER LETTER:  Your cover letter is a document that is meant to start the discussion for how you can marry your past performance to the future needs of this particular company.

  • Your cover letter is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

This document is your first opportunity to underline your strengths and to downplay any requirements which could disqualify you.  As an example, I do not have a degree so I highlight points that show that I am a life-long learner.


THANK YOU LETTER:  Your thank you letter is a document that will be the last impression the interviewer has of you while they consider who to call back for the next round or who is the successful candidate.  You want a strong showing.

  • Your thank you letter might not get you the job, but poorly executed, it could be the last straw to eliminate you from the running.  Properly executed it leaves a strong last impression.

Express your sincere appreciation for their time and consideration.  If something came up in the interview that you can expand on, do it here.


It seems as if we are all looking for definitive rules for these documents, as if by following the rules to the letter will be a magic talisman to achieve our goal.  It turns out that it just isn’t that simple, but like Dorothy we have had the solution with us all along.  We learn our power when we are ready.


[A little self-promotion: I am setting myself up as a Business Writing Coach for individuals & companies –]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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The Accountability of Career Counseling Firms, as Hired by a Previous Employer

accountabilityMost of the folks in job search mode that I encounter are like me, on their own to learn how to navigate this facet of life and create their own plan.  Others have the privilege of using services from a career counseling, or outplacement firm through funding from their previous employer.  A small part of me is jealous of this seeming advantage, but my independent self has other thoughts.


So I decided that I would share a few of those other thoughts.  Accountability is a word that gets batted around a great deal in businesses these days and it is a very good word.  It keeps us all on our toes, when applied appropriately – both as individuals and also as business entities.  We are more likely to behave properly if we know that someone is watching and there might be repercussions for acting out of turn.


So who is this firm accountable to if their fees are paid by the former employer?  The former employer doesn’t care about the result of the counseling offered, i.e. a new job for the former employee, they are offering this as a purely economic venture (cheaper to pay this fee than keep on more employees than they want/need).


The recipient of the service doesn’t have much leverage to hold the firm accountable because they are not paying the fee.  My conclusion is that the recipient, while appreciating this perk, should take charge of their job search plan and make sure that they are getting the most out of the services offered by the firm.  Be proactive and find out from other sources what the best methods of successfully landing a new position are and then query the firm about how they help with this function.


Ask why the counselor is suggesting to do a certain thing, what success have they seen from this effort?  A large portion of activity in job search is highly subjective – a person can find an equal number of proponents and detractors for almost every aspect.  Channel your inner 2-year-old (admit it, you’ve wanted to have a chance to do it) and ask ‘why is that’ until you get a response that makes it clear to you.  Think hard about any answers that smack of ‘because that’s the way that we do it’.  Those types of answers rarely serve you as well as they serve the company itself.


We – both job seekers and people in general – have a tendency to trust someone who is a subject matter expert, based sometimes on nothing more than their job title but when the stakes are so much higher for the job seeker than those at the firm, a bit of skepticism and extra questioning is prudent on the job seeker’s part.  The job seeker recipient of counseling services shouldn’t worry about taking up too much of their time since you aren’t footing the bill.  Take full advantage of this opportunity.  And please, join a job search group and share your findings with those of us who haven’t had the opportunity for personal career counseling.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Answers to Interview Questions, Part III

I have had so many ideas lately; I almost forgot to finish up this series.  Here is the first part.  Here is the second part.


Q:  Give me an example of a time when you had to be relatively quick at coming to a decision.

A: The choice between two job offers on the same day. That was five years ago for my current employer.

A:  Healthcare emergency type decisions – yuck!

A:  I’ve often had to decide who to tell, when to tell it and how much to tell to make sure that needs are met for customers.

A:  Go to the drive thru or counter when clients arrive at both at the same time

A:  Balancing the inventory – if there is a shortage for an important customer, decide how to cover the order

A:  In traffic – following a car going the same speed as you and then they move out from in front of you and you see brake lights in front of you

A:  An employee doesn’t show up for a scheduled shift


Q:  What is the biggest misperception people typically have about you?

A:  That I may be upset about something when in reality I am just very passionate and trust my gut instinct therefore allowing me to make quick decisions.

A:  Probably that I’m mean, because I can be too frank and that can come across as uncaring.

A:  That because I have a large vocabulary, I think that I’m better than others in the group

A:  That I’m full of myself

A:  That I’m unapproachable

A:  People hear my deep voice and think that I am not that intelligent

A:  I don’t always participate, but that doesn’t mean that I am not paying attention


Q:  Describe your ideal of success.

A:  My ideal of success is if I am trusted and the people trusting me are happy with my performance.

A:  Success to me: In lifting others, I will ultimately be lifted too. I want to be happy and know that I’ve done my best no matter the decision that has to be made or task at hand.

A:  To be true to myself, to be able to act when and how I think is important, to share what I know and make something better as part of a team.

A:  I feel that I am successful now because my whole family is in good health, we all have jobs, we have savings and we have a good life balance.

A:  I consider myself nearing success because I am self-supporting and I graduated from college after 11 years of taking one class at a time.

A:  I want to get to the point where I am able to self-support and be able to grow

A:  Having a balance in your life that creates contentment


Q:  What motivates you?

A:  The finish line. Whether it is finishing a list, or Christmas shopping but the time when I am finished with a task and move to the next. Progress!!!!

A:  Helping Others – My business tag line is “Helping From The Heart” and I believe that to my very core. I am not only paid in commission, but by knowing that I’ve helped someone to cover one of their most basic needs. I try to keep their stress levels low and get them into a place that they can really call home. This does not only apply to business, but in all facets of my life. Trying to pair people together or ideas or products that I know that will help others.

A:  Finding and implementing solutions, sharing knowledge to make something even better.

A:  Maintaining my standards

A:  Fear – of losing things like job or health

A:  Hope

A:  Expectations of myself and from others


I hope that these answers help you to define your own.  Thanks again to my willing interviewees.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Answers to Interview Questions, Part II

Interviews are not something that many people look forward to, interviewer or interviewee – but we like the successful end result of having a new employee/having a new job.  Behavioral interview questions are becoming the norm, as mentioned in part I of this post.

The great thing about behavioral questions is that they are subjective and therefore short of saying something illegal or terribly offensive, there are no right or wrong answers.  You want to be true to yourself because the objective is to find a person who will be a good fit in the department/organization.  As the interviewee, that should be your goal as well.  So in this, you are on the same page with the interviewer.

In several instances, I asked small groups to answer the questions as we were sitting around.  We discussed the merit of using one word over another when synonymous – which word would put a more positive spin on your answer.  This was one of the advantages that my brave answerers had over the regular interviewee, because the pressure was off and they had plenty of time to formulate their answers.


Q:  What are 5 words that best describe you?

A:  Dependable, honest, faithful, funny and smart

A:  Busy, positive, giving, sensitive, strong

A:  Curious, loyal, passionate, friendly, intelligent

A:  Determined, intelligent, logical, creative, open

A:  Diligent, methodical, organized, flexible

A:  Responsible, practical, problem solver, funny, determined

A:  Efficient, humorous, steady, logical, adaptable

A:  Reliable, analytical, consistent, diligent, thoughtful

Q:  Describe tasks that you have had to perform that didn’t spark your interest.

A:  Filing

A:  Cleaning, organizing a database, elder care of my parent

A:  Stocking shelves, cleaning other people’s homes/ personal space

A:  Repetitive tasks

A:  Entering new prescriptions

A:  Running the out-of-stock report

A:  Job search

A:  Conducting reviews

Q:  How would you characterize yourself as a student?

A:  Since I obtained my degree in my thirties I was a much better diligent student. I did not postpone assignments as with a family and a job you never knew what could come up.

A:  Eager, voracious

A:  Eager to learn yet not always motivated

A:  Interested in finding connections, curious

A:  Willing to learn

A:  Enthusiastic & diligent

A:  I’m a great learner, but not a good student.  I do have a high level of curiosity.

A:  Studious, attentive but not always good at retention

I still have 4 more questions, but we will save them for the last part of this little series.  You can see some similarities in the answers represented here, but everyone was authentic.

I do want to thank all of the participants for taking the time to give me thoughtful answers.  Only a few of them are actually job hunting right now.  Several wanted to remain anonymous but I can publically thank Linda Dressler, Sharyon DaSilva, & Debbie Ahern.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Answers to Interview Questions, Part I

Most of the topics that I touch on can be covered in one post, but a job search is a huge topic.  There is so much advice floating around about most aspects of the job search, I have focused on interviews since that is an area where I have had the most experience as a hiring manager.


Shortly after I started this blog last month, I got the idea to circulate a handful of the behavioral interview questions that I have regularly asked potential employees among my LinkedIn connections, friends and family to gather their answers and share them here.  I cast a wide net because people are busy and in order to get enough responses (especially during the holidays) I would have to start with a large pool of potential ‘candidates’.


I presented the request in the most positive manner that I could to pique their interest, knowing that I had a probable high degree of success among certain folks due to their innate interest in helping, high energy or other traits.  I knew that I would have to do a certain amount of cajoling with those that might be willing, but were busy or distracted.  Then there was the group that were long shots, but worth asking just in case.


I didn’t take into account the visceral reaction that I got from a few people.  I decided that this reaction alone was worth a post.  Behavioral interviews are becoming very common due to the fact that the largest cost that a business incurs is invested in its people.  It is to the benefit of the organization therefore (and frankly to the employees, and potential employees as well) that the right people – those with the appropriate temperament as well as skills – are brought in from the beginning.  I’ve made the opposing argument in previous posts that it is the job seeker’s responsibility to interview the company just as carefully as the company is examining the job seeker.


Interviewing is hard for so many reasons – dealing with rejection, figuring out how to present yourself so that you are appealing to the company and also true to yourself, dealing with your own demons, and so on.


One friend responded that she would not participate, “I can’t answer those hiring questions on the grounds that I HATE questions like that in an interview. I went to an interview once where a 20 year old asked me where I saw myself in 5 years. I said apparently not working for you and left.”


I completely understand her reaction in one respect because most likely the interviewer was just going through the motions and didn’t really know why or the intent of the question.  It’s the bureaucracy that we’re reacting to.


So it comes down to control – most of us don’t have control over the process that has been established for job hunting, but we have control over ourselves.  I respect the answers that I got from those who find the process somehow distasteful and told me that they therefore decline to participate.  To my thinking they missed out on a low risk opportunity to practice something that we should all be capable of doing.


It reminds me of a conversation that I had with my aunt and my mom some time ago when my son was a baby.  My aunt said that all women should be aware of the skills they possess that would allow them to earn a living.  I was smug in my knowledge that I wouldn’t need to worry about that, until 12 years later when I found myself divorced.  You don’t have to like something to be able to do it, and do it competently.


I still have to bother a couple more people who said that they would answer after the holidays and then you will see the questions and answers that I received in part 2.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Great Interview Prep Tip

I’ve mentioned confidence going into an interview in a previous post. This idea will help you to have confidence that you are prepared to prove that you will be an asset to the company.


Jean Baur, a career counselor and author of Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience offers this tip in Appendix F – The Interview Map.


Here is what she has to say:

“The purpose of an interview map is to prepare you to “manage” the interview, or at least to include critical parts of your background in the interview process and to help you keep track of what you’ve covered with each interviewer.”


Taking this action will require some effort on your part, but it isn’t much if you are serious about your job search and it will be proof to the interviewer that you have put thought into how you will fit into their company based on the job posting and your research.


You can create a template in excel to use for each job/interview.  At the top you will want to provide space for the name of the company and the name of the interviewer.  You should consider a date field as well.  Below this, you will have 2 columns – the first is Key Components of Position and the second is My Matching Accomplishments.  Fill in the details below these headers.


At the bottom, you can put in your expected questions, based on “When It’s Your Turn – Interview Questions for a Possible New Employer”.  You can then print this page and keep track of the topics covered during the interview.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Brief Interview with a Recruiter

Jim Shaver is the owner of Shaver Associates LLC, a greater Chicago Recruiting company.


After a decade of recruiting experience, Jim Shaver elected to open his own recruiting office in 2006.

Jim has recruited nationwide for many of the leading manufacturers and distributors in both the Sanitary Maintenance and Food Service Industries. In addition, he has recruited for all levels of an organization ranging from a Vice- President level position to a Sales Representative role.


Jim was kind enough to take a little time out from his December and answer a few questions for us.


Q: What is the best business advice that you ever received & who gave it to you?

A: The best business advice I received was from my first boss in recruiting.  He indicated that you have to have a certain tenacity/ persistence. You will get an awful lot of “no” responses before you get a “yes” don’t take it personally and push thru.


Q: How did you become a recruiter?

A: I actually responded to an ad in the newspaper for a company looking to hire recruiters. At that time I was going thru a little soul searching on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help others in some capacity but this was a nice opportunity to get paid while doing so.

Q: What made you decide to open your own business?

A: After spending 9 yrs. working as an employee, I believed that I had established enough contacts to be successful on my own. I like the thought of creating a business and working at it to make it grow.

Q: What do you think are the most important employee qualities that companies need?

A: Versatility/ adaptability you have so many positions nowadays where you are asked to do a whole lot more than what was on your initial job description. All companies are doing more with fewer people and this means being able to successfully adapt to an increased workload.

Q: What advice would you offer to employees that want to be top performers?

A: To stand out, you really do need to go that extra mile to help your employer have continued success.


Jim has added his experienced voice to help each of us to provide value as employees.  Thank you, Jim.


“You have to practice success.  Success doesn’t just show up.  If you aren’t practicing success today, you won’t wake up in 20 years and be successful, because you won’t have developed habits of success, which are small things like finishing what you start, putting a lot of effort into everything you do, being on time, treating people well.”

~ Michelle Obama


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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