Category Archives: job search strategies

The hard truth about soft skills

The hard truth about soft skills -they can make or break your career

Great quote from Peggy Klaus – The hard truth about soft skills they can make or break your career

Hard skills are the foundation of a successful career.  But soft skills are the cement.

Five years ago it was normal to have a line at the top of a CV just stating a professional objective. What we are seeing now is a marked shift. Most companies are less interested, in the early stages of a hiring process at least, in what a candidate wants personally.

Hiring managers are more focused on the needs of the organisation. What does this candidate do well and can he/she do that for us? Usually followed by  “how quickly?”   To successfully convey that message  a succinct synthesis of your career path is required, joining the dots between hard and soft skills distilling it into a coherent story with a snap shot of any achievements.

I read hundreds of CVs and professional profiles a week. It is my job to identify potential talent behind quite often poorly written presentation.  Even though I have many years’ experience  I am sure I miss excellent candidates. Others who are less experienced and don’t know what to look for can do this consistently.  It’s not that there are typos ( those resumes are immediately cut) but these profile simply don’t tell a compelling story, giving their background and career coherence.

Usually, they have no professional summary linking hard and soft skills.

Hard skills

Their resumes will come to my attention (or other executive search specialists) probably because of the high incidence of hard skills in the text which will carry a heavy weighting in terms of keywords. This could include: education, job title, professional training and so on.  That CV would make the 3% of CV which are read by a human eye.  But unless that resume or professional profile tells an engaging account, the chances of the phone being picked up are slim.

If you do get lucky and speak personally to someone in the hiring process, but are not able to articulate those success stories verbally, you will not continue through the  remainder of the process.

It is therefore imperative to bring clarity and show coherence around your career story as early as possible. You should be able to do this effectively both in writing and orally.

But like a wasp at a picnic the question keeps re-occurring  – why don’t people do this?


  • Lack of self insight  – they simply don’t do the hard yards and take the time to look into their own careers. It’s a lot of work and probably the most significant career management  exercise anyone will do. Ever. It’s a life skill and once mastered can be used regularly as part of an annual career review and goal setting exercise.
  • Arrogance  – this is not what they have always done.  The “old way” might have worked well once, but times and expectations are changing.  Panic sets in when  a problem  is encountered (e.g. job loss, professional disappointment)
  •  Fear of bragging  – many simply don’t want to appear to brag. This is very common but particularly  noticeable with women. I coached a woman recently and based on her CV I thought she was   “communications counsellor”. The reality was that when she retold her story personally and somewhat circuitously,  this is not her function at all. She is actually a senior political media and government relations strategist,  and in one role  launched and led communication campaigns for one of the world’s most renown leaders. This tapped into a whole host of soft skills she is still in the process of naming.
Soft skills cement a career

Soft skills cement a career

Risks of not doing this

Candidates who fail to pull their career history into a coherent story suitable for delivery in writing can appear to have what one senior HR Manager in Belgium  recently described as ” a collection of short-term moves, which can be a symptom of professional instability and/or lack of ability/willingness to make and hold long-term commitment to a team/company and/or to a mandate with a set of heavy challenges requiring significant time investment into a definite position“.

This takes on greater significance if in a five generation workplace where Boomers, very often in hiring roles,  struggle to understand that for younger candidates,  the length of time spent in any position is shorter today than it was thirty years ago. Economic circumstances have also resulted in general churn between 2009 -2012 and will need explanation.  One CV was recently cut from a process for having seven positions in fourteen years. Some see that as job hopping for others this is strategic career advancement. 

There is no short cut to being able to perfect this process. It requires insight to pull the threads of a career together and present them in the best possible light. Hard skills also date over time. So although they tend to be the foundation of a successful career, it’s the soft skills required to achieve results that provide the cement.

A professional summary that can be delivered in writing and person is a vital tool, not just in today’s job search market but as part of a long-term career strategy.


Job seekers help yourselves! 8 back to basics tips

Back to basicsI have been conducting a search for a position in a geographical region in Europe that is hard hit by recession. I read in the press that unemployment levels are high so I anticipated being  overwhelmed by  candidates with difficult selection decisions to make.

I was wrong

To my astonishment I have found that even the most basic job search tips are not being implemented.   So, as with any activity it’s sometimes  necessary to re-visit the  fundamental tenets  simply to get the basics right. Perhaps they were never there to start with, or perhaps for some they have slipped by the wayside.

Here are 8 of the most basic tips that seem so obvious that you would think that  everyone would be doing them. I can assure you they are not!

  • Be visible –   a complete online professional profile is mandatory on one of the main  international networks: LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing – or any of the more local ones. This is especially relevant if you are unemployed.
  • Check who has viewed your profile –  if it’s a head hunter or recruiter – contact them.
  • Be easily contactable  – make yourself easily reachable with as a minimum an email address on your professional profile. If you are afraid of spammers – open up a separate account for job search. If you want to post a phone number so much the better.
  •  Check your mails  – if you are looking for a job or unemployed you should be checking your emails multiple times a day even at weekends and holidays. This applies also to your professional profile mail box.
  • Respond  promptly to contact requests.
  • Have a current CV instantly available  to send immediately to any prospective recruiter.
  • Be available for interview –  different parts  of Europe have any number of public holidays in  May. If you can’t forfeit a public holiday to engage in a job search process now,  you may find yourself taking a much longer vacation than intended and one that you can’t afford.
  • Pay it forward – if you are not interested personally share with your network. Do someone else a favour.

If you know someone who is looking for a new opportunity or unemployed, share this post with them. It might help!

Are you a job search bore? Story telling and job search

Craft an interesting story!

Craft an interesting story!

Story telling is a talent.

There are some natural raconteurs who have the gift of the gab. Most of us with less ability have to work on developing those skills. Many will wonder why that matters at all – but the reality is that it does.

Don’t people just want to know where we’ve worked and what we’ve done? Yes and no. They also want to hear what we’ve achieved,  but delivered in such a way that we don’t sound arrogant and pompous, or make them nod off into their coffees in utter boredom.


Being able to synthesise and take an overview of our own lives and deliver it in digestible soundbites,  that promotes engagement and creates dialogue takes a lot of work, especially to do it well.  Our story line,  whether this takes place in a networking event, in  a social situation,  in a formal interview or even on a date, is going to be very different each time.

I like to use the metaphors of hats. We wouldn’t wear a fascinator to the office or ski helmet to a cocktail party (at least not unless we were a little weird). There are times when we need to take one hat off and put another one on.   The type of information we highlight will also vary according to the context.

Just as if we were beinfascinatorg introduced to someone at a dinner party we wouldn’t  deliver our life story in historical order,  but pull out nuggets of interest, because to do otherwise would be really dull.  We have all been cornered by the sports bore who will give detailed, blow  by blow accounts of their last match or game. Or the doting parent who discusses their children ad nauseam. Or the divorcee who rants interminably about their ex.

Job search  

Anyone involved in the hiring process will tell you that the casual ” Tell me about yourself ” is a trick question!  Most responses will cover a chronological account of professional lives backed up by  the detail of the tasks carried out   “….in 1996 I joined Better Company as a Sales Executive  servicing accounts in x region.. and then in 1998 I moved to ” and so on.

Almost immediately eyes will glaze over as the hapless candidate delivers a 5 minute monologue,  giving a task focused chronology of their career,  rather than extracting key elements of interest.  I’ve also seen good story tellers be unable to transfer their verbal energy into the written word.  This is why many are disappointed about disappearing into a cyber black hole and not getting that vital call to an interview.

But even when that does happen, an interview can seem to be give us permission to deliver a soliloquy.  But this is a false impression. What is being looked for is an indication of what we are good at and whether we can bring that success into a new business environment.

How compelling is your job search story ?

7 thoughtful details I would thank you for

Thoughtful details count!

Thoughtful details make a difference!

Or why the devil is in the detail!

I don’t have a great eye for detail so it’s something I have had to be mindful of throughout my career.

But, I have found, there are 2 types of attention to detail in job search. This detail can make a difference between you and the cyber black hole or the job seeker’s trash can.

The first is self sabotaging carelessness : Much is written about the mistakes that job seekers make  with long list of careless errors and cautionary caveats. If those errors get to bother me, then you can be sure they are glaring. For my detail  focused colleagues you have already induced  bouts of frenzied perfectionist palpitations and have been cut. But I’m not going to focus on those. I’m going to focus on the other kind of details!

The second is value adding detail : These are the extra details that are thoughtful and considerate, those additional elements that add value.  These are the details I ( and others) will THANK YOU for. Why? because they make my life easier and smoother.  They can even help me avoid making mistakes myself. As a job seeker rightly or wrongly this is not about you.

  •  File saving for easy retrieval :    Thank you for naming your file so it can be saved and retrieved easily by the recipient,  not some generic incomprehensible code for your own system : JNV_CV_Jan2013 is one I saw this week. Who is JNV?   Try: JohnNVaughan_CV_ MarketingManagerXcompany. I saw one suggestion of using a Name + USP as the file name.  That’s not a bad idea. Just make sure you have a short USP. Please use both names too!
  • Easy copy pasting:   thank you for not using a pdf format. Someone like me may need to copy/paste your details onto a data base or into an address book.   We can’t carry 8 numbers in our head for 20 seconds. This could lead to mistakes in transferring the information and is one reason why you get lost in job search space. Job seekers worry that someone might alter their CV. If you are sending your document to a reputable person this will not happen, unless it’s to improve it for a client.  Otherwise, trust me we don’t have time.
  • Sensible email address – firstname.lastname@provider, thank you for facilitating easy retrieval. If you have a common name something as near to possible as you can manage.
  • Insert  hyperlinks:  into your text so we can click-through easily to your LinkedIn profile and email address.  Thank you for saving me time.
  • Connect with me on LinkedIn:  it puts you in the forefront of our minds,  shows you are switched on and another thank you for that time saver.  
  • Send a thank you mail:  I’m not one of these people who would expect a hand written note. In fact personally I would prefer not.  But a thoughtful email goes down well and sets the scene for another opening. Thanks for that too and for not adding to my paper recycling pile!
  • Source – not the right candidate?  Offer to share with your network. In these tough economic times that is helpful and considerate to any number of people. We will all thank you!

What other extra details are important to you? 

Get out of the job search advice maze

Navigating the job search maze

Create your own Job Search Advisory Board

If you  Google “job search tips” there are 460 million entries. Now I haven’t looked further  than the first 3 pages, but I can imagine they contain some widely differing nuggets of advice.  Add to this,  the well intended input from friends, family, colleagues and bosses, it’s hardly surprising that the average job seeker is scratching his/her head in bewilderment.

Only last week I heard that one client had been advised from someone in Germany not to create his own web site when he was actively looking for corporate opportunities, as well as freelance consulting work.  Another was told to dumb her resume down  by a university friend,  so not unsurprisingly was getting cut after either the first screening or interview.   Another was advised not to connect with people he didn’t know personally on LinkedIn by a colleague nearing retirement. Another was advised by a neighbour that a certain professional networking event wasn’t worth it!

So what can you do when there are so many different opinions and how does the average job seeker navigate his/her way through this veritable maze of job search advice? The answer is with considerable difficulty.

 Get on  Board
One way to get over this problem is to strategically create your own advisory board to give you varied, but focused access to a range of opinions.

But how do you go about this and who should you include?

  • Set job search goals and create a strategy:  for most jobs seekers this key first step alone gives necessary focus.  It cuts out the scatter gun approach of “asking around” and sending your CV to a group that is simply too wide.
  • Research – your sector and chose companies thoroughly. Target them.
  • Create a strategic network –  identify a number of  individuals who can mentor you and answer your questions. Choose different age ranges,  locations, backgrounds and personality types to create your very personal Job Search Advisory Board. As the CEO of your own brand you can synthesise the results and take your own decisions Who do you need?
    • An up to date source   A group of connections with more opinions than experience of job search will not be helpful. You need someone who has been in the job search market or associated with it in some way during the last 3-5 years, otherwise the chances are they are out of date. The market is changing at a rapid pace and it is very hard to keep up with,  even for those who work in the sector.
    • Age  range –   people tend to network and seek advice in their own age demographic.  Some are strongly bound to the way their age group does (or has done things) things.  Get a cross-section of input.
    • Cultural differences – there can be marked differences between corporate, sector, professional, regional and national cultures.  Someone seeking a job in the construction sector in Germany,  will have and need a very different approach to an U.S. based Marketing Manager. Once again get a cross-section advice.
    • Personality types  – We all have different styles. If you are an introvert, the approach of your extroverted advisor may fill you with horror and bring you out in a cold sweat,  but there could still be some lessons to learn. Likewise the extrovert could profit from some lower key approaches of a more reflective personality.

Whatever you do:

  •   Monitor your results –  if you are not getting any results at all, something needs to change even if it means going out of your comfort zone.  We can all get stuck and caught up in rigid thinking. Experiment.  Create a web site, put professional details on Facebook, connect with someone you don’t know personally, attend networking events you were told may not be useful.
  • Trust your gut  – if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t, at least for you. Go back to step 1! Find what is right for you and don’t be afraid to change.
  • If all else fails seek professional help.

How do you filter  job search advice? 

Are you ready for a professional emergency landing?

Many of us sit on aeroplanes, especially frequent flier business trips and watch the cabin crew go through the emergency procedures with tuned-out indifference. We know the drill because we’ve seen it possibly hundreds of times in our lifetimes. Despite the commentary that all should pay attention, we dutifully turn off our electronic devices as instructed, read our books and magazines, chat to our colleagues and fellow passengers or simply settle in for a good movie, a nap and perhaps an inferior meal. After all the odds that anything will happen to us are slim. Right?

Workplace parallels
Sadly, despite the pace of unwelcome change which has become a hallmark of our economies, this is not too dissimilar to the view many take of the workplace. We have all seen many excellent people blindsided and ill-equipped to make an emergency landing which causes us to flail around in search of life-vests and oxygen masks.  This can be because of redundancy,  a merger, a take- over or any other unforeseen business circumstance. As the cold winds of recession blow through our economies, the reality is that having a professional emergency landing procedure in place is now taking on increased significance.

This is the professional equivalent of knowing the exact location of the emergency exits.

So how can we do this? Here are 7 strategic career contingency measures:

  •  Up to date professional skills – it’s important to be current in this area. Many people take their feet off the pedal in terms of professional development , quite often in mid-career and find themselves lacking particularly in relation to newer (read cheaper) employees. It’s important not to become complacent and to view education as an ongoing exercise.
  •  Work on your network – many job seekers tap into their networks only when they have a need, by which time it’s too late. Networking should be an ongoing effort.
  •  Pay it forward – the more you can do for other people when you are in a position to do so makes it easier to ask for reciprocation at a critical time.
  •  Create a financial reserve – it’s hard to define in precise terms how long it could take to find another job. You could be lucky – but generally executive searches take about 3-6 months. Today the suggestion is that it can be as much as 9 months. So although it is hard in today’s economic climate, sound advice would be for all of us to have a reserve  “disaster fund“ of a minimum of 6 months to cover critical  expenses. One of the most terrifying aspects of job loss is the gnawing anxiety of how to meet fixed overheads.  It’s a good idea to make sure that key financial contact details are in your address book.  How well do you know your bank manager?
  •  Invest in professional support – many individuals seek career support when they are desperate: it might be when they have already lost their jobs or are facing any other sort of career blip. It is important to treat a career with the same strategic analysis as one might any other housekeeping exercise. In the words of John  F. Kennedy “ The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. 
  • Look after you –  Job seekers with family or other obligations worry about letting down their families and their ability  to support their nearest and dearest.  But just as a cabin attendant will exhort  passengers to put on their own life jackets and oxygen masks first and then look after their dependents,  the same is true for the person looking for a job. Putting your own needs first will ultimately be in the best interests of the people who rely on you.
  • Leave your luggage behind  – this is always one I imagine I might struggle with if tested,  but the logic resonates nevertheless. Sometimes our baggage gets in the way and we have to let it go and take that step into the unknown to protect ourselves.

So are you ready for a professional emergency landing?

Worker bee or job snob? Both are suffering – a year later!

Cait Reilly  – a year down the line

I  have followed with interest the story of  Cait Reilly , the Geology graduate who instigated a judicial review for contravention of her human rights. She was made to work unpaid at Poundland, a discount store,  stacking shelves and cleaning floors,  or otherwise be obliged to forfeit her government benefits of £53 per week job seekers allowance.  This scheme ,  followed by an interview for a permanent position is supposed to funnel young people into the workplace,  although in Cait’s case the interview never materialised.  She was  already working as a volunteer in a museum which she believed would support her chosen career path.  The issue for her was not working for free, but not being paid by an organisation which could afford her to give her a salary. Also significant was that the fact that the placement would not support the pursuit of her career goals.  A year after this post was originally written Cait has now won her court case.

Complex messages
There are lots of complex messages here aren’t there? This contravention of a human right is hardly in the same category as a resident of Homs being bombarded by his/her own government,  or a detainee being tortured and walked around naked on a  dog leash in the Abu Ghraib prison. So the backlash against the seeming preciousness of Cait’s case and accusations of job snobbery were in many ways understandable.  However, it was an effective and timely move, with many companies withdrawing from the discredited scheme, where unpaid graduates filled positions which should be offered on a full-time paid basis.

Inflated expectations
As you know I  have been an early champion of the exploitation of  Gen Y and unpaid internships. But we are observing what seems to be a massive disconnect in global economies with the training of a whole generation of young people in national education systems, leaving  not only a huge number with simply nowhere to go when they graduate, but with inflated expectations. Youth unemployment is shockingly high in many countries not just in Europe and the US,  but globally.  But it is also happening at higher levels with graduate MBAs encountering the same dilemma.

 Worker bee  Many  deal with this situation by accepting any position they can get, simply to gain some type of experience, or merely to pay their bills. I spoke to John who graduated in 2009  at the height of the recession with a degree in Art. After working in a number of unpaid internships and a paid job where he was pretty ruthlessly exploited, he accepted a position in the hospitality sector gaining invaluable basic management and HR skills. The rub? In applying for jobs in his chosen area he is now told that he lacks the necessary targeted experience and effectively  has “wasted” his 2.5 post graduate years.  Manon, with her global MBA accepted a low-level position to start paying off her debts when she graduated in 2008  and now faces the stigma of having a ” confused and inconsistent” career history.

Job snob
But many don’t want to compromise in this way, sitting tight for the right opportunity. Enter now the job snob. This is a category of worker whose expectations have been increased by the culture in which they were raised and the education systems that have spewed them out.  We have a group who rightly or wrongly,  believe they are entitled to work in the field for which they have been educated,  at the level they believe they deserve and which meets the abilities they think they have, to pay off the debts they have probably accrued in the process.  They hold out for the right job, in the right sector, financially supported by their parents,  government or both.  This group is penalised for having gaps in their resumés.

Education systems and business organisations both play a role in this mismatch of expectations and opportunities. The business sector has to understand that the plug and play days are mainly over and many of the old assessment benchmarks are not appropriate for the times we live in.

It would seem that the only alternative would  be a utilitarian approach and to cut university courses for which there are no foreseeable employment opportunities. Now the latter route would open up a serious hornets nest debate about the philosophical role of education in our advanced civilised societies.  Should the best universities be measured by the employability of their graduates?

However, perhaps it’s just me but  a key question seems to be left unanswered in the Cait Reilly case. Why should an individual  be supported by benefits paid for by the taxpayer, work for nothing  in a profit making organisation that could afford to pay them a salary?

What do you think?