Aug 19 2012

Career Advice from a Recruiter

Carlos Portocarrero

Career advice is a dime a dozen: everyone has an opinion on the best ways to prepare for an interview and how to use social media to boost your career. Today I’m interviewing Travis, who works in the world of recruiting. Who better to ask about the current state of the job market that someone who deals with it on a day-to-day basis?

Here is Travis on his top career advice:

What’s the number one piece of advice you have for young people starting out in the workplace?

Don’t stay inside a box. Think creatively.  Volunteer to do things that are outside of your scope of duties. Prove early on in your career that you are going to become a leader. What about established people who have been at a company for a while? Never be afraid to challenge the norm. If you are thinking about looking for new career opportunities, look inside your own company first.

You will be surprised to find that employers want to keep you and may get inventive in finding you something that will keep you with the firm.

Any favorite tips or insight when it comes to these topics: Interviewing, applying to a job, social media, and getting a raise? 

Interviewing – Do your research. This article referencing Google’s Laszlo Bock is a great lesson to be learned on the importance of doing research prior to interviewing: Applying to a job – Find a way to “skirt the system.” By system, I am referring to the applicant tracking system.

Do your best to find a personal connection. LinkedIn is an excellent tool to request professional referrals to someone within a perspective employer. Social Media – Assume most anything you post can be reviewed by a potential employer. Be certain to manage your online brand with tenacity. Getting a raise – Prove that you are adding value during your review and do competitive research to see what others in your field are making.

What’s the biggest no-no when you’re considering a candidate?

Mistakes on resumes. That is the easiest way to eliminate someone from consideration. Have at least two people other than yourself go over your resume with a fine tooth comb. Someone who is interviewing should always have a few prepared questions for everyone they meet.

Are there any skills that are especially in high demand out there right now?  

Anything IT. The digital space in my industry is particularly hot right now.

Any advice for college students out there about to enter the workplace?  

Have internships under your belt. If you are struggling to find employment, volunteer somewhere that will allow you to gain experience in the field/industry you are looking to pursue.

There’s a lot of people out there saying that university/college degrees aren’t worth what they were used to. That you can save yourself the money and get that same education in other ways: starting a company, reading books yourself, starting work right away, etc. What’s your take on the idea that college degrees (and advanced degrees as well) aren’t an absolute must right away?

I personally put a lot of weight on an undergraduate degree. You are not taught business in high school, so I think the idea of starting a business of your own without an education in how to run a business is not necessarily a good idea. That is not to say that it can’t be done, but I personally would not recommend it.

For advanced degrees, I feel there is some need to have space between your undergraduate degree and advanced degree. You will get more out of the program and bring more to the table to contribute yourself. Further, advanced degrees give you an opportunity to change fields or professions, so without knowing what you might want to do 10 years from now, you may want to hold off on the advanced degree for the time being.

Any favorite sites/blogs/publications that deal with career topics that you especially like?  

I think this is very specific to individual and the profession you are entering. Ron Kulp, for example, writes a great blog for entry level PR professionals and I find his advice to be spot on for students in our field of study. What about twitter folks to follow for great career advice?  Same for Twitter. Search for professionals that are in your industry vs. people who give general advice. That said, you are welcome to follow me on Twitter @traviskessel. I shout out #JobSeekerTips on a very regular basis.


Jul 18 2012

Career Advice That Kicks Ass: A Six-Figure Consultant Speaks Up

Carlos Portocarrero

A high kick with the sun setting in the background

Today I’m super excited to feature an interview filled with great career advice from Steve of BripBlap, a site devoted to finance and career success. I first heard of Steve (like so many others) through his very successful post, 8 Steps to a Six Figure Career. He’s had a ton of experience working all over the world as a consultant in the financial industry and has some fantastic career advice for people looking to boost their career prospects.

He’s also lost over 100 pounds, which is not just interesting for people looking to lose weight, but has given him interesting insights on systems that apply to almost anything you want to achieve.

In all, I’m super excited to pass on some of the best career advice I’ve ever featured here on The Writer’s Coin.

Without further ado:

1. One of your most popular posts is 8 Steps to a Six Figure Career: Do you still feel like that career advice applies today? In other words, would you give that advice to you kids as they grow up?

I feel that advice still applies today. Roughly, I’d summarize it as pick a “good” major (leave your love of French lit for your spare time and get a degree in accounting), get an advanced degree or certification (because a BA is unfortunately the new high school diploma), but most importantly take big chances: change jobs aggressively, move to bigger cities, go overseas, do something unusual early on in your career to distance yourself from the pack.

[editor: this is great advice…be bold early on and make yourself unique]

I volunteered to go work in Russia for my employer in the mid-90s, for example, and ended up staying several years. That has given me a white-hot resume point for the past decade: employers and clients always view that as a risky, bold, ambitious decision. It sets me apart from my peers. So yes, I’d give that advice to my kids, with one caveat: the job market is changing faster now than ever before.

It has changed radically since my parents’ generation (my dad had one employer his whole career) to mine (I am a professional contract consultant for financial controls and systems) and I’m sure that my kids will wind up with a different job model…I certainly won’t steer them away from entrepreneurialism, for example. But since the basic idea is do a little bit extra early in life to set yourself apart at the beginning of your career, I don’t see how that’s ever going to change.

2. Losing the amount of weight you lost is incredible, can you tell us how you stuck through your weight loss? Was it just perseverance or was there a tipping point that got you to commit?

Well, I started it when I got winded walking up a single flight of stairs. I realized that clutching at the handrail after taking about 16 steps up and needing big gulps of air was not a great way to live. It was easy once I latched onto a system (I was on Atkins). Plus it was easy because I did most of it when I was single: I had no “cheat foods” in the house.

Unfortunately I’ve put a little bit of the weight back, but I’m still far, far healthier and fit than I was before. Losing weight is simple: find a system that you enjoy and commit to it. Experiment with a few different ones—I tried low-fat and vegetarian before settling on Atkins. If it’s Atkins, being a vegan, paleo, whatever: you have to enjoy it and it has to be a simple system.

[editor: love this…don’t bang your head against the wall by “trying harder,” just find a simple system that works for you]

Anything that requires meticulous record keeping and complex tracking seems unpleasant from the get-go to me. Here’s my go-to tip these days, which is a VERY simple way to start losing weight: look at the ingredients before you buy it. If it has “high fructose corn syrup” or any variation on “corn syrup/sweetener/goo” don’t buy it, ever. Not because that’s the most awful ingredient—it’s not—but because it only exists in highly processed foods. That one little step will cut out a huge amount of unhealthy and unfilling food from your diet.

3. With the state of the job market today being pretty grim, what career advice do you have for newly graduated people starting off in the “real world?”

Well, as I mentioned above: take the biggest risks you can early in your career. It is much easier to separate yourself from the crowd early on. Take the weird job assignments. Pick up and move to a bigger city. And most importantly, whether you are an employee, a consultant, a freelancer or even unemployed: concentrate on YOUR development.

Early on you need training, extra responsibilities, chances to learn. If you aren’t getting those, move on. Don’t be loyal to bad companies. Early in your career you should be on a job search non-stop, even when employed. I’d take any job where I felt I had a chance to learn new skills over a job with a chance to make an extra 5%. And live as simply as you can while you are young, single and mobile. Having a lot of money in the bank gives you options. Desperately needing your next paycheck to make rent doesn’t.

4. Right now you’re a part time consultant. How is that lifestyle different than working for a company? How different is the money?

I do contract consulting. If I work for an hour, I get paid for an hour. So week to week my work’s not all that different from an employee’s: I come in, do my work, leave. The big difference is that I seldom work overtime (because then the company has to pay me for it).

I also get to focus on work and results instead of corporate politics. I’m usually at clients for a year or more, so I have outlasted “regular” employees many times. But most importantly, I’ve got time for a family life, a personal life and a side business (my blogs) which I never had as a senior manager for a multinational corporation. And the money’s about the same annually, but on an hourly basis I’m far better compensated now than I was when I was working 70 hour weeks. And as a family man, I’m happy that I can count on my fingers the number of nights in the past six years I haven’t been home to read my kids a book before bedtime because I’ve had to stay late at work.

5. Are you willing to share how much income you derive from your online pursuits? 

This is something that has varied wildly over the years. It took me a long time (more than a year and a half) to start making money with my blog, and even now I don’t make a huge amount. A good month might be $2000. A bad month might be $400. The online money-making business is changing rapidly now that SEO is dying and social is on the rise.

I’ve expanded my online “media” and I’m continually experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve never made enough to seriously consider going full-time, but it’s certainly nice to have money rolling in from more than one source.

6. What has been the most successful way to earn money online for you?

Well, for years it was affiliate income (mostly services like Prosper, Lending Club, credit cards and other financial products) and Adsense. I’ve stopped using Adsense altogether these days, and affiliate income seems to be drying up as people spend more time on social media (I don’t think they want to click away).

I get most of my income from direct ad placement—a company will simply pay me to display an ad. I am convinced that going forward the only reasonable way for individual bloggers to make money will be to sell products they’ve created. And readers will only buy those products if the blogger has developed trust with the readers, through engagement on social media, through email subscriptions, through their blog, everywhere.

I’ve got a good idea about where to go with that, but I need to put more effort into that rather than “traditional” income I’ve leaned on for years like affiliate income. I’m in the process of winding down most advertising on my blogs while I try to concentrate on building a wider audience.

7. What do you think is the most valuable skill in the workplace today? Software development? Marketing? Curious to hear your thoughts.

The most valuable skill is now, and will be for the forseeable future, the ability to solve problems—particularly for consultants and freelancers. I have been successful as a consultant because I can listen, I can read and research, I can analyze and I can write. I can look at complex problems—no matter what they are related to—analyze them and come up with solutions.

Sure, I know a dozen software platforms, all about accounting principles for 5 different countries and several different coding languages, but you know what? So do thousands of other people. I know SQL quite well for a finance guy, but you know what? There’s a SQL guy out there who’s an expert, so while knowing it is helpful for me, I can’t base my career on it.

Work on your problem solving skills. Learn how to solve puzzles. American education is highly focused on rote learning and teaching to the test, because corporate America needs armies of white-collar factory workers to process transactions. So you set yourself apart by being someone who can answer the question, not just repeat it.

8. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, please do so!

I’d just like to thank Carlos for the opportunity to be interviewed, I enjoyed the questions. And I’m always glad to hear directly from anyone with questions, so feel free to get in touch!

[editor: you can reach Steve via his blog, BripBlap. To get more great career tips like this one, sign up for the Ninja Employee Newsletter]

Image from Macrickguitarsx

Jun 19 2012

Job Tip: Go On An Interview

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 9 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Job interview

Job interviews can be very stressful: you’re trying to give the interviewer an accurate picture of who you are and what you can do while “selling” him/her on the idea that you’re  a great hire—not an easy balance.

It’s tough, especially since most people only interview when they’re in a position of weakness. They either don’t have a job or are desperate to leave the one they’re at.

Talk about zero leverage.

Practice Your Job Interview Skills

When you aren’t desperate to get the job, you’ll notice a huge difference in how you approach a job interview. You’re more calm, you answer questions easily and without hesitation, and you aren’t nearly as nervous.

You become more confident, and that makes you look a lot better. 

You’ll be surprised at how confident you feel when you’re interviewing for practice. Instead of focusing on saying the right thing or trying to hit every checkbox that the interviewer is trying to fill, you’ll find yourself asking some questions about the company and the position. Is this a place you would even want to work at? Is this someone you would want to work with?

I’ve gone on several interviews that started out as “practice” for myself and ended up as really interesting opportunities. That’s the other interesting bit of this experiment: you never know what you’ll find out there unless you’re looking. And as a good friend of mine once told me, “I’m always looking.”

Another reason I like this exercise is because once you get a company showing some interest in you (whether you intend to leave or not), your current job will be easier. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like going on an interview and feeling wanted and valued by another company to make the stresses and annoyances of your job go up in smoke.

It reminds you that you don’t have to be there. You don’t have to deal with this stuff. You could leave at any time.

It’s a very empowering feeling.

Let’s recap all the advantages of interviewing for practice:

  • Confidence booster
  • Improves/sharpens your interview skills
  • Liberates you at your job
  • You might find a better job
Seems like a no brainer, right? Now go out there and get an interview!

Image by bpsusf

May 25 2012

Write a Manual

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 8 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Writing a manual

Think of all the tasks you have to accomplish throughout the day. Some are quick and easy, while others are longer and more involved.

And when it’s time to start, do you ever stop for a second to regroup and make sure you’re going in the right order?That you remember all the steps?

When I left my job in publishing four years ago, I gave two weeks notice like everyone else. But I also wanted to make sure whoever was hired in my place could contribute as soon as possible. I wanted to make life easy on my boss and my coworkers because I liked them and because I’m so goodhearted.

So I started writing down every single task that came with my job, along with detailed instructions about how to do each one.

All the little tips and tricks I had picked up over the years went into this “manual.”

That awesome checklist I made during my Google 20% time? You better believe that was in there.

By the time my two weeks were up, I realized that this manual summed up my entire job, along with every task that came with it.

And I wished I had it while I was working because it was very clear and organized. I realized that having that manual around would’ve made my days a little smoother and less chaotic.

Imagine you have a manual that has 30 checklists in it. And every time you have to get something done, you just bring up the checklist, put it next to you, and make sure you go through each step.

This does a few things:

  • It lets you focus on the quality of each task so you’re not thinking in the back of your head, “Am I forgetting something? What do I do next?”
  • You avoid distractions. Instead of hunting through emails or documents for answers to whatever questions you have, the checklist has it all. You’ve basically created a nice, simple flow:

Task is assigned -> Follow checklist instructions

If you don’t believe in the power of lists, you’re missing out.

It may seem tedious to do this and some of you might be frightened that a manual like this can make you expendable, but don’t worry about that. You don’t have to share it. You don’t have to show it off.

Just do what’s in the manual and keep it to yourself.

Image by quacktaculous