Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coaching feedback - this stuff works!

I just completed a course of coaching with a client in the film/TV business.  Here are some excerpts from his review of our work:
We accomplished the goals extremely well. I went from lackluster “brand” materials (cover letter, resume, etc) in serious need of improvement to getting job offers and finding new opportunities in the span of weeks. Before the sessions, my general outlook was also somewhat dire. From the beginning, Michael saw my strengths and encouraged them. Every bit of advice has come in handy so far and I am 100% confident that it will for years to come.
I genuinely feel that this whole experience was priceless and look forward to continuing to use what I learned from the coaching sessions for years to come…My only regret is that I did not find Pollock|Spark sooner! Thank you so much, Michael!  I can’t say that enough.

What one man did to get hired

This is the story of a man who really wanted a job. For 5 years he had run a successful small web design firm in Gainesville, getting clients by word of mouth and by befriending small business owners. But he had moved to New York and this was a different kettle of fish. “In New York all the doors are locked” he told me. “There was no dropping by and making friends, and I had no word of mouth. New York kicked my ass. So I started looking for a proper corporate job in web design.”

He started with Craigslist. It had worked well for him in Florida and he was comfortable with it. But he only got back a couple of thank-you notes. He tried Monster and other job sites: from them he got back nothing but spam.

“So I created two fake job postings on Craigslist to see what the competition was like. I got 200-300 emails in the first 6 hours – they were all super-qualified. I looked at what they had written and I created a template letter of my own, based on the best of what I saw.”

“I gave up on the other sites and focused 100% of my energy on Craigslist, refining my search and hitting refresh, refresh so I could see the latest jobs. As soon as a new posting appeared I sent my application. And I knew my letter was good because I had studied the best ones out there.”

“But my experience with the fake postings, the hundreds of applications, made me think that an employer is going to get bored after reading just 30 or so. So I realized that my own job was to be number one in their inbox. I was refreshing my search every ten minutes. But this wasnʼt quick enough. This was a giant race with 200 people, all starting at the same time. Seconds matter if you want to be the first.”

So instead of refreshing the web page and then going to his mail to apply, he set up an RSS feed from his Craigslist search directly into his mail client, so he could get from the posting to his response in fewer clicks.

“In a week or so I had it down to a science. I was super-comfortable with it. I deleted any new jobs when I got up in the morning, as I was already too late for them. I had the bugs removed and everything was virtually perfect. I figure I had my response time down to about 7 seconds after a job had posted.”

Driven by his drive to be first in the inbox, the system quickly produced results. In the following week he received four requests for interviews. One of them was at MLB.com, a dream position – where he now happily works.

From corporate to own business - Part two

Priti Punjabi had left a good corporate job to challenge herself and awaken her creative spirit. She started a dog daycare business – to see if she could do it. (For the story so far )

Once she had the space rented, Priti found that her advertising expertise was a big asset. “I actually know more about consumers than about dogs,” she told me. “I started building a brand and working out what the consumer wanted. I wanted to reflect the neighborhood (young professionals, music clubs, creative freelancers and hipsters) so I called it Dog Addiction. To really set it apart from the competition we play music to the dogs at all times: Iʼve trademarked the name BehaviorBeats“

She did all the PR and advertising herself, placing toy dogs by mailboxes and bike racks all over the area with a note tied to them saying “Iʼd rather be at Dog Addiction.” Ads told freelancers that their dogs were getting bored sitting at home watching them work all day.

Asked what is the hardest part, Priti says firmly, “Managing the budget. My mum taught me to pay everyone else before you pay yourself. I have always paid every employee on time. I like being the boss. I have the same employees since I opened. I keep them happy.”

“As humans we lose the fearlessness with age and are too afraid to take a gamble. I am 30 now. My business is breaking even. When I first opened I never wanted to leave it – it became my baby.”

Running her own business has given her more flexibility. She has written a 17-chapter novel and had a show of her photographs. “I would never have been able to do these if I had been working in a corporation. It is essential to explore your creative juices.”

Growth has been slower than expected, due to the poor economy, so she is considering going back for a stint in the ad business and leaving her manager in charge of the store. “My business is going to make me a living – and I will never be prisoner to the corporation. I donʼt ever want to be called into an office and told that: an issue has arisen…”

“And donʼt feel defeated if your business is not a flying success – that doesnʼt make you a failure – on the contrary you are a success for having tried it and for everything you learned from it. Even if you decide to go back – you have the experience under your belt. This experience makes you a more valuable employee. You understand the value of a dollar and how to work better with your co-workers. It has given you the opportunity to release the creative spirit that has to be allowed to flourish.”

“The point is to do something that is your own.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

13 snapshots from coaching = 13 ideas for you

Journalist or personal brand?
A journalist is working with me to define her long term goal.  Super-busy and writing for major titles now, but where is this going, she wants to know.  Is it about books or appearances or a content specialty?  We have moved towards defining the aspirational goal and are embarking on tactics that will bring us closer to it while still maintaining and enriching the base of work.

 But it’s not self-promotion!
A client who was never comfortable promoting herself has developed an effective way to reach out.  She now says  “I’ve proved the theory: if you ask you get it.  I feel good about myself.  I am more comfortable calling people: its not pushy, it’s doing  something for them.”

 Transition to a management role
A client who was a very good craftsman had been promoted to running his whole creative office.  This transition is not as easy as it looks for most creative types. He was helped to develop more effective time management practices, prioritization and delegation techniques and to figure out how to motivate creative staff and to keep them happy.

 Meeting Prep
Research as much as you can about the person you are going to be meeting.  Don't assume anything.  The more you know the smarter you will be.   A client followed this advice this week and what she discovered “gave me a different sense of the company.”

Strength in your stories
Another client fed back to me in her own words one of the core ideas we had been working on: “I have to have my stories back in my mind and draw on them and bring them out at the appropriate time. The fact that I have been working on them and focusing them makes them that much stronger.”

Sweat your resume
A client working on a resume discovered that its communication can be powerfully affected by the choice of layout, type face and emphasis.  He created several versions, varying the summary and the layout.  Together we evaluated them making choices to get the best possible result.

 But what do you really want to do?
I am working with clients to focus their long term dreams and goals, so that we know whether short to medium term decisions are heading us in the right direction.

 How to think about your website

Planning a website with a client we thought through what a potential buyer is looking for when they come to the site and then decided what we want him to do when he gets there.

 Interview prep rocks results
During interview prep with a senior executive who was meeting with a corporate CEO I made up some likely questions and we practiced her responses.  After the interview she emailed me that many of his questions were “straight from our rehearsal.”  So she was ready for them.

 How to thrive in a corporate restructure
I have a client in a leading TV firm who is facing corporate restructuring.  She will thrive and advance in the evolution, not least because we have put thought and time into defining her turf and job scope and strategizing, on a weekly basis, how to manage up and across effectively.

 Plan B and Plan A
Working with a couple of clients on two fronts: a "corporate job" front and a "start my own business" front.  In the short term when there are bills to be paid and investment to be made it is the practical solution.

 Startup marketing

With a client who is starting a new business we have developed the main message and begun on the website – now we are moving to targeted outreach.  We have defined our tactics and are now providing the motivation to make progress on sales calls and affordable marketing programs.

 KickStart your marketing
A design firm for whom I led a Marketing Intensive KickStart Workshop has launched its new website – on schedule.  They emailed:  “Thanks for all your input in helping us pull this together."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Q+A: Resume format and functional resumes

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: Is there "one" format for resumes or does anything work as long as its clear and easy to read?

A: Don't get boxed in by a resume template  you should format your resume to suit your situation. Your resume has to make the hirer see quickly that you are a match for their needs and want to meet you. Actually, in this competitive climate you have to be better than a match. The format should make this possible. In the words of a recruiter I spoke with: "The focus and thread through the experience needs to be clear and concise."

The format you decide to use can depend on the type of role you seek and your level of experience. A junior level candidate would not have all the "key words experience" of a more senior candidate, but still needs to tell a compelling story of what they do offer. A technical producer or information architect would choose to focus on software and site technical skills, where a creative candidate would focus more on the types of projects, indicating their contribution and providing links to online samples. Marketers should get specific on areas of special expertise.

This content is what the resume is about first and foremost. The format you present in needs to be a quick easy-to-read communication that hits all the buttons appropriate to the position in question.

Q: I have heard negative things about functional resumes. Is there a time where someone without anything to hide use a functional resume?

A: A recruiter told me: "I always question the functional resumes. I prefer to see those who are transparent and clear about what they've done and where they've done it. It may make sense for career transitioners, those who have minimal experience in their chosen field. In these cases, it's important to take the necessary steps towards experience to get back on a career track displayed in a chronological resume format."

So try and present a chronological story, but remember that with layout and careful writing and smart choices you can emphasize your functional skills and experience even within this format so that the overall impression is the one you want to give.

Q+A: What if my boss doesn't like me?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: I'm pretty sure my boss does not like me, though my work has always been complimented. Should I remain silent about this awkward issue, talk to him about it, talk to someone else? I really believe it's personal, and it makes me feel uncomfortable, but what if I am wrong and do talk to him? Doesn't that make me look like an idiot? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: If your boss is making you uncomfortable by demonstrating his dislike in an inappropriate way then you should talk to someone in HR. I do not recommend that you ask him directly why he doesn't like you: this will not be productive. But I do suggest that you go to him and say that you would like a performance review and please could you set a time to meet with him for this. This review is not going to overtly address his personal likes and dislikes, but it is likely to uncover issues that pertain, and it gives you the opportunity to ask how you could improve your performance. This exchange may elicit what you need to know. If this doesn't clear the air, then the next step could be to ask for transfer to another group.

Q+A: Should I leave things off the resume?

Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: The current philosophy in applying for jobs is to tailor your resume to the specific job. This make total sense, however, leaving off positions that don't directly relate can cause large gaps in dates and omit some of your most recent experience. How should this be handled?

A: First a presentation trick: if you list your jobs by year and are not specific as to months  then for instance a gap from February 2008 to November 2009 could well disappear.

But maybe you don't have to leave things off. First you should try and identify an aspect of what you did or experienced at the apparently irrelevant job that can be presented to actually strengthen your case. For an extreme example: if you took a year out to work in your father's shoe store  you probably gained invaluable experience in selling or in fashion changes or something that might make you that much more valuable to the job you are going after. So don't throw anything out until you are sure it will hurt you. You should present everything you have done in a way that demonstrates that you are unique and special. The apparently unrelated job may look at first sight like a lemon  but do try and find the lemonade inside it!

But yes, you should avoid gaps - or plug them with something. Were you working on a personal project or volunteering at a nonprofit or traveling? These could all be completely laudable explanations for not having a formal job for a period of time and may even strengthen your case.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Creative Manager - Part two

Itʼs always helpful to know what the boss is thinking – whether you are trying to advance within a company, or to get hired. I spoke recently to Aaron Harvey, Partner/COO of digital agency Purple, Rock, Scissors of FL and NY. Asked how he recruits creatives, Harvey told me that he doesnʼt advertise jobs – he posts them on the companyʼs website and they have some partnerships with select schools; but mostly the way they get new employees is by word of mouth. And he added: “We are all music fans here – when we are hiring we look at peoples iPod lists.”

When Harvey first came to Purple Rock Scissors, he told me: “We were a revolving door. There is a challenge when you bring in young people to a smaller company. They get to do a lot more and get much more experience than in a larger company, so they are likely to be wearing more hats more quickly. If they talk to their friends at bigger shops they start to think – ʻHey, I am underpaid for what I am doing here.ʼ A lot of this comes down to the culture,” he says. “There is a lot more that goes into the decision to stay with a firm than just money. The culture and the vision of the company are very important in the decisions made by creative employees.”

“The title thing is important to empower people: there s a level of achievement. We may want to give the best, most devoted developer a promotion – though he may not be able to stand up in front of a client or have the ability to sell his work. So we try to groom people as much as possible. We include them in more and more client meetings – first to watch and then gradually to participate until they can do it on their own.”

“The issue comes when the internal move isnʼt working and you bring someone new in. Then toes are stepped on. I may have promoted the designer to Creative Director, but they canʼt sell the work and canʼt manage a team. We learned to deal with this by being very specific in defining job specs, with the employeeʼs help, so they know they are not just evaluated on their design but also on selling, and management and other factors. There is a formal evaluation process: we have them do self-evaluations and then see how they stacked up – and on how they manage their time sheets.”

Click here to see more of Aaron Harvey's insights

This article by Michael Pollock first appeared in Cynopsis Digital Advantage.