The Financial Executives Networking Group
The Power of Networking. The Power of Friendships.

Matt's Editorials: Sailing is a Metaphor for Life

Call me a compulsive

Over the course of any given week I have the great honor of reviewing well over 100 resumes. Honestly, no one should be allowed to have this much fun.

As I page through the many approaches to presenting one’s credentials, I am frequently dismayed by the way that some of the most important information is presented.

Let me start by saying that I hate most abbreviations. The reason is quite simple. I usually have to stop and puzzle through what the abbreviation means in this context. I am sure the author was quite clear, but I am often left scratching my head.

I would rank educational credentials of great importance and I hope you do too. I don’t know if BS, B.S. or Bachelor of Science really makes a whole lot of difference, but if it doesn’t and if there is room, I would always go with Bachelor of Science. Call me silly, but I think it adds a little dignity, and that can’t hurt.

Even starting at the top of the resume with the address frequently leaves a lot to be desired. If I had to choose between St. or Street and APT., Apt. or Apartment, I think you know what my choice would be. If you have this issue on your resume, try expanding it and see if it looks nicer. Sure, it doesn’t REALLY matter, but perhaps you will agree that it looks at least 5% better.

Our administrative staff also has a heck of a time getting the uppercase/lowercase issue right for the membership directory. Not their fault, of course, because most resumes do a terrible job of making it clear.

I believe that PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS is supposed to be presented as PricewaterhouseCoopers, but some applicants are apparently unaware of this. I have seen it more often than you can imagine as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which I don’t believe is correct.

Even more incredible are the names that aren’t set out properly in uppercase/lowercase fashion. Yes, I know that the name at the top of the resume should be in capital letters, but if your name is McDonald, I have to tell you that MCDONALD just doesn’t look right to me.

The other really disappointing thing I find far too often is that applicants haven’t taken the time to ensure that their most important marketing piece is totally consistent.

There are frequent inconsistencies in bolding, tabbing/paragraphing, uppercasing/lowercasing, and dates lining up. It is sort of like fingernails on a blackboard to your resident compulsive here in Connecticut.

Call me silly or call me a total compulsive (and I guess I am), but I find that the time spent making your resume appear more dignified can be time well spent. (Nothing like a little rock polishing to make the day go by.)

Regards, Matt

Don’t go it alone

Job search is in many ways a unique experience.

In contrast to the world of work where we have had folks reporting to us and have had folks that we reported to, the world of job search can tend to be a lonely place.

Outplacement facilities with their rabbit warren of cubicles at first glance seem to place you with a lot of other people. There are classes to attend, and at least in my own experience with this kind of environment, you have others with whom you can have lunch and share experiences. Not a totally bad situation. But still, everyone is on a different track and when they find work or their time ends, they typically disappear. And, it isn’t like the office where presumably you have goals in common with those around you. (Yes, I know that isn’t really true, but we’re just talking theory.)

If there is any one misconception that we try to dispel in The FENG, it is need or desirability of going it alone. Our goal is to teach one another the joy of seeking out others to help and in some magical way to being helped by them.

As our more senior members know and accept, The FENG isn’t a job listing service. I say this to you despite the rather long job listings we share with one another. These job listings should be viewed as only one manifestation of the degree to which we are trying to help one another.

We are in truth an army of volunteers, and I thought it would be appropriate tonight, in light of our continued growth, to ensure that everyone fully understands the goals of our organization.

It is all too easy to let others do the work that needs to be done. To get you started in more fully participating in our little society, I am going to assign each of you a most important task. A task that can be considered a bite sized piece, but an easy way to get started. Please know and understand that not everyone is ready to accept the truth about The FENG at any one point in time. However, the skepticism that others are willing to help you does subside over time. And, you can make a difference if you do what I am about to ask you to do: Please call at least 5 new members each and every week. (I could have asked that you call at least one new member, but I believe in stretch goals.)

Our current membership count is over 40,000. There is simply no better way for the many folkways of The FENG to be passed along than by word of mouth. We have a lot of new members to infect with the enthusiasm that I hear from those of you who participate in our many programs.

Don’t allow yourself to be alone in this process, and don’t let others be alone. Share the joy. Get involved. Pass it on.

Remember, every day and in every way, it all starts with you.

Regards, Matt

It’s always better to be working

When I was growing up, my father was in the construction business. Being a plumbing contractor or a consultant or even a job seeker these days isn’t all that different with respect to finding what I call “work opportunities.”

I sense from talking to many members that there are those among us who at times can be more than a little picky about the assignments they are willing to take, despite the fact that they aren’t working AT ALL.

One of the many lessons I draw from my father’s experience is that some of the jobs you find are short term, some are more fun than others, and some pay better than others. Still, the need to have your “crew” employed has to win out every time. While you can be choosey when you are flush with work, when times are thin you need to take everything that comes your way.

You learn something from just about everything you do. And, as long as the work itself is enjoyable (oh, give me a spreadsheet to do, please), and the people you are working with are pleasant, insisting on getting your “rate” may leave you with a lot of time on your hands.

The philosophy I follow and preach is that it is always better to be working at just about anything than sitting around with nothing to do. The interaction with others or the completion of a task, no matter how bland, is always better than doing nothing.

Furthermore, “nothing” is harder to sell in your quest for more meaningful assignments than a “beneath your dignity” work opportunity any day of the week.

As an example, years ago, to be able to wax eloquent about Sarbanes-Oxley when in fact you were doing the grunt work and not the oversight end is still better than telling a potential employer that you “know” about Sarbanes-Oxley and you are sure you could handle it.

For our more senior members, it can often appear that employers perceive you as not having enough time left on your clock to be hired as a permanent addition to staff. Well, guess what? All jobs are temporary. (Have I mentioned this before?) Coming in as a consultant when this is the case can give you that “nose in the tent” leg up and you never know how long you may be there.

In The FECG, we actually had a consultant out on assignment for TWO years. I know far too many members, myself included, who have had W-2 jobs that lasted less than 6 months.

If I recall the Priceline commercials correctly, their pitch is that you can pick your own price. Sure, but you first have to find a willing seller. Just because you want to pay only $1 doesn’t mean that you were going to get the product or service.

Life is filled with choices. While I recommend weighing your alternatives, there are unfortunately times when you don’t have any. Work opportunities can at times be a brittle choice. It is often feast or famine.

When it is famine I would only suggest you keep in mind that it is ALWAYS better to be working.

Regards, Matt

Don’t be lazy

During June I was preparing our sailboat for our annual two week trip.

I take pretty good care of my boats, but still, there is always a maintenance list. This year, as is my practice, I went through each and every locker, removed everything and went through it item by item to see if I really needed it. It was a big job, but I am always amazed and astounded with the stuff I find. (Why did I buy that?)

It is easy to be lazy about things in your life. Since The FENG is about job search, I’ll focus for a minute on your resume. I figure most people practice their 90-second announcement a lot and since it is kind of “in your face” or in someone else’s, I assume that gets tuned up a lot. However, have you really looked through the lockers of your resume lately?

If I understand the process right, you polished up that old resume when you began your job search. Let me be encouraging in telling you that you are a lot smarter now. As you have been out and about in the world, my guess is that you know a lot more about the job search process and what is important than you did when you began. So, now is as good a time as any to empty out each and every sentence, bullet point and paragraph and give it a little tune up. You might even consider throwing out some parts of it to make room for more important matters.

The rumor is that most readers are only interested in your most recent ten years. Please don’t use that statement as an excuse to delete anything older. I am only putting it out there to highlight where your focus needs to be. Think about the fact that many of the accomplishments you have listed under your earlier career you have done again, but in a more senior capacity. There honestly is no need to have it appear twice.

As you have also probably used your old resume to build your new resume, you should probably reformat the whole darn thing. If you do a good old “copy, paste-unformatted” with your current document into a new file and go at the formatting again, you will most likely have a document that doesn’t go all “kerflooey” when it is opened on someone else’s computer with a different printer driver.

This same approach is also valid with your marketing materials and cover letters. Don’t be lazy.

The mental effort you apply to these most valuable documents, cleaning up the prose and making sure that everything that’s there is focused on where you see your search today can only pay big dividends.

Regards, Matt

All things to all people

It is a truth in this world that we get paid the most for doing something that is at the high end of our skill set.

For example, you would be willing to pay big bucks to a skilled surgeon to take out your appendix, but you would probably not be willing to let me take out your appendix at any price. Hence, the price you would be willing to pay me would probably be less than zero. Actually, I couldn’t even get the job.

If this is all true, then why is it that in the writing of our resumes we try to present ourselves as the ultimate solution to all problems? We may narrow the niche to finance, but generally speaking, in our attempt to make our very specific background universally applicable we tend to water down those things that the world might very well be willing to pay the most to have us do.

The problem we are trying to address in the wrong way is changing industries. Let’s face it; most members are in fact trying to change industries. Over the years, banking, telecommunications, Internet companies all have downsized. What is worse, no new hiring is going to take place for some time. So, what are you supposed to do?

Accounting and finance problems are to a very large degree universally applicable. If you put your thinking cap on and examine what it is you were doing in that industry currently in decline you can find the analogies that work.

A good place to start is by talking to folks from your industry to see what they have discovered about “the outside world.” Ask the question. Where are they thinking of applying their skills and what industries or companies are appropriate. Listen, you may not be able to get a job in those industries or companies, but it will go a long way toward getting your thinking focused on the REAL skills that you provide.

Being all things to all people is the same thing as being nothing to anybody.

Identify the skills you have with the most market value to the outside world and put your best face on them in the context in which they happened. It will make them more understandable to the folks reading your resume.

Long lists that cover the gamut from soup to nuts will only serve to mask the very specific skill sets and solutions you can provide to a potential employer.

Focus, focus, focus is the answer to the problem. Jobs for generalists don’t pay as well.

Regards, Matt

A sharp pencil

There is no more powerful tool than a sharp pencil. (The only exception to this rule is the membership directory of The FENG as accessed by our Member Directory Search feature.)

I long ago declared war on unnecessary words. Why? Because they are unnecessary.

The normal space allotment for a resume is two pages. Okay, if you have to go to three I might be able to live with it, but generally two is the limit.

It is not much space to describe the accomplishments of a lifetime, but you are making a mistake if you think it is necessary to describe each and every thing you have done. If you are as old as the hills (or dirt itself) like most of us, there are adventure stories you could tell that would keep everyone here till well past their bedtime. (A little hot toddy will help you sleep, or you can read resumes!)

Anyway, get out some of those old number two pencils that I know you keep hidden in your desk for emergencies and get out the current version of your resume and let’s have at it.

Start at the top and read through the summary that I hope you have there. Are there any words that you think are necessary modifiers? Now read them carefully and ask yourself if they really say anything? How about phrases like “Proven track record” or “Results oriented?” How about “Excellent written, verbal and interpersonal skills?”

The game of opposites that I like to play attacks unnecessary modifiers particularly well. Does your resume speak to your “proven track record?” Would you hire someone who couldn’t write, speak or get along with others? To say you have these skills is sort of redundant. Isn’t your resume a fine example of your writing skills? When you call or I interview you there will be time enough for me to decide if you have verbal skills. Lastly, how can you measure your interpersonal skills? Just saying you have them won’t help.

How about “Thrive on international travel. Married. In excellent health. Enjoy running, biking and swimming.” See anything here we could eliminate? How about all of it!

Perhaps “willing to travel internationally” would be a good thing to say, but the rest of it is just plain silly. I don’t know many folks who would admit to being sickly. “Won a marathon last year” might speak to your health better than saying it.

By the way, cheating by going to smaller type fonts is also a bad idea. Again, let’s stick with that sharp pencil and see where we can go.

Going to the end of the resume, how about under technical skills:

Operating Systems:
Windows NT, Windows 98 (this is a good one), NOVELL, MS/DOS

Application Software:
Microsoft Office (anyone who doesn’t know this one, please leave the room now), Great Plains Dynamics, FRX software, Crystal Reports, Access, Sage-Acuity, MAS90, ACT!

Most of the above is wasted space. Except for the specialized software that might be appropriate to potential jobs, most of the above should be removed.

To get a real handle on what is and isn’t significant, collect resumes from others and do the “elimination of unnecessary words test” on someone else’s resume. Now go back to yours and really be hard-nosed about this issue.

You will find that if you do a little pruning, the resulting document will not only be shorter, it will be easier to read and comprehend. Who knows, in its new pristine state, it might even generate some interviews.

Regards, Matt

Human interaction

Sailors are a naturally friendly lot. (Yes, another sailing analogy!) As one of the other couples my wife and I met at a marina pointed out, it would be considered more than a little strange to go to a motel or hotel and start introducing yourself to other people and ask them if they wanted to join you and your wife for dinner at some restaurant.

Yet, sailors do it all the time. When you “blow in” from another harbor you have so many stories to tell and they are harder to share with those who haven’t been through what you have just been through. If it was windy and both of you were hanging on for dear life, you start out with a lot in common.

Within The FENG, we are engaged in what our former president Jimmy Carter might call the moral equivalent of war. (Gosh, was he president THAT long ago?) The process of job search is one filled with highs and lows that are hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been through it. And, although I wouldn’t recommend anyone VOLUNTEERING to conduct a job search, I would suggest to you that, as it has been said, “anything that doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.” (Or is that “tired?”)

Anyway, you will find that one of the many purposes of The FENG beyond the mere sharing of job leads is the opportunity to share a little human interaction with others who are just like you.

It isn’t a “misery loves company” thing, but rather the recognition that you just can’t help but have a lot in common with other members of The FENG.

Let’s start with how you got here. Someone sponsored you. That initial act of friendship is what gets the whole process started.

Next we are divided geographically. Most members are near a place where they can go to meet others who are experiencing the difficulties unique to their specific geographic areas.

We are also divided up into Special Interest Groups. These groups exist to gather together those with expertise in areas not common to the entire membership of The FENG. For example, there are only 3,300+ members in our Internal Audit SIG and only 3,200+ in our Retailing SIG. If you were not a member of The FENG, how could you possibly identify so many like-minded individuals as quickly? Well, you couldn’t.

Human interaction – getting members to call one another, meet each other, exchange resumes and build friendships is what this is all about. The structure is designed to make the networking process more effective for everyone involved and to enable you to not only find another “work opportunity,” but also to make true friends for the rest of your life.

After all, there is nothing like a little “moral equivalent of war” to bring you closer to those around you.

If you haven’t been enjoying all the benefits of membership I would ask you to ask yourself what is holding you back?

The gift we give each other each and every day is there for the taking. And, I hope you will reach out and harvest some of this low hanging fruit.

Regards, Matt

No right answers

As a part of my frequent “joys of sailing” ideas, I thought I would talk about docks around Long Island Sound. Although one can drag anchor, one rarely drags dock. (A little sailing joke for you.)

Sure, it is a rather arcane topic, but hopefully it is one that you can use to amaze and astound your friends.

You would think that docking arrangements everywhere would be pretty much the same. After all, you have a boat, you have water, and you need to tie it up for the night. Well, you would be very wrong. The truth is that just about every place you go is a little different. Some marinas have pilings you have to snag on your way in. (And you thought walking and chewing gum was tough!) Some docks are at deck height, and some are just a few feet above the water. There are floating docks (my favorites) and there are fixed docks. And, there are combinations in between.

All of them are in a sense appropriate answers to the same problem. Some arrangements are unique to solving specific problems in that harbor such as variations in the height of the tide (it is a 7-8 tidal change in our harbor).

I am frequently asked for a model resume, one that you can basically copy and fill in the blanks. For the same reasons that docks vary considerably, your resume needs to as well. It needs to vary not only because you are different from others, but also you need to consider specific situations. Applying for a different type of job than one you have had requires a different focus for the same set of facts.

Sure there are standard structures. Most folks these days agree that functional resumes are not a good idea. However, a summary at the top describing who you are, and your chronological history following from most recent to least recent with more details for the most recent is a good starting point. Education is typically shown at the end with those graduation dates, please.

If only there were one right answer, even for you as a person, but alas there isn’t. Your goal is to communicate who you are and how you can solve the problem faced by your potential employer. Nothing more, nothing less.

Easily said, hard to apply in practice. And practice is where all of this lives. Write, rewrite and rewrite some more.

With any luck, you will find the right answer or series of answers that works best for you.

Regards, Matt

Attention to detail

I am at all times amazed and astounded at the lack of attention to detail by the many members who write to me. There are so many things that are easy to do, that no one seems to do.

Let me start with my primary concern (and one I write about constantly), the lack of outgoing signatures. Incredibly, some emails I get aren’t even signed. A proper outgoing signature contains your name, address, phone numbers and email address. Adding one is so simple that it doesn’t bear explaining. If you aren’t using one, just click “Help” and search for outgoing signature. If you are wondering why no one is writing back, that’s why.

Is your name Pat, or Leslie? You might want to let folks know somehow if you are male or female. I’m sure YOU know, but if your sex is a secret for some reason, and if you tell me that this is something that happens all the time (the confusion), you might want to consider steps to avoid surprises. The same thing applies to names that contain upper case and lower case characteristics. Yes, I know in outplacement they insist on putting your name in all upper case on your resume, but I have to tell you that if my name were Von Bud, Mc Bud, or Mac Bud, I would want it to appear correctly. The same thing goes for the companies at which I have worked. One of the firms was CBS. It wasn’t Cbs. I want it to be clear which way it should appear. If someone is writing to another person about me, I don’t want them to be embarrassed by making a mistake because it might hurt MY candidacy.

One of my oldest job hunting tips in this electronic world is emailing your resume to 10 friends and having them print and scan back what it looks like on their end. I can’t believe how many 4 page resumes I still get with widows on the even number pages. (A widow is one or two lines on the following page.) Not using hard page breaks, leaving extra lines on the last page so your two page resume is three pages, as well as other attempts at faking the formatting, are so common I could scream. Although it may look nice on your computer, special fonts and narrow margins can come up really ugly on other computers with different printer drivers. Everyone should know that.

File names are another area where using upper case and lower case can add to readability. I hope no one is using resume.doc, or that indication of really having worked on your resume of resumeRev58.doc. (Now he really worked on that one!) Your last name-first name.doc is the only way that the person at the other end can actually SAVE your resume to their hard drive.

If your name is Matthew, as is mine, do you go by Matt? I do, and I want others to know, so I SIGN my messages that way. I don’t want anyone to feel like a stranger or to feel embarrassed by calling me incorrectly. If you are Robert, do you go by Bob, Robert or Rob? Any of these choices could be correct. Do I really need to be put in the position of guessing? (This is why we have a “greeting to use” field in our membership database.

Typos. This one could go on and on. I actually got a message recently with Manhattan spelled Manhatten. Yes, I know there are folks from out of town, but speling is important. (Yes, I know I didn’t spell “spelling” correctly in the last sentence.) Has anyone heard of spell checker? Do you think it might make sense to use it if you are applying for a high paying job? May I answer yes?

Reads and follows directions. I could do several editorials on the importance of actually reading job postings. I seem to remember as a Chief Financial Officer making sure who the check was to be made payable to. It was only infrequently “dear sir or madam.” I may be a lot of things, but I am not a madam, and anyone who writes to me that way when I have an assignment to fill for The FECG is certainly going to “lose points.”

Well, enough complaining for tonight. Call me a fuss budget, but I like to get things right, and I would hope that you do as well.

Take a few minutes to go back and dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s.” You will find it is time well spent. Our profession is one in which attention to detail is EXPECTED. Make sure you present yourself accordingly.

Close enough only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Regards, Matt

Your hidden assets

Almost all of the resumes I see are from members or new member applicants. In any given week, I go through a batch of 60-80 applicants.

What is surprising is how much trouble some folks go to disguising their seniority and great skills.

It is my belief and I hope to make it yours as well, that the most important thing you have to sell is your wealth of experience. There are so many things in this world that only happen once or twice a year, and most of our members have seen them anywhere from 20-40 times. Like a song you keep hearing on the radio, even if you don’t sing well, you are bound to know the words and can easily hum a few bars. Hiding this important asset of yours is generally speaking (or singing) a bad idea.

Yes, I know you are getting feedback that you are “over qualified,” but hiding your true value not only doesn’t work, it actually works against you.

Some of the approaches I have seen used include functional resumes, (which are only used by someone with something to hide), and lately more often, the leaving out of all of the jobs earlier in your career. (Like, duh, you started your first job as Chief Financial Officer.)

That which is true or not true in this world is often hard to know. Yes, your most recent 10 years of experience are what is most important, but leaving off the earliest 20 years creates a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. If you confuse me, chances are I am just going to move on to the next resume if I am looking for candidates for some job. No one has the time. And, what is worse, no one is fooled.

At some point in most of our careers we were auditors. Even if you weren’t, detecting patterns in financial data is what we do for a living. Consider that there are those out in the world who read resumes for a living. Trust me, after reviewing 80,000 candidates for membership in The FENG since 1997, the patterns are obvious. Reading between the lines isn’t difficult.

There are certainly issues that you need to address in your resume. Since most members move from large firms to small ones, I would suggest that appearing to be “hands on” is important. This is accomplished, not by diminishing your titles, but rather by citing hands on activities. These can perhaps be things you have done recently on a consulting basis.

You can make your resume work for you or against you. The choice is yours. The product we sell of “been there, done that” is compelling if presented properly. Why would any employer want to pay for someone to learn on the job when they can find someone already trained? (Some questions don’t really have rational answers.)

There is a lot of prejudice out there in “the world.” Don’t be a part of it. If you believe that you can bring value, don’t hide it. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

(I used to be modest, but it actually is more fun being boastful.)

Regards, Matt

Am I qualified?

One of my friends used to call me “the can do” guy. (Now he calls me “Mr. Chairman.”) I know he meant it in the nicest possible way and I suppose that in many respects I am the can do guy. There really isn’t much that I won’t tackle. Perhaps it comes from my Midwest self-reliance or the fact that I worked construction in my youth. (Or perhaps it is my wasted adulthood as a sailor?)

All of this leads me to believe that regardless of what it says in most job postings, I know that with enough time there are few issues that I couldn’t solve. (And, they would be lucky to have me!)

However, am I really qualified for all of them? Clearly I am not. But how does one go about drawing the line? More importantly, why is it important that as a job applicant I take the time to make such distinctions?

The reading of job descriptions is more art than science. Most position descriptions are not especially well written. Are all the requirements real? (Do you really have to be 6 feet tall?)

Still, they are what they are. And, you need to read them carefully IF it is important.

Let us take off the table immediately most job leads from the major job boards. The truth is that if they have been foolish enough to expose an opportunity to the public at large that they are going to get bombed. The odds for your candidacy are very small, so if the job is where you would find it convenient, you fit the general description, and you have the time, you have nothing to lose. I would suggest you have at it.

Within our little society that we call The FENG, it is most important that you TAKE THE TIME to read and reread any and all position descriptions to which you are planning to respond if it has come from me or another member and it is preceded by “qualified members only, please use my name.”

These are the golden opportunities only available to members of our august body. If members play too loose with the “rules” we run the risk as an organization of alienating not only members of the search community who have placed their trust in us, but you also run the risk of embarrassing one of our members who has “bragged” about us to those offering great jobs.

In these cases we need to be concerned about the greater good. What are the must haves? If you don’t have one or more of the must haves, consider not responding. Search firms get paid to deliver a specific result. If just a capable person could do the job, the client wouldn’t have engaged a search firm and agreed to pay them 30% of base pay. To earn their fees they take great pains to deliver EXACTLY what the client asks for. No exceptions.

Are all of the “must haves” valid? That is often not for you to say.

Perhaps you have something in your background that is so overwhelmingly appropriate to the position in question that it may in fact be sufficient to override one of the must haves you are missing. If the industry is a small one and that is where you achieved most of your experience, exceptions can and will be made.

No one is ever a perfect fit based on the job description. In truth, even the final candidate.

What we are trying to achieve is the best result for everyone. When dealing with strangers, you are not at risk of offending anyone. When dealing with friends of your friends, due caution and thoughtful consideration are very much in order.

As a rule, hitting 75% of the points and most of the important ones is key. This is what works best and will ensure that The FENG will continue to be a well respected organization and a resource for those seeking talented financial executives.

A big goal, but then, I was never one for taking on small challenges and I am sure you aren’t either.

Regards, Matt

A little breathing room

I have often been heard to say, “Cash is a four letter word.”

It is for this reason that taking a sound approach to your job search REQUIRES that you have your financial house in order. There is nothing that is more distracting than to be concerned about your finances during a search.

With any luck, you have hopefully been fortunate to save a little money, and/or have equity in your home. However, regardless of where you have assets you can tap, it is sage advice to get yourself as liquid as possible. If you have equity in the house and your significant other is working, it is usually possible to refinance or get a second mortgage on their income alone.

Of particular concern is ensuring that you have enough cash to make the payments to keep the house and maintain the important parts of your life style.

But, don’t kid yourself. Much as a sailor who abandons ship, one never knows how long you will be in the lifeboat, and that is the problem that defies our logic. How long to plan for?

What you don’t want to happen is to be forced into making decisions because you run out of cash. If you set about to make yourself flush with cash and spend it wisely, with any luck, you will be “rescued” before your resources are depleted.

Key to this is, of course, insurance coverage. Insurance is to cover catastrophic losses, and in your weakened condition there is the very real risk that some unpredictable event will deplete your cash.

As I learned many years ago, disability coverage is not available when you are unemployed and that it isn’t part of COBRA. The time to arrange coverage for this very real risk is when you are working. Make it your first order of business when you are back on payroll.

Don’t avoid the hard decisions related to your lifestyle choices. Sure, you may find a job soon, but then again it may take longer. Opt for early choices in the process that will give you the breathing room you need to avoid taking jobs you know you should refuse.

The job search process is a stressful event. If you want to be able to maintain your full focus on what is important, you need to get and keep your financial house in order.

Bring the WHOLE family into the discussion. I think you will be surprised how everyone will rise to the occasion and how much more pleasant life will be if they all know the “rules of engagement.”

You can’t afford to be stressed about your finances when you are looking for a job. You are likely to be stressed enough about your search. Sure, you are bleeding cash, but with any luck you will find another job and have a few years to restore your finances to some level.

Ensuring you have breathing room will relax you and allow you to pour all of your considerable energies into networking, networking, and more networking.

Remember, no one is out of work forever. It just seems that way.

Regards, Matt

Don’t forget your business cards

I assume that most folks will not be working a full day in the office tomorrow. I know I won’t be.

I just thought I would remind everyone that holiday time is networking time. Those family and friend get-togethers this time of year are great networking events.

While it would probably be bad form to bring copies of your resume, there is nothing to stop you from bringing business cards and from chatting about your career with those you meet. While the family may know how to reach you, their many friends who might be attending won’t.

Business cards are in some respects a gift. When you hand someone your business card, they are sort of obligated to give you one of theirs. Don’t miss this golden opportunity to connect with individuals who you have met on a very social basis.

Social meetings, as opposed to formal networking events, allow everyone to be very open and frank. They are in most respects better because they have that element of friendship associated with them, even though you may be “buying them a drink” at someone else’s expense.

To carry paper and a pen to a social event is a little over the top. By having cards, you can easily pass on your contact information to those you meet.

Be sure to keep your story positive. I would even encourage you to chat about The FENG as a way of getting started.

You all belong to the world’s largest networking group for senior financial officers. Our traditions of helping one another and sharing job leads is an unbelievable tale and one I am sure each of you can milk to great effect (even though you will probably be drinking something else).

So, enjoy your time off. I will hopefully be out sailing.

Regards, Matt

The golden rule – revisited

As you all know, I get a lot of email. Most of it is actually pretty routine.

There are the inevitable members asking for the user name and password for our website or to have their email address changed. Each week I also get a few good news announcements. (I always enjoy being the first to know. Okay, you can call your significant other first.)

It is rare that I get a note indicating that members are being unresponsive to one another. Yes, I am sure it happens a lot. And, sure, you can write it off to the fact that we have gotten to be a large organization, but frankly, I cannot and will not ever accept that as an explanation.

If there is any complaint that I hear more often than any other it is “I wish they would just get back to me.” The life of those who are active in their search is filled with days of making phone calls and writing letters. Generally speaking, not the satisfying work of making spreadsheets and sitting in budgeting and planning meetings those in the world of work so enjoy.

You would think that since all of us have been unemployed at one time or another, that we would remember how it felt to contact others for help and not receive the courtesy of a response. I can tell you that I remember, and that is one of the reasons that I try very hard to return all my phone calls and respond to all the email I get. (Okay, I sometimes run behind on responding to email, but I really try to catch up at least once a week!)

This is not a job listing service. Yes, we do publish about 400+ pages of job leads each month, but first and foremost, we are a circle of friends.

Just as friends don’t let friends drive drunk, friends also shouldn’t let messages from friends go unanswered.

What I would ask each member of our august body to keep in mind is that each person who reaches out to you is a friend of another member. If you expect the friends you sponsor to receive a warm response when they call other members, how can you not feel it incumbent upon you to act the same way?

The FENG is a sponsorship based organization. Each member of The FENG was sponsored by a friend. We are not a fee for service.

The price you pay for being a member is the joy of making yourself available to other members. Your turn to receive this gift back may or may not ever come. Hopefully not, but the odds are that if and when you need assistance this organization will be there for you.

As I have been heard to say: Every day and in every way, it all starts with you.

Being available and responsive to other members isn’t an “obligation.” It is a gift that you will find to be more rewarding than you can imagine.

Trust me, I’m the poster child on this one.

Regards, Matt

Birds of a feather

We are fortunate in the financial professions to be blessed with a very high degree of transferable skills.

Still, the next job for most of us isn’t going to be all that much different from our last one. While it is certainly possible that we will change industries, it is less likely that we will change the skill sets needed in our day to day work.

What typically happens in any recession is that certain industries take a downward turn and many of the folks in those industries lose their jobs. It used to be that this was limited to old line industries, but as we have seen in recent years, it can even affect the stars of just last year.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense would of course decide that an industry in decline is probably not the place to focus a job search. With all of the talent being downsized, right sized or whatever you would like to call it, if you are from one of the industries affected, you probably are looking elsewhere.

But where should you look?

Here is another area where you have an advantage as a member of The FENG, because the best place to network is in your very own industry. Okay, you don’t want to go back there and in fact you probably can’t. But, where is everyone going? The approach I would suggest is to contact your fellow members of The FENG who have an industry link to you and find out what they are thinking.

Birds of a feather should flock together. The reason is as basic as “two heads are better than one.” (I sure am full of trite sayings tonight!)

Networking is a process of connecting with others in such a way that they will be comfortable sending you to others they know. The more someone is comfortable with your background, and if you are from the same industry they are going to really understand, the more likely they will actually have good suggestions.

The “problem” of finding the right places to focus your energies will yield all of the possible solutions if you talk to the right people. Not only that, but you can try out your own directional ideas on others, who again, really understand what you used to do every day.

As exciting as drastic career change may appear on the surface (I always wanted to be an airline pilot), the truth is that we are not as likely to be successful as when we make a gradual change that utilizes most of our skill sets.

For those tied to geography we have our many chapters around the country. For those who match a special interest group, we have those too.

And, all immediately available out on our website: www.thefeng.org. (Knock twice and ask for Joe. Your user name is your email address for the newsletter, and if you haven’t set up a password, just click “I forgot my password” and a one-time only link will be sent to your email address.)

You can then dive into using our Member Directory Search feature.

Regards, Matt

What do companies want?

 

I have written on many occasions about how to structure your resume. I have also written about bringing your resume through stages of development. Like any selling document it is essential that you keep it growing and fresh.

Going through the birth pangs of building your resume can often feel like you are taking out your own appendix without the benefit of anesthetic. (Actually, it is a little more painful.)

Still, without this important document looking its best you are going to be hard pressed to be selected out of a batch of 200+ resumes.

After you have the framework easy to read (there are model resumes out on our website), and you have polished the prose, the next stage is to listen very carefully to any customers you may encounter for your services.

The sense I frequently get from our members is the mistaken belief that they are like a remarkable power tool of some kind and if they just describe the tool with its shiny chrome finish and rechargeable battery (and it comes with lots of accessories), they will be selected for that wonderful job they have always wanted.

As I learned in my many years in the advertising business, people don’t want ¼ inch drill bits, they want ¼ inch holes. And, they want to be able to drill lots and lots of them in all kinds of materials. The best approach is to position your product (which is you) as the solution to their problem of the day.

Inexperienced sales folks do something called “throwing up on the customer.” They are so imbued with product knowledge that they want to share (before they forget it) that they do most of the talking. They never actually hear what the customer wants or needs. Never mind whether or not their product will satisfy his/her needs.

If you think of any job search as a series of successive approximations (I do love that phrase), the first stage to you getting in front of someone who is interested in your services is a job posting or phone call. It is sort of like the old “run it up the flag pole and see who salutes.” Out of this process, which might initially include most of humanity, comes those who feel they fit.

You have in front of you the CUSTOMER’S requirements, and you think you fit. The question I would have for you is do you actually take a hard look at your resume to see if you are selling what they want? Yes, I know you feel as if you can do what they need done, but is your resume going to “sell” you into that situation?

Believe me, I have been there. Having multiple resumes is a real nuisance. (Frankly, it is hard enough just to write one version and have it print correctly.) But without the ability to take the requirements of the job and point to specific things on your resume, any reviewer is going to be hard pressed to put you in the “for further review” pile.

On just the basics of the resumes I see each week, I am always astounded how difficult most folks make it to pick out company names and titles. More specific details and difficult to define qualities are even harder to find.

For example, I try to make sure that each of our new members is placed into appropriate special interest groups. Take manufacturing for example. When I see an industrial company I sort of assume the prospective member has a wealth of manufacturing experience. It is kind of hard to hang out in that kind of environment and not absorb something. (Look at my knowledge of advertising and publishing. And, those weren’t even my job responsibilities.) However, there is often no mention of such involvement and I have to assume that they are leading with their best. (I guess they only did general accounting.)

I once had a second conversation with one of our many friends in the search community. I had explained at great length (and those who know me know I CAN talk) about “qualified members only please use my name in contacting” and how this delivered only those who fit.

Well, she accepted my challenge and called all who applied even if she didn’t think from WHAT THEY HAD SENT that this was the case.

Although there were a select few who shouldn’t have applied, the primary problem was “a failure to communicate.”

So, the next time you find a really juicy posting in our newsletter, take and minute and see if you can find the issues described in the posting on your resume. (Yes, I know, I’m tired of reading your resume too!)

You may find that you are leaving your sales pitch half done. And in this case, half done isn’t much better than neglecting to apply.

Regards, Matt

Unsolicited advice

There was a cartoon I saw many years ago. The picture was of a man playing a piano in what was obviously western saloon. The sign above the piano read: “Don’t shoot the piano player. He’s doing the best he can.”

I have often lamented that the most difficult task I face each day is getting our members to seek out the advice and counsel of other members in the process we call networking.

I don’t know exactly why it is, but for some genetic reason, men don’t like unsolicited advice. And, for those of us who like to give out a lot of advice, it can be a difficult task to make a suggestion and have it actually received as information that is acted upon.

When members call me for advice, I try to stick to the subjects they bring up and want me to address. But, being a “Mr. Know-it-all,” I sometimes can’t help myself from picking up on additional issues that need to be discussed. I know it is a minefield, but I go anyway.

No one is perfect. And, I go into “the valley of death” safe in the knowledge that in the process of extending the hand of friendship, I may very well pull back a bloody stump.

As all of you know, one of my big issues is outgoing signatures. For those of you who have not yet attended my “Mr. Rogers” class on this topic, the purpose of an outgoing signature is to make it possible for those impulsive individuals like myself to actually call or write to you without looking up your contact information when we receive an email from you. (Keep in mind that not everyone has a secret decoder ring as I do, and they may not actually know your phone number or email address off the top of their heads.) So, when members write to me without an outgoing signature, I always write back “May I suggest” rather than “How could you be so silly as to not have.” I guess that’s why I am known as “Gentle Matt.”

I suppose I could refuse to answer anyone who didn’t have an outgoing signature. In the alternate, I could make them stand in the corner or cut off their newsletter for a few days, but I’m not that kind of person.

My personal beliefs about what works best are my personal beliefs. I can try to teach them to others, but as you know, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

What I would like everyone to understand is that everyone knows that men don’t like unsolicited advice. So, the next time someone offers you some information that you didn’t ask to receive, before you bite their heads off, you might want to take a moment to reflect on the bravery involved in them trying to put you back on the path from which you have strayed.

Is it possible you are actually wrong? Well, I’m not going to go that far. But just remember that if you reject someone’s advice out of hand even once, you are not likely to be the recipient of this gift a second time. Hey, I’m a sensitive guy. Appear to deny my well meaning suggestions and I am not likely to take that risk again.

Okay, I’m dumb enough to try again, but I don’t think most folks are.

Regards, Matt

The truth, as retold by ….

I am always impressed by the eternal truthfulness of the many members of this august body. Unfortunately, it is one of the many things about us as financial folks that gets in the way of our finding a new job.

As many of you know, I spent 9 years as Chief Financial Officer of an advertising agency. I won’t say from this public platform that I worked with a bunch of liars (please keep in mind that I didn’t say this), but it often felt like those around me were lying even when it wasn’t necessary, just so they wouldn’t get out of practice.

Kind of like on that old TV show “Get Smart” — Would you believe???

Anyway, the issue at hand is coming up with an appropriate explanation for whatever has happened to you in the last piece of time. Perhaps you got into an ongoing argument with your immediate boss. (He wanted to cheat the government or the stockholders and you didn’t think it was a smart thing to do, and you fought about it.) Frankly, it could be just about any topic. The net result is that you are again in the market and you have this little hole in your resume.

Well, join the club. I was out of work for almost two years and that was followed by a 5 month stint in a job from “heck.” I really was in need of an explanation for that one!

And, as one of my friends who was a recruiter would tell me, inquiring minds want to know why you left.

My first suggestion is to tell the truth. Now I am not talking about the whole truth. I am talking about the essence of the truth. (As you can imagine, we each in our own way can sure rattle on. FASB what?)

To supplement the truth, you also need to know what exactly your former boss is going to say about you. Sure, you would rather not use him as a reference, and you probably won’t list him, but you need to be concerned that someone who may want to hire you knows him, or knows others who do.

So, the approach is to call and ask what he will say. Don’t suggest things for him/her to say. The reason I say this is that in the heat of the moment your carefully scripted response may be forgotten. Call and ask what will be said if he/she is asked for a reference on you and carefully listen to and write down the answer. DON’T RESPOND! First of all, there is no point, and secondly, that is not how you are going to use it.

If asked for a reference from your most recent employer you are going to repeat the exact words you just recorded for the person seeking the referral and then you are going to add that they need to understand the circumstances under which you left. Whatever are the “rational man” circumstances for your departure is what is needed here. Don’t rattle on at length or you fall into “The lady doth protest too much methinks” syndrome. Just be matter of fact about it. Hey, you’re an adult and your boss was an adult and you agreed to disagree. End it with “You may call if you want to, but this is what will be said.”

If they call, there will be no surprises on the part of the person seeking the referral. This is the important part. Since you copied down the exact words, they should pretty much match with the “caught off guard response” from that individual “with whom you spent so many pleasant hours.” Since there is no difference, their opinion doesn’t matter. You have already explained it away!

As all of you also know, I am an avid sailor and as such I am much practiced at telling tall tales. So, if you need help from the Chairman of the Spin Meister committee, I hope you will feel free to call upon my services. Please keep in mind that my nose is already long enough and I won’t lean toward lying. (Not for you or anyone!) But putting a positive spin on any situation, now that is something I can do. (I just hope you will be comfortable with it.)

(In one of my favorite episodes of the Matt Bud chronicles, when told that the key points presented by a committee of which I was a part were rejected out of hand, I responded with “I guess this means there was less than total acceptance of our ideas.”)

Regards, Matt

Selling from an empty wagon

I often get the feeling listening to members of The FENG that they feel like they are selling from an empty wagon. Friends, it just isn’t true.

What triggered tonight’s editorial was a few comments I got from one of our members about the issue of dates for your college degrees. The “product” you need to always be selling is your wealth of experience. Everyone doesn’t want the product, but those that do are willing to pay for it.

In classic marketing terms, if you try to sell a product based on attributes it doesn’t have, it is considered an over promise. You are a lot better off presenting a realistic picture.

We have all seen ads for the airlines and they frequently promise good food. For anyone who has flown recently, we all know what an over promise this is. Just exactly what kind of food can be prepared in an airplane galley that would qualify as good food? What if they promised you bad food and suggested you brought your own? Well, at least you wouldn’t be disappointed.

What has changed in your job search as a senior executive is that your senior level skill set is not as widely applicable as your skill set was when you were early in your career. There aren’t as many jobs at the top. We all have to recognize that the pyramid is smaller at the top.

The result is that we are all required to search that much harder to discover the same NUMBER of possibilities as we might have felt were adequate at any one time earlier in our career.

But let’s get back to the product. The product is you and your wealth of experience in solving problems.

Over the course of a long career, there are many problems that have only occurred a few times. This is normal. If you follow my logic, as a senior executive, what may appear as a new problem to someone early in his/her career is an old one and easily solved one for you.

This is what you have to focus on in presenting your background.

If you lay out this wealth of problem solving ability in easy to understand terms you will be that much further along in selling what IS in the wagon.

Regards, Matt

Practice makes perfect

Although we are all familiar with the above expression, I am not sure if everyone understands the importance of this idea to his or her search and how to get to where you need to be.

The “big show” is of course an interview. When you finally get yourself in front of a hiring manager all aspects of your performance need to be polished. This is not the time to be “practicing” your elevator speech when he/she says “So, tell me about yourself.”

We are fortunate within The FENG to have lots of opportunities to practice our pitch.

Let’s start with our many chapter meetings. What better place is there to work on that 90-second announcement? You have a friendly audience, and you have the opportunity to hear others who have backgrounds similar to yours present their credentials as well. If you don’t pick up at least one good idea from every meeting you attend, then you probably fell asleep.

You just can’t discuss your credentials often enough.

In my old age, I have become quite the storyteller. Some of my stories my wife has heard many times, like how The FENG got started and what it is all about. I am fortunate that I have my own personal “fly on the wall” to offer me a critique now and then, and it has helped me shape what I say and enabled me to shorten it considerably. (Okay, I still rattle on a little too much, but the topic is pretty exciting!)

Working the phones is also a tough thing. But, it is a skill you have to build. So, you have to ask yourself, where can I find a friendly audience to practice on? Guess what? There are about 50 of those folks available each week. I call them our new members!

Print off that list and search for someone, anyone, with whom you can establish some kind of relationship. Do they live near you? Did they work at some firm you also worked at? Friends, any excuse will due. As you roll through your greeting and introduction you will of course have to do a short presentation on your background. There really is no better way to practice. You may even become a better listener as you practice absorbing what they have to say about themselves.

And, who knows? You might even make a new friend or two or three.

How about writing? Well, you can always write letters introducing yourself to other members of The FENG. Who knows? They might even write back. You can practice attaching your resume. You might even want to name the file LastNameFirstName.doc so the recipient will be able to save it to their hard drive where they have their resume saved as resume.doc. (I always hate over writing my own resume, don’t you?)

The resources within The FENG to practice your performance can be invaluable. Please use them!

When you move from off Broadway to the real thing, we want the critics to give you a glowing write up in newspaper. (And, hopefully you will deserve it!)

Regards, Matt

Can you hear me now?

I still remember with fondness the cell phone commercial where the technician is in the middle of a swamp somewhere and he is testing his cell coverage. I don’t know where he might be, but he isn’t here in Weston, Connecticut where we have limited cell coverage. (Thank goodness, Sprint, in their wisdom, has provided me with a repeater.)

Despite the convenience of being able to make and receive calls anywhere (including when I am crossing Long Island Sound in my sailboat), the use of cell phones is to be approached with a great deal of caution. The fact that it really isn’t your fault that you can’t be heard will be long forgotten. All that will be remembered is that you were shouting and repeating yourself.

In addition, if you leave a message and the individual you call doesn’t call you back, you might want to call them back. I have had many messages left on my telephone over the past year that went dead just when the caller got to the part about his/her phone number. Sorry, but if you aren’t in my address book and I couldn’t make out your name or the phone number, it is going to take me longer to get back to you. As a general rule, it doesn’t hurt to repeat your phone number twice so that if you wander into “cell phone heck,” I will still be able to call you back.

Droning on at length, whether calling from a cell phone or a land line is also a bad idea. I have a lot of nice features on my phone. I can play back whole messages or just parts, but it is still a burden to have to listen to a long phone message. If your phone number is buried somewhere in the middle, it can be challenging for me to find it after I have listened to your entire message. I always like to confirm that I have written your number down correctly, just in case you are calling from one different than the one in my address book. Oh, and when you get to the phone number part of your message, DON’T SPEED UP. Yes, I know you are quite familiar with your phone number and I am sure you can repeat it several times while holding a lit match, but please don’t try to impress me.

In addition, much as I enjoy a good game of telephone tag, make it easy for me and let me know a good time to call back. I may be one of the most persistent folks on this earth, but everyone isn’t, so try to be considerate of the fact that others are easily frustrated. (They just don’t know how important you are.)

If people are going to be calling you back, and I hope they will, be sure you have a professional sounding answering machine or service, just in case you aren’t there. There is nothing worse than trying to leave a message with a small child or someone who doesn’t speak English. (Sorry, it is the only language I speak, and some folks might dispute even that!) If there are issues in your household, consider getting a private line for your business calls or getting voice mail from your telephone company. No one should ever get a busy signal.

When you call, please clearly identify yourself and how I know you. Trust me, I really do know all of you, but unfortunately, an amazing number of you have the same first and last name. Give me a few hints so I don’t feel stupid asking you to elaborate. (You know what a sensitive guy I am.)

Well, that should about do it. I do hope to hear from each of you from time to time. Anyone who calls tomorrow from a cell phone with a garbled message and a quickly spoken phone number will only have themselves to blame for not reading this editorial.

Regards, Matt

Before you click send

The fun never stops here at world headquarters of The FENG. I get more amusing emails probably than anyone else on the face of the earth.

Let’s start with the use of “Matt’s secret decoder ring.” Thank goodness it is made out a durable electronic material. Each day about 75% of the emails I get lack an outgoing signature. Now I know that learning how to create an outgoing signature could take upwards of 15 minutes and that your time is best spent elsewhere, but it sure would help me to immediately know who you are and how to reach you.

A proper outgoing signature should include your full name, street address, city, state, zip code, phone numbers and email address. Yes, I know that your email address appears at the top of your message, but unless I print your email, it isn’t always visible on my computer screen.

If you have written something to me that requires a “call to action,” I want to be able to immediately reach for my phone or forward something to you.

Then there are the messages that have been forwarded several times and the lines are all “kaflooey.” (Is kaflooey a great word or what?) If you have an important message to send to someone you “love” like me, it sure would be nice if it were easy to read. Original messages do okay, but some of the forwarded ones are truly a piece of work. (And, I have more than enough work to do.)

Keep in mind that we haven’t even gotten to the presumed skill required of all senior executives of being able to communicate one’s ideas in a coherent fashion. I actually got a 3 paragraph note of sponsorship this past week that went to great lengths to extol the virtues of the individual being proposed for membership, yet failed to mention that person’s name. Not only that, but they weren’t copied on the note, nor was their resume attached. (Yes I know, hard to believe.)

We have come a long way since the beginning of email, which began somewhat akin to the use of the citizens band radio with cutesy “handles” and abbreviated writing styles. Email is now used for business, and in the case of job search almost exclusively instead of stamped envelopes. It should now be considered a professional form of communication and treated with all the respect implied by that categorization.

So, we all have to grow up. If your email service doesn’t provide easy grammar and spell checking, consider writing your note in Word first. You can then cut and paste your communications into your email and they will look and be experienced on the receiving end as the professional missives that they are intended to be.

Remember, friends don’t let friends sound silly when they send email. (Or the email message you save may be your own.)

Regards, Matt

Reinforcing appropriate behavior

In one of the jobs I had early in my career I was Business Manager for the College Publishing division of CBS.

It was an interesting job. All of the folks around me were well educated and always testing my knowledge and experience. They were also great teachers.

One of our most popular books at that time was “Understanding Human Behavior.” I believe the author was a Jim McConnell. Anyway, to celebrate the fact that his book sold over 100,000 copies (which is a lot for a College textbook), he was invited to come to New York City. He took that occasion to speak to our organization and I was fortunate to be in attendance because I learned something that I use almost every day: Ignore all deviant behaviors and reinforce all appropriate behaviors.

In the “management by exception” world in which we live, this can be a difficult philosophy to live by, but I try and I hope you will too.

Let’s start with the negative or deviant behaviors. There are those members who from time to time don’t show enough common courtesy to say “thank you” when you respond to their “Member in need of assistance” postings. Didn’t their parents teach them manners? Well, in keeping with Jim’s approach, sending them a nasty note is probably the wrong thing to do. Not sure why “bringing the hammer down on them” doesn’t have the desired effect of changing their behavior, but it doesn’t. On the other hand, if you get a thank you note for something you have done, do you send back a thank you note for the thank you note? Well, YES! Always reinforce appropriate behaviors!

Let’s say you are the one who has posted that request for assistance. Would you like to ensure that others can get their fellow members to respond? The approach I would suggest is to send an appropriately effusive thank you note. Reinforce the behavior of the members who have taken the time to try to help. All behaviors you reinforce, you get more of.

You may have noticed that from time to time I receive a wonderful editorial contribution from one of our members. Have you focused on how I handle it? First, I write a very positive introduction thanking the member in question, and then (in keeping with my “evil plan” to get more interesting articles for you to read) I ask all of you to write to this very kind member and thank them for jotting down their thoughts and sending them in.

If you feel you have been slighted by a member, what should you do? Under Jim’s approach, ignore it. With almost 40,000 members, we can have ourselves a very nice little society just by reinforcing the positive behaviors of our fellow members when we catch them doing something right. The trick is that every time you catch them, you need to reinforce their behavior.

Friends, we have a good thing going with The FENG. It is the largest organization of senior financial executives in the United States and by implication in the entire world. We are well known and well respected for all the things we do for each other.

Still, there is more for us to do. We have the opportunity as The FENG matures to make the ties that bind us together even stronger. Remember, we aren’t a job listing service (despite the job leads we publish in our evening newsletter), we are a NETWORKING group.

All you have to do is keep in mind that every day and in every way, it all begins with you!

When you catch your fellow members doing something right, be sure to let them know.

Regards, Matt

A time of renewal

Although everyone thinks that spring is a time of renewal, actually (just like networking) any point in time and any excuse will do.

For those of us who are in their 40’s and 50’s, periods of unemployment early in our career have probably been non-existent. The experience of being unemployed can be stressful unless you use the time to good advantage.

One way of doing this is to, in part, create a new you. I’m not talking about plastic surgery but there are always things you can do that will make you into a “new” person.

After you have gone through the initial steps of preparing your job campaign and networking with everyone you can think of, it may be time to take a little breather and think about what you have done with your life so far, and what you want to do with over the next 20 years. (If you like shorter time frames, pick 5 years.)

There is an old saw about no one ever voicing regret on his or her deathbed about not having spent more time at the office. Alas, it is unfortunately true. In the rush to earn a living, we can easily forget what is really important in our lives.

Have you really spent as much time with your children and your significant other as you would like to? (Everyone can say it together – NO!) Believe it or not, during a period of unemployment it is even more important to spend time with those folks. The stress of a job search is not only borne by you. It is also borne by those around you. A little time spent can move mountains. (And, it won’t hurt you either!)

Have you read any good books lately or gone to a baseball game? (Or, whatever is your sport of choice?) These are important activities, which if done when you can’t make phone calls anyway, will put you in a more relaxed and hence better frame of mind for the battle ahead.

Are you on a regular exercise program? Every morning it is “one two, one two, one two” here in the Bud household. (Now the other eyelid!) Actually my wife and I try to go to the gym 2-3 times a week. And, during the summer we take our bikes down to the beach and bicycle where it is level and there is no traffic.

Have you bought yourself some new clothes? Clothes make the man or women. Don’t get carried away, but a few new items that will make you FEEL rich can’t hurt.

The point here is that you need to take this break in what was your normal routine to make your life a little better.

Who knows, this time may prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Regards, Matt

Awaiting a rising tide

Although I would never willingly admit it, over the nearly 35 years I have been sailing I have had occasion to go aground. (It is always an embarrassing situation.)

One time I dragged anchor in a storm (that I can assure you was not in the forecast) and the other times I managed to wander too far out of the main channel. The tidal drop in Long Island Sound where I do most of my sailing can be as much as 8 feet. For most of my sailing life I have had boats that draw around 4-5 feet. At high tide you can easily pass over areas that are exposed at low tide. (For those of you not familiar with tidal patterns, there are for all practical purposes two high and two low tides daily.)

If you’re smart, you stay in marked channels as much as possible. That way it is harder to make a mistake. But sometimes you just get distracted. Or, since I have a sailboat, when the wind is blowing from the EXACT direction you want to go, you try tacking your way out of the harbor and attempt to get the most distance to your desired destination out of each tack. (Sailboats can’t sail into the eye of the wind.) Unfortunately, charts are not always totally correct.

Anyway, when you do go aground, your first concern is whether the tide is falling or rising. If it is falling, especially with an 8 foot tidal drop, you need to worry about laying the boat over on its side if you do nothing. Time is of the essence. (See, I even included a legal term in an editorial largely about sailing!) If you act quickly and don’t do something stupid like try to drive through what you assume is a small shallow spot, you may even be able to power off. Heading back the way you came sometimes works. Turning the boat broadside to the wind so she heels over a bit to reduce your draft also works sometimes.

While you CAN wait for a rising tide, it is rarely the best option.

I know all of you are wondering how I am going to tie this to job search. Well, here it is.

Those of you who are currently active in your job search who are waiting for the job market to improve so you will have more job leads to chew on are doing the equivalent of waiting for a rising tide.

While the economic news is encouraging, the reality is that the structure of the job market in PUBLISHED jobs has changed as evidenced by the lack of jobs in our newsletter, unless, of course, all of you are holding out and not sharing your leads. (At one time we had as much as 100+ pages of leads on Sunday evenings.)

Waiting for job leads to appear is called passive job searching, and as I tell my wife all the time, government studies have proven over and over again that passive job searching doesn’t work. (By the way, when I use this line of argument, it is because I don’t have any supporting data, but when you claim you saw a government study most everyone believes you.)

Lots of things are disrupting the traditional job market as we have come to know (and love) it over our early career. Huge numbers of traditional recruiters, both retained and contingency, have left the business. Newspaper job ads haven’t been significant in an eternity. The job boards have pretty much trashed themselves by allowing anyone to respond to any posting and by not making any attempt to vet the jobs they post.

Whatever you are planning to do with your career, you would at ALL times be best advised to just get about doing it. And I hope that your primary activity is our enduring mantra of NETWORKING, NETWORKING AND MORE NETWORKING.

When you are hard aground, not much else works.

Truth be told, there may not be a lot of PUBLISHED jobs out there in the world, but my reading of the newspaper every day tells me that there are still a lot of PROBLEMS in the world of business, ones that all of you are uniquely able to solve.

All you have to do is go out there and find them.

Fair winds always, Matt

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

So, you have actually done it. A company has put you through the wringer and forced you to interview with just about everyone at the firm. You have beaten the competition to a pulp. You are standing all alone in your victory.

Now comes the moment of truth. They ask you for references. Like you didn’t know this was coming.

Let’s start with the idea that it is a commonly held belief that no one gives references that will say anything bad about them. This is the high standard to which you are going to be held. So, choose your references carefully.

The rub comes in when they ask you for specific kinds of references. So, in the hopes that each of you reaches this wonderful situation where you have the job almost within your grasp, let me make a few suggestions.

Normally companies ask for 3-5 references. The best companies ask you to provide someone to whom you directly reported, a peer and finally someone who reported to you. Just like Santa Claus, you need to make your list and check it twice.

Now that you have your list pulled together, you need to prepare your references. Again, everyone is expecting that you have only given them people who will say nice things. Before you have the need, provide these very kind individuals with a copy of your resume and go over it with them. I know this can be a delicate situation, especially with people you have worked with recently, but if they are going to say the RIGHT nice things about you, they have to know what you feel is important about your background, and hopefully that information is on your resume. When it gets down to the “short strokes” where they are going to actually be speaking with someone, you will want to provide them with another copy of your resume and perhaps the job description for that potential job.

The really difficult part of providing references is that all of us are so modest that often times the people around us, other than knowing we are hard working and honest, really don’t know what we do and how wonderful we are. This is why your preparation of references is so important.

When asked for someone you reported to recently, there is the possibility that you didn’t leave on good terms, or that you didn’t work for this individual long enough for them to really appreciate your fine qualities. I suppose there is also the possibility that they might have been the reason you left the company, even if you didn’t tell them they were. Still, you have to put them down or your reference list will look suspect.

Here is where our financial training pays off. We live by the rule of no surprises. The approach you have to take when you are required to provide as references individuals who might say the wrong thing is to prepare the person who will be calling your references.

I know there is the possibility that the evil or very grumpy person you worked for or with at the last job will rise to the occasion, but there is the more likely possibility that they may very well rain on your parade. So, make sure you annotate these folks in the most polite way possible so your potential employer will hear what they expect to hear.

If your old boss is likely to be of a mind to damn you with faint praise, find a polite way to make that the expected answer.

Perhaps you are aware that the rules at your old firm prevent those giving references from saying much of anything out of fear of getting sued. You might want to mention that so it isn’t taken the wrong way.

This is a very dangerous time when the job is as good as yours and yet, it can slip from your grasp because some idiot doesn’t know what a great job you did. Don’t let it happen. We need you to get that job!

Those having additional suggestion on this perilous part of the employment process should send them to Leads@TheFENG.org for publication in our Notes from Members section.

Regards, Matt

Catching a tiger by the tail

I hope we all spend a lot of time networking. (To paraphrase René Descartes, the famous French philosopher: I network, therefore I am.)

So you have been hard at it. The FENG Member Directory Search feature is causing smoke to rise from your computer from over use, but incredible as it may seem, you have gotten an appointment with someone on your “A” list for an in person networking meeting.

Now is not the time to slack off. All of the hard work you have put into getting this appointment will be as ashes in your mouth if you don’t prepare properly. Let’s assume you don’t know everything there is to know about this valuable individual. What should you do?

Step one is to Google. Yes, Al Gore’s Internet is one of those valuable tools. You just never know what you can find out. Has this person published any articles you should read? What is his/her background? Many corporations very helpfully provide bios on their key people. Let me assure you that if you haven’t read everything that is publicly available, you are doing yourself a disservice.

I know your fingers are a little tired from running searches of The FENG Membership directory, but let’s not forget that people know people. If you have the time or can make the time, try to find someone who knows this person and can give you a little backgrounder. Does he/she have attention to detail? In other words, how much time will you really have? Why do you think your background might be of interest to them?

Trust me. No one wastes their time. While you are in there on a networking basis, there is always a hidden agenda. Perhaps YOU have some information in which THEY have interest. You may have some valuable insights into what they are doing based on your former employers. One of your many goals is to discover where their interests lie.

One of the best tools to bring with you to the meeting is a target company list. As with all things job search related like your 90-second announcement, it should be brief and targeted. By providing a list of sample companies, you will be helping your networking contact focus his/her mind. Not only that, but they will have something on which to make notes while you are chatting. Names of specific individuals you would like to meet with their titles also wouldn’t be “off the charts.” While they may not know the specific people you want to meet, they may know people with similar titles at similar companies.

And, when you are in there with “Mr./Ms. Big,” remember, God gave you two ears and only one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk. I don’t know if Yogi Berra actually said this, but if he didn’t he would have: You can hear a lot just by listening.

Golden opportunities are few and far between in this life, so make the most of every situation.

You just never know when that tiger you have by the tail will turn around and bite you or instead providing you with an incredible link you would never otherwise have had.

Let’s hope for the latter.

Regards, Matt

Catch me if you can

Several years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks starred in a movie about Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor. The basic story is that over the course of several years, Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks tracks down Frank Abagnale played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

I often feel like Carl Hanratty, only in my case, I am trying to track down members of The FENG. As Chairman of The FENG, I often feel that I could easily become a detective at this point in my life given the skills I have acquired.

I can’t believe how frequently during the day I get mystery messages from our many members, even members who are applying for assignments I are managing through The FECG, LLC. (Please visit our website to learn more about what we do: www.TheFECG.com)

Let me see if I can clarify a few obvious issues that all of you should be in compliance with if you are interested in pursuing gainful employment.

Your resume should have your points of contact. Period. I hear a lot of nonsense about identity theft, but honestly, unless you put your SSAN# and DOB on your resume, there is very little that someone can do to harm you.

Not being able to reach you WILL harm you. When someone wants to reach you, they want to reach you NOW. This means that if you have a day phone number, a cell phone and a home phone number, ALL of them should be on your resume.

If you can’t be reached at home during the day, do you really think people will generally try to call you at night? Yes, I know you may not have privacy at work, but you should only be so lucky as to get a call. If you want your day phone to be your cell phone, you might want to check it once in a while. And yes, a physical address is necessary so I know what time zone you are in. With number portability and no land line, the area code isn’t as helpful as it used to be.

This same story is true for the email address you use on your resume. I know you may find this hard to believe, but there are many of you out there (and you know who you are) who have set up special email addresses for your job search. The only problem is that you almost never check these addresses. And, when you do, you tend to do it in a rush and delete important messages (from me) along with the spam. (Again, you know who you are.)

No lecture about letting others catch you would be complete without my enduring lecture about outgoing signatures. Yes, I accept that all of you consider me a friend and you don’t use one with your friends, but what about when you are writing to me about one of my assignments? Would it be possible for you to include your FULL contact information then? What if I said please?

When it comes to messages I receive from our members when they need help, a FULL outgoing signature is a big help to my getting back to you. Sure, I have my secret decoder ring (The FENG membership directory), but I can assure you that the rest of the world is not so blessed. And, often times you want help at a time of change and none of the points of contact I have for you are still valid. (Again, those of you who have been guilty of this know who you are. The list is a little too long to include in this newsletter.)

And, for those members who are using a very old email address, please be reminded that the cutesy email address you created so many years ago (mine was CPTSafety) is meaningless to the rest of humanity and doesn’t look professional. Try to set one up that is your name and that doesn’t have numbers in it.

Believe me I would like to catch you. The real question is whether or not you want to be caught.

Regards, Matt

Phones don’t bite

One of our chapter chairs called me recently, and as usual when he calls, we had a wide ranging conversation about members of The FENG, friends (sometimes these two overlap), and family matters. There generally aren’t many moments of silence since we always have so much to talk about.

Since we are both networking maniacs, it is sometimes hard for us to understand why folks find it so difficult to network. Surely picking up the phone and at least calling other members of The FENG can’t be difficult. (This was the topic that we discussed at length.)

Then it hit me! Some of our members must think that phones have teeth. What else could it be?

Surely everyone in The FENG is aware that all of our members were also sponsored by a friend and that we have clearly let this whole friend thing get so out of hand that each and every member in good standing would let just about anything else in their life wait to take or return a call from another member. So, what could be the concern?

(Okay, don’t call me when I am heading off to lunch at 12:00 sharp. Food is important to me and I eat on a schedule. Other times are okay though. Even working on the newsletter can wait if I have an important call from one of our members.)

To pick up on a consistent theme, members of The FENG have walked a mile in your shoes, and sometimes even further. (So that’s why those damn things wore out so quickly. They were borrowed by one of our members!) Having experienced what you have or are experiencing, they are open to your networking calls and THEY WANT TO HELP. (If only someone would call me so I could help them, is what most members are thinking from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night. It is sort of a Maytag repairman thing.)

Friends, the welcome mat is out and freshly cleaned. It is only waiting for your arrival.

Our entire membership directory is out on our website and waiting for you to take our Member Directory Search feature for a test drive. I hope you will take this opportunity to check your listing to make sure it is correct. I also hope that you will dig through the incredible networking tool that is available to you and:

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!

(If you call me and don’t get through tomorrow it is because I am still trying to put my phone back together. I took it completely apart to check for teeth.)

Regards, Matt

Zen and the art of job search

I have never actually read any of the books that begin with the title I selected for this editorial, but I think I know what they were all about.

Okay, maybe I don’t. Still, the thought comes to mind upon reading one of the responses I received recently that there is one aspect of your required “job search attitude” that I should address.

Our mutual purpose in trying to explain how the world works is directed toward lessening the stress you feel when you are engaged in a search. It is easy to feel alone. It is easy to feel that no one cares about you. And, it is easy to feel that everyone else is getting called back, but you aren’t.

None of this is true of course. Those who treat you poorly treat just about everyone else the same way. Don’t feel singled out.

However, if you are to survive this process with your sense of humor and sense of self in good order, you might want to consider adopting a more appropriate job search attitude.

Very briefly, set your expectations as low as possible with regard to others being considerate of your feelings. Many of those with who you will be in touch have never “walked a mile in your moccasins” and they haven’t a clue what job search in mid-life is all about. With that in mind, you actually have to feel a little sorry for them. Perhaps we could conduct a little sensitivity training for them. (A new service from The FENG.)

Many folks feel that they can instill appropriate values in the entire world. Okay, sure, I am trying to at least do this within our circle of friends, but I have a leg up in that many of you already know each other. Our bond of friendship is where all of this begins. And hopefully each of you is working hard to increase your personal circle of friends and to be a friend within our august body.

For the rest of the world, relax and set your expectations low. If someone does actually get back to you, if someone does actually treat you with the great respect that I believe we all deserve, if someone goes out of their way when there is no obvious benefit to them, TAKE THE TIME TO REJOICE.

As one of my friends used to say all the time “Happiness is a choice.” Each day you can let the world get you down, or decide that this is the nicest thunderstorm you have ever been in and besides, that suit needed to go to the cleaners anyway. (I’m sure your shoes will dry.)

Regards, Matt

The excuse you can’t cure

The world of job search is filled with a lot of cruel jokes.

I have often argued that when the answer is no with respect to your candidacy, the best thing you can probably do is stop listening. The reason is that just about everything that follows will either not be entirely true or will be as close as words come to being an out and out lie. Those on the other side of the table often consider these statements “little white lies.”

The problem with the questionable statements of fact that come at you in these situations is that they have that glimmer of truth. And, since you are at a sensitive stage in your life, you tend to believe them to have more validity than they deserve.

The most common approach to turning down a candidate I describe as “the excuse you can’t cure.” It is totally lethal. And, if you internalize these statements of “fact” they will affect your ability to compete for other jobs.

An example would be someone telling you that if only you had a CPA, you would have gotten the job. Well, if you don’t have one, this is not something you will be able to fix over the short term, if at all. While this statement may not be total nonsense, I’m sure all of us could point out successful CFOs we know who don’t have a CPA certificate.

They may as well have told you that you were too short. This is another of the many issues about your credentials that you can’t fix. The list is endless. We were looking for someone from a top 5 business school. (Didn’t they read your resume?) We were hoping to fill this job locally. (Again, didn’t they read your resume?)

Too short. Too tall. Too many jobs. Too long at one company. (Do I need to go on?)

The absolute truth in these situations is that they have not selected you. The reason they use “the excuse you can’t cure” is that the real reason might be something you could sue them for.

Perhaps they wanted someone just like you, but younger. Perhaps they didn’t know your religion, ethnic background or race. All of these issues are present in the marketplace. We would like to think that we are all past this kind of irrelevant criteria, but you may as well believe in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus if you think prejudice doesn’t exist in the world.

The key issue is for you to know that when the answer is no, anything that is said shouldn’t be taken to heart.

After all, your fellow members of The FENG still respect you, as do your family and friends. It is their loss. Don’t add to the problem by believing in lies, white or any other color.

Regards, Matt

Job leads versus the job market

It is a true fact (as opposed to a false fact) that most people over value job leads. Perhaps I have said this before, but the real deal is networking, networking and more networking.

That said I thought it might be of interest to all of you for me to share my own personal theories as to why published job leads all seem to be out of town and/or require unusual skills.

Back in the bad old days before the Internet, job seekers here in the Northeast had the Sunday New York Times and the Tuesday Wall Street Journal to drool over. The Sunday New York Times had a lot of 2 line ads, which now based on the wisdom of my advanced years were clearly from recruiters trolling for resumes. Most likely they didn’t really have a specific job order in hand. Still, with nothing more important to do, I answered them. The comparable postings now are on the public job boards and they are every bit as worthless as the 2 line ads that preceded them.

The display ads were the fool’s gold of that era. Sometimes companies actually posted under their own names. But for the most part, the jobs that were being posted were out of town, or were vague in location.

Surprise! Even before the beginning of time itself, there has always been networking. A lot of the desirable jobs in major cities were filled before they could be posted. All that is left in Darwinian terms are the jobs that are hard to fill.

If you think about the total job market, the jobs for which you might be considered fall into only a few broad categories. First, there are the real posted jobs, some of which appear in our newsletter. Not all of them are out of town, but depending on the degree of difficulty in potentially filling them, most of them are.

Next we have jobs that are open, and step one today and in years past would be to “put the word out.” It is all so much easier today. If you need to fill a job in your industry, as an employer all you have to do is let your staff circulate it to their friends. You have all heard the expression “Birds of a feather flock together.” People in the real estate business know other people in the real estate business. People in the pharmaceutical business know other folks in the pharmaceutical business. And, so forth. It is all so much easier today that it is a wonder any jobs in major cities are published anywhere.

And finally, you have jobs that haven’t been created yet because the “hiring authority” doesn’t even know they have a problem until you walk in on a networking basis and tell them. At that point, they realize they have a problem and the solution is sitting in front of them. What do you think they do next? If you guessed “post a job on one of the public boards,” you are wrong. They just hire you.

If you think this is another of my stupid ploys to get you to do a little more networking, you have finally guessed right.

The bulk of the job market isn’t the jobs you see posted. They are only a very small fraction of the “work opportunities” that are out there for you to find.

Being in the right place at the right time doesn’t happen from pure chance. It happens from networking. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

Go ahead. Make yourself lucky. Do a little networking.

Regards, Matt

Those lazy hazy days of summer

You really can’t beat summer.

Although it is a brief season (at least here in the Northeast), it is one of those remarkable times during the year when there is lots to do and lots of daylight time in which to do it. The days are longer and the weather is warm enough that you don’t need much preparation to go outside, unless it is raining cats and dogs. And even then, all you need is your umbrella.

Heading out to lunch is just so much easier if you work in a place like New York City where I worked for 20 years. No heavy winter coat to drag with you to a restaurant.

One of the great myths of summer is that no one is around and therefore it isn’t a good time to network. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you think about it, summer is one of the best times to be out and about networking. This is the time of year when lots of folks are on vacation. Sure, they are out of the office then, but by and large with all the activities that are available, most folks try to stay close to home this time of year. Who in their right mind would want to travel when the kids are home from school and there are quiet walks one can take in the evening with one’s significant other?

I would also point out to you that for most companies, this time of year is the slow season for the accounting and finance group. The yearend close and audit are probably done, and the budget season has yet to begin. While other groups at your target companies might be busy, your peers in finance world just might have some time for you.

I would also encourage you, if you are active in your search, to try to attend meetings of your local and not so local chapters. Draw a big circle around where you live and see what chapters are in reasonable driving distance. You certainly aren’t going to get caught in a snow storm this time of year. As one of our members said to me once: “If I stay home, I can be assured that nothing will happen. If I come to the chapter meeting, at least there is a chance I might make a good networking contact.”

Enjoy the warm weather while it lasts and make good use of this time of year. Just like the other seasons, it only comes once a year.

Regards, Matt

Your inner circle of friends

The FENG is a circle of friends, not a job listing service. The question I would have for each of you is, have you recently worked to expand your inner circle of friends within The FENG?

Regardless of when you joined our august body, and even if you went through our membership directory at that time, an incredible number of new potential friends have joined since that time. Access to our full membership directory is out there on our website for your information and use.

I am often asked why the membership directories you can generate using our Member Directory Search feature are only available as Word files and not Excel files or in database form. The answer is simple. Our membership directory listings contain a wealth of information about each of us. When using this information to build your inner circle of friends, it is expected that you will take the time to actually read this information and incorporate some of it into your personal message to any fellow member you would like to contact.

Everything about The FENG is personal. Suitable punishments will be imposed upon those who begin any communication to their fellow members with “Dear FENG member.” (I don’t want to go into details about the punishments I have in mind because the threat is probably more effective, however, we do stop short of water boarding.) Suffice to say that if you want to be treated like an individual, treat others the same way. You will see that it works!

In my work filling assignments for The FECG, I find that most searches yield to industry and location. I would suggest that this is a valid approach for you as well.

When visiting our website, go to our Member Directory Search feature and type in the name of every firm you have worked for under all of its possible variations in the Company/School field at top of the form. We take great pains to be consistent when creating the membership directory, but for some firms that have changed their name in various ways, you will have to play detective. Obvious targets are old friends, of course, but even those who worked at your firms in different time periods will either know of you or will know people you knew at the firm. The overlaps at companies are significant, and you really can’t lose.

If you examine your own directory listing, you will note that companies in anyone’s history run from most recent to least recent. Depending on when you were there, you can make judgments accordingly.

We have over 38,000 members, so this may take a while, but it is work that can pay big dividends.

Next, take a look for members who have worked at competitors. There may very well be individuals who you have met at industry conferences before you became a compulsive business card collector. But, don’t be shy about contacting those you don’t know as well.

The approach I am suggesting is to talk to others who actually understand what you have been doing and the conditions under which you have been doing it. Those are meaningful conversations and will more easily lead to valid networking contacts outside of our organization.

Regards, Matt

Man is a political animal

One of the common complaints I hear from people about their current or prior jobs is how political the situation is or was. To me, this is like complaining about the weather.

There is always going to be weather. It is my belief that you can’t really appreciate a sunny day unless you have experienced a rainy one. And so it is with politics. Some of it can get pretty unpleasant, but by and large if you engage the broader implications of it all, you can learn to enjoy it.

And, I am not talking learning how to play people off against one another. What I am suggesting is that you can learn to understand the process and the good, bad and ugly that goes with it.

Office politics is usually a tough one for financial folks because we tend to view ourselves as apolitical. In our minds, the right or wrong in any situation is based on the analytics, not on the personalities. If only the rest of the world thought through problems the way that we do. Unfortunately, they don’t.

The most important way to stay on the right side of every situation is to do something that runs counter to type. Very simply, you need to push your ability to socialize with your peers to the very edge of your comfort zone.

Yes, I know you would rather sit in your office and work on a spreadsheet, (spreadsheets don’t talk back) but unless you are out and about in “the shop” on a regular basis you honestly won’t know what is going on, and no one will tell you. Because you hold the checkbook, you are already more than a little unapproachable.

When I was Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency in the 1980’s, I placed my office next to my boss. People were always trying to see him and because he was usually busy they would stop by my office to kill a little time. It was a great way to keep my finger on the pulse of the organization.

I also made it a point to walk the shop several times a day. It was good to get up from my desk anyway and in this way I maximized my opportunities to run into my peers and have casual conversations with them.

All of you who are or have been out and about in your job search would call this networking. Networking is a process by which you can create meaningful business contacts and relationships to further your career and enhance your professional life.

It is the basic tool of job search. It is also the basic tool for your survival in your current or future job.

Politics and networking have more in common than I would care to admit. But then, I was never good at keeping a secret.

Regards, Matt

Take some time off

For those who are active in their job searches, taking time off can be very difficult. Well, this weekend you really have no choice. No one will likely be around in the afternoon tomorrow and they certainly won’t be around on Monday since it is a holiday.

That said holiday weekends are great times for networking with family and friends. Ah, Memorial Day, that great kick off to summer.

The key to a successful weekend, other than stocking up on food and beverages of your choosing, is to paint a smile on your face and have a good story to tell.

Those who know and care about you are sensitive to your feelings and will likely observe a “don’t ask” approach unless you can find a way to break the ice.

May I humbly suggest that a good story about The FENG will do the trick? Think about it, we are now the largest networking group for senior financial executives in the entire world. And, we perform all possible acts of friendship known to mankind for one another.

If you start out with a positive story about your search process, it will get the conversation going and you know what happens when those who want to help are actually allowed to help.

Now that you have practiced your 90-second announcement so it sounds natural, you can do a variation of it for those you know best. Trust me, everyone wants to help. They just usually don’t know how.

So, relax, have a good time, but don’t forget to network. Just don’t let anyone know that this is what you are doing.

Regards, Matt

Corporations are reptilian

I hope no one will be offended by the thought that corporations are reptilian. All I mean to imply by this statement is that although corporations appear to have human elements, they actually have no feelings.

We have all met and in fact we may individually have been dedicated employees, but in many respects, to have feelings about a corporation is similar to having feelings about a car, boat or a house. In and of themselves, they are not caring creatures. The “warm fuzzies” we may associate with inanimate objects is derived from their interaction and our interaction with actual people. Good times with friends, family or business associates in a particular setting are always in a human context.

What fools us about companies perhaps is that there are people we have come to know and respect who are a part of these entities we call corporations. You are certainly welcome to care about them and how they might feel about various actions you might take from time to time. People are always important. Hey, that’s what networking is all about.

When I speak with members about their jobs, especially when they have recently left them, the stories about what has happened to “the company” are very strong in their minds as if they had some great importance in and of themselves. If only “the company” hadn’t done this or that, they might still be there. This to my mind has elements of misplaced thinking.

Early in your career, if you were fortunate to work for one of the many “Great Corporations” that have existed over the past 50 years, you honestly had the feeling that “the company” was going to take care of you. This feeling transcended in many respects “the people” who worked at the company. There was a method to the madness of it all. The company had folkways and ways of doing business that were institutionalized. But, it was the people who actually executed on these concepts. The shared values of a company are, I suppose, inbred by their hiring practices.

It is all very well and good to ascribe human aspects to these entities, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your doing what is best for you.

Worrying about the company shouldn’t go a whole lot further (with the exception of your job responsibilities) than you being concerned about their making payroll. It is an economic entity, not an actual person. On the other hand, you should be very concerned about how your fellow executives feel about you, because it is these individuals who actually act as references and referral sources.

When we all look back upon the very positive experiences we have had over our careers, it is easy to confuse the company with the people who worked there.

As the staff sergeant in my Army squad once said: “There’s nothing wrong with the Army, it’s just the people in it.” My response to him was that for once we were in perfect agreement. (As you can imagine, I have cleaned up his remarks a bit for our “G” rated audience.)

Regards, Matt

Changing industries

More often than not, members of our networking group prefer to change industries when they change jobs.

I have to agree that changing industries isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills we have learned to a totally new situation is an attractive concept.

The truth unfortunately is often a little harsher. Our maximum value to any new employer is our knowledge and skills, and often times our perceived value is higher if we aren’t making any significant change.

As counter intuitive as it may sound, the best approach to changing industries is talking to folks from your industry, especially those who are no longer there. The question to be answered is how did they make good their escape? What was it they identified about their new industry, or perhaps about their skill set that enabled them to make the switch?

Being primarily loyal corporate types we tend to identify with the firms at which we have worked. We absorb the jargon and the issues as part of whom and what we are. In a sense we have trouble separating and/or generalizing our experience and sort of shoot ourselves in the foot when discussing what we did every day with folks not from our industry.

Start with your resume. Although it is important that you have a short sentence about the firms at which you have worked, in the accomplishments section, have you been careful to eliminate jargon related words and phrases?

A good test is to have someone who is not a financial person review your resume and circle words they don’t recognize as good understandable English. Sometimes even your fellow financial types won’t recognize a few of your references.

Once you have your opus cleaned up, you are ready to speak to those from the “outside.”

Sign into our website and using our Member Directory Search feature, look up the names of all the firms in your industry. Each time you get a hit, look at the names of the OTHER firms at which your many fellow members have worked. What you are looking for are folks who worked in your industry one or two jobs ago. See where they landed, and if you see a few companies that intrigue you, send them a copy of your resume and follow it up with a phone call.

Everyone loves to tell a good story about how they managed to reinvent themselves. If you let your new friend know what you are trying to accomplish, how can they not want to help?

You will find that using this approach is a lot easier and a lot more productive then reinventing the wheel. (And, a lot less likely to give you an Excedrin headache.)

Regards, Matt

It must make sense (to them)

When I was in my mid-30’s, I had the great honor of being treasurer of my congregation, a job I held for 4 full years.

It is probably true that I lean towards all consuming jobs. Or, perhaps I just try to do a good job even when I am not getting paid. Nonetheless, I discovered a lot about human nature performing this often times thankless task.

The congregation had a very long list of “members” who were behind in their payments. So, I set about to call all of them. Sure, I tried writing to them, but I found that the only way I got any kind of response was by picking up the phone.

Most folks were very nice. If they had a story to tell, they shared it with me willingly and I was able to make appropriate adjustments in their obligations. Sometimes I wrote them off completely. Hey, it was a religious organization, and I was not of a mind to be “hard nosed” about the whole thing. What was important for me to find out was whether or not they were going to be able to meet their financial commitment, not to force them to do it.

Over the 4 years there were several folks who would never call me back. Please understand that I use the “glass bell” technique, not the hammer and anvil. All of my messages were polite to a fault. None of them were ever threatening in any way shape or form. (I kind of like that “any way shape or form” phrase. Don’t you?)

Anyway, the lesson I learned was that you can never allow yourself the luxury of ASSUMING why someone isn’t calling you back. It is a great lesson, and one totally applicable to job search.

NEVER start making up reasons in your own mind why someone isn’t calling you back. The reason I say this is that often times you are wrong and the “made up” reason, totally without factual basis, will tend to stick in your mind and cloud your judgment and your response should your ever reach the miscreant who has been so impolite as to not get back to you. (Oops, I fell into the trap I told you to avoid! I guess it is easy to say, harder to implement than I thought.)

The story goes that early in the history of The FECG (my consulting practice), I had a friend out on assignment with a very special friend of long standing. It was only a short assignment and I was “hot to trot” to get it billed.

I called the consultant and didn’t get a call back. I called again and left another message. I called again and left another message. (Each one was a little more strident, fully violating “Matt’s law,” even though I was aware of “Matt’s law” at that time.)

Well, talk about feeling like a first class dope. When I finally got a call back from the consultant it turns out that his son had been in the hospital all week and he and his wife had only left his side to go home and change clothes. (I guess I wasn’t very high on his priority list! What was he thinking?)

While I would be the first to admit that most of those who don’t get back to you may in fact be rude or uncaring individuals, you need to give them the benefit of the doubt AT ALL TIMES.

Their priorities and the way they are dealing with them with regard to you and YOUR needs must make sense to them. Although I do know some individuals who are consistently guilty of inconsistent thinking, for the majority of humanity, this is not so.

Getting yourself all worked up over a presumed slight will not benefit you in any way shape or form. (Notice how I squeezed that phrase in twice tonight!) So, why do it?

Besides, getting aggravated will only diminish whatever energy you have for that most important task of finding another job.

Regards, Matt

Do you know who I am?

There is an extended joke I heard a while back about a man who experienced a flight cancellation. As a matter of fact, he was not alone. The line was long and as the minutes turned to an hour, he was getting angrier and angrier.

When he finally got to the head of the line he demanded to be rebooked immediately. When he met with resistance to this idea, he screamed at the ticket agent: “Do you know who I am?” Without missing a beat, the ticket agent grabbed her microphone and announced to the assembled crowd: “I have a man at the head of the line who doesn’t know who he is. If you recognize him, please come forward.”

All of us in this world want to feel important. And, we want everyone who deals with us to treat us with respect and courtesy, even when they really don’t know who we are. (Or, how important we really are or think we are.)

When you are job searching, there are many occasions when you are treated with disrespect. There are the phone calls that are never returned. There are the email messages that we know were opened but not responded to. (Honestly, how hard is it to hit reply and type out something?)

So, if this is how you feel on the receiving end, let me ask you to focus for a moment on how well you are doing with your communications with others. The question is whether or not you are actually making every effort to let people know that you know who they are and how important they are.

Your goal in your job search is to always keep your communications personal. And, in today’s electronic world, it is easier than ever. One of the easiest mechanical solutions is to purchase a contact database program to keep track of the many networking contacts you will make on this current search and on all of your future ones.

A good contact database system allows you to make notes about your conversations and messages so that you don’t sound uninformed when they call you back. I know some of you are notorious penny pinchers, but keeping your job search contacts in an Excel spreadsheet is just plain silly. I can assure you that after 50 people, you are out of control.

The FENG database is currently maintained in SQL database. It is my personal design and has served me well. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I would highlight a very fine program called ACT! There are also other very fine programs that do the same thing, I am just not familiar with them.

Doesn’t matter what you use, as long as you have a proper tool to get the job done.

To finish the thought about keeping things personal, consider how you feel when you receive a communication that begins: “Dear job applicant”

For you to write a note such as: Dear FENG member, is not only a violation of all that is common sense, it is also “against company policy.” One of the reasons it is particularly silly is that The FENG membership directory gives you plenty of opportunity to personalize.

You may not have a lot of information about the rest of the world, but within The FENG you have no excuse.

Personally addressed communications make the recipient feel important and therefore more open to helping you. Those of you who have tips and suggestions on how to implement this magic are invited to share their thoughts by sending a note to Leads@TheFENG.org for publication in our Notes from Members section.

I do hope you will take the time to do so.

Regards, Matt

Help, I’m trapped in a nut shell!

There is no greater challenge in this world than summing yourself up in 90 seconds or writing a proper summary for your resume.

As many of you know, I was CFO of an advertising agency in the 1980’s. Initially, I used to wonder why the creative folks got paid so well. As I got more and more into who we were and what we did, it became a little more obvious how difficult it was to create the essence of a product or service in a 30 second commercial or in a print ad.

Here you are a product and/or service with 20+ years of work experience. There are so many delightful aspects to who you are and what you do that you honestly don’t know where to begin. What is it your “audience” is looking for? Do they want to know that you were “born at an early age?” More than likely, beginning at the VERY beginning is not going to leave you much time to explain your most important features/product benefits that have occurred in the most recent 10 years.

If you start your thinking with the idea that “This is you in a nutshell,” you will be well on your way to structuring your thinking about the limited amount of time or space you have available to explain the unexplainable.

I tend to think of myself as an advertising and publishing guy. I do have some retailing experience, but it was very early in my career and I only did it for 2 years. What I want to accomplish in my 90-second announcement is to give those listening a sense of who I am and how I perform my magic.

And don’t kid yourself or be modest. All of you as members of The FENG have accumulated great talents and skill sets that those out in the world who have problems are willing to pay good money to acquire. All you have to do is think like your customer.

The problem we all face as we begin our job search process for the first time is that we typically have had very little need to “explain ourselves.” Members of other professions who traditionally don’t have such long service with their early firms are quite practiced at selling their services.

An art director I knew in my mid-40’s once told me that he had worked at 25 different agencies, some of them twice. If you are an art director, your bags are always packed. I guess even when you are working you tend to work out of a suitcase.

So, as you begin writing your 90-second announcement and the summary for the top of your resume, know that it is a difficult and challenging task. And, one you need to work and rework.

To sum up your working career in a way that won’t leave you “trapped in a nutshell” isn’t easy.

Some suggested approaches include eliminating all trite phrases such as team player, bottom line oriented, innovative, etc. Actions speak louder than words, but in spoken terms, specifics about what you do speak louder than trite phrases. “10 years of International experience” says a lot about you. So do descriptions of the range of firms you have worked for such as public and private firms.

What you hope to achieve is to create a context that others can use to digest the information to follow.

Tell me what you want to tell me then tell me. In this way, even I will be able to remember it and pass you on to the right people.

Regards, Matt

Everything is a story about you

I always find it interesting what people say about themselves.

Those who deal in hiring decisions have so many hidden tools in their arsenal. I suppose the obvious manifestations of who you are come across in the body of your resume and, of course, in your 90-second announcement. What those who know how to read between the lines do next is to listen and/or read every single other word or words you say about yourself to determine who you are and how you might fit into their organization.

There is a section at the bottom of many resumes that I will focus on tonight where folks really “go to heck” with themselves because they are not thinking about the context in which their resume will be seen. Some of this information is an obvious carryover from earlier resumes and needs to be deleted.

As an example, honors you received when you graduated from college. My undergraduate degree dates back almost 50 years. (Shocking isn’t it?) The fact that I made Dean’s List probably isn’t very important. While “old timers” isn’t setting in, this academic achievement really shouldn’t be mentioned because it is very dated.

Very little personal information should appear on your resume. The name of your spouse, how long you have been married, how many children you have and their ages, are all examples of things you should consider removing. It is not that these things aren’t positives about you. It is more that they are personal and unrelated to work. Some very productive folks have very unhappy personal lives. It just isn’t a good predictor of employment success.

Languages should only be mentioned if you are fluent. One resume I saw recently indicated that the individual was learning Spanish. While that is very nice, it basically sounds silly.

Awards from your prior employers are another area where you should do a little cutting because they make you look silly. Like that pin you won for perfect attendance at Sunday school, internal company awards are more than a little suspect unlike academic degrees.

Memberships, unless you were President of an organization, are another area you should consider removing. You don’t get a lot of credit for paying dues (we’re talking writing a check to belong). On the other hand, if you have shown leadership and accomplished something outside of work, please have at.

If you passed your CPA exam on the first try, I’m very proud of you, but this is not something that you should mention 25 or more years after the fact. Again, it makes you look silly. When it comes to your CPA certificate or any other certification, the fact that you do or don’t hold an active license is all that is really important.

Software skills are another area needing some attention. I always smile when I see someone who is proficient in Windows. If you can tell me someone who isn’t, I would like to hear from them. A few years ago, somebody listed Windows 98 as an area of knowledge. Hopefully no one is using this product anymore. So, why was it listed?

Please don’t get me wrong. Knowledge or skills in well known software such as Oracle, SAP, QuickBooks or Hyperion are good to list.

Religious information, just like your political affiliations are good things to leave off. Hobbies, unless they show high energy or deep intellectual pursuits should also be left off or used with caution. Reading is not a good hobby to list as it is low energy. Show me someone with a passionate hobby and that might be interesting and appropriate.

Always keep in mind that you are weaving a story about you. The accomplishments you list at the top of your resume may enhance your standing in the world, only to be brought low by some off handed comment at the very end.

Read every word on your resume and make sure none of them diminish your proud achievements.

Regards, Matt

Say what?

I used to be very good at multi-tasking. Now that I have gotten older, I am not as good at it.

I have a lot to do every day, so when someone writes or calls I find it very helpful if they take a moment at the beginning of their communication to give me some hint how I might be most helpful to them. If I have some sense of where we are going, I am more likely to know what to listen for.

I suppose it is a simple communication strategy, but it is one that is often forgotten in the normal course of human events.

You see it all around you. Take resumes for example. In a normal batch there are very few that have a good summary at the top.

“To obtain a challenging finance position in an innovative firm.” So reads one from next week’s batch of new member candidates. Okay, I got the finance part, but not much information for me to use as a guide to absorbing the information to follow.

“CPA and MBA desires suitable challenging position in established company.” Okay, I guess this means that he/she wouldn’t consider a job in a company that has yet to be established. This is probably a smart thing since if it didn’t exist they probably wouldn’t even have offices, and where would he/she report for work?

“Am I calling you at a bad time?” This is a question I get at least once a day. No, I usually reply, but if you call back at 2PM, now that would be a bad time. (A better question would be: Is this a good time?) If I sound stressed or answer the phone “WHAT?,” it might be a good thing to ask. Otherwise, it is best to just plunge right in and have at it. After all, what are the odds of catching me when I am not on the phone?

Although it is possible to meander a bit in a written communication because the reader can go back and forth as needed, spoken communication is under a much more severe standard.

Not only that, but as I have been heard to say, speech is also the slowest form of communication.

Being organized in your thinking is a big part of having an effective conversation. What is it you would like to get across? What is the easiest way to make clear the purpose of your call? No reason to beat around the bush. People in today’s world just don’t have time for it.

So, not to make you more stressed than you were before about picking up the phone, but think before you dial. And if you have written something for my consumption, think before you hit send.

It will tend to make your communications that much more welcome on the receiving end, and less likely to receive that ever popular response of “Say what?”

Regards, Matt

Asking for and accepting help

In our male dominated society called The FENG, one of the biggest challenges I face on a daily basis is getting members to ask for and accept help.

I am sure we all know that traditionally guys don’t ask for directions at the gas station. It is much better to drive around and around totally lost. (Thank goodness for GPS, we don’t have that issue to face anymore. Although, since most GPS units have a female voice, we seem to be more comfortable taking directions from women these days, but I digress.)

We have a lot of very fine traditions in The FENG. While all of us would prefer to be on the giving end of favors (kind of a Godfather thing), when we first join our august body we are more likely to be on the receiving end.

Since I brought up the Godfather thing, I guess I should mention that The FENG is like the Mafia in the sense that you can join, but you can’t quit. (Honestly, I don’t know why you would, but please know that once you are accepted you are a member for life.)

Being in this for the long term, I want to assure you that you will have all the time in the world to pay back any favors you receive from your fellow members. And, to make it even easier for you to be comfortable with our free market in favors, please know that a favor granted you by a specific favor giver can be paid back to ANY member who comes your way.

What we have done is break the link of your incurring a debt to any one individual, and instead when you draw down favors you owe them to the general organization.

Let’s assume that you are currently between assignments and you need to do a little networking. You can call up all the members who have worked at firms where you have worked, whether you know them or not, and they will try to provide you with links to individuals they think can help you. You can also call up members who have worked at firms that were competitors of your firms. Or, you can call up others with your areas of expertise like Tax or Internal Audit.

It is my belief you should sent an email first and perhaps a copy of your resume to be efficient. Speech is the slowest form of communication. (Smoke signals are slower, but they honestly aren’t used much these days. Besides, setting fires is a little dangerous.) Reading an email and scanning a resume is a delightfully quick process and will enable those you contact for networking to jump right in and have a productive conversation with you.

Furthermore, with your resume in their hands, they might even be tempted to forward it on your behalf to someone they know. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

And, what do you have to do in return? All you have to do is be as gracious as those who go out of their way to help you when you needed it. Take out that welcome mat and put it on your electronic front steps and hope that you will have the opportunity to help your fellow members just as they helped you when you needed it.

The truth is that we all need help at one point or another. I want each of you to feel comfortable in seeking out the help you need and not feel bad that, at the moment, you have nothing to give in return.

Trust me, we are prepared to wait until you do.

Regards, Matt

No one is out of work forever

One of the pearls of wisdom I heard from a friend of mine in 1991 was that no one is out of work forever, it just seems that way.

When you are employed in a W-2 job, weekends and evenings are hopefully your time to relax. Snow days, holidays are also to be anticipated and enjoyed. After all, the money is still coming in whether you are at the office or not. The worst case scenario is that your work is piling up.

Once you are out of work, your whole perspective changes. The early morning hours when you are awake and can’t make any phone calls, and the evenings when you would like to catch up with someone are not useful to you.

And, worst of all, the world doesn’t seem to understand your urgency. You interview for jobs and they say they will get back to you in a few days, but they don’t. Are you supposed to pester them? Don’t they know the time is hanging heavy on your end?

The world of work we just left had a pace and timing of its own. There were monthly closes to do, quarterly reports to get out, etc. Job search has no comparable way of measuring time.

In a sense, someone who is unemployed has been sentenced to a condition with no set end date. Sure, there are guidelines about how many months you can expect to be out of work given your salary level and years of experience, but that is not the same thing as knowing how long it will take. There actually is no mandatory waiting period. And the number of factors including how hard you work on your search are beyond computation.

If you feel that you have already been out of work too long, you’re right. Actually, anything over 15 nanoseconds is going to feel too long.

So, what’s a person to do? The first thing to do is not worry about it. Worry is an activity that doesn’t go anywhere. What you want to do is conduct a proactive campaign to get yourself back on someone’s payroll.

The primary ticket is, of course, networking, networking and more networking. For members of The FENG who are “well experienced,” there is no larger target.

If you are uncomfortable with the networking process, understand that you need to get with it. There are lots of ways to do that. The easiest way to develop this skill is to call new members. By and large, new members will talk to anyone. The best part is that there are usually 50 or more of them every week that you can call and practice on. Once you have mastered this, your style will improve and you can practice on your fellow 40,000+ other members until you get really good and are ready to challenge the “outside world.”

While job leads aren’t the be all end all that many people think they are, they are great to practice on. Look carefully at jobs you are applying for and match your resume up to ensure you are highlighting what is in demand and using current language for your skills.

Have I mentioned our local meetings? Here is a great place for you to practice your elevator speech and wax eloquent about your many skills.

The tools for your success are within you. This whole job search thing is a pain in the neck, but it is a skill you need for the rest of your career.

While it is true no one is out of work forever, it is also true that all jobs are temporary. If this is your first time out of work, look at this little adventure as an opportunity to strengthen your skills in the job search arena.

Remember, anything that doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.

Regards, Matt

Can you spel?

Some of the notes that I get from our many learned members fill me with dismay. I often wonder, do they send notes with spelling and grammatical errors just to me, or do they provide this special service to everyone in the world?

I do get a chuckle over some of them, but by and large I get concerned that the bad habits inherent in not checking their work creep over into all of the correspondence that they turn out. Some of it might even be for jobs they would give their right arms to have.

It is all very easy to think that when you are writing to friends you don’t “need to be on your game.” I respectfully disagree.

The discipline I have always followed is that everything that comes off my desk needs to be right. No exceptions. I am an accountant by mental training, and I believe that those who hire financial officers EXPECT us to be precise individuals. (Oh, it was either $1 or $1 million, what’s the difference?)

I don’t believe that there is any better way to hone your writing/typing skills than applying them to ALL of your attempts at communication.

Although I type 90 words per minute, I know that all of you are not speed typists. This is all the more reason why you need to check and recheck your work and make it part of your daily discipline. If your eyes are getting as old as mine are, typos that you used to catch, you may not pick up on as easily.

Most email systems allow for spell checking and I would recommend that you use them if you are at all prone to not spelling words correctly. You never know if that networking contact, even within the friendly audience of The FENG, may be the one person who has to decide whether or not to introduce you to another friend. Will he/she be as likely to do so if they think you can’t spell or put a coherent sentence together?

If you really want to play it safe, you can always create your messages in Word and copy/paste them into your email. I always do this when it comes to really important messages of a business nature.

As I mentioned last night, another part of the discipline you need to apply to your email correspondence is the addition of a proper “outgoing signature.” I have over a dozen outgoing signatures that I use in Outlook. My default signature is my business email as are several of the others. Then I have quite a few boilerplate messages that I use frequently in my work as Chairman of The FENG.

The convenience of the outgoing signature is that you don’t have to type this information each time. It should provide all of the easy ways to contact you including your mailing address. However, at a minimum it should repeat your email address and should include your day and evening phone numbers. You never know when someone will decide based on your message that they want to call you right then and there. Don’t make it hard for them to do so!

The “it’s on my resume” reaction underestimates the power of the human brain not to see what is right in front of it. Your resume may not be open at the moment and your best strategy is to make sure that anyone who wants to reach you can.

If you want others to consider you to be well spoken and well written, you have to work at it.

Like the sign in the restaurant said, “Good food takes time, yours will be ready in a minute!”

Don’t be a “fast food” writer. Take your time and make it write (or is that right?). (Their I go again, being a wize gi.)

Regards, Matt

Outgoing signatures (yes, again)

Of course it would be an understatement to tell you that I believe in the value of a FULL outgoing signature. In much the same way that I am a Fanantic FENG’er, I am also a fanatic when it comes to the substance and format of outgoing signatures. (Persnickety is another word.)

I try not to beat the drum about what is or is not a FULL outgoing signature more than once or twice a week in our evening newsletter, but that’s just an honorable mention. Tonight, the ENTIRE editorial is on this important topic.

Part of my “evil” plan to have all members of The FENG use an outgoing signature is that I check ALL of them against our membership database. This is how I make sure you are current so that your fellow members can reach you.

My outgoing signature appears in every message I send out (including replies) as follows:

Regards, Matt

Matthew R. Bud
Chairman
The Financial Executives Networking Group
32 Gray’s Farm Road
Weston, CT 06883

MattBud@TheFENG.org
(203) 227-8965 Office Phone
(203) 820-4667 Cell
(203) 227-8984 Fax

Let me take a moment and point out each feature that I feel is appropriate and required.

Starting at the top, a message should be ended with either “Sincerely,” “Regards,” or whatever you feel is appropriate. (“Fair winds always” is another very popular one, but only among us sailing types.) You then should “sign” it with your “greeting to use.” If your given name is Robert, anyone contacting you should be informed that you prefer Rob, Bob, or Robert. In this way, you won’t be correcting them when they reach you with those ever popular words “Oh, just call me Bob.”

I believe the next line should be your given name as it might appear on your resume or on a check. This is your formal name, and it is sometimes helpful in knowing which John Smith has contacted me. Oh, John C. Smith.

If you aren’t working, a title isn’t appropriate or needed. But, if you are, I always like to see your title because it may be different than what I have in my address book. Often the title I have is one you gave me when you started your current job and you have been promoted. I like to see that.

The next section is your address. I have heard that there are identity theft issues that could make the publication of your address problematic, but I believe that including it makes your outgoing signature look more serious. I use NO abbreviations in addresses except for apartment, for which I find Apt. sufficient. You are welcome to use a few others, but abbreviations make me crazy. (Yes, I am under a doctor’s care for this.) The reason I like addresses is that while I may not recognize your area code, if I see your address, I do know what time zone you are in and I know whether or not to call. With the transportability of cell phone numbers, your phone number isn’t a good indicator anymore of where you are. As I said above, I also check this information in your directory listing.

The next section is your email address. Yes, I know if you have written to me it appears above, but often times the label you have assigned prevents the display of your email address and I like to know that I have it in my address book correctly. For those of you attending the advanced class tonight, let me mention that the same care and attention I suggest for your outgoing signature should be given to your email label in the “from” box. Proper upper casing and lower casing is essential. Please know that for any important messages you send out, it is inappropriate to share an address with your spouse.

I believe email addresses should be upper cased and lower cased for readability. The Internet doesn’t require it, but I think it makes them look more professional. If you have an address with numbers, get a new address, especially if the number is a “1.” You can’t easily tell a “1” from a lower case “L.” If you don’t care that you aren’t hearing from about 1/3 of the folks you write to, you may ignore this last issue.

Phone numbers should be listed in the order you would like them dialed. If you are always away from your office, make it your cell phone. Hardly anyone faxes these days, and if you leave off your fax number, you won’t upset me. Phone numbers should be formatted in some approved style. Traditional: (203) 227-8965, or modern: 203.227.8965, or some variation is fine. Being an accountant, I like numbers to line up. It is for this reason I put my labels on the right. You will note that they are shown with a capital initial letter and with NO abbreviations. (If you have already forgotten, please know that I HATE all abbreviations.)

And item last is on the subject of “pictures” in your outgoing signature instead of text. Please don’t, because you mess me up. Very nice logos or non-text business cards look very nice, but cannot be copied and pasted into the text box I have in my address book. When you do this, I have to manually write your new company or remember it and how to spell it so I can update you. I might also have to print your email. (As you know, this is a waste of paper.)

For those of you new to outgoing signatures, you will find step by step instructions in just about every email system by entering “signature” in the search box under help. It is so easy to do you will wonder why you didn’t do it before. By the way, you need to make sure your automatic outgoing signature isn’t being tagged at the VERY bottom of the entire message. This issue happens to our Gmail users all the time. On replies, the outgoing signature is at the VERY bottom after the earlier message(s). This can be fixed if you check your settings.

Please keep in mind that the beatings (about outgoing signatures) will continue until morale improves.

Regards, Matt

An over reliance on job leads

Part of the lecture I deliver to new members who call me is that The FENG is a networking group, not a job listing service. I then add that they shouldn’t allow the fact that we are publishing about hundreds of pages of job leads each month confuse them about our true purpose.

In the beginning (when God created heaven and earth), it was my closely held belief that the existence of our job sharing would ensure that most of the good news announcements would indicate that the lucky person got the job from a posting in our evening newsletter. Alas, it has not been so.

Sure, over the years I have seen some improvement in this statistic. And, I do work mightily to curry favor on our behalf with the search community to encourage them to post opportunities with us. Our sterling reputation has gotten more postings and gotten them to us earlier in the process. As a result we have been winning more assignments.

Still, a careful reading of good news announcements indicates that networking wins hands down as the most likely approach.

So, what is the value of all of the postings that you slog through each morning? Is it a waste of time or what?

Actually it is a good use of your time, but not for the reasons that would appear to be most obvious.

Most of us have not changed jobs frequently in our careers. It is this lack of experience that requires us to really think about what we can do in the outside world. Job leads provide you a very real window into what kinds of hiring are currently being done and what skill sets are in demand so that you can “Think like your customer.”

Job leads can also provide you with the names of individuals in our august body that you should contact for networking purposes. A two step logic applies here. If a recruiter called another member about a job in which you have interest, there is a high probability that you have something in common with this other member. Duh! (Perhaps a little networking is in order.)

There is also the logic of practice makes perfect. Just as I would encourage you to go to all the networking meetings you can possibly attend to practice your 90 second announcement and to explain what magic you bring to the party to anyone who will listen, you also need to practice your writing skills by responding to real job postings. Without this “off Broadway” practice, when the real thing comes along, you won’t be as polished as you should be and you may not win the day as we all know you should.

Job leads aren’t a “be all, end all.” They are only a beginning and a tool for you to use in your quest for that perfect job.

Read them. Analyze them. Respond to them if they are a fit. But, please understand that your greatest power tool is The FENG membership directory and the individuals who populate it. They are most likely your ticket and your key to that next job.

Regards, Matt

Are you good for nothing?

One of the many things I am always surprised about is the degree to which most members of The FENG generalize their very specific talents.

I assume that this approach is their attempt to broaden their background and make it appear more appealing to a larger audience. While it is always required to explain your work experiences in layman’s terms, it is not really desirable to cause them to lose their importance.

As I have been heard to say: “If you are all things to all people, you are nothing to anyone.”

The reason we get paid the “big bucks” as senior financial executives is for being extremely knowledgeable about accounting and finance. Those who seek out our services do so for our expertise. If just anyone who could count would due, they wouldn’t need to hire you.

While I am more than painfully aware that there are fewer jobs in certain industries and that they may not be coming back, your ability to make comprehensible the very detailed nature of what you have been doing for a living the past so many years may make you a sterling candidate for something entirely different in another industry. Why? Because people will figure that if you could make a profit for your employer in THAT industry, ours is simple by comparison and you could make a FORTUNE for us.

The ability for those outside your areas of expertise to draw analogies is contingent on your ability to explain. Clear writing and clear speaking about your many talents will get others to know and understand how smart you are.

Everyone has an area of extreme expertise. Sure, if all you know how to do is make buggy whips, you are probably in a lot of trouble. Knowledge of how to work a comptometer doesn’t come up much anymore either. (My boss at CBS in 1973 had one and they were obsolete then!)

When pressed, I have yet to find a member of our august body from whom I couldn’t squeeze information about what he felt he did best. That said, I have often had to turn certain individuals figuratively upside down and shake them to get them to “give it up.” When they finally did, I have to tell you it was always a better story than the one they first told me that was filled with platitudes and trite words.

It is my firm belief that almost all members of The FENG have done some pretty amazing things in their careers. Your “burden” is to ensure that those you have occasion to speak with are as amazed and astounded as I usually am when I hear your stories.

Think of it as your very own personal “shock and awe” program.

I know that as financial folks we can do just about anything. Your goal is to explain the specifics and let their imaginations run wild. If you don’t you just might be categorized as good for nothing, or worse yet, nothing in particular.

Regards, Matt

Selling from your own wagon

Although we are frequently willing to accept lower salaries and/or lesser responsibilities, the greater challenge is convincing the world at large of our willingness and overcoming their resistance.

What we see as age discrimination, they see as just plain common sense in screening candidates. You may be willing, but they see their clients as being unwilling to consider over paid and over qualified candidates. The trick is to convince them that it is common sense. However, one way that doesn’t work is the frontal assault.

The frontal assault is telling them that they are engaging in age discrimination.

In dealing with the search community or human resources executives I have never been really successful in overcoming their inherent prejudices. I don’t think you can. I learned a long time ago that you can’t change people’s attitudes, but you CAN change their behaviors. By offering a free posting with a 48 hour result, WITHOUT discussing the fact that most of the candidates are more senior than they really want, I have been successful in putting our members in front of them BEFORE they start looking for more junior folks.

The strategy of trying to be something you aren’t doesn’t work. Take the years off your graduation dates if you like. Eliminate your oldest jobs if you like. None of that will work because before they hire you they will find out that you have LIED. And I don’t know about you, but I would never hire a financial officer I knew had lied.

So, what approach works? Sell what is in your wagon. You bring a lot of skills to the party. You have been there and done that. And, you are interested in the general parameters of the job in question. Please tell me, mister client, what is the problem?

If you take the time to examine job postings and try to present how you have solved the issues they face before, how can you lose? Well, of course you can, but if you don’t believe you are the best person for this job, you will have difficulty convincing anyone else. If you believe you are too old or over qualified, you will have a tough time convincing anyone else that this is a fit.

Telling a convincing story takes practice. And, the first person you have to convince is yourself. It isn’t a perfect world we live in. If it were, there would be increasingly challenging jobs out there that would exactly reflect a continuing curve of knowledge and experience that matched our backgrounds.

Alas, the world isn’t perfect. We need to force our square pegs into round holes from time to time to keep working at our chosen profession. I don’t see anything wrong with this. Reinvention is at the core of American values.

So, let’s get out those universally useful tools from our wagon of skills and show how they can be applied. And, make sure the parties involved know how much fun you will have doing it.

Regards, Matt

Asking for specifics

One of the worst things that anyone networking can do is to ask if you know of any jobs for them. I can assure you that the most likely answer will be something to the effect that two weeks ago they came across something that was right for you, but they can’t remember who it was they heard it from.

The analogy I would draw for you comes from my experience at a small staffing company back in the early 90’s before the Internet. (Yes, there was a time before instant communication!)

This little company was ahead of their time I suppose. They placed senior executives of all types in temporary and permanent jobs. Their key leg up, or so they thought, was a database of 16,000 executives who had registered with them. The problem was that although searching the database based on key words brought up candidates, rarely did any of them represent a perfect fit, or even a decent fit. What was worse was that most of them also weren’t either available or interested.

Finding a job that fits your requirements is a lot of hard work. Probably harder than the work you will do when you finally find that job. As you get further along in your career, you become a more and more sophisticated key that only fits certain locks.

Just as those who do search find the process of identifying candidates difficult (and no the Internet hasn’t solved everything), us mere mortals who would like to find something to do out in the world that will pay us a decent amount of money and not kill us is also difficult.

That said, when you are out and about networking, you need to learn to ask specific questions.

To get your gracious host in the spirit of things, ask if they know any recruiters who place senior financial executives. Recruiters are not your real target, of course, but everyone knows a few well respected recruiters and they will gladly share their names with you.

The next phase requires you to have a target company list. Coming up with a target company list isn’t as difficult as it may sound. First of all, it is not necessary that the companies on your list have any openings. Secondly, they are likely to be large companies, and as many of you may know from my past comments, large companies tend not to hire senior folks. They prefer to grow their own.

The target companies should be well known brands. A short definition of their business is needed, just as you might do on your resume if they were a place where you worked. Contacts often don’t know anyone at the companies on your list, but they do know other people who work at competing firms. We may scoff at industry experience as being entirely needed in our generalized area of expertise of accounting, but people from industries where you have worked always find you more familiar than those folks from other experiences.

Phrases like “mid-sized manufacturing company” don’t work nearly as well as naming names. Although your contacts may know that a firm is a manufacturer, they may not know the size of such companies. Not wanting to be embarrassed by you pointing out that they are too small or too big, they will just say nothing.

No one but you can easily come up with an appropriate target company list. I may not know what you do or how you do it, but if the company name is familiar, I can quickly gain a sense of other appropriate firms and I will leave it to you to sort out.

Ask me a broad generalized question and I might rattle on forever and tell you nothing. Ask me a specific question and I will generally deliver a specific answer.

Regards, Matt

Are you over qualified?

I’m sure tonight’s topic will generate a lot of comments. Those of you who would like to join in on this discussion are invited to send your comments to Leads@TheFENG.org.

The short answer to the question of the moment is: I hope so! If you weren’t, I’m not really sure how you were added to our membership. Our entire organization is filled with well qualified individuals who can do just about any job they would like to take. That said the primary focus of tonight’s editorial is for our members who are much older. Let’s say 55-60 plus.

When you are interviewed for a possible work opportunity, please understand that the comments made by the interviewer are often a sincere statement of their belief. The question is if you are viewed so positively with respect to the position in question, why won’t they hire you?

Part of the answer is that when they make a comment like over qualified, they are looking to see how you react. Their concern is that you will be bored. (Aren’t they nice to be so worried about you?) My suggested approach is to take their comments as serious inquiries into how you might feel about the job in question. This is not, however, the time to indicate your lack of ambition or intelligence.

The belief system in the world is that everyone is on the way up. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true for any profession or any individual over their lifetime. It is sort of like the idea raised in The Road Less Traveled where the author explains that “life is difficult.” Once you accept this idea, the whole world makes sense. In much the same way, the idea that EVERY job is a step up just doesn’t square with reality. People move up, down, and sideways over their careers. This is all normal.

What you want to focus on are the aspects of the job that you will find to be of interest. Perhaps you have a long history in the industry. Or, the area of expertise required is one you have spent many years developing. The game is to get the conversation back on track to the work responsibilities. In a sense, the interviewer has given up on you and you have to regain his/her interest in you.

Getting past the initial screeners is the most difficult part of the interviewing process. The reason is that most of these folks ARE young enough to be your children. They see you in a parental framework and are surprised that you have interest in jobs that are in their view beneath your dignity.

For you, the goal is to be working, and working at something that you will find absorbing. We spend far too much time at work to be totally zoned out. The thrill of travel may no longer be of interest to you. Long hours with tremendous responsibility may not make it for you either. You just have to be careful how you explain these issues to someone early in their career.

The paradox which you can use as a springboard to your own answer to these kinds of questions is that while a company only reluctantly hires an over qualified employee, they would absolutely never engage a consultant who WASN’T over qualified. Go figure.

What I have found with the consultants I have had out on assignment through The FECG, LLC, is that most 2 week assignments last several months. The reason is that once a company finds someone who actually knows how to do something, they tend to find more work for them. (Please visit our website: www.TheFECG.com to learn about what we do. Perhaps one of our alumni members needs an over qualified consultant. We can find them quite a few!)

Let’s all also keep in mind that there are jobs where you could do the work, but the company’s goal is to train someone for the next level. If they don’t bring along a few young folks and train them, they will not be serving their best interests. It may not work for you, but it does work for them.

I will also share with you the idea of “the excuse you can’t cure.” As an example: If only you were taller. If only you were a CPA. If only you had an MBA. If you don’t, this is something you can’t cure by tomorrow. It is one of the best “no” answers anyone can use.

One last item to keep in mind is that people don’t buy ¼ inch drill bits. They buy something to make ¼ inch holes. If you can lay out chapter and verse about how you are going to solve the problem represented by the job in question, it will be yours for the taking.

Regards, Matt

A cut in pay

Probably one of the most upsetting and disappointing aspects of searching for a new job when you are “well experienced” is the need to consider positions for which the compensation is considerably less than your last job.

I suppose it is part of our mind set as accountants that we tend to view our gradual increases in pay over the years as hard won. I guess that’s because they probably were. The prospect of losing ground from the heights we have obtained is, at best, difficult to face.

I can tell you from my personal experience that early on in my search in 1991 I passed on several reasonable opportunities because they were slightly below my former salary. If only I hadn’t been so foolish. But then, how was I supposed to know that I was going to be unemployed for almost 2 years?

Whether the job market is soft or strong, what is most important for our more senior members is the need to understand that “we aren’t as young as we used to be.” (But then, who is?) Finding a job in your 40’s and 50’s is not only more difficult, we are also in a very real sense over qualified for most jobs. And, since these jobs don’t use all of our accumulated talents, it is hard to get paid for them.

The anecdotal evidence is that most of our members move from large companies to smaller ones. Sure, these smaller companies need our “been there, done that” expertise, but they frequently can’t pay as much as we were getting in our last job.

I have to ask you at this point if it matters.

Sure, money is the yardstick by which we measure our success, but being secretive financial types, we are probably the only ones who know that our new job with a better title pays less than our last job. You may have to look at yourself in the mirror each day and try to avoid thinking that you have failed in some way, but in reality, you have succeeded if you are now working.

We have all witnessed the shorter time cycles of jobs these days. Even the ones you win may only last 2-3 years, and then you have to look again. What you need to consider is your total earned compensation over long periods of time. This is what you are trying to maximize, and accepting jobs that come along at less than your previous salary can make sense if it gets you “off the street” quickly. No one needs to know the exact details, and generally all a company can say is that you worked there. It is in effect your secret.

If you take a job for which you are over qualified and underpaid, one factoid that may have escaped your thinking is that it is kind of hard to get fired from jobs like this. Because of all you bring to the party, you are one of the most valuable folks at the company. It is an effect that is subtle at times, but if you are alert to the fact that everyone is always trooping through your office asking for your advice, it may dawn on you.

The most important thing is to be working. Whatever sacrifices you need to make, you need to make them and be happy with them. Yes I know, easily said, but hard to accept. Still, life is compromise.

By the way, a low paying job working for miserable people is not what I am taking about. That is never worth the money, even if they are over paying you. But, if the people are okay and perhaps you don’t have to move, the deal can make sense.

Don’t let the “idea” of a pay cut that is known only to you, stand in the way of your happiness.

Regards, Matt

The power of networking

For those of you who have been spending any significant time surfing the job boards may I suggest you stop and turn that energy to networking?

I had the great pleasure of speaking with an old friend of mine some time ago (yes, most of my friends are old, but this one is actually just a little younger than I am). Anyway, this friend has been a retained recruiter for most of his career. He has been through the good times and the bad times. One of the topics we covered today was how senior level executives tend to get their jobs.

The astounding number he quoted me from a study he was sent was that only 2% of senior executives got their jobs from the various job boards. (Is that a disincentive to surfing these websites or what?) Networking was, of course, the number one source at 80%, with the remainder of jobs found being made up of contingency and retained search firms.

I’m not sure why folks tell me they are terrible at networking or why they claim they don’t know how to do it. Everyone knows how to do it. That said networking is a lot of hard work. (I guess that’s why the word “work” is in it). But, it is also a lot of fun if you go about it correctly.

Each week several of our new members get to “feel the love” that is represented by networking. These are the new members who arrive on our doorstep without a sponsor (usually left in a wicker basket and tightly wrapped in a blanket). What we tell these prospective candidates is that we are going to give them 5 names of current members, hopefully some of whom they already know. They are instructed to tell them that they have applied for membership in The FENG and that they will be accepted, but that they need a sponsor. They also are instructed to send a resume. If you have been on the receiving end of one of these new member applicants, let’s be honest, could you say no?

Well, of course not! So after we give these instructions, I try to make clear that NO ONE has ever failed to get a sponsor. Okay, there have been a few people, but they didn’t bother contacting anyone we gave them. (I guess this is like the tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear. It just doesn’t make any noise.)

Our approach to providing names is the same one I suggest all of you use in our Member Directory Search feature. Look up the names of firms where you have worked. Look up the names of firms that are on your target company list. Write individual and personal notes to the most appropriate names you find based on when they were there. With respect to firms where you have worked, they may know of you. Failing that, they may know individuals who are known to both of you. Failing that, you just may have a good laugh over the fact that all the characters have changed, but nothing else has at good old XYZ Corporation.

The goal of networking is to find common connections that make sense. People who know what you do or have done are more likely to be able to lead you in the right direction.

But the primary point of tonight’s editorial is that there is little choice to networking because it is the best game going.

If you want a word that is a synonym for power, that word is networking.

Regards, Matt

Precision in your communications

Perhaps it all started with the telegraph. (Hey, they were charging by the word.) Or, was it the CB radio? Somewhere along the line we have all come to believe that brevity, even when not entirely correct, is somehow okay.

Today’s communication formats such as the various smart phones don’t lend themselves to being complete or correct. There is even an available statement you can add to your outgoing messages from these devices that highlights the fact that it wasn’t sent from a regular computer. (I guess the expectation is that folks on the receiving end will therefore be more forgiving.)

I won’t even get into Twitter. (140 characters is really constraining.)

It is sad, really, that we allow these things to affect our common sense. While I applaud the fact that I can send messages by email from my telephone, and while it is painstakingly slow compared to my regular keyboard where I can type 90 words per minute, I still take the time to get everything right.

The problem is that everything you send out from your desk (even that small one on your phone) is a statement about you. If it is sloppy or contains errors, your little excuse about the tiny keyboard really doesn’t change the impression you leave.

While you are primarily communicating with those you know from these little devices, I would suggest to everyone that the shortcuts you take shouldn’t be allowed to carry over to your regular correspondence.

Just as a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, the existence of careless mistakes in your written communications speaks to a certain lack of precision in your thinking and/or writing style.

I would be the first to admit that I use a lot of boilerplate in my communications. I get a lot of email, but that is not why. The primary reason is that I have taken great care to make sure the greater portion of my messages are entirely correct. Just as a lawyer uses boilerplate contracts because he knows what is in them, I use my frameworks for the same reason. This gives me the freedom to be creative in the balance of my message and to focus more heavily on the variable portion.

If you look at the formats in our membership directories you will notice that we have a basic style sheet. Our administrative staff goes to great lengths to eliminate most abbreviations and to tidy things up on your listing as best they can. In this way, each listing is as readable as it can be.

In your outbound communications, take the time to really think through what you are going to say, and don’t hesitate to write and rewrite before you hit send. Unlike verbal communication where you can say you misspoke, written errors in email last basically forever.

Now there’s a scary thought.

Regards, Matt

Maintaining your focus

Life is made up of a lot of endless details. And, as financial people, the endless details are where we shine.

I have said from time to time that eating an elephant is best done one bite at a time. (Mustard would probably also be a good idea.) Most tasks, no matter how enormous they may seem at the time, are actually finite in nature. By finite, I mean to say that if we work on them in our usual diligent manner, at some point they are finished.

The approach I take to planning is based on the recognition that there are 1 day plans, 1 week plans, 1 month plans, 3 month plans and 1 year plans. There are also 5 year plans I suppose, but for most of us, just getting through the day is an accomplishment and I don’t want to discourage any of you. We’ll leave a discussion of really long term thinking for another night.

The key to success is keeping all of these plans consistent. The slippery slope if you will is letting the endless details that make up the day cause you to lose focus on your longer term goals. Getting through the day is vitally important. But if you get through the day and haven’t moved yourself even an inch closer to your goals, you have effectively lost ground.

Even if you don’t have a specific timeline for your longer term goals or a detailed plan, you can still make it work by having a mental picture of where you are going with your life. Life can be filled with minor setbacks. But, two steps forward, one step back, still puts you one step ahead.

One of the questions I ask those who call me is how old they are. Where you are in your career should directly affect your strategic thinking. Early in your career you should be focused on gaining skills and stature. Late in your career, your focus needs to be on working at ANYTHING that utilizes one of your skill sets. All jobs are temporary, and they can tend to be more temporary later in your career, so the approach I recommend is to find things quickly and do them whether or not they are an exact fit for what you want to do. Fussiness is best left to those with more miles left on their odometers.

The big picture can be a lot of things. And, given how life can play tricks on us, having several big picture long term plans is probably a good idea. Any one of these big ideas should be something that you would find appropriate.

Current events will always affect us. There are boom times and times best described as great recessions. (I don’t know. Are we still allowed to use that word or are we finally in recovery?)

Just always keep in mind that you only get to do your life once. And, all you can do is try.

If you keep your focus, you just may end up exactly where you want to be.

Regards, Matt

An executive of true mystery

I am always amazed and astounded how frequently the resumes I see are missing vital information. What I am not clear about is WHY the individual in question thinks that leaving off important data will benefit him or her.

Let me start at the top of the list and mention missing home addresses. Yes, hard to believe, but some job seekers are apparently living in their cars. And to add to the impression that they are homeless, some of these resumes don’t even have a phone number or email address. (I’m not sure how you are supposed to reach them.)

I suppose the theory is that if you don’t tell them where you live and you are applying for a job for which you are not local, the individual doing the screening will be fooled into thinking you live nearby. The short and long answer is WRONG. Perhaps I should say it as ding dong, you’re wrong. It is one of the silliest approaches I have ever seen. What makes it particularly silly is that I have seen this on assignments where the candidate WAS local. Yes, you can’t make this stuff up. If you want to be considered as a local candidate, indicate in your covering email why this location makes sense.

The second maddening issue is missing dates and missing work history. I suppose some folks have been advised that because they are VERY old, leaving off date ranges on their early work history makes them appear younger. WRONG. (I won’t add ding dong this time. I will let you do that.) Think of it this way. If you leave off dates to appear younger, you must be VERY old. I do hope someone will explain to me how you won that one by leaving off your date ranges on jobs you have listed. And, some of these lists go on and on. I have seen as many as 5 prior jobs with lofty titles, but no dates. (Gosh, you might even be as old as I am, and I’m 70, but then I have a few miles left on my odometer and perhaps you don’t.)

Another very clever approach to appearing younger is a vague statement at the end of a resume that begins with “and other firms such as …” You have to love that one. Sometimes this list goes on and on as well. Exactly how long were you with each of those firms? There sure are a lot of them, and perhaps there are more.

Leaving things to my fertile imagination, or anyone else’s for that matter is a BAD idea. If the younger folks who review most resumes think you are old if you are over 40, where exactly does that leave you? I won’t even get into graduation dates that are left off most resumes.

Sometimes job postings require some indication of salary history. If it is a requirement, and it often is, leaving it off is going to hurt you. Often times the posting in question suggests a relevant range. If you are within that range, you don’t have to be any more specific than to say so. The person asking the question just wants to know that you are worth talking to. If you have had lofty titles that didn’t have corresponding compensation, you might not want to let this one go by. Stating your salary requirements isn’t a promise to work for any particular amount of money. In this same vein, the company isn’t promising to pay you in this range. It is only there for discussion. Heck, they aren’t even promising to hire you.

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma probably won’t get you to where you want to be, which is on the candidate slate for a particular job. What might get you there is CLARITY in the presentation of your credentials.

But then, who has time for that when they are so busy removing information?

Regards, Matt

Spring has sprung

In the past week, it is clear that spring is finally here in Connecticut. As you all probably know, I work out of my home office, and I am fortunate that it faces a heavily wooded area. During the winter, I can see my neighbor’s property off in the distance and sort of notice when there is activity. Not so during the summer. Then, I can just see a few feet into the forest.

This time of year I have the pleasure of watching the trees come to life. Every day is filled with a measure of surprise when I notice how much has happened since the day before. In addition, the squirrels are out and about chasing one another and the chipmunks have reappeared on the rock wall that borders my property.

The renewal that is emblematic of spring is, of course, a state of mind. The patterns we see in nature are analogous to the cycles we all experience, even in our work.

I’m sure all of us have experienced a job that was like the darkest and stormiest days of winter. And, hopefully, we have all experienced a job that warmed our heart and grew our skills like the early days of spring.

The membership of The FENG is varied. We have our more youthful members who are in their late 30’s or early 40’s and we range up to our more experienced members who are in their 60’s. We even have more than a few members in their 70’s, including yours truly.

The goal as we work our way into and through jobs is to understand that the world of work has a cycle. Jobs come and jobs go. As they end, it can be a painful process filled with uncertainty and dread, not unlike the forecast of a harsh winter which we and our loved ones will have to endure with only a small lump of coal.

What we should recognize is that this time out of the world of work will end and before too long we will be back at it renewing our skills for another company. All jobs are temporary, but no one is out of work forever, it just seems that way.

My advice is to be always preparing for that spring planting. No matter how dark the winter of your career may appear at times, the truth is that you have more than a few miles left on your odometer.

As they say, hope springs eternal.

Regards, Matt

Why do boaters wave at each other?

I don’t know about you, but there are lots of things in this world that I wonder about. At one time I wondered about why the sky was blue, but that was before Google. I guess there are lots of things we don’t need to wonder about anymore. We can just look them up.

The above topic wasn’t one I was actually wondering about earlier this week, but I got a note from one of our members and, knowing I was an avid sailor, he thought he would give me the answer.

I have always known that sailors/boaters wave at each other. I just thought it was a cute tradition. And, you don’t have to be out on the water very long before you also start waving at every boat that goes by. The thought that was suggested was that not only is it a friendly greeting, but it is also a general check-in that everything is all right.

Not a bad thing to do when you are out on the water. As I have mentioned from time to time, Mighty Mouse isn’t coming to your rescue out there. The speed with which the Coast Guard or Sea Tow will be coming to save you is a little longer than the time you are likely to survive.

In much the same way, members of The FENG are asked to wave hello to our new members. You might also want to do this kind of friendly hello to those you count as part of your inner circle of friends. Sure, more than likely they don’t need your help at the moment, but you never know. Letting others know you are acknowledging them provides them with a degree of security and self-assurance that you are out there, ready, willing and able to help.

If you thought the world of nature was potentially a cruel place, in many respects it doesn’t hold a candle to the dangers all of us face out in the world of work.

If there was ever a time we need that friendly wave, it is these times of our lives when our loved ones are counting on us for our financial support. That someone takes the time to check in with us is a gesture of support that gives us the strength to go on. Just knowing someone is there to lend a helping hand often times gives us the courage to go on.

So, next time you “pass by” another member of The FENG out on the shark infested waters of the world of work, I hope you will wave that electronic hand of yours and either send an email or make a phone call.

I can assure you that your gesture will leave a visible wake that will last a long time after you pass.

Regards, Matt

Sharing our knowledge

From time to time, I write an editorial that generates very thoughtful responses from our members.

I hope that all of you appreciate those individuals who write in as much as I do. It is an important part of The FENG, that we each take the time to share our knowledge with one another on topics large and small.

There are so many ways to share our knowledge. If you are bashful and not interested in communicating with a large audience, there are local meetings and those weekly new member listings where you can pick up the phone and TAKE THE TIME to share what you have learned with one individual at a time. That is as important as writing an “Op-Ed” piece for me. The reason is that it is PERSONAL, and being personal is what we are all about.

The FENG is a circle of friends. It has grown by friends sponsoring friends. I hope that as a part of your involvement and PARTICIPATION in our august body that over time, you will acquire more and more friends for the rest of your life. That should, in fact, be one of your goals.

Job search is full of highs and lows. One can argue that misery loves company, but I have never looked at what we do for each other in this way. This is not a support group, but rather a focused HELP group.

The knowledge that we share helps us get through the day. If you are fretting that others are getting interviews and you aren’t. If you are upset that folks don’t call you back. The concern you have impacts your ability to focus on your search.

By reading the newsletter I hope that all of our members gain some perspective on what is happening in the job market and which issues are things that ARE their fault and which things are just the market.

If I happen to write something that sparks a reaction in you, please write in and share your thoughts. The best place to send these messages is Leads@TheFENG.org.

If you would do this, I will still see them when I review the newsletter but they will get into the newsletter a lot faster than if you write to me. I get buried in email from time to time and often don’t get them published fast enough for them to be relevant.

I value the diversity of opinion that is possible with 40,000+ members and hope you will participate in this way “as the spirit moves you.”

Regards, Matt

There are evil doers

The executive search business isn’t what it used to be, but then what is?

I hate to bore those who already know the primary difference between recruiters, but I hesitate to assume. Retained recruiters typically have an exclusive right to find a particular candidate for a firm and they get paid whether they find an acceptable candidate or not. The only problem is that since they have been paid, they sort of have to keep working on it. Contingency recruiters don’t have an exclusive and will typically present what candidates they can find and then quit looking. Please understand that there is nothing inherently evil with either type of firm.

If you want to learn more about the differences between these two types of firms, I would suggest you get Rites of Passage by John Lucht.

The problem out in the market today is that corporations have too many options. The time was when only the major search firms could afford to maintain databases of potential candidates. Now, organizations like LinkedIn or the major public job boards effectively do this for them. The result has been that many of the bread and butter assignments that used to go out to search, say a Controller in New York City, no longer do. In addition to the public job posting sites which can be effective for some kinds of jobs, you have networking groups such as ours and informal lists of all kinds that can be tapped. Search firms also use these methods.

To make matters worse, because the tools to do search are easily available, many corporations have hired former and/or contract recruiters and set up their own in house operations. The result has been intense pressure on those recruiters who remain independent.

Corporations are reptilian in nature. Even when they put a job out to search with a retained firm, they may also post it to any or all of the public boards as a kind of check on the results of the retained firm. If they take a contingency firm approach on a particular assignment, they may put it out to several firms and also post it to the public boards. My sense from talking to our members about this problem is that they often don’t tell the firms involved that they have done this or even that other firms are also working on it.

The net result is that you as a candidate don’t know who or what to believe. I would suggest not believing anyone. (Hey, we’re financial people and we are suspicious by nature anyway, so turn that radar on and use it.)

It is hard to know if applying to a company’s posting on one of the public boards is the best approach or letting your credentials be sent in by a search firm is best. The public boards generate sometimes thousands of responses to the listed address and I have anecdotal evidence that corporations frequently don’t read any of them. So, just because you saw it on The Monster Board doesn’t mean the recruiter is lying. He may indeed have the search and he may also have a relationship that can be worked to your advantage if you are his candidate.

And, if you aren’t confused yet, corporations have been known to put things out to retained search and receive resumes from contingency firms and the public boards too. So, who is the evil doer and who is being honest? Unfortunately, it is anyone’s guess.

What you shouldn’t be bashful about is asking. Not to say you will get an accurate answer, but you should try.

A final point when dealing in the fog that is job search through recruiters is about references. To protect your best interests, delay providing references as long as possible and when you do, provide as few as possible. Three is the most I would recommend providing at any one time. A good search firm will seek out those who might know you whether or not you provide their names or not. A lazy search firm may call your references before they are certain you are a final candidate just to get that work out of the way. Until a company is ready to make you an offer or they are at least down to 2-3 candidates they really shouldn’t be calling your references. References get burned out by too many calls, so hold them close.

Regards, Matt

Stress reduction in networking

I suppose it is hard to believe, but those on the receiving of networking calls actually experience more stress than you do.

Yes, I know that picking up that 400 pound phone isn’t easy, but neither is responding to phone calls from those who have been trained in the NFL approach to networking. (That’s where someone tackles you and won’t let you up until you give them 3 names.)

Is it any wonder that your phone call or visit can strike fear in their hearts? The stress comes from the fear of disappointing you and/or disappointing the friend who sent you their way by appearing not to be able to help you.

If you want the process to work as well as it can, you need to take steps to reduce the fear and dread. A good part of this process is to come prepared to those meetings or phone calls with specific requests and to start with questions that are easy to answer in the affirmative. (In selling terms this is analogous to “getting to yes.”)

Of course, you should have your 90 second elevator speech down pat. That part of your presentation is key to providing a quick overview of who you are and how they can best help you. It in essence provides a context.

The next step is NOT to ask if they know about any open jobs. In fact, asking if they know about open jobs is almost a guaranteed conversation ender. Very few people actually know about jobs that might fit you on the given day that you call.

It is far better to start with easy questions. For example, do they know any search professionals who you might be able to contact? Sure, recruiters are not really helpful, but on the other hand, everyone knows several very well and they are relieved that you have asked them such an easy question. It also causes them to get out their address book and start paging through it. That’s good, because they are going to need it for the next part of your “interrogation.”

To ensure that the next part of the process goes well and appears easy, you need to come to your encounter with a target company list and/or marketing plan.

I like target company lists over target industry lists because I find most folks are more familiar with the names of specific companies. They may not even know for sure which firms fall into which industries. Your target company list may even include the names of individuals at those firms that you would like to meet.

Now you shouldn’t really expect that your networking contact knows folks at those specific firms. And, you don’t need to actually want to work at one of those companies. The purpose of the list is to give your networking contact something appropriate to focus on. In addition to getting the mental wheels turning, it gives them something to hang onto, sort of like a nervous speaker hangs onto a podium.

You will be surprised that they may know someone who knows the person you want to meet. That’s close enough. Or, they may know an officer at a company that is SIMILAR to one of the companies on your list. In any case, these are much more open ended questions and ones that can generate flexible thinking. You will be surprised how often this kind of a process generates valuable next networking contacts.

The key is taking the stress out of the encounter and making your networking contact successful. They will feel good about your meeting and so will you.

An additional tip is to follow up with this contact by reporting back on your success or failure. The reason is that as soon as you left their office they thought of more contacts for you, but then they got busy and put it aside. If you call or write with a report you can pick up these valuable additions. It is also possible that the first set of contacts was a test to see how well you do. No one is going to risk his/her whole book on one person they don’t really know.

The road to success is networking, networking, and more networking. I hope this tip makes you more successful in your efforts.

If you have suggestions on how to reduce the stress in these encounters, please write in to our “Notes from our members” section and send them to Leads@TheFENG.org and not to me so we can get them published more quickly.

Regards, Matt

A fair fight

One of the most over rated things in this world is a fair fight.

I suppose the belief in a fair fight is to a very large degree all part of the American Western heritage of the gunfighter. Two men armed with six-shooters (the great equalizer) standing 20 paces apart face each other in the street. Is it fair to draw first, and if it is, under what conditions? What if you aren’t as fast as the other guy or as good a shot? What exactly are the rules?

Is the use of secret weapons in war unfair? And, does this mean we can’t use hidden advantages?

I don’t know about you, but I am generally inclined to bring a gun to a knife fight. Hey, I sit at a desk all day and I NEED all the advantages I can find if it comes down to physical combat. I’m not as young as I used to be. (But then, who is?)

In case all of you are wondering where this is going, I will tell you.

All of you have a secret weapon in your job search, and I find that far too many of you aren’t taking advantage of it. It is as if using it is somehow unfair.

Well, tough to the rest of the world. If you are PARTICIPATING in The FENG by calling at least 1 new member a week and welcoming them to our august body; if you are sharing your job leads; if you are taking phone calls from other members; if you have volunteered for the resume review committee; if you have helped find a speaker for a chapter meeting; or if you have helped your fellow members in any way shape or form, then you are entitled to use the ULTIMATE unfair weapon in all of job search:

THE MEMBERSHIP DIRECTORY OF THE FENG!

For those of you who HAVE used our Member Directory Search feature, I know what you are thinking. How could anyone be so silly as to NOT call other members? And, if you use our Member Directory Search feature, you can easily find old friends or individuals who have worked at firms on your target company list. It is all so easy. (Perhaps too easy!)

Now I know your deeply ingrained sense of fair play will be offended if I suggest you beat the living daylights out of all of the “outsiders” in this world by using this power tool, but I hope that all of you will put aside any misgivings and have at it.

If you believe in networking as much as I do as THE way you will find the hidden jobs that no one even knows they want to fill until you come along, then you will humor me and enjoy the BIGGEST AND BEST benefit of being a member of our circle of friends and use The FENG Member Directory Search feature until its electronic corners are tattered and torn. (The direct link is: http://www.thefeng.org/membersonly/memberSearch.php)

Whoever said life had to be fair?

Regards, Matt

25 words or less

The resume format is sure constraining. If only the world was willing to listen to us rattle on.

Unfortunately, they aren’t.

The “standard” acceptable resume format is either two or three pages. Anything more tells the reader that you don’t know how to communicate. Perhaps I should also mention that narrow margins and smaller fonts are not the solution. If you want anyone to be able to absorb that opus of yours in the 15 seconds they allot to reading it, I would suggest that you take out a very sharp electronic pencil and have at it.

As the sign in the restaurant says: Good food takes time. Yours will be ready in a minute.

Good writing and good communication takes writing and rewriting and then more rewriting. Like good food or works of art, they all take time and usually more time than you expect.

The biggest mistake first time resume writers make is to try to condense their resume to two pages on the first try. Take 10 pages if you need it to get everything you have done of importance down on paper. The next step is to write and rewrite each of the accomplishments you think will be of interest to potential employers and polish them until you can’t stand reading them anymore.

Save this file for future reference. Hopefully it is filled with gold. Unfortunately, you probably have much too much stuff.

This next step is the hardest. You have to cut and cut and cut some more. But how? Start by eliminating accomplishments in your oldest jobs. (By the way, listing your oldest jobs in a run on paragraph as seems to be the solution suggested by “professionals” today is an all around bad idea. I hope you weren’t in the habit of changing the format of the financial statements you prepared half way through, with some number in millions, some in thousands and some to the nearest penny, depending on your mood. This “solution” is just as silly. Consistent formatting and structure is important.)

Your priority list for accomplishments is to retain those most recent and delete those earlier in your career that are the same. The reasoning is that in your more recent jobs you performed them at a more senior level and they are therefore more important.

Summary lists of areas of expertise are usually a waste of space. In any list of 10 that I see on resumes, half are duplicates. What is the difference between budgeting and planning as separate items? Aren’t they the same? And does closing the books really have to be there? You will find that most of these lists are better covered in your brief summary statement or clearly demonstrated in your accomplishments.

Under the heading of mandatory space, give proper “respect” to your education. I cringe when I see BS and MBA abbreviated. These education achievements were the bedrock of your career and deserve a little space. And, don’t use the nickname of your school. As far as I know, UCLA is the University of California at Los Angeles. This isn’t a football game being announced, it is your career.

Another mandatory that eats up space is a simple one or two line statement for each company. What industry are they in? What is their scale of operation in sales or employees? They may be brand names to you, but may be unknown to resume screeners who WERE born yesterday.

Even after you have done all of this you have to keep rewriting. Yes, I know you will now not know what it even says anymore having read it so many times. So, bring in an “expert.” Actually, bring in someone who DOESN’T know what you do and have them read it.

Are there any words they don’t know? Are there any abbreviations they don’t recognize? Remember, you only get 15 seconds.

Oh, and if you do go to three pages, or two pages, all pages have to be filled. You only get 25 words or less. Don’t make it much less. You need every word you can get to communicate that marvelous background of yours.

Regards, Matt

Don’t call me, I’ll call you

I have been trying to do a better job of keeping up with my email these days. I must admit that from time to time I have fallen very far behind. (My personal record is 600 or 800 unanswered after one of my vacations, but that was a long time ago.)

Sure, I know all of you can appreciate how much email I get and are forgiving if I fall behind, but I sort of feel that I have made a commitment and I should make every effort to get back to those who need my help on a timely basis. Having been out of work myself for almost two years back in 1991-1992, I know how it feels.

I can’t help but be struck by the requests I get from members from time to time wanting to stop the delivery of their evening newsletter. I am no longer shocked by these requests, but I am always disappointed. It is as if now that they have a job (and that is apparently the case with most of these requests), they don’t need us anymore. If I understand their logic, now that they have landed, they are okay and they have somehow conveniently forgotten about their obligation to “pay back” all of the members of our august body who have helped them along the way.

While it may appear to many of us that we give more than we get, the favors we get by being members of The FENG are at times subtle and I can understand that some folks don’t “get it.”

Where do they think all the job leads come from? I can assure you that although it seems to be magic, it isn’t. Day in and day out SOMEBODY is taking the time to send in a lead. Even if it isn’t a fit for you EVER, it hopefully gives you the courage to go on just knowing that there are jobs out there. Even “Good News Announcements” are a gift of hope. If someone got a job today, perhaps you will.

I am particularly amused by the notes that say: I’m starting a new job on Monday. Stop the newsletter, I don’t need it anymore. You would think that they would at least wait until Friday, wouldn’t you?

For those of you who are not aware of it, I try to apply the sailor’s rule of always stopping to help anyone in need. The idea behind this is that if and when my turn comes, I only hope that there are others out there who will do the same. But you know what? Even if there aren’t, the simple act of extending the hand of friendship to others always makes up for any inconvenience or hours I have to work to make up for the time I have spent on the phone with someone who just needed a few words of encouragement or wisdom to see the issues they are facing a little more clearly.

I know this approach to life is a truth for a huge percentage of our members. Let’s keep working to make it 100%.

Regards, Matt

Your real audience

One of my favorite “sayings from the Chairman” is: I try to make things so easy that anyone can do it. That way if I try hard, I can too!

KISS or “keep it simple stupid” is one of the most often violated principles of job search and part of the reason that we fail to communicate our true value. Yes, I know that many of us have arcane skills. But you need to keep in mind that the burden of communication is on you.

How often have I heard “but it was all right there in my resume.” Oh, if that simple statement were REALLY true. Sure, it was there all right, but it was buried in a less than crisp format or in a complicated statement.

Friends, there are good and valid reasons why newspapers are written at an 8th grade level. Resumes should be too. The initial screening is rarely if ever done by those capable of understanding all that you have written.

Resumes and cover letters need to go through stages of development. The model I would suggest is one I learned many years ago when I was in the College Textbook business. One of the psychology professors who had published a top selling book for us came to speak about the design process of his latest revision. The process he discussed is one you can use to improve your two most important communication tools.

As he was “building” his new book he would distribute draft chapters to his classes. He asked that students circle any words or concepts they didn’t understand. He then rewrote or put definitions in the margin. At the time, it was an innovative approach that was in contrast to the “they’ll just have to figure it out” method of most learned writers.

You can take the same approach. Give your major communication pieces to others, not with the intent of them “fixing” them, but rather for them to just quickly comb through and circle things that aren’t clear or to highlight terms they don’t understand. Leave it at that. Don’t try to get them involved in fixing it. It is enough to know that they didn’t understand it or didn’t like it.

With this stack of criticisms you can now go at it in a more intelligent manner and modify and tweak to your heart’s content. There is a belief on the part of us financial types that short means incomplete. This is simply not true. Some parts of the stories we feel the need to tell are only important to others in our profession. Short and pointed explanations may not meet the test of full disclosure, but they are more than sufficient to create the limited understanding needed to call you in for an interview.

Learning to write with clarity, like accounting and finance, is only learned over a period of time. This is especially true when the subject is such a complicated one – your acquired skill set.

So, write, rewrite and rewrite again. I know it is painful and a lot less fun than getting a spreadsheet to look good, but your real audience can’t be left thinking what a complicated guy you are.

Simple is best. And the best impression to leave is one of being a great communicator.

Regards, Matt

Telephone sales

If getting up in front of a large group and doing your elevator pitch isn’t bad enough, giving it over the phone is worse. At least in front of a group, large or small, you have some visual feedback as to whether or not it is going over well.

Add to this that many folks call you from cell phones with “CB radio” quality connections (i.e. you can’t talk unless they stop), and you have a communication challenge of the first order.

There are several suggestions I have heard over the years and some that I use that I will share with you tonight.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you never know when an important call will come in. So, ASSUME that every call that comes in might be important. Be prepared to paint on a smile and provide your cheery greeting because first auditory impressions are important. That “down in the dumps” feeling you have been struggling with all morning will come through loud and clear. No matter what is happening in your day, a cheery “Matt Bud” (it might be better if you use your own name) sets the tone of the conversation to follow. Believe it or not, others can tell if you are smiling, even over the phone, so make it a habit to smile when you pick it up. (Hey, what have you got to lose?)

Being able to go right into your pitch and doing it well requires practice. Fortunately for you there are about 50+ individuals each week on whom you can try out your 90-second elevator speech – new members of The FENG.

Okay, you don’t have to call them all, but consider that this is a friendly audience and your ability to communicate what you do to them will give you a very good sense of what you need to tweak. Anything you do a lot of, you will do better. (How about, practice makes perfect? Ever hear that one?) No matter how bad you are at the beginning, if you do 100 of these, you will soon be smooth as silk. (People will soon call you for speaking engagements!)

Sounding more forceful over the phone is easily achieved by standing up. Sitting in a chair, all relaxed, saps your perceived auditory energy. Most of us have cordless phones that allow us to walk around. Don’t be embarrassed to do so. (No one can see you anyway!) You will be pleasantly surprised what a huge difference it makes. Having a hands free headset is even better for this purpose. Don’t be afraid to broadly gesture while you are talking. Although no one can see you, just as your smile comes through, so does the drama of your physical motion.

Another thing you need to consider is the LIMITED information you want to communicate. I say limited, because one of Matt’s laws is that speech is the slowest form of communication. (This is why you don’t want to move your lips when you are reading.) You can skim and absorb a lot of information by reading, but “books on tape” are painfully slow. You will need to decide which parts of your message need to be presented and trim your stories way back so they leave a lasting impression. Short pointed stories are best.

The hardest part of telephone work is listening. If you thought picking up the signals is hard in person, doing it over the phone is worse. Has your phone pal said “uh huh” in the last minute? Does he/her have a question for you? I know you have a lot of information to transmit, but try to hear the clues in your caller’s voice and tone that tell you if the sales pitch is going well. And, remember, the purpose of a phone call is to get an appointment.

Very few, if any, sales of this nature are closed over the phone. The sale of the purchase of your services for the next piece of time has to be done in person, so keep those trial closes going and try to get an in person opportunity to present your credentials.

Regards, Matt

Too smart for our own good

One of the problems with being a senior financial executive is that we have all the answers.

We have, for good or bad, “been there and done that.” Frankly, it is hard to conceal that knowledge and experience in an interview.

Call it “overqualified” or whatever name you like, but it is difficult to imagine ANY job that at this stage in your career represents a huge challenge. Most likely, it will only occupy a portion of the many skills you have acquired over the years. There are so many things that only happen once or twice a year, and if you have 20+ years of experience, you have likely seen them 30 times or more.

So, what’s a person to do?

I wish there was an easy answer. We have been trained to sell the wonderful product that is us, but although we are capable of hitting 150 MPH in under 30 seconds, what if the job in question only requires 60 MPH in under 30 minutes?

Back in 1992, Ed Devlin (the previous chairman of The FENG) and I were at an ExecuNet meeting and the topic was “over qualified.” I whispered to Ed that if I were told that I was over qualified, I would look them straight in the eye and say “You know, I am not really as competent as you think I am.” Well, Ed made me tell everyone in the room, and as you can imagine, it took several minutes for everyone to regain their composure so the meeting could continue.

Humor does help when you are considering a job that you can easily do but which the individual on the other side of the table thinks will bore you. But only use it if you can make it work for you. I am a goof at times and I can make it work. How can you be convincing, when clearly you have done so much more in your recent career?

The idea that anyone would consider a lateral career move or a step down is typically inconceivable to anyone who has not been unemployed. So, you have to understand the mindset involved and learn to sell into it.

I am open to comments from other members on this topic, but let me start off our thinking by suggesting you first try to understand what the “customer” on the other side of the table wants to buy. What is the monkey they are trying to get off their back and can you assure them that you can do it? (I know you can, because I know you can do anything!)

The next step is to get them from “here to there.” You need to accept the fact that you are going to have to convince them that you will be happy in this job. It is an open question that is “hanging out there.” They may not be able to find a way to politely ask you if you would really be “willing to do windows,” but you need to accept that they need an explanation.

It is the first thing that a salesman learns, handling customer objections, even when they haven’t given voice to them. You just have to know that they need an answer.

In keeping with our many traditions here in The FENG, make your answer brief so you don’t fall into the “the maiden doth protest too much” syndrome. A simple “I need to work so we can buy food this week” will more than get the point across.

Responses should be sent to Leads@TheFENG.org so Leslie can publish them in our Notes from Members section.

Regards, Matt

Your allotted time

I do tend to rattle on. Some night I will tell you the FULL story about how I removed my own home heating oil tank from my property. (It is a long story with many fascinating twists and turns.)

The problem is that most folks really don’t want to hear about it. And, even those who have interest appear to be plagued with a total lack of attention span when it comes to one of my favorite stories.

I suppose I could also regale you with the story of “The midnight terror,” which very briefly is the evening we dragged anchor off of Milford, Connecticut (when I was unemployed) and almost lost the boat. It is one of my longer sailing stories, and as much as you might have some passing interest in hearing some of it, my guess is that the WHOLE story probably isn’t of much fascination to most people. Still, it did take from 11PM until 6AM the next morning. My only problem is getting the story down to 7 hours. (Every minute was important to ME.)

Call me an accountant, and I have been called worse, but the details of most stories about our careers are far too important to leave out ANY detail. That is why from time to time I see 4-10 page resumes and cover letters that are over two pages.

The phrase “enough is enough” comes to mind.

Alas, the ability of the world to concentrate on our story and absorb each and every detail as we would like to tell it just isn’t realistic. So, we have to learn how to deliver comprehensive messages in keeping with the attention span out there in the world.

My training came when I was in the advertising business. At the beginning of my career in retailing I was known for my pithy 10 page audit reports. At CBS during the 1-2 page memo craze, I learned to master that form. My great lesson in advertising was that all that could be absorbed at any one time by my boss was the amount of information you could write in block letters on the back of a business card. Not a lot of time or patience for anyone who was anything other than a man of few words.

As you are out and about in the world of seeking work opportunities, keep the many constraints on your “creativity” in mind. 2-3 pages are the acceptable maximum for a resume, and a cover letter (whether by email or hard copy) has a limit of 3/4’s of a page. I’m pretty sure there was no law passed to this effect, and this may not even be a part of English Common Law, but it is out there anyway.

Violate these laws at your own risk. The penalty is not getting selected, which is certainly a just punishment for “rattling on.”

Regards, Matt

The ability to communicate

The changes that have taken place in the past 15 years in our ability to communicate are truly remarkable.

What with personal computers, email, cell phones, voice mail, iPads and iPhones you can use just about from anywhere, you would think that those of us engaged in business pursuits would make the effort to master all of these many technologies, or in true managerial fashion, find someone who could set them up for us. But, you would be wrong.

Hard to know where to start, but let me begin with email, my own personal favorite communication tool. Do you think it is possible that there are people out there who don’t know that there is a shift key? It must be true, because I get emails almost daily that are either in lower case (only from e.e. cummings) or upper case. (By the way, upper case is considered shouting in email.) For those who haven’t noticed, most key boards have a “Shift” key on both sides, just above the “Control Key,” a subject we will have to save for the advanced course. If you seem to be stuck in either upper case or lower case, the problem is the caps lock, which is located on the left. Try it a few times and see if you like the effect on your correspondence. It will almost make it look like an adult wrote it. (Sorry, we don’t have time tonight to discuss content.)

Entering a subject is always a good idea. And no, using one commonly used by the spammers of this world honestly isn’t smart.

Dare I mention outgoing signatures? (Oh no Matt, not again!) Yes, I’m afraid that we really are going to have to take the training wheels off tonight and ask everyone to add an outgoing signature to their messages, especially those of you who ask others to contact them on some urgent matter. If you are using Outlook you also might want to explore the possibilities of how your name appears at the top of your messages. And, no, it really doesn’t make you look technically proficient to share an email address with other family members, or to write back by accident from your spouse’s address.

My secondary form of communication is, of course, the phone. Is it really possible that there are folks out there who don’t know how to set up their voice mail? Yes, I’m afraid this is also true. I won’t even get into the folks who just announce their phone number. I can only assume they have their privacy concerns. I’m talking about those who use the system message or a mechanical voice. Sure, it will take some time to figure it all out, but if you don’t have a message on your voice mail that lets me know I have actually reached you, what makes you think I will leave a message?

And, may I suggest you make an effort to polish the message you use? Like your 90 second announcement, it has to sound like the real you – friendly and professional. You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar. (Is my Indiana farm boy upbringing coming through or what?) Sound like someone in severe pain and I may not want you to call me back.

We all have the ABILITY to communicate today in ways our ancestors could only dream about, but unless you take the time to get proficient in these tools for our modern era, you aren’t harnessing the POWER to your benefit.

As Larry King was once heard to say: “High technology! What will they think of next?”

Well, gee whiz Larry, I don’t know.

Regards, Matt

A beautiful mind

Several years ago in the movie “A beautiful mind” about John Nash, the mathematical genius, one of the things that made him brilliant was that he could see patterns in numbers and words that no one else could see.

Detecting hidden patterns or reading between the lines is one of the skills that a good researcher learns to develop. When examining data, looking beyond the obvious can create value when at first there appears to be none.

Let me start with the evening newsletter, that mountain of data that comes to you 5 days a week.

On the surface, there are our routine sections – the evening editorial, good news announcements, members in need of assistance, and job leads. One of the statistics that I watch is the number of pages in a typical 2 week period. It is a measure of the general economy and the devotion of our members to sharing leads.

Hidden and perhaps not entirely obvious at first are the NAMES of the members contributing leads. Have you ever taken the time to look up members who contribute the leads in which you have interest? Try it some time. If they became aware of and had interest in this lead and you do too, is it possible you have something in common and should become close friends. (Okay, but maybe nodding acquaintances at least.)

Are particular search firms posting leads on a routine basis? Could it be they specialize in financial searches and you should make them aware of your background? (Good guess!)

And then there is The FENG’s Member Directory Search feature which gives you dynamic access to the FULL list of members of The FENG. (Available just by signing into our website!) Sure, it would be nice if you could email a copy of your resume to “every man, woman and child on the face of the earth,” but think of all of the data analysis on which you would miss out.

Our membership directory is a treasure trove of data that you can analyze, if you only take the time. Sure you want to search for old friends and review the list for your chapter or special interest group, but you also want to dig beyond the obvious. There is knowledge buried there of which you can make good use.

For example, let’s say you work in an industry you want to leave. Where do folks go who have a grounding in your firm, or in other firms from your industry? What are the logical industries and companies where your skills will be most appreciated?

Again, this is easily done. (Okay, perhaps easily is not the right word.) Do a search limited to say 50 folks who fit your criteria and take the time to examine closely all of the firms in their work history. Sure, some of them won’t make sense, but some career tracks will. What patterns do you see? Perhaps some thoughts will occur that might not otherwise have hit you “upside the head.”

The patterns are there, it just takes someone as crazy as we are to try do dig them out. Go to it, and make some phone calls to other members while you are at it. It will add to your fun.

Regards, Matt

Individual responsibility

One of the themes that I like to present from time to time is the idea that each of us can make a difference.

For those of us who live in these United States, it is all very easy to fall into the accepted American concept that everything in this world is actually someone else’s fault. Hence we have the tendency in this country to sue anyone and everyone who might have wronged us. It has created a nice living for the contingency lawyers in this country, but has done little for the American sense of pride and individual responsibility for ourselves and others.

Here in our little society we call The FENG we have a unique opportunity to do something that individually would not be possible – change the world. We can’t change the world completely, but we can and have made significant improvements in certain parts of it.

We are, as Jimmy Carter might say, engaged in the moral equivalent of war. Not only are we individually engaged in a struggle to support ourselves and our families, but we can each in our own way, provide support to others to help them on their way.

As the elder George Bush might point out, we have here in The FENG our very own 1,000 points of light.

From the luminaries of our networking group who chair chapters and special interest groups, to our individual members who have offered to review resumes, share job leads, or just plain participate in the networking process by making and taking phone calls and sending and receiving emails from and to other members, you each in your own way make a difference.

Back in 1997 when I began as Chairman of this august body, the search community did not appreciate the full value of the “been there, and done that” experience that our members typically bring to the party. Although it presents itself to those on the receiving end as age discrimination, on the other side of the table it is often just a practical business problem of having to give clients what they have asked for – currently employed rising stars.

The “secret plan” that I devised and have shaped over the years has worked only because all of you on an individual basis believe and support what we do. This includes not only sharing job leads and only responding when qualified, but also getting with the program and reading our newsletter every day. Bury them in quality is our goal. And, do it before they have a chance to go elsewhere.

The effect of what we have been able to do for each other has probably not changed client requirements or the defective attitudes that go with it. What it has changed is the slate of candidates they get to consider. It may be our “evil” little plan to flood the candidate slate with members of our networking group, but this “little modification” to how the system works is very effective. The anecdotal evidence suggests we are winning more and more searches handled by recruiters.

So the next time you begin thinking that the world is against you and there is nothing you can do about it, remember the truth — every day and in every way, it all starts with you!

Regards, Matt

Just in time budgeting

One of the many concepts I learned when I worked for a large corporation (that will go nameless) was “just in time budgeting.” When I worked for this firm I thought it was a bad idea, but as life has gone by, I have come to appreciate some of its finer qualities and applicability.

You see, they never seemed to get around to finishing the annual budget process at this firm, so, each month’s actual was just assumed to be “budget.” The beauty of the approach, of course, was that there were never any variances. No variances, and therefore, nothing to explain.

The applicability to job search is the whole concept of the unnecessary expectations we set for ourselves. What if any job you were offered was exactly what you had in mind. Would that help?

For those of us who have worked for large corporations, the climb to the top is marked by very specific evidence of our advancement. Sometimes it has been a larger office. Sometimes it has been more side chairs. Other times it is a potted plant. Hopefully, it has also meant more money, but I digress.

If you think about it, many of the devices we have used to measure our progress up the ladder have been down right silly. That said they sure seemed important at the time.

When I speak with members who are more experienced than our other members, and here I am talking about those of us who are in our late 40’s or older, life has changed. We have presumably advanced quite a bit in our career, and what we need to do at this point in our careers is to open our minds to the idea that the shape and benchmarks that were such convenient milestones for us no longer exist. Outside of any large corporation where we might have worked, all the measurements are different. There may not even really be a “company way” as we understand it.

The goal you need to set for yourself is what I will call “just in time career planning.” Your most important goal needs to be earning a living practicing your skill set or some part of it. The exact details no longer matter. All of the rules you think you know may or may not be appropriate any longer.

By opening up your mind to anything that comes along that fits your rough parameters, you may in fact find that what you thought was your goal really wasn’t that important after all.

Who knows, you might even find that something totally different than what you used to do will now fit you to a tee.

Hey, that’s what just in time career planning is all about.

Regards, Matt

Setting expectations

One of the very important issues facing us as an organization is the “care and feeding” of our many friends in the search community. (And, there aren’t many left.)

While studies have shown that only about 15% of the jobs in this country are handled by recruiters, to me they are still an important audience for us to treat with respect. And yes, they have feelings too. (I will let you guess how the other 85% are filled. Okay, I’ll tell you: Networking, networking and more networking.)

Our first rule as an organization is that any job posted in our newsletter is to be responded by “qualified members only” and at no time, even if you are SO smart that you can guess the client do we EVER go direct to the client. Sorry, but your best shot is to avoid killing the “goose that laid the golden eggs” and to present your credentials to the firm and/or individual who has been kind enough to trust us and let us know about these many opportunities. Running around recruiters is disrespectful of their hard won business relationships and will normally only serve to ensure that you are NOT considered. In the ordinary course of business, your resume will end up circling its way to them and your “goose will be cooked.” (I guess goose must have been a very popular dish at one time to have generated all these expressions.)

All members of The FENG are expected to sell our friends in the search business on posting opportunities in our newsletter. When you do this, you need to make an effort to set their expectations properly. Many things about our august body are different than other Internet related websites or even other networking groups.

We are THE largest networking group of senior financial executives in the entire world. With a membership of over 40,000, anyone providing a posting can expect 50 to 100 responses to just about anything. What’s worse, or best, depending on your perspective is that all this “magic” is likely to happen within 48 hours. It can appear to be a flood to those not expecting it. However, they won’t be shocked if you warn them.

Under the heading of “for best results,” strongly suggest they provide the city location and the salary range for each opportunity, followed by a well written position description of anywhere from ½ to a full page or more if they prefer. I believe that “long copy sells” in that a more complete position description allows us to disqualify ourselves and holds down the number of responses.

To further the impression of mutual self-respect, ask them to write you or me a personal note so that the fact that there is a business relationship is clear. They should then sign their missive with their FULL business card information. To forestall phone calls, they are welcome to precede this information with “Please NO phone calls.” Their points of contact are provided to enable you to fill in the blanks if you should happen to get a phone call on your cell phone. (Can you hear me now? No, I can’t.)

Item last. It is not realistic for us to expect a tailored message as to why we weren’t selected from the resumes submitted. However, it would be very nice if they sent an acknowledgement that just states: “Got your credentials. We will be in touch if our client has interest.” Not a lot to ask and it eliminates the need for anyone to call with the silly question: “Did you get my resume?” (Hint: You can put a return receipt on if you really want to know.)

In closing, let us not forget about the importance of this audience to us. They will come back if you let them know what to expect and if we all play by the rules. Not much to ask on either side.

Regards, Matt

Miles of bad advice

If there is any one thing that is consistent among senior executives who are in the job market for the first time in many years, it is their inability to distinguish between good and bad advice.

The simple story is that if you hear it from me, Doug Fine or Bruce Lynn it is good advice. If you hear it from someone else, please exercise a little common sense. (Just kidding. I would ask you to apply common sense to the things we suggest as well. They may not be right for you.)

Stop me if I am wrong, but none of you were born yesterday. To become a member of our little circle of friends you generally have to have at least 20 years of work experience. I hope that in addition to skill sets appropriate to our profession that you have also acquired a healthy skepticism.

My guess is that you have been on the other side of the desk and have reviewed candidates for opportunities on your staff. Just because you are now one of those folks they call “Job Seekers,” try not to get stupid on me.

Let’s think for a minute how you acquired all the knowledge you have between those two ears of yours. Some of it came from formal education. Some of it came from doing a little reading on your own. And, some of it came from talking to other people.

My suggestion is to apply these same techniques to your job search.

First, do a little reading. There are lots of books out on the market about job search. My personal favorite is John Lucht’s Rites of Passage (available at bookstores in your neighborhood). At 750 pages, it covers a lot of ground and some of the information may not be appropriate to where you are in your career or important to you at the moment. Still, it is a very good place to start. Pick up at least one other book and read it cover to cover.

The next step is to talk to everyone you can and actually listen to their advice. The big guy above gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Now, I didn’t say act on all the advice you get, I just said listen to it.

Advice is raw intelligence. It has to be analyzed and absorbed before any dramatic actions take place on your part.

Most people are seeking quick fixes to their job searches. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets you can fire or magic wands you can wave so that “presto” you have another job. Job search is a lot of hard work and small steps.

What you are setting out to do is to build a PERMANENT mental machine for thinking about your skills and how they can be applied to the many problems in the world. Our mantra in The FENG is that you haven’t landed and you aren’t employed – You are just between searches. All jobs are temporary. Just look at your own resume.

While one can seek out information from others, building up what makes sense for you can only be done by you. It is a long term process.

If you talk to enough people and take the time to consider what they say, you will actually find you have the ability to control your own future. You may even be able to distinguish between good and bad advice.

Regards, Matt

The hidden job market

For those of you who I have not convinced about the value of networking, I thought I would share my own thoughts about something I have observed about the world and why I think it is so.

I would welcome differing opinions from our members and/or your own observations. Please send them to Leads@TheFENG.org and Leslie will publish them under our “Notes from Members” column.

During my various job campaigns since I started working in 1971 I always noticed a decided lack of published job leads in either Fairfield County Connecticut, where I live, or in New York City, a place to which I was willing to commute. (Please note that my career began well before the Internet, and that nothing much has really changed about job search.)

With all of the people who live in this part of the country and with all of the well-known companies that exist here, I had always been puzzled why more jobs weren’t in the newspapers or in the hands of recruiters. Sure, there were many that were, but it appeared to be far less than logic would dictate.

Why, for example, are all the jobs you get calls about out of town in out of the way places?

As editor of the newsletter, I have had the opportunity to observe close hand, not only the fact that most good news announcements say “I didn’t get my job from a posting,” (even though we are posting hundreds of pages of job leads a month), but also that most of the leads aren’t in major population centers. Yes, there are many that are, but again, I would suggest that there are a lot less as a percentage than logic would dictate.

The suggested answer is that most jobs are FILLED by networking. On the company side, if you are talking about a major metropolitan area, people know people, and when a vacancy or need occurs, friends check with friends. They put the word out. Unless it is an arcane skill set, or a job in an odd location, there frequently is no NEED to hire a recruiter, or even place an advertisement on the Internet or in the newspaper.

The NEEDS that exist out in the world are often not formed into actual jobs that are posted somewhere because the SOLUTION to those needs appears (you guessed it) through networking.

Either by design or by “accident,” the solution to your nagging problem appears on your doorstep through the good offices of a trusted friend. This creates a solution set that has fewer risks than putting your requirements out to “the market” to see what happens.

All of us as senior professionals are solutions to specific problems. All we have to do is put the possibility of our services out in front of those who have the need and jobs get created.

I always smile when I see position descriptions that include the phrase “ideal candidate profile.” Most of the time you would have to be Superman to fit it to a tee. Still, these are problems that have gotten pretty far along and the need of an expert to find the right solution has occurred.

You are the ideal candidate for something that is out there. And, your ticket to becoming the solution to that nagging problem is to connect, step by step, with individuals who understand the magic that you can create.

Your power tool is The FENG’s Member Directory Search feature, and I hope you will use it to great effect.

“The Force” is there for your information and use. I hope you will enjoy this great benefit that exists for you as a member of our circle of friends.

Regards, Matt

Reinventing yourself

During every recession, there are typically specific industries that experience more declines than others. One of the truths about the job market is that in any piece of time, one or more industries are usually singled out “for punishment” and lots of folks in those industries lose their jobs all at the same time.

For those of us who remember the dot.com bust, pre-bust if you weren’t working for a dot.com you were considered stupid. Post-bust, having been at one proved you were stupid. As they say, you can’t have it both ways.

Not much you as an individual can do about industry cycles. If you were a mortgage industry financial professional, it is pretty clear that a large number of the individuals who did exactly what you did also lost their jobs in 2008. As in the movie Airplane, you picked a bad time to give up sniffing glue.

The advantage that most financial folks have is their transferrable skills. Debits and credits don’t vary a whole lot. Fortunately, income statements still have a bottom line and balance sheets balance. (Hope you don’t mind a little accounting humor to get us in the right mood.)

The goal is to find something else to do. Sure, it is always possible to find an identical job. And, one might argue that under the “best use” economic theory, doing that will maximize your value in the marketplace. While it is possible, in a situation where there is going to be a lot of competition, it might be smart to come up with a different approach.

The best way not to get a severe headache over this whole thing is, of course, networking. But, it is networking with a slightly different purpose. How can you best apply your skills? Perhaps you have a few ideas. As they say, two heads are better than one. This is the time to use our Member Directory Search feature and call other members of The FENG who are just like you.

It may appear to be counterintuitive, but consider that you are calling the “smartest folks in the room.” You know what they do and they know what you do. No long-winded explanations are needed. If everyone puts their heads together to create alternatives, you are bound to come up with a lot more than you might come up with on your own. No situation is totally hopeless.

Starting with the positive is that you have a good education and marketable skills. The industry specific skills, if you analyze them carefully will always have applicability elsewhere.

I was Chief Financial Officer at an advertising agency in the early 90’s. When I lost my job, that industry was in the dumper. While I didn’t find a job at a law firm, or an engineering firm, these industries were on my radar screen as appropriate places where I could practice my people management skills. Like advertising agencies, they are places filled with individuals who have egos as big as all outdoors. They also have client relationships. They also weren’t in the dumper.

Now you can’t go crazy and throw yourself into a TOTALLY different industry, but there are always related industries where an analogy could be made.

If that fails, one might also make a skill set analogy. Those managing portfolios for high net worth individuals have relationship management skills that might be applicable to some very different industry. One of our members, for example, went into selling high end real estate.

The important thing to reinvention is to create several tracks. When you are making a change in industry or how you are applying your skills, at least initially, cast a wide net.

While I like you exactly as you are, I just might like your reinvented self even better.

Regards, Matt

Details, details, details

One of the most annoying things about us financial types (at least to non-financial types) is the long-winded and seemingly endless explanations we provide when discussing complicated situations.

Although we are mistakenly thought to always “cut to the chase” or go right to “the bottom line,” when it comes to communicating about important matters, no detail no matter how small or insignificant (to others) can be left out if in our minds it provides a link of logic important to the “moral” of our story.

Nowhere is this more true than the saga of how we lost our last job or when asked to discuss our career progression.

In the case of why we left our last job, it is vitally important to be brief. The truth is that the person asking the question is only trying to satisfy his or her own morbid curiosity. As I always suggest to those giving 90-second announcements, unless you were arrested and convicted of a crime at your last firm, I probably don’t need to know why you left. And, if this is actually what happened, you probably won’t tell me. So, why get into it?

To tell a long involved story of “who did what to whom and when” is to expose yourself to the dual risk of “the maiden doth protest too much methinks” or even worse to mentally drag yourself back through an unpleasant departure from a job you held for perhaps a long time and really enjoyed. Just consider what the telling of this story in all of its gory detail will do to your mood and the rest of your interview.

The story must be brief – no more than a minute, and less if possible. It also must be completely accurate. Sure, this is hard to do without leaving out a lot of details, but this is what you have to do. You will find that with a little effort, you can determine what is important to others and what is only important to you. It is a critical distinction to understanding and communicating with your audience.

Fortunately, when it comes to discussing our career progression, we have the wonderful device of the 90-second elevator speech that I hope you all practice and practice and practice. It is the best answer I know to the question: “So, tell me about yourself.”

The 90-second elevator speech needs to be focused on only the important facts about you that are relevant to the job or potential job at hand. Starting with “I was born at a very early age” and working your way forward in time chronologically is a very bad idea. Start with your most recent experience and only add information about your “prehistory” to the degree it is needed to explain who you are and what you are about.

Hard to believe, but many folks in what I like to call the “outside world” are comfortable with the concept of being slightly pregnant. I know it is a concept we could never understand, but we will just have to live with who we are.

Regards, Matt

Fool’s gold, job leads & networking

A long time ago I received an email from one of our members comparing and contrasting the job leads he was getting from various sources.

The quick story is that he was a subscriber to two paid services in addition to our newsletter. What I found disappointing was his closing comment which began by saying how much he appreciated our newsletter and the job leads contained in it but ended with the comment that when he found a job he would be sure to make a contribution.

While I would be the first one to understand that it is difficult to fully understand the value of job leads you see posted in various places, I would hope that members of The FENG would have enough common sense to know that most of the leads in our newsletter are gold and the ones that you see most other places are “fool’s gold.” They appear to have value, but are totally worthless.

Anyone who is spending their hard earned money supporting the various paid services, I would hope you are sending at least that much money to support The FENG.

Let me begin by saying that I am not a big fan of job leads from any source. Even in our newsletter, you have to do a little reading between the lines to know if a job lead is of real value. The ones of highest value include the phrase “please use my name in contacting.” They also typically include the search professional’s FULL business card information. Personal relationships are at stake with these postings, so you can’t just “click and shoot,” but if you are a fit, they are the gold. The recruiters who use us value the controlled response they receive from our august body, so again, you win.

Paid services invite disrespect. While they may be sold to “a better class of criminal,” the truth is that because they are paying for it, subscribers have an “I’m paying for it, so I’ll answer what I damn well please to answer” mentality. The anecdotal evidence of which I am aware is that in most cases, recruiters get an over response to postings to paid services.

The free services are even worse. Friends, it is the wild, wild west. There is NO personal responsibility on EITHER side. Recruiters post without revealing themselves, and those who visit those websites return the favor by “clicking and shooting.”

Every month I get a few requests to structure the newsletter by geography, salary level, skill set or all of the above. You will have to take my word for it that because most recruiters don’t provide the necessary information and because we do outbound email, this is not practical. Our philosophy is “time is of the essence.” We blast out the job leads we get, only stopping to do a little formatting to make them more readable. (Leslie and Charlotte do a super job, don’t they? You should see what it looks like when they get it! Bad doesn’t begin to describe it.)

Just because a website is structured with any or all of the above doesn’t make their service more valuable to you. At one of the regional services I am aware of, the job leads are categorized and posted weekly. Yes, weekly, as in DEAD ON ARRIVAL. And, they are taken from several of the public websites. You may as well send your response to yourself for all the good it will do.

Despite my negative comments about the job leads posted elsewhere, the REAL gold of your membership in The FENG is our 40,000+ membership directory. Networking, networking and more networking is what has the highest odds of helping you find another job. Networking within The FENG will at worst get you STARTED and COMFORTABLE with networking outside of our family.

Do a passive job search if you like. Don’t call anyone. Just don’t complain about how you can’t find a job. Do you want proof that networking works? Just keep a tally count of the good news announcements in our newsletter.

Like a veteran prospector, you will soon be able to tell the difference between real gold and fool’s gold.

Regards, Matt

Stepping back up

So, what have you been doing to pass the time the past few years? Is it possible you have had a job where you were underemployed?

Let me start you out with the idea that you never have to apologize for working, even when you have been working at jobs that pay a LOT less than your previous earnings. There is this little problem about putting food on the table and keeping your kids in school that, like hanging in the morning, tends to focus the mind.

If you have been fortunate enough to find a full time job or even a string of temporary assignments, you are miles ahead of many of your peers. There are always some folks who haven’t had anything. During 1991-1992 when I was out of work, I hardly had a single day of paid employment. (Alas, there wasn’t an organization like The FENG back in those dark and gloomy days before the Internet.)

The problem you face in getting back to your “proper station in life” is explaining it to others. Like the sailor caught in a violent summer storm on Long Island Sound, (I know everyone likes my sailing analogies) you often find that when you return to harbor, those who have been fortunate enough to be on dry land have no clue what you have been through. Sure, YOU had a near death experience. They just turned on their windshield wipers or brought the beer inside from their lounge chair out by the pool.

Be prepared for the IDEA that the person on the other side of the desk honestly won’t understand what you have been through and don’t be outraged by it. Just because you have been out in the cold cruel world doesn’t mean they have.

Okay, now for the positives of your experience. The biggest complaint heard about senior executives is that they aren’t hands on enough. If you have been working at a lower level job, my guess is that you can now address this issue in spades. (I not only made the coffee and my own copies of documents, I also had to do my own spreadsheets!) Most of our members tend to move from large companies to smaller ones. Having the humility to do what you have to do to keep the shop moving is essential to your success.

Additionally, is it possible you have learned a few new skills? Have you had any low paying assignments doing hands on work say in Excel so you are knowledgeable and an expert? (Remember, you don’t need to mention how much per hour you were getting paid. The “story” is that you were doing the work.)

Did you head into your current job after working for one company for a significant number of years? If you have been doing anything, you can now more easily talk about your “transferable skills,” and you can talk about how adaptable you are. The XYZ Corporation way is not the only thing you know. Perhaps you have even experienced SEVERAL different cultures since you left the fold.

As I learned in the Advertising business, it is all in the spin you put on your stories. And, if you get to tell your story first it can easily become the message that is remembered.

As financial folks, we all need to keep in mind that we are generally speaking terrible poker players. Others can read our true feelings because they are written all over our face. Develop the “true” story about your experiences over the past few years and tell it to yourself and others often enough so even YOU believe it.

And, even if this editorial helps you get that dream job, I hope you will remember the truth about our careers. All jobs are temporary. When you are working, you are just between searches. Stay connected to The FENG and keep up your networking.

Regards, Matt

The grass is not always greener

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. We sure have a lot of expressions relating to the very simple problem of thinking that life would be better if we were only somewhere else.

I’ll add another: You can’t go home again. I can assure you that the dream job you once had contained blemishes that you have now forgotten.

It would always appear to me to be worth a shot not making the same mistake again (whatever it might have been) in the selection of your next job.

When jobs are scarce, and they may be in your segment, I strongly recommend taking whatever you can find. It is always better to be working. And, as any good sailor knows: Any port in a storm.

While I would be the first to argue that there is a reason why they call it work – if it was too much fun they would have to come up with another name – we do spend a lot of time doing it, far more than any other activity in our lives and it is worthy of some thoughtful consideration what we like and what we dislike about our current situation or potential situations.

To me, step one is the people. Are these my kind of people? Do they share my values? Are they ethical? Can I stand being with them all the hours I am likely to be doing so? If the answer is no, run, don’t walk to the nearest exit. No amount of money is worth it.

Step two is about the work. What is the real work content going to be? Will I be learning? Will I be practicing skill sets that I enjoy doing? I can’t image any torture more extreme than having to do work day in and day out that I find painful.

Step three is about the future. Will this next job in any way shape or form prepare me for the next step in my career? Will it provide me with what I need to keep on working? Steps in your career are not always up. Up is good, but to always be working is even more important. For example, you don’t want to take a job that is going to leave you so burned out that you will be unemployable.

Change is good. I am not suggesting that anyone stay put. It is possible the grass is greener. Just remember, if it really is greener someone is going to have to mow it, and that person may be you.

Regards, Matt

Home is where the heart is

As many of you know, in 1991 and 1992, I was unemployed. (Yes, two long years!)

Hard to say exactly why it took so long to find another job, but suffice to say that it was a recession and after 9 years in the Advertising business (which was in the dumper) and no recent experience in Publishing (my other background which was also in the dumper), there weren’t a lot of job possibilities.

One of the things I took off the table immediately was moving. Sure, I was born in Chicago and had lived in Northern Indiana when I was growing up, but for nearly 25 years I had been living in Norwalk, Connecticut.

It is arguable if moving would have shortened my search. And, even though I had no intention of moving, I never voiced this opinion to anyone in the search business. As far as they knew, I was open to the possibility. If fact, one opportunity did arise in Tampa, and my reaction was – when?

(Hey, I’m a sailor and it looked like the season down there would be longer. And, I looked at houses where I could have had the boat in the back yard. But, we digress.)

As it turned out, I wasn’t offered that job. In addition, I found out shortly thereafter that this privately held company was sold to a larger firm in Atlanta (after swearing that it wasn’t for sale during my interviewing). As we all have seen, so much for job security and job longevity.

Not only do I have a sailboat that I enjoy on Long Island Sound, more importantly my wife’s parents lived nearby. Up until 8 years ago, they were both still very much alive and very much a part of my life. I just couldn’t see moving away and having them miss our children growing into adults nor could I see me missing the opportunity of being able to take care of them in their declining years.

I have to tell you that in the past 20 years I haven’t heard too many happy ending stories about folks who have moved. The world is a place these days where most of us are only penciled in.

The choice of moving or not moving is a very personal one and I would never suggest that anyone base his/her decision on my priorities. All I can tell you is that life is a balance and you need to consider for yourself if your personal relationships with your circle of friends where you live now (and your family’s as well) is offset by the need to find gainful employment. It is a tough choice as are most in life.

If you choose not to move, you just need to accept that it MAY limit your choices and options. The key is to make a firm decision early and stick with it.

I took two jobs in the 1990’s that paid less than I had previously earned, but it kept my life in balance and it didn’t harm me financially as much as I thought it would at the time. If you make a decision not to move, you need to accept that you MAY need to be more flexible in your financial requirements.

Life has a way of working itself out. You just have to accept the decisions you make and commit to not second guessing yourself. I know, easy to say, but often hard to live with.

Regards, Matt

Why bother?

I was working on two assignments for The FECG a few weeks ago and I couldn’t help but notice the frequency with which some members consistently failed to provide a meaningful cover letter with their resume. (Just so you know, assignments marketed by our consulting practice are only presented to members of The FENG for their consideration.)

I have often been heard to say that “your resume stands alone.” It’s true. But, sometimes we need a little more information. When a member’s candidacy is marginal, that email cover note can really make the difference.

When I say marginal I am not talking about the general qualifications of the individual in question, but rather his/her suitability for the particular assignment we are working on at that moment. In a perfect world, each and every resume would be able to stand alone. In the world in which we live, it is not always possible or practical to tailor the resume you might be submitting for one of our assignments. We understand this and when we sense you might be a reasonable fit, we try to “find out more about you.” We hope you have written a few words of explanation, but we are often disappointed.

For example, if you have held titles such as Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, it may be a little difficult to imagine you as a “roll up your sleeves” type of person. If you let us know that you have been working consulting assignments where you have been doing exactly that, it can help. (Perhaps you have even been wearing short sleeved shirts to save the time involved in rolling them up. Now that would really indicate a “hands on” person.)

Sometimes on the assignments we handle for our alumni members, we are looking for a particularly hard to find skill set. When it comes to fluency with foreign languages, I hope that anyone who is fluent in ANY language other than English would have the common sense to put that on their resume. (Personally, I’m still working on English.) But, if speaking a foreign language has not been central to your career, you might not think it important. Much as I would like to see it where our client could see it, at least mention it in your cover note.

Knowledge of specific software is another area where one might be reluctant to memorialize this information in your resume, software often being too specific. However, when a job posting appears to have interest in something in which you are an expert but it is not obvious from your resume, spell it out in your cover note.

In any job market, I know you don’t get a lot of feedback. Job postings in general don’t lend themselves to providing point by point feedback on why you weren’t selected. The number of applicants gets in the way of providing the kind of meaningful information essential to your more properly presenting your credentials. (Unfortunately, only the winners are ever notified.)

That’s why I write editorials. I see firsthand what members are doing and I want you to improve your presentation, not to make my life easier, but rather to ensure that you will find a job appropriate to your skills and in the shortest time possible.

One of the hallmarks of membership in The FENG is a reluctance to submit your candidacy for opportunities in this newsletter for which you are not really a fit. When I see you have applied for one of our assignments, I ASSUME, that you think you can do the job. I honestly would like to know why, but if it isn’t clear from your resume or cover note I really can’t help you.

So the next time before you say to yourself “Why bother?” with respect to adding information to your cover note or resume, consider the likely result. Either take a minute to write a proper explanation on important issues, or don’t send in your credentials. You really aren’t doing either of us a favor if you don’t.

Regards, Matt

The renewal of old friendships

I never cease to be amazed how time stands still with respect to old friends.

Several years ago one of my fraternity brothers was digging through some old photos in his basement and found a box from college. This prompted him to go to our national organization and get an email list. And so, the renewal process began for friendships that dated back 40 years! At the time it was pretty exciting for me to hear about the lives of individuals I lived in such close quarters with for 4 formative years. And, I took the time to immediately call several of these old friends. (Yes, I have known them for a long time, and I guess all of us have gotten old.) I ultimately called almost all of them, and we actually scheduled a reunion attended by 40 of us in Chicago later that year.

It is unfortunate in a sense that I moved away from Indiana, but then again many of my college friends don’t live anywhere near there anyway. As we were scattered to the 4 winds, our lives separated and except for a very few of them I honestly lost track of them.

That was college. Most of us have another formative period called our early work career. Typically members of The FENG have worked for a large corporation for many years, perhaps even two or three before they were in their late 40’s. These were the glory years in a very real sense. We learned to apply the education we received in college and developed skills that allowed us to get promoted and grow mentally.

What is most important to tonight’s message is that we didn’t do this alone. We had business associates, some of whom we spent more time with than our families.

For all of those friends with whom we struggled far into the night, middle age or late middle age is a great time to track down these many individuals and renew old friendships. And, as a member of The FENG, you have a remarkable tool in our Member Directory Search feature which is available on our website. It honestly represents to you a resource that no one else on the face of the earth in any other professional arena has.

Anytime you have a few moments, sign into our website and see if you can track down people you have lost touch with. Even if you don’t find their names in our membership directory, you will generally be at least able to find a few folks from your old companies and although you don’t know THEM, they may know your old friends.

My window into this world is both personal and related to The FENG. As I am sure you know everyone in The FENG has a sponsor. What you may not know is that if someone registers without a sponsor, we help them find one. We do this in the same manner described above. We search the names of the companies where they have worked and ask them if they know any of the folks we mention. It is very exciting when they say they do know someone and mention that they have lost touch. We know they are in for a walk down memory lane that both parties will greatly enjoy.

Friendship is a gift you share with others. I hope that like me, you count your wealth in friends.

Regards, Matt

The golden rule

If there is any complaint I hear more than any other, it is that those we send messages to about jobs opportunities are not responsive. Sometimes even when a company or recruiter has taken the time to interview one of our members, weeks and weeks later all that is heard is silence.

If this disappointment and/or anger truly reflect how we feel about the “outside world,” it makes me wonder why it is that I hear rumors from time to time that MEMBERS are being unresponsive to one another.

Here within our little society called The FENG we have the opportunity to receive many benefits from building relationships with each other. Access to 40,000 folks from every industry, from every part of the country, and from every aspect of the financial disciplines is something you “can’t beat with a stick.”

I write frequent editorials encouraging members to “reach out and touch” members who are new to our organization, and many of you have picked up this torch and are running with it. It was one of my many “stupid” ideas that I thought would work to achieve our common goals and create a bond among us that other organizations only wish they had. It is now succeeding to a degree I never imagined would be possible. God bless all of you who have made this activity part of your weekly routine.

I also frequently tout the benefits of networking yourself to each and every one of those individuals in The FENG with whom you share any kind of background connection.

If you want others to make themselves available to you, you have to make yourself available to them. That means you not only should ensure that your directory listing is accurate, but also that you extend the same courtesy to others that you would like them to extend to you when you need help.

To those who have experienced disappointment with your fellow members I would suggest that you understand the simple fact that at any point in time, everyone doesn’t “get it” yet. It is my hope that somewhere along the line they will. It takes a bit of exposure to what we are trying to accomplish to actually believe it is true. If it isn’t totally true today, let’s hope that if individually we work on it, it will be some day.

If all you want is a job listing service, you have come to the wrong networking group. My goal, and I hope yours as well, is to create something much better that will serve us well for the rest of our careers.

6 degrees of separation may be fine for the rest of the world, but let’s see how close to zero we can get.

Regards, Matt

Hard of seeing

There are a lot of maladies that go along with getting old. The one that tends to bother me the most these days is that I don’t see as well as I used to. Please don’t get alarmed. My eyes aren’t deteriorating from a medical standpoint. No, the problem is reading small type and handwritten name badges.

I hope that all of you go to as many networking meetings as possible. It is important to be out and about. The more you present your credentials, the more likely you will either meet Santa Claus (the person who connects you to a great job) or you will at least become very comfortable in presenting your credentials to complete strangers. At a minimum, networking meetings are a great skill building opportunity.

I believe that all of us have access to printers that allow us to vary type sizes. The wide availability of this capability keeps me wondering at each meeting I attend why folks don’t make up their own name badges and tents on their printer so that you can easily read them from across the room.

Okay, sure, I have a short name. But, I also picked up a great badge holder at a meeting I attended and printed up my name in type as large as I could make it. I also printed up my name on a regular sheet of paper and taped it to my tent. Again, as big as I could make it.

The purpose of this is clarity. In the spirit of the movie “My cousin Vinny,” a networking meeting is no time to blend.

Name badges and tents have a dual purpose. First and foremost is that they enable bashful folks like me to come up to you and introduce myself. I can start with “George, I found your 90-second introduction to be of great interest.” I know your name is George because you are wearing a name badge. And, if you have made the type large enough, I don’t have to lean in and bring my bifocals into the right position.

The added benefit is the reinforcement it provides to your listener, either during your 90-second announcement or when we are speaking “up close and personal.” The whole time I am listening, your name is burning itself into my brain. After the meeting, I may even be able to recall your name (that is if my “old timers” isn’t acting up again) by visualizing your name badge or tent.

Another issue I have these days is absorbing the information on resumes I receive. If I focus real hard that dramatic 10 point type you have chosen and those long convoluted sentences truly speak to me. (Not!)

So, in consideration for those of us who are hard of seeing, I hope you will agree that in the future you will make every effort to visually speak up.

Regards, Matt

The sound of one hand clapping

Some time ago a member wrote to me lamenting that although he was responding to a great number of opportunities, no one was contacting him about his credentials.

It is a sad fact of life that the way job search works with regard to posted jobs is that it is atypical if anyone even acknowledges the receipt of your resume. Unfortunately, with the number of responses, and the lack of clerical help at most firms, even that simple courtesy is much too time consuming.

The approach most firms use is to try to hide who they are. They don’t mention the name of their search firm or if they are a corporation, the name of the company. The Internet allows them to do this in much the same way that P.O. Box numbers were used in the Sunday New York Times. (Are all of you old enough to remember that far back when newspapers were king?)

Of course, “one hand clapping” doesn’t make any noise. Are you responding to the right postings? Is your resume terrible? Is there just too much competition? Alas, you will never know. Very few folks have the time to do a complete and thorough analysis of your background as compared to the others that were submitted. Truth be told, I have never heard of it being done.

We are all big ticket items. And, there is only one of us. That means you typically only make one sale. At times, even the number of shoppers out there can be few and far between.

Where we all end up is not knowing what is working and what isn’t.

Classic direct mail techniques require that you get a certain response rate. If the response rate is zero or close to zero in our context that still doesn’t mean your “product” isn’t working. To be quite honest, it isn’t a good sign either. Chances are something isn’t right, but what?

My suggestion is to team up with other members of The FENG. (I hope this idea doesn’t come as a shock to any of you.) In the classic argument of “big college versus small college,” I always opt for the big college. There is no bigger university in the world than The FENG.

If you do a little networking, (I hope not another shocking idea), you can pair yourself up with someone or several someone’s who share a sufficient number of background connections with you that their advice and counsel will make sense and ring true.

Alas, with my background in Advertising and Publishing, I’m not much good at giving really specific suggestions to Bankers or Manufacturing types. It just isn’t where I come from or where I live.

If you want to get to hearing TWO hands clapping, you are going to need to seek out the company of those you trust so that all the possible improvements can be made to your program.

And let’s be honest here, with 40,000+ kind hearted individuals to choose from, you can’t lose.

If you take the time to connect with other members, it will sure be a lot noisier than the sound of one hand clapping.

Regards, Matt

Paying back favors

One of the worst feelings you can have when you are networking is that you are drawing down favors from everyone you contact and you honestly have no way of repaying their many courtesies. Unfortunately, this is not your imagination.

True networking is, of course, a give and take. Hopefully you are in this networking thing for the long term. If you are, let me put your mind at ease.

For those of you who remember the original Godfather movie, you may remember the scene before the wedding where Don Corleone is lecturing the undertaker about never having allowed himself to be put in his debt. While none of you will, hopefully, ever ask one of your networking contacts to have someone beat up, asking for favors is a normal and an accepted part of life.

What is more important about this little episode and often forgotten is that asking for a favor is bestowing a great honor on the giver. Think about the last time someone asked YOU for a favor you were able to grant. (I won’t ask who you had beat up.) I’ll bet that you felt pretty good about yourself. Perhaps you got the son or daughter of one of your friends an interview with your firm. Or, if it was a networking contact, perhaps you opened a few doors for someone.

The big hang up is the whole issue of paying back the specific individual who did you a favor. Now I’m not going to suggest that you conveniently forget that someone did you a favor. Who knows, your roles might change at some point. What I am going to suggest is that instead of trying to pay back the exact person, that you instead accept that you have a “debt to society” to repay.

By accepting favors during your networking process you incur an obligation to help others in the same way. Which others? Everyone who comes your way.

During my early days in The FENG many individuals from our august body did me favors. There honestly weren’t many of us, but everyone in the spirit of friendship tried to help. We looked over each other’s resumes. We shared all of our job leads. Even in between meetings, all of us tried to contact other members when finding a job we felt might be of interest to them.

Doing favors and receiving favors shouldn’t have any evil overtones to you. If you are willing to get in the spirit of The FENG thing, you will always be out and about seeking out those who might need your help. Our new members in particular always comment to me how nice it is that during their first week so many members called to welcome them seeking nothing in return.

By practicing non-judgmental networking, you will find that you become better as time goes on at detecting others who have needs. Before they even ask, you will be able to provide those who call you or meet you with the kind of assistance they require. You might even assist them in ways they were reluctant to ask for.

Life doesn’t get much better than that. It is quite a payback.

Regards, Matt

Picking the pennies up off the floor

I am often asked how one should budget one’s time when conducting a job search. The easy answer is that it depends.

I would suggest to you that the primary element of your search is, of course, networking, networking and more networking. The reason I say this is, it works best.

That said, just as the odds of winning the lottery on any given day are very low, and in my case nonexistent since I don’t buy lottery tickets, someone does win the lottery every single day.

Let me start you out with the idea that initially you need to devote yourself to creating a competent resume and a competent 90-second announcement. Both of these items are tools you need to conduct an effective search. However, working them to death in the absence of any other activity on your part is akin to what one president I worked for called “polishing the stone.” At some point you have gone as far as you can go and you need to wait for some “audience feedback” to get them to a higher level.

I’ll deal with networking last since it is the most important. Let me start with contacting recruiters. Most recruiters honestly don’t want to hear from you unless they happen to be working on something that is an exact match to your background. Like the lottery, what are the odds of that happening? Still, in keeping with our theme of the evening, there is that possibility and it makes sense to spend some time chasing them. You should reach out to all of the search professionals you have worked with over the years and let them know of your interest in new opportunities. If they have placed folks with you before, they will certainly be hoping to do so again. While some of these search professionals won’t have jobs at your level, they will generally take the time to review your resume and you can perhaps try your 90-second announcement out on them. They may actually know you and be able to offer valid advice.

Job leads are another area where you need to play the game. The ones that appear in our newsletter, I hope, are among the best you will find. They appear in our newsletter because I have been promoting The FENG to the search community for 20+ years now. And now that we are the largest networking group of our type in the entire world and because most members “behave themselves” and follow our “qualified members only” approach, we are viewed as a valued partner to these firms.

Answering job leads has the added advantage of giving you some valuable insight into the current job market. Not only what kinds of jobs and job titles, but also detailed descriptions of job requirements. Even if you never get a response from one of our postings, you should be able to do a little tune up work on your resume by comparing published job requirements to your primary marketing document. View the time you spend on answering ads as time spent improving your odds when the “real thing” comes along. You will also gain some sense of the kinds of jobs you honestly feel you can fill and will be able to use that information in your networking.

There are a huge number of job posting boards, some of which may be specific to your background. I only rarely hear of anyone who has found a job on one of these boards, but lightning does strike from time to time. Just keep in mind the low yield compared to networking.

Networking is the gold standard. Done properly you should be building an inner circle of friends upon whom you can depend for the rest of your working life. That’s the goal. If you view this as a one-time effort, you are wasting your time and the time of the many individuals who will take considerable time out of their work day to provide you with assistance.

Targeting your networking contacts will give you the best result. Compare it to asking for directions at a gas station. Unless you are in the immediate neighborhood of where you want to go, you are unlikely to get valid information. If you are in Westport, Connecticut and you pull into a gas station and ask them how to get to Phoenix, Arizona, you are going to get some strange looks. You might even get your head effectively handed to you. In much the same way, being unfocused in your networking yields the same result.

For members of The FENG, studying our membership directory listings BEFORE writing or calling gets the best results. Focus on individuals who have worked at firms where you have worked or at firms that were your firm’s direct competitors. These folks are most likely to have a valid understanding of the work you have done and the conditions under which you have done it.

In the case of firms where you have worked and people who know you or know of you, you are viewed as a “shirt tail cousin” and will tend to get the warmest welcome and the best advice.

I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but asking a networking contact if they are aware of any open jobs is the original non-starter in a conversation. What you are looking for are more networking contacts who will understand who you are and how you perform your magic.

While I hope you will spend the bulk of your time on networking, it is the hardest work you will ever do. Effectively asking others for help when you have little to offer in return at that moment can be difficult. If you like, you can view the other activities I have mentioned above as your recreation time.

“Picking the pennies up off the floor” is a good thing to do since you may slip and fall on them if you don’t.

Regards, Matt

First, get the job offer

I often have been heard to joke that when I was in the Advertising business I worked with people who lied even when it wasn’t necessary. Their reason was simple. They didn’t want to get out of practice.

In much the same way, you as a job applicant need to “stay the course” even when you may know very shortly into the process that the job in question is not of interest for whatever reason or reasons.

I suppose it would be more polite (and members of The FENG tend to be VERY polite) to just drop out of the process, but I would suggest to you in the strongest of terms that, like my “friends” in the Advertising business, you need the practice.

Interviews can be few and far between. The mental gymnastics and salesmanship required to get a firm to make you an offer is a skill that you can never have enough practice doing. And, what better situation to hone your own personal process than when there is literally nothing at stake.

Yes, I know it is a little dishonest, but as you know, practice makes perfect. It’s not like you have any other way to gain this kind of experience.

I would also suggest to you that us analytical types are often too quick to make judgments. While I am not going to second guess your ability to easily determine that the overwhelming evidence is that this job is not for you, but you just never know. As Butch Cassidy said in that now famous movie: “Don’t sugar coat it Sundance, tell it to her straight.” Some interviewers tell you all the bad stuff first (to test your reaction) and if you don’t hang in there and listen to the end of the story, you might never know that it actually has a happy ending.

Someone correctly pointed out to me once that you can’t turn down a job that hasn’t been offered to you. How true. I just wish that everyone I know really understood this point.

I hope that the next time you have the opportunity participate in an interviewing process you will play out all your cards. The best revenge may end up being your firing the Human Resource Director who insisted on your taking that simple math test they give to High School graduates who apply at the company. (He should know you can only work numbers on a calculator or computer.)

Being able to say you turned down several jobs can also make for a very good “throw away” line when the job you really want comes along. It is all part of the game we play in this thing we call job search.

Regards, Matt

Just call me Superman

Job descriptions, especially the ones that go on for pages and pages, have to make you smile.

That said, with my many years of experience in the Advertising business, I am a big fan of long copy. Long copy sells. In the context of position descriptions posted in our newsletter I believe it gives our members sufficient information so that they can disqualify themselves if they honestly aren’t a fit.

The longer the job description, the more likely you will get a good sense of the REAL responsibilities of the job. Most of the ones that catch your eye, I have no doubt that you can do.

The more appropriate question to keep in mind is do you have a reasonable chance to be selected. We operate on “qualified members only.” It is the phrase that begins all of the postings that appear under my name and I hope if you are kind enough to send a posting in that you will put it at the beginning of yours. To the degree that you routinely choose to buy a lottery ticket, you run the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. If we don’t hold down our responses and end up bombing the many members of the search community who have trusted me and other members when we promise you won’t, you will end up seeing fewer opportunities.

However, is it possible that anyone has all of the “must haves” you see in any specific position description? Most likely not.

Still, most jobs fall to primarily industry experience, location and skill set requirements. If they need an Internal Auditor and you have never held that title, it isn’t likely you will be selected even though Internal Auditor’s may be in short supply. In addition, if the job is in Minneapolis and you are living in Los Angeles, you are at a disadvantage. That disadvantage can be offset a bit if you write a little explanation in your cover note. Perhaps you went to school where the job is located, grew up there, or better yet, have family there. All of those are winning explanations. If they say no relocation, make it clear that this is not an issue. Don’t leave it to their imaginations. (The reason is that they may not have any.)

The same thing is true in terms of industry experience. If you read between the lines of the position description and think you can draw an analogy between your background and the industry in which the job exists, your cover letter is the place to do it. Keep in mind that readers of resumes can sometimes figure it out on their own, but I wouldn’t count on it. If you know that one type of manufacturing process has common characteristics with some seemingly unrelated manufacturing described in the position description, take the time to explain.

I would mention again the very difficult challenge that more often than not, your resume stands alone.

Anyone who doesn’t follow each and every company on their resume with a one sentence explanation is likely to miss out on a large number of opportunities. Sure, I wasn’t born yesterday and have been reading business periodicals since I was in my youth, but many of those who screen resume WERE born yesterday. Make their job easy. They may be young and inexperienced, but they are probably able to read.

Can clients find someone who is Superman? Probably not. But, in today’s market they can come darn close. Make sure they know that you are one in the same person by tailoring your responses to get the best result.

Perhaps you will even be able to leap tall email systems in a single bound!

Regards, Matt

The race to the finish line

Stop me if I am wrong, but I guess many folks find job search a painful process. Perhaps it is the lack of a steady paycheck, or the uncertainty, or the rejection. Just like beating your head against a wall, it sure feels good when you can stop. (Is this why we are having so much fun or what?)

Perhaps that is why a few times a week I get a message from one of our members to stop their evening newsletter because next week they are going to be starting a new job.

Next week? (Sure you don’t want to overlap a few days?)

Is the newsletter an unpleasant reminder of the pain of job search? Or, is it as I fear that this member is just kidding himself that this new job is permanent? As one of our members of long standing would remind these members, ALL JOBS ARE TEMPORARY.

I’ve landed. It has such a reassuring ring. If only “landing” were all that it was cracked up to be.

It is not only true that the job market has changed; we have changed as well. As senior executives, we are no longer working our way up the career ladder at a large corporation as many of us have in the past. We are typically moving from a large corporation to a small one where our skills are very much needed.

My simple explanation of the world we experience is that small companies fall into two broad categories: good ones and bad ones. The good ones get acquired and the bad ones go out of business. Either way, we can easily be back in the market.

With that in mind it pays to stay connected to The FENG. Although membership is free, you should see it as the most expensive obligation you have. Once you have “landed” and are now “safe” it is time to take care of the many others in our organization who need your help, and that is hard to do if you disconnect yourself. You need to read those Members in Need of Assistance columns and you need to make yourself available for networking.

The truth of the world today is that there is no actual finish line. If only there were. There are really only stops along the way.

Think of each job you find over the rest of your life as a pit stop in the race of life. (I figure everyone is getting tired of my sailing analogies, so I thought I would throw out an automotive racing one tonight.)

A little advice from the head of your pit crew: Keep your engine finely tuned and the always running at a fast idle. You never know when you will be out there racing again.

Regards, Matt

I know you’re busy

I know we live in a world of email, text messages and Twitter, but I often times wonder if others realize what their messages look like on the receiving end?

I have to assume that many of the people who write to me are very busy, too busy to take a minute and read their communications and see if they are going to make any sense to someone not knowledgeable about what they might be talking.

The problem goes well beyond the issue of “outgoing signatures” which I mention on a frequent basis. (If you don’t know what an outgoing signature is, you should suspect immediately that this editorial is about you. Please don’t write to me and ask. That is what the HELP pull down is all about in your email program.)

The latest variation on this theme are the messages I get requesting a password for the Members Only section of our website. I have to assume that it saves you a lot of time to use the “Subject” section to submit your request, and that the time it might take for you to write me a short “warm fuzzy” about how much you enjoy being a member of The FENG and appreciate getting the newsletter is too much to ask.

I will tell you the truth. I am actually not easily offended. (I worked in the advertising business for 9 years and I developed a VERY thick skin.) My concern is that you HAVEN’T singled me out for “punishment,” but rather that you treat EVERYONE this way.

I also realize that some of you do not touch type. While many of us can comment on our wasted youth, instead of shooting pool, I took a full year of typing and I am absolute smoke on a keyboard. (I know you wondered how I get so much done. This is one of the reasons why.) While I do sympathize with those of you who hunt and peck, it is no excuse for not taking the time to write proper messages.

If I may quote my dear friend Doug Fine: “Don’t make your first impression your last.” Again, I don’t ask that you do this just for me. I will always forgive you. Others may not.

Every communication you send to others needs to show that you care and have taken the time to make their life easy. This would especially be a good idea if you are asking them for a favor.

I have gotten messages from members asking me to call them to discuss an upcoming interview… usually tomorrow… that don’t have a preferred phone number or even one at all. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. (Did I mention that most of them aren’t signed either?)

We get “Requests for Assistance” every day that don’t include contact information. I have to wonder where folks think they are sending these requests. Are they really expecting others to look them up in our membership directory to research who they are and how to reach them? Fortunately, in most cases you have Leslie Mahoney “watching your back” and she adds this information.

A similar story applies to leads that are sent in. Is the format of our leads so difficult to follow? If you have been reading the newsletter every night, is it possible you could COPY the format so Leslie doesn’t have to add your chapter? (Surely there is an old newsletter on your desk somewhere.)

And for those of you who have been fortunate to have been named Robert, William, Joseph, Matthew (that’s me), or any of the 100’s of other names whose owners go by some nick name, could you somewhere in your message mention what that is? It would sure help if I (or someone else you have written to) did something impulsive like CALLED YOU.

It is honestly like a bad skit on Saturday Night Live. “Hi, is Joseph there? Please call me Joe.” Make it easy and put it in your message so I will know. (It’s called a “greeting to use.”)

Again, I know you are very busy. That said, consider that others might be busy as well.

Regards, Matt

Reducing the clutter

Since 1997 when I first became Chairman of The FENG, I have probably reviewed well over 150,000 resumes. (Gosh, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.)

I would tell you that the biggest problem I see in resumes is the incredible clutter. Although some of the resumes I get are 3 or 4 pages, most of the time the author has squeezed all they would like to say on 2 pages. The “tricks” they generally use are narrow margins and VERY tiny fonts. (I would swear some of them are less than 8 point type.)

While I am a big fan of writing to your heart’s content to create enough material to edit, your best friend is a sharp pencil. The old saws: “Less is more,” and “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” both apply here.

To get some sense of the task ahead of you, take that resume of yours, block the entire document and change the font to 12 point. It is electronic, so it’s not like you have to retype the darn thing.

Let’s start at the top. Most summaries are not value added. Like your 90-second announcement, you have to get rid of all of the meaningless modifiers like “bottom line oriented,” “team player,” etc. (I really could go on and on about meaningless modifiers, but in the interest of time I will stop. You will have to sign up for my comedy show if you want to hear them all.)

Usually following the summary is a list of tasks you have performed like “Strategic Planning,” “Profit Planning,” “General Ledger,” etc. Here again, most of them can be eliminated on two issues. One, are they “ordinary course of business” for financial officers? Or, are they duplicative? Most of the time they honestly are not value added. If you are thinking they need to be there for word searches, think again. Word searches for candidates are generally not done at our level.

Next let’s take a quick tour of the end of your resume. All that work experience at the end of your resume should only appear with the names of the companies where you have worked, the titles you have held and the periods of time in year ranges. I’m just guessing here, but many of the things that appear under accomplishments early in your career, you have done more recently, but at a more senior level. All the early part of your career needs to show is career progression.

To finish your review of the last page of your resume where your education appears, I would ask you to really consider whether all those honors that appeared on your FIRST resume out of college need to still be there. Look, I know you won the XYZ award on your senior paper, but that was 25 or more years ago. Or, perhaps you graduated with high honors or were elected to some honorary society. Again, it was a long time ago and probably not relevant to whether you can be an effective Chief Financial Officer TODAY.

Hopefully we have now freed up a little room on your resume. The good news and bad news about readers of resumes is that they only give each document about 15 seconds. Yes, I know you put your heart and soul into writing it, but it will get short shrift and NOT be passed on to a hiring authority if you blather on.

As accountants we have been trained to “save” everything. You never know what piece of paper might be important. I would encourage you to keep everything you have written about yourself and your accomplishments. I am just suggesting that you not publish it as part of the resume you are using to apply for jobs.

A 5 page resume with all the goodies may be just the thing for an in person interview or to give you fodder to apply for jobs that are not a major part of your experience. Resumes of different lengths are good for different purposes.

In the marketplace of candidate selection, clutter never wins. Go ahead. Confuse me with ALL the facts and I will never get through it. Make it simple so that EVEN I can understand it, and you just might win the day.

Regards, Matt

Is the phone ancient technology?

The long history of telephone use in this country is pretty obvious. And, unlike all the bad jokes I have seen over the years about “young folks” today never having known a time when ….. (you fill in the blank), I have to say that I am amazed and astounded most days by the lack of knowledge by those I call as to how these darn things work.

I recently took an old phone out to the driveway and smashed it with a sledgehammer to see what was inside. Yes, I know I could have used a screw driver and taken it apart carefully, but I was in one of those “dark moods.” Anyway, the truth be told, there was nothing remarkable inside of it.

This leads me to conclude that most of what I experience on a daily basis in trying to reach my many friends must fall into the category of “operator error.”

Perhaps we should start with the current bane of our existence – the cell phone. I hope that all of you remember the now ancient Verizon commercial where the technician is saying (in a normal tone of voice): Can you hear me now? Sad to say, I can’t hear him now. I assume he is standing under a cell tower that is not visible because I know I have been in the places he has been and I have had many of you call me from the same places and our conversation is more like: CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? (Capital letters indicate screaming.) This is usually followed by my saying: “I guess I lost him/her.”

The lesson here is that, if you can avoid it, don’t make or receive any important phone calls using your cell phone. (I could be wrong, but it is not polite to yell during a business phone call, and there is always the possibility that the curse you express (which is not acceptable in polite society) just might be received at the other end, so be careful. Like saying ouch when you burn yourself, I agree it is hard to stifle.

Voice mail. I spend much of my day playing telephone tag. Although it doesn’t require as much energy as the running around required in that childhood game of “tag you’re it,” may I suggest that all members of The FENG (as the professionals I know you are), put a real phone message on your machine? Yes, I know that will require your reading the instruction manual or stumbling your way through it, and that it could take an hour or more to get it right, but those “standard” messages are just not professional. Might I also humbly suggest that you mention your name?

I know there is great fear out there that causes people to tell you their phone number instead of their name, but it is honestly “urban legend.” If you provide a proper message, your knees will not bend in the wrong direction causing you to fall forward. Honest! I have a proper message, and none of your worst nightmares have ever happened to me. (Okay, some of them have, but we don’t need to get into that now.) I guess I should also mention that cutesy messages featuring your 6 year old or with your dog barking in the background should also be avoided on your business line.

And now for a brief primer on leaving messages. My answering machine has the facility to replay the last 10 seconds. The reason I assume is to make it possible to play back your phone number. The hint is that this is where your phone number should be when you leave a message. And, try not to leave more than two phone numbers. May I also suggest that no matter how many exchanges you have had with the person with whom you are currently playing telephone tag, that you always leave your phone number. (An important corollary of this is to have your outgoing signature appear EVEN on replies, although Microsoft doesn’t seem to think that this should be the default setting.)

If you are really in a mood to amaze and astound me, you might also want to tell me why you are calling. (I know this requires a special occasion, but I do find it helpful.)

I hope that like me, you have never known a time when we didn’t have telephones. (Although I must admit that when I was a young lad, we did have a party line. But, that’s a story for another time.)

Perhaps it is time to learn how to use this tool effectively.

Regards, Matt

Silver bullets

Except for the Lone Ranger, none of us actually has silver bullets in our gun.

I am frequently taken to task by members on the topic of networking. I suppose that to a very large degree I am guilty of touting networking as the ultimate silver bullet to the exclusion of all other methods.

I guess I didn’t realize that I was presenting networking as a “be all end all.” It is, but I didn’t realize I was doing it.

The real truth is that you have to “do it all.”

Back in 1991, I had a very dear friend who ran the Drake Beam office in Stamford. Although I didn’t actually get outplacement, he invited me to use a desk there anytime I needed one and to participate in the various meetings they held. One of the very fine traditions was the “graduation” ceremony that was held each week. At this event each graduate would tell the straight line he took from beginning of job search to end of job search. At the time I knew that the stories told although not lies were almost laughable.

The truth is there is no straight line to finding another job. (It is more like a random walk down Wall Street than a straight line.) There are lots and lots of approaches to job search, and unless you do them all you aren’t as likely to “win.” Although the odds are low, there IS a lottery winner each and every day. As they say, tell the guy who won the lottery that he shouldn’t have bought a ticket.

There is a lot of information out in the world. There are Internet leads. There are even still newspaper ads. There are lists you can obtain that will allow you to do mailings to recruiters. There are lists you can obtain that will allow you to do mailings to known corporations.

I tout networking because although it is the most painful approach to finding another job, it is the most effective for time invested. Since it requires you to pick up that 400 pound phone, call people you don’t know and ask for favors, I know that if I don’t encourage you to do it, you might not.

In the Ripley’s Believe It or Not of The FENG, there are still members who haven’t tried our Member Directory Search feature to identify networking contacts, and this is the easiest and best resource, at least for other financial people.

It is just plain easier and less painful to anonymously approach people you don’t know. Write them a letter and see if they call. If THEY call you, it is better. Hey, they called you. Now you can decide whether or not you want to call THEM back. The shoe is now on the other foot.

So although I know I am wrong that networking is the only valid approach to job search, I will continue to coach, cajole, encourage, demand and berate you to do more of it, because although it is the hardest approach it is the most effective.

I tell you this based on reading endless numbers of good news announcements over the past 20+ years. Use all the other approaches known to mankind in your job search. Just do them when you have time and not when you can do networking.

Regards, Matt

Beware the open microphone

How often have we seen a speaker tap a microphone and say: Is this on?

At least the person in question is preparing to speak. On the other hand, how often have we heard news reports about politicians saying things they shouldn’t have been saying (or thinking), not realizing that the microphone in front of them was on?

Our modern world is full of opportunities to embarrass ourselves, big time. I suppose in ancient times, the worst that could happen to an orator was to be over heard by one or two people before he was ready. If he was standing in front of a crowd of listeners, he knew it.

The problem in today’s world is not just oral communication. There are much worse issues with the written word. In days of old, if you were writing on a clay tablet or with a quill pen, you couldn’t hardly hit “reply all,” and get into as much trouble as you can today.

The power to look incredibly stupid or silly is beyond the ability of most of us to comprehend. Oh how I dread the days when I have a typo in one of my editorials. Since we are a society of friends, a goodly number of you take the time to write and let me know. If only everyone were so fortunate to have their friends let them know they have made a mistake.

If you are new to the power of the Internet, here are a few examples to put you on your guard.

First, keep in mind that the only information people have about what you are trying to communicate is what you put in front of them. Yes, they actually may not be able to read your mind.

So, for example, if you have just joined LinkedIn and want to link with all of your friends, you might want to consider NOT using the system message. Incredible as it may seem, almost every LinkedIn invitation I have ever gotten used the system message. How impersonal! In addition, important things are usually missing from these messages such as your name and more importantly, how I know you and why I might want to link up with you. A note that let me know we really do know each other might actually improve your communication to me and enhance this networking opportunity.

When you are composing your messages to others, consider that they may not actually read everything you have sent them before forwarding it on to others. Several times each year, we get a posting for the newsletter that includes notes about how members don’t want their names mentioned. Unfortunately, this very important sentence is buried somewhere other than in the headline or beginning. I often wonder if the sender considered the possibility that we might have gotten more than one job posting that night. Did that sender also consider the consequences of what might happen if his/her message appeared unedited in a newsletter going out to 38,000+ people? I guess not.

I realize our environment appears very friendly, and the staff and I do have a secret decoder ring to figure out who you are, but is it possible that you could include an outgoing signature to make our jobs easier? On a broader scale, if you honestly think that everyone you call friend actually knows how to reach you, I think you are kidding yourself.

The worst thing that might have happened in the past was that a letter you so very carefully wrote was somehow lost by the post office. In today’s world, the worst thing that can happen is a message you have not carefully thought through gets forwarded to EVERYONE in the civilized world.

While I am a big fan of all technology, it is not without its dangers. Text messages and Twitter tweets may appear to be casual and ephemeral, but they can easily take on a life of their own. I think when you hit send, the message back should be: “Have you actually read this message and are you sure you want to send it?” And, you should actually have to type the entire word YES to get it to go out.

It would sure save a lot of embarrassing situations.

Regards, Matt

A compelling summary

There is no more important space on your resume than that first section after your name. Alas, I rarely see it used to good effect.

Although cover letters allow you to “cover” matters perhaps not easily “covered” in your resume, more often than not your cover letter isn’t sent to the decision maker. In a very real sense, your resume stands alone and needs to be done in such a way that it gets the job done.

If you agree that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, that first section sets the stage for what follows. By taking the time to really focus on your value added, the summary section can allow you to do things that many folks try to do by using a functional resume. (A functional resume, as everyone knows, is used to hide problems in your work history. Therefore if someone is using a functional resume, they must have something to hide. I wonder what?)

In very much the same way you need to build your 90-second announcement, the summary is a place to stake out your territory and make some claims that are supported in the information which follows.

No resume is perfect, but Rich Wieland whose resume appears in our document download site has a pretty good overall resume, but I also like most of the sentences in his summary.

He begins with: Increasingly responsible financial and operating management positions including CFO, COO and President. – With this sentence, Rich highlights in clear language that he has had general management experience. Not a bad beginning for a CFO resume.

He next turns to his work history: Successful in service, manufacturing, private, public, domestic and international environments. – I think you would agree that this is a strong sentence and covers the nature of the firms at which he has worked in easily understandable terms.

Money makes the world go around, so he follows with: Strong experience in raising capital through private and public offerings as well as working with the life science investment community. – Most of Rich’s background is in the life sciences where an ability to raise money is essential, so Rich covers it. No details, just a statement which he supports in his resume.

He is also a “Mr. Fixit,” so he follows the above with: Accomplishments in organization restructuring, financial and strategic planning, and operation improvements, through a total team approach. – Notice he didn’t say he was a “team player.” Everyone is or better be.

Lastly he ends with: Extensive experience with high-growth situations, Wall Street and outside Board of Directors. – In spare words he ends with high impact issues for most firms.

Understand that the “promises” contained in his summary are supported by his resume. What he has done is provide an overview so you will know what to look for in the information that follows and more importantly so you will know whether you have interest in reading further.

If you are “all things to all people,” you are not providing a summary that will generate interest.

Ordinary course of business statements such as “I do budgeting and planning” or “I close the books every month” have no place in a summary. Think about what makes you special and build on it. If cost accounting is your thing, come up with your very own “environmental impact statement” about how you perform this magic.

Unfortunately, there is no formula you can use to build your own summary. Models exist and you should read and reread the sentences used in ones you like. It is rare that I see a totally great summary, but there are always “glimmers of genius” sprinkled here and there. Use what you like and ignore that which doesn’t work for you.

Just try to make sure your “argument” about why I should hire you is as compelling as possible.

Regards, Matt

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

One of the most disconcerting aspects of looking for a job is that you often get the feeling that people aren’t treating you with as much respect as you deserve.

I could be wrong, but I think that those of us who have been senior level financial executives may have a tougher time dealing with this problem than others.

All during the time we are working there is a line of supplicants outside of our office. (Oh, Matt, please send my vendor a check. Please Matt, won’t you take a minute and approve my expense report. Matt, I really need more money in my budget for next year.)

Then, boom, you are out of work and there just aren’t as many favor seekers standing outside your door. (I don’t know about you, but I always enjoyed the fawning.)

Being treated with respect is so nice. Being Rodney Dangerfield isn’t as much fun.

One of my goals for our organization from the very beginning was to create an aura of respect for those of us who might be perceived as “over the hill.” I like to think about it more in terms of “been there, done that,” there is no mountain I can’t climb, because I have climbed them all before! Heck, with 20 years of work experience, there really isn’t anything we can’t do. And, we deserve respect for that, or so you would think.

Well, we are now in a better position than in 1997 when I began as Chairman, to enjoy the respect of the search community. We have a national organization with a great reputation. In discussing our organization with those who do recruiting, be sure that you speak about our circle of friends in the hushed tones appropriate to such an august body. Have them go out to our website and register as a “Friend of The FENG”. (Oh, what an honor to be a “Friend of The FENG!”)

You will find it is easier to talk about us in these ethereal tones as The F.E.N.G, or The Financial Executives Networking Group, rather than using the word FANG. (Sure, I know it is a hard habit to break, but you only have to do it with “outsiders.”)

And, since I am beating the drum about respect in tonight’s editorial, let me take a few sentences to suggest that we all make the extra effort with each other as well.

I get about 50-100 emails a day and I make a special effort, far into the night sometimes, to get back to everyone. If you sponsor someone for membership, we try to get an acknowledgement out within 24 hours. Hey, they are your friends and you are my friend, and if I expect you to treat me and our organization with respect, I need to treat you and your friends that way too.

Most of those you send my way are either recently out of work or soon to be. I want them to know that, as an organization, we care about them. Any friend of yours is a friend of ours.

This leads me to remind you of the importance of our member to member relationships. If you get a call or email from another member, please treat it as a matter of great importance. If you are an alumni member and really pressed for time, write or call back ASAP and suggest a time that works for you to give their request proper consideration.

This “bad” habit of treating other members with respect will hopefully get out of hand in short order, as will the hand of friendship I hope you will extend at every opportunity.

If you thought the reputation of The FENG was remarkable before, you will be amazed and astounded where it will be in a few more years if we all work together toward this common goal.

God bless you Aretha Franklin!

Regards, Matt

Just give me the middle line

According to Google, double entry accounting was developed around 1300AD. Shortly thereafter, someone came up with the expression: “Just give me the bottom line.” No one ever talks about the middle line. I have often wondered about that. Haven’t you?

I don’t know about you, but as good accountants and Chief Financial Officers I thought our goal was to prepare comparable financial statements. Documents that not only were accurate and reflective of the organizations we were helping run, but also consistent in format month after month so that our “customers,” all of those non-financial types, would know where to look for the information they required. (I know I prided myself on those year after year matching binders with matching tabs.)

This being our background, I am always amazed and astounded when members of The FENG accept advice from various sources that just flies in the face of any logic. In this case I am talking about providing resumes that are either functional in structure (as opposed to chronological), and/or ones that leave off all dates. I have even seen resumes that have no home address, the logic here being the individual is applying for jobs out of town. (I guess the assumption is that no one will look up the area code of your phone number.)

Resumes have a tried and true structure. It is one that hasn’t been around for quite as long as double entry accounting, but the accepted framework has been working pretty well for as long as I have been in the world of work, and that is quite some time.

As many of you may know, my two backgrounds are advertising and publishing. I have always taken great pride in observing how others use (and abuse) the information I provide them. In the case of resumes, the generally accepted structure allows those who read a lot of resumes to know where to look for information. While there may be some benefit to being innovative in presenting your credentials, deviating dramatically and/or not providing what typical readers expect is only going to get your resume put into the reject pile.

Functional resumes are typically used by those who have some problem with their background. For example, perhaps they have “job hopped.” If you are working through a pile of 200 resumes and you see a functional resume, you immediately know that person has something to hide in their background. Call me silly, but the 15 seconds allotted to the review of each resume by a screener most likely will not allow for a full FBI investigation. (There truly is nothing so nice as a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” on a cold winter day.) Oh how recruiters and human resource professionals enjoy working through the spider web you are providing them — NOT.

And as for leaving off dates, do any members of The FENG honestly believe that those who “eat resumes for a living” are fooled by your omissions? (Does a chicken have lips?) Is it possible that they will think you are younger or older than you really are? There was a member at a recent meeting of the Westport chapter who left the dates off his resume to appear younger. After meeting him, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that he was 10 years younger than I am. I thought he was older.

What you want to do in preparing your resume is achieve clarity. Presenting your skills within the generally accepted framework will ensure that your background will be absorbed in the least amount of time. Trust me, if someone is screening for age, you aren’t going to get picked anyway.

In the jobs that members of our august body should be targeting, “been there and done that” is what you need to sell. The wealth of experience as evidenced by the banded years you were with this company and that company in specific roles is part of the sell. Specific skills in hot demand need to be displayed under those corporations for them to be credible. Standing alone they have no context.

Innovation in resume structure is like putting “the bottom line” at the top, and I hope you wouldn’t do that. Make the information that people want to see jump off the page. Write, rewrite, and rewrite again that information that makes you a desirable employee.

This approach works a lot better than reinventing that wheel we call a resume.

Regards, Matt

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