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Matt's Editorials: Sailing is a Metaphor for Life

Wooden ships and iron men

Ah, the great age of sail! For many hundreds of years, men built great numbers of wooden sailing vessels for commercial purposes and for the making of war.

The truth, as hinted at by the saying above is that there was very little that was actually romantic or desirable about a life at sea. Much of the poetry and writing about life on these vessels was written safely on land.

The building of a large sailing vessel was quite a project in days before computer aided design and no power tools. That said the processes involved in ship construction were well known and changed very little over this period of time. A shipwright from any country or from any of the many centuries would have been very much right at home with any one of his counterparts.

Furthermore, the ships themselves while to our eyes today might be things of beauty, were built to a purpose. And, as they were put into service they might be modified, sometimes rather dramatically. Vessels that couldn’t be put to some economic purpose were very shortly allowed to fall into neglect and disrepair. The Charles W. Morgan, which I visit every summer at the Mystic Seaport Museum, is the last wooden whaling vessel. Why? Well, it was a rendering plant for processing whale oil. Why would anyone want to spend a dime maintaining a smelly factory ship that was no longer useful? This is why she is the last survivor.

Times have changed. Knowledge and experience are passed on more through formal education to new generations than through the learning of a trade as in years past. In our own generation the pace of change itself has risen to a rate that can easily take our breath away if we think about it.

Why is it then that so many folks believe they can find a job that is just like the one they had most recently or one that represents a clear next logical step in their career? Change is the only constant in our world today and trying to prevent its happening is foolishness. Those who will survive will be the ones who embrace change.

We have heard at great length about the need to reinvent ourselves. We may even be open to the idea. But what exactly does this mean in the context of our own lives and our futures as senior financial professionals? If we are to learn what can be learned, are there any success models we can copy so we don’t get an Excedrin headache? (I hate thinking too hard. Don’t you?)

The point is that I am inviting those who have been hard at this process of reinvention or rediscovery of their skills and their applicability to write to us and tell all of us what approaches you suggest.

Let me start with what I know is one of the hardest nuts to crack and see if anyone has some stories to share. How about Banking? This is an industry hard hit by recent economic conditions. Many of our members have been mortgage banking officers at what were previously thought to be some of the best managed firms in their industry, and were well respected for their knowledge and experience. How do these skill sets get put to best use, perhaps outside of banking?

The economic theory we have learned suggests that we need to put our skills to their highest and best use if we are to earn the most income. What is that and how is it different from times past?

If we aren’t going to be able to earn a living from one job, has anyone tried creating two jobs for themselves? Have some members been able to find night teaching jobs, for example?

Sharing our knowledge is what The FENG is all about. If you have a success story to share, take a few minutes and write it up. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Your fellow members will understand.

I look forward to hearing from those with something to contribute to this discussion. Please send them to Leads@TheFENG.org and Leslie will post them under “Notes from Members”.

Regards, Matt

Fog sandwiches

Although by and large, the one thing we make more often than anything else for dinner on our boat is reservations, there are times when the fog giant descends upon us and if there is nothing else to eat, we make fog sandwiches.

To make fog sandwiches, of course, you need fog. To this one should add bread, mayonnaise (if you are making a fog sandwich with chicken or turkey), and mustard or ketchup (if you are using roast beef). The type of bread is your choice. I prefer fog sandwiches made on whole wheat, but that’s just me.

The problem with fog sandwiches is that the fog portion provides no recognizable flavor or for that matter substance. (Unlike smoke sandwiches which have distinct suggestion of good barbecue.) When one has been caught in enough pea soup fogs as I have been over the years, the mental picture I have of “being in a fog” or of “foggy thinking” has perhaps a different meaning than for most others.

When you are in a fog, you may know where you are, but you really can’t go anywhere. If you are not securely anchored at the time the fog rolls in, you are as they say, “in deep salt water.” (There are other phrases, but this is a mixed audience, family oriented newsletter and besides, those phrases aren’t very nautical anyway.)

If you are on the move when it is foggy, you will notice that those who are not experienced in watery matters will tend to race around in all directions at once, to use a farm expression, “like chickens with their heads cut off.” (Perhaps that is a little too graphic for everyone. Sorry.)

Job search is, of course, a little like being lost in a fog. And, unfortunately, the fog sandwiches one might prepare are not especially financially remunerative.

Still, as members of The FENG we are, of course, blessed to have as part of our built-in features for job search and career management, not only radar but also GPS. (That’s the global positioning system, for those of you didn’t recognize this abbreviation. Personally, I hate all abbreviations because I sometimes don’t know what they mean. But, I digress.) We also supply some of the best anchors (and anchorages) known to job searchers around the world.

To sum up, the best solution when you only have fog sandwiches to eat is The FENG.

If you participate fully in our many activities and drink deeply of the resources we have available, you may soon be able to “make reservations” for all your meals. (However, there is a cash bar for all alcoholic beverages as you would expect from an organization of financial folks.)

I prefer to eat breakfast at home, but again, that’s just me.

Regards, Matt

Curb your enthusiasm-NOT

There is a memorable scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in which Paul Newman is challenged for control of the Hole in the Wall Gang. They agree that the best way to settle their disagreement is with a knife fight. Paul suggests that before they get started that they should decide what the rules ought to be. His challenger counters with “What are you talking about? There are no rules in a knife fight!”

Let’s face it, as financial professionals we tend to believe in rules. (Do you think that perhaps Butch Cassidy was also an accountant?)

Frankly it makes us a little uncomfortable participating in an activity of any kind in which there are no rules. Unfortunately, in the struggle in which we all exist to earn a living I think you will agree that although there are a few rules, they are not well known, nor are they well enforced.

Part of the problem here is that that the greatest majority of us are extremely honest. To deceive in any manner just tends to rub us the wrong way. We don’t approve when others do it, and we certainly would not intentionally engage in it ourselves.

What ends up happening is that to a degree we allow our basic honesty to get in the way of finding a new job.

When you are first approached about a job opportunity it is just all too easy to sound cool about it. Hey, we really aren’t enthusiastic individuals to start with. Sometimes it’s even hard for those who know us well to know when we are excited about something. In a sense we put on our “I’m skeptical” hat that we wore back at the office when approached about budget blowing spending proposals.

Yet, you need to keep in mind that this is not how the game is played. The person on the other end of the phone or across the table is trying to determine your interest in a new opportunity and you ABSOLUTELY MUST come across as interested and excited.

You will not get the full information about the opportunity unless you express this interest. The reason is that if the “pitch” about the job doesn’t seem to be going well, the person on the other end of this conversation will stop selling and move on to the next call. If you want to keep your options open you need to do a little pretending.

Practice with me here. I will be traveling to Florida and Texas in the summer and Minnesota in the winter? Sounds like a great job to me! (That’s the enthusiasm I like to hear.)

You want to hear the whole story before you rush to judgment. Sure, you may have heard it all before, but you will never know for sure unless you encourage the presenter to keep talking by providing positive stimulus. If this sounds like an experiment in psychology, it is.

Let’s also assume that at some point you are in the fortunate position of having several opportunities pending at once. Friends, there is NOTHING dishonest about sounding enthusiastic to exactly the same degree about all of them. In your heart of hearts you may favor one over the others, but NEVER let those you are talking to know it.

At the end of the day, the one you want most may disappear. How would you like your new employer to know that he was your second choice? The job you thought was the least desirable might end up being the one offered to you. (And, it might end up being the best job you ever had!) The truth is you never know in life.

The other truth is that although you may feel that with regard to the jobs in which you have the least interest that you are stringing them along, trust me, the one you want the most may be stringing you along. Again, you just never know.

So, make up a list of enthusiastic words and phrases and practice them.

All together now: Fantastic! Sounds good to me! WOW, and I get to work 80 hours a week!

(Now you’re in the spirit of it.)

Regards, Matt

What is your theme song?

Over the years, I have found that I keep certain CD’s in my car and I play them over and over again. I supposed I shouldn’t admit this to a wide audience, but one of my favorite music categories is sea shanties. (It goes along with my hobby of sailing). When I had cassette tapes, I actually wore out 2 or 3 copies of some of them because I played them so much. Thank goodness CD’s don’t wear out.

That which rings true about our lives is in a career sense our theme song. As I look back over my career, one of the themes is my concern for others in the organization wasting their time on things I could more easily solve for them.

I have applied this principle to the preparation of budget packages as well as to the day to day work that “those who were making the business happen” needed to accomplish on any given day. Since I knew how computers worked (sort of a “one eyed man thing in the land of the blind”), I told my peers to call me if they had problems and before they caused more damage that would take me even more time to fix. They were going to call me anyway, so why wait until they got frustrated?

In this way, I was able to keep the important folks in the organization focused on what they did best so they could earn a little money for the company and, in turn, ensure that I stood half a chance of earning a bonus at the end of the year because we achieved our targets.

Being helpful to others about matters in my areas of expertise has been a consistent theme song of my career. I have been fortunate to know and understand this about myself. Others I fear have not been so fortunate.

Knowing your true self and how you deliver value to an organization is an important part of being successful in your job search. As financial folks, we tend not to change jobs frequently and have little use for thinking about such matters. We do what we do, and the organizations we have worked for have rewarded us for it. Typically, we don’t need to think about it.

When you are in search, you have to know and understand what I call about myself “the Matt Bud thing.” This is what I do, and I tend not to spend much time thinking about it. I just do it.

For those of you who have participated in Myers-Briggs testing, the true thing that happens is you become aware of who you are and how you see the world. It is for many a rude awakening. Rude in the sense that we thought we were someone else.

If there is any advantage to looking for a new job, it is the opportunity to focus on who we are and what we do best. And, what we would enjoy doing. Sometimes, unfortunately, that isn’t what we have been doing.

In any discussion of reinventing yourself, a good part of that is coming to understand the skills and interests you bring to the party. These are things that also can generate high value.

So, hum a few bars and see if you can catch the melody of your own life. If you are doing things that interest you and that make you happy, you will be much more effective in your career.

As I tell clients of The FECG – Happy people work harder. (Duh!)

Regards, Matt

Meeting the RIGHT folks

Being successful at getting meetings with potential decision makers who don’t have a job right now, but who might make one for you after they meet you, is why networking is the most successful approach to finding a job. Frankly, this is how most business is really done at our level.

If you have only gotten interviews through ads or recruiters you are probably wondering how do those lucky dudes do it? How do they manage to get in front of the right people and sweet talk them into offering them a job?

Keep in mind that you are not a pea in a pod. You are a unique accumulation of talents acquired over a number of years. If you focus your energy at places where these talents can be applied effectively, potential decision makers should want to see you and should have the creative insight to offer you the job of your dreams. The first part of the challenge is to get in front of the right buyers.

If you contrast this part of your search to the daily barrage of job listings in the evening newsletter and all the other sources, it clearly takes a different approach to be successful.

Step one is do your research about industries and firms where your skills can best be applied. Ignore for the moment whether or not jobs are open at any of these firms. If folks compatible with your kind of thinking manage the company and if your background will make sense to these firms, you are most of the way there.

With our Member Directory Search feature for The FENG at your fingertips, and your target company list in hand, finding someone who knows someone shouldn’t be impossible.

Step two in getting an appointment is developing a softer approach. You are going to be in front of someone who will understand your background, and based on what you know about the company, your background will make sense to them. Trust me, they will be willing to see you because you fit.

Let me put this approach into a slightly better focus for you.

Compare the idea of buying a house with the idea of renting it for a few days. Buying a house requires a lot of detailed research. It is a really big commitment. And, it has a lot of financial downside. What if you don’t like the house? Will you be able to sell it? If you rush, you will regret this decision, BIG TIME.

On the other hand, if you are just renting this house by the week, heck, if you don’t like it after a few days you can just walk away. Even if you leave a few days rent on the table, no big deal.

The key here to getting an appointment is to make the potential decision a lot less stressful. If you are seeking an appointment about a full time job, that is an all or nothing purchase decision comparable to buying a house. If you are there, however, only to present your credentials to a potential decision maker for his or her help in applying your skills, that is a much softer decision.

If all you have been doing is trying to get appointments by presenting yourself as a buy decision, you can see why you are still not connecting. It is just too stressful to talk to someone who is only coming by to talk about full time jobs.

We all have heard various pretenses that have been used. It may seem dishonest to say that you want to come by for a few minutes to get them to share some thoughts on their industry or firm, but it is this kind of approach that softens and removes much of the stress in setting up an appointment. The person knows you are actually coming by looking for a job, but he is always prepared to accept your explanation. It is a game of pretend in which we all engage and you should allow yourself to become comfortable with it.

What I am suggesting is find ways to soften your approach when asking for an appointment.

Presenting someone with a buy decision of the magnitude of hiring someone at our level is stressful. If you are just a little less than a full purchase decision, you will find your buyers more open to seeing you.

Here is another opportunity to share our knowledge with each other. If you have been successful in getting discussion appointments, what do you use as the explanation?

Please write to Leads@TheFENG.org for inclusion in our “Notes from Members” column. As always, if you don’t want your name used, be sure to make that clear.

Regards, Matt

When the going gets tough, the tough get silly

Tomorrow I will begin processing a rather large batch of new members. It is actually a two week batch as I was on vacation the past two weeks.

I realize that new members are not totally indicative of how everyone is doing their resume, but I have to tell you that their resumes aren’t all that different from the ones attached to applications I see for positions posted by The FECG, my consulting practice. (Please visit our website: www.TheFECG.com for information about what we do.)

The statement has been made that most resume reviewers are really only interested in your most recent 10 years. This is true. That is NOT to mean that you should leave off your early work history or leave off dates.

I would point you to the esteemed publication known as The Wall Street Journal and ask you to consider the fact that almost any mention of an important individual is followed by their age. Why is this the case? I believe it is because age is an important fact to consider when reading any story. The story that is part and parcel of your resume is no exception.

I have heard the story that you shouldn’t give someone a reason to reject you. Well, if you don’t want to be rejected by potential employers, may I suggest you write a compelling resume? Fooling someone into interviewing you is just plain silly. And, the ways that people go about hiding their age borders on the ridiculous. My personal favorite is: “Early work history available upon request.” Gosh, does this mean I have to say “pretty please” to get you to reveal how many previous employers you have had? You have to be someone who believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to honestly believe that anyone is going to take the time to ask when that delete key on their computer is so handy.

Let us assume you have tricked someone into actually interviewing you. (Let me assure you that just as you can spot a bogus entry on someone’s expense report, those who read resumes for a living are not easily fooled, but let’s pretend.) You show up for the meeting and instead of being 35 you are 55. The interviewer realizes that he/she has been duped. Somehow they didn’t pick up on the fact that you were MUCH older. As they are sitting there feeling stupid, how exactly do you think they are going to feel about your candidacy, and just as importantly, how are they going to feel about your basic honesty? If you are prepared to leave out important information that you know someone wants to consider about your credentials, doesn’t this mean you might do the same thing in some work context? And, here you are applying for a job as a financial officer, the very person charged with ensuring the integrity of the organization. If you can explain to me how you plan to recover from this, I would enjoy hearing about it.

It is my belief that NONE of this deceitfulness works long term, and long term is what you need to be concerned about.

I am also seeing a lot of resumes that leave off home addresses. I believe that this is primarily being done to get around the “local candidates only” problem. The amusing thing is that I see this being done even when the candidate IS local. Now how silly is that? In any case, I have been looking at phone numbers for so many years that I actually know most area codes. I don’t have to look them up. But, let’s say I do. How long is that going to take? Let’s be generous and guess that it is 5 seconds. Be aware, I’m only going to do that if you have a compelling resume. Do you want to know the more likely case? I’m going to hit the delete key. Go ahead, make it difficult for me to figure out where you live. Make my job harder. After all, all I have is time and 500 resumes to go through before I get to go home for the day. What would you do if you were on the other side of the desk? Would you make a supreme effort to solve each and every riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that confronts you, or would you take advantage of that delete key?

I’m guessing the delete key.

Each of you has been on the other side of the desk as a hiring authority. Why is it that now that you are on the other side of the desk as a job applicant that you forget how you felt about resumes that crossed your desk? A complete AND compelling picture of who you are and what you have done is essential to getting interviews. A picture that makes sense, makes an impactful statement. No one has the time in today’s world of a flood of resumes to read between the lines and figure out a mystery.

As my Grandmother would say, “I am who I am.” What you are is a seasoned professional. Present yourself as one. If the job doesn’t require or need “been there and done that,” you probably aren’t going to be considered for it anyway. Dumbing down your resume to fit a job that doesn’t fit your background has never worked and will never work.

By the way, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy don’t really exist.

Regards, Matt

Do all new jobs disappoint?

One of the comments I have heard from time to time is that the new job that someone just found isn’t as exciting as the one they lost. It seems at times that most of our members find themselves in a downward spiral as they change jobs. The companies are smaller and often the pay packages are as well.

While I have no empirical evidence that all of this is true, it probably is.

There are a variety of reasons why new jobs tend to disappoint. The most important reason is within us. As an old job is coming to an end, we know all about it. If it was with a large corporation in particular, the shades of meaning with respect to our position were well known. The number of chairs in your office, the number of windows, the potted plants, are all there to let others around us know our station in life.

Most of our members move from large companies to small companies. The reason is that large companies prefer to grow their own talent, so moving to another large company isn’t likely. It does happen more now than a few years ago, but it is still not common. Small companies by their nature tend to be more egalitarian in nature. And, since there are fewer folks at your level, the signals to others are simply not there.

None of this addresses our disappointment. I would suggest to you that this stems from wishful thinking on our part. If you consider the fact that you most likely didn’t quit voluntarily, there was a LOT wrong with your last job. And, because it was painful, you tend to push such thoughts out of your mind. You only want to remember the good parts. As you look ahead to the months and perhaps more months of job searching, the thought occurs that there must be some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There must be something out there that will make this incredible struggle all worthwhile. I only wish it were so.

While you may indeed find a job, finding one that is going to make fireworks go off isn’t likely to happen. First of all, there isn’t any such thing. As I have been heard to say: “There is a reason why they call it work. If it was too much fun, they would have to come up with another name for it.”

Smaller companies are interested in senior financial executives because they have a LOT of problems. Unlike their larger counterparts, they not only don’t have the tools and/or infrastructure to make it happen, they often don’t even know what you are talking about.

If you accept the idea that most jobs don’t last more than 5 years, one has to wonder how it would be worthwhile to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for a “perfect” job. I would suggest it isn’t. Jobs are brittle things. The situations where you can make a difference are where to focus your energies. Sure, things like money need to be factored into the equation, but keep in mind that no job is a “be all end all.”

If you happen to find a perfect job with a perfect company, and a perfect salary, count yourself lucky. It doesn’t happen for most people because they have set unrealistic goals for themselves.

I am not suggesting you settle for a horrible job with long hours and small dollars. I am only suggesting you need to be realistic.

As one of my friends was given to saying: “Happiness is a choice.”

Do your best to find an appropriate job that will satisfy your financial needs and then learn to be happy with it. It is the best prescription I can think of for a blissful life.

Regards, Matt

Hard on the wind

Since not all of the members of The FENG are sailors, I really need to start this editorial with the idea that you can’t sail directly into the eye of the wind. In fact, you generally have to be about 45 degrees off the wind to make any headway. However, this is only a real nuisance at those times when the wind is blowing from where you want to go. Sailing as close as you can to the eye of the wind is called being “hard on the wind.”

As exhilarating as sailing hard on the wind may be to us die-hard sailors, it has an entirely different effect on those who are only putting up with your hobby. You see, when you are hard on the wind the boat is well heeled over and you sort of have to hang on for dear life, especially if you are also in a stiff breeze. Add to this the effect of wind and tide being opposed and you can really have some “fun” with waves breaking over the deck. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? (Well, not to everyone, I guess.)

What brought all of this to mind was a note I received from one of our members about when do you decide to lower your sights? If you have been at your job search for a long time, how do you decide when to redirect your efforts? When do you compromise? Is the real story here that you have just been heading off in the wrong direction?

As opposed to being hard on the wind, running downwind or on a broad reach is a totally different experience. The boat is almost flat. You can go below and use the facilities if you have to without falling down. And, things aren’t falling out of the cabinets.

(Directly downwind is called “wing on wing.” A broad reach is where the wind is coming from behind you from the right or left side. I know you will find all these sailing terms helpful at your next job interview, and that is why I am providing them.)

If you talk to two sailors who have arrived at the same harbor from opposite directions, for the reasons described above, they will have very different stories to tell about what kind of sailing day it was. If they were hard on the wind all day, they will tend to be a little beat up. If they have been broad reaching all day, the stories will most likely be about what a pleasant day it was. Same body of water, same day — different stories.

The truth is you don’t have to sail hard on the wind unless you choose to. There are always other harbors to which you can head. You can change your plans. Hey, sailing (and life) is supposed to be fun!

I think that is the question we all need to examine as we set a course for the next leg of our journey through the world of work. Do we really need to sail hard on the wind? Is the course we have set even where we want to go? And, have we really given it enough thought?

If the ship of your life doesn’t seem to be making any distance over ground, perhaps it is time to let your sails out a little bit and head off downwind for a while. Perhaps doing so will allow you to pull yourself back on a proper course. Is that destination you have set for yourself attainable given the realities of your work history and willingness to make sacrifices in your life? Perhaps the truth is that you have set yourself on an impractical course or at least one harder than you need to take.

As financial folks we tend to come to our decisions through careful analysis. Once our mind is made up, it is often hard to change our direction. The fact that our chosen approach isn’t working is slow to dawn upon us.

How to decide? Well, I think you need to turn to friends to talk. What you are doing may be absolutely right for you. After talking it through with those you trust you may decide to stay the course. On the other hand you may decide it is time to alter course.

Remember, sailing hard on the wind isn’t required. (And, just like banging your head against a wall, it does feel good when you stop.)

Regards, Matt

All I know about you is in front of me

To quote George Bernard Shaw: “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

With respect to our power to communicate, we live in a remarkable period of time. I normally respond to 50-100 unique emails every day. I have been doing this for many years and yet I still marvel over it. Before email, this would simply not have been possible.

What is most disconcerting about many of the email messages I receive is that the person communicating with me believes they are sending me what I should consider to be a complete and actionable piece of correspondence. This is rarely the case.

I know I beat this dead horse several times a week, but a FULL outgoing signature in many cases would go a long way to solving at least some of the mystery of who you are and how you are expecting me to respond. Sure, I could just hit reply and send you back a message (something rude I suppose), but I prefer to know who you are and how I can best help you. Not everyone has a secret decoder ring as I do. (My secret decoder ring is The FENG membership directory, which I always have open on my second monitor.)

I got an email earlier this week that informed me that Kelly thought I could help them with their networking. Nice. Kelly who? Dare I mention they had no outgoing signature? None. Yes, I’m afraid it got worse. They made no mention of their background, which turned out to be marketing. (I only know about CFOs and Controllers.) They also didn’t attach a copy of their resume. Instead, I had to ask for a copy.

Just how much effort does someone who doesn’t know you expect you to expend on their behalf? Is a guessing game really in order? (You didn’t say Mother May I!)

All I know about you is in front of me in your email. If you want me to call you, would it be possible for you to provide me with your phone number? If you are providing me with a work phone number and an extension is required, could you provide that as well? (As much as I enjoy running the high hurdles of a firm’s telephone directory, it could save me a lot of time. However, they really are cute. Some of them ask you to enter the person’s first name, some the last name, and almost none of them bother to tell you the telephone extension so you don’t have to do it again.)

If you would like me to read your email, would it be possible for you to REREAD it at least once before you hit send? Perhaps if you did, there wouldn’t be any typos, and perhaps your sentences would make more sense. I’m pretty good at reading between the lines, but I’m not all that good at guessing.

Let me also add that the communications you send paint a picture of who you are. Don’t make your first impression your last.

What am I to think when the “From” box indicates your name is George smith? Are you really that technologically uninformed that you don’t know where to fix this label? I assume almost everyone who writes to me has a college education. It would be nice if you let it shine through.

There is NOTHING casual about communication. And, every aspect of every message you send communicates something good or bad about you. If you attach your resume, what is the file name? Is it JonesFrank-resume.doc or is it jonesfrank-resume.doc? Which do you think would give a better impression?

Have you ever written to yourself? (I know you talk to yourself, but we won’t get into that just now.) Try it some time. Send yourself your email cover note and see if the multiple fonts (sizes AND types) don’t make you look more than a little silly.

Writing to strangers is a whole lot different than writing to friends. Although I apply the same standards to both, I can understand why an instant message may have some typos. On the other hand, it is inexcusable in any form of business communication.

So there you have it, my rant for the day. Be precise in your communications. You might even find that more folks will write back with something intelligent.

Regards, Matt

No right answers

In my continuing “joys of sailing” series, 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 very real 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. For example, there is a 7-8 foot 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 people 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

Human interaction

Since we have so many new members each year, I thought I would write something tonight about the mission of The FENG and how we accomplish our objectives for one another.

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. 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 should that be “makes you 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

Job leads at meetings

At the beginning of time here in Connecticut, we spent most of our meeting gathered around the table discussing job leads. The idea of a 90-second announcement followed by fellow attendees suggesting who to call in our august body for networking had not yet been invented.

Since people over value job leads, I thought I would provide my perspective on this important topic.

I don’t claim to know everything. And, I would never stop our chapter chairs from trying things at their meetings. Who knows, they might be right and I might be wrong, but in my humble opinion, job lead information is best shared in writing.

There are several reasons for this. First, speech is the slowest form of communication. The length of time it takes to discuss the important details of any job opportunity is considerable. In my experience from our early days, I also found that the location information was usually the last piece provided. Most of the time, I could have stopped writing almost immediately since I wasn’t interested in moving. Please understand that although I type at least 90 words per minute, I write by hand a lot slower. Since I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time (actually listen and write at the same time), I was kind of at a disadvantage.

Okay, that was pre-Internet times anyway, and the technology didn’t exist to solve the problem at that point in time. The product you see each night that is the evening newsletter has evolved over time.

I would also suggest to you that all information isn’t equal. There is what I call the “white elephant” effect with job leads. Often times the job leads announced at meetings that anyone knew about and could discuss intelligently were fairly old. Were they filled yet? Probably not, but the candidate slates aren’t likely to be expanded if the job is over a few weeks old. They sound good, but you are receiving totally useless information.

And, with all due respect to the knowledge and skills that are clearly present in The FENG, we are a “been there and done that” kind of organization and we are in our best position to be considered for any job ONLY if we know about things early. Sharing old job leads, which is what happens at face to face meetings, doesn’t really benefit anyone. It just takes up time that could be better spent NETWORKING. Requiring a job lead to attend a meeting results in the nonattendance at meetings by folks who might be of interest to you for networking. But, they didn’t come because they didn’t have a job lead to share.

The job market for senior level jobs is always slower than we would like. And, when things are that way, people tend to grasp at straws. I lived through the recession of 1991 and was out of work for almost two full years. I fully understand and appreciate what everyone is going through. Connecticut at that point was going through a slowdown in government contracting as well as other industries and things were very bad. There was basically nothing happening.

It is important that we spend our time at meetings on useful exchanges of information. Job leads, while appearing to be very useful, are less useful long term to your ability to finding a job than providing the time to properly introduce yourself to your fellow members.

If anything works, it is networking, networking, and more networking. Let’s keep the exchange of information that is best provided in writing – job leads – in our newsletter where it can be exchanged on a timelier basis and in a form that is easier for everyone to digest, especially for those of us with auditory processing problems.

Regards, Matt

Lost at sea

It has only been since about the time of the American Revolution that sailors have had the technology available to find their exact location on the face of the earth. Although determining your latitude was possible (those are the lines that run around the middle of the earth like the equator), knowing your longitude, or how far East or West you were, was simply not possible.

What sailors did before that time was sail down to the appropriate latitude and then sail East or West and hope they didn’t arrive at a landfall in the middle of the night or in a storm. Alas, this happened all the time and many lives were lost. If you would like to learn more about the “search for longitude” there is a 6 part series on YouTube that you might enjoy watching. Just use the key words: “Lost At Sea: the Search for Longitude”

After the discovery of a solution to the “longitude problem,” an accurate clock or chronometer, a sextant and a book of tables were all you needed to find your exact location once this solution became practical. Of course, you also needed to know how to use them. This took a lot of time and training. I was once considering the purchase of a sextant, but thank goodness Loran was available in the 1980’s when I began sailing. Now, of course, everyone enjoys the benefit of GPS (Global Positioning System). (Even you dirt dwellers.) Thank goodness I didn’t bother getting an Excedrin headache trying to absorb this knowledge.

The advantage of GPS is that you don’t need the sun or the stars. Even in a fog, you can determine exactly where you are, and you can navigate to a destination. If visibility is low, you just have to go slowly and watch for other boats, but at least you won’t hit any rocks.

The lesson to be learned here is that it is awfully hard to get to where you want to go in this world if you don’t know where you are. And, if you want to get to a particular destination in the shortest amount of time, it pays to use all the technology you have available, and to learn how to use it effectively.

When it comes to job search, I have found that many of our members have not learned how to take advantage of the latest technology. Things as simple as adding an outgoing signature to their emails so everyone will know who they are seems to be beyond their capabilities.

I also find that some members have not taken the time to read a few job search books like Rites of Passage by John Lucht so they will be better able to navigate the shark infested waters we all seem to be living in these days.

But, what is worse is that some of our members have not figured out how to use our Member Directory Search feature, available at no extra cost on our website. They are either too embarrassed to ask or are unaware of the “GPS” nature of this powerful tool for navigating the uncharted waters of job searching.

There are many useful documents just waiting for you out on our website: recent newsletters, model resumes, and a few other things. But, the most important tool out there is our Member Directory Search feature.

You can remain lost at sea if you want to, but our membership directory is the key to your connecting with other members. You have access to our entire 40,000+ membership through our Member Directory Search feature.

Hopefully you don’t need a sextant or GPS to find our website.

Regards, Matt

A sharp pencil

There is no more powerful tool than a sharp pencil. (The only equally powerful tool is The FENG’s Member Directory Search feature.)

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

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 ever 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 me 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

If you met yourself

Have you ever wondered who is that guy/gal in the mirror? I’m sure we all stare at that familiar face from time to time, but the real question is who are you and what do you do best?

You would think that if you just took a few minutes and read your own resume, you could solve this one, but you would be wrong. Although it is possible you know yourself well enough to come up with an appropriate answer, for most people it would be a good idea to ask those who know you best what they think it is you do. The answers might surprise you.

Early in my career when I worked for “the big corporation” I participated in some group psychological testing. More recently, but still over 20 years ago, I participated in Myers-Briggs type testing. The bottom line (Is that an accountant speaking or what?) is that the more you are aware of who the real you is, the more likely that you will be successful in finding a management style and I would hope a job that is best suited to you.

One of the things that some really good outplacement firms do is to put you through what they call a 360 degree review. On your behalf, they contact folks to whom you reported, a few who reported to you and finally some peers. In this way, they hope to see the real you and explain back to you who it is you are and how others perceive you.

Duplicating this in “real life” or on your own isn’t all that easy, but if you are lucky enough to have a few close but honest friends you just might be able to come close.

It also pays to do more than a little heavy thinking on your own about your career and those parts of it where you felt you were at your best. What are those things that you brag about when you discuss your career? The question I would ask is, are they on your resume?

The panic that fills the heart of someone who is active in their search can lead one to repeat all the mistakes of the past in the headlong plunge to replace your lost income. Coming to terms with who you are and what you do best can pay big dividends.

Those who would like to share their thoughts on their solutions to this process of “self-discovery” should send their contributions to Leads@TheFENG.org. Please be clear if you want your name used. Editing is difficult enough for Leslie, but reading between the lines where you say you don’t want your name mentioned doesn’t always happen and I don’t want anyone embarrassed.

Regards, Matt

Taking a step back

Let’s be honest, even though the unemployment figures suggest a strong job market, things are still challenging for members of our “well experienced” membership. This always being the case, many of our members consider opportunities that are well below their previous levels of responsibility and compensation.

I would welcome the thoughts of others on this topic, so please do send in your ideas. Anything you would like published should be sent to Leads@TheFENG.org. Be sure to be clear if you want your name used.

There are many issues that go along with what is happening. However, I would ask that we not delve into the issues of age discrimination. It has always been there and will always be there.

I can tell you from my own discussions with our members that even those who lamented the inability of others to even CONSIDER them because they were “overqualified,” as soon as they get on the other side of the desk, that sting is soon forgotten and when they have jobs reporting to them to fill, THEY won’t consider those who are overqualified. It is unfortunately human nature to have a mental picture of what folks should look like for jobs that need to be filled.

Let’s consider for a moment some of the issues you need to understand that you face. The first is that if you are overqualified you will leave as soon as an appropriate offer comes along. Sure it is possible, but this is “the elephant sitting in the room” that you need to address when you are competing for a job “inappropriate” to your experience. Dumbing down your resume isn’t an answer because you will be discovered during the interview and effectively caught in a lie. Not a good thing for a financial officer.

If you are hired, you need to know that there will be some discomfort on both sides, perhaps the whole time you are there. By offering you less money than you should be earning, you may feel and THEY may feel that you have been taken advantage of. Okay, it’s true. Just understand that you will need to deal with it and put others at ease and yourself at ease.

Looking ahead to your next job change, you should also consider where you are in your career and how taking a big pay cut will affect your future. There are times when taking a step back can be made to appear logical and other times when it is not the case. Only you can decide. Just understand that you will have to discuss it. Make sure you have explanations that are brief, but that still explain your reasoning for compromising.

I would argue and have many times that it is ALWAYS better to be working, whatever sacrifices you have to make to your presumed personal prestige. Often times others don’t really know how big a step back you have taken and you really aren’t obligated to tell them. In addition, if you are working, you just may be learning new things that will create market value for you later.

Most important is if you have some income, your “burn rate” will slow. This can have important positive psychological effects on you and your sense of pride.

Well, this should get everyone started. What are your thoughts? What are the issues we face in these situations and how do we “explain ourselves” to others and to ourselves.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Again, send them to Leads@TheFENG.org.

Regards, Matt

Why bother saying thank you?

For those of you who are sailing fans and/or history buffs and saw the movie Master & Commander: The Far Side of The World, there was a scene where Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany were having a heated argument about the merits of flogging. The comment made by the captain was that the good doctor didn’t understand what held their little wooden world together.

Please understand that I am not recommending we flog members of The FENG who fail to say thank you, but the analogy is that those who don’t say thank you apparently don’t understand what holds our little electronic world together.

NO ONE ever hears thank you enough. All of you are very kind to me and I get “love notes” from quite a few members every day. Don’t count on me telling you to stop. It is very nice to know that the hours I put into The FENG are SO appreciated.

I am not, however, asking you to send me more thank you notes.

What I am asking is that ANYONE posting a “Member in Need of Assistance” take the time to hit reply and say thanks to EVERYONE who has taken the time to send them an answer of ANY kind. Honestly, it’s not like you have to print an envelope and letter and put a “Forever” stamp on it.

Thanks to Al Gore inventing this Internet thing, and Bill Gates inventing MS Word (or causing it to be invented), you have the world’s best power tools to ingratiate yourself to all those strangers who have listened to your plea for help.

Everything in The FENG is filled with hidden meanings. If you are requesting help on a topic, consider the fact that those who respond might actually have something in common with you, and/or want to be your friend. Yes, they might well be good networking contacts. Duh! By not letting them know you appreciate their gesture, you are missing out.

Doing favors for others is a Godfather thing. In the rest of the world, I do a favor for you, you do a favor for me. In The FENG, you don’t actually have to pay back the favor to the same person. You only have to make yourself available and be willing and open to doing favors for others to ask for as many favors as you like.

Some of us are in need now. Others will be in need at some point in the future. It is in all of our best interests that the many courtesies we extend to one another in the spirit of fellowship be fully recognized.

You aren’t required to put their children through college or throw yourself in front of a bus for a fellow member.

You are, however, expected to say, thank you, thank you, thank you, when someone extends the hand of friendship by sharing their knowledge and experience.

Who knows, within The FENG, common courtesy may even become something that isn’t uncommon. (By the way, this especially applies to new members returning phone calls from other members who have welcomed them to our “little” family.)

Regards, Matt

The luxury of discouragement

I suppose that feeling sorry for yourself feels pretty good. The problem is that it doesn’t do you any good and doesn’t benefit you in any way, shape or form.

In this era of long job searches, it is easy to fall into this pattern of self abuse. Frankly, I don’t encourage it.

While the light at the end of the tunnel may in fact be a speeding locomotive, when it hits us, we won’t know it anyway! So, why not put on a happy face and struggle as best you can?

The truth is that every minute you spend focused on bemoaning that which you cannot change, is a minute you could be doing something productive. Yes, I know the goals you have set for yourself may appear distant or out of reach, but one never really knows.

Before I had a GPS unit on my boat, I had the luxury of thinking I was moving faster than I was. I don’t know, but it was probably better back then. When I was unknowingly faced with a foul tide and making no progress, I was ignorant in my bliss. (Hey, the sails were full and drawing nicely! And, it was a pleasant summer day.)

Our own individual journeys at any point in time can seem endless. But job search isn’t something that yields to the cold calculations on which we have built our careers. Job search is a significantly random process. The end MAY in fact be far off (as in your struggle has just begun), or it may be just around the corner.

Try believing that it is near at hand and you will find your productivity and inner strength are that much greater.

Look, I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy or that I will win the lottery tomorrow (I don’t buy lottery tickets, which is one problem.), but I do believe in each of you.

So, make a believer out of me and a believer out of yourself. Quitting isn’t an option. (And, isn’t as much fun as some people think.)

Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead.

As I say to folks who ask how I get so much done each day – Step one is don’t think about how much you have to do. That is time better spent on doing.

Regards, Matt

Attention to detail

I am frequently disappointed by 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 – 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 “signature.” If you are wondering why no one is writing back, this may be 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 characters. 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, McBud, 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 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. Your LastName-FirstName.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 did a full editorial 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

Fewer close friends?

There was mention of an article several years ago in The Wall Street Journal that Americans have fewer close friends. Intrigued at the time, I “Googled” and found a few press reports about the article.

According to an article in American Sociological Review, in 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.

As far as close friends go, I hope that all of you know that you have over 40,000 people to choose from. Any member of The FENG who doesn’t yet have at least 20 people in whom they could confide important matters just isn’t doing enough networking.

Networking as you know has as its purpose the creation of meaningful relationships. I would be the first to admit that it does take time to make friends, especially ones in keeping with the meaning of this scholarly article. So, when are you going to get started?

Like the farmer who has plowed the earth, planted seeds, watered as appropriate, and perhaps even provided sunlight, the ball is now in the court of the plants. Although I am not really sure who is the farmer and who are the plants, let alone if any of us are in this analogy the earth, planted seeds or water, I can tell you that all the elements are there for you to have a good time.

I would hope that anyone in The FENG who has given it a go is well on their way to winning the “Who has the most friends” contest. And if you can’t win this contest, I would hope you were on your way to at least an honorable mention.

Where do you start? By using our Member Directory Search feature, of course!

It actually isn’t important where you start or when you start, only that you do. My personal favorite is to look up old friends. Yes, anyone who is anyone (and a financial person) is probably a member of our august body. And if they aren’t and you can track them down, please do ask them to join if they are senior level financial folks. The reason you start with old friends with whom you might have lost touch is that they are the easiest to win over and reconnect with. Having known you at one time, they will be thrilled that you took the time to track them down. They might even remind you of other old mutual friends you can call.

No one in The FENG has any need to be lonely. We are all one big happy family. (Okay, all of us aren’t happy all the time, but 99% isn’t bad.)

What I want to be sure of is that if the American Sociological Review decides to do a study of The FENG in 10 years that they will be astounded with their findings.

If you can’t go out and make a few new friends for any other reason, than do it for this purpose. We are trying to get in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most interconnected networking group in the WHOLE world. LinkedIn has nothing on us. Neither does Facebook.

I hope you will work with me on this goal.

Regards, Matt

Reading, an important skill

I think that anyone conducting a job search would agree that to be really effective and have any chance, one must know how to read.

Like anything else, reading skills exist at many levels. The purpose of tonight’s editorial is to clarify the nature of the job leads in our evening newsletter for those of you who are new to our organization, and also for those of you who think you know. It is also to ask you to read them carefully!

All job leads in our newsletter are personal. They don’t appear by magic. They appear because SOMEONE in our membership took the time to send it in, and in many cases took the time to BUILD A RELATIONSHIP.

Many members of our networking group enjoy good relationships with members of the search community. Job leads posted from those members usually begin: “Please use my name in contacting.” When there is a relationship involved, not only do we want you to enjoy the benefit of that relationship, we also want to RESPECT it. That means, when it says “qualified members ONLY,” it means just that. If you wouldn’t hire you for this golden opportunity, consider not responding. I don’t mean to be harsh or disrespectful to our many members who play by the rules, but in these cases, “buying a lottery ticket” provides you with nothing and tends to ruin it for everyone else.

Then we have various other kinds of jobs that grace the pages of our newsletter. Some are rumors, some have been over heard in hallways, and some have been pulled from public job boards. (As an aside, we don’t post jobs from paid subscription services as that would violate their typical rules. Hey, we hear about everything sooner or later, and we don’t really need to.)

These kinds of jobs usually indicate that “using my name” WON’T help, in fact, it will only confuse matters. There is no relationship. Sure, the member providing the posting has his name associated with it, but he doesn’t know anyone personally involved with this opportunity and they don’t know him. You make yourself look silly or worse to mention his/her name or The FENG. In addition, calling him/her up to discuss the posting won’t add anything to your life or his/hers.

Friends, it is easy move at hyper speed and just click and shoot. I would ask you not to do that. Sure, you can’t spend a lot of time on job postings when you are so busy networking, networking and networking, but try to focus and understand that you need to take SOME care with postings from our newsletter.

You will get better results and as a group we will all get better results if you read above, below and between the lines.

Like I said, reading is an important skill. Take the time and do it.

Regards, Matt

 

Just showing up

There are several folks who claim credit for it, but one of the things I have been heard to say from time to time that I didn’t make up is that “90% of life is just showing up.” (Okay, perhaps it is only 89%. Whatever!)

As we begin the months of the well respected summer doldrums, I would ask all of you who are around when meetings are taking place of our various chapters and special interest groups to make a special effort to show up, especially if you RSVP for a meeting.

I have to tell you that setting up a meeting requires a lot of hours on behalf of our many hard working chapter and SIG chairs, and it can be discouraging to think you are going to have a crowd and end up having a speaker talking to an empty room. All this and you don’t get paid for it either!

Now I know that I will never be able to beat anyone into attending a meeting they don’t feel will bring them value. But, I can’t think of a better thing to do than getting out and meeting your fellow members of The FENG. Sure, none of them are movie stars, and some of them can quite honestly be rather boring when they are doing their 90-second announcements, but I have found that this is part of their charm.

As a group, we are by and large cut from the same cloth. (A frightening thought!) I have been holding meetings since January of 1997, and I try very hard never to miss. I’m sure I could find someone to step in from time to time, but I actually enjoy meeting our many members, some of whom are attending their first meeting. It can be a little scary going to your first meeting, and I am delighted to be there to help them through it. My guess is that our many chapter and SIG chairs feel the same way.

We devote a lot of resources to making meetings better attended. We have for many years been emailing meeting notices to chapter and SIG members to remind them of these important events. Several years ago we completed a major website updating (at no small expense) to ensure that if you miss the meeting notice in the newsletter, you can still check somewhere without having to call anyone. (Are you empowered, or what?)

So, even if “showing up” is only 80% or even only 75% of life, (a little sensitivity analysis for all of us analytical types), it still pays.

See you at the next meeting. I’ll be the one wearing the red rose in my lapel. (I also have a name badge for the visually impaired.)

Regards, Matt

Unsolicited advice

It is a sad fact that most men don’t appreciate getting unsolicited advice. That said, there are even those among us who reject advice they have asked for out of hand and in a dismissive way.

The giving and receiving of advice is always a delicate balance. Even though probably 75% of my mail comes in without an outgoing signature and I could pull my hair out over it at times, I still write “May I suggest….”, when I should say “Haven’t you heard me mention this before?” (I try to keep my suggestion about providing a FULL outgoing signature from being mentioned in my editorials to only once or twice a WEEK. Perhaps I need to pick up the pace.)

Call me Mr. Know-it-all, but I try to ask at least one stupid question a day. They sometimes begin with “What do you think?” Sure, I already know the correct answer, but I have found out that from time to time people surprise me with one I was not expecting and it is a better answer than the one I had in mind. (Lucky thing I didn’t go first!)

Seeking advice requires that you be a good listener. While you may have “heard it all before,” one just never knows when some wise guy will come up with some new twist on a well worn idea. If you aren’t really listening, you will miss it.

Take this Internet thing for example. Why would anyone not want to be able to go down to the post office and mail real letters to people they know? (This whole instant messaging thing is over rated, don’t you think?) And, what should those of us who still have preprinted stationery do with it? Thank goodness the people who dreamed up the Internet didn’t ask me. I had just figured out how to do a mail merge for letters and envelopes and I was very happy. Who knew I would be even happier?

If you ask enough people to help you solve a problem you are more likely to be able to improve on any solution you have in mind. It is even possible that the final shape of your idea will be better than anything that has come before. Such is the power of what is known in the computer world as distributed data processing. (Another idea that no one asked my opinion about!)

I think all of you would agree that having someone ask YOUR opinion is a great honor. It makes you feel good. It even gets those old brain cells working. Perhaps it even helps you shape your own ideas from time to time by causing you to consider alternatives for someone else.

You know, we could create a whole “thing” in The FENG by asking for each other’s advice. Not only would all of us feel good about ourselves and feel important, but we might also all end up smarter.

Who knew? (Again, they didn’t ask me!)

Regards, Matt

Your hidden assets

Almost all of the resumes I see are from members or new member 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 over 100,000 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. As they say in Texas, it isn’t bragging if it’s true.)

Regards, Matt

Playing to an empty house

I have often wondered how actors polish their performances before the first show. With only the director and the producer in the audience it just can’t be the same. Sure you are up there on stage and perhaps even in full costume, but there is no audience clapping or talking to each other to let you know how your delivery is going.

Once you have a full audience, tuning up your performance has got to be a lot easier. Changes in gestures at key moments, raising your voice, lowering your voice, all seem to get a reaction.

When I am speaking to chapter meetings I sort of experience the same thing. I may have thought through what I am going to say, but I fine tune it on the fly based on the audience reaction.

I have had several conversations with members these past few days about their resumes. If you have been at your job search for too long (this can be anything over two weeks, depending on how much patience you have), it is easy to blame your resume or your cover letter and start making changes to something that is already an effective communication tool.

Doing direct mail campaigns with your resume is sort of like an actor playing to an empty house. You really don’t get the kind of feedback you need to know if it is working.

Sure, most of the resumes I see could use a lot of improvement, but don’t kid yourself that a paid resume writer is going to necessarily do a better job communicating what you do. You need to always be critical about the product they produce and use the good parts and disregard the bad parts. (As financial folks, this is one of the things we have to fight. If we have paid for something, we insist on using it.) But, hey, this is America, and if you don’t like it when you get home, you can throw it away!

I have over the years noticed trends in resume formats. At outplacement offices around the country various formats go in and out of favor. Whether we are talking about one page versus two, or type size of the name at the top, or the new “tables” structure, these formats come and go and typically get applied when they aren’t appropriate. I think they get tired of doing things this way or that way. It has nothing to do with whether or not it is more effective. (And by the way, if you don’t know how to do a tables format, PLEASE don’t fake it with your space bar. This NEVER works on any printer but the one you are currently using.)

Just to give you a simple example, if on all the resumes being produced this week the name at the top is in caps, it will be in caps on your resume. And, not wanting to get into the typing business, you leave it that way. Well, in my opinion, if your name is McDonald, I don’t like seeing it as MCDONALD. The same thing is true of the companies at which you have worked. If you have a mix of companies and some of them specifically should be in capitals like CBS, I like to see upper case and lower case letters used. CBS PUBLISHING to me does not look as correct as CBS Publishing.

Clarity of presentation is vitally important. What is the most important information you want folks to easily be able to pick off your resume? I would suggest it is the companies at which you have worked, the titles you have held and the degrees you have earned. Frankly everything else is just fluff anyway. If this stuff isn’t presented with clarity, forget everything else.

Simple messages are best. Long introductory paragraphs filled with unnecessary modifiers weaken your message. If you strip out all the unnecessary modifiers like “dynamic manager” you will find that you no longer have to use a smaller type font and margins that are less than 1 inch. (These are my biggest complaints. Smaller fonts and smaller margins are no substitute for editing, editing, and more editing.) In addition, one of my rules is use no abbreviations. Frankly, I never know what they mean and neither does anyone else. Like the New York Times, you need to write at an 8th grade level to get your message across.

The solution to the empty house problem is to go over your resume with other members of The FENG. Either by email or in person, these are folks who understand what you do and who can be most helpful. In addition, we tend to be traditional and I believe traditional works. Let the marketing folks experiment.

The modification method I would suggest to you I heard from a psychology professor who was discussing how he designed and built his book. He had students circle any word they didn’t know. For any word that a majority of his students didn’t know, he wrote a definition of it in the margin of the book.

In your context, have the person reviewing your resume for format and clarity circle anything they don’t like. They don’t have to come up with an exact reason they don’t like it. It is enough for them to zero in on the bothersome parts of your presentation. Now, analytically and without pride of authorship go through and clean them up.

I think you will find this to be quite effective, and almost as good as playing to a full house.

Perhaps there will even be a round of applause for you.

Regards, Matt

Free advice

I guess the old saw is that free advice is worth what you pay for it. The other popular expression I use from time to time is “consider the source.”

There is a whole “guy thing” about the giving of unsolicited advice. In much the same logic as the old saw about guys not asking for directions at the gas station, it is often difficult to find the right words to offer up advice to members when it isn’t requested.

I, of course, see a lot of resumes. With such an obvious huge overview of the “resume landscape,” you would think that anything I said about a member’s resume would be gratefully received, but alas, it isn’t so.

Unlike most people, I suppose, I puzzle over these kinds of matters. Our goal in The FENG is to ensure that all of our members find jobs in the shortest period of time. So, anything that creates an impediment to that, I try to find ways to address it.

I know there is great pride of authorship in the final resume product you present to the world, but there shouldn’t be. The truth is that a resume, which is your most important piece of writing, needs to be allowed to grow. Matt’s rule is never print more than you need for the day.

No one can actually write your resume but you. Editing it is another matter. Trusting only your own judgment in the editing process is akin to taking out your own appendix, and I am not talking about the end portion of the book you are writing.

Always seek advice about your resume and whether it is communicating the facts about your fine background as effectively as you think it is. The suggested approach when asking for a few suggestions is to put on your best poker face and endure all the comments with an open mind.

The big guy above gave us two ears but only one mouth with the expectation that we would do more listening than speaking.

I always enjoy my conversations with our members because I never fail to learn something if I let them play out their ideas. Sure, you may think I have heard it all before, but you never know as life moves on what new twists and turns can be placed on old ideas to make them appear new or at the very least make them more effective.

It is all in the spin of the moment.

So, before you again reject out of hand the suggestions of others, take a moment. Count to ten, and breathe deeply. You just may learn something you didn’t know before.

And, hey, it didn’t even cost anything.

Regards, Matt

A career in marketing

Just as they should require finance and accounting courses for the members of the other professions in this world, they probably should require more marketing classes for the members of our profession.

The question we are always trying to address, whether we are looking for work or currently employed is: Who are our real customers and what is it we are selling them?

This isn’t a question that is as easy to answer as it might appear. Not being marketing professionals we often mistake cause and effect. What is it we do for the rest of the organization? Unless you are always thinking in marketing terms your “product offering” is not going to be well received because you haven’t defined what it is you are selling.

Saying you are a Chief Financial Officer may not give a complete snapshot of who you are. That is just a title that may or may not describe to the person to whom you are talking what it is you really do every day.

For example, I was Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency. I have also been the top financial guy in various publishing divisions. What you do in those environments is very different than what one might do in say a manufacturing or real estate environment. What I do that is a little unique is that in those environments I try to make accounting and finance issues understandable to all levels of management. I have found that I can empower the very talented individuals who inhabit these kinds of organizations by getting them to understand the “measurements” under which they have to live. They in turn have been kind enough to teach me how they think about the business. It can be a happy marriage indeed.

To be successful in an environment of egos as big as all outdoors isn’t for the faint of heart. But, it is what I do best. It is one of the reasons that I am enjoying a reasonable amount of success in my consulting practice. I tend to believe in the knowledge of others and I can find ways to build on their ideas. Dealing mostly with our alumni members, this is actually pretty easy because they are a knowledgeable bunch who typically have ideas in need of implementation. I can provide them with hard to get resources on short notice. This is what I sell.

As you review that resume over which you have slaved so many hours, what is it telling the world that you are trying to sell? Does the sales pitch jump off the page?

The process of creating your resume and 90-second elevator speech needs to be viewed in developmental stages. The first stage is getting your background and achievements down on paper. The second stage is polishing the prose. The third and final stage is ensuring that the “sell” is coming through.

This is the hardest part. Most of you can document your work history. Most of you can polish your prose. With a little help, you can even build a good public presentation of these facts. The marketing of your background is a little harder.

What are the things that are unique about you and are you using them to the greatest effect? If you have graduated from a top MBA program, is that highlighted? If you have worked for a well known and well respected firm, does that jump off the page? Do you talk about it? (Of course, in modest terms.)

To be successful in this final phase you need the help of others. I have often been surprised to a degree by my friends and business associates when they point out what should be the obvious to me about my background.

You can also get this benefit by seeking out the advice of others. Pick associates who know you and whose judgments you trust and ask them what they think you do best.

You may be surprised by the answer. Now compare these newly acquired facts about yourself to the communications you are using and see if they measure up to the new you.

You will find it is a much more powerful delivery than the mere listing of factual information you had before. (Marketing is actually a lot easier than accounting and finance.)

Regards, Matt

Points of difference

If I may paraphrase a line from the somewhat forgettable movie “My Cousin Vinny,” this is no time to blend. (With Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci)

The essence of a job search is identifying and communicating that which is unique about you to the rest of the world.

It is of course normal for human beings to want to communicate “I am just like you and therefore we should be friends.” It is a reflex action to try to find areas of common interest with those you meet. (Oh, you’re from Chicago? I stopped there once.)

Just about anything and everything that will provide a “warm fuzzy” should be tried.

That said, the time when this is inappropriate is our classic 90-second announcement. Although in the course of a one hour conversation over dinner or drinks we can go into depth and explore what may be the basis of an enduring friendship, 90-seconds just isn’t much time.

During this “trial by fire” crushing time period, only the absolutely essential can be developed and presented.

What is it exactly that makes you unique? What have you done in your life that will provide a “handle” or way of thinking about you that I will actually remember?

One of our banking members used the fact that he had done hostage negotiations to create a strong impression. Hard to forget “good old what’s his name.” (Actually, I do remember his name.)

We are all accountants or financial folks. We all do financial analysis. We all graduated with business degrees. And, we ALL have had unusual and interesting work experiences that we can incorporate in our limited pitch time to create a lasting impression.

Although I lean towards humor, you will have to find something with which you are comfortable.

However, without distinct points of difference, you will blend into the background just like the “man in the grey flannel suit.”

We all get the feeling you are special. Take the time to figure out why you are and be sure to tell us in melodramatic fashion. That is what works best.

Regards, Matt

Just checking in with you

I spoke to one of our members of long standing a few years ago who joined when we only had 100 members. Yes, I know it is hard to believe that The FENG only had 100 members as recently as 1997, but it’s true. We have indeed come a long way!

I guess I had one of my many flashbacks while I was talking to him and I began thinking about the “early days” of The FENG and what ideas caused me to adopt our 5 day a week schedule.

Having been unemployed for almost 2 full years back in 1991-1992, I personally knew the pain of being unemployed. Being as efficient as I am, I had my job search down to a science, and that unfortunately left me with a lot of time to kill. With a working wife and my children in school all day, the house was very quiet. I should point out that this was pre-Internet, so I couldn’t even surf the web all day. At times, I swear I could hear my heart beating. It was that deadly.

So, when I took over The FENG in January of 1997 and started distributing our job leads through my AOL account, I decided that as long as I had job leads to send out, I would send them out every day. What a nice surprise I thought, to sign into your email account and find a message from a good friend. (You’ve got mail!) While not every job lead was one you would consider appropriate to your background, at least you had something to chew on every day. I also included “good news” announcements to let everyone know that some of us were finding jobs, so all hope wasn’t lost.

Over time, the newsletter grew in length. During the Internet bubble, we had 30-40 members who we called “Web Watchers” who surfed the web, did a cut and paste and sent what they found to me. It wasn’t always easy to clean up the “garbage” that came in, but I came up with some useful approaches that we still use today to make what was going out presentable.

Job search can be a lonely business, even when you are working. If there is nothing else we do for each other in The FENG it is that very important function of “keeping hope alive.” To repeat a trite phrase, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” If I am to expect that everyone will keep up “the good fight” and work hard at their search, it is essential that we provide our members with something to puzzle through each and every work day. It is a grueling schedule, but I have always viewed it as something worth doing.

Each of you in your own way can work with me to “keep hope alive” by calling a few of your fellow members each and every week. I remind everyone weekly about the importance of calling a few new members, but I would encourage you to call your old time friends as well.

Aren’t there individuals you connected with who called you from time to time during your most recent search? Be honest with yourself. Have you called them recently just to check in with them?

Streets run both ways. (Although I would swear I once was on a one way dead end street in Boston, but I digress.) Buying into another person’s pain is a difficult thing to ask, but I am asking anyway. The gift of friendship may appear to be free, but it isn’t. Although it doesn’t have a price tag denominated in dollars, it requires you to give twice as much as you think you have gotten.

So reach out and touch a few members from time to time. We will continue to do our part here at “world headquarters” and keep the newsletter going out 5 days a week.

Regards, Matt

Staying hidden from view

I often wonder if people really want to be found.

It ranges from the lack of an outgoing signature with your FULL contact information on the emails I receive to answering machines that repeat your phone number when I call, but don’t indicate whose phone it is. The latest wrinkle is not putting a physical address on your resume.

I’m not sure what to make of all of these obstacles people put in front of others trying to reach them.

There apparently is a major outplacement firm recommending the deletion of home addresses. The fear is identity theft.

While I would never recommend you put your date of birth and/or your Social Security number on your resume, I feel very strongly that not providing a full address is going to make your resume look very strange. If they pass a law that everyone has to remove this information, fine. But, until they do, I think you make yourself look silly. For most of us who want to be found and don’t have unlisted phone numbers, all you have to do is type your name into Google and you will find that a lot of your contact information comes up pretty easily. If you are going to live in fear of identity theft from posting your resume or submitting it for potential opportunities, I fear you are also sentencing yourself to a long period of unemployment.

When it comes to tracking people down, I sort of have an advantage in that many of you have very kindly provided me with several points of contact. When you want me to call, even if you don’t have an outgoing signature, I put my secret decoder ring to work, figure out who you are and then try ALL the phone numbers you have given me until I reach you. When you have sent a resume, I often find that not all your points of contact are there. If you have a cell phone, I suggest listing it. I know it can be a pain in the neck getting a cell phone call when you are out, but it just may be a golden opportunity knocking, and as you know, they often don’t knock twice.

What I would suggest is that you not only write to yourself from time to time and see what your correspondence looks like, but that you also call your phones and see if you really think the message you recorded when you first set them up is what you want to have as your first introduction to someone whose call you have missed. If all you are giving is your phone number, trust me, I would somehow feel more reassured that I have reached the right person if you announced your name. If you are still using the “system” message, you ought to think what that says about your technological proficiency.

I still get members who ask: “What is an outgoing signature?” Have you considered using the help function in your email program? “Outgoing signature” or “signature” will bring up all the information you need about how to set it up.

You need to decide if you want to make it easy or hard for others to reach you. If you want to be lonely, I would make it tough. Most people will give up after the first try. If you want to be one of the more popular folks on this good earth, I wouldn’t suggest setting up a series of high hurdles.

Who knows, it might be someone with a check for $1 million dollars for you. (That is, if they can reach you.)

Regards, Matt

I’ve got you covered

We can all get a lot of help writing resumes. There are even lots and lots of very good books and articles on this topic.

Still, the first thing most recipients read or at least glance at is your cover letter. As bad as most of the resumes I see are, the cover letters are often worse.

We are all kind of stuck with the fact that in this electronic world, the email message you send with your resume IS your cover letter. Please don’t attach two files. No one has time to open and print two files. But, don’t include your cover letter as the first page of your resume because it will typically mess up all the pages that follow and/or make it difficult to separate the two if someone needs to just forward your resume.

Like any good piece of correspondence, your email needs to appear well formatted and crisp. Set up another address and send it to yourself until you are satisfied it looks good. Start at the top. Have you set up your name and address? Have you created a nice looking outgoing signature with all of your contact points (in order of importance)? If you are like many of our members, you may have allowed all this new technology to baffle you. Don’t! As I have been heard to say, some of this stuff is so easy that anyone can do it, so if I try hard, I can too! Using a “family address” or sharing an address with your spouse is a bad idea. Think like you are at work (because you are) and make it look perfect.

And now for the meat and potatoes: First, the subject. What is the “topic?” Why are you writing to me? Consider that your recipient may actually be working on more than one thing. The topic is quickly followed by an opening paragraph. This is not a sales document as much as it is an explanation of why you are writing.

Next, you are allowed up to 3 or 4 paragraphs tying your background to the specifications in the posting. If your background is appropriate, but it isn’t obvious, make it clear why it is. If making iPhones is just like making buggy whips, make the analogy.

Keep your total opus to ¾ of a page. And, keep your paragraphs and sentences short. The attention span in the world is very short. Anything over this length doesn’t get examined.

Think of your cover note as just providing some relevant highlights of your background, not the whole story.

If you explain your rationale for contacting your reader, they just might give your resume a proper read. Bore them with a lot of irrelevant details, and they just might hit the delete key.

As they say, KISS – keep it simple stupid. Less is more.

Regards, Matt

The illusion of time

Although this problem was more common several years ago when there were more corporate layoffs, I still from time to time see members waste the first 6 months of their job search. It’s not that they “goof off,” it’s more that they feel they have the luxury of time.

As a sailor, I can assure you that time and tide wait for no man. Neither does the job market and more importantly the marketability of your career.

Among the many things I hope are communicated in our newsletter are all the things you shouldn’t waste your time doing. Things such as mass mailings to recruiters or contacting accounting firms and lawyers you may know are generally not a good use of your time. Most of these folks will do the worst thing possible which is to appear to be helpful, but not actually be helpful. Very simply, it is called “follow the money.” Why would they introduce you to their source of income when the best result may be that they won’t lose their client?

While many will caution you to let yourself decompress from that bad job or go through the grieving process after leaving a company you have called home for most of your career, I suggest you move with all dispatch to find yourself a job. If you are over the age of 50-55, the urgency is even greater.

The truth is that no matter how fat the severance package is or how soon you might be eligible to receive your retirement package, if you want to work again it is vitally important that you find yourself a job. Almost any job will due. I am not suggesting you accept a miserable job requiring long hours, a horrible commute and work with terrible people. A nice job with a good title, but perhaps at a big cut in pay, will allow you to create the illusion of your employability.

Most people you know will not ask what you are earning in your new job. It would be kind of rude to do so. The fact that you can find work at your advanced years will allow you to do the one thing I hope you like to do and that is practice your skill set.
This thinking is not appropriate for those in their early 40’s. For those of you blessed with youth, planning the next stages of your career is more important than accepting any job that comes along.

If you have had a job for a long period of time, you will find that job search is a painful process. In part, your desire not to have to do this again soon will cause you to keep looking for that perfect job that will take you through to retirement. Trust me, there is no such animal.

Your ticket to working until you want to stop is creating a skill at finding new assignments.

The illusion of having the time to “do it right this time” is largely offset by the reality of the job market. Long service opportunities are few and far between. To wait for those perfect situations is to be kidding yourself.

Attack the market with all the energy you had in your youth. In truth, your needs are different than those early in their careers and so are your many skills and talents. Put your thinking cap on and find some work.

It is always better to be working. At what it almost doesn’t much matter.

Regards, Matt

The truth would probably hurt more

If only those you interviewed with were legally able to tell you the truth about why you aren’t being considered for a particular job. Unfortunately, the things they are allowed to say to you are very limited. Lawyers do really run the world.

If we lived in a Jerry Seinfeld world, they would just come out and say: “Aren’t you a little old for that job?” Instead, we have to endure that ever popular comment about us being “over qualified.”

Or, perhaps they just didn’t like us. “Boy are you obnoxious. I could never even imagine spending ONE day at the office with you.” Well, perhaps over qualified does sound better. (As Butch Cassidy said: “Don’t sugar coat it Sundance, tell it to her straight.”)

The basic technique most often used is what I call “The excuse you can’t cure.” Things like: “If only you had a CPA.” Well, if you don’t have one (and they knew you didn’t when they called you), you certainly aren’t going to get one tomorrow. (Now if only you could buy one at Home Depot.)

The problem is not so much that people come up with these unbelievable comments, and some of them really are unbelievable, it is mostly that we tend to believe them.

In order for a put down to be really effective, there has to be an element of truth about it. While they can’t always put a stake right through your heart, they usually can come pretty close.

When the answer is NO (or heck no), you may as well stop listening because very little real or valid information is going to follow. And, certainly there is nothing you are going to hear that you should take to heart, unless they mention that you had a stain on your tie or didn’t wear matching socks. (Those would both be valuable pieces of information, and that’s why you will never hear stuff like that.)

So, before you go off in a funk and think you will never work again, consider the fact that the people who have made these comments must be pretty stupid. After all, they didn’t hire you.

Regards, Matt

Is procrastination beneficial?

As it has been said, never put off until tomorrow that which you can do today. Of all the things one can buy with money, time is not one of them.

For those who “walk among us” who are thinking that the time is not far off when they might have to look for another job, I would suggest that the time is now. If you are relatively secure and fat and happy in your current job, this is not the time to call 100 recruiters and send out your resume unsolicited to the Fortune 500. It is, however, a time for preparation.

As we know in The FENG, or at least I hope we know, ALL JOBS ARE TEMPORARY. While you may not be out of work tomorrow, someday the word will come, and that is no time to START a job search.

Much has been made over the many years I have been involved in job search strategy about your relative attractiveness to members of the search community if you are working. There is also a syndrome that some people only want things they can’t have or that are already owned by someone else. While all this may be true, for those of our members who are “senior financial executives,” by which I mean “well seasoned,” you are generally not all that attractive to this audience anyway, so I wouldn’t do much worrying about them.

Your real goal is preparation. Not in a crazy way, but in a rational and practical way.

Do you have a resume? When was the last time you really looked at it? Of all the power tools you need to have handy if you suddenly decide to get serious, a resume is at the top of the list. If you have been active in The FENG, I would hope you have been accumulating the data you need to bring that marketing document to a state of high polish. Rather than wait until you are feeling concerned about your financial future, now is the time to gather your thoughts and put them down on paper. When you are feeling good about yourself is the time you will do some proper writing.

Have I mentioned networking? (Only several times a week!) Again, since you are currently gainfully employed, there is no need to go crazy and schedule 2-3 networking meetings a week, but have you been going through the new member listing and looked for folks you can invite up to your office with the scenic view for a cup of coffee? Once a month would be nice and would get you in the spirit of The FENG. Who knows, you might even make a few new friends who might help YOU when you need it.

Speaking of friends, do you make an effort to keep in touch with all the folks who helped you the last time around? (How quickly we forget.) I used to keep a written address book of all of my friends and several times a year when things were slow, I would “take a day off at the office” and call all of them. It was great to reconnect with old friends, find out what they were doing and perhaps even make a lunch date or two. You can’t expect your friends to be there for you if you don’t call them once in a while when you don’t “need” them. (By the way, you always need friends.)

I would suggest to you that in some sense everyone should always be job searching. As I believe George C. Scott said in his role of Patton, we are either advancing or in full retreat. One should never “hold ground.” And so it is in life. If you are not aggressively pursuing new things, you may as well be writing off your career.

None of this is to say that you should quit your perfectly good job tomorrow and go out and look for another one. Someday I will rerun my “stepping up into the lifeboat” editorial which will explain in more detail why you never volunteer to be unemployed.

Anyway, if you have put off until some future point in time even thinking about your career, this might be a good time to “get with the program.”

Regards, Matt

A standard communication device

The resume has a long and established history in our country, and while from time to time I see “variations on the theme,” the standard resume format is the one I always recommend.

I would hope that all of us have lamented as Chief Financial Officers about our crazy vendors. Why can’t everyone who billed our firms, at least those from the same industry, take the time to come up with a standard format so our staff would know where to look for invoice numbers and balances due? If only they did. Alas, they don’t.

Much the same story is true about the resumes I see on a daily basis. For the most part they revolve around a few themes, but there is always a renegade out there who thinks that he has come up with something new. By the way, we have model resumes out on our website for those of you who would like to have a peek.

A good resume starts with your contact information at the top. (Yes, the top, not the bottom.) It should include your home address, phone numbers and your email address. (Hard to believe, but I even saw a resume recently with NO contact information.) You should also put your name at the top of each page in case the pile happens to get dropped on the way back from the printer. The file naming convention is LastNameFirstNameMI.doc, or in the case of mine, BudMatthewR.doc. (Notice that I have used those annoying, but very useful uppercase and lowercase keys so easily accessed on both sides of your keyboard to aid readability.

A summary is always a good idea to have at the top. Think of it as your written 90-second announcement. I know that “lists” of some kind are suggested, but I personally don’t like them. I generally find significant redundancies in each and every list. Such things as Budgeting and another item for Planning are very common and I would suggest, pretty much the same thing. If you use a list in this section, be sure to think hard about why you can’t merge it into a sentence of some kind.

As we get into the body of the resume, list each company, the years you worked there (not the months) and the titles you held. Be sure to provide a short “definition” for each firm. Following this you may include a few accomplishments, providing few or none for those very early in your career. Even if you are “as old as the hills,” I recommend including the years you worked at each firm. Leaving out this information raises more concerns than the benefit it presumes to provide in my opinion. If you think you are old, others lacking this data may assume you are even older.

Finally your education should appear. If you list degrees you did not complete, make that clear. It will make you appear dishonest if you say things like “attended.” (What does that mean? Did you get a degree or not?) The same thing is true about other credentials such as “sat for the CPA exam.” Did you get your license or not? You don’t want to try to fool anyone. They will only be embarrassed when they present you to their supervisors who in turn ask you for a clarification. The answer never sounds good.

Your resume can be a powerful communication device, even within the context of the standard format. Going wild is for beach parties and beer blasts and perhaps football games. It has no place in job search.

Regards, Matt

Moving down market

I have often been heard to say that it’s always better to be working.

Being overqualified for most of the jobs published out in the world can be a little unsettling. But, I think you just have to accept it as a fact of life that once you have 20-30 years of work experience, you have probably done everything at least once. The new and exciting part of your work life is now in doing the same things you have done before, but with different people and in different companies.

The model that most of us have in our minds is based on our experience. (What else could it be based on?) The experience for many of us baby boomers is that we went to work for a large company early in our career and then got promoted and promoted until at some point our division was sold and we were out on the street looking for work. What is unique about large companies is that there is the opportunity to move up the ranks in small increments. Out in the cold cruel world, such gradations simply don’t exist. Therein lies the problem.

What you need to understand and accept is that being overqualified for most things IS your product advantage. You are fully trained and ready to do the job from day one. The customers for your services are actually the ones who are hung up on this issue. For the most part, I find that members being interviewed are surprised when the topic is brought up. Don’t be caught off guard by the stupidity of other people. If you know what you want in life, you need to fight to get it.

A good salesman learns to anticipate and to listen for customer objections. If the job in question is one you know how to do, if the people are nice, and the money on the table will satisfy you, there is no reason you can’t win the day if you play your cards right.

The urban legend is that someone who is overqualified will leave for a better job once the market turns around. I’m sure there are examples of this happening. After all, someone does win the lottery every day. But, put in the context of your “competition,” who do you think will stay longer? Someone in their 30’s with a great career track ahead of them and the need to move on, or you? I would also ask the question of who will have a greater positive impact over the next 12 months? You, with your knowledge and experience, or someone learning on the job? (I do enjoy asking easy questions.)

Your goal on a “sales call” is to position your candidacy in the best possible light. Suggesting that you aren’t as qualified as you appear to be is not a strategy that is going to work. The urban legend is that you can dumb down your resume and get more interviews. Perhaps true, but once you get the interview and the interviewer realizes he/she has been duped, how exactly are you planning to recover from that? Who would want to hire a CFO known to leave out facts that were considered to be important to a decision?

I am open to publishing suggestions members have on how to deal with the issue of “overqualified.” If you would like them to appear in our newsletter under our Notes From Members section, just send them to Leads@TheFENG.org. Sending them to me will only slow things down.

Regards, Matt

Are we a support or resource group?

Like the classic fable of the 6 blind men standing around the elephant, The FENG means a lot of different things to individual members.

In part it is dependent on where they are in their career, whether they are active in a search, or if they are currently employed. It can also vary on any given day.

Of course we provide support for one another. But, I like to think that the support we provide isn’t the “do it for you” kind, but rather it is our unique ability to be a resource for one another that makes the difference.

The FENG comes fully equipped with extraordinary resources for our members. And, other members provide them all. It is sort of like taking in each other’s laundry on turbo.

Let’s start with networking. Everyone has a few friends that could be useful to other members. Unlike Don Corelone in The Godfather, no one is asking to share your friends for bad purposes. Networking works best when all parties benefit. The FENG is one of those places where this can easily happen.

The Resume Review Committee is another place where it is hard to tell who is giving and who is getting. If you accept my theory that doing final editing on your own resume is akin to taking out your own appendix, then there is great value here. It is so hard to edit your own resume and so easy to see the flaws in someone else’s. The process of helping someone edit their resume can only improve your own writing skills. The additional plus here is that both parties get to make a new friend. (How can you not be a friend to someone whose background you have just learned?)

Our Chapter and SIG meetings present another opportunity to be a resource to others. In the past week I have had the chance to reach out to another member with a good networking source, only because another member had called me about him and I knew he knew his name.

Have you identified a specific company into which you would like to network? Duck soup! Out on our website we have a list of 40,000+ members. What do you think are the odds that there isn’t at least one, and most likely a “dirty dozen” who have worked there? Friends, it is near certainty! What a resource. And what do you think are the odds that those you contact will get back to you? Again, near certainty!

All dressed up with no place to go? We have a place on our website where you can check and see if there are any meetings you can get to. If it is too far to go by yourself, call a few other members and “con” them into going with you.

The support we provide one another is real. And, the resources we provide one another are also real. Please use them. That’s why they’re there.

(I know some of you are bashful, but you are just going to have to get over it!)

Regards, Matt

When the answer is no

Over the course of our careers, as financial people, we become hard wired to never take no for an answer. When a customer claims they won’t pay an invoice, we can come up with “offers they can’t refuse.” When engaged in a debate at work about the appropriate accounting treatment of some expense, we know our facts and argue persuasively, sometimes to the “death.”

So, when we are competing for a job we believe we are well qualified for, it is in our nature to get a bit argumentative with the “hiring authority.” Why was it we didn’t carry the day? How is it even possible that we weren’t the most qualified person for the job? What was it in our background that caused us to be eliminated or not selected? Did we somehow muff the interview?

Sadly, NONE of these questions are ones you should ask. What’s worse is that even if you ask them politely, you aren’t going to get any “true” answers. Consider the fact that most of the answers you might get could be taken out of context and set up the firm in question for a lawsuit. At least, that is the thought that is always in their minds when asked any of the not unreasonable questions above. So, basically, everything after the word no is not going to provide you with any useful information anyway.

The strategy I would suggest to you is to be gracious. If you should be so lucky as to actually get someone to return your phone call to tell you that you didn’t get the job, make it your top priority to “let them off the hook.”

Most folks don’t like delivering bad news. Put yourself on the other side of the phone and imagine the reality that they are braced for an argument and/or unpleasant discussion with you that they would greatly prefer not to have.

What if instead of getting into a debate with them you immediately thank them for calling? And, then what if you move to letting them know that you are a little disappointed, but understand that there are a lot of qualified candidates out there and that you’re sure they made a fine choice?

The result you will achieve is that this person will always take your calls. Furthermore, since you have struck such a positive note, you are now in a position to ask if they have any introductions they might make for you. After all, you presumably just missed getting hired by them. You must be pretty good.

What’s even better is the possibility that the idiot they just hired (Am I running down the competition or what?) may not show up for work and they will be back to you. Or, in the world of “you can’t make this stuff up,” the person may not work out. Again, who do you think they will call, the person who was gracious or the person who “beat them up?”

So there you have it. How to make lemonade out of lemons. A charm offensive always wins out over trying to win an argument you have already lost.

Regards, Matt

A fine line

The difference between being viewed as possessing dogged persistence and being an outright pest is hard to define. Like beauty or obscenity, I guess we know it when we see it.

I have had many jobs over the course of my career, some paid, some volunteer that have involved collection work.

When I was Treasurer of my congregation for 4 years, one of my jobs was to collect outstanding dues owed by members. It was delicate work. In the urban legend in this world, those who didn’t pay on time or not at all were suspected of trying to get away with something. The truth was enough to break your heart some nights when I made phone calls.

Very few people owe money to religious organizations when they have it to spend. (Of course, there are a few of these folks, but far fewer than urban legend would suggest.) I learned during this tour of duty to ask politely, and in fact by being “politely doggedly persistent” I was able to generate more funding than previous Treasurers. I guess I was so good at it that after I was no longer Treasurer, 2 members I had been talking to the entire time suddenly became flush with cash and paid off all they owed. They made a point of asking that I be informed.

As Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency in the 1980’s, I was again challenged to collect money, but this time for my firm. In this case it was from clients. Clients represent long term relationships and I would not have been able to keep my job if I didn’t collect from them or if they fired our firm because I pushed them too hard or inappropriately.

Similar rules apply in job search.

If you don’t follow up with a potential employer at all, they will assume disinterest. If you follow up hourly, they are going to assume you have a screw loose.

One question you have to ask yourself is if you are just trying to confirm the obvious, or if in fact you are a serious candidate. If you blew the interview, I wouldn’t push too hard. On the other hand, if you blew them away, not following up might cause you to lose an otherwise viable opportunity.

The way you follow up, as indicated above, is the key to your success. If you are in the initial stages, representing to the person on the other end of the phone that you are a “perfect fit” is a sure way to kill your candidacy. When the search professional has 300 resumes in response to a posting, what are the odds that there aren’t more than a few “perfect fits?” Also, trying to have a discussion with someone before they call you is also often a non-starter.

At this point in the discussion, we have to distinguish between jobs posted by members of the search community and those posted by the human resource department. Let me be clear that members of The FENG never run around recruiters. What I am going to suggest is only for jobs posted by companies.

Always follow the rules first. If you are asked to submit a resume to a P.O. Box, do it. If you know the name of the company, your next step is to try to network in. How? I believe you all have a resource tool called The FENG membership directory. It is there for your use. USE IT!

The hardest decisions to make about the appropriate level of follow up is when you have interviewed with several people at the firm and they never get back to you. Alas, time seems to slip away at corporations these days. Folks are over worked and under paid, or so it would seem.

The excuses I have heard are all very amusing, but all fill me with dismay, as I am sure they do you. Common courtesy, where has it gone? Well, the truth is that it probably never was, except in our imaginations.

Before your beat too hard on someone’s door, give it your very own smell test. Most importantly, don’t let yourself do something out of anger, as justified as it may be. The story goes that someone who should have called me back didn’t. For days! I was ticked! Why didn’t he call? The reason: His son was in the hospital. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

Remember, there could be a good reason. You have nothing to lose by assuming there is.

Regards, Matt

Reads and follows directions

One of the most important skills you bring to the party as a financial person is your ability to read and follow directions. If you accept this as being true, I can only wonder why so many members fail to carefully read the information so clearly presented in the postings that appear in our newsletter.

As I am sure all of you know, I post a lot of opportunities for clients of The FECG in our newsletter. I have come up with a few simple rules that I feel not only work for our types of assignments, but I hope are logical steps someone responding to ANY lead from any source should follow as well.

It is not reasonable for me or anyone else to expect you as a candidate to create a totally original response to one of my postings, and I don’t have that expectation. That said, it would be nice if everyone took the time to read all postings in our newsletter in which they had interest and confirmed before clicking send that they have tried their best, in the context of their available time, to answer the queries that have been posed and the requests that have been made.

A few examples. First let me suggest a file naming convention: LastNameFirstNameMI.doc, as in BudMatthewR.doc. The reason this is important, and I hope you will do this for every posting you answer, is that it prevents your resume from getting lost or over written when you send it in. Let’s assume that they actually want to save your resume for future reference. If it is resume.doc, guess what? That is the name more people use than you can imagine. There is also the ever popular Resume-Rev.57.doc. (Wow, he really worked on that one!)

A second request I make is to only attach one file. Every file someone has to open takes time. If you send a cover letter as an attached file and your resume, I may not know which one is which. And, the people I have seen do it don’t seem to have a good sense of how to establish their file naming conventions. As a general rule, your email is your cover note.

Have I ever mentioned outgoing signatures? (Surely not more than once a week.) How the heck am I supposed to get in touch with you? You would be surprised how many people do not provide ALL of their possible phone numbers on their resume. When I want to talk to you, I want to talk to you. I will call ALL of your phone numbers until I track you down. Why? Because at the moment I am calling you, I have all the information I need to communicate to you in front of me. If you call me back later, I may actually be working on something else. (I have been known to try to keep busy during the day. An old habit I learned when I worked for the “great corporation.”)

Did the posting ask for your compensation? Look, if you don’t want to give away any military secrets, that’s fine. At least provide a range. I will work for food is also a good response. (Just kidding.) Don’t make the range too broad, but money is important to you and to those doing the hiring. If you don’t want to put down your past compensation, put down the range you would consider. I always ask how much you want. I feel what you previously earned is your business.

How exactly do you fit this job anyway? Look, no one expects you to rewrite your resume for every posting. It would be nice if you did, especially if the fit is good and your resume has been generalized, but a cover note can make the link. If you are applying for a job out of town and there is no relocation, be sure to explain that “elephant sitting in the room” even though they don’t directly ask.

And finally, my favorite: Dear Sir or Madam. In the context of reading, did the person ask for you to write to them and provide you with their name? How rude and thoughtless you look to not have taken a few seconds to check the name of the “hiring authority.” Aren’t you annoyed when they write back: Dear Applicant?

Put those “dotting the I’s and crossing T’s” skills to work and let your reader know that you are well versed in “Reading and Following Directions.”

Regards, Matt

Rain or shine – you can’t do much about it

I don’t know what the weather has been by you lately, but here in Connecticut we have had a very cold and damp spring.

One thing you learn if you are a sailor is that there really isn’t much you can do about the weather. The wind is from whatever direction it is coming from and at whatever speed it chooses. All you can do is manage your vessel to take best advantage and, if need be, change your plans.

A few days ago I got a note from one of our members seeking to raise the issue of “Is a CPA needed to be a CFO?” Or, at the very least, the question was, is it being required more frequently? Well, the truth is that although we have discussed this before, the real point is that for most of us, there isn’t much we are going to be able to do about it. We either currently hold a CPA certificate or we don’t. If the world thinks we need to, and we don’t, it is our job to convince them otherwise. There are some firms who don’t want a CFO with a CPA because they view the training as an inhibition to strategic thinking. (Of course, not true.)

As I think we have all learned in our lives, you can’t make everybody happy at the same time. (And, sometimes it seems like you can’t make anybody happy at any time.)

On the job hunting front, it is important that you understand that what you are selling has to come from your wagon. You can only sell what is already in YOUR wagon. (Yes we have no bananas, we have no bananas today!) If you have been performing a senior financial role successfully with (or without) said certification, it is just possible that there are products in your personal wagon that are worth buying by a potential employer.

In sailing terms, you may need to change your tack. Ask yourself, what are the skills that made my earlier success possible? To diminish the need for CPA certification in someone’s mind plays into a negative justification of your reasons for not acquiring this credential.

Existing in the world of sailing requires accommodating to changing conditions. You can shorten sail, increase sail, change course, or stay home. As captain of your ship, it is your choice to make. One choice you can’t make is to change the weather.

So, take your “weather forecast” into account when making your sailing plans for your career.

If your vessel is sound, play to her strengths and you will find your voyage will be much more pleasant. You may even reach your destination sooner, even if it is an alternative one.

Regards, Matt

Networking is easy

Perhaps this is a bit of an overstatement, but I am primarily talking about networking within The FENG.

As you all know, we have a Member Directory Search feature out on our website for your information and use. If you become aware of a job at a specific company, the odds of someone in The FENG having worked there at SOME point is a near certainty.

With this aside, I thought I would share with all of you a few thoughts about why networking with your fellow members is so easy if you make any effort to do it right.

If you think long and hard about your background and the kinds of fellow members who are most likely to have something in common with you, you are already well on your way to an easy conversation. Stop me if I am wrong, but us advertising types do enjoy sharing stories about the crazy people who populate our rather small industry.

In much the same way, pick your topic, if you are at all selective in contacting other members, you can’t lose. Retailers, Internal Auditors, Manufacturing types all have stories to share about their niche within the financial arena. Those from our various chapters who have taken the time to attend a meeting or two have found that stories about your commuting or the companies in the area are all easy ways to get a conversation going.

These are all normal course of business kinds of things. You could start up a conversation with someone from your SIG or your chapter in much the same way as you would if you met someone on the street and happened to find out about this coincidence.

The thing that is unique about The FENG is that we have another common bond in our newsletter. My editorials, Good News Announcements, Requests for Assistance are all information we share. The values and knowledge about our many folkways not only provide food for thought, they also provide you with an easy “tool” to start a conversation with your fellow members. We have a LOT of shared experiences.

As they say, if you have some dry kindling all you need is a match to start a fire.

While you will find it easy enough to start a conversation and develop a friendship with those members you actually speak to or exchange emails with, I hope you won’t hold me and The FENG in general to a “100%” standard.

There are those you write to or call who will never get back to you. Why is that you might ask? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps they thought your message was spam. Perhaps they were out of town. Perhaps they didn’t think you had anything in common. Perhaps they thought they couldn’t help. Whatever their lame excuse to themselves, we will never know unless we reach them. In most cases it will just have to remain a mystery.

I hope you will never let that stop you from reaching out to other members. Your success rate will be high. Just don’t ever think it will be perfect. But, it doesn’t matter.

If you make the effort, you will still end up with more networking contacts by starting within The FENG than any other way known to mankind. It is one of those promises I make about which you will never be able to prove me wrong.

I like those kinds of promises.

Regards, Matt

Networking-A lifetime activity

I was fortunate to speak with two of our more experienced chapter chairs recently who each in their own way in our wide ranging conversations reminded me of the importance of networking as a lifetime activity.

I suppose to a degree, networking doesn’t come naturally to us financial types. We are by our nature “nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel” kinds of people who prefer “real” work to making phone calls and appearing to ask for favors. (What would we need a favor for anyway?)

Over the course of my career, I was always a pretty social person. On a regular basis, I tried to meet the friends I made at my various jobs for lunch, and/or I would take a day at the office when things were slow and go through my phone book and call people up.

There was never any evil intent involved such as looking for a job. Up until the time I was 46, I never had so much a day of unemployment. While I may have been looking from time to time, I was working and earning a good living.

As many of our members know, life in middle age has a way of playing tricks on you. The jobs that came so easily when I was “in my youth” were slow in coming when I was in my late 40’s and early 50’s.

In our grand age of the Internet, networking is easy and all of you should take advantage, or should I say, enjoy the benefit of this great technology. While I would never recommend that you send out anything so crass as mass mail, much of the news about what you have been doing the past 6 months or so should be circulated to those you know and in that message in some personalized manner and you should encourage those you contact to let you know what they are up to. Why? Because it is a good thing to do. Again, no evil intent. Just friends contacting friends and keeping in touch. Who knows, you might even schedule a lunch or two. (I’m sure you get hungry from time to time, and skipping lunch is never a good idea.)

Until the Great Recession, we were publishing more and more job leads in our evening newsletter. The size of The FENG and our reputation are providing all members with a great benefit. While you can engage in a passive job search if that is your preference, a proactive approach works best. Spending time on building your network when you have the luxury of time is just plain smart.

Ask yourself if you have made any effort to find NEW friends from within The FENG in the past 6 months. Have you called any new members? (They’ll talk to anyone!) Have you used our Member Directory Search feature? It is so easy to use, you won’t believe it. Look for old friends you haven’t contacted in a while. Look for people who have worked at companies you have worked for in past lives and give them a call. While you don’t know them, they may know of you. (I’m sure you are a legend in your own mind! Just kidding.) The truth is that the rascals you left behind are still rascals and the people you call will know them. As fellow members of The FENG, you now have two connections.

Networking in The FENG is not just when you are looking for a job. It is the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Take it from the official poster child.

Regards, Matt

Proper uses of boilerplate

One from column A and one from column B. Sure makes it easy, doesn’t it?

Much as our electronic world makes life simple, it also makes it more complicated in certain ways due to the opportunity to be lazy or inattentive to details.

Just as there are only a few themes for good writing (man against man, man against nature, etc.), there are also lots of routine things we say in the letters we write during a job search. It would be unwise (that’s the same as silly or stupid) to reinvent the wheel each and every time.

In much the same way that plays are tried off Broadway first, some of the phrases and their sequence in your cover letters need to be considered and evaluated. Practice does make perfect, and there is nothing wrong, per se, with reusing old words and sentences. If you take the time to recombine them in interesting and creative ways they can serve to INCREASE the amount of time that you can spend on writing the more interesting and purposeful parts of your missives.

As you react to any situation and think through the ideas you would like to communicate, it is often helpful to start with something you have already written.

It is sort of like those very helpful “old spreadsheets” from last year’s budget. Used properly they can provide a checklist and a framework upon which you can build your latest message.

Avoid writing anything important directly in email. I don’t know about you, but I developed a habit a long time ago of compulsively hitting save. Funny thing is that when absorbed in writing an email, I sometimes accidentally have hit send. To avoid this when I am “on a roll” writing email directly, I will save filling in the recipient’s address until I am satisfied with my message.

Keep in mind that most of the folks to whom you are writing receive lots of messages and they can tell a strictly boilerplate letter a mile away. (Okay, their eyes probably aren’t that good.) But that said, they can easily tell when you are being non-responsive to points they have asked you to address.

I am still surprised at times how malleable words and sentences can be. A little tweak here or there can change meaning and tone more easily than one first imagines. And, the effort is well worth it.

Again, the purpose of having a treasure trove of your best writing in the proper sequence is to give you MORE time to write a thoughtful message, not to save you time.

The easiest way to make a good impression is to at least change the greeting to a person’s name if at all possible. I still have to smile when I see “dear sir or madam” on a note sent in response to something I have posted. If you don’t know who I am at this point, you truly are lost.

Just remember when you write to me, I like to feel special. Don’t send me any “used” words, sentences or paragraphs. It might hurt my feelings. (And, you know what a sensitive guy I am.)

Regards, Matt

Beginnings, middles and ends

I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes the job search process so maddening and one of the many conclusions I have come to is its lack of structure. (Someone should really redesign it!)

Unlike all of the other projects we may have in our career as financial folks, this one may have a beginning and it may have an end, but it is the middle that makes us crazy. Hard to know at any point in time where exactly you are on the continuum. You know you have started when you begin your job search either because you have been terminated or know you will be soon. And, you know when you have ended, because you have a job offer in hand. But that middle part is sure problematic.

Okay, you have rewritten your resume. And, rewritten it again. You have called everyone you know, chatted with them and gotten additional networking contacts which you have in turn chatted with and in turn have gotten even more networking contacts.

You have even identified the types of job leads to answer and have been diligently doing that.

But, are you at the halfway point yet? No one knows, not even you.

Job search doesn’t have a timeline, but it does have a process. And although your progress along the timeline may not be clear, your knowledge and experiences in the process ARE reasonably clear.

What you need to do is think of a job search as acquiring a body of knowledge that you will be using the rest of your career. To think of it as a one time activity is a mistake. As any long standing member of The FENG will tell you, ALL JOBS ARE TEMPORARY. Just look at your own resume. What is perhaps a disheartening aspect of job search today is the assurance that you will have to do it again, and probably not too far in the future.

Okay, we’re tough (and getting tougher) and we can handle ideas that most folks would prefer not to consider. Like accounting or any other science/art form, there are a whole series of skills you need to acquire and hone if you are going to be successful over the balance of your career.

It therefore almost (except for our need for money) doesn’t really matter where you are on the “time/space continuum” of your search.

It is important to understand that this thing we call job search has no visible timeline. Perhaps then we can “get on with it” without the feelings of defeat we visit upon ourselves.

Measuring your progress only in terms of the end result of finding a job is too high a standard. Measure your activities: calls made, letters written, etc.

It may not be as impressive as being able to brag about a huge job offer, but it will have to do.

Regards, Matt

A short play

I don’t know how many of you participated in school plays during your early years, but there is a lot to be said about thinking about the interviewing process as a series of scenes in a play. Of course, the only problem with this visualization is the degree to which the audience is in charge of how the play progresses.

Still, if you remember your lines and deliver them well, you can control much of the flow. All you need to do is work out the components and have them ready.

Introducing the characters in the play and presenting their backgrounds as part of a story is a difficult thing to write. For those of you who have seen Patton you may remember that the movie began with George C. Scott delivering a monologue. The purpose was to tell you a lot about his character so the scriptwriter didn’t have to take up a lot of time in the movie to give you that same mental image. In our context this is your 90-second announcement. (Sorry, George did get more time, but then he already had the job!)

There is an old saw that goes “you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.” I like that saying and I use it a lot. We will all assume that you have had your wardrobe department hard at work finding matching socks, an appropriate tie, and that you have found someone to shine your shoes. (Remember how shiny Patton’s helmet was?) If like most of us financial types you tend to carry several writing instruments with you, take a look at your pocket with the Bic pens and think what kind of an impression you are going to be presenting. Perhaps it is also time to replace your Swatch with something a little more serious. If you don’t look serious, no one will believe you are.

All of the items you carry with you deliver a message about who you are. They are an important part of presenting your character to the outside world. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror with your briefcase and decide if you like what you see. Financial folks should be seen as precise. That’s what we do. If you are not attentive to the details as you are going about your interviewing, how can I as an interviewer (audience) assume you will be precise and attentive to details when you show up for work?

How have you set up your briefcase for your interview? Have you checked that you will have easy access to your resume, business cards or other papers you have brought for this meeting? If you are going to take papers out of your brief case, are the file folders neatly labeled? They don’t have to be typed, but you want to present the image of someone who is very organized. That is part of the product you are selling, so don’t miss any of these details. (You want to make sure that the prop department has placed the appropriate items in the right place.)

Give some serious thought to the script for this 30-45 minute play. It really is much more predictable than you think it is.

In the opening scene you have the “get to know you” part where you talk about the weather or traffic on the roads or the train. It is silly banter really, but it is an essential part of the interview if it is to begin in an upbeat manner. The real issue being discussed is a quick decision as to whether or not you are my kind of people. Since you know what the game is, relax a little and look around the office of the person interviewing you. Decide what kind of person they are so you can cater to their personality as much as possible. Are there pictures of children, pets or boats? Any one or all may give you a clue and an opening for making this scene work well.

In the next scene you want to present your background. Begin with your 90-second elevator speech and use “the pregnant pause” to get some feedback on what direction the audience wants you to take.

Continuing to blather is called in selling terms “throwing up on the customer,” and you don’t want to do that. Which scene do they want you to go to next? Be attentive and the interviewer will tell you. Be sure a basis has been set so they will understand the next scene, but be willing to shorten any of your stories if they don’t seem to fit, or if they don’t appear to be needed.

This is probably the biggest mistake I make in conversations. I frequently give more information than is needed, and I have real trouble stopping myself. (I need someone off stage to “give me the hook” when I get too elaborate with my story.)

How are you going to end your play? This really needs to be an important part of your planning.

How are you going to stage asking what the next steps are? What words are you going to use? Can you ask for something that they will be willing to do for you? A follow up call, or permission for you to call, are all appropriate at this moment. Just keep in mind that the last scene of the play is very important. In restaurant terms it is the coffee. The reason restaurants spend so much money on coffee is that it is the last part of the meal and often what is most remembered, especially if it is bad. So, keep that in mind. Don’t over stay your welcome. That will certainly be remembered.

Think about that and plan carefully. Remember, a nice round of applause at the end will get other audiences to attend your short play!

Regards, Matt

All things to all people

It sure is difficult to be focused. As each of us over the age of 40 looks at our career prospects for the rest of our working lives, it is all very easy to believe that we need to expand the market for our services to ensure that we can find another job. (After all how many buggy whips are made anymore?)

However, after 20 some odd years in the work force, the likelihood is that you have acquired some very specific skills. Even with 30 more years of work to go, the odds of finding employment that is radically different than what you have been doing is not high. Although it is possible to do so, the most probable solution is that you will find a different career that has some strong link to what you were doing.

In the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” Marisa Tomei says to Joe Pesci when he comments on her style of dress: “Yeah, and you blend.” When it comes to job search, I would suggest to you that this is no time to blend.

The 90-second announcements I hear that begin with things about how you are just like everyone else in the room are really a waste of time. You are different AND you need to be different.

I think you will agree that the world is filled with a lot of problems. My guess is that you have learned how to solve some limited number of them. If you are a manufacturing type, trust me, you have skills that I could learn, but never have. My area of expertise is professional services firms. I was Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency for a near decade, and the unique individuals who populate these kinds of organizations can be difficult to manage and motivate, especially if all of them think they are YOUR boss.

This is what I do. What do you do? What are all the skills you bring to the party that make you unique. You may diminish your many skills if you like in your typical “awe shucks” manner, but being modest when you are trying to market your talents is honestly not a good idea.

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

Rather than trying to find common bonds with those around you, why don’t you give some considerable thought to what you do that is different. Some of the ideas you come up with can be marketed effectively to those potentially needing your services. And, they may not even be from your industry.

We are fortunate that our skills as financial folks are inherently transferable. But the approach to marketing them in other venues is to highlight their strength in the one in which they were created. You can in a very real sense allow others to draw their own conclusions about how what you know can be effective in solving their problems.

If you give a clear enough explanation, the people on the “other side” will ask you if their problem, which they will take the time to illuminate, can be solved with your “tools.”

Be something specific and you will find that others will find you more interesting.

Regards, Matt

Is anyone holding out?

I hate to ask if anyone is holding out, but is anyone holding out?

One of the core values of The FENG is that we try very hard to share our job leads. Trust me, individual job leads aren’t as valuable as you think they are. And, if you share them, not only will you be viewed as a Fanatic FENG’er, but you just might make a few new friends.

When the published job market is slow as it is now, it is important that we fill our evening newsletter with every possible opportunity that is floating out in the marketplace. If you are expecting others to share what they know, and you know about stuff, ask yourself why you aren’t sending it in for publication in our newsletter? (By the way, they should be sent to Leads@TheFENG.org. Sending them to me just slows things down.)

The only job leads that have value are the ones that are newly out in the market. If you are waiting to no longer be under consideration before you “let the cat out of the bag,” you are only kidding yourself that you are doing anyone a favor.

If you cannot honestly announce a lead in our national newsletter, at the very least, please call or email everyone in your inner circle of friends who should be considered and get them into the mix. You will be amazed how sharing your “white elephants” makes you well thought of and well respected. In addition, like a chain letter, it will cause you to be flooded with job leads from others. (A testimonial dinner may even be held in your honor.)

Sharing job leads is yet another way to build your network on a national scale. While our newsletter editor usually removes the email address of those submitting leads so you won’t send your credentials to the wrong place, the name and chapter of the sender is always there. With our website functionality, it will take you about a nanosecond to find the contact information for any member posting in our newsletter. If someone has posted a job lead of interest to you, consider that the two of you may have a background connection. Why don’t you contact the poster and request a resume exchange? (Hey, they started it by posting a job lead.)

Just as we all know from studying Murphy’s Law, that no good deed goes unpunished, it is also true that being good doesn’t have to be its own reward.

If you are actively being considered for an opportunity, you want others who are just like you to also be in the candidate pool. If you’re the only “well experienced” candidate, that is nowhere as effective as there being several of you. You can’t ensure that you will win the job by keeping it a secret. But, you can flood the candidate slate with your friends if you share. (And boy will they owe you BIG time.)

Two heads are better than one. (The only exception to this rule is if the two heads are on the same body, but I digress.) If you have a few friends competing with you for the same job, you have the unique opportunity to “double team” the “opposition.”

The FENG is a society of friends. Everyone in The FENG was sponsored by another member. So, you should consider everyone in The FENG as a friend of a friend.

Just as friends don’t let friends drive drunk, friends don’t let friends job search alone.

Regards, Matt

Being nice to everyone

Whether you are active in your job search or just trying to get your job done for “the great corporation,” it pays to be nice to everyone.

One of my best friends is a real charmer and I always enjoy going out to dinner with him because we always get great service. He just has a way of engaging the waiter that lets this individual, male or female, know that he considers them to be a real person. I have seen others engage waiters as servants who “damn well better” get them their drink, dinner or extra of some kind, and I can tell you that it is my observation that Bob’s approach works better. (As evidence, I have never had anything thrown at me by a waiter while out to dinner with him. Perhaps that doesn’t prove anything, but I thought I would mention it.)

In much the same way, it is all too easy to in some way “diminish” the hard working individuals who serve the “big ones” that we are all too eager to get to know. Whether we are talking about an Administrative Assistant, or a “First Lieutenant” who reports to the boss, a few kind words appropriately given can work wonders.

I am not in any way suggesting you be disingenuous. Praise where praise is not due is a big mistake. But mentioning to the boss that his Administrative Assistant was helpful in some way is almost certain to get you a more welcoming hello when you next call.

When you speak harshly to anyone, they tend to brace up. You can almost see the “heat shield” being put up. What many people miss in their interpersonal relationships with the “little people” of this world is their ability to do you favors that are theirs to grant. It might be something as simple as putting your phone message at the top of the pile, but it can be powerful indeed.

We all like to think that we run the world in some way, and perhaps in some sense it is true. But, the reality is that there are whole bunches of folks in lesser roles who are responsible for the heavy lifting that goes on out in the world. Many of these “salt of the earth” types don’t even know how important they are, but treating them as human beings can go a long way toward your success.

The story goes that I once had an accounting clerk working for me who I had given responsibility to clear an invoice for payment through a purchasing manager at our firm. It was important to our client at the time that I pay their bills. It was a small matter, but the purchasing manager kept putting poor Nelson off day after day. What I did was walk down to his office with Nelson and suggest to him in a “quiet and assuring way” that when I sent Nelson down to “visit” with him, he should treat him as if I myself had come to speak with him. I left the two of them to deal with the matter at hand and within an hour it was solved. Need I tell you that many future matters were solved as well? Nelson felt good about himself and I didn’t beat too hard on the purchasing manager either. All of us ended up in good shape.

Treating everyone with respect doesn’t cost anything and yet it pays big dividends. Go figure.

Regards, Matt

Making introductions

Everyone knows a few important people who they believe will at some point be helpful to us in our search for that perfect job. The problem how to keep your name in front of them so when that perfect job comes to their attention you will be top of mind.

You certainly don’t want to waste their time and you certainly don’t want to be annoying. A frequent question asked is how often you should float your resume in front of specific recruiters. The most common answer I have heard is about every 3 months.

As a benchmark, 3 months is probably about right for those you know, although depending on who it is and how well you really know them, 2 months might be okay too.

As you think about these particular individuals you need to consider their needs and how you can best be seen as a source of help and not as a constant reminder that you still haven’t found a job.

Although I have heard suggestions of sending such things as interesting articles, my belief system suggests a slightly different approach.

I am a people person and I believe that people enjoy meeting interesting people who might be able to solve some problem they have. Now, where can you find such folks? I’ll give you one guess – The FENG.

Although there are other places to look, there is no more readily available source of highly talented individuals than our little circle of friends. Think about your friends with whom you wish to stay connected and think about the valuable talent pool you have at your fingertips.

Sure, it is one of those “taking in each other’s laundry” types of approaches, but it serves your purposes as well. Consider this, if you give me a name to contact, right there in the first paragraph it is going to say “Matt Bud” (if I was the source) suggested contacting you.

There it is, your name right there at the top. Imagine, a gift with your name on it. Honestly, life doesn’t get much better.

So, here is the suggested approach. Make a list of your most important friends and their needs. Now, as you are out and about meeting people at our networking meetings or by telephone or by email, keep your friends in mind. Hey, you want them to keep you in mind, so a little turnabout is fair play.

The truth is that if you don’t “use” your friends in this way, they really aren’t thinking about you. They can’t be. They have too much to do day in and day out to always be thinking of you.

A little reminder of your existence now and then can’t hurt.

Regards, Matt

The cup is at 50%

There is nothing more important to an effective job search than a positive attitude.

Sure, building an effective resume, a pithy 90-second announcement and a library of cover letters is always a good idea, the fact remains that positively focused dogged determination tends to win the day more often than all of these same factors coupled with being down in the dumps.

If you allow yourself to think that the world is raining on your parade or that you have been singled out for punishment by the gods, you are going to be in worse shape than if you do nothing at all.

Think about the fact that all communications come from your brain. (Duh, where else could they come from?) As the energy moves from your brain through your body to your fingertips or your voice, what comes out is often a reflection of how you are feeling on any particular day.

Now I have to ask you how any member of The FENG could EVER be having a bad day when each and every one of you has 40,000+ friends? (I can see that smile already forming on your lips, and I haven’t even said anything really funny yet.)

Just as you can work yourself into a frenzy over some ridiculous slight like a recruiter or a networking contact not calling you back, the opposite is also true.

It is also very easy to work yourself into a GOOD mood. There are many techniques you can try if you like. My personal favorite is to call a few friends. (I hope this is one you will try.)

You can also do a little blessing counting. Hey, you’re a financial person. Counting things should come easy. Just set up a “T” account and have at it.

Anyone who has any “mood altering” suggestions should send them in. Those with tongue planted firmly in cheek would be preferred. (I will even publish them without attribution if you potential Henny Youngman’s are modest.)

Glasses as we know can be perceived as half full or half empty. Do us both a favor and take that glass over to the nearest faucet and fill it to the top. Do this even if you aren’t thirsty at the moment, because, you never know when you will be.

Regards, Matt

The elephant sitting in the room

If you went to an interview with a broken arm, I’m pretty sure you would feel the need to explain.

Honestly, sitting there with your arm in a cast, it is hard to imagine a productive discussion taking place until you tell your interviewer how it happened. Was it a skiing accident? Did you trip and fall? Inquiring minds want to know.

On a smaller scale, all of us from time to time don’t seem to see that elephant sitting in the room. The truth is that even if you are only engaging in an email exchange, there can still be that huge creature waiting for some remark by you to explain its existence and reason for being there.

For example, if you live in New York City and apply for a job in California with no relocation, the elephant is why you would consider such an opportunity. Without some simple explanation, your candidacy begs the question as to why you should be considered.

Another situation with a slippery slope is when we apply for jobs for which we are “well qualified.” (Notice, I didn’t say overqualified.) There is obviously an elephant sitting in the room, but an answer to this question is one you must answer with great care. Things like: “I don’t want to work as hard.” probably won’t enhance your candidacy. An explanation is needed, but you want to take the time to come up with something that rings true and also makes you a viable candidate.

The most important part of the “elephant sitting in the room” syndrome is that YOU need to be sensitive and be thinking in advance as to what those issues might be in a given situation.

People tend to be polite. (Okay, not all of them.) They will often times sit there appearing to listen attentively when they are actually looking for an opening to ask their difficult question and not hearing anything you say.

Another very obvious question is why you left your last job. Here the advantage goes to the side which brings it up first. Let’s hope that is you and that you have a 30 second explanation that is true and which solves their problem. The lawyers rule is “question asked, question answered.” Once you have provided a reasonable explanation, they are going to be hard pressed to bring it up again.

Another area for which you should be prepared is if you have been “between jobs” for a significant length of time. Those who have not been unemployed in middle age or later have almost no understanding of how hard it is to find a senior level job and how hard you have to work at it. They don’t seem to have any comprehension and you need to know and understand that, because if you don’t there is the very real possibility they will in some way offend you.

Elephants take up a lot of space and eat a lot of food. Getting them out of the room and out of the way is the only way to prevent them from sitting on YOU.

Regards, Matt

Running around recruiters

Several years ago I received a phone call from a long standing Friend of The FENG.

This particular search firm posted with us on a regular basis. In this case, the posting included the name of their client. You see, they felt that the relationship they had with The FENG was so strong and their confidence in us so high that they could provide this information and not get hurt. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Several of our members decided that they knew best and submitted their credentials directly to this search firm’s client. Not smart. Not only had they most likely eliminated any chance of their being considered for this relatively high paying job, but they had also embarrassed the search firm and burned a long standing relationship of trust that our organization has had with them.

Let us all understand that the world is built on a series of personal relationships. Members of The FENG use their political capital on a regular basis convincing members of the search community to post with us. You may humor yourself into thinking that we are doing them a favor, but it is truly the reverse. Because of the generally good behavior of our membership, we often times get “first bite of the apple” on many plum assignments. And, being in there first is our most important benefit.

Under our rules of engagement, if you see a posting in our newsletter from a Friend of The FENG, you are expected to refrain from contacting their client, whether they spell out who it is or not. Even if you are good at guessing, I would ask you not to do so. You may think you are very smart if you can figure out who it is, but you are only kidding yourself that applying directly will provide you and The FENG with some long term advantage.

You shoot yourself in the foot if you run around a member of the search community. The only reason they have gotten the assignment to post is that someone at the client trusts them. If you make them look foolish, why do you think this will help your case? Once a search firm has been engaged, most likely all the resumes sent directly to the client will get routed to the search firm for review. This is sometimes the case even when it appears the search firm is working on a contingency basis. The client may want them to do the screening anyway. If you have endeared yourself to the search firm by running around them, what do you think your chances will be? Not high, I can assure you.

Since 1997 when we first started publishing job leads in newsletter format, we have had this approach as our policy.

In the beginning of time, most search firms were reluctant to post with us. We were viewed as a small band of unemployed very old senior financial executives. This is no longer true.

While we are still a very senior level organization, we are now also the largest organization of senior financial executives in the entire world. We are well known and well respected.

Let’s try to keep it that way.

Regards, Matt

Your most recent 10 years

While from time to time I silently wish to myself that many of our members would take the time to read a good book about how to write a resume, I find that other members have read a book or an article, but they have either read the wrong book or have misunderstood what the author was trying to communicate.

It is certainly true that the primary focus in your resume should be your most recent 10 years of experience. It is not true that there is NO interest in what you were doing before 2008, or for that matter during the last century. (Makes you sound a lot older, doesn’t it?)

I see resumes all the time now where the work history is encapsulated in a sentence that reads “and I also worked for the following firms: …..” This sentence typically doesn’t indicate the years that the person worked there, nor does it indicate the titles that were held. What it tends to tell the reader is that the person in question must be VERY old if they feel the need to hide their early work history. What is amazing to me is that often times the people who are using this device are in their early 40’s. (Oh, to be a youngster again!)

An alternative presentation I have seen is to list all of the firms where you have worked, but leave off the dates entirely for those entries early in your career. Again, I would suggest that people will believe the worst and assume you are VERY old.

While it is true that your resume is a marketing document, it is also true that those reading your opus need to get a snapshot of the total person. The companies where you have worked and the industries they represent are all very important to creating a quick mental picture of who you are and how likely you might be an appropriate candidate for the position in question. In order to get into the “keepers” pile, your background needs to make sense. If you have left out or unduly abbreviated your early work history in sentence form, it is not possible to do that.

Out on our website are several model resumes. In keeping with the idea that there is no right answer, I would suggest to you that individually they are not necessarily perfect. Still, by and large they reflect an overview of each person’s FULL work history. The names of companies, the years they were there, and a short definition of what the company does or did is there.

Whether you feel your resume would explode to 4 or 5 pages if you put it all in there, I would suggest you give it a try. In our electronic world, doing a little experimenting doesn’t cost a whole lot.

Take your overly long resume and starting at the very end, do a lot of pruning. All you need is the bare minimum as I have suggested above: companies, years, and titles. They really don’t take up much room. (By the way, don’t go to a smaller type font to make up for your reluctance to edit.)

Now, with your focus on the most recent 10 years, make the most of it. Go over in your mind what you have been doing and you will generally find that the assignments you have had recently repeat what you were doing earlier in your career anyway, only now you have done them at a more senior level.

Think back to those halcyon days when you were doing the hiring and read your resume in that light as well. Be brutally honest with yourself and you will find that some of the approaches suggested by the individuals you have been reading simply don’t pass the smell test.

Trust me, before they hire you they are going to find out your age anyway. If you have been doing something of interest to their business, your being “as old as the hills” isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference as long as you can sit up without assistance.

Regards, Matt

Keeping hope alive

Whether you are currently working and hate your job or are currently in active search mode, the most important job you have every day is maintaining an optimistic view of the future.

The stresses and strains of a job that is winding down may at times seem beyond bearable. Back in 1991 during the last several months before the advertising agency where I was CFO lost our largest account, the back biting and back stabbing among the “leadership group” reached incredible proportions.

So too, job search itself is filled with highs and lows. The highs are always diminished by the possibility that the job offer you fully expect to get never comes. The lows when you have no interviews scheduled and you think you have called just about everyone you know in the past two weeks, are feelings we generally don’t want to share with “the family.”

I would suggest to you that no situation is totally hopeless. We have our proverbial “the darkest hour is just before dawn” that we can fall back upon if need be, but the best solution to keeping your spirits up is knowing that you have done it before (held a “proper job”) and that you can and will have one again. It may not be right away, but something will come along at some point for you to do that you will find interesting and that will provide you with a source of income. It may not be what you originally envisioned, but so what?

As one of my friends once said: “No one is out of work forever, it just seems that way.”

Just to prove to you that the forces of good are on your side, I would point out to you that you have 40,000+ friends that you can always call upon if you think you need help or more networking contacts. I try to believe everything that people tell me, but if you try to convince me that you have called everyone possible, I am not going to find that credible. We have a membership directory available for searching that if printed would be larger than the telephone directory for many large cities.

Have you honestly looked for all your old friends recently? If they were finance types, they are probably members. Perhaps you missed the notice of their joining us. Did you ever go to any industry meetings? Is it possible there are a few members from one of your competitors that you have failed to contact? (By the way, the answer to this question is yes.)

Just as there is always one more typo in any document, there is always one more person you can contact in The FENG. And, since we typically add 40+ members every week, you can never actually run out of people to call.

But, to repeat the original thought behind tonight’s editorial, you need to work very hard to keep your hope alive. If you come off as discouraged, no one who is having a good day will want to talk to you. If you sound “alive,” I’ll be happy to take your call and see if I can bring you to the next level. Making happy people even happier is a lot more fun than trying to bring a real downer back to “normal.”

In conclusion, as a member of The FENG, you have every reason to have great hopes for the future. Now that you are feeling pumped up, I hope you will reach out to a few other members and “share the love.”

Regards, Matt

Fixing a bad attitude

How often have you heard it said “He has a bad attitude?”

We spend a lot of time addressing the bad attitudes of others. For example, discussions about age discrimination fall into this category. The world has a “bad attitude” toward those of us who are well experienced. (Over qualified.)

Whether it is the world at large, or even ourselves, a lot of time is wasted trying to address “bad attitudes.” The truth is that attitudes (good or bad) are difficult to change.

Early in my career I was part of a management group that worked with a psychologist on a regular basis. The approach he suggested was to stop trying to change the attitudes of others and instead change their behaviors.

I would, for example, never try to dissuade members of the search community about their desire to hire “young Turks” for their clients. I only ask them to send me position descriptions for your reading pleasure. I don’t tell them nor do I discuss with them that the majority of responses will be from those who have “been there, and done that,” not from those early in their career. If I brought it up, I would have to sell them on my logic that all of you represent a veritable gold mine. (And, what would be the odds that they would believe me?)

Instead, all I have done is get them to perform a behavior. They send in a posting, 25-50 or so qualified members send them responses and no one is the wiser. After a while, the response I get back is “What a wonderful group you have. So many qualified individuals.”

You see we never discussed their bad attitude. I only focused on trying to change their behaviors with regard to where they search for qualified candidates.

When it comes to our own personal attitudes, it is also difficult to change. I once again would ask you to focus on behaviors.

The cry I hear so often is how difficult it is to make phone calls. Well, I am not going to try to tell you that making phone calls is easy. What I am going to tell you is that if you make 20 calls a day to members of The FENG or any other networking contacts you drum up on your own, you will eventually find a job.

The reason is simple. The math is on my side.

You may still believe that you find making phone calls difficult. Attitudes are hard to change. But, the truth will probably be quite different based on anyone’s independent evaluation of your performance. After making 20 calls a day, say for a month or more, you will in fact get very good at it, and you may in fact find you enjoy it.

All I have to do is encourage you to perform the behavior and bit by bit your attitude will change. You will shortly come to the realization that, doggone it, you aren’t half bad at this networking thing. (Where is that phone so I can make more calls?)

So visit our website and give our Member Directory Search tool a real workout.

If you have to, do it if for no other reason than to prove I am wrong.

Regards, Matt

Bashfulness is not my strong suit

Hard to believe, but bashfulness is apparently a quite prevalent condition among our membership.

Yes, these same individuals who in prior lives as bankers were cutting off lines of credit or foreclosing on hapless widows have a near terminal fear of picking up the phone and calling other members of The FENG.

Some other members in our circle of friends were known to have cut off customers from needed supplies because their credit didn’t pass muster. Others have been known to ruthlessly cut budgets despite desperate pleas by deserving managers. Yet these folks have the same condition as many others in our august body of “Near Terminal Bashfulness.”

I have done a lot of research on this subject and have determined that the only cure for this is testimonials by successful practitioners of networking.

So in the spirit of sharing our knowledge I am issuing a clarion call for those of you who have “taken the cure” to step forward and write a cheery article describing your success.

As you know, we have a very powerful Member Directory Search feature out on our website. Those of you who have made use of it and have a story you can share are asked to write in.

The only rule I have is: no sad stories. If you wrote to 15 members and only 14 wrote back with decent referrals, well, I guess we could count that as a success. (Perhaps #15 was sick or on vacation, or out of town on an interview. I’m sure he/she will get to you.)

It is my belief that the ticket to finding another job is networking, networking, and more networking. I am hoping that by having our Member Directory Search feature that we have simplified your process.

So, let’s have at it and put pen to electronic paper for the benefit of your fellow members of The FENG.

We are the best networking group in the entire world. (We sure are getting a swelled head.) Let’s show each other that we not only talk the talk, we walk the walk as well.

Think of it as our very own revival meeting under a big tent, only we will all be at home or office and we won’t have to put up with the dust and noise.

Be sure to be clear whether or not you want your name published with your opus. (There we go again being bashful!) Please send them to Leads@TheFENG.org, and not to me.

I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Regards, Matt

Having the wind taken out of your sails

Conducting a job search, whether working or not currently employed, can be a difficult time. You tend to go through phases. (I don’t know if I like the phrase “in transition,” but it seems to continue to be well accepted.)

At first it can be kind of exciting to be away from the daily grind of a job. If your last job was anything like the ones I was fired from, it was actually a relief of sorts not to be there anymore.

And, there are new things to learn and skills to polish. Who ever thought that any of us would strive to be great writers of resumes, and who ever thought that we would get to enjoy making phone calls all day. (Okay, some parts of job search aren’t as much fun as others.)

I think you will find that your job search will run in cycles. The hard part is actually to accept that not only will there be highs and lows, but from time to time you will find that the file folder with your active opportunities will fill and thin almost unexpectedly. (I don’t know why that is, but I suppose it is an effect similar to business cycles, which we also thought had disappeared.)

Now that I am more in sales, doing business development for The FECG, I have come to accept to a degree that there are busy days and slow days. Sometimes I wish there were more slow days so I could get caught up, but truth be told, I sort of dread them. I guess I’m an adrenaline junkie.

The key to being successful at sales is not to allow disappointments to take the wind out of your sales.

When those seemingly perfect opportunities come your way, and just when you think you have them in your grasp, they disappear. Friends, it happens. Perhaps they weren’t as real as you thought. And, keep in mind that the reality of what they might have been might not have been true either. Since you are no longer in consideration for those positions, you will never know.

There are two techniques I will share with you tonight that you might consider applying to your job search to prevent having the wind taken out of your sails. These can in turn leave you dead in the water. (I hope you enjoy my sailing analogies because I enjoy writing them.)

Whenever you find yourself higher than a kite because you feel like you have so much in your active opportunities folder, MAKE 10-20 PHONE CALLS. I know it sounds silly since you probably have a job in the bag, but think of how you are feeling and let me assure you it will come across in your voice. If you make the 10-20 phone calls, they can’t help but generate more activity for you. This way if something falls through, you will have several more to pick you up again. (And fill those sails!)

The second technique I learned from my boss in the advertising business. We had a very active new business function in our shop. And, like in a job search, once in a while we thought we had a tiger by the tail. A new client was going to be ours! And then, boom, we lost the account to another agency. Bob’s reaction was interesting. He would come in the next day and he was clearly past it. Everyone else was going through their hand wringing thing, and could have beens and should have beens, but not Bob. He was on to his next thing. He really wasn’t even interested in what might have happened. He lost the account and there was nothing more he could do about it. So, no sense spending any more time on it.

An interesting reaction, I thought, and one I apply in my daily life. You win some and you lose some. No sense letting your losses take the wind out of your sails. Just move on.

I hope you will find this approach beneficial in your life too.

Regards, Matt

Everyone wants to help

I know that some of you who have been at job search for a period of time may find this hard to believe, but everyone wants to help, it is just that they don’t always know how.

I see it all the time at chapter meetings. Each person does their 90-second elevator speech, but rarely do they make clear how I can help them. Sure they might make a request, but it is not always something I can wrap my mind around.

Many years ago I had lunch with Ted Stone, one of our members of long standing. It was a networking lunch of the first order, because Ted came prepared. He had with him one of the most powerful tools for job search – a target company list.

I know this technique is taught at most outplacement firms, but I think we tend to take the lesson a little too literally. In my parlance, a target company list is a SUGGESTION of the kinds of companies where you might consider working. It is a way of getting the juices going and the mind of your networking contact cranking.

Whether the networking is done in person or over the phone, you need to be aware that you are faced with what I call the “death in the family” or “the cancer thing” PLUS a lack of knowledge. Those you are calling are aware of your situation and want to help, but they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. In addition, if they themselves have not been “in the hunt” recently, they don’t know the rules of engagement.

You are in the tough situation of putting their fears to rest about hurting your feelings somehow (as if not returning your phone calls won’t hurt your feelings) while at the same time having to teach them about job search. Not an easy task even for an expert.

With a target company list I get something I can hang on to, literally. (Paper is comforting, don’t you think?) Ted even had the names of specific individuals he wanted to meet. (We have all heard about 6 degrees of separation, so it really wasn’t far fetched.)

If you have Real Estate firms listed like Olympia & York, I might be able to come up with Frank Mercede & Sons (a local Connecticut firm). It may not be in your best interest to work at any of the easily known firms, but this process will put you in touch with those who HAVE worked there. It may even be folks that they only know casually, but it doesn’t matter. What you are trying to do is get your background in front of those for whom it will make sense.

Word association games are a lot of fun. (Seriously) And, the added advantage is that they will get your networking contact to RELAX. It is only when they are relaxed (Oh boy, I really will be able to help!) that they can come up with lots of names for you.

The bonus here is that the more names they can come up with the better they will feel about THEMSELVES.

It really is a kick to be able to offer real help. (Take it from one who knows.)

Regards, Matt

When is enough, enough?

The story goes that if a frog is thrown into a pot of boiling water he will have the good sense to jump out. On the other hand, if you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, he will boil to death. (Please don’t try this at home. I like frogs. I am sure you can verify the veracity of this proposition on the Internet somewhere.)

There are similar effects in the world for things like allergies. You can tolerate many things to which you are theoretically allergic, however, once you hit some predetermined level, you begin sneezing and your tolerance for the whatever you are allergic to is temporarily greatly lowered and you will begin sneezing almost immediately when it is introduced. (This is known as your hay fever season.)

The effect I would like to discuss tonight is stress in the work place because it has a lot of elements in common with the above two effects.

When you start a new job, or when you are in a job that is “winding down” or somehow reaching its logical conclusion, your stress level can kind of sneak up on you.

Most of our members tend to move from large companies to smaller ones. The reason is that it is hard to “parachute” in at the top of a larger company because that closes off career tracks. Large companies pride themselves on growing their own.

In the move to a smaller firm several things happen. First, there generally is no senior level staff. You are it. Secondly, the reason a seasoned professional, like a member of The FENG gets hired at a smaller firm is that they have decided to grow up. This means that you have to be available for partnering. They hired you not only to clean up whatever hellacious mess exists, but also because they want to talk to you.

This means in turn that you are often hard pressed to “get anything done” with all the constant interruptions. If you are constantly nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, you aren’t really available for partnering. So, you try to work long hours, just like you used to be able to.

Well friends, none of us are as young as we used to be. And, the long hours can take their toll and increase your stress level. You feel like you are falling farther and farther behind. At some point your fatigue and can make you a little grumpier. Not a good thing to happen when you are supposed to be partnering.

The solution to maintaining your stress level at some tolerable level is to ask for help. During the “honeymoon” period of your new employment, or if you are in a job that is winding down, asking for help will seldom bring you anything but the assistance you require.

Yes, I know it isn’t macho, but it is smart.

Help is actually everywhere. If you need senior level assistance, i.e. projects completed that are on your personal “to do” list, I hope you will call on me and The FECG. (As always, operators are standing by to take your call.)

If it involves less senior level projects, firms like Robert Half can provide quality help to “get the job done.”

And that really is the secret in this world. Typically the boss expects you to get the work done in your areas of responsibility. He probably never said you had to do it all yourself. If you can remove some of the projects from your to do list, it can go a long way to relieving some of the stress you are feeling. You will now be someone with whom everyone wants to partner, and that is more likely to be why you were hired.

The detailed projects in which you have somehow gotten yourself involved certainly have to get done. It is just that you don’t have to do them personally.

Stress can take its toll.

And, of course, we want you to be a good mood and have the time to network with our members who are “in the hunt.”

Regards, Matt

Arrested but not convicted

One subject that comes up all the time is the importance of having an explanation as to why you are looking for another job.

I have always felt that it was a waste of your valuable time to provide an explanation in your 90 second announcement, and I still feel that way. Unless you were arrested and convicted of a crime, or fired for cause, I probably will not find any useful information in your explanation. And, if that was why you are now looking for another job, you probably won’t tell me.

What I really need to know is the nature of your credentials and how I might be able to help you.

So, I have always felt that it didn’t make any sense to bring it up. Besides, it is bound to bring up unpleasant and negative thoughts at a time in the conversation when I am still trying to get to know you. (In addition, I prefer not to be with negative people, or those who are feeling sorry for themselves.)

So, I thought I would share a few thoughts with you on “how to get the job done.”

Although it is not our style to be brief, you need to be. I know that “primarily due to, partially offset by” is closer to how we think about things. However, a simple explanation is all that is required.

In my case back in 1991, the advertising agency for which I worked was in the process of losing its largest account. My boss quit and over the next few months they hired a replacement who was charged with saving this account. He, of course, wanted his own financial guy.

As you can see, already too long a story. I now just tell folks that the agency lost its largest account and closed its doors in 3 months. I leave out all of the details about the venomous personal relationships, the back stabbing and also about how unfair it all was. Well, I guess you had to be there to understand it. (And, you wouldn’t have wanted to be.)

In any case, you get about 10 seconds and/or two sentences to get the story out. You don’t need to prove anything and you don’t want to be in the “maiden doth protest too much” situation either.

“The company hired a new president and he wanted his own team.” is more than sufficient. Story done. On to happier topics like how I can help you make your business more profitable.

“The company was acquired and all of the functions in my areas of responsibility were moved to …” (I’ll let you fill in the city so I don’t get into any trouble.) I have a lot of family in the area and chose not to move. (See, two sentences and well under the 10 second requirement.)

Sure, the truth is that it is somehow incomplete to provide a brief explanation, and I know you will feel somewhat uncomfortable the first time you provide one, but I think you will find that this is all that people really want to hear.

They need some explanation, but not much.

Regards, Matt

You talkin to me?

Yes, I am talking to you.

The purpose of my evening editorial is to make all of you better at managing your careers, and in particular to educate you on what I believe are the key issues in appearing more professional and technology savvy in the digital world we all live in.

Let me start as I always do with outgoing signatures. The purpose of an outgoing signature is primarily to enable others to reach back out to you with a minimum of effort. This means that your phone numbers should appear in the order you would like them called. And, if you have more than one, list it. (Three might be a little over the top.) If you believe everyone knows how to reach you, think again.

If you aren’t sleeping in a car, may I suggest you include a physical address? Sure, very few people are going to come to visit you, (or send you gifts) but many folks would like to know what time zone you live in, and with portable phone numbers these days, area codes aren’t as helpful as they once were. If you think leaving off your city/state will make you more likely to be considered for positions where you are not a local candidate, think again. Local candidates always (or almost always) provide a local address. If you leave it off, you probably aren’t local.

If you are using Outlook or some other email program with appropriate capabilities, you might want to make sure your name in the “From” box is properly displayed. Names all in lower case look silly. The same thing is true if you don’t include your first and last name. It also looks silly if you are sharing an email address with your spouse. (Let me appeal to your inner accountant: Email addresses are generally speaking free.) You might also want to create one that is your name and doesn’t have any numbers in it. Bill123@aol.com in Arial is error prone especially if your last name begins with an L. Could it be 3 L’s in a row? auh2o@aol.com my all time favorite. The name is Goldwater. (I’ll let you think about that one.)

If you are at all into being a member of The FENG, you know we have a field called “Greeting to use.” Go ahead, make me guess. Is it Robert, Rob or Bob? Is it Richard, Dick or Rich? (I could go on and on, but I think you see what I mean.) Unless you want to start our conversation by correcting me on your proper name, let me know what you like to be called. And please don’t tell me I can call you Michael or Mike. It’s YOUR name. What do you prefer?

Have you called your home, office or cell recently? May I suggest you do? “Generic system greetings” make you look silly AND don’t provide me with assurance that I dialed your number correctly. (I’m an old man, and I make mistakes. As you know, the phone pad is the reverse of the 10 key pad.) If you have a personalized greeting, do you announce your name? Again, I would like to know I actually reached you.

For your office number, is an extension required to reach you? I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have searched a company’s telephone directory. Some want you to enter the person’s first name. Some want you to enter the person’s last name. And, at the end of running the high hurdles, only a small number of these system directories provide you with the extension number so you don’t have to do it again the next time you call. Go figure.

Let me assume your success in reaching folks on the first try is about the same as mine. (Close to zero.) If you would actually like someone to call you back, you might try leaving a cheery message. (Hi, this is Matt. I’m having a really bad day. I’m down in the dumps. Could you call me back so I can ruin your day?) What do you think the odds are I will call you back? Hint. It’s the same as reaching someone on the first try.

One of the things I have learned is that people with common names are unaware of it. If you have one, no offense, but you might want to be clear which John Smith you are. I have also learned that people with names that are difficult to pronounce or hard to spell are also unaware of it. When leaving a message, you might want to make it easy for me to look you up by spelling your name.

If I am to have any hope of figuring out who you are and why you have called me, you might want to consider lighting the way. (Actually, my database allows me to search on phone numbers. This is the only reason I sound intelligent from time to time when returning calls.)

The next subject is resumes and cover letters.

I could write an entire editorial on either, and I have, so I will just hit the high points. Again, leaving off your home address isn’t going to fool anyone. If it is a privacy issue, try typing your name into Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Switchboard.com, or anyone of several other places and you will find out everyone knows where you live. (And yet, no one is sending you any gifts. Go figure.)

With respect to email cover letters, have I mentioned outgoing signatures? Be sure your email address is part of it.

Leaving off dates on your resume is a bad idea. Companies that don’t hire old people, don’t hire old people. Should I also mention that only people who are old leave off their dates? Duh!

Very few people are so good at hiding their age that someone who reads resumes for a living can’t figure it out in less than 1 second. What are the odds you were Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer right out of college? That whole “Previous positions” section with a list of companies longer than your arm frequently has me doubled over in laughter on the floor.

I’m older than dirt, and I wouldn’t be able to list as many companies. Are you in your 80’s or 90’s? Go ahead. Let my imagination run wild. Will you need an oxygen tent at work? A full time nurse? (Submitting your resume on parchment or on stone tablets, by the way, is a dead giveaway that you are old.)

Should I mention 6 point type? Call me Mr. Magoo. I don’t see so good. (No, it’s not actually your fault.) Consider that a resume gets at best 5-10 seconds. Is it a smudge or a paragraph filled with essential facts about your credentials? If you ACTUALLY want me to read it, you might want to consider putting it in 12 point type.

So, am I talkin to you? You might want to consider the possibility that I am.

Regards, Matt

What are your sizzle points?

Very few among us are professional sales folks. It is for this reason that some of the more subtle elements of interviewing can easily go by us. When you decide to make a purchase you often have to justify it to others. When you do, you will find yourself repeating things the salesperson told you about the product.

Much as you may cringe at the thought that you need to have a slogan or theme song, you almost do. The question I would have for you is how can you make yourself memorable? How can you communicate what we could call your sizzle points?

In all of the interviewing that you do, except your interview with the final and ultimate decision maker, you need to be passed along up the line. In order for that to happen those at the bottom of the chain have the need to be able to simply describe you.

One story I heard told many years ago was about a guy who brought a glossy brochure from his last employer with a picture of a helicopter on it. He was referred to as the “helicopter” guy. Not the best title I suppose, but it was a way of uniquely identifying him as he was passed up the line.

One of our alumni members here in Connecticut many years ago referred to himself at our meeting as a “Confidence Man.” His area of expertise is Internal Audit, and he went on to explain that his point of difference was that in his approach to those he was auditing, he was easily able to gain their confidence. It was an easy title to remember AND something interesting and amusing to repeat as he was passed up the line.

One of the points to keep in mind is the need to communicate simple messages. These are your sizzle points. In presenting your paperwork to the next person up the line, have you provided the interviewer with a sufficient number of simple messages that easily explain the essence of who you are? This is the requirement.

It is easy to get into detailed explanations about your background, who you are, and how you go about the magic you do. However, detailed explanations need to be preceded and followed with simple messages. It think I have heard it said: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

If I had to put a handle on you, what would it be?

I have often made the claim that I am compulsively well organized. (I know this comes a shock to all of you.) It is the kind of interesting statement that is easy to remember and has the appropriate impact (I hope) when it is repeated up the line.

Think about your 90-second announcement. What are the words you use to describe yourself to others? Do you provide easy to remember ideas?

I know you think that you are just an ordinary person, but I know that you have your very own unique sizzle points. I just need for you to tell me.

Who knows to whom I will repeat them?

Regards, Matt

It is always better to be working

Even though the job market seems to be improving, I thought I would repeat a thought I mention to those who ask. Plain and simple, it is always better to be working.

The strategy you take early in your career has to be one of growth. Each job you take has to move you up the ladder of success. However, once you have been a Chief Financial Officer or Controller of a significant firm, and especially if you have reached the advanced age of mid-forties like most of our members, I would suggest to you that it is simply better to be working.

My own observation has been that most of our members move from large firms to smaller ones. The reason for this is pretty straight forward — parachuting in at the top of a large company closes off career tracks. That’s why large firms don’t generally hire senior executives.

Those of us who have enjoyed long careers with one firm have to accept the fact that part of our compensation was the result of our intense knowledge of our firm. We knew the people, and we knew what they would do before they did. We could protect them from themselves, so to speak.

That was why we earned the “big bucks.”

If we now move to another company, we are in a sense pushed back to the value of our technical and people skills. Sure, we may click with the interviewer, but the truth is that there are lots of folks who have the technical and people skills to do any job. It is a market, and we may not have the same value to a new employer as we did to one we had been with for many years.

Sad, but true.

As we set about on our quest to have a slightly larger office with more potted plants and a few more side chairs (and, of course, a slightly larger paycheck), I would suggest that you not lose sight of the fact that you need to be careful not to stay out of the game any longer than absolutely necessary.

If you are not employed for an extended period of time, even those who know you and like you may start to believe that there is something wrong. There may not be, but perception is everything.

What I am suggesting is that if you happen to stumble across a less than perfect job that is in fact offered to you, you might want to view it through the lens of your current age and real requirements.

If you take a job for less than you used to earn, no one will actually know other than you. Since you are a member of The FENG, you are actually keeping your job search active, and if something better comes along, you can take it. (Yes, I know all about ethics in business, but as far as I know in today’s world it isn’t illegal to quit a job for one paying more money.)

You will, however, have been working, and you will be perceived for this new opportunity as more valuable than if you had waited it out.

This is, of course, just one man’s opinion. I would welcome the thoughts of others, so please send them in. The proper place is Leads@TheFENG.org for our Notes from Members column.

Regards, Matt

The problem with falling overboard

As the sailing season begins here in Connecticut my thoughts more and more turn to sailing stories and how they might apply to job search and the management of your career. (Of course, I think about and read sailing stories all the time, but I digress.)

One of the great perils of sailing is falling overboard. I have 3 rules when sailing:

1. Don’t fall overboard
2. Don’t fall overboard
3. Don’t fall overboard

To ensure that this doesn’t happens, especially when sailing at night, I always wear a lifejacket when underway and at night I always clip on. I also clip on when the wind pipes up. No exceptions. These are also the rules for the crew at night. During the day, I don’t make anyone except the grandchildren wear lifejackets AND I have tethers for them that I insist they use. (They are also easier to keep track of that way. They can’t be more than 6 feet from where they are clipped on.)

The problem with falling in the water is that you are hard to retrieve. Yes, it can be done, but assuming you are injured when you fall overboard, you aren’t going to be all that much help to the rescue party. The worst part is that “Mighty Mouse” isn’t necessarily coming to save you. If you are not prepared to participate in your own survival, there isn’t a whole lot of hope.

Much the same is true having to abandon ship. The sailor’s rule is that you step up into a lifeboat. (I’ll let you think about that for a moment.) If your ship isn’t about to disappear under the waves, you are at all times best advised to stay with it. It is larger than you are and therefore easier to spot. Many ships of all sizes have been found floating months after someone panicked and demanded to be taken off by the Coast Guard. (In those cases, “Mighty Mouse” DID come to their rescue, but I wouldn’t count on it.)

If you have been out of work a long time, it is very easy to mentally give up. When your lifeboat has been adrift for a long time, it is easy to come to believe you will never be rescued. Even with unemployment so low now, I’m not going to tell you tonight that the job market is booming, but I will tell you that things ARE starting to pick up. Your ship might even be on the horizon.

What you need to do is shake off your fear of not surviving, pick yourself up and get yourself energized. It is vitally important that you look and feel like a winner. When jobs are again available in reasonable numbers, those who appear beaten won’t get them.

When survivors of shipwrecks are picked up, the rescuers can only have a small appreciation for what those wretched souls have been through. It is probably not worth your telling anyone about your experiences. You don’t want sympathy. You want a job.

Just as the darkest hour is just before dawn, storms end and job droughts end. Hopefully this job drought is now on its last legs. (And, hopefully you will remember to file your taxes on Monday.)

Regards, Matt

Chip firmly in place

Over the years I have had more than a few “interesting” discussions with new member applicants. I guess I can talk about them with all of you because they weren’t sponsored or accepted.

Although I am in a position where I have to say no now and then, I try to visualize my role as that of “the welcoming committee” and not “the gate keeper.”

However, as one of my Army buddies used to say: “There are some folks who wouldn’t be happy if they were hanged with a new rope.”

Sad to say, but when the answer is no, and it is you, it is hard to take. What are the reasons why? And, as logical financial folks, I know we next move to “how can I reason my way through this and make the decision yes?” Well, unfortunately, when the answer is no, there often aren’t good reasons.

It is easy to get angry. As hard driving financial types, we have been trained to never take no for an answer. The problem is, however, that you never “win” these kinds of arguments. As distasteful as it might be sometimes, a conciliatory approach might actually work more successfully for you.

In the case of one new member applicant several years ago, he called me on a Saturday when I was trying to take a nap. He then proceeded to harangue me for the better part of 15 minutes about why, even though he only had 5 years of work experience, I really should allow him to join The FENG. I know, you are probably thinking why did I even listen to him? Well, I try to be polite to all those who contact us. Besides, I remembered his background and felt he was clearly a bright young man.

Had he calmed down a bit and approached me with a smile on his face, I was actually prepared to help him by providing him with some appropriate contacts within our fine organization as sort of an investment in a future member. But, he was so abrasive, I was more focused on just ending the conversation without him filing a lawsuit against us.

As the old expression goes “you can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a gallon of vinegar.” (I hope I got that right.)

Chip removal surgery isn’t expensive. All you have to do is keep you greater goals in mind.

Even with firms that have turned you down, a little sugar can go a long way. Sometimes that person who “apparently” was better than you doesn’t work out. I have heard it more than once. If you are number two or even three, they could be right back to you. (And this time, you can play hard to get.)

Regards, Matt

The dreaded telephone interview

With everyone so busy these days, the dreaded telephone interview is being used more and more.

In my opinion, the only purpose for a telephone interview is to do a quick screening of possible candidates before bringing them in for a face to face interview. It is not a good vehicle for totally qualifying candidates, but used effectively it can prevent a colossal waste of time on the part of both parties. Many folks look good on paper, but with a short conversation filled with probing questions, those lacking critical elements can be eliminated. If candidates need to be brought in from great distances it just makes sense to speak with them first.

I hope I am being redundant when I tell you to NEVER use your cell phone for a telephone interview unless you are sure you have a strong signal. “Can you hear me now?” may make a good advertising campaign, but it is one of the great lies. The answer is usually NO. (My guess is the actor was standing under a cell tower.) If the only way you can be reached initially is by cell, insist on calling back on a land line if at all possible.

Given that you have proper notice about a telephone interview, be sure to prepare. Not only should you read the position description several times, you should reread your own resume. Remember, this may be the only document they have and they may start asking questions from it. It is also a good idea to have both documents out in front of you.

A remote phone is also a good idea. I have a hands free phone that allows me to walk around my office when I am on the phone. Being able to gesture will make you come across as more forceful than if you are sitting in your high backed leather chair with your feet up on the desk.

While a telephone interview is a preliminary step in your process of getting a face to face interview, the preparation you need to do about the company is the same as if you were going there. You only get so many preliminary “lottery tickets,” so don’t be casual. As I used to tell my accounting staff: I expect you to do your work as if your job depended on it, because it does! The same goes here. Don’t let the collection of any relevant information go undone. You only get one chance, and making a good impression over the phone is harder than in person because both parties are missing all those visual cues. Besides, you may have a very nice “interview outfit” and dressed to the “9’s,” you may look very impressive. Here you will have to depend solely on your wits, and you best keep them about you.

Keep in mind that your goal is to sound smart. You will need to speak more slowly and more clearly than when you are in person. Believe it. Most people do a little lip reading, and that won’t be possible over the phone.

Your other goal is to keep the call as brief as possible. At an appropriate time in the conversation, do a “trial close,” by which I mean, ask for the appointment. You are a product that can’t actually be sold over the phone. You need to get in front of your customer. Answer all the questions you are asked as completely as is necessary, but don’t get carried away. Be sure to pause periodically when you are speaking. Digital phone technology today makes it impossible to interrupt you. Try to supply short answers. 90 seconds IS about the limit, so put a clock on it.

The phone can be your friend or your enemy. Make sure it isn’t the latter.

Regards, Matt

Defining who you are

Probably one of the hardest things to do in life is to define who you are. Are you really your resume?

Because we tend to be at companies longer than the members of other discipline areas, the reality of what it is we REALLY do best is not always obvious to us.

Some time ago when one of my friends, Bob Graham, came to speak at our meeting in Connecticut, he shared with us a great interview question: What’s the biggest misperception about you? Believing that others have a misperception about you actually implies that there is something about yourself that you don’t accept. Unfortunately, most of us are often the last to know or at least the last to accept truths about who we really are.

I am sure that this is not one of those “financial executive” defining issues. I am sure everyone is faced with this issue. But, since we tend to change jobs less frequently we have to ask it less often about ourselves. I am not sure if constant self-assessment is a good or bad thing. But, during a time when you are changing jobs it is a good thing to ask and discover about yourself.

As many of you know, I spent nearly a decade in the advertising business. One of the things you never want to do is make “an over promise.” It is also not necessary or desirable to err too far on the other side. (We do have a tendency as financial folks to be modest. I hear it in 90-second announcements all the time.) You really need to be as correct as possible about the “person” you are projecting.

The question is how to go about the discovery process. I would first suggest rereading your resume and then thinking about the stories you like to tell in interviews. What are the things about which you are most proud? These are the things you like to do and I would suggest that these are the things at which you will most likely be the most successful in your next endeavor. The key is to repeat them to someone who really knows you for a reaction. Is this the real you, or is it just someone you made up to get another job?

I will never know, but your friends hopefully will tell you. (Personally, I sometimes wish my friends weren’t so honest!)

Regards, Matt

Are you ready to retire?

I don’t know about you, but at the age of 71, I still have more than a few miles left on my odometer. The thought of retirement is still something far off into the future. I imagine I will get to that point in my thinking someday, but it isn’t now.

When members call me for advice, I always ask them how old they are. Lucky thing I’m not working for a corporation or I would probably get sued. That said, the reason I ask someone’s age is not to discriminate against them, but rather to give them better strategies.

When I was in my youth in the 1960’s I suppose we thought the “old folks” didn’t know much about anything. There were so many of us baby boomers back then that the market was flooded with well educated individuals. Back then, many folks went to college just to avoid the draft. So, America got spoiled.

Now all of us baby boomers are not only well educated, we are also well experienced. (Notice I didn’t use the words “over qualified.”) We bring a lot to the party. No learning on the job for us. All of those things that only happen once a year, we have done 30-40 times. That is indeed a wealth of knowledge.

Part of the perceptual problem is on our side and part on the side of the “outside” world. Our vision of ourselves can hold us back from considering opportunities that are perfectly viable. Perhaps you were an Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer in your last life, but wouldn’t it be better to be a Controller of a small company than unemployed? It is difficult to accept this change in who you are, I suppose, but that is YOUR problem. I would suggest to you that it is always better to be working.

The “outside” world is very much hung up on moving people up through the ranks and this model of how careers are supposed to work prevents them from engaging individuals who are “taking a step back” but who can easily do the job. They are very concerned that you will be bored. They assume that you will bolt at the first opportunity for advancement, as if the younger folks they might hire wouldn’t do the same thing. The more likely situation is that you would stay a lot longer than someone “on the make” in their career.

The real quest I would suggest to my fellow members of The FENG who are “older” as we count years, but still of a mind to use their mental capabilities in some useful fashion is to identify your core saleable skills and find a willing customer. It may not even be a traditional W-2 job, but rather a series of consulting assignments. Are they easy to find? Well, neither is a “proper” job.

The truth is that there may not always be jobs, but there is always work that needs to be done.

In The FECG, we rarely have a two week consulting assignment that doesn’t go 2-6 months. People who actually know how to get things done are hard to find and our clients tend to find more and more work for our consultants to do once they engage them. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Everyone has a core skill set which produces actual work. If you are looking for consulting that allows you to sit in a high backed leather chair and pontificate on this that and the other thing, you WILL be looking for a long time. If on the other hand, you are willing to roll up your sleeves and practice your many talents, you just might make a FORCED retirement disappear as a concern.

Regards, Matt

The original conversation killer

My wife is a speech pathologist by education and early work experience. One of the things that drives her crazy is one word answers. Her approach in teaching speech has always been to ask questions that create a conversation. The only way to get the kids she was working with to improve their speech was to get them to talk. You can see how one word answers wouldn’t further that goal.

In the context of networking, asking someone if they know about any open jobs is a one way ticket to a very brief conversation. Have I heard about any open jobs? Sure, but it was two weeks ago. I don’t remember very many of the details, but I’m sure you would have been a perfect fit for it. (Those you ask this particular question honestly don’t realize they are torturing you.)

On the other hand, explaining your background in a concise and understandable manner, perhaps preceded by your sending a resume for quick reading, can easily generate a long ranging and beneficial communication.

The question you need to ask is: Can you think of individuals who are known to you who would understand what I do and who might be willing to have a conversation with me? I realize the possibility of their having an open job at their firm that would be a fit for me is remote, and, it is not necessary. I just want to get introductions to people who have some connection to what it is I do. They in turn will know the right folks for further introductions.

This process is called networking at its best. Sooner or later, you will meet someone who has a problem that you have solved many times. Sometimes, this problem will just come flowing out during your meeting. The problem when you sat down didn’t have a job associated with it. Now let’s see. I just realized I have a problem. I further realize that the person sitting across from me has solved this problem. Am I really going to keep looking for someone to solve it when the answer is sitting across from me? No, the job is now yours to lose.

Networking is actually a lot easier than most people think. Connecting the dots, following the yellow brick road, leading others down the primrose path, it’s all duck soup to those who know how to do it and who are not so blinded by their panic to find another job that they ask the wrong questions.

I am always surprised when members ask me to keep them in mind when I hear about jobs. Honest, everything I hear about I publish in our newsletter.

Sure, there are others who hear about open jobs and on a given day may not be so self-absorbed that they think of calling you, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Most jobs aren’t even jobs when you first learn about them. They are problems that need to be solved.

So, before you ask someone if they know about any jobs, know that this is the original conversation killer. Ask an open ended question that will get that networking contact started. For example, do they have any search professionals to recommend that you may contact? (Everyone has a few favorite recruiters.)

Once you get them talking, you may find you won’t be able to get them to stop. And in this way, you won’t even have to hold them down until they give you 3 names. They will babble on until you only hope they will stop.

Regards, Matt

Asking for help

Asking for help is hard for many people. I don’t know why that is, but I am sure it is just part of human nature.

I guess we have been brought up to “do it ourselves.” It is sort of a mark of our independence when we become real adults. I have been told that this is the reason that guys used to refuse to stop at the gas station to ask for directions. (Thank goodness I have GPS and no longer need to ask.)

The key is to know when your wheel spinning has reached the point that you would be best advised to ask for help.

The reason I bring this up is that there are so many different kinds of help available in our networking group if only those who need it would ask. Some of it is subtle; some of it is more direct. And, I can’t really tell you where the following ideas fall.

Let’s say you are trying to learn how to better use that new computer you bought when you started your job search. You can sit and struggle with it. It is a valid approach. In the alternate you can reach out to family members or friends to take a few hours out of their evening to come over and show you a few tricks. (Perhaps someone from your local chapter of The FENG would be willing to come over if you ask!) You are right in thinking that you need to primarily struggle with it if you are really going to learn it, but it is also true that having someone show you a few trap doors to fall through is a big help and will shorten your learning curve.

Deciding what you want to be when you grow up is another fertile area. I know I struggle with it (and frankly I haven’t fully decided), but reaching out to other professionals with backgrounds related to yours can surely help. (These folks are also members of The FENG and are perhaps also attending your local chapter meetings.) Even if you are committed to doing more of the same old thing, talking that through with others whose backgrounds or circumstances are close to yours will provide you with either a framework for thinking about the problem or perhaps will validate your own thinking. Either way you win!

Resume review is pretty obvious. I know when I was out of work in 1991 I read my resume so many times I really didn’t know what it said anymore. It really needed a fresh pair of eyes. So, I had a friend go over it, and bingo, several very obvious changes became apparent.

I am sure that with these few examples you all get the idea. What is important is to always be thinking about whether it is time to get some help.

It isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of intelligence.

Regards, Matt

Hi, it’s me the pest

Probably one of the most difficult issues to resolve when competing for an appropriate job opportunity is how much follow up to do.

It is a fine line indeed between ensuring that those making the decision know you have real interest and making a real pest of yourself and changing their decision from yes to no.

Decisions seem to take longer and longer today. Add to this the natural reluctance of folks to deliver bad news, and you have the “horns of the dilemma” that we all face.

One of the little recognized dangers in doing too much follow up is when you think the interview went well and they don’t seem to be getting back to you. The short story may be that you are number two and they have made an offer to number one and are waiting to hear back. If they call you on a timely basis to deliver this news, you might disappear on them. So, trying to consider THEIR best interests, they sort of string you along.

In this case, more than any other, you can do yourself real damage by being too aggressive in your follow-up.

Asking permission to follow-up at the end of the interview is the best thing you can do. Ask for a sense of their timing and with whom and when to follow-up. Hey, they said it was okay.

Typically the reason no one gets back to you is that the answer is no. In this case, all you are doing is satisfying your own curiosity as to the status of particular items on your pending list.

There are many valid reasons why they don’t want to talk to you. For one, us financial types look for detailed answers to why we weren’t selected. That can get into a lengthy discussion with the party on the other end of the phone needing to dance around obvious issues that could lead to lawsuits. Often times there really isn’t a valid reason other than there were better people who applied.

Asking for a side by side comparison won’t help you or them. In fact, when the answer is no, there usually isn’t much useful information that changes hands. But, by being polite if you do reach them, you stay on their list and folks have been known not to show up for that first day of work. (I have also known folks who quit on their first day.)

If you do choose to leave many phone messages, be sure not to make them increasing strident. The simple facts of “name, rank and serial number” are usually sufficient. If you do more, you run the risk of relieving their guilt at not having returned your calls.

Keep them guilty. When they do return your call they will usually begin with an apology that will go a long way toward them trying to be helpful in some way, perhaps by even providing another networking contact for you if the answer is no.

Hopefully this will help you in rethinking your follow up efforts. Having been a master of credit and collection work, I can tell you that being a pest pays.

Regards, Matt

First impressions

We have all heard the old saw: “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” There is also this amendment: “Don’t make your first impression your last.”

I only wish everyone would be so kind as to repeat these sayings to themselves in all the things they do with regard to their job search and networking.

For example, you are certainly welcome to come to meetings of our networking group in business casual. But, keep in mind that some of those attending will be coming from interviews and will be “dressed to the 9’s.” And, you need to consider what you are going to be asking for at those meetings. Typically it is nothing short of a referral to someone’s valued business associates.

I was never a big fan of business casual, at least not in business situations. Not being high on the imagination scale, I believe it is difficult to visualize how important you might be if you don’t APPEAR to be.

The same thing is true of ALL the correspondence you send out. What is your email address, and does it say your name at the top as it should? The “Bud Family” at the top, or perhaps your spouse’s name will leave the impression, and perhaps rightly so, that you aren’t very technologically proficient. (And, I guess you aren’t, but you might want to try to fool everyone.)

A Human Resource person I know told me once that she reads cover letters first. The reason is that folks get a lot of help with their resume, but often write their cover letters themselves. If you can’t put a coherent sentence together, you just might not be the person who she would hire for that senior level financial officer position at her firm.

Telephone calls are another opportunity to ruin my visualization of you. I am amazed how many folks haven’t set up their voice mail or are using their standard “we’re not home right now,” or you have reached 203-227-8965. I generally know what number I dialed. What I don’t know is if I reached the right person.

A proper message and/or a cheery greeting make a first impression for you. Good, bad or ugly, you are off and running. It is your call whether you are going to have to do a repair job, or be able to coast based on those first few seconds.

Those who make a lot of phone calls or who do a lot of writing learn to make judgments quickly. Face to face meetings are no different.

If you believe you are as smart as I think you are then make a believer out of me in those first few seconds of our meeting, whether that is in person, in writing, or over the phone.

You just might not get a chance to change my mind.

Regards, Matt

Explaining the magic

I am often asked by our members to give them a “formula” for constructing their very own 90-second announcement. If only that were practical.

The problem with 90-second announcements is very much related to the very limited time you are allowed. Having been in the advertising business for nearly a decade, I can tell you why advertising creative people make so much money. It is just plain difficult to hone a message to 90-seconds, let alone 30-seconds as they normally have to do.

Your own message needs to be tailored to you, unlike your resume which for the most part should conform to accepted formatting standards. Other than telling others your name, most of what you say is up to you.

I do suggest “staking out your territory.” By this I mean, I tell people that my background is primarily advertising and publishing. By starting out in this way, I give people a context to absorb the information that comes next. Everything should sort of hang off your opening statement.

Like the summary at the top of your resume, it is in the nature of an advertising promise, and you need to deliver on it. If you are a manufacturing expert, a retailing expert, or a mergers & acquisition expert, staking out your territory allows us to know what we are listening to and what we should be listening for.

Everyone is different. The strengths and weaknesses we bring to the party are part and parcel of who we are and what we do. Your goal is to make that clear in “25 words or less.” Not an easy task.

More importantly, and at the risk of sounding too specialized, you need to explain your industry and the work you did in that industry that made you special. Not only do you perform magic at the office, but you are a special person when you get to work your charm.

When I tell an audience that “most of the people I worked with on a daily basis were under psychiatric care for good and valid reasons.” I mention this because managing the diverse and strong personalities that make up a successful advertising agency and getting them to work together to make tons of money is a unique skill, and not one well understood outside of our industry. Although law firms are similar, my belief is that at least lawyers tend to be logical thinkers. As you can see, even in a related industry, the magic to make it all happen is different and unique.

What made your industry difficult and what did you do to manage within it? How did you apply the many skills you have acquired over the years to those unique circumstances? What words will convey that difficulty in the most memorable terms?

While we are all accountants by nature, we are also magicians. Those who exist outside of our unique skill sets are often in awe of what we do. I know we are “awe shucks” modest most of the time, but your 90-second announcement is no time to blend.

Promote the magic. Say something important about yourself and you will be well on your way to being awarded that cone shaped hat with the stars on it. (No not a dunce cap.)

(If you go to our website: Member Area, Member Downloads, Other Useful Documents, you will find a document titled “90-Second Announcements” written by Peggy Bud. My wife is a Speech Pathologist by education and an expert in communication strategies. I think it will help you create a more effective 90-Second Announcement. Fan mail should be sent to Peggy@PeggyBud.com.)

Regards, Matt

Organizations have character

One of the more amazing things I find myself discussing from time to time is that organizations seem to take on a life of their own. Even when I “drop in” many years later I find very little has changed.

As I “drop in” to chapters of The FENG around the country, one of my goals is to find out how our “character” is developing. It is hard to believe that our organization has so many common elements around the country, but it does.

In the beginning, I signed my 3-4 page newsletter to my friends in the original chapter “Regards, Matt.” Hey, they really were my friends, and I knew many of them quite well. Old habits die hard, and I never stopped. I find that most members sign messages to the group and to each other in exactly the same way. I hope this never stops. I don’t know why it should since we are now much more than a small gathering of friends around a conference room table at the Westport Library and this is one of our many folkways.

I have continued to do this because I don’t want members to think of The FENG as an “organization,” but rather as a circle of friends. Better yet, as a circle of THEIR friends. As you know, a stranger is only a friend you haven’t met.

I like to think that a good portion of the “character” of The FENG comes from the fact that we are an army of volunteers. Members who take leadership positions do so because the “want to” and not for the dollar compensation. The rewards are significant, but they are of a different form.

As each of us prepares to “hang on” through this period of our lives called middle age, I would ask you to “do what you can do” to help your fellow members.

Sure, all of them are “characters,” but that is what The FENG is all about.

It is first and foremost a collection of characters. I believe that all of them worthy of your support and assistance. As with most things in life, you will get out of it only what you put in.

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

Regards, Matt

A few left over parts

When I was growing up, my father was a plumbing contractor and I had the great experience of working with him weekends and summers from my early teens until I graduated from college.

The test we used to determine whether or not we had correctly completed a complicated installation was whether or not we had any left over parts. (We usually read the instructions as we were driving away from the job.) Please know that a lot of mechanics use the same technique when they work on your car. Left over parts are a type of profit if you can use them for something else. (Hopefully, none of them are critical to the functioning of whatever they were left over from.)

To those of us who are a little long in the tooth with respect to the number of years in our career, we experience much the same syndrome when we redo our resumes for our latest job. If we accept the fact that there is greatest interest in that which we have done in the last ten years or so, what exactly are we to do with those “left over” accomplishments from our earlier jobs that we need to eliminate to keep it down to 2-3 pages?

Furthermore, as we try to put our resume into English, or perhaps more properly into “layman’s terms” and strip out the jargon common to our industry, what should we do with that left over information?

Well friends, we live in an electronic world. Not only can you have several different versions of your resume, you can also have a “storage cabinet” filled with all of your left over parts. As an accountant, it is hard for me to throw anything away. I am always afraid that when I do, I will need it at some point. How wonderful it is that storing these extra parts doesn’t take up any noticeable room these days, because I’m sure if they did my wife would get after me to “clean up my room.”

Of course, some of these very useful left over parts can also come as a result of your writing your resume. That initial burst of energy that you had at the beginning of your process may have yielded a treasure trove of valuable accomplishments that you felt were not as important as others in your final opus. (Gosh, I hope you didn’t throw them away.)

These stray factoids about what you have done can be extremely useful for job postings that call for them. The trick is to have them in exactly the same format as your primary resume so that when you paste them in and/or swap them out there will be no noticeable change in either the format from a typographical standpoint or from a language one.

In the “bad old days” you had to have your resume printed professionally and you know the reluctance of this old accountant to throw out paper produced at great expense. Strictly “first in, first out” in my book. In today’s world with everything electronic, there is no cost and I hope you always keep your printed inventories low. Only printing enough for the day is what I recommend. In the case of your electronic opus, there is no need to make multiple copies of these files. (But, I’m sure you know that.)

So, take out 5 or more pages of electronic paper and write to your heart’s content. Cover any aspect of your working life and work and rework each accomplishment until it sings on key and is in tune with the rest of the choir.

You will then find that modifying your resume for a specific job becomes duck soup. And as you know, duck soup is delicious.

Regards, Matt

Watching your back

It would be great if we could all see behind us while at the same time looking forward, but it just isn’t possible. And, sometimes just looking forward is hard enough.

We have all heard about the “buddy system” that swimmers use. And, of course, having someone “watch your back” is a concept we are all quite familiar with.

One of the problems The FENG has always tried to educate our members about is the mistaken belief that job search is a zero sum game. While it is certainly true that only one candidate is going to get the job, the goal is to ensure that one of our members is that person. I hope that it is you, but if it can’t be you, your second goal is to have it be a friend.

As I mention from time to time, Bob Walker, Co-Chair of our Dallas Chapter, tells members at each meeting to “find their mirror.” It is sort of one of those “friends to share and friends to care” kind of things. (Gosh, did I just make up a slogan?)

Anyway, there is more to any of the individual things we do than meets the eye. That is why The FENG is such a remarkable organization.

Ever want to have a guardian angel? Well, you can have lots of them. Of course, it requires being a friend to have a friend. Have you paired up with a sufficient number of other members so that you now have the equivalent of “eyes in the back of your head?” If not, perhaps you should.

One of the ideas that we promote in The FECG to make sure we get everyone who should apply for one of our assignments to apply is to ask you to forward the notices we send out to other members if you are aware of their backgrounds and interest in what we are working on at the moment. Sometimes your friends are asleep at the switch.

If you haven’t paired up with other members, you will find you just can’t be everywhere at once like you need to be. Early in my membership in The FENG I had a guardian angel by the name of Ken Hall. Ken used to call me up and say “I found a lead you should know about.” At first I was suspicious. What was he up to? I guess, just trying to be a good friend, which he remains to this day.

Bill Thurber, one of the Co-Chairs of the Atlanta Chapter at the time, said to me during my visit many years ago: “Some members get it and some don’t.”

Make sure you are one of the ones who “gets it.”

If you see a posting that fits a friend, send it to him or her. You will find that it is a gift that keeps on giving, sometimes for the rest of your life.

Regards, Matt

The Energizer Bunny

Probably one of the hardest things to do during a job search is keeping yourself energized. If you are conducting your job search from home, it can be even more difficult.

The thing to recognize is that conducting a job search is in some respects painful for us financial types. We don’t get to do spreadsheets (which we adore), and all we get to do is write letters and make phone calls. Sure, making phone calls to collect past due invoices is a lot of fun. But, making networking phone calls, now that’s painful.

So, faced with not needing to sharpen our #2 pencils, it can be difficult to get going in the morning. After all, what is there to look forward to?

I, of course, operate on batteries, so whenever I feel like I am moving in slow motion, I just pop in a couple fresh “D” batteries, and I am off to the races! You on the other hand will have to find more normal approaches to getting your day started.

Of course there is always a newsletter waiting for you, but you need to do your review of the job leads as quickly as possible. Do a quick scan and cut and paste all items of interest to a new document, or if you prefer, block and print your selection. This way you will have a document to work from to speed your writing a reply.

(You are permitted to study the editorial, however. I do work very hard on them!)

Each and every day you need to have a plan of some kind. Plans can change, but if you give some thought over the weekend to what you would like to accomplish over the next week, you will find that it will provide a focus for your energy.

Don’t feel bad about scheduling some energy creating activities like an exercise program or meeting an old friend for breakfast or lunch. Gyms open pretty early and you can probably wait to read the evening newsletter until you get back. There is nothing like 30 minutes on the treadmill to get your heart beating at a proper pace, and to get some adrenalin in your blood stream! Meeting old friends doesn’t hurt either. Even though these may not be folks important to your job search, they do care about you, and knowing you have a fan club out there rooting for you can really help.

If you are faced with a day of phone calls, be sure to start with a few easy ones first. Being rejected early in the day can ruin a good 8 hour run. If need be, start with a few other members of The FENG. They tend to be a cheerful lot and always eager to help. Your chances of having someone hang up on you, or someone be rude to you is much lower with other members of our circle of friends.

Although we don’t get to do many spreadsheets during a job search, we do generally get to play with computers, so there is some fun to look forward to. If you didn’t get to do much “hands on” stuff when you were out in the world of work, use free time during the day to learn the basic programs of Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Access. They really are pretty easy to learn, and you will need these hands on skills in most smaller firms. (Not many secretaries or staff around these days.)

The most important thing to do is find ways to keep yourself fired up. There is nothing worse than talking to someone who is down in the dumps or lethargic.

Like the Energizer bunny, if you find yourself getting a little run down, go out and get some fresh batteries. They are available everywhere. You just have to find the ones that are right for you.

Regards, Matt

Two peas in a pod

One of the great mysteries in this world is why any two people would network. Yes, I know this sounds like heresy coming from someone who has built his entire life on networking, but it is actually a very good question, and one that members who have not been exposed to “the truth” often ask.

I don’t know if it is still true, but at Dallas chapter meetings members are encouraged to find their “mirrors.” I guess if you are standing side by side, you won’t look exactly alike, but face to face you appear to each other to be spitting images. Of course, Bob Walker, Co-Chair of the Dallas chapter isn’t talking about someone who LOOKS like you, but rather someone who has shared characteristics from a career standpoint.

In The FENG, we share job leads because it is just plain smart. The more job leads you share, the more others share with you. Job leads are the baseball cards of our world. You always have more than you need. And, most cards aren’t popular for very long. Giving them away and/or trading them as quickly as possible is the approach that works best.

Networking with those who are just like you is one of the most powerful job search approaches. You have to ask yourself who is most likely to hear about jobs in which you would have the most interest? Well, certainly it is going to be the folks with the most links to your background. If you are a manufacturing type that would be your fellow manufacturing types. If you are a HIGH TECHNOLOGY manufacturing type, it will be those knowledgeable about high technology manufacturing. The shades of meaning are endless in this world.

There really isn’t any way you can get hurt sharing networking contacts as freely as you do job leads as long as you make some effort to be selective. The “damage” that can be done by introducing someone you know well to someone else you don’t really know well is limited if you take a few minutes to really understand the person you are proposing to introduce. A quick look at their resume, a few good questions, all can assure you that you aren’t introducing someone who will ruin your hard won relationship.

Of course, the purpose of networking is to find work opportunities. So, what are the odds that the person you are introducing is going to stumble into a job YOU actually want and get hired instead of you? Well, like the lottery, the odds are a lot lower than most people believe. I am not putting down the value of networking when I say this. I am only commenting on the odds that the job that goes to someone else is one you would have wanted AND one you would have gotten hired for. Those are very different odds.

Which brings us to the “two peas in a pod” syndrome. In the case of senior executives, there isn’t such a thing.

All of us are as different as our fingerprints. Some of us are more affable than others. Some of us are more technically competent than others. Some of us are higher or lower paid than others. Some of us are in different parts of the country than others or are more willing or less willing to drive a distance every day or move. As alike as we may be, we are every bit as different.

One of those math facts that defy comprehension, don’t you think?

Regards, Matt

Time is of the essence

For those of you who have had the honor of dealing with legal matters, you know that the phrase “Time is of the essence” is frequently used in contracts. The idea is that if you want to get the deal done, you better move quickly. (In other words, you will need to get off your duff.)

The world today moves at a furious pace. No longer, for example, can we blame the postal service for not delivering that analysis that was due, or even blame the fact that we missed the Federal Express pickup. Most things today move at the speed of the Internet, and that is a fearsome and frightening standard by which we have to live our lives.

If it wasn’t bad enough that you can’t get away from the phone anymore (and I do wish they would stop building those cell towers everywhere so we always have coverage), since you probably have an iPhone or one of the many other smart phone devices, you can’t even get away from email.

I’m not sure where in the world life moves at a slower pace these days. I’m sure there are some places of refuge. One arena where there isn’t such a place of refuge is anything related to job search.

As a first example, the job leads in our newsletter have a shorter shelf life than a bottle of milk left out on the counter on a hot day. Our “evil plan” in The FENG is to publish the job leads we receive within 24 hours. Still, if you think about it, someone else also had them for a day or so. So, before you even put electronic pen to electronic paper, you are often times 3 days behind the 8 ball. (Yes, I know you thought I would come up with a sailing analogy, but heck, when you are sailing you’re lucky if you are moving at 5 knots.) To get the maximum benefit out of the 40,000+ relationships each of our members has with members of the search community, I wouldn’t leave our newsletter laying around in the sun. Give it a quick scan. Pick off the ones you like after making sure you are a good fit. Then, make haste in getting your response in the “mail.”

Networking is, of course, the key to success for us older types. The job leads are sort of a tune up game if you will. If you are lucky enough to hit it off with one of your network contacts and they actually suggest a few names or really knock your socks off and make a few calls or send some emails on your behalf, how long do you think you should wait before following up? (This is not a trick question.) The “New York minute” is the time frame that comes to my mind.

Friends, it is like pulling teeth to get anyone to help. When you finally get a generous soul to extend his hand in friendship, how long do you think it will be hanging out there for you to shake? Waste no time in grasping it firmly. Put the ball firmly in his/her court at your earliest opportunity. When receiving a valid networking contact from someone, it is not impolite if they ask you to wait until they reach them to “demand” a timeline when you can be in touch.

People lose interest very quickly. I have often been told by someone I have called that they will call me right back. I have been foolish at times to even stay off the phone for as long as 3 minutes. (That is about my limit.) To my surprise, I often don’t hear back from these folks for hours. I guess their sense of time and mine are totally different.

If you are the giver of networking leads, don’t allow yourself to be put in an embarrassing position. Make clear to the person you are awarding a connection to someone known to you the timeframe in which they should be in touch. Streets run both ways. They may be too bashful to ask. Don’t be too bashful to let them know. After all, these are your business connections and you want them to be available to you and to others you might send their way.

As they say, “Time is of the essence.”

Regards, Matt

The importance of realistic expectations

It is an unfortunate fact of life that no one can find you another job except for you. While it is POSSIBLE that others can help you in some way, they can’t actually do it for you.

What we do in The FENG is provide you with the tools for an effective job search. These tools run the gamut from advice about networking, to chapter meetings, to access to our membership directory using our Member Directory Search feature.

As it has been said, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The resources for an effective job search are staring you in the face, but it is up to you to use them in the best possible way to be successful in your quest.

What I suggest is that you drink deeply.

Given that the great recession is now long over, attendance at our chapter meetings is currently not as strong as I would like. It has been noticed that some folks show up for one meeting, but don’t keep coming back. Since they don’t come back, it is hard for me to ask them why they don’t. My suspicion is that they were somehow expecting me to hand them a job on a silver platter. That just doesn’t happen.

We work the attendees of our Westport chapter very hard, especially on their elevator speeches. Is it possible that this is too stressful? Well, it doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. I want to know that you are presenting your credentials in the best possible light and in a memorable fashion. Practice, practice and more practice is the only way a tool as useful to you as this is going to sound natural.

We don’t discuss job leads at our meetings. I would think that there are more than enough of them in our daily newsletter. And, in any case, most folks find their jobs from networking. We devote the valuable time in these face to face meetings to learning about each other’s skills and backgrounds. It is not actually necessary that you meet a “mirror” at any particular meeting. What is important is that you learn the art of meeting and making friends with strangers (who are only friends you haven’t met).

Again, the goal is tools, not a specific result.

If you set a goal of learning something new every day, you will shortly become a much smarter individual. It is this cumulative effect that inevitably causes you to find another job, or as I call them a “work opportunity.”

I always hate to disappoint. What I am suggesting is that you set realistic expectations for your participation in The FENG and the result it will bring you. While we are a remarkable organization, we can’t create miracles.

I’ll leave the miracle creation process in your very capable hands.

Regards, Matt

Effectively using the non-answer

As you mature and become over qualified for just about everything, it is inevitable that you will be interviewed for a job (of limited income or responsibility) that you would like to have, but fear that you will be deemed too old or having previously earned too much money to be “happy” in. (If they were so concerned with you happiness, you would think they would understand how difficult it is to be unemployed.)

Age it has been said is in the mind. I know I don’t feel old, and perhaps I don’t look old. Still, I am old, or at least older than others might think. Even if the number is fairly obvious since I graduated in 1968 from college and would include that information on my resume, there are still those who in an interviewing situation might ask.

It is, of course, an illegal question. How a perfectly logical question got to be illegal is a story for another time and I don’t know anyway. That said, inquiring minds want to know. I would suggest telling them. If you feel self conscious about your age, you will make others think it is an issue. “I’m 97 and only need my oxygen tent to sleep” is one of many non-answers you can give. As I often say: Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. If you handle the question well, it won’t become an issue. Some of the wrong things to do include turning bright red in anger or flushing in embarrassment. That will only lead them to think it is a problem. Mention the fact that you sky dive with reluctance. Even if you were younger, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

The salary issue is the best one for a non-answer. When asked about your past compensation, keep telling them what your salary requirements are. To many people it sounds like the answer to their question, and if they accept it, let it go. If they keep beating you up to get it, instead of answering their question, ask them what the salary range is for the job. Once they tell you, let them know that you are comfortable at the higher end of that range. Again, that might end the discussion.

If it doesn’t, do the smart thing and just tell them, but keep it simple. If you had a compensation package with a lot of components, tell them your most recent base salary and the value of your bonus and other perks in a relevant year. Unlike a position where there is money to burn, don’t indicate the maximum you have ever earned. Saying that in some years it was only $10,000 and stopping is perfectly acceptable. Question asked. Question answered. You don’t have to give them your ENTIRE salary history from day one. (At your age, it would take too many pieces of paper anyway. And besides, who can remember? What I had for breakfast is hard enough to remember.)

Before you get yourself into a situation where you are being asked a question you would prefer not to answer, think what they might be. For every person there are different “elephants sitting in the room.” Know what they are before hand and practice an appropriate answer or non-answer.

If you allow yourself to get caught off guard, all hope is lost. Hopefully, this is a good non-answer to the question asked.

Regards, Matt

Actors on a stage

In certain respects you have to envy actors. Every time they get up on stage they get to assume the role of some new personality or character. Sometimes I wish I could do that.

I have often thought about my 90-second announcement and wondered what it would be like to assume the role of someone else for the evening. On the other hand, it is hard enough just being me.

But, who am I anyway? Do the words in my 90-second announcement really describe who I am and what I can do? I know I have been going to meetings of The FENG for over 20 years, but I still wonder if I have gotten any better at describing myself to those listening. I hope I have.

During our meetings I listen for 90-second announcements that really tell me about the individual behind the announcement. More often than not, however, they are long histories that begin at the beginning and don’t tell me the essence of the man behind the curtain.

In our unending efforts not to close off any possibilities, we frequently describe ourselves too broadly and tend to leave off a lot of interesting information that would be useful to the audience in understanding the character we are playing. And, that is exactly how you should see your 90-second announcement.

You are really in the position of an actor on the stage. Your audience is before you. Your assigned task is to communicate the essence of the character you are playing that evening. What words should you use? Unfortunately, you need to write the script. And, you need to think of it as a script.

How are you going to hold the attention of the audience? Will everyone be nodding off, or will they sit up straight in their chairs when you speak?

Your 90-second announcement is useful not only for meetings of The FENG, but also for interviews. When they ask “Tell me about yourself,” this is what you should use. Don’t go on and on. Use your 90-second announcement and then stop. Wait to see what other information they are looking for.

Remember we are all but actors on a stage.

Regards, Matt

90% of life is just showing up

While I am sure the correct answer is “about” 90% (90% is a little too precise), there is no denying the fact that showing up is important.

If you have an interview and you don’t show up, you can’t possibly get the job. If you expect to get paid, you have to show up for work. And, the list goes on.

If you would like to consider yourself a master networker, showing up is also important. The groups that you belong to such as your local chapter of The FENG, your local Chamber of Commerce, your religious organization, these are all places where you should show up on a regular basis. If you don’t show up, the people who are hoping you will be there so they can share an important introduction or idea won’t be able to do it.

Bruce Lynn and I belong to our local chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (www.ACG.org). Although other obligations do on rare occasions cause us to miss a meeting, we try not to. ACG has proved to be a valuable source of business for our firm, The FECG, LLC (www.TheFECG.com). And, in a sense, even if that were not the case, truth be told we enjoy seeing our many friends. After all, we have been going to these meetings for many years and lots of people who attend these meetings know who we are. As they say, out of sight, out of mind.

I know all of you have heard me say from time to time that the 3 most important things you can do to further your career are: networking, networking and more networking. Just as Eskimos can identify and have words for different kinds of snow, so it is true that there is more than one kind of networking.

I have identified 3 kinds of networking. The first kind of networking is saying hello to old friends. (By the way, old friends don’t have to be chronologically old, although many of mine are.) Whether in person, by phone or email, it is vitally important to always be saying hello to your old friends. By keeping in touch, they will know you love them and are not just trying to track them down when you need them. Besides, it’s fun to keep in touch. (That’s one of the dirty secrets of networking.)

The second kind of networking is making new friends. Hanging out with your old friends is a lot of fun, as noted above, but don’t forget that it is just as important to make new friends constantly. In The FENG we have our new member directory which should get you in the habit. But, just about any approach will do. No one ever has enough friends. Make it a habit in your life to try to make at least one new friend every week. (You don’t have to settle for just one, but 50-100 each week may be over doing it.)

The third kind of networking is probably the most important. This element of being a master networker is introducing people you know to other people you know. In common parlance this is called being a connector. Just as you expect others to “absorb” the essence of who you are, so you too are obligated to absorb the essence of your networking contacts, and when the light goes off that you have a match, take the time to make an introduction.

I’m not sure if all of you appreciate it, but our local chapter chairs in The FENG make a huge effort on your behalf to create a friendly environment where you can just “show up.” Everyone will know your name at these meetings if you are smart enough to register early and wear your official FENG name badge. If you only show up at these meetings when you are looking for a job, I would suggest you are missing out big time.

One of our members who was a regular when he was out of work said to me once that if he stayed home, he could be assured nothing would happen. If he came to a chapter meeting there was the possibility that SOMETHING could happen. He typically gave more than he got, but unless YOU feel you are giving more than you get, you probably aren’t giving enough.

As the unemployment rate continues to drop, don’t dismiss the value of our local chapter meetings to your career. There are going to be jobs, even for those over 40. If you are working, try to duck out early a few times a year and go. If you aren’t working, I don’t know what your excuse might be. Perhaps you HAVE practiced your 90-second announcement so much that you don’t need any more performances, but I tend to doubt it. You can never present your credentials enough.

Besides, if you don’t show up, I’m 90% sure you won’t be having as much fun as all the folks who do.

Regards, Matt

When in doubt, throw it out

I don’t know if your incoming snail mail is anything like ours, but we sure get a ton of unsolicited mail. The procedure we follow in our house is to pile the mail up and pull over a large garbage pail. The rule is, “when in doubt, throw it out.”

Hard to believe how much junk mail we get over the course of a week. Returning from a vacation is a mind blowing experience as you excitedly bring the bushel basket of mail into the house to discover that there are only 10-20 pieces of “real” mail in there.

The same thing is of course true about email. I have 4 addresses that I query several times a day, and that means that I get 4 times the junk mail as most people. If I have been away from my computer any length of time, I have to move through it pretty quickly to delete the “bad” stuff so I can get to the “real” messages from all of you, or perhaps from one of my clients.

However, all of the junk mail I have to deal with doesn’t come from spammers. Some of it comes from individuals applying for membership, members in need of information or help, or from existing members applying for one of our consulting assignments.

In these cases, the messages aren’t really junk mail or spam. It is hard for me to ignore these messages, and I don’t.

Unfortunately for all of us, most of the world doesn’t operate this way. My junk mail procedure of “when in doubt, throw it out” or in this case, delete it, is probably closer to the truth of what you are facing “out in the cold cruel world.”

Since we were talking about resumes recently, I will use the case of new member applicants as my jumping off point and discuss the incredible the lengths to which individuals go to hide their true identity. Go ahead and create a mystery, or the ever popular “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” and I will have to mark your application declined.

I can only spend 3-4 minutes on these odd ball applications as I do this in my spare time on the weekends. Are you a financial person? Believe it or not, one often can’t tell. For fear of being IDENTIFIED as who they are (perhaps an Information Technology expert), it doesn’t say anywhere what they do for a living. If any applicant is expecting me to CALL them, or for anyone else with whom they are communicating to call them, they can’t really be serious.

If you hide your titles, companies you have worked for (or what those companies do), your age, where you live, and a few other most important issues, you are going to cause me to move on to the next document. You aren’t going to cause me to call you or write to you or invite you in for an interview so I can find out.

As Clint Eastwood would say: Go ahead, make my day. I have more than enough email and snail mail to deal with each and every day. Give me a reason to hit the delete key or to tear up your message.

On the other hand, if you want me to consider your communication as important to my life, help me out by writing clearly. Provide a subject for your email that tells me why you have written. Write some meaningful sentences that allow me to absorb your message in short order. Please don’t rattle on at length. Anything over 3 paragraphs I put aside for reading when I have time, and unfortunately, I never do.

And last but not least, please, please, PLEASE add a COMPLETE outgoing signature to EACH and EVERY message you send. I have over 60,000 individuals in my personal address book. Some of them have the same first name as you do. Some of them also have the same last name as you do. And, some of them even have the same middle initial as you do. I need all the data points I can get so I don’t change the wrong directory listing.

You will find that the rest of the world that you are trying to reach operates in much the same manner and has to deal with many of the same problems.

So, spend a minute and take an honest look at your resume and cover letters. If there is any place on these documents where you can erase a doubt or answer a question, DO IT.

Otherwise, you just may find yourself hit “upside the head” by that ghost you never see who follows the “when in doubt, throw it out” rule. And, we wouldn’t want that to happen.

My outgoing signature used on replies AND forwards is:

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

Believing everything you hear

It is a great talent of us financial types that we do a lot of data gathering before we make decisions.

In any conversation we have we are looking for the reasons why and why not, and keeping a tally count so that we can construct a graph of some kind, I suppose.

This isn’t a criticism. I find myself doing it too, and I should know better. It sort of goes under the heading of “ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.”

Much of what I know about the world, I learned from other people. I listen to what they have to say and my “take away” is ultimately knowledge.

Many years ago I was selling cable TV door to door. (It was a VERY long time ago. I was in college.) Anyway, for part of the time I was on commission, and part of the time I was on an hourly rate. I had these long lists of addresses and as I went door to door I would write down what the people said about why they didn’t want cable. “Not interested” and “can’t afford it” were the top choices.

My point here is that it was totally and completely useless information. When the answer is no, the information you receive after you get that answer is rarely of ANY value.

Yet, I believe many members find themselves absorbing the information they receive as statistically relevant somehow. It isn’t.

What is worse is that keeping track of information of this nature will cause you to lower your energy level and reduce your search activities.

If you want to BELIEVE that the job market is slow, or not hiring folks with your background, and if you in turn ACT on this information, you will tend to do less. Friends, that is a big mistake.

If times for you are slow that REQUIRES you to INCREASE your activities. More importantly, it REQUIRES you to FOCUS your activities into areas where your likelihood of success is greatest.

The publicly KNOWN job market is the one place that rarely works in the favor of senior executives. Listen to the good news announcements from those you know and keep a tally count on that information. Not the totals, but the between the lines details of “How to succeed in business” and you will find it is NETWORKING, NETWORKING, and more NETWORKING that is the most successful for our members.

Although you may feel as if you have been productive by answering 100’s of job postings every week from various sources, the truth is you have most likely accomplished less than if you had been selective and done more networking. An entire day spent trying to network your way into a PARTICULAR company that you know needs your skill sets is most likely time well spent.

Yet another one of those amazing paradoxes that is out there in the world.

Believe the doom and gloom out in the world if you want, but it doesn’t help getting you to where you need to be. People are getting jobs, and that means you can get one too.

Have at it and keep at it. After all, it’s not like you have a choice. (However, like hanging in the morning, it does tend to focus the mind.)

Regards, Matt

Corporate thinking – a gentle version

It continues to be my observation of our members that for the most part we tend to move from large companies to small. Part of the reason is that we have no choice. Large companies generally speaking don’t hire senior executives from the outside. They try to grow their own.

In any case, that leaves many of us from large corporations carrying the “burden” of perhaps several decades of experience in the ways of large corporations. I say burden because we only know what we know. Although the many tools we have learned in large corporations have their applicability, it is often difficult to know how to apply them in a smaller environment.

A 5-year strategic plan, for example, simply has no place in a company with 50 employees that is struggling to make payroll next week. As the Chief Financial Officer of a firm like this, learning to adapt your thinking to the new world in which you exist can take a little time. More importantly, there is the risk of offending the very people who brought you in to clean up their mess. Sure, they SAY they want to be more like the large corporation you came from, and that IS why they hired you, but moving “from here to there” needs to be done carefully and over a long period of time. (Although, in a small company, a month may indeed be a long period of time.)

This is of course assuming you get the job, and perhaps that is a big assumption.

Your challenge coming from a lengthy experience with a highly structured and well disciplined financial organization is to explain the tools you have acquired in a manner that is devoid of the “corporate speak” with which you have become so comfortable.

Six Sigma is a powerful tool. So is a PERT diagram. I am not really familiar with Six Sigma, except to say that I think I know what it is. PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. I don’t know if they still use it in large corporations, and I never actually applied it, but I did learn it in college, and the structured thinking it represents I DID apply and continue to apply to everything I do. The search for the critical path, and the identification of constraining activities provides a useful framework for appropriate projects.

That said, I probably would never think of telling anyone that this was what I was doing for fear of scaring them.

I might tell them that my corporate experience has provided me with tools that I can apply to their problems, and then might provide some color by putting in context a problem that we had discussed. But, again, without telling them the NAME of the tool.

As financial folks coming from what is in effect an extension of our college education, we have skills that are needed and skills that are easily transferable. All we have to do is avoid scaring our customers off.

Those who would like to share their experiences dealing with this issue are encouraged to write in. Sharing our knowledge is what The FENG is all about. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please send your thoughts to Leads@TheFENG.org. Label them “Avoiding Corporate Speak” and be sure to begin with “From Your Full Name, Your Chapter, Your First Name writes:”

Leslie will put them under our “Notes from Members” section.

Regards, Matt

An inner circle of friends

If there is any topic I discuss more than any other in phone conversations and in face to face meetings with new members and old members alike, it is the process of creating your very own inner circle of friends.

All you have to do is talk to friends of yours who have found jobs to see how high networking ranks as compared to all other forms of job search and to understand how important it is to create this exclusive and perhaps elusive kind of group for yourself. (And if you do have one, it is never big enough, so read on.)

The first step is to figure out how to use our Member Directory Search feature. It really isn’t all that difficult if you set your mind to it, and if you haven’t addressed yourself to the computer skills related to doing it, now is the time. I’ll appeal to your inner accountant: This tool is free and you can run as many searches as you like at no extra charge. Yes, it is possible to allocate a cost for electricity, but let’s assume your computer is on anyway.

Go to our website: www.TheFENG.org and sign in using the email address to which we are sending your newsletter. In the upper left hand corner you will find Members Area. The second item down is Member Search.

I recommend some simple ways to build your very own inner circle of friends. Basically we are talking about searching for those who have worked for firms you have worked for. And perhaps for good measure, those who live VERY nearby (enter your phone number and exchange and see who comes up). Feel free to try just about any other searchable idea.

This is the easy part. Now comes the hard part.

You need to have a target company list and/or a list of all the firms you worked for or competed with. Why? Because starting with those with whom you have had some kind of shared experiences is just plain smart. An industry link is very important in understanding your background. Those outside of your experiences may not understand the importance of what you have done because they have no context for what you are telling them.

If you are an internal audit, manufacturing or banking person, the Special Interest Groups of The FENG can also be helpful in generating your inner circle of friends.

Even if you would never consider working in your industry again, starting there is also appropriate. The answers you are looking for are hidden among your peers who are also considering their careers. Where are they thinking they can apply their skills? If your industries are in decline, what new industries are they considering?

Another very powerful approach is to use the newsletter is to connect with those who are posting jobs in which you have interest, even if the job is not geographically where you want to be.

How did those folks find out about those jobs? Simple, they have a background link with you and they may be good candidates for your inner circle of friends. You may also be good candidates for theirs as well. Reach out to them. You will be surprised how much you may have in common.

For those who hesitate to call others presumably asking for favors, I would ask you how you felt the last time someone called you for help. Chances are it made you feel pretty good.

Now how can you deny that good feeling to all those members of The FENG you are going to call tomorrow?

By the way, be sure to tell them I said hello!

Regards, Matt

Taking a punch

One of the lesser rated but most important traits of a senior financial executive is his/her ability to take a punch. I say lesser rated because many of our members who I have talked to over the years feel that having had a punch thrown at them and not having the good sense to duck is something they should somehow be embarrassed about.

Let me be clear that everyone has punches thrown at them and inevitably you are going to be looking the other way and get hit by one of them. You can’t be alive for any significant length of time and not be caught off guard from time to time. That doesn’t make it your fault.

Being hit from time to time is something that happens. Life throws you a curve or pitches a ball at you that is SO big that no one could reasonably be expected to get out of the way in time.

Getting hit is one thing. Not getting up is another. That IS unforgivable and is something I would suggest you not mention.

Perhaps you have been right sized, down sized or just plain fired. Friends, these things happen. Perhaps you have suffered a major illness, the death of a spouse, fallen from a ladder (which you probably shouldn’t have been climbing anyway), needed to take care of an aging parent (Is this list long enough yet?), or some other NORMAL thing that happens during what we jokingly refer to as our lives.

The important thing is that you have gotten up and kept on fighting. Frankly, I am not a big fan of giving up, nor am I familiar with why someone would.

So, if you have had a few setbacks over the past several decades that have “thrown you off your game” for a period of time that somehow has to be accounted for on your resume, find a way to be up front about it to those you meet in that position we call the “hiring authority.”

As long as you don’t make it into a two hankie tale of woe, you will more often than not find a great deal of understanding and admiration coming from across the table.

To take a direct hit to your ego, your income, your sense of well-being and to pick yourself up, keep your sense of humor and drive on is a quality that any employer I am aware of would be more than happy to have on their staff.

As was said about a wrist watch in a commercial from 100 years ago: Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Regards, Matt

Managing our growth

By a significant margin, we are now the largest networking group of senior financial executives in the entire world. Not only that, but by any measure, we are more connected with each other on a national basis than any other organization as well. And, our reputation is well known. We no longer are a “secret society.”

Over the “next piece of time” our goal as an organization is to manage our growth and strengthen the ties that bind all of us together and to our many audiences.

The first step each of you can take on a daily or weekly basis is to be in touch with your fellow members. I hope that you will take seriously my request that you try to call at least one new member every week. If that is not possible, try to make it at least once a month. Anything you do with respect to reaching out to our new members impresses them with the importance with which we treat our mutual networking efforts.

If you don’t want to call new members, call old members. Reaching out to old members also works for me. Do some research using our Member Directory Search feature and make it a goal of yours to speak with at least one member you don’t already know every week. That would mean at the end of a year you will have 50 new friends. (I’m allowing you two weeks for a brief vacation.) Not a bad goal! You should also allot time to reaching out to old friends. Those who helped you in your job search should not be ignored now that you are working. If you keep your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel ALL the time, you will be doing yourself a disservice. The world of The FENG is about networking for the rest of your career.

Although like riding a bicycle, I doubt that you will forget how to network, you need to always be practicing.

Networking is a lifetime activity. At one time the attitude of most folks was, let me see if I can find a job that will take me through to retirement. That pipedream is long gone. Managing your own career growth goes hand in hand with managing the growth of The FENG.

Our relationships with the search community are also a key to our success. For those who have not visited our website recently, I would encourage you to do so and reread the part about sharing job leads with each other and only responding when qualified. While we have made friends with many small search firms, both retained and contingency, we still need to improve what we do and how we do it so that the very top tier search firms are comfortable with our environment.

I market The FENG to all of the search professionals who call me and I hope you will lobby them as well to do the smart thing and provide us with the city location and compensation range when posting with us. I also encourage them to sign their postings with their FULL business card information. Everything about The FENG is about REAL people. If they want to just be an email address, I suggest they take their requirements elsewhere. For the most part I refuse to take email address only postings.

If we treat each other with great respect and treat the members of the search community with great respect, we can’t lose.

Regards, Matt

Square pegs for round holes

As someone who always suggested to his children that a pair of scissors would be a good tool for putting together jigsaw puzzles, perhaps I am not the right person to be constantly preaching about “qualified members only.”

Still, having the SPECIFIC experience for a particular job posting is, generally speaking, the best situation for any job applicant. The reason is that you can’t easily talk to a job posting.

When reviewing resumes against a position description, about 50% goes to location, 25% goes to industry background, and the remaining amount is a subjective judgment of your technical skills.

So, what’s a person to do if they are the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit anywhere? Well, I would suggest you take out a pair of scissors and a few magic markers and get started on rethinking your background.

If you aren’t one of the pieces in the box, it is time for a little out of the box thinking.

Step one is to assemble anywhere from 25 to 50 position descriptions which interest YOU. Comb through the requirements for these jobs and try to assemble a condensed list that represents all of the things THEY seem to want and which YOU think you can do.

Now is the time to take all of the earlier versions of your resume and the accomplishments over which you have labored so diligently and try to paste them in under the right heading.

Here is what you will find. First, you are probably not using the right language. Yes, speaking the language of the POSTING is important. You know that funny song, you call it potato I call it potato. (Funny, it doesn’t sound right typed out. Oh well, I guess you had to be there.) Anyway, you get the point. Pick up on the current terms for what it is you know how to do. It may require you to describe things more generically. Perhaps you are using terms that are really only known to you, your old firm, or your old industry. Get with the program and say it THEIR way.

Secondly, you will most likely need to EXPAND what are really minor things you have done. But hey, if they are in demand, who are you to argue. Buggy whip manufacturing skills aren’t in demand like they used to be, but my guess is that the skills required for buggy whip manufacturing have some relationship to things that are required now.

The point is that you need to transmogrify who you see yourself to be based on your past into the person you need to be to appear qualified for jobs that are posted.

The added bonus is that by going through this process of rethinking who you are, what you can do and how you can do it, you will be better prepared for those networking calls where you are talking to those who are so thick that they can’t understand how to apply your very considerable skills.

Most of us are over qualified for just about EVERYTHING. That doesn’t mean we can’t bring great value to a situation. It just means we have to do a little more explaining.

As financial folks, we have universally applicable skills. All that is needed is to for us to learn to communicate our value in the language of our “customers.” It is never easy, but let’s face it, they will never take the time to figure it out on their own.

Regards, Matt

Brutally direct advice

The FENG is a society based on helping others. (Not that they actually need our help, of course.)

I realize that, at times, members are in a sensitive state and I try to act accordingly. But, I don’t really know if providing brutally direct advice is better than soft peddling what they absolutely have to do.

As Butch Cassidy said in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”: “Don’t sugarcoat it Sundance, tell it to her straight.”

The question is which is better?

At our meeting in Connecticut I am frequently listening to at least a few pretty bad 90-second announcements over the course of a two-hour meeting. Even though I try to model a good announcement by going first, I understand that this may be a first attempt by those attending to put their written thoughts to voice, so I try to be positive in my critique and make suggestions that build on their successes.

My feeling has always been that embarrassing someone isn’t going to have the desired effect of encouraging them to come to another meeting and try again. Improvements may need to be drastic, but harsh criticism I have found doesn’t work.

Still, it is a delicate balance. Out of fear that they will hurt your feelings at a sensitive time, many folks you know will spare your feelings and tell you that everything you are doing is great. They in effect prevent you from learning and growing. The truth is that they may not know what is wrong, or they may not have been through the process and know what is needed. All they know is that something is missing, but they don’t know what.

Friends, it is always your call on both sides of the equation.

As a dispenser or receiver of advice that is free, you always know you are getting what you paid for. (I don’t know. Do you think I should charge?)

The “consider the source” strategy of evaluating advice can help here. The goal is not to be defensive about what you are doing. Pride of authorship may cause you to ignore valuable advice. The truth is that many coaches can’t play, and the same truth applies here.

If, for example, you are participating in our peer resume review process, trade resumes and make judgments of your own.

You are the one who has to lay it on the line each and every day in your job search. I can dispense valid advice, but if I don’t communicate it in a way and with a tone that will cause you to accept what I have to say, I may as well be talking to a brick wall. Or, as they say, spitting into the wind. (I had to get a sailing expression into this editorial somewhere.)

Be as direct as you can while being sensitive to those you wish to accept your advice.

If that isn’t the horns of a dilemma, I don’t know what is.

Regards, Matt

Hurry up and wait

The mindset that is most appropriate for a job search is very much like my Army experience where we used to lament what we referred to as “hurry up and wait.”

As raw recruits, we were expected to arrive at points at the previously appointed minute, whether or not others were ready for us. We would “double time” to ensure we weren’t late and then be kept waiting for what seem like hours and often was. As we used to say: “That’s the Army for you.” (Other words were used as well, but this is a G rated newsletter and I cannot repeat them here or in mixed company.)

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because no one seems to be getting back to you that you have the luxury of time. You don’t.

The speed of communications today makes delay your enemy. I hear anecdotally that candidate slates for searches close in just a few hours. There are a lot of qualified folks out there and many of them are sitting at their computers on broadband hitting “send, receive” all day long.

As soon as a posting comes in, out it goes if it is even close.

On the receiving end, once they have a sufficient number of apparently qualified candidates, the late arrivals are either deleted or just placed in a folder in case more are needed, which usually means they are never reviewed. Some people are borderline insomniacs and check their email in the middle of the night — so much for waiting until the dawn of a new day.

You may be the best on the planet, but if they don’t get to your paperwork, no one will ever know.

I would remind members of this august body that restricting yourself to “the process” is not necessary. The job market is more like a knife fight, and you are fortunate to have a gun in The FENG’s membership directory. You also have tools like LinkedIn and Google at your disposal.

If you find out about any firm that is hiring, use these remarkable tools to network your way to the hiring manager.

I know everyone enjoys a fair fight, but a fair fight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Hurry up and pull out all your stops. And then sit back and see if you get into the crosshairs of the hiring manager. That’s what I call hurry up and wait on turbo.

Regards, Matt

The 400 pound phone

Just as an experiment, I unplugged my phone from my desk today and took it upstairs and put it on our bathroom scale. (My office is in my house.)

I am sure the scale is wrong because I couldn’t get the scale to even register the weight of the phone. But then, the scale is generally used to calculate my weight, and I guess the phone doesn’t weigh as much as I do.

If a phone did weigh as much as most folks seem to think it does, it would probably crush my desk or break my toe if I accidentally dropped it. I don’t know, perhaps the part you put up to your ear is heavy. Or, is it just the fear of dialing numbers that makes the phone only APPEAR to be heavy?

Like any phobia, to those who experience the fear, it is indeed real. I accept this. And like any phobia, if you are going to be successful in some aspect of your life that this phobia is affecting, you just have to find ways to get over it.

The first thing I would tell you is that most folks actually enjoy getting phone calls from people asking for favors. It’s a Godfather thing. The mental test I would ask you to take is to think back to networking calls you have had over the years and think how you felt. Most likely, if you were at all able to help the person on the other end of the phone, it felt pretty good. It would be a shame if you denied this good feeling to others. So, don’t do it. For goodness sake, give them a chance to lend you their wisdom and to share their friends and business associates with you.

The only thing to keep in mind is that you want to call folks who have some reasonable chance of being helpful. This means you have to do your homework before you start dialing so you are contacting the right individuals. And, you might want to follow our protocol of sending a short note first so they know why you are calling.

The second step is to find ways to practice. Any behaviors that you practice you are bound to get good at. If you want to find a source of “victims,” may I suggest our new members? Okay, so they aren’t really victims, but there are usually about 40 of them each week and surely you can find something you have in common with at least ONE of them every week.

Not only will you have the opportunity to practice cold calling on a friendly audience, but you will have the double benefit of spreading the knowledge and practice of our many unusual folkways. Like democracy itself, we may not be perfect, but we have just about the best thing there is in networking going for us.

What to talk about? Well, the truth is that “small talk” isn’t as easy as it first appears. But, the weather isn’t a bad place to start. Everyone has some of that to talk about. It gets you past those first few minutes and lets you and the person on the other end of the phone relax.

The second truth about cold calling is that any excuse will suffice. I would just ask that you not start on the defensive.

I much prefer “Is this a good time?” to “Is this a bad time?” (No, but if you call back at 3PM, now that will be a bad time.) Be positive. To be defensive or to bring up negative thoughts implies that you are not worthy of speaking with the party on the other end of the phone, and we all know that isn’t true.

The other thing to be sure you are doing is to SOUND upbeat. If the thought flashes through my mind that you are going to ruin my whole day, chances are I may not want to talk to you.

Cold calling initially requires setting up a crane and 8-12 part pulley to get that phone receiver to the right height so you can speak into it, and then a cold chisel and sledge hammer so you can hit the right keys and dial the number. But, after a little practice you will find a feather will lift the receiver and you will just have to “think” the numbers for the phone to dial.

The transformation is amazing. But then, so are you.

Regards, Matt

Don’t act desperate

The volume of your responses to job leads posted in our evening newsletter is always a concern of mine.

With the strengthening job market for senior financial officers, one of the many things we have going for us AT THE MOMENT is our fine relationship with the search community.

(Be sure to have recruiters register at our website if they are not already Friends of The FENG. There is a new “Recruiter Toolbox” available to them once they do which allows them to explore our demographics. I can assure you they will find this toolbox to be of great interest.)

While it may be true that the viability of the major posting boards as a resource for recruiters is limited for senior level jobs, that in no way relieves each of us individually of the responsibility to respond to jobs posted in THIS newsletter ONLY if we are reasonably qualified. (If you wouldn’t hire you, don’t respond.)

In our niche of senior financial officers, our goal is to be the best resource for search professionals, whether they are with corporations or with recognized search firms. Every day, those who are trying to find qualified executives for their financial assignments make a choice whether to send in a posting to our organization or whether to try to quietly network their way to the right candidate. With all the folks out in the market, an over response pushes them in the direction of not posting.

Throwing paper against the wall on the off chance that someone won’t notice that you are in no way a fit doesn’t benefit you and harms The FENG. I don’t in any way want to sit in judgment as to who should and who shouldn’t respond to our postings. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so. After all, you know your background better than I do.

I would only ask each of you to consider the possibility that we live in a finite world. By this I mean there are a limited number of search professionals. And, those who work for search firms tend to specialize. If they identify you as wasting their time, they are liable to just hit the delete key for that one opportunity where you actually are a good fit.

To send your resume by “clicking and shooting,” with no cover letter and no explanation as to why you are applying, gives off a clear signal that you are not taking your application seriously. It has been my experience that when you receive a resume from someone who is a fit, they will have taken the time to make their submission customized in some manner. By their taking the time to demonstrate their fit, they are assuring the reader that they aren’t wasting his/her time.

If you want to be perceived as someone who is desperate, that is your decision, but it won’t help your case. The court of appeals for job search doesn’t require anyone to show you more courtesy than you have shown them.

If you see an opportunity of interest, please apply. If it isn’t local and they want only local candidates, be sure to include information on why this location makes sense to you and your family. If you don’t have direct industry experience and they have asked for it, take the time to draw an analogy between where you have worked and the opportunity in question.

The FENG is the goose that lays golden eggs. Let’s keep our organization in good health by showing respect to those who post with us.

Acting obviously desperate isn’t going to get you where you need to be.

Regards, Matt

The sploosh syndrome

Life onboard a boat, whether sail or power, is in many respects different than life on dry land.

I was watching Ax Men on the History Channel a few years ago and the crew dropped a bolt on the ground from one of their pieces of equipment for which they didn’t have a replacement. Despite the “needle in the haystack” nature of this problem, they actually found it in the pile of logs and dirt.

Not so out on the water. When something goes “over the side,” it makes a brief sploosh sound and then it is GONE. I suppose if it were large enough and expensive enough you could call a diver, but that is generally not the nature of the things you drop.

In much the same way, the emails we write make a brief sploosh sound when you hit send, and just like the things I have lost over the side in my 35+ years of sailing, they are gone. For those of us who are “new” to computers, as in we started our careers when you actually had to send written correspondence, it is a frightening thing that we cannot mull over the missives we create, or retrieve them from the outgoing mailbox if we change our minds or decide to add or amend to our message.

There is also a lot of pressure today to deal with your email quickly because there is so much of it. I personally get over 100 messages a day that I actually have to do something with.

What I am going to suggest to everyone is that you need to THINK before you hit send. Put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end. First, let me ask you if that person is actually going to recognize who you are by your email address of tom337@gmail.com. If they aren’t likely to recognize your email address, may I suggest you ALWAYS use an outgoing signature? And yes, I’m going to suggest that you use an outgoing signature EVEN on replies. (I am fully aware that this is not the default setting in most emails systems, but then I have always been known as a maverick.)

Let me also mention to those of you who appear to be new to email, that when responding to someone that you should always include the previous message. I always enjoy the mystery of the messages I get that have no outgoing signature AND just say “thanks!” Now I have a problem. Do I search my sent mail and see what I wrote, or do I write back and ask what I am being thanked for? Let me also suggest that it is bad practice to use an old message from someone to write them a new one. Is it so difficult or “expensive” to take out a clean piece of electronic paper?

Please know that at all times, the burden of communication is on the sender. If you are expecting others to “read between the lines,” think again. As a courtesy to my many friends, I do try to perform this service, but I must tell you it is often a difficult and thankless task. To write me and say that there was “a Controller job in a newsletter a few days ago, and do I know anything about it?” is so ridiculous a request as to not even warrant a response. Which newsletter? Could you help me out here and provide me a few details so I can find it in a particular newsletter. Could you do better and paste the whole thing into your email, or would that be too much trouble?

And for those of you with “smart phones,” or some other email capable device, may I humbly suggest that the boilerplate at the end of your message that says “Sent from a mobile device” doesn’t excuse you from any of the normal requirements of appropriate communication. If you choose to write messages from a device that requires you to type with your thumbs that is YOUR decision. Don’t burden others with that decision. And, you may be shocked to learn that you CAN actually put an outgoing signature on your messages. I realize you may have to read the instruction manual, but you might want to make this supreme effort.

The alternative is that on my end, I have a key on my computer that you call the delete key, but I call the “sploosh button.”

Regards, Matt

Explaining the magic

One of the great challenges we face as financial folks is explaining to non-financial types what we do for a living. And, some of us financial types do things that are so esoteric that we need to work hard to even explain what we do to fellow financial types.

At one time, I was Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency. To be quite honest, the accounting aspects of the job were not all that difficult. For example, we had no international operations and we were initially privately held. That said, what WAS difficult was getting all of those individuals with egos as big as all outdoors to work together to make a profit and preventing them from “burning the place down.” As I like to joke, everyone I worked with on a daily basis was under psychiatric care. And, those who weren’t still needed it, and unfortunately they were in charge.

Those members who put together complicated deals using credit default swaps, derivatives, convertible bonds, preferred stock and who knows what else, also bear a tremendous burden to make comprehensible the incomprehensible. Did I mention that all of this needs to be accomplished in 90 seconds?

The argument is often made that when you get in front of those who are what we call hiring executives, it is all so much easier. They actually do understand and you can have meaningful conversations with THEM. The problem is getting into that chair.

Most of the world is uniformed about the great difficulty required on your part to perform the tasks that you so effortlessly executed. As immersed as we all are in what we do for a living, and we tend to do it for so long, that being able to step back and discuss it intelligently is not all that simple.

The “gatekeepers” in this situation are often people who honestly would like to help. They are friends and associates who know us and like us. Across parts of their lives they have met the very individuals you would like to meet. But, to get them to realize that they know the right people requires you to put into plain English that which you do so well.

Each of us is an individual blessed with many important skills. We are all different. And yet we all have this need to communicate in clear sentences what we do and how we do it so others can repeat it on our behalf and make those invaluable introductions for us.

So, how do you begin? Building an effective 90-second announcement requires a live audience. This is why we have so many chapters around the country. Take advantage of these “off Broadway” play opportunities and give it a go. Practicing in front of a mirror is simply not the same thing.

Until all around you can gain a proper mental image of your capabilities, the “Magic” will remain just that.

Regards, Matt

Keeping busy and productive

One of our members wrote me a while back and asked me about how to keep a proper attitude when your job search stretches into what seems like an eternity. The reason he addressed this question to me is that he noted that I have mentioned on several occasions that beginning in March of 1991 I was unemployed for almost 2 years. (It was only 1 year and 9 months, but who’s counting?)

This is not an easy question to answer from many perspectives. Time has dimmed my memory to a certain extent. (And, not only about my job search. Those senior moments happen more frequently lately, but I digress.)

When I left my job in 1991 as Chief Financial Officer of an advertising agency, it was the first time I had been unemployed since I started working in 1971 after getting out of the Army. As I recall, the first several months were very busy. I had lots of appointments and I was sure that my job search would be brief.

I set about doing what I do best: organizing my work activities. From having been treasurer of my religious organization, I knew the value of keeping track of all of my contacts on index cards so that I could treat everyone personally.

During that first 6 month period, the process itself was both interesting and absorbing.

However, as the time wore on, I must admit that it became more and more difficult to keep busy. I am so efficient in my work activities that I clearly had too much time on my hands. It was at this point that I met Ed Devlin, the previous Chairman of The FENG, at an Exec-U-Net meeting.

Ed and I became good friends and he suggested I go with him to a Connecticut Venture Group meeting. I already had business cards, and although I hadn’t registered for the meeting, I was able to meet several folks at the meeting and I actually picked up a client. My plan was to try to introduce this client to my friends in the publishing business. It was an opportunity to perhaps make a little money, but just as importantly, it was a way of approaching old friends on a basis other than “It’s Matt Bud looking for a job.”

In short, I found a way to keep busy and use my talents. Although I never closed any deals or made any serious money from these consulting activities (and I did have other clients), it didn’t matter because I had a good story to tell.

The very fact that I had things to do energized me. In the end, however, although consulting had its attractions to me, I got a job offer that I accepted. As luck would have it, I had two job offers that day. It is my belief that to a great extent working a few consulting assignments, even if I didn’t earn any money from them, helped keep my spirits high.

Other members to whom I have talked over the years have done other things to keep their minds active. Some take correspondence courses. Some take up new hobbies or expand ones they have ignored for years.

The important thing is to keep yourself busy with activities that you find satisfying and that somehow build who you are. If you are despondent or engaging in self-doubt it can’t help but come out in your interviewing.

Friends, when you are looking for another job you have no choice but to keep at it. Don’t second guess yourself.

Remember, you wouldn’t have gotten sponsored as a member of The FENG if someone didn’t believe in you!

This is an important topic on which I would welcome ideas from our membership. Even new members should feel welcome to participate. This is one of the many ways we help each other. If you don’t want your name used for some reason, just let us know.

Editorial contributions should be sent to Leads@TheFENG.org and Leslie will put them in our Notes From Members section.

Regards, Matt

The challenge of redefining yourself

I have had several at length conversations with members from financial services organizations over the years. Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I have no experience working at a bank, insurance company, capital markets firm, or asset management organization. As a result, I have been somewhat hard pressed to help in the challenge of creating an appropriate focus for their job search activities.

The best thing that can happen to anyone looking for a job is to find an identical job with another firm. As in my case, if you were Chief Financial Officer of an Advertising Agency, become a Chief Financial Officer at another Advertising Agency. That is clearly your highest and best value added. The business is identical and your acclimation to it is limited to learning a new list of clients and employees. Duck soup.

Most of us are not so fortunate. The whole reason most of us change jobs is that the industry we have so enjoyed is going through violent change. If those of you in financial services think you are being singled out for special punishment, please keep in mind that many of our members were thrown out of work when the Internet bubble burst. These kinds of things happen to new industries and to old line industries without prejudice.

For those members with long careers at one firm, the problem is even more severe. When you are constantly experiencing a satisfactory work environment, there honestly isn’t much incentive to even think about what it is you do every day and why it is you get paid the big bucks. Why bother when there is so much work to do and so many career opportunities at your current firm that they keep recruiting you for?

Then, suddenly and without warning, you are downsized, laid off, or any of the many other terms used in polite society to identify the reason why you are now out of work.

Now you have time to think.

There is a saying in common usage that “two heads are better than one.” Fortunately for members of The FENG, you can usually find a lot more than two heads without too much difficulty and I suggest you start there. (Hint: Visit our website and use our Member Directory Search feature.)

The process of redefining who you are and how you could bring value to a new employer can best start by talking to folks who actually understand what you do. Some of them may already have been giving it some thought. Why give yourself an Excedrin headache? If you were a Mortgage Banker, let’s face it, there still isn’t a lot of demand out in the market right now. And, even where there is demand, there is a lot of supply.

None of this changes the fact that you have to find gainful employment. You will find that if you focus on all of the things you have done and think broadly about the experiences you have had over your long career that there actually was a reason why they were sending you a payroll check. And, you will find that more than a few of the valuable experiences you have had are applicable in other industries.

While the challenge of coming up with answers can be facilitated by speaking with others, please know that the final decision, if there actually is such a thing, rests with you.

Only you know where you would be willing to move (if that becomes necessary), how far you would be willing to commute, what kinds of people you would be willing to work with, and what kind of work you are willing to do.

These are not decisions anyone else can make for you. The task of redefining yourself is a difficult one, and just like the classic “deciding what you want to be when you grow up,” it is a process about which you can change your mind constantly. And, I suggest you do.

There is no right answer, and there is no final answer. Often, there are more questions than answers. But, hey, if life were so simple, it wouldn’t be so interesting.

Regards, Matt

Asking for the world’s smallest favor

Although most of us have acquired enough manners over the course of our lives that we know enough not to ask a stranger to give us his/her seat on a bus or train, when it comes to networking, I find that many folks don’t know when they have overstepped their bounds.

The approach I would suggest to you is what I call “asking for the world’s smallest favor.”

The silence is palpable when you are face to face with a networking contact and you ask for something you shouldn’t. It is much harder to see this same “stormy silence” through email when often times it is a non-response.

The first “smell test” on a favor you are about to ask for is: If you were on the receiving end of your request, would you do it? (Now no cheating here. You have to assume that you don’t know what a wonderful, honest and hard working individual you are, and how deserving you are of this other person’s help.)

For example, asking someone you don’t know to let you borrow his/her entire Rolodex just isn’t going to happen. Even a good friend isn’t going to let you do that. So, the question you want to ask yourself is how many names can I ask for? If you ask for too few, sure you may not get as many as you want, but on the other hand, by giving the other person an opportunity to be “generous,” you may end up getting more. And, at a later date, even more.

Just like the granting of favors, asking for favors is an art form not a science.

There are many factors that need to go into the calculus of determining how far to push. How well do you know the individual you are contacting? What is his/her REAL ability to connect you to people you wish to reach? Are you asking your networking contact to put his business relationships at risk for you? What is the nature of the favor you are asking for?

I have often said that attorneys and lawyers appear to be in a position to help in the networking process, but, unless they know you VERY well, they are more likely to only PRETEND to help. The reason is that their clients who you want to meet are their livelihood. If you blow it, they get fired and lose their source of income. (As you know, money is somewhat important to most people.)

If you take my approach of asking for “the world’s smallest favor,” you suggest the absolute minimum in any first conversation. In selling terms, it can be thought of as a “trial close.” As you build your RELATIONSHIP, you can then move on to bigger and better things.

Like a frozen lake, it is always smart to step out ever so carefully. Asking for the whole enchilada the first time out is going to leave you with salsa on your shirt a high percentage of the time. (And, this is not a time you can afford cleaning bills.)

Regards, Matt

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