Things You Don’t Know About Soft Skills

August 1st, 2017

In job advertisements, you’ve likely seen things like “bachelor’s degree in finance” or “3-5 years of experience in a similar role.” Those are hard skills—specific and oftentimes quantitative. But soft skills are a bit more vague and intangible. I’m focusing on my top five soft skills to get your brain headed in the right direction.

Possibly my number one soft skill, passion is nearly impossible to gain through learning and certainly cannot be bought; one either has it or they do not. But when a candidate has passion, it can oftentimes outweigh a lack of technical experience. Why? Because an individual with passion will move mountains. Whether at work or off on vacation, passionate people are always thinking about their work. It’s a labor of love and it shows.

Play nice in the sandbox
Regardless of title or position, we all have to play together in some capacity. Unless you own your own business where you work completely independently and don’t have any customers, you’re working with people. Employees who work with numbers and reports are still responsible for delivering that information to a real person. One way or another, everyone is part of the proverbial sandbox, and we truly do all have to coexist and get along.

Even for the most brilliant and gifted technical master, written and oral communication are key. One can have all the hard skills and knowledge in the world, but said knowledge cannot serve anyone very well without the ability to communicate that information to others. And if you’re still not convinced of the train wreck that can ensue without strong communications skills, check out one of our recent blogs on email etiquette.

Debbie Downer need not apply
It only takes one person to bring down the morale. With that in mind, employers and teams everywhere are hoping to avoid negativity. While many soft skills cannot be learned, attitude is one of the exceptions. It requires some retraining of the brain, but it’s quite doable.

This may be the vaguest of all the soft skills we’re covering today; it manifests differently for everyone. At the literal level, it could be as straightforward as maintaining a tidy workspace. At the more abstract level, it could be more about managing deadlines and projects. For me, it’s all about keeping the momentum moving in a forward direction. Whether you accomplish that by keeping a Zen workplace or by creating organized, detailed task lists for yourself, it comes down to getting the job done well by not creating your own roadblocks through disorganization.

At some point in the very near future, take some time to think about which soft skills apply to you and how you might be able to market them. When you have an opportunity to show versus tell, definitely do that. For example, you can show excellent written communication skills by crafting a fantastic cover letter or impress with your top-notch oral communication skills simply by using them when you speak with prospective employers (and everyone else in your professional life).

Are You Leaving Voicemails the Right Way?

July 25th, 2017

Ever wondered why it seems to take everyone so long to return your call? I sure have. And then after quick reflection, I realized that maybe I just wasn’t doing a good job of leaving voicemails. Since then, I’ve certainly mended my ways, and the good news is that leaving an effective voicemail is quite easily done! With some basic tools and ideas, you’ll be well on your way to being an expert on voicemail etiquette.

Let’s start from the beginning…with your name!
It’s surprising how often this detail is left out of voicemails. Or if not left out, sometimes it’s said so quickly that the listener really can’t quite decipher it. First and foremost, be sure to mention your name, and it won’t hurt to even mention it twice. Also, for those of us who have a name that is unusual or is difficult to spell, adding the spelling to your message will likely be rather helpful as well.

Ensure you get a call-back
Naturally enough, the phone number is an essential part of nearly any voicemail message. Just like with your name, it’s not a bad idea to say the phone number twice. Doing so could save the listener from having to back the message up again to get the entire number. When giving the digits, speak clearly with consistent pacing.

The ramblers
At one time or another, I’m sure we have all been at the receiving end of a message that rambles on to infinity, and I’m guessing we’ve all been guilty of leaving one on occasion! It’s an easy trap to fall into. For voicemails, less is more. Maybe you have five questions about the proposal you just received. Instead of listing said questions, the following would typically suffice: “Hi, this is ______. I just received the proposal you sent and have a few questions that need clarification before we can make a decision. Please call me at ______. Again, this is _____ calling about the proposal. You can reach me at ______.” The recipient immediately knows why you’re calling and has the pertinent information for the call-back.

Many people I’ve worked with over the years have opted for email over a phone call for the purpose of having a paper trail. However, this is actually changing, at least with regard to voicemails. Thanks to technological developments, many systems now allow one to save voicemails as they would any other computer file. Voicemails that in the past could only be played from the user’s phone (and had to be deleted to save space on the voicemail system) can now be saved, archived, and/or shared. With that in mind, it’s probably easy to understand why less is more when it comes to how much detail one puts into a voicemail.

Last but certainly not least, tone matters. Mopey, grumpy, or confrontational messages are not only a bit unpleasant, but they also aren’t likely to receive an enthusiastic or timely response. Move to the top of someone’s to-do list by showing that speaking with you will be a positive experience, even if the topic of the conversation is a difficult one.

Flexibility AND Productivity…What?!

July 18th, 2017

“For a flexible person, it is impossible not to reach his destination, because by using his ability to be flexible, he can easily define a nearer new destination!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

There’s a lot of emphasis on productivity in recent blogs and Pinterest postings. We are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient at home and at work with the end goal of accomplishing more in less time. There are great tips such as getting up 20 minutes earlier, reducing distractions by shutting off alerts on your phone, and creating priority lists daily, weekly etc… These are all effective ways to get more done.
Sometimes to get our priorities accomplished, we can become rigid and very focused on the task at hand. Our world narrows to a list of tasks and checklists. Distractions and deviations from this list causes much anxiety and a feeling of not being productive. Other people’s needs and priorities become an annoyance.

However, consider a few ideas of how being more flexible can actually boost our productivity and increase our effectiveness. Yes – you can actually be more productive by being flexible!

There will always be distractions, emergencies, or unexpected events in our work day. How we welcome and respond to these is key to keeping ourselves truly productive.

  1. When something unplanned or unexpected comes along, we are forced out of our groove. We have to shift our focus. This is a great opportunity to reassess our priorities. What “to do” items are really important, not to ourselves, but to our company as a whole? Taking these “interruptions” as an opportunity to ensure our goals are aligned with that of our business, can lead us closer to being more productive in the big picture.
  2. By being able to shift gears and ebb and flow with the tide, we are given a chance to continually reprioritize. We can ask ourselves “Is this truly productive?” “What does it really mean to be productive?” We can keep busy all day, or we can find ways to ensure we are contributing to the goals of the company at large. That might mean dealing with an employee issue to prevent problems and ensure a motivated workforce. It might mean letting administrative tasks pile up while we focus on a client and their needs. Thinking about long term results is ultimately more productive.
  3. Being flexible can also teach us to be proactive instead of reactive. Knowing that unexpected issues (good or bad) can occur, we can build flexibility into our plan for the day. Having a backup plan on when we will get something done can help us change gears without the anxiety of leaving our process. Knowing which tasks can wait will help us respond to bigger priorities as they come along.
  4. Sometimes the day gets away from us, and all the “productivity” we had planned goes out the window. This can help us reassess our limits and expectations. Perhaps we are trying to get too much done. Maybe we need to delegate more.

Being flexible does not mean being distracted. Being flexible means we continually redefine priorities and goals. Doing this keeps us in line with the more important aspects of our business and ultimately makes us more productive. What we do produce will then have the greatest impact.

Erin Counter, Director of Operations

LinkedIn as Easy as 1-2-3

July 6th, 2017

Ready to start planting seeds for your future? As someone who works on the recruiter end of LinkedIn, I can assure you that this can be an excellent tool for your career search. With a few simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to having a LinkedIn profile that delivers long-term results.

Complete your profile
Naturally, this would be the first step, and you very likely have already started (and possibly completed) this step. One of the most important items is the professional headline section. LinkedIn automatically fills this in with your current or most recent title, but this field is actually designed to be more than a job title. This is where you can create a dynamic description of what you do, writing a tagline that summarizes who you are and what your expertise is. This is a great place to incorporate any keywords applicable to your experience since keywords are very searchable on LinkedIn. Just make sure not to go overboard with a whole string; this should be an impactful statement that incorporates a few applicable keywords.

Connect to the right people
Connect with individuals in a way that makes sense and has purpose (as opposed to building your network through random clicks of the mouse). You’ll want to connect with current and former employers and coworkers. From there, your network will keep growing. And in connecting with these individuals, you’re setting yourself up very nicely for when you have to ask for references. You’re already in contact through LinkedIn, so it won’t be terribly difficult to ask these contacts for assistance when needed.

Share valuable content
Now that you’ve built your network, make sure they see your name on a regular basis. The best way to do this is simply to share relevant articles, industry news, job-search tips, etc. Really, it’s just a matter of sharing something your connections will likely find helpful, and the posts will keep your name fresh in their mind. As you get more acclimated to the LinkedIn functions, you’ll notice there are alerts to tell you when someone has a work anniversary, starts a new job, or has a birthday. Sending a quick congrats is another effective way to stay in contact with key people.

While these steps seem simplistic, that’s really all there is to it! While your LinkedIn profile won’t magically create and maintain itself, it takes a minimal time investment to grow and develop this resource, and it has the potential to deliver huge results for you.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

June 27th, 2017

Are you looking at your current career status and thinking that it may be time to pursue other options? At some point, many of us end up with this dilemma, so it’s good to know how to navigate the situation to create a positive outcome.

What’s got you down?
With your current position, what’s lacking? Maybe you’re feeling stagnant and unchallenged, or perhaps it’s looking like there’s nowhere else to grow. For anyone serious about his/her career, these are legitimate concerns.

What can you do?
A talk with your manager could be a great start. Should you choose this route, rest assured that the context of the conversation doesn’t have to be that you’re thinking of leaving. Instead, the focus should be on the current position and the opportunities that may be available to you. For example, can you be given more responsibility and a chance to learn new skills? What steps can you take to climb up to the next level? Are there even options for higher-level positions for someone in your career track? The information you gain from this meeting could really help shed some light on the situation.

Other ways to research
Besides evaluation of your current position/company, you can (and should) research to see what the alternatives actually are. Do some legwork and search out positions and companies that could be a match. Compare opportunities, positions available, and benefits of those companies to what you have now. Give careful focus on whether or not these new opportunities could ultimately present you with the same problem you’re experiencing now.

Is the grass greener?
Sometimes, the best way to really figure this out is to interview. Even if you’re on the fence, take the interview if you get it! During that process, you may discover something substantial (whether good or bad) that suddenly makes everything clear. This is information you would never have in your corner without meeting the hiring manager(s). Doing the interview costs you nothing except a little bit of time but can provide peace of mind. Going on the interview is the path of least regret—it gives you what you need to know so you’ll never have to stress over any what-ifs because you did your homework and made a fully informed decision.

A quick caveat: If you know beyond all doubt that you have no interest in the position, the most polite thing to do would be to turn down the interview. There’s no value in wasting your time or theirs.

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach here because everyone’s situation is different. But if you take some time to reflect on things and research the possibilities, you can make the right decision for you.

Adam Lafield
Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

The Secret to Getting your Resume Read

June 13th, 2017

Not so long ago, it was sufficient for a resume to say things like “managed a team” or “handled high volume of incoming calls.” But now hiring managers read each resume expecting something more specific–a quantified explanation of your accomplishments.

Increasing revenue and/or decreasing expenses?
Like the rest of us, employers love to find ways to maximize revenue and minimize expenses. So if you’re consistently responsible for generating $75,000 in revenue each quarter, say it! That stands out much more than “exceeded quarterly sales goals” or something to that effect. It makes it easy for the reader to wrap his/her mind around the size of your accomplishment.

Naturally, the same goes for situations where you have saved money for your employer. First, quantify this with a number as opposed to “researched ways to save money for the company.” And second, keep in mind the overall size of your company’s budget. Saving your company $250 monthly on a line item that was $2,500 is much more meaningful than that same savings applied to a $25,000 item.

Volume matters
This concept is especially important for positions where performance is measured in output and productivity (as opposed to revenue generation). One place we see this often is in A/P or A/R. When listing this as a responsibility or title, give the full picture. Were you handling 650 invoices per month or more like 175 per month? This information will make it much easier for the reader to accurately understand your level of experience.

Another area where volume counts is in a call center environment. The term “high volume” is rather subjective. Providing a number would be ideal. Also helpful is a detailed description of what you’re doing on the calls. Someone taking 25 calls per day isn’t necessarily working less diligently than someone taking 100 calls per day; it depends what those calls entail, types of transactions involved, etc. Last, don’t forget to list accomplishments you may have with meeting metrics for an extended period of time; this indicates that you will likely be able to hit the ground running.

And people matter even more!
For all you managers out there, show readers that your experience is real. Incorporate into your resume the numbers that show how many direct and indirect reports you have or had.

Even administrative professionals can find ways to bolster their resume with numbers. Whether you are the administrative glue that holds together a team of sales reps or an executive assistant who supports several C-level executives, quantify your experience.

Numbers or percentages?
Typically, I advise candidates to go with whichever method is more flattering. After all, your resume is a marketing piece that should accentuate your brilliance. For example, if you increased your FB follows from 100 to 150, you were responsible for a 50% increase. Whether you chose percentage or number, be sure you know the statistic from both sides in case an interviewer asks you to break down the details. Last, any numbers smaller than 10 should be spelled out, the only exception being dollar amounts and percentages.

Amidst a sea of text, numbers stand out on the page! Your quantified accomplishments will immediately draw one’s eye.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Master Your Resume with this Checklist

May 23rd, 2017

When I was a child and actually read real paper books, I remember what it was like to make a selection at the library. If the cover of a book caught my eye, I would flip it over and give it a chance to sell itself to me. And if it did not catch my eye, the book would remain untouched on the shelf.

In the world of resumes, the process is actually quite similar. There’s a lot to be said for the concept of marketing, despite the fact that we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover. Now, this doesn’t mean you should take your administrative resume and create a work of art (though, those folks in the creative field can and should take a more creative approach). Instead, what I’m referring to is a focused effort to ensure the overall look is visually appealing and easy for the reader to follow, resulting in a resume that actually gets read. Essentially, it comes down to consistency and organization.

  • Font–Keep it simple with the classics like Arial or Times New Roman. They’re easy to read and will not get in the way of anyone’s ability to decipher your resume. And once you’ve selected a font, keep it consistent throughout.
  • Font size and other formatting options–With regards to font size and formatting, consistency is key. If you bold and/or enlarge the font for headings of each section of the resume, ensure each heading has that same formatting. In the end, there are not specific rules on when and where to bold, italicize, or underline; the only rule is that of consistency. Are you sensing a theme, here?
  • Bullets–In all honesty, no resume is really complete without bullets. Definitely use the bullet function that exists within every word processing program. Using dashes or asterisks as bullets just doesn’t deliver the same look as the bullet function. And within that function, you can select which symbol to use as a bullet. As with other methods of formatting, what matters here is uniformity. And when arranging your bullets, create what’s referred to as a hanging indent. That simply means that the second line of your bullet is in line with and begins right under the first letter of the top line in the bullet (just like I have done my bullets here in this blog).
  • Page Breaks—At the end of the page, it’s best to complete one particular job and its bulleted list of responsibilities before the page ends so nothing carries onto the next page. In order to accomplish this, you may need to adjust margins or manually create page breaks.
  • Spacing–Keep an eye on how many spaces or lines you leave between each section of the resume. If you leave two blank spaces between the end of one job and the beginning of the next, ensure you have the same spacing throughout the employment section of the resume.
  • Dates–When it comes to dates, there are many different methods of formatting and placement. There is no wrong way; again, it’s a matter of consistency. If you choose to use the xx/xx/xxxx format, it would be incorrect to use xx/xx/xx at some point later in the resume. Some resumes have the date at the left side of the document while others have it at the right margin. Both are correct. However, if aligning the date to the right margin, it’s best to use the tab key or set the align right tab stop in your document. Simply using the spacebar to place that component does not work and can create a bit of a mess.

It’s entirely possible you may create this flawless resume in your word processing program only to have the formatting get destroyed when the reader opens it in a program that is not compatible with yours. The good news is that there is an easy, painless way to fix this! Simply save your resume as a PDF file. This will ensure that the reader sees the document in exactly the way you intended them to.

And last, always double-check your entire resume when you make any edits or updates. Since the formatting can be rather sensitive, it’s easy for an edit in one part of your resume to throw off the formatting somewhere else. For example, adding some extra lines near the top of the resume will bump things down and could potentially throw off the page break you manually created at the bottom of the page. Taking a couple moments to double-check will help make sure your resume remains a professional, consistent document.

Written by:
Tiffany Appleton, Director, Accounting & Finance Division
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

The Secret to Writing Compelling Job Advertisements

May 18th, 2017

If you truly want to attract top talent to your company, it is well worth the time spent on tweaking your job advertisements. A job description is not the same thing as a job advertisement. A job description is a list of duties an employee will perform. The job advertisement is a marketing piece you use when advertising a job opening to attract top talent.

A well written job advertisement includes:
Company Description: This is an overview of what your company does, what industry you are in, how long you have been in business, exciting growth, and types of customers you serve.

What the Employee Will Do: Here is where you may want to include the duties from the job description, but that list won’t serve you well. Instead, a future employee wants to know what they will be able to accomplish and contribute. Take your list of duties and turn them into active statements about what they will accomplish and what the end goal looks like. For example, a receptionist may have a job duty of “answering phones.” Instead this could read as “create a warm and inviting environment for all customers greeted both in person and via the phone.”

Job Requirements: This list should be short and only include the requirements that are absolutely essential. It is ideal if your requirements list is skills based and speaks to the challenges this job will present. For example “extensive knowledge of Excel pivot tables and v-lookups” speaks to the level of analytical complexity the right candidate will have.

The Right Personality: Include a blurb about the soft skills which lend to success in this role. It may read like this if you are seeking a self-starting, team player “You see what needs to be done, and you do it, without needing to be told. You love being part of a team doing whatever it takes to meet a common goal of company success!”

Company Wow’s: Let the world know why your company is awesome. Do you have any special benefits or perks? These would be the things your employees talk about like free lunch on Fridays, stocked snacks in the kitchen, 100% paid healthcare benefits, lots of holidays or PTO, generous retirement plan contribution, bonus eligibility, gym or cafeteria located in the building or nearby, ability to work remotely on occasion, a commitment to really working only a 40 hour work week, awesome management team that actually listens, or simply amazing people who like to work as a team. Even if you don’t offer any “special” perks, there are still reasons why people like working there – ask your existing employees if you are not sure what to include.

In the current market, candidates have choice as well as access to lots of information about prospective employers (think Glassdoor or Google News searches). Knowing they desire this information, it is best to provide them much of this information upfront in the job advertisement. Ideally, your job ad is complete enough the candidates feel compelled to apply without additional research.

~ Tiffany Appleton

Graduates: Success in 5 Easy Steps

May 9th, 2017

Congratulations on your big achievement! After years of hard work as a student, you’ve reached the end. Well in reality, it’s the beginning…of your career! Since this is all very new, figuring out next steps can be a bit confusing. To help get you started, let’s do a quick breakdown and give you a rough outline of how these next steps might look.

Five Steps to Success after Graduation

1. Graduate and celebrate
I know you’re all excited to just jump right into the search, but take some time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Look back on all that you’ve accomplished before you start looking forward into your future. Let yourself feel all the potential that lies ahead on your career path.

2. Create your resume, cover letter template, and other crucial documents
We actually have a bunch of blogs in our archives that would be helpful for this. In the beginning, you’ll just need the basics and can then later customize your resumes and cover letters as you apply for various positions. And while it’s a bit early in the game, it’s still not a bad idea to start thinking about professional references so you can create that document as well.

3. Take stock of your resources
Your school’s career center is a great place to start; they may be able to help you with leads and/or job-searching tips. And of course, staffing firms like Johnson & Hill (there’s my inevitable shameless plug!) can be a really great resource. Also don’t forget the power of networking. Meet new people and steward those relationships over time. You’ll find that they are your most valuable resource and can unlock lots of doors for you. And the rest of your search will likely be comprised of ads on specific company websites and job boards like CareerBuilder, Indeed, and LinkedIn.

4. Apply!
These days, most application processes begin online. Think of each application as a seed that you plant. You have to plant lots of them because you don’t know which ones will take root. And keep in mind also that some may not grow immediately, but it’s still important to keep planting because that’s the only way to achieve a fruitful harvest. And on that note, the punny farmer metaphor has officially come to an end.

5. Interview
The first couple interviews can seem overwhelming, but they really don’t have to be! Honestly, it’s a conversation. This is your chance to talk about yourself and your goals while also learning a great deal about a company. Don’t let it freak you out! And before you start getting interviews lined up, think about what you’ll want to wear so you’ll be ready to dress your best before you even get your first interview request.

If you have questions about resumes, cover letters, interviews, or any other part of the job search process, please check out our blog archives! We have a nearly limitless array of information there to help you shine like a star candidate. Good luck!

Are You Doing Reference Checks the Right Way?

April 25th, 2017

Do you ever wish you could skip the reference checking portion of the interview process? It just seems so time consuming and you know they are only going to provide you with names of people who are going to say good things, so why bother? Your time is valuable and could be well spent elsewhere, right? Maybe, but if you approach your reference checking process a little differently, you may find it to be super helpful in both deciding on whether to make the hire and how to best manage the new hire once on board.

The first thing you should always do when checking a reference is to verify the nature of the working relationship between the potential hire and reference. Ideally, you are looking for a supervisor or managerial reference. You should be asking a question like “what was the nature of your working relationship with Susie?” If there is any question whether this person was a supervisor, you should follow-up with a direct question like “Did Susie report directly to you?” or “Were you responsible for Susie’s performance review?” Knowing the exact relationship here will provide context for the rest of the information you learn from the call.

From here, there are two basic ways to proceed, either with directed questions, or a general open-ended conversation. There are pros and cons for each.

The open ended approach can work well because you may learn things about the candidate that never came up in the interview process. This approach can allow for follow-up and clarifying questions too. Just be aware, the reference is going to stay very far away from anything negative and you will never learn about any challenges they may have had or any weaknesses.

With directed questions, you get to ask about exactly what you really want to know. This can work well for things like dependability, duties and responsibilities, and soft skills/personality traits. Just make sure your questions are phrased properly to uncover the information you are seeking. “Tell me about Susie’s dependability” is very different from “Was Susie consistently dependable?”

The ideal approach may be to ask a few key directed questions, and then follow-up with “What else should I know about Susie that we haven’t already discussed?” Be very attentive, because many times it is not what the reference says, it’s what they didn’t say that you should be keying in on.

If you perform multiple reference checks (and you should) it is very helpful to think about the common themes that shone through. These should be their key personality traits, the tasks they love to perform, and likely their preferred management style. One of the best things I learn through reference checks is how to best manage the new employee to ensure I am getting their best performance and they are appropriately challenged and happy.

Given the potential legal consequences, you know the person on the other end of the phone will choose their words carefully, and focus on the positive. But there are still many ways to ensure you get very useful information out of that 5-10 minute conversation.

~ Tiffany Appleton