How to define achievements for a professional profile ?

After countless seasons and episodes, Bart Simpson remains the infamous underachiever (and proud of it, man!). Cartoon world aside, achievements tend to be viewed as output indicators on an individual level. Beyond that, what a person chooses to take up as achievements, says something about what they value, or what they themselves at least considered important at the time.

Responsibilities, as an example, should not be confused with, or considered as replacements of, achievements. It can be useful information to know what you are paid to do – but generally it is more interesting and valuable to learn what you have accomplished. For this point alone, achievements should have a home in every CV.

Teamwork often makes it tricky to identify achievements in individual level. How much of a joint effort can you take credit for in your CV? I would refer to two follow-up questions as indicators to help clarify that one. If you had not been part of that team, what would have been missing from the outcome? And if someone asked the other team members about your contribution to the overall result, what would they say?

Modesty and certain personality traits can make a person uncomfortable in stating own achievements. Some of us are really hard-working and dependable, but do not want to bang our own drum about it. “Why should I brag about it, it was my job” or “there were many others involved in it too, I did not do it alone” are of course respectable perspectives. If you recognize yourself being in this category, I would suggest finding a sparring partner for going through key phases in your career and finding ways to describe your key contributions in each phase. At least a professional career coach will be able to help you with this.

So what is a good or impressive achievement? Everyone you ask would probably give you a different answer. It depends on your field of expertise – and I would claim it also depends on your seniority. As a starting point, list the outcomes you felt really happy with at the time, and the ones you were recognized for. Measurable attributes help to make your achievements easy to understand and concrete. So it is worth recalling how much you were able to grow sales in that role, reduce cycle time in this one, or increase customer loyalty over the years. Duration of activities can be significant also in implying their magnitude. Concepts created should not be overlooked, although changes implemented with verified results tend to be easier to address. Also, progressing really well in some free-time interest, such as a sport, can be a worthy achievement with regards to discipline, competitiveness, etc.

Eventually you may well end up with a longer list of achievements than you actually want to list in any one document. That I would call a positive challenge – just pick the ones that somehow hold relevance with regards to the employer or role you are aiming for. Timing is also a consideration point here. Just like with your work experience, also with your achievements the most recent ones tend to carry additional meaning over the older ones.

There you go. May the force be with you and take you towards new achievements!

Appetite for recruitment – five steps that rock!

In order to type a successful blog about recruitment, I thought I would check for some additional tips on what makes readers tick with professional blogs. “You need to have a numbered list, because numbers are easy to remember. Besides, they make good headings!” “The text needs to be informative, in a logical order, and not too long.” “Anticipate questions your topic will raise, and pre-empt them in your content.” Hmm… nah. Instead, I need some cranked-up rock’n roll. Intro tape playing… lights… camera… action – go!

Firstly, you want to differentiate yourself as an employer. This is nothing as complicated and fuzzy as modern jazz: just give a face – possibly a voice – to your employees, use visuals to demonstrate work environment, emphasize company values and career opportunities you have. Make it clear what you are proud of and what you as a company stand to achieve. Prepare to sell yourself as an employer, as much as you expect the job candidate to sell him- or herself as an individual to you. You can make social media work in your favor to get ahead of your competitors in this aspect.

Secondly, apply the power chord of second or third opinion. It tends to be a norm that the direct supervisor of the role to be filled takes care of the recruitment. That person should most definitely be in a key role in the selection process, but there is a lot to be gained by allowing a couple of more stakeholders to meet the shortlisted candidates prior to final decision, and hear their feedback as well. Having multiple interviewers provides the employer with a possibility to use in-depth experts of various skills related to the role, to evaluate the real knowledge of the candidates better. Sometimes also a bit of a role-play comes handy, you can have ‘good cops and bad cops’ present in the interview simultaneously, particularly if the stress tolerance of the candidate is relevant to the role. HR professionals will also bring their own value-add to an interview situation, perhaps assessing the non-verbal cues the content-focused interviewer could have missed alone. And if customer centricity is a genuine value in your organization, why not involve relevant customer representatives to have a say in your next Account Manager’s selection process?

While the gut feel is important in personnel selection, you need also facts; to make the right choice, that is. Don’t fall into coma listening to waltz and overlook candidate reference checks – remember the most valuable references may well come from either previous customers served or previous colleagues, not necessarily the line managers. Use assessment testing that is developed to be used for personnel selection (most personality tests are not) and is both validated and reliable. These not only help to paint a comprehensive picture of the candidate, they also serve as a very inexpensive insurance for you by potentially revealing aspects the candidate preferred not to mention in the application.

I still got the blues for the quality of the candidate pool. At best, you can only select the most suitable individual from the candidates you have. So the background work in planning and preparing your next recruitment is every bit as critical for a successful outcome, as the actual selection process is. You probably do not just want to reach candidates with listed credentials and experience, but the most skilled and competent individuals that match the profile. That requires effort. Is the selection criteria for the role in question really thought through, or is it – at worst – a copy-paste from what your company always uses? How do you bring your vacancy to the attention of the best and the brightest? If they are currently employed, they most likely do not follow employment ads. Do you make it easy, possibly even rewarding, for individuals to share your employment ad to their own networks? How easy or difficult do you make it for the candidate to actually send a job application to you? Do you use a frozen template in your company website, with dozens of mandatory fields in it – or a possibility to apply using just a LinkedIn profile with a brief cover letter? If you do not provide interested candidates with a name and contact information to ask more information about the role available, what does that say about you as an employer, and about the importance of that role to you?

The fifth item on the list is pure 80’s hair metal: resourcing. What is the number of applications you expect to receive? How about if your warm-up efforts worked really well, and you get three times that many applicants – do you have the capacity to go through that many applications and review the shortlisted ones to agree who are the most promising ones you want to interview? In order to be able to attract the most qualified candidates also with your next recruitment, it is essential to keep the candidates (that is, all candidates, not just the interviewed ones) informed about the progress with your selection process. This requires some further effort from your side as an employer, but is an effort that well pays off in word-of-mouth regarding you as an employer.

That should get you off to a rocking start. Recruitment process is more than anything an opportunity for you as an employer to differentiate yourself from your competition. For those about to recruit, we salute you! Everything louder than everything else – and we are here to help .

An outplacement offering has a place in our time!

I recall a time in high school when learning English, and one source of entertainment was looking for the most complicated words in my native Finnish to then throw at the poor English teacher as ‘how would you translate this word’. The winner was something along the likes of ‘merkityksettömättömyydellänsäkäänköhän’. Er… don’t ask. However, my current favorite on the same ranking would be the Finnish word for outplacement services: uudelleentyöllistymispalvelut. I can only assure my Finnish customers, that the content, the meaning and the impact of the service is something far better than what the word may sound like.

While typing this blog and pulling out the few reference materials I have addressed in the text below, another three notifications caught my eye of various employers starting new layoff-negotiations in Finland. The situation in the labor market is remarkably tough to begin with – and by the tone of the news, it promises to get only tougher. Add to that an individual professional of any field who is still in some degree of denial upon an unexpected termination notice from previous job, and perhaps 10 years gone by since the last time he or she had had to apply for a job. That is what you call a total mess. And that is where the value of outplacement services becomes the most evident!

You may have noticed, or heard, that headhunting has become an increasingly common approach in looking for talent also in managerial and even senior specialist roles – no longer a method only applied in search for top-paid chief executives. Now, fortunately, the same is happening with outplacement services.

In the U.S. the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings even predict that we will see outplacement services becoming part of standard benefits packages employers are offering already at the time of recruitment! Boy, I can’t help thinking what a shift in mindset that represents from the old Japanese lifetime employment culture to exit support becoming used as a carrot already in the recruitment phase.

So what are these outplacement services? In a nutshell, they refer to support the employer chooses to provide to an employee at the end of employment, in order to help the individual to find a new job. Typically these services include review and improvement of CV, recommendations of improving one’s application process, and tips and tricks for effective preparation for a job interview. More comprehensive packages may also include for example some combination of personality- and assessment testing to bring out individual’s natural strengths in view of possible new career options. But equally importantly, a well-constructed outplacement offering should also help the individual to set realistic expectations on the duration of the job-hunting phase, what to prepare for, and how to keep updating one’s skills and profile during that time so they continue to appeal to potential employers. Effective utilization of one’s contact network is something us Finns tend to find difficult, or even embarrassing, to do. One essential element of a valuable outplacement service is to ensure exactly that gets done.

As tends to be the case with any kind of training or consultation, individual help with one’s own, unique situation is far more effective than more generic instructions shared in a group setting. Two separate studies were conducted in Belgium in 2013, and the results speak for themselves on this matter. Out of those who had received individual outplacement training, 80% found a new job. With participants of group training, the success rate dropped to 60%. While I personally advocate individual service in a matter as sensitive as support with one’s job search, career planning and competence evaluation, of course that result for group sessions is still far better than no outplacement provided at all. The same results, however, found that only 8% of outplacement participants had received purely individual coaching – the rest had only group sessions, or combination of both.

But wait! Why should an employer take up additional costs by providing an outplacement service for individuals about to leave the company? It actually makes perfect sense. The key beneficiary is the company image – both internally and externally. The remaining employees will pay close attention to how the employer is treating their colleagues that face an unfortunate lay-off. So an investment towards their re-employment will help to maintain morale high within the company in that challenging situation. Externally, job applicants will take note as well. A poorly managed lay-off process could easily have a negative impact on the employer’s ability to attract top talent the next time new resources are needed. In Greece a survey was conducted last summer on the impact of outplacement services, and the results show that the most significant benefit for the employer was indeed corporate social image (65% of respondents), followed by the facilitation of the end of termination process for the departing employees (59%).

The more difficult the situation in the labor market and the odds the individual job seeker is facing – the greater will be also the value and impact of a high quality outplacement offering for both the employer and the exiting employee.

Job seeker´s letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

This year I would like to approach you with a wish list you may find unconventional. I am unemployed, and have been actively applying for jobs throughout the past year. In doing so, I have repeatedly come across certain practices – some of them so common I would almost like to call them norms – that feel like unnecessary burdens on applying for a job. And the more I discuss this with my friends who are in the same situation as I am, the more we get the feeling that with many of these practices, the employers perhaps have not realized the implications.

So, dear Santa, in order to be able to land my Dream Job next year, and to help all my fellow job seekers as well, would you be so kind as to send a few of your energetic elves to whisper these things to the employers’ ears?

Firstly, the requirements listed for the vacancy. In many cases, the nature of the responsibilities described appears such that there is not just one candidate profile to excel in that role. Yet I often see a very narrow, limiting description for candidate requirements in job ads. Could you please ask the employers to consider alternative backgrounds for suitable candidates, not just look for a warm body to fill the ‘same old, same old’ mold? The same applies to competences. Openness to consider and effort to evaluate the candidate’s real competences and skills would most certainly benefit the employer more than considering formal qualification only.

The second item on my wish list reads ‘employer image’. As humble fan of yours, dear Santa, I occasionally get the feeling that the employers only remember the latter in the give-and-take. And the giving really should come first. In recruitment, that should translate to viewing – and treating – the job applicants as customers. Providing me with an opportunity to evaluate not just whether I would match the needs of that employer – but also whether the employer would match mine. Images of the work environment, video interviews with current employees, company values opened up and discussed… it speaks volumes of the employer if those are available – and it speaks equally loud if they are not. Personally, I would also consider stating the salary range in the job advertisement as an element of employer image. In any case, it is a remarkably thoughtful gesture towards job seekers – helps both sides to prevent wasting each other’s time.

A couple of things with regards to application process are the third item on my list. With all the time and effort I have invested into shaping and re-shaping my CV, it is really discouraging to come across an application tool where I have to copy-paste the contents of my CV, row by row, to a frozen template. I have actually now started to skip such employers altogether. I also tend to contact the employer for some clarifications prior to submitting my application – yet interestingly not all job ads provide instructions for doing so. Some employers are fortunately showing that it is in their values to be approachable. One trend I very much welcome here is to have vacancies for expert positions posted in LinkedIn, with the option to apply utilizing one’s personal LinkedIn profile. That is so easy!

I know, dear Santa, that you are real busy this time of the year. Let me throw in just three more wishes, okay? Oh, too many? Okay – two then. Deal? Thank you! This relates to seeing applicants as customers. Keeping all the applicants informed during the selection process would be really, really kind. I know cases where even the completion of recruitment has only been informed to the selected candidate. And I have heard rumors of a case where even that was not done! Keeping the candidates informed should also include giving feedback to anyone the employer has interviewed but did not select at that time. By helping candidates to improve, the employers themselves will get more competent applications next time.

The very last wish is about travel costs. When a candidate comes from out of town for an interview, it would be considerate for the employer to compensate for travel expenses.

Thank you for your time, dear Santa. And welcome down south! A word of warning – it looks like the only thing white around here again this Christmas will be the rice porridge.

Name your price…oops…salary

There’s not too many countries in this nice, blue planet of ours, where everyone knows how much money their colleague, their neighbor and their favorite celebrity made last year. But in Finland we all have access to that information via the public taxation records. What benefit does that serve? I can’t think of any. One major disadvantage comes to mind though: in a country where envy grows as an endless natural resource, that ability nothing but fuels it.

Okay. Fine. So we have public taxation records. Live with it.

I do. And I personally don’t bother with it. What does bother me, though, is the completely opposite approach – the ultimate secrecy – that hovers in the job market around salary ranges for any advertised vacancy. In public sector, the salary grade is often noted in the job advertisement. But in private sector, you will not find any such numbers in job ads. You would be more likely to find the original recipe for Coca-Cola in the vacancy text. This approach would not be sensible in most markets. And it is downright ridiculous in a market where the taxable income of everyone is public information.`

If the salary ranges were given in the job advertisements, everyone would benefit. The applicants would have one more critical piece of information available to determine whether the position is within their interests and reach (trust me, that is not always easy to evaluate from the requested years of experience and expected degrees). The employer would most likely get less applications – or at least applicants would be more of the expected caliber. And the unavoidable discussion on salary in the final stages of interviews would be far less likely to result in a dead end.

To further demonstrate that all Moomins are perhaps no longer in the canoe, in the Finnish job market it is normal practice to ask the applicant to state his or her salary request in the job application. Sing Hallelujah, brother! Dear employers, are you asking for salary request just because most other employers are doing so, or is there really an auction about to take place? But wait – if it is an auction you have in mind, is it the lowest or the highest bidder who gets the job? Do you then go for the seasoned, experienced talent who knows his worth, or aim for a discount deal?

In motor sports, race drivers have two ways to proceed with their careers. One is talent. By driving better than the rest, even with mediocre equipment, showing you got what it takes to become a champion. The other way, if you can’t quite excel on the track, is to excel on the sponsorship collection. You can buy your way to the next class, to the better team. Even with the latter approach, you can enjoy a season or two in the limelight and live your dream. Nothing wrong with that, as such. The champions, however, tend to still come from the first category.

When I coach job seekers, one of the most common questions I get is regarding the salary requests – how to address those. My advice is always the same – leave it out. And my justification for this is very simple: from the job applicant’s perspective, stating a salary request can only work against him. I have not come across a single case where otherwise promising candidate did not get invited to a job interview because he or she did not state a salary request in the application. But I am aware of cases where the opposite has happened: the single reason why a candidate was dropped out was because the stated salary request was off the employer’s range for the job. Typically quite significantly off, either too low or too high. The employer always – always – has a planned salary range or other compensation model in mind for the vacancy they have. They know what they want the person to be selected for that role to achieve, and what those achievements are worth to them. And they typically have done their homework on what, roughly, the ranges for similar responsibility level of roles, with similar candidate profiles, are in the market. Or at the latest, they will get that understanding when using a professional recruiter and discussing the role and the responsibilities.

There really is no need to run a lottery with the applicants to guess the numbers.

Did I hear someone yell ‘bingo’?