From June, 2009

Hiring: A Managers Perspective

In an article over at php|architect Cal Evans writes about hiring from a managers perspective. This is a great read for anyone currently looking for a job. The point Cal makes is that resume spamming just doesn’t work. Resumes are not one size fits all. They should, at least in part, be tailored to the job you are applying for. Here are a few tips for anyone currently seeking employment.

  1. Before you submit your resume do some research on the company you are applying to.
    • Check their website and find out what they do, just because they are hiring for a certain position doesn’t mean that is their primary focus.
    • Search for the company on LinkedIn and find out if anyone in your network has ever worked for the company. If they have ask them about it, they will have a better understanding of the company dynamics.
    • Take a hard look at the job description. This seems obvious, but far too many people are submitting their resume to any opportunity that has their search keywords in it.
  2. Tailor your resume to the position you are applying for.
    • One the first page near the top highlight work experience that is relevant to the position for which you are applying.
    • Do not list every buzzword you can think of. Don’t go out of your way to use industry jargon, instead focus on your relevant experience. If you are right for the job you should not have to try to fit the keywords in anyway, they will be there naturally.
  3. Write a good cover letter.
    • Avoid using the same generic cover letter over and over again.
    • Highlight relevant work experience and your personality.
    • Keep it brief.

Don’t Confuse Effort With Results – Part 3 – Rethink

Last time I wrote about using your desired result in combination with your time table to help define your methodology. By now you should be well on your way to completing your project successfully. Being on your way isn’t the same as arriving and that is why I am writing this third and final post in the series.

Even when you define your goals correctly, set a reasonable time table, and have an excellent methodology in place there are times when your project’s success will come into question. The reason for this is simple but it was a huge surprise for me. You don’t know everything! No matter how much planning you do, you cannot anticipate everything. Natural disasters, budget cuts, layoffs and a host of other problems can send your project into a tailspin. Even simple issues like poor communication can set a project weeks behind.

How do you tell if your project is making a wrong turn? Go back to the time table. See where you should be at this point in the process. If you are halfway through your project and you haven’t met at least half of your goals you aren’t on track. This is the reason setting a time table is so important. If you didn’t have anything to reference you could go along for some time not realizing anything is amiss. Think about it like driving in heavy fog. You can see only a few feet in front of your car so by the time you see an obstacle in the road you have only seconds to turn the wheel before you crash. On a clear day you would have seen the obstacle from a much greater distance and easily navigated around it. Having your plan in place clears away much of the fog and gives you much more time to correct your course.

Once you realize your project is not on track it is time to rethink. This is where people often drop the ball. If I see that my project is running behind I immediately think I just need to push harder. Work longer hours and make my team do the same. Sometimes this works, there are times when you can jerk the wheel hard to the left and miss the obstacle in the road, but sometimes you just get thrown into a skid and you are in a worse position than before.

I saw this happen to a friend of mine who is a contractor, lets call him Ted. Ted successfully won a contract to build a water pipeline to a huge new development. As part of the contract the city offered a sizable bonus for finishing the project early. In fact the size of the bonus was calculated based on the number of days the project was completed before the due date. The opposite also applied. Each day the project went past the due date brought greater penalties. After 2 months everything seemed to be going very well. The weather had been agreeable, the equipment was working very well with only occasional maintenance, and the materials had been readily available. Unfortunately Ted overestimated the pace they could set. Even with everything going well they were nearly a week behind schedule.

Watching his profit disappear before his eyes Ted panicked and made a huge mistake. Ted broke the news to his crew that they were going to start working 14 hour days on the weekdays and 10 hours on Saturday. There weren’t any cheers, but no one complained either, they just went back to work.

For the next two weeks things were really moving. Ted was excited his plan was working, well until that next Monday. On the third Monday after Ted had announced his plan, 2 of his senior crew members didn’t show up. He called them several times to see what was going on and finally he got an answer. They quit. They got a job with another contractor, they just couldn’t take the 80 hour weeks. After this everything started to fall like a house of cards. More people quit, more new people were brought on. Finally about 3 weeks before the due date, the site foreman quit. Ted ended up coming in two weeks late and taking a huge loss.

If just working harder isn’t the solution to putting a project back on track what is? To answer that we have to go back to goal setting. We have to look at our desired result, time table, and methodology all over again. If, like in Ted’s case, your desired result, and time table cannot change you have to change your methodology. Ted could have hired more people, taken a crew off another job, or purchased equipment to make the job go faster. Other times, when time is not your biggest constraint, you can adjust the time table and extend the completion date. Sometimes you are constrained by time and money so you have to change your desired result. This is the kind of concession most people don’t want to make.

Often people perceive any kind of change to their desired result as a failure. Many, rather than change their desired result, give up completely. This is a costly mistake because even failure is a great learning experience. If you underestimate your budget, or overestimate the pace you can set you can at least bring the project to completion, recognize your error, and be much more accurate the next time. Simply giving up robs you of the experience and growth you could have gained, and the confidence you could build in your own ability.

Don’t Confuse Effort With Results – Part 2 – Methods

In my last post I discussed goal setting which is the first step on the path to success. I mentioned that goals have to be measurable and have a time table associated with them. This week I am going to discuss the reason behind the time table requirement.

Once you know what your project needs to achieve you have to figure out how to get there. Believe it or not there are an infinite number of paths that will take you to the same end result. The real question is how long will it take and how much will it cost.

The first step to determining your methodology involves realizing your time constraints. I’m sure everyone has heard the expression “fast, cheap, good pick two”. For the most part this is very true and it is something you always want to keep in mind when deciding on your project methodology. Imagine you want to take a trip. The first thing you do is decide where you want to go. I have always wanted to go to Alaska so lets go with that. So what would you normally do next? Most people will say, book my tickets, or find a hotel. If that is the case you missed a few steps. Before you can book a hotel room you have to know when you are going to get there and how long you are going to stay. I have one week of vacation time, and I’m going to take it in late July. See that is pretty easy, but guess what just happened? I just helped define how I was going to get there. In case you missed it here is how it happened. I live in Southeastern Virginia and there are a number of ways I can get to Alaska. I could drive, take an airplane, or take a cruise but when I decided I only had a week of vacation time driving and taking a cruise went right out the window.

The next step is to determine your financial constraints. What is the budget for this project? What products, software, or services will need to be purchased for the successful completion of the project. If you don’t think about these things now you will be kicking yourself later. Lets go back to our vacation example. My vacation savings are currently at $3000.00 and I need to plan for airfare, hotel accommodations, and food at the very least. Round trip tickets are going to cost me $809 for coach. I looked at first class but that comes in at $2202 so that is out of the question. Did you catch that, my financial constraints helped further define my methodology.

At this point I have to address the elephant in the room. What happens if I can’t make the numbers work? If you can’t make the number work in the planning stage your goal is unreasonable. Yesterday I read a post on Linkedin asking if it would be reasonable to expect an inside sales rep to make 300 cold calls in an 8 hour day with a 30 minute lunch. It sounded very high to me so I did the math. A person would have to dial a new call every 1.5 minutes. I tested out how long it took me to dial my home number and get to the third ring, about 20 seconds. That would leave about 70 seconds for introductions, the pitch, and setting an appointment. That doesn’t even consider how long it will take to make notes for the call, update the CRM, and get the next record. This is obviously an unreasonable goal.

If we determine our goal is unreasonable, the next step is to determine why. In our previous example the goal was to make 300 calls in 7.5 hours. The method was to use one inside sales rep. We have three choices; we can change our desired result, change our time table, or change our method. If we lower the desired result of 300 calls to around 100 calls we are extending the call time to 4.5 minutes which is much more achievable. If instead we extend the time table to 12 hours we extend the call time to 2.4 minutes which is at least in the realm of possibility. Finally we could change the method by adding more salespeople.

Again we have to go back to looking at time constraints and financial constraints. If time is our primary constraint, 300 calls per day must be made, then our best bet would be to adjust our method and hire more salespeople. If money is our primary constraint, we can only pay 1 salesperson, then we should probably modify the number of calls we are expecting. If we are constrained by time and money, 300 calls per day must be made and we can only pay 1 salesperson, then we need to get creative and reevaluate everything. Revisit the reasoning behind the desired result and the time table. In the end something has to give. You cannot set a goal that is unreasonable and just expect success, doing so will just doom you to failure.

Hopefully this has been helpful. Check back soon, the next post will be about measuring your progress.

Don’t Confuse Effort With Results! – Part 1 – Goals

For whatever reason when I am working on a project that is not succeeding my first thought is that I am not working hard enough. Hard work is a requirement for success, there is no doubt about it. Our culture is loaded with proverbs extolling the value of hard work ie. “the early bird gets the worm” and “sweat plus sacrifice equals success”. Maybe that is why people so often expect success because they are working as hard as they possibly can. I have a newsflash for you IT DOESN’T WORK!

What is success?
Success is defined as the following:

  1. The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.
  2. The attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. A successful performance or achievement: The play was an instant success.
  4. A person or thing that is successful: She was a great success on the talk show.

For our purposes lets just take the first definition as it encompasses everything else on the list. From the definition it seems that success is not a nebulous concept, rather success is reaching a set goal. This is the biggest problem for most people, they have not defined the goal they are trying to reach, hence they never feel successful even when things are going fairly well.

Set Goals
Setting a goal is the first and most important thing you should do when beginning anything. If you don’t set a goal, how will you ever know when you are done? If you are never done, how can you begin something else? This is where most people trip up, they have a general idea of what they want to accomplish, but they haven’t set up any real goals. Goals have to be specific and measurable, they also need to have a time table associated with them. Without a time table it is impossible to measure how near or far we are to achieving our goal. If I decide I want to double my income it may seem like I have a goal, but I’m only half way there. The reason is pretty simple. If I want to double my income in the next 6 months it will take a very different strategy than doubling my income over the next 10 years. Determining a time table helps me define my strategy. Defining my strategy helps me with the next step in setting the goal, determining if the goal is reasonable.

Not Optimistic Or Pessimistic Just Realistic
Goal setting is not just about deciding what you want to achieve and when you want to have it completed. You also have to look at your goals and decide whether or not they are achievable. Lots of people doom themselves to failure at this step. A very optimistic person will probably overestimate their success and set goals that far exceed their capability. Here is a statement that we have all heard, and some of us have probably said. “There are over 300 million people in the US, if we only sell to 1% of them that is 3,000,000 sales!” Venture capitalists hate to hear statements like this because it means you haven’t done your research. Your target market is nowhere near 300 million people, even if it was there is no way you could do enough advertising to reach them all. If you try to set your goal based on the idea that you will sell 1% of the US population anything you are pretty well doomed to fail. On the other end of the spectrum people who are overly pessimistic are likely to go with a different approach. They are likely try to do everything on their own to keep costs down. This sounds like a great idea until you realize that you are losing sales because you are doing the selling, marketing, product development, etc… and don’t have enough staff to meet demand. Don’t set goals based on your gut, do real research. Find out how long it took other people in your industry to ramp up, seek advice from experts in your field, do absolutely everything you can to understand how and when you will achieve your goal.

Next time I’ll post about what to do once you have your goals in place.