Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Interview Tip

A few years ago, while gunning for a position in a technology company, I tried a new tactic for approaching an interview. Long story short, qualifications among all the candidates were equal. I learned after I was awarded the job that my new tactic made me stand out from the pool.

Here it is:

Tip 1: Arrive at said interview an hour early.

Why? What will that do for me?

The obvious first. Being early to an interview shows that you're punctual and can keep an appointment. Arriving even one minute late may cost you the chance at a hire. Being way too early naturally generates an awkward curiosity among your new potential associates.

Early arrival also shows that your thoughtful enough to plan ahead and allow yourself extra time, just in case you something would happen - you might get lost, break down with car trouble, or even find yourself stuck in traffic. You've prepared for the worst, and lucked out.

So now your there - an hour early - and it might be a little uncomfortable. Good!

Here's the real advantage: It affords you the opportunity to sit and observe the company's culture. Remember that interviews are a two way street. They're checking you out - you should be checking them out as well.

While you wait, look for things like this:
  1. Do people make an effort to come talk to you or do they just give you weird looks?
  2. What are people wearing?
  3. How quickly are people moving around the office? Are they intense or relaxed?
  4. What's the background noise? Office chatter? Laughing? Arguments? Silence?
  5. What is the average age of employees? Does it look like a wide range?
Most importantly: If they have a receptionist, strike up a conversation. Find out what he or she likes and dislikes about the job. Ask about how he or she came to the company. Be genuinely interested in a conversation.

What do you have to loose? It may be that after your interviewer sees you out, they may ask the receptionist about their impression of you.

Wouldn't you want the company's gatekeeper in your corner?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Small Fish, Big Pond

The title describes how I felt in 2004 when I left the comfort and familiarity of college to set out into the "real world" and start my career. I will admit - I thought it would be easy to find my dream job, right out of the gate.

The reality for college grads is quite the opposite. Unless you've finished at the top of your class from schools like Yale or Harvard, your degree alone won't take you far.

So what can you do gain experience needed to help you to become a more savvy professional?

Here are a few ideas you might try:

  • Get internships - While most don't offer a pay check, internships provide college students and grads the opportunity to test out a company from the inside. If you work hard and show that you're dependable, the face time with management may translate into a permanent position.

  • Find a mentor: In fact, find two or three of you can. Business owners, CEO's, or other higher-level executives make great mentors and are usually happy to share their experiences. Find someone who is as eager to teach as you are to learn, and meet with them often. Always ask questions. One of my mentors has an interesting method of teaching.

  • Join a trade association - It's a great way to get connected with other like-minded individuals in your industry. Trade associations are typically hubs of information on current best practices and practical applications of your trade. If you think that learning stops after you're finished with college, think again.

  • Network - This is probably one of the most important things you can do as a young professional. Set a goal to meet a certain number of new people per week. Then look at how to immerse yourself in situations that will allow you to do so. Use tools like social networks. Web-based solutions like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo make it easy to keep track of your contacts.

  • Start a blog - It's great way to practice your writing skills. It also provides you with a channel to let potential employers learn more about you. Don't be afraid to direct them to your blog as follow up to an interview. Here are a few more reasons to start a blog.

  • Keep a journal - If you write it down, it's real. Journaling is a great a way to capture notes and ideas as you move along your career path. Keep your journal with you all the time since you never really know when that big idea might pop in your head.
  • Work harder than your competition - And by competition, I mean all the other intelligent young professionals who are looking to make their way. Success is a numbers game. If the playing field is filled with other smart and driven people, then those who put in the most effort will rise to the top. Be careful not to burn out though. Find your balance between work and play.
  • Not happy with your Job? Quit! - My grandfather once told me: "Love what you do, and you'll never have to work a day in your life." If you are not happy in your position or company, then you're wasting valuable time. Don't be afraid to move on. There's a better job waiting for you. All you have to do is find it.
Have other suggestions that have worked for you? Post your comments here, or email me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

How's Your Website?

Everyone has a website these days. For businesses, having a clear web presence is becoming more critical than ever. The good (and potentially bad) news? This trend it not going away anytime soon. That means, in order to survive, businesses will need to earmark marketing dollars in order to stay competitive on the web.

I spend the majority of my day online and so naturally, I visit hundreds of sites each week. When I visit any site, I always look to the bottom of the page to find the most recent publish date.

There tends to be a pretty wide gap in terms of the quality of websites that have been revisited in 2006 and 2007, and those that were last touched in 2005 and before.

You don't have to be a developer to know that both the landscape of the web as well as best practices associated with web design and SEO are two areas that constantly change.

With that in mind, here's a list of questions that I suggest you ask yourself when looking at your own business's website:

  1. What is my website really doing for my business today? What should it be doing?
  2. How is my website helping my bottom line?
  3. How does my website work to enforce my brand?
  4. Does my website help generate leads/sales/contacts/subscribers? How? Could it be doing more?
  5. Do my visitors have a reason to come back and visit my site again? What is it?
  6. What is my website doing to support my business's operations?
  7. Does my website tell a story about my business? Does that story match the rest of my business's communications?
  8. Do I have the control to change or update my website as my business grows and changes? If not, how much will it cost me to have someone else do it when I need to?
  9. Can my visitors easily navigate my website? How do I know for sure?
  10. Do I have access to my website analytics? What are analytics and why are they important?
If you've racked your brain and still can't answer these questions, or are not confident in your answers, then you're probably BeFUDdled (stricken with Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

When was the last time you sat down, revisited your business goals, and looked closely at your web presence?

(warning: shameless self-promotion below)

If you are BeFUDdled about your website, contact me. My firm, Young Isaac, can help.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It Was Somthing About a Girl Dressed in Fatigues

It's Valentines Day and I have a very special someone.

Here's the beginning:

I met this special girl during my junior year at Otterbein College while I was living in my fraternity house. It was winter quarter (January 19th to be exact) and we were rushing for new potential members. I had been at work and returned that evening to man a costume-themed event sponsored at our house.

Upon walking in, I noticed her sitting in the chapter room, dressed in urban blue fatigues, face painted painted to match. As I passed heading towards the stairs (my room was on the second floor), I couldn't take my eyes off of the soldier girl.

She had come with her friend, who I had met before. I knew Amy Dean through her older brother John. He was one year my senior and happened to be my classmate in communications. As the evening moved on and the party grew thick, soldier girl and I went our separate ways. We finally found ourselves in the basement of the house where the dance floor was conveniently located.

I was the house DJ at the time and was busy mixing the music. Noticing that soldier girl had made her way to my spot, I left my post to attempt starting what would turn out to be a horribly awkward conversation. (I've never had much skill in talking to the opposite sex, especially with the ones I had interest in - go figure?)

After a few bumbled comments, soldier girl's friend, Amy Dean, decided to help me by taking matters into her own hands. With one swift push on each of our backs, soldier girl and I were dancing.

As you may have guessed, soldier girl - who's name is also Amy, is now my wonderful and beautiful wife. She's also my teacher, an amazing mother, my biggest supporter, and my most honest critic.

Amy - I cherish you and all that we have together. You are my moonbeam and my best friend. I love you with all of my heart. For the rest of our days, it will always be you and I, against the world...

There's so much more to the story of Amy and I, but that's for later...

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Three Reasons to Start a Blog

Have you ever considered starting a blog? For me, it was curiosity and the need to learn how blogs impact communications on the web that first peaked my interest.

Recently though, I've struggled with finding inspiration for my content on Chasing Change. With that in mind, I figured I would retrace my steps and really dig into why I feel compelled to blog at all.

After some meditation and a few conversations with other bloggers who have inspired me, here are my top three reasons to start a blog:

1. The Freedom to Have a Voice
I remember reading an article in 2005 about how professional journalists felt threatened by the blogosphere. Their frustration is understandable. They paid good money and spent their time going to school to be journalists. Why should some chump with a laptop (like me for instance) have the ability to publish their thoughts to thousands, even millions of readers? That's just not fair! (As I quietly chuckle.)

Web technology makes it so easy to publish our thoughts with a simple mouse click. There are a large number of blog services that are provided at no cost, so why not take advantage of the opportunity? What do you have to loose?

2. Writing an Ethical Will
My friend, teacher (and employer), Artie Isaac, blogs at Net Cotton Content. I enjoy reading his posts daily, and so the other day, I asked him: "Why do you blog?"

This was one of his answers: "In the Jewish tradition, there's the concept of an ethical will. A father leaves an ethical will as was a way to pass on his morals and wisdom to his children."

Having a 17 month-old son myself, I really like this idea. In a sense, a blog can be an electronic way to pass on more than just your possessions to the next generations. It's a medium to capture your path through life, so that you and your beliefs will be remembered by those next in line.

3. Gaining Credibility Through Visibility
Being in business development, it's my job to build relationships for my company. Hopefully those relationships, if nurtured honestly, will eventually translate into revenue for Young Isaac.

Over the past six years I've learned that the most critical piece of this formula is finding ways to establish a level of trust among your network. The challenge? How can you expect people to trust you when they only know you as a part of your company?

Heres my solution: with every business card and every email will come the URL of Chasing Change. Here it is folks. Here's what I'm about. I blog to lay my cards on the table for all to see. By reading, you can watch as I change both personally and professionally.

And by sharing my experiences - the good with the bad - maybe someday I'll even earn your trust...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What If?

My wife and I are bargain shoppers. Today, after a call from her father, we headed to Schottenstein's Department Store on the Hilltop, armed with a tip that men's suits we on clearance.

After about thirty minutes, I found a great deal and a new suit. and so we headed to the check out. While paying, I happened to eves drop on a heated conversation between our clerk and her manager:

Clerk: "What is she doing? I don't know what the hell her problem is."

Manager: "She was saying that she gave the little girl forty dollars and she lost it. Who gives a little girl $40 to hold on to in the first place? She didn't deserve being screamed at like that."

As the conversation finished, I looked up to notice an agitated women in her late 40's approaching the line of shoppers. Her rapid movements made it seem as if something was terribly wrong.

A blond little girl was following the women. She must have been no more than nine or ten years old, and I'll never forget the expression of fear and embarrassment radiating from her face.

The angry women approached.

"I need four quarters" she shouted in desperation while waving a dollar bill. "Do you have four quarters? Do you have two quarters? Here, I'll even give ya a dollar for two quarters."

It was then that I noticed her her pupils. They were empty pin holes rolling around in her head. Her teeth were rotten, skin pale and he clothes were tattered and unkempt. It suddenly dawned on me that I had seen people like this before. Like them, this lady was in the clutches of a meth-amphetamine binge.

We had paid with a debit card and so I had no cash on my pocket to give. When she realized I couldn't help, the women again turned to the girl and began to call her names, blaming her for my lack of pocket change. The bystanders at the check out stood silent in shock, all of us looking to each other for an answer. For an action.

Should we do something? Is it our place to do something? What can we do?

After a moment, a small group of patrons and I approached the store manager to suggest that it might be time to call the police. He shook his head in agreement. Then he stood still.

As we exited and walked to the car, I couldn't keep my head from turning and looking back to for the girl. Should I have done more? Would it have made a difference for this poor child, or only made her situation worse? What else could I have done to protect her from a person consumed by a drug, who was supposed to be her care taker.

The ride home was uncomfortably silent.

Standing up together
What if I had intervened and tried to change the situation? What if everyone standing in line would have come to the little girl's rescue? What if the mob of shoppers had stopped, and cried out:

"That's wrong! You have no right to put a child through that! Is her confidence and self-esteem worth your next fix?"

Would that have changed anything?