Resourcefulness

November 23, 2008

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

 

Theodore Roosevelt

 

One of the biggest assets you can bring to your career is resourcefulness. It’s easy to say you couldn’t get something done because you didn’t have what you needed. How much better an impression do you leave when you just get it done?

 

I am continually amazed at how effective some people are at just getting it done (and well). I see several key elements in most resourceful people.

 

First, they are all “grinders”. They have the energy to keep going even when it seems like they can’t succeed. These folks aren’t generally satisfied with a “no” or “it can’t be done”.  They just take this as a challenge.

 

Second, they are creative in their own way. Too many people think of creativity as some abstract ability that professional artist, writers and musicians have. To me, any time you solve a problem in a way other wouldn’t have thought of you are being “creative”. You can be a creative administrator if you know how to maneuver through the system to get things done.

 

Third, they generally aren’t whiners. In keeping with the kindergarten motto “you get what you get, so don’t pitch a fit”, they tend to understand context and constraints and don’t complain about things that can’t be helped. (Note, I draw a distinction between “venting” and whining. We all need to vent sometimes, whiners do it all the time.)

 

So let me give you an example.  You are a senior manager at a consulting firm and you have two new consultants.

 

The first one is nice and an OK performer. They come from a top school and had great grades. However, everything they do seems to need a little more correction than seems appropriate. They don’t come to you on a regular basis for feedback and when they do, it’s for questions you think they’ve already answered. They also are very concerned with getting more strategic work and feel they aren’t compensated quite fairly.

 

The second person is a persistently hard worker and asks lot’s of questions. But rarely asks the same one twice. They sometimes make mistakes, but never on things like spell checking or making sure the math in their spreadsheet model is correct. Their mistakes are more creative. They also seem to figure out how to get stuff done. Rather than say “our professional development model” isn’t right, they bring you an idea and say “can I help with this”. They also tend to push your own expectations of your self. You find yourself saying “I wouldn’t have thought of that” when noting how they got something done.

 

Who would you rather have working for you? Or for that matter being working for?

 

Don’t always act like you need more or that someone else needs to help you.  Do the best you can with what you have. “Promotable” people understand context and know that there isn’t usually more budget or time.

 

I am NOT saying never ask for help or more resources. Rather, just understand that they may not be forthcoming and resourceful people get it done regardless of circumstances.

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Office Humor

November 19, 2008

I tend to a sarcastic sense of humor regarding business topics. If you can’t laugh, what do you have left? one of my favorite places to go chuckle is despair.com. Their “demotivator” collection is a brilliant spoof of the successory style motivational office material (which I personally can’t stand). Each demotivator looks just like a successory style poster, with the twist that it is usually hilariously sarcastic. I hope you think they’re funny too. 

My personal favorite: “Mistakes: padIt could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”


GEMO…

November 15, 2008

…or “good enough, move on” is an important concept to master in your career. It takes awhile to develop the judgment to understand which questions or activities are most important and then based on that ranking determining how much time and detail is required to complete them acceptably.

 

I often describe this as the difference between being “accurate” and being “precise”. Think about these examples:

 

If I’m responsible for landing the Mars Rover, I probably need extremely precise calculations to ensure accurate launch and trajectory of the delivery vehicle as well as incredibly detailed and accurate algorithms running the rover. Even then, I may be off slightly and blow the mission. This effort needs “precision”. Slight mistakes yield Very bad/or terminal consequences for an expensive mission.

 

If I have to determine whether a business opportunity is worth at least $100MM then the only thing I need to ensure is that I am comfortable that it is well over than. Whether it is $153MM or $210MM doesn’t matter based on the question we’re trying to answer. This needs ”accuracy”. I can be ”imprecise” by a lot and still be directionally accurate.

 

In the instance above, I determined that our 2-3 largest markets added up to more than $150MM. I was done. No need to understand the opportunity Turkey represents at the early stage when you’ve determined China and India get you there alone. In later development stages you’ll want more detailed information, but to answer the “100 million dollar question” we had enough information.

 

It is important to focus on getting to the necessary level of detail to adequately answer the question, but don’t waste your time going much further. Sometimes we get bogged down because we lose sight of what’s important. Other times we spend too much time on things we’re good at or like because we’re procrastinating and avoiding work we don’t want to do.

 

This does NOT mean be shallow in your analysis. A bad job is a bad job. It means understand how detailed you need to be to satisfy the needs of the situation. Also, don’t mistake this as advice to not produce decent charts or communication device. If your slide looks crummy, they’ll assume the analysis is.

 

This IS advice to use your judgment regarding time and effort. You can’t answer everything perfectly and most of the time you don’t need to.


Visual Display of Information: Gapminder Demonstration

November 5, 2008

I showed this video of Hans Rosling discussing global economic conditions. He uses tools from his Gapminder website/application to illustrate his point. I think you’ll find it interesting for several reasons: 1) it provides a different perspective on global economic conditions than I typically see, 2) it gives you access to an interesting tool and data set 3) the creative use and display of information can significantly improve your career prospects.

Gapminder link: www.gapminder.org

Hans Rosling TED talk on debunking third world myths with statistics: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html

I will write more on the effective communication of ideas through how you display information. I thought this was an interesting introduction to it. As you view the video, think about how compelling the ideas become when animated/visualized, rather than simply described. Also think about how much thought and effort were required to achieve this visualization.


Resume Basics

November 1, 2008

The resume plays a critical role in your career as your primary marketing communication vehicle. However, its only purpose is to generate live contact. Once you are talking to someone, your personal interaction will dominate your paper self in their mind. So your resume needs to be good enough to create interest. End of story.

 

As a hiring manager who has literally seen thousands of resumes in consulting, marketing and general management, I have some strong opinions about resumes. The biggest mistakes I see people make are in the content they include (both what they talk about and how they describe it) as well as the time & effort put into developing their resume.

 

Content

Having said that the resume is a MarComm piece above, it’s important that it be a good one. Here are suggestions on how to focus and avoid pitfalls.

 

Do

1.      Make a point(s) – Have 3-5 themes you are trying to convey and make sure you have adequate detail to do it. For example: “I’m a leader”, “I am a good fit”, “I can manage complex operations” are all important ideas depending on the job in question. Whatever the themes are, pick a few and stick to them with your examples.

 

2.      Be strategic – Don’t get lost in the tactical details of your experience. Be able to frame things so they demonstrate understanding beyond your job role. For example. “Led cross functional team of 10 that identified savings of $xx MM in support of XX corporate initiative and presented findings to executive committee” is better than “Led cross functional team to significant savings”.  

 

3.      Be specific – Describe what you actually did and be as quantitative as possible. “Managed sales team of 12 that exceeded plan of $10MM by 20%” is better than “Managed sales team”. This isn’t always easy/possible, but do it where you can.

 

4.      Project yourself – Describe things in a way that relates them to what you are trying to go into. This is particularly important for career switching. Project yourself into what you are applying for. If you are an IT person looking for a marketing job, pull out and emphasize the examples where you worked on marketing related IT projects. Give your reader a way to see you in the role.

 

5.      Tailor  – Clearly connect your resume to position you are applying for. The person who submits the same resume to 57 jobs is playing pin the tail on the donkey. You can’t do 1-3 above generically. They have to apply to a particular position. Having said that, this doesn’t mean completely different resumes, just tailored ones. 2-4 versions may suffice. I always have had a “consulting”, a “marketing” and a “general management” version of my resume.  One strategy is to have a long “master” resume with everything on it and “save as” when doing a new version. Then delete the irrelevant content.

 

6.      Be interesting – Have at least 1 or 2 things on your resume that make you stand out. I tend to do this at the end in an “honors & activities” section. I list things like marathons completed, teaching awards etc. You could list skills as a juggler, the non-profit board you belong to etc. The point is to pick something that conveys one or more of your key themes and include it. No one wants to just see a candidates work experience.

 

7.      Have more than 1 other person review and give you feedback. There is all kinds of resume writing literature. My advice is to get real feedback from a few people whose judgment you respect.

 

Don’t

1.      Puff/Overstate – You never want to get trapped in a fudge. If you have to make things up to get the job, you’re not qualified. In my experience, people who do this often didn’t need to and in the end disqualify themselves for positions they would otherwise have been considered for.

 

2.      Be repetitive – You are trying to make a number of critical points about why you are a good choice for a position, but don’t need to belabor it. Don’t have the same point re-iterated in multiple ways if not absolutely required. For example, if you have an advanced science degree on your resume, as well as a technical job and are applying for a marketing job. Listing your publications or patents is just repetitive. As a hiring manager I hopefully have deduced that you are smart and technical, spend a few more lines telling me about what you’ve done relative to marketing. I may be having a harder time connecting those dots.

 

3.      Be vague/generic – Don’t make me figure out what you did. This is the inverse of my “be specific” point above.

 

4.      Be jargony/use internal corporate speak – Make your resume understandable to someone who isn’t from your organization. I don’t know or care about your company’s acronyms and initiatives. I will understand “Led Six Sigma project to…”, I won’t understand “Led 5×5 improvement effort”.

 

5.      List too many activities – List enough to show you are interesting and engaged, but don’t over do it. Experience should be the vast majority of lines.

 

6.      Include controversial/potentially off putting associations – This is conditional. If you applying for work at a faith-based organization then by all means include your religious associations and activities if you believe they will help. As a general rule, however, I would “neutralize” your resume of obvious political or religious overtones. You never know who is reading and what their reaction will be.

 

Time/Emphasis

The goldilocks principle applies here; you want to get it just right. Too little time and you won’t craft it well enough to generate the impact you want. Too much and you’re procrastinating.

 

Not spending enough time to build a quality resume is simply dumb. You control this. If you’re not great at it, get help. Whatever you do, take the time to adequately describe your experience in a compelling way. As a hiring manager I will assume that if you can’t prepare a decent resume when you’re trying to win a position, then your performance once you potentially have the position will be even worse.

 

Too many people I see agonize over their resume and put off actual networking to keep tuning. Always remember GEMO (good enough, move on). It needs to be good, it doesn’t need to be a Pulitzer prize winner.  DO NOT let this be the obstacle to getting going on chatting with people.

 

In summary then, resumes are important but do not need to be works or art. It is important to pick a few themes, stick to them at the appropriate level of detail and avoid common traps.