Dump Resolutions, Embrace Good Habits

The new year is in full swing and the job market remains as tough and competitive as ever. Whether you are anticipating a move in the next 9-18 months or blissfully believe your job is quite secure, here are 5 things you might want to begin doing today to ensure you, and not a disgruntled CEO or Board, are in control of your career.

1. Launch your career survival plan.

The latest statistic I’ve heard for average CFO tenure today is 26 months. If that number is true, it’s likely every one of you reading this post will be in either a proactive or reactive job search within the next two years. Trust me when I say, a proactive search is much more desirable!

2. Identify your “targeted” audience.

When you know your audience, you can build the target market piece into your career survival plan because you are crystal clear on who needs to know about you.

3. Raise your visibility.

One easy way is to begin creating a compelling digital footprint. Proactively managing your reputation positions you as both a subject matter expert and a high-value target. During December, my clients were seeing an uptick in the number of recruiter inquiries they were receiving, and the large majority are coming from their Linked In profiles.

4. Be prepared.

Don’t make the mistake of settling for mediocre positioning when, with some thoughtful planning, you could be viewed as a top-notch candidate. At the CFO level, a clear and compelling marketable value proposition (MVP) is critical for your success.

5. Network, consistently. Networking isn’t something you do when you need a job. Networking is something you do regularly, consistently, and proactively!

It’s Okay if You Think I’m a Social Media Snob

I prefer to think I’m selective and strategic, though, because here are a few things I just don’t do …

— Accept canned invitations to connect on Linked In (except when they come from CFOs which is my target audience)

— Auto-follow on Twitter

— Send auto DMs when someone follows me on Twitter

— Respond to Facebook requests when I can’t discern any information about the requester because of his privacy settings … and … there’s no personal note attached

And there are a few things that I try always to do …

— Send personal invitations to connect on Linked In and Facebook

— Respond with a personal note on Linked In when I accept an invitation

— Write a personal DM to an outstanding tweep when he/she follows me

— Discern whether it makes sense to “my” network and brand to follow someone on Twitter, connect on Linked In, friend on Facebook … which eliminates anyone with a foul mouth

— Disconnect with someone who sends me an automated “sales” DM after I’ve followed him

It just seems to me that something “professional” has been lost in social networking. I’ve written about this before. The bottom line is that anything you would NOT do in face-to-face networking should NOT be done online. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

Perhaps some of the things I’ve listed contribute to a Chief Financial Officer being reticent to jump into the social networking waters. I’d encourage you to come on in … just choose to be a snob about it.

Is Invisibility Costing You Your Next Position?

I read two articles in just a few days that made me say … uh oh! My faithful readers will know that I evangelize the importance of CFOs being visible … and embracing both online and offline strategies to create that visibility. Here are two quotes, the first from a sourcer and the second from a recruiter.

It’s a nasty dirty secret inside recruiting but the fact of the matter is if you’re over 50 – maybe even over 45 – many recruiters aren’t interested. They say they’ll look at you and accept your name in the lists I generate but they’re really not. No kidding.

If social media is full of young adults and Generation Y, I feel that it could become much more difficult to reach the senior level candidates considering they might be less likely to use social media so extensively due to their age.

How do age discrimination and social media fit together … at least from my perspective?

Well first, at the C-level, I take exception to the sourcer’s general statement regarding age discrimination if you’re 45+. Companies are typically not looking for 20- or even 30-somethings when in need of a Chief Financial Officer. That said, age discrimination is alive and well, and many at the CFO-level only invite that discrimination by the things they do -and- don’t do. Like, not jumping on the Web 2.0 wagon, having no presence or an incomplete profile on Linked In, or a headline of “unemployed” under their name on Linked In, or an outdated aol email address. Those things are sending a message, and part of the message is “I’m well on the way to extinction.”

The way to mitigate age discrimination is through value positioning. How can you solve the company’s problems and make them or save them more than it costs to bring you on board? Having a strong marketable value proposition is great … but if no one knows about it, does it even matter?

Now not being visible doesn’t preclude you from being found by recruiters … the best ones are pretty good sleuths. So in that respect, you don’t need to be visible, but you should want to be visible. Why? So you can be found, much more easily, by those recruiters who are looking for top-notch talent … particularly the passive kind.

As I mentioned yesterday, I believe movement of the C-Suite will pick up in 2011. However, in an employer’s market, companies still have the luxury of waiting for the “right” person rather than accepting just “any” person. Carving out your space and planting your flag – and then waving your subject matter expert flag – can shift the paradigm from being available to take anything to being just the right person to just the right company.

What Does Your Positioning Say About You?

One of my recruiter friends, Samuel Dergel of CFO2Grow in Canada, added an important comment to my blog post yesterday about business cards. It reminded me that this blog post has been sitting on the back burner for months and perhaps now was the time to get it finished and posted.

Samuel addressed the importance of having your business cards “professionally” developed. He’s right. If you’re at a networking event, your business card is the last impression people take with them. Is the Finance Executive they just shook hands with the same professional reflected on the business card they have in their hand? If it’s cheap or if there is advertising on the back (that means they were free) … what message is that sending? And, is it the message you intend to send?

The same can be said should you decide to create a blog or upload your resume to the Web. If you choose a free site, it means you are also choosing a page that is overrun with advertising … ads over which you have no control either! But my point is about the image that landing page (whether blog or resume) sends. Does it exude executive branding (this guy is worth every cent if we can get him) or is it a poster for commodity (average, just one of many)?

I do believe that a credible online and offline presence is key for Chief Financial Officers and other Senior Finance Executives. If you choose to have business cards and a web presence, then choose to create them in a way that furthers your brand rather than detracting from it.

Why Reputation Management Matters

Have you noticed how often CFOs are forced to step down or resign because of some unethical or questionable behavior? True or not, once that story hits the Internet it goes viral … within minutes.

And what happens to the career of that Senior Finance Executive, who is a) innocent and has a very accomplished track record or b) despite a brilliant career made one bad decision … once the first 3 pages of Google are full of nothing but every single negative thing that has ever happened in this CFO’s life – relevant to the charges or not?

If there is no foundation of credibility already established, it will be very difficult and take a long, long time to recover from the viral assault of digital dirt. And, it is quite possible that this Chief Financial Officer would find his finance career finished. If the only public information available is negative … regardless of whether or not it’s true … what will most people believe about him? What “he” says on his resume or what “everyone else” says?

On the other hand, if this same CFO finds himself hitting a bump in the road and has a strong record of both visibility and credibility, his chances of recovering, and recovering relatively quickly, are much, much better. His long record of accomplishments already owned the first 3 pages of Google’s high-value real estate, and perhaps even extended to the first 5-10 pages. Any negativity can be countered, or at least balanced, with all of the positives that already exist. And, because his name is already friendly to the Google search engines, he can quickly begin supplanting the negative comments, innuendos, and charges.

As in every other phase of career management, it is much easier to build and control your reputation now, while you are gainfully employed and delivering solid contributions, then it will be if you find yourself in crisis mode.

The Internet, Web 2.0, and Google are the new normal. You can either get in the game and play to win … or not. Because, you are who Google says you are.

Get Known, Be Known

A quick follow up to yesterday’s post, “The Last Bastion of Invisible People.” When CFOs and Senior Finance Executives embrace the concept of reputation management and online visibility,  it positions them to get known by their target audience and be known for something valuable and in demand.

An excerpt from an article in the Times Union says this …

“With Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, she [the recruiter] can find potential candidates she knows, thanks to previous contact or interaction through the social networking sites. Using the sites also lets employers such as Delos get a feel for the personality of potential employees. She can gauge whether they may fit into the office culture, a key part of employee retention.”

Notice the last sentence: “She can gauge whether they may fit into the office culture, a key part of employee retention.” Culture is the most difficult piece of the hiring process – from the employer’s perspective. When your online presence is visible and branded, the culture fit piece precedes you into the interview. You are already known.

Carving out your own little niche … how are you unique, different, and better than the competition seeking those same senior finance roles … allows you to take a stand and be known for something. And the “something” is important. While it seems counter-intuitive, being known for something is much more powerful, attractive, and desired than a candidate who knows a little about a lot of things. Rather than limiting yourself and potential opportunities, you are actually attracting the right kinds of opportunities that closely fit your skill sets, interests, and preferred corporate culture.

I was catching up on my CFO Magazine reading and saw this little gem in the Letters section: “ … reputation is the new bottom line.” And while this reader was talking about her company, it has never been more true for candidates.

Careers, Finance Executives, and Digital Footprints

Recently I had coaching sessions with two CFO clients who were considering offers. Both indicated the opportunities came to them through their digital footprint. 

Last week, my interview on using social media to accelerate your finance career with Mary Ellen Slater of SmartBlog on Social Media hit the web. 

This morning I came across Meg Guiseppi’s great post on the effectiveness of Linked In as an executive job search tactic. 

Connect the dots and … you get another blog post, on a topic I consider critically important for senior finance executives. Creating a digital footprint and then proactive managing your reputation is a necessary career management strategy today. Remember my high school girlfriend post last week?

No matter how many job boards pop up or how many jobs they claim to have or even how easy it seems to just send off your resume to a posting that is a perfect fit for you … it is an ineffective strategy at best. Should the posted position game be a search strategy? Maybe. But it should not be your only strategy or even your primary strategy. 

Networking on the other hand, IS effective. And the new definition of networking is, “who knows about me.” It doesn’t matter who you know, if you aren’t on their radar screen. Getting, and staying, on their radar screen involves creating visibility in places where they are … whether physically or online. 

Now this may or may not be coincidence, but those first two clients I mentioned (one with multiple offers), both blog, have branded profiles on Linked In, tweet, and network offline. They’re visible to their target audience and they got noticed … and they aren’t just offers, they are great offers that fit well with who they are and the goals they’ve set.

What does your target audience know about you?

The Executive Job Search Challenge

I was honored to join two of my fellow Career Thought LeadersWendy Enelow and Jan Melnik, on a blog radio show hosted by Deborah Shane last week. My area of specialty … reputation management. Of the many interesting questions Deborah asked me, here’s one that I consider very important. 

What common liabilities are you seeing in executive job seekers that is making it harder for them?

Since I play in the senior finance executive space, my response was from that perspective …

— Many of my clients, at least initially, express an unwillingness or reticence to embrace technology and make it work for them. For better or worse, this is the new normal. It’s a new game with new rules, and executives have to play to win.

— Finance executives tend to be numbers people rather than people people. Networking doesn’t come easily to most of them. And, Web 2.0 technology is about “social networking.” The time investment for networking can also be a huge detriment to the average CFO who is so busy working in his job that he doesn’t have time to invest in his career.

— Because they put long hours in on their job to the exclusion of working on their careers, they may not realize that financial acumen aside … the moment they leave with a big severance package in their pocket, their marketability takes a hit because they now have the black mark of unemployment on their record. Some recruiters would say these candidates are tainted. That’s a cold, harsh assessment that makes finding employment that much more difficult once an executive is UNemployed.

— And of course, competition is stiff for fewer opportunities. A clear and compelling value proposition has never been more important. Sadly, many executives can get tripped up and trapped in the responsibility conversation. Differentiation happens when they turn the conversation to what they have that a company is willing to pay to get … which is all about the candidate’s ability to solve a company’s pain/need/challenge/issue.

If you’re interested in listening to the entire show, you’ll find it here

Reputation Management

CFO magazine ran an excellent piece back in May entitled “What’s Your Reputation Worth?”. If you don’t get the magazine or you didn’t read it, it is online and I recommend taking a few minutes to read it. 

Here is what the CFO of E-Trade Financial said …

“What’s scary about reputation is that it doesn’t have to be something that’s true.”

Even if you don’t understand or buy into the concept of executive branding, it is critical that all executives and rising stars embrace and proactively manage their reputations.  

Here are two truths that will continue on for some time …

You are who Google says you are. Even if it says something different than who you are, Google will win the reputation war. With so many similar names, might Google have you confused with someone who has a less than principled reputation? Managing your reputation will ensure that the right information, rather than misinformation, is the foundation of your digital footprint.

Your company is who Google says it is. If your company doesn’t have  a social media strategy that includes monitoring what is being said, it could find itself mirred in negative publicity. Whether it is customer service, a faulty product, hiring practices, or a work culture … once you get behind the 8-ball it might just roll right over you.

If you haven’t ever Googled your name to see what others are finding about you, I encourage you to do so today. Put your name in quotes (i.e., “Cindy Kraft”) in Google’s search engine and see what comes up on the high-value first three pages. Do you own most of the real estate? Is it a true and consistent picture of who you are? 

No information is just as damaging as misinformation because … you are who Google says you are. If Google isn’t talking, then perhaps you don’t really exist!

Google, HR, and Getting Hired

Earlier this week I tweeted this statistic from an article on ERE.net

“According to a study conducted by Microsoft earlier this year, 70% of surveyed HR professionals in U.S. (41% in the UK) have rejected a candidate based on online reputation information”

It elicited an interesting exchange with one of my tweeps. Here’s what he said …

–Cindy, seriously are HR folks incapable getting relevant info on their own?

–The reality is it's the wrong use of Social Media – if that's your only use.

–My point was there many pro-active uses for social media rather than HR Sherlock Holms (sic) work.

Here’s the reality … at least according to Cindy’s web worldview. 

Social media allows, maybe even subtly deceives, people to let down their guard. Have you seen some of the pictures people upload, the foul language that fill their tweets and Facebook posts, even the use of poor grammar and misspelled words? The fact is, these things speak volumes about prospective candidates that will never come through in the spit and polished interview process. 

Google, Web 2.0, and reputation management are here to stay. Whether you are a Chief Financial Officer, finance executive, accountant, or new finance grad, what Google says about you matters to prospective companies. And if Google is mute about you, that sends its own very loud message.