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Monday, March 27, 2017

That Neon Yellow … No

A friend of mine mentioned to me recently that he was updating his resume. While he sensed no immediate concern about his job, several items about his work life had changed. And he felt it would be good to be prepared.

Actually it makes sense. If it’s been five years or so since you had a resume tuneup, you might be surprised at the changes. Hopefully, your work skills have increased and improved. You may have had promotions. Responsibilities may have expanded and you have some specific results to champion. Moreover, the “referrals” you listed—both personal and professional—might need updating. Some may no longer be the right fit. Their contact information may have changed. You get the picture.

Most of us who have screened a fair amount of resumes in our lives can usually find the home runs fairly quickly. Certain things stand out. And it isn’t bright neon yellow paper.

Many resumes lead with “Objective.” Often, a generic description is given such as, “I’m looking for a creative, progressive company where I can utilize my skills in a team setting to help achieve maximum performance for the organization.” That, of course, means nothing. You’re really looking for a job. And if you are tops in a given field, you’ll be recruited or you’ll connect with a headhunter who’ll help you land your next great job!

The vast majority of job applicants are best served by dishing up reality. And nothing says it better than prior results. So, very close to the top of your resume, those should show up.

For fun, let’s imagine I get a resume that starts with the objective, “I like to win. I like results. I prefer a company that wants to win and hires results-driven people. Your company, (named XYZ), seems like a good fit. Let’s talk about why.”

First off, all organizations like winning. And prefer to hire winners. They also want people who are results focused. That is the point of giving you a job. And thirdly, they want someone who senses that they would do well in their culture. So you offer up front to explain why you are that person.

Next, “A sampling of success from my previous assignments.” Listed bullet points are most effective. Just make sure they are truthful. And impressive.

Finally, I’d recommend going over a good list of resume no-no’s. You’ll find these in the article “Scrub These Words and Phrases from Your Resume Right Now” that appeared in Glassdoor and Fast Company.

That list includes basics such as not mentioning times you were “unemployed” (which should be obvious), checking for misspelled words, and using words such as “hardworking.” Generally, companies are not interested in lazy hires. One employment professional claims words like “synergy” and “wheelhouse” are completely overused. Add to that list “ninja” and “rockstar.”

The last no-no on this list was to avoid the term “results-oriented.” And I admit that is weak descriptor. BUT…results really are important and, as mentioned earlier, results-driven sends a stronger message.

But the best advice comes when you pursue another job—and get it! If that happens, focus on the real work that must be done. True champions stay on point and avoid drifting, lest they succumb to diversions. Jesus of Nazareth told His followers, “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, TLB) Most business leaders feel the same way.

So happy resume updating. And save the screaming neon yellow paper to promote your garage sale.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Retail Failings

In the 1960s they were considered the “Big Three.” In sales volume and in physical size, Macy’s, Hudson’s, and Marshall Field ruled the department store kingdom. One Hudson’s location had 25 stories and 16 of them sold goods. At its retailing peak, close to 12,000 people worked for Hudson’s. And 100,000 people per day shopped there.

We had a version of Hudson’s in Minnesota named Dayton’s that was part of a merger. Later they took on the Marshall Field name. Then they became the parent company of Target.

Today, Dayton’s is gone. Hudson’s is gone. Marshall Field stores are gone. In Pittsburgh in the 1990s, there were Kaufmann’s and Horne’s (later Lazurus) department stores. All gone.

Macy’s hangs on, but it has its share of problems. I once worked for Montgomery Ward. It said farewell in 2001. JC Penney had a mild recovery last year but is struggling. Sears is on life support, dropping 2000 stores between 2011 and today.

The list is way too long to mention all the department stores we’ve lost or are losing. But if you’re interested, Wikipedia has the lists for your state. To me, it’s sad.

What is the future of retail? Grant Cardone is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and CEO. He’s a popular speaker on selling. And he’s gloomy on what lies ahead for the retail world.

In his recent article, “Retail as You Know It is DEAD,” Cardone lists his four reasons why brick-and-mortar stores are in deep trouble. Interestingly, he doesn’t blame location. Or outdated mall shopping. Or Amazon.

Instead, he focuses on customer treatment. His overview perspective goes like this: “For a retailer to be successful in 2017—and all those who work in retail—you need to commit to service. You must exceed your customer’s expectations and deliver outstanding customer service.”

See if you can agree with Grant Cardone's four turnaround principles:

  1. Retailers Don’t Know How to Greet. Grant likes the idea of putting greeters at the doors who can actually direct you to what you need. 
  2. Retailers Believe Customers are “Just Looking.” Cardone wants employees to engage a customer. Find out why they came in. Turn their attention to specials or items not on your website.
  3. Retailers Allow Customers to Wait. Make your sales process fast and easy. Long lines and delays are killers.
  4. Retailers Ignore Second Sales. One sale should trigger another. Be sure to offer suggestions.

Okay. It’s a good pitch—from a guy who makes his living promoting how to sell. Can we reduce retail’s massive woes to just that? I doubt it. But all of his points are on the money, so to speak. I walked through a local Penney’s store last week and no one greeted me the whole way. I even stopped and looked around. No sales person ever approached me.

Deep, personal care of others is a center point of the Christian faith. The Bible encourages us this way, “Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well.” (1 Peter 4:10, CEV)

People of faith need to apply this in all of their business thinking. Any enterprise would do well to step back and determine how to make the customer’s experience more pleasant and easier. Serving well is so basic. Better address it while you can.

The business graveyard is full of careless victims.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, March 13, 2017

When the Boss is Your Friend

How well do you know your boss? How tight are you with him or her? Tight enough to write a profile  for this person on a dating web site?

I hope alarm bells went off on that last question. The situation, however, was real as spelled out in the Fast Company article, “Why Becoming Friends with Your Boss Might Be a Terrible Idea.” And it’s one of several “uncomfortable” requests made by bosses to employees with whom they were developing a close relationship.

Several of the stories cited shared the pressure felt when the boss would make a request that exceeded sensible boundaries. Another found that the boss confided inappropriate information about an extra-marital relationship he had. The more basic concern was the pressure from a manger to go “have drinks” after work with the team after a long week. A bad idea if the team wants to go home or has other commitments.

Consistent in the theme of submission was concern over losing the job or promotion. Treatment for resistance to these requests would vary, of course. But it opens up the wider discussion of benefits and dangers of these friendships.

On the benefits side, friendships with team members and management makes a for a positive work environment. Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “If you are closely connected to someone at a higher level in the organization, they may be able to promote you, spread your reputation, [or] provide you with access to information that is useful.” All potentially on the plus side.

Other significant and complex issues can and do arise. In one of my previous assignments, the head of the organization found our mutual interest in politics and social issues made for good discussion over lunch. Another valued my input on marketing and business related issues. However, those immediately above me on the flow chart would sometimes feel stepped-over, and be curious as to the discussions we had.

A second case involved the head of the company where I worked, who would involve me in discussions outside of our mission. I found those talks stimulating. But one had to be very careful not to repeat this kind of information to coworkers in a less than guarded moment.

A third example came from a boss who became a friend and was a significant influence in my life. When we decided to part company, it became quite uncomfortable. It took a few years to rebuild the friendship.

If you find yourself in a situation where the boss is leading into a discussion topic that is displeasing to you, the suggestion is to just say “no.” Explain that you don’t want to talk about the topic. Repeated rejections on this front should send the message.

The boss who extends friendship to you is generally a good thing. But remember what the Bible says about genuine friendship: A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. (Proverbs 17:7, TLB) A good friend will not create barriers to friendship or use their position to threaten.

One sure red flag: if the boss starts asking you for money.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tough Questions

Job interviews are generally stressful occasions. Like a first date, you may only get the proverbial one chance to make a good first impression. Of course, dating is different because both parties are likely to feel the same tension.

I’ve conducted several job interviews over the years. A primary objective of mine has been to help the candidate feel at ease. Humor is my most effective tool for this. The more relaxed the atmosphere, the better the mind can be at thinking of good responses.

This does not exclude the need to ask difficult and thought provoking questions, however. Certain questions have generated some ridicule over the years for being somewhat unreasonably awkward. Two that come to mind are: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and, “What is your greatest weakness?”

Truth is, most people can’t think out five years with a realistic approach. If the candidate is honest, perhaps he or she will say, “In five years, I hope to be working at my real preferred job making twice as much money as this one pays.” But who would say that?

And as for the second question, a person may share a “weakness,” but only to a limited degree. Again, imagine the reply, “Anger is my biggest weakness. In fact, just last night I hit my spouse with a frying pan!” End of interview.

The online edition of Fast Company recently offered up Lydia Dishman’s article on “3 of the Toughest Interview Questions and How to Answer Them.”

In quick form, they included:

  1. For the position of production technician at Procter & Gamble, the interviewer asked: If a coworker had an annoying habit, and it hindered your quality of work, how would you resolve it? 
  2. For a data analyst position at Uber, an interviewer asked: Write an equation to optimize the marketing spend between Facebook and Twitter campaigns. 
  3. For a data analyst position at Bloomberg, an interviewer posed this question: How do you explain a vending machine to someone who hasn’t seen or used one before?

I linked to the article for Lydia’s recommended answers. What I liked about each question was how it applied directly to a work situation. No whimsical wonderings or fake scenarios that lead nowhere.

Question #1 could be used in any common work environment. Question #2 seemed job specific. Question #3 seemed out of place. This question would test the mind of someone seeking a job requiring strong verbal or written communication skills.

Getting a candidate to provide an accurate perception of him or herself is tricky. One of my favorites to ask is, “If I contacted three of your previous coworkers, how would they describe you?” For some reason, people share more when it seems like a third party is answering.

I think it’s wise for the candidate to have a little fun by asking a serious question during the interview like, “Why did the last person leave this job?”

Jesus of Nazareth was the master in responding to tough questions. Frequently, He would answer with a question. Occasionally, if His opponents refused to answer His question, He wouldn’t answer theirs! (Read Mark 11:27-33) Some of our politicians must have learned from Him!

For a wise job applicant, I wouldn’t recommend refusing to answer … without a good explanation. Lest your first interview become an exit interview.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.