Having fun on the job search

Looking for a job isn’t usually very high up on the “fun things to do” list.  It can be stressful, not knowing how long you’re going to be in employment limbo, being unsure how much to scrimp while waiting for Employment Insurance to kick in, and making the first move and asking for information interviews.  But these things aside, I am definitely having fun!

Now is a good time to be a communications specialist.  Sure, most of the jobs are in larger centres like Vancouver and Toronto.  I need to stay in Victoria because this is where my family and loved ones are.  What’s more, I love it here.  Fortunately, I’ve found new communications positions being posted on average every 2-3 days, right here in Victoria!  Compared to job hunting here in the 80s, when Victoria had double-digit unemployment, and I was a new UVic grad, green as grass, this feels like a treasure hunt.

Part of the joy of this search is that I’m being strategic.  I started by talking to a friend who is also a Human Resources (HR) consultant.  Her name is Judith Frost, and she’s a gem. (gem… treasure…. Iknow. I couldn’t resist.)  We talked about my work history and my goals, and she pointed out that it’s probably time for me to move into a more established, institutional environment.  Somewhere with some built-in mobility, pensions (!) and enough scale to need communications staff.  So that rules out most of the small businesses in town, where I have spent my career over the past 8 years.  I’m now looking at the learning institutions, as well as local and provincial government.

My next move was to talk to a contact I’d made through Twitter, Melanie Friebel (@scribbler9 on Twitter) who works in recruitment for the BC Public Service.  Melanie and I have only met each other once or twice, so getting together over a glass of wine after work pushed our connection to a new level, and I’m so glad I did.  Not only did she point me in the right direction, I also feel like I made a new friend.

Melanie’s suggestion was that I chat with Pat McCallum, whose job it is to advise people looking for positions in government.  I spend a wonderful hour with him in a dark little office decorated with cardboard boxes (turns out he’s abandoning his government desk in order to telecommute, and I found him on one of his last days in the “shop”).  Pat had lots of great advice – read my next post for what he said – and I left there with a great to-do list for improving my hiring chances.

So now, I’m hunting for that gem of a job that I know is out there.  It might be at UVic, Royal Roads, Camosun, a government department, one of Greater Victoria’s many local governments, or a Crown corporation.  It might surprise me and come from a public or private school, an established tech company, or even one of the media outlets.  In the four weeks I’ve been looking, I’ve found easily a dozen that might do the trick… and those are the posted jobs.  Any pro job hunter will tell you that some of the best jobs aren’t even posted. 

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4 top tips for getting a job with the government

Are you looking for a position with some opportunity for growth, mobility and challenge?  Would you like a position with great benefits, a pension plan and relative security?  Then a government job might be for you.

I’ve worked for the private sector or non-profits for most of my adult life, so when a Human Resources (HR) expert told me to start looking at government jobs, I was a bit surprised.  Don’t I have to know how to be a “bureaucrat”?  Isn’t it next to impossible to get a government jobs in these times of austerity?

It turns out that the jobs are out there.  In Victoria BC, home of our provincial government, several jobs are posted each day.  For each of those jobs, the HR department expects to get 80 or more applications.  Here’s what the BC Public Service Recruitment Specialist, Pat McCallum, told me to improve my chances of getting on the shortlist.

1.  Adapt your resume for each specific job opening

Specifically, look for the specific requirements of the job, and show how your experience matches the requirements exactly.  Use the same words that appear in the job posting.  Here’s why: before your resume gets in front of any human resources staff, computers do an initial pre-screening based on keywords.  If the job you are applying for is asking for experience in risk management, and you have been a bank loans officer, it may seem obvious to you that you have experience in managing risk.  But if you don’t use those exact words in your resume, the computers may pass yours over.  Feel free to use a skills-based resume if that shows off your job experience more clearly.

2.  Arrange information interviews in the departments where you would like to work

Just because every government job is posted, don’t expect that your prospects will rise and fall on your resume only.  What you know is important – and your knowledge will improve greatly if you do your research by talking to people already on the job.  Notice this isn’t the same as “who you know”, though it may look the same.  You need to prove that your connections have given you better insight into the job, and not just ride on the fact that you share space in a dragon boat with a government director.  Make that connection count – take your dragon boat buddy out for coffee, and find out what she does with the rest of her day.  She will likely be happy to tell you about her department, and you will have that inside edge that the recruiters are looking for.

3.  Update your LinkedIn profile, and add new contacts as you make them

I can’t speak for all governments, but the B.C. government checks your LinkedIn profile, and looks for people that you know, especially people in government.  They want to know that you are familiar with the government culture and the people who work within it.  Once you have taken that director out for coffee, add them as a connection on LinkedIn if you haven’t already done so.  If you’ve enjoyed a working relationship with people already, then you may even want to ask for a recommendation.

While you are in LinkedIn, review your profile.  Does it broadly match what you have on your resume?  Is it 100% complete?

4. Be patient and adaptable

The gears in a large institution like the government turn more slowly than those in the private sector.  Even if you are successful, it may take a month between when the competition closes and your first day at work.   Apply for whatever looks likely to get your foot in the door, because once you are in government and have made it through the six-month probation period, the door opens wider and you can apply internally for positions that suit you even better.  Keep working on your resume, talking to people in government, and looking for ways to improve your hireability.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll see you in the cubicle down the hall. 

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The Importance of “fit”

I’m sitting at my computer desk, in the little alcove next to the dining room table. It’s 2 pm on a Tuesday, so usually I’m not even home right now. But by mutual agreement, I’m telecommuting for the last two weeks of my work at my place of employment.

Why am I leaving when my employer is poised to do some great things in the next couple of years? Long story short, it’s a matter of “fit”. I have some terrific skills that the company has needed, and that I love to share. It’s my passion to write, to learn, and to communicate what I have learned on this wonderful medium called the Internet. I can find my way like a pro around the different social media platforms, and can quickly determine why one communications approach might work better for a client than another.

However, I need to do more of the things that I’m good at, and less of the things I’m not cut out for, like tracking hundreds of URLs on a spreadsheet (though everyone agrees it’s a pretty darn good document!) I want to work for clients who are as excited about projects as we have been where I’ve been working. As the owner and I agreed, it seems a poor fit to turn a marketer, communicator and teacher into an administrator at the expense of using her skills. There is a place for administration in every job. It’s like putting the dishes away in the kitchen after preparing dinner. But to extend this metaphor a bit, I want to be the one making the dirty dishes and creating something fantastic as well as cleaning them up.

So – here’s a toast to the gang I am leaving behind. And here’s to finding some hungry people to feed, and doing my very best to satisfy them. 

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My Speaking Idea For WordCamp Victoria

Plans are coming together beautifully for the next WordCamp Victoria, being held January 14th (only 2 months away) at at the University of Victoria, Social Sciences & Mathematics (SSM) building. Here’s my idea:

Wild About Weaver: A (nearly) WYSYWYG CSS Wrangler

Do you want to make some tweaks to your WordPress site, but pale at the thought of editing the CSS stylesheet? Try using Weaver as your basic template. Based on the current basic theme (right now, Twenty Eleven) it then layers its own child pages onto the base, and gives you literally hundreds of ways to customize the appearance. Using its easy-to-understand administration tabs, you can make big or small changes, add snippets of code, and never have to worry about what the curly brackets { } mean… unless you want to. You may even find using Weaver helps you to understand CSS better! 

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4 Ways to Make Twitter Suck Less

A couple of days ago at the gym, a business owner, whom I know and respect for her great blog posts and use of Facebook, confessed to me “I’m a Twitter dropout. I hate all of its rules, and the conversation there is so stupid! I don’t want to know about the new pants people are buying.”

My first reaction was, “Drop out, then. Nobody says you have to use Twitter, and if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing.” I’ve certainly had days where I felt like I’ve had nothing to say to Twitter, and vice versa. In fact, I had a whole burn-out year where I rarely went near Twitter, and basically stepped back from all social media activities except some personal use of Facebook.

Ultimately, however, I’ve decided that there is much in Twitter that is worth keeping, and there are some simple ways to get rid of the parts that annoy you. Here are a few things you can do on a Sunday afternoon to make Twitter suck less, 7 days a week.

1. Use lists to improve the “Noise to Signal” ratio

If the tweets in your twitter stream are more annoying than edifying, you need a way to filter out the junk. I’ve classified people into lists through third-party Twitter management decks (like TweetDeck, HootSuite and Seesmic) and Twitter started this function a couple of years ago, as well. With lists, you can group the tweeps you follow into whatever works for you – close friends, news sources, music, fitness – and just look at Twitter through those filters. Much better than trying to wade through hundreds of tweets, some from people you followed back months ago and you can’t even remember why. That brings me to my next point.

2. Unfollow annoying twits.

If you aren’t getting value from the tweets that show up in your stream, turn down the volume. “Unfollow” is just a click away. If you take the first step, above, and put your favourite Twitterers into a list, you might get so used to the customized view that you never have to unfollow because you don’t look at that home stream anymore. But frankly, I still look at my “main” stream often, so it’s nice to just not have to deal with incessant marketing messages or self-centred drivel.

3. Spend less time on Twitter – while still posting to Twitter.

I’m thinking of the terrific, engaging posts this friend puts onto Facebook, and how they would work equally well on Twitter. Linking the two is only a step away, in her Facebook account settings. Better yet, she can choose which Facebook updates to share with Twitter by using one of those management tools I mentioned above. I like the ones with multiple columns for your favourite lists and search terms, with scheduled tweets so you can have a creative thought at 2 am that people might see at 8:30.

4. Don’t try to stay on top of it all

One of the most potentially annoying things about Twitter is when you try to read everything that comes across your screen. Can’t. Be. Done. What’s more, it’s way more input than anyone needs. Cut back to a couple of times a day, for just long enough to see if there are any good posts to your lists, and to respond to any mentions. If Twitter only takes 5- 10 minutes a day, it’s far less likely to annoy you. And on those days where the communication is better than you expected, you can take longer, much as you would an important email or phone call.

That’s not so bad, is it? 

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November – No Makeup!

What if, for 30 days in November, you experimented with a new look? One that goes against the current fashions, and sets you a little bit apart? What if, for doing this, you raised money for a good cause? Does it sound like Movember? Exactly – but what if you, like most women, are challenged in the facial hair department? Then how about going without makeup?

This is actually Janis Lacouvee‘s idea, but I think it’s a good one. Like the guys with their moustaches, you can put the money toward charities working on men’s cancers – it could even be the money you save because you haven’t had to replace that colour-match foundation or the extend-a-curly-lash mascara. That’s my plan, since my father won a battle with cancer last year. (Actually, I’ll give more than the money I save – I only occasionally wear makeup at the best of times!)

So many women can’t imagine facing the day without their “face”. This is a challenge to present yourself as you are – perhaps professional, well-groomed – but unadorned. And if anyone asks what you are up to, you can always use “November – no makeup” as the reason.

With only days to go until November, I don’t expect that this idea will cause a groundswell of women to pack away their MAC and Mary Kay. In fact, now might be considered a “pilot project”, to be tweaked and rolled out in style next year. Maybe it would be best coupled with a different charitable focus. I think the idea is worth consideration.

So please, comment, share, and tell me if you plan to take up the November/No Makeup challenge. 

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Ideas for YYJ WordCamp in January

I just went on the website of wordcampvictoria.ca and submitted three possible speaking topics. One of the requirements is to post the topics somewhere – seems like the blog is the best place! Besides, some weeks ago I decided to blog more and even challenged myself to do 100 days of blogging. Much as I have not succeeded in blogging every day, I still want to communicate MORE. So here are the ideas – please comment and tell me which one you would be most likely to go to:

Why would government departments want to blog?
I suppose the subtitle and subcontext would be why would anyone want to read a government blog? It sounds like a recipe for more spin, doesn’t it? However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the quality of posts on certain government blogs, particularly when they know exactly who their audience is, like OpenData BC does. In addition there are some great “internal to government” bloggers who are both insightful and personal – unfortunately you can only access their work if you are work for the BC government.

The follow-up to this question is, of course, can government do a better job of blogging? It would be great to have some government communications people weigh in on this question. In fact, maybe I don’t want to do a speech on this so much as I want to moderate a panel.

Another topic was “Why I love Weaver, and how it has made me better at CSS”
Weaver is a very interesting template, in that it isn’t really a template so much as it is an approach to designing in WordPress that takes all the scary CSS stuff I’ve never bothered to learn, and makes it accessible to writers like me. I’d like to go through the Weaver Adminstration section in a Weaver-based site, and customize the 2011 template to look like something quite different than Weaver’s standard templates. I’ll show how it uses CSS formatting to make a customized theme in the same way as a traveller might use a phrasebook. Handy stuff.

The third topics is… shoot, I don’t remember the third topic. And that in itself is probably a good enough reason not to consider it.

So there you go, social media public. Tell me which topic stands out for you, and I will work with the folks at WordCampVictoria to make a great presentation. (Or, if you hate all of them, I’ll make the coffee at WordCamp….) 

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Great Tunes, off the charts and on the Internet

Then and now…Yesterday, my sons and I cleaned the house and did a ton of laundry. Chores like that require you to crank the tunes, and so of course we had the XBox 360 blaring through the TV speakers the current heavy-rotation favourite: Midnight Oil.

I find it fascinating that three boys born in 1994, 1997 and 2000 could love this 1980s-90s band, and find nothing unusual about that. Back when I was 15, any song that was older than 6 months was “old” , never to be heard on the radio again unless it was part of a “discumentary” or perhaps the countdown of the year’s best songs. We’d hang onto our favourite artists through our record collections, but old records were hard to come by unless you had a big brother or sister.

Now, it seems to be pretty common to pick and choose your favourite artist from any era, thanks to 3 generations of rock and roll, combined with the magic of the Internet. Sure, there will always be kids who like the current batch of pop music the best, even if it is manufactured commercial music like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry or Bruno Mars. But since digital media makes music from any time and any country so much more available, why not pick exactly what you want?

I love our world where Peter Garrett rocks on like he’s not yet an Australian senator; where “War of the Worlds” is more likely to be a 1938 radio play, 1979 record or even an 1898 book than a 2005 movie; where good music in specific and good culture in general can be found anywhere and everywhere.

Now I have to go plug in my smartphone so that I can read Pride and Prejudice in bed, with the Kindle app on my Android… 

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Passing along the joy of music

This weekend, I picked up a pretty nice guitar for my kids.  I feel quite fortunate in how this guitar came into our life, an “anonymous” donation following a silent auction when I watched the price climb higher than I could afford to bid at the time. You know who you are…. thank you!!

It’s been in Daniel’s hands for the last couple of hours, and he’s already learned a few chords, and sounds not bad for the first day.  Ben was playing it earlier today, and looked very natural with it strapped around him, leaning back in the hammock and noodling around on the frets until he found a sound that worked for him.   They each have their own approaches, and I want them to discover for themselves, in their own way, how it works.

They seem to have acquired the “music bug” from me – we’ve been singing in the car together for years and lately, we can even make three-part harmonies work.  Both Daniel and Ben have taken up the saxophone for band, and Stephen sings like an angel.  But I’ve never pushed them to practice, and never put them in formal music lessons.  I went down that road myself when I was a kid, and as much as I loved music, I really didn’t enjoy lessons all that much. And I certainly hated practicing – I would much rather “play”.

This attitude followed me into motherhood.  With two ADHD boys (out of three boys altogether), I was afraid that forcing the discipline of practice on the kids would make music into just another “chore”.  I figured if it was really important to them, they would find music and it would draw them in.

I’m pleased to report that, thanks to modern technology, this approach is working!  The boys are used to finding out pretty much everything they want to know on the Internet, so the first thing Daniel did when he picked up the guitar was pick up the netbook as well, and look for the chords for his favourite song.  We have lyrics and charts galore at our disposal, and videos of the best musicians for technique.   We can listen and play stuff back until we’ve got the sound “right”.  We can even record our efforts and see how they sound.

Now Daniel would like to learn more about composition.  He’s got ideas in his head that he can’t get out… yet.  But I figure the answer is probably here online somewhere.

What discoveries are happening in your home that have been made easier with computers? 

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Klout – not perfect, but not to be ignored, either”

This is a response to Mat Wright’s recent post in his blog, The Wright Result.

I’ve been using Klout with my personal account, for over a year.  The result has been largely reflective of my use of social media – I was heavily involved in 2009, almost inactive in 2010, and have returned to the “industry” if you could call it that, in 2011.  (I agree with Mat that recognized credentials in social media are almost non-existent at this early point in time – more on that in another post).  So yes, I have a large network of influential contacts, and my score has been rising again as I have spend more time online, communicating and being a “thought leader” (man, that strokes my ego, lol).

Being quite happy with what I thought to be an accurate reflection of my influence, I decided to hook my new “work” profile up to Klout and see how far I needed to go to catch up with the “rest of me”, so to speak.  This is where it gets tricky.  It was easy to connect @NetscribeCath on Twitter to Klout, and then it asked if I would like to hook Facebook up as well.  So I thought, “Sure, why not?”  Klout responded with a dialogue box that asked, “Another account is using this profile.  Are you sure you want to merge?”  I went ahead anyway, and sure enough, this bumped my work profile way up.  I didn’t realize that this would disconnect @catherinenovak from Facebook.

Turns out that Facebook can only influence one Klout account at a time!  I have a problem with this, in that my work life and my personal life have a fair degree of overlap.  Many people whom I consider friends are also great business connections, and vice versa.  Why should I have to choose which account gets to connect with Catherine Novak on Facebook?

As Mat mentioned, it’s not “done” to obsess about Klout scores with other social media pros.   We’re supposed to be above that, all the while helping our clients to boost THEIR influence.  So long as our score is above [insert your own “acceptable” threshold here], it really doesn’t matter, right?

Thing is, it does, and it doesn’t.  It’s complicated.  My Klout score stagnated when I  took many months away from this line of work.  However, my base knowledge did not disappear.  Connections made did not go away.  And in the meantime, “newbie” @NetscribeCath brings with her the same knowledge and connections that @CatherineNovak has – they just aren’t showing up online yet.

At best, our Klout score is a snapshot in time – like the display on a digital clock, where what we want is probably a larger set of more “analog” gauges.  The best indication of someone’s influence needs to be viewed over a longer period, and in their offline accomplishments as well.  I believe that both my Klout accounts should be able to share the history that my Facebook account brings with me.  And people who use a Klout score to sum me up in two digits had better look deeper – check my LinkedIn profile, my blog posts, and yes, my Google + record, which won’t be connected to Klout until later this year.  Get to know me.  Take me for coffee.

Personally, I would never make a hiring decision about  someone based solely  their on Klout score, as Amber Naslund has reported on Google +.   I’d take it into account, but it’s very important that we don’t make it an “easy out”.

What’s your take on Klout?  How have you heard of people using it? 

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