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Posts Tagged ‘Stephanie McMillan’

What Does Labor Day Mean To You?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

For so many workers, the meaning of Labor Day has changed drastically.  What used to be regarded merely as a long weekend and a changing of the seasons is now a stinging reminder of being unemployed or underemployed.

Similar to the anniversary of the death of a loved one, Labor Day creeps up and reminds many people of what they once had . . . and slaps them in the face with the reality of what they are now faced with instead: little or no reward, appreciation or prospects, not to mention a reminder of how much time has passed since the job search began.  It can all be a bit overwhelming to have Labor Day stare you down like that.

There never were guarantees in the job market, but the odds have gotten much more difficult in this economy.  Having a list of various steps that you can take to help tilt the odds back in your direction can be useful.  Not only might this increase your chances, but it can also begin to allow you to consider the employer’s point of view more often.  As you are more mindful of a hiring manager’s needs and perspective, this will make you a better candidate overall.

There are many phases in the hiring process beyond the face to face interview, which is certainly important and worthy of preparing questions, responses, wardrobe, demeanor, etc.  However, aspects prior to sitting down with a hiring manager may or may not lead to getting that interview, and your actions after the interview can determine if you’re called back or selected for the position.

With so many candidates being qualified – and over-qualified – directors have the luxury to be as picky as possible these days.  Which areas might you improve upon, either to impress or make life easier for a potential new supervisor?


Typically, if a hiring manager likes what they see, the first means of contacting you for more information will be by phone.  It’s important, therefore, to consider carefully which phone number(s) you have provided.  Unless you were asked for more than one phone number, provide only one and remain consistent.

•     Is this a phone number you have control over, or do you share the line with others?  Will you get your messages in a timely manner?
•     What impression will the potential employer get when the phone is answered?  How is the phone answered?  Will the hiring manager feel you are professional (“Hello.  This is Dawn.”), or immature (“Yo! ‘Sup, dude?”)?  Will there be unfavorable background noise, or unprofessional voicemail?  Do you identify yourself on your voicemail, or is it a generic, “Hi – this is 555-1234.  Leave a message.”
•     How soon after a call do you get/retrieve your messages?
•     How easy is it for you to return – or receive – a call during working hours in a private, uninterrupted setting?  (Most first interviews are now via phone.)
•     Do you make a point to add your phone number under your signature in every email correspondence?  Although it may already be listed on previous documents, why not make it easy for someone to find your phone number, instead of looking it up elsewhere?


Many people don’t give a single thought as to how they are representing themselves with their email address, either, but this can affect the job search also.

•     Most people have more than one email address these days.  Consider using – or creating – one specifically for job hunting and networking purposes only.  Receiving all correspondence at one email address can make it easy to have your inbox cluttered and lose or overlook an important incoming message.
•     Try to make your email address as business-like and close to your name as possible.  If your name is “John Smith,” then is no doubt taken, but if you can try a different service provider and/or adding your middle initial, certification, etc., so that your email doesn’t end up adding several digits to your last name, it’s much better.  You wouldn’t want a typo of inverted numbers to leave you without a message that was intended to ask you to return for a second interview.
•     Consider investing in a smartphone or other handheld device that allows you to access your emails without having to use a company computer.  Most businesses monitor employees’ online activities these days, and while “personal emails” may have a broad interpretation, using company property to search for and respond to other job listings and offers could get you in real trouble.
•     Many colleges offer free email to their alumni upon graduating, but it’s not a good idea to use this account as your job search email.  Unless you are in the academic field, hiring managers will view you – fair or not – as very young and very green, just out of college, with no “real world” experience, and still trying to vicariously relive your college days.

Online Presence

Having social networking skills is often a selling point when interviewing these days.  It’s often becoming a necessary part of the job, just as computer skills were a couple of decades ago.  However, it’s essential that you be aware that how you behave online reflects back on the impression you make to your current and future employers.  There really is no privacy online whatsoever, regardless of any setting(s) provided on the various social networks.

Take care in what you say and how you say it when posting – or emailing – any type of statement, video, photo, etc.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable with the general public viewing it, it’s best left unsaid online.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a recluse, however, but learn that it is a public venue.  There are things you wouldn’t say or do in public, simply because you prefer to present a well-behaved, polite persona.  It’s the same thing.

Some additional pointers:

•     Periodically Google your name and see what the results are.  Are you pleased with them?  What are the most important aspects that Google has to say about you, if anything?  If your name is similar enough to others, add some other distinguishing terms about yourself (or remove the distinguishing terms about the others) to narrow the search to you.  If you don’t care for the results, there are two things you can do to improve your online presence:  Add more positive hits with online activities such as tweeting, blogging, posting comments on other blogs, LinkedIn groups, etc., or remove the hits by contacting those sites that have mentioned and/or tagged you.
•     Be mindful of what you are tweeting, posting, blogging, commenting, etc.  This isn’t just about party photos, but such things as complaints about your job, co-workers, boss, and so forth.  If you come across as whining about job interviews, or being negative, rather than someone who perseveres, your attitude – regardless of the topic discussed – can help a hiring manager decide whether you make the short list or not.  Many bosses are turned off by excessive use of profanity as well.
•     Consider that the better you become at social media, the more you can use these tools to your advantage, too.  While managers are availing themselves of a way to view potential employees while they “have their hair down,” candidates with know-how can do the same thing and learn more about the personality of a possible manager than they ever could before.  Now, after an interview, if you have a gut feeling about that person possibly being condescending or a drill sergeant in disguise, you might be able to confirm that hunch with a little online homework!


Don’t neglect the importance of writing a handwritten thank you note after your interview.  For a phone interview, an email thank you may be all that’s necessary, but unless a decision is being made within the next day or two (which you determined during your interview), there is time to write and mail a thoughtful, handwritten note, which elaborates upon some point or topic discussed during the interview, as well as thanking the manager(s) for their time.

Not only does this gesture demonstrate that you have courtesy and a timely sense of follow through, but in addition to showing legible handwriting and the ability to craft a letter, all managers appreciate knowing who has the ability to compose sentences properly without the use of spell check and grammar assistant tools from a word processor.

So few candidates send a thank you after an interview, and among those that do, many opt for the shortest route, such as a text, email, or sending some type of form letter to everyone seen.  Make certain you take good enough notes to write each individual a unique message expressing something about the time spent with them – or why bother?

The better fit you can find with the job you ultimately do get, the less likely you are to spend all of your off hours searching for the next job so soon.  The ideal situation is not only to find work that is challenging, but also a supervisor that gives and receives respect.  A living wage is the cherry on the sundae, of course.

Here’s hoping that future Labor Days remind us more of sundaes, s’mores and picnics, rather than unreached goals.

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

(When) Should I Start Looking Elsewhere?

Does My Manager Believe In Me?

Yvonne* and Zachary* realized that even with preparation, problems arise during interviews

Fix It Or Forget It?

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Merle* lamented, “Racial and gender bias just don’t compare to age discrimination! It’s the worst one of all!” I held my tongue as this older white man vented, and thought, “What you mean is, it’s the first time you’ve ever had to deal with it.”

Merle worked in fundraising for an organization that was a constant source of frustration for him. When he arrived, he felt it would be an opportunity to grow the department and organization; however, what he discovered after arriving, is that the staff and board expected him – and him alone – to raise the funds for the organization!

Almost nobody on the board contributed, and they all balked at the notion of soliciting on behalf of the organization. When Merle suggested forming a development committee, the response was, “That’s your job!”

He also received a similar lack of support when discussing a staff campaign with his Executive Director: “We already pay them too little . . . you can’t expect them to donate, too! Anyway, you’re the Development Director.”

While Merle’s had some mild success in raising funds, it’s nothing compared to what he feels he could be doing. (He’s had his hands tied by management about not being too aggressive with his language in various appeals, not sending them out too frequently, and so forth.)

This situation led Merle to Forget It! and start looking for another position; however, between the tight job market, the economy and his age, he was startled at how this perfect storm made job hunting so much more difficult than it ever had been before.

There’s no question that all job seekers are having a more difficult time in the last couple of years. Merle and I worked together to boost his odds of being taken seriously as a candidate, because he discovered that once he arrived at an interview and the employer saw his age, his chances reduced drastically. It’s an unfortunate reality that organizations assume older workers lack current skills.

Merle and I have been working on other tactics to increase his chances, such as networking within organizations, events and social functions, so that others within the profession get to know his name and face, in the event of a position becoming available. In addition, he is making a point to maintain training in current trends, not only to keep himself marketable, but also to combat the notion that older workers are not technologically savvy.

It is taking longer than he anticipated to find another position, but he is also researching which companies are more elder-friendly, to see what other industries he might consider expanding his search to, since many of his skills are transferable. Working mothers have often done similar research when job hunting, as well as African Americans. There are also many reference pages tailored to various professions.

Merle realizes that his search will take more time than before, but he wants to be well-prepared . . . not just for the interviewer, but for himself, too. When he does get the next position, he wants it to be one that is right for him, and not an unpleasant surprise like this last one has been, where management’s fear and ignorance prevents him from being as effective as he could be. He plans to work hard at his next job, but wants it to work for him as well.

Naomi* was working on a marketing internship during her last semester of college, and it was going very well. She had arranged with a nonprofit organization to manage one of their signature special events, and most of her activities kept her out of the office – either on campus or in town – promoting it in person, or publicizing it online.

She was very effective at gaining support and participation for the event, as well as raising funds, and the publicity increased from the previous year, too. Naomi felt that her senior project was a success, and spent the final few weeks of the semester at the organization’s office, finishing paperwork, filing reports and other duties, to satisfy the conditions of her internship.

Prior to these final weeks, she had only checked in once a week, to make some phone calls and attend a meeting or two, since her assignment was “out in the field.” Most of the staff knew who she was, but hadn’t really spent any time with her until her daily attendance in the office, and she noticed that the reception toward her was quite different than the initial friendly one.

When she was a volunteer who stopped by occasionally, everyone was very cordial, but now that she had been assigned an office of her own for a few weeks, nobody seemed to have the time or inclination to even eat lunch with her, other than the person she reported to, but she was often “in the field” as well, and not always available.

Naomi’s requirements for the intern credits mandated that she fulfill “office hours,” but she frankly didn’t have enough work to do, and often sat idle at her desk. She decided to write up some additional ideas – beyond her assignment – that she thought would be helpful for the organization, and created some color charts to depict how she projected the ideas’ results would fare.

She sent her final report to print on the good, color printer, so that she could present it to the director she reported to upon her return the next day.

Several minutes later when she went to the copy room to retrieve the report, the office manager was there, waiting for her, with a stern look on her face, and asked if Naomi had used the color printer.

Naomi explained that she had, since she included some color charts for a particular report. The office manager practically interrogated her, especially upon discovering that what was printed wasn’t “her assignment,” and went into an explanation about how this particular printer was expensive, had been restricted to certain personnel (“I didn’t know your computer had access!”), and was very sensitive, recently had repair issues, etc., etc.

Once Naomi got over the shock of being reprimanded for simply printing a document, she realized that she was dealing with a technophobe, and tried to assuage her fears, rather than go on the defensive. Naomi offered to help with some of the problems they’ve had with the printer, and explained that her part time job at school was working in technical support, and ––

“That’s fine,” the office manager interrupted her, handing her the printout, “Just don’t touch it!” and she walked away.

Naomi had been considering the possibility of working at this organization upon graduating, but this latest encounter made her think otherwise. Having nobody to eat lunch with, and needing to justify printing a document did not bode well. This is when she approached me about her job search.

First, though, I suggested that she show her ideas to her contact at the organization. It turned out that she was very impressed, not only with Naomi’s performance the entire semester, but also with her forward thinking abilities, to see what could come next.

We were able to Fix It! and line up a position for Naomi with the organization . . . at one of their satellite offices. Her contact was pleased to recommend her, and that particular office location didn’t have an opening at the time, anyway.

Naomi was happy to have a position with an organization that she was already familiar with, yet also pleased not to be working in the location that seemed to judge her strictly on her age. Unfortunately, too many people assume that all younger workers aren’t to be trusted with anything worthwhile.

Because, unfortunately, there are still so many instances in which initial judgments are made in the workplace based upon superficial (and often erroneous) attributes, it is all the more crucial that candidates take additional measures to network and seek to promote other means of setting themselves apart from the competition.

Unless you have a way of distinguishing yourself, most interviewers will have difficulty not viewing you as “one of the pack,” whatever pack they may decide you fall into.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share? Send it to me, and it might help others. Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.


Starting in 2011, blog posts will alternate weekly, and the Annual Giving columns and the Fix It Or Forget It? columns will appear on Wednesdays.


Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

Fix It or Forget It?

Friday, June 4th, 2010

This week’s Fix It or Forget It? has to do with the interview process.  It’s an important question, and one that I get asked frequently while I’m providing career counseling to clients who are interviewing:

•     I’m just not sure…I got a bad feeling from that person.
•     I don’t know if I made a good impression.
•     If they acted that way in the interview, do I really want to work there – or was it a test?

*Georgia decided to expand her search beyond listings and go to an employment agency.  She didn’t expect that they would have a great deal for nonprofit fundraising, but her skills crossed into public relations, marketing, events, etc., and she didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, particularly because she lived outside the city limits.  If she could find something more local and not commute as far, that would be even better.

She entered a small office and was greeted by a woman who said there was paperwork to fill out.  Georgia thought it was odd that the woman didn’t give her the papers, but instead asked her various questions and filled out the forms for her, but continued answering the questions.  Then, the questions took an annoying turn.

“Your age?”  Georgia knew that it was not legal to ask this question, but she didn’t want to appear uncooperative so early in the meeting.  Then came the next question.

“Are you married?”  Georgia was further annoyed, but still did not want to appear as a troublemaker, and was even more shocked at the woman’s next question.

“Do you own your own home?”  Georgia found she could hold her tongue no longer.

“What does that have to do with anything?” she asked the woman, exasperated by now.

The woman responded in an exasperated tone herself, telling Georgia, “Well, if you own your own home, you’re more likely to stay in the area, so you’ll remain in the job longer!”

Georgia recounted: “She spoke to me as though I were an idiot for not ‘realizing’ this!”

Georgia refused to continuing answering the woman’s invasive questions, informing her that they were irrelevant . . . and by the way, illegal.  At that point, the woman was visibly annoyed and pretended to “file” her application.

“But I know she didn’t do anything with it,” Georgia said, “What a waste of time!”  Although I told her that she could have filed charges with the EEOC, Georgia decided to Forget It!, and we focused our energies in areas that had better chances of paying off.

*Hannah’s job search was very challenging.  She had been without a job for a couple of years and was re-entering the work force.  She had had a few very promising interviews in which she was told very enthusiastically how qualified she was – but when it came time to ask her about her absence and she told them why:

She had been treated for cancer, and was now in recovery.  She was now completely cancer-free and ready to come back to work!

All of the dynamics changed at this point.  The interviewers only heard the word “cancer” and it was clear that they worried about their health care expenses going through the roof.  They didn’t call back, and no offers were made.  This had happened several times now.

Hannah and I searched for a different strategy when answering the question about her absence.  It is almost never advisable to lie or omit information, yet we were considering various alternatives in her case, such as “caring for an elderly, sick relative.”  We realized that this “sick relative” might pose similar problems, however – should s/he become ill again, and joked that we’d have to kill them off, so that Hannah wouldn’t need more time off in the future to care for them again!

In the end, we Fixed It! with Hannah answering this question by saying that she took the time off to be at home with her children and was now returning to the workforce since they were older.  This answer was acceptable, and she was hired soon after, based on her obvious skill, rather than prevented from getting work due to some cancer phobia.

That was several years ago, and Hannah is still employed – and still cancer-free!

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.


Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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