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Steve Levy: “Screw the Parachute: Unconventional Ways to Amp Up Your Job Search”

Posted on March 29, 2010
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Today we are honored to have Steve Levy’s featured guest contribution, – one of the finest writers in the blogosphere and a good friend. Steve Levy was the very first of a series of “Meet” profiles of individuals who have made an impact on our profession, binding the best attributes of “old School” relationship networking with seamless “Out-of-The-Box” methodologies and technologies.

Now for something important – Steve Levy’s birthday is this Wednesday. It will be the warmest day yet this year breaking winter’s spell with a beautiful 70 degrees here in Castle Rock, Colorado. Coincidence? I think not! Happy Birthday Steve. Follow him and connect with him on Linkedin. That’s a funny sentence, sounds like I am suggesting stalking … but of course we know that’s Twitter Lingo


I called in to Paul Paris’ BlogTalkRadio show about 10 days ago; the topic – Extreme Candidate Makeover – was very noble and it entailed career coaches and resume writers working to assist job seekers who were momentarily halted in their job search and “volunteered” to be the subject of magical makeovers.

Since calling from a car is like taking a call while you’re in the bathroom and flushing during a particularly important moment, I pulled over – and listened as cases were presented and volunteers offered tried and true suggestions to the courageous guinea pigs such as “You need to show more energy” or ”You need to target your resume to your audience”. There were also important gems such as, “Sure you’re busy and involved in many groups and associations but these are all with people who are job seekers like you and in many instances in far worse emotional states of mind.” It was “What Color is Your Parachute” over and over – which isn’t a bad thing if it weren’t for the reality that everyone uses this approach – which in effect denudes the impact of the techniques (if every resume you read says the same thing – same words, same structure – then the differentiator closes to zero). So much for a magical makeover; this one was heavy on the smoke and mirrors.

In effect, the when-you-become-so-good-at-using-a-hammer-every-thing-begins-to-look-like-a-nail approach that is used by nearly all outplacement types, career counselors, resume writers, and newspaper columnists who write about this stuff, while in general isn’t such a bad thing to do, in reality it turns everyone into a shade of gray. Don’t you want some color? Not for your parachute but a color that represents your real essence, not something that is pre-packaged to be sold on a 2 AM infomercial?

When I finally had enough of this Mad Libs approach, I spoke of three critical elements of a job seeker’s strategy that are so infrequently used but when they are, position the person to potentially move to the head of the candidate class. So to all the resume writers, career counseling experts (that would be directed to those in outplacement), and job search gurus out there, what do you think of these?

Brick and Mortar research. I have to thank Hal for this one. Back in the early 1990’s, Hal was SVP of International Manufacturing for a global chemical manufacturer when he was pink slipped. He had a traditional outplacement counselor who was driving him insane with a pre-packaged job search approach – that wasn’t exciting any search consultants nor CEOs. Now Hal is 6’ 7” and when he was mad you knew it. One day, I interceded, he vented, and we took a road trip to the Fairfield University library for some old fashioned hands-to-the-paper research.

We pulled the past 6 months of chemical manufacturing related journals and systematically went through them – letters to the editor, special content columns, opinion pieces, analyst opinions, etc. and made five lists:

1. Most written about skills (tactical)
2. Most written about industry initiatives (strategic)
3. People mentioned (movers and shakers, promotions)
4. Innovative companies (love these lists)
5. Analyst favored companies (“insider” information)

Armed with the first two, we made a list of the top ten in each area in light of how his hiring manager might view them; in his case, this view was from the eyes of a CEO. From these we reviewed the resume for the presence and “weight” (as in accomplishment order) of these. Ultimately, Hal’s resume was rewritten (included too were his “legacy” results – see below) to reflect the presence and importance of these skills and initiatives based upon the short and longer term needs of his hiring manager.

#3, People mentioned? Contacted to congratulate on their promotion, their article, etc. and to network, to the potential target lists – #4, Innovative and #5, analyst-favored – of companies that were rank ordered according to his personal and professional needs.

When he made the calls, he used a pitch like this – after telling them where and why he had their name: “It would very helpful if you would read and review my resume. Even more, when you receive calls from friends, companies, or recruiters looking for someone like me, it would be an incredible gesture if you would give them my name. Do you have any family or friends who might want to network with me? I’d be pleased as punch if I can help someone you know.”

If you think that this approach is time consuming, you’re darn right it is. This is why I encourage every happily employed person to keep a career journal/scrap book (I could care less whether it’s online or leather bound) where you maintain these lists. Personally, I call people when I read about them – or for instance, when they connect to me on Twitter – I like the instant connection and To wait until you’re worrying about where your next meal will come from is ludicrous. Sad to say but given the bonehead moves made by companies these days, you almost have to plan for a layoff.

Incidentally, why is it that when the business strategy fails and layoffs are “required”, it’s the working stiffs that get the pink slips and not the CEO who signed off on the strategy?

Legacy. I hate reading accomplishments because they are hopelessly static; they represent a point in time that is unaffected by the future. But a true accomplishment is one that stands the test of time. Which is where legacy comes in: Sure you implemented a “system” that reduced DSO by 20% over the first 8 months of the FY…but was it sustainable? Accomplishments are written like baseball statistics – “David Wright is 8 for 13 during this homestand” – but then when you pull back he’s hitting .275 and finished the year batting .290. [In a droll tone] Wow that’s impressive. Accomplishments rarely pass the “so what?” test which further helps to push a boring resume to the trash can.

But what if you went back to your former companies and asked about the systems you implemented? Did they continue to be as effective after you left? You might have opened up 8 new accounts but did they generate revenue after you left? Hey, I’m impressed that you wrote 10,000 lines of code but were they used? You’re legacy – and the best way to bold face your accomplishments – is how well your work continued to positively impact your former employer after you left. If the accounting system you developed, implemented, and trained people to use continued to reduce DSO after you left, wouldn’t you want to let people know about it?

Once you have done your brick and mortar research and defined your legacy, you’ll have the content needed to demonstrate to a potential hiring manager that you are the solution to the short and longer term problems. Your resume might still require some wordsmithing but at least now it won’t look like everyone else’s propaganda.

Talk to vendors. Talk about low hanging fruit. How many of you interact with vendors at your job? How about creating a personal vendor network from these? Have target companies? Ask your vendor which of their reps has these targets as accounts. Want to relocate? Ask your rep for their counterpart there. Sales folks are often the first to know about possible job opportunities; they’re in tight with the people who sign for the products and services being sold. All the time they spent with the P&L people playing golf, eating steak, smoking cigars, and drinking scotch has led to some pretty strong relationships.

What’s in it for them? For one, you’re going to fill them in on the names of contacts you’ve made at companies that might be on their target list. Two, you will remember them when you’ve landed. Right?

These three are but a few techniques that don’t require a parachute. They aren’t quick fixes to your job search and if you don’t approach them will a good deal of zeal might actually make your head explode. But they do work and are essential for long term career survival.

I’m on a roll now so here are some…

Random resume thoughts. I see too many job seekers – non-creative types – enamored with fancy fonts, liberal use of italics, double lines, and shading of section headings. My philosophy is to eliminate all non-essential ink on the resume. Does anyone believe the ATS cares about your salmon colored paper or the fact that your name is in a 24 pt size while the rest of your resume is 12 pt? Is there any reason to waste ink by offering the reader a translation of the number you just wrote as in “four (4)”? Oh thank you, I didn’t know what “four” meant. Spelling out acronyms? Only to assuage the feelings of ignorant recruiters; if you’re hiring manager knows what they mean, leave them as acronyms. Numbers for numbers sake make you look dumb: Too many “bad” resume writers convince people to over seed their resumes with nonsensical “metrics”. Dumb – and they fail the “so what?” test. Also, when you use numbers such as 25%, 33% or 50% we know you’re making these numbers up (they’re called rectal-linear assumptions) – better to write 24.7%, 32.8% or 50.4% because they look real (hey, I’m not telling you how to lie but if you’re going to “guess” at least make it look good). References will be furnished upon request? Really? Why thank you; I was really concerned about you telling me, “I’m sorry but you can’t have my references.” The section, “Professional Experience” makes me want to look for “Amateur Experience”; keep it simply as “Experience” (remember – eliminate non-essential ink). One more thing…See my last name? Know what that means? No, I don’t read the resume from right to left but I do read it from back to front. If your second page is dull, minimally communicative, and appears as if you gave up after the first two inches, I’m thinking that you haven’t worked hard enough at putting your experience to paper. Go back to the suggestions above and try again…

Random job search thought. When someone accepts your LinkedIn invitation, be sure to download their business card into your contact database…then call them to personally thank them for doing so (getting their phone number shouldn’t be too difficult; if you need a primer, let Dave know and I’ll write one); this way you’ll be able to check their contact info for accuracy. Same goes for when you’re accepted into a LinkedIn group or when someone follows you on Twitter – in both of these instances, you will shock people when you ring them because this is rarely done. Talk about being memorable…


2 Responses to “Steve Levy: “Screw the Parachute: Unconventional Ways to Amp Up Your Job Search””

  1. @HRMargo on March 29th, 2010 11:31 am

    There’s a reason Steve Levy is considered an industry leader by his peers. He makes cogent observations, and does so in a humorous way. He’s right on the money. Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview with your readers Dave!

  2. Steve Levy: “Screw the Parachute: Unconventional Ways to Amp Up…: Outplacement Layoff on March 30th, 2010 5:05 am

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