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Why Former Microsoft Employees Struggle with the Job Search

I’ve been there.

In 2009, I was laid off from a Diversity Manager role at Microsoft and after more than 13 years, I found myself wondering: What next? It was confidence-crushing and on my way home from cleaning out my desk in Building 36, I stopped by my friend Michelle’s and cried on her shoulder. 13 years of being a cheerleader for MS and here I was, told I was no longer needed.

The good news was that I left with a solid exit package in hand and an opportunity to really figure out what I wanted to do. Out of the experience was born a terrific business that I still own today. I am now a job search coach and I pride myself on taking 20 years of recruiting expertise and “reverse engineering” what I know in service to my clients – many of whom are former (even current) MS employees.

Not that I’m a saint, mind you, but I have to share some key take-aways from my years of coaching MS alumni with a goal of making the job search easier for you if you are struggling. These observations are mine alone – although I think you’ll nod your head in agreement as you read through my advice.

It’s Not About You
During my years at MS, I found that one of the most important avenues to success was the ability to showcase yourself. When I began in 1995 (yes, I’m that old), there were 2 reviews a year. You spent so much time just trying to play up your successes so that you’d get a stellar review from your manager.

Talking about you and trying to impress people in the job search arena doesn’t work.

Listening does.

Each open position equals pain to a manager (for those of you who were/are managers, you know what I’m talking about). While these hiring managers want to hear about your successes, they also just want to hear about how your past experience can solve their current pain. That means you have to listen to their issues and speak intelligently to how you’ve successfully addressed the same issues.

No acronyms, name-dropping or Microspeak necessary. Don’t go into this like a review. It’s solving for X and demonstrating your listening skills. Hiring manager will appreciate it greatly. It’s about THEM – not you.

Name Dropping
For years I helped externally-hired Partners on-board at MS and they were shocked by the culture: it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. New employees would call counterparts in other groups and couldn’t get a moment of their time, even though they were wined and dined to come to MS and provide leadership. No one would return their calls or email.

It’s because they had little to no connections within MS. They knew so few people. What makes a difference at MS is when you name-drop and talk about how long you’ve been an employee.

Many of my clients who are MS alumni tell me their stories and they are peppered with names that even I don’t know. It’s as if the names carry weight, influence, and prestige.

Wake-up call: these names mean very little to people outside of MS and dropping names during the job search process (except when you’re connecting with people who are also former MS) means absolutely nothing. Those at start-ups all over Seattle will just give you this glazed look when you begin name-dropping (OK, maybe Bill G still carries some clout).

Drop the name dropping. It simply doesn’t work.

Microsoft is the New Boeing. You Need To Be Current.
Yes, I really said it. Gasp!

I held a Director of Staffing role at a very cool aviation tech startup a few years ago and when I brought MS candidates forward, the CTO would turn down his nose. Here’s why: MS candidates had little open source experience, had a reputation for a lack of collaborative spirit and didn’t stay technically current.

MS has not historically rewarded employees for A) being collaborative – especially when the old review process was in place and B) getting involved with anything outside of the company, such as professional organizations.

I saw this first hand when a friend of mine won a national award that had nothing to do with MS and yet didn’t even get a congratulations from her own manager.

As a job seeker, you can remedy this image and it isn’t that daunting.

1. If you’re technical, take some time and get up-to-speed on open source.
2. Get connected with other devs via Reddit or Meet-Ups.
3. Come up with examples of when you demonstrated true collaboration.
4. “Show Up” as someone keeping their fingers on the pulse of the world outside of MS.
5. Get involved in activities that current employers now value: environmental work, staying in shape, managing people in a volunteer environment.

Even Marketing candidates must know all the latest and greatest tools and trends. While you were heads down trying to get your work done at MS, the world was shifting, changing. Your job as a job seeker is to know what’s going on – NOW.

BTW: I don’t mean to knock Boeing – they are now an employer of choice among my clients!

Communicate With Ease
Maybe I should say it this way: Lighten Up.

I speak with employers everyday and when I ask them for feedback about MS alumni they almost all say that MS candidates take themselves way too seriously.

That intensity was great within MS but companies really appreciate a candidate who not only knows their stuff, but also can “hang” with others and add some energy to the team. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but I make this a focus during my mock interviews with clients because of the feedback candidates and I have received.

“At Microsoft….”
This is one phrase that will kill an interview. For that matter, if you do get the job and you use this phrase when beginning to work with your team, people will really dislike you.

Just because it was successful at MS, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. As a matter of fact, most companies think that if you bring MS methods with you, you’ll fail in their collaborative, upbeat, edgy, thoughtful, energetic and the “customer is key” environments.

It’s better to use phrases like this when you’re interviewing: “The challenge you face in getting vendors to complete projects is something that I have tackled. Here’s specifically how I worked through this issue with successful results.”

 

I am so proud of the 13 years I spent at Microsoft. I loved almost every day and I have a boatload of friends to show for my years there. Smart people, fun work (more in the early 2000’s I have to admit) and cool products. I carry these experiences with me to this day.

But, it’s a new day. Microsoft is changing and during this challenging transition, you can too.

Missed Opportunities: Why the LinkedIn Default Dialogue Box is NOT Your Friend

I feel extremely lucky that almost everyday I receive at least 3 requests to connect
via LinkedIn, if not more. LinkedIn is my favorite job search (and recruiting) tool in
my job search toolbox and knowing that my profile is attracting attention is highly
complimentary.

But, I have observed that just about everyone who wishes to connect with me makes
a huge error: They do not use the dialogue box to create a personalized message when they request to connect.

Here’s some free guidance from a job search coach who also continues to recruit
candidates – If you don’t take advantage of that dialogue box, you’re missing out on
some significantly important opportunities to make a great impression.

(Please read the above paragraph again.)

Here’s why I implore you, beg you, to write a personal message: If you send
someone a request to connect and use the default “I’d like to connect” that LinkedIn
so kindly provides, you miss out on free advertising for yourself. Use of the default
typically means that you’re not selling yourself and in these competitive times for
the job seeker, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to sell yourself to
employers.

Think about it from the recipient’s point of view. When you get a generic form letter in the mail, does it stand out to you? Is it memorable? Do you take the extra time to read it word-for word? Probably not. But what about a personalized note that someone actually took the time to craft? I bet that type of communication and its sender are more likely to get your attention, and maybe even your respect and a return response from you.

Let me give you a great example in the context of job search and LinkedIn.

Recently, I posted a job for a well-known regional company and since I often receive
requests to connect, I went about my usual discernment process of evaluating
whether I wanted to connect with people who reach out to me. But, one of those
who reached out did not take advantage of the dialogue box on LinkedIn and I
passed the connection over since I didn’t know him.

He missed his opportunity to say something like this: Lora, I noticed that you have
posted a position and I would appreciate knowing more about the role and whether
my extensive sales background maps to the role. I have been in sales for 10+ years
and I am intrigued by the opportunity. May we connect or at least exchange email?

Sincerely,
Bob
206-222-2222

Bob missed out. He was in the usual group of people who defaulted to the existing
dialogue box and I never accepted his connection. (By-the-way: please list your
phone number too, if you’re a job-seeker. When wearing my recruiting hat I really
appreciate the phone number as a means of reaching out quickly.)

Think of the dialogue box as your free, 30-second sales pitch. Who turns down a
freebie opportunity to sell their expertise? Bob did.

Job Search: Hello Universe!

It’s that time of year again: after putting it off, mulling it over, talking with friends and family, taking a few tentative stabs at it…you’ve decided to get a new job. But, after all the deep deliberation and discussions, you’re paralyzed. You simply have no idea where to start and despite all the information out there in the “twitterverse” about job search, you retreat.

Please don’t throw in the towel just yet, okay?

Let me offer you the most valuable and easy-to-follow guidance a job search coach can dish up: Tell the world you are now “exploring” and let the universe know that you’re here. Yes. It’s that simple to get the ball rolling.

Sitting at your desk in your current job or waiting at home for the phone to ring will likely get you nowhere if no one knows that you want a job. Sure, if you’re a software developer extraordinaire you’ll probably get a call from a recruiter. When there’s a huge demand for a specific type of talent, they get all the attention. But, in all likelihood, you’re reading this article because you’re not a software developer.

Whether you’ve been out of the workforce for a while or just stuck in a rut, your best chances of getting a new job are to rally yourself and follow the “Hello Universe Plan”:

Go job shopping on any job posting website (like www.Monster.com, www.CareerBuilder.com or even Craigslist) and find the job of your dreams. The great thing about job shopping is that there is no obligation to “buy”. Instead, you want to find job titles that appeal to you and read the job descriptions for key terms that map to your own experience. Jot those terms down and save them – you’ll want to integrate into your resume later.

Craft a short, simple paragraph that tells your story and identifies the job you want. Here’s an example:
I have years of experience teaching French to children and I am exploring opportunities where an employer can leverage my fluent French. I am especially intrigued by roles such as Bi-lingual Customer Service Representative, French Account Representative or French Instructor. My customer relationship management skills have been honed both inside and outside the classroom.

Make a list of your valued contacts – friends, family, friends-of-friend and anyone else who would enjoy a cup of coffee in your company (your treat of course). These are people who are invested in you and who want to help you. Email or call the people on your list and share your paragraph with them. Let them know you’re exploring and ask them to share their own job search experiences with you.

At soccer games, PTA meetings, wine tastings, social situations, mention that you’re exploring and share your story. Be clear, crisp and concise. You don’t need to share your entire work or life history. Glazed looks will follow if you over-share.

Putting your message out into the universe is just the first step. Of course you’ll need a resume and a LinkedIn profile and maybe even some interview coaching. But, for now, this simple act of getting the word out is a great start.

The universe needs a “you” in the workforce. It just needs to know where to find you.

 

From LinkedIn workshops to interview coaching to comprehensive job search coaching – we can help you get that plum job! Contact us to get started.

New year, new job? Try a different magic bullet.

If you’re like me, you appreciate a clean slate, a fresh start and a new list of goals for the New Year (notice, I do not call them resolutions because for some reason I can never stick to something if it is labeled a “resolution”).

But, if you’re like me, you plunge enthusiastically into your objectives with the vigor of the Energizer Bunny, only to feel the batteries quickly drain after bumping up against obstacles. Last year, for example, I tried drinking protein shakes for breakfast every day.  I had to get up extra early to make time prior to work so I could create my shake masterpieces, which ultimately only lasted me until 9am when I started getting shaky and hungry again. After just one week, my Magic Bullet found itself lonely once more.

Working with job seekers, I often see this same pattern: you start out the search with a positive outlook, roll up your sleeves and dive head-first into the job market.  But, after a number of obstacles, like un-returned email from potential employers, the wind slowly leaks out of the sails and the search comes to a slow, grinding halt.  Just like my Magic Bullet.

To get your New Year and job search off to a solid start, I offer up some Search Shake ingredients that will truly satisfy, keep you going and revive your energy for the challenges of an effective search:

Go “Job Shopping”. Just like after-Christmas sales, employers often reset their inventory and post jobs. After the New Year, people are back from holiday vacations and we typically see some turnover in the job market after the 1st of the year. Get ready to see a greater number of postings and get job shopping!  “Job shopping” is great because it allows you the opportunity to take a look, browse and see what’s appealing without any commitment.  Use simple search engines, like Monster, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder , Indeed or even Google/Bing to explore.  Hone in on keywords (more about this later) that are meaningful to you and just window-shop.  No pressure!

Make Your Shopping List. Once you’ve collected a few items in your job search basket, use that highlighter Santa gave you in your stocking to emphasize the language of the jobs that appeal to you.  Be specific and highlight things that are particular to that type if job.  For example, you are looking for a marketing role, highlight SEO, metrics, measurement, audience, focus groups. These are words you will continue to use in your posting search + in all tools for your search, including your resume. The idea here is that you want to speak the language of the marketplace.

Add Ingredients. Once you’ve created your shopping list of key words, take a look at your current resume and consider how you talk about your qualifications.  Do you include those words?  Are you highlighting what employers are looking for?  Do you show measurable results?  They’ve given you the recipe.  Now it’s up to you to tell them whether you have the right “ingredients” and how well your past recipes have turned out!

Learn to Love LinkedIn: the Epicurious/Big Oven/Bon Appetit of Job Search. I know that for years you’ve been accepting invitations from current colleagues, past colleagues, friends and acquaintances to connect via LinkedIn.  But, you have no idea how it can be valuable for your search. You can maintain and create more and quicker connections through this forum in ways that you rarely can with traditional means.

I conduct LinkedIn workshops and my favorite way to explain how LinkedIn works is this: each one of us has the opportunity to tell our professional story to the world via LinkedIn. How do you tell your story?  Is it sparse and meaningless, just a laundry list of jobs?  Or is it robust and intriguing?  How do you measure up to the thousands of recruiters looking for someone just like you?

Your resume is a simple template for creating an initial LinkedIn profile easily.  Don’t forget those key words, and remember – your profile is a living site and your connections should always be growing.

Follow plum’s LinkedIn page, Facebook and twitter for info on our next LinkedIn workshops.

Declare Your Intent. I read somewhere that dieters who tell others that they are on the path to weight loss are more successful then those who keep their Weight Watchers meetings a secret.  I can see how making it known to others that you want to succeed, creates a cheerleading section for you and keeps you honest on your quest to shed pounds.

The same is true of job search: if you tell others that you are looking, you help create a cheering section – more eyes and ears in the marketplace – who will be looking out for you.  It is unlikely you will get a job offer from a friend within your inner circle, but it is very likely that the friend will know someone who does know of a job that will interest you.

While keeping quiet does keep your current employer from knowing about your search, it doesn’t let the marketplace know that you’re available.  Use your trusted network.  Former colleagues are great for this because they left at some point and can appreciate discretion.

If no one knows you’re looking, how can you be found?

Also, if you declare your intent, it is likely that you’ll follow through on the search!

Falling Off the Wagon…Stops and starts in job search are highly likely.  Know that now and get comfortable with the idea that you will enjoy times of “full-speed-ahead” and moments of frustration.  Falling off the wagon doesn’t mean you cannot get back on, but it helps to know that you are taking the right steps forward.  To this day, I find myself making protein, kale, banana, frozen strawberry and almond milk smoothies at least twice a week.  I may not be dropping entire dress sizes, but I am proud of the notion that I am doing something.  Who knows…in 2014 I may make use of that Magic Bullet more often!

For more ingredients for success in 2014, contact us at plum Job Search Strategies.

 

Just Breathe: The New Microsoft Mantra

If you’ve been at Microsoft for more than 10 years, more than likely you know at least 5
people who have been affected by the recent round of lay-offs. If you’re reading this, it
may even be you. Frustrated, hurt, a bit bewildered – you have just begun the process of
understanding what this unplanned transition means to you.

I’m here to tell you: Just breathe.

I’m not talking about the Anna Nalick song (although it is good and many of the lyrics
apply here), rather, I encourage you to:

1. Stop
2. Feel the emotions
3. Get pissed if you must
4. Get that frantic online job posting search out of your system
5. Reach out to friends
6. Breathe

Having now worked with many Microsoft people who have experienced this very issue,
I can tell you with much certainty and expertise that those who take the time to truly
evaluate where they want to go next will get there.

Those who rush through this process in an anxious hurry will not find the next role of
their dreams.

Why? Because if you rush headlong into your search, that anxiety and a newfound loss
of confidence will show up in spades during conversations you have in interviews. If
you’ve been in HR or staffing/recruiting, you have witnessed first-hand these types of
candidates and you don’t want to be one of them.

What a slow, methodical and thoughtful process will do for you is allow you to make
sound decisions about your next move. I love the recent Dr. Phil post in Oprah
Magazine where he tells job seekers: Don’t run away from something. Run towards
something you truly want. (Yes, I know Dr. Phil can be arrogant but in this case I 100%
agree with him.)

After years at MS, you may not know what this looks or feels like. If you received a
separation package, this is your opportune time to rediscover Breathing. Take yoga,
have coffee with friends, read to your kids, walk your dog in the middle of the day,
take up meditation, eat at that cool restaurant you could never get to for lunch, read,
watch Jimmy Fallon videos of his band playing with famous artists, visit the Seattle Art
Museum, skip yoga and eat some pie.

But, breathe.

I assure you, that once this feeling of anxiety and sadness and loss and frustration and
anger and confusion passes, you will be a better candidate/potential hire.

Years ago when my daughter was applying to college, a wise parent told me “Everyone
gets into a school”. The same is true for job search. You WILL find a new job. But,
wouldn’t you want to be the zen-like candidate with a level of confidence that appeals
to hiring managers? You can be that person.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

For more on former Microsoft employees and their job hunt, see our past posts.