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Are You Guilty of Unconscious Bias?

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Last Wednesday, serial entrepreneur John Greathouse published a blog post in The Wall Street Journal titled, Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online. He argued that, “…women in today’s tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. Once they make an initial connection with a potential employer or investor, such women then have an opportunity to submit their work and experiences for an impartial review.”

Soon after the post was published, readers reacted, including Cathy Belk, founder of JumpStart, who wrote an article in Fortune titled No! Female Entrepreneurs Should Not Have To Hide Their Gender To Get Funding. She explains that “asking women to hide or change who they are doesn’t create equality or drive change. All it does is reinforce the status quo…”.

While Greathouse may have had good intentions, it ended up having unintended consequences. He may have thought that by hiding the fact they are women potential funders would automatically assume these applicants are men. This automatic assumption is known as unconscious bias. To back up his point, he stated that “Many people in the business community are “intellectually dishonest,” and while they preach diversity, they don’t practice it.” But, instead of  going after those he described as intellectually dishonest, he chose an easier path, suggesting that women create an online presence that obscures their gender. That, in itself, is acquiescing to the status quo rather than trying to change it.

Although the Wall Street Journal article focuses on women, there is a job search analogy to be drawn from it. Imagine a job seeker with a non-English name being asked to change it to one more readily acceptable, or suggest that they omit photos from their online presence, or use initials when applying for a job. This happens.

When it comes to bias, no matter how open minded we think we are, we all have it to some degree and by the way, it is not limited to ethnicity or race. It is shaped by our experiences, what other people tell us, media portrayals, etc. While we are mostly aware of conscious bias because it’s explicit, unconscious bias is instinctive; it is unintentional, and something we are not usually aware of. Because of all this, it is important that all of us (businesses, employers and individuals), become more in tuned with our biases before we make automatic assumptions.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer, Kathleen Hogan wrote, a piece titled Screen In to diversify your workforce. She states, “Screening In reflects our desire to bring in talented people who aren’t carbon copies of existing employees, because building a homogenous workforce isn’t the best way to innovate and problem solve for the increasingly diverse customers we serve.” As well intended as this statement is, the image used in the article did not reflect the diversity of which she touted. Was unconscious bias at play with the choice of that image? Probably, although it does not detract from the message of a company committed to doing things right.

As part of the Screen In approach, all Microsoft employees are required to participate in an annual Unconscious Bias Training. Not only that, but Microsoft is making the training available externally for anyone to experience. Experimenting with the tool might help us learn our own unconscious biases and change our behaviours.

Another area of the job search where unconscious bias often rears its head is in resume reviews. A Fast Company article, How Unconscious Bias Affects Everything We Do,  suggests that before doing so, managers could be asked to respond to a series of questions such as:

  • “Does this person’s resume remind you in any way about yourself?”
  • “Does it remind you of somebody you know? Is that positive or negative?”
  • “Are there things about the resume that particularly impact you? Are they really relevant to the job?”
  • “What assessments have you made already about the person? Are they grounded in solid information or simply your interpretations?”

The Wall Street Journal article might have stirred up the hornet’s nest about gender, but it has also opened up an opportunity to have conversations around our preconceived notions. And, from a job search perspective, these conversations could help to decipher biases and tap into the skills, talents and expertise of everyone.

British Economist, Journalist and former advisor to the World Trade Organization, Philippe Legrain, said “Most innovations nowadays come not from individuals, but from groups of talented people sparking off each other – and foreigners with different ideas, perspectives and experiences add something extra to the mix. If there are 10 people sitting around a table trying to come up with a solution to a problem and they all think alike, then they are no better than one. But if they all think differently and bounce new ideas and reactions off one another, they can solve problems better and faster, as a growing volume of research shows.”

What are your thoughts on unconscious bias? Are you guilty? Take a few minutes to complete the free unconscious bias training offered by Microsoft. I am halfway through it.

Beyond the Resume (Part 1): Unconventional Ways to Get Noticed By Your Next Employer

Beyond_the_Resume_Red2Are you tired of your resume being rejected by inanimate applicant tracking systems? Have you been spending hours of your precious time submitting your resume on websites without success? Is it beginning to feel like you are going fishing but keeps returning with an empty net? If you answered “Yes” to those questions, it’s time to apply some outrageous strategies to get the attention of your next employer.

In this three-part “Beyond the Resume” series, you will be introduced to some unconventional, and sometimes outrageous strategies that people have used to get the attention of employers.

There is a popular quote that says “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got.”  If that’s what you have been doing without much success, it’s time to suspend all that you know about the job search, stop doing what everyone is doing, and try something different, scary, and unconventional. After all, what do you have to lose?

Below I have highlighted some unconventional ways that people have been able to get the attention of employers. Some have landed their dream jobs; others are in the initial stages:

Foot in the Door Strategy: The first is a story I heard of a woman who wanted to work for the biggest advertising agency in town. She sent the owner a box with a shoe (a new one) along with a note that said, “Now that I have my foot in your door, I’d like to talk to you about a job.” “Outrageous”, you say. “That would never work for me or anyone I know”. It might or might not, but this lady had done her homework and knew this gentleman was likely to be impressed with her strategy. (She got the interview, and the job.) Bear in mind that companies hire when they see someone with the skillset they need…that’s why you should aim to get your foot in the door.

Failed Fax Machine: Last week my Office Coordinator client tried to fax her resume and cover letter as requested in the company’s job posting. She tried for hours and couldn’t get through. She decided to Google the name of the company to get the phone number. She found the information and made a call. Here is her account of what transpired:

“I called [Company] on Wednesday because after faxing for about an hour and getting a continuous busy signal… I had to make the call. I had a long and informative conversation with a gentleman. He explained that they have had, and are still having problems with their faxes and emails.  He invited me to submit my resume by snail mail. After hanging up the phone I googled his name and found out he is the owner of the company. I amended my cover letter to read:

Dear Mr. _____,

Thank you for giving so freely of your time to explain the problems with the fax machine at your office. I was hesitant to call as the ad stated .. no phone calls, but I was quite concerned that my cover letter and resume for the Office Coordinator position was not going to end up on your desk if the fax wasn’t working. I can only hope that the problem is corrected quickly so that orders are received and processed in a timely manner and you can continue the business of running [Company].  

I finished with the rest of my cover letter.”

This client did not allow a non-working fax machine to stop her from getting through. She took the initiative to call, and who who did she get? The owner of the company. Her resume and cover letter have probably reached the owner’s desk by this. Let’s see what happens.

Focusing on Microsoft: I have often talked about this young man in Oregon who tried for two years to get into Microsoft through the normal ‘apply online’ channel. Realizing that it wasn’t working for him, he decided to start adding his comments on Microsoft’s blogs on any topic that was within his realm of expertise. Someone took notice and began to monitor him and his comments. Very soon he was contacted by a Microsoft recruiter and within 10 days of the contact he had landed his dream job.

This story was shared by a senior recruiter at Microsoft some time ago during a recruiters’ teleconference.

This Business Insider link – Best Techie Resumes – also provides additional creative ways that some people have landed opportunities. And, before you begin to think it worked for them because they are technical wizards, put on your thinking caps and see how it could work for you.

The above examples are some bold and probably outrageous ways to stand out, get connected, get interviewed, and get hired. You might not want to be that in-your-face, but consider this, how else will you be found?

The point of this post is: whether you are entry-level job seeker, an aspiring manager, manager, or emerging executive, you too, can do something outrageous and unconventional to pull employers towards to you. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of nerves.

Are you ready to do some out-of-the-box thinking to land your dream job? Share your strategies here.

Why You Should Network to Get Work

People networkingNetworking guru, Donna Messer, is known for saying that one has to ‘network to get work’. It doesn’t matter how often you hear this; it doesn’t matter how often you discount it, networking to get work is a fact.

Too often people say “Networking doesn’t work for me…I am too shy to network…people might think I am forcing myself on them.”  Some of these comments may be true, but let’s GOI – Get Over It. Don’t allow such crippling thoughts to prevent you from getting the job or promotion you really want, or deserve.

You may be telling yourself that you have a great resume and cover letter, but not much is happening. Well, by themselves, they won’t get you the opportunity you are looking for. You need to find creative ways to use these documents to reach your target company. It takes hard work, and lots of it! Thomas Edison once said, Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” Do not miss your opportunity because you are thinking networking is hard work. I can guarantee you, if done properly, your networking efforts will pay off. Just don’t expect overnight success!

Some years ago, I was listening to a group of recruiters on a teleseminar. One was a senior executive recruiter from Microsoft. He told the story of a young man who had been trying to get a job with the company for two years. His resume was just not getting to the right people. You bet it was probably drowning in the sea of thousands of other resumes.

This young man discovered that the company had several blogs, and began to offer comments and contribute his opinions on topics that fell within his area of expertise. One of the company’s recruiters began paying attention to his comments and posts, and realized he knew his stuff. Not very long after he was contacted, and within 10 days of that contact he was offered his dream job with Microsoft. This may have been several years ago, but the process still works. You have to ditch the idea that networking doesn’t work, and devise strategies on how you are going to make it work for you.

Two weeks ago, one of my clients saw a position with one of his target companies and remembered I knew one of the senior HR executives, so he sent me an email to ask if I was still in touch with her. I hadn’t been for a long time, so I googled her name and realized she had moved out of that role. However, while doing the search, I found an article with the name of another recruiter in the company. I passed it to the client and suggested that he do a little bit of footwork and find out how email addresses at the company are structured. Soon after, he responded:

“Thanks for the article. I had a friend who previously worked at [Company] so I was able to copy that format (firstname.lastname@company.ca) and send a message through to the lady from the article. She said she had switched positions but would forward my message to a finance recruiter. Hopefully that will help speed things along.”

That’s networking and research all wrapped in one. Somewhere out there, there is an employer who needs what  you have to offer. But you need to know how to get on their radar. You can do this by tapping into your network or the network of others. Networking is Not a Dirty Word. It’s called Relationship Building.

Does the thought of networking send shivers down your spine? Don’t try doing it alone. Ask for help.

7 Career Survival Tips for Turbulent TImes

Just sent out my newsletter – 7 Career Survival Tips for Turbulent Times (that spell SUCCESS). Here’s the intro…

Almost every news item these days is about job losses, bailouts and stimulus packages…pretty despairing stuff. This past January, 129,000 Canadians lost their jobs; Bombardier announced recently that it was laying off 1,320 employees; Chrysler is thinking of temporarily closing down some of its plants. One of these plants, with over 3,000 employees, is in my city (Brampton). Such news is painful, and if we add that to what’s happening all across the United States, and the rippling effects being felt all around the world, we could very well be experiencing an “economic tsunami”, according to a Microsoft TV ad.

Virtual Job Interviews – A Reality!

Do you want to attend your next interview right from the comfort of your home or office? With Second Life, it’s now possible, and some major employers are using this medium to search for employees.

‘Some employers are experimenting with Second Life, the online virtual community owned by San Francisco-based Linden Lab, to screen prospective hires. The program allows job seekers to create a computer-generated image to represent themselves — known as an “avatar” — and communicate with executives of prospective employers as though they were instant-messaging.
A number of big companies put the new medium to a test last month, when recruitment-advertising firm TMP Worldwide Advertising & Communications LLC hosted a virtual job fair with employers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Sodexho Alliance SA, a food and facilities-management services company. TMP says it will host another virtual job fair in August.”

Read the full article: http://www.careerjournal.com/jobhunting/usingnet/20070621-athavaley.html?cjpos=home_whatsnew_major

Daisy Wright
Career Coach
The Wright Career Solution