BE the Shadow! Tips from a Groundhog

25 01 2011

Each year, Americans celebrate Groundhog Day on February 2.  That’s right.  For the past 125 years, we’ve had a day celebrating a rodent.  Punxsutawney Phil is a legend.  He has his own website and Twitter feed.  They even made a movie about it starring Bill Murray alongside the furry fella.  Every February 2, people from all over the country wait to see if he sees his shadow.  You see, Phil is something of a amateur weatherman…some may even call him a prophet.  If he sees his shadow, legend has it that there will be six more weeks of winter.  If he doesn’t see his shadow, we’ll have an early spring.  As fun as it sounds, we all know that the first day of spring is March 20 or 21 depending on the year and it’s almost EXACTLY six weeks from February 2.  Shh…don’t tell Phil.

The reason I started this article with the Groundhog Day history is that February 2 is also National Job Shadowing Day.  Championed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Junior Achievement and many other organizations, National Job Shadowing Day provides job seekers and youth a unique look into different industries and careers within those industries.  It’s a great way to learn from others in the role, gain perspective from their experience, and get a true feel for that particular job, company and industry without the pressures of an actual interview.  Please note: While it’s not an actual interview, I would highly recommend you being just as professional as if it were!  You never know where this experience could take you.

In the job search, shadowing can be very beneficial.  Even if you’re gainfully employed, it’s a great way to learn more about what makes the company work.  I’d like to cover both sides: Job seekers and employers.  Below are two key points for each.  It’s not an all-inclusive list, so if you have other suggestions, please include them in the comment section.

Job Seekers

Spend “A Day In the Life”. Job shadowing is a perfect way to spend a day in the life of someone, learning from their experiences and truly stepping into their shoes.  Ask someone in a position you’re interested in to spend a day or half-day with them.  If they consent to the full day, ask for the experience to be as authentic as possible.  If that means your day begins at 4:00AM in a distribution center, then go with it.  It’s really the best way to get a feel for the opportunity while not actually working for that company or officially interviewing.

Make the connection. Get the person’s contact information and ask if you can stay in touch with them throughout your job search and beyond.  Don’t just view job shadowing as a one-way street.  Believe it or not, the person you’re shadowing is probably learning just as much as you are!  Offer your perspective and insight on processes and business practices.  Ask a lot of thought-out questions.  Do your research, though.  Don’t ask questions like “what does your company do”.  Instead, ask questions like “how do you market a certain product” or “what do you like most/least about your job”.  People love to talk about themselves!  Asking the right questions will help you gain insightful perspective into the industry, company and position.


Prepare & Participate. I would highly encourage businesses large and small to participate in the job shadow opportunities available.  It’s a great way to showcase your company, your knowledge, and your culture.  But don’t just jump in without a little preparation.  I’m not saying that you should create a canned speech about Company XYZ, but it’s good to have some consistency across the board.  Have a plan.   During the job shadowing, walk the person through the industry, your company, and your job specifically.  Give them the real “play by play”, but don’t bog everyone down with the mundane details.  We don’t need a minute-by-minute breakdown of what you do, but rather need a high-level overview.  Think of the opportunity as a one day internship.

Educate, Inform, and Involve. This goes hand in hand with the previous point of prepare and participate.  Job shadowing should be about three things: Education, Information, and Involvement.  Keep the experience interactive, providing a good education about the opportunity, information about your company and the culture, and involve the person job shadowing in the process.  This isn’t a lecture – it’s a conversation.  Have questions of your own.  Know what you want to achieve.  Is it about Branding?  Networking or mentorship?  Recruiting?  Know what you want to get from the process and be prepared to give at least just as much.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “Kirk, Groundhog Day isn’t until next week, so why write about it now?”  Here’s the reason:  You have 8 days to get on the phone, reach out via email, Skype, etc. and ask if you can spend some time with a local employer for a job shadowing opportunity.  If you can’t get in on February 2, consider the entire month of February as Job Shadowing Month.  The key is actually reaching out and asking.  Many companies don’t have a formal job shadowing program, but  if you ask, they may be willing to accommodate you in some capacity.

My last thought before leaving you to the rest of your week:  Don’t let conformity stop you.  Just because this hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  Just ask.  The worst answer you’ll get is “no”.  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.  Also, don’t let this begin and end in February.  Job shadowing is relevant every day of the year!

What are your thoughts?  Have you tried job shadowing before?  Employers: do you have something set up to address the opportunity for job seekers and current employees?  Please let me know!  Leave a comment below.

As always, thanks for reading.  And as I would imagine Punxsutawney Phil would say, “BE the shadow!”


Soundtrack to Success – Week of 1.17.11

21 01 2011

What got you moving this week?  Was there a particular song that inspired you?  Each week, I plan to share my Soundtrack to Success, listing the top 5 songs or artists that helped me succeed at work, put a little pep in my step, and inspired me to keep on going.  Here are my picks for this week:

What’s your soundtrack?

Making Work Meetings Work

18 01 2011

This week, I’ll be meeting with some of the best Human Resource and Recruiting professionals in the industry that spans over Retail, Finance & Accounting, and Consumer Packaged Goods to discuss challenges we’re facing with recruitment and retention.  As Director of Career Connections for SIFE USA (I write for my blog on the weekends), I have the pleasure of working with these individuals on a daily basis through the Career Connections Network, or CCN.  It’s good to come together a few times a year in an environment that allows us to network, share best practices and benchmark with others.

As I have developed as a professional over the years, I’ve learned quickly (from the mistakes of my own and others’) what makes meetings most effective for all parties involved.   Since we’re gearing up for our bi-annual CCN meeting this week at JC Penney’s headquarters in Plano, TX, I thought that this topic was relevant.  As a job seeker, it’s important to make the most out of your meetings.  Go with a plan, ask the right questions, and follow up.  Sound familiar?

When you enter the workforce, you’ll find yourself in a plethora of meetings every week.  Wouldn’t it be great to know how to maximize your time and team’s resources in those meetings?  Below are a few tips that I’ve picked up over the past several years – feel free to add your tips for effective meetings in the comments section.  I know I didn’t cover them all, so please chime in!

Start on time.  Respect others’ time. Communicate the meeting location and start time with all appropriate team members.  Then, start on time.  There are exceptions (if the team leader is delayed, etc.), but it’s a good rule to start your meetings on time as scheduled.  It’s just good manners.  We’re all busy.  We’re working with a small amount of resources and are expected to deliver more results than ever before.  Respect those that are in attendance on time by starting on time.  If you can’t officially start your meeting because the leader isn’t available, reschedule.

Don’t waste time. What’s worse than not starting on time?   Ever had someone show up late for a meeting, only to start a random conversation (talk about weekend activities, last night’s date, or something similar), derailing the entire meeting for 10-15 minutes or longer?  That’s no fun – and it’s disrespectful.  If you’re leading the meeting, get to the point.  It’s ok to be nice, but you called the meeting – let everyone know why and start working.

Know the agenda and stay on point. Meetings are most effective when there is an agenda.  Think of it as your game plan.  Keep it simple and succinct.  Don’t let others get off topic with randomness.  Bench unrelated items for offline follow up afterwards.  You may be able to accomplish this through a conversation offline, or may have to call a separate meeting to discuss the additional items.

Know your plan of action. There’s a reason you’re meeting, right?  Know the next steps.  Communicate the next steps, action items and deliverables effectively to your team.  Sometimes, it’s good to meet for a status update, but ask yourself this: Is it the most effective use of your time together as a team?  Could you do this via conference call or email?  Instead of a status update meeting, design your meetings with a clear plan of action and hold yourself and your team accountable for the outcomes of that plan.

Think you’ll look at the next meeting a little differently?  I know I will.  If you’re interested in learning more about the SIFE CCN meeting, follow the Twitter hashtag #sifeccn this week.  We’ll be updating throughout the meeting, sharing some of the good nuggets of information and best practices.  If you’re interested in learning more about SIFE, please connect with me on LinkedIn.  I’d love to speak with you about partnership opportunities!  As always, thanks for reading!

About SIFE:  SIFE is an international non-profit organization that brings together the leaders of today and tomorrow to create a better, more sustainable world through the positive power of business. Founded in 1975, SIFE has active programs on more than 1,500 college and university campuses in 39 countries. Through projects that improve the lives of people worldwide, the university students, academic professionals and industry leaders who participate in SIFE are demonstrating that individuals with a knowledge and passion for business can be a powerful force for change. For more information, contact SIFE World Headquarters at +1 417 831 9505 or visit

Soundtrack to Success – Week of 1.10.11

16 01 2011

Last week, I started something new on Campus to Career called Soundtrack to Success. I’m quite often inspired by music and wanted to share with you. With a few thousand songs and artists on my iPod, I hit the shuffle button and let the machine work its magic.  Here’s this week’s soundtrack that got me pumped, inspired me, and helped make a very busy week a little easier to navigate.  Here’s my warning: the songs may not have anything to do with success, the job search or even relate to each other:

What was your soundtrack to success this week?

Great Minds Think…Differently!

11 01 2011

“Great minds think alike.” We’ve all heard this phrase before.  It typically warrants saying when someone has an idea that you were already thinking about.  “Great minds think alike, huh Kirk?”  Think about that for a moment.  If all great minds thought alike, where would we be?  If Alexander Graham Bell thought only as far as Johann Reis’s version of the telephone, we wouldn’t have the voice quality we have now.  What if we could only transmit tones?? Can you hear me now?

Here’s another example: If Mary Anderson thought just like everyone else, she might not have invented windshield wipers.  We don’t have to stick our heads out the window like Ace Ventura when the windshield gets dirty.  It’s not quite as fun to flip a switch, but you get my point.

As I think more about this phrase, this question comes to mind: Wouldn’t hiring managers and recruiters (or anyone that’s part of a team) want someone who thinks differently rather than alike?  Here are the advantages that come to mind:

Thought diversity. If everyone had the same idea, there would be no point in having team meetings, collaborative projects, or brainstorming sessions.  Thought diversity is a crucial part of the team model.

Solution stimulation. People think differently.  One person may have a different outlook or solution for a problem.  If they thought just like you do, the problem could get worse.  Think of these individuals as Solutions Stimulators.

Collaboration. Mentioned above, collaboration is how some of the best ideas come to fruition.  Different people offering different points of view provide a much more in-depth look into the challenge and solutions offered.

So, think about what makes you different, unique.  I’m curious, so I have a lot of questions (I get along great with my friend’s 4 year old).  How are you applying this concept in the job search and on the job?

What’s your take on this common phrase?  Do you think that great minds DO think alike?  I’d love to know.  Please weigh in by leaving a comment below.  As always, thanks for reading.

Soundtrack to Success – Week of 1.3.11

7 01 2011

Isn’t it funny how overwhelming Monday can be, setting the tone for the whole week? Then, Friday proves to be a breath of fresh air. Music motivates and inspires me to accomplish more and more each week. Thinking about this, I’d like to share with you my soundtrack to this week’s success – here’s the top 5:

Okay, okay. So my tastes may be a little eccentric (or at least, the mix..). I love music – from hard rock to country, classical to pop, it gets me going!!

What’s your soundtrack to success?

Must Be This Tall to Ride

4 01 2011

Have you been to an amusement park recently?  Once you get past the overcrowded parking lots, stand in line for tickets, (just to stand in line more once inside), and finally get to the roller coaster where people of all ages squeal in anticipatory delight, you’ll notice a small, sign at the entrance of every attraction.  “You must be this tall to ride this ride.”  There are no negotiations for those that don’t meet the requirements.  No if’s, and’s or but’s.  If you don’t believe me, try going with a 3-year old.  You’ll be spending a lot of time in the petting zoo feeding animals that are “tame” and have that wonderful odor of oats, barley and whatever else is in the feed.

No matter how much that 3-year old boy wanted to ride the roller coaster like the big kids, the staff were unwilling (and legally unable) to make an exception.  In the job search, the same principle applies.  You’ve got to meet the minimum requirements listed in job descriptions to even be considered for the position.  From a recruiter’s perspective, minimum qualifications or requirements are the first phase of filtering out the clutter.  Don’t meet them?  Consider your application in File 13 (aka the trash).  If they’re nice and have a little extra time (most don’t have the latter), your resume might get saved in the “other opportunities” pile for follow up.

With the job market the way it is, I can see how people are simply applying to as many open positions as they possibly can.  It’s called the “spray and pray” technique.  It doesn’t seem to work very often, but the theory is that if you apply for so many jobs, you’re sure to land one.  People are applying for positions that they don’t have the minimum qualifications for on a “what if” basis.  What if the hiring manager would make an exception?  At one point, this may have worked.  But, with the overabundance of applicants to open positions today, you can bet that 99.99% of the time the person that is most qualified is offered the job.  Spray and pray does work from time to time, but I wouldn’t suggest the tactic.  Instead, here are my three suggestions:

Target your approach. What is your end goal?  Begin with this in mind.  Entry-level jobs will help you gain experience that will be needed for the next position.  Think about what you want to accomplish, have a plan, and execute accordingly.  Targeting your approach will give you better direction and in the end, can prove to be very beneficial!

Know if you’re qualified. Minimum qualifications – do you have 10-15 years of experience in the field relevant to the posted career opportunity?  If you don’t, don’t apply!  Know your qualifications.  If you have 9 years when 10 are preferred, you may have a shot.  But, if you just graduated college and have applied for an opportunity that lists 5+ years of experience as a prerequisite, chances are that you’re not qualified.  Also, pay special attention to the location requirements.  If the position is in New York, China, or Arkansas, don’t expect that you won’t have to move there.  You will.  That’s where the job is based, not just where you are comfortable living.  This applies to many positions, but there are some exceptions.  Check these things before you apply.

If you’re not qualified, know what to do. Not qualified for the position you’re interested in?  What can you do?  You could look at it this way: think of the job as a goal to achieve.  With the right knowledge base, skillset and experience, you can become qualified in the long run.  Right now, know what you need to do to gain that knowledge.  Research the field, job shadow with people in that position, gather information from following industry-related blogs, reading trade publications, or simply networking with the right people.  Do what it takes to establish yourself as a credible person of authority and qualified candidate.

Target your approach, know if you’re qualified, and know what to do if you’re not.  These are three steps to help you land the job of your dreams.  Recruiters are ordinary people, too.  Most read through thousands of resumes just to find that perfect candidate.  Help them help you by applying for the positions you’re qualified for.  If you don’t know if you’re qualified, ask someone.  There are a ton of career experts out there offering free and fee-based services and advice if you just ask.  Some good ones are listed in my blogroll to help you if you need it.

The amusement park metaphor can be applied to your career and life in general.  Life is a roller coaster – exciting and scary at the same time, leaving us with a feeling of exhilaration and an adrenaline shot to get us through the next drop or upside-down loop.  Principles for roller coasters and the job search go hand in hand.  Knowing your qualifications and how to apply them will help you find the best fit at the right time.

So, here’s the question: Are you tall enough to ride?

Image courtesy of winnie0917