Job Search Notes / Tips

Dhalgren is no self-help guy or someone who buys into trendy job search techniques. But after 14 months, it was time to try something different. My previous method was getting results (a 10% callback rate on applications sent via the Internet), but not making real progress. So...

You may have heard of putting together a 'self-marketing plan' or 'target list' during an intensive job search. I just wanted to write a note on how I finally came around to adopting elements of these techniques. Plus, I have some advice to bring your interviews to a new level of performance.

I have decided to adjust my job search slightly. I watched a poorly-produced yet informative special on CNBC called 'Where the Jobs Are.' It didn't have anything revolutionary, but it did offer advice on how to create a 'target list' of companies you want to work for. One of the experts on the show suggested listing about 20 companies and then aiming a little lower than you normally would in applying for a position (for example, apply to the 'associate' position rather than the 'manager' position). At the same time, follow-up and make a brief sales pitch explaining that you really want to work for that particular company. Don't let them assume that you are overqualified. Let them know that you are seeking to fill their vacancy and commit to the firm long-term.

In other words, create a short list of companies you really want to work for and then both apply and network your way in, leveraging Facebook and LinkedIn or other networking groups (heck, even knowing what bars employees go to after work can help you get the name of a hiring manager).

I have my list of companies. I am still applying to jobs on the Internet, but I am applying directly through the company's careers site.

Hopefully this will help me regain traction as we enter the stretch between Memorial Day and Independence Day. I'll keep you posted.

As for interviews, it is a given that you need to educate yourself about the company (Wikipedia is actually a nice place to start). But if you can, try to do two extra things:

1. Try to make a quick pitch and suggest a way the vacant position could be expanded. An example I thought of is if a small company is looking for an office manager, go further and ask if they need a technician, web content manager, writer, accountant, purchaser, facilities manager, or any other responsibility that you excel in. I'm not suggesting that you offer a company a 2-for-1 deal, but you can show that you already have ideas on how the position can grow.

2. If you can identify a challenge that the company is currently facing (JetBlue for example is having trouble finding routes for new planes being delivered), see if you can make a mention of it and offer your opinion of how that problem can be addressed. You can skip this if you can't find a specific example in the news in the public sphere. But if you can, see if you can squeeze it in as a topic. If you are applying for a manager position, then see if you can raise it as an issue that you can actually address as a future employee of the firm. People like free samples, just be careful not to give away workable solutions for free. This is tricky, but see if you can come-up with a teaser that will make the hiring manager ask more questions. That would also give you something to mention in your thank you e-mail.

I just hope the ideas I am writing here actually help me as I enter the 15th month of my job search...

Let Them Eat Chocolate Chip Cookies

We're being bombarded by so many wingnut and mainstream media talking points, it's nearly impossible to keep track. History probably won't record this whirlwind of concern trolling, presidential analysis, or the madness of Glenn Beck, but a funny talking point caught my attention in all of this.

Erin Burnett appeared on the Today show earlier this month and reminded people that even in the worst economic times, businesses and entrepreneurs continue to innovate. She then repeated the historical tid-bit that the chocolate chip cookie was invented during the Great Depression. But the way she delivered that fact...well, go judge for yourself. Some men think she's hot. I just think she's a former Goldman banker who is now a full-time apologist for Wall Street.

St. Patty's Day Mini News Roundup

O'Neill's pub, New York City, St. Patrick's Day 2006. Photo by Flickr user MikeL-911, used here under a Creative Commons license.

Let's start with the most outrageous major news story from this morning. Yes, AIG payouts to banks with TARP funds it received is outrageous. And yes, we need to know more about the relationship between Goldman Sachs and AIG. But I am referring to the Pope's opinion that condoms either can worsen or already worsen crises in Africa. I hope that we've reached a point in our history in which the words of a politician or religious leader cannot override scientific fact. Perhaps the right thing to do is to ignore Pope Benedict XVI, as we live in a secular world and shouldn't have to listen to what the leader of a shrinking, anti-sexuality, minority religion thinks about condoms, and the role they play in worsening crises in the world's poorest continent.

But I am a strong birth control and HIV prevention advocate. I'm going to try a bad analogy here, but condoms are to the fight against HIV and unintended pregnancy what the AK-47 is to to rise of insurgent warfare. In other words, condoms are cheap, effective, and have changed the landscape in the context of their use (in this case, barrier birth control, not civil war). If anything, this world needs more condoms, not less (OK, that's where the AK-47 analogy ends - there's over 70 million Kalashnikov rifles in the world). The world still has a deadly pandemic on its hands, and the HIV virus is most transmitted in Africa and Asia. Condemning condom distribution and/or their use is an opinion that is not grounded in scientific fact, logic, or reality itself.

It certainly seems to this author that the Pope discounted the effects of civil war, genocide, poverty, and refugee crises, and pointed a finger at a life-saving medical device for making life worse in Africa.

Embarking on his first visit to Africa, the Pope said that distributing condoms is 'not the answer' to figting HIV in Africa. Well then, seat belts are 'not the answer' to reducing deaths in motor vehicle accidents. And immunizing children against polio is 'not the answer' to keeping the disease nearly extinct in the human population.

Considering that Africa is the only continent where Roman Catholicism is growing, and the very conservative, irrational views of both the African senior clergy and the Vatican on issues of human sexuality and birth control, I think it is a fair prediction that the next pope will be African. It was my prediction last time, and I'm sticking to it the next time around. The growth of Catholicism in Africa has been explosive, thanks primarily to the strategic evangelical projects under Pope John Paul II, who visited the continent 16 times.

To his credit, the Pope did make this statement when he arrived in Cameroon:

"In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent," he said on his arrival.
Certainly the Catholic Church is a powerful voice for peace and justice. I just feel that attacking condoms is highly ill-advised.

Freedom is on the Retreat: Coup in Madagascar hands power to Andry Rajoelina, a man too young to become president under the current constitution. While I understand that outgoing president Marc Ravalomanana is not a poster child for democracy, I have to agree with the African Union that his ouster is an undemocratic coup d'etat.

Late-breaking changes to Formula One rules: And there are a few of them. Drivers must put in more autograph session hours and be more available to the media. Low-budget teams will have the option to operate under a $42M annual budget cap in-exchange for more freedoms regarding technical and aerodynamic changes during the season. And car weights will now be announced (and published online) after Saturday qualifying. But most significant and surprising of all, the FIA has announced that the number of race wins will determine the drivers championship, with points only being used in the result of a tie. That's huge. Had that rule existed in years past, Philippe Massa would have won the driver's championship last season, and Nigel Mansell would have three F1 titles instead of one.

My take is that this rule change is risky. What would happen if a driver won 6 or 7 races before August? Would he and the team have an incentive to sit-out consecutive races and coast-in for the championship come October? Races in F1 are all run on team strategy. So will the new strategy be to win the first race, and then do everything short of foul play to knock-out contenders in subsequent races? This will be interesting, but I fear it is going to be a bad experiment. There was a reason F1 used a points-based championship for decades. The current teams were asking for a restructuring of the points system and the FIA imposed a radical rule change instead.

And last on my list, a recycled Slate St. Patrick's Day article: The man behind the green beer and myth, by David Plotz (originally published on March 17, 2000).

Me Loves Harry Markopolos

Here's Harry Markopolos before the House Financial Services Committee. He's not from Boston, but got his M.S. in Finance from BC, lives in south metro Boston, and worked at Rampart Investment Management Co. from 1991-2004, where he discovered Madoff's ponzi scheme in 1999. Someone who raises an alarm for 9 years is a true whistleblower. Compare him to Enron's 'whistleblower,' Sherron Watkins. I'd use that comparison to define the bar that defines a true whistleblower. A whislteblower does not write an e-mail to a CEO asking if his 'accounting gurus' can hide the fact that the corporate treasury is being robbed. A true whistleblower goes to the authorities and the press.

"I gift wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme in history to the SEC, and somehow, they couldn’t be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation because they were too busy on matters of higher priority. If a $50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme doesn’t make the SEC’s priority list, then I want to know who sets their priorities."

A lot of the victims thought they were getting a highly-diversified portfolio. However no investor nor the SEC was able to verify whether Madoff's fund was actually executing trades.

"Mr. Madoff was running such a large scheme, of unimaginable size and complexity, and he had a lot of dirty money…When you’re that big, and that secretive, you’re going to attract a lot of organized crime money. Money we now know came from the Russian mob and the Latin American drug cartels. When you are zeroing out mobsters, you have a lot to fear."

Representative Gary Ackerman:“Your mission, you said, was to protect investors and detect fraud quickly. How’d that work out? What went wrong? It seems to me that with all of your investigators, and all of your agency, and all that you described – it was one guy, with a few friends and helpers who discovered this thing nearly a decade ago, led you to this pile of dung that is Bernie Madoff and stuck your nose in it, and you couldn’t figure it out. You couldn’t find your backside with two hands if the lights were on. Could you explain yourselves? You have single-handedly defused the American public of any sense of confidence in our financial markets if you are the watchdog. You have totally and thoroughly failed in your mission. Don't you get it?”

Let's Put NYC Secession Back On The Table

Today was a disgusting day of bad news in New York City.

Last night (which I will spin into 'today's news'), Governor Patterson proposed a long list of new taxes and tax increases on all sorts of goods and services. Like what? A sales tax on sports tickets. A return of the sales tax on clothing. A whopping 18% sales sax on non-diet sodas and high calorie soft drinks. A sales tax on movie theater tickets. A higher tax on car rentals. And a sales tax on downloaded entertainment, from iTunes to porn. In other words, a tax on a lot of things that are fun.

Then today, the MTA Board approved a the so-called 'Doomsday' recommendation to drastically increase fares on all forms of mass transit. Just last week, it was speculated that the MTA board would have to make a decision between steep fare increases and service cuts. But today, they chose to recommend both. Even Governor Patterson's compromise of a smaller fare hike coupled with higher business payroll taxes was ignored (for now) as the MTA board went ahead with a recommendation for a 23% fare increase. A series of fare increases could reduce ridership and increase incidents of fare evasion. I remember when a single-ride fare was $1.25 (1991-1995). Come July it will either be $2.50 or $3.00. MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin says that higher unemployment will reduce ridership, which has been at a constant record level since the late 1990s. But if the MTA is able to stick to this proposal and increase fares every two years to keep-up with 'inflation' (which right now is deflation), then they will almost surely see a loss of ridership.

In good times, the city funds the state budget very nicely. And in bad times, the state dumps de-facto tax increases and service cuts onto the city. And in really bad times, the Governor shrugs his shoulders, throws in the towel, and says things like

My overall thought is we're going to have to make the tough choices; it's either going to one source of pain or another.

Would now be a good time to suggest that New York City re-visit the idea of seceding from the state and becoming the District of Gotham?

They Knew

They Damn Knew

The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory documents.

Buick Now Ready To Be Phased-Out

That is, if General Motors survives Chapter 11 restructuring.

In my opinion, GM kept the Buick brand alive for mainly two reasons. First, the brand was astonishingly popular in China, where Buick was somehow synonymous with the Sino nouveau riche (although the real nouveau riche in China drive British or German automobiles). And second, Tiger Woods had a 10-year endorsement deal with Buick. While Oldsmobile was discontinued, it's virtual corporate twin was kept alive because of China and Tiger.

Tiger and GM have agreed to end the endorsement deal one year early.

GM is well-known for its ladder / caste system of brands. Your first car is a Chevy. You then graduate to a Pontiac coupe (if you are single) or Oldsmobile sedan (if you are a family man). Later you get a second of the middle brands or switch to Buick if you've got gray hairs and/or play golf. And if you one day get that corner office (or make a bundle in an illegitimate business), you can step-up to the Cadillac. It was simple - 5 brands in a soccer-like 1-3-1 formation. In a perfect world, everyone graduates high school with a Chevy and dies with a Cadillac.

Along the way, GM expanded its lineup, and built impressive operations in Europe and Australia to make it sustainable and viable for the future. It founded Opel in Germany 50 years ago. It created Holden in muscle-car crazy Australia over 70 years ago. It bought Saab in 2000. In the last 25 years, it has partnered with Suzuki, Daewoo, Toyota, and Subaru (and even flirted with buying Subaru). And at the peak of the SUV boom in the US, it bought Hummer.

And alas, there's the problem. While it made big sedans for the Australian market and small cars for the Europe market, it continued to feed the US market SUVs well into the 2000s -far past their prime. With the most fuel efficient cars in their 2008 US portfolio limited to a rebranded Daewoo, a rebranded Toyota, two generic Chevy sedans, an Opel 2-seat sports car, an Opel hatchback, and the Saab 9-3, they would soon be in trouble.

So this may be too little too late, but I think the Buick brand is ready to be discontinued. If GM wants to survive, it is one of many steps they are going to have to take between now and March. And while they are at it, they should kill Pontiac as well, since that brand's last rear-wheel-drive cars, the Solstice and the Australian-made G8 are about to disappear from showrooms.

Lehman Likely To Be Sold

Lehman employees huddle in a conference room this morning at its European headquarters at 25 Bank Street, London.

The last four days have been dramatic at the House of Lehman. Over the weekend, negotiations for Korean bank KBD to buy the firm's Asset Management division fell-through. The stock price dropped 40% on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday morning, Lehman announced their third quarter losses, with Dick Fuld personally opening the 8am CFO conference call. The firm also announced the spin-off of their commercial mortgage business.

What was striking about yesterday's conference call (listen here) was how Dick was announcing that the firm was 'de-risking' its balance sheets and deals. De-risking? That's a new Lehman word. For a CEO who preached the fundamentals of risk management during the late 1990s and early 00's, yesterday must have been the bleakest day of his career. By using this new word, he publicly acknowledged that the firm had partied too much, risked too much, and was now in danger of becoming history thanks to billions lost in bad US and UK residential mortgages and new developments.

And de-risking in the third quarter might mean that it is too little, too late.

Lehman was hoping to sell either control of Neuberger Berman, or NB as a whole. They wanted bids to be placed yesterday. But today, CEO Dick Fuld is reportedly shopping the firm. There are only two firms I know of that could buy Lehman - Nomura in Japan or HSBC in Hong Kong/London. There is a rumor that Goldman Sachs could also buy Lehman for it's top-talented traders and bankers. But no matter which way this ends, most of Lehman's 20,000 remaining employees are going to have to seek new jobs, and soon.

Here are the latest headlines as they come-in today:

Reuters: Lehman Shares Drop As Wall Street Questions Survival

Reuters: Lehman CEO Fuld Finds Reputation At Risk

Reuters: Lehman Faces Hard Bargaining To Sell Neuberger Berman (We now think that the entire firm (Lehman, "the firm") could be sold within days.)

Reuters Quote: Lehman teetering on the edge of 'penny stock' territory.

New York Times (Registration Required): Tough Fight For Chief At Lehman

Update 12:33EDT: Morgan Stanley's Equities Research department has just suspended its ratings and price targets for Lehman stock. Either they think the stock activity is too crazy to know what is going on, or they know big news that is yet to be reported on Bloomberg, Reuters, and CNBC.

Seven years ago today, I walked out of my Lehman office shortly after American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building (1WTC). On the walk back home to Brooklyn, one of my co-workers speculated if the firm would go out of businesses if the insurance companies evoked the 'Act of God' clause. After some discussion, we concluded that wouldn't happen. Three days later, many of us were back to work as the markets re-opened, and we knew then that the firm would survive.

Now, on another beautiful, sunny September day, the firms survival as an independent investment bank is highly unlikely.

Lehman Falls Below $10 Per Share

A report says that the Asset Management division buyout negotiations with Korea's KDB has fallen-through. True or not, Lehman (Quote: LEH) has sunken to a new low - under $10 per share. The House of Lehman cannot stand independently for long at that price.

In the meantime, Lehman employees brace for a third round of layoffs this year (another 1,400 are expected to be released). And the firm plans a conference call to discuss third quarter losses and their plan for the next two quarters at 08:00 tomorrow, Wednesday September 10th.

Lehman Will Land On Its Feet...Probably

But the House of Lehman is taking a hard fall this week. It's been a slow-motion fall, considering that analysts had been putting Lehman under a microscope since the fall of Bear Sterns in March.

Today, Lehman rushed an estimate of its second quarter results to the public, and held a conference call ahead of its regularly-scheduled June 16th earnings report. During the conference call, Lehman, CFO Erin Callan summarized it as best she could:

All in all, this was an extraordinarily active quarter. From an operating perspective, it was a very challenging market environment - where our practice of utilizing derivatives to significantly hedge our less-liquid market exposures did not provide the benefits we've seen in prior quarters. And our defensive positioning strategies also worked against us. We also experienced a fair amount of volatility early in the quarter, arising from the events in mid-March.

I'm going to attempt to talk out of my ass here, since I know Lehman well. Risk Management has been a cornerstone of the company ever since Dick Fuld took over when the firm went public in 1994. It is something he stresses every quarter to both employees and shareholders. The Firm's magnificent record in managing risk is one of the key components of its growth over the last 14 years. Encountering its first quarterly loss since going public has to be quite a shock.

From Joe Bruno, AP Business writer:

Lehman Brothers, which plans to release full details of its quarterly results on June 16, said it expects revenue to be negative $668 million compared to $5.51 billion a year earlier. Revenue during the quarter suffered from "negative mark to market adjustments and principal trading losses." Like other investment banks, Lehman has been forced to write down the value of investments in mortgage-backed securities that have suffered in the past year.

The company also said it lost money during the quarter because of hedging losses.

"The results were far worse than anyone had anticipated," said Goldman Sachs analyst William Tanona in a report to clients. "Results were plagued by continued write-downs and ineffective hedges."

Ineffective hedges. Not something I thought I'd read in a story about Lehman. But what has been done has been done. The troops need to be rallied, sleeves need to be rolled-up, and normalcy needs to return soon. Or else.

Lehman will continue to deliver its very best to clients. It will continue to hire and retain the very best people. But it is in survival mode. What a difference a year made.

But I still believe it is almost always the 'little people' who get destroyed in a market (crisis) like this. And Lehman is not little.

Lehman might get up off the mat, but can Dickey-Boy?

Time For Changes At Starbucks

Photo by Flickr user Slightlynorth, used here under a Creative Commons license

Reuters: New Starbucks CEO describes plan to make stores more individual, buy next-generation espresso machines, and make the culture more positive to win back customers after the corporation's first quarterly decline in sales ever.

They don't have to worry about losing me and millions of other New Yorkers. They got us.

We're So Screwed

Let's recap to see how we got to this point, with Bush telling Wall Street that everything will be fine prior to the fire sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan / Chase.

Warren Buffett stated the obvious on March 3rd.

Daniel Gross at Slate explains why neither Republicans nor Democrats on the hill dare say the R-Word.

Economists Stiglitz and Blimes have a new book called The Three Trillion Dollar War. I assume you heard of it. It confirms that the Iraq occupation spending has had a direct impact on the Treasury and the US economy. Here is the Reuters story linked to the book's release.

And then we had the very quick demise of Bear Sterns. If an employee had his or her nest egg in company stock, then it is all gone.

In the opinion of this layperson, we're just another financial cr away from a self-sustaining stagflation cycle. Think about the price of oil, the global credit crunch, the sharp fall of the dollar, and now runs on smaller financial markets. It all contributes to unemployment, inflation, and credit crunch for both consumers and businesses. Add-in the tax dollar money brings used to bail-out smaller markets and corporations, ad we have a serious crisis already. It has all the ingredients to be the worst recession since World War 2.

And in case you needed further proof, Jim Cramer is the last man anyone should be listening to. He should be retired. He made his money as a hedge fund manager and he has zero credibility. Ignore him if you aren't ignoring him already.

And it looks like Australia might be screwed, too.

Turbulent Day On Wall Street

Just got a memo this morning at 08:42AM:

Due to the projected high volume of trading that is expected today, Tuesday January 22nd...

Wha? I just finished my first coffee. What's up? Then I see this:

FED Makes Unscheduled .75% Interest Rate Cut

One analyst said the Fed was "obviously panicked" by the threat of recession.
The last time the Fed cut rates as much as three-quarters of a percentage point was in August 1982, almost 26 years ago.

"This is huge," said the BBC's business editor Robert Peston.

"And it is a big risk. If this doesn't work, then people will say they have nothing left in their locker."

The US economy is in recession. It could be a very painful one. With a credit and debt crisis bearing on middle-class Americans, it has the ingrediants of being the worst recession since WWII (there have been 11 recessions since the end of WWII, and this would be the 12th). I don't think US stock markets will react to this shocking rate cut with much enthusiasm. If they interpret the FED as panicking, then the markets will also panic. In this age of hyper-sensitive volatility, today is going to be a messy, high-volume, big loss day.

UPDATE, 16:00 EST: The DOW recovered to close about 128 points lower today. We will see what the next few days bring.

A Tiny Friday News Roundup

Time is running-out for Al Gore to throw his hat into the ring. My guess is that he won't.

There is a rumor that Fidel Castro is dead. We'll see if that has legs. I had a feeling he was in trouble when it was reported that he has nearly made a full-recovery.

The August job report is in the red (-4000 jobs). Plus the June and July job reports have been revised down. An analyst at Oppenheimer calls the drop "dreadful" (when do analysts use those strong words?) and says, "it seems almost inevitable we are heading for recession." If the FED does not cut short-term interest rates by at least a quarter on September 18th, expect the Marks to throw the biggest tantrum ever.

With Boston's nail-biting, painful victory last night, the Baltimore Orioles are officially eliminated from playoff contention.

And the NY Post this morning ran this front page:

Yes, it seems that Osama bin laden has dyed his beard. Now we would expect a tabloid to make comments about the appearance of celebrities. The color of Osama's beard can be discussed in Page Six along with what so-in-so was wearing at a movie premiere (or look, it's Maggie on the front page as well). But the headline "die [dye] already" is a stark contrast to the "Wanted" poster both NY tabloids ran nearly 6 years ago. Despite his rumored diseased kidneys, Osama isn't going to die easily on his own. Wishing him to die is just sad for a newspaper that pretty much declared that Rudy and W were going to personally get him in the wake of 9/11.

Listen, Jerusalem Post, you can wish all you want. But we need action, not wishes. We have a 'decider' in Washington who either forgot about bin Laden or decided to drop the pursuit. We need a new president who can act as 'the avenger.'

Unfortunately, it seems that aside from Obama and Kucinich, not a single Democratic candidate, seems committed to the goal to capturing or killing bin Laden in their first term in office. That is even more sad. And Kucinich is the only one who has committed to the goal of a complete US withdrawal from Iraq. Even Obama fails when it comes to fully reversing the biggest disaster in US foreign policy.

So today I have arrived at a primary decision. I am for Kucinich.

UPDATE, 15:49 EDT: In bin Laden's new video message, he apparently asks US citizens to convert to Islam as a way of ending our occupation of Iraq. Silly as that is, he didn't demand it. Being the gentleman that he is, he asked us politely, saying, "I invite you to embrace Islam."

I think I said in an early post that bin Laden really is a gentle guy. You can picture him surrounded by sheep and children. He's a really nice guy...who finances massive acts of terrorism. He might be the most curious enemy this nation has ever had.