Bloomfield Hills, Mich.: For the past 5 years I have been a stay-at-home mom for my 4-year-old son. I am now actively looking for a job. I have a relatively strong IT Project Management skill set and experience. However a 5 year gap in my resume must not look good to potential employers. Would a cover letter that touches on the reason for my absence from the workforce be a good idea? How can I maximize the visibility of my resume in this case?
Penelope Trunk: You don't need to cover the gap. It is no longer news to the world that most women take time off for their children. There is no shortage of jobs in the sector you're in. What your cover letter needs to do is show that you have not become irrelevant while you've been at home. One of the best ways to show that you are keeping up in your industry is to blog. Blogging is about ideas. In order for a blog to help you with your job hunt, you don't need to have traffic on your blog, you need to have passion and intelligence. Start a blog, write about ideas in your field, link to other people talking about ideas in your field, and then, when a potential employer looks at your blog, it will be clear that you are up to date on IT trends and ideas. You cannot show this in an experience -based resume.
Arlington, Va.: Where would someone go in their local area to find a good job search group that meets regularly? Libraries? Local employment agencies? Do career coaches/counselors ever offer such workshops or roundtables? I would be willing to pay $$ for such a group.
Penelope Trunk: Go online. The top performers in any industry are using social media to network locally. Twitter is especially conducive to local networking. The problem is that if you go to a library, you are networking with people who use libraries. And, nothing against libraries -- I pretty much lived at my neighborhood library when I was a kid -- but they don't attract people at the cutting edge of their field, and these are the people you need to get to know to keep yourself employable.
Arlington, Va.: If a senior colleague or manager at my workplace asks to be my friend on Facebook. What should I do, should I add her?
Penelope Trunk: If you are professional on Facebook then it's appropriate. Most people who have been using Facebook since college don't use Facebook in a professional way, so it doesn't make sense to use it as a professional networking tool. One of the reasons we launched BrazenCareerist.com is because Facebook is great for networking and LinkedIn is very professional, but there was no tool that was good for professional conversations. So maybe you should try establishing a profile on Brazen Careerist and then inviting that senior manager to network with you there. Side benefit: One of the things older people love about interacting with younger people is learning new ways to do things.
New Orleans: I'm a freelancer who's trying to leverage LinkedIn as a tool. I have a goal to write a new status update once a week, but I'm not always sure what to say. The prompt, I believe, is "What are you working on?" If I have a new project I landed, that's an easy thing to post about. But sometimes I don't have a new project, and other times I'd like to be more discreet about what I'm working on for whatever reason. Anyway, do you have any suggestions about good things to post about in this section of LinkedIn?
Penelope Trunk: LinkedIn is about what experience you have and who is on your contact list. LinkedIn is not great for conversation. But you intuitively know that conversation is what builds a freelance business. So you should be using tools that people use for conversation -- blogging, twitter, Facebook -- these are the tools that will best leverage your updates to create a new client base.
Reston, Va.: I've just started using LinkedIn and would like to use it both to get more clients for my current employer (I depend on referrals), and also to possibly explore job opportunities in a different (distantly related) field. I expect that many of my connections would be able to help me with both of these. So far, I've been inviting people to connect who are already on LinkedIn and I know through work or school. How well do I need to know people in order to ask them to connect? I've been going on the assumption that if they will recognize my name and remember that we worked together, it is OK to ask. Or should I only connect to people who know me really well? What about friends and family who aren't connected to me through my current or future profession? And what about people who aren't already on LinkedIn? Do people find it annoying to be asked to join yet another network? The bottom line question is who should I be trying to connect to and what is the etiquette for doing so?
Penelope Trunk: Instead of focusing on making your LinkedIn list longer, focus on making real connections with the people on the list of contacts you already have. If you make a new friend -- really a friend, not just a contact -- then you can get that person to help connect you to their friends. You need to use conversation-based tools to meet potential new clients. Try blogging. People will get to know you and like you for your ideas and they'll want to help you. Or, if you don't want to blog, try commenting on blogs. I get about 200 comments a day on my blog, and I am still very involved in helping people who are good community members on my blog -- and most bloggers are like that. Use conversation-based tools to build your business. LinkedIn is a rolodex on steroids, not a conversation tool.
Falls Church, Va.: When trying to change careers but with many transferable skills, what is the best way to describe yourself and your experience in a cover letter?
Penelope Trunk: Your resume is not your life story. It's a marketing tool. The world doesn't care about all your experiences. The world cares about what you've done and what you think about the job you're applying for. So focus your resume and cover letter for the job. For most strong performers, most of their experience does not make it to their resume. It's how life works.
washingtonpost.com: I am an ex-government employee, and very concerned about protecting my privacy. Should I be weary of joining Facebook, or Twitter? -Shy person
Penelope Trunk: Get over your privacy. It's a new world. You are competing against people who are managing their personal brand online as a career management tool. You can't compete with those people if you are concerned about your privacy. And, what do you need to hide? If you need to be private because you don't want people to really know who you are, then people will not connect enough with you to want to hire you. Getting hired is about making real connections with people, and you can only connect with people by being real and vulnerable. Good book for you to read: Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi.
Bethesda, Md.: I am a freelance designer and marketing communications consultant. But, the world has changed dramatically with the Internet. Do you recommend including a photo of yourself on LinkedIn? And, which social networking sites do you consider THE BEST?
Penelope Trunk: Each social networking site provides different ways to connect with people and different ways to show who you are. You need to explore them in order to figure out what's right for you. In today's workforce, a job hunt is not an event, it's nonstop. Career management is up to each of us to do on our own, and we need to do a little every day. Social media is an essential tool for this, so you should be exploring social media tools each day. If you do that, you'll be able to answer your question yourself in a few weeks. Really.
Falls Church, Va.: Do you have any tips for a business wanting to evaluate the value of Facebook and LinkedIn to grow awareness or generate leads?
Penelope Trunk: Use tools that allow you to have conversation with potential clients. You intuitively know that the best way to get a client is to get someone you truly know and have a real connection with. So use conversational tools to make better connections with people you know. LinkedIn is not about conversation. You can find people there who you might want to talk to, but you need to find them in other social media formats (twitter, blogging, BrazenCareerist.com) in order to make a true connection with them that you can actually get business from.
Bowie, Md.: I am not a 'young' person - I've been in the working world over 25 years. I am about to embark, once again, on a job search. I am working with a career coach on what I want to do next, but I'm afraid I haven't a clue on HOW to find it. Online job searching seems like such a daunting task. Can you recommend some general strategies for job-seekers over 40?
Penelope Trunk: You need to job hunt in exactly the same way young people job hunt, because that's who you are competing with. You want to get hired for your ideas, right? And so does a young person. And even though you have 25 years of experience, that does not necessarily mean that you will deliver value right now, today. How you think and what your ideas are right now, today, is a better indicator of what you will deliver today. If you have good ideas and someone will less experience than you has good ideas, then you will get the job because with your experience, you'll probably be able to deliver more. But first you have to compete on ideas. This means retooling how you interview to talk about what you're learning and what is interesting to you. And retooling how you present yourself to present your ideas as well as your experience. You should read my blog. It's all about how the job hunt has changed, and how you need to approach the job hunt today. Good search terms for this: job hopping, don't pay dues, networking.
Alexandria, Va.: As a young professional and a recent graduate of International Affairs. My question relates to networking. In this day and age, is it still necessary to send a personalized thank-you letter or would a brief thank you via e-mail suffice. Thanks!
Penelope Trunk: People love a handwritten note. But in many cases, you don't have that much time. For example, if three people interview for a job and the decision date is in 48 hours, your handwritten note will not get there in time, but the email thank-yous will.
Silver Spring: What do you see as the specific strengths/weaknesses of each of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for someone trying to expand their personal online presence or brand?
Penelope Trunk: LinkedIn is great for knowing who your friends know. It's also great for displaying yourself if you have tons of great experience that will impress everyone. That's why the average person on LinkedIn is older, and making a lot of money. Facebook is good for connecting with family and friends who you already know and have a personal relationship with. The nature of Facebook is closed -- it's not for meeting people you don't know. It's for connecting with people you already are close to. Twitter is good for meeting new people who are like you. You can sort easily for people who are doing quick updates about topics you're interested in. Twitter is limited, though, because of the character count, so building strong relationships from twitter often requires moving onto a social network or a blog. I feel compelled here to mention my own company, BrazenCareerist.com, which is a good place to connect with people professionally about ideas. A good way to think about Brazen Careerist is that LinkedIn focuses on experience and Brazen Careerist focuses on ideas. If you are young and short on experience, ideas is a better bet for you.
Vienna, Va. : I find online networking is good to have fun for a while -- but it needs a lot of upkeep -- for a person like me who barely has time to clear her inbox, it is way too much work!
Penelope Trunk: Spend less time on your in box because only one person reads each email you send. Spending time on social media is more cost-effective because you connect with multiple people at a time. Today more than 75% of all Internet communication is through social networks. You are going to be a dinosaur if you don't find time to do that. Your financial stability and your personal stability are dependent on you having the ability to get a the type of job you need when you need it. The way to get that sort of career power is to use social media. So you better start making time.
Ashburn, Va.: I see you do give advice on starting a blog too -- How can I do that? I am very interested. Penelope Trunk: Here's a link to my guide for how to start a blog. I put this together because I get asked so often :) http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/penelopes-guide-to-blogging/
Fairfax, Va.: Hi Penelope. I have been out of work for over a year. While I have had a handful of interviews for federal government and nonprofit positions out of 100 or so job applications, it is clear that I may be unemployed for some time longer. I have set up a consulting practice in the meantime to provide me with some income and identity during this period. I've developed my website, and have connected with many of my colleagues on LinkedIn. Yet I'm confused about how to approach my social network. Should I approach my contacts about my job search, consulting practice, or both? Thanks!
Penelope Trunk: Instead of asking people for leads on a job, ask people how you can help them. Exchange ideas with people. Make connections with people about something that is bigger than wanting a job. The way you get jobs is through networking, for sure, and social media tools are great for that. But social media is about giving -- information, fun, vulnerability, kindness -- these are things we each have to give, and the more you use social media to give those things, the more you'll get back. You build a network by giving. As a result of that, you get a job from networking. But asking for a job has nothing to do with that.
Fort Meade, Md.: I am new to the idea of blogging as an integral part of the job search. Besides making contacts, if I do not make any contacts; how can blogging help me in my job search?
Penelope Trunk: Blogging allows you to become known for your ideas. Most people who are stuck in their job hunt are either not presenting themselves well or not connecting with people in a meaningful way. Blogging allows you to do both effectively. How can you be a real blogger and not make contacts? You are choosing a topic that presumably you are interested in, you are reaching out to other bloggers talking about that topic by linking to them and commenting on their blogs, so it is nearly impossible to really blog and not make a new set of contacts. Maybe you are not leveraging blogging well. Two ideas: 1. Join BrazenCareerist.com which is a built-in tool for leveraging your blog and your ideas to build a network. 2. Go to the page I wrote about how to start blogging -- maybe you need to change your approach. http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/penelopes-guide-to-blogging/
Boston, Mass.: Bowie MD is not alone! I am 50 and unemployed. I've changed careers once already. My network isn't helpful. Career coaches have not helped (except to rewrite my resume). I have lots of skills but am just burned out. I could sit and read job tweets and surf career sites all day, but it doesn't seem very productive. How do I "put myself out there" when I don't seem to qualify for anything.
Penelope Trunk: I think the problem is right there in your email: "sit and read job tweets" "surf career sites" This is your problem. You get a job through networking. You are not using social media tools to network. You are hoping a job ad will fall in your lap. That's not how people find jobs. They find jobs through connections, which is why LinkedIn is the most popular job site online right now. LinkedIn is about connections instead of job ads. You need to focus on having real conversations with people and making friends and adding something to peoples' lives. People who give a lot get a lot. Jobs don't fall in peoples' laps. Friends fall in peoples' laps after hours and hours of giving for the sake of giving. And people get jobs from friends and friends of friends.
Washington, D.C.: Can you give me an idea of other sites out there like Plaxo and Ryze. How do they differ from other popular networking sites?
Penelope Trunk: I delete all emails from Plaxo. Why do I need to do extra work so that you can update your database? Get rid of that site. People who are great at networking will not type in data to get themselves into your network. LinkedIn is way better than Plaxo for storing lists of contacts.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think online networking and blogging requires a lot of technical expertise in terms of HTML etc... can you recommend classes that can prepare a person?
Penelope Trunk: No. Absolutely not. Social media today is like driving a car. It's not about knowing how the car works, it's about getting to your destination. All of gen y uses social media, and most are, of course, non-technical. Do not take any class in social media or blogging. Just start doing it. Here is a link to get started: The Easiest Instructions for How to Start a Blog http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/11/10/the-easiest-instructions-for-how-to-start-a-blog/
Detroit, Mich.: I am a teacher and I am part of the population that has been laid-off due to reduction in funding and/or the reduction in population in Michigan. I have noticed that the popular professional networking sites really do not provide resources for teachers/educators. What are your suggestions for locating sites that are actually beneficial to those of us who really need help in locating gainful employment in education.
Penelope Trunk: Talk to teachers who blog in the location you want a job. That blog will have a community of local teachers commenting, and you can connect with them. Social media is local. Social media is about ideas. Teachers are teaching because they like ideas. There are tons of teachers to connect with out there.
Warrenton, Va. 20186: Hi, I have been unable to build a network on Linked in, which my sister says is the only way. I am a mammographer, x ray technologist and can do Dexa also. I'm wondering if I could possibly be black listed because I was let go from a place that believed me instead of the customer about "applying too much compression" on a mammogram. I worked there for 8 years and never got 1 complaint, but the manager simply did not like me and was a senior person. How do I find out if that could be the problem? And if so, what do I do about it. I am pretty broke now. Please help!
Penelope Trunk: Newsflash: You don't have a networking problem, you have a likability problem. It is more important in your career to be likable than competent. People would rather work with someone who is likable and just sort of okay at the job than someone who is unlikable but great at doing the job. You stayed at a job for eight years when your manager didn't like you? That's crazy. You need to care more about being liked or you are not going to be able to build a network or get a job. Here's a link to why you need to care more about being liked: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/07/18/social-skills-matter-more-than-ever-so-heres-how-to-get-them/
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Since so many companies and the government now accept applications only through websites, how do you balance networking in person vs. the online application process?
Penelope Trunk: Have you ever gotten a job through online applications? It's a black hole. You need to know someone. Spend all your time networking. Send in the job application online only after you know there is someone on the other end who you connected with who is looking for the application.
Germantown, Md.: It seems LinkedIn is a popular forum for showcasing one's past and present professional profile. However, I don't see the kind of networking results that one would find on say Facebook... what are your thoughts?
Penelope Trunk: Conversations build networks. LinkedIn is not about conversations, it's about showcasing the results of your conversation. I have 650 contacts on LinkedIn. And I have never invited anyone to connect with me. So LinkedIn showcases the great networking I've done on my blog and on twitter and on BrazenCareerist.com -- and also in person, don't forget that! So you are not going to build your network on LinkedIn. But you can use LinkedIn to see which of your friends has a huge network, and maybe you can start hanging out with that person more to understand how he does it :)
Lusby, Md.: I graduated Magna with a BSBA in 2006. I then moved out of state and have had a lot of difficulty getting my resume noticed, especially since I do not have a lot of job experience. I have a lot to offer but have not been able to get my foot in the door anywhere. How can I get them to really look at my resume?
Penelope Trunk: Newsflash, you gotta stop telling everyone "I graduated Magna" No one cares. Really. IQ is not an indicator of how well someone will do in the workplace. And, good grades mean you follow rules, and following rules doesn't make people good in the workforce. So you need to think about how to market yourself better. Talk about your ideas in your field, and make friends in your new location, and once people where you live know you for your ideas they will be able to help you get a job.
State College, Pa.: Re: thank you notes: you could send a thank you email and follow up with a handwritten note. That covers all the bases and would make your mother happy that she taught you well.
Penelope Trunk: Agree. And I have to tell you that I never knew where State College PA was until I started my company and ended up with a team that is 90% from Penn State :)
Arlington, Va.: I have applied for a job with a company that uses an on-line human resources management firm to process all applications. I received an e-mail in response to my on-line application that said: "Due to the high volume of correspondence we receive, we kindly ask that you please do not contact us directly. We will contact you if further correspondence is necessary." Do I just sit and wait? (The position closed three weeks ago)
Penelope Trunk: Just stop using those online application processes. They don't help you. Use networking tools. Target the department at the company that you want to work. Find people in that department online, start a conversation with one , and then ask if you can send your resume to him/ her. Forget the online application process. It's so 1998!
Washington, D.C.: I was laid off two weeks ago from a job, and have an extensive social network here in Washington. While many of my personal contacts are not in my industry, I've noticed that they are often the ones more willing and surprisingly able to make a connection or pass along a job posting. Should I consider a mass bcc email to many or all of my personal contacts to notify everyone of my unemployment situation and solicit help, or should I simply focus on targeted outreach to those in my field. Also, what about posting status messages on Gmail/gChat and Facebook -- is this appropriate and what is the best way to say "unemployed"? I've written that I'm "looking for new employment opportunities," but many people just think I'm still at and dissatisfied with my old job.
Penelope Trunk: How about connecting with people through a conversation instead of spamming them? You're unemployed. You have plenty of time. But you bring up a great point that no one has touched on, which is that your most valuable contacts are outside your industry because they will know the most people you don't know. This is a great way to use LinkedIn -- to sort for the people who are likely to introduce you to people you don't know. For example, on LinkedIn I can see that I share tons of contacts with my friend who writes for the New York Times, but I do not share many contacts with my friend who works in Microsoft's corporate development.
Rockville, Md.: You're brazen alright. How many times have you gotten fired yourself? BTW, your blogs in Yahoo! Finance were hilarious. I used to read them for comedic value.
Penelope Trunk: I've been fired a bunch of times. Here's a way to tell if you should be an entrepreneur: If you've been fired a lot but you have a great network. People who get fired who do not have a great network are not likable. People who get fired who have a great network are probably likable but they should be working for themselves. Most of my friends who are serial entrepreneurs have been fired a few times.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Here is my personal opinion of most social and business networking systems: there are too many of them and they don't result in much reward for the time expended on them. Now, presumably mine is a minority opinion. Yet, I suspect it is a sizable opinion, and as more and more people are finding they are spending too much time with these networks and getting not as much as they expected from them, I fear the bottom may someday fall out from the bottom of this market, especially when the "next best thing" enters. What are your thought on preventing the bottom from falling out underneath internet networking?
Penelope Trunk: There are only too many of them if you're using them all. Just pick one that you use well and use it. Here is my personal opinion of you, based on your question to me: I think you just don't want to spend the time you need to in order to be good with one social media tool. But you're not going to build a network for yourself by bitching about tools that have already been proven to be good for networking.
Minneapolis, Minn.: I'm getting a lot of traffic but not a lot of comments. I've been up since March 2009. Penelope Trunk: Be more controversial. Take more risks. People comment when you do that. Respond to peoples' comments when they do comment, and they will likely do it again. Finally, comment on other peoples' blogs, and they will return the favor.
Penelope Trunk: Okay you guys. That's all for today. I loved your questions -- you made me think a lot about topics I love. So thanks for that. And you can always ask me more questions via my blog, at http://blog.penelopetrunk.com