Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Reversal of Fortune

Step right up, folks, our ride is about to begin ... again. Unfortunately, shortly after celebrating his one-year anniversary with a new company, my husband was let go. (Cue the screaming.)

There had been some "restructuring" (why is that word often the death knell for so many?) which occurred mid-winter and while it wasn't without its challenges, he was trying to make the best of it.

We knew things weren't great when the much-ballyhooed holiday party was cancelled back in December without much notice. Next, a move to a nicer building was put on hold indefinitely. Then, little by little, colleagues started to slip away and my husband wasn't sure if their departures were voluntary. (Spoiler alert: They weren't.)  The cryptic emails that followed their abrupt disappearances went a little something like this:

"Dan is no longer with the company. Let's wish him well in all his future endeavors!" and were sent out only after Dan's cubicle was stripped of everything but a generic wall calendar and a mug of pens bearing the company's faded logo.

These signs obviously weren't encouraging, but we sort of fell into a "Lightening can't strike twice, right?" denial about it. Surely, he couldn’t have spent nearly a year looking for a job only to get one and lose it again in what felt like the length of an infomercial. Could he?

"No!" We shook our heads like children refusing to even consider trying Brussel sprouts. "No, no, no!!" Nothing like that could happen again — until it did.

During my rarely-taken lunch hour, I was on the phone interviewing a man for one of my multiple freelance assignments. (It would prove fortuitous that I didn't abandon any of the side gigs I'd taken on during our mutual unemployment). As this gentleman, a C-level exec for a major flooring company, described the eco-friendly benefits of building houses for purple martins (migratory birds) who eat mosquitoes that irritatingly found their way into the company’s product, my call-waiting clicked repeatedly. Next, my cell phone beside me began to vibrate, dancing its way across the radiator cover. Glancing at the number, I could see it was my husband. It wasn't seeing his cell number as opposed to his office number that concerned me, it was the urgency with which he was calling.

I wanted to believe that he was out on his lunch hour picking up new baseball cleats for the boys and needed a reminder of their sizes. I wanted to think maybe he’d spotted a succulent rotisserie chicken on sale and wanted to ask if he could bring it home for dinner. I wanted and needed to believe that he was calling to say anything but what he did, which was “Liz, I’ve been let go.”

We knew things hadn’t been going great, still, I felt blindsided ... again. Clients — the ones who were left — were happy with his work. How were we back here again so soon?  I could handle it better, I told myself, maybe five, maybe 10 years from now. But not today, not when I was just feeling confident that I could buy organic produce without a potential visit from a repo man. Yet here I was once again, abandoning plans for the indulgences I coveted: a cleaning lady, a couch that didn't bear the outline of my child's last stomach virus, and possibly some new underwear.

I've wanted to write this post for a while, but much like a homicide, we had to notify the next of kin first -- and, boy, was that unpleasant.

You see, during the 12 months when we were simultaneously employed, we took on a home renovation. This decision was spurred by concerns about our 16-year-old dilapidated deck and half- bathroom which was never properly insulted and was, therefore, like something straight out Frozen. (Our very own igloo in the suburbs of Jersey!) We decided to have a family room and full bathroom (complete with insulation!) built. As reckless as it sounds now, believe me, we didn't rush into this. We had plenty of time to weigh our options during the days we spent trying to warm up frozen pipes to prevent them from bursting behind our basement walls and destroying the small room we'd had finished back in 2013.

In the midst of a storm in early 2014, I spent three hours sitting under the deck in 10 degrees, snow falling gently through the slats of this once-lovely-but-now-crumbling amenity, so I had plenty of time to ponder home improvements. What was I doing under there aside from wondering how my life had ended up like a Tracy Chapman song? I was aiming a supped-up version of a blow-dryer at walls thinner than Pringles potato chips in the hope of averting disaster. It was during those long hours in which I lost feeling in my digits that I decided if we ever both held jobs at the same time again, some renovations needed to be undertaken.

After months of interviewing contractors and applying for permits, the room was underway. And, in case you've never tackled a project like this, those stats about construction taking twice as long and costing 20 percent more than you're quoted are spot-on! So, when I told my mom about this recent reversal of fortune, the first thing she said was, "Oh no, this is such awful timing with the new room being built!!"
(Thank you, Captain Obvious!)

And, don't worry, this isn't the part where I link to a GoFundMe page and ask you to help defray the cost of the area rugs from Target I've had my eye on. With his most recent experience under his belt and plenty of practice networking, my husband has had some solid leads.

Still, the frustration of the job search looms large. And if you walk past my house and the windows are open you may hear me shrieking things like, "Are the LinkedIn people asleep at the wheel because the Jobs page has been showing the same dozen listings for the past three weeks!?!" Or, "Damn you,! When I click on New York, I do not want to see anything in Schenectady!" And, sadly, we're back to running to answer every phone call. (FYI, if you call my house and hang up, I will call you back and I will ask you to hire my husband -- even if it's just to plunge your toilet.)

Not that there’s ever a good time to be laid-off (unless you’re packing the winning Powerball ticket) but the summer is particularly tough. Seeing photos of friends traveling through Europe, lounging alongside the Caribbean, or tucking into Lobsters from the deck of a chartered yacht, well, it’s just too much. If you're going to post pics of your summer what I’d like to see is a snapshot of you in your outdated kitchen crying as you open your $400+Verizon Fios & wireless bill. This summer (my favorite season) has been marred by this new turn of events, and I barely have the strength to toast some S’mores in a terry cloth robe I’ve owned since two popes ago.

Though it's no consolation, we know plenty of others in the same situation. Even the man who scored me an interview with the HR rep who completely forgot about our meeting was let go in a mass downsizing. In a way, it worked out that things didn't progress beyond that lone dismal meeting or I'm sure I'd have been laid off too.

Recognizing that these things take time, we're sure things will work out eventually. In the meantime, we'll be crossing our fingers that we don't end up living with the purple martins.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Thought Leader ... Who Me? & A Bit About UpScored

A few months ago, Elise Runde Voss, chief executive officer of UpScored reached out to me after reading my piece on how networking helped my husband get back to work after being laid-off. In her email, she referred to me as "a thought leader in career development and progression." Now before I go any further, as a woman who can barely get her kids to wear long pants in a blizzard, I was beyond flattered, so naturally, I wanted to hear what else she had to say.

Her new endeavor, UpScored, is a career discovery platform that connects professionals to their best career prospects. As someone who struggled with finding a job for far longer than I'd have liked, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of speaking with the entrepreneur who is determined to streamline the job search (and hiring) process. I highly recommend checking out the site. I did -- for research purposes, of course -- and was pretty impressed and surprised by how user-friendly it was.

Below is an article I've put together on UpScored. I hope you find it helpful!

A New Way to Check How Your Resume Looks to an ATS

Anyone who’s ever searched for a new job knows how quickly it can become a time-consuming rabbit hole that often leaves you with more questions than prospects. For example, you may find yourself asking: “Am I qualified for this position?” “Does my resume showcase my skillset in a way that’ll get me noticed?” and “Would using different keywords propel my resume past those resume reading robots known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and into the right hands?” 

Fortunately, there’s a new tool that aims to streamline your search and lead you to apply for positions that are tailored to your skillset, background, and even career priorities. The data science platform UpScored promises to match your skills to top job openings in all of two minutes. Their motto, “Because finding your dream job shouldn’t be your second job,” should resonate with a lot of job seekers.

UpScored’s website, which is free to use, features over 30,000 openings in the following sectors: technology, media, finance, retail, and healthcare. Currently, jobs are based in Manhattan but since the site does a whole lot more than present local jobs, anyone can benefit from uploading a resume. The platform provides users with valuable insight into how an ATS views their resume. Since these systems destroy three-quarters of candidates’ chances right out the gate due to filtering for specific keywords, according to job search services provider QuintCareers, why not arm yourself with information and those all-important terms that could make your resume stand out from the crowd?

UpScored Chief Executive Officer Elise Runde Voss explained how she and co-founders Robert Britt and Dan Elbaz built the propriety algorithm out of personal frustration with the hiring process.

The trio previously collaborated while building the Big Data Strategy Group at Point72 Asset Management (formerly SAC Capital), a $10 billion multi-strategy hedge fund. It was there that they experienced firsthand the challenging process of putting together a talented team. Recognizing how choosing from a pool of highly-qualified candidates significantly impacts a group’s growth and culture, they were inspired to create a system that connects the job seeker and employer in a mutually beneficial and unique way — because no one wants to miss out on the perfect opportunity or employee. 

Minding the Skill Gap

One of Runde Voss’s favorite features is UpScored’s ability to “look at skills more like a human would.” Because the algorithm was trained on over 600,000 resumes, it goes well beyond simply filtering for key words, the CEO explained. 

For example, if you’ve spent the past five years in digital marketing, you’re going to receive a higher score than someone who held a summer internship in that field. Additionally, if your resume doesn’t include the words “digital marketing” but features commensurate experience in search engine optimization, you’ll be shown a position you may otherwise have missed. 

After uploading my resume to give UpScored a test drive, I was pleasantly surprised by how appropriate the site’s selections were. In a matter of seconds, I was looking at a dozen positions that intrigued me. I didn’t need to scroll through pages (and pages) of openings that were only slightly relevant to my search. 

Even if you’re not seeking a job in the New York City area, experimenting with UpScored would still prove interesting and useful as you’re able to get a clear idea of the positions you’re most compatible with. The site may even suggest a position you otherwise wouldn’t have considered yourself qualified for.

A user credits UpScored with presenting her with an opportunity at a digital media site that she wouldn’t have pursued based on the job title alone. But once UpScored indicated that the position was an optimal fit for her background, she applied, and landed an interview.

Figuring Out Next Steps

If UpScored’s findings are to your liking, good for you! If not, take a long look at your resume and figure out what needs to be tweaked. Because I’ve worked in the financial industry, UpScored presented me with plenty of opportunities in that sector. But because that’s no longer my desired focus, I realized that I may want to consider removing that experience from my resume and, instead, devote that coveted space to the skills I’ve acquired that I’d most like future employers to value. 

If you’ve ever applied for a position you believed was the perfect match but never received even a phone interview, you were probably haunted by that nagging question: “Would using different terms or keywords on my resume have made it stand out to an employer?” 

UpScored tackles this issue as well. The system’s “Skill View” page shows you exactly which skills your resume is missing in simple terms such as “arbitrage” or “audience development.” 

Once you know where your deficits lie, it’s an easy fix, Runde Voss notes. “If you start to see the same words pop up over and over again, fill your skill gap by taking an online course or attending a class or workshop at General Assembly. Then, add those skills to your resume and watch your score increase. 

Again, even if you’re closer to New Mexico than New York, UpScored can provide you with valuable insight into how your resume is perceived by employers. If you’re scoring a 40 against your dream job, figure out what will bridge the distance. Sometimes reworking and rewording your experience may be enough to get your resume in front of the right people, Runde Voss points out. The CEO shared that she worked with a user who had all the requisite skills to land her dream job. Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t coming across on paper. 

After studying her skill gap, the job seeker realized that while she possessed most of the qualities the employer was seeking, because she hadn’t listed or bulleted them, her resume might have been passed over. 

“If you included all the things you’re capable of and all the experience you have, your resume would be three to four pages long,” Runde Voss points out. “UpScored cuts to the heart of it by showing you exactly what will get your resume noticed.”  

Getting Started

Checking out this tool is quick and easy. Simply create a login and password, upload your resume, and pick from a handful of attributes that best describe your personality. For example, are you organized or adaptable? Creative or analytical? Do you prefer to wear a tie or hoodie to the office? 

Next, the platform asks you to rank your top two priorities in terms of what you’re looking for in a career: compensation and benefits, career progression, work/life balance, or strong mentorship. When you’re done ranking, you’ll be scored. 

Within seconds, custom job descriptions at top companies like Google, BuzzFeed, Facebook, and Twitter will appear and you’ll be given a “score” on a scale of 1 to 100 based on your work experience, skill set, and education, as well as thousands of other data points. The number measures the relevance of your resume to a company’s job description, enabling job seekers to focus on the right opportunities rather than waste time applying for jobs they may not be qualified for. And if you should find an opportunity that you’d love, determining how to remedy your skill gap will put you in the best position possible. 

If you’re looking to save yourself the time and frustration that often accompanies job searching, you might want to give UpScored a try. Job hunting is stressful enough, why not give yourself a head start by viewing your resume as an ATS will.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Where I've Been

A few friends have asked if I've given up writing this blog. While I definitely hadn’t intended to, I haven't had much free time lately. As I've mentioned in other posts, I've been freelancing whenever and wherever I have the opportunity. 

Initially, I felt like I couldn't turn down any work in case one of us found ourselves unexpectedly out of work again. Then, I just kept it up because I enjoyed having an opportunity to write on a variety of different topics. Now, I’m doing it more than ever because I found myself in need of a big ole influx of cash. Let me explain. 

In November, my husband and I went to a fundraising event which we attend every year. In the name of a worthy cause, I often find myself spending the silent auction portion of the evening bidding on items we definitely don’t need. Think: shopping carts/chair caddies you can take to the beach (??), skydiving lessons, a bouquet of fast food gift cards … you get the idea. 

But when it comes to the live auction, Katie, bar the door, the feeling I get from raising that bidding paddle must be akin to the first-time high addicts speak of. Apparently, live auctions are my heroin. My stars, what a rush! 

Last year, after a few glasses of white (and probably red, too, if we’re being honest) wine, I found myself bidding on the chance to meet the cast of some NFL program that I thought the boys might enjoy. I was outbid, which was fortunate, as the final offer came in at more than the balance of Prince George's trust fund. Think that chastened me? Not quite. Next, I thrust my paddle into the air in an effort to win (or just up the price ... who can say for sure?) a trip to Sea Isle, Georgia.

All the while my mother glared at me from her table. At the time, my husband was still out of work, so we barely had the money for an extra pizza, let alone a four-day trip purchased on a Merlot-fueled whim. Mercifully, other people outbid me again. I did my best “Aw shucks!” while my heart hammered in my chest and I felt irrationally grateful I hadn’t actually “won” anything I’d just bid on. 

So this year, fast forward to the live auction when they announce a trip for two to Cancun, hotel stay for five nights and airfare included etc. I was certain I could bid and experience that same old thrill without actually having to cough up a credit card at the end of the night. (I think you know where I’m going with this … ) 

SO when the price gets to $3,200, I'm thinking, "I'm totally going to drive up this bid!” and raise my number high in the air. But damned if no one else wanted this item!  The auctioneer did the whole, “Going once, going twice, do I hear $3,300?” Crickets. Pin-drop silence. That’s all we heard. I looked over and expected to see my husband Google-ing divorce attorneys. Instead, his face registered half-shock, half-evil-death-stare. Sadly, nothing about his expression said, “Wow, Liz, randomly buying a trip to Mexico seems like a great idea!” 

And before I had a chance to say anything to him, like, “Please don’t murder me in my sleep,” volunteers with the organization were tapping me on the shoulder demanding my credit card. Because my “fancy” purse is so tiny it only accommodates lipstick and a driver’s license, I had the added discomfort of asking my now-scowling husband if I could “borrow” his plastic to pay for my impulse purchase. 

My cousin, who’d been sitting to my right, had disappeared momentarily. I knew if she’d been there just moments earlier she’d have slapped my paddle-raisin’ arm right back down to the table where it belonged. When she returned and I told her what she’d missed, she generously said that if my man refused to go she’d be happy to kick in $1,600 and travel with me. (Now that's a good cousin!) She told me to justify it this way: "Think of it as six trips to Costco.” When I attempted this later, my husband only said, “What the hell is your cousin buying at Costco??”

During what could best be described as a “tense” ride home, I tried to recall any of the details I’d heard about the trip but kept coming up empty. What if we were going to be staying at Uncle Paco’s B&B, miles from civilization, with only donkey-grooming as an activity? How could I have not gotten any information? How could I have been so reckless?? “What the hell was I thinking?” played in a loop in my head throughout the night as I woke every 30 minutes and recalled my “win.” 

After the initial shock wore off, I began to look forward to this getaway but wondered how my 70-something-year-old mother could possibly watch the boys for five nights (in a row). Though I knew she’d offer, it seemed downright cruel and potentially fatal. So, at the same time I was pondering how to handle this, I received an email from a former colleague asking me if I could help her out by freelancing. Boy, could I! Taking on a couple dozen assignments, I’d be able to pay for the trip and add the boys along, making it their Christmas present. Exciting, right? Well, it sounds better in theory. In reality, I've spent the past few months researching and typing my way to a nervous breakdown. 

The good news is, we're staying at a known hotel chain. While it's not the Four Seasons, we should have the usual amenities like soap and nearby ice machines. And, as I've told a friend with whom I already shared this sordid tale, I should now be able to buy rounds of margaritas for everyone at our pool's swim-up bar! 

While it does make for an amusing anecdote (for everyone but my husband), I have to say, even if this trip is like my own version of Fantasy Island, in which I can sleep late, read a book, and convince my children to apply their own sunscreen, I think I've learned my lesson. If I can somehow avoid my husband straight-jacketing me for this year's event, I'll be sitting on my hands through the live auction portion of the evening! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The LinkedIn Endorsements You Wish Existed

When it comes to LinkedIn endorsements, there are different schools of thought on their value. Some people are delighted when they receive a notification that someone thinks they're great at proofreading and three unrelated skills. Others regard them as a bunch of hooey. I probably fall into the latter category as I've been endorsed twice for speechwriting. Yet, aside from the short lackluster toast I gave at my dad's 70th birthday party, I really have no experience with this. And I don't think the people who endorsed me were at that small affair.

While the catalog of endorsement traits is vast and sundry, here are a few I wish existed, because, let's face it, we've all worked with people who've honed these skills to perfection:


A testament to those long and loud personal calls, which after 10 minutes begin to take on the fever-pitch of a televangelist

Nomadic Tendencies

The ability to carry an always-full water bottle and wander from cube to cube complaining and never accomplishing anything, yet they never fail to get by


Prone to sending cryptic emails that leave colleagues popping up from their cubicles like the human equivalent of a "Whack-A-Mole" game asking, "So, wait, is the 11 o'clock meeting on??"

Power Molars

Loudest chip and/or pretzel crunching. Ever.


Willingness to dance like no one's watching -- typically in the ladies room. You are also the person comfortable carrying on lengthy conversation across stalls and possibly even talking selfies mid-flush.


A leech-like allegiance to corporate buzzwords. (Yes, I'm "opening the kimono" on this one. I just wish I had the bandwidth to go into a deeper dive on this troublesome lexicon.)


The employee who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of colleagues' lives due to excessive Facebooking


Can be counted on to say, "That was a shitshow!" after every all-hands-on-deck meeting


This co-worker wears too much cologne or eats a super-fishy lunch in his cubicle -- every darn day.

Office Aesthetician

Flagrant nail clipping/filing during meetings sometimes followed by flossing during a Google hangout


Don't touch my arm unless I'm about to fall down an elevator shaft, thanks.

Champion Throat-Clearing 

If you need the Heimlich, just ask, otherwise see a doctor.


This is the co-worker who is always in the middle of a root canal, landlord-tenant dispute, and seeking a restraining order. Engaging with her will cost you 20-40 minutes of your work day, so plan accordingly.

And did you ever notice that as soon as you connect with someone you have the opportunity to endorse him or her for multiple skills? While most go together, there's always that clunker that calls to mind the old Sesame Street "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is doin' his own thang!"

Perhaps this will jog your memory:

With Facebook allegedly preparing to unveil a "dislike" button, is it only a matter of time before we have the chance to affirm these characteristics in our colleagues as well? Let's hope not, but it is fun to consider.

If you could endorse a co-worker for trait or two, what would they be?

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