So…Why Small Business Saturday?

Cristina DDAWritten by guest author Cristina Sheppard-Decius, CMSM
Ferndale DDA Executive Director

I do not “do” Black Friday. Never have. So when American Express came out with Small Business Saturday a few years back, I thought, “Well finally, someone gets it.” I always thought I was alone in feeling this way, which come to find out, I am not. This is not to disparage those who have made Black Friday a family tradition nor to change that habit either. There is obviously room for both, I just secretly hope to play an active role in swinging more folks around to my kind of thinking.

Jerry's at Rust Belt
Jerry’s Shirts original space in Ferndale,  at The Rust Belt Market

I know some of you may think that Small Business Saturday is just an American Express marketing gimmick or made-up holiday. To me, Small Business Saturday is so much more than that, and there are many other small busines advocates who agree. While American Express my have coined the term and are spending thousands on marketing it to earn a greater return, what they have really done is help strengthen the voice of small businesses everywhere and bring greater awareness as to the why you should shop on Small Business Saturday.

DDA Modern Natural Baby
Modern Natural Baby

So why Small Business Saturday?

Location, Location, Location. Small businesses keep it local. Did you know that small businesses reinvest 70% of every dollar earned back into their local community? It is two times more than any national chain or online business. Downtown Ferndale is also pretty easy to get to, we love biking (even in the winter), and we are completely walkable to over 350 businesses.

It’s About the People. Small local businesses are about the people who run them; your neighbors, your friends, your children’s friends or their parents, your family—the person willing to put everything on the line to go against the corporate grain and take a chance on themselves. It’s a big risk running a small business, but usually comes with a great reward—and it’s not money, it’s gratification. Gratification that you are doing what you love. (Although being able to cover your expenses, support your employees and family is really important, too!).

DDA Christmas
“Downtown Ferndale is overflowing in originality, and that is what makes our city the place people want to be.”

Many of our Downtown Ferndale business owners are Ferndale residents, and the same holds true for a significant majority of their employees. They not only invest in their downtown, but also in the people who live here.

Genuine Service. No where else will get you a more genuine experience, the best customer service and full appreciation from shop owners than when you shop at a small business. Small businesses work harder to make sure you’re happy.

Originality. Small businesses are born from the idea of one or sometimes a small group of individuals, whose individuality shines through in what they do, how they do it and what they provide. Downtown Ferndale is overflowing with originality, and that is what makes our city the place people want to be. Downtown Ferndale has a whole host of creative gift buying options – you are sure to be the hit of the party or make your loved ones’ holiday special. There is also comfort in knowing that the dollars you spend on Small Business Saturday will directly impact your community.

More Fun Than Not. I’m just going to say it. Shopping in a downtown is just a heck of Leave Your Printa lot more fun than being stuck in a line or being packed in like sardines in a mall or big box. I love being able to have a real conversation with the real owner of the store, and take my time making my shopping decisions. Small business owners know how to help you, even when you don’t know what you’re looking for. We also have over 60 restaurants and entertainment venues to add to that shopping experience, which to me is a winner! Nothing beats a day of shopping than to be able to sit down, kick back and enjoy a meal someone makes for me (and a beverage I might add). Stress be gone!

Found Sound DDA
Found Sound

So what are you doing this Saturday, November 29th? After reading this I hope you are taking it to the streets of Downtown Ferndale for Small Business Saturday. Start your day with brunch, then make sure to pick up the Downtown Ferndale Passport to specials and savings at more than 30 businesses. Every time you make a purchase, get your passport stamped. With each stamp, you will be entered into a raffle of amazing prizes from our merchants. With each stamp you know you are supporting your community! For a list of businesses and all the details, go to www.downtownferndale.com.

#ShopSmall #ShopLocal #DowntownFerndale

10 Good Reasons to Get Back to Your Job Search NOW

by David Straka, Case Manager at Ferndale Michigan Works

So it is summer and you are out of work.  You applied for and are receiving unetop-10-listmployment.  I guess it is time to take a little vacation and enjoy the sights and sounds that summer brings.  You really don’t need to look for work right now because you have earned some time off to chill out, right?  From where I sit, WRONG!

It can be very enticing to fall into that trap thinking that a few months off is not going to hurt anything.  Here are a few points why it is not such a good idea:

  1.  The longer you are out of the workforce the harder it is to stay sharp and explain to a potential employer what you have been doing all that time.
  2. Unemployment money is not going to last forever.
  3. You will continue down the dark path of losing touch with possible networking leads and decreased motivation.
  4. I will see you at my desk with a week left of unemployment, in a panic expecting me to hand you a job.

Regardless the time of year, once you lose a job for whatever reason, you hit the ground running!  Summer is a perfect time to establish your re-employment marketing plan.  Here are a few hints to find your motivation:

  1. As soon as your job ends go ahead and get to your local Michigan Works!  File for your unemployment.  Find out all services available to you by asking staff or better yet, attending an orientation.
  2. Attend all the workshops that can benefit you and bring you up to date on skills needed in your re-employment efforts.
  3. Get referred to a Case Manager/Career Advisor to review your career goals, review and/or create your resume.
  4. Establish a regular “work week” schedule of what happens each day and stick to it.  This includes regular breakfast, lunch and dinner.  If your day includes an exercise program, keep that as part of your routine.  In the evening, take a break and get a good night’s sleep.
  5. Have some business cards made up through services such a Vista Print and carry those with you to summer events.  You never know who you are going to run into.
  6. Look at possible internships or volunteer some time in your schedule to expand your network.

Summer time is seductive.  Even when a person in employed we want to go out and play.  However, income is extremely important.  “Without it, ya ain’t going to get no snow cones or a cold beer.”  Get it in gear and stay successful!

Being a Good One

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”Abraham Lincoln

Most people who feel they’re struggling in the job search are having difficulty deciding what they want to do. With all the upheaval in the world of work in the last couple of decades, there’s no longer any such thing as a permanent job or a lifelong career, and sometimes we’re left wondering “What’s next?” Our career search plans and expectations haven’t necessarily kept up with the times.

Here’s what I hear every week: “I’ll do anything.” “I’m open to any kind of work.” “I just want to get my foot in the door.”

If we were really honest with ourselves – and not speaking from fear and anxiety – we’d admit that not every job is equally appealing. People love to use the example “I can’t even get a job at McDonald’s!” – they forget that hiring decisions are business decisions. If the manager at that McDonald’s hires the first person who is capable of running the register or cooking the burgers, s/he has solved a problem or filled a need (at least for the moment). But if that new employee is already on the lookout for something better, a few months later that manager is going to be in the same position of looking for another employee. That manager has a responsibility to find someone who wants that job, not just wants it until something better comes along. If you’re going to do something – be a good one. Be all in.

We’ve become so used to thinking about the job search in terms of what we don’t have, it can be easy to forget that we actually do have skills to offer the right employer. It’s our responsibility as job seekers to articulate the value we bring – and this starts with self-knowledge. Have you recently considered:

  •  What kind of work setting brings out the best version of you? If you really love working with people, a job sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle somewhere is going to suck the life out of you. If being with people exhausts you, don’t pursue jobs that require constant contact with others. It’s easier to be “a good one” when you like where you work.
  • What do you absolutely NOT want to do? Just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing it in the future. While you may take a “survival job” in the short term, your job search is also an opportunity to consider where you want to go and start taking the steps needed to get there.
  • Remember that it’s not the employers’ responsibility to guess what you want to do or understand what your skills are. If you can’t explain what you would bring to this new job, don’t expect someone else to do it for you. This is the foundation of your career search, your resume, your networking conversations, your interview answers – take the time to understand yourself and help your next employer see what you’ll contribute.
  • Get the word “just” out of your vocabulary. “I was just a waitress.” “I was just a mom.” “I was just a driver.” You have to believe you have something to offer before anyone else can believe it. Whatever you were, you were a good one – and you can be good at the next thing you do, too.
  • Know your audience. If you want to work in a particular industry or company, go into those conversations armed with better reasons than “I want a job with a pension” or “I know the industry.” Like people, employers want to feel special – why did you choose this company over a competitor? What is appealing about this industry? How well do you understand the day-to-day tasks? Going into a job search without knowledge of what you want and why you want it is like going on a blind date and telling your date, “I’ll go out with you until someone I’m actually interested in comes along.” Focus your attention on the job you want and you’re more likely to find an opportunity to do it – and be a good one.

In a tough economy, it can be easy to fall into the trap of chasing after a job you don’t really want, just to be employed again. Think about quality over quantity – focus on the things you’re good at, the things you’re interested in, the things you want for yourself – and you’re on the way to being “a good one,” whatever it is.

Do you hate working on a team?

A previous post listed some of the so-called “soft skills” that employers look for in potential employees. We know that technical skills can get people hired and soft skills let folks keep their jobs…. But what if you’re really not good at a particular soft skill?teamwork 1

Teamwork is a great example of this. Few people actively dislike working with others – or at least few would admit it – but there are definitely a lot of negative examples of teamwork in action. Our mock interviews are full of stories of teams in which one person did all the work but had to share the credit, supervisors who played favorites, frantic last-minute scrambles to finish, non-existent training programs, and other factors that make job seekers inwardly flinch at the thought of answering the Dreaded Teamwork Question.

A Google search of teamwork defines the term as “the combined action of a group of people, especially when efficient and effective.” This definition makes it obvious why an employer would care about teamwork – who wouldn’t want efficient and effective workers? If you’re struggling to find good examples of a functioning team, expand your thinking a bit and consider the reasons why we work on teams in the first place:

  • Most jobs or tasks are larger than one person could realistically complete on their own
  • The skills of others compensate for areas where you lack knowledge, experience, skills or expertise
  • You can better develop your own skills by teaching them to others
  • Working with a team provides support when things are not going well
  • A team can provide accountability and structure in your work
  • People who work in environments in which they are supported and feel a sense of belonging are more likely to stay longer, be more satisfied with their jobs, and be more productive

Anyone can say “I work well with others,” but you need to give examples in your interview. Think about other facets of teamwork that can highlight teamwork 2your skills:

  • When have you worked with a larger group to complete a really big project? How did your work fit into the overall project?
  • When have you learned from someone else? Are you comfortable asking for help when you need it, instead of trying to work it out on your own and possibly taking more time/making mistakes? Can you accept training from a co-worker on your level (or a subordinate), not just supervisor?
  • Have you taught, mentored, trained, advised, or otherwise instructed a co-worker on an aspect of the job? How did this help the person do their job better or benefit the team overall?
  • When has a project gone terribly wrong? What did you learn? What would you do differently?
  • Are you comfortable being accountable to others, or do you get defensive if someone asks for a progress report? Does working with a team help you stay better organized? Are you the person who hands out assignments and keeps everyone on track?
  • What are you looking for in the next team you work with? What elements have been lacking in the past? What skills or strategies have you developed to compensate for working with less-than-stellar teams?
  • How do you resolve conflicts within a group? How do you take criticism from peers? How do you provide feedback to others?
  • Have you gone above and beyond or done work that wasn’t your responsibility in order to benefit the group or company?

Be prepared to give examples that show how you work as part of a team, following the PAR (Problem, Action, Result) format. Showing teamwork skills can highlight other important soft skills, like communication skills, creativity, flexibility, a positive attitude, and the ability to accept feedback. Even if working with a team hasn’t been a great experience for you in the past, having a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses will help a potential employer understand how you’ll fit in and what talents you’ll contribute to your new team.

There’s nothing optional about “soft” skills

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the difficulties employers are having qualified candidates for jobs, even among candidates with great education and credentials. The missing factor? The so-called “soft skills.” As an employer told me recently: “We hire based on what you can do, and fire on who you are.” soft skills 1

At a first glance that seems harsh, but let’s unpack this statement a bit more. You get hired based on your performance at an interview – a one-time (or two- or three-time) encounter that you’ve prepared for extensively. Everyone is on their best behavior. Once you get settled into the tasks of a job, the ways that you interact with others – what you’re like on a day-to-day basis – become incredibly important. Employers can train an employee on your skills, but they can’t train attitude.

So how do you know what qualities to emphasize? The following list of skills showed up most often in my informal survey of articles about the importance of soft skills:

Teamwork

How well do you work with others? Teamwork means more than just sharing a job description or dividing up tasks. Members of a high-functioning team can collaborate, resolve internal conflicts, and negotiate responsibilities. What’s your role in a team? Are you the informal leader who keeps everyone on task? The one who makes sure everyone has a voice in the process? The Steady Eddie who holds the team together? Be prepared to give examples in an interview.

Flexibility

In a competitive job market, you never get to say, “That isn’t my job.” How do you react when someone asks you to do work that’s outside your area of responsibility? How do you prioritize equally urgent tasks? Can you hit your deadlines without a supervisor telling you what needs to get done? Are you dependable? Having a can-do attitude and prioritizing appropriately shows that you understand the importance of your role in the company – and others will, too.

Communication skills

Communication is more than just the ability to talk to other people. When you talk, do others understand your message and priorities? Are you a good listener? Are you paying attention to your body language and non-verbal communication? Can you convey information in writing? Are you good at explaining things to others? The communication skills that are called for will vary by environment; having solid examples ready for an interview shows your self-knowledge and demonstrates your understanding of the job for which you are interviewing.

soft skills 2Positive attitude

Nobody wants to work with someone who’s always negative, cranky, or brings their personal problems to the workplace. Positivity is contagious – stay optimistic and upbeat and put your best foot forward at the start of each day. Maintaining a positive attitude in the face of deadline pressure, external pressures, or personality conflicts shows confidence and reinforces other soft skills, including teamwork, integrity, resilience, communication skills, and more.

Creativity

The ability to consider problems in a new light is valuable in any line of work – unexpected issues always come up, and being able to think on your feet and solve a problem quickly can make a huge difference in a company’s bottom line. Are you a problem solver? Can you try alternate approaches until something is done right? Can you look past “the way it’s always been done” and consider new solutions? When a new project or process is rolled out, you’ll be the person that leads the way for the rest of the team.

Accepting feedback/having accountability

The way in which you accept feedback and take responsibility for your actions says a lot about the quality of your character. This is an important thing to remember in interviews! If you were faced with a difficult situation, such as being terminated, what you learned from it and how you handled yourself afterward can give a potential employer confidence that you can learn from your mistakes and become a better employee.

Wikipedia defines soft skills as “personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects.” Soft skills can be a differentiator between equally-qualified candidates, and can determine who stays with a company during tough economic times. Technical skills are important to launch a career, but soft skills are essential to maintaining one.

What are you getting yourself into? Gauging company culture

A lot of companies seem to be talking about their culture lately, and what it means for employees to be “engaged” in that culture. It’s pretty widely recognized that the environment you work in can be just as important as the work you do, so understanding what company is really like is a key part of the job search.

Who does the company think they are?culture gauge 1

Company culture is deeper than the taglines on a website or poster – but those taglines will tell you a lot about what the company *wants* to think is important. Knowing “who you want other to think you are” is an important part of the culture puzzle. Look at the official website, social media sites, and other media published by the company. What is their self-image? Are the company’s actions consistent with their stated values?

Internal expectations are a big deal. The way that employees dress, for instance, can send a lot of messages about what’s expected. How do people communicate – it is OK to drop into the boss’s office for a brainstorming session, or do you need to schedule a meeting in advance? Norms like this can help you understand more about your day-to-day environment so you can decide if it’s a fit.

Be an online detective.

Tap into your network of contacts. Thanks to the power of social media, it’s easier than ever to tap into friends of friends with a direct line to the company. Check your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts; do you know someone who works (or worked) at the company? If not, do you have 2nd or 3rd degree connections that could provide some insight.

Look at sites like Glassdoor, Jobitorial, Indeed,  or similar to see what people who work at the company have to say. Is it a match for the “official” culture? If a company’s site talks about work/life balance and employees are talking about their 60-hour work weeks, you need to dig deeper.

If you have specific requirements such as flexibility or telecommuting options, niche sites like FlexJobs.com can provide a starting point. If you’re using a large national job board to look for leads, use “telecommuting” or “work at home” as part of your search terms. Concerned about balancing work and family commitments? Check out the list of 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers from Working Mother.  Want to stay local? Use the Michigan Business and Professional Association’s list of Michigan’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work to identify local companies with values and priorities that align with yours.

Ask great questions in the interview.

One of the hardest things to remember as a job seeker is that this is a two-way process. You should be evaluating the company just as much as they’re evaluating you; after all, you’re about to spend a lot of time with these people, and you want to make sure the setting is one that lets you be the best possible version of yourself.

Check out these links for some suggestions about great interview questions that get to the heart of culture:

11 Ways to Gauge Your Next Employer’s Culture

7 Interview Questions Uncover Corporate Culture

4 Sneaky Ways to Determine Company Culture in an Interview

How to Find Out if a Company is a Cultural Fit for You

Why should you care?culture gauge 2

Having some knowledge of the company culture will help you talk more confidently in your interview about the reasons you’d be a great fit for the job. It shows your sincere interest and helps your interviewer picture how you’ll fit in and do the job. Aside from the boost it can give your interview, there are some very practical considerations: recent research and articles show that people are happier, more productive, and stay longer at companies where they feel comfortable.

Defensive Googling: What Does the Internet Say About You?

It’s common for job applicants to search for company information online before a job interview – but savvy job seekers know that companies may also be searching them. Have you Googled yourself lately?defensive googling 1

The job search resource site Jobhunt.org calls this practice “Defensive Googling,” and it’s a smart practice for every job seeker, whether you have an active online presence or not. A 2012 study conducted by CareerBuilder indicates that nearly 2 in 5 companies use social media to screen candidates, and a third of those reported reconsidering a candidate on the basis of information found online.

So what do you look like online?

It’s valuable to know what online impression you’re making. Even if you’re using privacy settings on your social media, remember that anything you post can be reposted by a friend. If you comment on news articles, web pages, or a company Facebook page, those comments become public. Someone could learn a lot about your political views, what you read or buy, and how you spend your free time just by looking at your online footprint. Social media lets us tie together a lot of our online activity, but you might choose to skip the convenience of one-click logins and read or shop anonymously – it all depends on your own personal comfort level.

But what if it’s not you they’re looking at?

In the vast world of online information, it’s entirely possible that a search conducted on your name will turn up information on someone whose name is a match, but whose behavior is not. Even if you’re never online – even if your public persona is squeaky clean – you have no control over the impression made by others with your same name. It’s up to you to be aware of any potential mistaken impressions and deal with them proactively.

If you’re aware that you could be mistaken for another person, you may want to consider using a nickname or variation on your name, or adding your middle or maiden name to your online profiles in order to make it easier to tell you from someone else. Use this version of your name consistently in all your job search activities.

Here are some tips for managing your online reputation:

defensive googling

  • Set up a Google Alert or use a service like SocialMention or TweetBeep to notify you when new content or search results match your name.
  • Assume that everything you post will become public
  • If you’re tagged in a post or photo that you don’t care to be publically associated with for all time, remove the tag that identifies you. Ask others not to post content without your consent.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated online, and respect others’ right to privacy
  • Check your online identity regularly; be sure to use more than one search engine
  • Post positive content about yourself to move negative/inaccurate/misleading content down in the search results

It pays to be aware of the information available about you online – and the impression it can make. While I’m not suggesting that anyone needs to hide who they are or try to put up a false front (far from it!), everyone needs to take responsibility for managing their online reputation. It’s one of your greatest assets in the Information Age.