Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Living in a vibrant urban environment is chock full of sensory input every day. Lights, sirens, televisions in airports, all add to the constant din of people in perpetual motion. It's irrepressible, and can make this girl very grateful for her little personal sanctuary at the end of the day. I'm a fairly energetic gal and have a job that keeps me on the go, so I am out and about regularly. Like many urban dwellers, I rely heavily on public transportation and, often for business meetings, use air travel to get to other cities quickly. The multitude of people I encounter along the way is considerable. I swear, sometimes walking down the street I wonder what everyone else is doing. I mean, they can't all be going to meet clients, so what on earth are they up to?

Well my friend, you only need to sit still for two minutes to answer that last question. I have heard more intimate details than I could ever imagine on what is otherwise a fairly benign metro ride. I am beginning to think I know everything about my neighbors. And their families, employers, doctors, lovers, best friends, and worst enemies. Boyfriends dumped, jobs resigned, marketing strategies debated, health problems revealed (ewww), and goods and services procured. All involving names, addresses, phone numbers, and the occasional credit card or social security number.

I am not eavesdropping, or trying in the slightest to hear this stuff. I'd rather not hear it, to be honest, my little brain is busy enough thinking of the fifty things I need to do that day and need all the help I can get in keeping it all straight. But the oversharing by my neighbors is impossible to ignore because these folks are talking, or more like shouting, over their mobile phones to conduct their business. Just because you CAN do all your business on the phone does it mean that you have to do it in clear earshot of the rest of the population? In public?! An identity thief would have a field day, and for all I know there might be one sitting next to me at any given moment.

I hope you are scared by now, or at least thinking a bit about what you say when you are out in public. Hey, I rely on my mobile phone as much as the next person and I am all for multitasking on the go, but are these people stopping to think about what they are revealing? Not only about themselves, but about whoever is on the other end of the phone and/or subject of their conversation. Case in point, a few months back I needed to work remotely for the day due to an office move and I was having some work done in my house so I parked at a local coffee shop for a few hours to catch up on email (using the secure VPN, of course). A young woman at the next table over was joined by an HR representative from a prestigious consulting company in what quickly became apparent as a job interview. In a scant 30 minutes it was all laid out for anyone within earshot (and I was not the only one): the name of the company and its growth strategy, the position at stake, the composition and culture of the team ("we are such good friends we are like a sorority"), the compensation of the position as well as the person being interviewed. The judgment of the HR person for conducting a full blown job interview in a coffee shop aside, this could have been a field day for a competitor or identity snoop. Far from an innocuous conversation, they exchanged real actionable data. It was somewhat shocking that there was so little regard for personal privacy in this exchange. And what ever happened to decorum?

Every day we learn about something like a systems glitch that momentarily exposes 100,000 credit card numbers, or old medical records destined for the shred bin somehow ending up getting windblown down the street. We all gasp, shake our fingers at the offending party, and quickly change our passwords to protect ourselves. If only people were as careful about what they say and where they say it, personal privacy would be a whole lot easier to control. Think about it the next time you answer your cell phone running to and fro, or call your business partner from an airport gate to hash over that last deal negotiation detail. Revealing sensitive information like this in public can have consequences for the parties directly and indirectly involved. And it might not be so pretty.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Blazing trails is a solitary task. Wikipedia defines a trailblazer as "a person who marks a trail through wilderness area.” They look beyond their own often less than ideal circumstances to break through. There is no one ahead to light the way and those behind might be afraid or doubtful in the wisdom of moving in the same direction. Forging a new path takes tools, creative thinking, vision, grit, timing, a little luck, and a lot of chutzpah.

Anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to challenge society's status quo gets my attention. Standing up to governments or sitting down to protest societal norms takes a lot of guts. I admire the rabble rousers. The sprit and strength it takes to move mountains is like a whole other world to me. Where does that steely determination come from? It seems as varied as the DNA of the trail blazers themselves. It is one thing to confront your own fears, but quite another to stand alone in confrontation with institutions, laws, and the powers that be blocking your course. I have a hard enough time pushing past my own apprehensions when dealing with an uncomfortable situation, however I can usually bear down and get the job done. But the big frontier of the complete unknown, how do you make that leap? Maybe it’s reserved for the chosen few who change our world, but I want the motivation formula. What is in it, where does it come from, how can I get it? Where is my genie that is going to capture that magic?!

This has all been on my mind in part due to Women's History Month. Much of the publicity surrounding the event naturally focuses on famous women who have marched through the wilderness. In their quest for progress, they each made a difference in some realm and found a new way forward. Controversy swirls around some of these women and in fact may endure as part of their legacy. Setting new boundaries can involve encroaching on someone else's turf which is bound to rattle someone's cage. It comes with marking new territory.

What makes the women trail blazers so special? Face it, in the history of humanity there has never been gender parity. For women to mark extraordinary achievement, they have more hurdles to overcome than their male counterparts. Add race to the equation (at least in the America) and the challenges become even more significant. These women have starred down daunting challenges: women had to be recognized by people as the law before pushing for the right to vote…and then find their way to the halls of Congress; they had to be admitted to and graduate from college to gain entry into law school…before being considered for a Judicial appointment; they had to find gainful employment as riveters, garment workers, miners, scientists, journalists, and (even) as maids before they could penetrate the obstacles that holds us back.

A myriad of motivational factors pushes these women on. But page through any list of these women's stories and you will find a common theme. Someone told them it couldn't or shouldn’t be done. Lesser people walk away, but the trailblazer doesn’t see that as an option.

I marvel at the stories of women who all hail from vastly different backgrounds and circumstances spanning centuries and geographic boundaries to all carry on in their own right. They have challenged, fought, and fought for governments and institutions not of their own choosing but of their vision. All they had before them was possibility, but they nevertheless summoned the courage and resilience to bring about change. You may not agree with their philosophy, or even view what they did as an accomplishment. But there is no disputing that trail blazers create a path so that others may follow and reach beyond to create even more ways forward.

The absolute beauty in what trail blazers leave behind is this: inspiration. Ladies, I, for one, thank you.

P.S. Just in case you are wondering who is on my list (and while by no means exhaustive), a few of my favorites are Hon. Sandra Day O'Connor, Hon. Joyce Kennard, Sarah Weddington, Hon. Betty Roberts, Florence Nightingale, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, Grace Hopper, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Shirley Chisholm, Rosie Bonavita (aka Rosie the Riveter), Women's Airforce Service Pilots, Angela Bambace, Sally Ride, Anne Frank, Sojourner Truth, and the grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and women everywhere who are strong, courageous and spur us on to greatness.


The postings on this site reflect my own views and don't neccessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Among the most common topics for which candidates seek my advice is about resume preparation. Most often I am asked for feedback regarding content or construction yet some questions are quite specific such as whether it is appropriate to use bulleted text or how much employment history to include. In the legal profession it is not uncommon for law firm partners to have a summary bio prepared by the firm’s professional marketing staff. I have talked to very accomplished lawyers who have never prepared a resume for themselves and genuinely need some guidance when they decide to proactively seek a new opportunity. Aside from the few who probably want me to write their resume for them (which I won’t do, for good reason), at the crux of this is confusion about the purpose one’s resume is intended to serve. 

Wait a minute, what is confusing about the purpose of a resume? It should seem intuitive by simple definition of the end goal. In plain speaking it is the starting document that will get a candidate from point A to point B on the career ladder. A lot rides on that little document as it is THE entry point to the proverbial foot in the door. If the right things are not on that resume, a candidate won’t get noticed. Factor in anything which increases the competitiveness of the candidate pool or the desirability of the job and you can see how the need to make one’s resume stand above the rest becomes more urgent. Candidates need to distinguish themselves in a crowded pool. The resume has become the flag all candidates carry which screams ‘CHOOSE ME!’ It is no small wonder that the mere mention of the word whips people into a frenzy.

During the go-go days of the late’90’s, candidates would do all sorts of wild things to get their resume noticed. I still have the shoebox a candidate sent to me complete with a pair of shoes and a note suggesting he was trying to get his ‘foot in the door’ for an interview. (Yes it was from a lawyer, no the shoes were not my size, and no he did not get an interview.) One of my colleagues at a very large technology company received a resume wrapped in plastic and taped to the top of a fresh hot pizza conveniently delivered to her at lunch time. All sorts of quirky information began appearing on resumes, usually in an ‘interests’ tag line which I can only assume is intended to make the candidate seem more human. Do we need to know that you can simultaneously speak Japanese while eating chicken livers? What on earth does that have to do with practicing law? Nothing! Spare me. Sure I remember the resume, but it did nothing positive for that person’s candidacy.

Thankfully these examples have not become widely adopted tactics, but other disturbing trends have emerged. “Dumbing down” a resume by removing experience or omitting dates of employment has become more prevalent among senior level candidates wanting to compete for a job advertised as seeking less experienced candidates. Title inflation, which is using a more desirable job title on the resume different from the candidate’s current official job title, has crept into the mix. There has even been recent press about ‘whitening’ one’s resume. Sure, a few candidates cross the line from enhancing a title to outright false information. But how did the state of the resume deteriorate to this?

Market pressure on candidates alone is not the answer. Recruiters and hiring managers also shoulder some of the responsibility. At a macro level candidates are responding to signals sent into the applicant stream by virtue of how recruiters and hiring managers respond. In an attempt to be all things to the right employers, candidates are responding to the business of filtering engaged in by many in the recruiting profession. In the sake of expediency and to tackle the volume of incoming inquiries the recruiting staff spends a big chunk of time screening incoming resumes in the hopes that the perfect person appears. They are filtering, not recruiting. Key word identification was the first big introduction of technology in the recruiting process. Instead of plowing through piles of paper a recruiter could do a key word search for something on the resume, like intellectual property, and instantly locate the candidates with that word in their resume. It didn’t take long for candidates to get the message and start adding key words even if it was a fraction of their overall expertise. Boom, the vicious cycle was born.

Don’t get me wrong, key word search capability is a helpful tool. Unfortunately it contributes to a process that is designed like a sieve. It excludes people without the right word but makes no distinction as to relative strength of other characteristics that may be relevant. Yet recruiters are usually the first to say that their best candidates do not come from whoever happens to land in their inbox, particularly where a niche skill set is required. The recruiter who affirmatively reaches out to those with the necessary skills and expertise is more apt to zero in on the right candidate. A focused approach adopts a process that is designed more like a target, where the center circle encompasses all appropriate requirements. Less filtering and more recruiting is in order.

Even though it is a bit of a catch-22, the filtering cycle can be broken if both candidates and hiring decision makers contribute to the solution. Candidates need to cut the fluff and focus on the substance of what they have to offer. Tell us who you are, what you do, where you learned it, and who you have done it for and when. Don’t write what you think a recruiter wants to hear, just tell it like it is. Recruiters need to get off the filtering treadmill and build pipelines of qualified prospects. You can add value to the hiring managers and increase the quality of the overall outcome by knowing their business wherever possible and using technology to track who you want rather than just who randomly finds you. Hiring managers can help by educating their recruiting partners about their business, focusing on candidate skills and competencies in evaluating prospective hires, and being realistic about the timeline it takes to find the right person. Employers that don’t have the resources internally to do this can and should engage an external resource appropriate to the relevant area of expertise.

Before internet technology was widely adopted in the recruiting process, like many recruiters I literally clawed through stacks of cover letters and resumes on a daily basis until it felt like my eyeballs were on fire. I cannot begin to fathom how many resumes I have looked at during my 18+ years of recruiting and let me tell you I have seen the gamut. Behind every resume is a person whose talents and value will accelerate in the right environment. We’ll all be better off if the obstacles are cleared and the state of the resume can shine.