How To Find A Lost Reference – and Other Tips for Managing Your Professional References

Ernie asks: I strongly agree that references are of utmost importance in hiring a new person. I have hired a few dozen and was always glad that I contacted the many references I got from prospective candidates. My challenge though is that at 68 years of age, references are essentially gone due to old-age and sometimes people either checkout or at 80+ can hardly recall about an employee of 20+ years ago. I know I can only recall a few right now of those dozens I hired and I am not in my 80’s yet. What would you recommend?

professional referencesReferences are a critical part of the hiring process, and I have seen the strength (or weakness) of professional references influence the ultimate hiring decision. You don’t want to scramble last-minute to collect your references when you’re in a job search. First of all, it takes time to track people down and if you wait till you’re in late stages with a company you’ll look disorganized (or worse, be disqualified) if you take too long to submit your references. Secondly, you want to proactively choose the references most relevant to the job you’re going for and have time to prep your references (i.e., inform them of the potential job, remind them what you did when you worked together, and proactively select what is most relevant for the reference to discuss on your behalf). Finally, getting your references in order is a great way to network, as getting back in touch with these important people in your career and discussing your career plans with them will likely yield insightful advice and even more job leads.

So manage your references thoughtfully and proactively. Here are typical problems you may face with your professional references and how to best manage the process:

If you lose track of your references

Ernie’s question about lost references isn’t only relevant to older workers. If your former boss has moved on and you didn’t keep in touch, you may have no idea where s/he is. You can avoid this problem, of course, by keeping in touch, especially connecting on LinkedIn, so that if the person moves on and forgets to tell you, you can still find them. If you haven’t kept in touch, LinkedIn is still a good place to start. Facebook is typically reserved for more social interaction, but if you can’t find the person on LinkedIn, they may still be found on Facebook (or Twitter or other social media). You can also try former colleagues or professional associations relating to that person’s field – they may have more updated contact information than you.

If you can’t find the person who directly managed you, think about using someone else. If the employment period was long ago, it may not be that relevant for you to find this particular reference. If you have others, especially from more recent employment stints, that could be preferable to your prospective employer anyway. If the employer wants someone from that organization specifically (say, they want to check up on the work you specifically did there) you may be able to substitute a colleague or vendor or some other person from that organization than your direct supervisor. Depending on what the employer wants to know about your time there, a substitute may suffice. For example, I once did a reference check for an event marketing manager, and in lieu of her former manager (who was mad about her leaving and wouldn’t provide a reference) the candidate gave me the name of the vendor she partnered with on all events. This person was able to speak directly about the candidate’s work, and that was the purpose of the reference, so the substitution was fine.

If you can’t use your most recent references

Substitution is also good if you can’t use your most recent reference – for example, if you’re currently employed and don’t want your current manager to find out you’re looking, or if you’re going to a close competitor and you think your manager may try to derail your hiring process. In addition to substituting a colleague or vendor, you can look for others in management roles who may have worked with you on a project or have mentored you. Board members or investors can be a reference if you had a senior enough role to have interaction at this level. Customers could also be a reference, if your role was customer-facing and the reference is needed to confirm your relationship and communication skills. Finally, if you have other strong references, your prospective employer may agree to skip the most recent.

If you don’t have relevant references

In the above examples, I use as references customers to talk about relationships or vendors to talk about specific projects that are relevant to the potential role at hand. But what if you don’t have anyone who can speak to the skills you’ll be using in your new role? For example, if you’re a career changer, your previous experience might be not at all related to this job. In that case, prepare your traditional professional references anyway – they can still speak about your work ethic, general skills and personal attributes. But also prepare additional references who can speak about the skills related to the potential role – this might be someone at the organization where you volunteered these skills, or it could be the professor of a class you took to learn these skills, or a pro bono client that you consulted to so you could use these skills in a business context. While none of these would traditionally be part of a reference list, they should be added if they are well-equipped to give a reference on your potential for the upcoming job at hand.

In summary, you want to collect references who can speak well on your behalf as it relates to the upcoming job. Ideally, you use your last several supervisors. But it could be that you lose a connection, you’re prohibited from using a connection, or there’s a more relevant connection than your last several supervisors. In that case, don’t be afraid to substitute. The prospective employer uses the reference as one part of the hiring process, not the only part. The reference is part of the research, but never the only source of information. Be proactive and thoughtful about your references, but know there is some flexibility there as well.



How To Estimate Salary For A New Job With Few Comparable Roles

What happens if you’re in late stage interviews with a company about a job and you’re asked for your ideal salary target – i.e., name your price? The catch: it’s a new role (perhaps they’re creating it especially for you), so you have no idea what a fair market salary is. Having to estimate salary when there is no clear anchor to point to or other comparable roles to copy happens more often than you think. In fact, it came up recently for a former client of mine (hence the inspiration for this post!). This can occur if the role is created for you, cobbled together from several distinct roles. This can also occur at start-ups or small companies where multiple functions might be crammed together into one super-role in an effort to get more value out of each individual hire. Or the industry could be too niche or the geography too small or there is no clear career path so it’s impossible to compare by to estimate salarys

Unfortunately, despite how impossible it may seem to find a definitive salary target for a unique role, you have to respond with something. Here are five considerations when you have to estimate salary for a new job with few or no comps:

Approximate by type of role

The role may not be exactly finance or sales or operations, but it will be closest to something. Whatever functions are most represented in the role is where you need to look first. If the role is heavy business development, collect comps for sales, marketing and business development roles. If the role involves lots of numbers, look at financial analysis, accounting, even pricing roles. You want to understand the ballpark salaries of the more typical jobs in the same functional universe. Talk to people in these roles to get up-to-date salaries. Also check with recruiters who specialize in these roles.

Look at companies in a similar industry and line of business

You also want to take industry into account because a sales job in pharmaceuticals will pay more than a sales job in retail. Get down to the subsector or specific line of business level. If media, are you talking publishing, TV, film, radio, digital, advertising, etc? If publishing, is it books, magazines, technical/ academic, etc? Since the role will already not be an exact match, getting as close as possible to the same industry and line of business will keep your estimates from straying too far. Look to industry associations and publications for salary surveys or state-of-the industry reports. Recruiters who specialize in the industry are another good source.

Match for size and history of the company

In addition to industry, you need to look at companies of a similar size and age. You can’t assume that a smaller or younger company can and will pay what an established Fortune 50 company pays. However you can’t just make a generalization that the small sizes or younger brands pay less. It could be that a small company will pay a higher base because they can’t compete with big company benefits. Or a young company may pay more because they don’t have the brand. As you collect data from colleagues, recruiters, and associations, make sure you keep track of the size and age of companies providing the data.

Reverse engineer an estimate based on the bottom line impact

Finally, you don’t just want to see what the market is doing (and sometimes you just can’t find good comps). You should also look at the specific role at hand and calculate what success in this role could mean for the company. If you can get to a specific dollar amount of cost savings or revenues generated, you may be able to build a salary package based on a share of those results. Consultants who work in and around this role, company and industry would be a good source of information for how the business makes its money.

Adjust to your personal expectations

Using all four approximation methods above will point you to four different estimates and a possible low-to-high range. Then do a gut check – do you still want this role at this salary level? It’s important to incorporate your personal salary expectations into your offer demands. If the market salaries are pointing to something lower than what you want, you can still ask for more – charging for the uniqueness of the role or your fit to it, putting a premium for the complexity, adding a buffer for the risk of taking something new and untested, adding a premium for hiring you specifically!



Career Advice for Starting Over After Age 40 and With No Education

Monet asked: How do you start over with no education at 40?

I love getting questions from our newsletter readers because then I know what topics to cover in the blog. So first of all, thank you, Monet!overcoming obstacles

Consider rephrasing the question

What immediately caught my attention was how the question was focused – starting over, no education, at age 40. This makes the question about overcoming obstacles, which of course I’ll address in this blog since that was what was asked. But something to keep in mind is how you frame your question is how you’ll get your answer. When you’re networking and are tempted to ask a question about obstacles you’re facing, try posing the question about your end goal instead. Instead of saying you want to start over, be specific about what you want to do when you start over. If you don’t know exactly, you might know what types of activities you want in your next role or maybe you have an industry you’ve always been interested in or even a specific dream company. Consider phrasing all your fact-finding questions on what you want, not what you don’t or what may stand in your way.

Starting over = career change ≠ traditional job search.

I don’t have any additional information on Monet, but “starting over” suggests there is a newness in this quest. Perhaps you are starting over after an absence from the workforce. Perhaps you are starting over in a different role or different industry. You want to treat a restart like a career change, which is different than just any old job search. With a job search, you’re going after the same line of work but somewhere else. So you have experience, a track record, and therefore some proof of potential. When you’re changing careers or starting over, you’re a blank slate. Your focus needs to be on amassing that proof of potential. I shared tips on repositioning yourself for a new career in a previous blog.

No education is not a deal-breaker for career change

One proof of potential is education – e.g., coursework in a related subject, degree from a selective school – and therefore some people assume education is necessary to starting over in a new career. However, you don’t need specific schooling to change careers, and in fact I blogged specifically about why you shouldn’t go to grad school to change careers. What you do need is the learning and projects that education often provides but that you can get elsewhere. You absolutely need to know the area where you’d like to work – what’s trending in the industry, what the challenges are, who the competitors are, what skills are needed. You can do this by reading, taking a one-off class or program, joining a professional association or attending a conference. To get hands-on project experience in your related field, consider volunteering or temping.

Use age to your advantage

So starting over is feasible and lack of education can be overcome. Similarly, landing a job after 40 is definitely doable. As an older job seeker, you have advantages – more years to gain experience, wisdom and perspective, more contacts in quantity and diversity, hopefully more maturity! There are several good resources for the older  job seeker. I recently read an excellent career guide, 50 Plus! Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life, by Robert Dilenschneider. In addition to sound advice, Dilenschneider taps different specialists (image consultant, executive recruiter, etc.) to share tips specific to older job seekers. Other helpful resources include for experienced professionals looking to move into non-profit, Five O’Clock Club which has strong career resources at all levels but also a book geared to the over-50 professional, and Life Reimagined, a lifestyle site sponsored by AARP that has a strong Work section (full disclosure: I used to write for it so perhaps I’m biased to the qualityJ).

There are a multitude of ways to land that next job, whether you’re starting over, lacking education, over 40, or some other obstacle. The next step is to identify what you will do next. Pick just one thing and then another and then keep going.

What I Learned After Spending Over $100,000 On Personal And Professional Development

Even coaches need coaches – in the 9 years since starting SixFigureStart, I have invested over $100,000 in personal and professional development.

 It is difficult to see the picture when you are inside the frame. – John Doerr

The above quote by venture capitalist, John Doerr, captures why. When you’re in the thick of the situation, it’s hard to take an objective and high-level view. In addition, everyone has blind spots, and they’re called “blind spots” because you can’t see them. So outside help is critical. Connie and I certainly coach each other. I also have trusted coaching colleagues and friends who I rely on for feedback and ideas.

But I’ve also hired individual coaches, enrolled in group workshops and programs, attended events and conferences and purchased self-study programs. The most expensive program was a $40,000 Mastermind. The cheapest is free (books from the library, intro classes). Here’s how I’ve decided to invest in personal and professional development and what I’ve learned along the way:$100k in personal and professional development

Topic/ Subject Matter

When I was first starting, I invested mostly in sales and marketing training. I had a general business and HR background, and being in business for yourself is all about sales, so that was definitely my first stop. More recently, I am investing in programs outside my direct business for diversification and also reflecting a new life stage (I’m an empty nester in just 3 more years). Right now, I’m taking two finance-oriented programs. In the last decade, I’ve also had training in niche topics from social media to teaching to meditation to Pilates.

Medium/ Mode of Learning

I’ve always found it tricky to know what the best medium is to deliver the learning or coaching I’m looking for because it varies based on the teacher/ program, how much time I have to invest, how much money I’m willing to invest, and what else is vying for my attention at that moment. I’ve enrolled in 3 long-term mastermind programs – these are combinations of 1:1, group work, conference-style retreats, even DIY self-study. This is the most intense and expensive (in time and money) of the mediums. I haven’t been too impressed with my development results here, but that could be my own style of learning. I have gotten results from 1:1 and group, live and virtual, audio and video, expensive and free. I try to mix it up.


Like medium, duration has been really varied over the years. I am always reading a business or self-help book so I get regular training that way. I also have blogs I read weekly. I don’t go to the same live events or conferences year-over-year but I go to at least one multi-day event every year. For one-off programs (e.g., a 4-week teleclass or 8-week live class), it really varies based on availability (mine and the program). I prefer the very short (one time only) or the very long (6-12 month terms). It could be my way of learning, but I find that a medium-term class is too short for me to get enough depth but too long for me to fit into my schedule easily. So in recent years, I have seen a huge decrease in my participation in those middle-term classes.

Having spent so much time and money over the last decade, what would I do differently? I stay away from Masterminds – I find the environment too cultish and the value for the money isn’t there. Before deciding on a paid program, I read a lot about a subject and experiment with as many low-cost tools as possible before increasing my commitment. If I do opt for a more expensive and time-consuming program, I make sure to block in additional time to apply the learning – and in fact, I budget much more additional time than seems necessary because I build in that I’ll be inefficient in trying new activities and strategies. That’s probably the biggest takeaway for me – I need to plan to go more slowly, to remember I’ll be inefficient and build in more time.

What about you? What have you learned about how you learn?

Secrets To A Successful STEM Career: Advice From Corlis D. Murray

Corlis D. Murray holds the top engineering position at Abbott, a $20 billion global healthcare company. Murray is responsible for the company’s engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance functions in more than 150 countries. She also launched Abbott’s high school STEM internship program targeting underrepresented students. Since its inception in 2012, more than 50 young people have participated in the program, and 95 percent are pursuing a STEM degree or have a STEM job. Murray was named Scientist of the Year in 2013 by Black Engineer Magazine. She shared these 7 career strategies:

Corlis D. Murray

Corlis D. Murray

Find a cheerleader

This may seem counterintuitive: Aren’t people with great “mentors” and “role models” just really lucky? To an extent, sure. But the reality is there are lot of really smart, wonderful teachers, bosses and other professionals who want to give back by cheering you on. My early cheerleaders were my grandfather, who was excellent at math (but had just an eighth grade education and asked, when I told him I was considering engineering, what on earth had compelled me to want to drive a train?) – and my high school math teacher, Ms. Morse. While I was lucky to have such a supportive and smart granddad, Ms. Morse, taught me how math translated into life and how it can be used. She’s the one who got me thinking about engineering, and she and a guidance counselor helped me land an internship with a prominent tech company the summer after my junior year. I’ve continued to find cheerleaders during my time with Abbott, and over the last five years, I’ve had a chance to cheer on high school students with an internship program that I was privileged to start on their behalf.

Start young

Time is one of our most precious assets as individuals, with career advancement being no exception.My internship with IBM when I was 17 years old gave me the confidence I needed to land another internship after my senior year as a civilian with the Norfolk Naval Shipyard – and those two things combined were enough to convince me that I was capable of pursuing a career as an engineer. Without those experiences? I would not be where I am – a senior vice president at an incredibly impactful Fortune 200 healthcare company – today.

Make your own ‘odds’

If I let the odds dictate my future, I certainly wouldn’t be doing the work I do today. As a black, female engineer, I’ve been told I’m 10 times more rare than a woman in Congress. Just 12 percent of engineers in the U.S. are women and 2 percent of female engineers are minorities. What you need to remember is if there aren’t very many people like you in your chosen field, you have the opportunity to add a new perspective. You can use that to your advantage. And if it seems like there are a million people just like you in your chosen field, remember that each individual, regardless of what we look like, offers a unique perspective. You just have to dig down deep enough – be self-aware enough – to figure out what your unique perspective is.

Sell, sell, sell

Part of making your own odds – and positioning yourself for the opportunities you aspire to achieve – means having a solid portfolio composed and ready to sell. Make sure your skills and experience stand out among the crowd. Consider putting your portfolio online, making it live and offering  a downloadable version for those who prefer hard copies. Regardless of format, bolster your portfolio with a great bio that includes your strengths, education and recognitions; resume; information about your past coursework and internships; technical and non-technical skills; and recommendations from others.

Invest and reinvest in yourself

The only constant thing in any industry is change. If for no other reason than that, you must continuously invest in yourself to stay relevant and sharp. Great ways to do this include joining professional networks, taking on challenging and diverse projects (even if they’re outside your usual scope of work), taking courses at a local college (or earning an advanced degree) and networking inside and outside of work.

Know the business

If you’ve sold yourself and invested in yourself properly, no one’s questioning your intellect or abilities. But do you understand how what you do impacts the overall business? Companies, after all, exist to turn a profit and to do right by shareholders and employees. How does what you do contribute to that? Once you can answer that question, you’re on your way to generating measurable impact – and seriously impressing some future boss.

Give back

This “success” cycle circles back to the cheerleaders. Once you’ve overcome various challenges and accomplished what you set out to by successfully marketing yourself, consider giving back to those who find themselves right where you were 5, 10, 15 years ago or more. I did this at Abbott by starting our first high school internship program, reflecting what an impact my high school internships had on my career and five years in, we’ve officially had our first full-time hire as a result of the program. Such an investment is not only good for you and the community – it’s good for your company.

Time Management Strategies To Get Back On Track For Your Career Goals

In my recent post on A Seven-Point Mid-Year Review Checklist, ineffective time management is one possibility for why you might not be reaching your career goals.

Time allocation is often a big culprit – are you spending time on your goal?

With many job seekers, aspiring career changers or budding entrepreneurs that I see, there is a disconnect between what the client wants to happen and where the time is being spent. If you think you might be spending time on the wrong efforts, here are three time management strategies to help you get back on track for your career goals:tips for time management

Keep a time diary
Like a food diary or a spending diary, a time diary is a no-judgment log of what actually happens with your time. If you find yourself wondering where all your time goes, the time diary is the best way to actually see where the time goes. Ideally, you keep an account by the half hour, and you keep the time diary for at least a couple of weeks so you can start to see patterns.

Once you have activities written down, take it a step further and assign each activity to a goal or objective – e.g., day job, family, fitness, career goal, etc. This forces you to reconcile what you’re doing with why you’re doing it. For clients who do manage to keep a time diary, the key takeaways are twofold: 1) time is often spent on goals or objectives that don’t really matter; and 2) things take longer than you assume which is why too much is planned for any given day. Armed with your time diary, you will be in a better position to schedule out your days and to prioritize activities that actually matter.

Do a little each day
Too often, big goals are attacked in spurts – a job search starts with a long day of Internet research, fiddling with the resume and all-out networking on social media. Then, the momentum wanes and soon its days and weeks before you follow up or target new leads. Instead of a few long spurts followed by inactivity, opt for shorter but more regular bursts of activity. For a job search, this means you spend an hour on your marketing, then the next day on research, then the next day on social networking, then the next day on live networking, etc. You mete out the activities so they cover the full week, and then you can repeat for the following week.

Hopefully the time diary can keep you accountable as to how much you’re doing on your career goal each and every day. Many career goals can’t be crammed. You can’t network in a hurry. You can’t rush the hiring process. You can’t predict when companies will have openings, so you need to be available to the market all the time. Other career goals – career change, advancement, entrepreneurship – have similar ongoing requirements that can’t be crammed. Focus on a little each day, rather than starts and stops. Commit to this for just 30 days – you can go back to your all-or-nothing approach after 30 days if you really want to – but try it genuinely and you won’t go back.

Match your energy to your tasks
In addition to spending the time and spreading your activity out each and every day, you also want to make sure you give quality time to activities that require the added push or extra concentration (as many career goals do). Motivation and concentration wanes as the day progresses, so for most everyone except the most die-hard night owls, earlier in the day is better for your thinking work. When you need to research companies, draft a cover letter, formulate a strategy to get introduced to a key decision-maker, save these activities for the earlier part of the day. Also try and alternate heavy-focus and lighter activities if you need to do several in the same day. So pair research with live networking, so you vary your energy and focus requirements.

What are your favorite time management strategies for working through a big goal?

Career Marketing Lessons From The World Of Coca-Cola

On a pleasure visit to the World Of Coca-Cola, I noticed three key lessons from Coke’s tremendously successful product marketing that convey relevant career marketing lessons to professionals seeking a new job or promotion:

Focus on the unique benefits

Coke’s first branding campaign centered on its uniqueness and its great taste. Are you one-of-a-kind? What are your benefits? A surprising number of even talented, experienced professionals cannot clearly and concisely articulate why an employer should hire or promote them – and not someone else. Coke also solved problems for its consumer – the 6-pack so you could buy enough for the family, the dispenser so you could have the drink at home. How exactly are you going to improve your target employer’s situation? What pain points will you alleviate?brand yourself with marketing lessons from Coke

Tap into emotions and aspirations

Coke expanded its marketing to focus on the Coke lifestyle – more energy, more fun, a better life all because of Coke. When you tell your story and give examples of what you can do, does your target employer feel transformed? You want the employer to feel, “Wow, we need to get [INSERT YOUR NAME] in here right away.” You want the employer to be able to visualize you in the role you want, working seamlessly with the people there and getting results.

Never stop refining

In several exhibits, you could see how Coke changed and flexed over time – expanding into different countries and tailoring its products specifically, acquiring new products altogether, tapping into different marketing memes or celebrities. Is your personal branding as dynamic and adaptable? Do you update your marketing for current norms? How freely do you adopt new skills, such as a new social media platform or taking on a side gig to ride the uptick in contingent work? Even a stalwart like Coke is continuously tweaking its brand. Are you?


What lessons and inspirations have you seen from products you admire?