Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Differentiate Yourself in a Competitive Job Market

Being located in Kitchener-Waterloo, the tech hub of Canada, the competition for top jobs is fierce. But good jobs can be scarce at any time in any place.  You need to make yourself stand-out and rise above other candidates. But how?

Start with Plum.io

For starters, do you know what differentiates you from other applicants?  You sure need to.  Do you know what you bring to the table?  A good way to find out is to take the Plum Job Seeker Discovery Survey.  In less than half an hour it can tell you exactly what your strengths are and how you rank in the general work force.  Don't underestimate what this knowledge can do for you!  Leverage it to differentiate yourself.

Visually, the Plum Discovery Survey results give you a number of “badges” that you can use to bolster your Linkedin profile page or as part of your application package - more about this below.

plum.io badges
Courtesy of Plum.io
From the Plum Discovery Survey you will learn about your personality and greatest strengths. Memorize these.  Practice (out loud) explaining your strengths.  For example, I am very proficient at making high-quality decisions based on limited information.  I am known for being thorough, deliberate and having great attention to detail.  This will help you feel comfortable "talking yourself up" and sets you apart from others who really don't know what their actual strengths are because they’ve never had them assessed.  Plum helps you pinpoint your unique value to a potential new company.


Research local companies to find out where you want to work, or at least narrow it down to a specific industry.  Then go to work!  Start learning everything you can about your top-listed companies.  Use their "About Us" or "About Our Team" webpages, coupled with their Linkedin page and employee profiles to really hone in on who their top leaders are.  THEN start following their leaders on Twitter and Linkedin and find out what type of content they care about.  Although you're not part of their actual network you can learn a lot about the culture of a company from it's employees and what they post about.  How does this differentiate you? You can use information you glean in your application package, and IF you get an interview, you will have the opportunity to highlight what you've learned about them.  A common interview question is: "What do you know about our organization?" and/or, "Why do you want to work here?"  Imagine how much you would have to talk about if you've immersed yourself in their company, researching it - this will set you apart!

Something A Little Extra

Now to your application package - here is where you can really separate yourself.  You don't likely know if the company where you are applying uses traditional hiring methods or if they even have software that's going to be doing key word searches on applications vs. a real human being reading your submission.  Therefore, you need to plan for ALL approaches.  This means yes, you need to have an awesome resume full of action words and your quantifiable accomplishments. Yes, you need a cover letter that addresses the specifics of the job posting you're applying to.  BUT if you want to set yourself apart, find a way to incorporate another visual to your application.  For example, you can create an Infographic about yourself (see mine here) or even a short introductory video.  While a little long, here is example from Vida who is trying to get a teaching job overseas; great idea!  Graeme's video, here, is a bit short on details but it shows a small glimpse into his personality.... You get the idea.

You can use your specific Plum badges and descriptions to create an awesome visual that can't be ignored!  Read more ideas about using your Plum badges here.  If you aren't permitted to submit "extras" with your C.V., then include the Infographic directly before your cover letter, making it a 2-page cover letter.  Include the link to your online video in the text of your cover letter.  Find a way to get that extra little something INTO your application package. It is what differentiates you from the other reams of white paper the hiring manager will be looking at.

A Tangible Exemplar

When you get invited for an interview (well done you!) you're a quarter of the way there.  Yet, you still have an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack.  Here you have a chance to present a portfolio of work examples.  No matter which industry you work in, you can surely come up with some examples of projects, memos, spreadsheets, or even speeches you have prepared.  You can somehow use these exemplars to illustrate your competency as it relates to the job you are applying for; be creative.  It doesn't have to be anything super flashy.  The point here is that you've made an effort to individualize yourself.  Even if you aren't asked to bring or present a portfolio, bring something tangible with you that you can show off during your interview.  The person interviewing you is looking for a reason to be impressed - this is one way you can impress them!


A couple of days after the interview, set yourself apart by sending a thank-you email or even a hand-written thank-you card.  Yes, it’s old school but how many people do you think do that?  Keep it short and simple and this will bring your name to the forefront of their mind again.

In a competitive job market, job seekers need to find ways to set themselves apart from others.  

Start today by completing the Plum Discovery Survey and then get creative in finding ways to highlight your objective job skills in a marketable way to prospective companies.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

MailChimp – Should we stay or should we go?

We were recently faced with an email marketing challenge. Did we need to find a new Email Service Provider? Here is what we learned while evaluating ESPs and the decision we made.
keywords: ESP, email service providers, review, MailChimp, email marketing, list size, automation, The Marketing Cloud, Sales Force, Exact Target, Bronto, InBox Marketing, What Counts, Get Response, Constant Contact, challenge, tips, learning, ecommerce, retail, POS, email collection

Our MailChimp Challenge

We were faced with an email challenge. For starters, we have used MailChimp since beginning our email marketing efforts four years ago. The vast majority of our email subscribers come from contests we run in social media and through website sign-ups (we offer a 10% online coupon when you sign-up for email). The database isn’t huge but it’s respectable. So the challenge… In order to remain compliant to CASL anti-spam laws we keep track of exactly how we obtained the person's email address in a group called "Origin." So the origin might be "Mother's day Facebook Contest 2015" or "Website Signup." However, where we ran into problems was when we hit the maximum of 60 fields in the origin group. Uh-oh! How were we going to keep track of how we obtained people's email addresses? We decided it was probably time to spread our wings and find a new ESP (Email Service Provider). Also in the back of our minds was the hope of collecting email addresses in our 100+ retail locations. It seemed like a good time to shop around.

New ESPs to Consider
We spent the better part of a week researching what we wanted in a new ESP and which vendors offered what solutions. We examined "The Sales Force Marketing Cloud", formerly known as "Exact Target." Our sales representative Adrian, at Bronto also gave us a demo of their ESP offer. Also under consideration was "InBox Marketer," a local to us full-service marketing company with their own email platform. We briefly looked at "What Counts," "Get Response,” and "Constant Contact," too. We quickly learned that there are several different "tiers" of ESPs available from full service marketing agencies to the bare minimum.

Our Main Considerations:

  1. Could we solve our initial challenge that lead us down this road? Could the ESP handle unlimited numbers of "origins"? We quickly learned that all of the other platforms would include this type of data under the user's profile vs. by having them added to a group. MailChimp appears to be unique in this vain.
  2. Was the creation of email a drag-and-drop method? While we have the capability to code html who knows what the future will hold and drag-and-drop is more user-friendly for everyone, including interns.
  3. What are the automation capabilities? - We want to get into sending "welcome series" emails so we wanted to ensure that any new ESP would include this function.
  4. Would we be able to scale? In the hopefully near future we hope to collect email addresses from customers in our stores at the point of purchase. Would the ESP be able to handle this extra data (e.g. what store we collected their email address from) and could we segment email campaigns based on their originating store?
  5. Cost considerations

A New ESP?
So the search began! We spent a week listening to sales pitches from the aforementioned companies and watching demos of the software each ESP was peddling. We got quotes and we considered some of them. Quickly we realized that all of the other ESPs could do #1, #2, and #3 on our wish-list; these were very standard. So it did not become a conversation about drag-and-drop, automation, and unique user fields. Rather, it became a conversation about scalability (#4) and cost (#5). How big did we need to go and how much was it going to cost?

Flat Rate by # of Subs vs. Pay Per Send

I found it really surprising that most of the “big folks” in the ESP game do charge you per send. For SalesForce (Marketing Cloud/Exact Target), InboxMarketer, and Bronto you had to pay BOTH a “licensing-usage fee” AND pay per send. Double whammy! I guess that’s how they make their money and make a great platform. But do we really need to pay twice for one service? Do we need to go with one of the BIG vendors?

What we Learned

Paying per send really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Why am I being penalized for growing my list? That IS my job to grow the list. But the bigger I grow it the more it’s going to cost me. I don’t like that. However, it did make me re-evaluate the metrics of “list size.” Is list-size really a good measurement? Probably not. I used the segmentation option in MailChimp to discover that over half of our email list hasn’t opened any of the last 20 campaigns we have sent. A good number of those emails are probably being sent to dead email addresses that no-one even opens any more. So we pruned our list by deleting everyone who hadn’t opened our last 50 emails. Of course, it cut down the list size dramatically and we’re only now seeing the positive impact that’s having on other key (more important) metrics such as open rates and click rates (see here). So through the process of hating the idea of paying an ESP per send, we were actually able to clean our list up and dump the ‘dead weight.’ It was painful to lose a huge chunk of the list but in the end it was the right decision and gives us better measures of our list’s actual success. 

The most impressive demo was given to us by Bronto – their visual on how to do automation blew our socks off (Just look at it!) However, it came with a VERY hefty price-tag that was far too high for us to even consider at this point. Sorry Bronto. :-( Upon discussions with our IT group the feeling was that we are month (or more) away from being able to collect email addresses at the POS in-store. So maybe that “robustness” we were looking for isn’t necessary yet? Why pay for advanced features NOW when we won’t need them for months down the road?  

Stay with MailChimp?

During this research phase we did start poking around more in MailChimp and although we see the ‘tab’ every time we’re logged in we’ve never explored the “Automation” capabilities of MailChimp. There is also this “eCommerce 360” option that we had never explored. Apparently we can bring our online sales data into MailChimp which opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with personalized email marketing. So the idea struck me that perhaps instead of changing ESPs we need to better utilize the features that are available to us in the platform that is already working for us.

Challenge Met?

But that pesky challenge, the limit of 60 fields for our origin, still had to be solved. Would we somehow add this data to the user’s profile instead of having it associated with their group? It didn’t seem that possible in the user interface. Could we somehow group more of the origins together (e.g. Mothers Day AND Father’s day contest entries together?) to free up some of the 60 spaces? This was a very short-term solution. But a solution was found! We decided upon exporting the entire list, including all the origin data to save for our reference if we the CASL police ever want to know where we got someone’s email address from. Then we added just one origin to reference the excel file export that contained the actual origin information. Then added everyone from the contests etc. to the excel export reference origin. This way we still have a record for the CASL police AND we can continue to use MailChimp for the time being.

The Future

Do we think MailChimp will be able to hold the extra info required when we start to collect email addresses in-store? Probably not. Even setting up “Store” as a group we’ll be limited to 60 stores and we have over 100 locations, so no, that will not work. However, as mentioned, we are months away from being able to add emails at store-level so we don’t need to worry about collecting store emails until we’re ready to actually do it. When that day comes we’ll have to begin at square one again and start researching more robust ESPs to see who can give us the best value for the money.
New Focus
We will now focus on using MailChimp to its fullest potential. We commit to keeping our list “clean” (removing dead weight regularly). The plan is to setup some automation – a series of “welcome emails” to introduce new subscribes to our list. Hopefully we can change our sign-up button on our website to also include a pop-up when you first enter the site – we learned that that has great success rates – and of course it does, EVERY SITE is doing it now; this will help us grow our list while we wait for in-store email collection. We will start using the “birthday” field to send offers to people on their birthday. AND we will look into getting eCommerce 360 setup so we can feed our web sales data into MailChimp and make a plan for how to better connect with our paying customers. In short, we will use more of the features of MailChimp and work to personalize the experience for our email subscribers before we put on our big boy pants and join the big guys, like Bronto, and the like.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Desperately Seeking my Avatar!

I was working on a personal Infographic a couple of weeks ago and wanted to include the avatar that I associate with my online self.  The one copy I have on my old lap top is small and I knew I couldn't use it for my Infographic.  This black and white image, of a girl's face, with a quirky grin and big glasses feels like how I see and present myself online.  I knew that I had originally found the image within a font set WAY back when I first started online.  I knew I had downloaded a few different font faces that were ding-bats, and wing-bats, and web-bats so I googled these terms like mad.  I added "vintage" "old" "1990s" "retro" etc. to my google searches.  I tried for an hour on 3 different occasions to find the original font where my avatar came from. I even posted a plea on Twitter hoping someone could help me find her!

I was starting to lose hope until I saw a google image of another glyph that looked familiar so I clicked to enlarge the image and voila! There she was with her quirkly smile smiling back at me.  I was SO happy to have found the name of the font and be able to download it and get myself a larger version of my avatar.  I was surprised to learn that the font face was made in 1998!  Of course, that made me feel old but reinforced just how long I have really been online for.

I found the creator's Twitter handle and quickly tweeted him a thank you.  So happy to be reunited with my quirky avatar (which is now my Twitter prorfile image)!

October 2015 addition: I'm still using web-gal as my Twitter pic.  Still really happy to be reunited with my fav icon. Even added her to the bottom of my infographic, because it just wasn't quite right without her!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pets (Cats) Rule the Internet

Someone posted an interesting pet graph on Facebook last week and I found it pretty intriguing since it included "your friend's dog" and a dragon as high on FUN and babies as low on fun and high on effort.  The caption on the one I saw on Facebook was "And people still choose Babies" which I thought was amusing.  Overall, the graph was interesting and pretty funny in a heh-heh kind of way.  Cats rule the internet and anytime we (at my work) do anything with pets on our Facebook page the engagement is high.  We sell pet tags so we consider this relevant content :)  I found the original graph from 2013 on College Humor and read the comments that people have made and decided to remake and update the "fun vs. effort" pet graph. 

I changed some pets by adding Pet Rocks and Chia Pets and removing Sea Monkeys & Tomagotchi (which people thought was WAY more work than shown on the original graph).  I also moved some of the other pets around - apparently snakes are more fun and less work and ferrets as more effort.  I deleted ants and tarantulas since they are of little interest (personal bias and that part of my chart was already crowded). I left babies and dragons in the same spot as no-one really complained too much about their placement, surprisingly.  Some people said "babies aren't pets" but it's part of the main amusement of this so they kept their high-effort-little-fun spot on the graph.

I am pretty proud of how it turned out so thought I'd keep an archive of it here by posting it.

 Do you agree with my changes and placements?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Online Beginnings....

I've been thinking about my online beginnings a bit lately and thinking about just HOW LONG I have actually been online. When I think about my online beginnings I realize not only how much of my current life is lived online but how much being online shaped me.  This will be a series of posts but here's my post about the early early years.

I got online in 1996 when I returned from my Rotary Youth Exchange from France.  That's when we got our first family computer.  I remember the awe of the bing-bong-bing-bong as it connected to the internet through our telephone line.  I remember our ISP had some type of chat channel where we could chat with others on the same ISP.  I was hooked from day one!  Eventually we had to get a second phone line installed so I wasn't constantly tying up the main telephone line.  One of the first "chat lines" I remember was ALAMAK chat which had different chat rooms (by interest, age group, and geographic region).  You could even eventually change the colour of text you were using when you typed - imagine!  There was the ability to private message people but it was so clunky.  I spent endless hours talking to people from all over and it was amazing.

When I was in highschool, and I'm dating myself now, POW WOW was the chat system of the time.  I believe you had to download the software to make that run and it was mostly about one-to-one conversations.  Tribal Chat!  Looks like it was a platform that started in 1994 (I was in grade 9/10) and shut down in 2001 (I'm surprised it survived that long!).   I remember it was also the time of file sharing (and viruses became A thing) either pics and wav's.... sound clips from movies (I remember a Donald Duck one clearly and sound clips from the movie "Tommy Boy") being exchanged.  MIDIs were the music files of the times (instrumental renditions of popular known songs).  I started my father's first business website around this time.  We bought our own domain (bestard.on.ca) and I got started learning to build websites (one of his early designs included Bruce Hornsby's "The way it is" midi which played automatically when the page loaded - we thought we were so cutting edge!).  Now that I could create webpages, using HTML and Paint Shop Pro to hack together and resize images, I was online like it was my job.  I met my first, second, and third online boyfriends using POW WOW chat. When I wasn't at school or doing homework I was online, chatting, and creating.  I had found my niche! 

Those were the early early days....more to come.....

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On Blogging.

I blog at work, as part of my job and therefore, I get paid to blog at work. But writing my own blog seems to be the last thing I want to do or think of doing. Mind you, I love to write and even enjoy typing. The stumbling block is what to write about? At work, it's easier to think of topics and then find content to share/curate. But personally, what does one write about? Their children? Their pets? Their hobbies? Cooking? Travel? Fashion? Random ramblings? I guess all of these. But isn't the internet already full of these things? Who needs another blog about your pets or kids? Do you really need my family receipt for apple pie? Probably not. I don't have super strong feelings about things that I'd write about on the public WWW. I'm not interested in writing my deepest darkest secrets on the public WWW. So there isn't much for me TO blog about. As you can see from my couple of random posts over the last couple of years, I don't write often and I don't have any earth-shattering stories or opinions to share. But I still feel the need "TO BLOG." It's part of my job tasks at my paid employment, it's part of being a social media "guru" that I want to be. So I make these feeble attempts to string together a blog post every once in a blue moon. And now I've just written a blog post about writing blog posts. What is the point of all this?

Monday, February 17, 2014

I never thought about my copious skills until they were shown to me

In January (2014) I completed an online candidate assessment.  It consisted of 3 parts each containing 17 questions and I had 45 minutes to complete the test.  The first part was made up of what I would call IQ type testing where I had to choose a missing piece of the puzzle to complete a very complex patterning sequence.  It was very challenging and I did not feel very confident about my answers.  The second two parts of the test were more about personality traits.  Ordering traits that are more or less important to you and ranking personal attributes on numerous scales.  This was also challenging in that I had to make decisions such as: Am I more likely to hurt someone's feelings or show up late for work?  Ideally, I don't want to do either of things but honestly, I'm more likely to hurt someone's feelings than be late for work so I chose my answers as honestly as possible.  It wasn't an easy assessment to complete but I got it done within the time given (I think - there was actually no clock telling me the amount of time remaining); maybe that's how they assess your time management skills, by not giving you a count-down clock but telling you numerous times that you only have 45 minutes?

So I completed the assessment and logged in the next day to see my results (click here to see).  To my surprise, they are amazing. Not only are my test scores high in terms of percentages and "rarity" in the workforce, as I read through the different attributes that apparently described me, I was shocked how accurate the descriptions were. The "bell curve" images for each attribute also appeal highly to my sociological mind!

I am most pleased with my task management score (95.5%) and problem solving score (78.9%) as the test says that based on averages, 50% of the workforce will not achieve a score higher than 50 on problem solving and I'm almost 30 points higher than this!  I guess I didn't do so poorly on those patterning sequencing after all.

Another high point in the test results is my conscientiousness score of 94.5% - placing me in the top 6% of the workforce.  That descriptions says I am exceptionally likely to excel in being organized, industrious, diligent and hardworking. Compared to most people, managing time, staying motivated and exercising self-discipline are likely to come extremely easily for me.  Individuals with similar scores have reported they greatly enjoy and shown an exceptional ability to execute complex tasks, to adhere to deadlines, and to follow procedures, such as sales processes, reporting, admin work, and safety procedures. I am extremely likely to have exceptional attention to detail, extraordinary aptitude for following up on tasks and processes that take place over long periods, and being unusually careful in thinking before acting. I am very likely to set much higher standards than most people and to have an exceptional ability to attain those standards. -  While I know this to be true about myself on the small scale, to hear so many great attributes applied to myself makes me feel like a worthy employee and that I am an asset to the organization where I work.

At first I was disappointed by my low "Agreeable" score; only a 16.6%?!?! But when I read the description, for someone who wants to be in a manageable position like myself, it's a good score as it says: Being assertive isn't difficult for me. I am a reasonably critical person. It is unlikely that I'll be taken advantage of, and compared to most people I don't struggle with making decisions. If forced to choose between protecting peoples feelings and getting something done right, I'll choose the latter almost every time. - Wow, this is true and, like I said, just the attributes a leader needs to have.

I have saved the images and descriptions from this assessment b/c I have no idea how long cream.hr is going to keep my profile live on their website. I have create a page on my own website to display my results.

After seeing all my skills and attributes in this new way I am convinced that I can be a grand asset to any organization who allows me to achieve my potential.

2015 Edit - cream.hr has now become plum.io