Europe Update, Part 2: Germany/Canada differences

I like to create lists of cultural differences whenever I live in a new country (or even in a new province – Quebec and British Columbia were both pretty exotic and different at times!). As I get ready to leave Germany, I wanted to share some of the differences from Canada that I’ve noticed along the way.

Here goes:

Tall people

I’m pretty tall in Canada, but every time I leave the house, there’s always a couple of guys who tower over me. There are a lot of taller women too.

Germans aren’t as tall as the Dutch, though. Men in Holland are enormous. I went to a club in Amsterdam, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t find my friends. All I could see were men’s chests everywhere.

Driving

Ah, the land of the Autobahn.

Many Germans drive very nice cars, and they drive them fast. There are lots BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis on the road, with the lower-end vehicles mostly from VW, Peugeot, Opel, and Ford.

The interesting thing is that because of the famous no-speed-limit Autobahn, Germany is the one country in the world where there is actually a practical use to buying a high-end car. Buying a Mercedes or Audi in Canada might make driving a lot more fun, but it’s only in Germany that they could get you from Point A to B much faster than a mid-range car could.

From personal experience, driving this fast is really stressful. Someone might show up in your mirror going 250 km/h while a transport truck in the slow lane pulls out to pass another – neither truck ever moving faster than 110 km/h (Germans call these “elephant races”).

I thought it would be a ton of fun to drive as fast as possible. Now whenever I drive, I don’t go much faster than 160 km/h, and I’ve learned to get out of the way – fast.

Alcohol

I actually wrote a blog post about this for CSSDP (Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy – I’m on the Board of Directors). In my humble opinion, the post is excellent and totally worth your time to explore in full (click here to read it), but here are the key points:

1. There are way fewer rules around alcohol.

No dedicated liquor stores – buy any type of alcohol you want at normal grocery stores during business hours, and if you miss that opportunity you can go to a gas station throughout the night, although it’s more expensive. You can also drink pretty much anywhere in public, and people do – walking down the street, in the taxi on the way to the bar, or just hanging out on the street.

2. Bars close later.

No last call (barring local bylaws), you just go home when you feel like it, although a lot of places will kick you out between 5 or 6 so they can clean up and go home themselves.

This also means that the party starts later – people don’t usually start assembling to go out before midnight. At first I found this annoying, but now I’ve just gotten used to it.

Smoking

Smoking seems to be a lot more common in German society, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Not the most pleasant for non-smokers like myself, but again, you get used to it.

Patio culture

Germans are very committed to patios – even in the winter! A lot of places have coverings, blankets and heaters, meaning that it can be cold and rainy and you can STILL sit outside and enjoy yourself.

Now that spring is in full bloom, the patios are overflowing with people. It’s great to just walk around a city, see what’s happening, and grab a coffee or a beer. I love it.

Cell phones

Nokia seems to rule the dumb phone and lower-end smart phone category, although Samsung seems to be encroaching on both. For higher-end smart phones, it’s all about the iPhone. BlackBerrys are rare, but the Germans I have met who have them LOVE them and say they would never change. Gives me some hope for my hometown of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Blackberry’s hometown.

Personal transport

All the towns are pedestrian-friendly, and biking as a way of getting around – going to work, shopping, etc – is not the fringe activity it is in North America.

Unsurprisingly, the flatter parts of the country (like the town in North Germany I live in) have more bikes than the hillier ones.

Grocery shopping

More stores and smaller packages – the way it used to be in North America before the rise of the big-box stores. But as someone without a car or even a bike, I much prefer things this way.

I used to go shopping every day on my way home from work. Between work and the grocery store, I would think about what I wanted to eat, and only buy enough for that night and lunch the next day. Everything fit in my backpack and I rarely had to throw out food that had gone bad.

I call this approach “just-in-time shopping”, and feel that the lean business gurus would approve.

McDonald’s

It’s just a classier joint in Germany! I don’t know if they’ve chosen to market themselves differently here (Germans have pretty high standards in general), or if McDonald’s is becoming more upscale everywhere.

I’ve read that since the financial crisis, firms have been finding ways to cater to the “nouveau pauvres” – people without much income, but who still think of themselves as middle class and want certain luxuries, like going out for a cup of coffee. McDonald’s has taken the opportunity to develop a coffee and pastry selection that can draw in the people who can’t afford Starbucks lattes anymore.

That’s it for now! Let me know what you think – there’s always some disagreement with these things, which is all part of the fun.

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Europe Update, Part 1: Italian gestures

Blogs. Sometimes the posts come easily, sometimes not. I haven’t written a post in a while – I got a bit sick of writing about LinkedIn – but I’ve been doing some travelling in Europe, and that has given me some fun new material to write about.

Today’s subject: Italian gestures.

Italians are known for their gestures and hand signals – comedian Russell Peters once said it’s “like everyone was deaf at some point.” And it’s all true, as I saw when my mom and I traveled to Italy recently.

Here are a couple examples. Hope you enjoy.

Scene 1: Easter Sunday, in a church in Monterosso al Mare, a small town on the Ligurian coast.

Since it was Easter, the church was packed and standing room only. I stood at the very back because in Italy I am tall (not true in Holland, where the men are giants, but that’s another story). The kids who could not be controlled by their parents were quarantined behind me, and every so often they would bump me as they were playing. But since kids are usually in their own world, I figured it was unintentional and didn’t think much of it.

However, I soon realized that this little kid named Giacomo was actually kicking my foot! Not in a bad way, more like touching than kicking, really. But he was definitely trying to get a rise out of me. So I turned around and waved to say hi…then his Mom saw what was happening and admonished him, which is how I found out what his name was. I then turned facing forward, and saw Giacomo’s dad looking at me apologetically. He proceeded to give me the biggest torso-neck-head shrug I’ve ever seen. Here’s my attempt to recreate it:

Well, I totally failed there. But basically the look said, “what do you want me to do? that Giacomo, he’s a precocious little bastard.”

I found it all hilarious and burst into laughter, which wasn’t really appropriate in the middle of a church service, but hey, it was Easter Sunday and Christ is risen! Why not be joyful?

But I can’t help but be impressed and just how much information he communicated – that I understood – without him speaking a single word.

Scene 2: dinner at our hotel, also in Monterosso al Mare.

At dinner one night, my mom and I got to talking to a married couple at the next table. They were middle-aged and only spoke Italian, so our conversations were a lot of fun.

They wanted to know about the rest of our travel plans, so we told them that after Monterosso, we would be going to “Firenze” (Florence) and then “Roma” (Rome). From there, my mom would fly home, while I would stay in Europe for a while longer and do some more travelling on my own.

There was some difficulty in communicating that, but suddenly the husband seemed to get it. His face lit up, and he said “Roma – Fiumicino?” (which Google has since taught me is the main airport in Rome), and then did this:

Fantastic!

 

Hope all of you are doing well, wherever you are. Stay tuned for some more updates from Europe!

How I wrote my LinkedIn profile to CRUSH IT post-University

[Time to read: 6 minutes]

This is the 2nd in a series of posts on how to use LinkedIn to build your online profile.
Part 1: why a LinkedIn profile is useful.
Part 2: how to write your own. 
Part 3: tricks to get the most out of your profile once it’s up and running.
 

Now that I’ve established why you should be on LinkedIn, I’d like to show you how I rewrote my own profile recently.

That's correct, this picture shows me brainstorming on a piece paper suspended in MIDAIR.

But first: do NOT go to the LinkedIn website yet!!! To do this right, you need to plan and think things through. Don’t worry, actually filling in your profile will happen soon enough.

Step 1. What do you want to achieve?

There are plenty of LinkedIn “rules” out there. Depending on who you listen to, you’ll get different, and sometimes contradictory, advice.

I want you to realize that at the end of the day, there is one rule more important than the rest:

RULE #1: Your profile should do what you want it to.

Let's be honest though, if anybody needs obedience school, it's Facebook.

Here’s an example. Two of my uncles both use LinkedIn, but their profiles are very different.

Uncle 1 works for a large, well-known company. He’s listed his education and all of the major positions he’s held in his industry, giving exact years for each, but no further details. He uses LinkedIn for networking, so by sharing when he was at a given school or company, people can figure out if they have any mutual connections that studied or worked with him.

Uncle 2 owns a small business. His profile contains a lot of information about his company and recommendations from satisfied clients. Unlike Uncle 1, whose company has a well-known brand, Uncle 2 needs to invest in informing customers and establishing credibility with them.

Two very different approaches, but the same goal.

What do you want to achieve with your profile?

If you’re looking for a unskilled starter job, then all you need to do is show that you can show up for work on time. I’ll assume that you’re aiming higher though, and that like me, you’re starting your career and want an interesting, challenging position where you can grow and make an impact on the world.

Step 2: Brainstorming.

At this point, we still haven’t gone near the LinkedIn website. There’s still work to be done first.

Sit down with a pen and paper and start writing things down. (I don’t get the same freedom of thought with computers, maybe you do.) Aim for volume, and don’t censor yourself. Just let it flow.

Brainstorming should be fun, so don’t stress yourself out – I did all of this while sipping a glass of red wine at an Italian cafe.

Much thanks to Giuseppe, the cafe owner, for drawing this freehand sketch of me while the soccer game was at halftime.

Start by writing down the different roles you’ve taken on. Hopefully, some of these will be relevant, paid work, but don’t stop there. I wrote down my unrelated work, volunteer positions, club involvement and even informal roles – like being an older brother, and helping a friend through a tough time. Even though I didn’t end up listing these informal roles on my profile, they gave me a wider perspective on my strengths, successes and competencies.

With each role, start writing down all the things you’ve done. What are your strengths, and where did you demonstrate them? When were you really in your element? When were you truly successful? And what can you do that would make an employer’s life easier and better?

Sometimes you can develop impressive skills in surprising places. Have you ever marvelled at the coffee-shop baristas who manage complex orders while bantering with their clientele? Or the drama techs and directors who deliver their product on time, every time – even if the set falls apart, or the main actor has a nervous breakdown? What skills do you have that set you apart?

Think also of the words you want to use to describe yourself, and write them down. Active and creative expressions like “recruited”, “founded” and “led” portray that you are excited to provide value, while passive descriptions like “completed” and “helped” convey an impression of only doing the bare minimum. [Update: here’s a list to help you out.]

Once you’ve gotten the juices flowing, it’s time to finally start filling in your profile.

Step 3. Basic information.

If you already have a profile or resume, Steps 1 and 2 should now be showing their worth. Chances are what you’d written before was unassertive, overly complicated, or somehow portrayed you in the wrong light. That’s okay – just put it to the side and start afresh.

It’s time to write about yourself. As you do this, remember two things:

1. Impact. That’s what it’s all about. People want you for what you can do, not the duties you’ve fulfilled.

2. Be easy to read. Too often, people write long, convoluted sentences, trying to sound professional. They don’t. They actually show a lack of confidence, because it looks like they weren’t able to sell themselves in plain English.

Put yourself in a recruiter’s position. If you were looking through hundreds of profiles, would you want to read whatever you just wrote? Make it short and sweet, and read everything out loud to make sure it sounds natural. Realize that if people enjoy reading your profile, then that’s a good thing.

Here’s a before-and-after example from my last update:

Before

After

Notice the difference? Crisper, cleaner, and more emphasis on impact than duties.

Apart from your job experience, you can fill in other information: skills you have, awards you’ve won, languages you speak. These spaces are good for nitty-gritty details – leave the job experience space for describing impact instead.

Arrange the different profile elements in whatever way works best for you. This usually means putting your most rare and valuable skills at the top. I put my languages first because it’s impressive and it’s rare to find a North American engineering graduate who speaks four languages. I listed my job experience before my education because I have a lot more workplace experience than most recent graduates. Both serve to set me apart.

Step 4. The Summary.

Wait until you’ve finished the rest of your profile to fill out the summary. This is your chance to tell your story. Do it wrong, and people will move on without a backward glance. Do it right, and they’ll want to know more.

Follow the writing guidelines from Step 3. Describe your impact, use plain English, and make sure it sounds right out loud. Keep it as short as you can, while still saying everything you want to say. It’s hard work, but when it’s done right, it’s very powerful.

Step 5. The Professional Headline.

Like the summary, but even shorter and more important. This is what people will see right after your name if they find you on LinkedIn directly, or via a search engine like Google.

It’s tricky, but if you can think of something that will make you stand out, then I think that’s better than the same old employer + job description that everyone uses. We’ll talk about this more in Part 3.

[Update: no sooner had I published this post than I saw an article on Copyblogger about why you should always write headlines first, because the headline is a “promise”  to people viewing your profile, that you fulfill with the summary and job experience sections. This makes a lot of sense to me, but it means that I did things backwards. What do you guys think?]

Step 6. Editing.

Editors can let you know how you present yourself, point out anything you might have overlooked, and find those spelling and grammar howlers that you’ll always miss, no matter how hard you look for them.

Getting feedback can be hard on the ego. Remember that if someone tells you something that’s hard to hear, this means that:

1. they respect you enough to tell you the truth and know that you can handle it, and

2. you now have the chance to improve.

Emotionally, it's a Six Flags roller coaster.

I’ve gotten feedback on my profile from both of the uncles I mentioned in Step 1, as well as an aunt who works in HR, and they spared no punches. It was hard at first, but in the end I’m glad for it, because my profile is much better.

Step 7. Keep tinkering.

The story doesn’t end once your profile’s been written, and in Part 3 we’ll get into the multitude of little things you can do that will make all the the difference. As you stay active on LinkedIn, take a look at what you’ve written every once in a while, and you’ll notice little improvements that you can make.

Of course, if you decide to change industries or your overall strategy, then you should do a major overhaul. Remember Rule #1, and send your profile back to obedience school to learn new tricks.

So…

Have any of you redone your resume or LinkedIn profile recently? How did it go? I’d love to hear any widsom you gained in the process.

Don’t be afraid to:

comment,

share and like on Facebook, or

use Twitter to follow me and tweet this post!

I appreciate most feedback.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll get into all the tools and tricks to get the most out of your profile.

————————————————————————-

BONUS: they don’t work for everyone, but these creative resumes helped their owners stand out from the crowd. If you’re feeling bold, why not go for it?

Full disclosure: one of the resumes was designed to look like a Facebook profile. Since I was researching this article at the time, I immediately thought “well, what if I based my resume on a LinkedIn profile? What would that look like? Ohhhhh…”

I’ve had better moments.

If you’re not on LinkedIn now, you’ll regret it later

[Time to read:  4 minutes]

This is the 1st in a series of posts on how to use LinkedIn to build your online profile.
Part 1: why a LinkedIn profile is useful.
Part 2: how to write your own. 
Part 3: tricks to get the most out of your profile once it’s up and running.


Many keystrokes have been devoted to explaining how you can use LinkedIn and other tools to build your online presence and find a job. It’s not all hype: LinkedIn – if used correctly – can be a great help. Here’s how.

1. Connections. It’s hard to overstate the value of connections – so far, I’ve gotten three jobs through them. More importantly, they open up the wide world of mentoring possibilities, one of the best ways to grow professionally. At the very least, a connection can provide you with some sort of inside scoop that will help you in the job hunt: who the interviewer is, whether internal candidates are being considered for the job, etc.

2. Permission marketing for job seekers. Seth Godin coined the term, and here’s how he describes it: “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” Google Search uses permission marketing, because the ads they show you depend on the search terms you enter. Email subscriptions, Facebook groups, Twitter followings – they all hinge upon active choices made by the customer.

The benefits of this approach? Among other things, more receptive customers, who on some level have already said yes to what you’re selling when they could have said no. The trick is therefore to find out who wants what you’re offering, look for places where they congregate, and put yourself in front of them at the opportune moment.

Apply this to the job search: you are selling your skills and experience, and employers are looking to buy. Now consider that LinkedIn has a network of over 135 million people, where employers can browse at their own pace, and you can continuously update your profile as you gain experience or change strategy. This is a good opportunity to sell yourself.

But while the people who are hiring can use LinkedIn to learn about you, you can learn things too – like an employer’s interests, a company’s hiring histories, or the movers and shakers in your industry who would be good people to know. Useful information that you can use to sell yourself even better.

3. The bigger picture. If permission marketing is so great, why limit it to the job hunt? Not everyone is looking for a job. Established professionals, freelancers and entrepreneurs can all use LinkedIn to build a professional or business profile. You can join industry groups, answer questions from your field, accumulate client testimonials, and in general, leave a trail of breadcrumbs that demonstrate competence and give people a reason to do business with you.

For more ideas, check out this great post that Guy Kawasaki wrote about how to make LinkedIn work for you.

4. Protect your brand. In our day and age, Google is the first thing people use to find out about you. The bad news: some of the things you’ve put on the Internet were ill-advised. The good news: you can be proactive and tilt modern-day branding in your favour, first by removing the bad stuff, and then by putting material out there that portrays you in a better light. Use a personal blog or – you guessed it – a public LinkedIn profile, to tell the story about yourself that you want to tell.

So…

Do you have a LinkedIn profile? What do you think of LinkedIn in general? Anything I missed?

If I have convinced you to update your profile or create a new one from scratch, then stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll show you how I recently updated my own LinkedIn profile.

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