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Choctaw Bowman

Choctaw Bowman - Military ManMy Grandfather (on the left) during WWI

At one time, it was easy to conceal your past. We have all heard stories of men who went West for a new beginning. It was easy, 100 years ago, to leave your past behind. Actually, it was difficult for your past to follow you.

When I attended my first defensive driving class (in the early 1970s) the instructor wanted to make a point about how we all had different degrees of training for operating a motor vehicle. He asked if anyone had received a drivers license without a formal test. Today, we would see this as a “set up” for calling in the officials to make an arrest, but in the 1970s, if we’d done everything by the book, we had no concerns. An old man in the group raised his hand and stated that he received his drivers license by filling out a form and paying 75 cents. That was it. No test, no training, no background check, no ID, no birth certificate to prove he was of legal age. 75 cents and a short form got him a drivers license.

We have all heard stories about Civil War veterans who joined the cause by lying about their age and joining their army of choice. This continued well into the 20th century. My Grandfather, Charles Bowman, lied about his age to join the infantry in World War I. I have to wonder if he questioned the wisdom of his decision. He saw plenty of bloodshed on the fields of France as a bugler in the infantry. However, he followed Black Jack Pershing, after the war, into the battle against Pancho Villa on the Texas border. He was a military man.

Eventually, he moved to Austin, TX with his young bride and became the first trolley car driver down the streets of ATX and continued his career with Austin Transit Company, eventually becoming the Vice President of Charters for the bus line. All of this under the name of “Charles Bowman”.

We did not learn of his duplicity until 60 years later, when he was too feeble for my grandmother to take care of in their home on 1509 6th Street. My older brother drove him from his home in Austin to the Veterans Hospital in Temple, TX. While checking him in, and presenting his enlistment papers to the administrators at the VA hospital, my brother noticed that “GrandDad” had joined the infantry under the name of “Choctaw Bowman.” The man I had known for 40+ years as “Charles Bowman” was, in reality, born “Choctaw Bowman”.

My grandfather had spent all his adult years under an assumed name.   Sometime after his military career, he decided that “Choctaw” was not a suitable name for a young man with career aspirations. At that time (1920s), all you had to do was to fill out paperwork with the information you wanted employers to believe was true. I guess they could have checked his military record and “outed him” but they did not. He continued his life under this new name, with impunity.

Things are not like that now. If  you were arrested in 1970, there is an on-line record of that. It is easy to find all the dirt on you that anyone might want to find. This brings me to a recurring theme. Your future employer will look for information on you on-line. If you are not found, they will dig deeper. If there is information that you do not want them to find, make it easy for them to find good information about you. Get your LinkedIn profile up to date (there is little reason to go back more than 20 years with your work history….no one cares that you bused tables in grad school).

Post updates about your good work and “good works”. If you wrote a published article, include a link to that on-line article on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you were awarded a patent, put that on LinkedIn. If you volunteer at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving Day, post a picture on Twitter and an update on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are not doing good things, start doing them. Earn new certifications. Update your programming skills. Brush up on Spanish at the community college. Do things that make you employable and make sure to broadcast that on social media.

If your future employer can find dozens of things about you on pages 1 – 20 with a Google search, there is little reason to continue on to page 21 where they may find images of you dancing the Hula with a giant Mai Tai in your hand. Make it easy for them to find the information that will make them want to hire you. Social Media is just as effective in getting news on the Internet as a press release. Make it work for you.

Good Luck and Godspeed.


LinkedIn Spamming Strangers in Your Name


Last night, a friend of mine asked me if LinkedIn auto-generated “invitations to connect” to complete strangers that matched their (LinkedIn’s) assessment of connections he might be interested in. I had to admit that this is something I’d never wondered….so I had no answer. However, I have noticed a significant increase in invitations from people I do not know. In my case, I have spent a lot of time on LinkedIn over the past year building a new network. I am changing industries, so all my previous LinkedIn connections were only moderately helpful in making the contacts I need to make. I send out around 100 invitations a month, so when I started receiving random invitations from people in this new industry, I just assumed it was tied to my increased activity.

But here is the piece of the story I did not tell you. My friend, a CEO of a small semiconductor company, just assumed that people wanted to connect to him due to his executive status in the high tech industry. He noticed the increase in random invitations but assumed that it was related to increased job hunting activities, now that the economy has started to pickup. That is, however, until he received an invitation to connect to himself.  It was then that he started to question if he was getting a flurry of requests to connect which were generated by LinkedIn based on his profile and on the profiles of people he was connecting to.

I did a quick Google search on “does linkedin automatically send invitations” to discover a LinkedIn discussion started on February 9 of this year. There was outrage being expressed over LinkedIn doing exactly this. Most of the respondents in this discussion indicated that they were careful about who they sent invitations to and from whom they accepted invitations.

Mystery solved. LinkedIn will generate invitations for you to people they think you might want to be connected to.

I do not have the same concern, as some people do, about connecting to people I may not know. I am essentially in sales, and you are probably not going to make much of a business by only selling to people you know. What concerns me is that LinkedIn has decided to do this without telling us. They are essentially “telemarketing” to LinkedIn members, under our name and LinkedIn profile, without our ever knowing.

Isn’t this what a virus does?

Good luck and Godspeed!


My wife is a substitute school teacher. After 10 years of teaching public school in Fort Worth, she took off 20 years to raise children. With our youngest in college, she has returned to the classroom. She told me a story this weekend about an incident in her classroom last week.

There was a second grade boy in her class who just could not get with the program. He spoke out instead of raising his hand. When he did raise his hand, he made all sorts of pained noises. He was always talking to a neighbor, getting out of his seat, fidgeting and dropping things. My wife has a special tolerance for this sort of thing. Our own son was like this. She home schooled him for 5 years to make sure that no one mistook him for a bad kid and crushed his tremendous creativity, affectionate self-confidence and passion for learning.

As it turns out, the class she was teaching needed to borrow rulers from another teacher. My wife is very serious about taking perfect care of borrowed things. She is loathe to lend her carefully maintained property and frustrated when people return it damaged. She stressed over and over to her little second grade class that they needed to be careful with these borrowed, plastic rulers.

The active boy I mentioned was happily working away on this assignment, talking up a storm and bending the ruler constantly as he worked. As could be foreseen, he broke it in three pieces. With dread visible all over him, he brought the broken pieces to my wife.

With a voice full of compassion, she informed him that he needed to do the right thing and take the ruler down the hall to the owner and tell her that he was sorry but he’d broken her ruler. He beseeched  my wife, with tears in his eyes, to not make him do this. She asked him if he knew what the word “gallant” meant. “It means to be brave and do the right thing. I need you to be gallant and tell the teacher what happened.”

Slowly he walked down the hall with the pieces of ruler in his hand. With shoulders stooped, he explained to the teacher what had happened. She listened with a soft heart and thanked him for telling her, then sent him back to his room. My wife thanked him for being gallant and had him return to his desk. She saw little second grade hands reaching out to him as he worked his way back to his desk. Everyone wanted to express their admiration for the brave boy who did the right thing.

When the project was completed and the rulers were collected, my wife asked the active (gallant) boy to take the rulers back to the teacher who lent them. She received them from him warmly and thanked him by name. She did not know his name before that day but since returning the broken ruler, she knows his name and his reputation is fixed in her mind as a brave boy who does the right thing.

Maybe you find yourself looking for a new job because your reputation was not everything it should have been. If some of your past life is alive on the internet, social media is a great way to move it off of page one and to page 15 of Google search results. Take some classes, learn some new skills, work on your greatest weaknesses and update LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc to reflect the new person you are working to become. Become involved in causes that help other people and promote those organizations via social media.  Now is the right time to be brave and do the right things. The people who meet you now will know you for who you are and not who you were.

Good Luck and Godspeed!

James Snider
Engstrom Trading, LLC
VP Business Development

Learn about TFX:


As we get started networking into target companies, you are going to run into some people who are nearly impossible to reach via LinkedIn. Their LinkedIn profile is almost empty.  They may have worked for small companies and have very few connections. They don’t belong to any groups and give you almost no insight into their history. To reach these people, you are going to have to do some serious use of Google. In the end, they will probably not accept your invitation to connect via LinkedIn. Either they do not use LinkedIn much or they may even have an email address attached to their profile that they do not use any more.

Rather than use up too much time working on reaching these impossible people, go after the low hanging fruit. Reach out to the recruiters.

The easiest path into a company is through the recruiters. They need to know as many people as possible. They make a living out of being able to find great candidates. The more people they know, the better the chances that they will find the right match for the job before anyone else can. Like sales people, they want a lot of connections on LinkedIn. They will almost always accept an invitation to connect with you on LinkedIn. Once you are connected to them, you will be a second degree connection to a bunch of people in that company…and it is easier to connect to second degree connections.

Another useful thing about being connected to recruiters is that they tend to change job frequently. Some change as often as every 6 months. A few stay with the same company for multiple years, but most switch companies often. That recruiter that left Dell to go to work at Bazaarvoice in Austin may seem like a lost opportunity (unless you want to work for Bazaarvoice) but in 9 months they may be working for a company you want to network into.

I would suggest that you go to the “People” search field in the upper right hand corner of LinkedIn and select the “Advanced” option just to the right of the window where you input your search criteria. Most people are afraid to click on anything marked “Advanced”, thinking that they are not smart enough to use the Advanced features. In your mind, substitute the word “Helpful” for “Advanced” and go for it. These are helpful features that you should learn to use.

Once you get to the “Helpful” screen, you will see fields for title and company. Fill in “recruiter” for the job and the name of the company you are interested in and just give it a shot. You will need to scroll past recruiters who no longer work for your target company, but you might want to network with a recruiter at HP or Samsung.

One more suggestion. When you find that recruiter you can connect with (you worked with them before or they belong to the same LinkedIn group as you belong to), do not send them the standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message. That would be like asking a woman on a date by saying, “I’m not doing anything tonight. Wanna go do something?” That will work with someone who knows you or someone with no standards but it is not an effective way to establish a new relationship with a stranger. Say something along the lines of  “I am very interested in careers at Dell. I would like to connect with you on LinkedIn.” It is not prose but it is better than the standard message…and it works well enough.

Good Luck and Godspeed!

James Snider
Engstrom Trading, LLC
VP Business Development

The Blind Chef

Last week, I had the good fortune to be invited by DARS (Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services) to give mock interviews to blind and visually impaired job seekers. As is so often the case with these sorts of ventures, I got more from it than I gave. I was given two job seekers to “interview.”

The first was a lady with several years of customer service experience before she lost her sight. She wanted to return to that field. That was an easy interview. She had the personality for the job and her years of experience were reflected in the answers she gave to the interview questions. If I were in a position to hire a person to do customer service, I would have made an offer on the spot.

The next interview was a bit rough. It was a young man who wanted to be a chef. A blind chef. He wanted to convince me that it was OK to bring him into my profit center (the kitchen) to work around fire, slippery liquids, heavy objects and knives in a crowded, hectic environment. What little I know about a commercial kitchen, I know from talking to my two children; one who is a server and one who manages a restaurant. However, one of my strengths is empathy. Somehow, I was able to morph into a restaurant owner and I was not going to hire this guy. The risks were just too great. What if he got hurt? What if he started a fire? What if he hurt someone else? My mind was going full speed against making this hire.

What transpired over the next 20 minutes was an enormous struggle within me. I asked him a few general questions and he gracefully worked into the conversation that he specialized in taking the usual and putting his own twist on it. I asked for an example. He said, “Chicken Fried Strawberries.” Perhaps he heard the snicker in my voice. I’ve been to the State Fair of Texas, home of Fried Twinkies,  Chicken Fried Bacon and Chicken Fried Butter (I wish I were making this up). I just assumed that this was one more gauche Texas redneck indulgence until he continued. “It is a lot harder to get right than it sounds. If you fry it too long, the strawberry turns into mush. If you don’t fry it long enough, the crust is not crisp.”  That made sense. I know enough about cooking that he had me interested and a little bit impressed. Then he went on to describe the elegant sauce he made to drizzle over it. I was hooked. It sounded incredible.

I turned the conversation back to the reservations I had about hiring a visually impaired person to work in a dangerous environment. He was honest. He could not see if chicken was browned correctly (as an example) but he would ask a prep chef to be his eyes on the rare occasions when he needed them. We talked about the stressful environment of working in a commercial kitchen. He said that he focused so intensely on what he was doing that he blocked out the distractions and was not easily rattled by the stress. He always knew where everything he needed was. He was methodical in where he placed his pans, knives, ingredients, etc. His answers were good but he could not take away my fear of taking a chance on him. There are plenty of chefs out there to hire. Why take a chance on someone who just might not be able to perform the duties?

I let up a little bit on the hostile questioning. We talked about his specialty. He was not really Southwestern or French or (I ran out of specialties). What was his specialty? When he started talking about food, his passion was contagious. I felt my apprehensions starting to melt and a voice in my head started saying, “Give this guy a chance. He sounds like an incredible chef.”

My marketing brain started to run. What a great story for the evening news. “Blind chef creates signature dish that puts struggling restaurant on the map.” He had a nice look and would look great on camera. What an incredible break through this would be for visually impaired people all over North Texas. I had no doubt that this guy could work magic with food.

That’s when the lizard brain kicked in. I started feeling cautious. I could not get over the fact that he could not see where the fire was. He could not see if the prep chef was right behind him. He could not see if he’d spilled the olive oil and it was under his feet or seeping into the flame. He did not have complete use of all his senses which made him a risky addition to the kitchen.

As I wrapped up the interview, I asked the standard, “Do you have any questions?” He went straight to the point. “What would prevent you from hiring me today?” My answer was honest, “I am concerned that your lack of sight might cause you to get hurt or to hurt someone else.” His thoughtful response was an exquisite Touche’. “I managed 250 men on a construction site for several years” (this was back before he lost his sight). “I’ve seen a lot of men with sight, get hurt because they were distracted. Since I lack my sight, when I am in the kitchen, I am the most focused person in the room.”

Interestingly, the day before this mock interview, I’d had a real interview with a major hotel chain who is staffing up 90 marketers in their eCommerce department. My eCommerce experience is a bit limited, but not inconsequential. I am proficient in social media marketing, am certainly a self-starter, have management experience, good sense of humor and people skills. The best thing I brought to the table was a clear understanding of what their customers need when making on-line reservations. I was a road warrior for 10 years and used multiple on-line booking sites, including their’s.

I was required to work through a case study and give a presentation as part of the interview process. I love giving presentations. I really got into the case study, pouring over the numbers, examining their website, Facebook and Twitter sites. I analyzed the sites of their competitors and Google rankings. I had more than enough to say in the 20 minutes they gave me for the presentation. I had a wonderful time and showed them a pretty good time in the process.

The day following my time with the blind job seekers, I received the phone call from the recruiter. “Thanks, but no thanks.” The piece I left out of the description of my interview was the age gap. Everyone I spoke to was late 20s or early 30s. I have a son in college. eCommerce is the domain of the young. It did not matter that I was passionate about the opportunity or the employer. It did not matter that my passion was palpable. The lizard brain would not let them take a chance on me. I did not fit their profile for what an eCommerce person should be. Their careers depend on staffing with the right people. They were not willing to take a chance.

Despite my talent and passion for doing exactly what this employer is looking for, I have a significant barrier. I am like the blind chef. I understand the lizard brain because it was active in me as I talked to him. I know why these “20 somethings” were not willing to extend to me an offer. We become frustrated by this job market, even angry. But I say, have some understanding for those on the other side of the desk.

Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to move from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Some day, someone will give the blind chef a chance and I am sure he will prove himself to be an tremendous asset. As for me, I need to take some of my own advice. I LinkedIn with the most senior person with whom I interviewed. I Googled him and read a great article about him. I dropped him an email to tell him how much I enjoyed the article. I connected to him via Google+. I found 12 people who work at this hotel chain who are involved in eCommerce and are alumni of my two alma maters. Did I mention to you that fellow alumni are very likely to connect with you on LinkedIn? I now have 12 new connections on LinkedIn. This may all amount to nothing but it may end up getting me a really great job.

Keep in mind that there are things that are just going to get in the way. If you have passion for what you do, you will get a job. It may not be the very next job that comes along, but you will get one.

If you ever see Chicken Fried Strawberries on the menu, get them. Send your compliments to the chef. Shake the restaurant manager’s hand and tip your server well. That signature dish will be your sign that a blind chef had the passion to overcome significant barriers and land that job he is dreaming of today.

Good Luck and Godspeed,

James Snider
Engstrom Trading, LLC
VP Business Development


The World According to Dirk: “Digital Footprint”

Everyone talks about your “digital footprint.” You would not expect Dirk to tell you what everyone else tells you…that is why we listen to him. While most recruiters are hunting for you on LinkedIn, Dirk is looking for you on Amazon.com. If he needs a software engineer who is proficient in Ubuntu Linux, he looks on Amazon to see who has written reviews on Ubuntu Linux books. These are people who really know the topic and who are pretty good communicators. Nothing worse than sending in the perfect candidate, only to have them answer in grunts and “un-huh.”

This is the sort of thing that has made Dirk a legend among local recruiters. His ability to find those great candidates that no one else can find.

When it comes to LinkedIn, many of us have spent hours trying to perfect all the keyword fields so we will show up on page one of LinkedIn search results (see my post on “Getting Found“). Dirk says that none of that matters anymore. Google now indexes the Internet live so recruiters can find your LinkedIn profile with a Google keyword search.

All those hours of profile tweaking are unnecessary. Set up a Google Profile and get on with your life.

James Snider
Global Business Development and Social Media Marketing
Anyone can give you social media.  I make sure it’s marketing.

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How to Use Google Alerts

I am getting some questions after my last blog post.  I talked about using Google Alerts to track what is being said about you on the internet or people with the same name as you have.  You need to do this to be aware of unflattering information about you or someone who might be confused with you.  Hopefully, there is none, or it will be the latter situation.

Getting started is easy. When I need information quickly, I go to my favorite tool, Google.  When I want to know how to set a Google Alert, I simply google “Google Alert” and it returns several pages of results.

James Snider example of doing a Google Search

...google "Google Alert"

It is a pretty safe bet that Google will be able to figure out the best match for one of their own tools,  I select the first item returned: “Google Alerts – Monitor the Web for interesting new content.”

Selecting “Google Alerts – Monitor the Web…”  pulls up the Google Alerts web page where I key in the topic I want to be alerted on (i.e. my name “James Snider”) and the email account where I want the alerts emailed.  I have tried using my Hotmail account and it appears to work just fine.  But since I am the paranoid sort, I normally use a Gmail account.   I want to be sure that Google does not decide later to stop supporting my current email service provider (Hotmail,  Yahoo, Juno, etc).  It is safe to assume that Google will always support their own email service (Gmail).

James Snider's Google Alert menu

Google Menu where you enter your search criteria

Now you do have different options you can select such as “Type” where you can restrict what source is searched for information on you or “How often” you want results sent to you or the “Volume”(everything or only the best results) ….but I just take the defaults.  That is close enough for me. I might decide to change “volume” to “All results” just so I do not have to wonder if I am missing something important. After all, does Google really know what I would consider “the best results?”

And finally, you will need to go to your email account and verify that you actually did want to have this information sent to your email account.  If you do not do this final step, you will not get any updates.

James Snider's hotmail account with notice  from Google Alert

Email notice from Google Alert

Think about it.  Do you want some prankster or ex-“significant other” setting up a Google Alert to send your email account everything that is being said on the Jonas Brothers each day?  You need to verify with Google that you set up the Google Alerts being sent to your email account.

It is as easy as that.  Do not make it harder than it needs to be…and have a little fun with it.

(Post updated on Feb 9, 2011)

James Snider
Business Development Director
Corporate Marketing Department … one  hour  at a time