Beginning Your Job Search
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As graduate degrees are becoming the new bachelor’s, there’s little doubt that the competition for positions is stiff. Anyone looking for work must step up her game in the job search.
It’s no longer just who you know. Now, you must focus deliberately on who knows you. That means aggressively marketing yourself to hiring managers and the people who influence them. Start by doing an honest assessment of your efforts to determine if you’re doing everything you possibly can to secure an offer.
Ask yourself these seven questions:
1) Am I looking in the right places? If your industry is in trouble now, don’t sit around waiting for things to improve. Transfer your skills to another industry. If you performed marketing duties in the hard-hit construction industry, try seeking a marketing-related position in health care administration, which has added jobs. If your small employer is cutting the hours of its sales staff, look at competitors that could benefit from your expertise. If your airline is pink-slipping flight attendants, shift your focus to an opportunity in tourism, public relations or hotel concierge services. The idea is to think of at least three to five ways to apply what you know to a totally new line of work and then go after it.
2) Am I top of mind? Make a list of the people who know that you’re looking for work. Then, make a list of the people who should know that you’re looking. That second list should be your primary focus because it hopefully includes decision-makers at the employers you’re targeting. Take the necessary steps to make your name and interest known to them. You can accomplish this through: internal referrals, alumni contacts, professional associations, industry blogs, online social networks, local career fairs and open houses, peers within the same field, and even old-fashioned cold calling. Map a strategy that includes three different ways of reaching out to each person on that list.
3) Am I memorable? Standing out from the pack in a positive (not hokey) way will improve your chances for being considered. Showing up dressed like a clown or mailing inappropriate gimmicks to catch the attention of an employer will likely backfire. One college student created a magazine about herself that caught the attention of a recruiter who hired her. That tactic would work for a professional at any age – creativity shouldn’t be limited or defined by age. An event planner could put together a packet with photographs of her best functions. A sales professional can bind copies of reference letters from impressive clients who can vouch for his or her expertise and service. Don’t wait to be asked for such collateral – be proactive about producing something that’s neat and brings your passion, your personality and your professional skills to life.
4) Am I casting a wide net? Even though one or two job postings might scream your name, do not rely on too few positions. You need many, many sticks in the fire because you have no way of knowing which will catch. Even if one opportunity looks promising, don’t slow down the search until you receive a firm offer. Apply to positions on your own, submit resumes through multiple job boards, and register with placement agencies in your area (big and small). Remember, these agencies don’t work for you; they work for the company that’s paying them for the best hire. This means you must treat agencies with the same professionalism and respect as you would an employer.
5) Am I interview-ready? In the past, you might have gotten away with interviewing with one or two people and shaking hands on an immediate offer. Today, you should expect to go through more interviews with more people than ever before. Treat each one as if it’s the most important because even one person in the process can nix your chances by raising doubts about your candidacy. Research the employer and its competition thoroughly and practice every possible question you think you might be asked. While you might not be grilled on the company, your knowledge demonstrates an interest in this particular job and field.
6) Am I being flexible? Offer to freelance or accept contract work if that’s what it takes to get your foot in the door. You can also negotiate working from home part of the time as a benefit to both parties. Don’t hold out for the most perfect opportunity if it means passing up one that could work well for you right now. Generating an income and closing a gap in your work history can be beneficial on their own. Be selective about the kind of work you want, but not unrealistic, given the current economic conditions.
7) Am I actively following up? You may find yourself frustrated from submitting dozens of resumes online – and getting no response. Don’t rely on applying online and waiting for the phone to ring. It won’t ring. It’s up to you to follow up once you’ve applied. Cold call to find out who the decision-maker is and then use all of your connections – or make new ones – to figure out how to get your name in front of that decision-maker. Be ready to make a smart, strong, succinct case for why you deserve to be considered for the job you’re after. When you interview, don’t leave without asking about the next steps: when they expect to make a decision, and when you should hear from someone.
Brag a Little
All of us have career highlights that deserve to be recognized but so rarely are. That’s why you should set aside time at some point to assemble a list of your own achievements, your personal greatest hits.
Many of us, particularly women, are uncomfortable with self-promotion, especially in the workplace. We’re great at talking up our kids and our best friends, but the idea of tooting our own horns or claiming credit for our accomplishments makes plenty of us uneasy. We don’t want to come across as conceited, showoffs or braggarts.
If this sounds like you, remember that when it comes to your career, an unwillingness to share your accomplishments may cost you the positions, pay and promotions you deserve.
Employers don’t have a crystal ball. They can’t look into some magical orb to determine what kind of employee you might be. They must use your past performance as the best possible indicator of your potential for future success. And unless you point out your own achievements, they may never notice.
Make Lists of Your Skills and Accomplishments
Ask yourself the following:
What have I done exceptionally well on the job in the last three years?
Force yourself to pinpoint at least five areas where you know you’re really great. Focus on your core capabilities. Is providing top-notch customer service your forte? Are you the best negotiator in your department? Do you ace the essentials of event planning? Are you a meticulous organizer? Are you a strong manager and mentor who brings out the best in others?
Which three career accomplishments am I most proud of?
While the first question focuses on capabilities, this one is about how well you performed in those areas. Did you apply those sales and customer service skills to generate business? Did your management skills improve morale? Did your ability to organize lead to the creation of new systems and implementation of great programs?
Do I have a “me” file?
If you don’t already, you should start one today. This is the place to store hard copies of e-mails from colleagues or clients thanking you for a job well done. It doesn’t have to be a formal note; even a quick e-mail saying you saved the day deserves to be printed and stashed in this file. You’ll refer back to all of this when you’re preparing for your annual review, since the examples will serve as great ammo for a well-deserved raise.
Tory Johnson Reflects on Her Own Professional Accomplishments
I’m proud of my work assisting evacuees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina stormed the southern states in 2005. On Labor Day that year, I traveled to the Astrodome in Houston to offer career advice to men and women who were displaced by the catastrophe, thereby helping them get back to work quickly.
Another proud moment came in October 2001, just one month after the historic tragedy of 9/11. That month, we held our biggest career expo ever right in New York City. Nearly 70 companies committed to recruiting, which was no small feat given the economic beating New York took. This event was about hiring and hope, and for that reason we received some great media coverage.
In the midst of the normal chaos of finalizing every detail the day before the 10/01 career fair, I received a surprise phone call from President Bill Clinton. After I got over the initial shock that it wasn’t just my husband playing a crazy joke, I listened as the former president congratulated me on Women For Hire’s success. He reminded me that, as Americans, the right to work is at the core of our freedom and financial independence in this country. He encouraged me to keep up our efforts in helping people secure employment. All that in under a minute!
When I share that anecdote to groups I speak to about career advancement, there are always two distinct reactions. Half the people say, “You go, girl! Regardless of your political preference, a call from any U.S. President is a pretty cool thing!” Of course I’m thrilled by that response.
The other isn’t as kind. They look at me as if to say, “Tory seems quite pleased with herself to brag about a call from Clinton.” I’m always stunned by that reaction.
The fact is, I should be proud of my accomplishments in helping other people find jobs and advance their careers. I have to be willing to tout those small and large kudos and feathers in our cap whenever I can because they fuel my future success.
Everyone has these moments in their professional history – big and little things that they’re exceptionally proud of, but don’t always feel comfortable sharing.
You Have Choices
For a generation, workers would decide on a career and stick with it until retirement. Today, it’s very common for people to change their careers as many as four to seven times in a lifetime. And as many as half of all employees in this country say they’d love to make a job change if they could.
The reasons for changing careers vary from displeasure with initial choices and boredom to new values and dreams for yourself or just the desire to make more money.
When people ask me to help them get a job, my first question is, “What kind of job do you want?” The most common answer: “Tell me who’s hiring…I’m interested in all sorts of things.” The job-seeker thinks it sounds flexible, which can be a good thing, but in reality, it looks desperate and unfocused.
Ask yourself, “What are my strengths?” And when answering that question, it’s important to get beyond the basics – I often hear the phrase, “I’m a people person.” That’s too generic and doesn’t speak to your knowledge, skills and abilities. You want to ask yourself: “What am I really good at?” “What do I love doing?” “What excites me?”
Ask your friends and colleagues for their opinions of your strengths. Sometimes friends and colleagues think of you as the “go to” person anytime they have to write a letter because your writing and editing skills are exceptional. Or maybe you’re a computer whiz who can fix any bug. Those could be cues for a potential career pat.
So What Are Your Options?
Sometimes it’s easier to figure out what you want by seeing what other people have. There are a few easy ways to do that: ·
- Talk to other people about what they do, which can open your eyes to a myriad of possibilities. Ask for an informational interview – even by email if it’s not possible to meet in person. You can pose a few key questions about their career and the skills required to be successful in a particular line of work.
- Window shop at career fairs. Many attendees to Women For Hire career expos are very focused on what they’re looking for. Other people, however, attend to get a basic sense of who is hiring and what’s out there.
- Scan the Sunday “Help Wanted” section of your local newspaper. Use this section to identify key words that grab your attention on a first impression. This helps you identify potential areas of interest that you might not have thought about. For example, maybe you’re a poetry writer who can’t find work – and you’re drawn to positions that reference writing skills…public relations, copywriting, editing, fact-checking, etc.
Make Your Dreams Real
Think of people or positions that cause you to say, “Wow! I’d love to do that!” – and then scale it back to something obtainable. Maybe you dream about being the next Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming just like Janet Evans or Michael Phelps, but you’re a terrible swimmer. How about working in sports marketing or for a major league team or stadium instead? Your dream job could be found in working as a sports agent or event organizer.
Maybe you can’t be a ballerina, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a career in the arts. With a passion for ballet, perhaps you’re well-suited for a position in administration at a performing arts center or within a company that manufactures or sells dance gear or memorabilia.
Narrow it Down
We can almost guarantee that finding a job will take longer than you think or you would like. Knowing that you’re not alone often helps make the process a little more tolerable. If times are tough, expect a long, arduous job search effort to carry on for six months, sometimes longer. It’s best to set goals and deadlines for yourself – you know your budget, your career goals, and your tolerance for uncertainty better than anyone else. Yet it is essential to remember that hiring managers do not work according to your schedule. You may send in a résumé that no one views for weeks, not because you aren’t the most fabulous candidate but because something else is more important to them at the moment.
It’s the Little Things
Sometimes smaller companies – even start-ups – are doing well when the big corporations are experiencing layoffs. America’s 25 million small businesses employ more than 50 percent of the private work force and are the principal source of new jobs in the U.S. The trend of corporate outsourcing has created tons of jobs in small- to mid-sized businesses. The trick is finding the opportunities; small businesses often don’t advertise their openings but prefer to hire through referrals and personal connections. Network and call the local Chamber of Commerce and local Small Business Association office for information about small businesses in your community. Look to local association websites where many small business members will list their job opportunities. You might even look to large companies that interest you and find out who their vendors, consultants, and advisers are – all of these smaller companies are great prospects. Find this information on the company’s Web site or through an informational interview with someone in their purchasing or supplier diversity departments.
Work for a Cause
The non-profit sector offers opportunities for job candidates with endless interests. There are organizations serving almost every “good works” cause from children to AIDS, music, sports, economic development, education, mental illness, the elderly, the environment, and the arts. There are a variety of national non-profits such as the American Red Cross or the United Way that are as large and bureaucratic as corporations. Then there are thousands of smaller, community-based organizations that offer a more intimate work environment. If you are passionate about a certain issue, research organizations – small and large – that serve your cause.
No matter what the size, non-profits need marketers, accountants, fundraisers, publicists, secretaries, researchers, event planners, and human resource specialists just like any other industry. Of course the challenge of non-profits is that they raise their operating budgets through donations, foundations, membership charges, and program or service fees. While you can help society at a non-profit, it’s no secret that you will often sacrifice a high salary to feel good about helping your cause.
Many industry and trade associations are also non-profits. If you’re having trouble breaking into a particular industry, why not apply for a job at that industry’s trade association? For example, many associations employ administrative assistants, event planners, accountants, marketing managers, and grant writers. On that note, don’t overlook the organizations that fund non-profits. Private foundations are another industry sector off most people’s radar screen.
Uncle Sam Really Does Need You
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, as of 2006 a whopping 20 million people worked for the local, state, or national government in the United States. Full-time and part-time jobs exist at all levels. Just like non-profits, the government employs specialists in all job functions at every stage of experience. Think national parks, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, tourism offices, embassies, public schools, post offices, as well as offices of elected officials and judges. Though some of these jobs change with each political cycle, many government positions are incredibly secure and offer the best benefits available.
Government job listings can be found on several websites including www.govtjobs.com and www.usajobs.opm.gov . Government agencies are regularly represented at career fairs. You can also network for government positions at the government’s own events. If you are thinking of a career in the public sector, start attending meetings of your local town or city council and make yourself known. And when you are not out schmoozing, keep your television tuned in to CSPAN or cable news so you’re up to date on changes in legislation that might create more job openings.
In the federal government, your application and résumé play a far more significant role than when applying for private sector positions. Because government agencies are accountable to the public, job descriptions for these positions are very specific in terms of requiring a certain amount of experience or specific skills, leaving little room for leeway. Be sure to match your résumé precisely to these requirements. Applications are also standardized so be prepared to list all of your previous positions, contact information, and skills. There’s no cutting corners when applying for a public sector position.
Some positions require interested candidates to apply through automated procedures. Follow all the instructions carefully because an incomplete application or resume often knocks you out of the running. The majority of federal jobs are filled under a merit system. You’re competing with similarly qualified applicants and must be found among the best qualified in order to be referred for further consideration. Depending on the position, testing may be required as well. It’s a time-consuming process, but usually worth the wait for the right spot.
Many times when applying for administrative positions, you’ll be asked to take a test to certify your skill level in various Microsoft Office programs. You might use Word, Excel, or even PowerPoint often, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re familiar with all of the tools and options to maximize the efficiencies and capabilities of each program. Before a placement agency is willing to send you off to its clients, the recruiter will want to verify how well you can operate these programs. Or prior to making an offer, a direct employer will want to know the same thing. Don’t lose out on an opportunity because you didn’t brush up.
The First Step…Self Esteem & Confidence
The first step toward career success is being in the right frame of mind. You must believe it in order to achieve it. Since the power of positive thinking can propel your career forward in any direction you dream, you must begin your journey by promising to be optimistic and believing in your own ability to reach beyond your current situation.
Close your eyes and picture the next step. Whether you define success as an entry-level professional in a new field or the first female CEO of your corporation, it won’t happen until you imagine it. Think of the most successful people you’ve ever heard of. From local business owners to corporate executives, more than likely they spent years dreaming and plotting and planting the right seeds to make their ideas a reality. So start dreaming about your own professional destination. What does success mean to you? What do you want to do and where do you want to be?
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