Dear Younger Me – Part Two

This continues career advice to the younger me, sharing perspective to those earlier in their careers.

 

  • Trust Your Gut – With experience we all learn to pay more attention to our gut feelings but the earlier you can do that in your career, the better. Hone your instincts for people and situations and then trust those instincts.  If you leave the interview with a funny feeling, chances are this is not the right fit for you – whether it is the people you would be working with or the job itself.  Your inner self is picking up on many cues during the process.  It may be hard to put your finger on exactly what didn’t feel right but in most instances, your gut feelings are telling you something important.  Trusting your gut can save you from making serious career mistakes.

 

  • It is Your Career Not Someone Else’s — Throughout your career, well-meaning friends and family members will shower you with advice on what to do or what not to do.  Their intentions are good and sometimes they have valuable insights, but, at the end of the day, it is your career.  Be mindful of your goals, have a plan to achieve them but be flexible enough to adapt to the opportunities that come your way.  No one knows what is best for you but you.

 

  • Own Your Work – It is easy to own your work when things are going well but if you can develop the integrity and fortitude early on to own your mistakes you will advance further and faster in your career. Avoid finger pointing, it is wasted energy.  Admit that you made a mistake, learn from it, correct it and never make the same mistake again.  Humans are likely to make mistakes somewhere along the line but if you own it and learn from it you set yourself apart from the multitudes and you clearly demonstrate your integrity and work ethic.

 

  • Be The Person They Want to Work With – This does not mean that your boss and your co-workers should be the center of your social universe but work is so much more enjoyable and rewarding if you get along. Do not participate in the office gossip mill and certainly do not spread gossip.  Remember people’s birthdays.  Ask about their weekend, their vacation or their kids.  Be interested and interesting.  You spend a lot of hours at work and it so much more enjoyable for everyone when people enjoy working with you.  Also build a reputation as the person who gets things done and interesting projects will flow your way.

 

  • Success Doesn’t Have a Title – Your success is defined by you not others. It does not carry a specific title.  You do not have to become CEO to be successful and many with that title are not successful by many measures.  Consider success this way instead:  Are you doing work you enjoy?  Are you making a difference?  Are you still learning?  If you answer yes to at least two of those three questions, you are a success.  Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to be something you are not.  Do what you love and do it well.

 

 

Set your goals and have a plan for your career but as life intervenes, remember to explore the curves in the road, learn from the bumps, and enjoy the journey.  You define your success.

Evolving Your Brand with Your Career

Much has been written about the critical nature of managing your personal brand.  For your career it is the tangible tools such as your resume and cover letters, it is also your social media presence and your professional reputation.  Do the various components of your brand change and evolve as your career does?  Absolutely!

Your Resume

Early in your career, your resume contains a much heavier focus on your education and the skills you have developed in your internships or early career positions.  As your career evolves, the focus increases on your specific career accomplishments – what results you achieved in a specific role, how the company benefitted from having you there in that role and the skills you can transfer to a new role.  The more recent and relevant positions have the most bullet points and early career positions are just noted.

Your Cover Letter

As an early career job seeker your focus is more aspirational.  You certainly address your relevant experience and education but you are seeking the experience you desire to advance your career.  Later in your career, you are more focused on your career accomplishments, your functional and/or industry knowledge and the transferrable skills you bring to the new opportunity.

LinkedIn

While LinkedIn is critical throughout your career, the focus changes as your career grows.  Early in your career, you are focused on building contacts in companies on your target list and people in jobs you aspire to hold one day.  Recruiters may actually find you on LinkedIn for opportunities within their company.  You can learn a lot from those contacts.  Later in your career, you are still networking but you are often sought out as the mentor for younger professionals who aspire to work in your field.  You can also leverage contacts to share best practices.  Your profile should become richer as well.  You will likely have professional association involvement to add, presentations at conferences, industry awards and recognition, etc to further establish your credibility in your field.  If you have a blog or press coverage you should include those links as well.  The profile gives you an opportunity to showcase the bigger picture of your career and can also reflect any volunteer work or board activity.

Your Social Media Presence

Students and young professionals are very present on social media and need to ensure that it is professionally representing their brand.  Employers are turned off by the wrong type of photos or content.  Keeping professional and personal separate can be a critical lesson.  As careers evolve, the social media presence often varies by role with marketing types being much more active and visible than their colleagues in finance roles.

 

Your Growing Body of Work

 

As your career evolves, you are also building a portfolio of your work.  Maybe it is presentation at an industry conference, a publication, press coverage, speaking engagements, sample materials or projects, etc.  Post appropriate links to your LinkedIn profile if the information is not confidential.  Have samples of work you can bring to an interview to have available.  Early in their career applicants will often use a paper from school for a writing sample but the experienced professional has multiple real-life resources to draw upon.

 

As Experience Grows So Do Expectations

 

When employers are recruiting for entry level positions, they realize the candidates have little or no work experience and expect them to be less polished with the process as well.  With more experienced candidates, the employers’ expectations increase significantly.  Not only do they expect quantified results, a flawless resume, a well-written customized cover letter, they also expect to see involvement in professional associations, volunteer work, etc.  Be sure your resume and LinkedIn profiles reflect these other critical professional experiences.

Resumes and LinkedIn profiles should be living documents – updated continuously as your career progresses.  Keeping your information current and relevant can help the right employers find you.  Your professional brand grows and changes as your career advances so be sure to properly reflect that growth in all your career collateral.

Handling Distractions at Work

Whether it is the latest Pokemon Go craze, Facebook, web surfing or March Madness distractions are not a new phenomenon in the workplace.  There are a couple key considerations for employees to consider before succumbing to their distraction of choice.

Know the Company Policy

Some companies have very specific policies prohibiting use of the internet or even cell phones during working hours.  It is important to know the company policy and to adhere strictly by its provisions.  No game or update from a friend is worth putting your job at risk.

Work is the Focus

You are being paid to work so the expectation is that you are focused on work while you are there.  While stress relief can be important during the course of the work day, it important to be mindful of what is acceptable in your workplace.  Don’t fool yourself – if you are shopping on the web, reading a stream of Facebook updates or playing a game, someone is likely to notice.  Ensure that you are meeting your work deadlines with quality work.  If you want to play a game to relieve stress do it during your lunch hour or a break.  If possible, do it away from your desk so others won’t think you are game playing on the job.

Consider Your Professional Brand

How you are perceived in the workplace is a critical part of your brand.  You want to earn and maintain a reputation for being someone they can count on to deliver quality and timely work.  Don’t let distractions erode that carefully earned reputation.  If you are hoping to advance your career, play your games outside of work hours.

 

Dear Younger Me – Part One

I was recently asked what I know now at this stage of my career, that I wish I had known much earlier.  That certainly got the wheels spinning!  Hopefully others can benefit from the advice I wish someone had given me years ago.

Dear Younger Me,

You have worked hard to complete your education and are now embarking on your career with the highest of expectations fueled by energy, enthusiasm and passion.  From someone who has already traveled that path and has watched countless others along the way, here are some key things to consider and the earlier you learn them the more successful you can be.

  • Performance Matters – In real life, not everyone gets a trophy. The best thing you can do to advance your career is to perform well in the job you currently have.  Always do your very best and anticipate the next steps before you are asked.  Deliver beyond expectations.  Ensure that your work is always accurate and timely.  Become the “go to” person who they can count on to get things done.  Interesting projects and assignments will come your way once you have established that reputation and advancement opportunities will follow.  Regardless of what your current responsibilities include, do you very best is all aspects of the job to earn those more exciting projects.  This worked well for me and I consistently see it working well for others.  Don’t wait to learn this on your own.  Strive for excellence from day one in your career.
  • The Path is Not Always Straight – Life and business are complicated and not everything can be anticipated so the road is often filled with curves, detours and disruptions. The next best step for your career may not always be up.  Consider lateral moves that will expand your experience and marketability.  Look for opportunities where you can gain valuable learning and experience.  Consider a different industry or a different department within the same company.  Broader knowledge can be a valuable asset as you advance in  your career.  Don’t be so focused on the next step up the ladder that you miss exciting opportunities along the way.
  • Patience is a Virtue – As the employee you do not control the timeline of your career advancement so you need to learn to be patient. You do not get promoted because you have been in the position for two years.  You get promoted because you have done outstanding work, you have taken on significantly more responsibility and there is a business need and justification.  Instead of using your energy worrying about why you haven’t been promoted yet, invest that energy in improving your skills and by demonstrating your value to the organization while still in your current job.
  • Learning and Growth Come More Quickly from Challenging Times – It is so easy to assume that it is a perfect time to move to a new company when sales are down, budgets are tight, there is management turnover or even a merger or acquisition. Often you learn more and gain significantly more experience in challenging times than you do when everything is going smoothly.  Sometimes sticking it out helps you demonstrate your skills and that is rewarded in the long run.  Worst case you gain experience working and maybe even managing during difficult times.  This experience can significantly differentiate you from the competition for future opportunities.  Anyone can deliver results when things are running smoothly but doing so under challenging conditions can ultimately make you shine.

Recipe for a Successful Job Search

1 Resume with no errors

1 Customized cover letter for each position

1 Target List of at least top 20 companies

1 LinkedIn profile

3 cups of networking

2 cups of informational interviews

1 cup research

1 tbsp each of patience and persistence

Dash of confidence – do not over season

Dash of humility

 

Prepare resume, target list and LinkedIn profile first and review carefully.

Conduct research, networking and informational interviews to support your target list.

When you identify an appropriate opportunity prepare a customized cover letter.

Leverage networking connections with each application.

Be patient and persistent with the process.

Be confident but not cocky.

A dash of humility goes a long way.  Be someone they want to work with.

Incorporate all ingredients and follow your defined plan to ensure success.

 

Bake – 3 – 6 months checking frequently

 

Resume

  • Ensure that your resume has no typos or grammatical errors.
  • Focus on key accomplishments and quantify accomplishments where possible.
  • Feature key competencies
  • Start with a strong summary not an objective
  • Use critical key words relevant for the position you seek

Cover Letter

  • Must be customized for each position
  • Focus on transferrable skills
  • Detail how you meet their specific requirements for the job
  • No typos or grammatical errors, it also serves as an example of your business writing

Target List

  • Create a plan to guide your efforts
  • Create and prioritize a list of the companies you where you are most interested in working
  • Identify the types of opportunities you are seeking in those companies

LinkedIn Profile

  • Update your profile to accurately reflect your experience and skills
  • Use key words to help employers find you for appropriate positions

Networking

  • Identify contacts at your target companies
  • Leverage alumni groups, former employee groups, affinity groups

Informational Interviews

  • Conduct informational interviews with contacts at your target companies
  • Learn about company culture, hiring process, key competencies for the roles you aspire to
  • Build a network of supporters within your target organizations

Research

  • Go beyond the job posting boards
  • Watch postings at your target companies
  • Review the company websites
  • Prepare questions to ask your interviewers

Patience and Persistence

  • It takes time for you to find the best opportunity for you
  • Companies are on their own schedules not years
  • It will likely take longer than you think
  • Keep up your energy and maintain your focus

Confidence

  • You are selling yourself so demonstrate confidence
  • Be careful not to cross the line to cocky

Humility

  • Be honest about what you can and can’t do
  • Show your interests and passions
  • Be someone they will want on their team

Throughout the process continue to update your list based on what you are learning from your informational interviews.  Be patient and focused and you will be successful.

Are Resumes Still Needed in 2016?

It’s 2016 and the pace of change increases each year.  Technology has transformed many industries – think Uber, Airbnb, Amazon and others.  In this technological age, do I really still need a resume?  As someone who works with employers on a daily basis, the answer is still yes.  The resume is still the foundation of the current recruiting process.  How do you ensure that your resume stands out?  With online applications, employers can easily receive hundreds of applications for a single position.  When they quickly scan your resume, you want to be sure to make a positive impression so you will advance in the process.   Or, if the company relies on an applicant tracking system, the software is making decisions based on your resume before a human ever reviews it.   Here are some key considerations:

 

Make it Easy for Employers to Contact You

Enhance your resume contact information with easy to use hyperlinks to your email and your LinkedIn profile.  Before they even meet you, they are impressed that you made it so easy for them to get to the next step.  Of course, it is critical that your LinkedIn profile is update to date and comprehensive.

 

Be Wary of Overly Creative Designs

If you are in a very creative industry, you will want a separate version of your resume that is more creative and visually appealing but even for creative jobs you need a basic resume that will make it through the scanner in the applicant tracking process.  No one will ever tell you that your resume failed the screen you just never get a response even when the job seemed so perfect.  Something as simple as lines across the page can cause a problem.  Beware of any creative formatting since it will likely cause problems.  Still to a very clean, professional resume format.  Don’t go crazy with fonts either.  Calibri or Cambia look more modern that Times Roman but don’t try something truly unusual or it could be rejected by the system.

 

Objectives are Dead

Do not start your resume with an objective.  That is seriously out of date because to be frank, employers don’t really care what you want to do.  They want qualified candidates who can do the work and add value for the company.  Instead, focus on a strong summary of your critical transferable skills.  Entice them enough with the summary to make them want to read more.  If you are applying for a variety of jobs, have different versions of your resume so you can provide a summary focused on the most relevant skills for the position.

 

Accomplishments Not Responsibilities

Your resume should not be a list of all the responsibilities in your job description.  It should instead focus on your accomplishments.  What value did the company receive by having you in that role?  Where possible, quantify the results.  A few bullet points of clear accomplishments with measurable results is significantly more valuable than a laundry list of responsibilities.

 

 

 

Key Words Matter

With computers often doing the initial resume reviews, key words are more critical than ever.  Review the job description and highlight the key words that are important to the company for this position.  Ensure that the relevant key words appear in your resume and cover letter.  If the job is truly worth applying for, it is worth the time to customize your resume and cover letter.  Increase the chances of getting your resume into the hands of the hiring manager by passing the initial screen.

 

Leverage Your Real Estate

Your resume should never exceed two pages and should be limited to one page if you have seven years of experience or less.  Maximize the value of your resume real estate by focusing more attention on recent and relevant experience.  Older jobs can be a quick bullet point so you can focus on the most relevant experience for this opportunity.  You are not writing a biography, it is a summary of your professional accomplishments.  While the words don’t have to be exactly the same, the experience on your resume should match your experience in LinkedIn.  Be sure to use bullet points that start with action verbs in the correct tense.  Avoid the obvious such as “references available on request.”

 

Be sure your resume is up to date and has no spelling or grammatical errors to ensure that you have the opportunity for a hiring manager to review your resume and determine that they want to invite you for an interview.

 

2016 Questions To Ask in Informational Interview

The informational interview networking meeting is an opportunity for you to learn from your contact about his/her career, current job, company and industry.  Think in advance about what you hope to learn and have your questions prepared.  To help you prepare, here are some questions to consider:

Jobs/Roles

  • What are your current responsibilities?
  • What is a typical day like in your job?
  • What do you find most challenging about this job and why?
  • What interests you the least about this job?
  • What creates the most stress in this job?
  • What are the obstacles for someone entering this field?
  • What are the most desired skills, abilities and personal qualities you seek in candidates?
  • What jobs and experiences led you to this position?
  • What is the typical career path in this field?
  • What are your long term goals?
  • How has your job affected your lifestyle?
  • What courses in school have been most relevant to your work?
  • Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
  • What is the key to success in your field?

Companies/Organizations/Work Environment

  • What do you like and dislike about the company?
  • Why did you decide to work for this company?
  • How are decisions made here?
  • What is the organization’s corporate culture?
  • How much work is done independently and how much involves group work?
  • How would you describe the work environment?
  • What are the organization’s long and short-term goals?
  • How does this company differ from its competitors?
  • How is the department structured?
  • What are the greatest challenges facing the company and/or department at this time?

Industries

  • How could someone with my background enter this field?
  • What are the challenges or issues facing this industry?
  • What is the current demand for people in this field?
  • What types of jobs are available in this field?
  • What can you tell me about the employment outlook?
  • What is the history of the industry?
  • What are your least and most favorite things about working in this industry?
  • Is there any reason you would recommend that someone not enter this industry? If so, why?

Targets and Contacts

  • Would you be willing to review my target list of companies and offer feedback?
  • What other companies should I be considering? Do you have contacts you can recommend in those organizations?
  • What professional organizations would be relevant?

Advice

  • Are there other people you know and with whom you think I should speak? May I say that you referred me?
  • What professional journals and associations do you recommend?
  • With the information you have about my education and experience, what roles do you think I should be considering?
  • To what industries, sectors or roles do you think my skills and abilities would best fit?
  • If you were just staring your career again, what would you do differently?
  • What advice do you have for a student entering this field?
  • Can you suggest opportunities to gain relevant experience in this field?

You will not be able to ask every question in a single meeting but think about what information you need to gain and use the questions to guide you.