Focus Your Job Search This Fall

As life settles into the fall routine, this is the time to get serious about ramping up your job search if you hope to be in a new job in 2017. Don’t waste time focusing on what you should have done over the summer, give your search a fresh start with renewed focus and energy.  Finding a job takes some time, effort, and focus so it’s critical to define a plan and get started sooner rather than later. Here are some suggestions for “falling” into some good job search habits this season:

  • Create a plan – Define specific goals and an actionable plan of how you will go about achieving them.  It’s the old, “You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.” First, start by assessing your skills, strengths and interests.  Then, think about the type of work you enjoyed in current and prior roles, as well as internships, part-time jobs or even on-campus work or volunteering.  Next, think honestly about your core competencies and in what industries and roles those skills will bring value. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals and hold yourself accountable – and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your goals for the week.


  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags, right? Well, as you embark on your job search journey you also need to make sure you have the appropriate tools. Do you have your resume up to date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you, just to be sure there are no typos or errors. Practice writing customized cover letters and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about whom you could use for references and collect their current contact information. Of course, remember to ask their permission to use them as references, and tell them you will notify them when you share their information with a hiring manager so you can brief them on the job. Having the right tools won’t get you a job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have the opportunity to sell yourself for the job.


  • Develop a target list –What companies and industries are of greatest interest to you? Start your wish list with current preferences, then so some research to identify other companies or industries that are similar and require your same skill sets. Consider company size, location, corporate culture, etc. while building your list of approximately 40 – 50 companies. Prioritize them by first ranking on a scale of 1 – 5, based on your interest. Next, check job boards to see if those companies have posted positions in your field within the last six months, and rank accordingly. Finally, search your alumni database and LinkedIn to identify where you have possible connections, and do another round of ranking based on connections. Start your research with the companies ranked the highest across all categories, and work your way down the list. This will not only help guide your job search efforts, but as you learn more about these companies, you can continue to refine your list.


  • Network, network, networkThis is the single most important thing you can do to be successful in your job search.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of resumes in response, so to stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager. Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts. Networking is NOT asking for a job, however; it is meeting someone at the company to learn about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, the skills they value, etc. This involves a significant amount of listening. Wondering how to begin? Start with friends and family and explore who they know at target companies.  Do your neighbors or your friends’ parents have any connections to those companies? What about former co-workers or classmates? Sign up for the alumni network at your school, and leverage the alumni database to identify contacts. Most people will give fellow alums a few minutes, if asked. Sign up for LinkedIn, and identify contacts there, as well.  Consider preparing a networking profile to help contacts see what you have to offer and the companies that interest you. Ask each networking contact for at least three other contacts. Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow up when you see an opportunity at that company. Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week. It does make a difference: It is the single most important thing you can do to find your next opportunity. I tell students they should spend 10 times more time networking than they spend reviewing online job boards.


  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – When you are invited in for an interview, be sure you thoroughly prepare. Practice, and ask for feedback. Use your career services office at your alma mater or rely on trusted friends and colleagues. Think about how you would respond to frequently asked questions. Research the company thoroughly, and prepare questions in advance to ask your interviewers. Demonstrate your interest and passion for the job by coming in well-prepared.


  • Always say ‘thank you’ – Interviewers remember which candidates sent a hand-written thank you note, so stand out from the crowd. If the timeframe is quick, send an email thank you, but follow it up with a hand-written note. I‘ve seen a handwritten thank you note break the tie between two finalists.


  • Protect your social media presence – Some potential employers will check applicants out online before making an offer. Use good judgment on questionable photos or descriptions of activities you might not want an employer to know about. Put your best foot forward on all fronts to maximize your chances of success.

 Your job search is a journey, and with a little advance planning, you can make it a smoother, more successful ride. Get out from behind the computer, and start networking your way to a more effective job search. Being competitive in this job market is NOT about how many online applications you can submit; it’s about building relationships in your target companies so you have advocates there when the right job opens up. Use this fall season to invest in your future career success.


Be Interested to be Interesting

 Students often ask how they can be memorable when they are networking.  They want the employers to remember them as individuals with unique skills and experience.  I find I often rely on advice given to me early in my career – you need to be interested to be interesting.

It is so easy in a networking to put the focus on yourself.  Students are eager to share their experience, their career goals and why they are pursuing an MBA.  While all these things are important if this is how you start you are not likely to be remembered.

Focus your preparation prior to the event or meeting on the person you will be meeting.  Learn something about their company, their current role and their experience to date.  Prepare relevant questions to get the conversation started.  Asking about them and their career is a great way to start the conversation.  Practice good active listening skills to demonstrate your interest.  Ask relevant follow up questions.  When it is your turn to talk about yourself, keep what you have just learned in perspective.

Once you have demonstrated your interest in the person, their company and their career, it is much easier to make yourself interesting and remembered.  Don’t follow the herd and put yourself first.  Be sincerely interested in the other person.  It will significantly increase the odds that you will be remembered as an interesting individual.

Making the Most of a Career Fair

As we are preparing in the Graduate Career Center for our fall Career Expo, it is important for students and alumni planning to attend our expo or any career fair to prepare in advance to maximize their time at the end.  Career fairs can be a valuable source of contacts but to be successful, the job seeker must prepare thoroughly in advance.


Research the Companies

Do your homework in advance.  Identify the companies participating and see if they align with your target companies, industries or positions.   If yes, research each company you plan to visit.  Learn what they do, who their competitors are, what recent press coverage they have had, etc.  Check their online postings to see if there are specific jobs which may interest you.  Know something about the companies you hope to meet and have specific, thoughtful questions prepared for each one.   Obviously if there are no companies of interest, don’t waste your time but do some research before jumping to that conclusion.  You should never ask a company “what do you do” at a career fair.  They expect that you have done your homework in advance.

Prepare Your Materials

Have multiple clean copies of your resume with you.   Also have business cards available.   Be prepared to share them when asked.  You also want to be sure to have a notepad so you can jot down appropriate notes after each conversation.  Have a calendar available in case you are asked to schedule a follow-up interview.  Use one pocket for your own business cards and a separate pocket for those you collect.  You certainly don’t want to share the wrong cards!

Put your Best Foot Forward

Dress as if it were an interview because it could be.  You are certainly making a first impression on the company representative so you want to appear professional.  Some companies have the flexibility to do on the spot interviews if they are impressed so you want to be ready.   When it is your turn to meet the representative, make eye contact, shake hands confidently and introduce yourself briefly.

It’s about the Relationships

This is about making connections.  You can apply online all day and there is no guarantee that a human ever actually looks at your resume.  At the career expo, you are meeting a representative from the company.  They have committed their time and resources because they want to meet our students and alumni.  Let them know you are interested.   Demonstrate your interest by being well prepared and asking insightful questions.  Even if they don’t immediately have the right job for you, if you make a positive impression they could bring your resume back to the office and share it with an appropriate hiring manager.  Make a strong connection.  Do not ignore contacts who may work in a different functional area that what you are interested in.  They can and will share resumes and their feedback with their colleagues when they return to the office.

Follow-up Matters

For the people you had conversations with at the expo, send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest.  Few people will do this so it helps you stand out in a very positive way.  If they don’t have a card, jot down their name and company before moving on to the next table.  Saying thank you makes a very positive impression.


If you are going to take the time to attend a career event, invest the time in your preparation so you can maximize the benefits.

Finish Your Interview on a Positive Note

Interviewing can take a lot of energy both for the interviewer and the candidate.  As the candidate, you want to ensure that you wrap up the interview on a positive note so that you are remembered positively and that you differentiate yourself from the other candidates.

After asking a few of the questions you have prepared for your interview, I suggest ending the interview by setting the interviewer up to talk positively about the company and/or department.  Ask questions such as:

  • What do you enjoy most about working for XYZ Company?
  • What gets you out of bed on Monday morning eager to come to work?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of in your work at XYZ Company?

Listen and demonstrate genuine interest in the response.  Thank for interviewer for sharing and leverage that in your wrap up statement to state why you so interested and excited about this opportunity.

Always ask about next steps and timing and be sure to leave with the knowing you are interested if you really are.  Often the interview goes fine but the interviewer loses interest because the candidate does not act interested at the end of the interview.  Keep your energy up and let your interest and enthusiasm shine.

How to End Your Interview

You’ve been at your best, answering a variety of questions, asking the questions you prepared in advance and demonstrating your interest in the opportunity.  It is obvious that the process is winding down.  Rather than just ending with a handshake and a smile, what are some ways to maximize the value of those last few moments?


One option is to ask the interviewer what single accomplishment at that company they are the most proud of and why.  This lets them share something they feel passionately about and it provides you valuable insight into what the company values and how that potential new colleague thinks.  It will differentiate you from other candidates because most won’t ask this question.  The biggest decision you will have to make when you receive an offer is whether you feel this organization is a good fit for you.  The interviewer’s response to this question will give you valuable insights.


If you are feeling very positive about the opportunity but are concerned that the interviewer may have a reservation, be bold.  Ask “what concerns do you have about my candidacy for this position?”  If you don’t ask, they will still have the concern and you’ve lost the opportunity to address it.  At least this gives you the opportunity to address the concern head on and it leaves them thinking about their concern in a more positive light.  Bottom line, you have little to lose by asking but it could make or break the hiring decision.   Often you also get credit for being bold enough to ask.


One other technique for closing on a positive note is asking the interviewer what excites them about coming to work each morning.  Again it is an opportunity to gain insight into the culture and the team you are considering.  These candid insights will help you determine your fit in the organization.


After all the time and energy invested in an interview, be sure to end it on the most positive note possible to maximize your chances for success.



Is Your Employee Getting Ready to Leave the Company?

As a manager you invest significant time and energy hiring, training and developing your team.  Retention of talented staff can be a significant competitive advantage.  I was asked recently if there were clues that an employee was planning to leave or at least seriously considering making a change.  Often the manager will see clues that an employee is getting ready to leave based on their behavior.


Hard to believe in this day and age but often employees send very obvious clues to their managers and others including:


  • Sudden increase in last minute requests for vacation days or personal days – sure looks like they are interviewing
  • Sudden increase in calling in sick – maybe they don’t want to use up vacation or personal days for those interviews, if they were full of vim and vigor the day before and the day after, you can’t help but wonder if they were interviewing
  • Employees who never wear a suit or tie come to work dressed up and then have to leave early – they must really want you to know because that is so obvious


Other clues can be more subtle but if you know your employees well you are likely to pick up on these and other indications:


  • Is the employee no longer coming in early or staying late as had been their habit?
  • Is the employee suddenly resisting taking on new projects?
  • Does the employee seem less interested or motivated in the work?
  • Has the employee started complaining more about the company, the department, the colleagues or the work?
  • Is the employee suddenly taking longer breaks or more frequent breaks?  It the employee away longer at lunch than previously?
  • Are there a lot of hushed conversations taking place that stop as soon as you are nearby?


While not a guarantee that someone is already actively looking, these types of behavior changes could at least be the start of growing frustration which could lead to making a change.  If you observe these types of changes in an employee, engage them in a conversation.  Ask if everything is ok.  Share what you have observed and why you are concerned.  It could lead to a valuable conversation and could “save” an employee.  While the employee is not obligated to stay with the company, if they have been successful up to this point, it is likely worth the time to attempt to retain them and all the knowledge they have of your organization.




Overcoming Objections in an Interview

Job descriptions are often a wish list of all the skills and experience they hope to find in the perfect candidate.  You may not have everything on their wish list but clearly they saw something of value on your resume if you are invited to interview.  As you research the company and prepare your questions for the interviewer as well as practice your responses to anticipated interview questions, don’t forget to prepare for the objections.

There are few absolutely perfect candidates out there so it is likely the interviewer will have some objections or concerns.  If you have multiple interviewers, they may even have different concerns.  You will address those objections more positively if you are prepared for them.  To anticipate objections, review the job description in detail and highlight any qualifications that you do not meet or any experience you do not have.  Think about how you would address each item if your asked.  Some general advice includes:

Do Not Apologize – Never apologize for skills or experience you do not have.  They had your resume and chose to speak with you.  Focus instead on what you do have, how the skills are transferrable or even your track record of learning new systems, industries, whatever.

Embrace the Opportunity – Giving you an opportunity to address the objections is truly a gift.  Instead of leaving them worried about some aspect of your background, they are offering you the opportunity to address it proactively.  If you are prepared to do so this can strengthen your candidacy.  Never get defensive, just address what you do bring to the table and how you would add value to the company in this role based on the skills and experience you do offer.

Confront the Elephant in the Room – Sometimes you will be doing fine in the interview, the conversation is flowing and things start to wrap up when you realize no have voiced any objections or concerns.  Instead of thinking that means you got the job, you need to confront the issue so you have an opportunity to address it.  Maybe they are not asking because they assume there is something critical missing and you will not advance.  Don’t leave things to chance.  Ask the interviewer if they have any concerns about your ability to make an impact in this role.  That way, if they do have concerns, it puts on them on the table so you have an opportunity to address them.  Better to address any concerns they have than to leave them hidden.

If you can anticipate possible objections and enter the interview prepared to address them, you are more likely to be successful.  It also helps to keep your confidence intact throughout the interview if you are prepared to address the concerns.