How to Stay Relevant in Your Career

To succeed in your current job and to prepare yourself for future opportunities, it is critical to make networking and learning part of your normal routine. This will keep you relevant in your current position as you prepare for future opportunities. With a little practice and discipline, it is entirely possible. Don’t get so busy doing your job that you forget to invest in yourself and your future.

Networking

Even while you are successfully employed, networking it critical to your professional development and learning. Maintain the network you have and continue to build your professional network. Successful networking does not require large blocks of time, a few strategic minutes here and there makes a difference.

  • Network within the company – learn what other departments do and how that influences your work, learn what skills enable people to advance in their careers, be interested and interesting, meet someone for coffee or schedule a lunch. Set goals to keep yourself focused on networking
  • Leverage LinkedIn – keep your profile up to date, seek recommendations, post updates, review your skills list, use Linked In to find former managers to stay in touch for future references, find former colleagues and reconnect, identify alumni connections in key companies of interest, keep expanding your network
  • Networking beyond your current employer – participate in relevant professional association meetings and conferences, learn best practices from others, build your network in companies of interest, identify people you can learn from
  • Mentor – identify a professional mentor, gain insight from someone who will tell you the truth and help you learn and grow in your career. Consider mentoring someone junior in your field.
  • Give Back – host informational interviews with people more junior in their careers who wish to learn from your experience, you may learn something too while you are helping them
  • Set goals and hold yourself accountable so networking doesn’t fall to the bottom of your growing to do list

Professional Development

You need to be continuously learning to grow professionally. Be creative in identifying different ways to accomplish that.

  • Internal Training – identify relevant internal training sessions, build your technical skills, managerial skills, learn something new, work with your manager to identify relevant training and make it a priority
  • Professional Organizations – identify at least one relevant professional organization, attend meetings, meet other members, volunteer to work on a committee, get involved, your learn something from those you work with in these groups
  • Professional Conferences – if budget allows, take advantage of these opportunities, learn from the sessions but also from other attendees, if budget doesn’t allow, review the presentations online after the conference, follow up with relevant presenters
  • Take on New Projects – volunteer to work on a project or with a team that forces you outside your comfort zone, force yourself to learn something new, let your manager know the type of skills you seek to hone and look to identify a project assignment which is relevant, consider a cross functional project to expose you to other parts of the organization
  • Read – stay current on relevant industry and business periodicals, read while waiting for meetings or while commuting if you take public transportation, always have something relevant to read in case you have unexpected down time, make it a habit to review the key publications on a regular basis, be well-informed

Investing a few minutes each week in your own networking and development will increase your satisfaction with your current position and will keep you relevant and growing for future opportunities.

Advertisements

Is it Time for a Career Change?

I was asked earlier this week for insights on how to know it is time to make a career change – either within your current organization to a new department or role or a switch to a completely new organization. While there are many personal factors to consider, here are some key considerations to help you determine if this is the time for you to leap forward.

How do you know it is time to change careers?

  • You have trouble getting yourself out of bed in the morning and motivating yourself to go to work
  • You dread going to work, just the thought of it makes you anxious
  • You get depressed on Sunday night knowing you have to go back to work in the morning
  • You are constantly thinking that this isn’t what you want to do when you grow up
  • The thought of doing this for the rest of your working career depresses you
  • You are frustrated that you are not using certain talents and abilities or not pursuing key interests or passions
  • You have that nagging feeling in your gut that just won’t go away

Is it real or a passing phase?

  • Do some self-assessment exercises to clarify your interests and abilities
  • Get input from colleagues and friends about your strengths and your possible fit in your desired role
  • Ask your mentor for honest feedback

Learn more about the career you aspire to before making a final decision

  • Conduct informational interviews with people who are doing the job you think you want, find out what it is really like
  • Is there any opportunity to test what you think you want to do by doing it part time or in a volunteer situation while you keep your day job?
  • Identify what education or certification may be required and determine what you need to do to meet those criteria
  • If you aren’t qualified to take your dream job now, identify what you need to do to quality, what job now would lead to the job you desire?
  • What companies offer the type of job you desire? Who do you know at those companies for networking?

If you decide it is time for a change, have a plan.

  • Identify target companies and research those companies
  • Identify networking contacts within those companies
  • Conduct informational interviews with contacts in your target companies
  • Prepare your resume and cover letter to focus on your transferrable skills
  • Prepare your pitch of how you will present yourself in networking events and in interviews, explain your motivation for the change and your transferrable skills
  • Identify opportunities to gain needed training or experience while you are searching
  • Use your passion to motivate you throughout the process

 

We all spend too much time working to be miserable doing it. Find work that you love and do it well but go into your career change with a specific action plan for success.

Selling Yourself in an Interview

Congratulations, you got the interview! Clearly the hiring manager saw something in your resume and cover letter than earned you a coveted interview slot. Now the challenge is to sell yourself.

It is important to do your research on the company so you have insightful questions prepared. You can also practice answering commonly asked interview questions to help you be prepared. But, it is often the questions they don’t ask directly that make or break the decision. Being aware of those questions and how they impact your responses can be critical to your success.

Interviewers will ask a lot of questions about your past work. They may also ask behavioral questions to see how you handle certain situations. Bottom line, what they really want to know is:

  • Why they should hire you?
  • What you can do for them that others can’t?
  • How well do you fit their organization and team?

Ensure that in your responses to questions about your work, education, skills etc. that you are really answering these underlying questions. Articulate clearly the skills, expertise and experience you bring that would enable you to succeed in this position. Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm for the job and the company. While they are assessing your fit with their team you need to form your own opinion of how well you fit the culture of the company and the specific work team.

Focus on your transferable skills. Highlight the results you delivered in your previous work. Results are much more important and impactful than responsibilities. Clearly articulate your skills that differentiate you from other candidates. Use your passion and enthusiasm as a differentiator. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your strong interest by having questions prepared, having held networking meetings with employees of the company, identifying alumni within the organization, and your knowledge of what’s going on in the company and the industry.

To assess fit think about what environment enables you to do your best work. Are you a team collaborator or an individual contributor? What do you need from manager? How would your current manager and colleagues describe you? Do you research in advance about the culture using online resources and your networking contacts and seek to confirm that information in your interview by observing how people work together. It can be very revealing to arrive a few minutes early and watch the interaction or lack there off among the employees.

When considering your answers to interview questions, be sure to frame your responses in light of what employers really want to know. A great way to end your interview is to ask, “what concerns do you have about me as a candidate for this position.” While it can be scary to hear what they consider obstacles, asking the question demonstrates your strong interest and gives you an opportunity to address those issues or concerns. You can leave the interviewers with a very positive impression on your way out the door.

Quick Trip to the No Pile

Hiring managers often face a mountain of online applications so they are looking for a quick, efficient way to review the applicants and narrow down the pool of candidates to identify potential interviews. Unfortunately many candidates make it easy for the manager to move their application to the no pile very quickly. What at the doing wrong to move to quickly to the no pile? Often the manager need look no further than the cover letter.

No cover letter provided

The message to the manager is “I am not interested enough to take the time to prepare a customized cover letter.” If you are not that interested, why should the manager waste valuable time on you? It also forces the manager to do extra work by trying to determine how your experience aligns with the job. With numerous applicants in the pile, why expend the extra effort on you?

Typos and other errors

You can write all day about your excellent communications skills and attention to detail but it is more important to show the manager these skills. Typos or grammatical errors in your letter can earn you a quick trip to the no pile. Managers will use your cover letter as an example of your writing skills.

All about me

Your cover letter should focus on the value you bring to the company and specific position and how you can make a difference for them. It should not be about what you want or need. Do not start every sentence with I or every paragraph with I. Vary your sentence structure. Read your finished letter from the perspective of the hiring manager to ensure that you address how you can meet their needs.

Too casual

It should be a business letter, your name and address on the top in the same format as your resume, date, address block, salutation prior to the body of the letter. Demonstrate your professional writing skills in your cover letter.  It should never be more than a single page. Sincerely is the acceptable close, never fondly or other approaches. Use “Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Joe”, or “Dear Joe Smith”. Your letter should contain an introduction, body and then a strong close. Do not just summarize your resume. Focus on your transferable skills. Avoid jargon or overly casual and informal language.

Failure to customize

You need to customize every letter to the specific needs of the company and the specific requirements of the position. Show them why you are a strong candidate for this job. Most hiring managers can spot a template letter and it will quickly move it to the “no” pile.  Do not make careless errors cutting and pasting from a prior letter. Getting the company name wrong or using the incorrect job title is a clear signal that you didn’t invest time in customizing the letter and that you are not paying attention to the details. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well. A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview.

Tips for Successful Resumes #3

In order to have a resume which has maximum impact on potential employers, you should carefully consider everything you include on your resume. Allocating space to on your resume tells the potential employer that you consider it important. Be sure you are focusing their attention on the things that matter most to them.

Keep the Employer Perspective in Mind – Yes, it is your resume and you need to tell them about you but you have greater impact if you prepare your resume with the employer in mind. You will likely have more content than will fit on one page so when making decisions about what to include, keep the employer perspective in mind. You should focus on the skills and experiences that are transferrable and most relevant to the employer. It should be about what they need not what you want. Consider how you can make a difference to a company and help solve their problems.

Don’t let it stand alone – General rule of thumb for a successful job search, don’t ever send your resume alone when applying for a job. If the position is worth applying to, it is worth preparing a customized cover letter. This gives you an opportunity to clearly “connect the dots” between their specific needs in the job posting and your experience and expertise. Don’t expect an employer to take the time to do that themselves.  Show them how you can add value in this role.  If you are applying online, be sure you follow all the steps required in the posting. Don’t give them an easy opportunity to eliminate you.

Life Outside of Work – It can certainly be appropriate to show employers a glimpse of your life outside of work. If you have volunteer experience, you can include a volunteer section. Identify the organization, your role and the dates.  If you were involved in an organization that could be unpopular or divisive, carefully consider how important it is to include it on your resume. If you have unique hobbies or interests, you can list those as well. Sometimes these unique items make someone want to talk to you. Avoid “spending time with friends and family” since that clearly doesn’t differentiate you.

Consider Having Multiple Versions – For most job seekers, a single resume is not enough. If you are pursuing opportunities in different fields, consider having separate versions of your resume to focus on the most relevant skills in each field. Depending on the specific job you are applying for, you may want to emphasize different accomplishments from your previous experience and you may want to update the key words in your summary to better align with the job description. Yes, this is additional work but it can increase the likelihood of an employer wanting to know more about you. Your work experience overall remains the same, but you can choose to highlight different accomplishments and skills depending on the specific opportunity.

You are the Product – In a job search, you are the product. This is the most important sales role of your life. Be sure your resume is the best possible reflection of you – your skills, experience, accomplishments and expertise. Make employers want to meet you. Make them want to have you on their team.

New Year’s Resolutions for Job Seekers

The ball has dropped, you’ve toasted the new year and you’ve made a promise to yourself that 2019 will be a year to remember when it comes to taking the next step in your career. But, if your number one goal for the new year is to land a new job, hopes and wishes are not enough; you need to define and execute a plan to ensure your success.

Finding a new job is both an art and a science, and there are a few tried-and-true guidelines for helping job seekers prepare to land that coveted job in the new year. So if you want to start 2019 off on the right foot, career-wise , consider adding one or more of these to your list of resolutions:

  • Create a plan – You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going. Define your goals and a specific plan to achieve them, along with actionable steps. Assess your skills, strengths and interests. Think about the type of work you enjoyed even it was in internships, part-time jobs or even volunteer experiences. Document your plan and measure your progress against it. Set weekly goals, and hold yourself accountable. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your weekly goals.
  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags and make the appropriate reservations. As you embark on your job search journey, you also need to have the appropriate tools. Is your resume up-to-date and ready to go? Have someone else proof it for you to ensure that it has no typos or grammatical errors. Practice writing customized cover letters, and ask for feedback. Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings. Think about who you can use for references and ensure that you have their current contact information. Having the right tools won’t get you the job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have an opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
  • Develop a target list – What companies are you most interested in working for? What industries interest you the most? What companies hire for the roles you are considering? What companies are in your geographic target area? Start your list and then expand your research. Use online tools to create a robust target list. Research those companies to learn more about them. Use your target list to direct your job search efforts. Prioritize your list based on where you have contacts, alumni connections or LinkedIn connections. Look at recent posting history to further prioritize your list.
  • Network, network, network – This is the single most important thing you can do in your job search. More positions are filled through networking than all other approaches combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. Online postings often receive hundreds of responses. 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 with someone at the company to learn more about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, they skills they value, the corporate culture and their hiring process. Networking involves a significant amount of listening. The holiday season can be the perfect time for networking – some businesses are less busy so managers are more likely to have flexibility for meetings, you will see family and friends at holiday gatherings and you can ask who they might know in your target companies, as well.
  • Identify networking contacts – Identify all your contacts (family, friends, former colleagues), and see who they know at your target companies. Think about former work colleagues, former student colleagues, etc. and see who they know. Utilize your alumni database. Search LinkedIn. The true power of LinkedIn can be found in the groups, so identify relevant groups to expand your network. Work to identify contacts in all your target companies. Do your neighbors or your parents’ friends have contacts in those companies? Ask for 15 – 20 minutes for an informational interview. Come to the discussion well prepared and learn as much as you can. Ask each contact for at least three other people you should contact. 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 makes a difference.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – For each informational interview, prepare as if it were a real interview. Research the company. Prepare your questions. Make a positive impression. Demonstrate your interest and passion by coming well prepared. Practice with friends and family if you are not comfortable.
  • Always say “thank you” – Interviewers remember when candidates send a hand-written thank you note. Stand out from the crowd. Time is a precious commodity so say thank you when someone is willing to share time with you. Most busy professionals have a full email inbox but receive very little “snail mail.” Send a handwritten note if you want to be remembered.
  • Add value to your resume – If you know you are missing critical skills on your resume, can you volunteer a few hours per week? Most non-profits need the help and would give you an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills. Maybe an unpaid internship is a good investment to add critical skills to your resume. In addition to adding valuable skills, it also shows your initiative and creativity.
  • Protect your social media presence – Many potential employers check applicants online before making an offer. Be careful what you post knowing that it may be seen by a potential employer. Pay close attention to your security settings. Put your best foot forward.
  • Sweat the details – They really do matter! Many cover letters and resumes are not moved to the “interview pile” because of lack of attention to detail. There should be absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in the cover letter or resume. Do not cut and paste your cover letters – it is too easy to send with the wrong company name or wrong job title. Be careful not to brag about your attention to detail when the letter has obvious errors. Don’t exaggerate your experience – two years is not extensive experience in anything. Be sure to be well prepared. Arrive on time. Know who you are meeting with. Don’t ask the interviewer what the company does, instead have some well-thought out questions already prepared.
  • Remember, it isn’t all about you – A hiring manager has business needs to address. That is why they received approval to fill the position. There is a specific job to be done, and they want to find the best qualified person to fill that job and the best fit for the organization. Don’t focus your cover letter and/or interview on what this position can do for your career or how much you need particular benefits. The employer really doesn’t care. Focus instead on how you can help the company meet their business needs. What valuable skills do you bring to the table? How can you make a difference?
  • Be responsive – When employers do start calling you for interviews, be responsive and professional every step of the way. Make a positive impression with every interaction. Dress professionally, arrive a few minutes early, answer your phone professionally and come well prepared.
  • Differentiate yourself – There are many candidates for each open position. Use every opportunity throughout the process to differentiate yourself positively. Again, the focus should be on how you can meet the employer’s needs, not what they can do for you.

Don’t leave your career path to chance; now’s the perfect time to revamp your approach as you resolve to pursue new opportunities in 2019. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the new year.

Laid Off During the Holidays

Laid off at the holidays? Of course you are upset, frustrated, disappointed, maybe even scared. It is tempting to say, “it’s the holiday’s, I’ll start looking in January.” Even though you may not want to jump into the job search, you can’t miss this great opportunity to jump start the process so you are well positioned for success in the new year.

Get rid of the anger or negative feelings or at least put them aside. Focus on what you want to do and how you will sell yourself. This isn’t a personal failure, it is an economic reality. Try to focus your energy on your next opportunity.

Timing is Everything – This could be the best time of year to be looking. Many companies have new budget years starting January 1 and those often include budget approval for new positions. Hiring freezes often expire at the end of the year as well. It is not unusual to see a flurry of hiring early in the new year for new positions and replacement hires. More than other times of the year, there are often multiple positions open in the same timeframe. It can also be a great time for networking.

Prepare for Success – There are a number of things you can do in the next month to be well-positioned to take advantage of those openings the first of the year.

  • Define your plan – Identify target companies and research them. Use your alumni networks, Linked In and other tools to identify contacts at your target companies.  Research the roles you are interested in and the qualifications for those positions.
  • Network, Network, Network – For many professionals, there is some quieter time at work around the holidays. Unless they are closing the books for the year or involved in a significant time constrained project, this is an easier time of year to get on someone’s calendar for an informational interview. Take advantage of this to network like crazy. Talk to as many people as you can in your target companies to learn more about the companies, their hiring practices and the skills sets they seek. Talk to people in the roles that interest you.
  • Maintain contact with your network. Ask each contact for other people you can talk to. Always follow-up and say thank you.  Keep them posted on your progress.
  • Identify key professional groups for your target roles and attend events this month. Many will have holiday gatherings which are a great opportunity to make a lot of contacts.

Leverage your Personal Networks – This is the season of many holiday get-togethers with family and friends. Be sure people know you are looking and what you are looking for. They may have contacts you can utilize.

A productive December of research, planning and networking could position you for great success in January when positions open up. Resist the temptation to take the month of December off. Do your homework now so you are prepared for success in the new year. Set targets for yourself and monitor your progress. Be sure to celebrate your success. Take a walk or visit with a friend if you’ve achieved your job search targets for the week.