I found a contact, now what?

Congratulations!  You successfully identified a contact at a target company and your contact agreed to a twenty minute meeting.  Now what do you do?

Preparation

It is critical that you do your homework prior to the meeting.  Gather information to demonstrate that you respect your contact’s time and be conversant on the company.  Use the company website and other business website to learn more about the company, including recent events, competition, financial results.  Google the person you will be meeting with to see what you can learn in advance.  Review the individual’s LinkedIn profile.  This research helps you identify questions to ask.  It also demonstrates to the contact that you are well prepared and professional.

Informational Interview

The most successful networking meetings are information interviews.  You should be prepared to ask your contact questions to learn about the company, the work environment, specific functional areas and jobs, the industry and critical skills for success.  You should be doing significantly more listening than talking in an informational interview.  Ask for advice from the contact.  Be prepared to offer assistance in return to show appreciation for their support.

Talking About Yourself

Rule #1 of networking – never ask for a job!  You need to build a relationship and hopefully as a result that person can recommend you in the future for appropriate openings.  In the meantime, you are trying to learn as much as you can.  You may be asked a few questions such as:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why are you interested in this organization?
  • What about this industry appeals to you?

You should be prepared to answer questions about yourself if asked but you don’t start the meeting focused on you.  Your goal is to gather information from your contact through an informational interview.

Show Appreciation

Keep the meeting to the agreed-upon time frame and end with a sincere thank you for their time and insights.  Always send a handwritten thank you note.  This helps make you more memorable and gets the relationship off to a strong start.

If you’ve been asking yourself, “Is it time for a career change?” informational interviews can give you a great head start. Take a look at some other ways to guage whether it really is time for a career change.

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Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions

It is highly likely that you will encounter behavioral questions in your interview.  They are easy to identify because they typically start with “tell me about a time…”, “Give me an example…”  “Describe a situation…”, etc.

Why do hiring managers ask behavioral questions?  Since they can’t see exactly how you will perform in their job at their company, they are looking for situations in your past that will help them anticipate how you will perform in their job.  They are using past behavior to anticipate future behavior.

Interviewers will expect answers to their behavioral questions on the spot for it is important to have several examples in mind that you can use as needed.  The more prepared you are ,the stronger your response will be.

It is important to follow the STAR approach when answering a behavioral question.

  • S/T – Situation or Task (10% of your answer)  Describe the situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish.  Use a specific event or situation and provide enough detail to put your response in context.  Be careful not to use acronyms.  This should be a high level summary.
  • A – Action  (60% of your answer)  Share details of what you did, the obstacles you overcame and how you demonstrated your skills.  Show the interviewer what you did and what you accomplished in the situation.
  • R – Results (30% of your answer) Discuss the outcome.  What were the results?  What did you accomplish?  If the outcome was not positive, focus on what you learned.

Most interviewees spend all their time on the situation and the action and neglect the most important aspect which is the results.  Be sure you allow time to show how your actions made a difference.  Also resist the temptation to spend so much time setting up the situation that you rush through the rest of your response.  Your goal is to demonstrate how you applied your skills and accomplished results.

 

 

Image courtsy of justcoachit.com

Image courtsy of justcoachit.com

Can I afford to switch careers?

I was recently asked questions about the financial impact of switching careers.  I’ve shared the questions and responses below.

If someone wants to switch careers, how can they make sure they remain financially stable through the transition – especially if they’ll likely be making less money?

  • Don’t assume that a career change always means making less money, do your research and focus on your transferable skills, demonstrate the value you do bring
  • Most often you step sideways or slightly backward, you don’t necessarily start at the bottom
  • Have a clear understanding of your baseline expenses and what you truly have to make to live vs the discretionary spending level you may be accustomed to.  What are you willing to do without to make this work.  How much of your savings are you willing to deploy to make this happen?
  • Sometimes if this is really something you want to do you need to explore supplemental sources of income.  Can you work part-time evenings or weekends to bring in additional money.  Are you willing to make that commitment to support pursuing this dream?

What are some things they should be thinking about when it comes to their finances?

  • What are your fixed expenses and your true living expenses?
  • What discretionary spending are you willing to give up?
  • What is your absolute floor?  What is the minimum salary you can accept and survive?  You need to know this and stick to it so you know when to walk away.

How can they make sure they’ll have enough money saved up?

  • You have to fully answer the questions above to look at your expenses and potential income to determine what if anything you will need to draw from savings each
    month.  What are you willing to invest in this transition and for how long?
  • Can you avoid depleting your savings if you bring in supplemental earnings from a part-time job?
  • Do a very honest assessment of what your “floor” is in terms of salary and benefits.  Know what you must have to pay the bills.  Discipline yourself to not consider anything below your floor.  But taking  a cut to get into a field you desire and where you can advance may be a good investment in your future.

Does switching careers automatically mean they have to start from the bottom in their new role?

  • You may need to take a step back but you do not necessarily have to start at the bottom.
  • Focus on your transferrable skills.  If you do a lot of networking to learn what skills are required for success in your target organizations, you can really focus on selling your relevant transferrable skills.  When you are bringing something of value to the table, your offer should be higher.
  • Also consider interim steps to get you closer to your desired career path so you can maximize your value add.  You can build experience in your target field by leveraging your current experience.  For example:  I have an undergrad degree in accounting and was very successful in my accounting career.  I completed my MBA and realized my passion was marketing and managing customer relationships.  My first marketing job was with a financial software vendor who valued my accounting knowledge, my experience with financial systems and my connections in that field.  I was able to make a very significant career change without stepping backwards.  After several years there, I had the marketing experience to pursue the opportunities of my choice.
  • Identify what you bring to the employer that adds value and focus on selling those transferrable skills to avoid starting at the bottom.
  • If possible gain some experience in the new field by volunteering to do a project for a non-profit or even join their board.  Not only does it give you experience you can leverage in the transition, it also demonstrates your commitment to the change.
  • Would education make a difference?  Think about whether going back to school for a degree in the new field would propel your career forward in this new field.  Explore options for scholarships and loans to support the expense.  Consider programs that include valuable work experience in your new field.

With Whom Should I Network?

You’ve heard all the data on how most jobs result from networking.  You know it is important but you are stumped.  You don’t know anyone with a great job at a highly successful company so what are you to do?

You already have network.  The people you know are your network – family, friends, current and former coworkers, former classmates, faculty members, etc.  All these contacts are sources of valuable networking connections.  While they might not have the right connections for the jobs you seek, remember each one of them also has a network of connections.

It is important to have a focus.  You can build a huge network but if no one works in companies, industries or roles that interest you, there is less you can learn from them.  Identify your target list of companies and focus your networking efforts on finding connections in those companies or their competitors.  Once you are connected to the companies on your list, try to find connections in the functional area that interests you.

To build your network, it is easiest to start with people you know and then expand from there.  Here are some possible sources of networking connections:

 

  • Family, friends and neighbors
  • Alumni
  • Professional associations
  • Community, religious, political or social organizations
  • Faculty, advisors and Career Center staff
  • Your current and former classmates
  • Former employers and co-workers
  • Mentors
  • Your parent’s friends and your friend’s parents

 

It is easier than ever to find connections.  Utilize LinkedIn to find people you know and see who they know as a way of expanding your network.

Tell Me About Yourself

One of the most frequently used interview questions is the standard, “tell me about yourself.”  It can take other forms such as “walk me through your resume” or “what do I need to know about you?” but the interviewer is handing you an opportunity to tell your story.  How you answer this single question can have a significant impact on the overall outcome of your interview.

You are the expert on you so this should be an easy question but many people struggle with it.  They are not comfortable talking about themselves and focusing on their accomplishments.  It is important to remember that this is what your competition for the job is doing so you need to be well prepared to address this question.

Remember, the interviewer is focused on your professional story, not your life story.  Do not begin with when you were born!  Resist sharing the details of elementary school, junior high and high school.  The interviewer really doesn’t need to know about your parents’ divorce, problems with your siblings or other life details.  Focus on your professional life.

Focus on your career and tell your story emphasizing key skills and accomplishments.  This is an opportunity to highlight the things you are most proud of in your career and also to focus on what is most relevant to the hiring manager’s needs.  Don’t use your entire response talking about how successfully you worked on your own if the hiring manager needs someone who can work as part of a team.

Use this as an opportunity to explain your career transitions.  What did you accomplish in the specific job and what skills did you develop.  Why did you leave and what did the new opportunity bring as challenges.  Tell your story focusing on your continued growth and development.  Focus on key skills you developed or enhanced.

This should not be a half hour, rambling response.  Practice answering this question so you are prepared to do it professionally and succinctly.

Image Courtesy of Forbes

Image Courtesy of Forbes

Signs its Time to Look for a New Job

Deciding when it is time to look for another job can be a critical career decision.  It requires some serious reflection and thoughtful assessment of yourself and your current situation.

No Brainers

  • If you are terminated, your division is being shut down or sold, if the handwriting is on the wall that the company is failing, you need to engage is a serious job search as soon as possible.
  • If you are being harassed or ask to something illegal or unethical, it is definitely time to find another job.

For most employees, the decision comes more gradually and requires more careful reflection.

Passed Over for a Promotion

  • Were you the most qualified candidate?  Use it as a learning opportunity, ask the hiring manager what you need to do to be prepared for that role or a similar one in the future.  There may be skills you need to develop or issues to address.  Identify what you need to do and build a plan to be prepared for more opportunities going forward.
  • This is not necessarily a reason to move.  Honestly assess your fit with the company and the possible opportunities in the future as you develop more skills.
Cartoon Courtesy of Mark Anderson (andertoons.com)

Cartoon Courtesy of Mark Anderson (andertoons.com)

Work/Life Balance Issues

  • If you honestly don’t have a life outside of work, it could be time for a change.  Be careful not to jump from the frying pan into the fire.  Don’t move for the sake of moving without clearly understanding if the balance issues will be better.
  • Assess if it is a short term issue or a long term issue.  Is this the position that you must survive to advance to the next step?  Is there a major project underway that is demanding more hours or is it standard operating procedure?

Trust Your Gut/Heart

It could well be time to change jobs if:

  • You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
  • you dread going to work
  • 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

Honestly assess whether this is a real issue 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
  • Critical to do 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?

 

Follow your heart.  We all spend too much time working to be miserable doing it.