Test Drive a New Career

Is it ever a good idea to take a temporary position instead of holding out for a full-time position?  Sometimes this provides the perfect opportunity to test drive a new career.  If you are seeking to make a significant career change but are not landing the positions you dream about because you lack the required experience, maybe a temporary position is your ticket to success.

Gain Relevant Experience – Given the opportunity to gain relevant experience in a new field or industry, go for it.  Be clear about your goals and seek every possible opportunity to gain experience and exposure.  Do the work you are assigned very well and then offer assistance with additional projects.  Demonstrate your interest and passion for the work and your willingness to do whatever needs to be done.

Network as much as Possible – It is always easier to network from inside the organization.  Meet as many people as possible for lunch or coffee to learn more about what they do in the organization, their path to their current position, critical skills for success and more.  Let people know this is work you hope to do longer term.  Learn as much as you can while you are there.

Track Your Accomplishments – You are gaining valuable experience so keep track of your accomplishments.  This will be critical in updating your resume to reflect this experience.

Become a “go to” Resource – Deliver high quality work that is accurate and on time.  Go the extra mile where ever possible do demonstrate added value.  Become the individual they turn to when something just needs to be done.  Strive to be such a valuable member of the team that they can’t imagine working without you.

Maximize Opportunities – Be open to opportunities within the organization and be flexible.  Consider extending the temporary assignment if that option is offered and you are continuing to gain valuable experience.  Do not assume that your temporary position assures you a full-time position down the road.  Demonstrate your appreciation for the opportunity and pick up on the signals so you know when you need to ramp up your external job search.

Test driving a new role or industry builds valuable transferable skills that will help you land your full-time position.  It also helps confirm you interest in working in the new field.  While taking a temporary position may feel like an off ramp on your career journey it may give you the experience to move full speed ahead.

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Leveraging Background Checks in Your Job Search

Often a contingency is your job offer is the statement that you must successfully complete a background check.  While the intent is to identify applicants with criminal records, there can also be unanticipated implications.

Be Honest – Honesty is always the best policy.  If you had any type of conviction for any offense in the past, it is critical that you disclose it on your application.  If it shows up in the background check and you didn’t disclose it, the issue becomes one of integrity.  Do not sacrifice your integrity for a past mistake or error in judgment.  Honesty will win out.  Disclosing the offense is much more important than hiding it.

When In Doubt… – If you have any doubt about what will show up on your background check, it is worth paying to run a background check on yourself in advance.  The fee is a modest investment in your professional future.  Be prepared to disclose anything to shows up on the report.  If you were told something would be removed from your record, do not assume that happened as promised.  Run a report so you know if it is there or not.

I have seen well-qualified candidates lose great opportunities because they did not disclose offenses that showed up on their background reports.

Using References to Support Your Job Search

References are an expected part of the hiring process.  A job applicant should be prepared to provide references when requested.  Usually it is a good sign that you have advanced in the process to the point that they are checking references.  There are a few key considerations when preparing your references to ensure that they support your success:

Identifying Your References

  • Identify people who can attest to your skills and capabilities on the job.  You should expect to provide at least three references.  They do not want to talk to family members or your best friend!
  • Ideally you will have at least one former manager.  It is common to not want your current manager to know you are looking for a new job so think about former managers at other companies, a manager from the current company who may have moved on, etc.
  • Think about references in terms of the job requirements.  If the job requires you to manage others, include someone you managed.  If the job requires significant cross-functional collaboration include a colleague you worked with on a cross-functional initiative.
  • Provide your list of references with names, titles, companies and both email and telephone contact information.  Be sure you have confirmed the contact information.  Include a note about context, maybe the person now works at company Y but was your manager at company X.   If it is someone you managed, be sure to note that.  Give the person calling your references enough context to ensure success.
  • Be prepared with your references so you are able to respond quickly when asked to provide references.

Preparing Your References

  • Contact your references in advance.  Let them know you are job seeking and ask their permission to use them as a reference.
  • Verify their contact information.
  • As you feel you are getting close on a position, let your references know.  Tell them about the position, the company and the specific skills you want them to emphasize.
  • The more you prepare them, the more helpful they can be.

Anticipating Informal Reference Checking

  • Most hiring managers realize that applicants will only share references who will say good things.  Therefore, many hiring managers will reach out to informal references.  Who do they know at the company?  Who do they know on Linked In who knows people at the company or who knows you?
  • Because you did not hand select these references, the hiring managers tend to trust the responses.
  • I once interviewed for a job with a manager whose husband worked at a previous employer of mine.  I heard from several former colleagues that he had reached out to the entire department at that company seeking feedback.  I did get the job but they collected more than a dozen testimonials from informal references prior to making the decision.

Reference Logistics

  • Most hiring managers prefer to speak with the references.  They may use email to schedule the call but a conversation is the best option.  People are inclined to share more in a conversation than they would put in writing.  It also gives the hiring manager the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.

If you have made it to this stage of the process, the hiring manager is impressed and is seriously considering making you an offer to join them.  They are looking to your references to confirm you past work history as well as their impressions during the interview process.  Taking the time to prepare your references and verity their contact information makes the process move more quickly and smoothly.  It also demonstrates your professionalism

Cubicle Etiquette

With many employees working in cubicles these days, it is important to consider how to be a good neighbor in cubicle land.  Good cubicle etiquette includes the following considerations.

  • Consider Your Volume – Even the best cubicles are not completely soundproof.  Be conscious of your volume whether you are speaking to someone in your office or on the phone.  You do not want to share your conversation with the entire row of cubicles and you don’t want to disrupt their work.  You also don’t want to be distracted by their conversations and calls.  Be respectful of your neighbors.
  • Minimize Hallway Conversations – While it can be convenient and productive to have a quick work conversation in the hallway with a colleague, if you are just outside other cubicles, your conversation can and will be overhead.  This has implications for confidentiality but can also be disruptive to those trying to get some work done.  Be mindful of the potential for disruption and step to a convenient conference room or to a general corridor away from the cubicles.
  • Confidentiality – Do your work each day assuming that everything you say can be heard by others and that whatever is on your desk may be seen as well.  Have confidential conversations in a private area.  Do not leave confidential materials out on your desk if you are stepping away for a meeting.  Protect the information you work with by being mindful of the public nature of cubicle space.
  • Shouting Over the Wall – You know the person next to you can hear you so rather than getting up, you shout a quick question over the wall.  Unfortunately more than just the person next to you can hear this and it can be disruptive.  You also do not know if your colleague is currently on the phone or with someone in their cubicle.  Get up and walk to the other cubicle to make your request or if appropriate in the given work situation send a text or email or pick up the phone.  Shouting across the wall is unprofessional and distracting.
  • Fragrances – Just as noise easily travels between cubicles so do fragrances and odors.  Do not wear excessive fragrance to work.  It can be very irritating to colleagues with allergies.  Also avoid unpleasant odors in your lunch choices or save the stinky fish for the lunchroom not your desk.  Whatever is in your cubicle doesn’t stay there, others will smell your choices and could be bothered by them.
  • Personal Conversations & Calls – You are at work to work but life often interferes causing the need for a quick personal conversation or telephone call.  Be mindful of what you want other people to hear.  That call to your doctor may be much more appropriate from the conference room so your colleagues don’t hear personal details.  Colleagues will often grow annoyed and resentful if they have to listen to long conversations with your children or parents or a detailed description of what you plan to make for dinner that night.
  • Decorations – You should first be aware of the company policy.  Do not do anything that violates direct company policy.  Keep any personal photographs, sports memorabilia or what ever else you like to surround yourself with inside your cubicle.  Do not decorate the outside walls which are in the public space.  Do not display anything that could be considered offensive or in poor taste.
  • Private Conversations with Staff – If you need to share feedback with a colleague or discuss performance issues with an employee, do not do it in a cubicle.  Give the person the respect and privacy they deserve by booking a conference room or arranging to use an office.  Performance feedback is not something others in the group should hear.

Bottom line, common courtesy and respect will go a long way in ensuring a peaceful co-existence with your fellow residents of cubicle land.

Finding A Summer Job

Are you one of the many still hoping to find a job this summer to earn some much needed cash?  Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Leverage your network – This is the perfect time to let everyone you know you are in need of a job.  Your parents’ friends may know of a need.  Your friends’ parents may have a connection.  Be open and willing to talk to anyone who may know of an opportunity.  A recommendation can make a significant difference in differentiating you from other candidates.  Tap all your sources to see what options may still be available.  Many summer jobs are filled by knowing someone at the company.
  • Consider seasonal options – Be creative and think about the businesses that need additional seasonal coverage.  While landscaping may be an obvious choice, sports venues, concert sites, summer theatre, parks, zoos and businesses ramping up to prepare for the holiday rush, these are all opportunities for seasonal work.  The wrapping paper, ribbon, candy and gifts you purchase at the holidays needs to be made and stored over the summer.  Companies ramping up for back to school business may also need help.  You should also consider businesses that could have trouble covering vacations due to limited staffing or round the clock coverage.  You can’t fill in for a nurse but you could cover as an aide in a nursing home, hospital or assisted living facility or maybe you could deliver the meals.  Often covering for the vacations of others can be a full-time job for the summer.  Maybe there are handicapped or elderly people in your community who need companions or someone to run errands.  Offices may need talent to cover the reception desk or administrative positions for vacations as well.  If you are thoughtful about the unique opportunities of the season you may uncover great opportunities others are overlooking.
  • Overcoming the lack of experience objection – I often hear students complain that they filled out the application but were told prior experience is required.  Don’t businesses realize that you have to get experience somewhere?  Highlight your strengths and offer to work on a trial basis for the first month to demonstrate the value you bring to their business. Often taking that extra initiative to sell yourself can make a difference.
  • Be creative –  Identify a problem and offer a solution to the problem as an opportunity to be employed for the summer.  For example, many parents face significant disruption to their routine in the summer with day care closures, camp schedules that don’t coincide with work schedules, gaps in coverage for their children.  Define a solution and offer your services.  Enlist friends and neighbors to spread the word.  You could offer a variety of services for people who are away during the summer.
  • Do what others don’t want to do – There is often more difficulty filling jobs others don’t want to do so they tend to pay well.  Consider picking up garbage on the truck route, cleaning office buildings at night, etc.  Think outside the box to identify positions which will have less competition for the available jobs.
  • If all else fails… – If you absolutely cannot find a job, consider volunteering to gain relevant experience.  It adds value to your resume, gives you valuable life experience and a good story to tell about how you spent your summer.  Make a difference for someone else.
  • Transition to part-time status when school starts – While many jobs are indeed seasonal, do a great job while you are there so that you can ask about part-time opportunities once you return to school.  Once you are a proven contributor, they may be willing to keep you on during the school year rather than having to hire from scratch.  Be sure to keep your hours manageable so you can focus on your schoolwork but the additional money can be helpful.

There is definitely more to summer employment than fast food and retail.  Think outside the box to identify opportunities for success.

It’s Never Too Late

When speaking with people about their careers, it is not uncommon to find people who altered their career plan to accommodate life.  Maybe there was an ailing parent to care for, a young family to support, medical issues to address or other life situations that caused the individual to alter their initial career plans.  Maybe you graduated when the economy was lousy and you took a whatever job you could get but you are still there.  At what point does it become too late to pursue that true passion for a career of choice?

  • Reality Check – Do some research to determine what skills, experience, certifications etc would be required to make the desired career change a reality.  Evaluate your skills and experience and focus on transferrable skills for the new position.  If necessary define a plan to gain the required skills or experience.
  • Assess the Financial Impact – Does your dream career pay what you have come to expect or would you have to take a cut?  How much of a cut can you afford to make to pursue your dream?  Know that your bottom line requirement is to address your financial obligations and assess whether this new career option could cover your basic needs.  Would you be willing to pursue supplemental income options to pursue this dream?
  • Network, Network, Network – Identify contacts working in your dream field and conduct informational interviews.  Meet people who have the job you desire and learn from them.  Attend relevant professional association meetings and activities.  Put yourself in situations to meet people in your desired field.
  • Define and Implement a Plan – Define a target list of companies and networking contacts within those companies.  Implement a plan of regular networking outreach and information interviews.  Monitor your progress.
  • Stay Passionate –  If this is what you really want to do, stay committed.  Don’t be discouraged because it takes time and effort to make a change.  Stay the course and celebrate your progress along the way.
  • Creative Options – If following your dream is not feasible at this stage of life, find creative options.  Can you do volunteer work in a field you are passionate about?  Could you work part-time in an industry that excites you?  Be creative and explore other opportunities to use the skills and passions you possess.