Giving Thanks Matters

In this season of giving thanks it is important to stop for a moment and think about giving thanks in relation to your job search , career and life.  Regardless of the time of year, giving thanks is always in style and people like feeling appreciated.

In Your Job Search

Throughout your job search, it is important to thank everyone who assists you and shares time and insights with you.  For an interview always send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.  It differentiates you from the competition and helps the hiring managers remember you.  Differentiate yourself from the crowd by sending a personalized note that refers to something specific you discussion with that individual.  Do not send all contacts the same note – they will compare.

If you are networking, you will be conducting informational interviews.  In each case, someone has taken valuable time to share their experience and insights with you so a handwritten thank you note is appropriate.  Thank them for their time and their insights and refer to something specific that was particularly helpful to you from the conversation.  Taking the time to say thank you differentiates you from other networkers and helps the contact remember you as an individual.  Often they are more likely to want to help someone who is appreciative of their time and assistance.  Simply saying thank you can encourage people to help you in your search.

Thank you isn’t only for face to face meetings.  If someone provides a reference, send a note.  If someone refers you to a valuable contact, send a note.  Let people know that you appreciate and value their support.   Always personalize the note to refer to something specific you discussed.  It helps people remember you and it makes them more willing to help going forward.  Also, remember to keep them posted on your progress.

Networking is about building a relationship and showing appreciation is a critical aspect of relationship building.  Show your network respect by keeping them posted on your progress and demonstrate your appreciation for their support.

 

In Your Career

Many people have helped you at different stages of your career.  Think how delighted they would be to hear from you.  If you do something that makes you think of the person who trained you or offered valuable advice, send a quick note.  Let them know you are still influenced by what you learned from them.  Offer a quick update on what is happening in your career and ask about them.  Show genuine appreciation and interest.  For the couple minutes it takes to write a note or send a message, you will brighten someone’s day and be remembered positively.

If someone mentors you in your career, be sure to thank them often for their support and encouragement and let them know how they are making a difference for you.

Did someone help you take the next step within your current company or assist you in your latest career change?  Thank them again and let them know how well things are going in the new role and how often you reflect on valuable advice they provided.  Let them know they made a difference in your career.

Be sure to maintain contact with past managers, you may need them one day as a reference.  Keep them posted on your career progress and remember to thank them for the learning experiences they provided for you.  Offer to assist them as needed as well.  Often managers are asked for references from employees they managed.  You could assist them in their job search by sharing your experience of working with that person as your manager.

 

In Your Life

Did you ever thank a teacher who had a significant impact on your life or on your child?  Did you ever thank a caring adult that was there at a critical point in your life or a friend who made a difference?  Those unexpected thank you’s will be treasured.  Let someone know that you are thinking about them.  Send a card with a note and you will brighten someone’s day.  People love to think that what they do matters to someone else.

Do you know someone who is facing a serious illness, is caring for an aging parent, going through a difficult personal crisis, etc?  Send a card to let them know that you are thinking of them.  If there are things you are willing and able to do to assist, offer specific assistance.  People dealing with a crisis often feel alone and it can make a huge different for them to know that they are not forgotten.

These days, people are quick to complain and social media makes it easy to do so very publicly.  Stop being negative and thank someone who made a difference in your life.  Hopefully they will pay it forward and thank someone in their lives as well.

 

Giving Back

While the holidays often spur thoughts of volunteering, there are many non-profit organizations in need of year round support.  In fact, many of these organizations need business skills and experience.  Talk to your network or do some online research to identify local non-profits and reach out to see where you can make a difference.

Choose a non-profit with a mission that resonates with you.  When you care about the mission it makes the actual work easier and more meaningful.  Organizations may need help with marketing, finance or fundraising.  This is an opportunity to leverage your business skills and expertise in a different way.  You will also learn from the experience and expand your network.

Consider the skills you offer and the mission you are passionate about to identify the best opportunity.  Giving back feels good and offers additional experience for your resume.  Use the giving spirit of the season to make a commitment to giving back in the year ahead.

At This Time of Year

Avoid the entire debate about sending holiday cards, which holiday to recognize or how generic to make the wishes.  Instead, send Thanksgiving cards.  Warm wishes of thanks are appropriate to all populations and are not expected so the surprise factor is an added bonus.  Think about who you want to thank this season.  Take a few minutes to add a brief personal note to each card to maximize the impact it will have on the recipient.

If you miss the opportunity to send Thanksgiving cards, consider New Year’s.  Thank them for something in the past year that made a difference for you and wish them all the best in the year ahead.

One of the best opportunities to differentiate yourself in a job search, your career or in life is to be known as someone with an attitude of gratitude – always saying thank you.  Appreciation will help you maintain valuable relationships and will make people want to assist you

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Five Skills Needed for Success

 

Students often ask about the skills most critical for success.  While there are certainly unique factors for specific jobs and companies, I hear very consistent themes from employers on this topic.  The following five skills are critical for success in today’s job market.

  • Ability to Communicate – To succeed in most jobs the employee must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.  You can be very smart, you can have great ideas but if you can’t communicate, you risk being passed over for the next exciting project. Professional, business communication skills are still the expectation.  Employers expect employees to write a clear, concise email or executive summary.  Grammar, punctuation and spelling do matter.  Increasingly employers are seeking candidates who can analyze large amounts of data and then share a concise, actionable summary with senior management.
  • Work Effectively on a Team – The ability to effectively work as part of a team is critical to success in most organizations.   That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with other across the organization to achieve a common goal.  Employers want employees who can effectively work as part of a team, not as a lone contributor.
  • Ability and Willingness to Learn – The world is changing, business is changing and the pace of change continues to accelerate.  To succeed in most organizations you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.  Little demand for dinosaurs these days. Demonstrate your curiosity by learning more about the organization and how your work impacts other groups.
  • Ability to Influence, Persuade and Negotiate  – There are few jobs you can do in a vacuum.  In most roles you need other people to do things so you can do your job.  There are steps in the process before your area of responsibility and often steps after you do your part.  Usually you do not have authority over those people.  You need to have the skill to develop mutually beneficial relationships in the organization so you can influence and persuade people to do what you need them to do in turn ensuring you are delivering what they need.  You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved. There is no room for the “blame game.”
  • Ability to Analyze the Data – With increased computer skills, many employees can build spreadsheets and manipulate the data in various ways.  What elevates an employee above the crowd is the ability to analyze the data.  Don’t just total the columns, calculate an average and sort the data.  What story does the data tell?  What questions does it raise?  Are there different ways to interpret the data?  Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention.  Suggest possible next steps.  Using the data to manage business decisions is a critical differentiator. These days there are times when there is too much data and knowing what is important and relevant data is a key skill.  Employers have described what they are looking for as candidates who can go from “mining to meaning” and who are “analysts not reporters.”

These skills alone may not put you on a direct track to the corner office but, employees with these skills will definitely be more successful in their careers.

Manage Your Personal Brand for Career Success

When you are preparing to make a purchase you carefully consider the brand of the product you are selecting.  To ensure that employers are selecting you in the job search process, you need to pay attention to managing your personal brand.

You are the expert on you and need to ensure that your professional brand reflects your skills, reputation, and values.  You need to build it carefully, control it diligently and protect it fiercely.  Your brand is the sum of your personal and professional reputations, your competencies and your relationships.

To define your personal brand you need to consider the following:

  • What are your professional and personal goals?
  • What is your mission?
  • What are your core skills and values?
  • How do you describe yourself?
  • How do others describe you?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from others personally and professionally?

What are the critical elements of your brand?

  • Email address – Yes, even your email address should express your brand. If you do not want to invest in your own domain name, it should at least be lastname@gmail.com.  Do not use your personal email with cute names or hobbies.  Keep it professional.  Also in a job search, don’t use your current work email to look for another job.
  • Resume – This is your career collateral and how you communicate your brand to perspective employers. It will not get you the job but hopefully it will get you an interview.  Be sure it is written to focus on the needs of the employer.  Present yourself as a solution to their business needs, not just another person seeking ab job.
  • Cover Letter – This will be used as a sample of your business writing skills but it also provides another opportunity to present yourself as a solution to the employer’s business problems. Be sure to focus on relevant key words in the job description.
  • Portfolio – Where appropriate have a portfolio of work you can share when requested. Use it to demonstrate your experience, solutions and competencies.
  • Presenting Yourself – Be sure you have a professional appearance. Don’t assume they will overlook appearance to see how smart you are.  Appropriate business attire and a professional appearance go a long way in the job search process and represent your brand.
  • Voicemail Greeting – Don’t forget that employers may be calling you at the number on your resume. Be sure you have a professional greeting with your full name and a request to leave a message.  Be sure you check messages regularly and respond promptly.  This behavior positively enhances your brand.
  • Linkid In – Be sure you have an updated, complete profile to represent your brand on Linked In. Employers will be looking.
  • Google Yourself – Be sure that you know what employers will find if they google you. It is important to ensure that your online presence fully supports your professional brand.
  • Business cards – Do not use your current employer business cards when looking for a job. Invest in personal cards to support your search and to support your brand.

To manage career success, you should pay close attention to your personal brand.

 

Ensure that Recruiters See Your Resume

More often than not in the current job market, companies are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants that come to them online. While systems that track applicants and pull applications based on key words are helpful for managing the influx, the odds of your resume coming to the attention of the hiring manager can be very slim. So what is a talented, well-qualified applicant to do? Below are a few of my favorite tips for catching the eye of your next employer:

Network. The single most important thing any job seeker can do is network. Start by identifying your target companies and industries, then identify friends, family members, former colleagues, alumni etc. at those organizations and request an informational interview. The trick is not to ask the contact for a job, but to take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company, the culture, the hiring process, the department that interests you, etc. By doing this, you build a network of connections in the companies you are most interested in pursuing for employment.

Leverage Your Network. When a position does appear online, reach out to your networking contact at that company. Let them know you applied online, and ask them if they would forward your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager. Busy managers are much more likely to review resumes forwarded by a trusted colleague rather than digging through the mountain of online applications. And throughout the process, be sure to keep your contact posted on your progress, and always remember to say thank you.

Focus on Key Words. Be sure your resume and cover letter use key words from the job posting, as systems will often search based on those key words. Try to have as many key words early in your resume such as the summary and core competencies sections to increase your visibility within the system.

Beware of formatting. Ensure that there is no formatting, such as underlining, that will cause the system to reject your resume. As a general rule, companies will never tell you that your resume fails to make it into their system. Keep the formatting very basic to ensure that it is accepted, and remember that you can have a different format for when you share it in person.

Above all, it’s good to keep in mind that it is still people who make the hiring decisions – not job application systems. You need to be proactive and use your network to get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager. Don’t just sit back and expect the system to do the work for you. As with most things, you get out of them what you put in, so approach the process thoughtfully for the best results.

Get Past the Gatekeeper

It is fairly common for job seekers to find their perfect job online.  After carefully completing the application online and attaching their resume, they hit send and the waiting begins.  Calling the company to find the right person to talk to is often challenging.  At best they encounter the dreaded gatekeeper who blocks their attempts to reach the hiring manager.  Worse still, the gatekeeper may even be a computer which has already prevented their resume from reaching the hiring manager.  What is a frustrated job seeker to do?

Try a Different Gate

For job seekers who apply online only, whether through the company website or a job board, they quickly learn that this is rarely a high probability activity.  The single most effective way to land a job is through networking.  Talking to people in companies and positions of interest to learn more about the types of opportunities that interest you, to get insight into their organization and to understand its hiring processes and requirements can make a significant difference.   When applying for a job online, job seekers should always contact their networking connection at that company.  Let them know which job you applied for, and ask them to share your resume with the hiring manager.

Now instead of being a needle in the haystack of online applications, a colleague has put your resume on the desk of the hiring manager.  This resume is much more likely to be reviewed and a recommendation from the internal colleague increases the probability even more.  To be someone hiring managers will notice, job seekers need to build and leverage an effective network.

The Human Gatekeeper

If you are lucky enough to have the contact information for the hiring manager or even the recruiter assigned to the position, you have an opportunity to follow up by telephone to express your interest and to inquire about next steps.  Unfortunately your efforts are often blocked by an effective gatekeeper.    Be polite and professional.  Engage the gatekeeper in conversation.  Try to build rapport with the gatekeeper.  Often they will soften a bit and will at least pass your resume on with a note.  The hiring manager sees that you have made the extra effort to differentiate yourself in the process.  Gatekeepers often have input in the decision and can quickly eliminate those who are rude or disrespectful during the process.

The Computer Gatekeeper

There is no option to build a relationship with the computer gatekeeper so the job seeker has to focus on how the computer will evaluate their resume.  Key words are the most important consideration in a computer screening.  The applicant should carefully review the job description and include in their resume as many key words from the job description as possible.  Industry or professional key words are also important.  The job seeker has to give the computer as many reasons as possible to select their resume.

As job seekers try to get beyond the gatekeepers, it is important to keep all interaction with the hiring company as professional and courteous as possible.  Do not follow-up more than twice or the individual is likely to feel annoyed and will not want to help you in the process.  Ultimately people hire people they would like to work with going forward.

Start new job prepared for success

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers.

  • Be Punctual – This is a way to show you are serious about the job.  You can worry about flexibility later after you have proven yourself.  Always arrive a few minutes before starting time so you are ready and eager to begin your day.  Managers notice when employees are not punctual.  If something comes up and need to ask for some time off, give as much advance notice as possible.  Try to minimize the negative impact on your work deadlines and offer to make up the time if appropriate.  Always be mindful of critical work deadlines.
  • Show Respect – Honor the culture of the organization you have joined and respect those in authority as well as your peers.  Put your cell phone on vibrate and avoid taking personal calls except in an emergency.  Do not use company property for personal reasons – this includes the internet.  Follow the company’s dress code.  Take the lead from your manager.  Don’t gossip or participate in the office rumor mill.  Also show respect of their current processes and procedures.  Don’t start out telling them their systems are antiquated and their processes don’t make sense.  Learn the systems and processes first.  Listen to why they do things the way they do.  There may well be significant opportunities for improvement but you need to invest the time in understanding the status quo and earn some credibility before you start proposing changes.
  • Open Communications – Identify your supervisor’s communications style and preferences and work to accommodate that style.  Also identify the style and preferences for your colleagues.  Discuss any concerns you have with your manager.  Provide your supervisor with progress reports.  Avoid surprises – such as a project not completed on deadline.  Let them know in advance if there are issues.  Keep your manager advised of any concerns that could impact results and deadlines.  Set the pattern for open, frequent communications early.  Ask for feedback regularly so you can fine tune your performance to ensure you are meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • Ask Questions – Do not make assumptions.  You are learning the company and the role.  Ask questions to be sure you understand.  Clarify requests to be sure you understand what you are being asked to do.  Inquire how your work supports the department’s goals and the company’s objectives.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions.  Don’t waste time and energy doing the wrong things because you didn’t ask.
  • Take Notes – Take notes so you don’t ask the same question again.  Review your notes and apply what you have learned when faced with similar tasks or issues.  Keep a record of your accomplishments – details of projects competed and impact on the organization, skills you developed or enhanced, knowledge you gained.  They know you are new and you will need to ask questions as part of the learning process but they will quickly grow frustrated if you keep asking the same questions.
  • Be Fully Engaged – If possible ask what you can do prior to your start date to learn more about the company, the team and the position.  Do your homework researching the company, competitors, industry etc.  Demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm.  Remain positive.  Show you are hungry for a challenge.  Pay attention to both quality and timeliness of your work.  Look for ways to exceed expectations.
  • Identify Solutions not Problems – When you encounter problems, try to find possible solutions.  Identify unmet business needs and ways you can help meet them.  When identifying a problem, always offer at least one reasonable solution.
  • Listen – Learn as much as you can by listening to others as they talk about the industry, the company and the department.  Listen carefully to instructions for assignments and clarify as needed.  Pay attention to deadlines, guidelines, and procedures.  Always ask for feedback and think about how you can apply what you learned going forward.  Seek continuous improvement.
  • Earn the Challenging Assignments – Employers don’t give the most challenging project to the rookie in most cases.  Demonstrate with your early assignments that they can count on you to deliver high quality and timely work and you will begin to earn more challenging assignments.
  • Show initiative – Look for ways to exceed expectations.  Identify unmet business needs and determine ways you can help.  Offer to assist a busy colleague with a big project.  Volunteer for a project that needs a home.
  • Be Flexible and Adaptable – Accept all assignments cheerfully and give every assignment your best effort.  Be open minded about new ideas, new procedures and different work.  Anticipate change and embrace it.
  • Curiosity – Ask open ended questions to demonstrate your interest.  Offer ideas and suggestions for possible improvements.  Seek opportunities to learn more about the company and the industry.

The manager hired you instead of all the other candidates because he/she believed you could make a difference on their team.  Show them from day one that they made the right decision.

Advance Your Career Within Current Company

What is a successful professional to do if they are very good at their current job but aspire to climb the ladder and to take on new challenges?

Honest Assessment of Skills and Gaps  – Before any next step in your career, it is critical to do a very honest assessment of your skill set and your gaps.  What are the critical skills for success in the position you aspire to?  Which of those skills are particular strengths?  Which areas require more work?  Are there major gaps where you might need additional training and/or experience?  Look at performance reviews, ask trusted colleagues for feedback, ask your mentor and your friends for input.  Gather comprehensive data on your strengths and areas for develop.  Define a specific plan on how you will address the gaps in the year ahead.  When opportunity knocks you want to be sure you are ready.

Have a Mentor – Everyone needs a mentor or a personal board of directors to help them navigate their career.  This should be someone more senior than you are in position and often age as well.  Learn from their experience and perspective.  Ask them for honest and actionable feedback.  Use them as a sounding board as you build you skills assessment and as you navigate the journey to your next career move.

Train  and Develop Your Replacement – The organization currently values your contributions in your current job very highly.  That’s great, but you don’t want that to stand in your way of future advancement.  Often people get so focused on how to get experience and visibility to lead to that next job that they forget to worry about who will do their current job.  Identify a rising star on your team and start training them on how to be successful in what you are currently doing.  Provide projects which offer learning experience as well as visibility.  Nurture this person along and make sure your boss knows you are working to train this person to someday do your job.  Some people worry this will show the boss they are not needed but in fact it can be a shrewd move.  Many managers are hesitant to take you out of a job you are doing well for fear of what will fall apart.  Help them start looking for your next opportunity because you have your current responsibilities covered.

Open and Honest Conversations – Have open and honest conversations with your manager about your longer term goals.  Ask for input on what you need to develop to be qualified for the next step.  Ask for special projects or assignments that would add experience and increase your visibility as someone who can do more than the current job.  You have to be patient and respectful.  This isn’t about demanding anything it is asking for help throughout the journey.  Sometimes it is a position you aspire to that your manager might have never considered but after talking about it they keep visualizing the possibility.  Engage them in helping you advance your career.

Define and Implement a Plan – Define and document a specific plan of how you plan to achieve this goal.  Having a goal is not enough.   If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to have a tough time getting there.  Identify target companies and/or target positions.  Commit to networking activity levels.  Define specific activities and timeframes and hold yourself accountable.  A great goal that sits on the shelf has little possibility of success.  Define you plan and execute it well, keeping track of your accomplishments and milestones.  Whether your next step is in your current organization or in a new company, you have to develop and implement a plan to increase the likelihood that you will achieve it.

Network, network, network  While networking is critical to an external job search it is also critical for your advancement internally.  It really is all about who you know and who they know.  It is the single most important and effective step you can take in your career development.  The majority of jobs are filled through networking in this economy.   Talk to people you know.  Even when you are seeking a more challenging role in your current company, talk to people in the new area, talk to people who interact with that group.  Learn as much as you can about what is required for success in that role.  Understand how that role interacts with the rest of the organization.  The more you know, the more effective you can be in the process.  Also the more people who know you are interested, the more likely you are to be considered for an appropriate opportunity.

Be Realistic – You may have a dream job in mind but realistically assess whether that is a possible next step from your current position.  Often there is a step or two between your current role and your ultimate desired position.  Learn enough about your dream job to identify critical next steps as part of your preparation.  Do they value someone who has worked in more than one division or functional area?  Is a foreign assignment critical to reaching executive levels?  Understanding what they will be looking for in the senior position can help you be more strategic in determining your next step or two.  Keep the end goal in mind, gather intelligence from your network and effectively execute your plan.  This significantly increases your likelihood of success.