2016 Distinguish Yourself in Your Job Search

In the current job market, companies rely on a variety of systems to manage the high volume of applicants that come to them online.  The systems help them feed their applicant tracking systems and they can pull applications based on key words.  With hundreds of resumes submitted for many jobs, the odds of the applicant’s resume coming to the attention of the hiring manager  are very slim.  What is a talented, well-qualified applicant to do?

Network

  • The single most important thing any job seeker can do is network.
  • Identify your target companies and industries.  Identify friends, family members, former colleagues, alumni etc. at those organizations and request an informational interview.
  • Do not ask the contact for a job.  Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company, the culture, the hiring process, the department that interests you, etc.
  • 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.
  • It is critical that you also apply online so you are officially in the system.  Many companies don’t allow managers to talk to candidates who are not in the system.
  • Busy managers are much more likely to review resumes forwarded by a trusted colleague rather than dig through the mountain of online applications.
  • Keep your contact posted on your progress through the system and be sure to say thank you.

Other Helpful Hints

  • While nothing trumps the value of networking, you can also maximize your success through the systems by focusing on key words.  Be sure your resume and cover letter use key words from the job posting.  Systems will search based on 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 with the system.
  • Also be sure there is no formatting such as underlining that will cause the system to reject your resume.  The companies never tell you that your resume fails to make it into their system.  Keep the formatting very basic to ensure that it is accepted.  You can have a different format for when you share it in person.

Bottom line:

  • It is still people who make the hiring decisions not the systems.  You need to use your network to get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager.  Don’t sit back and expect the system to do the work for you.

 

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2016 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.

Telephone Interviews are Real Interviews

Employers are increasing relying on telephone interviews to screen candidates for employment.  This allows employers to gather information about a candidate to determine whether to invest more time by inviting the candidate for face-to-face interviews.  Telephone screens enable employers to perform an initial assessment of an applicant’s fit, compensation level, interest and availability in a timely, efficient manner.  The phone screen also serves to differentiate candidates who may appear similar on paper.

A successful applicant will also use the phone screen to gather information about the company and the position to determine interest in continuing in the process.  For both the applicant and the employer it is an opportunity to gather information to determine whether to invest more time and energy in the process.

The biggest challenge of telephone interviews is the absence of face-to-face presence and contact.  It is difficult for either party to assess how the other is reacting without physical cues and clues.  Up to 93% of our normal communication is nonverbal so eliminating those aspects requires both parties to use voice, intonation phrasing, pace and cadence to create presence and to demonstrate interest.

Tips for successful telephone interviews include:

  • Be prepared. Be ready and available for the call ten minutes in advance of the scheduled time.  Have your company research completed and your list of questions available.  Be prepared to share your accomplishments and relevant experience without reading it.  Keep the interview conversational.  Ensure that you have a clear connection.
  • A smile changes your voice in a positive way.  It helps you radiate friendliness, interest and confidence.  Keep a mirror by the phone to remind yourself to smile throughout your interview.
  • Ensure that you have a quiet environment without interruptions so you can focus on the conversation.  Turn off call-waiting.  Eliminate background noise and disruptions.  Speak at a normal pace and carefully enunciate your words.  Give specific examples to highlight your experience.
  • Reference Materials. Have your resume, cover letter and the job description readily available in case you need to refer to them.  Don’t make the interviewer wait while you search for a document.  Also have your calendar handy in case you are asked to schedule an in person interview.
  • Nerves can cause your throat to get dry.  Have a bottle of water accessible but be sure to keep it where you are not likely to knock it over.  Take a sip when necessary to maintain your voice.
  • Demonstrate Interest. Deliver a strong closing statement to reinforce your strong interest in the position and to summarize your qualifications.  Be sure to ask about the next steps in the process and request contact information for your contact so you can send a thank you note.

Telephone interviews won’t land you the job but they earn you the opportunity to advance in the process.  Make the most of your telephone interviews to increase your success in your job search.

 

2016 Networking Tips for Reluctant Networkers

I’m often asked if networking is really necessary in the job search.  The answer is “only if you hope to be successful.”  Networking is the reality of the current job market.  It is rare that sitting behind your computer sending multiple online applications per day yields the desired results.  Networking is a critical component of a successful job search.

What if the job seeker is shy or uncomfortable with networking?  Here are some tips to ease reluctant networkers into a successful process.

Start with Low Hanging Fruit – Do not start with a cold call to a senior level contact at your dream company.  That is much too stressful and could cause a shy person to swear off networking for life.  Think about your circle of friends and family.  Do any of them work at companies that interest you?  Who do they know that they could introduce you to?  What about former work colleagues who have moved on to new companies?  What about colleagues from school?  Starting with people you know enables you to build your confidence and skills as you conduct information interviews.  With each interview you are learning about different companies, roles and career paths while you hone your technique and build your skills.  Remember to ask each contact who else you should be talking to given your specific goals and interests.

Be realistic – While it is important to put your best foot forward, you are not interviewing for your dream job.  Be prepared to gather information and learn while you share your story.  You are not asking for a job, you are asking for information.  Most people enjoy talking about what they do so be a good listener and ask probing questions to gain the insights you desire.

Attend Events with a Buddy – Walking in a room full of people networking can be a bit intimidating.  Consider attending professional association meetings and events or alumni networking events with a buddy.  Encourage each other to make new connections and have relevant conversations.  Do not spend the evening talking to each other.  See how many people you can meet and collect cards for follow-up.

Prepare for Success – Being prepared for your information interviews will enable you to be more confident.  Research the company website in advance.  Identify questions you hope to ask prior to your meeting.  Preparation enables you to have a more meaningful discussion, helps you make a positive, professional impression and helps you reap more value from the meeting.

Build a Plan – Just talking about networking doesn’t make it happen and provides no results.  Define a plan and hold yourself accountable.  Start with an achievable goal – maybe one informational interview per week.  After a few weeks of achieving that, push to goal to two and keep moving.  Track your progress and reward yourself for meeting your goals.

Celebrate Success – After a successful informational interview with a networking contact, take a few minutes to reflect on what you learned.  Capture some key notes for future reference.  Think about what you did well.  If there was an awkward moment, think what you could do differently next time.  Reflect and learn from the experience.  Send a thank you note to your contact to show them you valued their time and insight.  Take a walk or do something you enjoy to celebrate your successful meeting and your achievement of your goal.

Summer Dress for Success

Many companies recognize that the pace changes a bit come summer and offer a summer dress code.  While it is great be cool and comfortable in the hot, hazy days of summer it is important to protect your professional reputation.

Summer Dress Code Do’s

  • Know the Culture – It is critical to know the culture of your organization and to follow the lead of the managers in your group or division.  Some companies have no relaxation of the dress code in the summer and any attempt to be more casual would be frowned upon.  In some companies summer casual means no neckties.  Before you head to the office in capri’s, shorts or a golf shirt, be sure you understand what the expectations are in your specific office.  You do not want to stand out negatively from the crowd .
  • Stay Professional – Your goal should be to always appear professional while on the job.  Even with a more relaxed summer dress code it is important that you still project a professional image.  Focus on professional looking business casual attire.
  • Be Modest and Conservative –Think about whether you would want the president of the company or an important client to see you in that outfit.  If the answer is no, don’t wear it to work.  Think about whether it projects the image of the company or your own personal brand. Remember while it may be fashionable, it may not be appropriate for the office.

Summer Dress Code Don’ts

  • Forget the Beach Attire —  If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it to work. Modesty and professionalism should be the determining factors in identifying attire for work.
  • Leave the Flip Flops at Home – The most frequent complaint I hear from employers is flip flops.  They are very noisy in the office and most employers consider them unprofessional.  Do not wear flip flips in the office if you want to be taken seriously. If you want to wear them for your walk to work fine, but be sure you have shoes in your bag to change into as soon as you reach the office.
  • Cover Up – Underwear is meant to be under your clothes at all times, not visible to your co-workers.  Midriff baring attire or plunging necklines are also not appropriate for the office.

Protect Your Reputation

Your reputation at work is your personal brand.  You work hard to known as a capable, competent professional who does great work in a timely manner.  Do not ruin or at least tarnish that reputation by dressing unprofessionally in the workplace.  It is not worth it.  Stay professional this summer to ensure your future success.

Your Value Proposition

You will hear it called many things – value proposition, elevator pitch, personal commercial, etc.  Regardless of the label attached, it is a critical component of your personal brand.  Your value proposition is how you introduce yourself in a networking or profession situation or who you answer “Tell me about yourself.” In an interview or networking event.

Your value proposition must be concise and to the point – ideally about 30 seconds and not more than 45 seconds.  It is not a life history, a chronological summary or a detailed job description.  It is about who you are and what makes you unique.  You want to share enough information to peak someone’s curiosity enough to engage in further conversation.

You should never memorize your value proposition.  It will come off canned and you could easily stumble on a word that throws you off completely.  Instead be comfortable enough with it that you can deliver it naturally and confidently.  The more comfortable you are with it, the easier it is for you to adapt it on the fly depending on the circumstances.  You will likely want to emphasize different aspects of your introduction in different audiences.

The best way to prepare it to practice.  If you keep stumbling over a phrase, find a different way to say it.  It may look great on paper but it needs to sound natural when you deliver it.  Do some practice on your own – in the car, in the shower, whatever works.  Then practice with family or friends and request feedback.  Once you are ready attend some networking events to put it to the true test.  Does it make people want to engage in further conversation?

Never apologize for what you don’t have in your value proposition.  Focus on your transferable skills not on the experience you lack.  Even if you are right out of school, you have skills and experiences that are part of your brand.  Focus on what makes you unique to differentiate yourself from other candidates.  Introduce yourself with confidence.  It is an important first step in engaging in further conversation.

As you prepare your value proposition remember that you are selling yourself.  What the three most important things you want someone to remember about you?  Ensure that your value proposition clearly makes those three points.  You are the expert on yourself, make sure you are putting your best foot forward with a professional, confident introduction.

Accompany your value proposition with a firm, confident handshake and you will make a positive first impression.  The first step in a successful job search is that positive first impression.

Do I Really Need to Use Linked In?

I am often asked by job seekers if it is really worth their time and effort to use Linked In in their job search.  Bottom line:  use it only if you are serious about finding your next job!  Why is Linked In so important in your job search?

  • Building Your Professional Network – The single most important thing you can do in your job search is networking. Linked In makes it easier than ever to identify contacts in your target companies.  It is highly unlikely you will land your next position by simply applying online.  You need to build a network of supporters at your target companies so that when the perfect opportunity is posted, you have an inside connection who can pass your resume to the hiring manager.  It is challenging to stand out in the flood of online applications but most hiring managers will take a look at resumes referred from a trusted colleague.
  • The Value of Second and Third Degree Connections and Groups – In the past networking was more challenging because you had to rely primarily on people you knew personally already. With Linked In the true power comes through your second and third degree connections.  People you know also know many other people.  This greatly expands the pool for identifying contacts in your target organizations.  With group you can make connections without waiting for an introduction.  Leverage alumni groups for school and former employers as well as affinity groups for your profession.  This enables you to expand your network exponentially.
  • Informational Interviews – A critical component of your networking strategy should be informational interviews to learn more about the companies on your target list and their career paths and hiring practices. Linked In enables you to identify relevant connections for informational interviews.  Then ask each contact for additional introductions.
  • Reconnecting with Former Colleagues – You may have lost contact with former colleagues once you left the company. Find them on Linked In to see where they are now and who else they may know to assist you in your search.
  • References – It is critical to have references for your search and chances are your references may have moved to other companies since you last worked together. Linked In is a convenient way to find them and to reconnect with them.  Be sure to ask permissions to list them as a reference and verity their contact information in advance.  When you expect a company will be contacting your references, let them know in advance to expect the call and provide background on the position and why you feel you are good fit.
  • Helping Others Find You – While Linked In is extremely valuable in helping you find contacts, it is also becoming a valuable tool for recruiters to find specific skill sets and experience. Be sure you have a compelling and descriptive heading, not just your current title.  Have a complete profile so potential employers can quickly see the highlights of your experience and education.  Include a summary to focus on your key transferrable skills and your major professional accomplishments.  Make it easy for recruiters to find you.