Energizing Your Spring Job Search

Spring is not just the time for cleaning your house and yard.  It can also be the perfect time to refocus and re-energize your job search.   This early in the year there is typically hiring activity going on and those calendar year companies don’t have budget freezes in place just yet.  Many companies are preparing for the college grad hiring process and that often brings some internal movement and opportunities.

Spring can be an extremely busy time for successful job searchers, so here are a few tips for making the most of this time.

Networking

The single most important thing any job searcher can do is networking.  The weather will be slowly improving so people are more willing to get out of the office for a cup of coffee and conversation.   Identify the target companies on your list.  Use your alumni database, Linked In, former colleagues, etc. to identify contacts in those target companies.  Request an informational interview to learn more about the company, but do not ask for a job.  Rather, ask how the company hires, what skills are required for success, and how the function you are interested in fits in that organization.

Set specific networking goals for the spring and hold yourself accountable.  Meet people for coffee, lunch, a quick meeting or even a walk outside.  Take advantage of this time of year to make as many connections as possible.  Always ask your networking contact who else they think you should be talking to, given your career interests.  Ask what professional association meetings you should be attending.  Take advantage of these opportunities to meet others in your chosen field.

Have a Plan

You wouldn’t plan your vacation without a destination in mind and at least a rough plan of how you are going to get there.  Your job search deserves at least that much attention – if not more.  It is hard to get where you want to be without a clear sense of where you are going, so create and follow a specific job search plan.

Identify the type of position you seek and the target companies where you most want to work.  Develop a networking strategy and list of contacts for each company.  Have a plan to make new networking contacts every week.  Always thank your networking contacts for their time, preferably in person and follow it up with a written note.  Thank them again if they refer you to a valuable connection.  Keep your network posted on your progress.

Stay Positive

No one wants to hire a complainer or a “Negative Nellie.”  Stay positive and stay focused.  Enjoy the networking along the way; you may just surprise yourself with how rewarding it is to make new connections, learn new things and expand your personal and professional networks!

Reflect on the interesting people you meet and draw inspiration from their career journeys.  Be positive about yourself and the skills you bring to the table.  Demonstrate that you have a vision for what you want to do in your career.  Show appreciation for their time and enthusiasm for additional contacts or activities they recommend.  It is hard to sell yourself to others if you are not confident in your own abilities.

Also, be open and accepting of feedback.  You may not want to hear it but, you need to hear it in order to grow and get to the next level.  Learn from others who have more experience.  At least seriously consider the advice they offer.  Be willing to learn and to try new things.  Remember, you can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken.

Use that burst of spring energy to ramp up your job search and to increase your likelihood of success.

 

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.

How to Stay Relevant in Your Current Job

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 Linked In – 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.

Lateral Moves for Advancement

Sometimes the best way to advance your career in the long-run, is to take a lateral move in the short-run.  Career advancement opportunities are frequently offered to those who have a broad base of knowledge within the company or industry and who have developed a critical skill set.  Companies are looking for leaders who understand the business — not just singular functionality.

To be successful at this level, it is important to have a strong knowledge of the business and a broad understanding of the entire organization.  While promotions are great for advancing your career, sometimes the most strategic career move is a lateral move to gain needed experience and skills that contribute toward the crucial understanding of the business and to prepare to claim a role in senior leadership.  Often exposure to operations in another country or state adds perspective but so does time spent in another functional area.  So, how does one determine if a lateral move is strategic?

To determine if a lateral move is right for you, it is important to consider your long term career goals and to honestly assess what skills and experience are critical to achieving those goals.  What specific skills and experience are valued by the organization, and what is required for the future positions you aspire to hold?  Assess your current skills and identify the gaps.  Develop a plan to fill those skills gaps in your resume.  Do your homework.  Talk to people who hold the positions you aspire to, and ask what skills and experiences they consider critical to success.  The more networking you do in your field, the deeper understanding you will garner of the criterion needed to prepare you for the future roles of your choice and that make you stand out from the competition.

If this honest analysis identifies holes in your resume, this discovery is not a drawback but rather, an opportunity presented to you that can enable you to benefit significantly from a lateral assignment which offers that needed experience.  In addition to making you better qualified for future opportunities, it also signals to management that you are committed to advancing in the organization by deepening your skill set and understanding the broader business.  Your willingness to take a lateral move to intentionally develop needed skills and experience is a clear signal to senior management that you are serious about a successful career:  you are willing to walk the walk.

When to consider a lateral move

If the lateral move provides an opportunity to build your experience, knowledge and exposure in an area that you are lacking, this could indeed be a wise investment in your future.  Consider the added value of expanding your internal network – more people will know you and what you can do.  If you are learning new things about the company and its products or services, that knowledge can be valuable to your longer term plans.  You should take advantage of the lateral opportunity if it provides valuable skills and experience required for your longer term career goals.

Assess in what functions your experience lies.  If your experience has been exclusively a particular area, you should consider a move to another functional area in order to gain valuable new perspective and insights.  Identifying what you need to move forward regarding skills and seeking opportunities that provide that learning opportunity can significantly enhance your career.  It is important to build a strong foundation of key business skills in order to move successfully into the more strategic roles.

When not to consider a lateral move

 If you are considering a lateral move because you are tired of what you are doing and want a change, it is not a strategic move.  Unless you are going to learn new things and gain additional skills and experience, staying at the same level can be a career- limiting move.  Do not accept a lateral move just for a change of pace.  You owe it to yourself to be more strategic about your career.  If your job is being eliminated and your only alternative is a lateral move, you may think about it differently but avoid the temptation to accept anything simply out of desperation.  The position needs to interest you and add value to your longer term career goals that you have identified.

What if the senior leader of the company asks you to do something specific in a different area for a defined period of time as a special favor?  This is a win-win and will groom you in the manner of thinking at the senior level.  Why?  Helping out a colleague or senior manager can benefit your career.  You may have been asked because your senior leaders want to gauge how well you perform in a different function.  This may require stepping out of your comfort zone, but part of the career path, no matter what the course, usually involves taking another perspective.  This cross-over, if you will, increases your value by exposing you to something new and different and this can set you apart from the pack.  We’ve all known individuals who may have been reluctant to work as a team – and we likely remember how it felt on the other side.  Being seen as a team player can be good for your career and it demonstrates versatility and a non-verbal way to communicate that success is often achieved by group effort.  It is not unusual for temporary, at-the-same level moves, to result in significant new opportunities down the road if all goes well.  Being open to new experiences is part of career growth.

Big Picture Exposure

Exposure to the various aspects of the business may not be enough to land in the corner office however.  There are other tenets that come into play in achieving a senior position.  Understanding and knowledge are two themes whose roads all point back to success.  The most valued functional professionals also need to understand the business so they can effectively manage their functional organization or the overall company.  All managers benefit from some understanding of marketing, sales, finance, supply chain and product management

Soft skills are important for success in leadership as well.  Managers must have the ability to communicate effectively, analyze data, persuade others when they have no authority over them, and work in cross-functional teams.  With complex issues, managers need to understand the implications of human resources, risk, technology, legal, compliance and business continuity issues.

Successful managers do not need a detailed understanding of accounting since they won’t be booking the debits and credits; however, they must be able to read a balance sheet, income and cash flow statements while understanding the impact of business decisions on the company’s finances and business decisions.  They must understand the internal financial system and be able to analyze and demonstrate knowledge of the data in the reports to help support future decisions that merit success.

When senior managers are looking to fill key strategic positions for the organization they are looking for individuals with the right skills and experience.  A combination of lateral and promotion career moves can prepare for you for the next move in your career.   Managers will also look for candidates who have demonstrated leadership skills, an ability to work projects to successful and timely completion and a track record of generating solutions to business problems.  This toolbox will help you develop as a proven senior leader over time.

Moving lateral to move up

 The decision to invest in your career by accepting a strategic lateral move to expand your knowledge and experience can be the key to longer term success.  Doing the homework – expanding your skills, helping other team members, crossing over into new territory even temporarily, and enhancing your resume are all components that will hasten your goals, short- and long-term to present yourself as a supply chain leader and stay competitive with other candidates.  These efforts, over time, can enhance your career options and your personal fulfillment.

 

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.

 

Success on the Job Starts Day One

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 you 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.

 

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.