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One of the biggest lies

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I recently worked on a resume project with a rising junior. We targeted formalized internship programs with prestigious firms. These programs, with industry leaders, would give him valuable experience and help establish a solid foundation for his career-launching resume, after graduation. To make sure he’d take advantage of the full internship experience, I added this note:

Keep a record

“One thing I wanted to mention, as you start gaining experience, make time at the end of each week to note the things you’ve done, the contributions you’ve made, the things you’ve learned, and other career detail. (It may morph into once a month, but it’s a good habit to develop, regardless the time frame applied.) This gives you content for future resumes and talking points for future interviews or performance appraisal/salary review conversations. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I don’t have to write that down. I’ll remember.” You don’t. You won’t. I promise.

“Start a Word file, get a spiral notebook, open a Google doc, put it in a spreadsheet, but document it. This is the key to being able to drive your own “career bus”: know your value and be able to relay it in interesting, impactful career stories. You need good notes to write good stories.

Start a wonderfulness file

“Also, start a file where you save all the “thank yous” and notes of appreciation you receive during your career. They’re a great pick-me-up after an unsuccessful venture, and again, give value talking points in other aspects of your career. (I STILL keep a file with notes dating back to 1987. Seriously.)

Give back

“And as you travel, be sure to add to other people’s thank you file regularly, too. The most powerful and underused phase in business today is ‘thank you’, followed closely by ‘please.'”

Good practices, no matter where you are your career.

Go ahead. Add this to you to-do list. If you don’t, you won’t remember.

 

You don’t know if you don’t ask: Part 2, The Strategy

Last week, I shared a client story about a young job seeker attempting to launch his career in the oil and gas industry using his geology degree. Happily he landed, shortly after we finished his resume project. (You can catch up HERE.)

Finding Balance by WoodleyWoinderWorks via Flickr

As promised, here is the strategy we used to connect with a high-level executive, in his target industry.

Flattery only works on two types of people: Men. And Women.

You laughed. (I heard you.) He did too. But, here’s what flattery looks like in a “buyer-driven”, “it’s all about them”, job market:

  1. He didn’t ask for a job. He asked for wisdom, and guidance, from an industry leader.
  2. He respected the executive’s time. He acknowledged a busy executive schedule and the fact “he” was a stranger.
  3. He didn’t clutter the “ask” with a lot of extraneous information. He got straight to the point.
  4. He gave permission to not respond. He used non-pressure language to politely ask for guidance, rather than expect or demand help with a job search.

Authentic respect is a form of flattery. So is taking the time to do a little research about the company and the executive’s place in the industry. Taking time to find out a name; yet another form of flattery. Subtle, genuine complimentary interactions usually deliver positive results; and can be uplifting on both ends of the telephone.

As I shared in the original post, his email netted a conversation, and an introduction to an industry mentor. Will this approach always produce positive results? Of course not, nothing in life comes with a sure-fire guarantee. However, this contact certainly lends credence to what I tell clients everyday: People are amazingly generous and usually willing to give a few moments to help someone along the way – if you’re polite, respectful, and specific in the ask.

Thank you industry leader, who shall remain un-identified, for your generosity.

The Email:

Subject Line: <Name of mutual connection> suggested I contact you for your expertise

Dear Mr. <Name>:

I graduated with a geology degree and am ready to launch my career as a geologist in the oil and gas industry. I was excited to learn, <name of mutual connection>, an associate of mine, has a relative in my dream industry.

As an industry leader, would you be willing to share a bit of insight into what oil and gas companies value in an employee? I know you’re a busy executive and I’m a complete stranger, but could you spare a few moments to answer some brief questions for me. I would greatly appreciate it.

  1. Are there any certifications or continuing education courses you would recommend to supplement my formal education?
  2. What skill is valued, above all others, when it comes to field geologists? I’ve read lots and lots of job postings and have a good idea of the role, but am wondering, what employee skill, or trait contributes most to success in this industry (and the success of the industry)?
  3. Would it be alright to connect with you via LinkedIn?

Thank you for taking a moment to consider my request, and hopefully look forward to receiving your insights.

Sincerely,

<My Client’s Name>

Creating, expanding, engaging, nurturing, and occasionally tapping into  a network isn’t really as daunting as it seems.

I write frequently about networking. Here are the results of a “networking” search on my blog with links to lots of posts delving into the hows and whys.

You don’t know if you don’t ask: Part 1, The story

A few months ago I worked with a young, aspiring geologist. He traveled a non-traditional path toward graduation, taking almost 10 years to complete his degree. During that time, he changed majors, competed on the amateur surfing circuit, won surfing competitions, fished commercially, and contributed management leadership to his family’s thriving business. Two weeks after finally graduating, a close family member received a terminal diagnosis. Putting his own aspirations on hold, he jumped into a full-time care-giver role, until the end.

Tent Rocks by Snowpeak via Flickr (Cochiti Puebo, NM)

Tent Rocks by Snowpeak via Flickr (Cochiti Puebo, NM)

Now, two years beyond graduation, he felt behind the curve because of the choices he’d made. He’d heard job search horror stories from his classmates. And if his confidence wasn’t tenuous enough, he believed his geology knowledge diminished because he wasn’t using it. Through the resume process, we worked through those fears. We identified common threads in all he’d done and demonstrated how his experience translated into skills desired by his target market. His confidence grew.

From our first conversation, I encouraged him to engage his network. He insisted his existing network had no connections to his desired industry. I pushed back, asking how he knew “no one knew anyone” if he’d never asked. While wrapping up his resume project, I “preached the gospel of networking” to him one last time and wished him well.

Network. Network. Network

He took my networking insistence, er, ah, guidance, to heart. During casual conversations, he began sharing his desire to launch a geology career in the oil and gas industry. Imagine his excitement, when he discovered a fellow commercial fisherman, someone he’d known for more than 10 years, had a cousin in the industry. Better yet, this cousin had a leadership in the exploration division for one of the big players in the oil industry.

(May I interject here? “I was right.” Someone knows someone who knows someone who can help.)

He called me excited, terrified, and excited again, all at once. He had a name. He had an email address. He didn’t know what to say. After getting him to exhale, I reminded him he was networking, not running up to a complete stranger and ‘begging for a chance.’ He wrote, I opined, and he tweaked the introductory email. He hit send, and waited. The worst that could happen would be no response. He already had that outcome, so he really had nothing to lose.

The outcome.

He was on the phone with me a week later. Not only did he receive a response, the response included instructions to this busy executive’s administrative assistant to arrange a 15-minute phone call with my client. (WHOA!!) That call happened. The executive connected my client with someone in his organization willing to mentor emerging talent. I’d love to say, the call ended in a job offer, but it didn’t. (That came later, from a completely different organization.) The email and the call did net the foundation of a career-long network he can nurture and cultivate.

Fast-forward another few weeks, and I received an excited email, telling me he’d been so busy with his new job he’d not even had time to share the news. The confidence, and focus, gained through the resume process, and the subsequent success in his foray into networking propelled him into the job that launched his geology career, three months after finalizing his resume. (Some of his classmate searched for more than a year.)

So, what magic did we weave in gaining a connection? I’ll share our winning strategy, and the email, next week.

Wow. Who’s that?

Resume - Mirror Mirror by Aprillynn77 via Flickr - Compressed

Photo by aprillynn77 via Flickr

Quickly skimming one of the many LinkedIn group discussion digests I receive each week, one topic caught my eye. A jobseeker shared, after having his resume professionally prepared, he didn’t recognize himself in the final product. He wondered, out loud, on the Internet, if this was the typical experience.

I couldn’t let his question go unanswered. While not every process and every writer is a good fit for every resume client, the end result should not leave the careerist wondering, “Who is this?”

“Hi Davyd -

I’ve been a professional resume writer (hold 3 certifications) for 12 years. I am careful to capture the voice, and dare I say, ‘spirit’ of my client when creating their career documents. I work closely with clients to ensure I convey the tangible and intangible value they bring to their target positions. I have many colleagues who deliver the same result. To say what you experienced is “typical”, is inaccurate.

Partnering with the correct professional should bring an experience akin to trying to a new look, style, or behavior — clothes, hair, make-up, exercise, education, any change, really. Experiencing something new or seeing yourself in a new light is usually (always) uncomfortable, at first. But, as you get used to the new look, routine, or way of viewing your value, you realize it’s you, only new and improved. Not recognizing yourself, at all, is usually not a desired outcome for change. Whether it is a new way to convey your value in regards to your career, changing your diet, or trying a new style of pants, the end result should be a different, yet comfortable fit.”

 There’s a big difference between someone who types, rearranges, and formats words, and someone who creates a strategy and presentation ensuring you’re putting your best foot forward. Partner with the right professional, and you’ll not only recognize yourself; you’ll like what you see.

 

Companies hire skill sets, not job titles

A recent client had just completed his computer science degree. Currently, he was working as a delivery driver for a national courier service. Prior to that, he had been in the Navy. He was ready to launch his computer industry career starting as help desk technician.

He told me he had absolutely no help desk experience. He feared finding even an entry level position “in this market” with his background. He told me I’d see by his job titles, nothing in his background related to help desk work.

OK. I was up for the challenge.

We started talking. As a driver, he interacted with customers all day long. Frequently he listened to their problems, and either resolved them or gave them direction toward resolution. He also updated package deliveries in real-time every time he scanned a package, adding any pertinent notes and ensuring record accuracy.

In his last 18 months with the Navy, he was a Pay Specialist for a Naval Operations Support Center processing payroll for 600 reservists, and handling inquiries from more than 2000 reservists assigned to the center.

While there:

  • He took on a project to convert paper records to electronic files. He completed the project four months ahead of schedule.
  • He ran and reviewed payroll, ensuring accuracy, prior to submission.
  • He responded to inquiries from any one of the 2000 reservists all day, every day. He troubleshot email account and system access difficulties; and resolved system lock-out issues for the entire department.
  • He uploaded data to mainframe personnel systems, and verified it was error-free.

Photo by TikTik via Flickr

During deployment he’d updated, in real-time, detainee movement within a maximum-security facility. As a mechanic, he’d created a spreadsheet controlling safety gear inventory for 200 sailors.

After we’d finished with the information gathering segment, I said, “So you’ve don’t have any help desk experience, huh? He politely replied, “No, ma’am.” I softly chuckled, and said, “Let’s recap.”

You troubleshot email and information access systems, responded to inquires about any topic from email, to deployment orders, to payroll to whatever any one of 2000 reservist or someone from headquarters, for that matter, can think to ask. As a driver you’re dealing with people face-to-face. Sometimes they’re angry, and you calm them down. You’ve updated databases information in civilian and military positions. You’re used to working in a fast-paced, get-it-done now environment, and have great follow-up skills, ensuring resolution, and customer satisfaction.

With a smile in my voice, I said, “Yep. I’d have to agree. You have absolutely no help desk experience at all.”

Had we been sitting face-to-face, I am convinced I would have seen the “cartoon-style” light bulb appear over his head as he realized, he absolutely, positively DID have help desk skills.

He excitedly exclaimed, “Miss Dawn. With that one bit of insight, you just earned every single penny I paid you, and then some. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Companies hire skill sets, not job titles. Skills are transferable, but it is up to the job seeker to define their skills in relation to hiring company needs, not the confines of past job titles. Take a step back from what you were called and take a look at what you did.

 

One of job search’s biggest roadblocks: You don’t know what you don’t know

We recently completed a full renovation of both bathrooms in our house. The ‘problem’ started as a mushy spot next to the tub in the main bathroom. We learned not to step on that spot, and hoped it didn’t get any worse.

About a year after we noticed the floor by the tub, I stepped on the floor in front of the bathroom sink. It gave. Fortunately, I didn’t fall through. Evidently, things had gotten worse. Our solution; cover the spot with a board.

My husband’s son was visiting and graciously volunteered to climb under the house. He found not only rotting floors in the main bathroom, but in the back bathroom as well. Evidently things had gotten MUCH worse.

Main bathroom: Before

We were officially overwhelmed. There were so many questions; we didn’t even know where to begin …

  • Was it termite damage? Oh no. I’m sure we have termites. If it’s termites, how bad is it?????
  • Would I have to be out of my house for months? (I’ve watched too many HGTV renovation shows)
  • What would I do with our pets (2 dogs, 7 cats, 2 cockatiels, a chicken, a rooster, and a tank of fish) if we had to stay elsewhere? How would we arrange care?
  • Where would we stay? Mom has room, but lives in Raleigh. My business is portable. The hubs works in town. Could he stay with one of his children? But, how long? How long would we live apart? We didn’t want to impose anywhere.
  • How much was this going to cost?
  • How long would it take?
  • What did we have to do?
  • What could we do on our own?

And on and on and on … (asked with increasing frenzy.)

At this time, I knew, all I needed to do was call a contractor, and make a plan. Sounds easy, huh? Dial the phone.

One year passed. We did nothing, another year passed, and another. Every time I walked past or into the main bathroom, I reminded myself, we really needed to do something to address the problem. Every time – for four or five years – is a LOT of energy wasted fretting about something.

The problem grew and grew and grew – in our minds. The fear of what we didn’t know, the fear of finding out what we didn’t’ know, and an “I’ll do something tomorrow” approach blocked us from getting the answers needed to make sound decisions and formulate a plan. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And more importantly; didn’t ask.

Our approach to bathroom repairs mirrored the approach many careerists and job seekers use when ‘launching’ a job search or thinking about leaving a dead-end job. Rather than getting expert guidance as soon as they identify the need, they ignore, procrastinate, speculate, fabricate, and consternate scenarios. I cannot count how many times I tell job seekers you have to break this ‘career management’ thing into manageable pieces, or you’re going to continue wandering around in the “Land of the Overwhelmed,” doing nothing; and lamenting the fact things haven’t changed. (Funny it took me so long to listen to my own advice … but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

Main bathroom: After

What I discovered, after I finally made the call …

  • What I thought would take months, took 10 days. (ONLY 10 days.)
  • What I thought would be over-the-moon costly, was actually quite reasonable.
  • While I thought we’d be displaced and separated and providing long distance care for animals, we lived in the house during the entire project, with minimal inconvenience.
  • What I thought to be overwhelming was simplified with step-by-step guidance from an expert.

The effort necessary to get from the before to the after picture and the value gained from our beautiful new bathrooms, with solid, jump-up-and-down-on-them-if-you-want-to floors, was soooooooo worth it. My only regret, I let myself sit in my own way and block happiness and peace of mind for so long.

This is a “do as I say, not as I do” post. If you’re just launching a job search or in the midst of an unsuccessful one, don’t be your own biggest roadblock.

  • If you need help, ask for it. (Don’t wait.)
  • Partner with someone you trust.
  • Your ‘concept of reality’ and reality probably differ greatly.
  • “Things” don’t normally magically fix themselves without some sort of outside intervention.
  • The dread of the task, usually, far outweighs the task itself.

Building a job search (or a bathroom) without knowing the steps, tools, and processes necessary for success overwhelms and paralyzes.

Go ahead. Dial the phone. It could be the first step toward that incredible new career, lovely new bathroom, or wonderful new something.

(I found a lot of job search parallels in this remodeling adventure. Stay tuned. I’ll share more.)   

**Bathroom remodel by Woodcock Home Improvements. THANK YOU!

What’s your excuse? “I can’t afford …”

Photo by o5com via Flickr

Granted. There are just some things that fall out of my price range. While I would love to drive a two-seater Mercedes convertible, I don’t have the funds to support that right now. And I do realize there are situations when individuals can barely afford the basic life necessities. Those aren’t the “I can’t affords” I’m addressing in this post. I’m looking at folks, me included, who roll out the “I can’t afford …” excuse without thought, as if some nebulous force of the universe deems how we can and do allocate funds (Much like the time excuse examined here.)

As with an “I don’t have time” excuse, “I can’t afford” brings the same knowing nod, needing no further explanation. We all understand, “I can’t afford”.  Frequently, closer examination of “cannot afford”, reveals “chooses not to afford” or “need to make some changes” insights. We’re in control of what we do with our money. On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. But, sometimes, when evaluating “why” something is deemed out of reach. you uncover it’s not really the money after all. Sometimes, it’s fear of moving into the unknown or an apprehension to facing and admitting a need for change (“you know need to do it”). It’s difficult to recognize, address, and remove personal roadblocks; but not impossible.

In my travels, I’ve seen people “unable to afford”

… training courses, but were able to hang out nightly at the local watering hole.
… air conditioning repair, discussed daily over a $2-$3 take-out breakfast and a $5-$7 take-out lunch.
… appliance repair, shared while showing 37 (seriously, we counted), “It was only $1″ purchases.
… car repair, but never far from a cigarette.
… additional certifications, while brandishing the most recent technical gadget.
… professional coaching or additional education, but sipping high-priced lattes, daily.
… resume, job search, or career assistance to launch a career, after investing countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars in an education, advanced degrees, or specialized training.

Pushing past or taking steps to work around each of those “I can’t affords” would bring improvement to the individual. Yet, through choices made, they blocked opportunities to enhance either their circumstance or their career. Please don’t think I’m immune. Looking at the “I spents” and the “I can’t affords” in my life continues to be eye-opening.

Photo by borman818 via Flickr

Rather than feeling deprived by the universe “I can’t afford that” (and dare I say, almost resentful of those who can), I think about what changes I need to make in my spending habits and move toward making it happen. Through more careful evaluation, I discovered little changes add up quickly.

Assessing how we allocate limited resources, like time and money, leads to more prudent planning and allocation of those resources. For me, looking at where I choose to spend and invest means better decisions and understanding of “where does the money go?” Have I allotted funds for my own personal development? Am I allowing myself some fun?

This post does not pass judgment on anyone or any expenditure. It’s meant to challenge us all to think and plan about where we want to go, what we want to do, and what it’s going to take to get there. One less lunch or dinner out, one less latte, or one less impulse purchase each week adds up quickly. Small changes can mean the difference between forward advancement, and the “I can’t afford” blues.

An eye-opening “I can’t afford” story comes from a caller (we’ll call Arnold) several years ago:
Arnold sought a six-figure contractor position overseas, and came to me as a referral. The referring friend (Phil) had landed his dream opportunity and had already been promoted since becoming an ex-pat. Phil credited me with helping him get his foot in the door. After discussing Arnold’s needs, I quoted the package level most closely matching his experience and career goals – a reasonable investment for a service that most likely would have helped triple his salary, given him a 100% ROI on his career investment in the first week of employment, and helped him realize his dream.

His response:
“Ms. Dawn. You’ve got to give me a discount. I can’t afford that.
I’ve got a brand new truck, a brand new house, and all new furniture. There’s no way I can do that.”

Can’t afford? Or made other choices?

What’s your excuse? “I don’t have time …”

Today I tweeted:

#Jobseekers: If you don’t make yourself a priority, no one else will. Won’t “find” & can’t “make” time. DEDICATE time to reach your goals.

"Whatever Clock" from uncommongoods.com

after a caller shared with me they: hated their current job, needed a resume to launch a new search, but “didn’t have time” to work on a new resume or search for a new position. (“Couldn’t they just send me what they had, and I’d make it pretty?” We won’t go into all the things wrong with that approach here. And no, the caller did not become my client. Sometimes, no matter what I do, they don’t understand the value derived from taking time to derive their value.)

The caller wanted to make a change, but when it came time to invest time and energy, they weren’t willing to evaluate how they allocated their time or make minor adjustments in their time allocation to attain a goal. They proudly announced they didn’t have time … as if they’d only been given 20 hours per day, while the rest of us fortunate souls received 24.

Anyway, about a year ago, I made a conscious decision to remove, “I don’t have time” and “I can’t afford …” from my vocabulary. That’s not to say, I was miraculously granted all the time and money in the world, but I stopped using nebulous, “out of my control” reasons (excuses) for not doing or purchasing things and decided to accept the responsibility for my decision, as if I made them myself … which … (wait for it) … I did.

I don’t have time …

How often do you say, I don’t have time for this or that? Frankly, for the most part, it’s not you don’t have time; you (me, we) CHOOSE NOT to allocate or dedicate time to the activity in question. Saying “I don’t have time” makes it much easier to say no, excuse yourself for not tackling a challenging task, or explain away not starting a new, exciting, yet daunting project. Everyone nods knowingly and not much explanation is needed. It’s vague and lets you off the hook, as if some magical, mystical, external force is the universe if preventing you from:

Cleaning that closet
Writing a blog post
Taking donations to charity
Starting a remodel project
Going out to dinner with friends
Spending time with family
Initiating a new business initiative
Launching a job search (See how I brought that back around?)

Start accepting responsibility for your decisions. It usually is not some force in the universe preventing your from doing things; it is you, and you alone.

By the way: When “I don’t have time” crosses my mind, I remind myself I had time to:

Take a nap
Check into Frasier 137 times on Get Glue
Cruise Facebook and Pinterest for hours
Follow countless links and read many, many interesting articles and posts via my Twitter stream
Peruse comments sections on some of those articles and posts
Spend a few hours porch-sitting with my neighbor

That’s not to say, a little downtime isn’t good (read: required) for the soul. But, reset your thinking, enlist some support, if needed. Turn off the TV or your computer for a little while. Taking 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there from the “fun and mindless” activities and dedicating that time to a more difficult project delivers some amazing results.

This isn’t just my opinion. FlyLady.net, a wildly-popular, global website teaches “you can do anything 15 minutes at a time.” The Twitter Job Search Guide is subtitled Find a job and advance your career in just 15 minutes a day. And Social Networking for Career Success outlines the many tools and tactics you can use, to support long-term career success, a little at a time. (Shameless promo: I contributed to each book.)

The next time you’re going to utter the words, “I don’t have time,” stop and think, do you not have time because it’s too much effort, too much trouble, too difficult, too big, or something you really don’t want to do. If it’s something you really don’t want to do, say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but no thank you.” If it’s “too anything …” look at the level of importance the task holds to your overall goals. If it’s important, you won’t have to worry about finding or making time, you’ll dedicate it. If it’s not that important to you, release it. It’s not that you don’t have time; you choose not to invest time in that venture at this time.

The next five years (five minutes, five hours, five days) will pass regardless what you choose to do. Some people use that time to advance their career to new and glorious heights. Others sit and lament the lack of time.  We all have 24-hours each day. Figure out how you want to spend them.

Next time, we’ll talk about “I can’t afford …

(PS – Have I perfected the “no excuse” approach to time allocation? Absolutely not, but I’m getting there. That’s why I blogged about it. I figured if I needed a gentle reminder, someone else probably did too.)

Focus: A powerful element in job search

(This is a long post, but hang with me …)

It’s unusual for our land line to ring much anymore. It’s more unusual for us to answer it. Most of our friends and family have made the transition to our cell numbers. I keep our “house phone” for ease and comfort during client intake consultations. Anymore, incoming calls on that line are telemarketers, and now, political pitches.

Photo by Koshyk via Flickr

When the phone rang at 6 o’clock on Friday night, prime telemarketing time, I almost didn’t answer. Something made me glance at the caller ID. The number was familiar, so I picked up. I’m so glad I did.

The call came from a resume client. We’d finished work on his resume at the end of March. He was calling to tell me he’d landed a job, in his target field, and started Monday – after only a month of searching with his new and improved resume. He went on to tell me, he’d given his new resume to a family member, who was able to get it in front of a hiring authority, landing him an interview. He networked, aced the interview, and starts his new job Monday. The main reason for the call; to thank me for helping launch his career. (WOW! How thoughtful and sweet.)

The back story …

The client, we’ll call him “Tom”, graduated with a bachelor’s in IT in December 2011, and also held an associate’s degree in the same field, earned in 2009. He’d been looking for a career-launching, entry-level IT position long before he graduated, and now, for several months after.

He’d been searching with a “typical”, cookie-cutter resume, carefully following all the “dinosaur-like” resume guidelines shared by university career resources, 20-years behinds the time.

(Read here and here how that could stymie a search before it ever gets started.)

He had a “me-centric” objective, a boring list of courses he’d taken, vague, generic mentions of an internship, and a large project, and an entry mentioning the job he’d held throughout his academic career – pizza delivery driver and cook. The information left the reader to determine value and figure out how what he had done could positively impact their organization.

He approached his job search with an “I’ll do anything IT” approach and was sending out resumes, willy-nilly hoping something would eventually stick. There was little focus or direction. I asked how frequently he was getting calls or interviewing. His response, as I presumed, “infrequently”; which is what lead him to me.

What I did …

After some coaching about the power of laser-sharp focus in a search, and the need to be able to articulate value in relation to targeted positions, he went off to do some next-step research: What specific position will help launch my career and get me on my desired career path?

He determined a help desk support technician was the first step. He provided three job postings representative of the position he sought. This served a two-fold purpose. After reading many postings, a common thread of valued skills emerges. This helped him identify careers stories in relation to potential employer needs. The postings also gave me key words most likely used to sort through hundreds of applications using an applicant tracking systems (ATS) They also helped me identify and tease out skills that spoke to his career target.

As I pulled his career story from him, I found out he was the “go-to” person for most of his family, friends, and acquaintances for all things IT. He frequently troubleshot hardware and software difficulties in person and over the phone. He’d also set up a large personal network, in a mansion, for a friend of a friend, through a referral.

He worked on myriad team projects in earning both his associate’s and his bachelor’s degrees. He’d landed an internship, giving him actual help desk experience. All of this great, value-conveying information was missing from his current resume presentation.

I created a bold headline and summarized what value he brought to the table. We put the focus on his hardware and software expertise and outlined the value he brought to internships, projects, and assignments. I also worked in a line about the pro bono family IT work and support provided. (A skill’s a skill whether you get paid for it or not.)

Rather than leaving the pizza parlor job hanging at the bottom of his document, listing job titles, driver and cook, I shared the story of how he’d worked there while earning both his degrees. I told how he became the go-to person for filling in and accepting additional shifts and was trusted to open and close the store for the manager. He also was the employee called on to resolve customer issues. A few lines about his growth and actions in this seven-year position conveyed a sound work ethic, reliability, and loyalty. Rather than painting a picture of pizza delivery driver, we conveyed his value as a solid, contributing member to a team … that happened to deliver pizzas.

During the process, I watched with pleasure as I saw his thinking shift from “I’m a student and pizza delivery driver who wants a job in IT,” to “I’m an IT professional, who happens to have recently graduated, and is delivering pizzas until I find the job that fits my current level of expertise.” He also saw how years of calming irate customers in the food industry would segue nicely into a help desk environment. (We all know food and computer issues can bring out the worst in people. As difficult as this might be to believe, even I get a little crabby when faced with “less than perfect” in either situation.)

The morale …

There are several lessons buried in this wonderful Friday night surprise.

  • Never underestimate the power of a thank you. The fact that this young man took time out of his busy life to call and say thank you almost brought me tears. It’s a kind and wonderful gesture that won’t soon be forgotten. (What a marvelous addition to his brand.)
  • Cookie-cutter doesn’t cut it. Looking like everyone else does nothing to support your unique value proposition or differentiate you from the rest of the pack. Without focus on a goal and company needs, you don’t know what part of your story to tell or how to tell it. Flopping information down on a sheet of paper and expecting the reader to extrapolate value in relation to their needs doesn’t work.
  • Narrowing a search, as counterintuitive as it might sound, nets faster, more positive results. Six months in a search with “I’ll take anything” versus one month of “‘Katie bar the door'; I want to be a help desk technician” search speaks volumes.
  • The power is in the presentation. Tom’s skill set did not change from the time he put together his own resume to the time we worked we together. What started landing him interviews was revamping the skills presentation. Frequently, it’s not the skills; it’s the presentation of those skills blocking job search success.
  • Network. Network. Network. With a revamped presentation and narrow focus, Tom was able to approach his network, share a specific career goal, and get his resume in front of a hiring authority. The network was there before, but without his focus, they weren’t sure how to help him.
  • Believe in yourself. If you view yourself as “just this” or “just that”, it’s nearly impossible to project your skill set, talents, and enthusiasm into a new and exciting position. If you don’t believe you can do it; don’t expect anyone else to believe you can do it either.
  • Partner with a pro. If what you’re doing isn’t working, it might be time to enlist the help of someone who knows the market and what works. Frequently, job seekers don’t even know what they don’t know about job search today. Just because I have a scissors doesn’t mean I know how to cut hair. I look to a professional with the training, tools, and expertise to do the job right. A job seeker is wise to follow that same plan.

Tom launches an exciting new career Monday after only a month of focused searching. If focus can do that for a recent graduate, pizza delivery driver, with limited experience, imagine what it can do for you in your search.

Asking for job search help effectively

Photo by Coletivo Mambembe via Flickr

Following is a recent LinkedIn exchange I had with a complete stranger. Information has been changed to protect identities (well, except mine):

The initial connection:

 Dawn,

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

- Albert

I’ve gotten over people using the “generic” LI invite. Most people don’t know or think to customize the invite. That said; I wish more people did take the time. It sure is nice when someone lets me know either how they know me or why they’d like to connect.

I looked at his profile, determined him “safe,” accepted the invitation, and took a moment to respond – like I always do. (Just because the original message is generic doesn’t mean I have to operate at that level.)

Thank you for the invitation, Albert. I’m pleased to be added to your network.

Best,

Dawn

The ask:

Within 12 minutes of accepting the invitation, I received this:

Dawn, if you are a recruiter could you help me get a job. I would like to get a career in any field at this point. There were layoffs and hiring freezes in North Carolina.

- Albert

My Reply:

This individual asked for help with his job search, so I obliged. I didn’t pull any punches, in offering suggestions to improve his job search and networking approach. If he’s making these mistakes; someone else is too. Hopefully, we’ll all learn and grow from this example.

Hi Albert -

 I am not a recruiter. I am a Master Resume Writer and Career Strategist. Since you’ve asked for assistance, I am going to give you some information to help you navigate a job search in 2012.

1. Recruiters do not find jobs for people. They find people for jobs. Their focus is on company needs. The company pays their salary; not the candidate. If a recruiter does not have an open job order for a position that has need of your unique skill set, there is basically nothing they can do for you. They can put you in their database and hope you pop back up in a search IF they get an order for someone with your skill set. (I know. I am a former recruiter.)

2. “I’ll take anything” is not an effective strategy is this market. It is up to the job seeker to determine company needs, pick through their experience, and convey the value they bring to the organization in relation to company needs. Hiring authorities will not sit and extrapolate value from a laundry list of job duties. It is up to the job seeker to convey their value and project those skills into the desired position. Target. Focus. Differentiation. The three keys to job search success in a difficult market. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.” A resume is not a career autobiography; it is a focused sales and marketing document telling a potential employer what they want to know. They “don’t care” what you’ve done until you can tell them how what you’ve done will benefit them.

3. I live in North Carolina and work nationally, and sometimes internationally. There were (and still are) layoffs and hiring freezes not only here, but everywhere. However, with the correct focus and approach, people land jobs every day. (A bank manager I worked with landed a new and better job, in the middle of the financial meltdown in late 2009, in only six weeks. He focused his search. He networked. He sold his value to potential employers. And he landed a job, in the banking industry, in the middle of the worst part of the recession. He was in NC. There are jobs out there.)

4. This is intended to help, but might come across as harsh. It is not my intent at all. I want you to network effectively and get results. The current approach you’re using won’t do that. I’d also like to suggest to you, if you are going to approach a complete stranger and ask for assistance, put some effort into the request. To be completely honest, my initial reaction to your reply message was “This person can’t even take two seconds to look at my profile and know I’m not a recruiter, but I’m supposed to take my time and help them ‘find a job’? Ya. Right.” Fortunately (or unfortunately *smile*) I overrode that initial reaction and opted to respond.

If you’re going to enlist a network to help, give them specific, well-thought out tasks to assist you. “Help me find a job” does not fit into that category. For instance, instead of approaching me with a “Hey, what do you do? Help me” message, a more effective approach would have been, “I see you’re a resume writer. What one tip would you give a job seeker in this market?” Or, “Do you have a favorite job search tool you recommend?” Or, “Would you be willing to allow me 15 minutes of your time to ask a few pointed questions about job search?” Each of those gives me a specific task that can easily be completed and will probably net better, more tangible results for you.

Don’t ask “Joe” if he can help you find a job. Say, “Joe, I know you have a cousin that works for ABC Company. Would you be willing to arrange an introduction? I’m very interested in working for that organization. I’d like to ask him some questions about the company and what they look for in an employee. Could you do that for me?” Chances are Joe will gladly arrange that introduction. It is specific, “easy”, and tangible. He can do it, and check it off his list. “Help me find a job” is too big a request for the average person to fulfill, and could mean the person starts avoiding you because they don’t know how to help and feel bad about it. Specific, actionable requests net specific, actionable results. A “‘spray and pray’ for anyone to help you find anything requests usually results in frustration.

I write a job search blog and link to lots of effective job search tools through my site. If you are unable to invest in advancing your career by engaging with a career professional to amp up your efforts, then please, take advantage of what I put out there and link to in an effort to help everyone, clients or not, in their search.

I’d be happy to work with you in moving back toward employment. I’ve listed my website below and it’s also linked through my LI profile. Partnering with a career professional is an investment, but held against the cost of unemployment, the investment is minimal, and the ROI 100% if that professional can shorten your search by only a week.

I wish you well in your endeavors, and hope this little bit of guidance will help you better navigate job search waters.

Best regards,

Dawn

‘Nuff said.