Friday, August 21, 2015

Top 10 Questions From Beginning Job Seekers

Top 10 Questions
Thinking of beginning a job search?  It can be overwhelming!  It seems like there are so many possibilities to pursue, and sources for jobs to check into!
Where do you start?
What should you focus on?
What do you spend your time on?
You can do lots of things - How do you search for 4 or 6 different types of jobs?

A beginning job seeker can have a lot of questions on their mind as they begin to pursue a career change, and can waste a lot of time spinning their wheels.  But, it doesn’t have to be like that if a job seeker gets some good job search direction up front. 

And, that’s exactly what a group of beginning job seekers did recently at a daylong event, designed to provide correct and current information about how to conduct a search for a position.  The event was hosted by a local defense contractor, and offered the expertise of several local career experts, human resource professionals, and successful job seekers.

The group asked lots of questions.  Since their questions are representative of those on the minds of most initial job seekers, I thought I would share their questions, and my answers, in the hope that you find the information useful and get your search off on the right foot!

Questions & Answers 

Question 1:   How do I get started?

Answer:  By understanding (A) What a search is and (B) How to go about managing it.

(A) What a search is
A job search is an exercise in sales –  selling yourself.  When you are looking for a new job, new role, expansion of your current role, or venturing off into a new independent contracting, consulting, or business role, you are in sales!  You are selling, or offering, your unique set of capabilities and attributes to your potential customers, i.e., prospective employers, who have a need and are willing to pay, i.e., a salary, to acquire your services. 

Why is this important?  Because it will help you understand how to talk about yourself in networking and interviewing, and how to describe your experiences in your resume, cover letters, etc. In a nutshell, identify the benefits of hiring you and learn how to describe those benefits that you have provided your past employers and will provide to your future ones.

(B) How to go about managing your job search
Managing an effective job search is akin to managing any important project, with 2 differences:  You can’t predict (1) how long it will take, and (2) exactly where you’ll end up.  However, whether you are beginning a new search or seeking to revitalize an ongoing search, plan to employ the project management skills you would use on any important project in order to achieve your goal.

Prepare - Project management Step 1
Preparation is key to succeed at finding the job you want.  Firing off unfocused resumes at any and every opening that comes along, termed "shotgunning," is usually an exercise in frustration, wastes time, irritates recruiters, and frequently results in “jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire."
  • Learn the steps involved in finding a job, and prepare a "job search strategy." 
    • Step 1:  Plan and Strategize your search
    • Step 2:  Prepare your Resume and other marketing materials
    • Step 3:  Network and Interview
    • Step 4:  Negotiate your offerS and prepare your career transition
  • Identify your goal:  The type(s) of job, or expanded role, you are seeking and write it down.
Plan - Project management Step 2
Continue your planning with market research.  Do your homework!
  • Gain information and knowledge about the need and market for the type of work you want to do.
  • Identify what industries, companies within those industries, and locales hire your skill and knowledge set.
Acquire - Project management Step3
Acquire the project management tools you’ll need to get organized and perform the work of your project.  This is an important step; don’t skip it, or . . . you’ll feel like you’re playing catch-up throughout your search and often find your spinning your wheels!
  • Establish your work space.  Set up your work space or office, and reserve that space for your use alone during your search.  Take the time to organize your office, computer, phone, files, etc. 
  • Create or update and revise your marketing tools; focus your tools on the specific type of job you want.  Your marketing tools include:  Your resume, “L”vator speech, personal-professional business cards, annotated reference list, marketing plan, and cover letter template . . . for starters.             
Market and Implement - Project management Step 4 
With your goal clearly in mind, your work space or office organized, and your marketing materials prepared and focused on your goal, set off on your search in earnest.  Implement your search.
  • Organize your work day to include time for research, networking, attending events, and eventually interviewing for ideal jobs and then negotiating your offerS (note: The goal of your search is to generate offers so that you'll have a choice.)
  • Plan your strategy for contacting and connecting with target employers, . . . and do it!
Begin at the beginning
Invest the time up front to get organized and plan a strategic job search.  The investment will speed you on your way and pay off in conducting a more focused, faster, and rewarding search.

Question 2:  How long will it take to find a job today?

Answer:  Nobody knows.  It will take as long as it takes! 

Not the answer you were hoping for, I know.  But, remember (See Question 1) that while a job search is a project to be managed, it does have 2 differences from that of most projects you’ve probably managed in the past:  You can’t predict (1) how long it will take, nor (2) exactly where you’ll end up.  The challenge for some job seekers is developing a comfort level with this ambiguity. Landing your new position or role will take executing a pro-active search, effectively marketing yourself, working consistently, persisting through obstacles, and . . . some luck too!

It always concerns me when I see ads and articles for job search assistance with headlines like:
  • Jobs in 30 days”  or
  • Buy this service and you’ll have 30 offers in 2 months,” . . . . 
It simply doesn’t work that way. 

The shortest route to your new job is thorough and effective preparation, and knowledgeably marketing yourself to companies and organizations you have identified that have a need for your skills and experience.  While “shotgunning” (See Question 1) might SEEM the quickest route to finding a job, it is not.

Employers today want to know, in short order:
  1. What you bring to the table in terms of experience, capabilities, and talent and  
  2. How it can benefit them.  To do this requires thorough preparation and the ability to make a convincing argument why you are the best candidate for the job.  
That takes time, but is truly the shortest distance between looking for a job and finding it.

Question 3:  I can do lots of things.  How do I search for 4 or 5 different types of work at the same time?
Answer:  Here’s some good news!  There are a lot of things to worry about when beginning a job search . . . this isn’t one of them.  The reason:  This will sort itself out just by virtue of doing the work of your search.

Here’s what happens: I often describe the beginning of a search as akin to a funnel - widest at the top and narrowing toward the bottom.  A search is similarly shaped.
Job Search Opportunities
At the onset, as you think about your multiple skills and interests, it seems like anything is possible . . . so many work options to pursue. 

What happens is this:  As you seriously explore your options via networking, researching, attending events, taking a course, and interviewing for various types of work, this work you are doing makes clearer the types of jobs you really don’t want to do and narrows the options for you.  So, while you may be interested in 4 or 5 vocations, you come to see that a couple are really only hobbies or mild interests, and you don’t want to work at them on a daily basis; the other 2 or 3 may be actual possibilities.

A note of caution:  
It is difficult to search for more than 3 types of jobs simultaneously and do justice to each type.  I suggest no more than 2 at a time.  Developing different strategies, creating the marketing materials, and implementing searches for 3 or more search directions becomes unwieldy.  So take some time up front to really determine what are 2  --  3 at the most --  career directions you honestly want to purse.

Question 4:  Can you write a company directly?

Answer:  Absolutely.  Not only “can you” but you should be directly targeting companies that your research shows hire your type of skills, knowledge, and experience.

In targeting and then contacting desirable firms, make sure your research identifies some internal people to whom you can direct your resume and cover letter.  Use interpersonal networking, social media (i.e., Linked In, etc), and traditional "library" research to accomplish this.

Two good internal targets are (1) A manager who works in the area of your interest, and (2) An employee in HR, the manager or one of the staff.  If you have an internal contact who can refer you to the manager or HR representative, or “walk” your submission into their office, so much the better.  (3) A third internal target is the CEO/GM of the firm or organization, particularly if you have a referral from a contact, colleague, or acquaintance of the GM or CEO. 

So, feel free to contact all your target firms directly.
  1. There’s an opening:  If there is a current opening for your type of work, follow the application process as outlined by the company; this is mandatory.  Then, in addition, up the odds of your being contacted by also directing your resume and cover letter to an internal hiring manager or HR employee.
  2.  No openings:  Contact your target companies anyway.  Get the name of a manager or HR employee  NO “To Whom It May Concern’s.” Then, send a resume, with letter explaining your interest in the firm and noting you will follow up to arrange a possible time to talk.      
Hint:  Look for other ways to meet employees from your target firms, such as at a dinner meeting at your association's monthly meeting.

Question 5:  Will anyone hire me with 25 years of experience?  Or the converse – with too few years of experience?

Answer: Yes they will.  But, you’ve got to keep looking to find the right match. 

I’m asked this a lot, and my frequent answer to this question is this:  “Everybody’s got something” to overcome.
  • Too old, too young
  • Over-educated, under-educated
  • Too much experience, too little experience
  • Salary was too high to get hired currently, salary was too low to be taken seriously
  • Not enough “hands-on” experience to move from a managerial level to a technical or lower level position; too much “hands-on” experience to demonstrate managerial ability
  • . . .  and on and on it goes.
 Never say never, BUT there is rarely a perfect candidate for most positions, and there is rarely a perfect job or company for most employees.  “Everybody’s got something!”   The important thing is to identify what strengths you have that will benefit the hiring organization and meet the majority of its requirements, and then mitigate your areas of weakness via explaining that you are a quick-study, taking a course, doing some self-study, volunteering for a role that will develop that missing capability, etc.

Question 6:  Why do referrals work?

Answer:   Because they come from a trusted member of the network of the person you are contacting. 

Referrals are golden!
Referral are golden!  Value them, and handle them with great care. 
When a network contact trusts you enough to refer you to one of his or her colleagues, they are putting their good name on the line.  The referral will generally connect with you, via phone, in-person, or e-mail, due to professional courtesy.  Any failure to follow-through on the job seeker’s part will reflect back, negatively, on the person who made the referral.  So, don’t make this destructive mistake, because your contact will be reluctant to make any additional referrals in the future, and you’ll lose a valuable source of contacts and a possible reference.

Question 7:  How do I make my Resume pop?
Answer: To set the stage for the answer to this question, let’s first take a step back and look at resume in its entirety. Your resume is, in effect, your “sales” brochure.  Simply put, it is effective if it is relevant to the job applied for.  It should:
  1. Tell the reader if the job seeker is a possible fit for the position without too much work on the reader’s part.  In other words, it should be relevant to the requirements of the position. 
  2. Tell the reader not only what duties you have performed, and skills you used, that relate to the job requirements, but what results you achieved.  Every duty listed underneath a position on the resume should show what you achieved as a result of performing that duty: We call these Accomplishment Statements.
Now, here’s the problem:  Far too many job seekers deflect the interest of readers by submitting resumes that go on for 4 or 5 or 6 pages.  These lengthy resumes, often containing big blocks of paragraphs, filled with jargon, are daunting to get through.  Recruiters just don’t have the time to wade through.  So, they don’t!

The Solution
There’s a better way.  Learn to think differently: Think of your resume as a product that sells you.  Learn to think, talk, and write about your work experience in a way that focuses on:
  1. The needs and requirements of your customer - the prospective employer. 
  2. Tasks or duties you perform that satisfy that employer's needs and requirements, and 
  3. How your performance of these duties made the life of previous employers easier, i.e, better and/or less problematic.  Show the benefits of hiring you.

Question 8:   What is a Resume Career Summary and why is it important?
Answer:  Recruiters today admit that when a resume comes across their desk, it only gets seconds of their time in the initial read-through.  We used to say 30 seconds or less, but today that number has dropped to 6 - 10.  Yes, you read that right . . . 6 - 10 seconds!  That means that if a recruiter does not see the information they are looking for on the first page, and even more specifically, on the top half of the first page, they will move on to the next candidate.

What appears on the top half of a resume, underneath the header, is information generally referred to as a Career Summary.  This Summary Statement, generally a short one-paragraph synopsis of you as a worker/performer, contains phrases that briefly describe your capabilities.  Also labeled as a Qualifications Summary, Experience Summary, Areas of Expertise, Career Overview, etc., it must show the following information:
  • Your profession - What type of work you are seeking; be open but specific 
  • Areas of expertise and knowledge - What are you known for? 
  • Strengths (can include skills) - What are your strengths that will accomplish the requirements of the job?
Optional as appropriate or relevant:
  • Interpersonal skills and abilities - that will aid in performing a job 
  •  Certifications/Designations - that are required to be hired, or that will aid in performing the job
  • Languages - that are required to be hired, or that will aid in performing the job
  • Awards / Commendations / etc. that will get you noticed
  • Security clearance – If you are working in the cleared community, position your level of clearance directly under your header or in your Career Summary – no lower.
How to do it:  The trick to producing an effective summary statement is to present key information that:
  1. Supports you in achieving your goal, and
  2. Relates to the employer’s requirements for the position for which you are applying.
When to do it:  Write it last.
Don’t try to write your summary statement following composing your header.  Instead, focus on writing about your work experience, education, professional development and training, and other relevant information.  Then, with an eye on your goal, decide what information about you that you want your summary to feature and your reader to see first.  Using this method, I won’t say it will write itself, but it will come to you much more easily and quickly, and probably more correctly focused as well.

Question 9:  Do I really need to tailor my resume for every job I apply for?
Answer: Yes.  Yes.  And, . . .Yes.  And, here’s why.  If you don’t go to the trouble of tailoring your resume to show that you meet the job’s requirements, you can bet that your competition will.  So, it’s your choice - tailor and up the possibility that you will be called for an interview, or don’t and reduce the possibility.  The choice is yours

Question 10:  What do you do when you find a job?
Answer:   “Ah-h-h-h-h!  I got my new job.  I can put away all my job search stuff and just focus on my new job.”. . . Not so fast.  There’s still work to be done on completing this round of your job search.

Chances are that as you networked, interviewed, contacted folks, and attended meetings, job fairs, and conferences, you met a lot of people . . . people who helped along the way.  As you conclude your search, it is now your job to contact each of these individuals to:
  1. Thank them for their help.
  2. Update them on your new position, telling them the name of your new firm, the title of your position, and a little about your responsibilities and why you are enthused about performing them. 
  3. OFFER YOUR ASSISTANCE TO THEM should they ever need any help from you. 
  4.  Assure them that you will stay in touch. 
  6. Bonus - For those members of your network who went above and beyond in assisting you, make the effort to thank them in a special way, such as offering a dinner, a lunch, a special gift that may be meaningful, an introduction to someone they have wanted to meet, etc.
Why go to all this trouble if your search is done?  Because, if there are any certainties in life, besides death and taxes, it is that things inside companies change, affecting our jobs.  Should you find yourself in either the position of having to look for another due or just wanting to, sustaining and nurturing your network is a “Smart Strategy!”©

Bonus Question  - Is there a magic pill?   

No Virginia, there is no magic pill.  It’s up to you.  You’ve got to do the work.

That elusive magic pill . . . that cure-all that if you could only find it would make everything so much easier!
Well, there isn’t one for:

  • Losing weight 
  •  Getting out of debt
  • Getting rich using this simple technique  
  • Earning your degree in a nano-second, or . . .
  • Finding a job!
This question is asked by beginning job seekers in many different ways, but it basically boils down to this:  There are no magic pills to accomplish these tasks.  None are easy.  Each takes commitment, some knowledge building, and a willingness to put in the time and do the work!

If it sounds to good to be true, . . .
Be wise and beware:  If the solution sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I continue to hear promotions for "jobs in 30 days," or "30+ job offers in 2 weeks," blah-blah-blah . . . ya-da - ya-da- ya-da!  And, I often hear the flip side of: “Former executive out of work for 3 years, living in their car, destitute” or “Submitted 1000 applications and never got one call back.”   When I hear either of these extremes of the job seeking spectrum, they don’t ring true.

After years of working with 1000s of clients, the truth is this:  If you want a job, you’ve got to do the work!  Certainly seeking out assistance can help, but you can't abdicate the task to an employment agency, head-hunter, or job search coach.  Luck can play a part. But, for most, finding a job is a process that takes some time and involves:
  • Planning a strategy
  • Learning about, developing, and using your marketing tools
  • Pro-active networking, leading to pro-active interviewing
  • Negotiating offer'S' of employment
  • And planning ahead for continued career growth!
Advice:  So, if anyone tries to offer you a magic pill, RUN - don't walk - the other way!  Remember,
A Job Search is a Marathon!
a  job search is far more like a marathon . . . than a sprint!  Plan, prepare, put in the work, work smart, follow-up and you’ll find your next opportunity!  It’s up to you.  You’re in the driver’s seat of your own career, and would you really want it any other way?

____________________________________________________________________________                AJC - for Your Career Path
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