Tips to Help Stay on Track When Looking for a Job

Delay, avoid, procrastinate, ignore….then you need something NOW. I see this time and time again with those in transition. I have had numerous clients that apply this approach with their resume. They delay or hesitate on reviewing the resume I have prepared, or avoid giving me pertinent information and it just lingers. Until I get the call late in the day or evening that, holy cow, I need to send my resume to a company TOMORROW, can you do it tonight? Where were you last week when I was asking for the information?? One of my favorite phrases is, “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part”. Seriously, did you forget you were in transition and an opportunity can happen any time any where?? (And yes, I always get it done)

So for those of you that are going through this little traumatic experience at the time you are reading this, shame on you! You should know better. For those of you that have been there, let’s see what we can do to make sure this does not happen again. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are prepared for that opportunity at any time.

1. You should make sure your resume is updated and appropriate at all times. You should have more than one resume and it will be modified for the job and skills for the position for which you are applying. For example, you may be a manager but there are different types of managers. Some management styles fit better with certain organizations rather than others and you will need to decipher what skills and qualifications each company feels are important for their organization. For example Company A may be seeking a very hands-on manager who is skilled at team building, open communication and being able to perform the work as well as lead it. Company B may be seeking a very analytical, time and information sensitive leader who is skilled at direction, delegation and oversight. Completely different perspectives and having a one-size-fits-all resume will not benefit you in the least.

2. You should make sure you understand your resume and can sell it – i.e. sell you. Your resume is your sales brochure. Have you ever encountered a sales person who constantly has to refer to a manual or sales brochure to tell you the highlights of the product? Not very convincing, huh? If I am in the market for a new digital camera, I do not want someone to read me the manual, I want someone who can explain it in my terms, show me the best features – in other words sell me on it. Then I can glance through the brochure to get further information and reinforce my “need” to buy that camera. You, in this little example, are the digital camera and the sales person.

3. You should have your sales materials with you at all times. Sales materials: that means resumes, business cards or skills cards. No, I do not suggest that you hand out your resume at networking events (unless it specifically requests that you bring them), but you should have your resume with you to read through again before you go into a networking event just as a refresher and boost. When you are at casual networking (i.e. ball games, concerts, gatherings, picnics – wherever) you should have your skill summary cards or business cards with you to be able to hand out to someone if they would like to contact you.

4. You should have a tracking sheet. Job searching stinks. You can get to the point that you feel as though you sent out one hundred resumes last week and did not get one single response. I have literally heard this line numerous times. Keeping a spreadsheet of your activity not only helps you gain a bit of perspective, it also helps you keep track of who you have spoken to, what companies you have applied to, when, what positions, what follow up actions you need to take and any important information relevant to your search. Knowing that you sent a resume to Company A last week, perhaps it is time to follow up – you would know this if you were keeping track of your activities.

5. You should be training your friends and family as Sales Associates. One thing I ask people when I teach classes is, “Do you friends and family know you are looking for a job?” Of course everyone looks at me like I am an idiot and say, “Yes, of course”. So my next question is, “If I were hiring and met them casually, would they know what key word I might say that would let them know immediately to give me your name and number?” Normally, those in my class now have a bashful look on their face for thinking I was an idiot only moments before… The point is, if you tell me you are an IT person looking for a job that means nothing to me. And quite frankly it would be a weak introduction to someone looking for a programmer to tell them that I know someone in IT, but no idea what they do. You need to be specific and make sure people understand that. If I were going back into the financial industry telling you I was a manager tells you nothing! But if I were looking to go back into Compliance, now you have a better clue. If I told you that I would love to work for a mid-sized financial company rather than one of the big boys in banking, investments or insurance there is another clue. And if I told you that I was looking to work in the area between and including Indianapolis to Anderson, there is another really good clue. You now have several key words: Compliance, mid-size, investments, insurance, banking, Indianapolis, Anderson – see where I am going here? Never assume everyone knows what you mean, make it clear.

6. You should make sure your references are prepared. Here is another question I ask during class, “Do you have your references ready, you have asked their permission” Again, normally a yes. Then I ask, “Have you asked them what they would say?” The answer to that one is almost always no. In fact, in between 60-80 classes I have only heard two people say yes. The purpose is two-fold. One, you want to make sure what they say and how they say it will be perceived correctly. I am a sarcastic person, it is who I am and I know it. I have to temper it and keep it under close supervision. If one of my references said I was a great leader, motivator and trainer with great sarcastic wit, the prospective employer may not like that whole sarcasm thing. The second reason is those references may see something in you that you may not see yourself. What if one of your references told you that no matter how stressful a situation got you were always cool, calm and collected and they always looked to you at those times. That sounds like great things to emphasize in a resume or cover letter don’t you think?

7. You should only offer what you can produce. Undersell and over deliver is an old motto. In this situation what I mean is do not get so involved in the job search and networking that you have booked yourself out of quality time for self, family, friends, and quality leads. I have seen people get so wrapped up in networking that they are professional job seekers with no real ability to make real connections and possible inroads to future opportunities. Do get out there and meet with people, do not make it a practice that you have no real results or you neglect the things that are important in life. If you are meeting with so many people at all times and if you are promising to follow up, are you able to keep up with the schedule you set? Sometimes we are our worst enemy. Here’s another old motto to help with this one: work smarter not harder – i.e. network smarter, not harder.

8. You should look at alternative ideas to building connections and seeking opportunities. Volunteer. Give yourself a chance to do something you love, help other people, animals or the environment and enjoy it. By doing something that you enjoy, you will meet other people with similar interests and you can get to know them through this common connection. From there, you can find out what they do when they are not volunteering and maybe they work for a company you are targeting or knows someone who does. You just never know.

9. You should be keeping up to date. I emphasized your resume earlier, but now I am expanding on this concept. You should make sure your skills and techniques are up to date. Not just job skills, but networking and interviewing skills as well. Make sure if you have a business social media page it is up to date. Are their groups or discussions you can join or be a part of, and if so, are you active and up to date in what they are discussing? Are you up to date in what is going on in your town, city, state and nation? Events outside our immediate life impact everyone and you certainly do not want to be caught off guard. It would be disastrous if in an interview the interviewer makes small talk and says something to you about the terrible oil spill and you reply, “Yes, the Exxon situation was very sad”.

These are just a few things that you can do to make sure you are prepared and ready when that wonderful opportunity comes your way, or even a maybe/iffy one shows up. If you are in transition your job right now is to get a job – don’t fire yourself by being unprepared!

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Sometimes a Good Thing Isn’t All That Great!

Last week my son sprained his ankle. Sounds like no big deal, huh? Yeah well, this is my son so it is not that simple. He sprained it Monday night, Tuesday morning it looked like it was removed, beaten to a pulp and put back on his leg crooked. So Tuesday x-rays, Wednesday an MRI and Friday a visit to an Orthopedic Specialist, a week on crutches and now he’s in a boot.

Good times had by all. At first, he wasn’t minding the crutches because, well, I can’t tell you how many cute young ladies looked at him and said (with heartfelt sympathy and “poor baby” eyes), “Oh no, what happened?” and offered to help him – with a door, with his books, if he wanted them to get him anything – yeah, it was kind of nauseating. As a 17 year old charmer, he was kind of enjoying this. Then a couple days on the crutches and he was over the whole thing. His arms hurt, he could not get around very fast and he could not work out or practice. When he was first enjoying all the attention, I just kept waiting; because I knew the day would come where he would look at me and say, “This stinks!” And it did. And I laughed, because that’s the kind of mom I am!

So where is the point in all of this today? If you have read any of my blogs then you know it takes me a while to get to the point and I normally have to tell a story before I get there. Hey, you are the one that keeps reading so don’t blame me, you should have figured this out by now!

Networking, it can be a wonderful thing or it can be an activity that sucks the life out of you. But you have control over that. I know some people who are professional networkers. They attend everything, know everyone and can tell you in great detail all about it. For those that are in business I ask them how much many leads it has generated for them. For those that are in transition, I ask how many opportunities it has brought them. For both categories those professional networkers normally answer that they have a huge rolodex of contacts.

Yeah, well, I can go to any event and get a boat load of cards but that doesn’t mean a darn thing. In fact, I do not offer my card when I network. If there is a genuine interest then the individual will ask for it. When you network you must have a goal, and it is not to get as many cards as you can at the end of the night – this isn’t business card bingo!

Let’s take a step back before we discuss an event. Before you even go to a networking event, do you know what your goal is for that night, for right now in general? What are you looking for? And those of you that answered, “a job” just to let you know, I am sending a mental head slap out to each and every one of you! NO NO NO. Not just a job, but what job; what industry; in what capacity; what skills are you wanting to utilize; what are your strengths; what makes you happy; what drives you crazy; what city, state, or side of town do you want to work in; what are your challenges that you are willing to overcome? Where are you going? If you can’t answer this, grab some happy food, a pad of paper, a comfortable chair and get to work. You are not prepared to network. Prep work here kids.

Now, to the event. Have you done your homework – do you know who will be attending? Did you know that you can call the organizer to find out more information about the event and the attendees? Really, try it! It is much better than wasting your time. Do you know who you would like to meet, either specifically or in general (I want to meet Mr. Smith or I want to meet someone who is works for X company, even better if they work in Accounting), and do you have a goal in mind? If not, go back and read my previous blog about setting goals – look here it is in a convenient link: https://lisakmcdonald.com/2010/01/17/hey-new-year-wait-for-me/.

You see, if you go in unprepared to a networking event, you are going to be like my son on crutches. You are going to get a lot of attention and it will feel great. But all those looking at you with “poor you” eyes are just trying to get names to spam with their emails or waste your time with meetings to tell you all about them. You will be bogged down with all this useless information and irrelevant contacts that will slow you down worse than if you were on crutches.

Go in with purpose, have a goal, know what you want. The event may turn out to be a bust; maybe you do not meet the right type of contacts. That is okay, you did very well in being prepared and walked out with a great practice session rather than hobbled out with arms that hurt and two to three weeks stuck in a big clunky boot. Oh wait, that is my son…

It Could Be You…

Most of my blogs are written for those in transition. I try to give a different perspective and a little advice with a bit of humor. Today, I am still writing for that audience; however it is in a different perspective. I am writing FOR that audience, a voice for them. Let me just say this, to set the tone: for all of those that are employed who treat Transitioners with pity, avoidance or disdain – be careful who you look down upon because you might find yourself looking at their back in line for an interview.

I am passionate about helping people; I try to helping any way I can to help them come to a successful end to their period of transition. This is one reason I have become a board member for a newly formed Rainmakers Hub – the Transitions Hub. Our goal is simple – to bring resources and assistance Transitioners and bring together those that are employed to expand their networking circles. I believe Rainmakers is a great group to assist this vision because their mission: Do More Serve More. I am very excited about this new group! (Our kick off event is February 8 at 5:30 at the Junior Achievement Building on Keystone Avenue)

However, I can also take off the rosy glasses and see the other side. I have been at networking events both formal and informal where I have witnessed first had the iron curtain coming down to someone in transition. It starts simple enough by Person A asking, “So, what do you do?” and Transitioner responds in some manner, “I am looking for a job in…” then BAM! The Transitioner is no longer viewed as valuable to Person A they want to immediately remove themselves from the Transitioner’s presence. Well, to that I throw the Yellow Flag and yell “UNNECCARY ROUGHNESS!” It is like a full on, head down tackle to the kicker: it is just wrong!

I mean, come on, what is wrong with these Person As? It is not as though people in transition woke up and said, “Hey, I want to put m life in disarray today – I think I will become unemployed!” Or better yet, “Wow, I my self-esteem is way too high so I think I will become unemployed today so others will immediately look down upon me and knock it right down to size!”

Being in transition stinks, I mean really stinks. Stinks like the uniform of a football player being closed up in the locker for two weeks after hard fought game in the pouring rain. Really stinks. There are a lot of emotions going on – denial, anger, embarrassment, resentment, frustration, insecurity – just to name a few! So really, let’s get a clue about our fellow man!

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen great acts of humanity both large and small to residents of Haiti. Even just the simple acts of people reaching out to offer hope and help by keeping those affected in their thoughts. If we could offer these qualities to individuals in the midst of devastation so many miles away, can we not offer the same to those that stand right next to us?

Instead of saying, “Gee, that’s too bad” (while thinking Transitioners have nothing to offer you) how about saying, “Tell me about yourself” and then listen. You might actually know someone or a friend of a friend that would be a good person for the Transitioner to talk to, even to just get more information. Or, you may not know a darned thing that might help them out, but at least you showed common courtesy in listening. Small acts of kindness, like asking and listening can work wonders for everyone.

Still not convinced? Think about this:

* What makes you think your job is so safe? You could be walking in those shoes next week or next year. Life happens to everyone! And if it were you, how would you like to be treated? Ever heard of the saying, “I can forgive but I never forget” or “What goes around comes around”?

* Those Transitioners are going to land on their feet and get back in the game. One day they may be a player that could make things happen, even make things happen for you. Oh, they may not score a touchdown, but they might be able to make a heck of a block for you, and you never know when you will need a good block!

So, the next time you meet someone and you ask what they do and their response is somewhere in line with, “I am looking for a job…” repeat after me –

“Tell me about yourself and what you are looking for, maybe I can help.”

Hey New Year – Wait for Me!!

A new year, seriously? Already? Wait, I was not ready! It was just Thanksgiving and I had a great list of things to do, put up all the Christmas decorations, bake holiday cookies, make goodies for my neighbors, send out all my holiday cards early…. Then it was Christmas, holy cow, I have so many things that I had on my 2009 list that I only had five days to accomplish! Now it is the New Year? It is already the middle of January – wait, let me catch up!

So if you are wondering, no I did not make any New Year Resolutions. I never do. Not because I run out of time or I am a slacker with no goals, I just realized a long time ago that making a years worth of resolutions at one time is daunting – especially if there is no short planning to back it up! Oh sure, you are normally all jazzed to start fresh and go full steam ahead (look at the parking lots at your local workout facility), but by February or March you are all fizzled out. Then deflated. Then driving by the local workout facility and giving it dirty stares.

So I learned to cut myself a break. Now, I do start out with some lofty goals for the year, but having a lofty goal and setting it in motion are two completely different things. Can’t eat the elephant in one bite, you know. So I break it down to segments, in four quarters of the year. It is much more manageable and obtainable. I am an example kind of girl so let me give one here. A typical New Years Resolution.

Let’s say that your resolution is to loose 20 pounds this year – period. Let the diet begin. Okay, great. But then what? How are you going to do that? What kind of goals are you going to set? How will you know when you achieve them and in turn help propel you to keep going? What about if instead you tried this: your overall goal is to lose 20 pounds this year. In the first quarter of the year you will cut out sweets and white breads through the week, walk three times a week and drink two more glasses of water a day. Not focusing on the weight here, but the habits. Then at the end of the quarter you can measure your progress then check out the scale. Dropped 7 pounds? Awesome, you are ahead of the game. You can continue with this plan for the next quarter or decide to increase your walking to four times a week and add more fruit into your diet on the weekends. Check yourself out at the end of that quarter – whoo hoo, you are looking awesome and feeling good! The point is, have a plan, measure your plan appropriately and adjust from there.

How do we do this in the job search world? Set a goal to be employed in 2010. Great lofty goal, right? So now, let’s break it down into quarters. For the first quarter you are going to attend two networking events a week and meet three new people at each event. Within two days after meeting these three people decide who you would like to get to know a bit better and reach out to them for a one on one. You will also attend one free training session a month. The training can be on job search or related to that or for a skill (for example a computer application) or even something fun – a free cooking class. Track your progress and guess what, look at you. You have met 24 new people a month! That is (given a rounded four weeks in a month) 72 people in one quarter! Now, let’s say that out of each one of the three, you met with one person for a one on one – get out of your way – you have started to establish 12 new relationships!! And not only that, you have learned something new three times this quarter by attending a class. Not bad, kid! How are you going to top that for the next quarter?

Set your goals, track your goals and pat yourself on the back for your achievements! At the end of the year if you follow the path of your first quarter – you will have met 288 new people this year! And, you will have begun to establish and established relationships with 48 people. Can you grasp this? That would be 48 people who are getting to know you and what you are looking for and working for you by spreading the word of knowing this great person! Way to go kid!

**side note** I always read my blogs to my fiancé before I publish. In case any one else is thinking this, he beat you to it – the first words out of his mouth after he heard this is, “There is a lot of math in there!” Yes, I am a numbers freak, but just focus on this” 288 new people – 48 new relationships.

Time Management

clockTwo words that can either express a great talent or two words that put you in fear of facing that you are less than diligent. Time management is a tricky thing. I remember when I was entering into the financial arena and had to get my stockbrokers exam, supervisory and a few more all while staring a new position and my son’s father was diagnosed with cancer – oh yeah, and caring for my young son. I don’t remember how I got through that year, but I did. I do remember the clock was not my friend. First thing in the morning getting my son to school, then to work, lunch was studying, after work get my son and off to the hospital, home in time for dinner time with my son then put him to bed, then two to three hours of studying. I earned five Series exam designations within 12 months, I excelled at the job, Jeff survived cancer and the horrendous treatments and recovery and my lovely son was wonderful and able to participate in all his activities with glee.

Then later in life I was between jobs. I had all this time on my hands and could not get a darn thing done! How is that? I think I finally figured it out, when it is your time you do not put the same value on it that you do for others. When I punched a clock I was determined to make the most of the time I was there, then when I left for the day I left it there. When it all bleeds into one day and there is no delineation we tend to not keep track of our time. It can be a habit so easy to slip into and a battle uphill to break. I know, owning my own business it is my biggest challenge. It can be the same principle when looking for a job.

Sometimes we volunteer and join so many networking groups that we are very, very busy but at the end of the day we can not determine what we have done for us, for our pursuit of a position. We really end up hurting ourselves by putting everything else first and ourselves last. Let’s face it, if you are looking for a job your first priority must be you and that is hard for some of us to do.

My advice, look at it as a business. Look at your activities – what is the return on investment? Are many of your events duplicates? Same people just different times and locations? Are some events not productive or worse yet involved negative people? Drop them. Just because there is a group out there it does not mean you have to join every single one of them! Be selfish, be honest and make sure what you are choosing to spend your time on is worth your time. Your time is valuable! If you do not believe it how will anyone else?

Make a list of all the activities that you participate in or attend. Next to each item write down their value. If it is your church group, that adds value, maybe not in your job search, but mentally and spiritually it adds value. If it is a networking group – what is the value for YOU? Is it a group coming together complaining or actively supporting and encouraging each other? Are you getting return on your investment of time. Next, think of each one and if you enjoy participating or attending. If you dread going or are not enthusiastic about attending then don’t! Make it a point to put you on the calendar and realize that you are a priority and should be treated as such.