Blog Archive - September 2009
No one likes to look for a new job in any economy. Today it is especially difficult. However, to be successful, job seekers need to maintain focus while looking for work. The best way to do this is to keep score and hold yourself accountable to meet your goals.
Keep track of all the companies you contact regarding open positions as well as companies that interview you. Note names of contacts at those companies. Debrief yourself after interviews with a log of the type of questions asked, the answers you gave, and any problems you encountered. These records will let you assess the progress you’re making during your job search. It will also enable you to make changes and try new approaches.
Once you have found a job, these records can be the foundation for good career management. You will have the names of companies and employers you might approach in the future. Along with this file, you should maintain a record of achievements, which can be used to enhance your resume. If possible, take it one step further by collecting a portfolio that documents your accomplishments. Finally it is important to keep a file of your references and network contacts. Don’t let these leads go cold. Contact everyone in your network at least once a year, let them know how you’re doing, and see if there is anything you can do to help them.
Keeping good records takes time and effort. The payoff is that you will have resources to help you move forward in your career. Too many people start over every time they have to search for a new job or apply for a promotion. Collecting information about your job search will give you more control of your career. It’s never easy to look for a new job. It will be easier, however, if you keep records that will help you plan for the future.
The great basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA began the first practice of the year with a very strange exercise: He taught his players how to put on their socks and shoes. When asked why he did this, Wooden explained that players whose socks and shoes did not fit got blisters, which hurt their game, and could even prevent them from playing. This story underscores one of Coach Wooden’s keys to success:
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
In our job search and career management, we have to pay just as careful attention to the basics. We need to keep an inventory of our skills and achievements, so we can present them well on resumes and during interviews. Another essential is to build and maintain a professional network that can help us navigate within our industry. Network contacts often know companies that have openings and people you can contact. We also need to keep learning. If we are happy in our current profession, the goal is to learn skills to move to the next level. If it’s time to change careers, we need to develop the new skills needed to meet that challenge. Learning never ends. It’s as basic as putting on your shoes and socks.
To coin a phrase based on what Coach Wooden said:
“Success is the result of preparing to succeed.”
Greg Burns has a great column in today’s Chicago Tribune on how the current recession is affecting men. I have seen claims that 70% or more of recent layoffs affected men. Burns lays out why this disparity has occurred, and why it may get even worse in the future.
As I said in my last post, I don’t like scary headlines or stories. Burns' column is measured in its tone and strong in its evidence. Good journalism still exists.
Postscript: The New York Times reports on the "mancession."
In dark times, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told Americans not to be afraid. Today’s newspapers seem to be sending the opposite message. Yes, the job market is not good. Too many people are looking for work. However, the media too often makes claims on evidence that is selective and negative. They think bad news and dire headlines sell.
In yesterday’s New York Post, we are told that over 50% of young adults aged 16-24 cannot find work. The article even wonders how or when these young people will ever be able to leave their parents’ home. What it doesn’t ask is how many of those counted as unemployed are students or working part-time. This demographic group always has a higher percentage of unemployment. In a time when they are competing with more experienced workers, the number will be higher. But like young people in other recessions, they will leave their parents home eventually. Many already have.
The Chicago Sun-Times explores “Why Women Earn Less” (80% compared to men). This story is much more nuanced than its negative headline suggests. It cites experts who say that women are less likely than men to ask for a higher salary and negotiate for a better offer. These are behaviors that women can change, especially when they understand the consequences of not fighting for better wages and benefits. The article also notes that women’s salaries compared to men have risen from 62% in 1979 to 80% today. Moreover, younger women (16-34) are making 90% compared to their male counterparts. Should there be equal pay for equal work? Yes. Is the situation getting better? Yes – despite the headline.
The most egregious headline of the day comes from the New York Times: “U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Ratio by Record Ratio.” The article notes that there are 14.5 million unemployed Americans and only 2.4 job openings. The problem is that this ratio has only been measured since 2000. We have never had an economy like this one where this ratio has been used to measure unemployment. Is it a record? Yes. What does the record mean? We don’t really know. How does this economy compare to 1983 or 1933? We don’t know. The story in the Times focuses more on anecdotal stories rather than seek any further statistical/historical evidence or analysis.
My advice to job seekers continues to be you are not a statistic. Do not let these negative stories and headlines affect how you look for work. It is a challenged, competitive market. Focus on what you can offer employers, and find employers who need your skills and experience. The American economy has bounced back from worse situations. The job market will improve. In the meantime, each of us has to look beyond pessimism for pessimism’s sake.
Last Friday I worked very hard and didn’t make a dime. I spent 6 hours in front of a Jewel grocery store in Andersonville raising money for our local Kiwanis Club. People were very generous, and several even thanked me for my efforts.
I wasn’t the only at work on our annual Peanut Day. Several students from Senn High School and Loyola University solicited donations. What is especially impressive about the efforts of the students from Senn is that they were doing this on a day when there was no school. Kiwanis will use some of the money raised to support programs at Loyola’s Circle K and Senn’s Key Club, but the funds will also go to other projects like our reading program at local public schools and prizes for an annual 8th grade essay contest.
It is not easy to ask people for money when costs are up and jobs are hard to find. It’s hard work – but it’s also good work because many people do give freely and in the best spirit of community. At the end of the day, my feet hurt. I didn’t care. The good people who helped Kiwanis and the great students who volunteered reminded me that some work has a purpose that has nothing to do with getting a raise or a promotion. As the credit card commercial says, the reward of good work is “priceless.”
There is a great stigma related to being unemployed. Part of the negative feeling is surely driven by lack of income and purpose. But a bigger problem for many people is shame. They identify themselves as losers in the job game. Not having a job becomes a weight that hinders professional prospects and personal relationships.
We need to reorient our thinking about the periods when we are between jobs. Unlike our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, it is not unusual for someone to change jobs every 3-5 years (sometimes even more frequently). In those periods of joblessness, we are employed in one of the hardest jobs – finding new work. We need to keep a positive attitude, or we will lose time and money thinking about a past we cannot change rather than what we want to do next.
In the great book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor, challenges readers to find a way to live with suffering and turn it into meaning. Unemployment causes many people to suffer. How they deal with that suffering determines their future success. Frankl writes that one of our “last freedoms,” the ones that cannot be taken from us, is the ability to choose our attitude toward a situation we cannot control.
When we lose a job (our choice or the employer’s), we should not say we are unemployed. We are “pursuing new opportunities.” Choose an attitude and language that is forward-looking and positive. Frame your thoughts and words in a way that respects your skills, contributions, and achievements. Respect yourself – and what you have to offer.
I was recently conducting an interview preparation session with a client when she started giving me detailed descriptions about the people who would be interviewing her. No client ever had presented such information in the future. I asked her how she got this information. She looked at me, smiled, and said: “LinkedIn.”
LinkedIn is a social networking website that focuses more on business than personal information (Facebook). Becoming a member (it’s free) will give you networking options. But even non-members can access basic information. You can also use Facebook to learn more about potential employers. But beware of bringing up anything too personal in an interview that you might find on a social network where someone is interacting with friends.
We frequently read about HR departments using social networking websites to investigate potential employees. Now, the tables can be turned. We can use the same sites to learn more about the people who will interview us.
When setting up a new interview, ask for the name (and spelling) of the person who you will be meeting with. You will use the person’s name and company name to access their LinkedIn profile, which will let you know that person’s professional background and work history. In some cases, you will have access to his network and may recognize professional acquaintances or friends that you have in common.
Before every interview, it is important to learn about the company you are trying to join. Now it is possible to research the people you will be meeting as well. Take advantage of these resources – get Linked In.
People are getting anxious about finding new jobs. The headlines scream that the economic recovery will be “jobless.” This environment opens the door for many career experts who are offering simple solutions, one-size-fits-all answers.
A resume should always be one page
Avoid overused phrases like “team player”
Always use an objective
Never use an objective
Your format should be all bullets
These “rules” have been made up by people who like to have the right answer. Sometimes these experts are hiring managers. Most often, they are only people with strong opinions who live in a world of right and wrong answers.
There is one rule in writing a resume: never lie. After that, your challenge is to present your experience, achievements, and education in a way that will make employers want to interview you and make a job offer. Rather than focus on simple “do and don’t” rules, study the job market: What do employers want? Study your own career: What do I have to offer? Present what is most relevant to the employer’s needs.
Demonstrate why you are a good candidate. That is a simple rule that will lead to success.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times has an excellent article on how new college grads are performing in the current job market. On the surface, the answer is not good. Only 20% of graduates who applied for jobs before graduation found work, which is compared to 51% in 2007. Starting salaries have also fallen in several categories.
What then is the good news? Engineering and computer scientists enter the job market making $60,000-$85,000 – not a bad way to start a career. Overall, college graduates enter the job market making more than $30,000. While that is not a great salary, it is significantly better than most workers in the service industry. Completing college has an immediate and long term pay off even during a recession.
Current graduates may face difficult times in their first few years as professionals. They are competing against professionals with more experience who are often willing to accept entry level salaries. As the economy comes back, however, their hard work will pay off.
A successful job search is never easy. It requires planning and hard work. Too often, people who are having trouble finding a new job blame the employer or the economy when they should be looking in the mirror. Finding a job means that you have to look actively – and work hard.
Here are some traps to avoid:
1. Posting your resume and waiting to be called by an employer: Once upon a time, job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder promoted the ability to post as an easy way to find a job. It was never as easy as the commercials made it seem. Now it is even harder. If you decide to post a resume, that’s fine. But you must keep looking for a new job. Don’t count on an employer finding you.
2. Sending out a few resumes and waiting by the phone: Send resumes to every job that you are qualified for. Like many other kinds of sales campaigns, finding a job is a numbers game. The more active you are, the more likely you will be successful. Let me offer one word of caution: Be sure you are applying to jobs you are qualified for. Job seekers are often frustrated because they send out dozens, even a few hundred resumes. Those resumes will only work if you demonstrate how you are qualified for the posted job.
3. Networking without following up: It is important to follow up with you network contacts. Ask if they have any new ideas or people you should contact. How often should you follow up? It depends on how well you know the connection. A former co-worker or friend can be contacted every 2-3 weeks. For a more distant contact, 6-8 week might be more reasonable.
4. Joining a job club and waiting for a good referral: Job clubs are a great way to network and meet others who are also looking for work. You will get ideas and strategies from people who are facing the same situation you are. However, some people join job clubs and stop doing everything else. A good job search will balance all ways of looking for work.
Some experts say looking for a job should be a full time job. I disagree. Most people cannot stay focused for 40 hours per week and not lose momentum in their job search. If 20-25 hours per week is devoted to looking for work – using several different strategies – most job seekers will be called for interviews and, eventually, land a new job.
The most important thing to do if you want to succeed in your job search is to stay active. Waiting is always a bad strategy. Find new ways to look for work, new people to network with, and new companies to approach. The ideal job won’t find you. It is your job to find it.