When I’ve encountered a client who is stuck in her job search, the problem is almost always that she is stuck in the past. Rather than focusing on the future, such people frequently fixate on why they were let go from a job. For others, they are still employed at a bad job. They say they want something new, but do little to make it happen. Instead, they waste their time reliving what went wrong, imagining a world that will never be.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, Peg O’Connor, a professor of philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College, points to two words that kill our progress: “If only.” When we use those words, we’re getting lost in regrets rather than looking forward and working to make things better. O’Connor does say that some people can use this word to change their behaviors. However, for most people, “if only” is a waste of time and energy. It’s a much better strategy to set a goal for where you want to be and work hard to achieve that goal. As Satchel Paige put it, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”
According to the Department of Labor, there are more than 5 million open jobs in the U.S., the highest number since such statistics were first kept in 2000. Huffington Post reports that this news is good for the labor market and the overall economy. This good news does not guarantee that you can find a good job. Finding a job and managing a career is always an individual enterprise. It’s a lot easier when companies are hiring.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Most of the clients who come to me for help in changing careers aren't looking for more money or a more impressive title. They want to do work that is meaningful, often something that helps other people. If that kind of career changes is appealing to you, start with your values: Who do you want to help? What do you want to change? Once you've established your mission, the next question is how you can best work in that field. For some people that will mean defining transferable skills and demonstrating how you are ready to work in a new field. For some people, the challenge will be to go back to school or to obtain a certificate. The challenge, as President Roosevelt said, is to find work that is worth our effort.
Today is Woody Allen's 79th birthday. When he was an undergraduate at NYU, Allen failed a course in film making. That bump in the road did not stop him from becoming one of the most acclaimed directors of all time. Allen's story is not unusual. Many successful people failed a course or were told that they would never succeed. They believed in themselves and proved their critics wrong. Believe in yourself. If you know a young person who is struggling with confidence, be encouraging and supportive. Getting an F in a class or being fired is not the end of the world. In fact, for Woody Allen, it was the start of a great career.
I’m currently working with a client who began his career as a Chef. Frank (not his real name) loved working in the kitchen and making his guests happy. About five years ago, he stretched his skill set by becoming an Executive Chef. Rather than running the kitchen, he took on the role of managing business operations. In this role, Frank’s first concerns were budgets and profitability. Rather than cooking, he now coaches chefs and unit managers to make them more conscious of business goals. Frank now makes more money and feels more challenged by his work. He remains dedicated to providing his guests with the best quality of food, but now he does so as an operations leader, not the person behind the stove.
A few years ago, one of my clients was a successful mechanical engineer. Joe (not his real name) was assigned to projects across the U.S. based on his ability to redesign products and systems. Joe’s manager came to him one day and asked if he was interested in becoming a Product Manager. Like Frank, Joe had to learn new skills quickly. He began to meet with customers to learn what they needed in new products. He now had to consider what components and raw materials would cost. Joe began to create budgets and forecasts. He continued to use the technical skills he learned as an engineer, but he added a new understanding of business, including purchasing and marketing.
We often think of career changes as big moves, the police officer who becomes a sales person. In many cases, career change is an evolution. By picking up new duties and being open to new challenges, it is possible to find a new career with less stress. Look for ways to do more at your current job. Volunteer for special projects. A new career could be just around the corner.
This is one of the nastiest questions that can come up in a job interview. Mille Montejo of the National Resume Writers Association linked to a great post from Donna Svei’s blog Avid Careerist. If you’ve ever been fired, I urge you to read this post and take what it says to heart. I thank Donna and Mille for sharing this advice.
As I often put it to my clients: Only look back when it helps you look forward
I ran into a neighbor today and made a joke about the weather. He didn't laugh, telling me that Chicago will be hit by about 6 more inches of snow before we face two days of below zero temperatures. This winter sucks, and there's another month left to go.
What does this have to do with job search and career management? A lot. Whenever we dial back on looking for work or put career management on the back burner, we lose opportunities. Employers need to hire, and they will make an offer to the best available candidate. If you're so traumatized by the snow and cold that your not networking and responding to job posts, another person is getting a job that could be yours.
Here's a good reason to look even harder during this kind of weather: Less competition. If bad weather is keeping people from applying for the jobs you want, that means your chance of landing that job is better. Take advantage of a bad situation, and make it work for you. Don't get stuck singing the Cold Weather Blues.
What should a mother or father do who is looking to return to work? I would recommend reading Meg Graham’s article in today’s Grid from The Chicago Sun-Times. This article talks about resources and strategies available for professionals who have taken time off to raise children or care for sick relatives. I recommend it as a great resource.
What I would add to Graham’s article is that parents and others who have to leave their jobs need to be proactive in planning how they will stay professionally viable while they are out of work. They need to plan to volunteer or work part time in a way that will involve the skills and knowledge they will need when they return to work. Like all good career management, knowing how to enter, exit, and re-enter the job market takes planning and foresight.
What causes job seekers to get stuck when they look for work? A lack of focus and a failure to act. Too many people conduct their job search in a haphazard manner. They look at a few websites and possibly call a network contact. If they apply for a job that feels like a perfect fit, they will often stop looking when they aren’t called for an interview. In a similar, job seekers often slow down their job search when they interview for a job. They wait to be called for a second interview, or they wait for an offer. Don’t wait. Stay focused and active.
Focus in the job search begins before you send out your first resume. First, identify the kind of jobs you want to pursue. Then look at 5-10 job postings for those positions and be sure that your resume speaks to the needs of those employers. If you write your resume with attention to what employers need, you shouldn’t have to rewrite for every job posting. That is why being focused matters.
2. Get Active
I normally hate job search “rules,” but here’s one that works: Once you start your job search, don’t stop until you have a new job. There will be frustration along the way. You will feel like you want to quit. However, stopping only delays the process. Whenever you feel tempted to quit looking for work, try to send out two resume or call two of your network contacts. Find a friend who can be your career personal trainer, someone who will be able to get you moving again. Whenever you get stuck, call this person and let them push you forward.
3. Stay Active and Focused
While it’s important to stay active, it’s just as important to stay focused. Sometimes, when people don’t get a job within a month, they start applying to any job, which just means more rejection. Most job searches take at least 3-6 months. Expect some silence, and expect to hear the word “No.” Another mistake people make is fiddling with and tweaking their resume rather than applying for jobs. If you resume is focused on the kind of job you’re seeking, you should be able to send it out with few or no changes.
A good job search is like a good sales campaign. It has a clear objective as well as several ways to reach that goal. A good sales person knocks on many doors. Similarly, a good job seeker will apply for as many jobs as she is qualified for an interested in. She will stay in contact with her network and look for new ways to meet people who can move her career forward. Most of all, a smart job seek will do two things: Stay focused – stay active.
Huffington Post cites a study that says hiring for young Americans (age 18-24) is at a 60 year low. The numbers are frightening, but being afraid helps no one get a job. It only leads to self-pity and paralysis.
What should young adults do in this difficult job market? The first step is to broaden their career goals: Get a Plan B. For example, someone who wants to work in marketing might also look at jobs in sales as a bridge to their eventual career goal. A new graduate who wants to be a manager might also consider a position in supply chain or accounting, which will provide skills that are valuable to most managers.
The most important thing to do is look past the depressing statistics. Assess your skills, experience, and education. What do you have that an employer needs? Answer that question well, and your job search will improve.
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