I was motivated to write this blog because, as I meet people and “do life”, I find it fascinating to engage with individuals and inquire about their career choices. Conversations generally cover topics related to education, career path and satisfaction level. I’m always amazed at the responses, sometimes shocked or surprised by the choices that have been made and why. It’s obvious who has prepared well compared to those who have not. I find paths in life are as unique as the person. As life throws challenging twists and turns, it’s interesting to see how individuals respond in moving forward.
Surprisingly, many of the young adults I meet in the 25 to 35 age group are underemployed, given their education and experience. Many are still in the jobs they accepted right out of college and often share that they work more than one job to survive. I am on a crusade to make this change!
One enlightening thing I’ve learned on life’s journey— one that rings true for many of us—is that succeeding in college is very different from succeeding in a job search. Once you’ve graduated, the skills of research, solid communication, organization, networking and negotiating are crucial in promoting yourself in a competitive job environment and managing a vigorous job search.
A successful job search requires project management skills, a heavy emphasis on organization, and follow-through. It requires putting in the hours of a full-time job, whether you’re already working or not, so you must become a very efficient and savvy project manager to land the interviews and get those offers. Perseverance and focus are essential in generating the waves of activity that lead to potential interviews.
I often liken it to the Olympics: in each part of the process, you are evaluated at a new level of competition. If you fail on even a minor issue, chances are you will be cut. Thinking from the organizational perspective is imperative. As a candidate, you must demonstrate on every level why you are worthy of continuing the process and obtaining a person-to-person interview.
So, how does one begin? Be prepared to educate yourself on the key steps outlined below and invest the time and effort to see a payoff. Success seldom happens immediately or with the first interested employer. Statistical research shows it takes about a month of job search activity for every $10K you want to make, so if you start after graduation, that puts you at the fall season before you’ll see the benefits of your efforts.
That is realistic: it takes a significant investment of time and energy to see the returns. Don’t wait, because in late fall, hiring for full-time professional work generally begins to slow as the holiday season approaches. Holidays and vacations can impact a search and drag it out for weeks or months!
Social media and networking are key: 80 percent of people get jobs through people they know. Use your social media connections on every app related to professional development and get the word out. But (and this is critical), be prepared with competitive credentials and be motivated to do the networking necessary to target specific individuals. That means reaching out by phone or email and tracking your activity. The more people who know, the more ideas or leads you can obtain. Follow up on every plausible possibility, because jobs can come to you in unusual ways.
Let me share briefly to demonstrate. My job offer grew out of a phone call initially made to a company by a colleague of mine. She just happened to reach the president about a customer services issue. She told him about me and he encouraged me to call. I did and that began a series of phone calls, and eventually an offer. In time we met in person, but he never asked for my resume and he hired me based on our interactions. Granted, that probably does not happen much, but after 15 years I would say his decision worked out well.
Self-awareness: Knowing Yourself is Key!
This is essential, folks. Knowledge of your gifts and strengths helps you communicate your accomplishments in a relevant way that frames you as the best or most qualified candidate. Our AchieveWORKS® Personality assessment is my favorite resource for confirming talents and strengths. Once your key results are confirmed, marrying those with real-life examples empowers you to impress.
Short vignettes of how you have used your talents allows the listener to understand how your skills could be applied to their needs. Solid self-knowledge is imperative in translating life experiences into behavioral examples that demonstrate your level of expertise. Any HR professional or hiring manager trained in interviewing techniques will respond favorably, because the adage “Past behavior predicts future behavior” is the basis of the majority of hiring decisions.
Your behavioral examples can come from any facet of your life experience; they do not have to relate to a role for which you were compensated in order to be valid and appealing. Think of situations where you were recognized, complimented or rewarded for doing something well. Hiring professionals are interested in hearing about the actions you took, or were involved in, and the results obtained. Even examples where results were less than stellar can be impressive in demonstrating how you used troubleshooting and analysis to avoid issues in future situations.
For maximum empowerment, coupling your AchieveWORKS Personality results with those from our other resources, AchieveWORKS Intelligences and AchieveWORKS Learning and Productivity, will give you additional data to work with. As your awareness expands, you will find more ways to illustrate your capabilities and increase your appeal as a competitive candidate.
Self-awareness is critical to your success in life. Until you know who you are, you can never fully understand what you are capable of achieving. Those without this firm foundation can not effectively communicate their value to an organization. It also hinders others from being able to help with referrals. This is one part of four essential elements.
Creating Professional Connections: Promote Yourself Competitively!
I refuse to accept the idea that a college-educated individual cannot secure professional level employment that will provide adequate compensation. Yes, sometimes part of a long-term strategic plan involves accepting less compensation initially. For example, a person contemplating law school might take an admin position in a law firm before they apply for admission. It may pay less than another position, but there is value in the learning and networking, and could put the individual in favorable stead for a clerking position.
Creating a network of professional contacts relies on your skills in communication and building rapport with key people. It can be done by phone, email or in person, but it’s best when all methods are combined. Target professionals who have the knowledge and experience you desire to get the accurate information you want, like information on industry trends, new companies to the area, who’s hiring, certifications or credentials you might consider.
If you’re fortunate enough to meet someone who is a good fit with your personality, that’s an added plus, because you’ll be more comfortable in relating your needs. They might even be a potential mentor.
Research for Accurate Information: Marketplace Reality Check!
You can easily educate yourself on salary expectations. There are websites that can help you determine your worth in your specific geographic region. Understanding and negotiating your compensation needs is more complicated. This critical skill requires two things: accurate marketplace data and savvy negotiation skills. Role playing with a mentor or colleague is an excellent way to build confidence and develop a list of basic questions and responses.
Employers will respond to questions that integrate salary data you’ve researched on the Web. It’s an objective reference and can assist you in understanding the compensation range for the role and where you fall. Employers expect a discussion of give and take, but if you don’t advocate for yourself, I can guarantee they will not voluntarily offer more compensation than the entry level. Remember, to them it’s not personal, it’s business.
Secure the Guidance of a Mentor
Way too often, I meet new to mid-level career professionals who have settled for mediocre prospects right out of college because they were unprepared or unaware of how to do better, or didn’t realize how long a professional job search takes and what it involves.
Building a solid collegial relationship with someone who agrees to be your mentor is beneficial in addressing these topics. They can also help guide you through other situations where you need assistance and growth.
Right off the bat, start searching for a mentor (or two) who is successful in their job so they can coach you on ideas. It’s great if they are in the same field as you, but they don’t necessarily need to be. Diversity is good, because you will benefit from the knowledge of learning about the community landscape. Plus, everyone knows people.
A mentor can offer steps to become solid and savvy in your job search and negotiations. Try to find a mentor who is at the level you want to be at in three to five years and another at a higher level. The perspective and advice you get from both will help your long-term career planning efforts significantly.
Each of these steps is critical and time consuming, but you can rest assured the outcome will pay off with the investment you make. My next blog will tackle the key aspects of building a brand that is YOU. So, if interested, please stay tuned!
Here are some links I found interesting and valuable:
Professional Connections and Networking