Month: July 2014

Are You a Job Snob?

I told my son in May to go to the mall and not come home until he’d filled out 20 job applications. He came home that night, elated that he had an interview scheduled at Subway the following day. Three days later he landed the job. You would think I’d be thrilled, right? Not so much, because the mom and the career coach in me were at odds. The mom in me was thrilled my son landed his first job. The career coach fretted about my computer engineering son, with his mad computer skills, becoming a Sandwich Artist.Hamburger with ingredient.

Job Snob, that was me.

Two months later, I now realize I fretted for nothing.  In fact, I am giddy over his transformation. Here are skills he picked up:

1)      Leadership & initiative:

  • On his own, he took initiative and asked his boss if he’d like him to stay late and close for him. He has done this several times now.
  • When a fellow co-worker felt too scared to make sandwiches after her fourth day on the job, he gently coaxed her into making her first sandwich, and now she’s off and running.

2)      Curiosity & outer-directedness:

  • He asks more questions now, when he’s around people. He no longer has to be coaxed into talking. He asks my husband about his clients, and he volunteers information about his day, which he never used to do.

3)      Confidence:

  • When I asked what he learned from working at Subway, he said, “I feel better about going to look for another job now.” This fall when he returns to college, he feels much more confident about finding a campus job.
  • Early on at Subway, he said customers blew up at him about  confusion over Groupons, and he asked his boss to handle it. This week, a customer yelled at him because she failed to see him change his gloves. He acted differently this time:  “When someone blows up at you mistakenly, you speak with authority and act like you know what you’re doing.” What a shift!

4)      Being a good boss:

  • Luc has a great boss,  which will bode well for every person Luc ever manages for the rest of his life. During a recent lunch rush, Luc burned his hand. His boss left to go to a pharmacy to get him burn cream. (Luc told me I have to mention this story if I write about his experience. He is eternally grateful for his boss’s kindness that day).  His boss taught Luc the importance of being human first.

My son’s experience at Subway taught me two vital things: One, we can’t afford to be snobs about the work our kids choose. Jobs that seem irrelevant can actually be stepping stones to better jobs, and provide us clarity. Speaking for myself, I have put on a Big Bird costume for 8 hours in 100 degree weather, been a short-order cook, a dishwasher, a baker, and a cocktail waitress. All these jobs helped me develop and hone  my career identity. The beauty of jobs we don’t love is all the information they give, even if it’s, I’ll never do that again. From the jobs I’ll never do again, I learned the value of grit and hard-work, which serves me as I build my consulting business today.

Here’s another reason not to be a job snob: They can be a stepping stone to an unexpected opportunity. A friend told me that while he was in between jobs, he took a part-time job in IT support, even though it wasn’t in his sweet spot at all and he didn’t know much about IT. Several months later a full time opportunity came along that WAS in his sweet spot, and they told him, the reason we hired you was because of your IT experience.

Engagement with the world pulls us forward in our development. And in this development we discover that it’s about so much more than making sandwiches.

image: © Depositphotos.com /poznyakov

Thanks to my brother Bruce Bondy who gave me the idea to send Luc to the mall and not come back until he filled out 20 applications. 

 

 

7 Right Things Every College Student Needs to Do During College

In response to a Time article by Martha C. White titled “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired,“ a reader named “younotus” laments: “I had to move back in with my parents [and] . . .  if it weren’t for them, I would have nowhere to go. And I’ve done everything right. I’ve done everything I’ve been told to do, to have a good life. And still, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing again and again and getting nowhere.”Colorful fruits for dessert

It’s a heart-rending statement, part of a much longer one where he reveals his frustrating and underpaid path since graduating from a prestigious college with a liberal arts degree. I bolded his line above “And I’ve done everything right,”

a) because I see that phrase a lot in reader response threads expressing discontent about job prospects and

b) I wonder how he defines “everything right.”

I worry there is a disconnect between what some students believe is “doing everything right,” and actual activities that help make a college graduate ready to make the leap into the corporate world. All of us who are educators in the career development arena want to close this gap.

I discussed this recently with a college career counselor, who expressed the same concern. She said, “I’m anxious about our students who have so much on their plate.” She and “younotus”  beg the question, what are the right things for students to have on their plate during college to pave the way for a respectable starting job? Here are my thoughts on this. Please feel free to weigh in:

1. LinkedIn: 

  • Through their college progression, students need to grow their network on LinkedIn. In fact by graduation, they should have at least 250 connections and aim for 500+ connections early in their career.
  • They need to complete and optimize their LinkedIn profile.
  • They need to learn how to leverage LinkedIn to their advantage, using its features to raise their profile, visibility and appeal. Matt Hames writes that by their senior year, students should rebalance the Facebook/LinkedIn ratio: By senior year they should be on LinkedIn 90% of the time, Facebook 10%. In addition, students need to be taught proper “Netiquette,” which means being strategic, personable and generous when making connections through LinkedIn.  If so, they will be well-served (and poised to serve others).

2. Complete an internship or 3. While completing an internship is obvious to many, I meet many students who admit they “never got around to it.” It belongs on the plate! What other things might they need to say no to, in order to get around to it? With whom can they make a connection at a company, so that they are referred rather than part of a huge gang of applicants?

3.  By graduation, have “at the ready” at least 3-5 accomplishments showing ways students have made an impact, showing quantifiable results. By graduation, resumes need to contain this information. LinkedIn profiles also need to showcase what students do well, and how they enjoy making an impact. Is their branding front and center on their LinkedIn profile?

4. Complete 25 informational interviews before graduation. Informational interviews are the perfect activity for gaining insight on multiple levels: About oneself as a job seeker, about a company, about career preferences, insights into industry trends,  a source for blog ideas, and most important, for discerning pain points that a job seeker may be able to leverage into a job or internship.

5. Volunteer in places that allowing job seekers to gain marketable skills they want to learn. At least by junior year, students can take on more leadership positions in volunteer organizations by taking on officer positions, and offering their talents. For example, if someone has writing or marketing skills, they can offer to create and manage a Facebook page for a non-profit, or a small business owner. Students can seek out opportunities to be of value and make a difference.

6. Learn how to target specific companies they’re interested in. Once they’ve targeted companies, they can then do research, and begin to connect to insiders within those companies, and set up informational interviews.

Many of the readers responding in the TIME thread above discussed how their “spray and pray” job hunt approach yielded nothing. From the lack of response to their resumes, they inferred the job market was dried up, or their major was a waste, rather than infer the approach itself was misguided. By helping arm students with the knowledge of how to target and research companies, they learn an invaluable skill they’ll use throughout their careers.

7. Begin and develop a side-gig that has the potential for monetization, something they enjoy doing in their spare time.  Kimberly Palmer’s The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life, makes the case for learning to monetize  hobbies as a way to offset lower paying jobs, perhaps even replacing them. It is responsible stewardship to prepare students to be entrepreneurs. I envision a day, in fact, where an entrepreneurial class is mandatory for every student, every major, with the expectation that they leave college with a proven, independent means to earn money well underway.

Is the disappointment felt by “younotus”  inevitable, even with the “right” things on his plate? Maybe he has a blind spot that prevents him from taking actions that can propel him forward. I can only conjecture. My intention, with the solutions above, is to provide students with a solid foundation for their own career management. No job is permanent. When it’s time to leave a job, the best thing we can do is equip students with the skills and expertise they need to land a better one.

image: © Depositphotos.com /gnohz

 

 

5 Reasons to Befriend the Practice of Informational Interviewing

Two Businesswomen Shaking Hands In Modern Office

© Depositphotos.com /Monkeybusiness

You’ve decided to re-invent yourself, and look for a new job. You call me and say, I’m ready, let’s do this. When I mention the necessity of “informational interviewing” though, your nose scrunches up as if you just smelled a dirty diaper. You say, “No way, I can’t do those, I’m an introvert,” or “Pah! They don’t work,” or “I don’t know how to do them.”  I so understand this fear.  At the heart of every job search is a desire to give birth to a new self, and as we all know, birth is a messy, awkward process.

Perhaps your reluctance to do informational interviews stems from this:  If you’ve held a job for awhile, you’re no longer a rookie. You’re the Subject Matter Expert in your office, the top dog. You have the respect of your colleagues, and people come to you to solve problems. Then I step in, and ask you to let go of that, and go out and speak to people, using your beginner’s mind. That’s hard for the ego to take. Soon you abandon your job search because you can’t bear the discomfort of starting from scratch, of initiating conversations with strangers. I feel foolish doing these, you say. So you give up, and shrink back into your familiar, yet unsatisfying job that doesn’t fit you.

What if there is a friendlier way to look at informational interviewing? What if, instead of feeling bad about being a rookie again, you saw the process as a necessary path to wisdom? What if you saw these information-gathering interviews as a catalyst for your ever-evolving professional self?

Because that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do.

Embrace and befriend informational interviews, and let yourself be a learner again.  As Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” You will not only shorten your job search, but gain insights into your profession and vital connections to your community that will serve you throughout your career. Consider the following facts and assertions:

1)      At least 70% of jobs are filled by a KNOWN candidate. This means someone at the company knew the candidate before the job was available. This also means, if you are part of an applicant pool, you stand a significantly lower chance of landing the job. In the “known candidate” scenario, the employee referred a friend, or met her at a networking event, or she came in for an informational interview. The odds are definitely in your favor to meet employees and hiring managers before a job becomes available.

2)      You gain insights into trends and industry needs you wouldn’t have by simply reading status updates, or scanning job boards. After a week of conducting interviews with career advisors at several local colleges and universities, I learned about their needs and pain points. In particular, I learned how much college students want to know how to use LinkedIn to their advantage.  This was a perfect opportunity for me to become an SME on LinkedIn: I love this medium , and as a former software trainer, learning LinkedIn was a snap. I now optimize LinkedIn profiles for clients, and  give presentations on LinkedIn.

3)      You build relationships with colleagues in your field. Whether I am eventually hired at a company or not, my goal with each informational interview is to make a professional friend. Twenty to thirty minutes is plenty of time to create a powerful, exciting connection if you are sincere and prepared.

 Here are questions I ask, though they change, depending on context:

  • How is your day going so far?
  • How did you get this job?
  • What attracted you to this profession or this company?
  • What do you love about this profession the most?
  • What trends do you see that concern you?
  • What are challenges or pain points you’re currently facing?
  • Whom do you admire in the field? Who has influenced your work?
  • What have you learned in the last few years at your job that you didn’t expect?
  • What do you still want to learn?
  • Who do you know that I might speak with? May I use your name as a referral?
  • What can I do for you? 

4)      Because you are already, TODAY, a valuable resource.  It’s important to go into every informational interview with the knowledge that you have a lot to offer.  As a skillful informational interviewer, you know to always ask “What can I do for you?”

 Here are things you can offer if they can’t think of something they need:

  • Since you already noted and wrote down what aspect of their profession they’re particularly interested in, you can look for articles to send them about this.
  • Ask them what their hobbies are, and look for articles you can send them
  • Ask them if they’re looking to meet someone in their profession, or needing a connection. If you don’t know someone now, keep an eye out for future.
  • Ask them if they need help with something you’re good at.  For me, I offer help with people’s LinkedIn profile, if they’d like that.  Usually they say yes, which might turn into a recommendation. Show them both your value and kindness.

5)      Because if you keep doing them, you won’t keep feeling foolish. In the late-80s, I enrolled in a Spanish immersion program in Guanajuato, Mexico for a month. I forced myself to speak Spanish every day, all day, even though I stumbled, misspoke and felt I sounded foolish.  I called my boyfriend-at-the-time in tears who said, “What if you’re just a beginner, and not a fool?” My Spanish steadily improved, and by the end of the month, I could converse.

Informational interviews are just like learning a new language.  With each interview you will find better footing, learn more about your industry, and  profession. You will also relax, become more yourself and before long, will look like someone a company wants to hire.

Every informational interview I’ve had has pulled me forward.  One gave me the courage to launch my own business. A few more taught me where I can provide real value in my profession. Others have eventually led to a job offer.  John C. Maxwell said, “If we are growing, we will always be out of our comfort zone.” Our professional growth then depends on giving ourselves permission to feel uncomfortable–to be willing to be learners. You will be astonished at where it takes you.