Tips for the job search season

College students around the country are approaching graduation with anxious anticipation. This time of year is a busy time supporting not only recent college grads, but also those who may hear news about graduation and reflect on where they wish they were professionally.Whether you are embarking on your first job search post-graduation or in step with the season and eager to branch out at explore new horizons, this nice recent article, “9 Tips for College Seniors Looking for That First Job,” from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development inspired my own list of tips for the job search season.

1. Make a plan.
I typically tell clients it can take 6-9 months to find a job. Sticking with it and being focused in your search is key to success. It can be challenging to find energy for the sometimes tedious aspects of the job search process, especially for college students who are just coming off of stressful finals and commencement activities. My advice: Make a plan for yourself with clear goals.

  • How many jobs per week do you plan to apply for? It is better to set a smaller goal, but put in application materials that are tailored to each position to which you plan to apply.
  • What steps must you take to be ready to apply for jobs? For example, do you need to revamp your resume or have a career consultant review your materials and offer feedback?
  • What time-frame is reasonable for each of these small tasks? Plotting out your goals and milestones on a calendar can really help you feel confident in knowing which tasks to handle first, and it can give you an idea of whether you are on track with the timeline that feels comfortable to you.
  • You can also take time to document your goals or vision for a happy work life now. You can look back on this if times get stressful or if you seem to lose track of your center in the stress of the job hunt.

Finally, you may also want to set up a job search spreadsheet where you can keep track of all the positions you have applied for and the dates so you know when it would be appropriate to follow-up. Having your goals and timeline determined, and having your organization systems in place will help you start your search on a strong foot.

2. Use all the resources available to you.
Many college graduates assume that because they have graduated they no longer are eligible to utilize the career services offices on their campus. This is true in some cases, but not all. Be sure you are taking full advantage of your resources as an alum in addition to seeking out private career consulting support, if appropriate.

Also consider the resources and career support available to you through groups you are a member of, such as professional associations or faith communities, for example. Stay in touch with faculty members who know you well – they hear about many openings. Also attend to your network and be sure you are leveraging your relationships to help put your network to work for you.

3. Balance your search across the visible and invisible job markets.
Speaking of networks – balance the amount of time spent on applying for posted jobs vs. investing energy in cultivating your own network. I teach a networking class at the University of Minnesota and it is always surprising to me how few students realize the full power of networking. Up to 70-80% of jobs may never be posted, so be sure you aren’t just competing with all the other job seekers for that visible job market.

To network effectively, you should be prepared to let people in your life know:

  • A bit about who you are
  • What you are interested in
  • The skills and strengths you bring
  • And where you see yourself headed

Through formal and informal connections, seek out opportunities to tell people that you are a recent grad or that you are job searching, and offer them enough detail about you so they can ascertain how they can help you in your search. This allows you to tap into the invisible job market. In your job search plan, be sure you set goals related to how many networking meetings you hope to have each week or month in addition to focusing on applying for open positions.

4. Pay attention to your online life.
When job searching we typically spend a lot of time and energy on our resume and cover letter. It is great to tailor these to specific positions, but it is also becoming increasingly important to attend to your online presence:

  • Linked In is becoming more of a norm across industries, which is a great thing because you can oftentimes highlight your strengths and skills in more interactive and interesting ways online as compared to in a formal resume. Spend time getting acquainted with Linked In, not only as a tool to collect contacts but also as a tool you can use to mine for potential networking contacts who may know about positions that are “invisible” to the general job search scene.
  • Depending on your industry or field, you may also want to develop your own personal website you can link to from Linked In or your resume where you are able to showcase more about who you are and what you are seeking in your next position.
  • Finally, “Google yourself” to see what prospective employers may discover about you online when they do a quick search. Clean up any privacy settings on social media and make adjustments as needed. Again, a career coach or career consultant can help you think through all of these aspects of your job search and candidate profile.

5. Be present to the process.
Job searching is stressful one day and exhilarating the next. There are a lot of ups and downs in this process and it can start to feel pretty disorienting after even a short time in the thick of it. My last tip is to be present to the process.

Try to take a step back and keep that big picture in mind:

  • What is your ultimate goal?
  • What are your values?
  • Are the kinds of positions you are applying for still in alignment with who you are and what you desire next from your work?

If you get to feeling low about your prospects it can be tempting to just begin applying for any open position. Stay focused on your goals and interests, and review that purpose statement or vision you crafted for yourself at the start of your search so you ensure you are staying true to yourself through the process.

Always listen to your gut. If you notice you do not have energy or enthusiasm for a specific position or industry, for example, maybe you should really listen in to what might be going on. Be present and reflect on what you are learning through the process. Sometimes we discover that the job search reveals our goals or priorities are a little different than we first anticipated they would be.

If you are looking to make a job change, reflect on whether you are running towards something or running away from something that isn’t working – and if the thing that isn’t working in your life is really your work at all?

Being this mindful in your job search process can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but staying in touch with yourself during your search is key to finding longer-term happiness and meaningful work that satisfies. 

I wish all the recent grads and spring job searchers out there good luck in the search!

The key to finding career confidence

Pursuing a big professional goal takes courage and commitment. Without a little gumption it can be hard to take the first steps towards career success. What if you don’t have as much courage today as you need?

Enter preparation.

In my experience working with a range of job seekers over the years, a willingness to do the preparation that is required to succeed at a career fair, networking event, or job interview is where it all begins. With the right preparation a candidate can go from feeling terrified to feeling self-assured and filled with hope.

Below are 5 preparation tips for common professional situations: 

1.  Know yourself well.

Spend ample time reflecting on your values, interests, personality, skills and strengths as they relate to your goals, needs, and the potential opportunities you are considering. If you are having a hard time identifying or speaking about all the gifts you bring to the table, consider working with a career coach who can help you explore these in depth.

Spending the time to grow in self-awareness will provide you with the sturdy foundation you will need to accomplish your professional goals.

2.  Know your target organization. 

Applying to a graduate program? Found a dream job at a new nonprofit in town? The next step is to really get to know that school, company, or organization. Research online to learn about their culture, programs and/or services, read up on the latest news stories featuring the organization, and consider exploring networking contacts who can offer a personal perspective.

3.  Set goals for yourself. 

Having a clear goal can help motivate you to go beyond your comfort zone. Decide in advance how many employers you want to talk with at a career fair or how many informational interviews you want to conduct in a given time-frame. If you start to feel nervous, the clear goal can be just the thing you need to keep the momentum going as you see the progress you are making.

4.  Enlist support and feedback. 

It is normal to feel vulnerable when you put yourself out there professionally. It is also normal not to like that feeling of vulnerability! Enlisting support of friends and family, a mentor, or a career coach can help you move beyond your own limiting beliefs or fears.

A career coach can also give you feedback through mock interviews or practice networking scenarios so that you feel more confident about your ability to interact with employers and other professionals.

Hearing honest feedback from someone you trust can help you correct for small behaviors that may be getting in your way so that your best self shines.

5.  Celebrate the wins! 

To adequately prepare for professional interactions with employers and industry leaders takes time. When your hard work pays off be sure to celebrate the wins! You set and achieved a goal of meeting with 6 employers at the job fair? High-five! Although you felt intimidated at first, you conducted your first informational interview and it was a positive experience? Bravo!

Preparation can help you when you are just starting out and it continues to be useful throughout your career. Over time you will learn what kind of preparation works best for you so you can more adequately plan for these moments.

What have been your experiences with professional preparation? What are your favorite ways to prepare for job interviews, networking situations, and important professional interactions? Which of the 5 tips above is most helpful to you? Where do you struggle? Is there anything else you would add to this list?

Free agents and the future of work

Today I don’t blink when clients or friends tell me they aren’t after the traditional employer-employee workplace arrangement. For many, the idea of working a 9-5 job, 40+ hours per week for a single employer sounds stifling. This wasn’t the case even 20 years ago. What happened?

Recently, the idea of being a “free agent” has gone mainstream. Articles vetting this idea are popping up in newspapers and magazines more and more (See the Star Tribune’s “Millennials thinking outside the cubicle”).

My first clear exposure to the idea that traditional employer-employee relationships might be shifting happened in 2012 in Salt Lake City.

I was at a conference for career services people and attended a session where we talked about how career professionals should advise students who are seeking out commission-only work, contract-based assignments, or who want to work seasonally or in part-time positions to accommodate other interests and goals.

This requires letting go of my own biases and getting in touch with shifts in how people and organizations think about work so I can help clients apply that information as they evaluate their own options.

Here is my list of the top 4 forces that I believe are fueling this trend:

1. The millenial generation

  • Millenials, those born approximately 1982 to the early 2000s, grew up in volatile times.
  • For many, 9/11 was a generation-defining moment.
  • While sometimes called “Generation Me”, they do exude a drive and passion for making the world a better place. For many, this fuels more passion for social entrepreneurship than entering the established “race to the top.”
  • They have grown up in a time when national student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion, outpacing consumer loan debt in the U.S.
  • The Great Recession necessitated that many of these young professionals take up a “portfolio” of work when their ideal jobs were scarce.

2. The rise of technology, the share economy, and rapid innovation

  • The online horizon is long, with ample opportunities for contributing via blogs, creating your own website, and creating a digital identity and brand.
  • Accessing markets for products and services is easier with the help of the web.
  • Online payment systems like the Square credit card swipe tool
  • The growing share economy makes it easier to both outsource tasks to others or make money on the side to fuel your passions (think Task Rabbit or Uber).

3. The minimalist movement

  • The simple living movements are gaining momentum as a growing number of people choose to “opt out” of the ideal of a large house and enough cars for each driver.
  • Entire shows are popping up featuring “tiny house enthusiasts” who desire to minimize expenses and maximize experience by choosing to live in homes 1,000 square feet or less, many under 500 square feet.

4. Infrastructure to support the “free agent”

  • It isn’t so lonely to go it alone. You can now join a co-working organization and pay membership dues to share office space and amenities previously only available in larger corporations.
  • Online groups help people connect and find one another for networking, brainstorming, and ongoing professional development.
  • Free online course sites, like Coursera, help people find new training and build new skills in an on-demand format.
  • Unions are even forming for freelancers.
  • Finally, health care reform means many Americans are beginning to feel safer uncoupling themselves from their employer-sponsored health care plans that may have previously kept them in gigs that were less than ideal.

What are your thoughts? Are you a “free agent” now or is it your goal? Do you worry about the risk of unstrapping yourself from the perceived security of a large employer?  What technology, tools, or services have made it easier for you to go it alone? What has surprised you in the process?

Why hating work is problematic

In their recent New York Times article, Why You Hate Work, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath shared recent research findings that provide ample evidence for what we intuitively know: We hate our jobs.

Turns out, those of us in the Unite States are slightly better off than many of our global peers. According to the article, “just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of people who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent.”

The article focused on core needs that must be met for us to feel that sense of engagement so many of us are lacking (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual). However, I couldn’t stop wondering: What does our global community lose when only 13 percent of us are feeling connected at work?

Engagement, as defined in the article, is “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” and when we experience engagement in our work, not only is individual well-being improved, but typically organizations enjoy better results – from business performance to reduced costs due to decreased errors and injuries, among many other factors.

From a sustainability perspective – it is a win-win. Do right for people, and they will have more to give to your cause. If we want to sustain our ability to operate our business, live lives well and with the capacity to raise and care for new generations of problem-solvers and thought-leaders, then hating work is hugely problematic.

Fortunately, the keys to success, are relatively simple: 

Renew – find ways to support a culture where employees take breaks to restore and renew. Do this right, and the authors suggest we could see nearly 100 percent of people feel inclined to stay with their company – and – employees may enjoy twice the sense of health and well-being.

Value – encourage supervisors to actually care for their employees – or at least do enough so that employees feel cared for.

Focus – create work environments where people can actually focus on what they do best, without interruption. In the age of technology we live in, this may be easier said than done.

Purpose – support individuals in finding positions where they are able to derive some sense of meaning and purpose from what they do.

As a career development professional, of course I am keenly drawn to anything having to do with helping individuals from all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and education levels find work that is fulfilling and helps them feel a sense of integration in their life – but the beauty of the authors’ article is that the other steps are fairly simple. Perhaps difficult to enact, but in reality, they are relatively simple and cost neutral changes that can be made in most organizations.

It’s a shame that more of us are not outraged about the epidemic of missed opportunity that we all suffer from when only 13 percent of employees globally feel that sense of connection between life and work. This epidemic is not only crucial to personal vitality, but it is also vital to the sustainability and success of enterprises across the globe.


Schwartz, T. & Porath, C. (May 30, 2014). Why you hate work. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/why-you-hate-work.html?_r=0 

 

 

Thinking beyond the major.

93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.

Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013.

Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part I)

s-LOST-largeFrequently I find myself sitting across the table from a college student who is anxious and eager to have me help them answer burning questions about major and career choice. The conversation is different depending on the student, but many of them have similar struggles finding their path:

  • What is the “right” major?
  • What jobs can you actually do with this major?
  • Would this major or that major be better?
  • What about a minor? Which will make it easier for me to get a job?
  • And the dreaded… My parents want me to do this, but I am not sure. What do YOU think?

At the heart of all of these questions is a longing to know: How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

I have great compassion for students struggling to find their place. I remember not long ago sitting in a career coach’s office with similar questions, although mine were maybe a little different. My struggle to find career satisfaction was less about not knowing what inspired me, and more about figuring out how I could get paid to do work that I enjoyed. In many ways I still struggle to feel like I am fully able to realize all my professional potential and interests through my day job. More on that another day.

Yet recently, I find myself pushing students and prompting them to consider whether they are really asking the right questions at all? Could it be that we aren’t even close to the target? 

The world of work has changed dramatically and traditional-aged “millenial” college students face an uncertain and thrilling new terrain. Regrettably many of their coping skills are not sufficient to help them weather the challenge. (For more on this see Brooke Donatone’s recent Slate article: Why Millenials Can’t Grow Up).

So what are we to do? Shouldn’t we push these students to ask tougher questions? The kinds of questions that will help them find their place, clarify their purpose, and contribute their greatest gifts in service of the world?

Of course we should.  

Frameworks for pushing students to consider bigger questions abound, yet one particular initiative has captured my attention this week. The Association of America’s Colleges and Universities (AACU) has launched an initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP). What intrigues me about LEAP is that it brings together educators and employers, challenging both groups to consider what skills and qualities are most needed to meet the demands of our global community and economy in this time. Consistent with other surveys, LEAP suggests that the skills needed to thrive in this new landscape extend beyond narrow professional training.

By defining Learning Outcomes, High-Impact Practices, and Assessment strategies, the LEAP initiative outlines a framework that career coaches, academic institutions, families, employers and other concerned groups can use to challenge our nation’s young professionals to consider bigger questions about what meaningful work will mean to them.

Further, they highlight successful partnerships between colleges/universities and employers that demonstrate how mutual interests can be achieved through careful planning. One of the most interesting results of this effort found that “93% of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major” (Source: Association of American Colleges and Universities- Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact, April 2013).

If undecided and exploratory students (and working adults, for that matter) are struggling to figure out how to decide, wondering if they will be okay, trying to sort out who they are and who they wish to be… Is the question really, “Which major is right?” Absolutely not.

So what questions should we be asking? And where can we find the answers that students, families, and our communities truly need to thrive in this uncertain space? 

Stay tuned for a future blog post as the conversation continues in Part II. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.

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