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!

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Envisioning possibilities is hard

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‘No, no, Tess – go read “What Color Is Your Parachute!” Watch some TED Talks about finding your passion! Go take a class that you’ve always wanted to take!

Great advice… But inside my head – I was paralyzed. Getting your brain to really, really open up to all the possibilities – it’s so much harder than I ever imagined.”

-from Tess Vigeland‘s 2013 World Domination Summit talk, “What the Hell Are You Doing?!”, here in print or audio.

This afternoon I found Tess Vigeland’s familiar voice coming through my speakers while I was working on some planning tasks. Here was a professional with public radio superpowers, and she was talking about her own struggle making sense of her decision to leave Marketplace. Incredible.

Too often I think we assume there are two camps of people – those who have it together and are on a path, and those who are lost. In reality I think most of us are somewhere in between. We are broken, afraid, and struggling to find signs to reassure us that we will be okay. Career transitions are painful, even when they are fruitful. They leave their marks on us, challenging our confidence and assumptions we have about who we are and the world we live within.

When we are looking for work or trying to decide if we should make a change our dear family and friends who love us will just encourage us to open up and dream, as if we haven’t tried to do this. Yet when we are stressed by job changes and questioning whether we will be okay, it is very difficult for the mind to open up to creatively envisioning a multitude of possibilities for us.

While it is hard to dream in times of distress, stretching yourself to stay open and think big is essential for finding our way to what is next for us.

Next time you find yourself in that place, consider these three thoughts:

1. Know that you alone are enough. You are perfect and you and the gifts you bring are very much needed in the world.

2. Take heart in knowing you are not alone. Even Tess Vigeland feels overwhelmed by these major transitions!

3. Apply equal parts reflection, rest, and forward progress. When we are in the midst of chaos it can be tempting to push harder to work towards the certainty that we crave and yet these transitions require space and time to breathe in new life, energy and possibility.

Give yourself space to notice the uncomfortable or distressing feelings you are experiencing and try to decipher any meaning or lessons therein (I know, that sounds terribly naive, but try). And then rest.

Rest your anxious mind and heart. Give  your search a break. Live into the spaciousness of this moment and find balance between the reflection, rest, and forward progress. My hope for you is that in doing this you will be gentle towards yourself when you are feeling tender, and you will give your own inner truth a chance to be heard and to influence your path forward in a way that is both unexpected and glorious… maybe not right away… but maybe someday, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Recognizing “enough” in my life and work

Earlier this week I found myself in a nasty mood. My whole disposition to the world was one of irritation and bother. I was drained, unhappy, and frustrated by all kinds of small things that should have never even registered as irritants. I think many of us have days or weeks like this and like most things, they pass. What finally shifted things for me was going outside to sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair and read a book for a bit.

I should have sent myself to an out-of-doors timeout much earlier that day. It was clear I was burned out, tired, fatigued, and needed to rest and process all the chaotic thoughts and feelings stomping through my head. Yet I felt like I could not sit still and rest. There was one more load of laundry to be done, one more hour to spend business planning, one more visit to Facebook that needed to be made. None of it urgent and most of it not really even important to me in the grand scheme of things.

So when I found myself settling in under my oak tree to read my book I had to laugh at my selection: Wayne Muller‘s “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough,” which originally crossed my path through a church book club that I was too busy to ultimately attend. I am not joking.

Wayne Muller's book, "A life of being, having, and doing enough" from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Being-Having-Doing-Enough/dp/0307591395

Wayne Muller’s book, “A life of being, having, and doing enough” from Amazon.

While I am not all the way through the book, it was surprising how much of it resonated with how I was struggling that day. It is as if Muller used my experience that day to illustrate his argument perfectly!

I kept coming back to this passage again and again:

“In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time.

Then we can rest.

But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives and we cannot take that first step back. So we keep going. And going. Without permission from culture, workplace, community, or even our own inner, grinding work ethic, how can we know it is time to stop — for now, for today — and know that what we have done, and who we have been, is absolutely enough? It is time to put it down, let it be, go home, and call it a day” (p. 6).

 

This blog is all about finding, claiming, and living out one’s purpose in life and work. So you might expect me to be an expert in this area, but in truth, I am like so many other writers before me: I write to understand, rather than to tell.

Reading the words from that passage prompted all kinds of questions to pop up at me from the page:

  • Why do I feel that unless I am physically weary or mentally empty I have not done enough?
  • Why do I see each day as a struggle to prove my worthiness through productivity?
  • While I may believe it intellectually, why do I struggle in practice to accept that I am enough just as I am, even without being perfectly productive?
  • Who’s permission am I seeking to be “done enough” to rest?
  • How can I better tune into the cues in my life that I’ve had enough, been enough, and contributed enough that day or week or season?
  • Why is it such a struggle for me to practice self-compassion to myself by recognizing when I have found “enough” in life or work?
  • And perhaps the scariest question of all: If I did finally feel I had done “enough” for a day – What on earth would I do with myself????

Like me, I’m sure reading over the passage I quoted above sparked all kinds of questions and concerns in you. What resonates with where you are struggling? In what ways are you proud to stand in your own truth and know when you have had enough? What strategies or tools do you rely on to recognize when you have found “enough” in your life or work each day? I welcome your wisdom!

He is so desperate, I am so blessed.

He is so desperate, I am so blessed. 

I found myself saying this to myself today after a series of coaching appointments with clients facing deep struggles in their paths toward finding meaningful work. Or any work at all… sigh.

Days like today weigh heavily on my spirit. Seeing the very real barriers – internal or external – that complicate the job search process can break my heart. Especially when I look at how blessed I am in my own life and my professional path.

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I struggle the most when the barriers individuals are struggling to overcome are the result of structural or systemic oppression. Where language, access to health care, disability, mental health status, cultural differences, or poor self-advocacy skills create huge roadblocks that overcome even the last glimmers of resilience.  I feel helpless.

I worry I am not doing enough, and on the really tough days:

Am I causing more harm than good? 

Considering my own blessings in contrast to those who are sincerely struggling to sustain daily living can leave me feeling guilty. When I was first exploring my identity as a white person I thought a lot about the guilt I felt being born part of the privileged dominant group in my country. I also think about the ways I can use my privilege to fight systemic oppression.

As I have grown in my field, I also think more about the ways my own privilege can get in the way for clients I serve who are from underrepresented groups. I know I find myself in the “buffer zone,” as social justice educator, writer, and activist, Paul Kivel, describes:

“If most people receive minimal levels of care and those who die do so in hospitals, at home, in rest homes, or in prisons, it is less likely that people will add up the total impact of the concentration of wealth. So there are many jobs for people to take care of those at the bottom of the pyramid: nurses, attendants, social workers, teachers, youth workers, child care workers, counselors—poorly paid jobs that are primarily done by women and that provide minimal services to those in need.

“Taking care of those in need is valuable and honorable work, and most people do it with generosity and good intentions. But in our society, it is also unsupported, low-paid, exploitative work. It serves to mask the inadequate distribution of jobs, food, and housing, and to hide the full impact of the concentration of wealth” (Source here).

It may be honorable work. It may be valuable work. I may dedicate my whole heart to supporting those I meet with. In turn I hope that I am supporting a vibrant and equitable community. However on days  like today I feel so overwhelmed trying to parcel out all the pieces at play. The struggle to do my part of  the work towards social justice can feel overwhelming, especially when I struggle to even sort out what “right action” looks like in the moment.

I feel called to serve, to support, and to empower. The idea that the very act of trying to help can get in the way and perpetuate all kinds of inequality — it just feels too big. Too daunting. It makes me feel so small, so unsure of what my next right choice should be.

Comfort comes in faithfully believing that I am doing my best to put my heart to the work, praying for grace, and as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, living the questions:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

In the middle at the New Year

This New Year snuck up on me like a fog and vanished just as quietly. Typically I would spend a lot of energy thinking about the upcoming New Year, reflecting on the last year and jotting down my hopes for the year to come.

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But this year felt different.

I took a yoga class on New Year’s Eve and our teacher grounded the practice in being in “the middle” – inspired because the holiday fell mid-week this year. This got me thinking about the many ways I feel “in between” in my own life right now. Not yet settled in my new life after dramatic changes this year, but also not a stranger here. This “middle” place has become its own season of life.

Today is the middle of January – some time has passed since the New Year:

    • In what ways do you find yourself “in the middle” at this time?
    • In what was do you see yourself emerging?
    • In this dark and cold season – are there places still healing while others inch towards new growth?

Our greatest gift is our presence.

For many of us, the holiday season is busy with preparations for memory-making with family and dear friends. Today I received a message that caused me to pause and consider whether all this activity really gets us any closer to the connection we crave? I know I am guilty of spending too much of my time on my holiday lists when I could be spending that time in the pure presence of those that I love.

GreatestGiftSUChristmas_Presence

The fact that this message came to me via email is not lost on me. As much as technology brings us together, for me it can also cause just as much disconnection. Technology has the capacity to fragment some of my most cherished moments in ways that would never have been possible when I was a child. Perhaps worst of all, most of the time I don’t even notice it happening.

What if all the gifts, the food, the crafts, and the parties are actually confusing us into thinking that the activities alone yield the closeness that lives within promise of Christmas? If the greatest gift we can give to one another is our presence, how might we reshape our choices to create space for this greatest gift of all to emerge?

If you are curious, or if you just enjoy seeing lovely Seattle on film, enjoy the full video here.

Do not worry about the landing place too much.

A friend and dear mentor recently sent me a lovely card in celebration of my upcoming graduation. Enclosed was a small magnet of a little yellow butterfly with a note saying the gift was to remind me of the butterfly’s annual wisdom of growth, transformation, and metamorphosis.ButterflyMagnet

This friend did not know that the butterfly has been an important symbol for me over the last year. I love the image of transformation we can take from the butterfly and I have done a lot of thinking about butterflies over the last cycle of seasons. For these reasons, this small gift from my friend ended up being far more touching than even she intended it to be. It brought me pure joy.

In the last year as I have been thinking about what I can learn from butterflies and their cycle of life, they have started to show up in different ways. I notice them outside, on clothing people are wearing in meetings, on a little note card from a friend, in bowls I use daily in my kitchen but ignore. Now, finally, one arrived at my door just for me. An affirmation of the noticing I have been doing all year.

In this spirit, and because it fits with my intention for this week of “Open hands, warm heart,” I share a simple poem I wrote one day in May last year when I was struggling to find my way. This was written after a walk along the Sammamish River Trail near my home in Woodinville, WA. I hope it brings a bit of lightness to any heavy spots in your heart.

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Begin with the end in mind.

How can we strive to move through our lives with more openness and trust, especially in the times and situations that scare us and challenge us the most? In what ways can we begin to cultivate a spirit of abundance, even in small ways? How will we find the courage to break open our personal and professional lives and extend a bit of grace and peace in a world with such deep need?

Through this blog I will explore these questions from a multitude of lenses, focusing on leadership, inspiring change, supporting personal and community wellness, and I will share tips and strategies that I discover through my own experiences, interactions with students, conversations with mentors, and from the big ideas that captivate my attention and inspire in me a sense of excitement and hopefulness for the future.

It may seem like a wild mix of topics, but my hope is that the themes and concerns that inspire my writing will capture the space you hold for deep reflection in your life. I hope you will feel inspired to add your voice and perspective to help shape the dialogue here. I invite you to join me in this conversation as I dive into an exploration of what gives me joy. The place of purpose in my life.