Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Have You Been Doing to Keep Your Skills Current?

This question is apt to be asked when you've been out of work a few months. And that is the case for many people these days.

While it stinks to not have a job, what an amazing opportunity you have to learn some new things, get into the emerging trends and technology in your field, and build your network! Here are some ways you can keep up and expand your skills during your job search:

1) Use the vast resources of the internet and world-wide web.

Choose a search engine and plug in the name of your field or job or area of interest. Click on a website or news article. Read it. Follow links from that site to the next place. It's like blazing your own trail, following your interest to see what comes up. You may even discover a new area for your job search. Or you'll discover a person at a company you identified as of great interest, and now you have a potential point of contact via LinkedIn.

Look for news about companies and industries you have targeted in your job search. If you know people at those companies, send them e-mails or handwritten notes (preferable) letting them know you noticed them, or saw this article that might be of interest. It's a way to stay in touch and remind them that you are still out there.

2) Find a volunteer opportunity suited to your skills and interests.

There are traditional volunteer opportunities at non-profits, accessed through, New York Cares and similar Cares organizations in other cities, and by contacting the volunteer office at your charity of choice. Those opportunities may or may not be specifically in your skill area, and some charities are better able to use volunteers than others. Whatever you do, you will be keeping occupied, making connections with other volunteers and with the non-profit's staff, and making a real contribution to a cause. Substantive volunteer work can go on your resume.

Other more traditional volunteer opportunities include serving on your co-op board, organizing a block party, serving on a committee for your town or place of worship, tutoring a child, and serving on the benefit committee for a fundraising event.

More substantive volunteer assignments are available through the National Executive Service Corps and Taproot Foundation. Both treat you like a consultant, assigning you to a non-profit for a specific project and period of time. You apply and go through an interview process. This is akin to getting a job, and is very valuable resume experience.

3) Reach out in your network to help people with their work projects, pro bono.

This kind of work is great because you can get to know a new field and stretch your mind. It's consulting work, so you can put it on your resume as experience.

I did several research projects while I was in limbo after my last full-time job, where I compiled, condensed and wrote reports on topic ranging from re-engaging out-of-school youth in education and workforce development to terrorist incidents in Arab countries.

There are other things you can do more suited to your experience and background - building a friend's website, writing copy for a local event, helping a friend get her artwork into galleries. One man I know offered to volunteer at a conference he wanted to attend but couldn't afford; by handling registration and guiding people throughout the conference, he was able to attend many sessions and to make valuable connections that he is leveraging now for a potential business start-up.

4) Use social media.

Blogging is a great way to keep up with your field. You can start your own blog and use it as a platform to explore issues related to your occupation and industry. Your blog also is the launching pad for going to other people's blogs in your field and commenting intelligently and pithily on their posts. That's the way to get your blog noticed and start to build a community in your field. Who knows what kind of job opportunities might come through that?

Twitter and LinkedIn are two main social media outlets that allow you to connect with people in your industry and field. For one thing, jobs are posted on both sites. Twitter has many job posters, job search groups, and job/career coaches and advisors. You can get lots of expert help with your job search. LinkedIn has job listings, some of which are exclusive to LinkedIn and its users. You can easily see whether you have 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree connections to people at companies that post jobs there.

It's easy to expand your network and knowledge through Twitter. Through Twitter's search function, you can find people who tweet on topics near to your heart and mind, follow them, and hopefully they will follow you back. By responding nicely or with humor to someone's tweets, you can build a nice casual relationship. Retweeting someone's tweets is a terrific way to build relationship, for retweets are a great mechanism for someone to get more followers. If I tweet something and you retweet it to all of your followers, some of them are likely to follow me, too. When you have nice relationships, all sorts of things become possible. I've met people for lunch, had Skype phone calls, raised money for a non-profit, become a Twitter Advice Project Career Expert, and generally created a wonderful "office water cooler" atmosphere.

5) Take classes on-line, at a local community or 4 year college, or adult learning program. Or teach.

There are many on-line sources of free classes and webinars, such as iVillage, Microsoft,, and probably sites in every field. Simply enter "free classes [field]" and something will pop up. Local colleges usually let you audit a class for a small fee. There also are many adult education classes that cover topics relevant to many professionals. Libraries often have seminars or workshops that are free.

Consider teaching a class in your community. It's definitely a way to keep your skills honed because you have to know more than your students. Even if you have only three or four people show up, that's enough of a group to make it worth your while to share what you know. The exercise of putting together a curriculum is great for focusing your mind. You can talk to your local library about putting something together for them; they often are looking for programming to offer the community.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Use August Wisely

Remember the old saying that "luck favors the prepared" August is the perfect time to prepare to land your "right fit" job!

Have your resume ready to go. While you're working on your resume, employers are finalizing job descriptions and postings that will start to appear right before and right after Labor Day. Many employers want to hire people right away to handle the expected heavy work load from late September to early December. If you're ready with your resume and cover letter, you'll be one of the first applicants to reach the employer.

It does help to be one of the first to cross the transom, especially in this economy. Employers are always looking for people who really want to work for their specific company, in their specific industry. Applying early in the search process indicates that you are motivated, even eager, to do this job.

Early application means that you stand a better chance of getting an interview if employers use a rolling search process - interviewing candidates until they get the right person. My experience is that very few employers actually wait to review resumes and start interviews until the advertised "final date for application." Thus, it's not to your advantage to wait until the very end of the process.

Prepare yourself to excel on interviews. Gather information. Use your computer and look up companies and fields that interest you. Become familiar with the field, its key players and its most recent trends, activities and achievements.

Seek out informational interviews with people in the companies and field you have targeted. This will get you connections as well as information. The reason you cite for wanting a meeting is to learn more about the field (company) and you know s/he is one of the best people to learn from. August is often a month where busy people have some time to give for informational interviews.

Here are some questions to ask:

* How did you get into this field?
* What keeps you interested in the field?
* What do you like best about your work?
* Where would you like to see the field (or your company) go in the future?
* What advice would you have for someone like me who wants to work in this field (at a company like this)?
* Is there anyone else you think I might benefit from talking to? If so, may I say you recommended that I contact them?

That's all I'll recommend now because the month fast approaches. Use it well and wisely!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Concrete Ideas for Reducing Fear of Failure and Rejection

For all of us afraid of "failing," I found this great article by Richard Fenton: Secrets for Turning Failure Into Success. It contains the most useful ideas I've seen on how to recast failure as an asset and a goal instead of something to be avoided. It's the change in attitude I was suggesting as necessary in yesterday's post.

This fits completely into my philosophy of using every experience as a learning opportunity and a chance to help other people. The more I "fail," the more I learn and the closer I am to my own goals. This is what I mean when I say "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly." I learn as I take action, and action moves me further along my path, leaving no chance for stagnation, entropy, stuck-ness.

Actually, I have come to believe that there are no mistakes or failures, there are only opportunities to learn and grow. My challenge is how to help others get to that place. Now this article gives me concrete, immediately usable ideas.

I'm going to try some of them, like "Set 'No' Goals" and "Intentionally Increase Your Failure Rate." Pretty radical reformulation of failure, isn't it?

I hope you'll consider reading this article and trying some of Fenton's ideas when you're feeling stuck in your job search and reluctant to risk any more rejection or disappointment. As Richard Nelson Bolles says in Chapter 2 of What Color is Your Parachute* (the granddaddy of all job search guides), a typical job hunt goes like this:


In fact, rejection is a normal, natural and to-be-expected and welcomed part of job search. Yes, it's hard to accept that when you're in the middle of the search and have gotten yet another notification that you weren't selected to go on to the next phase or have received absolutely no response from your phone call or e-mail or application. Those "NO" responses are bringing you one step closer to your 'right fit' job or work.

Fenton suggests celebrating your failures. I'll add: Celebrate those rejections. Say "oh, good! One more NO and one step closer to my new job!" or "Thank goodness I got that NO - it means I'm actively out there, engaged in the search and on my path!"

Give it a try. What can you lose, except unhappiness?

* 1999 Edition, Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Radical Change

Today, a client expressed in the baldest terms what I have heard over the past two weeks from a number of people: "There is nothing positive going on." What's funny is that she HAS a job. Others are looking for one and think it will make them happy. She is evidence that this is not true. She's not happy because it's not the job she wants - even though she has not fully articulated what job she does want.

She was the most honest of everyone. Other folks are depressed and discouraged and feel like there's nothing else they can try. My responses are couched in terms like "let's try a different approach if what you're doing now isn't working." For example, one woman was reluctant to send "yet another e-mail" following up on a job, so I suggested sending a handwritten note. To another, I suggested "if you're getting nowhere submitting resumes, try identifying places you want to work and work on getting connected to and in front of someone in that company. That way, you'll be top of mind when a job does come up." Think differently so you have some hope. Be determined to have hope, and figure out a way to grasp it.

This client was different. She expressed a desire to make a radical change - to just abandon everything and take off somewhere. Some folks call that a geographical change, and the problem is that you take yourself wherever you go. The point is that things outside are never going to make you happy. Happiness is a choice.

Anyway, because she was so blunt, I decided to be equally blunt. Here's what I wrote:

Perhaps you do need to make a radical change. Consider some of the possible radical changes you could make, and weigh the options. Just a reminder: radical change can involve actions, attitudes and situations. Everything is a choice and I've found that I feel less "at the mercy of" when I actively make a choice instead of feeling like I'm powerless and just have to submit.

I hear a lot of powerlessness in your venting, and I'm hopeful that by venting, you release some of that powerlessness and see that you are making choices. Yes, your choices are limited by circumstance. And yes, that sucks.

So what are you going to do about it? Choose how you want to feel. Choose how you want to talk about your life. Choose how you're going to approach your circumstances. Choose the goal toward which you're working. That means to articulate it - what ARE you working toward? Financial independence is not enough. What is your PURPOSE for being here on earth? And how are you fulfilling it?

My work is geared toward helping people articulate what kind of work they really want to do, work that fits them extremely well, work that fulfills them, work that draws out of them their absolute best. The process of articulating this is the process of making choices. I observe happiness emerging out of this process, for it's a process of getting to know yourself very well and becoming your own friend - a friend who wants the very best for you.

I wonder if this makes sense to people. It may sound simplistic and "easy for YOU to say..." My experience is that if I even entertain the idea that I can choose how I respond to circumstances, I am on my way to feeling more powerful and better about myself and my life. If I even consider that how I respond to circumstances affects my mood and future attitude, then I am closer to wanting to DECIDE how I respond. When I respond with grumpiness, I stay grumpy - unless I'm just venting and am conscious that I am doing so in order to clear an emotional blockage. When I respond with acceptance and hope, then I feel hopeful and accepting.

I'll be continuing to work with my client to help her get to that point. It takes what it takes, and she continues to show up, which is awesome.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Feeling Stuck and Growing Hope

Yesterday was the day of "stuckness" for several people. The primary theme was "I've done everything I can think of and I STILL don't have a job." The secondary theme was "I'll never get a job." And the tertiary theme was "I don't know what else to do." (Aren't you impressed that I knew the word "tertiary?")

What they're really saying is "I've done everything I think is reasonable to do and I don't want to have to do anything else. I should already have a job and since I don't, I'm going on strike. This is too hard. I don't wanna have to try something else. I know it won't work anyway, so what's the point. And I don't think any of your suggestions will help. You don't know it will work either, so why bother."

Of course, they wouldn't have called me if they didn't want that is just despair talking and I refuse to give into anyone's despair - because it lies. There is always hope. And suggestions of something else to try give hope. Hope fuels action. Action gives us a feeling of power and self-esteem, so necessary to keep going.

For me, this provides a great opportunity to help them move from being stuck into taking a new type of action. And actually I succeeded with each of them - a credit to them and to the tools I've learned to use as a coach. This stuff really works!

First they simply wanted and needed to vent, to hear themselves speak out loud about their frustration and fear and despair. How difficult, depressing, and demoralizing the search is.

They were more open to suggestions once all that was expressed and validated. I said "Yes, it is difficult. Yes, you have done a lot. Yes, I can understand your frustration." Validating their feelings is really important to moving them into a new spot. Once they know it's OK to feel the way they feel, they no longer have to hold onto them so tightly and can let them go. This leaves room for new information and new hope. We have to wipe away some of the despair in order to make room for hope that their difficult journey will come to a positive end.

I then reassured them that they would get a great job. It will happen. I cite my own 2 year job search that ultimately landed me in the job of my dreams, and give them examples of other people's successful searches after long struggle. That's the first component of building up some hope.

Next we went back to the Must Have List that each of them put together, to look again at the things they said they must have to be happy in work. And we went back to some of the questions and answers from a questionnaire I developed called "The Puzzle Piece Called You" in which we uncovered the issues, values and activities that really energize and excite them. This reminded them of what they love and what excites them, and their energy level instantly rose.

From that basis, I suggested a few areas of inquiry and networking they hadn't yet tried. Of course, they all resisted and had reasons it wouldn't work - mainly that they "knew" it wouldn't work even without trying it. When I pointed that out, they all sheepishly admitted that they didn't know it wouldn't work, they just didn't want to do it. That's a different story!

I believe in the "leave no stone unturned" school of job search - as long as there is a new idea or task or area to explore and act on, I am not defeated. I am not done. There is hope, because there's something else to do. I don't know where it will lead, so let me take the action and see what happens.

* In one woman's case, we looked at her volunteer activities and I suggested that she look for work in those areas. She hadn't been willing to do that before - I'm not sure why but she was adamant about it. Now she's looking in that area - she sent me a job posting this morning.

* Another woman and I reviewed jobs for which she'd applied and narrowed down her areas of interest into three main categories. I suggested she target some organizations and companies in those fields and start making appointments for informational interviews. Maybe there are no jobs yet, but who knows when there will be? This way, she'll be a known quantity and stand a better chance of being interviewed.

* A third person was upset that a job interview process had been prolonged yet again, and despaired of ever getting to realize her dream of relocating. She used the phrase "defer my dream" which I jumped on as essentially hopeful. She can get work in her home town and continue working toward her dream. Her dream is not dead, it's simply deferred. As one of my Twitter Tweeps says, "there are no unrealistic dreams, there are only unrealistic time frames." And now she can focus a new round of action on getting work where she now lives.

* One woman doesn't know very many people in the city to which she relocated and felt at a loss to network in her field. She wondered if she should just abandon looking in her field. I suggested that perhaps her contacts in other cities will know people in her new hometown. Also, if she feels there's no future in her current field, perhaps she wants to explore new areas in which to work. She can look for volunteer opportunities to get experience in the new field, and see whether she likes it or not.

There were a few other people with whom I worked on exactly this topic. Maybe it's the fact that it's summer and a slow hiring season in the best of times. Maybe people don't see the market opening up as hoped. I only know that there is always something else to do.

You don't have to think of all the ideas yourself.
This week, I realized how useful it is to have a coach - we're able to detach ourselves from the emotions, draw on the experiences of so many other people, and provide inspiration, ideas, perspective and hope to job seekers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Research to Make Your Resume a Powerful Marketing Document

Once you've finalized your resume, start to get feedback on it. This is the "market research" portion of your job search to ensure that your resume effectively positions you to get interviews for jobs you really want.

Why do this research? Getting "market feedback" before finalizing your resume is a low-risk way to ensure you are presenting yourself effectively BEFORE you enter the job market. If you don't do this preliminary research, you will still get market feedback. Only that feedback will be in the form of not getting interviews for jobs you want, or not getting good referrals from people with whom you network.

Here's how to do this research:

STEP ONE: Create a "focus group"

Identify a few people you respect and with whom you've worked, who are somewhat objective - 4 to 5 is a manageable number. Preferably some of these people will be in your target field (aka "market"). These people will give you particularly relevant feedback because they know the structure of your field or industry and how people fit. If you have a specialized niche, find people in that niche.

It's also good to talk to one or two people who know very little about your field. They can give you a great sense of whether your resume generally communicates well.

STEP TWO: Test your resume with your focus group

Ask each "focus group" member to read your resume with this specific question in mind: "What kind of position do you think is appropriate for a person with this resume?" Follow up questions are "Where would you place someone with this resume?" and "When you read this resume, what kind of positions start to come to your mind?" and "Can you summarize the candidate presented in this resume? Type of role? Strengths? Abilities? Value-added?"

It's always wise to say you're not interested right now in word-smithing - just the specific feedback about how they see you based on the resume.

Although I call it a "focus group," don't try to assemble a group. First, it will be next-to-impossible to arrange. Second, you'll probably be more comfortable asking people one on one.

STEP THREE: Use the feedback to improve your resume's effectiveness.

Since the resume is a marketing document, it needs to market you to the kind of opportunities you want. If it doesn't, then you have work to do on reshaping the resume to better present you for the opportunities you've targeted.

Basically, ANY feedback they give you will be useful. If the feedback is that your resume positions you for exactly the jobs you want - terrific! You've created a great marketing document. If your group give you feedback that you don't like, that's great! You can use that information to fix your resume before you apply for jobs you really want.

So step back and detach yourself from your resume. Your resume is not YOU. It's only a piece of paper. View it as a communication piece. Is it communicating what you want to communicate? If not, then you get to change it.