Preparing for life after teaching

About 1/3 of my clients work in the field of education (K-12 or higher education); it’s a natural fit since I have 10 years of experience in higher education and have also worked with K-12 students.  Some of my clients want to transition out of teaching; others are determined to stick with education.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Teaching is a career field most people feel passionate about–at least initially. Many educators feel exhausted after several years of managing a classroom full of students, though, and some opt to pursue a whole new career path. Some teachers retire early to pursue new careers. Other teachers transition out of teaching after only a few years of teaching; they discover that teaching wasn’t quite what they’d hoped it’d be.

 

If you’re a teacher, and you’re unsure whether you want to continue teaching, you should begin training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead… even if you’re not certain what lies ahead. Whether you renew your teaching contract this year or not, taking these three action steps will strengthen your resume, boost your confidence, and provide you with networking leverage if you search for jobs in the future.

  1. Develop one technical/hard skill in an area of interest unrelated to education.

Even if you’re sure you want to continue teaching right now, developing a technical skill unrelated to teaching will benefit you. Putting your mind to work on a topic unrelated to your students can actually help you relieve mental stress and anxiety. Taking an online course in photo editing or SEO can stretch your mind; you’ll become a well-rounded teacher, and who knows? Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to incorporate what you learn into the classroom.

If you have an inkling you may want to search for jobs outside of teaching, brainstorm about which career fields interest you. Are you considering looking for jobs in curriculum design, training, or sales? Enroll in a local public speaking course or reach out to a career coach for communication skills development assistance. Many community colleges and libraries also offer free workshops. You don’t have to invest much of your income to learn a new skill.

  1. Identify three soft skills you’d like to improve and focus on improving one at a time.

Which soft skills matter most to you personally? Which soft skills matter most within your chosen career field (education or your future field)? A little research, coupled with self-assessment to determine which soft skills you currently possess and which soft skills you currently lack, should help you determine which soft skills to focus on developing.

Create an action plan to develop one soft skill at a time. Don’t even think about working on more than one thing at a time—you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll give up.

If you prefer working alone and roll your eyes when your principal mentions breaking into groups during in-service training, working on teamwork and collaboration skills might be a good idea. Collaboration is hot in the workplace now; you’ll need to convince employers—with actions, not words—that you are very comfortable working well with others. Develop your teamwork skills now, and when you begin interviewing for jobs in a few years, you won’t be grasping at straws when asked for an example of a time when you collaborated with your coworkers to solve a problem.

  1. Spend 30 minutes networking twice weekly with people outside of teaching.

In education, we often work in silos. We work in separate classrooms, teaching our own students, and sometimes—without meaning to—we don’t share information or stories or successes with one another.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Break out of your silo, whether you’re going to transition out of teaching or not, and spend 30 minutes twice weekly networking with people outside of teaching. If you already have professional contacts online or offline, reach out to them. Schedule visits after work. Meet for coffee or iced tea and chat about summer vacation plans.

 

Do you know someone who works in a career field which has always interested you, but you don’t know every detail? Break down and call that person and ask for an informational interview. Most people love to talk about themselves and their careers. If meeting face-to-face intimidates you, start by networking online. Develop your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Both offer plenty of opportunities to connect with real people via professional groups and chats.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do is teach for 5, 10, or 30 years without considering that someday you might want to transition out of teaching. We’re only human; even if we expect to work in the classroom our whole lives, sometimes a career is only for a season. And that’s okay.

Be smart and teach yourself to prepare for life beyond the classroom. Someday you’ll thank yourself.

If you need assistance finding a new teaching job or transitioning out of teaching, I’m happy to help.

How to improve your soft skills

Whether you just graduated from college—congratulations!—or have accumulated years of work experience, you are just like the rest of us—you can always improve your soft skills. While soft skills are certainly a combination of talent and ability, you can always improve upon the ability portion of the soft skills you possess—that’s the good news.

In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, training expert Bruce Tulgan defines soft skills as “a wide range of non-technical skills ranging from ‘self-awareness’ to ‘people-skills’ to ‘problem-solving’ to ‘teamwork” (8). Tulgan, author and founder/CEO of RainMakerThinking Inc., reminds us that “soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced in order to be learned” (Tulgan 29). Tulgan’s book provides a road map for employers and organizations interested in training and developing employees’ soft skills.


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  • Identify which soft skills matter most to you.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to improving soft skills. You can perform a Google search and find countless lists of which soft skills matter most, but what you need to determine is which soft skills matter most to you. How do you determine that?

When you work with a career coach, you’ll be asked multiple questions to help you determine your priorities. Some of these questions might include:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years in terms of your career?” Understanding your career goals/journey can help you determine which skills you need to add or improve upon.
  • “What feedback have you received during performance reviews and job interviews (or during follow-up conversations with recruiters/hiring managers)?” If you pay attention to feedback about your performance instead of blowing it off, you may pick up clues about which soft skills you lack or need to tweak.
  • “Which soft skills does your company value and emphasize?” If three particular soft skills matter most to your current employer, take note. To succeed at work, earn a salary increase or promotion, or simply feel content with your daily job performance, align your values and mission with your employer’s.
  • Determine where you stand before you begin training/developing your soft skills.

After determining which 3-5 soft skills matter most to you, evaluate yourself in terms of performance/ability of each soft skill. If communication skills matter to you, where do you measure up on a scale of 1-5, 1 being poor performance and 5 being excellent, consistent performance? Are you able to communicate verbally, non-verbally, and in writing clearly, consistently, concisely, comfortably, effectively, and appropriately in almost every situation? If not, this is a soft skill you might want to develop.

How should you evaluate your ability to perform each soft skill? You can do this in a variety of ways. Work with a career coach to use various assessment tools (some tools you must pay to use, and others are free). Search online for free assessment tools; proceed with caution when using free assessment tools because some are more valid than others. As Tulgan mentions in Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, you can informally assess your own soft skills by measuring your soft skills against others’ soft skills. I explain this strategy at length in the video. In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, Tulgan notes the importance of having an “external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection” (70).

Take stock of where you stand in each of these soft skill areas one way or another—using one assessment tool or another—but be sure you use some external objective standard. Simply put, we can’t fix the stuff in our heads with the stuff in our heads. That doesn’t work well in life, and it won’t work well when assessing and improving soft skills either.

  • Develop an action plan.

Once you determine where you measure up in each of the 3-5 soft skills you’ve selected to work on, develop an action plan. First, check with your employer/organization to determine if they will provide/fund soft skills training or professional development for employees. Many companies and organizations understand the value of soft skills in the workplace and will help employees in this area.

If your company will not fund soft skills development, you may have to pursue soft skills training/development on your own. Reach out to a career coach for assistance. If you can’t afford to pay for soft skills training, check out the array of blog posts and videos available online. You may not make as much progress on your own as you would with the assistance of a coach, but any attempt at development is better than none. And finally, don’t forget to seek the help of a career mentor if you don’t have one already.

  • Assess your soft skills after you’ve completed the training process to determine if more/different training is needed.

After you’ve put your plan into action and worked to improve your soft skills for a period of time, assess your soft skills again, using the same or similar tool(s) you used at the beginning. Where do you stand now?

Assessing yourself after training is important. You need to determine if training worked. If it didn’t, why would you pay for more training? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. If something isn’t working for you, try something new or different. If you assess your soft skills and find that you’ve grown in 2 of the 3 areas, that’s wonderful! Keep up the hard work. “When you combine the necessary hard skills with the right soft skills, the added value is so much more than the sum of its parts” (Tulgan 58).

If you need help identifying, assessing, or improving your soft skills, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


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Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

Which employers turn you on?

What does it take for an employer to turn you during your job search? How much time would you spend completing an application for an employer you were already interested in? And how much time would you invest completing an application for an employer you knew very little about? We’re dying to know your job search preferences and what matters most to you in terms of employer branding, benefits, and more.

application-1883453_1280What if you are not searching for a job, and you’re happily employed; should employers still try to recruit you? My colleagues and I want to know what matters most to you. Take this brief survey to help us understand what would make or break the deal for you. After closing the survey at the end of April 2017, we will analyze results. We look forward to writing an e-book and publishing/sharing results.

If you’re contemplating spending your 5-10 minute coffee break perusing Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn instead of taking this survey, let me offer you two incentives. One lucky survey respondent–maybe you–will earn a free resume consultation/revision by yours truly. I’ll help you convert your existing resume into one you’re really proud of and one employers will notice. And 50 respondents will earn a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Click here to complete the survey now!  Thanks for sharing your insights and improving the workplace of today.

 

Who developed this survey?

The WorkPlace Group and Career Coach-Bethany Wallace developed the survey in collaboration with Lyon College and Rutgers University.

Collaborators:

Dr. Steven Lindner, Executive Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Dr. Domniki Demetriadou, Director and Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Bethany Wallace, Adjunct English Faculty, Lyon College, and Owner of Career Coach-Bethany Wallace

Sid Seligman, JD, Human Research Management Faculty, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Len Garrison, Manager, Career Services, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

 

Part 1: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Have you been asked this common interview question repeatedly—“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Chances are, you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will likely continue to include this common interview question in their repertoire.

Why? It works for them. It lets employers know whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we’ll discuss how to respond to the first part of this common interview question—“What are your strengths?”


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Be careful when responding to this common interview question and discussing your strengths. There’s a fine line between bragging or stroking your own ego and simply sharing genuine, realistic strengths you possess. The difference comes down to the work you put into preparing your responses ahead of time (practice, practice, practice) and your communication skills.

  1. List more strengths than weaknesses (3:2 ratio is a safe bet).

This is common sense. Unless the recruiter specifically asks you to list the same number of strengths and weaknesses, why wouldn’t you list more strengths than weaknesses? Why would you rant on and on about your shortcomings? Play up your strengths. If you list two weaknesses, list three strengths. Even if you’re not the most confident person in the world, you want recruiters to believe you are. Spend a little more time talking about your strengths than you spend talking about your weaknesses, too.

  1. Highlight your soft skills.

Soft skills, by definition, are skills which combine talent and ability. By listing soft skills as your strengths, you’re setting yourself apart from candidates who may not have similar talents and abilities. There’s a little bit of intangible magic to soft skills, and employers know that. What makes a great leader? Can leadership be taught? Sure, to an extent. But there’s that talent component to every soft skill that is certainly a gift, and if you’ve got it, you certainly want to share about it during interviews.

Be sure to qualify and quantify your strengths when you share them. Don’t just respond by saying, “My strengths are communication skills, leadership ability, and great customer service skills.” Offer real-life examples to back up these claims just as you would on your resume. “One of my strengths is communication skills. I’m comfortable speaking to large groups. I have spoken to groups of up to 75 people at once and have done impromptu presentations. I talk to clients on the phone or face-to-face to solve problems and have often been called upon by my manager to resolve conflicts when my coworkers are having difficulty with difficult customers.”

  1. Tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation.

If you research the position, company culture, organization/employer, mission statement, etc., in advance, you’ll be well-positioned to tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation during the interview. Are you interviewing for a position requiring you to analyze data but which does not require you to interact with clients at all? Then it doesn’t make sense for you to highlight your communication skills as one of your strengths. It would make more sense for you to discuss your critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Are you interviewing with a company that values work-life balance and encourages employees to volunteer in the community, offering incentives to those who do? You might want to mention community involvement as one of your strengths and discuss your participation in a non-profit organization or your contribution and service on a board of directors.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series because this common interview question involves strengths and weaknesses, and you need to prepare  to respond to the entire question.

If you’re searching for jobs, your best bet for a successful interview is plenty of preparation. Reach out to me if you’d like to schedule an interview prep session.

How to look your best for professional events

Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming job interview, a professional networking event, a career fair, an important meeting or conference, or dinner with clients or potential employers, you need to look your best.

But how do you define “looking your best?” What should you wear, and how should you prepare your overall appearance? What matters most when it comes to appearance, and what will employers and your professional contacts really remember about you?


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  1. Always be comfortable.

That being said, don’t wear yoga pants or sweats. You want to appear professional, but you don’t want to be slouchy. If in doubt, dress up (not down). Suits are almost always appropriate for workplace and professional events.

That being said, do your best to purchase clothing (or have clothing tailored) which fits you really well. If you’re uncomfortable, you will be completely unable to focus on important people and conversations. You’ll be focused, instead, on how tight your pants are, whether your neckline is plunging too low, or comparing your new very tight and uncomfortable dress to the other very tight and uncomfortable new dresses in the room.

Don’t do that.

Invest (moderately) in a few key pieces of professional clothing. These pieces should fit you well, be tailored to your body, and mix and match with separates which you can dress up or down.

And let’s not forget shoes. Never–I repeat, NEVER–wear uncomfortable shoes to a networking event, work function, or site visit/tour of a facility. Your feet will thank you.

2. Focus on who you are instead of what you look like; content matters.

If you struggle with feeling egotistical or self-conscious, you may have difficulty with this one. The more you can let go of your thoughts related to your own appearance and focus instead on the content of the conversation, the more likely you will have a great time. The more you can ignore your own appearance and enjoy yourself, the more likely those around you will enjoy being around you, too. Like attracts like.

People who enjoy themselves and exude joy attract happy, joyful, positive people. Be that person at networking events, interviews, career fairs, and conferences. Strike up conversations about interesting social issues, current events, and your own life. Ask your colleagues and new connections about their own lives, personally and professionally. The more you focus on content (instead of packaging), the deeper the relationships you’ll build. And if you’re trying to land a job or connect with people who may know about great job leads, this is really significant!

Don’t obsess about your physical assets. Let that stuff go.

Certainly wear flattering clothing and practice good hygiene. But rather than focusing on physical assets, play up your character assets. This is the stuff that gets you hired.

For more networking tips, branding suggestions, and hiring secrets, reach out to me for a free consultation. 

 

 

 

About to graduate? 3 networking tips for college seniors

It’s spring semester, and graduation is two months away. Congratulations! If you’ve been consistently branding yourself, networking your tail off, applying for grad school or jobs, and have your resume and other materials in order, you’re probably feeling ready to launch into the next stage of your life: transitioning from college student to entry-level careerist. If you’ve been procrastinating visiting with career services professionals on campus and never read articles like these (and your mom just forwarded this article to you, or you stumbled across it as part of some divine intervention), you may feel a little nervous about what’s coming in May.

It’s great to get an early start on preparing for your future career and job search, but better late than never. Networking is a huge piece of the career preparation puzzle; remember, experts estimate (based on research) that up to 85% of jobs are landed via networking. Don’t spend all your time researching companies online and applying for jobs without ever attending career fairs or networking events. Don’t fail to connect with real people.

“Don’t be afraid to put in work on the front end to connect with people who can help you in your career or job search,” says Becky Warren, Career & Disability Services Coordinator.

Here are several great networking tips for seniors in college ready to launch their careers.


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  • Talk.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s so easy to focus on everything else… your appearance, the food at the networking event, the overwhelming number of employers or attendees, the number of job candidates or students, the noise in the room, the pit in your stomach or butterflies dancing in your belly.

Focus!

If you don’t have genuine conversations with people at networking events, career fairs, alumni events hosted on campus, and in other situations designed to give you opportunities to engage with real, live people, you’re missing the point. And guess what? You need to branch out and avoid talking to the people you already know.

Give yourself an assignment to talk to at least three new people when you attend an event. Obtain business cards if possible because this gives you an easy reminder for following up later (and contact information, too). It’s great to talk to people in your career field, but if you can’t identify people in your field, that’s okay. The point is to practice overcoming your fear of communicating with new people and to make new connections. You might enjoy yourself, and you might build great new connections.

  • Update your brand.

Before you step out the door to attend a face-to-face networking event or prior to logging on to a virtual event, check your online brand. Log into every social media site. Google yourself. You should do this regularly, but definitely do it prior to events.

Recently, I attended an event on a college campus. I interacted with a really cool, engaging, savvy student. Immediately following the event, I searched for the student on social media. Her profile picture gave me pause and seemed inappropriate. I chose not to connect after all. The bummer for that student is that I’m connected to some really awesome employers, recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, and entrepreneurs. These are all people who may have benefited this young woman in her future job search. But I have to look out for my own brand. I don’t connect (or remain connected) with people who don’t portray themselves in a positive light.

Don’t let this happen to you. Put your best self out there online, particularly when you’re job searching and prior to graduation. Remember, you cannot disconnect your brand from your networking efforts.

  • Don’t overlook the little people.

When you’re networking, don’t make the classic mistake of walking into a room and glancing at name badges or honing in on the most important looking people in the room and ignoring the rest of the minions. It’s egotistical and rude to focus on a few “big names” in the room, and honestly, it might be a waste of your time because—news flash—many other candidates will be playing the same game.

You’re better off to network with everyone. Just as in life, mix it up and try to engage with a very diverse group of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, all levels of experience in the workplace, etc. You’ll have interesting conversations, and you may be surprised that those “little people” often have some hidden connections which can help you later in your job search.

The same goes for building and maintaining relationships in the workplace (not just at networking events).

“Don’t sell any co-worker short. Someday that person may be a leader, in a hiring role, or know of a hidden job they could tell you about because you have a professional relationship with them. Be nice to everyone you work with. It will pay off,” encourages Matt Krumrie, freelance writer and career expert.

Remember, networking is a web of relationships you’ve worked to build; you have to maintain them, too.

“As with any relationship, what you put in is what you get out,” shares Warren.

Networking is a two-way street; what are you giving back to the people who have given so much to you?

“Be a resource for others in your network. Be willing to connect them with people you know; help them if they have a question. Always be willing to help them solve a problem. It may not pay off immediately, but it will someday, guaranteed. And that is much more rewarding,” promises Krumrie.

About today’s contributors:

Becky Warren works in career services at a community college. With five years of experience in higher education, she has a passion for serving students and helping others plan for their futures. 

Matt Krumrie writes about careers, jobs and workplace topics and issues. Learn more at resumesbymatt.com

For help building your network, branding yourself well, or writing your own entry-level resume, reach out to me for a free consultation. 

Think before you post

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It’s disappointing to hear, but it’s the truth. You’re not a celebrity.

When Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon arrived at an Oscars party in a Prius instead of a limousine, people (at least some people) noticed. And people cared. On the contrary, if you purchase a hybrid vehicle and drive around your neighborhood or post status updates and Tweet about saving the environment, no one will snap a photograph (except perhaps your wife).

We’re not celebrities. The problem is social media has given us all a false sense of power, authority, and entitlement. We believe we can actually change the world (or at least our friends’ minds) by posting, sharing, and liking. We think we’re little celebrities, saving the world one Tweet at a time. It’s insane.

This would simply be a societal phenomenon (an amusing one, albeit) if it weren’t for the impact it has on our personal branding and networking efforts, which heavily impacts our careers. If you spew negativity around social media for two years, and all of your 2,391 connections see each of your negative, over-the-top, whiny, offensive, and heavily opinionated posts, you have effectively branded yourself as negative, whiny, offensive, and heavily opinionated.

You may currently feel so strongly about your opinions, beliefs, and values that you don’t think this matters. Or perhaps you have a sinking feeling in your gut while reading this. You know it matters, but you feel so strongly about your opinions, beliefs, and values that you are going to Joan of Arc it to the death in the name of X cause all over social media. However, as a career coach who has managed social media accounts for several organizations and assisted many clients with branding and networking efforts, I implore you to reconsider this frenetic online behavior.

If you have any intention of searching for jobs, networking professionally with people who do not share your beliefs and values (that’s probably half the world’s population), seeking a promotion, or switching career paths at any point, please pause before posting content which is emotionally loaded, politically slanted, or in any way gives off the “us versus them” vibe. Even if people don’t tell you they find your posts offensive, whiny, arrogant, negative, heavily opinionated, or inappropriate, they may.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

We are always branding ourselves, whether we intend to or not. By the same token, we’re always either tightening or loosening our connections with our network because people we’re connected to see our actions (including posts, shares, and likes). These create an impression of who we are. If we’re not mindfully working to ensure our connections see the best version of ourselves, they won’t.

This requires that we gain some objectivity and stop reacting to every single political news article which comes across our news feed. We must practice dignity and ask ourselves, ‘How important is it?’ before commenting on others’ posts (which are often immature and asinine). Unless our connections are all purely personal, we’re digging ourselves into a deep branding hole. It’s hard to recreate your brand once you’ve labeled yourself–over a long period of time–as whiny, negative, highly volatile, heavily opinionated, intolerant of others’ opinions, and prone to snap.

If you’re in a branding hole or want to find a way to express yourself honestly while maintaining a positive brand (and great relationships with your contacts), reach out to me for help. 

 

4 reasons you might need a career coach

We live in a contradictory world. An interview with a woman who constructed her entire home DIY-style via YouTube instruction went viral recently. On the other hand, many of us hire experts to take care of our every need and desire, ranging from preventing our wrinkles by injecting Botox into our foreheads to varnishing our toenails to scrubbing our toilets and changing the oil in our vehicles.

The exhausted, overworked, “I just want to zone out, watch countless episodes of my favorite show, and consume a pint of ice cream” feels relieved when we learn that career coaches exist. The proud “I think I took a course about this in college or at least read an article about it online” part of us frowns upon the notion of hiring an expert to walk us through any part of the career planning or job search process.

You’ll have to decide which part of you ultimately wins out, but I’ll respond to four of the most common myths and hesitations you might have about working with a career coach. I think you’ll find there are at least four solid reasons here why you should consider working with a career coach.


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Myth #1: It’s way too expensive to hire a career coach.

You might be right. And you might be wrong. It depends on a number of factors, including the specific career coach you hire, how many hours the coach spends working with you, your level of experience, the variety of services provided, and even where you live. As the saying goes, it’s never safe to assume; you run the risk of… well, you know the rest.

Do a little research instead. Check out at least three career coaches’ websites. Request free consultations. You will likely find that their pricing models vary, sometimes vastly, and their services may be similar or quite different. Chances are, you’ll find a career coach with a very logical, affordable pricing model. You need to find a coach whose qualifications, services, and pricing model work for YOU; you also need to work with someone who feels like a fit. Even if you work with someone remotely (via phone, Skype, or email), you will interact with your coach quite a bit. Never work with someone who makes you feel rushed, judged, unimportant, or uncomfortable, even if the price is right.

Myth #2: You already know everything about job searching or have your future career mapped out. There’s really no need to hire a career coach.

You’ve taken personality and skills inventories. You’ve mapped out your career plan. You’ve determined which companies to apply for and updated your resume. You have already created a LinkedIn profile. What else is there? You have no need to hire a career coach. You even read articles regularly posted on The Muse site. You might as well brand yourself with the hashtag #careerexpert.

While that may seem laughable to some, it’s not a far cry from how many of you feel. It’s okay; stay with me. There’s beauty in recognizing you don’t know everything you think you know. If you work with a career coach, you might find that the resume you recently updated and have proudly paraded around is, in fact, sorely lacking in its ability to sell you to potential employers. A career coach has expertise in interviews and can prepare you to not just answer standard interview questions but to also tailor your responses when preparing to interview for specific positions (hopefully when interviewing for your dream job). And a great career coach—one without a gigantic ego—will refer you to another expert if she sees you need help with a specific issue outside of her coaching expertise.

There are so many genuinely legitimate reasons to work with a career coach even if you believe you don’t need help. Most of the people who believe they don’t need help are the people who need it most.

Myth #3: You’re satisfied with your current job or career field.

Why would you consider hiring a career coach if you’re happy where you are?

Even if you have no intentions of changing jobs, working with a career coach to improve your workplace communication skills, conflict prevention and resolution skills, or writing skills can significantly improve your work performance, time management skills, and team effectiveness.  While you’re happy now, you’re never promised tomorrow. How many times do we read stories of companies closing their doors unexpectedly or of giving employees nothing but the minimum number of days’ notice before shutting their doors?

In addition, it’s great to be prepared for fabulous opportunities for promotion within your company or organization. Right now, many Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving vacant upper-level positions. Who’s going to fill their shoes? You are, if you’re prepared to apply and have your ducks in a row. You need a polished resume, a great cover letter you can tailor as needed, and solid interview skills. You need to brand yourself well right now; ideally, you shouldn’t wait to establish your social media presence when you begin searching for jobs. And if you aren’t already building a professional network in the workplace and beyond, get busy. If any of this gives you pause or intimidates you, reach out to me for help.

Myth #4: You’re a high school or college student. You have free help available, so why would you hire a career coach?

This myth is the closest to a truth of the four in this article/video. In fact, at least 8 times out of 10, I find that students who come to me for help don’t need my help or the help of another career coach because they can receive adequate assistance through high school or college counselors or career services professionals if they’ll only ask for it.

There are always exceptions, but I encourage students to start by reaching out to the professionals closest to them. I worked in career services at two institutions in the past; I believe career services is highly beneficial to most students in most cases, and I’m a huge advocate obviously.

If you’re currently enrolled in school, reach out to professionals on campus for assistance. This help is included in the price of tuition. It’s not actually free. You’re paying for it. If you’re receiving a scholarship, grant, or loans, someone is paying for it, or you’ll be paying for it eventually. Take advantage of the benefits available to you before paying someone to provide you with similar services. While working with a career coach isn’t the same, I personally don’t feel it’s ethical—as a career coach—to work with you without asking you if you’ve given career services a chance. If you’ve reached out to career services or counselors and have been disappointed in the help they provided, come back to me, and I’ll be glad to help.

Do you have more questions about whether career coaching is right for you? Request a free consultation and let me answer your questions.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


If the video is not playing properly click here.

Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.

3 ways to do a branding check before a networking event

It’s the time of year when everyone’s searching for jobs, or at least it seems that way. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, and you have that unsettled, disgruntled feeling, or you’re a college student searching for your very first professional job or internship, you’re going to be attending career fairs, job fairs, or other networking events. You’ll be schmoozing with recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues, faculty members, and professionals in your chosen career field who may be able to hook you up with great job leads.

Don’t forget to properly prepare for these events. How can you do that? One important way is to perform a branding check.


If the video is not playing or displaying properly click here.

1. Check your online brand.
Don’t wait until after the event to Google yourself and start scrambling to remove undesirable links, photos, or documents. It may be too late at that point; your new professional friends may have beat you to the punch.

Don’t just remove undesirable content. Work to brand yourself in a positive light, too. You should do this regularly, and I won’t lie to you; it takes time and effort. It often takes days or weeks to tidy up your social media pages/profiles and to connect with great people online. Don’t wait until the day of a networking event to log in to your profiles and expect to drastically transform your online image.
2. Prepare a personal branding statement and elevator pitch.
Within 20-30 seconds, confidently and concisely describe who you are and where you’re heading in life. Don’t waste your new professional contacts’ time by rambling, hemming, and hawing during the networking event. You’re all there for the same reason–to build relationships and make connections. Be considerate of others’ times by preparing your spiel in advance. Prepare and practice your personal branding statement and elevator pitch by working with a career services expert if you’re a college student or with a career coach like me if you’ve already graduated from college.
3. Show your work; don’t just talk about it.
Do you have samples of your writing, artwork, graphic design projects, or research results? Don’t just blab about it at the networking event (although certainly brag about yourself and toot your own horn). Mention that you have links available to samples of your work on your LinkedIn profile, electronic portfolio, or blog site. Then follow up after the networking event and remember to send samples of your work to your new professional contacts.

It’s great to speak well of your accomplishments. It’s better to back up your claims with proof. This really brands you by creating a firm impression of who you are professionally in the minds of those who view your work.

blonde-1503202_1280Branding and networking are lifelong processes. If you need help getting started or improving your brand, reach out to me for help.

6 reference tips for your job search

It’s a new year, and you’ve probably already set goals, counted calories, or reevaluated your priorities. Whether you’re applying for graduate school or scholarships, considering making a major career move, or applying for job openings, take time to check out these six tips related to asking people to serve as job search references, creating your reference page, and maintaining positive relationships with your references.

  1. Ask before listing people as references.

The cardinal rule of reference letters and listing people as references on job applications is to ask for permission. This sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people simply list a few contacts on their job applications, assuming they’ll be glad to receive automated emails from companies and colleges. This is a major no-no and a great way to burn a bridge with someone who might otherwise be glad to serve as a reference.

Try to ask people to serve as references face-to-face. This gives you the chance to read their body language, observe facial expressions, and listen to their tone of voice. If you observe any hesitancy or negativity, don’t list the person as a reference. Ever.

2. Keep your references updated.

When you begin a job search, notify people who’ve agreed to serve as references. When you are up for a promotion, notify your references. Periodically ask your references for updates on their own job changes, too. Keep in touch with people who are helping you along in your career!

3. As much as it depends on you, remain on good terms with everyone.

The best way to ensure you receive glowing references from anyone a potential employer might call? Stay on good terms with everyone, including your supervisors and coworkers. Maintaining positive relationships is part of good networking–and strong networking skills will benefit you in your job search.

4. Remember that Google matters.

Did you know that about 94% of employers admit to searching for candidates online before inviting them in for face-to-face interviews? Let that haunt you while posting online late at night.

5. Brand yourself well online.

There’s more to branding on social media than locking down your scantily clad photos. Are you interacting with potential employers? Are you participating in Twitter chats related to your field of study? Have you joined groups for job seekers on LinkedIn? Do you follow companies of interest and pay attention to job openings? Do you make thoughtful comments in a timely manner? If it’s searchable, it may be found by potential employers. Be mindful of your interactions online at all times and be proactive in putting your best foot forward.

6. Create a strong reference list.

Maybe you didn’t have a great relationship with your last supervisor. Compensate on your reference list by listing other notable contacts. List supervisors in other departments who worked closely with you or cross-trained with you. List your boss’s boss if you had better rapport with him. Consider listing coworkers who have since been promoted. Understand that your former supervisor may still be contacted, and there is little you can do to control that. However, you can always do your part to create a strong impression by creating a strong reference list, a killer resume, and an impressive cover letter.

And when your future boss interviews you, you’ll nail it.

Need help managing your job search? Reach out to me for help. 

 

 

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