What am I doing wrong in my job search?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question, I’d be working remotely while at the beach on vacation! Frustrated job seekers who’ve been searching for a new job for months or even years obviously want to identify the problems they’re facing. And when working with clients, I am repeatedly asked to help them identify those problems.

There are a few times when I’ve worked with job seekers facing clear discrimination in the job search. Perhaps a company is retaliating against them and refusing to give them a good reference for no factually based reason. Maybe the job seeker identifies as a minority, and recruiters express bias during the job search. But more often than not, when job seekers continue to search for a long period of time and do not land a great job, the problem lies with the candidate’s job search strategy.

I recently recorded two videos to help frustrated job seekers identify the problems in their job search. Hopefully these videos can help you, too, if you find yourself working very hard to land a job but feel like you’re spinning your wheels.


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  1. Take a look at your resume. Almost always, when a client tells me he’s been applying for countless jobs and receiving no interview offers, the client’s resume isn’t working for him for one reason or another. I can help you identify the reasons and fix the problems.
  2. Maybe your resume looks fantastic, but your branding efforts are nil or negative. Are you on social media? If you’re avoiding it like the plague, which can actually harm you more than it can help you. If you’re online but aren’t really taking full advantage of networking and branding opportunities on social media, you may be missing the boat there. Or maybe you’re branding yourself negatively and portraying yourself as the type of employee no one wants to hire. Branding or networking coaching can improve your strategy and up the odds you’ll start landing interview opportunities.
  3. Are you landing interview opportunities but aren’t receiving any job offers? Something is going wrong during the interview process. What is it? Maybe you’re not dressing appropriately. Perhaps you are communicating poorly prior to the interview, and by the time you arrive, the recruiter doesn’t even want to speak to you. Maybe you were running late, and you ruined the opportunity by making a poor first impression. Assess your non-verbal communication skills—what you say without speaking often says more than words. Or maybe you simply need to practice answering common interview questions to discern if your responses are appropriate and effective. Interview coaching is absolutely going to help you.


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  1. Are you getting job offers but keep turning them down? You might need to reassess your career goals. Or perhaps you’re simply applying for positions which don’t list salary ranges, and you’re being offered much less than you’re worth—and don’t know how to negotiate for more.
  2. Lastly, if you’re landing interviews but aren’t landing job opportunities, you should evaluate your soft skills. Employers are looking to hire someone who meets the minimum qualifications and possesses core competencies. But they’re also trying to hire a candidate who will fit in with the company culture and someone who will be a pleasure to work with. Soft skills coaching may be necessary to ensure that you stand out among other candidates (and receive the job offer).

If you find yourself stuck at any point in the job search and are not getting the results you want, reach out to me for help. I want to help you do what you love.

How to own your career journey and keep peace with your helicopter parents, too

I spoke to an incredibly bright, hard-working, promising senior in college yesterday. She told me about her summer internship with a major corporation in northwest Arkansas. She seemed excited about the possibilities of applying for graduate school and working full-time after graduation, too. With a solid GPA, plenty of leadership experience in athletics and extracurricular activities, and excellent soft skills, this girl will not have difficulty landing jobs. She’s top talent.

graduation-2276495_1280Whether you’re a college student who has it all together or not, senior year is still an exciting time full of promise if you’re completing graduation requirements and embarking on the next steps in your career journey.

One thing can really slow you down, generate drama and confusion, and inhibit your ability to make clear, strong decisions about your career, whether you’re top talent or not. And that’s a helicopter parent who refuses to stop hovering and insists on interfering in your career process.

Many helicopter parents recognize their children’s lack of soft skills—communication skills included–and inability to make decisions quickly, clearly, or easily. They want to help their children (soon-to-be adults), particularly when it’s time to choose a career path. Our world is evolving, in large part due to the role of technology, and many parents understand this and feel antsy about it. They want to help their children select a career path which provides stability, great earning potential, and solid benefits.

If you have a helicopter parent, it might not make you feel better to hear that your parents have your best intentions in mind. You probably don’t want your parents’ input regarding your career choices, the job application process, or your resume. Even if you love your parents, you may not love your parents’ opinions and steady stream of advice. You just want to own your own career process, whether you make perfect decisions or not.

Brandi Britton OfficeTeam District President
Brandi Britton, District President for OfficeTeam

Brandi Britton, OfficeTeam District President, advises college students to strike a balance when dealing with parents and to avoid shutting them out of the process completely. “It’s perfectly fine to talk through potential job opportunities with your parents. Since they have more experience, they may bring up factors you hadn’t considered.”

Britton also points out the importance of utilizing parents as valuable points of contact when networking. “Family members and others in your network can alert you to job opportunities and help set up introductory meetings with employers through connections. After all, networking still can’t be beat as a top way to get a job,” Britton notes.

Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary, suggests keeping parents informed but retaining ownership of the job search process. He offers three tips for college students.

Mike Caldwell
Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary

“1.  Inform your parents of the progress in your job search and what you’ve done to prepare. E.g. ‘I recently met with a career coach/advisor who helped me update my resume and structure my search process.’  Parents may assume you need help getting started if you don’t let them know!

2.  Ask your parents to help in specific areas which may be beneficial to your search. E.g. ‘I could really use additional networking contacts in XYZ field. Do you happen to know anyone who might be able to help?’ Your parents may have not written a resume in several years, but they may have great networking leads.

3.  For company selection, ask for input, but realize that your parents may focus on employers who are familiar or have existing name recognition. When discussing your selection process, it may be helpful to let them know a bit about the company or organization.”

Britton also reminds college students that asking parents for assistance on interviews and resumes is fine but cautions students about allowing parents to become overly involved. “Your parents can help you practice for interviews by posing questions that’ll likely be asked. Get their constructive feedback after mock interviews – how were your responses and delivery? Any parental involvement in the job search should be behind the scenes, such as using them as a second set of eyes for materials. Have your parents review your resume and cover letter for typos and to ensure you’ve highlighted key information.”

Ultimately, college students, particularly seniors, must strike out on their own and forge their own career paths. Not all career decisions will please your parents. That’s okay. We all make our own choices since we’re the ones living with the outcomes and consequences of those choices. Today’s college students have a wealth of resources available to them via career services, too. There’s no excuse for making uninformed career decisions, for not having a resume upon graduation, or for being unprepared for a job interview. Students should take full advantage of the career services office on campus, which ought to provide assistance with all this and more.

With the help of career services, faculty members, advisors, and yes—even parents and other family members—you’ll find that landing your first entry-level job after graduation and making career decisions probably isn’t as overwhelming as you thought it would be.

If you reach out to career services and don’t receive the help you were hoping to find, feel free to contact me for resume writing assistance, career development coaching, interview preparation tips, and more.

 

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 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.

5 smart ways to fit into corporate culture before you even land the job

Corporate culture is all the buzz these days. All companies and organizations, whether small business or non-profits or monstrous corporate giants, want to create a buzz about what it’s like to work there. You’re familiar with this, right? The Googleplex? The lists upon lists of top companies to work for in the United States?

teamwork-383939_1280
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Each company or organization has its own brand or identity. I like to think of these as personalities. I’ve worked for all types of companies and organizations, and I’m sure you have if you have much work experience. I worked for a small business owner whose over-the-top, charismatic personality oozed out into the workplace. He converted part of the second floor of the building into a workout facility and game room. This man was the king of fun, but we all knew there was work to be done, so we simply made work fun, too. I thrived in this environment and helped my sales team earn national recognition two quarters in a row.

I also worked for more than one organization with zero personality, or maybe the Debbie Downer personality type. These companies were characterized by low morale, boring meetings, quiet hallways and empty breakrooms, and embarrassing employee retention and attrition statistics. It wasn’t just that these organizations weren’t fun—they lacked passion, enthusiasm, and concern for the work being done. Nobody wants to show up to work each day in a negative, pessimistic, or stifling work environment. Can I get an amen?

I’m sure you’re like me, and you want to work for a company known for its great corporate culture. How do you learn more about a company’s culture and values? And once you determine you want to work for a particular company or organization, how do you go about convincing that employer to hire you?

I was recently interviewed by my former colleague, Matt Krumrie, for a FlexJobs.com article about cultural fit. In addition to the information I shared with Matt, these five tips will help you strategically research companies, determine if they’re a fit for you or not (remember, fit is a two-way street), and then convince your ideal employers to bring you on board during the job search and application process.

1) Do your research about the company before tailoring your resume or crafting your cover letter. If you don’t research the company prior to applying for openings, you don’t know the company well enough to apply for positions. Part of applying for job openings is selling yourself as a candidate. To sell yourself well, you need to convince the person reading your cover letter and reviewing your resume–most likely a hiring manager, recruiter, or human resources coordinator–that you are not only a great fit for the position, but that you are the only fit for the position. How do you do that? You display an understanding of what the company needs (and demonstrate that you’re the best person to give it to them).

2) When conducting research about the company, don’t just peruse the website randomly for 30 minutes. While this is better than nothing, it won’t cut it if you want to dig in and learn about corporate culture. Be strategic in your approach. Is there a media kit available online with quick, hard facts available? A FAQ page about the company? An “in the news” page? Become as familiar as possible not just with statistics but also with information about how the company is posturing itself in the community or world. How is the company selling itself? This helps you gain insight on the pulse of the company’s ethics and values–the corporate culture.

3) Ask yourself whether you are attracted to the interests of the company as well. Is the company endorsing civil rights publicly? That’s fantastic if you care deeply about civil rights. Did the company post several articles about its affiliation with a non-profit organization which promotes health and wellness? That might not be something you find interesting. While this isn’t often a deal breaker in helping you decide about applying for a job, it’s still something to consider. Are you an avid volunteer? If so, a company’s social or political interests might matter more to you than you think in the long run, so take it into account.

4) Don’t overlook opportunities to talk to real people who work for the company. Talking to employees is often the best way to learn about the company, even though you should take opinions with a grain of salt. Employees and former employees know the inner workings of a company or organization better than anyone else. Most people aren’t shy about divulging their experiences if you just ask (especially if you offer to pay for lunch or coffee!). If nothing else, you’ll build your professional network, and that’s never a bad thing.

5) After completing the research phase, tailor your resume. Polish it up in the traditional sense–with the help of career services employees (if you’re a college student) or with my help if you no longer have access to career services employees on your college campus–but keep your research in mind. Share what you learned to your career coach or career services expert, and explain why you want to work for the company. This helps me help you!

Did you learn that the company is a non-profit organization which tends to hire employees with strong backgrounds in the non-profit sector? Play up your volunteer experience and that one non-profit gig on your resume. Even if you don’t normally emphasize that position heavily, this might be the time to add more accomplishment statements to describe your work in that position. Consider discussing your own love for helping others in your cover letter, too. Perhaps you don’t have much non-profit experience, but you’ve always donated financially to two different organizations. Explain why in your cover letter, and if writing a cover letter makes your brain hurt, contact me for assistance.

Remember, your resume and cover letter are simply documents to help you land interviews. Think of them as door openers. You can’t afford to bypass the research phase, slap together a shoddy resume, and whip out a generic cover letter if you want the door to open. In today’s competitive job market, it’s important to use every tool available to ensure your future employer sees you as a great cultural fit before she emails you to invite you to interview.

Do you need help creating a basic resume, tailoring your existing resume, or crafting a cover letter? Reach out to me to schedule a free one-on-one consultation, and let’s get to work.