Theme: Your 2010 Job Search Checklist

February 24, 2010

By Michelle Dumas

The days of simply browsing through the Sunday newspaper and sending out a few resumes in order to win your next career opportunity are over. The days of retiring after having worked for just one or two companies are also over. Downsizings, mergers, offshoring, acquisitions, corporate reorganizations, consolidation, and other change initiatives have required rapid adaptation of workers, hard career decisions, and frequent transitions. These days, the average worker will hold approximately ten jobs before the age of 36. The average worker will change careers several times during his or her lifetime.

While the timeframe for your job search will vary with the specifics of your situation, a commonly cited statistic is that the average job search will take anywhere from three to six months from initiation to the day you begin your new job. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the average length of unemployment in the U.S. is currently 18 weeks (a little over four months), but this figure covers all professions, all industries, and all professional levels. Another common job search statistic tells us that you can expect to spend approximately one month job searching for each $10,000 in salary you are seeking.

Do you have a job search planned in 20108? If you do, and if you are looking forward to your next job search with dread, you are definitely not alone! Job searching can be incredibly stressful. But, with some planning, genuine effort, and sincere commitment, you can minimize that stress and land a new job – one that is personally, professionally, and financially rewarding – faster than you may have thought possible.

Here is a checklist to help you achieve a fast, successful job search in 2010.

_____ Set a clear target. Put yourself in the driver’s seat of your career by clearly defining your job search focus. In general, the more precise and focused your job search is, the better. For most people, the best and strongest job targets will include a statement of the job function and professional level paired with other indicators, sometimes just one and sometimes more than one, to make the job target more precise and ultimately more effective. These other indicators may be criteria such as industry, company size, company culture, or geographic location.

_____ Build your network of support. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a strong support network to offer encouragement and advice, to brainstorm and share ideas with you, to help keep you accountable to the goals you set for yourself, and to help keep you on track throughout the emotional roller coaster that a job search can be. Family and friends are often included in the support network, but also consider joining a job search group or working with a career coach, particularly one who is very familiar with job search mechanics.

_____ Adjust your attitude. An enthusiastic, “can-do” attitude that exudes self-confidence and a clear understanding of the value you offer in the workplace will make all the difference. Always put a smile on your face when you talk on the phone; it will shine through in your voice. Make eye contact and watch your body signals and posture when you meet with contacts in person. Your positive, confident attitude is one that people will like to be around and will make it more likely that you will be hired.

_____ Update and revive your resume. Your resume is your first introduction to employers. Don’t underestimate the importance of making a positive first impression with it! Your resume should be up-to-date, focused for the current search, employer-centered, and results-oriented. YOU are a commodity in the job market and your resume is your advertisement. If your resume needs refreshing, now is the time to do it. If you need help with your resume, you should definitely consider hiring a professional resume writer.

_____ Cultivate and strengthen your professional network. With more than 80% of available jobs never advertised, it is essential that you have the ability to access the hidden job market. Your professional network will be one of your most effective sources for information and referrals relating to the hidden job market. Of course, networking is all about relationships and so you should continuously nurture your network relationships regardless of whether you are job searching or not. But, whether you have or haven’t (If you haven’t, building network relationships would make a great New Year’s Resolution), now is the time to reach out to everyone you know to inform them of your search and to ask for advice and referrals. Consider using a website like LinkedIn to help with your effort.

_____ Establish and promote your personal branding. At its essence, personal branding is about the authentic and unique promise of value you offer. In relation to your career, it is about the promise of value you offer that differentiates you from your peers and competitors in the workplace and job market. Branding yourself can actually have such a dramatic effect that you will become hunted rather than being the hunter for your next job opportunity.

_____ Get organized and create a system for managing your job search. An organized plan and system will help keep you motivated, moving forward, and focused on achieving the ultimate goal. At the very least, you need a calendaring system, a system of logging inter-related and follow-up activities, a contact management system, and a filing system.

_____ Create and follow a written, multi-pronged job search plan. Answering ads or posting your resume on the Internet are the easiest, but usually least effective job search techniques. Your job search plan should include a balance of techniques to access both the published and unpublished job market. Further, it should include activities prioritized and strategically selected to fit in each of the five major job search approaches: 1) Networking and referral building; 2) Targeting and contacting employers; 3) Working with recruiters and agencies; 4) Internet job searching (which also has some overlap with the 5th technique); 5) Answering advertisements.

Theme: The Top 5 Biggest Obstacles to Getting the Career You Want

by Gayle Cross

Paid work plays such a dominant role in our lives. It takes up most of our energy, occupies us for most of our waking hours, and often gets more quality time than our partners and children, leaving very little for ourselves.

If your job isn’t right it can feel as though your whole life isn’t right. You’re either at work wishing you were somewhere else, or at home worrying about the next day back at work. Whichever way you turn, work looms large on the horizon, with only temporary respite. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be this way.

I have compiled a list of the top 5 biggest obstacles to getting the career you want that I have come across in my coaching practice. The good news is that you can overcome all of them . . .

1. Obstacle: ‘I’m not enjoying my job, but I don’t know what I want to do instead!’
Solution: Start with what you don’t want.

Many people are very clear about the reasons for being dissatisfied at work – be it a non-communicative boss, long hours, or a lack of opportunity to develop new skills. What stops them moving forward is not being able to articulate what they’d rather do instead. This is not a problem – start with what you don’t want.  

Compile your list of complaints, dislikes and issues with your current situation. What annoys you the most? What wouldn’t you miss? What aspect of your job leaves you cold? The more specific you are about this the better. So for example, instead of saying ‘I hate not earning enough money’ decide how much more you want – ‘I hate being $400 a month short of what would make me comfortable’. ‘I hate the long hours’ is very general, but ‘I hate working after 6pm most nights’ is much more specific and helps you pin down what the real issue is.

Then think carefully about what changes you want to make – what is it you do want?

What does your ideal job look like?

2. Obstacle: ‘I feel unfulfilled by my job, but I’m too old to change direction now.’
Solution: Market your experience (you have more to offer than you think.)

People are now living, and working, much longer than they used to. Most of us are now expected to keep working until we are 65, or beyond. In your life time you will have plenty of opportunity to switch career several times, so what is holding you back?

Historically the culture of age discrimination in the workplace was rife in this country, but the demographics of the current population are such that this has to change. The UK is facing a massive skills shortage which will really impact businesses during the next 5 years. 16-29 year olds already comprise only a quarter of the workforce, which puts the ‘30 plus’ generation in the majority. This means that employers are being forced to recognise the benefits of maturity in the workplace.

In 2005 the Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said:

‘. . . to thrive in a competitive market British business increasingly bases its employment and training decisions on talent not age. Employers know they cannot afford to ignore the skills of any worker – young or old.’

Regardless of your age, you are valuable – and never too old to learn new skills. In 2004 the Reverend Edgar Dowse was awarded a PhD in Theology from Brunel University – aged 93!

Ask yourself:

Where do you want to be in five years time?

What do you want to be doing?
That time will pass anyway, so what’s stopping you . . .

3. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the right experience and qualifications to pursue the career I
really want.’
Solution: Recognise that you are unique and all your skills and talents are transferable.

You may be clear about what you want to do, but you may also be very clear about why it is impossible. There are a hundred reasons why it will only ever be an impractical dream – not having the ‘right’ experience and qualifications to name but two. Having doubts is natural, but if you let your lack of confidence take over you are resigning yourself to more of exactly the same – forever. Who says you are too inexperienced or under-qualified? After all, someone will be out there doing exactly what you have always dreamed of – so why can’t it be you?

Those filled with self doubt are often making the mistake of underestimating themselves and the skills they have to offer. Rather than focusing on what experience you lack, think about what you have done. Everything you have ever done, from your first Saturday job onwards, will have developed marketable skills that are transferable from one profession to another.

Think again about your experience – the things you offer, but take for granted, are often the things an employer will value the most. Do you think everyone is as punctual, reliable, enthusiastic and committed as you?

Finally, think of a project you really enjoyed working on – what made it enjoyable? What did you find most satisfying about the work that you did? What is really important to you about the work that you do? Starting to understand what you value about your work – be it making a contribution, exceeding expectations, team building or achieving goals – helps you to understand what is unique about you and what you offer a prospective employer. It is also an important step in overcoming the fears that currently hold you back.

What unique experience, talents and skills do you have to offer?

4. Obstacle: ‘I don’t have the time to find a new job.’
Solution: Invest in your own future by making your job hunt a priority.

If one of the reasons you are considering a career change is the ridiculous hours you are working, then finding time to job hunt could in itself be a problem. However, remember that everyone else is in the same boat – everyone has the same amount of hours and minutes in the day, it’s just that some are more focused on their priorities than others.

Hopefully by now you have decided what it is you dream of doing, however making that dream into a reality requires action. Now is the time to invest in yourself and your future. Take the time to investigate your options, sign up for the latest job alerts on the internet, read up about your chosen career, and talk to someone who is already doing it.

If you ‘don’t have the time’, it’s like saying you don’t think you’re worth it.

What makes you think you are not worth investing in? Who will suffer if you don’t act?

Making another excuse is usually a sign of fear – fear of what the future holds, fear of failure, or even fear of success. If this is you, think about who can help and support you as you make changes?

What will it take for you to make time for your own future?

5. Obstacle: ‘I basically enjoy my job, but the hours are killing me.’
Solution: Decide what would make you feel more in balance, and ask for it.

Okay – so this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but one of my clients actually resigned from a job that she basically loved because the hours and the travelling got too much. She was motivated, successful and well-thought of, but she was not prepared to go to her boss and ask for a degree of flexibility in the way she worked in case he said no, so she resigned instead. This is an extreme case, but it does go to show that when you’re feeling tired and stressed you are often not at your most rational.

This woman’s employer had every reason to want to keep her as an employee, it was in their interests to show a degree of flexibility, but she didn’t dare ask. Often this can be as a result of the working culture we are exposed to, the ‘get there early, stay late, show you are indispensable’ way of working that employees and employers alike mistakenly think shows commitment and increases the chances of promotion.

Wrong! To be effective and productive at work requires balance – and that means different things to different people. Only when you feel ‘in balance’ will you be at your most productive and creative at work.

Employers have had to take on board the new 2004 guidelines on Stress Management from the Health & Safety Executive – they have a responsibility to you and your wellbeing, so go on, ask for what you want. If they are really not prepared to meet you halfway, then it may be time to consider the alternatives . . .

Theme: Is Grad School Worth It?

By Kelli Smith

You see friends going back to graduate school. Your mother clips newspaper mentions of grad programs and slyly mails them to you with “thinking of you” post-its attached. You see a job posting for the position of your dreams, then notice the “master’s degree required.” In short, there are a lot of reasons you’re thinking about going back to school.

In 2004, there were over 2 million students enrolled in U.S. graduate schools, and it may seem clear to everyone around you (that newspaper-clipping mother of yours, for instance) that you should be among them. Credentials are great, but you’ve probably also heard the horror stories of the “over-qualified candidate.” And while Mr. Over-qualified may be an urban legend, the tradeoffs involved in either leaving the workforce or continuing to work while earning a degree are significant. Financially, professionally, and personally, is graduate school really worth it? 

Graduate School to Launch Your Career

For Chris, 30, the answer to the “was it worth it” question is a definite yes. He went straight from college into a Masters of Teaching (MAT) program. “My undergraduate drama degree wasn’t landing me any jobs,” he says, “and I wasn’t passionate enough about acting to [endure] the waiter/actor life for long.” A year and a master’s degree later, he started teaching. His degree gave him the teaching license he needed, but because it was a graduate degree, it also meant his salary was several thousand dollars higher than other beginning teachers who only held bachelor’s degrees. What’s more, each year thereafter his salary increased at a higher rate than theirs, but the real clincher was that he got to be a drama teacher.

For many people like Chris, a graduate degree is a means of launching a career. Academics present a classic argument for a post-graduate degree as a PhD is essential. This also holds true for doctors and lawyers. However, if you’re already working in your field of choice and are simply looking to get ahead, the question of graduate school may become more complicated.

Graduate School as a Career Booster

Will, 29, works in hotel management and decided the time off in going to graduate school wasn’t worth it. “I’d get a bump in pay and position if I got an MBA, but in my industry, just working those two years would get me more in terms of promotions, experience, and salary.” However, he decided he wanted the extra education anyway. Will felt that education would give him a slight boost at work and because it would give him a foundation to make a change in career field easier if he ever wanted to make one. So his solution was to keep working while enrolling in a distance-learning MBA program. Even though it’s the “have-it-all” answer, it hasn’t been without sacrifices. He’s busier than ever, with weekends and evenings now packed with schoolwork. For him, though, it’s worth it. “My wife and I don’t have kids yet,” he explains, “so this is the best time for us to work really hard.”

Part-time or distance learning graduate degree programs are becoming more and more popular. In 1990 only about a third of graduate students were enrolled part-time, but today roughly half of them are. For students like Will, doubling up works fine, but for others it can be a real burden. With more graduate school options than ever, there’s plenty of flexibility to be had, but you’ll have to take a close look at your personal life and the changes that you’ll need to make.

Graduate School as Reinvention

Karin, 28, also enrolled in a post-collegiate program while working full-time, but for her, the program was all about reinvention. She already had an MBA and was working at a job she liked well enough, but she couldn’t stop thinking “that if I really loved what I was doing, life would be different.” So she finally enrolled in a massage therapy program. She took weekend and evening courses, and now that she has the experience and education she needs to be a practicing massage therapist, she’s said goodbye to technology management and hello to her own massage therapy business. “Now I’m doing what I really want to be doing and building my own business, and I’m so excited about it,” she says. Unlike her old job, she explains, “Here people come happy and leave happy. It’s as much therapy for me as it is for my clients.”

If you’re looking to change over to another field–and you’re not alone in the modern workforce where mid-career career change is commonplace–a graduate degree or certificate or even coursework in a new area can do the trick.

Even with all the upsides of post-collegiate education, the answer to “is it worth it?” is still complicated. Take a close look at your profession, the flexibility of various programs, and your personal and financial situation because when all is said and done, the only real question is “is it worth it for me?” Now quickly, clip this article and send it to your mother.

Theme: The High-Tech Manpower Shortage: Is it Real or Mythical?

by V Berba Velasco Jr PhD

A decade ago, most Americans would have agreed that the USA needed more engineers and programmers. The country needed high-tech workers in order to maintain its worldwide edge in technology, and common wisdom dictated that there jus weren’t enough of them to go around.

As the years went by though, the tide of sentiment started to shift.  This was especially true after the Y2K threat fizzled out, after the dot com bubble burst, and after the 9/11 tragedy forced many high-tech US companies into conducting massive layoffs.  Among engineers and programmers, unemployment started to rise, as did resentment toward foreigners who were alleged to have taken jobs away from hard-working Americans.  Whereas high-tech workers used to trumpet the need to recruit talented manpower from overseas, many of them started to proclaim that there were plenty of techies to go around, and that this manpower shortage was all a myth.

Predictably, many Americans heaped blame on foreign workers, particularly those who were employed on H-1B work visas. This visa program allows workers in specialized categories-typically, science, engineering, and computer technology-to work in the USA on a temporary basis.  Resentful techies protested that there was no manpower shortage, and that companies only wanted to hire foreigners because these people would be willing to work longer hours for less pay.

So what’s the real deal?  When Americans technical workers remain unemployed, does this mean that US companies are passing them up in favor of cheap labor? Are there more than enough American techies to go around?  Is the high-tech manpower shortage real, or is it all just hype?

I think that the answer lies somewhere in between. Admittedly, there are many programmers and engineers who have a hard time finding employment.  It is also true that there are companies that deliberately underpay foreign workers.  Does this mean that the manpower shortage is mere fiction, though – nothing but a ploy to justify the hiring of low-wage foreigners?  Not necessarily.  There may be unemployed techies out there – perhaps even an abundance of them — but this doesn’t mean that a company will have no problem finding the specific kind of person that they need.  (It’s also worth considering that the unemployment rate among engineers has dropped considerably since the immediate post-9/11 era – but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that unemployment is still a grave concern.)

Some people seem to think that a programmer is a programmer and that an engineer is an engineer. They see companies choosing foreign nationals over US citizens and they protest that these companies must surely be looking for cheap labor.  Mind you, I have no doubt that some companies do operate in this fashion; however, we should not conclude that this is indeed their motivation.  People are like snowflakes, after all; no two of them are alike. Engineers are not interchangable, and it would be foolish to conclude that one programmer can do the work of another, simply because they both know how to produce code.

I speak from personal experience.  During the post-9/11 employment bust, I was working for a robotics company in Silicon Valley, where I was involved in evaluating prospective job candidates.  Despite the large number of available programmers out there, we had an extremely difficult time finding anyone who had the right skills.  We weren’t looking for a perfect match, mind you; just somebody who was close enough.  The best candidates were usually foreign-born, and few if any of them were US citizens. Additionally, while the best candidates did have the right technical skills (or were close enough to what we needed), their resumes and interviews often revealed inadequacies in other areas-lackluster communication skills, for example.

Mind you, I’m not saying that American techies are lacking in skills or qualifications.  That would be an oversimplification as well.  Rather, my argument is that we should avoid painting with a broad brush. Different companies have different needs, and some of them will have a hard time finding just the right people.  This is especially true of companies that are pushing the envelope of high-tech development and who need to recruit the most qualified people possible.

I’ve heard other engineers make the same observation.  As one commentator said, “A good programmer requires a lot of different skills. These skills are developed in several ways:  (1) a good basic education, (2) experience, and (3) analytical thinking.  I haven’t met much people who combine these skills.”  When a company isn’t just looking for someone who can hammer out code – when they need someone with strong analytical and problem-solving skills, for example, or who can develop strong software architectures – then the pool of possible candidates can dwindle dramatically.

This problem is especially acute in strongly cross-disciplinary fields.  Suppose that you need someone who can do circuit design, but who also has some software development and mechanical design skills.  Such people are valuable in fields such as robotics, automation, and disk drive design, and they can be tough to find.  When an American engineer is passed up for jobs like these, it’s typically not because companies want cheap labor. Rather, it’s because people with the right combination of skills can be mighty difficult to find.  That’s why companies are willing to recruit foreign nationals for these jobs, despite all the legal expenses and headaches involved.

So in summary, is the manpower shortage real?  In my judgment, yes and no.  There are indeed times when foreigners are hired because they’re willing to work for less.  However, we should not be quick to conclude that companies that hire foreign nationals are simply doing so to save a buck.  I’ve seen too many situations where a company had a difficult time finding anybody who had the right skill set, even when there was no shortage of applicants.