Saturday, 7 December 2013

Catapult Your Holiday Networking into the Stratosphere

A Sure-Fire Way to Upscale Your Contact List while Sipping Eggnog and Merry Ho Ho Ho-ing your way through the Holidays … and Beyond!

People always seem to freeze up and look petrified when, in my role as their Career Coach, I remind them that the holiday season is the best time of year for networking.  The reason behind this deer in the headlights response is because it seems to trigger that old and horribly awkward, asking for a job misconception around networking. 

This usually occurs innocently enough when the erstwhile networker launches into what they think is the key question of networking:  Do you know of any job openings?

Most don’t realize this is the LAST thing you want to ask at any seasonal do!

You may be scratching your head now, wondering what planet I’m from.  But, just for a second, twist the situation on its ear.    

Put yourself in the potential contact’s shoes. 

At your job -- or when you were in one -- and people asked you about jobs in your company, did you know enough about that area to give a helpful answer? 

Typically, your answer will be no, unless you’re in Human Resources or in a small enough company where the managers and staff get involved in hiring.  (In those situations you’d have hit paydirt!)

It’s not that people are running away from you because they think you’re a needy imposing pariah! It’s because they feel badly because they don’t have anything to help you!

Bottomline:  People like to help!!!  And they are often very happy to tell you about their job and company, so long as they don’t feel pressured to try and find you a job.

Phew… so now does it make more sense why so many people resist networking? 

Which leads me to the NUMERO UNO thing you need to change to get better job-finding results through networking:

Forget about job searching and focus on INFORMATION GATHERING instead.

Mentally put on a DIFFERENT HAT:  Imagine you’re an Investigative Reporter or a CSI guy/gal looking for and then following up on leads and clues!  Whichever floats your boat.

This is the most important distinction you can make when launching a conversation over the canap├ęs.

Sure, it requires a bit of pre-planning and likely a shift in your typical conversational style but here are 4 great questions to get you started (after a brief rapport-building chitchat – you know, the stuff you usually talk about before you shuffle off to find another target because the first conversation died as soon as you mentioned you were looking for work!  The old standbys like the weather, the food you’re eating, your kids or the most publicized football/hockey/ soccer game!):

Ideally, go with the flow:  Let part of the natural conversation spark the most relevant segue into one of these.  Then try to finesse it somewhat as you start to gain momentum.

1)   Your stance:  during a natural break in the conversation, when you’re leaning over, to spear another meatball or lift another drink from the passing tray…

a.    Question 1 (casually):  So …(pause and munch/sip) … what kind of work do you do?

NOTE: in this day and age when far too many people are unemployed, one must be careful here, because if your target is also looking for work, you will need to switch tracks and launch into a potentially great sharing conversation where you may be able to get leads from each other (ie. your current network/knowledge may be able to help him and vice versa).

2)   Your stance: Above all, be naturally curious about this person.  Let that curiosity lead your questions but also comment appreciatively or with interest to whatever your contact is sharing with you… even if you have no idea right now whether or not this information will ever prove useful.
a.    Question 2:  Sounds like an interesting line of work.  (And, if they haven’t already mentioned it yet)…  Where do you work? (and, if you’ve never heard of them before and the contact’s stated job doesn’t tell you implicitly: What do they do?)
3)   How long have you been there?
4)   Is it a good company to work for?  If so, or if not, why? 

Once you have an idea whether this is a company you might be interested in learning more about, you can take the questioning to the next level?

You can go in two directions at this point:

A)   Your stance:  on hearing that the company sounds like it does hire people with your skills, or is an industry you have been wanting to explore for a career change, you can start to deepen your questions into more leading directions, continuing to gauge the receptivity of this person by asking:

5)   What kind of people/skills does your company need? (You might also ask how big they are: how many people work there?  Medium to large companies are more likely to have many departments and, ergo, more potential job openings!  Plus more variety in jobs.)
6)   Do they ever need people with (list your top 3 skills based on what you’re now hearing are potential matches to the needs of this organization)?
7)   They sound like a good company to work for!  (If they do!!!)  Is there anyone you know internally who might be available to give me an informational interview, maybe someone in the relevant department (specific area you’ve determined could relate most to your skills) or the HR department (for more general information source)?


B)   You’re not hearing anything that really resonates with you, so you can double back to the weather, food or sports discussion again then, fairly soon after, extricate yourself and move on to another likely candidate.  No harm, no foul!

Okay, so when there does seem to be a potential opportunity there to dig into and learn more…then what?

Asking advice can be the next major step to facilitating that all important 2nd conversation, which I recommend takes place at a neutral time far far away from the cocktail party:  the follow up, more formal information interview that this new contact will hopefully help you arrange. 

FINAL MOVE:  at the end of your initial holiday party confab (especially if they’ve agreed to broker a meeting for you with their company somewhere down the line), make sure you get their business card or jot down their particulars/contact info in a notepad/phone memo if they don’t have one.  Always make a couple of identifying notes on the back of the card so you can recall something unique about the person that will help you engage with them again in either your follow up email or meeting.

Which brings me to the … POST PARTY ACTIONS:

Always, always, always… follow up within a few days or weeks with the person you met; reminding them of where you chatted with them and what you talked about.  You can do this through LinkedIn if you can find them there.  And since it’s always nice to offer them some recompense for their time, inviting them for coffee (or lunch) is a great way to start developing the relationship.

Remember:  Don’t expect instant results! 

Sure it can happen, but it’s really more like a lottery win when you land a job after just one meeting. 

Keep the faith!  Your new connection may not bear fruit for weeks, months or even years down the road.  Or they could also introduce you to a contact who opens your next new job door.  You can never really know but the closer you can get to people who can help you get closer to jobs or companies you recognize as being on your top 20 list, the better your chances of landing a position you’re really excited about.

FRIENDS FIRST:  If any of this scares you or makes you worry about imposing on strangers, practice first on people you know.  Very few of us truly know what our friends and families do at work or what their companies are all about. 

Most people are happy to be asked about their job and what they do. And, if you take that tack instead of asking if they know any jobs at their company, you’re likely to get a whole lot better traction. 

Proviso:  each of these questions and scenarios are only loose approximations of what can happen and above all else you need to stay light on your feet to flow with the conversation’s natural momentum.  Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same goes for networking in any capacity.  The more you practice it – just like the equally dreaded public speaking – the better you’ll get at it and the more natural you’ll appear to others.


Don’t burn yourself out:  try not to spend any more than 15-20 minutes with a possible contact at any one event.  And try to meet 3 new people, then take a break and go talk to someone you know; then do 3 more and call it a night!

Your Ultimate Goal:  get closer to the Hidden Job Market – where experts still say anywhere from 60-70% of jobs are found – is still primarily accomplished only by one-on-one networking.

 And what’s the secret to that:  Talking to people.  That’s it!  The key secret to finding more and better job opportunities -- and not just while you’re out of a job, either!  But that’s a whole other blog article!

Possible stumbling blocks:   when your target turns the tables on you and asks about your job, only you’re unemployed.  Is the jig up?  Will they, realizing your true job-seeking intent, scurry off to the powder room, leaving you embarrassed and ashamed?

NO!  You can handle this!  Be honest and deftly sidestep it or rejig it into something more upbeat.  You could say you’re looking at making a career change or you’re taking some time off to research your options – hence your interest in his/her work.  Or you can distract with some volunteer activities you may be doing and find a way to turn the conversation around to skills you are using or want to use more!  This is a great opportunity to throw the questions back at them and ask their advice about how they took what they’re doing and shifted into something else? 

If you’re currently seeking a career change or readjustment, you can definitely tell them what you are looking for (again, keep it brief – this is where a 60 Second Sell that you’ve prepared ahead of time – and which you can adjust on the spot, if possible, for relevance to your new contact’s organization -- comes in handy).

In case you are planning to meet them again -- as you should be at this point, otherwise why are you still talking to them?  -- never say you’re working if you’re not.  It will likely come out at some point, or they may check up on your LinkedIn profile and see you were fibbing, then they may question your honesty.  But it’s not lying, even if you are up to your armpits in job searching, to say you’re taking some time to explore some new career options and find a really great fit for yourself. 

Everyone can identify with that.  I know, I hear it every day and more often than not from people who are currently working!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Much Maligned Cover Letter – to write or not to write?

I read a lot of career pundits every week and many claim the cover letter is dead.   

I emphatically disagree!

The cover letter has been my best friend when it came to getting to not so certain interviews and I know, for a fact, that my ability to write a persuasive, descriptive and requirements-aligned letter (sometimes 2 pages long – I like to break the rules!) has won me interviews for jobs which I may have had no business getting, but I was able to ‘pitch my case’ as to why I was a good fit for the job.

For a Career Change job they are ESSENTIAL!  And, for a regular “I can do this job with my hands tied behind my back” posting, they are still a very wise move to make.


Most employers don’t read them! 

Why?  Because they don’t say anything new about you.  Most are just a blah blah rehash of the resume and BOTTOMLINE:  for busy HR and Recruiter types, they’re just not worth the time to read them.   

So, here are 4 distinctive ways YOU can make your cover letter worth reading…

1)      THINK LIKE AN EMPLOYER!   If you were reading that cover letter, what would impress YOU about that person?  What would make you want to hire them?  One of the biggest complaints about cover letters is that applicants often use the space to tell the employer how the job will enhance their careers. 

·         REALITY CHECK:  The employer doesn’t really care about your career.  They might, once they know you and have worked with you for a while, but this is a huge turn-off for most employers and can often get your whole application quickly deposited into the dreaded 3rd pile of applications (also known as the round file!).

2)      PERSONALIZE IT!  What differentiates my cover letter approach from others is that I make it PERSONAL.  I spell out why I’m a great fit for their job and I use examples that are directly aligned to the job requirements.

·         Use examples that DEMONSTRATE TRAITS & QUALITIES THEY ARE LOOKING FOR!  Even some they may not have realized they needed!

Here are a couple of sample excerpts from a few I’ve written:

This was for a client (she got the interview):

“Hopefully, both my resume and cover letter will demonstrate that I have often stepped beyond assigned roles to fill gaps and needs whenever necessary.  I’ve also developed financial and other counselling acumen on the job, by consistently volunteering to assist personnel (and occasionally their families) from all ages/backgrounds with issues requiring both research and the development of in-depth knowledge on various key subjects.  Over time, I have become recognized as the local Subject Matter Expert and go-to person for any concerns/questions related to pensions, financial and budget planning, severance pay and numerous other related topics.  Interestingly, one of my previous EMPLOYER’s ORGANIZATION NAME financial counsellors, CONTACT NAME, even used to call me for information on the NAME OF process and policies.”

And one of my own (I got the interview):

“I feel so many people have amazing transferrable skills, and yet they have no idea how to coherently describe that transferability either through personal networking or via their resume.  This is one of the specialties I bring to the table which could be a great asset for your clients and I would be happy to send you a few samples, if you are interested.  The way I write resumes with clients has proven to be very helpful in that it 1) helps the client prepare for job interviews, especially if a career change or various career options are involved, 2) builds the client’s self esteem and confidence as they learn how to promote themselves more effectively and 3) learn how to retool/adjust their own resumes for future opportunities/changes.”

3)      READ BETWEEN THE LINES:  Do your homework!  Analyze the job posting – think about what it takes to do the job and then write something that aligns seamlessly to that need. 

o   You can use a few bulleted Accomplishment Statements in your cover letter. 

o   You can use great quotes about you that others have written from your Personnel Evaluations or from people you have asked for Testimonials.  Keep them short but also long enough to showcase something that stands out about you.  Something that other employers would be interested to know about. 

·         Research the company/organization on the internet (dig in and look at ALL the pages, not just the homepage; check out their mission and values statements) and through any other means available then “SHOW” them -- through relevant examples --  why you would be a fantastic addition to their organization.  

·         Use LinkedIn to research the company and see if you have any connections to an insider.  Then reach out and ask for an information interview with that person!

4)      SELL YOU!  (this is your chance to have one more page to sell yourself for the specific job … make good use of it!)

·         Not in some smarmy salesy way but in a real and authentic way.  Figure out what about the job makes you excited or intrigued and “pitch” to that.  If you feel excited about an aspect of the job it will translate into your writing.

·         This is also a good place to SHARE your PERSONAL PHILOSOPHIES & BELIEFS about what you do and how you  do it.

Here’s another example from my personal stockpile.  I often use the cover letter to “explain” why I’m applying to a job that isn’t an obvious fit from my resume (Again, I got the interview – one of 10 out of 100 applicants).  I’m convinced this is an essential piece when seeking a minor or major CAREER CHANGE. 

So, you might ask: if you’re doing this kind of work, which you obviously enjoy, why would you want to switch gears to sell pet food?  Well, as someone who is interested in working more with my own gifts and loves, I have been hoping to find a way in which I might work more closely with animals and animal health.  Victoria – and BC, in general –is extremely pet-friendly. We have tons of off-leash parks, pet events and rescue organizations.  In other words, we LOVE our pets here and spend lots of money keeping them healthy and happy.  Just last week, our rescue group, NAME, met with our local SPCA to discuss partnering to bring in even more dogs from the US.  We want to help with the huge foreclosure problem in the States and we have many more homes wanting small-medium sized dogs than we actually have dogs for.”

FINALLY, to sum up:  Imagine your cover letter is the back cover blurb on a book about you!

If you read it, would you buy it?   


Interested in writing a kick-ass Cover Letter, I can help!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Three Easy Ways to Research Different Jobs

Looking for a Career Change or Shift?  Overwhelmed by all the options when you start looking into jobs and sectors?  Don’t worry…. you’re not alone! 

Too often we think we’d like to change jobs or career paths yet once we start looking at all the choices, we quickly get overwhelmed and give up.  It’s hard to know where to start and it can take a lot of time to do this essential part of figuring out what you’d like to do and then how to go about getting there. 
So often, high school career counselling falls short in truly explaining all the different fields of work.  And a really important piece of the puzzle to help make sound career choices early (and later) on in our lives is often overlooked.  Primarily because people don’t know how to research.  And where to look to find the key pieces of info that will help them make a considered and informed decision.

As a Coach who specializes in Career Change Strategizing, I can narrow that research down significantly.  It still requires time and energy on your part, but these “go to” places for finding key information will help you avoid the often daunting task of networking (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve had a client say they HATE networking, I wouldn’t need to work!). So this is the easiest networking you’ll ever do… and some of it doesn’t even require you to talk to another human being.

First, you need to put on your Investigative Reporter Hat!  And leave the job seeker at home.  All the resources I’ve laid out here require you to be seeking information, not jobs.  Because, if you approach with a hidden agenda, you may find your reception becomes less than warm.   
Here are 3 resources through which you can access valuable, career-specific information easily and quickly without feeling like you’re imposing on someone’s time or to find people in the field to talk to.

1)      The disciplines/career paths’ designated Professional Association. This is always your first stop on your investigative process for the least biased information. Many associations will provide you oodles of excellent information about their profession and what courses/schools are required.  And, if you screw up your courage and call them after reviewing their website in depth, they will often provide members who are ready and willing to chat with you about the specifics of the industry and their personal experiences in the field.  They often also run conferences, workshops and regular networking events that you can attend (often for free for at least a couple of times).

2)      Training/educational institutions that are teaching the skill/discipline also are great resources for finding out important information about the industry/sector/career pathway.  They should know what (and if) companies are hiring and what salaries one might expect at various milestones down the road.  Some, of course, even offer co-op and internship opportunities as part of the training and this can be invaluable for getting much needed first-time experience with the profession.

FYI: Both Professional Associations and Educational Institutions “should” have and freely offer names/ contact info for members and/or past students who have taken their training and are currently working in the field.  These are people who have agreed to talk to people like you who want to know more details about what the courses are all about, how useful they were and what the credential will get them once completed.

3)      Read job postings related to that field.  You can learn a heckofalot from job postings as to what different job areas/sectors and actual positions will require of you.  You can also find people who are in that field of work on LinkedIn and, through joining Groups they are in, you can research their work history online through their profiles, then, if you see a match, reach out to them via email and ask them if they’re willing to share some of their knowledge with you.  They’ll also give you lots of valuable clues for preparing resumes for those types of positions!

These activities all fall under the heading of what we, in the career coaching biz, call Informational Interviews. Like job interviews they require preparation and professionalism.  And a polite awareness that these folks you’re asking questions of are busy people and probably can’t spend more than 20-30 minutes with you, max.  So be clear and direct and, when that time has passed, double check with them as to whether it’s okay to continue.  Also ask them for another referral so you can keep the ball rolling and dig deeper into your chosen career environment.   More information is good… one person’s job love can be another’s hate.  So take all info with a grain of salt and find a few more people in the field to make sure you’re not throwing out the idea after one less than stimulating interview.

Cardinal Rule #1:  DO NOT take your resume with you.  (This way if they ask to see it, it gives you an opening to send it after the fact, and get their email address, if you don’t already have it.)  And again, you’re doing RESEARCH here, not JOB search!

And always – always – send a thank you email. 

Hopefully, if you found their assistance helpful, and you’d like to keep in touch as you proceed forward, it’s always a nice idea to let them know when you’ve followed through with a suggestion/idea they gave you.  This way you start developing a very useful career support group, for now and the future.

If you’d like a copy of a really great e-workbook on how to conduct Informational Interviews, which includes a few scripts and a list of questions you might consider asking, email me, mention this blogpost and I’ll send it to you.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

5 Phases of Career Exploration & Change

Phase 1Assessment:  helps you learn about you in a quick way so you can move forward with aligning yourself to applicable jobs/career paths/educational avenues. 
  • Bonus:  Builds your self-awareness and confidence so you are better equipped to make your own decisions about your future path, in addition to helping you communicate your strengths more specifically and accurately.
Phase 2 – Narrow the options down and start researching/networking to gather deeper information about the career path and/or companies you are interested in investigating.

·         1) Informational Interviewing:  This is where you get to play Investigative Reporter or Detective to develop research skills which will serve you well now and in the future in discovering more about and then narrowing your chosen fields of interest. 

·         2) Networking is a key piece of the puzzle and, for many, it is often the most difficult aspect of the job revisioning process.

o     Find more useful networking contacts and start to develop this skill as it is the 2nd key component for this step of your career but also in any subsequent steps you might want to make in your work and life moving forward.
Phase 3 – Hopefully, you have now narrowed your path(s) to pursue and are ready to really start retooling the resume to match your new direction/goals.

·       The way you rewrite the resume also prepares you for the interviewing process.

·       Suggestion:  do an inventory of ALL your skills at this point so your new MASTER resume will be very flexible and adjustable, since career change can require a few different yet similar approaches to a variety of job sub-categories.

·      Often using a Functional Resume is the best way to create a document that will showcase the skills you want for a position in your new career zone.   Try to use headings related to hard skills not soft skills as most employers will prefer to know what you can do, not what qualities you have.  A well-developed resume will provide subtext which will fill in the soft skills angles anyway.

·      Hit them with your best stuff in the first half of the first page.  Consolidate and use a hard-hitting, eye-catching format.  Think:  blurb on the back cover of a book.  Make it impossible for them not to want to buy!

·      Use Accomplishment Statements that align seamlessly to the needs of the new job. Use the job posting as your Bible.  Echo keywords, demonstrate transferrable skills using examples and make a strong pitch using experience you’ve done in and outside of work. 

·      Put it all together and your resume will light up with possibilities and professionalism!

·       Don’t get frustrated.  This is an ongoing process and, each time you review/adjust your resume for different postings, you’ll edit and rewrite and make it a nice tight document that really sings your praises!

 Phase 4Strategize your shift.

·       The Step Approach:  consider staying in your current line of work, but changing the environment you work in – ie. the company, industry or sector!

o   This can work when you….

§  Make a step into a new work environment that is more open to you developing new skills and showing them off to your best advantage and where you can be recognized and create new pathways of development moving forward.  This is an excellent way to maintain salary and status while making a significant change in career direction.  Only drawback, it usually takes more time.

§  Learn while you Earn!  Get/take additional training (either self-directed, through volunteering, or by online or traditional schooling methods of learning) while still enjoying what you’re doing.  Proven plus: distracting yourself with a new project of any kind that stimulates you outside of work can help you feel as if you’re moving forward and take the sting out of a humdrum job. 
Ongoing:  Keep applying for jobs or reconnecting to the network you developed during your Investigation process.  Write down the questions you get in interviews and develop/practice your answers until they flow off your tongue like butter.  There will always be questions you hadn’t expected in just about any interview.  The key to being poised is being prepared.

Phase 5  Once you’ve landed a new gig, keep QUESTING.  Keep broadening your network.  Dig deeper.  Investigate career pathways that intersect your own.  This process is critical to maintain for the life of your career, and can prove useful in many other areas of your life, as well.  The people who do this never have to look for jobs – jobs come and find them! 
And, if you’re the type who needs to regularly learn new things and grow beyond, well then his next step on your career trajectory likely isn’t the last you’ll ever take.  So enjoy the journey and expand your horizons!  It’s amazing how serendipity steps in and pulls it all together when you least expect it.  Just believe it’s possible and make it so!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Making a Memorable Impression!

Personal branding!  In a world where there are so many products and choices, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed!  Now job candidates strive to be remembered in much the same way you hum those catchy jingles for your favourite car or candy bar. 

So take some time to figure out what makes YOU stand out!  Get clear about what your values are and why you are the best possible match for the company or industry you are aligning yourself to.    

From the Experts:  how to leave an indelible impression in any chance meeting, networking event, conference or interview!

·         Personal Branding: 5 Secrets of Success from Guy Kawasaki
·         Fast Company Magazine:  The Brand Called YOU 

And all of this comes together in that good old Elevator Speech (or 60 Second Sell).
VIDEO/Article:   5 Real People Giving … 5 Truly Adequate Elevator Pitches  (with commentary by author.)  Non-intimidating!  You, too, can do this!!!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

How to Compose a Stand-Out LinkedIn Profile

Part 1:  Put on the EMPLOYER’s GLASSES and read other people’s profiles. 

There are many ways to write effective, job-catching profiles.  And it’s always good to put your own spin/flavor on it.  If you’re a fun, light-hearted person, you can find ways to inject that energy into a profile, carefully, of course, as this is a Business/Professional site and you don’t want to sound too flippant or irreverent.

But read with another purpose, as well.  Read it fast; assess for impact and memorability.    Was it densely written or easy for your eye to move over and pick out important information?

Read it quickly – just the Profile section and Specialties, not the “resume” part.

Then ask yourself:

1)      Was it easy to scan?  Did you pick get a clear sense of this person’s skillsets and talents in a 5-10 second scan of the profile section?   If not, why not?   

2)      Was it densely written… with not enough white space?  In this world of computers and calculated content writing, we won’t read wordy text sections.  So keep it targeted and concise, otherwise people just won’t read it. 

3)      Which profile was the most memorable?  Break it down and figure out why.
Once you’ve done this exercise, you’ll get a lot more ideas about how you want to write your profile and what you want to say about yourself.

Next: Using your LinkedIn Header to Make a Standout Impression