Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
In my years of being a career coach I have always advocated for networking and spreading one’s net as far and wide as possible. And sometimes this advice has really been taken to heart, and clients have been remarkably creative in their networking efforts. I wanted to share the top 3 stories that come to mind as they just might inspire you in your career and network building efforts:
- Across the clothesline, literally. Mike had just attended my seminar on networking and he was feeling particularly inspired. He said that his notion of networking had been limited to his professional circle and here I was, advocating for him to talk to his dentist, his doctor, the librarian, his haircutter and more. I said that you never know who will have contacts for you once you get the word out. Well, when he returned home and his wife asked him to help out with the laundry, dutifully he went to the backyard to collect the bedsheets that she’d put on the line. As he was doing the task, he noticed a new neighbor on the other side of the fence. She was also collecting her laundry. He called out to introduce himself and decided to mention he was an engineer in job-seeking mode. The new neighbor came closer and said that she had moved to the area to start a new job at a local and growing high tech firm. The firm just happened to need engineers. They got talking, an interview resulted, and within 2 weeks, his over-the-fence networking led to the job he has had for several years.
- Going back to pre-school. A young client was struggling to get his first professional job out of college. He was the first in his family to attend college so he couldn’t get much help from his family. We started brainstorming to find out how he might network effectively. I asked him to list all of the groups and affiliations he could think of. I was surprised when he included a pre-school reunion that his mother asked him to attend with her. He hadn’t kept up with his young friends over the years. But to please his mother he attended the reunion and at my suggestion, he brought along his resume and an open-mindedness about telling the attendees about his professional aspirations. Turned out that the young woman who had been his ‘girlfriend’ in pre school was a local high school teacher and she was happy to introduce him to her husband who was in the field that my client was looking to get a job in. Yes, that pre-school reunion resulted in just the introduction he needed!
- Pool collision leads to career opportunity. A client was miserable at her corporate job and came to me for coaching on a career transition. She wanted to get into the non profit sector though her 20+ year career had been exclusively focused in the for-profit, corporate arena. We were planning all kinds of ways for her to get involved in the non profit community when she had a pool collision that turned out to be fortuitous. Lisa was a dedicated swimmer and one day, deep in thought as she swam, she collided with another swimmer when she was distracted and got out of her lane. She felt terrible, and both women, with fairly significant bumps to the head, got out of the pool. Lisa apologized profusely, and the two women ended up getting into a nice conversation. One thing led to the next, and Lisa mentioned the reason for her distraction, her career pre-occupation. Turned out the woman she collided with was the director of a local non profit! And yes, within a month Lisa had a new job working for the woman she had literally bumped into at the pool! You never know where your next networking opportunity will be, readers. Always be ready to share your story and network! And please write in with your networking stories. I’d love to hear about them and share them with our Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice community. Best, Joan Coach
Dear Coach Joan,
I will finally be having an in-person interview at the company I have wanted to work at for a long time.
Naturally, I want to make a great impression and although I’ve done some research and planning, I’d like to
know some best strategies for making a great impression. This opportunity means a lot to me.
Appreciate your ideas.
Congratulations getting to the in-person interview at your desired company! It is not always easy getting past the phone interview, which is the hurdle that most have to overcome before earning the prize of a face-to-face meeting. As I always say to my clients: READINESS + OPPORTUNITY = SUCCESS.
So let’s look at how you can prepare to make a positive impression from the interviewer’s perspective. He or she is the one that will give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. What are they going to be looking for?
- FRIENDLY AND APPROPRIATE: Research shows that the first thing an interviewer is assessing is a deep sense of whether they want to move toward you or away from you; whether they feel positive or negative about you. And that translates into looking professional, well-groomed, looking them in the eye, having a friendly and open way of relating, and coming across as confident, but not arrogant. Approach the interviewer with a firm/moderate handshake and sincere smile. I’ve advised clients to drive into the parking lot of the company when it’s end of day and observe how the employees look and dress. Then dress to fit in or a bit more dressy to show respect.
- PREPARATION: Have a copy of your resume in hand, do not assume they’ve seen it or have a copy. This shows consideration. Do your research and have some good questions to ask about the position and the company. Also prepare some comments about the company and why you are attracted to join them. Make sure to use the name of the company/organization as it is respectful. Listen carefully to their questions and let them take the lead but if you can, ask if there might be time for you to ask some questions. Show that you have an understanding of their place in the market and their key competitors.
- HAVE AN AGENDA OF 3 WAYS YOU FIT THE JOB: Read the job description very carefully and prepare your three top reasons for being an excellent fit. Have examples to support each of your claims. Show enthusiasm for the skills you bring to the job and ways you will have a significant impact on the job and on the company.
- THE BONUS!! Prepare to talk about how you are a lifelong learner and specific ways you are involved in growing and developing your knowledge and skills in areas that relate to the position and or the company. This is a very impressive strategy and one that I’ve seen work time and again in differentiating you as a candidate. If you can also show ways you demonstrate leadership in your field, from professional organization activities to leading seminars or publishing papers, that is also a way to impress your interviewer.Naturally, you will follow up with a thank you note that includes your appreciation for the meeting and reiterates the key ways you fit the position well. Additionally, if there were topics you discussed that you can follow up on, include relevant articles, facts or ideas. Matt, onward to making a great impression at your interview! All of your preparation will pay off as well begun is half done! All the best, Coach Joan
As counter intuitive as it might sound, summer is a great time to add sizzle, not only to your barbecue, but to your career! Many people miss out on this fabulous season of opportunity because they think everyone is on vacation.
Big mistake. Everyone is not on vacation, but many people are more relaxed. It’s not only the warmer weather, and the children out of school, but for many businesses and organizations it is the slow season.
And because it is a slower season, and the workload may very well be lighter, there can be a feeling of having more time. This openness can translate into ample opportunity for you, a person who is looking to get ahead and create career advancement:
- AT YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYER: This is the time to reach out to others in your company to find out about new plans and new openings. Reach both laterally and up your organization to find people to meet with face to face. Do your homework and find out what they and their teams are up to. Let them know what you’re doing, some key accomplishments and the skills you have available. Let them know how you’d like to advance. Build relationships for your future. Prepare intelligent and probing questions.
- INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS: As you probably know, informational interviews are designed for you to ask questions, but not ask for a job. It’s where you have researched and determined that they or their company is of interest to you, and you want to learn more. You typically contact an individual and ask for 20-30 minutes to meet for the purpose of learning more about them, their company and or their industry. You typically provide your background to them as well. It is not appropriate to ask for a job in an informational interview. But sometimes these informational interviews lead to career opportunities, especially if you come well prepared and make a good impression.
- PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS – Summer is the perfect time to attend professional meetings in your industry. Attendance is typically lower than at other times of the year, so there is more opportunity to talk to the speakers, organizers and leaders. Again, do some research to find out exactly who will be there, and prepare some excellent questions and or comments. I’ve had many clients create new work opportunities this way.
- APPLY FOR NEW POSITIONS: Again, this is a more relaxed season and many people do not see it as a season for career focus. Be different. Be opportunistic! If the competition is less stiff, you have more chances of standing out and succeeding.
Yes readers, I hope you are having lots of summer fun, and lots of sizzling times. But I do encourage you to mix some career efforts in with the sunscreen.
Onward in your career advancement,
On this Independence Day Holiday I am reflecting on the underlying strengths of our nation.
Our country is built on the lofty values of liberty, justice and freedom. Based on those values, we united and fought hard to win our independence. It was our clear and unifying vision that empowered us forward.
In the same way, to achieve career success, you need to have a clear understanding of your values and preferences, and of course, job skills. Clients who achieve great career success understand exactly who they are, what they have to offer, and how they prefer to work. They learn and practice to articulate all of that in a clear and compelling way. They know that they need to positively persuade everyone who will influence the decision to work with them from potential employers, to recruiters, to investors, to colleagues, and others.
Below are the five dimensions that will help you develop your career profile. A clear profile, articulated with strength and conviction, will give you the best chance to open new doors for career opportunities.
Answer these 5 questions
For each category, indicate which of the two descriptions best match your style. Get a piece of paper and number 1-5 with enough space to write a few sentences in each category. Select one of the two descriptions that most closely reflects your style. Add examples and anecdotes to show how that trait plays out at work. Weave in specific skills and contributions you have made through your work style:
- Independent vs. Collaborative– Imagine you are assigned a project. Is your first instinct to try to plan and work it out on your own, or do you look for others to bounce ideas off? Naturally, there is typically a combination of independent and collaborative work involved, but do you have the kind of mind that likes to begin to solve problems on your own or do you prefer to be in a team setting?
- Introvert vs. Extrovert – Honestly, where do you feel most energized, working and spending time alone or with others? After a long day at work do you prefer to go out with people, or go home to be alone with your thoughts as a way of de-stressing?
- Structured vs. Spontaneous – Do you prefer to have your week planned out with most of the hours accounted for or do you prefer having broad parameters and filling your schedule as you go along? Is the thought of an unplanned weekend good news or bad news to you. Again, most of us are a combination but we do have a preferred style of where we get energized, alone or with others.
- Involved Management vs. Hands-Off Management – Do you look forward to working closely with a manager or do you like to have general direction and basically be left on your own to carry out your work? Are you a self starter or do you prefer a lot of direction from a manager?
- Industry Specific vs. Job Specific – Is it more important for you to be working with an organization that represents products or services you can personally relate to and support, or is it more important for you to use your skill set regardless of the industry?
Now that you’ve completed this quiz and written out a few sentences for each category, you are beginning to have a career profile. Practice articulating your profile to others and ask for feedback on clarity and impact. Review and edit to truly reflect your authentic self. People feel more inclined to work with others whom they feel are honest and self-aware.
Just as the our country was founded on clear ideals and values, so too is your career success founded on a clear and compelling career profile. Construct and practice an authentic and strong profile. It will allow you to find the right environments where you can use your talents and prosper.
Onward in your career success,