Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 10 Applying for Jobs

Previously: Step 9: Informational Interviews

Step 10: Applying for Jobs
While you are networking you should also be searching for jobs in the traditional way and applying for those that seem right. Remember, if 70% of jobs are found using networking that leaves 30% to be found by other means and one of those means is applying. It is important to remember, however, that the way our parents applied for jobs is no where even close to the way we are applying for them. Electronic submissions and job boards have become the norm and to do otherwise feels like you might as well be using a typewriter to prepare your resume. So hit the boards and scour the company websites for open positions. When you come across one that looks right, get your materials in order and send them in.

In an ideal world you are able to apply to those same companies where you have networked or you can find some connection to the company using your network. LinkedIn does a great job of showing you whether or not you are connected to people at the companies that use it. If you can, start contacting people to try and get to the hiring manager of the positions you want. Perhaps your resume and cover letter can be handed to the hiring manager personally. At the very least if you can lean on your network to get to the hiring manager your materials will rise to the top of the pile and you will have some degree of certainty that they were at least looked at.

Again, the ideal here is to network if at all possible. But if you have to, apply cold. It's completely fine to do so. At least, it's cold at the start. Once your materials are in, try to contact the hiring manager personally. It's not always easy to figure out who this person is. Companies often guard their names to protect the hiring manager from being contacted by too may people. Other times you won't get past HR, which is actually fine because it will mean you have made contact with someone who is often the first line of defense. Maybe you can reach the person through email and send them a message or find them on LinkedIn. Maybe it's obviously stated in the job post and you can call him/her.

This is another instance where it doesn't really matter how you reach the people as long as you are reaching them.When contact is made, break out a quick 30 second speech. Don't get too worked up about it either. Your goal here is to be at the top of the person's mind as someone with a voice rather than a name on a two dimensional piece of paper.

"My name is...I am supremely talented in the following ways...I am very interested in the opening you have for...because it very much matches my interests and experiences. I recently applied and want to make sure you have my materials and to see if there is anything else you need..."

Refer back to your notebook for the key buzz words and phrases to fill in the blanks. Then thank them for their time. The conversation will be quick. Rehearse what you are going to say. Write it out, them memorize it, then practice speaking it. Then practice it again. Don't read it because the person on the other end will know you are reading. Just say it very calmly and clearly. Chances are they will let you know that everything is all set and then the conversation will be over. If you end up emailing the person, treat the email as you would any other written communication and make sure it's meticulously written.

Because you never know what actions will reap the greatest reward it's important to proceed on several fronts. So keep looking for openings and keep meeting people. Right now those are the two most important jobs you have to do.

Up Next: Step 11: Your Job Right Now is Getting a Job

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 9 Informational Interviews

Previously: Step 8: Looking at Your Network

Now that you've been meeting people and have a list of your network it's time to start making contact with them in a more meaningful way.  Shaking a hands at an event and chatting is one thing. Actually getting something of value out of your network is something entirely different. In a business setting you'll want to set up informational interviews. If you want to reach out to someone in a more informal manner the informational interview may not necessarily be needed. Regardless of how you engage the person, your end goals are the same.

Step 9: Informational Interviews
This step will largely focus on the use of your network in a formal setting. If you are engaging a person in an informal setting because you already know the person or that is what makes the most sense, adapt what follows to suite your needs but don't lose sight of the two goals of this step:
  1. Gathering Information
  2. Extending Your Network
Let's face it, asking someone for a job can be awkward. Luckily, however, you don't even have to think about doing that. In fact, I recommend you get that part of this process out of your head completely and not think about it because it'll only get in the way and make you uncomfortable. Instead, focus only on these two goals.

The first goal of an informational interview is to gather information about your target industry. In almost all cases, the person you are talking to will not have a job for you nor will you want to ask that person for a job. The key is focusing on making contact with people, telling them about yourself, learning about them, what they do and the companies for whom they do it.  The second goal of the interview is to come away with the name of at least one additional person with whom you can make contact to set up another interview. If you keep these two goals in sight you will eventually make contact with the person who will lead directly to your next job and the best part is you likely won't even have had to ask for it. Eventually, the people you meet are going learn of job openings and you want to be the first person that comes to mind. So don't worry if they don't know of any openings right now because that's not what you want. The only things you need to focus on are gathering information and meeting more people.

First you need to ask for the interview. So who do you ask? Well, take a look at your network. If there are people in your network that you know who work in your target industry then it should be easy. Just ask the person if they wouldn't mind sparing a few minutes speaking with you because you are interested in learning more about what they do. If you don't know the person it takes a little more finesse. You may need to ask someone in your network to help you meet the person you actually want to interview. If they are an alumni from your college, call or email and start by saying that you are a fellow alumni. I am more than confident that you will find this person more than receptive to the idea of helping you out for a little while. If you don't have that connection, it gets even more formal because you have to name drop the person who referred you to them and then ask for their time. Linked In helps a lot with this process because it will identify the people you know who are connected to the people you want to talk to.

Conducting the actual interview should be a lot easier than setting it up because there is a very specific bit of advice you can live by. The #1 tip of informational interviews and networking as a whole is:

People LOVE to talk about themselves.

Yes, you need to communicate in a very clear and concise manner who you are, your experiences, what skills you have to offer, and what you hope to accomplish in the interview so start there in a very well constructed, rehearsed speech. Then transition to the person you are interviewing and let them do most of the talking. Simply ask the person to tell you about what they do, how they got where they are and what they think of the industry/company/job. Then your job is to just listen and take notes. The ensuing conversation should take up most of the rest of your time and provide you with some great insight from inside your target industry.

End the interview by asking the person 2 things:
  1. Do they have any advice for you as you make this transition?
  2. Is there is anyone else they know who would be a good person for you to talk to next?
#2 is actually the most important part of the interview. You want to walk out of there with another name so that you can extend your network. Finally, thank them for their time and you are done.  Then you can repeat the process with the person that was just mentioned. The more you do this the more you learn, the more people you meet, and the closer you get to finding your next job, the right job!

It should go without saying that you send a thank you note immediately after the interview. Feel free to do this by email or snail mail. In fact, you need to literally thank every person who helps you in anyway so it's best to make thank you notes a part of your muscle memory from the get go.

Up Next: Step 10: Applying For Jobs

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 8 Looking to Your Network

Previously: Step 7: Putting It All Together

Step 7 might actually be the hardest step in this process because there's no way for anyone to tell you what you want to do or what you should be doing. You need to tell yourself that and it takes a lot of thinking to come up with the right answer.  Once you find the answer, it's time for action.

Step 8: Looking to Your Network
Let's start with the basics. What is networking? Simply put, networking is making connections with people. That's all. It is really not a very complicated process and is very easy to do.

Most people don't understand that they are already networking everyday, all the time. They don't think of the people with whom they interact in the right way.  The fact is that each of us already has a network. If you think you don't have a network, then you literaly must not know a single person on the face of the planet. If you know even one person, then you have a network because that person knows people.

So, your network is the people you know and the people they know. The act of networking is simply meeting people. You don't actually have to start networking because you are already doing it. You just have to realize that you are doing it and that your network already exists. 

See how easy networking really is!

The actual task of networking is twofold. First you need to figure out how to leverage your network to your benefit. Second you need to constantly grow your network. The bigger your network the more opportunity that lies therein. As your network grows, the net you are casting becomes wider and wider. You may call on people in your network to help you and eventually others will call on you to help them.

The statistics for the number of job seekers who get a job as a direct result of their networking efforts are overwhelming. I've read that the number is 60%, 60%-80%, 75%. No matter what the actual number is, their is no denying that the #1 most effective way to find a job is through networking. If you want, go ahead and try to prove me wrong, I'll wait...

...couldn't do it could you?

So step 8 is all about a networking blitz. This is the point in the process where the actual job searching begins. Since there's certainly no limit to the number of ways to meet people I can't possibly list all of the ways you can network. So here are some suggestions to get you started:
  1. Turn to your college alumni association. Ask them for a list of people in your area who work in your target industry.
  2. Are you on Linked In? If you aren't, get on it now.
  3. Look at your Facebook friends and see who works in your target industry.
  4. Look for local organizations or associations and join them. Attend their networking events.
  5. Ask your friends and family for contacts in your target industry.
  6. Volunteer in your area, especially in your target field if possible, and start meeting people.
  7. Make a list in your notebook of all of the people you are coming up with.
The whole point of this step and networking in general is to find and meet people. The next step is about contacting them. Someone you know knows someone who knows someone and you need to find and meet that person. It doesn't matter how you do it. Just find them. They are out there. Every day they're going to work just like you. They are going to the gym. They attend social events in the evening and on weekends. They go to book clubs and are invovled in churches. Every day they'd be glad to stop and spend a few minutes talking to you.

Networking doesn't need to be done in a business or professional setting. It can and will happen everywhere, anywhere, and at anytime.  It happens in line waiting to pick up your kid at preschool. It happens standing on the sideline at soccer games chit chatting with other parents. It happens in line at the deli waiting for your lunch. As you go through your days and weeks and meet and interact with people, think of every single person with whom you interact as someone in your network and consider how they might be able to help you in this process. Keep meeting people and making lists of their names in your notebook because you're about to learn how to use them.

Up Next: Step 9: Using Your Network

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 7 Putting It All Together

Previously: Step 6: Looking to Others

Let's review. Thus far you've looked back into your past and examined previous jobs, your interests and influences, and generally the important factors that have shaped your professional life. Next you looked at your current job and examined what it is you like and dislike. Then you looked inside yourself and examined your skills, values and what you have to offer. Finally, you spoke to others who know you to see how you are perceived in the work place and to learn what areas you need to improve. Inbetween you have hopefully interspersed some physical activity and are feeling energized by the stress relief benefits.

Now what?

You may remember this is the part of my career change where the build up of all the work I did lead to the career counselor telling me that I should look for marketing jobs. You know that sound when a contestant loses on The Price Is Right? That's what I felt like when she said that.

Step 7: Putting It All Together
Grab your notebook.
  1. Spend time some flipping though your notebook and relfecting on what you read. Are there any  common themes?
  2. Use the information in your notebook to write your own job description. If there was a job that no other person in the world could do but you, what would the advertisement for that job opening say?
  3. Make a list of careers and industries that you've been thinking you might like to explore.
  4. Start reading job descriptions in these industries. Look at the skills they are asking for and the level of education required. Notice the years of expereince needed. If the number of years exceeds the number you currently have, find a job description in that industry that asks for the number of years you have. The job you want may be a down the road and you may need to take a different one in the new industry first.
  5. Start researching those industries. Look at the companies. Go online and read blogs and articles about those industries. Learn about their trends and innovations. Learn about hiring trends taking place within these industires. Find conferences you can attend and journals you can read.
  6. Considered any gaps you find in the skills and education needed for these industries and think about filling those gaps. Will you need to go back to school? Can you assume new responsibilities in your current job to help fill those gaps? Can you volunteer in your area to gain experience that will help fill the gaps?
I learned the hard way that there is no magic formula or computer program that can spit out exactly what it is you should be doing. Even if there was, how would it know what you want to do? This is where career cousellors step out and you step in and take over. You need to answser the tough questions.

Your notebook is now a resource filled with many pieces that together constitue the whole of who you are, what you have to offer and how you can get where you want to go. So don't rush this step. Take time to review it, consider what you see in that notebook and what you see yourself doing next. Remember, the best thing that can come out of this step in the process is an understanding of what you want to do. What you REALLY want to do. Once you determine that, you can start your research using the questions above and other resources like the internet, conferences and journals to begin to see how you match  what you want to do next and if you don't what you can do to become a match.

Up Next: Step 8: Looking to Your Nework