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If you try to manage your career as you always have, if you use old fashioned techniques to look for a new or better job, you are likely to suffer career cardiac arrest or what most of us call unemployment.
And sadly, that’s exactly what a lot of people are doing. They haven’t kept their skills up-to-date. Their ability to make a contribution commensurate with their experience has atrophied. Even their network of contacts has all but withered away.
Historically, such an out of shape career didn’t matter much. You could be laid off and, with little or no change in your credentials, hit the job search trail and in relatively short order, find another, similar (or even better) position. Basically, we had a come-as-you-are job market.
Unfortunately, those happy days are gone and gone forever. Why is that? Remember the jobless recovery of the 2001 recession? Well, this recession built on that development to create the “less jobs” recovery. When things start to get better, there will still be fewer jobs—not more or even the same number—as there are right now, during the recession. Jobs aren’t being left open until things get better. They are being destroyed.
What does that mean for senior professionals and executives in transition? Now, you have to enter the job market in a very different way. If you want to find employment in the new world of work, you have to fix your career first. Or, at a minimum, you must be fixing it while you’re searching for a job. But, the point is that Step 1 in a job search today—not step 2 or 3 or 4—is to upgrade your capabilities and your credentials. From now on, you have to have a strong career if you want to conduct a strong job search.
What’s the best way to do that? Think of yourself as a career athlete, even better as a career Olympian. As I describe in my new book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System, Olympians have four attributes that will serve you well in the challenging workplace of the 21st century.
Career Olympians are:
We can’t become successful career athletes, however, by simply stating our intention to do so. We also can’t rely on serendipity or depend on fate or good fortune, and we certainly can’t look to our employers to make it happen. We won’t transform ourselves into career Olympians by wishful thinking or by being loyal and dependable and showing up for work every day.
In today’s demanding workplace and tomorrow’s, there is only one sure way to establish ourselves as career athletes, and that’s to practice Career Fitness. We must care for our careers the way we care for our physical health. We must build up their strength, endurance and reach. If we do that, we can alter the possibility in our jobs and in our careers from simple survival to prosperity and fulfillment.
How do you translate the concept of Career Fitness into a fit career?
As with physical fitness, you have to condition your career on a regular and repetitive schedule. You have to develop occupational strength, endurance and reach by working on your seven centers of career vitality. I call these loci of activity the Career Fitness “exercises.” They are:
I. Pump Up Your Cardiovascular System The heart of your career is your occupational expertise, not your knowledge of some employer’s standard operating procedures. Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress so that you are always been adding depth and tone to your workplace knowledge and skill set and memorializing that enlarged capacity on your resume.
II. Strengthen Your Circulatory System The wider and deeper your network of contacts, the more visible you and your capabilities will be in the workplace. Adding to your network, however, means exactly what the word says—it’s netWORK, not net-get-around-to-it-whenever-it’s-convenient. Make nurturing professional relationships a part of your normal business day.
III. Develop All of Your Muscle Groups The greater your versatility in contributing your expertise at work , the broader the array of situations and assignments in which you can be employed. Develop ancillary skills—for example, the ability to speak a second language or knowledge of key software programs—that will give you more ways to apply your primary occupational capability in the workplace.
IV. Increase Your Flexibility & Range of Motion In the 21st Century world of work, career progress is not always a straight line, nor does it always look as it has in the past or stay the same for very long. Moving from industry-to-industry, from one daily schedule to another or even from one location to another is never easy, but your willingness to adapt will help to keep your career moving forward.
V. Work With Winners Successful organizations and coworkers aid and abet your ability to accomplish your career goals, while less effective organizations and less capable peers diminish it. Working with winners enables you to grow on-the-job, develop useful connections that will last a career and establish yourself as a winner in the world of work.
VI. Stretch Your Soul A healthy career not only serves you, it serves others, as well. A personal commitment to doing some of your best work as good works for your community, your country and/or your planet is the most invigorating form of work/life balance. It regenerates your pride in what you do and your enthusiasm for doing it.
VII. Pace Yourself A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you’re on-the-job. The human body and mind have limits, and those limits cannot be extended by multitasking or even a Blackberry. Instead, you have to discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.
Understanding what’s involved in these exercises and then performing them on a regular basis is the foundation of a ”system” for building Career Fitness that everyone—mid-career professionals, executives and managers and those just embarking on their careers—can use effectively. It is all laid out in my new book, Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System. Think of it as a plan for preserving and protecting your future in the world of work.
When you open the classified ads in a newspaper or professional journal, all of the openings appear right in front of you, on the printed page. Jobs that are posted on the Internet, in contrast, are stored in computerized databases. Nothing is visible until you tell the computer what kind of jobs you'd like to see.
While all job board computers are different, the vast majority accept instructions that are based on a single set of rules. These rules were devised by a 19th century British mathematician by the name of George Boole. He established the logic by which factors are presented so that their relationship to one another can be clearly and accurately understood. In job databases, these factors are the characteristics you seek in your dream job.
For example, if you're looking for a facility manager position in the hospitality industry that pays a salary of $50,000 and is located in Milwaukee or Green Bay, Wisconsin, Boolean rules will enable you to present those criteria so that the computer understands exactly what you want. Thanks to that clarity of expression, you can be sure that you won't waste a lot of time uncovering positions in which you are not interested or, even worse, overlook one or more positions in which you are.
The following list summarizes the most important Boolean rules. To get the best results from any specific job database, however, study its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and use its online tutorial, if one is provided.
Rule #1. The characteristics (i.e., the individual words, terms or phrases) that you use to describe your dream job are called “key words” on the Internet. They are normally entered in all lower case letters because capitalization makes them case sensitive. In other words, if you capitalize a key word, the computer will identify only those jobs where that word is capitalized. If you use all lower case letters, the computer will identify every job that contains the word, whether it is capitalized or not.
Rule #2. To link two characteristics together, both of which are required in your dream job, use the Boolean operator AND. Boolean operators are normally expressed in all capital letters. In the example above, you might use the following expression to tell the computer what kind of job you want: $50,000 AND hospitality. This expression tells the computer that you want it to identify any job in its database that offers both characteristics. It must pay $50,000, and it must be in the hospitality industry. If either one of those factors is missing, you do not want to see the job.
Rule #3. To tell the computer that the characteristic for which you are looking is a phrase rather than a single word, use quotation marks. For example: "facility manager" AND $50,000 AND hospitality.
Rule #4. To link two characteristics together, either one of which is acceptable in your dream job, use the Boolean operator OR. For example, Milwaukee OR "Green Bay". Note that using capital letters with city or state names is acceptable as they are seldom expressed any other way.
Rule #5. To link two characteristics together when they are part of a longer set of characteristics, use parentheses. For example, "facility manager" AND $50,000 AND hospitality AND (Milwaukee OR "Green Bay").
Rule #6. To account for the fact that different people use different terms to express the same idea, always include any synonyms of your characteristics and, wherever possible, use a Boolean operator called a wildcard.
Over half of all U.S. workers now say they are either looking for a new job or intend to do so in the next year. They will also undoubtedly make the Internet a central component of their search. But, once they get online, what exactly will they do? There is certainly a wide array of job search tools available on the Web. They include:
These announcements, however, are very different from traditional employment ads. They don’t appear in the format of a print classified and aren’t restricted to the tight space constraints imposed by newspapers and journals. As a result, you’ll need a new set of rules for reading and evaluating job postings if you’re to avoid wasting time on mediocre employers and focus your attention and efforts where they can best advance your career. I’ve devised he following five rules to help you do just that
Rule 1: Look at the level of effort the employer has devoted to writing the job posting. Most commercial sites allow employers to use up to 1,400 words (the equivalent of two typed pages of text) to present their opening. That’s plenty of space to describe both the key characteristics of the position as well as the organization’s mission and culture. If an employer is too lazy or unwilling to take advantage of that space and simply re-posts classified ad copy in cyberspace, you have to ask yourself whether it really values the people who work for it. Informed candidates make smart employment decisions, and keeping you in the dark simply increases the likelihood that you and/or the organization will make a mistake.
Rule 2: Evaluate what the posting says the position can do for you. Employers that focus exclusively on a position’s “requirements” and “responsibilities”—what the job will do for them—fail to understand that employment is an agreement between two equal parties. Both have to get something out of the deal, or it’s unlikely to last. What should you look for? The best postings will describe a number of key factors:
Rule 3: Check the “candidate friendliness” of the posting. Employers that write helpful postings are implicitly saying something about their culture. If an organization goes the extra distance to help virtual strangers (i.e., online job seekers), it’s likely to go even further to support and advance its employees. How can you spot that kind of employer with a job posting? Look for those that:
Rule 4: Look carefully at the details. The best job postings are rich in data. They include specific information about the organization, the opening and the way you will be treated should you choose to apply. You, in turn, can use these details to assess your fit with both the position and the organization. What data do you want to see?
Rule 5: Return the favor. Don’t become a “graffiti candidate,” one who sprays their resume out to every job posting they read. It takes time and effort for an organization to write a good job posting (which is informative, detailed and helpful to you), and that investment deserves a quality return. So, don’t respond to ads when you’re clearly not qualified for the opening or don’t live in the area where it’s located. All that does is undermine the employer’s satisfaction with the results and diminish its commitment to writing a good job posting for its next open position.
Stay-at-home professionals are a new kind of worker. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 105,000 men and 5.2 million women who had opted out of their profession, craft or trade to serve as their family’s primary care-giver in 2002. Whether it was a matter of choice or was dictated by circumstances in the labor market, they went from working in their career field to working on the soccer field. Experience shows, however, that many of these stay-at-home professionals will eventually decide to reenter the traditional world of work. When they do, it’s important to provide the right description of their home front stint on their resume.
Some career counselors believe that breaks in traditional employment should be camouflaged on a resume. The thinking here, of course, is that employers will consider such “interruptions” in your career to be a disqualifying factor for employment. They will assume that you are not up-to-date in your profession, craft or trade and that you have lost touch with the key issues in your industry. To prevent such conclusions, therefore, these counselors suggest that you omit dates of employment altogether from your resume or use broad enough time bands to conceal your absence from the workforce.
The truth, however, is that hiding a break in employment on a resume does not keep an employer from discovering it. In most organizations today, the interviewing process is going to probe your background in detail and will almost certainly uncover the time you spent at home. Then, you will be in the position of having to explain why that information was not on your resume. Recruiters and hiring managers will begin to wonder if you have something to hide. Was your absence from the workforce based on a personal or professional decision or was it caused by a jail sentence, an illness or something else even worse?
My advice, therefore, is that you include the period at home on your resume and that describe it just as you would every other employment situation. You were working, after all, just not in the office. Indeed, the vast majority of recruiters and hiring managers relate just as well to the work that’s done in the family as they do to work performed in the office. They know something about the challenges that are faced and the effort that is required to care for children and manage a household. Therefore, it’s not only appropriate that you should acknowledge your time in the home, but that you should also provide an appropriate description of the work you performed there.
What is an appropriate description? I don’t think you should itemize the daily chores on your resume. On the other hand, I do think you should list anything that might demonstrate skills, knowledge and attributes that would stand you in good stead when working for an employer. For example:
The goal is not to make your time spent at home sound as if you were in the office, but rather, to demonstrate that, on top of all of the other responsibilities you had as a primary care-giver, you also kept yourself “office ready.” Now, there are two points that should be made here:
“Interruptions” in your career are only truly interruptions if you did nothing during them. Working at home is just as much a job as working in the office (and a large and growing number of our associates in the world of work recognize that). Indeed, I believe it is a noble and worthwhile occupation that should be proudly displayed on your resume. Admittedly, it does not keep you at the cutting edge in your profession, craft or trade, but you can take steps to address that situation. And, if you describe those steps with candor and confidence, you are likely to distinguish yourself as a candidate and put yourself ahead in the race for a great job.
Research has always been a key element of any successful job search campaign, and the Internet is a dream source of employment-related information. There’s both good news and bad news when it comes to conducting research online, however. The good news is that the Internet is rich in easily accessed and helpful information. The bad news is that so much information is at our fingertips, it’s hard to know what to focus on.
How can you organize your online research to make sure that it generates the information you need to find a new or better job? Recent studies suggest that you should concentrate on two key areas:
Despite urban legends to the contrary, an astonishing number of Internet job applicants actually get an interview. The only way to capitalize on that happy outcome, however, is to be well prepared. Your preparation should include acquiring information about both the organization with which you will be interviewing and your current “value” in the labor market. The more you know about the employer, the better able you will be to assess its fit with your goals and preferences. And, the more you know about the salary and benefits currently being offered to others with your skills and experience, the better able you will be to negotiate an appropriate compensation package for yourself, should the organization follow up the interview with an offer.
The Internet has many sources of information about employers. They range from simple descriptions of an organization’s industry, product or service lines, executives, facility locations, stock price and recent news releases to much more detailed assessments of its financial stability and subjective assessments of its culture and practices.
The more prepared you are for an interview, the more likely it is to go well. That being the case, it only makes good sense to be equally as ready to discuss an offer. Happily, there is also a great deal of salary-related information available on the Web.
As in the real world, research on the Internet can be time-consuming and marginally helpful or it can be efficient and very productive. To make sure that your research pays off, focus on acquiring information that will help you interview effectively with prospective employers and secure a compensation package that reflects your true “value” in the labor market.
This column is the second in a two-part series dealing with how to use the Internet for employment-related research. There is an almost overwhelming array of information available online, so it's best to focus your research on key areas where it will help you the most. Recent surveys suggest that two such areas are interview preparation and networking. The first dealt with conducting research on an organization with which you have an upcoming interview; this column will explore the research you can do online to expand the reach and the effectiveness of your networking.
Networking has never been more important and potentially more useful than it is today. Making contact with friends and colleagues has long been recognized as a vital part of any job search campaign, and the Internet dramatically increases the number of people you can reach and the speed with which you connect with them. The key is to use the research resources available online to locate people with whom you have lost touch and to reinvigorate those relationships.
Most of us have college classmates, former associates at work, and friends from professional organizations with whom we are no longer in touch. These contacts can help you open the door at more employers, introduce you to a new circle of hiring managers, and acquaint you with individuals who have special insights on or knowledge of the job market. Equally as important, they are also inclined to be helpful to you because of your prior relationship.
How can you track down these former friends and colleagues on the Web?
To reach a former college classmate or roommate, check the alumni association site of your alma mater. If you're not sure of its Web-site address, search the college and university directories at:
To reach a former friend or colleague who once shared your interest in a particular hobby or activity, check newsgroups (which are nothing more than online discussion areas) and the homepages of virtual communities that might have online discussion forums on that topic.
Finally, a word of caution: Once, you've located a former friend or colleague's contact information, make sure that you re-connect with them carefully. Although you may remember them well, it's possible that their memory of you might have faded a bit. So, begin by reminding them of your previous relationship, and then, be short, polite and to the point:
As in the real world, networking online can be an effective way to increase your visibility in the job market and your awareness of interesting employment opportunities. Best of all, the research resources available on the Internet enable you to expand your "address book" of contacts exponentially and, as a consequence, power up the effectiveness of your networking.
As many of you know, Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World is Flat has occupied the top spot on The New York Times best seller list for several months now. In it, he recounts a discussion he had with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates about what Gates calls the “ovarian lottery.” Gates describes it this way: Thirty years ago, if you had a choice of being born a genius in Shanghai or an average worker in Poughkeepsie, the rational person would have chosen the small town in New York. Why? Because even a worker of average capabilities would have had a better life in Poughkeepsie than the most brilliant person living in China’s leading center of commerce.
Thirty years ago, the rules of the game were clear and well understood by everyone. In fact, there were just two:
If you played by those rules, you could expect to enjoy decent employment compensation and genuine employment security for the whole of your career. As a consequence, you would be able to have all of the trappings of the American Dream. You could afford to buy a home, drive a late model car, eat out occasionally, take a vacation every year, and still have a little left over for a Valentine’s Day gift.
This good living was available to the best and brightest among us, and in the United States of America at least, it was also within the budget of the average guy or gal. To put it another way, you could enjoy the highest standard of living on earth, while producing an average level of work. Whether your “C” level performance was a matter of inherent capability or personal choice, you could count on being able to find an employer willing to hire you and a job with a decent paycheck. It was the best of times … and it ended in 2000.
By then, several factors had begun to change the World of work forever:
As a result, if you had a choice between being born a genius in Shanghai and an average worker in Poughkeepsie today, the rational person would opt for Shanghai every time. Does that mean we are destined for a dramatic decline in the American standard of living? I don’t think so. It does mean, however, that we are destined for a dramatic change in the way we work in order to achieve that standard of living. We can no longer deliver mediocre work or work for employers or in industries that produce mediocre products and services and expect to earn a paycheck that will support the highest standard of living on the planet. The rest of the world is now competing for what we have, and they’ve changed the rules of the game in the process. To put it another way, the competition has made the average or “C” level performer obsolete.
If you want to enjoy the American Dream, you have to adapt to the World’s new rules. Working hard and being loyal to your employer will no longer ensure your ability to find an organization that will hire you and a job with a decent paycheck. Instead, you have to:
These are the new dynamics of a successful career, whether you live in Poughkeepsie, New York or Pomona, California.
The sole source of success in a highly competitive World is performance. It is the key to both decent compensation and genuine employment security. We have to be at the top of our game, and we have to play for winners. It’s our individual responsibility (not our employer’s) to ensure that:
Be loyal to yourself If success were enough to guarantee happiness at work, then working smart would be all that’s required of us. Happiness in our workday, however, is built with both on-the-job success and from-the-heart accomplishment. It requires that we be the best we can be in a role that engages and fulfills us. In other words, we must not only do good at work, but we must do what we believe is good work. And the only way to achieve that goal is to be loyal to ourselves. Self loyalty means that:
Whether the World is flat or not, it is certainly a more competitive place. We cannot survive in this environment by holding ourselves above the contest or by wishing it will go away. No, the only way to endure in this new World of work is to win, and the only way to win is to be better than the other guy or gal wherever they may live.
If you’ve done everything you should, and nothing has happened. If you’ve conducted research on employers in your area, written an up-to-date resume, networked with colleagues and friends, and replied to the openings for which you’re qualified, and still all you hear is silence, then it’s time to reinforce your job search. Sure, it’s frustrating and dispiriting, but the situation can be improved if you take action. In fact, the one course you must avoid is simply to continue doing the same old things over and over again. If you’ve given the standard methods your best effort and they aren’t working, then you have to adopt a new approach. Think of it as a power bar for your job search.
This “pick-you-up” has just six steps. It’s important that you do them all. Don’t cherry pick the steps you like and ignore the rest. Do every one, even those that may push you a bit out of your comfort zone. That’s how this new approach works. It energizes your job search by sharpening strengths you already have but are not using effectively and adding new capabilities that will enhance your position in the job market. They’re all essential, however, if you want to hear something other than silence. The six steps follow.
Don’t get overconfident.
Modernize your networking.
Where and how do you do it? By joining the discussion forums that are available on sites operated by your professional association, your alumni organization and/or affinity group (e.g., sites for veterans, women in technology, African-Americans in finance). Limit your time investment to no more than 30 minutes a day, but do participate. The Golden Rule of Networking is the same online as it is in the real world: you have to give, in order to get. Share your knowledge and experience with others so they will be inclined to share theirs (and the jobs they know about) with you.
Stop using a generic resume.
Tailoring a resume to each opening for which you apply obviously takes time, so adopting this approach necessitates another change in your job search strategy. In essence, it forces you to abandon the scatter-shot method of application—applying for any opening where you are even partially qualified—and replace it with a more focused strategy in which you limit your efforts to those opportunities where you are truly competitive and most likely to be engaged by the work involved.
Start making better use of job boards.
Habits can be good for you. As Stephen Covey pointed out in his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the right behavior patterns can propel you to great success. Unfortunately, however, there’s also a dark side to habits. Habits can be good, and they can be bad. And, the wrong behavior patterns can constrain your opportunities and, ultimately, derail your advancement in the world of work. What are the bad habits of online job search? With a nod to Dr. Covey, I think there are seven.
I call them The 7 Bad Habits of Ineffective Job Seekers. They are:
As is readily apparent, bad habits are all about limitations. These self-imposed constraints curtail the jobs you see, the impression you make, and the opportunities you’re offered in the job market. Let’s look at them in more detail so you can be sure to avoid them.
Habit #1: Limiting the time and effort you invest in your job search
Habit #2: Limiting the research you do to plan your search campaign
Habit #3: Limiting your search to a handful of the same job boards
Habit #4: Limiting your application to clicking on the Submit button
Habit #5: Limiting your use of the Internet to reading job postings
Habit #6: Limiting the care you take with your communications
Habit #7: Limiting the preparation you do for employer interactions