Don’t Panic #7 – Be Prepared to Network

Job hunting requires a modest amount of preparation. First things first, you need to get organized. Acknowledge your feelings about the transition from one job to the next. Assess your skills, interests, and goals. Establish a search strategy and develop measurable goals that will help you focus and stay motivated. Then get out there and meet people. It’s a process, but it’s manageable.

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#7 – Be Prepared to Network

Preparation begins with research. Look at employment trends, like where the “hot jobs” are. Seek out companies that match those trends and exist in your area. Most of that information is easily accessible online, in reports from major news sources. Target specific companies/industries that interest you. Don’t just look at big companies; consider the small, local business equivalents as well.

Job searching is competitive, but easy when you know how to go about it. The four main methods to effective searching are Networking, Recruiters, Advertisements, and Direct Company Contact. Networking is by far the best method to find a job, and you should focus more of your time on this strategy. The other methods have a lower success rate because everyone else uses the same channels. Be prepared to network and connect with people to find a good job.

Networking is by far the best method to find a job…

Employers like to hire someone they know personally, or through an employee reference, especially when a position is not publicly announced yet. Many jobs exist in what’s called a “hidden job market,” and many never get publicly announced. Don’t panic, you can access these jobs through networking. The strategy for you is to connect with people, ask questions, and gather information from them. Networking does not mean asking for a job. It’s a professional “give-and-take” process that leads to a mutually-beneficial relationship. The key is to grow your network until you expose available positions in the “hidden job market.” Keep them aware of your presence, and make an effort to network in person, rather than over email and phone. Eventually, you’ll meet someone who can put you right in the hands of a hiring manager.

Networking can be laid out in six steps: create a contact list, a target company/industry list, set up networking meetings, prepare, conduct, and follow-up those meetings. Aim for a couple dozen contacts initially. Look for people within your professional, social, and familial networks. Don’t filter anyone, and follow-up with everyone. Target the companies/industries you’re interested in, and use your networks to make a connection. Consider the people you already know, and consider any companies they work for (or with) that could use your talents. There may be people within those companies you want to meet. Do your research; check out annual reports, news articles, and websites. Use that information to develop a rapport with your business contacts.

Don’t filter anyone, and follow-up with everyone.

Setting up a networking meeting is easy. Half the time you won’t have to set them up – they exist already, and can be found through social media networks. Join them – it’s a great way to practice. You’ll first need to create a “Networking Profile” for your contacts (upon request) that will offer a concise outline of your qualifications. Title it as such, as not to be confused with a resume. Resumes are usually received as applications, and that can work against you when it comes to networking. A profile, although similar to a resume, doesn’t include details of your career history. It should clearly define your goals, as well as the companies you’re researching. It should include an overview (3-4 sentences), core competencies, accomplishments, target positions, and target companies. For more information about resumes, check out my earlier post, “Don’t Panic #6 – Sharpen Your Resume.”

With a prepared Networking Profile, you can show your contacts how they can help you. Start over the phone, confidently, and work towards an in-person meeting. Be persistent. Make your calls early in the day. Plan ahead with notes, and seek outcomes, like interviews, referrals, and answers to questions. If certain contacts are unavailable, try them back. Some have receptionists, and you must work with them to get through to your contact. Avoid leaving voicemails, and avoid leaving your number. Try to get the names of contacts with hiring authority, or the contacts in fields you’re interested in. Keep your target company list on hand, and refer to it during meetings. Contacts may know people at companies on your list. Draft a script so you know what to say. Ask questions, and create a rapport. Consider exploratory questions that create some dialogue. What do you want to accomplish?

Be persistent. Make your calls early in the day.

Ultimately, your referrals will either become a personal contact, a professional within your target company/industry, or a decision maker within your target company/industry. Keep your contacts updated on your progress, and send thank you letters shortly after meeting them. An effective networking strategy goes a long way in not only discovering and getting a job, but in developing relationships with professionals you’ll want to grow with.

Don’t Panic #6 – Sharpen Your Resume

Resumes are a tricky subject, but nonetheless essential in your job search. For anyone unfamiliar with what they are, you have some work to do. Essentially, it’s a summary of your career history. It’s the professional outline of your value in the workforce, and it has to be perfect. Don’t panic. With a little help, you can sharpen your resume enough to cut through the hundreds and thousands of other competing applicants. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#6 – Sharpen your Resume

Your resume should contain a Background Summary, your Education, your Employment History, Accomplishment Statements, and Core Skills that are relevant to the job(s) you’re applying for. Some optional sections may include an Objective Statement, Honors received, Professional Associations you belong to, and any Publications you’ve contributed to. Each section should aptly support your resume. If it’s not relevant to your job search, don’t include it.

Before you create your resume, you really should assess yours skills. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to check out my earlier post, “Don’t Panic #3 – Assess Your Skills,” to learn more about doing a self-assessment. This will help you identify the skills, needs, and values you want to focus on the most. It will also help you better address what employers are looking for.

Before you create your resume, you really should assess your skills.

Resumes come in three formats: chronological, functional, and hybrid. Each reflects your traits and skills in a particular way, so figure out what works best for you. Chronological resumes are good in most cases, since employers usually want to see what your most recent job was. It also helps when you’re last job relates to the positions you’re applying for. Functional resumes highlight your skills and areas of expertise; it lists your achievements by category at the top and summarizes your employment history at the bottom. It’s particularly good for those trying to change career paths. A hybrid, in essence, is a combination of the two.

Background summaries set the tone for your resume. It’s a statement about you, your professional areas of expertise, as well as your knowledge, strengths, and attributes. Whatever follows in your resume will simply enhance what you put in the summary. An example would start by saying something like “Project coordinator with seven years experience in fast-paced environments…” What follows should highlight your marketable skills. Sell yourself, enough to get the attention of readers.

Background summaries set the tone for your resume.

Your education and employment history are straight forward statements. Education statements should include your highest degree earned, your major, the school, and location. Employment histories should include your title, the employer, the location, and the dates of employment. Keep it clean and simple. Capitalize the company names and educational institutions to add visual appeal.

Accomplishment statements are critical components of your resume. They indicate your abilities, and give employers an idea of what you can do for them. Describe instances when you made a difference for previous employers. Don’t panic – start by brainstorming. What did you do in your previous jobs? How did you add value? What challenges did you overcome? Address a problem, explain your action, and highlight the result – that’s an accomplishment statement. When possible, quantify your results.

Address a problem, explain your action, and highlight the result – that’s an accomplishment statement.

Core skills, in my opinion, belong just after your Background Summary. While statements work, I found that listing your skills with bullets is easier on the eyes.

Sample skills may include:

  • MS Office Suite
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Data Processing
  • Customer Service
  • Content Development
  • Search Engine Optimization

Be as specific as possible, and be honest with yourself. Limit your skills to between six and eight to save space. Whatever you end up adding, ensure they belong in your “core” set of competencies. Employers look at these, and may ask you to demonstrate or explain them.

Outstanding resumes are visually appealing. They’re also concise, unless there’s a need to expand on optional sections. Follow up on each job description with a couple accomplishments, and begin them with action verbs. Avoid flare, embrace white space, and keep things in the third person. Also, when it comes to saving it, Word Documents and PDF files are the preferred file formats. When applying to jobs online, you may have to copy/paste your resume into a textbox, so I recommend reviewing it in a textbox before submitting it. What you see, they’ll see.

Review it in a textbox before submitting it. What you see, they’ll see.

Don’t Panic #5 – Take What’s Available

If you’re unemployed, and you’ve been out of work for more than three months, you should start considering temporary (short-term) job opportunities. Even if it’s not your ideal profession, you need to get back to work. The job market is competitive, and your best strategy is to simply take what’s available now. In time, you’ll find the right role for you.

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#5 – Take What’s Available

It’s a hard known fact that people out of work begin to lose their technical skills over time. The remedy is to simply get back to work, and while that may imply taking a role less than perfect, your mantra should be “work while you look.” Hiring managers, recruiters, and staffing consultants agree that a professional background without breaks looks more appealing than one with; unless of course you can justify it (i.e. I went traveling for a couple months). No matter what your desired career path is, you can find the right job while working elsewhere temporarily.

Work while you look.

Temporary employment opportunities are extremely popular right now. Companies are interested in “trying before you buy” additional staff, and the unemployed should embrace this. Don’t panic – there’s no guilt when after one month of employment, you decide to take a better offer elsewhere. Companies anticipate that, and if you’re worth holding onto, they’ll extend an offer, and you can leverage that to negotiate a better salary. Until then, take what’s available, earn a steady income, and get a feel for the industries you’re interested in.

Temporary employment opportunities are extremely popular right now.

People grow comfortable with jobs that pay well. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for you. Getting that perfect job requires a personal strategy that involves assessing yourself, networking with people involved in what you’re looking for, and communicating your interest with tactful persistence. While you may have to spend months to accomplish this, you’re better off working while you move forward. It shows initiative, motivation, and a genuine interest that employers like to see. Don’t give up on your ideal job, but don’t auto-pass on what’s available either.

Don’t Panic #4 – Develop Good Habits

Unemployment is a phase, like a lot of things. It’s also a test of one’s ability to manage without the comforts we’re used to, like smoking, drinking, going out for dinner, and buying Whole Foods by the pound, to name a few. When you’re unemployed, you have to pinch pennies like it’s your job. In fact, it is your job. Your job, besides finding a new job, is to limit your expenses, and preserve your health and financial stability at the same time. Habits, while lovely and comfortable, are the first things to scrutinize.

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#4 – Develop Good Habits

Again, step back and examine what you spend your money on. You have bills, like rent, utilities, groceries, phone plans, television, internet, maybe even student loans. Before we go any further, if you have student loans, contact the Department of Education or your lender and file for a “student loan deferment”. You can do this online. You’ll likely qualify, and you’re monthly payments will decrease significantly until you get back on your feet. Deferment options exist for other loans as well, so look for every opportunity, unless of course you owe money to a loan shark.

If you have student loans… file for a student loan deferment.

There’s no better way to cut a habit than to simply not have money to afford it. Embrace that idea, even if you have $10 in your pocket and you could really use a cup of coffee. As far as food goes, you should make all your purchases at a supermarket. Buy only what you need to survive, and milk them for as long as possible. Consider bulk items that go a long way. Exchange certain products for generic store brands to save money. Stay away from ready-made, processed foods, because in the grand scheme of things, you’re buying less for more. A bag of rice lasts longer than a loaf of bread. And did you know how inexpensive fruits and vegetables are?

There’s no better way to cut a habit than to simply not have money to afford it.

If you barely have enough money to get by, you need to take more drastic actions. Discontinue certain services, like television and club memberships. Keep your internet access alive so you can apply for jobs, or better yet, negotiate a way to share wireless access with a neighbor. Internet is crucial to stay connected to the job market.

For some, it’s difficult to cut certain habits, like drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. It’s tough, I know. Those of you that have a dependency issue are the ones with a fight to win. If necessary, ask for help. Losing is not an option. I’ve seen what happens to people who lose that fight, and nobody wants to be in that position. Winning will be one of the greatest achievements of your life. And then consider all the money you’ll save!

If necessary, ask for help. Losing is not an option.

Don’t panic. Cutting certain habits like this will help you learn a lot about yourself. It will also help you create new habits that improve your physical, mental, and financial health, all of which are at the top of your list of priorities.

Don’t Panic #3 – Assess Your Skills

It shouldn’t surprise you that my “series” so far speaks little of actual job searching. The truth is, searching for a job should be the last step to take. At this juncture, you need to have an open mind, a clear and organized perspective, and a renewed sense of confidence in your abilities. Unemployment knows all ages, all genders, and all races. No matter how long you’ve worked (if at all), you have developed skills that define you. Whether it’s a knack for numbers or a technical craft, you have interests and hobbies that translate into a profession you can truly belong.

Don’t Panic – A Working-Class Guide to Employment

#3 – Assess Your Skills

Your skills are divided into three categories: personal, functional, and technical.

Personal skills are inherent characteristics that go with us to any job we take.

Functional skills relate to how well we work with people, ideas, information, and things.

Technical skills are specialized practices, usually learned on the job or in school.

To start, take an objective look at yourself. What strengths do you have for sale? What kinds of work values are important to you? What do you need in a new career? What are your personal, functional, and technical skills? Professional staffing associates across the world create extensive lists of keywords that help you answer these questions. Here’s a sample list of commonly used keyword associations to give you an idea of what those look like.

Take an objective look at yourself.

Of the countless keywords that may come to mind, implement filters in your judgment to create a strong and definitive set of skills to market yourself with. When done, ask yourself, how have these skills contributed to my success in the past? Which skills should I work on to be competitive in the workforce? How can I improve these skills?

Create a strong and definitive set of skills to market yourself with.

The key is to have between five and eight keywords per category that you can own as “marketable” skills, values, and needs in the workforce.

There are many benefits to completing a self-assessment:

  • It helps you be honest with yourself.
  • It leads to a well organized resume.
  • It prepares you for interviews (that address your strengths, skills, goals and achievements).
  • It allows you reflect on your previous career (in ways that help you make better decisions in the future).
  • It will give you a sense of direction; targeting industries and jobs that are most desirable to you and your abilities.
  • It will put a value on your skills in the current job market; possibly exposing weaknesses to work on.
  • It will give you confidence to find the right job.

Don’t panic. This does sound easier said than done, but having done one myself, I can say it’s incredibly beneficial to your future. Like a lot of things, it’s all about confidence. Become aware of your talents and contributions in the professional world, and use them, now.