Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to Do When You've Run Off Into a Career Ditch


If I could leave you with one thought today, it would be this: You are a work in progress.

Rather you're trying to get a job, starting a new career, in mid-career, or thinking about retiring, you can never write the ending to your story. Because once you do, you lose sight of what you've accomplished and enthusiasm for what is still out there.

I see job seekers become demoralized when someone asks them, "So, what do you do?" They stammer around and then say something like, "Well, I used to be a pilot for a major airline, but I got laid off. And now there are no jobs and no one wants to hire me."

Or, I see people in mid-career who believe in this bad job market they are "stuck" in jobs that cause them to lose sleep and snap at their kids when they get home at night. Even those nearing retirement are sometimes on auto-pilot in the later days of their career, believing there's nothing new for them to learn, no new paths waiting to be explored.

Even some college graduates who can't get a job have lost confidence in their abilities, believing they have nothing special to offer employers.

To all of you I say: Don't write yourself off yet.

If you're a college graduate, it wasn't a piece of cake to get that degree was it? If you were a pilot, didn't it take thousands of hours of training and self-discipline to fly a plane? If you're mid-career, you didn't walk in off the street and get that job, did you?

Look at your past. Think back to what it felt like when you failed, and what you did to recover. Think about what it felt like when you succeeded -- what did it take for you to achieve that goal? Those are all abilities that are unique to you. No one else did exactly what you did in the same way.

What would your life have been like if you'd never had those experiences, those chapters in your life? That's how you need to look at your career: as chapters to be written, as a work that will progress with time.

Don't ever think your skills and abilities aren't worth telling others about, and that you don't have something worthwhile to offer. Once you show others you're ready to reach for the next experience with enthusiasm, they'll be more interested in helping you so they can see how the story turns out.

How do you keep yourself enthused about your career or job hunt?




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Thursday, February 5, 2009

When "What Do You Do?" Makes You Want to Punch Something


"So, what do you do?"

While this seems like a fairly harmless question, if you're unemployed, it can have the impact of a freight train.

"Well, right now," you respond, "I'm laid off."

"Oh."

(Sound of crickets chirping.)

It's tough to lose a job. Your work has probably been a big part of who you are and may even color how you see the world. When you don't have that any more, you may begin to question where you fit in. You're confused, angry and depressed. You may begin to withdraw into yourself at the very time you need to be out there at every opportunity.

You don't want people giving you those pitying looks, those guilty glances that you're unemployed and they're not. You're sick to death of people asking you "what you do" and have begun to reply with some rather, er, forthright answers.

"Well, I sit home all day sending out resumes to evil trolls who won't even return a phone call, and then I watch Ellen and Oprah, to make sure I'm up on all the celebrity news before settling in to surf the Internet for endless hours while eating an entire bag of out-of-date Cheetos I bought at the dollar store. And you?"

OK. It's time to get a handle on how to interact with people now that your circumstances have changed. No one expects you to wear a big "J" (for jobless) on your forehead, so stop expecting it of yourself . Remember: Even without a job, you're still you. You're still valuable. You're still worth getting to know.

It's time to:

1. Gird your loins. People can't help but ask "What do you do?" when meeting for the first time. It's human nature, so get used to it. But you don't have to be snarky, or pitiful or embarrassed. They're also going to ask you how your job search is going once they know you're looking for work. Be honest, be positive and be confident. Remember: Most jobs are still achieved through personal contacts. The guy at the cocktail party or the woman you meet at your son's pre-school may be just the key person you need to know to get an interview or promising lead on a job.

2. Seize the day. When you tell someone you just got laid off, an awkward silence can follow. Once you make the statement, someone will feel compelled to say, "Oh, sorry," and then the pity party starts. Jump in before that happens and say something instead like: "I'm a financial adviser but unfortunately just got laid off because of deteriorating market conditions. I'm taking the time to think about what I want to do next. What is it you do?" The key here is that you show you've got talents and you're carefully deciding what to do with them -- and the person is immediately reassured you're not going to start bawling into your martini.

3. Keep your antenna up. When you're depressed and angry, you're not really thinking straight. You're more focused on your emotions rather than on information that might be helpful. So, once you've got your story down pat about your circumstances, then turn the focus back on the other person. Find out not only what they do, but how they do it. There might just be a nugget of information that you can use to help you find a job or land a useful contact. Being seen as professional and able to handle adversity with aplomb will make a lasting impression on those you meet -- and that can also be very helpful to your job search.

4. Get people talking. It's ridiculous in these tough times to try and hide the fact you're unemployed and looking for work. Tell everyone. Network like crazy: "I'm looking for work and I'd like to send you my resume and give you my contact information, and please feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested." Give a brief rundown of your top skills, some "highlights" they can use to promote you to others.

5. Send yourself to "me" school. Instead of visiting gossip sites and playing games online all day, figure out what skills you'd like to improve. Teach yourself more about building a website, or start a blog that shows off your skills. Volunteer at a charity that can teach you about community outreach and help you network with others. Check out books at the library that teach you how to be better organized, how to give a better presentation or how to improve your writing skills. These are all positive steps that will not only help you feel better about yourself, but help you when that job does come along.

What are some other coping strategies when you're unemployed?


Lijit Search

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview



"Hello?"

"Mr. Jones? This is Mr. Smith from Acme, calling for our telephone interview?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. Can you hang on a sec?"

"Sure."

(A toilet flushes.)

"Whew! OK, much better. Wassup? Mr. Smith...you there?"

"Uh, yes, I'm here. Now, Mr. Jones, I'd like to ask you about your work experience."

"Sure....prob....lots of..."

"Mr. Jones? Are you there? I seem to be losing you."

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that. My cell phone reception is lousy in this part of the city."

"OK, well, let's move on to what you believe your strengths to be for this job."

"I'll take a dozen chocolate with a large coffee to go."

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

"What? Oh, I'm not talking to you." (Chuckling) "Just ordering some breakfast. Did you say something?"

"Mr. Jones, perhaps this isn't the best time for an interview. You seem to be busy."

"Mmhhmph?" (Slurping sounds) "No, no, now is fine. I really am interested in this job. Go head."

"Thank you Mr. Jones. I believe I will -- go."

Phone disconnects.

Welcome to the world of telephone interviewing. It's how many employees make their initial contact with an employer -- and how many of them lose that contact forever.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the phone as a journalist, and I've been on the other end as I was interviewed over the phone for magazines, newspapers, radio and television. And one thing I know for sure: Giving a good telephone interview takes work.

Why? Because for most people, talking on the phone is as natural as breathing. They don't think much about it. But a telephone interview is so different in so many ways, I think it's a good idea to review proper telephone interview techniques:

1. Avoid cell phones. I don't care if it's the only phone you have, find a land line to do an interview. Low batteries, bad reception, weird feedback, etc. from a cell phone all disrupt the natural flow of a conversation, making the interview an endurance test for the hiring manager. Trust me, it's exhausting trying to interview someone and take notes with these problems, and I've never done a cellphone interview without such problems. At the same time, try not to use a headset (often has the same problems as a cellphone, including an echo chamber effect), and don't use the speaker phone.

2. Get rid of background noise. Lock yourself away in a quiet space to do a phone interview. That means no crying or noisy children should be in the background, or a barking dog, loud music, sounds of a toilet flushing, you scarfing down food, chewing gum, etc. You want the interviewer focused only on you, not the sound of you washing dishes or tapping computer keys as you Twitter while you interview -- or blaring your horn as you drive. Turn off your email so it doesn't distract you or give a "ping!" that the interviewer will hear. Also, don't forget to disable the "call waiting" feature on your phone. (Check with your local carrier for the code.)

3. Stand up. Your voice will emerge much more energized and confident. It's OK to sit down when listening to the interviewer, and will also make it easier for you to take notes.

4. Be prepared. As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research the employer and the industry so that you can contribute meaningful comments. But with a phone interview, you also can research where the hiring manager is located. Are they having snow in that area? Did a local college just win a major championship? Does the interviewer belong to an organization where you participate? These are all "pleasantries" you can mention since you won't really be able to win over the interviewer with positive body language or a firm handshake.

5. Listen to how stupid you sound. Before you do a phone interview, tape record a "practice" interview with a friend or family member. You'll be embarrassed, trust me. Your voice will either sound squeaky or weird, and you'll say "like" and "you know" too much. You'll cough into the phone instead of covering the mouthpiece, and your laugh will sound like you're snorting drugs. These are all things you can work on and find a way to present a more professional voice and demeanor over the phone. If you're saying "uh" too much, you need to practice your answers more so that you can say them smoothly (just don't read them from your notes). If you talk too fast, move your hand when you talk -- this helps even out your breathing and slows your speech.

6. Don't worry about filling in silences. The interviewer may be taking notes, so avoid blabbing nonstop. It's often difficult to know what's going on when you can't see the other person, but it's important you give your answer and then shut up. Motormouths have a bad habit of digging themselves a hole during phone interviews. And never interrupt the interviewer, no matter how excited you are.

7. Follow up. After a phone interview, you can send a thank-you e-mail, but also send a personal note via regular mail. Make sure before the interview ends that you have verified all the contact information, such as the correct spelling of the interviewer's name, the company address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and what the next step will be.

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?




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Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Survive When Your Company's Ship Sinks


Is there any more disturbing site than watching employees cart their belongings in a cardboard box out of a failed company?

As I watched Lehman Brothers' employees leave the building over the weekend, it reminded me of that awful scene of stunned workers leaving Enron after it went belly up.

One of the most difficult aspects of a large employer failing is that you suddenly have thousands of people in the same boat -- and not everyone will do as well as others. Some will never regain their earning power, some will fall into depressions so deep it will take them years to re-enter the job market with any real enthusiasm and others will simply drift away to less-than-desirable careers.

The key for any employee who is suddenly out of a job with hundreds of co-workers is speed. At this point, you can't afford to sit back and bitch about how unfair the world is and the employer misled you about how serious were the problems. Because while you're moaning and groaning, others are scrapping for available jobs.

You need to:

* Make a game plan. Write down what are your absolutes -- the things you must have in a job. If it's health insurance, living in a certain city, specific hours, etc., then you know not to waste time looking at jobs that don't meet those criteria.
* Rally the troops. Get together with family and friends and let them know the situation. Brainstorm about people they know who might be able to help you submit a resume or get an interview. Remember: Most people still get jobs based on who they know.
* Contact a career coach or alumni association. Many universities are already geared up to help those who have been hard hit on Wall Street. If you don't think you can afford a career coach, consider giving up some of the extras in your life (a gym membership, eating out, cable television, etc.) which can can help you pay for a coach.
* Don't immediately think "entrepreneur": Times are tough right now, for everyone. Starting a business may be a dream, but it may be wiser to put it on hold until they economy brightens.
* Pride goeth before the fall: Keep in mind that there are going to be potentially thousands of people looking for a job as this financial debacle unfolds, so you can't afford to let your ego get in the way of a potential job. Be realistic about what you can accept as a salary, and don't get caught up in a job title. Keep in mind that if you get a job offer, you can usually negotiate a bit on the salary and benefits.
* Be ready to get the hell out of Dodge. I know people who live in New York City are passionate about the place. They can't -- and don't -- want to imagine living anywhere else. But the truth is that you may have to consider other cities if you want to land another job. And, even if you have kids, they can adapt to a relocation easier than they can to losing their home if you don't have a job.

And finally, if you find yourself out of work, remember to be good to yourself. Surround yourself with positive thinkers, take care of your body with proper nourishment and rest, and do whatever sustains your soul, whether it's yoga, gardening or attending religious services. Do not hesitate to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. Most have been in -- or will someday be in -- your situation.

What other steps should someone take who has lost a job?



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