Look for a Job over that Hill

Last week, I had coffee with a former colleague who is about to head into a transition.  She has been with her company for a long time and after some ugly corporate changes, they have decided to part ways.  She is very savvy and got good advice along the way.  She has a nice cushion in place.

I asked her what she was planning to do.

“What do you mean?” she said.” I am going to look for a job.”

While it is true that looking for a job is a full time job, it cannot be the only thing you do.  You will not get enough positive feedback and stimulation to keep yourself on the straight and narrow.

Sure, the first week or so is fun.  You can sleep in and catch up on Netflix without feeling (too) guilty.  You can do the laundry during the day instead of a midnight.  But that novelty wears off pretty quickly.

She is the sort of person who holds herself highly accountable and has always had one or two big, hairy, audacious goals in the back of her mind.  She is a driver.

I suggested that she think about climbing Kilimanjaro.  She looked at me like I had two heads.

I think there is value to working on something big and personal when you are in a job search.  It can give you a real sense of accomplishment when other things in your life are not delivering that feeling.

It also gives you something really meaty to talk about while you are networking.  If you are in casual conversation and mention that you are training for a marathon or learning to sail or hiking the Bruce Trail, you will see people’s eyebrows go up.  It is impressive in that it shows discipline and the desire to continue to do things while you are between jobs.

Should she spend most of her time looking for her next role?  Of course.  Can she swap out the time she spend commuting for something big and personal?  You bet.

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Portfolios – Not Just for Creative Types

It is pretty common for creative types to bring a portfolio of work samples to an interview. Little known fact: it can be very useful for many other positions too.

All the stuff that you have been saving in a file folder in your desk or inbox now has a use. Organize it into a nice zippered binder with those neat plastic page protectors and some dividers. It does not have to be any fancier than that.

Things to include:
• Resume
• Degrees, certificates
• Awards, accolades
• Course curricula
• Presentations
• Community recognition
• Complimentary emails/letters
• Newsletters/articles that mention you/your product or service
• Performance reviews

Just the act of putting together a portfolio can be very constructive. Think about making a scrapbook of your career and how useful it would be, especially if you are in transition or think you would like to be in transition.

Your career portfolio will serve two purposes:
• when your work feels pointless, it will remind you of your successes
• when you go to an interview and the hiring manager says “Tell me about yourself”, you can pull it out and give a concrete illustration of your successes to date. You will also look very organized and confident.

There is one more added benefit. You now have a place to store future “career souvenirs” – your portfolio. When someone next invites you to come and explore a new opportunity, you just add the new material and you will be fresh and ready for a successful career conversation.

This a great project for this coming long weekend.  It a perfect way to procrastinate yard work or spring cleaning and still feel pretty good about things.

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Keep Your Enemies Close and Your References Closer

If someone offered you a job tomorrow and asked for a couple of references, would you be ready?

Do you have a handful of people who have not only worked with you but are willing to verify that you are, in fact, pretty good at what you do?

You should.

It does not matter whether you graduated a year ago or 20 years ago, you need to maintain relationships with enough colleagues and managers who will step up and be willing to answer a few questions.

References are more tricky than they used to be.  Many companies will not officially provide references anymore.  They might verify your employment dates and title but not much more.

Frankly, that’s not really what a hiring manger wants to know.  They want some comfort that the good things they see in you are really there.  They want to know that you are consistent, helpful and generally a solid person to add to their team.

Most employers are pretty comfortable sussing out technical skills.   They can recognize when someone is trying to bullshit their way into a positon.

Most of the time, you will need to provide two or three references and at least one should be a manager.  You can use people who have left the company, or people at a company where you used to work.  You can also use someone who has worked with you in a volunteer capacity.

You cannot use friends, relatives or neighbours.  Not ever.

So stay in touch with folks.  Use LinkedIn to keep track of people.  Support people who have been outplaced.  Make sure to shake hands and reconnect at conferences.

Keep those relationships warm – you never know when you might need them.

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Giving Notice – The Right Way

You are beside yourself with glee.  You have just accepted a fantastic new job.  It checks all the boxes: people, scope, location and money.  Yippee!

What to do next?

It is important to plan your next steps with care and respect.  Leaving a job nicely is a pretty big part of managing your career and your reputation.

Think about how much notice you need to provide to your current employer.  Check your employment agreement.  Many stipulate two or three weeks.  You may think you are being magnanimous by offering four weeks but in most cases, it is not necessary.

Then, write a letter of resignation.  Make it formal but friendly.  Thank your manager for providing such a great opportunity to learn and grow.  Lay out the details of your last day and offer to do anything they need for a smooth transition.

Be prepared for anything and everything when you sit down and hand over the letter.  Managers do not like it when someone resigns.  It catches them by surprise and then they look bad to their bosses.  That’s where counter offers come in to play.

When faced with an unplanned gap in the team, suddenly there is more money to give you.  Maybe they really were thinking of promoting you but the fact is, they didn’t and you have chosen to go somewhere else.

Be firm and resolute.  Think about (but don’t share) all the reasons you are going to a new and better place.

Once the initial shock wears off, they will figure out who will take over your tasks and life will go on.  That’s why a couple of weeks is almost always fine. It’s not like you can get involved in long term planning.  You also get left out of a lot of conversations that might be proprietary.  No one wants to feel like their secrets might be walking out the door.

So you go.  Your colleagues and managers will wish you well and hopefully, some of them will buy you a beer and some nachos and wish you the best.

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Need to Refresh? Take a Course

It’s spring and even though things seem almost out-of-control busy, I am going to sign up for a course.  I have not decided what the topic will be but I am going to do it.

I am doing it for three reasons. 

  • One of my new year’s resolutions was to learn more.
  • Fitting something in to my schedule will force me to use my time better.
  • I will meet new people.

Pretty powerful stuff right?

There are so many options for learning.  I can go to my local YMCA or community college.  I can talk with friends and colleagues.  I can also check out LinkedIn Learning.  The site offers a ton of different choices.  You don’t have to take a course on the site; you can just use it for ideas and then find the material delivered in person in your community.

I have not decided if I will learn something for my business life or my personal life.  In the end, I don’t think it will matter.  The act of doing something new will impact both parts of my routine.

Say I learn to make a soufflé.  I will invite friends over and they will be really impressed with my new culinary skills.  I will come to work the next day with a new found confidence and generally feeling pretty good about myself.  That will make me more effective in my job.

But if I learn how to ask better interview questions, that will be good too.  I will be able to put forward better quality candidates and my clients will be happier.  I will go home feeling positive and that will make dinner with my family more fun.

So, it doesn’t really matter what I decide to learn.  The important thing is to sign up and see it through.  What will you learn this spring?

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How to Talk Salary with a Recruiter

No one likes to talk about salary. It has this mystical kind of voodoo quality. No one wants to give the wrong answer. It seems to be steeped in mystery.

It is really not that complicated. Money is just one of the things that have to align for you to be considered a “fit”. If you are already making $100,000 more than the position pays, then the fit is not there. If you were way below the salary range in your last job, that does not fit either.

But this is not entirely about the money. It’s also about the risk and the culture.

Say you absolutely love a role so much that you would take a serious haircut to have it on your resume. This can work where you are taking a right hand turn on your career path. If you had been a corporate lawyer and you wanted to leave that world to do more human focused work with a better life balance then this would be credible and might be considered.

But here’s the risk: six months in, when the honeymoon is over and you have a bad day, you are really going to feel that haircut and suddenly, your job will not seem as great as it did before. You will be ripe for the picking by people like me.

Here’s the other thing to consider: not all managers can handle it if one of their team members made more than they did in their last role. It can create all kinds of negative vibes and really mess up a team.

So when money is the topic be candid and clear about what you are used to and what you are looking for. Don’t try to get away with “Oh, it doesn’t matter” or “We can discuss it at an alternate time”. There is nothing worse than falling in love with an opportunity only to have the whole thing fall apart at the end because the salary is not appropriate for you.

So spill the beans. It’s the only way they can be counted.

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You want to be a what?

Spring is just around the corner and whether you are about to graduate or just itchy for change, there are many new and emerging roles and even, industries to explore. 

Gone are the days where a job with IBM or a bank or the government meant you were set for life. Those institutions may have good pensions but that’s about it. The concept of a “job for life” no longer exists. Even if you have been with.a company for a long time, there are no guarantees.

So, let’s put that idea aside. For good. That gives us the freedom to explore all kinds of different options. And there are lots of options. We just have to throw away the blinders that cause us to ignore or dismiss jobs seem unfamiliar or could be short lived.

I toured a bread factory this week. It was fascinating. The company has invested $10 million in new equipment. There are new mixers and a flour transport line and five kilometers of conveyors. Think of how many people were involved in designing, manufacturing and installing all that equipment. Not to mention the number of people it takes to develop recipes for clients and actually make the bread. (Turns out those pretzels buns we love are quite the challenge to make!)

Or consider the nuclear industry. Ontario Power Generation is refurbishing the four reactors at the Darlington station and the mega project is expected to take 112 months. That’s a long time and will involve not just engineers and trades people (although there are millions of hours of those skills needed). They will need analysts, and accountants and public relations folks and they might even need a sandwich or two as well.

Which brings us back to bread……

Don’t be afraid to explore opportunities that you have not considered. There are so many things happening so quickly that it really is up to each of us to explore, discover and research the big possibilities for our careers.    

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