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Job Search: CREATIVITY, CLARITY, COMPETENCE & CONTACTS

by Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant, ExecSearches.com

Every crisis holds opportunities for those who can see the "silver lining" in the clouds.  The current market is no exception to this rule.  It holds opportunities for strategic, informed job seekers.  Although there are uncertainties and many questions, it is still the case that talented, motivated professionals will find meaningful career destinations.  Every industry, location and function comes with its own learning.  However, creativity, clarity, competence and contacts combined promise positive learning and meaningful career placement.

CREATIVITY
Perhaps the first step in a successful process involves rigorous self-analysis.  Now, more than ever, it is critical to have a clear sense of your own skills and strengths so that you can position yourself to take on new challenges.  One way to heighten self-awareness is to convert your chronological resume into a functional one -- even if you never use the functional version.  This exercise will prompt you to unbundle your skills and look at your prior experiences to determine what value you have added to a particular process or enterprise.  Be as specific as you can in your assessment.  The more clinical you are about dissecting your skill set, the more significant opportunities you will be able to identify as part of a thoughtful, data-driven career search. When you have unbundled your skills, you will be surprised to see how many new options open up.  Career teachers discover that they may have corporate training opportunities here and ESL opportunities overseas.  Major gift officers discover that buried under their daily responsibilities, are significant process and project management abilities which would otherwise go unremarked.  The IT executive with years of training experience may learn that (s)he has talents in terms of multicultural education. The corporate community relations officer has the option to take the ability that (s)he has to build durable relationships and apply them in a not-for-profit leadership role.

If the functional resume seems daunting, then generate lists of your major accomplishments and then annotate them with the skills it takes to make things happen.  The reality is that your success is the result of the timely interaction of many complex skills and abilities -- many of which you have overlooked in drafting the current version of your resume.  Once you have generated a fresh list of accomplishments and skills, and then return to your job search with fresh eyes.  Run word searches with your updated list of skills and see what jobs and titles surface.  This exercise will reveal new industries and careers you had not thought of before.   That is the purpose of the exercise.  Once you bring to light hidden abilities, your options increase exponentially.

Here are some questions that may trigger deeper analysis of your abilities:

  • What core skills do I use daily?
  • How do these core skills relate to my formal job description?  Which skills are most/least prominent?
  • How do I get results in my job?  Who do I work with most often?  What specific activities do I undertake to meet the challenges of the moment?
  • What is the most obvious metric for success in my job?  How do I meet it daily, weekly, monthly?
  • What do I write on a regular basis?  Who is my audience?
  • Whom do I speak with on a regular basis? What is the substance of my communication?  How does this communication affect my job?
  • How have my accomplishments been noted?  Who has noted them?
  • How does my work affect clients/beneficiaries/end-users of our products and services?
  • How have I improved the effectiveness of my organization?
  • Have I been a change-agent?  If so, how?
  • For a more senior role, what additional skills would I need to cultivate?
  • Who is the most successful leader at my current organization?  What skills and abilities does (s)he have?  Which of these skills do I use day-to-day? Which would be useful to acquire?

Another level of creativity involves figuring out which future growth industries are likely to need your skills.  This takes a sense of timing and knowledge of emerging markets and trends.  From what we can tell, there are several industries which are likely to be areas of growth in the future.  There are many more which will emerge over time.  At the moment, healthcare, education, and industries related to creating a "Green Economy," are likely contenders.   So are industries related to elder-care and basic family needs.  Some predict that legal/regulatory opportunities will increase with the anticipated heightened government oversight of the market.  

You may also need to expand your notion of what a "job" or career opportunity looks like.  Your current role may be a traditional one in a corporate setting with clear reporting lines and a hierarchy.  Your next role may be that of a consultant.  This will require the ability to work across reporting lines with many different levels of professionals to achieve a given result. If you go into your consulting role with your existing mindset, you will overlook key aspects of how you need to organize and think about your next set of challenges.  So, free up your mind.  Be truly open to new configurations.  Think in terms of how you can make measurable contributions to your next organization/team/group of people.  The current instability in certain sectors gives you new opportunities to break out of your current mould and to explore new avenues for professional success, based on your skills analysis.

CLARITY
Once you have done extensive brainstorming and you have decided on a path to take, implement your plan consistently.  In this kind of market, if a particular strategy needs modification, it is easier to spot this when you have a clear, concrete plan.  To develop this kind of clarity, here are some useful questions to ask:

  • Which industry(ies) do I want to target?
  • What role(s) are most interesting to me?
  • What value will I add to the organization I join?
  • What inside information do I have/can I get about this/these organization(s)?
  • What kind of career path to I envision for myself? 
  • How will my current plan help me to reach my goals?
  • Who do I know who is doing the kind of role I want to get?
  • How can I contact that (or a similar) person and have a discussion with them about my career plans?
  • How does my current resume market me for the role I would like?
  • What changes will I need to make to my materials to attract the attention of those hiring for my targeted role?

You may also want to construct a timeline with daily, weekly and monthly goals. When you start to network, send out resumes and surf the Web, it helps to have particular targets in mind and to have a clear sense of how each particular target will fulfill your professional growth.  As you progress, you may want to modify your plan based on your responses.  Strategies which seem to yield poor results can be abandoned in favor of those which yield interviews, call-backs and real discussion.  If you are not sure whether a strategy works or not, follow your plan until you get a better sense of the market and new ideas about how to plan your search.  A disciplined strategy will set clear parameters for your search and will help you to see how best to modify your methods, if needed.  At least this way you will have learned more about your target industries and you will have some sense of how the market responds to your efforts.

COMPETENCE
The sheer ability to get things done is a plus in any market.  High-achievers seldom lack job offers.  That is because they are aware of their value and they communicate that value effectively to others.  As you embark on your job search, or ramp it up a notch, it is helpful to remind yourself of your real accomplishments regularly.  Get comfortable talking about them, describing the methods you used to achieve extraordinary results and the ways in which you worked effectively with others to achieve the positive outcome.  At the same time, be mindful of the times when you have been less than successful.  Face up to the learning, occasionally painful, which has come out of difficult experiences.  Where you have fallen short, acknowledge it to yourself and seek the advice of others when your analysis runs dry.   By doing this, you will have armed yourself to really shine in the interview process.  Most interviewers know that during the course of a healthy career, sometimes things do not go well.  They are impressed by those with the honesty and clarity of vision to accept responsibility for their shortcomings and move forward armed with renewed self awareness, self-confidence and skill.   

Another aspect of developing competence is to continuously re-assess and re-evaluate your skills.  First, evaluate the market demand for them regularly.  This will keep you fresh and current in your thinking and will give you relevant ideas about how to position yourself in the market.  Second, engage in ongoing self-improvement.  It takes courage and honesty to do this. For the areas where you believe you can grow or expand, take concrete steps to fill in the gaps.  In the downtime while you search (if you are out of a job) or on the weekends/in the evenings, consider taking on a course or two designed to address those particular issues.  If you are on a career path which will demand strong marketing skills and this is an untested area, you may want to enroll in a marketing course at a local college or online course.  You may be an Executive Director with exceptional vision and strategic planning skills.  If you believe that fundraising is an area which deserves attention, then address that after hours and take pride in getting up to speed.   Similarly, an IT specialist who learns more about how to motivate and manage others can move into a management/executive tier role far quicker than his/her counterpart with other kinds of leadership skills. Most organizations take pride in professionals who engage in this kind of spontaneous self-improvement.

You also want to re-package yourself to meet this emerging marketplace.  In the past, you may have been successful at reciting your past accomplishments to a prospective employer.  Today, you may need to go several steps further in "branding" yourself.  Employers are interested in hearing how your abilities will affect their bottom line.  Keep focused on the value-added aspects of your leadership and skills.  You may want to redefine:

  • What your dream job would look like and why;
  • What your most successful project has been and why;
  • What you enjoy most/least about your current role;
  • What areas of additional training/learning would benefit you most;
  • Which professional organizations would assist you in growing towards your goals;
  • Which emerging areas/industries of interest excite you the most; and
  • If you could upgrade your current role, how would you change it and why.

CONTACTS
It is still the case that contacts can make the difference between sending a "cold resume" -- which gets a very short hearing -- and being invited in for a personal interview.  Many of us, however, do not have contacts at every conceivable career destination.  How do we get past the hurdle of being "outsiders?"   Developing durable contacts takes time.  Continuous networking is probably the most secure way to create, maintain and develop new contacts.  Even if you do not personally know anyone at a desirable organization, chances are that someone you do know will have the desired contact.  This is purely a statistical game.  The more people you know in a given industry, the more likely you are to know someone with a strong connection to the target organization and/or the hiring party.  This kind of connection can be valuable as an information source, sounding board and support to you in a highly competitive hiring process.  The drive to develop sustainable contacts should give you incentive to keep your feet on the road.  Take advantage of industry seminars, workshops and networking events.  Be present at high-impact civic and cultural happenings.  Offer to present at community fairs and exposes.  If there are no such events in your area, then start them.  By coordinating the effort, you will be creating just the kind of network you and others will need to support your professional and personal goals.  (By the way, a big piece of this involves showing up for others in their efforts to reach out and create a wider community.) 

Here are a few strategies to maximize and expand your existing networks:

  • Sign onto LinkedIn or other professional networking websites/organizations;
  • Enroll/renew membership in active, visible high-school, college and university alumni and other organizations;
  • Clear out your briefcase, business portfolio or handbag regularly.  File or store inform in your computer, Blackberry or hard files;
  • Review and assess your current professional contacts.  Email or call those you have not heard from in over a month; 
  • Identify five or more organizations of interest to you and pick one or two which you can serve as an advisor, mentor, board member or volunteer;
  • Make a list of Webinars, seminars, workshops and courses that have the potential to jumpstart your knowledge and visibility;  Be strategic about selecting those most likely to introduce you to new, valuable information and players in the universe you want to conquer;
  • Make it a practice to keep in touch with your professional references.  Invite them to lunch when you can to catch up and exchange career information;
  • Think about ballgames, concerts and outings to see the movies as potential networking/network building events;
  • Keep an open mind.  Everyone you meet has friends, colleagues and peers.

Besides planned activities, it is useful to be prepared for the unexpected.  Travel with extra business cards and copies of your resume.  Also, travel with the expectation that each and every encounter holds valuable information for your job quest.  You may accidentally overhear colleagues discussing a proposed expansion at their offices.  You may wander into a discussion which turns into a quasi-interview.  A supermarket discussion may reveal where an industry is headed.  You never know, in the most casual setting, when someone will ask to know more about you and to contact you in the future.  Having these materials updated, handy, and in easy reach will make you that much more attractive to a potential contact/career lead.  It also instills confidence in others when they see your level of preparedness.  The message is, "(s)he means business."  Actions speak louder than words.

Finally, in all of this remember to laugh and live beyond the stress of the instant moment.  Stress distorts our sense of self.  It also makes our world seem dangerous and humorless.  This life is a cycle.  The present "down" moment is just another in a series of transitory events which, given how life works, will inevitably move you into more pleasant places.  Let us remember the many challenges we have overcome, and the multiple successes and recognition we have received.  As we redraft our resumes, review job listings, and seek the advice of friends and colleagues, we must consciously remember to be positive and hopeful.  In times like these, perhaps the ultimate competence is our ability to transcend the present sense of panic and to live in a space where positive things happen and where dreams materialize. Seek out the silver lining.  Keep company with those who maintain a "can-do" attitude and exhibit courage and ingenuity in their professional dealings. Model the best in others and give your career plans space to take shape in amazing, surprising new ways. We know that clouds pass in due course.  Economic cycles shift and change.  You are growing into a more focused, creative and accomplished version of yourself.  Dare to believe in your dreams and in your own capacity to succeed.  If you don't believe in your own future, who will?

Karen Alphonse, Executive Consultant, ExecSearches.com

Whether you are starting from scratch and need strategic advice, or simply need to polish your resume and cover letters, the search professionals at execSearches.com can help. We provide highly individualized service, in a very cost effective manner.