Career Readiness Essentials: Developing Your Career Savvy

“A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A, M.D., or Ph.D.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”

~”Fats” Domino

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if employers would appear on our doorstep with lucrative job offers and automatically recognize our greatness? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. But, judging by the horror stories we routinely hear from employers, some are mistakenly acting as if it were true. The fact is, we may have all of the qualifications in the world, but if we don’t know how to effectively market ourselves, we simply won’t land the job. Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it is a learned skill with proper training.

Based on our conversations with recruiters and young adult applicants, there are some missing ingredients in today’s career readiness training at school and in the home. From recruiters, we hear about poor interview skills, mistake-laden resumes/cover letters, and lacking professional decorum. Meanwhile, students are struggling with networking, taking the initiative, searching for open positions, and persuasively marketing themselves. It needn’t be this way.

With that backdrop, here are our recommendations for developing marketing savvy in your career readiness training:

  1. Create a competitive mindset. A winning strategy begins with a winning attitude. Succeeding in today’s job market requires initiative, proactivity, and competitive instincts. In most cases, you’ll be initiating your own job search versus being recruited. And, you can expect to compete against a worthy pool of applicants who all want the same thing. You must stand out!
  2. Build a skills inventory. In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of building your competitive edge. Now, it’s time to get it down on paper. What are your special skills and leadership attributes that make you unique and valuable, especially for the position at hand? What supporting evidence (i.e., accomplishments, recognitions, stories) can you cite?
  3. Develop a compelling resume and generic cover letter. Create powerful documents that share your achievements, history, leadership credentials, and competitive edge in a manner that is appealing to potential recruiters. Be sure they are checked and cross-checked to avoid typos and are reviewed by at least one professional adult. Recruiters are perfectionists when reviewing written correspondence!
  4. Display a professional social media presence. Create a professional profile in locations such as LinkedIn. And, understand that most recruiters will review your posts and tweets on various social media platforms. Delete any and all posts that may reflect negatively on you in the eyes of a recruiter! And, from now on, consider that a potential recruiter is in your audience when you post or tweet. It’s a great filter.
  5. Discover the available job openings. In order to land a great job, you need to know where and how to find them! Familiarize yourself with job posting sources (e.g., Indeed.com, craigslist.org, local newspapers) and with open positions among companies of interest (contained in their website). What job titles best capture your career interest? What companies in your area excite you? Develop a matrix of job openings by title/position and the companies offering them to help direct your search efforts.
  6. Tap into your network of ambassadors. These days, the overwhelming majority of positions are filled by individuals who had an “inside advantage.” So, when you identify job openings of interest, explore whether you know someone in that firm who can go to bat for you. This is huge! In addition, be sure that your network of advocates is aware of your job search so they can offer suggestions and valuable connections.
  7. Master the interview. Successful interviewing involves preparation, preparation, and preparation. It begins with thoroughly researching the company and the position to help demonstrate your interest and ask compelling questions. When they ask why you’re interested in this position, you’d best have a convincing answer! And, be sure to master the art of the interview by making a great first impression, demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and likeability, having persuasive answers to likely questions (including why they should hire you!), and displaying professional verbal and nonverbal skills. Role playing is a must! Remember, practice makes less imperfect!
  8. Have a good follow up strategy. Personalized, hand-written thank you notes are a must and are to be mailed promptly after the interview. Be sure they know you are interested in the position. Depending on their process, also consider a phone call expressing thanks and interest.

With preparation, training, and practice, your students can successfully market themselves and win the job. Let us know how we can support your career readiness efforts with our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources. We’re here to help!

To Land Your Dream Job, Build Your Edge

One important key to success is self confidence.

An important key to self confidence is preparation.

~Arthur Ashe

 

So, you’ve buckled down and identified several candidate careers (or majors) that could be your perfect match. Now, it’s time to turn this vision into a reality! It’s a highly competitive job market out there, so you’ll need a solid plan to acquire the necessary qualifications to win. That means building your competitive edge—the next step to becoming career ready.

It’s difficult to generalize the qualification process because it varies so much by career choice. Do you prefer to dive right into the job market? Are you willing to get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D, or more? Often, it’s the qualifications that help us narrow our career options to ones that are realistic and achievable.

When entering the workforce, chances are the basic qualifications will be in the following areas:

  • Education: degree, areas of specialization, GPA, certifications, specific courses
  • Work experience: minimum years and particular positions; internships and apprenticeships; training and professional certifications
  • Skills: technical proficiencies, physical requirements, familiarity with systems, relational and soft skills, etc.
  • References: they had better be good!

In last week’s newsletter, we identified several websites that show the various qualification requirements for different careers. Familiarize yourself with them and use this information to narrow your choices. Be realistic.

Now, in order to position yourself to land the job, you’ll want to go far beyond the minimum qualifications cited above. Employers are looking for special evidences of leadership, initiative, and accomplishment. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak with actual practitioners who hold your desired career position. Seek out advice and wisdom from the pros, especially to discover ways you can set yourself apart from the competition. They will be able to offer far deeper insights in building your edge than your high school or college career counselor/recruiter whose knowledge is more general. What leadership skills, internships, experiences, and trainings can you undertake that will stand out? Summer jobs? Camps? Job shadows? Extra courses?

We also encourage you to review the results of the state of Virginia’s workplace readiness survey of employers. You can access it here. You’ll notice that many of the top 21 skills are soft skills. Yes, today’s employers are looking far beyond your degrees and GPAs… they want people with great attitudes and leadership skills.

Great references are another necessity. Many times, they can overcome average academic performance with great stories about you. Whether they’re professors, teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors, all of them are prized potential references on your behalf. What have you done to deserve the highest praise among people who can potentially become your ambassadors?

So, what’s your story, from a prospective employer’s perspective? Remember, you’re competing against other worthy candidates, and the more you can demonstrate passion, initiative, and real life examples of your leadership skills, the more an employer will want you! Make yours a great story.

Educators and parents, be sure that your career readiness training incorporates these vital components. They will help your students build the edge they’ll need to win.

 

 

 

Finding a Career That Fits YOU

Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.

Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.

Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
  2. Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
  3. Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
  4. Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
  5. Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
  6. Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
  7. Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.

Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Finding That Job!

One of the greatest unknowns for college students is predicting what the job market will be like when they graduate. After all, it’s four years down the road and lots can change in the meantime. The answer will be based on the state of the economy and the supply and demand picture for their career choice. Unfortunately, these factors are simply outside of our control.

Even if a young person’s path doesn’t include college, they’ll still be facing this kind of uncertainty. If the unemployment rate is low, chances are they’ll have little difficulty landing a good job. If it’s high, who knows how long it could take? Plus, they’ll have to work that much harder just to get their foot in the door.

So, how can all of us help? What are ways parents, educators, mentors and friends can help young people find the jobs they’re looking for—and progress once they find them?

Young adults need to be savvier and more competitive than ever to find, land, and advance in the jobs of today’s work place. Here are some suggestions  you can share to help position them for a thriving career:

1. Use your existing networks. No matter how talented we are, we all need people who will go to bat for us, both personally and professionally. Their invaluable assistance can take the form of introductions and connections, references and advocacy, decision-making in our favor, an information source, or general help. They help us gain access to strategically important people. It’s like having our very own sales force!

The employment recruitment process has changed night and day since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an insider advocating on our behalf. It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

2. Broaden your base of employment prospects. Spread your net wide.  Talk to others in your field. Read trade journals and industry bulletins, blogs, and newsletters. What’s going on in your industry of choice and where are the jobs? There are likely companies for which you could work that you haven’t even considered. My editor’s son is a land use planner who works for a county government. He recently discovered that a large aircraft manufacturer in our state regularly hires land use planners. He was surprised; he’d never even considered the thought of working for a company like that. Now that he knows, it’s an avenue he plans to pursue in his next steps.
 

3.  Be flexible with respect to location. This point is short but important. Many times you’ll have to go to the job; it won’t come to you. The more flexible you can be about this, the more marketable you are.

4. Develop your competitive edge. Our world is much more competitive than ever before. Our economy has become service-oriented and knowledge-based, which has changed everything. Now, you have to demonstrate something special (i.e, skills, experiences, and achievements) in order to land the job and advance in your career. Together, these make up your competitive edge. Consider what would stand out about you to future employers during your eventual job search. Go the extra mile to become better qualified through experiences and continuing education. If you’re lacking a skill or a professional qualification, attack it with full force! Demonstrate an attitude of continuous improvement and a commitment to excellence. Show results and impact. Create great personal stories that will inspire employers.  If you don’t, remember that someone else will—and they’ll wind up with your job or promotion!

This is only part of the picture! Join us next week for part two of this blog: How to Market Yourself and Move Ahead in Your Career Field.

How have you found and moved ahead in your job(s)? Do you think things are easier, harder, or the same for young adults in today’s job market?  How can we help encourage students in finding and landing the right jobs? We’d love to hear your thoughts?