Thursday, February 19, 2009

Advice that's worth what you pay for it

I know a lot of people who are either actively job hunting or actively thinking about it.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but a couple of years ago I was laid off, and ended up unemployed for 7 months. (OK, technically it was 7 months and 1 day.)

While I was unemployed, I had access to an outplacement service. In the interests of sharing some of what I learned, here are some key things I would recommend. (Note that the job I got 1.5 years ago was the first job I'd actually applied for or had an interview for in 12 years, so I'm hardly an expert).

1) Figure out what you want to do. A lot of people skip this step, but what happens if you don't know what you're looking for is that you scatter your energy. Pick a direction. (If you pick a direction that turns out to be wrong, that's OK - re-evaluate & pick another direction. At least you're moving.)

2) On your resume, make it as action filled and measurable as possible. What sounds better to you: "Responsible for generating reports on the number of software bugs" or "Compiled data and analyzed problem trends, leading to process improvements that dropped the number of recorded defects by 10%"? They're basically referring to the same task.

3) Again on the resume, hiring managers don't want to know what your assigned tasks were - they want to know what you did with them.

4) Don't know what you're good at? Ask former co-workers.

5) Also, make a list of accomplishments (both on & off the job). What skills did you have to use to accomplish those things? What did you like doing What jobs could you get that would use those same skills and what you enjoyed doing?

6) Network.

7) No, seriously, network. Everyone hates it. A large number of jobs are never advertised, so you need people to know that you are looking. Don't worry, the secret is in #8.

8) Networking? It's not asking if someone is hiring. If you call me up and say, "Colette, I'm looking for a job, is your company hiring", you put me in an awkward position. If we are (but I don't think you're the right person for that job), I'm not going to want to recommend you. If we aren't, the conversation is over. However, even if I don't think you are the right person for that job doesn't mean that I won't want to help you out, or that I won't want to recommend you for a different job in the future.

9) Oops, forgot to put the secret in #8. Networking is talking to people - but not asking for a job.
  • "Colette, I'm starting on a job hunt and I'd like to talk to you about what process you went through when you found your current job. "
  • "Colette, I'm starting a job hunt. I know you went from working at a large company to working at a small company. I'd like to talk to you about how you found that transition."
  • "Colette, I'm investigating the different things that high tech companies are doing in Ottawa and I'd like to talk to you about what the company you now work for is doing."
  • "Colette, I'm working on my resume and I'd like to get your opinion on how I can make it stronger."

Any one of those questions will get me talking for 45 minutes. Asking if we're hiring ends will get me to say "no".

10) When networking, ask the person you are talking with if there's anyone else they can recommend you talk to - then follow up with whoever they recommend.

11) Before you start networking, figure out a quick way to introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Colette. I'm a software developer with experience in the telecommunications and aviation industries, and I'm looking to move into ..." This is also the way to answer a "tell me about yourself" question in an interview.

12) Treat networking like it's your job. (It kind of is.) Dress appropriately, show up on time, stay focused on your objective, and don't run over time (without offering to wrap it up)- the person you're talking to is doing you a favour.

13) If possible, offer something in return. For example, if the person you're meeting with is talking about a problem they're facing at work, offer relevant experience you've had that might help.

14) Send a thank you note (e-mail is probably fine) after the meeting.

15) Networking will boost your confidence, which makes the rest of the job hunt easier. People wouldn't be making time to talk with you if they thought you were an idiot.

16) Proofread your resume. Proofread thank you letters.

17) An interview should, of course, be treated seriously. Prepare answers to common interview questions. Dress slightly better than you would have to dress if you had the job. Show up on time. Turn off the cell phone. Be polite. Look your interviewer in the eye.

18) Interview going badly? I had a horrible interview before I got this job. I knew about 5 minutes in that I wasn't going to get the job, so I treated it as a networking session. I asked about how much overtime people worked. It was a consulting firm, and I asked if their consultants went out to the client sites or if they worked in house. I asked about vacation and salary. It was a chance to get information about the industry.

19) My usual "how to get things done" method - set yourself goals. "I will get a job by June 1" is not a goal you control entirely, but "I will set up and follow through on 1 networking meeting a week" is.

I think that's my full rant for today. Feel free to share suggestions (or questions, which I will answer if I can) in the comments.


  1. This is great information. I will be passing it onto my husband as he is actively looking for work.

  2. As you know, I am looking for work. Networking is so, so hard. Maybe I should blog about that. I just can't do it. I know, I'm being negative and cutting myself off...but I just can't...and I've never known anyone who can [and I know some pretty gutsy people]!

  3. Colette - that is really great advice. I am going to send this to a few people I know.

    Jen R.

  4. One-time Freelance ProofreaderFebruary 20, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    Proofread is also one word (sorry, had to do that!)

  5. In our area there are several networking groups for people between jobs. One has been around for a couple of decades (with larger or smaller membership as the economy dictates); others are just getting started now.

    In addition, you can also network at any professional organization you belong to (or have the credentials for). Don't forget your school Jobs Center.

  6. First of all, feel free to pass this on to anyone you think it would help.

    The typo is fixed. My lack of spell checking sometimes catches up with me. :)

    Sydney, I did network while I was laid off. It's not easy - well, mostly the getting up the courage to ask people to meet with me wasn't easy, actually meeting was fine. I found when I mentally approached it as "I'm going to talk with this person to get information", it was OK. (Still hard, but do-able.) I had to mentally approach it differently to be do it. (And really, if you ask someone to meet with you & they say no, you're out nothing. In my experience, though, people like being asked for their opinion. Most of us have a lot of opinions. :) )

    Kathy, that's another good suggestion. Thanks.