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Navigate Your Career In Turbulent Times

It’s been quite a year for the American worker.

2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, a higher annual rate than any year since 1945, and the official unemployment rate has passed 7.2% nationally. Even more troubling, this percent only counts people that have registered for unemployment. When you include those individuals that have given up looking for work, the total number of unemployed Americans jumps to nearly 14%. The official unemployment rate seems destined to surpass 8%, which would make it its highest since 1981 and confirm that we are in the midst of the worst recession in 27 years.

Compounding the long-term adverse effects, our twenty first century global workplace, mean a protracted dire economic picture for the U.S. when other key economic regions such as India, China, Eastern Europe and Latin America experience economic downturns of their own. There have been massive layoffs across many industries but esp. so in the NY Metro area within banking and financial services, insurance, and now retail.

The key question in 2009 with respect to employment has become: how one can keep their current job, find new employment, change careers, or re-enter the workforce.
Fortunately, these turbulent times provide the opportunity for people to re-assess their career path and find new opportunities, if they are willing to invest the significant, time, effort and introspection that are required. For starters, the most critical aspect of work that makes us happy and fulfills us is doing things that we love to do, are passionate about, and fit our core values. In short, we can all find our dream jobs, but it requires that we understand who we are and what are our core values and beliefs.

Conducting a personal assessment like the Birkman Method, Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator-Strong Interest Inventory, or Keirsey Indicator self –assessment tool is a critical way to obtain a greater understanding of what we are all about. Identify the things you have done in the past that you REALLY liked, and those parts of previous jobs that you have hated. The goal is quite simply to maximize the things you derive the greatest pleasure at. Before we can hope to match ourselves with the desired culture of a potential employer, we have to know as much about ourselves as possible.

Howard Gardner, a noted psychologist at Harvard University has identified “good work” as achieving excellent performance, with the ability to express your ethics through your work, with a pleasing sense of being fully engaged.

Another effective tool to utilize for the purpose of personal exploration is to conduct a “visualization” exercise. This entails thinking about all of the defining characteristics of what your ideal “DREAM” job would be. Write down answers to the following questions: what does it look like, what does the office look like, how are you commuting (or are you working from home), what do your co-workers, boss, and direct reports look like – their age, ethnicity, background, etc. Be sure you write it ALL down. A plan that is NOT written down is nothing but a dream. Once you have written down all the key components of your DREAM job, you can formulate a plan with strategies to achieve that.

Now is the ideal time to consider going into business for yourself, or finding friends or co-workers that are willing to go into business with you, assuming they share your interests, background, passions. We are in the midst of the contract-based economy, in which employer loyalty no longer exists. You have to be loyal to yourself, and there is no greater leap of self-fulfillment that you can make, then going into business for yourself and pursuing the 21st century entrepreneurial workplace.

Once you understand the ideal type of job setting that you would be most happy in, the next step is to identify three or four industries that match your interests, passions, hobbies, and core competencies. Within each industry, you need to identify a handful of firms (say 5-7), for a total of 15-28 organizations that you will learn everything you can about. Such a narrowly focused approach will enable you to learn as much as you can about these organizations including their key competitors, products and services, management team, past financial performance, etc. that you can best leverage by using in you7r customized cover letters, resumes, professional bios, your interviews, and other correspondence.

The single most effective tool for job searching is networking. Networking is telling all of your friends, family, family of friends, friends of family…everyone in your social network exactly what types of employment you are looking for, the industries you are keen on pursuing, and the companies within each industry that you have identified for follow up. At that point, you will need to be able to summarize the core essence of your “Unique Selling Proposition” – what makes you UNIQUELY qualified as the ideal candidate. Market yourself as a PRODUCT whose features and benefits are your background, past work experiences, your qualifications, core competencies. Further, you7 MUST be able to express that sales pitch of the product called YOU in a 30-second elevator pitch. Be sure to write your elevator pitch down and provide it to all of the folks in your network.

Then you need to begin conducting informational interviews. First, know that an informational interview is NOT an interview. You are identifying people that work or have worked in one of the companies in the industries you have targeted, and call them up to introduce yourself and ask them to meet with you for a cup of coffee for 15 minutes to talk about their experiences. It is fair game to ask them how they got their start in the industry, what their background is, what they love most/least about their jobs, what a typical day is like for them. It’s gathering background information into the informal culture of the organizations you want to work for. At the end of that informational interview, you thank them, ask if they know one or two other folks that it would benefit you to talk to, ask if they can facilitate an introduction, and then be sure to send them a personally handwritten thank you note right away.

Get personal business cards made up with all of your contact details on one side and your core competencies listed on the other. They can be purchased online (a box of 500 for as little as $9) at websites like www.VistaPrint.com. Make sure you have updated your references, being sure to inform people that you have listed every time you have an interview so they can expect to get a call checking on you. Consider attending relevant job fairs in the industry you currently work in plus the few you have targeted. Leverage all of your relationships with professional Associations and networking groups, and seek out any and every opportunity to attend conferences, trade shows, professional development courses, and ongoing skills development through lectures, training, Webinars, etc.

Subscribe to any and all free e-newsletters and sign up to receive free email alerts from key players in the industries and functional areas (sales, marketing, IT, HR, etc.) that are your background.

Given the state of the job market it very well might take a protracted length of time to find full-time employment. Consider other options such as contract and temporary work, volunteer work to avoid having lengthy gaps of no employment off your resume. Further you need to know that going through a prolonged job search can be a very emotionally trying experience. You need to make sure you are surrounded by only positive influences. Take extra special care of yourself, avoid addictive substances such as coffee and nicotine, and be sure to get plenty of exercise.