Holiday Activities and Your Job Search/Career Management Plan

Since I’m posting this just two days before Christmas, I’m guessing most of you aren’t really focusing on work-stuff! Consequently, I mostly want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday period. I will be back in touch again next week and joining the rest of you in looking forward to a new year that we hope and pray will be an improvement over 2011, even if not a runaway success.

However, I can’t just put up the above brief blurb and consider that I’ve actually done anything to help you be successful after the holiday, so here’s a thought or two about beefing up or fine-tuning your job search and/or career management plan once the holiday festivities are over:

  • Take a look back at this past year and see what didn’t go the way you had hoped. Could you have done something to influence that in a positive way, and if so, what might it have been?
  • Think about people whose lives you have touched during the year or whose lives have touched yours in a meaningful way. What could you do in the coming year to help those individuals achieve their career success goals or otherwise support their job search or career management actions? Even something as simple as sending them a note about an upcoming event you think they might find useful would be a step in the right direction, and your efforts could come back to bless you in unexpected ways.
  • Position yourself for a better year by setting goals that don’t “bite off more than you can chew.” Stretch yourself a bit, if you like, but don’t set yourself up for a case of “overwhelm.”

I’d like to leave you a couple of inspiring thoughts for the months ahead, from authors I have come to respect and appreciate over the past year or two:

Job Interview Stress and How to Reduce It

Some people would rather go to the dentist for a root canal than undergo a job interview! Personally, I’m not that fond of root canals, but then I’m also not looking for a new job right now–I love the one I have (helping clients with their resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, interview preparation, and so on). Having been there, done that, in the past, however, I can understand and sympathize with the stress job seekers experience both before and during employment interviews–after interviews, too, for that matter.

Interview Stress Reduction–Why It’s Essential

Few of us are at our best when we feel we’re in a situation we can’t control, particularly if the outcome seems critical to our career and our economic well-being. To some, it might appear similar to being in a high-stakes poker game, competing against an opponent who is doing a good job of convincing you that he/she “holds all the cards.” However–and it’s a big however–you will sabotage your own efforts at achieving successful interview results if you don’t at least come close to mastering your interview gremlins. It’s important that you take a thorough look at what’s holding you back from performing at your best in interviews and take steps to reduce the stress level, even if you can’t entirely eliminate it. You can’t control what your competition does or doesn’t do; but believe it or not, you can do a lot to improve your interview performance by minimizing the impact stress has on it.

How Can You Reduce Your Interview Stress?

Once you’ve pinpointed the major problem(s) you have with interviewing, you can take appropriate steps to overcome or at least mitigate those problems. For example, if you typically have a “blank mind” reaction when asked questions, practice on your own or, even better, with someone who can view your situation objectively and help you develop some coping techniques. Here’s another example: Instead of having a hard time thinking of something to say in response to an interview question, you experience “run off at the mouth” syndrome, where you don’t know when to shut up! In that case, you definitely need to rehearse succinct and on-target responses to many of the most likely questions, keeping those responses to no more than a couple of minutes, preferably a bit less. Notice I said rehearse, not memorize. That’s an important distinction. You don’t want to sound as if someone had just flicked the switch to play back a recording!

Interviewers Experience Stress, Too

For years I’ve pointed out to clients during interview coaching sessions that the people who will be interviewing them don’t always have their act together, might have little or no formal interview training or have other stress-inducing issues that can derail an interview–or at least make it tougher than it needs to be. A December 2011 article by Tony Lee, Chief Alliance Officer and EVP of East Coast Operations for Adicio, underscores this point (“Use Positive Visualization to Succeed in Job Interviews“). As Lee says in his article, “at many small companies where hiring exactly the right person is so important, interviewers fret for days before each meeting with a top candidate…If you believe that you must succeed at all costs, your tension level will soar.”

So when preparing for and during job interviews, keep this in mind. Every interview has at least two participants, and both of them might have some stress-related baggage that could stand in the way of a successful interview. Take action to make your part of the process as stress-free as possible.

Top 10 Overused Words in LinkedIn Profiles and Resumes

“Top 10” lists are a popular topic for many content authors, both online and offline. Taken with the proverbial grain of salt, they can provide useful insights. What’s the grain of salt? Such lists can sometimes be just glib recitations that don’t do more than state what should be obvious or that make claims not backed by solid research. That said, I usually pay attention to such lists when they apply to areas such as career management, job search techniques and interview preparation, since those are areas in which I provide services to my clients.

Top 10 overused buzzwords in LinkedIn profiles versus in resumes

In 2011 the list of top 10 overused buzzwords in US resumes contained 6 of the same terms as the list in 2010 for LinkedIn profiles:

  • extensive experience
  • innovative
  • problem solving/problem solver
  • track record/proven track record
  • dynamic
  • motivated

The non-duplicated terms for 2011 resumes were results-oriented, team player, fast-paced, entrepreneurial; those for 2010 LinkedIn profiles were creative, organizational, effective, communication skills.

Are we using these overused terms in resumes or LinkedIn profiles?

Have you ever been guilty of using these terms, either because you didn’t know any better or because you were just a bit lazy or rushed? Probably at least some of the time; I know I have. However, I’m making a greater effort these days to seek out stronger, fresher and more meaningful terms to use in presenting my clients’ value message, whether in their professional resumes or in the LinkedIn profiles I create for them (which is something I love to do). I encourage you to do the same, if you’re creating your own career marketing documents. You really don’t want to sound like everyone else on the planet who might be looking for a new job or trying to make a career change! If your information sounds like a “me, too” message, it’s likely to put prospective employers to sleep while reading it, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

What’s the alternative–good terms to use in your resume or LinkedIn profile?

In my opinion, whether an “overused” term is still valid or not depends, at least in part, on the context in which the words are used. For example, presenting someone as a team player who is excellent at persuading people with conflicting agendas to work collaboratively is a much stronger concept (and less often seen) than just saying he or she is a “team player.” Basically, if there’s an alternative for any of the too-common words that achieves the desired effect, I do try to use it–unless the substitute is also overused! After all, the more people who accept and begin using a particular term, the more popular it tends to become and the greater the risk it will become visually boring. That’s why phrases like “thinking outside the box” and “at the end of the day” have become trite instead of eye-catching and thought-provoking.

Economy Means Less Relocation for Job Oppportunities and Retirement

According to an article by Michelle Rafter, “Economy Forces Americans to Stay Put” (October 28, 2011), “Hard times are stopping many people from moving for retirement or work, according to Census Bureau data and a new Associated Press/LifeGoesStrong.com poll. The current mobility level, or how many Americans move each year, is the lowest since 1948….The unsteady economy exacerbated a trend toward fewer moves that had been gaining ground for several decades due to more two-income families that find it harder to relocate for work and an aging population that’s less mobile, according to the Associated Press.”

Why consider the possibility of relocation?

The idea of relocation should probably always be a consideration in your career management plan creation and periodic updating, as well as a factor in your ultimate plan for retirement (whether you’re decades away from that time or staring it in the face, so to speak). In some cases, relocation is mandated by your employer if you want to stay with the company. Often, though, it’s a question of finding new employment opportunities, pursuing potential career advancement or dealing with family considerations (such as elderly parents who need to have you near them or a spouse who has a job opportunity in a different geographical location).

The relocation outlook for jobs and/or retirement:

As Rafter notes (and the data she cites support), other factors now influencing the situation might significantly limit your relocation options, because the continuing economic problems are inhibiting the more widespread relocation movement that we saw in earlier years. During the past year, the percentage of the U.S. population that moved to a new home was even lower than in 2008, when we were still experiencing a deep recession. As Rafter indicates, “With the current jobless rates and continued economic uncertainties, the freeze on moving could continue several more years, and many retirees may stay put for good, according to the report.”

What does this mean for you in terms of job search and relocation challenges?

Possibly several things. For example, if you are not currently living and working where you really want to be, you’ll need to take a long, hard look at how you can achieve that goal–after first considering carefully if it’s actually what you want to do and if it seems to make good, long-term sense. Another consideration is whether it could be a good retirement location as well as a more near-term source of job opportunities, since your relocation options might be limited when retirement eventually becomes an issue. I really encourage you to devote some careful thought to this subject and discuss it thoroughly with others who might be affected–your immediate family, for instance. And, of course, “do your homework” about the probable advantages and disadvantages of where you are now as well as where you might want to be later, keeping in mind the potential limitations the economy could continue to impose on your ability to choose.

Good Companies on Your Job Search Wish List

With Christmas looming on the horizon, this seems like a good time (even if you don’t celebrate Christmas) to talk about making a job search wish-list (aka target list) of employers you would like to work for. Of course, there’s more to this than just making a list, as you might have guessed, and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, a tip or two about where and how you might find company names to consider putting on your wish-list. The resources below could give you a good start on compiling the names of companies, although you certainly don’t need to stop with these.

Good Companies to Work For

Now is not too soon to start preparing your list, if you haven’t already. Whether or not you’re currently looking for a job, it’s smart to build the list and flesh it out with as much employer information as you can gather. With the right kind and amount of effort, you can get a head-start on your next job search and possibly leapfrog right over your competition.

Factors for Choosing Potential Employers

Of course, you’ll need to consider a lot of factors in deciding which companies you actually want to target for potential employment opportunities and take the time to research online and offline . The sources noted above probably include a number of the factors you’ll be looking at. For example, Fortune’s list breaks things down by categories such as locations near you, size of company, best perks and best pay. Your specific factors might include other aspects as well, such as healthcare facilities and educational institutions in the vicinity of the company’s location, weather patterns in that geographical area, cost of living, how the industry overall is doing, and more.

Although you can always add to the factors you have selected as requirements or preferences over time, it’s a good idea to define the ones you would consider most important before you get too far into your company research, so you gather the critical information as you go and don’t end up needing to do a lot of back-tracking to find it.

How do you transform your job search targeted employer list into real value?

What’s a good next step in the job search wish-list development and implementation? Find people you already know at those companies, people you can get to know there, connections you have or can develop that will help you establish internal contacts, and so on. Then figure out how to turn those contacts into productive ongoing relationships. And don’t expect all the information and help to flow from them to you; you need to make it a two-way street, so the relationship is mutually beneficial and respected.

Interview Mistakes You Might be Making–Unconsciously

According to an article by Robert Pagliarini, called “Job Interview? Avoid These 6 Psychological ‘Leaks‘”, you could be making several mistakes that will sabotage your chances of a successful interview–and be completely unaware that you’re doing it. As Pagliarini puts it, “Without knowing it, you communicate your deep psychological beliefs, attitudes and weaknesses every time you open your mouth. I’ve interviewed people who looked stellar on paper, but who exposed their hidden tendencies, issues and mental roadblocks as soon as they spoke.”

Are you making one or more of the following job interview mistakes?

I recommend you read the entire article, which has potentially valuable information, but to give you an idea of what you can find there, here are (in brief) the psychological “leaks” Pagliarini mentions:

  1. Fallacy of fairness
  2. Filtering
  3. Control fallacies
  4. Always being right
  5. Polarized thinking
  6. Blaming

Job interview preparation is critical

However, it needs to be looked at from more than one angle and is definitely not something you can skimp on or ignore if you want to impress employers in a job interview. This holiday season might be an excellent time to give serious thought to how you interview, what kind of effort you put into preparing for job interviews, where you might have come up short with interviews in the past, and so on. Take just a few minutes (maybe an hour or two at most) away from all the festivities that are probably going on and do an honest, soul-searching assessment of your past record on job interview preparation, conduct and results. I’d almost be willing to bet you could spare at least that much time, and the payoff might be as big as a huge success on your next job interview. Wouldn’t that be well worth the effort?

Identify possible issues that could derail your job interviews

Whether or not you’re making the psychological “leak” mistakes that Pagliarini notes, you can’t lose by checking to make sure. If you have any issues you aren’t aware of or have previously avoided acknowledging, even to yourself, this is no time to dig in your heels and refuse to face reality! If you don’t trust your own opinion or instincts, try working with someone you do trust to uncover the facts you need to know in order to conduct successful job interviews–whether it’s a family member, close friend, interview coach (disclosure note: I do work with clients on interview preparation), or someone else. What you learn from this process could launch you on a job search that generates great interviews and results in achieving your ultimate employment goal–a new job or career that you will hopefully find very satisfying, maybe even exciting.

Expect the Unexpected–in Your Job Search as Well as the Economy

In a previous post I talked about the need to be–and stay–aware of job search trends and other related trends. At the same time, it’s clear that the “experts” in a variety of fields don’t always have all the answers and they can’t predict with a high degree of certainty what the job market or the national/world economy will hold during the coming months, let alone years. If you look back in history a ways, you can find examples of very wrong predictions or pronouncements about the likely state of the economy and the job market. Of course, that’s using 20-20 hindsight as your benchmark.

The Economist Economic Outlook “Then and Now”

Recently I read a very interesting article in The Economist. Titled “Expect the Unexpected,” it gives a great example of how we can get off track in the short-term by not being able to see all the signs clearly. Author R.A. (in London) says, “Lots of people are currently trying very hard to figure out what’s going to happen within the global economy over the next 1, 2, 5, and 10 years. It seems like the sort of thing one ought to be able to manage if one tries hard enough. It is, however, an impossible task (though some folks do have a talent for sketching out broad trends)….”

The author had been researching their archives back to 1931 and came up with some astonishing items, including the following: “…we noted in the issue of January 10th that, ‘It is not apparent yet whether the lowest point has already been reached, but it seems more likely that the decline will come to an end during 1931 at the latest.’ At the time, it seemed quite possible, perhaps even likely, that the Nazis had reached the apex of their power.” No one then had the ability to foresee what a dramatic difference just a few more years would make (by 1939 if not before).

Managing Your Career and Job Search in Difficult Economic Times

In the midst of the economic turmoil we’re currently seeing worldwide and the uncertainty about its impact or probable impact on issues closer to home–including the US job market, unemployment figures, home foreclosures and more–you might find it daunting to even try to plan ahead. Join the club! I think we’re all pretty much there at this point. However, if we give in to the fear and uncertainty, the result is emotional paralysis. We can’t think of possibly helpful actions to take to maintain wise career management and conduct an effective job search. That’s just one major reason I insist on staying positive in my outlook and encourage my resume writing and career coaching clients to do the same, as much as they can. If you can take even small steps forward, do it. Baby steps are better than no steps at all!

Job Search, Recruiting and Employment Trends

Depending on where you look, the figures for employment/unemployment and for job search trends that appear to be on the rise can differ considerably. This shows up, for example, in recent items I found on RecruitingTrends.com:

  • SimplyHired.com’s Employment Outlook report highlights national and local market forecasts, plus industry and employer trends. Their December report notes that job openings nationwide grew for the 5th consecutive month, for a figure of 7.4% year-over-year. They noted that there was a slight increase in job openings, probably due in large part to seasonal hiring. Unless you’re looking for a part-time, temporary holiday job, this news might not help you a lot.
  • Bersin & Associates, a research and consulting firm working with Human Resource organizations, recently issued a report that includes a number of predictions around developing a borderless, agile workplace that will involve extensive use of social networking, a focus on diversity and an increase in female representation in driving agile performance management on a worldwide basis.
    The report also quotes president/CEO Josh Bersin as saying, “Despite high levels of unemployment, employers are having a hard time finding the right skills. This imbalance is producing an incomparable talent scarcity that threatens economic growth around the world and has fundamentally changed the way we approach workforce management.” At the same time, it notes that technology has been advancing by leaps and bounds and is having an ever-greater impact on talent acquisition methods.

How do job search, recruiting and employment trends give you useful clues?

Whatever your current situation is—employed and not looking, employed but looking, unemployed and looking, or unemployed and not looking because of discouragement—you can benefit by investigating and paying attention to job search, recruiting and employment trend information. That’s true even though various reports sometimes seem to contradict each other (partly because they focus on different aspects of a particular situation). Of course, you do need to compare carefully, sift through the conflicting opinions and decide what’s relevant for your specific needs and goals—as usual, one size does not fit all. However, ignoring the trends or failing to do any research on them can leave you clueless when you need to be—and could be—more on top of things.