Returning to work after any sort of break be it parenthood, studying, illness, sabbatical or unemployment is not easy and sure we all have doubts about how we will make the transistion and whether we will be able to find and keep the kind of job that we want.
These doubts are perfectly natural and understandable but ultimately they are a burden and they need to be understood, managed and controlled for you to move forwards.
So where do you start?
Well I think Step One must be to make sure that you are ready. Being ready is not just about wanting to get back into work or indeed needed to; being ready is about the preparation you need to go through to ensure that you are going to be confident and successful and this bit is about you and no-one else.
Have you reviewed your CV or have you got one from three years ago that ‘will do’? Well for starters it won’t do and by ignoring your CV, which is the most crucial key to opening career doors, then you are already putting yourself at a disadvantage compared to other candidates that do understand its power and are working hard to use it.
So why don’t you want to tackle the CV issue? Are you concerned about the gap, worried that the job you are looking for now does not sit well with the work you did in the past, anxious that your technology skills have not kept pace with the market or are you simply unsure what a CV should look like in 2013?
All are easily answered and managed. Your CV is your flier advertising the brand of you and you can read more detail about this in earlier blogs I have written but let’s focus here on you being comfortable with the gap and not allowing it to be an unexplained black hole in your career development or something that you are somehow not able to explain or indeed celebrate.
Developing more knowledge and skills, becoming a parent, overcoming illness or doing something different for a while are all part of who you are and being comfortable in including that time in your CV and explaining it to potential employers is key to you being ready to get out there and get a job that you want. So get started. Think about the positives; what you have learned about yourself and how you have grown and celebrate them.
Once you are comfortable that you don’t need to excuse yourself about your recent work history and that it can be integrated with your past career history and your personal brand then you can start looking outwards.
Are your skills sufficient for what you want to do? Is the job market healthy in the areas you want to work, are you being realistic? Setting yourself up for more disappointment by not researching carefully and being honest about what you can do and what you want to do can be a big mistake.
All of the confidence that you have built up and the energy that you have to invest might be wasted on making many applications for roles that just don’t suit you or which might not exist. Knowing the market is key and that takes time on line and talking to experts to achieve.
Getting out there! Now that you know that you have a researched and achievable job target and you have a CV that you are proud of you need to sign up to on-line job sites,–post your CV and let people find you as well as finding them through recruitment agencies, job sites and adverts for vacancies.
Dressing the part and feeling the part are both key to you being successful. That personal brand and confidence that I talked about needs to be expressed physically as well as in your mind and employers respond to confident body language and candidates that speak with confidence and purpose and even if you don’t feel it sometimes you need to ‘fake it to make it.’
We can help with all of these stages if you need us but more important than that is your own self-belief and positivity because good things happen to candidates who know themselves and the market and get out there and make things happen.
Returning to work can be a fresh opportunity to reinvent and re energise your career; so good luck with it and let us know if some one to one coaching or a place on our career boot camp days would help !
Working with one of my regular career coaching clients this week I had a revelation, not a blinding flash of light or anything dramatic, but a genuine realisation that one of the key things that is essential to being open to, attracting and considering all opportunities is a truly open mind.
An open mind unburdened by parental influences, that is not restricted by a culturally imposed vision of what a career means or what it might involve and also a mind open and able to let people know that you are looking for a new challenge and able to ask them about what they do and then crucially, actually listening to what they say.
The key conversation with my client went something like this; I suggested a possible occupation, one where I knew there were vacancies, that my client had the skills set and personality required and which fell within their commuting distance requirements. Their answers was 'Oh no I don't want to do that...(5 second delay)....what do they do exactly?' That in a nutshell is the closed mindedness that I am warning against. That could have been a job advert on line, a conversation or a recommendation that my client might have just wasted by not being open-minded and receptive to new ideas.
We all have stereo-types knocking around in our minds; environment, parents, experience and preference (however ill-informed) all create them but to truly give yourself every chance of finding a role that will satisfy, challenge and develop you, you will need to get rid of the 'office work is all paperwork / sales is all cold-calling and account management means the same thing in every company' approach because it will limit your chances and also in turn display a lack of the both the imagination and desire to find the right thing and can never do you no favours.
The conversation continued and we found out that actually my client had very little idea about very many different career paths and job titles infact they had a worryingly small amount of knowledge for someone that was not fresh out of school or college and might have had an excuse for not being very worldy wise about such things.
My advice is; find out more, find out detail and challenge yourself not to present a closed mind to any opportunity. Why? Well in my opinion on many occasions your career will find you rather than vice versa, in which case you need to let it find you rather than not even listening when fortune comes calling. Many of the successful people that I know in challenging, responsible and indeed well paid roles did not set out to be a ............ whatever but instead have taken time to understand what it is that they offer and then when the right opportunity arises and they asked the right questions and then saw that a match might be possible and grasped the opportunity.
Many skills and competencies do span across a whole range of occupations. Knowledge is clearly very important but training and additional qualifications (often in the role) can help you to overcome those barriers. Ask yourself which industries are struggling to recruit (and trust me despite the financial climate as a write this there are many industries with long vacancy lists that they cannot fill.) Research the businesses / sectors involved and really try to understand what it is they do. Ask people in the industry and seek out connections in your network who can advise, inform and illuminate the whole picture for you.
There is nothing wrong with having a dream job and being geared towards it from an early age within education but times change and the role that you always wanted to do might not even be what you think it is. So in short; have an open-mind, know what a job involves before you commit or reject it and use those around you to inform you and you will find that many more opportunhities arise and that the world looks a different place once the blinkers are removed.
We often forget the important details when we are getting ready for an interview; thinking too much about those dreaded 'killer questions' and imagining the pressure won't really do you any good to be honest. This simple little memory prompt will be invaluable just to make sure that you give yourself every opportunity of nailing it and being in the best state of mind you can be to be successful!
Dress The Part
Simple but crucial - are they a 'suited and booted' type company or do they encourage smart casual or even dress down as part of their culture? Even then do you want to risk adopting the dress code that their employees are encouraged to use or do you want to start with a statement of standards? Our advice - go suited and as smart as you like unless they specifically tell you different. Let them see the best of you and that includes ironing things well and shining shoes and knotting your tie somewhere near your neck. You don't know the standards of the person who will be interviewing you so don't risk a decline on something as superficial as dress.
Plan Your Route
Again in a world of Google Maps, AA Route Planner and Sat Nav you'd think this was a no brainer; but you'd be surprised. Don't assume anything, look for the best route and best form of transport to get you there reliably on time. Time keeping is still a corner-stone of performance analysis in many businesses and so is personal organisation. Make the effort to know and be sure that you will be there when you need to be. It might not be the coolest thing in the world to swot up on routes and bus / train timetables and research traffic issues around the venue but since when has cool been relevant to getting a job!
Prepare Some Questions
When they ask, and they will, at the end of the interview 'do you have any questions for us' you must have something to say. Why? Well it's not always about what you ask, it's about the fact that you are interested enough in them and their job to have thought about it, that you can make a critical last impression by showing your research skills, asking intelligent questions and really engaging with them. It is flattering to a recruiter for you to be interested enough in the company that they work for to ask them about it. Simple.
Breathing / Control Your Nerves
The biggest cause of interview failure in my experience? Not skills, not ability to answer questions or indeed any one of a dozen other reasons....if fact it is your ability to execute your interview skills in a calm and professional way. It is your ability to remain focused, project an authentic you and gain their confidence. Nerves create nerves, so if you are calm then the interviewer will relax, listen more and be more receptive to you and what you offer. So, a few deep breaths perhaps in the rest room or on the walk to the interview room are highly recommended. Get your heart rate down and get some oxygen in your lungs. Develop some personal mind tricks that will suit you for calming down; I think of a waterfall or a sunny day, things that make me feel relaxed. You'll find yours; use it!
Get There Early
Fits with the route planner point above but also it means you can do the relaxing things and the caliming down thing in your own time. It means you can sit in reception and soak up the atmosphere, get used to the environment and start to feel at home. It also means you can interact with other candidates; if it is perhaps an assessment centre. You can show them that you are relaxed by getting talking so that you are warmed up for the interview and maybe show them that you are a strong candidate for the job which might put them off their game!
Practice Your Lucid Stories
I'll blog another time maybe about the full lucid stories theory that we use but in the meantime my basic advice is this. If you practice using some examples from your life / career / experience before the interview and you know what competencies and skills you want to illustrate using those examples then you can relax because essentially you already know what you are going to say in the interview, it is just a question of them asking the questions! This means you can focus on your 'performance' and do the body language, eyes and smile stuff that makes a huge difference because you already know your lines!
Research The Job
Please don't ignore this as being too obvious! Find out as much as you can about the job / company / sector as you can. Go on-line, ask people visit company sites and find out from others who work there. If you know about the job already then it gives you an advantage over others competing with you and it shows you are really interested and gives you a chance to answer that tricky industry or company related question that might get sneaked in! It is time very much invested...
Know Who To Ask For
Basics again but really important. You should confidently approach reception and ask for the person who invited you to interview and mention the job that you are being interviewed for and smile, make an impact with the receptionist. I always ask the reception team what they thought of my candidates and ask them if anyone stood out from the rest and why. They are used to meeting all kinds of people all day so they are sensitive to people with a bit of extra sparkle - let them see the sparkle it in you!
Eat / Hydrate
How often do people run out of gas on a long recruitment day? All of the time and it costs them dearly. Make sure that you have eaten the right amount of food, that your blood sugar levels are maintained and that you drink before and during the interview / assessment centre. If there are biscuits on offer take one, ensure you have a glass of water at interview and eat well at lunch if it's an all day event. The water will give you a prop as well as hydrating you; you can think while you drink. Also at lunch often assessment centre or interview evaluations continue so make sure you talk, shine and use the right cutlery!
Reherse Your Answers
Ask your nearest and dearest to ask you some basic questions and practice your answers. Often competency based interviews have questions that start with; Can you give me/us and example of....Can you tell me/us about a time when.....and....Describe a siutation that illustrates your skills / knowledge in...........if you get your Lucid Stories sorted out and practice applying them to questions about; team work, handling pressure, working to deadlines, hitting targets, working as a team, project management and managing people then you will be really well prepared for what they throw at you.
As I said before this is all very simple stuff and the pics I have used are just clip arts finest but ignore this post at your peril because when it comes to interviews and assessment centres in the current climate with huge coimpetition for every job; the candidate who prepares best will give themselves the best chance of success and that is the bottom line.
Being an employer is tough. Being an employer that is looking to find new talent is even tougher. How are you supposed to be able to find, indentify and engage with the right sort of people that can do the job, fit in with your company culture and add that something special to take your brand forwards??
Well it's your job as a candidate to know your brand, assets, competencies and skills and then show them off in the best possible way. Impact is the key word here. I have recruited for a wide range of roles and when you have a pile of CV's either on your desk or in your In Box you have to sift through them and they have to talk to you in order to stand out and be the one that you select. Pink paper and funky fonts aren't necessarily the answer but you might find some inspiration from the brilliant CV's that have been compiled here:
Of course it's 'horses for courses' and the guys that put those CV's together were looking for roles that might not be the kind that you are in the market for but my point is that they have gone to town in making sure that they use their CV as a marketing flier for their brand and to succinctly communicate what it is essentially about them that the recruiter / employer should see immediately and understand.
Put it this way; you are walking down the High Street or through the shopping mall / arcade and someone thrusts an A5 flier into your hand. That glance, that moment that you spend looking at it is everything; you decide if the flier is talking to you, if you are interested and if you want to associate your brand with it - either by buying, attending or supporting whatever it is that the flier is talking about. Try and take that experience, that choice that you make into your thinking for how you want your CV to be received.
What does the headline are your flier / CV need to say / do to engage the reader. That 'handshake moment' is everything. Just like when you meet someone for the first time a whole myriad of thoughts speed through your mind, you are weighing them up; face, handshake, eyes, clothing, smile, words, body language...now think about how without many of the impactful weapons I just listed you can make an impact with the reader of your CV in the same way. They will be looking at type face, layout, words, vocaulary, easy of reading, relevance, personality and potential.
Forget bland and conservative unless you know that the people you are trying to impress want exactly that! Think about how you can reach out in your opening 'Personal Statement' and grasp their attention, introduce yourself and get them wanting to read more...
You are your own career manager, your own brand manager and your own PR company and your CV is the marketing flier that will create interest in what you are and what you can do.
Worth pondering on next time you are updating your CV or perhaps worth implementing now and getting together a CV that you can be proud of because it represents you in everyway it needs to rather than being a functional document with generic facts and statements and won't stand out.
Some basics; bullet points (make it easy to find the good stuff), tangibles (make it easy to demonstrate walking the talk), vocabulary (makes you stand out because you don't over use words like 'passionate') and layout (visual appeal leads to interest and engagement....
We can help with CV rewrites and reviews either face to face on on-line; it is the key that opens doors!
Sometimes it surprises me that candidates struggle to connect with potential employers when their immediate network of friends, family, team mates or social contacts could help them out in all sorts of ways. I thought I would talk about how you can give yourself the best chance of connecting with the right job opportunities based on my own experiences of both looking for jobs, helping others to and seeing how successful candidates use their connections.
What should you have in place to maximise your chances?
Ask People What They Do / Tell People what You Do – I was really surprised when a cricket team mate, who had recently graduated and was looking for a career opportunity, was unsure of what I did in my work. I then realised that we only ever talked about cricket in that social circle. We both I guess need to take responsibility for the not knowing; but once we had talked and he asked for help, we spent time getting his CV the way it needed to be and I was then able to get his CV in front of perhaps 15 key contacts which lead to three interviews within two weeks and two job offers within a month. All from one conversation between two people that knew each other already.....
LinkedIn -–I am huge fan of LinkedIn for many reasons but as careerist or graduate it makes all sorts of sense to create and build a profile for yourself using this platform. You will be surprised by how many people you know who are already active on the site and also how many people they know or have access to through their connections. My 1,100 connections means I have 11,500 people on my network and access to 7.9m through my connections it takes time to build numbers and needs and weekly investment of time but it pays you back!
CV - make sure you have a new, updated and well presented copy of your CV with you at all times or at least the ability to e-mail a copy of it to new contacts quickly. You never know when a conversation might end up with the line ‘I know someone that is looking for someone with your profile’; the ability to follow up on these golden opportunities is crucial make the most of your good fortune.
Expand Your Network - traditional British reserve means we are not fantastic at putting ourselves out there and
advertising our skills to the world but you will be amazed how responsive potentially important contacts can be.
Contacting industry leaders, local specialists and potential mentors to help you and advise you on their area of expertise is a huge compliment, first a foremost; you are saying, in essence, I know you are a key player, I want to work in your industry, can you help. Also attending events relating to your potential career industry and asking questions, seeking out people that you think may be able to help and absorbing information about the industry will help you hugely.
The key as far as I am concerned is always being on duty for your career. Any social setting or situation has potential and people that know you and like you will help you, so give them every chance to do so by letting them know that you need help.
Managing your own career is very much the way it is now; the lower numbers of job opportunities, the changing relationship between employersand employees and the current economic downturn all add up to mean that you
need to be your own marketing department for the brand of you and that concept once absorbed and understood should inform the way that you communicate with the network around you and maximise your chances of getting lucky.
I think it was golfer Gary Player who said ‘it’s amazing, the harder I practice the luckier I seem to get.’
Who do you listen to when it comes to the really big decisions?
There are always a queue of people waiting to give you what they feel is the best advice you will ever hear. They care, are paid to care or just want to have their say in your career future; but who do you actually take notice of?
So the list of candidates to potentially heed are parents, friends, teachers, lecturers, colleagues, relations, career advisors and the media (newspapers / online and TV) and that is daunting; no question about it. Your decisions are increasingly critical to your career which impacts directly your financial and domestic future and so everyone you know wants to help because they know how important your career decisions are.... wow not an easy one for you, so I ask again, who do you actually listen to?
The simple answer is everyone; the more input you can gather the better it will be in the long term of course but in listening to everyone you first need to put some fundamental filters and considerations in place before buying into their advice:
1. What is their motivation?
2. What is their emotional involvement?
3. What is their level of real expertise?
4. When did they last experience what you are now experiencing? If ever?
5. Will it cost you money? Is it worth it? Have they helped others? Can they prove it?
The world of careers is evolving quickly but equally some of the essentials of employability are constants, you are the variable. For sure in this arena one size does not fit all and you need a bespoke approach - tailored to you and you alone. Having a plan, a vision and the ability to take the best that everyone has to offer without being side-tracked or distracted from your purpose is your responsibility.
The advice and guidance you need is out there and mostly is pretty easily available but today you need to be your own career manager, nobody can do it as well as you can. Gather that support network around you to ensure that you know everything you need to know, can do everything you need to do and so give yourself the best possible chance of being successful.