You’ve Landed a Job (Offer): Now What?

Congratulations on securing your new position.  In many respects, it is probably a relief for you, having achieved your objective after what is often a time consuming and emotionally draining job search.  The following “Top Ten Tips on How to Help You Keep Your Job” are presented in order to help you preserve that investment of energy and resources.

While it is hoped that your job will provide a professionally and financially rewarding experience, it is unrealistic that from now on, it will always be “easy street”.  The recruitment and interview process through which you have been put was a way of introducing yourself to your employer and the employer’s way of providing you with a hopefully realistic portrayal of the job.  However, even in the most comprehensive selection process, it is impossible to learn everything about one another.  In addition, there are many situations foreseen and unforeseen which had not taken place.  Therefore, it is important for you to grow together.

While it might be obvious to some, it is critical that you obtain a formal letter of offer from your employer before starting a job.  This letter will define the nature of the job, the terms and scope of the employment relationship, and the compensation package.  This is a formal agreement which protects both employer and employee in their respective roles.  Please note that an offer letter is not a “contract” as in most cases, there is employment-at-will and therefore no job indefinitely.  But, without an offer letter, there is no agreement and no stable job.

From time to time, you will be confronted with situations that will be challenging.  Some of the challenges will be interpersonal.  Conflicts may arise between you and a co-worker, a supervisor, a peer, or a direct report.  Some conflicts are professional; others are personal.  Conflicts are never pleasant.  However, to expect that they will never come up, even in the best of jobs, is totally unrealistic.  It’s part of life!  The objective is to manage the conflicts effectively and be able to move on.  There is no single formula that can be followed which will guarantee success.  In addition, there are some short-term resolutions that are also incomplete.  Open and honest communication, give-and-take, accepting feedback, and respect are all part of the equation.  This applies to the first day, first week, and throughout one’s employment with an organization.  The ultimate objective as an employee is to demonstrate that you are trying your best and seek to contribute to the organization.  While you might have valid ideas about how best to perform your job, those ideas are not always shared by management, right or wrong.  You have to know your place.

Especially in today’s economic climate, it is quite common for organizations to try to try to get by with less staff.  This has led to increased workloads and longer hours.  Those hours and the demands for your productivity will likely not be identical to previous employment contexts in which you have been.  This applies to those who have been in the workplace before and certainly applied for those new to the workplace.

The myth that your job will be rewarding often is a precursor for your contemplating “next steps”.  Reacting to conflict by leaving the situation is almost never the best response.  You could walk away from the situation by quitting or resigning.  You can also leave a job by withdrawing psychologically, emotionally “checking out”, or demonstrating avoidance. (Avoidance often leads to quitting or being terminated.)  Leaving a job voluntarily without having a solid offer on the table is not only financially catastrophic, but can also be a career killer.  No potential employer wants to hear a candidate for employment speak negatively about a previous employer, as it can reflect not having been a team player.  In addition, leaving a job after a relatively short stint will invariably need to be explained to potential employers in an interview or cover letter.  This does not show employment stability and commitment on one’s resume.  Those who have been successful in their careers will invariably have a track record of consistency, stability, and longevity.   So, you should seriously consider the consequences of leaving and try to make the best of your situation.

One productive strategy is to speak with mentors or other individuals who have preceded you to be a sounding board for your issues.  The fact that they have “been there, done that” will provide you with valuable advice in coping.  Seek their counsel and take their recommendations seriously.  Experience is packaged with wisdom.

I have put together a list of “Top 10” tips that will help you remain a valued employee of your organization.

Tip Number 10 – Know what is expected of you.

Almost every job changes or regularly evolves.  The job that you started with a few years ago has probably changed. It’s very easy to fall back into the idea that the job you started with, is the job that you currently have.  As a step to improve your position and your job, it is highly suggested that you periodically talk to your boss or other superiors to find out what they really expect of you now and what they really want to see you accomplish in the future.

Tip Number 9 – Don’t gossip on the job.

It’s always been a good idea not to gossip anywhere, either at home or away from home.  It could very well be that in an employment setting, that gossiping is an easy way to lose your job.  First of all, if others hear you speaking that way, you give him the impression that you have very little in the way of values.  If he/she sees you sitting around gossiping about other people, it will convey a certain attitude about you not to mention that you seem to have time on your hands.  It is also possible that the one you are criticizing or complaining about could wind up being your next new boss.  It goes without saying that in today’s age, one never wants to put any such discussion into email.  This creates a “paper trail” which is stored on the company’s server and can be forwarded to others with your identify ascribed to it.  So, think carefully before putting anything into email.  While you should avoid gossip, you should not be totally oblivious to “office politics”.  You need to be aware of office politics and you should not spend your work life “living under a rock”.  Be aware of changes in management, policy, and developments in that particular business sector.

Tip Number 8 – Have a positive attitude.

You don’t want to give people with whom or for whom you work, the impression that the only reason that you are there at the job is to collect your paycheck.  You don’t want to be viewed as an unmotivated person with a negative work ethic.  It is quite possible that when staff reductions are to be made, management may first look at those with a negative attitude, especially if the sentiment is polluting the work atmosphere.  Don’t send the message to the effect that since you don’t like to be there anyway, you will accept a layoff.

Tip Number 7 – (Constantly) update your skill set

You can always make time to research recent developments in your field, read a book, read a journal, or take a class, in order to improve your skill set.  Some companies offer access to training classes for those who ask as well as tuition reimbursement for courses (and degrees) which are relevant to the job. Keep current with technology in general and specifically that which relates to your field.  Don’t create an image that you are “old school” or anachronistic.  The more value you are to your employer, the more likely you are to keep your job.  Keeping current demonstrates a level of enthusiasm and desire to do well in your job.  Obviously, if you do well, so does your organization.

Tip Number 6 – If possible, take on more work or responsibility.

It also reflects well on you if you take on additional responsibility or at least offer to do so.  This might mean taking work home, staying after hours.  Doing this can help convey the impression that you are indispensable.  If you send a message things can’t get done without you, you’re less likely to be subject to a staff reduction.  The opposite of this is of course is to “punch the clock”, arriving no earlier than required and not staying a minute after that.

Tip Number 5 – Network.

There is the old adage it’s not what you know, but who you know.  This is relevant as your next boss may end up being a coworker, a friend of yours, or even a competitor.  Whenever possible, it is key that you build as many positive relationships with others.  In the world of employment, some job openings will not be advertised publically.  So, knowing many different types of people lots of people will improve your chances of finding that next job.  Joining a relevant professional organization in your field and attending their scheduled events is a great way to stay current with current developments, as well as people and job opportunities.

Tip Number 4 – Avoid all things personal at work.

Limit personal phone calls, online surfing/shopping, and e-mails at work during work hours.  Your use of these channels can and will be tracked.  Using company tools and time for personal benefit will not sit well with your supervisor and organization.  Your supervisor or coworkers should not be hearing you are make personal calls, sending personal emails, surfing the Internet, or doing online shopping. This will not reflect very well on you as an employee.  It goes without saying that you should not be running any side businesses or ventures on work time or on your office PC.

Tip Number 3 – Remain active.

Take notes when you’re in a meeting or on the phone.  Keep a record of what you do.  Occasionally share your notes with your boss. Face time is very important.  Obviously, if your boss only sees you around the water cooler, that is not a very good sign; your boss should also see you working.  The boss should see you coming in early and/or staying late. It is very helpful to document what you have accomplished.  It is helpful to be able to relate to your boss (either during performance reviews or at other time) what you did and accomplished on a given date.

Tip Number 2 – Relationships are critical.

Many people who work in the professional world prefer to maintain a distance on a personal level.  Consequently, you may not think that is important to recognize those with whom we work.  You should be respectful and pleasant to others in the workplace.  While it may sound trivial, you should be aware of special events like birthdays, engagements, or “Secretaries Day” which others celebrate and recognize them appropriately and consistently.  It is important for you to find a balance between personal/social distance and professionally appropriate closeness as it pertains to your specific situation.  These relationships may ultimately be the difference between keeping a job and losing it.

Tip Number 1 – Follow the rules and be a team player so that you don’t give your boss an excuse to let you go.

At minimum, you should follow the basic rules and protocols of the organization.  Coming in late and/or leaving early does not look good.  Missing deadlines or complaining does not cast you in a desirable light.  If you need to leave early for any religious or family obligation, it should be done with the explicit prior approval of management.  It should not be with a sense of entitlement and should not occur frequently.  For anticipated absences based on personal circumstances or religious observances, offer to make up the work (preferably BEFORE the time off) and secure coverage for your work and responsibilities.  And offer to do the same for co-workers.  This will create a sense of good faith and cooperation, conveying that you are a team player.  In most cases, management will be reasonable and will understand and accommodate special schedule requests.  But, personal and/or religious reasons should not be an excuse for giving less than 100% to the organization while you are employed there.  It is important to identify what is an “absolute” observance and what is discretionary.  Multiculturalism and flexibility are not excuses for attending every event to which you have been invited.  Planning in advance for things that are predictable and offering the organization something in return comes across more positively than perpetual last-minute requests.  Try to play down any differences between yourself and others. Play up how you do fit in, and are an asset to the organization who wants to be there.

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Preparing for the Job Interview: A Checklist

Very often, I prepare clients for job interviews.  That led me to develop the following checklist.

Materials

  • 2 hard-copies of printed resume
  • Writing or work samples, if relevant, perhaps contained in an inexpensive folder
  • All printed materials should be professional looking, and be free of spelling errors, typos, smudges, or stains
  • Pad or portfolio and pen on/with which notes can be taken
  • Business cards (if appropriate)
  • Printed, accurate driving directions and parking information
  • Personal and professional references (for second interviews)
  • Name, phone number of contact person, should unexpected circumstances arise en route to the interview
  • Fully-charged cell phone for the road

Appearance

Professionally appropriate appearance; check in mirror before leaving for the interview and ask for an informed, objective opinion to confirm

  • Pressed, clean clothes which are suitable for the work context
  • Clean shave or neatly trimmed beard; no headgear such as baseball hats, etc.
  • Do some homework as to the normative business attire in that environment and dress accordingly; Do not wear overtly dressy clothing to a job interview
  • Other grooming (clean nails, women wearing nail polish should use a neutral tone; women should wear make-up as appropriate; clean appearance; no strong perfume or cologne); use mouthwash or breath mints beforehand
  • Despite the prevalence of multiculturalism and diversity in the workplace, it is best to maintain professionally normative standards of dress and appearance as to not attract undue attention

Preparation

Do “homework” to research company; review website and other materials; talk to others in company, if possible

  • Based on research, develop prepared, relevant questions to ask the interviewer to convey interest in organization
  • Have a prepared and fully rehearsed “elevator speech”
  • Arrange for child care as needed; never bring children of any age to an interview
  • Get a good night sleep the night before
  • Plan to be at the interview site about 15 minutes before your scheduled interview; sometimes there is paperwork such as a formal application that you will need to complete anyway; but it also gives you time to settle your mind and mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand

 Self Presentation

 Firm handshake at beginning to end

  • Eye contact from beginning to end
  • Appropriate posture
  • Throughout the interview show a motivated and enthusiastic interest in the position, even if there are some negatives about the job which may come up over the course of the discussion; have prepared questions to ask about the job during interview if nothing else comes to mind at the time; this shows interest on your part
  • Remember, you are selling yourself to the prospective employer; you are selling your skills, experience, credentials, and personality to show how your package can be of value to the employer; there is always room for humility, but this should be limited during a job interview

During the Interview

Interweave objective and quantitative accomplishments into description of work experience

  • Try to answer questions with specifics rather than with generalities
  • Balance self-attributed work accomplishments with humility
  • Offer yourself as a flexible person rather than someone with limited flexibility (e.g., schedule, willingness to perform certain job functions)
  • Use correct titles and name pronunciations when addressing interviewers or panel; sometimes, use interviewers first name in responding to a given question
  • Take notes jotting down key points of interview questions; use notes in formulation of answers
  • Come into interview with 3-5 points that you would like the employer to know about you; if the appropriate opportunities present themselves when answering questions, include there; if not, incorporate them into a “closing statement” (most employers will usually give interviewees an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview; you can use part of that time to make these statements)
  • Answer questions in a definitive and professional sounding way, using proper English; limit the use of “filler words” such as “like”, “you know”, etc.
  • Turn off your cell phone, Blackberry, etc. (Even “vibrate mode” can be distracting); never take a call or text during a meeting or interview

Post Interview Follow-up

After the interview, a follow-up email to the person with whom you interviewed as appropriate; thank the person for the opportunity to discuss the position and promptly provide any materials which may have been requested of you

  • Monitor your email and voice mail regularly to pick up any messages from an employer and promptly return them; even if you have found another employment opportunity since your interview, it is imperative that you return these messages
  • Unfortunately, some employers are not always good with getting back to candidates, even with rejection letters; sometimes you need to be patient; it is reasonable that if you have not heard back from an employer within two weeks of your interview to contact the person to inquire about the status of the employment decision
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The Job Search: Part VII (Series Finale)

Author’s Note: This article is the final installment of my series on “The Job Search” which has dealt with many issues related to the process of seeking employment.  This objective of this series has been to provide an overall perspective prior to actively seeking employment, as well as practical tips in doing so.  The points presented to date have been relevant to the job search for those who are entering the workforce for the first time and for those who have been in the workforce for longer.

A Word or Two on Training: Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards

Regardless of whether you are pre-career, early career, mid-career, or more senior-level, it is advisable to determine whether your training is appropriate for your target position.  Training can come in a variety of forms.  One is formal education.  This involves obtaining a degree from an accredited and reputable institution.  The degree should be both relevant and accepted as the industry standard.  While in some limited cases, a general degree will suffice, in most cases, the degree should be a fit with what is typically seen in job postings.  A litmus test for the value of any degree is by consulting with seasoned professionals in that field who evaluate credentials to fill jobs, or someone who previously completed the program and was able to reach his/her career objective in the field. 

The field of higher education is very competitive and many of the claims made by institutions are mere marketing ploys to increase enrollment.  Make sure that you are not being misled by false promises so that the financial commitment in your education will not be a waste.  One new entrant onto the scene is distance learning in the form of online programs.  Before considering such a program, please make sure that the program is accredited and that its graduates have been able to find employment.  It is always a good idea to ask for names of recent and not-so-recent graduates to determine the value of the program, as well as contact employers to confirm that they recognize that degree.  The advantages of obtaining a more traditional undergraduate and graduate degree from a “brick and mortar” school include:  (1) a more direct rapport with faculty; (2) more a hands-on interactive component in working with fellow students on project work; (3) experiential or clinical learning; and (4) job placement services in your geographic area offered by a Career Center and connections with employed alumni through professors in the program.  So, before investing in any program, it is wise to look for successful outcomes.  Shortcuts may be appealing in the short term but may sell you short down the line.  Let the buyer beware.

As jobs change, so do the work and the skills necessary to perform them.  Technology is the most common manifestation of this.  Certainly for technology careers, keeping current with the industry standards is necessary to keep your job or to obtain your next one.  Even for non-technologically focused jobs, it is quite possible that there is some important product or system on which you must be minimally conversant—often spelled out in the job announcement.  While it is quite possible that on-the-job training can be obtained, there will be certain prerequisite skills that will separate those who get the job from everyone else.  As intelligent as a person might be, that is often not enough to make a case for your being hired in a competitive job market.

Make sure, that whether it is a matter of education or skills, you have what it takes for your next job.  It is reasonable to re-assess every few years.  If there is a skills gap, you probably want to proactively seek out available training resources that will put you in the running to be positively noticed by a prospective employer.

In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering

Given the unpredictable and uncertain timeframe associated with one’s job search, it might be worthwhile to consider some sort of getting involved in a volunteer opportunity.  One track is to volunteer in a job-related context and treat it as some sort of training internship.  Such an internship might give one exposure to a certain industry or organization, or occupational area.  For students, an internship might also be eligible for college credit. 

In addition, one can also volunteer in a variety of non-job-related contexts, for a school, a charitable organization, or other cause which you might relate to, but perhaps never had the time to get involved.  While obviously not income generating, volunteering can have positive benefits for one’s mental health by doing something meaningful for others.  This can be during times when you are between interviews or otherwise playing the waiting game, anxiously anticipating call-backs from job leads and contacts.  Or, it can be a diversion when you just need a break or to get away.  Volunteer activities might also provide a solid explanation for any gaps in employment while in transition and demonstrate that you have maintained a positive attitude during those periods.   Time spent volunteering of course must be reconciled with one’s personal circumstances as well as the time and energies devoted to your primary job search.

There are obvious tangible benefits to volunteer activities in the spirit of networking.  You might be exposed to others “in transition” who might not only be in the same situation but might know of job openings which while not a fit for them, might be for you.  You might also find yourself working together with someone who might turn out being your next employer.

So, volunteering has various indirect and direct benefits.  While engaged in a volunteer situation, it might very well put you “in the right place at the right time”. 

Summary

Looking for employment is a job in and of itself.  It requires perseverance, networking, and communication.  As difficult as it is to do sometimes, you must communicate and present yourself with an upbeat and positive attitude.  The objective is to present yourself as a potential asset to the target organization so that you are evaluated favorably.

The previous installments in this series have addressed:

Introduction

Life Change Readiness

Making Sense of Job Postings

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Public Sector/Government

Background Investigations and Credit Checks

Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills

Communication

Self-Presentation

Networking

Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties

The Finish Line: Or Is It?

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The Job Search: Part VI

Author’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series on “The Job Search” which has dealt with many issues related to the process of seeking employment.  This objective of this series has been to provide an overall perspective prior to actively seeking employment, as well as practical tips in doing so.  The points presented have been relevant to the job search for those who are entering the workforce for the first time and for those who have been in the workforce for longer.

Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties

After applying for a position, the waiting game begins.  If there is a closing date for applications, it is likely that you will not hear back until a period of time after that date.  This is especially the case in government.  In most government sectors, some form of response or feedback to an applicant is required by statute.  The feedback may be provided by conventional mail or email.  Sometimes the feedback will be merely that you are qualified at some level and may be contacted for an interview. The decision as to whether you receive an interview or not may be based on a variety of criteria of which you might not be aware.

In the private sector, there is much variability in terms of feedback.  Some organizations are more responsive than others.  Some organizations take the perspective of “don’t call us; we’ll call you” after an application or even after an interview.  If you are selected for an interview, you will be contacted; if you are not, you will not receive any reply at all.  The amount of time before you get any feedback could be up to several months.  At that time, a polite “rejection letter” will be sent informing you that the position has been filled by someone who meets the requirements of the position more closely.  Organizations sometimes only send out such letters only after the person hired has officially accepted the offer and has begun working in the position.  That is the reason for the delay.

If you interview for a particular position, it is appropriate and advisable to send a follow-up letter or email to express gratitude for the opportunity to present yourself.  Not only is it the “right thing to do”, but it also serves to maintain a positive presence on the organization’s radar screen moving forward.  Many wonder about the protocol for following up with an employer either after the application or after the interview, if the employer has not reached out.  How long to wait and how to follow-up is dependent on a variety of factors, so there is no one hard rule.  However, if you have not heard back in a week or two, it is reasonable to send a brief email along the lines of:

Dear ___________: On (date), I submitted my application/interviewed for (job title) with your organization.  As I am in the midst of my job search at this time, I was wondering if you could give me a sense of the time frame for any next steps you will be taking on this recruitment.  Thank you.

Please allow an employer a reasonable timeframe to respond to an email or phone call relating to these types of follow-ups.  Never engage in phone stalking.

The Finish Line: Or Is It?

How to negotiate with a potential employer deeper into the selection process is not within the scope of this article.  However, it is important to clearly understand where you stand.  In most cases, a job offer is only official when it is presented in writing.  This usually takes the form of a letter of offer.  In it, the job title will be identified, as well as the overall function that the position will serve in the organization.  In addition, the hours will be spelled out as well as the terms of employment.  This includes the salary, benefits and any deferred compensation that is associated with the position.  It is important to understand that any oral or informal agreement to work for an employer is not a “job offer”.  It is important that in the interest of protecting both you and the employer that a formal letter of offer is issued.  It is also important to point out that in most private sector employment contexts, employment is “at will”.  This means that with requisite notice by either party, the agreement can be terminated, with or without reason.  In government employment sectors, termination by the employer usually has to be “for cause”, either as a result of poor job performance or that the position has been eliminated for budgetary reasons.

In rare cases, there will be some sort of employment contract.  That is a legal document which represents some binding agreement and is signed by both parties.  Unlike “at will employment”, the terms of the contract must be fulfilled by both parties, in the event that either party wants to part ways.

Previous installments in this series have addressed:

Introduction

Life Change Readiness

Making Sense of Job Postings

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Public Sector/Government

Background Investigations and Credit Checks

Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills

Communication

Self-Presentation

Networking

The final installment in this series will cover the following:

Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards

In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering

Final Thoughts

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The Job Search: Part V

Author’s Note: This article is a continuation of an ongoing series on “The Job Search” which has dealt with many issues related to the process of seeking employment.  This series has provided an overall perspective prior to actively seeking employment, as well as practical tips in doing so.  The points discussed have been relevant to the job search for those who are entering the workforce for the first time and for those who have been in the workforce for longer.

Self-Presentation

Everyone conveys a certain image to others.  This image is very much a reflection or who we are.  In the job market, this image conveys a message of what we bring or do not bring to the table as an asset to an organization.  We communicate to others not only by what we say or write, but how we do those things.  We are not only representing ourselves but also representing our profession.   How we present ourselves to employers and potential employers will be taken as an indicator of how we feel about our profession and more importantly the image that we will be projecting about the organization towards customers and others.  So, we should be aware of this not only on a job interview but when networking in general.

Here are a few relevant pointers:

Physical appearance- always present yourself in a clean, appropriately dressed way.  Remember, a mirror is your friend.  Personal grooming standards should be normative for the environment in which you will be presenting yourself.  If you are unsure as to what is normative, please ask someone who has operated in that environment for awhile.

Regardless of how we are referred to in our religious lives, consider using a neutral name.  This is especially true if you have an official name that is part of legal documents such as your Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Driver’s License, or Passport.  Ultimately, you might be completing official documents with which you will be cross-referencing those pieces of identification.

Everyone should have a prepared “elevator speech”.  An elevator speech is a concise (30-45 seconds), coherent presentation of yourself, using the following approach:

Handshake, eye contact, and name

Indentify yourself professionally (e.g., Litigator, Financial Analyst, Professional Accountant, Jewish Educator, etc.); do not start with a biography, what you think you can do or could be good at

List a few basic skill areas, or experience areas (e.g., Quickbooks, PeopleSoft, government contracting, Mobile Phone app development)

Touch upon significant educational degrees and certifications (e.g., Masters in Public Administration from University of Maryland, CPA, A+ Certification)

Avoid cliché such as “great interpersonal skills”, “multi-tasker”, etc.; instead focus on what you have done, accomplishments and scope, and portable skills that you can offer an organization

State what you are interested in, including specific job titles (e.g., Financial Analyst, Construction Estimator. Office Manager, Marketing Specialist)

Your elevator speech should be used when networking professionally, with friends and acquaintances, and possibly during an interview (depending on the structure).  It is best to practice this speech in front of relatives and professionals in your field of expertise.   Please accept any constructive feedback and criticism as it relates to what is said and how it is presented.

When unemployed, the elevator speech might result in follow-up questions about your situation.  The contemporary version of what was previously known as “between jobs” is being “in transition”.  If there is one positive element of the depressed job market it is that saying that you are in transition has become less associated with the negative stigma of being unemployed.  So, following that opening line, be honest, concise and focus on your achievements.  It is not good form to bad-mouth previous organizations for which you have worked and supervisors with whom you clashed.   You might also want to use the elevator speech to touch upon some of the volunteer activities in which you have been involved, which convey a positive affect while between jobs.

Those in the job market should be at least minimally conversant with current events not only within one’s professional field, but within the world in general.  In some instances, “small talk” has its place, even from the perspective of being able to initiate such conversation.  But, in any event it is important to keep current so that you will be able to at least respond in some cogent manner as opposed to having to plead that you are out of touch.

Networking

In the context of one’s job search, networking is somewhat misunderstood, so a couple points of clarification are in order.  The purpose of networking is not to find a job.  Networking is an activity that will increase the probability of your being in the right place at the right time.  Networking is a means to establishing the relationships by planting the seeds of connectivity which will be to one’s professional advantage.  While that eventually might provide a connection or secure an “in” which one could ultimately leverage for a favorable audience with an employer, expecting an immediate payoff by attending a single event is inappropriate.

Networking is a two-way street.  In order to be a beneficiary from another party, you must provide something of value in return, most likely in advance of seeking to be the beneficiary.  Being helpful to others is key in getting yourself noticed in a positive way.  What you might give others in return might just be good-will, but also might be something tangible like a job lead or a referral of a prospective employee.

Networking requires your time and investment.  It is also a gradual, iterative process.  Cultivating a network is something which takes months and sometimes years to realize the benefits.  Getting started early, while in school or before engaged in an active job search.  There are some obvious candidates whom you should be connected to including professors, fellow students, colleagues, and personal friends.  The objective is to build your network, using the aforementioned parties as one’s starting point and grow it using multiple degrees of separation.  Limiting one’s network to only those whom you know personally, will not be effective.  You should also not necessarily restrict your network to just local contacts.  The world is a smaller place today and having professional relationships with others remotely might ultimately be beneficial.

Building and maintaining an effective professional network is part of an ongoing process which takes place on qualitative and qualitative levels.  There are various tools which can help.  Simply picking up the phone every once in a while to reach out is a simple way of keeping up.  You can also send emails to groups which can also maintain connectivity, by updating others about your employment situation or circulating an updated resume.  Of course, there are various Social Media which are networked in and of themselves in addition to being effective channels to grow and maintain your network.  They provide opportunities to not only connect with individuals but to also job groups which are made up of others with similar professional backgrounds and objectives.  LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are the most popular Social Media sites that are being used professionally for networking purposes.

Being part of local niche groups is also key, as it gives you in-person contact to others.  To join some groups, there is a fee; for others there is not.  (Even if there are monetary costs involved, the investment will often pay dividends in some way.)  Most professional organizations in specific occupational areas or specialties have local chapters will hold events on a regular basis.  There might be a training or educational component which will be the premise for the event, but invariably there will be networking opportunities either formally designated as part of the program or informally.  Once again, when contemplating which groups to join and which events to attend, it is best to think broadly, as sometimes it is the more peripheral or indirect connections which will turn out to be the most critical for your success.

There are some aspects of networking “etiquette” which will not be presented here.  Suffice it to say, that one’s networking activities and involvement should be driven by politeness, cordiality, professionalism, common sense, and restraint.

As a community which has both values and guidelines, there are times when keeping a social distance in the workplace is warranted and people should seek mentorship in this regard.  This social distance may have an effect on where people go and relationships that are built.  However, this should not preclude developing and maintaining appropriate professional relationships that are required both technically and in the spirit of being a cordial co-worker.

Please note that previous installments in this series have addressed:

Introduction

Life Change Readiness

Making Sense of Job Postings

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Public Sector/Government

Background Investigations and Credit Checks

Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills

Communication

Future installments in this series will cover the following:

Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties

The Finish Line: Or Is It?

Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards

In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering

Final Thoughts

Posted in The Job Search | Leave a comment

The Job Search: Part IV

Author’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series on “The Job Search” which deals with many issues related to the process of seeking employment.  The article provides an overall perspective prior to actively seeking employment, as well as practical tips in doing so.  The points are to the job search for those who are entering the workforce for the first time and for those who have been in the workforce for longer.

Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills

In today’s world, it is essential that you have phone, PC and Internet access either in your home or nearby.    This also includes having a printer to print out readable resumes.  Since computers, printers, and technology may fail us on occasion, you must have a backup.  All public libraries have free access to PC’s and the Internet.  Companies with storefronts such as FEDEX-Kinko’s have printers that you can use to print for a nominal fee.   Please note that the professional standard today is to have work printed on a laser printer, not a dot matrix or inkjet.

In addition, operating within the professional world calls for basic electronic literacy.  At minimum, the three necessary skills are: the effective use of email, Internet searches and using a program like Microsoft Word.  Email is an accepted use of communication that has become standard.  Very often, resumes are included as attachments to emails.  Searching the Internet for available positions and to conduct research on employer organizations are also functions that are expected.  Finally, proficiency with a Word processor is required in order to compose/edit a resume as well as for cover letters.  Someone who lacks these basic skills should seek training in order to operate within the employment world.

Someone who is in the market for a job and is actively engaged in a job search must check email and voicemail on a regular basis.  Phone messages and emails should be returned promptly.  If not, you will be at a great disadvantage when compared to assertive job seekers who do.  While it is always recommended that you have someone in your home record and reliably forward accurate messages in a timely manner, it is especially critical to do so when you are actively looking.  Please make sure that in setting up your outgoing greetings on your home and cell phones that you record them in a way that is professional, clear and understandable.  Not doing so will be a turn-off to any company that calls.  It is advisable that the outgoing greeting is recorded by an adult and not an infant or child.

In the some geographic areas, there is some limited public transportation that is available.  However, for most jobs, some form of reliable, personal means of transportation will be required.  This applies to getting yourself to a job interview or commuting to work on a daily basis.  While depending on rides or loaned cars may be OK in the short-term, reliable transportation will be necessary as a permanent solution.

One of the key competencies that employers look for is basic writing skills.  Being able to express oneself in writing to convey ideas and technical concepts is often lacking.  You do not necessarily have to have the most sophisticated vocabulary.  However, you must make sure to use cogent, complete sentences and subject-verb agreement in written reports, emails, and letters.  In some cases, a writing sample will be requested which should be an original work which demonstrates this competency.  Even if not requested directly, it might still be a good idea to include a writing sample which will show you in a professionally favorable light.

Another skill that is valued and expected in the workplace is basic etiquette and professionalism.  In practical terms, this means that you show yourself to be polite and gracious to whomever you are dealing with in your relationships.  This also means being responsive, sensitive to the needs of others, and returning calls/messages.  Some refer to these as “people skills” which are critical, regardless of your personality.

If you feel that your current training, education, and skill sets are not putting you into a position to compete for quality job opportunities, it might be worth considering obtaining them.  A training course or two, an entry-level internship or apprenticeship, or a relevant degree might be something to seriously consider in conjunction or in lieu of your next job.  You should view this re-tooling as an investment in your future, which could have positive income ramifications down the line.

Communication

Some describe today’s society as “the communication age”.  Numerous communication channels are available to all of us.  Communication is faster than it has ever been and goes beyond boundaries of time and place.  In many ways, it is more efficient.  Electronic and digital media often replaces paper communication through letters and memoranda.  For example, documents can be emailed from anywhere to anywhere.  Text messages can be sent from any wireless phone to another device instantly.

One downside of this trend is that communication and messages are not as thoughtful as in the past.  Messages are terse and often leave much to inference.  As a result, recipients of messages often make assumptions based on the inferences, some are grounded in fact and others not.  Because email messages are not accompanied by a visual or voice context, those reading the message may ascribe a negative or hopeful tone to it, which may or not have been the intent.   This is especially the case with text messages in which the number of characters used to convey a thought is kept to a bare minimum.

Another downside is the fact that the skill required to write grammatically correct sentences and cogent thoughts has been lost.  However, it is still important to frame cover letters, resumes, emails and other materials using proper rules of spelling and grammar.  Failure to do so will cause a potential employer to receive a negative impression of you and subsequently not take your application seriously.  Especially in today’s competitive job market, it is critical that you do not do anything that will lessen the impression that a potential employer has of you.

It is also important for letters and emails to maintain a respectful and grateful tone.  For example, a “thank you” email sent the day after an interview would convey a genuine (but not overly flowery) appreciation for being allowed that forum.  This is not a difficult or costly thing to do.  Also, be sure that your communication is even keeled and appropriate.  Emails or letters that are overly enthusiastic, assertive, flowery, or otherwise over-the-top should be avoided.

In today’s business environment, communicating by email is acceptable.  While email communication is typically shorter, emails should not be casual or resemble a text message.  Grammatically correct sentences should be used as well as a proper greeting (e.g., Dear Mr. Jones”).  Every email should have a sensible subject line that matches the content of the email.  In such a business context, it is best to err on the side of formality and respectfulness.  Also, before hitting the “Send” button, please review the entire email, from top to bottom, and delete any content that might be irrelevant, confidential, or embarrassing.  Problems in this regard often occur when someone simply hits “Reply” or “Forward”. There are times when someone in the communication chain may not want his/her identity associated with such a digital “paper trail” and that should be honored in anything sent out.

In sending out communication and materials, please keep in mind that most software programs have some type of spelling and grammar checks available.  It is important to utilize those features.  It might also be helpful to have a third party review important correspondence and materials before you send them out.

Communicating effectively in person and in writing is key to creating and maintaining any relationship.  Experience in the workplace and consulting with mentors should give you a sense of what is professionally appropriate.  Obviously, there might be differences in norms and expectations depending on the context.  But, it is always better to err on the side of professionalism and cordiality.  Therefore, it is advised in most cases to send employment-related or other important electronic correspondence from a PC, where one can see what is being sent clearly on a larger screen and has the benefit of spell and grammar check.

A word on “Social Media” is in order.  This is the new form of communication, which is no longer limited to teenagers and celebrities.  The fact is that resources such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are used by corporate America to promote their brand, create alliances, and post jobs.  Many companies have ways of staying connected with job openings by being able to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  How deeply and broadly one gets involved in these tools depends on who you are and what your objectives are.  Obviously, one does not want to become obsessed or addicted to these channels to the exclusion of other productive activities.  But, it is critical for any serious job seeker to have at least a minimal presence on whatever the Social Media of the day is.

Specific guidelines for cover letters, “thank you” letters and resumes can be found on Joblink of Maryland’s website (www.joblinkemployment.com).  Please refer to those materials.

Some other communication-related points to keep in mind are as follows:

(1)    Remember to include any attachments (e.g., a resume) that you reference in your email before sending.  It is a common faux pas to omit the attachment.

(2)    Before clicking “Send”, proofread for spelling, grammar and content.  Delete any extraneous material from the body of the email.  Often there is a paper trail of correspondence that other contacts have sent you with which they might not want to be directly associated.  Please respect that.  And if an email contains a “reply” or “forward”, please make sure that what appears in the Subject line matches with the nature of your current correspondence.

(3)    Use a “neutral” and professional email address for professional correspondence, not one that is cute or funny (for example, jsmith@gmail.com should be used instead of callmeroastbeef@gmail.com)

(4)    If searching for a job while employed elsewhere, do not send out such job search related correspondence from that employer’s email account.

(5)    Make sure that your outgoing greeting on your cell phone or home voicemail is professional and has a name that matches the name you use professionally.  Outgoing greetings from toddler and other age children should be replaced with outgoing greetings from responsible adults.

(6)    When in job search mode (and even in general), make sure that if children collect home phone messages, they must be responsible and able to take cogent messages and deliver them reliably in a timely fashion.  A job opportunity may be at stake here.

(7)    Never engage in communication related to your job search activities in a manner that is connected to a current employer.  In most cases, job search activities should be limited to your home.   You should not use a work email address or phone number on your resume or send out correspondence from a machine at work.  You should not be using Internet job sites to search for opportunities while on the job.  Not only can it be electronically tracked, but others will notice that you are doing so.  You should also not use your work phone to speak with other employers or third-parties while at work and/or on work time.  In some cases, you can use your cell phone to communicate in a private area during breaks.

(8)    It is helpful and advisable to take notes to plan in advance for a professional phone call to ensure that you cover any important points to convey.  This also applies to leaving a voice mail message.  It goes without saying that you should speak clearly, introducing yourself by name at the beginning of the call.  If you leave a message, you should state a return phone number clearly.  Preparing in this way will ensure that conversations and messages will not ramble or convey irrelevant information.

(9)    If you do not hear back from a prospective employer within a timeframe that you envision, never engage in “phone stalking”.  This applies to any professional contacts.  Phone stalking means calling someone more than once or twice on a given day with or without leaving a message.  Persistence is sometimes a virtue in life.  However, please recognize that people are busy, things come up, and your inquiry is not the only pertinent matter for the recipient to handle.  With many telephone systems having “Caller ID”, it will become evident if someone is calling multiple times.  If you are discovered to be engaging in telephone stalking, it will convey a sense of desperation and reflect poorly on your communication skills.  In most cases, give someone 1-2 business days to respond to any phone or email message.  It is best to leave a voice-mail message and be patient unless you have been instructed to try more often.

(10) When making any phone call of a professional or business nature, or if you are in the job market and expect to receive calls, please make sure that you have a pen and paper directly on-hand in order to record information or take other notes.  It can be unnerving for the person on the other end of the call to have to wait for these materials to be located.

(11)In your job-related or professional conversations with those you do not know well, please be aware of the “TMI” phenomenon.  That stands for “too much information” by which one introduces into conversation aspects of one’s personal life such as excuses for missing appointments or action items, or even as off-the-cuff remarks.  Doing so, might very well brand you in a negative light towards those who are not very familiar with you.

(12) Almost everyone today has a cell phone or Blackberry which puts him/ her in touch with others 24/7.  This connectivity is used for both business and personal matters.  When you have a formal meeting with others, especially a job interview, it is best to not only silence your cell phone, but perhaps even turn it off (unless there are unusual circumstances).  When a device rings or vibrates, the recipient of the call is not only distracted, but has to make a decision as to which matter is more important.  In an interview of formal meeting, a ringing or buzzing device will be a “turn-off” to the other party.

(13)In today’s era of electronic communication and social media, there is a tendency of many (young) people to over-use email, texting, instant messaging, or social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) to communicate.  This has its place and might be less threatening than a direct conversation in real time.  However, it is important for people to also be able to pick up a phone and make a professional call, either as an initial inquiry or as a follow-up.  The feedback that one gets from a phone conversation is more direct, immediate, and offers an opportunity to make a positive impression.  Just be careful not to overuse this medium (see #’s 9 and 10 above).

Please note that previous installments in this series have included:

Introduction

Life Change Readiness

Making Sense of Job Postings

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Public Sector/Government

Background Investigations and Credit Checks

Future installments in this series will cover the following:

Self-Presentation and “The Elevator Speech”

Networking

Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties

The Finish Line: Or Is It?

Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards

In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering

Final Thoughts

Posted in The Job Search | Leave a comment

The Job Search: Part III

Author’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series on “The Job Search” which deals with many issues related to the process of seeking employment.  The article provides an overall perspective prior to actively seeking employment, as well as practical tips in doing so.  The points are to the job search for those who are entering the workforce for the first time and for those who have been in the workforce for longer.

Part II

Public Sector/Government

For some job seekers, employment opportunities with the government are appealing.  First, there is relatively more job security than in the private sector.  Second, the benefits have traditionally been comprehensive.  In addition, depending on current political trends, there might be a growth in government positions.   However, the compensation is typically below that of private industry.

Government employment includes jobs at Federal, State, and municipal levels.  There are some differences and similarities among them.

With a few exceptions, Federal government job opportunities are accessible through www.usajobs.gov.  This system replaces the older paper application process and those interested must apply through that website.  USAJOBS is an online portal by which job seekers can sort job opportunities using defined occupational and geographic criteria.  You can even set up an “agent” by which an email notification is generated when a job is posted which matches your criteria.  Applying through USAJOBS is a somewhat cumbersome process the first time around.  However, once the investment of time is made in completing the online form initially, subsequent applications do not take as long.  Personal data are saved and can be pulled up to apply for jobs with some level of customization to a particular opening.  For some Federal jobs, it is required to provide ”KSA’s”.  KSA’s are Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities that a job seeker needs to possess in order to be considered positively.  There are workshops and materials that are designed to assist job seekers in formulating KSA’s.  Given the uniqueness of the Federal application, it is wise to seek out expert advice on how to approach this.  Ten Steps to a Federal Job by Kathryn Troutman is a good resource.

With the Federal and other government systems, job requirements and qualifications tend to be quite rigid.  In fact, many automated systems do not include a human element of interpretation until the system matches the applicant’s information with the job criteria.  Therefore, it is critical to review the job qualifications carefully and make a judgment of an absolute match as certain elements may be “deal breakers”.  Many job seekers who have most but not all of the educational and experience qualifications don’t understand why they did not warrant further consideration.  Most likely, this was because the system did not find an absolute match.  So, it is important to read and evaluate each posting carefully.  Also, provide all of the information requested, as incomplete applications will also be rejected.

For government positions, please note that the salary range that is reported if not necessarily the range at which someone will be hired.  Often, the government system has relatively rigid rules about this whereby the person hired will start at the bottom of the range and progress upward according to a schedule that is based on job experience.  In the private sector, however, there is sometimes more flexibility in the amount of the starting salary

Of course, there are also positions at other levels of government including States, Cities, and Counties.  Each jurisdiction has its own protocol and application forms.

Background Investigations and Credit Checks

 

Organizations conduct background investigations and credit checks to establish a person’s financial stability as well as obviate potential vulnerability to impropriety or being compromised.  As indicated above, some positions for the Federal government or its contractors will require that you successfully complete a background investigation to obtain some level of Security Clearance.  This is because in these positions you might have access to sensitive information which needs to remain secure.  Background investigations will require that you furnish many specific details of your past, including past associations (professional and educational) and provide access to your financial status and history.  Background investigations take quite a bit of time to complete, possibly up to a year.  A typical scenario is where a provisional job offer is made and you could even start employment with that organization in non-sensitive areas.  However, if the background investigation is not successfully completed, employment will be rescinde 

Even in the private sector, more and more employers are beginning to conduct credit or other background checks (beyond a perfunctory “reference check”) prior to employment.  This is within their right to do so under Federal Law, if protocols are followed as per the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  So, please be aware that a problematic financial history can have serious employment ramifications, not only for “security sensitive positions” per se, but others as well.   Therefore, it is critical to make sure that your credit history does not contain errors or delinquencies before you start applying for employment; anything of this nature should be corrected or resolved.  Your credit score which is an index of your financial stability might also be looked at.  In addition, your financial past cannot include anything illegal or unethical that could be part of your history.

In addition, companies have been known to research prospects on the Internet, searching with engines like Google or looking at social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  It goes without saying that you should make sure that you are not connected to anything that will be objectionable, embarrassing, or otherwise cast you in a negative light.  You should occasionally do a self-audit on the Internet at least by way of a Google search on yourself to see how you are seen by others by doing a search on yourself using publically available sites. 

Please note that previous installments in this series have included:

Introduction

Life Change Readiness

Making Sense of Job Postings

The Importance of the Cover Letter

Future installments in this series will cover the following:

Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills

Communication

Self-Presentation and “The Elevator Speech”

Networking

Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties

The Finish Line: Or Is It?

Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards

In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering

Final Thoughts

Posted in The Job Search | Leave a comment