Any successful company that sells a product knows its market. It knows who wants to buy its products. Job seekers need the same kind of knowledge. They have to step back and think about themselves as a product. What do you have that employers want?
Be analytical. Make a detailed list of your skills, professional knowledge, experience, and achievements. What makes you different? What will make you valuable to a potential employer? Go over the list with two or three people who know your career. Ask them what they think. Look to them for advice about what kind of companies you might approach about a new job.
Be sure that your resume reflects your most important selling point. You can highlight what makes you unique in a summary or profile at the beginning of the document. You can also list any unique skills or certification before you begin describing your work history. One of my client is a fluent speaker of Chinese (Mandarin). We highlighted that skill on his resume, and he was contacted by several clients looking for a sales professional with that unique language skill. Other clients have emphasized technical skills or career achievements as a way to attract an employer’s attention.
Too often job seekers simply think of their career as a timeline, a work history. If you don’t frame that history in a way that makes it easy for employers to see what you have to offer, they will often push your resume to the recycling bin. A good job search works just like a sales campaign. Your job is to sell the product – you are the product. Start selling!
President Obama announced today that Federal employees would not get a pay increase for the next two years. The President called Federal Employees, “patriots who love their country.” Nice words, which is just what working people have come to expect from this president, who can help Wall Street, but not Main Street. Yeah, I know about his tax cut and the half-baked health care reform.
This move will save only $5 billion over two years, which will do nothing to cut the deficit. It will only mean that government employees will have to sacrifice so the President can win points with the Republicans. The most talented federal workers will probably move to the private sector where they will be better paid. This move is another example of what President Obama has done best since coming to office: Disappoint.
[On Sundays Career Calling looks at intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]
Slow and Not So Steady
Writing in today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Wisneiwski profiles several Chicagoans who live in a neighborhood on the South side of the city that has been hit hard by the recession. They are feeling better, more confident. We’ve seen the economic ups and downs before, but this recession has been especially strong in its ability to keep people afraid. Even now we have stories of national economies collapsing in Europe (Greece, Ireland – maybe Spain and Portugal). It’s hard to be confident when there are always warnings about disaster just beyond the horizon.
Fear makes people stop and think twice before they spend. It also affects how they manage their careers and look for work. I’ve had several clients tell me, “There are no jobs out there.” Factually, this claim is wrong. Jobs are hard to find, but some are available. However, if someone has an attitude that they will not be able to find a job, that attitude will make it even harder – if not impossible – to get hired.
Not all is bad. Two restaurants profiled in the article report that business is up. When people eat out, that is a sign of confidence. A car dealer interviewed for the article also says his sales have increased. Auto manufacturing is still a vital part of the American economy. If that business goes up, more people will be employed, which means more confidence and consumer spending. Based on visual evidence, the holiday shopping season if off to a booming start.
We still have big problems. Unemployment needs to come down, which will only happen once there is some change in manufacturing and offshoring. As long as American business leaders chase the cheapest labor, it will be impossible for American workers to live with any kind of confidence. Our political leaders also must behave differently. We live in a media-driven age where everything is politics. That said, our leaders need to find a way to address real problems people face. One and two word answers – “tax cuts,” “freedom” – are cliches, not solutions.
I’ve never felt this recession was as bad as doomsday pundits made it out to be. I remember the 1970s and early 1980s. That was the time when our industrial base really took a hit, especially in industrial cities like my home town, Cleveland, Ohio. Inflation was double-digit, and OPEC drove gas prices high by limiting oil supply to the U.S. We survived that time. Our parents and grandparents survived the Depression of the 1930s. This too shall pass – eventually.
The media is making a big deal out of a small business owner in Florida who laid herself off and took a job at half her six figure salary. She let her employees keep their jobs, so the story goes.
Now let’s test the story. Many small business owners stop taking salaries or cut their pay when things are going badly. What is certain? If employees don’t work, the company can’t deliver to its customers, which also means it can’t get paid.
The hero business owner still will make money if here business makes a profit. If she cut her workers, there would be no company. Beware of such heart warming stories. They don’t tell the real story about small business – or big businesses that lay off workers in the thousands.
The Chicago Sun-Times recently published an article recommending that job seekers keep looking for work during the holiday season. The writer, Claudia Buck, says that this is a good time to look for work because other job seekers are less active. They think “no one hires in December.”
This formula is partially true. Fewer job seekers look for work between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. They do so in no small part because they see fewer jobs posted. Companies hire less during this time. However, some still hire, which is why I agree with Buck that job seekers should keep looking. But they should do so with realistic expectations.
What Buck says that is very valuable is that job seekers should use this time to network and meet new people. Whether you are meeting people at a holiday party or volunteering to serve meals during the holidays, meet new people and add them to your network. Follow up with them over lunch or coffee. Learn about them and let them learn about you. Look for ways to help each other.
Buck also gives good advice in sticking to a schedule in looking for work and finding a buddy to share the job search with. The holidays can be a good time to meet people use those connections to drive your job search and manage your career.
Juan Cole, who writes Informed Comment, my favorite blog on the Middle East, has a great post on a church in Memphis that is celebrating Thanksgiving in a joint ceremony with Muslims and Jews. The groups are also celebrating the holiday by working together to feed the homeless. Cole blends this story with a glance back at the original Thanksgiving, another time when Christians joined with people of another faith.
Cultural understanding takes work. We are lucky to have people like Juan Cole who cut through so much of the smoke we are fed by the media. Happy Thanksgiving.
I ran into a friend at a Thanksgiving party. He told me that he’d gotten bad news from his doctor. Without knowing it, my friend had a heart attack. The doctor told him he has to lose weight, exercise more, and cut back on stress. My friend has lost fourteen pounds and is exercising every day. However, he can’t escape stress. It’s part of his job.
What can my friend and so many other Americans do to limit stress? First, they can face the reality of their workplace. Some jobs are deadline driven. Others require the ability to deal with people who are facing hardships, problems that are hard to solve. In these situations, workers will feel stress. However, by recognizing that stress is a part of their job, they will be better able to handle it.
A second way to limit stress is to leave work at work. Many people bring their work-stress home to their family and friends. For the sake of their physical and mental health, they need to build a wall between work and home. It’s not easy, especially when unemployment is high and wages are flat (declining for many). We still need to find a way to think of home as separate from work. Home has its own causes of stress. We don’t need to pile on troubles from the job.
A third way to battle killer stress is to be a little bit selfish. Find activities that make you happy – make time for them. Follow my friend’s example. Exercise, eat right, and lose weight. That’s good for you as well as everyone you love. Take care of yourself, or you will not be able to take care of anyone else.
Thanksgiving’s a great time to reflect on the good things life has given us. Being grateful puts things in perspective, and it helps us moderate worry and stress. When you feel that tightness coming on, sit in a quite place and think about the good things in your life. It won’t make the problem or stress go away, but it will give you a better spirit to face your challenges.
Stress kills. It hurts our bodies and warps our minds. We need to pay attention to this monster and fight it every day. Here’s an easy way to start – think about the good things and people in your life. Turn the corners of your mouth up. Stress hates it when we smile.
Children often embarrass parents by asking where babies come from. Today, Seth Godin asked where ideas come from. He offers 20 answers, including this important bit of advice: “Ideas don’t come from watching television.”
Our current political debate is often dismissive of workers. Unions are seen as a burden on the economy, a job killer. Unemployment benefits, a program that workers pay into, has been equated with welfare. Recently, the debate over taxing the top 2% of American income earners has sparked a new term “job givers.” We can’t take the rich because they create jobs. The claim is debatable. The language and thought used to promote this idea are even worse.
This term “job givers” bothers me because it warps the relationship between employers and employees. A job is not a gift. It is an exchange. In return for work and skill, employers pay a wage to their workers. No company hires people as a gift. If we have seen anything over the past few years, it is that companies will shed labor costs (and the people who do the work) as quickly as they can.
I am not criticizing employers. Sometimes it is necessary to downsize or even shut down an operation. What we should not do is look at the employer as a kindly uncle or aunt who rewards employees with a job. If anything, many employers over the past few years could be called “salary takers” as they have cut wages and hours, imposed furlough days, and altered models for bonuses and commissions.
We need to be honest about why companies hire: There is work to be done and existing employees can’t get it all done. Over the past two years, as unemployment has gone up, so has worker productivity, which means people with jobs are working harder and working longer hours – often for less pay or fewer benefits. How can that be called a gift?
Job seekers assume the worst, especially when it comes to technical skills. Clients frequently tell me they need to take training for a new kind of computer skills. I ask them if they are sure they will need it. In many cases, they are assuming without checking job postings or career profiles. Take the time to build a market profile. Review 8-10 job postings and note all of the requirements that employers are looking for. If 6 of 10 or 5 of 8 employers are looking for someone who knows Excel, it is probably important that you know how to use the software. If it’s not, you might be wasting good time and money taking a class you won’t need.
Take the time to do the research before you jump into training. Is it needed? Will it be worth your time and money?