Life Transitions, Carol Gonzalez will focus on the natural and not-so natural stages of our lives. Each issue I’ll spotlight a particular transition. From graduating from college, getting married, having a baby, or helping your child get ready to leave the nest, I’ll provide Identity readers with practical advice, tips and resources that I’ve learned over the years. With over 20 years in corporate America, 21+ years of marriage and three children ranging from 7-18, I’ve transitioned a lot! I’ll also look to Identity readers to share how you navigated those transitions too.
Back to Work
“We’d like to offer you a position at our firm.” I still smile when I think back to the day when the company recruiter offered me a job. Not just any job mind you, but an ideal job for me in this difficult job market. I’d like to share with you my personal journey that concluded with that special day.
I worked at a large pharmaceutical company for almost a decade when the company decided to merge with a larger peer. This was not the first time I’ve gone through a merger. I asked myself: Will I keep my job? Will my location change? Will I be doing the same thing? If I lose my job, when will that happen? How much time will they give me? It was a scary place to be in especially in the middle of the Great Recession.
I considered myself lucky because I kept my position for more than a year after the merger announcements. Many of my colleagues lost their jobs soon after the merger deal closed. My former employer set up a program to assist employees during the merger transition with financial education, resume writing and resiliency training. I specifically recall the resiliency training because the facilitators explained the range of emotions one might experience during a merger: shock, denial, anger, worry, acceptance and finally, taking action. I learned from this training to accept the circumstances that I cannot control and to focus my energy and attention on the things that are within my control. So, when my job was “transitioned” to another person instead of being angry at the situation I worked with her in a cordial and professional manner. Moreover, I sought opportunities to work on other projects within the company and outside, such as presenting at a conference or professional affiliations, networking, joining “Meetup” groups, writing for online magazines (Identity), etc. These activities helped to develop my confidence and to build on my experience.
Fourteen months following the merger announcement I joined the ranks of the unemployed. I was secretly hoping that there would be a job for me, that somehow I would be immune to the merger’s Reduction in Force plans (RIFs). I later realized that I was in denial. Finally, my last day at work came and reality hit.
“What do I want to do?”
This may seem like an easy question to answer. I should seek a similar position. But I viewed my situation as an opportunity to reflect and explore a different career. I assessed my interests, abilities, talents, skills, relationships, and my personality traits and completed an online assessment to discover more possible career choices.
Next step: assess the market.
The greatest loss in jobs since the Great Depression made it an employers’ market so changing careers really wasn’t an option. I did briefly consider going back to school and earning an MBA but I quickly concluded that this was not a practical option. I also considered working independently and talked to a lot of women who chose that option. While this option was enticing, being your own boss, I decided that this wasn’t the best choice for me. I kept the independent route open while at the same time, looking for a position where I could leverage my experience, targeting different industries and expanding my geographical reach, i.e., commuting farther.
After my assessment, I decided on a similar career path. The next step was to develop a plan of action. My action plan included short and long term goals and milestones and the specific tasks needed to achieve those goals. I remained focused while continually making adjustments as necessary.
In the first month, I developed my personal brand and learned as much as I could about the job search process. (I’ll discuss this in more detail below.) Next, I started looking online for positions within my identified parameters while increasing my networking. It was frustrating not finding any positions that matched my experience and expectations. Either I was overqualified or under qualified. About three months into my job search, things started to happen. I’ll never forget the email from a networking colleague, “…thought you might be interested in this job.” I read the posting and said to myself, “OMG this is ideal. I‘m perfect for this role.” I took the job posting and literally dissected it piece by piece. I drafted a cover letter that matched my own personal experience with each job requirement in a side-by-side comparison. It took me a long time to complete the online application. So long, that I timed out and had to complete it all over again! I was determined to finish it, even with my husband calling out to me, “It’s getting late—hit the rack.” It took me a while to finalize it to my satisfaction. I went to sleep that night satisfied and forgot about it. I wasn’t expecting a call back. The chances for a call back were slim, because the competition was the internet.
The next day I headed out for an appointment and my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number but I picked it up and answered professionally. It was the company that I applied to, the previous night. The recruiter asked me a few screening questions about my experience and salary requirements. Then she asked if I was interested in coming in to meet with some of the staff. I was so excited; you couldn’t take the smile off my face.
Although it seemed promising, I continued my job search. In fact, I had worked hard and landed two other job opportunities. One possible job came through an online application and the other through a networking contact. Both were good leads and resulted in phone and in-person interviews. I was cautiously optimistic that one of the three positions would lead to something.
Five months later and nine interviews with my ideal position with a prestigious company and I was offered a job. YES!
Experts say that on average it takes a year to find a job. Again I consider myself lucky. But you can increase your odds by keeping a positive attitude, making connections and having a plan that includes the following:
ONE: Personal Brand – Develop your personal brand that you continue to refine and tweak, as necessary.
a. 30-second commercial – also known as an elevator speech. It’s a short statement that states who you are, your previous role, what you are best known for and your goals.
b. Resumes (yes plural) – you should have a couple of versions depending on the skills/experience you want emphasize and the jobs you’re considering.
c. Networking profiles – more general than a resume, a one-page summary that summarizes your skills, experience, industries and companies you’re targeting.
d. Business cards – include your name, telephone, LinkedIn or other social media contact information, and a title (HR Professional, Project Manager, etc.)
e. Cover letters –accompanies application, should be customized for each and every job you apply to.
f. Thank you templates –follows interviews and should be customized based on the interview.
g. Job references – three or four people you have worked with that can provide feedback on your skills and experience. Make sure you include diverse reference, i.e., former peers, supervisors, senior management, external partners, etc.
h. Presentations to be used in interviews – present samples of work or create a presentation of your skills.
i. LinkedIn profile – LinkedIn is a professional networking site. Your LinkedIn profile is very similar to your resume, just not as detailed. Leverage social media, create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one and update it if you do. Join groups and showcase your experience and skills by participating in-group discussions. (Note: make sure your Facebook account is professional and respectful.)
TWO: Weekly schedule of meetings with network contacts (at least two a week), speaking events, networking groups, outplacement and/or unemployment seminars on resume writing, marketing plans, interviewing, salary negotiations, etc. Share your 30-second commercial with new contacts, so they know what you’re interested in.
THREE: Target list of companies of interest. Check online postings and leverage internal contacts. Make calls to industry leaders and meet with them, if local.
FOUR: Agencies/head hunters – Find out what agencies hire for your industry. Get a reference from someone who has used them. Then call and introduce yourself. Be prepared with a list of questions prior to the call. See if there any jobs available. If not, at a minimum, share your experience and keep in touch.
FIVE: Exercise and Take time off to rest – Recognize that stress from being unemployed and/or looking for a new position can affect your search/plan. Exercising and “re-booting” allows you to clear your mind and think fresh.
SIX: Selective online postings – The internet is great for searching for jobs. But it is also great for your competition. Your strategy shouldn’t be limited to online applications. If you do apply online, make sure you are highly qualified. Make your cover letter count and your resume too. If you need to reorder or revise your resume to highlight certain skills, then do it.
SEVEN: Job boards – Establish profiles on job boards or selective companies so you are alerted when a position with your requirements is posted. Apply as soon as possible once again making your cover letter count.
EIGHT: Interview prep – Make sure you know as much as you can about the company, position and the persons who plan to interview you. Leverage your contacts to learn as much as you can. Be prepared to answer standard interview questions, to ask questions, to sell your personal brand, knowledge and skills. Emphasize your value to an organization. Take notes.
NINE: “Thank you’s”- Right after your interviews write your notes and decide what you want to include in your “thank you” letters. Draft the letters immediately and send out within 24 is possible. Email is acceptable.
I learned to accept my circumstances, to appreciate the gifts and resources available to me and to achieve by landing that ideal job.