unemployment

Volunteering - a good idea for career transition?

There has been much discussion about whether volunteerism is a useful technique in career transition. I remember a Washington Post article about a year and a half ago that cited a study claiming that 27% of volunteer jobs lead to other full-time paying jobs.   

I'd like to expand on that idea. I don't think volunteerism is only beneficial to the lower-skilled job seekers mentioned in that piece; I think it's good at any level. Since the article focused on that particular group, I'd like to talk about the others who are more skilled and experienced.

On a purely emotional and practical basis, volunteering is a great idea for building structures into your day. That's always a big problem with people who are out of work all of a sudden - their regular structures, and peers, disappear.  

I don't encourage clients and students to seek full-time volunteer positions, though, because it would take them out of their regular, structured search activities, and the loss of momentum is problematic. Go for part-time. Three days a week would be fine. No more, because it won't leave enough time for a reasonable job search, or at least my version of one.

I think finding the right volunteer situation is critical for those who are more educated and skilled. By "right," I mean something that might add a skill necessary for your targeted career goal, or might reinforce an existing one. If you're an events planner, for example, getting involved in fundraising activities for a non-profit would be a great idea. Or if you're in finance, why not offer services in the financial area of a non-profit? Even though it might not be the same as the jobs you've been doing, it's something you can point to when going out on the job market.  

There's one part of this most people overlook. If you're going to offer your services for free, you can negotiate! Yes, negotiate. I frequently tell the people I work with that they should discuss a few items up front:

•    Ask if you can be called a consultant, rather than a volunteer. Looks better on the resume, and sounds better in networking and interviewing.

•    Be sure what the role is, that it won't be a bait and switch situation. For example, you've been told you're going to help them design a new system for membership, and then you find out after you start you're doing data entry. Not useful for you.  Don’t do it.

•    Ask if they'll provide excellent references for you (calling you a consultant, of course), assuming you do the terrific job that you will.

•    Also, if you're going to do that terrific job for them, would they assist you by perhaps providing some help in building new networks?

•    And . . . perhaps, if things work out well on both ends, would there be a possible position that might become available (if you're interested, of course)?  

I'm not surprised by the 27% number provided in the article. I’ve always thought that volunteering during a search is a no-lose proposition, if set up well.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook. 

Career Transition Mythology - Part Two

The more I think about it, the more career transition myths I come up with, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll keep it to ten – for now. Here are five more to add to the previous list:

1) The myth: If you have a terrific interview, with instantaneous great feedback, the odds are good that you’ll get an offer.

The reality: Think of the interview as just the first part of a process.  What happens after the interview is almost as important as the interview itself.  

A follow-up email is imperative, within 24 hours. It’s not a matter of etiquette. It’s about marketing, and about solidifying the points you made on the interview. You want to reiterate why you think the position is a great fit (“fit” being one of my favorite job search words). You may want to add something that you may have not had the opportunity to include in the interview. You know how you sometimes leave an interview and all of a sudden realize that you left out a critical element? The follow-up email is the opportunity to fix that.  

Keep the email short and business-like, with short paragraphs, or perhaps bullet points. Make it easy to scan, like all business communications. Reiterate your interest in the position.  

Another follow-up element is staying in touch. Never let more than five to ten business days elapse without some sort of contact. It should be a low-key voicemail or email, just “checking in” on the status of your candidacy. Maybe if the process drags out (more common than not), you offer to come in again to make their process easier. Maybe that sounds a bit presumptuous, but I think it’s a “why not?” if the process is lagging. Nothing to lose!  

2)The myth: Spending a couple of hours a day calling contacts and answering postings should just about do it for allocating time to any job search.

The reality: Time management and prioritization are critical elements of a successful career transition. For the unemployed, it’s a full-time job. Research, building and maintaining a contact database, maintaining accurate records of all activities, reaching out, and aiming for as many as five live meetings a week should create an extremely busy schedule. A truly proactive search is time-consuming.    

For employed people, it’s tougher. I highly recommend a quota system for those on a search, i.e., a certain amount of dedicated time per day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of reading about a targeted area, that’s part of the process. The key is to maintain momentum by aiming for some time every day, whether it’s reading or making a phone call, or trying to get one live meeting per week.

3) The myth: “Networking” means calling everyone you know, and asking for job leads and new contacts.  

The reality: Real networking is a process.  It’s not a quick introduction, or one meeting. As with sophisticated sales technique, it’s cultivating relationships – over a period of time. It’s also more subtle than just asking friends for leads. Another label for the concept is “indirect marketing.”  

Each meeting should have three objectives, which is a good way to measure its effectiveness. 

  • First, the relationship itself is key; so is maintaining it after the initial contact.  
  • Second, the meeting should be structured around prepared questions that both reflect your knowledge of the industry, and the self-marketing questions you wanted to ask in the first place. 
  • Third, what you may have thought the whole thing was about, a chance to expand your network by asking if there’s a possibility of referrals to others who might be helpful.  

4) The myth: A great 15-second “elevator pitch” is critical to your success in any career transition.

The reality: The very idea of a 15-second pitch strikes me as ridiculous.  Yes, it might be appropriate for that elevator, but who wants to be pitched on an elevator? It also might work well at a social or professional gathering, since you don’t want to corner anyone with a full pitch. Your objective there, after all, is just to get some business cards for future reaching out.

A pitch is a 1 ½ - 2-minute summary of who you are, what your skills and experience have been, something memorable that makes you different from others, a one-sentence job history, and a summary of all of it to cement what you’ve already stated. 

A great pitch is one of the hardest aspects in transition and one of the more critical. It’s not only imperative for the “tell me about yourself” question on an interview, but it’s also a great introduction in a networking meeting, a way of establishing yourself on a new job, a good outline for scripting your approach and follow-up emails. In other words, it’s your brand, and you want to use it as the cornerstone of your transition.

5) The myth: Cast a wide net in your search. Apply for everything. Talk with everyone. The numbers are bound to work in your favor.

The reality: Designating clearly defined targets (Plan A, Plan B, and maybe even Plan C) is the critical first phase of any transition. It’s not necessarily what’s available out there; it’s what you want, and what is feasible.  

After figuring out what the possible targets will be, it’s important to then research what their markets are. If it’s a target which may have only two or three organizations that might hire into those positions, it’s not a great statistical target – unless the other(s) have more possibilities. Overall, you want a high probability of success, contingent on a large number of possible options in the target.  

An unfocused search might work, just by sheer randomness – but not that often. A targeted search will work faster and better, assuming you’ve performed a basic due diligence on the feasibility of those targets first.  

Here’s a good philosophy to stick to: The best work situation is one where someone in career transition looks for what fits his/her life, rather than fitting the life to the career. This will add to the necessary focus.  

Avoiding these myths will help keep any career transition on track.  

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook.

Career Transition Mythology - Part One

There are so many faulty and widely-held convictions about how to execute a successful career transition that I thought it might be helpful to address a few  – and debunk them. What follows are some of the most common:

1) The myth: In order to defuse some of the more painful aspects of all the rejection and difficulties inherent in any search, it’s a great idea to share your feelings freely. 

The reality: You don’t want your brand out there to be a negative one. The last thing you need is a general perception that things aren’t going well, or that you’re discouraged, or that things aren’t working out. Think about it. Why would people in your personal or professional network want to refer you to others if they perceive you as somehow damaged or discouraged goods? The perception you want to create is what I like to call “sunshine, light, and success.” It’s all going well, even if it isn’t.  

But you do need to vent and troubleshoot during this process. Limit that to one or two close friends, professional associates, or family members.  Try hard to keep the venting to a minimum with significant others. It’s tough for them, too, and you would much prefer they be more positive and supportive, rather than experiencing exactly what you are going through. A strong emotional support system is an essential piece of a successful search.

By the way, it’s absolutely permissible to take some time off. While I think that search is a full-time job, breaks are important. (That doesn’t mean take the summer off, or give up during the holiday seasons.) I’ve frequently observed that not taking time off will often make the search less effective and less energetic.  

2) The myth: Answer as many job postings as possible; the more resumes out there, the better.  

The reality: Sending out large volumes of resumes (even with great cover emails) is usually a waste of time. It’s reactive – or passive – job search. What many people hope is that by sending out large volume responses to postings, or sending out resumes blindly to various human resources departments, there will be market saturation and, by sheer statistical probability, many responses. In other words, they can just sit there and wait for the world to come to them. The phone will ring. Emails will magically appear. It doesn’t usually happen that way, but it’s definitely a great wish.  

One of the most negative images I have of a futile job search is someone in transition staring at both their computers and phones – and waiting.  

Statistically (since we just mentioned numbers), a significant proportion of jobs are found through relationships, not through sending out resumes or calling search firms.  

You need to take responsibility for your own search, in a proactive fashion.  That means while you may answer postings, you’re spending most of your time researching your targets, working on your self-branding, and developing relationships that will lead to learning about new possibilities. That’s a full time job, and it’s hard work.  

3) The myth: After having built those above-mentioned relationships, you can relax after you meet new people, and wait for the job possibilities and leads to roll in.  

The reality: We’re back to that proactive notion again here. One of the most common problems I hear about in transitions is that my clients or students have met many people, but that alone has still not led to job possibilities.  

Having one meeting with a valuable contact is not enough.  

An effective networking approach, one that is consistently proactive and does indeed lead to finding out about position openings, is one that involves tending those new relationships. That means multiple follow-up contacts – including a thank you/marketing email for positive reinforcement right after a meeting, then perhaps multiple communications  afterward, as many as you think reasonable. One of those might be telling the contact that you’ve met successfully with someone they’ve suggested. Or another might be sending a clipping about a relevant topic that was discussed in the meeting. Keep the communications short and unobtrusive.  

What we’re talking about here is pure sales technique. A contact won’t remember you from just one meeting, and especially not from just one phone call. (I always encourage, whenever possible, that meetings be in person.)  There have to be repeated contacts to create memory and relationship. This is more hard work.

4) The myth: When you think that an offer is about to come, suspend all other job search activities. You don’t want to have to cancel meetings and offend people.  

The reality: It’s dangerous to stop a search when an offer, or offers, seem imminent. Momentum is lost. So much can happen with that assumed offer. Funding could disappear, an internal candidate could appear; any number of variables could mess up your offer. So why rely on what you can’t control?  Keep things going.  

When I said “dangerous,” I meant that when all activity is stopped in anticipation of offer(s), and those don’t work out, it’s very difficult to get activities started again. It’s demoralizing to try to rebuild the search at that low point. Search is hard enough without adding unnecessary detours.  

If you do get the offer, and successfully negotiate it, then great; you can always cancel the other meetings you’ve scheduled.  

5) The myth: The more people I talk with, the better.

The reality: Volume doesn’t equate to success in job search. High numbers are better than low, but not enough. As mentioned earlier, I’ve heard many job seekers say they’ve met many people, and some may even enjoy the process (that always surprises me, because I’m not one who will talk about what a wonderful experience career transition is).  But they wonder why the volume hasn’t resulted in new job leads or at least new, reliable information.  

I recommend a system for analyzing the quality of your networking contacts.

  • Level One contacts are peers, or just those who might be able to help you penetrate an organization, or simply give you industry information that you need to make yourself more of an “insider.” Level One is where most will spend significant time, particularly in the beginning of search – when you’re looking to validate your targets. But if a search continues to be only Level One, this may be a key reason why it’s not working.
  • Level Two contacts are the right people in the right organizations in your target areas – and could also possibly lead you to decision makers, otherwise known as Level Three.  These Level Two contacts are great sources of information about your targets and your potential market.  
  • Decision makers (Level Three) are those who make hiring decisions.  They are your eventual targets in search.  

If your search is stalled, chances are there are mostly Level One contacts in your network. If you’re making progress, you’re seeing Level Two and Level Three contacts.

In Part II I'll talk about more myths and other factors in successful search.   

Ellis

For a quick course on networking, pick up my Ebook, Networking: How to Make the Connections You Need

If you're looking for more in-depth advice on your job search, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work is available in paperback and Ebook.