How to Develop My Career

Career Strategies

"The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn"  Alvin Toffler

"Things are different this time". These famous words have been used in many contexts, including the ever changing employment market. In the case of career planning, this saying seems to be true.

Previous generations were familiar with a vastly different employment picture. One that included jobs for life, jobs that answered to set management, a well defined career plan that allowed one to climb up the corporate ladder, jobs that did not require keen attitudes and interests, careers that were well defined, within companies that were stable and had long term prospects. Today's picture couldn't be more different. There are no more "jobs for life", management is flexible and ever changing, employees are expected to change along with the company and its operating environment, and companies are not stable entities with mergers, acquisitions, and attrition resulting from increased global competition. In addition, the western world has seen the cost to employment (to businesses) rise with increasing rules and regulations - which will lead to a continued growth for people that work for themselves or have home based businesses.

In this environment employees need to be better prepared for change, including drastic, life changing events that can occur at will. Having said that, this could also be used as a tool by employees as the labour market is expected to remain tight, especially in the skilled and service fields. The knowledge economy is no longer a panacea, and those who can better themselves through hard work and continuous education should reap the rewards. What we are need is a change in attitudes, towards the job market. People create their own careers, this is not only from their hard work and learning, but also from their personal ingenuity and attitudes. From computer programming, to the military, investments/banking to retail or entrepreneurship. Attitudes must transform from personal focus to a team focus, for a corporation/employer is akin to a team whose goal is to perform even as it replaces players and managers/coaches as the needs arise. This leads to the most daunting task for employees - the lack of job security. As you'd expect on a professional sports team, all parts are replaceable. This is no different in the job arena.

So in an environment that embraces continuous change and the need to stay competitive, there is more churn. Now this can mean both good and bad things for employees, depending on the economic cycle, their qualifications and the needs of an industry. As more people enter the job search market and do so with more frequency, it is essential for job seekers to circumvent the traditional job search avenues in order to gain an edge. The person who can network their way to a decision maker has the best chances of landing even the most highly sought after job position. Once in the job, you must start the cycle once again of adapting to your new environment and continually improving yourself by adding new skills and qualifications.

Job Search Process

In order to create an efficient plan for job search or career management, we can't just log into and start looking for jobs and instead must follow a logical process. The first step in either seeking a job or changing careers is research. One must figure out where the jobs are, who is hiring, and what are the prospects for the future. This needs to be followed up by "Self Assessment". You need to figure out what you are good at and what is stopping you from enhancing your current position. Next in line would be a plan to market yourself and generate leads. The most commonly perceived way of marketing yourself is the resume, but other marketing efforts including networking are also key. The final step in the process is the interview, the face to face interaction that is the final factor in the decision maker's selection.

Career Assessment

"No man ever listened himself out of a job."  Calvin Coolidge

Most job seekers tend to jump into the job search process by making their resume and sending it out to every half decent help wanted ad they see. What they are missing are the very important steps of assessing your career goals and life situations. It is essential that you begin the next phase of your career by first understanding your motivations for work, career strengths, personal values, and professional interests - a career assessment is essential.

Employment Changes

Most experts agree that the notion of lifetime work with a company has now gone the way of the dodo bird. This means that you are more likely to see frequent career transitions and maybe even career dislocation. One must begin by dealing with the human emotions associated with a job layoff or firing. Anger, shock, worry, and maybe even depression can have a devastating impact on most people. The key is to understand these emotions and to work as efficiently as possible to address them through positive actions. One way of dealing with the constant questions from not only prospective employers but also friends, family, neighbors and strangers is to have a clear statement for why you left your last company. Make this statement short and to the point, highlighting key reasons why your last employment came to an end.

Assessing Yourself

Begin by taking stock of your career goals and where you are in your life. If you have a family with mortgage and car payments, it is essential that you land back on your feet as quickly as possible. In this scenerio, you might not be comfortable holding out for the "dream" job and might be eager to take the first opportunity that meets certain criteria. If you find your self in such a situation or not, you must have a clear understanding of these criteria. You can begin with sizing up your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your objectives and outlining how you do your best work. The assessment process should utilize your past successes, your current strengths, work habits, a clear career objective, and your personal preferences.

The career assessment process is an important exercise to conduct prior to jumping into the job research, resume building and job networking parts of your career strategy. It will ensure a more efficient use your time and resources in engaging the right kind of people for the right kind of work.

Career Tips

Career Tips for Teenagers

Market Research

After completing a self assessment and gaining insight into personal skills and needs, it is time to research the job market. Through comprehensive of the business environment and employment market you can discover the value and power of your skills and experience. The goal is to match your particular skills with demands in the field.

One can begin by exploring a group of industries of sectors that are relevant to your career objectives. Many research tactics can be used to gain this information, though the most convinient is the Internet. All companies have websites, which provide information about their organizations, products, services and history. Many companies are part of specialized trade groups and professional organizations, which usually provide nice and handy lists of member companies on their website or through print publications.

When doing geographic research, Internet search engines can still provide useful data. Local yellow pages and telephone directories can help you track down the harder to find companies that may not be fully listed in the popular search engines. One of the best research tools based on geography is the local chamber of commerce. Most have websites with member listsings and others have print publications that can help the researcher gain invaluabe information about the types and number of companies that are based in a particular area.

Once you have gathered some data, it can be helpful to create a reseach summary for each industry sector, geographic location or sector explored. This should be followed by a list of companies that can be targetted. Once this list has been revised, it is time to begin search for contacts within the companies that can be networked to gain more information about future career prospects. Your final market research will be complete once you have gathered all the relevant information about your industry of choice and have established relationships with one or more key people in these sectors.

Industry Sectors

List of key industry sectors

Career Networking

 Networking is the most efficient and under-used form of career management. Not only can it provide you with excellent job leads, it is the best way of bouncing ideas off decision makers in your field of choice. It is believed at up to 70% of all new hires found their jobs through networking and not the traditional methods of job search. Career networking is not a request for employment, but a request for relevant information, advice or a favor from a decision maker. It targets a large percentage of jobs that are usually hidden from view. That is, these jobs are in various stages of existance and usually have not been communicated to the public. They are only accessible through the right people and are often created once a suitable candidate successfully networks with the decision maker.

As the word implies, networking begins with meeting people. These people can be aqaintances, friends, family members, neighbors, ex-employers and so on. The best way to setup a meeting with a decision maker is to frame it as an information session rather than an interview. Whether you are doing this in person or online through a career networking service like LinkedIn, the steps and purposes of the information meeting/exchange include:

Come Prepared. As you walk into your networking meeting, you shouls be prepared with background information about the person, their company, their competition and the overall industry. Additionally, you should be able to provide them with a clear and consise picture of your chosen career, your background and the options or industry segments your are currently exploring.

Building a Good Rapport. It is essential to be on good terms with people who are relevant to your career search. This can be done by setting a positive atmosphere, taking an interest in them and their organization and relating to them on various levels throug common interests or aquaintances.

Communicating Expectations. It is key to let them know that you do not expect to get a job out of this meeting. Instead communicate your desire to learn more about the opportunities and challenges posed by the industry and organization they represent.

Asking Relevant Questions. Follow an orderly methodology of seeking both general and specific information that may be relevant to your career strategy. Start with the industry of interest and gradually focus on the various sub-sectors, companies and the needs and problems within them.

Building your own Job Network
Creating a career contact list for networking.

Effective Networking Strategies
Tips on effective information/networking meetings

Job Search

Once you have completed a personal assessment and evaluated the job market, it is time to begin the job search. Though it is much more efficient to have a proactive search strategy using a network of contacts, searching and applying for existing job opportunities can be helpful if done correctly. It is worthwhile responding to published job openings if they appeal to you and match your skills.

Job postings are advertised in many different avenues. The newspaper and other print media are what most people associate with job ads, but the Internet is increasingly becoming a goldmine for job seekers and employers. Whether applying to print or Internet ads, respond within the first week that they are posted. This will give you a better chance of being noticed as most advertisements are likely to generate hundreds if not thousands of responses.

Always focus on the employer's needs, as described in the job opening and gathered through your research. Include a personalized cover letter that indicates the specific job posting and includes an overview of your skills and experience. Take the opportunity to tie in your skills and experience to a need within the organization. Also include an updated copy of your resume, again personalized for the job being applied for. The personalization may include added focus on specific skills or past experience that may be more relevant to one company than another.

Do not include a reference list or salary history with your initial application. If the job ad specifically asks for this information, simply state that your compensation requirements are flexible depending on the nature of the job position. Following up on a job application can be tricky, especially since most companies are likely to be flooded with relevant resumes. If you know the identity of the hiring manager or have contacts within the company, follow up by sending an email seven to ten days after applying for the job.

Job Search Strategies

Retained vs Contingency Job Head Hunters/Recruiters
Using the Internet for your job search

Resume Writing

 A resume is a written overview of accomplishments and information targetted towards a particular job opening. It is like a brochure, meant to give the recruiter an overview and not an exhaustive list of every previous job activity. Resumes must be professional, effective, clear and concise as they usually receive under one minute of attention from the recruiter.

As mentioned above, the resume should be customized for each job application. It is important to keep the target in mind as it will ensure that the recruiter finds what he/she is looking for in a candidate. The structure of the resume should also direct the reader's attention to the most important and relevant accomplishments and experiences. This means that a lot of importance must be placed in the formatting, ie, fonts, margins, bold type, headings, bullets and a balance between text and whitespace.

The resume should not be boring to the reader. It should include the most upto date industry related terminology and include a variety of action verbs and well structured sentences.

Parts of the Resume

There are five main parts to a successful job resume:

  • Heading and Opening Summary
  • Technical and Computer Skills
  • Professional Experience and Accomplishments
  • Education
  • Volunteer Work and Professional Affiliations
Functional vs Chronological Resumes
There are two main formats when it comes to resumes: chronological and functional.

Sample Resume
Here is a sample resume.

Resume Tips
Top 5 tips to writing a winning resume.

Job Interview
A job interview is the final step in convincing potential employers about what you bring to the table. Preparing for an interview begins by learning about the organization. This is not limited to knowing the products, services or name of the CEO, but involves a deeper analysis of the needs of the organization. You have to figure out the attributes and qualities that fit into the company so as to present yourself as the best option.

 The interviewer will want to learn about your skills, knowledge, experience and accomplishment as he/she focuses on your ability to do the job. Your work ethic, energy level, and interests in the field of work and industry will also be key in their determiniation of your will to do work. Finally they will also be considering the intangibles of chemistry, inter-personal skills, communication ability, appearance and values to determine whether you are a good fit within the organization.

Job interviews are not a monolithic activity and you are likely to experience a combination of interviews within a single job hiring process. The screening interview is a common interview usually conducted by telephone. It usually involves a human resources representative asking basic questions to guage your qualifications and verifying your resume. The face to face interview can be one single session or it could be broken down into several interviews. A qualifying interview will usually be done by the hiring manager and focuses on your skills and possible fit into the hiring group. A technical interview may be conducted as a written questionnaire within a qualifying interview or with one or more technical experts of the company. It is designed to verify your knowledgebase, skills and abilities.

The second set of interviews may include additional psycological meetings with a third party to map out your personality, motivation and organizational fit. An approval meeting with a director, regional manager or CEO is usually conducted when the company is genuinely interested in your services.

Before the interview, learn as much as possible about your potential employer. Write down some questions that you would like to ask and begin thinking of the types of questions you are likely to be asked. Try to find out the name of the person who will be interviewing you and bring extra copies of your resume. During the interview act natural and show enthusiasm. Greet the interviewer by their name and a firm handshake. Wait until you are asked to be seated, pay attention to the interviewer, answering their questions truthfully and in a consise manner. After the interview send the employer a follow up letter or email expressing yuor appreciation for the interview. Follow up with a telephone call if the employer promised to contact you by a certain date but did not.

Basic Interview Skills
Job Interview Skills

Common Job Interview Questions
Traditional Job Interview Questions
Behavioral Job Interview Questions

Salary Negotiation

"Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons."  Woody Allen

Most people believe that once they have a job offer, their career search has come to a succesful end. Instead you should consider the initial offer and ask whether you are getting the best deal. The last thing you want is to realize a couple of months into a new job that you are underpaid or made a mistake. It is therefore important to take some time to consider all offers and learn the ins and outs of salary negotiation.

Even before you receive an offer, you should have some idea on what salary range you are seeking. It is also a good idea to do some research to find out the average salaries in the industry and geographic area. Once you obtain an offer, companies usually allow several days for you to review it and provide your decision. Analyze the offer and ensure that it contains details on all your compensation, not just the salary. This means clarifying aspects like vacation, bonus, medical and dental benefits, etc. If any of the information is missing, ask the employer.

If you have job offers from multiple companies, ask for additional time to assess and compare the offers. Contact the other companies and indicate that you are considering an alternate offer and give them the opportunity to match or beat it.

Once you have the complete compensation package, evaluate it against your life needs and goals. Getting advice from someone not else who has been through a negotiation process can also provide helpful tips. Once you are ready to present a counter offer, schedule a face to face meeting with the hiring manager. Begin by re-iterating the items that you agree upon. Emphasize the contributions you will be making to the organization and ask if the compensation can be re-evaluated from the current levels.

It may take several iterations of the offer-counteroffer scenerio before you agree upons a suitable compensation package. Obtain the final offer in writing and establish a start date.

Career Management

"You must be prepared to live in an uncertain world, where the only certainty is you - your skills, your flexibility, your capacity to adapt to change."  Janis Foord Kirk

Once you find a job and are pursuing a career, it is natural not to think too much about the future. People mostly believe that they have secure jobs and do not have to worry about managing their career. Instead, with today's world of global competition and a networked economy, it is essential to define your aspirations, develop career goals, and create effective career strategies.

The first step in managing your career is identifying career preferences. Are you satisfied with your current field of work? Do you wish to earn more money or do you wish to reduce the stress caused by your current job? Do you plan to go back to school and further your education? Do you plan to change your career to something you are more passionate about? This may lead you to start looking into different careers that could better suit your professional goals or personal lifestyle.

Once you begin on your career path, it is important to continually renew yourself and your career focus. As Stephen Covey described it in his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", you must contnually sharpen the saw. Take the time to continually evaluate your career to ensure that it is on track with your career preferences and passions in life. Anything is really possible if you are willing to put your mind and energy behind it!

"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve."  Napoleon Hill

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