Thinking about making a change? You better have a process that works or you may be in the same situation a year from now. Whether you’re a career professional, a student just coming out of college, or a retiree reentering the workforce there is a list of items you must consider when it comes to a successful career strategy and working with a career coach. Many professional career coaches and/or advisors will emphasize 1 or 2 necessary things that are critical to a job search. My 28 years have shown me there are many more, and each is imperative if you are going to make the right decision for your career. Each step builds on the step that precedes it. It’s a building block method that takes into account many things because the last thing you need in your career/job change is to make a series of mistakes.
Steps you should know:
1. The first and most important step in your career strategy is to determine what type of job you need to be looking for. This is also the most difficult step. You need to look back at your career, or if you’re just getting ready to enter the workforce look at the jobs, internships, or volunteer work you did while in school. Ask yourself questions like:
i. How did I find each job?
ii. Why did I leave jobs?
iii. Why did I choose each job?
iv. What did I like/dislike about the job, manager, customers, etc.?
v. What types of teams/cultures worked for me? Which didn’t work?
vi. How committed am I to make a change?
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it will get you started. What’s important to remember is that you be truly honest with yourself and look for the common denominators, positive and negative, that show up.
2. Make a list of “need to haves” and “nice to haves”. Once you’ve come up with the answers to the questions above, it’s time to put on paper what you NEED and what you WANT. Think about this very carefully. Your needs list gives you your deal breakers. For example, you should have a base salary requirement and anything lower than that would eliminate the opportunity. Use your list to qualify/disqualify opportunities as you enter and move through the interview process.
3. Get your resume prepared. It needs to have 6 specific items in it:
i. Targets/Positioning – The job you’re looking for, e.g. Director of Product Management. You may also choose to add a Branding Statement like: “Lead from a position of strength, focus, and results in high-profile arenas and complex B2B environments.”
ii. Summary Paragraph – Answers questions like: What have you done for me lately? How well do you play with others? What are you going to do for me?
iii. Key Skills/Core Strengths – Keywords if a company is scanning for titles and accomplishments
iv. Work History
v. Accomplishments/Highlights/Challenges, Actions, and Results
vi. Education/Training/Professional Development
There are many styles of resume, but they should all have these components in some form. The other thing to keep in mind is that the people who are reading resumes do not necessarily have the same idea of what a resume should look like as a professional resume writer working closely with a career coach.
4. Research companies you may want to work for, vertical markets that may be a fit, and companies that are in businesses you have interest in. This is another key piece in your career strategy. I was working with a client and during the discovery phase I figured out that he preferred not only working for companies in the B2C space, but he was very interested in companies doing sports-related work. Consequently, this opened up a multitude of companies for him that had been living in a blind spot. In other words, he had no clue this was an area of interest for him.
5. Active vs. Passive Search – Active methods of search include, but are not limited to, finding out who a decision-maker may be at a company and getting in direct contact, networking events and networking through social media, finding posted jobs, and recruiters. Passive methods include, but are not limited to posting to job boards, recruiters, sending non-targeted resumes, hoping the phone will ring once you’ve sent a resume. Spend the bulk of your time using active methods.
6. Interviewing – There are many books out there that give interviewing advice, but nothing takes the place of an interactive conversation. Find someone to mock interview with so you can get feedback on your non-verbal behaviors and your oral cadence and language. You may have no idea that every fifth word out of your mouth is “um” or “you know”. If you don’t have anyone qualified to do this and haven’t hired a coach to take you through this process, at the very least practice in front of the mirror. This way you can see your non-verbal cues and how you speak. It’s imperative you learn these things about yourself as your verbal and non-verbal communications will directly impact your success in an interview.
7. Due Diligence – Due diligence and reference checking is not just for the employer. It’s just as important that you do your research into the company and the people you may be working for. Talk to current and former employees about their experiences with the company and management. Think of this as a fact-finding mission. Be a dog with a bone. Start your due diligence as soon as you’re a viable candidate. You don’t want to wait until you’ve received an offer, as this can be a labor-intensive process. If you don’t do your due diligence and something comes up after you’ve begun working that you could have uncovered prior, you have no one to blame but yourself.
8. Negotiating – When it comes to negotiating the offer remember that they want to hire you. Use all the reasons they gave you about why they are making you the offer to negotiate the best package possible. It’s those items that will make you more apt to get what you need and want, especially if they don’t have a #2 candidate in the pipeline they’re willing to offer the job to. You’ll also need to possibly time the offer if you have other opportunities of interest in the pipeline. Make sure you do this effectively so as not to scare anyone off.
9. Reference Checking – Companies have a number of processes they use to check on you:
i. References you provide: Get them in order. Make sure you know what they’ll say about you.
ii. Background Checks – More and more companies are doing this. Be prepared and head them off if you know they’re going to find something they won’t like. Better to bring it up and handle the objection while you have the chance rather than have them find something they don’t like and not make an offer.
iii. Social Media – If you’ve said or posted anything un-businesslike, be prepared to have them find it, and possibly eliminate you. There are many websites and companies these days that make this simple for companies.
iv. Drug Tests
v. Blind References – This is my favorite way to uncover things about a candidate or company.
These items should give you a jumping-off point. Be careful of individuals who put themselves out as a career coach, but their idea of this is resume work, cover letter work, and interview prep work. These things do NOT make anyone a career coach. Look at their job history and see what they’ve done prior to being a career coach. I recently saw a thread on LI from a “career coach” who has been in the business for less than two years with no experience whatsoever around career. This is a complex process and you want to do it effectively. No one thing in this process is a panacea. Do your due diligence on anyone you’re considering hiring to coach you through this important process.