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Career-Life Times, Issue #52--Career-Killing Mistakes
September 23, 2008
Few things are as important--or as complicated--as having a rewarding career. But the journey from first job to retirement can be long and complicated, and many things can go wrong along the way if you’re not careful.
Here are four potentially career-killing mistakes to avoid during your journey.
1. Not thinking about your next job.
If you like your current job, you're probably not thinking about your next one. But unless you're retiring soon, you should be. You never know when you'll end up looking for new work, especially in today's crazy economy. Bankruptcies, mergers, layoffs, and downsizing are happening more often these days. Thousands of American employees were caught off guard this past year when their "solid" companies self-destructed.
Even if your company is still secure, your dream job may not be. Bosses, co-workers, budgets and policies can and often do change. A dream job can quickly and unexpectedly turn into a nightmare.
If you had to find a new job tomorrow, would you be ready? Be prepared for the unexpected by: (1) keeping a current list of your accomplishments, awards, references and other information you'll need to update your résumé; (2) keeping up with the latest skills and trends for your industry, even if you don’t use them in your current job; and (3) networking, always.
2. Not networking.
Networking is something many of us dread and avoid, even though it's how most people find unadvertised jobs (and many of the best jobs are never advertised). But don't wait until you're looking for a job to think about the importance of networking. Networking can often help you with your current job and promotions. There are people at your company other than your boss who can help with your career. Get to know them. And what about clients and customers? Friends, colleagues and even family members? You may be surprised at who could turn out to be a great benefactor.
It's important, though, to realize that networking is not a chore that involves forced schmoozing and socializing for the purpose of achieving your goals. Networking is the art of building mutually beneficial relationships.
Here's the key to networking success: do whatever you can to help others achieve THEIR goals. It's that simple: help others and they'll help you.
3. Focusing on yourself and not on the company you work for.
This may seem like a bit of a contradiction to mistake no. 1, "Not thinking about your next job." But it is possible and important to focus on helping your current company while also preparing yourself to leave it behind.
While focusing on yourself and your career objectives is acceptable and expected up to a point, putting your personal needs ahead of the company's goals can be a mistake.
Think of your company as an individual who can help--or hurt--your career. Remember the rule of networking: do whatever you can to help others achieve THEIR goals first. You help them, and they'll help you. If you focus on helping your company to solve its problems, accomplish its mission, and achieve its goals--especially by doing more than is required or expected of you--you'll gain an enviable reputation as a valuable asset. Contrast that with someone who has a reputation as a self-centered career climber. When promotional opportunities come up, who do you think will have the best shot? When layoffs become necessary, who do you think the company will protect?
Even if you have no intention of staying with the company for long, don't overlook the importance of working FOR them in every sense of the word. Develop a great reputation; it will go with you as you move on to other companies and continue to advance in your career.
4. Getting excited about a new job before it's yours.
If you're currently employed but have applied for a great job with a new company, it's often difficult to remain calm. It's natural to fantasize about how much better your life will be when that new job is yours. While it's okay to be optimistic, there are dangers here, as well. Your attitude about your current job may change. You'll be mentally comparing it with the terrific new job you expect to have soon. Silly little things that never really bothered you before will become huge frustrations, as you'll be thinking, "I won't have to put up with this crap much longer." Imagine how frustrated you'll now become if you find out that new job isn't going to happen!
Here's an even worse scenario: being so sure you'll be leaving soon that you brag about your "new job" to co-workers who are grumbling about theirs. Make no mistake, even if you swear them to secrecy, your boss will find out. Your working relationship with your boss and co-workers is now permanently changed. If the new job comes through, this is no big deal. But what if it doesn't? You're now stuck in the same job with the co-workers you bragged to, working for a boss who knows you are looking for another job and therefore considers you to be disloyal and ultimately unreliable.
Don't allow yourself to become too excited about a new job before it's really yours. And never, ever say anything about it to anyone until you have a firm (written) offer and are positive you've got it!
There are many other mistakes that can hinder your career--often without you even realizing it. The old days of getting hired out of school, moving up the ladder with promotions based on seniority, and sticking with the same company until a cushy retirement are long gone. Your career progression depends on what you do, and don't do, as well as on external forces like the country's economy. There is no "automatic pilot" setting that will take you where you want to go. You must remain informed, involved, and in control for the entire journey.
Many companies now use computers and word-recognition software to scan résumés. They are programmed to look for keywords--specific words or phrases related to the job opening. If your résumé doesn't have these keywords, then it automatically goes into the virtual reject pile, without human eyes ever seeing it.
That's the bad news. The good news is you're now aware of it, and can make it work in your favor when applying for a new job! Here's how:
1. Study the job posting and make a list of the keywords and phrases used to describe the required skills and desired qualifications. For example, "strong verbal communication skills."
2. Include every one of those keywords and phrases in your résumé, exactly as used in the job posting, for the ones that apply to you. For example, include "strong verbal communication skills" even if you'd prefer to say "experienced with public speaking." A human may make the connection; a computer will not. You must use the exact phrases from the job posting.
3. Find a creative way to include keywords and phrases that do NOT apply to you. For example, if the job posting includes the keywords, "proficiency with Microsoft Excel" as a requirement, but you don't know Excel, you can say something like this: "While I do not currently have proficiency with Microsoft Excel, I love learning computer applications and can become proficient within two weeks." The exact keyword phrase is in that sentence for the computer to find.
These three steps will help you get your résumé approved by the computer and thus passed along for human review. But they are also good strategies when you don't know whether or not computer scanning of résumés is used by the company for which you're applying. Seeing the desired keywords and phrases will make even human résumé scanners sit up and take notice!
You've seen the headlines -- thousands of jobs vaporized at corporate behemoths Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Some of the world's biggest businesses face big problems in the coming months.
That's why, if you're looking for work, you should take a long look at small businesses.
Small firms employ about 50% of all private-sector workers in America and, since the mid-1990s, have generated 60-80%of net new jobs each year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
"I'm a big advocate of targeting small businesses in a job search because it's easier to get your foot in the door and make contact," advises Thad Greer, a recruiter and author of The Executive Rules (www.ExecutiveManagementSearch.com).
Not only is it easier to reach executives at smaller companies, "they also make employment decisions faster and you have more flexibility when negotiating a compensation package," says Greer.
That's the good news.
The challenge? Many smaller firms don't advertise job openings online, so it can take some sleuthing to find the right employer for you.
Yet, it can be done. Here are three ways.
1. Look Beyond the Want Ads
Whether you read your newspaper online or on paper, it's a valuable source of intelligence about which small firms may be hiring.
First, look for growing companies. Any local firm in the news for an increase in sales or market share merits your attention.
Second, check the business section for companies signing new real estate leases, which are a sign of a need for increased capacity -- and employees.
Finally, any company profiled in the Sunday business section or elsewhere is a potential employment lead. Because, if they're doing enough good things to merit special coverage, they're likely growing and in need of staff.
2. Call the Chamber of Commerce
Members of your chamber of commerce often rank among the area's leading small firms, making them an excellent source of employment leads.
Call the chamber, tell them you're researching the top employers in your line of work, and ask for the name of the best person to take out for lunch -- you might get the name of someone at the chamber, at a specific employer, or both.
Any meetings you go on are fact-finding missions only -- ask for advice, not for a job. And ask this question of every decision maker you meet: What would you do if you were in my shoes? This forces people to think specifically -- you'll get more actionable ideas from this one question than any other I know.
Note: Don't limit your options. Call every chamber in every city within 25 miles, or however far you're willing to commute.
3. Hit the Pavement
You can find dozens of potential employers simply by driving (or biking or busing) around near your home. Especially if you're an urban dweller. According to the SBA web site, small firms make up more than 99% of inner city businesses and create 80% of jobs in those areas.
So, get out, look around, and write down the names and address of any company that interests you. When you get home, research them on Google, narrow the list down to 10-25, and find contact information for executives you might work for.
You have several options at this point:
* Put out feelers to your network asking for contacts at your top 25 local firms. When you make a connection, arrange a phone call or meet for coffee and find out how you can fill their needs.
* Write an "approach letter" to employers, in which you say, in effect, "Here's what attracts me about your organization, and here are the skills and abilities I can contribute. Would you be open to discussing this?" Don't include a resume. Do call to follow up.
* Call decision makers by phone. Give your name and explain how you found them; demonstrate knowledge of their company; ask if they have a few minutes to speak; ask questions to uncover their needs; and ask for a meeting to discuss how you could help. If you don't get a meeting, ask for referrals.
Confused about what to do? Mail or call five companies you don't want to work for. Practice on them before contacting your top 25 employers.
Although economic problems may loom for large employers, small firms remain resilient. While the private sector as a whole lost 33,000 jobs in August 2008, small businesses (with fewer than 50 employees), added 20,000 jobs, according to the latest National Employment Report from ADP.
So be sure to think small in your job search. The results could be huge.
Kevin Donlin is Creator of TheSimpleJobSearch.com. Since 1996, he has provided job-search help to more than 20,000 people. Author of 3 books, Kevin has been interviewed by The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, CBS Radio and others. His latest product, The Simple Job Search System, is available at Instant Job.
More Articles. You can find more articles on my website by clicking on Article Index. Here are a few new ones you might enjoy:
Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor.com is a relatively new site that provides an inside look at what it's really like to work at a company, based on ratings, reviews, confidence in senior leadership, and salaries — for free. Unlike sites like Salary.com or PayScale.com, all of the information at Glassdoor.com comes from the people who know the companies best — the employees. Thinking of applying at Google? There's more to consider than the salary. Check out the comments from people who have actually worked there. Before you can access all of the information, you need to post an anonymous review or salary of your own. But there is a lot of information you can read without posting anything, including their blog. It's a great resource and definitely worth checking out: Glassdoor.com.
Job Interview Success System. This is my guaranteed step-by-step system to help you ace your next job interview. See the details here: Job Interview Success System.
the best thing you can do
is the right thing.
The worst thing you can do
When Puns Attack!
1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
"Internet Explorer Has Encountered a Problem and Needs to Shut Down." Grrrr! Few other eleven-worded sentences infuriate me more than that one. What really ticks me off is that I'm never doing anything even remotely complicated when that evil message pops up on my screen, forcing me to abandon whatever I'm trying to get done. Two minutes ago I was reading my e-mail when it attacked. That's annoying. But when I'm doing serious research on a short deadline, and have two or three websites open when that blankety-blank error occurs and shuts me down, I feel like throwing my PC out the window.
It's kind of like when you get an idea at work, get excited about how it will make things better, make the suggestion to your boss, and get slammed by his terse "No." It might not be so bad if he explained why your suggestion sucks, but like the dreaded Microsoft error message, there's no indication of what the problem was or why your efforts were shut down.
So what do you do? I know it would be fun, but I don't really recommend throwing your computer, or your boss, out the window. Whether it's an error message or a human being that is thwarting your attempts to do a good job, don't let it get you down. At least not for long. Take a deep, calming breath and get back to work. And maybe fantasize about the day you'll get even... when you get a great new job and tell your stifling boss goodbye... or buy a Mac!
So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at Bonnie@Best-Interview-Strategies.com
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