Before I launched Resume Deli I’d always found the first few weeks/months at a new job to be stress-free. I know that’s not every new employee’s experience but I figured, how much could I possibly screw up in the first few weeks? So long as I paid close attention, behaved professionally and gave 100%, I could only do more good than harm. In most new job settings, expectations tend only to grow as time progresses. The first few weeks are supposed to allow a greenhorn some free time to smooth out the knots.
Yet, in the most competitive companies and environments, expectations are that you start off racing out of the gate. Mind you, that’s racing. Not trampling.
Here’s five ways to rev your engine early on while also earning the respect of peers, managers and execs:
Remember that you’re working with others and that (to the best of your knowledge) you’re on a team of like-minded players all out to attain the same goal. Your associates certainly want you to feel comfortable amongst them, so you should reciprocate their camaraderie. Don’t try to be a robot or a hero. Be a good co-worker, instead.
OK… so here’s my take (three bits of it, in this case) on how to get on the right career path:
Before dedicating yourself to a fixed career, negotiate with a promising employer for an opportunity to “rotate” between departments in his/her company. That way, you can get exposure to multiple endeavors and environments. Now I’m not suggesting you do this just for the sake of trying out different things, but rather to test out how and where your career interests will fare in the real world. If you do this, be sure to allow yourself some time and reflection to see where your vocational strengths and interests truly lie.
A minor caveat: because of the tight job market that still exists in this United States, asking for rotating assignments could in fact result in an employer deciding on some other “more grounded” candidate. Then again, if your primary goal is first to figure out what you want to do professionally, the rotating job tactic may be a risk worth taking.
Identify and make contact with knowledgeable people in your target areas of interest—then request and organize informational interviews with them. This strategy will require you to come to the table having already researched a particular industry or company, and its background. Then when you find a person willing to share his/her insights, you will be in a better position to ask intelligent questions and obtain an authentic sense of working in a particular industry or company. For example, you might ask of your interviewee: “What’s a typical day like for you?”; “What’s most enjoyable about your work?”; “What would you change about your work or your career if you could?”; “What types of skills are most valued in this line of work?”
Once you’ve landed in your targeted work environment, get yourself appraised…often. Some companies offer end-of-year employee appraisals, but you might negotiate for quarterly appraisals instead. This kind of regular, official evaluation will provide you with significant feedback. It also will provide for you an opportunity to voice your own concerns, suggest changes or adjustments. Appraisals can help the still-searching-for-a-career individual to take a step back and see if what s/he is doing is truly fulfilling. It will help you to take stock of yourself and your prime work talents. Not to mention, feedback from an employer who has actually witnessed your job performance is the best guide for helping you travel up the career path meant just for you.
The first in a series of posts that will keep you from killing your career
Let’s start off with some movie-trivia, shall we? What do the films Sirens, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, Notting Hill and Love Actually have in common? Give up? Each stars Hugh Grant as a stumbling fish-out-of-water—the character that has forever fixed him in our brains—and in film history—as the befuddled Englishman. Limited by his early repertoire, it took a significant effort by Hugh and his agent to get him “un-typecast” and into the role of slacker Will Freeman in About a Boy.
Why am I bringing this to your attention? Because I want you to be aware of the pitfalls that could await you if you also take up a job situation that does not do you personal justice. In other words, you don’t have to be a Hollywood movie actor to be miscast.
The overriding mistake that many job seekers make when applying to a job, or being interviewed for one, is misrepresenting their true interests and/or professional objectives. Most of us seem to fear the consequences that honesty would yield. We’d rather bespeak what we assume a “typical” employer wants to hear. As thus:
Instead of saying:
“I want to manage a staff. As the company grows and recruits additional people I can direct their efforts and plan and oversee the budgetary constraints we would work under.”
“As the company staffs up it would be nice if I could be considered as someone to help lead it. Of course, if such an event doesn’t come to pass, rest assured I’ll be content to continue doing what I am already doing.” (Why the lie: You don’t want the employer to think you’ll be unhappy if they don’t place you in a management position.)
And instead of saying:
“I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. I see myself remaining in the role for which I’m currently being considered.”
“Oh yes, I am certainly interested in opportunities for career development. I believe that one should always grab hold of such opportunities!” (Why the lie: Even though you may perform best in a steady work environment and prefer not to climb up ladder rungs, you’re concerned that admitting as much will be viewed as a lack of ambition or, even worse, laziness.)
And finally, instead of saying:
“I want the flexibility to work from home 50% of the time.”
“If the opportunity to telecommute arises, great; but if not, I’ll be perfectly comfortable arriving at the office on a daily basis.” (Why the lie: Though you need to drop your child off twice a week at day care, you think it’s important to appear adaptable no matter what.)
Such pandering to disingenuous expectations in your cover letter and/or during job interviews may well result in the following outcomes:
When an interviewer inquires whether you’d like to telecommute, manage a team, travel, etc., you might assume that he or she is sincerely trying to become acquainted with your true inclinations in order to help you and the company you’ll both work for be most productive. Long-term career success is achieved most readily through honesty—with your employer as well as yourself. Besides, unless you’ve done extensive research into your target employer, you probably don’t really know what he or she wants to hear!
So do yourself and everyone associated with you business-, personal- and family-wise the best favor and live up to the old adage: To thine own self, BE TRUE!
Being untrue can be a true career killer.
When you first enter the workforce (full-time, part-time or internship), looking for a gig can be an around-the-clock adventure. There may be a significant learning curve as you experiment with finding the best representation of your job seeker voice: the content and format of your cover letter and resume as well as your interview persona.
There are several mistakes that beginning job seekers often make in the process of searching for work. The following inclinations should be avoided so as not to add undue frustration (and time) to your employment quest.
Except for the professional development opportunities afforded by the likes of companies listed on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For, most firms do not exist—in full or part—to help you build your career. A job is a job. You commit yourself to perform a bit of labor and at the end of a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cycle you receive a paycheck in return. If you want to learn and grow during your tenure with a company, you’ll have to do that on your own time…by taking courses, attending industry events, reading books or by the proverbial keeping your nose to the grindstone (without the guidance or financial backing of your company).
Once upon a time, employers and employees may have entered into a pact to stay together. The world was made up of smaller and more isolated places back then. A manual worker over here did not have to fret too much about competition from over there. Employers had no choice but to invest time and training into the individuals working for them; likewise the employee who (usually) had a big family to support. Both sides entertained a mutual and vested interest in the success of their business.
Today, however, job changes are much more common, particularly early in a person’s working years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as cited in an article by the Wall Street Journal), 75% of workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for under a year.
Which brings me to my second point:
Hey, how are you? My name is Tiffany. I’m looking for a job at Company X. You think I could call you some time to discuss? The recipient of this less-than-professional note of introduction is going to wonder a) if Tiffany is serious; and b) what exactly it is that Tiffany wants. When you need to reach out to a new contact—whether it be via email, phone or in person, you should try to understand who they are, what their needs are, and the reasons why they should be interested in making your acquaintance. How about addressing the following:
When you merely hook up to some new contact blindly, without doing any research to understand needs or direction, there’s no way for either of you to know what elements of your background and experience will be of joint interest.
The name of the game in networking is relevance: Being able to draw a clear connection to your target and fulfilling both your aspirations in realizing solid gains.
A combination of fear, anxiety and plain “not knowing” about interviewing often leads less-experienced job candidates to rely on the naïve assumption: “I can do this job if they just give me a chance”. They assume that because they know that they are hard-working and “nice” it will be so obviously apparent to anyone who meets with them. Such conspicuousness does not exist in the real world, however. You have to prove yourself an effective worker and attractive prospect to your target employer. You need to be more attractive than the other 10–20 candidates also being considered for the same vacant position you’ve applied to. Therefore, it is critical that you not only get to a place where you can speak intelligently about your own professional and academic accomplishments, but also feel comfortable in your knowledge of the company you’re applying to and be able to address its own challenges and goals.
The overall strategy is research. When you know the entity you’re dealing with, be it a company, an individual or an industry, you can bring insight and intelligence to your communications, both written and verbal. A career, by definition, is “an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress”. Even if the meaning of a “significant period’ has changed lengthwise for the past few decades; you must still respect the rest of its meaning.
For some of us, the notion of “speaking up” at work may produce feelings of anxiety even if one feels he or she has something of value to impart. There runs those worries, “But what if I can’t explain myself clearly?” or “If I do put in my two cents, what if it’s judged useless or dumb by everybody else?” Such fears may haunt a person to such an extent that he or she never makes the attempt to communicate anything of potential value. Negative feedback is something very few of us seeks to risk.
Nevertheless, it is important, perhaps even vital, to take on such risks. To speak up in the workplace, to have your opinion voiced, to have your concerns addressed may just as likely be applauded by your boss and colleagues. At the least, you will have alerted them to the fact that you sincerely care about the success of the business you share with them.
Move Beyond Your Fear of Speaking Up at Work
Understand this: every innovator… every visionary has, at one time, said something ‘stupid’. In 1961, FCC Commissioner T. Craven said, “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” In 1977, Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation said, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”Even boy wunderkind Steve Jobs said, in a Rolling Stone interview in 2003, “The subscription model of buying music is bankrupt. I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful.”
No one great idea has ever been carted in without several ‘not-so-great’ideas taking up space alongside. The whole point of brainstorming is to air out all ideas, bad, good, or those in between. If you work for an organization where ‘stupid’ ideas are harshly frowned upon and those who utter them are made to suffer, then you’re not working in a creative, supportive environment, and thereby likely not employed in a business with any chance of real success.
If you still have any heebie-jeebies about letting your insights sing out loud, consider volunteering on a work committee charged with planning and/or presenting a topic or event. You will probably feel more at ease in such a group because, by the very definition of a committee, a) the entire spotlight won’t be on you; and b) you’ll have time to prepare your comments, rather than having to speak ‘on the fly’.
Soft skills (the cluster of personality traits, communication capabilities, personal habits, etc. that characterize your relationships with other people) should be treated no different than hard (or technical) skills on your resume. As such, don’t even think of them as skills…but as accomplishments. Because, as with hard skills, no employer will be impressed simply because you say you are a skilled communicator, writer, analyst, etc. What they need to know is what you have accomplished with those skills.
Practically speaking, if you want your target employer to know that you’re a good communicator (for example), why not write a bullet point (resume) or paragraph (cover letter) detailing a project wherein you used your communication skills to great effect? More specifically:
Providing your target employer with answers to these questions is how you prove to them your communication abilities. Simply writing “strong communicator” in the profile or skills section of your resume won’t cut it. As a matter of fact, listing soft skills without backing them up with concrete examples of how and when you used them may suggest to the savvy reader that you’re covering up for a lack of actual experience.
In a strong job market, soft skills magically become essential. In a softer market, though still attractive, they may be deemed second class next to technical skills. It is a mistake, however, to actively devalue your less tangible talents by failing to build accomplishment statements that feature them.
According to American vocalist Bobby McFerrin:
“When you worry your face will frown,
and that will bring everybody down.
Don’t worry….be happy!”
Hey, Bobby…ever had a job that made you want to claw your own eyes out? Ever been so bored at work, or had a boss that treated you so poorly that all you did was worry? It’s kind of hard to be happy in those contexts, wouldn’t you say?
But the fact is the man’s right (kind of…).
If you’re miserable at work, the last thing to be is morose. Or to let the situation fester. Workers who hate their jobs and do nothing about it often turn into victims; they become bitter and unpleasant to be around, especially at the place of employment. All this accomplishes is to make matters worse. Plus those negative attitudes can potentially spill over like spoiled milk into future job interviews, networking opportunities and so on.
So here are some suggestions you can apply in order to vex yourself less…even perhaps, dare I say…“Be happy”.
You can also listen to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on an endless loop. (Actually, that will just make you hate Bobby McFerrin as well as your job.)
As Resume Deli CEO, if I could give only one piece of resume-writing advice it would be this: List accomplishments…not responsibilities!
If you’re a pizza delivery guy, for example, it’s not enough to say that you “delivered pizzas”. Delivering pizzas is what a pizza deliverer is supposed to do. Stating the obvious, that you delivered pizzas…well, that just shows you performed the basic minimum function expected of such a position.
But were you doing it well?
As your target employer, when I read “Delivered pizzas” on your resume I’m left wondering if you were a good pizza deliverer or an incompetent one. For all I know you delivered pizzas late, cold and in a crushed box…to the wrong address. For all I know, every person to whom you’ve ever delivered a pizza has since opted for a different pizzeria, having been so thoroughly disenchanted with your service.
So if you are a pizza delivery guy, here’s an idea of what your resume should look like:
Now if you’re the hiring manager at Vinnie’s Pizza & Pasta, who are you going to hire? The “delivered pizzas” guy, or the job applicant who clearly understands the positive impact he’s had on the job?