No one wants to be a victim. People talk a lot about self defense--which I usually think of as the ability to defend yourself against an attacker. Ideally, though, we can learn how to prevent many of those situations from becoming physical altercations.
I think it is important to be able to defend yourself. Most self-defense training, though, focuses on the point where you're being attacked, not on ways to prevent an attack from ever taking place. Here, I'm focusing on putting yourself in a position where you can avoid an incident (like being assaulted, robbed or raped) altogether.
As someone who lives in a large city, currently with an increase in crime, and doesn't want to live afraid, I focus on these three concepts for staying out of harm's way: situational awareness, being an imperfect victim and listening to my intuition.
Have Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is a fancy way of saying "pay attention." I'm amazed by the people I see on a regular basis, who seem completely disconnected from the world around them. For many, there seems to be the prevalent attitude that bad things simply will not happen to them regardless of what they do. Being actively disconnected from what is going on around you make you more likely to be assaulted or a victim of theft.
Here's what a lack of situational awareness looks like:
Here's what situational awareness looks like:
Overall, situational awareness is making a little effort to notice your physical environment so that you are in tune with it, instead of constantly surprised by it.
Be an Imperfect Victim
Again, no one wants to be a victim, but many of us do things that make us more likely to be one. Since typically people who are going to rob or rape others are looking for easy targets, being perceived as difficult is a great way to avoid an incident.
Here's what imperfect victims look like:
Imperfect victims also remember their boundaries. Too often, especially as women, we try to accommodate other people's requests because we want to be liked. Remember, though, you don't have to be nice to random people who approach you and demand things from you. You do not have to shake someone's hand, hug someone, or tolerate someone in your personal space. You do not have to give anything to an aggressive panhandler.
Tell people no, and do it loudly if required. Put your hands up between you and them when you say "no" to let them know they really do need to stop. You may even need to yell "Get away from me" loudly to make it clear that they need to give you space. People who speak up are perceived as being more trouble than they are worth.
Listen to your Intuition
You know how sometimes dogs don't like certain people? Or how babies cry and do not want to be held by just anyone? Their intuition is what makes them want to avoid some people. Unlike small children or animals, as adults, we tend to ignore our intuition. This is out of a sense of politeness or fear of being accused of being one of the bad -ists (racist, sexist, elitist). We need to re-learn to listen to our intuition for the sake of our well-being and trust that. This is not about political correctness or offending someone we don't even know. This is about our personal safety in what could be a dangerous situation.
Here are those feelings you need to honor:
Those weird feelings that you can't quite put into words? Listen to them. Remember, sometimes, our bodies figure thing out before our brains catch up. We need to learn to pay attention to our surroundings with our heads, and our bodies, and heed that warning. It will help keep us safe.
What Do You Think?
What safety tips do you have? How do you keep yourself out of harm's way?
Do Your Future Self a Solid
Going to work expecting to finish up a report and lead a meeting and having your workday end abruptly at 10:00 AM walking to your car with a box containing all of your workly positions, is jarring. What's even more jarring is the realization that now--SURPRISE--you have to find a new job so that you can continue your extravagant lifestyle of living indoors and eating on a regular basis.
For the whole of my professional career, I have worked in the field of corporate education in positions like software trainer, training specialist, sales training manager and instructional designer. Like many of my colleagues, I've also been laid off three times in my 20+ year career. (I know people who have me beat by at least a couple of times.) While fixating on the fear of losing your job is a horrible way to exist, there are a few things that you can do now--while you're happily, gainfully employed--that can help lessen the blow if you do happen to find yourself suddenly in need of a new position.
Build Your Professional Network
If you read any articles about effective ways to find a new position, leveraging your professional network is a key piece of advice. It's also harder to start networking when you have your proverbial hat in your hand and need something. It's better to start building your professional network before you need something. Your network is also much more than a job search resource.
LinkedIn is a great tool to help you build and connect with others. In the beforetimes (pre-pandemic), I would connect with people on LinkedIn after we had met in person. Now, I proactively connect with industry leaders, people I encounter at professional development meetings I attend via Zoom, or I ask to connect with people who share common interests with me.
I also interact with people on LinkedIn. I post content that highlights my industry knowledge, comment on people's posts, and share posts that resonate with me. Being a good "LinkedIn neighgbor", and building your network before you need to use it for a job search, is a great way to position yourself or future success.
Update Your Resume In Real Time
I was once laid off from a job where I had been for eitght years. When my position was eliminated due to corporate restructuring, putting my resume together again was a challenge since I had years of diverse work experience to document. At that time, I knew details about recent projects, but it was harder for me to piece together all that I had done, and salient details that would help me get hired elsewhere.
Fortunately, and in rather unusual fashion, I was given a couple of months of notice that my job would be ending. That gave me the time to review my calendar, and files, to put together detailed descriptions of what I had done. This helped me put together a master resume. This isn't the final resume that you use to apply for a position. This is the big huge ridiculous document that contains everything you've done ever. From here, you pick and choose details that you'll include in your for real applying-for-a-job resume.
In general, I've become more proactive about recording what I do. While these projects are fresh in my mind, I write down specifics on what I did, who I worked with, outcomes and tangible results. This helps me not only for a someday job search, but it also helps me position myself for additional projects and roles at my current workplace as the company grows and evolves. Keeping a detailed list of projects, responsibilities and skills you were able to use will make resume writing much easier when the time comes.
Learn New Skills
Once upon a time, I was planning on being a high school English teacher. While my current career path focuses on education, suffice it to say that I ended up in a very different place than I originally envisioned. With each role that I have had, my skill set has grown immensely.
When I look at how the world has changed since earned my undergraduate degree, it's amazing. One of my first training jobs was as a software instructor teaching people how to use the big scary Internet. My first few job searches were done relying predominantly on the want ads in the Sunday newspaper. At one company, we were on the bleeding edge of technology by using instructor-led web based training before training by webinar was standard. With advances in technology, the workforce, and worldwide economic factors, things are always changing, and to stay employeable, you need to keep up.
Don't wait until your job's future seems uncertain to start learning. Go to professional meetings. Read website dedicated to your field. Listen to podcasts on topics of interest. Look at job descriptions for emerging positions to see what kinds of skills are in demand. Keep updating your skills so you're not left behind when change happens around you. Be Amazon, not Nokia.
What Do You Think?
What other career advice do you have to share?
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not to Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions 5 times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there are many times I’ve worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, or new management, or rumors about reorganization, or any number of other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
On the flip side, the times I have been laid off, I have just plain not seen it coming. I’ve been busy dealing with my personal life otherwise falling apart, or too busy working on a must-succeed project, or coming back from vacation to realize that apparently, I was not long for those companies. While I do worry from time to time, instead, I now focus on how to proactively position myself for longer-term career success instead.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, etc. Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally. I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me. In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. For me, as an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the firs time), I add them to my LinkedIn network. I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same.
Regardless of the role that I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After 5 layoffs, and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the health care exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some of the things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
What Do You Think?
How do you manage career anxiety? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Knitting Is My Therapy
Earlier pandemic, I was outside A LOT. Now that it's colder, and darker, and Minnesota is in another round of closing entertainment venues (specifically roller skating rinks), I'm knitting more again. If you're interested, here is my go-to knit hat pattern, complete with supplies lists and a few video tutorials on techniques. Here we go!
Learn More (Knitting How-To Videos)
As I’ve started to do more networking through one on one Zoom meetings, I have talked with many colleagues who are interested in switching jobs and are dusting off their resumes. After we talk a little about what type of a position interests them, I usually give them a little bit of resume feedback. As a many-time hiring manager, I have seen lots of bad, and lots of sort of okay, and just a few resumes that were really, really good. For me, I think a resume needs to answer three very important questions. Having a resume that addresses these questions gets you out off the no pile and into the “I am excited to talk with them” pile.
Question 1: Does this person want this job?
A few years ago, I was working on filling an instructional designer position on my team at a software company. I received one resume where the person’s career objective stated that they wanted to be a curator at a museum. The good news: this person knew what they wanted and made it very clear in their resume. The bad news: they didn’t want the job I had available.
Most (like maybe a good half) of resumes that end up in the “no” pile are so nondescript, they could be applying for any number of office positions. Once, when I was hiring a technical trainer position. I received a resume for someone who had a lot of experience in corrections working as a prison guard. The good news: this person had many potentially transferable skills. The bad news: I didn’t know if this person was interested in this particular role, or was mass applying for anything that wasn’t their current job.
For many people, it may be easy enough to tell if a person wants the job based on their past job titles. If they have always been a project manager, and this is a project manager position, or a senior project manager position, it’s a pretty good bet that they are interested in this job. Then there are the rest of us, who are decidedly less well-behaved. Some people have a lot of job titles that don’t necessarily logically flow together (like people who have changed careers). Others have careers where positions went from managing people, to being an individual contributor, to freelancing, to being at a VP level, to being an individual contributor again. No career path is wrong per say, but when applying for a job, be sure to make it clear what you are looking for now—and that it is, indeed, the open position.
Overall, do just enough tailoring on your resume that the hiring manager knows that you are interested in the available job and applied for it on purpose. Given how costly a bad hire can be, help the hiring manager know that you for real want to do the job in question.
Question 2: Can this person do the job?
Once I know a given candidate want the job, next, I look for some indication that the person has the skills to do the job. With some candidates, their work experience is neat and tidy and in the order one might expect. For example, they were a call center representative, then a senior call center representative, then a call center supervisor, then a call center manager. If they were applying for a call center manager position, from their job titles alone, I can be reasonably sure they can do the job. With that, adding in keywords from the job description and adding details about their previous education and work responsibilities as they relate to this specific position, it’s not a stretch to think they are qualified.
If the candidate didn’t have a lot of experience in a similar role, I’d expect them to describe what they did in previous positions and show how their work experience prepared them for this role. For example, if I’m hiring for an instructional designer position, the job description might include something like “collaborates with subject matter experts to assess training needs and create learning materials for client-facing courses.” If someone with a background as an elementary school teacher applied, they should show how their previous work experience relates to the available position. For example, they might include “collaborated with subject matter experts in the media center to assess training needs and create learning materials for a course for parents on encouraging their children to read more.” Without emphasizing those transferable skills, I might not be convinced that they could perform the tasks required.
Overall, be sure to make it as obvious as you can that you are able to do the core tasks that the job requires.
Question 3: If they take the job, will they be happy and stick around?
Filling an open position takes a long time and is a huge gamble. The goal is to find someone who wants the position, can do it, and who will want to be in that position (or a part of your organization) for a good, long time. Never, with certainty, can you be happy that a candidate will take the position if offered to them or stay in that role (or with your company).
This part of resume assessment is really teeing up the phone screen, and honing the questions I’ll need to ask. Will this salary be in line with their desired salary range? Will they be happy working from the office or working from home the amount required? Will they work well with the level of structure and formality at this organization? Will they want to travel as much (or as little) as is needed with this job? Are they going to be happy managing or not managing people? As a hiring manager, details in the resume is helpful as a starting point for those questions.
What Do You Think?
What do you think? What questions do you think a resume needs to answer? Include your insights in the comments.
How to Keep On, Keeping On
When it comes to healthy habits, figuring out how to stay motivated is the ball game. I think we all know that we should (in it’s simplest form) eat less and move more. The trick is figuring out how to make good decisions for future you (who wants to age well) while also contending with current you, who very much wants to eat batter fried cheese curds and binge watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. (Just as a for instance.)
Aside from working on making long-term dietary changes and working on my mindset in general, I find that having another layer of accountability helps. Since I HATE HATE HATE spending money stupid, apps that not only gamify the process but include a financial incentive help me stay motivated as I strive to help future Brenda live a long, active, and healthy life. Her are my top three apps, plus one bonus app, that help me do just that.
Stepbet helps people with motivation and accountability as they strive to be more active as measured by an increase in steps taken. It requires use of a fitness tracker to track steps and participate in challenges. Stepbet runs 6-week walking challenges that usually cost $40 for an individual to enter. Upon completing the challenge successfully, participants receive their $40 back, and usually a little more, with the amount depending on how many people finished and get to split the pot. (I have earned as much as $53 total.) Step goals are based on increasing your current steps per day. 4 days per week have a regular step goal with 2 days having even higher stretch goals.
I used Stepbets as a starting point when preparing for my first 5K. I have also used Stepbets anytime my activity level has gotten too low to kickstart my increased exercise.
Runbet is very similar to Stepbet (and is also a part of WayBetter), but has a focus on helping with accountability as people build the running habit. Runbet hosts 2-8 week challenges (most are 6 weeks) like Starter 5k, Making Running a Habit, Getting Back Into Running, and Run to Lose Weight. Challenges specify how fast participants need to run (18 minutes per mile for the beginner challenges), frequency of running required (3-6 times per week), and required time or mileage to be achieved. Participants can use the free Runkeeper app to track their running outside, or submit a picture of the treadmill readout and a “sweaty selfie” to confirm mileage run indoors.
I participated in two Runbet when preparing to run my first 5K. Having a set schedule, and the extra motivation of not losing my $40, helped me to keep in the running habit. Also, since the pace was 18 minutes per mile, I could walk at a good pace and still make the time.
HealthyWage take accountability to a whole new level. Where as Runbet and Stepbet focus on activity, HealthyWage focuses on results—specifically a change in the scale. The goals are much more flexible, as is the amount of money to “bet” on the desired outcome, amount of weight to lose, and timeframe needed. Based on inputs, you see how much you could make.
From there, you do an official weigh in—which includes submitting a video of you weighing yourself with specific parameters to verify that it is you on the scale, and that you’re not falsifying information.
In addition to the main challenge, there are additional contests you can also take part in. Those include challenges to lose 6% of your body weight and challenges that increase your overall activity level as measured through step count. I signed up for a step challenge—specifically the Winter Walk-A-Thon Step Challenge. My current step average was calculated from recent FitBit data. From there, HealthyWage sets a goal for me to reach which is 25% above my current step count. For this 60-day challenge, I pay $30 per month, and I need to achieve a total number of steps over the course of the challenge that is equal to 60 days-worth of steps at the identified step count.
For example, if my established step goal is 10,000 per day, over the course of 60 days, I would need to take 600,000 steps, which averages out to 10,000 per day. There is no daily goal, however (which I like a lot). If I move a lot on one day, my displayed average daily steps needed will decrease to cover that difference. If I have a relatively stationary day, my displayed average daily steps needed will increase. One way or another, though, I need to meet that established step goal in the timeframe, so I win the bet.
I just recently signed up for HealthyWage. I’ve built, and lost, and built good routines for fitness in the past. Now, it was time for me to make sure those good fitness habits stuck, and that I also fine tuned my diet. Using HealthyWage to hold me accountable for weight loss AND increasing my activity will help give me another layer of accountability to meet my goals.
Runbet, Stepbet, and HealthyWage impact fitness related habits and results to help with accountability. The motivation is both not losing your initial investment and the possibility of earning a financial reward.
Stickk is a helpful as a stick, rather than a carrot, to help you stay accountable for a goal, fitness or otherwise. Instead of giving you the opportunity to win, with Stickk, it motivates you to meet your goal so you don’t lose. Stickk has to pick an Anti-charity where you’ll have to donate if you do not reach your goal. You can even identify people who will verify that you achieved your goal. In my case, I used this as another form of motivation for completing the Northshore Inline Marathon. It was also a case where my teenage daughter (also not a fan of my anti-cause) threatened to “kick my ass” if I didn’t meet my goal. That’s what I call accountability.
What Do You Think?
How do you stay motivated to meet your health and fitness goals? Share your thoughts in the comments.
From "To Do" to "To Done"
Like many adults, I have what feels like a never-ending to-do list. No matter how much progress I make, I often dismiss what I have accomplished because I'm too busy focusing on all of the things I haven't done.
A couple of years ago, I had a boss who encouraged me to make a success list on a weekly basis. This was a great way for me to remind myself that I am making progress--even if it doesn't always feel like it's the case. In addition to my weekly success list, I decided to take personal inventory and do a quick list for the past year.
This Year's Success List
1. Added daily yoga to my wellness routine.
2. Applied for 21 jobs and had 12 interviews.
3. Bought running shoes I absolutely love and ran my first 5k.
4. Celebrated my 10-year anniversary with my husband.
5. Connected with over 100 new colleagues on LinkedIn.
6. Cut my daily commute time by 1 hour per day.
7. Decided to quit doing roller derby for a while to focus on being a roller derby mom.
8. Didn’t totally freak out when my daughter was on a two-week trip to Asia with a school affiliated group.
9. Enrolled my daughter a drivers ed class and started my role as a driving coach.
10. Found an awesome new chiropractor.
11. Got a new FitBit and finished 3 StepBet challenges.
12. Got our cat, Zippy, through ear surgery. (Now she has one ear hole, but two cosmetic ears).
13. Learned how to slow down on hills in inline skates. (Next year I hope to have a little more style in my slowing down.)
14. Logged over 80 gym visits.
15. Outlined a book on job searching and job transition.
16. Published 18 blog articles.
17. Ran over 70 miles and inline skated over 250 miles on outdoor trails.
18. Saw “Die Hard”, “They Live”, and “When Harry Met Sally” at the Parkway Theatre.
19. Skated my first inline 10K event and didn’t die, then skated my first inline marathon and finished in under 3 hours.
20. Started a great new job as the Director of Training at a software company.
21. Survived my second position elimination in 2 years and found a great new job in less than 2 months.
22. Tried spinning and enjoyed it.
23. Vacationed in New Orleans.
24. Watched all the episodes of Will and Grace and Friday Night Lights.
25. Wrote my very first knitting pattern.
What About You?
What is on your success list for this past year? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Most people in the business world know that social media can be a powerful tool to help get the word out. Unfortunately, while many people understand the value in the abstract, often they don’t really know why it makes sense, or how to go about doing it at all, much less doing it well. As someone who has worked with a variety of independent businesspeople (including artists, musicians, self-defense trainers, real estate agents, and more), I have learned a few key strategies for leveraging social media well.
Two Common Mistakes
While many small businesspeople are on board for using social media in the abstract, I have noticed that many people make two common mistakes. For one, people have no plan at all. Maybe they go so far as to create bare bones accounts on some combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and then stop. They may not even have a picture to use, or be sure how to describe who they are. In short, they start and quickly fizzle out because they aren’t sure what to do next. For those that manage to complete their account profiles, they typically err in a different direction. After they have their accounts, and even follow a few people, they might make posting after posting that say nothing more than “buy my stuff.” I’m not even sure which one is worse. Both result in a social media profile done poorly that won’t have the desired result.
According to the Internet (and, yes, the article link is included below), 79% of US adults have at least one social media profile, meaning there are approximately 243.6 million social media users. That’s a whole lot of people who businesses can access in between pictures of friends’ kids and live tweeting their favorite television show. Not only are those people available, but social media accounts are free to open and use with the opportunity to pay to further boost messages and connect with more people. Social media use can help humanize your brand and build brand awareness, which can result in a larger customer base—which can lead to more revenue from views, sales closed, and return business.
Doing Social Media Well
So how does one go about doing social media well? For one, you have to have something to say—and that something can not just be “buy my stuff.” We’re building a brand here. So who are you and what do you want to say to who? How do you want to be perceived? What do you stand for? How do you help people? What kind of content might interest the people that you’re trying to reach? Who are those people? Thinking through those core questions can help you figure out what it is you want to say. Figuring out your core message is mission critical to making social media work for you.
What To Say
While “buy my stuff” can be one of the types of messages shared, ideally, that’s only 10% of what you’re saying. So what else should you be talking about? Here are a few ideas that I’ve used while promoting the Mellow Fury Etsy shop. These tie into the knit hats I make and sell, and my best sellers are sci-fi or comic book themed.
Education: share information in your area(s) of expertise.
Entertainment: Include something fun or funny.
Humanize: showcase the person behind the brand.
Customers: showing satisfied, happy customers.
Supporting Others: share the love.
Buy My Stuff: showcase what you sell in a non-obnoxious way.
What Do You Think?
What are your thoughts on using social media well to promote your small business? Include your thoughts in the comments.
My Life in the Learning Business
I have always worked in corporate training, and I have a penchant (a gift, perhaps) for working for organizations that reorganize, get bought out, or otherwise restructure. For a lot of companies, when times get tight and push comes to shove, learning and development positions are categorized as a “nice to have”, not a “need to have”. Consequently, I know my way around a layoff, and I’ve had to become adept at all things job search as to keep my expensive habits of eating and living indoors.
Recently, for the fifth time in my career, I found myself unexpectedly in a position where I needed to change jobs. The last time around, my position was unexpectedly eliminated on the day I returned from vacation. That was about two years ago, and I was not expecting to have to do this again quite so soon. However, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. I also know that of all the times I worried about an impending layoff, I have never seen it coming when I was directly impacted. Consequently, I’ve learned to try to be successful in whatever professional position I have, while also knowing that I need to be to seek out an alternate position given the ever-changing climate of business.
My Job Search by the Numbers
In a previous blog article, entitled “Job Search Insights by the Numbers”, I listed the statistics associated with my last job search. This time around, things moved a bit more quickly than I initially expected. Keep in mind, too, that about half of the jobs for which I applied have not responded. In their defense, I was on and off the market pretty quickly. It’ll be interesting to see who I hear back from eventually. With that, here’s how this job search shaped up:
Differences from Previous Job Searches
My last job search lasted 147 days. That's right. It was exactly 100 days longer. So what were the differences between then and now? What magic did I use to so quickly land a great new position?
Time of Year
Fortunately (as I look at the bright side), I knew I needed to make a change in late September. I’ve found that being unemployed over the holidays nearly guarantees about an extra month or two of job searching (or more likely, waiting). In fact, my longest two job searches included the holiday season, lasting 180 and 147 days respectively. The best advice that I have is to take some time off from job searching over the holidays. This time around, when I estimated the possible length of my period of unemployment, I surmised that I would either secure a new position before Thanksgiving or I’d most likely be waiting to start a new role until February or March of next year. Getting a jump start, even by a couple of weeks, made a big difference.
During layoffs one and two, I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. While I love Madison as a city, as someone whose chosen profession is corporate training, I knew that I needed to move to a larger job market or consider doing something else for a living. In the middle of my second big period of unemployment, I started targeting companies in Minneapolis. Even with the challenge of relocating (and managing all of the other areas of my life that were in transition right then), finding a new job took under five months. Being in the greater Twin Cities area, even with me being more selective on where to apply, I still had a lot of options. This gave me a better chance of one of the positions I applied for moving me along to the interview stage. It also made it easier for me to manage my job search related anxiety by applying for additional positions each time I was concerned about not hearing back from one potential employer.
I started using LinkedIn seriously in 2006. Since then, I’ve connected with coworkers, members of professional development organizations, colleagues with whom I’ve interacted, and pretty much anyone who I encountered and found interesting. I stay active on social media sharing useful content and attend industry meetings on a regular basis. Having this robust professional network and assisting individuals in my network when they are job searching or exploring new fields of interest, has helped me immensely. When encountering a position that interested me, I immediately looked to my network to see who might be able to put in a good word for me and help me get pulled out of the initial pile of candidates. I have also had more than one “informal interview” with a possible referer so they feel comfortable recommending me for a position. Since people are putting their reputations on the line, I don’t take their assistance for granted.
I’m at the point in my career where I know what kinds of jobs interest me. I have good formal education, recent job titles that are well aligned with roles for which I’m applying, and I’ve stayed current on the industry. While having someone refer me for a position helps, I know that I still need to be a well-qualified candidate. Those qualifications are what help me get from a courtesy phone interview to being considered a viable candidate for an open role.
Pure Dumb Luck
There is a certain amount of planet alignment that happens whenever something good manages to actually happen. In this case, a company in a field that interests me (software) had an opening for which I was qualified, and I had a former coworker who was willing to refer me for the position. The quotes “The harder I work, the luckier I get” comes to mind as does “luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” Sometimes, timing is everything.
What Do You Think?
What are your tried and true job search strategies and secrets to success? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Earlier this year, when talking with a friend about her job search plans, I mentioned the idea of a “personal brand.” She asked me what I meant by that, which caused me to do a little soul searching. I realized I had bought into the idea of the value of having a strong personal brand while working with mortgage loan officers and real estate agents—two audiences who are all about getting their face out there to attract business. I took a step back and started thinking about how to better articulate the why and how of a personal brand.
Role of a Brand
As a consumer, a brand is a shortcut that helps me make a buying decision. If I want a good cup of coffee in an unfamiliar city, I find a Starbucks. If I need to buy a book, I typically go to Amazon, and for an audio book, I’ll visit Audible. If I want durable shoes for outdoor activities, I’m looking for a pair of Keens. There are also brands that are so prominent, they have become part of our lexicon. People Google instead of doing an online search, use Kleenex rather than tissue, and pick the version of Coke they want at a restaurant. Those brands mean something whether it’s quality, range of items available, or a predictable experience. Brands help us jump to a quicker answer instead of having to weigh multiple options for every single buying decision we make.
A Personal Brand
A personal brand is a similar idea. Instead of branding a product, though, it’s intended to help shortcut the decision-making process to promote someone’s credibility or value. When I think of the epitome of a personal brand, I think Oprah. Oprah tells us what pop health gurus to listen to, what books to read, who to vote for and more. Oprah has a television network, and a magazine and an empire. Everyone knows who Oprah is and what she’s all about. This is personal branding at its finest.
For the rest of us non-Oprah's, we also have a personal brand. When people meet one another in-person, oftentimes, we check out one another's online presences. In the work world, it's usually LinkedIn and potentially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (among others). Whether you're looking for a job, or connecting with a professional colleague, having an online presence is nearly a given. Make sure that presence is one you want people to be aware of (because they'll find it one way or another) and that it positions you in a positive light.
My Personal Brand
My personal branding aspirations are not at the level of Oprah. (My television network and magazine are on hold for now.) For me, my personal brand is showcasing my skills as a trusted professional in the learning and development space. I want to be known for sharing industry related information on adult education, conveying lessons learned, and communicating my personal insights. My goal is to position myself as a real life human with day to day challenges who is also someone you’d trust (or hire) when it comes to helping adults learn information to enable them to succeed.
I started to pay attention to my personal brand when I realized I wanted to start sharing my insights in blog entries. For me, a personal brand was an embodiment of what I wanted my blog to be about. In short, my blog is my way of sharing my learnings with others who could benefit from my trials and tribulations. Using the colors in my professional headshot and a fun photo of coffee, my personal brand was born.
When I think of what my brand includes, I think first of how I present myself online as well as in print. For me, that means I have a professional social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. On each site, I used BrendaLearns as my username, my professional photo as my avatar, and a consistent description on each site. I also have a background picture on my social media sites that showcases the same color scheme (shades of red and gray). In addition, this color scheme is included on my blog at (you guessed it) www.BrendaLearns.com. On my resume, I include a red line on the left side, which continues to emphasize my personal brand. In addition, my business cards feature the same color scheme and background image to keep my personal branding consistent.
Have Something to Say
My focus of my blog is sharing my key learnings with others. It’s about helping others navigate life’s trials and tribulations by enabling them to benefit from some of the things I’ve either researched or learned through experience. Whether it’s helping people think through personal finance questions, figure out how to navigate a job loss, train for an inline skating marathon, or just helping people learn in general, I am wired to want to help people learn and grow. I want to share information in a way that is understandable, and even fun.
Likewise, that same spirit is embodied in my social media presence, I want the world to associate my personal brand with someone who is knowledgeable and helpful. This is why I share articles on helping adults learn, leading strong teams of high-performing (and happy) individuals, and other business insights. I also share articles and posts that show that I’m human, too. I have 2 cats (Zippy and Meathook), a daughter who is into roller derby and learning to drive, a strong interest in inline skating, and a love of quotes that are at once funny and thought provoking. Without having something to say, and getting comfortable being human in front of others, having a personal brand is not worth much.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about personal branding in general and the value of having a personal brand? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is a dynamic training and development leader and an innovative learning experience designer. Brenda also enjoys learning all the things.