The Adventure of Career Transition
Since the beginning of forever, I have worked in the field of learning and development in a corporate environment. I have also learned that two of the most at-risk fields for layoffs are marketing and training. In total, I have been laid off 6 times due to economic downturns, companies being bought or sold, or good old fashion reorganizations. While each period of unplanned job transition is rough in it's own way, here are three core truths that help me weather the storm as I search for a new work home.
Truth 1: Working time passes more quickly than non-working time.
When you're a hiring manager, you have a ton going on, and only one of those things is hiring a new person. You're still trying to manage your team, meet deadlines, troubleshoot customer problems, and juggle all of the people you're considering for your open position. In an interview, when one candidate asks about the hiring process, you tell them you should know who will move on to the next steps in the process "by the end of this week"--and at the time, you believe that is a reasonable deadline. Then there is a software release with a bug that causes three meetings to be scheduled with big clients, or someone quits suddenly leaving a lot of arrangements to be made, or your child has to be picked up from daycare with stomach flu. Friday comes and goes and getting in touch with a candidate falls off your radar until the next week.
Meanwhile, as a job seeker, you put a note on your calendar that you'll know one way or another by Friday. Then you analyze every syllable you uttered in the Zoom interview hoping that you didn't say anything awful. You rethink a facial expression that you interpreted as approving and wonder if it really was that at all. You suffer through Saturday, Sunday, and Monday secretly worrying that you will never work again. Ever.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. After the interview, send a thank you email to the hiring manager and send them a personalized connection request on LinkedIn. Put a note on your calendar for a few days after the hiring manager said they would get in touch with you. Reach out to them at that time including a few pleasantries, reiterating your interest in the role, and asking for an update. Will you get the job? Who knows. You did your part, identified what you can work on, and will continue to learn and grow as you go through the process for more roles.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 2: Don't fall in love with a job opening.
Inevitably as a job searcher, you run across it. THE job. It's the one you know is meant to be yours. It's perfect--easy commute, a great title, the go-to company, exactly what you are qualified (and want) to do. In your head you know it--this is MY job. You picture your new business cards, where you'll park, and how you'll introduct yourself as the "Director of Awesomeness" for this perfect company. You think--why should I even bother applying for anything else because this is SO my job!
Except, well, it's not actually your job yet. You're looking at it and see yourself in it, but it's not real. You don't work there. No one is sending you a paycheck for it. They don't even know your name yet. This MAY be the job you eventually get, but nothing is done yet. You know what else? It may not end up being your job. You need to remind yourself that it's not a done deal. Apply for that job--even work hard to get it. Know, though, that you may end up not even getting called in for an interview. This doesn't mean you're not still awesome. There's just a lot going on. There may be an internal candidate, or a previous coworker of the hiring manager, or someone who has a referral from a college friend, or someone who has even slightly more of a qualification that didn't make that job posting.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. Any time you find yourself falling in love with a job, or thinking of something as "your job", make an extra effort to go apply for additional jobs. If the job you see yourself in works out, great. If not, you're still working towards your ultimate goal of finding a new role (complete with a paycheck) whichever one that might be.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 3: You only need one job.
Applying for jobs is a process. Looking back at my records, I have typically applied for between 40 and 100 jobs when I've been in career transition. It's easy to get discouraged. Sometimes you apply and hear back a fat lot of nothing. Personally, sometimes my stomach sinks when I see a job that I've applied for (and was quickly rejected) and it's reposted and realizing that they will hire "not me" for that role. It's hard when the job where you interviewed a ton of times tells you they really liked you, but went with an internal candidate. It's rough to hear that you were great, but that you came in second. There is so much rejection in the job search process, that it's inevitable that you'll feel down, and like a loser, and like there is no hope.
At the end of the day, though, you only need one job. You need one organization to tell you "yes". You need one place where you and the employer agree that you'll work together. When I remind myself that I only need a success rate of 1 in 50 to be happily, gainfully employed, it makes it all seem more manageable. All those no answers get you to the one yes you need. The trick is that you don't know which one will be that yes.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
What do you think?
What job search words of wisdom resonate with you the most? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Death by Lecture
As humans in today’s fast-paced world, we often value getting the job done as quickly as possible. When it comes to helping people learn, lecturing’s, aka “just tell them everything they need to know,” becomes the unfortunate default mode of information delivery. Unfortunately, the process of knowledge transfer doesn’t work like a bank deposit, and we can’t just extract knowledge from one person and implant it in another. Instead, individuals need to engage with information so they understand what to do with those details and make them into their own, internalized knowledge.
Grandpa, Tell Me a Story
You know who loves stories? Little kids. Do you know why? They are trying to figure out what the world is all about and what to do with all of the things they are experiencing for the first time. Just like adults use stories to help children understand the world, stories help adults make the transition from bland best practice or potentially useful technique to thing-I-actually-do. Let’s look at three examples of how stories can be incorporated into training to engage people in the learning process and help adults actually learn.
Reason 1: Stories Help Concepts Become Real
In training, many times we’re covering abstract ideas, and sharing models for how to apply those ideas. Stories help us make that jump. Here's an example:
During a training with customer service professionals, we're trying to help them understand the importance of getting to know individual customers and catering to their unique needs.
"Each customer is different. Every person who calls us on the phone has their own point of view and personal struggles that we may know nothing about. We need to find out what matters to them and emphasize those points as we speak to them. Overall, be careful about making assumptions about people’s wants and needs based on your personal preferences."
Story to make the idea real:
"Here’s an example of learning about our customers and tailoring our approach to their wants and needs.
While working at a table at a church conference, my job was to discuss health insurance benefits with pastors currently working in congregations. I was there to promote a great new benefit where pastors could earn $250 for completing an online health assessment quiz. For me, taking the health assessment was a no-brainer, because I thought, “Yay! Free money!”
I quickly learned, though, that this was not the prevailing opinion among the pastors. Several stopped to express outrage that the church was trying to BRIBE them to take the health assessment. Since many of the pastors prided themselves on being more concerned with doing good in the world than with money, having a financial reward for doing something that they should do anyway became a disincentive.
One church leader realized that a different approach was needed. She used the concept of stewardship—which means taking care of the gifts God has given to you, including your money and your own personal health. She told pastors that it was their duty as leaders of the church to model good stewardship by taking the health assessment (especially since another benefit was helping their congregation to earn a discount on their health insurance premiums).
By keeping the wants and needs of the audience in mind, and realizing that they may be very different from our own, we figured out how to position this benefit in a way that resonated with our audience. "
How the story helps:
This story takes an abstract concept (everyone is different) and drives it home. Since many people may identify with the person who would gladly take the health assessment to earn money, seeing a completely different, and often unexpected, viewpoint can be shocking. Adding details about people and context for why they have the values they do, can be eye-opening.
Reason 2: Stories Help People Learn from Other People's Experiences
When you first learn a concept, it may sound good in the abstract, but you're not sure how to apply that idea in the real world. In professions like being a police officer or a fire fighter, stories are a way that seasoned staff help rookies learn from other people's experiences. Here's an example of how to use stories to share real-world examples.
With new corporate trainers, using proximity technique to deal with disruptive students in a classroom environment.
"When trying to manage students who are disrupting the classroom, using proximity can be helpful. In short, standing near a student can help them to realize that they need to change their behavior."
Story to share one person’s experience using the technique:
"During student introductions at the beginning of a sales training class, Alice, a branch manager sitting at a table in the back of the room, was explaining what she hoped to gain from class.
In the middle of Alice’s introduction, Jim (the top insurance salesperson in the region) answered his phone. He was sitting at the front table in the classroom, and there was no way for the whole class NOT to hear his conversation as he loudly explained the concept of accident forgiveness.
I asked Alice to pause for a moment, then walked over to Jim, and stood next to him for a moment. He looked at me, I smiled at him, and then he put his hand over his phone long enough to say, “I’ll step outside to finish this call.” I nodded to let him know that I appreciate it. Once he left, Alice finished up, and the next person did their introduction.
In this case, standing next to Jim was the cue he needed to realize that he was doing something disruptive and self-correct his behavior."
How the story helped:
The story involves people with names and characteristics. This shows on sometimes challenging student, a high performing salesperson, and a situation that may resonate with students. It also shows how using a relatively simple solution can solve the problem, and help the trainer maintain control of their classroom. This story shows students how they can apply the skill, which may also help them identify when they could use a specific skill in their classroom.
Reason 3: To Give Context for Technical Training
When I’ve observed technical trainers, most of them are great at taking people through the step by step process needed to make something work. However, many times the question “why would we ever do this?” is missed. If people don’t get why the process matters, they will have a hard time mustering up enough energy to pay attention. Here's an example of how to use a story to set up a scenario within a technical training course.
Showing students in an intermediate Microsoft Word class how to use the mail merge feature to create mailing labels.
"We’re going to create mailing labels. This would be helpful if you needed to mail the same item, like a marketing campaign, to multiple people. You could even use a mailing list that you had saved in Excel as the starting point for your mailing labels."
Story to illustrate why you'd complete this process:
"Joanie and Chachi are getting married and having the big wedding of Joannie’s dreams.
Now that it’s time to address invitations, her best friend, Jenny Piccalo, points out that addressing 500 envelopes by hand is going to be excruciating.
Joannie has a great idea! Why not use the Excel file they’ve created and use the Mail Merge feature in Word to create mailing labels! They can even use one of those handwriting style fonts to help them match the script on the invitations.
Let’s look at how to set that up."
How the story helped:
Especially in technical training, sometimes we get so caught up in the “click here, click there, GOOD LORD NOT THERE” aspect of it that we forget to tell students why they’d ever bother to do the process we’re explaining. Giving them a why, in this case a why that aligns with concepts people know (the joys of managing the postal aspects of a big event) and incorporating fictional characters (who doesn’t love a little Happy Days reference?) adds a layer of lightheartedness that is often missing from technical training.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think telling stories in training is beneficial? What is your favorite story to tell? How does it enhance the learning process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
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.
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.
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.
Feeling Behind? This Can Help.
I work at a fast-paced software company that is growing like crazy. That means that no matter how much I accomplish, there are always things left undone, and I feel like I should be able to figure out how to do more. In a meeting with my manager, where I shared this frustration, she told me that needed to remind myself of what I DID get done. She challenged me to take time each week to list out my successes. I've been doing that for about a month now, and it'a amazing what a difference it makes. Instead of focusing on the negatives, taking a moment to appreciate, and be grateful, for all the things I've accomplished really helped.
Applying Work to the Rest of Life
While completing this exercise for my job, I also included a few successes from life in my list. I quickly realized that, as at work, I get way more life things done than I realize. I decided to go bigger with my list. At this time of year--when we so often focus on all of the things we're going to totally change in our lives--I decided to take stock of what all I accomplished this year first. Here are 50 things I did this year.
26. Joined a gym.
27. Made my first smoothie in my very own smoothie maker.
28. Painted the living room walls red and gray (again, mostly my lovely husband).
29. Planned an upcoming vacation to New Orleans.
30. Read 13 audiobooks.
31. Rode the train from Duluth, MN to Two Harbors, MN.
32. Rolled over my old retirement account.
33. Roller skated at US Bank Stadium for the first time.
34. Saved money for retirement in a 401(k) and Roth 401(k).
35. Saw "Singing in the Rain" at the Heights Theater.
36. Shared my employment success story with the White Box Club.
37, Shopped for and bought my first inline skates.
38. Signed up for my first inline marathon.
39. Started a new job as a training department manager at a growing SaaS software start-up.
40. Stood in two states at once – Iowa and Nebraska.
41. Switched banks.
42. Took a foam roller class.
43. Traveled to 13 US states.
44. Treated myself to monthly massages.
45. Visited my mom and had mother/daughter/granddaughter holiday lefse making day.
46. Walked along the beach and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
47. Watched "Lethal Weapon" at the Parkway Theatre.
48. Went to the gym at least eight times a month from April through December.
49. Won two Step Bets to and increased my overall activity level.
50. Worked my first learning and development contracting gig.
Whoa. I did accomplish a few things. I love that I had milestones including health, adventures, and garden-variety adulting. Seeing this list helped me remind myself of the amazing things I can do. Taking a moment to celebrate, and be grateful for, these successes has me excited to plan for next year's adventures!
What Do You Think?
What did you accomplish this year? Leave 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.