January 25, 2002

Finding employment takes good attitude, research, networking

It may be the memory of the not-so-distant good old days — when a person could show up for an interview wearing a red wig and clown suit and still have a good chance of getting a job offer — that makes looking for a new gig so frustrating today.

But those days are indeed gone. Today’s job seeker must pound the pavement armed with steely determination, a polished pitch and a positive attitude, which can be a tall order when the search for work has stretched on for months.

?People who have spent a real long time out of work begin to take it very personally and may feel a sense of desperation,? said Marian Thier, an executive coach. ?But the more you can be focused and prepared, the less you are going in and saying, ?Oh God, I have to have this job.’

?You should be going in thinking of exploring the fit between you and an organization. That fit might come in one week or in nine months. There is no guarantee when that’s going to happen.?

What you can guarantee is that you are well prepared and that you present yourself with professional aplomb that sets you apart from hundreds of other candidates auditioning for the same position.

?It’s a discouraging situation when you’re out of work,? said Fred Berns, a marketing and sales consultant and president of Power Promotion Inc. in Lafayette. ?But you have to realize that you have a job, and that is to find a job.?

Think like a corporation, Berns advised. Companies in trouble don’t just let the bad keep happening. They make a plan for righting the ship. The same concept works for individuals. ?Make a marketing plan and a business plan geared to figuring out what your goals are and what you need to do to accomplish them,? Berns said. ?Without a plan, you’re a ship without a rudder.?

Take some time to figure out what kind of industry you might like to work in and target the top companies in the field. Once those goals are put to paper, it’s time to hit the books, or the Web, or the phone.

?Job seekers don’t do enough research,? Berns said. ?Find out the hot buttons, look at annual reports, talk to people who work there. Figure out what you can do for the company and you’re already differentiating yourself from thousands of others who don’t understand the needs of the company.?

Informational interviews ? brief phone or in-person talks with people who work in the industry or company you wish to reach ? can help, too. ?Don’t expect the person to do all the heavy lifting; call with some good questions,? said Troy Bettinger, chief talent scout at Spectra Logic Corp. in Boulder, a manufacturer of automated tape libraries. ?Human resources people will have a good idea of what the company needs, but may not have a great picture of the overall industry. Marketing and sales people will have a good idea of the industry.?

Once you understand the industry segment and the company you’ve got in your sights, you can begin developing a marketing plan for yourself.

Begin by assembling a comprehensive list of goals you’ve accomplished, milestones you’ve reached, big client wins you can claim, and awards you’ve won. While you might not share the entire list with a potential employer, it helps to clarify in your own mind what you’ve got to offer a company. ?People undersell themselves. You’re not the only one looking for a job; you need to be able to spell out your successes,? Berns said.

Assembling your achievements also will help you to develop an ?only statement,? that can be used to market yourself. ?I’m the only speaker who’s written three books focusing on how to increase your income by promoting yourself more effectively,? Berns explained, using himself as an example. ?We all need a 75-word-or-less commercial. There’s a lot of competition in this difficult market and ultimately, employers want to know what makes you stand out.?

This same idea carries over into the materials you send to employers. Berns suggests supplementing the traditional resume with a marketing ?one sheet? that establishes you as a unique, one-of-a kind professional. On the front side is an up-to-date photograph of yourself, an overview of who you are, what you do, your skills and market abilities. On the backside include six or seven bullet points about your qualifications and, if you can get it, a list of testimonial comments from companies you’ve worked for or you’ve served. Also include awards you’ve won and articles that have been written about you. ?The resume is the appetizer; this is a main course,? he said.

Margot Zaher, president of True Potential Coaching, suggests developing a job proposal instead of sending the traditional cover letter and resume. A job proposal combines your corporate research and self-assessment to show what you can do for the company.

?It takes the idea that you are valuable and can impact the company you want to work for,? Zaher said. ?A lot of people (in companies) say they are trying to figure out who can help them and fast. The resume is a really vague tool. The job proposal says, ?These are my strengths, and this is how I can help you.’ ?

One of Zaher’s clients wanted a job as an assistant in an insurance agency. She did some research and found that small insurance offices handle large numbers of phone calls, and that they’re typically disorganized. Then she presented herself as a highly organized person with a lot of education in how to be organized and explained how she could help the company run more smoothly. ?She got a bunch of offers, and the thing about it is, she did this on the phone, to companies that weren’t advertising for help. It was just an attitude: I think I can help you.?

When searching for a job, it’s important to be careful with your free time. Without a set schedule, it’s easy to waste time.

?Time management is always important, but especially if you’re looking for work,? Berns said. ?When you are in pursuit of a job, your day needs to begin the three, four or five most productive uses of your time. You have to ask yourself, ?What are the activities that are going to help me get that job?’

?Going out for coffee isn’t going to do it. The most valuable use of your time might include calling headhunters, meeting with your career adviser, or rewriting your resume.?

Many people have taken jobs outside their ?normal? field to tide them over, which means they have to work extra hard at remaining focused on the search. ?For people who have taken other jobs, there are ways to stay connected,? said Bettinger, who is also a past president of the Colorado Technical Recruiters Network. ?Just because you’ve taken a job in construction and you’re usually a software engineer doesn’t mean that you can’t clean up after work and go to a users-group meeting.?

These types of groups ? the Colorado Technical Recruiters Network maintains a list at its Web site — typically feature a speaker or discussion of what’s going on in the industry. The meetings typically last a couple of hours and offer the chance to keep up-to-date on new tools and developments and to network with people who work at companies that might employ you.

?I believe in the power of association and networking,? Bettinger said.

But choose your networking partners carefully. ?It’s great to meet with friends for support and that kind of thing ? if they’re upbeat, positive and can support you,? Berns said. ?Everyone’s had hardships; successful people move on from the obstacles. You need to network with people who are employed and successful and are where you want to be.?

Kevin Kerwin, who recently completed a Sun Solaris Administrator certification program through Workforce Boulder County, said he fills his spare time with activities he doesn’t always have time for when he’s working.

?I spend time with my kids, I spend a lot of time doing work for my church, but I’m always trying to make contacts,? he said. ?I’m networking and going to luncheons, like at the chamber of commerce in Longmont.?

When the doors do open, you must be prepared to sell yourself all over again.

?You cannot make the (company) work at all,? said Thier, who advises clients through her coaching business, Expanding Thought. ?What businesses look for is someone to fill a very specific job. As much as possible, understand what the job description is and relate your experience directly to the description.

?Of all things, that’s the most important,? she said.

Rehearsing helps. Thier suggests doing a Q&A with the bathroom mirror, or having a friend come over and conduct a mock interview that includes questions you think might be asked. This will help you be more confident not only in answering questions, but also asking them.

?There are other ways to make it easy for the interviewer,? she said. ?Go in with a series of questions. If the person says, ?Do you have any questions?? and you don’t, the interview is over. If you have interesting questions to ask, the person will be more engaged.?

Come prepared with some questions to ask at the end of the interview. The interview process is as much for you as it is for the recruiter. Questions might include: How does this job fit into the bigger vision of where the company is going? What has made people who have held this position before successful?

At the end of the interview, you might want to sum up why you should have the position. ?Be very clear in the language you use: ?This is what I will do for you,’ ? Thier said. ?Talk as though you are the person who is going to do the job. Do not be tentative about it.?

Painful as it may be, be prepared to explain why you left your last job. ?It surprises a lot of people; it’s like I’m scratching the scab,? Spectra Logic’s Bettinger said. ?Prepare for that question. Come up with a one-blurb speech like, ?It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I took a chance on it. Unfortunately, it was an R&D effort ? we proved our concept, but the funding didn’t come through.’

?There are ways to present your experience without saying, ?They screwed me. Those guys should be in jail,’ ? he said.

Berns said finding a job is a bit like finding a parking spot ? you only need one. But Bettinger cautions that it should be the right one.

?There are a lot of people on the market right now, but taking the wrong job is as bad a move as going to a company that’s going to die,? Bettinger said. ?People need to still investigate whether this is the right thing for them. It pains me when it happens, but I’d rather someone say, ?I don’t fit in,’ than they take the job and make everyone around them miserable.

?It’s a hard message to hear if the guy is out there repossessing your car.?

It may be the memory of the not-so-distant good old days — when a person could show up for an interview wearing a red wig and clown suit and still have a good chance of getting a job offer — that makes looking for a new gig so frustrating today.

But those days are indeed gone. Today’s job seeker must pound the pavement armed with steely determination, a polished pitch and a positive attitude, which can be a tall order when the search for work has stretched on for months.

?People who have spent a real long time out of work begin…

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