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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

10 Tips for Successful Career Planning

Contrary to how it used to be, career planning is not just an activity to be done once in high school and/or college and then forgotten about after you get a job. Career planning is performed on a regular basis. It’s not a hard activity to do, but many people dreaded it or put off, which you shouldn’t do especially since the average worker will change careers (not just jobs) multiple times over his or her lifetime.

Career planning should be a rewarding and positive experience. It should be an activity that is liberating and fulfilling. Career planning, if done correctly, should be providing goals in your current career to achieve or create ideas for goals in planning to begin a transition to a new career.

Career planning will make you feel more secure in your career choice and direction and you'll be better prepared for the many uncertainties and difficulties that lie ahead in all of our jobs and career.

Remember it’s never too soon or too late to start your career planning.

Here are 10 tips to help you achieve successful career planning.

1. Do Your Career Planning Annually
Just like you have physicals, eye exams and dental checkups annually you should include career planning in that category. Chose a day every year (you can do it more often if you feel the need or if you're planning a major career change) and schedule a retreat for yourself. Block out all distractions so that you have the time to truly focus on your career and what you really want out of your career. Think about how your career is impacting your life.

2. Chart Your Career Path
One of your first activities whenever you take on career planning is spending time mapping out your job and career path. This should be done based on the last time you did any sort of career planning (assuming you’ve actually done career planning). Don’t dwell on your past; just review it as it involves your previous job choices and reflect on the path(s) you chose. They could be straight and narrow or filled with curves and dead-ends; but looking at this will help you plan for the future.

Once you've mapped your past, take the time to reflect on your course and note why it looks the way it does. Are you happy with your path? Could you have done things better? What might you have done differently? What can you do differently in the future?

3. Think about You: What are your Likes and Dislikes? Needs and Wants?
As you grow you change. Change is a factor of life; and as you change so do your likes and dislikes. Your wants and needs also change accordingly. Things you used to love doing a year ago may now bring you dissatisfaction and irritation.

This is why it is imperative that you make time to reflect on the things in your life, not just in your job, that you feel most strongly about. By taking the things that are important to you in your life you will begin to realize what it is you need from your career. Take the time to “really think” about what is important to you and what you want or need from your work, from your career.

Be honest with yourself. Are you looking to make a difference in the world? Do you want to be famous? Do you want to become financially independent? Is it important for you to effect change? Don’t hold yourself back take the time to understand the motives that drive your sense of success and happiness.

Make a two-column list of your major likes and dislikes. Then use this list to examine your current job and career path. If your job and career still fall mostly in the like column, then you know you are still on the right path; however, if your job activities fall mostly in the dislike column, now is the time to begin examining new jobs and new careers.

4. Look at Your Pastimes and Hobbies
Career planning provides a great time to examine the activities you like doing when you're not working. It may sound a bit odd, to examine non-work activities when doing career planning, but it's not. Many times your hobbies and leisurely pursuits can give you great insight into future career paths. Remember your pastimes and hobbies are things that you pursue with a passion; even when you put them on hold, they still gnaw at you. When anything is that persistent, it’s best to acknowledge it.

If you think, you can't make a hobby into a career; guess again. People do it all the time. The great painter Paul Gauguin was successful in business who painted on the side. It actually wasn't until he was encouraged by an artist he admired to continue painting that he finally took a serious look at his hobby and decided he should change careers. He was good at business, but his love was painting.

Mrs. Fields took her love for making cookies and made an empire. Famous Amos is another “cookie king.” Look around, and you’ll see that many successful people took their pastimes and hobbies and turned them into lucrative and successful careers.

Try the two-column list approach again; only substitute your pastimes and hobbies and which ones you like vs. the ones you love.

5. List your accomplishments
If you make a list your accomplishments, it can help you in two ways: 1. It reinforces your security in your abilities; and 2. If you know your list of accomplishments then you will be able to create a better more powerful resume when it's time to search for a new job.

So make notes of your accomplishments, both in work and from hobbies or pastimes, because it's also useful for career planning.

Sometimes in reviewing these accomplishments, it reveals forgotten successes, one or more that may trigger researching and planning a career shift so that you can be in a job that allows you to accomplish the types of things that make you most happy and proud.

6. How to See Transferable Skills
Most workers are so entrenched in their job titles that they don't see any other career possibilities for themselves. Think outside the box. Don’t limit yourself to just your job title since every job requires a “specific set of skills”; try categorizing yourself in terms of these skill sets as opposed to just throwing up a title.

For example, one job seeker who was trying to accomplish career planning was stuck because their job title was administrative assistant. However, once they got past the job title, they had a strong collection of transferable skills such as writing, editing, researching, investigating, interviewing, juggling multiple tasks, meeting goals and deadlines, and managing time and information skills that are easily be applied to a wide variety of jobs in many different careers.
You can try the two-column approach here as well. List the “job title” in the left column and list the skills that you use in performing that job.

7. Review Trends
A career path that is expanding today could easily shrink tomorrow or next year. It's important to see where job growth is expected, especially in the career fields that most interest you. Besides knowledge of these trends, the other advantage of conducting this research is the power it gives you to adjust and strengthen your position, your unique selling proposition. One of the keys to job and career success is having a unique set of accomplishments, skills, and education that make you better than all others in your career.

Everyone makes his or her own job and career opportunities, so that even if your career is shrinking, if you have excellent skills and know how to market yourself, you should be able to find a new job. However, having information about career trends is vital to long-term career planning success.

8. Set Career and Job Goals
Could you be successful in your career without setting goals? Yes, you could. But could you be even more successful through goal-setting? Most research says yes. Develop a roadmap for your job and career success.

A major component of career planning is setting short-term (in the coming year) and long-term (beyond a year) career and job goals. Once you initiate this process, another component of career planning becomes reviewing and adjusting those goals as your career plans progress or change - and developing new goals once you accomplish your previous goals.

9. Explore New Education/Training Opportunities
It's somewhat of a cliché, but information really does lead to power and success. Never pass up chances to learn and grow more as a person and as a worker; part of career planning is going beyond passive acceptance of training opportunities to finding new ones that will help enhance or further your career.

Take the time to contemplate what types of educational experiences will help you achieve your career goals. Look within your company, your professional association, your local universities and community colleges, as well as online distance learning programs, to find potential career-enhancing opportunities and then find a way achieve them.

10. Research Further Career/Job Advancement Opportunities
One of the fun outcomes of career planning is picturing yourself in the future. Where will you be in a year? In five years? A key component to developing multiple scenarios of that future is researching career paths.

Of course, if you're in what you consider a dead-end job, this activity becomes even more essential to you, but all job seekers should take the time to research various career paths and then develop scenarios for seeing one or more of these visions become reality. Look within your current employer and current career field, but again, as with all aspects of career planning, do not be afraid to look beyond to other possible careers.

Final Thoughts on Career Planning
Don't wait too long between career planning sessions. Career planning can have multiple benefits, from goal setting to career change, to a more successful life. Once you begin regularly reviewing and planning your career using the tips provided in this article, you'll find yourself better prepared for whatever lies ahead in your career—and in your life.

© Copyright MMVIII, Office Venus. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 4, 2008

How to Leverage Your Skills to Rev-up Your Resume

Your resume should accomplish two things:

  1. it should reflect all that you do and have accomplished; and
  2. it should get you an interview based on your accomplishments.

A good way to incorporate your achievements is to provide a bulleted list of your top achievements. For example: these impact statements can be used for a legal secretary:

  • Promoted from trainee position within nine months to provide legal support to high-profile managing partner.
  • Simultaneously coordinated a minimum of 50 active cases.
  • Supervised multi-document court filings for international clients, often coordinating a team of several employees to ensure timely and accurate filings.
  • Provided support and training to secretarial staff and new associates in office orientation, filing procedures, computer applications and court requirements.
  • Resolved various employee-relations problems to the satisfaction of five department heads and 500 employees. Served as a calming influence in a fast-paced office.

Many workers have a hard time detailing their accomplishments. Some say that they just "do their jobs" and that's it. But after you reflect on each position, you will be amazed at how much you've accomplished. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Did you train or orient other staff on office policies and procedures?
  • Did you win any awards, such as "employee of the month" or "perfect attendance"?
  • Did you institute any procedures that improved office operations, enhanced customer service or reduced costs?
  • Did you organize any events or meetings that positively impacted the company?
  • Have you used technology to improve support functions?
  • Have you created effective PowerPoint presentations?
  • Do your word processed reports sparkle?
  • Did you build a customer database to improve tracking, reporting and customer service?
  • Did you demonstrate the ability to multitask in a fast-paced environment, while maintaining an emphasis on quality?
  • Do you consistently present a professional image, both on the phone and in person, contributing to your company's positive reputation?
  • Did you assist with any special projects, such as creation of a newsletter or direct-mail campaign? What were the results of the projects?
  • Can you manage a multiline phone system?
  • Have customers or clients commended you for providing excellent service?

Employers seek support staff that are reliable and contribute to the smooth running of operations. Review your job and the tasks you’ve performed while working again. Chances are you will be able to spot many accomplishments that you didn’t think were important but they will make your resume dazzle.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Answering the Toughest Interview Question...

"So tell me about yourself."

We've all heard it; we've all had to answer it. This is the Interviewers secret weapon that puts incumbents into a tailspin. Most launch into an in depth historical account of their working lives; but that is the wrong approach.

Instead, don't jump in and start recanting your life in verse. Try this instead. When your interviewer asks you to talk about yourself; use this time to interview the interviewer. Turn the question back to them and get them involved in your answer. Simply say something like, "I would like to tell you about myself; but before I do could you tell me a little more about what this specific job entails along with some of the requirements you feel are important?"

You see this leading question to the interviewer serves two purposes. First the interviewer will be relaying to you the actual job requirements and not just the printed verse on the job boards or their webpage. They will also be supplying you with key items from which you will make your mental notes. That's the second reason for the question. While they are going on about the job you are forming your responses to fit the needs of this particular job.

If the interviewer won't play ball and instead continues to press you to talk about yourself without addressing your question; then you have to rely on your research. Prior to this interview you should have researched the company and in doing so made notes regarding the state of the company and any weaknesses it may have. To narrow it down look for its weaknesses with respect to the position you are interested in. Once you've located them you don't need to address every one, however, use three of them.

When you are responding to the interviewer bring up these weaknesses, tactfully, then use examples of how you solved these problems with a previous employer. By doing this you are showing off your abilities to solve problems while emphasizing the contribution you would make if hired for the position. By not trying to solve the new company’s weaknesses but making reference to them shows the interviewer that you’ve done your homework but you are not vain or condescending.

You want to make a memorable impression on the interviewer for being knowledgeable but not for being arrogant.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Skinny on Finding a New Job

Most Americans today say they would change their jobs if they could. They also say that they are too afraid to do so. Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck so they rely deeply on that steady paycheck. But that does not keep them from wondering what's really out there.

The problem is that in today’s uncertain job market your job could be gone tomorrow morning. And what’s worse; employers have put the brakes on hiring (even though this is supposed to not be a recession). Job creation fell by 17,000 in January, the first month of decline in more than four years. For the hardest-hit industries like banking and real estate layoffs and hiring freezes have dominated the media as of late, which means there will be more qualified applicants are chasing fewer job spots.

Given this outlook, job seekers must do some sweet and savvy selling of their talents. Now more than ever the quality of your job search skills becomes more critical. Bottom line your skills need to be better. You need to utilize career branding. You must learn the new rules of networking and how to approach an employer.

Here are five tips to land a job in this today’s market:

1. Don't Rely on Job Boards. As popular as they are and how they market themselves as being able to connect job seekers with the employers of their dreams; online search engines and resume banks are essentially "resume black holes.” Many companies pre-screen resumes using software that only hunts for keywords. The keywords are related to the skills, training, degrees, and experience associated with a particular job. Even if you are a perfect match for the job, your resume may never get to someone who could decipher your potential value.

A second item that happens with job boards is the unnecessary deluge of “dead-end” recruiters (also using the same keyword searching software) pulling your resume from an online search engine based on a keyword showing up in your resume (no matter how irrelevant they are to the job at hand; it’s just that the word showed up on your resume in some capacity) and calling you offering a position that they have no connection with. Their sales ‘pitches’ sound good; but just wait and you’ll suddenly notice you’ve got two or three recruiters all from different companies; all offering you the same job for the same company; all claiming to be the only true representative for that company.

While both of those are reasons are valid enough on their own; the biggest issue is that the majority of jobs are never advertised—online or anywhere. This is where your networking skills come into play. You should spend at lease 85% of your job search energy on networking and 15% submitting resumes online.

2. Tap Your Network. Networking is how things get done. You are probably already keeping in touch with former colleagues and industry peers. Why not put the feelers out and have them notify you about job leads before they go public? If you remember the old cliché it’s not what you know; but whom you know. When it comes to looking for a job truer words were never spoken. But let’s take it one further it’s not only who knows you; but who knows what you know and what you can do. Make sure you're on the radar of people who have access to the kind of job leads you want.

If you're looking to work for a specific company, the key is to connect with a current employee. If you’re wondering how you do that; think Monster.com/Network. This is a useful tool on job boards; they offer networking circles in all manner of industries for you to join into. You can also ask your regular contacts in your network to leverage their network. Another great site for connecting with your friend’s friends is Linked In where you can essentially connect with your friends' friends.

To use this type of “networking” you must apply rules of “Netiquette” (social etiquette for using the Internet). First, ask for an introduction. Then, if you're at an entry level politely say you would like an informational interview. If you're at a higher level it is proper to “talk about the market and where the industry is going.”

3. Harness the Power of the Blog. Locate blogs that are relevant to your industry that are written by professionals at the top of their career and become a regular commenter. The best thing about blogging is that it let’s you show your stuff and thus you’re not solely being judged based on your resume. Once you've developed rapport with a blogger, ask about career advice and job leads.

4. Offer to Assist Others. Stay in regular contact with your network so it doesn’t look like you're asking for favors every couple of years, From time to time pass along a tip or an article that may help your contact. It keeps things mutual and you both are benefiting from the union. You will also be keeping abreast of the current trends while keeping your lines of communication open.

Try to avoid contacting someone out of the blue. Some may be flattered; but most will just figure you're using them. That's not what you're trying to convey (even if essentially that's what you are doing). Always be professional and courteous. If you must contact someone out of the blue, offer something in return, such as an invitation to a lecture or a link to a website that might be of interest, This may not always work; but on those rare times that it does keep that line of networking open; no mater what. Don’t forget them once you’re “in” and working on a new job.

5. Market Your “Brand”. Let your modesty fly out of the window. Marketing a brand (the name of an entity) is how all the big companies get ahead. Think about why you eat at your favorite burger place or can sing you favorite jingle at a moments notice. It’s because of the marketing of that brand.

Well you are going to become your own “Brand”. Market your name. Establish yourself as an expert in your industry. This is easier than you’d believe. It’s as simple as volunteering your skills for a community project (don’t forget to solicit references and referrals), participating in an online forum, creating a website, or—blog. You could also try writing for an industry trade journal or an alumni newsletter. If all else fails (and it won’t) become a published author. Today self-publishing is the norm; and it’s reasonably inexpensive.

The idea is to build credibility in your field and set yourself apart from the competition. You can even advertise your book on your blog or add a blurb about it in your writing or on the website you maintain.

© Copyrighted MMVIII, The I.V.A. Company. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Welcome to the Attic

This is the melting pot for things I encounter in the world today and want to comment on.

Whether it's a new trend in business, a provocative article, new items in the computer world, or just plain old fashion tips. It will eventually make it to this blog. I'll deposit items of interest and maybe even some how-to advice from time to time.

You're in luck for today, I'm not going much further than these few scribbles. Where I am right now the little hand and the big hand are about to become one; and my playtime has come.

So I leave you here to go take flight; and set the night on fire.


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