October 30, 2012
Help your contacts help you: set clear career goals
The other day, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a senior executive in town who wanted to get together for lunch. He wasn't looking for a new job, though; he told me that he keeps running into people who are out of work, and simply wanted my advice on what he could do to help them.
I support this kind of thinking immensely. As challenging as the economy has been in recent years, the silver lining has been the incredible amount of helpfulness, empathy and compassion that many people (granted, not all) have shown to those struggling to land new positions.
Despite the apathy that many job hunters might feel from the average employer at an organizational level, I routinely come across individuals going to heroic lengths to open doors, provide support and uplift those around them.
As for this good Samaritan I sat down with, we got to talking and quickly found ourselves agreeing on one aspect of job hunting that seems to be a chronic challenge. When asked a direct question about what kind of job they're after, many out-of-work professionals don't do a very good job of explaining their career goals.
As my counterpart put it, more or less: "I've got a pretty sizable Rolodex, and I'll be meeting with somebody over coffee, trying to figure out some way I might be able to help them. But when I ask them what kind of job they're looking for, I almost never get a straight answer.
"They either start walking me through everything they've done for the last 20 years, rattle off a list of their generalized skills and strengths, or tell me the things they don't want to do. Rarely do they give me the information I requested, which is a clear statement I can get my head around regarding the type of job they're trying to find NOW."
Unfortunately, I had to agree. While many job hunters channel a ton of time into preparing their resumes and written materials, equal attention needs to be placed on the "verbal messaging" component, given the role personal referrals play in getting hired today. People need to be ready to give a straight answer to a straight question about their career objectives. And I can virtually guarantee that working on this piece of the puzzle, in a serious and structured way, will inevitably lead to better results on the all-important networking circuit.
When I asked this executive what he'd need to know in order to provide as much assistance as possible, he said: "Nothing fancy; just a clear statement about the job titles they're targeting, the types of industries and companies that interest them, and perhaps a few thoughts about what sets them apart from other folks in their field so I can talk them up a little with my acquaintances. Those basics would go a long way toward helping me make useful contacts on their behalf."
If you're on the hunt for a new opportunity, take this advice to heart. Do you have crystal-clear career goals? Have you practiced communicating what you're after in concise, effective fashion? And when asked what you want to do next, do you focus on the future or fall into the trap of drifting into a lengthy explanation of your past?
It's so simple, but it can make a huge difference -- especially when you consider how many positions are filled by personal introductions and word of mouth these days.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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