Thinking about a midlife career change? Here are the do’s and don’ts
As I sit here watching the World Cup with the rest of the globe, I am struck by how fun high-level soccer/futbol is yet, like many Americans, I don't follow it. It reminded me of how so many job search techniques are 'obvious' or 'no brainers', but so few people follow them. Below is what I have learned from personally going on over 200 job interviews. (Disclaimer: I realize that I am probably weird in that I LIKE job interviews, and go on many of them just for fun or research.)
1. Communication - can you clearly articulate what you want to do, who you want to work for, and why you would be good at it? Many people embark upon a job search with a vague sense of what they would like to do, such as 'finance', without ever articulating role, company size, or what they enjoy about data analysis. If you can't articulate it to yourself, how on earth are you going to communicate it to a hiring manager? When in doubt, write it down. Then look at what you wrote and say 'would I hire myself with this?' If yes, great. If no, get to work!
2. Preparation - today's job seekers are at a tremendous disadvantage. The internet makes it too easy to just visit a website, look up a company's value statement and spew off facts and figures. Today's job seekers must go beyond the website - reach out to colleagues or alumni to get a feel for the company's culture, read job reviews on Glassdoor, and really understand the role and required skills. Do a quick LinkedIn/web search for people with whom you will interview to learn more about their background, skills and any potential commonalities. Go beyond the website.
3. Network - more and more, it's about who you know as well as what you know. Since 80% of jobs are never advertised, most job seekers are competing for only 20% of the jobs. This makes online job applications even more competitive and the odds stacked against you. Also, when you network, you learn about opportunities BEFORE they are posted, glean important information not available on the company website, and have allies on the inside who can vouch for your candidacy. If you are not networking, you are likely not working.
4. Commitment - how interested are you in the job/role/company, really? If you are interested in management, do you have a subscription to Harvard Business Review? Have you created any valuation models if you are interested in corporate finance? If you are interested in Supply Chain, are you a member of your local APICS? What journals and industry websites do you follow? Have you joined an industry or city-specific LinkedIn group? Who have you reached out to in your LinkedIn or alumni network? Everyone who applies is interested. Very few can demonstrate commitment, and they tend to get hired.
5. Delivery - you need to convince the hiring manager why you are the right fit. This is not about why you want the job. It is about communicating how your skills and education transfer to the job (i.e. transferrable skills), and how you can add value. The hiring manager is not there to give you a job - it is to fill a need for the company. You can learn this by networking, informational interviewing and asking questions. Remember, your goal here is to tell them how you will add value and be part of the solution.
6. Sourcing - this goes back to the fact that 80% of jobs are never advertised. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people apply to the same job you saw, especially if it is with a brand name company. Most hiring managers use a computer to screen resumes - do you want to outsmart a computer or get hired? Referrals are the preferred method for hiring managers, who post online for EEOC laws or lack of immediately available candidates. This is referred to 'post and pray'. The way to learn about opportunities before they are posted? Network, network, network. This can include informational interviews with colleagues, alumni, interest groups, etc. A funny thing happens when you network - you learn about jobs, companies and roles that you never knew existed. So, before you spend hours online looking at job postings, remember to fish in the part of the pond where there are fewer boats!
None of the teams in the World Cup just 'got' there - they had a vision of what they wanted, put in the time and effort to get there, and wanted it more than their competition. The same is with a job search - there are no shortcuts. Articulate your vision, make the effort, put in the time, and demonstrate why you want it more than the other applicants. Then sit back and enjoy the thrill of who you meet and what opportunities present themselves!
As we head into the homestretch of 2017, I am wrapping up an intense, yearlong Executive and Professional Coaching program. I decided to do this program so that I would gain additional tools for my coaching and consulting practice. This year has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. A key takeaway is in order to become a better coach, I have to ‘unlearn’ some of the skills I rely on. I take pride in being a career and job-search subject matter expert. I expected the coaching program to enhance my skills. What ended up happening was one of the most professionally and personally challenging growth experiences of my adult years. I share what I learned below:
It’s all in the asking, not in the telling.
My work as a consultant required me to lecture, present, train, analyze and advise. Helping clients, friends, and family – even strangers - achieve their goal or solve a dilemma is what gets me up in the morning. It is in my DNA. Imagine being a life-long advice giver, then being told I serve my clients better if I ask more and tell less? That I am less effective if I advise someone? Sit with that a moment. When you ask instead of tell, it fosters awareness and ownership, two conditions that have a much higher probability for change. Think of the last time someone ‘told’ you what to do. Did you do it? If yes, out of obligation or motivation? Which one do you believe has the more lasting impact? Asking powerful, open-ended questions promotes awareness. It is from this awareness that action – self-motivated and intuitive – arises.
Listening is not hearing.
'Hearing' is the physical activity of sound falling on the ears and the biological processes involved in its perception. 'Listening' is the ability to pay attention to what the sounds means and understand it. We hear noise, but we listen to music.
The greatest gift we can give someone is to listen. Listen with your full attention. Put down your smartphone. Step away from the computer. Turn towards the speaker. When we fully focus on listening to another person, they have a chance to be understood. Acknowledged. It is one of our fundamental needs as human beings – to matter. When was the last time someone really listened to you? Got you. Understood you. How did that make you feel? How did you feel towards that person? My greatest struggle as a life-long advice giver is to listen without the urge to respond. Most of us are already thinking of our answer before the speaker even finishes. Guess what happens when we do that? We stop listening. The next time you have the opportunity, listen. To your child. To your partner. To your co-worker. You may be surprised by what you 'hear'.
Don’t just give advice. Ask for permission.
We give advice at the drop of a hat. A coworker, friend, or family member will come to us with a situation. More often than not, we respond without a thought. Think about what I just wrote – without a thought. Giving advice is often about telling the other person what they should do. We “know” and we are “sure”. But what would happen if we asked what the other person needed instead? Sometimes it is not advice they seek but the ability to talk it out or to be heard. Or, through the process of asking, you can allow the other person to get specific about the assistance they seek from you. How much richer and more helpful would our advice be? When you ask permission to give advice not only do you allow the other person to decide whether they want the information, but the advice you do give is often more helpful.
My Unlearning Project has been painfully humbling. Learning to suppress and redirect my urge to tell, advise or have the right answer has brought me frustration, doubt and (even) tears. It has been so worth it. Coaching is a profound endeavor that is simple in concept and difficult to do well. My fellow coaching students have watched me with compassion and humor as I stumbled to improve my skills. Asking instead of telling. Listening deeply. Becoming the “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.” I am excited for what 2018 will bring – getting my certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, receiving International Coaching Federation certification, and passing a Professional Certified Coach-level oral examination. Most of all, I am eager to serve and help my clients find career satisfaction and advancement in the coming year. Happy New Year, everyone!