Career Breakout: Performing Due Diligence

A few days ago I noticed a question on LinkedIn which I believe is a fairly common concern for most people seeking a job or those undergoing a career jump. Though the individual asking will be graduating soon, the issue is relatable for all levels. Here’s what Priya had on her mind:

Just graduated, what is the first step in finding a job?”

As a career textbook and publishing company, we hire a great many soon-to-be and fresh graduates. Nothing is more powerful for the candidate than displaying confidence and taking an initiative.

For the recent graduate, I suggest performing several weeks of due diligence in the form of researching companies of interest. After examining their blogs and website information, develop a single page introductory letter (filled with plenty of professional courtesy) and snail-mail prospective contacts within the selected organization.

Career Tip #1: Keep your letter to four paragraphs packed with personality and company benefit.

Your introductory letter is NOT a plea for a job, rather this letter briefly describes your education, knowledge, interests, and desire to learn more about your field of choice by eliciting a quick 15 minute (roughly) informational interview. Many graduates would be shocked to find out that the vast majority of executives and company personnel are willing (and desire) to share their experiences and methods to graduates beginning their journey(it’s kind of an ego thing too).

Remember that this is NOT a time to ask for a job. At the conclusion of your informational interview, ask if he or she has a few minutes for a face-to-face meeting where you can learn more about the hands-on environment within the company. Your goal is to develop a relationship and having the other person’s buy-in as this informational relationship bridges into a professional one.

Due diligence, research, and building a professional network conceived by an informational interview is one of the most effective techniques for career success, no matter your level of experience or education.

Career Tip #2
: Take advantage of your research by incorporating key concepts within your introductory letter.

Though the question was posed by a recent graduate, the benefits of performing due diligence by way of research and developing relationships can benefit everyone.

If you would like additional information about developing an introductory letter or assistance in any other career-related manner, don’t hesitate to reach out and send your request through the comment section or email me directly at dhuffman@edu-cs.com or you can even check visit us at Amazon.com (search Huffman at ecs).

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Twitter: @dannyatecs

Career Breakout: Ink or Excuse?

In response to our most recent article dealing with tattoos, Christopher responded in the following manner…

I also have tattoos that are mostly where no one can see them but the few on my wrist are obvious. What do you suggest I do? I am a hard worker getting ready to graduate college.”

First of all, being unemployed and owning tattoos are not exclusive to each other. In other words, career success and ink can cohabitate. Not knowing your exact situation or background, I offer these general guidelines and job hunting strategies to enhance your personal career success:

  • Prepare an effective resume AND cover letter highlighting your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Overall, companies look for candidates with a proven track record. The reasoning here being that if you improved operations or increased sales with another company, you will do it again for their company. As a result, time to brag about achievements is NOW (detail accomplishments and responsibilities with numbers when possible)… simply stating you managed a sales team is not enough. To place your resume on the right pile, state the number of people you supervised and the bottom-line result due to your hard work and superior team leading skills.
  • Once you gain an interview, dress the part. Males should wear a suit accompanied by a tie (get over the tears and just do it) while the ladies should dress      professionally in a business suit of their own. Remember first impressions can ruin an opportunity.
  • Speaking of first impressions, let’s focus on your tattoos. As you will be wearing a long sleeve shirt (to go with your suit), unless there are facial markings, our concern      resides on the wrists. Wearing a watch on your right hand may shield a sliver (or most for some) and should be considered. I suggest the right hand as that is typically used during the initial handshake. Regarding your left hand, do not keep it in your pocket as that will raise suspicion.
  • If your tattoo catches a concerning eye, facial twitch, or remark, be honest but do not state any prejudicial quips. For example, don’t make mention that during a college drinking binge in Las Vegas you woke up in a bathtub to notice a      permanent mark or during a three-year stint with the state it was part of a gang initiation. Not sure why but some companies don’t think kindly on such information. Being honest (but not prejudicial) may work in your advantage.
  • Be prepared to counter negative responses or smirks with a positive. After your reply transition and refocus the interview on the many advantages you bring to the company. You may be surprised at the positive responses received once the white elephant in the room is recognized. You may be even more surprised by knowing how many of those same hiring managers have tattoos.
  • To summarize, be confident and always brand yourself as a problem resolver, not a problem maker.

It is true that many “conservative” companies are not tattoo-sensitive and discriminate, but the number of those organizations is shrinking. No matter the situation, see through the eyes of the employer and respond to his or her concerns. To be blunt, hiring manager concerns boil down to two things:

1. Can you increase sales, bring in revenue, or expand the customer base
2. Can you decrease costs, develop new methods of production, or enhance team development

Quite simply, it’s all about the bottom line. Tattoo or no tattoo, you are the right candidate if you can satisfy one of the above conditions. Going into an interview passively or not confident due to a few ink spots is not conducive to your career. Quite honestly, in the midst of the total package, it’s all about the money so get over any excuses and get into your groove.

If you have any questions for our career professionals, we are ready.

Interested in learning more about Education Career Services library of career resources, books, and workbooks, visit our website or go to Amazon.com (search Huffman at ecs).

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Twitter: @dannyatecs

Career Breakout: Tattooed, what’s the big deal?

Questions keep coming in from our audience; your voices do not fall upon deaf ears. Providing you an advantage, career professionals across the United States will be offering recommendations throughout our continuing Career Breakout series, where YOU control the question.

I have tattoos and each time I go to an interview, people stare at them and I can’t get a job offer. What’s the big deal with a few tattoos?

No doubt about it, the use of tattoo art is increasing. WARNING: Tattoos may be dangerous to your career. According to the top career management associations, tattoos are not always a welcome site on prospective employees. I know you are simply expressing yourself in an innocent fashion but not everyone knows that.

Through the employer’s eye, let’s uncover some of the stereotypes associated with ink on skin.

True or not:

  • Those with tattoos are rebels, not team players
  • Hiring executives link ink with gang membership
  • Non-tattooed employees are uncomfortable around those with tattoos
  • Customers become intimidated when approached by inked representatives
  • Hiring executives often associate tattoos with individuals who have been in prison
  • Companies dealing with face-to-face clients prefer conservative looking employees

The above perceptions many companies (especially conservative organizations) hold as truths and will be a factor during the hiring process.

Regarding our original question, though tattoos may not be a big deal to me, to many they are. As mentioned in a previous submission, perception and attitude are directly related. Thus, if the hiring manager sitting across the table holds any prejudices (and we all do), you may be doing yourself a disservice by showcasing ink.

Another consideration may be more difficult to swallow. Perhaps your qualifications are not as strong as other candidates or your interviewing skills are lacking. Either factor could be the reason there have been no job offers. Ultimately, to blame tattoos may be your way of rationalizing?

There are multiple factors why individuals do not make it beyond the initial interview process. Perhaps it’s not the ink but something else. On a side note, it is not uncommon for hiring managers to eliminate candidates due to bad teeth, body odor, un-polished shoes, a gut feeling, or a fishy handshake. The list goes on and on. My advice to you is to receive an objective career evaluation from a career coach. Asking a friend or family member is nice, but knowing the truth is nicer.

If you have any questions for our career professionals, we are ready.

Interested in learning more about Education Career Services library of career resources, books, and workbooks, visit our website or go to Amazon.com (search Huffman at ecs).

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Twitter: @dannyatecs

New Year / New Attitude

With the coming of a new year we can finally say that things are going to get a little better. But then again, economists and job trend analysts are about as fickle as the weather. Fortunately, each one of us has the power to develop professionally no matter what storms may come. As a career coach, an author of over a dozen career books and single-target workbooks, and a seasoned hiring manager/CEO, I can honestly state that most career progressions and/or new employee hiring is directly related to the candidate’s attitude being projected.

What does this mean for YOU? Glad you asked…

In today’s tight employment market, companies are seeking candidates who can carry more than the typical eight-hour load. You heard it, today is all about “what can you do for the company, now!” Herein resides the foundation of this article: selling YOUR knowledge, skills, and abilities in a confident and progressive manner. Easier said than done? Not really.

Quite bluntly, attitude and perception (the way others see and define you) are directly related and is a powerful tool to construct or destroy relationships, personal and professional. Taking it to back to the New Year and a new (or improved) career, the manner in which the package (YOU) is presented weighs heavily on the result.

One thing we should make initially clear to candidates lacking a great deal of career-related experience, rarely do the interview, job, and/or promotion go to the most qualified… more often than not; offers go to the individual with the right attitude.

How to enhance perception positively depends on how you package and distribute attitude. Let’s take a quick look at three mediums career seekers use and how attitude influences perception.

Informational Interviews: Defined as an informal discussion with the intent of gaining job information from an individual in your field of interest.

  • Proper attitude is upbeat, confident, respectful of the advice and time given, well      researched—asking relevant questions, and always professional.
  • Improper attitude can be defined by being pushy (asking for a job), irrelevant, sloppy, not  timely (being late or overextending), entitled, and non-appreciative.Under this example (and I’ve had plenty of both), attitude guides reaction and ultimate consequence… but you know this.

Career Documents (resume and cover letter): Defined as the primary medium used to formally exchange information related to a specific position.

  • Proper attitude is displayed by keeping information relevant, error-free, confident      (quantifying accomplishments), proper spacing (plenty of white space but not too much), and written professionally.
  • Improper attitude  is defined by taking a lazy road (using templates or self-propagating formats), using illegible fonts (or too small), filled with errors (could be an automatic deal-breaker), and is passive by nature.Under this example, a hiring manager gets a “gut” feeling as to the type      of person the author is. In other words, displaying improper techniques rings bells of keep away, even if you happen to be the most qualified candidate.

Formal Interview: Recognized to be the place where qualifications are confirmed. Most importantly, this is the setting defining how you “fit in” with the company.

Taken from experience, face-to-face attitude and perception never meant so much as during a formal interview. Naturally if the first two elements discussed above are out of sync, a formal interview will never be offered.

  • Proper attitude:  timely, respectful, firm handshake, asking the right questions  (well-researched), listening and responding directly to each question, behaving in a courteous manner, responding professionally, recognizing all parties involved (including the receptionist), and sending a handwritten follow up to be sent via snail mail.
  • Improper attitude is reflected by being late, loud, disrespectful, diverting questions,      sounding rehearsed, lacking eye contact, offering a limp handshake, not researching the company, being distracted, reeking of smoke, not offering any solid examples as to how you will create an immediate value, and oozing of arrogance.If you are currently employed, the importance of perception cannot go understated. To encourage promotions and/or job stability, take advantage and express the right attitude hour in and hour out. With downsizing and shrinking budgets, peers, managers, corporate executives all are eager to fill positions with individuals recognized as problem solvers. Candidate attitudes and the perception of others play a huge factor in shaping career success, an often ignored fact held by many.

    The New Year promises to be one of continued adjustment, personally and professionally. Irrelevant of your circumstance, the manner in which you expresses attitude directly correlates to the picture viewed by others. Now is a perfect time to reflect on this year’s goals, develop a plan to achieve each objective, and reinforce the value of a positive attitude. If you have not bought into the fact that attitude and perception is the foundation of success, try it for three months and prove me wrong. Consider yourself as being double dared. Interested in purchasing Education Career Services career resources, books, and workbooks, visit our website or Amazon.com (search Danny Huffman at education career services).

    Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
    www.educationcareerservices.com
    Twitter: @dannyatecs

Career Dissatisfaction: Informational Interviews, Part 3

We last covered O*NET’s website and how its in-depth database of career information can be an effective tool for preventing career dissatisfaction. While I discussed its many uses, I neglected to mention (trust me, this was on purpose) a major shortcoming of the online database: it’s very impersonal and not always a good indicator of whether or not you will enjoy your work environment.

Sure, O*NET is highly accurate and updated regularly but will it truly give you a feel for the career of your choice? Chances are that it won’t; it should, ideally, be used to weed out careers in which you have no actual interest or compatibility. In order to truly understand a career you must invest a deal of time and personal interest into it.

One effective means of doing this is conducting an informational interview. No, you’re not looking to be hired; you’re looking for information from the most reliable source: a professional in your current field of interest. This information gathered, like O*NET’s, is intended to help you make an informed career decision before you dive into a job or occupation headfirst. Yes, I said gathered. The main difference between a job interview and an informational interview is, in an informational interview, you will be asking all of the questions.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some of the advantages of conducting an informational interview (think of this as added motivation). For one, it’s a great way to network with professionals, increasing the amount of people in the industry you know, which certainly never hurt anyone. Furthermore, since you will be asking the questions, you’re in control of what you learn. Take that opportunity to ask about typical day-to-day activities and relate them to your wants and interests, making sure to note whether or not you can see yourself happily performing these tasks. These interviews also involve much less stress, allowing you to ask questions that are typically taboo during a job interview (for example, benefits, salary, vacation time, etc.).

So how does one go about obtaining an informational interview? Perhaps by social networking; by taking out an ad in the classified section of the paper; by sending an e-mail or personal letter to businesses; or maybe even a simple phone call? Well… yes, actually. All of those are common methods for securing an informational interview with an individual.

Keep in mind, these interviews are informal, so the questions you ask can be very straightforward and honest. Nonetheless, even though informational interviews are informal, there are still some basic ground rules to follow: dress appropriately, be polite and punctual, and, most importantly, prepare the questions you will be asking ahead of time.

There’s nothing worse (and unprofessional) than wasting a participants time by being unprepared. Not only will this lessen the information gathered due to ineffective questioning, but it could also cost you a needed contact, referral, or recommendation. Take the time to think—truly think—about what you need to be asking. You only get one shot with an individual; make it count… trust me.

So—I’m sure this is the part you were waiting for—what questions should I ask during an informational interview? That depends upon you (time to get introspective). You’ve already used O*NET to find careers you’re interested in; now, it’s time to put that career to the test to see if the reality will be right for you, both now and in the future.

Here are some good questions to ask that may prevent future career dissatisfaction:

  • Describe a typical day for yourself to me. Do you have a set routine?
  • On average, what salary level can I expect in this career?
  • What benefits does someone in this profession normally receive?
  • What advancement opportunities, if any, exist and how would I take advantage of them?
  • What settings or environments can I expect to commonly work in?
  • Where is this job heading in the future? What changes can I expect?
  • Does a chain of command exist? If so, who will I be working under or over?
  • What other career professionals can I expect to work with?

 These are just a few of the many examples of questions you should consider asking your interviewee. Be personal by asking questions as simple as possible. If you’re worried you will grow bored of the job, express that to him or her. You have an opportunity to ask questions that are normally off-limits. Don’t waste this chance by asking questions that are easily discovered online on websites such as O*NET.

As a rule of thumb, if you can easily Google the answer, it’s not worth asking.

Remember the person you’re interviewing is participating in this interview mostly for charity. After the interview is over, always send a thank you note. While the choice is up to you, a handwritten note is more personal than an e-mail and shows your appreciation for their time and help. Also, they will be more likely to remember you this way. E-mails get stored inside computers; letters and notes end up on desks and generally stay there for a while.

All of this may seem like a tall order, especially when it’s easier to choose a career and deal with the consequences later. Consider this, you wouldn’t buy a house without walking through it; you wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it; and you certainly wouldn’t marry somebody without getting to know them. Why would you make an important life decision such as a career choice without discovering all the facts?

As I pointed out in part one of our series, a majority of Americans are unsatisfied with their current career. These “dead-end jobs”, as they are lovingly referred to, can be prevented by an investment of your time and effort. Do you want to be another statistic? I didn’t think so.

Presented by Brandon Hayhurst
www.EducationCareerServices.com
Twitter: @dannyatecs