Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC is a marketing and branding expert who has been featured in print and on television regarding career planning topics. She has worked with thousands of professionals to help them realize career success.
We recently checked in with Debra to get her advice on smarter career planning. Here’s what she had to say:
How did Careers Done Write come to be?
Before launching Careers Done Write, I spent the early part of my career in the human resource function with a variety of companies. I always enjoyed interacting with the employees of the companies where I worked. I was involved in employee relations matters, recruitment and selection and other human resources functions. I continuously found myself advising employees and candidates in connection with their professional lives and for candidates with their job search activities to provide assistance with the interviewing process. After working with professionals and job seekers for so long, I decided to launch a company to provide valuable support and services to people to navigate the increasingly complex job search landscape.
What is career planning anyway?
Career planning is an ongoing process. This is something in which professionals need to continue to evaluate and modify as they progress through their careers. I define the process of career planning as one in which a professional keeps herself updated on trends and changes within her industry and company and seeks ongoing challenges to maintain a competitive advantage as she progresses through her career.
Everyone should have a plan to establish and build a strong, sustainable brand. As professionals build their brands, others with whom they interact come to recognize the person as a valued and respected resource – this is reputation and a critical component of ensuring ongoing career development and success.
What does your plan look like?
If you’ve ever planned a vacation you know that you wouldn’t just book airfare and “figure the rest out when you land.” That might be a recipe for disaster. Without a plan, you might not have a place to sleep for the night; even if you did, you would have to figure out where to go and what to do on the fly. You would waste valuable time instead of being the first in line at an exhibit.
The same is true for your career. Planning is important because it gives you a roadmap to follow. It helps you set and manage expectations, and most importantly it serves as your guide to keep you motivated. Let’s face it: job search is challenging. There are a lot of unknowns and periods of waiting or silence from human resource professionals, hiring managers, recruiters and others. Your plan gives you some sense of control in what is often an ambiguous set of circumstances that are hard to navigate.
I tell job seekers this: write down your goals, including what you want to do and how you see yourself getting to each step. It is not a sprint it’s a marathon. If you take things step by step, you will be more confident, which will bode well during the interview process and achieve stronger results. Don’t make rash decisions and keep notes regarding your outreach to companies and recruiters. The management of your plan will keep you on course and allow you to make thoughtful decisions as you move forward with what will likely be more than one company.
What advice do you find yourself recruiting to clients over and over about navigating their careers?
Don’t rush to decisions. The interview process is a two-way street. Just because a company offers you a position doesn’t mean you have to take it. It’s not a version of Hotel California. In fact, you can turn them down and never look back if you think that the opportunity is not right for you.
I urge job seekers to consider the overall process. How were you treated during the entire search and selection phase? Did they make you wait six months for an offer? Were they forthcoming with information? Did they offer you a salary that is aligned with what you are going to bring to the company? These and other similar questions should be explored before you jump in with both feet. Rushing to accept an offer just because you received one can result in costly career missteps.
Your due diligence is critically important to ensure you are making the right decision. You don’t want to look back after a few weeks and wonder why you accepted the position. No doubt you will be spending a lot of time at your office. If you don’t want to be there, it can take an emotional and physical toll on you.
What are the best tools or resources for conducting a job hunt?
There are not too many ways to look for a new opportunity. Therefore, it is important to use all of the resources available to you. The ways to look for work: recruiters, your network, the internet and direct to company – that’s it! You’ve got those four ways, and you have to use all of them.
Your network is perhaps the most critical element to your search. You should be talking to people you know, including former colleagues and friends and getting introductions to other people to expand your network. The best way to identify and secure a new position is through referral. Why? Because if someone is willing to vouch for you, that validates your abilities as a professional. Hiring managers are interested in hiring people when they get a referral from someone they trust.
While you are building your network, you should also be attending industry events and networking meetings as a way to meet new people and again, continue to add to your network. You will find that help comes from the most unlikeliest of places. You will work a lot harder than you would otherwise have to if you don’t have a network upon which to draw. Also, consider volunteering. In addition to the fact that you will be contributing to a worthy cause, you will also meet new people and keep yourself busy while you conduct your search.
Reach out to recruiters and build those relationships. Once you have established a relationship with a recruiter, that person will likely think of you when an appropriate role crosses his desk. It does take time and effort to cultivate these relationships. One conversation and a follow-up call will not do it. You will need to periodically reach out (without stalking the person) and check in. Provide updates via email regarding what you are doing and any changes to your job status. If you are taking classes or adding value in some way, share that with the recruiter. This will keep you top of mind when a new opening comes up.
Write to companies directly! This is an especially useful tactic when reaching out to small and mid-sized companies. Why? Because it is easier to identify the hiring manager or human resource professional in companies that are not 10,000 employees strong. Generally, a website will include some of the senior people at the company. You can then reach out directly.
Similarly, make use of trade publications and research on the internet, which will provide a lot of information and value as you send your resume and letter of introduction. You might benefit from conducting an informational interview to learn more about the company. If there are no current openings, an introduction might pave the way for future discussions when a suitable opportunity presents itself.
The internet is the final way to look for work. I often tell my clients: “Looking for work online is an after 8 p.m. activity.” What does that mean? It means that you should not be applying online to positions during the daytime hours when you could be spending your time more wisely – like networking!
Let me not forget to advise you to ensure that you have a strong, well written LinkedIn profile with a professional looking picture. Engage your online community to network as well.
What are the most common mistakes you see job seekers making during the process?
Sometimes job seekers think that if they apply to an opportunity, they are immediately going to get a call. They don’t understand that as they are qualified, so too, are thousands of others.
Don’t take lengthy breaks: Once a job seeker applies for a job and gets an interview they need to continue to build momentum. One interview does not guarantee a job offer. It is important to keep going. Continue to look for other opportunities and apply accordingly.
Stay motivated and proactive: Keep the process going. Don’t allow time to lapse. Continue to network and look for opportunities. Use LinkedIn and other resources to identify and apply for opportunities that are suitable.
Don’t get emotional: The job search process can be frustrating with long breaks in the process and periods of downtime. Try to keep your spirits high and keep yourself motivated by finding other activities to keep yourself busy.
If you need help, get it: There is nothing wrong with seeking the help of a professional to assist you with the preparation of your resume, the planning of your job search strategy and your interview skills. The more prepared you are, the better able you will be in presenting your skills and qualifications in the most compelling and meaningful way.
Don’t bank on one thing: It’s great that you got an interview. Now, keep going. One interview – even a series of interviews does not make a job offer. Even if you are in the process with a company (which is great!) you should still pursue other opportunities; you don’t have a guarantee that the current position for which you are interviewing will come to positive fruition.
What can job seekers do to stay motivated during a job search?
It can be difficult to remain motivated during a job search, and the reality is that it can bring you down. Do things for yourself to keep you happy and engaged. Join a group or clubs, engage in networking activities, find a new hobby, exercise and eat right. All of these things will help ensure that you keep a positive outlook. Have you thought about volunteering your time? It’s a great way to meet new people while contributing to a worthwhile cause.
What are some best practices for interacting with recruiters or potential employers?
The best way to stay organized is to keep track of your search efforts. Develop a tracking mechanism in Word or Excel, including the name of the company where you applied, the person to whom you sent any correspondence and any response with the date. If you have not received a response, you will check on the date of your last note or phone call to reach out and follow-up at an appropriate time.
Your job search requires that you remain proactive and reach out appropriately to maintain a connection to the recruiter or hiring manager. If you see something interesting about a competitor, consider sending the information to the hiring manager to demonstrate your knowledge of the changes affecting the industry. As with any relationship, it takes time to build and nurture those interactions.
With the recruiting community, remember that the recruiter is paid by the client to identify and present suitable candidates. If you know the position is not for you, think about referring other people to the recruiter who might be a better fit. These activities will go a long way in helping you establish a strong working relationship with a recruiter.
What can employees do to maximize their value to their employers?
Focus on Your Strengths: We all have things that we enjoy doing. When it comes to workplace engagement and contribution, think about the things you really enjoy doing – the things that motivate you. Find the things in which you make the most valuable contributions and continue to improve your skills.
Solicit Feedback: Constructive feedback is a helpful way to understand how others perceive you. This feedback can provide immediate and lasting value to allow you to develop an improvement plan in the areas in which you might not be the strongest. Don’t take constructive feedback personally (though this can be challenging for some). Rather, use it as an opportunity to reflect and act upon the areas that will allow you to add additional value.
Look for ways to make a greater contribution: If you see there is a project that is in need of additional resources to facilitate completion offer your assistance. Your willingness to “go the extra mile” will not go unnoticed. I’m sure you have heard on numerous occasions the value of “being a team player.” While this might seem trite as a general statement, it is a valued and respected trait in an organization, particularly when a company needs an all-hands-on-deck approach.
What are some of the worst habits employees can get into that hurt their chances of finding new opportunities?
The axiom goes: “Looking for a job is a full-time job.” You must remain committed to your job search activities and continue to build your network, seek new opportunities. Don’t spend all of your time online. Your search requires that you leverage all of the tools and resources available to you. Use the internet to identify opportunities and then take that information and apply it in the real world to give yourself the best chance of gaining access to a hiring manager or resource who can help you further your efforts.
Do your research. The onus is on you to understand the target company’s culture and vision. If the values and culture don’t align with your own, it will not be a good fit, and you will soon find yourself engaging in a new search.
Don’t rush. Your search requires that you are thoughtful. Make sure your resume and cover letter, as well as any other of your branded marketing materials are perfect – no spelling or grammatical errors. You must put your best foot forward and be prepared for every interview with a positive and proactive approach.
Maintain your motivation and take your time with your job search. You will reap the rewards with a new position that is the best fit for you and your new employer.
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