This topic is one you may not have expected to find here, but so many of our Christian friends and acquaintences are seeking their next career position, I thought this article, which I recently wrote for my professional weblog, may be of help to our extended church family. In my professional walk I counsel dozens of people each week who are desperately seeking jobs to obtain security for themselves and their families. I hear the pain, and I get great satisfaction out of helping others. Please feel free to share the following article. 

Job hunting during difficult economic times is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are a few important steps to incorporate into your search methodology to help you conduct a more orderly and structured search.

Define your personal brand

Your personal brand is what differentiates you and makes you stand out from your competitors. It’s the unique edge that you’ll need to compete for jobs in today’s marketplace. Ask two or three trusted professionals you know to write a paragraph describing you, so you don’t overlook traits important to a potential employer. You could also use recommendations others have written for you and posted on networking sites. 

Compose a detailed list of the skills and knowledge you possess. Don’t limit your skills to what you have learned in your career. Think about what you have learned in other venues as well. Skills are often acquired through participation in community activities where you may have worked in capacities outside your career path. These skills are also important in defining who you are.

Consider online assessments that may help you get a broader understanding of what makes you who you are. Your personality traits help define you as a person and an employee. Gaining clarity about these can help you do a much better job of marketing yourself in a time when it is important to find that perfect job opportunity.

The granddaddy of all personality assessment tools, the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter is now available online at www.keirsey.com. Upon completion of the assessment you will have immediate access to your results, and a trained counselor to help you interpret the results. Over 40 million people have used the assessment to gain insight into what makes them tick and what hampers their career advancement.

CareerFit is another excellent resource to help you uncover what would be a best fit for you and what wouldn’t. An online assessment tool located at www.careerfit-test.com, it helps test-takers identify their career interests and career personalities.

Assessments can be an excellent investment of time and money. They can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses and recognize where and how you add value and what makes you stand out from others. When you have completed this step, begin developing your unique brand with all of your networking contacts.

Define Your Job Ideals

Start by identifying what is important to you in a job. Think about jobs you’ve held, and what you liked and disliked about each of them. List those characteristics or environments that helped you grow and feel productive, and also list those that didn’t. Review your completed lists and analyze why you liked or disliked each item. This step will help you identify the internalized values and beliefs that cause you to react in certain ways to situations you encounter.

Then list your needs. What do you need for compensation? You can research what a typical salary range for your occupation is in you community at www.salary.com (www.salaryexpert.com in Canada). Are you willing to relocate? How much vacation do you require? Are you willing to commute? Do you need day care? What about flextime or telecommuting?

Naturally you want to understand the health benefits that are provided, but you may also have other needs, such as relocation or travel reimbursement, maternity/family leave, personal days and sick days, bonus and profit sharing, signing bonuses, and any other items that are important to you. These are necessary for you to consider, rate in importance, and then use as a way to measure whether an occupation or position you are considering will be a good fit.

Consider Shifting Your Career Path

Let’s face it. This is a tough job market. Perhaps the toughest we’ve seen in decades. Many folks are finding few opportunities in their chosen fields, and the interviewing process may include dozens of qualified candidates. If you are struggling to find openings in your chosen field, perhaps its time to consider other occupations that might be a good fit for your interests and skills.

It is often surprising how many different occupations use the same skill sets while offering the quality of life and job satisfaction that are so important in making a career rewarding and fulfilling. Career counselors routinely test their clients for occupational fit and then help them make informed decisions about which paths to pursue.

A reliable Internet resource to help you do this research on your own is the Self Directed Search assessment located at www.self-directed-search.com. The SDS can help you make informed career decisions, and has been used by more than 29 million people worldwide. SDS results have been supported by more than 500 research studies.

The results provide an extensive list of the occupations and fields of study that most closely match your interests. You can then explore the careers you are most likely to find satisfying based upon your interests and skills. Research occupations that interest you in the Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov/OCO/. This site will help you discover what it is like to work in that occupation, including details on work environment, what training is required, how promotion occurs, and many other details to help you visualize whether that kind of job is a good fit for you.

Next, you need to determine whether you are a good fit for the occupations you wish to consider. Go to www.online.onetcenter.org to get an understanding of the skills required for the occupations you are researching, to determine whether you have the required career assets to be successful in that field. If there are gaps, you may want to consider how you can acquire the needed skills. Explore every industry or job function that initially appeals to you. The broader your search, the better your chances of locating the perfect fit.

Research Potential Employers

One of the biggest shortcoming of job candidates is that they don’t know enough about the companies to which they’re applying, and, consequently don’t know how they can contribute to the company’s success. To stand out from your competition, it’s crucial to be extremely knowledgeable about any company for which you would like to work. Learn what is happening in the industry. You want to know what challenges they are facing in today’s market and new initiatives are being undertaken to develop emerging demand for new services or products.

Set up news alerts at http://alerts.google.com for companies
on your target list. Search for blogs by industry leaders and read or watch the national and business news to keep up on challenges and new initiatives in the industry. Consider professional societies or associations in your area that might provide networking opportunities that can lead to learning more about what is happening at that local employer in which you are interested.

Network, Network, Network

Networking taps into the “hidden job market,” where openings exist long before they are advertised. Most of these slots are filled by someone identifying a need and asking their contacts if they know someone who would fit. The Internet is a great research resource, but it still accounts for a very small minority of job filled. We constantly hear that 70 to 80 percent of all jobs are found through networking referrals, not through newspaper listings or Internet job boards.

The best place to start networking is one-on-one with the people who already know you: your family, friends and other close contacts. Social scientists tell us that everyone has well over 100 people in their immediate circle of influence. Think about those folks who know you best, and start networking with them. Make a list of these contacts, and then prioritize it, putting who you want to talk to first at the top.

Then plan your networking strategy. Call or email these contacts and set up informal chats to discuss the occupations you have investigated and to seek their advice on how to improve your search strategy. Never ask if they know of a job opening. That puts your friends in a defensive position and makes them uncomfortable. Instead, ask if they know anyone else you should talk to for more insight and guidance. People want to help, and asking for contacts is something almost everyone can easily do to help you out.

Prepare a list of companies you are researching and share that with your networking contacts as you are explaining the steps you are taking to research opportunities for career advancement. Ask if they know anyone who works at any of those companies who might be able to provide some advice. Try to get three or more names from every contact you make. Then, set up networking meetings with those to whom you have been referred, and continue your research.

Be Prepared for the Interview

Very frequently when you are in a networking meeting with someone to whom you’ve been referred, and that person is looking over your resume, they may recall that as associate mentioned a while back that they need someone to fill a particular need. Sometimes they pick up the phone and call that person to see if they are still looking, and might take you down the hall to meet. Suddenly your networking meeting turned into an interview. You need to be prepared.

Develop a marketing plan for yourself, including your portfolio materials, examples of your work, your statement of objectives, and any other materials that help you demonstrate what you have to offer a potential employer. You must also directly tie yourself to your accomplishments in a public, linkable format for all the world to see if a professional image is important in your field.

The Future Buzz (http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/02/18/personal-marketing-plan/) states that there is no power in remaining silent. In today’s world a professional is all but invisible unless they are blogging, talking shop with peers, and taking charge of their own personal PR. 

I have discussed in my online webinars that you may need to have more than one resume with you, so you can present the one that is appropriate for the person you have been taken to meet. You may need to create two or three functional style resumes that reflect your various skills as they relate to a variety of fields. The functional resume reflects your skills rather than a chronological listing of your previous employers, and helps the viewer quickly view a list of your transferrable skills. For more information on this style resume visit www.quintcareers.com/functional_resume.html.

Be Visible to the right people

Networking is not just about who you know, but also about who knows
you. So, it is important to get out in the community and meet new people. Expand you network. Attend industry association conferences, seminars, community networking sessions, workshops and any event where professionals are gathering. Use www.LinkedIn.com to join industry group discussions and increase your list of contacts.

Consider a membership in the Chamber of Commerce in your area. The Chamber is made up of business professionals in your community who are working together to promote the economic health of the area. Service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Jaycees, etc., are made up mostly of business people who are volunteering their time to provide grants and activities to help those in need. They are a great place to meet business people in a social setting.

There are many nonprofit, community and religious organizations that constantly need volunteers, and this may be a good time to learn new skills. Giving back is rewarding, plus your service has many tangible benefits: you’ll meet new people who may be able to refer you; you’ll build skills and experience that can enhance your resume; and you may come across paid openings at an organization where you’re donating your time.

Often those job goes to the person who is in the right place at the right time, and are never advertised. Stay in touch with everyone you know and everyone you meet. Keep notes about their interests and associations. Send an article he or she might enjoy when you run across it, and comment on a person’s status update on Facebook or Twitter when appropriate. Just be careful to remain polite and professional. You want to nurture a positive impression, not pester and irritate!

Keep Your Chin Up

It’s easy to become frustrated while job hunting any time, but in a tough economy it can be much worse. Stay active. This is not a time to sit around and hope something comes your way. Pay attention to personal hygiene. This is not the time to let yourself go. Don’t spend all your time on the Internet looking at job postings. Get out of the home office and mix it up with friends, family, and new interests.

Look for inexpensive ways to have fun and stay relaxed. Put together a neighborhood pot luck dinner party, or get yourself to the library, museums, join a gym or just start taking regular walks. Spend quality time with the people you love and take care of yourself. This can be a time to learn new disciplines as you follow up contacts on a regular basis, acquire new interests and skills, and may even help you to counsel someone else you know who will someday need help getting through what you are experiencing today.

Larry E Vaughn is a certified eLearning career counselor for Drake Beam Morin (www.dbm.com), has operated a private consulting practice for over twenty years, and appears daily on proprietary counseling webinars.

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