job transition

Introducing: New 'Career Exploration' Service!

After months of deliberation, lots of prayer, and no shortage of beta-testing, I’m thrilled to announce the official launch of a new Career Exploration service!

This service is one that I’ve been wanting to launch for months, but was honestly hesitant to shout about openly. Sure, I’ve been providing informal career exploration services for years, but the fact remains that I do not have a degree in career counseling. Some people really get hung up on the letters after your name, don’t they?

After a lot of thought, however, I realized something. I don’t have a specialized degree, true. But what I do bring to the table is a profound interest in professional identity, a passion for individuals who feel lost in their careers, a background that allows me to serve across various professional industries, and the tools to support job seekers with excellence. So no, I’m not a licensed career counselor. But I feel called and equipped to serve others as they work to unearth their professional identities, and I believe I am uniquely gifted to facilitate that process.

So let’s dive right in!

Who is this service for?

Career Exploration might be for you if these statements resonate with you:

  • “I don’t like what I do, but I don’t know what to do instead.”

  • “I feel stuck in my career.”

  • “I don’t see an opportunity to move up from this position.”

  • “My boss asked me about my dream job, and I have no idea how to answer.”

  • “I have no idea what I want to do, but I’m ready to figure it out.

Defining your professional identity and specific career objectives can lead to increased motivation in your current role, as well as momentum for the steps to get you where you want to be. Anyone looking for direction in their career—entry-level, C-suite officer, and everything in between—might benefit from the Career Exploration process.

What does the process look like?

If you’re wincing at the prospect of time-consuming assessments and binders full of charts, fear not! While I will be the first to admit that assessments are useful tools in career exploration, I prefer an approach that leans toward conversational, targeted self-reflection. After all, the goal is to define the professional you and your unique career objectives—not to fit you into a convenient, binder-friendly category.

Every interaction will begin with a conversation to determine your context and goals for the process. From there, the process is completely customizable according to your preferences.

Here’s what an example process could look like following the initial consultation:

  • You reflect and pick the Top 5-10 highlights from your professional history

  • We discuss those highlights, and I ask a bunch of questions

  • You select 4-6 professional and personal individuals that you trust

  • I prepare a survey that you share with those individuals in order to solicit feedback about you as a person and as a professional

  • I share a report with you with feedback from the survey as well as insights from our conversation about your professional history

  • I facilitate conversations that allow us to explore the components of your professional future, like job environment, responsibilities, knowledge areas, etc.

  • We wrap up by exploring career opportunities that capture all of your “must-haves”

Because of the conversational nature of the process, I prefer to meet clients face-to-face. “Unsupervised homework” like targeted self-reflection allows me to facilitate a rich conversation while also reducing costs on your end.

Speaking of investment…

How much will this cost?

If you do a little Googling, you’ll find that career coaching services can run anywhere from $200 to $500 per session. Personally, I find this to be an exorbitant fee! Because I own my own business, work from home, and have minimal overhead expenses, I can keep my rates much lower than a traditional agency or career center.

My pricing strategy for Career Exploration is the same as pricing for my other services: I charge by the hour, and I only charge for time spent on your behalf. I keep my rates crazy-low (seriously, ask my clients!) to ensure that services are accessible for everyone. Yes, everyone, including anyone who is transitioning out of unemployment.

If you’re concerned about fitting this service into your budget, let me know and we will absolutely find a solution that works for you.

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In the beta-testing of this service, I learned that it is one of the most fulfilling and impactful services that I could possibly offer. The opportunity to walk with my clients through a period of professional uncertainty is a true honor. It is a joy to explore with you, to dig into your professional life and see what we find. I delight in the moments when the lightbulbs switch on, when you uncover new possibilities and develop a deeper understanding of yourself as a professional.

If you or someone you know might benefit from a Career Exploration process, contact me today to get started. I’m excited to hear from you!

15 Interview Questions to Gauge Company Culture

During a job transition, it's tempting to focus on a one-sided approach. This is especially true in the interview setting: how do I get out of my current job and into something else? How do I get this company to hire me? 

While it's good and right to consider your professional brand, your interview skills, and your ability to ultimately land a new gig, it's just as important to look at the interview process as a two-way street. In addition to being the right person for the job, you need to verify that the employer is the right company for you. Fit is a two-way street!

I've served as a sounding board for countless friends, clients, and loved ones who felt blindsided and disappointed by unexpected, awful company cultures. Their comments generally sound something like this:

"It sounded so much better in the interview process!"
"This is so, so much worse than I expected it to be."
"The company doesn't treat people like people."
"There's no flexibility or opportunity to have a life outside of work."
"Everybody is exhausted and fed up with management."
"There are no opportunities to move up!"

Sound familiar? While the culture in the average American workplace is a mixed bag, not all employers are bad employers. But how can you gauge company culture before signing on for a new job? How do you preemptively identify cultural red flags instead of being startled by a churn-and-burn culture, or ineffective leadership?

The responsibility is on you as the interviewee to answer the culture question. You have to play the investigative role, and do your homework to get a full and accurate picture of a potential employer's company culture. Nobody is going to spoon-feed you the bad news in the interview setting; to get an accurate picture of company culture in advance, you need to ask the right questions.

15 Interview Questions to Gauge Company Culture

Topic #1: Tenure and Turnover

1. Why did the previous person in this role leave? How long was that person here? 

2. What is the average tenure on the team? What about the organization's rate of turnover overall?

3. (To the direct manager): how long have you been with this company? 

These questions aim to unearth one of the biggest red flags for poor company culture: a high rate of turnover. You might not get ultra-specific data, like the actual rate of turnover for the entire company -- but you can still get an indicative response regardless of the metrics you receive.

Pay attention to how the question is answered. If the interviewer seems to be dressing up their response, talking around the problem, or justifying high turnover, something is wrong. If everyone on the team is new, and the previous round of employees didn't last long, there's probably a major issue with the company culture. Run the other way unless 1) you are in desperate need of a paycheck and 2) you are prepared to accept the consequences of a bad company culture.

Topic #2: Employee Engagement Efforts

4. What does the company offer to encourage and foster professional development?

5. How do managers provide feedback? Can I see an example evaluation form? What time of year are these performance reviews conducted?

6. Does the company have an organized Diversity and Inclusion effort? How does that department impact the culture of the organization in practical ways?

7. How does the company measure and celebrate success?

Good employers go out of their way to ensure their employees feel valued and engaged. Good employers are also smart employers -- they know that happy employees do better work! Use these interview questions to determine how the company invests in its employees. If there seems to be an absence of employee engagement initiatives, you might be walking into a company that treats employees more like bottom-line-driven robots. 

Topic #3: Leadership Styles

8. (To the direct manager): What is your leadership style? What about the second level manager, or the executives of the organization?

9. What impact do the middle and upper-management leaders have on the company's culture?

10. What is the biggest challenge this company faced in the last year or two? How was it addressed? 

11. What growth opportunities do you see for the organization as a whole? How about this specific team?

Leaders at various levels influence the culture of an organization, as well as the culture of independent teams and departments. Liking your direct supervisor in the interview isn't enough -- if your second-level manager and/or the company executives are ineffective, that void of leadership will trickle down and negatively impact your experience. Yes, those individuals might leave and be replaced some day. But if you see evidence of poor leadership at multiple points in the organization, that begs an important question: why are those people in leadership roles? 

Topic #4: Team Culture

12. Can I see the work space?

13. What do people on the team generally do for lunch? What about the organization as a whole?

14. What is the biggest problem that the team faced in the last year or two? How was it resolved, and what did you learn from that experience? If you could change anything about this team's culture, what would it be?

15. Are most people in the office during the same time frame every day? What work arrangements are currently represented on the team (remote, flexible schedules, etc.)?

The idea with this category of questions is to get a tangible, practical sense of the office culture. Check out the vibe in the work space. Do people seem engaged, or is there a thick cloud of dissatisfaction hanging over the entire room? Are people engaging with one another, or keeping their heads down to get out as quickly as possible?

This is also a great opportunity to determine how rigid the schedule expectations are, especially if you need flexible work arrangements in order to make the job work for you. Asking a general question about existing work arrangements is safer than demanding your own arrangements, especially in the early stages of the interview process. 

Beyond the Interview

While the interview is an excellent avenue for gauging company culture, it is not the only way to gather information. With a little bit of extra effort, you can uncover insider details about the company and avoid a nightmare employer in the process. 

Here are 3 ways to gauge culture outside of the interview process:

1. Ask your Network

Know somebody on the inside of the organization? Wonderful! Even if you don't, ask around your network. It's likely that someone you know has heard from employees on the inside, or can connect you with a current employee directly. (Hint: you should have already done this as a part of the application process!) 

Buy an existing employee a cup of coffee, and ask them for their honest opinion about the company culture. If the culture happens to be a negative one, you won't have to work hard to get them talking about those internal problems!

2. Read Company Reviews

Websites like Glassdoor offer user-submitted company reviews, including salary information, and anonymous pros and cons for the organization. Be sure to sort reviews by location for multi-site companies, and pay the closest attention to recent reviews from current employees, ideally in relevant roles or departments.

3. Check out Career Paths on LinkedIn

Yes, they might see you looking, but it's worth it to check out the LinkedIn profiles and professional histories for the people on your prospective team. This is another way to verify employee tenure, check turnover rates, and see if promotions or management-level hires are made internally or externally. Dig around, pay attention to trends, and see what you come up with. 

Summary: Red Flags to Note

If you're looking for a full-time job, you're going to spend an average of 1,811 hours per year on the job. That's a lot of time! Don't set yourself up for a miserable professional experience.

Instead, pay attention to these red flags for unhealthy, negative company culture:

  • Frequent turnover
  • Absence of employee engagement efforts
  • "Put your head down and work" vibe, anti-social culture
  • Expectations that don't suit your individual needs (ie: flexible work arrangements)

There's one other red flag that we haven't touched on yet, and it is one of the most tempting red flags to ignore: inaccurate titles paired with out-of-range pay. 

Sure, it's common--especially in younger companies--for organizations to get creative with job titles. But if you're offered a management title paired with lower-level job responsibilities and inexplicably high pay, the company might have a churn-and-burn culture. They're losing people so quickly that they have to offer new hires up-front incentive to convince them to sign on! This is not the sort of place you want to be. 

Do your research, and know the appropriate salary range going in so you 1) know what to expect and 2) are prepared to negotiate. 

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Ready for more job transition resources? Study up on common interview mistakes, or visit the FAQ page for Job Seekers to explore a broader range of topics.

5 Ways You're Bombing the Job Interview

Last week, one of my clients gave me a call. I helped him with his resume a few months back, and hadn't heard from him recently.

When I picked up the phone, he said something that was absolute music to my ears:

"I have a phone interview coming up. I've had a handful of other interviews with no results, so I'm guessing that I'm doing something wrong. I think I need some interview coaching."

Oh, how refreshing to see someone acknowledging his own potential shortcomings in the job interview process!

In my experience, most people don't respond this way. Instead, they complain all day long about the irritations of a job search: people won't call them back, they don't know the status of an application, the recruiter asked a bunch of insane questions, a hiring manager caught them off guard and didn't give them time to prepare for the interview....you get the gist. 

Yes--candidates are often treated poorly in the hiring process. It is a tragic reality of the current job market. 65% of job seekers rarely--or never--receive notice of their application status. Candidates are often left in the dark, slowly losing hope about an opportunity, and that stinks. 

But despite the frustrations of the application and interview process, the candidate is still responsible for his or her part of the experience. If you're getting called in for interviews and aren't getting any responses after the fact, guess what? You can only blame the recruiters and hiring managers so many times before a pattern starts to emerge. More likely than not, there is something that you're doing in the interview that is ruining your viability as a candidate. 

For a lot of people, this is not an easy fact to accept, and doing the work required to practice interview skills and admit your weaknesses is exposing. I mean, who relishes the idea of practicing a job interview while someone takes detailed notes about everything they're doing wrong?

But examining your own interview skills, identifying weaknesses, and practicing to improve interview performance are all in your best interest as a candidate. The more you practice (the right way!), the more likely you are to shake those bad habits and nail future interviews. So, if you're bombing interviews consistently, here are a few of the biggest and most common mistakes you might be making.

#1: Failing to be likable.

Your nonverbal communication has a gigantic impact on how you're received in an interview. This is wildly unfair, and honestly not beneficial as a hiring tactic. There are lots of people out there who bomb this part of the interview who would also make stellar, loyal employees for the positions they're applying for. But alas, here we are. You have 45 minutes to prove that you are likable, whether that's fair or not. 

"Likability" covers a wide range of habits, and sounds like it would be a subjective thing to pinpoint. In some ways, that's true--every individual hiring manager has preferences. But in a broader sense, there is a standard set of components that add up to general likability: 

  • Smiling
  • Making eye contact
  • Laughing at a joke, or cracking one yourself
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Speaking clearly
  • Resisting fidgeting
  • Leaning in to the conversation
  • Keeping arms open, as opposed to closed/crossed

The result of failing to meet even one of these items can be completely devastating for your candidacy. 67% of bosses say that failure to make eye contact is a common interview mistake. They specifically call it a mistake, meaning you messed up the interview because you didn't make eye contact. 

Clothing could destroy your chances for the job, even if you nailed every other component of the interview! 65% of bosses say that clothes could be the deciding factor between two similar candidates. Remember, the interview outfit is the only outfit your hiring manager will see you wear. You have one chance, so you better make sure it's sending the right message.

All of these little habits and choices are minor in the greater picture of your overall value as an employee. But in the interview, every piece matters. Why risk losing a job opportunity over something as simple as smiling? Practice is the best way to avoid such an unnecessary disappointment.

#2. Bashing your current or previous employer.

I know. You hate your boss, you hate the company that you work for, and they treat you like scum on the bottom of your shoe. They expect you to work 15 hour days, log on at 10 PM, and work all weekend. They've taken away your favorite projects, and given them to someone incompetent because that guy played basketball with your boss 15 years ago. I don't doubt it at all--poor work culture is the most common reason that my clients give for wanting to make a move. 

But the interview is not, not, NOT the place to complain about your boss. Or your previous boss! Or the culture of your current employer. Think about it. If you're willing to sit there in a formal job interview and discredit your employer, why should your potential employer doubt that you would do the same for them? You instantly become a liability for the company's reputation, and they will NOT want to hire you. 

On top of that, your bitterness is unattractive and concerning. Your inability to let it go and maintain some level of professionalism is a huge red flag for how you will behave in the work environment. How will they expect you to behave if the workload increases for a season, or you get stressed?

Though your intention may be to explain a situation or discredit your unjust employer, the only person you're really discrediting is yourself. Instead of harping on the crappy culture at your current office, focus on what you're looking for and what you hope the new job will offer. Save your rant sessions for private, informal conversations with family and friends.

#3. Showing your cards.

Yes, there is absolutely such a thing as being too honest in a job interview! This can play out in a couple of ways, both of which can be devastating for your interview performance.

The first is desperation. No matter how badly you need the job, it is NOT in your best interest to beg for it. Don't talk about how badly you need the job. Don't offer to work for a lower salary. Don't say that you will do anything to get out of your current job! As soon as you do this, you weaken your position as a candidate. Even if they do like you and end up hiring you, you have thrown away all of your negotiating cards, because they know you'll take the job no matter what. 

The other way that this plays out is by emphasizing or blatantly stating your "true" career goals. Let's say you're interviewing for a lateral move into a sales role. You hate sales. You'll take the sales job to get your foot in the door at a good company, but you still want to move into a management position as quickly as possible. 

They're going to ask about your career goals in the interview, one way or another. They're going to ask why you want to work there, and why this specific job. You will be shooting yourself in the foot if you communicate that the job you really want is not the job you're applying for. Don't get me wrong--there's no harm in saying that you have management aspirations, and want to know about the traditional career path for that role in the company. But you definitely don't want to communicate that you have little interest in the job they're hiring for. Bad news--they want someone to stay in that job for a while. If you don't prove that you really want the job, they're going to give it to someone who does.

This leads nicely into #4. 

#4. Not doing your homework. 

Hiring managers want to bring on candidates who are enthusiastic, interested, and motivated. In order to demonstrate that you actually want the job, you have to do a little homework in advance.

Get to know the company. Talk to people who work there, and get a feel for the culture. Read articles about current issues facing the specific company, or the larger industry. In doing so, you will be able to speak knowledgeably in the interview, while also demonstrating your interest in this specific opportunity.

If you fail to do your homework, you also will fail in developing a list of specific, thoughtful questions. You should always have questions prepared for the interviewer, but they should not be general questions applicable for any job at any company. Get specific. Demonstrate that you are a serious candidate, while also gaining information that will help you determine your own level of interest in the company.

These advance efforts take a little time, but they will certainly be noticed, and will increase your value as a potential employee. 

#5. Winging it.

Even if you're super outgoing, friendly, and good on your feet, preparing for an interview is in your best interest. No two interviews are exactly alike, and it's easy to be caught off guard by a curveball question, especially if you're nervous. 

This is particularly useful as you prepare for behavioral interview questions. These are the questions that generally start with "Tell me about a time when..." and ask you to reference specific anecdotes from your work history. It's impossible to prepare for every potential question that someone might ask you in an interview, but you can still prepare well. Review your experience, and practice giving a concise version of a few select anecdotes. Choose some examples that highlight your strengths, as well as your ability to overcome obstacles or learn from your failures. 

The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel in an interview. But it's best not to practice alone with nothing but a blank wall across from you. Enlist the help of a friend or loved one, or consider video-taping your own responses as you practice. If you feel like you need more help, interview coaching is always an option. 

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If you'd like more resources on interview strategies and tips, check out this post on how to address the salary question in an interview, or hop over to the Job Seekers FAQ page

Happy interviewing, my friends. Don't forget to smile! 

When Your Career Doesn't Fit

Being in a career that you hate is the absolute worst. I get it--I've been there. On top of my personal experience, I find that many of my clients feel stuck in careers that just don't fit their unique skillsets and personalities. They are 100% sure that they don't like what they're doing, but they also don't know what career would be better to move into, so they feel even more stuck.

Feeling trapped--with no light at the end of the tunnel--is a serious downer, and a pervasive problem that is worth solving.

While there are obviously lots of contributing factors to discontentment in the workplace including office culture, management styles, working conditions, and much more, career choice itself can certainly be the problem. In this case, I'm talking to those of you who might like your boss, but don't like your job. You like your coworkers, but have no interest in the work itself.

A lot of us got pushed into making a career decision during our undergrad, long before we blossomed into fully-functioning adults, and we find ourselves stuck on that trajectory, years later.  When clients bring up this topic in our conversations, I generally say something like this: "I'm not a licensed career counselor, but I am passionate about professional identity, individual gifts, and career transition. I geek out over personality assessments. If you're up for it, let's chat and see what we can come up with."

I enter into this conversation with others--formally and informally, personally and professionally--because I know the discomfort of being in the wrong profession. It took me years to figure out that I was wired to work at home and run my own business, and now that I'm finally in a career that aligns with who I am as a person, I'm blown away by the positive impact on my life! It's been radically life-changing, and I never dreamed I could be this satisfied with my career. I never thought I would want to work, but I almost always feel energized and ready to go! Why wouldn't I want to share that experience with others, and see if we can unearth a career that will provide the same freedom and peace in their unique professional journeys? 

In light of all this, I decided to create this post as a practical guide for the career-haters out there. For those of you who feel stuck in your career (not job--career!), let's dive right in. I'll cover two truths to keep in mind, as well as three steps to take in order to make that big career change. 

2 Important Truths to Keep in Mind

1. You're Not Alone

If you found yourself reading the intro to this post and nodding (or crying) along, the first thing I want you to know is that it's not just you. You are absolutely not alone in hating your job.

Believe it or not, you're actually in the majority! 

A recent Gallup poll suggests that 70% of Americans are disengaged and discontent at work. 7 out of 10, people! That's a whole lot of unhappy employees. While I theoretically knew that a lot of people didn't like their jobs, I never felt like I was part of any sort of majority. I looked around and saw people who could be content in the same office, who were much more professionally satisfied than I was. I felt like I was missing something that everyone else seemed to innately understand, and it was overwhelmingly isolating.

Whether they're sitting next to you or not, however, it's clear that a lot of people out there are looking for something better, too. So don't believe the lie that it's just you!

2. You're Not Stuck

For the career-hater, it's tempting to feel hopeless, because there doesn't seem to be a way out. Family obligations, financial restraints, and the huge time investment associated with changing careers--not just jobs, but industries--feels like too great a distance to leap. There just doesn't seem to be a way to the other side without going bankrupt, or disappointing loved ones. Why bother?

While some career transitions are harder than others to make, this is simply not true. You're not stuck! There are a lot of options available to you, especially when you're not sure what you want to do next. And when you do find the career you want to move into, there are options available to you to make the change a reality. It's just a matter of how much you're willing to invest in the process, how patient you're willing to be, and what you're willing to sacrifice to land a position in a career that fits.  

So how exactly do you bridge that gap and make it happen? Where do you even begin? 

3 Steps to a Better Career Fit

1. Get to know yourself.

If you're feeling like your career isn't a good fit for you, the first step is to stop nitpicking the career you know you hate, and instead, look in the mirror. Get to know yourself. How are you wired? What realities about your personality, skill set, and values inform your career preferences? What makes you tick? 

There are several ways to go about this step of self exploration. I'll briefly hash out 3 of my favorite methods here. 

Assessments

I am a self-declared assessment nerd. While they certainly don't tell the whole picture of who you are as a person, assessments can provide some valuable insight into the overarching trends of what makes you, well, you. There are a bunch of assessments out there, varying wildly in terms of quality and accuracy, but the big buckets that you want to assess and explore are personality, values, and behavioral style. 

If you don't feel like sifting through the massive pile of web-based assessments on your own, here is a solid sampling of the five assessments I recommend taking. The first three assessments are free, and the last two are paid tests:

If you can swing it, take all five assessments. Spread the assessments out over a period of a couple of weeks. Take your time, read the directions carefully, and answer honestly.

When you have all of your results in hand, comb through the results carefully. Highlight the descriptions that are spot-on as they apply to you, ignore the stuff that isn't accurate at all, and notice trends that are repeated across multiple sections in a test report, and especially across multiple assessments.

What have you learned about yourself? How do these concepts apply in the workplace? Start to put together the pieces, and see what you come up with. 

Job History Exercise

This is one of my favorite exercises for career direction, and has been one of the most fruitful in my personal experience. My dad actually suggested this activity years ago, when I was feeling especially lost in terms of my career. The exercise was a game changer for me, and I hope it is helpful for you as well.

Write down every job you've ever had, all the way back to your high school days or first part-time gig. Depending on your situation, it might be good to include volunteer experiences as well, or involvement in extracurricular activities.

For every job or activity on the list, answer the following questions:

  • What was your favorite thing about the job? What did you enjoy the most? What energized you?
  • What were you most proud of in that role? What project, result, or client interaction makes you smile the most?
  • What do you miss doing? What do you wish you could do all over again?

After you've answered these questions for every job, look at your complete list of highlights. What trends do you see? Are there obvious themes or careers that are closely related to the tasks and projects you've highlighted? See where this path leads you, and take some time to explore the new opportunities that you identify along the way.

Survey Friends and Family

Sometimes we can't see ourselves as clearly as the people who love us most. Asking friends and family for feedback might provide some helpful insight as you study yourself. This suggestion comes with a big caution flag, however, because some of your family and friends might not be helpful in speaking into your strengths. In fact, in some cases the 'advice' from loved ones might be downright harmful. To mitigate against any unhelpful responses, I recommend coming up with a list of 5-7 people you trust the most and feel safest with. Include people from different seasons of your life, in different roles. Make sure every person on that list is really 'for' you. Do they celebrate with you when you win? Do they grieve with you when you're dealing with a loss? 

When you have your list, ask those individuals if they'd be willing to speak into your professional identity and unique personal characteristics. If they're willing to help, provide them with a list of questions, and ask them to consider them carefully. Here are a few ideas to get you going, but feel free to add your own based on what you want to pinpoint or understand about yourself:

  • When have we been talking, and the conversation caused me to lean in, talk faster, become increasingly animated? What topic(s) seemed to draw me out?
  • What dreams have I mentioned in passing to you, that I (or others) may have brushed off as silly or impossible?
  • When have you seen me be really proud or satisfied with my own work or achievements? 
  • Where do you think I thrive? Excel?
  • From what you've observed, what do you think I'm uniquely wired to achieve? Where do I naturally perform well?

Collect this feedback from your friends or family, and see what stands out. Trust your gut--take what is helpful, leave what is not. What surprises you? What sparks your interest?

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By the end of your self-reflection period, the goal is to arrive at a list of possible careers that incorporate the elements of self that you've unearthed. You've taken the time to explore who you are, and now you have some ideas about what might be a good career move for you. How do you choose from the short list? How do you even know you're on the right track? 

2. Test the Waters

"The grass is always greener on the other side" is a nugget of wisdom brimming with relevance for your career journey. Don't leap into something new on a whim, just because it theoretically sounds better; of course it sounds better! You don't know anything about the industry yet, and only see the shiny fun stuff. But career changes are a big deal. Slow down, and safely explore your options before you decide to make a full transition.

There are several ways to explore a career without actually changing careers. Perhaps you can identify a volunteer opportunity inside of the new industry. Get your feet wet in work relevant to the jobs you're considering, and get a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. See what surprises you, what interests you, what concerns you.

Another option is to set up some informational interviews or job shadowing with people in your target industry. If you have a friend or colleague who can make a networking introduction for you, that is certainly best, but cold calls aren't out of the picture, necessarily. As long as your motivation is truly to learn and get a feel for the career (NOT sniff around for job openings), it's likely that the professionals in that industry will be open to helping you out in some capacity. Ask challenging questions, like, "What is the worst part about working in this industry? What challenges do you meet in this job consistently? What trends do you see in your field? Where do you expect this field to be in 10 years? 20 years? What do you think it takes to enjoy this work, and succeed in the field?"

If the industry you're considering is really different from everything you've done historically, consider taking some courses in the subject area. For example, if you've worked a 9 to 5 your whole life and are thinking about being a full-time gardener instead, find a free online class in botany or horticulture. Does the subject matter interest you, or are you bored out of your mind? Does the class inspire you to dive deeper and learn more? 

The point of this 'trial period' is to confirm your interest, and narrow down your short list. Admit you're wrong when an industry isn't actually good for you, and move on to the next career on your list. When you find something that stands out above the rest, it's time to move on to the final step.  

3. Invest in the transition.

Career transitions aren't going to happen overnight. You have to be patient, and be willing to make the change at an appropriate pace. That doesn't mean you're just sitting around passively, though! There's a lot to do as you invest in the process of changing careers. Here are a few things you can do to make the transition happen:

Network.

Okay, so you shuddered at the mention of the word 'network.' That's fair! Most people despise the concept with a passion. But it is still a beneficial practice, and one that doesn't have to make you beat your head against a wall. Try to have a positive perspective on this one, for your own sake.

LinkedIn is your friend here -- figure out what connections you have to your new industry/potential employers, and ask your existing friends or colleagues to make an introduction on your behalf. Have coffee with strangers. Go to industry-specific events. Put yourself out there a little bit! A future blog post on networking will dig into this more deeply, but for a full-blown career change, you're probably going to need an internal referral for someone to take a chance on you. In order to find a solid internal referral, you have to network. Period. 

Pursue training as-needed, but don't make assumptions.

A lot of my clients say things like, "I guess I need an MBA now," or "But I really don't want to go back to school!" In some cases, yes--they really do have to go back to school. You can't be a doctor without the degree. But in a lot of other cases, a traditional degree might not be necessary. Is the degree you assume you need preferred, or actually required? Can you supplement your existing education with something other than a traditional degree? 

Maybe you need some specific skills for your new career--let's say you want to get into mobile app design, but have no coding experience. Your first inclination might be to go back to school for a Computer Science degree. BUT instead, if you did a search for any free or reduced-cost bridge programs in your new industry, you'd find LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization providing FREE classes and job-transition support for careers in technology. They have classes in St. Louis, my friends! They actually put people in jobs. Good jobs. It's a no-brainer! And this is not the only bridge program out there. Explore the possibility before you shell out the cash for a full university degree.

Maybe your desired career utilizes a specific type of software, and a lot of companies consistently use the same program across the board. Take Salesforce, for example, a popular CRM platform in sales and marketing. Did you know that Salesforce offers free online certification? Why not amp up your relevant skills by pursuing your Salesforce certification, while you apply for new jobs in your field? If nothing else, it's a great resume and interview talking point that demonstrates your commitment to making the career change. 

The opportunities here are tremendous. Look for professional associations certifications, apprenticeship programs, bridge programs, training courses, etc. before you commit to a more traditional college degree. Think of the time, money, and sanity you could save in the process! 

Update your resume.

Your resume might be perfect for your current industry, but you have to look at it from a totally new perspective if you're planning to switch careers. Each position in your job history needs to be re-examined, and re-framed according to the context of new job opportunities. 

If you're moving out of sales into social work, nobody is going to care (as much) about your sales results data. They want to see a commitment to people, an emphasis on relationship, and a willingness to work hard. You might find that your resume bullet points need to be "flip-flopped," or re-written altogether. This will help people reviewing your resume as they look over your application--if you don't do this work in advance, you're bound to get tossed aside after a resume screener ponders aloud, "Why is this person applying for this job, anyway?"

Make your intentions clear. Tailor your resume to speak the language of your desired industry, not the career you're leaving behind. 

Consider 'stepping stone' roles. 

If you're making a really big change, you might want to consider doing it in stages. This is especially true if you're looking to move into a competitive company, the ones on the "Best Places to Work" list. Let's say you're a contract manager at Purina, and you're looking to make a transition. You've done your homework, you've narrowed down your list, and you know you really want to land a training and orientation job at World Wide Technology. That's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and you won't settle for less. It's great that you know what you want--but unfortunately, you have no direct training experience, and everybody on the planet wants to work at World Wide Technology. 

Instead, you could consider applying for a management role within your current department at Purina. Get some training experience. Ask your supervisor for some training responsibilities within your existing role--whatever you can swing, make it happen. Put yourself in a position to be more qualified when your dream jobs opens up. You could also apply for a contract management role inside World Wide Technology, with some management responsibility. Then, it's much easier to make an internal transfer to a different department for that 'dream' training role. 

"But that will take forever!" you say. Yep. Like I said, it isn't going to happen overnight! But that doesn't mean it's impossible. Are you willing to work for a new career, even if it might take some time to get there?

That brings me to the interim. The waiting period when you're still sitting in the career you hate, while you're dreaming of the job you think you'll love.

End well. 

Your current work matters. Your current job performance matters. You're still working for your most recent referring supervisor, my friends. You do not want to give them a reason to discredit you in the referral process. Instead, harness your existing workplace relationships (secretly, of course!) to improve your experience as you wait. Ask for new opportunities that relate to the new field. Request a schedule shift so you can attend a class. Do whatever you can to maximize your opportunities within the bounds of your current work environment. 

It's not necessarily going to be easy, but a career that suits you is still possible. Wait actively. Look forward purposefully. Engage in the process, knowing that it is an imperfect journey.

If you ever doubt that it's worth it, or forget exactly what it is you're aiming for, come back here, and I'll remind you. It is a fantastic experience to be in a job that suits me as a person. The results are life-changing, and every day, I know the journey was worth it

The #1 Most Important Fix for Your Resume

Between my work as a Career Communication Coach and previous roles in executive recruiting and HR, I've seen a whole lot of resumes.

Today, I'm going to let you in on a little secret and share the #1 resume problem that I regularly encounter with clients, along with a few easy steps you can follow in order to address the problem in your own resume.

The Problem: Emphasis on Responsibilities

Most people that I work with for resume writing don't demonstrate a lot of confidence in their work experience. In fact, a lot of the comments that they make are downright apologetic:

"Oh, I know I haven't done a lot in that area. I should've done more." 

"Yeah, I guess I did that, but it wasn't a big deal."

"I don't really think I'm good enough for the positions I'm interested in."

I've mentioned before that one of the best parts of my job is the client reaction--that moment when a client sees his or her professional identity written out accurately, clearly, and confidently for the very first time, whether it be on a resume, a new website, or a grant proposal. Most clients are startled, and they read over the content a few times before saying, "Wow, did I really do all of this?" 

I generally laugh a little, and say, "You tell me. Is anything inaccurate, or even exaggerated?"

They hungrily pore over the details, and are confused when the answer is "No! I actually did all of that, didn't I?"

The resume issue in this scenario is almost always an overemphasis on responsibilities, duties, or tasks. Many people approach their resume as if it were a job description -- they try to capture all of the check-list items they're responsible for, and list those as resume bullet points. 

The problem with this approach is that every single person with a similar role and/or job title has exactly the same list of responsibilities. There's nothing in that list of tasks that sets a candidate apart from other applicants, or leaves any sort of impression on the reader.

Quite frankly, this approach is 100% ineffective. The recruiter or hiring manager reviewing your resume is going to be bored out of his or her mind, and will likely move on to another candidate immediately. On average, recruiters will only spend 6 seconds looking at your resume. While other factors like formatting are definitely part of the solution, responsibility-heavy content is definitely not helping you stand out from the crowd. 

The Solution: Emphasis on Results

The fix for responsibility-focused resumes is a perspective shift toward results.

When I'm chatting with clients about their job history and achievements, a lot of them groan when I ask about results, or just look at me with desperation and shrug. Many people aren't accustomed to thinking about their professional achievements as results, so at first glance, it's hard to come up with anything to share.

But that doesn't mean there's an absence of results.

Many clients shy away from the results question because they're not in a traditional, numbers-driven role like sales. The word 'results' carries with it an expectation of hard numerical data: percentages, dollar signs, you name it. Some of those figures are obvious, as they can be in sales, but they don't have to be. If you're not consistently thinking about measurable definitions of success, then you're bound to be caught of guard by the request for proof of your success.

So how do we solve the problem?

Step 1: Define Measurable Success

Let's say you're considering a role where you're responsible for managing volunteers. Great--you manage volunteers, but so do a lot of other people. How can you measure and demonstrate that you managed those volunteers successfully?

Think about all of the potential measurable components that are involved with managing volunteers. Here are the ones that come to mind right away:

  • Number of volunteers you work with on a regular basis
  • Volunteer retention over time 
  • Volunteer engagement, or the rate at which volunteers choose to donate their time
  • Average monthly hours of volunteer time from the beginning of your tenure, versus the present
  • Increase in the number of volunteers over time
  • Increase in engagement over time
  • Volunteer satisfaction data collected from feedback surveys

As you can see, an area of responsibility that doesn't inherently lend itself to measurable results can definitely be measured. That said, if you're not actively measuring these areas, then there's no way to demonstrate that you've succeeded. 

This leads us right into Step 2.

Step 2: Start Measuring with Intention, and Do it Now!

Imagine looking at a resume that hasn't been touched in 15 years. As much as we wish we could, it often isn't possible to dig up the data retroactively. Think of all the achievements and professional highlights that could be lost over time!

Most of what you're able to measure in order to demonstrate success needs to be measured with intention, on purpose, while you're working on the given project. Take some time to define measurable success metrics at the beginning of each project, measure as you go, and record the results.

Your efforts will spare you a lot of professional regret down the road during your next job transition, and will also help you identify professional wins that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

Step 3: Look for Ripple-Effect Results

Sometimes the most significant results of your work aren't directly numerical. In some cases, they might be entirely anecdotal. On top of that, something great can happen in response to your work that you didn't intend to happen at all! Should we bury these situations or neglect them as professional achievements, simply because they aren't traditional, direct measurements? Absolutely not!

Perhaps you planned and oversaw an event for your non-profit organization. It wasn't a fundraising event specifically, but one of the attendees was so impressed that they decided to make a significant contribution to the organization. You didn't directly solicit the donation--you're not even on the development team, perhaps!--but your work still resulted in a major win for the organization.

Or, let's say you work for a youth development organization, and you've been investing a lot of time and effort in community outreach. Your main goal was to increase visibility, and make sure the community is aware of your programming. During your outreach efforts, you happened to develop community partnerships with a few local businesses. Those partnerships led to unexpected enrichment opportunities for the children in your programs, creating new, fun ways for them to learn and grow. 

I like to call these sorts of results ripple effects. Because of your actions, something unexpected or indirect happened, and there was a positive outcome. There might not be numbers involved, but that doesn't change the fact that something good happened! You should absolutely keep track of these ripple effect results, even if the result is purely anecdotal. Results are results, intentional or not! 

Responsibility vs. Results in Your Resume

In today's job market, it isn't enough to just write down what you do every day and call it a resume. As much as we don't like to do so, you have to take this opportunity to brag a little! Your resume is designed for this--it isn't arrogant to accurately and confidently convey your professional achievements.

It's a good and rewarding experience to be proud of your work, and to communicate your results effectively. I invite you to consider your own achievements today, and how you might better present those career highlights in your current resume. You never know--those examples will very likely come in handy some day!

Salary Expectations: Addressing the Dreaded Interview Question

We've all been there before.

You're excited about a new opportunity, rocking a preliminary phone interview, and feeling confident about your experience and fit with this particular company. The big picture is coming together in your mind, and you're confident that this could be a phenomenal career move for you!

Then the recruiter drops the bomb:

"So, let's talk about salary for a minute. What are you making in your current role?"

All of a sudden, your confidence evaporates and you wonder how everything went from fantastic to terrifying in the span of two sentences. Also, when did it get so hot in here?

The good news? You're not alone. Addressing salary expectations is a universally dreaded experience for job seekers. 

The conversation generally starts in one of two ways: 

  1. What are you making now?
  2. What do you expect to make in this role? 

No matter how it is presented, the salary question is one that consistently catches job seekers off-guard and puts them in a difficult position. And truth be told, there is good reason to take the question seriously; there is a lot at stake, a lot riding on the content and delivery of your response.

Let's visit the potential--and common--negative outcomes for a moment:

  • You aim too high, and the company can't afford you.
  • You aim too low, and the company wonders what's wrong with you.
  • You aim well, but lose your negotiation ability by providing a specific figure or range.
  • You fumble over the question, mumble your response, and the company doubts your self-confidence and overall value as a new hire. Will you be this twitchy on the job?
  • You get a little too heated in your response, and suddenly the tone of the conversation balances on the edge of a knife. You've put a bad taste in the recruiter's mouth, who now sees you as a self-defensive hiring risk. 

When you look at that list of outcomes, it's easy to see why the salary question is so troublesome for job seekers--there are countless ways to get it wrong! But that doesn't mean that the question is impossible to prepare for, or that you are automatically backed into a corner with no way out. Let's back up for a moment, and zoom in on the heart of the problem.

Root Problems in the Salary Conversation

There are a number of root problems in the salary expectation conversation, on both sides of the table. 

The Hiring Organization

The motives of the recruiting company can vary, but often the hiring side is worried about wasting time and resources on you as a candidate. It is the most economical and effective choice if they can determine your affordability upfront, before they spend time vetting you in-depth.

The hiring side also holds a lot of power at the interview table--and with power comes the opportunity to abuse it. Job seekers, from a position of perceived powerlessness, are easily manipulated into sharing more information than they'd prefer to. As a result, it is unfortunately quite common for recruiters or hiring managers to bully you into caving under pressure in an interview setting.

The Job Seeker

The greatest obstacle for the job seeker is ignorance--many job seekers assume that they are required to divulge their salary history in an interview, which is simply not the case. You are never obligated to share your salary history; this is private information, and the hiring organization does not have any right to the data. 

So if caving and providing your salary details isn't the solution, how should a job seeker address the salary question?

Nailing the Salary Conversation

The key to addressing the salary question well is simple:

  1. Have a plan.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Adjust your strategy as-needed.
  4. Always keep it positive. 

Preparation is your greatest tool for interviews in general, but it is crucial to prepare your strategy in advance for the salary conversation. Consider the two possible ways that the question will be presented, and prepare thoughtful, rehearsed responses. Write them down verbatim, if you need to! This one is worth getting right.

Here are some basic sample scenarios to help you get started and deflect the salary question:

EXHIBIT A: SALARY HISTORY - BASIC DEFLECTION

Hiring Manager: "Let's talk salary. What are you making in your current role?"

Job Seeker: "You know, this opportunity is not identical to my current role. Let's discuss my qualifications for this particular position, and we can discuss what a fair and appropriate salary would be based on the responsibilities of this job."

EXHIBIT B: SALARY EXPECTATIONS - BASIC DEFLECTION

Hiring Manager: "Okay, let's talk about salary. What are your salary expectations for this role?"

Job Seeker: "My greatest concern is finding an opportunity that best suits my skills and experience. I'm confident that you are offering a fair compensation package for this opportunity. I'm open to discussing the complete package when we get to that point." 

Basic deflection is a good tool to have on hand, particularly early on in the process. Whenever possible, it is in your best interest to avoid discussing salary before the company has fallen for you as a candidate. Sure, you might have to discuss details later--but to the best of your ability, delay that conversation until they've gotten to know you better. Later in the process, they are more likely to value you as a candidate. 

Spoiler alert: nobody is going to be happy about you deflecting the salary question. You are going to get some pushback, and the recruiter is going to press you for some specific numbers. If you're definitely interested in the position and want to keep the conversation moving forward, there are ways to humor the hiring manager without showing all of your cards.

This is where research comes in. Before you get into an interview conversation, do your research to identify a fair salary range for the role you're pursuing. Websites like Glassdoor are good resources for finding salaries at the company you're applying for, as well as for similar companies. Find some solid data, and determine a decently-wide range based on your research. For full-time salaried positions, I'd recommend cushioning your range with a span of $10,000-$15,000.

Let's look at a specific scenario to apply this to, using an extended version of Exhibit B:

EXHIBIT C:  RECRUITER PUSHBACK

Recruiter: "Okay, let's talk about salary. What are your salary expectations for this role?"

Job Seeker: "My greatest concern is finding an opportunity that best suits my skills and experience. I'm confident that you are offering a fair compensation package for this opportunity. I'm open to discussing the complete package when we get to that point." 

Recruiter: "Yeah, but let's be honest--it's a waste of everyone's time if our budget doesn't align with your expectations. What do you think would be fair for this sort of role?"

Job Seeker: "Well, from my research, it seems that an appropriate salary for this sort of role would fall in the $50,000-$65,000 range. I'm sure you are offering a salary that is competitive and appropriate for the industry."

The beauty of this strategy? You demonstrate your own industry savvy, while also proving that you are a solid negotiator who is not willing to buckle under a little pressure. You've done your research and are willing to stand your ground. The recruiter's appetite for specific salary data is sated, but you've managed to withhold your personal salary details. Everybody wins!  

Special Case: Required Application Fields

There is no greater opportunity for a hiring organization to abuse their power than in the web-based job application. Technology is a great ally in this effort. 

Don't be surprised when you run across restricted, required fields demanding a single figure as a salary expectation. Yep, you heard that right -- those monsters won't even allow you to enter a range

When possible, thwart the system. Enter "Negotiable" or "Open to discussion" in unrestricted fields, or provide a wide research-based range when you are forced to provide a range of numbers. Fair warning: the more you bend the rules, the more likely it is that you will irritate someone on the receiving end. Arguably, it is still in your best interest to keep your salary history and ideal salary to yourself for as long as possible. 

If you absolutely cannot avoid entering a single salary figure on the application, rely on your research, and aim above your ideal salary within that range. I would argue that it is better to overshoot and affirm your professional value, rather than undersell yourself. 

Friendly Reminder: Context Matters

As helpful as some of these tools and examples may be, there simply is no universal "correct" response to the salary question.

Be present in your interviews, and always keep the tone positive. When it's obvious that the recruiter is not going to be pleased until he or she gets a range out of you, offer the research-based industry data. Pay attention to the context and tone of the conversation, and be flexible with your approach. No two job interviews are ever going to be identical. 

And if you've done your homework, but are still feeling unprepared? Consider enlisting the help of a coach to practice various interview strategies and develop some confidence at the negotiation table. 

Women and Work: Acknowledging Achievement

Friends...I really love my job. 

Yes, I get to write fantasy and sci-fi and mentally reside in amazing places. What could be bad about that, right? It's nerd paradise.

But in addition to writing, I get to do something pretty amazing. I have the great honor of helping people realize how awesome they are. Then, I show them how to communicate their awesomeness via Career Communication Services. And it is an absolute joy to be able to do so.

Recently, I coached a client who had been with her current company for a very long time in various capacities. She'd worn many hats, and was frustrated that her resume wasn't generating any interest. So we got together over coffee, and I got to know her a little better.

As she described her professional experience, my heart broke a little bit. This is the sort of phrase I heard consistently: "I mean, I've conducted hiring interviews and exit interviews, and I've led staff training, and I've screened resumes...but I don't have any real HR experience. I was never the HR manager or anything." 

Sound familiar?

Based on what I've seen in my work, I'm willing to wager that this is a fairly common occurrence, especially for women. There are so many societal pressures on working women, and it is easy to see how we have been encouraged to minimize our achievements, instead of owning those accomplishments with pride and confidence. Our societal messages tell us that a confident woman who is proud of her work is intimidating, arrogant, difficult to work with, bossy, or bad at delegating.

It's pretty unfair, isn't it? I also happen to believe that it's a load of crap. There are still a lot of battles to fight on a grand scale as women in the workplace, but this is one that we should be fighting just for ourselves. 

Culture, coworkers, and bosses aside, when the doors are shut and you can freely reflect on and examine your professional journey... Are you proud of your achievements? Are you proud of your work? 

In almost all cases, I think the answer should be yes. Most of us are working our tails off in various capacities, and rarely take a minute to stop and celebrate our achievements. It was a joy to do this with my recent client, and to make something very clear for her.

"I don't have any real experience," she said.
"Guess what?" I replied. "The only difference between you and an "HR professional" is the title. You have done the work, and you have the experience. Don't minimize or underestimate your history. You have a lot to be proud of!"

We continued to walk through her experience, and I helped her write a resume that showcased her achievements clearly and confidently. Yes, that resume will hopefully help her land a job. But more importantly, she looked at that resume and was delighted and startled by the quality, depth, and breadth of her own experience. She saw her professional self clearly, and was equipped with language to be able to discuss those achievements in her job transition. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it, because she is everything that the resume communicates and much, much more! 

Maybe you feel pretty good about your work -- that's awesome! But how is your comfort level when it comes to discussing it? Pay attention next time you're discussing your job with a friend or family member. Do you minimize your involvement, or the results of your work? 

It's the difference between these two statements:

"Yeah, just doing the same old thing...working on a project for so and so. It's fine."
OR
"Yeah, I'm actually working on a project for XYZ. I'm excited about it because of THIS, and I'm really looking forward to the results because SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN."

Admittedly, some of this comes down to perspective in addition to your own pride in your work. Sometimes it's extremely difficult to identify the value in what you do. I used to be an executive assistant, and that work didn't feel like much of an accomplishment because I didn't have an obvious product or service that I was consistently delivering. But now, as I reflect on that position, I see how incredible it was that I juggled so many competing priorities, responsibilities, projects, and stakeholders. I made a major difference in my boss's day, every day, and was able to make his crazy life a whole lot easier. On top of that, I gained a wide range of professional experience that allowed me to move forward on my career path. 

It took me a long time to get that perspective. But every job has an impact, and every responsibility eventually leads to a customer... a measurable result. And that result contributes something to the world, however minor the impact may seem. Hair stylists help people to feel good about their appearance. Dog walkers make pups feel really, absurdly happy and loved. Janitors create a safe, clean environment for others to go about their day. Managers inspire others to success and help them to nurture their professional and personal abilities. Uber drivers get people where they need to go safely. 

What is the value of your work? When was the last time you sat down and thought about your own professional self-image? How do you describe your own responsibilities, achievements, or ongoing projects?

I invite you to join me in this endeavor today. Take a few minutes to reflect on the work you've done across your entire professional history. Remember the projects that you lost sleep over, but were able to complete with pride. Celebrate the people that you served in your work: the satisfied customer, the stressed out supervisor, or the coworker that benefitted from your efforts. 

Your work has value. You have value. And it is anything but arrogant to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments.

Go forth with your head held high and conquer your work week with confidence, my friends!