Posts Tagged ‘job’

Be Volunteer-Savvy for Your Career

September 19th, 2011

Some of my favorite business entrepreneurs worked pro bono for many months in order to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to make their next career move.  Others felt deeply committed to give back to the community – locally or globally – in some capacity, or were driven by a passion for a cause. Whether you are motivated by altruism, professional development, or both, volunteerism can be a great tool to boost your value in the job market.

VolunteerA LinkedIn survey found that 41% of professionals considered volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating job candidates, and 20% of the hiring managers made a hiring decision based on a candidate’s volunteer work experience.

Drawing on the success stories of my clients, some kinds of volunteer work are more valued by potential employers than than others, particular in terms of demonstrating transferable skills and experience. Some things that you can do to maximize the “market value” of your volunteer efforts when it comes time to find paid work:

  • Choose volunteer opportunities that align with your career objectives, and allow you to develop and showcase your professional skills.
  • Have a clearly defined and documented deliverable (ideally with metrics or evaluation criteria that can be verified), or a specific problem to solve, and know how you are contributing to the big picture goals and mandate of the organization.
  • Look for opportunities to lead a team. As challenging as it can be to build and motivate a paid team, overseeing a group of volunteers can be ten times harder, and many employers know it.
  • Ask your team leader or supervisor if they would be willing to give you a performance review, which can be particularly valuable if you don’t have a lot of professional experience under your belt yet.
  • Cultivate your network. Volunteer organizations bring together people from a wide range of industries and backgrounds, and you will never have a better chance to broaden and diversify your network of first degree contacts.
  • When it comes time to write your resume, describe your contributions using the terms and keywords of your career target – if your goal is to be a project manager for example, speak in terms of project management; if your goal is marketing manager, speak in terms of marketing and marketing communications.

Ready to become a volunteer but not sure where or how? Check out the website of your favorite cause for information on how to volunteer, or visit sites such as (USA) or (Canada) or (UK)** to see who may be able to benefit from your passion, expertise, and time.

** Thanks to Paul Williams (@PaulWill1977 on twitter, who works with the UK Stroke Association) for this link.


Bad Professional Habits that Can Harm Your Career, and What To Do About Them

November 30th, 2009

When I have a pause in my day, I slump. Literally. I lean forward in my chair, rest my chin in my hand, and ponder what I’m reading and writing about. It’s a posture that feels right to me. It requires no thought or effort. It’s the pose I used for my online picture. You might even call it my comfort zone. As it turns out though, my slump is not working for me, and has actually been doing me some harm.

I got my wake up call last week when I went to the chiropractor for a pinched nerve in my neck. By slumping in that particular position, I have managed, over time, to knock my neck, jaw and shoulder out of alignment. So now, in addition to enduring some sounds-like-gun-shots chiropractic adjustments, I am having to do ‘sit up straight’ exercises so that I don’t fall back into my slumping habits. I can tell you, it isn’t easy.

Our careers can be prone to slumps – professional bad habits that become our comfort zone, but are highly detrimental to our long term career health.

Ten Signs You May Be Career Slumping

  1. Your answer to ‘How was your day?’ usually involves gossip or complaints about your colleagues and clients.
  2. The last workshop you took was a company-mandated workplace safety course two years ago, and you can’t remember anything except the chocolate-chip cookies that were served.
  3. You haven’t added any new people to your network of contacts in the last month, and some of the contacts you do have won’t take your calls anymore.
  4. You used to belong to an industry association, but you dropped out because FILL YOUR OWN EXCUSE IN HERE.
  5. Your response to people’s suggestions automatically starts with ‘Yes, but…’
  6. When asked to get involved in a special project at work, your first thought is ‘oh no’, ‘why me?’, or ‘does this mean I have to stay late?’
  7. Your boss’s boss has no idea what you do. Or worse: Your boss has no idea what you do.
  8. You are under 45, and are already day-dreaming about your retirement.
  9. The only person you’ve thanked in the last week was the person who handed you your change and cup of coffee.
  10. Your reputation at works has started to include the preface, ‘Oh. He’s an interesting guy’.

If your answer is ‘Yes’ to any or all of the above, you are either in or headed for a career slump. The longer you let it go, the more painful will be the adjustment when you get the ‘sit up straight or else’ wake up call. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take immediately to de-slump yourself.

‘Sit Up Straight’ Exercises to De-Slump Your Career

  • Hop off the gossip-train. The power trip you feel when you have ‘the dirt’ on somebody is nothing like the strength you feel when you really get to know them.
  • Make learning a priority. If you can’t afford to enrol in a course, then look for free webinars and downloadable courses. Learning isn’t just about acquiring new skills and knowledge, it’s also about shaking up our stale assumptions and misguided preconceptions.
  • Talk to somebody new each week. Ask them about their interests, their challenges, their families. Business may be powered by money, but it is nurtured by personal connections.
  • Join an industry association – and not just so you have something to put under Professional Affiliations on your resume. The payoff in terms of networking opportunities, early insights on industry developments, and heads-up on emerging opportunities will be invaluable.
  • Pay attention when people make suggestions. Fine, some of them will be just plain dumb or impractical, but some of them will contain a grain of truth or even brilliance, and you won’t know which is which if you haven’t taken the time to listen.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to do things that are outside of your job description or comfort zone. Not only can this be a chance to acquire new knowledge and skills, but it can be a great way to de-slump other people’s understanding of who you are and what you have to offer.
  • Make sure your higher-ups understand how you are contributing to the big picture. Make sure YOU understand how you are contributing to the big picture. There is no employee easier for a decision-maker to cut when it comes to downsizing than the one whose job is a mystery to everybody else.
  • Find something right now that turns your crank and energizes your day. Make at least one personal and one professional goal that is realizable in the near future, and put the action plan in place to achieve it.
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. I’m not talking about being relentlessly and annoyingly chirpy, I’m talking about taking the time to recognize and acknowledge the people to whom you owe a thank you.
  • If you are being described as ‘interesting’ in quotation marks, chances are you’ve slipped over the line of chronic sarcasm, cynicism or bitterness (acknowledgements to Dave Howlett for this insight). Bitter, sarcastic cynics may have funny and repeatable one-liners, but that’s just about all they are good for. They don’t make good team members, they can’t be trusted with referrals, and they don’t get promoted or recommended for new opportunities. Except in the ‘we’ll make him available to industry’ kind of way.

Considering a Job Change Once the Economy Picks Up? Be Proactive

August 24th, 2009

I had lunch last week with a senior HR Manager who was contemplating leaving her job after more than 20 years with a large corporation. “I’m having trouble living with the disconnect between what the company claims are its core values, and how it is handling staff relations during this recession.” She went on to describe a litany of incidents, from a service agent who was terminated after revealing she had cancer, to an entire team that was being laid off so that the division director could meet his cost-cutting targets for his performance bonus.

In a recent LinkedIn Q&A, Jeff Lefevre, Managing Partner and Founder, JTL Services, posed the question: “Over the past 6 months employees have seen a drastic attitude change from their managers. This attitude of ‘well be happy you have a job’ is wearing thin. Have you noticed this change?”

I responded that, based on what I’m hearing from my clients and contacts, there is going to be a tsunami of job searching once the economy picks up, and some of the most active job hoppers are likely to be HR personnel who are disgusted with how companies have chosen to treat their staff.

More than a few people, from both HR and non-HR backgrounds, contacted me directly to applaud my answer and reiterate my observations. In one contact’s words, “a huge changeover in staff is coming, and I don’t think management understands exactly how deep into the organization this discontent has spread.”

If you are considering making a career change once the economy picks up, be proactive.

Don’t wait for a “tipping point” incident. Take control now by mapping out your career plans for the next six months to two years and equipping your job search arsenal.

  1. Take some time to think about your personal and professional values. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. It is much easier to figure out whether a new company or position is going to be a good fit for you if you are really clear about what is important to you.
  2. Go through your files and start collecting the material for your resume: projects, positive feedback, performance reviews, KPI reports, anything that you can use to support your success stories.
  3. Define your value proposition – what are the key strengths, expertise and experience that you have to offer.
  4. Investigate companies that you would like to work for. Go beyond the financials. Listen to what current employees are saying. A good source for getting the inside scoop on how employees feel about their company is the anonymous reviews in the
  5. Look at who is hiring in your target job market, and what qualifications they are looking for. Determine whether you need training or credential upgrades in order to be more marketable.
  6. Create at least two versions of your resume. I recommend having a detailed resume that can be easily customized to apply for specific job openings, as well as a one-page high-impact synopsis that is better suited for networking.
  7. Get a non-business email account, if you don’t already have one.
  8. Bring your LinkedIn profile up to date, and claim your web identity on Naymz and ZoomInfo.
  9. Identify and join the LinkedIn groups and industry associations that will best support you in your career transition. Start following the discussions. Stay current on the key issues, news, and trends in the industry. Find out who the “people to know” are.
  10. Make networking a priority. Find time in your calendar to make at least one new contact per week. Focus not on what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.
  11. Reconnect with colleagues from the past. It is much easier to network and reconnect when you don’t have the pressure of “need a job right now” hanging over you like an invisible sign.
  12. Not comfortable with networking? Learn how. Consider seminars such as Breaking Down Silos, where you can get some practical tools and strategies for successful networking without feeling like a snake oil salesman.

Taking control of your career plans has two positive benefits. One, it can help to minimize the sense of powerlessness that comes with being stuck in an unfulfilling job. Two, it will ensure that, when the right opportunity comes along, you have the tools in your arsenal to land your next great job.


Meet Karen Siwak

An award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions, and she is passionate about empowering clients with the tools, strategies and confidence to take control of their career search. Read more...

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