Employability: 4 Keys to Improvement

Growing a career in the 21st century is both exciting because of the range of opportunities, but also daunting because of the complexity of the hiring process. The odds can be daunting. You see a posting for an interesting job and get your materials together to submit. You make some tweaks to your resume and cover letter so that they are geared specifically to the opening and you apply. Then your resume sits in a file with about a hundred others waiting to be scanned. That’s right, 100 people applied right along with you.

Let’s assume 25% of them are disqualified pretty quickly. They have the wrong experience and are just spamming their resume out there. Sending the same resume out to hundreds of different jobs is a sure fire way to get no where fast. Now let’s eliminate another 20% who have resumes that are simply a disaster- no key words, typos, or long blocks of indecipherable text. Or worse they are written in the functional resume format and look just like the college resume they created in the 90’s. Even taking these into account you are still competing with 55 other applicants who most likely have a similar work history.

So how do you stand out? What can you do to differentiate yourself for the other 55 candidates? How do you become more employable?

The 4 keys of employability all revolve around self-improvement, and they are all within your grasp if you are willing to work for them.

Key 1: Read. A lot.
This is the easiest and most readily available professional development around. All you need is time and a library card. First, log on to Amazon and look up the best selling books in your industry. Make yourself a target list of 10 titles. Then go find as many of them as you can in the library. Or if you are able to, just download them onto your kindle. This step is the easy part, but now that you have gathered your materials you have to commit to using them. Make a commitment to read for around 30 minutes a day. Take some notes as you go, not to pass a test, but so that you can digest whatever you are reading. At the end of your 30 minutes write a couple sentence summary. This way the thread of the book will remain consistent throughout your reading. Even if the book does not provide you with earth-shaking revelations, you will still be learning what others in your industry are thinking about right now, and that is important because it leads to the next key.

Key 2: Write.
Once you have an idea what topics are popular within your industry, start talking about them publicly. Start a blog. Post on professional boards. Load some articles up on LinkedIn’s Pulse platform. Use the books you’ve read as a jumping off point, even if all you do is post some basic reviews. Getting your name out there are someone who is informed and has opinions about your industry can greatly improve your employability. Doing this also has the added benefit of giving you more to share on social media as a professional. Regular engagement on professional sites like LinkedIn or participation in industry Facebook groups adds to your own gravitas.

Key 3: Get involved.
Sign up for as many industry newsletters as you can and keep track of conferences, seminars and professional development opportunities. When it is feasible go to them in person. If there are online components do them as well. Interact with people within your industry and get noticed by others as well. Not only is this a great networking opportunity, you’ll also hopefully be learning a few new things as well. Recruiters are going to see a person who is involved in the areas where your industry is growing and that makes you an employee in demand.

Key 4: Learn a second language.
Go anywhere outside the U.S. and being multi lingual is pretty much the norm, so this advice is mainly for those of us state-side. Learning a second language can do nothing but help you compete in the global economy. Which language you chose is dependent on your industry, but just about every employee can benefit from improved communication skills. You never know when something as simple as this could be the difference between getting hired and not. There are a variety of great programs out there and some of them are simple, free apps you can put on your phone. You don’t need to become a fluent speaker of the new language, just be semi conversant. Often just showing the effort to a non English speaker goes a long way.

Make it a personal goal to follow through on these 4 keys and you are guaranteed to improve your employability. And the best part is that you can see results in as little as a month. You’ll be better informed, more connected and more ready to share what you know. 843

Balance between consumption and contemplation

We live in the age of the fire hose…of information. Words come at us at a dizzying rate. Between videos, print, audio and of course social media we are bombarded with more words than any other people in history. The only study I could find was ten years old, but even then the average person was consuming 100,000 words per day. I’d venture to guess that has doubled since the advent of the smart phone.

That’s the same as reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace every two days, for the rest of your life!

At the same time, this constant barrage of information comes at us in an era when quiet, or dare I say boredom, is at an all time low. Rarely do you see someone sitting by themselves just thinking or day dreaming, instead they’ll have earbuds in, or they’ll be scrolling through their phone. In fact a recent experiment showed that people would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit alone with their thoughts for 30 minutes.

Information overload is being combined with zero processing time. This can not be good for us.

What we, what I, need is a balance between consumption and contemplation. Keeping up with the news is good, but keeping Twitter open all day so I can follow all the twists, turns and false starts of the news isn’t. Listening to music and podcasts is good, but never experiencing a half hour of quiet so my own thoughts can wander isn’t. I need time to process all of this information being thrown at me if I expect any of it to be useful.

So I am going to be consciously carving out a couple 30 minute periods of time where I can just sit and think. I know what some of you are thinking. This sounds great, but where am I supposed to get an extra hour a day to just sit and do nothing. I’ll admit this is going to be a challenge. But I think the sacrifice will be one worth making. Here are a few places where you might steal a half an hour for contemplation.

Commuting time. You don’t have to have the radio on. Just drive.
Lunch time. Instead of making it a working lunch, try going outside and sitting in the sun. Eat your sandwich and just daydream.
Night time. Give up a half hour of TV (or video games, or social media). Trust me, you really are not missing anything and you have peace of mind to gain.

I’m guessing after a couple weeks I am going to feel a bit less stressed about the state of the world and my own personal life. Without the constant comparison to others and the never ending fire hose of bad news maybe I’ll be able to actually appreciate my situation and figure out a few ways to improve it. It is certain worth a half an hour, don’t you think?

Every Day is a Fresh Start

We often look at January first as unique. We give that singular point in time a special significance, but why? Has the first of January done anything to warrant it’s nearly religious reverence? Nope, not that I can see anyway. So let’s stop thinking of New Year’s day as the only fresh start of the year, because in reality, we can make a clean break from old habits or start doing something new at any point. Every day can be a fresh start if you want it to be.

So starting today, right now as you read this sentence, make a commitment to start fresh on whatever life project you may be struggling with. Maybe it’s a diet and exercise plan that you’ve done battle with for three months only to see the scale bounce back and forth four pounds. Maybe it is a job search where you started with all the hope and optimism in the world, but now see as an endless stream of unanswered emails and rejection notices.

Let’s put all of the past…..in the past. Start fresh, right now.

In order to make a clean break and really feel like this is a new you starting over you’ll need to switch up your strategies. What you’d been doing wasn’t working, so you need to try something else. Or, better yet, go back to the beginning and really focus on building the foundation you need to succeed. If you are anything like me, you probably skipped some of those early steps and pushed yourself too hard which leads to less satisfying results.

If you want to get a fresh start on your health, start eating better in small steps. For the first few days just drink more water. Then add in an apple a day. Then just try keeping track of your calories. Small steady steps, not crazy crash diets, lead to life changing results. If you want to find a new job, start focusing on your network, and if you find it lacking, get to work growing it. Better than 70% of new hires come through networking so it makes sense to spend the most time there. Just like weight loss, networking is a slow and steady process, not an overnight sprint.

Making a fresh start like this takes some courage. When we are in the midst of a struggle it feels like going backwards and to do so almost feels impossible. But then imagine what you’ll feel like 30-60 days from now when the benefits of that do-over start to really kick in. We’ll look back on this moment as the turning point. Do let fear beat you, turn the page, start over and do things right.

Tough Love: Stop Whining and Take Responsibility

“Character- the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life- is the source from which self-respect springs.” ~ Joan Didion

That quote hit me like a punch in the face when I first read it. At once I understood and agreed with what she meant, but I also felt accused and chastised. I suppose that is the point, right? It is so very easy to blame others for my own failures, missteps or lack of success. However, if I stop and look at my life objectively, any mistakes are my own, not someone else’s. And rather than bellyache about them I should just take responsibility for them and push on. Get better. Succeed.

I’m guessing you are not any different.

If you are in the middle of a long job search then I’d guess it is even easier to fall into that place where you’d rather throw a pity party than do the hard work to overcome obstacles and succeed. I get it. I’ve been there too. But the thing is, after a while, that behavior starts to become a habit. Then our whining and complaining about the unfairness of the whole process becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-There is too much conflicting advice on how to write my resume.
-Recruiters never call me back.
-Interviewers ask unreasonable questions.
-Networking takes too much time.
-HR departments set up hurdles no normal person can get through.

While there is certainly a kernel of truth in all of these statements, eventually this is all you’ll see. How do you think you’ll sound on an interview when you finally land one if this is the kind of interior dialogue you have going through your head?

So the next time I find myself in that kind of cycle I’m going to try to remember that I am not the first person to face such odds or obstacles. In fact, many people have had it far worse than me and still made it through to the other side. What right do I have to moan and complain about how the Fates are set against me?

Am I fighting real religious persecution?
Is disease ravaging my country?
Am I or my neighbors lining up in bread lines?
Am I in a trench fighting over 3 feet of land for months upon months?

No, I just wish my life could be a little easier. I just wish I didn’t have to forgo a newer, nicer car to repair the roof on my otherwise nice home. I just wish my perfectly healthy kid would stop back talking me so much. I just–

Never mind.

Time to get to work.

4 Benefits of a Daily Ritual When Jobseeking

A lot of people have been writing about the benefits of daily rituals lately, and for good reason. Ritual is something sorely lacking in our modern society. In a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water many people think of the word ritual as a dirty word, synonymous with superstition. However, a ritual is simply a habit that is developed for a purpose. And there are a few habits that are especially beneficial to the job seeker, so why not create a daily ritual out of them.

One of the first benefits of having a daily ritual is to give you a framework for your day. When out of work and looking for that next career step it is easy to fall into bad habits, wasting time on Netflix, continually spinning your wheels applying for jobs on job boards, getting hooked on Candy Crush, you name it. But a ritual is like a built-in schedule for your day. Stick with it and can act as your anchor keeping you on track.

Second, a ritual can have many different components, each benefiting a different aspect of your life. For instance, let’s say your morning ritual revolves around morning walks- nothing superhuman, just a 30 min walk around the neighborhood early enough in the morning so that you can have the peace and space necessary to think. This ritual not only contributes to your health, but it also acts as an escape valve for those thoughts that continually swirl about in your head. Being out of work can exacerbate those thoughts of anxiety and having a ritual in place to try to calm them and deal with them is vital.

The third benefit of a daily ritual is that it allows you to run on autopilot for a while. When you don’t have a job to go to every day it is amazing how quickly you realize that a job is much more than a way to make a living, it provides a pattern to your day, week and life. Without this proscribe pattern you need to decide what you should be doing every minute of every day. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you have retired parents or friends, they’ll tell you that that feeling of restless openness to their day was one of the first things they needed to deal with. If you have a ritual that includes certain steps for each part of the day, this problem is lessened.

Fourth, you can build your ritual around both self-improvement and job seeking. This way you are benefiting both for the short term and the long term. As stated above, a morning walk help you both physically and mentally. So when building your daily ritual think of others things that have multiple benefits. Perhaps, every day at noon you decide to take a 30 minute reading break from your daily job search duties. Make sure the book you chose to read is one that deals in some way with your profession and now you are not only giving yourself a calming break, but you are learning things that will benefit you for years to come as well.

The final benefit of a daily ritual for job seekers is that it will instill the habit permanently. Ideally you want to keep some pieces of your daily ritual, or at least the idea of having one once you land your new job as well. Because the benefits of this extend far beyond the relatively brief time you are looking for work. Having a daily ritual will allow you a greater measure of discipline and peace in your life for the long term as well.

Create White Space in Your Life

One of the mantras of modern resume writing is to not be afraid of white space. Readers do not want to be inundated with text; they want to see highlights that are presented as comfortable to skim and easy to digest. It is as if the ethos of minimalism that rules current home design has found its way to the page.

But what if we looked at white pace as more of a metaphor. Maybe we could see if our lives could use a little more white space.

Just as detailed company descriptions, long lists of courses taken and hobbies are seen as clutter on your resume, there must be things cluttering up your life. What activities, self-imposed responsibilities and time killers are you holding on to but would be better off without? Is it a social media habit? The need to plan your kid’s day? A hobby that has become more of a chore?

To give a personal example, working out has always been a cluttered experience for me. I’m someone who is constantly looking for the next great program, the newest fitness fad. I feel like I often spend more time looking into new variations of workouts more than I do actually exercising. When in reality, as a middle aged man with a sedentary job all I really need to do is a couple basic strength moves and then get outside an move. I’m not going to be entering and bodybuilding contests and I do not need the VO2 Max of a Michael Phelps, I just need to be healthy enough to go hiking with my family and shovel the mini mountains of snow my New England town gets every winter.

To stick with our metaphor, my exercise regimen needs some white space. Imagine all these slightly obsessive activities as unneeded text crowding the page. What does that do to the important information in that document? It crowds it out, makes it harder to make an impact. The same happens with those activities. What would your day be like if you just stopped sometimes and sat? What if you didn’t need to be constantly doing something, constantly productive? You just might let those important parts of your life have some breathing room.

In times of stress look for the why

Ever have one of those weeks where everything just seems to be falling your way. You sleep great. The kids actually seem to be behaving. Nothing in the house breaks down or stops working. Your colleagues are agreeable and your boss notices the solid work you’ve been doing.

These times don’t happen often, but when they do we feel like we could take on the world. In fact, it is often times like these when our very best work comes out. Most people can perform well when everything is going in their favor.

But how about when the opposite is in effect. How do you perform when the kids are sick and you’re sleeping five hours a night? Can you still deliver when your boss gives credit to another team member who is only riding your coat tails? Is your performance still on target when you are worrying about how to pay for that leaky roof?

It is in times of adversity that we reveal who we really are. I for one often find myself lacking. It doesn’t take a lot to throw me off my game and when it happens I can almost stand outside of myself as an objective observer and see myself crack like a dropped egg. So I know this is something I know I need to work on.

What I try to do is to personify adversity. I look at it like a teacher. This isn’t a new idea. People like Plato, Marcus Aurelius and even Yoda have taught the same. But tried and true methods become cliche because they work. When I see adversity as a teacher I can more easily pull myself out of the situation and look at it as a lesson that I can learn from.

For instance, if a client is really unhappy with a given piece of work even though I have provided exactly what they asked for, I look at it as a lesson in patience. I could get a bit upset and explain how I am delivering on our agree upon project. But instead I step back and realize that as someone who works with people looking for work, I am also working with people at their most vulnerable. Sometimes when people lose control of one aspect of their lives- in this case their job- they try to exert control over something else- our project. When I look at it from this perspective I can see the why, not just the what of the client’s actions.

This is just a small example, but I think it illustrates the point well. When we look at adversity as a teacher trying to help us build character it causes us to look for the why when trouble happens. Why is this happening to me now and in this particular way? What can I learn from it?