Carrying out a successful job or career transition requires paying attention to detail. No surprise there. What may be surprising, however, is the weight certain details carry.
So which details matter? And, just as important: which don’t?
I’ll discuss the most common job or career transition steps and tell you where to pay attention, and where to let go a bit. Note that these steps are not necessarily in order. Certain steps you typically take simultaneously during a transition.
Step 1 – Identifying your career goals.
Very important. The level of clarity you have here will determine all following steps. This is where the soul searching comes in. You don’t need to be able to draw out the rest of your life here, or even the next 10 years. I think even the next five years are overrated. As long as you know where you want to go “next,” you can start taking action.
The bottom line is that you want to have a goal that will help you stay focused and that helps prospective employers recognize who you are and what you have to offer.
Step 2 – Researching the industry and companies you are interested in.
Also very important. Even more so if you are switching careers. The point here is that you want to know what’s going on, what the trends are, and what they are looking for in their candidates so you can connect with their needs when contacting them AND in positioning yourself online.
Step 3 – Writing that darn resume.
It’s important because very often, your resume is making the first impression for you. No matter what emerging trends there are in this field; video resume, online resume… note that they are still “resumes.” Hiring people want to know who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done…and most importantly: WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THEM. Think a resume cannot pull this off? It can. And it should to position yourself competitively and effectively.
It’s important your resume is branded, is written strategically, is concise, is focused, and “sells” you for your target position. Yes, that’s a lot. That’s what makes resume writing so tricky.
Also vital is making sure it’s typo free. Your resume is seen as a reflection of you, your professionalism, and your attention to detail. Typos can cost you opportunities.
What’s not so important: whether to use the serial comma. Personally, I swear by the serial comma because of its clarity, but this is an example of something that will definitely not make or break you.
Also not worthy of fretting over: which font to use. But do make sure it’s not so small it’s unreadable.
Another item that will not cost you the interview invite: whether to state months as 5/2008 or May 2008.
Step 4: Selecting resume paper. And envelopes.
You are bringing hard copy resumes to your interview, aren’t you?
I would invest in nice, heavy paper. Copy machine paper is cheap-looking. My personal favorite is Crane’s, 32 lbs., 100% cotton, watermarked. But is Southworth’s 24 lbs. paper fine as well? Sure it is. Buy what’s available and move on.
Regarding envelopes: buy matching ones with the paper that don’t require you to fold your resume in three pieces.
One thing to be aware of when snail mailing (or expediting!) your hard copy resume: don’t staple it together. This makes it harder for the recipient to process it.
Step 5: Checking your email address.
You’d think that with all the advice that’s out there, this one would’ve sunken in by now. But there are still people using cutesy or downright explicit email address for their job search. Yes, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com … that would be you!
I recently read something that said that hiring people WILL eliminate you solely based on an email address like that. Why? It screams “total lack of professionalism.”
Step 6: Writing a cover letter. Or not.
Another topic that is heavily debated. But the point is: you’d be eliminated sooner for not sending one, than for sending one. So include one!
Step 7: Conducting your job search.
Your decisions in this arena directly affect your effectiveness and the number of inquires and interviews you can expect to receive. You need to develop a strategy that includes little time spent on online job boards. The boards are the least effective method, period. Be proactive, approach companies yourself, network, and establish yourself as a valuable resource and expert in your field.
Step 8: Interviewing for the position.
If you guessed that this is the part where you’re supposed to pay close attention, you got it! Never wing an interview. Review the company’s web site and any other data about them, and refamiliarize yourself with your resume. It’s often used as a “guide” during interviews.
Go over some common questions and make sure you are able to answer the most basic – yet important – interview questions, such as “why do you want to work here?” “what are your best qualities/your worst”? And: “why should we hire you?”
Key to interviewing well is not learning answers by heart, but being so familiar with your own background, skills, and talents, that you can answer anything that’s thrown at you. And: knowing your personal brand inside out.
Of course, being on time (read: 5 minutes early), being well dressed and well-groomed, and treating the support staff and receptionist respectfully can really contribute to your first impression. Think of it this way: you are “interviewing” from the moment you pull into the employer’s parking lot. Make it count.
Step 9: Following up after the interview.
A big one! So frequently overlooked, yet highly effective. I know of situations where the follow-up letter was the final push an employer needed to pick that person.
Make sure you’re not only thanking the interviewers for their time, but also reiterating your most marketable skills in your letter. If something was not clear or not discussed at all during the interview, you can add this in the follow-up letter.
Email or snail mail? Depends on how conservative or tech savvy the company is, but make sure to respond promptly, meaning within 24 hours.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you navigate your job transition more effectively. Pay attention where it matters, and let go of the rest. After all, a resume that’s been sitting on your hard drive because you’ve been tweaking every comma and period multiple times, is not going to get you any interviews.
Get going, develop a job search pace that’s manageable for you, and keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing results from your efforts and you’ll be preparing to start your new job or career!