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Career Advice: Just the Basics...Please!

David J. Smith

March 30, 2018

David J. Smith

I spend a great deal of time talking with young would-be professionals about careers. Unfortunately, I feel I often get too much “in the weeds” with them. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. 

First, young people today (under 35) have lived in a world of condensed and truncated communication, around 140 characters. (I haven’t gotten to the point where I need to incorporate emojis in my presentations, but that is coming). Too much of anything, tends to overwhelm them. The science is clear that unless you can boil it down to a few basic points, it will be lost.

Second, those of us who give career advice tend to want to “fully disclosure” (as we should), but this means providing our clients and audiences with every “if and or but.” That’s not inherently a bad thing, but once again, it tends to overwhelm career seekers.  I’ve often been struck by how career books – and there are literally hundreds of them, including mine – are written in ways that rather than providing the reader with basic actionable advice, focus on minutiae.  I’m not saying that detail is not important particularly with presentation, that is, one’s dress, resume, LinkedIn profile and other ways one is “viewed.” But we need to recognize that broad and generalized advice is often better, and allows a career seeker to evaluate and develop their own way of interpretation and implementation.

So here is my list of just six things one needs to consider in looking for work. And I will make every effort to not go “in the weeds.”

  1. Organize Yourself (Organize)

The first thing when looking for work is getting organized and disciplined. You need to commit to a specific amount of time per week (or day) at looking for work, maintain a record of your leads, and just stay on track. Lists on your refrigerator are good. 

  1. Have Victories (victories)

Set up “victories” for yourself. This benefits your ego more than anything else. After an informational interview, treat yourself to a latte. If you have spent a considerable amount of time interviewing, revising your resume, or updating LinkedIn, take a break from it all and go to a movie. Savor what you have accomplished. 

  1. Always Be “On” (and be on)

Looking for work is not always about looking for work. You might engage in a spontaneous conversation at a party. While watching your kids play soccer you talk to another parent. Or have in a random chat on the subway. (I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve been overheard in conversation, and then been asked a question about my work by a stranger). You should always be “on.” You never know when opportunity will knock.

  1. Get Out and About (and get out)

Finding work is a “humanistic” endeavor. You will be hired by a person not a computer (at least not yet). You need to “press the flesh” with others. Go to events in your field and have your business card (yes, you need a card even if you don’t have a job) and resume in hand. Know your “elevator speech” and your “2-minute strategic share” by heart. Remember: Most jobs are not found online, but through personal connections.

  1. Getting Turned Down Can be Good! (and if turned down)

There is significant value in having a bad day including getting turned down for a job.  I know you’re feeling bad, so read rule #2 above: You still had an interview!  What did you learn about yourself because of the experience? What can you improve about your interview style? I’ve been in situations where I have not gotten the offer, but gotten a call back on something else such as being a temporary contractor.  Yes, there are silver linings after the storm.

  1. Invest in Yourself (invest in yourself)

Invest in yourself during career searching.  This takes myriad forms. Are you eating well? Exercising? Engaged in mindfulness activities? Staying in touch with friends and family? Are you taking a course in an area that you need more training?  For instance, if you are interested in international work, how about taking a language course? Use your free time in productive and healthy ways (but don’t overuse rule #2 ).

There it is. Just six steps. And you can remember them this way:

Organize victories and be on and get out, and if turned down, invest in yourself.

And it’s less than 140 characters. (Actually, Twitter is now 280 characters, but it’s always good to save words!)

David J. Smith is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016) and a member of PCDN's career advisory board. He can be reached at www.davidjsmithconsulting.com or [email protected].

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