About ten years ago, the wheels came off my career. I had jobs after that, and while I did all right, it was never as good as it was before I left the job I held for almost twenty years (missed it by one month). What follows is a list of ten things that I would tell someone looking for a job. I wish I knew these things back when I first started working. Too soon old, too late smart.
- Network like crazy. Anyone you know is a potential source for career assistance. As much as I disagree with the decisions made by their management, Facebook is a good way to stay in touch with people you used to work with, went to school with, or knew from the old neighborhood. LinkedIn is another good site for staying in touch, and it’s specifically for professional networking. And don’t forget your family. You’d be amazed at how much help they can be. I was out of work in 1980 (along with a lot of people) and having trouble finding a job. One day, I get a call from my mother. She had been at a party where she ran into a recruiter, and he gave her his card. A couple of weeks later, I was back to work, thanks to the guy.
- Keep your resume up-to-date. In the last management class I took, the instructor advised us to always have a current copy of our resumes handy, and I never took his advice. I wrote my resume when I had to, when someone asked me for it, because it meant dragging out the typewriter, and I was a lousy typist. Thank heaven for computers. By the way, companies expect that you’ll tailor your resume to match the job description. I’d have a full resume with all your experience (more of a curriculum vitae, or CV) and use it as a starting point for the resumes you send out. That way, you don’t forget anything.
- Cultivate good relationships with recruiters. When I was getting established, I used to hate when recruiters (we called them headhunters) would call, because they’d keep you on the phone and try to browbeat you into making a job change when you didn’t want to. To put it bluntly, they were a pain in the ass. The truth is that companies hire them to pre-screen candidates. They hear about openings that don’t make Monster and CareerBuilder, and they’re valuable members of your network.
- Don’t be shy about quitting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that people born between 1957 and 1964 have held an average of eleven jobs between the ages of 18 and 44. That averages to about 2.5 years per job (2.3636…., if you want to be exact). I’m sure the average has gone down since, so say 2 years. Companies expect you to leave after a couple of years. They might even be pushing you in that direction. Better to leave before they start thinking, “will So-and-So ever leave?”
- Don’t get too comfortable. I worked for a company that would have a good year and hire a bunch of people, then have a bad year and lay all of them off. If you get any sense that the company might be looking to downsize, it might be time to update your resume and start putting out feelers.
- Know what else you can do. Or, make sure you have a Plan B. And a Plan C, and as many plans as you can make. What’s going to happen when you can’t find work doing what you’ve always done? More importantly, what’s going to happen when you don’t want to do what you’ve always done? It’s never too early to start thinking about what’s next. You might even want to get a head start on your next career. A lady I worked with left her job when she sold the novel she was writing in her spare time.
- Keep track of your accomplishments. This goes deeper than knowing what they are so you can put them on a resume. Keep a journal of everything you do: every meeting, phone call, and email has some details that a prospective employer or client might be interested in. Details that you’ll forget if you don’t write them down. It’s good for another reason: You’ll be able to tell when your career is stalled.
- Save, save, save. You want to have at least six months’ worth of savings that isn’t tied up in an IRA or a 401(k) (or whatever you call them where you live) that you can put your hands on if you find yourself out of work. More than six months is even better.
- Don’t put too much faith in your employer. Benefit plans change, departments get reorganized, job descriptions change, people leave or get promoted (or “kicked upstairs”), and promises made one day can vanish into thin air the next. I had a friend who got a new job, and on her last day, she came back from her farewell lunch and had a message from the new company that they had eliminated her job (the one she had been hired for), and their offer was being rescinded. It happens. Be prepared.
- Manage your career, or your career will manage you. Things are always changing, and what’s true today won’t be true tomorrow. If you go with the flow, you could end up doing something you don’t want to do. You always have a choice, to decide whether to stay or to go. Trust your gut; if it’s telling you to go, listen and put the wheels in motion.
Finally, I’m confident that the day will come when everyone works and no one has a job. Daniel Pink calls it the “Free Agent Nation,” one in which employers become clients and employees become independent contractors. We’ll need a whole new set of skills when that happens. Times change, and we’ll have to change with them.
Now it’s your turn: Is there anything you’d add to the list? Is any of this advice way off base? I didn’t prioritize the list; what order would you list these in? Let me know in the comments!