Category Archives: Job seekers

Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting My Career

Reading 20 Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting Out in Life by Leo Babauta inspired me to take a look back to twenties and starting to write. However, rather than referring to all the aspects of my life, I narrowed it down to my career.

I made my share of mistakes and I learned some lessons the hard way. There are some things that I wish I had known since my first year in University. Why then? Because I would have had time to get better prepared for the “real world”, prepared to become a “grownup”.

In my opinion, the contact with the real world comes for many of us only after graduating University. This is the moment when we are expected to be on our own, when we learn that the years of study grant you neither a good salary nor a job.

There are many things I wish I had known back then, but I listed below the things which may also apply to others who found themselves passing trough that stage. Would I had listened or followed this advice then…. I don’t know.

These are the main things I would tell myself if I could send a note to the 18 year old me:

  1. There is no such thing as the perfect job! Learn what things are the most important for you to find in a job and focus on those when appraising your current/potential job. Maybe you cannot figure it out from the start. It’s OK. Just keep learning about yourself. What makes you enter the state of flow? What makes a good day to be considered one? Every job has its downsides. What really matters it’s for the upsides to contain those factors you identified as being of high importance to you.
  2. Read more! Time spent on watching TV is a huge waste of time. Try reading instead. There are so many lessons to be learned out there! I don’t mean reading only books/articles on the field you study/would like to have a career in, but also those which challenges your thinking and imagination, helping your personal development.
  3. Find out what is happening in the real life! Translate this into getting more information regarding your possible/probable career path. Try to answer some questions:  Do you have a long term career goal? What about a short-term one? What job could you get after graduating from university? What would be the following step? Do you really know what that first job and your chosen career involve? Some things that could help you answering these questions: read blogs of those already in that sector, find job descriptions and job ads, try to meet and discuss with people already working in that field, ask them what they do, what you should know to do, etc.
  4. Get an early start! Maybe you can afford not having a job during college, but go get one anyway.  Not only does every experience represent an opportunity to learn, but experiencing with jobs during college could bring you a better understanding of your skills and motivation and get you prepared for the grownup world.
  5. Go for a new opportunity instead of leaving a job you dislike. Whilst the grass always seems greener on the other side, it may be just an illusion caused by you focusing mainly on the things that appear unbearable in your current situation.  Don’t make decisions based on a negative motivation, but on a positive one. What I suggest you to do: take a deep breath, clear you mind of frustration and put down all the good aspects of your current job and future opportunities that are likely to occur. Now evaluate whether the new job you were offered is a genuine opportunity for you or not.
  6. Use reason when considering a job offer. All things mentioned above apply. Furthermore, at this age, you tend to be impulsive and make decisions based on superficial and emotional factors and make less use of reason than necessary. I know that things may sound great sometimes, but don’t believe everything you are told and also listen to the opinions you don’t like to hear. Make use of your own brain: decode messages, facts and thoroughly analyze what you are offered.
  7. Asking what could you earn from a job in terms of knowledge (not cash!) helped you at the beginning of you career. Don’t change that!
  8. Keep learning! Try to learn as much as you can from your experiences. Whether you have failed or succeeded, there is something to learn form that. You may think that learning by doing things is enough and you may expect for others to teach you things. Conversely, you could take responsibility for your own personal and professional development and actively search for opportunities and sources to learn from. The latter is the approach I recommend. Be informed and updated on what is happening in your field: read books, blogs, engage in discussions with people you can learn from.

I would like to conclude this post by quoting the one that inspired me to write it:

All these mistakes you’re going to make, despite this advice? They’re worth it. My 18-year-old self would probably have read this post and said, “Good advice!” And then he would have proceeded to make the same mistakes, despite good intentions. I was a good kid, but I wasn’t good at following advice. I had to make my own mistakes, and live my own life. And that’s what I did, and I don’t regret a minute of it. Every experience I’ve had (even the tequila ones) have led me down the path of life to where I am today. I love where I am today, and wouldn’t trade it for another life for all the world.

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Why did you apply for this job? (II)

It might look like a simple question, but only a few of the candidates can answer it in an appropriate manner. Thus this question is not usually addressed in this form; the recruiter needs to have it answered and, needless to say, the answer has a significant impact on the final result of your interview.

Hopefully, I will not disappoint you by saying that “because I need a job” or “because I need money” is not the best answer you could give. On contrary, these may be in the top of the worst answers.

When you apply for a job we may assume that:

  1. You consider you are suitable for that job
  2. You are interested in that job

Consequently, the one question mentioned in the title can be translated in two more specific questions:

  • How would you relate your key competencies to this position?
  • What motivates you to apply for this job/company/ industry?

In order to be prepared to answer, firstly perform a self assessment. This helps you to identify your strengths and apply for jobs where those will be best valued. Read carefully the job ad and apply only when you meet the mandatory requirements and you consider your strengths relevant for that job.

Secondly, conduct a brief research on the company you are applying for and identify what motivates your interest. It could be the industry, the company’s position on the market, its values, quality of services, strategy and so on. Find out what would be that thing that could make you choose that job in that  company from another job in another company.

Relate these findings with your self assessment results and build strong arguments to support your interest. Try to avoid clichés. It’s highly probable we heard them before. All we want to know it is that you did your research and analyzed the findings from your own perspective. As I already mentioned in a previous post: if one can’t spend some time to prepare for an interview then he/she does not deserve the job.

Please note that having these questions answered not only helps you during the interview, but it also can get you the interview. How? Find the answers before applying for a job and start building your cover letter around them.

Now, get ready to apply for the next job!

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Questions You Should Ask during a Job Interview

Unfortunately, many candidates see the job interview more like an inquiry than a discussion between equals. Consequently, they don’t ask any questions, assuming that their role is to answer questions and hopefully, get the job. This being the case, how can you be sure you actually want that job?

On the other hand, If I were to rephrase it from the recruiter’s perspective, several doubts can appear concerning your situation: “How could this candidate have a genuine interest on this job if he is not interested in finding out more about it?” or “If this candidate makes a decision regarding his career based mostly on assumptions, what other decisions does he make in the same way?” and so on.

Not only are you entitled to ask questions, but you are highly expected to do so. Asking questions helps you perform a more accurate appraisal of this job opportunity.

When the recruiter asks “Do you have any questions”, it’s high time for you to address them. Nevertheless, note that not any question puts you in a good light. Asking a question such as “what exactly does your company do?” puts you on the bottom of the list instantly. Before a job interview, it is mandatory for you to prepare. If one cannot spend thirty minutes preparing for an interview, he does not deserve the job.

You should also pay attention to what the interviewer says during your meeting. It’s needles to mention that asking a question already answered labels you as “not engaged in the conversation”. Nonetheless you can ask for clarification on certain issues.

You can find bellow 15 questions suggestions for questions you could ask in order to have a clearer sense of what having that job involves. Those can help you in building your own questions list, based on what it is important for you to know about your (probably) next job.

  1. What are the company’s values? How are they translated into actions? (Translate to yourself as „are those only on paper?”)
  2. How would you define your organizational culture?
  3. Can you help me understand your performance appraisal system? (When is your performance going to be appraised? By whom? On which criteria?)
  4. What is the average time an employee spends in a certain position? What are the opportunities for development?
  5. What are the traits and the skills of people who are the most successful within the organization?
  6. What are the opportunities for training? Does the organization support ongoing training for employees to stay up to date in their fields?
  7. What are the challenges this department (the one you are interviewing for) is facing?
  8. What is the structure of the department?
  9. How is this department perceived within the organization?
  10. What are the departments I would collaborate with in that position? How would you define the collaboration between this department and others?
  11. Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?
  12. How do you see the ideal candidate for this position?
  13. When top performers leave the company why do they do it?
  14. What should be the top priority of the person who accepts this job?
  15. Do you have an onboarding programme? What does it involves?

Note that the more senior the position you are seeking, the more important it is to ask specific questions regarding the business strategy, present/future challenges, plans, development and so on. Connect interviewer’s answers with your previous experience and summarize how you had successfully coped with a similar situation.

Important: Unless you understand how its answer helps you, don’t ask a question. Don’t ask questions just because you are expected to.

To make a long story short: leave the interview with a clear image of the factors impacting your potential job both on short and long term.

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Employability self-assessment

In my previous blog post I raised the issue of employability. Whether you are happy with your employer or you feel it’s high time for you to make a change in your career, I recommend you to evaluate and maintain it. Note that in tough economic times it’s crucial to adapt to them and stand out of the crowd.

In order to assess your employability you should proceed to analyze both the context and your particular situation.

The context:

Assuming that you are not a psychic and you accept that you can’t predict the future, I suggest you to try PEST analysis. This is a way of trying to understand and asses the most likely future developments and trends in your industry sector.

PEST analysis takes into consideration several factors that influence the current state and possible changes of your sector and workplace: political, economic, social, technological.  Understanding these factors can give you a clearer image of what is happening to your company and industry sector and, trough that, a clearer understanding of your situation in the workplace.

  • Political factors – Take into consideration issues such as: political stability, government’s policy on economy, changes in legislation, EU requirements that must be met during the next period, etc. The political arena has a powerful influence on businesses regulation and spending power of both other businesses and consumers.
  • Economic factors –Take into consideration: interest rates, exchange rates, inflation rates, economic growth. The impact these factors have on how businesses operate and make decisions can be easily seen trough the major changes caused by the current economic crisis.
  • Social trends – Include: career attitudes, age distribution, attitude towards the social services, financial system, consumer habits etc.
  • Technological factors – Can determine the minimum efficient productivity level and influence outsourcing decisions. Technology is vital for competitive advantage, and it’s a major driver of globalization.

After completing the analysis, try to answer some questions:

  • What changes have occurred or are likely to occur in your job function’s role?
  • What are the threats and opportunities you identified for your company/sector? How could these impact your job role?
  • What changes have occurred and what is the trend of the workforce market in your sector?
  • What are the actions you should take in order to be prepared for these changes?

Now that you have a clearer sense of what is happening around you, take a good look at yourself and your particular situation. In order to find out where you are and where you should be heading, try a SWOT analysis. This is a breakdown of your strengths and weaknesses combined with the opportunities and threats of your particular situation.

Strengths and weaknesses refer to your competencies (your inner qualities) whilst the threats and opportunities refer to the external environment in which you operate.

It’s high time for you to be completely honest with yourself.  Unless you openly and honestly appraise your own strengths and weaknesses and consider the situation you find yourself in, this analysis will be a waste of time.

Take some time to think and find solid arguments for everything you write in your SWOT. Think about more aspects of your life as a professional. E.g.: Ask yourself what are your strengths and weaknesses as: a coworker, a team member, a partner, a manager, a leader, a subordinate etc.

After you devised this, try to find trusted and qualified people to provide you with a feedback on it. Choose people who will give you an honest feedback and whose opinion you trust and value on those specific issues.

Answer yourself the next few questions and use the answers to build an action plan of your future development.

  • In which job role would your strengths be mostly valued? What would be the impact of your weaknesses?
  • Is the job that best fits you also the one that motivates you?
  • How many of your competencies identified as strengths are transferable to a new job?
  • What weaknesses mostly affect your current job?
  • What could you do to diminish your weaknesses?
  • What are you planning to do to make the most of the identified opportunities?
  • How could you transform the threats in opportunities for development?

Now that you have a better image of both your competencies and workforce market needs, you can also start building your personal brand.

Piece of advice: periodically update your PEST and SWOT in order to keep an accurate image on your employability and development.

LE: If you are intrerested in employability self- assesment and you want to know more about this, I recommend you to read: Teach Yourself Getting a Better Job by Roderic Ashley.

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Why did you apply for this job?

As unemployment continues to grow while companies cut their costs and look for more ways to save during this time of need, the job seekers seem to be more indiscriminate when applying for a job than ever. Consequently, employers are flooded with hundreds of applications for any position available.

Facts:

  • A number of candidates apply for two different positions in the same company. (different departments, different competencies and level of experience required)
  • The number of applications received for a position is three times higher than last year (same position).
  • A requirement specified as mandatory in the job ad is met by only 25% of the applicants.
  • A significant percentage of the candidates are overqualified for the job.

Advice:

  • It is not the number of jobs you apply for that will provide results. Results don’t come proportionate to the number of applications you send in, they are much rather brought on by a careful choice, made by taking into consideration your own motivation and competence.
  • When the recruiter writes “mandatory” in a job ad, surprisingly enough, that is actually what he/she means! When a requirement is mandatory, and you don’t meet it, don’t apply for that job. It shows disrespect for the recruiter.
  • Don’t apply for two very different positions at the same company. In this case it’s easy for the recruiter to conclude that you don’t know what you want.
  • Keep in mind: Most of the times the recruiter will reject obviously overqualified candidates. (An overqualified employee doesn’t find challenge in his/her job, gets bored, or even frustrated and will go for a new and better opportunity as soon as it presents itself. If you are overqualified, but you really want that job, tell us why in your cover letter.

Remember that we want you to want this job in this company, not a job in a company.

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Job Searching through LinkedIn

It’s true that if you aren’t willing to spend a certain amount of time on social networking, LinkedIn may not prove efficient for you. It’s not a solution for finding a job tomorrow, but it is a valuable tool in building your brand as a professional.

Firstly you should clearly define what your objective is, in order to build your image accordingly.

1. Have your profile completed (if you haven’t used LinkedIn before, you can check this first):

  • Write a summary This not only provides the recruiter with an overview of your expertise and motivation, but it is also helpful for keyword searches.
  • Include all relevant experience for your area of expertise. It helps you to get connected with /recommended by your past coworkers, managers, business partners and so on. It also helps me, as a recruiter, to learn more about your career path.
  • Include a link for other sources where we can find relevant information about you (professionally speaking) e.g.: online portfolio, twitter etc.
  • If you have a professional blog, use “Blog Link” to connect it with your profile. You can also take a look at the other applications.

2. Get connected – to all the people you know in your industry. Having your profile completed helps a lot.  Useful advice can be found here.

3. Now your profile provides necessary information about you. The next step is to increase your visibility.

NB: getting noticed is not similar to spamming people

Join groups – it increases your visibility and also allows you to contact the members directly. It’s not the number of groups that makes the difference; it’s their relevance to your objective and the added value you bring in. To this effect, here are some criteria to help you in your choices:

  • What is this group based around: professional interest/former employers / alumni associations
  • members from your geographical area (or area of interest)
  • active groups

Add value to those groups. As I previously mentioned, just being there is not enough. Neither is starting discussions titled such as “I am looking for a career change”. Not only is this not enough, but it is not recommended. If you want to emphasize that you are looking for a career change, try starting a discussion on the request of workforce in your area of interest thus share your experience and expectations.

Remember that the most important thing is to get involved: answer the questions, provide consultancy/advice, argument your opinion on the different issues raised. This is the best way to prove your expertise and get noticed.

Answers: if you haven’t found it yet, LinkedIn also has a Q&A section. You can get noticed by answering questions addressed in your area of expertise. You can also ask a question and start a debate on a specific professional topic.

4. Visit the Jobs section. Job posting on LinkedIn is not frequently used by companies in Romania. Nevertheless you can keep an eye on it. There are a few multinational companies that post openings from time to time. Furthermore, the tool provides a better experience for both job seekers and recruiters than regular job boards do.

5. Be active and respond to your connections requests (introduction, reference, expertise requests etc.). Don’t be selfish. Networking is not only about you and your needs. It’s give and take, it goes both ways.

6. It’s time for you to actually start job hunting. In order to do this, you should aim for getting connected with:

  • recruiters working in consultancy companies covering your area of expertise;
  • hiring managers and recruiters working in the companies you would like to work for;
  • opinion leaders in your industry;

When you arrive at this point it is crucial to comply with the existing etiquette in asking for an introduction. For example, when someone asks me for an introduction and they fail to provide a reason for the recipient to accept it, I don’t forward it. Why? Because I respect the people I am connected with and I don’t want them to waste their time. If, however, you show respect for me and the recipient, by reasoning your request, I would gladly help you.

The main thing you should keep in mind about social networks is that you interact with people. Either online or offline it’s still about building relationships.

LE: useful advice on “6 Top LinkedIn Tools“.

LE 2: How to master the skill of networking in your job search

LE 3: Free webinar Recruiters are all over LinkedIn. How to ensure they find you first.

LE 4: How to Use Linkedin to get the Job You Want

LE 5: 6 Reasons Why LinkedIn Is So Critical In A Job Search

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The cover letter

Fact: in the last days I received over 200 applications for an entry level position. Guess what? About 90% of the candidates did not send a cover letter. The other 10% send cover letters, but none was what I call “a good cover letter”

Guys, the cover letter does make a difference!!!

Please read this and this in order to understand why and how you should write a cover letter.

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