#JobActionDay11: Skill Up, Start Up, Speak Up: Expert Tips to Fire Up Your Job Search


This article is part of Job Action Day 2011 [Reinforcing the Job Action Day 2011 “Skill Up, Start Up, Speak Up” message is a groucp of bloggers dedicating blog posts on or around Job Action Day 2011 to the event. Scroll down to see their blog posts listed.] As we prepared for the fourth annual Job Action Day, three themes emerged to characterize the post-recession job market:
  1. A large number of job vacancies go unfilled because of a gap in skills between what employers need and what job-seekers offer.
  2. Workers must become CEOs of their own careers to survive amid the current jobs crisis. That entrepreneurial mindset might translate to starting a business, freelancing, or simply taking a more proactive approach to their own careers.
  3. Job-seekers may want to consider calling attention to the jobs crisis and ask business and government for solutions.

These messages translate to the theme for Job Action Day 2011: Skill Up, Start Up, Speak Up. We’ve compiled tips from authors and experts on this three-fold theme:

Skill Up

Keep developing your skills — constantly. Remaining stagnant can be fatal to your career. Often, after obtaining a college degree or technical certification, you may find it easy to coast through your career. Big mistake! Employers do not “buy” or retain people with “old” knowledge and skills. Here are some suggestions:

  • Seek opportunities within your organization, industry, and community to build your skills, knowledge, experience, and professional networks. Skills, knowledge, experience, and networks are your essential career assets, just like capital assets of a company.
  • Volunteer for projects, committees, and taskforces, especially if they allow you to develop cross-functional skills and knowledge, as well as cross-departmental contacts.
  • Show interest in providing added value to your job role by going beyond the confines of your job description. Stretch out of your comfort zone.
  • Promote your ideas and the ideas of others while collaborating on teams.
  • Invest in leadership development programs and continuing professional development, whether your employer antes up for them or not.
  • Join and become active in professional, trade, and community associations.

Know what the employer needs. Even in a down economy, there are pockets where employers cannot hire fast enough — and have a big deadline to meet. Case in point: There’s currently a huge demand for individuals who know how to work with healthcare billing systems and coding. A federal mandate that all healthcare providers must keep electronic medical records by 2014 has led to a scramble across the U.S. to hire those with the know-how. Want in? Find out where local healthcare facilities are in making the transition, and where you can get training to meet their needs. It’s a perfect example of how you can skill up and get hired!

Let your skills motivate you. The extensive gap between job-seeker skills and employer expectations is a complex problem. Motivation to meet employer’s expectations is one factor in the current gap. Richard L. Knowdell says that workers are motivated by skills they want to use. If there is a mismatch between the skills the worker wants to use and the specific skills an employer requires, what would motivate the job-seeker to get training and experience hor or she would need for the job? The job-seeker might be motivated by external factors such excellent compensation, flexibility, values match, job security, location of interest, or training opportunities. Often employers are not offering the extrinsic incentives that would motivate job-seekers to work at jobs that they don’t value. The lower a person is in what Abraham Maslow would call the hierarchy of needs, the more motivated a person would be to take a job that was not intrinsically motivating. Having affordable opportunities for training in a vocational program, apprenticeship, or college program would further motivate the job-seeker to develop skills to meet the employer’s needs. Creative job-seekers may find entrepreneurship a great opportunity to use and develop skills they value.

Know the hard-to-fill fields in which employers are having the hardest time finding skilled workers. If you have the interest in and aptitude for any of these sectors, you can gain a huge advantage by pursuing appropriate training:

  1. Technicians
  2. Sales reps
  3. Skilled trades
  4. Engineers
  5. Secretaries, personal assistants, administrative assistants, office support staff
  6. Drivers
  7. Production operators
  8. Laborers
  9. Accounting and finance staff
  10. Management/executives

Add value to your career brand and magnetism with five intangible skills. 1) being good at chit chat and small talk, especially at networking events, parties, and company functions; 2) being versatile and a team player who fosters cooperation and camaraderie; 3) being able to articulate your needs and problems as well as compliment and praise others; 4) adaptability and the ability to flow with change; 5) an attitude of positivity that spreads good vibe and energy.

Paint a picture for the hiring decision-maker. Yes you can DO the job, but can you GET the job? Job-acquisition skills are equally as important as the actual job-related skills. Too often candidates rely on their experience or education “speaking for itself.” Having lots of experience doesn’t mean the recruiter can understand specifically HOW you can do this job. Great college coursework isn’t necessarily known outside of the college. Brush up your cover-letter skills. Use your cover letter (yes, some recruiters do read them) to draw clear lines between what the job requirements are and what you offer. And I mean literally. If you are having a tough time showing your skills are transferrable, use a table format in your cover letter. It should look like this:

You requireI offer
A BA degreeA BA degree with 40+ hours of coursework in macro and microeconomics
4 years of client-facing10 years of professional experience as a client relationship manager for a start up software company
Commitment to diversityDemonstrated professional history in diversity trainings
Active participation in college and corporate affinity groups
    — Maureen Crawford Hentz, nationally recognized expert on social networking and new media recruiting — and a long-time favorite contributing expert to Quintessential Careers.

Look to community colleges for skills training. U.S. community colleges have received about $500 million in federal grants intended to improve career-development programs and train a currently unemployable workforce. The chosen colleges will use the money to buy equipment, hire staff, and develop job-training curricula. Each community college to receive a grant will collaborate with at least one employer with job openings. Some examples of the range of programs: At Honolulu Community College, the program focuses on reducing the high percentage of students enrolled in remedial mathematics and English courses. At Tidewater Community College, the Commonwealth of Virginia manufacturing.

Especially look at community colleges that partner with local employers for academic programs tailored to the employers’ needs. “Community colleges in many states, especially North Carolina, have proved to be good partners with employers by tailoring very applied course work to the specific needs of the employer. Candidates qualify to be hired once they complete the courses — which they pay for themselves, at least in part. For instance, a manufacturer might require that prospective job candidates first pass a course on quality control or using certain machine tools.”

Consider skilled trades and the schools that teach them. “88 percent of [DeVry University] October 2010 graduates who are active in the job market found employment in their field of study within six months” at companies like Verizon Wireless, Bank of America, the Department of Homeland Security, and Caterpillar.

Volunteer. “[M]ore employers [are] saying they look at volunteer work in evaluating job candidates. In September, LinkedIn, the professional networking site, added a field for members to list their volunteer work in their profiles, after a survey found that 41 percent of employers said they considered volunteer work as important as paid work, and that 20 percent said they had made a hiring decision based on volunteer work.”

    — John Leland, whose New York Times article, describes a job-seeker who successfully sought volunteer work to give her the hands-on experience she needed to earn a certification that would advance her career.

Be the answer to an employer’s need. One of the easiest ways to land and ace an interview is to know as much as you can about what the employer wants to see. Check out StartWire News to find out what employers are looking for — each week the company conducts an in-depth Q & A interview with recruiting leaders at companies with 1,000 or more employees. You can also find actual interview questions asked by companies at Glassdoor — shared by employees who got the job, as well as interviewees who didn’t. When you know what’s important to the company — and how the hiring process works, it’s easier to land an opportunity.

Mark yourself to market and build your personal brand. “[U]se your skills, experiences and capabilities as personal brand-building assets. Build a portfolio of career-enhancing competencies and experiences by regularly developing new skills that are transferrable from one role to another. Take calculated risks that get you out of your comfort zone; otherwise complacency is sure seep in — a career death knell in a marketplace where time-to-obsolescence is at an all-time low. If you’re hesitant to make such leaps, ask yourself how risky it is not to act at all. Lateral moves, special-project assignments, contributions to initiatives, leadership development programs, and outside-of-work experiences all can be helpful for building your brand. ‘Roles are simply more fungible than traditionally,’ Robyn Denholm, CFO of Juniper Networks, told me. ‘Relevance of skills, experiences, and competencies is what we look for most. We look at potential hires for what the individual can contribute. They each play a role in the organization, but the bounds of the roles are more opaque.’ To succeed in today’s job world, you’ll need to ask yourself a tough question: How well am I doing at acquiring sought-after skills and competencies? If you don’t like the answer, do something about it.”

    — Cathy Benko, vice chairman Deloitte LLP and co-author of The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In the Changing World of Work, on CNBC.com

Start Up

Develop an entirely new mind-set and skill set. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

    — LinkedIn founder Reid Garrett Hoffman, quoted by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

Establish multiple streams of income. Recently during a job-club session I lead, a 50+ job-seeker stood up and advocated a new approach to job search, specifically designed for the boomers in the room. He urged those who are seeking traditional employment (i.e., one job to satisfy you for your encore career) to shift their perspective radically. He said “multiple streams of revenue is the way to go. We need to find alternative ways to make money, and not rely on a single employer to pay a full-time salary and benefits, as we did for so many years.” This job-seeker, “Mark,” makes a very good point, one that savvy entrepreneurs and small-business owners the world over have been trying to capitalize on for some time (with information products, e-books, and other ways to make-money-while-you-sleep). Of course, multple stream of revenue takes a different shape, as the vast majority of traditional job-seekers won’t be penning ebooks to make a living, but the message is profound. Instead of searching for one full-time job to pay the bills, consider the following: one-part time plus another part-time job equals a full-time solution. Multiple part-time ventures — whether a hobby that you monetize, or a small business you decide to launch — may be the key to avoiding putting your financial destiny in someone else’s hands!

    — Laura M. Labovich, MLRHR, job-search makeover coach, and founder of Aspire! Empower! Career Strategy Group

Consider multiple jobs, virtual work, temp work. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines multiple jobholders as people who are either hourly or salary workers who hold two or more jobs; self-employed workers who also hold an hourly or salary job; or unpaid family workers who hold an hourly or salary job as well. Currently official figures indicate that about 5 percent of Americans fit this category. … Over the past decade so many companies have encouraged virtual work that it is almost expected. People are comfortable working with their laptops and smart phones, and have access to Skype accounts and collaborative workspaces. All of these tools make working away from a physical place practical, convenient, and cheap. There is no doubt that this form of employment will grow rapidly and, in my opinion, may make up as much as half the U.S. workforce within a decade as most employers recognize the benefit of allowing workers to be located remotely. … More employers are looking for temporary employees. … Potential employees are not sure they will have a job that lasts and may be happier with one or two temporary jobs that spread out their risk.”

Become a freelancer. Even if you plan to go back to work full-time, taking on freelance work while you are between jobs will keep your skills current, enhance your resume, and expand your network — all while helping you make ends meet. Here’s a quick way to learn about — and pursue — potential freelance opportunities: Conduct informational interviews with organizations you’d like to work with — even if they aren’t hiring. Ask the question: What would you like to do now if you had the staff to be able to take on the additional work? If the need aligns with your skills, express interest in helping out — and offer to develop a proposal if the organization is amenable to freelance work. No money available? You may even want to take on a small project for free. Check out the story and free ebook of Charlie Hoehn, a recent graduate who spent a few months doing volunteer project work, resulting in more paid work opportunities than he could accept — doing work he could not have imagine being able to do otherwise.

Know the areas of greatest freelance opportunity. “While freelancing is a possibility in many industries and professions, the opportunities are most concentrated in the following industries: sales, IT, creative services, marketing and operations.”

Are you a Millennial? Think “project.” “For Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, a ‘new normal’ for work is a landscape where jobs are replaced by projects. In fact, over the past two years, we’ve seen nearly a 250 percent jump in Millennials electing an independent career as either a freelancer or independent consultant. Unlike previous generations, Millennials are making the decision much sooner in their career path to take control of their careers. The story for this generation is one of companies dissecting work into project-based deliverables with clear objectives and measurable results, while workers sell their knowledge in small installments, project by project. … In the new normal, the skills you possess are much more important than who you know or the politics of the organization. Focus on developing your strengths and your particular skill set to rise to the top of your independent career. Be the go-to expert for the area of work you choose.”

Cultivate face-to-face connections. “Interviews with historians and Depression-era job seekers suggest that the formula for finding work hasn’t changed much. Then, as now, those who relentlessly work at making personal connections have better luck landing jobs. A growing body of research is showing how today’s job-seekers are often getting it wrong. Able to communicate with prospective employers around the globe, they are firing off resumes by the hundreds, trying to make far-flung electronic connections before focusing on their closest, physical-world relationships.”

    — Joe Light, who cites examples of job-seeker success during the Depression gained by knocking on doors and making personal connections in his Wall Street Journal article, Job-Hunt Tips from Depression-Era Playbook

Actively pursue opportunities to hone the skills that employers consider most important but least common. Leadership courses, which tend to stress skills like communication and problem-solving, are excellent growth vehicles for any job-seeker. Stretch assignments or job rotations in a current company or volunteer roles in a nonprofit organization may also be viable alternatives. To be systematic about skill acquisition, job-seekers should work with a boss or senior mentor to set concrete and time-bound goals for mastery. Job-seekers can also position themselves to take advantage of wide-open upper-level opportunities by showcasing leadership experience, either in a previous job or volunteer role, and by regularly interacting with senior-level advisers who can advise them on what the market — and even specific organizations — are looking for in their leaders.

    — Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success

Don’t put all your career eggs in one basket. The instability of our current economy requires rethinking the conventional. The fluctuation in the stock market, the steady downsizing of businesses, the hesitancy of businesses to add new employees means we can’t rely and depend upon a single employer to provide us with a salary and benefits and everything else we need for a financially and emotionally secure career. Today, invest in other entrepreneurial options: consulting projects, selling goods online, speaking, or even taking on part-time work you would love doing. These are ways we can diversify our career portfolio, safeguard our income stream and feel more in control.

“Maximize your options by actively seeking out opportunities across your organization — not just waiting for upward moves. Companies have fewer layers than before; they are 25 percent flatter on average, with commensurately fewer career levels and tiers. Also, consider lateral and diagonal moves that allow you to acquire additional skills and gain new experiences. Understanding how to navigate in today’s lattice-like environment will help you now and at every career step ahead. Taking on opportunities across your organization will expand your networks in all directions, not just up/down but sideways too, opening multiple career-path options. ‘In the new organization, with each new job, you want to build up a collection of deep capabilities so that…. you’re much better prepared,’ Matthew Burkley, former CFO of Thomson Reuters’ Sales and Trading division, told me. Ask yourself: What actions can I take to create more alternative futures for me — and greater value for my organization? And remember that expanding the ways you provide value to your organization will offer you more options, both inside and outside its walls. And Burkley should know — he’s just taking over the CEO reins of a company that provides financial data for the energy industry.”

    — Cathy Benko, vice chairman Deloitte LLP and co-author of The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In the Changing World of Work, on CNBC.com

Develop startup skills. “In our chaotic, unpredictable economy, even young people who have no interest in starting a business, and who want to become professionals, still need to learn the entrepreneurial skills that will allow them to get ahead.”

Create your own opportunity. “[The current economic] peril is also a fantastic opportunity, approached in the right way. Both recent graduates and mid-careerists are coming to realize that you can’t simply expect to get a job anymore. You have to make one for yourself. … Becoming independent and successful requires an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to patch together multiple part-time opportunities, the persistence to volunteer in an organization you admire in hopes of turning it into a real job, or the courage to launch your own venture. This new world is both uncertain and exhilarating. The likelihood of failure is high: Half of all startups fail in five years, and of those that succeed, very few become Facebook or Apple. Independence is financially risky and exhausting, as anyone who has cobbled together gigs or tried to open a coffee shop can tell you. But it also offers the prospect of personal freedom and wealth, the certain liberation from career dreariness, and the thrill of risk-taking. The recession may have savaged the job prospects of millions of Americans, but it has also caused a surge of entrepreneurship: The rate of startup creation is the highest it has been in 15 years.”

    — David Plotz of Slate/The Hive, which is “gathering, sharing, and highlighting your best ideas and stories about how to make (or remake) an independent working life in a time of economic uncertainty.”

Be prepared to add value. “Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot, or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyperconnected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.”

Speak up

Know where you stand in the applicant pool. One of the worst aspects of the job-search process is feeling as though you’ve landed in the job application black hole: Ever applied for a job and never heard back? It’s a common experience. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do today to get better feedback: send an @reply to a company recruiter on Twitter, drop a note on a Facebook page — when they know it’s public, they have more impetus to respond. You can also pick up the phone and ask the hiring manager for feedback, or sign up to receive automatic updates on your job-application status from StartWire, which provide updates for more than 5,600 companies. However you decide to follow-up, speak up! Because who wants to sit and wait for the phone ring — there’s no need to feel powerless.

Work toward a support system for independent workers. “Freelancing — once a euphemism for unemployment — has grown to be a dominant force in the economy, with 42 million independent workers (more than the total number of autoworkers, teachers, and doctors combined) driving the U.S. economy. Entrepreneurial organizations are figuring it out by developing market-oriented models that build collective solutions to society’s problems. … We believe that this phenomenon, which we’re calling ‘new mutualism’, is not just a fad. Rather it’s the beginning of a movement that relies on sustainable, community-driven solutions to solve seemingly intractable problems. … Underpinning the philosophy of new mutualism is the belief that political and economic life flourishes in social networks, and that social change requires individuals to shift their thinking from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ At the core of this new movement is a culture of interdependence, mutual support, and affinity, with building sustainability, rather than maximizing short-term profit, as a goal. That’s why we’re working with our members to build a new social support system that makes sense now and two generations from now.”

    — Freelancers Union

Raise awareness of solutions that aren’t college-centric. “It’s time that we as a nation accepted a basic — and seldom-mentioned — fact. You don’t need a degree (and certainly not an MBA) to start a business and create jobs, nor is it even that helpful, compared with cheaper, faster alternatives. Parents could turn the system on its head if they weren’t so caught up in outmoded mentalities about education forged in the stable economy of the 1950s (but profoundly misguided in today’s chaotic, entrepreneurial economy). Employers could alter this landscape if they explicitly offered routes to employment for those who didn’t get a degree because they were out building businesses. And the government could divert some of the money it now spends encouraging college for all, and instead promote the idea that creating a start-up is a worthy, respectable alternative to academics. This would go a long way to helping our unemployment problem.”

Encourage local governments to focus on jobs. “Have your whole city wage a war for jobs. Everybody in charge of anything needs to focus on job creation. If they divert their attention, vote them out. … But not just any job will do — you want good jobs. The jobs war is won by knowledge jobs. Aim everything at those. The global economy is moving to the knowledge worker. You can build a slaughterhouse in your city, but that can’t be the leading job strategy. Good jobs are created by entrepreneurs working with innovators creating a winning business model. The jobs war is what should get city leaders up in the morning, what they should work on all day, and what should keep them from getting to sleep at night. … To reenergize, to strike lightning on your city’s GDP growth, its brain gain, its quality job creation, its vitality, and its future prosperity, don’t expect national answers. ‘Everything is local’ is truer regarding job creation than anything else. You have to jumpstart your city yourself.”

Put your money where your mouth is. Starbucks is teaming up with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), a group of community lending institutions set up to provide financing to community businesses that need help. 100 percent of each donation will help create and sustain jobs in underserved communities. To launch this project, the Starbucks Foundation is donating the first $5 million. Donors get a wristband to wear as a symbol of support.

Contact news-media outlets to ask for more coverage of the jobs crisis. “If only there were as many reporters eager to report from the multiple scenes of our jobs