Standing out in a crowded job market

Job hunting isn’t always an easy road. It can be hard to be noticed if you’re an immigrant or a mum returning to work, if you’re looking for your first job, making a career change, or many other situations that make your search more of a challenge.

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of success. By learning how to stand out in a crowded market, you can build more meaningful relationships and get noticed.

Here are some tips.

1) Build great relationships with recruiters

You often have to impress a recruiter before you get noticed by a potential employer. Try to build positive relationships with recruiters so they put you forward for great jobs.

Recruiters are busy people and may take some time to get back to you. Don’t be afraid to follow up, but take care not to irritate them; be friendly and polite whether communicating via phone, email, or in person.

2) Apply for jobs that match your skills

When you’re keen to get noticed, it can be tempting to send out hundreds of CVs every month and apply for every job in your industry but this approach can overwhelm recruiters and be a waste of your and their time.

Instead, be selective. Apply for jobs where your skills and strengths can shine. You’re more likely to stand out if you’re a good fit for the role advertised.

3) Reflect and improve

Take a fresh look at your CV, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Make sure these documents have evolved with your job search and experience.

For more tips on improving your CV, check out my article ‘What does your CV say about you?’

4) Be specific about what you want

Figure out what type of job you want and tell everyone in your network: “I’m looking for X position with X type of company”. The more specific you are, the easier people will find it to help you (including recruiters).

5) Leverage your LinkedIn profile

Are you using your LinkedIn profile to your full advantage? Review your profile to ensure it gives just enough information to pique interest without being overwhelming.

You can also use LinkedIn to share blog posts and articles, interact with former colleagues, and grow your network.

Many employers post jobs on LinkedIn – just make sure you follow their instructions if you want to apply. Never comment with “check my profile” and leave it at that; it’s likely that the recruiter or employer is much too busy to check out individual profiles. It’s much better if you make contact in the way they’ve asked, or submit a tailored application.

For more advice for upping your LinkedIn game, check out my post “Does your LinkedIn profile reflect your awesomeness?”

6) Take care of your best asset: you!

It’s demoralising when you get rejected or don’t even hear back from employers. Persevere, but also take care of yourself. Remind yourself that you’re building resilience and that you’ve done hard things before and you can do them again. And when you’re feeling blue, check in with someone who will be your champion and keep you clear-headed and motivated.

7) Seek career advice

People come to me for career advice when a traditional job search isn’t working for them, when they don’t quite “fit”. My clients include new immigrants, mothers returning to work, people changing career direction, and graduates looking for their first role. They all say how tough it is to be rejected or ignored over and over again.

I’m inspired by how they keep trying, how they adapt and work at it, and how they don’t give up hope. And then there’s the moment when they tell me how they have an offer – that someone has finally seen their value and wants to hire them. It’s the best. Remember the Fresh Prince and how Carlton does the happy dance? That’s how I feel when one of my clients gets a nice role!

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here’s Carlton doing the happy dance 🙂

Talking about your value at work

Talking about yourself at work isn’t easy, especially if you’re from a culture where this might be perceived as boasting, arrogant or self-involved. I’m looking at you, New Zealand!

Long ago, I heard the comedian Oscar Kightley tell a joke that perfectly captures New Zealand’s “tall poppy” culture. Apologies to Oscar if I mess up his joke but here goes…

“A distinguished professor is at a ceremony to accept an award for creating a pill that cures not only the common cold but all major diseases. In his speech he talks about his long career and the hard work he put in and he says how proud he is to have made so many people healthy and happy. The audience erupts in applause. A Kiwi turns to the guy next to him and says, ‘He’s a bit up himself, ay!'”

We laugh at the exaggerated story because it pokes fun at our tendency to expect people to be humble even when it’s perfectly justified for them to talk about their achievements. And we know that we don’t want to be the person seen as boastful or with an inflated sense of self-importance. It feels uncomfortable talking about our achievements and avoid it so that we don’t feel the sting of other people’s judgement.

But should this stop you from speaking up? You might think that if someone wants to know about you, they’ll ask. In reality, most people are probably too busy worrying about themselves to notice if you have done something amazing!

It’s up to you to share your story.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to promote and sell yourself, to grow and progress, to make your contribution.

You have value to offer your team, your employers, and your wider community. 

Stop for a second and think of your value – your talents and skills and contribution.

The gremlins that want you to stop you speaking up are strong, but you can outwit them. Here are a few ways to identify and celebrate your value:

  • Reflect on past achievements – big and small
  • Re-read references, testimonials and positive feedback
  • Make a list of everything you do that helps others
  • Think of the technical skills you’ve learnt, and the personal attributes and experience you bring to your team, your employer and the wider community

Your value is your currency. It buys you trust, respect, and confidence.

Being shy about your value won’t help you land that new opportunity, dream job or exciting promotion. If you want to be trusted with new responsibilities, you need to be able to share your strengths.

If you don’t speak up, someone else might. They might get that promotion or opportunity – simply because they were willing to speak about themselves. Let people know that you’re keen and willing, or you could risk being overlooked.

Tips for talking about yourself with clarity and confidence

  • If you’re anxious about appearing conceited or arrogant, this is a good sign that you’re not. The fact you don’t want to be seen as selfish shows you’re considering other people’s feelings and contribution.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself: “What’s my intent?” If you intend to make other people feel inferior or envious, then you are being arrogant.
  • Get evidence. Find someone who will be honest with you and ask them if you’re coming across as conceited. And also ask if they think you’re doing enough to let people know what you have to offer.
  • Check your facts. Don’t speak from opinion; be specific. Use facts and figures to draw attention to ways you’ve made a tangible difference.
  • If you don’t say something, people may not know. Talking about yourself is like advertising. If you have a wonderful product but people can only find out about it by chance, you won’t make many sales.
  • Be clear. Give other people the right words to use to advocate for you.
  • Be honest. You know what it’s like to listen to someone downplay their achievements. False modesty is irritating so own your worth.
  • Acknowledge other people in your team. Does this achievement only belong to you or were there people who helped you along the way?
  • Share your journey. Say why you’re proud. Most things that make us feel valued have required hard work. So talk about the challenges you overcame to get to where you are today. It’s the difference between: “I said I would win top salesperson and I did,” and “Getting to this point has been a goal of mine and even though it’s taken a lot of time and hard work I’m proud that I persevered.”
  • Describe your accomplishments in your boss’s words. Saying “the Delivery Manager said my suggestions made a big improvement,” comes across better than “I always come up with the best ideas”.
  • Boast! Sometimes we don’t know how something feels unless we actually do it, so try a full on bragging session – to someone you know, or to yourself. Say everything out loud, in the most arrogant way you can. Then reflect. How did that make you feel and how was it different to clearly and honestly stating your achievements? Taking an extreme view can help you find the right balance.

As with everything, talking about your value gets easier with practice. Over time, the voice in your head that says “what might people think of me?” will be replaced with “what do people need to know about me?”.

Don’t leave it to chance. If you have skills and strengths to offer, then you owe it to yourself (and others!) to share your story.

Switching on to real life

SwitchingOnThe holiday season is a great opportunity to take a ‘digital detox’ and enjoy some time away from screens, smartphones and social media.

I love being ‘digital’. I love that my phone gives me email, social media, communications and a camera all in one small device. But technology often consumes many of the valuable hours I have left after I’m done with work, chores and other must-dos.

I find I am more content when I make a conscious effort to unplug every now and then. Over the holidays I try to make it a daily practice to minimise digital distractions. This helps me feel rested, recharged and ready to get back to work when the time comes.

And the best part? Embarking on a digital detox isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are some tips to help you switch off this summer.

  • Do more of what fills you up. Try not to think of a digital detox as a sacrifice, but instead as a way of creating more space for the things you love. Read a book. Go for a walk in the sunshine. Listen to music or podcasts. Spend a few hours on your hobbies. Be lazy. Daydream.
  • Teach people you aren’t on call. It’s okay not to reply to emails, texts or calls immediately. You’ll be able to give people the full attention they deserve if you’ve taken some time to rest and focus on what makes you happy.
  • Turn off notifications for all your apps. The sound of a new Facebook message or tweet can be incredibly distracting. A good way to focus on the present moment is to switch off all notifications. Everything will still be there the next time you choose to log in – what’s the worst that could happen? Turn off your notifications for just 1 week and see how it goes. If it’s made things harder for you just turn them on again!
  • Avoid screen time before bed. Do your best not to look at your phone, laptop, television or any other screen within an hour of your bed time. The light on phones and tablets tells your brain it’s time to wake up and can  affect your sleeping patterns.
  • Take back control of your time. Checking your phone every five minutes is often an unconscious – not to mention distracting – habit. The good news is, like all habits, it can be undone. Take some time to switch off the things that chew up your time and switch on to everything else.
  • Be present. Look up and look out from screens. Notice the world around. Interact with people you love. Be present with your family and friends – listen to them, laugh and build great memories. These are the moments that will give you the energy you need to be successful and happy.

When I’m old and grey, I won’t remember all the Twitter likes, but I will remember that time my brother and I were laughing so hard that we both ended up collapsed on the floor, trying to breathe. I’ll remember time with family, hanging out with friends, having fun, being absorbed in hobbies, or just time off relaxing or enjoying nature.

Invite more of these moments into your life by taking the time to switch off. Even an hour a day can make a huge difference. All of the notifications, emails and funny memes will still be there when you’re ready to reconnect.  But you’ll be reconnecting on your terms.

Have a wonderful, restful holiday season.

Soft Skills for people in Tech

Think of the work skills you most want to learn or improve.

Are there any soft skills on your list?

Most people are able to think of a long list of technical skills they want but what about soft skills? What about any of the things I include under the banner of soft skills such as social skills, attitudes, habits, and techniques. Soft skills isn’t just ‘communication’!

All of your soft skills, attitudes etc go hand-in-hand with your technical skills to help you do well at work. And while they’re called “soft” they can often feel like the hardest skills to learn. The good news is that they can be learnt.

Here are some soft skills that I think could be useful for people who work in Tech. They’re split into:
– personal skills,
– skills that relate to working with others, and
– skills that impact the wider community.

(Click here for a downloadable PDF)
Soft Skills for Tech Jobs - image

By using those three categories I aim to make the distinction between skills you can work on by yourself, and ones where you can only improve by interacting with others (sometimes with people in direct contact, and sometimes people you don’t know). Much of being valuable and employable is driven by skills in the second two columns where you’re working in teams and helping others to succeed.

Of course you don’t need to master all of these skills. You do just fine at work without having all possible technical skills, and the same applies to soft skills.

I use this list as a prompt. I find it useful to reflect on the items and see where I could improve. This list may not work for you. Here are some ways you can get ideas for your own list of soft skills:

  • Look at people you admire and see what skills they use.
  • Search Google for ideas.
  • Note what skills are listed in job ads or articles about your industry.
  • Ask colleagues or friends what works for them.

Pick out a few from your list and create your own ‘soft skills backlog’. Think of small steps you could take to become more competent in these areas. Commit to taking action. See what works or doesn’t. You may find that improving your soft skills is easier than you think, and that these skills make more of a difference than you expect.

The next time you’re thinking of ways you could be more skilled, remember the importance of soft skills.

Small steps to build your self-confidence

Do you sometimes feel anxiety, fear or low self-confidence in the workplace? I’ll let you in on a little secret: most people do.

We all have an inner voice of self-doubt that tells us we can’t do something, or that we might fail. It’s part of being human.

But that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. Most of the time this voice is ruled by fear and should therefore be gently acknowledged, and then firmly ignored.

Self-confidence is about living beyond fear.

Think of some of the things that make you feel vulnerable or anxious at work. Some common examples include asking for a promotion or a pay rise, delivering a presentation or dealing with conflict.

Now think about the one thing all these challenges have in common: fear.

The best way to improve your self-confidence at work is to employ techniques to overcome your fears, so you can act with purpose and clarity as opposed to anxiety.

I’m not suggesting that this is easy, or that it will happen overnight, but remember: small steps can reap big rewards. I believe we can all overcome our fears if we are kind to ourselves along the way.

Try small things until you feel more confident.

Some people overcome their fear of heights by parachuting out of a plane. While this ‘quick fix’ has been known to work for some, I’d suggest a gentler, more long-term strategy for improving self-confidence in the workplace.

You don’t have to walk straight up to your boss and tell him you want a pay rise! Or deliver an impromptu presentation to a large group of people, just to test your fears.

Instead you can try small things each day or each week, and see what helps you personally to feel more confident and centred.

Here are some tried and tested strategies for success:

  • Be kind to others: Support and appreciate their work. This is great for your own soul and happiness, and your colleagues will notice you for all the right reasons.
  • Be kind to yourself: Listen out for compliments and record them in a notebook so you can refer back to them on tough days. Make note of your achievements and the things that make you feel proud of your work. Celebrating what you are good at is so important.
  • Be open: Talk to trusted colleagues about your own fears and ask them what areas they struggle with. You might be surprised – most people aren’t as confident as you think.
  • Be curious: Ask for feedback about your work and look for opportunities to learn. Show that you are willing to improve and grow. This will help you make a good impression as well as discover what people already appreciate about you.

These are just some of the ways you can make small adjustments to your confidence. Remember, self-confidence isn’t about being the loudest or the brightest; it’s about awakening your calm inner strength. It’s amazing how much we can flourish when we be kind to ourselves and others.

Can recruiters find you, and will they like what they find?

I recently attended an IT recruitment conference that had speakers from many successful and fast-growing companies. The event was about how to attract, recruit and retain IT professionals.

Companies operating in the IT/tech/digitech space are well aware of how hard it is to find good people to fill their vacancies. Presenters at the conference spoke about new methods they’re using to help them with this task.

How companies and recruiters find candidates.

The most common ways for recruiters (in-house or at agencies) to find candidates are:

  • Place an ad on an online job board or on a company’s career page
  • Look at their existing database of previous candidates
  • If they’re in-house recruiters they’ll likely look at their pool of existing staff
  • Ask for referrals
  • Approach people directly

Aside from the channels above there are is now a trend towards looking for people online, via various social media and other channels. Or, maybe they have someone’s name but they want to find out more before they proceed.

The cost of not filling a role or of hiring the wrong person or high so it’s reasonable that companies and recruiters will try to find out as much as they can, and in places you might not expect.

Here are some places they might look.

In most cases below, people can search for a name or more generic terms (e.g. developers in Sydney). Once if they find someone they’ll usually expand out the search to see that person’s contact, followers etc and get even more names of potential candidates.

1. Twitter.   This is a great starting place to see who you follow or interact with, what types of things you post and how you communicate. Use this to your advantage – follow or interact with companies you like or ‘influencers’, post relevant content. Also remember that companies often post vacancies on Twitter so it’s a great place to see what roles they offer and how they deal with candidates.

2. LinkedIn.   Recruiters are likely to have a look at your LinkedIn profile, but they also search more generically for people with certain skills or in specific locations. This means you should keep your profile up -to-date (but remember to disable notifications if you don’t want your current employer to suspect you’re thinking of moving). Do you have a title showing what you currently do or what you’re looking for? Do you have a few, specific recommendations from people about how you work? (See my other blog about creating a good Linkedin profile and CV.)

3. Facebook.   Depending on your privacy settings there could be a wealth of information on Facebook that you don’t realise is public. Check what your profile looks like to people who aren’t friends and edit posts/photos that you want to remain private.

4. Instagram.   As with all social media, employers can tell a lot about you from what you post or respond to.

5. GitHub.   I’ve heard many times that if you’re a developer you need to have a GitHub profile.

6. Meetup.   If I was looking for someone with, for example, testing automation experience, one of the first places I’d look would be the local meetups. I’d get the list of members and then cross-reference them with other places (Twitter, LinkedIn etc). If you belong to meetups, make sure your profile – for each group you belong to – is up-to-date.

7. Google.   A plain, old Google search might yield lots of information about you or people like you. Google+ is used in some countries but not in others. For example, if you work in India (or if you want to be found by an Indian company), you need a Google+ profile. A reverse image lookup (drag an image and drop into the search bar) might take searchers to other places online where your details can be found.

8. Online.   Searchers might look at sites where tech people can offer their services or display their portfolios. You might be found on one of these – Bēhance, Elance, Upwork, peopleperhour, Fiverr, dribble, etc. What about if you leave a review with you name on TripAdvisor, AirBnB, eating out sites etc? People can get a sense of your tone, your attitude and what you do in your spare time.

What will they find out about you?

It’s not only about how you might be found, but also what information people might uncover when they find you.

  • If you use your name in any of these sites or applications then make sure you have content that won’t discourage potential employers.
  • Keep in mind the image you are portraying online. Does your online presence give the impression that you’d be a suitable employee for the kind of company you want to work for?
  • You don’t need to sign up to all the sites listed above. Only do so if it makes sense (e.g. if you’re a developer then GitHub is a good place to start).

candidateSo, be aware of your presence online, but possibly even more importantly be honest, professional and hard-working … these are the things that will ultimately create your reputation.

 

Don’t follow your passion. Look for challenges.

I was sitting in a job interview and things were going pretty well, then the question: “So tell me what you’re passionate about?”

Hmm. I could say what it seems they want to hear – something about making customers happy, learning new skills or doing good work. Those are things I really enjoy and feel strongly about but … passionate? Do I really have intense and emotional feelings about those things?

I could say that what gives me the most intense and emotional happiness is spending time with people I love, reading bed-time stories to my niece, laughing with good friends. I don’t think those are the answers they’re after. I think they want to know what makes me come alive at work, what things I’ll be willing to stick at, what motivates me.

Feeling “passionate” means an deep enjoyment that comes easily. You can’t help feeling the way you do and you don’t have to put any effort into it. It’s like when you see someone you love after time apart – you can’t help how you feel. You don’t have to try to feel happy because you just do!

This is different to how I  feel about work. I thoroughly enjoy much of what I do but I feel the most satisfaction at work when it’s not easy, when I’ve had to push myself, or make sense of complicated things or when I’ve forced myself to be brave. Succeeding at a challenge (or at least attempting something difficult) … these are the things that make me feel happiest. Taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles – things that take effort and persistence.

You’ll often hear people say you should follow your passion. I believe the overuse of the word ‘passion’ (“follow your passion” or “do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life”) is misleading people into thinking that they should be doing work that doesn’t feel like any effort at all. The truth is that the most satisfying work won’t be easy. You will certainly do things that seem effortless but the reward will come from mastering the things that don’t come easily.

Do a quick experiment. Think of something you’ve done that you’re really proud of. Was it easy? Many of the most rewarding things in my life have been the things that at first seemed the most impossible.

If you want to find things that make you truly enjoy your work ask yourself:

  • Will this push me a little (or even a lot)? If you don’t feel some level of discomfort or uncertainty then you aren’t growing.
  • How would I feel if I succeeded at this?
  • Would I be willing to stick at this even if it was frustrating? (Persisting at difficult tasks is also rewarding).
  • Will I get to learn or practice something new?

Is there something in your current job that you find challenging? Think of the smallest step you could take to start overcoming that. Do that, then do the next smallest thing. Small, brave steps add up to giant leaps in how happy you feel about work and yourself. Each time you do this, you build trust in yourself and your ability to do hard things.

It’s knowing you’re stretching yourself that’s so deeply rewarding, and different to the feeling you have when you’re doing easy, fun stuff. You need both … too many challenges and you’ll feel burnt out, but only doing what comes easily and you’ll feel unfulfilled.

Look for challengesYou shouldn’t only take on things that are difficult, but it’s handy to know that much of your sense of achievement and your career development live in these challenges.

Who looks after your career?

One of the best things about working in tech companies are the people. Smart, interesting, funny, dedicated people, with diverse personalities and backgrounds who work hard to do great things for their employers.

Over the past few decades in many different companies I’ve seen these people working under pressure, in challenging and constantly-changing environments. They take on tough projects, they do overtime, they deal with frequent restructuring and too-small teams. They hold training sessions during their lunch breaks. They’re asked to justify the time they need to do their work. They’re the first people questioned when projects go wrong. They’re expected to keep up with new technology, to be great at communicating and to be excellent team players and if they don’t already over-achieve in these areas it gets noted during their annual review. Hard work and innovation are not always appreciated, sometimes not even noticed.

But … some people are promoted and given raises. Some get opportunities and cool projects to work on. Some companies train and develop their staff, and value their contribution.

It’s frustrating how much it comes down to luck. Are you lucky enough to work for a company where staff are valued and cared for? Do you have a good manager who has your best interests at heart?

Even if you are fortunate to work in a good environment, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be rosy. There are still pressures and times you may feel neglected.

Right now, there is a large group of experienced and skilled people doing just fine in IT/tech roles, but they’re not happy with ‘fine’ … they want to be better. They want to keep learning, to improve and advance. They want to be noticed, get promoted. They want a more balanced life. What options do they have to be supported to get the growth and challenges they want?

This is the reason I started Elementum. I want to make it easy for everyone to move forward and achieve their goals, no matter where they work. I want people to be in full control of their careers. I want people to be able to learn how to improve the skills that make the most difference. I want people to realise how easy some of these things are – you don’t have to change jobs or make big commitments … small and steady improvements will add up over time and become life-long habits.

I’m learnt some shortcuts working in a range of IT roles for the past 20 years, but the most important learning for me was when I realised it didn’t matter if I was a permanent employee or a contractor, it didn’t matter who employed me or what my role was. What mattered was that I needed to take charge of my own growth and career happiness.

A job is the work you do for someone else. A career is what you own over a lifetime of experience and growing and doing awesome work. Even when my job wasn’t what I really wanted, I could still work on the skills and experiences I dreamed of for my career.

“You can apply for a job, but you can’t apply for a career. A job is given to you; a career is made by you.” Lynne Mattoon

imthebossofmeAlways remember that you own your career. The power is in your hands. Is there anything you need to do to take back control?