The Best Grad Gift: Career Contacts

Anita,

I’m graduating soon, and I’m nervous about finding a full-time job in my chosen field before all the gift money runs out! Can you help?

Dear “3.57 (that’s contacts, not GPA),”

Graduate introductionYou may have heard the networking theory “six degrees of separation” – you can be connected to anyone in the world through a chain of six acquaintances. Facebook crunched the numbers and determined the new normal in our social media age is only 3.57 connections.

It’s time career contacts rise above cash as the prized graduation gift. Parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, listen up! The best start you can give a grad is to introduce them to someone who can help their career. Don’t limit contacts to someone you know has an job opening. A seasoned professional in the same industry may be happy to meet with a recent graduate for 30 minutes to answer neophyte questions. A useful contact may not be able to offer actual employment, but could be the second link of the 3.57 connections needed to land a position.

Here are two ways to introduce your LinkedIn contacts to one another. A personal telephone call on behalf of a high-achieving young person you feel comfortable vouching for may be more effective than an e-introduction.

Back to you, graduates. It’s important you do your part. First, make sure you have a great résumé. Check out my blog post, Creating a Résumé from Scratch. Print on quality paper stock from a professional printer (pay for them if you must with some of those graduation gift checks) and always have copies ready for networking opportunities. Provide an electronic PDF version for any “angels” who may wish to forward it to their contacts via email.

Create a LinkedIn profile with a business-appropriate photo – no duckface! Check out Social Media Today’s blog, How to Use LinkedIn for New Graduates, to build a killer profile. Savvy networkers use the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn to widen their contacts further.

Whether communicating on LinkedIn, by email, or via telephone, explain why you’ve reached out to the connection (“My uncle, NAME, suggested you would be a good contact in the ____ industry. I’m interested in getting into the field and was wondering if you would have time to offer some advice?”). Most workforce veterans will be flattered and willing to help.

After any conversation – virtual or in-person – always thank the person for their time, even if the meet-and-greet didn’t didn’t result in a job offer or even what you may consider useful advice. You never know who your benefactor may know!

Readers: When you were fresh out of school, how did a contact or introduction from friends or family further your career? 

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Time Sheet Deceit

Anita,

I had someone tell me that her immediate boss did not feel like the HR director was paying her the wage he felt she deserved due to years of experience, so he told her to claim extra time on her time cards and was not required to work it. I and one other person were told this by the person claiming the extra time. Is this fraud?

200151700-001Dear “Raised Eyebrows,”

Smells like fraud to me. This supervisor overstating and approving hours as a plot to grant a de facto raise is a sort of vigilante justice that is unhealthy for the company, both for ethical reasons as well as bottom line considerations.

According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, one of the most common lawsuits is the wage and hour suit in which employees claim employers did not pay them for all the hours worked and/or overtime. It’s less common for hourly employees and their supervisors to be prosecuted by employers for falsification of time sheets, unless the swindled amount is significant. Several years ago, eight employees of a government contractor pleaded guilty to felony time card fraud. Many times, however, dismissal of the offending employees without a good reference is as far as companies will go, especially smaller businesses who don’t have the resources for costly litigation.

What you and your coworker do with this inside information is up to you. Since the HR manager is one of the alleged offenders, that typical avenue of recourse is not an option. You’d have to go over the HR director’s head to report your suspicion of time card fraud, including as much detailed substantiation as possible. If this is an offense against a private sector employer rather than a government agency, the Whistleblower Protection Act won’t shield you from any backlash from the suspect HR manager. If your company has an anonymous tip line, this would be a time to use it.

One of the ways for a company to monitor timecard falsification is to require manager approval. If a manager is complicit, as in this situation, implementing a time clock, card scanner, or computerized log-in system or installing surveillance cameras may be a necessary investment to prevent future loss from unearned wage scams.

Readers: Have you ever been in a situation in which you become aware that a coworker was falsifying his or her time? How did you handle it?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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A New Spin on Commuting

In lieu of answering a question today, here’s a Public Service Announcement.

Bike_to_Work_000061401812National Bike to Work Week is May 16-20, 2016, with May 20 designated as Bike to Work Day. The reasons for bicycle commuting are wide-ranging:

  • Lessen your environmental impact – Bike commuting reduces air, water, and noise pollution.
  • Physical fitness and well-being – In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, the release of endorphins can energize you, enabling you to mentally tackle your day. You may even lose weight; here’s a cycling calorie calculator.
  • Reduce health care needs and expenses – A bike ride a day may keep the doctor away, saving health care costs for both employers and employees. Momentum Mag estimates that individuals could save $544 a year.
  • Save (more) money – It costs approximately $350 year to operate a bike vs. $8,700 annually for the average car.
  • Save time – Americans spend about 6.9 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, according to the recent Urban Mobility Scorecard. Whizzing by cars in commuter gridlock feels oh so good.

Bicycle commuting is not without its challenges. You’ll need access to secure bike storage so your two-wheeled vehicle is where you left it for the commute home. For safety’s sake, be sure to obey all traffic rules, use designated bicycle lanes, and wear a helmet. (Combat “helmet head” with some dry shampoo you keep at the office.)

On the subject of appearance, you don’t want to arrive at work looking like a hot mess. For a relatively easy commute, you could wear your work clothes (don’t forget to protect your pants from the bike chain). If you’re not lucky enough to be employed in a workplace with locker room and shower facilities, check nearby health clubs that may offer shower-only memberships.  Alternatively, you can use wet wipes in the bathroom to freshen up so as not to offend your coworkers’ olfactory sensibilities. A bike pannier is useful for lugging your laptop or a change of clothes to and fro (and you avoid that sweat stain under a backpack.)

This video from Go Redmond (in Washington’s “bicycle capital of the northwest”) offers some helpful bike commuting suggestions.

Many public buses have bike racks, so you can get to work fresh as a daisy, and then bicycle home and reward yourself with a hot shower. You’ll still reduce your carbon footprint by half. You may want to make alternate arrangements to get to work in inclement weather (or you could use these tips on biking in the rain).

More and more companies are making it easier for employees to bike to work. As part of its Cool Commute Incentives, Clif Bar offers employees $500 toward the purchase of a bicycle – if they use it to commute at least twice a month. Most of the 70 employees at backpack company Osprey Packs pedal to work and can earn around $500 a year with non-motorized commuting incentives. (The Bicycle Commuter Act allows employers to provide a tax-free reimbursement of up to $20 monthly to its bike commuters.)

Many tech companies, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, even go so far as to maintain bicycle fleets on their campuses.  Learn more about how your company can be certified as a Bicycle Friendly Business.

Readers, how often – if ever – have you biked to work?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Writing Matters

Anita,

I have been aplying to to alot of admin assistant jobs, and I can’t even get an interview. While I don’t have any experience, per say, I have great orgazational skills and am great at meeting dead lines why won’t someone give me a chance???  plz help me.

Red pen correcting proofread english text

Dear “Miss Spell,”

Even if you are not applying for a position as a journalist, your writing skills will be evaluated by those reading your résumé, cover letter, and correspondence. Despite the fact that many intelligent people were terrible spellers – George Washington and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a couple – spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical gaffes can make you appear, well, slightly stoopid. Take a look at these Cover Letters from Hell or résumé bloopers from Monster. (My favorite is “I am seeking a salary commiserate with my training and experience.” My sympathies for bungling your job chances because of that typo.)

Common Misspellings, Mistakes, and Muddles to Avoid

  • Your meeting is tomorrow, not tommorrow or tommorow
  • Accommodate has two Cs and two Ms.
  • Yours truly, not yours truley.
  • I’m sending my résumé under separate cover, not seperate. Remember, there’s a rat in separate.
  • There is definately no A, however, in definitely.
  • Did you receive my résumé? (The exception, “I before E except after C,” applies here.)
  • I believe I’m the best person for the job. (No exception here, the I goes before the E.)
  • I have the experience (not experiance) required.
  • Don’t be greatful for the opportunity to interview; be grateful.
  • You’re not in costumer service (unless you really do work in theater); you serve customers.
  • You have a Class A Commercial license, not a licence with double Cs.
  • It will be noticeable if you leave the E out of noticable.
  • Contact your Personnel Supervisor, not a Personal Supervisor.
  • Et cetera is abbreviated etc., not ect.
  • It’s a mistake to use the contraction for “it is” in its place. (Most possessives have an apostrophe – like Joe’s job – but “its” does not.)
  • Last, but not least, let’s address the homonyms there, their, and they’re.

Their = possessive pronoun
There = location/place
They’re = contraction of they + are

Used properly in one sentence: “They’re going over there in their car.”

Turn on Spelling & Grammar check automatically in your Word documents. Of course, technology can’t be relied upon to pick up every nuance. “I am fully aware of the king of attention to detail this position requires” [emphasis added] did not trigger any alerts, but wouldn’t escape a sharp recruiter’s notice.

Résumés are written in a kind of shorthand that breaks the conventional rules of English grammar. Incomplete sentences, often bulleted, are more conducive to quick scans by busy hiring managers who don’t have time to read a novel to discover if you are qualified for their open position. Check out Careerealism’s Special Grammar Rules for Résumés.

After creating any sort of business correspondence, check, double-check, and triple-check before hitting the “send” button. Better yet, find a second set of eyes – a friend or a colleague – to proof your work.

Readers: Have you ever noticed – after the fact – a mistake on your cover letter or résumé? Share your blunder below.
Recruiters: Do you have any humdingers from your Blooper Hall of Fame?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Sick of Sick Leave? Consider PTO

Anita,

I’m in HR for a medium-sized company. I’m really tired of monitoring sick leave abuse. Our policy allows sick leave to be used for an employee’s own illness or medical appointments, as well as the employee’s immediate family. But it seems everyone has doctor’s appointments on Fridays, headaches on Mondays, and comes down with the flu during March Madness! It’s not fair to those of us who never take a sick day.

Dear “Policy Police,”

HR_HeadacheAttendance reporting, corrective counseling, verifying doctor’s notes, and meting out disciplinary action can take a copious amount of management time. My advice: Get out of the baby-sitting business by instituting PTO – one bank of Paid Time Off that combines vacation, sick days, and personal days.

Less supervisory oversight is just one of the advantages of PTO. Before making the switch, however, consider both the pros and the cons.

Pros & Cons of a PTO Policy

PRO: While private sector businesses are not required by law to provide paid sick or vacation time, most companies realize that offering PTO attracts and keeps employees, even more so than traditional sick/vacation/personal day policies.

CON: PTO tends to be viewed as one big vacation time bucket, so employees may take more time off than with a separate paid sick day/vacation day system. This could mean more staff coverage must be arranged.

PRO: Many companies find employees take fewer unscheduled sick days when they have the opportunity to plan and use PTO. Supervisors will likely get more notice of absences and find it easier to find coverage in advance than when someone calls in sick at the last minute.

PRO: No need to fake it! Employees like to be treated like adults rather than required to bring doctors’ notes. (And really, in this day and age, it’s incredibly easier to forge excuses than it was back in junior high when trying to ditch gym class).

Sick at WorkCON: People may come to work sick – spreading their germs – to save their PTO for a 2-3 week vacation. In the long run, this propensity could cause even more absences office-wide.

PRO: PTO can be used equally by all employees, including who get sick less frequently or don’t have to take time off for dependent appointments (whether child or parent).

CON: Like the unwise green protagonist in The Ant and the Grasshopper fable, some employees may use up all of their PTO for vacation time, creating a hardship when they or a family member becomes ill. (But adults need to accept the consequences of their actions.)

PRO: PTO is easier to administer, which can mean cost savings.

CON: In some states, the law treats PTO like vacation time when it comes to calculating final wages at termination. While companies generally are not required to “cash out” for sick time, businesses could end up paying out more for PTO.

One last California CON: If your company is in California, PTO may not meet the minimum level of benefits mandated by the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act (HWHFA), especially for part-time workers.

Readers: What do you think are the pros and cons of a traditional vacation/sick day policy versus PTO?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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What’s the Tress Code?

Anita,

Interview Question: Do you wear your hair up or down?

Dear “Splitting Hairs,”

I myself have been wearing a stylish high bun long before Kim Kardashian popularized the hair donut. But I’m equal opportunity when it comes to hair. The loose curled hairstyle on the model (left) or the upswept ’do on the right are both winning looks for an interview.

Interview HairBe sure to tame any bedhead on the big day. If your mane tends to look unruly (or if it’s a particularly humid day), wearing your hair up may project a more professional image. Now don’t go overboard with an elaborate updo – you’re going to an interview, not a wedding! Save the milkmaid braids or Princess Leia buns for the Renaissance Fair and Comic-Con.

While I support the right to self-expression by hair, you don’t want your faux-hawk or dreads to distract the interviewer from your impressive résumé. Perhaps it’s best to wait until your down time to put your hair up if you have a curious undercut. Now is not the time to shave a new design into your hair; make sure your hair tattoo has grown out before the big interview. Hats, ball caps, fascinators and kerchiefs should be avoided (religious headwear such as hijabs and yarmulkes are the exception). While Baby Boomers dying their gray hairs may increase their marketability, coloring hair in shades not available in nature may decrease an applicant’s appeal.Lincoln-man-bun

Guys, I have to say that I’m not a fan of the man-bun. Call me old-fashioned, but remember that some interviewers may share my beliefs. I concur with Fast Company’s photo blog title, Try Taking These World Leaders Seriously When They Have Man-Buns.

Follow my three simple rules for interview hair:

  • Make sure it’s clean.
  • Avoid distracting hairstyles.
  • Verify it fits the company’s culture.

Check out my Pinterest board Tressed for Success for visual inspiration, and for cautionary tales, peruse the pins on A Hair Out of Place.

Hiring Managers: Voice your opinions on interview hair below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Bad Blood in the Workplace

I have two questions related to alleged nepotism that I’ll answer together:

Hello, Anita. I would like to know if it’s conflict of interest when the company owner’s sister is the Human Resources Manager. I’ve been asking for some needed information is she is not assisting me with what I need.

Dear Anita, I’ve been working for an Adult Day Care as a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant]. My boss makes me and my co-workers clean the entire facility, even his desk. It’s a family business so they all have each other’s back. We only get 15 minute breaks when we work 6 hours, 5 days a week. The boss has cameras and is always looking at what we do or if we’re doing something bad, he will come out and stand there looking at us. Is it fair that only me and my other two co-workers clock in and out and the boss’s family don’t, they just leave whenever? Who to call? Or what to do?

In the U.S., 80%-90% of businesses are family-owned, ranging from mom-and-pops storefronts to Fortune 500 companies. You’re bound to work with blood-related employees at some point. But nepotism (preference shown because of a family or personal relationship) may or may not be present.

Reclining_Businesswoman_000026954117An Inc. poll explored perceptions on the factors that lead to getting ahead at work. Connections (e.g., being the boss’s sister) received the most votes at 48%. This real or imagined favoritism may result in bad blood. And as Taylor Swift says, “Now we’ve got problems.” But I think you can solve them.

So, “Waiting on HR,”

There is no legal conflict of interest when a relative serves as an HR manager – or in any position – in a company. (In a way, all of us may have conflicts of interest in the workplace when we are trying to please our supervisor, our co-workers, and other departments!) The issue here is one that could happen with any colleague – you are not getting the results you desire. The HR Manager may be busy (give her the benefit of the doubt), so be sure to remind her of your inquiry. If you asked in person, follow-up with email or vice versa. If she doesn’t honor your request after your reminders and a reasonable timeframe, go to your supervisor and ask him or her to get involved – without pointing out the familial relationship. Just reiterate the facts of your situation without emotion.

clocking systemAnd now, “Ticked Off CNA,”

If you are unclear about the job duties expected in your position, ask your boss for a written job description. If you are unhappy with cleaning tasks, and these were not expected when you were hired, talk with your boss about it. But there is no law against requiring an employee to clean; in fact, a CNA job description probably includes cleaning and sanitizing patient areas. Your boss can add his desk to your duties if he so desires. He may also supervise your work. As for breaks, there is no federal law requiring lunch or coffee breaks. Your state may have a law requiring a meal break or rest period; check these Department of Labor Meal Period and Rest Period Requirement charts.

Your boss and his family may run their business however they choose. As in many companies, some employees may be hourly while others may be on salary, not dependent on actual hours worked. Family members may be doing work from a home office. Some relatives may even work in a family business unpaid.

Just because it may seem unfair on the surface, as long as blood relatives are not impeding your ability to work, quite frankly, it’s none of your concern. Mind your own business, and do the job you signed on for to the best of your ability.

Readers, how have you learned to handle any “blood is thicker than water” situations at work?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Embellishing Your Résumé

Anita,

I don’t have a lot of work experience. I’m in a dead-end job, and want to move up in the world. Is there anything really wrong with fudging my experience on my résumé or job applications? Like saying I have advanced Excel skills when I’m more intermediate? I’m sure I could google to figure out the answer to any questions that come up and no one would be the wiser.

Liar_Crossed_Fingers_000057522922Dear “Pretty Little Liar,”

Oh, really? You think you’ll be able to fake it ’til you make it when you need to use an Excel pivot table or complex formulas?

I believe everyone should wax eloquent about their qualifications on their résumé and portray themselves to potential employers in the best possible light. But enhancing your education, exaggerating your duties, and embellishing your skills is a horse of a different color.  Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” But only include it on your résumé if you can actually do it.

Résumé padding (doesn’t that euphemism sound a lot less consequential than “falsifying?”) seems to be a widespread problem. In fact, there are deceitful services out there – which shall remain unnamed – that offer counterfeit degrees and provide bogus virtual companies to add on résumés that will even supply fake job references when called. Sigh.

Pinocchio_Nose_000000335618A recent CareerBuilder survey found job seekers’ most common résumé lies:

  • Embellished skill sets – 62%
  • Embellished responsibilities – 54%
  • Dates of employment – 39%
  • Job titles – 31%
  • Academic degrees – 28%

Just because 62% of people fudged about their skill sets, doesn’t mean you should too. More than half of employers (56% to be exact) uncovered the résumé lies. Education credentials are easily checked. Dates of employment and job titles can be verified by previous employers. When interviewing for a specialized position, you may be asked technical questions that will show you’re obviously not qualified. (I heard of an instance where the candidate looked up answers on his smartphone!) Why waste your time and the interviewers’?

If you do manage to hornswoggle a company into hiring you, what happens when your deceptions are discovered? While you may root for Mike Ross on TV’s Suits who faked his way into a law firm position without the Harvard degree, in real life it could cost you the job, as these executives discovered. Where safety is a factor (claiming you are certified to operate a forklift, for instance, or have the necessary medical training for a healthcare position), your falsehood could have disastrous consequences for others.

A better way to move up in the world is to take classes in areas in which you need to gain proficiency. Then proudly list those courses on your résumé under “Education” to show prospective employers you proactively focus on career development.

Readers: Have you ever padded your résumé? How did your embellishments return to haunt you?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Keeping Employee Tech in Check

Anita,

All the news coverage about accessing the San Bernardino shooter’s locked iPhone got me thinking about our company’s BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] policy. Do you have any insight into how businesses balance employees’ privacy rights with the concern over data breaches – unintentional (say they get hacked through a personal app) or deliberate (when a disgruntled employee quits, for instance)?

flat design concept of BYOD bring you own device

Dear iWorried,

There are pros and cons for companies who permit employees to Bring Your Own Tech (Device, Phone, or PC). BYOD programs most often shift the costs to the user, saving businesses a potential boatload on their balance sheet. Plenty of companies are requiring workers to cover all the costs of their devices and, surprisingly, employees are not complaining. (Well, some would still like an allowance or reimbursement.) Employees get to use the device that they prefer – we all know Apple aficionados are notoriously loyal – and that may result in higher productivity. Personal users tend to upgrade to the latest technology at a faster pace than bureaucratic organizations, which can keep your company on the leading edge at no expense to you.

Businesses generally have users sign an acceptable use agreement for company-issued IT, but employees may be a bit touchy being told how they can use their own personal devices. A policy update may be in order. You must insist on strong passwords and lock screens on personal devices. Beyond that, there are plenty more issues to discuss. Will your acceptable use policy dictate which web browser employees must use? May sports fans livestream March Madness games during work hours? (Can your network bandwidth handle the surge?!) Is posting on Facebook while on their device’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) a violation of policy? What if a security hole in an app on an employee’s personal phone allows hackers to access your company’s relay mail? Should you decide which apps will be allowed or banned (what, no Spotify?!)? Use this BYOD policy template as a jumping off point to develop your acceptable use agreement.

When employees leave a company with BYOD, it’s not as simple as turning in the work-issued IT and wiping it. You must have an exit strategy that retrieves company data and removes email access, proprietary applications, access tokens, and more.

You are wise to be concerned about the BYOD technology issue. But it’s far more complex than this little old lady can address in my advice column, so please check with your IT administrators for up-to-date best practices.

Readers: What is your company’s Bring Your Own Device policy?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Target Your Perfect Job

Anita,

I wasn’t happy at my former position, so I searched the online job boards and found a similar job at another company. I started this new position six weeks ago, and already it’s worse than the one I left! What do I do now? I can’t seem to land a job I really like.

Bow-n-Arrow_iStock_000021553751Dear “MockingJaymie,”

You may be at the wrong company, in the wrong position, or you could even be in the wrong profession altogether.

Everyone has a hunger for fulfilling work. Ask yourself some soul-searching questions: What’s your passion? What’s your purpose? What’s your raison d’être, as the French inquire? Companies have mission statements; what is your life mission statement? What’s your “calling?”

If you’re more numbers or science-oriented rather than touchy-feely, this Forbes formula may help you rate dream job opportunities.

After some introspective contemplation (long walks in the woods optional, but highly recommended!), you now have the understanding to find a satisfying career path that aligns with your personal values and aspirations. Stop applying for random jobs that just so happen to be open during your job search! Make a plan to proactively seek out a position that better suits you, before it’s even advertised.

Target_Arrows_iStock_000070073053Start by compiling a list of 30-40 target companies you’d absolutely love to work for. Your willingness to relocate will determine how wide you cast your net geographically. With the advanced search tool in LinkedIn, search for Companies by entering industries in locations that line up with your passions, interests, and life goals. Click and read company profiles and Follow any that resonate with you. It’s a good professional practice to stay active on LinkedIn consistently, long before you’re in active job search mode. Comment on your favorite companies’ posts. Offer congratulations on achievements. Find connections. Nurture these online relationships before you need to ask them for a favor.

Don’t forget about offline networking as well. Join associations for the industries in which you are interested. Attend Chamber of Commerce mixers. Talk with friends about your “target companies” to see if they can introduce you to any insiders.

How do you approach these 2nd and 3rd connections and friends of friends? On his CareerPivot blog, Marc Miller suggests asking for AIR – Advice, Insights, and Recommendations. Most people will be flattered and inclined to be helpful.

In his book, 48 Days to the Work You Love, author Dan Miller recommends this 3-step process for making yourself know to those target contacts doing work you admire:

  1. Send a letter of introduction by mail, not email.
  2. In one week, send a cover letter and résumé. Again, by mail.
  3. Call to follow up (this is a step only 1-2% of job hunters do).

You’re sowing and nurturing seeds in fields where you will actually be happy in your work. Now, wait for the Reaping. Sure, this may take longer than the traditional “see job ad—apply—interview—get hired” cycle (which can sometimes take quite a while as it is). But isn’t it worth it to wait for a career that inspires?

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Readers: Have you identified your life’s purpose and found a job to support your calling? Inspire us with your story in the Comments below!

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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