I had an epiphany this morning related to people in career transition. I have been counseling people in transition for many years and have written several articles on job search strategy. My epiphany (or firm grasp of the obvious?), is that I rarely read or hear anything about how to effectively help people looking for a new job. The interview coaching, resume writing, networking, social media, psychology of job search articles abound, but there is very little helpful information or guidance on what you and I can do to help job seekers.
This is an important topic. With unemployment at just under 10%, it is likely that we all know friends and family affected by this tough economy. It may be difficult to admit, but at some point we run out of helpful advice. We may even start to avoid these wonderful people who need our assistance because we feel embarrassed that we don’t know what to do or how to help. What is the solution?
I suggest that we all consider four areas where we can make a significant and realistic impact. What may surprise you is how basic these ideas really are and yet I rarely observe them being utilized effectively. For your consideration:
1. Be Active Listeners. When someone needs our help, we need to understand all the facts. We need to know how they are coping. Too often we may have a tendency to launch into offering solutions before we have a full understanding of the issues. Sometimes those who seek our help just need to vent or be heard. Let’s give them this courtesy.
2. Be Candid. I have had countless job seekers tell me how much they appreciate me sharing honest and tough feedback with them. What is surprising is that they had not heard this information from others in their circle. It is in our nature to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, but we are doing more damage than we can imagine by not sharing the truth. Poorly written resumes, incomplete LinkedIn profiles, poor “elevator pitches,” an inability to answer questions about their background and lack of follow up are just a few examples of the many forms of candid feedback we should share if warranted. We are doing more harm than good by saying everything is great and they are right on track.
3. Be Encouraging. Encouragement is the NOT the opposite of candor! I meant every word I wrote in the 2nd point about sharing the difficult truth, but we also need to be encouraging to those in career transition. This is a very tough phase of life for anyone and just consider for a moment how we would feel if the roles were reversed. Empathy, understanding and positive reinforcement will be appreciated.
I don’t want to over explain something as basic as encouragement, but one helpful aspect of encouragement we may fail to consider is inclusion. Don’t overlook inviting people in career transition to business related events or other gatherings. Job seekers often tell me how alienated they feel and of their desire to retreat from the world, especially in the first months after a job loss. If we want to truly encourage and help, let’s help them stay plugged in to our networks where they can make useful contacts and feel connected to the world which they are longing to return. It also would be great for us to have an occasional coffee or lunch meeting to touch base when our schedules allow.
4. Act Immediately. Based on my experience and feedback from others, we often have a conversation with a job seeker and think of multiple referrals we can make to useful contacts in our network. Ideas for help on multiple fronts may be discussed and the meeting concludes on a very positive note. We get back to our offices or homes and other priorities pop up and we are consumed by our own challenges. Days or weeks go by and we have forgotten to follow up, leaving the job seeker frustrated and wondering why they met with us in the first place. Remember that all job seekers are racing the clock and the financial, emotional and mental pressures are mounting daily for them.
Here is a helpful checklist to make your interactions with job seekers more impactful:
o Ask the job seeker to invite you to join their LinkedIn network and get back to you if they see useful contacts.
o Challenge the job seeker to develop a target list of specific companies they are interested in and ask them to email you this information.
o Ask the job seeker to send you a short email recapping the meeting with their resume attached. Let them know that you will be forwarding that email on to people in your network with a recommendation for a meeting. Here is an example of what their email to you should look like:
Thank you for meeting with me today. I really enjoyed our conversation and appreciate your willingness to help me grow my network. As we discussed, I am looking for a senior sales leadership role in a growing technology company. I have a long track record of success in my past roles and will bring leadership experience, a great reputation and a wealth of contacts to a new position. Again, I am grateful for your assistance and I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
o Ask the job seeker to follow up with you on any action items in your discussion as well as to keep you updated on the progress of their search. Be mindful of your personal work load and don’t over commit, but an email every 2 weeks is probably appropriate.
o Pull out your iPhone or Blackberry in the meeting and share phone numbers and email addresses of helpful contacts with the job seeker. Why wait? Have them reach out directly, copy you on any emails and you have just saved a huge follow up step!
Have you noticed that in most of the examples I gave the job seeker is given a specific follow up item? This is important because you are asking this individual to help you…help them (sorry for my Jerry Maguire moment!). This approach is more efficient, contains more accountability and ultimately gets the job seeker what they need most from us-warm contacts.
I could write a book on this subject as there are so many ways we could assist our friends, family and professional network in their search for employment. My goal is to keep it simple and share with you the benefit of countless conversations I have had with people in career transition and my observations about the struggles we all have to help these good people achieve their goal of regaining employment. Remember the Golden Rule, prayers are always helpful and reflect on this powerful quote (attributed to many): “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”