Tips for Getting Back in the Saddle, Successfully Re-entering the Job Market

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Linda Robinson, the President of New Choices, for sharing this guest blog post answering your questions about re-entering the job market.  Linda will also be presenting at the DivorceTown Help & Hope Fair in Atlanta on September 27, 2013.  

 back-in-the-saddle

If you find yourself in a situation where you must climb “back in the saddle again,” re-enter the job market after an absence, it can feel overwhelming.  As a career coach, who specializes in new beginnings, I have worked with many folks in this situation.   I have learned a few things working with this wonderful group of people.  Half of the battle is realizing that you do have value in the job market.  Armed with a little knowledge, possibly a skill upgrade, and the desire to “get up on the horse again, in control,” many job seekers have found a new beginning, an exciting career, or a return to a previously satisfying job.  I offer a few tips that will make your transition smooth. 

Tip 1: Decide on your approach, career exploration or job search.

First, you should determine your approach, career or job search.  Decide if you are targeting a career change or a return to previous employment. If you want to change careers, you can be involved in an exciting process where you look at your interests and aptitudes and research career choices that are trending and have high growth.   You might enter a new career through training, developing skills in a volunteer capacity.   Many of my clients will do a two phased approach.  During phase 1 they quickly develop the skills to obtain a job, to pay the bills, but they seek one in a work environment of interest.  That way they can check out the field, make contacts and develop some experience.  In phase 2 they begin long term training, possibly paid by an employer, to go for a long term goal.  For example, somebody brushes up her skills to be a receptionist in a mental health center and later returns to college to earn a Masters in Social Work or become a Licensed Professional Counselor.  I will talk about career search in another entry (Rebecca put the link to my career search article).  Let’s focus now on approach to finding a job.

Tip 2:  Acknowledge that you have value in the job market.

What many returning workers do not know is that their maturity and life experience are valued by employers. Many mature workers, after an initial adjustment, are used as examples to younger employees, often providing “big picture” perspective.   It is difficult to find employees with a good work ethic, and re-entry workers often exemplify this valued characteristic.

Tip 3:  Focus on your strengths and abilities.

The more you uncover your strengths, the more focused your job search campaign will be.   Think about your past successes, perhaps during volunteer work, early jobs, school experiences, or activities in the home.  What do you feel that you did the best?  When did you feel that things came easily, where the tasks were like “second nature?”  What have you received compliments about?  When people come to you for advice?  For example, are you known as the one who “gets things done, is very detailed, who has a sixth sense when it comes to people.”  All of these qualities can have application in the workplace.  If you don’t know, you might want to contact some trusted friends and ask them what skills and personal characteristics are your strengths.  You may be surprised, pleased, and encouraged about the positive feedback you will receive.  These strengths are used in resumes and job interviews.  The clearer you are about what your best abilities are, the more likely you are to convince an employer.

Tip 4: Think of past examples that highlight your strengths.

Your strongest skills are the foundations of resumes, online profiles, and interviews.  Take some time and think of specific examples of how you used a skill. This will show an employer that you have demonstrated those skills in your past.  It does not necessarily have to be on a job.  For example, suppose you are excellent at recruiting or fundraising.  You could say that you were able to recruit a large percentage of your neighbors to join a neighborhood watch committee.  And perhaps you could even guess at the percentage.  You could quote the fact that you were able to inspire people to donate 15% more on the United Way campaign than in the previous year.  Employers love things to be quantifiable.  They are eager to not make a hiring mistake, which is very costly, so the more you can assure them that you have the skills to do the job, have succeeded in the past, the more likely you will be the one that they remember.

Tip 5: Create a state of the art resume.

The purpose of a resume is not to get a job; it is to obtain an interview.  In that interview you will be able to give much more detail about your accomplishments, show the great person that you are.  But first, you have to be chosen for an interview.

If you are submitting your resume online (and believe me that is the least effective way to search), you have to gain understanding of how employers select candidates.  Employers use resume screening software in order to sort through the hundreds of candidates that apply online.  To be selected you have to develop a list of keywords to place on your resume.  They can be verbs or nouns, but they are often very specific.  The best way to find out your keywords is to scan job postings for the type of job that you are seeking.  It is wise to target each resume to the type of job that you are seeking, which can be usually done through cutting and pasting, adding accomplishments relevant to the job you seek.  You can use websites such as wordle.net where you can past on your job ads, and they will create a “word cloud,” which will show you pictorially the most important words.   Keywords for an accounting assistant job could be reconciled (verb) or accounts receivable (noun).

You will also want to decide which type of resume to use.  The three main resume styles are functional (skill-based, often good for re-entry employees since it highlights skills more than recent jobs), chronological (lists employer most recent to least recent), and combination.  Whatever style you choose, you need to make sure the resume is grammatically correct and proofread, so it will not be immediately rejected.

Tip 6:  Use your network.

When you are re-entering the job market you will want to rely on your network of contacts every step of the way.  Even if you have not been in the workplace recently, you may have a large group of people that you can call on for ideas, support and encouragement, and even job leads.  Think about family members, friends, past employers or other employees, volunteer group or social group members, who would be eager to help you and may have information.  Let them know that you are seeking employment and just what type of job you are looking for.

The idea is to find a way to access the decision maker of an organization and have your contact draw attention to your resume.  People in your network may come up with a job lead and might even know the employer, which would put you steps ahead.   That puts you above the majority of applicants who are in the faceless mass that are applying online.  75 to 80% of jobs are found through contacts, so use that to your advantage.

Don’t assume that someone does not have a job lead for you because of his or her work history.  Many times in my career search workshops, students have come in to report the perfect job lead came from their elderly aunt, or the person they met while walking the dog on their street.  I once received a wonderful job lead from a woman who I met in a continuing education course where we sampled various coffee shops around the city.

Tip 7: Use social media to highlight yourself.

Using social media can be a little intimidating for anyone who is not of Generation Y.   It is a fact that recruiters use social media to search for candidates, and that job leads are also posted on these sites.

According to a 2012 survey by JobVite.com, which provides recruiting tools for many large and small employers, the use of social media for recruiting has been expanding, and the trend is expected to continue:  When employers were asked about their use of social media only 14% never review a candidate’s social media profile while 48% always check the profile.

For someone who is just beginning, select one social media site.  Maybe the best place to start is LinkedIn.  Again, we go back to knowing your strengths and highlighting them using keywords.  You can bring attention to yourself by putting a title after your name, one that contains your keywords, such as Volunteer Coordinator Healthcare, so you will draw attention to those searching that title.  It is helpful to search for others who are working in the occupation that you are pursuing so you can see their backgrounds and skill-sets when creating your profile.  You can also search for job openings on Linked In.  You will find many!

Tip 8:  Use social media to develop your network. 

Again, there are many social media websites and forums, so it might be easiest to select one site, such as LinkedIn to get started.    LinkedIn makes it easy to search for connections to other people who are in your desired field, teach that subject, and are students.  Don’t forget, good advice can come from anyone!  Oftentimes, if you do spot a job lead, you will see that one of your connections can introduce you to the hiring manager, which is what you have been waiting for!  Also, you can search for groups on LinkedIn, those in your field of interest.  There you can see what the experts and folks in the field are saying, meet new contacts and even add your own thoughts so that you can become known in that community.  Once you are comfortable with social media, you can move on to other sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Tip 9:   Consider ways to ease into the saddle, such as temporary work.

A certain percentage of employees on temp assignments are hired full-time.  This may be a gentle way to transition into the job market and maybe obtain a job.  Temp agencies will assess your skills and tell you what you need in the way of upgrading before taking an assignment.  A listing of Atlanta’s top temporary agencies may be found at http://www.trcstaffing.com/pdf/Atlanta27s_Top_25.pdf.

Some stay-at-home moms have pulled together a consortium of workers with expertise to help employers as an impromptu team.  Since they were staying at home, they were able to respond quickly to employer needs.  For example, the Wall Street Journal described a mommy SWAT team (the acronym meaning Smart Women with Available Time) “who assembled quickly through networking and staffing firms to handle crash projects.”  Creating your own team might be excellent way to ease into working,  earn some money, develop confidence and it could bridge to a job.  Maybe you could organize some like minded people to band together to meet employer needs, your own staffing organization.

Tip 10:  Use strategic volunteer work as a way to return to the job market.

I have known clients who have been offered jobs through volunteer work, positions that they were not even technically qualified for.  Someone observed their performance and realized that they could do the job, even if they did not have the perfect educational credentials!  Maybe you have volunteered before.  If you are currently active in a volunteer group, you might want to adjust your duties to those that will help you develop a skill that you want to highlight.  For example, being on a program committee can give you practice in event and meeting planning, and put you in a position to meet the experts.  If you have not volunteered, this can be done in concert with upgrading your education or job seeking.  Volunteermatch.org is an excellent website where you can match your skills and interests with organizations that are in your geographic area.   Handsonatlanta.org gives you a banquet of different types of opportunities in volunteering to sample.

Tip 11: Consider retraining as an investment in yourself.

Returning to school to update your skills can be one of the best steps that a re-entry person can take.  You may not have to go for the four year college degree or graduate work. Sometimes taking a brief certification through a technical college or continuing education program can get you started.  Pharmacy technology, medical assisting, paralegal assisting, and gerontology are just a few of the courses offered through our local tech schools and college continuing education programs.  If you need to brush up on Excel for example, this can be done quickly and you have a recent credential to put on your resume.  Knowledge of MS Office is a minimum requirement in today’s workplace, no matter what job you aspire to.  If you want to go for that degree you always wanted, this is possible through the many fine universities and online programs.  Rehabilitative alimony can be very helpful in buying the time and confidence you need to get back on track. 

Tip 12:  Get support from others.

There are many “job clubs” and jobs groups in town where you can to learn how to enter the job market and to establish valuable networks.  A broad listing may be found at http://www.atlantaevent.com/networkgroups.htm.  It can be very helpful to get the support of a career coach (like me!) who can help with knowledge, encouragement, expertise, and breaking the job search up into smaller steps that do not seem so overwhelming.  Having professional support does decrease the months needed for a job search.   When you are organized, focused, and state-of-the-art, you are simply a more desirable job candidate.

Tip 13:  Ace the interview.

Now, all of your upgrading, networking, social media expertise has resulted in an interview.  This is your chance to shine.    We talked earlier about how important it is to understand what the strengths are that you offer.  Just as important is to be able to describe these skills in terms of accomplishments, things that you done, on or off the job, which prove to an employer that you have the skills she or he needs.   This is the also the time to research the organization so you know the culture, the product or services and their hopes for the future.  Then you can answer questions with that background information  in mind, showing that you are the candidate who is best for the job, the one who bothered to research.   The key to all of this is practice, a lot of practice.   There are many lists of job interview questions online, such as http://abcnews.go.com/Business/CornerOffice/story?id=86287&page=1.  It is best to practice your answers with a career coach or a savvy friend so when you go into the interview, your answers are second nature.  And don’t forget to thank the employer with a typed letter or email, re-stating your qualifications and how much you want the job.  If you don’t get a job on the first interview, don’t be discouraged.  The whole process gives you a chance to practice, to see what your areas of improvement might be..and then to get better.

Tip 14:  Give back, and remember!

When you finally locate that job, you may jump up and down, do a victory dance, heave a huge sigh of relief… and begin adjusting to modern day employment.   But remember how you felt this process, the “ups and downs,” the people who helped you, and be sure to give back to other job seekers.  Assist others with their networking, be open to spreading the word about any job leads in your new organization.   The world of job searching works best when people give back and support each other!   I have been honored to help many job seekers re-enter the market and thrilled to see you they have offered helping hands to others. 


 

Linda Robinson

Linda Robinson

Linda Robinson, M.Ed., is a Career Coach in Atlanta and online who specializes in Career Coaching and Testing for Youth and Adults in Transition

To learn more visit mycareertesting.com, call Linda at 404-939-0153 for a free consultation or email her at linda@lindajrobinson.com.

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