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For job seekers, modesty is over-rated but confidence never goes out of style.

I was in the park with my young kids the other day and heard a conversation between a child, his mother and one of his mom’s friends.

“David, how have you been?”

“I’ve been great!  I play baseball now!”

“How’s that going?”

“Terrific!  In my last game, I had three hits and a homerun!  I also pitched and got four strikeouts! My coach named me the player of the game!”

Mom chimes in:

“Now Davey! You shouldn’t brag! Remember, there were other kids on that team that helped win the game too!”

Everyone probably remembers a conversation like this from their own childhood. Ever since we were kids we’ve been reminded that it is impolite to brag, take all the credit or boast about our accomplishments.

In my job seeking consultancy the most difficult question to answer is, “So, can you tell me about yourself?”  Our awkwardness in taking ownership for our career accomplishments is also often reflected in resumes and cover letters.

So here’s the deal, job seekers:

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job!

Employers will not correctly guess what your strengths are nor will they safely assume that your skills and accomplishments are a good fit for the job you are applying.

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job!

The only way others will know how your hard work, education and background is tied to your success is when you TELL THEM.  The only way your future employer will know that you have the best skill sets, the most relevant experience and the differentiators that set you apart from your competition is when you make these things crystal clear in every touch point of the job application process.

So, how do you this?

The number one strategy of the successful job seekers I’ve interviewed is a focused, red-hot confidence.

Confidence is not bragging nor is it boasting.  It’s simply and directly stating and describing your very real accomplishments.

Start with your resume.  If you are using ‘wimp’ or ‘fluff’ words and phrases like “Coordinated,” “Helped,” “Highly talented,” “Motivated,” or “Hard working,” your resume will most likely not be seriously considered. If you describe yourself using results-oriented words such as “Senior level,” “Expert in….,” “Led,” “Managed,” “Created,” followed by result-oriented accomplishments, a recruiter will put your resume on the top of the pile.

In addition, if you have quantifiable results use these results to emphasize your accomplishments. For example, “increased sales by 30%,” “Improved customer satisfaction by 25%,” “Increased website traffic by 25%,” “Increased revenue by $25 million in one quarter.”

Lastly, if you are having a hard time talking about yourself in an interview or feel awkward taking credit for your success, ask yourself the following question, “What is your proudest career accomplishment?” Was it a project?  Was it something you did to earn a promotion?  Was it an accomplishment that relied on all of your skills, expertise and integrity? What was required of you to be successful? What part of your background — your education, your experience, your intuition — did you call on to be successful?  Did you have to inspire others?  Did you have convince your boss? How did you measure the results of your accomplishment?

When you start thinking about the things in your career that have made you successful, you start to understand and recognize that describing your successes is NOT bragging, it is simply taking ownership of all of the things that make you, YOU!  That is something every employer wants to understand — what makes you tick? What are the things that made you successful in the past that are going to make you successful at our organization?

Bottom line?  Confidence means not being afraid to take ownership for your successful career. It means providing a deliberate and detailed explanation of how your talents and skills, your accomplishments, your promotions, your leadership and your results are tied to the job your are applying and how those things are valuable to your future employer.

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The Process of Career Reinvention

Stuck?  Unemployed?  Ready to follow your passion?
Learn the process to transform your career: an interview with Linda Sollars

Linda Sollars, is President of Creating Purpose (www.creatingpurpose.com) and is one of Denver’s most well know job-seeking consultants. She will be leading the career reinvention seminar at next week’s AH Jobs List Reinvent Event which will be held on Wed., November 9 at the Denver Athletic Club in downtown Denver.   Two of Linda’s clients who have successfully reinvented themselves will sit on a panel to discuss their career reinvention process.

Linda provides her inspiring, heartfelt and common-sense approach to job development and has transformed jobs seekers in defining their personal brand and aligning their strengths with a solid foundation of purpose, quality and success. She provides individual sessions and workshops designed to recognize core visions and values and to develop solid networking and job search strategies.

She spent 20 years in senior level marketing positions before transitioning into career coaching and consulting several years ago after discovering her purpose in empowering others. She has been a featured panelist on CBS, Channel 4, Beating the Recession, featured expert on ABC, Channel 9, Get Me A Job! and the national forum, Careerwell. She is also the keynote speaker at many conferences and events regionally and nationally.

Linda holds a master’s degree in Adult Development, with an emphasis in Leadership and Coaching, as well as an advanced certification from University of Denver in Training and Development.  She is also an Affiliate Professor at Regis University and is on the UCOL Alumni Board of the University of Denver.

Recently, I sat down with Linda to discuss the process she takes job seekers through and some of the common challenges as well as successful habits of professionals who have reinvented their careers.

Linda can you talk a bit about the career reinvention process you take job seekers through?

Most of my clients, when they first come to see me, are either stuck in a job they don’t like and want to get out of, are recently unemployed, or want to follow a passion and don’t know how. Most of the people who reach this stage simply don’t know what to do; they are stuck.

The first thing we work on is determining who they are before they decide what it us they want to be.

To do that, I take them through a very specific three step process.

First, we work on recognizing and owning their unique strengths and values.  How would they describe themselves?  What would their co-workers say about them?  What do they care about at their core?  I ask my clients to talk about the strengths that characterize who they are and also ask them to give specific examples of how they have used these strengths in the past.  We go through assessments and exercises I’ve designed in order to come up with a personal statement of strengths that teaches people how to talk about themselves in terms of WHO they are as opposed to their skill sets.

Second, we work on motivational style.  What gets them up in the morning?  What is it that sends them out there every day with aspirations to accomplish something and be successful?  How they motivate themselves is critical in determining the type of position that is successful and satisfying.

Third, we work on a process I call career design – a very specific, personal and powerful format that answers questions about what they want their ideal work situation to be.

We look at where you want to work, how far do you want to go, how much travel do you prefer, how much money do you want to make, what kinds of benefits do you expect, what kind of vacation schedule do you prefer, how many people do you want to work with, do you want to work from home?

Reinventing or transforming your career seems overwhelming.  How do you manage someone’s anxiety about reinvention?

So many of the people who begin this process with me have a feeling that the world is controlling them and when we break it down into these three manageable areas, it switches their view so they feel as if they can manage and are in control of their situation and their aspirations.

Going through this three-step process, which is a very personal, specific and a very thoughtful introspection, also provides the basis for developing a resume and their LinkedIn profile in a way that that communicates their strengths, their motivations, their skills and the type of work that will match their values and the values and culture of an organization.

We then take a look at different companies and organizations that fit their career design.  They have already decided whether their strengths and skill sets are going to work for a large or mid-size company, a start-up or perhaps they want to follow a career path in the nonprofit world.

At this point, they have a clear vision and mission that is now aligned with their strengths, their motivation and their career design, communicated on their resumes, their cover letter, their networking pieces, and it is much easier for them to discuss their goals and expectations with prospective employers, either in informational interviews or at actual job interviews.

As a matter of fact, I’ve had several clients who were offered positions during informational interviews because they were so clear about expressing who they were, what their motivation style was, what their skill set was and what it is that they were really passionate about.

When people want to transform a part of their lives – whether it be their health, their finances, or in this case, their career – there are certain habits, beliefs and regular routines they need to begin to follow.  What are the habits of those who successfully transform and reinvent their careers?

The first thing is passion.  You have to have a passionate belief that you WANT to change.

If people come to me and say, “Anything is better than what I’m doing now,” I’m very clear that this is not enough, because they will immediately fall into the next thing that comes up.

Second, they need to own their passion as a unique, personal specific goal.

Finally, they connect their passion, strengths, skills, and motivation with specific careers.

Some of the things that people develop, in terms of habits and patterns, are the specific outcomes they design; they work on a specific item each week that leads to an outcome so that there is a very real sense of progress.

I also tell people – because it can be overwhelming – that this is a process and there needs to be a focus on each step. Trying to progress too quickly will not lead them to where they want to be; there needs to be a real sense of focus, along with quality time and effort put into each step.

Ultimately, they replace bad habits or patterns with good ones.  Over time, they begin to realize not only what was causing them to freeze when asked the question, “Tell me about yourself,” but they are comfortable, confident and passionate in expressing their skill sets, what makes them unique, what motivates them and what specific strengths they bring to the table.

The last thing I work with people on is job descriptions.  Does the job description match my career design, my motivation style, my strengths and my career design?  If not, we move on to the next job description and that’s okay.  This reinvention is about matching their goals to positions that meet their expectations and no longer trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. When we find a job description that does match, I teach them how to break it down, line by line – so that they can respond to almost all of the things in the description that they have either done or have a passion for.

What’s one of the biggest challenges for job seekers?

The biggest challenge is working with individuals to understand their strengths and their motivation and then have to express these to someone else.   It’s about developing that clarity – the confidence – about who they are.

This is difficult for a lot of reasons.

Many people feel they have lost their edge.  They’ve been beaten down at their current job.  They’ve faced overwhelming rejection looking for a job.  Regaining confidence and self-esteem is a process.  For most people, talking confidently about themselves seems unnatural – we’re told from an early age not to brag.

As I tell people: strengths are like the color of your eyes.  When I say “I have brown eyes,” no one is going to argue with me that I have brown eyes.  When I say that “I’m creative,” I’m creative!  That’s part of the strengths I have had since a very young child.  I know how to do creative things well and that’s a strength I bring to the table.  It’s not bragging – it’s the confidence of knowing this is who I am!  You may have known it your whole life but not acknowledged it, but it is still who you are!  Once you understand this, and own it, the confidence flows.

Too often, we run into this “imposter syndrome” – this voice that is sitting on our shoulders telling us “What are you thinking?  You really don’t know what you are doing.” Or we convince ourselves that someone is going to come in and say “We really don’t want you here anymore.”   It forces us to constantly feel as if we are being judged by others expectations.

Once you know that your strengths are owned by you and they are not measured by anyone else – just like you eye color – then you get to a point where you don’t compete against this voice and it is actually replaced with that red-hot confidence and courage to make a change.

For many job seekers, starting in their mid-30s, they begin to reflect on their current job or career path and pangs of regret seep in.  There’s a sense that they are stuck in a job or a career path that doesn’t reflect who they really are or what it is they really want to be doing.  Do you see that?

I work with a lot of people who struggle with this; they absolutely don’t want to be doing what they are doing. They’ve spent so much time and money on their educations, they’ve been working successfully for a number of years and progressing their careers, are making good money and in everyone else’s eyes, they’ve reached their pinnacle.  But, they absolutely hate their jobs to the point, sometimes, that it is mentally paralyzing to go into work.

Often this is the result of not having acknowledged their passion.

They might have recognized their passion in college, but they focused on careers that their parents thought they ought to be doing, or a career they thought was going to make them money, help them become financially stable, pay off their student loans, raise a family and buy a new house, a car and take a vacation every once in a while.

It’s clear that their passion doesn’t lie with what they are doing and when I talk with them about their passion, they have very different ideas about what kind of work they’d prefer to be doing.  But it is also a very scary situation for them because change is always challenging.

How do you resolve this fear?  

It’s probably the number one thing I hear from folks who are frustrated with their current jobs.  Through the career design process, we try to answer all of the questions that help people to resolve these fears.

How much money do you need to make?  What expenses do you have?  What’s the work-life balance you are seeking?  What can happen if you are out of a job for 4 months?  We ask all of those questions in the very beginning to assist the reality of their personal reinvention.  Many people simply say they can’t give up their jobs, no matter how much they hate going to work each day.

I tell them their career does not have to be an “either/or” scenario.  This can be about “and/both” so they can stay in the position they are in and start looking at the options out there following their passion.  Is it going to take some time?  Yes.  Will it take 15 years?  No.  It’s going to a few months of working on the process during the time they have available – in the evenings and on weekends for example.  I would never tell someone to quit their job tomorrow to pursue their passion unless they could afford to do so and have given serious thought to how they can realistically make this work for them.

Read more about Linda Sollars at www.creatingpurpose.com

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The Job Interview: Preparation Leads to Job Offer


To many job seekers, the interview is the most difficult part of the job-seeking process.  In fact, it is the most crucial point in deciding whether you will be offered a job and it is extremely important that a tremendous amount of thought, research, anticipation and preparation are put into your upcoming interview.

Let’s face it:  When you are in a final interview situation, you are probably one of a handful of candidates who are being considered.  You, like the other candidates, have proven that you match the requirements of the position; in other words, any of the finalists probably COULD do the job.  But at the interview, the hiring manager is now trying to determine other things that will identify the ‘unspoken’ qualities and differentiators that will help them decide who is the best fit for the team.

Before the interview

There’s a sweet spot you want to aim for in any interview – it exists between desperation and arrogance – it’s called ROCK SOLID CONFIDENCE

If you make it to the interview stage, there are several things that you want to do to prepare.

Give yourself an inner-pep talk to get yourself motivated and excited about the interview opportunity; there’s a sweet spot you want to aim for in any interview – it exists between desperation and arrogance – it’s called ROCK SOLID CONFIDENCE!  You only get there by believing in yourself, adequately preparing for the interview and having solid examples from your qualifications, your past experience and your accomplishments that demonstrate your relevance and why you are the best person for the job.

In any interview, you want to feel as if you have confidence and are in control of demonstrating why you are the best fit for the job.  The goal for any interview is to make it more of a relaxed conversation than it feeling like its ‘them against me’ where they are rattling off pre-written questions and simply copying your answers down.

Think about it: if you’ve ever interviewed somebody for a job, you know how challenging it can be, but also how refreshing it is when the right person comes along and confidently demonstrates all of the traits you are looking for in that new employee.

Eye contact, body language, consistent and precise answers to questions all help you to engage the interviewer.  Relax, but try not to drone on and on as you answer a question; often that shows a sign of desperation in trying to make your answer ‘fit’ the question.  In addition, as one HR executive recently told me, “If they are boring to me, it’s a good sign they will be boring to my important clients.”

Most importantly…  SMILE!  A smile is disarming not only to the interviewer but it also helps you to relax.

Here are five tips to help you prepare for the interview:

1.) Re-read the job posting, your resume and cover letter.  This will immediately get you thinking about how your qualifications and background are connected to the job you’ve applied for.
You obviously impressed the company by being able to connect your background to the job requirements as spelled out in the job posting. Now, you have to make this same connection in one-on-one, person-to-person interview.This is a critical element!

One recruiter I talked to compared it to reading a really good book and then being disappointed by the movie that was made from the book.  In other words, translating what is on your resume to your live interview must connect the expectations you’ve set on paper to how you now present yourself in person.

2.) Research.  This will show you understand their company, their industry and connect how your background adds value to their mission.
There are literally dozens of research tools at your fingertips to gain a full understanding of the company you are applying to. From the company’s website, to online news sources that give you the latest news about the company to industry reports that can help you put their organization into context of the industry they operate.

At the interview, while there won’t be an expectation that you are an expert in their business, you should be able to talk intelligently about the company. You should also be able to show WHY you want to work for the company and how your skills would add value to the company. Having a thorough understanding of their business is one of the only ways to make that authentic connection between your background and their business.

As one HR recruiter told me, “It’s an automatic ‘F’ if the job seeker doesn’t have a solid grasp of our company and what we do. There’s no good reason for this and it demonstrates they have little to no ambition if they can’t do some simple research on us.”

3.) Practice answering the question that you will be asked at every interview: “Can you tell us about yourself?”  This will allow you hit the highlights of your qualifications and experience and allow you set the direction of the interview from the beginning.
The way you answer this question can put you in the driver’s seat for the rest of the interview. It is your first and most important opportunity to give a short synopsis showing the chronology of your career and most importantly begin highlighting and tying the relevance of your experience to the job you are applying for.

4.) Anticipate the questions that will be asked of you and practice answering them.  This will help you connect your qualifications to the job posted and control your strengths that YOU want to get across during the interview.
When you read a job posting, you can tell there are probably five critical things in terms of both the job description (what you will be required to do) and the requirements of the position (experience/skills required for the job). You should be fully prepared to talk specifically about your past qualifications and specific experiences to show how they are relevant to the job you are applying for.

Consider asking yourself, “What are three-to-five good reasons why I’m the best fit for this position?” File these reasons away in your head as they are your mantra throughout the interview – the things you want to get across during the interview. You also should have examples from your past work (past projects, accountabilities, accomplishments) connecting how your qualifications are matched to the job you are applying.

At the end of the interview, there will be a question of you, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”  At this point, think through the things you wanted to get across that prove you are most qualified for this position. Were you able to connect them to the job you are applying for?  If not, now is the time to summarize for the interviewer why you believe your qualifications, background and experience are best for the position.

One successful job seeker I coached told me, “When I really started anticipating obvious questions, I found myself more prepared for the interview.  In the past, some of the questions left me feeling like the proverbial ‘deer in the headlights.’ Truly thinking about how I would answer questions gives me a lot of ammunition in terms of putting my qualifications and accomplishments on full display and a side effect was that I developed a deeper passion for the position which also helped me convince the employer I was the right person for the job.”

5.) Conduct a mock interview with a friend/mentor.  This will help you practice and refine your answers speaking out loud in front of another person.
Write down the questions you have anticipated that you might get asked and have a friend ask you the questions to practice your answers. Have your friend critique you. Are you getting the main points you want to get across? Are you engaging? Are your answers concise, clear and understandable?

Remember, being prepared for the interview is one of the most critical parts of ‘acing’ the interview and getting a job offer. It helps you relax, and you enter the interview with a great deal of confidence.

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Touch Points.

One of the most common strategies in successful branding is to develop a believable brand promise that creates a positive perception about a product in the eyes of the targeted audience the product seeks to influence. Through that perception, the brand will trigger a response from the targeted audience, which, if successful, will initiate a ‘trial’ of the product.

If, through the trial of the product, the product lives up to the brand promise that initially influenced the audience to action, then the audience will repeat their behavior and ultimately, if the product continues to deliver on its promise, will create the ultimate in branding success – brand loyalty.  

At each stage – trial, repeat and loyalty – there are specific marketing touch points the brand is using to connect to and influence its audience.

And as a ‘product’ in the marketplace of employment, we also have the power to create our own brand promise and influence the perception of ourselves in the eyes of a targeted audience – in the job seeker’s case, the audience being a potential employer.

The resume, the cover letter and the interview are the three most common touch point opportunities a job seeker has to influence an employer’s perception and opinion.  The job seeker wants to persuade the employer that they match the requirements of the job posting in every way – from the experience, the talents, the qualifications, the skills and expertise; and prove that they will add value to the company and to the department.

In most cases, it is not too difficult to interpret the job posting to determine the most essential requirements and skills the employer is searching for, but in each stage, it is up to the job seeker to connect their relevance to the job posting’s requirement.

The resume and the cover letter are the first touch points and it is up to the job seeker to make the connection from the job posting requirements to their ‘brand’ in order to influence an employer to contact them.

The interview is commonly the most difficult part for job seekers.  It is at this point where you must translate in a person-to-person conversation the elements of your ‘brand promise’ that came across in the resume and cover letter that influenced the employer to contact you (trial) for an interview.

While this is a simplified explanation of branding, job seekers need to think much the same way, because let’s face it, when you are looking for a job, you are the Chief Marketing Officer for yourself.

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Ace the Job Interview through Building Bridges


Let’s face it:  the job search process seems a little silly.

Your resume is supposed to spell out your years of experience, expertise and accomplishments using a dozen-or-so short, bulleted synopsis with the hope that someone ‘gets you’ and sees that your background, above everyone else, is the right fit for the position.

Now, saying that, resumes and cover letters are necessary and there are clearly effective ways to write impactful resumes and cover letters that help you to stand out.

Assuming your resume does open the door for you and you are now in the formal recruitment process, you are now faced with an even more daunting challenge: convincing the hiring manager at the interview that you are the right person for the job.

It’s during the interview where you not only must connect all of the relevance to the position they detected on your resume, but also where you must display a true passion and desire for the company and for the job for which you are applying.

I spoke with an HR manager at one of Denver’s biggest ad agencies last week and he told me that the thing that really stands out with him when interviewing someone is that the job seeker displays a level of self-assuredness not only about their skills, but how they can display how their skills translate to the specific job they are interviewing for.

“Often I see job seekers in interviews who are trying to convince me that their breadth of background would be a perfect fit for the company; I need you to connect your background to the specific job your are interviewing for – that is what I will be ultimately be judging you on.

“If someone appears desperate, then they will probably go overboard in describing how they can do anything we ask of them. Often, this also translates to long-winded answers which give us the impression you are boring.  If you are boring me, I’m left with the impression you will also bore our clients.

“Give me short, specific examples of how your background connects to the specific position.   Paint the picture in my head of how you will be the most effective person for this job.  Convince me that you are right for this job.”

Building Bridges

I’ve found that most job-seeking advice sounds good when you describe it, but in fact, is much more difficult in practice.  This is particularly true with advice about how to effectively interview.

The fact is that the end-goal for any job-seeking interview situation is to influence the perception of the person who is doing the interviewing in your favor; you want them to leave the interview believing you are the right person for the job.

One of the biggest mistakes people in interviews make is trying to quickly determine the answer you believe the interviewer wants to hear. There are a couple of things wrong with this approach.  The primary mistake is that you simply don’t know what the interviewer wants to hear; and secondly, you are giving up a great opportunity to display your true grasp of the issue.

When I was the Chief Spokesman for the Mayor of Denver, I perfected a few tricks that helped the Mayor to navigate through tricky media interview situations.

In any interview, we would prepare the Mayor to concentrate on 3-5 messages that HE wanted to get across in the interview – in other words, we worked with him to control weaving these messages into the interview.  So no matter the question, he would tailor his answers back to the points HE wanted to make.

This technique is called bridging and is completely applicable to the job-seeking interview process.

In bridging, the goal is to lead your answer to one of the 3-5 points you want to make – again these 3-5 points are going to be connected to your relevance to the job.  When you think about it this way, you can see that you are in much more control of the interview and can communicate with a much greater level of confidence and assuredness.

For example:

Q:  Our company is still coming to grips with using social media effectively.  What are the things that you would do broaden our reach using social media and how can we use a blog for our CEO to promote the company?

Wrong Answer:  Without question, you need to be on Twitter, Facebook and also we should create a CEO blog that will help promote your CEO.  I’m familiar with all social media and could really help this company promote itself using social media.

Right Answer:  My experience with social media tells me a couple of things.  Primarily, it requires a serious assessment of the need and as importantly the time, effort, and resources that are required to use social media effectively.  In my last position, we looked at all the tools we were using in our overall marketing efforts and developed a specific campaign that included social media to see how our customers would respond. Through Twitter alone we increased traffic to our point-of-sale website by 22% in the first 3 months.  But the blog we created was more difficult because of the lack of time and commitment from upper management. But the critical issue is this: before committing to using one social media tool over the other and to set realistic expectations about what social media can deliver, its important to test different social media tools.

As you can see, the second answer uses the bridging phrases ‘My experience…tells me a couple of things’ and ‘…the critical issue is this.’  Using these types of bridging phrases immediately sets up an expectation of an authoritative response.  Bridging gives you power – it allows you to use past experiences to demonstrate a point and it highlights your expertise and how it would apply to the job your applying.

Here are several other bridging phrases that can help you:

From my perspective…

I have heard that too, but the real focus should be on….

If I may, let me pick out another point that is equally as important….

Based on a similar project I was involved in, I might describe it differently…

Looking ahead, I believe…

Here’s a related point I’m even more familiar with…

That’s an important point, but here’s my view on the issue…

The question might also be…

Opinions might differ on this point, but here’s my bottom line…

Let’s use another perspective…

Some people might consider this is the most important issue, but my experience tells me that…

Bottom Line
Bridging works.  Remember, don’t always answer the question in the way you think the interviewer WANTS to hear the response, think about how you can get to the answer that is most helpful to demonstrate your 3-5 points you want to make in an interview.

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Older job seekers: challenges and issues – advantages and opportunities

Older job seekers face unique challenges and issues but also have tremendous advantages and opportunities.

Many older job seekers have left the work force in upper mid-senior level positions and with it, the higher salaries and benefits that come with those positions.

The fact is that there are fewer mid-senior level management positions available and as such, older job seekers are finding it more and more difficult to land a job.

According to June statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half a million people age 50 and older are unemployed and looking for work and the U.S. Department of Labor said that workers age 55 and up have an average duration of joblessness of 35.5 weeks, compared with 23.3 weeks for job seekers between 16 and 24 and 30.3 weeks for those between 25 and 54.

Looking for a job, under any circumstance at any age is still a hard thing and unfortunately, most people have no formal training in searching for a job which can be frustrating as you get older.  In addition is the reality of age discrimination: employers or HR recruiters who are basing their hiring decisions based on age.  In their minds, their first thought is that an older job seeker is over-qualified and will be demanding a higher salary.

While it is difficult for older job seekers to eliminate the stereotypes about their age, it is necessary to replace those thoughts with a rock-solid confidence that emphasizes skills and capabilities.  Savvy employers recognize that older job seekers offer the benefit of defined expertise as well as maturity, judgment and wisdom about industries and trends that comes from their past experience.

In addition to just understanding how to find the jobs that are available, I always suggest to older job-seekers to do a few critical things:

1.) Re-learn HOW to look for a job. Many older job seekers have not had to look for a job in a very long time.  Gone are the days in which you open the newspaper, scan through hundreds of jobs and blindly send out your one tailored resume to employers.  Today, looking for a job is very similar to crafting a strategic marketing campaign with laser-focused targets.   Each resume must be customized and needs to define the relevance of your capabilities and experience to the job you are applying.   Networking and cold-calling are critical tactics to open doors.   Selling yourself as a product might seem awkward, but in much the same way, you need to define the value you will bring to an organization and specifically explain how you can help the organization solve a problem.

2.) Create a jobs skill audit. A jobs skills audit will help you focus on what you want to do and identifies the skills that make you a viable candidate. Sit down with a pad of paper and list every skill that you have developed in a lifetime of work.  It could be anything from supervising employees to developing massive budgets to the skills associated specifically with your expertise. Just brainstorm all the skills you have and then go back and start to prioritize those skills into two columns – primary and secondary skills. You will be amazed at how much more you recognize about yourself than when you first began this exercise. In addition, you will begin to see opportunities in terms of how these skills may be transferable to different careers and jobs.

3.) Create a ‘personal brand statement’. Every interview will start with the question: “Tell me about yourself.”  Consider your ‘personal brand statement’ as the summary statement that describes who you are, how you differentiate yourself from others in terms of background, skills and expertise and why you are someone who should be hired. Your resume should back up your ‘brand’ in terms of prior experience, training, and expertise.

4.) Learn how to be a good job interviewer. Let’s face it – once you are being interviewed, it really is an audition. When you get to this point, you’ve already been ‘scrubbed’ and you (as well as others being interviewed) have been determined to have matched the criteria and are considered qualified for the job. You are now being judged on other things: can you think on your feet? Do you have a good personality that will fit the company culture? Are  you confident? Can you sell yourself? Can you make tough decisions?  Can you juggle several projects at once?  Are you friendly?  Creative?  Analytical?

Perhaps most importantly, can you talk passionately and enthusiastically about yourself, your qualifications, your experiences and about the prospect of working for a new employer?

There are a lot of common questions that get asked at an interview and you need to be prepared.

– Open ended questions (why do you want to work for us? Tell us why you’d be a good fit here?)
– Hypothetical questions (‘What if?’ questions. How would you handle the following situation?)
– Direct questions (What specific skills do you have for this….?)

5.) Research the company you are interviewing for. At the interview, you also need to have researched the company you are interviewing with and the industry in which they operate.  With the Internet, there is tons of access to information about companies, organizations and the people who run them.  Read their SEC filings.  Scan their annual reports. Research media clips.  Use ‘Linked In’ to research key individuals.  Understand the company’s goals and challenges.  Be able to ‘talk’ their language.  What key industry metrics does this company use to measure success?

6.) Consider becoming an independent consultant. You have a ton of knowledge that comes from years working in your career field and in your industry.  Revisit your former employer or reach out to former clients and other industry contacts and see if there are opportunities for you to provide them with short-term or temporary project-based consulting.  Often, companies who are on full-time employee hiring freezes allow departments to hire contract consultants to work as consultants.  Be prepared to offer ideas for how your expertise can help the company.    Also be prepared to discuss how much you would charge for your expertise.  Some consultants charge by the hour, while others charge a one-time project fee.  In either case, it’s important to calculate what you are worth.  Consider your hourly fee, all of your expenses and what you would likely make if you were a full-time employee with benefits.   I’d also suggest developing a simple agreement that specifies your work.  Click here for a step-by-step way to determine your consulting rate.

7.) Take advantage of free resources. The American Association for Retire Persons (AARP) offers free job seeking expertise for job seekers over the age of 50 including articles, surveys on the best employers for older employees, webinars and career fairs.  Click here for the AARP work website.  In addition, your local city and state offer resume building workshops and one-on-one job skills consulting to help you develop more confidence in your interview skills.  Connect with your local industry association to find out about networking groups, seminars and other opportunities to meet with employers who are hiring.

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Job Doctor: One recruiter’s five-step plan for job seekers to get noticed

Dear Job Doctor:

I’ve sent my resume in response to dozens of job postings but am not getting calls back.  What am I doing wrong?

Going Bonkers in Denver

Dear GBID:

This is a very common problem – probably the biggest frustration I hear from job seekers.

What are things that will get your resume noticed and help your resume land in the pile for consideration?

Think about it from a human resource recruiter’s perspective.

An HR recruiter at a company is typically what we call a ‘generalist.’  They are professionals who are trained to hire the best possible talent for their organization and, in fact, their own jobs depend on it.

When you think about it that way, you can understand how important it is to prove to them why you should be considered; they WANT you to prove to them that you are the best candidate for the position.

One HR recruiter from a mid-size IT company explained the five-step-process she goes through when sifting through a pile of resumes on her desk.

1.)  Impactful resumes and cover letters that show in clear and organized ways the chronology of a career progression.

“I have about 60 seconds to look at a resume and determine if  a job seeker is a stellar candidate for the position,” she said.  “First, I look for basic criteria like years and type of experience, college degree, and chronology of employment.  I don’t have a lot of time to search for these things, they need to be laid out in a simple and easy-to-read, organized fashion.  The longer I have to search for these things, the less likely its a resume that will be considered.”

2.) Red flags.  You’ve heard it before – typos, including misspelled words and grammatical mistakes, matter.  But there are other red flags recruiters are looking for.

“Typos are the easy red flags.  But I’m also looking for red-flags such as multiple jobs in a short period of time, gaps in employment,  confusing or inconsistent dates as well as other things that might give me pause.  If things are not clear and transparent and I have to spend an inordinate amount of time questioning a resume, chances are slim it will get through my filters.

“If you have a unique situation, explain it in the resume or cover letter.  Have you been a stay-at-home parent for five years?  Have you been on the unemployment lines for 6 months without a job?  People think these and other situations will automatically disqualify them and that’s not necessarily true.  What has a greater chance of disqualifying you is if we don’t understand the situation.  Don’t make us guess or assume.”

3.) Clearly identified skills, accomplishments and experiences that are relevant to the position that is being applied for.

“If the resume gets through this initial screen, I then determine if this candidate’s background – their experience, skills, expertise, career progression – is relevant to the job they are applying for.

“No matter what the position, in both the resume and the cover letter, the candidate has to show me why their background is relevant to the job.  I want to believe you are the best candidate and it is in my best interest that you are,  but you have to help prove that to me.

“Tell me specifically what you did and what you accomplished.  Don’t use weak language to describe your background!  Impress me! Show confidence in your skills.  Use specific examples of past job responsibilities that are tied to the job you are applying for.  Did you manage people?  Oversee large budgets?  Do you have specific projects that drove the bottom line?  Were you promoted?  Tell me your story!”

4.) The pre-interview

Often, recruiters will call candidates that make it through their initial screen before they invite them in for a formal interview.

“I want to have a conversation to see if the resume really matches with the person we are considering.  Remember, ultimately, the people I send forward are based on my recommendation…I want to make sure they are the right candidates.

“Based on the initial resume review, I’ll usually have several questions relating to their background and I also want to get a sense over the phone if they are really serious about going through the recruiting process.   I’ll probably also discuss initial salary range to gauge whether the salary is a fit.  There’s nothing worse than going through the whole recruitment process only to find at the job offer that salary expectations are inconsistent with what is being offered.  It is helpful for candidates to be clear at the beginning about their expectations.

“Job seekers should always be prepared to discuss their background.  The most effective interviewers are the ones that anticipate the questions that will be asked of them.  We try to outline the job description in great detail and it is helpful if job candidates are prepared to speak to how their background is relevant to the job.”

5.) Little things matter! Politeness.  Attitude.  Prompt return of phone calls.  Gratitude.

“I often find job candidates who carry a disrespectful attitude toward HR recruiters.  They think the HR recruiter is a barrier to their opportunity; they’d prefer to immediately talk to the hiring authority or their new boss.

“We are trained professionals who are committed to the best interests of our organizations. Through the recruiting process, we also become advocates of the top talent we think will make the best employees for the position we are trying to hire.

“Many times, our first impressions will be deciding factors.  Be polite and respectful of our time.  Recognize that while we understand your anxiety, we are probably recruiting for several positions at one time and only have limited time throughout the day.

“Thank you notes are essential.  It shows us you ‘get it’ and it is a simple, respectful and appreciated gesture.

“There can be a lot of moving pieces in the recruiting process and you can do yourself a favor by being as helpful as you can throughout this process.”

Bottom line? Help the recruiter become an advocate for you.  Prove how you are clearly the best candidate.  Your resume shouldn’t read like a crossword puzzle – it should clearly show that you meet the basic criteria and most importantly, demonstrate in an organized and detailed fashion how your background is relevant to the job you are applying for.  Show how your skills, your background, your experience and expertise are a fit for the position.  Be polite and respectful and be clear about your expectations.    Answer all questions and ask the recruiter what are things that you can do to be most helpful throughout the process.

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