Career Strategy Summary

 

With graduation in striking distance at universities across the world, I’m posting the list of my career strategies. I recommend you checking them out. In summary, learn what you like, do work that you like, manage your career, and give back.

Career Strategy 1: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Career Strategy 2: Job Search

Career Strategy 3: Getting your First Real Job

Career Strategy 4: How to Get a Job at …

Career Strategy 5: Protecting your Personal brand

Career Strategy 6: Effective Interviewing

Career Strategy 7: Up, Over, Out, or Stay

Career Strategy 8: Being a Good Mentor

Career Strategy 8: Being a Good Mentor

I recently received an invitation from my alma mater, Brigham Young University asking me to mentor a student in the Economics department. This is a great opportunity to give back and build the next generation of budding economists.

The program coordinator gave the following suggestions when working with a mentee.

  • Be kind and encouraging, but honest– Show confidence in your mentee, but if you sense that he/she is headed in the wrong direction, share your honest opinion.
  • Serve as a guide, not an “answer person”– Share your advice when you think it’s needed, but also guide your student to his/her own answers.  
  • Put yourself in their shoes– Remember how you were when you were in college. How much did you not know? What would have helped you the most?
  • Share your knowledge – Sharing your knowledge and experience will greatly benefit your student.

 

As a mentor, your job is to help the mentee in whatever capacity they need. Sometimes they don’t even know what they need, but you can step in and lead them in the right direction.

Ask yourself these questions to help guide them along the path.

  • What do I wish I would have known at their life stage?
  • How did I become who I am today?
  • What are they doing that is a mistake that they aren’t aware of?
  • How can I make this person extremely desirable in the job market?

Review with them my other Career Strategy posts to get them started, and add your thoughts to them as you go along. Below are the links to the previous strategies.

Career Strategy 1: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Career Strategy 2: Job Search

Career Strategy 3: Getting your First Real Job

Career Strategy 4: How to Get a Job at …

Career Strategy 5: Protecting your personal brand

Career Strategy 6: Effective Interviewing

Career Strategy 7: Up, Over, Out, or Stay

 

What else have you or your mentor done that has been effective?

 

 

 

 

 

Career Strategy 7: Up, Over, Out, or Stay

After I’ve been in a role a few years, I become less and less challenged by the same tasks. Eventually, I have to ask myself some questions to decide what to do.

  • Do I just love my job so much that I don’t need or want to make changes? (Stay)
  • Are there opportunities to expand my role? (Up)
  • Is there another role within my company that would give me the experiences I’m looking for? (Over)
  • Do I need to look outside of the company for the things I’m looking for? (Out)

Stay

This can be a hard conversation with yourself. You may just love your job. Although you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner in your career, there are so many benefits to working in a job that you like. On the other hand, I have known many people who stay in jobs that they hate because it seems too difficult or stressful to look for a change.

Don’t be like that. If you hate your job, get out of it.

Up

Look for opportunities to move up within your company. You should explain to your manager what your goals are and leverage them to get in front of others within your company. If your manager isn’t willing to help you reach your goals, this is a good sign that over or out may be a great move for you.

Contrary to Dilbert, your manager shouldn’t have horns and should help you develop your career.

Also talk to your manager to see what you need to be working on, if you aren’t ready to make the jump to the next level. Be clear that you want feedback to get to the next level, and you should get it.

Over

After talking to your manager, you’ll know if Up isn’t an option. At that point, start looking around in your company for jobs at your same level that would be interesting to you. Target roles that develop the skills your manager just called out as lacking.

Talk to people within your company who are doing those jobs to understand what is required to be successful. Build your relationships throughout your career, so that you aren’t starting from scratch every time. It should be a continuous process that strengthens your skills over time, setting yourself up for the Up move.

Out

If staying sounds horrible, Up and Over aren’t options, it is probably time for you to get out. Don’t leave your company until you have another job lined up, but start following the Job Search strategies.

A great job will bring so much satisfaction to your life. Make sure you are doing it right.

Career Strategy 6: Effective Interviewing

Great Job! Your Job Search Strategy is paying off. You’ve been invited for an in-person interview. Now, here is where you have to really shine. At this point, they want you. The job is there for the taking. To successfully cross this finish line, you need a strategy. Here is what I recommend:

  1. Prepare sufficiently beforehand
  2. Show confidence
  3. Be your best self
  4. Maintain honesty
  5. Tell great, short stories
  6. Ask real questions
  7. Show your interest
  8. Determine cultural fit

Preparation

The recruiter will often send you a list of who you will be meeting with. Take the time to do research on the people, the company, and the position. When you spoke with the recruiter previously, you should have received a solid understanding of how the position fits in the company. You can learn about the company through the website, the news, or by reaching out directly to people within the company. You can find information about the people on LinkedIn.

I like to write up specific questions for each of those people and say their names over and over in my head so that when I meet them, I am ready to have engaging conversations.

Additionally, you should have a great answer prepared for all the standard interview questions. They may try to surprise you with something unexpected, but most questions follow the standard list.

Confidence

There is a difference between confidence and cockiness. You don’t want to be the guy who assumes he has the job and speaks down to people he meets with. You do want to be the person who smiles, shakes hands, and carries on an intelligent conversation without stumbling over his words.

Stand up straight, look people in the eye, and smile.

Be your Best Self

You need to be yourself, but you want to be your best self. Let your personality shine through, but if you have traits that rub people the wrong way, do what you can to keep those in check. Ask a friend or family member what you do that can irritate people, and they will be happy to share it with you.

Honesty

Don’t make up stories or lie about your qualifications. I know managers whose number one criterion for hiring people is whether they can be trusted. People can tell if you are making things up, and it will get you a pass right out the door.

Tell great, short stories

Some questions lead you to tell a great true story. We as humans love stories. Take your answers to the above standard questions and add in a story when you overcame hardships, were successful at your job, or helped someone out.

Keep it short, but try to get them to feel something; success, overcoming odds, compassion. These are all great elements for a good story.

Ask Real Questions

In your planning beforehand, write out questions that you want to understand before you join the company. Here are some good ones:

  1. I like what I have seen so far about the team, what is your vision for where it is going?
  2. How does this job fit into the bigger picture for the company?
  3. How can I be successful quickly at this job? What types of people have succeeded here?
  4. Is there anything you wish you knew before you started here that would have helped you?

Tailor it to the interviewer. Bring up things from earlier in the conversation and try to dig a little deeper into it. (EX: I like your vision. How does my role fit into it?)

You don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. It should feel like a natural discussion where you are going back and forth and building rapport. (Some companies require a canned list of interview questions so you may have to hold your questions.)

Show Genuine Interest

Throughout the interview, show interest in the position. Interviewing is like dating. The hiring manager doesn’t want to commit to you if they feel like you aren’t even interested in the position. Say “Wow, this looks like a great position. I’m really excited about this opportunity.”

As the interview ends, you can even say, “I would love working here, and I feel like I’m a great fit. I look forward to continuing the conversation.”

Determine your Cultural Fit

When you leave the interview, think back on your time with them.

  • Did you like the people you spoke with?
  • Would you be able to work well with these people?
  • Does the position seem like it has growth potential?
  • Does your manager care about the success of their team?

The role may not have everything you want, and that is ok. You want to go into the role with full knowledge of what to expect.

Good luck on your interviewing! Let me know how it goes.

Career Strategy 5: Protecting your Personal Brand

Businesses often talk about protecting their brand. If you ask someone at Apple, they are very aware of how their company is perceived. There are entire teams focused solely on making their online presence clean, clear, and awesome.

I want to talk about your personal brand. If someone mentions you within your company, what comes to people’s minds? How are you perceived by your peers in your job? How does your manager, and other managers throughout the company, see you?

This is your brand; this is who you are to others.

How to create and manage your brand:

  1. Decide how you want to be perceived
  2. Develop and sell your brand
  3. Monitor your brand within your company
  4. Be willing to adapt your brand as you change and grow

Personal Perception

How do you want people to see you? I posted earlier about how to decide who you want to be. As part of the exercise, you listed the things you like and are good at. This is a good start for what you want your brand to be. You get to decide in part how others perceive you, so figure out what that is. This could also be your elevator pitch.

I’ll give you mine as an example:

“I am an expert in modeling and simulation of complex systems. My supply chain experience and technical capabilities help me to understand analytical jargon, but my confidence and understanding nature aid me in communicating complex technical problems to leaders in a way that is easy to understand. I am the go-to person for any modeling or data questions in my organization.”

Ok, I may sound a little geeky from the description. I did throw in the confidence and understanding nature to show that I have a softer side. It doesn’t take away the geekiness, but that is part of my brand. I wouldn’t be me without it.

Develop and Sell your Brand

Now that you know who you are, how do you communicate that to other people? Start with doing great work. If you want people to know you as the person they can always count on to complete your tasks quickly, do just that. People form perceptions about you quickly, but you can guide them to perceive you the way you want to be seen.

While using your actions to create your brand you can smooth things along by planting thoughts through quick conversations and one-liners. Say things like:

  • “That is what I’m best at.”
  • “Thanks for the opportunity, this is really interesting work.”
  • “Wow, how did you know that I was the right person to talk to about this.”

You can and should have a conversation with your manager to see how you are perceived and to tell them the things you are best at. People will ask them about you; they can be your best brand protector, or a fatal brand destroyer, use them for the former.

Build relationships with your peers, and leverage them to communicate your brand. If the people closest to you believe your brand, others will too.

Monitoring your Brand

Now that you have started communicating and proving your brand, you have to be aware of it at all times. Meet with people often, especially those outside your immediate team.

Once you are comfortable with people, you can ask them how you are perceived. Ask questions about what they think are your strengths and weaknesses. Most people will soften their feedback, but you can tell based on how they talk about you what their feelings are.

If it isn’t great, or it isn’t the message you want to hear, it is your job to change it. This can be difficult, but you can say something like, “That is great feedback. I’m really working on developing my (fill in the blank with the skill you are trying to communicate). Do you have any advice on how to go about it?” This does two things: first, it gets them thinking about you in terms of that skill; second, it may lead to opportunities for you to prove yourself.

Make sure to thank people for their time. It is also customary to buy people lunch or coffee when you have these conversations.

Be willing to Adapt

If you consistently hear from people that your best skill is something that isn’t in your brand. Take a deep breath and look at yourself from their perspective. Maybe you should add that skill to your brand. If it isn’t something that you like, focus your efforts at work on the areas you do want to shine through.

You may be the best note taker in the company, but if you don’t want to be stuck as the note taker, branch out and work to prove your other skills.

You have many awesome skills. Do what needs to be done to be seen.

 

What other ideas have you tried to build your brand?

 

Career Strategy 4: How to Get a Job at …

Every year the list of top companies to work for comes out. You may read about their benefits or their culture, and think to yourself, “I would be a great fit for that company.” You go and research. The more you learn, the more you want to work there.

How do you actually get a job at one of those companies? Well, let me tell you.

  1. Gather information
  2. Prepare for success
  3. Reach out to many people in a positive way
  4. Take employees to lunch
  5. Land the job
  6. Make the leap of faith

Gather information

Do as much research as you can about the company, the culture, and the employees. You already know what your skills are, so look through the company’s job site and find jobs that you would fit into. Make a list of all possible positions. It could take you some time to map the structure of the organization.

Write down any questions you have, and come up with ideas to improve the company in the areas that you are targeting.

Prepare for Success

Look at the roles that you would be the best fit for. Do you have the right skills? If there are huge gaps on your resume, you need to fill those gaps. Working in your dream job at your dream company will take some work, but is worth it. Work with your current manager to add requirements to your job that will give you those skills.

Reach Out

As you work on those skills, go onto LinkedIn and find people who have that role, or are on similar teams to that role. Reach out to them, but not in a generic way. People working at these companies get emails all of the time asking to connect. They only respond if the request comes in a way that is relatable, personal, and applicable.

Reach out with a specific purpose in mind that isn’t, “can you give me a job.” They know that you want a job, but you need to prove to them that you are the person that they want in their organization. You do this by spending time with people. They are much more likely to respond to an offer to take them to lunch than a blind resume blast. (I actually wouldn’t send my resume until they specifically ask for it or at least until the dialogue has progressed)

Your note could look something like this. “Hi Brandon, I am impressed by your background in Supply Chain, particularly how your analytics skillset has helped you in your career. I’m going to be in Portland in September. Can I take you out to lunch for an hour on Tuesday, September 25th? I’d like your advice on how to leverage my engineering expertise in the supply chain world”

Employee Lunch

When you do actually meet, do what you said you would do (ask about engineering in supply chain, end the lunch after the hour, etc). You are still in the relationship building and information gathering stage. You could figure out what skills they value in their employees, or what are pain points that the company has and is trying to fix. This will all help you to understand the company and to help brand yourself for their needs.

As the meeting is ending ask them if there is anyone else that they think would be valuable for you to talk to. Specifically, if there are any questions that they didn’t know the answer to, use that as a way to connect to someone else.

If you won’t be in the area, try to set up a call. If you go this route, send them the questions you are trying to answer beforehand so that they know you have thought about it, and it won’t waste their time.

Landing a Job

As a follow-up, thank them for their time. If you do have the skills, you are a good fit, and you have built some rapport, then find the specific job and say something like: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me again…I was looking at your job search site and found a role that I feel I would be a great fit for. Would you be willing to direct me to the right person to apply for this position?”

They may not help you, but if you proved yourself in the conversation they will at least pass your resume along. If they really like you, they will go out of their way to help you get into the company.

If it doesn’t work with this person, don’t give up. Keep connecting with people until you find someone that you connect well with. (I have a friend who reached out to 20 people in the company before finding someone who really wanted to help them. It may have taken those 19 people for him to brand himself well enough for that 20th person).

Once the interview process starts, follow the advice found everywhere on effective interviews.

Making the Leap

In the end, I’m hoping you get an offer. It may not always be your dream job, but be willing to take a leap of faith to get into the company. Most of these top 100 places to work companies got to that position because they help their people to do the things they like to do. Once you are in, you can work your way over to your dream job.

Even if this takes years of work, you will be happier for doing it, and the journey itself will develop you as a person.

Good luck out there!

 

Career Strategy 3: Getting your First Real Job

Congratulations! You are almost in the real world. You’re close to finishing school and are looking to enter the work force. You will finally be able to eat more than Ramen noodles. But wait, you need to find a real job!

If you’ve followed Career Strategy 1; What do you want to be when you grow up, you already know what you want to be. Now you just need to develop the skills to get there. Your career strategy is a long game. Every choice needs to be made with the future in mind. So what is your strategy for your first job?

  1. Secure and leverage an internship
  2. Focus on entry level jobs
  3. Follow the general job search strategy
  4. Sell your skills
  5. Take a position that prepares you for your next role

Internships

Internships are the key to getting your first job. Paid internships are great, but any internship will do; preferably an internship in an area that you like, as this will be your only work experience going into the job market.

Start looking in November of your Junior Year. Any search engine will work.

Also, talk to people you know already in industry. Often companies are more willing to take a risk fo an internship because they don’t lose much if it doesn’t work out.

Entry Level Jobs

Missed out on the internship? Don’t worry. It makes this step a little harder, but you have a lot to offer, so you’ll be fine.

Just coming out of school, I thought I was awesome. I excelled in school, and had a degree in economics. Who wouldn’t want to hire me? Unfortunately, I didn’t actually have any work experience. Take this as a lesson. You don’t know everything you think you know. You may have been the big man on campus, but you are going to have to be humble and prove your worth again.

Your job search should look for entry level positions. You can actually just type “Entry level” in a search engine, (Indeed.com) and thousands of jobs will show up. Use your degree as a search term to narrow it down. Also use your skill list as search terms.

Job Search Strategy

Read the Job Search Strategy post.

Selling

Even though you don’t have any experience yet. You have a lot to offer. You are passionate, bright, and willing to work hard to learn what you need to. Make this come out in your interviews. Let them feel your excitement.

Talk about your skills and what you can do to add value. They know that you don’t have management experience, but have you ever mentored anyone? They know you haven’t presented to leadership teams, but have you confidently presented in front of an audience? Try to tie your experiences to the skills they are looking for.

Choosing a Role

Eventually, you’ll get an offer. Great job! Before taking the role, take an assessment of what it offers you. Your first job doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be adding something to your career. Figure out if it is a step that will get you closer to your dream goal.

You deserve to have your dreams come true, but you’ll just have to work to get it.