Tuesday, April 18, 2006

HR - Friend of Foe?

Some of my best friends are HR professionals. They're almost always very caring individuals who entered the field to help people. But then they learn that their real job is protecting the company by keeping the company from making employment mistakes. And standard HR practice puts in place all kinds of processes and procedures to try to make sure that mistakes don't happen.

If you're seeking a job, HR folks can be your friend -- or they can be your foe.

If you're looking for a job in which you have previous experience doing the same job in the same industry, HR can be your best friend. In America's extremely inefficient hiring process, that experience is valued as the highest proof that you can do the job. And it provides great cover for HR and the hiring manager if you fail.

But if you're making a career change -- same job/different industry; different job/same industry; or God forbid, different job/different industry -- HR's job is to screen you out. And if you by some means get past them, then their job is to strongly advise those with hiring authority that they are taking a big risk. In this case, you'll find HR to be your foe.

That's why if you're making a career change, you need to do two things to be successful:

1. Figure out how to make a direct approach to the person that has the authority to make the hiring decision, by-passing HR so that you can get your foot into the door.

2. Develop information and stories that illustrate that you can do the job -- proof that the hiring manager and HR can feel comfortable with when going against their established policies and procedures.

Understanding how the system works will help you immeasureably, and knowing how to make foes into friends is valuable!

Jim Hughes is a life coach who helps individuals make successful career changes. To learn more or to contact Jim, see www.mapmakercoaching.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Career Changes and Social Networking

Just about everyone recognizes that social networking is your best ally in finding a job. It doesn't replace self initiative -- making calls, knocking on doors, and doing your research. But it can get you into places you couldn't get into alone, helps you learn of leads you'd never discover yourself, etc.

Since you're reading a blog, you're also probably aware that there are several folks trying to figure out how to make businesses out of social networking, generally using a web application. Wired News has an interesting article that talks about a company trying to develop a business out of using social networking to FIND and HIRE folks. While lots of places do that on their own -- usually offering a reward for bringing someone to the table -- this is a somewhat new twist. Interesting reading.

Jim Hughes is a Christian Life Coach helping individuals make successful career changes. To learn more about coaching or to contact Jim directly, visit Mapmaker Coaching.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Career Change: What about Assessments?

I'm frequently asked, "What assessments would be helpful in guiding me in my career decisions?"

It sometimes seems like there are an infinite variety of career assessments available, and they all promise to give you some insight into what career would be right for you. And in truth, most assessments do provide information that can be useful. I have taken many of them myself over the years, and I've yet to find one that doesn't give me what I think is reliable information about myself. Actually, assessment is a big business. There are entire businesses built on providing assessments, and if you want, you can spend a lot of money in this way to learn more about yourself.

The problem that I continue to observe, however, is that few people who take these assessments learn enough from them to be able to do anything different -- or to make decisions about what careers they would do best in and be happiest in. The problem is not the assessments themselves. They are scientifically valid (at least most of them), and they are providing correct results.

The first problem is that taking a multiple choice test and then looking at printed results does not make you process the information and learn from it. They provide fast results with little effort. Unfortunately, like most endeavors, quick and dirty doesn't get the job done very well.

The second major problem is that most instruments provide a piece of the puzzle in clarifying what your ideal job would be. Because you only get a piece here and a piece there, it is often difficult to put all of that together into a coherent picture.

Because of these results, I have chosen not to offer assesments as part of my coaching practice. No doubt, doing so would be a good source of income. And I would probably even get more clients that way. I do use assessment results that clients already have, and occasionally I'll ask a client to take a Self-Directed Search.

What I have found works, if a client is willing to do the work, is the Flower Exercise from What Color is Your Parachute (see link below). Richard Bolles, who wrote the book, developed the exercise to help you define your ideal job. The exercise entails writing some short stories, doing some analysis, and doing some prioritizing. It takes more effort and time than doing some assessments, BUT THAT'S WHERE THE VALUE COMES FROM. Going through the process produces real learning, and the exercise touches on each facet that goes into making up the ideal job, so when you get through, you have a clear, definitive description of your ideal job.

You can do the exercise on your own. You just have to set aside some time and do it. Many people, however, find it easier to work through the exercise with the support and assistance of a coach. If you'd like to investigate that option, email me and we'll set up a time to talk about it.

Jim Hughes is a Christian Life Coach helping people make successful career changes. For more information about coaching, or to contact Jim directly, visit Mapmaker Coaching.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina Brings Career Changes and New Neighbors

Like everyone I know in the Houston area, I've been doing what I can to help Hurricane Katrina victims. It's been amazing to see the outpouring of help and love that's occuring on a daily basis.

I've had the opportunity to volunteer at Second Mile Ministry, getting to meet individually with some of the folks who come through to receive food, clothes, and even gas vouchers. I get to hear their stories, learn about those who have offered them a place to stay, and talk to them about their plans for moving forward. And best of all, I get to pray with them.

While most left before the storm, several were in New Orleans during and after the storm. Many have told me stories of escape and survival that can only be attributed to God's hand. One family had not had a car until three days before the storm -- they were able to escape with other family members "because God provided us a car." One grandmother with an infant grandchild told me about the priest who gave them a key to the Catholic school across the street. They weathered the storm in the school, then returned to the school when the levee broke and ended up spending two days on the roof before the Coast Guard rescued her along with many neighbors.

Several have told me stories of complete strangers coming up to them and offering them housing, and then taking care of every need.

Virtually every person I've talked to has lost all of their physical possesions except what they were able to bring with them. If their homes were not flooded, then it seems that a tornado associated with the storm wiped their possessions out.

Yet to a person, they are optimistic in the face of having their lives redefined. They are getting their children into school, finding long term housing, and finding jobs. Traumatized? Yes. Defeated? No way.

While Second Mile is a faith-based organization, everyone who needs help in our part of town is being referred to us, and there is certainly no requirement that those receiving help be people of faith. Yet, to a person, in talking to them, they have expressed strong faith in God and his providence. While my job has been to encourage and help them, I've been on the receiving end of seeing faith in action and a spirit that lifts me up.

Every single person I've talked to is making a career change of one type or another as part of moving on. Most are planning to work in the Houston area. Some already have job offers.

I'm glad to have them as new neighbors. Houston will be a better place because of them.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Career Changes: Dealing With Job Loss

It’s been a while since the last podcast. Part of the reason for that is that we took some vacation time, spending some of it taking in the beautiful vistas and refreshing cool of Northern New Mexico. Now that we’re back, I’ll be blogging regularly on career change and, as part of that will post several podcasts each month. There will be a lot of material on the blog that does not make it to podcasts, so for those of you who have discovered the podcast, I want to encourage you to visit the blog and to subscribe to it as well. There are lots of RSS feed readers out there that allow you to be notified and read new posts, so if you don’t already, just use one of those to keep up with the blog as well as the podcast. I love these services because I can quickly see what’s new and determine if it’s something of interest.

Today, let’s talk for a few minutes about what to do if you’ve been working for the same company for 15 or 20 years and you suddenly find yourself laid off and forced to make a career change. Today, I want to focus on the emotional and physical effects of having your job leave you. It may be a layoff, a reduction in force, a downsizing, an early retirement, or any other of the phrases we have attached to losing your job.

If you find yourself in this position, you’ve got a lot more questions than answers. You’re likely in shock, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed, and you’re undoubtedly feeling stressed. Having worked with hundreds of folks in this situation, here are the principle points I cover with them during our initial conversation, even before we talk about specific career change strategies.

  1. It’s important to understand that during the coming months you will be experiencing the grief cycle. It generally begins with denial, moves to anger, then next to bargaining, followed by depression, and eventually to acceptance. These emotions may happen in this order, or in some other order. You may bounce back and forth, angry one day and in denial the next. You will go through this cycle, even if you have been expecting to be forced to make a career change and even if you have decided to make the leap yourself. Anytime we lose anything of significance, even if we didn’t particularly like things about it, we’ll go through grief. Just recognize that it’s natural, and something that you will experience. Denying that you are experiencing any of the effects of grief or stress – and I’ve had lots of folks do just that – simply is proof that you are in the first stage of the cycle, denial.

  1. You must develop effective strategies for dealing with the grief cycle and the stress of job loss to be effective in developing and implementing strategies for making a successful career change. Failure to deal with grief and stress associated with job loss will sabotage your job search. Grief and stress have physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive effects. I’ve put a couple of posts discussing these on another of my blogs that deals with caregiving (http://caregivingnotes.blogspot.com/2005/08/caregiver-stress-reactions-and.html and http://caregivingnotes.blogspot.com/2005/08/grief-cycle-and-caregiving.html ). The effects are the same for those who have suffered job loss, so I encourage you to read them and apply them to your situation.

  1. Here are some of the important strategies for handling grief and stress that result from job loss.

  • Develop a productive routine immediately. You have a new “job” while you’re making your career change. You’re working for yourself. Get up, get dressed, and keep “work” hours focusing on making your career change. Develop a plan for your week and for your day. Avoid the temptation to just lay back and react. Not only will your career change and job search move more quickly, but also you’ll feel better emotionally and physically.

  • Take extremely good care of yourself. Increase (or start) a daily exercise program. This is one of the most effective ways you can release stress. Eating right is also very important. If, like many of us, you’re carrying around some extra pounds, this is a great time to make changes to a healthy diet that will produce weight control. Since you’re also more likely to suffer illness during times of high stress, be aware of potential symptoms and consult your physician.

  • Find or develop a support group, and increase your networking activities. There are lots of reasons for doing this. First, you need people that will provide support and accountability as you navigate your career change. Many churches have job ministries that help fill this need, or you can assemble your own support group from friends and family. You also need to replace the social aspect of work, so develop a core of people you can talk to during the week. You should also increase your participation in networking activities. Plan to attend several networking events weekly.

  • Add or increase devotional time. Career changes and job searches are spiritual journeys. We’re naturally led to consider our purpose in life and the forces that affect our lives. It is a natural time to draw closer to God, both to seek understanding and to seek help and comfort. A regular quiet time daily, for reading, meditation, prayer, and worship will produce amazing results.

I can’t stress the importance of adopting these strategies enough. Once you do, then your specific career change and job search strategies will fall into place and be much more effective.

If you have questions or would like to correspond with me directly, you can email me at the link shown in the sidebar.

Jim Hughes is a Christian Life Coach helping individuals make successful career changes. To determine if coaching might benefit you in making your career change, visit Mapmaker Coaching.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Midlife Career Changes to Education

We've just finished taking some vacation, so time to get back to blogging. For those who have asked, there will also be more podcasts coming.

Here's another interesting article about midlife career changes to education. Most states have programs to help midlife professionals successfully make the transtion from the corporate world to teaching. As both the son of educators and the spouse of an educator, I can tell you that it is a rewarding career, but also one where good training and teaching skills are important. Like a change to any other career, you want to be the best you can be, so learning the skills and techniques of pedigogy are important in making the transition to being a good teacher. Each state's programs are a little different, so if you're also thinking of a relocation along with your career change, be sure to investigate your planned new location's requirements.

Jim Hughes is a Christian Life Coach helping people make successful career changes. To learn more about the benefits of coaching or to contact Jim directly, visit Mapmaker Coaching.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Career Changes: A 1000% Better Chance of Finding a Job

Want to increase your chances of finding a job by at least 1000%? Read on.

When you're seeking a job, how you communicate makes a big difference. This is not rocket science, so down deep you probably already know this. The hierarchy of effectiveness of communication modes is the same as for everything else:

1. Face to face communication.
2. Telephone conversations where you actually talk to a live person.
3. Physical mail.
4. E-mail, voice mail, or fax.

Face-to-face conversation most effectively establishes trust between two people so that what is said is heard. It also is the best way to capture another's attention. Attention may be the most precious commodity in America, and especially when you're seeking employment. Nothing substitutes for an in-person conversation. Statistics on job search strategies continue to show that those which rely on face-to-face approaches greatly outperform those which rely on virtual approaches.

Having a telephone conversation, if you absolutely can't get face-to-face, can also be effective. You can develop a level of trust and gain a level of attention with a phone conversation, but it is a magnitude less effective that an in-person conversation. That's because communication is highly visual -- body language is extremely important in establishing trust. We're more likely to be understood and believed when people can see us as opposed to just hearing us.

Physical mail is a big step down from even a telephone conversation. But it does have the physicality of paper and ink that makes it more real and that captures more attention that email, voice mail, or fax. It's a one way communication, which you should attempt to avoid if at all possible. But in those situations where you absolutely can't make your approach in person or by phone, this is next best. It's most effective when sent to a decision maker by name, rather than something general or something sent to H.R. And for sure use physical mail for thank you notes.

Least effective by a long shot are email, voice mail, and fax. They are too easy to ignore. You know that, because you do it all the time. Use these techniques only to provide additional information after you have established trust with your recipient through in-person or phone communications. That way they have a much better chance of getting attention.

Most job seekers use the communication hierarchy in reverse order. They'll use email, voice mail, or fax as a first step. Or they'll mail out resumes with cover letters. Few will begin with in-person approaches or telephone conversations. There are a couple of reasons for this ineffective behavior:
  • We perceive that there's less risk of personal rejection from using email or a mailing. It's a one-way conversation, and we don't face the risk of the person on the other end rejecting our effort to our face and having to hear "I'm not interested." But in reality, we need to understand that we're unlikely to get even enough attention for the person to make such a decision by just emailing or mailing them something.
  • It's easier to email, apply online, or mail a resume than it is to make a phone call or get an appointment to see someone. We like taking the easy way out. But it's precisely because it's the easy way that it's so ineffective. Potential employers are looking for people who show an extra level of iniative, and nothing shows that more than approaching them in person, or as a fall back, on the phone. It's definitely worth the extra work.
If you're still questioning the validity of what I'm saying, just dig out your long lost copy of What Color is My Parachute and look at the statistics of the five best and five worst ways to find a job. And if your copy is dated, and you think that email and job sites have become more effective and replaced the necessity of in person and phone approaches to be successful, drop by your local bookstore and take a look at the statistics in the 2005 edition.

If you're relying on job sites and emails and mailing resumes to get you a job, you need to know that you have a 95% chance of not being successful. Making the change to communicating in person will immediately increase your odds of success by at least 1000%. What are you waiting for?

Jim Hughes is a Christian Life Coach helping people make successful career changes. To learn more about coaching or to contact Jim directly, visit Mapmaker Coaching.