Archive for March, 2009

The probationary period ends: now what?

March 31, 2009

You’re on probation in your new job, and your new boss wants to talk to you. What goes through your mind?

  • this is it,
  • I really screwed up…
  • has the time gone this fast?
  • but I haven’t heard a word about my performance,
  • should I press for a raise?

Like any performance appraisal, you will know what to expect if you have a good supervisor who communicates and a discerning ear to hear what is being said. In the best situation, you know if you are a good fit or not. You know if people like you and your work or not. You know if people are smiling at you or avoiding eye contact.

But not all jobs are like that. You may not have any idea what to expect if you may have been working hard, trying to fit in, trying not to ask too many pesky questions, learning who the key players are in this organization, but not necessarily tuned in to feedback. And your supervisor might be watching but not saying anything about your performance. If this is your case, no wonder you are nervous and apprehensive!

Approach this interview with some preparation. Assume you are going to stay on, that your efforts have been appreciated, and that there are a few problems. What is preparation?

  • A memo highlighting your accomplishments since you began,
  • Projects that are underway and their expected completion timelines,
  • Questions that you have,
  • Acknowledgments of mistakes you’ve made.

The outcome of the meeting is really not in your control. Supervisors and human resource people have made their decision, but I believe that your professional behavior, including the preparation mentioned above, can influence people in the way that your initial job interview won you the position.

Most probation period interviews are positive. In fact, I know of many people whose workplaces completely forgot to hold such meetings. The ultimate compliment!

If yours takes a negative turn, remember that this job may have been a bad fit for you. Remember to remain gracious and to negotiate a reason for leaving that all parties can live with.

If you have an interview story that is still bothering you, or if you have one scheduled in the near future, and would like to speak with a career counselor, please visit my website at www.anneheadley.com for contact information. You do not have to go through this without support.

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The GED in the job interview: how do you explain it?

March 21, 2009

There are so many reasons that people do not move through high school in four orderly, productive years. A few examples:

  • a health event,
  • a disruptive home life,
  • the need to earn money,
  • a poor social fit in school,
  • immaturity/lack of purpose.

People may feel burdened by having “just” a GED instead of what they perceive as a real high school diploma. Let’s set the record straight:

The GED (General Educational Development test) leads to a real high school diploma issued by the state. Colleges, the military, and government agencies accept it as a true equivalency. So why do doubts and insecurities linger?

Part of the problem is language. The term GED really refers to the tests that an applicant must take and pass. Yet GED is mistakenly applied to the state diploma issued upon successful completion of five competency tests.

In order to sit for the exams, a person must be at least 16 years old, be a resident of the state for at least three months, and have been withdrawn from a school for at least three months. For more exact information, please see information on the State Board of Education website for your state of residence.

For a college or a workplace to look down on the holder of a state-issued diploma is a mistake. Just about any person who studies independently and passes the competencies can tell a story of hard work, determination, focus, and recovery from bad situations. Such people, no matter what their age, are ready to work or study in a way that they never did before. They may express regrets that they chose a difficult path (if it was indeed a choice), but they also share pride that they have achieved this milestone on their own.

Let’s not make things harder. The arenas of work and higher education should welcome holders of state diplomas and recognize them as the workers that they have proven themselves to be.

If you would like to practice explaining your educational pattern (including its interruptions) for job or college interviews, please visit my website (www.anneheadley.com) for contact information. Together, we can turn your unique situation into a strength!

What’s a network?

March 15, 2009

When a career counselor advises you to tap into/increase your network, what do you imagine? Many clients hear these words and assume that:

  • they are to go to cocktail parties and hand out their business cards,
  • they are to go to community meetings and run for office,
  • they are to attend alumni events and promote themselves.

Luckily for all of us, it doesn’t have to be that bad. According to the Merriman-Webster online dictionary, a network is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions ; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

How reassuring! Note that small word or in the definition. This definition can appeal to those who have information skills as well as those with people skills.

Do you read journals, magazines, or the newspapers avidly, collecting information as you go? Do you come across new websites and hasten to tell your friends about them? Then you are an information specialist, and your fascination with knowledge is your means of networking that will set you apart. Do it! Clip articles, bookmark websites, loan a book, or even write a book review and post it online. You may find yourself in the position of being a reliable source for people who don’t have time or just don’t have the research ability to unearth new items for themselves. You’re networking.

But so are people whose skills lie in the interpersonal realm. You are the outwardly friendly ones, who learn names and use them, who acknowledge  people who are on the same routine, who are friends of friends. You gain your reputation through being friendly and fun to be with.

Both groups are networking. Information skills and people skills can get you noticed and appreciated by the people you know.

If you would like some help in using or enhancing your networking skills, please visit my website at www.anneheadley.com for contact information.

If you have developed an unusually effective method of networking that you would be willing to share with others, please tell us about it by leaving a comment.

The Paper Trail that can save a Job

March 13, 2009

In the Federal Diary of the Washington Post (3/12/2009), there is mention of a proposed cutback of 1400 jobs by the IRS scheduled to take place in Andover and Fitchburg, Massachusetts. One of the stated reasons for this cutback is that these IRS centers are used to process paper tax returns, and more and more people are filing electronically.

Are you thinking the way I am thinking? There is something each taxpayer can do. How about filing our taxes the old-fashioned way? You put your completed form in an envelope and mail it as directed. And you might save someone’s job.

It is so discouraging to watch the news, to see the lines of hundreds of people applying for a few jobs. I feel helpless, even though I’m doing my part to make sure my clients are using the most thorough and appropriate techniques to unearth openings on their own.

I’m grateful to the Federal Diary of the Washington Post for pointing out the situation at IRS processing centers. This is something that each taxpayer can do… right now, in the next few weeks.

See you at the post office!

Good news in troubled times (3)

March 6, 2009

For the past few days, I have been writing about patterns of employment in these troubled times. I have drawn on the experience of actual clients, who have generously agreed to let me share their stories with you, hoping to show you that good things do happen to diligent job-seekers.

My third example of good change coming to a client is Dan. He’s young, he’s an artist, he is trying to support himself. He was gainfully employed in an arts program until a year ago. After his program ended, he accepted a job by some friendly people who offered to train him in a related artistic field. Let’s just say that it didn’t work out. After an awkward period of extricating himself from this situation, he’s starting over, wondering what to do next.

He’s still an artist, but probably doesn’t want to work solely as a creator. Arts management looks better and better. Currently, he has started a restaurant job, with the most appealing features being that he can walk away at any time without feeling guilty, he eats well, is around nice folks, and continues his job search.

Reluctantly, at my urging, he did two things: contact key people in his network and register at a temp agency. The network seemed reasonable to him, the agency did not, but he did it. Here’s what happened next.

The agency called back. The called said there was a perfect job opening for him at a small art studio and school. They wanted a business manager, with decent pay and flexible hours.

Dan also contacted a professor from his college. The professor called back. She let Dan know that their department will be hiring a part-time staff person. She invited Dan to tour the facility, where he met key people who urged him to apply.

Where do things stand now? The art school has scheduled a second interview. And the college has requested that he schedule an interview with them.

What a grand problem! Dan has moved from unemployed and uncertain to unemployed and in demand. And both opportunities are in his new interest in arts management. We are working on ways to finesse keeping his options open as long as possible.

Dan’s situation, potentially having two part-job offers, is typical of something that happens in tough times. Employers are uncertain of their own situations, such as grants, student enrollment, or budgets. So how do they hire? They do it part-time. And when the economy turns upward, they turn to their loyal part-time staff and offer them more. We hope.

I’m happy that Dan is busy investigating two job opportunities. We don’t know if he will be offered one, both, or none of them. Still, he is meeting people, checking out the effectiveness of his resume, and feeling more confident about his options. If he is offered both part-time jobs, he will have to juggle schedules, travel, and responsibilities. And no one has said anything about health insurance. It’s an exciting, but not perfect situation.

Part-time employment is better than no-time employment.

Are you stuck in your job search? Are you taking advantage of these unique times? If you would like to speak with a career counselor who can help you navigate through the recession, please visit my website for contact information.

Good news in troubled times (2)

March 6, 2009

What does a career counselor consider good news from clients? Any of the following:

  1. a new job that’s a better fit for the client,
  2. a decision to leave a negative situation and move toward something better,
  3. a decision to stay in place and re-arrange priorities,
  4. a recognition that one needs to update skills and therefore seek more education or training.

Such a change is happening for Nicki. She has gifts that are barely tapped in her jobs, including a passion for the arts and a knack with foreign languages. In this multicultural society, there is plenty of work for her as a translator, but she has the sense of standing still, despite job changes.

After a bout of depression and after taking a good look at her situation, Nikki has made a decision (thus making me happy for reasons 2 and 4 above). She has decided to stop blaming others for being who they are, and work on changing herself. She is applying to graduate school to become more enmeshed in technological communication.

Slow economic times are good for colleges and universities. It’s a great time to acquire new skills and knowledge for use on the other side of this recession. Nikki will emerge from school with a Master’s Degree, enhanced  confidence, an effective network, and readiness to look for a job in a new career.

Well done, Nikki! You’re making a careful decision, planning your financial life responsibly, and investing in your future.

Commitment to further education is an excellent use of these slow times.

Good news in troubled times (1)

March 5, 2009

Yesterday, I heard from three clients, each with good news. At least, we think it is good news. Because each reflects a reality of today’s job market, I am going to describe each situation in a separate blog posting, starting with this one.

Marie is an architect. She lost her job in a private sector firm a few months ago. Marie had changed jobs before, and it never took very long to get a new one.. She said the technique of getting a new position was the same: you get in touch with former employers, you have lunch with a few people, and before you know it, usually within a few weeks, you hear about a new opportunity, for which your colleagues are happy to recommend you. Business was good and unending.

She did the same she had done before, got in touch with her connections. Now nothing seemed to happen. So she put herself on Craigslist.

Marie was contacted by a firm which was looking for an architect for federal projects. She pursued the lead and went on an interview. The agency loved the fact that she was free effectively immediately. It was also a plus that Marie was willing to accept a temporary job. Yes, temporary. The job should last a few months.

Marie’s attitude was good, she treated this temporary job as an important goal, and pursued it in a professional manner, taking a portfolio, providing references, not complaining about the temporary nature. And the job is hers.

A perfect solution? No, far from it. But Marie’s story reflects two significant elements of this recession: in hard times, there are temporary opportunities and there are successful contracting firms.

Jobs like Marie’s new one are not accurately represented in labor market statistics. I hope that all job-seekers will be creative enough to see the opportunities in temporary and contract work. The new employer may love you enough to keep you on when their budgets allow it. And meanwhile, you have a new position to add to your resume.

Temporary work: still an effective gateway to solid employment.

Contract work: still the most flexible way to get in the door.