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Ask The Career Coach: How to Get Out of Career Limbo!

November 18, 2013

Today’s blog post comes from our “Ask the Career Coach” Column by Denise Riebman (AmeriCorps ’94), Director of Career Development and Alumni Services for the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University. Each month Denise takes questions from our LinkedIn Group and responds in our “Ask the Career Coach” column.  If you have a question for the AmeriCorps Alums “Ask the Career Coach” column, you can submit it here.

Two questions posted on the AmeriCorps Alum LinkedIn Group this month both deal with the struggle of being stuck in no man/woman’s career land:

  • How to find entry level jobs to transition from AmeriCorps into a full time position?
  • How to escape being over or under qualified for entry to mid-level positions?

These commonly heard challenges during the transition out of service and subsequent early professional years can make people feel like they are stuck in career limbo.  Escape by STOP doing these FIVE things:

1. STOP thinking that job descriptions are everything

Job descriptions are just wish lists and often not what is really needed or wanted.   It might be what the departing employee wished she had actually been able to do or written by someone in human resources without a real understanding of the job.  While the description gives you a general idea on how to tailor your cover letter and resume to match the qualifications, you also need to “blur the edges.”

If you are underqualified, message your experience so that they don’t even notice or care about experience gaps. This could be how you turned things around in a classroom with limited resources or when you stepped up to a lead a team following a natural emergency.   Think outside the professional experience “box” and draw upon things like volunteer experiences, academic projects and community leadership to grab their attention.

If you are overqualified, tell a compelling story in your cover letter about why you want this position. I once hired someone with a doctorate for a position that only needed a bachelors because it was clear that the job was exactly what she wanted to be doing at this point in her life.  The responsibility was on her to tell me that story in her letter to land the interview, and not on me to figure that out.

Two important caveats: 1. Public Sector jobs are almost always much stricter on job descriptions and require candidate to match skills/years of experience.  2.  There is a limit to how much can be “blurred” so if it says they want a tri-lingual professional with 10 years of experience and you have worked for 2 years and don’t speak anything beyond English….save your time and move to the next posting!

2. STOP thinking that job boards are everything

2013.11.06.Stop

We all have heard that often quoted statistic that only about 20% of all positions are listed on job boards or employer websites.  Even though I suspect it’s now actually higher with all the free social media outlets, it still isn’t the most effective way to find jobs.   And many of the jobs already have someone selected and posting it is merely a legal formality.  Yes, I know it seems easier to get your daily job listing emailed directly to you but it’s not the best way to use your time.  When you’re feeling stuck in that no-person’s land of being over or under qualified for positions, you ideally want to find an employer that is willing to redefine the job for you before it’s even posted.  Don’t completely abandon job boards but also don’t put all of your energy there.

 3. STOP being second-rate with relationship building.

“I’m an introvert and don’t like big events.”  “It feels fake.”  “I don’t know how to maintain relationships.”  Sound familiar?  Nearly everyone, myself included, has struggled at times with networking (Bill Clinton might be the one person on this planet who has not met a networking opportunity that he didn’t love!), but that’s no excuse for burying your head in the sand.   Find a way to make it work so that you can connect with people willing to take a chance on you for positions that on paper might not be a good match.  ­

If you’re introverted, don’t waste your time at big networking events but instead arrange individual meetings with people and attend smaller, topic driven events.   If it feels fake, find events/people who you are GENUINELY interested in learning more from and it will feel more authentic.  If you struggle with staying in touch, get a system that works for you (LinkedIn makes it easy by clicking “relationship” tab for any of your connections to note how you met and when to follow up but even a simple Excel spreadsheet will do the trick) and then use “light touches” to stay in contact (news article, conference invitations, milestone events, holidays).  The key is to build a network of people who think you would be an asset to an employer and make it easy for them to want to help you find a job.

4. STOP being half-hearted with social media

93%, 66% and 54% – these numbers don’t lie.  This is the percentage of companies who respectively use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to recruit candidates.  And if that isn’t enough, does the fact that 73% of employers have successfully hired with social media get you running to log in to your accounts?  If not, maybe you should think about moving somewhere that social media doesn’t exist….and good luck with that search!

What is half-hearted social media?  A meager LinkedIn profile without a photo, summary statement or professional accomplishments.   A Twitter account with a layer of virtual dust.  Using Facebook to only let your friends know that you are happy it’s Friday!  And if you have hundreds of Facebook friends, please stop using the excuse that you don’t know enough people to increase your LinkedIn connections to more than 15.

What is full-hearted social media?  Having a complete LinkedIn profile (check out their webinars:  http://learn.linkedin.com/jobseeker/); Connecting and following employers on all three sites; Sending messages directly to recruiters; Posting relevant and informative tweets to grab the attention of hiring managers.  These are all easy ways to find out about openings before anyone else does as well as position yourself as someone they want to hire, no matter if you’re slightly over/under qualified.  By using the power of social media, you will make yourself relevant and known over other candidates who are still caught in career limbo.

5. STOP undervaluing your AmeriCorps experience

Just last week, I heard about an AmeriCorps alum who didn’t apply to a job that was looking for 1-3 years of experience because she “only” had one year of volunteer experience as a VISTA member.  While your stipend may be small, your national service experience is still professional work experience.  I’ve spoken to countless employers who view the type of experience gained in one year of national service as equivalent to 2-3 years of entry level experience.  Use a results based resume with a laser focus on relevant skills so that the emphasis is on what matters for this particular position rather than the years of experience (whether too much or too little) and definitely highlight all your national service accomplishments!

STOP doing all five of these things and you just might START finding yourself employed!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Neekta K. permalink
    November 21, 2013 11:35 am

    If we’re not meant to put all of our job-searching time into job boards then where exactly are we meant to look for available positions?

  2. Angela Burge permalink
    November 25, 2013 1:38 pm

    Do you know of any colleges that give free classes to AmeriCorps members?

  3. Pres Winslow permalink
    November 25, 2013 10:13 pm

    Before I make my job-search suggestion, I want to acknowledge the special challenges faced by AmeriCorps members currently seeking to transition to a regular, fulltime job. First, you can’t really leave your AmeriCorps position early, and you can’t extend indefinitely until you get a job offer. Secondly, since the AmeriCorps stipend is modest, very few members have much of a financial cushion to live on after the last stipend check has arrived. Also, many members serve in under-resourced communities, often in isolated areas with few job opportunities for anyone, and want or need to search for post-service work in a completely different geographic area. Finally, our nation is still recovering, slowly, from a very deep recession, and the public-sector and non-profit job markets have been especially hard hit.

    In addition to the Career Coach’s excellent tips, here’s mine: Don’t go it alone! Create a face-to-face or virtual job-search support group with friends, college classmates, former AmeriCorps colleagues, and even “strangers” that you connect with via LinkedIn and other social media sites. On a weekly basis, share successes, setbacks, job leads, housing opportunities, and other information as you develop and carry out your job-search campaign. The network of AmeriCorps alums is wide and deep and ready to assist. Don’t be shy about reaching out and asking for support.

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