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Ask A Career Coach - Ten Career Mistakes To Avoid - Part One


Let’s begin by acknowledging that it has never been more difficult to advance your career or to make a job change. Whether it is early in your career or you are a seasoned professional, the challenges are daunting.

The good news is that there is a lot of free help on the internet, in bookstores and in a variety of support groups.

The bad news is that there is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming.

With so much information to take into consideration, there are some common mistakes that job seekers make, especially those that may be involuntarily in the market for a new role.

1. Lack of Focus

Over the years, many of my clients launched a job search without clearly thinking about what they wanted to do, where they wanted to do it or the steps they needed to take from beginning to end. Frankly, some were still angry and confused about being in the situation to begin with and many others had never had to look for a job before. Many began their search process by calling their close contacts just to let them know what happened, and a fairly high percentage did some self-damage with these calls. In some cases, they couldn’t communicate a game plan, so the person they called couldn’t help even if they wanted to. In other cases, the tone of the call was at least slightly negative and a perfectly good contact could have been spoiled—maybe forever.

The key point to make here is that after a little decompression time, an initial game plan needs to be put together before anything else is done. The game plan can be multi-path as long as the directions to be explored are realistic.

2. No Presentation Statement Preparation

The Presentation Statement (PS) is what you say when someone asks you, "Why should we hire you?" or invites you to "tell me about yourself." The PS is the 30-second “elevator speech.”  This is such an important concept that many good career coaches insist that their clients write this out ahead of time and pretty much use it all the time, modifying it only slightly to fit particular situations. Other coaches suggest that the client prepare a series of one-liners and keep them in mental inventory for use in appropriate combinations when needed. Sometimes you don’t get a full 30 seconds to speak at one time either. You can now see why you need a game plan—after all, how do you put together a PS without having a plan?

The content of a good PS answers: who I am; what I have done; what I can do; and what do I want to do.

Similarly, another very important concept is the Transition Statement (TS) which answers the questions: “why am I available?" or "what happened at XYZ Corp.?" The mistake often made by many terrific people looking to get ahead is that they don’t prepare these statements ahead of time, and in periods of high stress, pressure or on those occasional bad days, they make something up on the fly and don’t communicate as well as they could have.

3. Resume Mistakes

There is no perfectly correct resume format. There are classic, commonly preferred resume formats depending on the client. But there are two common mistakes found in many resumes:

  • Stating an Objective: Some career coaches, especially for job searchers right out of school, make sure you state your objective right on top on the resume. However, after you have been in the field and gaining experience for a few years, the objective belongs in a cover letter or in a PS. Why? Because stating an objective on a resume can be more restrictive.
  • Listing Job Responsibilities instead of Accomplishments: Recruiters and hiring executives want to see challenges faced, actions taken and results that occurred. Putting some words under each job held about responsibilities and duties is okay, but accomplishments are even better.

4. Assuming Applying and Posting Online is Enough

This has taken the place of mass mailings as the job-seeker's panacea. When the job market is as tough as it is now, just applying online is not enough. In fact, if a job seems worth applying for online, it should be worth doing a side-by-side analysis with your applicable qualifications to see how good the fit really is. Even if the qualification match is at nearly 85%, it is very unlikely that there will be a call-back unless you make an effort to get face to face meetings with the company. And if there is no way for you to follow up on the job application, the match should be close to 100% to make it worthwhile. Even then, there may be no call-back from the hiring manager. This can be huge a source of frustration for job seekers.

The fact is that there are likely hundreds of online applicants for each job. Follow-up and personal meetings are a must to have a chance at success.

5. Little or No Networking

Networking is the most useful job search tool but can also be the one people avoid the most. My favorite job change rule is that those we expect to help us, won’t and those we may not expect to help us, will. My second favorite job change rule is scheduling 2-5 face-to-face meetings a week will lead to a successful job change. You shouldn’t exclude anyone from networking meetings, and you have to think outside the box to figure out how to meet with people face-to-face each week. Then, at each meeting you should (politely) ask for 2-3 introductions or referrals and make sure to follow through on each. In return, you should offer to be of help now and in the future at each meeting too. You never know how you might be able to help someone else.

Stay tuned for Part Two on Thursday.

Steve Basinski is a Vice President - Senior Consultant with The Frontier Group who operates in the Charlotte market. His practice specialties are career coaching, outplacement and executive coaching.