Tag Archives: volunteering

7 easy ways to be proactive in your job search

Some job seekers tell me they turn on their computer every day to log on to Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and other job boards. They spend hours a day applying for posted jobs, sending as many as 20 cookie-cutter résumés out a week, anticipating a call from a recruiter or Human Resources.


To these job seekers I point out the futility of a job search like this, explaining that if they want faster results, they have to be more proactive. What they’re doing is being reactive and it ain’t working.

First I talk about the Hidden Job Market (HJM) which is a concept they understand, but I’m not sure they accept. When I tell them connecting with others is the best approach to penetrating the HJM, I can hear them thinking how difficult it will be to get outside their comfort zone, to get away from their computer.

The message I deliver is that they have to be proactive, not reactive. They have to take control of their job search, not let it control them. Here are five ways you can be proactive in your job search:

1. Get to know yourself

As odd as this sounds, many people don’t truly know themselves. I ask my clients to name their top 10 skills, and they have trouble coming up with five. You should make a list of your top 10 and provide a small blurb for each describing why they are.

Likewise, list some of your weaknesses. It’s important that you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses, better known as self-awareness. Keep in mind that good interviewers will not only ask about positive outcomes; they’ll ask about negative ones.

2. Put together your company target list

This is a task that job seekers often overlook, or they don’t see the value in it. Here’s where you put your job search into your own hands. You are choosing where you want to work based on your companies’ values.

Are you looking for companies that offer work/life balance, family-friendly policies, growth within the company, products or services that are environmentally friendly, a lively culture, a more professional culture? These are values you need to consider.

Now you can research these companies, keeping an eye on their growth. Identify the top players in the companies. Connect on LinkedIn with people who work for the companies. Build your foundation.

3. Send approach letters

These documents are sent to companies on your company target list. Here’s the kicker: no job has been advertised. (Advertised jobs represent only 20%-30% of the labor market.) You’re not reacting to an advertisement; rather you’re sending them unannounced.

Approach Letters are ideal if you prefer writing more than using the phone. Introverts may favor this way of contacting an employer. Whereas, extraverts may prefer simply picking up the phone.

The goal is to get networking meeting or better yet, chance upon a possible opening that hasn’t been advertised. You must describe your job-related skills and experience and show the employer that you’ve done research on the company to boost the employer’s ego.

4. Do some good ole’ fashion networking

Preface: with the advent of COVID-19, in person networking is not possible at the moment. Read this article on how job-search clubs are using Zoom at great success for networking.

Normally we think of networking as strictly attending organized meetings where other job seekers go, doing their best not to seem desperate. (I’ll admit that this type of networking is unsettling, although necessary.)

The kind of networking I’m referring to is the kind that involves reaching out to anyone who knows a hiring manager. Most of the people who contact me after they’ve secured a job tell me that their success was due to knowing someone at the company or organization.

You must network wherever you go. Network at your kid’s or grandchildren’s basketball games, at the salon, while taking workshops, at family gatherings—basically everywhere.

5. Consider volunteering as a way to find work

This method of being proactive works. Granted it is tough to work for free, volunteering offers great benefits. The first of which is it’s a great way to network. Think about it; you’re in a great environment to discover opportunities from the people with whom you’re volunteering.

Another benefit of volunteering is enhancing the skills you have, or learning new ones, to be more marketable. If you lack certain software, such as PeopleSoft, seek organizations that use this software or would like to implement it. Who knows; you may prove to be so valuable that you develop a role in their finance department.

Finally, volunteering is a great source of fodder for you résumé. I tell my clients that if their volunteer experience is extensive, they should include it on this document. Just write “Volunteer Experience” in parenthesis. 

6. Use LinkedIn and other social media outlets

I recently received an In-mail from someone who is currently working but is not enjoying her experience. I’ll keep my ears open for the type of position she’s looking for because she asked me to.

LinkedIn members who know the potential of this professional online networking tool reach out to other LI members for information and contact leads. Practice proper etiquette when reaching out to your connections. In other words, don’t request an introduction to someone the very first time you communicate with a new connection.

Another one of my job seekers is doing everything possible to conduct a proper proactive job search. He updates me on his job search and sends me job leads for me to post on our career center’s LinkedIn group. I’ve got a good feeling about this guy. He’s being very proactive by using LinkedIn and his vast personal network of professionals.

7. Follow Up, follow up, follow up

Allow me to suggest a must-read book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I think this guy gets more publicity from me than any author I’ve read. The reason I recommend this book is because none of these three proactive approaches are useful unless you follow up on your efforts.

Never Eat Alone teaches you how to network in every situation and then how to keep your network alive by following up with everyone. I mean everyone. Send an approach letter, then follow up with the people to whom you’ve sent it. Network face-to-face, then follow up. Connect with someone on LinkedIn…you guessed it, then follow up.

Of course you need to follow up after an interview. Many employers complain that candidates don’t send a follow-up note, and some candidates are eliminated because of this. So take the time to write a brief follow-up note. It’s well worth the time.

Being proactive sure beats the hell out of only reacting to jobs that have been advertised and are visible to hundreds, if not thousands of other job seekers. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and yields more results than exclusively participating in the visible job market. Being proactive makes you believe that the job search will finally come to a halt, that the job search is in your hands.

5 services your alumni association offers, as well as best practices


As a volunteer for my alma mater’s alumni association, I have witnessed some savvy networking from students, recent, and not-so recent alumni. I’ve been impressed with the level of professionalism they’ve demonstrated and their focus on gaining employment.

At one event held in Boston, alumni and current students (as young as sophomores) showed up dressed to impress, took advantage of a free photo shoot, and lined up for the duration of the event for resume and LinkedIn profile critiques I was giving.

My alma mater’s alumni association has held other events in the past that were geared toward helping our alums in their job search. They were well coordinated and of great benefit to the attendees.

Not all alumni services are equal, but generally they offer the services explained below. To take advantage of there services, you must adhere to best practices which are also explained below.


Career advice

Established alumni from your college can provide you with a plethora of career advice, most of which is valuable because your alums have been in their industry, in some cases, for many years. Some have read tons of resumes, cover letters, and interviewed candidates.

Call on alumni for practical advice. Look for people at your level or, better yet, managed employees who work in your occupation and industry. Ask them what they expect from resumes and job candidates in interviews. Pick their brains for this important information.

At my alma mater, there is a list of alumni who can help grads with their resumes, networking and interview techniques, LinkedIn profile, job-search etiquette, and other job-search topics. I have been contacted by recent and not-so-recent grads seeking my services.

A vast network

If you’re fortunate, you have access to vast database of people in the space you want to enter. This database provides you with email addresses, telephone numbers, and LinkedIn profile URLs. If you don’t have access to this information, use LinkedIn’s Find Alumni feature.

Your potent network can span the world, but you might want to focus on your local area. If I want to access my local network, I’ll contact the president of the alumni association. However, if I am interested in seeking employment in North Carolina, I’ll contact the president of that charter.

Once you have located alumni who can help you in your job search, you’ll approach them as you would any potential connection. You can call them, send email, or send Inmail through LinkedIn.

Informational interviews

One of the best ways to pick your alumni’s brains is asking for an informational interview, which I prefer to call a networking meeting, because that’s what you’re doing; you’re networking. But more to the point, you’re gathering important information and advice.

You’re the one who’s asking the questions, so they need to be intelligent ones. Little do you know, but there may be a position developing at your alum’s company. If you impress your alum with the dialog you generate, you may be referred to the hiring authority.

But that’s when the stars are aligned. Along with gaining valuable information, you need to leave the networking meeting with additional contacts with whom you can speak. You are building your network. You’re always building your network.

Alumni and other events

The event I mentioned above was organized to perfection. It was held in Boston at my alma mater’s club, a stunning building with a great view of the city. The event was designed to introduce people to those who could help them in their job search.

At the event, I critiqued resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Other pundits spoke about networking, job-search etiquette, and other job-search topics. And the students and recent grads came to soak up information.

Job fairs are also a great event that are held, for the most part, by career services. However, some alumni associations also conduct job fairs or smaller networking opportunities, such as sports gatherings, social events, etc.

If your alumni association puts on job fairs, check out the companies that are attending and go to the job fairs to make connections. Again, you’re in control of your destiny. Impress some of the reps, and you might create opportunities.

Mentor opportunities

Alumni associations encourage alumni to reach out to professionals in their industry who can mentor them in the job search. The mentors are not career counselors, but they can provide great insight into their industry.

Mentors give valuable time out of their day to gain an understanding of what you’re looking for in employment, how you should approach your search with the correct attitude, suggest people with whom you can speak, and give you the motivation you need.

Mentors will guide you from the start of your job search to the end. They are dedicated to the success of their mentees. They are a special group.

Best practices

To utilize the services explained above requires appropriate behavior, especially since the alumni volunteers are acting out of the goodness of their heart. Here are some best practices:

Be polite is rule number one. Do what you were taught as a child and carried throughout your life. The words, “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Represent your alma mater the proper way.

Be assertive but in a respectful way. Not all volunteers will follow through in a timely manner. Some may simply forget to return your calls. In this case, leave a polite message reminding them of your meeting.

Be accommodating to your alumni volunteer. One of my alumni clients said he’d feel more comfortable meeting face-to-face, but because we live 50 miles apart and I have a busy personal life, he agreed to communicate via phone. Alumni volunteers will also accommodate their alumni clients when possible.

Be knowledgeable when you attend a networking meeting. Don’t arrive without intelligent questions. Contribute to the conversation with appropriate comments. Show yourself as someone who could work at that company if a position exists.

Be focused on your job search. Nothing is more frustrating than talking with someone who is vague about their career goals. However, if you are unsure about what you want to do, you should be able to describe your transferable skills and experience required for a career change.

Be on LinkedIn is a no-brainer these days. Nothing impresses me more these days than a student or someone fresh out of school who has a strong profile and engages with their connections on a regular basis. You should be one of the 450 million LinkedIn users.

Following up is essential to your relationship with your alumni volunteer. After you’ve spoken with them or met them in person, send a thank you via email or card. Ping them every once in awhile so they know how your search is going. Stay top of mind.

It’s been a pleasure volunteering for my alma mater’s alumni association. I’ve had the opportunity to educate alumni of various ages on LinkedIn and resumes and the job search. Be assured that there are alumni volunteers who would like to help you.

If you appreciate your alumni association, I’d love to hear why.

Photo: UMass Alumni Association



7 steps college students should take before the job search

college women

This post appeared on YouTern.com.

My daughter entered college three years ago. This was an exciting time. But with all the negative press about college grads accumulating more debt than people have on their credit cards, it makes parents like me think about the future of our kids. Namely, will they be living with my wife and me until they’re 30?

An article by NPR.com states that in this decade US students have accumulated $829 billion in debt, with many post-grads unable to find a job because they majored in subjects that make it hard to find well-paying jobs, such as Psychology, English, and Journalism.

The article states, “There’s a tendency for very few students to enroll in particular majors that lead to jobs with very high pay, such as pharmacology.”

To someone like my daughter who loves to read and write over math and science, there may be a problem further down the career road. Needless to say, the prospect of her finding a high-paying job upon graduating is a bit unsettling for me.

College students need to prepare for the job search, and they must do so early in their college years. There are five distinct actions they need to take to prepare for their search.

Research the labor market. What is the projected job growth for 2016 and beyond? Bloomberg Business Week gives a general prediction for job growth based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics that reads, in part like this:

Jobs In thousands

  • Registered nurses, 1,203
  • Postsecondary teachers, 892
  • Elementary and middle school teachers, 815
  • Top executives, 808
  • Engineers, 507
  • Secondary school teachers, 474
  • Computer software engineers, 448
  • Human resources managers and specialists, 323
  • Media and communication occupations, 253

So far it looks like the choices of high-paying jobs are ones that are contrary to my daughter’s inclination for the humanities, unless she wants to pursue teaching. This will not discourage us from creating a game plan, though. If she won’t see nursing or software engineering in her future, there are other ways to approach the career search. Teaching is a noble career, but not one that satisfy her passion for Sophora, Banana Republic, and other high-priced retail stores.

Decide one’s major by their sophomore year. If a college student decides by the end of his freshman year that he wants to major in English or Communications, that will not necessarily be a problem. Not as long as he chooses a minor, such as Marketing that includes elements of Social Media. English will prove at be excellent training for his written and verbal communication skills.

Make getting internships a priority. Lately my daughter as been wondering if she wants to work as a life guard or a camp counselor during her college summers. She’s told me that getting a tan is very important to her. I’ve got news for her. That’s right, she can kiss the Life Guard job goodbye. If she’s unhappy with skin the hue of a vampire (I’m exaggerating, of course), I’ll pay for a membership at a tanning salon.

College students should be applying for an internship at, say, a small software start-up that can benefit from their extensive Facebook experience, plus their propensity to learn any social media platform that the company can use in their marketing campaign. They could also court some non-profit organizations to see a different perspective of the labor force, the sector of which I’m a member.

Dump Facebook as a social activity. From the moment a college student unloads his belongings in his dorm room, settles in with his new roommate, and prepares for the following day of classes, he’ll start a “professional” Facebook account that contains no hint of a social life. He can keep his original account and all 500 of his friends, but the new account will be the one he reveals to recruiters and prospective employers.

Connect on LinkedIn. Colleges are pushing their students to join LinkedIn. But as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water….” It is imperative that college students join LinkedIn and engage with their connections. Now is the time to get on the elevator on the bottom floor on its way up.

Their profile should represent them in a professional way, which doesn’t necessarily mean for their photo they have to wear a suit and tie or a silk blouse, jacket, and skirt. Nor are they going to have the experience to taut as if they’ve been working in the workforce for years. (This is where the internship comes in.)

Join the Society of Collegian Networkers. Whether a college student is an introvert or extravert, this shouldn’t keep them from beginning their personal networking activities. Most colleges have face-to-face networking lessons. If not, networking activities should be a mandatory course for the serious students striving to be gainfully employed by the time they graduate.

I have visions of my daughter being the vice president of her networking organization. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for any college student. All they need to do is volunteer and put in tons of work to run the organization efficiently.

Volunteer. If the college student doesn’t have a job by the time she graduates, she’ll volunteer at the companies where she interned. This will put her a step ahead of her schoolmates in terms of skill development and networking.

My daughter’s a smart girl, so I don’t anticipate her being unemployed for very long.

I figure this career path outline will be enough for her to stomach for one discussion. I won’t be deterred from keeping her on track, because there is one motivating force behind my diligence…ensuring that she isn’t spending the next 18 years with my wife and me. I figure this will be not only a great goal to achieve, it will also prepare me for my two other children.

6 tips for getting out of the house during your job search

Silly as it sounds, I can’t think of a better piece of advice than this one. It’s so simple, yet it can be a game changer….


One bit of advice I give my career center orientation attendees is to get out of the house every day. I know that some of them are sitting behind their computers until their eyes ache and the computer is humming at them. I also know it’s not healthy to be alone with one’s despondency. Been there.

When I tell them, “Get out of the house,” some laugh and nod with approval, others look at me with interest, and others with amusement. This advice, I give them, is perhaps the most important message they’ll leave with.

Having been out of work for 10 months more than 14 years ago, I understand how it is important to leave the house to escape the computer, the kids, the television, the cleaning. All of it. You know the saying, “If I knew then what I know now…” So let me offer you some suggestions for getting out of the house.

1. Go where people are. If this means going to your local career center, a library, Panera Bread, Starbucks, a park; then do it. Being around people has a therapeutic effect. Hearing the voice of others provides you with the distractions you need in order to avoid the deep well of despondency. It can reduce the loneliness you may feel from being cooped up at home.

Talk to people, even if you don’t know them. But understand if they’re not amenable to a discussion. Keep it short if you sense they’re busy or focused on something else. When they keep their eyes on the computer screen, this is a hint that they’re not open to a dialog.

2. Go to the gym or take long walks. How you prefer to exercise and let off steam is up to you. I find walking to be a great way to clear my mind, as well as strategize about what I need to do. While I was out of work, I increased my walking regiment from 45 minutes a day to 90 minutes. I walked and walked and walked. Bonus: it’s free.

Keep your routine. You’re no longer waking to go to your former place of employment, but you will continue to rise at the same time to exercise. I always suggest to my career center customers that they increase their exercise or start exercising if they’re not already doing it. Develop a plan that is doable for you, whether it’s everyday, or every other day.

3. Coordinate a small networking meeting, better known as a meetup. This might include gathering with other professionals, such as project managers who have an interest or knowledge in Lean Six Sigma. Although the meetup is for educational purposes, it’s a great place to connect and share employment possibilities. Here is the link for Meet Up.com.

An alternative to a professional meetup could be gathering for various interests. Perhaps one of your interests is reading, and a group of locals meet to pontificate on science fiction or nonfiction. Use this opportunity to unwind and put the job search behind you for those two hours. You need a break from your search.

4. Attend networking events. For some people networking is a bit intimidating because they feel forced to talk to people they don’t know. Attend a few networking events to get the hang of it. If you need to stay back and listen at first, that’s fine. However, eventually you’ll get the hang of it and feel more comfortable.

Determine some goals before you go to the networking events. You may decide you only want to talk with a few people at each event. Perhaps you plan to meet someone you know or, better yet, you travel together to an event. Some groups specialize in particular industries, such as IT, medical, finance, legal, etc., so you may want to focus on one where you’ll be with people of the same interests.

5. Volunteer at an organization that needs your talents. You’ve probably heard a great deal about how volunteering is great for your job search. And you probably think, why should I offer my services for free? I get your concern. Who wants to work without getting paid?

Think about it logically. By volunteering you’ll enhance the skills you possess, as well as possibly learning new skills. You’ll not only increase your skill set; you’ll also put yourself in a place to gather labor market information and network. Keep in mind that some say one’s chance of landing a job increases by 27% by volunteering.

6. Ask for networking meetings. I don’t call these informational interviews for a reason. When you ask someone for an informational interview, their reaction won’t be as positive as if you were to ask them for some advice. Tell them you’re interested in gathering some information about a career in their type of company.

You’re the one asking the questions, so make them intelligent questions. The goal is to impress the person with whom you’re speaking so if there’s a position developing at the company, they might suggest your name to the hiring manager. At the very least, try to leave the meeting with other people with whom you can speak.

As simple as it sounds, getting out of your house can greatly help your job search. It helps your fragile state of mind to get away from your computer or, worse yet, the television; and increases your networking opportunities. My strong suggestion is to dress business casual when you’re out and about, as well as present a positive attitude. You never know when you’ll meet a potential employer.

Also keep in mind that your job search is important and that others’ needs will have to take a backseat to your activities. In other words, be selfish. You can’t watch the kids or grandchildren when you have a workshop or networking event to attend. You have to meet with a networking colleague for coffee, no questions asked. In other words, BE SELFISH.

Photo: Flickr, David

States with the most volunteers have the lowest unemployment rates…5 reasons to volunteer

A recent report by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) claims that volunteering can contribute to reducing unemployment rates. This study points to volunteering in the community and for nonprofit organizations and says this about volunteering:

“Participation in civil society can develop skills, confidence, and habits that make individuals employable and strengthen the networks that help them find jobs. 59% of volunteers in national service programs believe their volunteer service will improve their chance of finding jobs, perhaps because it helps them learn marketable skills or because it broadens their professional contact networks, or both.”

Let’s revisit why volunteering is beneficial to your job search success.

1. Volunteering is a great way to do a positive thing. You may consider choosing an organization where your efforts are meaningful in a big way. The Salvation Army comes to mind. Every year around Christmas holiday thousands of volunteers ring the bells in front of businesses. All for the sake of helping the less fortunate get by during the holidays. A customer of mine said she volunteers at a soup kitchen. While she’s an accountant, she has a soft spot in her heart for the less fortunate. This appeals to employers.

2. Volunteer to network for your next job. Choose an organization that’s in the industry in which you’d like to work. If marketing is your forté, approach a company that needs a graphic artist or publicist to design some art for their website or write a press release or two. This organization in which you’ve managed to get your foot in the door can help you with leads at other organizations, especially if you do a smashing job. The director will want to help you because you’ve come across as competent and likeable. Who knows, you could possibly join the company if a position opens up…or is created.

3. Develop or enhance some skills that will make you more marketable. You’ve had it in your head to start blogging but haven’t had the time to dedicate to it. The organization that took you on as a volunteer in their marketing department not only can help you network; it can assist you in enhancing your diverse writing skills. Your approach might be to offer starting a blog for them, as the rest of the marketing department is up to their elbows in alligators. They gain a talented writer to write entries, and you learn the fine art of blogging. “Tie the skills needed to do the volunteer position back to the skills needed to support or enhance your profession,” says Dawn Bugni, owner of The Write Solution. “This keeps your skills sharp. You might learn something new….”

4. Feel useful. Yes, instead of sitting at home and watching The View, you can get back into work mode. Do you remember work mode? It begins with getting up at 6:00am, doing some exercise, leaving for some job from 8:00am to 5:00pm, all the while having that feeling of productivity. When you get home from volunteering, you can watch those episodes of The View on DVR.

5. Volunteering will pad your résumé. Yes, employers look at gaps in your work history. Instead of having to explain (or worse yet, not having the chance) why you’ve been out of work for three months, you can proudly say that you’ve been volunteering at Organization A in their marketing division where you authored press releases, created their newest website designs, and started them on your way to a new blogging campaign. Of course you’ll indicate on your résumé, in parenthesis, that this experience was (Volunteer) work. Nonetheless, it was work.

Any time you feel ripped off for working without pay, remember why you’re doing it; to do something positive, to network, to develop or enhance new skills, to feel useful, and to pad your résumé. If these five reasons aren’t enough, then by all means stay home and watch The View.

One more argument for volunteering your way to a job

Before you say, “I’m tired of hearing about volunteering,” take time to read what I have to say. I’ve ignored newspaper articles on what’s happening in the labor market because, quite honestly, they depress me.

But this morning I was drawn to an article that offered no groundbreaking great news; in fact it was dismal. But through the fog of negative reporting, there was one bit of good advice.

The article of which I speak appeared in the Boston Globe (Sunday, 9/18/2011). It pointed out the difficulties veteran workers in the IT sector are having getting jobs due to lack of experience. One example given was a software engineer proficient in C++ but lacking Java.

In certain positions, like software engineering, the disparity in technica skills is hard to overlook. But there is hope, as long as you’re willing to invest the time to overcome a deficiency you have in your skills.

I wrote an article on the importance of volunteering while conducting your job search, and I stressed volunteering at a company for which you’d consider working. There are two major reasons for this. First, you can network more efficiently while you’re back in the industry among professionals who are privy to possibilities, and who would like to help you.

Second, you can enhance your skills and learn new ones. The situation where the software engineer lacks Java experience is a perfect example. Taking courses will certainly give you some knowledge in the software required to land a job, but hands-on experience using the software is far more valuable. And sometimes required by recruiters, according to the article:

“The ability to learn new skills is rarely at the top of a recruiter’s job orders; many companies demand candidates with skills that perfectly match their requirements.”

I had a jobseeker who worked at Raytheon, where she was a productive engineer using C++. She never had training using Java, as it was not required for her position. As she combed the want ads, she discovered that the majority of jobs available were for Java developers. She was in a hole. But she wasn’t going to give up. I would see her reading texts books on Java scripting.

The solution, as stated above, is to gain hands-on experience in a skill that you’re lacking. Continue to self-educate yourself on the skills you notice are in demand, as my jobseeker did; but go one step further and approach companies in your industry that need engineers, marketers, sales people, nurses, accountants, etc., and volunteer your services—with an understanding that you’re not looking for a job at said companies.

This is precisely what the Boston Globe reported: “’If you want to be anywhere close to the cutting edge, you can’t expect that you’ll have a [paying] job when you start,’ said Stephen Flavin, dean of academic and corporate development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. ‘If you really want to learn it you have to volunteer your time.’’’

I hope that if you’re in this situation, you won’t give up hope. Many of my jobseekers have landed jobs in their field by volunteering; some of them at the company for which they volunteered.

Pay it Forward are not just words. Two people put them into action

You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.   ~  John Wooden

The term “pay it forward” is unfathomable to some jobseekers. They way they see it is they’re the ones who are out of work and; therefore, they should be the ones receiving help, not others. This way of thinking is what holds them back from networking or reaching out to do a good deed, which in turn hurts their chances of finding a job.

The majority of jobseekers I run into understand the beauty of paying it forward. They embrace helping others, knowing that help will come their way. Whether it’s offering a free service, giving sound advice, providing a contact name, forwarding a résumé, or giving moral support; paying it forward is all good.

I bring this popular term up in a career networking workshop. To simplify the concept, I tell my attendees that the act of helping others creates good Karma. Further I tell them they should not expect the person you help to immediately repay the favor, because another person will step forward to help you. In fact, you may never receive reciprocation from the person you assisted.

A customer of mine named John Yurka demonstrated the pay it forward mentality in the truest sense; he took photos of five jobseekers for free. He met with them this past Tuesday in a park and spent a good part of his morning making sure the photos he took were to the recipients’ satisfaction.

The photos were astonishing, in my humble opinion. And the jobseekers must have felt the same way, because all of them uploaded their likenesses to LinkedIn. One of the people wrote to me with excitement, commending the work John had done. (An example of John’s work is on the left.)

Another champion of the unemployed, Ken Masson, has helped jobseekers in the past by founding a television show called The New England Job Show. This show comprises of volunteers who help jobseekers find work. Initially the purpose of the show was to film jobseekers’ personal commercials, but soon it branched out to interviewing job search experts, hosting a blog of job-search experts, offering training, and more.

Many of the volunteers from the show eventually find work after starting there, which means that replacements have to be found. When NEJS volunteers find work it’s always great news, but it causes a lot of work for Jackie Simmonds, the current COO of the show. Ken will be dedicating more of his time to the show, because this is what he does; he pays it forward.

There are no hard statistics on how successful paying it forward is. Smart jobseekers simply understand that it makes common sense. It makes common sense because as you’re helping someone, another person is in the process of helping you. I’m convinced that the jobseekers who believe in paying it forward will receive the help they need. How do I know? I just do.

It’s unanimous; volunteer

Recently I wrote an article on the virtues of volunteering. I know the thought is unsettling to some because they’d be working without pay and, erroneously thinking, it would take away from their job search, but the benefits of volunteering far outweigh the drawbacks, e.g. working without pay.

I read a recent article by James Alexander on CareerRocketeer.com that further enforces the power of volunteering. Titled How Volunteering Can Land You a Job, it elaborates on how you can effectively network, possibly move up in the organization, and land strong recommendations—something I hadn’t thought of.

Another proponent of volunteering is Dawn Bugni who wrote an article called Volunteer to Network. She is so pumped about volunteering that she’s written many articles on this subject. Dawn is a Master Resume Writer (MRW), Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and has been published in countless books.

When you decide to volunteer, be sure it’s the ideal situation, whether it’s at a non-profit organization or a for-profit business. Volunteering is particularly useful if you’re thinking about changing your career. This will give you the opportunity to 1) get into the industry and learn the skills necessary, and 2) determine if your career change is the right thing for you.

As one of my customers told me during a workshop, volunteering led her to her last job; and it was the best decision she made. I hope she repeats her latest success.

What to do about the Current field on your LinkedIn profile, if you’re not working? Show your volunteer experience.

Your Current field on LinkedIn is one of the first thing employers and visitors see. It’s in your Snap Shot below your Update field. So there are two general rules; 1) don’t list the company for which you used to work and 2) don’t hide your Current field if you can help it.

By keeping your past employment in this field, you are being dishonest and hurting your chances of getting a job (employers will think you’re working, or they will see you as a fraud when they find out the truth.) I’ve seen LinkedIn users practices this art of deception and, to me,  it’s a turn-off, so imagine how an employer would feel if he/she were to be duped into thinking you were currently employed.

But hiding it will eliminate some very valuable real estate that could be used to help your job search significantly. You’re not currently working, so you’re wondering what to do with this valuable real estate. The answer is simple. If you’re volunteering, display your volunteer work.

The bottom line is that employers want to see that you’re keeping busy. They want to see that you’re developing new skills or knowledge. You don’t want to come across as spending hours upon hours on the Internet sending your résumé into (shall we use a cliché?) the black hole. This is why your volunteer experience is important to show on your LinkedIn profile.

Here is an example of how a jobseeker uses his volunteer experience to fill his Current field:

Community Volunteer, Networker and Administrative Assistant (position) Program Development industry (industry) August 2008 – Present (2 years 7 months)

  • Engineer at Hampstead Community Access Television: bringing 28-year-old cable TV station up to date. Member of Hampstead Cable Television Advisory Board.
  • Founder of PMI New Hampshire Chapter’s networking group – netPM.
  • Facilitator/advisor to Acton Networkers, NHnetWORKS, Nutfield Networking, Nashua After Hours Networking and Dynamic Networking groups.
  • Participant in project/program/product management webinars on a weekly basis.

Doesn’t this look more impressive than hiding the Current field, or worse yet, falsifying your current situation?

But I don’t volunteer, you may say. To which I would say, “Get out there and volunteer. Volunteer for a good cause; to obtain more skills; network; feel useful; and to pad your résumé. The Current field is also a great place to show that you’re in training and what courses you’re taking.

There are plenty of organizations and businesses that will take your services free of charge, just as long as you don’t require hand-holding. But this entry is not about volunteering; it’s about making your LinkedIn profile as complete as possible. If volunteering rubs you the wrong way because you won’t get paid, then consider making the sacrifice for your Current Field.

An Account of how One Man Found a Job: What Worked and what Didn’t.

The last time I saw Jim at our career center was in January of this year. We adjourned to my office where we looked over his résumé and LinkedIn profile. He had concerns about switching industries but knew he wanted to do the same work, Continuous Improvement Management.  

I’m ecstatic to say that Jim recently got a job in the industry he was pursuing. He announced his landing to me four months after we last met. When he thanked me for his help and encouragement, I asked him for a small favor—I wanted to know how he got his job. What follows is more than I expected as a response. Jim secured his job the Good Ole’ Fashion way, through hard work and diligent networking. Here’s his story:

Using LinkedIn worked.

Although LinkedIn is a great online networking tool, Jim used it primarily for research. He researched people of interest during his job search, including those he interviewed with and cold called. LinkedIn allowed him to research companies, using the Companies feature, and keep easy track of his targeted companies. He wisely joined a number of LinkedIn groups to identify companies that were hiring, learning about the latest technology, and some issues the companies had.

As well, Jim kept track of people who were viewing his profile, hoping to identify hiring managers at some companies for which he hoped to work. Lastly, he began to understand the importance of branding oneself using LinkedIn and will continue his branding endeavors.

Blasting out résumés didn’t work!

His initial goal was to send out 10 résumés per week, and he came close averaging 6.3. He felt this was a waste of time and did it only to meet unemployment requirements. Using this method to look for work yielded him one phone interview. There were some benefits, though; he learned what requirements employers had and targeted his résumés to each job for which he applied. He also learned to identify the companies that are involved in Lean Six Sigma and are growing rapidly.

Informational meetings worked.

Jim became a big fan of informational meetings, as they were great for learning about needs of the industry and/or specific companies, obtaining leads to companies that may have “hidden opportunities,” and developing a group of folks that he would often go back to for gathering vital information—particularly learning of solutions or strategies used to solve particular types of industry problems (e.g. increase the perception that he could help because he was familiar with industry techniques).

In addition, he used informational meetings to:  

  • Volunteer information that he uncovered about the industry in general.
  • Connect folks to someone who might be able to help them with an issue brought up in conversations. Pay it forward.
  • Provide expertise to solve a problem, mentor someone, or crunch numbers and put them in a user-friendly format.
  • Develop a sharing network for the future.

Researching companies websites worked.

Jim focused on investigating 10 companies per week. He would research two large companies (over 100 employees) per week and eight small ones. In reality, he investigated big ones only if he received a lead or submitted a résumé for a job board opening. He usually knocked off six small companies per week and feels that this will be his primary approach next time.

Making calls, albeit frustrating, worked.

Jim cold-called companies or went to their doors, acting like a reporter and/or sales person sometimes. This was very hard being rejected 80-90% of the time but paid the best dividends when successful. Here’s why:

  • He often got very good leads with other small companies (60+% success vs. 10% with large companies). The owners of these companies had large networks and often could provide contacts and information about numerous companies.
  • He was offered a number of short-term contract jobs which he politely refused.  In three instances, he volunteered his time to help with specific opportunities.  All those for whom he volunteered were willing to give him a reference and one actually knew his new boss. He believes this played a big part in being hired.
  • Four folks asked him to stay in touch, and he’s pretty confident that a fulltime or consulting opportunity will arise in the future.

Volunteering really worked! 

Jim used a not-for-profit Lean Six Sigma training and facilitation organization a lot while at his previous job and did a lot of things to support them, such as hosting tours and training sessions, running a booth at their shows, providing case studies, writing referrals, etc.  He writes that, “MY BIGGEST LESSON: YOU ARE INTERVIEWING EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY.”

The not-for-profit organization got him twice as many real interviews via their network and their team pushing his name than everything else combined. They also allowed him to take $2,100 worth of six sigma classes while he was out of work and defer payment until he could afford it.

Networking ultimately worked!

Jim volunteered to coach and work one day a week for two different companies that had employees attending the six sigma classes. He worked days, nights, and weekends as necessary to support them while job hunting.

The Lean Six Sigma class instructor knew he was looking for a job and saw how hard he worked to support classmates and the two specific companies. The instructor was working one day per week at [the company for which Jim now works]. During one of his weekly trips, he proposed that the CEO hire a Continuous Improvement Manager full time and that the CEO plan long-term to promote this position to VP of Operations as the business grows.

After selling the CEO on the idea, he gave him Jim’s résumé and stated that Jim was the person that should be hired. Breakfast with CEO, Interviews with core team, and unsolicited calls from small business owners mentioned earlier all led to him obtaining a job.

 Jim is one of the brightest individuals to walk through the career center’s doors. He diligently attended workshops and worked with career advisors. But the thing that stands out for me about Jim is his positive attitude and never-say-die attitude. This type of thinking is perhaps the secret to success in the labyrinth of the job search.