I am in the midst of a job search. Although I have excellent experience and academic credentials, I am one of the hundreds of thousands of intelligent, articulate and qualified jobseekers in the market today. I am sure I shall eventually find a job, but my job search has taught me that despite my achievements to date, there are still many, many things that I could have done differently in the past to make myself more attractive to employers.
A lot of the deficiencies that I perceive are relatively minor and many of them are shared by a significant percentage of my peers in the job market. Those of us who grew up in the 1970′s and 1980′s learned certain things and had certain expectations in life but not all of those expectations were germane to the 21st century business world. For example, in hindsight I know that my time learning to type and to take shorthand labels me as more of a dinosaur, as compared to being able to design a web page in HTML.
There are a lot of reasons that we do not achieve everything that we otherwise could. The desire, when we are young, to spend time with family and friends and not to spend all of one’s free time trying to better oneself is natural. After all, as the saying goes, all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy. With that in mind, here are several things that I wish I had mastered when I was younger, but which I intend to start mastering today – both to make myself more valuable in the work place and to make myself more complete as a person.
Master a Foreign Language: I studied French for 8 years when I was younger. I even received the French award when I graduated from High School. I was by no stretch of the imagination fluent in French but I could read French magazines and follow a basic French discussion if the speakers spoke slowly. Had I been dropped in Normandy during WWII, I would have gotten by as a translator. Now, twenty years past my last French class, I have forgotten more than I recall and, all the while, the world has been shrinking. Now, when I interview for positions with global companies, I am always asked whether I speak any foreign languages. For that matter, an acquaintance told me yesterday that he just lost his job because he does not speak Spanish (and was to be reassigned to Mexico City). I am now working on my French language skills again and I tell my children not to lose the Spanish that they are learning in school.
Master every Microsoft Office Program: I am proficient in the use of Microsoft Word but that is only because Microsoft Word is bundled into every computer and I finally had to give up on Corel’s Word Perfect software! I fully realize, however, that Microsoft also offers PowerPoint, Excel and several other programs which are completely alien to me. In past jobs, when I had to give a presentation, I begged administrative personnel to help me to prepare PowerPoint slides. I never learned how to do so. Now, everyone is business takes for granted the notion that everyone knows how to use PowerPoint and Excel and several other business applications. My local library offers free courses in all of these applications and I am enrolled in the classes for next month. I may never use PowerPoint, but I won’t feel crippled by the ignorance of not knowing how again.
Take Every Career Coaching Class that is Offered: I had opportunities in college and while in work to take career coaching classes. I never did. I always assumed that it would be easy to get a job because when I entered the job market in 1993, I entered a robust job market in which I could easily find employment whenever I wanted to change jobs. As a result, I had not basis for assessing career decisions when the market turned sour and my employer merged out of existence. Indeed, most of the senior executives with whom I previously worked seem to have had similar experiences with sudden unemployment in the face of a weak economy. Always remember that when things are good, they can still go bad, and that when things are bad, they will improve. Career coaching can help you to be prepared for both circumstances.
Keep your Address Book Current and Reach Out Often An outplacement agent I visited a few months ago reminded me that about 90% of all jobs are found through networking. That means that it is really important to stay in the good graces of people who you may not see every day. Don’t let good relationships fade away just because you do not cross paths with your friends and colleagues after they move to different jobs or cities. Until quite recently, I was horrible about staying in touch but after I met with the placement agent, I really stepped up my study of networking and I have learned a lot – a lot that I wish I had learned twenty years ago.
Especially with the ease afforded by e-mail, you can keep your relationships fresh forever. This coming week, for example, I shall be having lunch with a woman I know who lives in Australia but who will be visiting the USA and will be in my city for a couple of days. If I had not sent her an e-mail to say hello a few days ago, she would not even have known that I live where I live. The fact that she is visiting a senior vice president for a company that is looking for “talent” is an added bonus, as he will be in attendance as well!
What do you wish you had learned when you were younger? What skills do you want your children to master so that they do not have to repeat the mistakes that you made? What is your advice for people entering the work force or trying to get back into the work force?