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Beware these job-hunting mistakes.

If you're like me, you don't worry much about developing an aggressive self-marketing plan. You're too busy doing your job, working late hours night after night, your face buried in software manuals the size of "War and Peace," so you can win awards for your lovely publications. Then, the day after you buy a $130,000 condo, your boss says, "Oh by the way, did I mention you're out of a job? Sorry." And you sit, stunned. looking at him, trying not to cry.

It's amazing how savvy you can become about this fickle business when your life (and your house) is at stake. But why do we wait for the ax to fall? even in the best of times, we know companies merge, downsize, and lay off employees. And then there are the lucky few of us with high-salary, high-profile jobs, who nevertheless suffer from Attila-the-Hun bosses or job stagnation.

What can we do beside complain and worry?

We can make mistakes. Learning from our mistakes is good, but learning from someone else's is even better. So, save yourself time and hair loss -- learn something from nine of my mistakes.

Mistake One: Not looking for a job until the ax is at your neck

One of the worst professional mistakes you can make is believing your job is going to be around forever. Even more foolish is thinking you would want the same job forever. Let's suppose there's no room for upward mobility with your current position and your immediate supervisor is Bozo the Clown. Switching companies may not be the only solution. Consider switching departments to gain more experience. Or, consider creating a new job within the company. The secret? Show the company how you'll save it money.

Volunteer your writing, editing, design, photography, public relations, or other business communication skills to your current employer -- even if you're a janitor. Offer to produce the company newsletter, flyers, press releases, bulletins, directories, or help organize a special event, in addition to your present duties. This experience will help parlay your position into a better one, if not there, then somewhere else.

If you're unemployed, or if your portfolio is as exciting as dental floss, consider volunteering your services to a user group, club, association church, or any other organization that interests you. They'll benefit from your expertise, and you'll gain invaluable computer publishing experience. Approach all jobs with equal professionalism and enthusiasm. What doesn't pay now will pay later.

Mistake Two: Spending more time thinking about dinner than your career

Employed or not, happy or not, do yourself a favor. Set up some "informational interviews." Be picky for a change. Rather than always going after whatever job happens to be available, why not find out about jobs that might not be available yet? Schedule at least one informational interview a month (more if you're unemployed).

Informational interviewing is useful even for those not considering a career move. Frankly, the information gathered during these informational interviews can't help but enrich your current position. Informational interviews can help you learn how other people handle jobs similar to your own. Is there something they're doing better? Would they mind offering feedback on one of your publications?

You can also learn about the type of equipment or resources these people are using. What do they like/dislike about their computer hardware or software? Camera? Video equipment? Where did they buy it? For how much? What free-lancers do they use? Users group? Clipping service? This information will be far more valuable than anything sales people will ever tell you about the products they sell.

Besides, like sex, interviewing can be intimidating at first, but gets easier with practice.

Mistake Three: Combing the classifieds more often than you comb your hair

The uninitiated job hunter waits until he or she is out of -- or almost out of work and then hits the classified ad sections of the major city papers. Wrong. You're competing with a hundred other Joe Shmoes as good as you -- or better -- who have experience more specific to the job at hand.

I'm not saying to avoid the classifieds -- just don't consider them your primary job source. There is only one day a week that it makes sense to comb the classifieds and that's Sunday. Communication jobs are infrequently advertised during the week. And even on Sunday it sometimes takes a bit of sleuthing to find appropriate listings. So, scan the jobs carefully. Communication jobs come under a variety of titles: editor, writer, director of marketing, director of communication, desktop publisher, director of publications, public relations or public affairs assistant, artist, graphic artist, designer, computer specialist, and so on.

If you don't have a lot of previous experience or are making a career shift, don't make the mistake of turning your nose up at unglamorous, low-paying, entry-level jobs, such as secretary, provided that the focus of the company is in your field of interest. The secretary position is often a stepping stone, and almost all companies have some form of communication opportunities after you get your foot in the door. And, once you have the job, you are well positioned to take on extra work -- the kind you ultimately want to do full-time.

Mistakes Four. Designing a resume that looks like an obituary to accompany a portfolio that looks like hell

Too many resumes look like obituaries or test sheets for the latest Postscript fonts. Study some of the best resumes in circulation by asking employment agents or corporate personnel managers for samples (with names and addresses deleted). If they won't give you samples, most would be happy to critique your resume and offer suggestions as to how to improve it. Of course, you can also try reading one or two of the latest how-to books on resume preparation. I recommend "Marketing Yourself, the Catalyst Guide to Successful Resumes and Interviews" by the Catalyst staff (Bantam Books, U.S. $4.95) and/or "Guerrilla Tactics in the Job Market" by Tom Jackson (Bantam Books, U.S. $4.95).

Be organized. Once you get an interview, be sure to bring a resume and a portfolio, both of which should look attractive and professional. A portfolio typically consists of a leather, three-ring binder with clear-pocket pages that showcase the best samples of your work appropriate to the job. Do not be tempted to bore your interviewer with every piece you've ever done. Limit your portfolio to 10 to 12 samples, enough to show style and versatility. More samples can be carried in a briefcase and presented separately if the interviewer is interested. After the interview, ask your interviewer for his or her critical evaluation of your resume and portfolio.

Mistake Five: Pausing for an interminable 15-minute silence after your interviewer has asked if you have any questions -- only to untwist your tongue long enough to reply, "There is the bathroom?"

Howard Peters, a salesman with a master's degree in business, once taught me some of the most important questions to ask during a job interview. At the beginning of the interview, he said to ask: "What communication or other skills are you looking for in the ideal candidate for this position?" Jot down notes if you have to. Then, as you're showing your portfolio, be sure to demonstrate that you have the skills your interviewer has told you he or she is looking for.

At the end of an interview, ask: "Is there anything about my experience or background that troubles you?" Unless you moonlight as a mind reader, you'll never know what, if anything, might be standing in the way of your getting the job. That is, until you receive a rejection letter.

Other good questions we sometimes neglect -- or don't know -- to ask: "Do you like my work?" "What's the next step?" "Where do I stand?"

Mistake Six: Letting Hallmark compose your thank-you note

The thank-you note is an opportunity to make up for those fleeting moments during the interview when you seemed to have forgotten your name along with everything else you've learned since third grade. Be sure to mention the all-important skill, publication or program you developed that completely escaped you during the interview.

If possible, use the note to suggest solutions to one or more of the problems emphasized by your interviewer. This is the time to show you were listening, you care about the job, and you are capable of creative thinking and problem-solving.

Mistake Seven: Assuming a Bart Simpsonian attitude toward continuing education

Like it or not, education is an ongoing process for business communicators. And there are advantages to taking classes. If you're employed, your employer may pay for it, and the education will make you sharper, faster and more marketable for that "better" job at your current company or somewhere else. If you're not employed, you can add the class to your resume. Besides, who knows what employer/ client you might meet once you're there?

Mistake Eight: Not looking for a side entrance when the front door is slammed in your face

After I graduated with my bachelor's degree in mass communication, I knocked on doors of employment agencies looking for a job as a writer, and I was laughed at. This was San Francisco, after all, and didn't I know there were 12 million writers out there with better qualifications? But I persisted, and my first two jobs came through employment agencies. The first job was graveyard-shift proofreader at a law firm in downtown Oakland, Calif. (All right, I didn't say they were good jobs.) And the second was a temp job that lasted seven months as director of production for Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers, one of the world's largest publishing firms. Now that was a good job, albeit short-lived, and it still looks impressive on my resume. (Hint: make sure employment agencies you consult with are 100 percent free.)

Even if you're currently employed, consider freelancing as a way to add a variety of samples to your portfolio. Today, a number of corporations would rather farm out communication assignments to freelancers than hire full-time, benefited employees. An excellent book on how to market your free-lance services to corporations is Robert W. Bly's "Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 A Year" (Henry Holt & Co., Inc., U.S. $10.95).

Mistake Nine: Catching the ax at the sharp end instead of by the handle

Don't let this turbulent, competitive field take you by surprise. No job is 100 percent secure. The only reasonable solution is to research, network and otherwise educate yourself to become not only an expert in the communication field, but also in the job market, as well. Learn from my mistakes, and you'll be better prepared to grab that proverbial ax by the handle and use it to cut the best deal for yourself.

Julie McLean Knight, ABC, is a free-lance writer and editor of Leads, the IABC/San Francisco chapter's job referral newsletter.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Knight, Julie McLean
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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