By Yvonne Milosevic
Spontaneity is fantastic in situations like first dates and road trips. Want to know when it’s better not to be impulsive? When you’re thinking about a career change. “One of the biggest pitfalls for job seekers is launching the search before they are truly ready,” reveals Jen Coleman, executive director of alumni career services at UVA Darden School of Business. Boost your chances of success before your next job search by following the five tips Coleman recently shared in Ideas at Darden.
Tip #1 Conduct a Self-Assessment
A self-assessment is about finding answers to tough questions. Coleman says to ask yourself: How does your career align with your life needs and goals? Are you happy? Are you headed in the right direction?
The Darden Alumni Career Services director recommends the book Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, for this introspective work. The authors suggest creating something called an Odyssey Plan, which is a brainstorm about your future self.
Flash-forward five years and come up with elements that make up the version of you that’s “living your best life.” Focus on specific areas, such as work, fun, love, and health. When you rate your current satisfaction levels in those areas, how do they stack up? What would you adjust? What concrete changes could you make to get closer to that best-life goal?
Odyssey Plans can help in all of life’s transitional moments, but especially as a starting point before your next job search begins.
Tip #2 Determine What’s Next
“For an awe-inspiring few, next career steps are crystal clear. For most,” says Coleman, “it is clear as mud.” If you can’t commit to an exact job title, think instead about the skills you want to use or the type of organization that interests you.
Those considering a career pivot can find ways to try out some of the different skills or responsibilities of a new position in a low-risk way before going all-in on a career switch.
You can also use this time before your next job search to fill your skills gap. Or to hone a talent you didn’t have time to master before. Explore a new career field through webinars. Consider offering to work on a project for a company with which you want to start a relationship. Doing something on the side is the most common path to career reinvention.
Tip #3 Warm Up Your Network
“The best networkers often have the easiest time finding their next jobs,” Coleman says, adding that you don’t need to be an extrovert to network effectively. If you haven’t invested much effort lately into cultivating your network, it’s time to get busy. Introverts, who usually excel at one-on-one relationships, can begin by tapping into their current contacts to expand their connections.
If you don’t often see your long-time contacts in person, reconnect through social media. Comment on/like their posts and share articles that would interest them. A little effort goes a long way toward keeping those relationships alive. By staying engaged even before your next job search begins, your contacts will feel more inclined to offer help should you need it.
Tip #4 Work on Your Brand
No matter what industry you work in, a personal brand is essential to achieving your career goals. Brand “You” is the unique blend of experiences and skills that make you who you are. For example, when a recruiter, firm, or HR manager looks at your LinkedIn profile, they should instantly understand your specialty and skills.
“If you don’t know why you’d hire you, neither will they.” Frank Sonnenberg
People who get wooed with job offers they didn’t even seek usually have one thing in common: a strong professional brand. If you haven’t already, get more involved in your field of expertise, Coleman advises. Join professional organizations and attend conferences related to your career.
“Active involvement in your field strongly contributes to your professional brand, which is critical to marketing yourself in a job search,” Coleman says.
Tip #5 Increase Your Knowledge
“Most professionals know their jobs and organizations inside and out,” says Coleman. “But what about outside your organization? Do you know which individuals and organizations in your field are doing interesting, innovative work?”
By staying current on industry trends, you build up credibility as an expert in your field. Make it a regular habit to scan trade news or listen to podcasts related to your professional niche. “Such knowledge is a non-negotiable factor of success in your field, even if you stay with the same organization your entire career,” Coleman explains.
And you don’t have to spend months studying up before your next job search to seriously boost your knowledge. “Even a couple of weeks of disciplined research can make a world of difference in your ability to deliver a clear message to those that can help you or hire you,” says Coleman.
As J.W. Marriot once said: Success seems to be connected to action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they never quit.”