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7 Lessons I Learned from My Job-hunting Experiences

7 Lessons I Learned from My Job-hunting Experiences

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    Among the many ironies of the so-called ‘real world’ is not getting the job when I knew I gave my best interview. For instance, there was this firm I really wanted to work for and I was thrilled to be invited to interview on two separate occasions, only to be rejected both times. I was devastated for the next 24 hours, but I got over it. As of today, I’ve been part of the labor force for six years and I’ve had four regular jobs and a variety of freelance projects on the side. It doesn’t make me an expert, but I sure have learned lessons from every job application that somehow proved to be valuable when applied in my subsequent interviews (Hint: I’m a few days away from celebrating my second year at my present job).

    Today, I’m sharing with you the lessons I’ve learned in my personal job-hunting experiences and how they can help you avert unnecessary stress when you’re attending that interview.

    1. Read the directions when taking exams.

    Following this single piece of advice can help you, not just in getting the job, but also in saving yourself from embarrassment. You wouldn’t want to look back to a job that you almost had but didn’t get because you encircled the letters of your answers only to find out that the directions specified to use boxes. There are companies who segregate candidates’ exams according to those who followed the instructions and those who didn’t, and consider the latter rejected. This helps hiring personnel judge how applicants respond to instructions and if they are detail oriented.

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    Then again, following exam instructions shouldn’t mean that you can’t be creative with your answers. Before I got hired for my first real job, I took a barrage of tests that looked like a college entrance exam. But the part that left an indelible mark in my mind was the test where I had to complement a subject with a predicate. I didn’t want to be remembered as a boring writer applicant so I gave answers that I thought were witty. I’m not sure whether my brand of humor appealed to the supervisor, but I got the job. So unless you’re dead sure you can inspire a revolution in how the company views defiance of exam rules, deliberate disobedience or mere recklessness can take a backseat in your job hunting.

    2. Don’t just rehearse answering the basic questions; anticipate the trivial ones.

    If you’ve been in the job-seeking arena for quite some time, you’ve probably mastered the skill of answering the omnipresent interview questions (read: ‘How you see yourself in five years?’ ‘Why should you be hired?’ and ‘What you can contribute to the company’s growth?’). More often than not, it is tradition that dictates the inclusion of these questions on the list of a company’s interview protocol. However, a lot of hiring managers have outgrown this custom and began injecting fresh ideas into their interview guidelines. I remember a former boss asking me in a final interview what my worst trait was, while some inquire as far as the book you’re currently reading (that is, if you read at all) just to get a better idea of your personality.

    While it’s all right to prepare for the orthodox questions, you also have to consider the possibility that you’ll encounter something unconventional, or at least something you haven’t heard of. You don’t have to know what exactly the hiring manager will ask you, but it could help if you brush up on unique interview questions online. The point is that you don’t flinch upon hearing a question you didn’t rehearse for. Plus, anticipating trivial inquiries can help you become more self-aware and confident.

    3. Sell yourself but do not lie.

    One of the challenges I faced in my neophyte stages of job-hunting was describing myself. If it were up to me, I’d rather have the interviewer ask something—anything—about me and I’d give an honest answer. The thing is, the hiring staff needed to prove the part of my résumé where I said I had excellent written and verbal communication skills, and they gave me a chance to demonstrate both. Over time, these same experiences, as well as the skills I gained in my previous jobs, made me realize that selling myself to an interviewer wasn’t as complicated as I saw it.

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    You might think that there will always be applicants who are better than you, and you’re probably right. But if you really want to get the job, you have to make your case stronger by talking about your skills and your accomplishments. There are times, however, when people go as far as exaggerating their stories or lie blatantly just to get the job. It may be tempting to sugarcoat your achievements but remember that when you get hired and your boss discovers your lie, your reputation and your job will be on the line.

    4. Dress up for the job but do not sacrifice comfort.

    The kind of outfit you should wear to interviews depends on the company you’re applying to. Firms that have long been established often stick to wearing formal ensembles, while startup companies tend to be more lenient with their dress code and allow for smart casual outfits. Most job postings these days include the details of the company’s attire policies, but in case it isn’t provided, you can ask the hiring staff when you confirm your interview schedule. However, just because the HR tells you to wear something ‘smart casual’ doesn’t mean you can get away with jeans and black-rimmed spectacles.

    Dress like it’s your first day on your new job. Gentlemen, get yourselves a decent pair of trousers, a crisp button down shirt, and dress shoes. Ladies, wear your best skirt or slacks, a nice blouse or a chic dress, and a pair of heels that you can actually walk on. If heels aren’t your thing, wear flats that scream business. Also, don’t be afraid to put on a dash of color using light makeup. Avoid anything that you still have to break into, such as new shoes, unless you fancy risking blisters on your feet on the day of your interview. Skip anything that doesn’t fit comfortably but don’t go overboard in dressing up. A wrong choice of outfit can affect your disposition and might even sabotage your chances of impressing potential employers.

    5. Make friends with other applicants.

    Making friends with your fellow applicants has its merits. For one thing, talking to someone while waiting can help you relax your nerves, and for another, it helps you expand your professional network. Your job application can only have two outcomes—either you get it or you don’t. Either way, good friends in the field can point you to other opportunities and vice versa.

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    However, engaging fellow candidates shouldn’t be invasive either. Keep the conversation to a professional level; your biographies can wait until you’ve added each other on Facebook. Also, bear in mind that some people might simply want to keep to themselves, so take a hint from their body language if they mind small talk.

    6. Bring a book that you enjoy reading.

    I mentioned earlier that some interviewers ask applicants about the books they’ve read, but why would they want to know? An applicant who likes to read communicates openness to new ideas and the will to learn new things. Case in point: if you want to up your chances of getting your dream job and make a good impression, become more interesting by reading different kinds of material.

    My love for reading is a habit that easily manifested as I entered the world of employment. It didn’t matter what book I was reading, I’d bring it to the interview and read while waiting for my turn. Apart from saving me from boredom, it also served as an easy icebreaker when other applicants jumped into conversation. Furthermore, describing myself in the interview became easier because I could talk about reading, among other things.

    7. Remember that at the end of the day, the person who will interview you is human.

    Job interviews can be nerve-racking the first few times you do it and even more so when (a) it’s a big ticket job you’re trying to get; (b) if the person who’s interviewing you is a company executive; or (c) both. And while there are some hiring managers who take pleasure in intimidating candidates, many of them are simply doing their job. To be fair, what they do isn’t as easy as it looks. Nevertheless, it’s convenient to blame hiring personnel when we don’t get the job, but it is the higher ups who ultimately decide your fate as far as their company is concerned.

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    Still, the recommendation of the hiring manager can affect your overall evaluation, and this is where making a good first impression comes in. Show up for the interview on time, make eye contact, shake people’s hands firmly, dress sharp, and do your homework. What the interviewer will say about you may not be within your control but you can definitely do something to earn brownie points.

    Relax, it’s just an interview. And while getting the job would be fantastic, a rejection shouldn’t define your entire career.

    Featured photo credit: job interview image via ixdaily.com

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    Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

    Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

    Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion, and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit a job where you’re feeling stuck in your career and live your dream instead? Or when you’ve changed career paths to do what really makes you happy?

    Then, you snapped back to reality and realized that you’re not the boss, not living your dream, and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

    Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy, but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

    Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work. .

    Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck in your career.

    1. Make Time for You

    If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or unhappy with how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

    Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

    Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need to take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your day where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

    Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t, and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

    For example, are there training days, evening courses, or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

    By booking in a meeting with yourself, it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your day and filling it with a meeting.

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    2. Grow Your Network Before You Need It

    Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

    Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections, and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities[1].

    When I was thinking about setting up my current company, Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event. I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice, to unpick what their problems were, and to look for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

    It paid off because, when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them, and soon I had my first clients.

    Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks and focus on how you can add value to other. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

    3. Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

    According to Tim Ferriss, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with,” and his associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve[2].

    For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise–they help you to up your game.

    If you want that promotion, a career change, or to set up your own business, seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead.

    4. Work on Your Personal Brand

    Jeff Bezos defines a personal brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

    Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. That can actually keep you feeling stuck in your career. It’s really about being your best “real you.” It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

    What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

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    Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

    Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

    5. Be Accountable

    Achieve your career goals faster, and grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

    For example, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

    When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable, and we are more likely to make progress faster.

    6. Make Sure Your Values Are Aligned With Your Company’s

    All the professional development, goal setting, and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

    Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your company’s ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

    Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business; others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck in your career and unhappy.

    It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you, or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

    7. Get out of Your Comfort Zone

    Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

    It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know rather than risk the devil we don’t.

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    This is true even if the devil we know is a boring, unfulfilling job because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

    If you feel stuck, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

    To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then, tackle that in small steps.

    For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking, but public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job, then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

    You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a “get out of your comfort zone club,” where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

    8. Learn to Embrace Failure

    Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour[3]. Failure is simply the natural path to success.

    The truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.

    In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

    We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves: “Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?” We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of others, or even being fired for failure.

    However, if you’re going to stop feeling stuck in your career, you must be open to learning from failure.

    Reframe failure by viewing everything as an experiment because you can’t have a failed experiment—you just learn whether something works or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said:

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    “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    9. Build Your Resilience

    Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup, and to keep going.

    Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path, and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

    Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty, the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill, as well as a career skill.

    In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time.

    Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide: What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

    10. Ask for Help

    It can be hard to ask for help, as it can make us feel vulnerable.

    No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a group of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

    My advice is to be deliberate about creating your group. You can do that with a tool called a “Me Map”:

    1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, like help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
    2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
    3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

    Final Thoughts

    You can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

    Remember, no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and land the career that you truly want.

    More Tips to Stop Feeling Stuck in Your Career

    Featured photo credit: NEW DATA SERVICES via unsplash.com

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