Whether you’re looking for a first job out of college or your next career move, it’s all about creating and monitoring your professional/social ecosystem. There are many external factors that affect how easy or difficult it will be to take that next step, such as the current economic climate, ability to relocate, and so forth. However, there is much that can and should be done to maximize personal assets aimed toward the next phase in a professional’s career.
Wikipedia defines an ecosystem as “a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving (abiotic), physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water, and sunlight.”
Often, individuals believe that their “professional” self is separate from their “social” self. I know of some who have two Facebook profiles or say “Facebook is for personal, LinkedIn is for business.” The problem with this illusion is that your ecosystem can’t tell the difference. In other words, if you’re online, it’s all fair game to prospective employers.
Your current and future employers care. In an October 23, 2011, article published on Mashable (http://www.mashable.com), author Erica Swallow reports that “recruiters and hiring managers are using social media to find out who their candidates really are: The study found that more than 90% of recruiters and hiring managers have visited a potential candidate’s profile on a social network as part of the screening process (see Figure 1). And a whopping 69% of recruiters have rejected a candidate based on content found on his or her social networking profiles — an almost equal proportion of recruiters (68%), though, have hired a candidate based on his or her presence on those networks.” Disregarding social media may be to ones’ peril.
MONITORING PROFESSIONAL/SOCIAL ECOSYSTEMS
Preparing Your Professional and Social Ecosystems and Yourself for Career Success
It’s easy to miss or overlook what might be deemed damaging content throughout the social Web, making it a real challenge to keep up on who’s saying or sharing what about you. Friends may tag you in a photo or video, which might not show you in a professional light. One tool I’ve found to help monitor your online presence is Reppler (http://www.reppler.com). Reppler is a great free tool to monitor and, if need be, identify and clean up any social media faux pas as a means to ensure a consistent positive impression is maintained. Be sure to monitor your online places and spaces regularly with Reppler or another tool to ensure all your good work isn’t unintentionally sabotaged by you or your friends’ photos and/or videos.
Part of preparation is being mentally prepared. One of the first questions I hear from aspiring health promotion and wellness professionals is “how long will it take me to find a job?” Although I appreciate the desire to have a finite answer, there are so many factors that impact the timing, such as those previously mentioned, that it really is just a guess. The standard answer I’ve heard is “four to six months”; however, it’s only a ball-park estimate. It’s critical to remember that “your job is to find a job,” not just any job but one that you are both qualified for and see as a next logical step in your career progression. Slow down and try to enjoy the journey. I like to remind people that the job search process is a lot like dating, in that it must be about what both parties desire in a long-term relationship. Otherwise, you may find yourself back in job search mode before you know it. The best time to look for a job is when you already have one, giving you the risk-free ability to either confirm you really love your current job or maybe it really is time to move on. If you don’t have that luxury, you’re not alone. The steps to getting plugged in are the same in either case.
Documentation: Resume, cover letter, business cards and yes, even thank you cards are still important tools.
Resume: A one pager will do. Unless you have 10+ years of experience in the field; then, maybe two pages. It’s important to remember that your resume is an introduction to your professional experience, not your life’s story. Resist the urge to “tell-all” because frankly, they won’t read it. Think of it in terms of a professional advertisement. Your resume should provide key facts and make the reader want more, which is how you get a phone call or maybe even an in-person interview. If you’ve given in to the urge and “told-all” and some part of that “all” didn’t seem to fit with the hiring manager’s idea of the perfect candidate, you will not get that call and the opportunity to show how you really shine.
Mission Statement: Whether to include a mission statement often is a source of debate. Because it is typically right at the top of the page (prime real estate), I recommend removing it to make room for more compelling content such as your achievements. If you really love your mission statement, ask people you trust to read it to determine if it does indeed reflect you personally or is it just a verbose conglomeration of flowery and lofty words. Personally, I don’t look favorably on mission statements because it is really difficult to come up with something honestly original.
Your achievements are the items or events that will grab an employers’ attention. I recommend that everyone maintains a working document containing a bulleted list of achievements, a list that is reviewed and updated regularly. It should be a bulleted list of action phrases that reflect what you have actually achieved. Remember to include outcomes when appropriate. Why? The achievements highlighted on your resume should relate directly to the “duties and responsibilities” outlined in a job description. By keeping a working document, it will be easier to respond to job ads by putting your most applicable achievements into the hands of a potential employer. I think of a job description as an employer’s “wish list.” It’s up to the candidate to demonstrate how their skills and achievements directly relate to that wish list. This is a key insight into beating out the competition who send the same resume for every job they apply for. Similarly, a cover letter should accentuate those same wish list items.
Be Genuine: If you don’t have business cards, get them. They don’t have to be “pretty,” only have your contact information on them. If you’re still using a silly email address like: email@example.com, stop. Setup a new one like Firstname.firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re not taking this seriously, why should anyone else. Finally, regarding thank you cards, you may think “no one does that anymore.” But isn’t that the point? Don’t miss another opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
Get Connected Locally: Join a professional organization in your state or region that has regular networking events such as the Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts (http://wwcma.org), which has monthly breakfast meetings. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) (http://www.acsm.org) also has 12 regional chapters across the country. Take full advantage of your local connections because they often are in a good position to know what’s happening close by.
Get Connected Virtually: Like “friending” another person, follow and connect with other professionals online. LinkedIn is the premier “business”-focused social network. If you haven’t already done so, you need to setup a profile, including a picture, and keep it current. If you don’t have a large professional network yet, you can easily connect with like-minded professionals by joining LinkedIn groups. By joining groups, professionals are able to link/connect with others with a common interest who otherwise would be unreachable, thus expanding your network. Here are a few of the ones that I’ve found most useful (see Figure 2).
Although joining groups is not the end of the story, professionals need to participate in conversations, share resources and otherwise be an “active and visible” member of the group to benefit from the expanded connections. Another benefit to participating in LinkedIn groups is that now most groups are “open,” which means that the content is available to search engines. This is a huge benefit, if properly leveraged. In other words, if someone did a Google search on a professional’s name, the group contributions would appear in the search results. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, expertise, and collaboration within a professional virtual environment. Being active on Facebook and Twitter also are valuable in demonstrating your expertise and professionalism.
Continuing Education: This is particularly important if you’re not currently employed; however, the cost to attend regional or national conferences on your own dime can be challenging. Take advantage of webinars offered by ACSM or services such as HealthPromotion LIVE (http://HealthPromotionLIVE.com), which offers free weekly webinars with nationally and internationally recognized experts on topics important to professionals in health promotion-related fields. You will not only gain valuable insights into the industry; all these seminars are continuing education eligible through ACSM, Certified Health Education Specialists and Dietetic Professionals (RD).
Be in the Know: Find out who’s hiring and where. There are lots of ways to achieve this: via Google Alerts, (http://www.google.com/alerts), following on Twitter: (http://twitter.com/hpcareernetjobs) and other RSS (really simple syndication) feeds from LinkedIn, Facebook, and so forth. Even if you’re not “seriously looking,” these resources provide valuable intelligence, such as helping you follow trends in the type of experience, skills, and qualifications employers are seeking; focusing on a specific part of the country where you might like to relocate; or keeping an eye on overall industry trends. Remember, if you’re not taking full advantage of the information available to you, there’s a really good chance that your potential competitors are.
Informational Interview: If there is an organization you might be interested in working for, setting up an informational interview is a great way to learn more about their organization and demonstrate your research skills and enthusiasm. Remember, it’s not a traditional interview. Bring a resume with you, but don’t assume you will be handing it over. Be sure to do your homework beforehand and prepare yourself with a list of questions such as what skills and knowledge are key to performing required job functions, corporate culture, what the manager likes most and least about their job, and so on. Don’t forget to follow up with that “thank you” card afterward.
Volunteering or Unpaid Internships: It may seem counter intuitive to volunteer or work for no pay, but believe me, they are wonderful opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. You may or may not get a job at the end with that particular employer but having them in your corner as an advocate often is worth its weight in gold. Additionally, it’s a great way to fill those time gaps on a resume while keeping your head and hands in your profession.
There’s Good Reasons for Optimism: The number of job openings advertised through HPCareer.Net is up by 18% for the year over 2010. The opportunities to demonstrate an individual’s capabilities through professional/social ecosystem continue to empower those who choose to engage fully.
Whether you’re completely onboard with social media and its impact on your professional career or you consider yourself on the sidelines, if you’ve dipped even one toe into the social ecosystem, you’re in! Don’t let that scare you. Knowledge is power. Use it to take full advantage of the opportunities that will continue to grow and change as new applications and services become mainstream in this environment.