If your #1 goal in 2017 is to find a new job or make a career change, dreaming and wishing isn’t enough. Any successful job seeker will tell you its hard work and won’t happen overnight.
Need some motivation? Here are 8 real career success stories to inspire you and other job seekers.
1.) From Teacher to Writer: Geoff’s Career Success Story
For most, the process of locating a new job is as much an emotional experience as a financial one. Rejection is going to happen, and it’s very difficult not to take it personally.
Geoff knows this all too-well. Despite having multiple degrees from top-tier universities, Geoff’s individualism and style are better suited to academia than many of the corporate environments DC Metro area professionals flock toward. As a former schoolteacher and freelance writer, Geoff had the daunting task of convincing employers to take a chance on him. He spent over a year crafting various versions of his resume, going on informational interviews, and networking. However, rather than bemoaning his lot, Geoff brushed himself off from setbacks and did his best to be optimistic.
Ironically, it was craigslist that landed him his current gig. Geoff shares, “I was fortunate to find an employer who values and builds on my individuality and style, and is willing to make it part of their corporate culture. I honestly feel happier where I am now than I ever did in academia!”
- Reach out to your alumni networks. “Various college offices actually send out job listings to alumni– even if you’re older than a new grad, like I was.”
- Stuff your resumes with key words, “…and don’t be afraid to write, even if you’re not a writer. Publishing a post on my LinkedIn page about scalable job skills really helped gain me some exposure. I’m pretty sure it’s actually what got one former co-worker to reach out and ask for my resume so he could put it in front of his bosses.”
- Proofread! “Find an editor, or someone to proofread, when you’ve written something! Bad grammar’s a liability, but if a piece looks good, and shows you know your field, it’s a step in the right direction.”
- Be realistic. “Keep in mind that what the BLS calls ‘unemployed’ doesn’t really reflect reality. When I was working 14 hours a week washing glasses at World of Beer, I technically wasn’t unemployed.”
- Don’t give up hope. “If you can find a job seeker’s group on LinkedIn, those can be comforting, because they often have stories/testimonials from other people who are job hunting, with no luck. If you’re unemployed or underemployed, you’re not alone.”
2.) Relocated: Catherine’s Career Success Story
Catherine arrived in the Washington, DC area on August 23, 2016 after living overseas for many years due to her husband’s job. Her 2 biggest challenges in the job search were being new to an area that thrives on networking, and targeting the federal government (which is known for to be a lengthy, cumbersome process). Catherine also had a high-level, high-profile career previously, and though she wanted to replicate that position, she knew she had to be very adaptable and open to other positions in different industries.
Catherine approached her job search in a very strategic way, starting with an understanding of how her skills and interests could be transferred to positions in various agencies within the federal government. “Knowing your limits is important,” Catherine states. “What’s most important – job title, salary, work hours, supervisory responsibilities? For me, a commute longer than 40 minutes is a no-no.”
She also used her excellent organization skills to her advantage. “I wrote down all job-seeking related activities in a notebook.” The process of writing (rather than typing) is known to produce a host of psychological benefits, including clarity and focus, and in the job search, this boosts memory and increases productivity. “Learning new skills is also extremely important. These days, there are many free resources available online on sites like Lynda and Coursera.”
Despite Catherine’s proactive approach, her job search was not consistent in terms of results. “Some weeks I had 3 or 4 phone interviews, and then nothing for weeks at a time. Ultimately, what got me hired was my marketing-communications background, which I’m using for special projects in my current role,” Catherine states. She is now working at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) supporting the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Executive Director. She received her job offer on November 23 – 3 months to the day after arriving in the United States!
- “Go to as many networking/job seeking events as possible – even if you go only once just to check it out. I participated in some job fairs where clearly there were no jobs for me, but just to practice interviewing and networking.”
- “Apply to at least 5 jobs per week, even if you’re not 100% qualified. This forces you to tailor your communications to a particular job, which forces you to learn about different industries and sectors you might not have considered before.”
- “Fill your days like a job, with commitments where you need to be well-dressed, even if only for an hour a day.”
- “Have a professional LinkedIn photo. This matters more than you realize.”
- “Take care of your body. In addition to practical advice, other tips to inspire job seekers relate to your well-being. “Some gyms offer free trials or discounts. Exercising expands your mind and sets you in a positive mood, which is essential for a successful job search. Also, if you’re attaining a goal (weight loss, endurance, or strength-building), this also gives you the motivation to attain the goal of getting a job. For me, working out is the one thing I could control in my life, and it gave me confidence, which came across in my networking and interviewing.”
3.) How Stephanie Landed her Dream Job
Just as listening is important to obtain and maintain personal and professional relationships, it is essential in the job hunt. Stephanie landed her most recent position by practicing this skill, which ultimately landed her high-quality employment opportunities that match her skillset. But like our other successful job seekers, Stephanie had some stumbling blocks along the way.
“The biggest challenge most job seekers have to overcome is the Applicant Tracking Systems,” Stephanie states. Because Stephanie has a background in building websites, she understands that the ATS system is “similar to SEO for peoples’ skillsets.” Jobscan, a tool that gives job seekers an instant analysis of how well their resume is tailored for a particular job, has been vital to Stephanie’s success in landing the interviews that she wanted. After attending several career-related workshops and coming up with a “master resume” that could be tailored to various positions, Stephanie first tried Jobscan, assuming that her resume would be an excellent match. In fact, the match was only 39% that first time.
Instead of getting stuck, Stephanie implemented the suggestions from Jobscan and re-wrote her resume until she reached a match of 85%. “On a Thursday, I applied to 8 positions. I wrote a tailored resume and cover letter for each, including the exact title of the job I was applying for in my summary statement. In my cover letter, I indicated that I was currently employed, and re-stated my objective in relation to the position description. By the following Monday, I had 5 interviews scheduled. On one of those interviews, I succeeded in being hired for my current position – and the best fit for job satisfaction and work/life balance I’ve ever enjoyed: representing the Newseum in their visitors’ services department.”
- Don’t rely on Indeed.com. “Many of the positions there have already been filled, and the alerts come too late. The majority of employers who contacted me for interviews came from smaller industry-specific websites.”
- Listen intently. “A successful job search boils down to 3 types of listening: what the career professionals say, what the position description says, and what your own self-assessment says in terms of whether or not this will be a good opportunity. You can then use Jobscan to compile all of these instructions and information into an effective format that works.”
- It will take time. “You have to make it your full-time job to get a full-time job. Many job seekers don’t understand the amount of work you have to do on yourself before you’re even ready to begin this process. I was successful so quickly because I spent months behind-the-scenes clarifying my target, understanding how my Myers-Briggs type affects how I present myself in interviews, and becoming emotionally ready to present myself in the best light possible.”
4.) Federal Jobs aren’t for Everyone: Rula’s Career Success Story
A modern, up-to-date resume was key to Rula landing interviews. Because of her AmeriCorps experience, Rula was able to land an administrative training position with a well-respected federal agency. It was the kind of stable environment many people dream of, but Rula was miserable. The people were nice enough, but the work wasn’t meaningful to her, and within a few short weeks, she dreaded her daily grind. Things became so difficult that much to her family’s chagrin, Rula considered quitting without having anything else lined up.
Through a friend of a friend, Rula heard about an organization that does the type of work she was trained in and is most passionate about: youth development. “My friend introduced me to her colleague, who put me in touch with a program developer at Communities in Schools. After speaking with him, I was more convinced than ever that I wanted to work with this organization. The problem was that there were no job openings, and no plans for hiring.”
Rula then made a bold move. “I asked to meet with the program director again, and I told him, ‘I really want to work with you.’ I told him I’m so invested in the work that they do that I’d be willing to come on as a volunteer.” Three months later, a position opened up quite unexpectedly. The program director remembered Rula’s passion and recommended her before the position was even advertised. After just one virtual meeting, Rula was fast-tracked through the hiring process. Today, she is a Site Coordinator with Communities in Schools, working with at-risk youth in middle school.
- Passion is key. “Don’t settle for a mediocre job if you’re unhappy. You won’t be productive, and even worse, you’ll be a drag to your family and friends. On the other hand, when you’re passionate about what you do, it shows.”
- Get the right mentor/career coach. “I unfortunately got bad career advice that didn’t help me at all, but I also got excellent advice from people who truly know their field.”
- Take a risk. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. They want to help.”
- Know yourself. “Listen to your gut and do what’s right for you.”
5.) Shhhhh: Introverted Networking Tips: John’s Career Success Story
(While John was pleased to share his story, he prefers not to be identified).
Now a 39 year-old Project Manager at a Fortune 500 company, John was fortunate to have had a prep-school education along with a degree from a prestigious university. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it is the adaptability that my education provided that has allowed me to be successful. Science classes and analyzing writing from 200 years ago is useful – just not in an immediately apparent way.” Problem-solving and analysis are, in fact, critical in the business world, yet a whopping 40% of college students graduate without the critical reasoning skills to succeed in a white-collar job.
A good education, however, doesn’t always correlate to good job-seeking skills, nor does it preclude or prevent other challenges. John chose to care for sick relatives and had a debilitating illness himself, both of which put his IT career on hold. By the time he was able to job search, technology had moved forward, but John’s skills had not. Fortunately, he was able to obtain a grant for training and had help writing a resume that addressed the gaps in his work history. But interviewing was a problem. “My confidence was at an all-time low, and it showed. I was desperate for any job, and I found myself trying unsuccessfully to convince 20 year old retail managers to take a chance on me.”
John’s biggest challenge – and his go-to excuse – is that he is “an extreme Introvert who hates people.” He knew that he had to overcome his fears (and stop making excuses) if he wanted to get employed. “I went to several events – even if the topic didn’t interest me. I forced myself to strike up conversations with people. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. But I kept doing it, and I gradually became more comfortable. As a result, I sounded more credible and people seemed to like me more.”
It worked. John went from interviewing unsuccessfully for food prep and customer associate positions to successfully obtaining positions as an Operations Associate, then an Estimator, and eventually Project Manager 3 years after being unemployed. “In the last two years, I’ve gotten every position I’ve interviewed for. I won’t lie – it was a lot of hard work, and it required me to be in some very uncomfortable positions. But nobody truly moves forward in life when they’re comfortable.”
- Work on your weaknesses. “Get someone to be honest with you about your weaknesses. Listen to what they say and do something about it.”
- Go on lots of real interviews. “Go on as many interviews as you can – even if you don’t want the job. The only way to become a better interviewer is to practice in real interviews. Yes, you can practice in your head or with someone else, but there’s no substitute for the real-deal.”
- Know your audience. “It’s so important to be aware of how you come across to others and adapt to their style. The other person might be an idiot, but they could be an idiot with the power to give you a job or promotion.”
- Be open and be proactive. “You never know when you may have to job search again. Educate yourself. Have a baseline of knowledge that you can apply to several different industries and positions.”
6.) Connecting In-Person Makes all the Difference: Bob’s Career Success Story
Bob’s spent 10+ years living and working overseas for non-profits focused on international development. Initially, his job search was made difficult due to being new to the Washington, DC area and not having many local contacts. Additionally, many organizations looked at him as a field expert and did not fully appreciate how he could adapt his skills to working in a US based office.
Applying to government agencies is notoriously difficult, and it was here where Bob’s background actually hurt him in some respects. “My work over the past 20 years has been on grants and contracts from the US government – primarily the State Department. USAID contractors are the largest employers for folks working in international development, yet until recently, they required new hires to have USAID experience. This reduced my potential job pool significantly.”
Bob also faced some of the age biases that concern many mid-career adults. However, perhaps the largest factor that impacted his job search was the mental/psychological impact of constant rejection. “I began to doubt my own self-worth. I was burned out and started on a downward spiral that affected my ability to get up in the morning, walk out of my apartment to meet people, and apply for jobs. It became very difficult to speak with friends and family who were unsure why I was having such difficulty finding a new position. The feeling of embarrassment when asked about my job search forced me to spend less time meeting people I knew and more time spent out of public view – on the computer, searching through job boards.”
What ultimately worked for Bob was spending more time networking (both in-person and on LinkedIn) and getting introductions to people within non-profits. “Not only did this force me to get out, I was able to spend more time targeting specific organizations I wanted to work for and was, as a result, able to obtain a temporary position while I continued to apply for positions through USAJobs. Eventually, I got a call for an interview and test for the position I have now.”
- Have a clear vision. “My biggest challenge was my lack of a clear vision for the type of career I wanted, and I know many others struggle with this too. Before doing anything else, spend adequate time determining what you’d be most happy with and what you’re qualified for.”
- Research. “Research your target organizations and search for contacts that you can reach out to. Conduct information interviews to learn more about the sector, the types of positions, skills and qualifications necessary and the people who can hire you. Keep in contact with those people and ask for their help and additional contacts.”
- Keep going out to meet people. “When they ask, let them know you are searching for a new position and what kind of position you are searching for. Keep an open mind and explore other types of jobs if the person you are speaking with offers connections or information about a company hiring.”
- Create a marketing plan. “Understand that you will spend time at the computer, at sector events, at coffees and on the phone with people, revising your resume and doing research. However, you need to be comfortable with each aspect of the search or you will hate it and not succeed. If you don’t like to network, for example, find a friend willing to go to networking events with you.”
- Have a schedule. “Set goals for sending resumes, getting exercise, meeting people, having coffees, spending time with friends and family.
- Have perspective. “Times are tough, and positions aren’t as readily available as they once were. There are many applicants for each job. Don’t think you’re a bad person because you’re having difficulty. Take regular breaks from the job search to clear your head and re-energize.”
- Stay away from negative people. “Unfortunately, many well-meaning family members and friends think they’re ‘helping’ by nagging and questioning your methods. Don’t let this get you down. Find other encouraging job seekers to compare notes with.”
7.) How Cindy Made a Midlife Career Change
“I was able to get a job by using the number one strategy of career counselors: through a referral.” Cindy had a 20+ year career as a digital media producer when she and several in her department were laid off due to organizational restructuring. For 4 years, Cindy took odd jobs here and there (most recently as a substitute teacher) but found herself unable to pay her mortgage. She eventually decided to rent out the tiny extra bedroom in her townhouse. Her new roommate happened to be an electrical engineer for the Navy. “As she got to know me, she saw how diligent I am, how thoroughly I research, and how serious I am about my education and moving my career forward.”
When a contractor position for a Technical Editor became available, Cindy’s roommate recommended her. Though she had a resume focused on digital media, Cindy still had to apply through the Applicant Tracking System, but it was the referral that got her through to the interview stage. Cindy knew how important researching the organization would be to her interview, but she took an extra step that few job seekers take the time to do: she located the leadership page of the website and read the career history of her interviewer. “He was pleasantly surprised that I knew his history, and he was happy to talk about it.”
Cindy’s tenacity worked. She got the job not only due to her skills, but being a cultural-fit. “The best part: I’ve gotten basic clearance for this contract, which lasts 5 years. I’m now under investigation for a Secret clearance, which will make me even more marketable.”
- Have the right attitude. “Be nice to everyone you come into contact with. You never know what might be in store.”
- Learn new skills. “Keep up-to-date in your field, or learn what you need to make yourself marketable. With community resources and online courses, there’s no excuse for not making this a priority.”
- You can be a “Job Snob” to a point. “My oldest son told me to take any job, but I felt like working at Starbucks would associate me with the ‘food service’ industry. Nothing against food service, but it’s not my field of expertise. I felt like substitute teaching was a better choice for me as an ‘in-between’ job because it’s more aligned to my background.”
8.) Bouncing Back from Multiple Layoffs: Jennifer’s Career Success Story
Looking for a job is exhausting and demoralizing, especially after being laid off not once, but twice, as Jennifer was. “I searched for 14 months until I got an offer,” Jennifer conveys. “You can easily fall into a pattern of spending 14 or more hours a day searching for jobs, writing letters, reformatting your resume, rehearsing interview questions, and still believe that it’s not enough.”
Ironically, when it comes to applying to jobs, you’ll have a better chance at landing an interview if you focus on quality over quantity. Jennifer began getting noticed more after she began tailoring her resume and cover letter to every job announcement. “I incorporated not only the specific position requirements into my resume and cover letter, but the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and values too.” This resulted in higher-quality opportunities.
Ultimately, it was a referral (once again) working in the same professional field who helped Jennifer her current position at the Connecticut River Watershed Council. “My last 3 full time jobs were sent to me via email by friends with professional connections,” Jennifer states.
There was still the interview, however, which is a hurdle for many job seekers. What worked for Jennifer? “My best interviews were the ones that I had prepared for with specific but concise points about the organization I was meeting with. Going through a mock interview was tremendously helpful! I learned to practice questions the day before the interview and listen to where I struggled so that I knew what key points to focus on. When any question turned to highlighting faults or past professional challenges, I always offered an honest but concise and constructive answer. I always came to interviews with a prepared list of thoughtful questions, and brought my portfolio to show work samples.”
- Be confident. “As cliché as it sounds, you must believe in yourself, in your skills, knowledge and ability to excel in your chosen field.”
- Be mindful of social media. “In this digital age, it’s important to update to your LinkedIn profile so that employers can learn encouraging highlight about your professional background. “
- Be prepared. Before an interview, do your research – thoroughly. Always carry your resume and resume file with you so you can share it at any given time.
- Send thank-you letters. This small step can truly set you apart from the competition!
- Reach out to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback when you need it. One of the greatest things about communities is the support they offer.
- Don’t give up! “Yes, the job market is tremendously fierce and competitive, but you cannot let that stop you. You have to keep going, and encourage yourself to get out there and make connections, but also remember to practice self-care.”
Bottom Line: Our successful job seekers demonstrated confidence, clarity, likeability, tenacity, resilience, and organization. They tailored their resumes, cover letters, and social media profiles. Most importantly had a proactive approach to networking. If you’re actively job searching in 2017, make sure you follow their lead!
A big thank-you to our 8 Career Success contributors – your expertise and time is greatly appreciated. We hope this this blog post will Inspire Job Seekers – If you’ve found these job tips useful use our Social Media buttons and give us a SHARE.