The following is a true story about a former colleague.
It was a week after Thanksgiving when she got the news her job was being eliminated. She had noticed the workload had been lighter during the past few months. But layoffs? Seriously? Right before Christmas? She worked for this company for more than 30 years. She planned to retire from this company. How could this be happening? She never expected to need job search skills at this point in her career.
When I heard about my colleague’s news, I immediately called to offer my support. I knew of an executive assistant position that might be a great fit for her, and I wanted her to know right away. I asked if her resume and professional portfolio were up to date, and offered to review her resume for her.
What I learned, though, was truly astonishing. Her resume was not current. In fact, she didn’t have a resume at all! And although she had heard a lot of her admin colleagues talk about their professional portfolios, she had never assembled one for herself. Now, when she desperately needed both, she had to start from scratch.
So, what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?
The following are some key steps we took as part of an effective job search strategy. This process helped my colleague not only recover from this devastating news but emerge with renewed confidence and an even better job – all in less than three weeks’ time!
Step 1: Activate your network.
I always encourage admins to create a strong network before they need it. You have to build relationships to form a strong network, which means letting people get to know you and working with them over time.
The day after my colleague found out she was losing her job, her network kicked into action. In fact, two separate people contacted me on her behalf, which was how I knew to call her in the first place. While she was still in shock and nervous to share the news, multiple people in her network immediately began sending her job leads and writing letters of recommendation. The outpouring of support was overwhelming. But this first step was ultimately the most important one in her journey!
Step 2: Update (or create) your resume.
The number one tool you need for a job search is a resume. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve worked, if you can’t summarize your experience and accomplishments on a couple of sheets of paper, you aren’t going to get very far. Even if you’ve never needed a resume before, or you don’t think you’ll need one again, you still need a resume! Microsoft has numerous free resume templates to get you started. Many job-hunting websites also offer free templates. Find one that appeals to you and get started.
If you already have a resume, update it now! No excuses. Does it include your current job? If not, get a copy of your job description from HR (or from your files) and add it. Have you updated your accomplishments section lately? What projects or teams did you work on, and what results did you achieve? Quantify the savings of time or money, the reduction in waste, or the increase in sales or productivity. Accomplishments are more important than the job responsibilities because they tell an employer what you’ll be able to do for them if they hire you.
My colleague went to the HR department the day she was notified of the layoff and asked to see her HR file. This was a brilliant move! She wrote down as much information as she could from her file so she could recreate her work experience with dates, job titles, locations, managers’ names, and comments from past reviews. When she showed up at my office a day later, she had pages of great keywords and specific employment information for us to use in creating her new resume. Within 48 hours, with some minor proofing tweaks, her resume was ready to use in her job search!
Step 3: Update (or create) your professional portfolio.
The second tool all admins need for a job search is a professional portfolio. A professional portfolio combines your resume, work samples, documentation of your education and/or certifications, documentation of your skills, and more. This information can be presented in a variety of ways. One simple way is with a three-ring binder divided into sections. It’s a fantastic tool for job hunting, annual reviews, and keeping track of your professional development and accomplishments. It shows your actual work product.
Your professional portfolio is a very empowering tool in a job hunt. It allows you to market your capabilities in a visual format. It’s proof of the skills, abilities, talents, and performance you need to share during an interview. And, in some cases, it reminds you about things you’d otherwise forget. It will set you apart from the scores of other job applicants because most people don’t put the effort into developing a portfolio.
My colleague was fortunate because she still had access to her work samples and files, so she could print them and use them in her professional portfolio. If you lose access to that information when you lose your job, it’s almost impossible to recover it. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to start building your professional portfolio now.
Here’s a summary of why you need a professional portfolio in my colleague’s own words. (Note: She also used the All Things Admin Professional Portfolio Builder to speed up the portfolio creation process.)
“I did have my professional portfolio put together and presented it at the time of my first interview. Not only were both the manager and the VP impressed with my resume, they were blown away by my portfolio. Their comment was that not only was the portfolio very impressive, it was an opportunity to show them that I am detailed oriented, professional and had an impressive work history.
I learned several things while putting my portfolio together. First and foremost, it’s a lot of work! Having access to the information, selecting and sorting through everything took quite some time. I worked on it pretty constantly for at least a week solid! In addition, the notes of gratitude about the quality of my work are good things to hang on to. Before this, I would hang onto them for a couple months and then throw them away. Not anymore! Also, I realized how important it is to keep track of documents that I created or worked extensively on. With this particular position, I worked on many documents that showed my experience doing this same type of work four or five years ago. Keeping a copy of those documents would have shown them immediately my past work experience with this same type of work.
I thought many times that I was so fortunate to have an additional 60 days to access to my personnel file, working documents, and emails. I’ve now experienced the importance of keeping track of all this information and will continue to do so.”
Step 4: Update (or create) a LinkedIn Profile.
The third tool for an effective job search is social media – specifically, LinkedIn. It’s where a lot of HR departments and recruiters begin their candidate searches. You need to be there and make sure your information is current if you want to get noticed.
If you are on LinkedIn, I encourage you to make sure your information is up-to-date and accurately reflects your experience, accomplishments, extra-curricular activities, professional affiliations, etc.
Another benefit of LinkedIn is that you can invite current and past employers or co-workers to write a recommendation for you. This is a great way to get personal testimonials that you can print and include in your professional portfolio – another powerful element for your job search toolkit.
Step 5: Prepare for an interview by reviewing questions and practicing your responses.
With your resume ready, your portfolio in hand, and your online profiles complete and current, the final step is preparing for the interview process. Depending on your situation, answering interview questions may require some practice. This is especially true if you are frustrated with a current or past employer.
When I have a family member or close friend on the job hunt, I randomly ask interview questions during our conversations so they get used to answering them on the spot. Then we evaluate what they could’ve done better, and what went well. It helps them prepare for real interviews in a much more productive manner. I encourage you to practice your interviewing skills, too. Practice answering questions out loud. It’s not the same if you just answer in your head. Even if you aren’t job hunting, these interview skills can be used during annual reviews or if you’re up for a promotion.
One of the tools some recruiters use to screen candidates is the phone interview. Be careful with phone interviews though. They may not call them a phone interview. They may just call you to “learn more about your interest in the position.” They may catch you completely off guard or in the middle of a home or office project. It may not be your finest hour.
Politely ask them if you can schedule a time to call them back – even if it’s just 15-30 minutes from now. Give yourself a few minutes to pull out your resume and any job application notes for that position. Review the job description for the position and any other company research you’ve compiled. Regain your composure so you can put your best foot forward, and then call them back.
An unprepared candidate can self-destruct in the phone interview phase before they ever get a chance to make an impression in-person. People will say things to an interviewer on the phone that they wouldn’t say in a formal interview. Always be prepared and avoid this potential hazard in your job search.
Remember, it can happen to you!
Job loss can happen to anyone at any time. So it’s up to you to be prepared. Commit to doing a few things from this list each week, and be proactive in your own career development. It’s one of the best investments you’ll make in yourself!
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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.