by Mansi Gandhi

Managing your career is a process that includes research, self-assessment and developing an action plan in search of a professional career and fulfilling work in a good healthy organization.  

A career can involve many different jobs and ideally one grows and evolves.  Like anything in life, it’s good to know where you are now and what your goals and targets are so you can take steps to advance yourself. 

At The Job Forum’s recent event for job hunters, our terrific expert panelists who are Managers working within the Bay Area companies, Recruiters and Career Coaches – shared their experience and provided some insights and advice about how to plan a career in the context of finding the job of your dreams.

Here is the summary of the discussions that took place at these events:

How do you distinguish a career plan from a job search plan? 

A job search plan is about strategically working towards getting your next job. And a career plan involves reaching development goals. Where do you want your career to go in the future?  What steps is it going to take to get there?  What areas do you need to develop in and upskill?  Your career plan will often inform your job search plan.  What role do I need to get now to get me to my goals in the future? 

One big reason to think about a career plan is to be sure that you are not stuck doing tasks all day long that you don’t enjoy and don’t find satisfying or rewarding in your future. By focusing on career planning you are more likely to find a series of jobs and build a career that is a better match for your skills, values, and interests.

Taking Charge of Your Career involves a five step process:

Step 1 – Assess Yourself

Self-assessment includes looking at yourself from different perspectives. It is critical to understand and capture your values, skills, interest, strength, passions because this enables you to effectively research and find the job where you get to do what you love, what inspires you. 

Self-awareness is key to future success.  If you don’t know where you are now, you won’t know how to get to where you want to go.  You need to know your strengths and your areas for development to create a plan. Continuing to assess yourself also helps you keep track of how much progress you have made.  

Knowing your skills and interests is a great way to set your goals. If you aren’t sure what your skills are, ask your friends and colleagues and see what comes back: you might be surprised what words they use to describe you, and this can give you a new perspective on something that you may be taking for granted. 

Step 2 – Explore Career Options

Now that you have done a self-assessment – you know your skills, strengths, knowledge  and passions – and have also defined your basic needs such as geography/location, salary, benefits, workplace (large or small, profit or non-profit) – you are in a better position to explore career options.  For some people, a self-assessment will guide them to what they want to do with their life, while others will need to execute more research steps to help come up with a list of careers or jobs that might be best suited for. 

Few ways to do conduct research for a any role/position or company are:

  • Informational Interviews
  • Networking 
  • Research on LinkedIn
  • Glassdoor.com
  • Company Websites
  • Job Boards

Step 3 – Set Goals and Create Action Plan 

Once you have completed your self-assessment process and done some career research. It’s now time to leverage this work: to review and link the results of your self-assessment to the career research you’ve done.  What careers are you most suited for, what job options are there?  You are the one that gets to choose the best job for you and where you want to work.  Richard Bolles, a legendary author of “What Color is Your Parachute”, provides insights and techniques on this planning process in his book and at www.eparachute.com and www.jobhuntersbible.com

Setting both long and short-term goals for achieving your desired career objective can help one stay productive and not get overwhelmed.

Step 4 – Build Your Network and Augment Skills

Networking allows you to develop communication and leadership skills. Your network can help you get an interview – get “the” job! 

Tips on how to network :

  • Lead with “How can I help you?” So much easier and more comfortable than asking for help.
  • Networking really comes down to meeting people and having meaningful interactions with them. You can do that online by attending virtual meetups, joining book clubs, participating in forums, etc.
  • Some of the places where you can network are – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Meetup, Eventbrite

How to get referrals:

  • Do favors and go above and beyond in all your work. 
  • Use LinkedIn to find who you know at the company.  Reach out and use the soft approach if it’s been a while since you spoke.  Rebuild the rapport and ask if the company has a referral system and what’s the best way to get into that.
  • Referrals are all about leveraging a relationship of trust. Usually, an informational interview is NOT enough for a great referral. You want someone who is going to take the time to walk over to the hiring manager’s desk (or the zoom equivalent thereof) and make the time to tell them why your resume is worth a look for this role.

Why expand Skills?

One needs to expand skills for a better, more interesting, more satisfying life AND for more confidence and more career security. It is up to you to move your career forward. You do that most easily by being a lifelong learner and staying up to date and ensuring that you not only remain competitive but also develop special expertise.

How can volunteering help? 

Volunteering can help you gain experience in a career area you are trying to transition to. It can also help you build more networking contacts and fill a gap in your resume. It is important to be strategic when selecting a volunteer opportunity.

Step 5 – Find a Job

Final step is to prepare for and apply to several jobs that seem to be a good fit.  

Key aspects are elevator speech – i.e. “Tell me about yourself” to resumes, interviewing, and cover letters, job search skills, and leveraging your network.  

Elevator speech is the most important two minutes of your career. It is a way to let others know in a concrete, and concise manner what you do, or are looking to do with the skills you have. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for someone to know how they might help you.

Resume is like a marketing document. Always tailor your resume to the job description.  Highlight your accomplishments and the value you added so it’s not just a job description of your previous roles. 

Cover letters can address things that you might not be able to explain via the resume. A well-crafted cover letter is specific to the job you are applying for – it’s not about YOU! Instead, it is about what the hiring manager is looking for and how you fit that need. 

How do you differentiate yourself during an interview? 

  • Reverse engineer from the job description and come up with sample stories to illustrate that your experience matches.
  • Research the interviewer and build rapport. 
  • Research the values of the company and show how you align with the culture. 
  • Give concrete examples during the interview, which show how you handle situations on the job. Develop and use PAR Stories (Problem, Action, Result)

Organizations are hiring. Many careers are intact even if altered in some way. You are not alone, yet you must muster all your positive energy to manage your career and job search/hunt.  Decide right now to execute these steps, get going and do not stop till you land.  It only takes one, Yes! 

The Job Forum is a Nonprofit run by volunteers who offer job hunters insights and advice from experts in various industries. Our volunteer experts are insiders in Bay Area companies who advise job seekers with practical ideas for how to be more successful in finding a job or career within these industries.

Virtual events, Meetings and Q&A sessions are organized to assist job hunters with customized assistance and ideas every Wednesday and Thursday evening 6pm – 8pm virtually. Sign up on eventbrite to register and take advantage of these events.