Making your life experience pay off

Recently, I have worked with some amazing job seekers by providing them with a free career counseling session, resume edits and cover letters. One question that came up a few times was how to handle career gaps.

I want to thank each of the job seekers for opportunity to travel their career seeking journey with them. It’s been such a pleasure working with them that I would like to offer two more FREE  sessions during the month of June! What’s that about? Click here to check out the details.

OK, so how to deal with career gaps? First, define the reason. Basically there are two types of career gaps:

  • Intentional gap? Did you intentionally take time off work to care for a loved one, start a business, go to school, illness, travel, volunteering, etc.?
  • Unintentional gap? Laid off, company went out of business, could not find a job after school, could not find employment in your field, etc.?

Either gap can seem positive or negative at the time. But even the unintentional lay off or other job loss can have a positive outcome; provide time to add to your skill list or provide time to mentally focus, etc. The important thing is to focus on that positivity for your own well being and when talking to potential employers.

Next explain why. Both types of gaps offer explanations that employers are open to hearing about. Why? is the big question, but can be easily answered and even provide additional experience that the employer may be looking for. For example if you had a child and wanted to take a few years off that is not only understandable, but you also gained certain skills such as time management. And possibly additional experience by joining parenting groups (PTA, coaching, managing a charity drive, etc.), taking some classes during your time off, focusing on advancing your current skills, etc.

Maybe you took time off to start your own business or help someone else start one. There are skills learned with any business start up. Even if the business was not as successful as you had hoped or you found out you didn’t like the hours or type of work, you still have valuable skills to add to your resume. Examples of skills depending on the type of business could include;  budgeting, inventory, scheduling employees, customer service, hiring, meeting deadlines, organizational skills, computer programs, writing, labor skills, and more.

Unintentional gap examples include being laid off or unable to find work in your field. Both are self explanatory and more common than you may think, but you can discuss HOW you handled this time off, how you turned a possible negative time into a positive situation. Did you learn new skills, enhance your current ones, etc.? Did you volunteer, take any classes, teach yourself a valuable skill, find a mentor, realize the career change you wanted, etc.?

A brief statement on your resume with the career goal you have now is an excellent way to highlight your gap. The cover letter will allow you to go into more detail and turn the gap into a positive opportunity to discuss your skills and experiences. Explaining the positive impact the gap had on you will help the employer focus on your skills, positive attitude and how your experiences will fit into the position you are applying for.

Whatever the reason a career gap can be presented as a valuable experience by highlighting your current skills and experiences while explaining your gap in a positive manner. Remember, the main focus of any interview is to discuss how you are the best fit for the current position you are applying for!

Questions about career gaps or other career topics? Please do not hesitate to reach out to me!

Thank you so much for reading! Please share any tips or questions you  may have below or email me at successencourager@gmail.com

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Find your next career – Free advice

Are you thinking of a job change, needing to find your first job or looking to change careers? Would you like FREE career consulting? Then please read on!

A career doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. Your next job search could end up with a career you keep until you retire or it could be a step toward your next career choice! Each employment opportunity is a chance to gain experience.

Even if you leave an office job, working primarily indoors to  begin an outdoor landscaping career, you have skills that transfer. Maybe you gained advanced customer service skills at your past job(s) or can assist with scheduling, or maybe you discovered time management skills to help you create a more efficient process to complete your new projects!

Some of my previous posts focus on resumes, discovering your strengths and weaknesses, practicing interview questions and more, so please check those out. Even with all of that information it can still be difficult to change careers or find a job in a competitive market. You may decide to start your own business, but if you need or want to find work immediately or gain more experience, I’d like to help!

I’ve just added an exciting package deal to my list of services. I am still offering free basic resume edits! And now I’d like to provide four (4) people job hunting assistance by providing a FREE career package to each of them (thru April 30th)! Why? Because I want you to succeed and I find it fun, simple as that!

What does this mean exactly? I’d like to provide some basic edits to your current resume, discuss what type of job you are searching for and help you find a few possible options you can apply for! Let’s work together and find your next career, whether you are looking for a long or short term position.

Interested? Send me an email at successencourager@gmail.com with:

  • Why you would like to be provided this free service
  • The type of job you are looking for
  • Your current resume
  • A brief description of your past job experience
  • Up to three locations you would like to work in (city, state, etc)
  • Please note – I can only offer this to people located and searching in the United States (my skills are limited to knowledge of US job searches for now, but that may expand in the future!)

I will provide this service to four people for FREE! If you choose to purchase services in the future or share my blog with others, then wonderful, but if not, I will still enjoy this opportunity to provide my professional services! Questions? Just ask!

If you or anyone you know may be interested in any other services please see the price list or contact me and I’m always happy to answer general career questions free of charge!

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Do you need a mini business plan?

I add the word ‘mini’ before business plan because I think a personal or mini business plan is important for anyone wanting to work for themselves, start a part time or ‘side gig’ business, expand a current small business venture, etc. Typically, if you want funding for a larger start up you must submit a business plan, so I have downsized the larger multiple page document to fit into a personal sort of mission statement for anyone wanting to (or simply thinking about) starting a small business, earn some extra money with the creative professional talents you have or explore the BIPs I’ve previously published on this same blog!

Benefits of a Mini Business plan: A mini business plan can help you even if you are not asking for funding to build your business. It’s a good opportunity to fully grasp what your idea for a business will look like, confirm it’s what you want, and help you take the steps to achieve it. Most small businesses start without large expenses, but if you are requesting funding, this will help you with the basics and prepare for the professional business plan you may need to present to lenders, funding sources, etc.

Grab a notebook or create an electronic document and keep all of this information in one place, along with notes, advertising ideas, goals, etc. Your notebook/electronic file is a good place to keep all receipts related to your business including mileage (if applicable) and other forms, and general information. This will be a ‘living’ document/notebook; ideas will expand, etc. and you need to capture those thoughts on ‘paper’.

Below is a basic mini plan outline. I will provide a mini plan example in a future post as an additional resource.  If you have any questions please contact me!

Executive Summary – This is the first basic section of any type of business plan. Once you have an idea swirling around your head, you’ll want to write your executive summary. Even if you don’t complete the next sections, this is typically the most important for anyone at the start of planning a business. This section will allow you to explore what you want to do, how to do it, and if it’s really what you want. It is your opportunity to shine and describe your focus well. Typically, it’s about a half page (up to a full page). The main reason for this section is to explain your idea; what is it, who will need/want it, what makes it unique or in demand. Include the company name and a one sentence mission statement if you have one A mission statement is typically a brief definition of your business/idea.

Company overview – This is for company goals and to find out which business type you want; sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Corp (LLC), etc. these will be defined in an upcoming post labeled Types of businesses. Since you may not be ready to define your business type, don’t dwell on this section, just make a note that you may need to define it at some point in the future. Include an overview of marketing ideas and and business goals. Include a brief statement on expenses, and what costs are required up front to get started. Explain how you could expand the business; a brief statement about future growth. Include any experience you have with this idea and any experience with business in general including achievements and goals met (if any). Remember, this is all for your eyes only right now, to encourage you to turn that thought of a side business into possible reality!

Market Research outcome – Overview of the industry in general and research results of  competitors, give details of customers interested in your services (demographics, etc.), highlight the market strengths and weaknesses in general (nation and world wide) and focus on the same for local competitors. Include any statistics you can find on this particular market/idea/business.

Product/Service Description – Focus on what your service is and how it will benefit the client. You can start including projected net revenue information and details about vendors you will purchase supplies from. You can add graphs and diagrams here if feel it will better help explain this section. Touch base on competition and why you are different or plan to excel even with competition out there. I find reading reviews of customers about similar businesses can help you see what is working and what is not.

Highlight ideas to expand products or services; give more details than before and how often you can provide this service to each client (can you do repeat business?). This is an opportunity to show your unique twist on an existing market (do you have a unique skill, unique target audience or additional service to combine with it, etc.?).

Marketing Plan – This section is to give details of the operation; purchasing supplies, marketing to clients, list of services or products provided, ideas for following up with clients, and specific details of word of mouth and repeat customer options. Explain how you will find customers; details of how to reach out to them, advertising options, and costs. Include promotion ideas and pricing, email or flyer campaign ideas, etc.  Include the days and hours you plan to operate. Again, some of this may not apply right now, don’t dwell on the details, until you find it necessary as your business idea grows!

Organizational chart – If you plan on having employees you will want to detail why, who and what they will bring to the company; their skills, etc. Explain why a certain person is experienced and skilled to be in a certain position. If you can provide the service or product by yourself describe why and how.

Financial Section – This section will give you an idea of what the start up will cost with possible profit. Write out a complete list and cost of materials, hours it will take to complete each job, number of people and pay for each ’employee’ (or yourself), recurring expenses, up front equipment expenses and maintenance, etc. Once you have this, you will have a base price for your services to just break even, so it will help you determine what to charge. For professional plans you will need to outline your budget in details listing assets, cash flow chart, expenses, current profit, expected profit, etc.

This may seem overwhelming, but allow it to be a focus catalyst. This is a large step toward taking your idea seriously! This makes it real, not just a dream floating around. The executive summary provides you with concrete details and confirmation it’s the right business for you. Some people will decide to change their focus once they write it out and see the time restraints or spend time researching competition and end up finding another focus they feel more comfortable with. Others will be even more determined and inspired by seeing it on paper, knowing it’s what they want to do.

What’s your idea or business plan? Let me know!

Are you struggling to come up with an idea, but want to start a business? Visit the Business Idea Prompts (BIPs) listed throughout this blog. The prompts provide detailed business ideas with specifics on how to turn a hobby into a part time or full time business! Marketing and additional information to get started and grow are included!

Thank you for reading and again, please contact me if you have any questions!

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Finding your resume balance

Too much or too little…finding that perfect balance for your resume.

It’s sometimes tough to balance necessary information with multiple jobs on a resume. You don’t want to lie or hide anything, but you don’t want to focus on irrelevant experience and skills when you have relevant material to cover that relates to the position you are applying for. So how do you find that balance?

I have discussed this with other hiring managers and employers. The answer is not a short one, but I hope to clarify a few general ‘rules’ in this post.

During positions I held that gave me an opportunity to be on a hiring committee or volunteer selection committee I focused on how applicants matched their skills and experience with the duties listed for the position. Confirming they actually read the entire post and identified their related skills. As a writer of open position duties, I tried to be specific, yet open to related skills; writing such statements as ‘office experience or equivalent education/training’, etc.

The committees typically focused on seeing a personality showing through on a written, typo-free, well-organized resume while scanning for keywords in the applicants employment history that matched the open position. We focused on achievement, paying close attention to those that stated an accomplishment in the highlight of each position they had held. Showing professionalism, even if their employment history was short or listed more than one job in a year. We asked ourselves if that position helped them gain experience, did they accomplish a goal or solve an issue and did they word it in a way that confirmed they were ready to make a commitment with our company. We would form questions we wanted to ask the applicant quickly, which was always a good sign.

Someone once wrote they had developed a team to focus on outreach with donors that had never contributed funds or volunteers for their fundraising. This was an interesting and confident statement. As the committee read that, we wanted to know the details, how did they reach out to them, what was the anticipated goal, did they achieve it, etc. We needed to meet this person!

With most employers giving a resume a 20 to 30 second look over, you want to highlight your skills and experience most relevant to the position you are applying for. Most managers say they understand not putting jobs that lasted less than six months onto a resume, unless it’s extremely relevant. If the short term employment provided an opportunity for you to solve a problem, learn a new process or skill, etc. then include it.

Remember, any employment lapse needs to be explained either in your cover letter or during the interview process. If you leave off a few short term jobs, you should be prepared to answer why. Were they unrelated to the job you’re applying for? Were you not given the tools to learn the job properly and you decided to find a better one? Were they longer than ten to 15 years ago?

Most of us have had jobs unrelated to current career choice or focus. Right out of high school I cleaned houses and offices for living. Although, I did not gain any writing or professional assistant type experience, I did gain customer service and a stronger work ethic. So I incorporated those skills onto my resume for my ‘early career’ job search. As time went on and as I gained more work experience in my related field I left that position off my resume.

I have also had a couple of jobs that I felt did not give me the right tools to succeed. The tools (computer, programs, etc.) were outdated, duties were not clearly defined and the working environment was unprofessional once I actually started working there. I decided to start looking for other opportunities and quit once I found the right one. I eventually left those off my resume too, but discussed them during any interviews I accepted. I simply stated the truth and found that the hiring manager and/or hiring committee actually commended my ability to recognize the mismatch with myself and the position. I explained the indifference in a professional way, never badmouthing the company or department, but simply stating the recognition of not being a good fit.

I’ve also had gaps in employment history. I was laid off from a job and it took me over six months to find a new one. Another time I had a stressful position I eventually quit after almost three years for a different job at a different company and that company decided to not fill the position after all…it took me almost five months to find another job. During the first gap I helped my husband grow a contracting business. I processed invoices, did some advertising, and helped answer phones, etc. That was relevant experience and I have included that as an explanation to the several month employment gap.

The second employment gap I was actually grateful for not feeling stressed to find ‘just any job’. My husband’s business was going ‘well’ (better than it had been) and I focused on a few small freelance projects and we got through the months with some budget cuts and without extreme debt or stress. I used that time to focus on what I wanted, research writing, I volunteered, wrote some business blog posts, and spent time with my ailing mother.  Once I started seriously applying for positions, I looked at my resume and knew a gap of several months might not look the greatest to potential employers. I reviewed how my time had been spent and actually realized the freelance opportunities and volunteering  provided added experience and skills that I included in my cover letter. In the near future I will share how volunteering can help you gain experience, and make great connections for future jobs and references!

Remember applying for a job is a ‘project’. Review the job and your experience/skills carefully to best match yourself with the right job. You want to be happy at what you do and succeed by meeting the goals of the position/company. I keep at least two forms of my resume updated; one business focused and one writing focused. Over the 20 plus years I have been working I have gained experience in both fields.

Key points when job searching and developing your resume’s employment history section:

  • Keep the resume content honest and relevant
  • Research the position requirements, skills needed and company; focusing your resume and cover letter content to highlight your experience and why you are the best match for the position!
  • If you have several positions lasting less than six months review them and highlight the most relevant and be prepared to discuss gaps in your cover letter and/or the interview
  • Review all of your experience and job titles (positions) before applying. Focus on what skills overlap with requirements (customer service skills can really expand into several requirements including receptionist, assistant, sales, public transport, almost any job where you will deal with the public or even other employees.)
  • Complete a self-evaluation; what type of job are you looking for, what benefits do you want/need, can you further your education or begin a degree while working (do they have tuition assistance, support, etc.), acknowledge some ‘deal breakers’ (yes, you can be picky and require certain request and decline other requests), etc.
  • Hone in on applicable positions that will help you accomplish long term goals while matching some skills and experience; not all positions have to be viewed as permanent…they can lead to larger, long term career goals
  • Utilize your cover letter as your own personal career and education history and mention at least one highlight from the company you are applying for

Finally, if you have had contract or employment through temporary services It’s best to list the services and highlight the positions that are relevant (yes that word again!). And remember education, training, workshops, certificate completions, etc. are worthwhile topics to include as experience and skills.

Questions or want to share your personal experience tips? Comment below or email me at dana@danabuchanan.com. Thank you so much for reading!