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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Learning, bonding, self-enrichment

Learning something new or enhancing a current skill is priceless to the person learning and can cost little to nothing. Learning alone or with others builds stronger bonds and can even provide skills that can help you earn extra income.

While thinking of gifts for family I started putting together a list of date night ideas. As fun as cooking together, binge watching a favorite TV series, coffee shop hopping, day trip or movie night can be I think learning as a couple is a great bonding opportunity. So I decided to share a list of PIPs (Personal Idea Prompt)! I think this is for individuals, couples (great ideas for date nights), friends, groups, etc. Each suggestion could be a fun group night activity (for almost any age).

Today’s post is a little different than my typical BIP post (click here to read about BIP – Business Idea Prompt). PIPs focus on self-enrichment; bonding through learning and being creative. Again, a PIP can be done alone or as a couple or in a group. And as a bonus, a PIP can enhance an existing skill and become a possible income opportunity! Win-win; learn something new and interesting and find a new side job or full time self employment opportunity!

Technology makes it simple to learn a variety of skills at your own pace. A quick web search for step by step tutorials  on almost any subject produces dozens, even hundreds or thousands of results. Even if you do not have a computer or internet access at your home, you can visit some local coffee shops, libraries, friends, etc. for access or use the library to check out resource guides (or purchase instruction books at local new or used shops). This post mainly focuses on access to online videos/tutorials, but the suggestions could be read about in detailed instructional books.

Whether you try the list below with your partner, friend, sister, brother, parent or simply make time for yourself, your bond (or self-bond) will be deeper and you’ll have fun!  These suggestions are flexible and adaptive to a variety of situations; date nights, friend nights, self-enrichment or just an excuse to take a break for a few hours or an entire weekend!

The suggestions are highlighted by a topic and then some ideas for that topic, in no particular order. When searching the web, don’t get overwhelmed with all the results, look for a video tutorial  from popular posters and skim through to ensure the steps make sense to you, easy to access, read, etc.

Read through the ideas, pick one or three or ten, make a supply list (if needed), and enjoy your learning experience. These ideas can easily become a weekly or monthly (or ambitious daily) learning ritual. And of course, these are only a few topics, the possibilities really are endless.

  • Language – Learn a few key phrases in a day or weekend  or fluently speaking the other language(s) over a period of time. Learn a few words and how to write them in another language for creating mini works of word art, handwriting cards, etc. for family or for a part time creative business.
  • Craft/Hobby – Wood working, pyrography, calligraphy, knitting, painting, jewelry making card or paper making, magic tricks, card tricks, origami, paper quilling, crocheting, needle work, quilting, and so much more!
  • Cooking – Pastry baking, international recipe making, sushi rolling, candy making, crock pot basics and advanced recipes, chocolate tempering or advanced dessert making, and so much more!
  • Design – Web page, architectural projects, interior or exterior home design, fashion, furniture arrangement, painting and decorating, social media sites, blogs, site setup for art selling (Etsy, etc.), landscape, and yes, so much more!
  • Nutrition/Health – Yoga, tai chi, healthy eating habits, essential oil therapy, therapeutic massage (human and/or animal), meditation, exercise routines for specific fitness level, karate (martial art is a long list), herbs and health benefits, just to name a few ideas
  • Pampering – hair care, pedicure, manicure, facial, scrubs, foot soaks, bath salts, massage oils, face and body masks, makeup application, hair styles (braiding, buns etc.)
  • Writing – Poetry, hand writing, positive words, word art, art of writing, fictional and non fiction writing, etc.
  • Games – How to play….cards, poker, video game tips/tutorials, master monopoly scrabble crossword, solitaire, and more
  • Educational subjects – Philosophy, history, ethics, English, social behavior, science, math, biology, etc.
  • Masquerade/fantasy – Mask making, costume design, party theme planning, decoration making, part food, costume hair and makeup (face painting), accessory making (wands, crowns, gloves, etc.)
  • Mechanics/handyman(woman) – How to…change a tire, oil, brakes or headlight, etc. How to…repaint or wallpaper a room, install a new shower and/or tile flooring, light fixtures, basic plumping needs, new faucet, etc.,
  • Photography – Camera tips, programs, challenges/ideas, different topics (nature, people, pets, etc.)
  • Drink/Mixology – How to…make alcohol and non-alcohol beverages, fun drinks, punches, basic and advanced drinks, blended, etc. Smoothies, shakes, on ice, frozen, hot, etc.
  • Tea and Coffee – Learn the history of, steeping, recipes for mixing flavors/blends, how to serve and with suggested foods/desserts, etc. Loose tea options, grind your own coffee beans, and more!
  • Out and about – Gather info on local new restaurants, wineries, bed and breakfast, dance lessons, cooking classes, day trips, art classes, breweries, local tours, bakeries, etc. And plan a day trip/afternoon outing, etc. Spend a day planning together (or alone!) and then pick a date to explore.

There so may options I could keep typing until my fingers cramp. I hope this list inspires you to learn a new fun skill whether it’s to connect with others, find time for yourself or learn more for a possible income opportunity.

What have you always wanted to learn? I hope you make the time to learn it alone or with loved ones or friends or search out new like minded learners!

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More than just skills are required

An interaction last week reminded me of the importance of personality shining through rather than just skills listed in sequence on a resume. I assisted with an interview for a temporary worker for an employee that was going to be off for a couple of weeks. The resumes for two prospective hires looked similar, well written, good experience, etc. The two interviews could not have been more opposite though!

The first was energetic, saying good morning to everyone she saw as she checked in for the interview, and presented herself in a very confident manner. The second was quiet and almost rude to the person she checked in with, she did not look anyone in the eye as she barely answered questions and she did not allow any personality to shine through at all.

This is what reminded me of how important being confident in your skills, sharing some of your unique personality and showing every employee, throughout the company, the same common courtesy you show the actual interviewers. A lot of employers ask the receptionist, security, maintenance, etc. how the interviewee interacted with them.

It should be common practice to be well-groomed, no sunglasses inside, no gum chewing, don’t bring friends or family (or strangers for that matter) with you, be polite, etc. With that said, I have listed a few more tips below that I hope help you relax and feel confident when preparing for an interview.

  •  If you check in with a receptionist or front office support person, get their name. When you are introduced to the interviewer, turn to the person you checked in with, call them by name and thank them. Also, include their name in the thank you letter you send as a follow up to the interviewer(s), especially if they are extra helpful with something again don’t make up something, but just be perceptive
  • Speak to everyone you encounter; saying hello, good morning or good afternoon, etc. Be yourself. Don’t force interactions, but be polite to those you meet or see even if briefly
  • Know your resume and the job descriptions; highlight your skills required for the position – study your own resume…sounds simple, but try to focus on the skills you have that relate to specific requirements the prospective job requires. If one requirement is multitasking or handling a busy front desk give examples from past experience that relates to that. For example ‘while at my previous employer (or current position) I supported a department of ten and have formulated a system for prioritizing deadlines…’
  • Don’t be too serious, be respectful, but also allow some of your unique personality to show through. Incorporate personal hobbies or a personality trait in an answer. For a simple example if you have an antique coin collection that you have had for years, maybe it was passed down through your family, you could say that collection has helped you learn to pay attention to detail, research, etc.
  • Practice interview questions with a friend or even with yourself; review average interview questions and be prepared to answer. Even if you are asked ‘if you were a cereal what kind would you be and why?’…Yes, I had that asked to me once. Seriously. My answer? “Granola, I realize it’s not a standard cereal like corn flakes, but I’m unique, not standard either, I like to try and be healthy, but I’m not always, and I think granola is a little bit of a nature lover and so am I.”….the man said it was better the last person’s answer of ‘Apple Jacks…because I like apples’ (insert a giggle here)….I think that is a unique question, you can’t really be prepared in advance to answer it, but be ready to share a little about yourself!

Have you had a unique question? Any tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses not only helps you answer one of the most popular interview questions, but helps you understand yourself, build confidence, and recognize the skills you excel in and areas that offer an opportunity for growth as well. Even if you are not preparing for an interview you can benefit from recognizing your strengths and weaknesses.

To clarify – Strengths are not only traits you feel you are good at…you have to feel comfortable and confident doing them. Just as weaknesses are not faults! Defining a weakness is not a bad thing, it’s not negative, and it certainly does not define you. Being aware of a weakness, or two or five, is opportunity for growth or help realizing what field or hobby you don’t want to explore. A weakness is simply a skill you lack experience or knowledge in or can be something you do not feel comfortable doing. You can strengthen a weakness if you choose to; practice, research, read about it, explore projects at work or through volunteering that allow you to gain experience or knowledge. You can also become more comfortable by practicing or reaching out to a mentor and learning more about that particular weakness.

It may sound simple, but recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and knowing yourself is a must for interviewing as well as building self-confidence. Of course you know you better than anyone. Right? Actually, it’s not always that easy…is it? I recall during some of my first interviews years ago being asked to describe my strengths and weaknesses and saying ‘ummm and well….’ a lot. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves we have talents, skills, experience and a lot to offer, whether to an employer or just as a reminder to one’s self.

So, how does one recognize these important traits? Ask yourself questions, use keywords to describe each, and write out your pitch. Remember, there are certain words to include and others to avoid.

What is a pitch? It is also called the ‘elevator pitch’ – typically a two to three minute explanation of why you are the right person for the position, project, or describing yourself, etc.  I have used a pitch for book ideas and article submissions as well as interviews.

Your pitch is a collection of information in a ‘short version’ quick response. When asked to describe your strengths and weaknesses your pitch is a perfect response. To create your pitch consider the following questions. Please note – I’ve focused on interviewing, but this can easily be used for those seeking this for personal recognition.

  • Summarize your work history, volunteer efforts, or other experiences that have helped you gain skills along with an achievement. What have you been accomplishing the past year, five years, ten years? Have you stayed in the same field; sales, non profit, education, retail, construction, etc.? Have you had your own business?  For example you may say something like, “For the past five years I have worked in the non-profit field and coordinated several fund raising events including the largest event of an organization.” You can sum up your work field, history and an accomplishment quickly.
  • Recognize your strengths. What are you good at and and what do you enjoy? Maybe you have a knack for researching and solving problems or being a team leader or support within a team, you can sell anything, you can organize files, plan an event without breaking a sweat, bake a cake using unique ingredients, speak to a group, teach others, etc. For a simple example you can add a sentence to your pitch that goes something like this, “I led a team and together we developed a solution to lower costs on shipping while training the shipping department how to use this new system, making work even more productive.” Again, use examples to show your strengths (show don’t tell), backed by actions and facts.
  • Recognize your weaknesses. What would you like to strengthen? What skills do you not feel 100% confident in completing? What else would you like to learn? You may be the number one sales person or the assistant everyone else comes to with certain questions, but is there a skill you admire in others that you feel you aren’t quite as strong in? Could you learn more about a particular computer program, work ahead of deadlines, do you need to know when to delegate or how to set realistic deadlines and prioritize projects, do you want to dive deeper into a presentation program, or stop using post it notes for all your important reminders? For example you could add this to your pitch, “I can take on too many projects since I enjoy multitasking, but I have to set limits on myself to ensure each project is completed well and by the deadline.”
  • Where are you going? End your pitch with your expectations, future goals, or five year plan (or year or ten year plan). For example, “I plan to gain knowledge in my particular field of interest (insert it here), while providing my skills in an education based environment.”

Practice saying your pitch out loud until you can repeat it confidently and without it sounding rehearsed. Accept your strengths and be proud of them. Recognize your weaknesses and find an excitement inside you that wants to strengthen them!

As you accept a job and when you leave a position/job ask your supervisor and coworkers to describe your strengths and weaknesses. This will help with your future interviews and with accepting what you excel at and areas you can learn in! Update your pitch as often as needed!

Tips to share? Contact me or comment here. Questions, please ask!

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