This article was updated on August 10, 2017.
The following is a true story…
It was a week after Thanksgiving when she got the news her job was being eliminated. She had noticed the workload wasn’t what it had been over the past few months, but layoffs? Seriously? Right before Christmas? She worked for this company for more than 30 years! She had planned to retire from this company! How could this be happening to her?
When I got word of my colleague’s news, I immediately picked up the phone and called her to offer my support. I had just heard of an executive assistant position that might be a great fit for her, and I wanted her to know right away. I wanted to make sure she had her resume and professional portfolio updated and to offer to proof her resume for her.
What I learned, though, was truly astonishing to me. Not only did she not have a current resume, she didn’t have a resume at all! And although she had heard a lot of her professional admin colleagues talk about their professional portfolios and why they found them so valuable over the years, she had never assembled one for herself. Now, when she desperately needed both to even have a fighting chance in the job market, as well as apply for the openings that were immediately available, she had to start from scratch. It was time for some admin triage!
I want to share with you some key success factors and the specific steps we took as part of our admin triage strategy that helped my colleague not only recover from this devastating news, but emerge with renewed confidence and an even better job than she could have possibly imagined – all in less than three weeks time!
Step 1: Activate your network.
I always encourage professionals I work with to create a strong network before they need it. You must build relationships to form a strong network and that involves people getting to know you in person and working beside you over time.
The day after my colleague was notified she was losing her job, her network kicked into action on her behalf before she had even shared the news with a handful of people. In fact, two separate people had contacted me on her behalf which was how I knew to call her in the first place. While she was still in shock and a bit nervous to even share the news, multiple others in her network immediately began sending her job leads and writing letters of recommendation for her. 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 the job search is a resume. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve worked, if you can’t summarize your work experience and accomplishments on a couple sheets of paper, you aren’t going to get very far. Even if you’ve never had the need for a resume before, and even if you don’t think you’ll ever need a resume again, I’m telling you, you need a resume! Microsoft’s website 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. Is your current job on there? If not, get a copy of your current job description from HR (or from your files) and add it.
If it’s already on there, have you updated the 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.
A key success factor for my colleague in this situation was she 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 HR file in order to recreate her work experience with dates, job titles, locations, managers’ names, and comments they included on her reviews about her work and the results she accomplished. When she showed up at my office a day later, she had pages of great keywords and specific employment information for us to get started in creating her brand new resume. Within 48 hours, with some minor proofing tweaks, her resume was fully ready for her job hunt!
Step 3: Update (or create) your professional portfolio.
The number two tool all admins need for the job search is a professional portfolio. A professional portfolio combines samples of your work, your resume, documentation of your education and/or certifications, documentation of your skills, and more. It can be presented in a variety of ways. One simple, professional way is with a three-ring binder divided into sections. It’s a fantastic tool for job hunting, for annual reviews, and for keeping track of your professional development and accomplishments. It shows actual work product that you have completed.
Your professional portfolio is a very empowering tool in the job hunt. It allows you to market your capabilities in a visual format that speaks louder than words. It’s demonstrated proof of the skills, abilities, talents, and performance you tout in your interview answers, or in some cases it reminds you to share things you’d otherwise forget to share. It will set you apart from the scores of other job applicants because most don’t put the effort into developing this key career development tool.
My colleague was very fortunate because she still had access to her work samples and files that she could print and use in her professional portfolio development. For some who lose access to that information immediately upon notification of their job loss, it’s almost impossible to recover that information. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to start now in building your professional portfolio.
Here’s the best summary of why you need a professional portfolio in her own words. (Note: My friend 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 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’d have to say I worked on it pretty constantly for at least a week solid! In addition, the notes of gratitude and 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, keeping track of documents that I created or worked extensively on. I have never done this in the past. I would just not access them or delete my copy when I was done with the project. 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 have access to my personnel file, working documents, and complimentary 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 the 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 aren’t familiar with LinkedIn, then visit this link to read more and attend one of their upcoming training webinars: http://learn.linkedin.com/training/.
If you are on LinkedIn, I encourage you to make sure your information is updated and accurately reflects your experience, accomplishments, extra-curricular activities, professional affiliations, etc. I also encourage you to join the Executive Secretary Magazine Group and begin networking with some other amazing admins who regularly contribute in this LinkedIn group forum.
When you connect with current and past employers or co-workers, you can invite them to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn also. This is a way to get personal testimonials that you can also print and include in your professional portfolio – another powerful element for your job hunting package.
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 fully loaded, the last stop in our admin triage is preparing for the interview process. Depending on your situation, answering interview questions in an appropriate manner may require some practice. This is especially true if you are frustrated with a current or past employer.
When I have family members and close friends on the job hunt, I randomly pop interview questions at them in the normal course of conversation so they get used to answering them on the spot. Then we evaluate how they could’ve answered better and how they responded well. It helps them prepare for the 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 and when being considered for promotions in your current position.
One of the secret tools some recruiters use to screen candidates is the phone interview. Be careful with phone interviews. 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 that they posted 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.
A candidate can self-destruct in the phone interview phase before they ever gets a chance to make a great first impression in person because they weren’t prepared for this screening step. 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 anywhere at any time. So it’s up to you to be prepared. Commit to doing a few simple things each week from this list and be proactive in your own career development. It’s one of the best investments you’ll make in yourself this year.
Need some Admin Triage? If you’d like to learn more about specific step-by-step training offered by All Things Admin in these areas, please visit: http://allthingsadmin.com/career-planning/job-search-triage/
© 2011 Julie Perrine International, LLC
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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 request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.