This article first appeared in the Executive Secretary Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
As admins, we’re always trying to organize all the pieces and parts of our professional lives – from workspaces to meetings to travel plans. And we have to keep our executives organized, too. With so much to keep in order, it’s easy to neglect one vitally important area that requires a great deal of organization: our careers.
Protect Your Admin Career
Career organization is essential for any administrative professional who wants to have a long-lasting, successful career. The reason why is summed up perfectly by one of my favorite quotes from Joan Burge, founder and CEO of Office Dynamics, Inc. She said, “Security doesn’t lie within a company. It lies within you.”
This is so true. You cannot rely on your company or your executive to protect and advance your career; you have to do it yourself.
I receive a lot of emails from admins who’ve lost their jobs unexpectedly. A merger, acquisition, downsizing, reorganization, or sudden exit of an executive may be to blame. But the end result is always the same – the admin is left looking for a job and she’s totally unprepared.
What I’ve found over time is a lot of people don’t take the time to properly organize the documents and materials that support their career growth and development. They don’t have an updated resume, a professional portfolio of work samples, or a social media presence. They don’t have a network of professionals they can activate at a moment’s notice. This makes a stressful time even tenser. It also adds time to the job search because it’s hard to start looking without the materials that support the search efforts.
Fortunately, there are several ways you can organize your career to prevent this scenario from happening to you.
Create Your Job Search Toolkit
There are several items that are absolutely essential to your job search toolkit and putting these things together can go a long way in helping you organize your career. Each of the following items plays a crucial role in keeping your career organized and helping you be prepared for potential career changes, so don’t cut corners or skip one because you think it’s not relevant!
A polished resume that accurately represents you professionally is one of the most powerful tools in your toolkit. Most admins have a resume, but not many consider it a living document. But to be effective, you need to regularly update your resume with your most recent job responsibilities and achievements.
If it’s been three months or more since you updated your resume, this should be your top priority. Your resume always needs to be current. If you don’t have a resume, create one immediately. Go to your human resources department and ask to see your employee file so you can write down all of the job titles, dates, and salary details for each position you’ve held with your current company. Then work backward from there for other companies you worked for.
2. Cover letter
Your cover letter is often the first touch point you have with a potential employer, so you need to make the right impression. You should have two versions of your cover letter – a formal one that can be printed and an electronic version for online submission systems.
The content for both letters can be similar, but they aren’t necessarily identical. The formal letter may be longer and include more details since this is the one you’ll likely submit with a job application. Your electronic version can be more concise because many online job portals limit the size permitted for cover letters and resumes.
While the two versions of your cover letter will be slightly different, both should follow this basic structure:
- First paragraph – Introduction: Explain who you are, why you are writing, and how you found out about the job.
- Second Paragraph – Features: Talk about what you have to offer, and summarize your experience, qualifications, and skills, as well as their importance to the position you’re seeking. Tie it into the job description and incorporate keywords used in the job listing.
- Third Paragraph – Action: Suggest the course of action you’d like the reader to take, such as schedule a phone call or interview. Also thank the person for their consideration.
If you have a digital portfolio or a current LinkedIn profile (more on those in a minute), mention these things in your cover letter. You can include them in the body of your letter or at the end after your name.
3. Professional Portfolio
Developing a professional portfolio will help you be remembered not only in an interview scenario, but at annual performance reviews as well. It’s a combination of work samples, educational background, and letters of recommendation that are compiled into a visually impactful package. It can include your:
- Personality type or StrengthsFinder assessments
- Past performance reviews
- Writing/communication samples
- Forms and Checklists
- Project plans
- Course agendas and certificates from continuing education
- Copies of diplomas, relevant course syllabus or transcript
- Letters of recommendation
- Screenshots of LinkedIn recommendations
- Professional association memberships and leadership roles held
- Volunteer work
- Awards and recognitions
Your professional portfolio can be presented in a couple formats. One simple option is a three-ring binder divided into sections. You can also create online or electronic versions to showcase your work via the Internet or other electronic means.
Any admin can claim she’s done something or has certain experience, but a real work sample with a brief explanation of what the project was, your role in it, and the final outcome is proof positive.
4. LinkedIn Profile
With hundreds of millions of registered users worldwide, LinkedIn is an excellent social networking tools for admins.
LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to network with people, including the HR team and executives at your current company, as well as companies and executives you’d like to work for. By forging relationships with these people now, you can get your foot in the door and name in front them. Then, when a job opportunity arises, your name will be a familiar one.
LinkedIn is also great for building and establishing your personal brand, showcasing your expertise, and researching companies and industry trends.
Joining LinkedIn is free – just sign up for an account and create your profile. Just make sure your profile is polished and professional. If you’re new to LinkedIn, here are some tips to help you create your profile:
1. Upload a professional photo. It doesn’t have to be a professional headshot, but I strongly recommend it! At the very least, make sure the image you use doesn’t include other people.
2. Highlight your experiences and education. Your LinkedIn profile can double as a digital resume. Include elements such as your current and previous job experience and educational background.
3. Showcase your skills. LinkedIn allows you to list your skills, as well as honors and awards. Use this opportunity to put the spotlight on what makes you stand out!
4. Show your personality. LinkedIn is a professional social network, but that doesn’t mean your profile should be strictly corporate. Add some personal interests to your profile. It will make you seem more like a real person and less like a resume.
5. Ask for recommendations and endorsements. Once your profile is complete, ask your connections to recommend or endorse you. This adds credibility to your skills, experience, and abilities.
LinkedIn is a great career organization tool that offers you a gateway to an expansive professional network, the ability to show off your career accomplishments, and a means for establishing an online professional presence. In our increasingly digital age, you can’t afford not to take advantage of this free and useful professional tool.
6. Personal Business Cards
A lot of companies provide employees with their own business cards. However, if you want the ability to promote yourself professionally without the association of your current employer, personal business cards are must!
Personal business cards aren’t just for job seekers — anyone who wants to make a professional impression can benefit from having their own cards. Personal business cards are a vital networking tool as they’re a physical reminder of who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch with you.
This most crucial part of your business cards is your contact information, such as your name, phone number, and email. Links to your social media profiles are great options for the back of your cards – as long as you’re using them for professional purposes.
Printing your cards is fairly simple, and can easily be done at home with your own printer or at your local copy store. There are also several online companies that offer inexpensive business cards if you prefer not to print them yourself.
Taking Your Toolkit to the Next Level
Once you create or update all of the components in your job search toolkit, you’ll be well on your way to a more organized career. However, in our profession, the basics are rarely good enough. You need to go one step further and equip yourself with the advanced resources you need to be successful!
The following are some of the more advanced components of organizing yourself for career changes and opportunities — both the expected and the unexpected.
1. Digital Portfolio
A digital professional portfolio is similar to a print portfolio, except your work samples, training/education certificates, and other materials are showcased in a dynamic, online format.
There’s no right or wrong recipe for the perfect digital portfolio, but the best ones usually include a variety of text, photos, graphics, downloadable files, and video/audio components that lend credibility to your career accomplishments in a way a resume alone can’t.
Creating a digital portfolio doesn’t require a degree in computer science or significant web development knowledge. There are several free tools you can use, including WordPress, an easy-to-use (and free) online platform that can help you get your portfolio up and working quickly.
Remember, once you put something on the Internet, you can never completely remove it. So don’t include personal information, such as your home address, phone number, or personal email address. If you want to include a phone number, set up a free Google Voice number. You should also create an email address specifically for use in your digital portfolio. Depending on the companies you’ve worked for and the type of work you have done, you may also want to remove specific information about your past experiences and use more generic references for online use.
2. Professional Network
If you haven’t been developing your professional network — in person and online, now is the time to start! Your network is a valuable resource, whether you’re looking for a new opportunity, you’re out of work, or want to expand your professional reach. You must put time into this before you need it so you can activate your network at a moment’s notice. You never know when you’re going to need help or when others may need help from you.
If you’re not comfortable with “networking”, perhaps a change in perspective will help you here. For me, networking isn’t something you do; networking is a mindset. It’s making connections between people and resources and being able to connect yourself or others to those people or resources when you need them. When you shift your perspective from what others can do for you to what you can do for others, your entire outlook on networking will change. Practice networking from the mindset of giving to others, connecting them to resources, and helping them.
To be organized in your admin career, it’s important to have a list of three to five references that you – or a prospective employer — can call on to give feedback about your professional experience, skills, and performance.
This list should include the name, email address, and phone number for each reference. You may also want to include a note about your working relationship with him or her.
Make sure that you ask each person if he or she is willing to speak about your working relationship. You should also tell your references when you apply for a position so they can be prepared for the call or email. Finally, tell them which skills and abilities you want them to highlight. You don’t want to leave your references’ recommendations to chance!
Getting your admin career organized involves a good amount of time, especially if you’ve been neglecting it. However, compiling, updating, and creating the items in your job search toolkit will better prepare you for job changes and opportunities and help you safeguard your career. So commit to getting these items organized — it’s an investment in yourself and your career!
© 2016 Julie Perrine International, LLC
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.
This article first appeared in Executive Secretary Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesecretary.com to find out more or to get your 30% discount email email@example.com and tell them we sent you.