Volunteer Matching: A Firsthand Report

Much has been said recently about the value of volunteering. Job seekers, including those in my seminars and classes, ask the questions, “Should I volunteer and can I include it in my résumé and LinkedIn profile?” Yes, you should. Yes, you can. The harder advice to give has been how and where to look for volunteer opportunities. Here is one option that I share not as an interested observer, but as a participant in the process. I hope that it helps and informs your thoughts on what you can and should do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a long-time friend. We were catching up on each other’s career stories when he mentioned a website called Catchafire. Had I heard of it? No. Henry explained that it was like a Monster job board for matching professionals interested in volunteer opportunities with social-good organizations needing help. It sounded interesting and I investigated.

Catchafire allows volunteers (PBPs : pro bono professionals) to identify causes in which they are interested (e.g. childhood education, women’s rights, etc.) and their skills (e.g. accounting, web design, copywriting). The site then offers open assignments that it thinks are good matches. The PBP browses the assistance requests and, if interested, applies for the job. I decided to try it.

Here are a few observations from having gone through the process. First, if you are going to do this yourself, be prepared to spend some time to set up your Catchafire profile. The fastest and easiest way is to import your LinkedIn profile. Second, be prepared for a screening and selection process that is not unlike applying for a paying position. When a PBP applies for a job, the requesting organization and Catchafire’s team will ask questions and request work samples. This is more than just raising your hand and getting the gig.

Catchafire is able to pay its staff and keep the computers running by earning a fee from the organization requesting the services of the PBP. It’s easy to understand why they want good people who can and will fulfill their commitments. The non-profit gets professional services at a greatly reduced rate, far below market value. The volunteer gets the satisfaction of working on a project that best matches her or his skills while doing something that matters, and maybe has earned another résumé bullet. Plus, there is the intangible benefit of making new connections and getting your name and work more widely known.

I have been accepted for my first assignment. The writing work begins in October. I will be sure to share an update, including information about the organization for which I am working, as the effort gets going. Check it out for yourself and maybe you can Catchafire, too.

Check out these two blog posts for a little more about volunteering: Energized by Work and Ready or Not. Enjoy!

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Social Media Inventory: Unfriend a Few?

LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media can kill your career search. Or, they can be a profoundly helpful. The contributions to your search and the arch of your career are very much up to you. Understanding the importance of these platforms (see this CNN story for a reminder) should give the job hunter the motivation to do some repair work and to take a more proactive stance for future use before it’s too late.

First, understand that it is too late when you have already started an active job search. Should you be fortunate enough to have your résumé get past the applicant tracking system (ATS) and seen by a human, there is a good chance that your social media presence will be reviewed before you get a call for an interview. Your LinkedIn profile and Facebook page are just the beginning. Consider every social media tool that you use, including any comments or interactions that you use with your real name. All of this is very discoverable by drilling down past the first Google search screen.

The time to start is before you start a job search. At the least, review your pages on the big platforms (LI, FB, etc.) Use this criteria as you consider what your presence is saying about you: “If I did not know me, would I want to add me to this employer’s team based on what I am seeing?” If there are posts and pictures and links that leave you uncomfortable with the answer to that question, delete them now.

Next, consider how some of that material got there in the first place. Are your friends and family taking pictures of you and tagging you in ways that will not help your job hunt? If so, ask them to refrain. If they can’t or won’t or just do not understand the reason why, consider blocking or deleting those people during your search so that they can’t continue. If these people are true friends, they will understand. If not, well…

Set some rules for yourself on how and why you will use social media. Those rules may vary from platform to platform. I use LinkedIn and Twitter only for professional uses. Facebook is where I have fun and goof around with my friends and family. No matter what, think long and hard before posting anything that could be controversial or uncomfortable. You may have strong political views. Fine. Choose another outlet for your passions while job hunting. Facebook will be there after you get the new gig.

Finally, be strategic in the future – starting today – with your use of the social media. If you have rules set for yourself on what material goes to which channel, take it to the next step and plan the quality, quantity and timing of your interactions. If you are working to build your brand as an expert in a field, think about and develop content that helps achieve that goal (this blog is an example). If it doesn’t do that, don’t waste your time and that of others with low-value material.

Social media is our new reality. Be diligent and consistent in your interactions in this part of your professional ecosystem. The standard is simple: If your online presence is not helping you, it is hurting.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.

LinkedIn: Start Up & Tune Up

One of the most frequent conversations I have with clients in my career marketing services practice is about how to use LinkedIn effectively. Questions about how to build a profile and how to interact with others are common concerns.

Here is my latest e-book, LinkedIn: Start Up & Tune Up, a collection of ideas, tips and pitfalls to allow users to get the most out of the service. Your comments are welcome and I hope it helps you. Feel free to share the link and the book with others.

Thanks for your support!

Sales Basics and the Job Search

Everyone is in sales. Whether you sell for a living or have to influence others in some way, you are selling ideas, products and yourself all the time. Having your eyes open to that fact will work to your advantage as you conduct a job search, and understanding some basic sales tactics can accelerate the process and get you doing what you love, your career of choice. Having worked in sales and sales management, I hope that these concepts that I have learned – some the hard way – can help you.

Use Your Network. People buy from those that they trust. The best way to become trusted is with the recommendation of a valued and respected insider. Continue to build and energize your network, helping others as you can. The day may come when you need a favor (maybe you need one now) and the investment you made in time and energy will pay dividends.

Sell What the Buyer Wants. You must understand the needs of the buyer. You are the seller, and the employer is considering buying your services. What is important to the company and what are the qualifications of the role? What is the organization’s culture and how would you fit in? Study the job posting, read the company’s website, research the organization through other sources (including insiders), and be ready to explain how you can help solve their problems. Focus on the needs of the organization and how you will be a great asset with the track record to prove it.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. If you have ever been on a sales call, as the seller, the buyer or just an interested bystander, you know that a professional sales presentation can lead to success. The presentation includes the person (dress, grooming, professionalism), sales and marketing materials (leave-behinds, brochures), the content of the presentation and asking for the sale. As you sell yourself, you need to consider and plan for your interviews and other interactions. What will you say? What material will you present? How will you follow up?

Multiple Contacts Increase Your Chances. This comes back to the point of trust. We don’t trust everyone we see from the first contact. That’s why you need to work to get your name, face, and work in front of the buyer as many times as you can and through as many channels as possible. At a minimum, this will include your initial contact, a phone interview, a face-to-face interview and follow up (thank you letter). You enhance your chances with a recommendation from an existing employee (back to your network). If you are in a less aggressive job search, consider a drip marketing campaign with potential employers, contact them once every 30 to 45 days with something of value.

Ask for the Sale. When you have gone through the process, ask for the job. Your request could be as simple as this: “I really would like to get to work helping your company capture market share. What are our next steps to me joining your team?”

Consider these sales basics when marketing yourself, and put them into practice. Understand that as you enter the labor market you are a sales person, so be great at it.

Three Career Reality Checks

As a pro résumé writer, I am constantly working with people in various stages of career transition. They range from the employed who are just starting to consider making a change to the long-term unemployed, people who have been out of work for a year or more and with few to no prospects for a new job. In every case, these people are in a reflective posture, considering their careers and how to make the next step. Here are a few common discussion points.

Career Velocity. Those doing the same work for years at a time, showing no advancement in their roles and responsibilities, are understandably nervous. They are concerned that the field may be passing them, and they are often right.

The Fix: Step forward and ask for new assignments. Take a class or earn a certification that will make you more valuable to your current and future employers. If employed, explore tuition reimbursement programs. You will still have to do the time and the work, but at least someone else can write the check.

Professional Network. Is your LinkedIn account a reflection of your real network, or is it just a bunch of names and faces, people you don’t really know? Here is a good test: If you called these people on the phone, how many would speak with you? If the number is smaller than you would like, get to work!

The Fix: Start contacting the people in your network. Reach out and say, “Hi!” Share something of value. Let them know what you are working on. Ask them what they are doing. Revitalize the network and make it more valuable.

Your Résumé. Is it current? You should view your résumé as a living document, something that is always current and ready to go in case of emergency. Are you an active job seeker? Are you getting calls for interviews? If not, a poorly written résumé could be hurting you.

The Fix: Invest your time and/or money into this critical piece of your career management strategy. If you don’t have the time or interest in writing it yourself, pay for help. If you do it yourself, review it quarterly and keep it fresh. If you don’t have anything new to add, ask yourself, “Why?”

Spend some time this week reviewing these points and how you are doing. I small investment in time actively managing your career could make a big difference in your long-term success.

Much More than Baseball Cards

When I was growing up in Dobbs Ferry (NY), an important activity for almost every boy I knew was collecting, trading and competing for baseball cards. Topps was all we knew, and every new season offered a new quest for collecting the whole set. We would trade our doubles, search hard for the best players, and sometimes risk it all with flipping and scaling cards. The scaling option, in which players compete to scale cards to be closest to the wall, was usually a bad one. It was a game of skill and there were a few guys who couldn’t be beat. If you were going against Joe Giuliano, you could save everyone lots of time by just handing him your cards and moving along to your next class. He was that good. Watching him play was like watching a machine. Scale, grunt defeat, watch Joe take the cards, repeat.

I wonder how many people who stack up contacts using LinkedIn view the process much like the search for the missing players, with the difference being that the roster of players counts in the millions, rather than less than a thousand each year. I wonder if the quality of the connections is about as high. For those who have amassed 950 LinkedIn contacts, have they ever thought, “Would MaryJo in Seattle take my call?”

Networking activities need to be a lot more than a few clicks in the latest social media tool. Like anything else in life, your networking activities will only be as good as the effort that you put into them. Find common interests and make meaningful connections. Try making a phone call or sending a personal note, something much more than, “I would like to add you to my professional network.”

Think about your efforts. Have they been meaningful and have they led to important professional connections, creating a web of colleagues who might actually care about the relationship with you? Or have your activities been more focused on body count? If your networking is similar to that of a bunch of 12 year olds flipping Reggie Jacksons, you have some work to do.

Lay Off? Move. Now!

If you or someone you know has gotten laid off, or expects it soon, get ready to work hard and fast to get back into the workforce right away. If that means working some 12 hours days and weekends during the first days and weeks of unemployment, so be it. A column in Bloomberg Business Week shares some sobering data, including the point that long-term unemployment does not help workers and likely hurts as job skills and professional networks get stale.

What should you do if that pink slip and cardboard box for your personal items comes your way? Here are a few ideas:

Get all of your career marketing materials refreshed. This includes your résumé, LinkedIn profile, executive biography and executive project summary/portfolios, as well as any online presence you may have.

Quickly move to contact people in your network. Let them know that you are available and open to discussing new opportunities. Don’t rely on an email. Pick up the phone and make a call. Buy coffee. Get out there!

Get creative in considering what you will do next. It may be that a less than perfect job now is better than hanging on hoping for just the right thing that may never come. Don’t forget the lessons of the long-term unemployed: it is a downward spiral that can be tough to overcome.

Build a routine to stay sharp. Get out of bed, get some exercise, get dressed and get ready for the opportunity to meet people. What if you pick up the phone – or someone calls you – and you have to get across town in 30 minutes for a cup at Starbucks? Will you be ready?

Plan your day and week like you would on the job. Check off your task list as you complete it. The accomplishments and record of achievement will give you a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.

Rely on your support system. Friends and family are going to play an important role. Keep talking and sharing your wins and frustrations. Sometimes talking can make a huge difference as others can give you outsiders’ perspectives on your own blind spots.

Engage in professional groups. This can include on-ground physical groups or virtual groups on LinkedIn, Quora or other forums. This will keep you thinking about and staying current on your profession.

Work hard, work fast and get back to work.