Words of Wisdom

Preparing for current and future career opportunities

by Teresa Whitacre

The deadline for this column coincided with my son’s high school graduation. The advice I gave him about starting his career could apply to everyone, regardless of where they’re at in their career.

Constantly network. Do it online and in person. You never know when you will find someone who can help you find your next opportunity. Waiting until you need a connection or a job is much too late to begin the networking process. If you network when you don’t need the help—and if you also aid others along the way—the favor is more likely to be reciprocated when you are truly in need.

Check yourself out. Google your name and see what employers see about you. Having no surprises makes you more confident and more marketable. Some people even get background checks done on themselves. The $50 to $100 fee is well worth your peace of mind.

Create your own way. Consider contract, temporary, self-employment and business start-up career opportunities. One of my previous columns described how your career is your responsibility. Don’t wait for the opportunity to find you—make it happen on your own. I once spent six months networking with a business leader before that same leader asked me to assist his organization with a need it had. I created my own road to the opportunity.

A second source

For some additional career advice, I interviewed Mike Sylvester, vice president of Alltek Staffing in Pittsburgh. Sylvester spoke about countering mistakes job seekers make, emerging career fields and offering advice to job candidates.

Whitacre: What do you consider the biggest mistake job seekers make?

Sylvester: Job seekers have a tendency not to ask enough pointed questions in an interview, which shows they didn’t do their homework going in. In many cases, they are so intent on dumping as much information about themselves on the interviewer that they take up too much time imparting unimportant details about themselves. This wastes critical time and is counterproductive.

My advice to candidates in this situation is to take stock of their own attributes and develop questions—instead of statements—to determine if a feature of one’s background equals a benefit to the prospective employer.

After the candidate determines the three to five features that translate into actual benefits the employer desires, then only those should be accentuated, discussed and exhausted in the course of the interview. The person asking questions will always gain control. This allows a candidate to study an employer’s non-verbal signals, which is just as important—if not more—than the verbal communication coming from the prospective employer.

In a nutshell, my advice would be "to seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Whitacre: What do you see as the emerging fields or best places for opportunities?

Sylvester: Green energy is going to become more important over time. This will have an effect on transportation, water treatment, land development and other construction industries. Healthcare will continue to grow exponentially as the population ages. There also will be a great demand for post-secondary education, as a demand for greater education and training will become critical for the United States to compete with the rest of the world.

Whitacre: What is the one piece of advice you can offer today’s career seekers?

Sylvester: Be careful about preconceived notions about a particular job, employment environment or industry. Tremendous opportunities exist in places many candidates assume are the worst.

Also, people have a tendency to make a decision about an opportunity before they have an actual offer, which is not a best practice. I always tell candidates they don’t have a decision to make until they have an offer. It’s not an offer unless there is a clearly specified start date with a clearly communicated compensation package—preferably in writing.

Dig deep

Advice I gave to my son and other recent graduates, as well as what Sylvester has to offer, applies to anyone, no matter what the career stage. It is important to always be knowledgeable of the market, know what is happening in your chosen field, be open to new or emerging fields and be willing to create your own opportunities.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality assurance manager in Pittsburgh and a principal in Marketech Systems. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is the 2011 World Conference on Quality and Improvement chair for ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8.

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