Use Your Superpowers

Use Your Superpowers

If you are a superhero, you most certainly have a superpower. Though I’m no expert, it seems that most superheroes have various formidable abilities, as well as a few unique powers that set them apart. Captain America’s powers are strength and agility while Spider-Man’s is his ability to jump and climb. Jean Grey can control minds and the Invisible Woman, can, you guessed it, become invisible. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been home with Netflix learning a lot about superheroes lately.

Superheroes are not limited to those on the big screen or from DC Comics. In all walks of life there are individuals who have special abilities that can be used for the greater good. I’m reminded that Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed away recently and was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, was thought of as a superhero based on her life’s commitment to advancing women.

Of course, you might not feel like a superhero sometimes – maybe a super flop. But your worst day is probably not as bad as a superhero’s: you didn’t destroy a planet, right? We all have a superpower, maybe more than one. And these powers are important to use to promote a career and find work. You just have to find it, practice it, and of course, only use it only for good.

Here are a few superpowers and how you might use them to your advantage:

1. Writing Like a Superhero

We all can write of course, but some of us are really good at it. For some their strength is in writing fiction such as stories and narratives about experiences and characters that capture our imagination. Others can write business prose and hammer out precisely worded reports and studies.

For many positions, writing is the sine qua non – the indispensable requirement – for hiring (and some writers are even good at showing off a bit of Latin once in a while). If writing is your thing, emphasize it in your application. Make sure your resume is peppered with citations and hyperlinks to your best writing. If you are submitting your application in paper, include a hard copy article or research piece that highlights your abilities. More importantly, apply for positions where good writing is required.

2. Networking and Making Presentations Superpower

Maybe you are a natural. You easily connect with people and are not intimidated when meeting new colleagues and professionals. Not everyone is comfortable in their skin (and some superheroes do have a particular skin!). But for you when you meet people for the first time, you don’t trip over your words: you can make a good impression and say what is needed in the moment.

Increasingly companies and organizations require every professional to be their own “PR” department. A job might require that you might communicate in person or online much of your day. With your superpower, you are able to make a passionate, relevant, and personable case for your employer. Make sure when you apply for a job where making connections and presenting are important, that you show or provide examples of your efforts. Maybe you are on YouTube giving a talk? Or have been interviewed by a news outlet?

3. Tech and Social Media Superhero

Maybe you are a wiz at social media and keep up with the latest trends and apps. You know what forms of social media are most effective in a particular situation. Your familiarization is not only with traditional means like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, but with novel new means that are tailored to younger professionals — Instagram or Snapchat, for instance.

Today, every professional needs to be social media competent. But you are an expert. So be sure to show a prospective employer what you have produced, and more importantly, the impact of the social media you have used. Have you increased sales? Brought in new members or clients?

4. Superhero of Multitasking, Quick Learning, and Rapid Response, or Just Getting it Done!

Many places demand quick response and the anticipation of changes and disruptions. You are a multitasker, but more importantly, are flexible and a quick learner. You can adjust to any situation – in the moment! You can put a fire out (literally and figuratively!). You also have the ability to anticipate problems around the bend.

It is a fast-paced world where businesses and organizations need to react and respond quickly to changing conditions and crises. Taking advantage of opportunities is critical to being on the cutting edge and producing good work. If you a person who can stay on task, work on deadline, respond quickly, and get it done, you are a superhero.

When you apply for a job make sure to share stories of how you have used your superpowers to save the day (or maybe even the planet)!

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

September 22, 2020 0

Getting Back Into The Swing of Things

Getting Back Into The Swing of Things

Summer is almost over. And was it a summer like no other: no beach vacation, no National Parks visits, and maybe not even a trip to the community pool. Since March, it’s been a big blur for many. Because the natural rhythm the summer offers with travel, picnics, and parades was absent, the recreation and reflection that is generally part of the summer was missing. You might not have ventured much beyond your own backyard and you are exhausted just the same. It could be you are now working more, even at a home office. A recent study confirms that we are actually working more at home right now, not less.

August tends to be a slow hiring month, especially in the policy, government, and NGO worlds. In Washington, this is because Congress was usually on recess, and those groups that depend on watching, lobbying, and engaging with Congress would take a break. The pandemic has exacerbated this. Things were already slow, and now things are even slower.

Maybe you’ve given yourself a summer break from it all. That’s a good thing. Taking time to read, garden, or do little of anything has health benefits. Maybe, here and there you were thinking about what to do next career wise, even writing down an idea or two. But you were still in slowdown mode.

But now it is time to the put “pedal to the metal” so to speak, even if the drive is a virtual one. So how do you reignite yourself to get back into the swing of things?

 

1. Determine Your Objectives

Even before you reach out to employers or rewrite your resume or LinkedIn, you need first to consider your objectives. Is the job you are seeking a “bridge” to something else? This could be a short-term strategy. The dream job you are looking for might be something that will take more effort and time to explore or even require additional education. But a “bridge” job could be something to help you short-term to network, keep your mind active, or pay the bills. If you are not looking for a short-term job, but think the dream job is within grasp, then you need to develop a plan for making it a reality. Ideally, your plan would include specific steps that you need to reach on a weekly basis: maybe a specific number of informational interviews you’ve had, or job applications submitted, or virtual events attended. And evaluate frequently what you are have done. Friday afternoon is a good time to consider what you have done the prior week.

 

2. Reconnect with Your Networks and Social Media

Taking a pause from social media and networks during the summer can be healthy. The overload (and anxiety) of keeping up with colleagues, friends, and the news of the day can

take its toll. But now, reengaging is important. You don’t need to answer every email you’ve not responded to, so be selective. Indicate you were taking a break from it all, and now are back at the wheel. Catching up is good now. Inquire as to how summer was for others and let them know that your priority now is finding work. They might very well be in the same boat.

 

3. Return to the Basics

It might be time to review, or even rewrite your resume or CV. I’m often struck by people reluctant to completely rewrite a resume. Sometimes making additions and add-ons make your resume look a bit like a house where additions were added with little thought or planning. Your resume needs to be sharp, fresh, and contemporary in its appearance. The same goes for LinkedIn. Reconsider everything about your profile. If your photo is more than two years old, then it is time to update. Does your headline reflect who you are? Have you developed new interests that might lead to joining some LinkedIn groups?

 

4. Freshen Up!

Even though the fall might still be more virtual than face to face, that doesn’t mean you can’t freshen up. Can you up your wardrobe a bit? (You might say “Well they only see me from the neck up!” But there is a psychological benefit to sprucing up). If you can’t get to your stylist, can you do something yourself or have a family member help you out? If you haven’t up to now, start an exercise or meditation routine that you can continue through the fall. Commit to eating better. The excuse of, it’s summer so I can some more ice cream, is over. Sorry.

With the change of seasons, we have the opportunity to renew our focus on bettering ourselves, including a renewed effort in seeking career opportunities. Take this time to reengage.

 

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

August 21, 2020 0

Career Corner: Taking a Mid-Summer Break

Career Corner: Taking a Mid-Summer Break

It is now mid-summer, and in much of the U.S. we are dealing with a heat wave.  In “normal” times, that would mean vacationing at the beach or scurrying off to the mountains.  But with the coronavirus crisis now five months long, past “normal” activities are not practical or even possible in many instances.  This has resulted in many literally stuck in their houses or apartments with little opportunity to physically engage with others outside those they may be quarantining with.  And many live on their own, so there might be considerable isolation that has come with the crisis.   We are in a time like no other.  What the world looks like a year from now is difficult to predict, but the lingering effects of the crisis will continue, even if a vaccine is found by then.   The ways in which  people work, socialize, network, and even greet one another will likely change significantly.

Taking a break from virtual networking, completing online courses, and tweaking your resume or LinkedIn might be a good thing right now.   Recharging and reflecting are important aspects of career exploration.   There are many “indirect” ways of working toward professional change that can be done in a relaxed and reflective way.   Here are a few suggestions on what you might consider doing right now that might not appear to be career exploration, but in fact help you professionally.

  1. Cozy up with a Good Book

Reading is a time-honored summer ritual.  When considering a  career change, we tend to focus on books on the “how-tos” of how to find work.  These can be helpful, but often can be overwhelming.  Though they provide useful tips, they can also lead to anxiety:  the reader often focuses on the things they aren’t doing, and then rather than reading, gets back into high gear job searching.

For that reason, I would stay away from career books.  If you like non-fiction, find a good fantasy or mystery that takes you somewhere else – and we  all need to be somewhere else right now.  Maybe a book can transport you to the vacation you can’t physically get to right now?  If you don’t read fiction, then look at history or current events (provided they don’t reinforce the uncertainty of the present).  I personally like historical biographies and stories of exploration and discovery.   I also alternate between reading and listening to a book (using Audible).  Both have advantages: reading provides more focus and allows you  to easily re-read something, while listening to a book is good when you are simultaneously mowing your lawn.  And finally, maybe joining a virtual book club might be an option?  Consider a group of individuals that you share interests with,  but also represent diversity in age, background, ethnicity, and education. I did that recently and have really enjoyed the camaraderie.

  1. Take on a Short-term Project or Hobby

The satisfaction of completing a project or success in a hobby is psychological and can be even be physical.   Taking a break from work and looking at things that need fixing around your home, neighborhood, or for other family members can bring about important positivity.  In thinking about a project, make sure it is not overwhelming and doesn’t take too much of your time.   Come the end of the summer, you might be back into job seeking mode and then the project is half completed (and looking at it reminds you of what you haven’t finished).  So make sure it’s something that you can get done in a reasonable period of time and something you can manage with  more limited resources (since you don’t want to be going back and back to the lumber store, or endless buying supplies on Amazon).  Is there a small painting job in your home?  How about cleaning out your books from school (and giving them away)? How about cooking, baking, or starting a small garden?

  1. Reconnect with Others

Even if you can’t experience the intimacy of  a vacation with others, you can still reach out to family, friends, and even colleagues virtually right now (and you can still use the phone!).  I try to reach out to one person per week that I’ve lost contact with to “check in” to see how they are doing.  Beyond the niceties of seeing how they are managing, steer the conversation to other things like reminiscing on past things you’ve done together, future plans (after the crisis), interests you both share, and projects they might be involved in.  Connecting in an informal and generous way will leave you with a sense of having made a small difference and a good feeling.

  1. Do Little or Nothing

It might seem odd that I have to list doing nothing as something you should be doing!  But those who are internationally focused and have engaged in experiences abroad tend to have  high energy and are driven.   They see a world of opportunities but also one of challenges that they want to help work on.   With the pandemic, many are looking to volunteer in healthcare and in COVID-19 tracing.  With social justice issues in the forefront, many are considering how to engage in activism.   But taking a step back  for reflecting and “chilling” is good too (and might recharge you to deal with the important issues yet to come).  Don’t feel guilty right now about taking long walks, binge watching on Netflix, and sleeping in.   Moderation is always the key of course.   Give yourself a break.  In doing so, you will create mental space for when you need to reengage more fully again.

Taking a break from the intensity of a job search is beneficial in the long run.   Looking back on this time, you might regret not taking a step back and enjoying the moment.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

July 20, 2020 0

Career Corner: Putting Your Fulbright Experience to Work for Social Justice and Global Positive Change

Career Corner: Putting Your Fulbright Experience to Work for Social Justice and Global Positive Change

Often when thinking about a career we separate our activism from our professional aspirations. Movements and causes that we feel strongly about we relegate to working on during our “off” hours: weekends, evenings, and holidays. These efforts are not our day jobs. This is an artificial distinction. We only have to look at those who have dedicated their lives to social justice causes and global positive change to see that their work was their full-time job, and not just a weekend diversion.

Taking steps to advance a career involves considering myriad factors. Some are grounded in financial necessity: I need to get a job that pays my rent, or my student loans! Or sometimes we feel the direction we take must align with the educational investment we have already made.  We ask ourselves: if I’ve spent all this time, effort, and money to get a degree in “X” then I really should make that my career, right?  These are reasonable considerations. But often they might act as blinders on a horse: only allowing us to see that is in front of us, and not allowing for a wider view of how we can contribute to the social good through a meaningful career.

We are in a time like no other. How people of color in the U.S. and worldwide are treated and marginalized must be addressed. Protests, statue removals,  and the questioning of the status quo (including the traditional role of policing) is taking place daily. Many of us now recognize that our “good future” or “luck” is in actuality the result of systemic advantages that we have been given and others denied.  It also relates to crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Life as we know it has been turned on its head. The “new” normal has yet to be revealed.

A Fulbright grant is often motivated by the altruistic desire to do good: be that to advance cultural understanding, promote the arts to improve community life, foster scientific research to  better global health, or build peace through education. I have found with rare exception that those returning from a Fulbright experience have developed increased  awareness of the advantages that Americans have.  And if their Fulbright experience has taken place in a non-Western society, they recognize that there are many more “have nots” than “haves” in the world.  And they recognize that working to improve conditions doesn’t end with the completion of a Fulbright experience.

Can the convergence of passion for change and the current political and public health conditions lead to a career strategy redirection?  Can we pull off the blinders and consider careers that directly address some of the challenges we face? If you had not thought about a career in public health, is the current COVID-19 crisis offering you a chance to see how you might move in that direction? Could the current unrest and protests direct your interest to education in social justice?  How might you start this exploration?

Check Your Own Community First

It seems that the “big problems” facing the world draw our attention.  But I would suggest that the issues that we might work on – public health or social justice-  are also local.  Start at home.   The question then becomes: what work in my community needs attention?

Make Changes in Your Current Work

Of course there are some jobs that are designed directly to make change. But I would argue that most anyone can find space regardless of their work to advance important social goals. A retail professional can urge their employer to offer products that align with environmental values. An accountant can devote volunteer time to support the needs of a not-for-profit. An IT professional can offer their expertise gratis to social justice groups trying to advance justice reform.  Find space in your current work to improve social conditions.

Transition from Volunteer to Paid Staff

Those organizing a rally or protest often come together spontaneously. They are usually volunteers. As the effort grows, there might be the need to sustain the effort with staff who are paid. This will require getting financial support through donations, fundraising, or grants.  Once funding is obtained, then professional staff can be hired. As a volunteer, your efforts might lead to paid employment continuing to the do the work you are passionate about.

 Research, Reach Out, and Plan

If you come to the conclusion that your goal is a career that allows you to apply your convictions, you will need to spend time researching and planning. Not all social causes easily allow for paid work, but many do. You need to consider which ones can support a career.  Fields such as  human rights, humanitarian assistance, international development, legal advocacy, and policy change present clearer pathways to a career. Often through additional education or training, you can prepare yourself and learn the steps you should take.  Having  a game plan is important: making connections, training or education, and volunteer experience will likely be part of it.

The passion you brought to your Fulbright experience can be redirected now to other important social issues that communities face.  Many can benefit from what you bring to a cause.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

June 26, 2020 0

Career Corner – Focus on your “Paper”

Career Corner – Focus on your “Paper”

In my last column, I recommended using the COVID crisis as a time to invest in yourself. With an uncertain job market, making connections and building your skills are good ways of using your time.

You might also focus right now on your “paper.” What I mean here, are the written ways in which you present yourself (that at one time were only on paper!): resume or CV, cover letter, LinkedIn, and other written forms.

Lead with Fulbright

After returning from your experience in the Fulbright program you need to update your social media and resume to mention your time abroad. Even if your Fulbright experience was short, it was still valuable, and you made important contributions to the community you worked in. Make sure it’s clearly noted on your resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s important to specifically and accurately indicate your service, reducing abbreviations where you can. For instance, if you were an ETA, you might write English Teaching Assistant, so that those unfamiliar with the Fulbright program know what you were doing abroad. Also state the period of your service and country.

Metrics are Important

Increasingly employers are interested in “how much” of something you did. Metrics speak to your ability to supervise, organization, manage, and other tasks that a potential employer needs done. If you taught as an ETA, mention how many students you had, the number of classes, and how large the school was. If you oversaw a budget, not likely in the Fulbright program, but maybe in another job, indicate the amount, particularly if it was $10,000 or more.

Metrics also look at outcomes: how much was produced or was developed as a result of your efforts.

Create Points of Curiosity

Your resume will be the document that an interviewer will launch the interview from. Create in it opportunities for conversation and curiosity. It is important to draw a reader to you and show how your experiences are not only relevant to their work, but intriguing. I find that listing the countries you have experienced – as a study abroad student, Fulbrighter, or in other projects (but not so much as a tourist) – creates an opportunity for the interviewer to ask questions: especially if you’ve been to some places off the beaten trail. Besides travel, consider other facets of your experience that might cause an interviewer to ask questions. Are you studying an obscure language? Involved in a project that is unique and shows innovation?

Flawless Design and Presentation

A resume, cover letter, and even a LinkedIn page is not about approximation. It is about precision. Errors in punctuation, spelling, or formatting will be noticed by an interviewer and might signal to them (maybe incorrectly) that you are careless or even sloppy. I remind my own students and clients: make sure your punctuation, syntax, and grammar are free of mistakes. We all make mistakes in our writing, even if we have reviewed it multiple times. Please have a friend read your resume or other writing over and give you honest feedback and edits. I learned from my father who was a letterpress operator (they don’t exist anymore) to proofread text backwards, word by word – out loud.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Make Sure That What You Offer is Obvious

You will get a job for only this reason: you have something (skills, knowledge, connections, etc.) that the employer needs. They will not hire you merely because of your enthusiasm, or your education, or that you are polite and inquisitive in an interview. These are important, but not critical. But making the case that you can do something that the employer needs: that’s the ticket to the job. As such, if you have something that relates directly to the position you are applying for, make sure that is obvious in your resume and in your cover letter. I recommend a summary of qualifications section at the top of a resume below your contact information indicating specifically how your skills can contribute to what that specific employer is looking for. This means you need to tailor each resume for each job you apply for.

In the end, your “paper” shows your seriousness and professionalism. Make sure it puts you in the best possible light.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

May 20, 2020 0