My two-year old has better goals than I do!

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A few months ago we took my two-year old daughter to the Blue Angels Air Show. She loves planes and so we thought that she would be particularly impressed by the fast, loud, colorful ones doing aerobatics. To our surprise, she was much more taken with the long line of yellow school buses that had assembled to ferry spectators to and from the event. She wasn’t particularly keen on becoming a pilot, but in the weeks since the Air Show, has repeatedly expressed her desire to become a bus driver. She started me thinking—what do I want to be when I grow up? Now that I am (almost) 40…is there any point in still having long-term career goals?

 

I thought back to my teens—I was incredibly determined to join the Air Force and become one of the first female aircrew. In my early 20s I was aiming to get my Masters Degree in International Relations and thought that one day I might become a Foreign Diplomat. By my early 30s, the pace had slowed—I had discovered a career field I loved, and liked the idea of opening a small business in it. In my late 30s—I’ll be honest…sometimes it feels like my only goal is to get through the day!

 

So what is it about us that makes it so easy to set long-term goals when we are younger? Should I envy my 2 year old her uninhibited career dreams, and chuckle at the presumptive ambition of my 20-year old self…or should I step back and use those examples to help motivate myself to revisit and reset my goals?

 

Studies repeatedly show that by setting goals, we actually help improve our performance. By analyzing our intermediate and long-term career goals, we can make better-informed decisions about our current circumstances.  It is difficult to evaluate which company you would prefer to work for, where you wish to volunteer, what subjects to take in your educational courses or whether your career path can withstand a sabbatical break, if you have not first considered where you actually want to be in the long-term.

 

So I have decided that I need to revisit my goals. I have no idea where in the world we will be living in 10 years time, but I need to have a think about what type of position I would like to be employed in by then, so that I have something to aim for. I am quite sure I will never be a Foreign Diplomat, and I probably won’t own my own business either….but if I had never had those goals…I wouldn’t have learned what I know now on the path toward them. If we are striving toward something…we have a direction…we gain energy…and we find persistence. I may not end up exactly where I expect, but that is better than having no idea where I am going.

Will getting a PhD improve my job prospects?

This week’s advice from Lauren Weiner, Director of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC, a firm specializing in contracts with Government Agencies.

 

While I’m a huge believer in higher education, I don’t think a Ph.D. is a great way to increase your marketability or earning potential.  A Master’s degree, especially a marketable one like an MBA or MPP (or a targeted one that will move you forward in a chosen career field, like an MSW or a Masters in, say, speech pathology), is usually the right level to target for marketable job skills.  A Ph.D. is generally useful only if you want to go into very specific career fields—science, medical research—or if you want to go into academia.  According to this article in The Economist,  http://www.economist.com/node/17723223  overall a Ph.D. only adds about a 3% premium over a Masters.

The big elephant in the room, which few in the military-affiliated community seem to acknowledge openly, is where you get your degree.  I would absolutely much rather see a Masters degree from a solid school than a Ph.D. from a university that is known for being a diploma mill—regardless of if the course work at either type of university was on-line or on-ground.  (See this NY Times article about the problems at one for-profit university   http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/education/11phoenix.html).  As a small business owner,  I have a few major reasons that I hire people with advanced degrees :

  • They have shown the perseverance to start and finish a degree.
  • They have (hopefully) been taught critical thinking skills that are necessary for success in a knowledge-based employment culture.
  • They have learned to write and speak effectively.

While some students at these non-traditional universities may have the skills I’m looking for, their educational experience doesn’t signal that to me at all.   There really is a difference between the education you get from a more traditional university—even in an on-line program, many of which have stellar fundamentals, instructors, and curriculum—and a university focused on their quarterly earnings targets.  As a military spouse, I know it is difficult to get a degree from a more traditional university, and we’re going to be working in the coming months to identify quality programs that will allow military spouses to participate effectively.

How do I respond if the interviewer asks “Are you a Military Spouse?”

This week’s answer from Donna Huneycutt, a Lawyer and the Executive Vice President of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC.

 

It is illegal to inquire about a job candidate’s marital status.  That having been said, the motivations for asking the question could be legally appropriate if stated another way:  “Do you have responsibilities outside of work that will prevent you from getting the job done?” or “Should I expect you to have to leave the job abruptly?”

One option, of course, is to point out that the question is illegal.  While you are within your right to do this, the response may make your interviewer defensive and predisposed against hiring you.  If the interviewer’s motivation for asking the question was rooted in concern rather than bias, you have an opportunity not only to assuage the interviewer’s concerns, but to tout your suitability for the role.

Most civilians know very little about military life.  This is your opportunity to tell them how resourceful and resilient a Military Spouse has to be.  Tell them how you are used to anticipating and managing challenges outside of your field of expertise.  Tell them about the patience you have developed and about how you have learned to deal productively with different types of people in different cultures.  Give them statistics about the credentials and work ethic of Military Spouses.  Tell them you know how to woman up!

Tell them how well you performed in past jobs and what you managed to accomplish in just a few short years in your prior role.  Let them know that the continuity of your career is something that keeps you grounded and able to manage the unique requirements of being affiliated with the military.  Assure them that you have an excellent support system and that you are, because you must be, organized, reliable and responsive.

Let them know about how long you expect to be in the area, and, if true in your spouse’s command, that PCS projections are very reliable.  Let them know about the long lead times for a PCS and the fact that, as someone new to the area, you are ready to really invest in a job  (“I have three years to do something really meaningful here professionally and I’m very excited about it”).

Most interviewers know that people no longer stay in jobs for more than a few years.  It’s the nature of employment today.  If they are perceptive and if indeed the role is a good fit for you, they will recognize your value and suitability for the job.

Are Job Fairs really worth the time?

With the Government led initiative encouraging businesses to hire Veterans and Military Spouses, there has been a significant increase in the amount of job fairs making their rounds of the continental USA. Chances are you have seen a Hiring our HeroesMilicruit, or Military Spouse Career Fair advertised at an installation near you. For many career minded, job seeking Military Spouses, the glossy brochure or advertisement for a job fair triggers the cynical response, “if only it was that easy.”

 

Job Fairs certainly have received a bit of bad press over the last couple of years. Gone are the “old days” where employers might have a lengthy list of vacancies and be hiring on the spot for positions that appealed to you. The downturn in the economy and advances in technology have many job fair recruiters answering general questions but then referring applicants to the company job databases. Schools and resource offering organizations fill many of the booths and the job seeker with professional qualifications can often be left feeling that only entry level positions are on offer….or that they could have used their time more effectively to search the job database at home. So is it worth attending?

 

As a career counselor, I always recommend a job seeker attend any career fair in their area. For Military Spouses, this means attending the Veterans Career Fairs which do welcome Military Spouses, even though many companies may seem more focused on targeting the unique technical skills possessed by certain veteran groups. I advocate attending, because a job seeker only needs one lead..or one break…and you never know where this may come from.

 

The best way to approach a career fair, is to think of it as a networking opportunity and a resource rich environment where you may learn something new which helps you in your job search. You will never be disappointed in a career fair if you approach it with this goal, rather than the goal of ‘finding a job.’ Remember that approximately 80% of vacant positions in the USA are filled through word of mouth rather than advertised positions!

 

So as career professionals, we don’t need advice on how to dress or act at a career fair, but there are some tips worth considering for maximizing your time and effort.

 

  • Research the represented companies. Don’t wait until you arrive to see who is represented and work out where they are located. Most job fairs provide a list of attendees and a map on the website. Research and make a plan. At a large fair, you will not have enough time to visit everyone. Make a list of your key companies, check what they have advertised on their site, and note their location so that you can make a planned schedule to visit all relevant booths. Take notes on each company so that you have some talking points and questions to review before approaching the representative. Don’t be the job seeker who asks “So what does your company do?” or “What positions do you have vacant at the moment?” A more memorable approach indicates you have done some research and are here to find out additional information. “I noticed from your website that you do do not have any marketing or communications positions available at present. Are there any other types of positions within your company where you seek to recruit people with these types of skills?”

 

  • Visit the resource organizations. It is often easy to become “job focused” and target only the booths which look like employment companies. Resource organizations and nonprofits may not have positions available, but they will have a wealth of knowledge and be committed to helping source solutions for you. Provided they do not require you to pay for their services, they are definitely a great way to network, to gain a referral, or to learn about a employment program you may not previously have heard about.

 

  • Practice your introduction and 30 second commercial. Don’t launch straight into your sales pitch without first introducing yourself. “Hi I’m Joanne Evans and I am an IT Design Consultant specializing in…..” is OK..but how about making that connection with the recruiter before you being to speak. Let the recruiter introduce him/ her self too so that you can establish exactly who you are talking to and then make sure to use his/ her name throughout the conversation. Make yourself more memorable by personalizing your interaction as well as selling your skills.

 

  • Don’t explore the job fair with a friend. We often have Military Spouse friends who are also looking for employment, and can be tempted to move our way around the job fair together. You want to be seen as a individual with a unique professional identity. Confidently move around the job fair solo to accomplish this. Arrange times to meet your friend and compare notes but work independently. This will give you the opportunity to network and meet other job seekers, as well as present a more polished professional image to the potential employer.

 

  • Take notes and follow-up. After each conversation, take a minute to make some quick notes. Always try to obtain a business card or means of following up with the recruiter…..and then take the time that afternoon to send a thank you email with some personalized thoughts about how their conversation interested or motivated you. If appropriate identify how you believe you may be of use to the organization in the future. Remember those resource organizations…just because they don’t have jobs available does not mean you should neglect following up with them. Send their representative an email, look them up on Linked In and nurture that new connection.

 

Job Fairs can be frustrating if you only focus on the listed vacancies….but where else are you going to find the opportunity to network with hundreds of employers and fellow professionals in one room. My advice – give it a go! With this approach, ever career fair will be a successful experience for you …and it may just be at the next job fair that you get the career lead or connection you need!