One of my favorite memories involves volunteering with a local community development organization, and how it reminded me of why I love what I do.
Giving back to my community in a way that is personally important to me is a big part of who I am. As someone who’s worked in the HR and recruiting field for over 2 decades (wow! that’s a long time – who’d a thunk…), and then watch the news talking about people struggling to find work, I have provided career coaching to others to help to make that transition easier. One key part of this? Using my own personal and professional experiences and expertise to help people become stronger applicants from the start.
Resumes come to me often with the expectation that I figure out what job is best for them, rather than showing me that they are a good fit for the job. There are often errors in spelling, grammar, and poorly organized. Cover letters are generic and talk about themselves only, but not showing any interest in what my company does. Or even worse, they have a different company in the name. Candidates take days and days, if not weeks, to respond to questions I send them, then get upset when they don’t get an interview. And at least half don’t provide what was requested in the job posting (but, because not enough people are applying for software jobs, I have to chase after them asking them to provide it, when I’d like to just decline them). I have even witnessed all of the above in resumes that came in for jobs I’m hiring for.
I’ve worked with a lot of folks, both at events and one-on-one, paid and pro bono, in helping them become stronger candidates. Take control of their destiny. Be more thoughtful and organized in their search and how they present themselves. Help them see the good and also give them constructive criticism. It’s up to them to take or leave what I provide – I am just one person, one perspective.
When one of my mentors died some years back, it reminded me of the work we did together. She had encouraged me to lead workshops in diverse communities that had often not been provided with resources to help them in their search. I fell madly in love with it! So I decided to focus on increasing my community outreach, talking to groups of all ages and backgrounds to help empower them to get great jobs and open their minds to new career paths as well.
At the community development organization, I led a career workshop to a really diverse group – among others, a software engineer newly arrived in the US, a female truck driver with tons of energy but struggling with confidence due to an old felony conviction, and a warmhearted in-home caregiver who wanted to move into a career with animals, whose lack of determination to achieve her goal - related to several front teeth missing - was holding her back.
When I’ve talked to groups, I often meet people who are disillusioned, with a side effect of defensiveness and/or bitterness. With this group, I found them to be open and honest, and most importantly – receptive. If you’re not willing to accept feedback, you’ll never be able to change your situation. It doesn’t mean that feedback will be the answer, but rather it’s meant to get you thinking.
I started with a quick mock interview question with the truck driver who was preparing for an interview with a national retailer – why are you interested in us? And she said “I want to drive a truck.” Correction I gave her: “I love (Company Name) and shopping there, and would love to combine my goal of returning to truck driving with a company I really can be proud of working for.”
The engineer and I discussed, then clarified on his resume, what he really wanted to do – programming or telecommunications (it was the former). Then we worked to emphasize the programming and deemphasize the telecom. so it still showed great job history, while instantly drawing the recruiter eye to what was most important to the jobs he’d be applying for – his education and experience in programming.
And with the caregiver, we talked about what she’s done as a volunteer in larger organizations and her concern was having the money to pay for a uniform. So we talked about the smaller organizations, what she had to offer that would be a unique contribution to them, and proposing her ideas to them. Then saving up a few dollars each paycheck til she had enough money to buy the volunteer uniform. And finally, I broached what would prevent her from getting a lot of public-facing positions – her missing front teeth. Something most people wouldn’t say to her face. I let her know that I can tell she is so very warmhearted but her posture is such that she is not confident, and unwilling to smile – and our job now is for her to connect with REACH to find resources to help get the dentures she needs, so she can smile for real.
The experience moved me. It’s not just about finding a job. It’s about finding your way.