The holiday season is stressful enough without the added burden of handling unemployment, underemployment, or general dissatisfaction with your job, career, or job search results. Many of us are overspending, overworking, overplanning, and under-relaxing. I’ve never been a supporter of the idea that you should slack off on managing your career during the weeks leading up to New Year’s – there are still plenty of ways you can add a burst of productivity to your efforts. But at the same time, I also caution people to heed the urge to take it easy, reassess, and use whatever slowdown period you might have to really engage in things that will nurture you – spending time with family and friends, enjoying some fun (or a cocktail or three), indulging in some much needed downtime.
But no one wants to wake up on January 2, when the world goes back to work, and feel like they haven’t adequately set themselves up for success, and to break out of the gate running ahead of the competition. My track and field coach in high school (I was a mid-distance runner) used to tell us, “Every time you feel like cutting a corner, just remember that there’s another girl out there who’s not.” It’s about staying competitive, and positioning yourself for success in the New Year, but also being realistic about the expectations you put on yourself.
Here are a few things you can be doing in the coming weeks to guarantee you’re setting yourself up for success ahead of your competition when you bust back into full-on job search mood in early January:
Get Your Branding Portfolio Together, & Looking Awesome
Your “branding portfolio” is all the pieces of your digital self-promotional presence, and for most people that includes your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. It might even include your blog, your portfolio, and any other component you invite potential employers to view about you. Fact: This is your first line of defense, and unless it’s absolutely in excellent shape and truly impressive, you’re not going to get past the gatekeeper, no matter how good you are at selling yourself. Ask a knowledgeable and HR-savvy friend for help and/or feedback, or hire a professional to do the dirty work. Then you can truly rest easy.
Build Your Prospect List
Any good business has a top prospect list of their ideal clientele to work with, and you are no different in the career space. Who do you most want to work for, no matter how far-fetched it seems? I’m not saying target a development position at Google if you haven’t a shred of technology experience, but you know. Use this time to do your research, and develop a list of your top 10-20 prospects whom you want to target after the New Year, and start preparing a really good, well-targeted self-promotional package to nab their attention (see below).
Work on your Interviewing Skills
Getting in the door for your dream job does nothing for you if you aren’t comfortable really selling yourself once you get in there. And you need to be able to do it on the spot, meaning not scripted, and be able to relate your expertise and accomplishments to fit the spontaneous questions they’re asking. Get a friend or colleague to help – someone who’s not afraid to give you real, straight-forward feedback, and do a mock interview based on your target company profile that you know you want to work for. Have them ask questions that pertain not just to your experience, but also to the nature of the company you’re applying to, because you need to be able to make that connection as well.
Think Outside the Paper
Above I mentioned putting together a great self-promotional package – that includes your resume, cover letter, portfolio, obviously. But what else can you put together to showcase your talents and expertise that goes above the hum-drum old resume-cover letter combo that everyone submits? Think about providing more context: How about a 1-pager of paragraph testimonials from clients, bosses, colleagues (and mix it up like that). Or a thank-you letter from a client detailing the excellent job you did. How about 2 or 3 case studies that detail a specific and relevant challenge you faced, the process you took to come upon the solution, and the results that solution created. Or perhaps a white paper on a timely topic that directly relates to a challenge, interest, subject matter or product your target company has a direct stake or interest in, showing that you understand the environment you’re trying to appeal to? Again, you’re providing deeper context to the skills you detail on your resume.
And there are SO many more creative ideas like that, that we can come up with to really give your Branding Portfolio more relevance and substance. Creativity and ingenuity can really be the game changers here. So brainstorm, toy around, have some fun, and get creative over the coming weeks about how you want to tell YOUR story.