Career Breaks and The Comeback

Career breaks and the comeback

Career breaks occur for all sorts of reasons.  Some may choose to take a step back in favor of dedicated family time.  Others come by a career break following redundancy in the company.  Perhaps you’ve decided to enjoy different experiences, such as traveling or to rediscover your interests. Whatever the reasoning, here are 6 tips on navigating career breaks and the comeback.

Whatever motives got you there, the time may come when you decide to jump back onto the career ladder.

Getting a job can be daunting enough, but it can be even more unnerving once you’ve taken a break from work. You may feel anxious about starting a new job or you may worry that your skills are a little rusty because a lot has changed since you’ve been away from the workplace.

If you feel you’re in this situation, below are six effective tips to help increase your chances of getting hired following a career break.

Six Tips to The Comeback

1. Assess your situation

Many people make the mistake of jumping straight back into the first job they can find. Firstly, if you’re not sure about a job, the interviewer may sense your uncertainty and will be unlikely to take you further in the hiring process.

Secondly, if you secure a job that isn’t suitable for you, you could even find yourself job hopping frequently before you find the right one. It’s therefore important to take some time to assess your situation first and decide what you want to do. Open your mind and remember, what was right for you before your career break, may not be what the best fit is for you now.

2. Update your resume with your career break.

It’s common for a candidate to believe that a gap in their resume will ruin their career.

However, instead of seeing it as a handicap, see it as something positive that can differentiate you from other candidates. If you haven’t been working for a long period of time, don’t hide it. A break can provide lots of benefits that can make you just as, if not more hireable, even if it’s just been a chance for you to take a step back and re-evaluate your future career.

Add all the new skills you may have developed during your break, and explain how these can relate to the job you’re now applying for. 

For example:

Did you take a diploma course specializing in new technology?

Did you do volunteer work and develop your leadership skills, which will help you to lead a team more effectively? 

Or perhaps traveling the world helped to give you a much-needed confidence boost?

3. Network

When looking for your first job after a career break, don’t forget to use your existing connections. Spend some time reaching out to your previous colleagues, clients, friends, and family. Let them know that you’re seeking a new position.

They may have the perfect job for you or be able to point you in the right direction. This is also a good opportunity to prepare any potential references that could support your new job applications.

4. Be prepared for your interview

Before you attend your first interview, make sure you’re prepared to answer questions about your career break. You may be asked why you have a career gap and what you did with your time. Honesty is the first step. Make it clear what you did during your break and why you decided it was the right thing for you to do.

You could tailor your answers to demonstrate how your break will benefit the role you are now applying for. Think critically about some of the concerns an interviewer may have. They may wonder whether you’re ready to get back on the career ladder for example. In this case, explain why you have decided to re-join the workforce, whilst emphasizing your passion, drive, and focus.

5. Look for career returner programs

As well as using job boards to search for jobs, research the various career returner programs that may be available. Deloitte is just one example of an organization that runs this kind of scheme. Their return to work program lasts for 20 weeks and is aimed at men and women who have taken a career break. Whether the break has been for family or other reasons, the scheme provides tailored support and experience to help you readjust to being back at work.

JP Morgan is another business offering a similar scheme. Their global ReEntry Program provides networking and mentorship opportunities to senior executives who are looking to re-join corporate life after taking a career break.

6. Be confident

Whether you’ve been away from work for 12 months or 2 years, getting back into the hiring pool can be nerve-racking. However, the most important thing is that you remain confident in your abilities.

Without confidence, you can easily undervalue what you can offer an employer. Write down your skills and strengths on a piece of paper. Refer to this during your job search, to help give you a boost of energy.

If you’re uncertain, ask friends and family to share their feedback on where your strengths lie. They may offer some suggestions that you had not previously considered.

If you’re concerned that your skills are no longer up-to-date, take a refresher course. Make sure you do your research too. Look at the employer’s website and social media channels.

You should also look at their competitors, read the latest industry news and research industry trends. Knowing you have all the information you need, will help you to be much more confident, especially during interviews.

Everyone has their own career path

Taking a career break is more common than you may think, despite the stigma that is sometimes attached behind how potential candidates will fill that void. Everyone has different career ladders they climb at their own pace depending on what their goals are in life.

So if you’re feeling apprehensive about jumping back into the workforce after a career break, remember these tips to put you on the right path with renewed confidence.

Need to get ready for job search success?  Our team at PWU is here to help.

We offer Resume updates, Cover Letters, LinkedIn Optimization, Recruiter Services, and Professional Career Coaching.

Book a free 15-min consult here https://calendly.com/powerwritersusa-ca

Poor Leadership and Employee Stress

poor leadership and mental health

Lately, we’ve discussed the topic of improving executive leadership and executive presence.  In contrast, let’s take a look at the other side of these skills and how poor leadership and employee stress are linked. Certainly, it is without question that the two go hand in hand.

Defining Expectations.

As a starting point, the management staff of any business or organization is responsible for setting priorities for the staff. These priorities define expectations and allow the entire team to run smoothly.

If management does not fulfill these responsibilities or is doing a poor job, employee stress is going to increase.

What Employees Seek.

When it comes to organization, the human mind is actually a very simple machine to operate. In practice, the mind loves to compartmentalize situations.

Therefore, employees perform best when duties and responsibilities are clearly defined. Defining duties and responsibilities allow the mind to further divide tasks into attainable daily, weekly, and monthly goals.  

Which, as a result, works perfectly in-line with larger goals put forth by management.  

Bite-sized goals. Now that’s the stuff that motivates employees!

Identifying Mental Health Priorities.

Furthermore, to expand the message of how poor leadership and employee stress are entwined, we found this perfect bullet list of risk definitions from the World Health Organization.

Risks to mental health include:

  • inadequate health and safety policies;
  • poor communication and management practices;
  • limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
  • low levels of support for employees;
  • inflexible working hours; and
  • unclear tasks or organizational objectives.

Additionally, The WTO released an information sheet in 2019 that speaks directly to mental health in the workplace.  

“Mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health and well-being strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation. Key to success is involving stakeholders and staff at all levels when providing protection, promotion and support interventions and when monitoring their effectiveness. “

Setting Workplace Priorities.

Altogether, leaders are responsible for deciding the team direction. Leaders choose the project focus, and how fast it needs to be done. Unfortunately, some managers project management skills are weak. This throws a team into chaos.

As a rule, the best management goals are ones that are quantifiable. Stick to concrete numbers or measurable benchmarks.

For example, a good goal for a sales department is to increase sales by 15 percent over the next quarter. A poor and vague goal is to “do a good job.”

With this in mind, clear standards of performance allow employees to measure their individual success at work. As a result, a lack of clear standards causes morale to suffer. Which, in turn, makes it very difficult for an employee to gain a sense of fulfillment.

Ultimately, everyone wants to feel like they can ask for a raise, pursue a promotion, and, generally, feel successful at their job.  Indeed, we all want to achieve.

Mental Health Awareness.

What’s inspiring is the framework being established as the norm when it comes to employee stress and the nature of workplace mental health.

Over the years, we’ve seen a rise in corporate efforts that support a positive and healthy work environment for all team members. These days, it’s not uncommon for companies to have a functioning wellness program.

Most recently, some organizations are adopting the title role of Chief Wellness Officer. A role entirely dedicated to navigating employee stress. For example the facilitation of training seminars, leadership coaching, employee support sessions, and programmed stress-reducing retreats.

Furthermore, institutions such as Stanford University School of Medicine offer Chief Wellness Officer courses. While initially, these targetted only healthcare professionals, they are fast becoming desirable by those in high-level leadership roles.

In the case of Standford’s course, registration is formatted as a one-week intensive. Designed to “help participants cultivate expertise in the principles and applications that contribute to physician well-being.”

With learning objectives as follows: 

  • Leadership skills to spearhead the organization’s physician wellness efforts.
  • Knowledge and hands-on experience in developing a customized strategic plan.
  • Expertise in the principles and applications contributed to physician well-being. Including the development of an organizational culture to foster engagement and professional fulfillment.

As leaders who aim to create optimal work environments, our focus points are well defined to encourage healthy and vibrant mental health across our teams.

The Road to Executive Level Leadership

The road to executive leadership

With there being a lot fewer executive positions than mid-level management roles, the road to executive leadership is highly competitive. Therefore, it’s abundantly more difficult to climb to this next rung of the corporate ladder. 

However, with the right attitude, work ethic and connections, you can prove your value and earn that coveted executive title and responsibility.

Understand And Embody ‘Executive Presence’

It seems as though the concept and practices of executive presence have tremendously increased in value over the years.  Last week we dove deep into what EP really is and found that, at the roots, executive presence is the powerful ability to inspire confidence.

Executive presence includes first impressions of appearance, interpersonal communication skills, and body language.  EP consists of effective listening, effectively maneuvering through office politics and exuding authentic charisma. 

Technical skills might have landed the job, but an executive presence moves a manager up. 

 Develop Your Strategic Thinking Skills

Lower levels of leadership focus on the day-to-day execution of the strategy. Executive levels focus on developing a broader view of the organization.

The development of strategic thinking allows you to become aware of the big picture.  Develop more skills in seeing the interconnections between the operating systems and long game strategy. Lean into thinking more strategically and from a systems perspective.

Maximize your Influence.

Given that great leadership is about influence, and not authority, you have to learn how to maximize your influence. Your ability to influence others is impacted by how you are perceived. Therefore, you have to figure out how to increase the perception of your value. The single best way to do that is to solve important problems for influential executives. 

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Network with the Entire Team

To lead at the executive level requires comfort outside of usual routines.  It’s relatively easy to limit our office interactions to those inside our sphere of expertise, however, to build confidence as a leader you’ll want to connect with the entire team.  Start expanding your tribe outside your core area.

Network with people from different parts of your organization in order to learn different business functions or program areas.

Build your reputation outside your comfort zone.  This way if/when opportunities open for advancement, decision-makers already know your name, and know it well.

Work With A Leadership Development Coach

As professional athletes know well, a trusted coach can soften the learning curve dramatically. A coach will guide you to clearly see your strengths, blind spots, and competencies. They will also show you how to identify the people and roles that will enable you to thrive.

Some coaches are focused on skill development, others are sounding boards. Find a coach who can do both and make the investment. 

Build Self-Awareness For Growth

This is a big one. It can also be the toughest one to chew on. Building greater self-awareness about one’s leadership presence and effectiveness is a key piece to preparing for an executive-level position. If possible, participate in a 360-degree feedback process.

This process can uncover your leadership strengths to build upon, as well as, identify others’ perceptions of your efficacy.  Disparities included.

Be Clear in Your Goals.

If you have a clear goal for your career, let it be known. Ask your immediate supervisor to craft a skill plan for you on exactly what you need to do to get to the level you want. Then start executing. It will take a combination of building relationships, professional training, results you’ve achieved, and lots and lots of emotional intelligence. If you really are in it for the long haul, let it be known.

Develop Executive Courage

It’s usually the tough decisions that move the needle. Therefore, executive courage around action, communication and trust is a critical leadership skill. Like any muscle, the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. You cultivate executive courage by trying new strategies (even if some fail), engaging in crucial conversations and confronting challenging situations that trigger discomfort.

Manage Up

Managing up is a common challenge for emerging leaders. It’s important to manage your own boss, as well as extended relationships with your boss’ boss, board members, C-level executives, etc. These relationships directly correlate with the level of influence you have. Knowing what to communicate, when and with whom, will increase the visibility of your impact as a leader. 

Think About What The Company Needs

The end result, on the road to executive leadership, you want to build your business acumen. By showing you can make good judgments and quick decisions, you show preparedness toward the next step in career growth.

An executive is accountable at a whole new level. If a manager wants to move up, they need to think about what the company needs. Have the team you manage to be outstanding. Be known as someone who helps other people succeed. Be someone whose word is impeccable.

What Executive Presence Really Is

Executive Presence

In 2014, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and her team huddled over an extensive collection of data drawn from 14 sectors of corporate America. The goal was to identify, at the corporate level, what Executive Presence really is and why we need it.  

What the data reflected was that Executive Presence is not so much about performance. It’s not about what you do when ‘delivering the goods’ or ‘hitting the numbers’.  It’s about what you signal. 

Executive Presence or EP. What is it and where do I get some?

In the simplest terms, executive presence is about the ability to inspire confidence. It includes first impressions of appearance, interpersonal communication skills, and body language.  Executive presence consists of effective listening, effectively maneuvering through office politics and exuding authentic charisma. 

As a leader, you inspire confidence by showing that you are capable and reliable. Which is critical to being trustworthy of supporters.  By contrast, inspiring confidence with your own superiors shows that you have the potential for greater achievements in career growth.

The 3 Main Pillars of Executive Presence

As part of the 2014 study, the group singled out 3 main traits associated with EP.

#1. Gravitas

Gravitas is the projection of credibility and assertiveness with the confidence to convey a clear message.  In comparison, gravitas is the way of signaling impact in a compelling manner.

As an example, the study asked senior leaders who they saw as career role models.  Significantly, the #1 role model identified was Nelson Mandala.  A man that earned his placement through sincerity and understanding the power of symbolism.  Nelson Mandala had gravitas in spades and showed it by routinely connecting at a very human level.

#2. Communication

Communication includes the ability to read an audience. To assess a complex situation and act accordingly. This is the ability to command a room. It’s what you say, when you say it, how you say it, and to whom you say it. Communication is also portrayed through the masterful use of body language and concise speaking skills.

These skills combined show you’re able to communicate the authority of a leader.

#3. Appearance

While the data showed appearance to be the smaller piece of the puzzle, it is still worth significant attention. Appearance is commonly referred to as “looking the part.”

By taking the time to look and feel your best, it shows consideration and respect toward the people you interact with. Appearance also includes dressing appropriately for the environment and occasion which in a corporate setting carries high-level importance.

Why You Need Executive Presence

Ultimately, executive presence determines whether you gain access to opportunity.

There’s a saying in leadership, “All the important decisions about you will be made when you’re not in the room.” It’s true. In particular, whether it’s a decision about an important opportunity, a promotion to a critical role or an assignment to a high-visibility project, it’s likely that you won’t be in the room.

Therefore, the opportunities you gain access to depend on the confidence you’ve already inspired in the decision-makers. Additionally, the more significant the opportunity, the more important executive presence becomes.

How To Build Your Executive Presence

As with any other skill, some people are naturally more gifted at executive presence than others. That being said, everyone can improve their EP with focus and practice.

Cultivate a foundation of quiet confidence.

At its core, executive presence is about confidence, yet “the more confidence the better” isn’t always the way. Presence is confidence without arrogance.

Sadly, confidence is often confused with cockiness however, the truly “present” executive is one who doesn’t need to trumpet his achievements. Instead, he or she has an internal resolve driven by a solid sense of self-worth. As a result, they have learned healthy, effective ways of dealing with challenges and relationships.

Key points to focus on while developing your own executive presence:

  • Learn to operate effectively under stress.
  • Become an excellent listener. 
  • Build your communication skills.
  • Understand how others experience you.
  • Have a vision, and articulate it well.

Most importantly, find your voice as an executive.

Identify your assets and leverage them to the max. Some people are naturally gregarious and can fill a room with their personality. Others rely on their listening ability, sense of timing, and ability to maintain their composure when others get emotional.

In an increasingly diverse world, executive presence will look very different from one executive to another. Just keep building the confidence of others that can step you up as a leader if and when times get tough.

Why Resumes Must Be ATS Compatible

why resumes must be ats friendly

To have the best results on your job search, we took a look into why resumes must be ATS compatible. Applicant Tracking Systems, you’ve heard of them, probably even had a resume (or many) scanned by them.

While the task of job searching has changed dramatically over the years, fortune now favors the strategized resume and digital communication channels.

OLD WAYS: A company posts an ad and receives 100 applicants. 

HR then spends an entire day sorting through all these resumes to select a handful of potential interviewees.

NEW WAYS: A company posts an ad and receives 100 applicants. 

Files are auto-loaded into ATS software. Then scanned and sorted according to keywords, experience, and education. Depending on the company, resumes deemed fit for interview are then forwarded either directly to HR Departments or Corporate Recruiters.

All This Before The Document Is Ever Seen By Human Eyes.

The system itself operates in a hierarchy. High ranks are awarded to resumes that check the most automated boxes. This means that no matter how qualified you are if your resume is not ATS friendly, it is very likely you will never be invited to discuss your qualifications in an interview.

How to play the game.

First off, the overall use of Applicant Tracking Systems has increased dramatically in the last few years. According to Zipjobs, 95% of large companies use ATS for all hiring purposes. And if you’re applying within a mid-sized company, you’re looking at a 50/50 chance that your resume will make an ATS connection.

large and mid size companies use applicant tracking systems

Corporate Recruiters.

Recruiters use applicant tracking systems as a tool to stay organized and speed up their placements. In fact, once again referring to ZipJob, some stats show up to 75% of recruiters are using applicant tracking software. Of that percentage, 94% believe the software improves their hiring efficiencies.

All Credentials Must Be In a Machine-Readable Format.

A few resume focus points are listed below:

  • Keyword Usage
  • Basic Formats
  • File Type
  • Organized Sections
  • Professional Font
  • Spelling and Grammer
  • Correct File Name

If you’re looking for more specific ATS resume tips, check out our LinkedIn article on 8 Tips To Beat Applicant Tracking Systems.

Want the big picture?

Take a look at these stats! This graphic really shows what your resume is up against when you apply for a job.

If all this overwhelms you…

Remember, you can always hire a professional. Whether you’re needing a Resume update, Cover Letter, Recruitment Services or LinkedIn Profile Optimization, our team at PWU has what you need. Feel free to connect if you have any questions.

Follow the link for a free resume review and consultation. https://calendly.com/powerwritersusa-ca

Shifting Careers Between Freelance and Corporate

shifting careers corporate freelance

We’ve recently been looking at the double lane highway of shifting careers between freelance and corporate life.  From the perspective of professional resume writers, we’ve definitely seen equal movement between these 2 career directions.

Without question, transitioning from life at a corporate firm to working freelance is a HUGE life change. The greatest technique is in all the individual action steps taken to create a strong outcome. Successes certainly live in the daily grind.

Write a plan of action.

This helps maintain accountability and keep you on track.

If you’re not entirely familiar with the details of a business plan, that’s perfectly fine.  Think of your plan like a map. Begin with goal setting. Outline short-term and long-term goals and place them into a loose chronological order, the specific dates matter less than the actual structure.

Don’t burn any bridges.

Although it’s tempting to skip gleefully out of the door on your last day in the office telling everybody how great your new life is going to be, don’t.  You never know when you might need these contacts again, not to mention references from your employer. Leaving with a recommendation is never a bad outcome. 

Friendly reminder: The world is a very small place. and you never know where your future clients may be. 

Network.

This may sound dramatic but, ultimately you need to make sure EVERYONE knows you are going freelance: ex-colleagues, friends, old classmates, that neighbor with a beard.  Everyone.  Remember, getting work once you go freelance can take longer than imagined so build-up a client base in all ways possible.

Work is much more likely to come through known contacts. That’s just the nature of humans in general. We work with who we know and trust.

Network as much as possible, both in person and on social media.

Speak to friends or acquaintances who have made the leap to freelancing. These people are valuable resources for advice not just on those first few weeks starting out, but for the long haul.

Essentially freelancing is building your personal brand. 

This is a fact. Fortunately, there is ample information out there on the specifics of personal branding.  Quickprout has a nice guide that summarizes the process giving actionable items that help map the route. A quick Google tour will land you in front of some seriously good content for designing and managing your own personal brand.

Utilize social media.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all useful tools. Additionally, if your LinkedIn profile isn’t yet optimized, get it there.  Our team is highly skilled at LinkedIn optimizations that show clients in their best light possible.  This is mandatory in today’s workforce.

Optimize linkedin profile

94% of recruiters are searching for talent on LinkedIn. Use this tool.

Lastly, consider starting a blog. Yes, they are timely but well-designed search engine optimized (SEO) blogs are a great way to drive attention towards your website. This, in turn, builds an audience and potential client base.

Don’t be shy about putting your business out there.

Now, if you find yourself on the highway heading back to corporate structures then the strategy is dramatically different. At this point, your resume must highlight all the unique skills acquired as a freelancer plus reflect positively on the actual time away from the workforce.

As always Power Writers USA is here to help guide you through the steps. Resume Writing, Cover Letters, LinkedIn Profile Optimization and Recruiter Resume Distribution are all available from our team at PWU. Connect with us for a free consultation and resume review!

Unquestionably, unless you are a writing wizard, it’s in your best interest to hire a professional resume writer now.  Freelance skills are diverse and translating all the detailed specifics to corporate necessity is key to your resume making it through ATS and recruiter processes.