How To Ask For Help With Your Job Search
Ever feel weird about asking someone for help with your job search? I encourage you to think differently about asking for help.
Maybe one of these things has happened to you:
- You are applying to a job at a company and you know someone who works there, but you feel a little funny asking them for a referral or for information that might help you out
- You are interested in a career field or a job and your neighbor works in that field, but you are hesitant to ask them about their work
- You know someone (not a BFF, but an acquaintance) who works at a company you would love to work for, but you just don’t feel right asking them for tips on getting a job there
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know if that path might work out for you!
I encourage you to make the ask for help
Let’s reframe this situation so you can see it with a different perspective.
Currently you are thinking of this situation in terms of asking for a favor that might burden someone else: You’re thinking about how they will have to take time out of their day to speak with you or fill out a referral form at work for you.
But that’s the wrong way to see it!
A good reframe of this situation could be that you are giving someone an opportunity to be a hero at work by introducing you – a great candidate for a job!
Trust me when I tell you that every team with an opening is looking for a smart, reliable, collaborative person to join their ranks. So give your contact at that company the opportunity to be the hero that introduces a terrific candidate to the team. It’s a win-win!
Referral Bonuses Are For Real
An even bigger win is a company that pays it’s employees referral bonuses: Your contact could get paid a nice little sum when you get hired! Companies love to hire people that come recommended to them by someone they already know and trust.
So don’t hesitate to make that ask for a referral: You might be doing someone a BIG favor that they can take all the way to the bank!
Here’s Another Reframe
You’re hesitant to ask someone to have coffee with you and tell you about their job or their company. You’re thinking about how busy they must be and how they probably don’t want to spend their free time talking about work.
Again, this is the wrong way to see it.
The reframe: People love to talk about themselves! And even more than that, it is flattering when someone approaches you because of your expertise in your field and asks to hear about your experience.
I am encouraging you to make the ask because you will learn a ton from that expert, and you are giving them the opportunity to shine and feel great about what they do.
Make the ask! Check out the Back to Business Guide To Conducting Informational Interviews for more detail on this.
It Feels Good To Help
I firmly believe that people want to help you, but you have to tell them how they can be helpful.
So the next time you catch yourself hesitating to ask for help with your job search, I want you to reframe that situation and see it from the perspective of you giving them the opportunity to be helpful.
One Final Caveat
If you are reaching out on LinkedIn to ask people to chat with you about their job or to ask for a referral, you will not get a 100% response rate.
Don’t let those non-responders slow you down or convince you that asking for help isn’t the right path. Stay the course and find someone else to reach out to for help with your job search.
Moms, Learn from These Lessons In Restarting Your Career
Today I want to share 4 big lessons in restarting a career that I’ve learned over the past 8 years from my own personal experience of returning to work after a career break and that of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to and coached through this transition. The job market of 2023 is challenging, so let’s learn all we can from people who have restarted their careers before us.
Restarting your career can be done, but it often takes longer than you think it should
The big take-away here is “it can be done.” I promise, it can. There are lots of women out there who have taken career breaks and then resumed their careers. And while we both know that you’re amazing and highly qualified for that awesome job, job search is called a “process” for a reason. It can move slowly, and it often involves trial-and-error that can lead to changing directions. Be flexible and be prepared for a long process. Keep a journal along the way so you can capture all that you’re learning about yourself and the companies and people you encounter. There is nothing wasted in this process, you can use almost every experience to get better. Even the frustrating ones!
You control much of the process as you restart your career
Keep this in mind, especially on the days when if feels like you’re not making progress. You control how much time you put in on your job search, what your resume looks like, how prepared you are for an interview, the types of jobs you apply for, how good your cover letter is and how you present yourself to potential employers, among other things.
You do not control a hiring manager’s decisions. Importantly, you also control your reaction after you receive bad news (or no news, as is often the case) while you are job-searching. Focus on what you can control and do your very best with those things. Invest in yourself. Take a class to keep your credentials fresh. Re-activate your network by reaching out to former colleagues. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
You don’t pick up where you left off when you restart your career
I’ve heard the following from so many women: “I took a job making a lot less than I used to but it was worth it just to get my foot in the door.” Ladies, all you need is a place to start, or re-start. When it presents itself, take it and run with it.
Just yesterday I received this email:
“ I attended your first Back to Business Conference and it gave me hope I could return to the corporate world after taking 16 yrs off to raise 4 children.
Thanks to networking, I was able to relaunch my career nearly 3.5 years ago. There were definitely challenges returning… I basically started back at entry level working with recent college grads and accepted a salary significantly less than I made in 2000! But now, the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.”
I love this! My favorite part is: “the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.” It’s almost magic how recent work experience practically erases the impact of a career break on your resume. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that step.
Get out from behind your computer to make it happen
Let me guess: You’ve been applying for jobs online, diligently attaching your resume and cover letter to job applications. Stop doing that! Your time is much better spent connecting personally with people who do what you want to do or who work at companies you’d like to work for.
You shouldn’t stop applying altogether, but restarting your career requires a balanced job search plan that includes as much person-to-person talking and meeting as you can schedule.
The online job application is often a black hole, while meeting in person with another human is not. Tell the people you meet with exactly what you’re looking for so they know how to help you.
To wrap up, remember to be patient and stay positive when returning to work takes longer than you expected, focus on what you can control, take a long-term view and don’t worry about returning to work at a lower level or salary than you previously had. And finally, focus your job-search efforts on making personal connections. Here’s a blog on networking as you restart your career.
You’ve got this – I believe in you!
Keep Track of Your Career Break Activities
While you are on a career break, it’s critical that you keep a list of things you’re doing that will help you make the case that you are a better employee because of your break. Let’s talk about tracking your career break activities and what you can do with that information.
Quick! Grab a pen and write down 5 things you’ve done while out of the paid workforce that a future employer might be interested in. These are your career break activities.
Need help? Here are some ideas to jumpstart your list:
-took an online course (LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, etc.)
-kept up a professional certification
-developed a new skill (what was it and how did you develop it?)
-took a course at a community college, a bootcamp, or anywhere
-managed a project at your kids’ school, your church, or a non-profit
-joined an industry association and attended their meetings or continuing education courses
-volunteered for a political campaign supporting a cause or a candidate that you believed in
-taught something (such as faith formation classes at your place of worship)
-started a group to get people with common interests connected
-joined a book club and participated in monthly discussions
-served on your homeowners association
-organized social events for an organization/school/church/neighborhood you are connected to
-took on gig or project work
-attended a conference that inspired you, taught you something, or kept you in touch with your profession or network
Why are career break activities important?
For many reasons! For starters, as you update your resume you’ll draw on this list to fill the gap in your employment history. It’s also important because when you get to the interview stage of your job search, you will be asked what you did while you were out of the paid workforce. It will be up to you to tell a compelling story that convinces employers that you are a constant learner with a growth mindset.
This week I met with a recruiter at a great local company and we talked about hiring women (and men!) who are returning to work after a career break. She’s interviewed lots of career relaunchers: The ones who rose to the top are those that spoke about their time out of the workforce as a time of growth and convinced her that they were busy using skills that transfer well to the workplace.
For a comprehensive look at how this fits into your job search plan, check out Back to Business’s Ultimate Guide To Returning To Work After A Career Break.
My advice to you: Keep track of all the things you do while on a career break
Start a google doc or a page in your journal to list every project and volunteer post you take on along with the skills you used and the outcome of the project. Don’t forget the outcome! If you’re ready to return to work and you haven’t been keeping track, no worries! Start your list now and spend the next few days adding to the list as you remember what’s been keeping you so busy all this time.
What if my list stinks? 🙂
OK, say you start your list and you decide it’s not impressive. Start doing list-building activities today by finding a course to enroll in, a group to join or a volunteer activity that will help you grow. Here’s a link to my blog about resources for job seekers that contains some ideas for you. I repeat, start today!
Being home with kids is a full-time job!
Yet so many of you manage to do this well in addition to volunteering, managing projects and improving yourselves on a daily basis. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I always marveled at how that title really missed the mark: I was never home! Between all the activities my children and I got involved in, I was constantly on-the-go.
I even took a fencing class with one of my children, which let me to include “Beginning Fencer” under the Interests section at the bottom of my resume. I didn’t exactly learn practical job skills in the fencing class, but it was a great conversation starter! Also, it gave me the opportunity to talk about how my career break allowed me to explore some unique activities that expanded my mind and kept me physically fit.
So start that list and keep adding to it as you craft your story around how you used your career break to get better. Don’t forget to tell future employers how that career break time will benefit them too – it made you who you are today!
How Do Moms Returning To Work Get Started?
Let’s Get Started!
I get this question a lot from moms who want to return to work after a career break. Some of them are unsure of how to get started because they’re planning to return to a career that’s different from the one they left. Some just don’t know yet what kind of work they want to do. Others know, but need a big dose of encouragement before taking the first step.
If encouragement is what you need, you’re not alone. This is a big transition we’re talking about and you’re going to need a healthy dose of self-confidence to pull this off. But don’t worry, because you’ve got that. You may need to remind yourself occasionally, but you’ve got it and I believe in you. So, let’s get started.
Moms, Make a Plan To Return To Work
To get started, we’re going to make a plan. And write it down.
I’ve already started this for you – it’s called the Back to Business Return to Work Checklist.
It’s long, I know. So let me give you just one thing to work on today: Think about what you want to do for work.
Think big. Don’t limit yourself to traditional occupations. The world is a big place and people make a living doing all kinds of things.
Moms Returning To Work Should Think Really Big!
And after you think about each of these things, take the time to write them down. Do it. The difference between thinking about something and writing it down is often the difference between getting something done or not getting it done. Let’s get this done!
Here are some things to consider (and then write down):
- What are the accomplishments that make you most proud when you look back on your life? Don’t limit yourself to accomplishments made while at work. I know you’ve accomplished a lot, so give yourself credit for everything you’ve done. This is no time to be modest. You’re awesome and we all know it. Now, what are your biggest accomplishments?
- What skills and strengths do you possess that could be clues to finding work in a field that you will enjoy? Put another way – where are your natural talents? Think seriously about what these are and let’s find a way to get you using these on a regular basis in a job you’ll love. Ask a friend if you need help answering this. Others often see things in us that we don’t recognize in ourselves.
- Think about your motivation for returning to work. Is it financial? Do you miss using your adult brain and interacting with people your own age? Do you have time on your hands now that your kids are getting older that you want to do something meaningful with? Understanding your motivation will help you determine if that job offer that comes your way is the right one for you.
- And finally, let go of the idea that you have to be pursuing your passion. Grab hold instead of the idea that you will find what you love, get good at it, and develop a passion through hard work and positive feedback. It can be paralyzing to think that you have to know what your passion is before you can get started looking for a job. I think the passion part kicks in once you’ve found the right thing and realize that you’re really good at it – not before you start looking.
Learn From Other Moms Who Have Returned To Work
You are not the first person to make this transition back to work after a career break. Here’s an article that shares lessons from other moms who have returned to work.
So let’s get started on our plan to return to work….You’ll find more tips here
Reasons to Return To Work After A Career Break
There are so many reasons why returning to work after a career break can be a positive experience for you, your children, and your spouse.
Independence. Role Modeling. Responsibility. Additional Income.
These are just a few reasons why returning to work can be good for you and your family. Let’s break this down:
Your kids will learn Independence
Our job as parents is to raise children who will be happy and productive members of society. At the most basic level, they have to be able to support themselves, cook for themselves and do their own laundry if this is ever going to happen. When mom returns to work, a shift occurs in the household and other people pick up more responsibility for the things that we used to do.
This shouldn’t be a burden on our children, it’s an opportunity to develop the life skills that they need. Better that they learn them while you’re around to provide guidance than when they’re out on their own and don’t have you to redirect if necessary.
So go ahead, post directions for using the washer and dryer in the laundry room and let your children have at it! It’s possible to raise successful kids without over-parenting.
You will role model having a balanced life for your kids
You’ve role modeled good parenting, problem solving and many other positive qualities all these years. As a job seeker, you have an opportunity to model successfully navigating a process that your children will one day go through. Let them see you put in the hard work, ask for help when necessary, pursue a goal and deal with the inevitable rejection that is part of the job search process. Talk to your family about what you’re doing so they can learn from you and support you.
Your return to work will give your kids more responsibility at home
This goes along with the independence we talked about above. Don’t just hope your children will step up and help out when you return to work – make it their responsibility to carry part of the weight. They’ll feel good about contributing (even if they don’t say so). And they’ll know that being part of a family has both benefits and obligations. Their future spouses will thank you!
Return to work to earn additional income for your family
Know what college costs these days? Yikes! Even if your brilliant children will earn scholarships and you don’t need the income to feed your family, I promise you’ll feel good earning your own paycheck. For some of you, going back to work isn’t an option – it’s a financial necessity.
And some of you may be facing life changes that require you to return to work, such as a recent divorce. Aside from the necessity of earning, returning to work can help you find new meaning with how you are spending your time and give you the opportunity to develop new skills.
So if you are looking to return to work – enjoy this! Look into the future and imagine yourself with a whole new set of competencies, then make a plan for getting there. Here’s some help with taking those first steps.
And if you’re not certain if you’re ready to return to work, check out our blog on How To Know If You’re Ready to Return To Work.
Also be sure to check out the Back to Business Ultimate Guide to Returning To Work After A Career Break.
Informational Interviews Can Accelerate Your Job Search
You’ve heard of the informational interview, and you may have thought these were just for kids looking for their first job out of college. Think again!
Informational interviews are an essential component of your job search, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while. An informational interview is when you have an informal conversation with someone who works in a field you’re interested in or at a company you’re interested in.
I’m going to walk you through how to conduct a successful face-to-face informational interview from start to finish. Here is a Quick Glance Graphic of an informational interview that will also be helpful.
Clarify Your Goals
A good informational interview starts with clear goals in mind.
3 Goals to keep in mind when doing an informational interview:
1 Learn about your interviewer’s job, company and industry.
This information will help you target your job search and perform better in interviews.
2 Enlist your interviewer as an advocate.
When you show up for the interview looking sharp, meticulously prepared and wanting to share information, your interviewer is going to want to mention your name in their next conversation with their HR resource or colleagues who have job openings.
3 Offer knowledge and contacts that will benefit your interviewer.
Informational interviewing isn’t all about learning – if done correctly it’s also about teaching. You want to have some knowledge that you can offer to your interviewer that will benefit them. It’s a two-way street.
Your Game Plan
My formula for a winning informational interview
Step 1: Do your research
You must be knowledgeable about the industry and role you are going to talk to people about. Although you’re there to gather information, researching in advance will give you context for what you’re going to learn and enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation. Good sources for research: Local business news to learn who’s hiring and who’s laying off locally, online job postings from Indeed or Glassdoor to learn about the skills required in the industry and company websites and LinkedIn pages.
Step 2: Pick your target
I recommend starting with an easy target to get warmed up – ask your neighbor, a friend or a friend’s spouse if they’d meet you for coffee. Keep your ask simple and casual – it’s fine to do it via email. Here’s an example:
I know you’ve been at Lenovo for a few years and had a lot of success there. I’m interested in returning to tech product marketing. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. Would you have time to meet next week? Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Once you have a few of these meetings under your belt, you will have the confidence and contacts to move on to hiring managers and recruiters – actual decision-makers in the hiring process. Here’s what an ask can sound like as you approach these higher-value targets:
Karen Smith suggested I contact you to talk about your role at Cisco. I’m a former marketing manager with 5 years of experience in the tech industry and I’m currently looking for a new opportunity. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. I’ve done quite a bit of research on cloud computing and would love to get your perspective on where the industry is headed. Would you have time to meet next week for a cup of coffee? If a phone call is more convenient, I’d really appreciate your time and be happy to work around your schedule. Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Step 3: Plan an agenda for your informational interview
An agenda will help keep your interview moving along and productive. You requested the meeting, so you should drive it. Respect your interviewer’s calendar and stick to the agreed-upon time limit. You may want to position yourself where you can see a clock without being distracted or place your phone (on silent) on the table so you can glance at it occasionally to keep on track.
Download a Sample Agenda for a 30-Minute Interview Here
Step 4: Execute the Plan: Learn, Share and Get Referrals
Buy the coffee and start the conversation off on a friendly note by thanking them for their time. Then give your elevator pitch, learn about their industry and job and share with them what you know from your research. Ask to be referred to others who are open to a conversation and might have wisdom to share about your intended field.
Step 5: Follow up
After they depart, take a few minutes and jot down everything they told you that might be useful. Compose a thank you email – keep it brief and mention any next steps either of you agreed to take (“I look forward to having you introduce me via email to your friend Bob”). Then look up your interview partner on LinkedIn and send them a personalized invitation to connect if you haven’t already done so.
After you connect with Bob and have a conversation, the savviest networkers will email back to the person who connected you to say “Thanks for this introduction. I spoke with Bob this morning and he was extremely helpful, just as you said he’d be. I really appreciate your efforts.” Everyone likes to think of themselves as a connector of people and you just confirmed with someone that they are exactly that.
Boom. Done. Network grown. Industry knowledge gained. Advocate secured. Pat yourself on the back and then find three more people to engage in informational interviews this week. You didn’t think I was going to let you off that easy, did you?