Ignite Your Career – How to Set Your Career Goals and Land Your Dream Job

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Do you work in a job you hate? Well, you are not alone. Millions get up to work every day, trudge to work, count the hours until 5, and then repeat the whole process over again the next day. But there’s hope. Kris Holmes, author of the book Ignite Your Career!: Strategies and Tactics to Unleash Your Potential spoke with Hanna and Cari about how you can land your dream job and enjoy going to work.

Kris, why don’t you take a moment to tell us a little more about your educational and professional background?

I went undergrad to Tufts University. I got an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and I worked for a couple years in between my schooling. I then went into marketing consumer packaged goods for a decade at great companies like Johnson and Johnson, Kraft, Herman Miller, and a division of Nestle (Purina) before my company was sold. That is when my favorite recruiter wanted me to come work for them. That’s how I ended up shifting into recruiting over two decades ago. I have been with the O’Connell Group, which is a recruiting firm specializing in marketing and market research, ever since.

Why did you decide to write the book Ignite Your Career?

This has been a passion and in the back of my mind for over 15 years. The idea came to me when I started presenting to WashU Business School here in St. Louis and two other schools. Independent of how great the school was and how great their career center was, the students were still hungry for the knowledge. It really made me think that at these top tier schools, the hunger is there. What about the second and third tier schools, where they don’t have a strong career center. I really felt like the need was there. That, combined with my baby, going to college a couple of years ago, and working with a personal coach gave me the kick in the pants to do it. I also wanted to leave a legacy. I can only talk to so many people in a day, but I feel this information is so needed and relevant to the general marketplace.

You write about finding your strengths by using a service like StrengthsFinder and using the results to find the job that’s right for you. Wouldn’t you say that is limiting yourself to only a few jobs?

It could be, but it really shouldn’t be. The idea behind it, and I learned this 13 years into my working career, is when you find a job that leverages your strengths, not only are you successful, but the jobs are natural. It’s fun, it doesn’t feel like work, you’re not slugging every day. That’s the idea behind discovering your strengths and StrengthsFinder. They do a really good job of peeling back the onion to the core of what are your strengths, but then they don’t give you one idea of where you should take it. There are so many different ways you could take your strengths. In the book I talk about somebody whose child took it, and two avenues they could go on. One was a construction manager, like managing an entire construction site, and the other one was a surgeon. So very different, but both leverage the same strength. The beauty of it is, if you’re going to college or in college, it does help you narrow the field a little bit. That choices don’t have to be so overwhelming.

Figure Out What Your Strengths Are

Is it possible to change your strengths by going to school or taking classes or going back to college?

I think there are two different types of development areas. One is innate – it’s part of who you are. People who sometimes are incredibly gifted quantitatively, and are able to think through math problems or science without even blinking, but you put them into a big crowd and they’re not comfortable. They’re not great public speakers. Those are more innate. Then there’s a group of developmental areas that are what I call developmental. You haven’t had experience with them yet. You haven’t been trained. Those are very doable in terms of converting them from a development to a strength, by putting a plan in place to learn those skills.

What would you say to someone whose strengths may not land them in a high paying job? For example, customer service or the arts?

If you think about the arts and let’s take it to people who want to get into theater, or want to paint, and you eventually show at galleries. It takes time to win your audience and have enough value that you’re going to be able to make a career. That’s why so many of those folks may have a second job while they’re building that equity. Now the person in customer service, it may be that they do a really good job connecting and listening and working with people to diffuse situations. They may be working in customer service, but there may be a lot of other places that are higher paying that they can take that skill and that knowledge. It’s really doing your homework to figure out as you build your capabilities; where else might they take you.

You may need a second job while you build equity with your art

How important is it to have a good resume and what needs to be included in your resume?

I believe a resume is critical, especially as you’re trying to get a day in court, and especially as people are posting more online, which I am not a huge fan of. You’ve got to rise to the top, and you’ve got to get through artificial intelligence and the applicant tracking system. With that in mind, your resume should be clear and concise and compelling. If you think about a resume, it’s much like a newspaper. People look at the headlines first, and those are things like your education, companies you’ve worked at, and your titles. They will do a quick, one second glance at those to determine, do I want to go farther? Then if they decide, yes, I do, they’re going to be looking for demonstration of skills developed, as well as accomplishments. Accomplishments are critical because they say you did it, and you did it well.

How important is networking during your job search? And how does someone network now that everyone is practicing social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

I believe that networking is critical at all times in your career. That it is a real tool to build your contacts within your industry to potentially build your business, and to find mentors who can advise you on different careers. When you need it, you can activate it for your job search. There are numerous ways to network, but the first thing I’ll tell you is the closest one is friends and family. I think some people feel uncomfortable when they reach out to friends and family, because they feel like that’s wrong or it’s taking advantage of something inappropriate. I would tell you, that’s absolutely incorrect. What you want to do is reach out to people in your industry, who you knew growing up, and those people are engaged in your life. They’re excited. They want to help you succeed. They’re going to be really open to hearing from you.

The other thing is reach out to your high school, your college, or your grad school, and their alumni office. They will have names and information of people in your fields, and you have something in common with them. You both have your school in common. They’re going to be excited to hear from somebody from their high school or university and try to help them. I will tell you, my kids have tapped into their high school alumni network, and it’s resulted in summer internships. It’s really important to do that. If you are already in the workforce, you can network with people internally, not just your boss, but with people you admire at your company. Ask them and get advice from them. Then finally, everybody should be on LinkedIn, everybody should have a profile, and everybody should look at LinkedIn every single day.

Everyone should be on LinkedIn

When you see LinkedIn posts of people who are in your industry that you like, like them, and then comment and say something meaningful. As one of my past bosses used to say, “Move up, move intelligently”, and then message them and say, “Hey, I was so impressed by your post. I’m somebody junior in your industry. Might you be willing to chat with me and share your wisdom?” When you network it, can’t be about you. If you try to network and say, “Can you get me a job,” you come across as desperate and they’re not going to want to help you. But if you contact them and say, “Would you mind spending a few minutes sharing your wisdom, your journey,” then they are going to be interested in you as well. I think networking is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and people are more open to it. I’ve talked to more CEOs in the last six months, than probably I have in the last five years, because they are not locked down in meetings back to back. You don’t have their administrative person blocking the way. I would tell you network because it may be the venue in which you get your next job, if you do it well.

In your book, you mentioned the “learn phase” where someone should work for a larger company to learn as many skills as possible. Now that COVID-19 is decreasing the amount of internships and job opportunities available to college students, how would someone enter the learn phase?

The number of jobs out there and active internships has decreased during this time, and everybody knows it. What I’m telling people to do is be creative and figure out how to continue to grow. In the learn phase, everything is new, you’re building skills. It’s hard at first, and your goal is to build a really strong foundation for your career. For example, a neighborhood friend had an internship that imploded because of COVID. She started doing DoorDash, among other things. She and I talked about how else she could be productive, and she’s really into fashion. I mentioned that I was emptying my closet and getting rid of so much stuff. I was trying to be productive on the home front, as well as the Work front. Together, we came up with this idea of her starting a clothing drive, where she asked women to donate as they were cleaning out their closets. She would take the professional clothing, and she would get it in the hands of women in need, who were going to need this professional clothing coming out of COVID. While it was not paying, it is a great example on her resume of how she is proactive, creative, and a great project manager. She has great results. There are a number of different ways to continue to build your skills, and really strong skills, in that learning phase, even with the pandemic going on.

Community Service Can Build Your Skills

If you end up finding your dream job and get offered a position, should you accept it right away, or should you try to negotiate?

Coming out of college, negotiating is often hard, especially if you’re going to a big corporation with a training program where they bring in a big class, and they typically have set salaries. It doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate other things like start date or potentially a sign on bonus, if you have to pay money, because their healthcare doesn’t start soon enough, or a week off if you have a family vacation. I believe negotiation should always be win-win. If you go for win – lose, and push really hard on the money, you may get the money, but you’re going to ruffle feathers along the way, and you’re going to lose goodwill. That is not a good way to start at a new company. I tell people when you negotiate, you want to be excited when you receive the offer, ask them to send you information on benefits, understand the 401k match, talk to the hiring manager, and make sure you understand the job.

If they’re relocating, get that package first, look through all of that and see what questions you have. Get all of your informational questions answered, and then when you know you really want to go work at the company, then you go back to them to negotiate and you say, “I would love to join you guys. I’m so excited. If you can help me in these one or two areas.” You tell them, you might say overall compensation, then you need to have rationale as to why you’re looking for more on the compensation side. It may be I’m getting a raise next month, and with that it’s a lateral move. It may be the cost of living is 30% higher, and yet it’s only a 5% increase coming out of college. It may be the average starting salary at my school is X, and you guys are Y. You have to have rationale behind it.

You may have one other thing, for example, a week vacation that you already have planned. Again, you say, “I am happy to take it unpaid or paid. It’s really up to you, but this is the week travel is already set.” Then you end up saying, “I am really excited and I want to work with you guys to make this happen.” What you do by saying that is you put yourselves both on the same side of the table, and your requests are on the other side. Together, you’re trying to figure out how to make it work. Now they may or may not be able to do anything, but when you negotiate in this manner, you’re going to build your goodwill. They’re going to think you’re very professional. They’re going to love the rationale, because it shows that you’re analytical and they’re going to really like the analysis you’ve taken as you’ve tried to integrate.

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