How You Can Overcome Barriers to Career Success

You might know someone who has seemingly coasted to career success while encountering few, if any, barriers. Maybe you’ve envied them for having it come so easily.

Don’t! First, it might not have been as easy for them as it looked to you. The barriers to career success they encountered might not have been visible or easy to identify. Second, their situation isn’t yours. You probably bring different qualities, experiences, and expectations to the mix. A host of factors could influence what you run up against.

Women’s Barriers to Career Success–What’s Different

This is not intended as a tirade against men in business! It does, however, recognize the need to acknowledge that women have had–and continue to have–added levels of difficulty in their pursuit of career success…because they are female.

Add to the gender-related issue by including ethnic differences, and you’ve just compounded the difficulty.

In such cases, no career path is likely to be easy.

If you want to read an eye-opening article on this subject, try “4 Ways Women Can Break Barriers by Breaking the Rules,” by Francesca Gino, published by Harvard Business Review. What I particularly liked about Gino’s article–beyond the great real-life examples–was the short list of no-nonsense actions women can take. Briefly, these are:

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Is Your Resume a Scam Victim?

Predators come in all shapes and sizes. One of the types that aggravates me and many of my professional resume-writing colleagues is online services that tell job seekers something flatly untrue about their resume. The impression those services are after? “Your resume sucks, and you need our help ASAP to fix it!”

In case you’re ever approached with this gambit, you should know that, almost invariably, it’s a scam. Whether you’re a recent college graduate or a senior executive, this scam can target you. If you’re not alert, you might be taken in by it. The perpetrators have zero integrity and will take advantage of you if you let them convince you. (Hint: You want to deal with people who have integrity!)

Your Resume and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

One version of the scam involves the company telling you your resume can’t be opened by their ATS because it doesn’t have the right keywords (or some variation of this theme). Often, they will tell you all you need to do is let them “fix” it for you–for a nice fee, of course.

Yes, you could run into problems if your resume doesn’t include appropriate keywords, but that’s a different animal from being unable to open the file. The ATS might score you lower than you’d like, which could keep your resume from being seen by hiring managers or recruiters. However, the “solution” offered by scammers does nothing to help you with that, so why would you want to pay your hard-earned money for it?

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Job Search – Where Do I Start?

Highly organized individuals might have no problem at all managing their job search, from start to finish. If you’re not lucky enough to be one of them, you might consider the whole idea of a job search to be a major pain–almost worse than going to the dentist for a root canal!

The challenge begins with the “where do I start” question. You know you’re going to have to take several actions to reach the job search goal you have in mind–such as a particular job you’ve identified or a company you really want to work for, which is currently hiring. However, that only describes your situation in general terms, and “general” won’t cut it in the long run.

You can do a free-thought brainstorming session (by yourself or with a knowledgeable supporter) to flesh-out the key points for your job search. Let’s break down how that process might look.

Where Do I Start?

Logically, you’ll want to clarify what your near-term goal is: specific job or something else. If you have more than one possibility in mind, determine whether the alternatives are mutually exclusive (meaning that realistically you can only choose one) or could be combined in some way.

That near-term goal could also be part of your overall, longer-range career management plan. For now, though, the main objective is to identify your next, potentially reachable career destination.

Avoid getting bogged down in excessive detail–you can’t map out absolutely everything that might come up. Settle for a good grasp of the essentials, such as:

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Career Progress: Giving, Not Just Getting

It’s probably safe to assume that you want to progress in your career, and you’ve heard from experts that you need to focus significant time and energy on that goal if you expect to achieve it. Is there anything wrong with that approach?

Not if you don’t concentrate so hard on what you can get from others that you forget about the opposite side of the coin: giving. When you focus too intensely on what you hope to gain, you can become so self-absorbed that other people feel put off, distanced from you and not inclined to pursue what could otherwise be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Giving Support and Encouragement

A mountain climber often needs support from a buddy to reach the peak during a tough climb. Similarly, even a smart, career-focused professional occasionally needs support from others. You’re more likely to receive that support–sometimes without having to ask for it–if you make a habit of giving support when you become aware that it’s needed or useful.

What kind of support could you give as well as receive?

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LinkedIn: Is Your Profile Helping or Hurting You?

Time to beat this drum again! I still see LinkedIn profiles that aren’t doing you any favors and might actually be hurting your chances of being considered for the position you want. LinkedIn isn’t the only tool you should pay attention to in your job search and career management, but it’s a BIG piece of the puzzle.

Are you “on” LinkedIn but basically inactive (limited content in your profile)? Do you visit your profile only every six months or so and make halfhearted stabs at updating it? If so, you probably aren’t getting the value from LinkedIn that you can–and need to have if you expect it to produce results for you when you want to be viewed as a serious candidate for new job opportunities. Prospective employers DO check your LinkedIn profile when they’re vetting you!

LinkedIn Profile: Desirable vs. Requirements

LinkedIn has requirements that profiles are expected to follow, and yours can be downgraded if it doesn’t. For instance, you can’t use as many characters as you want in a given section, arrange all the sections in the order you want, and so on. However, it does allow you to have a good headline and a substantial Summary (key sections), even though it seriously limits how much of your Summary shows initially when people view your profile.

On the other hand, LinkedIn used to emphasize having good recommendations in your profile if you wanted it to be well ranked. Then they decided to add the skills-and-endorsements section and downplay recommendations. This approach has at least two negative aspects:

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Tight Labor Market: More Jobs & Higher Pay?

According to many experts, we’re currently experiencing a tight labor market, which should be good news for those of you who are looking for a job or thinking about changing to a new job. Of course, this is a generalization and doesn’t necessarily mean job seekers across the country will find employers knocking on their doors.

Still, there are some aspects of the situation that might be encouraging, regardless of the level you’re targeting, where you live, and so on. On the other hand, it does require researching factors and conditions that have particular relevance to the employment goal(s) you’re focused on.

Unemployed, Underemployed, or Just Looking

The stigma that has too often surrounded qualified job seekers who are unemployed might not have been completely broken by the tight labor market, but maybe it hasĀ  at least madeĀ  a dent. Likewise, if you’re working but at a lower-level position than you’ve held previously, you might find the tighter labor market offering more job opportunities than you’ve seen before.

If you’re employed and in a role that matches what would be expected with your career progression, you could still benefit from a job market where employers are experiencing increasing difficulty in filling positions.

The primary consideration is: Does the tight labor market offer you more of the desirable job opportunities you’d be looking for? If it does, how do you take full advantage of the situation?

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Market Your Way to a New Job Opportunity

I’ve always disliked the advice to “sell yourself” to prospective employers. It smacks of commodity-talk, like something you might buy off a grocery-store shelf. Do you really want to place yourself in that category with potential employers?

On the other hand, if you don’t communicate your professional value to those employers in an effective manner, you might as well sit on the couch eating candy and watching soap operas on TV. Either way, your job search (I use the term loosely) would be just as (in)effective!

So what can/should you do to attract the desired attention from employers, put yourself in the running to set up job interviews, and land attractive job offers?

For want of a better term, I suggest “target marketing” as a concept to try out. In a nutshell, target marketing is how companies build recognition and interest among the customer groups they’re most interested in doing business with. And isn’t that exactly what you want to do with the employers you’d like to work for?

How to Do Target Marketing in Your Job Search

In the first place, there are at least two key points you need to keep in mind:

  1. What do you have that you can (and want to) offer prospective employers that would most likely make you appear valuable to them?
  2. What do those employers greatly need that you can offer in spades and your competitors can’t, don’t 0r won’t–or can’t do as well as you?

Define your answers to those questions clearly and compellingly. This is no time for false modesty (which doesn’t mean you need to come off sounding like a conceited jerk!) Then focus your job search as strongly as you legitimately can on actions that relate to the points you’ve identified in your answers.

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One Thing You Should Never Do in a Job Interview

I could obviously list a lot more than one thing you should never do in a job interview. The list might well be endless! You can sabotage your job prospects in an interview through a variety of poorly planned actions.

And you generally don’t get a second chance to come back and “fix” the impression you made.

So what’s the one thing you should never do? Make assumptions you haven’t confirmed beyond question–as much as possible.

How Bad Assumptions Happen and What You Should Do about Them

You might, for instance, read more into an interviewer’s expression of interest in you than his/her remarks actually justify. Suppose the interviewer says, “Thank you for sharing your involvement with X and your contributions toward its completion.” Does that mean he/she is about to recommend you for the position? Not necessarily. In fact, that assumption could be way off-base.

What should or can you do about an assumption you made that didn’t hold up to closer inspection? First, it’s obviously better if you can avoid making that assumption at the outset. That can help you prevent the disappointment that will follow when you realize your mistake.

Clarify. Ask questions designed to ferret out meaningful explanations so you can gain a realistic picture of the likely situation. Failure to do this could leave you out on a limb and very far from having a successful interview.

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