You can get money for pursuing certification. WIA -- Workforce Investment Act -- money can be used to study anything for certification, and you get $6,000. If you pursue the grant through the Illinois WorkNet Centers, and for a job on their demand occupation list, they’ll up the grant to $7,000. If you’re taking your certification from a course at a college like ECC, you can apply for a Pell Grant for up to $5,000, which stacks with that other grant.
If the job ad says a skill is not required, but preferred, make sure you have those skills too. Cross-skills -- skills you don’t need for your specific job, but skills you could use elsewhere in the same company – are also being sought by employers. It used to be that, if you had 6 out of 10 requirements for a job, you had a good shot at it, but that’s not true anymore. You need to aim for 10 out of 10.
That said, you can still apply for a job you don’t have every qualification for. Every employer is looking for workers, usually not out of the goodness of their own hearts, but because they have a problem or problems they want solved. It’s going to be up to you to convince an employer that you know how to solve that problem better than more qualified applicants. Your best shot at that is to focus on branding you as a problem solver and come up with some good solutions to problems an employer like this might have.
As an Illinois job hunter, and possibly an unemployed one either now or at some point, there is no more important skills site than Illinois Skills Match. This site can match you to literally hundreds of job skills and try to match them to jobs. It’s where you’re required to register and stay active if you’re collecting unemployment money. Yes, there are real jobs listed on Illinois Skills Match. I talked to a WorkNet Center worker who personally added 25 new manufacturing jobs last month – all jobs have a 4-week turnover so those particular ones are gone now, but each county’s WorkNet Center is required to post 350 new jobs per month. And they don’t find those jobs by looking at generic job sites, but by networking themselves and cold-calling local businesses. The Arlington Heights office for suburban Cook County has been regularly posting 500 new jobs a month. That said, even that WorkNet Center worker said to only use Skills Match enough to meet the state requirements for unemployment coverage, because this is “one tiny part of your job search”. Keeping your Skills Match account active is as simple as logging in every so often and tinkering with your resume. You can even reapply for the same jobs. And don’t over-match on skills or you’ll be swamped with bad job matches. The optimal number is believed to be between 50 and 100 skill matches.
Your self-assessment is not done at this point. You’re going to be constantly reassessing yourself and your employment needs throughout the job hunting process. Remember, because you’re selling yourself on the job market, you’re going to be constantly looking for ways to improve your sale-ability. Don’t ignore the importance of continuing your education, especially if everything else easier isn’t working for you.
But, moving on with my presentation, it’s time to go over what you start doing next – you prepare the materials you will need to sell yourself. You are in the business of selling you now, so you will need a marketing portfolio for yourself. Of course, you don’t need a fancy portfolio case and, in many cases, the material you’re preparing may never need to exist in paper copy. The kinds of material we’re about to go over are elevator speeches, business cards, cover letters, resumes, and thank-you cards.
The “elevator speech” is so named because it’s supposed to be the short pitch for yourself you would give a hiring manager if you were ever, by chance, riding in an elevator with him. There is, as I understand it, amongst circles who debate this sort of thing, some debate as to how long your speech should be. Most say 30 seconds now, but some sources have said 90 seconds, others 60, or even just 10 seconds. The goal is to say enough about yourself to sound interesting without overloading someone who’s already heard enough to remember you. Remember your brand and try to get that across quickly. In 10 seconds, I can basically only give my name and my brand. In 90 seconds, I can say more about my skills and what I can do. You would do well to have a speech prepared and memorized for each length – 90, 60, 30, or 10 – and then play it by ear which speech to give should an opportunity arise. The 10-second version, for example, would probably play best when handing in an application. Conversely, your 90-second version is what you should lead with at a job fair.
The elevator speech does not need to be spoken. This is a short paragraph that that best describes you to potential employers, so feel free to use it anywhere. Use your 30-second version as a tag at the end of your e-mails. Use your 60-second version as your status message online. Don’t wait to be asked, get this information out there to be heard and seen. Get your message on Youtube, like this guy, one of many people now making and sharing visual resumes - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yc3ZfMLJSw&feature=related
Have personal business cards to hand out. If you already have business cards from work, don’t use those to hand out when you’re looking for a new job. FedEx/Kinko’s will sell you 250 business cards for $30. Now they have competition from companies like Vistaprint “selling” free business cards online. They’re giving out cards for free because the cards come with their company logo on the back of the cards, so they’re selling themselves at the same time they’re selling you. If you’re fine with that, and for all but the most professional jobs it should be fine, then go with that.
For more creative-type, less professional jobs, you can even make your own business cards, on 3x5 index cards, and make them look like mini-resumes. I had first heard about this from someone in the audience at my first workshop two years ago, but this year they’re the “hot new thing” in job hunting. They’re also called JIST cards now, after a company that’s marketing this as their thing.
Last year, handbills were the “hot new thing” in job hunting. A handbill is basically a flyer advertising you that you could hand out to people you network with. That’s all I’m going to say about handbills.
Cover letters are becoming less and less important all the time, with some hirers not even bothering to read them at all anymore. Part of this is just from advances in technology, with online applications now capable of having resumes attached to them without needing to be sent separately.