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Your job search done the Coast Guard way

Looking for work is like when you're out to sea; you must always prepare
Looking for work is like when you're out to sea; you must always prepare
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun

Recently I was watching NCIS (okay the social calendar of a recruiter is not as exciting as you might think) and on this episode there was a team of Coast Guard investigators that partnered with Gibbs to solve the crime du jour. What struck me was how well prepared this character from the Coast Guard was during the course of the show.

Yes I realize it is fiction, but I appreciated how this character was written. She was portrayed as the type that always did her homework. And that was in such stark contrast to the candidate I had seen earlier that day.

During the course of the interview the candidate shared they didn’t really know what we did. As much as I appreciated the candor, that underwhelmed me. You may think that is interview 101, but you would be amazed at how often candidates don’t have that most basic of information.

To that end, in the spirit of that Coast Guard character, here are some ideas on how to do your homework when it comes to your job search.

Companies today don’t hire people who are just good at what they do, they also hire for business acumen. You need to understand how what you do impacts the business. For example if you’re a quality inspector at a medical device company your business impact is that if you do your job right, you save lives. If you are the front desk receptionist you become the face of the company. Potential customers as well as current customers can and will form opinions about the company based on your interactions with them. For example, a recruiter I know shared that a candidate walked out before the interview based on the treatment they received from the person at the front desk.

So earlier when I expressed being underwhelmed with the candidate who didn’t know what we did it is not for the reason you may think. Sure I want someone to have done their homework and understand our business. But really why I ask is that it demonstrates to me that you understand the big picture.

In keeping with the notion of the big picture, you should also always be able to express what you do in terms of how you contributed to the success of the company.

To help you remember what you’ve done be sure and keep your performance reviews. Better yet as you complete that project, or get recognized for some other accomplishment, jot it down on an index card (okay for the digital-minded use EverNote or some other similar tool). Describe the situation, your action, and what was the result or outcome.

If you do it consistently and as soon as possible to when you actually completed the accomplishment you are more likely to recall the extent of what you did and more importantly actually use it on your resume or perhaps even better yet during an interview.

The other thing to keep in mind when doing your homework is stay up to date on the news, technology, and trends that are relevant to your profession. Yes, okay, everyone say it with me now, “Surely you must be kidding!” To that I reply, first my name is not Shirley, and second no I am not.

Look I understand that we all have lives (except for those of us who watch NCIS on a Friday night!) and it is hard to devote time to staying up to date after forty plus hours of work. However find a way to carve out time.

Sites like LinkedIn offer a plethora of groups to join that could be relevant to your profession or industry. Finding people to follow on Twitter who are subject matter experts may be a concise way to stay up to date. Very often many tweets have links to deeper content. And if you are uber-technical you can set up your own RSS feed to serve you customized content from sites that you select.

If you are old-fashioned like me, perhaps you attend association meetings that are focused on your profession, take classes through a university extension program, or network with others who do what you do. (Hey you only had to wait 709 words before I mentioned networking in my column!)

Seriously though connecting with others in your profession is a good way to stay up to date on what is happening in the marketplace. Nothing beats real-time intelligence. Oh and be sure and if you take the time to meet these people in person, be present. Don’t have your head buried in your phone looking at Facebook updates from your ex.

/jumps down from networking soapbox

Okay so let’s recap then. Business acumen has two meanings. Yes, you should know what the company does that you are interviewing with. However you should also understand your role and how it impacts the business.

You should have specific, measurable examples of how your role impacts the success of the company. Now not every role can be translated to whether you saved or made the company money. Look deeper if you need.

For example the executive admin who oversees the employee lunch program. This is transactional to be sure. There are vendors and budgets to manage. But big picture, it is actually a program that affects employee morale. While people won’t necessarily leave if they have a bad lunch, it can be a perk that makes a hard day a little better.

And last there is staying current in what you do by finding the way you best process information. But whatever way you uncover, you need to stick to it. Consistency will make it a habit. Forming that habit will make you successful when you are looking for that next opportunity.

The last line of the episode sums up my column the best. As the Coast Guard character turned to leave, Gibbs looked at her and said, “Semper Paratus!” or always prepared!

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