Whether you’ve been away from paid work, stuck in a career you don’t like, or at a dead-end job, you’ve picked up this book because you’ve come to realize that the job-search process has changed. You need a search strategy, a marketing toolkit, and most important, you need to activate your connections and network.
Whatever the reason you want to return to work or change careers, when it’s time to switch it up or head back to work, it’s not simple. And your reasons to return—whether to earn a little more for a depleted retirement account, become the household breadwinner, transform years of volunteer experience into paid work, make a needed change with an unhappy situation in your current role or company, or maybe simply to get back into the swing of things, workwise—don’t matter.
What matters is plotting out your back-to-business strategy—refreshing your traditional job-search tools, developing a modern social profile, perfecting your pitch so people want to talk with you more, and educating and refreshing your corporate research skills so you get paid what you’re worth.
A Boomerang approach is when you return to a prior company or manager in a role similar to what you did before. The upside of this is you have little “selling” or personal branding to do, because you have work history with your target contacts, and they are familiar with your work and your skills. This could be a great path back from a career pause, but not a great choice if you want to pivot to something entirely new. The downside is if you were really unhappy with a past company and had a bad experience. If that’s the case, we urge you to do some additional discernment, and see if other paths are better for you to explore.
When people are looking to return to former employers or roles, the Boomerang strategy can work in their favor.
A Lily Pad path is essentially taking a step down from where you were with the intention that it will lead to your dream job. This first job back is a Lily Pad because you won’t stay there forever. It will keep you afloat and give you some breathing room until you figure out where you want to go next. In the meantime, you are networking the heck out of this job by making meaningful connections with your customers, clients, colleagues, managers, and others in the industry.
As a side benefit, many people feel more confident attending professional events while in a paid role. When you are interviewing for your next step, this Lily Pad role is a different conversation talking about prior work experience than when you had a break. The upside is it usually takes less time to get back to work, and you may even develop a new skill set. The downside is that this is a short-term gain, and you will be jumping again in the future.
What Is a Personal Brand?
Step 1: Who Are You?
For you to create your brand and identify the value you bring to your target audience, you need to do a self-assessment. Think about who you are and what skills you bring to the table in a professional environment.
To get started, ask yourself these questions. The answers may concern any type of work you’ve done, paid or unpaid:
- What type of work makes me feel energized and motivated?
- What type of work makes me feel depleted and drained?
- What’s my superpower; something I can do better than others?
- What type of work can I do for hours on end?
- What are my values or nonnegotiables?
- What personality traits do people compliment me on?
- What type of work can I do, but it doesn’t bring me joy?
There are no right or wrong answers. Just write the first things that come to mind.
Step 2: How Are You Showing Up?
Ask yourself, if someone were to find you online, what would they see? Keep in mind that 99 percent of hiring managers google candidates even before they look at their résumé or LinkedIn profile. So, the first thing you want to do is conduct a social media audit—search for yourself online and see what they see.
- Are you hard to find?
- Is your personal-yet-forgotten social profile the first thing people see?
- Do you have a common name that gets buried among all the other Jessica Smiths of the world?
- Is there some legal issue you were involved in that you would rather not have employers see first?
Use this assessment as your starting point baseline. Whatever comes up, you can now start to control what people will see about you online, and you can shape the results to best reflect how you want to be seen in the online world.
It’s difficult to erase what’s associated with your name online. You can add social media elements that will arrive first on a search, pushing other non-relevant hits down to the bottom of the page or the next page so future employers are less likely to notice.
Remember, your brand is how you show up, both in-person and online. In this digital world, a huge piece of that will be online whether you like it or not. Your job in working on your personal brand is to shape what shows up online in a manner that best reflects what you stand for.
Step 3: Who is Your Audience?
As you start thinking about industries and roles you are interested in, start researching thought leaders or well-known people within those industries and who holds those roles.
This seems obvious. Many people overlook this simple and powerful aspect of building your brand. As you consider the types of roles you want to be considered for, you need to think about where these folks congregate, both in-person and online.
Online, you can follow and observe these influential individuals, watching for what they’re posting about online in terms of trends, acronyms, and topics.
In-person, you can see what events they are attending as indicators of what that industry and role deem important.
Start following them on social media. Read their blogs, skim their book recommendations, listen to their podcasts, or attend events they speak at.
You want to start listening to what terms they are using to describe their roles or how they are talking about the industry. What things used to be called may have changed over time. Make sure you incorporate relevant concepts and language into your brand so you don’t date yourself.
Your target audience will vary depending on how you use your personal brand. We are assuming most of you are using it to return to work after a career break. Most likely your target audience will be people who are working at companies you are interested in, and people who are in jobs that interest you. Maybe there’s an individual or company that you really admire. These are the people and companies that you want to think about when you’re crafting and evolving your brand.
Step 4: What Do You Say?
Now that you’ve determined who you are, the next step will be to determine your personal brand statement, or pitch, that will be used for networking online and in-person
Your pitch should clearly articulate who you are and what you bring to the table in two or three sentences. Your pitch is crafted by incorporating your superpowers and strengths that you and others have identified in Steps 1 and 2. It’s also a great way to showcase how you’re unique and what skills/values you represent.
Just like your overall brand, your pitch will also evolve depending on where you are at in your job search, what information you need from others, and who your audience is.
The next step will explore how you determine your audience and why it’s important to understand Who is Your Audience?
Step 5: Are You Easy to Find?
The key to showcasing your personal brand is to make sure your online presence is easy to find and engaging to your chosen audience. As above, with so many social media and other online platforms out there, you need to decide where you want to spend your time by choosing platforms that will bring the most value and return for your efforts.
The best part is that you get to choose what you want people to see. If you have platforms for personal use and want to keep it that way, make sure your privacy options are enabled. You may also choose to have a platform that has a mix of professional and personal content. This is okay, too, and sometimes even more interesting for the audience. You’re showing you can be professional and take an interest in relevant topics and ideas, but you are also giving them a glimpse into your whole person and your authenticity.
The key is to make sure your professional platforms are consistent and authentic.
Step 6: Showing Up In-Person
It’s important to remember that your everyday actions affect who you are as you craft your brand story. From how you interact with people to what you wear to embellish your personal image to what you do with your free time—it’s about how you choose to show up every day.
This may include having your own personal dress code or work uniform that works with your brand. Enclothed cognition is a term coined by Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky to acknowledge the effect of how one dresses on people’s mental process—the way they think, feel, and function, especially in terms of confidence and abstract thinking.
Learn what styles make you feel confident, are comfortable, yet professional and appropriate to fit in with your targeted industry. Many stylists who have worked with our cohorts agree that having a couple go-to professional outfits that you feel confident in is necessary to take your focus off yourself and turn it to the person you’re networking or interviewing with.
Step 7: Be Authentic and Evolve as Needed
As you work through this process, it’s tempting to emulate or mimic someone else’s brand. That’s okay if it’s in line with who you are and your values. It’s most important to be authentic to who you are. And keep in mind that your brand is fluid—it’s going to evolve as your job search evolves. As you learn more about industries, roles, and opportunities, you may adjust how you want to be positioned within those segments.
You want your brand to be an accurate representation of you, and the absolute brightest and shiniest representation of you who are.
It is absolutely necessary to prepare for the modern-day interview. Gone are the days when you could just show up and wing it. You still can, but it won’t be pretty. The questions are too in depth, the competition is too fierce, and the fact that you may not have interviewed in a while would definitely be evident.
If you do put the time and effort in to prepare and practice, you will be able to answer questions in a confident and thoughtful manner, and showcase who you are as a person and employee. You will probably still be nervous, but it won’t be detrimental to your interview.
- Job Description: This is a great place to find possible interview questions that could be asked. For example, taken from a program manager job description at a large tech company: “Partner closely with our engineering and verification teams to update and maintain the technology roadmaps for these products.” A possible question from that could be “Tell me a time you had to partner with internal teams to maintain the technology roadmap and schedule for a product launch?” Followed up with, “What were your biggest challenges during that process?” and then maybe, “What would you have done differently next time?” You get the idea. The job description is great for getting a starting point on what possible questions will be asked. It is also good to go over the skill sets and experience needed to make sure you’re in alignment when discussing the role.
- Qualifications: Make sure you understand how you are qualified for the role and why you want the job. Be clear about your interest and why you would be a good fit, and if needed, draw the line between what you’ve done and how it would be put to use in this new role.
- Interview questions: Most interviews start off with a variation of “Tell me about yourself” or “How would you describe yourself?” You want to make sure you structure your answer in a way that is meaningful to the interviewer as it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. You also want to make sure it’s concise and no more than three minutes. To plan your answer to this type of question, you can use this framework:
- Skill set: You’ve reviewed the job description and may have even talked with some people who currently work there. Now brainstorm your skills and qualities that align.
- Role: How does this role fit into the larger picture of your career?
- Company: After you’ve researched the company, you can start showing how your personal career goals match where the company is going.
- Superpowers: How do people usually describe you? Think of examples when these positive traits helped you.
Pay negotiations are often positioned as a game or battle—something you have to win where there are rules of engagement, and there are hard-lines, ultimatums, and go-no-go conversations. That’s a very adversarial, zero-sum equation in our estimation.
Instead, we suggest that you approach these interactions as a conversation. Because you’re just talking.
When it comes down to it, we’re people having a conversation about what you’re going to do at this new company and in this new role. Ideally, everyone wants to come out of that conversation feeling good.
It will make your soon-to-be manager feel like he or she did an amazing job retaining a top performer, rather than feeling like a “lost” negotiation. And you want to feel great about your new role, because you advocated for yourself and made sure you’re being compensated appropriately.
We also want you to be realistic about the skills you bring to the job and the appropriate compensation offered for those skills (because you’ve already done your research, you’ll know this).
We also want you to think beyond money. There are many, many other aspects to be negotiated, which can add up to significant compensation.
So, when you’re talking, we want you to keep the following ideas in mind as you build your negotiation strategy:
- It’s a convo.
- Be realistic: Skills vs. performance vs. compensation.
- A reasonable negotiating goal may be 5 percent to 15 percent above the initial offer.
- Think beyond money (time off, bonus, training—more on this next).
- Avoid absolutes and ultimatums.