Professional development is your responsibility. Any woman serious about career advancement always has it on her mind and in her sight. The biggest misconception is that it is costly to continue professional development. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Money is the number one reason why a lot of people bypass professional development and end up stunting their career growth. But blaming cost is a cop out.

There are several low cost things you can do to invest in your professional development.

  • Get biblical with it and “tithe”. OK for those of you who attend church faithfully, you understand the concept of tithing. It’s where you give 10% of your earnings to the Lord. Well I content that you can tithe to yourself as well as the Lord. I always tithe in thirds. 10% to church, 10% to build my savings and 10% dedicated to my professional development. Set yourself up a Professional Development Fund. It can be a separate savings account at your local bank or credit union, or even using the envelope system. Each month count up your contributions and decide whether to invest in a course or certification or if you want to continue to build the account up to invest in a conference or something bigger. But no matter what, don’t touch that money for any other purpose. You’ll be surprised at how much money you accumulate.
  • Remember that Reading is Fundamental. I am a voracious reader. I have been since I was a child. Don’t over look your local library. Granted some area libraries are better than others, but take an afternoon and stroll through. My local library has a book sale the first Saturday of each month. I always find great books (it could be because I live in an area where a lot of prominent business people live). I’ve paid anywhere between 50 cents and $5 for quality books. I’ve gotten books by Jack Welch, Seth Godin and many more prominent thought & business leaders. You never know what gems you’ll find. Also, sign up for member cards at book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. You get special discounts and sales. I love the clearance table! And of course there are online book sites such as Amazon.com, Half.com and Alibris. Reading books keep you up to date in your industry and social trends.
  • Trade with your friends. If you hang with an intelligent crowd, which I’m sure you do, you can always trade books, CDs, and programs. My friends love coming to my house because I have an actual library in my home. Yes, a separate room that is a dedicated library with all my books, CDs, Magazines and DVDs. Rather than lending stuff out, I make trades. That way I know I will get my things back! You’ve heard of cookie swap parties and even clothing swap parties. Each month, make it a point to have a Knowledge Swap Party. Everyone invited should make a list of what they have (books, CDs, DVDs, etc) so there is no overlap. Then have everyone bring the items to the party and trade. You are educating yourself and helping your friends educate themselves at the same time. Trust me it’s fun and saves lots of money.
  • Enlist your boss in your professional development plan. I know times are tight, but some companies are still willing to invest in their top talent. If you are a valuable employee and you stay on the cutting edge of your field (and that in turns brings value to your company’s bottom line), your company may pay for you to attend conferences, training and/or certification courses. It’s up to you to write a compelling proposal and presentation that convinces them why you are the person to attend, what benefits you’ll gain, and how it fits into the company’s success. The burden of proof is on you so make it a good case. Request a meeting with your boss and explain to him or her where you’d like to see your career go. Then ask for his or her help in achieving your goals. Inquire about tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement programs.
  • Learn a new language. You can access tons of free and low cost websites, buy CD and DVD programs, instructional books or get a tutor. Local community colleges offer courses for continuing education credits. Visit their websites and find out what language classes they offer and what levels you can take. Being bilingual (or multilingual) can dramatically increase your earning potential. While some people still fight embracing additional languages (Spanish in particular) the smart people are immersing themselves in new languages. Learn a new language.
  • Can’t afford to return to college, look into continuing education courses. The beauty of continuing education is that you can often get credit that can be applied towards certain certifications and job promotions. There are certificate, diploma and certification programs in everything from Office Management to Project Management to Bookkeeping & Accounting. These courses prepare you to sit for certification exams.
  • Get a team of mentors. Yes, a team. No one mentor can fulfill all of your needs. Also, no one person is meant to be your mentor forever. It’s a great professional move to find multiple mentors from varying backgrounds and experience. Draw from the collective experience. Make sure you set up regular appointments with them on a rotating basis. Take plenty of notes and challenge yourself to learn more in between your meetings. Remember to give back in return. After all, your mentors are being gracious with their time. Even if they don’t ask for or require anything in return, it is still proper etiquette to establish a give and take relationship.
  • There’s always the internet! When all else fails, you can find a wealth of information on the web. There are resource websites available on every imaginable topic. Exercise your Google skills to find new and up to date information. While some would caution you to stay away from opinion blogs, I say read them, but be objective. It’s always good to get other people’s point of view on different issues. Set up Google Alerts so that you are notified every time an article, blog post or event pops up on the internet.

Don’t let lack of money keep you from advancing your career. In this economy, you must be creative and resourceful. It is your responsibility to cultivate your career. Over time, you will find that you’ll be able to afford more sophisticated professional development. Until then, try the suggestions above.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

In case you didn’t know, Jack Welch is the former CEO of GE who did legendary things to make GE a top notch company. Too bad Jeff Immelt has messed it up. Jack wrote a book Winning Intl: The Ultimate Business How-To Book
and spent two decades really defining what a true CEO should be. Take a look at this video for some of his insight. Enjoy!

23291063Well now! It’s two days after inauguration day and I am stoked. Whether or not you voted for our new President, Barack Obama, one thing was evident on Tuesday- people are ready for a real change and to take action. The confetti has been swept up, the halls and streets cleaned, the formal wear put away. Now it’s time to get down to business. Tuesday felt just like New Years to me. People making renewed commitments and vows to do better. And just like New Years, these new vows and commitments will fall to the wayside if you’re not careful. So what are you going to do?

Take action-If you woke up this morning and realized that nothing has changed at your job or the company is facing some serious troubles, it’s time to make a plan. You need to find out from someone in the know what the status of your company and position are. If you don’t receive an answer you like, revamp that resume and put your ear to the ground. Start investigating other opportunities. I know the job market looks like crap right now. But trust me when I say there are opportunities if you have skills. A lot of people will say they don’t have many skills that they know of other than what they’ve been doing for the past how many years. Well, if this is true, then you need to figure out what you really want to do and then start getting the training you need to do it. It’s that simple. We live in the age of internet and YouTube. If you cannot afford to pay for college or training classes, there is no law that says you cannot seek out free training on the web. The point is, don’t make excuses, resolve to find a way.

Brush up your resume- I have a friend who hasn’t needed to use her resume in 10 years. She came to me and asked me to take a look at it. Honestly, it looked like something copied out of a resume book. The format was 80’s like and ineffective. So I sat down with her to rework it and highlight her accomplishments. If you are not good at writing, hire a professional resume writer. You want to put forth your best first impression, which will be on paper. Don’t leave it up to chance. Let the professional do his or her job.

Reach out to people-Yay! You get to network! Start reaching out to people you know to get their perspective on the job market, their industry and business, and how they perceive you as a professional. Ask for honest feedback and be prepared to take it gracefully. Start reaching out to people on your professional (social) networks. Don’t come out and ask for a job. That’s tacky. Instead ask to schedule some phone (or face to face time if possible). You don’t want to come to them hat in hand. It’s better to approach them as someone who can advise you. They’ll be more receptive. Don’t pester them every week. I can’t stress this enough. Recently, I had to delicately tell someone in my network to stop emailing me every week with his resume and “weekly update”. It’s annoying and rude. You can end up turning people of. Remember to keep other people’s schedule in mind and be respectful of their time. And if you’re inviting them out to coffee, lunch or whatever, pick up the tab. It’s the least you can do and consider it an investment.

Take an inventory of You- Start from the top down. Do you need a fresher, more polished hairstyle? Yes, I’m serious. Go ahead and get your hair done. Next take a look at your wardrobe. Can you stand to update your wardrobe. You can pick up a few inexpensive pieces to add to your wardrobe. Just make sure they are well constructed. Could you stand some diction or speaking lessons? Take a class or join Toastmasters. Do you have bad habits that are inhibiting you from succeeding? Get rid of them. Some habits may be hard to break, but you must. Could your attitude need improving? Work on it. Take note of any negativity you may be exuding and vow to correct it. Start surrounding yourself with affirmations and positive people. Attitude adjustments start from within. Take a total 360 degree assessment of yourself and determine the areas you wish to improve. Then improve them.

Just do it. Make yourself get out there and start taking risks. Look for leads, go meet people, and fix the perceived flaws you may have. Only you can dictate how successful you will be. Take the pre-emptive measures to be successful.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

businesswomanI was listening to the pastor deliver his sermon yesterday and a few things he said struck a chord with me. His words moved me to blog, but I had to get my thoughts together before blogging.  The one consistent message he delivered was about changing your circumstances and making your own way. If you don’t like the circumstances you’re currently in, CHANGE THEM.

I’ve always been a firm believer that nobody should be stuck in a job that they can’t stand. Yes, I understand that REALITY dictates we need a paycheck to pay the bills. But I choose not to live my life by that edict.  I was never the type to commit to a long term position with any one company. My agenda was to get in, do the job, learn all I could and make as many contacts as I could before heading off to another position. This kept my skills from getting stale and kept me from getting bored. Once I’ve mastered something, or have completed my goals, it’s time for me to move on and find another challenge.  With a full time permanent position, in recruiting anyway, this was not possible.  My job has a beginning, a middle and an end. Once the mission is complete, there really isn’t much more for me to do. Many companies don’t want someone to come in and change the way things are done. Shame on them. I’m all about innovation and change.  That is why I love being a contractor.

Being a contractor allows me to create my own work opportunities. I get to pick and choose the companies I want to work with and how long I work with them. I can work on just one or several projects if I like and as long as my work is done and my deadlines are met, I don’t have anyone to answer to but me. I wasn’t always a contractor though.  When I first took a chance on contracting, I was what is referred to as a Temp.  Yes, there is a difference.  A temp is someone who works a job for a specific period and is in a sense “owned” by the agency who places them.  The agency sets their rate, places them with a client, and handles their payroll and taxes.  A temp also has specific work hours they have to honor.  A contractor is one who works with companies independently, handles her own billing, files her own taxes, and, in a sense, is running her own business.  As a contractor, I determine the number of hours I want to work and what hours I will work.  A temp works for someone else, a contractor runs her own business and manages her own projects and clients.

As I learned the difference, I had to make the business decision to outfit my home office to accommodate my business and clients.  As a recruiter, there are certain tools I need that big companies often have exclusive access to. Thankfully, these tools have been made affordable for small businesses and independent contractors.  One such tool is an applicant tracking system. I use this to manage not just my candidates, but also my projects and clients.  Since this was a vital component to my work, it made sense to get it.  I also have the other standard tools (computer, internet access, headset, Blackberry, etc). Not only can I be independent, I can also work anywhere in the world I want.  With my recruiting business and the work I do as a writer, coach and webinar facilitator, I can create my own opportunities.

I have always been entrepreneurial in spirit.  This is not my first business nor will it be the last.  I have had a catering business, promoted career fairs and seminars, and I even had an adult toy business. Yes, I did.  But it wasn’t through that Passion Parties or any of those other vendors.  I found my own distributors and  did my research so that there was no middle man.  I made my own way.  My point in sharing this is that I don’t like to wait for opportunities to find me. I make my own. And you can too. You just have to step out on faith and make a conscious choice to make your own way.

Take an inventory of your skills. What can you do well? Are you a whiz at cooking? Start a side personal chef or catering business.  Are you a math genious? Well, if you don’t have a CPA, start a part time bookkeeping and/or payroll company. If you’re great at taxes, you can do taxes part time.  H & R Block has a course you can take to become certified as a tax preparer.  Or if those kinds of numbers don’t appeal to you, start a math tutoring business.  If you’re a teacher or aspiring teacher, a tutoring business may be right for you.  If you have strong organization or administrative skills, a virtual assistant business is a good idea.  Have a bunch of grandma’s home made soap and lotions recipes sitting in the draw collecting dust? Start your own product line.  If you have skills with jewelry, start your own line. Can you channel your skills into consulting? Do it! Just make sure you investigate all of the logisticvs and legalities of starting your own enterprise.

There are a million and one ideas out there.  All you need to do is tap into your self. Bring what your good at to the surface and you could be making your own way.  Never settle on “just a job” or “just a paycheck”. That line of thinking keeps people poor or just getting by.  You must not be afraid to stretch your limits and do what you love. Maybe your side venture will only serve as just a side venture to go along with your day job.  That’s ok. At least you’re still creating your own opportunity. Or, if what you do doesn’t make a good business for you, figure a way to apply those skills to your current job.  Set your mind for achievement.  Don’t be content with staying in that one job.  Always look for ways to move up and out.

Some people are destined to be in the corporate world.  And that’s ok too.  But if you choose to remain in corporate, have a plan for advancement.  Don’t get too comfortable in any one job. When you see yourself getting complacent, or stuck in routine, it’s time to explore growth opportunities. Find mentors who are willing to help you advance. Get more visible within the company. I know you’ve read my other blog posts about branding and networking. Establish yourself as an authority in your area of expertise.  Get others to see and believe in your work so they can be legitimate references for you.  Volunteer for more projects and always continue your education.  And the most important thing you can do is surround yourself with positive people. That is self explanatory.

We all have the capacity to do more. Not everyone has the desire. If you have the desire, keep that going.  As long as you train yourself to not settle, you will be able to achieve and good enough will no longer be good enough.  Don’t be resigned to complain about your circumstances. You do have the power to change them.  Lie throws some unexpected curves at us all. But how you adapt and recover is in your hands. You can remain a victim and always wonder why you can get ahead, or you can be a proactive agent for yourself and achieve any professional goal you want. Read inspirational stories about other women who have taken their fate into their own hands.  Magazines like Black Enterprise, Working Mother, Inc, Fast Company, etc. often showcase stories of women who did it. Maybe this will inspire you to step out on faith.  For me, those stories are affirmations. But the real motivator for me is wealth building.  I’m building professional capital for myself and wealth for my family.  Marinate on that for a little bit. Then go out there and make things happen. You can do it.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

Are you prepared to swing into action should you suddenly lose your job? Well these days, that’s a reality many people face or worry about facing. Nobody is safe from the long hand of layoffs and pink slips. Until this economy picks back up (which I have faith it will) nobody is safe. The key is to not wait until the last minute or worse, hide your head in the sand obliviously with the hopes of never having to face a lay off. The first 30 days are the most critical because unlike with a planned exit, you don’t have time to get your house in order or your ducks in a row before the boom is lowered.

Apply for unemployment. This is the absolute first thing you need to do. You paid a lot of money into the system over the years and this is not welfare or charity. This is money that you are entitled to. Many people feel ashamed or embarrassed about applying, like it’s something shameful. Listen, you need to pay your bills, right? So why shouldn’t you get what you are entitled to? Remember, it’s only temporary and you are not the sum total of that check. Go straight to your state’s unemployment department (or department of labor or workforce center, or whatever it’s called in your state). File as soon as possible as it takes a couple of weeks to go into effect. You can have the checks mailed to you or direct deposited. In some states, you may be eligible for retroactive payments from the day you file. But check with your local office for policy. This isn’t “sit on your butt” money. You will have to provide proof that you are actively seeking employment.
Update your resume. A rule of thumb I give to my clients is to update at least annually. By reviewing the resume, it gives you a fresh insight into your skills and how far you’ve come. It also tells you where you need some improvement. Take this time to do a hard assessment of yourself. Identify areas where you’ve positively contributed and any major milestones you celebrated. Be careful not to have your resume read as a series of job descriptions, but rather a summary of accomplishments and contributions to each role. Recruiters like to look for results that occurred because of your actions. Make sure to highlight them as related to the type of jobs you seek.
Do your research. You have access to Google, Yahoo, Live.com and Ask.com. Put them to good use. See what’s going on in your industry that may have caused you to lose your job. Is it an industry issue? Is your company suffering from a setback or crisis which caused them to let people go? What are the analysts saying about the industry? What industries are strong and which companies could benefit from your skills and expertise? Who are the key players and what contacts do you already have to get a foot in the door? If you have none, how will you reach out to people who could get that foot in the door? All of this information is vital to preparing you to land your next job. It’s much better to be on the offensive than defensive.
Look at who you know. Everyone knows (or should know) that I am a firm believer in cultivating your network BEFORE you need them. If you’ve done this well, it should be effortless for you to reach out to them. Don’t be afraid to let them know you are back on the market. Ask if it is OK to send a copy of your resume. Don’t just send it without asking. It’s rude. Ask your contacts about any industry events or networking opportunities that might be helpful. Ask them if there are any opportunities at their company or if they can put you in touch with people who can assist them. If you have not communicated with them in years, I wouldn’t jump straight into the “I need a job” conversation. Nobody wants to do a favor for someone who doesn’t give them a second thought any other time. Networking is giving as much as taking. it’s a team sport. If you don’t make the effort to stay in touch in some way, then you risk not having a solid relationship with the people who could help you.
Get your finances in order. Now this goes in line with applying for unemployment. If you were a good girl and had your emergency fund already set up and funded, you should have a nice cushion. But you don’t want to tap into it if you don’t have to. That’s where unemployment comes in. You may still have to tap into it, but not as heavily. Do NOT tap into your 401K or borrow against your home if you can avoid it. Sit down and create your budget. Be realistic with yourself about your needs vs. wants. Cut as many luxuries as you can so that you have your basic living expenses. Cancel any unnecessary magazine and newspaper subscriptions, downgrade your cable, phone and cell services and get rid of memberships (ie. gym). Learn to do your own hair and nails (it won’t kill you). Immediately cease all shopping and eating out. If you didn’t have an emergency fund and can’t wait for unemployment, don’t be afraid to seek help. There are church based and community programs in some cities where you can request one time assistance with your rent/mortgage and some utilities. These programs are for people who really need it. If you really need it, go apply.
Go online and see who’s hiring. Now is the time to hit every job site you can think of. Google search for niche specific sites. Visit the websites of the companies and fill out their online applications or submit your profile & resume. Update your Linked In profile to reflect your true skills. Investigate who’s recruiting for certain companies and reach out to them. Introduce yourself via email and ask for a brief phone conversation. This will put a voice with the name. Do not just send your resume to every company, or every recruiter. Compose a personalized cover letter/email for each person you contact. And most importantly do not mass email or CC your email to a bunch of recruiters. You will not be taken seriously.
Hit the pavement old fashion style. Yep, that’s right. Get out those pumps and your best suit and get out there. A lot of companies will tell you to “apply online”. But I always say it’s best to submit your resume anyway. You may get lucky and run into someone who’s a decision maker. Don’t be afraid get out there. It’s better to get your face out there and known, than to remain an anonymous name on an email or profile.
Sit your family down and explain that changes need to be made. If you have kids, you need to get them involved. A lot of parents feel kids don’t need to know about the family finances. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My parents never discussed money with us and we grew up financially illiterate. I tell my son about our finances. Kids need to understand WHY they can no longer have the little miscellaneous luxuries they used to. If they’re old enough, they can get a part time job to help pitch in or at least take care of their own expenses (like lunch money, haircuts, etc). Today’s kids are innovative, creative and wired. You never know what money your kid could make on the internet. They could have an eBay business, web design, tutoring, or any number of things they can use their skills doing. Yes, kids need to be kids, but I believe in preparing kids for the future aka the real world. If they understand the flow of money in and out of your household, they’ll learn to appreciate what they have and might even be inclined to help contribute to the household.
Educate yourself. If you can afford to go back to school, great. But there is no law that says education has to come from a classroom. You can read books, magazines and journals from your industry or field of interest, fire up the internet and look for free tutorials and articles, attend industry events, take continuing education or certification courses, or simply reach out to people who are where you want to be and start a dialogue. If you decide that you can go to school (as in college or trade school) look into financial aid. If you truly want to advance or change careers, make the investment of your time and dedicate yourself to completing a program.
Take a part time or contract position if one is offered to you in the mean time. I tell people that nothing is forever, and this includes contract positions. Working part time or on contract is an option if you don’t want to file for unemployment. It keeps your skills fresh and income coming in while you’re looking for full time employment. It also gives you the advantage of meeting new people and building your network.
You are responsible for your own career and well being. When you’re fired or otherwise terminated, it’s never a happy time. But you can’t retreat and hide away from the world. You need to be proactive and take control of the situation. You may not feel in control without a job or steady paycheck, but trust me, if you take care of everything I outlined above, it will ease your mind. You’ll have a handle on what’s going on, coming in and going out. It will be a tough time, but if you take action immediately within the first 30 days of losing your job, you’ll be able to stay afloat and in control until your next job comes along.
Til next time.
Adrienne Graham

Let’s face it, the market is tight and jobs are at a premium. While I do encourage you to use any and all resources available to find a job (job boards, associations, company websites, news ads, social networking sites, etc), I encourage you to be more self sufficient and proactive and tap into your network. One of the things I ask of the corporate folks in my networks is to let me know when they’re on the market or about to be. It helps me to better determine who I should put them in contact with. And sometimes, I might even be working on a position that I can recommend them for. This is why I tell people to get proactive and start the search before you get the axe.

I always recommend reaching out to your network when you are passively or quietly exploring opportunities before you actually need to look. I’m pretty sure the folks on Wall Street (the top folks who had ample warning that is) started reaching out to people they knew because they saw the writing on the wall. Starting before an impending threat of lay off or your resignation is the best time because you are not under as much pressure and you already have a job. It is easier to find a job when you already have one. Chalk that up to the law of attraction. When you’re passively looking, you are in a better position to see what’s out there and shop around without any pressure to make a quick decision. Start by targeting the companies and industries you want to explore. Then check within your network to see if there are any direct people you know who work at these companies that you can reach out to. In this instance, I would recommend picking up the phone and making a call to catch up with the person and suggest meeting. Whether you meet for coffee, breakfast or lunch it doesn’t matter. You want to get that face time. Ask for a time and location that is convenient to them. Remember, you don’t want to inconvenience them.

When you meet, keep the conversation light on business. It is an informational meeting not a job interview. Ask your contact about the state of the industry (which you should already know) and how it affects their company. Let them know that you may be considering a change and ask their opinion about what direction you should take. This leaves an opening for them to tell you about opportunities they know of in their company or with other companies where they know someone. And if there aren’t any opportunities now, at least you’ll be in the forefront of their minds when one does come up. Be sure to highlight a few of your best accomplishments and how you feel they translate into being qualified for other roles. Have a clear idea of what it is you want to do, otherwise you’re really just wasting your time and theirs. If you have a specific goal, then you can have a focused meeting.

Keeping up with what people are doing is in your best interest. Suppose you know a Recruiter who works for a Fortune 100 company you’d love to get into. And you know talking with her will at least get a foot in the door for you to meet the IT Director. But she has changed gears a couple of times since you spoke to her 3 years ago and is now the Director of Communications for the company. Technically she is still a ally, but she is no longer in the same capacity to get you any face time with the hiring manager. Sure there’s a small chance she may know this person and could help you somewhat. But you haven’t kept in touch with her so you don’t know what her relationships are within the company. By keeping up with people in your network, at least annually, you can better plan your approach when looking for leads.

Updating your resume at least annually is critical. Even if you’ve been with your company for 9 years, you never know what might happen. Ask the folks on Wall Street who lost jobs at their 100+ year old legacy companies. Nothing is guaranteed. Even if you don’t want to do a formal resume (which I think you should) keep a journal. Note any projects, accomplishments, promotions, increase (or decrease) in responsibilities, project outcomes, training, etc. Keep track of conferences, continuing education or workshops you were required to attend. All of this helps build the foundation of your resume. Also keep note of salary increases, bonuses and reviews. By keeping a journal it makes it easier to put together your resume the correct way. Remember, a resume is not a regurgitation of job descriptions. It is a tool to show your best professional self.

Finally keep your brand fresh. Continue aligning yourself with projects, volunteer work and events that are in sync with your authentic self. If you do not create or define your brand, someone else will. You always want to be in control of your brand and how people see you. Position yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) by using the appropriate forums and mediums to display your knowledge.

Career management is a long term thing. You can’t just focus on it when you feel you may lose your job or want to quit. The more time, effort and thought you put into it, the less time you will have to look for a job or be unemployed. Keep your network warm and it’ll be easier to pick up the phone when it’s time to look. If you only contact them when you need a job, don’t expect a warm reception. Build those relationships and make them work for you. I promise you will love the return on investment you’ll receive.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham

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