My journey from unemployment to an expat assignment

Presented for mywhirld by Guest Writer and Author,  Anjana Karumathil

Train Track Quotes About Life

Courtesy of lucrazon.com

Let’s face it – being unemployed is a horrible state of affairs. 

Lack of a predictable income is only one part of the trauma of unemployment. If you have a family, you’re responsible for the quality of their lives along with yours. Even if you’re among the lucky few who have saved enough money to take you through the next few months, you will soon begin to hear curious questions from friends and family – have you not found a job yet? The unsaid part of the question is, of course, ‘are you that stupid or plain lazy? Surely there is something available’. You spend weeks and months looking online and doing all those things the experts advise you to do, but to no avail. Depression sets in and you loathe in self-pity. Slowly you lower your expectations of salary and role, and then wait again…

I’m not a career counselor, and my intent is not to dole out advice like one. I’m a regular corporate girl who has recently taken the unemployment train and managed to get off at an expat station, albeit with a few bumps and bruises! I left a perfectly good job at a Big 4 accounting company to take care of a family member who needed my care. After he got better (thank God!), I boarded the dreaded unemployment train and stayed on it for about 6 months until I found something worth the wait.

This post is to share with you some tips that have worked for me and some things I could have done better. Everyone’s life journey is different and while all these tips may not be practical for you, I hope you find something useful as you search for that elusive new job.

Tip #1: Be crystal clear what kind of job you want

Do not lower your expectations no matter what any ‘well-meaning’ person tells you.

Let me explain. You need to be crystal clear on the kind of skills you want to apply in your new job, and the level at which you need to apply them. For example, if you’re into data analytics, you probably need a job that lets you use Tableau software at an advanced level. List down the skills you’re looking to demonstrate to your potential employer and match them with your current skill level to ensure that your expectations are realistic. If you have location constraints, think them through so that you can be ready when an employer asks about it. Your options increase exponentially if you’re willing to relocate internationally.

One practice that helped me is periodically reviewing job descriptions of vacancies that were similar to my requirements. I could see what skills were sought by employers and assess whether I matched up to their expectations. I also used some of their keywords to tailor my resume.

You may have friends or neighbours who advise you that you’re aiming too high when the market is too dull. Don’t let them get to you – there is plenty of research that suggests that there is always a demand for skilled professionals in every domain. Hear them out, smile politely and ignore their advice.

Tip#2: Make a stellar skills-based resume

Skills, skills, skills. Job titles may change but skills stay the same. Identify the skills that helped you accomplish the most in your career so far. Rather than chronologically list your job responsibilities, it may be a good idea to think about the skills you demonstrated in each area and what you accomplished as a result of having those skills. Is it project management? Learning needs analysis? Process re-engineering? Once you have this down pat, you can determine which of these skills are directly transferable to your target position. Align these skills on your resume with those that employers are seeking (tip #1). Check and double-check to ensure that your resume is buzzing with relevant keywords. These are the terms employers use to identify resumes that are aligned to their requirements. If your writing skills are dismal, hire a professional.

How do you know if your resume is good enough? Well, you never really know for sure but here is what I did. I put myself in the shoes of a recruiter and asked myself: if I read this resume for 30 seconds, would I want to interview me?

Tip #3: Build a strong online presence, one day at a time.

Most of today’s job search is done online. Use your time wisely – rather than depositing your CV in online blackholes, identify real people in your target company and get them to refer you internally. Your CV has a much better chance of being opened and reviewed this way. Plus, employees who refer you often get a referral bonus if you are selected, so there is something in it for them. Along the same lines, use LinkedIn to your advantage. Find employees in your target company, businesses around the world that may be looking for people with your skills or even volunteer opportunities in your area. This is how Bryan and I connected for this guest post!

By the way, all online recruitment sites are not time-wasters (far from it). Take the time to identify credible websites that recruiters in your area use. For example in the GCC area, bayt.com and gulftalent.com are viewed as top talent sources. Ensure that you have an updated profile on such sites, check for new job postings every week and apply frequently.

If you’re reading this on LinkedIn, you probably already know this – almost everyone in the world from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet all the way to your gym instructor is on LinkedIn. Keep your profile up to date and connect with the people who could make a difference to your career.

Tip #4: Write and speak with intent, whenever and wherever you can.

All of us are not born writers or speakers, but both these skills can be developed with some practice. Take one of the many free writing courses available online. Begin to write articles related to your area of expertise and post them online on LinkedIn or your own blog. Contact magazine publishers related to your profession through LinkedIn, and ask if they accept articles (most of them are eager for some good quality writing!). Browse online to see what your peers are saying and write about your own point of view. With a platform as global as LinkedIn, you might be impressing your next employer with your blog post, who knows!

If you have solid writing skills already, great! Start using them commercially by ghostwriting, for example. Business leaders often look for ghostwriters who can take their draft content and turn it into something engaging and informative. Spread the word among your networks and search LinkedIn to see who may be looking for such services. This was my side project as I continued to search for employment. Subject matter knowledge + some discipline = a good learning and earning opportunity.

As for speaking, start small and local. Nobody became a TED speaker in a day! Contact schools or community colleges in your area to see if they have a platform for you. Many of these organizations are looking for professionals to speak with their students to inspire them. Accept such invitations and speak about a topic related to your area of expertise. Use every opportunity to sharpen your skills. Whenever possible, record your talk and post it online for a wider audience.

When I got an invitation from the Vellore Institute of Technology (an engineering school in India), I accepted more out of boredom with my routine than from a genuine interest to inspire students. However, the ambitious students there engaged me in a conversation so genuine that I ended up sharing a lot more than I intended to, and learnt more from them than they did from me.

Every time you are quoted, published or invited to speak, add that to your CV and online profile.

Tip #5: Use crowdsourcing sites

Use crowdsourcing sites to see where you can contribute (and make some cash!)

There are many crowdsourcng sites online, but Innocentive has been a blessing for me. It’s a crowdsourcing site where companies routinely post challenges for product design, process improvements, expansion strategies and even mathematical discoveries. The cool thing is that the challenges are open to anyone around the world irrespective of age, educational background or current employment status (they only ask for name and email ID). What is cooler, of course, is that they all have cash awards of varying amounts depending on the complexity of the problem to be solved. I browsed the site every month looking for any challenges that caught my interest. Personally, I’m a bit of a health freak and so when I saw a challenge about motivating an entire state in the US to become healthier, I submitted my solution. I won! Apart from the ego-boost of winning a global challenge, I got a winner page allocated to me on their site, access to other winners and much-needed tax-free income. Sweet!

It took me six long months to find my next position and my journey was not without its low moments. This stint burst my bubble about how employable I was. Some days, I wallowed in self-pity and wondered why the Gods were against me.  Other times, I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep the entire day. When I interviewed and got rejected a few times, that added fuel to the fire. When I look back now, I can say that those six months taught me some hard lessons that I would never have learnt otherwise.

There were two things that kept me going: my faith in God and the support of my mother. If it were not for these two, I would not be as confident as I am today about the fact that anyone can find a job if they search the right way. So, keep the faith and no matter how frustrated you feel, do not stop loving the few people who genuinely care about your wellbeing.

I do not mean to sound preachy and boastful, but those were the two things I absolutely did right.

I wish you the very best in your job search. If I can do it, so can you.

About the Author:

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAK9AAAAJDQ1MDZhOGQ3LTBjZWYtNGM0NC1iODgzLWVmZGZlZDBiYzE5ZA    Anjana Karumathil: 

Is a multifaceted professional with 13 years of experience across corporate learning and business strategy. She is a speaker and writer who always seeks new ways to make learning more accessible and practical for adults and children. She has worked in a variety of roles across Tata Consultancy Services Limited & Deloitte Consulting. Currently, she is an L&D specialist in Doha.

Apart from receiving performance awards at TCSL & Deloitte, Anjana has been quoted by the Chief Learning Officer magazine and Harvard Business Review. She has an MBA with Distinction from Strathclyde Business School and completed her engineering degree from NIT, Calicut. In her free time, she travels to distant lands and takes pictures of her exploits while also trying very hard not to be the worst Carnatic singer ever. She can be reached at:  anjana.karumathil@gmail.com

How To Communicate in An Interview

For many job-seekers, it’s a nerve-wracking time and especially for school leavers and young graduates. For guidance on how to reach this stage read my article, Handling Your First Interview

Remember, getting to this point is a great achievement – They like you already.

There is only so much you can pick up from a piece of paper. There are some people who, conventionally, tick every box – they have good grades, great experience, are fully qualified – but as soon as they walk through the door, they are as dull as dishwater. You can be average in school grades, qualifications, experience and STILL convince the interviewer and get the job. It’s about how you present yourself, about your communication skills.

James Caan CBE, from Dragon’s Den, wrote in a recent article:

 “If I listed the things that stood out about every person I have ever hired, personality and the ability to communicate would rank the highest.”

With that in mind, Lets look at 3 key areas:

Breaking The Ice

It is always good to connect with the interviewer on a personal level, this will not only show your communication skills, it will humanise you both. Looking at your surroundings, you might see a family photograph or an award certificate. Now you can say, “I notice you won X award, that’s a great achievement. Who were you up against?”

Engaging in conversational dialogue is an essential skill and your interviewer will be impressed.

Engage

Once the conversation has started to flow, it’s time to engage with the interviewer and apply the research you’ve conducted about the business and the role in question. Most interviewers will always ask a candidate what they have learnt about the business. Doing a quick Google or Wikipedia search, will not always work. Discover what makes the company “tick” – their goal, their drive, their competition. Identify who the company’s competition is and any interesting news shared recently (websites will normally have this in a “News” or, “pressroom” tab. Now, that tells an interviewer you’re serious about the job on offer. Here is your opportunity to ask as many questions about the role as you can, ready to match your experience with the required skillset and prove you’re more than competent.

STAR

The pinnacle of the interview process is illustrating how you can add value to the role and become the missing part of the puzzle in the interviewers’ eyes. This is where STAR comes into play.

  • Situation:

Start by giving a backstory and setting the scene – the who, what, where and when. Introduce a challenge you faced by giving your interviewer a little context.

For example: “With both parents having successful careers within the Engineering sector, they expected me to follow in their footsteps. However, I have other drams and aspirations.”

  • Task:

Secondly, you explain what was required of you, what did you have to achieve? Share your thought process and how you intended on accomplishing the task.

For example: “I had to find a way of starting out on my own and find an alternative route that would help convince my parents I was able to create my own career path” 

  • Action:

What did you actually do to make it happen? How proactive were you in ensuring the completion of the task? You can highlight any personal attributes that were tested, always referring back to your desired role.

For example: “I decided to break with tradition and started writing for a magazine. I was continually challenged throughout my journey and like many other writers, I questioned whether the long hours were worth it.” 

  • Result: 

What did you learn and how have you effectively applied this? Explain what your actions achieved and whether or not you met your objectives.

For example: “I managed to identify a need in the market and used every bit of passion, drive and dedication I had to make it happen, whilst continually developing essential soft skills such as communication, teamwork and decision making.”

If you have follow this process, you’ll be in a very good place. You will instinctively know whether the interview has gone well or not but leading the interview like this shows you are eager yet respectful and sure to make a lasting impression.

Then it’s time to play the waiting game being positive and motivated. 6 Techniques To Keep You Motivated


 

Share your interview experience with us.

Do you have something valuable to add? We can share it with other jobseekers.

Handling Your First Interview

Whatever feelings you will experience in the build up to your first interview, is no different to those experienced by seasoned interviewees. So, don’t be under any illusions that it gets easier, the more you’re interviewed. Those feelings of vulnerability, nerves, tension, anxiety and self-doubt are normal.

The key is not quantity of interviews but the quality of your preparation.

Your first step is creating your CV. Read our article Finished School – What now? This will guide you through developing your first CV.

Job searching can create mixed emotions of excitement and fear. It can be a daunting task but remember, each job interview is a mini project. The more you prepare for each step, the easier the next step will be.

Your next step is deciding what job you would like to do. Some people are happy to just get on the job ladder – nothing wrong with that but if you’re looking for something more YOU and satisfying, think about what job sector you’re best suited to. Talk to your parents, friends and family. Your teachers and lecturers can be very helpful too – After all, they know your academic strengths and weaknesses.

Once you’ve found a vacancy to apply for, read the job role, description and responsibilities carefully because you may want to change your CV and cover letter or a “pain letter”. Why You Need To Use A Pain Letter

The Interview

Part of your preparation is learning Motivational Techniques while job hunting and being patient. Preparing for the day of the interview is the biggest step and an experience that will strengthen your character. Have you ever heard, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, interviewers and recruiters don’t believe that. First impressions count for a lot so how you present yourself at the interview is the next task of the project.

Your two weapons are your CV and YOU, and both need to be sharp. You’ve done the first part with great success – you’ve got the interview so what’s next?

First impressions are very important on the day of your interview

  • Dress Appropriately
    Wear clothing that will suit the job role so don’t wear a suit if you’re applying for a job as a life guard, or a track suit for a sales position. whatever clothing you wear, make sure it’s clean. the creased look may look cool at the local skate park or a car meet but employers are not your buddies. Ask mum to help iron that shirt and trousers. She’ll be shocked into silence and gladly do it!
  • Personal Hygiene
    Get down to basics: shower/bath, haircut? (keep hair clear of your face), shave or neatly groomed facial hair, short fingernails or manicured and brushed teeth. Bad breath and body odour are a big turn-off.
  • Body Piercings & Tattoos
    Many employers still find these inappropriate. An employer may not employ you in a customer services role, sales or restaurants if you have excessive piercings or evocative and offensive tattoos. Consider removing piercings and covering tattoos with long sleeves.
  • Spicy Food and Booze
    Eating spicy or garlic flavoured food and alcohol, the night before, is a bad idea. When over indulging, your body will excrete these and may give off a bad odour.
  • Don’t Be Late!– We cannot stress enough how important time keeping is in the work place. Being late for your interview could ruin all the hard work you have put in.
  • Revise
    Read over your questions you would like to ask and prepare for questions you may be asked by the interviewer. Asking questions about the company will show the interviewer that you are committed to the job role and interested in the business.
  • Social Media
    Some employers may do an internet search about you. If you’re using sites, like Facebook and Twitter, make sure that you keep them as clean as possible and ask yourself if you’re sending out the right message. If you don’t want Nan to see it then you might want to update your profile.
  • Meet & Greet
    Whether you are Male or Female, saying “Hello X. How are you?”, with a smile, eye contact and a firm handshake, are a must. “Alright Mate!”, is not going to do you any favours. Give the interviewer a copy of your CV.
  • RELAX
    Interviewers will expect you to be nervous and if you didn’t care about the job, you wouldn’t be nervous. If you’re offered tea or coffee, ask to have water.
  • Body Language
    Communicating with people is very complex. We send signals to people using eye contact, body movement and hand gestures. During an interview, we want the interviewer to be comfortable with you and to know that you’ll be great for the role. Take a look at our article: 15 Body Language Mistakes At An Interview
  • Listen & Learn
    Be attentive by carefully listening to your questions and advice. Try not to interrupt. Take a note pad with you. Take notes and turn your mobile phone off to avoid any interruption.
  • Lastly……
    Thank the Interviewer again, for their time. A firm handshake, eye contact and a smile will make a lasting impression. You may need to be patient, once again, for a reply.

Rejection

If your application is not successful, don’t be disheartened. Being rejected is common but it’s not the end of the world. You may be rejected several time before you’re successful. Many top business professionals experience this often and they believe that it wasn’t meant to be. “When one door closes, another one opens”, is a saying they learn to accept. Use this opportunity to ask the interviewer why you weren’t successful. Feedback will help you learn how to improve and prepare for your next job application.


Tell us your first interview story. We’d love to hear about your experience.

Contact us if you need further advice.