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Career Transition Guide – Find a New Job, Get It, Leave Gracefully, and Kick Ass In Your New Job

Need a career change but not sure where to start? Here's your complete guide on how to find a job and transition from your old job to your new one! -Personalprofitability.com

In 2010, I changed jobs within the same industry in Denver. Seeing as I just changed jobs again this year, I wanted to dust this guide off and give it new life.

I Got a New Job!

The anatomy of my job search

My company agreed to be purchased by another large company earlier this year.  Since the announcement, the stock has steadily climbed and the payrolls have steadily declined.  While I have not lived through one before, I know the standard protocol for a “merger.”  The new owners lay off the positions that are duplicated.  A big company only needs one finance team, so I suspected the layoff was coming.

I have not actively looked for jobs over the last few months, but I have been actively listening.  I beefed up my LinkedIn profile and updated my resume shortly after the merger announcement.  I decided to leave it to fate from there and see what happened.  With the uncertainty of the future at my company, I was interested in leaving.  However, I had a severance coming if I were to be laid off.  I decided the best route is to network and get ready for the right opportunity.

Attempt number one – learning opportunity

My first opportunity came from a recruiter via e-mail.  He found me through LinkedIn and set me up for an interview for a fascinating position at a fascinating company.  They had me in for an interview but decided to “look another direction” for the position.  I was not heartbroken.  While I would have loved an offer, I took the experience as real life interview practice, as it has been a while since I interviewed for a new job.

Networking

A couple of weeks later, a friend from my MBA program sent me a Facebook message.  He works in finance at another large local employer in a similar industry.  His team was in the market for someone with finance and industry experience.  He offered to pass on my resume, and I happily accepted his offer.

Attempt number two – setting the stage

About a month later, I had forgotten about the job.  I figured nothing was going to come of it.  That is why I was pleasantly surprised when I got a phone call from the HR department at my friend’s company.  They wanted to have me up for an interview.  I accepted and made the drive north to meet management from the company.  I thought the interview went well.  I was not sure if the job was going to be perfect for me, but I was far from eliminating it from the realm of possibilities.  It turns out that it did not matter, I was rejected from two jobs (I didn’t even know I had applied for two jobs!)

Attempt number three

I got a phone call from another HR person at the company that rejected me just a few weeks earlier.  I was shocked when the call came.  I spoke with the HR representative and was told that the original management team wanted to talk to me again about a new position, but I was not given any more details.  I never burn a bridge, particularly one that is still being built, and I was happy to go meet again.  I liked the managers and the vibe was good the first time around, so I agreed to round two.

I returned to the company and learned that the first job I interviewed for at the company was given to an internal candidate.  An intern was promoted to full time, but they wanted to discuss a higher level opportunity with me.

After a great set of interviews with great people, some of which ran out of time when we both would have preferred to continue, I headed home feeling pretty good.  I did not want to get my hopes up too high, but I was excited to hear back.

Two days later, I got the call.  I the position with a substantial pay increase and a comparable title to my current job.  I was offered a higher bonus and similar benefits package.  It also came with job security and a team that I enjoyed meeting with on my two trips up to the company. I am looking forward to working with them in the near future.

Finding and Getting Hired for a New Job

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I have moved jobs a few times in my career, and each move was smooth and took me to a better position with a better salary.  While my story is a textbook example of networking to a new job, it is far from the only career change method.  Having sat through many career workshops during my time as a student, and having tried many of them myself, I have many insights to share on how to get into a new job.

Preliminary Steps – What Do You Want?

Why are you looking for a new job?  Only you can answer that question.  You are also the only one who knows what you want out of the new job.  Are you looking for more money, advancement opportunities, work-life balance, a great location, or one of many other criteria we look for in future jobs?

If you are looking for more money, as many of us are, you should stop by sites like salary.comglassdoor.com, or payscale.com.  Those sites all have free salary information for your location, title, experience, and education.  You may have to give your current compensation information for access or pay for premium data, but the free versions have always been great for me.

The rest is subjective to your situation.  Do the research and know what you are looking for before you start looking.  It will save you time and frustration in the long run.

Active Job Search: Job Boards

The first thing most people do when they look for a new job is head to sites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.  These sites have massive quantities of data, which can be very valuable but also overwhelming.  The key is to set up a profile and be very specific on what you want.  Otherwise, you may be contacted by undesirable companies and will not find anything of value.

Professional associations also have job boards.  If you are a Certified Financial Planner, for example, you have access to a network of CFPs through the CFP trade association.  The same is true for many certifications.  You may also be eligible to join a trade association even without a certification.  These networks have job boards and e-mail lists where you can learn about career opportunities.

If you are an alumni of a major university, you can still contact the career office at your old school.  I have contacted business career offices for both my undergraduate and graduate schools.  I have used their resources a handful of times since graduating.

Active Job Search: Recruiters

Recruiters are an interesting asset in an active job search.  They are paid if they are able to help you find a position, so they have the same goal as you.  However, their goal may be less focused on the right fit than the first fit that comes along.

The best benefit of working with a recruiter, in my experience, is that a recruiter can get you in the front door and coach you as to what the prospective employer is looking for in a candidate.  Recruiters generally know many people across multiple industries.  Just make sure your goals align with their goals and only work with people who seem trustworthy and legitimate.  Go with your gut.

Active Job Search: Online Applications

I have put many applications into the black hole of a company’s HR website during my career searches.  You will often not hear back at all, or you will get a form e-mail that your information will be kept on file.

Online applications are discouraging, but persistence is key to success.  Set up a “job search agent” that will e-mail you when a relevant job opens up.  Apply again and again.  Repeat until you have a job.  Make sure your applications are 100% error-free and follow the directions closely.

I found my most recent job through a company website.  They called me about three weeks after I input my application and, after an in-person interview and a phone interview, I started about a month later.

Active Job Search: Career Fairs

Career fairs can be a great way to network and find a job if you are well prepared.  Go in with a plan of attack.  Research the companies in attendance ahead of time, seek them out, and show that you have knowledge and interest in the company.  Bring a copy of your resume on nice resume paper and wear a suit and tie (or woman’s equivalent) to show that you are serious.

You do not have to talk to everyone.  Don’t waste your time or the company’s time if you are not interested in working there.

Active Job Search: Networking

80% of job openings are not posted on any sort of job board.  In my experience, 66% of jobs were found through someone I knew.  Build your network and don’t be shy.  Connect to people on LinkedIn.  Go to local social events and professional events and ask people about their companies and open positions.  The worst thing that could happen is you don’t get a job.  However, you are more likely to find a job through someone you know than any other method.

The tough part about networking is that there is no specific procedure or formula to follow.  Just talk to people, send “it was good meeting you” e-mails when someone gives you a business card, and stay in touch with the people you have met in the past.

Passive Job Search: Recruiters

If you already have a job, but maybe in the market, recruiters may be more valuable than if you are unemployed and looking for a new position right away.  Because recruiters keep files of people they have worked with in the past, you might come up when an interesting, relevant opening comes their way.

I have been contacted by recruiters several times, and I am almost always willing to listen to what they have to say.  I have interviewed for positions from recruiter referrals.  So far, no luck, but I have several friends with recruiter success stories.

Passive Job Search: Networking

Networking is never over.  The networking steps above apply whether you are looking for a job or not.  My new job came to me through passive networking.

Always help people out when they ask, but only if the request is reasonable and you feel comfortable attaching your name to the person.  When you pass on someone’s information, you have to trust that they will do a good job and will not hurt your reputation.  If it is someone you trust, though, it is always worth doing something good for others.  Aside from the warm fuzzy feeling of helping a friend, you never know when you will be on the other side of the table.  Karma works in mysterious ways.

Nail the Interview

mom2sofia / flickr

Once you find a job you want and get your foot in the door, you have to rock in the interview.  That was an important step in each job transition of my career.  Interviewing is more of an art than a science, but there are proven methods to prepare and do well in the interview.

Setting the Interview

When a company wants to interview you, you will most likely be contacted by phone by someone from the company’s HR department.  If you are expecting a professional call, make sure you have a good, clear, professional voice mail greeting.

When you speak to the HR representative, be friendly, courteous, and honest.  They understand if you currently have a job that you will need to have the interview at a certain time of day, but make sure you are flexible.  Remember, the ball is still in the company’s court until you are given an offer.  Do not be a prima donna and expect them to bend over backward for you.

Being friendly is incredibly important at this stage.  You know they are interested, but if you sound arrogant or rude the HR rep will surely let the hiring manager know.

Pre-Interview

Read.  Read.  Read.  Get to know the company inside out.  Depending on your desired position, focus on the relevant part of the company.  For instance, preparing for interviews, I read the company’s 10-k and most recent 10-Q and earnings release because I want a finance job.  If you are looking for marketing, focus on company expansion and marketing tactics.  If you are looking for a job in HR, you suck at life. (Think The Office, no offense to my HR friends and readers, learn to take a joke, jeez)

When you are preparing, make sure to come up with good questions about the future of the company, the culture, the nature of the position, the people you will be working with, and the management style of your hiring manager.  You do not want to take a job that is not right for you just as much as the company does not want an employee that is not a good fit.  Many managers use questions as a way to determine how interested a prospective employee is in the company and position, so make sure to put your best foot forward with good preparation.

Interview Day

This should go without saying, dress for an interview.  Wear a suit and tie with a pressed shirt and shined shoes (or the woman’s equivalent).  Guys: shave and get a haircut.  Look like you want the job.

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview and find the building and the right place to go.  I usually find the building at least 15 minutes early, but don’t go in that early.  Showing up 15 minutes or more early can interrupt the interviewer.  You don’t want to do that.  Walk in five to ten minutes early.  That shows promptness and the ability to follow directions.

Be friendly to everyone you meet.  Managers generally trust receptionists’ opinions.  Be nice to them.  Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and have copies of your resume with you in case one is needed.  If you have to walk to an interview room together, use friendly small talk to learn about the company, location, or interviewer.  When all else fails, talk about the weather or the local sports team.  But don’t just walk silently. That is awkward.

In the interview, be yourself, but be the best version of yourself.  Don’t ever lie.  Think before you answer.  Be forthcoming, but do not bore the interviewer with irrelevant or long stories.  Pay attention to body language to gauge your interviewer.

Sit up straight.  Mirror your body language to that of your interviewer to establish a subconscious report.  Make eye contact.  Nod and show you are listening when the interviewer is speaking.  Karen Friedman wrote a great essay on interview body language that is worth reading.

Be sure to ask your prepared questions or ask something based on what the interviewer has said.  Show interest.  One of my favorite questions is to ask “what types of goals and deliverables are you looking for over the next month, six months, and year.”

When the interview concludes, be sure to thank the interviewer and ask about the process moving forward.  That shows you are interested in continuing the process.  Do not be pushy, but show that you are assertive.

When you are in an interview, there are a few taboo subjects.  Do not talk about salary.  That comes later unless the interviewer brings up the topic.  Ask about work/life balance, hours, and vacation time, but do not make it look like you are not willing to work hard for the company.

Post Interview

There are several opinions on what to do after the interview.  They involve both e-mail and handwritten thank you notes.  I will give you my opinion, but be aware that there are several ideas for what to do, and any could be correct depending on the circumstance.

If you have communicated by e-mail prior to the initial meeting, send an e-mail thank-you note on the day of the interview or the following morning.  If you do not have their e-mail address or you do not believe it would be appropriate based on your interactions, you do not have to send an e-mail thank-you note.

Either way, send a handwritten thank-you note the next day.  Mail it the same day as the interview or the following morning.  The timing keeps you fresh on their mind and shows that you care about the position and company.  A handwritten note is a good personal touch in a society where text messaging, e-mail, and instant messages are becoming the standard.  A handwritten note is a good way to stand out from the crowd.

If you have not heard anything back within a week (or the timeline given to you by the interviewer), do not hesitate to follow up with an e-mail or phone call.  It shows assertiveness for the position and that you are still interested.  Do not hound the person with calls and notes, but a follow-up is reasonable.

Leaving Your Job Gracefully

Now you have found your job and kicked ass on the interview. Assuming that went well, and you are already employed, you have to walk the fine line of leaving a job.

Two Weeks Notice

In my state, every employer/employee relationship is defined as “employment at will.”  In layman's terms, that means the employer can fire you at any time without notice and without reason.  The employee has the same rights.  You can quit at any time without notice or reason.  However, no matter how much you hate your job, this is not the best route to go.

At some point in your future, a new employer will most likely call your old company to confirm your past employment.  Most employers today will not give a lot of information, but there is a standard script.  The former employer will most likely confirm the dates you were employed and say that you are either “eligible for rehire” or “ineligible for rehire.”  Leaving without two weeks' notice will most likely put you in the second category, which could hurt your chances when looking for a new job.

Make It As Easy As Possible

For most of us, this is a common courtesy.  I like my co-workers, and I don’t want to leave them up a creek when I head out later this week.  To do so, I have been working hard to automate some of my responsibilities to save time in the future.  I am also leaving detailed procedures to complete some monthly tasks.  For everything else, I am training people as best as I can.

The main goal here is to be a good person, but there is self-service in this as well.  If you want a good reference from your old boss, you probably should not leave a laundry list of unfinished projects behind.  Complete as much as possible and hand off your responsibilities for a seamless transition.

Never Burn a Bridge

The reason you do any of this is to keep a good relationship open with your past employer.  You never know what is going to happen in the future.  You may need a reference for a future job or graduate school application.  Your old employer might miss you and offer you another job at some point in the future.  Anything can happen.

As one reader pointed out last week, when you are crossing the narrow bridge of your career, you don’t want to burn it.  (How clever is that, right?)

Or Just Do This?

And yeah, that's real. Marina Shifrin is awesome! This turned into a new job offer from Queen Latifah. So never rule out creativity, but remember that it wouldn't work for most people.

How to Start a New Job

WhiteHouse.gov

I wrote this section on day one of my new job.  The big moment came at 8:00 am when I drove into the parking lot of my new company.  I had a great first day, but it took some preparation and planning to make it such a success.

Accepting the Offer

Be upfront when you give the final acceptance.  Negotiate your start date and let them know if you have any planned vacation.  Because of the time of year, they were not surprised to hear that I already have holiday travel plans.  Because it was not a surprise, the manager was not upset.

I also wanted a little decompression time between jobs.  I was able to get a week free in between and took a vacation to just relax with no worries.  That also helped me go into the new job feeling fresh and excited to start.

Pre-Arrival Paperwork

Some companies like you to have your paperwork filled out early.  For my job, I needed to pass a background check and credit check before my first day, so I had to fill out online forms to start that process.

I also filled out my I-9 form and state tax authorization to work form ahead of time.  I also got the right documents together so I would have them all on hand the first day.

Planning Your First Day

I sent my new boss a note about a week before my planned start date to find out where I needed to be and when I needed to be there.  You don’t want to show up late or at the wrong place for your first day on the job.  Come in with the goal of making a great first impression.

The night before your first day, get everything you need together so you can grab it quickly in the morning.  Make sure your alarm is set, and you have everything you need for a smooth morning.  Have a relaxing evening and a good meal so you can sleep well and wake up refreshed.

The First Day

When you arrive, relax and enjoy yourself.  You will be meeting your new team and will most likely go through some sort of HR training and set up for doing your job.  Be friendly and pleasant to everyone you meet.  Make small talk but don’t linger too long.  Ask for help when needed but keep a low profile.  Keep yourself as busy as you can while staying on task.  Get settled in taking it easy.  You have a lot of hard work ahead of you. No reason to stress on day one.

Do you have a job or career change story you would like to share here on Personal Profitability send me an email through the contact form or let me know in the comments.

This post was originally published on January 24, 2014, and updated on August 31, 2022.

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