Tag Archives: job searching

Job Search Advice

January 31, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The wage gap is closing, in large part due to women who are no longer satisfied with just a steady income.

Though Nebraska is often touted as a thriving job market for men and women alike, the state has earned a C-minus grade for employment and earnings of women from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and is ranked 31st in the nation—behind Iowa, Missouri, and most of the East Coast. Women in Nebraska are earning an average of 73.1 cents for every dollar made by men. While the wage gap is closing, at this rate of progress, Nebraska will not achieve equal pay for men and women until 2066.

However negative these statistics may seem, the job searching process for women is brighter today than it has ever been. The career search and application process is changing rapidly, and women learn at a fast pace. Thanks to the availability of resources to determine salaries of others in their prospective field, women are finding the process to be significantly less daunting and more hopeful.

When engaging in a job search, an activity that local résumé writer Bridget (Weide) Brooks says is now occurring close to every two to three years in an adult’s life, women are less commonly left to guess at how their salaries stack up to those of male counterparts in the same field or wonder about the dollar value of their unique skills.

Cindy Wagner

Cindy Wagner

Career coach Cindy Wagner finds that the biggest mistake women make in their job search is to underestimate their skills, or “undersell themselves.” Wagner works with women to discover skills that they tend to disregard. She looks for the unique, and often less quantifiable, talents of each individual. As she guides a client’s career search, she starts by helping people uncover what truly drives them to seek out a new career, the idea beyond a simple paycheck.

The wage gap is closing, in large part due to women who are no longer satisfied with just a steady income. As more and more women make their way into higher ranking positions within companies, potential employees are setting higher goals than previous generations—and achieving them. Motivation to not only get a job, but to be hired by a company where their passions and talents will be utilized, is increasingly enabling women to surpass competition in the job market.

Wagner’s next step is working with clients to develop a picture of what their ideal job would look like, factoring in their individual passions to create a fulfilling career concept. Then she helps with résumé, LinkedIn profiles, and other factors in her clients’ personal branding to make sure that the materials clearly and accurately reflect the value of the individual.

A common problem faced by many women trying to create their personal brand is accounting for time outside of the workforce, often spent caring for children or aging parents. Taking time off to care for children can be especially problematic in Nebraska, which the Institute for Women’s Policy Research ranks 50th in reproductive rights. Although many might consider a gap of a few years or more in their work history to be a weak point on their résumé, professionals such as Brooks and Wagner see such areas as opportunities for articulation of “softer” skills that could be a major asset for any job seeker. Companies hire employees because they have a problem, a need that is unmet. A potential employee who is able to discuss their problem-solving skills articulately makes for a strong candidate in almost any field.

Volunteer experience, work with school organizations, problem solving, and interpersonal skills can all help raise the value of potential employees. Brooks emphasizes that gaps in work history are not necessarily a weakness if workers know how to showcase that time in a clear way. While it is helpful to take a few classes or continue to work part-time outside the home, the most important strategy to rejoining the workforce is to maintain connections with coworkers.

Overall, the uncertainty Brooks and Wagner see the most frequently in their female clients stems from a lack of confidence. Women tend to be less aggressive in their job search and avoid “bragging” in their application process, which can impact a potential employer’s perception of their value as workers. Advice from a professional career coach or résumé writer can help build that confidence and show women that their skills translate to career opportunities.

With information about the dollar value of talents available on the internet, women are now more prepared than ever to use their skills as leverage in negotiation of salary, benefits, and flexibility of hours. Women are great at building relationships, especially with other women, and shouldn’t be afraid to use those connections. Brooks states plainly, “people hire people.” Research, some self-reflection, and a strong résumé can help women and their prospective employers understand that their skills are worth far more than 73 cents on the dollar.

Visit omahacareercoach.com for more information.

Bridget (Weide) Brooks

Bridget (Weide) Brooks

 

 

 

Top Ten Networking Tips

by Bridget (Weide) Brooks

Person-to-person networking is the single most effective way to find a new job, according to a survey conducted by Right Management, with 46 percent of jobseekers identifying networking as the reason they found their most recent job. Here’s 10 easy ways for women to build, nurture, and grow their personal network.

1. Don’t wait until you need a job to build your network. You should be constantly building—and strengthening—your connections with your network. Do something to build your network each and every day, whether that’s sending an email to someone you haven’t talked to in a while or identifying someone new you want to meet.

2. Don’t think of networking as some big, scary thing. It’s talking to people. It’s asking them for help. It’s offering help. It’s about cultivating relationships, not doing some forced, fake thing.

3. Identify who is already in your network. Take out a sheet of paper and make a list of all the people you know: friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, parents and relatives of your friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, current and previous co-workers and managers, suppliers, professional association contacts, your community contacts (civic leaders, clergy, etc.), alumni connections, and your doctor, financial adviser, attorney, etc. Your holiday card list can be a good starting point for identifying who is already in your network.

4. Remember the principle of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Research shows that you are likely six people away from the person you want to reach. There’s fun in figuring out how to get to that person. A practical application of this is to look for the person on LinkedIn and see who is connected to that person that you already know. Reach out to your contact offline (not on LinkedIn, but by phone or in person) and ask if they can help you connect with that person.

5. The power of the network is not just the people you know—it’s the people those people know. What if you can’t find a contact in common? Don’t be afraid to ask your network to help connect you with someone who has the information or resources you need. A very practical way to do this, for example, is to send a group text message or Facebook Messenger message that says, “Do any of you know someone who works for ABC Company?”

6. Give to get. Be the person who reaches out to your network of contacts regularly (at least a couple of times a year) to see what they are doing, to acknowledge those efforts, and to offer to provide assistance (should they need it). Segment your list of contacts into a “to do” list of check-ins. But make sure you are focusing on them when you make contact, not on you. You probably know someone who only contacts you when they need something. Don’t be that person.

7. Make time to get out and see people. The most powerful networking contacts are in-person, one-to-one interactions. If possible, arrange one to two coffee or after-work happy hour meetings with someone in your network each month. Also, when possible, attend networking events (for example, those hosted by a professional organization). If you can’t do that, network where you already are: your child’s soccer game, your neighborhood grocery store, and even at sporting events.

8. Network online. Participate in an online community. This can be a social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn, an alumni site (like Classmates.com) or your trade association’s website (which might have an e-list or message board to connect members). However, remember that online networking is not a substitute for in-person networking.

9. Be very specific when you activate your network. Identify the specific need you have, and then contact people who are in a position to help you reach that specific goal. You’ll sometimes see someone post a public request for help finding a new job—but more often, these types of requests are made individually and not as a broad “call for help.”

10. Once you build it, use it! Women are extraordinarily talented at creating small, powerful networks—we just need to do a better job of using them!

Older, Educated, and Still Looking

February 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in Spring 2015 B2B magazine.

20150130_bs_9026

Mike Gawley punctuated the day he was let go from his job with a thud.

As he was cleaning out his desk after 30-plus years at a company he had grown and nurtured, Gawley could feel the tension tightening around him. He hadn’t eaten very much that day nor did he drink enough water.

“And I passed out,” he says matter-of-factly, with no dramatic gestures. “I passed out that evening during a prayer service. I knew then my health was going to be the most important thing.”

Keeping his mind and body as free from stress as possible is perhaps the reason Gawley, 58, gathers his thoughts and measures his words carefully about the difficulties in finding a job—as if he’s still trying to grasp what happened to him upon hearing the words, “Your services are no longer needed.” On a June day in 2013 Gawley went from president and CEO of Oakview Construction, a developer of commercial properties, to just another name on the Great Recession’s roster of its hardest-hit demographic: skilled workers ages 55-64.

“We try hard to avoid recessions because they’re not a shared burden; their cost (in joblessness) tends to fall disproportionately on certain people in an unpredictable way,” says Dr. Eric Thompson, an economics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As director of the Bureau of Business Research, Dr. Thompson crunches a lot of data, but he’s sensitive to the human toll the numbers represent. “People hear, ‘Oh, the economy has recovered,’ but it hasn’t recovered for them because their skills haven’t transferred to a position comparable to the one they lost.”

Even by Nebraska standards, the last downturn—technically pegged from December 2007 to June 2009—was pretty tough overall. The unemployment rate of 55- to 64-year-olds stood at 2.2 percent statewide in 2006 (pre-recession) but rose to 2.8 percent in 2013. Nationally, the jump was much greater—3.1 percent in 2006 to 5.8 percent in 2013. Nebraska did outpace the nation in one area, however.

graph“There was a growth in discouraged workers here, greater than the national average, among those 55 and over,” says Dr. Thompson, referring to those who stopped looking for jobs.

Mike Gawley had never looked for a job before. He didn’t have to. As a construction engineering major at Iowa State, the tall, lean farm kid from rural western Iowa hooked up with Oakview Construction in Red Oak during the summers and had a job waiting for him upon graduation in 1978. He oversaw a variety of building projects before opening a branch office across the river in Omaha in 1987. Within five years the new Omaha site bettered its Iowa counterpart in projects and revenue. Gawley became President of Oakview Construction in 1997. They were licensed in 48 states, including Nevada. That ignited the company’s downfall.

“At the beginning of the recession, about 15 percent of our work was in Las Vegas and the projects, mostly warehouses and offices, were financed by banks, including Lehman Brothers,” says Gawley, citing one of the biggest investment bank failures on record. “As the banks went under, we couldn’t collect the money. So we had to be sold.” When Gawley’s three-year agreement with the new owners of Oakview was up in 2013, he found himself on the outside looking in.

“The construction industry doesn’t have much interest in me,” says Gawley with resignation. “They say I’m too old and too senior (in position). I was a CEO and that’s where people think I fit. But how many companies are looking for CEOs?”

Not too many, and the prospects for a supervisory position aren’t much better since companies have learned to do more with less. “The middle layer of supervisors was eliminated during the recession, so now it’s just the workers, mostly young, and the top people,” according to Debbie Christensen of the Nebraska Department of Labor. “That’s a big issue. There’s not that stepping stone [to the top] as much as there used to be.”

Christensen, who works at the Omaha Career Center, encourages older workers to “say in their cover letter, ‘I understand I’m starting over and my pay will be different, but I’m willing to do that.’”

Gawley has worked with a job coach and has posted his new resume online. Every day for a year and a half he has followed pretty much the same routine: wake up early and get to Lakeside Wellness Center by 5:30, exercise, shower, put on dress pants, a starched white shirt and a sports jacket, drive home to Elkhorn, go downstairs to the computer, check the want ads, trade magazines and his job networking schedule, and make phone calls that all too often aren’t returned.

Why get dressed up? “To give me the right mindset of, ‘I’ve got to work now, I can’t get distracted’” he says.

A quiet, gentle man by nature who displays an almost pastoral approach to people, Gawley finds solace in his church, St. Patrick’s, his wife, Colleen, their three married children and five grandchildren. He admits he hasn’t found his job niche yet, but he’s grateful for his friends in Omaha’s business community who have proven the most valuable in helping him with leads. Gawley has also accepted a credo straight from a job coach’s handbook.

“My expectations now are much lower than a year ago,” he says, but he remains optimistic his niche is just over the horizon.

 

The Reality of the American Dream

March 25, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The apartment’s living room is warm. Blankets are on the couches, an old TV is playing cartoons, and 5-year-old Hana is mimicking the enthusiastic English of the monkey onscreen. Her grandmother, Zinab Abdelmote, watches from the couch, quiet and smiling.

Amna Hussein tells her daughter to lower the sound. “Zuza!” she calls her by nickname. Amna sets down a silver tray with one glass of juice. “From Egypt,” she says, gesturing to the delicate tray. Dinner, she says, is cooking.

She’s experiencing her first full winter in Omaha. She arrived in February 2013, after a circuitous route from her home country of Sudan that spans several years. Six of those were spent in a refugee camp in Egypt. Though Amna lives in a small apartment with Hana, her mother, Zinab, and her younger sister Elham, three of her siblings are still in Egypt. Two sisters, Najwa and Suzan, live close by in Omaha. Two other siblings are in Libya, two are missing in Darfur, and the eldest is living in the U.K.

20131213_bs_8395

There were 16 of them once upon a time. Amna laughs at the shock the number incites. “How did she do it?” she asks, gesturing at Zinab.

Amna is obviously proud of her mother. She, Najwa, and Elham take turns watching out for Zinab throughout the day. Her heart is bad, she has kidney problems, and high blood pressure. Her current dream, Amna translates, is to learn English. “Her willingness to study has stayed with her to this moment.”

Zinab’s daughters living in Omaha are already deep into studies at Metro Community College: a few hours a day of ESL, per the requirement to receive temporary aid for needy families (TANF). Their knowledge quickly outgrew the English classes provided by Southern Sudan Community Association, where they still receive some case management.

“We’re comparable to Lutheran Family Services,” says Marni Newell, SSCA program coordinator. “Just a lot smaller.” Newell explains that as a federal resettlement facility, they have 90 days to offer in-depth information on a wide variety of complex topics: Medicaid, food stamps, banking, job searching, English classes, cultural orientation, and driver’s ed. Other assistance includes helping to apply for relatives’ resettlement, applying  >for citizenship, and demonstrating how to ride the bus.

Amna reflects on how much she’s learned just in the year she’s been in Omaha. She and Elham entered the U.S. through Miami. The use of Spanish everywhere in the airport threw her off. “I asked a caseworker, are we really in America?” Amna recalls. She can laugh about it now. After a stop in Washington, D.C., the sisters arrived in Omaha. “I was thinking…I have been to small villages before but…” She chuckles again.

But she says, “Omaha’s like a land of knowledge. A land of peace. It’s a friend to all refugees to find a right beginning for their life. To resettle correctly, this is the right beginning. Leave the dreams for a while. Then later on, you can go.”

Elham sets down a plate of beans with tomato paste and spices, some thin bread, and two slices of American cheese. Amna excuses herself to get Hana her dinner.

Elham’s English is only slightly less fluent than Amna’s, but the confidence is there.

“Refugees see America as a dream,” Elham says. “But when they start their life, they face real problems. Many become, like, lost. Because their families back in the refugee camp think they will send money. And people in refugee camps think life in America is very easy. You can find money and jobs anywhere. But since February [2013], I haven’t got a job. I’ve interviewed many, many places.”

20131213_bs_8206

It’s a difficult life—going to school, finding work. “Najwa,” Elham says, referring to her elder sister who lives with three grade-school children, “is father, mother…everything. Here, you have friends to help you with these things.” But if you’re new to the country, she says, who do you have? She shrugs. “You can’t get a car without a job. And you can’t have a job without a car.”

Amna returns, saying it’s time to have tea. Her conversation is gentler than Elham’s as she stands over the stove, but she mirrors her younger sister’s opinions.

For example, she’s learning how to drive, but money has a lot of other places to go first. “At the beginning when we came,” Amna explains, “the organization does it for us. But three months is not enough. After three months, they require us to find a job. Some people can’t start school for two years because they’re running here and there to support the family. Even now, for me to go to a job and to school, it’s a problem.”

Still, she says she hopes to start work at Walmart soon as a cashier. The goal is to study at Metro and work at the same time. Of course, daycare is a problem. Due to Hana’s September birthday, she missed the cut-off date for kindergarten. Transportation, as always, is a headache.

But studying is important. “Here, there is no limit to education,” Amna says. “No matter your age, we can study what we like. We’re greedy to learn as much as we can.” She and her sisters hold college degrees in a variety of fields, but “the technology that America has reached, we feel that we are behind. In technology, development, education…”

Amna, for example, has a bachelor’s in English and sociology from India, as well as a diploma in health and social care from the U.K. She’s thinking of eventually taking up nursing studies.

“We will study according to what the market needs,” Elham chimes in. “If I studied geography, maybe I’ll do nothing. You must start with what the market needs. That is first.”Amna sets down a glass of hot tea with a single clove for fragrance. “You can take it with you,” she says, nudging the mug. “You will come back. It’s fine.”

Another winter day, another trip to the small apartment. A variety of pastas and glasses of nonalcoholic liqueur cover the dining room table. The atmosphere is intimate. The headscarves have come off, and the talk becomes frank.

“I lost my job,” Amna confides. Her voice is still gentle but frustrated. The buses, she explains, can’t reliably get her to Walmart on time and home again.

“I must work,” she says. “Someplace where I can walk to.” She mentions a few places she’s thought of and is unfazed when told it would take an hour to get there. “It’s good exercise for me.”

But here, in the small, warm apartment, frustrations are put aside for a moment. Elham brings tea to the living room, and Amna produces a small bottle of homemade perfume. “For after dinner,” she explains. “To cover the scent.”

Arabic and English swirl around the room as six women chatter about anything and everything and nothing in Omaha, Nebraska.

Editor’s note: As of late January, both Amna and Elham have found employment.