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Carol Fishman Cohen Answers Your Questions

Soft skills, competing in today's job market, resumes and Applicant Tracking Systems, references, lower-level jobs, getting hired during a downturn - Carol Fishman Cohen answers relaunchers' questions.

It seems that we all have more questions than answers these days. Fortunately, on the iRelaunch front, you can find more of the answers. On April 24th, Carol Fishman Cohen, iRelaunch Chair and Co-Founder, held a special Facebook Live session in which she answered many of the questions that relaunchers are asking right now. In case you missed it, you'll find those questions, and Carol's answers, right here.

You can also watch a recording of Facebook Live session at the bottom of this page.

Now let's get to those answers!

What do you see happening with return to work programs in the fall as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?

Just a few minutes ago it was announced that the unemployment numbers are predicted to go to 12% by year-end. We're in conversations with employers all the time who are running return to work programs. There's a lot of discussion going on, as you can imagine, for those programs that are happening this fall. Programs may run virtually, they may run in person, and some will get pushed off a quarter. As far as recruiting activity in the fall, we're seeing a lot of that proceed. But again, it's changing all the time. But the other piece of it is that most of us don't get hired through these programs. Most of us will get hired as a “one-off” hire, like I got hired when I returned after my 11-year career break.

We have a unique perspective at iRelaunch because this is not our first recession. This is a very different kind of a downturn, but we have been through a recession before. We were a much younger company, but I remember distinctly that as we rode into the depths of that recession and back out again, every time we had a Conference, more companies were sponsoring, even if they had hiring freezes going on, because they were forward-thinking and pipeline-building. So, I just wanted to point that out. And we're seeing that again in conversations with companies. They are looking beyond this - even though they're facing the reality of it right now.

Should relaunchers include their pre-career-break position in the (LinkedIn) headline? Should they write about their post career-break target role? Any advice on positioning a relaunch in the summary section? What if I'm deciding between two directions?

Let's talk about a few scenarios since there are lots of questions in that question. One is to explain who you are and what you want to do and forget about the career break as far as the headline for your LinkedIn summary is concerned. Let's say you were a creative director and you want to go back to that field. Your headline could be descriptive: "Experienced creative director with deep expertise in campaigns for consumer products ranging from toothpaste to containers." You want to state it in terms of what your experience is. The career-break piece is irrelevant here.

Now if you're pursuing two career directions, I think a good example is our very own COO, Kellie Van, who is a relauncher herself. I'm focusing on her having both a strong operations background and a strong creative background. So her headline could be, "Multi-faceted professional with diverse work background both in operations and logistics, and in managing creative teams." So that leaves it open that she could go in two different directions.

"The career-break piece is irrelevant here."

Now the Summary part: I was looking at (Kellie's) summary and just lifting from it, (I'm paraphrasing here but I'm also reading from her profile) "Early in my career I was part of the founding teams at two startups where my work spanned operations HR and creative. I then worked at more established companies including J Jill, Wayfair and Living Proof where I was able to focus on my creative passions and as art director, a role that included managing high-functioning design teams with marketing departments and establishing processes to improve workflow efficiencies." You're seeing that she's communicating about two different skillsets there, even on the creative side - she is talking about managing teams and improving workflow efficiency. That's an example how you would approach two different career directions.

In the last downturn how did relaunchers get jobs? Exactly what did they do?

First of all, and this is so relevant right now, they got specific! They got really specific on their skillset and what they were looking to do - and this is not an easy task. We talk about this in (the iRelaunch Return to Work) Roadmap and in the "Assessing Your Career Options." session that we run at our iRelaunch (Return to Work) Conference. This takes a lot of time and reflection. They became subject-matter experts all over again in their field. So what I did - I looked at my old finance books (I was in finance) I looked at the old transactions I worked on, I talked to my colleagues from 11 years before to find out what are the new acronyms that are in use, what are the new products, how do they all work? One great thing is to get in touch with your own colleagues and find out who the experts in the field are now. They will tell you who they follow, and then you should be reading everything that those experts are producing - because you want to understand what all the current issues are in your field. So, books, articles, podcasts, websites - make sure that you understand what the controversies are in your field - and the more you study this, the more conversant you'll be and the more confident you'll feel.

"... books, articles, podcasts, websites - make sure that you understand what the controversies are in your field - and the more you study this, the more conversant you'll be and the more confident you'll feel."

The other thing that people did before in the downturn, is they were relentless about their job search process, but they were not obnoxious. So yes, they would look up who the person was who posted a job. They found a job they were interested in on the actual company career site, but then they went to LinkedIn to see if it was posted there and asked to connect to the recruiter who had posted that job.

They were pursuing and following up, but they're not pinging a person every single day saying, "You know I sent my resume; did you get it, did you get it?" Or checking in every day after the first interview. They were very measured in their timing in terms of their follow-up and very appropriate and polite every time, because they recognized that in these difficult environments, the recruiters themselves are under a lot of pressure and the recruiters are getting mixed messages from their own companies in terms of what the priorities are, and which jobs are proceeding and which got filled, and whether they're changing directions. There can be a lot of bombardment and conflicting internal direction. When you are not hearing back from someone, that doesn't mean anything about you. It has nothing to do with you. And you have to keep reminding yourself that.

So that is the other piece: people from the past who were successful in getting jobs during downturns were patient. They knew this process took time, and we know that the process going is going to take longer right now. But I also want to say that just because it's taking longer doesn't mean there are no jobs available. They also weren't encumbered by a negative context about "well, the economy is terrible, and no one is hiring." They didn't get derailed by that kind of macro picture that was going on in the background. They were focused on finding a job, even if the economy was terrible. So, think about this - you only need one job. Even when companies are laying off and the economic picture is very dire you can go on to websites and see brand new postings. Many companies have jobs available right now. Let me give you an example of one of my favorite websites because it's about academia where a lot of relaunchers don't think to look. lists about 35,000 (jobs) right now. 345 of them were posted today. You would think, "is that possible?" You're hearing all of this negative news about colleges and universities: they don't really know what's going to go on in the fall, are they even going to open, are there hiring freezes, hits to their endowments? Yet on that site 345 jobs got posted today at academic institutions across the country. I want you to feel encouraged by that.

"... think about this - you only need one job."

Of course, there are there going to be industries that are just slaughtered (right now): airlines and hospitality industries, travel related industries - really tough right now - some big layoffs there in the startup community, venture funded companies. But at the same time, you're also hearing about medical and healthcare, and consumer goods, and food supply, and virtual and tech and eCommerce - those sectors that are hiring. The thing is, though, note to see when the jobs are posted if it's an old posting or not.

Another thing that relaunchers during a downturn did was to make sure that they got certifications or recertifications that they needed for a job. For example, we had a manufacturing engineer who wanted to be in quality engineering, and she had an 11-year career break. She realized that every job she looked at required Lean or Six Sigma certification, so she had to get that before she could even apply for a lot of these jobs. So, think about it. Think about whether a new certification could be helpful to you.

There's this certification I really like in anti-money laundering: the ACAMS online certification program - and we've had people switch fields, for example, from media to finance, by taking that program. And they get hired by re-uping their skills in this very specific area in anti-money laundering, or in compliance related areas in finance. There's a lot of focus on that right now. So maybe that's part of what you're doing right now - spending time doing course work (and you could do free coursework). You can look at edX or Coursera - a huge range of courses. You can take them all for free and I would spend some of my time right now on that. (We have had people complete those courses (the free version) and it was most important to the employer that they completed them as opposed to getting the official certification or test at the end.) I would put them on my resume and LinkedIn profile, even if I just started them. It’s fine to say you're currently taking them. Check with your alma mater to find out what kind of career services were being offered. I'm watching what is being offered right now for current students because I know (and maybe some of you even have) students who are home because they had rescinded job offers or because their summer job search all of a sudden just started. And also, our adult children who have employment issues of their own at the same time that we're trying to relaunch. So, the schools are really beefing up their virtual offerings right now for current students, and I have to speculate that that's going to spill over into their alumni populations which really need their support.

"And then here's a really important one – the people who were successful were also ignoring the naysayers."

And then here's a really important one – the people who were successful were also ignoring the naysayers. You have to ignore people who are going to say to you, "oh isn't everyone looking for a job these days? Good luck with that!" You might go public with your job search, and you might have people react like that to you. It's probably because they've got their own anxieties, and they're feeding that back to you. You have to filter all that out. The people who were successful were able to put those kinds of comments aside and keep going forward with their job search.

They also didn't get hung up on level - they weren't so worried about what level they came back at. And we have a really good article on this, in Harvard Business review, I wrote this article about relaunchers who were senior before their career break who came in at much more junior levels. We caught up with them, where are they now that they've been back in the workforce for a number of years, and their message across the board was just focus on getting in and don't worry about what level it is.

I've got this job opportunity - it's about 2/3 the salary that I was making before (taking) a five-year career break. The paid time off is 10 days/year, and so it feels like not enough to me. Do I still take the job, and can I keep looking for other jobs?

I would say the answer is yes, you absolutely take that job. You get in the door, take that job, learn everything you can, produce the best work you can produce. See how it goes. It may turn out that you like that job a lot better than you thought you were going to like it. And also, the other part of that question is, 'Can I continue to look for a job, even while I've taken this job, because I think that some of the terms of this job are not that good. And is there something wrong with that?" It's almost like it's an ethical or moral issue. Like it's just not appropriate. But the answer to that is, most managers and recruiters and people who are working will say, "everyone is always in play." Anyone who's been managing for a long time will say even the people who are not looking could get approached by a headhunter or a recruiter and get "an offer they can't refuse." There's nothing wrong with looking around while you have a current role. But again, I say: immerse yourself in that role, do your best work. It could turn out you like it and then maybe they give you more vacation days, or a promotion or money later - and that's all a good thing and it's totally fine to keep looking.

Sometimes (employers) won't even talk to you for those lower-level jobs. Do you think with so many people out because of COVID, that has changed?

Yes, I do actually, and I think the experience that companies have had, and the world has seen, of [medical professionals] being brought back to jobs out of retirement and other situations where people are just immediately reintegrated into the workforce, will change everyone's mindset. And with virtual work, now all of a sudden everyone is saying "why were we even in an office in the first place?" - employers are reevaluating the whole idea of working virtually. I do think that people will talk to you about lower-level jobs. I also think it's up to you to educate them. And to say, "I intentionally sought this job out."

"I also think it's up to you to educate them. And to say, 'I intentionally sought this job out.'"

I actually wrote an article for Fairygodboss and one for Harvard Business Review about why people take lower-level jobs than what they left, and it's for so many reasons. Sometimes we simply want less stressful jobs. We want to deliver - and this is what you can say, "my priority is to deliver excellent results to my employer and I intentionally sought this role out because I know that I can do this and manage my life outside of work. This was an intentional choice on my part. And at my current life stage it's the perfect match." So, use some language like that to educate why you're looking for a lower-level role.

I'm at the point now where they're asking for references. How do relaunchers get references from their old colleagues or their old boss when they had a 14-year career break and a) they don't know where their boss is anymore, or b) the person's retired?

In a few cases where people took like 20-year career breaks, sometimes their managers have died, but really, it's more the situation where they've been out of touch. We have had so many relaunchers be hesitant to get back in touch with their bosses from 10, 14 years ago – they are worried their old bosses won’t remember them or will be mad at them for not staying in touch. But invariably, we hear "I got in touch with my boss from 14 years ago, he totally remembered me, wrote a reference, and it worked for me [the prospective employer was fine accepting the reference from so long ago]." ...You (can) do a volunteer role, like a substantive, pro bono volunteer role, specifically because you want the reference from the person or the company that you're doing the volunteer work for. We're actually seeing relaunchers trade doing a consulting project in order to get the reference specifically in this kind of situation. And then you can also include a character reference in the mix - maybe from people you volunteer with in the community, or at one of your kids' schools.

How much "face time" is expected in the office. How do I manage that with family responsibilities?

Of course, this is going to be different now with COVID, but let's say we move back to the old way of doing things and people are focused on face time again. The person asking the question was worried because they're a single parent, they have to leave by 5 p.m. every day to pick up their child. And they're used to working 12-14 hours a day in their industry (which was the fashion industry) before their career break. So, first of all, think about how long you have been on break. Has the industry changed? It may change significantly now after COVID with everyone working virtually. Wait till you get the offer, and then it's perfectly fine to say that your priority is to contribute your best work to the organization. You want to be able to view your work day as a long day - and so for you, your workday could start at 8 or 9 a.m., (you're) going to take a break between 5 and 9 p.m. and then (you're) going to continue working because you need to be able to make that up (the time you spent picking up your kids and getting them settled). But it does not have anything to do with your level of dedication and commitment or the work product that you're going to produce. So, I think you get the offer first, then you have that conversation, then you see what the reaction is.

But I think it's perfectly appropriate to bring it up and also talk about how you view your work day - that you would be available for urgent messages and accessible for emergencies or important things during that 5-9 time of day, but that you would organize your work day in that way. Perfectly appropriate conversation.

Resume software on company websites: does it weed out resumes if it shows a gap? What about a volunteer role?

You will fill out these online applications where you have to account for all of your time, and yes, I would put a volunteer role in there in the same way that I might put paid work in there. And once you applied for that job, and this is going to be the case with pretty much any job, it's not going to be enough to apply through that system. You might get bounced back and bounced out of that system and get an immediate rejection. And I still wouldn't assume that that means you're really rejected - especially with big companies.

We've had relaunchers get rejected out of these auto systems, and then they go find someone who knows someone or an old colleague. We have a great story about someone who used to work at a company, went to our conference and met people at that company, applied for a job she thought she was eminently qualified for - immediately got rejected! She could not believe it. So, she went back and said. "I am so qualified for this" and she talked to one of her old colleagues. They put her application back in - she got the job! So, it could be, if it's a very big company and you get rejected by the auto-system, go through a side door. Go to a person who knows another person who can walk your resume over. And sometimes they'll say, "well you have to apply." And you'll say, "well I did apply, and it's just rejecting me because my career break. But I'm so qualified for this role." That's how a lot of people circumvent the system and get considered for these roles.

(What are some) tips for practicing soft skills after a career break? And how should I prepare for interviews and presenting myself for public speaking?

So, I would say definitely contact your alma mater and see if they do mock interview practice. See if they have resources for you: Can you talk to alumni? Who are some alumni in your field? Maybe not to get a job, but just to practice having conversations about it. Toastmasters is a really good place for people to go during their relaunch while they're in their job search (to) work on public speaking abilities. Most of the people in these Toastmasters groups are working, and Toastmasters is a worldwide organization. (Enter) your zip code and there are chapters meeting everywhere. It's relatively inexpensive and they meet every other week. I just looked up today to see are they continuing to meet online, and the answer is yes, so, I would definitely tap into that as a resource for you.

"We're always in that situation. It can be more exaggerated right now, maybe it can take longer, but it's not going to change the core strategies that we use to be successful."

How can we make ourselves stand out as relaunchers when millions are now unemployed? How do we position ourselves as competitive?

It's everything I'm talking about. Figure out exactly what your skills are. Become a subject matter expert all over again. You can do that right now. And don't get derailed by thinking that you're any less qualified than someone who hasn't had a career break. COVID is going to change a lot of things about the job search, but you want to use your networks, go public with job search, use this time to reconnect with people that you haven't reconnected with in a long time. Just check in and ask how they are doing. And that is going to be a great way to segue into them asking you "well how are you doing?" And you can explain what you're thinking about, but make sure you know what you want to do and you're really specific about it. I would say, put that out of your mind that you can't compete with people who haven't had career breaks. We're always in that situation. It can be more exaggerated right now, maybe it can take longer, but it's not going to change the core strategies that we use to be successful.

Watch the Facebook Live recording here:

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