Career Development Tips

Finding a passion that is in demand

by Amy Cell

I love talking to job seekers that aren’t exactly sure about what they want to do, but by exploring the types of experiences that they like, they can put together some seeds that could grow into a career.  There are a variety of resources such as counselors and assessments to help you figure out how to turn your interests and personal preferences into a rewarding career.

It is also important to align your career choice with the occupations that are expected to increase in demand.  If you love managing teams and solving problems, project management could be for you.  Do you enjoy helping people and are patient and supportive?  Occupational therapists will be in high demand now and in the future.  Do you enjoy being outside, math and science and are highly organized? Becoming a construction superintendent is a highly lucrative career that only requires an associate’s degree.

At MEDC, we created a Career Matchmaker tool on that provides data on the number of current and future jobs by occupation, skillset and industry.  For instance, the accounting skillset is core for a variety of jobs including payroll clerk, auditor, financial planner, etc.  These jobs are found in every industry, and are in high numbers now and in the future.  On the other hand, some skillsets are found in few industries and are projected to decline.

Check out a variety of tools in the career explorer section of, and we will be adding to this area even more in the near future.

Focused: to be or not to be?

Many job seekers that I talk to mention how they will apply to anything and everything that they see posted if they are remotely qualified or interested.  Then, they are surprised and disappointed when they don’t get contacted for interviews.  (Oh, and by the way, the general protocol from employers is usually to not communicate – so don’t take this personally if you don’t get much communication after you apply to a position.  This is the typical in the age of hundreds of applications that come in from a large variety of online sources.)

Using the shotgun approach for job applications is rarely effective.  Hiring managers and key word software will quickly screen you out if you don’t meet the minimum requirements and then you will be frustrated with the lack of positive reinforcement.  Applying to positions that are well beneath your experience level also carries a low probability level – unless you take significant time to explain in a cover letter why you should be considered for the position – such as wanting to switch into a new industry or wanting to focus on a particular area for developmental purposes.

My recommendation is to focus.  Really understand what makes you passionate and what you do and don’t want in a job.  Narrow down to a specific skillset or functional area that is your focus, as well as focusing geographically and by experience level.  If you have a clear vision of what you want, you are much more likely to achieve it.

Get your top 50

You should create a list of 30-50 companies that would hire you to do what you want to do.  This list should include your geographic comfort level for commuting or moving.  This will help you focus on your top prospects so that you can actively focus on getting in front of the right people at the right time.

You should use the following filters to help you target:

  • Top skillset that you want to use: (Fundraiser, Accounting, Electrical engineering, Waitressing, etc.)
  • Experience level: (Internship, entry level, experienced level, supervisory, executive)
  • Geography: ie, 25 miles within Lansing
  • Industry preferences
  • Culture preferences
  • Salary requirements/targets

Within your target, you should then create a list of 30-50 companies that regularly hire people to do what you want to do.  Even if you can come up with a hundred or more companies that meet your criteria, get it down to a manageable list, which I believe is a maximum of 50.  Create a list in word or excel or on paper, to help you keep track of the company, company email, contacts that you have made at the company, etc.  Use this to track or journal your job search activity.  Check the company website each week for openings, and get to know people at the company by learning how to be an expert networker.

Having a focused target list will allow you to channel your energies into the highest probability for success, even if you there are no jobs currently posted.

Creating a story …

I think of a job search as one point on a career continuum.  This timeline starts in high school, goes through additional education programs, past jobs, past volunteer experiences and extends into the future – 5 and 10 years out from today.  It is helpful to have a story that weaves all of these different events and experiences together.  This story will help you when you are putting together a cover letter to explain why you are interested in a particular position.  This story will also help you when you are interviewing and the hiring manager asks how this position will be a fit with your future plans.

This story will also explain different twists and turns in your career that will likely cause a question in the interviewers mind.  For instance, I worked as an accountant before discovering my passion for Human Resources.  I always get asked about how I decided to change careers and why.  By being able to clearly explain how I came to the realization that I needed to make a change, and how I made that change, I can answer any issues in the hiring manager’s mind and put him or her to ease about my career decision making process.

This is also a great opportunity to showcase your past experiences and education fit into the position that you are seeking.  Companies want to feel wanted – the hiring manager wants to know that the target position is a great fit for you, and that you value it in terms of your overall career plan and strategy.

Networking and connecting

Making personal connections at your target companies is critical.  Doing research will help you better understand if the company will truly be a good fit for you, and it will provide you with a foot in the door as early as possible if an opening arises.

Some people think that networking is intimidating.  Some people feel like they will be looked on as “using people”.  If done thoughtfully and with an eye toward long term relationship building, networking can be done that will expand your professional circle of friends for long term, creating mutually beneficial results.

First of all, get familiar with the wide range of networking resources – LinkedIn is a must!  This professional tool is the gold standard of business relationship development.  Google +, Facebook and other tools are also good to check out and explore.  You can also cultivate relationships at events and through your social network.  For instance, you can send out your list of target companies to your friends and family and ask if they would be comfortable making any connections for you.

Do use good networking etiquette – be sure to try to identify how you can help your new connection, and try not to ask for something that people would be uncomfortable giving.  For instance, most people enjoy talking about themselves or their company.  However, some people would be uncomfortable for an ask for a job during the first few minutes of a conversation.  Networking is an investment – sometimes the benefits are longer term and you need to be patient.

10/80/10 rule

I often talk to job seekers who spend 99% of their job seeking time applying to positions online.  They are often frustrated at the lack of responses and the endless amount of time that can be spent reviewing job boards, creating profiles and even paying for job leads.

I always counsel people on trying to avoid the trap of just reacting to job postings.  Instead, I encourage a mix that I feel is more effective and rewarding.  Definitely check out job boards – especially – but try to limit this to 10% of the time that you spend on your job search.  Also get out and go to networking events – this should be another 10% of your portfolio.  However the majority of your time – I use 80% as a guideline – should be spent proactively researching and building contacts at your target companies.

It can be difficult to pull yourself away from applying to actual jobs and instead planting seeds for jobs that may or may not come to be.  However, the highest sources of talent leads are through networking and referrals, not job boards.  Often, by the time a position is posted, the hiring manager already has a candidate in mind.  Or, employee referrals will be the resumes that get the strongest consideration.  By building relationships ahead of an opening being posted, and leveraging your network to become an employee referral after the job is posted, you will increase your chance of being considered for a position at a company that you have already determined will be a good long term fit for you.

Cover letters can make a difference!

I have been at career panels and occasionally someone will say to “skip the cover letter, recruiters only read the resumes.”  I always cringe when I hear that, because there have been times that I have interviewed people solely on their cover letters.

The cover letter, or “cover email” if you are sending someone an email with an attached resume, should be customized to the employer and the job title.  It should concisely make a case on why you are a great fit for the job, and should entice the hiring manager to want to read more.  Cover letters that articulate the top 3-5 desired skills, and how you positively match up with those requirements are a great way to set yourself apart.  You are also making it easier on the recruiter to figure out how you match up to the job.  And, you demonstrate strong communication skills which are critical to almost every job.

Resume advice … do what feels right

If you ask 10 people what format of resume to use, you will get 10 different answers.  Every recruiter has a favorite type of resume and looks for different things.  What you choose should be a matter of what you feel best positions your strengths.

I do recommend that sticking to two pages (an extra few pages for publications is fine if you are an academic) is a good idea, and having a summary at the beginning that concisely summarizes your skills and interests and hints at the type of job you are looking for is my own preference.

Be sure to spell check and have someone else proof read the resume.  If an employer sees a mistake on such an important document, there will be questions about your thoroughness and attention to detail.

How to make age less of an issue

Many people are concerned about being discriminated for age in the workplace.  While I have heard stories about this, my experience is that employers are hiring for skills and experiences.  If you have the right ones, and demonstrate a cultural fit, age isn’t going to be an issue.

If you are worried about your age, I have a few tips to pass along:

1. Look technically savvy.  Being able to demonstrate connectivity to the latest and greatest gadgets and social media shows that you are up to date technically.  If you are interviewing at a high tech company, feel free to bring a tablet to the interview for taking notes, make a point to silence your state of the art cell phone, have an updated LinkedIn profile, and make a few references to your Twitter account and refer to the latest social media site to be acquired by Google to demonstrate that you are still learning and taking advantage of technology, no matter your age.

2. Consider a makeover.  Have you changed hairstyles in the last 10 years?  Are you dressing more casual if it is a high tech startup?  Do you have trendy shoes and jewelry?  Feeling good about your appearance will help radiate the self confidence to help you shine in an interview.

How to use LinkedIn

Get to know this incredible resource inside and out.  If you are looking for a job, don’t try to hide that fact.  Have a description that indicates you are seeking new opportunities, like “High tech marketing guru”.  Many people have told me that they were contacted by recruiters on LinkedIn after updating their profiles with a nearly full resume and recommendations.

You can use LinkedIn to look at jobs, and to connect with people at your target companies.  You can also join community forums for job seekers and interest groups.

About the author:  Amy Cell is currently the Senior VP of Talent Enhancement at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  She has over 10 years of HR and recruiting experience and has worked with hundreds of job seekers over the past 7 years at MEDC and Ann Arbor SPARK.  She has also experienced numerous career transitions herself and loves to help jobseekers connect with great opportunities.  Here is a summary of her tips that she has honed over the years from personal experience.  If you are looking for great talent or a great opportunity, be sure to visit Questions for Amy can be sent to her via email.

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