Career Transitions & Virtual Networking During COVID-19

Interview of Katherine Akbar and Michael Akbar of YES Career Coaching & Resume Writing Services about career transition and virtual networking strategies during COVID-19 and beyond.

Meico Whitlock:

Hello, and if it's Tuesday, it's Mindful Techie Tuesday live, and we are here with you to talk about all thing’s mindfulness, technology, and productivity. As many of you know, the last several months have not been without a lot of change and disruption. We've been doing a lot of things virtually. We've been spending a lot of time talking about different aspects of what it means to live and work and play in the virtual environment.

I'm excited to talk with you today about a really interesting topic that has to do with transitions in your career. Many folks are experiencing transitions or changes in their career as a result of all the things that are happening in the world. I'm excited to have two amazing guests to talk with us about their expertise and what they recommend in terms of how we might navigate those kinds of changes. But before we dive in, I want to ask you to love, to like, to share this post. Tag someone who you think could benefit from this conversation, and make sure that they have access to this information. Whether you're watching it live or you're watching the replay.

With that being said, we're going to go ahead and dive in, and I'm excited to introduce my two guests today, who are Michael and Katherine Akbar. They are awesome career coaches, and I'm going to let them tell you a little bit more about who they are, how they arrived at this point in their journey. But we're going to be talking about, again, the topic of how do you transition? How do you pivot in your career in the current environment?

We're virtual. So, what do we need to be doing differently in the current environment, since we're not able to do as much in person as we were before?

Table of Contents

  1. Who’s YES?

  2. Job Search During COVID 

  3. Changing Careers during COVID 

  4. Overcoming Fear 

  5. Networking during COVID 

  6. Follow Up

  7. Salary 

  8. Disclosing Disability 

  9. Get Outplacement and Career Success Services

Who's YES

With that being said, I want to kick it over to you, Michael, and Katherine. Tell us a little bit more about who you are, and what we're going to be talking about today.

Michael Akbar:

Go ahead.

Katherine Akbar:

All right. Hello, I'm Katherine Akbar. I got into this business in an interesting way, I struggled in my 30s to figure out what I should be doing next after two jobs ended suddenly in a row. It happened to be during the last recession. In addition to job stress, I also had self-esteem stress, because I was recovering from a divorce at the time.

What I did was I said, "Oh, I'm open to doing lots of things." I have lots of different skills. So, I applied for this kind of job, and that kind of job and the other kind of job, and I turned my wheels and turned my wheels, and I got good at writing resumes and cover letters for different kinds of jobs. Eventually, I started a business, and it turned out that what people most wanted from me was the expertise in writing resumes and cover letters.

I found out that by using my writing and teaching skills to help other people get their success, I was able to get my success too. I totally understand what folks are feeling right now with a lot of people being laid off or perhaps headed toward a layoff. Then there's other people who are not laid off, but just want to do something different.

Some people are concluding that because the economy is not good, it's not a good time to do a job search, and I would disagree. It is more competitive out there than it was nine months ago, but there are employers who are hiring all the time. We have clients who are getting hired. So, please don't make that mistake of concluding that you're not going to try. You're going to give up before you even get started basically because you can achieve success by just going about it in the right way.

Meico Whitlock:

Awesome. Excellent. We're going to dive a little bit more into that momentarily. Michael, tell us a little bit about you, and what brings you to this moment?

Michael Akbar:

Sure. My name is Michael Akbar. Career transition and career change in unconventional ways are very close to my heart. Because the day I graduated, I found myself with the options of my choices were to join the battlefield in the Middle East or become a refugee. Of course, the choices were pretty clear for me at that time. But from the very beginning, I had to think of really creative and as I said, unconventional ways to go and find my jobs, the very first one in a country I could barely speak the language.

I also realized as I was going about doing that, that some of the things that I was doing, were very much similar to how you do business development and sales. Gradually, that was the direction I ended up in. Finally, I made my way back to the United States. I had many successful years as a business developer, business owner. As Katherine and I team up to work together, that's one of the areas of skills that I bring to our client, to look at themselves as a product that they have a market, that they have to position themselves. Of course, like any product marketing and positioning, you really want to be different and go about it in a way that your competition has not thought about. That's the part that I bring to this equation.

Job Search During COVID

Meico Whitlock:

Awesome. Well, I'm excited to have both of you here. As we dive in, I want to ask you a question I've been asking a lot of our guests before we get into the nitty-gritty. I just want to acknowledge that there's so much happening in the world right now. We're dealing with the impact of COVID, obviously. There's the emotional and the physical impact if you've been physically impacted, or you know someone who's been physically impacted in terms of their health and well-being. But then there's just the uncertainty that really is bogging a lot of us down.

But you have this social unrest in Black Lives Matter. In the US, we're in the midst of an election season for the presidency and the Congress. I'm just curious if maybe you could just share really briefly, how are you doing personally in the current environment? How are you managing?

Katherine Akbar:

Well, we're pretty lucky because we don't have any kids at home that we have to worry about their schooling while we're trying to work. Also, we are essentially essential workers right now, helping people get new jobs after being laid off. The business is in good shape. We were not spared the stress of the pandemic, though. I went through a health scare where I thought I had COVID-19 because I had a lot of breathing difficulties. But it turned out it was just an unusually bad year for allergies. So, it was asthma, which I don't usually have.

The business also went through a big downturn, because normally, our clients are those who are looking to level up and not the unemployed. Everybody was in shock from March to April. But then all of a sudden, when May hit, people started coming back to us and saying, "Hey, help me." We're glad to be able to be of service to a lot of folks.

Meico Whitlock:

Awesome. Michael, how about you, how are you doing?

Michael Akbar:

I'm doing great. I'm very grateful, as Katherine said that we were not really directly impacted. In some ways, there have been some logistical changes that are pretty much the same thing that everybody is experiencing. Up until COVID, I insisted to meet with our clients in person, because just the dynamics of talking to someone in person was very different than talking to them over the phone. But as a necessity, we started to work with Zoom, and now I am at home with Zoom.

I have to adapt and work with that. I would also add that, although some of the things that you mentioned, like the social unrest, and things that happen in our country, did not personally impact us directly. But as I'm talking to our clients, some of those issues are really real for them. You really have to have compassion for what people are experiencing. In that sense, I am actually finding that showing compassion, and really listening to what they feel and where they're coming from, actually is creating a closer relationship between us and our clients.

Meico Whitlock:

Awesome. I appreciate you sharing, and I'm glad both of you are doing well. I want to ask you, as we just tee off this deeper conversation if you can share maybe a little bit about how you've had to pivot your business as career coaches. Michael, you mentioned one thing is, shifting from in-person meetings to Zoom. Are there other ways that you've had to shift your business in a major way to serve your clients?

Michael Akbar:

If I may add, the other thing that, as Katherine mentioned, the profile of our clients has changed a little bit. People who are coming to us, some have lost jobs, some of them are concerned about losing their jobs. In all cases, whether they have a job, whether they're losing their job, people are more concerned about how they're spending their money, they are very careful about what they're doing, how they're investing. You felt about, how can we make it easier for our clients to do business with us?

We thought about that, we were thinking about all kinds of things. Fortunately, we came up with a couple of strategies where things like PayPal, credit, or Affirm, which is another service that can help people who do not even have great credit can start benefiting from our services, sometimes by using as little as 20, 30 bucks a month, and they will get their jobs before they have had a lot of cash out of their pockets.

That, I think... We felt we got to do that because that caused people to be able to move forward. We are happy to see that people actually are using it, and it's making a difference. That was another, again, a tactical change that you had to do, to continue supporting our clients.

Katherine Akbar:

It makes sense that if you're unemployed, you think, well, I can't spend money right now because I have to say what little I have for rent, housing, and medicine. But on the other hand, being unemployed, it's far more costly than our services. We're like, that's making a short-term decision that's harming you in the medium term. We want to make it possible for people to get back to work fast, which is going to keep the maximum amount of money in their pockets, and then just pay off this small investment.

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. I think that's so important right now, and I appreciate you all addressing the economic, the financial issue. I assume that, for folks who are listening, that it might be in one of these categories, that that might be one of the first questions they have, which is, what is it going to cost me to work with you?

I want to ask you, as we dive deeper into some of the solutions before we get there, I want to understand a bit more about the challenges. Let's just take as a given that the folks that are working with you, and correct me if I'm wrong, they're either unemployed or underemployed, looking to take their career to the next level. Given what's happening in the current environment, maybe could each of you describe one of the challenges that you're seeing with folks that are coming to you right now?

Katherine Akbar:

Sure, well, first off, a lot of our clients are not underemployed. A lot of them have great jobs, and they're just ready for the next opportunity. I'll let you answer the question about the biggest concerns people are bringing.

Michael Akbar:

Well, there's no question. Let's start there, there's no question that what COVID had done to the way people operate their business has had an impact. Let's talk about networking because that's one of the things that we'll talk about and work with our clients. There's no question that when you're working... Again, we're very fortunate that long before COVID, we had to position our business such that we can work from home, we are very grateful for that. But for a family with two, three children, having the children at home, going to school, while they're there. Some folks have all their parents with them.

The life, what I have discovered as I'm talking to our clients, or business partners, or whoever I'm talking to, what I'm learning is that everybody feels they're busier, everybody feels there are more things to take care of. One of the things that I've tried to share with our clients is to really be alert to that, to be appreciative, and be compassionate about people that they're reaching out to.

In fact, I failed to follow my own advice a few weeks ago. I was complaining to Katherine that, hey, I've been reaching out to someone with whom we think we have a great business opportunity, and I haven't heard from her. She reminded me to say, "Hey, people have lives and things are going on in their lives." That's something that if anything, I think we need to become a lot more, again, alert to that, be a lot more compassionate to it.

Sometimes you need to reach out to someone six, seven times. Of course, you don't want to do it within a few hours, you want to give it some time. But you need to be persistent, you need to be consistent, and you really need to come to this networking. What I'm about to say may sound strange, but I truly believe in this, we need to come to this networking with a belief that not only we will benefit from it, but we could bring a gift to the people that we are reaching out to. If you believe in that and if you act on that, a number of things happen. A, you will be less aggressive in terms of your expectations. You will be more caring about other people. That will make them more comfortable about working with you, supporting you, helping you.

In the case of job seekers, it also has a profound psychological impact. Because when you reach out to someone, and you are cool about the fact that okay, this is not all about me, this is our opportunity that I can actually help someone, suddenly that helplessness which is associated a lot of people who are in the job market, they've been applying day and night, they're not getting responses is really demoralizing.

When you have an opportunity where you're talking to someone and you're actually able to help to answer a question that they have, are able to give them a tip and work with them. It immediately boosts your own morale that, hey, I'm a capable person, I have things to bring to the table. I think that's really critical in terms of how things that have been challenging have also opened new doors of how you can go about doing what we used to do before.

Meico Whitlock:

I think that's awesome. Katherine, I'm going to let you jump in, but I just wanted to just affirm what you shared. I recently had an opportunity to share... As a hiring manager, my previous career, seven things that I thought were critically important. One of them, actually the number one thing was around setting a clear intention, which aligns with what you just said. Finding something that aligns with your experience, your skillset, and how you can be of service, or how you can provide value to whoever it is that you're working with.

That changes your mindset, that shifts you out of a place of desperation, or negative emotions that actually color your ability to show up fully for... Even if it's a virtual process, we have to understand that there's still a human being on the other side of that computer or that connection, or that Zoom call, right? Just because it's mediated by technology, doesn't mean that we remove the human component. I just really want to say that I appreciate you sharing that. Katherine, you wanted to jump in?

Katherine Akbar:

Yes, I would say it goes beyond even providing something of tangible value, like a suggestion or connection that somebody needs. It could also be just making them feel good. Giving them 15 or 30 minutes of feeling valued by your asking for their expertise, and laughing at their jokes, and maybe making them laugh or smile. People overlook the simple thing sometimes.

When I teach interview coaching, we have a technique called Interview Aikido, that's based on the same spiritual principle that you have to be in a mindset of service, not a mindset of how do I sell myself? How do I make myself look good, and not make myself look bad? You have to be thinking, this person has a problem, they don't have the person they need at their organization, and that's causing them stress. Maybe they're worried about hiring the wrong person, or they have personal problems, right? I tell the clients to imagine that whatever problems they have, the other person's problems are worse, because normally, people imagine that they're the disempowered one, and the hiring manager has the power.

I say, "Okay, your mom is sick right now, their mom just died. You had a fight with your spouse? They just found out that their husband's leaving them for a younger woman." Just exaggerate your imagination so that you feel empathy for this human being that's there, instead of just feeling sorry for yourself, because that way it puts you in a mindset of how can I be of service to this person, as opposed to the ego entwined state of holy crap, how do I do this and make myself look good? Which isn't very compelling.

As a result, they end up feeling more relaxed, because they're not just focused on themselves, and they end up being more socially and emotionally intelligent, which is really what makes the difference. Because by the time they go into the interview, it's not about their qualifications. If they weren't qualified, they wouldn't have gotten an interview, but it's about does the hiring manager want to work more with them, or with somebody else?

Changing Careers during COVID

Meico Whitlock:

That's excellent. Let's dive a little bit deeper and make this a bit more practical. Let's just assume for the sake of moving forward, that we're talking about someone that, okay, they've taken your first part of the advice where they've gotten clear about how they want to be of service, they've shifted into that mindset, they're there, and they are ready to make a career change in the current environment, what's the next step in the process for them?

Katherine Akbar:

In terms of how to conduct their job search, you mean?

Meico Whitlock:

Right, because it's all virtual, right? Where do you start?

Katherine Akbar:

Well, it's been all virtual all along. People exaggerate the extent to which things have changed. The only thing that's really changed is that you're not going to go to big networking meetings, and you're not going to go to necessarily as many in-person interviews.

Michael Akbar:

In some ways, again, going back to... Well, first of all, if you don't mind, I want to conclude what Kathy was saying earlier with a quote from Maya Angelou, that probably I'm going to butcher the quote. But she had said that people will forget what you say, people will forget what you do, but people will remember how you make them feel.

Meico Whitlock:

Yes.

Michael Akbar:

That is really the key. We don't have to make this very complicated scientific thing. That is a critical link that we need to bring to this networking and meeting with people. At the end of the day, what is left with them is really how they would feel about what happened, and that's really critical. Now, coming back to your question about what's the next step and all that? Let me go on a tangent for a second and again, bring up maybe the new openings that have happened as a result of our challenge.

Sometimes, when I talk to our clients about starting to set a path, and setting a strategy for moving forward, one of the questions that come up is, well, how open are you to moving from the area? Is your spouse tied to the area? What are the constraints, geographically, what you can do? 90% of those constraints are now gone because it doesn't really matter where you are, right? You could be living in Alexandria, you could be working for a company in Silicon Valley, and they are now accepting the fact that the person is going on to Zoom, or on Skype or whatever, it doesn't really matter where they are. Suddenly, your market has become larger.

That's, again, a positive thing to consider. But a lot of times, especially when it comes to career transition, one of the very first things that we do, is we try to explore a person's personality profile, not only so that we can work with them better, but also for them to become a little bit more alert to, what are their strengths? What are their pitfalls? What are the things that would come to them easily? What are some of the things that could be challenging for them?

Whenever we talk about networking, people who are introverted, start to feel a little bit uncomfortable about it, because to them, networking had meant to go to big crowds, and getting out of themselves. For extroverts, that was fun. But in reality, introverts bring their own skills and talents to networking, which is critical.

Knowing the personality of a person is really one of the initial things because we want to leverage that, we want to capitalize on that. Secondly, we try to do an inventory of, what they have done throughout their career. Whether it was actual work, whether it was volunteer, whatever they've done. Because, again, we want to pull out of those things that will be easily transferable to other domains. I have come across so many... I recently wrote a blog about, I said, getting a job in an industry I knew a little about, but what I was bringing to it was some transferrable skills, and again, rapport building and connecting with people, and those were the essential elements.

But I recognize that some of the jobs are very specialized, and you do need to have specific skills. But it all starts with where we are. What kind of talents do we have, and how do we want to transition? What kind of companies do we want to work for? Things may look pretty nice from the outside, companies will spend billions of dollars in advertising, but when you dig into it, you may find that their cultures, their values may not be quite what is relevant to you.

Those are the things where we start. Let's figure out who we are, let's figure out what is out there and be in control rather than... One example, and then I promise to pause and give Katherine a chance to talk. A lot of time, one of the suggestions I have to our clients is that go about this job search like you were going to do shoe shopping. You go to Nordstrom, you try a couple of shoes, you may not like it. You may go to another store, Macy.

At the end of the day, you may come back home not having shopped any shoes, or you have chosen the shoes that you wanted, not the one that the shoe store wanted you to buy. That should be your attitude about the company you're applying for, the company that you're [inaudible 00:24:07] You want to have that feeling that, hey, this is my life, I need to be in control. I'm the one who is going to evaluate what is out there, and what is the right thing for me? Then take it from there.

Some people think I'm just playing with waters. But that is really a change in our inner game, in terms of how we actually approach the market. But let me pause and-

Katherine Akbar:

Yeah, if I can-

Meico Whitlock:

Actually, Katherine, I want to summarize, because you said a lot there, Michael. I'm going to just string together what I've heard so far, and then let you all tell me if I got this right. It sounds like the first part of this process has to do with getting into the right mindset around being of service. Then, Michael, I heard you articulate identifying any constraints. For example, are you willing to move or not? I heard you mention getting clear about your personality type, because that might impact, maybe how you interview or how you go about networking, especially in the current environment. Assessing your skills, right? Just outside of... I'm assuming this is outside of just your job title but pulling out other things that you might overlook.

Then the last thing I've heard you say, you described as shoe shopping, is you're looking for alignment. Are you looking for a match? Are you looking for the right size, and you're not willy nilly going after every opening that's out there? Is that about right?

Michael Akbar:

Absolutely. If you don't mind me just adding another point that I remind our clients is that this exercise is a little bit like dating. Everybody's been out there have been dating, and everybody has also experienced that when we show extreme interest in someone, sometimes that's a turnoff. Rather than showing that you're desperate to work for ABC company, we want to see if ABC company can actually convince us that they are a good match for us. Now, I'm summarizing a lot of tactical stuff. But that's the mindset that we're talking about here.

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. Katherine?

Katherine Akbar:

The biggest myth I see about job searching is that when people lose their job, or they feel they're about to lose their job, the mindset comes up, I need to get my resume done. Getting the resume done, while an important piece of the puzzle is not the first step. The first step has to be this assessment of what do I want to go for? What job exactly do I want? Because the resume has to be tailored in that direction, you need the keywords, and you need your cover letter to be oriented towards that type of organization.

I really find that a lot of people think that, like I was saying at the beginning, my mindset when I was unemployed was I could do all these different things, let me try them all and see what works. That is the long road to running out your bank account, because it's going to be easier actually, to succeed in your job search, if you make a smart decision about what field you're qualified to be in, and you want to be in, and then go in that direction, make your documents specific to that direction, network in that direction.

Can you imagine if I went to Meico, and I said, "I'm looking for a job. Can you help me find a job and either foreign affairs or teaching or writing or lobbying?" I'm arguably qualified to do all of those things. You would be like, "No, I can't help you."

Michael Akbar:

Where do I start?

Katherine Akbar:

You would be like, "What if I introduce you to a university for a professorship?" Then you're like, "But I really would rather work in foreign affairs." It puts you in an awkward position because you're not really sure what I'm really looking for. It doesn't help my brand, either, because nobody wants somebody who can do a bunch of things, they want somebody who's great at the thing they need them to do.

Overcoming Fear

Meico Whitlock:

To this point, how do you respond to the person who hears what you're saying, but they're currently in a fear state, they're currently in a state of desperation? They are thinking about, the bills that need to be paid. Maybe they've applied for unemployment, and it's taken forever to process? How do you help someone shift out of the panic state they're in so that they can hear and follow through on what you're saying?

Katherine Akbar:

Yeah, great question. Well, the first thing is to recognize that desperation never serves. People never make good choices, promote themselves effectively in a state of desperation, just like in dating. The first thing is to stop being desperate, tell yourself what you need to tell yourself about what your plan B is, maybe you have a rainy-day fund, maybe have a spouse who's employed. Then the next thing to do is get excited about the future.

The secret is to be grateful in advance that the exact thing that you want is on its way to you. The more you can conjure up that emotion associated with the feeling of getting that new job, the faster you're going to attract it to you. That's the energetic principle of the secret. It's a thing that you may have to work at because it's normal to be fearful, but we do have some control over our thoughts. Also, being in action is helpful.

If you make yourself a list of exactly what you want, and again, back to the dating analogy, when I was looking for a husband, I made a list of my top 10 priorities. Now, I didn't make a list of 30 things I would like in a man, because that's not realistic. You're not going to get 30 exact things, but I made 10 that were my top priorities, and I sent a letter to the universe and I said, this is what I'm looking for. Making an order in a restaurant, and I got exactly what I wanted. Michael is all 10 of those things and [inaudible 00:30:08] bonus that he was interested in and qualified to help me with my business. It was [inaudible 00:30:13]

But imagine if I was like, "Well, I'm aging, I want to have children, I better find a husband quick." If I wasn't that desperate mentality, I wouldn't have gotten the perfect husband for me, I might have gotten into another bad marriage. We really do have to be picky because haste makes waste. When you rush into things, you may end up in another bad situation. I have a friend who has gone from one bad employment situation to the next over and over and never comes to me for help. It's so distressing. It's like you got to make an evaluation of what you're going into. Otherwise, there's no guarantee of what you're going to get.

Of course, there's no guarantee anyway, but you're much more likely to get into a good situation, if you do your due diligence, and you don't go into it saying, "I better take this because it's the only thing I've got."

Meico Whitlock:

Yes, thank you for sharing that. Go ahead, Michael.

Michael Akbar:

If I may add, also to that part of the question, going back to... I'm not sure if I actually heard it from Meico or what you were saying, but we are like a feedback loop. If we do something that doesn't give us a result, that lack of result makes us demoralized. We are demoralized, as a result, we take fewer actions. The less action we take fewer results. We need to break that. Sometimes, I have to do a number of things, one of them is to really remind the client of all the great things about them because it's so easy to forget, I'm too old, I'm this, I'm that. My skills are no good, et cetera, et cetera. Nobody's going to take me... I just need to sometimes just pull them out of that and remind them to say, "Hey, you remember we sat down and went through these, and you are an amazing person."

Most people are, they have so much to offer, right? Then the next thing I need to do is to make a deal with them, and say, "Look, if you have hired me as a career coach, you have to give me at least two, three weeks, and just follow what I'm asking you to do, irrespective of whether you're old, young, whatever you are."

During that period, what I have to do is to create victories for them. Sometimes these victories go back to again, having an action plan. We have a system and goal settings. For them to just getting busy doing those actions, on time, on schedule, reporting back how things are coming, they start to think less. Our brain has only so much space. If you're taking more of your brain capacity focusing on doing as opposed to worrying, you worry less. The more you do, you're increasing the chances of success.

Katherine Akbar:

I do have a caveat to that, though.

Michael Akbar:

Please.

Katherine Akbar:

Another big mistake I see people making is applying to too many jobs.

Meico Whitlock:

Okay.

Michael Akbar:

That's not what I mean.

Meico Whitlock:

Before you answer, I want to ask about that, because that's a question that's come up a lot, that I've received. I think this is high to what you're responding to, which is I think there's a sense that because of the way the situation is, with everything happening in the world right now that unemployment is higher, there are fewer job opportunities, there are more people looking. So, I should apply for everything that's possible and just take what I can get. Is that not the right way to approach it?

Michael Akbar:

No.

Katherine Akbar:

That's exactly the way not to approach it. The worst thing is... You have to think about this, every time you apply for a job, you're putting your ego on the line. Now, people say they're not, right? But they are. How do I know this? Because some people apply for dozens or hundreds of jobs, and then they become really hostile towards employers. I know this because I've hired. Sometimes I tried to be helpful in the sense of giving people feedback of why they weren't selected because there's something they could have easily fix, but some people got really hostile toward me and called me a bitch, but I was [inaudible 00:34:32] okay, I'm not doing any more feedback.

But the thing is if you apply for a job and you don't hear back or you get a rejection, it's disappointing, and you may start to feel bad about yourself. You don't want to apply for dozens or hundreds of jobs. You want to apply for 10 to 20 jobs. Now, that's going to surprise people because that doesn't seem like a lot. But the thing is if you have a great resume and cover letter, and you tailor it to the opportunity, you choose the opportunity that you know you're the best qualified for. Then it's a job that you really want, and then you make your documents fit perfectly what they're looking for, a lot of the time, they're going to call you in for an interview. Then all you have to do is have enough interviews and enough organizations in order to get one or two offers.

Meico Whitlock:

Katherine, I hear you saying that, and I can imagine someone saying, "But I need a job now, and how much time is this going to take me to regroup my resume and cover letter for each of these 20 jobs you're asking me to apply for?"

Katherine Akbar:

Yeah, it's going to take about an hour and a half per application. If you're unemployed, you could easily get those 10 to 20 applications done in one workweek. It is so much better than the apply with one click method, which is going to make you hostile toward the universe, and toward yourself.

Michael Akbar:

Remember that if you're unemployed, that means, at least you have eight hours to do these things. By no means, we are saying that you should be spending all that eight hours applying for jobs. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, you've got to do some networking. One of the analogies that I make for our coaching clients is that imagine if you go to a bank, and there's one teller, and there's a long list of people standing in the line to get their money. Do you want to go at the end of that line, or do you want to bring your own teller to the bank, so that you will be that person in front of your own line?

That's really what... The way we talk about networking, that's really what it is, you want to create these team of advocates, champion people that can get you in front of the employers, in addition to applying for jobs. Yeah, do as many as you want, apply for jobs. But you want to also create these opportunities, where... By the way, the things that we're talking about are happening to our clients every day. I have a client who is really going to a field, he has studied for it, but he's never done it before. Now, he's getting introductions and referrals every day, because of his dedication to the networking part.

Again, doing the networking with that peace of mind, with a mindset that I'm going into this, not only because I need to do it, but because I'm convinced that in the process, I'm going to create friendships, I'm going to be serving people, and at the end, this is the right thing to do. That's really part of what you have to do.

Networking during COVID

Meico Whitlock:

Katherine, you mentioned earlier that with all the talk about exaggerating the virtual experience that in terms of actually find areas of job listings or postings, that part of the process of how you apply hasn't changed. But what about networking? If I was used to pre-COVID, going to networking events, for different organizations, or the happy hour, how do I transition that to the virtual experience? Where do I start? Should I be on LinkedIn? Should I stalk people? What do I do?

Katherine Akbar:

Well, the interesting thing is that approach was always hit or miss. Who were you going to meet at those events? Unless it happens to be an association of your industry, where you're going to know there's going to be a high concentration of people in the room that might be of interest to you. But the method we've always recommended is much more targeted and suitable to introverts as well as extroverts, and I'll let Michael explain it.

Michael Akbar:

Absolutely. Again, going back to introverts, extroverts, going to these big gatherings, a lot of introverts would be uncomfortable going through those because it's just not the environment they want to be in. Whereas reaching out to someone using LinkedIn, we help people with the kind of message that they want to use as they reach out to their contacts.

Obviously, you're not going to be asking for a job reaching out to someone, you're going to make your ask so small and so manageable and asking for somebody's advice. Maybe just their opinion, et cetera, just in order to get an opportunity to talk. Again, a lot of introverts are really good at planning. The kind of conversation they want to have that they now have a chance to sit back, really think through how the conversation is going to go. If you're doing it over the screen, you could also have your notebook, taking note of what the other person is saying, and you're going to come back and expand on that, ask the question.

Again, I look at this as, yes, it is different than what we did before. But let's focus on what it is offering to us as new opportunities that we didn't have before. Again, when you go to a huge networking event, how many people can you meet? There are only so many. Occasionally, you get monopolized by one or two conversations, you come away very disappointed. Gee, this didn't really work out. Whereas now you can go on LinkedIn, you can identify the companies that really makes sense for you to reach out to, you can identify the right people within those organization, and then you can take your time and reach out to them with the realization again, that not everybody would respond to you.

Again, going back to what we said earlier, people's lives are busy right now. You should not expect that everybody we reach out to will respond. But if we are consistent, we do it in a planned way, you get enough number of people to talk to and develop those relationships that are, in my opinion, more effective than doing the old-fashioned networking.

Katherine Akbar:

Then remember, it's a network. When you meet with one person, the smart networker is always going to say, "Who else should I be talking to in this industry?"

Meico Whitlock:

Yes.

Michael Akbar:

Yeah. If I may add, I'm so sorry, but this is an amazing conversation that you guys are having. One of the things that people really overlook is their personal network. A lot of times we ask our clients, well, tell me a little bit about your personal network. Most of them say, "Well, I don't really have a network." I just had this conversation with a client the other day, and first, she says, "Well, I don't really have a network." I just kept quiet. Then, 30 seconds later, she said, "Well, I'm thinking maybe my alumni, they're all over the place now, I should maybe reach out to them." I said, "Yeah, that's a good idea."

Your neighbors, you would be amazed how many of our clients only after they talk to us, they realize, they went back and they went, "Oh my God, I had the Vice President of XYZ company living two-door from you or sitting in a baseball game next to them." LinkedIn is not the only thing. We all have other avenues that we should really leverage as well.

Meico Whitlock:

I think that's so important. Your online networks, obviously, but the alumni network for associations or education, institutions you've attended. High school, college, graduate school, spiritual communities, as well, or any other affiliations that you might have, I think all those are great places to reach out to folks.

Is it fair to say that in those cases where you have a personal connection, is it okay to just say, "Hey, I'm in a career transition, or I'm looking for a job? This is what I'm looking for." Should it be direct, or do you still want to take the easy softball approach, even with someone that you already know?

Michael Akbar:

I think it depends a little bit on our own personality, because a lot of things go back to what goes on in our own head, and that enables us to communicate the way we are comfortable with. Personally, I'm more on the soft side. Even if I know someone, my approach would be, hey, I'm in career transition, I want to have an opportunity to just sit down and share with you about what I've been thinking about, and maybe pick your ideas about how you should go about that. I think a little bit it depends on who you are, and how you want to approach that.

Katherine Akbar:

But you definitely don't want to put someone in the hot seat, I'm looking for a job, and I want to find out if you know of any openings you could introduce me to. Because then suddenly people feel defensive, and they feel like, I don't know of any openings.

Another approach I see that I don't think is very effective is you send your resume to everybody you know, and you say, "Hey, I'm looking for a job. Please let me know if you know of any suitable openings for me." How are they supposed to know what's a suitable opening for you? It'd be more effective to say, "I'm looking for connections at any of these 10 companies. If you know anybody there that I can talk to, I'd really appreciate you're putting me in touch." Then they're like, "That's easy. I know, Mary Sue." All they want to do is find out more about the company. So, it's not going to be awkward for Mary Sue.

Michael Akbar:

Nowadays, I've even adopted that strategy a little bit that if you happen to know Mary Sue, and if you're not quite comfortable in making the introduction, that's okay, just the fact that you told me about Mary Sue, I can take it from there. But I'll go back to what I said earlier about that quote about Maya Angelou, it applies here too. I think of that networking interaction, you want that other person to feel really good about what transpired. Any feeling of discomfort on their part means, they're not going to be able to help you because you make them not feel good about it. That's the bottom line.

Follow Up

Meico Whitlock:

I know that we're running short on time, and I do want to wrap this up, but I have two questions that came up in the session that I facilitated about the hiring manager's perspective on hiring. I'm curious to get your take on it. I have my thoughts, but I'm curious about your take. The second one is on salary. I want to come back to that. But this first one is about to follow up. If I apply for a job through maybe one of those automated systems, and I don't hear back, should I follow up? A compound to this is, what if I've gotten through the application process, and I've had an interview, and I haven't heard anything, should I follow up? What say you both, do you?

Katherine Akbar:

Well, first of all, I have to say that, sadly, society seems to be becoming less mannered as we go. I certainly think that hiring managers should reach out to all the candidates they interviewed and let them know what transpired. But many are not doing that these days. The other thing is that, if they do tell you they've moved on with somebody else, they're probably not going to give you the real reason, either. That's one of the things we teach people to ask about in the interview is whether there are any concerns that the interviewer has about them that they can get resolved right there? Because if you leave that interview, and the interviewer is like, "Yeah, but whatever." There's probably not going to be anything that you can ever do about it, or even find out that that was a new client unless you ask them at the moment.

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. I concur with that, my advice on that... The way I frame it is to not take it personally, and that in an ideal world, people would follow up with you and let you know, but do not get your energy bound up into one opportunity. Once you apply, once you put forth your best foot, release it, let it go, move on to the next thing.

Katherine Akbar:

Exactly. Keep planting the seeds and nurturing them and nurturing yourself care also.

Michael Akbar:

Exactly.

Meico Whitlock:

Michael-

Katherine Akbar:

Do not follow up with hiring managers when you just applied for something. If you did an interview, and you haven't heard back, I think it's fine to follow up. But I don't like the strategy of oh, I applied for my job, and now you're contacting the HR person on LinkedIn or something. [inaudible 00:47:33] do their job.

Meico Whitlock:

Yeah. Michael?

Michael Akbar:

Just building on what Katherine was saying, I think because companies are trying to operate so optimally nowadays, you know that HR person, let's start with them, who are getting the application, they're already burdened with so much, that if only you have applied for a job, keep sending an email, do you have an update from me? You may not get a whole lot. But if you went to an interview, as Katherine says, I 100% agree, the interview is the place where you want to set the foundation as to how well you did. If you didn't do well, what was it about it? Can they even basically influence their mind in a very indirect way to change that opinion?

That gets into how we train people to actually do that without the other person even realizing that's what's happening. But pass the interview. Then to follow up with, we call a thank you letter, but again, a thank you letter that is of value to the interviewer. Not the thank you letter that says, "I believe I'm the most qualified person for this position, and if you blah, blah... " But reflecting back what you heard, what were the challenges, what were the solutions you guys did. Because basically, this is your last opportunity to frame the future in their mind for them to start seeing the future, the picture of you being by their side, helping them succeed.

That thank you letter is your last chance to, in a very detailed way, in a positive way give that picture of the future to them, but not so much about yourself, but what you heard, you understand the challenges and what you can do with it.

Meico Whitlock:

Yes, and I concur in part with that, and as a hiring manager, what I share about this is for me, at least, to keep it succinct and to not create more work by asking a lot of open-ended follow-up questions. I tell people that the time to ask those questions is actually during the interview. That if you're creating more work on the back end for me, and I'm interviewing other candidates, that's not, from my perspective, as a hiring manager, it's not going to be favorable for you as a candidate.

Michael Akbar:

Right.

Katherine Akbar:

Right. By the same token, I wanted to add something by working with headhunters. A lot of times people when they're unemployed or want another job, they say, "Oh, I'm going to connect with some headhunters and see if they can find me a job." People need to understand that headhunters exist to hunt heads for businesses that hire them. They don't work for candidates. They're not going to give you the time of the day unless they know they have something that's right for you. There is no point in chasing after headhunters. The only case in which I would recommend that people contact headhunters is that they know of a headhunter that works in their specific function. They hire accountants and you're an accountant. Otherwise, leave aside that strategy, it's going to be a waste of time for the most part, but you want to optimize the search engine, optimize your LinkedIn profile with all the right keywords, so when a recruiter is looking for somebody with your skillset, they will contact you.

Meico Whitlock:

Just to clarify, a headhunter is the same as a recruiter?

Katherine Akbar:

No, a headhunter is somebody whose job is to find candidates for different organizations. They're a businessperson. A recruiter works for a company and finds people just for that company.

Michael Akbar:

At least that's how we make the distinction in turn.

Meico Whitlock:

Okay. In terms of job seekers or career seekers, does the same advice apply, like don't reach out to a recruiter, they'll reach out to you? Or no?

Katherine Akbar:

Yeah, unless you happen to know that they... Unless it's the recruiter for the organization that you think is a great fit for you, or if it's a headhunter that specializes in your industry.

Michael Akbar:

One of the things I suggest to our clients, especially those who interact with recruiters or even a headhunter is that again, rather than making it all about yourself because especially in the case of an external, let's call it external recruiters, they're working for the employers. You've had an opportunity to talk to them, they don't have anything for you. But why not? This is an opportunity to start maybe strengthening that relationship just a little bit by offering them and asking them, "Look, I understand there is not a good match here today. But what are the other things you're looking for? I have my network, maybe some of the things that you're looking for, I may be able to be helpful to you."

Suddenly, you're setting yourself apart from everybody else in the marketplace, because again, you're showing that you're a resourceful person, you're somebody worthy of being in communication with because you can help them.

Salary

Meico Whitlock:

Yes. I want to ask you about salary, and actually, I have another question for you about disclosing disabilities and when or how you should do that in the process. The first is around salary, and I have a compound question. From our perspective as a hiring manager, and also just being on the other end, in terms of equity, I think folks should disclose what the salary range is. But not everyone discloses that. In the event where a salary range does not disclose, and the employer is part of the application process as for your salary range, is it okay for a candidate to either not complete that section or to say that they're open?

Katherine Akbar:

I think if the employer is asking you for your salary requirements, and you don't answer the question, they may not consider you.

Meico Whitlock:

Okay, that's part one. Again-

Katherine Akbar:

[inaudible 00:53:35] that's a different story. They ask you in an interview, what are your salary requirements, and you manage to dodge the question, which is usually recommended by saying something like, I'm looking for a salary that's commensurate with my skills and experience, and I'm sure we can discuss that and come to a mutually agreeable solution when the time is right, and they don't press you further. Then, you're fine.

Meico Whitlock:

Okay. As a follow up to that, let's say you're at the stage where you're negotiating salary, a range has been disclosed, and they make an offer that is maybe low to mid-range, and you want to counter. How should someone go about that?

Michael Akbar:

Well, the fact that there is a range there means that there is an opportunity there. The question is now how can I leverage this opportunity? Is this something I can do right away or is this something that maybe I... Basically the... I know we are talking abstraction here, every negotiation is a different [inaudible 00:54:41] But ideally, if our clients have their way or we would like them to be able to do whatever they are giving away, it would be nice to take something back in return.

When we talk about salary, salary is just caught up with what I consider compensation. Compensation is a bigger picture. If you're unable to give me that extra 10,000 that I was really hoping to have, for whatever reason. Let's talk about what is in my other benefits, or my vacation, or et cetera, et cetera. Or another thing that you could do... Again, going back to the place to really get the data for your negotiation starts in the interview, you want to find out what kind of value you can bring to this employer beyond what they thought you would bring.

If you're someone who not only can do your job but your presence in the company, because of these other skills that you bring to the table, can have such an impact on the company, you can also always use that to bring to this conversation. That what you're really compensating me for is this level of contribution that I'm making for the company.

Disclosing Disability

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. I think it's important what you say about expanding what we think about in terms of compensation. I'm right in alignment with that. I want to ask you the last question, and then wrap up here. At what stage, if at all, should a candidate disclose that they have a disability that might require some type of accommodation?

Let's just take, for the sake of this conversation, that is a hidden disability. Maybe someone has depression, for example, and that impacts their energy levels at certain times, but they can still get the work done? At what point if at all, should someone disclose something like that?

Katherine Akbar:

Well, I-

Michael Akbar:

I have my opinion on that.

Katherine Akbar:

Okay. Briefly, I think that in a way, being open and honest about your vulnerabilities is a good thing. Because it makes you more likable, it makes you more trustworthy, and if it is presented as a disability, it creates a legal obligation on the part of the employer to create reasonable accommodations for you. I would say that you would want to bring it up during the interview process, not obviously leading with that, but maybe when they ask you what's your weakness, for example, and putting it on the table, a lot of times people don't want to do that because they don't want to draw attention to something. But a lot of times, the employer already knows.

For example, if your weakness is that you're awkward when you first meet people, or that your English is a second language, and not perfect, the employer already noticed. But you're saying it makes them feel more compassionate towards you, instead of judging you, and then they realize, it's not that big of a deal, and they might even tell you that.

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. Really quickly, Michael, if you have a response.

Michael Akbar:

A slightly different perspective and I'm not an HR expert, so I may not know some of the legal or other intricacies associated with this. But one of the things is that when you get to the point of let's go back to salary negotiation. At that point, your manager, the hiring manager has selected you as the person they want to hire. That's a very separate process from the salary negotiation. In many companies, you have been selected as the ideal candidate, and now they are... Of course, they do have a backup, we know that. But ideally, you have been selected and now you're talking salaries.

In my opinion, you want to be, again, having been selected as the candidate, and I think at that point, if there are issues that haven't come up yet, it would be appropriate for you to bring them up and make sure that they can accommodate that.

Get Outplacement and Career Success Services

Meico Whitlock:

Excellent. Well, that is the last word from Michael and Katherine. I appreciate both of you for joining me for what I think has been a robust conversation. I think that what you provided here today, it's going to be super helpful. I think people are going to watch the replay and get a lot of value out of this. In terms of reaching you, people can go to your website (https://www.yeswriting.com). Can we put it up on the screen, so people who are wanting to reach out to learn more about Katherine and Michael, follow up from this conversation, to work with them? They have flexible arrangements to help make that happen.

Also can we put up the outplacement website for folks that if you're in HR, and you want to work with him about outplacement services, you can also work with them as well. Again, like, love and share this conversation on Facebook, tag someone who could benefit from it, and thank you again for joining us for this week's Mindful Techie Tuesday.

Katherine Akbar:

Thanks, Meico, it's been a pleasure and God bless everybody out there.

Michael Akbar:

Thank you.

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