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ask a career coach

The Question:

I am 35 with an arts degree. I returned to Canada in 2008, after spending eight years in Japan teaching English. I returned to college for a postgraduate diploma in accounting, finishing in 2009.

Since then, I have been going to career and networking events, attending company information sessions at my local university in Waterloo, Ont., and I have been telling everyone I know that I could use their help. I volunteer at my faith-based organization, counting donations and tracking related expenses to charities, but I'm still coming up with nothing.

I am struggling and feel as if I am banging my head against a wall.

What can I do? Please do not say: "Network more."

The Answer:

I hear your frustration and I empathize. You certainly are putting in a lot of effort, and let me start by acknowledging what you are doing right. You are getting out there and asking for help. That takes courage and tenacity – two very important traits for any job seeker.

One of the challenges you are likely dealing with is that your work experience is from a very different field. This just means you have to work harder to find the right network and to make the connections so prospective employers can see your potential. I also have a hunch that your current marketing and networking efforts can be more successful with some fine-tuning. Without knowing your full situation, let's see whether we can help you get better results.

Tune up your résumé

First, I encourage you to take a hard look at your current résumé. You are trying to break through into a new field without related experience. This means you have to make your résumé work even harder. In addition to your recently acquired credentials, does your résumé make the most of transferable skills from your past experience? What about your character strengths? A résumé must be about more than skills and credentials. Prospective employers need to know who is behind the résumé and whether that person will be a fit with the culture, role and requirements of the job. Are you prudent, hard working, a team player, independent? These are just examples. Make sure your résumé tells a story and increases your chance of being noticed. It's also got to be letter perfect, so have someone proofread it for spelling and grammatical errors.

Consider professional help

If this is difficult to do on your own, consider getting professional assistance. Does your alumni association offer workshops or coaching support? If not, reach out to professionals who specialize in résumé writing, along with other essential career marketing materials like pitch letters, LinkedIn profiles and more. You can do a search at Career Professionals here:

Refocus your networking plan

I heard your plea not to suggest more networking as a strategy but I can't help but wonder whether your networking can be further focused. Getting out there is important but too often I hear of people who are unfocused in their efforts, vague in their requests, and not targeting the right people. Here are a few thoughts for you to add some muscle to your networking efforts:

Establish networking goals. While getting a job is the ultimate goal, there are other important purposes for networking, such as getting valuable feedback, learning more about particular roles or organizations, expanding your network with introductions to other people you may not already know – and more. All this can contribute to the ultimate goal of getting a job.

Focus the requests you make. Letting people know you are open to any support is too vague and makes it hard for people to come forth if they don't know of a vacancy. Make your requests more specific, such as asking for career insight and feedback, or asking whether they might suggest contacts or introduce you to others who can be of help. These requests will likely be more fruitful.

Additionally, you should identify the types of people you want to meet to further focus your outreach. A few examples to consider: HR professionals, accounting managers, recruiters who specialize in accounting and finance, and other professionals in the field. You might even reach out to colleagues you met while studying for your designation, as they can often be a great source for ideas and referrals.

After each meeting, make sure that you not only properly thank them for their time – a given – but also ask if they might suggest others for you to talk to. This can help you broaden your network and it is often easier to approach someone when a referral is involved.

I noticed you didn't mention LinkedIn in your description of efforts so I would highly recommend you establish a profile if you don't already have one. Don't dismiss the value of past acquaintances who may not be directly involved in your field. They can still be of great value – perhaps by introducing you to the appropriate contacts (HR, accounting) in their respective organizations. This strategy can open many more doors for you. As well, Linkedin has increasingly become a source for job listings, so you will want to be tuned in to this.

I think you are on the right track with your willingness to make an effort but with some fine tuning of your efforts you may see a better return on your investment of time.

Best of luck!

Eileen Chadnick is a work-life and career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

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