Ways to Handle the Gap Between Completing Your Education and Starting Your New Job

Photo by  Denys Argyriou  on  Unsplash

A university career counselor emailed me some time back with a question for one of her Ph.D. candidates.

For anyone who might be facing the lull between finishing their education and beginning a new job, here's an edited version of our email exchange. Names and several details have been edited.

The Inquiry:

Hi Jared,

I hope you've been well since the training. Can you help me advise a student in an unusual situation? He graduated in June and is starting a government job in D.C. that he’s very excited about. He's awaiting final clearance. His Ph.D. is in [Study Area] and he also has an MA in [Degree Focus]. He is also fluent in [Language]. He needs something temporary and probably part-time to help make it through financially until he’s called to D.C.

He’s getting a bit stressed. Afraid he’s going to have to work at Starbucks. I suggested looking for [omitted] work or contract-style consulting but he’s been unable to find anything along those lines. In other words, he needs something that will be worthwhile to do but short-term/part-time.

Many thanks,

Jane

My Reply:

Hi Jane,

You've already given him sound advice. The fact that nothing is materializing isn't surprising, though. Here's a run-down of what immediately comes to mind based on what I've observed over the years. I'll leave international travel off the table since it sounds like he needs to work.

He needs a survival job.

He should find a job with that in mind. He's working toward—and shouldn't lose sight of—an end goal that is already in hand. That said, he's not the first to have that lag between hire and approval when it comes to a government role, so he just needs to find something that flexible that will pay the bills between now and then. And that's not necessarily easy to do unless he takes a step back a bit from his internal expectations. 

He needs something he can easily leave when D.C. calls.

Actors and performers face this challenge all the time—how to pay the bills while being able to respond immediately to an audition or a role.

The solution can be temping. Yep, temping. As unglamorous as temping sounds, it's there for a reason. Yes, he may have to cloak himself with a bit of humility, but while he's there, perhaps he can look at it as research for some future area of interest. There may come a time when he references his "time as a temp" for a publication or article or some other "real world impact" piece.

Maybe he could approach it like the guy who ate McDonald's hamburgers for 31 days, or the writer who goes undercover as a homeless person for a year. You get my drift. If he can think of the experience as something larger, which might be interesting to "report on" later, it may make the time less frustrating. 

He'll probably never want to highlight it, but it will stand in the gap between now and D.C. Who knows, it might inform his government work, now or later, depending on where he ultimately focuses. 

The best way to approach temping is to submit materials to at least three agencies. One will never use him, one might use him occasionally, and the third will likely use him regularly. It may be that the companies (who are hiring through the temp agency) might need a bilingual [job title], which could turn into a part-time gig or maybe a long-term relationship that bears fruit twenty years from now. He won't know until he goes that route.

He doesn't have to include it on his resume. 

As for the resume, it isn't essential to include anything he does between now and D.C., except perhaps in the short-term resumes that he'll use with the temp agencies. For this reason, he shouldn't add any of that "work experience" to LinkedIn. 

Temping can be akin to contracting, but the work will likely fall outside of his areas of interest. On the resume—in the unlikely event he ever has to include this gap period—he can still frame it as "contracting" and isolate the parts of the assignments that relate to the bigger picture of his career. Less is more in that case. In that case, he can truncate the time period under the temp agency's name, treating it as a single job with multiple assignments.

He will likely still need to include those temp jobs when filling out a formal application, which he may have to do as a government employee. In that case, it won't likely ding him because many have some sort of gap between college and career. (Travel, gap year, etc.)

His should be financially prudent

The alternative would be taking a loan to live (I've heard the long-term effects and it's generally a less-than-ideal approach), borrowing from friends or family (possible in some instances, also not a great idea), or couch surfing with friends (but that still doesn't pay the bills).

He might look into deferring student loans, or at the very least income-adjusted repayment plans until he gets on his feet in D.C. Check with the loan provider, however, because interest can mount up quickly, so he should make an educated decision rather than simply putting loans into deferment without understanding the ramifications. 

He should look at his expenses and cut every non-essential purchase. He might have already done this, but even a cup of coffee a day can range $90 to $120 per month, which would be $450-$600 between now and January.

He needs to be his own advocate.

Sometimes that means facing reality, knuckling down, knowing that something better is just around the corner. As a recent student, this is probably not unfamiliar territory for him. Just knuckle down a little longer.

He should celebrate the achievement of this new role.

And while waiting, he may want to find and commiserate with others who have endured the gap between graduation and the start of a new job. How did they do it? What are their stories? 

He should be purposeful, not entertaining thoughts of stagnation.

This is temporary and he'll look back on this one day and laugh/be grateful/who really knows. Bottom line, it will be a blip in his overall career. He should avoid being defensive of anyone asks about what he's doing. Make light of it in some sort of fun way and move on.

Hope that helps!

Jared

The Worrisome Microsoft Word Bug Most Users Don't Know About

Do you use Microsoft Word on the regular? Do you also use Word's "comments" or "track changes" features?

Do some of those comments or changes typically contain material that might be personal? Or sensitive? 

Well, saddle up, because there's a pretty troubling bug (and important "scrubbing" procedure) you should know before sending out another Microsoft Word document. 

Resume Grammar & Spelling Fixes

In the din of everyday life, I don't actively think much about résumé grammar and spelling. I've done this work now for more than twenty years, so it's a part of the fabric of my work rather than something I obsess about or ponder.

Still, when a hiring entity or recruiter looks at a résumé for the first time, or a person solicits a friend's opinion about the résumé they're writing, grammar and spelling are among the standouts a first-time reader notices (and feels qualified to remark on).

So when a Business Insider writer approached me on the subject, I really had to think. Here's the article Mark Adabi wrote: Common words people spell wrong on resumes.

Here's Mark's follow-up article: Résumé tips: How to fix grammar and spelling.

Overused Words Every Executive Résumé Should Avoid

Ever fallen in love with a word or phrase, only to discover that everyone else is loving it, too? A word we all seem to be loving a bit too much right now is "amplify," so it's only a matter of time before it ranks on one of the interweb's "most overused business phrases" lists. 

In case you've been living under a rock, here are just a few of those fun lists:

Even finance has gotten in on the action, with Ben Carlson writing "Words & Phrases That Should Be Banished From Finance." I've shared that post with more than one CFA.

Too many of these lists, and we'll all be staring at blank pages with nothing left to say. But there's merit to rethinking how we communicate. In my line of work, I walk a sometimes-treacherous line because in some cases a client needs specific keywords and phrases to be ranked and readable by an applicant tracking systems. At the same time, s/he really shouldn't sound like every other person in the business world. If three equally qualified CTOs were lined up alongside each other, all using the same written language, how could we differentiate them? 

There's something to be said for having a point of view and sticking to it.

That said, I’ve had countless clients present me with a first crack at developing their professional brand, and even the most pedigreed people in the world will use words that are so overused that they've lost their meaning.

It underscores a fairly consistent problem: human beings tend to want to fit in. As such, we tend to mimic each other, and ultimately fall into patterns. Which ultimately lack originality, and soon fall on deaf ears. And then become fodder for jokes, mockery, and side-eyes.

But before I hop my high horse and present my own list of no-no words, I should mention that I sometimes fall prey to my own favorite words. Which I mention because this post isn't meant to be judgey. I'm simply an idea partner in this bigger thing we call persuasive writing. And yup, I suspect "idea partner" will someday be a no-no word.

Here's my list of words and phrases executives (and their résumés) should avoid:

Highly-motivated

If you weren't, you wouldn't be in your current company/role.

Organized

Same. If you weren't organized, you wouldn't be where you are. (I'll use the word "same" to drive home this point below.)

Detail-oriented

Same. Arguably, some senior leaders are not, but then they shouldn’t be stating it anyway. They should have people to take care of the details, or be in roles where the details don’t matter. Nonetheless, “detail-oriented” is better shown than stated.

Results-driven

Show them, rather than tell them.

Demonstrated ability

Same story, same song.

Skilled (or Particularly Skilled)

Just because it doesn't make it so. You've got to give more.

Deliver results/optimal results

Again, show the results rather than telling that there are some. One could, however, talk about optimization in terms of team efficiency, productivity, etc. In all cases, though, is should be material to the story, not simply a claim without evidence. 

Proven

Trust me, this one makes most recruiters, hiring entities, and résumé writers roll their eyes wildly. Let your breadth of work and contributions to business do the proving. 

Effective

Same.

Accomplished

Do I sound like a broken record? Show it, don't state the obvious, or worse, suggest that the opposite is true by showing nothing.

Highly effective

Surely there are more inspiring descriptors!

Multi-tasking

I like using “prioritizing” for this one when it pops up, e.g., “prioritizing and mapping" to business needs.

Demanding environments

I prefer talking about the kind of environments (e.g., public companies, highly regulated practice areas), rather than simply stating that they are demanding environments. Demand levels will often be self-evident because of the company’s profile or your seniority. The sheer (but simply expressed) scope of one’s work should say enough.

Impeccable (and other hyperbolic adjectives)

Yes, your job is to show yourself in the best light, but sometimes things can just go too far. Even if your career, skill set, and valued insights are beyond reproach, there's something to be said for modesty. If you really love inflated language, have someone else write a recommendation about you and ask them to use words like "impeccable." You might just find that asking someone to write about your impeccability frames the very reason you shouldn't use it. (This dovetails with another sticky question: "Should You Call Yourself a 'Thought Leader' On LinkedIn?")

Now, you might rightly ask: “If those are your ‘no-no’ words, Jared, why do so many show up in every other job description?” Ah, yes. A classic conundrum when it comes to the hiring world and its weaknesses, and it'd be a huge digression if I addressed it entirely here.

Here's the quick answer:

Remember how human nature leans toward copying everyone else (a la "nothing is new under the sun," "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery")? Also, when you think about it, writing a job description is probably lowest-of-the-low on most people's "this is fascinating work" totem pole.

Combined, that means that job descriptions are filled with recycled language, which is then dumped into candidate résumés—a feedback loops that ultimately creates into a mighty loud echo chamber. 

Here's what I suggest:

When thinking about including keywords and phrases in your rrésumé that will satisfy the applicant tracking system, lean toward the hard skills listed in the job description, rather than descriptors and traits. When thinking about writing good content for the human reader, be yourself.

How a Plate of Nachos Turned Into Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

It's here! After blood, sweat, and tears, Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is downloadable to the public! 

So, alright. I talk a lot on my blog about what other people and organizations are saying about career development.

I've watched a lot of colleagues and thought leaders publish important career development and awareness tools.

But today, it's my turn. I'm over-the-moon excited to share my first and only published resource to date: Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis.

The Job Description Analysis was born out of frustration, honestly. In 2009, a client gave me a spate of job descriptions for which he felt qualified, but they didn't hold a cogent through-line when I considered the entirety of his career. In fact, feelings rarely tell the whole story, nor lead to coherent decisions.

What did I do? I printed his materials and took them to a now-defunct neighborhood Mexican joint, of course! 

Which is where Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis was born. Over a plate of nachos, basically, and with a heaping sense of overwhelm.

Since then, the Job Description Analysis (called "the JDA" by many) has become a deceptively simple self-awareness tool for people with whom I work—baked into my one-on-work with clients.

Whether it's the head of mobile devices at a Silicon Valley consumer tech darling, one of the senior lever pullers at one of the nation's stock exchanges, or a scientist at one of the world's renowned medical device makers, the result is the same: "OMG! I had no idea!"

It's really a tool for everyone.

Basically, you look at your career through the proverbial windshield instead of the rear-view mirror to figure out whether the direction you intend to go is a suitable next step. Or maybe a few steps away. Some find that they've personally undersold themselves, while others find that they've over-shot their abilities. Or that there are a few technical gaps between where they are and where they want to go.

Either way, the scales are removed from their eyes and they learn a great deal about next steps in their careers. And/or they learn about the questions they need to ask to move forward. 

Jared Redick's Job Description Analysis is available, happily, to everyone as of October 29, 2015. The first 40 buyers can purchase the tool at $13.95 versus $24.95. I hope you'll find it helpful, and that you'll share your findings with me. I might want to publish them to this blog because we're all looking to move forward, and if I could tell your story, it might help someone else.

Let me know! 

6 Career Positioning Metrics Every Management Professional Should Cite

I field two to four new business calls every day, mostly from executive to mid-career professionals looking to quietly work through what their futures might hold if they nosed around a bit.

In nearly every instance, they express embarrassment about their out-of-date résumés. Understandable, since they've been busy doing the work—not nursing a piece of paper.

Nearly to a head, they overlook the telling of six core details for which they'll be sought and measured by a recruiter or a new company.

1. Company size. A Chief Executive Officer building a startup is often cut from different cloth than a CEO leading a $150B public company. By merely placing the size of companies on your résumé you quickly tell a huge part of your story.

Caveat: Don't place company / revenue size if the data isn't publicly known.

2. Team size. A Chief Technology Officer managing a team of three has a busy job, no doubt. But managing a matrixed team of 450+ engineers, developers, creatives, product managers, and marketers across 10 global locations is another ballgame entirely.

Tip: Showing team size as "up to 20" or "ranging from X to Y" can help you strategically position yourself.

3. Geographic scope. A Chief Risk Officer managing a team and its productivity from a New York City loft is tough work, but a CRO navigating the risks and implications of international law and culture on three continents runs an entirely different ship.

4. Quantifiable outcomes. A Chief Marketing Officer who demonstrates measured success, whether by presenting real numbers or percentages, will sail ahead of the competition every time. Whether that success reflects gains in market share, revenue, clicks, eyeballs, or productivity—or cuts in overhead, time, resources, or some other measurement of success—most candidates have great metrics to include, but never do.

Warning: Never list proprietary information on your résumé. Yes, you'll miss out on some important metrics. Them's the breaks, sadly. Also, be careful not to reveal publicly unflattering or potentially competitive metrics on your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is not a "cut-and-paste from your résumé" job.

5. Reporting relationships. It's often hard to tell whether an organization is flat, hierarchical, or somewhere in between. Listing reporting relationships on your résumé adds a layer of context for a seasoned hiring decision maker.

Aside: In cases where reporting relationships confuse or don't boost the overall picture, leave them out. Just know that you may be asked.

6. Industry-specific metrics. Part of a Chief Nursing Officer's aptitude centers around the number of facilities s/he manages, and the number of beds at each hospital. Part of a Chief Investment Officer's aptitude matrix revolves around market cap and portfolio size. Be sure to include the differentiating metrics that tie you to your industry.

Tip: If you're changing industries, write your first résumé draft with industry information intact. It'll be easier to write. When you're done, scrub out most industry-specific language, and write transferable skills in the language of your inbound industry. (As long as it's not false or entirely opposing. Development means very different things in varying industries, for examples. Do this task carefully.)