Cindy Krischer Goodman

Balancing Act: Mom needs new job

After 20 years as a mortgage banker in Miami, Belkys Suarez wants a new career. But where to start?

It's the same question many South Floridians are asking themselves right now. Between the burst of the real estate bubble, the layoffs in the financial sector, and the need to earn more money, people are struggling with how to use skills in new ways.

Suarez is her family's breadwinner, the caregiver for both her 6-year-old son and disabled husband. She wants some flexibility but also an income of more than $60,000.

I paired Suarez, 46, with executive coach Maria Drew of Right Management. Drew agreed to help Suarez improve her resume and circulate it, figure out types of positions to seek and connect with people who could help her land those jobs. Drew would open my eyes to just how much technology has changed the job search.

THE RESUME

Suarez needs to lay out her experience without harping on industry-specific skills. "Recruiters glance through and look for achievements,'' Drew says. "You want your resume to say you contributed to the bottom line.''

Instead of saying she was an account executive at American Partners Bank, Drew wants Suarez to give an indication of the size of the company she worked at -- a global company ranked the 11th-largest mortgage firm and her key accomplishments, maybe in bullet form.

A NEW INDUSTRY

Drew starts by probing Suarez about her interests. "If you could invent a job in which you think you died and went to heaven, what would it look like?''

Suarez surprises me with an immediate response: "I like sales, without the micromanagement. It's flexible. I can juggle my day.'' She also likes the ability to earn a salary plus commission.

Drew continues: What are Suarez's hobbies? She loves to travel. "That would be one of my ideal jobs,'' she says.

Drew wants to focus on Suarez's skills.

"Think of yourself as the product, your style, your skills -- who would want to buy you, what kind of company and why?''

Initially, Suarez has the desperate reaction many people do in a job search, "anyone who will take me.'' But Drew encourages her to narrow her approach. "It has to be a solution for someone and a benefit to you.''

Who would want to buy me? Suarez ponders. A startup? An established company? Drew urges Suarez to think about the transaction part of mortgage banking. It's like selling any type of solution -- payroll, staffing, benefits -- what Drew calls consultative sales. "You seem to be aggressive in sales and results-oriented. That's what I would highlight,'' she says.

Drew also wants Suarez to look for ways to combine travel, her hobby, with a career: The cruise industry may be an option.

SEARCH PHASES

Drew wants Suarez to conduct her search in phases.

  • Research the cruise industry or the consultative sales industry. Study company websites and their job banks.
  • Network to find people who know people to see if they know someone in your target firms or industries.
  • Bring a recruiter a solution. Figure out how you might fill a gap for them.
TALKING SALARY

At the heart of a job search is money. Drew advises Suarez to initiate the salary conversation during interviewing. "You want to be the first one to ask. If a recruiter asks what salary you are looking for, you could pigeonhole yourself into a lower amount.''

But what if the salary is not in your ballpark? "You have to decide if you want to continue in the process and try to negotiate, or walk away,'' Drew says.

NETWORKING

I ask Drew if Suarez is wasting time going to interviews for jobs that might not be in her salary range or at a targeted company. I hit on what Drew considers the most important part of a 2008 job search.

"Don't ever pass up the opportunity to talk to people,'' Drew says. "Someone can be at a networking event and say, 'Oh I met someone that is not a fit for me, but might be for you.' ''

In Drew's opinion, networking is the key to landing a job -- even more than e-mail and job boards. She wants Suarez to attend events and try to meet people at her target companies or who know someone who works at them.

"You want to be able to drop a name -- in a cover letter or on the phone -- so they can pull your information out of the stack.''

Drew considers the social networking site LinkedIn as valuable. By networking electronically through mutual acquaintences, it is possible to find people at your target companies to provide insight, advice or link you with someone who can help you. Even more, some jobs are posted exclusively on LinkedIn.

TIME FRAME

Because of the research phase, the process will feel like it is going slow, Drew tells Suarez. But because you will know who and where to target, it will shorten the duration. In today's economy, an executive search could take a year. A more general search could take three to six months. "That's if you are doing it strategically.'' Drew says.

Suarez has improved her resume. She's researching companies and vowed to stop mass-mailing applications and press forward.

"It's scary to get out of my comfort zone.''

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