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07/06/2012

The Enigmatic “It” Factor: We All Got It, So Sell It

2012-KASHAPOV-0134In my professional career, I have always been the type of person who worked diligently, produced good work, and excelled in my roles. I always assumed that by doing a great job I would automatically be rewarded, promoted, and given that coveted pat on the back. After all, weren’t we always taught – especially women – that good things come to those who wait? So why was it that individuals in the workplace, who were inept and inefficient at their jobs, somehow move up the corporate ladder and succeed time and time again? Believe me, I have experienced my share of this and have always had the same question pinging in my head. Does the leadership not see what seems so clear to me?

As the years have passed, it finally dawned on me that these individuals were actually quite astute and strategic. Whatever skills and abilities they lacked they made up for in presentation, in the ultimate sale. They had the “it factor.” Suffice it to say, it rarely mattered that they could not really execute nor deliver because they usually found someone on their teams who could.  With these experiences in mind, I decided that instead of focusing on the inequality of these situations that I should turn my attention inward. What could I change about how I presented myself to my colleagues, my boss, and potential employers? After all, this was an important variable I could control.  What was my “it factor”?  What was my brand?

Now, these weren’t questions that were easy to answer especially because I am a woman and a Latina at that. Self promotion is not something your Mami or your Abuela teaches you.  So when I lost my job in March of this year, with a mortgage, two kids under five, daycare/preschool expenses, and a family member with significant health issues, I couldn’t afford to think that I was anything less than a superstar.  At a moment in time, where I might have been squashed, I had to instead lift myself up literally and figuratively. I had to rise. It’s this frame of mind that propelled me forward as I walked through the Department of Labor’s glass doors to file my paperwork along with the other 12.5 million who applied for unemployment benefits this past April.

It turns out that I was more fortunate than I had first realized. Because in my last job (the one I lost) I was tasked with building relationships with organizations, businesses, and individuals, I had learned rather quickly how to make friends and most importantly how to connect the dots. As you well know, networking is key component in your job search. I think the stat is that 80% of the jobs are unadvertised. You might be thinking how will I find these contacts? Find these secret jobs? Well, I am here to tell you that networking alone will not get you where you want to be. That being said, it’s really the art of networking and how to extrapolate it to other situations that can really aid you in landing a great job.

If you take this idea and marry it with the understanding that you are a brand and can control how you are marketed, then you can start promoting yourself through different channels. We live in an amazing time in which we can access a plethora of information and connect to individuals all over the world in seconds through the Internet.  One of my great career resources has been LinkedIn (love this site! I visit it more than Facebook). I used this to research individuals in different companies, join groups in my field, and most importantly position my brand. Sell Marisa. In addition to my LinkedIn profile, I capitalized on creating my own website where I could showcase my accomplishments, projects, awards, etc.  You can easily do the same with an affordable yet incredibly professional template you can purchase online.

Let’s recap. If you are on the job hunt, you need to figure out what your “it factor” is. Network with your contacts not just about job leads but instead candidly tell them about your dreams, your skills, and your passions. It’s this process that will help you understand who you are as professional. Further, capitalize on online tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to broadcast the superstar that you are and sell your brand.

Here are my top recommendations to using LinkedIn as your online calling card.

1)      Contacts: Build up your network and connections by seeking out individuals who are in similar fields, contacts you have met at business functions, etc. You want to strive to get the “500+” designation.

2)      Profile: SEO the heck out of your LinkedIn profile. What I mean by this is, look at other profiles of individuals in your field. See how they describe themselves in the summary, key skills, and experience sections. Select specific key words related to your industry and pepper your profile with them so that it’s easier for recruiters to find you.

3)      Summary: This means simple. No more than two paragraphs summarizing who you are as a professional.

4)      Headline:  Make sure it’s an attention grabber and not just your current or past job title. Make it descriptive to highlight your abilities.

5)      Recommendations. Reach out to past and current colleagues and supervisors who would be willing to endorse your work. Request that they be specific to projects and programs you worked on and your successes. Again, the more descriptive the better. Aim for about 10 recommendations and make sure to spread them out over time so you don’t have five recommendations posted in one day. (If you are currently employed it might arouse suspicion).

6)      Groups: This is a great tool on LinkedIn to meet other people in your field or other professions you would like to explore. Think of it as “cyber networking.” Seek out those groups that have at least 1,000 or more members. Surprisingly there are many VPs and C-level executives in these groups. It’s a great opportunity to connect with them through the group and try to get your foot in the door. Remember to actively participate in group conversations and contribute interesting information.

7)      Companies: If you have applied online for a job at a company, the honest truth is that your resume – even if you are highly qualified – may be overlooked by HR departments and the automated screening process. Your approach should be two pronged. Apply online and then conduct a search on LinkedIn for the company and titles of individuals you might report to (the hiring manager). Once you find it (there may be several), then do an Internet search for their company and email address. Send them a direct email and express your interest in the open position you saw posted. Trust me, this works more often than not. Don’t be afraid to seem “too aggressive.” As a woman and a Latina, this was probably my biggest challenge.

8)      Languages: If you can speak more than one language, even if it’s only to order in a restaurant, ask where the bathrooms are, or provide a cab driver with directions, put it down on your profile. It helps showcase that you understand other cultures , have traveled, and can work in an international environment.

9)      Profile photo: Yes, it may seem more appropriate for Match.com; however, people are social beings. They want to see what you look like. (You'll notice I have included my photo in this blog at the top.) Many companies and recruiters will skip your profile if you don’t have one.

10)   Awards/Volunteer Boards/Causes/Professional Affiliations: This is a great opportunity to include information that you may not ordinarily include on your resume. It will help give individuals a more complete picture of who you are as a professional and as a person. Hiring managers hire people they like. 

In the end, losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t change a thing. It forced me to realize that you are your best marketer, and it’s not enough just to be good at what you do. You have to be great at selling you.

Comments

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Hello Marisa,

I found your article (The Enigmatic “It” Factor) fascinating, witty, charming and above all inspiring. I especially love your line… “Self-promotion is not something your Mami or your Abuela teaches you” I could only hope it falls into the hands of other deserving readers both Hispanics and people of all cultures.

My recent history closely mirrors yours. I lost my job last year due to a non-solicited (hostile) corporate takeover. Consequently, I decided to start my own business and haven’t looked back since.

You don’t mention if you have found a new job yet? If ever I find myself in a position to assist you, rest assured I will. I’m associated with a local Denver, CO. association called SHHRP (Society of Hispanic Human Resource Professionals).

Thank you for a few brief moments of delight. Please keep up your writing skills. I hope to find more of your articles.

Thank you,

P.S. I’ve included my LinkedIn address below.
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/carlos-gonzalez/32/1b9/9a3

Carlos,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate the time you took to provide me with such positive feedback.

I give you kudos for starting your own business -- that takes an enormous amount of confidence. Talk about having to be a superstar and selling it -- that sounds like that's exactly what you have done!

I also really appreciate your willingness to help me in my career. I think this is exactly what Hispanics (as well as other cultures) need to do for each other. If you are moving up or just moving ahead, make sure you are pulling up those behind you. Be a lifter!

One of the reasons I wrote this post was to share with others, who might be on the job hunt, real-life tips that worked for me. I really did do all those steps (and more) and am now working at UPS in their employee and brand communications department.

As you know, layoffs and difficult times are part of life; however, it's often at our darkest hour (once the initial shock and tears subside) that we find the most clarity. It's about tapping into your unique abilities and skills set and blazing a path forward.

Lastly, if I can be of assistance to you in the future, please let me know. I will reach out to you via LinkedIn so we can connect.

Gracias!

Well said Melisa. I believe every person should be fired or expelled from a job at least once in their career. Having been in similar situations on a few occasions I found that it actually builds your confidence and gives you a stronger sense of self-worth knowing that if the pink slip comes tomorrow, you can survive, and conquer. You lose that fear of self preservation, which allows you to be innovative and not afraid of thinking outside the box. The world is full of uncertainty, accept it and work it to your advantage. All the best in future endeavors.

Your post and the resulting comments have been quite helpful and uplifting. I have, apparently, two black marks working against me in this economy: 1. Communications is my profession and 2. I have worked in the nonprofit sector for the last 15 years (downsized from 3 consecutive jobs).

Like Kelly, I've taken the punches and gotten back up on my feet. This last time, however, was especially tough. I have really had to think about what might be next for me. The journey has been interesting, but the economy is what it is. With each interview and coffee chat, I am closer to what "it" really is. I just hope I can find someone willing to hire "it" soon.

Thanks again for the nice read.

As I read your article, I am doubly proud, first of being your mother and then of being a Latina. I always tried to foster the importance of carrying our traditions and values coupled with the American Dream. Your words reflect the inner strength needed to rise above adverse circumstamces, which we will definitely encounter in our path. I am sure that you will reach many who are in need of learning about new ways of channeling their professional lives.

I am the "Mami" which you mention in your writings. Thank you for making me a part of them.

Kelly,

Thank you for your feedback. I agree with your comments. Losing your job/getting fired gives you great perspective. The tricky part is not losing that sense of self-worth. Believe me during my job search journey there were many moments of panic, but I had to quell those negative thoughts and keep reminding myself there was light at the end of the tunnel!

You sound like a strong, confident woman, and I admire you for sharing your words as they will inspire others.

Sara,

I am so glad to hear that you found my story and tips helpful. This was my sole intent in sharing my experience and learnings.

I was reading what you wrote, and I would like to suggest that you shift your perspective on your experience in both communications and the non-profit sector. I say this because I, too, am in the communications field and have also spent a large part of my professional career working for non-profits. I understand how it may feel like "black marks" but suggest you consider turning this wealth of experience you have into an asset not a hindrance.

Now granted, it can be difficult to land a corporate position after working in a non-profit; however, it is by no means impossible. It's all about positioning your experiences as an incredible advantage for corporations -- especially as ones try to do more with less. Who is more apt than you at leveraging contacts and balancing resources in order to execute everything from a press conference to an annual report with almost no budget?

In the end, it’s all about relating it back to the company’s business objectives and demonstrating how valuable you are to them. And it sounds like you are doing a good job of “selling Sara” through your coffee chats, so I am confident you will find your place soon. Keep persevering. Remain positive and true to who you are for that will always lead you down the right path. All the best to you.


Mami,

Muchas gracias for reading my blog and posting your comments. I learned a lot of what I know from strong (Latina) women like you and Abuela (and men like Papi and Abuelo!), who came to this country armed with a few suitcases and memories of their homeland to start from scratch in a new country, with different customs, and a different language.

Above all, you brought with you a deep-rooted understanding of the value of family and a relentless entrepreneurial spirit that wasn’t based on the “failure is not an option” mantra but instead, that our stumblings, trials, and mistakes were all essential threads in the fabric of success. For these lessons and many, many more, te doy gracias.

This post is very informative and interesting. I praise your work. I have never seen such a fantastic post before. Thanks for posting.

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