- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

Once upon a time, not too long ago, many employees stayed with a company or organization their entire career, and at the end of that career they received a gold watch and a pension.
That was called job security.
But what used to be the norm is becoming less and less common, and "job security" has taken on a new meaning, says Vern Schellenger, vice president at Lee Hecht Harrison in the District. The career-management company teaches resume writing, interview techniques and the importance of networking.
Job security now has to be created by the individual employee, not the company, says Mr. Schellenger, whose company has several offices in the District and surrounding areas, as well as nationwide.
"People gain their job security through their skills," he says. "You keep your skills up to date, you network and continue to manage your career even when you are in a job."
That means workers should be managing or learning how to manage their careers at all times, whether they are in a job they love, or hate, or not in a job at all, says Pam Lassiter, a Boston-based career management consultant and author of "The New Job Security."
Managing one's career, says Ms. Lassiter, includes researching the marketplace to see what sectors are growing while analyzing and improving one's skills continuously.
"You should make sure you do your research about the job market. Where are the needs? In what sectors? And then ask, where can my skills be used?" she says. "Then, you have to figure out what keeps you sharp."
One way of doing this is to set goals and take stock, Ms. Lassiter says.
Ask yourself where you want to be in a year or several years from now, and then figure out what additional skills you need to get there, she says.
Taking stock of the skills one already has should be done continually at least once a year and must include figuring out what new abilities you have acquired and can be included in an updated resume.
"Your company should be funding you in getting new skills," Ms. Lassiter says. "But if they don't, pay for it yourself. It pays off in the long run."
Ms. Lassiter says most people make the mistake of "looking for jobs," when instead they should be looking at the needs of the marketplace.
"When you look at help-wanted ads, don't look for job openings. Look for needs," she says. "When a job is listed, it's already too late. It might already have been filled."
But looking at help-wanted ads can give a clue as to what companies, government and organizations are looking for, Ms. Lassiter says.
Right now, she says, anything dealing with security or homeland security is where job seekers and others interested in managing their careers in the long term should look.
• • •
Even with the best skills and research in the world, it's tough to reach the interview stage without contacts. This is where networking comes in handy.
"The networking is where most people need help," Mr. Schellenger says. "It doesn't feel natural for most people. They feel like they are asking for help, or even worse, bothering or pestering someone."
People need to look at the networking relationship as any other relationship.
It's developing, and it should have a mutual benefit, he says.
"What you always have to keep in the back of your mind is that this person has helped me. How can I help them?" Mr. Schellenger says.
Asking people, including friends and acquaintances, to meet and chat for a few minutes can yield good outcomes if the job seeker is specific in his or her requests, he says.
"Networking is the most effective job search tool that people have available to them," Mr. Schellenger says. "But when it's done poorly, it can be detrimental. You should never say, 'I am looking for a job. Can you help?'"
When the job seeker is that unspecific, both parties will leave the meeting with a bad taste in their mouths. No one's been helped. It's better to say exactly what type of job one is looking for and what the target companies are.
Tom Wolfsohn of McLean was in an active job search last year before landing a job as a senior executive with a national organization in Arlington. During his search, he catalogued his friends and acquaintances and made a list of target companies.
"One of the most important parts of marketing oneself is using the informational interview," Mr. Wolfsohn says. "And having a career objective, a list of target companies and a good resume are keys to a successful information interview."
• • •
It's important to cast the net wide when establishing networking contacts, Ms. Lassiter says.
Talk to people at church, at the gym, in the neighborhood not just your current co-workers.
"I think 95 percent of people really want to help. But you need to structure the meeting so they can help you and so when you leave, they don't feel bad," Mr. Wolfsohn says.
He says he had a three-minute "canned piece" that described what he was looking for target companies, organizations and associations and a copy of his resume.
Also, he made sure that he was always respectful, didn't take much time and sent a thank you note via e-mail within 24 hours of the meeting.
"You always have to demonstrate that you have the utmost respect for the individual," Mr. Schellenger says. "And after the meeting, you nurture the relationship."
Most people know how important networking is and swear they will not let it go once they are in their new job, Ms. Lassiter says, but that is a hard promise to keep.
"You start in a new position and want to do a great job," she says. "You get completely buried by the learning curve."
She recommends spending a few minutes frequently on what she calls the "60-second networker." It can be a quick call or e-mail just to touch base with a networking contact.
• • •
Interviewing and closing a deal are also parts of what Mr. Schellenger and Ms. Lassiter teach.
And the message here is, don't look at these aspects of the job search as "the hard sale."
Job seekers can come off as being too pushy if they focus only on their accomplishments in the interview and offer negotiations, Ms. Lassiter says.
It's important to show interest and knowledge about the company or organization.
The job seeker should ask what the short-term and long-term goals of the company are. Then he or she should tell the company how it can help attain those goals.
"I always say 'listen' during the interview," she says. "You are interviewing them as well. Imagine that you are an investor in this company and you want to make the company better. Thinking about the interview that way, puts you back in control."
Once the offer is made, the job seeker should give the company a lot of wiggle room to say yes.
"Don't assume that because you made $73,000 in your previous job that the next employer should be giving you more," Ms. Lassiter says.
Here's where market research again pays off because the job seeker will know what a competitive salary is, and how the sector on the whole and the company specifically are doing.
"Remember, employers use numbers to eliminate people up front," she says. "What the market will bear is what you are worth."

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