Looking to stay on top of your game? Maybe even play for a different team?

There’s no such thing as “career insurance.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.19.47 PMBut a commitment to growing your skills and being aware of today’s job-seeking tactics can nudge you closer to “future proofing” your career.

Now that I’ve re-entered the full-time job seeking scene – after some time off to earn my newly minted master’s degree – this topic touches close to home.

School communicators and longtime journalists share the challenge of navigating a career path that technology is continually changing. Everyone is trying to do more with less, do more with fewer.

Take note if it’s been a while since you’ve updated your resume: The process of searching for a position in the “communications” field has changed; new skills are prized, and old skills are often relabeled with new names.

To help me (and, hopefully, you) get a handle on the today’s resumé building and job-seeking realities, I placed an S.O.S. call to Sue Maciak of Cameo Career and Corporate Consulting (cameo100.com).

Susan K. Maciak

Susan K. Maciak

Sue is a former school communicator at the Michigan Association of School Boards. She also ran a huge careers program at West Ottawa High School in Holland. She’s successfully coached hundreds of job seekers, so I had faith she could help me down the path to full employment.

Sue affirms the importance of online job boards to job seekers. Headhunters hired by companies to recruit talent also scour resumés posted on these sites, so there’s also a chance you may be “discovered,” she said.

Most job seekers will still find positions through person-to-person networking, Sue said, but online job boards are too promising a stone to be left unturned.

“Finding ‘communications’ jobs online is challenging because it’s such a broad category,” Sue said. “Combine communications with other job titles, like marketing, media and journalism.”

She offered other advice for me and other journalists.

Don’t prominently feature “journalist” – or even highlight an undergraduate degree in journalism – because employers today consider that “old fashioned,” she warned.

Labeling yourself a “media content producer” is more powerful than labeling yourself if you’re a reporter because employers may be unaware that most reporters work online in video and text as well as traditional print.

Since earning my master’s in library science, Sue recommended the title “information manager” is an effective update for “librarian.”

All school communicators and “information managers” should work to stay on the cutting edge of information technology. Sue suggests adding productivity and presentation tools you use to the list of job skills keywords you use to search electronic job boards.

“It’s semantics,” Sue acknowledged. “But you have to use the language employers will be using or your resumé won’t be found online.”

Sue’s tips for searching online job boards:

  • Brainstorm a list of job titles in your area of expertise.
  • Beware of outdated skills and language and update them.
  • Read job ads and pay attention to what skills employers are seeking.
  • Create profiles and post resumes and a generic cover letter with lots of job boards because employers have their favorites.
  • If there’s a specific organization where you’d like to work, call the human resources department and ask where they post job openings.
  • Set up “alerts” so the job board will email you postings containing your keywords in the geographical area where you want to work.
  • When applying to a job post, tailor your resume and cover letter to match items in the job description. That’s how screeners put you on the short list.
  • Follow up an online application in two or three days with a phone call. Try to forge a relationship.

Now for some words of wisdom from a few of my favorite SCN interviewees.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.45.05 PM

Muttering “carpe diem” I decided to check in with some of the experts I’ve interviewed for SCN in the past to ask what skills they would focus on to strengthen their communications resumés.

Here’s their advice:

Sara DeVries, public relations director at Herrick Public Library in Holland, Mich.: I’d improve my html coding for custom email marketing graphic design.

Dave Tchozewski, technology director at Jenison Public Schools in Michigan: I would beef up on the many different social media resources (Facebook, Smore, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn). I would make sure that I understood how to maximize their use for communication and marketing to target audiences.

Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of Kent Intermediate School District in Michigan: I’d do as I always do, and that’s the research necessary to ensure there is no question, scenario or situation for which I’m not prepared in interviews or the early days on the job.

Karen McPhee, superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District in Michigan: The essential skill is being able to synthesize complex information into understandable useful information. Too often we view the communication leader’s job in terms of marketing and not “meaning making” for clients, constituents, and customers. In schools, our parents are struggling to make sense of the myriad of data points they’re fed from multiple sources. But data is not information until the skillful communicator decodes it for the stakeholders… the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Kate Snyder, of the public relations firm Piper & Gold in Lansing, Mich: From a skills perspective, I’d focus on measurement. We need to be able to establish clear goals for communications success and have real means for measuring those outcomes.

Stephanie Tuttle, an attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich.: If I was interviewing for a job in the next month or two in the field of communications, I would definitely want to work on becoming more succinct. Communication is increasingly about “sound bites,” and being able to convey a powerful message in a limited amount of words is something that us long-winded lawyers need to get better at.

Gerri Allen, Michigan public relations consultant and former job placement coordinator): You have to get through the “paper” screening process before you can get an interview. So, I’d take a critical look at my letter of application and resume (and have someone else read it, also).  No typos or grammatical errors, please! (This goes for online applications, too.) And, be sure to compare your resumé to the job description.  In which areas do my skills/experiences match (or exceed) the requirements? Make sure these are noted in the letter of application. In which areas have I had successes that I can highlight in the interview? In which areas do I need some work? (You know they’ll ask about your weaknesses.) I’d also research the district. I’d study its website and search local news feeds to see what else I can glean about its current situation, so I can offer some strategic advice or at least make informed comments during the interview. (Shows true interest and that you’re willing to go the extra mile).  Also, remember the interview begins as soon as you arrive in the parking lot.  Someone could be watching you through the window or you could be on camera. So smile, show that you’re happy to be there, and treat everyone you meet with respect.

Delaina McCormack, public relations specialist, Alexandria (VA) City Public Schools: Join a professional association, even if you’re still looking for a job in the field. You’ll meet people with your same professional interests and they’ll tell you about openings. I joined a local chapter of NSPRA (National School Public Relations Association) when I moved to Washington D.C. and that’s how I found out about the job I have now.

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