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CHICAGO—Meet Mary. She's in her early 50s and has been in recruiting for 20 years. She doesn't have a college degree. The company she worked for didn't pay for her to get any training, and she didn't make any efforts to develop herself either. She was recently laid off and was unemployed for 18 months. When she finally landed a new job for $54,000 a year, she was grateful.
Barbara has the same exact background. She's also in her early 50s, in recruiting for 20 years, without a college degree.
"But she took a different approach to her career," said Robin Ryan, speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management's Talent Management Conference & Exposition. "She decided she would drive it. She took classes to improve her skills, got certifications and paid for them herself."
Eventually she even negotiated with a potential employer that the company would pay for her professional development.
"Today, Barbara is an HR manager making $167,000 per year," Ryan said. "Her last annual bonus was for $30,000. In the last decade, she has earned $1 million more than Mary."
The comparison—based on a true story—just goes to show that "only one person is responsible for your career—you," said Ryan, a nationally-known job search expert and career counselor based in Sammamish, Wash.
[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What educational resources should I consider to further my HR career?]
Master Your Talent and Aim High
It takes effort and time to become a specialist at something, but Ryan advised recruiters to seek out and find some aspect of the job to excel in. "Continuously improve your skills so you can go out there and be acknowledged. People get promoted when they show potential," she said.
It's OK to give yourself lofty goals. "Research shows that even if you fail when you aimed really high, you'll probably do better than if you aimed lower," she said. "Having big dreams can advance your career. The question is, how hard will you work to get there?"
Ryan told attendees to come up with career goals and write them down or make a verbal commitment to another person—sharing your goals makes it more likely that you will work on and realize them.
Be Innovative and Take Initiative
Get out ahead of your boss to identify areas in the workflow process that need improvement and come up with solutions, Ryan suggested. She also advised recruiters to innovate new ways to connect with people. "That's your job as a recruiter, to find the best talent you can for your company."
Volunteering for projects when the company asks someone to step up is another good way to get recognized, she said.
Polish Your Resume
Resumes should always be updated and ready for presentation. "You see so many resumes as recruiters, but you're not ready to show yours," she said. Resumes should list results, not long job descriptions.
"You need to note when you create something new. Did you save time? Did you save money? Increase productivity? Solve a key problem? These things belong in your resume. Think about the people you have hired. Did they impact the bottom line? If you make a good hire, everybody benefits."
Ryan stressed the importance of quantifying results. It's also a good idea to use a chart to track career accomplishments.
Don't Be Afraid to Network
To advance in your career, you need to meet people, Ryan said. "The more people you meet, the better results you will deliver in your job and the more opportunities you have to drive change in your career."
She said that many people don't like to network, because it takes them out of their comfort zone, requires extra time and effort, or becomes annoying when they are constantly questioned about jobs in their current company. "But networking can be very important to your career outcome," she said. "Effective networking is being proactive. If you're in the tech field, go to IT events. Become active in associations. Get to know your co-workers and keep in contact with them for referrals later."
For those who may be nervous about approaching strangers at a professional event, Ryan recommended finding commonalities to inquire about.
Clean up Your Social Media Profile
All recruiters should be on LinkedIn, she said. "More and more HR people are looking at an applicant's social media before extending an offer. It's important to have a good solid page with outlined results and a clear, professional picture."
She urged attendees to scrub their social media profile of "dumb things" that could be embarrassing or limiting to a professional image. She recommended connecting with everyone they come across or who reaches out.
You must become a pro at selling yourself, Ryan said. "Think about your top five selling points. What are you good at, what special skills do you have, what's your experience? Then link them together in two sentences into an elevator speech. That is your verbal business card."
That way when someone at a professional event asks you about yourself, you "do not start out with 'I was born in Kansas,' and only 20 minutes later get to what you do in your role."
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