These Are the Employment Numbers That Really Matter to Job Seekers

pile of white envelopes
Tanja Giessler—Getty Images

National employment statistics don’t matter to the individual job seeker.

I was recently asked to comment on what the latest employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics mean for job seekers. Unless you’re an economist, employment statistics for the country don’t matter to the individual job seeker. If you really want to impact your job search, pay attention to data much closer to home. Here are 10 numbers you want to track closely:

Your employment statistic
Whether the market is at 5%, 10% or 50% unemployment, your number will always be 0% or 100%. You either have a job or you don’t. If you do, focus on whether you like your job, whether you’re fairly compensated, and whether you’re continually growing your skills, network, or expertise. If you don’t have a job and aren’t independently wealthy, prioritize your job search.

Interview invitations
The easiest way to see if you’re on track is to count the number of interviews you are invited to. If you’re not getting interviews, you’re not getting the chance to get hired. Since employers interview multiple people for every one job, you can’t be assured that you’ll be the one. You need to have multiple companies in play at any one time. Aim for five to ten interviews per week. Remember that some roles will not be filled at all or will go to someone internal or will go to another candidate.

Callbacks made
Getting an interview is one thing, but moving forward in the process is a separate issue. Companies don’t normally hire after just one interview, so you also need to track whether you are getting callbacks. If not, you need to work on your interview technique. You want to get called back after every interview. Even if you’re not interested in the job, you want to know that you did well, and you want to be the one that says No, not the employer.

Meetings scheduled
If you aren’t getting callbacks or even interviews, then you’re not putting yourself out there enough. It’s easy to send resumes – too easy in fact, so most of your competition will do that. What’s harder but much more effective is networking – meeting with people to learn more about the companies and roles you are interested in, hopefully get referrals to companies, or even turn that networking meeting into an actual interview. Aim for five to ten meetings per week. If you’re well-researched and meeting with the right people, these five to ten meetings will turn into interviews as your search progresses.

Leads identified
How do you get the networking meetings that lead to interviews? You can cold call a senior, influential decision-maker, absolutely. However, when you get started, unless you’re a trained salesperson, the thought of cold calling might be overwhelming and therefore not so productive. Start with people you know – family, friends, former colleagues, classmates. You know more people than you think. These early leads will enable you to practice your networking skills in a supportive environment, collect information about companies and other people (who then will be warm leads, not cold calls!), and might even become more formal meetings or interviews themselves.

Companies researched
When you exhaust your friendly leads, you may have to cold call to supplement your pipeline. In order to identify the appropriate people in your area of interest, you need to know the companies active in your area of interest. List out all of the companies, organizations, agencies, and trade associations that are of interest so you can research the right people to target. You also want to make sure you’re going after a large enough pool and not being so narrow there aren’t enough jobs. If you want to work as a grant writer for a children’s-related non-profit, how many of these non-profits are there in your market? If you live in a major metro, there are probably enough to sustain a search. But if not, you may want to also look at schools, government agencies that serve children, for-profit daycare and learning centers, etc. Make sure you have enough target companies that there will be enough jobs and people to go after.

Distance to the decision-maker
So you itemize your family and friends and you have your company target list to add even more names. But how powerful are these names? If you’re the aspiring grant writer, do you know senior people in the development department specifically? You want to know and network the people you will ultimately interview with and who will ultimately make the hiring decisions. Sure, it’s also useful to know the IT or finance or other people at a children’s non-profit, but given a choice, you want the shortest distance to the decision-maker.

Time spent on your search
As you can see from all of the people you need to keep up with, the job search takes time. How many hours per week are you spending your search? Many job seekers get in trouble because their search stops and starts. They spend hours one day researching companies or applying to jobs, but then they don’t follow or continue to add more leads. They just wait and do other non-job related things. Aim for 10-20 hours on your search if you’re employed and double that if you’re unemployed. If you see that you’re spending too little time on your job search, fill in those extra hours with rekindling friendly connections, cold calling new connections, identifying more companies, and booking more meetings. There is always more to do!

Money in the bank
Unless you’re independently wealthy, your severance, savings, or whatever is filling your bank account outside of your job is what is funding your job search. If you have six months of expenses covered, your job search pace and strategy should be much different than if you have six weeks left. Be mindful of your cash cushion so you don’t go too slowly and then are pressured as funds run out. If you are employed and have a paycheck for your “money in the bank” then focus on doing well enough on your current job to keep it. You will need your current job for strong references as well.

Time elapsed since you started
Finally, another key number to track is the overall length of your search. If you are one month into your search, your expected results are different then if you’re six months into your search. For example, at one month, you should have itemized your networking list, gathered your marketing documents and started your research. At six months, you should be well into the callback interview stage, if not totally completed with your search. Aim to complete your search in 3-6 months. That represents one to two business quarters. Market conditions change every quarter (in volatile times, it could be more frequently than that). If you run a slow job search that spans over multiple quarters, you have a new market to tackle every few months, rather than building on your efforts within the same market conditions.Given that there is so much to do and so many more important numbers to track, you can now save some time and energy by not tracking the BLS numbers. Focus on your own efforts instead.

MONEY job search

3 Ways to Fire Up Your Job Search During the Summer Slowdown

nico_blue—Getty Images

Summertime can be a great opportunity for the determined job seeker.

It’s a myth that people don’t get hired over the summer. Yes, people are on vacation, so hiring typically slows down as interviews are harder to schedule, but people do get hired. As a job seeker, this means that the summer is a great time to rev up your search – your competition may take time off, assuming a hiring slowdown. Your hard-to-reach networking contacts may have a lighter, summer schedule and actually be reachable. Depending on your search goals, you might even have new opportunities because of the summer season. Here are three ways to tailor your job search activity for the summer:

1) Make it easy to schedule time with you

Summer is already a scheduling nightmare on the employer side because multiple vacation demands need to be considered. Make yourself readily available. Always carry an updated calendar with you — sync your phone with your main computer if you keep calendars in different places; sync your family calendar with your business one. You might also try an online scheduler, like TimeTrade or ScheduleOnce, where you can provide a link for the other person to see your availability and schedule directly.

2) Incorporate summer’s unique value proposition into your search activity

Propose outdoor networking meetings to take advantage of the warm weather. Reconnect with lost networking contacts by asking about vacation plans or sharing exciting plans of your own – the conversation may turn back to business but in the meantime at least you’ve kept in touch. If you have kids at sleepaway camp, take advantage of the quiet time by adding evening networking events. Many people work better when it’s brighter so exploit the longer summer days and get up earlier to put in extra research time and stay out later to add in more networking.

3) Pitch for summer “internships”

Many companies offer a summer internship program to take advantage of the off season for students. But with more of the workforce now in freelance and temporary roles, experienced professionals should consider tapping into summer opportunities for their own employment prospects. After all a company might need vacation coverage for experienced employees that is beyond the scope of what an intern can provide. Or the company may want to get a jumpstart on a longer-term project during the lighter summer season and could use extra experienced hands to get started. If you have only been focused on permanent, full-time jobs, consider adding consulting services to your pitch.

If you’re just starting your search, don’t assume the summer is too slow to gain traction. Use the summer to research company targets, update your marketing material, and rekindle personal contacts so that when the busy fall season hits you’re ready to move quickly.

If you’re in the busy part of a search and the summer vacation scheduling has put a delay in otherwise fast-moving interviews, don’t get discouraged. Check in regularly with whomever is coordinating your interviews — HR and/or the hiring manager. Give them lots of availability, and keep them posted if other prospective employers are moving faster than they are (employers are competitive and will not want to lose you to their competitors).

Regardless of where you are in your job search, summer is still a good time to stay active and make progress.

MONEY Workplace

How to Ensure Your Resume Gets Read

interviewers reading resume
Abel Mitja Varela—Getty Images

Get past the filters to the top of the pile

Job seekers fear the resume robots – the automatic filtering of resumes that prevents your application from even being read. First of all, the good news: I have recruited for brand-name companies and cutting edge start-ups, and I have never seen a filtering tool that is so good that recruiters rely on it 100%. Therefore, there is no one magic password that will get you past an auto resume screen, and you don’t have to worry about being left out while everyone else who knows the magic password skirts by you.

However, now for the bad news: recruiters don’t spend that much more time reviewing your resume than an automatic filter would. Given the pace of recruiting and how many searches a typical recruiter is inundated with, unsolicited resumes get seconds of attention, if any at all. Many times there are so many resumes coming in that a recruiter will prioritize the ones that get referred or that s/he filters out manually. To this end, you still need to get past these filters (albeit more likely a human filter, not a robot). Here are three ways to adapt your resume to get it to the top of the pile:

Include keywords

Whether it’s by automatic or human filter, if a job opening calls for a specific skill or experience that is easily summarized into a keyword, you better believe the recruiter will search by that keyword. When I did an animation search, I used “Aftereffects” as a filter because that was the software of choice and the candidate absolutely needed that skill. When I hired at the executive level for a cultural institution, I used the sector expertise (American art) as the basis for my keywords because, while the overall skill set would be quite varied, the ultimate hire needed a specialization that could be summarized in a few keywords.

Keyword searches are mostly relied on for those openings with narrowly defined criteria. To ensure your resume gets selected, include keywords that tightly describe your skills, expertise, and experience. All resumes can use specificity — technical skills, languages, industry buzzwords (e.g., Big Data), certifications (e.g., CPA), and sector expertise (e.g., American impressionism). Thus, keywords should be in all resumes, not just because they are searchable, but because they are descriptive and descriptive resumes attract human readers as well.

Put findings into context

Even when a keyword search is first used, the recruiter will then filter through the shortlist of those keyword-selected resumes. If it’s not apparent why the keyword appears – say you list Aftereffects as a skill but it doesn’t otherwise relate to anything else in your resume – you still may not get called in. As a recruiter, I would not only want a skill or buzzword listed but I would want to see how it is incorporated in your career to date. Are you just tech savvy in general, so picked up Aftereffects along with a bevy of other software? That type of diverse tech knowledge may be great for some jobs but not if I need an Aftereffects specialist.

You might think that getting noticed by a recruiter is always positive. But if you don’t want to be an Aftereffects specialist, or if your level of skill is not competitive to be a specialist, then it’s a waste of time for both you and me. You want to be called in for the right positions. Make sure that you include keywords for roles that you want and put such keywords into the broader context of your experience so that it’s clear what roles you want and are qualified for.

Make the resume easy to skim

You might think that all this talk about context means a recruiter is sitting with your resume and considering it at length. Whether by auto filter or human filter, resumes are read in seconds – there is just too much volume to do otherwise. Therefore, you want to make yours easy on the eyes of recruiters who will be reviewing dozens or hundreds of resumes in close succession.

  • Use at least 10-point font.
  • Use bold, italics and underlining to emphasize, but use these sparingly, or else everything runs together.
  • Keep the structure parallel – dates on the same side (left or right, just consistent); companies, geographies and titles in the same place and in the same format – so the eye can easily jump around as needed.
  • Prioritize white space and margins because it makes what information you do include easier to read. When resumes are too crowded, the reader might miss something or skip reading it altogether.

There is no one word that will ensure your resume gets read. That should be good news to you because it means that not everyone is right for every role and there is some method to the madness of hiring! So if you want to use one word to guide your resume writing, then think “keyword” or “context” or “readability”. If you can include the keywords that matter to the role you want in a context that shows you fit that role and in a readable manner that lets the recruiter discover your value in seconds, then you improve your chances of getting your resume to the top of the pile. Remember that an employee referral always helps, so don’t stop your networking in pursuit of the perfect resume.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with executives from American Express, Citigroup, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic, so she’s not your typical coach. Connect with Caroline on Google+.

MONEY job search

Fortune 500 or Startup? How to Tell What Size Company is Right for You

what size company to work for
Craig Roberts—Gallery Stock

These are the six factors to consider when looking for your next gig, says career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.

Size matters when it comes to finding a place to work that supports your career goals.

Of course, both big and small firms have advantages and disadvantages. A Fortune 500 company may have thousands of employees and monstrous bureaucracy, but great benefits and a lot of room for growth. On the other hand, at a start-up, the risks are higher, but the executive team knows the junior staff by name, you may have a chance to get a broader experience set, and you could be on the ground floor of tomorrow’s success story.

What’s tricky is that while company size does influence your career path, day-to-day role, and work environment, it isn’t the only factor.

And the generalizations above are not always true. A big company isn’t necessarily bureaucratic—it might have retained a collaborative, entrepreneurial culture. A small company isn’t inherently risky—maybe they offer you an upfront guarantee or they recently got funded.

Here are six career planning considerations that are influenced by size, and the pros and cons of small and large employers:

What Kinds of Resources Are Available

In general, big companies will have more resources.

This could mean more or better office supplies and equipment, professional development and training, benefits and pay, and a more comfortable work environment. This also means resources for your particular job—budget, direct reports, administrative support.

That said, it’s not necessarily true that small companies will have less (and big companies might be able to do more but be stingy), so try to get information about this during the hiring process. Ask pointed questions about, say, what your budget would be on certain projects, and do some research on sites like Glassdoor and using second- and third-degree LinkedIn connections who work or have worked at the company to find out the inside scoop.

What the Breadth of Your Responsibilities Will Be

Since big companies have more staff, it’s more likely the staff will have a more tightly defined (read: smaller) scope of responsibilities. This is a good thing if you want that structure.

But if you want variety and a chance to work across functions or touch a project from start to finish, a smaller company might be a better fit.

Again, size influences your scope but doesn’t determine it 100%. When you are interviewing, ask don’t assume what your responsibilities will be, whom you will be interacting with, and what decision-making authority you will have.

What Prospects for Advancement You’ll Have

Bigger companies have larger infrastructure, perhaps even more locations or industry areas where business is conducted. This typically means you have greater potential for internal mobility—the chance to move from the New York office to the London office, from serving financial services clients to media clients, from working in sales to working in marketing.

That said, small companies offer advancement via upward mobility. You take on more responsibility because you have to. While the small company may not have a London office to send you to, you may be asked to open one.

As you can see, big and small companies offer advancement opportunity. Ask about career growth specifically when you interview.

How Outsiders Will Perceive You

Small companies are typically less well-known than bigger companies. A brand name does convey advantages in introductions or on a résumé: When people glance at your C.V. and see you’re coming from Goldman Sachs (as opposed to Boutique Bank WHO?), they know what they’re dealing with.

That said, branding is more than a name. Some people hear big company and assume slow and not innovative.

And if your personal brand hinges on being seen as leading-edge or entrepreneurial, then a smaller company will be more consistent with your brand.

In addition, a company might be small but have big name clients. If you work for a small company that serves the Fortune 500 or other brand names, naming the clients is a way for you to get that pedigree on your résumé or in your pitch.

How Well You’ll Be Paid

Big companies can afford to pay more, but they might feel like they don’t have to because of their brand names and better resources.

Small companies might be limited on base salary but might offer equity participation or profit-sharing.

Compensation is tough to generalize. Don’t undersell yourself to a small company by assuming you need to take less. Don’t get overly aggressive with a big company and automatically negotiate for the top end of your range.

What Networking Opportunities You’ll Have

Big companies offer you more people to connect with, but those people are more dispersed, and you will have to be more proactive about reaching out.

Small companies offer fewer people to add to your network but it may be easier to get to know people and therefore build deeper connections.

As you interview, recognize there are advantages and disadvantages at both ends of the size spectrum. Focus on your day-to-day colleagues, senior leadership, and overall culture and how all of these fit with you, regardless of size.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY job search

This Common Résumé Mistake Could Cost You a Job

resume mistake

Be careful of how you represent your experiences.

Back when I worked in HR, a candidate I wanted to hire had listed a bachelor’s degree on her résumé. Come to find out through the background check, she’d never actually received it. She had completed all of the credits but was denied the degree due to outstanding library fines!

Had she listed her credits rather than the degree—e.g., completed all 120 credits towards a bachelor’s—that would have matched the check done by the employer, and she would have been fine.

Instead her exaggeration cost her the job.

A résumé often serves as the outline to a background check: Your employer may check employment dates, job titles, and academic degrees, among other things. So you should assume that everything that can be verified will be verified.

Even if you’d never outright lie, perhaps you’ve stretched the truth just a bit?

Many people have, including some famous ones. It’s easy enough to exaggerate, especially since some of the facts on a resume are open to interpretation. has produced a fascinating infographic on which parts of the resume tend to contain the most lies; Skills and responsibilities take the top two spots, and these are indeed two of the more subjective areas.

Overstatements can get you into just as much trouble as lies—just ask Brian Williams. Stick to these three guidelines to ensure that résumé inflation doesn’t burst your shot at the job:

Show Clear Examples

If you claim you can do something in the Skills section of your resume, include an example of when you’ve used it.

For example, if you list HTML programming, include a reference to it in the job where you used it most substantively. If you claim a responsibility, such as management, specify the size of the team or the budget or the project scope that you managed. If you claim a result, such as increasing revenue or decreasing costs, include a specific percentage or dollar amount—but only if you know it—and explain how you got that result.

The details will give the reader context in which to evaluate your claims and will enable you to keep track of the same supporting details you’ll need in the interview process anyway.

And if you can’t think of an example? You may want to cut it from your resume since it may not be verifiable to a hiring manager.

Beware of Giving Yourself a Title

I once interviewed a non-profit candidate who listed no title at her current job but included responsibilities commensurate with a director of development. As it turns out, she wasn’t the director of development; the director had left and she had assumed the role but without the title. She was correct to omit the title; had she put director of development and I called her HR office to verify, it would show as a mismatch.

Take a lesson from her and steer clear of using a title you don’t formally have.

But at the same time, don’t undersell yourself because of your lack of title. In the aforementioned case, she could have used a very specific description in lieu of a generic title: “Development team of one, in charge of $500k fundraising target.”

The point is to capture the responsibilities and accomplishments that you rightfully earned, but to be truthful about it.

Line Up Your Back Up

Another check and balance against resume inflation is to collect references and samples that confirm your claims.

If you’re going to say you led a a team, project, or some other substantive body of work, then line up a senior person in the department who can describe your contributions and verify that you accomplished what you said you did.

If you list HTML as a skill, share a sample of your code.

Your prospective employers may never verify that specific claim, but you’ll bes prepared if they do, and the act of thinking about who could confirm these facts keeps you from inflating your skills and experience.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY job search

This is How You Write a Perfect Post-Interview Thank You

Thank You Note
Janice Richard—Getty Images

Make sure it includes these 4 things

In my recruiting experience, I came across very few thank you notes—which is a shame.

A thank you note is one more opportunity for candidates to stay front of mind with employers. Sending a timely thank you note shows professional courtesy and follow-through (one hiring manager I worked with knocked out candidates who didn’t send a thank you!). Plus, a well-crafted thank you note is a marketing tool that can promote your candidacy after memories of your interview have faded.

The best thank you notes go beyond simple gratitude. Here’s what a productive thank you note includes:

1. Personalization by Name and Quote

Don’t just write to HR or your immediate hiring contact.

If you have met several people, write an individual letter to each and every interviewer, and quote or paraphrase something specific they said. “Dear Alan, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I particularly enjoyed hearing about your upcoming project with Really Cool Builders…” If you have a panel interview and meet several people all at once, still write individual notes.

A personalized thank you deepens your relationship with that person and enables you to maintain that relationship separately long after the hiring process plays out.

2. Reiteration of Your Strengths

If a particular interview response seemed to resonate or there was something you discussed that elicited strong interest, build on these items in your thank you note.

You might share another related example or point to additional ideas along the theme of what you discussed. This reminds the interviewer(s) why they liked you. “My experience working with creative at Really Funky Advertising seemed to dovetail exactly with what you need for your designers. In another role at Really Inventive Copy, I supported the creative team….”

3. Shoring Up of Your Weaknesses

At the same time, if there was a hiccup in the interview—a question you stumbled on or a strength you failed to highlight—address this in the thank you.

Let’s say you were asked for an example of when you worked with finance and operations, as opposed to creative, and you didn’t think of anything or you gave one example but thought of a better one after the fact. Include the additional information in the thank you: “I’m excited that the opportunity gives me the chance to work with creative, finance and operations. At Really Stylish Retail, my role as the planning analyst meant I supported our finance team on forecasting, budgeting and trend analysis. This also involved the operations team as I reviewed inventory levels and logistics…”

4. A Suggestion to Meet Again

When you’re introducing new information, include enough so that they realize you have more to say, then invite yourself to a future meeting so they can hear more about it: “As you can see from these additional roles we didn’t get to discuss, I have more to share and would love to schedule another meeting to go into detail.…”

In addition to more of your own experience, you might add an idea you have or point to a relevant article and suggest you discuss these further.

One final note: People often ask me whether to send the note via mail or e-mail. I say the latter. E-mail ensures that the note will reach recipients in a timely manner.

If you’d prefer to mail a note—to use nice stationary or to include additional material—I’d still send a quick e-mail first, alluding to the upcoming material then follow up with the hard copy.

Snail mail can take a really long time to wind its way through large corporate entities. One time, a thank you card I’d sent to a mentor arrived months after I’d mailed it—and right before our next scheduled lunch!

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY job search

5 No-Fail Ways to Introduce Yourself at a Networking Event

networking event people with nametags
Fuse—Getty Images

How you pitch yourself makes a difference in how you'll be remembered

If you’re looking for a new job, starting or growing your business, or even just looking to expand your network within your current company, you will need to meet new people.

The challenge is in finding a comfortable way to introduce yourself to the people who matter when you’re at a professional conference, association mixer, or a social event where other professionals will be. The key? To be brief, but also leave enough information that you pique the listener’s interest.

Here are 5 ways to introduce or “pitch” yourself:

Bond Over a Shared Experience

If you’re at a wedding, open with how you know the couple. If you’re at a conference, open with your affiliation to the organizer or your interest in the topic. If it’s a company mixer, mention your role, department or years at the company.

From this shared experience, you can share parts of your background that build from there. But you have already built rapport by starting with what you have in common. This is great for a career changer who may not want to associate himself with the role or company he currently has.

Tell a Client Story

Instead of just listing your title and company, talk about who you serve:

I’m an accountant with We Love Taxes. I prepare taxes for retail companies, mom and pop businesses, circus performers….

The more specific the better. You can also drill down to one specific story:

I am currently working with a retail store owner who came to us with a laundry bag full of receipts, invoices and other papers, and I created an electronic system that can now be accessed on her phone.

The client story is particularly useful if you’re a business owner and want to leave your listener with a clear idea of your value but without a sales pitch.

Give a Before and After

That anecdote of going from a laundry bag full of papers to a streamlined system is not just a client story, but also a before/after story. The before/after can be a client’s result but it can also be what you have brought to your role or department:

I manage logistics for We Love Mail. The company used to spend over $1 million on shipping costs, and my group figured out how to cut that cost in half.

A before/after structure is accessible because it’s visual, and the conversational structure prevents too much business jargon from creeping in. Creating a before/after pitch also forces you to identify and specify the value you bring.

Focus on your Expertise

This is the most traditional pitch in that you summarize the arc of your career—industry specialty, years’ experience, and/or role:

I’ve been in marketing most of my career—consumer products, luxury, and now retail—specializing in social media

This is a dependable way of introducing yourself, and if you keep it concise, you’ll share a rich amount of information. One drawback is that many people use this pitch, so you risk getting forgotten, especially at a crowded event like a conference where introductions stack up.

To be more memorable, that same marketer could have made the pitch more specific…

I am the social media strategist for We Love Books. I build a community for book lovers to discover our store online.

Or the marketer could have tried to incorporate the before/after as well:

I am the social media strategist for We Love Books. We had a pretty dormant Facebook page three years ago when I started so I put us on YouTube, Pinterest, and Facebook and now we a third of our customers hear about us first online.

Get Personal

Most pitches rightly include professional history or accomplishments because people expect this.

But an introduction is really about the start of a relationship. The professional sharing could come after. You might try sharing something personal first—where you grew up, a cherished hobby, a side project you’re currently working on. If the personal nuggets engenders a genuine rapport and a chance to talk again later then it’s a good pitch to use.

You might combine it with the shared experience:

I’m a friend of the bride. We went to school together—elementary actually. I grew up in St. Louis and didn’t come to NYC till well after college…

Ideally, you create, then mix and match all of these pitches. You decide which to use based on the situation. You experiment, and use the ones that resonate the best. You continually add—new client stories, new before/ after results, new ways to summarize your career, new personal tidbits to share.

Make sure your networking pitch evolves as your career, skills and interests evolve.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY productivity

6 Ways to Maximize Productivity on a Snow Day

A woman gathers snow for a friendly snowball fight in Central Park.
Chris Hondros—Getty Images A woman gathers snow for a friendly snowball fight in Central Park.

Winter Storm Juno threatening your plans to make it into the office? These tips can help you get so much done that you'll even be able to sneak out for a snowball fight.

If you’re a resident of the Northeast, you’re probably going to be affected by the big snow storm that’s already begun hitting the area.

Your office may be closed. Your kids might be home from school.

How do you stay productive when you’re unexpectedly forced to work from home with the kids begging you to play with them? Use these strategies:

Postpone Powwows

The most pressing items are scheduled meetings that involve others. If you had a live meeting planned, notify attendees of the cancellation and work on rescheduling it.

Get Set Up in Advance

If you haven’t left the office yet, do a sweep of your desk, and bring home with you any paperwork you’ll need to continue to operate from home this afternoon or tomorrow. Particularly if you have important calls, make sure you have all of the material you need so that you aren’t the one holding up progress.

If you haven’t been set up to work remotely and don’t have access to your files, you may have to work with IT and/or your boss to gain access—this takes time so do this early.

Do Some Task Triage

Already at home? If you’re not used to working there, you may not have the best setup. You may not have all of the files you need; you may not have the best equipment; you may need to interact with colleagues who are not readily available.

Itemize what you had planned to do and categorize by what you can postpone for when you’re back in the office, what you still can do from home, and what you can do but might need some preparation (e.g., help from IT in downloading a file).

Knowing what you can do, and by when, enables you to focus on feasible activities and gives you a heads-up on how your days will unfold when you return to the office.

Eliminate Distractions

Your kids’ unbounded excitement over having a snow day can distract from calls that require quiet or deadlines that require focus.

You have a few options: Trade babysitting with a neighbor. Pay your older kid extra chore money for impromptu babysitting. Tap the electronic babysitter—extra TV or computer time—for when you need silence or uninterrupted blocks of concentration.

Take Advantages of the Perks

Even if you don’t have the best setup, you still might be more productive overall.

You’ll probably eat better, since you can fix a nutritious meal instead of rushing out for fast food. If meetings have been postponed, you now have blocks of time to catch up on another project. Even your break time can be productive, as you grab a snack with your kids or put in a load of laundry or do a quick home workout.

Start Planning for the Next Work-at-Home Emergency

If you find that you’re ill-equipped to work from home, work with IT when you return to the office to improve for next time. Plan for remote access of files, invest in a faster laptop or mobile device, and know which activities and projects are equally effective when done remotely.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY job search

10 Ways to Speed Up Your Job Search

building blocks with social media icons on each side

Want to land a new gig in 2015? Then you'd better launch a personal marketing campaign, career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine says.

The start of the new year is traditionally a good time for hiring.

Yes, this means that job seekers should refine their résumés. But your C.V. is just one of multiple ways job seekers should market themselves. I can think of 10 more off the bat.

I know what you’re thinking: 10 tools, in addition to a resume, sounds like a lot of work

However, many of these build on each other and support the answer to “Why should an employer hire you?” And that’s a question job seekers must answer confidently and convincingly.

Here are the 10 things you’ve got to work on to help propel your search:

1. Social Media Profile

More companies are using social media to find candidates. When you update your resume, update your online profiles as well.

2. Social Media Activity

Don’t just change the details on your profile. Update your status, post an interesting article related to your line of work, make a comment that showcases your professional expertise. If you are looking for a job that requires social media savvy, having a static profile—however, updated—will not be enough without regular and relevant activity.

3. Headshot

You don’t need a professional to take your photo, but you do need a professional-looking photo. A photo on your social profiles makes you seem more personable. Also, from a practical standpoint, a picture can help you with networking—some people won’t remember your name after having met you once or a while ago, but they might remember your face.

4. Cover Letter

A cover letter is not a rehash of your resume. It enables you to highlight your most relevant and compelling facts. It helps you smooth over a story that includes employment gaps and/or career changes. It is a chance for you to make the case for why your dream employer should hire you.

5. Cover Email

You can’t just copy and paste your cover letter into the text of an email. It will be too long and too formal. A cover email is like a cover letter in that it highlights the best, explains away any red flags and makes a compelling case—but it has to do this in a fraction of the space.

6. 20-second Pitch

When you meet someone, you need to introduce yourself. What you say is part of how you market yourself. Keep in mind that your new connection ideally can introduce you to others, including possible employers. So what you say needs to be memorable and repeatable.

7. 2-minute Pitch

You also need to be able to talk about yourself in more than a 20-second sound bite. You may book a networking meeting over coffee and have the chance to share more about your background. Aim for two minutes. This is enough time to give the arc of your career, as well as highlight key accomplishments.

8. Your Pitch for Someone Else to Use

Your friend offers to help and will forward your resume or make an introduction at an event. What do you want your friend to say? Using your cover email and 20-second pitch, be ready with a version in the third person that someone can use to introduce you.

9. Portfolio

Of course, a writer should have clips, and a designer should have samples. But a software developer can showcase programs, a marketer can share a campaign, a consultant can share a slide presentation that summarizes the business case developed. Every professional can showcase their work in some way. A visual, tangible example is so much more powerful than a wordy explanation.

10. Personal website

You can pull all of these items together—social profile, social updates, headshot, short introduction, portfolio, and resume—in a personal website branded with your name. You can list your URL on your business card and résumé to point employers to additional information. A recent survey of over 15,000 job seekers by and The .ME Registry showed only 4% had personal websites, which implies just having a personal website would be one point of differentiation.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

MONEY job search

5 Career Questions That Will Make You More Successful in 2015

Need to find a new job in the new year, or reignite your passion for the one you have? These questions from a career coach can help.

Here we are at the end of 2014. The transition from one year to the next is a great time to reflect on your career to date and what you need to focus on going forward. These 5 questions will help steer your reflections in an insightful and productive way that can lead to increased success and career satisfaction in the year ahead.

1. What was my biggest accomplishment?
Most job interviews include questions about your biggest accomplishment. You want to have something recent to say—ideally as recently as this year. What result did you achieve? What expertise did you gain? What area of the company did you improve? Remember not only those things you directly impacted but also how you contributed to a larger accomplishment, say for your department or an organization you support. Write down all of your wins, but select what you felt was the most significant and consider why it tops the list. This gives you a window into what you’re proud of, what you prioritize, what you’re passionate about.

2. Who was my biggest champion?
Collaboration and relationships are critical to a successful career. It’s important to recognize who is helpful and what makes them helpful so you can thank people. You also want to nurture these relationships. Don’t just focus on big or obvious gestures, like a job lead shared or a reference given. Remember the colleague who helps you out when you’re overwhelmed, the friend who is available after work to listen and encourage, the savvy one in your network who’s great for identifying that tricky piece of information or next action to take. Many of your supporters help you in an ongoing way. What makes someone your biggest champion for this year? This speaks to what you really needed and who really stepped up.

3. Whom did I help?
The strongest networks are built on give and take. What did you give this year? It might have been pitching in for someone else who is overwhelmed, offering encouragement, or sharing advice. As you reflect on all the ways you helped, you might see that your focus was limited to the office, or only outside of the office with volunteer commitments, and you may decide to change or blend your focus over the next year. For example, perhaps you concentrated exclusively on your team and you should reach out more to other areas of the company. Or you may find that all of your relationships revolve around people at one level—only junior or senior or peers—and you want to diversify. Or you may discover that you’ve lost touch with everyone except those in your current company, and you need to consciously reach out to former colleagues, classmates, and personal connections in the year ahead.

4. What did I leave undone?
We all start the year intending to complete a number of projects or reach specific goals. Which ones did you finish, and which are still outstanding? Which projects were attempted but not completed? Which goals dropped off your radar altogether? In the downtime that the holidays provide, you have the space to reprioritize and think about what needs to be completed, what can be discarded, and what might need to be refined for you to get excited again or for a project to become feasible. For example, a business idea you were fleshing out may no longer be relevant and can be set aside, but a skill you were trying to develop might just need extra support or dedicated time on your schedule for you to make progress. Review your unfinished business and make a conscious decision to continue or not.

5. What is coming up that most excites me?
If this question brings up a lot of different commitments, pull out your schedule and plan for when you will pay attention to each of them. On the other hand, if you have trouble thinking about anything that excites you, now is the time to flex your passion muscle. Reviewing your past year might provide insight into areas to focus on. Reading business stories and biographies can encourage ideas for problems to solve; maybe some are relevant to your company and can be worked into your day-to-day. It could be that the most exciting thing coming up is personal in nature, such as a milestone in your family or a hobby you’re taking up. It’s important to acknowledge this and give space in your schedule for this, as you plan your upcoming professional commitments.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with executives from American Express, Citigroup, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic, so she’s not your typical coach. Connect with Caroline on Google+.

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