With the job market continuing to improve, wages finally going up a bit, and college graduations not so far away, it's a great time to be thinking about jobs.
What would you like to do, either for your first job or for your next one?
As Dave Murphy, interim CEO of Fairview Health Services and former CEO of Red Wing Shoes, recently advised on Chris Farrell's "Conversations on the Creative Economy," begin by asking yourself what you find interesting.
"It isn't just about getting a job and making money," Murphy said. "Young folks today are looking for something more meaningful."
Whatever your age, whether you're just starting out or you're thinking about how you want to spend your final working years, isn't that what you want too — to do something meaningful, something that has value, both to you and your community?
So what are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? How do you want to spend your time? Or as the poet Mary Oliver famously asked, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
You may never find a single right answer to that question, but once you have an answer that will do for the time being (yes, I'm thinking of Ruth Ozeki, author of the novel "A Tale for the Time Being"), the rest is simple. All you need to do is find an open position that sounds good (or maybe a few dozen open positions), prepare your résumé and write an application letter that is detailed, correct, succinct, persuasive, unique and memorable.
Let's start with memorable.
Good résumés are built on good record-keeping, and let's face it, assembling all that information is a chore. (Other words come to mind.) But the application letter … ah, the application letter. Here's where you get to tell your story.
Identify areas where your accomplishments, values and goals converge with the organization's. Although you've done many wonderful things in the past years, months or weeks, look for the ones that have most value for the organization.
Then develop your themes. You're not just highlighting certain facts and dates. You're providing evidence that supports one or two major themes, such as "I am a visionary leader" or "I am particularly good at motivating team members" or "I am skilled and experienced in turning around troubled companies."
And don't forget to take the long view.
"If you were writing a letter to your younger self," Farrell asked Murphy, "knowing what you know today, and you're launching your career, what would you tell people?"
"Do what you love," he said. "So don't try to second-guess where the market will be. … Don't manage your career; manage what you do."
What great advice.
"Do what you do really well," he added, "and your career will take care of itself."
So remember: Before you begin nosing around to see what's available, ask yourself what really matters to you. What do you hope to accomplish? How do you want to be remembered?
In other words, before you look around, look inside.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.