Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Career Spotlight: Line Installers and Repairers

On occasion, The Daily Leap will spotlight a particular career by providing an intriguing snapshot into an occupation our blog readers may or may not have considered. For those thinking about changing careers, we’re hoping these occasional spotlights prompt further exploration and possibly a move toward new career options that might not have otherwise been considered. Today’s spotlight is on Line Installers and Repairers.

The Work
Line installers and repairers construct and maintain vast networks of wires and cables that deliver customers electrical power, voice, video and data communications services. Electrical and telecommunications line installers construct new lines by erecting utility poles and towers, or digging underground trenches to carry the wires and cables.

Once construction is finished, line installers string cable along poles and towers or through tunnels and trenches. Other installation duties include setting up service for customers and installing network equipment.

In addition to installation, line installers and repairers are responsible for maintenance of electrical, telecommunications, and cable television lines. When a problem is identified, line repairers repair or replace defective cables or equipment.

Work Environment
The work environment requires strenuous physical activity at times, and can present serious hazards, such as, working with high-voltage power lines.

Education and Training
The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma; however, many employers prefer people with a technical background in electricity or electronics obtained through vocational programs, community colleges or in the military.

Job Growth
Line installers and repairers are employed by electric power generation, transmission and distribution companies, electrical contractors and public utility commissions. Overall employment is expected to grow 6 percent between 2006 and 2016.

The job details in this blog entry are from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 Edition. The full text is available in Career Transitions. Click on Explore Careers >Career Targets. Select “Click here to browse careers” and enter lineman in the search box. Click to learn more next to the occupation listing, and then select “Career Overview”.

To get a visual look at the job of a line installer and repairer, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Set Yourself Apart with Soft Skills

What are soft skills?

Employers are not only looking to hire candidates who meet their “hard skills” requirements, but who also have great “soft skills.” It’s important that job candidates understand both and their differences.

Soft skills (people skills) refer to a person’s qualities, personality traits and social skills. Examples include work ethic, attitude, time management, problem-solving, and communication. Hard skills refer to specific skills necessary to perform a particular job, such as financial analysis or proficiency with a software application(s). Hard skills can typically be measured and quantified.

Most people think to highlight their hard skills, but may overlook the value of soft skills. The best place to emphasize one’s soft skills is in an interview. In fact, some companies use psychology scoring tests to assess a potential job candidate’s soft skills; however, most use open-ended questions like these:

Give an example of a time when you had to confront problems you had with your supervisor. How did you handle this situation, and what was the outcome?

Tell me about a team experience you’ve had—what worked and what didn’t?

You’ll be in a better position to answer these questions and showcase your soft skills if you prepare. Take a soft skill that you think the employer is looking for, like team player, and make a list of team projects you’ve worked on. Practice talking about your specific contributions, as well as your ability to collaborate, and by all means be sure to share any examples of helping to resolve team conflict.

Workplace communication and leadership expert, Peggy Klaus discovered in both one-to-one and group training sessions that a significant number of people weren’t getting where they wanted to go at work. “Whether young or old, experienced or inexperienced, what struck me most about their stories of missed opportunities and derailed careers was this: Their problems rarely stemmed from a shortfall in technical or professional expertise, but rather from a shortcoming in the soft skills arena with their personal, social, communication and self-management behaviors.”

Although difficult to measure, employers understand the value in soft skills like dependability and motivation, and they have an expectation that any qualified candidate must have both hard skills and soft skills.

To hear more about soft skills, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Capitalizing on Your Job Shadowing Experience

The previous post on job shadowing presented tips for setting up a job shadowing experience. Now you need to consider what it takes to make the experience a successful one.

Don’t Be a Shadow Puppet: The economic environment today has translated into more people looking for shadowing opportunities. The more knowledgeable you are about the field, the organization, and the industry, the better your chances of landing an opportunity and turning it into a robust learning experience. In addition, this background knowledge prepares you for asking good, thoughtful questions during the course of the day. And who knows, you may also end up with the chance to share some industry knowledge that your mentor was not aware of. After all, the more you can actively participate, without overstepping your bounds, the more valuable the day is to both you and the person you are shadowing.

Be Professional: Be prompt and dress appropriately for your day. At the start of the day, explain to the person you’re shadowing that you’re hoping to experience a typical day and that his/her job is not to show you only the positive side of the job. At the same time, make it clear that you’re interested in all aspects of the job—the expected and the unexpected. It also helps to remind him/her that you’re hoping to see the company from an employee perspective. Remember, if your reason for job shadowing is to learn about a particular field or career, you need to do more listening than talking, but at the same time, you want to use this opportunity to ask questions. Be mindful that during the course of a shadowing day, you may become privy to confidential information about patients, products, profits, and more. Even if you aren’t required to sign a confidentiality agreement, basic professionalism suggests that you need to keep this information to yourself, during and after the experience.

What Not to Expect: Job shadowing is a fantastic way to get a feel for what it takes to do a particular kind of work. However, every organization doesn’t operate the same way. Company cultures can be vastly different from one to the next, so continue to keep your eyes and ears open as you research businesses in a particular industry. Don’t assume that one organization’s hiring standards or practices are representative of every other in a field. If you’ve shadowed someone who has been in the field a long time, don’t expect him/her to necessarily be up-to-date on current education requirements for breaking into the field. Expect to have to complement job shadowing with continued research on different organizations, the industry, and the education requirements for succeeding in a particular field.

And, by all means, when your job shadowing experience is over, follow up by thanking the person you worked with—even if it is a friend or relative—and his/her organization for providing you with a job shadowing opportunity. A verbal thank you to wrap up the day is appropriate, but you should also follow up with written thank-you notes.

Remember, every effort you make to turn a job shadowing opportunity into a useful experience should result in positive dividends once you’ve launched your new career.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Career May Be Lurking in the Shadows: Setting Up a Job Shadowing Experience

Many jobs can look and sound glamorous from a distance, but until you experience them firsthand you can’t know your potential for achieving job satisfaction. Job shadowing—the act of accompanying someone on a typical day or two on the job—can be a viable and valuable activity for anyone, at any age, who’s considering a new career. It’s a perfect way to get a small dose of what life on the job will be like before committing all your resources to a career that may or may not be right for you. In this first of a two-part series on job shadowing, find out what you need to do to set up a successful job shadowing experience.

When to Job Shadow: Before approaching someone you’d like to shadow, you’ve hopefully done your homework about what field (or fields) interests you. Unlike internships, pursuing a job shadowing situation isn’t suggesting you’ve made a total commitment to that field. However, you do want to go into the experience with a reasonable level of knowledge and interest so you’re not wasting the time of the person you will be shadowing. Remember, if you do end up pursuing that field later on, this person could turn into a great resource for landing an internship or a job; therefore, you do want to leave a good impression.

Setting Up the Experience: Assuming you have a limited amount of time you can devote to the valuable, yet unpaid, endeavor of job shadowing, you want to know you’ve identified someone who is truly representative of the field you’re interested in learning something about. For example, if you’re interested in physical therapy, shadowing a registered nurse will provide you with exposure to the health care field, but not to the job of a physical therapist. Use your network of family, friends, and associates to help you land the right shadowing opportunity. If they can’t help, expand your network by approaching school counselors, professional associations, and businesses and organizations that might employ people in the field. Be creative and diligent in your search. Don’t just phone a hospital’s human resources department; instead, call directly to the therapy department if that’s the type of job you want to shadow. Is it real estate that interests you? Pay attention to community awards to identify a local realtor who is outstanding in the field and would most likely be honored by your request to learn from an expert.

Be Patient: Nowadays, confidentiality issues and a tough competitive market make it harder to be approved for certain job shadowing experiences. Many businesses are trying to do more with fewer people, so they don’t have as much time to devote to activities that don’t directly impact their bottom lines. And in the health care arena, patient privacy regulations have lengthened the approval process for bringing non-employees in to observe. That’s not to say your shadowing request won’t get approved in business or health care environments, but rather that you need to build in time for those approvals to fall into place.

Up next: Capitalizing on Your Job Shadowing Experience.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Pursuit Of A Practical Degree

There is a growing trend amongst post-secondary students to pursue degree programs that are very practical in nature—degrees that position graduates to land jobs in occupations that are in-demand and/or growing. With the rising cost of education and a challenging economic climate, students are looking for jobs that offer more financial promise and opportunity. Jobs like software engineers and computer systems analysts are, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006-2016 projections) among the top 30 occupations with the most growth potential.

It is no surprise that students are turning to colleges and universities that are able and nimble enough to meet the needs of the ongoing changes in the marketplace. They're looking toward those that provide students with the education and skills to pursue occupations that are growing and/or emerging.

With a laser focus on revitalizing the economy and creating emerging jobs like “green jobs”, the trend toward pursuing practical degree programs will likely not be short-lived.