The pandemic caused dramatic changes to business operations like shifting employees to remote work, which also affected organizations’ recruitment and hiring practices. In this episode, APU Dean Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to career services expert Christine Muncy about how job seekers must adopt new job-search strategies like shifting their mindset from looking for specific job titles to marketing their transferable skills and experience. Also learn about the importance of conveying your resiliency to change, developing an “elevator pitch” that is flexible and creative, seeking out new skills and opportunities, and more.
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Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host, Marie Gould Harper. My guest today is Christine Muncy. We are going to discuss career strategies for the new norm. Christine Muncy is the Associate Vice President of Career Services at American Public University. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing new programs and innovative services which benefit student development, typically focusing on the adult learner. Christine holds two certifications in the area of career development, which are the global career development facilitator and certified career services professional. She has been published on multiple blogs, design and facilitates comprehensive team building for corporations, and has presented at various conferences. You can connect with Christine on LinkedIn. Christine, thank you for joining us.
Christine Muncy: Marie, it’s an honor to be here. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Oh, you’re welcome. I’m looking forward to this conversation. I think we’re going to help a broad audience in terms of how to look for that next job. Now, Christine, what is on the horizon for job hunters post-pandemic?
Christine Muncy: The job market certainly has made some significant changes in the last 12, 13 months, with the pandemic affecting how many people are in the job search process. And it really gives employers an opportunity to be very selective in their hiring. So for anyone who’s really looking for work now or in the future, a lot of their transferable skills are going to be what they have to market.
Before, people would definitely do their job search based on titles. So if you were an office manager, you’re looking for work as an office manager. But that now, and even maybe for the next five years, maybe a permanent even change, is that a lot of what people need to focus on is actually what they did within that position and how does that apply to positions outside of what they’re used to calling themselves? And so there’s this huge shift in the way people think about themselves and then how you even write that into your resume.
That can be a pretty overwhelming change to the job search is when you have to change your whole thought process, your approach, your strategy, to even what you type in the search bar. It can be very daunting and overwhelming. And that’s when it becomes really important to lean on peers, friends, people who work in an area that you find interesting and say, “I know that I can do that work, but I don’t know how to say that on my resume because I’m so used to speaking the language for my current job.”
So a major shift is being able to more heavily rely on those around you to help you frame the way that you speak about yourself and really applying that to those transferable skills and how it applies to all of the other jobs and opportunities for a career change that are out there.
Your job does not have to be one thing through a whole career. This is a trend that was happening pre-pandemic, and I think the last 12 months just really accelerated the pace that people have multiple careers. They don’t just have one career. They don’t stay in a position for 30 years. That does happen, but that’s becoming very rare.
The pandemic, I think, really accelerated the change in the way people approach and think about their jobs is that what they’re doing today is not what they’re doing in 10 years. They don’t see themselves there even in 10 or 15 years. They see themselves, they don’t know where maybe, or maybe they have a clear picture. But either way, they know it’s not where they are today, and there’s going to be a significant change in their career sometime in the next 10 years.
That, for the job search, can be equally challenging because when you are looking at your professional growth within your current role, it’s not always, “I want the next position up.” Sometimes it can be, “I want the next position up, but in a different division entirely from the company or a different company.”
And so your strategy for growing yourself and your own skills may also change because now you’re not looking for the exact same job somewhere else. You could be looking for something completely different.
Like I said, that trend was already happening and the pandemic just really shook people because they had unfortunately lost their job or they were in a situation where they felt insecure in their job. And so they were finding themselves needing to look. They had to then think creatively about what they’re doing and rewrite that script for themselves and apply for positions that the competition was really thick because there are so many people looking for work at that time.
And the employers, like I’d mentioned, had so many opportunities to hire exceptional talent that even employers had the opportunity to not look at someone who had the same title. But those people who wrote a really good resume, who really spoke the language about their skills, those people can bring new ways of thinking about things that are outside maybe the norm.
And so to the employer, that’s a huge benefit because now they have an opportunity to bring in a whole fresh set of eyes, a different way of thinking of things that can really help their company propel themselves further.
It’s a change that I think is here to stay and is definitely much more skills-based in how you speak about yourself and what you can deliver more than just, “I’ve done this job before, and I’m really good at it.”
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Well, I am glad that you brought up those points. One of the things that I have noticed when I get together with you, I can throw out one question. But after listening to you speak, I have about six or seven other questions to pose that weren’t on my original list.
Christine Muncy: Happy to make you question things.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: And it’s not necessary question. You brought up a point that I really related to, and the timing was accurate. Before the pandemic, I remember I was working on my personal brand in terms of different social media avenues. And one of the things that frustrated me was that depending on when people meet me and what I’m discussing, they think that’s the area that I’m an expert in. And I have always pushed back that I’m multi-facet. I have different interests. I have different skillsets. And I tend to ask people, “Well, what is it you need? And I can help you by sharing my skillset with how I could assist you with whatever you’re trying to accomplish.”
Would you say that more, I don’t want to say job hunters, I want to say people exploring new opportunities. I like that better. That it would benefit them with having elevator speech to introduce who they are, what they’re about, and how they can serve as someone if they’re looking for another job? There goes that job word, opportunity.
Christine Muncy: I like the word opportunity better as well because the job is the paycheck, but an opportunity is a place where you can prosper and grow and explore new things about yourself that you may not have known and really help a company shine at the same time. So those are wonderful opportunities.
And I think that the idea of an elevator pitch is relevant, but it’s the idea, this old-fashioned idea, I think, of you have this elevator pitch that’s well-rehearsed and you meet someone in the hallway and they say, “Oh, what do you do?” and you have this really dynamic, well-thought-out, prepared speech about who you are and what you can offer. It needs to be able to be changed from person to person.
I love what you said about, “Well, what do you need?” because an elevator pitch is you telling them what you’re capable of. But when you’re having a conversation with someone, it’s really important to shift what you’re saying based off of the feedback of the person across the table from you. Because what you may be saying as an elevator pitch is pigeonholing you, and you don’t even realize it.
But instead, if you say, “Well, I’m a person of many talents. Tell me a bit more about yourself.” And then based off of some of that feedback, you can then pitch what works for the person you’re speaking to because again, it comes to being flexible in who you are, based off of who you’re trying to work with. It’s important.
I think one of the top things that people need to keep in mind, and I think everyone really felt the strain of this in the last year is, what is your resilience to change? How do you navigate uncertain territory? Not just personally, but in the professional setting as well. Can you manage stress at work? And how do you reframe what is maybe coming at you in the workplace to make it a positive experience for not just yourself, but those around you as well? Or even for the customer so that they may not be aware of what you personally are experiencing.
Those are important things to also talk about in your elevator pitch is your resiliency and how you can navigate change or help propel change, how to help manage change and help a company navigate through uncertain territory because it shows that you are resilient and that you will be able to carry forward. So the elevator pitch, yes. Important, but it can’t be rehearsed and scripted. It needs to also reflect the person you’re speaking to.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: You mentioned a word that I hear. I don’t want to call it a buzzword, but I hear it a lot, resilient, to the point where I think being able to use that word effectively has opened doors for many of our new programs because people are on the same page.
One of the things that I have found helpful, believe it or not, I think it’s just because I like talking to people. When we were talking about that “elevator pitch.” One of the things that I like to do to people, especially when they’re approaching me about something, I like to say, “What is your challenge and what would you like the resolution to be? I can tell you how I can assist you with that.” And that gives me the opportunity to move from talking about a chronological resume, sharing my job history, to going to skillset and possibly some projects that I have worked on and how I can transform what I did for others to help them, yet customize it for their particular culture and environment.
And if nothing else, I think it opens the doors for opportunities that you may not have thought about. You may have approached someone with one thing in mind, but by leaving the question that broad and open-ended, the individual that you’re talking to may have some other things that you didn’t know about. Would you agree to not put yourself in a box in this type of economy?
Christine Muncy: Absolutely. I love all of that because it’s how to say what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished or participated in if you were part of a team, but being able to speak to that and how it might apply to someone else’s situation, understanding that it may not be A equals A, it may not be the same thing, but that what you went through or what you participated in and helped with or led and how you would use those same lessons to apply them to what someone else’s problems are. That’s exactly what I’m getting at. That’s exactly what I think people need to be able to achieve to successfully navigate the job search moving forward.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Another question that’s a little bit different, but I want to be able to prepare our audience for it. You and I are talking about the changes. We have our pulse on the market. We know the trends. But we also recognize there are still some companies who will not get with the program and continue to interview and have expectations on the old models.
So the question that I’m going to ask deals with, what advice can you offer a person that is an interview where they’re asking the old-school questions like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Or they’re going by the traditional career path and have perceptions and expectations of where you should see yourself.
I remember a situation where a headhunter had approached me one time, and I think it was before I was Dean. And they used to talk to me about positions where they thought I should be going. I was like, “That’s not my dream.” How do you talk to individuals who have a perception prior to you discussing what it is you really want to do?
Christine Muncy: So the first part was talking about the recruiter and the people who are interviewing, I guess, not the recruiter necessarily. But for the interviewers who are asking some of those more traditional questions, some of those do still apply. But I think what’s difficult is for someone who’s interviewing to understand that if they step back, where do they see the company in five years? Can they even see that right now?
I know strategic planning and having future-sight is important even in uncertain times, but also being flexible in that vision and saying, “The future is very unknown,” and that’s an okay answer. In that I am still discovering myself as a professional and all that I have to offer the world, that should be an acceptable answer from the person being interviewed.
I think for the recruiters, they need to really rethink their interviewing structures. They really should take a step back from that and be more based on behavioral and how does this person fit the organization? And even sometimes more specifically that team. Because like I said, people aren’t staying in jobs for 30 years. That’s not the norm.
So rather than thinking, “Oh, this person will be great here. And then in five years we can promote them. And then five years later, they’d make a great executive. They’re so trainable.” Instead, looking at this talent and saying, “Man, they’re amazing. I think the next five years are going to be great, but I shouldn’t expect to have them for more than seven, realistically.”
I think that’s part of people shift in their mindset. Internally, they should question, “Do I want to work for an organization that has not opened their eyes to the changes that are happening around us? Is this something that excites me?”
Because for some people, that normalcy may be very comforting and it may be very attractive, and that’s fantastic. If that’s for you, then go that route. But if you’re not that person, if you’re someone who is definitely going through this and feels transformed like so many others, then you may need to think about, “Is this organization going in a path that I want to go?” Because it may not be. And if that’s the case, move on.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: First of all, I remember my first experience when I was asked that question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It threw me off.
I have a perception of job searching, so I will share that and it will put my response in perspective. My comment was, “I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone five years from now.” And I had to be honest because I knew what they were looking for. My first career was in HR. So I know what they’re looking for.
The one thing that I will be very authentic with you about is I am here to help you based on what you say your present needs are. I would love to grow with you, but life happens. And for that reason, I can’t tell you what I see myself doing in five years because it may change tomorrow. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. And that segues into some things that you were saying and I firmly believe in, and I know there are others out there that pretty much coach their clients on this perspective that you have to think of the job search almost like dating.
It’s not just the company interviewing you and you should not be in a position, hopefully, that you’re so desperate that you don’t listen to their responses to see if that’s a good fit for you. You hear employers say, “That wasn’t a good fit,” but I think some job seekers should be asking the same types of questions to find out if it’s a good fit for them. Would you agree?
Christine Muncy: Yes, I do agree. It’s actually in our career center. That’s something we coach on. I always say there’s two types of job seeker. There’s the passive looker who’s kind of always got an eye on the horizon, maybe isn’t disloyal to their current organization, but isn’t going to pass up a really good opportunity.
And then there’s the job seeker, the active job seeker. And they’re someone who for whatever reason is seeking something very persistently. And so it could be that they’re unemployed or they’re in a really bad situation. And we tell people regardless, you should be interviewing an organization. You should be asking them questions and deciding if it’s a good fit for you.
But if you do find yourself in a desperate situation where you absolutely have to get out no matter what, or maybe you are unemployed and it has to do with putting food on the table, then take the job but keep looking.
And I know that sounds really awful. And some people definitely will be probably upset listening to this hearing me say this, but you always have to look out for yourself and your number one interests. And sometimes that’s feeding yourself and your family. And if you know it’s a bad situation, but it gets you a paycheck and you can keep looking for something that brings you passion and joy and is the next great thing for you, don’t be ashamed. Do what you need to do.
But also when you go into that job, you give it all you got because that’s your reputation on the line. So even if you take that job, you show up and you do your best and you never know what may happen. You may get promoted, you might get moved to a different team and it is everything you ever hoped it to be. But you need to be open-minded and understanding that you need to interview the company and you need to be asking them questions.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, exactly. I totally agree. And I also think that, I don’t know, with the new job situation, I think people have had a year to stay home to think about what they really want, and they have experienced what I call the other side, and they like it.
So I’ve also talked to some employers who think that the employees are just going to be happy to get back into business as usual. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m excited to see that some companies are exploring this from a perspective of, just like we have employee benefits, but thinking of this as employee-preferred work arrangement. And looking at, “Yes, we’re going to bring them all back, I mean, we’re going to bring people back to the office maybe on a every other day schedule.” There will be people who are interested in maybe sometime coming into the office and working at home during the other hours.
Or they may say, “I want to be flexible and mobile. So I want to be able to do what you’re asking to get done, but have the flexibility to do it from wherever I need to. I’m still fulfilling your need for productivity.”
What are your thoughts about what the new norm is going to look like in terms of companies recruiting or, how should we say, talent acquisition? Is there going to be a strategic plan based on the business interests versus some preferred manager’s preference on how the workforce should look?
Christine Muncy: I think there are already internal struggles between those managers and organizations as a whole in trying to decide what to do today, two months ago, six months from now, next year. I think there are those who love working from home, and then there are those who desperately miss being in the office. And for different reasons. Maybe there’s distractions at home. Maybe they just really love the environment being in the office. And good that they have a healthy environment inside the office.
But these conversations, there’s some internal battles that I’ve already heard of from some other organizations where an individual manager wants all of their team back in the office. The team does not want to be back in the office and does not see a need for them to be in the office. They’re working well. They’re meeting productivity requirements. They are exceeding those requirements. They feel connected. They feel good. They feel like they’ve gotten a portion of their life back from not commuting. But that manager does not have the same ideals of what’s satisfying for their workforce and thinking that bringing them all back is going to be the answer.
I think what’s unfortunate about this scenario, and Marie, I’m sure you’ve definitely heard or seen some of this too, is that some people will leave an organization because of it for either direction, really, but I think more so that they want to work from home. I’ve heard the rare individuals who like the office better, but I think for the majority, what I’ve heard, is people have enjoyed being at home and working from home and have felt successful.
I think organizations need to really consider their people in how successful is your organization? Are you navigating this well? Are you still being innovative? If that’s something that I think is important for companies to decide if their type of work does well with the remote workforce. What is the need?
And some other important questions are what’s the overhead in having those offices remain open if the people are not coming in? These are difficult things to answer. And each organization definitely is going to have to thoroughly dissect their information about what employees want, what the managers want, and really what does everybody need to be successful? Because it may not be back in the office, even if some people are very uncomfortable with that concept.
To me, I’ve worked from home for 12 years. It’s been difficult at times when I work with teams that are primarily in the office. But overall, working from home has been a blessing, and it’s something that our team has hired remotely for years. The foundational piece of that success is based on trust.
And so I encourage any manager who’s listening here, or someone who may find themselves in management in the future, to understand that, through conversation, building relationships, and having a solid foundation of trust with your employees, you can be successful being remote, and you really just need to give a platform for your people to speak to you. You have to be available to them and allow them to share with you what’s working and what’s not working and be willing to change even a bit about yourself if they’re needing it.
If they need you to be more conversational and you’re not a very conversational individual, there are classes for that. And you should probably seek out ways to improve that skill so that you can also meet the needs of your employees and help them be successful.
But employers really need to work on their strategy for the long-term because employees are waiting to hear it. If it hasn’t been announced yet and no one’s asking, they’re just not asking. It doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it. So I think employers, companies, need to start making announcements about the summertime if they haven’t already.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: The comments that you just shared, it leads me to give a statement to the senior leaders of organizations. I think you hit a number of things on point. I think people are looking at this from the wrong perspective.
There are individuals who are like, “Let’s get back to how we used to do things.” First of all, I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’re not going to have a society or economy based on how we used to do things because whether you want to go, there have been some organizations, and some of them may be your competitors, who have moved on. So what are you going to do from a growth and innovation perspective?
I think you hit the key or the topic that should be the topic of conversation. We can talk about remote working. We can talk about a number of different things. I actually think the elephant in the room and the root cause are managers. I think we have that job description when we know what we really want are leaders, people who can motivate individuals to get something done that leads into productivity.
If you are interested in how your company is going to grow, you cannot have people who are worried about their career. I think that’s one of the problems with some of our managers today. Because of how the traditional job ladders or career development are set up in an organization, it actually encourages managers to worry about their career and how they will look versus, “How can I motivate the people who report to me, get buy-in, so that they can work together as a team so that we can outshine and outproduce our competitors?” Would you agree or have any comments on that train of thought?
Christine Muncy: Yes. I think you are spot-on in that when we build job descriptions, that, and I’m going to say we because I have been guilty of this myself. So I’m putting myself in here, and saying that sometimes we put these expectations on the people that we’re hiring to manage people.
And what I’ve really challenged myself personally to think about in the last three or four years is to instead hire people who are good at managing, but who naturally lead. And so that what I’m doing is I’m creating this pipeline within my own organization, with my own team, that has people who can make sure that the box are checked, that we’re doing what we need to for quality assurance and that the processes are being followed, and rules are there, and stuff of that nature.
Teaching managing, teaching, someone to manage is sometimes difficult, but really not. I mean, the concept is very basic. But when you also have people who can lead, who can listen or be passionate or in whatever way is appropriate for their own industry, right? Because some groups are naturally more quiet, more reserved, might be more outgoing. You have different types that tend to be drawn to different types of roles.
But having someone who can connect on a personal level with those people and help that group of people whatever type they are, and seeing themselves to do more or do better and help them rise to the occasion, that is when you have strength. That’s when you have a group that can achieve these amazing things for your organization. But that’s because you hired people who can make connections, who also can manage.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly. As you were speaking, I wrote down a statement, a statement that I might use for a blog article, but I’m going to throw it out and I want you to tell me what you think. “Manage the process, but lead the people to empowerment.”
Christine Muncy: Oh, yes. Man, that’s a t-shirt.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I think it’s important, and we have to own up to it now. I’m like you. I’m going to put myself in a situation because as I said, human resources was my first career. We have to change the mindset. And there’s a book out there, and I think the author took the approach that I would have done if I wrote the book. And that’s like, we don’t want to kill the managers and throw them out with the bath water, but we want to upskill them.
And I believe we started the process where we were trying to condition the managers to be more of a coach, which I think is important, and it’s a different skillset. And I think that will take the fear away from some managers believing that they’re going to be held 100% accountable if something goes wrong. Now in that statement, two things come out of it.
First of all, the fear of failure and not looking at it as a learning experience. But also to be so absorbed with your own career that you forget about empowering the people that report to you so that they can grow. And sometimes, I think that if you have a good team, they’re afraid if someone goes, they’re going to have to start all over again, which I think is not a healthy way of thinking about it. What are your thoughts?
Christine Muncy: Sharing a personal story of a learning moment where I was observing a peer who I always admired. And so even though we may have been titled peers, definitely weren’t, I think, working at the same professional level. This individual was just inspiring to watch and be around.
And one day, she had someone turn in a two-weeks notice and I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh my gosh, they’re working on this big project.” And they looked at me and they said, “Oh, but it’s so amazing for them.” And I was shocked that that was the response I got. And I said, “Yes, but they’re working on this big project. And now you guys are going to have to start over.”
So when you said that, Marie, I immediately thought of this story about starting over because the manager said, “Well, it may set us back a little bit, but all of the knowledge is there. They’re a fantastic employee. They’ve documented everything. We can hire someone who’s just as excited about it to come in and pick up where they left off. But they just got a job of a lifetime. I’m so excited for them.”
And I learned from that moment that, this person hires people and then grows them. They pour themselves into their employees to help them outgrow their position, and those people always loved working for that manager. Every person I’ve ever met, in fact, to this day has said, “Oh man, I really loved working for this person.”
And I think a part of that is the person’s approach is, “I manage the processes, but I’m connecting with the people, and I’m helping the people to excel at their job.” And because of that, as a result, my team is extremely successful but they also love their job. And yes, they move on, but they’re moving on to more successful things. They’re not moving on because they’re disgruntled or upset. They don’t hate their job. So they’re not doing a bad job.
Someday one of those people may bring a new opportunity to you. You never know how that full circle, there are years to work. So why not do something that you love? You open up more opportunities when you have really good experiences of the past that you can lean into or people that you’ve worked for. These are ways that you can build your career, your opportunities, as we’ve been saying today.
But realistically, you’re able to pour who you are into your people and everybody benefits from that. Upskilling, I think, is what you called it. That’s what we call it here in Career Services.
Go to LinkedIn Learning. Learn something new, learn about Excel. If you don’t know much about Microsoft Excel, that’s a pretty good skill to have is to understand at least the basics. PowerPoint, creating dynamic presentations. Even if you may not feel that you’re the most dynamic presenter, but having material when you walk in that helps uplift what your package is and your presentation. Learn how to do presentations on Canva.
Upskill yourself to make you in-demand and look polished and sharp in your product because you are your product. And if your manager is supportive of you using your time to do some of those, great. If not, some of these courses online are 30 minutes. Dedicate 30 minutes that you would normally play on your phone or read a story or something at home in your leisure time. Invest in yourself just like you invest in your retirement.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: That’s an example that I share with people as well, diversification. You should look at it like your retirement plan, something that you can fall back on. And that’s for the employees. And then for companies, I give the analogy of a well-oiled machine. If you built a well-oiled machine, one piece getting old and rusted should not stop the whole operation.
Christine Muncy: You think about, Marie, the rate of new technology. This is a great example, in how new software is being released, I mean, all the time. What do you need help with? Right? And there’s something out there. There’s an app for that. There’s a joke, right? There’s an app for that.
And the well-oiled machine is sometimes also just having technology fluency, having your team, again, back to resiliency, right, is that you are able to keep up with change or are at least willing to apply yourself, to learn the skills that are needed for technology. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, Marie, but when there’s large launches of new systems, that sometimes the hiccup is actually in some, their willingness, to pick up that new technology and embrace it.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I think there needs to be formal as well as informal learning around that whole concept. I think people can get it from different resources. It can be in a classroom. It can be from a mentor. Can be from a friend or from a community. But I also think the more people are exposed to that concept and way of thinking, the more prepared they will be for the market, whatever the market is.
And I’m looking at my questions that I have for you. And as I stated, your opening statements took me down another rabbit hole, and I’m looking at five questions I didn’t ask you. But I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise. It’s been helpful. I think you and I think a lot alike, but I think we bring different experiences to the table, and I hope that our audience today has gained some knowledge from both of us and our experiences. Would you agree?
Christine Muncy: I do. And I’m honored that you think I think like you because I definitely admire what you’ve accomplished in your time in the workforce, and it’s always a pleasure speaking with you. And I think we always find ourselves down a bit of a rabbit hole when speaking because there’s so much that can be discussed about, especially the way the market’s changing and the way the job search is changing and how organizations can align themselves to be successful because there are so many wonderful opportunities ahead. People just need to have their eyes open to look for them.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Well, I respect the work that you’re doing. You are a very innovative individual. I can’t wait to see the new processes and programs that you bring forth in the next year. And I want to thank our listeners for joining us. Have an amazing day.