Professional Development: Cultivating The Sustainable Career

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Victoria Hardy

Victoria Hardy

By Victoria Hardy, CFM, CFMJ
From the February 2004 issue of Today’s Facility Manager magazine

Struggling to grasp the entirety of a construction project is a common challenge among facility managers (fms) who often act as the owner’s representative throughout the process. Understanding the role of a construction manager (cm) is imperative for fms looking to achieve the best results for their projects.

Facility managers can’t be successful advocates for their buildings if they are paralyzed with anxiety and fear over their own professional future. During these difficult times, an effective career plan and a personal presentation portfolio may provide a valuable edge in the current job market.

The first step in career planning is to ask three critical questions:

  1. Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years?
  2. Do you have the tools to get there?
  3.  If not, what is your plan for acquiring them?

The first question is so frequently asked in interviews that people tend to discount its value. But if the interviewee doesn’t know where he or she is headed, why would an employer invest training time, money, and supervisory energy to hire that person? On the other hand, naysayers note that anyone who knows where he or she will be in five or 10 years is not being realistic. This may be true, but professionals should at least have visions, dreams, and road maps that can be shared.

The second question may be more difficult to answer, because it requires a realistic assessment of skills, tools, and personality traits. Do not look at positions or job titles and responsibilities. Instead, think in terms of specific talents. These skills may or may not show up in a resume but are critical to self-assessment and understanding.

Occasionally, there is evidence that professionals may not be fully in touch with how they work with colleagues or employers. Then it is time to send out a call for honest evaluations from friends, colleagues, and former clients. There are also counseling services that, for a fee, can do testing, personality inventories, and mock interviews to assess abilities before meetings with potential employers take place. These options may provide valuable insight that will allow managers to make some critical decisions about the next stage of their careers.

When it comes time to select candidates for layoffs or cutbacks, the difference between having a degree or experience only is a clear line in the sand. That may be hard to accept, but it is a real difference.

Consequently, it is necessary to develop a strategic plan that will address the acquisition of necessary skills or tools. Will an evening program work? Or is on line education a better option? Don’t forget to consider financial needs, family support, and company policies about reimbursement.

There is also the question of what an employer is willing to recognize as a legitimate education resource. Find out if the company will recognize continuing education credits-or university credits only-before spending time and energy on them.

Unfortunately, some companies will not pay for any type of re-tooling, but that should not stop facility professionals from developing a personal professional portfolio-the core of any strategic career plan. This portfolio consists of three components-a flexible resume, a list of appropriate references, and a selection of writing samples-designed to meet a variety of needs.

The resume must answer the classic questions every journalist learns: Who? What? Where? When? How? All information should be explained in brief, factual terms so reviewers are not left to their own speculations. A successful resume should not be a lengthy exploration, but rather five or six bulleted items that will immediately communicate the candidate’s larger goals to the recipient.

The second component of the portfolio is an up to date list of references that reflects the applicant’s current qualifications and skills. This list is a live document. When a former supervisor is promoted, the list is updated (after a note of congratulations has been sent).

Break the list down into former supervisors, colleagues, associates from community volunteer efforts, and personal acquaintances of at least three years. This is a database, to be mined and reviewed periodically so the most appropriate references can be selected from the list. Obviously, it is important to stay in touch with these people as well.

Last, but not least, facility professionals must select several writing samples. These should include the candidate’s very best work (without violating company confidentiality issues). Sample proposals, letters, and problem analyses can be included. If writing is weak, correct the problem. Facility professionals will find it difficult to move ahead without decent writing skills.

There are four basic areas that should be repeatedly checked in order to achieve the perfect set of career documents.

  1. Language and Spelling: A weakness here can doom the very best candidate. The common issues today are word usage errors and odd grammar problems.
  2. Unexpected Gaps in Employment History: Careful resume readers will notice any gap and ask about it in the interview, so don’t leave this to the imagination of the potential employer. Use the cover letter to explain any sabbaticals or gaps that might raise suspicion.
  3. Weird Formats/Typefaces/Paper: Use good white paper, black ink, standard typefaces, 12-point type, and good business formatting for resumes, letters of application, and writing samples.
  4. Generic Letters: Submitting a general letter is blatantly obvious to anyone who has read original letters from other applicants. Do some homework on the company, its history, its products, and background. This shows interest in the position.

Finally, do not underestimate the value of professional activity and certification in the facility management field. Achieving certification means a candidate cares enough to be evaluated by his or her peers. Active involvement in professional associations reiterates this point further. Professional development activity, seminar attendance, class enrollment, or additional degree pursuit are all indicators of a person’s commitment to the profession and quality as an employee.

In order to make the right impression, candidates must demonstrate they are indeed 21st century facility professionals.

Hardy is head of the non-profit religious and educational organization at Star Island, one of the historic Isles of Shoals. She is also the former head of design and facilities at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA.

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