During a tough job market, it is not uncommon to find two extreme versions of propaganda. On one hand, we might read about the absence of any jobs, and on the other hand, we might find academic institutions promising paths to riches by obtaining a degree or the latest certification in underwater basket weaving. Each scenario gives job seekers something to hang on to: hopelessness or a vision. Neither extreme is accurate; the problem lies in that each statement is believable and may be taken at face value, with very little questioning about the relevance of the statement to any particular person’s circumstance. There are several other factors to be taken into account.
Relying on certifications as a measurement of value
As an example, an MBA degree might be an attractive addition to someone’s calling card, but if the person truly doesn’t have an understanding of the business needs of the employers they are pursuing, the assumption that the MBA adds value tends to be off target. A dressed-up resume may allow some people to talk their way into a role that superficially looks like a match, but they can easily end up being in over their head.
So, what happens when people are not realistic about their capabilities or performance? After a running start, the candidate may find themselves unemployed again when their true applicable knowledge and skill level are recognized by the employer. When it turns out someone is not performing as anticipated or desired, some employers take an easy way out. The underlying issue isn’t necessarily visible because the employer may be reluctant to go through the process of documenting performance or coaching. In some cases, it is much easier to group someone into a “layoff” scenario, simply to avoid the work involved in removing them through performance coaching and documentation.
In my experience, the number of times I encounter a situation where the person has a greater perception of their capabilities than a position warrants and subsequently loses their job occurs about as frequently as I hear someone complain they have been unemployed for an extended period because there are no jobs. The similarity in these situations is that each represents an unrealistic expectation about the marketplace for particular skills or the availability of dream jobs that match desired criteria.
It’s important to recognize the difference between a “challenge” and “in over your head.” It may mean one thing to the candidate and yet another to an employer who has clearly defined expectations of the outcomes they desire. It gets even more complicated when the employer has not clearly defined his expectations and the candidate has no real understanding of the role and is left to intuit their way through. To ensure the highest probability of success, it is critical for candidates to understand the business goals of the organization and where their role contributes to the organization’s mission and objectives. On the flip side, for an employer to ensure their resources are being used to the fullest, it is extremely critical to set clearly defined expectations.
Relying on passive job search or passive recruiting methods
Many candidates using a passive search process will miss out on learning what is needed before they enter into a situation. Job descriptions may describe functions but not necessarily goals. In order to fully grasp what they are getting into, candidates need to conduct extensive research and talk to insiders to get a real-life perspective of the overall market, a particular industry, or a particular organization. With this preparation, they are much more likely to gauge the value or return on investment (ROI) of certifications or extended education. Through strong relationships and an internal connection who is willing to speak to the overall skills someone brings to the party, it is more likely a person will be able to apply a newly acquired degree or certification without an exact match to stated job requirements. Employers who encourage employee referrals are much more likely to open the doors to people who share the organization’s vision and are a fit with the culture when candidates have existing relationships with top producers who have demonstrated as much.
On the flip side, hiring managers who rely only on the identification of key words, certifications and degrees as a measure of value may be unpleasantly surprised by poor performance later. It is critical to develop sound questions to be able to assess someone’s ability to do the job, and to do the job the way the employer wants the job done. It’s amazing how many times people are still hired on assumptions.
Being behind the curve when needs change
Another hurdle for a candidate to face is when an industry, organization, or a hiring manager’s expectations change due to changing business needs. This situation arises when the candidate is seeking employment, or it can happen after they are hired. Either way, if someone is unable to quickly change priorities to address business needs and immediate opportunities, they will be left on the sidelines. Regardless of how hot the job market is, or how hot the newest certification program or designation is, if a candidate is not flexing with the underlying business need, will be left behind.
In a slow job market, it is even more critical to recognize that what you want right now may not be attainable immediately or as planned. It might require a different strategy or short-term concessions and, most importantly, the flexibility to do what it takes to get on track. Building in the time to develop connections and hands-on experience may allow for a greater ROI from new certifications/degrees in the long run. It is also critical to stay on top of changing needs to make sure what you offer is still considered of value as you move forward.
There has been a rumor going around asserting that it is “impossible to multi-task.” I suppose a declaration of this kind allows those who aren’t skilled at multitasking to feel triumphant, but very common examples of real life multitasking prove this theory incorrect. If we couldn’t multi-task, then:
- When driving, we couldn’t look both ways and behind us at an intersection, activate a turn signal and apply pressure to the brakes (all within 15 seconds).
- A mother couldn’t hold her child on her back while she walked to the store or while she was making dinner.
- We wouldn’t be able to guide cloth through a sewing machine and watch to ensure the stitching is straight, while also accelerating the pedal that runs the motor.
- Musicians couldn’t sing while they play an instrument, let alone dance while they are doing both.
- A police officer wouldn’t be able to direct traffic and be cognizant of the crowd around him/her.
The point I’m making is that there are degrees of what is possible, practical and necessary. Multitasking is an important skill for many reasons, especially if there is a significant investment in the outcome (e.g., not getting in a car wreck, your child’s safety or perhaps getting paid to perform a service or provide entertainment). If the failure to take command of necessary actions impacts your safety, the safety of others or your livelihood, then multitasking is clearly a problem. Analyzing your steps to determine where the breakdowns occur, and implementing strategies to resolve them, is a better investment of time than arguing a case for why “multitasking isn’t possible.”
Clearly, we don’t want to put ourselves or others at risk. If we can’t look forward as we drive and also check the rearview mirror, that’s a problem. It means we probably shouldn’t be driving. In similar terms, if we are unable to talk on the phone and type simultaneously, then we probably shouldn’t work in a call center. If we lack the ability to carry on a conversation with someone and listen for conversations/noises around us on a playground, then perhaps we shouldn’t be the playground monitor. It doesn’t mean any of the above examples are impossible skills to master, it just means some people shouldn’t be doing them.
If you are currently considering work that requires multitasking, it is critical to practice under the same circumstances to determine if you can do it, before jumping in feet first. Multitasking efficiently and effectively is all relative. To know if you will be successful, it’s imperative to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome. Sometimes accuracy is first and foremost, yet other times, the goal isn’t perfection. If you tend to get caught up in detail and pour over and over information or processes to ensure they are absolutely correct, occupations that demand a high degree of accuracy, such as engineering or accounting, could be a very strong fit. In other situations, where exact detail is valued less, it could cause you to lag behind, miss deadlines, or worse, fail to respond at all in a critical situation requiring an immediate answer.
Sometimes reacting with a reasonable response and following up with an elaborate answer at a more appropriate time is the best course of action at the moment. If a pipe is leaking, it makes more sense to immediately plug the leak with whatever you have on hand until a plumber can be reached, than to stop to determine the pipe size and water flow capacity while the water is rising around your feet. It is important to recognize when the situation demands a change in attention without notice – like answering phones or having your work constantly interrupted to answer co-workers’ questions, a different action is required. A once highly valued skill like accuracy may become a liability when it becomes impossible to perform other requirements.
In a world where more is expected to be done with less, multitasking seems to be a required, if not critical skill, for many jobs. Choose your work (and battles) so you don’t find yourself in a situation that isn’t working for you or your employer. Become aware of how much you can manage at one time, and when challenged, identify ways to improve your responses. Another option is to simply decide to look for other work that is less demanding. The bottom line is that your response is the only thing that can change. Believing that multitasking isn’t possible or necessary might not help you succeed.
An epiphany hit me recently after reading an article about the current status of job loss in Washington State. Reporting “no jobs” does not necessarily mean there is “no work available.” The term “jobless,” doesn’t have to mean “without work.” When I think about it, passively waiting for a job to open up when there is so much work around us to be done may not be the best approach to what could be a dire situation. Too many people are trapped in the mindset that a job is the only way to find income. I think there is another way we all could be looking at a “jobless” economy.
This “ah, ha!” moment happened after a frustrating week of searching for a contractor to replace the bathroom floor in a rental unit. Of the five people I contacted, two said they would call back and never did, another two said the job was too small for them, and one remaining contractor promptly returned my call. After an onsite visit, he committed to doing the work. When the project was completed, the contractor was promptly paid for his work, even though it wasn’t a “job with benefits.” Later, when we found out the carpet also needed to be replaced, the same contractor was given more work.
This experience prompted me to consider everything else that seems to be falling apart around me: my car needs vacuuming, our yard needs attention, the gutters need to be cleaned and our sink needs a new faucet. From what I see all around me, there is still a considerable amount of work that needs to get done, by and for others. This kind of work may not come with a job description, top dollar pay, medical benefits and paid time off, but I am guessing it could produce enough income to equal a paycheck and pay some bills. I’m not saying I have THE answer. It is just another approach that could keep people from tipping completely over.
The exercise of looking for work—compared to looking for a job—is a new concept for some people. It requires a different approach and a different mentality. Rather than spending the day passively looking at job postings, people could proactively invest their time looking for work, which involves talking to people to learn about their companies and “what hurts” or “what is broken.” By listening for business challenges and problems, they can be the first to offer appropriate solutions and be further ahead of those who are just waiting around for a job to be posted online. This is a simple concept, but not necessarily easy to execute. It may require training and additional support to make sure you get the results you are after.
Looking for work is a process that involves focused and intentional networking. Not the kind of random, opportunistic schmoozing that many people consider networking. It is far different than “liking” a friend’s post on Facebook or reaching out to random people on LinkedIn. It requires targeted outcomes, planning and thoughtful execution. If you aren’t finding “work” by reviewing job postings and playing with social media, there’s a good likelihood that you need to alter your mindset. It’s possible that while you search for your next job, the work you discover may even end up leading you to the job you’ve been hoping for.
You may have found the past year has been riddled with indecision and apprehension regarding many important issues: the economy, jobs, politics, healthcare, and government spending, to name a few. The list could go on forever. This past year left many people feeling somewhat out of control. In response to everything that was up in the air in December, you may have made a concerted effort to create goals for the New Year that only you can control the progress on. Before we get fully underway in the New Year, it’s a good idea to identify last year’s personally painful points and set up remedies for this year. The following are some questions to ask yourself. Did you:
- Start out with good intentions but found out your resolutions fizzled by March?
- Make promises but didn’t keep them?
- Find yourself with unmet goals?
- Remain at the same dumb job?
- Make excuses throughout the year for why things didn’t change?
- Feel powerless to change your circumstances?
If you experienced any of the issues listed above last year, then decide now to face things differently this year. It’s up to you to choose how you will respond to obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goals. Here are ten tips for improving your outcomes this year:
- Make a commitment. This year, make yourself accountable. Break your goals into objectives, set due dates and develop action plans to accomplish your goals.
- Flex to demand. When circumstances change, reevaluate. Don’t continue with the same old plan if it is no longer applicable. If an urgent opportunity arises that allows you to reach a goal sooner, adjust your schedule and make the time to address it. Don’t let something pass you by because you were functioning under the same old SOPs (standard operating procedures).
- Avoid complacency. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable. Just as old, broken in shoes can end up leading to foot, back or knee pain, staying in the same state of mind or circumstances can lead to more severe repercussions. A career can be stalled, a reputation damaged and skills decline. Make sure every day is committed to moving forward and out of the same old rut, no matter how comfortable it has become.
- Keep up the momentum. Have a plan for each day, week and month. That doesn’t mean sticking with something come hell or high water. Have a plan so you know where to direct your efforts and monitor it weekly to make sure it is still relevant. Keep looking forward. Find a progress buddy to help you remain accountable.
- Stay healthy. Don’t wait until something happens before you pay attention to your body. Engage in healthful activities and eating habits. Take precautions to avoid illnesses that occur from lack of attention. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods and make sure you have some sort of plan for exercise that you will sustain.
- Don’t take no for an answer. If you have been turned away, rebuffed or passed over, then think of another approach. You can’t change another person’s actions, but you can change your own. Analyze what happened and try something new. Don’t let someone else decide what you can or cannot accomplish.
- Get comfortable with change. Change impacts everyone, every day, everywhere. You can’t hide from it or avoid it. If things aren’t going the way you want, don’t make excuses. Change your strategy, change your thinking or change your reaction.
- Pay attention. You don’t have to believe everything you read, but reading nothing only causes you to be unaware. Insulating yourself from the reality others are facing can cause a disconnect when meeting new people or pursuing new opportunities. Be aware of current events, industry changes, area growth/decline and popular issues. The more aware you are of what is going on around you, the more you can participate in general conversations.
- Engage. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, people lover or people hater, people and conversations will be contributing factors to what you do and where you go. Learn about others’ needs and wants by asking questions and showing interest. Amazing results may follow when someone believes you actually care about them.
- Get over yourself. If you have hung on to a perception of yourself that no longer works, examine why. You might laugh when you hear celebrities refer to others as being “relevant” (or not), but honestly, have you looked in the mirror? Our own unrealistic perceptions of ourselves can prevent us from achieving our goals as much as having a positive, honest, realistic perception can help us achieve them. Which would you choose?
If these tips motivated you to change even one thing going into the New Year, please let us know!
Tags: career, career goal, Career management, career plan, career planning, goal planning, goal setting, goals, job hunt, job hunting, job search, managing priorities, managing time, reach career goals, time management
Although a candidate may be extremely focused on their own behavior and speech, it is just as necessary to pay attention to what the interviewer discloses through conversation or body language throughout an interview. In addition to debriefing an interview to learn where improvement may be required, a review can also help you pick up on clues the employer provided that could alert you to a dysfunctional work situation.
It’s always best to know of potential issues/personalities you might encounter in advance, so your interpretation of any odd behaviors is closer to the mark. When advance information from insiders isn’t possible, the following are some things to pay attention to and their potential causes.
The interviewer(s) arrived on time. An interviewer arriving and beginning the interview on time shows respect for your time. It also shows they have planned ahead. Certainly there are reasons someone might end up running late. The key is in how they approach the issue. If they’re not apologetic, or if the late start is not even acknowledged, this could illustrate how other meetings are approached or how your time is valued.
You met the person (or people) you expected to meet with. It’s great when the people you expected to meet are the ones actually present, but it isn’t unusual to be greeted by someone else. When people send stand-ins because they are unable to follow through as planned, it can work out ok if the replacement is someone actually prepared to interview or has a stake in the situation. It can turn into a problem if the person you end up meeting with appears to have little interest or awareness of your potential contribution or role with the company. A late replacement can be a sign of disorganization, or an indicator of how tough it might be to get the real decision maker’s time or attention on other important issues down the road.
The interviewer(s) seemed genuinely interested in meeting you. It’s important to look for signs that the interviewer is actually engaged in your conversation. Did they take notes? Did they give eye contact? Smile? Did they nod or offer affirmations to your comments/answers? Yawns are a pretty sure sign of disinterest, but so can stoic stares. If the interviewer was watching the clock throughout the discussion or allowing interruptions, it can be a sign that their mind was elsewhere. Ultimately, this can lead to a colossal waste of time for each of you. It can mean they were overbooked, or had already mentally checked out because they have an earlier candidate pegged. Or, they truly have an emergency to contend with and are feeling pressed to “carry on” with the interview because you are there. If you see extreme signs that would indicate they are preoccupied or their attention is slipping away, it might be helpful to simply ask if they are running late for another meeting. It might even be necessary to offer to reschedule.
The interviewer(s) was prepared. It is always a nice experience to learn that an interviewer has actually read your resume with care. Seeing a marked up resume with key points highlighted can be a very good sign. When specific questions about your personal past experiences or skills are asked, it shows that someone took the time to dig into your background. There may be something of particular interest they wish to expand on and will lead the way there. A good sign the interviewer was prepared will also show up in the order they ask their questions. Typically building on one piece of information to the next to help them develop a full picture is a sign of interest and understanding. When an interviewer clearly shows signs they have not seen your resume and is completely unaware of your background, it can be an indication of a number of things that might not be in your best interest. They may not have taken the time to think about you at all before your arrival or they may not be completely present in the moment. They also may not have a vested interest in you or your role and may have already made up their minds about another candidate, or they may simply choose to shoot from the hip when making other important decisions. Going through the motions by asking the same old, rote interview questions, in random order, can also either be a sign of inexperience or disinterest. The question remains: how will they treat you once you are an employee?
The interviewer(s) listened to your answers. When the interviewer asks questions and is carefully listening to your responses, even asking clarifying questions, it shows they are engaged in what you are saying. That isn’t always the case, however. Many of us have experienced the interview that progressed with the interviewer doing all the talking. When the “discussion” turns into a “monologue” about the interviewer’s experience or interests, there is a good sign they are more concerned about impressing you than learning about how you fit or can add value. It may also mean they are trying too hard to impress you, which could mean they are covering up other issues. A talkative interviewer might not sound like a problem, if you are a good listener. It might not immediately be a problem, if they end up presenting you with an offer. The real problem could come along later if they end up NEVER listening to you or acknowledging your value or contribution. When it comes to solving a problem or getting a promotion or a raise later, their behavior of not listening could become a problem. Or, if they had only been talking to cover up any unrevealed issues, you may discover them at a later date.
The information provided was consistent from all sources. It’s always important to pay careful attention to the input you get from all participants. If there are glaring contradictions, it could be a sign of communication breakdowns, disagreements or even all out wars. It would be a good idea to ask an open ended question to help clarify, correct or expose something that could be very important at a later time. If an open ended question gets them to talk more, it may expose more inconsistencies, or in the best case, it may prove to clarify something. If more unraveling occurs, then pay attention. Don’t try to brush it off as something insignificant. Contradicting information can be signs of unrest, and may be fertile ground for the next person to serve as a scapegoat. A clarifying question could be: “Earlier I heard Mary say that the project was slated to begin on the 8th, and I thought I heard Joe say it was the 12th. Could you please tell me more about the anticipated start date?”
The interviewer(s) was comfortable or poised during the interview. Granted, some interviewers are inexperienced and may seem uncomfortable because they are nervous. Others may be uncomfortable because they know more than they are sharing or because they really don’t have the time to interview someone. If someone is getting fidgety, try not to take it personally, but do take care to pay attention to how you might be contributing to their response. If your answers are long, are delayed in getting to the point or you have said something that could be interpreted as off-task, off-color or politically incorrect, it’s time to stop talking. Pay attention to their body language before you continue down the same path. If the discomfort appears when they are talking, it might also be a sign that they are having difficulty shielding a sensitive issue.
Each of these scenarios could expose information that would make a difference to you. Lack of punctuality, disinterest, distractions, stress and inconsistencies could all be indicators that things in this workplace are not ideal. Although none of these issues need to be deal breakers, don’t assume little things are unimportant or are an aberration. In order to maximize any employment situation, it is vitally important that you are aware of what you are getting into. Knowing the pitfalls in advance allows you to develop strategies for avoiding derailment at an inopportune time down the road.
What red flags have you encountered in an interview? Please tell us what happened if you ignored it until it was too late.
Interviewing is tough business. A candidate is typically facing a complete stranger and has limited time to develop rapport, assess the environment, assimilate the conversation and interpret body language. Reading an interviewer is also a risky endeavor. Typically, only an objective ear can distinguish between what went “really well” and what went “really south”. Unless a candidate is ready to face what their interviewing challenges are and embrace the remedies, it is likely they will continue making the same mistakes (and continue getting the same results).
Taking the time to debrief an interview can sometimes lead to surprisingly easy things to change and other times it may require learning new behaviors. A debriefing session is a method of examining what was said, versus what might have been heard, in addition to identifying any red flags. Whatever is ultimately exposed during a debriefing session, it is necessary to plan on incorporating new behaviors in the approach. Changing or developing new behaviors will take time to adjust to, so it is important to discover the needed improvements and work on them, long before the next interview.
The following are tips for what to look for throughout the interview and how to approach a debriefing session afterwards. (This process can also be used for debriefing a sales call. If you have not been able to close, keep reading.)
Make a note of everyone present. Get complete names and titles for everyone present. Include what their interest is in relationship to the position you are interviewing for and what or whom they represent. This will be important information in interpreting their responses.
Record what happened. If taking notes throughout the process is distracting, then it may be necessary to plan time to summarize key points immediately after the interview concludes. Regardless of how the information is captured, it needs to be recorded as closely to the time the conversation takes place as possible.
Be aware of tell-tale body language. Observing and making note of the reactions to your answers or the conversation during an interview are critical. Is the interviewer smiling? Nodding? Frowning? Arms crossed? Leaning back or away from you? Looking past you? Glassy eyed? Yawning? A facial expression indicating disbelief (wide eyes or raised eyebrows) or lack of approval (frown or grimace, or simply turning away) could be signs the interviewer is shutting down.
Pay attention to red flags. An abrupt change of subject or close to the interview can also be a sign that someone has “heard enough”. Allowing interruptions or distractions can also be signs the interviewer is no longer interested. Questions from the interviewer can drill into a subject at length because they need clarification, but the same questions can turn into a huge gap if the information you share turns out to contradict the interviewer’s beliefs, knowledge or style. Inconsistencies in the information provided or the interviewer’s behavior over the course of the interview can also indicate the interviewer has changed their opinion of you (could be in a good way or maybe not).
Be objective. Taking note of the exact language used, rather than your interpretation, makes it easier to be objective. If an objective ear can hear something you may have missed, then you are closer to figuring out what needs to be done to change, fix or clarify something.
Be honest. Try to reconstruct the situation accurately. Don’t make it sound like it went better than it did. You won’t be fooling anyone but yourself if you describe a “great interview” but end up without an offer. Too often a candidate pumps up the truth and ends up missing a very key point for why things weren’t going as well as they had hoped. Don’t assume anything.
Ask the hard questions. It might be tough to accept that you may have made a blunder, but you can’t fix what you don’t address. If you made mistakes, address them. Did you ask enough questions? Did you sound poised and confident or arrogant and overbearing? Did you voice opinions without checking to know if the interviewer held the same view? Did you make any assumptions without clarifying or confirming?
Do damage control. Sometimes a simple mistake can be corrected by following up with clarification in the thank you letter or email you send immediately after the interview. Sharing more information about something you had failed to bring up can make a difference. The key is in knowing what is needed, what is important and how to communicate it.
Plan ahead. Advance preparation for an interview is a must. The best time to prepare for your next interview is immediately after the last one. By determining what likely went wrong and beginning to prepare immediately helps to focus on what you really need to focus on or practice.
How well did you prepare the last time you had an interview that didn’t result in an offer? What needs to be done to improve your results the next time? If you are unsure of how to read the clues or interpret the outcome, it might be a good idea to get assistance with a debriefing session the next time you interview.
Jack, be nimble,
Jack, be quick,
Jack, jump over
Jack jumped high
Jack jumped low
Jack jumped over
and burned his toe.
Although there are probably not many candlesticks to be jumped over in today’s market, most of us are faced with “mini-fires” every day. Although there are specific disciplines that follow trained approaches to working in Lean or Agile environments, the average worker or small business owner still needs to be able to show evidence of their ability to respond quickly and effectively to changes or unforeseen events.
In a day and age where the ability to think quickly and react gracefully is critical to the success of workers, businesses, and nonprofits, it is important not to get distracted by the wrong perception of what is in the way of success.
Although we tend to assume it, youth does not ensure responsiveness. Nor does it ensure speed. There are many mature workers that can outthink and outrun younger workers when called upon to respond to a critical change. The value of their experience in similar past situations with a variety of prospective allows them the ability to think quickly and decisively. It is unfortunate that the perception that age is a problem can undermine the value gained through having had more experience in reacting to crisis and change. In contrast, the enthusiasm younger employees or entrepreneurs bring to the market place can’t be beat. The absence of excess baggage or paralyzing past failures, the willingness to think out of the box and openness to try new things are also huge advantages when trying to problem-solve in limited time.
Regardless of your role as a worker, business owner, manager or leader, the ability to stay ahead of the curve when dealing with change is an asset that cannot be replaced. Young or old, don’t allow others to make assumptions about what you can or cannot contribute. Responsiveness is a behavior that is easily made visible in everyday communications or encounters with coworkers, customers and supervisors. It is also a behavior that is very noticeable when absent. Think about the message you send others when you are slow to respond to requests, quick to complain or blame, or look to others to take the initiative to offer solutions. These are all easily changed behaviors without concerning yourself with how your age is being considered. Move on to changing what you can to keep yourself or your services fresh and marketable:
- Respond quickly to email or phone requests.
- Follow up to remind and encourage others of deadlines or needed actions.
- Be open to new ideas and new approaches.
- Plan ahead for meetings and conversations.
- Anticipate potential obstacles and be prepared with solutions.
- Follow up immediately with anyone that you have committed to.
- Stop procrastinating.
- Look for solutions and stop complaining!
Every couple of years, my husband and I get in a debate about the term “common sense”. I believe common sense is something people either have or don’t, and he believes that it revolves around skills that are learned. Regardless of wherever it comes from, the question still remains: why don’t more people use it?
Each week I receive communications from people that are in dire straits financially. Most have waited more than a year to think about changing their job search strategy. (Thinking about change typically occurs when the unemployment checks are about to run out, or shortly thereafter). It is still surprising to me that when I ask how they have been searching for work, many describe the same process.
The typical search involves getting out of bed around 8:00 or 9:00 AM and actually getting started by 10:00 AM. First step is to review job boards or lists and the next is to send out a couple of resumes each day. They might also work in the yard, go to the gym, meet people for coffee and run errands. Some might even invest time as a volunteer in the community, but typically do not have a plan for how that work/exposure can be incorporated into their strategy. Some get caught up in more of their children’s activities they would not ordinarily be involved with if they were working.
This routine continues with little change, day after day, week after week, month after month. Some people are actually driven by the rules around their unemployment benefits, rather than whether their search is successful or not. In our state, recipients of unemployment benefits are required to apply for three positions per week, so many job seekers actually believe they are doing more than is required by responding to two to three per day, even when nothing is panning out.
The problem with this routine is that nothing changes (except, perhaps, some resume re-writes). The candidates continue to look at job boards. They don’t qualify the applications they make to determine if the roles/organizations are truly a fit, nor do they make an effort to learn what the employer really needs. There is no review process to determine if their actions are contributing to their less than satisfactory results. (Doing things the same way but expecting different results is indicative of what?). One thing remains consistent: their reasoning for not getting their desired results is that the market is tight and there are no jobs in their area of interest. Done. End of story.
Ok, so this is where the term “common sense” comes into play. When what has been done still doesn’t work, is it reasonable to continue doing the same thing? Does doing the same thing the same way but increasing the frequency make it better? Or is it really time to dissect each part of the process to determine what can change? I think you can guess what my answer is.
Just because job boards exist, it doesn’t mean using them as a sole strategy is the most effective way to find work. Just because there are online systems for posting resumes, it doesn’t mean those are the most effective ways to reach decision makers. Just because you are interested in a line of work, it doesn’t make you competitive for it. If the role/line of work/industry you have the most experience in has fewer opportunities, it doesn’t mean you should continue to hold out for your same role. It also doesn’t mean you should apply for a role with the same title in a different industry. So what do you do?
Get unstuck: Look at every component of your process and ask yourself what can change. Can you change the time you get up? Where you are looking? What kinds of roles/companies you are looking at? Who you talk to? The days of week you work on your search or don’t? What you send?
Stop relying on job boards! Millions of people have access to the same job postings you see online. What is the likelihood that you will be chosen when faced with that many competitors? Keep in mind that 85% of all positions currently being filled come from a referral. It means many may never even be posted.
Change your game plan: Stop applying for random postings because they look “interesting”. Find out what you are competitive for and then develop a plan to move from that role to the role of your dreams. It doesn’t happen by magic or overnight.
Research: Learn how your skills can be applied in other areas. Even if your skills transfer, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily be competitive for the same level role in a different industry. It means you have to learn what you NEED to learn or demonstrate competence in to become competitive within a new field.
Volunteer with a purpose: Be prepared to have meaningful conversations with other volunteers or employees of the organizations you are working with. Learn about their networks. Find volunteer opportunities to learn new skills that will add to your resume.
Develop goals: Yes, I understand that your goal may be to get a job. That’s not specific enough. Look beyond the immediate and set a long-term goal. Whatever your immediate goal is needs to be tied to the long-term goal in some way. By keeping your eye on the ball it will help you see why you may have to start in a different place to eventually move forward. It will help you see the benefit of learning new skills in a different role to help you build toward the role of your dreams.
Get help: Still think you can do it alone? If getting help means you will get back on track in three to six months, or a year ahead of what you have been able to do on your own, then make the investment. If you are leaving money on the table each month because you are not working toward your goal, then think again about what it would be worth to you to have three to six months’ income sooner than later.
Some days, I just shake my head when I watch how people approach their job searches or career planning. After 15 years, I would say I have developed a pretty solid recipe for getting people where they want to go in regard to employment. No matter how many times the process is described by yet another successful candidate (now new employee), someone always thinks there is a short cut and wants to put their own spin on it. It made me think of an analogy that might make it a little clearer:
So, there is a bank in the middle of town, where at the end of the day, a back window was mistakenly left unlocked. No one noticed until three bank robbers wandered by and discovered it. To their amazement, in addition to the window being unlocked, the gates at the front of a long hallway leading to the vault were also wide open, and no external security lights were lit.
Now, one of them just happened to have had a connection inside the branch, and had been able to secure the 57-digit combination to the bank vault a month earlier. Although he had scouted the bank every night for three weeks, this was the first time he had brought his buddies, and the very first time he had come across an unsecured opening. He was really excited because this was the moment he had been waiting for.
It was just before dawn, so they know they need to move quickly. One false move and they could be delayed, which means they should have a greater chance of being seen and getting caught. They discussed what they should do to get inside and how they could best get to the vault in the dark without drawing attention to them. The plan to get to the window and down the hall was anticipated to take 20 minutes. They determined they would only have two minutes to open the vault and three to get back out of the building.
The first robber knew that with a steady hand, and a small pocket flashlight, he could use the combination and get into the vault. The 2nd robber didn’t think they had time to enter all 57 numbers, so he suggested trying a shorter series of numbers to save time. The third robber was pretty confident that with one hit, a sledgehammer would open the vault and they could get out much faster. Their dilemma: should they use the combination or try a shorter sequence of numbers to see if it will open faster? Or should they just use the sledgehammer?
Now, the choice may seem obvious to you, but it isn’t much different from the scenarios I see when time after time, candidates apply for higher level roles only because of a title and promise of more money, or job seekers resort to passive searches. To clarify, a passive search is when someone trolls for job postings and throws their hat in the ring. They may even use the same overstated, nonspecific resume for every “interesting” position they see, thinking “more is better”. Or, maybe they end up reviewing many job board sites and even tailor their resumes a little each time, thinking that will make all the difference this time. After all, researching and networking to learn what companies actually need takes time, doesn’t it?
Regardless of the quality of the resume and cover letter sent, a passive search is one that instantly puts someone in competition with literally hundreds (if not thousands) of candidates. It makes the odds closer to one in a zillion that they are the “fit” the employer is looking for, or the culture is what the candidate is looking for. Even though the resume may get them into a conversation, and once there, they are still at a disadvantage over someone who knows about the company from the inside. A passive search won’t reveal the insight needed to know what to say in an interview. And these days, candidates just aren’t going to be successful if they try to bluff their way through.
All in all, blindly applying for roles that have no more clarity than the badly worded job description found on a job board makes it pretty tough to know what you are up against, what is really needed or what will be necessary to say to be competitive. The desire to shorten the process by doing less, or waiting for that one “perfect” opening to show up, makes it less and less likely someone will close in on the position of their dreams.
If you have been reading my blogs, then you know by now that the methodology I promote is to investigate prior to applying, through networking. By digging up leads and reaching out for conversations with people that already work for an organization, or in a specific department, a candidate is much more likely to get some traction. They are also much more likely to have time to develop stories that use past examples of their work to illustrate similarities with the company/department/role they have researched and have targeted.
No need for sledgehammers. The winning combination is: using information to illuminate the way + being ready to pursue a need (even before it is announced) + tailoring your resume for the specific need + investing in careful preparation for the interview. It’s not the fast way- but it is a proven way to get where you want to go.
The internet is seductive. It is so much easier to believe it holds the answers to life’s mysteries, than to imagine what it would be like without it. Granted, it really does hold a HUGE amount of information, but it still cannot replace our feelings, values or perceptions of what we hold dear. You might be thinking: what in the world does this have to do with business? And I would have to say: almost everything.
Whether you are looking for candidates, employers or service providers, making assumptions about their ability to fill a need can get you in hot water if those assumptions are not checked out. Trusting the words without evidence can backfire. Leveraging established relationships with trusted resources can help point a candidate to the right company, an employer to the properly skilled and personality matched candidate and a customer to the right service provider. In order for the recipe to work, each source needs to be accurate about their skills or needs and stop relying on “key words” as the answer.
Relying solely on information and processes devoid of real human connections tends to leave us at a disadvantage when we are attempting to build relationships. Although the written word can explain a great deal, proof comes from observable action. It is the evidence of consistent behavior that builds trust in relationships. Being able to thoroughly articulate skills/abilities, then substantiating them with evidence goes much further than using “key words” or SEO to get someone’s attention.
Candidates that are unclear about their direction or are unable to articulate their value accurately may end up in roles that are a complete mismatch. Likewise, employers that inaccurately or incompletely describe the roles they need to fill may end up wasting considerable time trying to identify the correct solution. A company that describes a culture that is contrary to what people actually experience is another source of potential conflict. The internet can provide a vehicle, but passively using it as the destination without digging for input from real, live people can lead to huge wastes of time and resources.
Although a profile can present descriptions of a person’s competence or skills, and a website can expound on an organization’s culture, learning about real life perceptions of a situation or actions requires a conversation. The proof of the pudding comes from people that have engaged with the person or business in question. It requires advance research over time, not a click and a quick connection. Passing on referrals or chasing job postings because “key words” sound familiar is insufficient. To thoroughly understand the needs of all parties and make real matches requires more thoughtful evaluation; otherwise it ends up the same as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
If you have been engaged in a passive search (mining databases for job postings), or if you are a recruiter relying on databases to solve your staffing needs, or if you have a business and are trying to find the right customers, it might be time to take a different course:
- Try asking tough questions of hiring managers, team members and customers to learn what’s really under the surface before you proceed. Find out where the real pain is generating from.
- Get out and talk to people, or should I say, listen to people. Networking is more than schmoozing. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask people at networking events.
- Show interest and concern. It isn’t all about you.
- Pay attention to what people/companies need before you ask for something or try to “sell” something.
- Help others. Find ways to pay it forward.
If you have received a job announcement from a recruiter that had nothing to do with your skill set, a resume from a candidate with few skills related to your needs, or spam from a business offering a service that you nor anyone in your network would be interested in buying in a million years, then I think you know what I am talking about.
Tell them to stop throwing spaghetti at the wall.