Monday, May 18, 2015

The Chicken or the Egg

When it comes to helping oneself find job opportunities, most of us have been conditioned to believe the internet is the answer for everything. We’re led to believe that without online efforts, we have no hope of finding a good job when, in fact, this is a silly assumption. At the same time, more and more people are realizing their best efforts online are not getting them very far, which leaves them more frustrated than ever.
Are you aware that many jobs are not even posted online? And there are many more than you think. If you resort solely to online job search activities this is not what you want to hear – I’m not writing this blog to pacify anyone but, instead, I am writing to get people off their butts and to rediscover their own capabilities and how to help themselves.
For many reasons, managers might have job positions they would like to fill but, for some reason they haven’t, although lack of time and workload are the two primary reasons. So do they post a job or do they wait until the right person comes along, which makes it a chicken or egg proposition. If the right person walks through the door, literally or figuratively, they will often act upon it. So, why can’t you be that person? I’ll tell you why, because you’ve been conditioned to think all you’re permitted to do is dutifully watch the computer monitor and react only when you see something, and then do only what you are instructed to do. Pavlov’s dog comes to mind. In the minds of many, the internet is all there is – and many processes have been trending more and more automated, so that even if you apply online, there are increasingly more hoops for you to jump through just to be able to send your resume. Sorry, but I find it easier to determine who is the hiring manager and then contact them directly. 
Conversations with the actual hiring managers differ from those with human resource staffers who may not even be aware of some of these un-posted jobs because they have their hands full with other things. Or, human resources may be aware but it might not be a priority at the moment because, as I stated, they are already juggling a lot, which is a reason they have no time to speak with you.  
No doubt online activity and checking job listings is something everyone searching for a job should do. But if that constitutes the primary focus of your job opportunity search efforts, I am not surprised you’re not getting much return for your efforts – and neither should you be surprised, because you’re not doing anything – not really. I tire of saying it but you’d better learn to do more in order to help yourself. 
Start small; you don’t have to do anything radical. Construct a plan A, B and C list of companies that, if you knew they were looking for someone, you would want to know about it. By the way, I hope you’ve already done this for your online search efforts. Next, spend some time using the internet for that which it is really good -- research. Exploit company websites, learn to use LinkedIn or Google search to identify the managers for whom you might work, at the companies where you have interest. Find the ways to establish contact via email or their company switchboard, call their admin assistant. At this moment, I’ll side-track to emphasize that if / when you have the hiring manager on the other end, I hope you have something worthy of their attention. For more about this, search my blog archives from April 2013 when I wrote a few consecutive entries about constructing your own personal F.A.B. presentation, so that when it comes time and you have your moment you say something worthy of their time and attention. Or better yet, you’d be well served to get my handbook. 
Now where were we…I know what many readers are thinking, “But that’s hard Michael, it’s a lot of effort.” Yeah it is, but if you think you can send a few resumes and invest nothing more of yourself to get a good job, well then, you just don’t get it. Who told you a good job is easy to find? Maybe you are one of those who think your dream job is just a lucky mouse click away, right? Hey look, if you think perusing the job boards and portals is good enough, then fine, keep on doing that. But if you are not satisfied or feel limited then you have to do more.
Here’s the most ironic part of all this; what I am describing above is the way we all used to find jobs, which shows just how far we’ve sunk, how much we’ve allowed ourselves to be debilitated by opting for the convenience of internet access for convenience, at the expense of our own self-sufficiency – in just one generation.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Confidence Deficit

I have been a headhunter and consultant for a long time, working with and on behalf of company hiring managers on one side of the table and job seekers on the other. I have dealt with people of all professional levels, functions and roles, too many to count. During the last 22 years I’ve interacted with both white and blue collar, with and without university degrees, entry-level and senior executives and, oh my, the changes I have witnessed. 
People face many obstacles in the current employment market, the sluggish economy being the most obvious, but there are other more subtle hurdles. The simple act of applying for jobs has become an obstacle course intentionally erected by human resources with the blessing of company management. For some reason, some of these wizards think companies can streamline and better hire the people they need by removing as much human interaction from the initial stages of the hiring process as possible. Ironic, eh?
However, the biggest obstacle people face – is themselves. Yeah, that’s right, increasingly more and more job seekers are their own worst enemy, talk about ironic
The thing people suffer from the most is a lack of confidence - don’t doubt me on this, otherwise ambitious and hard-working people have become absolute wimps. They’ve rendered themselves powerless to influence their own fate. Increasingly and unbelievably my simplest suggestions are met with incredulity and I contend it is the digital age that has been shackling people. 
Let’s take, for example, the basic act of finding a job. When I suggest people need to do more than rote, repetitive, un-inspiring and un-productive online job search and application activities – they look at me much like a dog looks at you and tilts its head, when you say something they don’t understand. Online only job search activity is a losing proposition, plain and simple, and people deep down know it. For context to back up this claim, read my blog entry from 1 September 2014, entitled The Uncomfortable Truth About Jobs Posted Online, which registered more than 45,000 views; obviously, I struck a nerve. 
Need a couple of reasons I am right? Okay, many available jobs are not even posted online. Many of the jobs listed are pure B.S. and if you look often enough you’ll see the same jobs appear over and over, and it’s not because they are hiring lots of people but, rather, they are crap jobs nobody wants. Yet people keep doing the same thing because they are unwilling to step beyond a comfort zone in which someone might tell them, “no” and thereby ruin their day, boo hoo. Here, let me hit you right between the eyes; if you are not having much luck with finding a job and all you are doing is applying online and not seeming to get anywhere – you’d better start doing something different. If you are not willing to try new things, don’t complain, but the system isn’t your biggest problem; you are your biggest problem. You should see the reactions I get when I suggest that, after submitting their resume online and hearing nothing, they should try to call the company to follow up 7 – 10 days afterward. They actually tell me, “I will not do that; I’m not begging for a job.” What?
And what about the interview process? I always advise that people engage in the process and take a hands-on approach, asking about and questioning everything to gain a full understanding about the job they are seeking and for being evaluated – it’s common sense, right? I suggest they ask questions like, “Why is the position open?”, “What happened to the last person?”, and “How long were they in the position?”… I have had increasingly more people actually say to me, “But they might not like if I ask so many questions.” Are you kidding me, get off your knees for God’s sake!  
Even the simplest interview protocol of sending a follow-up letter / email after an interview, which is and should be a normal gesture after any interview with a hiring manager, and yet people say, “No, I don’t want it to look like I am kissing their butt or too eager.”
On the other hand, I know of many people who have gotten angry at me but also implemented some of my suggestions and later admitted it made a positive difference. Here’s the thing: I hear a lot of complaining out there, when in fact there are jobs, but too many people are looking for every excuse to not do something that can greatly benefit them.
Now, if you are angered and offended because, perhaps, you resemble some of what I described above, good, I hope so. Because often people stuck in a rut need something to yank them out of it. Which brings us back to the topic of self-confidence; if you have it then nothing I stated above would be offensive. Everyone has difficulties and I’m not picking on anyone, but in order to change a situation – something has to change in order to bring about a different result. 
It’s your choice, stay where it is safe and warm making excuses or take control of your own destiny and grow a thicker skin, so that the word “no” or a disapproving look doesn’t damage increasingly frail egos. Step outside your comfort zone to move your life and career forward. Since when did we begin to feel as though we don’t have permission to do anything more than digital measures? Who made these supposed rules and why are we following them? The solution is ridiculously simple; incorporate some creativity and innovation into your activities. What’s the worst that could happen, you might get no replies, or you might be told “no”? Chances are that is already the case. Change your mind and change your life.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Earn the Opportunity to Say No

Question: When you go to the first interview for any job, what is your goal; what should be your goal?
Answer: To be invited back for the next step in the process for further consideration.
That is your mission, do well enough to be invited back, one step at a time. Some people go into the interview and boldly say, “I’m going to get that job!” and that’s a good attitude but I counsel them not to get ahead of themselves. On the other hand, there are also many people who make a snap judgment during the first interview and before it is over they conclude they aren’t interested. So they don’t endeavor to finish the interview appropriately and, rather, they just give up. When you might have otherwise slept on it, you may have second thoughts about your conclusions if you haven’t already killed your own chances to be considered further. This is a mistake I see people make and indeed, hindsight is always 20/20. I contend foresight is more beneficial than hindsight.
The saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. If you choose to attend an interview, go into it to win it. Anything less and you’re short-changing yourself. The first interview is a screening interview for the most part. As such, don’t be surprised if the event is rather mechanical and not very inspiring, they don’t know you yet, nor do you know them. Perhaps you may not even meet your potential boss in the first round, but rather an HR staffer who hasn’t a clue about the details of the job for which you’ve applied. Their function is to screen you for your suitability, in order to send you forward to meet the hiring manager, whose time is short and is otherwise occupied. 
I am not suggesting anyone interview for a job they don’t want, but don’t jump to a conclusion until you have enough facts upon which to base an informed decision. Indeed, if you encounter a complete mismatch between you and the job, you don’t match the company culture, or encounter ridiculous conditions, or you meet a jerk and it’s clearly a waste of your time, politely extricate yourself and save any more time wasted. But if you are not quite sure keep going, learn more and if you note something that raises a red flag, take notes; ask a question or save it for further consideration and later clarification. Use your head, as much or more, than your heart – it’s not personal, it’s business so treat it as such.
I can’t count all the times I have spoken with people I’ve represented who later, after the fact and against my counsel admitted, “I regret that I didn’t continue to at least learn more…”, “had I known…I would have felt differently…I might have done something different”. But in order to have the option to consider them and take it further, you have to stay focused and demonstrate why you should be considered further. Many people I’ve represented, who did take my advice, later thanked me for convincing them to not quit a process before they learned more, which invariably resulted in increased enthusiasm, which in turn, resulted in a new job.  If you haven’t noticed increasingly, interviews are harder to come by so don’t dismiss something out of hand until you have more  facts; strive to kick ass and show why you are their best choice, especially during the all-important first (face-to-face) interview. 
In most cases, it is the second interview when you’ll have a good overview of the job and, likewise, they gain a better understanding about you. So take every interview seriously in its entirety, get all the information and make the best effort to be invited for the next step – each time. If you like the opportunity, go for it. If you don’t you can always decline and say no – but not if you didn’t bother to reach this point. Earn the opportunity to be able to say yes, or no – rather than to rush to a snap judgment unnecessarily and unwisely. That is, of course, unless you are one of the lucky ones, who have so many opportunities from which to pick and choose.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Resume Usefulness

The interview is an interactive event. You will need to demonstrate why you are worthy of consideration and to the extent that you will be selected over other applicants. But it is not only about you and your qualifications. The process will also help you to determine if it is a job you want and, ideally, both sides will conclude if there is mutual and shared interest that can result in a job offer. But to get your foot in the door you must first have a good resume, which will entice and attract them into considering you. But to be sure, it requires more than simply a good resume to get a job.                                                                          

Many people place far too much reliance upon their resume, as though it is the primary component of the process. They agonize over having it just right because, after all, it has become increasingly difficult to pursue a job by any method other than the faceless digital barriers and gateways erected by human resources and management. Never mind that these methods diminish the chance of finding true standouts among potential employees, because everyone has been relegated to the same mediocre one-size-fits-all methods of applying for jobs; many of the most desirable people will not submit themselves to routines that do not differentiate between fresh graduates and senior or top performing professionals. But that’s a whole other topic. 

Let’s assume you have a terrific resume that is indeed a show stopper. Perhaps an HR representative will see it, acknowledge its suitability and will forward it to a hiring manager, who, in-turn might be rather impressed and calls human resources to say, “Arrange a meeting, I want to interview that person ASAP!” 

Now fast forward to the first interview; after a welcoming handshake and brief introduction, you find yourself seated opposite the person who could be your potential new boss at a new job -- great! And so, they begin the conversation by asking a predictable question, what do you know about the company and you’re ready, because you did some preliminary research before your meeting, good for you. They seem pleased thus far that you’ve done your homework beforehand, and then they ask you another predictable question, “So tell me about yourself”. 

(Insert the sound of screeching tires coming to a sudden stop!) 

Take notice: it is at this point in time, this moment when your resume has reached the end of its usefulness for anything but their file or database, or perhaps to show the next manager with whom you might meet, that is, if you do well during this step. That’s it, you’re done with your resume; all that work and yet, it only gets you this far? In reality, that is all it was meant to do. It is at this point when asked, “So tell me about yourself”, that many people blow it and falter; from this moment forward the focus is now on you. It’s your move, are you ready and if so, what are you going to say? 

Do you know what most people do when they are asked by the interviewer, “…tell me about yourself”? They just recite and repeat what is already on the piece of paper that got them there and they haven’t thought much beyond this stage – the first meeting, if there will be additional meetings. No matter how good a resume, it’s just a piece of paper and by itself does not, will not and cannot get you the job. When I think of someone simply parroting what the interviewer already has in black and white before them, I just shake my head, recognizing they’ve just lost whatever momentum they had going into the meeting.   

Your resume is a reference and a fact sheet, that’s all. It got you in the door but after that, you must be prepared to elaborate and take the interview to the next level by using your soft skills to engage and relate with the interviewer, demonstrating your suitability for the job – doing that which your resume simply cannot do for you.   

To be adequately prepared for an interview it is quite simple really. Be ready to expound your experience, going beyond the bare bones basics listed on your resume. Whenever possible, relate to your experience anecdotally. If you are especially proud of your accomplishments, share them with the interviewer. The interview is the event that allows you to bring to life the claims on your resume. Putting all your efforts into a piece of paper, but failing to also prepare yourself for the inevitable human interaction, means you were not ready for your moment. You’ll miss the opportunity.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Exit with Class

When you resign form a job, sometimes long suppressed animosities may bubble to the surface because you’re about to leave your old job for a new one. As a result, some people like to get a little revenge, or at least want to thumb their noses on their way out the door. It may be tempting to tell the boss or a co-worker to drop dead, but think twice. Or, perhaps you are so happy that you don’t do much of the work necessary to properly hand over your responsibilities, because you are eagerly counting between now and the last day in your current job. Be careful, fate is a funny thing. Whether you are departing happy, angry or sad, until you leave the office at the end of your last day, perform your function as you would any other day and do the right thing. I don‘t suggest this because it is an integrity issue although, yes, it is. The primary reason is that you never know when the behavior of your past can affect you. More specifically, when might you see these people again, perhaps in a different environment and circumstance. Especially in today's business climate, when people change jobs on average every 3 to 6 years, combined with mergers and acquisitions of companies, you will very possibly end up crossing paths with former co-workers and managers.

It‘s also possible you will need job references from the company you are leaving. What are they likely to say about you? You were a good employee for years until that point. I recall years ago seeing a little cartoon with a caption that read, „When I do something right nobody remembers, but when I do something wrong no one forgets.“ Today you may not care much what they think of you, but don’t do anything impulsive that you might regret later.

I can list many examples of "what ifs", such as a day when a former manager from your previous company becomes part of your current management team. I can go on and on, but I think you get my point. So, what does this mean to you? Should you always be worried about what you say or do? Should you start to become paranoid and second guess your every move or future decision? Of course not, but it does make good sense to consider your exit strategy beforehand, so you’re not later confronted with, reminded of, or compelled to awkwardly explain something a little common sense could have prevented. If your exit is pleasant and you get a going-away party with some hugs, that’s nice. But if it is not such a happy departure, if there is mutual dissatisfaction, or perhaps, mutual dislike –  make an effort to conduct yourself in a professional manner until you walk out the door on your last day, regardless of how you feel.

Monday, April 13, 2015

After the Interview

After you attend an interview, what do you do; what would you do? I am relentlessly suggesting that when seeking a job, your activity during the interview process requires that, in order to increase your odds for success, you must effectively multi-task because it is a contest between you and, well, everyone else. You need more than a good resume, for the simple reason that at some point you’ll be asked, “Tell me about yourself?” at which point you’ll actually have to speak. I also suggest people conduct research, because they are most likely going to be asked, “What do you know about our company?”  Additionally, I tell people to prepare and hone their interview (soft) skills so that when they do speak, what comes out of their mouths actually helps, rather than to hurt or detract. I recommend applicants formulate questions to learn as much as possible about the position for which they are interviewing, to not only demonstrate that you are fully engaged in the process, but also to have the information needed to thoughtfully consider any job offer they might receive. For the same reason, I urge them to apply the most basic of negotiating techniques, because you are a process participant and not a mere passenger, and your participation and influence need not end upon your exit from the interview. 
As a matter of course, I always suggest job candidates compose and send a Thank You letter or note; each step, each time, sending one to whomever you interviewed with. It needn’t be long and even just a couple lines will suffice. If you are thinking strategically, a Thank You letter is never just a Thank You letter. Rather than to elaborate here, dig into my Blog Archives and look for my entry of 14 January 2013 on just this subject – it is worthy of your time. The Thank You letter gives you yet another chance to get noticed in a positive light.
For those of you who want to be a bit more proactive in your efforts, if you were given a timeframe within which they said they would follow-up with you after your interview and, for whatever reason they don’t, take the initiative and follow-up with them, reminding them of their own positive comments. Lack of follow-up by a hiring manager does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest; sometimes they are just plain busy. On many occasions a hiring manager thanks me for the reminder and apologizes for the delay. Here’s another guideline: if the interview went well, not only from your perspective, but they tell you it went well and give a clear impression they will further consider you, follow up with them. However, if it didn’t go well, then move on to something else. I know some readers may suggest a hiring manager might not like your extra effort and could get irritated, but for what, demonstrating your interest? If you are content with crossing your fingers and hoping no problem, I am making mere suggestions, you’re free to take them or leave them.
Another precaution you should follow is to restrict your follow-up efforts to email or snail mail. Never call a hiring manager’s mobile phone number unless you have been expressly instructed to do so. You don’t want to be deemed a stalker now, do you? I suggest you restrict yourself to typed correspondence. And, if after an attempt or two they don’t reply, you’ll have your answer regardless.
If you received no indication one way or the other about the result of your interview and you want to follow-up after 7 – 10 days, go ahead and make your attempt, always seeking the person with whom you’ve met. 
However, if you are represented by a recruiter or a recruitment agency (yes, there is a difference), it means the recruiter represents your interests and speaks for you; you’ve made them your agent, working on your behalf. As such, you should never go around the recruiter to contact a hiring manager; it will anger the recruiter as well as the hiring manager and will not be viewed favorably. This is the trade-off if you want someone else to represent your interests. 
On this topic of proactive follow-up, granted, there are hiring managers and HR staffers who will clearly differ with my suggestions. Many want you to obediently submit to their rules, although, consider that they don’t have your best interests at heart, but if you act professionally and in good faith your conscience should be clear. My goal is to better help you to help yourself and there is nothing that I ever suggest that I wouldn’t or haven’t done myself for over 22 years. Another very good reason to do what I am suggesting is because most people don’t engage in these extra steps. Furthermore, what if it is a close contest between you and another applicant for the same position? The present job market is a crowded and competitive landscape, being more assertive than passive can be the difference between success and failure.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Getting an Invitation

In January I posted a blog entry suggesting people do more real activity than limit themselves only to online efforts, which in reality amounts to not much effort. As a matter of common sense, I always suggest you must do more if you want better results by augmenting your conventional online job search activities with other more proactive physical activities. If you are relying almost solely upon online resources, you are doing little more than the equivalent of purchasing a lottery ticket and crossing your fingers. Sadly this is what most people are doing and maybe, if we just send out one more resume, then maybe…this time ours will be the winning ticket. But rather, you must get your hands dirty if you want better results and commit to the hard work necessary to dig, in order to find those golden nuggets of opportunity, which are getting increasingly harder to find. The gold rush is over but that doesn’t mean there’s no gold to find; it’s simply harder to come across. 
Wary of my advice, a reader had commented that physically approaching a company in our modern era was absurd and a waste of time. He suggested they would probably call the police to charge you with trespassing or, at the very least, you’d be looked upon as a weirdo. He went on to say that without an electronic invitation from a company or a hiring manager, you have no hope of success. Well, the first part of his claim is silly, there is nothing wrong with hand delivering and presenting your resume in person if you are in the vicinity and have occasion to do so, or best of all, if you’ve established contact directly with a hiring manager. I don’t think it is futile and any time you can exercise physical measures involving a face-to-face introduction involving a handshake, or secondarily engaging in a telephone call with a decision maker, it can have more impact than the faceless, digital activities to which we’ve been reduced and limited. But the second part of his claim about the need for an invitation has validity. If I consider the pessimism of the commenter, it suggests we’re all powerless to influence our own fate. Sorry, but I don’t accept that premise and I certainly hope you don’t either.  
So, how do we increase our chances of getting an invitation? The answer to the question goes to the core of the problem we face and precisely what I am seeking to influence by way of this blog. If you stop to think about it, sending your resume into a virtual black hole, then crossing your fingers and waiting for someone to call or send you an email, is getting you exactly the kind of results you should expect from such a non-activity. Over the last 20 years, our job search abilities, much less our interview skills have degraded, faded and withered to the point at which most people have rendered themselves helpless, becoming mere bystanders to their own fate. True, companies have automated and done their best to shut you out and compel you to obey their processes. Although their processes are meant to make things easier one must ask, easier for whom – certainly not you. If you want more control over your fate, you’ve got to take it, wresting it away from those who don’t have your best interests at heart. Self-interest is not a bad thing, especially when it comes to what’s best for you and your family. Proactive self-interest is what is necessary if you want to get noticed; the internet is a tool, not the solution; you are the solution.
So, when I suggest you get out there and find who might be a potential employer and seek to contact them directly, do it. Network – and I do mean physically meet and speak with people, shake hands, pick up the phone. You know the only difference between today and 20 years ago is that the internet has replaced the Yellow Pages, email has replaced the telephone and snail mail. For those who think email is better, it isn’t. Back in the day, as now, it is the same; if you send 100 resumes you might get 1 or 2 responses – but – the difference is that in the past when you mailed a physical resume in an envelope it landed on someone’s desk, they opened it and looked at it. Sent via email, most resumes never get seen by a human. So frankly speaking, perhaps snail mailing a good resume together with a well-crafted cover letter and addressing it to a specific decision maker, I contend, might in fact be a good thing to do (among your other efforts) precisely because nobody else is doing it.  
Know also, that even physical efforts often don’t yield a job offer because you made a single effort – that’s not how it works. It takes repeated attempts and multiple efforts to get a result and the more you do, the more your odds will increase. It’s pretty simple really but you have to step out of your comfort zone, which for most people, has become far too insular and comfy while simultaneously stationary, stagnant, and sadly, debilitating. Many people will continue to do nothing but others, when they get angry enough (and hopefully before hitting rock bottom) will become more proactive by necessity. Sadly, it takes a crisis for many people to change their ways, but I suppose that’s part of human nature. If and when you make a choice to do more, try to find that balance between being persistent, but not overbearing. Be innovative, be inventive and as long as you are conducting yourself professionally you owe no one an apology. 
For one example, many people may email first, they might attempt some other steps in between and then if they feel strongly enough, will try to make direct contact. But increasingly fewer and fewer people have the nerve, much less the self-confidence, to make direct contact. Sadly many have lost the ability to do anything but hide behind their resumes. 
Me, when I call companies seeking to introduce myself and my services to a company, there is little doubt they already have a recruiting resource, so I have a similar challenge as you do. I flip it around. I pick up the phone and first attempt to reach my point of contact directly and yes, I bypass HR whenever possible because frankly, they don’t possess, much less know the details about any positions(s), and have only a bare-bones basic description of whatever management gives them – so why start with them – again, think outside of the box. If that fails, I next attempt to reach their admin assistant or personal secretary in an attempt to establish contact. If that fails I send an email. If that fails I try LinkedIn. After I’ve exhausted all other efforts, then I will contact HR. I also don’t take “no” for an answer, if one door closes, I look for another. I also engage in multiple efforts at one time, just as you should be pursuing more than one job opportunity concurrently. This is what it takes, folks. If this sounds like a lot of hard work and mental effort, well of course it is, who told you finding a good job, was easy.  
So, become assertive and make an actual physical effort so that you gain attention for yourself to seek the electronic invitation that is necessary, so you can address them face-to-face. Now, having made it crystal clear, go back and read my blog from January 26th entitled, “Stop Relying on the Internet”.
For what to say and how to say it when your moment arrives to impress whomever you’ve worked so hard to establish contact with, go to my blog archives and read a series of entries in April 2013 addressing just how to do what I am suggesting. 
If you are frustrated and you want to do more, there are resources, and then it takes only the will to actually do something.