Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Hard Worker - With Pre-Conditions


I am in contact on a regular basis with many very well-qualified and dedicated people who want to pursue good jobs and, lately, the job market is improving and some sectors are doing rather well and experiencing growth. I have client companies with needs for everything from receptionists to senior management with a lot in-between. So you’d think people are snapping up jobs left and right. Yet I talk to many, who are frustrated they can’t get beyond the 1st or 2nd interview. Meanwhile I have hiring managers who lament they can’t find the right people to hire. So what’s wrong; where’s the disconnect? 
 
Well, the problem often stems from the candidate / applicant side in too many situations. Here’s what is happening: an applicant goes to the interview, they like what they hear about the job and they begin to demonstrate they are good and worthy candidates. For their part, the hiring managers like what they hear and see but then they start listening to the pre-conditions, often during the very first meeting. 
 
I am not new to this business; I recognize many people want a work-life balance, but it verges on the ridiculous, especially when young people, who have little or no experience, start asking how long they’ll have to work each day. Or, someone declares when they must pick up their children, at odds with the standard job description of potential work responsibilities. Many times they disqualify themselves from further consideration with demands so beyond the pale it is as if each potential employee wants a customized schedule and work conditions tailored just for them. I know hiring managers who are very frustrated and tell me they can’t find anyone willing to work. 
 
Sometimes the demands are reasonable and the issue may not be what you are asking for but, rather, how you’re asking or more likely you’re asking prematurely because, frankly, a growing number of people possess underdeveloped communication skills. But here it is in a nutshell; before and until you demonstrate your value to them, until such time as they identify you as someone they have more interest in than others, seeking the same job making any demands is pointless and only diminishes your chances. Get through the first interview with a goal of securing the 2nd interview as best as you can. Show them why you’re their best choice thereby increasing your stock value. Then, you can discuss your needs and possibly get some of your wants.

 

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Art of Asking Questions


When you are engaged in an interview process, far too many people sit mute and do little on their own behalf. Reciprocal dialogue is part of the process but, to do so effectively, requires the ability to effectively communicate. It is an interactive event and there is an aspect of self-interest in that it is incumbent upon you to make a thoughtful effort to gain the most information possible, in order to make an informed decision by the end of the process. 
 
To do this you’re supposed to also be asking some questions and, if you do well enough, your interview becomes a negotiation that can lead to a job offer, with a mutually beneficial outcome for both sides. It may sound complex but it isn’t. 
 
We live in a period when individuals don’t really communicate, regardless of all the means available to us. Dialogue between people has been reduced to a hashtag and 140 characters or an Emoji to express our feelings, because actually communicating has become too cumbersome, requiring too much effort for many.   
 
Furthermore, you need more than a single clever question and far more than a clever rehearsed answer or two, if you are going to shine. Being memorable is not the goal; however, being remembered well, is. Doing just enough to get by is not sufficient and will not win the day for you. Yet, that is what most people are doing.
 
If you’re not a good communicator, become one. Better communication skills can help you sweep aside others seeking the same job – even some of those who might be better qualified. It is a worthy effort. 
 
Think of the questions you will ask, instead of saying something painfully obvious, such as, “…how late will I have to work?” Use a set-up that is general but requires more than a yes or no answer, like, “…Can you describe for me a typical day in this role?” That will get you some helpful info, but that’s just the set-up. Depending on how they respond, then follow-up to extract more pertinent info. I can imagine another 4 or 5 questions so that by the time you’re done you will learn that which you need. Most interviewers are also simply going through the motions – they have a list of routine questions, especially during the first interview and they are not going to give you details unless you ask. This is where most interviewees, in my opinion, falter – not just for their own purposes but also in the eyes of a hiring manager.
 
Asking good questions is how you learn about a job opportunity, the company, as well as the person to whom you may both work and report. Failure to probe for this information is a dereliction of your duty as an applicant / interviewee. 
 
If you don’t think ahead and take charge of your own fate in order to empower yourself, do you think anyone is going to do that for you, much less care? It falls to you to act in your own best interest. This, and being able to communicate effectively, is the only way it’s going to happen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Root of the Problem


Understandably, most people don’t consider the things I write about until such time as they need a job; ironically, it is my job. But I highly suggest you share this article with others you know, whether they find themselves in need of this less-than-desirable exercise now or sometime in the future, which for most of us is inevitable.
 
I hear over and over two things: there aren’t any jobs or I can’t find any jobs. But after twenty-five years in the business and, increasingly the last ten years, I’ll tell you something you won’t like to hear – you’re not trying or at the very least trying hard enough. Now before you want to kill the messenger, hear me out.
 
Patience and perseverance are what’s missing, as well as innovation -- by today’s standards at least. Yep, it’s true in most situations. 
 
I hear from people telling me they’ve (digitally) sent out 100 resumes, big whoop, I’ll bet that wore you out. Then I ask them, on how many of those did you follow up? The answer is usually, none. Without going into detail and, I do write about it all the time, if all you’re doing is reviewing the jobs posted online you’re doing yourself a disservice and barely scratching the surface.
 
Then let’s consider the interview. No one likes to interview per se; some may think they are pretty good at it, but it’s not as if it’s a hobby people enjoy and seek out. Nope, we interview only when we must and for most it’s half-heartedly at best. Here again, most people spend the precious limited time they have during the interview reacting to what is asked of them. Do you have any questions prepared when you arrive at the interview, are you being interactive and engaging them, and proactively posing questions important to you during that brief event? And have you made an actual effort to impose the impression they should invite you back – did you literally ask for the job, or at the very least to be advanced to the next step? How do they know if you are as much or more interested than everyone else, are you doing anything that would leave no shadow of a doubt? I am betting you’re not – or at the very least you’re not doing enough and, most likely, the very least that is required of you. 
 
That’s a pretty damning commentary, isn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be. Along with the conveniences of the digital age we’ve lost a lot of our own abilities to help ourselves. Furthermore, we’ve succumbed to the instant gratification provided us in so many things we have taken for granted, much less forgotten. Therefore, we’re no longer patient and if someone doesn’t reply back to our resume sent to a faceless inbox, we get frustrated and give up. When we interview, we bump along asking only that which is asked of us by those who aren’t very good themselves at evaluating people, and wonder why no one called back. 
 
Instead of treating a job search like a chore or a pastime you do when you’d rather be doing something else – I suggest you treat it as though your livelihood depends on it, because it does. Here are tons of things you can do to improve and enhance your efforts and abilities on this topic. Frankly, I have people regularly contacting me to thank me for my advice. For example: a key question that worked, helping them either to advance or get the job. Check my Blog archives, which date back to October 2012. Last but not least in a shameless act of self-promotion, the updated and streamlined 2nd edition of my handbook will be reposted for sale again soon. Get it so you don’t have to dig through the archives.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Super-Charged Interview Performance


I speak to a LOT of people and, when I question them about their interview skills, they are most often very self-assured. They tell me with a hint of condescension, “oh, Michael I know what to do thank you very much”. Then, when it comes time to interview - they choke. Most often people sit before hiring managers and they dutifully answer questions and, when prompted, they obediently recite the lines from their resume almost word-for-word, which the hiring managers already have in front of them. They possess no real negotiation skills, much less closing skills, so they are completely at the mercy of the interviewer. But according to them, they know what they are doing. What they fail to do, is to place themselves on a relatively equal (professional) footing with the person they’re meeting. They fail to engage in a business conversation and, instead, allow themselves to be interrogated so that what follows can hardly be called an interview. 
 
Developing and possessing good interview skills, going beyond describing what you do and have done, citing examples anecdotally sets you apart from most others, who only show up intending to answer questions. Having the ability to influence the interview, in order to present yourself in the most optimal manner possible, is what you should be and could be doing. Consciously employing open and close-ended questions to get the info you need and following up with a pre-close or closing question will set you worlds apart from others seeking the same job. In actuality, most people are content with crossing their fingers and hoping to get through the event without looking or feeling foolish. This is not goal-oriented nor a winning strategy, but that’s what most people do.
 
I can tell you from 25 years of experience that someone who is a good interviewer, able to multi-task in the manner I described above - even if they lack in one area or another, will outshine another person who might be slightly more qualified but sits like a bump on a log, responding only when prompted.
 
Interpersonal communication and soft-skills of a growing number of people are woefully inadequate. A few years ago I wrote a handbook that is a step-by-step guide, instructing job seekers and interviewers everything they don’t know. I removed it from Amazon, while I updated and added to it even more horsepower. The newer 2nd edition is complete and it will be available again within the next couple of weeks on Amazon.com. If you think you know everything -- great, then you don’t need any help and good luck. But if you want to know what I know after a quarter century of work as a close-in, hands-on headhunter, who advises both hiring managers and job seekers at all levels- you’d be wise to give it a look. I’ll announce very soon when it is again available.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

About Discrimination

I was recently asked by a reader about my thoughts on discrimination and what one can do about it.
 
We do unfortunately live in a world where people make snap judgments about others, casting aspersions and thereby exposing their own insecurities. But discrimination goes much further than the most noticeable discrimination, that of racism. There is no end to what could be termed discriminatory but it all comes down to assumptions made by some about others. Sometimes a person discriminates according to one’s own personal experiences but most often it is based upon pure assumption, as it is easier to generalize than it is to apply scrutiny on an individual basis. By no means am I justifying any kind of discrimination but, instead trying to put it into some kind of perspective. I think it’s counter-productive to dwell too much on the topic; we are all discriminated against in one way or another. It is the darker side of human nature but it is a part of us nonetheless. 
 
People discriminate for many reasons and one that stands out in the workplace is according to gender. Childbearing years and maternity leaves are one reason women are discriminated against. Sure, I’ve experienced hiring managers suggesting I recruit and select male candidates rather than females. I always respond that I will select and send them the best suitably-qualified candidates, regardless of gender. It is notable that in every one of those situations - it may surprise you - the hiring managers were themselves, female.
 
Everyone views the topic of discrimination through their own prism.   
 
Personally, I judge according to a person’s character and accomplishments – something I learned in the military, where I worked and associated with most every different type of person and personality there is. Good people come in many shades and likewise, judgmental and prejudicial people come in many shades as well as from different creeds and cultures. 
 
When I was a boy, I was small and skinny. In school when picking teams I was almost always the last or near last choice. I didn’t whine about it and as a result I later joined the wrestling team, as it is based according to weight classes. 
 
Many people over 50 years old, who mysteriously lose their jobs and must start over again, feel they’ve experienced age discrimination - and they are often right. Someone without a college degree feels discriminated against in comparison with those who have a college degree. Furthermore, straight people sometimes discriminate against those who are not. Also, there are market sector niches into which, if we're honest, unless you're gay or lesbian, you'll likely have less chance of entering much less excelling. Furthermore, I have seen very attractive people discriminated against by not so attractive people with a grudge. Conversely, I’ve observed the opposite as well. I know military veterans who are unfairly stereotyped and as a result experience discrimination. And, of course color and race discrimination is one of the most prevalent forms out there but, in my work, for over 25 years I have actually encountered this form of discrimination less often than others I mentioned above – and yes, it is true. 
 
So what can you do about discrimination of any kind, if you encounter it? The easiest advice is, don’t be a whiner and grow a thicker skin; nobody likes any of us all of the time for a variety of reasons, some valid but most, not. Second, if you choose to be an activist about whatever grievance you feel passionate about, do so, on your own private time or work for an NGO. Being a culture warrior or an activist is counter-productive to the job hunting and the interview process - period. Instead, perhaps, demonstrate and set yourself apart through your abilities as an individual, build a reputation on your merits to shatter negative perceptions. Or perhaps, on a more positive note, if you meet a jackass with tendencies to negatively judge you on appearance or some other petty rationale, celebrate – yeah that’s right, celebrate someone who’s voluntarily outed themselves before you begin working with them and becoming an un-equal (in their eyes) co-worker. 
 
True professionals, the kinds of people you want to work and associate with, couldn't care less about your race or many of the other traits that have nothing to do with how you perform your job and fortunately, this still describes most of us.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Uncomfortable Truth About Jobs Posted Online (Redux)


This is a re-post of one of the most popular articles I have written. Viewed by almost 50,000 readers it truly struck a nerve and it is an honest assessment of jobs posted online. It is also evidence, why relying predominantly upon internet resources in your job search is not the best use of precious time.

Originally posted 1 September 2014:
As you read this, if you are looking for a job you will no doubt get depressed, however, that is not the intent but, instead, to jar you out of your walking coma. More about that later -- if you are someone who does not look very often or regularly at the job portals and postings, you won’t notice; but if you do, it is increasingly frustrating. There are jobs, but fewer and fewer are the good jobs that people want. You can get a job, anytime you want.

You likely don’t know this, but I have known for years large companies post jobs they have no intention of filling through outside sources. I’ve been told this directly and recently in conversation, by a member of human resources responsible for recruiting at a well-known pharmaceutical company. There was a very good position posted and I knew an ideal candidate who was interested, whom I told I would attempt to help, so I called. I was told that, indeed, the position was posted and again recently re-posted, but they were going to do an internal selection and transfer. I know what you’re thinking; so why post the job in the first place? And it’s not the first time I have seen this – routinely, even if a manager has an internal referral, often they have a policy jobs will first be posted for the public. However, they have no intention of actually considering someone from outside. They’ll always first look within for internal referrals or dig into their own databases for those who are already on file.

Or, what about companies that post jobs, not because they need anyone, but because they want to build their database for future reference. This happens as well.

Or, you see the same jobs over and over again every week, which, according to my experienced eyes suggests there’s a bait and switch going on or worse, the jobs suck so badly no one stays more than a few weeks or months.

Or, the fact that there are jobs out there that are not even being listed – I’ve written about this particular topic in the past. Yep, there are open positions that you are not even aware of, but dutifully and obediently watching online portals won’t get you any closer to them. So what if you take the time to investigate more portals or aggregate sites – it is not likely you will find more jobs, just the same jobs posted elsewhere and any resumes sent are going to the same place.

My point is the same as it has been; everyone has accepted a norm that is increasingly ineffective; an ever more automated and faceless system that is already not efficient, but it does relieve HR and admin from having to deal with those pesky applicants. You see, they are too busy sifting through emailed resumes to deal with a real person – until they are called. Who do you think the system is meant to benefit, you or them? Yeah, I know you don’t like hearing this but it is true – not every time mind you, but increasingly and more often than you think or they are willing to acknowledge.

My advice is and has been, to go back to the basics. I urge people to get off their butts and step away from the computer. Indeed, use it for research; you’re lucky, folks used to have to go to the library to research companies. Then pick up the phone, call someone other than human resources in the company structure and then put on some decent clothes and try to meet them. Yes, it is more difficult and if you can’t find it in yourself to do so, no problem, sit back down and delude yourself into thinking point and click will get you the job of your dreams. Or, go ahead and mortgage your future with a very expensive scholastic degree and it’ll work itself out because you’re special and never mind everyone else with a degree, who is also convinced they are special. Sorry, but it ain’t enough, and it never was.

But bear in mind you need to prepare yourself also, yeah you, the person in the mirror, before you go out knocking on doors. If all you’ve been doing is sending virtual resumes you’re out of shape mentally and your resilience to rejection is probably pretty flimsy after years of indulging in the empty calorie Twinky represented by mostly fruitless internet efforts. And no, I am not spoon feeding you, I wrote a handbook with tons of advice – if or when you decide to get serious you can even point-and-click from your comfortable chair to get it, too.

Frankly, I recognize my blog only appeals to a minority of people who actually want to do more and explore different options, but it is becoming clear people prefer to be told that everything’s okay and be patted on the head and told it is because they are trying. But I know I am talking to the wall and those who agree with me, well, I am just preaching to the choir. They prefer warm hugs with worthless advice, which only reinforces empty effort. Don’t stop looking online, you might luck out, but it should be only a portion of your efforts to help yourself.

You can be talented; you can be qualified and have a terrific resume. You can be a great interviewer but, even if you are all these things, what does it matter if you are sending your resume into a virtual black hole. What happens when you finally recognize the vast majority of resumes submitted online are never seen by human eyes. You need to resolve to stop pretending you are actually doing anything – if all you are doing is relying on predominantly faceless online efforts. If my honesty is a little harsh I contend everyone asks for and wants the truth – until they get it. Fewer people are willing to do more – even if they would benefit as a result. Sorry to sound a little harsh but I grow tired of people complaining meanwhile, they’re unwilling to take real measures which might result in (gasp) rejection. I guess faceless online rejection or inaction is easier.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Self-inflicted Damage


“Time Kills All Deals” – as the saying goes among sales professionals. I often write about obstacles that lay in the path of an individual’s efforts, when trying to advance their own job search and interview progress. But on the opposite side of the subject, there are those who handicap themselves, messing up otherwise promising situations.
 
For example: I recently introduced a very talented and successful person to a company and there was seemingly instant rapport, both sides liked one another and shared mutual interest in the potential opportunity. As perfect a potential fit as could be hoped for. However, something happened after that. The candidate became aloof and was hard to communicate with. Afterward, she acknowledged a high level of interest. The client was likewise very expressive about their interest and stated they would do what they could to accommodate the candidate. But time passed, she needed a few weeks, then another extension … what happened?
 
What became clear to me and turned out to be true, is that she was and still is shopping around to other potential employers. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this and in fact I support and recommend that people should do this for themselves, however, one must do so recognizing there is a freshness, best by or best before date as it relates to the interview process. Opportunities are perishable commodities with time-sensitive limitations. She took their level of interest in her too far (two-and-a-half months), assuming that nice, complimentary words would prolong an open door for her. Sadly, she miscalculated. 
 
What I know from hundreds of placements and placement processes of the last few decades - there is ebb and a flow to any interview process that transcends specs and qualifications; there is an emotional component as it relates to interest level between parties. The key is to pay attention, anticipate and strike while the interest levels are at their height. This is more important and far more beneficial to you than delaying and obfuscating in order to have more choices, even if they are not very good ones or merely for the sake of it. Sadly, there are some otherwise very smart people who are completely ignorant to this reality. 
 
As a result my client, who was so interested in the beginning and willing to almost bend over backwards to accommodate the candidate, predictably and inevitably, told me a few days ago they are no longer interested and that, rather, their sentiments have gone in the opposite direction. The prior level of interest has vanished – she blew it and missed a very good window of opportunity. 
 
Indeed, always strive to get the best deal you can for yourself and if you want to play poker go ahead and do so at your own risk. You’re free to bluff but only for so long before you need to play the hand you’re dealt to the best effect.