Conducting an Effective Job Search

The following is the text of my June 14 broadcast on Bruce Hurwitz Presents.

Welcome to Bruce Hurwitz Presents, I’m your host, Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.

Today’s broadcast is the second in our Oral Essay Forum and I’ll be discussing how to conduct an effective job search.  If you have any questions feel free to call in.  The number is 323-792-2978.

For those of you living in metro-New York, or who may be visiting on August 10, I’ll be giving a talk at The New York Public Library’s Science, Business and Industry Library at 6:30 PM on today’s topic – but in more detail.  Visit my website, www.hsstaffing.com, and click on the link on the home page to get the details.

The most effective way to find a job is through networking.  “Networking” means establishing relationships.  It does not mean exchanging business cards.  The goal of networking is to get someone to endorse or recommend you.

Let’s take a simple scenario.  You attend a professional networking event.  You chat with someone and exchange business cards.  She likes you, or rather doesn’t dislike you, but it is doubtful she would let you use her name when contacting an employer who is looking to hire.  And she knows of one.  Or she might know of one in the future.

So how do you turn a business card exchange into a networking situation?  By asking her, the woman with whom you want to network, what you can do for her.  Networking is all about giving, not getting.  Once you give, you’ll start to get.

A more modern way to network is over the Internet.  The best networking website is LinkedIn.  It is a professional networking website.  Everyone with whom you are in contact should, ideally, be in your LinkedIn network plus everyone who is willing to join your network.  For example, right now I am just shy of 20,000 first degree contacts in my LinkedIn network.  That means there are potentially 20,000 individuals whom I can contact to tell about positions I am looking to fill.  That also means there are 20,000 individuals who can contact me directly, through LinkedIn, to tell me that they are looking for work.

There are job boards on LinkedIn.  Now is not the time to go into detail but I invite you to watch my podcast for The Learning Annex on June 22nd at 3:00 pm.  The link is not yet active but you will be able to find it at www.ustream.tv/learningannex and click on Business & Careers.

In addition to networking, of course there are traditional ads.  They work.  The proof is that employers advertise job openings.  If ads didn’t work, they would not spend the money.

Of course, when networking and ads fail, or when an employer simply does not have the time, they may use a recruiter as should you.  Find recruiters who service your industry or profession and send them your resume.  Most recruiters do not advertise.  Advertising is counterproductive.  Let’s just say I have a search, I place an ad and I find the right candidate.  Well, that candidate may very well inform the client that I found her through an ad.  The client will then say to himself, “If Bruce found Cathy through an ad, why would I hire him in the future to conduct another search?  I’ll just place an ad myself!”  So by connecting with recruiters you can learn about non-advertised positions.

Regardless of how you discover the availability of a job, the following rules apply:

First, you need a good cover letter.  “Good” means short, sweet and to the point.  The recipient of the cover letter will take 10 to 20 seconds to read it.  A two-page treatise on your phenomenal career will wind up in the trash can.  You have to be focused.  The purpose of the cover letter is not to get you a job, it’s to get the recipient to look at your resume.  So get to the point.

In the first paragraph you announce that you want to apply “in confidence” for whatever the position is.  The reason for the “in confidence” is to protect you if you are presently employed.  While no employer should ever contact a candidate’s present employer, or anyone else for that matter, without the candidate’s permission, it could happen.  If it does, the “in confidence” line will make it easier for you to sue the employer if that employer contacts your boss and you get fired.

Continuing the first paragraph, state where you heard about the opening.  That’s important because it shows the employer that you understand how the game is played.  You recognize that the employer wants to know what he is doing that is effective.  So by telling him, for example, the name of the newspaper where you saw the ad, he knows where to advertise in the future.

Of course, if you are not responding to an ad, but are writing at the suggestion of someone in your professional network, here’s the place to mention their name.

Now you may be responding neither to an ad nor to a suggestion by a friend.  You may just want to work for the company.  In this case you should explain the reason.  Write something like, “I read in The Post that you are about to launch a new initiative that seems to be identical to one for which I was responsible when I was with….  I would like to offer my services in making this initiative a reality.”

The second paragraph is your elevator pitch.  It’s that one sentence that is going to want to make the recipient of the letter look at your resume.  The best example I have was a candidate of mine for a vice president of Human Resources position at a nursing home.  Nursing homes care about two things: the care and dignity of their residents, and keeping the union out.  Keeping the union out would have been the vice president of Human Resources’ primary responsibility.

My candidate wrote that he had successfully fought 12 union elections, meaning that the unions lost each time and the homes where he was working were not unionized, and that he lowered average annual employee grievances from 50 to zero.  When my client read that, she stopped reading, called me, and we set up an appointment.  Find the one thing that will impress more than anything else and put it in the cover letter.

The third paragraph answers any questions the employer may have asked in an ad – assuming you are responding to one.  For example, if a writing sample was requested, and they asked about salary, here’s the place to refer to both.  Mention that the writing sample is enclosed and tell them what you are earning.  You are not conducting salary negotiations.  In the end you will get what you negotiate.  All you are doing is answering their question.  If you don’t answer it, they probably won’t consider you.

In the final paragraph reference the enclosed resume.   Next, thank them for their consideration and state that you look forward to hearing from them.  And on that note, make certain that your contact information appears on the top of the letter.

Some people do not like to provide an address.  You should, but don’t have to.  But you should at least include your city and state of residence.  The area code of your phone number means nothing since the number most people use today is their cell phone number which they can keep for life.  The area code may be in Texas, while the person may live in Maine.  Make certain that your e-mail address is not cute, and that your voice mail message is not silly.

For sake of argument you have written an excellent letter and the recipient now wants to look at your resume.  That being the case, the letter was a success.

How long will the person, on average, spend on your resume?  About 10 seconds, if you are lucky!  So you once again have to grab the recipient right away, just like you did with the cover letter.

Begin with your contact information.  If they can’t find you, they won’t call or e-mail you.  And, yes, I have received two or three resumes that had no contact information on them, just the word “Confidential.”  They certainly were that…

The important thing is to start the resume with a section called “Selected Accomplishments.”  This section will contain about five bullet points of successes that differentiate you from your competition.  The first bullet point will be the example of your career success that you used in the cover letter.  Then give a few more.

Remember one thing: Don’t lie on your resume!  If you lie on the resume you can be fired, for cause, at any time.  A colleague of mine once placed an internal auditor at a non-profit.  The auditor did not have to be a CPA.  Her candidate wrote on his resume that he was a CPA.  He was working there a week or so, doing a fine job, but for whatever reason his boss decided to check.  It turned out he had not taken the exams but only the courses.  He was fired on the spot.  Don’t lie on your resume!

If you are just starting your career, after “Selected Accomplishments” should come “Education.”  Include the college you attended, the degree awarded, the year it was awarded, your major and your GPA.  After your first “real job,” your education is no longer that important.  It might qualify you for a job, but it won’t get you one.  A Harvard MBA, fresh out of school, should not have too much trouble finding work.  After all, she’s  a Harvard MBA.  But after that first job, she has to rely on her work record.  So if she’s a lazy and unproductive Harvard MBA, and her competition is a hardworking innovative community college MBA, guess who’s getting the job?

The next section, or the one before “Education,” is “Work Experience.”  List jobs going back 20 years.  Give your title, the name of the employer, the dates or years of employment, and a short blurb about the employer so that the recipient of the resume will know what type of business it was.  Then use bullet points to list your main responsibilities and accomplishments.  Do not repeat what you wrote under “Selected Accomplishments.”

Now comes the fun part.  Everything up until now is pretty much what everyone else will do.  So now you really have to set yourself apart from the crowd.

List any media citations you have.  Not many people have them.  Sign up at www.helpareporter.com and become a source for reporters.  Then you can say that you are “a recognized authority in your field.”  I’m a source and in the past 13 months I have been cited in over 165 articles in print and on the web.

Next list any publications that you have.  After that comes “Awards.”  This is a way for you to show that other people think you are great, not just you and your mother.

Have a section entitled “Languages and Special Skills,” if you have any.  Foreign languages are a great asset to any candidacy, so list them all.

And finally, “Volunteerism” or “Community Service.”  This can be problematic.  You want to show that you are involved with your community and like to help people in need, but too much of a good thing can be bad.  Don’t overdo it.

So let’s summarize:  You found out about a job, sent a cover letter that resulted in the recipient reading your resume.  And it’s a good resume.  So she wants to invite you in for an interview.  That’s the point of the resume, to get the interview.  Does she pick up the phone?  Nope!  She Googles you.

Everyone potentially has two Internet presences.  The first is the one you create for yourself.  It’s your LinkedIn profile, comments you’ve place on other people’s blogs, maybe things you have written on your own blog, or possibly your own website.  All of these need to be professional.  What else needs to be professional are your FaceBook and Twitter accounts.  Persons have lost interviews and job offers because of the foolishness that they have posted, especially photos, on FaceBook and the nonsense that they have tweeted about.  Clean up your FaceBook and Twitter accounts.  Make everything private and, if you can’t, take down whatever makes you look foolish.

The second Internet presence is what other people have placed on the Internet about you.  Be aware of it, but don’t worry about it.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  Complain, and the person just might make matters worse for you.  Most employers will ask for an explanation, or simply laugh it off.  I know of no one who has lost a job offer because someone on the Internet said something bad about them.  It’s not worth losing sleep over.

For sake of argument, you passed the Internet test.  Your phone rings and you are invited for an interview.

The preliminary interview will be the initial phone call.  All the person will want to do is to set up a time for a real phone interview – although they might invite you in for a face-to-face meeting.  But let’s say they want a phone interview.

There are a few rules.  First, get dressed.  You have to feel professional to act professionally.  Second, don’t be too relaxed.  Sit in a comfortable chair but not one that rocks or spins.  You want to literally force yourself to sit up straight.  Third, if you have one, have a mirror next to the phone.  Look at yourself and make certain your are smiling.  It’s true that people can really hear a smile in your voice.  Since you will not be able to benefit from body language, you have to come across as positive.  Smiling should do it.

This will not be a long and complicated interview.  All you need in front of you is your resume.  You are being interviewed about you.  You should know the facts, but it is human nature to forget something – especially dates of employment. You don’t want to make any mistakes.

Let’s say you do a good job and are invited in for an interview.  Here are the rules to follow:

First, arrive early.  There is no excuse for being late for an interview.  If you are late, you will not get the job.

Second, dress conservatively.  And don’t wear any cologne or perfume.  Women should not wear too much makeup or too much jewelry.

Third, when you arrive you will be greeted by the receptionist.  She will be asked for her opinion of you and it will count.  Make certain you treat her with respect and professionally.  Shake hands with her.  Surprisingly, very few people do.

Fourth, when the person with whom you are meeting comes to get you, stand up, smile, look her straight in the eye, give a firm handshake and thank her for inviting you for the interview.

Fifth, follow her lead.  If she likes small talk, chat.  If not, get down to business.  And remember, body language is important.  Don’t fidget.  Be a bit animated.  Move your hands.  Smile.  Make eye contact.  Don’t look down or up when you are thinking about an answer.  Always look straight ahead.

Sixth, an interview is no time to be modest.  This is what I call “’I’ vs ‘We’.”  You want to come across as a team player, but the company that is interviewing you is not looking to hire your team; they are looking to hire you.  So I always say the following, “I worked with good people.  We were a good team.  But I’m going to focus with my answers on what I personally did.”

Seventh, open ended questions are a way for the interviewer to ask you illegal questions.  She may want to know if you have any children and will therefore need time off from work without warning.   So she might ask, Tell me your negatives.  Or, she might ask, Tell me your positives.  These are opportunities to talk about your values, morals and ethics.  For example, in the case of negatives you can say, “There was time when… but I learned my lesson and now you get to benefit from the mistakes I made with my previous employers.  The most important thing I learned was not to repeat the same mistakes!”  And in the case of positives, which could also be negatives, “I pride myself on the fact that I have never lost a day’s work because of personal matters.  I keep my personal and professional lives separate – although I do take work home with me when necessary.”

Eighth, in general, when asked any question, but especially difficult ones, tell the truth, don’t talk too much, and don’t think you have to confess your sins.  What you are concerned about may be of no interest to the interviewer.

Ninth, you have to have questions to ask.  The questions should show that you have done your homework and researched the employer.  And, if possible, research the interviewer as well.  In any case, here are some powerful questions to ask:

  • What is the company’s turnover rate?
  • What is the average tenure of an employee?
  • Do you promote from within?
  • Why do you like to work here?

The first two questions tell you if it’s a good place to work.  The third question let’s you know if you will have a future with the company.  And the last question makes the conversation personal and shows that you are interested in the person with whom you are speaking.

At the end of the interview, smile, look the interviewer in the eyes, give a firm handshake and thank her for the opportunity to be considered for the position.  It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about the next stage and when you can expect to hear from them.

If they say to call them in two weeks, call them in two weeks.  If they don’t take your call, or if they don’t return your call, you didn’t get the job.  If they say they will be in touch with you and you don’t hear from them, you didn’t get the job.  And if you don’t get the job, send a thank you letter.  No one else will.  They’ll remember it and may contact you in the future.

In any case, after the interview send an e-mail thanking the interviewer or interviewers for meeting with you.  Include any requested information.  Then, mail a hand written thank you note to the persons with whom you met.  Unlike the e-mail, the note is unexpected and will remind them about you.

Just as you did with your Internet presence, make certain that you are prepared for a background check.  If you have a criminal record, tell them about it.  If your credit is bad, tell them before they find out.  Have an explanation, explain what happened, what you learned from the experience and why it makes you a better employee, and in the case of the credit report, what you are doing about it.  The important thing is not to try and hide anything and not to surprise the prospective employer.   Employers do not like surprises when hiring candidates.

Best case scenario, you get a job offer. Now the negotiations begin.  They will ask you what you are looking for in a salary.  The answer is critical.

If you say, “What are you offering?” then they know you are not a serious professional.  If the salary range was not in the job description, then you should have some idea of what the market is demanding.  After all, it’s your profession.  It also sounds like you are playing games.  Employers don’t like employees who play games.

This is the answer.  “I am presently earning X.  To make a move I will need at least an increase of Y%, depending on benefits.”  Now the ball is in the employer’s court.  Some benefits are worth more than salary so listen to what the employer has to say.  You don’t have to give an answer on the spot.  Promise to get back to them the next morning.  If it’s a good offer, accept it.  If you want the job but need something more, explain why.  You can make one, and only one, counter offer.  For example, I had one candidate who told my client, after consulting with me, that while a $10,000 increase was totally acceptable, his new commute would cost him $5,000 a year in gas and tolls.  A $5,000 net increase was not worth the move.  They gave him the extra $5,000.

Finally, only resign once you have a written offer in-hand.  As a general rule, you should give your present boss notice equal to your vacation time.


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