The Two Great Job Search Anomalies

As we enter a new year, it may be worthwhile to confront two job search realities that most people either don’t know about or ignore.  I call them “the two great job search anomalies.”

The first anomaly is that your job search is not about you.  You are incidental to the process.  You do not matter.  The employer does not have to meet your needs, you have to meet hers.  (Granted, this will change when the negotiations begin, but we’re not there yet!)  Here is an actual opening to a resume which I received:

Hands-on, motivational leader and manager with years of progressively challenging experience achieving or exceeding desired outcomes.  Exceptional ability to clearly translate complex issues into actionable plans aligned to short and long-term requirements…

You get the idea.  No need to continue.  It’s really quite simple.  This person is highlighting how great he is.  Of course, reading that first paragraph I have absolutely no idea what his profession is.  So what do I know about him?  He can’t market himself effectively so he will not be able to represent my client effectively.  So what do I do?  I move on to the next resume and hope that it begins with a few salient bullet points:

  • Identified weaknesses in internal network ending hacking attempts and saving company in excess of $1 million in IT-related costs; or
  • Successfully launched an average of two new product lines per year resulting in increased revenue per line of between $2 and $3 million; or
  • Lowered average annual grievances from 50 to zero while successfully defeating attempts at unionization.

If I am looking to fill an IT, sales or HR position I don’t want to read about how great the candidate thinks he is, I want to read about what he has actually done.  See the difference?  In the quoted paragraph the person is focused on himself, while in the bullet points the candidates are focused on the employers and their needs.

The second anomaly deals with time.  This is how I present it:

 Days/Weeks/Minutes vs Seconds/Seconds/Hours

What I am referring to here is the amount of time candidates spend on the three key components of the job application process (ignoring networking and research which are unique to the candidate): cover letters, resumes and interviews.

Candidates will spend days writing, tweaking and fine tuning their cover letters.  Employers spend no more than 10 seconds reading a cover letter, if they read them at all.

Candidates will spends days and weeks writing, tweaking and fine tuning their resumes.  Employers spend about five seconds reading resumes.  If they don’t catch their eye, excite them, get their attention, employers move on to the next resume.

Now here’s the interesting thing:  Most candidates will spend minutes, usually less than an hour, researching an employer in preparation for an interview and will spend minutes, usually on the way to the interview, thinking about answers to questions that they think they are going to be asked.  Yet employers spend hours interviewing clients.  Here’s the employer’s math:

The candidate spends 20 minutes meeting with the HR director.  Next, she’s with the hiring manager for 45 minutes.  That’s followed by a half hour with, for sake of argument, three team members.   Finally there’s a 15 minute meeting with the owner/CEO/what-have-you.

This works out to 20 minutes + 45 minutes + (3 x 30 minutes) + 15 minutes, for a total of three hours and 20 minutes face time with the candidate.  Then everyone gets together for a good ten minutes to discuss the candidate.  That’s an addition hour.  And the process repeats itself for each candidate.  So let’s say that the employer is willing to devote four hours per candidate and there are three candidates being considered.  And then there’s the time devoted to negotiations.  For sake of argument, to hire someone, not including resume review time and an initial phone conversation, the employer is willing to devote two full days of staff time.  And the candidate?  She’s devoted one full hour!

What this all comes down to is that your priorities should be the employer’s priorities.  The employer does not care about you; she cares about herself.  What can you do for me? is the question that the employer wants answered immediately in both the cover letter and resume.  If you are able to get the answer to that question across to the employer in seconds, you should get the interview.  And since the employer is willing to spend hours on the interview process, you should do the same.

Remember, it’s all about the employer, not you!

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The Great Anomaly or A New Year’s Resolution for Job Seekers

Here’s the thing.  As a good job seeker you sit down and work very hard on your collaterals – your marketing materials.  Specifically, your cover letter and resume.  Some of you may even have paid someone to prepare them for you, albeit under your supervision.   They are important documents – the equivalent of the company brochure or website.  They have to be perfect.

If you are expecting an argument, you won’t get one from me.  They have to be perfect.  No typos, grammatical or spelling errors allowed.  But here’s the thing:

The average (and this is based on absolutely no scientific evidence at all, just personal/professional experience) job seeker will spend hours and days on their cover letter and days and weeks on their resume.  As a musician writing her score, the job seeker will tweak and tweak, refine and refine, until everything is perfect to eye and ear.  Now for the anomaly:

The average resume recipient will spend no more than 10 seconds on a cover letter, if any at all (I know recruiters and some HR managers who don’t even read them unless the job requires writing skills!), and even less time on the resume.  That’s why the cover letter has to be no more than an “elevator pitch” and the resume needs to begin with the equivalent of a Superbowl commercial – grabbing the reader’s attention and making them want more.

But the anomaly continues:

The job seeker will spend minutes, maybe a few hours, doing research on the company and – if she is smart – on the people who will be interviewing her.  The employer will spend the same amount of time researching the job seeker, or perhaps less, depending on the position.  The employer, like the job seeker, will Google the candidate (as the job seeker Googles the employer) to find out all they can about her.  However, and here’s the funny part, the employer will spend hours on the interview while the job seeker usually only spends a few minutes – normally on the way to the interview.

What happens, from the employer’s perspective, regarding interviews?  First, the candidate meets with someone from HR, usually for a good 20 minutes to half an hour.  Then the candidate may meet with a director for 45 minutes to an hour and then a quarter to half an hour with an executive.  That could be the first phase but, for sake of argument, that’s all there is to it.  So the employer had staff meet with the candidate for a total of about an hour and half to two hours.  Then, all the interviewers get together to discuss the candidates.  That takes another hour.  But let’s be minimalists.  Let’s agree that an employer spends a good two hours interviewing, including the debrief.  That’s a lot of time.  It’s a large investment.

What does the job candidate do?  On the way to the interview she does a mock interview in her head, answering questions that she thinks she is going to be asked.  What are your strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  Why do you want to work here?  Why did you leave your previous jobs?  What salary are you looking for?  Basic answers to basic questions.  Just like everybody else!

But the key to getting a job is differentiation.  So here’s your New Year’s Resolution:

In 2012 you will devote more time to preparing for an interview than writing the cover letter and resume.  You’ll research the employer digging as deep as possible.  You’ll research the interviewer(s).  You’ll not only prepare answers to the standard questions, you’ll prepare a list of questions that, when you ask them, will show the employer that you understand the importance of due diligence.

You see, the purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume, and the purpose of the resume is get an interview.  But it is the interview that leads to the offer and that’s your goal: to get the job offer.  So you are going to write a good cover letter and a great resume, but you’re going to spend most of your time preparing for the interview.  Why?  Because that’s what the employer is going to do!  Put differently, what’s most important to the employer should be what’s most important to you.

The One Interview Mistake You Are Making That Could Cost You a Job

Nothing new here: differentiation is the key to getting a job.  No matter who you are you will have scores, perhaps hundreds, of competitors.  You have to differentiate yourself.  As I have written elsewhere, you have to grab the attention of the recipient who is tired of reading boring misleading cover letters and resumes.

It’s relatively simple to do.  Focus on actual accomplishments and not on self-praise.  Don’t tell a hiring manager how great you are; tell them what you have actually done that speaks to the position for which you are applying.

Great!  You’ve done it!  How do I know?  You’ve gotten the interview.  Job Search 101:  The purpose of the cover letter is to get the recipient to read the resume.  The purpose of the resume is to get an interview.  The purpose of the interview is to get the job offer.

Well, you got them to read the cover letter, and then the resume, and then they called and you are preparing for the interview.  And you are doing your due diligence.  Just like the three or four other candidates being considered (you beat the scores or  hundreds of competitors because their cover letters were tomes and their resumes started with self-praise, both of which turned the reader off) you have memorized the company’s website.  But you did more.  You Googled the company.  You found old press releases or interviews given to the press by the company’s leaders.   And when your time came in the interview to ask questions, you asked questions about the information that you dug up on the company.  Without telling them that you are a great researcher, you showed them!  And they were impressed!

But that was not good enough.  Because Sally or Joe did the same thing.  And asked just as good questions.  But you did something more.  And this is the key:

What’s the one piece of information that you have about the company that the company provided you with and which is key to a successful interview?  The names of the people who will be interviewing you.  And what did you do with that information?  You wrote it down on a piece of paper and entered it into your calendar just like the competition.  Big deal!

Some things are obvious.  On my radio show, I interviewed Asia Bird who is an expert on LinkedIn.   Her key point, what she says is the biggest mistake people on LinkedIn make, is that they do not accept any and all invitations.  My reaction, at the time, but not on air, was, “Duh!”  Well of course you have to accept all invitations.  You can’t build a network if you are not accepting invitations.  Everyone knows that!

Well, duh!  I was wrong.   Asia was right.  I have actually been to a number of events recently when LinkedIn came up.  The question is always, How many first degree contacts do you have? If I am standing in a group, I always win since, by the end of the year, I’ll have 28,000.  Then they want to know how I did it.  More times than not, a few people will say, “Gee.  I guess I should be accepting invitations.”  Ya, think?

The same thing is true for the biggest mistake people make when preparing for an interview.  And it is just as a much a “duh” moment as realizing that you have to accept all invitations on LinkedIn.  And here it is:

Research the people with whom you will be meeting.  People hire people they like.  If two candidates are equally qualified for a position, employers will hire the individual they like the most.  The person who gets hired is ALWAYS the candidate the employer thinks they will get along with.  It all comes down to making a personal connection with the individual.

I am convinced that I once secured an executive recruiting client because I asked the manager with whom I was meeting how she went from being an oboist to working for a non-profit that had nothing to do with music.  Her coworkers did not even know that she had a musical past life.  When she asked me how I knew I responded, “I am a consummate professional.  I do due diligence better than anyone else.  I can find out anything about anyone.  I have an international network!”  Of course, I had a big smile on my face so she knew I was being sarcastic.  And then came the punch line.  “And it’s on your LinkedIn profile.”

A career counseling client of mine told me that he had discovered that the owner of the company where he was interviewing had played Lacrosse in college.  So had my client.  He used a Lacrosse term in his conversation with the owner – don’t ask me what it was! – and that seemed to close the deal.

Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

Collecting Business Cards is NOT Networking

Believe me.  I understand the frustration.  You have been unemployed for a considerable period of time.  You are having trouble making ends meet.  You are trying your best.  You know that the vast majority – over 70%! – of job openings are not publicized but are filled through networking.  And you network.  Boy do you network!  And you have scores, hundreds, thousands of business cards to prove it.

Sorry.  Collecting business cards is NOT networking.  This is networking:

Let me give you a recent personal example.  I joined the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.  It’s a great organization.  They are focused on their members, not on dues.  In counter distinction to a different organization of which I had been a member, instead of receiving a plaque when I joined, the MCC sent me an invitation to a new members’ Breakfast.  At the Breakfast I met one of the directors.  We had a nice chat and she put me in touch with a board member who is responsible for the Chamber’s “Ambassador” program.  Ambassadors meet and greet participants at Chamber events and recruit new members.  I met with the board member and he appointed me an Ambassador, after a good hour long interview during which he got to know me.

From that conversation, we developed a rapport which led to an ongoing discussion about a joint project.

Also at the Breakfast I met two Ambassadors who are members of the Chamber’s Business Referral Groups.  They invited me to attend the next meeting of their respective Groups, of which there are presently two, and I chose to join one of them.

Following my first Group meeting, I met with one of the Ambassadors who indicated to me that she was looking to hire staff.  She is a veteran and since my company’s mission is to promote the hiring of veterans, she said she would utilize my services and asked for a contract.

At a subsequent Group meeting one of the members noted that he too is looking to hire someone for his company. We’ll be talking after the New Year.

Now things don’t usually work this way.  This was too fast.  It was too quick.  Usually it takes weeks to get to the position when the business card turns into a networking event and the networking event turns into a lead and the lead turns into an offer.  (Just to clarify, an event advertised as a “networking event” is not really a “networking event.”  The networking takes place when an actual relationship is formed.  Then you are “networking.”  When you first meet, you are schmoozing.)  Here’s how it usually works:

You go to an event. You meet Joe.  You exchange business cards.  You send Joe an e-mail saying how much you enjoyed meeting him and look forward to being in touch.  Joe is busy and does not respond.  A couple of days later you pick up the phone, call Joe, and invite him for a cup of coffee.  You tell him that you would like to learn more about his business.  You don’t tell him that you really want to meet with him so that he can help you get a job – or, better yet, hire you.  If you tell him that, he might say, “Listen.  I wish I could help.  But I really don’t know of anything or have anything for you.  Send me your resume and I’ll let you know if I hear of anything.”   In other words, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”  People like to talk about themselves so he agrees to the meeting.

You arrive a bit early, greet him when he arrives at the corner café and after ordering your drinks and some small talk about the weather you thank him for meeting with you and tell him you were intrigued by what he had told you about his business.  You listen respectfully, ask a few insightful questions, and make a link between what he is telling you and your own life experiences.  (The questions are also based on the research you did on him.  This impresses our friend Joe who now knows that you prepare for meetings and understand due diligence – things that employers like and that turn strangers into business referrals!)

What you are doing is creating a real relationship.  If Joe’s a good guy, he will ask you about yourself.  (If he doesn’t ask, then he probably is not someone who will be of any help to you so you would be wasting your time pursuing a relationship with him.) You give your elevator pitch and answer any questions he has.   You must be upbeat and positive.  No matter how you lost your job you cannot reveal any bitterness.  No one is going to recommend a bitter person who they just met to a business associate or a friend.

Now it’s been a good 15 minutes and you tell him that you don’t want to take up any more of his time.  And this is when you ask the key question.  It’s not, “Can you help me find a job?”  You ask, “How can I be of help to you?  What type of clients are you looking for or services do you need?  I have met a lot of freelancers and may be able to refer someone to you.”

What you have just done is to show that you believe in helping people.  Some call it “giving forward.”  You are telling him that you want to be an asset to him.  And you are showing him that you know how to network.  You are willing to help him, and through him, others.

Joe says what he says and then you ask for a favor.  “Joe.  I know you are busy, but I wanted to ask a favor.  As I said, I’m looking for my next opportunity.  Could I send you a list I have made of companies that I am interested in working for?  I’d appreciate it if you could review it and let me know if you have any contacts that might be useful or any suggestions for additions or deletions.”

(Notice I did not suggest that you offer to send him your resume.  Let him ask for the resume.  The issue is, you don’t want him to feel that you are asking him for a job.  If you give him the resume, that’s the inevitable impression.  If he asks for a copy, and hopefully he will, that’s another matter.)

He’ll probably answer in the affirmative and tell you to send the list because, by showing that you have a positive attitude and no bitterness, and by offering to help him, you’ve shone yourself to be a professional.  Joe does not have to worry that you will embarrass him so he should be willing to help.

You have now formed a relationship and successfully networked with him.  Congratulations!

E-mail him the list.  Wait a week-10 days and give him a call.  Don’t be a pest, just give a friendly reminder.  And when you send the list, thank him for the meeting and for agreeing to review the list.  I am amazed at how many people don’t understand the importance of “Thank you!”

If he gives you some leads, or even makes a call on your behalf, whatever you do, follow-up.  If he tells you to call Mary, call Mary.  If you meet with Mary and she asks you to send her some information, send it immediately.  (If you don’t follow-up, I guarantee it will get back to Joe and he won’t have anything more to do with you because you embarrassed him.  It’s as simple as that.)  If you get a call from Joe telling you to call his friend Sam immediately, and when you hang up on Joe your wife goes into labor, call Sam and then take the wife to the hospital.  And when your child is born, name him Joseph or her Josephine.  Now THAT’S networking.

How to Hire Your First Employee

There’s an old adage, “Hire slowly; fire quickly.”  It’s good advice.  Here’s another piece of advice:

Don’t use a recruiter.  True, a recruiter will do 90% of the work for you, hold your hand for the remaining 10%, and give you a guarantee. But in making your first hire, learning under fire is a rite of passage.

What’s the process?

First, define the need.  Why do you want to hire someone?  If it’s for convenience, forget about it.  If it’s a necessity, go for it.  Also, decide if you are hiring based on potential (someone with a good academic record and some work history) or actual experience.

Second, determine the cost.  What will you pay in salary, commission, bonus, benefits, and don’t forget the cost of office space.  Figure out what one year will run you and if you have 150% of the money, proceed.  If the position is administrative, if the person will not be responsible for a revenue stream, you need enough money on-hand to pay them for at least a year.  If the position is supposed to be a revenue producer, recognize that it may take weeks or months before they start producing, but you will still have to pay them.

Third, prepare a job description.  It should include a brief history of your company, the job title, a list of responsibilities, a list of qualifications, and information on submitting a candidacy.

Fourth, have your process in place.  The way you handle hiring says a lot about your company.  I have one client, an excellent organization, that has been sitting on resumes for over four months.  They interviewed five of the six candidates I submitted to them and expressed interest in all of them.  Now that they are ready to make a final decision, all but two have withdrawn and the organization’s reputation has been tarnished.  Don’t start the process until you are ready to hire.

Fifth, post the job description on your web site.  Let your network (including LinkedIn) know that you are looking to hire.  If you do not get any responses after two weeks, take out an ad listing the title, qualifications and submission information: your name and e-mail address.  Request a cover letter, resume and salary information.

Sixth, read the cover letter.  If the person does not know how to write a business letter, forget about them.  And if they don’t tell you their salary, they are “game players.”  A good professional knows to answer, “I am presently earning X.”  They will realize that you will realize that if they are employed you will have to beat X, unemployed, there will be room for negotiations.

Seven, if the cover letter is well-written, take a look at the resume.  First check that they meet your minimum requirements.  If they don’t have the education, years’ of experience, industrial knowledge, etc., or if they can’t keep a job for more than a year or two, move on.  If all is well, call them (you want to hear their phone skills) and set up an interview.

Eight, during the interview, confirm that they actually meet your minimum requirements.  Delve deeper.  Ask them about themselves.  You have to actually like the person you’re hiring.  Ask them to tell you about their successes and failures, and why they want to work for you.  What they say is not as important as how they say it.  Don’t bother with the “What are your weaknesses and strengths?” questions.  They are meaningless.  That’s why you check references.

Get a second opinion.  Even though you have no staff, you are not alone.  Ask your lawyer, accountant or even a major client to meet with them.  Don’t waste your money on aptitude tests.  They’re nonsense and reflect poorly on you as a decision maker.

Ninth, check references, preferably former supervisors.  Ask them about reliability, strengths, weaknesses, contributions to the company and verify any statements made by the candidate.

Tenth, make the offer.  Put everything in writing.  Have the contract reviewed by your attorney.  Don’t forget a three-month probationary period.

And in the end you will have gained the experience to supervise the recruiter you’ll hire for your next search!

The Length of a Resume Does NOT Matter

I repeat, the length of a resume does NOT matter.  I write this because I am tired of reading blog postings on the subject and receiving resumes from candidates who have been told that it is a capital offense for a resume to be longer than one or two pages.  Style over substance?  Unbelievable!

Let’s take a couple of examples:

Young woman.  Five years work experience.  One-page resume.  I called her up.  The conversation went something like this.  “Thanks for sending me your resume.”  “You’re welcome.”  “Who was it that told you that a resume should only be one-page long?”  “My friend.”  “Get a new friend.”  “Why and how did you know?”  “You sent me a resume with quarter inch margins, written in 6-point font.  I can’t print it because the margins are too narrow; my printer requires at least half inch margins.  And the print is too small for me to read.  It’s a PDF file so I can’t make the changes myself.  Send me a proper resume, one-inch margins, 12-point font.  And, how do I know?  Because it’s my job to know.”  She sent me an excellent three-page resume!

(Here’s the funny thing.  I am an “Ambassador” with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.  Last night we had an event at Microsoft in mid-town Manhattan.  One of the guests was an HR director, recently laid off.  We started talking about resumes and she told me about a resume she received from a woman, one-page, quarter in margins, 6-point font.  If I remember correctly, she said she did not even bother to contact her…)

Two candidates.  Both applied through me for a Systems Administrator position.  It was a seven-page resume vs. a one-page resume.  There was nothing that could be removed from the seven-pager without diminishing quality and content.  The one-pager was a solid resume showing ten years’ experience.  The seven-pager won.   Why?  Because the seven-pager had seven times more quality than the one-pager.  And believe me, my client had no problem reading about what the candidate had done at Microsoft, Cisco, IBM…

Let’s consider some of the claims that are made in support of the one- or two-page resume limit:

People don’t read.  It’s a good thing nobody told J.K. Rowling!  People read.  HR professionals read.  Hiring managers read.  Business owners read.  Children read – even if it’s not homework.  We love to read.  But it has to be quality.

Resume recipients are tired.  Absolutely!  For every job opening they can receive hundreds of applications, meaning resumes.  And they are boring.  They are awful.  They are one, two or three pages in length – and sometimes more.  And they are absolutely what you, as a candidate, hope for.  The resume recipient spends five to ten seconds, I repeat, SECONDS, glancing at those tributes to irrelevancy and then, like an oasis in the desert, your resume appears.  Have you thanked professional resume writers for setting the bar so low?

I was looking to fill a position and must have received fifty unsolicited resumes.  (That’s when I decided to stop listing active searches on my website!)  They all began the same way, with a dishonest “Objective,”  “I wish to utilize my education and work experience to …” Please!  An honest “Objective” would read: “To get the job for which I am applying.”  Now THAT’S a candidate I would want to meet!

Next came the “Executive Summary” consisting of self-praise without any hard facts.  It would make any mother proud to learn that her child had become a “consummate professional,” “trust worthy,” a “team player,” someone who “exceeds expectations.”  But it means nothing to me.  I don’t care what a candidate thinks of herself; I care what she has actually done.

Then, as my eyes start to tear from staring at the computer reading dribble, it appears.  Your resume!  The five-page resume of my dreams.  And I click “print.”  Why?  Because, you understand me.  You know I’m tired and bored and just want the facts.  You make my job easy.  You know that your job search is about me, not you.  You have to meet my needs; I don’t have to meet yours.  You’re incidental to the process.  I’m a recruiter.  I have to make my client happy.  If you want to make me happy, let me make my client happy.  And what makes my client happy?  A candidate who gets to the point and does not waste time.

It all comes down to differentiation.  And you’re lucky.  Be grateful for the resume writers who insist on keeping resumes to a page.  Someone else is paying them to make you look good!

So how do you look good?  Get rid of the Objective and Summary statements.  They’re nonsense.  Start with a heading, “Selected Accomplishments,” followed by four to six bullet points that highlight objective, verifiable achievements that you have had that speak to the position for which you are applying.  The tired, bored resume recipient will, in five seconds, know what you have to offer.  Then they will check to see if you meet the minimum qualifications for the job (years experience, education, certifications) and whether or not you are a “jumper” or keep your jobs for a good length of time.  If you pass that test, you can expect your phone to ring.

I think it was Corey Harlock who told me on my radio show that the one question everyone should ask before hiring a resume writer or career counselor is, “Have you ever hired anyone?”  Great question.  Ask it!  For the record, I have.  (For the record, it’s important because persons who have not actually hired anyone have an academic approach to resume writers, while we have a practical approach.)