How to Choose a Career Counselor

Obviously, I am prejudiced.  I am a career counselor so I will not be offended if what I write it taken by you with a large grain of salt.  But this article is the result of complaints that I have received from clients about services that they used prior to coming to me.  And, for the record, I am the first to admit that I am not perfect, and I may not be the career counselor for you and, no doubt, clients of mine have spoken with other counselors after having met with me.  Such is life.

First complaint: PRICING.  I call this the “What? How? Why? Continuum.”  What does that mean?

When you go to most coaches or counselors (I really don’t know what the difference is!) they will tell you what to do and how to do it.  But they won’t tell you why you should do it.  I don’t mean, “To get a job you have to network.  Go to Chamber of Commerce events.  Be personable.  Get cards.  Follow-up because that’s the only way you are going to be able to get a job/change your career.”  What to do – network.  How to do it – go to Chamber of Commerce events.  Why – because most jobs are not advertised so you have to network.  That’s not the “why” to which I am referring.

What I mean is that they do not explain the science behind their advice.  For example, Why is it so important that you look good at a networking event?  Because when you communicate, how you look and how you sound are more important than what you actually are saying.  Body language and tone of voice trump words.

Put differently, counselors inform, they do not educate.  So what happens?  Every week you have to go back to them to get more advice.  They play psychologist.  They want to form a dependency relationship.  I don’t.  I don’t want you coming back to me.  If you are coming back to me that means you are not networking.  If you are not networking you are not job searching.  It also means I did not do my job during our 2-hour session.

So what do I do?  I meet with you  face-to-face and tell you what to do, how to do it, and why.  I also tell you what you need to hear, not what you necessarily want to hear.  (You are paying me to be your counselor, not your friend!)  Once you know the what, how and why, you don’t have to call me, although you can as often as you want, because I didn’t “counsel” or “coach” you, I “taught” you.  Maybe I’d be wealthy if I created a relationship of dependency with my clients, but I would not sleep as well at night.

Don’t pay a lot.  And if it takes a person more than 2 hours to answer your questions, and TEACH you what to do, they probably don’t know what they are doing…or they know exactly what they are doing and it’s not what you want!

Second complaint: ACADEMICS vs REAL WORLD

I am a Ph.D.  It’s in International Relations and has nothing directly to do with my work.  My point is, I can make and enjoy a good academic discussion.  They are fun and informative.  But if you are looking for a job you don’t need an academic discourse on the theory of job hunting, you need a job.  And if the career counselor you are using has never hired or fired anyone in their life, then everything they tell you is academic, not real-world based.  Some have never even had a “real” job!  So ask two questions:  Where have you worked?  and How many people have you hired and fired?  You’ll know what to do based on the answers…

Third complaint: RESUME WRITERS

If you don’t believe me I will not be insulted because the first time I heard of this I immediately did a Google search.  There is actually such a thing as a “Certified Resume Writer.”  They take a course, pass a test, and some company that isn’t accredited by anyone or anything of importance “certifies” them.  And, of course, it’s nonsense.

What do they do?  They have a template that they follow.  They ask their clients to supply them with information and then they just cut and paste and PRESTO! they have a “professional” resume.  They are usually only one-page in length “because no one reads more than one page.”  Nice opinion to have in academia, not relevant to the real world.

Why pay someone to “write” a resume when you are providing them with all the information they need?  I don’t write resumes for my clients; I edit them.  Find a resume that looks good to you.  Use it as a guide.  Fill in your information.  Now you have a resume.  If it is focused on you, it’s a bad resume.  If it’s focused on the employer, it’s a good resume.

Fourth complaint:  I PROBABLY DIDN’T NEED ANY HELP, BUT I’VE READ SO MUCH, SPOKEN TO SO MANY PEOPLE, AND PAID SO MUCH THAT NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

This one is simple:  End the information overload.  You can spend the rest of your life reading about finding a job while not finding one!

The purpose of a cover letter is to get the recipient to look at your resume.  The purpose of the resume is to get the recipient to invite you for an interview.  The purpose of the interview is to get a job offer.  If you are not getting interviews, the problem is with your cover letter and/or resume (or it may be that you are applying for jobs that you want and not for jobs for which you are qualified – but that’s a different subject).  If you are getting interviews but no offers, you don’t know how to interview.  And it’s as simple as that.

So to summarize: Never hire a career counselor who can’t get the job done in a couple of hours (not including phone and e-mail follow-ups).  Never hire a career counselor who has never had a “real” job.  Never hire a career counselor who has never hired or fired anyone.  Don’t waste your money on resume writers.  And don’t spend your time researching job hunting.  If your are not getting good results from what you are doing, find someone who will honestly give you a critique.

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Want to learn more?  Visit the Library page on my website where you will find hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts dealing with all aspects of a successful job search. Need personal attention?  My career counseling services are always available.

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How to Answer Illegal Questions

I am not certain why, but of late I have been asked more than usual, “What should I do if the employer asks me an illegal question?”

First, what is an illegal question?  It’s anything of a personal nature that does not pertain directly to the job.  For example, “Are you disabled?” is an illegal question.  “Can you fulfill the requirements of the job?” is perfectly legal.  If the person responds, “Yes, but..” then things get interesting.

Let’s say you have a bad back and can’t stand for long periods of time. You are applying for a job that requires you to be on your feet.  The employer is required, by law, to make “reasonable accommodations” for you.  So you might say, “I have back problems.  I can’t stand for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.  But if you can put a bar stool with a back behind the counter, I’ll be fine.”  That’s a “reasonable accommodation” and the employer should have no problems.

But let’s say the job requires you to lift, continually, heavy packages.  You are applying for a warehouse position.  It’s a confined space and you can’t use a forklift to take packages down from shelves, although you will have a cart to move them on.  It would not be a “reasonable accommodation” for the employer to remodel his warehouse so that you could use a forklift.

That’s the difference between a legal and an illegal question.  The illegal question focuses on the candidate; the legal question focuses on the job.

So how do you answer?

My advice, and I am not an attorney, is to say, after you are asked, “Are you disabled?” “First, that’s an illegal question and you can get into a lot of trouble asking it.  But I understand why you are asking.  You want to know if there is any reason why I cannot fulfill the requirements of the job.  So let me assure you that I can.”  Or, if you need a “reasonable accommodation” explain it.

What have you done?  You have answered the question and educated the employer.

But here’s a question for you:  How long do you think an employer who does not know the basics of interviewing will stay in business?  Do you really want to work for someone like that?

Something to consider.

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Want to learn more? Visit the Library page on my website where you will find hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts dealing with all aspects of a successful job search. Need personal attention? My career counseling services are always available.

Framing

No, this is not a post about what you should do with the picture you just found in the attic.  And it’s not about blackmail or setting someone up to go to jail.  It’s about interviewing, job interviewing, on your own terms.  And it’s very simple.

Think about it for a minute.  What does every employer, supervisor and colleague want in a new hire?  Someone who will help them.

“Framing” refers to having a discussion, debate, conversation, interview or any other type of interaction on your own terms.  You can do it by saying that you do not accept the other person’s premise and will only discuss the subject based on your view.  But that’s a confrontational approach.  It’s effective, but not for a job interview.

A job interview demands diplomacy.  So what should you do?

When you arrive for an interview and meet the interviewer(s), stand up, shake hands, smile and say, “Thank you for inviting me in for the interview.  I look forward to learning how I will be able to help you if I should get the position.”

You have now done three things:  First, you have framed the interview around your philosophy of being of help to your colleagues.  Second, when you are sending out the mandatory thank-you e-mail to each interviewer, you can personalize the email(s) based on each interviewer’s response.  And third, you have learned what they need, want or feel is lacking at the company without having to ask anything negative.  You asked, “What’s wrong?” without actually asking!

And that’s how you frame an interview for your benefit as a job seeker.

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Want to learn more? Visit the Library page on my website where you will find hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts dealing with all aspects of a successful job search. Need personal attention?  My career counseling services are always available.

Is LinkedIn Legal?

I am a huge fan of LinkedIn.  It is by far the best site for job seekers and employers, not to mention recruiters.  The vast majority of the candidates I find for my executive recruiting clients I find through LinkedIn, and I find them quickly.

The secret of my success, so to speak, is my vast network.  With tens of thousands (forty at present!) of first degree connections, I can literally find anyone, in any industry, for any conceivable position – and, occasionally, a few inconceivable ones!

But is it legal to use LinkedIn for recruitment purposes?

I am not an attorney, and do not claim to be, so make sure to check with an employment lawyer but, to the best of my understanding, here is the situation:

I have nothing to worry about because I never look at profiles on LinkedIn.  That’s right, the profile that LinkedIn members spend so much time preparing is irrelevant for me.  The only things I am interested in are where the person is located and what industry they belong to.  And that’s it.  Nothing else matters.

What I do is send an individual message to each of my first degree connections.  I create a list of connections to contact by doing an “Advanced Search” and filtering by geography and industry (or industries).  I basically write to each, “I’m a recruiter.  I have a client looking to hire a ______.  The job description follows.  If you are interested, I would be delighted to receive your resume.  If you happen to know of possible qualified candidates, please feel free to share this message with them.  Thanks, Bruce.”  And that’s it.  What do I care what is written in their profile?  If they are interested, they’ll send me their resume.  If they are uninterested, they won’t and reading their profile would have been a waste of time.  And if they are uninterested, but know of someone who might be a good candidate, reading their profile would still have been a waste of time.  All that matters is location and industry.

And because I do not look at profiles, I cannot be accused of breaking the law.  What’s the problem with a profile?  How could I break the law?  The photo.

Everyone in the United States seeking employment belongs to a “protected status,” meaning a group of people who cannot, by law, be discriminated against.  Protected status, depending on where you live, includes: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, genetic predisposition, military/veteran status, arrest record, domestic violence victimhood, and marital status, to name the key “classes.”  (Just as an aside, an employer also cannot discriminate against the unemployed.)

Think of how many of these statuses can be determined by a photo.  Except for not being able to tell if someone has a genetic predisposition to a certain illness or medical condition, has been arrested or is an abuse victim, you might be able to determine the rest based on a photo.  And then go prove that that was not a factor in reaching your decision as to whether or not to invite the individual for an interview.

And that is what we are concerned with: the pre-interview process or, if you prefer, the candidate selection process.  Did you decide not to invite Ms. Smith in for an interview because you saw her LinkedIn profile photo and immediately knew that she was a woman, Hispanic and a Christian?  And did you guess, based on her last name, that she is married because her race does not match her name?  No?  Prove it!

And you can prove it.  First, the person making the final decision about potential candidates should not be looking at profiles.  Second, the person looking at profiles should prepare a written report explaining why they believe the individual should be contacted.  Third, nothing in the report should relate to any protected status but should clearly indicate qualifications.

Just to take this one step further, the same is true if an employer decides to do more than just look at their LinkedIn profile.  If they want a Google search done, they should receive a report based solely on non-protected status details of what is discovered on-line.

So to summarize, employers can use LinkedIn to find candidates, as long as they do not know about their protected statuses.

If you have any questions about this or any other employment related topic, list to my interview, this Wednesday at Noon, on The Voice of Manhattan Business, and call-in to ask your questions.