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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Convention Be Damned


There are already plenty of obstacles built into the process of seeking a job. The interview process is daunting enough but to get there, you must first find an opportunity, avail yourself and get an invitation. By the way, I really laugh with incredulity when people tell me they know what to do and how to find a job and interview. When, actually, the majority of people haven’t a clue but after 5 minutes with me, they are suddenly freaked out because until then, they didn’t know what they didn’t know – and this includes senior-level professionals who think they know it all. But as I said, you first have to find and then you have to inquire and apply for the opportunity. However, there is more than one way to do this although the gate-keepers would tell you otherwise; my advice if you are serious – ignore them.
 
We’ve all been conditioned to be the same and behave the same but, I have to tell you, following these faux rules is counter-productive to your efforts. Innovation and to be innovative requires rejection of convention. When you want to help yourself, aside from professional conduct and behavior, there are no rules and you are limited only by the processes imposed by others. It’s the same for anyone involved in business development activities. Rules are for sheep, and when I encounter those who are not decision-makers but, rather process-obsessed administrators who haven’t an ounce of interest in my pursuits – or yours, I swat their processes aside and circumvent them, as you would with any obstacle that lay in your path. This, folks, is what goal-oriented people do and so, too, do the very people who stand in your way, when it suits them - their rules are only, for you. 
 
When you encounter someone who may view your efforts dimly because you don’t conform, be polite, suggest you didn’t know, apologize if you choose to, feign contrition if you must, then choose a slightly different course toward the same goal. It is only after all means and options available to you have been closed will you shift to activities elsewhere. If you so choose, go back after the dust settles and try again. Think like a Sapper (originally a French term that described those who dug beneath fortress walls to affect their collapse in order to penetrate the defenses to gain entry).
 
You are the captain of your fate and, in reality, limited only by your own imagination. Trust me, there are still many managers who find it refreshing to encounter people who buck convention and if you have the option, these are the people you want to find and work for. And no, it’s not easy but is anything worthy of getting easy to obtain?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

We Don’t Talk Anymore


Business, the business that matters to us on a personal level – that related to finding and interviewing for a job, is conducted by direct communication, there is no substitute. But in order to do so, you’ve got to identify who to speak with and then you must establish contact. Anyone who’s read my blog knows what I think of woefully inadequate online pseudo-activities, so much of which never involves speaking with a real person and is largely a waste of time. Increasingly, those activities are about as productive as seeking wealth by purchasing a lottery ticket and crossing your fingers. In my experienced opinion, until such time as you can speak with a decision maker, nothing real can happen.
 
Email has become the initiating step and pre-requisite protocol. Even if you can establish contact by phone email is the next step. But that in and of itself is not and never enough if you are waiting for and relying upon someone who doesn’t know you nor are they invested in your effort. As such, relying upon email to initiate and establish a business relationship is necessary but it is only productive if you receive a reply. Otherwise, it is a BIG time waster. Sure, it’s convenient but it is not very effective and, increasingly during the last decade, it is more often used as a tool of deflection, procrastination and avoidance.
 
And the gate-keepers – in this case receptionists, administrative support and human resources appropriately stand as a firewall to shield managers from unnecessary distractions – like you, until you’ve demonstrated you’re not a distraction. But until you can speak with someone – you’ll be instructed to send an email. 
 
Okay, send it but if you stop there you’re not serious. Develop the habit of dutifully marking your calendar to always follow-up after a reasonable period of time, especially if you consider what you have to say as being important. The point of this blog is that you will get nowhere if you dutifully follow the reflexive instructions of someone who hasn’t an ounce of interest in your purpose; in most cases they aren’t even thinking when they re-direct you.
 
I hear it all the time; I’m old school and my first option is to pick up the phone and speak with whomever I aim to contact. Let me share with you a follow-up call I conducted just last week. To set this up, I’d called with an inquiry to a managing partner of a law firm, about a candidate I was representing.

Me: Hello I’d like to speak with Mr. (insert name here)?
Receptionist: He’s not available.
Me: Can you tell me when he will be available?
Receptionist: Send him an email.
Me: Thank you, but I did that as you suggested last week.
Receptionist: Well, he’s busy.
(Note: for anyone possessing an IQ higher than 70, the “busy” excuse is insulting and is a response offered by a lazy person who does not represent their company well. It is my opinion that people like this should be reprimanded and if it continues the person should be fired and replaced by another who actually cares about their job and the organization for which they work)
Me: I’m sorry Miss, but I am also busy and I am sure you are very busy, we’re all busy. That doesn’t answer my question.
Receptionist: Well I don’t know what to tell you, you should send him another email.
Me: Thanks well how about this, can you connect me with his administrative assistant, is she available?
Receptionist: I will see.
(Long pause)
Admin Assistant: Hello, Mr. (insert name here) isn’t available, he’s busy.
Me: Yes, so am I.
Admin Assistant: Perhaps you could send him an email.
Me: Thank you but I did that last week at 11:08 on Thursday so I am not going to waste time sending another. Can I suggest, let’s do this - can you ask Mr. (insert name here) if he can check the email I invested my busy time into, composing and sending to him - can you do that, please?
Admin Assistant: Yes, I can do that.
Me: Thank you very much and if I don’t hear from him, I will call you back the day after tomorrow, is that okay?
Admin Assistant: Yes
Me: Thank you, goodbye.
 
Sadly, the simple task of trying to reach someone by phone is something like splitting the atom, it seems. I was polite, but firm and persistent - never nasty, but unwilling to accept the time-wasting parroted and rote suggestion offered without any apparent forethought. However, the following morning, I received an emailed reply from the intended recipient and we spoke later the same day. Mission accomplished but not without effort. 
 
What I have just described and encountered is the same thing most of us experience when we make the most basic of inquiries. However, had I followed the brain-dead, hollow suggestions I was given, how long would it have taken me to reach my point-of-contact; another week, two … ever? Furthermore, with this as an example of the status quo, is it any wonder that so many companies are stagnant. 
 
Business can only truly be conducted when we speak with each other and until you are able to establish real contact everything else is just a waste of time and effort. Don’t take “no” for an answer by those who stand between you and the person you aim to communicate with – and as long as you are polite yet persistent, don’t listen to a bureaucrat who’s eager to tell you about ‘the rules’. 
 
It’s important to note that when the time arrives and you have your opportunity, you’d better have something to say that is worthy of their time to discuss. Here are a couple of golden nuggets I’ll share with you as a result of 25 years as a headhunter and speaking daily with people I’ve never talked to before: 

·         The more senior the person, if you can reach them, the easier they are to talk to.

·         Some of my best clients were those who were the most difficult to initially reach and speak with.

Persistence and tenacity pays-off. The technologies we rely upon for convenience are helpful but nothing, nothing can take the place of a direct conversation or better yet a handshake, in-person. Anything and anyone standing between you and your goal is an obstacle to be overcome and swept aside.