Monday, June 30, 2014

Applying Online is Not the Way

How many times have you heard it said, possibly by someone you know who complains, “…there are no jobs”? Well, I don’t entirely agree although there are obviously fewer jobs and according to labor statistics (in the U.S.) a growing number of people have just stopped looking. No doubt it is a tough environment and talk of economic recovery rings hollow and means nothing to those who struggle. But I argue that some people and their flawed assumptions and their efforts, which can only be best described as flaccid and in reality half-hearted, make them their own worst enemy. I suggest it is the misguided belief in faulty and ineffective job search methods, on which the majority rely, which leave many feeling powerless to influence their own destiny.
But before we continue we need to clarify something; there are jobs out there but the term jobs is so general as to be misleading. There are jobs, for which you either are or are not qualified. There are jobs you would not or could not imagine yourself doing -- and then there is the sweet spot, the kind of job you want and seek. And it is this small and incredibly shrinking category of jobs for which everyone is increasingly competing, which is what has everyone concerned – and it is this aspect of the conversations bureaucrats and talking heads want to avoid discussing, at all costs.
Aside from the scarcity of good jobs, making matters worse is the way by which we seek and pursue opportunities that is often a most frustrating, de-humanizing, self-defeating and dead-end effort. It is no wonder people feel helpless and why many have given up. And here’s the worst part, it is by design, meant to dis-empower the vast majority of people. Yep, I said it; it is intentional and designed to restrict your options by preventing you from actually talking to or bothering human resources, much less an actual decision maker. It’s a technological maze intended to force you to speak only when spoken to, move only when you are summoned, and designed by bureaucrats who assign themselves importance and as a result ensure their own job security.
As it is, virtually everyone is looking for work online – it is their sole job-hunting method. When they find a job listing for which they have interest, they submit (I hate that word) their resume and then…wait. If you get a reply it is in the form of an automated response confirming receipt of your resume, telling you your resume will be kept on file and you’ll be contacted if there is any interest. Or you’ll get a notification that the job has been filled, sometimes within a day of applying – which might seem a little odd. I mean, how much more dystopian can things get? Is that all there is, is this all you can do for yourself? Fortunately there are other ways for those who are serious about helping themselves. 
Call me a rebel, but if you want to turn the odds more into your favor, you must break the virtual shackles imposed by those more hung up on their processes that lead you all over the place but nowhere close to your goal and, ironically, do little even to help companies find the best people due to the choke points erected to block access. It is truly Kafkaesque (as in Franz Kafka -- look it up).
I am not suggesting that you dramatically change your activities, only that you should adapt in order to take more control, and responsibility, for your own self-interest. Step back and imagine for a moment what we are doing, emailing a resume and then waiting for someone else to do something for us – and people actually call this an activity.
No, instead of sending your resume into a deep and dark black hole, contact the company directly - period! Applying online is a losing proposition. If you’re not happy with the online option available to you, take back and regain a measure of your dignity; for God’s sake, do something different, do something for yourself instead of whining about how unfair the world is. Granted, it is not as simple as the last few sentences would suggest, but you can – and should, do things in a different manner.
Next week I will explain what steps you should be taking and also the ridiculously simple method of how to identify who the employer is when they intentionally do not name them in the advert or posting.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Heaven or Hell: You Never Really Know – Until You Start

You can interview with the best intentions, seeking to demonstrate your suitability for the job for which you’re interviewing. You can ask all the right questions and thoroughly evaluate the position for which you applied. You can have a good interaction and overall feeling of satisfaction with the limited knowledge available to you when you make your decision to accept a job offer.
But it isn’t until you arrive on that fateful day to begin a new job when you’ll in fact come face to face with the actual, life-size, hi-def big picture that is your new work environment, in person. You never really know until you start whether or not you’ve made the right decision. Even so, everyone wears their best face when you start a new job, it’s the honeymoon period so if there are glaring issues during this period, it would behoove you to pay attention. Because sometimes, things are not as they seem.
I recently encountered a person I’ve known for many years who shared an experience they had with/about a new job – which ended almost as quickly as it began.
She was elated to have been hired by an organization with a good reputation and all with whom she met, behaved professionally and friendly. On the first day of work she was introduced to her co-worker, who had been there already two years and was tasked with her training. Suddenly, from that moment things changed. As with any new job, learning new systems and processes can be demanding but is to be expected, everyplace is different in one way or another. This notwithstanding almost immediately, her co-worker and trainer was demeaning, intentionally made all things more difficult and was literally insulting. Here, where I live in the Czech Republic they have a term called mobing, it is pronounced like the word “mobbing” but with a long “o” and translated, it equates with harassment, as in, workplace harassment. It is a serious charge but one that can be hard to prove without witnesses (a note to readers who might experience similar behavior: utilize a discreet, voice activated recording device and voila, you have the next best thing to a witness and proof). The new employee quickly recognized a problem and attempted to address her co-worker to learn what issues might be causing the communication and behavioral issues; but this was answered with worse treatment and more insults. (I could list more of what was related to me but for the sake of blog brevity I’ve shortened the story) So on Day Three, she reached out to the manager seeking some relief but none was offered except to suggest she should “…hang in there and things would work themselves out” and to her knowledge nothing else was said or done with regard to the offending co-worker. There were no other assurances provided.
So if you place yourself in her shoes, what might you conclude so soon in a job? You’re new; your direct co-worker is abusive for whatever reason and attempting to find common ground with them only makes matters worse. And the manager, to whom you appealed and who could have very easily brought both parties together in order to facilitate a resolution – didn’t. So what do you do; what would you do?  Do you just take it, forsake dignity by allowing yourself to be a verbal punching bag, do you fight back or should you go over the boss’s head? Obviously, none of these are viable solutions, so after considering her options, she quit on the morning of the fourth day. So who failed? In this particular case and in my expert opinion it was surely not the new employee.  Rather, it must be concluded the employer failed her but, more specifically, the manager who for whatever reason chose not to step in and do what managers are supposed to do, that is, to manage. In military terms it would be described as a dereliction of duty.
Meanwhile, the offending person remains happily in place, smug in knowing she protected her turf from a newly hired person, which any outside observer would logically conclude, she viewed as a threat. But even worse, as a result of management’s failure to step in and impose any discernable repercussions, they’ve in reality given the green light, which suggests that such behavior is and will be acceptable when the next new employee arrives.
So what should we conclude from this story: what is the instructive element here for readers to gain from this blog entry? Well, there are a few things. The employee who started and shortly left her new job did the right thing. Consider that she evaluated the situation recognizing that       there was no indication the situation would improve but, in fact, all indications were that it would further degrade, even after seeking to find a solution directly with her co-worker. Failing that, she turned to the manager who demonstrated no willingness to step in to oversee or engage in any rudimentary conflict resolution. The result: a new employee was left to conclude nothing would change and she could rely on no help from management. So if it were you, would you invest three days or three months before making a decision of what to do? If one does not stand up for their own self-respect, who else will.
And although you never really know until you start a new job, do your best during the interview process to learn as much as you can, asking questions to gain as much information as you can because there is always more at stake than job title, duties, and money. Here are a few examples of questions to add to your repertoire:
  • Why is the position open?
  • What happened to the last person in the position?
  • …and how long were they in the position?
And whenever it is possible, try to meet beforehand those with whom you will directly work.
I recognize the jobs market is tightening and good jobs are getting harder to find, but it is not only a matter of a potential employer qualifying the applicant. You the applicant need to dig as deeply as you can to learn as much as possible in order to minimize any surprises when you enter a new work environment. And if all else fails -- have a Plan B ready should you need it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

What to Say in the Interview

If you are searching online for interview advice, you’ll find it all right and no shortage of it -- perhaps that’s how you found this blog. But, as we all know, there’s a lot of info online, some is good and some is not worthy of your time. For example: anyone suggesting simple and formulaic solutions applied to interviewing doesn’t know what they are talking about. And frankly speaking I rather hope you rolled your eyes with a sigh when you read the title of this blog entry. What, do you think all you have to do is have a few practiced lines ready for the right questions and “POW!” you’ll hit’em between the eyes with the right answers, and they’ll be stunned no, impressed enough to offer you the job – “yea!” ?  But it must be true, right, because I see lots of YouTube videos with segments doing just this, telling you and anyone who’s so gullible that there’s magic you can do and “VOILA!” you’ll have a great new job. Even better, there is some guy on the internet calling himself Career Billy or something similarly goofy, who has one of those never-ending infomercials – you know, the kind that talk all around the point in an attempt to draw you in, never talking about price until the end. The purveyor in this case contends that he can provide you with a magic document with which, if you present to an interviewer, they will be so astounded they will be forced to offer you your dream job (Career Bob’s words, not mine). And how much will it cost, you might ask, well I’ll tell you – normally something this astounding, something so important would cost you a thousand bucks but wait, if you act now you’ll also receive three free gifts valued at over $500! But that’s not all, blah, blah, blah… Save yourself some time, if you were to suffer all the way through to the end, which took forty minutes, as I did out of morbid curiosity, that is what you’d hear. I laughed all the way through it but also understand there are those who want so badly to find success in their job search, they would pay for something such as this – and possibly at a time when they can least afford it. Save yourself some time and money, its crap and you don’t need to buy that kind of snake oil.
Whether it is formulaic one-size-fits-all answers to have at the ready during an interview or a special and secret document with which to supposedly stun an interviewer; if you are looking for a job this isn’t the way to do it. With reduced attention spans and this fixation all too many people have seeking instant gratification with no investment, this is part of the problem. Combine this with the fact that most people don’t spend much time, if they can help it, interviewing – after all, it is something we do when we must and not because it is a fun pastime (unless you’re a little masochistic). Furthermore, as so much of the process has become automated and digitized, by the time you have a real face-to-face interview you’re likely already frustrated and feeling insecure at the lack of human interaction in a process that requires just that. Go ahead, fall for the easy solutions hawked by hacks, when you attempt to use that garbage and realize it doesn’t work you’ll be right back where you started, having lost something more important than money, you’ll have lost time. Don’t fall for gimmicks looking for the easy way out.
There is no substitution for face-to-face, interactive communication and developed people skills. You can be the best qualified and smartest person in the room, possess a great resume but -- can you communicate your skills and qualifications on a level sufficient to gain notice and demonstrate why you should be chosen over others – which is the essence of the interview process? For whatever reason, if you are like so many, relying almost solely upon faceless online methods to find a job, avoiding human interaction at all costs, the answer is no. There is no simple or formulaic solution to get your dream job, just as there is no easy way to obtain killer abs resulting from some silly new fad advertised online.
I have been coaching people; both job applicants and hiring managers for many years and yes, there are some questions you should be ready to address. And yes, I have advice on the manner in which you should reply, but your answers are your own. This whole thing about interviewing isn’t rocket science but you must possess the basics from which to develop advanced skills. When I increasingly meet people who say “yeah”, instead of “yes”, when they cannot even articulate simple answers without using “like” and “you know” in every sentence, I recognize failure of teachers and parents, but it goes beyond even them; every person is responsible for themselves. But this in an age where everyone likes to throw blame and not take personal responsibility, is it any wonder why no one takes them seriously? Not even the best gimmicks from Career Billy-Bob will help them and will only cost them. Want to do better in the interview, take responsibility to improve yourself – the buck stops with you.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Waiting for Your Lucky Break

I would suggest that the majority of people looking for a job, at one time or another, rely more upon luck than putting stock into their own abilities to find a job. That’s right, most people are playing the lottery, hoping their ticket – in this case their resume, will be chosen. In their minds it’s just a numbers game and they’re playin’ the odds. Come on, tell me I am wrong.
But this kind of thinking is defeatist and by nature not a serious approach. Furthermore, I speak with people who believe a university degree for which they paid so much is an automatic door opener, a golden ticket for success; in past decades it may have been, although it is becoming painfully obvious that is increasingly no longer the case. The new normal (since 2008) requires more than simply showing up and expecting a red carpet thrown before you. It absolutely requires an orchestra of effort requiring multi-tasking abilities. It is right here where peoples’ eyes glaze over and I lose the attention of too many unwilling to make the effort to do what makes the difference, rather falling back on the concept of dumb luck than to motivate themselves beyond their comfort zone, but you must. It isn’t that it’s so hard to do, you must resolve to do it, even just a bit at a time.
I was speaking with someone just this morning on this same topic, suggesting people need to do more even if it is physically hand carrying their resume to drop it off in person whenever it is possible, even for the sake of connecting a smiling face to that lifeless piece of paper that represents you. Nonetheless, they replied negatively, saying they’d be looked upon oddly if they ever did that and, well, because nobody else does it, which makes it weird. I also suggested their resume should be more than a bland and boring description of their current job; that whenever possible it should include accomplishments that represent them better than what they are already (yawn) supposed to be doing anyway. Again their reply was negative, telling me that HR looks at a resume and if they don’t see anything special they will just toss it aside – which, ironically, only proved my point but they’d hear nothing of it, instead committed to proving my 20+ years of experience is wrong. They said it’s all rigged and companies only hire people they already know before the jobs are posted and, even then, companies receive 100 or more people applying for the same jobs. In other words, it’s all a waste of time and the system is set up for you to fail.
By the way, whoever said finding a good job was easy – especially now. So imagine their shock when I smiled and replied, “Okay, so then if you’re right, if you feel that way you should just give it up – why bother then?” Clearly, they wanted to be convinced otherwise because they have self-doubts – which is completely understandable in the current jobs market; lots of people feel this way. But I’ve said it many times, that regardless of the state of the economy, companies are hiring people every day; they are taking longer to do it and you must compete with more people than ever, but they are hiring. However, the same old routines and methods that worked 10 years ago won’t get you the same results in the current market. A new normal requires adaptation and adjustments to meet the new challenges.
I write about this stuff every week and I recently posted onto YouTube a series of videos which provide usable advice; just go to YouTube and do a search with this word grouping: “Why Should Anybody Hire You?”  Or the word combination of “Empower Yourself Michael Mayher” and you’ll find it, there are 25 of them. But if I may be philosophical for a moment, the answers aren’t coming to you, you’ve got to take the initiative and seek them out. If in this ‘recovery’ you think you can find a good job without putting forth more effort than in the past, you just don’t get it. It requires effort, you’re going to fail and hear no more then you’ll hear yes. Even with advice that I or anyone else can provide, it’s still a task but a worthy one. As for roadblocks and obstacles in your path, years after my service I still possess an airborne military mindset and my reaction to any obstacle is to contemplate how to get over, under, around it or to go straight through it.
Here’s an analogy for you to consider -- when you play any video game for the first time you’ll get only so far, able to reach a certain point only to have to go back and start again. Each time you repeat the process you advance a little further along, don’t you? Well, that is analogous with the process of mastering an interview. So with each interview, if you’re paying attention, adjusting and self-critiquing your performance afterward that means that it is not a waste of time, is it? And you will learn different and alternative things to utilize in combination to use at the right moment, somewhat similar to the different tools or weapons available to you in a videogame in order to adapt to whatever you might encounter. In the case of the job hunt or interview process that would be, resume, cover letters, how to present yourself, interview tips, follow-up and Thank You letters, developing your negotiating & closing skills, maximizing use of your references, etc.
So if you want to give up, as many sadly have, nothing I can say will change your mind. But if you want to up your game, or get back into the game there are tools that can help you – but you’ve got to want it. It’s not only about your ability to get back up, after being knocked down, but instead, how many times you can get knocked down and still get back up again, dust yourself off, moving in the right direction in the smartest and most effective manner learning as you go. You’ve done it all your life, otherwise you’d still be crawling around as if you had a diaper wrapped around you. The current jobs market is tough but far from impossible – if you have had doubts, now is not the time to get wobbly, there’s help and advice but you must seek it out and then – capitalize on and use it.   
By the way, a few days after I composed this blog entry the person I refer to above received an offer resulting in a new (good) job opportunity. The message is simple – NEVER give up! Indeed, you should adapt and adjust your efforts along the way. Don’t you know that good things are rarely easily won and must be earned? Or have you, up until now been one of those rare folks who got everything in life so easily? I doubt it, so don’t doubt yourself.
What do you think of this post? (no registration required)


Monday, June 2, 2014

The Immeasurable Value of Soft Skills

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term Soft Skills but, like a lot of terminologies floating around out there, they are subjective in nature and so most people don’t pay much attention unless or until it becomes a buzz-word, which suddenly gains importance when the boss or management makes it so. However, I know and I can tell you that Soft Skills are a big deal and in addition to being a qualified job seeker, if you possess them or seek to develop them, you’ll have a clear advantage in the current market. Sadly, a growing number of people, especially those under the age of 35, are more likely to be lacking in this area at a time when senior company managers have rightly begun to recognize this deficit with respect to their hiring processes.
After more than 20 years of recruiting and placing many different kinds of people, my personal opinion is that I don’t care how much money you have spent for your college degree, or how much technical expertise you may possess, if you cannot communicate as to why an interviewer should choose you over someone else; if you cannot articulate how they will benefit by selecting you instead of someone as similarly qualified as you are, you’re going to get beat out by someone who can – and this is when Soft Skills count.
Lately, there is more and more evidence that companies have worryingly recognized the lack of Soft Skills among applicants and current employees and they are beginning to put increased value and focus on them. The reason is simple: without soft skills salespeople can’t effectively sell, managers cannot manage to their full potential, teams can’t optimize their efforts as one nor interact, which affects their bottom line of profitability and competitiveness. In short, it has an inevitable dumbing-down effect across the societal and economic spectrum.
So just what are Soft Skills? Read this from Wikipedia:
“Soft skills is a term often associated with a person's “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities. They are related to feelings, emotions, insights and (some would say) an 'inner knowing': i.e. they provide an important complement to 'hard skills' and IQ.
Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual's interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person's skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person's ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.
So don’t let anyone tell you this is no big deal and it goes to the heart of all the advice and methods I advise people to consider and work on because this is the stuff that transcends a nicely-prepared resume. It is what gives your resume horsepower; it’s the second part of the one-two punch that elevates you beyond most others competing in the same contest – it is what makes the difference.
Technology and the convenience it provides us is a good thing, but growing dependence on it has an unintended crippling effect. You may find my perspective extreme and dystopian but, as people become more and more connected virtually and digitally, they are more disconnected in reality. That face-to-face disconnect of the physically interactive world on social levels is being replaced with the digital unreality. In the best case, those who lack soft skills will continue to be frustrated when their job search efforts continue to result in a dead end. At worst, we’re on track to dividing into two distinct social strata, between those who can function and obtain for themselves good employment and the rest; incapable of finding decent work thus reducing their career options to the most menial of tasks; a self-imposed virtual caste system. Of which group will you and your family be a part?
What do you think of this post? (no registration required)