Monday, February 23, 2015

To Those Still Asleep

I give advice to people about how to better enable themselves to find jobs, using means beyond the same methods used by everyone else. If the crowd goes in one direction I advise another route. I also provide much more advice and tips for interviewing more effectively – something that, in reality, most people are essentially clueless about – including most interviewers, believe it or not.

But let me take this opportunity to inform and awaken those who are currently working and yet doing nothing constructive to either A) be better prepared, qualified or positioned in order to be more appealing to potential employers, or B) to galvanize and better protect your current job status and value to your present employer. This is how you make yourself as indispensable as you can. Continuing education is a career-long effort and it does not necessarily involve so-called institutions of higher learning, it is worthy of noting; so much now is available online. The bottom line is you have to make the effort before events overtake you and, folks, the writing on the wall could not be more obvious for 6+ years and counting.

Among those who are currently working, there are those who are nervously watching and listening for every event and rumor trying to anticipate their impending doom. On the other end of the scale, I see those who are comfy in their routine and they just don’t seem aware they could be impacted by any market fluctuations; that stuff happens to everyone else – they think they’re immune. Then there’s everyone else, situated somewhere between those two extremes. If, as indicated in my last blog entry, you are currently employed and think you are safe, I wish you well. But considering the way things are trending, now more than ever you should be prepared. 

Among those who are currently employed and at most risk, are people who have been in one position for a long time, without any advancement and have done no updating of their skills nor have engaged in  professional self-improvement initiatives. Furthermore, if the ax falls and your job is cut after being with one organization for more than a decade – again, without having done anything that would add value to your status as an employee, then yeah, you should be nervous. Hey, don’t kill the messenger and take advantage of the wake-up call, if it isn’t already too late. 

Some companies still offer company paid (or reimbursed) training for those who want to improve their skills, or they may cost share. Regardless of whether they do or not, you should be updating or improving your skills to stay relevant. No one is safe anymore and to think otherwise is, frankly, indicative of being tone deaf to what is happening all around us. Making yourself more indispensable does not mean sucking up or being a brown-nose; besides, even if you think you have your boss’s favor, guess again; if they or their regime depart, where does that leave you?  

Nobody can willfully sit back, collect dust and collect a paycheck, assuming no one will notice and, if so, you may get what you deserve. If you have a skill, improve upon it; if you’re good at something, become even better. If you are in an industry that is dying, don’t just sit there; start taking courses or cross-train. However, this does not necessarily mean you should incur debt with an MBA or something similar. University degrees are increasingly over-rated considering the value proposition of what you get in return for the investment, and another framed degree on the wall does not make you more valuable. But expanding on qualifications, keeping up with industry trends and, of course, making a level-best effort to perform in your work to your best of ability is not only important to your employer, but also for your own self-respect. 

My father worked for Ford Motor for about 35 years, his father worked for GM for about as many years, but those days are long gone. I’m not a pessimist, don’t misunderstand me, but I am a realist. As a long-time headhunter and consultant, I am a Prepper of sorts within the professional realm. I am always seeking ways to stay ahead and anticipate trends and contemplate the what-ifs, considering the best ways to gird for unpleasantness, however it can be prevented, avoided or at least, short-lived. I’m an adherent of perpetual preventive maintenance as opposed to doing nothing and awaiting misfortune. The new normal demands we all adopt this mindset. As I noted last week, what was prior to 2008 is no longer - it’s dead and gone. With all that said, the future need not be bleak. Applying the coldest logic, to evolve means you must adapt, or die (in a manner of speaking) and the same applies toward your career. Anticipate, prepare to prevent and ride out as best you can the changes that will affect all of us at one time or another. There are a lot of things you could and should be doing – if you’re not already. I offer my own expertise, to those unsure of where and how to start. 

I love the proverb that is claimed to be Native American in its origin, although I suppose many cultures have a version to the same effect, which states, “You cannot awaken those who pretend to sleep.” Are you awake, or is your strategy instead to feign sleep, with your eyes tightly shut and your fingers crossed? I have no sympathy for sleepwalkers. 

Okay, enough of this stuff – the next time we’ll get back to providing some helpful advice.  



Monday, February 16, 2015

The Way It Was/The Way It Is

I write about methods people can use to help and fortify their job search and/or interview efforts, covering a wide range of suggestions ranging from the most basic to advanced techniques I use with effectiveness. I share the personality and character traits that most effectively convey confidence and will cause people to sit up and take notice of you. When I refer to attributes such as confidence, courage and self-assuredness, some think I am too demanding and ask too much of people. Not so, I am a student of human nature and my career places me in an ideal position for this. Everyone has it in them to rise above their circumstance to improve their lot in life. For those who strive for a better circumstance, there are no expendable people, and I hope my blog provides some usable material for those who want to take advantage of it. The day I cease my recruiting activities and stop closely interacting with employers and job seekers will be the day I can no longer claim to be an expert, because the day after I stop, my advice is no longer timely or current. In the meantime, trust me; I give advice that is utilized on a regular basis.
It is obvious to most everyone that the economy and trends that affect the ways we seek new jobs, and the environments related to the whole job search and interview thing, is markedly different today than it was prior to 2008, would you agree? In 2006 for example, with the exception of some sectors like manufacturing, which had already been drying up for more than a decade, for the most part jobs, good jobs, were more available and accessible to qualified applicants – especially if you had a good resume and kept your skills current. In fact, I look back now and joke, with tongue in cheek, that back then if you had a pulse and a good resume you could find a job. 
Today’s environment is far different. Even mediocre jobs are being fought over. Companies, generally speaking, treat applicants deplorably and I have never seen such a lack of civility and common courtesy, much less customer service, which have sunk to levels I never would have thought possible. In 2015 job seekers have it tougher than I have ever witnessed since I began recruiting in last months of 1992. This is not to say there aren’t some good sectors in today’s market, but not for the widest demographic of job seekers, who simply want an opportunity to demonstrate their worth to a company that will likewise give them that chance, it is challenging. This is the swamp people seeking gainful employment must navigate. 
So my first point is simple; if you are reading this and you haven’t searched for a job since pre-2008, you are in no position to judge what other people are going through. Count yourself as lucky but don’t be smug, it’s a pretty good bet that if trends continue, you may find yourself searching for a job and will thus experience first-hand, and you’ll be in for a surprise, when you get to experience the new normal.
My second and primary point is, if the jobs market has devolved and the landscape is different, then isn’t it logical that the manner by which you conduct yourself should adapt to the market changes and trends? In 2006, sending a resume online and then sitting back to enjoy your morning coffee may have worked then, but isn’t it a bit delusional to think the same strategy will work now?  
However, this is not to say good jobs are impossible to find and perhaps you find yourself doing something completely different from what you set out to do in your career. A lot has changed and, so too, should you change your outlook or re-evaluate what “success” means to you. One thing is certain, point-and-click by itself is not enough and you must strive to do more.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Demonstrating Interest is Not Begging

It increasingly frustrates me to observe the growing number of job seekers who want or need a new job, but they have a strange and ill-conceived notion they don’t have to actually do anything to accomplish it. Like magic, doors will swing wide and all you have to do is conduct a few keystrokes and send your digital resume; the rest just sort of happens; right, isn’t that what we’ve been led to believe? Pretty silly sounding isn’t it, but that is the assumption by which most of us operate.
More than ever people reach out to me for advice and I am most happy to provide assistance, after all, that’s why I write this blog. But more and more, people are not willing to do anything that requires real effort. Often my suggestions are dismissed as unreasonable, which is odd because they work. I don’t know if people are more reticent because they are scared or lack confidence in themselves (see my last blog post), but I suspect their soft skills have degraded to the point from which it takes very little to push them out of their insulated, albeit shrinking, comfort zone. 
Some of the most basic advice I share is that companies want people who want to work for them and they take note of those who are a bit more innovative and proactive. Which means you should express your interest. Another suggestion for how to set yourself apart is, for example: if you see a company listed with the job description and there is a contact name, instead of doing what everyone else does, be a bit different. At the same time you submit your resume also look up the contact person on LinkedIn. Click on Connect, then where it says How do you know (name)? - click on Friend. Then you can compose a short message not exceeding 300 characters and spaces. It is simple but yet proactive, try this:

Dear Mr. /Ms. XXXX,
I applied for the position of (position name). Please add me to your contacts and I look forward to meeting you. 


Your name

You will note it is mildly assumptive in tone, which denotes confidence. It also doubles your chances of being noticed as you are doing a little more than everyone else. Even this very small extra gesture may be all it takes. And what is the worst that can happen -- they might not call? They’re not calling you now, while your resume languishes among the tens or hundreds of others in a virtual heap. 

I recently pressed someone to do this and they responded that they were reluctant, telling me what many people say, “I don’t want them to think I am begging for a job; I’m not going to beg.” And here is the problem I see: people mistakenly think that to show interest, even a small measure more than the non-activity of emailing a resume, is somehow lowering themselves – amazing

Well, as I was saying, I pressed someone, who complained to me they were not getting any responses to their email entreaties, to do just what I suggested above. They did so, grudgingly. And while I would never say this, or any other method works every time, guess what happened? Within 24 hours they received a call from the company to which they applied. That was two weeks ago; she starts her new job next week.

Sometimes you need not make grand gestures to have an intended effect; start out small but do something more and challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone – you might be surprised by what happens. With each passing day, while you procrastinate and avoid doing what you know you should do, don’t think about it too much and just do it – not next week or next month, but do something now. And if you are looking for some ideas, visit my blog archives.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Confidence is a Key Ingredient

I’ve been closely involved in hiring processes for a long time. I’m not talking about shuffling resumes but actually interacting closely with both applicants and hiring managers during each step of the hiring process. Methods and trends change over the years but most aspects of human interaction do not. Sadly, companies now more than ever insulate themselves, removing as much human interaction as they can and human resources departments go to great lengths to avoid you. However, at some point in the hiring process you will be face-to-face with a hiring manager and, when it occurs, that resume you invested so much time into has little further use. So when it’s your turn and you’re center stage – will you be ready? What happens when it is time to represent yourself in person; are you confident you can demonstrate why they should hire you instead of someone else?
During my career as a headhunter, I have never witnessed a time, as now, when this most basic but critical personality trait has been so lacking among job seekers. In my opinion, less actual human interaction in our society is the primary reason. I have watched during these last couple of decades a devolution of sorts, as people become less connected in our increasingly connected world. Ironic, isn’t it? Too many have chosen the easier route of hiding behind their online avatars or digital selves. As a result, we are losing the soft skills we’ve spent a lifetime refining. So, is it any wonder people lack self-confidence at a time when they most need it?
For example: take two people with similar backgrounds and experience levels, but one is confident about their abilities and the other, not so much -- who’s more likely to get that job?  Discount the effect self-confidence has in such situations at your own risk. I advise that people need to be able to articulate their accomplishments and, guess what, this requires confidence. Perhaps some people are just plain shy, or they confuse displaying confidence with arrogance (they aren’t the same).
Here’s a test: list your accomplishments, you know, the stuff you’ve done that benefitted your employer. It doesn’t matter if you have two or twenty, after you list them ask yourself if you feel good about them or do you feel a little awkward and have a sense of self-doubt. Did you find yourself questioning your own capabilities? Now imagine yourself sitting opposite a hiring manager during an interview when they ask, and they will, “So tell me about yourself?” which really means, “Why should I hire you?” If you don’t feel confident about yourself, your capabilities and your past or present performance, then why should a hiring manager believe you’re the person for the job? I have never witnessed a hiring manager offer a job to someone they are not convinced is up for the job. No matter how qualified or highly educated you may be on paper, it won’t matter if you cannot project some level of self-confidence.
Yeah, I get it, many people have been beaten down the last few years in a depressed jobs market. Making it even more difficult are the ridiculous trends and processes one must submit to when applying for a job. I have empathy, which is one of the reasons I write this blog – it enables me to advise far more people than I might ever be in a position to represent one-on-one, which is the manner by which I work. But the responsibility to improve your chances in the jobs market is yours alone. I have tons of advice, a lot of it archived here or in my handbook. Everyone’s situation differs to a varying degree, depending on individual circumstance and your resolve. I don’t care what method, strategy or gimmick you may want to use in order to get the job you want or need, but your belief in yourself is the absolute starting point.