Monday, March 30, 2015

Reference Checked Before the Interview

If you think you are reference checked only near the end of the interview process, you are mistaken - that’s how it was, but no longer. Sure, reference checks as we’ve known them still exist, usually at the end of the hiring process, when an HR rep or hiring manager says to you, “we’d like to make you an offer contingent upon checking your references.” That’s a good sign and the words we want to hear, it means you’re almost there.
But that’s not what I am talking about. Often reference checks take place before you are invited for an interview and it often is a substantial factor in whether or not they will choose to consider you and has little to do with your professional abilities. I am of course referring to your digital footprint, your virtual self, online and especially social media, where increasingly often you may be scrutinized and from where impressions about you are drawn. So while you may be focused upon presenting yourself professionally and doing everything right from that perspective, conclusions are often made according to the impression you make on a personal level, as a reflection of what you post and share online even before they meet you - so much for first impressions, eh.
When you apply for a job and submit your resume, you may be well-qualified on paper, hoping for a chance to meet face-to-face. But it is common and becoming obligatory that HR or a hiring manager will look you up using any number of methods -- and it’s easy, free and takes only seconds simply using the basics: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and of course any work-related website where you may be listed. When they do, what will they find; what will they see and what conclusions might they draw as a result? Imagine, the hiring process is supposed to be about your professional suitability and qualifications for the job you seek - but you may be judged and possibly disqualified according to how they view you personally. Yeah, it’s messed up but that is the reality of where we find ourselves in the modern era – ain’t technology grand?   
I have seen postings that leave me shaking my head in disbelief when, for example, someone vents incessantly about how unfair life is, or someone who suggests they don’t want to live, or they want to hurt someone, or a woman who is having a difficulty publicly regrets she didn’t terminate her pregnancy (yeah, I actually saw one like this), etc. You name it, it’s out there and people do it without a second thought. Occasionally, when I’ve pointed out some of these missteps to people I’ve met, they get defensive and retort by arguing they can post what they want and then preach to me about free speech and their freedom of expression. Indeed, you can express yourself however you see fit and so too can hiring managers do the same, by not choosing you.
My point is simple: I’m not suggesting that you not be you but perhaps you should set the appropriate filters to be more selective in just who your audience may be. Likewise, go through and delete old and potentially unsatisfactory or unflattering comments and photos you might have posted and have forgotten. This may surprise some, but with the exception of your closest friends and family, nobody really cares about your innermost thoughts. 
So, what’s your online footprint look like at a glance? Don’t shoot the messenger; I’m just here to give constructive advice. You can post to your heart’s content all over for all to see your likes, dislikes, pet peeves and mood du jour without any forethought or afterthought – after all, we’re free to screw up in life, just don’t blame others when it comes back to haunt you. 
The internet is a great and powerful tool. You can as easily investigate companies and even the very people you may work for – and you should. You absolutely should exploit all means available to you in order to be as well informed a job candidate as is possible. But they also have the right to scrutinize you in the same manner and like it or not, fairly or unfairly, you will be judged accordingly.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Networking Effectively

Networking for professional purposes has been diluted in its meaning, having become so vague it’s worthy of clarifying the different types of networking as related to your job search efforts. It is wise to identify what kind of networking activity will be an investment with a higher rate of return for your efforts.
Many people are using social networking in their job search efforts. As with any online resource, you cannot and should not rely upon virtual means as a singular effort, for the simple reason that you will be missing opportunities found by other methods. Many jobs are not posted online. 
Some people confuse recreational aimed social media / networking with actual human interactive business networking. How many online friends you can accumulate doesn’t mean much because, after all, there are friends and then there are acquaintances. I suggest most people we know are acquaintances. Facebook and Myspace, which I think is still around but has been supplanted by Facebook, are recreational devices sometimes masquerading as a tool for business networking. Yes, there are products marketed there, but for job search and professional networking I don’t see it as very much use, although some may disagree with me. Facebook can be useful for finding professional sector-specific or support groups a person can join to conduct some level of networking. 
LinkedIn is probably the best known and, to my knowledge, the most used business / professional networking tool, although to my irritation, it seems they want to be more like Facebook, because now I get notices about peoples’ birthdays, which is pretty useless for business networking. I mean, I am not going to consider someone professionally as a result of a birthday wish and if you don’t know it already, keeping business and personal activities separate should be a Golden Rule. Furthermore, LinkedIn is a key resource for most recruiters I know, me included. For your information, here is a list of 20 business -aimed social networking websites you may find useful:
Another option for social networking for professional purposes is to find resources that are industry specific in scope. For example, I am a military Veteran and there are social networking resources for Veterans. These organizations fulfill many roles and one of them is networking for job opportunities. One with which I am familiar and endorse is, which is a resource for all U.S. Military Veterans but with a special focus on Airborne, Special Forces and Spec Ops Veterans. Social networking isn’t simply about providing a place for professionals to find jobs but, in the case of groups such as Gallant Few, it provides a morale-support aspect when associating with like-minded and focused professionals. 
The other type of networking activity is true-blue traditional, business and professional networking. Networking for professional and business purposes, that which networking was before the advent of the digital age, was always conducted in-person and face-to-face. Often business deals were and are conducted as a result. The reason is simple -- via relationships, built as a direct result of physical interaction, is still the most effective because there is more trust and confidence built on personal relationships. Again, association with like-minded people increases the chances of gaining a tangible result. Consider this: would you be as willing to provide a professional reference to someone with whom you might have exchanged online correspondences but don’t know, or, for someone with whom you’ve actually met in person and interacted?
Generally speaking, networking is a wise addition to your job search efforts. Many people have better results networking than they do with over-reliance on passive online methods, which allow you to sit on your butt while pretending you’ve actually done something. However, networking of any kind is an activity that takes time, so if you have a short attention span or are obsessed with instant gratification, your expectations may be unrealistic. 
Also, keep in mind that searching for a job requires a multi-faceted concert of interwoven activities. This means you also need to have a credible and coherent professional online presence, separate from your personal profile, which I hope your privacy settings reflect. For more suggestions about your online presence in this regard, see my blog entry from Monday, the 2nd of March, earlier this month.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Failure to Communicate

During the conduct of the interview, an applicant is supposed to elaborate upon the information on their resume in order to give the interviewer a good and thorough understanding of their abilities, and how that can relate to the role for which they have applied. Meanwhile, the interviewer should be able to explain to any and all applicants as to what the job entails, and also elaborate about the organization, including the reason as to why this firm is worthy of joining. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get real and substantive information that is necessary to any thoughtful decision; I am speaking with reference to both the interviewer as well as the interviewee. 
I speak and meet with a lot of people and the majority are spewing the same old tired clichés and lines. There is so little originality as everyone is becoming a stereotype. Hiring managers repeat the same lines that have no meaning and their brains are too often shut off as they just go through the motions. I spoke with a hiring manager who told me they are looking for someone who is innovative, someone who is a self-starter and a hard worker (yawn). So I asked, “What do you mean by that; please describe what innovative means to you? How do you define a self-starter and a hard worker; I need to understand your perspective in order to find you the type of person you are describing?” As often happens, they looked   confused and, as often occurs, they didn’t know how to answer. At the same time they are dumbfounded as to why they can’t attract the right potential employees. Or, if I ask them, “Okay, so help me to help you; in order to attract the types of people you say you want to hire, please tell me a few reasons why someone should consider joining your company?” They go on to say things such as, “We’re a market leader”, or “We’re a great place to work”… But when I again ask them what that means and to elaborate, their frustration is visible (and so is mine). 
To be fair, job applicants are very often just as zombie-esque in their rote and empty claims. They say things such as, “I want to join a good company.” So I ask them to elaborate, to explain to me what their definition of a good company is, to which they reply, “You know, a good and stable company with growth potential.” And again, I ask them what does that mean, to them?  Increasingly often, they can’t answer with anything more than generalities or more clichés. Meanwhile, they are frustrated that no company is calling them back.
In both cases, I have to really probe to get any real substance from them and often they become frustrated by my questions because, for whatever reason, they are not capable of articulating what they want, or seek to really communicate. I don’t expend much effort or waste much time with these people. 
Where this is going is simple; regardless of on which side of the table you sit during the interview process, you have to switch off the auto-pilot, grab the controls and fly manually, using your God-given senses and develop your abilities, if you want to excel. You have to do more than to only want or wish it. Sure, everyone says they want to, and if you ask them they’ll tell you they really, really mean it. You must be able to do more than simply talk a good game. At the very minimum, may I suggest that you conduct the most basic of due diligence necessary in order to both back up and elaborate your claims. Be able to actually represent yourself and your organization with more substance than worn-out talking points; in short, try actually communicating and engaging in a discussion at the interview, rather than trading in canned and watered-down empty calorie questions and answers. Or, as another cliché would suggest that you not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.
And if I haven’t already made my point, try this; sharp hiring managers take notice of those who do more than spew forth the same old boring clichés. Likewise, sharp candidates recognize and gravitate toward hiring managers who are not just going through the motions and faking it. If you want to be different, try a little individuality. I say it too often but for many it falls on deaf ears; if you look like, sound like and act like everyone else, why should anyone take notice of, or choose you, over any of the other also-rans? 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why You Should Heed My Advice

I hear people complain and say, “…you don’t know how tough it is.” Or, “when was the last time you looked for a job”, blah, blah…  well, those folks couldn’t be more mistaken. For those who want to do more than to complain; if you are serious and you mean it, I can help with useful advice if you’re ready to do more than most people – who, by the way, aren’t doing much so it’s no wonder many see no real results.
For more than two decades I have been conducting business that is closely connected to peoples’ job searches and interview efforts. So I have been directly involved with, witnessed, and heard more situations than I could ever list. Furthermore, I apply the same advice that I give to others, and translate it into my own business development efforts, which includes sales technique that is at the heart of what you should be doing for yourself now, or whenever you will find yourself searching and/or interviewing for a new job.
For example: When I am conducting business development and building relationships with new companies to market my services, it’s a sure bet they already have someone else they are using for their recruiting needs. So, if I call them and say something generic, weak, and non-specific like, “…do you have any vacant positions, maybe I can help”, they will disregard me. It is likely they’ll walk away from the conversation feeling they just wasted five minutes of their life that they can’t get back. The simple fact is I’ve given them no reason to take notice of me or consider me any further, because I would sound like every other mediocre person out there saying the same, lame thing. You know, like most job seekers who can’t figure out why they are getting nowhere. If I want to be seriously considered, I must give them a reason as to why they should consider me over someone else, whose services they already use, or why they should consider my services compared with many others seeking the same thing. So let me ask rhetorically, how does this differ from your task, when you seek to gain the attention of a potential employer? 
If you haven’t already noticed, what I’ve just described is selling, whether selling a service, a tangible product, or selling someone on the idea that you are more worthy of notice and consideration than the next person, and this is what I do when I coach people in their job search and interview efforts. These concepts are necessary and to dismiss it is fine, you can go right back to the crowd standing over there, collecting dust and bitching about how unfair everything is. Or, you can challenge yourself to take one or more of my suggestions and step out of your comfort zone, which I contend for some, may not be so comfy. 
The job market is difficult and getting more so. Don’t doubt me on this selling business as it relates to your efforts. You are the product and your resume is your product brochure, and the sooner you get your head around that fact, the better. Furthermore, a professional sales person is someone who truly believes in the product(s) or services they represent. Any loser who claims, “I can sell anything” is a con artist, at best. 
So, if you believe in yourself, what you have to offer a company, and you feel confident you can contribute to an organization of which you seek to be a part, you must get them to take notice. That takes more than a finely-crafted resume, the sole purpose of which is to get you in the door and seated in front of a hiring manager. Which means, you will need to multi-task and get beyond the resume in order to truly capitalize on any opportunity. 
One thing I am not shy about is saying that the people I coach always do better and are better prepared for their interviews. So it’s up to you, do things your way if it is working for you and getting results. If it is not, well… I don’t suggest anyone do anything I haven’t or wouldn’t do myself. The new reality these last few years requires that you must do more than have a good resume to be noticed. You can’t get hired if you can’t get noticed, and you’re unlikely to get noticed if you are standing in the middle of a crowd of others, who all look and sound alike.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Increasing Your Chances

I am always preaching to people that they should exercise all their options and to not rely solely upon point-and-click online job search efforts, which have a limited chance for success, if that’s all you are doing. You should avail yourself of multiple methods and strategies. However, I’ve never said nor suggested you stop your online efforts when, in fact, you should be doing many different things simultaneously.
Most people have a resume and many invest a lot of time to have a good one. But even those focused predominantly on digital means fail to use social media to its fullest potential. While I espouse the need for people to be proactive and hands-on in their efforts, you should not neglect the passive means by which others might come upon and find you. You must learn how to juggle your efforts; you have to multi-task. 
There is little doubt that LinkedIn, as an example, is a good resource and currently the most popular social-networking resource on a professional level. Most recruiters and agencies use it as a primary tool and resource to quickly and effectively find potential job candidates. That won’t be the case forever and at some point something else will replace it, but for the moment I don’t see anything on the horizon.
It doesn’t cost anything to have a profile and I suggest that, if you don’t have one, to consider it. If you do, then it should be every bit as good, impactful and as detailed as your resume – frankly speaking, it should be identical to your resume. Many different professions have social media sites reflective of their market and business niche. I am in no way endorsing LinkedIn but simply using it as a frame of reference.  
Many are nervous because, well, what if their boss sees it? And guess what, I’ll bet he or she has a similar profile. It is also likely they are listed and have a professional bio on their company website, so why not you, as well? I’m only suggesting you post a professional profile like everyone else and, if you are asked, simply tell them the truth -- you want to increase your online professional credentials. If you are still worried, then improve upon it in stages so as not to arouse any attention. Furthermore, if you have invested time in your resume, it makes sense and requires very little time to transfer the info onto whatever professional social networking website suits you, be it LinkedIn, Xing or any number of pages focusing on your niche market; there are also groups and associations for military veterans for social networking. However, resist the urge to sign up and post on too many different pages, lest you’ll lose track of all the places where your info is posted. There are exceptions, and some companies or organizations forbid their employees from posting online professional profiles, but that is usually due to security concerns. 
I’ve long suggested you adopt a mindset by which you are always watchful for new opportunities, regardless of how secure you think your job is – today.  But that is not the main point, which is, you are simply keeping with modern trends and that means you have an online professional profile. By the way, if your boss has one, does that automatically mean he or she is looking for a job? 
I am not anti-corporate, but I am more pro-employee than ever, for the simple fact that we are all regarded as more expendable than ever – even though there are, as I contend, no expendable people. The days of companies looking out for and taking care of their employees is a thing of the past, which means you have to do more for yourself; if no one is looking out for you then who else is going to do it?
Increase your odds as best you can and this is yet but one small thing to add to a long list, which you can and should do for yourself. Do this not to replace your physical efforts but to raise your professional profile in conjunction with your other efforts.