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Unemployment Bias: Create Your Own Opportunities

"College of DuPage Hosts Career Fair 2015 23" by COD Newsroom from Flickr

“College of DuPage Hosts Career Fair 2015 23” by COD Newsroom from Flickr

 

Finding employment can be more difficult if you’re unemployed. It can be a frustrating period in your life, but it can also be a great opportunity to transition faster into a new position. You can spend a 40-hour week networking, researching employers and creating opportunities that will help you land sooner.

 

Jay had been working as a User Interface (UI) Programmer in a large marketing firm for nearly five years. He was suddenly laid off from his job and at a loss as to what to do next. It was the first time he found himself unemployed. For a while, he lived off of unemployment benefits and applied for jobs using various job boards. Before he knew it, more than six months had passed. During the worst of times, it seemed as if Jay’s résumés went into black holes, or what we refer to as “e-pits”. Other times, he landed interviews only to have the gap in his employment looked at with suspicion by employers.

Finally, Jay had enough of his confidence being undermined by his unemployment situation and fear of never finding work again. He began to explore his network, volunteered, attended industry group meetings, and wrote often about his skills and knowledge as a UI Programmer. He made sure his work was posted to his social media accounts. He presented himself as “between jobs” and “open for new opportunities”. Eventually, he was hired by a new marketing firm. The information about the job opening had come from his network, but it was Jay’s self-confidence and ability to sell his own worth (as opposed to coming off desperate) that helped land the job.

This example encompasses two scenarios. In the first, a person finds him or herself without employment and they reactively search for a job. They visit online job boards or send hundreds of résumés out in the hope of getting called for an interview. They don’t find a job immediately, months pass and they become caught in a vicious downward cycle. Employers question the long gap in their employment, they lose confidence, become desperate and apply for any open position at a company and they continue to languish as the interviews (and their finances) dwindle away. There are millions of these types of heart-breaking stories.

While some people eventually get a break, there is a difference between getting lucky and creating your own luck. Getting lucky means you’re at the mercy of your circumstances. Maybe someone will see your résumé and give you a chance. When creating your own luck, you’re actually creating your own job opportunities. Your ambition, passion and drive, combined with your skills and qualifications make you too tempting of a candidate to pass up. Which brings us to the second scenario.

A person is unemployed, but instead of reactively looking for work, he or she takes a proactive job search approach.  They go to their network and ask about open positions. They volunteer when they can, and they make sure to attend networking events, industry meet-ups, and do whatever they can to meet people in person. They present themselves as “between jobs”, but they keep abreast of industry news and maintain a competitive advantage. They even take some time to hire someone to polish their résumé or do it themselves. Their personal brand demonstrates their skill, value and passion. They know people in their network will eventually produce leads, and they will be ready to capitalize upon those leads.

Let’s get the obvious bad news out of the way: It can be harder to land a job if you’re unemployed. Employers have a variety of biases toward the unemployed. These biases can create a challenge for job seekers, which may require applying a different strategy to a job search. Employers may assume a worker’s skills may have become rusty if he or she has been out of work for more than six months. They may feel if a person can’t immediately land a job, he or she must be lazy and can’t keep a work schedule. Or it may be more tempting to poach an employee from a competitor than hire someone unemployed, even if the unemployed person has stronger qualifications. Some employers may go as far as to tell the unemployed they should not apply for an open position at their company.

Quite frankly, excluding the unemployed is extremely short-sighted. Abby Kohut argues in her article, “Why ‘The Unemployed Need Not Apply’ Need Not Apply to You” that it is absurd to eliminate out-of-work job-seekers without understanding why they’re unemployed. The reasons can range from stay-at-home parents returning to work, workers who were laid off, or workers who were fired (it’s not always the worker’s fault). That last reason is quite chilling. Your job could vanish in an instant due to no fault of your own. Don’t let employer bias deter you from your job search. At the end of the day, networking is still the best way to land a new job. Also, the employer practice of poaching talent doesn’t always work. There will be positions that need to be filled immediately and a highly qualified unemployed person could be the perfect match.

Employer bias is such an issue that legislation has been passed banning this practice. I wrote about it in my article, “Unemployment Discrimination: Does it need a solution?”, New York City passed a jobless discrimination bill in March 2014, while 11 states and multiple cities have their own versions of these laws. The legislation seeks to prohibit unemployment discrimination and allows aggrieved applicants to sue employers (in certain cities, like NYC). Unfortunately, as I wrote in my article, these laws are more of a hindrance than a help as the economy improves.

Technology is rapidly changing business and the long and short-term unemployed need to have the latest skills to compete. If these laws aren’t accompanied by training programs to help the unemployed compete in the workplace, they can be harmful. In some states the unemployed have to surrender their benefits to receive state-compensated training. While such a move could be beneficial in the long run, a reasonable person would have a difficult time forfeiting guaranteed income in order to participate in such a program. It’s hard to focus on learning when you’re unable to put food on the table. Furthermore, creating legislation to ban unemployment discrimination won’t prevent employers from covertly excluding the unemployed if they’re really determined.

So, should you present yourself as unemployed?

My opinion is… Be You! Lying on your résumé or your LinkedIn profile about your employment status won’t gain you any favors. In fact, it may become clear that you’re lying. I had a prospective client who was told by peers not to change her status on LinkedIn. This could be perceived as a lie, or an oversight. Either way, it doesn’t present you as forthright, accurate or prompt. Be yourself and believe in your professional value. You may be out of a job, but you still have a lot to offer an employer. Your skills and knowledge didn’t vanish along with your job.  (There are some careers that will become obsolete in the future, and it may become necessary for those professionals to reinvent themselves.) Know your target market, your skill set and your qualifications.  It is the passion for an industry that shines brilliantly. Your passion is your brilliance, and that brilliance will attract others to you.

Your personal brand should reflect your brilliance. You’re unemployed, but if you constantly blame others, and your former employer, it reflects badly on you. Think about it. If you’re constantly on your social networks, or attending events decrying your unfortunate situation, others will take notice. Instead of noticing your passion for your industry, others will only see your bitterness and will make it a point to give you a wide berth. On the flipside, if you’re constantly presenting yourself as passionate and engaged in your industry, someone will take notice and it could lead to job opportunities. In short, you may never know who’s watching, and you want to attract people, not repel them.

There are employers who will always have a bias against the unemployed, but ultimately it is their loss. Being passionate and unemployed can have its own advantages. Here’s a scenario to consider. Some employers are targeting those currently working for their competition as their priority effort, or expecting the third party recruiters they work with to do so. However, this requires a lot of selling and wooing, and there’s also a LOT of negotiating to make this successful. When this gets tiring, they look for the people immediately available. And if a need is urgent, they are not going to look for people who need to give two week’s notice. Suddenly, that highly-qualified, zealous and extremely available job-seeker is too tempting to pass up. Or maybe that job-seeker has been targeting employers of choice and now a position is finally open. Again, why bother looking elsewhere and negotiating with someone who’s already employed, when you can hire a passionate job-seeker who has been making connections within the company?

 

Let’s return to a favorite adage of mine that you can apply to employers and their attitudes about hiring you– “Some will, some won’t. So what? Next!”.

 

That’s much easier to say when you have momentum on your side. Don’t fall into a fear trap, thinking that you have to play political or tactical games to make it through the process. The difference in how it feels to generate interest by just being your best self versus pretending to be something that you’re not is the difference between freedom and being trapped. This is what we mean by “Unveil Your Brilliance”. We mean, be you, because you are brilliant, and people just need to see that. We don’t mean try to be something or someone else. That’s not the path to empowerment or authentic happiness.

 

 

Catch Your Next Job with the Right Tools

Photo courtesy of Casey Bisson of flickr creative commons. http://bit.ly/fishjob Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Photo courtesy of Casey Bisson of flickr creative commons. http://bit.ly/fishjob Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Trout season is approaching in Pennsylvania! Would you try to catch those fish by throwing stones at them? Throwing stones could possibly work, but using a fishing rod is a much better idea. We’ve all heard the saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Learning how to fish is great, but you’ll still need the right pole. A rod used for fishing in a serene lake is very different from a rod used to fish in a choppy river. You also can’t ignore the importance of a good lure, bait and a hook. Not being able to catch fish means starvation, especially if you’re dependent on that catch for your meal. At the very least, you’ve wasted your time and energy with efforts that don’t pay off for the day. How many days can you do this before you give up? Likewise, when it comes to job opportunity, skills are crucial, but you still need the right set of tools and a good location to reel in an employer. Like a fish, a good employer can provide substance in the form of financial security, a sense of purpose, and putting your passions to use.

Find a place to start by creating a plan:

If you were going fishing, you wouldn’t start by running to the closest creek and casting your line. First you would decide on what type of fish you’d like to catch. Then you would research an ideal fishing location, and ask a few fishermen to tell you about it. Next, you would get your gear in order and you would be certain to make sure you have the right pole for the situation. You can think about job hunting in the same way. You locate your ideal employers, research the company, work your networks, manage your brand, revise your résumé and review it.

In my article, “Become an Effective Job Hunter: Work Smarter, Not Harder!”, I wrote that you can see tremendous results in fewer hours than you think, if you put your time into the right resources. A lot of job seekers may be tempted to apply online through job boards and internet searches, because they think they’ll be missing out on opportunities AND because it’s a habit. Or they perhaps they work during the day and feel that the job boards are the only resource they can turn to after work hours. However, the percentage of people hired via internet searching is shockingly low. Less than 10% of people are hired by employers through this method. In fact, only 5% of your time should be spent looking for work on job boards, after you’ve set up your agents and have validated suitable results. Choose two days per week to check your agent results and add those companies to your target company list, research them, network and market yourself appropriately. Relying solely on job boards is like going to the ocean to catch fish. The fish are plentiful and so is the competition. The chances of getting the fish you actually want are slim. This concept can be summed up succinctly by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, “The fishing is best where the fewest go.”

Picking your employer and role:

Do you want to work for a large employer, or a small company? There are positives and negatives associated with employer size. A smaller company will most likely have you wearing multiple hats. In other words, all of your skills will be put to use. If you’re the type of person who likes doing multiple jobs that take advantage of your dynamic skill set, a small company could be a great fit. If you prefer to do a specific job, and you don’t mind being slotted into one position, a larger company may be a better fit. It really depends on your needs, and your ability to identify those needs. These are typical characteristics of jobs at smaller and larger companies, but there are also exceptions. Your target list goal, if your criteria defy those typical characteristics, would be to identify those exceptions and research, network and market to them appropriately.

Once you have a company size in mind, and a possible employer, it is time to research that company. Job review sites like Vault or Glassdoor are great places to get a feel for employers, including salary rates. There may be companies worth flocking to. Other companies may raise too many red flags, or may not be a good cultural fit. I wrote extensively about this process in my article, “You Can’t Afford Not to Investigate Your Next Employer!” In addition to salary and healthcare benefits, vacation time can be considered as part of your compensation package. At this stage you’re still at the pre-qualification level, not unsimilar to when an employer determines if you meet the minimal qualifications for a job. At this point, you’d really want to do as thorough a job searching them as they would do to qualify you. There are some great research tips within the Daily Job Search Tips on the Accelerfate Facebook page.

Work your networks:

Networking is the number one tool in your job seeking endeavors. The word of mouth has serious power; according to a 2012 ABC report, 80% of job seekers land their position through networking. It is similar to the way a fishing buddy can help steer you to the right fishing spot. Start with your professional connections, friends, family and even alumni for job leads. Reaching out to employees and hiring managers at companies you’d like to work for could result in a job. It is through these professional and personal networks that possible job openings can be discovered. When companies have exhausted their internal candidates, they will often rely on referrals from employees and job seekers they’ve met at informational meetings. In short, networking is the lifeblood of a job seeker. Many people don’t think that they have a network. Other people assume that their network doesn’t know anyone. There are also people who’ve tapped their network, but got few to no results. Without connections, finding a job becomes significantly more difficult. I discuss how to tap into these networks in my vlogs, “How Does Your Garden, uh, Network Grow?” and “Get Interviews in Your Network.”

Your personal brand:

Networking is an outlet for your personal brand, and your brand messaging should be consistent with networking as with your content. A well-crafted online presence can be thought of as a lure for job recruiters. For working professionals, LinkedIn is absolutely the best place to be. Over 97% of recruiters looked for talent on LinkedIn in 2012. It also serves as a great tool to engage with recruiters, and further research an employer. You can receive job postings along with company news through the service. The postings are a great way to become aware of opportunities and to find out who you know that could recommend you for the job. If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile recently, make sure you’re not using a default headline and that your profile doesn’t mirror your résumé. Make connections to your corporate and school alumni, if you haven’t already. You can also take your experience on LinkedIn to the next level by joining groups within your industry.

Facebook and Twitter are other platforms for your personal brand. You can cultivate your presence on these networks in order to capture the attention of employers. These are great tools for sounding off about your industry, keeping abreast of news, posting news, and following influential people within your industry. Professional blogs are also a great way to demonstrate your knowledge about your industry. Workers with a passion for their field, and those who take the initiative shine brilliantly, and stand out from the competition. Again, if your personal brand can be likened to a fishing lure for employers, bold and bright lures tend to capture attention. It’s like being the most attractive, juicy bait for your ideal catch.

Hook employers with your résumé and cover letter:

A fishing pole, lures, and other types of bait aren’t very useful without a good hook. No one wants to work hard with networking and personal branding, only to let the job get away. A well-polished résumé and cover letter can get an employer to bite. A personalized cover letter is the result of your research on a company. It stands out and makes it impossible for a hiring manager to ignore, even if the company isn’t hiring at the moment. A generic cover letter makes it much easier for a recruiter to ignore and weed out potential candidates. My vlog, “Our Cover Letter Secret Sauce” discusses how to write a customized letter. A well-tuned, well-customized letter can garner same-day responses from top executives at highly attractive employers. After all, taking the time to write a great cover letter shows an employer how passionate you are about the position, and how you could bring that same passion to the workplace.

A résumé is the deciding factor in getting that all important interview and most hiring managers only spend a few minutes looking at them. Taking the time to invest in a professionally written résumé can help you stand out from other job seekers. You are competing with hundreds of other potential candidates for the same position, and hiring managers are inundated with résumés and cover letters on a daily basis. The key is not just having a powerful, branded résumé, but getting it in front of decision makers.

You have your job skills, and you’re very good at your job. Think of landing a position at a new employer, like catching a great fish. Locating a spot where few reels are cast by others, wrestling with the fish, the excitement of pulling it into your boat and ultimately tasting the success of your hard work is a thrilling reward. Not only are you great at sustaining yourself with the job hunt, you can easily do it again the next time you’re ready to move on. New employment opportunities can bring greater financial gain, and renewed passion in your professional life, especially if you feel stagnant at your current employer. To get to the next level of your professional life, you’ll have to reel in a great employer, and you’ll need a good set of tools and the right techniques to stand out from the crowd. These techniques consist of brand management, going to where the recruiters are, and reaching out to hiring managers to ensure that they see your cover letter and résumé.

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Top 10 Corrective Actions to “Fix” Your Job Transition

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (http://bit.ly/1whbJh7) "The Fix Is In" : Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) on flickr creative commons.

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (http://bit.ly/1whbJh7) “The Fix Is In” : Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) on flickr creative commons.

The good news is that there are a lot of people out there who want to help you find a job.  The bad news is that not all of the advice out there is good.  In fact, some of it, when followed, will stand between you and the job you want and need.

There are also things that job seekers do that completely contradict the good advice that is out there.  It never ceases to amaze and alarm me that job seekers spend their time engaged in activities that do absolutely nothing to help them achieve their goals when there are so many enjoyable activities that will.

Here are the top 10 things that I have personally seen done in the last 8+ years with alarming volume and the things that can be done instead to help job seekers gain and sustain momentum in their job search.

  1. Asking people who cannot personally vouch for your performance to help you get an interview in their company

People currently in a job that they want or need will make keeping their job a priority.  They will not do anything to jeopardize their reputation or the well being of their organization.  They will, however, be sure to make recommendations that have a high chance of improving their company or make them look good.

Corrective Action: Request a new contact’s time to better understand the organization’s needs.  Inspire them to give you an introduction to the stakeholders so that you can recommend solutions, even if the solutions are other people.

  1. Inviting people you don’t know to connect on LinkedIn with no indication of why they should want to connect

Certainly, there are a lot of people out there who want to help.  Even helpful people have a limit to their time and their willingness to help strangers who may abuse the network that they have invested time in nurturing.  You DO have a lot more to offer than just filling an open position in a company.  You have a network of your own and solutions to problems.

Corrective Action: When you identify a contact who may be able to assist you, review the contact’s profile for indications of how you or your network might be able to serve him or her, such as in the recent status updates.  Then, write an invitation that requests a phone or in-person meeting to discuss how you can help each other before you join each other’s network.  Then once you do connect, use the notes field of the profile to record what you identified as that person’s needs and be proactive to follow up on them.

  1. Using a boilerplate message to invite people to LinkedIn or importing contacts

About every article or speaker that I have ever seen on the subject of LinkedIn has advised users to replace the boilerplate LinkedIn invitation. Unfortunately, almost all of LinkedIn’s screens inform you of people you can invite, or prompt you to do so, without giving you the ability to customize your message. You actually have to visit their profile and click on the CONNECT icon to have the option to customize your message.

Corrective Action: Personalize every message and be explicit as to what assistance you are seeking while offering yourself and your network to help with their initiatives.

  1. Asking a company that has extended an offer to wait for you to hear from other companies

Let’s say you were on a date and it went well and you asked for a second date for next Friday, but he or she wants to wait until next Thursday to let you know.  Now let’s say they told you that they wanted to wait until Thursday because they want to see if a hotter date is going to pan out or not.  Now let’s say you’ve been dating for months and you proposed, but your amore wants to explore his or her feelings for someone else before giving you an answer.  When you consider that a company spends weeks or months trying to find that special someone, and you usually have weeks to consider the company as a match, more time to consider an offer puts the company at risk that they might have to start the process all over again.

Corrective Action: Request 48 hours to evaluate a company’s WRITTEN offer and give them an answer in that time.

  1. Going above the hiring manager’s head to get ahead in the interview process

If you are already in consideration for a position, there are ways that you can improve your chances, but there are also ways to hurt your chances.  Trying to engage inside advocates often just creates internal conflict.  Most hiring is not done democratically.  A new person can really tip morale one way or another, so everyone has a vested interest in who gets hired, but few have the authority to do the hiring.  Keeping a company’s politics in check so that it does not affect productivity is already a tricky enough task.  Asking someone to “pull some strings” if they are not the hiring manager is a request that can put everyone in an uncomfortable position.

Corrective Action: When you identify additional contacts in an organization, ask them to help you gain additional perspective on the organization’s problems (without jeopardizing confidentiality) and discuss potential solutions.  Then you can include this insight in the WRITTEN thank you note that you send to the hiring manager and any other stakeholders who were involved in the interview process.

  1. Ask people to pass on leads for positions that match your job title

Chances are, even if you are “flexible,” you have more criteria to the job that you would accept than it just matching a job title.  Logically, it may make sense that the more general you are when you ask people to keep alerted to positions for you, the more leads you will receive.  Practically, however, your function in a company rarely cleanly matches a job title and not only will you receive job leads that you will not want to follow up on, but the people who pass them on will be discouraged and less likely to pass something on if they think you will not follow up.  Also, by the time a posted position makes it to you, it is often too late in the game to be considered.

Corrective Action: Explain to people what problems you solve, for whom, and what conversations they might hear that indicate that an introduction would be beneficial to all parties. When you do receive a lead that does not fit, but includes a contact name, follow up, be forthright and offer to help them find the right candidate.

  1. Only seeking the help of those in your field

Back to the song from Sesame Street, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?”  Think about the people who see other people all the time.  People in your field may see other people in your field, but they also might be limited to seeing people in their field that only work for their company, and once they exhaust their own company as a viable employer for you, there may be past colleagues.  According to a University of Virginia study, we are all connected by no more than seven degrees of separation.  If you are on LinkedIn, it probably surprises you how you are connected to people.  It is very visible once you put your network into a digital map.  What about the rest of your network, however?  What about your dentist, your mailman, your landscaper, the cashier at your favorite lunch spot? They also see other people all the time!

Corrective Action: Make inquiries of people who are outside of your professional realm to see who and what they know that might help you find out who has problems that you can solve.

  1. Asking other people what kind of job you should be pursuing

When you are doing a self-discovery process to determine what your next line of work will be, the input of others is sometimes helpful; it is impossible to be objective about yourself, after all.  However, no one should know more about what you want than you.  People generally have great intentions when they make suggestions, but most of their reasons will be in direct contrast to YOUR priorities.

Corrective Action: Give other people an idea of what you consider to be your strengths and what you suspect you would want to contribute to an organization.  Ask for suggestions and make a list.  Identify at least 3 people for each potential path who are willing to share with you what the challenges and rewards of that role are.  Compare these with your concerns and greatest desires.  Narrow the list down to one and design your campaign (or ask us for help).

  1. Using job market data to determine the viability of your job transition

When the Bureau of Labor and Statistics gather and disseminate information, it is comprehensive.  When the media reports it, it is simplistic and usually bleak.  If an area is “growing,” so is your competition in that area.  What is growing today may be shrinking tomorrow.  Those who survive will be the ones with the highest qualifications and passion.  Also, it is not as important to know who is NOT getting a job as it is to know who IS getting a job and why.

Corrective Action: Pursue the position that is most viable for you – the one that genuinely aligns with your talents and motivations.

  1. Spending more than 10% of your transition time on job boards

When job boards first became commonplace, they did more good than harm.  Now they are a necessary evil. Companies need to track their candidate applications and are required to keep records on what actions are taken.  That does not make job boards the best way for you to be noticed or invited for an interview. You may still have to submit your information through a company’s website to comply with their human resources procedures. You do NOT have to start there.

Corrective Action: Track the time that you spend on your transition, including social engagements, as long as you leverage them.  Adjust your weekly activity so that no more than 5% of your time is spent on job boards.  Set up agents on the aggregating sites (Indeed, Simply Hired) and check them ONLY twice a week.  Once you identify a desirable position on a job board, go straight to LinkedIn or niche recruiters to find a better way to get in front of the hiring manager.  Use the online application offered by job boards as a LAST RESORT.