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25 Mistakes Job Seekers Make Observations of a headhunter by Melissa Mirenda, Owner of Executive Search Associates
25 Mistakes Job Seekers Make
Observations of a headhunter by Melissa Mirenda Owner of Executive Search Associates
Think that a job search is like instant coffee.
One important attribute for a successful job search is patience. That does not mean sitting and waiting for things to happen. Patience means the ability to take steps in the right direction with the understanding that it may be a while before things come to fruition.
We recommend that you allow six months of serious effort for landing your next job. Obviously, the actual time needed will vary case by case, and the less robust the economy, the more time you are likely to need. Allowing enough time enables you to plan and execute your job search campaign without putting undue strain on your family or your current job. Your job search schedule might look something like this if you are currently employed: Compile a list of positive reasons for a new job Fine tune resume, supportive documents and references of previous supervisors and co-workers Build an inventory of your strengths (job-specific skills, transferrable skills and personal attributes) and accomplishments Make a chart listing people (and their contact information) who might be considered part of your job seeking network Identify potential employers you want to contact. Start contacting people in your network.
Lack sufficient financial resources for a six-month job search.
At some point you may need to seek a new job involuntarily. Part of being prepared for this possibility is to have financial resources sufficient to support you and your family for about six months. That is a reasonable period to allow for a job search. Having adequate financial resources means you will be more appealing to employers because you will be less emotionally distraught. Also, you will be less likely to accept a new job based solely on desperation.
- Develop a contingency budget and back-up plan you can live with if the need arises.
- Save with rigorous regularity until you reach the amount of savings you will need.
- Consider interim employer or part-time business.
Take unemployment instead of a job.
Lisa has just lost her job in a downsizing. In her state, she will be eligible for unemployment compensation for 26 weeks if she continues looking for work but doesn't find a new job. At first, this seems like a no-brainer, Money for not working has a certain appeal and having open-ended time to look for a new job would seem to make the task logistically easier, especially in light of the hard work involved in looking for a job as noted above. However, life is seldom that simple. The risks for Nancy are that she will have too much unstructured time, will get out of the habit of working, and will raise doubts in the mind of a prospective new employer because she has been out of work too long.
To begin with, Lisa has to realize that this has it’s downside. Seemingly free money can come with an opportunity cost attached. Lisa should ask herself these questions about a temporary job:
- Would it help boost my confidence?
- Is it possible that I will make connections that I probably wouldn't make otherwise?
- Would it be an opportunity to try a field or an industry that may have potential for the future?
- Could the temporary job grow into a permanent job?
- Would a temporary job help avoid time gaps on my resume?
- Would it do more to organize my day than to take away available job search time?
Believe that looking for a job Is just like having a job.
Many people say that looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. Life would be easier if that were actually true. Unfortunately, the need to find a new job may consume more than the proverbial 40 hours a week. While having a job means we perform our tasks within some framework of expectations, being out of work is more like being your own boss (except that you are not deriving income). It can be an open-ended activity with no obvious limit. Therefore, you may need to work "overtime" to achieve your goal. This can be disconcerting. "I am working harder for no pay than I did when I had a job," you might think.
First, realize that for the next three to six months the task of finding a good job may require many hours of work, evenings, and weekends included. Second, at the same time, you need to find a balance between job seeking and the rest of your life. Put aside time to be with your friends and family. Find some activities that give you a break psychologically when you are not pursuing that next job physically.
Fall prey to discouragement.
For most people, receiving "no interest" letters is far more common than being invited to an interview, and it is easy to become discouraged. A major complaint is getting “no response” from an application or “no feedback” from an interview. Here are some ideas for maintaining your morale throughout your job search.
Maintain your morale through your job search by: * Continuing to add irons to the fire: Applying for new jobs should be part of your weekly routine. Knowing that your resume is being reviewed by five to ten additional employers every week helps maintain morale and lessens your anxiety about any one specific employment situation. Pursuing informational interviews- These meetings tend to be encouraging and keep you actively involved with people in the field. Informational interviews can also generate job leads. Being realistic: You are likely to hear "no" more often than "yes." But you will get to "yes", just consider it “a numbers game” and don’t take it personal.
When Mary asked what Larry was doing with his job search, Larry said, "I have two interviews scheduled for the end of the month." Mary was glad for Larry, but asked, "What are you doing between now and then?" Larry answered that he was preparing for his forthcoming interviews (a vital effort in itself) but that he had stopped applying for other jobs.
Solution Having interviews on your schedule is no reason to stop searching for additional opportunities. After all, an interview is not a job offer, and you may not want to accept the job even if it is offered. Besides, knowing that you are creating more options will help you face with less anxiety the interviews you have scheduled. Most job seekers feel like they are putting forth more effort than reality. Conversations on the phone and meetings with hiring managers are the ‘real’ measure of productivity- not sending blind resumes out on the Internet.
Not know how to Identify potential employers
Tom has a great resume and cover letter, supporting references and documents. If he doesn't know how to identify potential employers, these documents will be all dressed up but have nowhere to go.
There are a multitude of sources to identify potential employers:
Use online job search websites
Numerous websites post job opportunities online. One of the most complete directories of such sires is AIRS: www.airsdirectory.com/jobboards. Some additional popular sites include:
- Use a search engine (even when you are clueless) When you don't have a particular website to check out, or want to explore sites other than those listed above, use a search engine such as Google, Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, Lycos, MSN, HotBot, and others.
Explore links to other websites
One benefit of using a search engine is uncovering links to other sources which may be of interest to you. For example, let's take a hypothetical company and call it Flashco, a maker of flashing lights for railroad crossings. The same screen that identifies Flashco may identify URLs for related topics such as Flashco's competitors, railroads and major manufacturers of lights.
Check a prospective employer's website
Many companies, including small ones, have a website. It is a convenient way to present potential customers and investors with important information about the company. In many cases, they also post employment opportunities. Once you have connected to a company's website, look for a link that says something like "Employment Opportunities" or "Careers at [name of company)" and double-click. Determine if you are interested in any of the opportunities indicated, and if so, note how the company suggests you respond.
Continue to utilize conventional sources
Remember that computer resources are not the only tool to use. Conventional, non-computer sources are still valuable. Let's look at a few of them. Chambers of Commerce: Most communities have a local chamber of commerce that fosters business interests in that area. A chamber is a great place to obtain a list of local employers. Often such a list even indicates size and industry of the employer. Thus, a microbiologist could ferret out the names of potential employers by seeking companies that might be doing work in microbiology. Another individual might use the list to prod his/her thinking about a potential industry to enter.
Here is a sample letter utilizing this strategy:
1776 Heritage Drive
Jenkintown. PA 19075
March 25. 2004
Mr. Harry Fine
Director of Marketing Incongruous Products. Inc.
1643 Central Ave.
Havertown. PA 19067
Dear Mr. Fine:
The story in today's Havertown Herald about Incongruous Products. Inc. was really impressive. I was especially struck by your statement that growth in the sale of ice cubes to Arctic Circle residents has been phenomenal. My own professional experience includes marketing products to seemingly incongruous customers. For example, I established an outlet for snow shovels in Key West, Florida, and a mail order business in beef patties for vegetarians. The annual revenue is $1.5 million and $24 million respectively. Perhaps we could discuss a marketing role for me at Incongruous Products, Inc. My resume is enclosed. I will call you next week to see when a meeting can be arranged. Sincerely,
Note: The details of this letter (e.g, ice cubes. snow shovels. beef patties) are obviously intended to add a light moment to your reading of this chapter.
- The Million Dollar Directory (Standard & Poors)
- Hoover’s Handbook of American Business (Hoovers)
Your reference librarian can help you find additional books that are in your local library.
Ignore small companies.
Smart fishermen go where the fish are. Yet many people overlook small companies, even though that's where the jobs are. According to the Small Business Administration, companies with fewer than 500 employees employ about 55 million workers. As a subset of that, companies with fewer than 100 employers employ about 40 million people. Using either measure, small businesses account for about half of the total employment in the United States. Yet many people ignore these businesses or hold them in disdain.
Become familiar with the potential disadvantages and advantages offered by small companies, so that you can access that job market better.
Potential disadvantages include:
- Lack of name recognition. Small companies may not have a high profile, especially outside of their local area. Therefore, you may be less likely to search out their website or recognize their name from an Internet job board. Small companies may require more effort to find. On the other hand, they are likely to attract fewer job applicants with whom you will be competing.
- Lack of diversity. Many small businesses appear to have a lack of demographic diversity. However, that may reflect their geography rather the anti-minority or anti-female culture. Don't assume that a company is a desirable place to work simply because only a few of the group with which you identify strongly are presently found among the employees. In fact, you may want to be the trailblazer for others in your affinity group. Plus it is easier to talk to the owner, President or CEO of a small company.
Use ineffective methods while looking for a job
Job hunters tend to think that it’s their fault when traditional job-search methods don’t work for them. In reality, however, their lack of results has nothing to do with their skills or qualifications, and everything to do with a system that doesn’t work anymore.
Believe that submitting resumes online works Thanks to the Internet frenzy and the ease of submitting resumes online, more than 92 percent of recruiters and hiring managers polled in a recent survey say that they are deluged with irrelevant responses to job postings. Seventy-one percent say most of the resumes they receive fail to match their job descriptions, making it nearly impossible to find great candidates who get lost in the flood of paper.
The good news is that there is a way to get a great job. It isn't easy, and it isn't fun. It will be embarrassing and sometimes humiliating. It will test your courage and your persistence. But statistics say it will work.
The solution is to job-hunt using the method that recruiting professionals use. When recruiters want to secure new business with corporate clients, they directly call the companies they're targeting. You can employ the same concept by directly calling hiring managers and other key hiring contacts.
Why subject yourself to an approach that's challenging and stressful, when you could just post resumes and wait for a call? Because, unlike traditional methods of job-hunting, direct calling works astonishingly well. It works better, in fact, than any other job-hunting technique. And that's not just opinion, but a fact based on scientific research.
Direct calling is the technique that recruiters build their entire careers around, and it's growing in popularity among savvy job seekers as well. A 2002 survey by a New York career-counseling group found that direct calls result in a far greater number of interviews per job-hunting hour than networking does, and polls of successful job seekers consistently show that on average 35 percent got their jobs by directly contacting the company or the hiring manager.
Go directly to the Human Resources department
Confession from a hiring manager:
When I worked as a hiring manager, I never asked Human Resources to find candidates for me. I found them myself, because I knew the kind of people I wanted, the skills I needed, and the "chemistry" of the teams I managed. In addition, I knew that at the end of the day, I-not the HR staff-would be held accountable for my success or failure. It made far more sense for me to find promising candidates on my own than to have an HR staff, with only secondhand knowledge of my project, try to guess at the type of employee I needed. And I wasn't the only manager who felt that way; a high percentage of the managers with whom I've worked prefer to take recruiting decisions into their own hands . We're all taught that the right way to get a foot in the door of a company is to go through the HR department. However, there's no rulebook that says that candidates must be sourced by the HR staff. Many of the best candidates are people who show the initiative and drive to contact a manager directly. Human resources can facilitate the hiring of employees after a manager sources them, but thousands of managers, at both large and small companies, find candidates themselves. Solution- Go directly to the hiring manager or the top person in the department you want to work for. It's these managers who hold the key to the huge majority of jobs that aren't publicly advertised. These men and women are busy people who want to hire quickly and efficiently when the need arises, and nearly every one of them keeps a file of potential candidates-not the stack of resumes that's piling up in the HR department, but their own file of personal contacts, including candidates who call them directly. Eighty percent of the time, they'll hire someone whose name is in that file. It's your job to get your name on that list, by transforming yourself from a stranger to a desirable candidate. And the quickest way to do that is by direct calling.
Believe networking is like direct calling
Networking is the process of contacting people you already know: friends, former colleagues, neighbors, and anyone else who might have a job lead. Of all the traditional job-hunting techniques, networking is the most effective. However, networking doesn't work like it used to. That's particularly true if you're in an industry that's undergoing rapid change and restructuring. You'll probably find that many of your previous firms are out of business, that you no longer have contact numbers for many former colleagues, and that the colleagues you can track down are looking for new jobs themselves.
Make direct calling your priority in a job search.
Direct calling, in contrast to networking, means calling people you've never met. The people you'll be contacting are strangers, but they are known quantities in two important ways: they work at companies you're interested in, and they are the key players in the hiring process. Thus, they're infinitely more valuable, from a job-seeking point of view, than your network of known contacts.
Believe that all job openings are posted on company websites or advertised Many times the best jobs are not posted and many other positions aren't advertised on job boards until weeks after a decision is made to hire. If you reach a hiring manager or another key contact in a company before a job is publicly advertised, you won't be competing with hundreds of people for a position. Instead, you'll be one of only a handful of people in the early running-or possibly even the only candidate. That gives you a huge edge over people sending in resumes, especially since up to 50 percent of job openings are filled before they’re officially posted.
Ask the hiring manager if they have any current openings or if there are any in the near future. If there are not any immediate openings ask who they know who is hiring- or if they know someone who you can network with. Ask for referrals during every conversation.
Assuming that hiring managers will not want to talk with you
Ask for a minute of their time and go into your elevator pitch (15 seconds). Some hiring managers have no problem saying “Not Interested!” and hanging up in your ear, but most people are innately curious and it’s hard for them to brush off a well-informed, respectful and courteous caller- even if it’s a stranger. Instead, they will frequently decide to give you a few minutes.
Assume the search firm will work with any job seeker .
The executive search firm is not your butler taking your laundry to the dry cleaner. Much to the contrary, the search firm has to use its fnlcwell and must decide which job seekers are worth taking the time.
You can send your cover letter and resume via email and then follow up by telephone. One advantage of email is that it is an easier method for responding to you, even if the message is simply to recommend another firm that is more likely to be helpful to you.
Think the executive search firm will find you a job. A good search firm will do what they can to connect you to good interviews. Be sure you ask the recruiter for advice. Recognize that 98% of job applicants cannot be helped immediately.
Solution Don’t neglect your own networking and outreach efforts. Ask the firm if they object to your pursuing connections with other search firms. Be polite and concise. You could ask what searches they are working on and give them referrals. Offer to send a resume for their files.
Take advantage of the firm's contacts on your own.
After Myrna was told that the firm was trying to arrange an interview for her with a large bank, she contacted the line manager at the bank on her own. It is both unethical and unwise to do that. Myrna abused her relationship with the search firm and also blew the interview opportunity. Why? The bank lost interest in a person who didn't behave in a straightforward manner from the very beginning of the potential relationship, and the recruiter lost interest in this candidate for future searches.
Deal with the firm in an honest and straightforward way, keeping your dealings above board.
Forget to follow up after the interview.
Getting an interview through the services of an executive recruiter doesn't mean they will follow-up afterward.
You should still send a thank-you letter to vour interviewer(s) after the interview. It is important that you also contact your executive recruiter and let him/her know what transpired. Don’t make your executive recruiter chase after you. It could lose you an important ally in your job search.
Neglect to achieve name recognition in your field.
Imagine yourself as a person who is well known and well respected in your field. Wouldn't that make your job search easier? Of course it would. Consider these advantages.
- Networking. When you reach out to people in the field whom you don't know personally, it is more likely that they will agree to help you because people love to connect with those having an established reputation. Besides, people with recognized names are more likely to be viewed as acquaintances than as strangers.
- Headhunters. Executive recruiters are more likely to find you because your name will surface when they do a keyword search on Google or another large search engine.
- Referral to hiring managers. Corporate human resource professionals will feel more confident showing your resume to a hiring manager if you are perceived as something of a known or at least credible entity.
How do you establish your reputation? You don’t need a Harvard MBA or to appear on a TV financial news program. Speak at professional events, such as trade association conventions, or write articles for professional and trade publications. The Internet is all about content, so websites are always looking for articles to keep their readers coming back. The fastest way to get your name out on the Internet is to get involved in discussion forums. Discussion forums are easy to participate in and many organizations have them. Check them daily and share your wisdom and knowledge. Before you know it, you'll be known as a respected source to audiences relevant to your professional interests. Your name will start to surface in Internet searches and some people in your field will know of you from personal experience. For job-seeking purposes, you become something of a known entity instead of a completely unfamiliar name.
Consider engaging a public relations or marketing consultant.
In job-seeking terms, a network is that group of people who may be willing to help you in your job search for personal, professional, or purely altruistic reasons, The people in your network are those who can give you advice, insights and perhaps leads to specific job opportunities. There are several mistakes job seekers make when networking:
- Avoid approaching friends and family because of a misplaced sense of embarrassment or not wanting to mix personal and professional aspects of life. People like to help other people. Besides, someday you may be able to return the favor. The rich and the powerful aren't embarrassed to ask for help. Why should you be?
- Neglect building a professional network before they need it.
- Fail to relate well to people in their network. Solution
- Define your personal network broadly. Your network should include not only friends, family and neighbors, but also family of friends and friends of family, etc. In terms of your personal network, include not only your nuclear family but also aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws and step- relations. In fact, you may also include people outside of your family with whom you have a close relationship, such as your pastor, physician, attorney, accountant or financial advisor.
- Build your professional network before you have need of it. That means building positive relationships with everyone you meet through your job and retaining their contact information where you can get to it.
Ask poor or inappropriate questions.
When employers evaluate you as a job candidate, your questions to the interviewer are a major consideration. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this and thus ask poorly conceived questions, or even none at all.
Just how important are your questions in the employer's evaluation of you as a job candidate? A few years ago, employers across the United States were surveyed. Over half of the responding employers said that your questions...are as important as your answers to their questions. Most of the remaining employers said that your questions are less important, but still significant. A few said your questions are actually more important.
Usually, five or ten minutes prior to the end of the interview, the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Your questions reveal a lot about you. For example:
- How seriously you are thinking about the pragmatics of the job, and how well you understand what the job is about. What an interviewer might look for:
- What is important to you, and what your expectations are.
- Your ability to connect general situations to that company's specific reality.
- How much research you did on the company.
- Your degree of common sense and intellectual curiosity.
- Your energy level, communication skills and ability to connect.
- How well prepared you are (or would be in the future) for a business meeting. * Your level of maturity (especially if you are a recent college graduate).
Thus, your questions need to present you in the most favorable light.
Make sure that you care about the topic/industry/company, you have done your homework utilizing newspapers/magazines/library/Internet and you have specific, authentic questions.
Talk about your weaknesses.
At some point in the interview you may be asked to identify some of your weaknesses. Since we are all human, we all have them. However there is no way you can win points in your favor by reciting a long list of shortcomings. On the other hand, denying that you have weaknesses would destroy your credibility, and citing your Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination would lead people to think that you have something to hide. Therefore, the best you can do is to neutralize the issue.
There are three possible approaches you can take.
- The classic: Refer to a "weakness" that is really a strength. An example would be your determination to complete all your assignments by or before the deadline. Sometimes the interviewer will follow up and ask for another weakness. Then you could use the minimizer or the open counter.
- The minimizer: Pick an attribute that is not essential to the job being djscussed. For example, you might say "Although I am very comfortable using computers, I would not do well as a programmer."
- The open counter: Remember that you want to address the question and should always try to avoid an argument. You can express your openness to addressing any weaknesses of concern to the interviewer, but ask if he or she could specify what potential weakness they would like you to discuss.
Engage in puffery and lying.
Stick with the facts and let them speak for you. "Last year; out of a district with 23 managers, I was the number one sales manager in terms of generating profit" is an impressive statement. "I am the best manager in the entire district" is not. The difference is that the first statement is factual while the second is an opinion. Solution
Don’t exaggerate, let alone lie. If you were the number three sales manager; don't claim to have been number one or two. Everybody insists upon a candidate who is honest. Give facts and figures to support your claims. Quantifiable data can be brought to the interview to present in 1-2 sheets of performance documentation.
Give rambling answers.
You may have heard the story about the fellow who was asked, "What time is it?" and responded with a long discourse on the history of time keeping and its significance for western civilization. That type of rambling answer may be fatal to your job chances because it tests the listener's patience and doesn't actually answer the question he/she asked.
Here are strategies to avoid rambling:
- Pause. No one expects you to respond to a question in real time as though you were a computer. Part of your value to the employer is your ability to think before, rather than after, speaking. So, take a moment to collect your thoughts before responding to a question. If you need more than a few seconds, you could say, "That is an interesting question. Let me think about that for a moment." The very act of pausing may help you convey the impression of being a thoughtful person, and that can't hurt. There are some additional advantages. First, your pause is helpful to the interviewer because it gives him/her a chance to switch from speaking mode to listening mode. Second, your pause will stop you from annoying the interviewer by interrupting her/him. Third, you are more likely to convey sincerity and less likely to appear pre:programmed.
- Answer concisely. Give the short version unless prompted for the story. For example- “Why did you leave your last employer?”
- Ask if in doubt. One reason people ramble is that they try to force too much content into a single answer. Think in terms of an answer that consists of a few sentences, not a paragraph or two. If you are not sure that you have answered the question completely, you can always ask the interviewer, "Would you like me to tell you more about that?"
Fail to answer the question.
Some people say a lot when measured by word count, but convey little that is relevant. This is because they haven't answered the question that was asked.
Two pointers will help you avoid that mistake: First, know how to listen. Only by listening carefully to the question is it possible to give a responsive answer. In particular, listen to the intent of the question. What is it that the interviewer really wants to know? Here is a short parable that may be helpful:
BEST and WORST Ways to Find a Job I loved to research, investigate, indulge my curiosity, find out what is true, and expose falsehoods. I investigated many things. And somewhere along the way, I discovered, with some astonishment, that one of the most thoroughly studied subjects in all of human activity, was and is the job-hunt. We know many, many things about the whole process of job-hunting. Let me give you an example. There are millions of vacancies out there. How many different ways to find them do you suppose there are? It turns out the answer is: 16. In a nutshell they are:
- Mailing out resumes.
- Answering local "want-ads" (in newspapers).
- Going to the state /federal unemployment service.
- Going to private employment agencies.
- Using the Internet, either to post your resume or to look for employers' "job- postings," on the employer's own website or elsewhere (Indeed, Monster, Career Builder, Yahoo/Hot Jobs, etc, etc.).
- Asking friends, family, or people in the community for job-leads.
- Asking a former professor or teacher for job-leads, or career / alumni services at schools that you attended (high school, trade schools, online schools, community college, college, or university).
- Knocking on doors: of any employer, factory, or office that interests you, whether they are known to have a vacancy or not.
- Using the phone book's yellow pages, to identify subjects, fields, or interests that you have-that are located in the city or town where you are, or want to be.
- Joining or forming “a job club."
- Doing a thorough self-inventory of the transferable skills and interests that you most enjoy, so that you can define in stunning detail exactly the job(s) you would most like to have.
- Going to places where employers pick up workers: well-known street corners in your town, or union halls, etc.
- Taking a civil service exam.
- Looking at professional journals in your profession or field, and answering ads there.
- Going to temp agencies (agencies that get you short-term temporary work in places that need your skills, short-term) and letting them place you, again and again, until some place says, "Could you stay on, permanently?" 16. Volunteering to work for free, short-term, at a place that interests you, whether or not they have a known vacancy.
Researchers discovered, some years ago, that while a typical job-hunt lasted around fifteen to nineteen weeks, depending on the economy, one-third to one- half of all job-hunters simply give up by the second month of their job-hunt. Why? It turns out, the answer is related to how many job-hunting methods a job- hunter was using. In a study of 100 job-hunters who were using only one method to hunt for a job, typically 51 abandoned their search by the second month. That's more than one-half of them. On the other hand, of 100 job-hunters who were using several different ways of hunting for a job, typically only 31 of them abandoned their search by the second month. That's less than one-third of them. You might conclude from this, that the more job-hunting methods you use in looking for a job, the more successful you will be. But, not so fast!