Stars
The Myths and Realities of a Job Search
by
David Taylor

Having been through three major job searches in my life, I'd like to share with you some valuable lessons learned along the way--usually the hard way.

Lesson #1 is the prevalence of myths and misinformation that can cost you time, money, and maybe even the job you were qualified for. Many books (because of the time lag in publishing) provide more than their share of wrong and, in some cases, outdated advice. Let me warn you of some common myths that contradict reality. I'll also make some comments along the way about what I found that works and what doesn't.


"Get Job Tips and Introductions to Employers from Friends"
What this advice is referring to is most often called "networking" and "personal referrals." Networking is the single most productive way of finding a job. It is estimated that only 10% of all available jobs are ever advertised. But there's a right way and a wrong way to go about networking.

Unfortunately, one myth describes the wrong way: "Tell everyone you know that you're looking for a job." Besides being potentially embarrassing to others and an imposition on friends, acquaintances and even family, this strategy can also make you seem desperate. If an employer catches a whiff of desperate, you could lose the opportunity. By all means, activate your network: those people (including family and friends) who are plugged into you, your career, and the industries you are considering. But a blanket all-points-bulletin for help? Most experts don't consider this the right way to go about networking.

What is the right way to network? Besides your current professional contacts, one important technique is called the "informational interview." With this technique you identify the known leaders of your field and attempt to get a few minutes of their time to interview them. In your case in the social sciences, you find the name and contact info of leaders of professional groups, government agencies, well-known advocates and authors. You are not looking for a job; you are looking for information about the latest trends, problems, or legislation that affects this field. Your goal is to seek the most up-to-date and expert insights you can about this field as you prepare your job search documents and prepare yourself for job interviews.  Professional organizations, dedicated to helping its members, are a fertile place to find leaders with recognizable names.

The best that can happen is that this recognized authority gives you great insights and, if you're lucky, passes along your information to employment decision makers. The worst that can happen is that you get some good information that positions you at the forefront of the state of your profession and gives you the chance in an interview to say things like, "I was talking last week with Dr. Horace Abel, executive director of the National Council of Gerontologists, and he agrees that distance education presents both challenges and opportunities for today's continuing education programs." Naturally, the interviewer is going to be mightily impressed that you had a conversation with Dr. Abel.

Whom do you contact for these informational tête-à-têtes? The leaders of the professional organizations affiliated with your career and the leaders of the top companies in your field, preferably anyone whose job title ends in "O"--CEO, CFO, CTO, etc. Don't forget members of the company's executive board who don't necessarily work at the company but may govern it.

Certainly, you should network with colleagues in your field. But the APB to family and friends is networking at its worst.


"Errors in Seach Documents Can 'Kill' You"
This is a point that I totally agree with and which cannot be overstated (did you catch the typo in the heading for this section?). In one phone interview for a position, I was told point blank that they were "most impressed by the presentation" of my job search documents. Not my experience. Not publications. Not education. It was the look of my documents set--letters, resume and other supporting documents--that stood out and helped me get ahead of the competition.

That's why I give you this advice:


"Keep it to one page"
It's hard to believe that anyone is still giving this advice these days. But it's still out there. What I found out: There are times when a one-pager is appropriate and possibly even requested, but there are also times when a 13-pager is also appropriate. On an initial contact (cover letter and resume), you've only got one chance to make the sale. So a better piece of advice would be to "Make your resume the length/format requested and the length/format that will most likely get you a callback or an interview for that particular job and that particular company." Often that is a one-pager.

I have resumes that range in length from one page to 13, resumes for different kinds of positions and even different kinds of universities (non-profit vs. for-profit) that I applied to. Whatever serves you best is a much better rule.


"Highlight crucial elements"
This wouldn't be a bad piece of advice if it also included what are the best crucial elements to highlight. I assure you, your address and your education are not crucial elements unless you are applying for a job in education (I was) or for a job with specific geographic requirements. Again, Whatever serves you best.

Remember that recruiters are looking for evidence that you will bring value to their company. Whatever best demonstrates your value as a candidate for the particular job you are seeking is what should be highlighted. Another piece of advice that I learned from my pro:

A narrative resume that describes in detail the times you have solved actual problems can often be more effective than a dry list of degrees, dates of employment, and your professional affiliations. Using those lists as your highlights makes you run the risk of looking and sounding very much like everyone else.


Internet Job Boards--Sorry
Maybe they worked when they first started out, but today Monster.com, FlipDog.com, HotJobs.com and the rest of the mega-boards have embarrassing placement rates. The highest is Monster's at a pathetic 3 percent. Unless you just have a lot of time to kill or you are in a very hot profession with a high demand, the mega-boards (IMHO) are a monstrous waste of time.

What happened? They got too big. A posting gets too many responses, overwhelming an overworked HR staff who simply cannot deal with so many responses, many of whom are job seekers throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something will stick. What's really happening is a great big mess that many companies are walking away from or using merely to get people to their corporate web site and job application tools.

The good news: There are still plenty of job boards that work very well. National employment firms who specialize in just a few areas (IT, finance, etc.) and work with a limited number of companies, have their own job boards. Most of the large national and international companies have their own job boards complete with personal search agents that automatically notify you of openings. Major metropolitan newspapers have job boards for that geographic area. Professional organizations have "backdoor" job boards. Many professions have specialized job boards. For example, in higher education, you need to register and get a search agent at only two boards: higheredjobs.com and chroniclecareers.com. In publishing, it's mediabistro.com. And so on.

Bottom line: the mega-boards have become victims of the explosion of the Internet. And many companies use them for purposes other than finding a specific candidate.


A Buffet of Advice
One faux pas to avoid when writing your documents is one that many current/former military and technical job holders can benefit from: "avoid stiff or jargonized language."

There is also the benefit of multiple communications with possible job prospects, especially touches of manners like follow-up letters and sincere expressions of interest. Also, when following up: It can be really helpful to include additional documentation of your qualifications. Never miss a chance to communicate with a prospective employer. The more you can stay in touch, the more real you become for them. Hiring is like making a large personal purchase: you need an emotional comfort level with those you're dealing with. Your goal is to make them comfortable with you so that you are seen as a good fit. That best happens the more they can get to know you.

In an interview, avoid as much as possible talking about how you did things or even what you did at your former or present place of employment--unless specifically asked. Remember the radio station that plays 24 hours in all of our heads: WRIT-FM, call letters for "What's Really In It For Me."

That means in virtually every answer you give, somehow turn your response into a way of making clear the benefits you will be bringing to that job and that company. Keep your responses, as much as possible, within the interviewer's framework and context: their company, their needs and how you can meet those needs in a way that will delight them and add to their success.


5 Biggest Job Applicant Mistakes
According to a recent survey of recruiting experts by Diversity Inc., here are the five biggest mistakes job applicants make and how not to make them:
  1. Not researching the company before the interview.
    Thorough research will reveal what positions are available and what type of employee the company wants. Network with people already working at the company; call professional organizations the company is associated with, and ask people you know who work at the company about their experience.

  2. Inability to articulate needs and desires.
    Companies are hiring because they either need to solve problems or have opportunities that require more employees, which is why the best applicants are those who can articulate how their experience is best for the particular position.

  3. Being unprofessional in the interview.
    Applicants often commit faux pas that can be excused among friends but that make them less desirable to recruiters. Examples of unprofessional actions include: bringing food to an interview, sharing personal information not relative to the job, and speaking ill of a former employer.

  4. Demonstrating poor communication skills.
    Be prepared to talk with confidence and expertise about who you are and why you're the best fit. Practice the basics of communication before going to the interview, listening and responding and not talking over the other person. At the same time don't be dull or fear showing enthusiasm.

  5. Not keeping the personal to yourself.
    Don't put your social-network identification on your resume or mention it in the interview. Make sure your voice mail message reflects a professional attitude. Use an email address with your name before the @ sign, from a professional email address provider.