The Myths and Realities of a Job Search
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
Lesson #1 is the prevalence of myths and
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some cases, outdated advice.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
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
It was the look of my documents set--letters, resume and other
supporting documents--that stood out and helped me get ahead of the
That's why I give you this advice:
- Hire a pro.
You're talking a modest amount of money when you consider what is at
stake. It is also money that will be paid back many times over when you
get the best job you are qualified for. I'm a professional writer and
editor. But I hired a professional career coach,
which I am not, to help me.
And please do not confuse a legitimate career coach with one of the
newest scams in this field: the career marketing firm. The difference?
A career coach is a single person, certified as a career counselor and
a resume writer, who works one-one-one with you to achieve quantifiable
goals. Cost varies according to the services you select from the menu:
$250 to $2000. A marketing firm wants $6000 to $20,000 dollars and
puts you on a cookie-cutter assembly line. Once you pay, they're very
hard to get a hold of. Investigate the firm before you pay anything to
anyone. There are scam artists out there. Unsolicited
endorsement: I have worked with
The Phoenix Career Group, and so have my friends and former
students. We all feel we got a lot more than our money's worth.
- Don't stop with
the first two.
You need more than just a cover
letter and a resume. You need follow-up thank-you letters, job-cincher
letters, statements of philosophy, and more. Don't skimp on these. Make
them the best. The competition in most professions is fierce right now
and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Today's current phrase
among recruiters is "100% fit." In other words, they fully expect to
have their pick of applicants who fit every one of their criteria and
feel that they do not have to settle for anything less. You owe it to
invest in a complete set of job search documents to give you an edge.
If you hired the right job coach, you will be provided a set of
documents that you can easily customize on your computer for specific
companies and jobs. Read a job description carefully and customize your
application letter and resume accordingly. Employment folks at
companies are no different than any other shopper: They want the best
value for their money. They want to know how you will add value to
their company and their staff. That's all they want to know. You must show them how you
will do that by customizing your documents for the requirements of that
specific position at that specific company or agency. Remember, recruiters today
are looking for 100% fit--at a minimum.
- Make it
scannable. This means several things today.
First, one style of resume writing has you put your skills and other
features in list format at the top of the resume so that HR folks can
give it a quick scan. If your document is not scannable and requires
reading, it is likely to get tossed, or so goes this theory. I think
this is probably true in some circumstances, especially when a company
has advertised on one of the Internet job boards and received,
literally, thousands of applications. More about the Internet job
boards in a moment.
"Scannable" can also means a resume done with a program such as
Notepad, SimpleText, or other ASCII-based text tool so that it can be
scanned into a database. Thus the resume should not contain any fancy
indentions and include only letters, numbers and symbols that can be produced on a keyboard
without using the Control or Alt keys.
Finally, a "scannable" resume is also one that uses the
techniques of formatting that are common in business writing today:
Short paragraphs, headings and subheadings, lists and boxes to
break up the page into digestible chunks that can be scanned and
skimmed instead of having to be read word-for-word, which is
increasingly considered an unpleasant chore these days.
"Keep it to one
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.
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.
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
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
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.