By: Alan Davis
Some Serious Advice for Job Seekers from the Other Side of the Interview Desk
When I first got into the recruiting business, being out of work had a certain stigma attached to it. These days however, with all the re-structuring and global economic shifts that have taken place over the last two decades, many people have found themselves out of work.
As a recruiting professional, I have been called upon countless times to help people who are on the job market. I find myself repeating the same advice but with different spins, to different people. I therefore thought it might be useful to write it all down, so that everyone could benefit in the way which is most useful to them.
Finding your next job essentially comes down to identifying and engaging your next boss. It is nothing more than a marketing exercise, yet many people have had no training in marketing. Consequently, packaging and marketing themselves is a foreign concept. The following paragraphs are aimed to de- mystify some of these concepts and to turn job seekers in to awesome marketing machines – with themselves as the product.
Step 1 – Getting Organized
Those people who get outplacement help (often called Career Transition programs), are routinely given an office to work from as well as a group of advisers to help with analysis and motivation. Many others are not as fortunate and have to do it themselves, unassisted.
So, the first thing to do, is to get into the mindset that identifying your next boss is a job in itself, and has to be treated as such in order that you will be successful at it.
Set yourself up with a neat, tidy, quiet and well- lit office at home. You don’t necessarily need to take over a room of the house or apartment, but you do need to establish a “defensible space” that is yours and is not to be disturbed by other members of the family.
Get yourself some business cards printed; it’s not expensive and it’s amazing how useful they can be. Make sure that the telephone number on the business card has voice mail and is not answered by your disengaged teenaged son who is playing loud, profanity-laden hip hop music in the background and whose message you may or may not receive. This is not exactly the image you want to leave. If you decide to use your cell phone as the principal means of communication, be prepared not to answer it, if you truly cannot speak freely in the environment that you are in. It’s better to have voice mail take over than to try and have a career related discussion on the subway or in a crowded restaurant, surrounded by strangers.
Keeping a task list is also a good idea. Also, a contact management software program will help you manage your follow- ups in a timely way and the notes option will give you a place to record your conversations and your actions.
Keep impeccable records. Finding a job can take months and if you don’t keep a record of who you are contacting, you could appear to be an imbecile to somebody who calls you back for an interview 3 months after you’ve contacted them, but you can’t remember who they are.
Getting laid off doesn’t happen too often to most people during the course of their careers. It can be a horribly shocking experience even to those people who reorganized themselves out of a job. In other words, even to those who saw it coming form afar. It immediately takes you out of a routine that you have been following for years. Getting up at a certain time, getting ready for work, working the proverbial 9-5 (or in many cases much longer), and then coming home. You have to establish a new routine to replace the old one, and you need to stick to it. The candidates in my experience who get the best jobs the quickest after a lay-off, are those who apply energy and enthusiasm into the job search, i.e. those who take it the most seriously are those who get to success first. Success may not mean landing the ideal job in a short time frame and the sooner you realize that you may have to shift directions in your career and to re-orientate your aspirations, the better.
Always keep in mind that you have acquired skills, competencies, and experience over the course of your career and that this makes you valuable to your next boss.
Remember that the majority of your skills are transferable to other roles, other jobs, and other industries. The challenge is to find who your next boss is going to be and how to place your value proposition in front of him or her. Imagine that you were “your next boss” and somebody came along with exactly the skills and attributes that you have been looking for, for some time. Talk about a “make my day” situation. In other words, never lose sight of the fact that you are a valuable commodity to someone somewhere. Be ready to accept that identifying and engaging “your next boss” could take time, but you can go to bed every night in the satisfaction that you are in the process of designing and implementing a logical and organized search that is designed to lead you to where you need to be.
Lastly, be ready to accept rejection. In this marketing scenario, it’s inevitable, so get used to it. This is a brutal, but true reality. If people don’t call you back, don’t take it personally. It’s either because they are too busy, or they simply have nothing to say to you. This is the reality of the job search and the sooner you get used to it, the better you’ll be able to handle it.
Step 2 – The Analysis
There are many books on the subject of job search, but my all-time favorite is “What Color is your Parachute” by Richard Bolles. One of the reasons I like this book so much is that it teaches you to conduct a structured analysis on every aspect of the job search process. There are many others.
The first step is to analyze yourself, your experience, and your aspirations. This is before you start to analyze the direction that your job search is going to take you in.
Before you start to apply for positions, or to approach potential employers, you need to have established in your own mind, the type of work that you really want to do.
There are also tools available on the internet to help you match your skills, competencies and aspirations with real jobs. For many people, the next job will look
very similar to the last job, but for others, some compromises in terms of the next job may have to be made for very good reasons.
Once you have analyzed the type of job you want (and there may be several), you have to analyze where these jobs exist. This can be done by surfing the job boards.
There is also a government of Canada website which lists standard job descriptions. It can be accessed at www.labourmarketinformation.ca. So, you have to make the decision in which geographic area you intend to start your job search. This can be done in phases and in fact it should not all be done at the same time, because the amount of work involved is simply too great.
To help work out your priority of jobs, think of a pyramid cut into several horizontal layers. The top layer represents a similar job in a similar industry to the one you have just left. The next layer represents a compromise either in the form of the industry, the job, or the location. The third layer represents broader compromises and so on.
For example, if your last job was a VP in big pharma, the top layer of the pyramid would be a similar role in other big pharma companies. The second tier could represent a similar role, but in the biotech industry. The third layer could represent a similar role in a clinical research organization or a research lab. The fourth tier could represent a somewhat similar role in venture capital companies who service the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
Consult with your family, friends and colleagues that you are close to, to get their input into some of these decisions and strategies. Not only will you find it helpful, it will also be beneficial to you in terms of keeping up business level face-to-face contact. You will be amazed at how helpful people will be in your quest to get reemployed.
Many of the people you will be consulting with, will have been in the same situation as you at some point during their careers.
Remember to document all of your analysis and all of your thoughts and keep in mind that if it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. This will force you into a rigorous self discipline, so that you can track your own progress against a path that you have designed.
Step 3 – Bring out the Marketeer in you
The basic concept of marketing comes down to developing the product that the market demands and presenting it at the appropriate price, so that somebody will buy it. That somebody is “your next boss”.
Before addressing the aspects of finding your next boss, you must establish what the product is and how it should be packaged. The analysis that you did in Step 2 will help you decide what the package should look like.
In the context of job search, the “packaging” is the resume. Again, there are many books and articles available on how to put together a good resume. You can refer to 2 articles in our Recruiting Best Practice Series entitled “Resume Secrets” and “What Not to put in you Resume”. By visiting the link
I do not believe that the one resume fits all scenario is a good one. You must never lie on your resume, neither should you exaggerate any of your accomplishments, but you can emphasize certain aspects of your career and your achievements depending on who you are sending the resume to or what specific job you are applying for. The analysis that you did in Step 2 should help you determine which companies, in which geographies you are going to send your resume to, and in which order.
The cover letter can be as important as the resume but you have to imagine that you are the recruiter and that you are on the receiving end of potentially hundreds of cover letters and resumes on a daily basis. What would you be looking for? I know what I’m looking for as a recruiter, which is precision, and clarity. The purpose of the cover letter is nothing more than to tell the recruiter which position you are looking for. I can’t tell you how many lengthy cover letters I have not had the time to read. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to sell themselves in the cover letter, which becomes in the recruiter’s eyes, nothing more than clutter. The purpose of the cover letter is not to duplicate what’s on the resume. One sentence summarizing why you think you are a good candidate, is enough. If the resume is as good as it can be, it will make the recruiter’s job in doing a pre-selection, much easier. So do the recruiter and yourself a favor by presenting your candidacy in as clear and concise a way as possible. Believe me, it will help make a favorable impression on the recruiter. The time to sell yourself is at the interview and we’ll get to that later on in this series of articles. The worst thing you can do is to try and sell yourself in a cover letter. It can make you sound boastful and certainly complicates the life of the person that you are actually trying to impress.
Marketing yourself is the same as marketing any other product or services. You need to implement a multi- faceted marketing campaign, the aim of which is to get maximum exposure to “your next boss”.
Marketing is, by its very nature, an aggressive act. So when you are marketing your most precious commodity, i.e. yourself, why hold back? Be bold; be fearless.
Don’t send a hard copy of your resume in the mail; you don’t want to be perceived as a dinosaur.
There are a number of different ways of getting your resume “out there”. Here are a few:
Applying to advertisements or postings
This is the most obvious starting point for any job search, which is to keep your eyes open for any positions that are being advertised or posted. Scan the newspapers everyday as some companies still only use paper ads for recruiting. Postings are a more common form of advertising and you should track the posting sites pertinent to your profession and your geographic area on a daily basis. The most common job boards can be found at www.monster.ca and at www.workopolis.com.
Be aware of specialized websites relevant to either your industry or your profession. Many of these sites feature job postings. Specialists in accountancy, human resources, engineering and many others have their own associations with corresponding websites where you will find multiple postings.
Similarly, if there are companies in your area that you have identified in your analysis that are preferential employers for you, you should be tracking the careers section of their respective websites.
Follow the application process to the letter and don’t get clever by trying to shortcut a route to the recruiter. It will come across negatively if you do. May organizations have sophisticated recruiting processes that were put there for a reason. Again, make the recruiter’s life easy and the recruiter will in return, look upon your application more favorably. Networking with former colleagues
Start by making a list of all the people that you know well enough to be able to call or send an e-mail to. Using your contact management software is extremely helpful in this task and it will help you to keep the all important history of your contacts, when and how you communicated with them, and the subject and outcomes of your discussions.
For the people that you know well, you can ask them if they would mind having a look at your resume as you would value their input and suggestions. In addition to the primary purpose of the meeting, i.e. getting their feedback, you can also get from your contacts some of their contacts who may in fact be interested in your candidacy. Remember that job openings are anything but static. Jobs get filled and new jobs open up all the time. What’s important is that people in the employer pool are made aware that you are available, and the skills and experiences that you have to offer.
Sending an e-mail to your other contacts attaching your resume with a request to forward it to the appropriate people or departments within their organizations is also a good idea.
Be careful in not being over aggressive in trying to get face-to-face meetings with your contacts. Everyone is busy, everyone has their own work stresses and priorities and over-burdening them with repeated telephone messages requesting a meeting will work against you. You can start to look desperate and remember that you’re not desperate – you have a good product and a good marketing plan, stick to it.
Every contact that you make will lead to others and you will therefore expand your network exponentially. You will need to manage all of these contacts.
When leaving telephone messages, let the person know who you are and why you are calling. Avoid the temptation to leave multiple messages. If they’re not calling you back, there’s a reason for it!
Applying to search firms
All search firms are listed in multiple directories, published both on paper and on the web. This is another group where you should cover the base and the appropriate consultants in the appropriate firms should be aware of your candidacy. Their names, e-mail addresses and specialties are all available to you in the public domain. A good example is the Canadian Directory of Executive Recruiters which can be accessed at www.directoryofrecruiters.com
Most search firms have very sophisticated databases, meaning that once you’ve submitted your resume, it is in their interest to try and make a match when the appropriate job comes along. Again, don’t get too aggressive in trying to get a meeting with the executive search consultants who operate in your domain. We are constantly bombarded (on a daily basis) with resumes that come in unsolicited over the internet. We get them from all over the world and many of them are obviously part of a huge e-mail send-out by candidates who have given little thought to the recipient. So use the same advice as when you are approaching your contacts, in that yours should be clear and precise in your cover e-mail and attach a robust and clear resume.
The same negatives also apply in that if you get too aggressive in requesting a face-to-face meeting, it will be perceived as a turn-off. When the executive search consultant has a position that might be a match to your qualifications, be assured, that it is in his or her interest to contact you for a telephone screening interview as soon as possible.
Don’t call to ask if your resume has been received; it may be perceived as a “nuisance call”.
The worst thing you can do with search consultants is to approach them in such a way as to give them the impression that you are doing them a favor by contacting them.
In other words, make your candidacy known to this group, but don’t make a nuisance of yourself.
Targeted search for “your next boss” This is where your newly acquired marketing skills will really come into their own. What you have to do is follow a targeted search process which will identify your next boss instead of the recruiter’s next candidate. I recommend a top-down search process which goes as follows:
First of all, identify the geographic area that you’ve decided you wish to live and work in . Identify the industries or business sectors that you would like to work in.
You can now identify all of the companies and organizations that fall within these two parameters. There are many resources available to you both in published form and on the internet. There is a very useful Canadian government site called Strategis www.strategis.ic.gc.ca on which all companies are registered. It doesn’t take long to learn how to exercise these databases in order to identify which companies fall within your geographic and industry parameters. There are many other websites, some of which are sponsored by the province (ICRIQ in Quebec), or local business organizations that will help you build your list of targets.
Going back to your analysis in Step 2 of this article, determine the most likely job title of “your next boss”. If you are applying for the job of Director of Marketing, your next boss is likely to be the Vice President of Marketing.
Once you have identified the geography, the organization, and the title of your next boss, you are only one step away from the final phase of research which is identifying the individual by name. The higher the level of your target, the more likely they are to be named on the website or in the directories that you decided to use. If your target is lower down in the organization, you may have to phone the company and ask who holds the post that you are trying to identify. Once you have obtained the name, a bit of research will lead you to your next boss’ e-mail address. Now you’re in the game!
This all takes time and energy, but will give you the satisfaction that you are getting your resume out to exactly the people who are the most likely to employ you. Your application may well lead “your next boss” to create an opening for you. Believe me, this happens more often than you might think.
Another thing to keep in mind is the role of Human Resources versus the role of Hiring Manager. Human Resources will be involved sooner or later in the
recruiting process, but don’t assume that they are necessarily aware of all openings in the organization. The ideal situation is to present your candidacy to “your next boss” before the decision to recruit is taken. Some companies have very sophisticated Human Resources and recruiting processes. However, it is difficult to assess this in advance and you don’t want to take the risk of making an incorrect assumption.
Again, keep exquisite records and write everything down. Once you have been doing this for several months, you will be amazed how big your network has become, and you will have to become a master at managing it.
Social and business networking sites
This is a relatively new job search tool, but it is becoming more and more prevalent. Business-oriented websites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo have job search features built- in to them. Also, don’t ignore social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace as they are other communication tools to let people know that you are available. I firmly believe that in the future, these types of sites will become increasingly useful for the job seeker as they facilitate much of the leg work that is required to get your resume in front of “your next boss”.
Other Marketing Channels
Although most options will have already been covered in numbers 1-5 above, look for other opportunities to get your resume in front of “your next boss”. If you can, attend trade shows, conferences, and even courses which are relevant to your work. You are bound to meet similar minded people and expand your network accordingly. Remember to give out those business cards liberally.
Government employment centres should be covered as well as industry associations. Look for articles of relevance in both print and electronic media
which may lead you to new opportunities in industries and roles that you hadn’t thought of. Think like a marketeer!
Step 4 – Get the Most Out of Your Interviews
The first level of interview you are likely to encounter is a telephone screening interview by a recruiter. This normally establishes whether you’ve thought about the position in question and to what extent you are interested in it. The interview will also determine issues such as compensation expectations and whether or not re- location will be required.
This is typically not a difficult interview, but you should be prepared for the compensation question. Although a good answer is “I’m willing to accept what the position is worth”, it is not sufficient for most recruiters and may get you screened out of the process. Have a salary range in mind and be prepared to express it. You could also share your compensation package at your previous job which lets the recruiter know the value that your former employer placed upon you.
Whether you are in a telephone interview or a face-to-face interview situation, the most important thing to remember is to be brutally honest in your responses. Every recruiter I know will give you the same piece of advice. The first reason for this, is that it is ethically the right thing to do, but there are other reasons.
If you stretch the truth or even worse, tell a lie, it is highly probable that you’ll get caught out. A good interviewer knows how to ask probing questions to validate that your answers are honest. If your dishonesty doesn’t come out in the interview, it will probably come out later on in the process, probably in the reference checking stage. It doesn’t matter at what stage your dishonesty comes out, but the result will be that you will go no further in the selection process, for the current job or for any other job with that employer.
Remember that getting a new job is not a game. The worst thing that can happen to you, is that you get the new job under false pretenses or by making claims that you cannot live up to., and you fail. This will get you fired and you will have to start the job search process all over again, but this time with a major impediment, which is to have to explain why the last job didn’t work out in such a short time frame.
Make sure you are knowledgeable about the interviewing company and the role for which you are being interviewed, to the extent that you are able. One of the biggest turn-offs for an interviewer is when the candidate hasn’t even bothered to go onto the employer’s website. Do your homework.
Preparing for an interview is not cheating. It makes good business sense to predict some of the questions that you might be asked. You wouldn’t sit in an exam without studying beforehand; why treat an interview any differently? Some of the more obvious ones are: “What are your strengths /weaknesses?” and “Why are you interested in this job?” By getting in to the mind of the recruiter and with some practice, I believe that you can predict most questions that you are likely to be asked in an interview.
This is relatively easy to do when you are being interviewed for a specific job, for which you have been given a job spec. The job spec normally contains a description of the role and the tasks required to be successful in the role, and a list of qualifications and attributes that your employer has deemed necessary for a new incumbent to be successful.
When designing the interview questions, the first place the recruiter goes to, is the job spec. So, for each task description on the spec, you can expect to be asked questions relating to either how you have performed similar tasks in the past or how you would perform the tasks in the future, should you be successful in landing the job. Interviewers use techniques such as best and worst case scenarios to help them build the most predictive questions. A couple of examples are: “What is the most critical labor relations issue you have ever had to face?” or in a manufacturing environment “What is the most complex manufacturing bottleneck you have had to solve?” Questions like these are routinely followed up with support questions such as “What was the scenario?”, “What was the outcome?” , “What was your specific role in the solution?” and “What did you learn from the experience?”
Similarly, for the skills and attributes part of the interview, you can expect to get questions relating to the qualities that have been expressed in the job spec. An example of this type of question would be “Please give me an example of when you exercised superior communication skills in order to solve a work-related problem.
Expect also the same follow- up questions as in the preceding paragraph. Even if the personal traits and characteristics are not mentioned on the job spec, you can fairly easily predict that qualities such as team work, leadership , communication skills, customer orientation, etc. etc. would be required for most jobs. You can therefore predict that you will receive questions relating to your own experience and how you have exercised these qualities in the past. The best premise that the recruiter is using is that past performance is the best predictor of future performance and that behaviors are generally repeated.
You can start to build a library of questions and you will soon find that many of the questions you get in one interview will be repeated in another. Practice makes perfect, so work on predicting the questions and rehearsing the answers. Again, I don’t see this as cheating, I see this more as a common sense approach to preparing for an interview.
Lastly, always be punctual but never too early. 5 minutes early is fantastic; late is disastrous. If you arrive too early, you may be seen as a person who is not able to manage your time. Also, it can be viewed as being disrespectful and disruptive to the interviewer. Scout the location beforehand to make sure you arrive exactly on time.
Step 5 – After the Interview
Always follow up your interview with an e- mail thanking the interviewer for his or her time and express your interest in pursuing the discussion, that is if you think the job is one that you will do well at. Don’t make this a long e-mail (remember, everyone is busy) and don’t make too many follow- up telephone calls.
At some point, you will be asked to come back for a second interview and probably meet more members of the team that you will be working with if you land the job.
Again, the best advice is to be yourself and remember, that whatever performance that you give in an interview, your employer will expect to see that same performance on the job.
References are required by most recruiters before an offer is made. Most recruiters really want to talk to your actual former supervisor and in some cases, peers and or customers as well. Ensure that you have contacted your references prior to giving their names to a potential employer. You would be surprised how often our reference checkers are talking to referees who weren’t expecting the phone call. It reflects badly on you if this happens.
Following this type of action plan will undoubtedly get you to the point where you have an offer of a job. It may not be the same job as the one that you have just left and you may have other irons in the fire when the first offer comes in. Resist the temptation to immediately accept the first offer that you get, especially if you are pursuing other potentially more interesting opportunities. Most employers would rather wait a week or two in getting your final answer, then to have you accept and subsequently not show up for work because you’ve accepted something else.
Talk to the trusted people in your network about whether or not the compensation that you are being offered is commensurate with the role. Most employers do not take advantage of unemployed candidates by offering them lower salaries. They are acutely aware that if they are under paying you, you may quickly move on to a new
job that pays appropriate to the role.
Once you have accepted your new position, you should take the opportunity to thank all of the people who have helped you on this journey and let them know that with their help, you have landed a suitable position.
Many people who go through a rigorous and structured job search process such as the described in this document will look back on the experience and perceive it as being one of the most satisfying and rewarding (even though at times stressful) that they have ever undertaken. In my experience of giving hundreds of courtesy interviews to job seekers over the course of my career, they generally fall into two categories: those who take it as a challenge and stick with the plan, versus those who dabble at it and become intimidated by it. You can guess which type call me or send me an e- mail not only to say thanks for the help, but to say that they’ve landed.
What to Do if your Search Strategy isn’t Bringing Results The fact that you’ve developed a strategy doesn’t mean to say that the first one you developed is the one that will work. Test marketing your strategy is a good way to validate that your thinking is sound.
The fact that you are following a plan makes it easy to analyze the extent to which the plan is working. Once you have a plan, you can reset the parameters in any number of ways in order to get to the point where you have optimized your chances of getting in front of “your next boss”. You may have to compromise on one or more of the parameters that you’ve set at the beginning of the job search process. If compromise becomes necessary, do it in the knowledge that you have done your “due diligence” in the job search process.
Remember that the worst thing that you can do is to get discouraged, or even worse, to give up. What I have described in the preceding paragraphs is not necessarily easy for everyone to do, however what I hope is that it will be helpful to people who need structure in their job search. The approach that I am proposing is simple and effective.
If you do get discouraged , enlist the help of your family and friends. You’ll be surprised how many people out there are routing for you and how kind and helpful most people are when they are approached in a polite and respectful way.
A bit of luck also comes in handy, but by following this process, you will be in many cases, your own luck. I wish you all the best.