Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Job Seekers: Manage your expectations

For those of you new to the job market, welcome! Now put on your party hat, go mix yourself a drink, and relax. We're going to be here for awhile.

Leveraging your network:

Even the best recruiter(s) won't be able to help you as often as you can help yourself in surfacing the best leads. While we often have strong working relationships directly with the hiring manager, this market has put a severe financial strain on most hiring budgets. Using a recruiter requires an additional booster shot in the budgetary arm, and some companies just can't afford it. So expect to do more personal and professional networking than usual to get traction in this job market.

If you have a strong, up-to-date CRM system on which you track your personal and professional network, including former bosses, colleagues, college friends, professors, running partners, yoga class mates, every business card from every networking event you've ever attended, the barista at your local Starbucks, and your best friends stylist and her dog-walker, then you should be on the market no longer than three weeks. You're a natural business development/networking expert and you are way more organized than Martha Stewart.

But, if you're like the rest of us, it's a constant battle to get/stay organized and on top of your network. People move a lot these days. They change residences, change jobs, change states, change countries and it becomes a full-time job staying in touch with everyone with whom you had, at one point or another, a good relationship. The good news is the internet has been working hard on our behalf to keep us somewhat attached to one another, for better or worse, and with varying degrees of success. Use your network to every extent reasonable to get your best leads. Your next door neighbor, your ex-boyfriend's sister (if she's still speaking with you), even your minister may know someone who is looking for a candidate just like you. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and let your world know you're looking.

One might ask whether there is a line that should be drawn on networking for jobs relative to, well, friends and relatives. I believe the more family and friends you have, the better your potential in sourcing strong job leads. Who knows you better than they do? Who knows more about the corporate culture you would best thrive in than they would? Well, you do, of course. But your reach and insight into these companies is limited by a multitude of factors. Start by letting your network know that you are on the market and looking selectively. You don't need to blast it on Facebook, but a well-crafted mass email would be effective and you can have reasonable control over who learns about your search. Do not attach your resume unless your circle of friends and family is very tight, and you're not concerned about your confidential information landing in the wrong hands. If someone does have a job lead, they'll prompt you for the document. As an extra measure of your selectivity, ask for a job description. That can be a good indication of how viable the lead is, and whether you want to spend time updating your resume to make it a more relevant fit to the role.

Keeping a strong tether to your network means daily effort. If you are not currently on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any of these other social networks, don't expect everyone in your life to know your employment status. People are busy, busier than they've ever been. It's not that they don't care, it's just they don't have time to think about how they can help you find a job, even when asked directly, because they're very busy holding onto theirs. You may find even after months of being unemployed that your brother-in-law or former colleague is astounded to hear you're still looking. Don't take it personally. Several months of unemployment feels like forever, but for the gainfully employed, it's a stitch in time. Those who have been seemingly unaffected by the deteriorating job market these past four years are in a bubble; they have very little idea how bad it is out there.

A word about the role of recruiters;

As a search consultant, I'm often asked by candidates to help them network into a company for a particular job. Unfortunately, marketing a candidate in this employer-driven environment does not result in the same type of success as it would in an employee-driven market. And for some companies, the practice is completely frowned upon. Instead of relying solely on recruiters or job boards, I will often recommend to candidates a "wide net" approach. Begin by targeting industries and specific companies you have a strong interest in whose product, service or philosophies align with yours on both the personal and professional level. Research their website for roles that may be open. If no relevant jobs are posted, craft a short, purpose-driven cover letter and send your resume anyway. It can't hurt. Keep your expectations low. The days of formal "resume received" emails are over. Companies just don't have the time or resources to respond to every single solicited resume they receive, never mind the ones sent by enthusiastic, enterprising job seekers. Better to continue working through your targeted companies and keep a running list of those you have approached on your own. This will help you and your recruiter avoid duplicate referrals.

If you do have a recruiter working hard on your behalf, make sure you stay in frequent touch. Often times, if a recruiter knows your actively looking but hasn't heard from you in awhile, it's natural to assume you found something and are off the market. Active recruiters tend to work with blinders it occupational hazard. A typical book of business for a contingency recruiting firm can include as many as 50 or more positions at a time. Good recruiting agencies are usually highly collaborative and competitive environments, and each recruiter is playing beat the clock every day to fill those roles in the shortest time span imaginable. It is as much your responsibility to stay in touch and keep them posted on your status. If a recruiter does not return your phone call, a polite email advising them where you are in your search will suffice.

If they never return any of your calls, don't work with them.

While they have a fiduciary responsibility to their client, they have a professional responsibility to you. But don't take it personally, they are trying to stay employed too.

Once you do land an interview, thorough pre-interview due diligence is your responsibility. When working with a recruiter, be aware they may have as little or as much insight to a company as you do. Though having a track record of working with a client company for a few years, a recruiter can offer a well educated perspective on the company's history, its culture and search process. Additionally, as an intermediary, a recruiter can help a candidate to get greater visibility and generate a high level of interest in the client on their behalf. Again, this comes down to the relevancy and strength of the relationship the recruiter has with the client. It is good to know whether the recruiter has a relationship with the direct hiring manager or is restricted to dealing with the H.R. Department. This could factor tremendously into the odds of getting an interview.

The challenge for recruiters these days is the same challenge candidate's face. Too much talent on the market creates in imbalance of interest in any one job. Human resources and hiring managers are wading through hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of resumes to find the best available athletes on the market. Do you know how to compete?

Best Job Leads: Why who you know trumps what you know

I often advise candidates that 85% of their best job leads come through their own personal network, not through recruiters. Maybe this information is bad for business (mine in particular) but I can't change the fact that most hiring managers will try to save time (and money) by finding candidates through their own network. When replacing someone on their team, the comfort of hiring a "known entity" vs. a complete unknown can make a critical difference. When someone else who is credible to the hiring manager can attest to the credibility of a potential employee, calibrating on the skill set and overall fit to the company becomes the primary focus. As the hiring manager already believes the referrer to be of good quality and caliber, it makes sense to think the referred candidate is, too. The hiring manager is more likely to hire that person based on "testimony" from the referrer that s/he is an excellent employee and well suited to the hiring company's environment. But that's not to say they are the best person for the job. While the hiring manager may have just saved themselves weeks or months in what could have been an exhausting, protracted and time consuming search, they may also have cost themselves more in the long run.

A strong referral is worth their weight in gold, but you could also be hiring a liability. Is it realistic to think that an employee can offer the same high level of performance across industry or company? Probably not. Calibrating on experience, skill set, level/fit to the role, education, flexibility, temperament, and cultural fit should be a part of every interview process...regardless of that candidate's performance in another company. Meeting comparative candidates in any search process can offer a dynamic perspective on what the market has to offer, and provides you choices. If your ideal candidate does come through your network, and an offer seems imminent, most candidates will understand that a company must honor their candidate calibration system in order to choose the best possible person. No one wants to make or become a hiring mistake. Exercising a thorough search also demonstrates the hiring manager's strategic sensibilities, thoughtful judgment and selectivity relative to all of their hires. Do you really want to work for someone who hires quickly and without a lot of due diligence? Can you imagine the sort of nightmare situations this could cause for you as an employee?

Experienced hiring managers know that due diligence on candidates must be performed to every extent prior to, or contingent with, an offer. That means interviews with their colleagues, peers, senior peers and other impartial/objective parties are to be given as much, if not more weight and consideration, than those who may be a bit biased as a result of the referral. Another critical aspect of the search relative to checks/balances are references and background checks as a requirement of employment. I have seen a few hiring managers make gut level decisions on candidates, and even extend an offer, without any intention of checking references. About 60-75% of these managers have a track record of making poor hiring decisions. They should have followed the reference process even if it did mean a risk of losing their candidate of choice because of timing or inconvenience. Ultimately, the employee was a spectacularly bad fit, and created headaches (including legal ones) that could have been easily avoided.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Praise of the Curriculum Vitae

In the U.S., a one to two page resume is still widely considered the ideal length for any professional below the Executive level. But I have challenged this practice many times and advised even staff and junior management candidates to be aware that less is not more, it is opportunity lost. You have less than a minute to grab your reader, why not start with your strengths? Adding a “Professional Highlights” or “Skills & Strengths” section to the top of your resume, using bullets and bold type face, can actually aid the reader by drawing their attention to these criteria and help them to focus. Avoid lengthy and overly descriptive sentences to describe your key strengths. These highlights and details should be bold, clear and customized for each position a candidate is pursuing as it can both direct the reader’s attention and state loudly you have the core requirements for the role. Learning that a candidate enjoys competitive biking or amateur photography, is a semi-professional hockey player or chess master can go a long way to help the candidate connect with the potential hiring manager in advance of the first meeting. More often than not, if a potential employer reading the resume graduated from the same University, or participates in the same recreational pursuits as the resume’s owner, they will be getting a phone call for an interview.

The Curriculum Vitae offers a more detailed and insightful glimpse into the person on the paper. It doesn't hurt to provide a few personal details as long as it puts you in a position of strength. If you're in doubt, here is a recent quote from a client of a local clean tech start-up.

“My former CEO gave me a piece of advice when I began hiring for my start-up. If given the choice between the hungry, accomplished and single young executive, or the married person with two kids, a house and a mortgage, go with the latter. S/he will work that much harder for you because there’s a lot more risk in it for them if it doesn’t work out.” Founder of an early stage clean tech company.

Granted, if you have an opportunity to interview, you'll be able to share a bit more about yourself. But getting the interview is the first challenge. So, how do you offer more information about yourself without looking as though you are padding your resume (adding text but not relevant content, such as networking groups you are no longer an active part of, or your one year of study abroad that is a required part of a degree program). Adding hobbies, interests, or relevant personal trivia to the bottom of your resume tells the reader that you like to keep busy, active and get involved in pursuits outside of work. It can tell them a little bit about your character, too. For example, do you participate competitively in triathlons? Do you skydive on a regular basis? Are you an equestrian and ride fox hunts or cross-country? Great! You are competitive, driven, and you can manage fear while mitigating high risk situations. This would make you a great asset to an early stage company with a controversial new technology, or to an established firm with an aggressive growth plan. What if your interests reflect a more deeply intellectual or creative side, such as founding or participating in an incubator for early stage technologies, or growing rare orchid plants from seed through bloom? The personal traits required to be successful in these endeavors would include strategic planning, long-term commitment and a tremendous amount of patience. These are key attributes for a VP level executive to be successful in any company.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Love what you do what you love what you do what you love....

When you spend 40-60 hours a week in a place that is not your home, and doesn't involve nurturing your relationships with friends and family, hobbies and interests, feeding your soul, sleeping in or taking in all of world’s delights, you better love what you do. If you don’t absolutely love what you do, then a paycheck becomes one of the only consolations you have for working at all. At the same time, don’t ever allow satisfying work get in the way of a satisfying life, that’s a slippery slope that will only let you down in the end. Ok, I’ll carefully step down off my soap box now and tell you a few more misnomers about work:

Myth: You should be 100% certain that this is the right job and offer before accepting.

Fact: You can never be 100% certain that it is the right job until you’ve worked for the company in the role for at least six months. If you’re 100% certain, then either you have on a big pair of rose colored glasses, or you didn’t do your homework on the company or the job. No job is perfect.

Myth: You should have at least two written offers in hand before making a decision

Fact: The offer process rarely works in our favor relative to timing. Some companies take hours to make a decision, others take weeks or months. You need to work with what is real and in hand. Get comfortable with pro and con lists, and use past positions and offers as a comparison to the offer in hand. If you are still uncertain after 24 hours whether this is the offer for you, ask for more time. A week is considered generous. Anything more than that, they may start having doubts about you.

Myth: You need to take 24 hours to think about the offer before making a decision

Fact: If you need to sit down and talk about it with your spouse, friend, adviser, then by all means take the time you need. However, nothing says “I’m sure” like a well-timed phone call to the hiring manager within 12 hours to say “I accept”. If you are hoping to use this time to leverage your other offers, then go back to whether or not you really want the job.

Myth: You need to commit yourself for at least one year to the new employer

Fact: If by the time you have accepted and started the new job, a counter-offer or other offer has been received and it’s the one you really want, better to cut the cord quickly. The reasons have more to do with your new employer than you;

a) There’s a good possibility there were two likely candidates for the position, and the other candidate could have been a great fit and the better match for position, but the hiring manager chose you first because of chemistry or salary fit. Give the company an opportunity to re-fill the position quickly so that they don't have to start the search from scratch.

b) The company can't get back the time and money invested in both the search and training of a new employee. You could save them a little of both by letting them know early that you made a mistake. They’ll likely be unhappy, but at the end of the day, you’re doing everyone (including yourself) a favor. You can also avoid having to put the company/position on your resume if you’ve stayed less than three months, and no need to concern yourself with asking for references either.