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?

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