Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What I Learned While I Was Unemployed

Recently, I had the great fortune of being chosen to join the Human Resources team at Norwegian American Hospital. This came a little under 3-months after I resigned my position at a charitable organization whose name I can not mention due to the severance agreement that I signed (so much for word-of-mouth advertising). When I left the unmentionable organization, I boldly told one of my colleagues that I would "leave on Friday and have another job on Monday". Needless to say, the brash confidence that I displayed in my own marketability was unfounded . However, my youthful naivety afforded me the opportunity to test one of the worst job markets in the last quarter century. My journey from employment to unemployment and back again gave me some helpful insights into what it takes to get hired in a down market. If you currently find yourself unemployed, I hope that my experience will provide the advantage that you need to put you over the top in your job search. Key 1: Take some time off. When I resigned my position, I did not re-enter the job market immediately. Although I had put some feelers out in the days leading up to my decision to resign, I did not do so in a serious fashion. After working for over 3-years straight without a significant break, I needed some time to decompress and assess what I had accomplished, what I did a less than stellar job at, and what I hoped to accomplish moving forward. I spent a great deal of time enjoying the freedom to do what I want when I wanted to without the artificial constraints of the distinctly American 9-5 labor routine. This helped me to recharge my batteries, energy that I would definitely need for the grueling journey ahead. Key 2: Update Your Resume Here's an exercise for you. I want you to print out the latest version of your resume, scan it for 6-seconds, ball it up and throw it in the trash. Chances are that's exactly what a recruiter at XYZ Company just did. With unemployment between 8%-20% (depending on your race/ethnicity, education level, and previous experience) coupled with lower budgets for recruitment and training across the vast majority of corporate America, recruiters are being bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of resumes for any given job posting. Given these conditions, the average recruiter spends less than 6-seconds scanning your resume for relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities. As a job seeker, it's your task to make this information as easy to find in the short amount of time that a HR professional has with all of their other pressing responsibilities. How do you do this? 1. Get rid of the objective. Your objective is to get a job. That's space that you can use to tell hiring managers why they should hire you out of the hundreds of other suitors. 2. Put your education right at the top. You (or your parents) went into debt for that degree and hiring managers want to know that you're a critical thinker who has committed to something at least once in your life so put it right at the top for the whole world to see. 3. Use relevant work experience only. If you're applying for a retail sales position, how is that summer job as a dog walker relevant? Sure, it displays your love for pets and scooping poop but what does it say about your ability to sell? If you've had a lot of jobs like me, try to narrow your experience down to the 2-3 jobs that are most relevant to the position you are seeking. 4. Don't tell people what your tasks were, tell them what you've accomplished. Use terms like "managed", "created", and "led". Back those statements up with empirical data. How much time did the process that you created save the company? What percentage did sales increase due to your innovative marketing plan? 5. List your skills, talents, certifications and affiliations at the end. Keep them job related. No one cares that you were the President of the National Association of Left-Handed Crocheters if you're applying for a accountancy role. They do care if you were the President of your business fraternity or in the Honors Finance program in college. Key 3: Apply for positions that you may not be quite qualified for. Sure, the job posting says that they're "ideal candidate" has 5-7 years of project management or managerial experience but job seeking is just like online dating. We all say that we want the perfect person so that we don't sound so desperate but when you realize that the ideal guy/gal you say you want isn't out there, you'll take the person who's pretty close or, more likely, change your criteria all together. Hiring managers are the same way. Go ahead and apply for that position you know in your gut you have no chance of getting. You never know who will see your resume and if they'll see your resume on the day when their criteria for the position changes in your favor. In addition, when hiring managers say that they'll keep your resume on file for future openings, THEY DO! Talent Management is all about developing internal and external pools of people that HR professionals can quickly draw from to fill openings quickly. You may not get the job you originally applied for but maybe you'll be a top prospect for the position that unexpectedly opens up a few months down the line. Key 4: Ace the Phone Interview So, you've spruced up your resume and applied for 20 jobs a day. A recruiter finally takes the bait and calls to schedule a phone interview. THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE! In a phone interview, recruiters want to gauge your phone presence (how you communicate) and hear straight from your mouth what you wrote in your resume. Don't just re-read your resume over the phone. Take this opportunity to provide insight into how you accomplished what you did and what the outcomes were. Let the recruiter know that you did some research on their organization. Get them excited about you and what you can possibly add to their already stellar team. Believe me, that recruiter wants to run to their superior with 5 reasons why you're the best applicant they have ever found. It means that they're doing their job! Key 5: Ace the In-Person Interview You've made it past the first line of defense for most organizations. Now it's time to impress the hiring manager - the person with the most control over your fate (other than yourself that is). The hiring manager already knows that you're qualified for the position. That's why they took time out of their busy day to meet with you. That's also why they took time out of their busy day to meet with the 10 other people they determined were qualified for the position. How are you going to differentiate yourself from the herd? 1. Show up prepared. Come to the interview at least 15-minutes early. If you come too early, you seem desperate. Too late and you lack a sense of urgency. Always wear a suit and tie if you're a guy and a business appropriate skirt/pants and a blouse if you're a woman. The suit is still the uniform of the business world no matter how casual the culture appears to be. Prepare notes on the business, highlighting some key attributes of the company. Have questions prepared for the hiring manager regarding the company, the position you're applying for, and even the interviewer. 2. Fight the natural tendency to be nervous. You want this job and you know if but you have to be cool as a cucumber. Let the hiring manager know that your confident but not cocky. Maintain good professional posture, making consistent eye contact (as if you were talking to a close friend, not eye fucking that cute bartender). Listen attentively. When you're just pretending to listen, your body language will betray you every time. 3. Always tell the truth, even when it's negative. Behavioral interviewing is the en vogue method of inspection for most HR professionals. They want to know how you reacted to certain situations in the past so that they can get some idea of how you would handle a similar situation in the future. Stick to what you know. If you've never dome something in the past, you'll look a phony trying to embellish in real-time. If you've made a mistake in the past, own up to it and explain what you learned from that mistake and how it made you a better employee/co-worker. The one exception to this rule involves discussing past co-workers or bosses. If you had a negative experience, try to turn it into a positive. You know that your supervisor at Jewel was a perverted, perpetual line stepper but you'll say that he taught you "how to be understanding of and adaptable to various styles of management" and "how to maintain strong character in adverse circumstances". Job searching is a microcosm of life. If your friends talk shit about other people to you, what are they saying about you when you're not around? 4. Send a follow-up email thanking the hiring manager for the opportunity to interview. This is your time to reinforce key points that were expressed in the interview or even bring up points that you forgot to mention - points that accentuate why you're the right fit for the job. Ask what the next steps are in interviewing process. If you're really confident, hint that you are looking forward to participating in the next steps of the interviewing process. Remember, you're unemployed so what do you really have to lose? Key 6: Get Paid! Congratulations! After months or even years of job searches, phone screens, countless interviews and blow jobs, the company finally wants to make it official. However, don't let the jubilation over finally being gainfully employed blind you from the business at hand. Most professionals only get to negotiate their salary a handful of times in their careers. This most frequently happens when they accept a new position. The important thing to know is that whatever your new company is initially offering you, thy can probably afford to pay you at least 10% more. You don't want to ask for so much that you inadvertently price yourself out of competition for the position but you also don't want to leave money on the table. It's easier to ask for anal sex up front than it is 6-months into the relationship (and by anal sex I mean a raise...and anal sex). Key 7: Remain Humble Out of all the strategic elements that I became privy to during my journey from unemployment to employment, the most important lesson that I learned was the importance of humility. Humility is indeed a divine virtue. None of us is so good at what we do that we are above reproach or replacement. We may be special to our parents, siblings, children or significant other but, in the marketplace, we are just a bundle of skills and attributes. This goes for the hiring managers as well. With this perspective, I had the courage to continue my journey even on the bleakest days and the confidence to address hiring managers as equals in humanity, not as omnipotent overlords who held the keys to something that I coveted. Post Script While the resume remains a key element of the job search, a person's social media presence is becoming increasingly important. From LinkedIn to Facebook, more and more employers are scouring the internet for potential new talent as well as to eliminate potential employees. Here are a few tips on how to use social media to enhance your job search: 1. Make that Facebook profile private. If you wouldn't want your parents to see that photo of you on Cinco de Mayo after your 7th margarita, chances are you don't want a potential employer to see it either. 2. Get on LinkedIn. I know that many people think that LinkedIn is a lame version of Facebook (and those people are right) but it also serves to connect professionals several layers beyond their immediate connections. Also, many companies allow applicants to complete their application using their LinkedIn profile. This saves the applicant valuable time and allows the employer to access your references and other key attributes. 3. Become an "expert" in a particular field. Start a blog dedicated to, I don't know, tips on how to get hired or tweet about trends in your particular field of interest. Becoming an expert or critical source of knowledge is easier now than in any other period in history. 4. Start a business. If you don't have any relevant work experience in the field you're looking to break into, start a business and manufacture the experience you want. Use Google to search for the best deals on wholesale products and AdSense to advertise your business. Use PayPal as your payment processor and bank. Use Facebook Marketplace and Twitter to increase your pool of clients. The great thing about starting your own business is that you literally get to wear all the hats. You can be the Chief Innovation Officer one week and the Global Sales Director the next. How do those titles sound on your resume?

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