Free Samples, Anyone? Seven Ways for Being Favorably Seen as a Job Seeker

Everyone likes free stuff.  In fact, I recently intended an HR conference and picked up a bag full of pens, stress balls, and business card holders.  I grabbed some great giveaways like screen squeegees and light-up super balls, which I did not previously realize were absolute necessities before then.  From the dental benefits provider, I took one new  toothbrush for each of my family members and all of my neighbors four blocks away.  Hey, no one wants to haul all of that stuff back to the office, right?  But, I digress.

We are exposed to free samples in stores, in the mail, and online.  Another instance of a free sample is something which you can provide to potential employers to bolster being considered for a position.  It’s one thing to say that you have done something in the past; it’s another to provide concrete evidence of that.  Work samples show what you have done, with the logical inference that you can do the same for another employer.  They might also convey your style or approach to your job.

Here, I present seven types of (free) samples.  Six of them are those we share intentionally.  The seventh is a category of sorts which includes samples which are out there for anyone to see which are not deliberately offered per se.  Yet, they are quite available to others in their formulation of an impression of you.

(1)    Cover Letter: One of the first things which you might send to a prospective employer is a cover letter.  In most cases, it will be paired with a resume.  A cover letter has an obvious purpose, which is to convey interest in being considered for a position with the organization.  Sometimes, cover letters or required with instructions to include specifics such as salary requirements and what qualifies you for the job.  A quality cover letter will point out aspects of your background on your resume and beyond which will make you a fit for the job.  But, a cover letter also represents a sample of your writing.  On a basic level, a cover letter shows your ability to put sentences and paragraphs together.  Here, typos and grammar errors will be picked up and give an indication of your written work, if you are hired.  In addition, if you recycled an old cover letter to another job or company, that will show your lack of attention to detail.

(2)    Resume: For almost every job, a resume will be required and submitted to be considered.  Similar to a cover letter, a resume will be a representation of your work.  A good resume will include your skills, experience, and credentials which would be of value to a potential organization.  It should not contain extraneous information and include that which is relevant to the job and organization.  What will make a negative (first) impression is formatting issues like margins, spacing, and alignment on the page.  A resume must pass the initial test before the substantive content is read.

(3)    Website: In some cases, you will have a website which you have created and might contain relevant information about you and your work.  You should include the URL on your resume or LinkedIn profile.  If and when you do, make sure that the website is current, and highlights representative work.  This could include creative materials or links to articles which you have written.

(4)    Blog: Do you write or maintain a blog?  Here, I am not referring to a blog regarding a hobby (that’s for Pinterest), but one which is professionally relevant.  As a thought leader, you may have committed your thoughts and observations to a digital diary known as a blog. That might very well be a great idea.  It goes without saying that your presence here should not contain anything inappropriate or negative.  If there is and you are in the midst of a job search, you might want to go though and do some editing and/or deleting.  If the blog is industry-related, it should appear on your resume and LinkedIn.

(5)    Portfolio: At the time of an interview, there might be an opportune time to do some show-and-tell.  Being able to show and hand-off samples of your creative or technical work would bolster your professional credibility.  Creating a hard-copy portfolio need not be expensive.  Go to Office Depot or Staples and pick up a folder and perhaps some sheet protectors to display samples of your work.   Definitely, use a quality color laser printer.  You might consider including slides from a Powerpoint presentation, newsletter, a white paper, sales presentation, or quantitative analysis.   Make sure to edit out any proprietary information from previous clients or employers.

(6)    Digital portfolio: In 2014, it has become more common for people to burn materials onto a CD and perhaps have an imprint on the outside of the CD some personal brand.  If you have writing or creative work samples, you might want to consider preparing such a CD to bring to a job interview.  There is free software available out there will walk you through this.

(7)    That brings us to #7.  Until now, I have been focusing on things which you could be intentionally sharing with a prospective employer.  However, there also are samples of your work and who you are professionally and otherwise, which are “out there” in the public domain.  You have not deliberately furnished any of the above.  Yet, recruiters and employers will be looking for and at other data, as representative samples of who you are.

  • How you present on the phone: Are you polite, gracious, and professional sounding?  This applies to whether you are initiating or receiving a call.
  • How you present in person: This is how you comport yourself in person, especially in an interview will lead to conclusions about you.  So, be aware of your body language.
  • How you present in an email: Given that the first contact with a potential employer might be through email (i.e., sending in a resume in response to a job posting), please pay attention to your grammar and tone and how you address the organization’s gatekeeper.  Be gracious.  Spell the person’s name correctly and address him/her by the proper title.  Also, having a neutral and professional address from which you are sending the email will present yourself in a more positive way than justinbieberwannabe@gmail.com or thesituation@jerseyshore.com.  An address like FirstName.LastName@gmail.com will play much better.
  • Responsiveness and timeliness: Whether corresponding by phone or email, make sure that you get back to the organization after they have reached out to you.  Please note that they might be using conventional email or phone to do so.  They might not text a reply or post a message on Twitter with your name as the hash-tag.  Therefore, check your messages, including voicemails on a regular basis.  When you respond, take your time in formulating a professional response.  In most cases, that will require more than 140 characters.
  • Internet and social media presence: Many job coaches will recommend that you Google yourself every so often.  That’s prudent advice because many recruiters and employers will do the same.  It’s free and can be done instantly.  How do you appear online?  Is it innocuous, professional, or might you be seen in a negative light?  What appears on your Facebook page or Twitter account?  Photos of drinking, partying or other revelry will not play well in creating a personal that would make you desirable to a company.  There should be no off-color language or any comments which disparage others (including current or previous employers).  While some states prohibit employers from requiring candidates to furnish social media passwords, there is often enough incriminating information which can be gleaned from the public domain.  On the positive side, I would strongly recommend building a positive professional presence with a solid LinkedIn profile.  Join relevant groups, make appropriate connections, and make useful posts. 

This last point is quite significant because in most cases, you will never receive feedback as to the reason for which you did not warrant consideration.  It might have been that picture or comment on Facebook.  In a competitive job market, you need every edge you can get and don’t want to squander a job opportunity based on inferences which others are making about you.

So, as you can see, samples of your work are quite free.  They can be made available by you with or without your tacit knowledge.  Therefore, it is critical that you pay attention to what is out there as it will convey much about you and have an impact on if/how you will be considered.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Revisited: Less is More

A while back, I posted “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” on points which might be turnoffs to readers your resume.  As you might know, I interact with many employers and recruiters. In working with them, I have shared thousands of resumes for some response.  In some cases, I forward a resume to be considered for a specific role; for others, I am sending the resume for general reaction to see if the person might be of immediate or future interest.  Just recently, I had a chance to sit down with a recruiter who sources talent in the Sales sector.  We went through a batch of resumes from job seekers with whom I am working currently.  Some of her reactions were really reiterations of points which I presented in my previous post.  But, others were a bit different.  So, I am taking the opportunity to mention them here.   It was really amazing how she was able to size the person up, right or wrong–but mostly right, from a 15 second scan of each resume.  While these were the reactions of just one recruiter, I suspect that they are representative of others.    It is no wonder that when someone tells me that “I have been sending out hundreds of resumes in the past several months, and I have not gotten many interviews”–that sending the resume which is in front of me does not initiate much interest.

Keep in mind that reviewers of your resume are looking at it through a specific lens.  That might be for a specific job that they are hiring for, a job title, or within an industry sector.  They make a quick decision of whether the resume is worthy submitting, saving for a future opportunity, or committing it to the circular file or digital black hole.  While some recruiters will go the extra mile, most are too busy.  And it is not their responsibility  is not to give you the specific feedback on how to improve your resume.

The following are some “red flags” on a resume which can drop someone out of consideration before even getting started.

Education Entries: One of the resumes which I shared had varied institutions listed.  The list was a combination of online education, what seemed to be part-time, and a track which ended 7 years ago that indicated “Incomplete”.  The lesson learned here is that you should only put relevant degrees earned, or those which are in progress (with an anticipated completion date).  If there is no degree in the past or in the future, but some coursework, then just state the institution and that very fact.

Are You Online?: Some job seekers make reference to a website which they have built, designed, maintain or otherwise operate.  But, if there is no URL listed, that will give the recruiter some pause.  If you were a webmaster, then a way of cross referencing what you built or the type of organization you worked for would be of positive value.   If you have indicated that you are a blogger and have no name of the blog (with the URL) indicated, then that is a missing piece.  If you have a LinkedIn profile (and in most cases you should), that web address should be listed for cross-reference at the top of your resume.

I was the Founder and Owner…: Another observation on one resume is that for many of the roles the person held, he was either the Owner or Founder.  This indicated to the recruiter that the guy never really worked for anyone else.  So, how could he be able to work in a job where he would have a boss, which calls for different working relationships?

I currently work at JPD Enterprises:  If the name at the top of a resume is John Paul Doe and one of the jobs is “President of JPD Enterprises”, that’s a dead giveaway that the guy is self-employed.  Similar to that is if the person uses a non-descript company name (without the initials) and indicates a job title of “Consultant”.  As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.  But, when such entries represent a significant portion of work experience, that will often be a concern.

Self-Employed: Similar to the above, a person might come out and identify as “self-employed”.  When such entries represent a significant portion of one’s work history, that might be a red flag.  The reason for that is that there is no formal oversight over tasks or the requisite accountability that one has when working for an organization.  Therefore, any duties performed, accomplishments, or accolades have no corroboration.  In addition, like it or not, recruiters will see self-employed that as a code word for “unemployed” with all of the stigmas attached to that.  If you have to go that route, make sure to identify business and customer relationships with known corporate entities.  Whatever is stated needs to be able to be validated, at least potentially, to be legit.

I’m not following: In some cases, there will be overlapping stints of employment, based on the dates.  It is impossible for someone to have two or more full-time jobs.  However, the assumption is that unless otherwise stipulated, the job listed is full-time.  If a job is part time, it should be specified as such.  One way of making the resume even clearer is if there is a separate section for “Other Employment and Activities”.  There, part-time employment including relevant internships could be listed.

The Kitchen Sink: I am not saying that every resume has to be limited to one page.  Your background may in fact require two or three pages to record.  But, you should ask yourself the following.  Is this information objectively relevant to my getting a job in this company or industry?  The information could be a job previously held, a degree, or even a volunteer activity.  The answer to that should not be based on hearsay such as your being head of a high school play has given you the leadership experience to be the COO of a billion-dollar company.  In this respect, most recruiters will say that less is more.

The Obvious: One of the most glaring resume issues is short employment stints.  While that was addressed in my first post, it is a pattern that recruiters and HR people will always notice.  Some people feel that they need to fill every gap, even a couple of months with some job.  As impressive as that job might look, if it was only held for a few months or a year or two, the recruiter will hone in on that.  In a competitive job market, hiring managers are seeking people with “stable work histories”.

While it is possible to make some adjustments to your resume to obviate one or more of these concerns, it is not always possible to “turn back the clock” and change reality.  Even if you try, perhaps creatively, many recruiters are savvy and will pick up such attempts to hide or divert.  This might include switching to a functional resume.  As such, job seekers just need to “move on”, keep searching, and identify other opportunities which are closer matches.  Furthermore, job seekers need to seek out expert advice from people who have been there-done that to identify the necessary experience and training that will be beneficial in being positively seen through a resume.

Finally, here is a message to young people who are either entering the workforce or are early-career.  As you “build your resume”, please keep in mind the above points.  Ultimately your resume and how you convey what you have done over your work history will elicit various “hypotheses” about you.  In this regard, it is a good idea to consult with a mentor who has been-there-there-done-that.  You should do that early and often.  Your mentor should be someone who has had success in your field of choice and can provide you with real-time information and sometimes a reality check.  Relying on hearsay and assumptions from others, as well-intentioned as they might be, can very well be misleading.

The Broncos Score Only 8 Points in the Super Bowl?! 8 Points Job Seekers Might Not Think About When Using Email

While it seems like an innocuous thing, email addresses are important.  If you have been following the news, mail traffic for the U.S. Postal Service has declined (the price of stamps just went up, again!) as email is carrying the bulk of correspondence.  Email is faster, cheaper, and greener.  Today, email is used for a combination of mundane, frivolous, and business. Email is used in managing personal finances, blasting out jokes and hoaxes, and for professional correspondence.  While many have resorted to texting for short messages, email is still a key part of our digital communication.

This is especially the case for job seekers.  If you are a job seeker, you might learn about a job from an email sent your way.  You might apply to a job by sending a resume and cover letter to be considered via email.  As the sender, your email address will be evident (and it will also appear at the top of your resume).  You also will be using email as a means of communicating with an employer during a recruitment process.  This could come in the form of a follow-up ‘Thank You’ email after your interview.

As an ode to the Broncos’ Super Bowl offense, I present 8 points to consider relative to your email identity and use.

(1) That’s so 80’s!: If your email address is still *@juno.com, that will be a clue that you are not living in the modern era.  While I have nothing against the company or its founders, seeing that will conjure up memories of a dial-up connection.  (Note: For Millennials who are too young to be familiar with what “dial-up” means, trust me, you didn’t miss much.  They were not good times!)  I would suggest having an account from Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail for job search correspondence.

(2) Where’s the beef?:  You want to come across as professional or someone to be taken seriously as a job seeker.  Therefore, don’t use cutesy email addresses such as callmeroastbeef@gmail.com (I really did see that one!), partygirl123@hotmail.com, or godsgift2mankind@yahoo.com (I won’t say which one was close to an actual account from which I once received correspondence.)  Stick to something conventional (i.e., boring) like firstname.lastname@gmail.com.

(3) None of your business: One very common faux pas I see is when job seekers are actively looking for another job and send out messages from their current work email address.  That is ill-advised for a couple of reasons.  Even if the NSA is not monitoring your messages that day, any work email can be monitored by your employer.  Such correspondence is stored on the company server and is property of the company.  This is the case when you are on-the-clock and even when you use your work email account after hours.  Do they really check every email message that goes in an out?  No.  But, a random audit could look at your account and see that you have been sending out resumes for a new job.  Or if something goes south with you and your company, they may decide to look at your communication after the fact.  A second reason is that when a potential employer received your resume from your current company account, it sends a message that you don’t care about that employer.  As such you might not be seen as a desirable employee if they hired you.

(4) Return to sender: Pay attention to your email settings.  When you send an email to someone else, how do you appear on the other end?  Ideally, you should come up with your first and last name.  I have seen many people whose emails to me just have initials, a first name, or the email address show up.  It must be clear as to who you are and not force people to try to figure that out.  This will also make you more easily searchable (for potential job leads) through previous emails you have sent.

(5) Check mate: If you are a job seeker, it is possible that important messages will be sent to you by email.  If you are a serious contender, you will be checking your email regularly throughout the day and acting on anything that is time-sensitive.  It might be a job lead or a request for an interview.  How often should you check your email account?  If you are in the hunt for a job, I would say 2-3 times daily.  When I get back a response from a job seeker along the lines that “I only check my emails at night”, that shows me that he is not living at the speed of 2014.  With smart phones and other mobile devices having become the norm, there is added opportunity to check your account remotely.  Employers and those trying to support you in your job quest will also have that expectation of you.

(6) Dual identity: If you somehow have multiple email accounts, try to stick to a single one for job search correspondence.  If you are sending messages to an employer or recruiter from different accounts, that will be confusing.  Furthermore, unless you are checking all accounts with the same frequency, the other party might send you something critical to the account that you are not checking as regularly.

(7) Playing hard to get: How discoverable is your email address?  If you are a job seeker it might be to your advantage to be accessible.  Some of that could be through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook where your email address is obscured on the back end.  But, in some cases, having your email address out there, as to invite inquiries to you might be a good thing.  So, if you are a job seeker, you might want to selectively post your elevator pitch with your email address clearly indicated.

(8) Keep the change: There are various reasons (including the above) when you will need to change email addresses.  If and when you do change your email address, remember to set up some sort of forwarding channel.  It might be an auto-reply message with your new email and a note for the recipient to change it is his/her address book.  Most reasonable employers will allow this to happen from the old business email address for a grace period of time.

Of course, there is much else to say about how you correspond through email in terms of content, style, spelling, and grammar.  That goes beyond the discussion here.  But, suffice it to say that your email address says much about you.

The State of the Job Market Address for 2014: Observations, Predictions, and a Message to Parents

Because of my professional vantage point, many people approach me inquiring as to the status of the job market.  Some questions will come from those already in the workforce.  Other inquiries might come from parents who are trying to guide their children in a career.  Now, we are in the season of various “State of the _______” speeches.  So, I humbly present my “State of the Job Market Address” for 2014.

I am by no means clairvoyant, but I do operate professionally within a context of employment, skills, and trends.  I do quite a bit of reading about what’s happening in the job market.  I am in regular contact with employers and recruiters.  I also speak to professionals in various occupational areas.  One thing is for certain.  The job market is continuously evolving.  In 2014, some fields which had opportunities and were stable 30 or even 10 years ago may no longer be so.  For example, Law and Medicine have fundamentally changed and will continue to be that way.   It has been reported that last year, law school applications were significantly down.  Furthermore, the supply of graduates from Law programs appears to be significantly exceeding demand.  I have seen some degrees valued and others deemed irrelevant.  Therefore, to rely on legacy information and invest precious resources and energy in training for “traditional” fields, without examining likely outcomes, is unproductive and even counterproductive.  Furthermore, it is important to research overall trends, rather than pointing to convenient examples of seemingly successful individuals.  Those individuals might very well represent the exception.

Obviously, young people, parents, and those already in the workforce each have different perspectives.  Young people are just starting out.  They may be involved in different endeavors and might be financially dependent to some extent.  Parents are responsible for educating, nurturing, and mentoring.  Adults, already in the workforce, are responsible for themselves, their living expenses and eventually their families.

Work is a part of life and preparing for it should be taken seriously.  The specific field that one chooses starting out is beyond the scope of this article.  In short, it should be a combination of acumen, passion, and practical viability.  Given that most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, preparing for it, and decompressing from it, career planning deserves mature and informed attention.

Let me start within the context of some statistics.  Nationally, the official unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7% from above 7%.  Before anyone gets too optimistic, another index which I look at is the “U-6” which includes those receiving unemployed benefits in addition to those whose time has run out for than, those who are underemployed, and those who have essentially dropped out of the active workforce.  That is now over 13%!  In Maryland, the numbers are a bit better (at 6.4%), but that percentage might benefit from areas like Montgomery County (4.5%), with the Baltimore Metro area being closer or above the national average.

A recent survey by Harris Interactive which was reported on Careerbuilder indicated that there has been an increase of 7% in job dissatisfaction among employees.  This might be contributing to the finding that 1 out of 5 currently employed individuals will be searching for a new job in 2014.  From the corporate perspective, a TweetMyJobs survey found that two-thirds of companies will be increasing their social media recruiting efforts.  This has implications for how organizations will be locating talent.  But, it also should send a message to job seekers as to how what they need to do in order to be found.

Furthermore, I have come across some more specific data to provide an indication of how the major occupational categories have fared recently for the college graduating Class of 2013 entering the workforce.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conducts an annual salary survey of different types of jobs (see Table 1).  Not surprisingly, the top starting salaries are for two “STEM” areas, Engineering and Computer Science.  Business is also high, perhaps being the beneficiary of many who go into that major might already have business experience and are going back to school for their degree.

Table 1

Average starting salaries for 2013 college graduates by discipline (from www.naceweb.org)

Occupational Category

2013 Average Salary

2012 Average Salary

% Change

Business

$55,144

$53,900

2.3%

Communications

$44,552

$53,900

1.9%

Computer Science

$59,084

$59,221

-0.2%

Education

$40,590

$40,668

-0.2%

Engineering

$62,564

$62,655

-0.1%

Humanities and Social Science

$38,045

$36,988

2.9%

Math and Sciences

$42,956

$42,471

1.1%

Overall

$45,633

$44,482

2.6%

In terms of specifics, as far as earnings go, the top jobs over the past few years (see Table 2) are consistent with the NACE report.  They include IT roles in the form of Software and Web Developers, Financial Analysts and Petroleum Engineers.

Table 2

Top jobs requiring a Bachelor’s degree which have grown at least 7% (based on 2010 – 2013), with projections to increase in 2014 (from Economic Modeling Specialists International and Careerbuilder)

Rank*

Job

Hiring Trend

1

Software Developers

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $45.06

2

Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $29.10

3

Training and Development Specialists

up 8% with median hourly earnings of $27.14

4

Financial Analysts

up 7% with median hourly earnings of $37.34

5

Physical Therapists

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $37.93

6

Web Developers

up 11% with median hourly earnings of $27.84

7

Logisticians

up 10% with median hourly earnings of $35.08

8

Database Administrators

up 10% with median hourly earnings of $37.39

9

Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $25.56

10

Interpreters and Translators

up 14% with median hourly earnings of $22.39

11

Petroleum Engineers

up 21% with median hourly earnings of $63.67

12

Information Security Analysts

up 8% with median hourly earnings of $41.62

*Rankings based on total employment in 2013 and include jobs which pay $22/hour or more

Based on my unscientific observation, here are eight job categories which are in-demand locally now.  My commentary is included:

  • Java and .Net Programmers- These are just examples of programming platforms that is much in demand.  Other examples of IT specialties in demand include Cloud and Mobile App Developers, Cyber Security, Linux Sysadmins MySQL, and Oracle Database Administrators.  Given the dominance of and dependence on technology, much has been said about how critical it is to be able to “code”.  In some respects, coding is just as important as spoken or written English today.  I would point out that in many respects, this changes with new technologies introduced.  Being able to learn and adapt is one of the reasons that skilled IT people are in high demand.
  • Web Programmers and Designers- Please note that these are two different skill sets.  While some people will have experience in both, each is in demand.  Every organization has a web presence and someone needs to build, modify, update, and manage content.  Designers are typically more aesthetically astute, frequently with insight into the Psychology of the user experience.
  • Social Media professionals- Here I am not referring to someone who goes onto Facebook five times a day.  These are people who know how and where to post information on behalf of companies for marketing and customer engagement purposes.  The growth of online marketing via collaboration, copy, graphics, and video is transforming how many organizations will engage and solicit new customers.
  • Analytics- With “Big Data” being the rage, companies need people who can analyze, make sense of, and report on the data to provide useful competitive information to the organization.  This applies to financial as well as other sectors.  Analytics often involves statistics, math, and visually reporting usable information.
  • Paralegals- With law firms not hiring as much at the Associate level, they are seeking less expensive staff that can perform tasks such as document reviews and preparing legal briefs.
  • Physician Assistants- Even before “affordable care”, PA’s have been in demand to support health care providers, especially given the shortage of primary care physicians.  There are a few programs in Maryland, which have become increasingly competitive.  An alternative might be Nurse Practitioner programs.  Of course, in the healthcare sector, the options to practice will depend on the state.  So, inquiring into and possessing the appropriate certifications and licensing is important.
  • Administrative Assistants- Quality and skilled Administrative Assistants are always in demand.  However, the skill set expectations have increased beyond reception, filing, and data entry.  Those who can do that and just want a comfortable job will not go far.  Companies are seeking people who are tech-savvy and proficient in all of Microsoft Office.  Most likely, they will be performing Accounts Receivable/Payable and expected to be skilled in Quickbooks.  Most of these positions are full-time, but many have competitive compensation and benefits for the ideal person.
  • Accountants and Bookkeepers- Accounting appears to be a field that is making a comeback.  This speaks to the idea that record keeping in any organization (and for individuals) is so integral to keeping an organized reality.  Furthermore, doing so is required by law.  However, many job openings which I have seen in Accounting require a B.S. in Accounting and solid work experience using current systems.  Full-charge Bookkeepers, while not having the credentials of Accountants, are also much in demand.

This is not to say that there are no other job opportunities in other fields.  There certainly are.  It is up to each individual to do his/her due diligence to speak with people already in the field and find out the facts on the ground.  Having a mentor is so critical to career success.  Having a faculty advisor and utilizing a college career center are all resources of valuable information.

Here are some general workforce trends which I have observed over the past five years:

  • Technological skills are now part of every job and therefore all job seekers have to possess them.  This is multi-faceted.  At minimum, it means being connected through a smart phone, perhaps having a tablet, email, basic web navigation.  In many cases, it means being up to date with the latest systems used within a given industry.  This would include hardware and software.  Not being well-versed in technology or reticence to use it is no longer a viable excuse.  If you have a chance to take one or two programming classes and can learn how to code, I highly recommend doing so.  It will either set you apart from your peers, or keep you on par with them.
  • Jobs have changed.  That means a few things.  First, there are many new job titles out there, which did not exist 20 years ago.  Some are specializations.  Some might be new jobs created due to technology.  Others are essentially the same jobs which have been rebranded.  Someone who leads a Human Resources function in a company might be referred to today as a “Chief People Officer”.  Beyond the labels, even jobs which do hold roughly the same responsibilities, will almost always be performed differently today than the way they were performed a generation or two ago.  Reasons for this might include technology, job consolidation, legislation, or social initiatives.  For example, a construction manager is essentially responsible for overseeing building projects.  But now, such a function must also be current on “green” and sustainability concepts which have significantly affected the construction industry.  Another example is in areas of commerce.  Recent well-publicized security breaches in retail and elsewhere have increased the focus on cyber security functions.
  • Hiring Managers are being patient to get their ideal candidate based on a preconceived profile.  They want to only interview candidates who have 90% or more of their wish list for the position.  They are not hiring based on potential, but based on the here and now.  They give preference to those who have been-there-done-that and require minimal learning curve or training.  That is why it is so important for job seekers to read job descriptions carefully and limit applications to jobs for which you qualify.
  • Those evaluating resumes will favor someone with relevant experience over someone with a degree alone.  They will look at this experience in terms of quantity and quantity.  While a degree might also be required, in most cases, the degree alone will not substitute for the experience.  The type of experience that companies are seeking is going to be with industry-standard systems, technology.  Plus, this experience is expected to be recent and full-time.  For example, resumes which include a college degree and three years of full-time corporate experience will most often be valued higher than people with an advanced degree, who do not have the recent experience.  Within IT, professional have reported to me that while degrees are still important, recent full-time experience along with a degree is valued more than an advanced degree without experience.
  • While written communication skills are key to most every professional job, I have observed a decline in both the content and format of work products.  Spelling is important.  Subject-verb agreement is important.  Quality writing is the result of foundations instilled high school teachers (thank you, Mrs. Brannan!).  It is reinforced through practice in writing papers in high school and college.  Furthermore, one must understand the time and place for different styles.  Some settings call for technical writing.  Others will allow for a more casual style.  But with tools like Word, as well as taking the time to ask others for critical feedback, writing can be improved to where it needs to be.
  • Social skills are always going to be relevant.  This means being polite and gracious, as well as having respect for all others.  In some cases, having appropriate social skills might be the decisive factor in landing or keeping a job.  One of the challenges today is blending social skills with technology.  This means knowing when to use the technology, but also when the human touch is needed.  Another challenge is setting the appropriate boundaries on technology in terms of time and place.
  • I saw a recent survey of the top five attributes which employers will be looking for in 2014.  In In addition to basic social etiquette, they are: agility and adaptability; international experience; the ability to become part of a team; and having the latest certifications and training — or at least a willingness to learn and generate results.  The last point is so critical.  Many believe that once your schooling is behind you, you only need to keep up every now and then.  However, it is necessary to immerse yourself in lifelong learning.  You might need to develop new skills, change jobs, or even change careers multiple times in your life.  So, you have to be open to learning new things.
  • Employers and recruiters will tend to favor experience with companies that are familiar to them.  In addition, employers prefer individuals with a solid and consistent employment history.  That is seen as an index of work ethic and success.  Once on the job, employers will get a sense of whether an employee cares about the organization and is punctual.  They will get a sense of this through requests for time off, in terms of frequency and for what purpose.  They will also observe whether you work well in a team.
  • Many jobs today are found through networking.  Networking includes effectively navigating the Internet, social media (e.g., LinkedIn), and traditional ways of meeting helpful people and establishing professional relationships.  Some of this is initiative.  Some of this is developing the social skills in order to be able to cultivate and enhance those relationships appropriately.
  • As things go, we all need and benefit from the “divine intervention of serendipity”. Sometimes, we are fortunate to have an unusual or unexpected opportunity put in front of us.  As a lead is presented, it must be researched to confirm that it is both real and realistic for us.  But, being open to stretch our comfort zone is ultimately going to be essential towards a path of continuous career and life growth.

I will conclude with emphasizing the importance of developing a career plan.  Parents should have the conversation with their children early.  The conversation should be revisited regularly.  Parents also need to research what educational paths are available to their children.  This often involves making difficult choices and supplementing educational paths as appropriate.  The goal in this regard is twofold:  The first is to take parental ownership while children are young.  The second is for parents to empower ownership as their children emerge into adulthood and independence.

But the plan does not stop there.  Even as adults, the landscape is often changing.  Stability is sometimes elusive.  The “new normal” might very well be recreated every few years rather than every few centuries.  This requires constantly keeping an eye out as to what is here and now as well as what’s next.

(Note that I recently was interviewed on Baltimore’s FOX affiliate to discuss this topic.  The clip can be viewed here.)

A New Year’s Resolution for 2014′s Job Seekers: Don’t Oversell

Is it possible to oversell yourself?  The short answer is definitely ‘yes’.  Let me explain.

When engaged in the job market or in employment endeavors in general, it is always good form to put your best foot forward.  This has ramifications with the way you dress, present yourself, and communicate.  Communication can be formal or informal, direct or indirect, as well as verbal or nonverbal.  As we know, in today’s world, much of communication is virtual and digital.  This can take the form of conversing by phone or presenting yourself “on paper”.  The latter might mean by way of an email or resume, which is sent in the hopes of being considered for a specific job opportunity or in general.

That’s all great and appropriate.  But, what does overselling mean and why is that not such a good thing?

By way of housekeeping, I am not referring here to misrepresenting yourself.  That could be by taking credit for things you have not done, projects you did not really manage, numbers you did not achieve, or degrees/certifications which you have not (yet) earned.  That would amount to fraud, which is inappropriate on a variety of levels.  And in most cases, that will ultimately backfire.  I am talking about stretching yourself on a level a bit more nuanced than that.

My colleague J.T. O’Donnell of Careeralism.com recently wrote about having a “crush” on a job.  What that means is that for a variety of reasons, a person will see a job which looks ideal or “perfect” and fails to look beyond that opportunity.  It could be the compensation, location, company, or other factors which are appealing about the job.  Having a crush means that you are infatuated with the opportunity, failing to look beyond it.

A couple of things can happen when one is laser-focused on a single job to the exclusion of others.  First, it will suppress any serious other prongs of a job search.  Today’s job search requires investment of time, resources, and emotional capital.  Being fixated on one ideal job will detract from valuable job search time that could be spent elsewhere.

Second, it will often decrease the level of objectivity when evaluating the job requirements and duties relative to what one truly brings to the table.  Any gaps will be compensated for with “potential”.  The problem is that hiring managers today are not searching for potential, as great of an upside that might be.  They are looking for experience, in the context of finding someone who has been-there-done-that, and can start next week with minimal training.

Another manifestation of overselling comes from trying to sell yourself not for a specific job or job family, but across multiple ones.  You might review the description for Job A and read yourself into it.  You might to the same for Jobs B and C, when they are very different from A and dissimilar to anything which you have done recently.  That might very well earn you a reputation as being all over the place, lacking focus.  Furthermore, the label of “serial job applicant” might be assigned to you.  I have written about the importance of “filtering” during a job search.  That essentially means being selective in the jobs to which you pay attention and invest time applying to.  That is certainly salient here.

Similarly, if you have an advocate for your job search by way of an “agent”, that party should also be careful not to oversell you.  You might in fact tell the agent to keep you in mind for multiple scenarios.  But, when that person does this indiscriminately, he/she will come across as referring you for everything from Receptionist to CEO.  Depending on who your agent is, he/she has to take into account his/her credibility, professionally or otherwise.  Overselling you, simply based on relationships, will not lead to a net gain for anyone in the long run.

I am not saying that you should not have career ambition.  That is critical to your career trajectory.  In addition, it is often necessary to be flexible and be open to go beyond your “comfort zone”.  If, for example, you are by nature introverted, you might need to come out of your shell a bit.  This might come in the form of self-promotion or becoming comfortable making a presentation to a large group.  The key is to do this within your background and competency set.  The key is to be selectively proactive in your job search.  As my colleague, Marc G. says, “be realistic while aspiring”.

Furthermore, you need to have some level of flexibility, especially if your field of expertise has evaporated and you need to reinvent yourself to land your next job.  This is where portable skills come in.  This means that you will need to be able to leverage things you have done in the past into a new career.  But, this must be done with objectivity and humility, perhaps requiring a step back.

So, in the end, we have to be honest with ourselves.  We have to recognize both our strengths and limitations, and conduct our job search activities accordingly.  We must understand that in many cases, especially in today’s job market, there will be “must-haves”.  This requires a careful reading to the entire job posting, especially the requirements.  Are those deal-breakers always correct?  No, but that’s not the point.  If a hiring manager or gatekeeper is evaluating your credentials against those must-haves in a literal way, they can and will be impediments to your being considered if you fall short.  In some cases, you might have strengths which might cause what you are lacking to be overlooked.  But in a competitive job market, employers often believe that they can set the bar high and still find candidates at that level.  That’s the point.  And that is why you need to set your sights accordingly.

As 2013 Comes to a Close: Looking Back, Now, and Ahead in the Job Market

As many readers know, I have been blogging on career and workplace topics for over a year and-a-half now.  As 2013 comes to a close, I’d like to reflect back on what has have been of interest to me to present to you.  Some of my essays have been reactive.  Some have been proactive.  Some have been descriptive and others have been reflective.  I have looked at the current state of employment, as well as ahead to its future.

On this blog and elsewhere, I have preached the importance of having an elevator speech to concisely introduce oneself professionally.  Beyond that, I talked about having an up-to-date resume which is good-to-go, accessible from anywhere to send on a moment’s notice.  In the don’t-take-my-word-for-it department, I have related some of the feedback which I have received from recruiters and employers and identified things they have told me are turn-offs to hiring managers.  I have encouraged everyone to have a professional mentor to guide, from whom to learn, and to pose questions when at a career crossroads.

I have pointed out the importance of nonverbal communication.  In that context, I have suggested that people listen to themselves speak and be aware of “fillers” that will diminish the crispness of one’s message.  I have discussed having quality eye-contact to engage and connect.  Furthermore, in one’s communication, we need to always be aware of the first impression that we make on others, as those initial reactions to us are so difficult to counterbalance later.

I have dealt with generational issues.  For young people, I have suggested careers in STEM (more on that later), and extolled the importance of internships on which one can learn valuable technical and social skills.  For not-so-young people, I made some suggestions for reinventing oneself.  I have also pointed out that managing the Millennial generation requires special strategies including a balance of direction and latitude.

I will end this run by revisiting the question that was the title of one of my first blog entries here,  “How’s the Job Market Doing?”.  This is indeed a relevant question.  Looking now and ahead, let me leave you with some closing observations.

My conclusion is that we are living through continuously evolving times.  The speed of technology and the instant connectivity of the world are here to stay.  Rather than marginalizing this as simply a “phase”, we have experienced a “disruption”, primarily due to technology.  A “disruptive innovation” is one which helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier reality. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect.  With technology, we will continue to see additional disruptions.  However, this time, they might come every 10 years rather than over few hundred.  In history, we know of a few examples such as the proverbial invention of the wheel, the printing press, as well as the industrial revolution.  Technology will invariably drive many yet-to-be-identified disruptions.

This no doubt has ramifications for the emergence of new jobs and the redefinition of existing ones.  Proficiency in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math will invariably be critical to keeping pace.  In that vein, I encourage young people to get up-to-speed on STEM, as it will invariably be part of every job.  In fact, just this week, Google has been promoting learning an hour of code.  We know that the U.S. might be becoming a bilingual country.  But, this third language of “coding” might be heading to be an essential second language.

Now, of course, there are other basic skills, including technical, communication, or social skills which will always be part of humans navigating the workplace, which should not be ignored.  Therefore, flexibility, adaptability, and nimbleness are key responses as we must constantly keep our finger on the pulse of the changes around us.

In conclusion,  as we close the curtain on 2013 and look ahead to 2014, I hope that you will also read my other pieces on workplace, careers, job search, etc. on this Joblink@Work as well as continue to follow me  when I post elsewhere.

In five years, will Amazon Drone be replacing Amazon Prime and delivering our packages the same day as we order them?  Maybe yes, maybe not.  But, what is certain is that getting a job at Amazon, or any other company for that matter, will be different than today.

Thanksgivukkah: Five Workplace Lessons from this 2013 Calendric Confluence

This year marks the first time since 1888 that Thanksgiving and Chanukah overlap.  The next occurrence of this confluence will be in the year 79,811!  For the astronomically uninitiated, the reason for this is that Chanukah, being a Jewish holiday, is based on a lunar rather than the more commonly used “Gregorian” (solar) calendar.  (It should also be noted that historically, Thanksgiving in the U.S. was not always marked on the same day either.)  Since the year in Hebrew calendar has fewer days and a “leap month” every few years, Chanukah becomes a “floating holiday” on the solar calendar.  Therefore, it’s not automatic that the occurrence of Chanukah will be on or close to Christmas, which is always on December 25.  This collision of these iconic observances in 2013 has been coined “Thanksgivukkah” and has sparked the entrepreneurial American spirit.  This season, we have seen the invention of the “Menurkey”, fusion recipes, and a few tacky tee shirts.  A roasted turkey even makes a cameo in the new Maccabeats Chanukah video, entitled Burn.   Beyond that, here are five take-always that apply to the workplace and professional life:

(1)    Slam Dunk: The first connection is an easy one.  According to traditional Jewish sources, one of Chanukah’s themes is that of thanksgiving for a military victory and the miracle of the oil.  As we approach Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to express thanks those who have nurtured your professional lives.  This would of course include your parents, who got it all started.  But it also is a chance to say ‘thank you’ to teachers, college professors, and professional mentors.  I have previously written about the importance of having a mentor.  So, if you don’t yet have a professional mentor to guide and inform your career, seek one out now, so that you can thank him/her later.  It’s an important exercise in introspection to show gratitude for both the miraculous and not-so miraculous things in life.

(2)    Eight Crazy Nights: As noted theologian Adam Sandler tells us, Chanukah is celebrated over 8 nights.  In the Menorah, an additional candle is lit on each successive night resulting in a full candelabra on the last night.  The same applies to a career.  Your work life is incremental, as there are milestones and experiences on which you should successively build.  Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of transportable skills and lifelong learning.  Understanding this is critical to keep pace with an constantly changing normal.  If you stay stagnant in their professional portfolios of knowledge, skills, and abilities–and do not progress, your will be left out in the cold.

(3)    Diversity: The non-overlap of Chanukah and Christmas should convey message that the workplace is a blend of cultures and religions.  The fact that Native Americans played a prominent role in the Thanksgiving story certainly bolsters the multicultural message.  This calls for a sensitivity towards others religious observance as well as reasonable accommodation by managers for the practice of religions other than their own.  This also means not making generalized assumptions about others with regard to their religious observance or work performance.  This sentiment should permeate all of workplace actions including with customers and vendors with whom you deal.  The freedom to practice religion is this country is to be appreciated and celebrated.

(4)    Checks and balances: Yes, diversity is part of the workplace landscape.  But, if you have certain religious practices and observances, you must also understand that not everyone in the office shares in those sentiments.  Unless you are in a totally homogeneous environment, the workplace should be religiously neutral.  It is therefore inappropriate to prominently display any religious items in your work space.  In addition, any requests for religious accommodation should be made taking into account the business needs of the organization.  So, diversity is a two-way street.

(5)    Symbols and recognition: The Pilgrims and a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings are prominent symbols of Thanksgiving.  The Menorah, which has its place in homes and most recently in public displays, is also symbolic.  Holiday time is often an opportunity to formally recognize the accomplishments of others through formal commendations, gifts, gratuities, or even bonuses.  Whether symbolic or otherwise, these actions go a long way towards good will and retention of good people.

What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name?  The short answer is–everything.  People (literally) take their names personally.  Each of us is given a name by parents at a young age, and really have no say in the matter.  It is what it is and we live with it.  Of course, it is possible to pick up a nickname sometime between birth and adulthood.  Hopefully, either a formal or informal name is not one which was bestowed upon us contrary to what would have been our better judgment.

Our name triggers an internal psychological mechanism which grabs our attention when we hear it.  This happens either when we are communicating one-on-one or being called in a crowded mall.  When we are in conversation with someone, using the other person’s name facilitates focus, connection, and engagement.

There are several contexts in which someone’s name is going to be relevant within a job search or professional life.  Here, I explore 7 such applications.

(1)    Pay attention to pronunciations, spelling, titles, and gender: Not everyone has a simple name, especially in the melting pot of today’s workforce.  You might need to verify with the person as to whether you are properly pronouncing his/her name or not.  There is nothing that irks us more than hearing our name botched.  So be sensitive to that when speaking to others.  This applies to basic names as well as ethnically unusual ones.  In written or digital correspondence, make sure that you spell first and last names correctly.  As we know, seeing our names misspelled is equally annoying.  Make sure that you use correct job titles and formal titles like Dr., Mr., or Ms.  Finally, note that there are (shortened versions of) names like Chris, Pat, and Sam which could be either male or female.  As such, knowing the gender of the other party will better inform your pronoun choices.

(2)    First time caller…or even second: It is good form that unless the other party is already totally familiar to you, that you open the conversation by stating your name.  If you need to ask for someone else at that number, clearly include that person’s name (and department) in your request.  Never jump into the call with your “ask” before introducing yourself.  Don’t expect ‘Caller ID’ to do that work for you.  The same thing holds true when leaving a voicemail message.  Similarly, all emails should open with the person’s name at the top of the message.  No ‘Hi”, “Wazzup”, “Hey”–just simply the intended recipient’s name.  I would go so far to recommend beginning most ‘reply to’ emails with the person’s name and ending with your name.  (It might not hurt to do this in texts too!)  Doing this takes no more than a second longer, but it significantly enhances the tone of your message.

(3)    Your Email Name: Job seekers often will stick with an email address previously used exclusively for personal use.  Trust me.  Emails received from beachpartygirl@gmail.com or callmeroastbeef@yahoo.com will not exactly convey professionalism or that you are a serious candidate for most job titles out there.  In addition to having a neutral address, make sure that both your first and last name shows up in the “From” for messages you send to others so no one has to guess who you are.

(4)    Name changers: The most common reason for changing a name is marital status.  Marriage and divorce happen.  Notify colleagues and official governmental entities of any changes in your name.  On the other hand, allow for a reasonable “grace period” of an acceptable window for errors before you get ticked off.  Be careful when addressing others.  No woman who has gone through a nasty divorce wants to be reminded of her ‘ex’.

(5)    Resume: Unless you have legally changed your name, the name that you have on your resume should ideally be the official name that appears on your birth certificate.  If you do get hired, and have an unofficial name that is different from your official identity, this might create problems with employment paperwork.  Name changers should especially pay attention to this.  Also, inasmuch as your LinkedIn profile is really a digital resume, the same thing applies there.

(6)    Interviews and seating charts: Hearing our names pronounced correctly is important to us.  So, when in a job interview, consider the following tip.  Beginning at least one answer to an interviewer’s question with his/her name will help you “connect”.  Very often you will be interviewed by a panel of multiple people.  Before the interview starts, if they have not already done so, ask the interviewers to introduce themselves and their titles.  Quickly and discreetly, jot the names down as they appear in front of you.   That way, you will be able to to begin one or more of your answers with the questioner’s name.

(7)    Don’t nick the name: After you have been around someone for a period of time, it might be acceptable to ascribe that person with a nickname.  The name might be a shortened or other acceptable variation of one’s formal name (e.g., Jerry for Gerald) or one which is more easily pronounced name than an ethnically complicated name.  Don’t assume.  Ask the recipient whether he/she is OK with your using a name that is different from the official one.  Certainly, if the other party uses it as the preferred name, that is OK.  It goes without saying that assigning a nickname to someone that is disparaging, off-color, or otherwise harassing is off-limits.  Such names should be avoided in front of the person or behind his/her back.

So, names are important in our communication, be it professional or everyday life.  We hope that other people get our names right when using the spoken and written word.  So we should all try to do the same for others.

After the Last Word

Job seekers will often ping me at different points within their job search.  Some of these are questions on how to handle a personal situation.  Some queries will deal with how to respond to a particular type of interview question.  However, one of the most common ones is how and when to follow up after some job search activity.  While each scenario is unique, there are some general norms of job search etiquette which I attempt to convey.  Below, I will try to summarize some recommended perspectives for communication.  I also present some examples of verbiage which captures what I suggest to be appropriate and effective.

(1) After the Initial Contact: OK, so you have reached out with your interest towards a specific job opportunity.  You may have seen posted it on Facebook, Careerbuilder, or received it via an email from a friend.  You then emailed your resume or otherwise applied online.  Now you are waiting to hear back.  How long do you wait for a response?

As you might know, some companies will have an immediate automated acknowledgement email, to let you know that your application was received; but, many do not.  Some companies are more responsible and get back to anyone who has expressed interest; others do not.  It is also possible that the recruitment is being handled by someone who is one or two degrees of separation away from the person who will (initially or ultimately) decide on how the applicant pool will be pared down.  So, don’t “over-infer” and conclude the worst  if you have not heard back.

There are so many possibilities of what might be happening here, so it would be  too numerous to cover all of them.   But, I typically use two weeks* as a rule-of-thumb.  If you have not heard back by that time, a tasteful follow-up email is not only acceptable, but advisable.   It should be polite and concise as in the following:

Dear Mr. Ngata:

On ______________ I sent in my resume in consideration for the Chemical Engineer position (Job #FvD352) with your company.  I just wanted to make sure that you received it for consideration and express my interest in the role.  If there is anything else which you might need from me, or the status of the recruitment has changed since that time, please let me know. 

Thank you.

(2) After the Interview: I recommend that job seekers who have interviewed for a job, whether by phone or in-person, send a ‘Thank You’ email to the employer or recruiter within 24 hours of the interview.  This email might also include any additional materials (e.g., work samples, references) that might have been requested at the interview.  Such an email should be brief, as in the following:

Dear Mr. Yanda:

I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Office Manager position in the Finance Department of your organization.  I enjoyed meeting the staff and appreciated the mini-tour of the facility.  I hope that I was able to convey the skills and experience in my background as relevant to the open position.  If there are any other questions which you have or information that you would like from me, please let me know. 

Thank you.

What if you have not heard back since that ‘Thank You’ email?  Should you panic?  Not necessarily.  There are a whole host of reasons why this might be the case.  Once again, I would once use the “two week rule*” before following up.  Here is an example of what you might write:

Dear Mr. Harbaugh:

As you know, I met with you (and Mr. Pitta) on ________________ to discuss the position of Operations Manager with your company.  Firstly, I wanted to reiterate my continued interest in the role.  Secondly, if you could please provide me with what you envision as your time frame for any next steps in the process, I would appreciate that.  

Thank you.

(3) After the Rejection: Getting a rejection email or letter is never pleasant.  The level of emotional pain is usually a function of how much you have invested in the process.  Reactions such as “sour grapes” might happen.  Or, you might fault the interview process, interviewer, or some other factor which you feel was working against you.  You may, in fact, be correct.  But, that’s not the point and it’s time to move on.  You need to keep an open mind and figure out how you might play things differently next time.  Of course, it’s counterproductive to transform any negative emotions into an exercise of bridge burning, as cathartic as that venting might be.  Social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter make it all too easy to express such sentiments to your network.  But, that is a double-edge sword which might ultimately become your professional liability.  After all, employers and recruiters might talk among each other about you.  Plus, the Internet does not forget.  Developing a reputation as someone who consistently reacts negatively to rejection will not be to your advantage.  Being polite will only help you.  It is entirely possible that there might be another position currently or one in the future with that same organization that might become open.  So, if you have left things on good terms, you might be favorably referred internally for something else by someone who has already screened you.

Alternatively, there might be a skill or credential which you will need to add to your portfolio in order to better position you in the future for the type of role you are seeking.  Therefore, if you can somehow gather intelligence information and act on it, that would be valuable.  But, you have to do this carefully and tactfully, as in:

Dear Mr. Flacco:

Thank you for getting back to me as to the final decision in the selection process for Office Manager.  While the final outcome is obviously not what I would have preferred, I always try to learn from experiences and look in a forward direction.  Therefore, I am wondering if you would be willing to share (via email or phone) any feedback from the interview or otherwise which will help me in enhancing any skills or fill in any gaps.  I can then use this information to enhance my career development efforts and to better position myself professionally in the future. 

Thank you.

(4) After the Job Offer: In the spirit of ending off on a positive note, let’s say that you do get a job offer.  First, you need to know that what you have received is indeed a genuine job offer.  Most job offers, in order to be real, include some sort of formal statement that you have the job.  Such a letter or email might include an explicit statement of the terms including the formal job title, full or part time, compensation offered, and start date.  There might also be some contingencies that are stipulated.  A background check or pre-employment physical exam might be pending.  That is fairly typical.  (It should be note that a standard offer letter is not a legally binding contract, even if it asks for your review and signature.)  Many job seekers will erroneously interpret an informal statement of offer that mentions pending receiving of funding or getting a contract.  That is not really a job offer.

Assuming that the job offer is genuine, there might be a deadline included by which you have to accept the offer.  When the job offer is verbal or informal, there might not be a specific date.  An informal or verbal job offer might also merely be preliminary, in the context of a more formal offer coming through shortly.  One of the questions which comes up is how and when to respond to a job offer.  The way to respond really depends.  If the offer is formal and has a deadline to accept, that is a detail to take seriously and act upon accordingly.  It is good form to at least immediately acknowledge receipt of the correspondence and that you are considering it.

I obviously cannot advise in this blog about whether or not to accept any given job offer.  Factors such as compensation, commute time, and whether there are other prospects are all salient points among several others to consider.  But, there might be a need to “buy time” and defer acceptance or rejection of the offer.  In doing so, it is best to frame your response in a positive way, thanking the employer for the offer and committing to respond in short order or by the deadline.  If no date is provided, you might want to respectfully ask when the employer would need to know by.  Then, follow through at that time with a statement of acceptance of the job and its terms.  (If the terms need to be adjusted or negotiated, that is beyond the scope here.).  Such a communication might look something like this:

Dear Mr. Suggs:

Thank you very much for the job offer extended regarding the Accounts Payable position with your company.  I am favorably considering the offer now and have noted the “accept by” date in the letter.  There are a couple of personal and professional details which will be factoring into my final decision.  So, you will hear back from me, no later than in a couple of days.

Thank you again for your favorable evaluation of me and I will be in touch soon.

If for whatever reason, you are going to be declining the offer (perhaps because you have a better one), you should not just ignore it.  For professional reasons, you must close the loop.  You need not give much detail as to your reasons, but you should respond in a timely manner and not hold up the organization’s timeline.  Keep the email/letter positive as it is quite possible that your paths might cross again.  You should express appreciation for being considered and perhaps give some reason for declining, as in:

Dear Mr. Rice:

Thank you very much for the offer of employment with your company as a Staff Accountant.  I have given the opportunity some thought.  Based on some personal responsibilities which would require a significant adjustment to commute to Rockville, I have decided to remain in my current role for now.  I enjoyed meeting the staff of the firm and it seems like a wonderful place to work.

Thank you.

The above are just basic templates of communication which have the common denominators of being concise and timely, each with a tone of positivity and gratitude.  What you actually send will of course vary, depending on the situation.

Keeping the above in mind will play wall and perhaps set you apart from those whom either do not follow up at all or others who communicate in an over-the-top manner.  The objective is to get the last word in edgewise in a way that develops or retains your professional reputation.

*Note: How did I come up with “two weeks”?  Nothing magical about that, really.  If another time frame is stipulated by your contact person or otherwise inferred by a specific deadline, then go ahead and use that as a basis to follow-up.  But, there is a myriad of reasons why you need to give some time for things to materialize (with two weeks being reasonable).  These might include vacations, other candidates in the recruiting pipeline, an occasional Government Shutdown, business travel, other search projects, or some other unavailability of key decision makers.  I think that approximately two weeks is therefore appropriate.  So, be patient.

Five Ways to Turn Off Recruiters

I came across a recent survey reported by Bullhorn, a popular applicant tracking software company used by professional recruiters.  The report was summarized by Vinda Rao, who also posted a cool “infographic” on the company’s blog here.  Basically, the study supports anecdotal evidence which I have often heard from my vantage point at Joblink.  In dealing with many job seekers on a regular basis, I have made referrals of candidates to recruiters and employers, either for open positions or more generally. The Bullhorn report highlighted the findings from this anonymous survey of 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers, asking them to list their pet peeves.   Interestingly, and perhaps not astonishingly, some recruiters are actually so turned off by certain job seeker behaviors that 43% indicated that they would go so far as to “blacklist” such candidates and suppress their names from future resume searches. Now, if you’re a job seeker, that’s not a good thing.

Below, I first list the findings of the survey and then provide my own annotated spin, based on my observations and experience.  In reality, I have heard similar reactions from third-party recruiters, internal corporate recruiters and hiring managers.  So, in the spirit of “I didn’t make this stuff up”, here are five ways to scare away recruiters:

(1)   Applying for irrelevant jobs: 31% of recruiters noted that their biggest turnoff was candidates who apply to irrelevant jobs (jobs for which they are clearly unqualified).  When I worked in public sector HR, we referred to such individuals as “serial job applicants”.  Over time, certain names became quite familiar to us.  Such individuals would submit State job applications for everything from Landscape Technician to Governor.  In most cases, there was no match nor did the person meet the state position requirements.  We concluded that some were merely going through the motions based on that being a condition to receive unemployment benefits.  Some were applying to everything posted because of pressure from a family member.  Others might have been applying for every opening because they had time on their hands.  Some might have taken the perspective that applying for many types of jobs shows “openness and flexibility” to do anything, and that’s a good thing, right?  However, from the other side, applying broadly will earn you the reputation of not being a serious job seeker, even relative to those jobs for which you might objectively be qualified.  I have always recommended the qualitatively selective approach over applying to everything under the sun in the hopes of just one sticking.

(2)   Exaggerating qualifications on their resume: 21% of recruiters say it’s a big pet peeve.  It is always recommended that a resume should capture your skills, experience, and accomplishments.  But, you also need to be truthful and objective.  This applies to the wording you use to describe yourself.  It also relates to what you take credit for and even the job titles which you ascribe to yourself.  I’m not talking about claiming to already have a Masters degree, when that is either patently false or only partially true.  I’m talking about listing a job title of VP or Director, when the job duties below that point to being the Office Manager.  Also, if your name is Mark K. Smith, and you report that you have been the “CEO of MKS Consulting” for the last 10 years, even a Recruiter on her first day on the job will see right through that.  Right or not, he/she might very well conclude that you have essentially been unemployed for the past decade.

(3)   Focusing on salary above all other job factors: 15% don’t want to work with candidates who think that salary is the most important factor in a new job.  I have had many occasions where I will circulate a job that crosses my desk and the first question I get in response is “what is the salary?”  In most of those cases, I honestly do not know the answer to that.  In many cases, it becomes clear that the person may not have read anything beyond the job title and location.  People who are actively in the job market are understandably anxious about their situation.  Furthermore, they might not want to waste their time if the salary is clearly a non-starter.  But focusing on salary and inquiring about it directly at the very beginning of a recruitment process will convey a certain wrong message about you.

(4)   Responding to a job posting that is way beyond their level of experience: 13% of recruiters indicate these unrealistic applications waste their time.  The motivation of doing this is similar to #1 above.  Then again, so is the reaction by the recruiters.

(5)   Calling/emailing more than once a week for status updates: 11% do not want to hear from candidates that often, unless actively discussing a specific opportunity.  While I have never heard of a recruiter actually getting a restraining order on an applicant, many would probably like to be able to do that.  Most recruiters today have phones with Caller ID.  Whether or not the recruiter actually pick up or you decide to leave a voicemail message, they will know when you call, and how often.  Trust me.  Getting a reputation of a phone or email stalker will not play well.  While it is a good idea to check in and to express continued interest in a particular position, this needs to be done in a patient and measured way.  (A future blog post will provide some pointers on this, so please stay tuned.)

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