ed muses upon

2010/08/31

Staying Focused: Being the Known Quantity

The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 70% of all positions are filled through networking. The importance of networking, so often trumpeted to job seekers, depends upon that figure. But it’s worth asking why it’s so important. What makes networking so vital to landing?

The answer is simple: it’s how employers know you are a living, breathing person.

While individual businesses may be more or less open to aggressive solutions or thinking, it’s fair to say that as a rule, businesses tend to be risk averse. This is only sensible in a for-profit enterprise: if an effort or initiative requires [x] resources, then [x] must be lesser than the expected revenue/cost reduction or it isn’t worth proceeding.

The costs associated with bringing on a new employee are considerable: the employee needs to be trained, resulting in lost productivity of the person or people involved in that training; the tasks assigned to the new employee cannot be completed as quickly as when an experienced person is in that role; to say nothing of the costs of recruiting and costs in benefits incurred. And of course, if a new employee doesn’t work out, the whole process might need to be repeated. A business is willing to take the hit in lost productivity, but only for the right new hire.

For those reasons, it should come as no surprise that businesses are even more conservative when it comes to evaluating résumés. HR and hiring managers are flooded with dozens or even hundreds of résumés for each job posting. No matter how well crafted, résumés don’t represent living, breathing people to the screener: they are merely skill sets or aptitudes that either do or do not match the criteria in the posting.

A résumé has no face, no sense of humor and no personality. And that’s the problem: a hiring manager isn’t hiring a résumé: he or she is hiring an employee, someone with the optimal combination of required background and ability to fit into the corporate culture. No matter how compellingly crafted or presented, the résumé will always be a poorer sales tool than the product: you.

We’ve all done it: applied for a position, submitted the relevant material into the black hole and heard nothing back with no way to follow up except a general HR phone number or e-mail address—which is to say, no way at all. This part of job search is easily the most frustrating, unsatisfying and soul-killing part: the stakes are very high but you have no control, influence or even means to gauge your progress as a candidate. In this situation, the screener is a faceless, nameless, and hence anonymous figure…just like you.

It is to overcome this anonymity, this facelessness, which makes networking so directly important to job search. Leaving aside the fact that the people we encounter at networking events might pass along useful leads, by networking, you can become a face, a name and a known quantity.

Psychologists have been aware of the halo effect for decades. In HR circles, the term is used to refer to a hiring manager identifying a positive trait that mitigates a candidate’s negative trait(s). As job seekers, we need to make full use of the tools in our toolkit to land.

At the end of the day, staying focused on being the known quantity is at the heart of networking’s importance, and will help you land.

2010/08/23

The Importance of Being Busy

Filed under: branding, job search, networking, volunteering — Tags: , , , , , — edmusesupon @ 10:22 am

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of the end of July, the average bout of unemployment lasted 34.2 weeks, representing 44.9% of all unemployed Americans. This means taxpayers without jobs are spending just over 8 months without a paycheck.

A very popular interview question to ask candidates who are between opportunities is “what have you been doing with your time?” I know of several who are dealing with a gap of one year or more on their résumés. It is only natural that a hiring manager is going to ask such a candidate what they have been doing: in what way have they been keeping busy?

Despite the abundant and oft-repeated aphorism that looking for a job is itself a full-time job, “searching for my next opportunity” simply isn’t an acceptable answer to give in an interview. Job search does not generally help one keep professional skills sharp, and indeed, professional skills might even atrophy from disuse, especially if not exercised regularly.

I don’t consider this a problematic question: I have an answer that works for me. But I would submit that job seekers accustomed to or seeking leadership roles would do well to find avenues to exercise the craft of leadership. Tim Tyrell-Smith, author of the Tim’s Strategy blog, recently posted a relevant entry: 3 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership While Finding a Job. His suggestions of blogging, helping others to network and speaking are all excellent. Certainly, offering one’s expertise and experience through blogging, helping others with networking and speaking to others are absolutely ways to demonstrate leadership while in search. But note that all three of these ideas are also about networking.

In any job search process, there’s going to be a question about how to allocate a job seeker’s time. That aphorism about finding a job being a full-time job is right, even though you can’t say that in an interview.

So how should a job seeker spend his or her time? Well, another statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes to mind: 70% of new jobs are filled through networking.

The evidence behind this number is provided by Kimberly Beatty on the Jobfully blog. In brief, it is inferred through three data elements on the BLS JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) report: number of hires, open positions posted and previously opened positions filled by a candidate already known to the employer.

If the majority of jobs are landed through networking—and this conclusion is difficult to avoid—then doesn’t it make sense for a job seeker to spend the majority of his or her time pursuing it?

I think so. How about you?

2010/08/10

Staying Focused: Personal Branding

Everywhere I look, job search advice stresses the importance of branding yourself. Rod Colon, founder of the ETP Network, is fond of employing the entrepreneurship metaphor, describing job seekers as the CEOs of Me, Inc. I like this metaphor a great deal: it explains so clearly the ownership and initiative that constitute job search best practices.

There are hundreds of applications for any job posting these days. As job seekers, we know that overcoming the odds means we must distinguish ourselves from other candidates. Just as in any crowded marketplace, our success in our search is dependent upon our ability to communicate our unique suitability in solving someone’s problem. But how we communicate to employers our unique suitability to solving their problem?

The answer: by propagating our professional brands.

A brand should consist of achievements and skills that explain why you are worth knowing. Perhaps you have such an extensive procurement background that if you haven’t bought it, no one needs it, as in the case of one friend. It could be that you are a trainer whose specialty is making information meaningful—which is how another friend and PSG alumna describes herself. Or maybe you are a quality professional who stands ready to address an employer’s quality needs, like yet a third friend.

Anyone who has heard a great elevator speech has heard these taglines clearly communicating their professional brand. But branding is about more than a tagline. Just as an ad campaign for the next big summer blockbuster film is about much more than just one poster appearing in theaters, your brand is about more than a tagline.

This is not to say that a tagline isn’t important: it certainly is. But it’s only part of a much bigger whole; just one tactic deployed in pursuit of your overall strategy.

Certainly, networking is the most powerful way to propagate your professional brand: that’s why there are so many networking groups. But there are ways you can propagate your brand online to hiring managers, and those ways start with LinkedIn. There are ways to integrate a blog, publicize what you are reading, or what events you will be attending through LinkedIn. Sharing this information with people in your network can be a powerful means of propagating your professional brand. A blog can be an excellent way to share your hard-won expertise, so using the BlogLink or WordPress applications would allow you to tie a blog into your LinkedIn profile. A great way to demonstrate thought-leadership or simply that you are staying current in your area is the Reading List by Amazon application. And there is always the Events application, which allows you to find or create events and notify people in your LinkedIn network. Beyond the realm of LinkedIn applications are the LinkedIn Questions & Answers, a tremendous way to raise your visibility by answering questions people might pose from the more than 75 million users of the site.

As job seekers, we have a unique value proposition. We are strong candidates, capable of great things. Out there somewhere is an employer who deserves the opportunity to learn how great.

At the end of the day, staying focused on branding will help you find that employer.

2010/08/02

How and Why Job Clubs Work

For well over a year now, I have been involved in a job club: the PSG of Mercer County. One of a dozen such job clubs available in the state of New Jersey, the Professional Service Groups of NJ are a program of the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Organized at the county level, PSGs are a self-managing group of professionals in transition helping one another land their next opportunities. This mission is achieved through training, support, networking and each member’s native talents.

It’s been my privilege during the span of my involvement with the PSG of Mercer County to witness dozens of my friends and fellow PSG members land positions. And not just any positions: opportunities in alignment with their expertise and professional objectives. When another member does land, he or she gives a brief discussion about what did or didn’t work for them in bringing their job search to an end.

Without fail, each of the elements listed above–training, support and networking–are cited as the value added by their involvement with PSG. Don’t just take my word for it: I invite you to examine the testimonials of successful job seekers who can speak to the efficacy of PSG.

Not too long ago, my friend Donna Svei wrote a blog entry extolling the benefits of job clubs, including some very interesting metrics, especially the first item: up to quadrupling the speed with which some job seekers can end their search process.

But I would like to offer a few oft-missed benefit of job clubs that I have found true of my experience with the PSG of Mercer County:

  • Opportunities to exercise professional skills and to develop new, marketable skills
  • Maintain awareness of emerging job search best practices
  • Mindset management to remain positive and focused in job search

Each of these are important but I particularly want to discuss the last. As of the end of June, a staggering 45.5% of unemployment persons have been in search of their next positions for 27+ weeks.

Maintaining a positive focus for longer-term employees in transition can be exceptionally challenging but it is crucial in demonstrating the kind of confidence a hiring manager wants to see in a candidate. Day after day, week after week, month after month, I encounter job seekers who struggle with managing their mindsets.

Job clubs can be the answer.

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