Month: March 2010

6 ways to screw up your job search

"Savage Chickens" by Doug Savage

We’re over a year into a nasty recession that generated millions of layoffs (including mine) and created a whole new wave of people seeking jobs.

It’s the story du jour on many media channels and platforms to cover the unemployment issue and talk to people that the recession affected (as one major outlet did with me last summer).

But many of the job seekers that are interviewed are missing a lot of opportunities, and making a lot of mistakes. It’s frustrating, because I know what it takes to fight through the job search clutter and I see people making the same mistakes over and over again.

If you’re looking, here are six common ways you could be failing at job search (even if you don’t know it):

(1) Attitude. Believe me, I’ve been there. It sucks to lose your job. It’s an incredibly hard market. But you HAVE to go into it with confidence and a sense of calm.

I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve seen completely FAIL at having the right attitude. These people have every chance to get on TV, or radio, or a Web film, and talk about their job search. And what do they do? They don’t use that golden opportunity to talk about their resume, or their skills, or even how challenging the market is right now.

90% of the people I’ve seen have complained. They say, “Damn, searching for a job is, like, a full-time job!” And that makes any hiring manager who might have been watching that interview – and who may have been interested in hiring you- change the channel.

Have confidence and be excited about the search. And treat it as your full time job. Structure your day – resume submission in the morning, follow-up calls and networking in the afternoon. After all, you have a lot of free time!

(2) Diversity in your search. I’ve also seen a number of interviews with someone who can’t find a job. They’re so frustrated and exasperated, which I completely get.

And when asked what they’ve been doing, they say: “Well, I put my resume on (pick one) CareerBuilder/Monster.” End of story.

Now, it’s probably the worst-kept secret that I worked for one of those companies – and that company was also the one that laid me off. But this is NOT a case of sour grapes.

Do big job boards like CareerBuilder and Monster have value? Absolutely. I’ve found the last two jobs I’ve had on those boards.

But it would be foolish to depend completely on those boards as the only outlet to search. (And incredibly foolish to think that simply posting your resume on one of these sites will make companies come knocking at your door.)  It would be like shopping at Target…..and only buying from the impulse items in the checkout lines.

Use as many sources as you can. Start with search engines like SimplyHired or Indeed (search aggregators who pull from many job boards). LinkedIn is a great source for postings. Local boards are great. If your industry has a Website where you can follow trends and news, chances are there is a job posting area or job board there. Alumni sites are great. Use ALL the resources at your fingertips.

(3) Wasting the recruiter’s time. I know it’s scary to be unemployed, and you want to be as flexible as you can. It’s great that you’re not being a diva and waiting for THE perfect job. But many people are applying for jobs that they simply aren’t even close to being qualified for.

Quite frankly, that never gets you an interview. It means that the HR person or the recruiter is going to curse your name as they hit the “Delete” button.

If you really, really believe you have the mad skillz that the company needs, be eloquent (concise, but eloquent) about what you’re bringing to the table, how it differs from what they’ve asked for, and why your skill set is one they should consider. If you can’t make a compelling argument, chances are you shouldn’t be applying for that job.

(4) Bad interviewing skills and lack of preparedness. U.S. News and World Report just had a great list of 50 common mistakes people make during interviews. Take a look and see if you recognize any of these.

The one piece of sage advice someone gave me years ago, and that I always keep in mind, is this: Don’t worry about being 100% correct or sounding like an expert at the interview.

The interviewer understands you’re at the beginning with that company. The important thing is to think through answers. If they ask a complex question, you may even want to think aloud a bit. This is their objective: to see and understand how you think and how you respond.

(5) Networking (or lack thereof). Networking can be a challenge – it’s my biggest vulnerability and most people approach it with all of the joy they usually feel for a visit to the dentist.

But an effective job seeker HAS to network. Social media networking on LinkedIn (and even Facebook) is important, and a great way to make the most of LinkedIn. But job seekers can’t rely on online networking alone.

Yep, you’ve gotta bathe, turn off the Xbox or Wii, and interact with people. Have your business cards ready and your elevator speech. Be fun, be relaxed, be yourself. The more that people know who you are and what you can do, the more likely they’ll be to keep you in mind for a job.

(6) Casting too narrow of a net. Of course, if you’ve got an MBA and a decade of experience under your belt, you don’t want to toss that aside to be head cashier at Trader Joe’s. (Note: Trader Joe’s is a great store, and working these seems like fun!)

But too many people have very rigid ideas about their career paths. You can’t always be that picky, especially in this economy.

The best approach to casting a wider net is to brainstorm about what other areas might relate to what you’ve already done. Experience in, say, an accounting job could segue into any number of financial or compliance roles at a bank, insurance company or into a role at any number of corporations.

A laid-off librarian might find a suitable role organizing documents or publications for a company, or using those skills to catalog and organize…well, just about anything. Non-profits and government agencies need those kind of organized, focused people who can dot their i’s and cross their t’s.

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The kids are all right

We’re at the end of a long, cold Chicago winter. (Finally!)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been using my time wisely, catching up on a stack of unread books gathering dust on my nightstand.

My favorite so far? It’s a book called The Kids are All Right. It’s the story of the Welch family, a family that was both extraordinary (Mom was an actress on several soap operas, and Dad may or may not have been in the CIA) and yet completely ordinary.

For any of us who came of age in the 70s and 80s, it’s a familiar story, and one that has a few recognizable threads from other writers and humorists that mine family life for material (like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, to name two).

I don’t want to spoil the story here, because I really want to encourage everyone to buy this book and read it. But here’s what has drawn me to the book and what has kept it in my head weeks after I’ve finished it: it tells the story from multiple viewpoints.

Sisters Diana Welch and Liz Welch, both writers, are the principal authors of the book, but it’s also the story of their other siblings, Dan and Amanda.

This really reverberates for me, because I’m also one of four children. I’m the youngest, with my closest sibling being five years older. My oldest sibling? She was 12 years older than me.

To put that into context? She graduated from high school in June 1975….three months before I entered first grade. That’s not just a big difference in calendar years. That’s a huge generational difference that really informed how we both see the world.

That oldest sibling and I get along really well. But we have incredibly different viewpoints and memories, sometimes of the same events! My time with our parents came much later and at a time where I was the only kid in the house. She was the first kid that had to share with every new sibling and probably had to deal with my parents’ trial and error in child rearing.

Our family coped with things that many families in middle America coped with: physical illness, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and conflicts in relationships. But it still amazes me, sometimes, how different my experience and my memories are from my siblings.

I loved The Kids are All Right because it lets each sibling tell their story and honors and validates each story (a twist on the title of the book and perhaps its true statement: the kids are all right).  There’s a fantastic line on the Web page that they’ve set up for the book that says, “The past belongs to everyone who was there.”