Monday, August 31, 2009

Mulligan Stew Job Descriptions

There's been an increase of what I like to call Mulligan Stew job descriptions. If you aren't familiar with Mulligan Stew, it's essentially a meal made from all sorts of things thrown together. In cooking, the outcome can be delicious. When it comes to job descriptions, mixing a whole bunch of random responsibilities together can be a catastrophe.

My client, we'll call him Pete, found one of these positions just last week. 75% of the job suits him perfectly. The position requires someone with the sales, networking, marketing and presentation abilities Pete has to offer. The remaining 25% of the job, which the posting states the candidate must have experience with, includes preparing financial statements, budget reporting and technology functions. There's even more to the position than I've referenced. 14 bullet points of various qualifications, to be exact. You get the point.

What's likely happening is the organization is in the position to add someone to its staff, has several functions suffering at the moment and is trying to solve all of its issues with one key hire. Perhaps they'll get lucky and find that perfect candidate. More than likely, they won't. Even Pete recognized the problem. His words, "they are looking for the impossible."

When companies are looking for the impossible, it's a great time to toss your name in the hat. Reach out to the organization. Make it clear what you can deliver on and what you can not. Wish them luck, in a sincere way, in finding the person capable of all outlined functions. Couple that with the suggestion they consider your abilities and what you could immediately offer the organization in terms of bottom line contributions should the position prove difficult to fill. In the end, it's all about profitability. If you can show hiring you, even though you don't have the expertise in all requested areas, is better for their bottom line than their current plan, it's a winning outcome.

For the job that Pete found, the company is likely going to think they have to make a decision of where to take a hit. They'll believe they are either going to have to hire someone with the talents to bring in connections and sales while crossing their fingers the person can figure out the books or they'll have to hire someone who is up on maintaining and preparing financial statements with the hope they will find the time and the social means to work networking circles and pound the phone. If Pete can help them see profitability in another option, hiring him and outsourcing/reassigning the bookkeeping/technology functions, he may just be able to be the one to lead the way to an outcome where everybody wins.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting Past Receptionists

Receptionists deserve an apology. They get blamed by the masses for not putting calls through to key personnel. They are the supposed obstacle to job seekers being able to effectively follow up on opportunities and make valuable connections with decision makers.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no receptionist boot camp where those screening phone calls are taught to make your efforts futile. The reason receptionists stick callers in voice mail or throw job seekers to human resources is because the caller hasn't taken the time to make the call important. You can't get to an important person if you don't have something important or valuable to say.

The most common mistake job seekers make when calling a company is telling whomever answers the phone too much information. There is this knee jerk reaction to explain how you're looking for a job, don't want to be a bother, are hoping to talk with someone and, if the person missed it the first time, you're looking for a job. Blah, blah, blah. That type of lead in is all about you. Never mind that person likely has other lines to answer while your babbling on.

Anytime a job seeker calls a company, the approach needs to be the same as any other business call. It is a business conversation, after all. It's not a plea for a charitable contribution. Success relies on knowing who you wish to reach (this means doing some homework), what you can say to make your call important to them and getting to the point as soon as possible.

When the receptionist answers start with a simple, "John Smith, please."

You'd be surprised how many times you get passed through with no explanation. It's not always the case though. You might get hit with "who may I say is calling?" No big deal. Tell the receptionist your name and leave it at that unless prompted for more information. If you sound confident, your call will have an air of importance and won't be as likely to be screened.

Let's say it's not your lucky day and the receptionist decides to ask more questions. Answer any questions honestly without turning it into a mini autobiography. Stay on point and share information that would make the call valuable to the person you are hoping to reach.

Of course, the best way to get through to someone in a hurry is to have been recommended to call that individual by another. Referrals gained through the networking process are gold. To be able to say something like "Jane Doe gave me his number and told me to call," takes a lot of stress out of the situation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Take 5

Just a quick note to let you know I'm stepping away from the blogosphere for 5 days. New York City, here I come. Don't forget about me while I'm gone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Companies Having a Hard Time Hiring

Many companies are having a hard time hiring qualified individuals to fill their open positions. Yep, I'm writing this post in August of 2009. I'm fully aware of the economy and high unemployment numbers. Living in Michigan, it's impossible not to be.

Care to hazard a guess why some companies can't seem to find the right person for their needs? One reason is somewhat obvious. What companies need their employees to know is evolving. Some are caught waiting for the workforce to catch up in terms of training and education.

A less obvious reason for a shortage of qualified applicants is the fact many individuals who are gainfully employed aren't looking for other opportunities. They believe things are bad enough it is best to hunker down with a job they hate, ride this economy out and wait for things to improve before attempting to find another job. "I should be thankful I even have a job," is something I hear a lot.

When those who are currently employed sit the job hunting process out, it leaves employers in the position of having to choose mostly from the unemployed. Before anyone gets out of joint, I'm not taking a dig at those who are out of work. I know many are great people with valuable skills. As I said before, however, many of those who are currently unemployed come from select industries and skill sets. Industries that are thriving and haven't been touched by layoffs or closures don't have a lot of people in the unemployment pool with backgrounds directly matching their hiring needs. It's an adjustment to be looking at candidates in terms of "who can we train" versus "who has the background most in line with what we do who will hit the ground running?" This is especially true because hiring managers hear the same unemployment statistics as the rest of us and assume high percentages translate into an abundance of options for their open positions.

For those of you who feel stuck in jobs you hate or don't find fulfilling, now might not be as bad of a time to look as you've assumed. It may seem like you are competing against the masses based on the sheer numbers of people applying for jobs. In reality, there may be fewer individuals who match your credentials vying for a position than what you would experience in a boom economy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When Others Speak For You

This post could get me into trouble. I have a love/hate relationship with recruiting experts. Though the intentions to educate and inspire creative thought are clear to me, I worry their readers are missing the boat on what is really happening at times. So much advice comes off as "do this" and "say that" directives. I fully believe the goal is usually to help job seekers understand the reason certain questions are asked and what employers are hoping to learn about potential hires. When it reads more like telling people exactly what to say in situations or in response to specific interview questions, it gets dicey. It turns me off, honestly. There are individuals who will take suggestions, word for word, and spit them back to interviewers. How is that a good thing?

I see a few problems with the concept of providing stock answers to questions. First, what if the canned answers don't ring true for the individual? Winning a job because of great answers could be setting the person up to fail if he wasn't truly cut out for the culture and expectations. Sometimes not getting a job is the best outcome. Secondly, spoon feeding shuts the brain down. When the focus is more on helping individuals think through the situation at hand, they'll be able to consistently provide valuable answers to questions in interviews. They won't have to rely on the employer asking them the questions they've been able to prep for. It's the old "teach a man to fish" analogy. Third, just as candidates are reading the articles and blogs built around how to answer interview questions, so are employers. Hiring managers frequently complain about candidates being too practiced in the interview process. They are doing their own research in order to get a handle on what candidates are being taught to do to get the upper hand. It's hard to tell what's genuine and what's show. If an employer suspects candidates are giving them stock answers, it makes it hard to trust that individual's account of his interests and abilities.

The point I'm attempting to make is that anyone reading an expert's advice should be paying more attention to the thought process behind a recommendation versus focusing exclusively on what they believe the expert is saying to do to the letter. Once you understand why an expert believes certain responses or actions are ideal, it's easier to determine how the advice suits you and what alterations you may need to make on your end.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Timing...Everything or Nothing

It's been said timing is everything. For me, that's bunk. Waiting around for the right time often results in nothing. What do I mean? Those putting off making contact with key individuals and companies with the thought of waiting for a more perfect time, often end up with nothing to show for their careful planning. I've witnessed far too many job seekers and sales professionals missing out on valuable connections playing the "it's too soon" or "it's too late to call" mind game. Once you give yourself the task of finding the perfect moment you realize how rare they actually are.

Timing isn't everything. Making now the right time is more valuable. My success in building professional relationships rests in my ability to create the perfect moment in the present versus waiting for some future time when everything is aligned just so. It's all about relevance. Finding a way to make what you have to offer or are looking to do relevant to the person you wish to reach out to is all it takes. It doesn't have to be anything monumental, simply valuable.

For those using "it's not the perfect time" as an excuse for not taking action that could propel your job search or sales efforts, you're making things harder than they need to be.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Show You're In Demand!

Imagine with me, if you will, a hiring manager reading a resume of an individual who interests him. He calls the person, they talk, and he decides he wants to bring the person in for an interview. "When are you available?", he asks. "Anytime that is convenient for you. I'm wide open," the accommodating candidate offers.

To many candidates, the above response to a potential employer's request for their time seems ideal. In a way, it shows you are going to make the interview with that person a priority. Trouble is, it also gives the impression you have nothing going on. Why is that? Is no one else interviewing you? Are you not getting out and networking in important places? Are you simply sitting at home catching up on all the syndicated shows you were missing while working?

When I was training new hires for the sales positions I supervised, I always impressed upon them the importance answering questions like "when can I call you" or "when can you meet" with specific suggestions of days and times. Responses like "you name it," "whatever works for you" and "anytime" were off limits. Even if their calendars were more bare than Pamela Anderson, they were taught not to give that secret away to a client.

The best answer to this type of question is to provide two or three day/time suggestions. If none of those times work for the person looking to meet with you, ask him to give a few options that work well for his schedule. When you hear one that works for your schedule, claim that option. By handling the function of scheduling an interview the same way business professionals would handle any other meeting, you've helped the other person see you more as a business contact and less like a person sitting at home on the couch waiting for someone to want him.

I'll add one more benefit to being specific. When it comes to the question of when is the best time to call you, if you answer anytime you are left in a constant state of wondering when and if the person will call. It's easy to turn off the rest of your life so you are ready and waiting for the call that could come whenever. That's not good for your psyche or your efforts to stay active and visible during a job search. By giving someone options, such as time brackets on certain days, you are reducing the time spent in limbo and giving the impression of being in demand.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't Get Mad, Get Promoted!

Feeling frustration when coworkers aren't pulling their weight is understandable. Those who show up and give 150% of themselves often find their efforts enabling others to only give 50%. What's a person to do? Give less? Lash out at coworkers for loafing or supervisors for failing to take action? Nah. Doing so might feel good, but it rarely does anything positive for those set on making a good impression and seeking a higher level of job satisfaction.

Risking coming off as a complainer or lowering your own performance standards damages your professional image. How is that teaching the loafer anything? I learned early on the best way to get my work environment running the way I felt it should be was to buckle down, work my tail off and get promoted. Once I was the one holding the reins, I had the ability to address the work habits of others that drove me crazy. I also had the opportunity to gain a little perspective on why supervisors made the decision to rely more on some employees while allowing others to come up short. At the end of the day, when you have deadlines and goals to meet, sometimes it's just easier to deal with what you've got and make it work versus getting distracted with the time it takes to motivate others to do their part.

That's not to say that offering constructive feedback to supervisors and coworkers is never to be done. If you can craft a way to deliver your message in a way that you feel will generate results and not create friction, more power to you. Too often the argument tends to be about what is or is not fair and what the supervisor should and should not be doing. On those issues, you are wasting your breath. Much in life isn't fair and supervisors have more to worry about in their roles than making sure all is balanced appropriately. If you have a really good supervisor, they are likely on the stick enough for you to have not needed the conversation to begin with.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is to keep a reasonable view of what your current situation is and the best path to a solution. Lashing out and complaining rarely works. Walking out of environments because someone else isn't doing their job does more damage to you than the loafer. You'll just have to explain to future employers how you left a job because something wasn't fair. Not exactly a bragging point for interviews. Bite your lip, keep doing the things that set you apart from the others, earn those promotions and use your new found responsibilities to make the changes other supervisors weren't willing or able to tackle. Allow those who frustrate you in your environment to motivate you to move higher versus giving them the power to litter your career history with temper tantrums and premature departures.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

As Hard As You Make It...

Lucy knows this is coming. I warned her fair and square she'd be getting a blog in her honor. Of course, her name isn't really Lucy, but she'll know it's her just the same.

Lucy thinks she has a big problem. Despite her brains, down right likability, dedication and the fact she's been consistently employed since the age of pimples and Friday night trips to the mall with girlfriends, she thinks one job she left a decade ago is an obstacle for her in her current job search.

"What happened," you ask? Prepare yourself for a horrid tale of deceit, greed and cataclysmic failure. Lucy took on too much in her professional and personal life and resigned from her job so she could get things back into balance. Disappointed the story wasn't juicier? Yeah, I was too. By the way Lucy gasped for breath and her pulse visibly thumped in her neck before telling me the awful truth of the matter, I was sure I was in for a Jerry Springer moment. It wasn't to be. That's good news for Lucy.

Lucy does have an obstacle in her job search, alright. Like many other job seekers, it's the self-made mountain she has to climb over every time she needs to explain why she left a job. The reason it has to be explained from time to time is that Lucy's career shifted as a result of that age old decision. The job she took next led her down an entirely different path than she had planned for her career. She left a job in line with her degree and ended up with something in an entirely different field. I'm sure that hasn't happened to anyone else, right? Her most recent position was a bridge back to her chosen field. Now she's hoping to land a job that builds on the experience she gained from the job she left all of those years ago.

So why did I call it a self-made mountain? The mountain isn't the fact she resigned from a job. Hardly. Most people have made the decision to leave jobs through the course of their careers. In fact, having the good sense to walk away from something when you aren't able to give it your all ranks as a plus in my book. It's the fact she insists on making it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

I learned early on in sales customers usually follow your lead when it comes to deciding how upset to be about something. If you think you've got bad news or something that should preclude you from consideration, the person you are sharing your story with is likely to believe to the same. How could they not? The best way to ensure something that is no big deal remains that way, is to believe it yourself. Keeping explanations honest and simple while not throwing emotion, drama and perspiration into the process is the best way to go.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Not What I Would Have Done

A recent college graduate is suing the school she attended because she has yet to find a job since graduating in April. The basis of the complaint is that the school hasn't done enough to provide leads to her and give her career advice. Because she hasn't managed to find a job, all of her education is worthless and not relevant to employers? I can't help but wonder if the reason she hasn't found a job has more to do with her expecting someone else to deliver a job to her on a silver platter. The first priority of colleges is to provide an education so you may qualify to do more in life. It's great when they can offer assistance to grads and help make connections for them, but that is more the icing on the cake than it is part of the batter.

I understand the frustration new grads feel. Many go after degrees with the expectation employers will be lining up for them at graduation. It did work that way for a while. Now it takes a little more work. The reason colleges can't be as helpful as they once were is so much of finding a job revolves around the job seeker networking and getting plugged into the business community. The effort is much more personal. There is no way for colleges to do that for their grads. There are jobs out there that this woman's degree prepared her to do. Many companies are feeling the pain of the shortage in technically qualified individuals for the new American workforce. They just aren't as likely to be posted in highly public areas because employers know doing so will result in a flood of resumes. More are relying on word of mouth to fill their positions and the companies hiring aren't necessarily the big names we've all come to know well.

What may surprise grads is that I often tell them not to put too much reliance on their college's career services. That's not a snub to colleges. They often do an excellent job assisting their graduates. It's not that tapping into the resources and chasing leads offered through your school is a bad thing. Definitely toss your hat into the ring. Keep in mind, however, the opportunities your school sources are being chased by your fellow graduates too. Depending on the size of your class, you can do the math on your competition. Putting more emphasis on finding your own leads to chase, versus relying entirely on your college to source them for you, is the way to go if you want a shot at being considered for a job without hundreds of applicants.

So, what is suing her school going to mean for this woman in the end? She is spending time and money that could have been devoted to her career search on lawyers and court fees. She has $70,000 worth of knowledge and she's not putting it to use in a productive and positive way. She's managed to find herself in the spotlight for her choice to pursue her college legally. Unlike celebrities, there is such thing as bad publicity for the average Joe's and Jane's. How many companies who stumble across her name in the body of this lawsuit are going to be interested in her as their next employee? Companies get a bit itchy over those who file lawsuits without good cause. Never mind she's essentially proclaimed her knowledge useless. Otherwise she wouldn't be suing, right? Nice.

My advice to this woman would be to forget about the law suit. Use the time and money instead to invest in her job search. Hire a career coach. Connect with a recruiter. Network with fellow job seekers. Attend business functions. Study the news for hints of what industries/businesses are most likely to be doing well. Read the obituaries, yeah I said that, and see what dearly departed members of our society may have left an employer unprepared. Demonstrate sound problem solving skills, which I imagine are required for the career she's chosen, and find your way to the end result you want. Wasting time assigning fault for life's challenges is counterproductive.