For as long as I can remember, I have met people who just can’t seem to find a job. They send out resumes and answer all the want ads, and get nowhere. They read books on job hunting tips, they go to job fairs, and still they get nowhere. They spend loads of time polishing their resumes, working out the “right” cover letter, and still nothing… Why is this? I first started on this problem back in the 90’s when I was writing part time for the Motley Fool Investment Forum. My job at the time with The Motley Fool was part-time, and to put it mildly, I hated my full time job with every ounce of my being. I had two priorities, the first was to get out of that job, the second was to avoid getting into an even worse job (which happened to me once before). I found out with a bit of research that almost everything that I had learned about job hunting from the career development center in college, books, and articles by “experts” was wrong. A few years later I found myself running my own company, and I can tell you why common wisdom is wrong.
Let’s start with the typical way people look for jobs. Back before the Internet, you would get the Sunday paper and scan through the classifieds. You’d find a job that most likely fit, and send in a resume. Maybe you didn’t have all the requirements, but you would think, “hey, what the heck, maybe they’ll hire me anyway”. You’d type up your cover letter, copy your resume, and mail it all in and keep your fingers crossed and wait anxiously by the phone like a teenage girl would do back then hoping her latest crush would be calling her for a date. The problem is what happened on the other end.
The employer doing the advertisement would find themselves snowed with applications. I advertised a job once in the paper and I got about 100 responses. Out of those, maybe one or two people were qualified. A lot of the respondants to the advertisements didn’t meet any of the requirements at all. Many of them were on a downward spiral in their lives, you could see a pattern of short term jobs that were ever lower paying. If the employer was dumb enough to list the company name with the advertisement, they would also find themselves flooded with calls by very obnoxious or desperate people. Generally, if anyone got hired out of that mess, it was the very first few qualified resumes to show up that got interviews. Everything else went to the slush pile. So, if you twiddled about for a day before getting your package in the mail, you may have been number 50 resume to show up, and by that time someone else got lucky and was already going through the selection process. Your resume and cover letter either ended up in a file to be forgotten, or thrown in the trash.
Now we can advertise through job websites like Monster. That turns out even worse. I advertised for a part time position that had a few requirements: 1. You had to be studying engineering in college, second year or higher. 2. The job was part time. 3. You needed to commute to Lawrenceville, GA. Apparently no one read the ad. I got an application from a PhD in Texas, who I guess thought he could commute to Georgia and make Intern pay for 20 hours a week. I got loads of applications from people with no education at all. I got applications from mid-career engineers. The closest application I got was from a young woman who was studying business at a local college that wanted a part time job. Too bad I was looking for an engineer intern. I wasted my time with over 100 worthless applications.
What a lot of employers do, and I will also when the company gets bigger, is use a “headhunter”. That’s a corporate recruiter that finds and screens the applicants for you, and gives you some suitable people. I have been contacted by headhunters, and I was lucky enough to be found by one that got me out of my miserable job and moved here to Atlanta. The problem is headhunters tend to call you when you aren’t looking for a job. If you manage to find a headhunter on your own, you have to hope they know of a job open that you are qualifed for – they don’t keep business by referring unqualified applicants to potential employers. So, the othe alternative is to act as your own headhunter.
Here’s a good tip – call potential employers yourself. If you call me looking for a job, I will talk to you. It will be a short conversation, but I’ll ask you some specific questions, and if you are potentially qualified, I will ask for your resume. When I’ve looked for jobs, I’ve gotten the same warm reception mostly. There are two exceptions, one when I called a very large engineering firm’s personnel department, and the guy hung up on me. I found out later (surprise) that it was kind of a miserable company. The other one irritated me a lot. I knew an executive in a large engineering firm that ran its office near where I lived in New Jersey. He referred me to the manager of their Washington, DC office, where I was looking for a job. I called the DC office, told the receptionist my name and asked for the guy. She came back on the phone and asked me why I was calling. I said “I’m looking for a job,and I was referred by xxx”. She put me on hold, and then came back and said the individual I was calling was out, and she would take my number. Of course he never called me, and he wasn’t out. He was obviously a jerk, and I ended up avoiding working for him and having to look for a job AGAIN.
Generally every time I called a company I was called in for an interview. Not every interview led to a job offer of course, but in every case the people I talked to were very polite, so it does work. The fact is that many of us don’t advertise for job openings, and in a small business we really don’t even have job openings. If you come in to see us, and we think we can make use of you, you may get a job. OR, we may refer you to someone that is looking (that happened to me once).
Is there anything else you can do? Some people think networking is good, like going to professional society meetings or civic organization meetings. I got a job offer for repairing doorbells at a Lion’s Club meeting. I’m not exaggerating, this happened when I was trying to leave the miserable job. I politely explained to the guy that I was a graduate engineer with something like 15 years experience and a Professional Engineer license, and he went on to tell me what a big mistake I was making…. So, my feeling is that networking events are a waste of time, unless you like that sort of thing. It’s the same problem with answering the job posting online – you are there with hundreds of other applicants if it is a job fair. If it is a professional society meeting, you will be lucky to talk to a handful of people who probably have no hand in the hiring process in their companies. If it is a civic organization, you may end up having your time wasted by someone in a doorbell repair business, some other oddball venture, or a distributed marketing venture.
Should you answer want ads in the paper, or go to online job sites? The recruiter that got me the job in Atlanta said yes, it is important to get your name out there. I think it is another waste of time for the most part, but it’s not much time wasted. It’s not like spending an afternoon at a job fair and coming home with a bunch of applications but no job in hand. It is certainly better than going to some civic organization meeting and getting cornered by some guy who wants to recruit you to sell vitamins or insurance with a promise that you could be a “Regional Vice President” or some silliness like that if you can recruit people under you. So, I reluctantly agree with the recruiter. Also, when I was trying to leave the miserable job, I actually got a job offer from posting my resume online. So, the 5 minutes or so I spent posting my resume wasn’t a waste of time.
What about your resume? I don’t know what it is, but two guys I hired gave me resumes that were impossible to figure out. Just give a chronoligical record of your jobs and the responsibilites. Skip fancy fonts and expensive paper. NO COLORED PAPER PLEASE! I get resumes with so many different fonts that they look like ransom notes from the old days. Also, I don’t really care about your personal interests, like that you garden, read books, or fish. You won’t do any of that at my office, so it matters little to none. Don’t give any information on your religion or political views. I really don’t want to know, I want to evaluate you on what you can do. Some people send pictures, don’t do that. Please don’t do that. You want the people screening you to be blind to your race, looks and age as much as possible. Your picture doesn’t help. To me three things are important – education, professional societies, work experience. For entry level people, even unrelated work experience helps, I want to know if you’ve ever had a job.
Gaps in employment don’t help on resumes. Hopefully if you were laid off and out of work for a long time you can fill in the gap with some sort of educational activity. Maybe explain it with something like caring for a sick relative, or taking a sabbatical to travel or whatever. Try not to make it look like you were sitting at home staring at the TV set feeling bad about yourself, even if you were. Also, look at the job titles that you give yourself on the resumes. I once was hiring an engineer, and I got an applicant that put down his present job as “Industrial Engineer Intern” at a local steel company. He was out of school for about 4 years. He didn’t get the job. Why would I hire a graduate engineer that was out of school for 4 years that was just an intern? I thought about it later, and I would bet that Personnel at the company he worked at would only authorize an “Intern” position, and that’s what he was hired in. More than likely he was doing real engineer work instead of getting coffee and making copies like interns do. Now, it is a little tricky to change your job title on your resume if you work for a big company and have a formal job title. So, he should have put down “Company xxx – Perform Industrial Engineering”. Don’t let an awful job title kill your chances at another job.
Now, let’s get to the interview. Some things go without saying. Don’t drink before you go to an interview. If an interviewer takes you to lunch and treats you to a glass of wine or a beer, and you have another interview later in the day, you just lost your chance for a job at the later interview. If you get taken to lunch, don’t drink alchohol. If the interviewer pushes you, tell him or her you have an important meeting to go to later and you don’t want to smell like alcohol. Dress properly. Different types of job the dress is different. If you come to see us, we’ll ask you to wear old clothes because we are going to take you to a jobsite. Don’t wear revealing clothing, dirty clothes, or worn out clothes. Show up on time. Don’t show up super early, then they have to do something with you while you wait and that is not appreciated.
Dressing for job interviews used to be a lot easier. You wore a suit and that was it. There was a book called “Dressing for Success” which was good to follow. Today we are all casual. We wear shorts and flip flops in my office. I usually go around in my stocking feet or barefoot, which was unheard of when I got out of college. I still would wear a suit or a sports jacket if I were a man. A woman should wear the female equivalent. If you are older like me, don’t wear “old people clothes”. That means no slip on orthopedic shoes (it won’t hurt you to wear regular shoes for an hour or two). NO CARDIGAN SWEATER! Remember the Dennis the Menace TV show? – if you are old enough to, this definitely applies to you. Mr. Wilson always wore a cardigan sweater, to make sure you knew he was a crochety old man. Don’t dress like Mr. Wilson.
Now, for the less obvious stuff. I’m going to go through my pet peeves of an interview. Don’t overshare – don’t volunteer about your treatment for Depression, or talk about how you were arrested for DUI at 17. When you are being interviewed, the interviewer is looking for a reason to turn you down, don’t give him or her that reason. Show some expression. I am always interviewing people who show a poker face and speak with a monotone all through the interview. The same corporate recruiter I mentioned earlier found that annoying too – she thought it might be due to nervousness. I tend to interpret it as you are the type of person who has no interest in anything, and will show no initiative. Ease up, the interviewer is no better than you. Smile, show some emotion. Don’t do the nervous laugh. This is typical oftentimes of young people, and it is real annoying. I’ve had bad experiences with people that had this habit, so it will kill your chance of getting a job with me, and I suspect others may feel the same.
Don’t badmouth ANYTHING. I don’t care how much you hate your present job, don’t say it during the interview. I made the mistake in one interview of telling the interviewer I was having trouble with my boss. Everyone that knew my boss knew he was a petty tyrant, and so did the interviewer (who was the owner of the company I was interviewing at and knew my boss for years). He spent two hours pumping me about how bad my boss was and what happened. It was terribly depressing and I didn’t get the job. Fortunately, I got a job shortly after, because that conversation could have found its way back to my former boss (actually it did after I left), and as bad as things were, it would have made things much much worse. I’ve also had interviews where the interviewer badmouthed a former employer that I liked and still had very good relations with. The best thing in that case is to not comment in any way. Don’t tell the interviewer about bad experiences you had with other job interviews, the interviewer will be afraid you will do the same wih him or her.
The worst part of any interview for me is the end when they say “any questions?”. At this point in time I always feel I’ve been trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose, and there really isn’t anything else I want to know. I always have wanted to say, “I’ve had enough today, can I go home now?” Even if the interviewer has had it, and would like you to leave too, don’t do that. Ask something fairly simple like “can I see one of your company’s projects?” That’s easy, not to painful for anyone, and you can get out. Don’t ask about pay and benefits until you are offered the job.
If you get offered the job, make sure it is in writing with a start date. I was once offered a job verbally, and the guy that hired me forgot that he offered me a job. I quit my job, and went to work at the other place. No one in the company knew who I was and why I was there when I showed up on the appointed date. I had to cool my heels to wait for the guy (he was about an hour late). He showed up, and got an “oh s*$t” look on his face. I ended up with a much lower job than I was originally offered. A couple months later my former employer took me back, and the guy that hired me cursed me out when I gave him notice. That was one of my first experiences with what I call a “Stupid Employee”. That will be another blog post.
Some jobs make you relocate. My first job out of college was with a major oil company in New Jersey, I lived in Maryland. I didn’t ask about relocation expenses. The company’s headquarters was in Cherry Hill, NJ and I was goig to work in Moorestown, NJ. I went in to see the personnel guy, and told him I was ready for the corporate move. He said “well, we hired you in Cherry Hill, and you are working in Moorestown, and that is only about 5 miles, so there is no move involved”. I was horrifed. I mentioned to him that I lived in Gaithersburg, MD, which was a good 150 miles away. He told me that it didn’t matter. Moral of the story – check about the moving benefits if you have to relocate. I never let that happen again.
I hope this helps you in your job search, and I wish you the best of luck.