Monday, November 07, 2011

A Year of Job Hunting, part 1

It was October 19th, 2010, when I returned to America. I had over four years experience living and working overseas and knew that my experience and skills would be in demand, even though the job market was tough. 

A year after returning, I've learned some lessons about what doesn't work and I have some opinions about what does work. In this series of posts, I'll tell you what I've tried, what false expectations I've had, and what I'm doing now. Hopefully you can take something away from it to use in your own job search or to pass along to a friend in the hunt.

1. Don't Send Resumes Into The Black Hole
The tendency of most corporate job seekers is, I think, to treat the job hunt itself like a full-time job (which is good) by sitting in their home office or local WiFi-enabled coffee shop, finding job postings on websites like Indeed, Career Builder, and Monster, and applying for those jobs (which is not so good). They do this for six to eight hours a day, five days a week. Their underlying assumption is that because they have the requisite education, experience, and skill set for these jobs, the hiring managers at those companies will see their resumes and will call them for an interview. HR managers also trust that the online systems are filtering out unqualified applicants and forwarding qualified applicants to the recruiters. Unfortunately, applicants and HR managers have put too much trust in these online application systems.

While the above-mentioned systems ensure that busy recruiters and hiring managers don't waste all their time looking at hundreds of resumes one-by-one, they weed a lot of good out with the bad. 

These recruitment systems have actually spawned a new industry: resume-writing. While it may have existed before, it has certainly taken off now. I met one manager at Walmart corporate headquarters who paid $700 to a resume-writing expert to turn his real skills and experience into a properly-worded document, and then to adapt that document to match a specific job description. The resume that the applicant put together had the same basic information as the one put together by the resume expert; the difference was which key words were used. The applicant got through the application-filtering algorithms by outsourcing his resume writing. Only then did a recruiter look at his resume and decide if he was worthy of a phone screening. Based on what I've heard since then, $700 for this resume-writing service is a good bargain - which means this manager really is well-suited to Walmart's objective of providing Everyday Low Prices.

I've heard statistics tossed around that 5-20% of job seekers get their jobs by responding to online job listings and applying through automated systems. The other 80-95% of people who get jobs get them by a personal connection to someone in the company that hired them. The issue for job seekers is therefore how to invest our time and energy in activities that actually lead to getting hired. The answer, of course, is, "Network!" Which begs the question, "How?" I'll start answering the "How?" question in my next post.

What do you think about online job application systems for professional-level jobs? Did you get a job through one? Have you been frustrated during your job search or are you an HR manager frustrated by the pools of applicants you're getting?


PJDaniel said...

Jason, how are you? Not sure if you remember me. My name is Prashanth Daniel and my wife's name is Elisha. We went to Ashraya in Chennai.

Saw your blog post and just had to read it. My story has been the exact same thing. I've been unemployed since July of 2010 and its been a frustrating 1 year and 4 months! It also doesnt help that we live in a little podunk town in Trenton, MO where 300 people apply for one job! But I was confident....confident that my college degree in Business and my years of experience in management and leadership would come through for me. It didnt and I was thoroughly disillusioned! It seemed like you needed to know someone to get a job and qualifications didnt matter jack-squat!

Of course I did everything that you had mentioned - applied through all those career websites and never heard a thing. I have to admit after a while it starts getting to your head and you begin to second guess yourself - am I good enough, is my resume worth anything, maybe I'm not qualified and all those doleful voices wont shut up in your head. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about!

Cant wait to check out the rest of your post! Hope you and Karyn are doing well otherwise.

God bless

Jason Fry said...

Prashanth, I definitely remember you and Elisha! I knew you were in Trenton but had no idea that you were still hunting for a job. Wow, that is a long time. It's amazing how many great, talented, experienced people cannot get jobs, while at the same time we hear in the news that all these companies are unable to find dependable, skilled personnel.

I hope things turn around for you soon. Have you considered relocating? I know that when you moved to Trenton it was to be with Elisha's family and to help with responsibilities there. Is relocating out of the question at present? If not, then I can be on the lookout for jobs in St. Louis that match your skill set.

Matt Burger said...

Hey, Jason! Matt B. here (from OCC)

This response is long, but worth it. :)

I ~WISH~ so bad that I knew where a letter from my dad to me was that he wrote me years ago when I first started looking for jobs; I'd reprint it here. Basically, the numbers show that this whole online job hunt thing is largely a way of creating HR jobs and the consumers are people who think (wrongly) they'll land a really good job (or employee) by doing it this way. AND just enough people get hired to keep the machine oiled.

That said, my dad's advice still rings true: If you want to get a job and get hired: 1) SHOW UP. There is no substitute for physical presence. People get hired more based on personal attributes and a detectable work ethic, not as much for job skills (you can always be trained). People get hired. Resumes offset the balance, all things being equal. Show up at a convenient hour FOR THEM. Bad idea to show up at a restaurant in the middle of a dinner rush. Do your research.

2) DRESS UP. Dress above average. Don't have residual smells on you (cigarette smoke, alcohol, pets, or all of the above trying to be masked by a cologne). Brush your teeth. Shave. Bathe. Put on a mild deodorant. No heavy cologne. Clean clothing. Women: Sex sells, but it doesn't pay, so don't. Just don't.

3) OWN your responsibilities. Know some things about the company. Go to their web site. Learn their history, uniqueness, tag lines, etc. You're interviewing the company before they interview you. Fill out the application there and then (which means come prepared). Fill it out completely and neatly with correct spelling and no "LOLs" or things of that nature. You might be a fun person, but you need to show you take your job seriously. Don't flame an old job on the "Reasons for leaving" line. The answers are "self-termination", "released" and "laid off". BRIEF explanations are fine: "went away to school"; "Released - Inquire, if interested"; "Laid off" (self-explanatory). Be punctual: not too early or too late.

4) FOLLOW UP. Don't wait for them to call you. Call back in a couple days after leaving your application. This shows real interest. You'll probably have to go through a few interviews for career type jobs, so keep gently indicating your interest. Call one day in advance to confirm any interview appointment. Call if you're running even one minute late.

5) PICK UP...your phone. Don't let a potential employer go to voice mail. You really aren't that important to them. Yet. :)

I suppose there's a lot more that could be said. Entire books have been written. In summary, the personal touch (which really is what underlies the networking idea you proposed) is what gets people hired.

PJDaniel said...

Jason, its interesting that you ask. Because we are actually looking to relocate to Southern California. I got accepted to Biola University to do my Masters in Christian Apologetics. So we are looking to move asap but it really depends on me finding a lob there too. Once again, I've applied through the same channels, for the La Mirada/Orange County area but havent had any leads so far.I know for sure there are definitely more jobs out there.

I'm beginning to wonder if this whole online job search thing is even worth it! Is there a better way to network? Again without much real work exp. in the States, I havent been quite sure how to approach it.

Open to any/all ideas....

Jason Fry said...

Matt, I really like the advice your dad gave you. It sounds very similar to what my dad told me back in the day, and it's right on.

A few of the points in your comment correspond directly to the career-level job search. Most of them would require another step to apply them to that level, but they all are based on good principles that hold true at any level of job search. Of course, I'm assuming that a thirty-something, educated professional has learned all of these basic lessons in appearance and etiquette; my experience with people in career transition tells me that there's a small percentage who need these reminders. All of us can look behind the specific points to the principles and probably find something that we're doing without thinking about it that may be creating a barrier to getting hired.

Thanks for sharing!