Looking for a Job, Part 1: What Doesn’t Work

All of this week, I am going to share some insights I’ve gained on my own career journey and what I’ve learned from head hunters, HR managers, personal coaches and the school of hard knocks about looking for a job in this new economy. I should know. I suffered unemployment during the two worst economic crises of the decade, after 9/11 and during the Great Recession of 2009. I also am a person of diverse professional background, so what I am going to share is probably not very applicable for those with technical or trade skills where experience, and not networks, really is all that is required. Even then, networks help, but most restaurants, hotels and technology companies still hire many employees from job boards, company sites and online postings. What I have to say is probably not going to be too helpful if you are looking for those kinds of jobs, but even then, I think I may have some suggestions that will help.

Over 12 million Americans are looking for jobs, and the unemployment rate is holding steady at 9.8 percent nationwide. It is worse in ravaged areas like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and it is better than average in some cities like Houston and Nashville. Yet, overall, 52 percent of companies report that they are unlikely to change their hiring policies in the coming year. Forty percent or so still have a hiring freeze in place. Of course, the good news is that 60 percent do not. Most employment experts tell us that these numbers are not indicative of the true job market. Unfortunately, the real numbers are much worse. The unemployment rate does not reflect those who are underemployed, those who have lost their unemployment due to long-term unemployment and those who are unemployed but not filing unemployment. The true numbers of the unemployed and the underemployed are probably greater than 20 percent. And here is the real kicker: Most of them are highly qualified workers. You’re not up against a lot of losers. These are people that are incredibly qualified and talented. Hiring managers report that they can be even more picky these days because the exact right candidates are falling into their laps with perfect qualifications. (This also means that you should not resume dump for jobs where you do not meet their exact qualfications)

It is easy to be intimidated by the numbers, but I’ve found that it has not too helpful to use them as excuses. The real truth is: you have to have a job, and it doesn’t matter what is happening to others. But, I think it is useful to know these numbers for two reasons. First, you have to be honest with yourself that the challenge of finding a job is a high one, but not insurmountable. Thousands of others in your city are also looking for a job, and many of them with the same or better qualifications and experiences than you. This means that you are going to have to do something they are not doing. It may mean that you have better networks, or you bring something of value to the table, or you engage in innovative job search methods that make you memorable. But settling for a strategy of just submitting resumes and waiting for a response is not going to work in this job market. You have to stand out if you’re going to be noticed, so put your job search on TURBO.

Secondly, it is important to take note of these numbers because you need to remember that you are normal. Looking for a job as the bills pile up and the bill collectors are calling, or as your home life becomes stressed, isn’t easy. And when your calls and emails to potential employers go unanswered, or it takes weeks to hear back from an interview, it’s easy to think that the problem is you. It could be, but it most likely is not. It’s the worst job market since the Great Depression, and there are many people vying for your same job, and companies looking for the best employee without spending a lot of money. You may have to see a therapist, share with a spouse or friend, or pray to God. But you have to remember that there are forces at work that are greater than you. You’re normal.

It is my intention in this series to highlight some pointers that run counter to our human intuition and to what we’ve been told is important in a job search. Today, I want to point to five practices that do not work in a job search or on a journey to a new career path. Perhaps they worked in another era, but they do not work in a competitive environment where social media has leveled the playing field of access and where the economy has left millions of qualified workers unemployed. Here are five strategies that do not work in this environment:

1. Telling people that you are “flexible and open to anything.” No one wants to hear this. I learned this the hard way because I actually do have several professional options that I can offer. I know how badly you want a job, so you try to present yourself as flexible as possible. Well, ambiguity does not work for President Obama and it won’t work for you. People want to know what you want — and it’s not because they are being prickly. It is because they are busy and are trying to put you in a box they understand, value and most importantly, need. You may have to create separate online profiles on LinkedIn or different versions of your resume, but you have to present one mission statement and one career objective to an employer. People want to see passion, singular focus and … frankly, put you in a box. So give them the box.

2. Leading with a resume. Resumes don’t get people jobs. Relationships do. If you know someone at a company where a position is open, call that person and ask them to walk your resume to HR or to the hiring manager. If you know no one at the company, run a search for the company on LinkedIn and see if you have a connection there. It is just fine to use a 2nd degree connection to get introduced. If these two strategies fail, call the company and ask to speak with the hiring manager or the highest ranking person possible and introduce yourself. If you get voice mail, use your “elevator speech”, leave your phone number and let them know that you can send a resume or that it is on file in HR. But always lead with yourself, not a resume.

3. Submitting one version of a resume for every job. Most large companies have HR technology that sifts resume submissions for them. The technology uses keyword searches and will only highlight those resumes that use those key words. The rest go in the proverbial digital trash can. For example, if I am submitting a resume for an external affairs position, but my resume only contains the words “public affairs,” then it is likely that my resume will not be pulled out of the pile by the digital HR mastermind. Use a combination of key words and tailor the resume you submit to the specific key words in the job description.

4. Confusing a resume for an application. An application requires that you be complete and thorough about your job history. You should list all jobs and present them in a chronological fashion. A resume is a marketing document. You are not expected to list every job you’ve ever done, and you can group the jobs in categories that catch the eye of the hiring manager. For example, one version of my resume groups my experiences under “legal experience,” “professional experience,” or “education experience” rather than a purely chronological listing.

5. Refusing to create online profiles or to use social media. I understand that some people fear privacy violations or they don’t like shameless self-promotion. I feel your pain. But now get over it. If you do not have an active and complete profile on LinkedIn, you are missing the best job opportunity tool available. Get started now.

Oh, and one freebie:

6. Bitterness and Anger. If you’re still dwelling on what you did wrong in your last job, or what caused you to get fired, or how well others are faring in comparison to you, you’ve already lost. Go to therapy, pray, spend time with good friends, or take a hike. But don’t be bitter. No one is attracted to it. And for goodness sake, don’t be bitter on your Facebook status. Someone who may give you a job is reading your status, so be positive.

Starting tomorrow, I will write four brief essays on job search techniques. I look forward to hearing your comments, and I would love to know what you have discovered in your job search as well.

For starters, decide today to add value to someone else now instead of asking for something from them. Introduce an unemployed friend to a friend in a company that may have leads. Write a recommendation for a friend on LinkedIn. Send an introductory email for an unemployed friend. Yes, even if you are unemployed. Karma works. Freely you give, freely you receive.

If I can be helpful to you in your search or are interested in my services to assist you with creating your personal brand or online presence, write me at todd@toddbouldin.com. Until tomorrow …

3 Responses to “Looking for a Job, Part 1: What Doesn’t Work”
  1. Ron says:

    Todd, you’re right on. This is some solid advice offered with heart and realism. Thanks for sharing. The mental game is especially tricky when job-searching in this market, but you have to fortify yourself with realism and be really persistent and consistent. Such effort will be rewarded.

  2. toddbouldin says:

    Thank you very much, Ron. That means a lot coming from you. You’re welcome to guest write on my blog anytime. 🙂 I appreciate your words of encouragement.

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  1. urban wear says:

    urban wear…

    Looking for a Job, Part 1: What Doesn’t Work « Meat and Three Cafe…

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