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Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘hiring’ Category

Five More Reasons Your Job Search May Not be Working

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A few weeks ago, I outlined 5 reasons your job search may not be working. Here are some additional items to consider as you troubleshoot your job search:

Are you specific in the details you share?

Remember to show, not tell. Give examples, so prospective employers know the scope and the scale of what you are talking about.

When I recruited, a lot of candidates would simply list in vague notions a generic laundry list of attributes — e.g., I learn quickly, I work hard. It was the rare candidate that gave a thorough example of exactly what the objective was, what was delivered, what happened as a result, and what s/he did specifically. The candidates with specific details give the best interviews.

Can you get inspired at will?

I recently gave a mock interview to someone who made little eye contact and had overall low energy. This wasn’t what I remembered from an earlier session, and he admitted that he had a rough week. We all have good and bad days, but you can’t just leave it to chance that a good day will occur when you have an interview. So come up with a process for how you can get inspired at will. Champion athletes have very specific routines when they prepare for game day and so do successful jobseekers.

Do you let doubts show? In later rounds of interviewing, I have seen candidates start focusing less on the interviews and more about whether they want the job. While, yes, you should be using your meetings to get information you need to make a good decision, there is no decision to be made yet.

Don’t second-guess why you are there — you definitely want that offer. You can always say no to the job, but don’t let doubt creep in too soon and give a signal to the prospective employer that you may not be interested.

Have you let things slide?

There is a lot of time between submitting a resume, rounds of interviews, and getting a decision. You need to stay front of mind with everyone you met. They are seeing other people and may forget about you. Don’t let things slide as you wait between stages – send key decision-makers a status update about you and reiterate your interest in continuing the discussions.

Do you have quantity, as well as quality?

You might do everything right, and the positions loses its funding or it goes to someone internal or a better candidate comes along. You need to have multiple leads to pursue at all time. Your job search will stall if you move from only one lead to another instead of pursuing multiple leads simultaneously. You need quantity in your search.

–Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine, SixFigureStart

U.S. Companies are More Likely to Lay Off Employees

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It wasn’t your imagination: almost every company was laying off over the last couple of years. According to a recent report from HR consultancy Towers Watson, some 74 percent of U.S. companies initiated layoffs, redundancies or RIFs as a means of reducing costs during the recession. That figure also happens to be higher than in any other employment market in the world.

Whether it’s a reflection of cultural differences, evidence that U.S. companies were more bloated and inefficient than their international counterparts, or just a reflection that the recession affected the U.S. economy more deeply than anywhere else, the Towers Watson report contains a couple of startling insights for those interested in the wider employment picture.

First is that U.S. companies were more likely to reduce their headcount than to take any other action to cut costs—while 74 percent of companies shed workers, just 66 percent froze hiring, with 61 percent freezing salaries.* In each of the six other geographic areas in which the survey was conducted (generating responses from 1,176 HR professionals), companies were more likely to freeze hiring, salaries or both than they were to reduce headcount.

Additionally, U.S. companies also took a higher number of cost-cutting actions—a mean of 4.5—than those in any other region

Towers Watson stats on company cost cutting in the recession

Source: Towers Watson 2010 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study

Whether all that leaves U.S. companies in a more competitive position than those overseas remains to be seen. As does evidence on whether U.S. companies cut too deeply and have a scramble for talent ahead of them as the economy recovers. But the report does have one more set of insights as to what the future may hold for companies, job seekers and careerists alike.

When asked what actions they were considering in the event of either having to further cut costs or spend additional funds on labor costs, movement on salary topped both lists. That is, a majority of HR professionals (78 percent) said they’d be most likely to reduce pay increases as a means of cutting costs, while 69 percent said they’d be most likely to increase the salary budget if they had extra cash on hand. **

Unfortunately, the figures on likely layoffs versus hires seem to reflect the current uncertainty in the market: while only 41 percent of respondents said they’d be likely to lay off employees in the event of a downturn, only 54 percent said they were prepared to hire more people if more cash became available.

So there you have it: your future paychecks are definitely dependent on the performance of the economy as a whole. The ability of the economy to create jobs, however, seems to depend on a shift in confidence among the people tasked with making the hiring decisions. And that’s a lot harder to predict.

* There’s no separate stat in the report about companies that reduced salaries: I’m left to assume that this figure encompasses both.
** These figures are global: the report doesn’t break them down by region.

7 Career Changes? Depends How You Define ‘Career’

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What is a career anyway? It’s not a question that’s likely to come up in too many college level Philosophy courses (at least not until they’ve solved that one about the tree falling in the woods), but as the Wall Street Journal reports, it’s at the heart of a debate over just how many careers each of us is likely to have before we reach retirement age.

Most of us will be familiar—at least in theory—with the well-worn trope that the average job seeker can expect to have seven careers over the course of a working life. The Journal has assembled an impressive number of experts, however, to refute the likelihood of that claim—it turns out no one even knows where it came from—and who raise the question posed at the outset of this piece in the process.

So what exactly is a career? Is it simply a job? One or more jobs with a similar function or skill set? And how does duration factor in?

The Journal points to BLS statistics that show “Three in four workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for under a year.” While that’s hardly surprising given the ages of the people involved, it also suggests that young people switch “careers” more often. But as the Journal again points out: “early, frequent switches, which can include jumps by students between summer jobs, aren’t what many people would consider career changes in the same way as a midlife switch after a decade or two in the same job.”

So how do we define a “career change?” Speaking from personal experience, I’d say I’m on my second: having spent several years as a teacher, I’m now in a completely different field, relying on a completely different set of skills. Other metrics might put me at five: I’ve had stints working in a bank, pulling pints in a variety of bars, and even working as a sales assistant at a certain giraffe-festooned toy emporium. But none of those felt like permanent choices: each job was entered into with one thing in mind—making enough money to pay my bills until I figured out what it really was I wanted to do and gained the qualifications to do so. Entering teaching, however, felt like I was taking on a profession because it was something I wanted to do, and could envision myself doing for a long time. Ditto with my current profession.

Perhaps that’s the reality of what constitutes a “career”: that each job ultimately comes down to what an individual chooses to make of it, and the meaning they find within it. Just as I found myself in toy retail as a means to an end, so there are others who have entered professions that most would consider solid career choices—law, teaching, finance—with an eye simply on the paycheck, biding time until they can do whatever it is they’re passionate about. But if that’s going to be how we define it, many of us will be lucky to have even one career.

As ever, I’m keen to hear your take on the subject. How do you define a career? And how many do you consider yourself to have had?

The Job Market Stays Flat: This Week in Employment

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Employment-related news hasn’t been difficult to come by this week; the fevered speculation over the August jobs report made sure of that. As it turned out, the report was neither as good or as bad as feared: a loss of 54,000 jobs overall was offset by the fact that the private sector increased hiring by 67,000. And, with the overall rate climbing only slightly to 9.6 percent, the abiding concern now seems to be stagnation. Or to put it another way: employers aren’t laying off anymore, but they don’t seem to be hiring either.

That reality is reflected not only by the flat response to Vault’s job seeker sentiment poll, but also in the postings on the Employment Tracker this week. Sure, there’s news of a major restructuring at JAL—with the airline cutting 16,000 jobs–but that event stands out precisely because it’s no longer the norm.

A look at the hiring news on the tracker seems to confirm the thesis that hiring is stuck too. While there are some fifteen reports of firms seeking to add employees, collectively they will add less than 15,000 jobs to the economy—and that doesn’t factor in the fact that many of the positions are in international markets, or that the biggest U.S.-based announcement came from the government, which is seeking 1,700 cybersecurity pros.

If that isn’t indication enough of the kind of difficulty the economy is seeing, check out the following chart from The New York Times’ Economix blog. It compares this recession to previous ones in terms of percentage of jobs lost (left axis) over the duration of the recession (bottom axis). As you can see from the chart, we’re definitely in unfamiliar territory—and bottoming out to boot.

NY Times chart of job change vs previous recession

With all of that in mind, perhaps the most telling story of the week—and certainly the most unusual—has nothing to do with unemployment figures or projections of where the economy might go next. Rather, it’s the slightly absurd news that the Irish agency tasked with job promotion was forced to lay off staff as part of the government’s efforts to balance its budget.

All told, then: lots of talk about the unemployment number, but very little action.

–Phil Stott,

Job Seeker Sentiment at Lowest Point This Year

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On the eve of the official unemployment report for August, Vault’s job seeker sentiment index suggests that there’s not too much to be hopeful about: the percentage of respondents suggesting that the job market has improved is lower than it’s ever been. Worse, almost a quarter of those who responded to our homepage poll report that conditions have worsened in the last 3 months—the most dismal response so far this year, and almost back to the levels seen in November 2009, when the economy was still technically in recession.

job seeker sentiment August 2010

Making matters worse is the fact that many of the jobs that are being created pay substantially less than those that were eliminated from the economy. On top of that, some analysts also believe that uncertainty over regulatory issues is restricting hiring, and that no significant upturn is likely until after the November mid-terms.

job seeker sentiment August 2010

The one consolation from this month’s sentiment poll is that a majority of people think things are either holding steady or improving with regard to hiring. But with unemployment still above 9 percent, and more people than ever before reporting that things are “about the same,” that’s scant consolation indeed.

Written by Phil Stott

September 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Protecting Job Seekers from Themselves: Germany Considering Facebook Hiring Ban

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Is this the start of a global movement to protect would-be employees from themselves? German politicians are weighing a new law that would ban employers from using dedicated social media sites—most notably Facebook—to help make hiring decisions.

man with binocularsUnder the terms of the proposed law, German employers would be restricted to professional sites such as LinkedIn when conducting background research on potential hires. And candidates would have the right to legal recourse if they found out that they had lost out on a position because an employer had based their decision on information gleaned from social media sites. (In a further protection of privacy, meanwhile, the proposed law also seeks to ban employers from secretly filming their employees.)

If passed, the law would be a welcome step away from people having to consider everything they do online as a potential red flag for employers. In short, it’s intended to allow people greater freedom to be themselves online—in exactly the same way that they can act differently at home and in the office—without fear of career repercussions.

Even if such a law would be unenforceable in any kind of practical sense (and it likely would be), the fact of its existence would at least clarify the issue in the minds of employers. The current situation—both in Germany and the U.S.—basically allows employers to set their own limitations as to how much of a candidate’s personal life they’re willing to take into consideration when making hiring decisions.

The proposed German law would remove that element of choice, and ensure that employers are at least aware of the expectation that all candidates are treated equally regarding recovery of online information. That not only includes candidates who may have been penalized for those photos from last year’s bachelor extravaganza in Vegas, but also those who choose not to maintain a social networking presence.

The bottom line for careerists in all this is that they shouldn’t be relying on government intervention to protect them from over-eager recruiters and HR personnel. Even if such a law were to exist in the U.S., best practice for use of social networking sites would still include regular checks of your privacy settings, and ensuring that things you wouldn’t want a prospective or current employer to see are either well hidden or erased completely.

As mentioned above, such a law would be a welcome step, but it would be just that—only a step, and a very small one at that. And, even if it were to become a global standard, careerists still wouldn’t be wise to let it all hang out in the social media sphere.

Extra Insight:
Your Job Search: Two Facebook Privacy Settings to Use Right Now
Five Things You Don’t Want Your Colleagues to See on Facebook
Is Social Media the Key to your Career Success?

Post Work Socializing: Workplace Bonding or Boys’ Club?

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Man with beer

AP Photo/Fritz Reiss

Your liver or your career?

A recent FINS article suggested that anyone thinking of trying to make it on Wall Street should drink up: the culture on the Street is apparently heavily dependent on after-hours booze-ups. While that likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the financial industry (or many other industries, for that matter), it does raise the issue of workplace bonding—and the question of where to draw the line between an employee’s “fit” and their performance.

If the former broker cited in the FINS piece is to be believed, he was slow to realize that he was missing out on more than just a hangover by not participating in post-work drinking sessions. As he puts it, he lost the opportunity to forge “emotional connections” with his fellow employees—and specifically with bosses. And while not hitting the bar on a regular basis may strike some as the act of a responsible careerist, the failure to build those bonds may have cost the broker: he lost his job when the financial crisis struck.

The article doesn’t offer details on whether any of broker’s former colleagues who participated in the carousing were also let go, or attempt to discover whether the layoff was related to performance issues in addition to the economic difficulties. But the very fact that one can come away from the piece speculating on that underlines the difficulty of balancing a close-knit work group with a commitment to remaining professional at all times.

Most of us have had a colleague at some point who seems to get by on personal connections rather than the quality of their work. And it’s certainly not difficult to imagine a scenario where the boss’ drinking buddies are treated preferentially over a colleague who may be just as talented—or more so—but lacking when it comes to that all-important emotional connection.

Many of us also have stories of workplaces or departments where all the talent an organization could possibly need is hampered by a poor culture and lack of communication.

The challenge for execs, then, is in striking the balance between the two: encouraging bonding without having it spill over into an institutionalized boys’ club. To that end, a good starting point may well be to set aside some regular office hours for non-work activities for your employees—with a careful focus on ensuring that people socialize beyond their usual work groups.

Of course, it’s difficult to prevent groups of employees from forming cliques and excluding others: people naturally gravitate to those with similar interests. But those at an executive level need to exercise care should they become aware—or even choose to participate—in such groups. Because while close “emotional connections” can produce close-knit, well-functioning teams, they can also lead to blind spots over performance or conduct. And that’s something no business can afford.

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