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Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘job search

5 Things Comedy Class Teaches You About Job Search

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For six weeks this fall, I’ve been studying writing of a different kind—Karen Bergreen’s beginner comedy class at the Manhattan Comedy School. I always tell my job-seeking clients and column readers to be well-rounded and unique and to keep learning and stretching. So learning about things seemingly unrelated to my own day job is part of taking my own advice. Luckily, comedy is relevant to job search technique:

Be specific. The funniest comedians give very specific details. The same can be said about compelling job candidates: the best candidates are specific in explaining what they want and what they contribute. When good job candidates give an example, we understand the scope of their responsibilities and the scale of their accomplishments.

Edit ruthlessly. You don’t need a lot of explanation before getting to the punch line of the story. In fact, too much explanation diminishes the power of the joke. Similarly, don’t ramble in your interview responses and other job search communication. Get to the point quickly and keep your listener’s attention.

Talk about what you know. Being comfortable and familiar with your subject matter made it infinitely easier to be specific and find the humor. Successful jobseekers need to get comfortable and familiar with the industries, companies, and jobs they are targeting. Do research before meeting people. Prepare your interview examples. When you talk about what you know (because you have researched and prepared in advance), you captivate your listener.

Be yourself. There is no one profile or style that is the funny one. It is better to infuse who you are genuinely into your comedy set. In the case of job candidates, your unique personality differentiates you in addition to your professional attributes. There are other good communicators, exceptional problem-solvers, and strong leaders. You compete on skills and experience but also contribute your unique style.

The audience needs to get the joke. Sometimes a student was really attached to a joke that others in the class didn’t understand or didn’t think was funny. Instead of arguing the point, students were encouraged to rewrite and rework the original premise. Similarly, jobseekers should pay attention to any feedback that suggests what you’re doing isn’t working. You may think your job search technique is fine, but if it’s been several months and you haven’t landed anything, employers clearly aren’t “getting” you. Don’t argue with the market; rework your job search.

Sometimes when you are overly-focused on a goal, you can get stuck. It’s very helpful to step back and focus on something very different—to refresh, reignite your creativity, and broaden your perspective. You may find that you come back to your original goal with fresh eyes and are more productive. You don’t have to take comedy class specifically or even do something artistic. It can be sports, cooking, joining a book club. Diverse interests are valuable to the jobseeker because they make you more unique, they stretch and challenge you in different ways, and they enable you to remain fresh and productive.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

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Written by A.A. Somebody

November 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

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?

Book Review: What Color Is Your Parachute? (2011 Edition)

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Few readers need an explanation of the What Color is Your Parachute? series’ pedigree, or its ubiquity on the shelves of many professionals. As a manual for launching and furthering one’s career, the book has been a staple of graduation season gifts and a must-read for job-seekers since its first printing in 1970. However, with the latest edition of the guide hitting bookstores today, the 40-year old series risks looking long-in-the-tooth in light of the current economic climate.

Commendably, author Richard N. Bolles does his homework, returning each year to thoroughly revise the book’s content and address the ever-changing career landscape. As Bolles describes the process, his is not a job for slouches: “Four times a year, for five days in a row, I do nothing but interact with job-hunters, gathered in my home. I stay very up-to-date on the current problems men and women are running into, out there in the job market.” This research is employed to emphasize the troubled state of the job market, affirming the book’s scope and relevance, although his immediate lesson is that even a rocky economy can yield new jobs. To this end, Parachutes goes two steps ahead by pinpointing where the jobs are and leading readers to land a position on their terms.

These methods track, point-by-point, the path to professional success, dispelling initial discouraging mentalities along the way and finding optimal routes for submitting applications, preparing for interviews and conducting post mortem self-evaluation (after all, even a bad interview can offer positive results). The lesson doesn’t end merely with finding employment, as Bolles walks readers through the delicate art of salary negotiation and onward to preparing for a long and fruitful career.

It is at that point when Bolles introduces the interactive portion of the book. Forming the centerpiece of his advice (as well as informing the title) is the Flower Diagram, a circular chart which helps candidates determine their strengths, experience and interests. By measuring these factors, this mainstay of the series encourages the reader to pursue his or her professional priorities and find the ideal role.

However, what Bolles doesn’t touch upon in all this is the element of social media. Considering the increasing usage of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin among candidates, this exclusion proves shortsighted—as Vault’s career experts have determined, companies now use these networks not only to connect with candidates but also to screen them for interviews and consideration. Thus, a developed social media presence becomes imperative to competing with fellow job seekers.

This is where Parachute shows its age: While it does make mention of applications such as Skype as a tool for counseling, few pages are devoted to using internet resources, with its analysis even pooh-poohing the practice of applying for positions online. Bolles, considered by many a veteran of the career advice trade, isn’t off the mark by suggesting that the tried and true methods are still the most effective, but his disregard for the global resources afforded by the internet will hopefully change in later editions.

Another note on Bolles: Readers will find that the author imbues Parachute’s more personal insights—particularly its workbook—with references to Christianity and spiritualism. Bolles acknowledges that his devout beliefs might not mesh with those of other faiths; as such, he “tried to be very courteous toward the feelings of all my readers, while at the same time counting on them to translate my Christian thought forms into their own.” So take it as you will.

Ultimately what earns What Color is Your Parachute? its lasting reputation is that very human voice behind the career lessons. This sense of personality separates Bolles from his many contemporaries, who more often rely on faceless, clinical bullet points to do the talking.

Win Ben Stein’s Acrimony: When Public Figures Malign the Unemployed

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If you haven’t read the news lately, the phrase on the lips of every politician, pundit and pollster is still “jobs.” Now, however, the debate has shifted to the necessity of unemployment benefit extensions, with some suggesting that continued funding of jobless citizens only breeds laziness and complacency. As if being out-of-work wasn’t bad enough, America’s unemployed find themselves as a two-sided token for political debate, either martyred as faceless victims of economic turmoil or vilified as shiftless layabouts.

The result has been an increasing number of disparaging public remarks from political figures, most of whom assume the worst about jobless professionals’ circumstances. The foremost example of this came in a recent editorial by pundit and former game show host Ben Stein, wherein he opined that those still without jobs perhaps deserve it:

“The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say ‘generally’ because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.”

Similar assertions have been made by former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who claimed in a CNN interview to know of studies “that show that people stay on unemployment compensation, and they don’t look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out.” Ron Johnson, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, echoed Delay’s sentiment during a public television interview: “When you continue to extend unemployment benefits, people really don’t have the incentive to go take other jobs. They’ll just wait the system out … Then they’ll go out and take probably not as high paying jobs as they’d like to take.” Johnson advised, “That’s really how you have to get back to work. You have to take the work that’s available at the wage rates that’s available.”

In the spirit of fairness in the face of these allegations, I’ve offered an opportunity for rebuttal to one such unemployed citizen: Joe the Computer Operator. At age 51, Joe handled systems administration for a chemical company until three years ago, when he was laid off and saw his job outsourced. Without a source of income, he says, “I had to move in with a friend because I could no longer pay my rent.” Joe states he will “send out hundreds of resumes,” but “99 percent of the time I do not get any response.”

So what does Joe say about Delay and Johnson’s comments? Quite simply, “I do not agree.” “I have continued to look for work while I was receiving my unemployment benefits. I am sure that some do not look for a job while collecting benefits but I feel the majority of us want to work and do look for employment.” Of particular note was Johnson’s “take the work that’s available” remark, to which Joe retorts, “It is easy for someone to say ‘You should take a minimum wage job,’ but then when I ask ‘Well, how do I pay my bills and survive while making $8 an hour?’ they never have an answer. The math just doesn’t add up.”

At Ben Stein’s descriptions of “poor work habits” and “unpleasant personalities,” Joe bristles, “This sounds like profiling and discrimination to me. Just once I would like to see a dope like this have to walk in the long-term unemployed shoes. The bottom line is that there are no jobs—just look at the numbers. We can’t all have poor personalities and bad work habits, can we, Stein?”

For Joe, meanwhile, the search for work continues. “I am sending out my resume today for a Computer Operator position I found on one the many job boards I receive daily email alerts for. Maybe I will get a positive response from this one, but I doubt it.” Discouraged words, to be sure. But after seeing the insensitivity toward unemployed professionals like Joe, it’s not hard to understand the frustration.

Written by A.A. Somebody

August 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

5 Reasons Your Job Search May Not Be Working

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If you’ve been searching for several months and don’t have a new job to show for it, don’t get discouraged.

Get observant.

Look at what you have done to date because something is not working.

Here are some questions to guide you in troubleshooting your job search:

Are you positioning yourself appropriately?

Perhaps you have been going for jobs that are too junior or too senior. Maybe employers don’t clearly understand the scope and scale of your past roles. Check too if your experience as it is described is relevant to the jobs you are pursuing.

Is your marketing complete?

Some jobseekers overwork their resume but then don’t have an updated online profile. Most recruiters are using social media, especially LinkedIn. If you don’t have an online presence, your job search marketing is incomplete.

Are you spending too much time on recruiters and job postings?

Recruiters and job postings seem like a shortcut – you just troll the web and apply for what’s there, or you make a few calls to recruiters and let them do the heavy lifting. But, job postings are notoriously out of date, and recruiters work for the employers not for you. Most importantly, most jobs are filled via networking so if you rely on recruiters and job postings, you are missing out on most opportunities.

Do you have 3-4 key message points?

You need to cut to the chase in your cover letters, networking pitch and interview responses. People make up their mind quickly so be concise. Get the important information out early and cut out the rest.

Do you have a process to stay on track long-term?

Many jobseekers do a lot their first week, maybe the second but peter out. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The interview process takes time, and you need to continue your search across multiple fronts. So there is a lot to juggle, and you need a process, not just discipline, motivation, or hope that you will stay on track. Make sure you have specific routines for following up with your contacts, for organizing your search information, for preparing for interviews and meetings, and for staying refreshed.

–Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Six Figure Start

Will Work For Tweets: The Great Los Angeles Job Contest

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Despite what the “Trending Topics” sidebar might tell you, the biggest news surrounding Twitter in the past week wasn’t Justin Bieber or Chelsea Clinton. Rather, users were all atwitter about a contest launched by @mikemckayecd—that being Mike McKay, the Los Angeles-based executive creative director for advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi. McKay’s challenge was simple: “I have a writer position worth $70k. Funniest twitter response gets it.”

Thus the gauntlet was thrown down. As if the job market wasn’t already competitive enough, hundreds of “Tweeps” converged on the hashtag #saatchila to vie for a single opening. Among the popular entries submitted to McKay, some personal favorites include:

• “Is this contest nearly over? I have to start training for the astronaut job I won on Facebook.” (@iscoff)

• “nigerian ad agency seek writers, send $$$” (@faketv)

• “Does $70k cover the cost of a boob job in LA? I’d be moving with my girlfriend and I’m worried about her self-esteem.” (@um_giz)

• “I hope this job isn’t for Scion. They’re like the Twitter version of a car. 140 inches or less.” (@brendyn)

• “I’am probabbly the moost qaulified four thes righter jobe.” (@MstrMn, and yes, sic)

The winner was one Jonathan Pelleg, a.k.a. @Peglegington. Pelleg, according to his Twitter bio, is an Austin, Texas resident and native of Los Angeles who was “breaking into advertising while listening to music and enjoying life” when the Saatchi contest came along. So his selection, as it turns out, is both a dream come true and a homecoming wrapped up in one. And the submission that brought about the young man’s triumph?

“You have to be concise on Twitter. Like a circumcision, everything extra gets cut off whether you like it or not.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, McKay was almost blasé about conceiving the contest out of the blue. “It’s really hard to find good writers. I don’t know why,” he stated. “It’s even harder to find people to write dialogue. It’s even harder to find funny writers.” Of course, the sudden and unprecedented way he launched his offer didn’t win him any points with Saatchi’s human resources department: “Immediately I get HR coming up and saying, ‘What did you just do?'”

The Atlantic notes this isn’t the first time a candidate has been awarded a high-paying job via tweet; last year, marketing firm BFG Communications picked a social media coordinator with its own Twitter contest. Still, this doesn’t exactly promise to be a new trend in hiring—the odds are slightly better for 3-D video resumes becoming standard for job applications. But it does signify the incorporation by leaps and bounds of social networking for employment and professional advancement. Without being plugged in to the online activities of employers, industry leaders and even your fellow job seekers, you could easily miss out on the unique information and opportunities that will provide an upper hand in beginning or enhancing your career.

And, as if to drive that point home, Mike McKay has followed his announcement of a winner with a suggestion of things to come: “@Peglegington might need an art director partner. Hmmmm.” Any aspiring advertising professionals would do well to keep watching that space.


— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Written by A.A. Somebody

July 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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