The NFL holds its annual draft this evening.  Since the final gun of the Super Bowl in February, most fans have read  countless “Mock drafts” predicting each team’s selections. What amazes most observers each year is how the ratings of many players rise and fall during the months leading up to the draft, especially since no prospect has played a down of football in a real game since early January at the latest. NFL coaches, scouts and general managers say that between a prospect’s final college game and decisions to draft a player, an incredible amount of research is conducted on each individual.  Understandable given the financial investment teams make in players. However, many teams report that the volume of information received often makes decisions much more difficult. Another challenge is predicting how a player will adjust to the NFL, an entirely different game and environment from college football. Add to all these the pressure on decision makers. Legions of fans demand instant success, and in a world of high (and often unrealistic) expectations, a mistake in the draft can easily cost a coach, scout or general manager his job.

While signs of improvement in the hiring picture slowly continue throughout early 2011, many job seekers continue to report frustration with the length and complexity of hiring processes. Odd as this might sound, I think some parallels exist in modern hiring and the NFL draft. Think about the following factors:

Candidate Information Overload – In the past, employers would interview candidates one to two times, conduct telephone reference checks and verify employment. Now the process of hiring includes reviewing all information gathered about a candidate’s online presence. This obviously adds to the time required to evaluate candidates, plus many hiring managers report it doesn’t always make selections easier.

Brand New Positions and Rolls – While hiring has picked up, many companies continue to operate in a “more with less” mindset. As a result, many new positions may combine parts of two or more previous titles and functions.  Finding candidate capable of these multiple roles often proves more difficult than anticipated.

Pressure.  One reality about many new positions in 2011, for many companies the need likely has existed for quite some time. Add to this the situations where the new employee will serve multiple roles. A candidate in this scenario likely needs to convince more than one hiring manager about his or her ability to satisfy each of their existing needs. Under any circumstance, this presents quite a challenge.  Now factor in that since late 2008, companies have read how it’s an employer’s market, and they hold all the trump cards. This easily leads to an expectation that the ideal candidate/immediate problem solver/savior will soon walk through their door. 

Well, experienced recruiters will tell you that actual “saviors” come along about as frequently as Quarterbacks selected #1 in the NFL draft that go on to win Super Bowls ( Current count is 6 or 7 in 40+ years- depending on how you rate Drew Bledsoe riding the bench in a Super Bowl win). Unfortunately, like rabid fans, many hiring managers want to believe that their savior is just around the corner, and will hold out through each candidate waiting to be blown away. Add to this quandary the situations where multiple hiring managers each impose their own concept of the ideal candidate. Do we get a picture as to why hiring decisions remain convoluted?

My advice to candidates is to be patient. Rather than allowing this process to frustrate you (and risk displaying this when dealing with an employer), try to understand the process from a hiring manager’s point of view. The more you focus on a hiring manager’s needs, better the chances are the information you present will be focus on these needs. This will increase your chances of catching a hiring manager’s attention in a competitive labor market.


Reality About a Job Seeker’s Competition

I speak to hundreds of job seekers that describe their frustration with the lack of response to applications and résumés submitted. To respond to this angst, I tell them of a seminar I attended years ago by Dick Gaither titled The 27 Most Common Mistakes Job Seekers Make. Ranked  # 1-Underestimating how competitive a job search is. 

I agree wholeheartedly with this and as a result love to learn new data to emphasize the level of competition one faces in any labor market. I found some great new information in a recent article on NPR. The author spoke with a representative from Taleo, a designer of applicant tracking software. She explained that for a given company they typically design software to handle applications based on 6 to 1 ratio to number of current employees. Meaning, a company with 5,000 employees will likely receive roughly 30,000 applications per year.

I present these numbers not as a means to discourage candidates but to alert them as to how strongly they need to market themselves. Use all your networking and research resources available to determine how you can best present yourself as the solution to the need that created the job opening in the first place. Employers will receive hundreds of résumés and applications, but the vast majority will be cookie cutter, one size fits all versions in no way targeted to a company or hiring manager’s particular needs. Demonstrating that you have taken the time to research a company’s need and offer solutions will separate you from the pack.

Handling Interview Questions That Deal With Your Setbacks

I just read and highly recommend an excellent new book How to Interview Like a Pro by Mary Greenwood. A first great point made in the book is reflected in the table of contents. The book contains seven chapters, of which two and a half deal with the actual time spent in the interview. The remaining chapters deal with preparation (two and a half) and follow up. Every job seeker needs to work similar ratios into his or her interview strategies to land an offer in such a competitive market.

Greenwood structures the book with forty-three “rules” spread on the interview process. One that especially caught my attention was number twenty-six- Expect the Question You Don’t Want to Answer. You Know What it is. This question most frequently deals with an involuntary separation from a previous job, but can also involve factors such as gaps in employment, frequent or haphazard job changes, financial problems if a credit check is required for hiring or something unique to an individual situation. Now some job seekers simply hope (and pray) this question does not come up in their interview-the equivalent of burying one’s head in the sand. However for others, the focus and worry about this question dominates their preparation for an interview, with equally damaging results.

I started out as a career advisor coaching offenders for job interviews. By law, these men had to inform prospective employers they were incarcerated. I find myself using several of the strategies I learned to assist in this preparation to assist all job seeker struggling with that difficult question. Some key points to consider:

You Must Feel Comfortable With Your Strategy For Answering A Difficult Question. First and foremost, you need to be true to yourself, your personality and the way you have always had the most success in sharing information. The colleague you seek advice from may insist that the method he or she uses to diffuse a difficult question is fool proof, but you might feel uneasy about the level of information disclosed in this strategy. What can happen is that an interviewer will notice that you lack the same level of confidence and conviction in this answer as in other questions, and interpret this as dishonesty.

Script Practice And Rehearse. Stand in front or a mirror and recite your answers. Videotape yourself and review. Ask colleagues or friends to role play with you. I often point out that we started to script our speeches as children when we had to explain mistakes to our parents, so the concept shouldn’t be new to us.

Give Your Positive Qualities Much More Of Your Attention. Once again, job seekers can learn from the strategies of sales professionals. They prepare answers to customer questions regarding things such as negative publicity about their product or features a competitor has that their product lacks. However, the majority of their focus is on learning and communicating the strengths, features and benefits of what they sell. Focusing more on your own skills and accomplishments will increase your confidence level and make answering a tough question less daunting.

One final note, you probably won’t feel completely at ease with your answer strategy until you’ve “battle-tested” it in front of an employer. A great place to do so is an information interview, where you can see an employer’s response in a situation where a potential job is not immediately on the line. You can also get stronger feedback.

Goal for 2011 a New Job-Some Things to Consider

Whether your unemployed, have made a new year’s resolution or seen enough good news about improvements in the labor market, you have set a goal for 2011 to obtain new job. Congratulations and best of luck. Here are a couple of thoughts to help make the search easier on both your short-and- long-term mental health.

Establish Several Ways to Measure Your Progress. With the goal of a new job, sometimes a job seeker sets the only criteria for success as the job offer. Make sure this does not lead you to keep giving yourself “failing” grades. Your search will likely face a longer and more difficult search than you have previously and will need positive signs of progress to sustain your energy.

For both your search and longer term career management, you will need to grow your network. This provides several opportunities to set some goals and monitor improvements. Set goals for new contacts made, expansion of LinkedIn connection, Professional groups joined. Want to try something brand new; Start your own job search group, either online or one that meets on a regular schedule. Watching such a group grow can be very rewarding.

Take a class or training designed to increase your skill sets. In addition to beefing up your résumé, you have another ongoing activity designed toward your goal that allows you to see progress.

Make Sure Your Search has more Definition than Desperation. In 2011, many of the long-term unemployed face ever increased financial pressures. In addition, employed individuals at many companies are overworked and underappreciated and can’t wait to get away from such an environment.  But despite however difficult your situation has become, beware of letting your need to “get a job” or “get out of this place” cloud your judgment in evaluating job opportunities.

 Start any job search by outlining criteria for the setting where you can best perform based primarily on where you have performed best and been the happiest in the past. If you currently work in a difficult environment, define what makes the situation intolerable so that you can determine whether a new opportunity will be more of the same. Share this information with colleagues you trust to confide in. As hard as it may be to hear, such an individual can point out if some of your expectations might be unrealistic or that you might face similar situations no matter where you go. By considering such feedback and applying defined criteria to your opportunities will help you evaluate them more objectively as well as decrease the possibility of jumping “out of the frying pan into the fire.”

One indicator of the increased desperation levels in the labor market I follow is StaffCentrix. This group researches the validity of work from home opportunities. Their current “Scam-O-Meter” listed on their ratracerebellion.com page reports a 61:1 ratio of scams to legitimate opportunities. A great indicator of how desperate decision can cloud judgment, opening more opportunities for such predatory tactics

Schedule Your Days While in a Job Search

Many unemployed individuals struggle with handling their time without the structure of a job. This can leads to excessive wasting of time and easy distractions. Donnell Turner of the Loyola University of Chicago Career Center shared a great outline he provides to members of his alumni job club at the recent MACCA Conference. With thanks to Donnell, here is the suggested schedule with comments:

8:00 -10:00          Research-Industries and Companies*

10:00-12:00         Call/email Contacts**

12:00-1:00           Lunch

1:00-2:00              Review trade Journals/Blogs

2:00-4:00              Networking Activities**              

4:00-5:00              Apply for Jobs*

Start Out with Research. Many contacts are either commuting or settling in to their days at this time. Gather information on job & fields as well as companies you have interest in. Check for any job alerts received from any career boards you’re registered on. Set up a list of the calls and job applications to complete that day.

Call & emails. Make sure no matter how busy you get with any follow up calls and emails, you build in a set number of new or “cold” calls in to expand your contact lists. These are never fun or easy, but you’ll never get better at them without practice.

Lunch.  Add in some form of exercise, even if it’s a 30-minute walk. Take care of yourself. The stress of unemployment often leads to increases or decreases in eating and sleeping. This can take a toll on health and weight factors.

Review Trade Journals/Blogs. Rather than researching places to apply, use this period to keep up to date on your professional field information. Post comments on articles and blogs as well as asking and answering questions in LinkedIn groups. This allows more people in your field to see your expertise.

Networking Activities. Whether it’s a job club meeting or information interview, you need the interaction with other people. Work toward scheduling at least one per day. Most job seekers report that once you start requesting these meetings, they’re amazed at how easy they are to schedule.

Apply for Jobs. Slating this at the end of the day limits potential distractions from calls and follow up emails. Focus on completing each application, cover letter or résumé once you’ve started it. Only take calls or emails that require immediate attention. Without breaks, you can complete these activities more efficiently.

The *and** designate interchangeable time frames. If you feel more comfortable doing task-oriented activities first thing in the morning and research/ reading later, by all means schedule it that way. Similarly, if you prefer making networking contacts in the morning, you will probably get better results by having them when you feel more comfortable.  This can also vary from day-to-day as well. The important factor is that by scheduling and planning out your activities will result in more productive days. Then maybe you can relax a little more and do something for yourself in the evenings.

Tips on Conducting Information Interviews

Career coaches and advisors repeatedly encourage job seekers to schedule and conduct as many “Information Interviews” as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes we assume that job seekers instinctively know what constitutes an information interview and how to arrange them. As the name implies, an Information interview is when two individuals meet for the purpose of exchanging job or career- related information.  The focus usually involves a particular career field or a specific company. Typically, a job seeker or career explorer requests the meeting or interview with an individual knowledgeable about the field of interest or the company. Here are tips on requesting and getting the most benefit out of these meetings.

Often, All it Takes to Schedule a Meeting is Asking. Start with simple suggestions, like a coffee meeting, that don’t infringe much on one’s time. Offer a site close to their home or work and give them a couple of time and date options, rather than an open ended “Can we meet?” Once you start requesting such meetings, you will discover how much easier they are to schedule than you imagined.

Seek Advice and Exchanging Information. When requesting the meeting, let your contact know you want to discuss a particular field or company and seek their expertise and recommendations. Ask as many questions as possible during the meeting that treat your contact as a subject matter expert. This strategy will produce better results and information, since most people enjoy giving advice and being treated as an expert.

Provide Your Contact with Sufficient Information. When meeting to discuss a particular field, give a complete outline of your background, skills, education and areas of interest.  In meetings focused on a specific company, state your exact status regarding particular openings or departments and the status of you candidacy there. Since you have the luxury of more time than a networking event or contact offers, you can elaborate and provide more detail than you would in an introduction or “elevator” speech. The more your contact knows about your skill sets and the type work you’re seeking, he or she will be better able to provide appropriate guidance and referrals.

Allow Your Contact to Offer Information Regarding Referrals or Job Openings. An individual needs to process all your information so that he or she can best ascertain what course of action to take in trying to help you. Plus, you will also receive the strongest assistance effort by allowing one operate on his or her own schedule and comfort level.  Trust that the best way to get referrals and job leads is to make a positive impression when meeting an individual. Referring a quality individual to a colleague or co-worker offers someone potential benefits as well.

Share Your Knowledge and Expertise as Well. Networking relationships work best when both parties benefit. Throughout your meeting think of contacts or information you can offer your and don’t hesitate to provide these if you think of them after the meeting.

Show Appreciation and Stay in Touch. Thank your contacts both at the end of the meeting and with a follow up email. Invite to connect on LinkedIn if possible. Keep them updated on your progress, even when they haven’t offered any recent information. By staying on an individual’s radar screen, you increase the chances  of receiving a referral when he or she comes across such an opportunity.

Don’t View Temporary Employment as a Dead End or Last Resort

The guest on my Internet radio show this week was Steve Gallison, Director of the Maryland Professional Outplacement Assistance Center. Our topic was temporary staffing as an employment option. Steve quoted a recent statistic from Bloomberg News that several large national staffing companies have had five consecutive quarters of record earnings. This indicates many companies have needs but don’t  yet feel confident enough to add permanent staff. Recent history shows that similar increases in temporary work are followed by similar increases in job gains, so hopefully this trend continues.

Many job seekers do not consider temporary agencies, holding outdated beliefs that most deal with clerical or manual labor type work. They also fear that an agency will send them to different employers every few days, and while earning some income, it may infringe on their availability to interview for permanent positions. What they should realize is that many staffing agencies are using the current labor market to market temp-to-perm arrangements with companies. It’s a win-win proposal as both the candidate and employer get a 60, 90 or 120 day trial to see how the arrangement works out. If all candidate performs well or just demonstrates that their talents are too strong to pass up, permanent offers are made.

In addition, temporary agencies support most employment fields nowadays. You can find directories of staffing agencies in most business directories that will break down what areas each specialize in. Contact some that serve employers in your field and offer your services as most will welcome the chance to market skilled professionals to their clients. Plus when you perform successfully in any role for a recruiter or staffing agency, you become a “friend for life” to the agency. You’d be amazed how such a relationship can help you navigate any future bumps you may hit down the road of your career.