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Want a new job? Talk with people.

A friend (let’s call her Julie) asked me to help her put together a nice, simple stereo system for her living room. She knows I’m both a vintage audio enthusiast and a bargain hunter. I’ve been trolling Craigslist for deals on a receiver and speakers. I found her a great receiver, but the speakers have proven a bit more challenging; the right ones at the right price have yet to surface.

Yesterday, I was sitting at our local coffee shop having breakfast and talking with a few of the regulars. One of the guys (a mutual friend of Julie’s) mentioned he had a garage sale yesterday, and that he had a pair of speakers for sale. My ears perked up and I asked for more details. Turns out they were the brand I’d been searching for…and he sold them to the first person who showed up.

I winced, realizing I’d made a serious tactical error. I’d seen this person repeatedly since my search began a couple of weeks ago…but I’d never thought to mention it to him.

If I had? Our mutual friend would have a great pair of speakers in her living room right now for a very reasonable price. And that’s my mistake.

What does this have to do with job search, you ask? Well, apply the above scenario to your current or most recent job search. How many people did you think to talk with about what you are/were searching for?

All too often, people feel shamed that they are out of work.  Or they don’t want to burden others with horror stories of how badly their current job is going. So they don’t speak up in situations where they may not realize someone could have a connection that could prove extremely useful.

I’ll give you another example:

The reason I’m in my current role was because I mentioned to another member of a board on which I sit that I’d changed my email as I had left my previous employer. She immediately responded, asking if I’d be interested in having lunch with her and their VP. I realized that I hadn’t mentioned my search to her previously. Why? Too focused on making new network connections, other interviews, etc. But I’d missed communicating with a major strategic networking asset–that could have cost me a fantastic job.

So. Who haven’t you talked with that you should?

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Hiring Managers: Stop discriminating against the unemployed. Recruiters: Stop enabling them.

A good friend of mine recently asked for advice regarding a job offer. This individual took a big risk by leaving a stable position to join an exciting startup. The startup grew it’s headcount much more quickly than it grew revenue–which unfortunately resulted in them being RIF’ed. My friend was out of work for awhile, and expressed a bit of anxiety around how their unemployment period might impact their negotiating position. “Well, they know I’ve been unemployed for awhile, so. . .” Even so, my friend is one of the very fortunate ones; they received a great offer and are back in the workforce.

Long-term unemployment is a serious issue nationwide. Only 11% of the long-term unemployed in any given month are finding work a year later. While a limited supply of jobs is clearly part of the issue, so is discrimination against the long-term unemployed by hiring decision makers.

This issue is widespread enough (and has been for a number of years now) that President Obama has called upon major CEO’s of over 300 companies to pledge their companies will not discriminate against the long-term unemployed.

I’ve occasionally experienced this with hiring managers in the past few years. When presenting a candidate who has an extended period of unemployment, I’ve heard feedback that ranges from, “If they haven’t found a job in XX months, there has to be a reason” to “I’ll only consider them if they will take an offer substantially cheaper than the market rate.”

Is there any validity to these statements? To the former–maybe. But that’s what a thorough, competency-based evaluation and reference check process is for. You should be able to conclusively determine through your evaluation process whether the candidate is capable of performing your job–and has done so consistently for past employers.

As to the latter statement: It bothers me that some hiring managers assign less value to someone simply because they are not currently employed. There is a cachet of luring the passive candidate for some managers; clearly that person is doing exceptional work for another employer, so we must have them. But what if they aren’t? There are dangers in operating with this bias. What if they are miserable, but simply are so overworked that they don’t have time to be an active job seeker? (Been there.) What if they are underperforming but just haven’t been terminated yet?

Hiring managers are not the only ones to blame in this, either. Recruiters get caught up in the idea of sourcing only passive, fully employed talent and ignoring the people who actually applied for the job. It’s important to review ALL applicants equally, and to push back/appropriately challenge hiring manager bias appropriately when presenting a slate of candidates. If you think the candidate who has a period of unemployment is the right person for their job? Make your business case. It’s the right thing to do–both for your company and for the candidate.

 

Authenticity and interviews: why it’s important

Anyone who really knows me will tell you that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. (This saddens many who come to my house for dinner only to find I forgot to make dessert.)

So I was surprised today when I was buying a bottle of water at the airport and found myself suddenly craving a Snickers.

As I was considering this purchase, I noted that there was a candy bar much like a Snickers but was all-natural, organic, etc. My ego and id had a quick summit meeting and decided that if I was to give into this temptation, I would get the more expensive but potentially healthier choice.

I just broke into it, and–it’s fine. But it’s not the thing it’s pretending it is: a Snickers. It isn’t authentic.

Authenticity is often easy to achieve in our personal lives. With work, it can be a bit more difficult. I know many people that assume a slightly different persona, a different way of communicating, when they are in a work context.

This extends to interviews as well. Interviews are not scenarios in which we often find ourselves. The interviewer is frequently not trained in how to effectively interview and evaluate talent. The interviewee often feels anxious, nervous, uncertain. In many cases, there is a lot on the line for them if they don’t nail this interview.

This sets the stage for a very inauthentic interaction–especially on the part of the interviewee, who probably doesn’t have as much experience in interviewing as the interviewer.

Unfortunately, perceptive interviewers pick up on the fact that they aren’t seeing the ‘real you’. There is a lot riding on making this hire for them; they need someone they know they and their team can effectively work with. If they can’t see that through the interview, they will hesitate to make an offer.

How can a candidate address this? Practice. Ensure that you work with an interview coach and do mock interviews that are videoed. Watch the video–do you see the real you? Ask for feedback from the mock interviewer; did they feel like you were your genuine self, or did they sense a shift as soon as you moved from breaking the ice to the formal interview questions?

This can be a tough process, but it’s immensely valuable in preparing to be your most authentic self in the interview for your dream job.

Offbeat interview questions: What have you encountered?

It’s widely known that certain companies use nontraditional interview questions. There have been a couple of recent stories that highlight questions used by Amazon, Apple, Zappos, and many others. 

A few of my favorites:

  • Zappos: “What superhero would you be and would you dress up at work given the chance?”
  • Clark Construction Group: “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”
  • Bain and Company: “Estimate how many windows are in New York.”
  • Apple: “If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?” 

I think these types of questions can help an interviewer evaluate how a candidate articulates their way through solving for an unknown problem (Bain/Apple examples) or whether a candidate is a culture fit (Zappos). But some of the questions (like the penguin question above) just seem ludicrous to me.

Recruiters/Hiring Managers: What are your thoughts on these types of questions? Do you/have you work(ed) for companies that use them as part of their interview process? How were the answers evaluated?

Job seekers: What unusual questions have you been hit with during an interview? How did you respond?

The highest offer isn’t always the best offer.

My other half and I have been down the house buying path together a couple of times.

The first time was in 2006-07, right in the eye of the real estate chaos. After losing a few houses we gave up and decided to rent. (One of the best choices we’ve made, in retrospect.)

We decided to re-enter the home buying market in early 2010. We figured with banks ratcheting up approval criteria for home loans about 1000%, it would be a buyer’s market. Wrong. We lost out on two houses before we came upon another, a nicely kept Tudor in our target area.

I found it about an hour after it first hit the MLS, around 9pm. I sent the listing to our realtor. He called before 8:30am the next morning. “That house is a peach. If you’re interested you need to see it today because it’s going to sell.”

By the time we walked in the door at 8pm that night, 24 realtors had toured the house (in 1 day!) and there was already one offer. After a 20 minute walkthrough, we decided to make an offer.

Two hours later, he called. “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is there are four offers on the table–and one of them is substantially higher than yours.” My heart sank.

He continued: “The good news: The seller likes the terms of your offer better.” I was confused. How can our offer, which wasn’t the highest, be better?

The answer is: The offer is a better fit for the individual. And this also holds true in your job search. Money isn’t the only thing.

You need to carefully prioritize what is most important to you:

  • Is it work/life balance–you want to be able to arrive at 8 and leave at 5 every day?
  • Is it base compensation more important than…
  • …Bonus or incentive compensation? Are you someone that wants to control how much you make (commission-based environment)?
  • How important are benefits to you? Do you need them, or are you covered under someone else’s plan? What about cost of coverage?
  • Is location and commute a factor? There are some people that will go nearly anywhere for the right job; others don’t want anything longer than a 20 minute commute by bike or bus.
  • How about corporate social responsibility factors–is working for a company that is a good corporate citizen, and pays its employees to volunteer/matches donations/etc a strong driver?

You need to look at all of these factors in considering a job offer. It’s imperative that you know how the above factors are prioritized for you in order to make that decision.

As a recruiter, I’ve occasionally extended an offer to a candidate when the company I represent doesn’t have the highest dollar offer they are considering. But occasionally, after the candidate walks through all of the decision factors, they realize that the best offer isn’t the highest.

Oh, and the house? Our counter-counter offer was accepted at about 11:45 that night. We went to bed in a bit of a daze, not quite believing that in the short time since dinner we’d bought a house.

November 2017
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