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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?

It’s college recruiting season-so why aren’t students getting hired?

As someone who has worked quite a bit in the campus recruiting space, I know what it’s like to live by the academic calendar in Fall and Spring. Those are the two peak times of year for campus recruitment, with Spring semester more focused on intern hiring.

This has been top of mind after reading that a large number of employers are finding new college grads are not prepared for the workforce.

60% of employers surveyed by one study said that new college grads lacked basic “communication and interpersonal skills”- about a 10% increase in the past two years. Another survey by global staffing company Adecco reported that 44% of employers cited soft skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills as the biggest gap.

Further, a recent survey of 200 employers by the National Assocation of Colleges and Employers (NACE) showed ability to work in teams, think critically, solve problems, and effectively prioritize work as employers’ top priorities in new hires.

How to solve this gap? Obviously, universities need to be studying these results and reviewing how they are integrating collaboration, peer feedback, and other key soft skills into their curriculums.

But the biggest key for any student is to do at least one (if not more) internships during their course of study. Internships are real-world work experience; they provide a realistic preview of what will be expected in the workplace. Internships are also a phenomenal way to build upon their in-class learning in an experiential setting. I used to perform exit interviews with our Summer interns, and almost all of them stated that their work experience had opened their eyes to what would be expected of them. More than a few realized they needed to change their course of study to better prepare themselves for a future job.

In fact, 70% of students who complete paid internships consider themselves ready for the workplace vs. 44% of those who do not. (Having interviewed students from both groups, I can state a large number of the 44% are not as ready as they think.)

So students, if you are reading this: it’s time to seek out an internship. Trust me, both you and your future employer (who, if you do a great job in your internship, could be one and the same) will benefit.

September 2017
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