Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror (Part2)

[This is the fourth part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous posts for context]

Writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with many folks who are also on this journey. And I have not talked to anyone who has not been rejected in one way or the other. (I’m guessing the ones who got the first job they applied for aren’t reading this blog or don’t have time to share their vast and obvious wisdom.) If we’re going to job search, we’re going to experience rejection.

In past entries, I’ve share some facets surrounding the issue of rejection. Now we’re looking at “takeaways,” actually (pardon the moralization) learning from the process and focusing on those issues which we can and should control to help us get that job we want. We’ve looked at Accuracy, now let’s consider two more in our alliterated list.

Accomplishments: Getting a job is not just about what we can do (that’s about capability), it’s also about what we have done (that’s achievement). Too often, our resumes are over-crowded with duties we’ve performed, degrees we’ve earned, titles we’ve held and the companies where we’ve worked. But how much is devoted to what we actually accomplished in any of those areas? Employers want to know about our skills, they want to see our successes. It’s less about what we can do and more about what we can do…for them. And they want clear examples.

Our resumes and our interviews should include specific and measurable examples of our accomplishments. Yes, I can plan an event, but my potential employer will be more impressed when I detail how I successfully planned a two-day, out-of-state conference for more than 5,000 attendees, with an increase over the previous year’s attendance by 8 percent. It’s good that I can write a news release, but how much more notable is it that I increased the media coverage of my last employer by 25 percent?

We know it’s not considered polite to brag about ourselves. We are discouraged from “tooting our own horn.” But when it comes to job searching, refusal to trumpet our successes just might leave us watching the band play without us.

Attitude: We come now to one of those controllable areas that is not about my resume. I can have all the words spelled correctly and impeccable grammar, but when I go into the interview, it’s about selling myself on the open market. The needed ingredient at this point now is a winning attitude. And we’re not talking about the two-fingers snapped, oh-no-she-diddunt kind of attitude.

As I read articles and blogs from corporate leaders and recruiters, they are looking for candidates who display enthusiasm and confidence as well as knowledge and skill during the interview. When it comes down to two equally qualified applicants, the attitude of one can be the tipping point in their favor.

While that may seem obvious, I am always stunned (and amused to the point of LOL'ing) when I read recruiter talks about interviews where a qualified candidate was rejected primarily because of a negative attitude. There are reports of those who show up for an interview, but appear uninterested, bored, lethargic or distracted (i.e., turn off the cell phone). Do you have some place more important to be? Recruiters talk about candidates who are sarcastic, arrogant (which is not the same as confident), defensive, rude and even flirty. (One recruiter told of a candidate who asks her out…during the interview. Seriously?)

Of course our stellar abilities are important to getting a job offer, but without the proper attitude, they will likely go to the next qualified candidate.
Know this: our attitude will be checked even before our references!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Looking in the Rear View Mirror

[This is the third part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous posts for context]

Rejection is part of the job search journey, as we discuss in our last entries. We think (hope, pray) our destination is in sight, only to be told “No, this is not your exit.” So we put on a professional smile, get back on the road, and look for the next opportunity. But there’s no denying: it does hurt.

Now what do I do?

Aside from that tired, sage wisdom from my grandmother--“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”--is there anything we can do? (Especially when I'm so depressed Idon’t even want to get dressed at all!)

In my time on this journey, I’ve come up with a few insights. I can’t take the “sting” out of the rejection, but I’ll share some of my thoughts:

* It’s not my fault…unless it is. (I know, how clear is that?!) In many cases, the rejection is not about “me” the person. There are so many factors that must converge for a the right job offer. (The positive application of the “perfect storm.”) It could be my skill set is not seen by the hiring manager as a match for the job. My specific background may not match with what the prospective company believes would be most useful for them. As we saw in our last post, it could be a bad chemistry with the interviewer and/or hiring manager.

And sometimes (and I hate this one the most), we just never know the reason(s).

But some of the reasons for the rejection (not getting that interview, not being asked back or not landing the job) might be more tangible. And personal. (i.e., That person in the mirror might be the root cause.) So, whenever or how ever we experience the rejection, it’s a good time for reflection and review. I always go back over the entire process and ask:
What did I do right? Is there anything I would do differently? Were there mistakes I made? How can I improve?

As we read all the experts, there are many factors which can hurt our chances in the job market, and they are things which we can (and should) control. Depending on who you read, or how much you read, the list could be endless. I have summarized it into four basic areas:

Accuracy: If I’m sending out resumes and not getting any response, it might be time to consider revising my resume. Typos are the surest and quickest route to rejection. One recruiter I read said that as many as 90 percent of the resumes he receives have spelling errors. You could consider getting an impartial opinion from someone in your career field or even hire a professional to create a new resume. (You could also go back and read
my post on this very subject!)

Also on this subject is the issue of providing accurate information. As we’ve said in the past, don’t lie on your resume. Don’t fudge about your education, don’t buy a diploma you didn’t’ earn, don’t pad your experience, don’t hyperbolize your accomplishments and don’t exaggerate your actual skills. In case I'm being too subtle: DO NOT LIE ON YOUR RESUME. EVER! If you want to write fiction, try a novel.

In my next entry, we’ll continue to look at elements (the ones we can/should control) which will hinder our job search success.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Missed My Connection

[NOTE: This is the second part of a discussion on Rejection in our Job Search. Please read the previous post for context]

The interviews are over…and I didn’t get the job. That job I wanted. The job I seriously thought I was going to get and knew would be a perfect match. I didn’t get the job. As Maxwell Smart used to say: “Missed it by that much.”

And of course, I’m asking myself: Why?

There could be any number of reasons why I didn’t get the job. Perhaps they decided to hire/promote someone from inside the company, which means my interview was mostly a formality. (Yeah, that makes me feel better.) It could be they eliminated the position, combined it with another position or determined not to fill it at this time. Speculations aside, there are times when hiring decisions are simply out of my control.

Another factor that can come into the decision-making process is one that’s much-discussed but difficult to define. It’s not tangible or even measurable. But don’t let the subliminal nature of this factor deceive—it’s very real! It’s called by many names, but I think of it in terms of “connection.” (Others use the concept of “chemistry” which is also a good description.) Sometimes, two people just don’t click; the rapport is not there.

I’m not saying this is right (and certainly not saying I like it), but if we’re honest, we will admit to the reality. We all know it happens: we meet someone and instantly don’t like them (and, as difficult as it to believe, the reverse sometimes happens--they meet and instantly dislike me). The same can happen in interviews as well. And while we’d wish the hiring person would be mature enough to get past it, or at least seek to overcome it, that may not happen.

The reasons for such a personality disconnect are probably complex and doubtless impossible to isolate. I might remind that person of someone who hurt them very deeply. Maybe my race is an issue, or (as we’ve seen in the past) age is a factor. They might be just having a really bad day or struggling with issues that are completely unrelated to our interview. (see my side note, below) It would probably take a forensic psychologist (or Kreskin) to discover the root cause. But in the meantime, I didn’t get the job because there was just no connection between me and the hiring manager.

Side Note: Lest we put all the blame on the “other side of the desk,” I had this same thing happen as a job seeker. I went in for an interview and from the time I arrived in the man’s office, there was obvious (and open) hostility. It became clear to me that the position was available because the previous employee left due to the travel distance; she’d grown tired of the long commute. Apparently, due to where I lived, this man was concerned about my potential punctuality. His misplaced hostility continued to escalate (along with his volume). I quickly decided I didn’t want to work for this man. I gathered my materials and politely told him that I felt this was not the right place for me. I thanked him for his time and left. I even followed up with a polite email, again thanking him for the interview.

Is there anything I can do about that lack of connection? That question is almost as hard to answer as the “why” question. But just like in dating, we meet folks who just aren’t “our type” and try as hard as we can, there’s just no spark. It’s time to accept the reality and move on.

It also begs the question: if there’s no rapport during the interview, can that come later? To me, it’s doubtful, so this might be a good thing to know early on! Better to know while we’re “dating” (i.e., interviewing) than to get “married” (i.e., hired) and have to deal with it on a daily basis. Right?

Postscript: Just before posting, I happen to read two articles about this same subject. One person (a job seeker) had similar experience, confirming what I discussed here about "chemistry."

The other article was by a recruiter. His assertion was regardless of what the job seeker thinks about why the interview went bad (he discounted the "chemistry" idea completely), it’s almost always the candidate’s fault. (And he invites me to enroll in his six-week workshop where he will teach me how to overcome my bad attitude!)

Interesting perspectives from two sides of the desk, wouldn’t you say?

Next: Let’s look at some practical and specific things we can do when we don’t get that job.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This is not your Exit

Welcome to Job Search Paradise. I’m your Employment Fairy. This will be a wonderful, tranquil experience. As the philosopher says: Don’t sweat it. Throw together a simple resume. (Don’t spend too much time on it. Remember: I’m doing all the work for you. And don't forget you have that spa massage this afternoon.) Find a couple of listings for that special job you really want—the one with the incredible salary and benefits. In no time, you’ll have several companies engaged in a bidding war for your unique, indispensible services. You will be able to take the one with the most money and the least number of hours......


I would love to tell you that your job search journey will be a smooth and speedy trip. I would love to tell you that you will find that perfect job very quickly. I know there are those who’ve had this experience, but that would be the exception. (Those folks aren’t reading this blog because they are at work…and we hate them anyway!)

Since we’ve talked about perseverance (part of the earlier GPS series of posts), it’s important to also talk about one of the primary reasons we need that “stick-to-itiveness.” Rejection! It’s my belief that only actors and writers see more rejection than job seekers. (When I was trying to get my first novel published, I considered wallpapering my office with the rejection letters.) It’s just part of the process. If we’re thin-skinned and overly sensitive, it can definitely have an emotional impact. A severe and negative emotional impact!

In job searching, there are various kinds (or degrees) of rejection. First, there’s what we’ll call the “Broad” rejection. (Which has nothing to do with not being a big-shouldered woman in the 1930s) When we send out a resume and never hear back from the company, that’s the broadest kind of rejection. It’s also the most impersonal. For me, it has little emotional consequences, beyond mild annoyance. (The least they could do is acknowledge receipt of my material! Is that asking too much?)

A more personal kind of rejection (let’s call this one “Close Enough to Leave a Bruise” rejection) comes once we’ve had some contact with a potential employer. Typically, it’s after a phone interview or perhaps a face-to-face. For whatever reason (and we’ll talk more about that later), we are not invited to continue in the hiring process. (Don't we love that kind of non-negative phrasing?) This one carries more weight, since we were singled out of the myriads of resumes and allowed the opportunity of “selling” ourselves. Unfortunately, it was a “No Sale” and that hurts.

And then it gets more personal. We've gone through any number of interviews with a variety of people at various levels of the company/department hierarchy. And most importantly, we've been given the clear indication that we are a viable candidate for the open position. But when all has been said and done, they give the job to someone else. We’ll call this the “Punched in the Gut” rejection! As you might imagine, these kinds of rejections are traumatic.

Personal Experiences: In this job search, I’ve had two occasions when I’ve gone past the initial interview and been told I was one of the “finalists” for the job. (Why does that always sound like a beauty pageant?) Once it was down to three candidates and another time it was just two of us under consideration. Obviously, I didn’t get either of the positions.

In one (where I was one of two finalists), I was told they were going with the person with the most experience. (Huh? I’ve been in PR/Communications for 15+ years. Did they hire Grandma Moses?) In the other, following the fourth interview, I was told there were three finalists, including me. I never heard anything at all from that company. Even after two follow up emails and leaving a message on the voice mail of the hiring manager, no response at all. They chose not to inform me that I wasn't chosen. (If this were a beauty pageant, I didn't even win “Miss Congeniality!”)

So how do we handle rejection? I’m not one of those superstar motivational speakers, so I’m won't dazzle (delude?) you with positive platitudes and banal principles. (“Just one more NO on the way to YES” [cringe]“If you can picture it, you can have it” [shudder]) In the next few posts, I’ll simply relate some things that have helped me deal with this inevitable aspect of this journey.

In the meantime, I welcome your comments, suggestions and especially your stories about personal experiences with rejection.

Monday, June 1, 2009

You’re Gonna Need GPS! (Part 3)

I mentioned in the last entry, job searching is not easy and these days, and it's seldom quick. As the Hollies sang so eloquently back in the 60s: “The road is long, with many a winding turn.” (Still love that song!)

For that reason, I’ve suggested with need our own job-search GPS system. We’ve already looked at the need for some help (Guidance) on the journey. And because it can be a “long and winding” road,” I suggested that we need Persistence and Patience.

As we go through this process we lovingly call “job searching” (though it often feels more akin to a circus and we’re the animals jumping though the hoops for potential positions), we learn some important lessons: Job searching is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s annoying. It’s tedious. It’s impersonal. (Should I continue? Want to add you own?) And because it’s all these qualities—and more—we could easily become cynical and sarcastic. (Not that you’d find any of that on my blog?) There’s the final element in our GPS which is more than just helpful on this journey, (IMHO) it’s essential.

A Sense of Humor helps

Think back on some of the topics/issues we’re shared so far. Without a sense of humor, I just cannot imagine how anyone can navigate this journey. First and foremost, we’ve seen a system that is so automated that it often reduces the job seeker to little more than an ID number in a computer or words on the page of a resume. This giant automaton is responsible for “reading” our resume in search of key words that will match us with those of the potential employer. Without the element of human compassion, this technological sentry cannot be moved by our glowing narratives of accomplishment or impressed with our extensive, successful experience. An inhuman set of binary codes looking for a series of random terms and phrases will determine if we move to the next level of job searching; a programmed “word search matrix” controls our fate.

But it’s not all about the futuristic computer brains that scan our resumes. I’ve also shared some of the experiences we will have with carbon-based lifeforms—those humans who are also involved in the process, who all too often, have significant similarities to their computer counterparts. There are interviews which seem designed less to get to know the candidate and more like an interrogation of a suspect. I’ve also discussed the reality of age discrimination—that perception that those of us who have been in the workforce since before Facebook was the primary means of interaction are perceived as legitimate in today office as a Royal typewriter at an IT convo.

All of the processes and people can create a unwanted and unhealthy side effect: Stress. That “s” word can best be combated with a perspective that doesn’t take it all too seriously. (Hey, another “s” word)

Of course I’m not trying to diminish the importance of finding a job. And I absolutely recognize the need of having an income. I know firsthand the pressure that comes with not having that regular paycheck. And we all know that being jobless in our culture takes a toll on our self-image and sense of self-worth. (More “s” words there) Emotionally, it can be very destructive.

I’m also not suggesting interjecting jokes into our resume or preparing a stand-up monologue for the job interview. (Actually, because I did some writing for a stand-up comedian, have written scripts for roasts and served as an Emcee, I have mentioned that as one of my skills. But I don’t recommend we try and transform ourselves into Shecky Job Seeker!) This is all about our attitude during the process and in dealing with the people involved. It’s about taking an honest look at what is happening and choosing to see the lighter side. So much of the selection process is outside our control, but our attitude is one thing we can (and must) control.

No, it probably won’t get us a job. But I truly believe it does help us maintain a positive attitude, which could actually help get us a job. (Imagine the impact our demeanor would have if we went into an interview angry, depressed and cynical?)

NOTE: There’s one other “s” word I’d like to briefly include here as well. Make sure you have a solid Support System during your unemployment and job search. (Okay, maybe that is two "s" words)

Your loved ones are important and can provide you with encouragement when you’re down. Nurture these relationships and cherish the people in your life. Unfortunately, new statistics are showing that during this economic downturn, with the rise of unemployment, there’s also an increase in divorce and separation. Don’t try to do this alone. And don’t shut out those folks around you who can give you a shoulder to lean on…or cry on.

A powerful combination: Support and a Sense of Humor. They will help us maintain our sanity (Look, another “s” word) in the midst of what can be a long, unfamiliar trip. What are our options? Perhaps…this!