Recently I was engaged by a senior exec who had worked in a narrow, consumer products industry for years. He’d lost his job because of a buy-out and strategy change. Significantly unaware of the career implications of the changing economy, he also had no awareness of either job search realities or skills. I doubt that is unusual. It means coaching and development of job search competencies from ground zero are required.
What follows, then, are those ground zero “rules” for job search in the 21st century. They reflect my observations and the wisdom of highly successful managers and executives who’ve worked in everything from start-ups to leading multi-national companies. These are people who’ve moved from corporation to corporation over the past 15 years with little pain. They reflect a highly knowledgeable understanding of the flattened and networked impact of the information economy upon jobs. The degree of consensus on these “rules” for managerial positions and above is near 100%.
A caveat: If you’re in your first five years of your career after graduation, two or three of the rules will be a bit difficult to ...
1. There is no such thing as job security in the 21st century. You can, however, develop a fairly solid career security. One of the implications is that a VP or director position, for example, is worth five years, give or take two. If you stay beyond that you’re liable to become obsolete and lose not only your job but also your career security. Unless, of course, you work for a highly sophisticated firm that provides an ongoing set of role changes, supported by significant learning opportunities. There ain’t many of those.
2. A quality network remains the best door to a new position. With networks quality is far more significant than size. Systematic research reveals that networks consistently provide more and better opportunities, faster promotions and better salaries. Prior to the recent recession the rule for a job acquisition was that you’d find one through a friend of a friend of a friend. In today’s economy you’ll need to go still further. Perhaps five or six degrees beyond your best contact. Probably 80 to 90% of quality jobs are secured through networks.
3. Information interviews are a superb means for gathering information about careers, companies and contacts. They are especially useful for experienced workers in transition who want to know about what a proposed career is really like. That will include challenges, opportunities, the present and potentially future shape of the career, including its drawbacks and limitations. They are just as useful for finding out information about specific corporations. They also can give you further, perhaps even better contacts within a career or an organization. However, it is TABOO to ever ask such a person for a job. Always make certain you walk into an information interview with a set of relevant, thoughtful questions. Send the contact a thank-you note for the experience and report back on leads which you secured through his or her recommendation. You may want to revisit your conversation with him again.
4. Personal positioning is very significant for informational and hiring manager interviews. Stay on top of your identity definition and look like, converse, ask questions and listen in ways that reflect that identity. Regularly assess your identity definition and tweak it when the information retrieved suggests the need. Since every hiring manager is asking “who is this guy?” make certain that you’ve shaped your identity to answer his or her question in the best way possible for both yourself and that person.
5. Better companies and smarter managers will fight for the exceptionally well-trained and experienced manager who’s adaptable, creative, entrepreneurial and a nimble thinker. It’s not unusual for a firm to hire a well-rounded, highly talented person without a position opening. They’ll create a position to gain that wealth of talent.Even though such a person is not in job search mode, executives meeting up with such talent will hand out an invitation: Let me know when you’re interested in making a change. We might be able to figure something out.Those same execs will also check back occasionally to remind the exceptional employee of their offer. One CEO lost a superb employee who was looking for a new experience, left him alone in his new firm for six months, then rehired him away from his new job for a tailor-made position.
6. Career transition processes are fundamentally about doing, not thinking. Actual possibilities come by testing reality, not by looking inside yourself and thinking about your potential. Testing new situations, trying out new activities, reaching out to new groups, finding new role models and reworking your story and identity are the key to success. Contrary to conventional wisdom, getting into a new vocation requires us to get out of our heads and act. But the most effective transitions usually find opportunities within the same industry or a related industry.
7. The sole purpose of a cover letter and resume are to get an interview. They won’t get you a job, so write them focused on attracting the attention of a recruiting opportunity. Tailoring the rhetoric for a recruiter and his firm in colorful, attention-getting language are the issues. Use concrete financial metrics wherever possible, making certain the form, spelling syntax, etc. are flawless. I’m skeptical about the value of cover letters and resumes for one reason: I’ve found that very few business people have the background to write an attention-getting cover letter and understand the science of the resume. Success, inevitably, is about a network and reputation that enables you to get inside an organization’s pathways, those connections that lead inside the organization.
8. Prepare in depth for a hiring manager interview. It should be obvious, but experience suggests otherwise. Find out as much as possible about the hiring manager(s) and the organization before your meeting(s). Use internet, stock reports, networks and information contacts. Adapt your identity for that interview and use highly customized questions to get every bit of information of value. It’s your network, the knowledge of the company, the really intelligent questions and the great stories you bring to the conversation that make for successful interviews.
9. So have a personal story of success (and sometimes failure) for every important statement of your experience. Stories are often the best response to questions and the most concrete way of defining your identity. Story-telling can be learned and stories are exceptionally useful for managing and many other business tasks. The most articulate, well-informed and well-educated hiring managers are suckers for great stories. They are the best means for shaping the context of the interview to your own advantage.
Aside from written materials, job search is focused completely on conversational ability. The demand upon the job seeker for articulate conversational skills is highly significant and often makes the difference between gaining and losing a job. Key focus is upon creating and sometimes reconstructing an identity that attracts the recruiter. The process inevitably includes effective turn-taking, managing the questioning processes with elan, your ability to ask great questions, and a combination of style and vigor. Most job seekers go into interviewing situations with a mindset toward (sales) presentation, a significant error.
FYI on Questioning: Although I have a white paper on questioning, John Hagel has recently written an extensive, insightful blog on the subject. There are many questioning tools that few know or use, including those of metacognition. Watch for my coming blog on how questions work. Even further, if you’ve answered a lot of questions in an interview, it’s very appropriate and advantageous to ask “what’s the question behind that question?” That will keep you from answering the wrong question and--impress the interviewer with your smarts. If the interviewer doesn’t like that question, you probably don’t want to work for that firm.
So why can’t good people get a good job?
In his book of the same title, Peter Capelli explains the varied answers to that question in detail.
- Employers have no sense of when a job vacancy starts hurting them.
- Employers do not see the costs of not filling jobs.
- Employers do not understand that keeping positions vacant is not free.
- Employers don’t want unions, but they don’t want to train employees either. (Unions typically train their members.)
- The American corporation is sophisticated about everything except labor.
- The US has the weakest HR departments in the world. The days of large HR departments in major corporations are long gone.
What to remember
- There’s a lot of hiring and job search nonsense in the streets. Refine your crap detector.
- Make your job search rules and skills a permanent part of your brain storage.
- Never, never, never stop developing and building your networks. You’ll need them at the most unexpected and inopportune times.
- The web is a tool, and nothing but a tool. So don’t become too enamored of its power.
Best wishes and good luck.