Seagulls and the Online Job Market

To the casual observer, the modern job search appears more convenient than ever. Three clicks of a mouse, a flurry of typing, and a potential applicant is whisked away into the magical world of online job postings. And it appears to be the land of plenty; there are bushels of job postings. They submit resumes and wait. And wait. And wait. And never hear back.

What did they do wrong? They were qualified for every position they applied for, their resume was immaculate, but the hiring companies never made contact. The answer, strangely enough, lies in the habits of the infamous sand rats known as seagulls. Consider a busy day at the beach: people are so tightly packed onto the narrow strip of sand that you can’t shake out a towel without earning a dirty look from someone. The internet is millions of times more crowded. Online job postings are inundated with potentially thousands of virtually identical resumes a day. Applicants applying to such listings are like seagulls flocking to a single hand spreading crumbs at the beach: you might get a taste –it might be enough to keep you hopeful—but you will not walk away satisfied from the experience.

Relying on the published job market is narrow-minded and bird-brained. Why compete with thousands when you can narrow down the field to less than one hundred with little effort? Instead of searching for job availabilities, search for specific industries, company sizes, and desired location. Once you’ve created a list of attractive companies, search for the executive that might be in charge of hiring the position that you would be seeking. Mail them your resume directly. There might not be a job opening, but if there is then you’ve managed to cut out the applicants that would only apply if the job availability was posted online. Think back to seagulls: instead of being one of the flock, be the lone maverick patrolling the beach and hunting for the whole sandwich it can snatch out of an unsuspecting individual’s hands.

It’s a higher risk approach, yes. I am not suggesting that you completely eschew the published market. However, by supplementing your search with so-called “unpublished introductions,” you can broaden your search and possibly reap greater rewards in a shorter time span.

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Turning Tables on Discrimination

There are various laws in the workplace both nationally and globally that come into play from a patchwork of jurisdictions, as well as company policies and rules of ethics that may or may not come into play as you enter the hiring process. Unless you’re conducting a search in concert with your attorney with the expressed goal of building a discrimination lawsuit (yes, this is a popular shakedown racket), none of that will actually help you get hired, so let’s remember the mission and identify the tactics needed to win the war, not fight the battle.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission names ten types of discrimination that it protects against and it’s extremely likely that you could find yourself on the receiving end of one or more of these baseball bats during the course of your career, so let’s look at how you can effectively deal with the realities:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Equal Pay/compensation
  • Genetic Information
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/Color
  • Religion
  • Retaliation
  • Sex
  • Sexual Harassment

If you’re pursuing an opportunity and it becomes evident that the hiring team is looking for a token employee to fill the job with a young, old, “less ethnic” (oh, c’mon!), tall, or cheap, etc., you’re not playing your strong suit, because you should focus on the market that considers your particular persuasion to be the preferable one. In all cases, you would rather be discriminated for than against, right? For example, if you are applying for positions in the food wholesale business but you’ve never worked in that industry, people may look at your background and correctly determine that you’re “not a food guy (or gal, oops..)”. You may argue that your experience in wholesale distribution is completely transferrable, but now you’re arguing and you may just be barking up the wrong tree.

So common sense: go where you’re wanted and appreciated, where you and/or your qualifications/profile will be welcomed, and where people like you are regularly sought out, not screened out.

Sometimes, though, that just isn’t possible.

When The Barrett Group Client Selection team is reviewing candidates for our service, we always look at the client’s potential pitfalls in the marketplace, yet sometimes they are so formidable that they become the main focus of the search. The Barrett Group record for an age discrimination issue stands at age 84 where a CFO reentered the job market after being retired for some years. Having the established ability to provide a quick financial turnaround to troubled hospital systems, he was hired for short consulting assignments, three in succession, which turned out so well he was able to retire again within a year. The hiring committees truly didn’t care if he was 5 or 500: they were losing millions of dollars a month and just needed him to live long enough to save their hospitals. He was able to totally sidestep the age issue.

Every job search has elements of poker and chess during some stages of the campaign, and race/ethnicity can work for you or against you depending on how you play it. After all, diversity in large corporations is an ongoing, highly public issue that extends beyond the laws that inspired it.

Sometimes, you can use your race as a positive in the hiring process because you will be seen by HR and Diversity folks as a clear path to hitting their demographic quotas, while the Marketing/PR teams are looking forward to seeing your smiling face on the website and news releases showing pictures of the annual picnic. Cynicism aside, I suppose, and I can certainly understand how one might resent being the beneficiary of what results in reverse discrimination, but we live in a complicated world, and our program at The Barrett Group program is designed to help you advance in the real employment market of today.

As you might imagine, we have ongoing discussions with our clients in order to help them navigate what can sometimes be highly charged issues. I invite you to take a good look at who you are professionally, and how you are perceived by those who do not know you. Having a very clear picture of both is a crucial first step for entering into a job search or career change. Choose your battles, but win the war!

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The Elevator Speech: Going Down??

If may be too early to write the obituary, but the future of The Elevator Speech, at least as we refer to it in the Career Management industry, is in grave doubt. The phrase has been around since the modern résumé came into popular use after World War II , and during the Dot Com boom the Elevator Pitch gained ground. The resultant expulsion of Hot Air into the atmosphere was likely a main contributor to Global Warming and provided considerable lift to the bubble, but it burst nonetheless.

So here we are in Job Search in the Brave New World. After trimming words and phrases to a white heat of 30 second brilliance, we used to coach our clients to rehearse in the mirror with a stop watch (I did say “used to”) so they would be prepared to gush their magnificence on command to those hiring managers who would hang out in elevators just waiting to happen on true executive talent.

Not so much, any more.

The business community has morphed beyond recognition, and communication styles, methods and technologies have a synergistic influence on changing culture and expected behavior at the executive level. The one way communication method suggested by speeches and pitches has been supplanted in most cases by an active and rapid interchange, a spontaneous sharing and exchanging of information and viewpoints.

Sometimes, even today, an interviewer might ask The Question: “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?” In the age of LinkedIn profiles, electronic résumés send by email, and internet based background checks, the interviewer is generally being rhetorical. What they’re looking for is a quick and easy path to determining why they are speaking with you, and what they can expect from listening.

To demonstrate your embracement of efficiency, the only information you should share is how hiring you will eliminate the problem that has caused you to be considered for this career opportunity in the first place. Jobs aren’t created by politicians or good intentions, opportunities arise through pain, because there is a lack that can’t be fulfilled without hiring someone. This kind of information cannot be imparted through a standardized presentation, and people simply don’t have time to listen to a speech, even thirty seconds.

Interviewees often kill the opportunity by (1) volunteering information about their background that is irrelevant for the projected position, bringing into question whether he/she is the right person, or (2) neglecting to clearly delineate the unique qualifiers the audience desires.

So, when it comes to speaking in today’s interviews, choose your words wisely and quickly. Don’t rehearse a speech: practice fencing.

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Why Aren’t the Recruiters Calling Me?

Executive Recruiters, headhunters and placement agencies work on the other side of the fence from career management specialists like The Barrett Group. The difference lies in how they are each paid for their services, which dictates where the loyalty and effort lies in the servicing of their respective clients’ needs.

Recruiters are paid by their corporate client companies, either by retainer or contingency; the service they provide is filling open job orders. Accordingly, a great deal of their effort is expended on obtaining these job orders and winning favor with the HR department and hiring executives so the stream of job orders continues. They do not get paid to get people jobs; indeed, a private individual can’t “hire” a recruiter, as they only work for companies, not job seekers.

Executive recruiting is a highly sophisticated profession populated typically by professionals with a depth of experience in a certain industry or discipline, usually based in a given local geography. They know very specifically what and who their client company is looking for and how to find them. They maintain ongoing relationships with executives they have placed so they can place them again and again throughout their career. They rarely have to look outside their circle for a candidate to present.

Career management is also a highly sophisticated profession, but requiring a completely different set of skills. Here at The Barrett Group, our clients are the individuals focused on bettering their career situation over a period of time, and we accept private retainers to help them accomplish their goals.

We live in the job search process and work personally and closely, utilizing the wisdom and techniques amassed from the experiences of our consultants with many types of searches and employment/career challenges. Because we are only beholden to our individual private clients, we are not limited by sector, profession or geography. The combined skills of the consulting team adapt our techniques for each individual clients’ unique needs.

Some of our clients enjoy a great flurry of activity from the recruiting community because they are seen as highly placeable within that industry sector, so our job becomes one of brinksmanship, helping our client to interpret and steer the recruiters’ actions to be advantageous for our client. This direct assistance often makes a huge difference in our clients’ final offers of employment.

If you aren’t receiving regular calls and emails from the recruiting community, there can only be two reasons why: (1) they aren’t aware of you, which signals a basic failure in your professional networking, reputation building and strategic participation in social networking, or (2) they don’t see you as someone they can place with their client companies.

In either case, hiring a professional career management team, like those available at The Barrett Group, is your best bet to correcting the problem and advancing your career.

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When I Read Your Résumé…

When I Read Your Résumé, This is What I See

As President of The Barrett Group, my business day starts each morning with the onerous task of reviewing each and every résumé submitted to our website, www.careerchange.com . The number is a reasonably consistent range of 40-60 submissions daily. I do this personally for two reasons: (1) I believe that every professional who has taken the time to review our service as outlined on our website and decides to send us a résumé deserves my immediate and personal review; and (2) I believe I am the most appropriate person on our team to decide which of our Client Intake Specialists will work with a particular career changer.

So how many résumés have I read? I’ve been President of the company since 2005, but I’ve been working with all the clients since 1993, so it’s been quite a few. How long does it take me to reach a decision about who and how best to deal with a particular job seeker? Rarely longer than a minute.

My criteria for reviewing submissions is not so different from HR professionals, executive recruiters or hiring managers. My first question is always: what professional level are we looking at, here? If this can’t be answered in a five second glance of company names, titles held and quantified responsibilities/accomplishments (dollars and percentages that align and instantly give me a picture of this person’s influence and reach across the organization), we’re looking at a defective résumé. Unless the person is presenting him/herself as a résumé expert, I would not be dissuaded from looking further.

Conversely, a beautifully formatted document presented with aplomb and dripping with hip buzzwords tells me this person had the wherewithal to have their documentation redone by a professional. Beyond this one fact, we have learned nothing about the person. For all we know, a job hopper who has managed to get fired from five positions in five years is now being marketed as an ambitious industry ladder climber. This is probably a good career strategy for this individual, but craftily engineered documentation does not necessarily indicate ambition, or even competence.

A college degree suggests the person can finish something. Honors could mean they test well, which can be a good thing. A military background, at a minimum, prompts me to believe the person can take orders and follow a program. If a person has been in charge of large organizations, with multiple locations, one can assume a level of organization and leadership. However, people rarely describe their professional failures in detail on their résumés, and rightfully so. This is why, after I have reviewed the documentation as sent and determined there are compelling reasons to consider their candidacy as a new client, the selected Client Intake Specialist will contact them directly to arrange a series of personal interviews. These meetings tend to bring out the full story of why our potential client is having problems with the search process, and how we can best be of assistance.

Spelling errors, hilarious mistakes, ill-advised photos, and curious omissions? Rampant, I see them every morning, occasionally spilling the second cup of coffee when taken, yet again, by complete surprise. What I can’t see are the exaggerations and bold-faced lies rampant on these data streams of human consciousness: the statistics and publicized anecdotes tell us they’re there, but I haven’t found a filter for them yet.

My advice for you? Take a 30 second look at your current résumé and ask yourself, after you’ve turned it over: do I know what this person does, what they’ve accomplished to date in their professional career, what they’re qualified to do moving forward, and what they want to do from here? My offer to you? Send it to me. I’ll let you know what I see, and what I think; you can take it from there.

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Help Wanted: Must Have Brain, Heart and Courage

So we continue to have over 14 million ready-to-work Americans walking the streets, a number equal to the entire populations of Guatemala or Mali. With the prospect of economic doldrums continuing until further notice, maybe they should just get together and start their own country. Actually, it’s starting to look like they are moving in that direction , and who can blame them?

In the meantime, the lives of Quiet Desperation are clocking away the hours in the HR departments across the country, as the Winged Monkeys in the back room electronically file resumes of unqualified applicants all day long while they are unable to fill millions of open positions . What are today’s hiring managers looking for at the executive level? Is there a secret formula to follow that results in one highly qualified executive getting hired today, while someone with a greater pedigree and a more impressive history of accomplishments languishes for another year before finding a new job?

It’s become a well-worn cliché that people hire those they know, like and trust, but we at The Barrett Group www.careerchange.com regularly see another trend that bucks the conventional wisdom, and Dorothy bore witness to the list of most desired attributes requirement during her famous journey).

When looking outside their network, savvy hiring managers still look for the same basic skills held in value so many years ago: a heart, a brain and courage.

Admittedly, they rarely use those words in job descriptions, but, when you think about it (you’ll need, of course, that brain thing), if you needed to hire someone to be at the epicenter of corporate activity after you’ve left the room (or country, nowadays), you would need to be confident that they will do when push comes to shove, as it regularly does. Will they:

1. make a smart decision 2. consider all the ramifications (financial, legal, internal/external reputation, reflecting the company’s mission) 3. be honest and transparent while balancing discretion and politics 4. have what it takes to go ahead and make it happen should you not be available for hand holding and devil’s advocate role playing?

If you’re looking for a new or better job, you might consider whether you are fully transmitting your ability to be that perfect person to those agonizing over finding that Wizard who can solve all those problems on that laptop over there.

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The Turnaround Runaround: Consulting for Executives in Transition

C level executives in the New World Order of Business are really long range temps. When Return on Investment trumps company loyalty every time, when large corporations can be evaporated, absorbed or taken over on any given day, you need to travel light and hedge your bets along with your funds. Even when all goes as planned, if you don’t deliver miracles, you can find yourself seen as yesterday’s news. If you do deliver miracles, you have made the company an excellent target for merger, takeover or purchase. Either way, you could find yourself reading the fine print on that Separation Agreement.

Okay, so you’re in transition, possibly again. Having lifted some heavy weight in several different and challenging corporate scenarios over the past few years, you’ve learned quite a lot and enjoy sharing your knowledge and methods with those who have found themselves in the deep end of the pool. So you market yourself as a Turnaround Consultant, a hired gun who can save the company from ruin, or a rainmaker who can bring in needed revenue.

There are two pitfalls we have seen in trying to do this in the middle of the current economic extended hiccup : (1) the management team believes you are really just looking for another job and either won’t take a consulting engagement seriously or will drop them mid-stream when you get an offer, or (2) they see you as an inside guy, because of your stellar corporate background, when they were really looking for a professional consultant. Because you, technically, have no record of achievement as a consultant, you’re an unknown quantity.

Then the other shoe drops (actually, both shoes): (1) companies in deep trouble know they need help, and quickly, but cash flow becomes a serious problem, so they want you to work “on spec”, and/or (2) they can’t afford not to hire you and yet they can’t afford to pay you, so they don’t do either and you both lose out (probably typifying the business logic that got them in trouble in the first place).

So, what to do?? Here’s the latest thinking from Barrett Central:

  • Never fight a losing battle, and always stack the deck in your favor: Lay out the (extremely) negative consequences of not hiring you, in which the company continues to lose money, never breaks into the new market, and/or ultimately fails. Out of pity and good sportsmanship, restructure your consulting proposal to pay you only what you need now (you get paid), a big balloon based entirely on success events (you get paid well), then put a large contingency amount at the back end, payable entirely in equity (you get a piece of the action). Low risk on all sides, big payout on all sides.
  • People only get hired (or engaged) under very specific circumstances: a. If they know you, like you and can trust you. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t know enough people. Social networking (no secret here) is today’s key, and offering to help (and meaning it) is the way in. If you need help with this, call me. b. If they need you. They only need to know of you if you have a reputation for consistently doing the impossible and delivering the goods. c. If they need anybody. When the FDIC had to close down more banks in the past two years than they did in the past twenty, they needed Any Warm Body, an army. Quite a few people with little or no experience or qualifications were hired, trained and paid, while adding to the pedigree on the resume and meeting influential folks across the company.
  • The Hostile Takeover Gambit: Hopefully you set aside some loose change from your severance. If they won’t hire you, buy the company out from under them. As you first official act after installing yourself as CEO, fire them.
  • The Devil You Know or the Devil You Just Speed Dated: If they think they might do better with somebody else, remind them that they already concede you can do the job and they already have a working relationship with you. Because you’ve already done your analysis, the job is half done, all you have to do is execute. Why would they want to go through the whole painful process all over again when all they have to do is negotiate in good faith? (This one may also be the quickest highway to World Peace, but let’s take one challenge at a time).

So by all means take this opportunity to explore the glamorous and rewarding world of consulting. Just make sure you bring your boots, and don’t ever forget your parachute !

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Letting Go and Taking Control

Your job search sometimes appears to be a highly technical series of complex activities and programs, having a life of its own that is somehow out of your sphere of influence. You might feel you live in a world of reaction, where each day blindsides you with a new, unexpected frustration. There is a cure.

In Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism , we are told that the world, seen and unseen, can be divided into two groups: those things we can influence and those that we cannot.

How is this mystical enlightenment useful in the job search?

As you get yourself organized for your day, take a few minutes to visualize the events and people that may impact you, through planned meetings or serendipity/the pipeline/LinkedIn connections…

Now deliberately plan the positive, active steps you are going to take to improve your positioning through each of these interactions. As human nature begins to erode your newfound purposefulness and you allow fear of rejection and faith in all things Murphy to bring in the clouds, stop a minute, take a deep, cleansing breath and…

Let it wash over you like the cleansing waters of the…okay, right, so just let it wash over you, we’ll hope for the best on that one.

Let it go, all of it.

There are those things in life, and the job search, that you cannot possibly predict, control or personally directly influence. Observe, witness, and watch it go by, really, all of it.

Then after it does, take a sober, critical look at what you can do, now and moving forward, that will be good for you, the ones you love, and the world. Then do it.

I would be interested in hearing from you if you’re having problems with this technique, or if you believe it will never work, or if you could use some help.

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How to Get There From Here: A Map for Success

Let’s take a look at what it takes to achieve business success in general, and how you can apply these attributes to both your overall career and your current search.

We can start by defining, or clarifying, some character attributes that are often ascribed to senior level executives and successful business professionals, politicians, sports heroes and rock stars:

  • Patience – although it’s generally accepted that one should be patient when pursuing a long-term goal, patience is a passive trait, it involves doing nothing while waiting for the actions of others. I’ve been accused of being patient (occasionally), but I think people are confusing this trait with tolerance, or misinterpreting my clumsy use of wei wu wei In any case, patience gets you nowhere slowly, so if that’s your goal, you’re reading the wrong blog.
  • Diligence – slightly different, although both strong leaders, workaholics and ants share the trait. I do recommend diligence in all exercises (including exercise) that are designed to culminate in a clearly defined result. Executives who equate business goals with sports do real well with those types of tasks, but all things in business and life do not sit comfortably in that bundle, and some really, well, diligent folks sometimes crumble when they can’t clearly define the goal. Ants don’t have this problem, or they don’t know it. I would resist the temptation to suggest these crumbled folks seek out a professional career management team to get them back on the ill-defined track, but it appears to already be too late.
  • Ambitious – considered a rebuke or insult in some cultures, this trait is often reduced in pop mythology to being conniving, ruthless or aggressive, but this is a bum rap, as you can be highly ambitious without being any of the above. Admittedly, to scramble to the top of the heap and reap the rewards, you will need to focus on your climb up the ladder or leap into the unknown (the two most common methods of advancement). But in addition to deciding what you really want (and knowing why you want it) and putting your plan into action, conventional wisdom suggests you will also need one more arrow in your corporate quiver:
  • Luck – I’ve never been able to find a logical, empirical method to arrive at committed superstition, quite possibly because superstition, by definition, denies the logical and empirical. This non-belief system extends to luck as well: I have yet to hear about a senior executive, or rock star for that matter, who’s road to success was paved with luck or serendipity. Sure, there are serendipitous events that occur in all our lives, but the people who recognize unplanned opportunity, plan for the possibility they might occur, then boldly, decisively hop on the bull when they see it from across the room and ride it for all it’s worth are the ones who people see as lucky. The cliché is that they make their own luck, but that’s not really giving them credit for their accomplishment.

In order to make your own happy ending, whether it be in business, art, love or life, you need to actively envision it, passionately embrace the image, then lay out the plan, with all contingencies, by which you’re going to make it a literal dream come true. I’ve seen this happen in my own life, and have carefully studied successful people and their stories for the past fifteen years, and this has been the case every time to date. How about you?

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Remember the Mission

Professional resume writers will all tell you that perfecting your resume presentation is absolutely crucial to your success. Dedicated interview coaches will make sure that you are aware that every little thing you say can be the one statement that secures or denies your future. Your executive tonsorial consultant will patiently explain that today’s executive is expected to have their hair communicate their management style in no uncertain terms.

Who’s in charge here?

Let’s take a step back and impress a business perspective on your search. You are in a job search, embarking on a career change, or launching your new venture with purpose and vigor, armed with a deliberate and well considered action plan, right? If not, take a minute, or ten years (whichever comes first) and get there, so you can receive the intended value from today’s blog. If you find you need help getting to Step One, feel free to, of course, contact The Barrett Group (end of shameless plug).

You are on a mission, and it is a business mission, even if the intent isn’t to necessarily earn money (although it is likely that this is a big part of it). Here’s what you need to do to clear your mind, and the air, so as to remove the obstacles that will invariably be placed in your way:

  • Always keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish, both short term and long term. If you are on the path to engender quality job offers, do everything that will result in offers building in a pile on your desk, and do nothing that isn’t related directly to that purpose. Be merciless, be honest and be real. Some people like lists: if making a list with two columns (result in job offers/not related to job offers) is helpful to you, do so and follow it as if your life depended on it. This may sound overly dramatic, but, in a very real sense, your future life as you envision it does rely on your efficiency and effectiveness in this process. A positive byproduct to adopting this attitude is that people will notice, and this will send reinforcing waves of good energy back into the process. Really, I see it all the time.
  • Do not be sidelined, side swiped or side barred (for you attorneys). Only you can prevent yourself from being distracted, dissuaded or distressed. Only you can allow yourself to do the same.
  • Remember why you embarked on this campaign and regularly envision your life after the successful completion of your quest. Don’t daydream, and don’t confuse the two.
  • Take the emotion out of it, for now: running your search like a business necessitates a level of emotional detachment, enabling you to make sober, logical and clear decisions as you move through the process, and erases the doubts, second guessing and fear. If you stay the course, remember the mission and work your plan, you will succeed. Then you can put the emotion back in and celebrate.

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