You ever see someone win an award and give a speech and say “this is such a humbling experience”. What the hell is that? It’s usually an actor or an athlete, and they say that because have never had to look for a job on the open market. Because that s*** is humbling. There’s a lot of advice out there for job seekers. Some of it’s good, generally of the no-brainer sort. Some of it’s bad or outdated, but in all, very little of it seems to resonate in the real world. I feel that in 2014 as a recruiter who just changed jobs, I have a particular insight on seeking a job, at least in a high population area like Washington DC, where the labor market is relatively strong. Here’s my advice for the real world in 2014. Hopefully you can find some use in it.
1. Remember that your resume is not a history of your entire life. If you’re 30, take your SAT score and GPA off of there and no one needs to see your high school accomplishments. You probably drank away most of that intelligence anyway as a way of coping with the mundane job you’re trying vacate. If you took a short job 5 years ago that has nothing to do with the job you’re applying for…remove it. The goal is to look like you’re not a job hopper, without having too many gaps. Sometimes those concepts conflict with each other a little bit, but bottom line—not everything needs to be on there.
2. Try to look as close to a 25-30 years old as possible on your resume. While the world is racist, sexist and all sorts of other things, the worst “ism” in recruiting is ageism. If you switched careers and are looking for a slightly above entry level job, take your graduation dates off that piece and just put relevant recent experience to the job.
3. Keep it 1-3 pages. I think a good rule is about 1 page per 5 years or so, and no more than 15 years is needed to be listed. Put anything further back than that under an “other experience” category and bullet point each role if you feel so compelled.
4. Make your resume a chronological one. Someone got high one day and created this idea of a “skills resume”, where you list what you can do rather than when you did it—don’t bother making one of those unless you are a time traveler and conventional understanding of space-time doesn’t relate to your job. A recruiter reads that as a red flag for either someone too old (it’s not right, but ageism) or someone who has a ton of gaps or jumps. If you don’t resemble the red flags, then you should avoid being lumped into this group, if you fall into this group, just embrace it up front and save yourself the time.
5. Think about someone finding your resume and what they would be searching for. Recruiters generally use Boolean logic. If you have a weird or non-descriptive title, translate it in parentheses. For instance I was “Talent Senior manager” at my old job, but that title really makes no sense, so I put Sr. Recruiter (Sr. Manager, Talent) in the title. Put all the buzzy terms from your industry in all the different ways they can be written, the more the better…you can even put a key words section at the end.
6. Keep your formatting simple. Crazy bullet points, frames and symbols in word often get jumbled when parsed into recruiting databases such that your resume is hard to read. The closer it looks to plain text the better it will look to someone farming resumes.
7. Don’t put your hobbies, groups, and interests unless they relate directly to the job you seek. For the one in 10 times that being in a fraternity or liking Kayaking is received positively, the other 9 times it usually allows prejudgment of the type of person you are…and sometimes becomes something the recruiters giggle about. It’s usually not a deal-breaker, but it’s never going to get you the job, so why give preconceptions that you have to overcome in the interview.
8. Cover Letter: Eh, if you want to. I mean, I guess you still have to for some jobs… especially if it takes a doctorate to get your job. But understand that nobody’s going to read it. I generally have one generic 3 paragraph cover letter for each type of position I’m applying for, but I just change the addressee. It’s a matter of checking off the box to say that you cared enough to attach one. A unique cover letter for each application is poor time management.
Applying these days is a double edge sword. In that the process is capable of cutting your heart out. Oh you thought I meant that it has positives and negatives? But that makes no sense…both edges of a double edge sword are a blade, so why would one be positive and one be negative? You are either the slicer or the slicee, and depending on perspective, you will have the exact same affinity for either side of that blade. I know what you’re thinking but no, you’re the dumb one…your phrase is dumb if you’ve been using it like that. Whatever…moving on:
The internet makes applying easy, which is awesome, except it’s also way easier for everyone else. So here’s what you need to do step by step.
1. Apply for everything that’s a perfect fit for what you’re looking for no matter how old. This is probably about 10 jobs max that you are perfectly qualified for AND really want to do. Indeed.com is a pretty good resource, but there may also be some tools based on your industry. Outside of that don’t bother applying for jobs posted longer than a week ago. Nobody is looking at them.
2. Apply for OK fits (and better) that have been posted in the last week.
3. Go on linkedin and find all the people that have the job you want…find their supervisor and introduce yourself with a short message letting them know your career intentions.
4. Find all the companies that fit the profile you’re looking for, and get into their hiring database…apply to the closest job to your skill set. That way you’re at least in the system for when the right job does emerge.
5. Check once a day for new postings on whichever resources you’ve identified in 1-4, apply to anything new.
6. Engage with 2 agency recruiters (see details below AND ONLY if it makes sense for your skill set)
7. Try not to kill yourself. I mean that however you interpret it. Because searching for a job sucks, it can suck so much I literally mean don’t donk yourself off. But I also mean, don’t try to swim upstream…job searching is a matter of timing. Network a little, but not too much. You aren’t going to find a job at a networking event …just a financial advisor or a real estate agent. No matter whether you have a job or not, just keep busy, and either enjoy unemployment or the few things you like about your job. Repeat steps 1-5 daily (or however much you have time for) and try to enjoy the rest of your life.
– Don’t Be Yourself
If you call your mom before a big interview, she’ll tell you go in there and “be yourself”. This is bad advice. Probably the worst advice. Do not go in there and be yourself. Obviously you can’t go in there and be someone completely different, but you’re a miscreant. You’ve called in sick, hungover. You look at Facebook when you know you’ve completed tasks rather than find new ways to contribute to your organization. You gossip about people and always think that your idea for how to get something done is better than everyone else’s. No—do not be yourself. Create a character of yourself, if they made a movie about your life (a la Blindside and Pursuit of Happyness). Create a clean narrative that ignores your complexity, and be that person. Every major decision in your life had a multiple reasons for why you made that choice, but no one wants to hear them…pick the most positive reasons.
-Bring multiple copies of your resume
Duh! This rule doesn’t always apply to techies who might bring in their computers to show their work. But, bring sh*t
…blueprints, writing samples, if you’re specialize in blowing glass pipes then bring a couple bongs…whatever. Bring it, tell em you brought it, but don’t force them to look at it if they don’t seem interested. The point is that you brought it, not boring the interviewer with whatever dumb ass product you create in your job.
-Take notes. I once had a candidate of mine not get a job because she didn’t take notes. Since then I’ve given the advice to take notes. It’s good to write down names of who you’re talking to while you’re nervous, or questions you want to ask later. Sometimes I just draw pictures of racecars, and words that the person says that are also sexual innuendos: Like “back-end tester”, “market penetration”, and “filling open slots”. But regardless, taking notes makes you look awesome and engaged and gives your hands something to do.
You already know this rule. But it’s tricky because now it’s a cliché that you have to ask questions. And if you interview with 6 or 7 people…it’s easy to run out. So here’s my philosophy: Questions turn it into a conversation rather than an audition. You should have questions about the job responsibilities and also some that suggest you’re weighing options (but don’t come in with that “I’m interviewing you” sh*t…nobody likes that). Has there been turnover? What are the metrics you need to hit? Growth? Etc. But then eventually you get a sense of those things…and if you ask the same question a bunch of different ways you come off looking like a robot with a glitch when the interviewers debrief with each other. So the second phase of question-asking is just to ask them about themselves…why did you join this company? What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about working there? People like to talk about themselves, let them.
BUT don’t ask them if they pee-test. My advice is to try to refrain from drugs as you’re interviewing, or at least identify a dependable source of urine, such that you don’t need to ask. Also, save questions about benefits and salary and “ME things” until the negotiation phase.
-Tell the interviewer that their opportunity is your #1. No matter what your situation, you want to give the impression that you’re looking at 2-3 jobs, but all things being equal–you’d like to work for them. This means they can’t twiddle their thumbs and expect you to still be on the market, but they should’t cross you off the list thinking you won’t be around next week.
– Understand the Recruiter’s role and how to interact with them. Since this is my specialty, I’ll make this bullet its own section.
Your first call is likely with a recruiter, either a headhunter or corporate recruiter. I’ve been both and they are slightly different.
HEADHUNTERS: Let’s start with headhunter (an agency recruiter)
Head-Hunter’s are best for if you already have a job and don’t have time to do your own networking and applying. There are good agency folks and bad ones…the bad ones get the most press, as horror stories seem to be disseminated more profusely than positive stories. But, honestly as one who left the industry, they can be the most useful way to get a job in certain circumstances.
Agency recruiters (headhunters) get a fee based on your salary, usually around 20-25%. Which sounds like a lot unless you’ve ever been one. A bad recruiter can sometimes lose sight of the fact that they’re in a people business and forget that people invest more than the company does at the end of the day. But there are good ones. It comes down to pros and cons when working with a recruiter.
a) A third party telling a company that you’re awesome resonates way louder than you saying you’re awesome.
b) Agencies often have jobs that aren’t posted anywhere
c) A good recruiter will put you in touch with a hiring manager rather than a Corporate recruiter, which helps by removing a screener from the process. The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better your chances.
d) Agency recruiters often have insight about what will get you the job, they’ll generally prep you for the interview.
e) Agencies can give you feedback. If you were rejected they can tell you why you were rejected and that can help you in the long run.
f) Headhunters are trained negotiators. If they ask for a lot on your behalf, the client gets mad at them and thinks they’re a d*ck…not you.
a) A headhunter wants to close the deal. Period. They may use the line “my fee is based on a percentage of your salary so getting you the best salary benefits me”, but it’s the same as a real estate agent in that the few extra bucks they get from negotiating your salary up, is not worth the extra time versus closing your deal and working on closing another one.
b) The client pays their bills. In agency, I was a little bit of a bleeding heart outlier in that I was like “f*** the client, I’ll just get a new one”, most recruiters, even the good ones know that to rise in the industry client happiness is key.
c) A headhunter more often than not knows only a brief snapshot of the company and the role. There are exceptions, but sometimes their information is pretty paltry. That means they will tell you what you want to hear. They are not lying to you (they usually will tell you things they think to be true but aren’t actually sure), but they just want you to stop asking so many damn questions and talk to the company and figure it out.
d) A headhunter will often overstate their relationship with the client. Sometimes they have little to no relationship or want to use your candidacy to break into a client. Occasionally this can mean your chances are just as good or better to just apply on your own.
e) It’s hard to tell bad ones from good, and bad ones can be quite shady.
You’ll notice that the pros outweigh the cons, and that I didn’t list the fee as a con. This is because in the recruitment world, the placement fee is generally not a factor. It’s not like the VP of HR actually signs a check from their bank account. Maybe 5% of the time the fee can be the reason that you don’t get the job vs. another candidate, but it’s a net neutral because I would say that 5% of the time you are getting the job BECAUSE there is a fee associated. It makes you seem sexier as a candidate. It’s the same phenomenon that causes people to buy $800 purses and $80,000 cars that are always in the shop. Also, a company that is willing to pay a fee for their candidates is also a company that is willing to invest to get talented people in the doors of their company. This is a sign of a good company.
Ultimately, headhunters are just like everyone else in that they want to make a living and are generally good people, all things considered. To mitigate the “cons”, you just need to interact with them the right way.
Some Agency specific tips
a) Apply to jobs first (jobs posted recently or ones that are a dead-on fit)
b) Don’t talk to an agency until you have relatively specific parameters for what you are looking for in a job (level, salary, culture). Once you have those parameters, be honest.
c) Feel free to say no to jobs they present to you. If you say no, and they want to stop working with you because you’re selective, you’ve done yourself a favor and eliminated a bad one.
d) Work with 2 agency recruiters total. With two you should get a pretty good market share of the agency-accessible jobs without a ton of overlap. If you work with 3 or more, you’re guaranteed to work with a shady one, forced to be shady to try to beat the others to the punch on the same jobs. 1 is too few and 3 is too many. Pick 2.
e) Don’t work with people who’ve been in the business for less than a year. This is rough advice to dole out, because of the fact that I was once one of those people and I feel for the rookies, but they don’t know what they’re doing yet. I would work with someone (of the aforementioned two) in the 2-4 year range and one in the 5+ range. The younger heads are more motivated and care a little bit more about each role/candidate. The older heads are more connected but you’re just a number by that point usually.
f) If you’re looking to completely switch careers, don’t bother. You and the recruiter can’t do much for each other.
g) Don’t get double represented. And don’t have them represent you at a job you already applied for. You won’t get the job.
h) Confirm with the recruiter that your resume doesn’t go anywhere without your approval.
i) Stay responsive and pleasant. If they like you they will sell harder for you.
j) Let them take you to lunches. It’s free!
If you apply on your own (and often enough when you go through an agency) you will come into contact with a Corporate Recruiter. You’ve dealt with them before so I will give them a little less attention than the agency guys, but the main thing to understand is that they are essentially the gatekeeper. Your goal is to get past them. More often than not, a corporate recruiter has very little power except whether they make a recommendation to put you forward in the process or not. They have a little more power if you’re applying for a recruitment position, but respect what little power they have because if they don’t like you, they mark it down in their system, and you’re pretty much shut down for the company, sometimes forever. It’s their tiny bit of satisfaction after being the punching bag of their organization all day. Basically, tell them what they want to hear, and here are my pointers for dealing with them:
a) Say “Yes”. If they ask you if you’re willing to lift over 25 lbs., say yes. Work on occasional weekends, “sure”, under the right circumstances. Basically, don’t give them any reason to strike you from contention. Half the questions they ask you might not even relate to the job you’re applying for. Later on you can negotiate these points if they love you enough. Of course if it’s something you know you won’t do (like move to Nebraska) say no—saves you time. But if under the right circumstances, you could see it working…just say yes to the recruiter.
b) Be nice. Some recruiters are smart, some are not. Some have personalities, some don’t. No matter what your view of them is, they are a necessary step in the process. Treat them as such and be polite.
c) Don’t extend the time with the recruiter. Ask a question or two after you talk to him or her, but don’t be the one extending time. If they are closing the conversation out with you, you’ve either won or lost in your goal…don’t keep talking and turn a win into a loss.
d) Understand that negotiation begins with that first phone call. This means be prepared to talk about salary requirements if they ask. And basically the trick is to answer as vaguely as you can without lying. So don’t bring up salary yourself of course, but the recruiter is trying to see if you fit in the salary window. I think it’s best to say “Last year I made X, but I’m very flexible on salary, what’s your range for the role?” In that case you’re being cordial, not playing games, and you can get a sense of what the role will pay and try to ratchet it up in the end game. Of course, if you’re money motivated (not the recruiters favorite thing to hear btw) you might as well start with the least you’d need to realistically take a job. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
If you’re looking for a good job, you’re probably going to get the rejection e-mail a few times. Everybody reacts a little different. I get angry. My first go-to is that they must not like black people, and I imagine that this guy got the job instead…
I’m joking mostly, but sometimes I do actually believe this is the case, but that’s just the world. Just out of college I was actually snarky enough to respond back with “sucks for you guys…I would have rocked it”, and even crazier, sometimes angrier, things. This is obviously not the way to go, as I now realize that sometimes awesome people don’t get the job. You really ARE overqualified. You really would get bored or frustrated. The rejection e-mail (or call) is an opportunity to show how graceful you are. Or, in my case, how graceful you can pretend to be. Swallow your pride, and send them an e-mail thanking them for their time, and let them know that if another role opens up you’d love to hear about it.
Often enough, a second role does open up quickly and/or the white guy pictured above got a DUI coming back from a O.A.R. concert back in 2011 and 2nd place DOES become good enough. Allow the recruiter to make a non-awkward phone call when that does happen by inviting them to call you in the future.
Don’t ask for tips, or have them critique what you did wrong. They will either lie to you or make you feel sh*tty…neither of which helps the process.
So you got the job. Congrats, we’re all jealous for you… I mean happy for you. I love watching my friends outdo me on facebook, buy cooler stuff and go on better vacations. Congrats.
You placed number 1 and the company is preparing an offer. Here’s what to keep in mind:
a) The negotiation began a long time ago. Like I said, in that first call with the recruiter you put yourself into a range. If you said you wanted 40K, you’re not about to get six figures all of a sudden. Getting the offer you want is about little tweaks, not blindsiding them with a laundry list of demands. Ask for just a little bit more, and have a good reason for why you’ll need it.
b) You have a ton of leverage. If you’ve placed #1, that usually means that 4+ people have come to an agreement to like you and want you on the team. That is a hard thing to do. Restarting the recruitment cycle takes time and money. You’d be surprised at how much money it’s worth to bring you on board. The trick is to know that, without obviously being perceived as someone who’s abusing that. In order to do that you need to…
c) Look at yourself objectively and understand the market. Your offer will be based on market value, other candidates they interviewed, and “internal equity”. They can’t pay you more than your colleagues with more experience, and can’t pay you more than the amount of money you save/earn for the organization. Do research on the range and aim for the top of it rather than beyond it.
d) Try to avoid absolutes. The more concrete your speech in negotiation, the more leverage you give up. You want to remain excited and say thing like “that sounds good”, and “I think that would be enticing”, but you want them to think you’ll accept but not know for sure. If they know you’re excepting you probably just lost a couple grand off the salary. If salary is indeed what you’re negotiating around, my tip is to give them three numbers…a walkaway number (number below which they might as well not make an offer), a “sleep on it” number (a number you’d probably take), and a “pull the trigger” number you’d be able to accept on the spot (this number should be a little ridiculous but not outside the realm of possibility). I’ve also referred to this with a stoplight analogy.
e) Don’t expect more than 20%. That’s for both the offer and what you’re currently making. That dollar figure in the offer is not going up more than 20%, and even that’s an aggressive number. And unless you just got a degree or hard-to-get certification, you’re not getting more than 20% of what you were making. Has it happened? Sure, in the history of the world it has. But to me that’s huge red flag…why are they paying you so much? Your boss is probably an a**hole.
f) The best situation is if you’re not even negotiating money. Negotiating your salary up a 1K here or a 2K bonus bump there can often be more trouble than it’s worth. Broken down over 24-26 paychecks, then taxed and you’re talking about like 50 bucks a pay cycle. Negotiating stock options, PTO, work hours, start date, is the way to get the best value. Often times, this is also way easier for the HR team to get approvals on.
g) A verbal offer is just words. This is especially important if you’re waiting for your #1 offer to come through, but #2 or #3 is moving faster. A shrewd (and good) recruiter will try get you to take the verbal prior to the written, at least once. Some will even make you accept the verbal before they put an offer together. I’ve tried to shift away from this approach because it’s just a game, but even good recruiters will use this tactic (agency cats basically have to). If you want the job, provided that the #1 option doesn’t come through, then take it if your backed up against the wall. Why wouldn’t you? Your honor? C’mon get over yourself. You don’t want to burn a bridge if #1 comes through? Eh, you’ve probably made it too far in the process to avoid that anyway.
h) A written offer is just a piece of paper. This is the same as the bullet above. An offer letter is not the same as a contract, signing it is a matter of intent. I mean hell, there’s usually language on there so that the company can back out if need be. Keep that in mind. You usually have 48 hours at least to decide, but say your number one opportunity still hasn’t come through. It’s better to sign and later rescind then give the company some sign that they’re your #2 option. You’re more likely to burn a bridge by doing so, but bridges are overrated, and your professional reputation has way less value than you think it does.
Good luck, hopefully this helps. Now, it’s gonna be rough–that’s a promise.
But hang in there…quitting a sucky job feels pretty awesome too.