Monday, October 4, 2010

Successful Job Search: Getting the Interview

It's been a few years since the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression began and a large number of highly talented people remain unemployed and frustrated at their lack of success in the job search process.  Many regularly submit resumes for positions for which they feel perfectly qualified and receive only electronically-generated rejections - if they receive anything at all from the hiring company.

From a pure numbers perspective, it is easy to understand why this is happening, but understanding the reasons does little to reduce the frustration and depression that many searching for jobs are feeling.  It comes down to the fact that anyone applying for an open position needs to find a way to stand out from the crowd and get noticed by those doing the hiring.

Below are my thoughts on the job search process.  Although I would never describe myself as an expert on the subject, I have witnessed these steps achieve a 40% success rate in getting a positive response from the hiring company.  Keep in  mind that these steps will only help you get a dialogue going with someone in the company - getting beyond the initial contact is up to you.

Resumes are Secondary

Most people focus on the resume or CV as the critical part of the job search.  Resume writing services are booming these days with the promise of providing a CV that will set a candidate apart from the thousands of others who may be applying for an open position.

I believe that the resume is actually secondary in finding a job.  Attempting to communicate the ways in which you will benefit the company through a resume puts the responsibility on the person reading it to make the connection between your background and the needs of the job.  Regardless of how impressive they may be, a listing of qualifications, accomplishments, and keywords will not set you apart from others.  You really need to find a clear and concise way to communicate to people exactly how you will help the company.

Your resume will come into play after you convince the hiring company that you can provide what they need.  With this in mind, it is critical to have a clear and well-organized CV - and one that is specifically tailored to the open position - but it is not the most important part of the job search process.

The Critical Steps

With this in mind, a successful job search process should include the following elements:
  1. Read the Job Description very closely to gain a deep understanding about the company's needs.  Use the job description along with other information (e.g., website, annual report, etc.) to look for themes that identify what the company is truly looking for in the position.  Highlight the areas that identify critical issues and those where you have particular expertise.
  2. Develop a Plan that clearly addresses the issues identified specifically in the job description and, more generally, in your research.  Present a basic overview (exhibit 1) and include a more detailed explanation of the steps that need to be taken to be successful (exhibit 2).

    Sections of the plan will differ depending on the specific position.  The plan shown in the example is for a Lean Director position.  It would obviously need to change for other jobs (e.g., for a VP of Operations, the categories may include such things as People Development, Process Improvement, Product Development, etc.).  It depends entirely on the scope of the position and the needs of the organization.

  3. Identify the Hiring Manager.  With apologies to my friends in the HR field, most of the people who screen resumes do not really understand the position well enough (or have the time needed) to look beyond what is written in the job description.  In many cases, a junior person or computer filters the resumes to screen out those that don't have the correct keywords.  Your chances diminish greatly if you don't send your information to the person to whom the position reports.

    Depending on the level of the position, the hiring manager can be located through sources like LinkedIn, the company's website, or a web search.  This can take time, but is extremely important to assure you reach the correct person.  For higher level positions, don't be afraid to send the plan directly to a C- level person (i.e., CEO, COO, CIO, CFO, etc.).
  4. Send the Plan to the Hiring Manager.  This step requires patience and creativity to determine the company's email address format.  In some cases, the domain name for the company's website differs from the domain for email addresses, so it may take several attempts to finally get it through.
I can't take full credit for the above approach.  A friend of mine is a lawyer and told me that pursuing a position at a law firm often requires submitting a business plan to identify the target clients the candidate can bring to the firm and how much business these potential clients represent.  Combining this with my own experience leading an organization, I thought that a similar approach would make sense for those in other professions as well.  When I led an organization and hired for an open position, I was much more interested in how well the candidates understood our needs and how they could help than what was in their CVs.

The drawback of this process is that it takes a lot more time to apply for a position and you will probably not be able to apply for more than three or four positions per week, at best.  Besides getting you an interview, however, the plan can also provide a point of reference for discussion during the interview and help you get started once you land the job.

Good luck!  Everyone deserves a job that is challenging and rewarding.

1 comment:

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