Avoid the Resume “Black Hole” Trap

If your resume looks as if it could have come from 20 years ago or it just hasn’t been put together carefully–with good attention to what your targeted employers are probably looking for–it most likely will end up in the resume “black hole” trap. The same goes for submitting it to employers without doing any research beforehand to see if your background makes sense for the company. Yet another black hole mistake is distributing your resume with a generic cover letter that does little, if anything, to give the employers a reason to read it OR the resume.

What is the resume “black hole” trap?

We all know that in science, a black hole basically swallows everything that comes close enough to be drawn into it–and doesn’t let anything escape back out again. When you rely on resume writing that doesn’t do justice to your experience and your potential value to employers, doesn’t show that you are not only living but working in the 21st century, and so on, you are aiming your resume right at that black hole as it applies to the job search process. You will be submitting your poorly thought-out resume to employers who will, at best, dump it straight into their vast and growing database; at worst, the resume won’t even make it into that location. What you almost certainly won’t get is anything in the way of a return trip–i.e., a meaningful response or reaction from the employer.

How to avoid the resume “black hole” trap

While there’s no 100% guaranteed process–no foolproof steps you can take–you can certainly increase your chances of not getting swallowed. In some of my previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few of the actions you can and should take. One I might not have mentioned is to give employers an indication that you are current on technology related to the overall category of social media. If, for example, you have a good LinkedIn profile, consider including the link to your profile in the contact information at the top of your resume. The same goes for places like Twitter–but DO be careful that whatever content you already have in those places is professionally presented or at least neutral in nature (e.g., no wild party stories or photos!). Otherwise, you might just help your resume get into the black hole faster!

Make your cover letter a strong resume add-on

I hope no one these days sends a cover letter that says, in essence, “here’s my resume; I hope you like it”! A professional cover letter is not the same as a file transmittal sheet. It must quickly and clearly indicate to the reader that you are a promising candidate for the company’s open position and have substantial value to offer. While it shouldn’t just repeat information verbatim from the resume, it can and sometimes should reference and expand on items that are in that document. Above all, it should help encourage readers to give thoughtful consideration to your resume by distinguishing you from the multiple other candidates they’ll be seeing.

P.S. Have you updated your resume lately? If not, the start of a new year is a good time to do that! What have you done since the last time that isn’t in there and should be?

Are You an Eeyore Job Seeker?

If you’re at all like me, you probably enjoyed the “Winnie the Pooh” stories as a child (and maybe still have a soft spot for them as an adult). So I was immediately intrigued when I saw an article by Jeff Davis titled “The Eeyore Candidate.” However, the title was the only whimsical aspect of the article, which dealt with a BIG problem that job seekers can have–possibly without even being aware of it. What is that problem? For whatever reason, being lackadaisical or otherwise unenthusiastic prior to and during a job interview.

When a Poor Interview Follows a Great Resume

In the case mentioned in Davis’ article, the candidate looked wonderful on her resume, and he was basically expecting the interview to be a no-brainer that would quickly result in a perfect fit with his organization and its needs. Unfortunately, the job seeker blew the interview big time by seeming uninterested, unprepared, unable to demonstrate the value that her resume had promised. You name it, anything she could have done to torpedo her chances, she did it! Did she lie on her resume about what she had accomplished? Possibly but not necessarily. However, there was definitely a disconnect somehow between what the resume indicated and what she demonstrated in the interview that she could bring to the employer. Her behavior during the interview was the reason Davis described her as like “Eeyore, the depressed donkey” from “Winnie the Pooh.”

Don’t be an Eeyore!

There might be a number of reasons you would have a down day when you’re scheduled for an interview, but it’s important–maybe essential–that you work things out ahead of time, before you show up for the interview, so you can present yourself at your best. Otherwise, it’s likely to be a waste of everyone’s time. As Davis put it, “I understand that being unemployed and looking for work can turn even the best of us into an Eeyore, but keep in mind that Eeyores don’t get jobs.”

Obviously, there could be a number of reasons you show up at an interview as an Eeyore job seeker. For example: (1) You’re feeling down because you’ve been out of work for an extended period. (2) You’ve just lost a job you loved and aren’t looking forward to the challenge of finding a new one. (3) You’re still gainfully employed but concerned that your company/industry/etc. is struggling and your job might end up on the chopping-block. (4) You’ve had a family trauma recently and are struggling to maintain your emotional balance.

In some cases, if it’s at all possible, you should probably postpone your job search and interview scheduling in order to give yourself a breather and get your act together. That could help keep you from coming across as an Eeyore. However, if a significant pause isn’t practical for some reason, then your best course might be to get whatever help you need to improve your job search and interview preparation activity in the short term. By focusing your attention as strongly as possible on what you need and want to accomplish–not to mention what you have to offer potential employers that they would find valuable–you have a much better chance of communicating the enthusiasm and expertise that those employers will be looking for.

Knowledge-Powered Job Search

Knowledge plays a critical role in effective job search campaigns, in multiple ways. What I’m talking about today revolves around the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” and its revised contrary version, “What you don’t know CAN hurt you!” To paraphrase another oldie but goodie, “Ignorance is (NOT) bliss.” You undoubtedly can’t achieve perfection, which would mean obtaining all the potentially relevant information that you would need for a 100% effective job search, because we don’t live in a perfect world. However, if you are currently planning or considering a search for a new employment opportunity, you do want to gather as much as you reasonably can, and that includes getting a sense of what’s going on in the minds and behavior of both hiring managers and HR professionals.

Twelve “Dirty Little Secrets” of Recruiters

Dr. John Sullivan wrote an article titled “Recruiting’s Dirty Little Secrets” (ERE.net, Dec. 26, 2011) that might give you an eye-opening insight into some of what goes on behind the scenes. I knew about or suspected at least some of the issues he describes, but others were not so familiar to me.The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few snippets to get you thinking:

  • The corporate black hole–because of recruiter overload or other problems, when you submit your resume to a corporate career site, it might have zero likelihood of actually being reviewed.
  • Some companies are blocked–two companies could have an illegal secret agreement not to hire each others’ employees. If your company has such an agreement, the other company won’t even consider you, and you won’t know why.
  • Technology may eliminate you–you could have a very well-done, well-targeted resume and still not get past the initial electronic screening. As Sullivan’s article notes, “In one test, only 12% of specially written “perfect resumes” made it through this initial step, although in theory, 100% should have made it.”

How do You Tackle the Job Search Knowledge Dilemma?

First, acknowledge that you’re not likely to come even close to 100% success in overcoming the kinds of obstacles Sullivan mentions in his article. They contain a number of factors over which you have little or no control. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can be aware of the potential issues and try to conduct your job search in such a way as to negate or minimize them. For one thing, you can take the advice offered by a number of experts and connect directly with hiring managers at the companies you’re interested in, so you can bypass the HR screen-out process. (If busy hiring managers are the cause of the problem, that’s a different issue!)

Also, work on expanding your knowledge base by reinforcing your network relationships, actively communicating with them whenever appropriate, and so on. Check your LinkedIn contacts and those of other groups or organizations you belong to, to see whether any people there are connected with companies you’re interested in working for. You might be able to garner some useful tips and insights from them.

A suggestion somewhat related to having a knowledge-powered job search is to examine your background and your career marketing documents thoroughly to see if you can spot any potential “gotchas” and take action to counteract them. For example, some people who are “between jobs” label themselves as independent consultants to avoid having a gap on their resume. Unfortunately, that tactic has been overworked and can actually backfire unless you can show some strong results from your consulting activities (for example, a couple of major clients you worked with successfully).

Career Advancement through Education

You can find numerous different opinions on the importance and value of education to your career success. Unscientifically, I’d say the weight of opinion probably favors having a college degree–preferably at least a bachelor’s and in some cases a master’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you’re not necessarily home-free, but you probably are well ahead of most of those people who don’t have one. This aspect of career management deserves thoughtful attention, because it can have a major effect on your future, both financially and in terms of your marketability to employers as a professional.

Unemployment rates for non-college graduates versus college graduates

According to a recent study by Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (shared via the Recruiting Trends website), individuals who recently earned a bachelor’s degree have an unemployment rate of 8.9%, which is higher than anyone would like. However, they’re still way ahead of job seekers who have a high-school diploma or less; those individuals have an unemployment rate that’s a huge 22.9%! What’s happening, apparently, is that the gap is widening between well-educated job seekers and those who for whatever reason dropped out of the educational environment much earlier. Hopefully, you’re not in that group, because if you are, you could face a tough climb to move up and out of it.

What impact does a college degree have on your career success potential?

It varies. One important factor is the field you choose. For example, a liberal arts major might be considered well rounded, but unless he or she has some more specifically marketable qualifications, that major is not likely to provide a strong career boost. Similarly, if you choose a major in an industry that is either in decline or stagnating, you might easily find yourself with an expensive piece of wallpaper after you earn your degree! According to the study, as reported by Recruitment Trends, here are a few key points to consider with regard to your education and career prospects:

  • “What employed college graduates make also depends on what they take.” For example, higher end=engineering and lower end=arts, psychology and social work.
  • “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”
  • “Unemployment is lowest where the ties between majors and occupations are highest.” For example, lowest=engineering, the sciences, education and healthcare; highest=architecture (construction-related factor).

Bachelor’s degree versus graduate degree

If you have a four-year degree but are thinking about going back to obtain a master’s degree because you believe it will significantly enhance your prospects for career success, consider the options carefully. An advanced degree can take a lot of time and money to earn, so you want to be as sure as you can that it really offers the potential value you need. I’ve known clients who went back to school to get an MBA, for example, and subsequently found that it didn’t appreciably speed up their job search for a desirable new position. It’s very important to research the situation in the industry or profession you are targeting, so you can try to confirm that you will be investing your time and money productively.

Are You a Connector or a Networker?

As this is my first post of 2012, it seems appropriate to talk about connecting with others. This could apply not only to strengthening our career management and job search activities but also to helping others, whether or not they can turn around and give help back to us. However, this is, after all, a careers-related blog, so I’m not going to go into details about the other kinds of helping we might do. That’s up to each individual, anyway.

What’s the difference between a connector and a networker?

I hadn’t realized there actually was a difference between those two concepts until I came across an article by Alina Tugend called “Are You a Connector?” According to her, connectors are people who are always willing to help and will go the extra mile to find someone who can if it’s not within their power to help directly. Apparently, the concept came originally from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (mentioned by Maryam Banikarim, a senior VP at Gannett). In any case, the idea is that these individuals have “energy, insatiable curiosity and a willingness to take chances” plus “a genuine love of meeting people and making friends,” and they go beyond what is generally thought of as networking. They definitely exhibit a willingness to help even when they don’t see the probability of short-term payback.

Considering this description, I realized that I haven’t known many people who would be described as connectors, but there have been at least a few. Since they are apparently a rare breed, I’m probably fortunate to have known any!

Become a connector for individuals who need help achieving career advancement or finding a new job

If you don’t have the real zest for interacting with people that was described above, you might think you can’t reach connector status. However, I don’t think that’s the final word on the subject. Some skills can definitely be learned, and I believe connecting is one of them. It’s just very important to have a strong desire to do more than you’re already doing along those lines–a desire that will motivate you to take action (desire alone won’t get you there). As Banikarim notes, one way is to avoid gravitating toward friends at meetings and for meals, choosing instead to sit and converse with people you don’t already know.

Enhance your career by helping yourself become a better connector

You probably already know that the economy and the job market pose multiple daunting challenges today, a situation that’s likely to continue for quite some time. That’s a good reason to understand that you can help yourself while helping others. As Tugend’s article states: “The willingness to reach out to someone you don’t know is crucial to the art of connecting, and especially important in uncertain economic times. Those who are in mid-career and may have worked for one company for years should learn connecting skills before they need them.” These words of advice could well apply to all of us, not just those in mid-career!

Crazy Interview Questions & How to Handle Them

For a while, I thought this business of companies asking crazy, weird and sometimes just stupid-sounding interview questions was fading away. Unfortunately, it now seems to be alive and well. I just read an article by John Zappe, called “Can You Get an Elephant into a Refrigerator?,” that references information provided by Glassdoor.com on this topic. Apparently, Glassdoor listed 25 interview questions compiled from thousands posted on its site by job seekers over the past year, including the one about “How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?” (Supposedly, the answer was: “Open the door and tell it to go in.” Okay, in my book, the answer is as crazy as the question, unless you’re just trying to tell a joke.)

Why do companies ask crazy and/or weird job interview questions?

I’ve seen various theories on this. One is that they want to see how well you think on your feet, come up with creative responses to something that seems wildly off-base, and so on. Another is that the companies (or their interviewers) don’t know how to evaluate candidates effectively and just want to eliminate as many as possible! The first theory makes a little more sense to me than the second, but I suppose anything is possible. As Zappe points out, though, some of the questions do seem to have at least a bit of relevance to the job the person was interviewing for. For example, a demand planning analyst candidate was asked to determine how many planes were currently flying over Kansas. While not a clear situation, it could help test the individual’s ability to handle the kinds of things his position might require.

How can you handle crazy interview questions?

First, include this challenge in your interview preparation, before you ever get in front of the interviewer. You can’t possibly anticipate and rehearse answers for such questions. There are just too many possible oddball questions that could be asked. What you can and should do first of all is prepare yourself to respond to anything that seems to come from far out in left field. You won’t be thrown off by questions like that if you already have a plan for responding to the unexpected. One recommended technique is to use “the pause”–before you respond to or answer whatever it was, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and loosely frame your response. Another technique is “the stall”–sometimes paired with “the pause.” It can involve a noncommittal comment or a return question, such as “That’s a very interesting question. I’m not quite clear on why you’re asking, but….” or “I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that…?”

Move on to the next step in the interview process

Do your best with your answer(s), then make an effort to move forward with the interview and continue to emphasize the value you believe you can bring to the company and the position you are interviewing for. Try not to get sidetracked or bogged down by the crazy question and how you responded to it. If you did the important (and recommended) homework on the company as part of your interview preparation, reinforce your subsequent comments by basing them on that information. The goal is to make sure you deliver your value-added message clearly and compellingly at every opportunity.

Do You Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There?

Now that 2012 is almost upon us, it’s a good time to take a hard look at what we’ve accomplished in 2011 and what we still need and want to do in the months ahead. Without a clear sense of purpose and direction, we’re likely to waste a lot of time floundering around aimlessly. As Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) put it recently, “We must be clear about where we’re going if we want anyone to help us get there.”

Career Management and Job Search Plan More Important Than Ever

I’ve talked before about having a career management/job search plan and keeping it up to date, fine-tuning it as needed while you move forward, so this isn’t exactly earth-shaking news. However, in view of some of the ongoing economic challenges (domestic and global), as well as corporate uncertainty and other factors influencing hiring practices, this issue has taken on even greater importance.

It’s probably impossible to develop a plan that covers all contingencies and protects you from disappointment in every direction, but not establishing and maintaining a plan leaves you vulnerable to a higher risk of failure. You can certainly have a flexible job search plan; in fact, it’s an excellent idea to do that, because it enables you to adapt to changing circumstances more readily.

Choosing a Direction for Your Job Search

If you haven’t already made a realistic assessment of where you and your career stand at this point, I recommend putting that at the top of your “to do” list. Next, do whatever research and soul-searching you need in order to decide what your job search direction and actions should be for the coming year. Then identify the resources you believe are essential or at least most likely to be useful to you in achieving that direction. Remember, though, that usefulness should be a two-way street. If the resources include people, which they should, you need to be prepared to reciprocate, not just expect all the help and good stuff to flow toward you.

Anticipate the Challenges and Prepare Yourself to Tackle Them

I doubt whether anyone is expecting an easy ride in 2012. Depending on what publications you read (online and offline), you’ll see mixed opinions, even among some respected “experts.” However, I’m a firm believer in optimism, and I also believe it fuels achievements that people might initially have labeled as highly improbable, if not impossible. So, without acting like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand (and, yes, I understand they don’t really do that), you might seriously consider giving yourself a hefty dose of optimism as you prepare to tackle the challenges ahead and do whatever it takes to conduct an effective job search.

As one of my favorite inspirational people, Jon Gordon, concludes in a newsletter article he basically republishes each year: “I know that 2011 was not a great year for many people but I believe New Year’s Day represents a fresh start and it presents a new opportunity to create the life and career you want. All you have to do is jump in with all that you are and all that you wish to become.”

Hold that thought! It could help make your year more successful than you think.

Holiday Activities and Your Job Search/Career Management Plan

Since I’m posting this just two days before Christmas, I’m guessing most of you aren’t really focusing on work-stuff! Consequently, I mostly want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday period. I will be back in touch again next week and joining the rest of you in looking forward to a new year that we hope and pray will be an improvement over 2011, even if not a runaway success.

However, I can’t just put up the above brief blurb and consider that I’ve actually done anything to help you be successful after the holiday, so here’s a thought or two about beefing up or fine-tuning your job search and/or career management plan once the holiday festivities are over:

  • Take a look back at this past year and see what didn’t go the way you had hoped. Could you have done something to influence that in a positive way, and if so, what might it have been?
  • Think about people whose lives you have touched during the year or whose lives have touched yours in a meaningful way. What could you do in the coming year to help those individuals achieve their career success goals or otherwise support their job search or career management actions? Even something as simple as sending them a note about an upcoming event you think they might find useful would be a step in the right direction, and your efforts could come back to bless you in unexpected ways.
  • Position yourself for a better year by setting goals that don’t “bite off more than you can chew.” Stretch yourself a bit, if you like, but don’t set yourself up for a case of “overwhelm.”

I’d like to leave you a couple of inspiring thoughts for the months ahead, from authors I have come to respect and appreciate over the past year or two: