Don't Sit Still While You Think
In the first two installments of “Think Like a Recruiter” there was a consistent theme which is a clue as to how the job search should begin. This may be a good place to pause and mention that there is a wide variety of thought on how to best perform a job search. The progression of these articles is not intended to provide “the” answer to such a complex process, but to refocus the search mentality. To continue to think from the perspective of the hunted can only result in shock and surprise when ultimately confronted by the hunter. It is not “wabbit season” it is “candidate season” and the prey needs to be as wily as the predator.
Speaking of taking a shotgun approach at preparation for getting a new job, the planned outcome cannot possibly happen with this approach because, by definition, there is no plan. There are distinct steps to building the process and it is impossible to hang the roof before laying the foundation. Without fail, the knee-jerk reaction of most people is to begin to write a resume, or dust off an old one, and start submitting it online. On the surface this may seem expedient, but in reality it only feeds our need for instant gratification. Preparation goes far beyond writing a resume. The purpose of the resume is to get you in the door. Period. What you may not know is that most company applicant tracking systems keep a history of your applications. The jobs you apply for and the documents you send are “stacked” in the database and the recruiter can see your complete application history. If you are already thinking like a recruiter, what would be your impression of someone who has applied for multiple non-related jobs? What would you think of someone submitting several resumes that don’t match or line up logically? This could be excused in certain circumstances and that in itself is not a problem, but if you only have one shot at applying wouldn’t you want your best image to hit first? You only have one chance to make a good first impression. And what about that elusive personal branding you have heard so much about? Are you thinking like a recruiter yet? Which would be more important on a level playing field: Skills that match the job or a shiny brand?
A key task of a recruiter is to insure that the job specifications are clearly communicated to a candidate. So what does a candidate look for in a job description? Do you want foggy bullet points which are so generic that you remain clueless as to the job specifics? The same thing works in reverse. If you have a vanilla presentation of yourself, don’t expect the recruiter to add the flavoring. One of the most frustrating parts of the recruiter job is when something really seems to click with a candidate and there is a gut feeling that there is a possible match, but something is missing…they can’t articulate that elusive, intangible missing item.
If the resume is all that your shotgun preparatory work accomplishes, obviously you will need to start all over again to get ready for an interview or to be prepared for a continuing dialog. Laying a good foundation for the entire process prepares you to arrive at the destination and not just to gas-up for the first leg of the journey. The brick and mortar basis for a job search foundation is a total personal inventory. Here is one way to begin building the information base that a recruiter will want to have:
- Overall Life Inventory – Prepare the framework of your search script with a total self analysis in writing (important as reference for future steps) using a free-form entry list. Using MS Word or some other word processing software is useful to organize thoughts into bullet points and to sort and edit as you fine tune your self assessment. Education is the most likely first measure of you qualifications. Formal education may be required for many positions simply because of company culture. You may disagree with this as a statement of a legitimate requirement, but you will have little power to change this environment. Aptitude to do the job is probably more important than being educated, but think clearly how you would plan to communicate that. Simply stating that you have a knack for doing something does not offer proof. Experience is difficult to inventory as it is not just an accumulation of tasks but a demonstration of activities successfully performed. Interests are also an important starting place. If you have the opportunity, take a standardized test from a career coach or school counselor that can uncover best jobs matches for your interests. Personality can also be tested professionally (e.g. Myers-Briggs), but most people intuitively know generally how they would react to certain situations. If you are the shy and retiring type, outside sales is probably not your thing.
- Skills Inventory – There are many opinions regarding the definition of what the term “skill” really means, but start with a general definition and then think like a recruiter. A skill is an ability which demonstrates the execution of a task effectively using your education, aptitude, experience, interest and personality. These are usually a single word or two, usually a noun. Save the action verbs for the resume. Don’t get wrapped up in sub-sets of skills at this time and write everything down. This time it is best to do a spreadsheet and just brainstorm your list of skills as they come into your head. Don’t worry about the difference between “teaching” and “training” or whether “leadership” and “management” are the same thing. Column A on the spreadsheet should be filled with as many skills as you can find. Then begin looking at yourself with your recruiter glasses and subjectively evaluate each in Column B on a 5-point scale with “1” being lowest and “5” being highest. Start with giving yourself a “3” for all skills and then make a second pass to modify upward or downward. Sound easy? Well it isn’t. The soul searching that will prepare you for the journey is beginning and it is hard to be brutally honest.
- Accomplishments Inventory – Clear your mind and start another spreadsheet. These don’t have to be chronological (yet) but if you have an old resume you can begin to pick it apart now. An accomplishment is an event that has been completed using the skills you have acquired. They are an express use of talents which are uniquely yours. They can be repetitive, but this is not a list of job tasks or responsibilities from a job description. An accomplishment is measurable and the outcome meaningful to the unit, company or organization. So Column A will be a list of things like “Engineered plant expansion” or “Designed new data system.” Next to each accomplishment in Column B enter the measure of that accomplishment, such as “Annual cost savings of $1.2 million” or “Reduced department data processing costs by 26%.” This is where you define for yourself the real definition of an accomplishment. All accomplishments are measurable even if not a concrete number. “First ever for company” or “Exported process to other divisions” are measures of success. In Column C use the same 5-point evaluation to rate the strength of the accomplishment, where “3” is average and “5” is a bragging point.
- Merge Skills with Accomplishments – Yes, the process not only gets more complicated now it gets repetitively redundant over and over again (yes, I repeated that to lighten things up a bit). Get ready for two more spreadsheets and you can probably guess what they are. Take your edited list of Skills (edited because it is never complete on the first pass) and put that in Column A. Then in Column B put the accomplishment(s) which utilize that skill (This model may mean repeating skills on more than one line to keep it flowing). On a second spreadsheet, do the reverse: In Column A list an accomplishment and in Column B list the skills associated with that event. Why do this twice? The first one is the foundation of your interview script where you will answer a recruiter’s question by boiling it down to the skill required and providing an example to prove depth of understanding. The second spreadsheet is the beginning of a scratch resume. When added to a chronological listing of jobs you have your curriculum vitae.
Hopefully, the recruiter has done homework on the job specs, interview preparation and how to communicate that to you, but how nice it is to be confident that the most knowledgeable person in the room is sitting in the candidate’s chair. Like all life situations, success begins with examining the environment and determining how much control you have over a situation. In a job search, you have no control over what the recruiter will do, but you can think from that perspective and control how you respond by being totally prepared. This sounds so simple, but we all judge people by how professional they are in presenting themselves. If you see a performer reading from a script or a singer reading notes from sheet music, you do not see confidence. Looking into your recruiter mirror at yourself you should see someone who has memorized who they are and doesn’t fumble, jumble or mumble their presentation.