Job Seekers: Think Like a Recruiter – Part 2

Last week in Think Like a Recruiter – Part 1 I began talking to job seekers about a method of conducting the search for a new position using the concept that it is like recruiting in reverse. Adopting the mindset of the hunter does not necessarily give the advantage to the hunted, but failing to recognize how this process works is flying blind. The relationship between the candidate for a job and those looking for new talent should not be one of mystery but of discovery and communication…both ways. Engagement with a recruiter can begin with either party but they must communicate on common turf.

… the job seeker must assume 50% of the responsibility for effective communication.  Also recognize that the role of “information transmitter” and “information receiver” will switch back and forth several times as the parties decode the messages being sent to them. It is equally as important to listen as to speak. While this ongoing dialog progresses, the concept that a job search is just like reverse-recruiting may be totally foreign as a job seeker slips into the sneakers of the recruiter for the long run. It is unfamiliar turf. The significance of the visualization of this role reversal is to gain an in-depth understanding of the recruiting process put in place by companies which are second nature to recruiters.

Don't Sit Still While You Think

So, now we need to consider what the term “recruiter” actually means. It is easy for a job seeker to fall into the trap of thinking there are only two types of parties in the searching and hiring universe: us and them.  One of the key rules of any form of communication is to know your target audience, so understanding who the recruiter may be is of prime importance. You will have your core message based the skills and accomplishment you bring to the table (to be discussed in more detail later) but how you communicate that message could differ based on the perspective from the other side of that phone call. The recruiter’s motivation may be different based on their specific role in the talent acquisition process.

  1. Contingency Recruiters – Some third party agencies provide companies with candidates for a job opening with their fee being contingent upon one of their candidates being hired. This is like the lawyer who represents your claim in court but will not be paid unless you win a settlement. Such recruiters may operate in a large agency with distinct functional areas, a smaller firm where the recruiters handle both marketing and sourcing, or an independent recruiter who manages the entire business. Regardless of the size of the agency, they build relationships with companies through contacts with hiring managers and HR. They fill positions based on a fee for placement, usually around 20% of the candidate’s starting base salary. In working through the mindset of how to think like a contingency recruiter consider the fact that they usually do not have an exclusive contract with the company and are competing with other contingency recruiters to fill a job. It is also important to realize the fact that they may provide more than one candidate for an opening to improve the chances of getting a hire and the related fee. No, most of them are NOT mercenaries peddling meat to the job market, but it is naïve to think that they are representing only you. Understand that this is a business relationship and they are not being paid to be your friends, but that this can be a fantastic source of information about how to present yourself to the job market. You will get valuable advice on your resume, honest appraisal on your chances to get a job, and great feedback from submissions and interviews. Your relationship with your recruiter is highly important.
  2. Retained Search Recruiters – Unlike the contingency agencies, a retained search firm is given a contract as the sole provider of candidates for an opening in a company. There may be a competition between agencies for the contract, but when commissioned to fill a job they will be paid regardless of whether the job is filled or not. If the opening is cancelled, the agency will still be paid, so obviously companies are careful about finding the best search partner to fill the opening. These types of searches are generally reserved for higher level positions in an organization or critical, tough-to-fill types of jobs. Fees are typically 30% to 35% of starting base salary. How do you engage a retained recruiter? Be visible! You may reach out to them, but the more likely way to be hired through such a recruiter will be when they find you. As in most cases where your resume is a ticket to the game, you can expect that the retained search recruiter will also provide their client with an in depth analysis of your background related to the job requirements based on an in-depth interview with them. There will probably be more than one candidate presented for the opening, but you can expect to be fully briefed on the company, the culture and the bio of your interviewers.
  3. Corporate Recruiters – These are the people who are in-house and are either paid employees or dedicated contract recruiters working exclusively for the company. In larger corporations there will probably be more than one individual responsible for this task and their workload is generally divided by functionality of the position or department. Global organizations may be centralized in their approach or local to the job site, but either way their job is to find the best match for position requirements at the least cost in the shortest time. You may be contacted by a sourcer or full cycle recruiter from a company, or you may get to them through one of the agency recruiters mentioned earlier. If you apply directly through a company web site or a job board, these recruiters are the ones charged with finding the needle in the haystack. Thinking how these people operate is not difficult to understand: They filter through hundreds of applicants, relate them to hiring manager’s requirements, and manage the relationship both internally and externally to fill the job. If you are caught up in a “black hole” it is probably not the fault of the recruiter, so don’t damage a possible future relationship by lashing out at the gatekeeper. Some companies restrict how much feedback information can be given to a candidate because of legal liability issues, but most are knowledgeable enough about feedback concerns to really be of help in tailoring future application to that company or others.
  4. Human Resources Generalist – Smaller companies may not have a separate recruiting department, so that function is handled by someone who manages all of the human resources functions from hiring to firing. Other than the perspective of dealing with someone responsible for compensation, benefits, training, organizational development, employee relations and workforce planning, the relationship is pretty much like dealing with a corporate recruiter with the exception that recruiting is not their only job. A key difference is that there may be a greater reliance on agency support rather than direct sourcing of candidates. Even if there is a separate recruiting function in a company, there is probably a human resources partner involved in the hiring process even if behind the scenes. After hire, this is the person who will manage your career at the company from orientation through retirement, so learn who this is and get to know them.
  5. Hiring Managers – Small businesses make up a huge portion of the job market. Whether in its infancy as a start-up or an organization that has not grown large enough for a functional human resources department, your candidacy will be directly managed by your future manager or perhaps even the founder or president of the company. Smaller organizations are a great starting place for a career, but may have both a higher risk than larger companies and also greater rewards. They may be more entrepreneurial in their approach and prefer advertising for direct applicants rather than payment of an agency fee. While the process of selection, interviewing and hiring will be the same, you can expect the process to be more personal in nature. This may be the most relevant application of thinking like the recruiter: “If I owned the company, what would I want in an employee?” Listen before you talk. Question the current role and growth possibilities to get a better understanding of the company.
  6. Recruitment Process Outsourcing – Some key thought leaders see RPO’s as the future of recruiting. This is the process of outsourcing the recruitment process to an external provider. In practice, it could function like an internal corporate recruiting entity or a dedicated agency to provide hiring services. The advantages are that it provides scalable staffing services at a lower cost with improved time-to-hire and improved quality of the candidate pool. The downside is of course loss of continuity beyond onboarding as the RPO’s are not actually part of the company. While it is unlikely that you will find yourself in this situation, it may be important to the continuation of the hiring process to know if your candidacy is being managed by an RPO and not a direct agent of the company.
  7. Temporary Agencies and Job-Shop Companies – Traditionally, fluctuations in a company’s workforce has been handled by hiring non-employees to fill the gaps in workload over time. In most cases, your legal employer will be the agency that provides your services and there will be a hands-off relationship with the company. A ticklish situation in some cases, you will do the same work in the same location with full-time company employees, but without the benefits of being employed by that company. There are complicated legal reasons for this relationship, but for the most part it gives a great opportunity for future full-time employment. There is an advantage to the company by observing actual performance on the job rather than trying to figure it out in an interview. There is also an advantage to the employee in being able to get a good feel for the culture and environment before committing to a longer term relationship.

An important aspect of a job search is that it is like a chess game where you get to move all of your pieces at once. You don’t have to consider just one source or type of recruiter to find your dream job. So how do you manage dealing with multiple types of recruiters? You should be aware that there can be conflicts between agencies. If you are highly marketable there will obviously be competition to be the first to provide your credentials to a company. And yes, there can be conflicts that arise if an agency presents your resume to a company to which you have already applied. So how do you handle this mess? There are differences of opinions on this, but in my opinion the bottom line is to consider two key points: First, YOU are in control of your job search. Do not allow your resume to be submitted anywhere without your approval. Know where it goes, otherwise it dilutes your value and you cannot follow-up or control the process. Secondly, honesty is ALWAYS the best policy. Don’t lie to your recruiter or tell an agency that you have not applied to another agency or company when in fact you have. In a tight job market it is more important to build strong relationships than to try to find cheap shortcuts. Don’t sacrifice your personal brand or become your own worst enemy by lowering the impression of your character.

Are you thinking like a “recruiter” yet? These recruiter categories obviously overlap occasionally and there are certainly variables within each of the categories I have listed. Understanding the differences can be of utmost importance in managing your job search. If you are engaged in a conversation with someone about a job, find out their perspective to better understand how to communicate with them. Future articles in this series will go into more detail on how to fluently converse in recruiter-speak.

 

Made-up Rules: Mindless or Meaningful

My mother had a set of unwritten rules which my sister and I learned to respect and never question. One such rule was not to slam the screen door. “Tommy, you go outside and come back in again without slamming the door this time!” There was no defense. It made no difference that my father had installed a spring powerful enough to launch that door into space. The ultimate control over the slamming door was the

Authorities are searching for the person who took this picture.

responsibility of the last child to enter. Obviously the rule was intended to teach us discipline and respect, but the punishment to re-enter the house quietly was actually quite funny to us kids. I wonder if Mom ever knew that sometimes we would slam the door just to piss her off.

The one lesson the screen-door-rule taught me was that some rules have very little meaning beyond a show of authority by the rule writers. Many times in my career I have found myself in the position of writing policy and procedure documents for an employer or client. Undoubtedly one of the most thankless jobs anyone can have is to create a process that keeps order without the appearance of being arbitrary. Looking around every day I see rules that are obviously created at the whim of the rule maker. Even if based on some realistic need to organize and control a process, it is difficult to portray the seriousness of the rule if it is unenforced or unenforceable.

One manufacturing plant displayed signs requiring the wearing of steel toed shoes for all persons entering a certain department. No one would argue that this is not a valid safety concern…until executives from the home office visited and wore street shoes into the restricted area. Now that employees know that the rule is arbitrary how seriously will they take this rule?

Maybe what we need is a list of rule rules.

  1. Don’t be a solution looking for a problem – The best way to keep from looking like an egotistical idiot is to only make rules that address actual concerns: such as health/safety, control of a critical process or to standardize policy. Codifying political practices of the organization and protocol processes make no sense and create discord when there is inconsistent or illogical application, especially if there was no perceived problem in the first place.

    A dog is a terrible thing to waste.

  2. Explain the reason in simple terms – If the reason for the rule is intuitive, there is no reason to go into lengthy detail about why the rule is in place. Take the “Cafeteria Closed” sign for example. Is it necessary to turn it into an eye chart explaining that “The cafeteria is closed from 10:30 AM to 11:00 AM daily for cleaning and will also close promptly at 2:00 PM to give employees time to prepare for tomorrow morning… yadda yadda yadda.”
  3. Eliminate redundancy which is costly and can actually subvert the rules – Before implementing a new policy, insure that there is not a parallel policy in another area that addresses the same issue in different terms. Even if not an actual conflict, there has to be consistency in application of company-wide, business unit, department and individual management team policies
  4. Be clear and concise – Bullet points sell. Paragraphs bore. No policy is enforceable if nobody reads it, understands it, and agrees that it is their duty to comply. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” only applies if an actual judge is making the determination.

    Hmmm...Which way do I go?

  5. Avoid conflicting directions – Verify that each new policy is in line with those that have gone before. If replacing previous rules, clearly state what is different and why and how this new direction is important. The complex technological methods for posting policies andprocedures make it imperative that all copies are changed and the new ones are publicized.
  6. Maintain consistency with desired culture and business outcomes – The expected outcome of the rule must be determined before deciding to make it a rule. Each policy or procedure must contribute to the bottom line of the company through improved efficiencies. Failure to define cultural implications is to allow haphazard directions and inconsistent application.
  7. Question enforceability – If the rule is worth making in the first place there must be some consequences for non-compliance. Before making any policy absolutely unwaiverable, make very sure that it can be enforced without prejudice. Terminating one employee for violating a rule and excusing another is asking for trouble. If there is no intention of enforcing the rule, then why make bother with it in the first place?

    Where is the "Deep Sand" sign?

  8. Remember that unwritten rules are still rules – The working environment is impacted by the undocumented results of meetings, emails exchanged between executives and personal instructions communicated verbally. Management of the unwritten process is never more apparent than in the orientation of a new employee or expanding the scope of an employee into new and unknown areas. Failure to somehow communicate these rules can create disparate treatment and loss of confidence and respect.
  9. Recognize the importance of defensive rules – There are “Contents May Be hot” warnings on take-out beverage cups because some companies have been sued by customers injured by scalding hot coffee. Policies that emphasize or repeat higher guidelines are not unnecessary if the company can face liability by ignoring the situation. A pharmaceutical company’s compliance with FDA regulations is a great example. Also, there are laws against discriminatory practices, however every company must publish and communicate diversity policies to insure that employees know that they are serious about enforcing the law.
  10. Define responsibility for compliance – Too often it is considered that it is the overall responsibility of Human Resources to police company policies. I uncategorically reject that notion! It is always management’s responsibility to determine which policies are necessary for the organization and how to communicate and handle compliance. HR is a key partner with management, should be knowledgeable in the business practices of the company and assist in integration of employee efficiencies into the bottom line.

You must be this tall to ride.

Of course, the irony of my arbitrary rules for the creation of rules is intentional, however this is a real problem. How can we fix this situation? Not all of us are involved in creation of policy. My answer is to “Respectfully Question Authority.” Be a voice when policies are counterproductive and communicate that to management whenever possible. No, this is not a democracy where the votes of the employees decide policy, but when management refuses to listen to ideas there are much more serious problems in the organization. So what policies do you see that make no sense or need to be changed? Maybe I should prime the pump with one of my pet peeves: Employee Referral Policies: Most employee referral systems suck. The killers of these well intentioned programs are rules that are prohibitive in who can submit a referral, refusal to recognize more than one referee, and an ambiguous bureaucracy passing on the legitimacy of a referral. I personally dislike bounties on any referral, but if there is a referral bonus it should be applied equitably and for all jobs. Metrics are almost never collected to measure the worth of the program or to determine trends. In my opinion, this is a policy that should either not exist or made to be less sucky.

Now it is your turn. What policies have you seen that are either screen-door-rules or in need of improvement or should be entirely eliminated? You will be pleasantly surprised when you answer that question and find that you are not alone in your observations.

Comments?

 

Job Seekers: Think Like a Recruiter – Part 1

Last week I wrote an article telling recruiters why they should think like a candidate. If you didn’t read that one because it didn’t seem to apply to you, just consider the premise I introduced there before moving on:

The goal to making communications become more effective is for the conversation to evolve into an Adult to Adult dialog with neither party taking a superior role. On that basis it is safe to say that the most effective form of communication is when each party understands the other’s perspective. To plagiarize from an adage attributed to an old Native American saying, you can better understand others if you walk a mile in their moccasins.

Don't Sit Still While You Think

The responsibility to achieve this state of equality belongs to both parties. It is called a dialog. In other words, the job seeker must assume 50% of the responsibility for effective communication.  Also recognize that the role of “information transmitter” and “information receiver” will switch back and forth several times as the parties decode the messages being sent to them. It is equally as important to listen as to speak. While this ongoing dialog progresses, the concept that a job search is just like reverse-recruiting may be totally foreign as a job seeker slips into the sneakers of the recruiter for the long run. It is unfamiliar turf. The significance of the visualization of this role reversal is to gain an in-depth understanding of the recruiting process put in place by companies which are second nature to recruiters. You must use that information to tailor your approach to a successful job search campaign.

To begin the process of thinking like a recruiter, start with this simple overview.

  1. Self Analysis and Presentation Preparation – 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. Perhaps they don’t seem to want it badly enough. If it all boils down to a matter of relativity between you and someone who shows more relevant skills that match the job, then they will get the offer and you will not. The passion to do the job may be the deciding factor on a level playing field, but companies don’t hire for passion alone. Engage the recruiter any way you can and build that relationship, but make sure that each at each point of contact you present the qualifications you bring to the table. If you don’t know what you want to do or have an understanding of how your skills apply to the job, nobody is going to look too deeply for it. If you are right for the job, prove it with your actions and words. Demonstrate your skills with measurable accomplishments and make a “yes” answer the only option.
  2. Research and sourcing – Searching for a target company or open position uses the same techniques used by talent sourcers and recruiters to search for candidates. There is a true reverse process for each of the tricks in the recruiter toolbox. A few examples are:
    1. Employee referrals – Sometimes the best candidates are already known to the company. Do you know someone employed at a company which has an opening? If not can you find someone who works there? It is OK to cold-call a recruiter, but an introduction can warm up the atmosphere and make that task easier. When a networking contact can introduce you to their manager you already have provided your first reference. When that contact is the hiring manager, you already have the best internal reference.
    2. Online applications – Do you know how an Applicant Tracking System works? In its simplest forms an ATS it is a database of applicants and a search mechanism to sort them out. You have access to how this works because the search process acts in reverse when it provides a mechanism for you to search for a position in their jobs database. Is it clumsy to drill down to your dream job? (Light bulb moment follows →) That is the same search engine that recruiters have at their disposal to search for the dream candidate. It is not much of a stretch to extend this logic to job boards which operate in the same manner but with some branding differences. It is worth the time invested in researching the company processes and their ATS. Learn where your resume goes when you submit it online. You have no control once you push that button to upload your resume or apply online, so use your best creativity to swim with it down the whirlpool and make it visible. That usually means going through another door to point out that you are interested and have applied.
    3. Internet sourcing – The power of a Google or Bing search on the internet can have startling results in finding jobs or people. Do you understand Boolean searches? There are only a few simple operators used to build a successful search string. If the search is too broad or too narrow, it is an easy task to change some of the parameters to fine tune the results. If you don’t use this technique is it because you have never done it or you are afraid to try? The only thing scary about a Boolean search is that it starts with “Boo.” If this is still too daunting then look for an “advanced search” template available with most search engines which lets you do the same thing in clearer language. Practice makes perfect, so go wild: Find companies, open positions, people, groups and networking opportunities to name a few.
  3. Administration and Record Keeping – Unlike recruiters and sourcers, the candidate does not have to prepare reports for anyone other than themselves. You are the manager of your job search and should be just as demanding as any boss.
    1. Metrics – Some of the metrics you should track are the ratio of applications to callbacks, the number of callbacks that move to the next level and the mother of all metrics: how many interviews does it take to generate an offer. If it is worth doing it is worth measuring. Metrics for metrics sake are a waste of time, but there are two key things that studying the data will do for you. First and most importantly, it forces your focus towards the positive side of the ledger. For example, since there will always be more applications than callbacks, emphasizing the fact that there actually are returned calls is proof that the process is working. Which brings us to the second reason and that is to improve the process. If the results are not positive or are trending toward the negative side, you will need to determine where you should focus your energy to change the process. Continuing to do the same think in the same way will result in the same results.
    2. Tracking – In addition to measurable metrics, it is important for your record keeping to accurately “remember” for you the dates you applied to each job. Dates of both incoming and outgoing telephone calls are a key method of keeping the search moving forward. If you sent a tailored resume to someone, which one went where? There is no worse first impression than to finally get that callback and you don’t remember when you applied or what you sent to them.
    3. Lists – In the record keeping department, I’ve saved the best for last: You absolutely must keep a written list of your contacts, no matter how minor, to make it easy to follow up and move forward. It is amazing to see the networking tree grow branch by branch, twig by twig, leaf by leaf. Some people may be able to keep this in their head, but most cannot do this. Follow-up and feedback is important. Don’t forget to go back and say “Thank You!” to someone who made a difference.

Future follow-up to “Think Like a Recruiter” will go into much more detail on each of these topics and more. Forgive the sports analogy, but it is always easier to mount an offense if you have a copy of the opposing team’s playbook. The recruiting community often uses the term “War for Talent” to describe the challenges of finding the best candidate for key openings. In a tight job market, the job seeker is faced with a “War for Jobs.” These terms probably overstate the severity of the problem. Lives are not lost in these battles, but the survivor’s lives are altered permanently by the outcome.

Stay tuned for more. Your continued feedback will help steer this topic toward your specific needs.

 

 

The Mother’s Day Paradox

Did you ever notice that the official spelling of this commemorative holiday is the singular possessive “Mother’s Day” and not the plural “Mothers’ Day” as it is usually celebrated? When you hear proclamations that we are participating in a day celebrating motherhood, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Nope! It’s all about MY mother!” Researching the topic online didn’t have to go any further than Wikipedia to learn that although it is celebrated in some form in almost every country it is not really a global holiday. The occasion as practiced in the US is not tied to any worldwide tradition, but it is far from being just another “Hallmark Holiday.” In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrase “Mother’s Day” and was very specific about the location of the apostrophe. It was intended for each family to honor their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world. I love this quote attributed to her: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. “ She spent much of the later years of her life campaigning against the very holiday she created because it had become so commercial.

So what does all this have to do with HR? My mother was a negotiator, mediator, peacemaker and prophet. She didn’t work in HR and chances are that yours probably didn’t either. Since our attitudes in the workplace and beyond are influenced by our innermost personal feelings, the fact that we all had a mother gives us all something in common. While specific memories may be different, we share the common concept that our life began with our mother. I guess it should also be noted that when women attain the honor of being called “Mom” they don’t automatically gain sainthood. In fact, some mothers fail miserably, yet somehow there is still a mother-child bond that lies much deeper than any actions could erase. Civilized society recognizes the special status of motherhood which possibly comes from this collective emotion of people with mothers. The culture of the workplace is a mirror of the society which surrounds it and that places everybody’s mother at the focal point of company policies, such as those for maternity benefits and nursing mothers. In the US, forty-four states have laws specifically allowing women to breastfeed in any public or private place. Twenty-four have laws regarding breastfeeding in the workplace. [1]

Well, our deference to mother is a good theory, but proving that to be fact is a little difficult to do. Research suggests that actual attitudes tend to differ. A recent article [2] in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a study conducted at Montana State University [3] in which several experiments tested the attitudes toward breastfeeding with 60 undergraduate students. Their opinions were totally subjective based on interviewing women in four different groupings. Surprisingly, based on perception alone, the students rated the “breastfeeding” woman lowest of the four groups on overall competence, workplace capabilities, math ability, and also whether they would hire her. This is not a new phenomenon. In 2005 Ohio State researchers conducted a study [4] in which young adults held mothers to stricter employment standards than childless women. While parents in general were judged as less committed to the job, fathers were held to lower standards than both women in general and childless men. While these results may be shocking and contrary to our cultural intuition, they do point out that in the workplace HR has an important job to be an advocate for the rights of mothers and not allow even the most benign unconscious bias have an influence over pay, training or promotion. Such disparate treatment is not just a woman’s issue it impacts all of us who have had a mother.

Maude W. Bolt - A great mother is like a great wine getting better with time.

My mother would have been a great HR leader. I owe my ability to work in HR or in any other capacity to my parents: Mom shared with me her positive attitude about life and the faith that “everything always works out for the best” if you will just make it happen; Dad was an example of ultimate work ethic, constant learning and family values. While it probably isn’t genetic, I was given gifts that are priceless. Thanks, Mom! I miss you every Mother’s Day but you are truly with me every day. And I’m sorry I didn’t write or call more often.

References:

[1]National Conference of State Legislatures, “Breastfeeding Laws” September 2010 http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=14389

[2]The Wall Street Journal, “Breastfeeding Mothers Viewed as Incompetent” April 21, 2011 http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/21/breastfeeding-women-viewed-as-incompetent/

[3]Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, “Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed” March 18, 2011  http://psp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/18/0146167211401629.abstract

[4]Ohio State Research News, “Mothers In the Workplace Held to Stricter Standards” 1/4/2005, http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/genster.htm

 

When the Experts Disagree

Ford vs. Chevy

My father and his brother had a disagreement which began from my earliest recollection as a child and continued throughout their lives. They were as close as brothers living in two different cities could be, but when they got together this topic always came up: Which is better, a Ford or a Chevrolet? They had other differences: Dad was an under-the-hood kind of guy and I remember that my uncle adorned his car with gadgets. I especially liked the swivel “suicide knob” on his steering wheel which I thought was pretty cool, but never dared to say it out loud. Both had a great sense of humor and joked about it a lot, but Dad was an avid Ford guy. My uncle argued that any Chevy ever made could beat any Ford any day of the week. We were lucky that the conversation never really left the kitchen table or they would have been out looking for a straight stretch of road to prove their point. Thankfully, Mom and my aunt never had to go bail them out.

There has been a lot of chatter in blogs and on Twitter lately about disagreements and the value of the “expert” advice offered in the various job seeker chat sessions. If you haven’t participated in a chat session on Twitter, you should try it or at least lurk and watch. It is like speed dating on steroids! As a co-moderator of several of these chats** I can tell you that it is a little like herding cats to keep the conversation on topic and moving forward. There is a wealth of information spewed into the internet in such a very short period of time. The downside is that it can also be difficult to keep up with all the comments, especially when there are clearly opposing points of view at times. I have heard several job seekers musing: I should worry AND not worry about keywords in my resume; I should use PDF formatted resumes AND avoid PDF resumes; I should follow up before AND after the interview; I should write for ATS screening AND for a human recruiter. So what is the job seeker supposed to do? You are looking for advice and are getting mixed signals. Does this mean that the advice is not worth the effort? I think not.

I suggest that it is best to consider where the advice originates and the thinking of the person giving the advice…all without calling the psychic hotline if possible. Like any other form of communication it is best to consider the source of the data before implementing or modifying a plan. For the purpose of this discussion I have divided the reasons for the disagreements into four categories which may be overly simplistic to some and a revelation to others. Start with this idea and move forward: In most cases, there is never one best answer!

  1. Different opinions: Advice is often unfounded and not based on evidence – We all know that there are opinionated people who will never accept an opposing viewpoint and adamantly defend their beliefs. Actually, while on the surface this may sound like a bad thing, it really is not. It is very much an important part of the process of getting and giving advice. It is a fact that the lack of proof does not mean that the advice is wrong. There are established practices in every field of endeavor, especially in recruiting. When these are challenged, it often results in no empirical evidence being provided to support the theory. Advice to job seekers based on generally accepted principals is useful if there is a consensus of believers who support the idea even though some may disagree. There may be as many theories about cover letters, resume formats and follow up as there are people who are offering advice. Unfortunately it may take acting on a gut feeling, the reputation of the advice giver and trial and error to decide on your personal choice. Logically applying the advice to different situations may not be easy, but recognizing that there are differences is critically important.
  2. Different experiences: All answers are relative – One of the clearest differences of opinions can sometimes be seen between agency recruiters and in-house corporate recruiters. They will both call themselves “recruiter” but may disagree on what they believe that term to mean. It is important to listen to them with the knowledge that these people are not the enemy. Most are extremely caring people who want to help. Why else would they take the time to participate in job seeker forums when there is no pay for this service? As if this were not already too dynamic to follow, to further complicate things all agencies don’t work under the same model and all companies have different rules for their recruiters. A lot of these experts have worked in both areas, understand and respect the other side’s viewpoint, but the prevailing attitude and basis for advice will be from their current perspective. Probably the true, text-book model of a recruiter is one who manages candidates, client relationships and just about everything else from initial contact through hire. But I have seen agencies pervert the system by arbitrarily shifting quota numbers, the recruiter’s report card, and in-house recruiters who are forced to react artificially to time-to-hire metrics. While not true in all cases, both of these practices do contribute to devaluing the candidate experience despite the best efforts of the recruiter. I could go on, but the reason I say that there is “no right answer” is because there are too many variables for anyone to declare one solution as “the” right way for all situations. Most advice is well-meaning and will add value in the right situation.
  3. Different crystal ball: Future thinkers are looking beyond today – Because these experienced professionals are looking to create tomorrow’s systems and procedures they are speaking authoritatively from a path that leads to their own personal future conclusion. Obviously, if the end point is different then the steps along that path will be different. There will be disagreements. I have seen respected leaders debate an issue and end up as polar opposites in their conclusions. As professional as these people are, and with the sincerest respect for each other, it is not uncommon to hear one of them comment, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” I love this dialog! By definition, if it is in the future it can’t be disproved…it is a THEORY. The value I take from this disagreement is not so much where they think we are going, but where they have been, getting inside their brains and analyzing why they think this way. Since this is discussing something that hasn’t happened yet, the advice given can only be as good as the path it opens up for you. I would consider advice from any of these people and in fact have adopted some of them as my personal mentors even though they may not even know me.
  4. Different motivation: Challenging the status quo improves processes – On a macro level, newspaper ads gave way to job boards. Job boards are finding the need to evolve in order to remain a viable force today. Social media is a powerful recent phenomenon and yet there is still disagreement on how it is supposed to work for recruiting and job searching. Strong advocates of all of these media are likely to take metrics and successes to justify their particular point of view. Newspapers still serve as a useful tool, although though I do it online and have not subscribed to a print version of this medium since the parakeet died and I no longer need cage liners. I love the job boards and continue to use them on both the seeker and recruiter side. I have embraced social media, but find that many people are skeptical and scared of this unknown thing. On a more micro, individual level, motivations spring from the occupation of the adviser. Ask a recruiter if you should get professional assistance in preparing your resume and you may get a different answer than when you ask that question to a career counselor or resume writer. You should study the pros and cons of all of the alternatives yourself and pick a side because the disagreements are not going away. The advice from all of these sources is relevant as long as you form a balanced approach and keep a controlled record of progress to capture the personal metrics for the use of each tool.

In summary, everybody answers questions based on their total life experiences and will offer advice based on those answers. The needs of each job seeker will be different as well, so some advice fits and some advice does not. Experts may disagree in their approach, however there is value in studying opposing viewpoints and tailoring a plan for your job search. It would be nice if there were only one way, but there isn’t. It will not be easy to sort out all the differences of opinions, but understanding that this is one situation where both sides of a disagreement can be right can help. Or maybe neither side is right…my father’s last car was a Buick.

** Disclaimer: I am a participant in multiple online chat groups and former co-moderator of #HFChat, so obviously I drank the Kool-Aid.