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On Networking

July 19th, 2010 2 comments

Early in my recruiting career I was baffled by networking.  I was told by everyone that I worked with that “networking” was how I was going to find the best candidates, and how I’d be able to gain access to new clients.  So I dutifully attended various “networking events”, and I generally met two types of people: (1) active job seekers, many of whom had already applied to a position in my agency, and (2) other recruiters

This was an inefficient way to meet both these types of people, and I decided I was doing something wrong. This post from a recent college grad struck a chord with me when I read it, as it captures that feeling better than I ever could.

I was laid off in 2008, and was able to find a contract position and then a full time position that year through people I had worked with.  Exactly what people would call “networking”.  What happened in those 8 years? I didn’t become less introverted, or work hard on being better at networking. I simply met and worked with a bunch of people. I therefore had a larger group of people I could ask for help.

Many thoughtful and well-written pieces of advice assume that everyone can and should become a networker extraordinaire. They conflate my situation in 2008 with networking, and would probably cite it as an example of success.  I think that’s confusing and unhelpful.

Here’s why.  Networking is something that you do to build a large contacts list.  It involves putting yourself in situations where you will meet new people, establish a connection, and maintain some kind of relationship/dialogue over time.

What I do during job searches isn’t networking. I think of who I know that might be able to help me find a job. And I ask them if they can help me find a job.  The people I focus on, and those that are most helpful, are individuals that have actually seen my work. They’re the most likely to give me a meaningful recommendation.

Being well networked (i.e. knowing lots of people) certainly helps this process.  But I would contend that having a large number of people in your network has limited value in a job search.  Most of them don’t know you well enough to do any more than send job postings they see to you. Which you can do yourself.

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Career Advice

July 14th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been mulling over this article from the NY Times since it was published last week. The punch line: an unemployed 24 year old turns down a job offer with no other options, rather than “waste early years in dead-end work.”

The reason I didn’t post anything right away is that I need a little time to get past my first reaction, which was to write Scott Nicholson off as a spoiled idiot. I mean, really? You’re just going to find a better job in the midst of the worst job market for 60 years?

After thinking about it, I’ve realized that Scott Nicholson is, in fact, a spoiled idiot.  But the interesting part of this story to me isn’t so much him (he’s never had a real job, how does he know a recession from a depression), it’s the lack of credible advice he’s getting.

Granted, his father didn’t agree with the decision.  But the fact that only now, after months of searching, Nicholson is “beginning to realize that refusal is going to have repercussions” shows what a disservice his family has done him.  When he turned down that job offer, his parents should have locked him out of the house until he went back and begged for the job until he got it.

Relatives and friends often give bad career advice because, as in Nicholson’s case, they may hesitate to deliver a hard message.  So here are the things I think are important to look for when seeking career advice:

  • Balance. Pessimists sometimes need reinforcement and encouragement, optimists sometimes need a dose of sober reality.  All Nicholson seems to be getting is reinforcement of his natural optimism.
  • Relatability. Someone that knows the current job market in an applicable field, and so can offer much more realistic advice. Nicholson’s parents have successful careers, but they built them in a completely different era, and admit they don’t know how to help him.
  • Practicality. Tips and advice on how to manage a search day to day. It’s great that Scott’s grandfather thinks he can go abroad to find work, but back in the real world an international job search is degrees of magnitude harder than a domestic one.

I don’t worry about the Scott Nicholson’s of the world, since they obviously have a strong safety net in their families.  It would be nice if I could be confident that people are getting good advice in this market, but I’m not so sure.

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“Strong and Assertive”

June 19th, 2010 No comments

This little firestorm brings a few things to mind:

  • Lying is not the same as being strong and assertive. Strong and assertive goes something like this: “I currently make X, but given my experience I’m targeting X + $5000 for this job.”
  • Unfortunately HR is filled with idiots. Lying isn’t illegal. But I’m not an unnamed HR executive, so what do I know…

One of the many things that drive me crazy about the hiring process is how skittish people are about negotiations. Rather than tell this recruiter she wants more money, O’Hara decides she’d rather lie than just say that.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to tell candidates that I’m not going to use salary against them. It’s hard to come up with a compelling offer in the dark.

Then again, there’s my second point above. There are recruiters and HR people out there who make negotiations an argument.  So, after my annoyance fades, I empathize with the gun shy job seeker, or one who’s been given advice to be elusive or advice that’s a weird combination of self help and sales training.

So here’s the rub as I see it:

  • Job seekers, be honest and direct about your salary history and your expectations. If the recruiter or HR person makes it confrontational or uncomfortable, don’t write off the job until you learn more. They could be giving you an insight into how the company works, or they could be the one idiot in a great organization.
  • Recruiters, give feedback about the candidate’s expectations. You don’t have to give a specific number (in fact, you probably can’t), but at least let them know if you can meet their expectations or not.
Categories: hiring, job search Tags: ,

Job Search Conventional Wisdom #Fail

June 2nd, 2010 No comments

This post from a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog recycles a few pieces of irritating job search conventional wisdom. The first:

The old nostrum that “if a job is posted, it’s been filled” is generally true.

And another:

The reality is that 80% of jobs are filled via personal connections and relationships.

What drives me crazy about both of these sentiments is how unsubstantiated they are. Because they’re repeated so often, people are inclined to accept them, but I think they’re at best unhelpful.

Let’s start with the first. I’ve been a corporate recruiter for 6 years.  I’ll estimate that during that time I’ve filled about 425 positions.  And maybe 25 of those positions were filled with a pre-identified candidate, someone the hiring manager had in mind prior to the posting.

By no means is my experience universal. But at the same time I’m confident in saying that my experience is also not exceptional. So at best, I’m comfortable with the modified statement “if a job is posted, there’s a small chance it’s been filled.”

And now the second.  I don’t know if the 80% statistic is true (although note the lack of a source), but even if it is, so what? Aren’t those other 20% filled in another way? As it turns out, I’m currently in that 20% – I got my current job by applying for it online.  So I’ll take the 1 in 5 chances, particularly given how easy it is to apply for jobs online.

I guess what really gets to me about this kind of job search advice is the absolutism of it. I’m willing to accept that more people are hired through their relationships, but I think applying for jobs based on advertisements is an important part of a job search.  Because those ads represent actual jobs. And “networking” is, by its definition, at least a step removed from an actual job. Otherwise it would be called interviewing.

And I thought I was wordy

May 27th, 2010 No comments

Let’s start with a moment of honesty: I’m self conscious about how many words I use to say anything. I hear myself on the phone all day, and constantly think that I should simplify what I say, and how I say it.

So it was perversely satisfying for me to see the following words in one sentence of a cover letter this morning:

multiplicity, pedagogy, systemic reformation, efficacious modalities, citizenry

I may be wordy, but at least I don’t sound like a caricature of an effete intellectual.

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Internet = Hiring Transparency

May 15th, 2010 No comments

This article from the Economist a few weeks ago stuck with me.  It’s an interesting piece on how the rise of forensic science shows like CSI has changed the practice of forensic science in the real world.  Jurors now believe (not always correctly) that they know enough to challenge forensic evidence use in the courtroom.

As a recruiter, I had an unexpected empathy for forensic scientists.  A big side effect of the Internet on recruiting has been to give anyone that can do a web search for “job search tips” a huge number of opinions (even the staid BLS is in on the act).

As with anything online, the available resources are a mixed bag.  I can’t tweet my resume, and I have no interest in practicing.  But even though CareerBuilder is trying to sell job seekers services (which, by the way, feel sketchy. Where’s the pricing?), they still offer reasonable advice.

So recruiters, like forensic scientists, are working with people that have a flood of information about how hiring works, and how we do our jobs.  I started recruiting in 2000, towards the beginning of the Internet recruiting era.  And I got used to being able to position what I do as a black box: I’ll find you talent, don’t worry too much about how I do it.  It’s a little uncomfortable, that vague feeling that every candidate and hiring manager is looking over my shoulder.

The denouement to this story is, not surprisingly, similar to that of forensic scientists.  The way that I see it, we as recruiters have to embrace greater transparency (and the second guessing that comes with it), and be less nervous about telling both candidates and hiring managers exactly what we’re doing, when, and why.

The easy part of job seeking

May 15th, 2010 No comments

Vault’s Career Blog gets it right with this one.  Having gone through a few job searches myself over the last few years, I can attest first hand to the value of giving yourself a break.  Job searches can’t occupy 40 hours each week, and expecting them to drives you crazy.

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