Tag Archives: networking

Is the Job Market Dysfunctional?


Some career management consultants believe that the job market is dysfunctional because the likeability/personality dimension of hiring is rarely addressed as a requirement in job postings. They claim this omission in job postings places candidates at a disadvantage. I disagree. Who goes into a job interview—or any social interaction—not aware of this aspect of interpersonal communication?

The human factor plays a significant role in every hiring decision, whether or not the required interpersonal skills are highlighted in job postings. Any dysfunction, when it occurs, may lie with either the candidate or the hiring manager, each of whom might fail to understand the importance of personality and likeability as they influence both the first impression and the final hiring decision.

The subjective nature of the hiring process in today’s job market is what it is, with each facet (objective assessments, intuitive reflection, subjective preference) providing the hiring manager a unique perspective on a candidate’s potential for on-the-job success.

In the grand hiring scheme, improving flaws in a cover letter and résumé are relatively easy tasks compared to eliminating personality and behavioral issues that could impede a candidate’s progress. A job interview is, after all, a social interaction, and the most salient behaviors exhibited by an applicant in such a situation are his or her social interaction skills.

Likeability is your first and last hurdle for any job or career pursuit. Likeability relates to friendliness, relevance, empathy, and “being real.” Likeability works best when it’s not forced or seen as an attempt to manipulate others. Likeonomics is simply a new term to describe the interpersonal and economic currency that connects people with other people, to new ideas, and to organizations where they share a variety of similar preferences. Likeability is connection driven. It’s a new global currency that isn’t made of paper or coin (or bitcoin) but whose denominations come in different types of relationships.

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What American Idol Can Teach You About Job Interviews and Networking

I’ve seen so many parallels between how people audition on American Idol for a chance to continue their quest toward fame and fortune for a trip to Hollywood, and how people approach interviewing for a job. On American Idol, the people who are really talented rise above those less gifted, but even among the very talented, there are significant differences.

You can almost spot the “Top 10” contestants by how they handle the audition. The ones who find the most favor in the eyes of the judges understand what the judges are looking for. They are looking for not only “the look” and great vocal chops, but how a contestant gets lost in the moment of the audition. Or, better, yet: how that contestant is on his or her game when they deliver what the judges are looking for.

Do the beggars and pleaders ever make it through to the Hollywood round? Rarely, if ever. If they do, they usually are gone by the end of Hollywood week. They just don’t understand the nature of the audition. They are controlled by the emotion of the moment—perhaps overwhelmed by the celebrity status of the judges—but then they rely on the beneficence of the judges, hoping they will respond to their tearful pleas to get them to the next round. They have allowed their immediate surroundings, the presence of the judges, or other external factors to exert more control of the audition instead of being in control of it themselves. Such behavior quickly and clearly labels these hopefuls as amateurs, and usually disqualifies them for further consideration in the competition.

Your job interview is your audition. When your game is on, you focus on what the hiring manager wants and needs, and you own the audition—the interview—and the space in which you find yourself, rather than feel sucked into it like a semihelpless victim.

Beware of Feckless Schmoozing Disguised as Networking

I empathize with the American Idol judges when contestants subject them to the tearful drama for some special consideration after a poor audition because I have experienced it in the hiring process and with individuals who abuse the idea of networking. There’s nothing worse than getting an email or phone call from a former colleague—perhaps someone I hardly knew to say “hello” to in the halls—who wants to meet with me over lunch for undisclosed reasons. Being reluctant to offend, I used to agree with a modicum of enthusiasm because I knew what was coming: feckless schmoozing, or an outright plea for a job, or a good lead to one—or all three. So now, I don’t accept the invitation unless I first know why. If the person is favor shopping, it’s OK to tell me up front; but to disguise it will always result in losing my respect and assistance in the future.

I call this approach “noxious networking” because it always leaves a bad smell behind. It’s a sign of desperation, whereby professional decorum takes flight before I’ve ordered an appetizer. Such people are interested only in what they can get out of the relationship, and not in how they may be able to help others. It’s a surefire way to ruin a potentially great networking contact.

Networking works best when it’s about building and maintaining mutual relationships—with a focus on the word, mutual. Those relationships are best nurtured well before you need to use them; otherwise, it is simply a selfish, selfabsorbed, oneway strategy others will detect quickly, and you’ve likely just burned what could have been a key contact for your job or career search.

Nurturing professional networks requires time and energy. You want to ensure you are creating mutual professional relationships with someone you feel you can help and who can help you. Sometimes, the perceived benefits of such contacts are greater than the actual ones.

Be Honest with Network Leads

Back in the mid1990s, the division manager to whom I reported wanted to bring in several of his friends and former employees to interview for a vacant technical writer position that was available on my team. We reviewed the résumés of the three individuals who had extensive experience in the aerospace industry with writing and illustrating technical specifications. They were actually more engineering draftsmen than technical writers, but the boss insisted we interview them. Members of my team knew before the interviews that none of them qualified as microprocessor technical writers and editors, and we would very likely pass on recommending them for hire. All the candidates worked in DOS-based environments and didn’t have any experience with the Windowsbased applications we used.

The interviews lasted about four hours and, as expected, we didn’t recommend any of the candidates for hire. The division manager thought he was helping his friends and former coworkers by scheduling interviews with my team, but the ultimate effect for these folks was just another disappointment that was becoming evident in their faces as the interviews wore on. My team felt uncomfortable going through the interview motions knowing we wouldn’t be making job offers, and I disliked being put in that position with people’s livelihood.

Just as it’s wrong to pass no-talents through to the next level in American Idol, so is granting interviews to candidates you have no intention of hiring.

Are You a Job Applicant or a Job Supplicant?

The overt nature of begging and pleading for a job smacks of misdirected energies as well. The very term “applicant” has synonyms such as “aspirant,” “contender,” and “claimant” that imply some degree of intent, concerted effort, or purpose. People apply for vacant positions, or they fill out job applications. The individual who must resort to pleading is known as a “supplicant,” which has as synonyms, “requester” and “petitioner.” People who resort to supplication when seeking a job either are not considered seriously for the position or may have to work harder to earn the respect of co-workers, if they are hired.

So, if supplication is your preferred approach, just remember how so few American Idol pleaders have heard one of the American Idol judges say…

“You’re Going to Hollywood!”

Shortsightedness is often the reason American Idol hopefuls fail in their auditions. Many of the finalists put “being the next American Idol” ahead of the love of music and making music for the enjoyment of others as so many first-round wanna-be’s confidently proclaim to the viewing audience and the judges. Sometimes in the hiring process, shortsightedness comes across in candidates embracing the “I need a job” mindset rather than seeing themselves as the hiring manager’s problem solver. It’s a matter of focus that makes all the difference in the approach to an audition/job interview.

A Final Word

Whether you are seeking a job within your industry or are considering a complete career change, heed the advice from American Idol finalists:

  1.  Play to your strengths and know your limitations
  2.  Maintain an approachable, likeable personal style
  3.  Show some personality
  4.  Understand what the judges are looking for and need
  5.  Above all, it’s talent

As with American Idol finalists, the person who outperforms the competition, who brings to the open position the skills, knowledge, and expertise the hiring manager needs for the position—and promotes that expertise throughout the hiring process—is ultimately the person who carries the day.

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It’s that time of year…..for layoffs and promoting your brand equity

layoffOver my entire working career…starting in 1972, I’ve been laid off 8 times: twice as a house carpenter in south Florida (the first time right after my daughter was born) when the building boom busted; once as a geologist in the oil business when the oil boom busted in 1986; 5 times in different marketing/technical communications positions in the high-tech industry due to reorganizations or the economic state of the industry/company. The quality of my work or my professionalism was never a factor in those layoffs. I survived my share of layoffs as well, but–except for one instance–I came out of every layoff with a better position and higher salary.

But of the high-tech layoffs, three of them occurred within two weeks of Christmas. The last layoff was the “easiest” to get through for a few reasons: (1) the severance package was a very good one (got paid for the remaining 2 weeks of the year plus a week of unused vacation; another 4 months’ worth of salary, and company-paid COBRA for a couple months); (2) my family was in a very good financial position that minimized the effect of losing my job even after the severance was depleted; (3) the company put on a good outward face to investors and analysts but internally was run like a Chinese laundry, so there was no separation regret, sorrow, or anxiety.

The downside of this last layoff had a few elements as well: (1) I missed working with a great team of individuals who had been together for several years; (2) I was a couple years away from retiring (i.e. = working on my own projects of interest) and wasn’t able to walk away on my own terms; (3) I lost several thousand Restricted Stock Units that I had been granted as rewards for past annual performances because they had not vested yet; and (4) I still had to work through the emotional kick in the stomach–regardless of whether I hit the Powerball Jackpot the day before. Being laid off–even if you have millions in the bank–can’t remove the blow to your ego or self-esteem for a day or so because you never hear the real reason why you are being let go. The closest you’ll get is corporate speak that sounds like, “The company regrets to inform you that it no longer has a need for your services.”

(I thought about just hanging it up and “retiring” a few years before our goal; however, it would have meant that we would have fewer and less frequent vacations for awhile, and traveling is what we love to do as a family. So, I made the decision to see if I can fill the remaining two years with contract work.)

The whole scenario of being let go from your job is uncomfortable. Either your manager or someone from security is watching you pack up your personal belongings in a scrounged-up cardboard box as others around make themselves scarce because they don’t know what to say or hover uncomfortably nearby–like buzzards near roadkill ready to scavenge what you leave behind in your cube. Your email access is likely already cut off so you can’t send out that last farewell email to your peers and c0-workers, and can’t go the bathroom without someone letting you back in the office because you had to turn in your security access card immediately.

Yes, you still have to deal with the emotional kick to the gut, but I can assure you: as you mature in your career, it gets easier. You have a wider network of contacts to alert for potential job openings or contracting positions; you may have a monetary cushion–a rainy day fund–to help you deal with such unforeseen contingencies.

A strategy I used throughout my career was to build relationships with people I worked with; whether I was a member of a team, an individual contributor, or a team manager, I tried to always display a servant’s attitude. I made it one of the features of my professional brand. A servant attitude over time becomes an expertise that others will seek you out for. You will be seen as a resource, an expediter, who can connect people with other people or people with other ideas. Zig Ziglar wrote that “if you help enough people get what they want, eventually you will get what you want.” In that order: help others first, but do it without any expectation of reward or favor. Do it because it’s the right thing to do and it will pay off huge dividends.

I remember the day before my last layoff, I received a LinkedIn request from a friend I had worked with for more than a dozen years. We had worked together at two different companies and on the same projects. After I got home on the afternoon of my last layoff, I responded to his LinkedIn request and sent him a message that the company had just handed me my walking papers and that after the first of the year, I’d be looking for some contract work, so if he heard of any opportunities to please let me know.

He responded two minutes later: “I was thinking about you for some time now and hoping to connect you with my team. I have some connections to the XYZ project team and you would be a great resource to tap. I will gladly buy you lunch to catch up anyway.” The next week, we had lunch and I received a very nice contract after the start of the new year.

True story. I have no doubt that the years I spent learning how to foster relationships up and down the corporate ladder, helping others succeed, and strengthening the quality of my professional brand were instrumental in getting back on my feet quickly.  Once your professional brand has been established, others will “polish” it (promote it) for you, as my friend did, and that led to that great contracting opportunity.

I would be remiss here not to state that after having fretted about losing my job and threats to my family’s financial security early in my working career, I have learned the lesson of I Chronicles 16:34, which states, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

And serendipity played a role here, too, by turning that severance package into an opportunity to add to our investment portfolio, which helped shorten that two-year gap to about 18 months.

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What does effective networking look like?

Karl Reuning responded to my request for career topics you’d like to see me address with this: “What does effective networking look like?”

Here’s my take (from a former hiring manager’s perspective) on that question. I think you start with taking a look at how people are hired; which avenues into a company are the most successful for candidates, and then take a strategic approach to how and with whom you develop your professional networks. You want in with Company ABC? Then

  • Find folks on LinkedIn who work for Company ABC and connect with them on a professional level.
  • Exchange ideas, generate topics of discussion that demonstrate your expertise in subjects that may be important to your industry or profession.
  • Connect with people in a business or trade association for your industry or profession; attend local chapter meetings, conferences, give a presentation, write an article or paper for a peer-reviewed journal: establish yourself as an expert.
  • Be the first person to help someone else in your growing network with a referral or job lead; be seen as a resource first.

There are three ways by which you enter the hiring process: as an external candidate, as a referral candidate, or as an internal candidate. In my experience, internal candidates generally enjoy the biggest advantage, followed closely by referral candidates, and then external candidates a distant third. Somewhere between 33 and 67 percent of jobs found and filled are through personal referrals. Through personal referrals, much of the uncertainty in the hiring process is reduced or eliminated altogether from the equation, which leads to a higher probability of getting a job offer (and more quickly). It is also a low-cost recruitment tool. You simply must be strategic in designing and building your professional networks to increase the probably of being referred for an open position.

The chart below is from a report at http://www.silkroad.com listing the top 10 external sources for interviews and hires.

Top 10 External Sources for Interviews and Hires (Source: Indeed.com)

Top 10 External Sources for Interviews and Hires

A 2012 comprehensive study (222,000 job postings, 9.3 million applications, 147,440 interviews, and 94,155 hires) from SilkRoad (www.silkroad.com) provides some interesting conclusions about the effectiveness of recruiting:

  • External (specific job search engines, job boards, print advertising, job fairs) and internal (referrals, inside hires, walk-ins, company career sites) sources result in about the same number of interviews, although internal sources produce almost twice the number of hires.
  • Company career sites are the greatest online recruitment source based on interviews and hires.
  • Referrals remain the strongest base for internal recruitment marketing, followed by inside hires and company career sites.
  • Job search engines are singularly far more effective than job boards at returning both interviews and hires.

In a landmark study on social networks (with real people, not Facebook “friends”) and hiring conducted by Stanford University in 1996, researchers concluded the following:

  • Social networks favorably influence the composition of the pool of job candidates
  • Applicants referred by current employees are more likely to be interviewed and offered jobs than external non-referral candidates
  • Network referrals are advantaged at both the interview and job offer stages compared to external non-referral applicants

The researchers also determined why referral candidates had such an advantage over non-referral candidates:

  • During labor shortages, using referrals is a quick and inexpensive method for generating a pool of applicants (fewer applicants for every open position)
  • The “benefit of the doubt” effect that creates a tendency for recruiters to give referral candidates the benefit of the doubt during screening, which encourages employees to continue to recommend referrals, thereby creating a process closed to non-referral candidates
  • Social network hiring tends to produce better job description-worker matches than other types of recruitment

Another reason employee referrals are the preferred entry method to  jobs is because the average length of employment is greater with referrals than the other two methods for entering the hiring process, as the following chart reveals.

(Source: Indeed.com)

Good question, Karl…I hope that helps, and go Red Sox!

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