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Monday, July 4, 2011

A Dozen Observations From My Job Search Experience

In my previous post, I talked about my recently concluded job search, and how I found my new job through a strange combination of circumstances. I have not done a real job search since I finished graduate school more than 15 years back. In those days, the internet was still knee-high to a grasshopper, and snailmail ruled! Now, things have changed. Here are some observations from my first job search in the internet age.
  1. Contacts Rule! Insiders were my best source of leads and information on jobs out there. It is easy to look at job postings and apply for jobs online. But HR departments get so many submissions that the only ones that make it to the next step are the ones that are pushed by someone at the company. After all, all they need are 10 to 15 candidates to conduct a good search. When there are 200 applicants for a job, only the dozen or so that have contacts inside the company stand any chance of moving forward. The rest are filed away and forgotten. Packing your resume with keywords does nothing to change this calculus.
  2. LinkedIn Rules! Being active on a professional networking site like LinkedIn pays off. All my professional contacts are also LinkedIn connections. I sent them email as soon as I started my job search. Some will respond, some will not. No matter. Work with those who respond to find out what jobs are open at their current employers, and concentrate on such openings. Out of the 7 phone interviews I ended up with, only 1 was with a company that I did not have any contacts at. The rest were ultimately due to my LinkedIn contacts.
  3. Keep your profile on LinkedIn current and accurate. This helps when recruiters search for potential candidates for jobs that may or may not be posted to the public. Some companies work exclusively with recruiters who conduct their searches on LinkedIn to find candidates to present to the companies. If you are looking for a new job, mention it in your LinkedIn profile somewhere.
  4. Make a comprehensive list of your skills and experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and make sure you look for jobs that speak to any of your skills or strengths. If you really need a job, sometimes you can not be too picky or choosy about it. You may really like to have a job that leverages a particular strength of yours, but if jobs in that area are scarcer, and you have other strengths, make sure you take advantage of these other strengths. When the economy is better, you can always make the switch again to your favorite field.
  5. Avoid companies that want to charge you to get you a job! At all costs!! There are several companies out there that prey on jobseekers in an economy like this. They will promise to get you a certain number of interviews in some space of time for a large sum of money (a few thousand dollars). Steer clear of them. You should not have to pay anybody to get yourself a job. From my online reading, I would safely say that 90% of them are fly-by-night scamsters who make their money by defrauding their clients. They will try to tempt you with stories about how companies contract with them, giving them access to exclusive job postings that you otherwise would not know about. But stop and think: what is the incentive for any company to work with a recruitment agency that charges steep fees from potential jobseekers? The pool of candidates will be small, and probably not very bright. If you were an employer, would you want to fill your job openings from this inferior pool of candidates?
  6. Look out for spam. As soon as you post your resume on popular websites like Careerbuilder, Dice, Monster, etc., get ready for large volumes of spam. The spam comes in three primary forms: The first is from the site where you posted your resume. All the major websites like Careerbuilder will offer resume-writing services, and other customized job-seeking services for extra fees. There are plenty of good, free resume resources on the web (including LinkedIn itself), and you do not have to pay to get your resume critiqued or rewritten by somebody who probably has no clue what you do or know. The second kind of spam is from companies that provide employment and compensation on a commission basis. You will probably get lots of email from insurance agencies trying to recruit you for sales jobs. I am not saying they are bad, and in fact, they may be perfect for you. But they were not relevant to what I wanted to do, so I considered them spam. The third kind is spam from so-called professional job-posting websites like the ones I mentioned in my previous point. Some of them stop at email, others will actually call you on the phone number in your resume to try and sell you their useless services.
  7. Recruiters can be your best friends! Recruiters have established relationships with employers. They have also built trusting relationships with employers who have had good experiences with candidates who they have acquired through these recruiters. Having such a recruiter behind your resume is even more helpful than even the best insider backing your resume. But beware of bad recruiters. You can tell bad recruiters by the way they approach your job search. They have a limited pool of openings to offer you, and rather than telling you that they have nothing suitable for you at the moment, they will try to manipulate your skills and experiences to suit the openings they have even if you don't think it makes sense. Classic case of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Work with such recruiters (rather than cutting them off - you never know when they might have a job that actually fits you to a tee), but don't expect anything great to come out of it. At best, you might get a few phone interviews during which the employer will quickly figure out that you are a square peg, and politely reject you. After the recruiter does this enough times, they will get booted by the employer, and their pool of openings will shrink further. The hammering will become more desperate, and so on . . . You get the general idea.
  8. It helps to be a people person who has helped others. When you contact people when you are looking for a job, you will get responses from people who you have helped, and you will probably not hear back from people who you have not been nice to. Remember that in your daily interactions with people in your current job. You never know who will be instrumental in getting you your next job.
  9. Never burn any bridges! It is very tempting at times to tell off people you don't like. But remember that bad-mouthing people does not do anything to change them. It also does not do anything positive for you except giving you a fleeting sense of satisfaction. It is just not worth it. You need your bosses and other people you worked with to give you references when asked for. Employers can tell the difference between a good reference and a bad reference even when the bad reference does not say anything explicitly bad about you. In a job market like the current one, that can mean the difference between getting an offer and being rejected at the last stage.
  10. Follow the proper interview etiquette at all times. Go for overkill. Prepare extensively before each phone interview. Dress up properly for each face-to-face interview. Gone are the days when a shortage of candidates meant that employers would consider eccentric jobseekers. I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but plenty of jobseekers were guilty of the same crime when the economy was better, and they left less glamorous employers to move to more glamorous employers who may or may not have fared well in the recession. So, put your best foot forward during the job search at all times. Make sure you write thank you notes to all your interviewers. When you get rejected, accept the rejection with politeness and grace. Try to make your interviewers your professional contacts so that you will have a deeper pool of contacts to dig into when it is time for another job search.
  11. Do not price yourself out of the market. The object of most job searches, when you already have a job, is to get a jump up in pay. But if you restrict yourself to jobs that pay more than you currently make, you may be overlooking jobs that don't give you an immediate pay bump, but which will enable you to grow in the future. If you absolutely have to get a new job (I had a July 31st deadline to get a job because my last day at my current employer was set as I took the early retirement option in April), then definitely look at all jobs out there that will pay at least as much as you currently make. In fact, two of the jobs I got offers for did not pay as much as I make currently. Once I told the new employers what my current pay was, they adjusted their offers upwards so that I would not take a pay cut to switch to those jobs. Employers have some flexibility to play nice with you if you play nice with them. But don't expect a bidding war for your talents out there either. This is a buyers' market, and you are a seller!
  12. Ultimately, here are the statistics from my job search: I applied for a lot of jobs. I forgot to keep track of all of them, so I am going to guess that I applied for about 200 jobs. These 200 applications produced about 50 rejection notes, but most of the rest have not had any closure yet. I got 6 phone interviews from my applications. Only one of them was with a company that I just sent a resume to, and did not try to push with a contact on the inside (this was a small startup company that I did not have any contacts inside). I got a 7th phone interview through a recruiter. I did not "apply" for this job, so it is not included in the 200 number. Out of these 7 phone interviews, I got 3 face-to-face interviews. All of them resulted in offers. Two of the offers were for exactly what I make in my current offer. Ultimately, I ended up choosing the third offer, for the job I was introduced to by the recruiter (which I did not even apply for, by a curious twist of circumstances!). This job, luckily, did provide a substantial bump up in pay for me, and would have me working in my current mathematical field, so it was a win-win in many ways.
I hope you are able to make use of my observations in your job search. Ultimately, a lot of it might come to down to luck, timing, etc. You can only make your best effort, and hope for the best. Hopefully, your best will be good enough to get you a job if you are looking for one. Good luck!

7 comments:

Sara O'Shanassy said...

My buddy Ezra is an intelligent and capable guy. He loves to search jobs online. It's as if he knows the way through the labyrinth of job search engines. His only problem is he usually gets too nervous during interviews, and that's why he finds it difficult to answer the questions straight up. I guess he can't stop himself from "burning bridges."

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Stepherd said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Really it's a huge problem for any people to identify with their job opportunities.

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Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajesh Kumar said...

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