One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...
Do you pass or fail? I have always believed people would put more time and effort into their job search if they were somehow graded on the process.
As it stands, most people treat the job search as a black-and-white proposition:
They got the job or they didn’t.
Unfortunately, this misses the point completely. There is a world of difference between just missing the cut and never coming close. Most people have no idea where they fall on that continuum.
With this in mind, here is a 10-point assessment you can do for your own job search:
1. I have created a written inventory of accomplishments.
It clearly describes my experiences, my role and the results I have achieved. I continue to add to this list as I gain new experiences or whenever a particular job description triggers a memory of an experience that wasn’t already on the list. (Note: The inventory is not a laundry list of responsibilities. Instead, it focuses on specific projects and explains the role you played.)
2. The only responsibilities listed on my resume are those that would come as a surprise.
Responsibilities that would be assumed based on my titles are not listed. For example, if you are a sales manager, it is not necessary to mention archiving contact information and speaking to clients. People will assume that based on your title. However, they will not assume that you managed a team, planned trade events or handled payroll. So, if you had responsibilities like these — and you enjoyed it — add it to your inventory.
3. I customize each resume to address the specific needs of a given employer.
In the end, I recognize that every company — even in the same industry — is different and therefore has a unique set of priorities for every position.
4. I recognize the value of cover letters and make a direct parallel between the job requirements and my experience.
It also means being honest and directly addressing any requirements that are not a match. That’s why I take the time to craft a message that speaks to my passion and interest as well as the experiences that have laid the foundation for my success in the position.
5. I actively pursue contacts in the organization (other than HR) in an effort to reach the hiring manager directly.
When replying to online postings, I recognize that my paperwork, no matter how thoughtfully prepared, is most likely headed for the abyss unless I have a connection.
6. I routinely reach out to complete strangers.
I do this through my alumni network, LinkedIn and other networking opportunities.
7. I make it a point to seek out informational interviews without asking for a job.
And I understand how to conduct them so they don’t come across as thinly veiled efforts for immediate, short-term gain.
8. Before I go into an interview, I create a list of the job requirements and my related accomplishments.
I highlight these in the meeting. I do not rely on hope because hope isn’t a strategy: “I hope they ask me questions that aren’t too difficult. I hope I do a good job answering the questions. And I hope they make me an offer.”
9. I show evidence of my ability to help an employer reach their goals to boost my negotiation power.
I know that my ability to negotiate effectively depends on the time I have invested in creating a compelling track record of accomplishment. For this reason, I make it a habit to consider the goals of the company, what I can do to help the company reach those goals and the evidence from my past experience that supports my value to the company in achieving those goals.
10. When interviews don’t go my way, I make it a practice to seek feedback.
I always do so in a gracious, open and non-confrontational way. I do this even though I am aware that not every interviewer or company will be accommodating. My gratitude and appreciation comes across from start to finish in every interaction because I truly appreciate any assistance that will help me market myself more effectively.
The grading for this assessment is straightforward and requires complete honesty on your part. With the goal of meaningful, interesting and fulfilling employment in mind, there is no room for short cuts — especially in this economy. If you didn’t score a 9 or 10, you need to implement a strategy for immediate improvement.
Recognizing that most people will not score a 9 or 10, here are a few points to help you understand and improve your score.
Interpreting your score
Before we look at the raw numbers, it’s important to note that a score doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, you can be engaged in the correct behaviors but using an ineffective approach. The only way to know is to look at your success in the job market.
For the purposes of this assessment, however, you can still give yourself credit for the behavior because it is generally easier to tweak an existing behavior than it is to create a new habit. It is a lot like turning the wheels on a car — it’s much easier to do when the car is already moving.
Once you have added up all your points, use this quick guide to help you interpret the results.
Score: 0 -3
You desperately need some outside guidance to help you create a systematic approach that leverages your experiences and talents. Otherwise, you are destined to settle for an unfulfilling job that is far more draining than energizing.
You are doing some things right, but not enough. Look at what you aren’t doing, and uncover the reason. For example, if networking is a challenge because you don’t like contacting distant acquaintances or complete strangers, find a friend or coach who can guide you through the process to make it less intimidating or uncomfortable.
You are doing far better than the average job hunter, your search has a much higher likelihood of success. However, if you aren’t getting consistent results and you continue to struggle, focus your attention on feedback (from interviewers, from experts in your field, from coaches who come highly recommended). There may be something you are doing wrong that is standing in the way of your success.
If you scored a 9 or 10 and are truly doing everything right, you have two choices:
- Keep doing what you’re doing.
- Get input from an expert on your strategy.
Even though you may believe you are doing everything right, there is no substitute for an objective viewpoint. If you aren’t getting the results you would like, there may be a relatively minor issue standing between you and a rewarding position. It happens all the time. Every month you fail to address the issue, you will continue to hemorrhage money — the income you would have earned had you been employed.
An outside perspective
Another reason it makes sense to get an expert opinion, no matter what your score, is the fact that you may think you are doing well when in reality you are not. For example, it may be clear to you why a particular position makes sense as the next logical step in your professional development, but if you fail to make the case to a potential employer, you are destined for under- or unemployment. Sadly, the people who fall into this category are least likely to reach out for help because they remain under the misconception they are doing everything right.
In almost 20 years of coaching people in transition, I have yet to meet anyone who would legitimately score higher than a 7 or 8 on this assessment. Even the best, most successful job seekers I know — the people who move effortlessly from one company to another — all have a weak spot. For example, I have one friend who writes absolutely phenomenal cover letters. She is also great in interviews. But the resume is her weakest link. Recognizing this, she always reaches out for help and feedback in this area.
When it comes to the job search, the best litmus test for your effectiveness is your results in the marketplace. If you aren’t getting the results you want, there is a 99 percent chance you are either doing something wrong or have expectations that don’t match reality. Either way, get an outside perspective. Getting an A really does make a difference.