Getting ‘The Job’ in Tough Times

Getting ‘The Job’ in Tough Times

Let’s admit it: in these tough times, there are more job applicants than ever before. Today, I’m going to share with you four solid tips on how you can stand out from the crowd and win the job away from the competition.

To mix it up, I’m going in reverse chronological order:

  • Following up
  • The Interview
  • The Resume
  • Maximizing Applications

Following up

There’s a professional applying for a senior-level position here at Ladders right now who has reminded me of the Three Ps of Following Up: persistent, polite, and “perk up their ears.”

This candidate drops me an email weekly. She doesn’t demand to know when we are making a decision, but just sends an email every week to remind me she is there, and by implication, she is interested. And when she emails me, she always includes a little nugget of information that she has picked up that week – something about my industry, or an interesting comparison to another company, or a trend that she’s noticed that might impact us.

So my recommendations for following up after the interview?

Follow up weekly, by phone or by email. But just once per week, and if you don’t get a response after five weeks, well, then, the opportunity probably isn’t for you.

Be polite in your persistence. There’s no need to push for deadlines or decision making. But just let them know you’re still interested – believe it or not, this will really set you apart. A simple voice mail that says, “Hi Ms. Johannsen, this is Sharon, and I’m just calling to follow up on our meeting of three weeks ago. As you know, I think this is a really great opportunity for me to contribute to your company, and I will look forward to hearing back from you!”

And it’s even better if you drop in a nugget of info that shows you are a good, proactive employee-to-be.

My favorite form of “job seeking judo” is for you to use the fact that you’re job hunting to your advantage. You’re job hunting, they’re not. But as I can tell you from being the CEO of Ladders, people are very, very interested in the “inside scoop” on who’s hiring and why.

So send an email that says: “Did you know that Competitor X is hiring a new VP focused on direct marketing? I thought that was a pretty interesting indication of where they are headed in this market.” Take the fact that you’re job hunting and use it to your advantage.

The Interview

The interview is not a chance to go in and have a nice fireside chat with the interviewer over a Diet Coke. Realize it for what it is: a sales call. What you’re selling is your ability to do the job better than anybody else.

So do me a favor. Your next interview, go in, make the polite small talk, and then get right to the point: “What are the three key things you are hoping to have the person in this position achieve?” Even better, ask that question over the phone before you go in for the interview and prepare ahead of time.

And then spend your time in the interview showing them that you are the right person to achieve those three key things. Stay focused, no matter what. If your interviewer keeps veering off into your hobbies, or regaling you with tales of the internal politics on their most recent project, please keep bringing the conversation back to those three key things.

This is called “staying on message.” When you watch politicians or movie stars on TV, have you ever noticed they answer a different question from the one asked? It may be frustrating as a viewer, it may be a different answer than the interviewer was expecting, but there’s a reason for doing it: it is so darn effective.

You need each of your interviewers to walk out of that interview room with a very clear sense of how you, the candidate, are going to make the company better in this rough, rough year. Thinking that you are a nice guy or gal simply isn’t enough in this environment; you need to make sure they have a solid understanding of how you will contribute.

So find out the three key factors of success, and connect your work history and accomplishments to them in the interviewer’s mind.

(For extra credit, the very advanced version of this strategy is to admit that you can’t do one of the three things, but that your track record is very clear on your ability to hire and manage the people who can do things that you can not. This shows flexibility and growth potential, which every company is implicitly looking for in these very, very turbulent times. So it might sound like: “While I haven’t personally led a.NET application team, I have hired and developed programmers in many, many computer languages – everything from COBOL to Cold Fusion to C++. I think the important thing you’re looking for isn’t the ability to lead a team in any particular language, but what you really want is the capability to lead teams in the ever-changing languages that arise in computer science.” So while you’re granting the point that you can’t do one of the three things, you’re actually pointing out that you can do something even more complex and useful. This is a deadly effective strategy.)

The Resume

Hey, we’ve all seen a ton of commercials on the tube, right? So why do we have an advertising department? Why don’t we just shoot the TV commercials ourselves? Well, we leave that to the professionals.

And what is a resume? A lot of people view it as a chance to list all the true facts about their work history. But that reminds me of the old joke about HP’s very straightforward engineering culture – if they had invented “sushi” they would have named it “cold, raw dead fish on rice wrapped in seaweed.” Now, that’s true, but it is hardly appetizing 🙂

Similarly, your resume is advertising copy. A great resume advertises your accomplishments in a way that makes it clear what you’ve contributed in the past, and by implication, what you are capable of doing in the future.

So it’s not “Managed a group of 40 professionals” or “Responsible for a $77 mm budget.” Those lines are kind of reminiscent of the old HP way – true, but not particularly appetizing. (And before all you HPers write in, let me just say I am very happy with both the performance and the marketing of the modern HP organization!)

The right way is to point out your capabilities: “Re-organized department, cutting 15 positions and adding 10 new sales staff to increase profitability by $7 mm (17%)” or “Created successful task force that identified 103 efficiency opportunities and implemented 92% of them within 6 months, saving $13 mm in annual costs.”

But it’s not just what you put in, it’s what you leave out that really makes a resume. As Jerry Garcia said, “it’s not the notes, it’s the holes between the notes” that make the music.

Now I would be crazy to suppose I could teach you how to be a great resume writer in just one newsletter. We have a whole staff of advertising copy writers here at Ladders that are specialized in writing resumes for professionals like you. Use them.

Maximizing Applications

The best way for you to maximize the effectiveness of your job applications is to minimize the number of applications you make. Or more succinctly: apply for the right jobs, and only the right jobs, for you.

C’mon, what would you do if that bundle of joy called your teenager came to you and said “Mom, Dad, I’m going to apply to 100 colleges this fall”?

You would say, rightly, “Honey, you’re just spreading yourself too thin. Why don’t you focus on six, or a dozen. At absolute most 20. That way you’ll be able to apply the time and effort you need to making those applications really great.”

Well, folks, that’s how I feel when I hear people tell me they are applying to several hundred jobs per month! For example, last week, one of your fellow subscribers clicked on 799 jobs on Ladders! There’s just no way you can put your best foot forward and have the energy and time to follow up with that many jobs.

You’re just frustrating yourself.

So even though I know it’s tempting and easy, don’t waste your time and your attention on applying to hundreds of jobs. That’s a fool’s errand, and, unfortunately given this economy, what many of the unsophisticated job seekers are doing. Only apply for the jobs that truly make sense for you. That way you’ll leave yourself the extra time to really do the important work I outlined above: doing great follow up, studying in advance for the interview, and crafting an awesome resume.

By the way, one of the advantages of our system here at Ladders is its exclusivity. While job postings on the major job boards get literallyhundreds of applications, the typical job posting here at Ladders receives just 21. The screening that we do – charging a cover charge, reviewing every single resume, asking people to apply for jobs primarily in their functional Ladder (sales, marketing, operations, technology, HR, law, finance, etc.) – really does help cut down on the noise for the recruiter or hiring manager. And that means you have a much, much better chance of standing out.

OK, folks, that’s what I’ve learned about the job hunt in my decade in this business, and what I wanted to share with you this Monday morning.

Good luck with the search this week, and please… make your luck by following these tips to get the most of your scarce job hunting time.

I am rooting for you!