21 June 2011

I'm really great ... once you get to know me

How Job Hunting is Just Like Online Dating

So, I'm job hunting once again. And every time I do, I'm reminded how painful a process it is--and how maddening. The job seeker has little to no control over much of anything besides what their resume looks like (with proper spelling, we know), and the cover letters they write. Otherwise, every other aspect of the job search is left up to the Interwebs and the recruiters who may or may not be reviewing resumes for positions they posted.

And in this way, job hunting is so much like online dating. Once you've posted your profile and a pic or two, what spurs someone else on the site to reach out with an introduction, or hell, even a non-threatening wink, is completely out of your control. And trying to determine why they don't--Is my geekiness showing? Did I expound too much on the glories of ding dongs? Maybe since I'm a girl, I shouldn't like sports.--is the quickest path to insanity.

While many in the Human Resources industry have denounced the "post and pray*" approach of many recruiters, job boards (or job aggregators or even Linkedin) are still the most common way to find a job. So, while the system may be broken, the job seeker is still at its mercy, getting poked and prodded by all the jagged edges.

But maybe this is what's most frustrating. Just as with online dating, seven times out of ten, the reason you don't get an interview or an introductory email or even a wink, has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Let me repeat that, A LACK OF INTEREST OFTEN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

Yup, it's the truth folks. Here are the real reasons you can't get a foot in the door:
  • The recruiter is building a pipeline of candidates so they can status them in their Applicant Tracking System and prove to their boss they're "looking" of good people.
  • The organization posts a position that a) they're not ready to hire for yet or b) have already identified a strong internal candidate and are posting the job for legal reasons and CYA.
  • The organization posted the position in good faith, thinking they were ready to hire, then something happened and now, they're not going to. No one bothered to take down the posting.
  • The recruiter reviewing your resume has a bias against (pick any of the following): the school you attended, the last company you worked for, any company you've worked for, a certification you've obtained (could be a little jealousy there too); your first name, your surname, your middle initial.
  • (Now, conversely, these biases can also get you an interview, but I would say the reverse happens more.)
  • The position has already been filled but they need to post the job so that they won't get sued for violating EEO policies.
  • The job description (which may fit you perfectly) isn't very representative of the role, so when the hiring manager looks at your resume, he's looking for something else (something you may not have).
  • Their Applicant Tracking System is broken and/or filing resumes wrong, mislabeling you or marking you as spam when you might be a viable candidate.

These are the most common reasons I can think of, but I'm sure there are more. Discouraging, isn't it?

So, what are our options? Obviously, the biggest one is networking. Now, I'm not a fan of this either. For one thing, I don't know a ton of people working in the field I'm in. I've also moved a bit, so developing a strong geographic base is very hard. Now, I have a good number of connections on Linkedin as well as over a dozen glowing recommendations, but I'm not sure this will really help. At the least, I don't think it's going to help me get a foot in the door -- I think it might push a hiring manager over the edge if I get to the final stages of the process and they're picking between me and someone else, but I do not believe that recruiters or hiring managers spend much time vetting a candidate on anything but their resume until they're ready to extend an offer.

If I had an answer to all of this, I would have revealed it by now, trust me. My secret (if I have one) is being more and more creative with not only my cover letter but my resume. For large organizations that I'm really interested in working for, I've been formatting my resume differently to fit their culture or industry. For social media positions, I've designed a resume that mimics a Twitter feed. My cover letters have evolved from being stiff and stale (Dear so and so, I saw your ad on ...) to conveying more of my personality and creative writing style.

Because similar to dating sites, you've got to put all of yourself out there and stick with it. If they don't like it, too bad. While your job searching might get desperate, it's important to remember, that if the companies you're interested in aren't interested in you, it a) probably has nothing to do with you in particular and b) you don't really want to work there. We all know successful employees work at organizations that are as much a cultural as a career fit. The older I've become and the more places I've worked, the more I realize that sometimes where you work and who you work with are more important than the work itself.

Kind of like dating: the person's beliefs, personality and ideological outlook on life are much more important than any of the exterior stuff which can and will change over the course of a relationship. Just as the sheen of an organization will wear off after that honeymoon period making all the things that seemed perfect for your career insignificant when compared to the jerk working in the next cubicle or the boss who enjoys micro-managing everyone else while neglecting his own work.

My advice?
  • Take time in your job hunt.
  • Doggedly pursue the companies you're most interested in after doing your due diligence and researching the heck out of them.
  • Use Linkedin, reconnect with former colleagues and prod them every day for any type of lead.
  • And most importantly, stick to your story. You have experience, you're a good worker and you want to be passionate about the work you do and the company you do it for.
Those things will shine through ... once they take the time to get to know you.

* "Post and Pray" is a phrase given to the philosophy of many human resources departments who place their job openings on major job boards (i.e. Monster) but do nothing to cultivate any candidates or qualified leads on their own (like resume mining, proactive outreach to former, rehirable employees, promoting their employee referral program, etc.).

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