Every week I interview the most hardened job seekers to help them understand their accomplishments and market positioning. During my coaching sessions I have uncovered a significant pattern that has been hurting job seekers through the last few recessions. I wish I would have uncovered this pattern sooner, because I have seen too many job seekers get tripped up in the same pitfalls.
The pattern that has emerged from the last three recessions has been the the job seeker’s inability to articulate why they are unemployed or to address red flags in their background. I want to change this starting today. It is my intent to share with you solutions to this pattern that I have used successfully in my 17 years of headhunting.
Being laid off was a traumatic experience for me and my family. I promised myself after that I would never be caught with my pants down. So I learned to network in order to build connections with whom I can share job opportunities. Additionally, if I was ever in a pinch I could reach out to my network of contacts for help. As you will see, building a strong network of contacts will help you in more ways than you can imagine.
I can empathize anyone who is experiencing this feeling of vulnerability and is entering a career depression due to long term unemployment. I now have proof that this a common pattern from the last three recessions.
The problem arises when the job seeker is unprepared and attempts to hide any embarrassment or perceived weakness. It’s a normal defense mechanism to portray ourselves as victims of our prior employers. You already lost your last job, trying to sugarcoat this simple fact will lead you nowhere. The reality is you need to find your next one!!!
Most job seekers come up with complex or unclear explanations as they are trying to justify their situation in a positive way. This unintentionally confuses the interviewer and also creates doubt for those managers who have been burned in the past.
What happens next is that the interviewer’s radar goes up and they want clarity. So they end up spending more time trying to sort out the story and the next day they have an interview in with a new candidate. So these job seekers typically get forgotten because the employer never got to see if they were qualified. This may seem harsh or wrong to some. But in reality, there are a lot of excellent job seekers out looking for work and employers have the option to interview as many candidates they need to find the right fit.
The net effect is that the interviewer may have had only thirty minutes to get to know you and precious time was wasted by trying to understand your story. The hiring manager did not get a chance to see the value you can bring to their team. They never got to see the real job seeker, and you as the job seeker did not get the chance to understand the opportunity the company was offering.
It is critical for you to articulate the reasons why you are looking for work. If you were laid off, tell them you were laid off:
Reason: last person in and first person out Say something like, “I really enjoyed what I did, but unfortunately I did not get a choice in the matter and am focusing on looking for the right company where I can succeed and provide value.”
This statement comes across as honest and shows an employer that you are focusing on the future rather than depressed or desperate.
Please remember, less is more… If the employer wants to dig deeper, make sure you can articulate succinctly what happened so they don’t think you’re hiding something. Add some of your success stories, responsibilities, and what you enjoyed most about the job.
Most people I talk to seem to be like a deer caught in headlights regarding their job search strategy during this trying time. Please understand that what you’re experiencing is common and there is nothing wrong with you. Now you know about this pattern you can do something about this if is an issue for you.
It will not be uncommon for job seekers to be layed-off two, three times or more until this recession is over. I can not tell you how many excellent people I have seen out there who have been layed-off for over a year. There is nothing wrong with them and they are great employees who bring a lot of value to a company. So you can never stop networking. You have to plan like you are going to be laid off at all times in order to free yourself from the reactive or traditional hunting process.
Because of this it is critical for you to take a total assessment of your candidate self, and honestly identify your own strengths and weaknesses.
This is difficult but must be done in order for you to grow personally and professionally. You need to understand what your contributions were in all of your past jobs. This process will allow you to grow personally and helps build the foundation of how you can get ahead. You may not like what you see, but once you know your own pros & cons you will have a greater ability to chart a new course in your life.
To take stock in your career, whether you’re currently unemployed or anticipating unemployment, you need to look at your past roles and responsibilities from prior jobs at a 10,000 foot view. To start this process of understanding your value, you need to ask yourself two questions.
- What would happen in your company if you did a bad job? (keep drilling down this question…How would that affect your team? How would that affect internal/external customers?)
- Describe when you were successful at your job. How did your success impact your customer which can be internal to your company or external paying customers?
I hope right now you’re asking yourself why these two questions? If not, you should be. Wake up… It’s time for you to put the effort in to find out how you fit into the companies you worked at previously.
As a head hunter, I recruit stables of candidates that have the ability to differentiate themselves and understand what they are looking for in their next opportunity. I have been able to beat my competition by helping my clients to uncover talent gaps within their project, and providing qualified candidates to fill those gaps.
Throughout my career I have had to quickly understand the strengths and weaknesses of job seekers. I work with my candidates as they practice and successfully deliver their story, value, and past accomplishments. My candidates also practice how to address any red flags before they interviewed, so they can quickly and articulately address them as they tell their story.
The worst thing a job seeker can do during an interview is give vague and mysterious statements about what went wrong at their last job. Candidates that I coach can emphasize their own true strengths, and then ask questions in order to see if the job they are interviewing for is the right fit for them.
So by simply asking yourself the two questions I laid out earlier, you can figure out the value you brought to your old employer. In fact, you will be more confident. Please let me give you an example of how I would answer those questions:
Question 1: As a head hunter, if I did my job poorly I would not find qualified candidates in a timely fashion. I would not contribute to the success of my employer’s business objectives. I would act as a hindrance by providing unqualified candidates.
My employers would then find another head hunter who would help to achieve their goals.
Question 2: I partnered with my employers to develop a talent pool they can draw upon at any time for stealthy projects, new initiatives, or to fill key talent gaps needed for ongoing projects.
The end result for my customer would be a reliable partner that can deliver an on demand pool of talent they can depend on. For my staffing company I would have increased profit and given my company the strategic ability to reinvest and create new jobs.
I hope you can see how easy this is. Anyone can do this no matter what jobs they have had. Really, everyone has value. You just need to organize your thoughts in order to understand the story of who you are, where you came from, and where you would like to be. Knowing your story allows you to not be worried about what you’re going to say, so you’re better able to listen to what is being asked by the employer. If you can address your job history concisely and neatly, the interviewer is not going to have any doubt in you. You can then ask questions about the job opportunity to make sure it is right for you.
If you ask a good question, the employer will tell you exactly what they’re looking for in a valued team member. Just write down key words like: created, responsible for, developed etc… You can then use those key words to point out experiences that demonstrate how you would create value for your employer.
In life, no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. It’s how we can communicate what we’ve learned from those past mistakes and experiences that is valuable to a new employer. If done effectively, your pitch should allow the employer to look past any red flags in your past to get a better understanding of the real value you can bring to a company.
I keep mentioning red flags so I want to define what I’m referring to. A red flag is something in your resume that strikes the employer as odd, unclear, or inappropriate. The most common red flags are gaps in employment, terminations, short durations on a job etc…
The key is to identify your red flags, and be able to explain in concise and honest detail about those areas. If you can answer clearly and concisely, the interviewer is more likely to go on to the next question to learn more about you and how you can fit or not fit into their team and projects, BUT if you’re fumbling around in your answer the interviewer will become skeptical and probe these wounds further.
Never embellish or fabricate your resume. I’ve interviewed numerous candidates who claim to have knowledge for certain responsibilities. When I grill them, however, it turns out that they simply sat next to someone who had those responsibilities. In today’s job market, employers are going to go through your resume line by line to see what you have actually done. The point is not to catch you in a lie, but to find out what value you can bring into the company or project. If you get caught with credibility issues during the interview your candidacy will most likely be over before it has even begun.
If you have been unemployed for over a year, you will need to explain what you have been doing to find a job. If you’re unable to share your plan and the effort you have put into finding a job, then your interviewer will focus less on your candidacy and more about what’s wrong with your attitude. Do not be embarrassed if this applies to you. It is tougher than ever to find a job in today’s economy, and many people are in the same boat with you. You will be able to differentiate yourself by effectively and honestly sharing the creative and proactive steps that you’ve taken in your search for work.
If you have any legal issues, be honest in your application and/or any questions being asked. Most recruiters and companies understand mistakes happen in life and will look past it if you’re honest. If they do not, then that’s not a company you want to work for anyway.
Don’t forget to Google your name to see what info is out on the web about you. This is important to do because you can be sure the recruiter and/or employer will do this as well.
Also, when finding references keep in mind that you want to include dependable past managers who can add credibility to your work history. This is important because in most cases companies have 1-3 interviews with you, and the final step is a call to your references to verify that what you said is true.
Although these tips may seem simple, I am constantly surprised at how many people fail to follow my advice. If you take only one thing away from this article, you should focus on how you will create value for your employers past, present, and future. Don’t dwell on negative experiences in your past, but don’t gloss over them either. Everyone makes mistakes, it is how we learn from them that makes us stronger. Employers can overlook a lot, but dishonesty will catch up with you every time.
I hope this blog posting was helpful and I hope it brings you success an confidence in the new year! If you would like to learn more please check out my book Hired! Network to land the job you want. Here is the Amazon link to the hard copy and digital editions: http://amzn.to/o2IJqb