Thursday, 9 May 2013

Check Your Own References

As a recruiter, one of the most irritating and most important parts of the recruitment process is checking the references of prospective candidates. If everyone does their job, this could be a completely painless, easy and even fun process. The problem is that candidates rarely ever think hard about how this is supposed to work.

References provide a lot of information about a candidate’s potential performance, and can reveal opportunities to coach a candidate. For example, I've had references tell me that the candidate had difficulty saying "no" to management, would take on too many projects and end up staying late to complete them all. This is good information for the candidate’s new manager to have. The problem is that candidates don’t think very hard about who they list as references and it makes the whole process terrible. Most of the time, I assume people just think that I won’t bother to call them, even though I tell them I’m going to.

First of all, your references should know they are references, and if you went to an interview for a job, you should tell them about it. When I call a reference and ask for information and they tell me they know you went on an interview for the position and were expecting a call, it makes me feel like you really wanted the job. It also gives them an opportunity to think about how good you would be in that position, and they can highlight areas that would market you as an employee.

When someone agrees to be a reference for you, maybe you should ask them what kind of reference they're going to be. I’m always shocked when I contact someone and they tell me how terrible the candidate is. I understand when there’s a little bit of constructive criticism, but some managers will tell me outright that the candidate is an idiot and shouldn't be employed by anyone.

Also, if you agree to be a reference for someone, know that this means you will need to make time to talk to someone regarding this employee. I love calling managers who tell me that they don’t have 20 minutes to provide a reference. That means you don’t provide references. Tell your employees.

I understand that some companies don’t provide references at all, but try and do something to compensate without getting a friend or co-worker to help out. Generally, we’re looking for someone who has supervised your work. Find someone who has managed you in a volunteer setting at least.

Don't screw up your chances at a position because of a bad reference. Generally, when I contact your references, I already like you. You got through the screening, you did well on the testing and in the interview, and the hiring manager feels you're a good fit. Think about the fact that at this point, it could be between you and one other candidate. Make sure the process for the recruiter and the hiring manager makes us want to hire you.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Make Recruiters Work for You

There are many misconceptions about recruiters and what they do. Some people see them as magical, job-finding elves, who are going to solve all their problems. Others see them as the bottom feeders of the HR world, who will staff any position for a buck. Regardless of your opinion…we have all the jobs. You need to learn how to make us work for you.

Understand There Are Different Types of Recruiters

Internal Recruiters – These people work directly for the company you could be working for. They often have direct access to the hiring manager and are probably the most well versed in the position requirements and the corporate culture. They likely also work in other areas of HR, which means if you’re hired, they will have to work with you. If they determine you are unpleasant at any point during the recruitment process, they will have to think very hard about whether you will be submitted to the hiring manager or end up in the “not qualified” pile.

A Recruiter From an Agency – Depending on the Agency’s relationship with the company, they could have any level of knowledge about the position and the company. A good recruiter will do their research and be very knowledgeable about both of these things. Some companies have no interest in engaging in the recruitment process, they will outsource it to an agency, and provide very little information. Regardless of how skilled a recruiter is, they may not be able to answer your specific technical questions about a position, but they are still the gatekeeper between you and the hiring manager… so play nice. Also, the quality of the candidates they put forward are a direct reflection of how effective they are at recruiting. They’re depending on you to be impressive to make them look good. When you suck, it’s embarrassing for everyone. Don’t take your interactions with these people lightly… because they’re not.

How to Talk to Recruiters

You already know that when you apply to a job ad, you should tailor your resume to that position. You sift through the ad and the company website and make sure you fit with that company and that position. Many people are very good at this, but when they don’t have those tools to guide them, they flop.

Think about how recruiting works. Clients contact agencies, who specialize in recruiting, to make sure they choose the right candidate. Recruiters talk to a million people per day. You need to make an impression with your skills and experience and your personality in order to stay out of the Applicant Tracking System “Black Hole.” To do this, you need to make sure that several key messages stick in the recruiters mind:

·        Your area of expertise
We understand that being unemployed is difficult, but you’re not doing yourself any favours by telling us you can do anything… because you can’t. When we staff a position, we want to have a perfect fit between the employee and the employer… We’re not interested in finding you something to tide you over until the next position comes along. 

·        Your marketable skills and relevant work experience
What job would you be perfect for? Which skills make you perfect for that position, and what relevant, real-world examples can you tell me about where you exhibited those skills? These are the most important things to have recruiters remember. Terrible recruiters may not actively ask you for these specific tidbits of information, so you may need to work them into the conversation on your own.

·        Your name (or personality… or both)
There is something about you that’s memorable. Find out what it is. For some people it’s their work experience, personality or even just your laugh.  You can go as far as to develop a tagline for yourself that helps the recruiter remember who you are.

Keep Your Leads Warm

Job hunting is just selling yourself. Keep in touch with them the same way you would a sales lead. Any recruiter could have an opportunity for you at any time. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Congratulate them on new positions (especially if it’s with another recruiting agency), and find reasons to engage with them on a regular basis.

When the jobs come in, you need to be already known to the people handing them out and they need to know you well. Before speaking with a recruiter, picture this scenario…

A new position has come in. Several recruiters are sitting around a table discussing the qualifications. The lead recruiter asks “does anyone have any candidates for this position?” If you were successful in your interaction with the recruiter, they automatically say your name in this meeting without having to consult the applicant tracking system. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

What’s Wrong With GenY?

Greetings from the lazy, entitled generation! You may know us as those lazy know-it-alls, who need constant positive reinforcement, ridiculously flexible work hours and a promotion every five to ten minutes. What happened to us? Why do we seem so much dumber than everyone else?

I think the real issue we have is a lack of communication. Much like the traditional married couple, where one stays home and takes care of the children, and the other is the primary breadwinner, there are arguments that are standard and could be avoided if both took time to see the other’s point of view.

For example: The person who goes to work all day often feels as though the stay-at-home partner is spending all their money, taking advantage of them, and is lucky to be staying at home. The stay-at-home partner often feels undervalued, because their contributions to the household aren’t measurable in currency.

I know this, because it has played out in every sitcom since the 50’s. If Archie and Edith Bunker can come to an agreement, surely the Boomers and GenY can figure something out. Let’s try and understand some things.

We Spend too Much Time on our Phones

Perception: We don’t look you in the eye when you’re talking, because we have a sweet game of Fruit Ninja on the go. Also, what you’re saying isn’t super important.

We don’t socialize the way people used to. I recently attended an Oscar party, where we were all watching the show together while simultaneously reading and tweeting commentary on our phones. This is how it works now. When we have dinner or go out for drinks, phones are on the table and active. You may find it annoying, but trust me…it’s only going to get worse.

Complaining about smart phones in 2013 the like complaining about rock music in 1984. Don’t be John Lithgow… nobody likes John Lithgow.

P.S. We’re not being antisocial, we’re experiencing life in augmented reality.

We’re Unprofessional

Perception: We dress too casually and we’re too informal.

Business attire is not a well-defined term. You can’t write it on an employment contract and expect everyone to dress how you think they should. I feel perfectly professional in a dress shirt, a blazer and a pair of jeans, so I will be surprised when the manager in the Cargo pants, that haven’t been ironed since the 70’s, tells me I’m inappropriately dressed for work.

Our communication style is admittedly more relaxed. Younger generations have been corresponding with their peers via the written word since before they were taught how to write proper correspondence. As a result, the English language is in the process of being completely destroyed. Emoticons are now accepted in work emails. Other less formal styles of writing will follow. Eventually, Twitter style abbreviations will become acceptable. As we transition, know that younger employee’s will jump the gun and start emailing that they will “tlk 2 u l8tr.” Be sure to correct this, because right now that sh*t’s annoying.

We Need Constant Positive Reinforcement

Perception: We need our hands held...pretty much all the time.

Having studied Human Resources, I know there are studies that indicate that positive reinforcement DOES motivate people. I also think some of us have taken this waaayyy too far. I actually find it condescending when someone throws out one of these.

“Thanks for putting that report together.” (i.e. Thanks for doing that thing I told you to do)

We don’t need the reinforcement as much as we need to know what the goals are, and if we are attaining them. We are much less likely than past generations to feel satisfied in a position where we’re doing what we’re told just because we were told to do it. You have to manage people like they’re people now. You can’t just tell someone to “push this button every hour” without telling them what the button does. My Dad has told me that if the boss isn’t complaining, everything must be fine. I’ve encountered enough managers who avoid negative feedback in performance appraisals to know this isn’t true.

We Expect Too Much Too Soon

Remember the olden days when you started at a company as the intern, and you got coffee for people until you were able to prove yourself, and you slowly moved up the ladder until you finally did something less degrading? I don’t…but I’ve read about it in books, and saw it on Mad Men.  What happened to this era?

Two Things Happened
  1. An undergraduate degree costs as much as half a house. We can’t afford to get you coffee for a year before we start making money.
  2. Google happened: Companies started publicly telling employees that they weren’t worthless or completely replaceable … and it just ruined us. 

Every generation thinks the younger generation are idiots. I used to think it about freshmen when I was a senior. I thought it about undergrads when I was a grad student, I currently think it about some new graduates entering the workforce and I fully anticipate to feel this way about each upcoming generation. The important thing is that I know that they are not ACTUALLY all idiots, but I will perceive some of the things they do as unprofessional or stupid because they are different. As a younger generation, we also have a duty to manage and understand the expectations of our more senior counterparts. A lot of what we think is normal really gets under their skin.  The purpose of this post was not to call anyone out or justify anything, but to initiate an open dialogue to facilitate some kind of understanding. 

CAVEAT: There are some flagrant generalizations in this post. I chose Boomers and GenY to illustrate a point. I have met Boomers who blatantly answer voice calls in the middle of meetings, and have peers who glare at me when I check my phone. There are people at both ends of the spectrum in either age-range. 

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Telecommuting: Is Banning it a Terrible Idea?

In light of the alleged ban of telecommuting by Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, I took the opportunity to address some key points on the issue. I read the memo and despite the media coverage, there was no mention of a “ban.” Employees were “asked” to come to work physical locations in the interest of fostering a more collaborative environment … and then the world exploded.

As someone who has worked on both the administration of a telecommuting policy, and telecommuted myself, the media coverage of this issue struck a chord with me.  First, let’s take a look at a few of the issues.

Granting your employees the ability to work from home gives them the flexibility to balance their personal lives and their work. This type of flexibility really lets your employees know you appreciate that they can benefit from not having to be in the office all day. Nothing says work-life balance like being able to take a conference call on the toilet, while there’s a roast in the oven. Employees who have enjoyed this privilege up until now will be just as outraged and offended as if their pensions had been rolled back.

Legal Obligations
Employers are required to provide telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees. An all-out ban would be completely illegal. The interesting component to this will be how Yahoo addresses employees who refuse to come back to the office on a full time basis. Do they have a clause in their contract that requires an employee to be in the physical office when asked, and does it cover the frequency with which they are now being asked to be present? Could an employee argue that the terms of their employment included the assumption that they would have telecommuting privileges?

A remote workforce obviously reduces overhead for the company, but also reduces the cost to the employee. This includes daycare, transportation, parking and more. This is going to be another bone of contention as employees start to experience increased work-related costs as a result of this new initiative. It’s not good for Mayer’s PR that she’s increasing daycare costs for some of her employees after building a nursery onto her office. However, she paid for that nursery with her own money, and rich people have babies differently than the rest of us.

The whole purpose of the change in Yahoo’s telecommuting perspective is to foster innovation within the company (I used the term perspective, because there doesn’t appear to be any changes to a policy anywhere in the memo). There are many strategies and tools companies can use to encourage employees to communicate with their peers remotely, but honestly nothing really beats living with your co-workers for 8 hours per day. You never accidentally bump into anyone at your home office, and you rarely interact with anyone you don’t work with directly. Being physically present in the office creates a lot more opportunity to interact with co-workers on a more personal level.

Example: Employee A bumps into you in the hallway and complains about project X, and you (as an outsider) can provide input that may different from other employees assigned to the project.

Yahoo is really just going to have to gauge the feedback from employees to determine how this will play out. The media backlash is really coming from people talking about efficiency, and it WAS implied that employees cannot be as efficient from home, which contradicts a whole lot of recent research. Many are shocked that this reduction in flexibility is coming from a working mom…she went to work two weeks after childbirth…why would you think she would sympathize with someone who doesn’t want to drive to work in the morning? 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Personal Marketing: The New Job Search

If you’ve been unemployed recently, you’ll notice that the job hunt has changed drastically from what it used to be. You used to submit applications to job postings, sit home and wait for someone to call you for an interview. People don’t do this anymore. We’re still in a recession and unemployment rates are still high. Because of this, it’s likely that someone more qualified than you had applied to these open competitions anyway. If you’re sitting home waiting for the standard process to work, you’re going to be sitting there for a long time.

I've spoken at length about how to use social media to network and get yourself noticed outside the traditional channels. In addition to doing this, you need something about you that stands out from the other candidates, and then you need to effectively convey that to potential employers. You basically need a personal marketing plan.

1. Describe Your Dream Job

First you need to identify what you want to be doing.
  • What are the skills someone doing that job needs to have?
  • What are that person’s daily tasks?
  • What behavioural competencies are required for this position?
  • What type of experience does that person need?
  • What does this person’s career path look like?

You should be able to answer most of these questions before even starting to think about applying. Then you need to identify the gaps between you and the ideal candidate for this position. Before applying for this position, you may need to upgrade some skills or gain some experience. Don’t sit there defeated saying “I can’t get experience because no one will hire me.” There are internship opportunities or not-for-profits, and small businesses who would gladly accept a volunteer to do whatever it is you do. Then when you introduce yourself, you can replace the word “unemployed bum” with “freelancer” or “professional consultant” even if you’re not getting paid.

2. Identify Your Key Differentiators
  • What is unique about you?
  • Why do you stand out from the other candidates?
  • Do you have accomplishments that other candidates may not have (i.e. awards, publications, relevant memberships, etc.)?

Get to know your own personality. Ask some friends how they would describe you. You need recruiters to look at your resume and online profiles, and really feel like they know you. Unless you’re just a miserable person… then hide your personality at all costs.

3. Build Your Brand

Once you’ve done this, you need to be able to describe yourself as the ideal candidate. Seamlessly link your description of yourself to the description of the ideal candidate. When you introduce yourself to people, they will often ask what you do. You need a brief description of yourself that highlights your key differentiators. You should also tailor it to your audience. There may be more than one career path to your ideal job, or more than one job that interests you. Know your audience, and make sure you’re telling them what they want to hear from you. Companies wouldn’t use the same marketing collateral across all clients. They tailor it to highlight the products or services most valued by different target markets. You should do the same for your target companies.  

4. Execute

Once you’ve created the outline of your candidate brand, update all of your social networking sites well as your resume, business card, etc. to reflect this brand. Then you can start to develop an application process. Much like a sales process, you’re going to be generating leads and identifying the most effective methods of reaching out to those companies, that is consistent with your personal brand. I have an entire series of “How To” posts about using social networking for the job hunt called “Dude Where’s My Job?” Take a look back through for more tips on interacting with these companies online.

Sitting at home, filling out applications and applying to open ads is old-school. That job search model is not productive in this type of economy, so why would you sit home and do the same thing over and over again with no results? Stand out and be productive.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Job Hunt Blues

People often tell you that looking for work is a full time job. Those people are correct. It is actually the WORST job ever because you don’t get paid and the more you have do it, the worse you feel about yourself. Like a regular job, you need a work-life balance. This is actually more important than it is in a regular job, because companies need to see you at your best. If you’re too eager, or mopey, or tired your chances of success decrease slightly. Sitting at home doing the same thing over and over again with little or no success really demotivates a lot of people and they start complaining about everything, including the lack of employment in their respective areas. This is not attractive to any prospective employer.

Lucky for you, I’ve put together one of my famous numbered lists to solve all your problems.

1.       Wake Up at an Appropriate Time

It’s really easy when you don’t have a place to be, to sleep in, watch cartoons and live the sedentary life. You still have to put in the hours to be an effective job seeker. Also, interviews are always during work hours, so you’ll most likely need to be alert for a morning interview. It’s hard to do that at a 9am interview if you’re used to waking up at noon.

2.       Plan a Full Workday

It’s really easy to get sidetracked when you don’t have a plan. Create a job hunting strategy and map out all of the tasks involved.  You know when you are the most effective, so you can plan the heavy stuff for those times. You need to take into consideration the time it takes to fill out applications, write cover letters and tailor your resume. Make sure you include time to use social networking for job hunting purposes, and attend physical networking events as well. A former employer of mine once told me not to work on any one task for more than two hours at a time. He says after this time, you become less interested and less efficient. Change it up every now and then.

3.       Take Breaks

The reason steps 1 and 2 are important is that if you do them properly, you won’t feel guilty about taking regularly scheduled breaks. Your employer is required to give you a 15 minute break every four hours and 30 minutes for lunch on a full shift. If he’s not a douchebag, he gives you a full hour. Take those breaks. They are government mandated for a reason. Don’t be your own douchebag boss.

4.       Don’t Forget About Your Hobbies/Personal Life

If you are a regular gym-goer, now is not the time to stop. You should also take this opportunity to start eating healthier. Continue to go out and see people on a regular basis. Doing stuff from a computer at your kitchen table and then moving to the couch at 5pm, and then to bed and back to the table in the morning can make you a little crazy. The networking events you attend won’t be enough. Plan things with your friends and go out at night. Be a regular person even though you don’t have a job…just do it cheaply cause you’re poor.

When you neglect to properly plan and execute your job hunting strategy, you start to feel guilty about how little you’ve done. Then you don’t take time for yourself. This results in you being less effective. It’s a vicious cycle that ultimately results in a pint of ice-cream, a lot of crying and still no jobs. The worst thing you can do for yourself at this juncture is take away the things that make you sane. Also, if you have good friends, they will pay for things because they feel sorry for you. You won’t get this kind of treatment again until someone you love dies (true story).

P.S. These strategies can also be applied to people who work from home or for themselves. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Networking Doesn’t Stop Being Important Just Because You’re Employed

Remember when you were looking for work, and people kept telling you the best way to find employment was to network both on and offline? Specifically, you should remember ME telling you that. Well once you start working, your networking shouldn’t stop. Opportunities are going to continue to present themselves outside of your current position and you still need to be visible to really take advantage of them.

Reasons to Network

Side Projects: Other motivated people will always have some kind of side project on the go that will enhance your resume beyond what your current job can offer you.

Random Really Cool Stuff: There is always some kind of event going on that you only really know about because you’re connected to the right people.

Finding Out How Much You’re Worth: If you’re decent at your job, and others see what you can do, you could start getting offers to “jump ship.” Then you see things like how much another company is willing to pay you, and you can feel confident asking for a raise.

New Job Opportunities You Never Would Have Thought of: Sometimes, you SHOULD jump ship and try something completely new. Sitting at your desk doing the same thing over and over followed by going directly home and not engaging with people outside your circle of friends really limits this opportunity.

You Could Be Looking Again: Someday your company could shut down, downsize, or just start to suck altogether. You’ll want to be able to exploit all of your contacts for a speedy job search. Remember, the bigger your network, the shorter the search.

Networking at Work

Meet Everyone at Work: Make a point to engage with as many people within and outside the company as possible. Vendors, agencies, clients…pretty much anyone.

Be Involved in Your Community: People are 300% more impressed with you when you are working vs when you are unemployed (Warning, may not be an actual statistic). So why not meet people at these events when you’re impressive rather than waiting until you’re sad and poor?

Leverage Social Media: Your community is going to have some kind of event calendar posted somewhere whether it is created by your local Chamber of Commerce or the city or town that you live in. Whoever has created it is going to love it when you comment, share or retweet it. This will also increase your presence among people who attend these events, even before attending them. Make sure to add all of your contacts to LinkedIn and Twitter as you meet them, so it doesn’t look so desperate later when you contact them (i.e. try to exploit them).

There are millions of ways to network. For a reminder on how to use social media to do it properly, check out an earlier post Dude, Where's My Job 2 - Networking Revisited. Remember, if you’re an introvert and have difficulty networking and meeting new people, just get over it cause there’s no real alternative that would yield the same results.