If you’re doing your best to ignore the whole subject of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), this is a heads-up for you. The trend of using ATS for most if not all applicants (and even at senior levels) has become so pervasive, it’s foolhardy to ignore the situation.
ATS a Growing Trend
As a resume writer who wants to give my clients the best possible support, I have viewed the advent of ATS as a growing nuisance. It makes life more difficult for my clients and for me. I used to think that at least senior-level managers and executives could bypass the ATS obstacle; but I attended a two-hour teleseminar recently that opened my eyes.
It’s probably true that in rare instances, such as where an executive is dealing directly with a company that wants him/her for a specific position, it might be possible to avoid the ATS screening—at least, through most of the process. However, there is now NO guarantee that even in those circumstances the resume won’t be put through an ATS eventually.
Nearly all large companies and corporations are now using some form of ATS. That doesn’t mean, though, that you’re home-free if you’re only submitting your resume to small companies. They might not be able to afford their own in-house ATS, but services are springing up that they can pay for on a case-by-case basis. Also, I believe at least one major online job board now makes its ATS available for single-job postings that employers pay to post.
ATS and Keywords: Hard-Skill or Soft-Skill
Hard-skill keywords are still vital, but they’re not the only factor in getting your resume past the ATS barrier. Soft-skill keywords could also come into play–and this is after resume writers like me have been telling clients to ignore those because “no one searches for them”!
If you’re submitting a resume in response to job postings, it’s hugely important to take a good look at the information in the postings. For example, “fast-paced customer service” could be one of the keyword phrases the ATS has been told to look for. Other possible items could include the name of the college or university where you earned your degree and your GPA (particularly if you’re not yet senior-level).
Although keywords are more critical than ever with an ATS, a good keyword match is only the beginning. Recruiters and hiring managers are seeking people who have done the job they’re trying to fill, and they’re looking for the best possible match. If your keyword-rich, ATS-friendly resume doesn’t get selected in a search, it might be because you’re not fully qualified or you’re not competitive enough with other candidates.
By the way, not all ATS are created equal, so no matter how hard you try, you’ll probably never reach a 100% match. However, you should still give it your best shot if you’re really interested in being considered for the position.
ATS and Your Job Search: A Tip
Whether or not you can completely circumvent the ATS route, you’re still likely to have a more productive job search if you don’t confine yourself to responding to posted openings. Take an active approach to uncovering opportunities that haven’t yet been widely publicized, and you could exponentially increase your chances of securing an interview–and, ultimately, a job offer.
It’s easy–sometimes all too easy–to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of your work-life and not take a good look at how you’re really doing overall. This approach bears an uncomfortably strong resemblance to a racehorse with blinkers on. If you’ve fallen into that trap, now is the time to free yourself from it.
Job Performance and Blinkers
Just to give a little background, blinkers have at least a couple of purposes when used with horses: to prevent the horse seeing to the rear and, in some cases, to the side; to keep the horse focused on what is in front of him, encouraging him to pay attention to the race rather than other distractions.
Now there’s nothing wrong with concentration in and on your job performance. Distractions that keep you from performing at your peak effectiveness should probably be disregarded as much as possible. Savvy employees know that they need to achieve good results and meet or exceed the expectations of their boss(es) if they hope to succeed long term.
However, if you’re wearing mental blinkers regarding your job performance, you might be heading for a fall in terms of your career success. Remember, blinkers keep you from seeing much of anything except what’s right in front of you. When you’re on the job, lack of awareness about what’s going on around you can prove disastrous.
Job Performance: Focus versus Blinkers
Essentially, success in your job performance becomes more attainable when you learn to balance concentration with awareness. There’s a time to focus and a time to assess with an open mind (to take the blinkers off for a while). How you manage this balance depends on your style, personality, preferred method of operating, and so on.
For example, if you’re the methodical type, comfortable with a fair amount of structure, you might choose to block out a specific time each week to review what you’ve actually been doing and check that against what you were expected to accomplish. If your boss has set some objectives for your job performance, that’s a good place to start.
On the other hand, if you tend to be a free-wheeler, you might be more comfortable adopting a flexible approach and doing your assessment when you feel in the mood for it. As long as you make sure you do it, the exact timing probably isn’t so important.
Job Performance: How Do You Measure Up?
So if you’re chugging along and not checking on your progress periodically, you might think you’re doing okay. But what if “okay” isn’t really okay or isn’t enough to bring you satisfaction and long-term success? You don’t need to measure yourself against other people–even other people who do much the same work as you do–but you do need a way to determine whether you’re on the right track to reach where you want to be or seriously deluding yourself.
Think how great it would be to deliver the quality of job performance that would have people falling all over themselves to promote you or recruit you to an amazing new job or career opportunity. That rarely (never?) happens by accident.
Very few people, if any, would say they love performance reviews–either receiving or giving them. After all, they’re a pain to prepare for, regardless of whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end, right?
For this post, I’m going to focus on receiving a performance review, including tips for making the experience as positive as possible and enhancing your prospects for long-term career success.
5 Reasons People Hate Performance Reviews
- Unless you have amassed such a stellar record that practically everyone in the company is in awe of your performance, a performance review can present you with surprises that range from disturbing to terrible. That includes everything from comments about improvements needed (in areas where you thought you were doing okay) to a “guess what, you’re being terminated” shocker.
- If your previous performance review had some “needs improvement” comments and you’ve been working hard on those, you might be hopeful that you’ll receive a positive reaction, but that’s not always the case. Maybe you have progressed somewhat but need a little more improvement in the boss’ eyes or maybe there’s still a big gap between his/her expectation and your performance.
- Your future salary increases are predicated at least partly on performance, and if the boss isn’t pleased with it, you’ll take a financial hit. That means you could have a lot riding on getting a positive performance review and much less than total control over the outcome.
- Your boss might be one of those people who says you’re not meeting expectations but can’t seem to articulate how you’re falling short or what he/she thinks you should do to correct the situation. This leaves you with a “darned if you do/darned if you don’t” situation. Do nothing, and you’re dead in the water at best. Do the wrong thing, and you’re dead in the water–or out the door in a hurry.
- You could discover that your boss has no real clue about what you’ve been doing that has produced good results for the company and thinks you’ve been basically warming a chair and doing the minimum to get by for the past 6 months or more.
Develop a Positive Relationship with Your Performance Reviews
If loving performance reviews is out of the question for you, focus your efforts on developing a positive relationship with them. Learning to ask for feedback effectively can help you elevate your performance and make reviews less daunting.
An article by Eric Barker titled “How You Can Turn A Performance Review Into A Great Learning Experience” has some useful suggestions with regard to making your performance review work for you instead of against you. He makes the following comment: “Merely being the kind of person who seeks out feedback is linked to many good things like higher job satisfaction and creativity. And people who specifically seek out negative feedback do better on performance reviews at work.”
Prepare for your next review well ahead of time–in fact, start as soon as your previous review ends! You can take a number of productive steps, including these :
- Review your boss’ comments on areas where you were weakest/needed improvement and see what ideas you can come up with for making the necessary improvement. Then implement those ideas ASAP.
- Document your achievements on a regular basis–not every detail, of course, but any key actions and results that will testify to your effectiveness on the job. It will give you a head-start for the next review.
- Pay attention to what’s going on around you, including the support you get or don’t get from colleagues, the reactions to things you’ve accomplished that you’re pleased about, etc. You might see clues to pitfalls in your path and gain insights into how to avoid them going forward.
In short, moaning and groaning every time performance reviews loom on your horizon is unproductive. Regrouping and tackling them appropriately is the way to go.
Unless you’re one of those rare individuals who’s perfectly happy chugging along in his or her comfortable groove indefinitely, the thought of career advancement has probably crossed your mind a time or two. In fact, I encourage clients to keep career advancement in play as an ongoing situation, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be top-of-mind every moment.
What Career Advancement Means to You
Just as “success” can mean different things to each of us, you might define career advancement somewhat differently than your friends, relatives or colleagues. That’s OK. You’re not them, and you don’t need to view your career the same way they might view theirs.
From my perspective in working with clients, career advancement includes the concept of career growth–that is, not simply treading water in a familiar pond for the rest of your work life. You should be looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge and abilities, even if you stay within your current niche. Otherwise, to carry the pond analogy a bit further, you risk becoming stagnant, which could be highly detrimental to having a healthy career in the long term.
Assuming you know you don’t want to or can’t stay in your current situation for an indefinite number of years, you’ll want to investigate–and keep investigating–potential job opportunities that could enable you to branch out and possibly move up, either within your current organization or in another company. The reality is that sometimes you do have to move out to move up.
Career Advancement through Mentoring
I recently read a post by John Beeson on the HBR Blog Network, “Three Questions to Advance Your Career,” that makes an interesting point about career advancement. (Note: The post is the start of a series he will be doing on mentoring.) However, Beeson’s most important point, in my view, is that some of the standard methods for getting feedback (360-degree feedback, annual performance reviews, etc.) are not very useful for career advancement purposes because they’re focused on how you’re doing in your present job, at the present level.
Beeson believes that answers to the following questions are key to your ability to advance (which he calls upward mobility) and, at the same time, hard to determine in most companies:
- “What are the factors that govern who does–and doesn’t–advance to the senior level?”
- “How am I currently viewed in terms of those promotional criteria, and what skills and abilities do I need to demonstrate to move ahead?”
- “How does one navigate the ‘political thicket’ in the company to get things done at the senior level?”
To help you obtain answers to these questions, Beeson recommends identifying as many mentors and senior people familiar with your work as possible to learn what you need to know–and sharing your plans with your boss (possibly to avoid the impression that you’re going behind his or her back but also to tap into him or her as an advisor in this effort). He also emphasizes that it’s important to let people know you’re taking a long-range career advancement view and aren’t just targeting a near-term promotion.
Your Career Advancement Goal
Take a look at where you are now and consider where you might like to be a few years or so down the road. If there’s a distinct difference between the two situations, you’ll want to focus on your career advancement goal and what you might need to do to achieve it. That way, you won’t wake up a few years from now, still in the same spot, and wonder why nothing has really changed. The key is to start now!
It used to be that we said, “The first person who mentions a number [for salary] loses.” Is that still true today?
Not according to Liz Ryan, whose article on Forbes titled “How to Negotiate A Job Offer” labels that advice as old-school thinking–true maybe as recently as 1995 but not anymore. As Ryan says, “For the most part, job offers today are surprising on the low side, if they’re surprising at all. Once a lowball offer is lobbed at you, you’ll have a tough time getting the hiring manager to budge more than a few thousand dollars. You’re better off communicating your target range early and letting the hiring manager deal with it then. If it’s not a fit, better to know that early, right?”
Why Bring Up Salary–and When?
Ryan suggests strongly that you should introduce the subject of compensation reasonably early in the process. “When somebody calls or writes to invite you for a second interview, that’s the moment to share your target range.”
I can think of one potential drawback that Ryan’s article doesn’t even mention. What happens if the prospective employer brings up the salary question very early in the process–such as in a telephone prescreening interview. It happens…and all too often, based on the stories I hear from clients and others. (More on that in a moment or two.)
One aspect of Ryan’s suggestion that at least merits careful thought is the idea that you want to avoid wasting your time and the company’s time by going through one or more additional interviews for a position that turns out to be too far out of your financial ballpark–the range you have determined you want or need to target.
Assuming you’ve been able to get to the end of the first interview without encountering the subject of salary expectations or salary history (not necessarily one and the same thing), you might want to look carefully at the situation before moving ahead. As indicated in the quote from her article near the beginning of this post, Ryan believes you’re better off knowing where things stand financially before you try to take the next step.
Bring Up Salary or Don’t Bring It Up
I mentioned above that you might not be the one who brings up the subject of salary. This is something I’ve touched on in the past as well. Employers do prescreening phone interviews that determine, to a large extent, whether you get invited for an in-person interview, and it’s not uncommon for them to raise the subject then. This is generally done in one of two ways: “What salary are you looking for in your next position?” OR “What salary are you receiving in your current position (or have you earned in past positions)?”
I agree with Ryan that you should have a realistic range in mind, before you begin interviewing, which of course means you should have done your due diligence on what your market value is likely to be (as well as what your income needs are). However, I tend to believe that salary negotiation trends don’t necessarily mean you have the option of being the first to bring up the subject of salary. I still suspect that many employers will preempt your choice of the timing. If it turns out that you do get to choose, Ryan’s warning about not going too deeply into the interview process before you discuss salary might be a point well taken.
Wouldn’t life be great if your job searches were never touched by fear or failure? You would proceed with total confidence from start to finish and have a desirable outcome every time. Right–and I’m the Queen of Sheba!
And what about fear of failure? Sounds like a double-whammy, doesn’t it?
Realism in the Job Search
I’ve never met anyone who could honestly say he or she had never experienced fear or failure in a job search. Even the most successful individuals have, at some time or other, encountered either or both of them. If you can accept that as natural and normal, you’re in a stronger position at the outset of any job search you plan and conduct. What matters more is what you do when fear or failure rears its ugly head in your job search.
Where might the fear aspect come in? Aside from things like the pressure of wondering if you’ll be able to pay the mortgage next month, fear can smack you in the face on a number of fronts or it can sneak up on you when you’re not paying as much attention as you should. If you recognize the possibility for such occurrences early on, you can at least minimize the occurrence of fear and reduce its intensity–thereby enhancing the positive energy of your job search.
The desirable corollary of that is the reduced likelihood of failure in achieving the goal of your job search. Notice that I said “reduced” likelihood, not the elimination. Unless you’re Superman or Wonder Woman, I doubt that you can completely eliminate the possibility of failing to achieve your goal (desired position). What you might well be able to do, with the right kind and amount of forethought and planning, is to increase your odds of success by taking savvy job-search steps. You know many of those, right? Building and maintaining a strong professional network, continually refining and upgrading your skills and expertise, etc.
Fear or Failure, Success or Excellence:
Look for (on) the Bright Side
I’ve just read two items written by people I follow that fit at least loosely with the theme of this post. Here they are, with my comments added:
- “What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change our world.” (Simon Sinek, StartWithWhy) The same could be said to some extent about your current or next job search. When you have a desired goal (position) in mind (the idea), try for it. If it doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped, analyze the reason(s), regroup and try for another one.
- “We can look at competition as the standard or as an indicator of our progress towards our own standards. We can chase success or we can embark on a quest for excellence and focus 100% of our energy to become our best… and let success find us.” (Jon Gordon, Jon Gordon’s Weekly Newsletter, Jan. 27, 2014) What standards have you set for yourself in the job search? If they’re within reach, use them as your guide in conducting the most effective job search you can. Know what your target employers’ probable needs are and do your best to demonstrate your value as a solution to those needs. Be knowledgeable about your competition, but don’t be driven by it.
Enthusiasm, insight and determination might not totally prevent fear or failure, but they can go a long way toward keeping it at bay. Put them to work for you in your job search. I’ll bet you won’t be sorry.