Joblessness and Long-Term Unemployment

The topic of joblessness and long-term unemployment is potentially huge, and I realize that one blog post will not begin to cover it all. However, a teleconference I participated in today gave me some food for thought that I believe could be useful, so I wanted to share it.

What is the difference between joblessness and long-term unemployment?

As you can probably figure out, these two concepts are potentially different sides of the same coin. You could have been laid off two weeks or a month ago and be at least technically considered both jobless and unemployed. On the other hand, if you have been without a job for an extended period, such as a year or more, you would probably be considered–and consider yourself–as long-term unemployed. However, being unemployed for a relatively short period (which can even mean a few months to several months these days) doesn’t necessarily have as major an impact on you and on your job search as long-term unemployment can.

How can you change a jobless or long-term unemployed mindset?

To be blunt, this is not a snap to do, I can utter easy-for-me-to-say comments like “it’s all in your mind,” but that doesn’t make your task easy. It is not impossible, though, and I have a few tips to share based on the teleconference mentioned earlier and on some of my own observations from working with diverse clients.

  • Focus on developing a mindset that views your jobless situation as a non-issue. In other words, refuse to let your unemployed status define who you are and what you are capable of–in your own mind and in the perceptions of others. Work on not letting the status sap the confidence you used to have, which was based on what you were able to achieve and contribute. Joblessness has nothing to do with the value you can bring to employers going forward.
  • Communicate confidence without arrogance. You might not be Mohammed Ali, whose “I am the greatest” might sound arrogant if you didn’t know how great he actually was, but you do have value that could benefit the right employer, and you can communicate it appropriately without crossing the line into what I call “in your face arrogance.” By the way, I just read an article (American Lifestyle, Sept./Oct. 2012) about Carol Polis, the first female boxing judge in the world, and she asked Ali whether he was ever afraid when he stepped into the ring. His answer: “Anybody who tells you that they don’t have butterflies in their stomach, there is something wrong with them. Of course I have butterflies in my stomach.”
  • Re-frame the questions you ask. For example, avoid questions such as “Are you hiring?” or “Are you looking for…?” Try instead to ask things like, “Do you need (or could you use) someone who…?” In that case, you want to complete the question with a valuable quality, talent, strong expertise, etc. that you can bring to the situation. If the company you approach isn’t hiring, ask, “Do you know someone else who might need…?” They might be able to refer you to other companies.
  • Seek volunteer opportunities that can add something worthwhile to your resume and help erase the “I’m unemployed” impression that comes across if you don’t have anything current listed. The experience needs to be as substantial as possible (i.e., more than just answering phones a couple of hours a week for a charity) and preferably relevant to your desired direction, but it doesn’t have to be paid experience to count.
  • Perhaps most important (to underscore the first item above), stop thinking of and describing yourself as a job seeker without a job. Fundamentally, that is not who you are.
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Company Research Critical to Your Job Search

Recently the presenter of a teleseminar I was participating in made a comment that blew my mind. She mentioned an experience where only 2 of 10 candidates for 2 job openings actually knew what the company did! In other words, 8 candidates had not bothered to do basic research about the company before they went into the interview. Can we say, “waste of time”? And not just the time of those candidates but, even more important, the time of the company employees interviewing them.

I would be willing to bet that situation left a terrible impression with the interviewers, and it’s not the kind of impression you want to leave when you’re conducting a job search–whether or not we have a difficult job market (which we do). If you or someone you know is tempted to avoid the research stage, my advice is: “Don’t do it!” Aside from a genuine personal emergency, the only reason for skipping company research in your job search is, I’m sorry to say, laziness.

Where to Do Company Research for Your Job Search

You have numerous resources available to you both online and offline. It makes good sense to split your time and effort between the two, although not necessarily 50-50. Below are a few suggestions to consider; however, don’t feel you should limit yourself to those.

Online:

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn offers more than one way to research companies and the people who work there or used to work there. For example: At the top of the screen, click on the “More” button and then on “Skills and Expertise.” Enter a skill you have that’s key to the work you do, then tell it to search for that term. When I entered “Interview Preparation,” the page that came up included 8 Interview Preparation Professionals (3 of whom I know personally); 4 Interview Preparation LinkedIn groups; Related Companies (those that use or provide such skills to others); and Related Locations. If I were interested, I could click on one of the “Related Companies” and see what it is/does.
  • Manta: This site is geared toward small businesses. It lets you search by top industries, US companies and worldwide. Although you can’t get direct information about large companies, you can, for instance, put in “Cisco Systems” and do a search, which brings up a list of companies that sell and/or install Cisco products.
  • Corporate Information: If you have a particular company you want information on (especially financial information) and don’t mind spending $59, you can order a report from Wright Investors’ Services. Other sites that also charge access fees can be much more expensive, such as Hoovers, and they generally aren’t affordable for an individual.

Offline:

  • Universities and colleges: Sometimes educational institutions will have library reference materials that are available not only to students but to alumni. If you’re a graduate of a particular institution, check to see whether it has such resources and will allow you to use them.
  • Local business newspapers: The Business Journal company publishes different versions for numerous geographic locations, and it has good information on companies–what they’re doing, who’s being promoted or has left a company, and so on. For example, you can subscribe to the electronic version or both electronic and print versions of the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal. You can also subscribe to their annual Book of Lists, which has information on hundreds of companies in numerous business categories.
  • Chambers of Commerce: In some Chambers, members will be primarily small businesses rather than large companies, but not always. Regardless, they can sometimes be a good source of information regarding businesses located in their geographical area, whether or not those companies are Chamber members.

Using Company Research to Prepare for Job Interviews

As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s hard to believe anyone would go into an interview without researching the company. In fact, I strongly recommend that clients do that before they submit their resume. Whether online or offline, it’s rare, if ever, that you won’t find at least some information to give you a few insights into what the company does–its products or services, its target customers, and so on. Use that information to help you figure out how you could fit in and become a valuable contributor. Then keep that in mind as you prepare for the interview.


Salary and Benefits “Secrets” in the Interview-to-Offer Process

Salary questions are probably one of the biggest concerns I hear from clients and potential clients (with benefits being a related issue). Two sides of the coin could be involved: (1) the salary history and/or salary expectations of the job seeker; (2) what the company will probably pay and how to get an idea of what that amount (or range) might be. I always recommend that job seekers do their research to find out things like what the going rate/range would be for someone in their field, with their experience, at their level, in the geographic region, and so on.

One reason you should do this, of course, is so you will have at least a sense of what is potentially available to you, but also so you can compare your background with the general group of job seekers who might be similar to you and develop some insights into your probable salary range before starting a serious job search.

However, a big “nut to crack” is the part about getting employers to divulge useful information about the salary range before you jump into the interview process. It too often seems that companies want you to divulge that kind of information about yourself and are absolutely unwilling to reciprocate. However, it now appears that benefits could be as touchy a subject as salary. In fact, I just read an interesting and provocative post by Nick Corcodillos (Ask the Headhunter) that has to do with benefits information being withheld pending offer acceptance! Really?

Benefits Information Kept Secret by Companies

Someone wrote to Corcodillos about a job offer he had received from a major company that had an acceptable salary , but the headhunter he was working with indicated the company had a policy of not revealing benefits information until an offer was accepted! According to Corcodillos, the usual rationale is that the company’s benefits package (and maybe its employee policy manual) are competitive secrets or confidential and can’t be disclosed to non-employees. This is crazy! As Corcodillos puts it, “They invite you to join the game, but you can’t see the rules in advance. You may make an investment in the company, but you may not see the financials.”

By a real stretch of the imagination, I can see where companies might come up with this rationale, especially if their management is paranoid. Does that make it acceptable for them to do all the taking and none of the giving with regard to information-sharing during the interview-to-offer process? Not by a long shot. That stance puts all the risk burden on you as the job seeker. As we all know, life isn’t always fair, but this situation is beyond unfair–it’s potentially hazardous to your financial and emotional well-being. What happens, for instance, if you accept the position and then discover that a critical aspect of the benefits package falls seriously short of what you needed and expected?

Walk Away from Overly Secretive Companies?

Under some circumstances, you might decide that the company’s lack of willingness to share key information justifies declining the offer. However, that could mean giving up an opportunity that would prove beneficial to you in the long run. You might come up with your own approach to this situation. In case it’s of interest, though, here in a nutshell is what Corcodillos advised his inquirer to do:

Call the CEO’s office and tell whoever answers that you’re ready to accept a job offer, but no one (including HR) can satisfactorily answer a question you have. When (and only when) someone from the CEO’s office rather than HR agrees to talk to you, you explain the issue and politely but firmly refuse to go back to HR to deal with it. Corcodillos goes on to say, “”I’d tell the headhunter you have your own policy: I need to know what the entire offer is–including the benefits.


How do Recruiters Find You?

First, I need to clarify something. You do realize that recruiters (headhunters) do not beat the bushes to find you a job, right? Okay, but we also know that recruiters do look for candidates to fill in-house positions or to submit to client companies for openings at those companies. So how might those recruiters find you?

Where do recruiters look for candidates?

It depends. For example, some executive search firms have specialists who focus on sourcing high-level candidates in specific areas (functional expertise, geographic location, industry, etc.). Those specialists probably have favorite places to look to find candidates or to find out more about candidates they’ve already identified. Much of recruiter searching undoubtedly takes placing using online resources, such as LinkedIn.

The smart move is to make yourself appropriately visible online, particularly in relation to places where recruiters might expect to find someone like you. As an example, if you’re a CFO, you should probably be actively involved in online activities, groups, etc., that focus on CFO-type issues and resources. Those might include places such as Financial Executives International (FEI), CFO.com, and the CFO Roundtable–and, of course, LinkedIn’s CFO Network.

How can you increase your visibility to recruiters?

Besides the suggestions already mentioned–or as an expansion of those–you might want to consider membership-based resources such as Execunet and BlueSteps. Execunet offers membership options ranging from one month at $39 to one year at $399. BlueSteps is owned by the Association of Executive Search Consultants, who have access to the resumes that BlueSteps members upload to the website. Its one-time membership fee is about $330; that includes the recruiter search visibility that might make it a worthwhile investment. Access to BlueSteps’ Premium services–including information about career opportunities–requires an annual investment, which I believe is about $89.

A recent BlueSteps blog post involving an interview with a UK-based recruiter provides some insights on how search professionals find potential candidates on the BlueSteps website. Titled “How Do Search Professionals Find You in BlueSteps? Oxana Brookes on How it Works,” it mentions that “a candidate’s CV needs to be crisp, not too long, well-structured and contain basic data points (the size of business in terms of turnover, number of people, etc.) to help us judge whether the candidate falls into the right category….We are more likely to approach candidates who are seen as thought leaders in their sector, so speaking at industrial [industry] events, publishing written work and gaining leadership positions with corresponding industrial bodies will be a good move to becoming visible.”

Of course, that’s only one recruiter’s take on the situation, but it might be worth considering if you’re hoping to work with (through) recruiters at some point.

What if I’m not a senior manager or executive?

In that case, executive search professionals won’t be looking for you, but others could be. The points mentioned above might still be relevant, in one way or another.


Tips for Multiple Interviews

If you receive a job offer after your first interview with a company, consider yourself extremely lucky! Over the years, it has become increasingly common to be put through a series of interviews before you get an offer–if you get one at all. And that is usually in addition to preliminaries such as a telephone prescreening that can determine whether you make it to the first-round interview. You could have a series of interviews on one day with different people, but you could also need to go back two or three times for separate interviews. That can be pretty tough on you as a job seeker, but as long as we’re in what’s generally a buyer’s market, you might not have much choice. The trick is to prepare yourself as thoroughly for multiple interviews as you would for just one–and then some.

Multiple Interview Tip #1

It has always been important to do your homework before you go to an interview. You should research the company as thoroughly as you can–online as well as elsewhere (through people you know, etc.). You should also “know your stuff”–be confident of your ability to answer questions about your experience, skills, and so on. Those factors just become more important when you’re facing the prospect of a multistage interview process. The better prepared you are going into the first interview, the better prepared you’ll be for the others.

Multiple Interview Tip #2

Ask for as much information as you can get from the person who contacts you to arrange the interviews, whether he/she works for the company or for an agency they are using to prescreen candidates. The contact should be willing and able to tell you things like the name(s) and title(s) of the people you will be interviewing with and give you some general information about the position you’ll be interviewing for. If possible, try to find out from that person what the probable salary range is for the position, so you’ll have an idea of where you fit on the scale. Ask your questions politely but firmly. If he/she can’t answer them reasonably well, that might be a red flag. You’re better off knowing that before you actually go to the first interview.

Multiple Interview Tip #3

Pace yourself! Especially if the interviews are close together, try to give yourself some breathing room for mental relaxation. Also, go armed with enough “success stories” and other good ammunition so you don’t have to share everything in the first interview. Save something for the others if you can.

Multiple Interview Tip #4

Ask if you can take notes during each interview. If you can’t, make sure you rough-out a summary as soon as possible after you leave. (I used to sit in my car and write items down before I pulled out of the company’s parking lot.) You’ll want to use your notes to refresh your memory when you prepare for the next interview and to help you craft a really good thank-you/follow-up letter for each person you interview with. That letter should be put into the hands of the interviewer as soon as possible after the interview–you can hand-deliver it to the company, mail a hard copy, email it…the point is, do it soon.

Multiple Interview Tip #5

Don’t assume that if you make it to the final interview, you’re home-free on getting the job. If you don’t have a signed offer letter in your hands, you haven’t necessarily nailed it yet. That’s just one more reason it’s important to send the follow-up letter. Also, try to find out, either from your initial contact or from the last person you interview with, how long the company expects the hiring decision process to take. You can and probably should call to follow up if you haven’t heard anything within a week or so after the final interview, unless you were told the decision would take longer than that.