There is a fundamentally dysfunctional way that most of us look for a new job or career position. This blog is mostly focused on how to approach the market once you really know what you want to do with your career instead of just finding a new job.
So, let us assume that you have just done a bunch of hard work assessing what you really want to do with your career. You feel like you can define the following three elements: The skills you do best and want to use most, the topic(s) you want to focus on (i.e., the types of industry or topical area you want to apply your skills to), and your ideal work environment (i.e., types of people you want to work with, geography, physical space for work, income, travel options with work, etc). Once you have all of that defined in some detail you can begin to focus on a search.
Traditionally, most of us search in what I’d call a blue collar model. We assume that the market dictates what is available and therefore we have to decide what to apply for based on what is listed as open on the job boards. We also assume that we have to have most of the requirements listed in the job description we find online or on the company’s website if we are going to apply. Finally, we assume that if we have met those two criteria, we will get a call and get interviews. All of the above is limited thinking and, to some degree, not true.
Job search myth-busting
First, let’s debunk these assumptions and then I will propose an alternative.
- The online market somewhat defines job descriptions and advertises them, but most jobs are still found by word of mouth. Many jobs are defined once, then changed as companies find people they want to hire who have different sets of skills and interests. This happens all the time. Remember, companies hire people not resumes. The idea—for both the job seeker and the employer—that you could go online and precisely define everything about a job that you want to be filled, and that someone could write up a resume to exactly fit that job need is limited. Words on a page don’t really define all of what we want in a new hire and the resume doesn’t really define how a person will work, what they are passionate about, or what they are motivated to do.
- It is en vogue to list certs and degrees on job ads, which are valuable, but not always related to the skills needed to do the job. The current trend—at least in ads for jobs—is to list every single skill, degree, or certification you might possibly need to apply for the job. If you listed a thousand jobs, filled them, and assessed what percentage of the listed technical skills or experience requirements the new employees actually have you’d find, on average, that they have only about sixty-five percent. This means we hire people we like, not lists of skills or resumes. We hire people who present well, dress correctly, communicate effectively, know what they are good at, and can describe what motivates them. The employer does want the baseline skills required to do the job, but they are often willing to train or mentor a person who is a good fit otherwise or who has transferable skills. Remember, many different people from many backgrounds probably have that job’s baseline skills. I know someone with a Ph.D. in Computer Science who is no more competent than a self-taught programmer and web designer. There are innumerable engineers without Professional Engineering (PE) credentials who function just as well as the man with the PE. Companies frequently list a Certificate in Human Resources or in Project Management, when we know full well that the person writing the ad might not have any of those certifications, and might well be the boss! I could go on and on. Goodness knows that if I only did with my clients what I learned in Graduate School psychology, I’d be a total flop.
- The probability of getting a callback for an online application in your field is small. It is drastically smaller if you don’t meet the exact qualifications for the job. That sounds contradictory to the last item, but the truth is that the company likely has other applicants offline—through networking or recruiters—so they don’t even need to look at anyone who doesn’t precisely meet their lofty expectations. Additionally, if you are trying to move into a new career, the possibility that the low-level HR screener will send your resume—which indicates you’re a fast learner and have demonstrated that you can do the job even though you haven’t yet—along is extremely minimal. They aren’t likely trained to recognize those skills. So, applying online for a job/career change is mostly a waste of time and extremely frustrating to boot.
A parallel example for the pre-career set is that colleges and universities are now seeing through research that the students who do best at their schools (i.e., get good grades, don’t drop out, and complete the degree programs they started) are often not the students with the best high school grades or the best test scores. The students who are eclectic in their interests, socially involved, and have good communications skills orally and in writing often outperform the 4.0 student with the highest standardized test scores. Places like MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, are now paying more attention to finding well-rounded student applicants instead of just the ones with the highest scores.
So, what is the alternative path or job search technique? I call it Outrageous Interviewing. The tactic is simply to try a new paradigm or flip the table. Instead of applying online for a new career opportunity, it’s best if you can network to find it. Tell employers and/or your professional network what you want to do for your career in such a way as to solicit referrals to potential employers who might want what you have to offer.
That is, you are seeking out a job that fits you vs. a job to fit into. Here are some steps to accomplish this.
- Define the skills you have that best fit your personality and natural strengths.
- Define the topic or industry niche you would most enjoy in some detail. E.g., don’t say music, say classical music production.
- Define the environment you want or need in detail, but don’t necessarily announce to anyone in your network. This can be private.
- Research some target companies you would like to apply to if you could whether or not you think they have any jobs. This way you could show a contact what companies you would potentially like to work for.
- Create an elevator pitch: 1.5 minutes long at longest, include personal history, education, employment history (include types of jobs and companies, but focus on the skills you want to sell to the potential employer), and transition and a goal statements. Explain why you are looking for work and focus the goal statement on your contact’s industry or niche.
- Make a list of all of your contacts, then connect with them to tell them your ideal, outrageous vision is for your career path. With this, you are basically publishing your goals and skills so they can share knowledge of companies and people in niche markets you have identified, and with whom you might connect. If you read my blog on networking specifically you will find how to do that effectively.
- Pitch what you want vs. applying for existing jobs. You are inverting the process by branding and marketing yourself to a focused group of companies i.e., your niche market topics, and then broadcasting what you’d like to do for that type of company. With effort, it works.
It is a well-documented idea that if you publish what you want to your network clearly and consistently, they will begin to see (where they didn’t before) opportunities that fit your requirements and can pass those opportunities or connections along to you. You alone can act on those opportunities, but now you are pursuing something you defined instead of trying to fit into some employer’s box. Market yourself and your goals, don’t just market to a job.