YouWinBottleCapsSquareIf getting hired feels about as predictable as choosing the winning lottery numbers, this article is for you.

Two people inspired this post. First, my sister Delaney, whose career may give the impression that luck drops down out of the sky (so not true — read on ’til the end of this post and you’ll see where her career “luck” comes from). And second, by Tova, who wrote to me asking if I could help her job-seeking clients understand what recruiters are looking for.

An Inside Look At The Hiring Process

To understand all those job postings you see, it’s helpful to know what’s going on in the background. Three things have to be present for an employer to advertise a job and spend time on the hiring process:

  • Too much work for the current workforce to handle efficiently
  • Money to cover the new worker’s salary and employment costs
  • Available resources to select, orient and train a new worker

Employers tend to delay hiring until they’re certain that all three conditions exist. Delaying the hiring process means that, more often than not, the company now needs to act fast. To be efficient, they’ll put together a system designed to help them move as quickly as possible. Bear that in mind as we step through the process.

What Happens Once A Job Ad Is Posted

Now that the employer has made the decision to hire, you and I have the opportunity to apply for the position. At this point, the candidates and the employer are approaching the same goal — filling the open position — from opposite standpoints and with opposite desires. The employer wants to fill the role with a highly-suited new employee after seeing as few people as possible, while many applicants will want the chance to have an interview, regardless of how well their background matches the requirements in the job ad. Picture a crowd trying to get into a store to snag a 60” flat screen television advertised for $99. The store’s goal is to limit the number of people who enter the building, while the crowd’s goal is to get in by any means possible.

How To Stand Out From The Crowd and Get Noticed

The stark truth about the hiring process is that nearly all candidates will be eliminated very early in the process. These are my top tips to get you noticed and into the “maybe” pile as only the maybe’s get interviewed. The tips are based on more than 15 years of recruiting and hiring.

  • Apply only for positions you’re qualified for. I know this won’t sound right to you -and I’m aware that many job search classes teach their students to apply for everything – but there’s something you need to know about that. When applicants apply for positions that they don’t qualify for, they lose the one thing they can’t afford to lose: credibility. Respond to ads where you can demonstrate a past history that lines up with the requirements of the new job and your resume will be welcomed.
  • Make it easy for recruiters to see how your experience matches the job ad. Your resume has about 9 seconds to make an impression. Literally. Fill your resume with accomplishments, not job responsibilities. Most people don’t take the time to do this, so if you do, it will be a big differentiator. It will also prepare you mentally for the interview because it will get you thinking about all the great things you’ve done. Don’t let your resume exceed 2 pages – regardless of your age or position. Your resume’s goal is to show that you have recent experience using the skills they’re looking for so that you get an interview. And avoid leading with education unless you’re applying for a professional role where a specific degree is  required, such as engineering or medical positions.
  • Make every connection minute count. Looking for work can be stressful, especially when financial pressures are mounting. Be careful not to bring this into your conversations with recruiters, receptionists handling your calls, or hiring managers you connect with. Remember that they’re looking for someone who can get the work done and become a positive influence on the team. Use every minute of every communication to reinforce your interest and your past accomplishments that show your suitability for the role. This means covering up any frustration you may feel if the process seems to be dragging. It’s a tiny detail, but it can mean the difference between staying at the top of the list, or coming in as the second or third choice where only a single opening exists.
  • Be careful about using your mobile phone. If you’re in a noisy area when that call comes in from a recruiter, like on the beach or on the ski slopes, don’t answer it! Unless you’re in a quiet place where you can focus fully on the conversation and you have pen and paper handy to record details like phone numbers or appointment locations, you’re going to sound scattered and unprepared. And no, they won’t understand and cut you slack if you explain that you’re on vacation. The second you pick up the call, you’re engaging in a professional interaction and making an indelible impression. If you’re searching for a job, I’m sure you’ve created a professional voicemail message for your phone. Let the call go to voicemail and make your way to a place where you can present yourself well before returning the call.
  • Research the company. The job interview is not the right place to learn about the company. If you don’t know anyone who works there, look up the company and any employees you can find on LinkedIn. Read everything you can on the company’s website to find out what their goals are, who the executives are, and what their biggest challenges are. Be prepared to ask good questions during the interview. You will position yourself as an active participant rather than a passive visitor.
  • Remember to send a thank you note. When you’re granted a telephone meeting or face-to-face interview, a follow up is polite and is seen as a sign of interest. Email is fine, snail mail can also be an interesting way to stand out as few people use it anymore. Many forget this step, so if you remember, it’s another way to position yourself higher on the candidate short list.

Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Now, back to Delaney. This week, she was doing some volunteer work at the hospital where she is an ER nurse (I guess those 14-hour shifts weren’t enough for her). Completely by surprise, she ended up talking to someone about an exciting opportunity for the future. How did this happen? Unbeknownst to her, that person was watching the way she works and interacts with others and liked what they saw. They had a quick, unscheduled chat, where Delaney learned of the opening. When the time is right, it’s likely that she’ll be asked to interview without going through all the initial prescreening that normally occurs. That’s not the first time this happened to Delaney. A few years ago, she made a connection while volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity event that led to a wonderful career move. It’s a good reminder that opportunities are everywhere – not just on job boards.

There’s another important element contributing to Delaney’s career success. All this time, even while fully employed, she’s been studying; first, earning a four-year nursing degree and now working toward her masters. You don’t have to be enrolled in a degree program, but you should be doing something to further your job skills. Take classes, read a book, volunteer to do office tasks for a non-profit… The point is to show commitment to ongoing learning by investing in yourself on your own time. And put those activities on your resume! Employers love to engage with learners and volunteers.

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