06 February, 2014

Full Time Work

Good morning all,

I have final found full time employment! So as I said after finding part time work about a year and a half ago, things will slow down until I get into the rhythm of my new job and find a manageable publication schedule.

I do hope that you all stick with me, I will be back as soon as possible. Remember to continue to fully research any job leads, companies and/or positions you may be pursuing. Write the strongest application materials possible, and stay professionally relevant in your chosen field.

Good luck all.

10 January, 2014's blog

I have mentioned before as a great tool for learning about a company (salary, interview questions and style, and company reviews.) But I was unaware until recently of their blog. They have recently posted two stories that might help some of my readers. The first covers 8 tips for improving your job search. The second covers ways to confront job search fears.

For anyone who has read this blog for a while, you may remember that first piece where I cautioned that collects it's data from users, and therefore it should not be your only source for researching a salary or interview questions. This blog, however, seems to be different. All the contributors I checked out (including the authors of these two pieces) seem to be very well qualified career counseling experts. While the posts are short, and not super specific they do hone in on the issue at hand and provide some actionable advice.

This is a blog I will be keeping an eye on.

09 December, 2013

Creating a professional identity, can you afford it?

The initial inspiration for writing this post was seeing this piece from Sarah Kendizor (Professional Identity: A Luxury we can't afford) on the blog Vitae sponsored by the Chronicle for Higher Education. At issue is the disconnect between employers claiming there is a skills-gap (i.e. not enough people with the skills they need to fill the jobs that they say do exist) and trend for people to alter there resumes to hide work they may feel ashamed of or qualifications like education that they feel will hurt their chances.

My first thought is to remind everyone that your resume is a living document. I am sure you have heard that you must customize your resume for every job you apply for, but how often do we think about why we are doing this? We should be doing this to make absolutely sure that it reflects the background we have that makes us a good match for the job. Could this mean leaving off jobs or experience that is not relevant? Yes. Does it mean we should feel like we need to hide things from future employers? No. I think of it in the following terms: I have a document that contains everything. This document is never submitted when applying for a job. It is instead used as a tool to help me view my entire past and decide what is relevant when crafting the document (resume or CV) that I will submit when applying. For example, during my freshmen year in college my work-study job was in the print shop. The following summer I worked in a small manufacturing facility. These two positions haven't seen the light of day for a long time... but if I ever had to make a shift back to anything that needed manufacturing skills I would dust these off to demonstrate I have had experience in this area. But just the lines on a resume would typically not be enough, you would need to pair this with a well written cover letter.

Beyond thinking of your application documents as living, and telling the story of how you will be the best person for the job you are applying for, we as applicants need to remember the importance of the research. How will you know what the employer values? Research! How will you know the skills needed in the position? Research! How will you know the issues faced by the companies within the industry? Research! Just use the pieces I have written about career research to find the answers, then spend some time crafting the documents to demonstrate how you have the skills that employers claim we as applicants lack.

To further prepare you may also want to read some/all of the following articles that Ms. Kendizor mentioned in her piece that relate more directly to the job hunter:

Further Reading:

Holland, Kelley. "Why Johnny can't write, and why employers are mad." NBC News: Business. November 11, 2013.

Kendizor, Sarah. "Surviving the post-employment economy." Aljazeer. November 3, 2013.

Kuper, Simon. "The great middle-class identity crisis." Financial Times Magazine. November 8, 2013.

White, Martha C. "The Real Reason New College Grads Can't Get Hired" Time. November 10, 2013. 

26 November, 2013

"Why Should we Hire You?"

Liz Ryan tackles the question "Why Should we Hire You?" in this blog post. In her opinion this fairly standard job interview question shows a lack of imagination. She suggests some new questions that could be asked that show more respect to the candidate and allow for the demonstration of the candidates thinking skills.

The problem with her advice is that it is very likely to turn off about 90 - 95% of HR managers. Since this questions can come at any point in the interview, as the candidate you have to be prepared with several points that you can use to build the appropriate answer. While I have not had the time to read all of the comments on the original blog post (over 420 when I last checked...) it appears to me that many of the comments from actual HR folks are explaining/defending the use of this question. The comments from others seem to be split between: "great article", "this bothers me too..." and "won't this make you appear negative..."

Timing is Everything

So why might this be bad advice? Well the first reason is that depending on when in the interview the question comes, might indicate the types of information that the interviewer is looking for.

If the question comes near the beginning of the interview, it is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the position and company before the interview process. It also allows you to demonstrate your abilities to summarize your qualifications and link them to the skills/abilities they are looking for. Finally it allows you to begin asking about additional insights for what they are looking for in the ideal candidate.

If the question comes near the end however you have used the interview to demonstrate what you learned about the company/position before the interview. So now you are using your answer to demonstrate what you have learned during the interview, and how you view yourself in relation to the stated need for the position. Even though I as the candidate know nothing about the other candidates, I should be the end of the interview know a great deal about the position and company. I obviously know a great deal about myself. The interviewer, therefore, is looking for how well I can communicate my knowledge about myself and how my skills/abilities match the needs of the company. It is in essence my final pitch to sell myself to the company.

As a job candidate I can sympathize with the sentiments expressed by the people commenting on Ms. Ryan's blog post, but as a research expert I hope to instill the opportunity this question presents to the candidate. Remember to use these opportunities as a chance to make yourself stand out from the candidate crowd!

As always I welcome comments/feedback.

29 October, 2013

The Interview: How not to blow it...

Even though this piece is written in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and is intended for college instructors, the advice works for all. Robert Sternberg is the president of the University of Wyoming and writes "How Not to Blow the Interview." His 10 tips (below) are as I said universally useful for the job seeker once you reach the interview stage.

  1. Ask in advance if they have any particular concerns about you.
  2. Don't assure people that your great idea will work for them because it worked elsewhere.
  3. Find out the hot-button issues on the campus in advance.
  4. Don't try to solve the institution's problems in the interview.
  5. Assume that anything you say to anyone in the interview could end up in the local news or somewhere on the Web.
  6. Never lie about anything, no matter how small.
  7. Try to understand how you might fit in to the institution's vision of its future.
  8. Know the hiring institution's story of its past.
  9. Don't assume you know who holds the real power.
  10. Be enthusiastic.
Now tips 3, 4, 7, & 8 can all be traced back to doing your research. Replace institution with company and this translates to any field. So this is another great example from someone who does hiring about how knowing about the company/institution (i.e. doing your research) can improve your chances of interview success. I have learned this lesson the hard way once, and hope to never be in that situation again.

16 October, 2013

cover letter advice

Katherine Goldstein, the innovations editor at Slate,  wrote this article for the site about Cover Letter advice. The subtitle for the article claims that it has 12 tips your career counselor hasn't told you, and I know that these are intended to catch our attention... but really?

  • Focus on the cover letter.
  • Keep it short.
  • Avoid awkward phrasing and attempts to be overly formal.
  • You are your best advocate.
  • Show me that you read my site.
  • Explain how selecting you will benefit me.
  • I’m not interested in anything you did before college.
  • I’m not interested in your life journeys.
  • When I read “senior thesis” my eyes glaze over.
  • I don’t really care what classes you’ve taken, either.
  • Your college and GPA aren’t as important as you think.
  • Follow the application instructions to a T.
The article itself is useful, since as she says she has read many cover letters in her time and hired many entry-level positions. But I can say without a doubt I have heard all of these before (and written about many of them!) Several of these work together to reinforce the main point I make, which is you MUST conduct the research to learn all you can about the position, company and industry you are applying for.

If you haven't done this type of research before I encourage you to read my various posts of research tips. If after that you need more one on one assistance I will once again recommend your local public library. While I certainly don't know my readers individually and where you all live, I know the profession. You should be able to find professionals who can help teach/guide you in research.

Good luck to all!             

15 October, 2013

The importance of asking job interview questions as the candidate.

As regular readers of this blog will already know, I am very much a proponent of proper preparation for job search or interview. Doing that research about the position, company, and industry are great ways to make you stand out and get interviews and hopefully job offers. So when I saw the following piece by Joel Peterson via LinkedIn I was prepared to agree with and sing the praises of the article:

"The One Job Interview Question to Get Right"  and as I began reading I initially thought I was going to be right... but then it turned south quickly.

First, I agree with the general premise that the most important question to be prepared for in the interview is when the interviewer will ask you as the candidate if you have any questions for them. Mr. Peterson's reasons for this questions importance are also spot on, it can be used to demonstrate to the interviewer what you know about the position, them as a company, and the industry they are in. I also agree with the reasons behind not asking the first three questions he details. As he mentions these will leave the interviewer with the impression that you as a candidate are looking to the position to solely benefit you, and not as a mutually beneficial relationship between you ans the company.

But when he gives his suggestions for four questions that would be better, I have to strongly disagree with three of the four. Before I get too far into why I object I feel that I need to give just a bit of background to remind regular readers and inform any new readers of where I am coming from. I am a librarian, more specifically a reference and instruction librarian. For the last ten years I have spent almost every day of my professional life teaching people not only how to research, but how to evaluate the information they find from their research. For about four of those years I was in an large academic library setting where I got the opportunity to work with the various career service offices at the university. In this time I learned first hand from the company recruiters exactly the point Mr. Peterson is making:

To stand out from the crowd of applicants, one must demonstrate with every interaction your knowledge of the position, company and the industry they operate in.

So now back to Mr. Peterson's suggested questions:

1. “How can new employees become familiar with, and begin to contribute to, the culture you’ve developed here?

To me this says you did not do that research. Instead you should have used the interview to demonstrate you know something about the culture and give examples of how you would contribute if hired. If you have done that, then you could ask a followup to clarify if you have the right understanding about their culture, or if the examples you gave would mesh with current initiatives. 

2. “What’s the most important way that your company differentiates itself from competitors?” (Focus the question on the particular industry you’re in, showing that you’re knowledgeable about the company and its sector.)

By asking this question, I again feel that you are demonstrating you didn't do enough research. You should have been able to learn some about them and their competitors and what the differences are... instead you might mention some of the specific things you have learned about them or the competition in the interview and make a connection with your background. (ex. "I read in the XXXX that your competitor is about to introduce YYYY and I feel that my experience at company ZZZZ would allow me to contribute immediately in your efforts to ....")

3. “What are a few of the most important challenges that the industry is facing, and how is your company going to approach them?

Again you should already know the challenges, and if the opportunity was available addressed how you can make a contribution during the interview.

4. “What might I do to add the greatest value to the business?” -- followed by, “What kinds of things can I do to prepare myself for the job?”

This combination is very good, but I think it needs to be paired with the suggestions I have made above. After sprinkling suggestions of ways you can contribute built upon the things you have learned about them and/or the industry during your research, these two questions can be a great way to wrap up the interview and hopefully receive some initial feedback on how they viewed you and the examples/suggestions you brought to the table.

The research is vitally important, but just as important is how you use what you learned and demonstrate it in the cover letter, interview, and all communications with the company.

I value comments and feedback as always.