Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Top ten tips, my eye!

Being in the job market has made me the target of many 'top ten tips' type articles and posts. Just do these five/seven/ten things, and you'll have a new job in no time. If you don't it must be because of something you're not doing.

As a few of us were saying on Twitter yesterday, this is more than just a little disingenuous. With unemployment figures soaring in many places, and some industries/sectors being harder hit than others, it only serves to make people feel even more like failures when they load their weapons with silver bullets... and still remain unemployed.

Signing up for automated searches on some of the larger sites automatically means that you receive their regular little homilies about what you need to do better. And, if you're serious about looking for work, you read them, and try to follow their advice, in the hopes that it will make a difference. But after you've tweaked your CV, and honed your cover-letter-writing skills, and tapped your network, and pro-actively approached the people you'd like to work for, etc. etc. What then?

If everybody follows the 5-steps to a standout CV, recruiters still wind up with a slew of CVs with none that stand out. Because, to quote Syndrome in the rather Rand-ian The Incredibles, "Everyone will be special, and then no one is."

The fact remains that there are many more job-seekers than jobs out there, and being over-qualified turns out to be just as much of a disadvantage as being under-qualified. And the job-seekers range from those looking for minimum wage, all the way up to those who have worked at C-level.

Let me share a personal perspective:

  • My CV has been professionally reviewed
  • I write (if I do say so myself) a pretty kick-ass covering letter
  • I have more than 20 years of experience in my field
  • I hold a Masters' degree
  • I'm not exactly a global mover and shaker, in terms of innovation but many of the global movers and shakers know my name and are on hug-terms with me (so perhaps I could be called part of the second wave)
Doesn't that sound pretty darned employable to you?

And I haven't been over-selective. I have applied for some fairly humble posts, which have offered the opportunity to make a real difference to an organisation. After all, I don't need to be rich. I only need to be able to meet my commitments. But I do need to be fulfilled at work. I am not a person who is prepared to do something I hate day in and day out in service of Mammon. I don't measure success in Sterling.

So let's just take a look at one of the jobs I've applied for. It's fairly local, and they're looking for an 'innovative L&D manager'.
You will support the business to drive performance through the effective design or management of the design, of learning solutions globally. In order to build their internal capability you will need to deliver learning solutions to help support their strategy and ensure methods and content utilised within design reflect leading edge practices and deliver the learning outcomes specified in the design brief.

The role requires a high level of competence in learning design and evaluation methodologies and in training delivery skills.You'll also have the ability to manage multiple projects concurrently and deliver on time and to quality and to manage and influence multiple stakeholders.
Anyone who actually knows me, would think I was a shoo-in for the role. But within 90 minutes of my application, I received an email telling me that they had received an unprecedented number of applications for this post, and several of them more closely matched the skills and experience required by the advertiser. Since my covering letter had taken their description and identified how I had every point covered, I didn't see how this was possible... and I emailed them to ask for feedback on these grounds. I respectfully requested that they give me guidance as to how I might better demonstrate, next time around, that my skill set and experience did in fact map across to what was advertised.

No response. Not a squeak.

And to make matters worse, that job continues to be advertised, week in and week out.

I have been advised by people who claim to know about these things, that some (many? most?) of the jobs advertised on the really big recruitment sites are bogus, and that this appears to be one of them. What they would stand to gain from such a practice?

And how do they have the temerity, in the light of these bogus posts on offer, to keep publishing these silver bullets that tell us that the onus is on us to do better?


V Yonkers said...

Having gone through this many times before, (both on the hiring and job hunt side), I see three possibilities:

1) There is an internal candidate that they want to promote and they want to be able to say they looked for others. Perhaps this candidate doesn't have all of the requirements they are looking for and they want to offer the job at a lower salary or redefine the job to a lower grade one. The worst was the job that I found out later was advertised so they could keep a professor who needed a work visa. I had all the qualifications but one which was enough to keep him in the country (I am sure there were many that way).

2) The company is advertising because they want their competitors to think they are in better shape than they really are. Of course, if there was no company name, you can rule this out. They may also want to continue to have a pool they can tap when business gets better, especially if there is a large potential contract they are waiting for.

3) When I saw the words "ensure methods and content utilised within design reflect leading edge practices and deliver the learning outcomes specified in the design brief" I see "young." You are too experienced (although having a recently granted degree does give you a leg up) or rather "too old" to be "hip" or "innovative". I have seen this in teaching positions where my age is now becoming a problem. What it comes down to is money and how long they can expect you to work for them. You may also have "opinions" which a younger worker might not have. We aren't willing to do ANYTHING which a younger employee might be.

The upsycho said...

@Virginia Your thoughts overlap with mine in a lot of respects. However, with regard to point 3, the average time in a job in the private sector is now about 2 years, even less with younger employees. So hiring someone younger isn't going to get you more years of service. Antidiscrimination laws in the UK are very stringent, so an organisation is more likely at least to make a show of giving an older person a shot at it.

However, on the malleability aspect you might have a point. Also, I have a fairly large digital footprint with my strongly held views and (ahem) 'radical' tendencies laid bare for the world to see. I guess it would take courage to hitch your L&D wagon to that star, because it would be tantamount to making a declaration about your intentions regarding the future of staff development in your organisation.

Stephen Downes said...

This may be useful or it may not. It's basically what I have done on those occasions (thankfully few) when I have had to find a job.

1. Find the job description. Call the office, ask for the full job description.

Even more, especially if you are applying at a larger agency, try to find the competencies associated with the job description. These should be available, if you ask for them, or you might be able to get a contact in the organization to find them.

My current position, for example, had a standard job description, but (unadvertised) a grid of competencies. 'Teamwork', 'Communication', etc, with metrics for each level of appointment.

Whatever you do, dig deep to get the most precise description possible. Get as close to the source as you can; go to the office, call people, ask them the basis on which they are hiring.

2. Ditch the professional resume.

Create a new c.v. matched point for point with the qualifications. Make sure you've hit *every* criterion on your c.v. and hit is as closely as possible. Provide concrete examples, as proof.

The c.v. will be the evidence for your cover letter. The newsletter you did in 1980, the weekly update meetings you chaired in 1992, the blog you are writing today - all of these show a progressive and proactive approach to 'communication', which just happens to be one of the criteria in the checklist.

Your c.v. is presented chronologically, and sorted by experience, education, etc.

Your cover letter is basically a review of the criteria you found in your initial search, pointing item by item to the place in the c.v. where you satisfy the criterion.

Send the full c.v. and cover letter, and send a print copy by mail.

I really really hope this helps. It's no magic solution, it's a lot of work, and it won't help if they're hiring someone from inside, hiring a friend, or hiring someone who is not you. But if they're genuinely looking for quality, and if you fit the bill, this will get you in the door.

The upsycho said...

@Stephen Thanks. I shall certainly follow up on your suggestions and see what transpires. The difficulty with the really big recruitment agencies is getting past what I have begun to think of as 'the ivy' so that you can connect with someone who actually knows their L&D ass from their HR elbow!

Clare White said...

I found this issue - non-existent jobs - this year as well. An example: a recruitment company had 16 jobs in my area - turned out to be one job and they hadn't the right to advertise for that anyway, it was being advertised by the organisation itself.
The agency just wanted to have some good people "in hand" so that they could approach companies/organisations and try to tout for business. Because the recruitment business is really really tough, so the job seekers are being screwed.
I hate to say it as some of my friends are in recruitment, and presumably a bit more ethical, but you can't just trust those adverts or agencies any more.

The upsycho said...

@Clare I recently received my second bong email from the same contact within a large agency. The response (once again) came within about 90 minutes. I pushed back, as I had before. On this occasion, I was slightly more pointed, in the hope of getting a response. This time, I did get a reply, to the effect that the client has specifically stated that they didn't want anybody with xyz background.

I'm still not sure whether I believe it or not.

I also have a few acquaintances in the business, but, sad to say, I've not had much better luck with them than with anyone else.