Friday 14 December 2012

Standing the Conventions of Traditional Job-hunting Techniques Upside-down:

Richard Nelson Bolles is unquestionably the grandfather and guru-on-high of modern job-hunting techniques. I consider myself very lucky to have Dick as a longstanding friend and to have understudied him during his world-famous 2-week workshop in Bend, Oregon. Dick’s famous book, ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’, has been THE Number 1 best-selling book for career-changers and job-hunters for many generations; with a refreshed version coming out every year since 1967.

For me there is one particularly outstanding quote in the book:

“Many If Not Most Employers Hunt for Job-Hunters…
…in the Exact Opposite Way from How Most Job-Hunters Hunt for Them”

In spite of the proven wisdom contained in Dick’s inspirational book, nearly everyone I meet wrestles with the sagely advice within. They continue to expend their energies on applying to newspaper ads, sending-off unsolicited CVs and wasting hours applying to faceless companies online. I even find it hard to translate this wisdom to close family members who quite literally look at me as if I have two heads when I suggest they dump the CV/resumé, take the focus off recruitment agencies and get out there talking to people who share their passions with some well-prepared-for and energising informational meetings.

Since entering the careers development profession back in 1997, following a 2 year training programme, I have built a straightforward body of evidence which supports the generally accepted Rule of Thumb that roughly 60 to 85% of jobs are found through networking and ‘Word-of-Mouth’ recommendations (depending upon industrial sector and professional discipline).
Hirers much prefer to hire someone who they know a little about. If they come recommended then that can save a mountain of potentially costly misunderstanding and pain for both parties. Consider the consequences of getting that fleeting decision wrong if you’re The Hirer; after all, how many job interviews last more than 1 or 2 hours and how accurate can they be in forming such an important decision?

Nepotism is a fact of life… and who can blame them:
As much of an example of favouritism as it is, and as ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ so accurately states, the ideal scenario for the employer is to hire from within, to promote a proven member of staff whose quality of work you know; second to which would be to hire a contractor or temporary worker who is already known to the organisation, and so on. So if you’re the Job Hunter starting from a cold start, how do you compete, how do you amplify your chances?
As much as it remains an inspiration, a famous J.K. Rowling quote also sums-up how painful unemployment can be:

“Rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Back in 1994 I was in the midst of a desperate and protracted term of unemployment after I lost a job that I loved, when, refusing to lose faith, my quest for inspiration led me to my first ever, full-blown, career guidance interview. As tough as it can be to accept, especially if you have been unemployed for long period, you have no money, and you might even be at your lowest ever emotional ebb, we have to maintain faith in good things happening. My career guidance interview signified a transformation in my fortunes and a whole new direction for my life. All these years on and I still recognise it as the turning-point of my life.

It is a fact of life that there are times in our lives where we make our own luck. Navigating low-points are good examples. It would be grossly naïve to think we could walk through life unhindered. So what is it that we’re left with when we really, really have reached rock-bottom? I found that I achieved greater clarity about what was and what wasn’t important to me. For me it boiled down to people, community and loved-ones. Above all I learnt that I wanted to help others; especially to help young people avoid the pitfalls that inevitably befall us. And I wanted to leave the planet a better place than where I found it, to leave a legacy.

Solace in Solitude & Scarcity:
The sheer intensity of reflection provided by poverty meant I could draw contrast with incredible clarity at the great times and was better able to recognise what it was that I was good at or what it was about a certain set of circumstances that enabled me to perform to my maximum potential. I knew much more about what I wanted and what I missed. Reviewing the great moments granted me from my love of sport worked as great indicators and excellent ‘practice’ at recognising when my actions were working well.
As a county golfer, basketball player and rugby player, if ever I pictured myself doing well it was always with a smile on my face and great focus on a particular objective to which all my physical and mental attributes were pointed. Admittedly, not everyone is a lover of sport, but all of us possess a passion or an interest in a particular field (or as Dick Bolles calls them ‘Fields of Fascination’), be it fashion, animals, mathematics, stamp-collecting, movies, glass-blowing, history, spirituality, music, carpentry, fast cars… and so on. The list is endless. Identifying our interests is key to sparking our enthusiasm as it will fuel our progress throughout the whole of our career. It also instils an incredibly powerful advantage over our competitors.
The Art of Positive Thinking’ possesses incredible power. Our innate ability to visualise ourselves doing well can almost guarantee success. When we learn to back our own ideas we reap far greater dividends and tap into hidden strengths. Furthermore, we can never expect others to believe in us if we don’t believe in ourselves. But when we’re feeling down-and-out and despondent the reality is that thinking positively can seem very a far-fetched luxury. Rest-assured, somewhere deep within, lays incredible strength and resolve.
How do we build enthusiasm, passion and interest if we haven’t got it?
Informational meetings with ‘like-minded’ people form the mainstay of Dick Bolles’s (and my own) approach to successful job-hunting. Let’s not diminish how much bravery it takes to get yourself out there and start asking people questions about their work. Life can deal us some mean cards. One of the most ironic of all is how life asks us to feel upbeat and confident about ourselves, just at the time when we’re feeling rock-bottom and bereft of our working identity.
There are many ways of building the preamble to get you in position for an informational meeting. I’d suggest buying ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ or getting yourself down to your nearest library and doing the necessary background reading. Here is the gist of the questions I get my clients to ask:
(In line with best practice, apply the questionnaire in person because actually witnessing how your respondents answer questions is a key part of the process; which may lead to adaptations and additions being made as appropriate. Plus it helps build ‘chemistry’ and that all-important rapport we’re looking for.)
1.      How did you get your job and/or get promoted to your present position?
a.      Was there any particular person who helped you with this?
b.      What hiring channel proved most successful?
                                                    i.     responding to newspaper articles
                                                   ii.     internet research
                                                  iii.     speculative approaches - writing directly to the employer
                                                  iv.     recruitment agencies
                                                   v.     Word-of-mouth recommendation
                                                  vi.     Informational meetings
2.      What does your job actually involve on a daily basis?  What are your main activities? 
3.      What do you feel is your No.1 competency or skill that you enjoy using most in this job?
a.      Was this skill innate
b.      Or is it something you have developed whilst working?
c.      Does this competency correlate or link to your interests?
4.      Could you name your Top 3 Values? (e.g. recognition, sense of team, legacy, financial gain, power, creativity, helping others, there are many more…)
5.      In terms of education and training, what qualification has been most useful in your job?
6.      What is it about your personality which suits you to your work? (e.g. are you outgoing, do you concentrate well, are you happy working alone, etc?)
7.      What do you like least about your job?
8.      Do you have any additional advice for somebody attempting to break into this field?
9.      I wonder if you can put me in touch with 3 people from your network who share your working passions/interests, who you think would be willing to answer these questions. Contact name & details:

NB: Trust me on this; never fail to send your respondents and hand-written 'Thank You' for their time.

Informational Meetings truly bear fruit when you and your interviewee share such common interest that you both get very enthusiastic about the subject matter! Sometimes I have even known the rapport to be so good that the interviewer – You – is offered a job right there and then. When you’ve really done your homework on the organisation, and you’re really well-prepared, well-versed in your field of expertise and fuelled by your professional passions, the ‘fit’ between you and the company you are interviewing is all too obvious and they know you will very quickly add value, contribute great ideas and generally inject much-needed enthusiasm into their firm. So they just have to hire you to stop the competition from getting you!

This is all well and good, I hear you say, if you’re a young person starting-out on your career. But what of the workers whose industries have died, or the company owners have moved the operations nearer to cheaper labour sources. That work is not coming back anytime soon. This is where we have to ask ourselves what our transferrable skills are. What fields are connected to the work I once did and how to get into them.
Job Hunting Strategies:
Apart from trying to stay away from your pc during the daytime when you can meet people instead, I’d strongly suggest getting strategic about your job hunt. You will need a well-organised base, or desk, and you’ll need to do a lot of information gathering and planning. Dumping your thoughts down on paper either into a journal or diagrammatically, can be very helpful. I love mindmaps as they connect-up what might appear to be random thoughts and help us see patterns where they might otherwise remain invisible.
Extrapolating patterns from past performance can be incredibly empowering when it comes to building a plan for the future. Patterns point to proficiency, passion and potential, but recognising them is not always easy! Even if we are building from our past mistakes, an historic perspective can be very enlightening; as it provides lots of clues. For example, this is why we ask the question: What do you like least about your job? Because at least from understanding what we don’t like we are stepping towards what we do!
[I believe that there could be a sinister backdrop to employment trends and I have written about this extensively elsewhere. My fear is that growing numbers of corporations see the only way of increasing their profit margins being to ‘offshore’ and ‘outsource’ their labour costs by moving to increasingly cheaper sources of workers. The simple point I make here is how they risk shooting themselves in the foot if they take wages away from their local consumers by doing so. There can be little doubt that quality suffers as The West is many decades ahead in the adeptness of skill required to manufacture well-made products. Due to these short-sighted and economically naïve policies many once great companies have alienated their regular customers and robbed themselves of financial stability in the long term. Cheap goods are not always good goods. Unlike Detroit-based car-makers who stood still, the antidote is generating innovations and producing leading-edge thinkers fuelled by passion and the striving to make the World a better place.]
In parallel much of The West’s accrued vocational capital has stagnated from lack of investment in apprenticeships and training. In his compellingly beautiful book, written with his mastery of words, ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good’ Matthew Crawford encourages us to consider enriching our lives with more fulfilling and meaningful work.
The All-Important Skill of Rapport-Building:
Stop for one moment to consider the all-important skill of ‘rapport-building’. If you enter into a job interview not prepared to build rapport with your interviewer, then don’t waste your time or theirs. How do we build rapport? It stems from common ground. This can be physical, in that we mirror their body language and look and feel good in ourselves and we are seen to be attractive. And/or we strike up rapport by discovering that we share common values, interests, character traits, qualifications, language, hometowns, football teams… the list goes on, but you get my gist - we build rapport on shared passions.
Audits & Forecasts:
Now that we have spoken to other people about what fuels their successful careers, and we have absorbed their insight into their business, we are in a much better position to formulate our own career strategy. One of the most powerful techniques that I learnt during my career development training was the ‘Career Narrative’. Here we develop career-related stories about our work-based achievements and are helped to  interrogate our database of experience for the kinds of skills that we good at an enjoy using.
As with our ‘Patterns of Potential’ we will start to see recurring themes. This will also by now be building our confidence. We will start to see our vocational identity more clearly and understand the kind of people and firms we need to being talking to to build our careers by making ourselves more relevant.
We have really cracked our career strategy when we have extrapolated our research so accurately that we can list the companies that we want to go and work for and the individuals in those organisations that we should be writing to or calling up to request informational meetings with.
Purpose & Conviction:
Here again, I have written about this subject extensively elsewhere, but the message I wish to convey here concerns the difference between someone possessing a sense of purpose and conviction and those who don’t. As stated earlier, it is easy for someone to say these things when they’re not feeling down-and-out and devoid of confidence. And this is the key to success - don’t ‘go-to-market’ until you have it. Your marketplace is finite, there are only so many companies who will employ someone with your skill-set and career attributes in your area. Don’t squander valuable opportunities – and energy -  by being ill-prepared.
Going back to the use of positive visualisation, imagine for a moment a gymnast running at a vaulting horse. Imagine then sprinting down the runway about to throw themselves over the horse if they don’t believe in their ability to succeed. It’s simply going to end in tears isn’t it? They aren’t going to run fast enough, they’ll be thinking about how much they’re going to hurt themselves and just not concentrating on the important action of taking-off the springboard, placing their hands in the right place, and landing safely on both feet.
Whereas, in contrast, the gymnast who has prepared, honed their strength and technique through repeated practice, knows exactly what actions they need to carry–out, in what sequence, to perform well and can sprint, take-off and land like a well-oiled machine. They possess the qualities of self-belief, mental-surety, physical prowess and an attractiveness associated with their knowing they’re good at what they do.
In summary:
Job-hunting can be a lonely activity. It is also part of the Human Condition that we are not very good at looking inwardly and being objective about where our strengths and weaknesses lie when working alone. The best sportsmen and women in the world hire coaches to hold a mirror up and show them where they are going wrong and celebrate what they’re doing right. The lesson here is to try not to job-hunt alone. If you can’t hire a Career Coach to help you, club-together and share one, or gather together with others in the same position as a form of peer support or ask your friends and family for help.
The point remains the same, “Many If Not Most Employers Hunt for Job-Hunter in the Exact Opposite Way from How Most Job-Hunters Hunt for Them.” If you are not savvy to this and react accordingly, the risk is you will remain stuck. ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ as I call it, involves strengthening your job hunting armoury by never shooting at a job you don’t love with a sawn-off shotgun and no conviction. In stark contrast you are doing whatever it takes to aim at jobs you sincerely love, firing your heartfelt enthusiasm down the barrel of a high velocity rifle and taking aim with the precision of telescopic sights.

From my perspective, built on many years of experience, as hunter and coach, the labour market falls into two camps: 90% of the people I meet are in the wrong job, not engaged by their work at all, or paralysed by long term unemployment – they are the ‘Reactive Majority’. Then there are the 10% ‘Proactive Minority’ who know what they want and exactly where they’re going to get it. Remember, if your job isn’t out there, build it yourself! Harness your creativity, create your own recipe, build your own business and fly free!
Which camp do you want to be in – reactive, or proactive and free to call the shots yourself?
Duncan Bolam © 2012
The Career Dovetail Formula: Strengthening wellbeing by dovetailing more people into sustainable careers.

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