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1. Everything You Know About Job Hunting Is Wrong


 
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America's employment system is broken. It doesn't work. If it did, you'd be able to find a new job without too much trouble. Unfortunately, nowadays it's common to hear job hunting horror stories. There's the fellow who paid a Kansas firm to mass-mail his resume to 3,000 different companies. He's still wondering why he hasn't gotten one reply. Another poor soul has been getting turned down everywhere -- employers tell her she's overqualified because they're afraid she'll leave for a better job when one comes along. Then there's the insurance executive who has been on over a dozen interviews. His goal is three interviews per week. Not one offer yet.

Pretty dismal, isn't it? But look closer. These people all have something in common, something they share with most job hunters. They're following the traditional approach to job hunting. They're playing the numbers. Even the most aggressive of these, the insurance executive who is bulldozing his way into corporations for interviews, is really just gambling. He believes he has to have lots of interviews before anyone will hire him, as though there's a magic number he has not yet discovered.

There is only one job description: Produce profit.
America's Employment System is failing at its mission because American business is focused, more than ever, on work as opposed to traditional jobs. Meanwhile, the Employment System continues to choke itself on the traditional job -- spitting out millions of classified ad pages and online job postings every week, and right behind them the millions of rejected applicants whom they encourage to participate in this insensate feeding frenzy.

Is corporate America's hunger for workers satisfied? Is it done hiring? Many companies in fact aren't looking to fill empty jobs. They are leaving lots of positions unfilled -- attrition -- in an effort to reduce costs.

But don't confuse these "traditional jobs" with work. At the same time that companies are reducing their headcount they are hiring more consultants and more part time workers, and they are farming more work out to subcontractors who operate from home. What companies care about nowadays is getting the work done profitably, whether that means hiring full time workers or using robots.

Understand what managers need.
Managers want one kind of worker: the person who can solve problems and have a positive impact on the bottom line. Managers have less to spend on the resources they need, and they are increasingly measured on how successfully they (a) reduce costs, and (b) increase profits. Is it any wonder managers expect a lot from job candidates? They need workers who can help them address these two problems.

As a job hunter, is it possible to step up to this challenge? Certainly, but you can't offer the value employers need by sending them a cookie-cutter resume that focuses on your history. What a manager needs to know is how you're going to tackle the specific work he (or she) needs to have done. Job hunters on the whole do a terrible job of offering solutions to hiring managers. The most sophisticated workers, who ordinarily produce powerful solutions to problems they face every day on the job, present potential employers with a lame collection of jargon-filled historical data about themselves rather than with real help. Then they puzzle over why a particular manager hasn't extracted from their resumes the justification to hire them.

Personnel jockeys have brainwashed you.
But job hunters aren't all to blame for their zombie-like foraging for work. So-called "human resources experts" and corporate personnel departments spend billions of overhead dollars annually to promote a useless system of attracting, evaluating, and hiring people. They run want ads, solicit resumes, conduct endless man-hours' worth of screening interviews, and pretty much control a company's interaction with its professional community. These personnel jockeys have structured a system that encourages you -- the job hunter -- to keep your eye on the wrong ball. At a time in your life when you should be focused on showing an employer how your considerable talents can profit his company, personnel jockeys guide you into a maze of forms and data bases and meaningless interaction with everyone but the person who needs to hire you.

What does this mean to the job hunter? It means you're dancing to the tune of the wrong piper. Forget everything the personnel jockeys have drilled into your brain about job hunting. Ignore the "rules". They don't work. (If they did, companies wouldn't turn to expensive headhunters for help filling jobs.) Stop posting resumes and wasting hours scrolling through job postings. Ignore the weekly federal jobless claims statistics. Don't go on lots of interviews. Refuse to talk with humps whose job is to tag and file you. Refuse to answer questions like, "So, where do you see yourself in five years?" from clerks who represent companies that don't keep workers for five years.

When you start searching for a new job, place a renewed emphasis on your work and your ability to do it. That's what yields a job offer -- not your resume or clever answers to the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions.

It's the work, Stupid.
Machiavelli once suggested that the way to succeed in any endeavor is to rely only on those resources over which you have control, and not to count on those over which you don't have control. When you send out 100 resumes, you have no control over who actually reads them (if anyone), who you will eventually meet (if anyone), or about what. That essentially random first step starts you down the road to your own interview funeral.

So what does a serious job hunter do? Start your job search the same way you start your work day: with an assessment of what work (the prospective employer's) needs to be done and with a decision about how best to apply your considerable skills and talents to getting it done profitably.

You win a job the way you do a job: by applying your work skills.

The personnel expert vs. The Headhunter
Most advice that's available to job hunters comes from so-called "human resources experts" and "career counselors". Their advice is academic; they have never earned a nickel that was contingent on winning a job offer for anyone. Whether you win a job offer or not, they collect their counseling fee, and in most cases a salary from their corporate human resources job.

Headhunters earn their fees only when they have successfully won a job offer for the candidate they have presented to the client, and after the candidate accepts the position and starts work. Headhunters' methods must work; if they don't, headhunters don't eat. It's as simple as that.

Time to enter the forest primeval. Whose advice would you rather have along?

Next: The $30,000 Strategy

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I just downloaded
How to Work with Headhunters. Excellent! I will recommend that each of our Executive MBAs get this book. It's a very comprehensive treatment of every aspect of recruiting, search firms, career management firms and more. I especially like the Back of the Napkin section at the end. Looks like you thought of everything!

Susan Dearing
Director,
ProMBA Career Management Center
UCLA
Anderson School of Management