What’s the job hunting approach everyone can use? Start with Occam’s Razor, and you’ll find it. A reader asks: 

In all the muck and quagmire of “Internet advice” for the jobless, your bits of wisdom shine like flecks of silver. My question: How does an early middle-aged, twice-careered (both in service industry management), with a recent graduate degree in Economics best market one’s self?

Thanks for your kind words. It’s not about marketing yourself. People get brainwashed into thinking we are products — something to sell. That’s nonsense.

Jobs are not about people. Shocking, isn’t it? Well, grow up. (“Hey, it’s about The People! We count!” No, you don’t, not really. Not yet.) Jobs are about work. What’s the work? You need to figure out what work companies need done, and how you can do it.

But, the job boards have it backwards. That’s why everyone is chasing their tails. Don’t search for jobs. Search for companies you’d really like to work for, then figure out what work they need done. Your challenge is to show a company how well you understand their business, and how you’re going to contribute to their profit. Do that, and a company will create a job for you.

Try these two articles to start: The Library Vacation and Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.

Life is short. Why interview for a job at some company that just comes along? Pick the companies. Select, don’t settle. Go for the ones you’d love to work in. Then drill down through industry information, product lines, management, employees, and so on — to figure out how you can help them. Figure out how you can do the work, or somebody else will.

Forget resumes. Why? Because resumes are about you. A job is not about you. It’s about the work. So, focus on the work. Respect the work. Address the work. That is what a savvy employer wants (and will pay for), and if you can show you respect the work, the employer will fall all over itself to respect you, hire you, pay you well. But, don’t start with any cocky idea that this is about you and that you just need to figure out how to market yourself. That’s cock and bull. It is totally wrong. If it were about you, employers would beat a path to your door.

(Consider the obvious, cautionary analogy. Today, the entire world is all about marketing. Companies plaster their advertisements — like you plaster your resume — everywhere. “The Brand” is under bottle caps. At the bottom of your e-mail. Positioned on a desk as a prop in a movie. On disposable shopping bags. Anywhere so everyone will see it. And it’s all crap. A desperate attempt to get visibility at the cost of integrity. That’s what “marketing yourself” will do to you — turn “You” into an over-sold name plastered on job boards, social networks, resumes circulated by the thousands. Do you get it? Marketing yourself puts the focus on You. At worst, it turns you into a self-centered shill trying to convince, sell, persuade, influence, sway, induce, talk an employer into a job and out of a paycheck. At best, it turns you into a hired gun: A journeyman. A good employer wants to hire a person who gets it. And it is the work. Don’t believe me? Let me test you. Consider the last job you found posted somewhere that you applied for. Let’s say you get the interview. Can you walk into the manager’s office, go to the white board, outline a clear, accurate understanding of what exactly the business challenge is, what work needs to be done day one, week one, month one — and a plan for how you’d do it, along with a supportable estimate of how much profit you would drop to the bottom line? No? Then, you lose because you don’t get it.)

Prepare a business plan for the job you want to do. Use the 4 Questions — they’re in my book. (Buy or borrow from your library. I make a about a buck a copy, and my agent already got me my advance, so I’m not selling books.) There’s also info on the 4 Questions in The Basics.

Forget the companies that are hiring. Go find the company you want to work for, figure out how to make it more profitable (even the lowliest jobs contibute to profit, by either increasing revenue or helping lower costs through efficiency, etc.). Then show them.

This works for people middle-aged and fresh out of school. I learned a long time ago that the best solution to any question is usually the parsimonious one. Learn about Occam’s Razor. It cuts to the core of any issue. And the reason the approach I suggest for winning a good job is the best approach is because it works almost anywhere for anyone, because it is so simple — it goes to the core of hiring. It slashes that resume you have sitting on your desk to shreds. It’s not about You, because — I guarantee you — you cannot do the interview I described above because winning the job is not about who you are. It’s about knowing what the work is. And, smart and wonderful and motivated as you are — you probably don’t.

  1. This is outstanding. Nick, as always, you make great points.

    However, I’d like to parry you a bit on this …

    Some thoughts..

    First, I’m not here to defend typical resumes, or pedestrian personal branding/marketing strategies, but I do have a point of view on these topics that differs from yours a bit – not so much in theory as in “best practices” vs “normal practices.” Here goes:

    Most people use resumes as a crutch — that’s a given. Most people don’t have good resumes, have little understanding of their value, and use the resume as their calling card without any follow-up.

    Yet in most cases job seekers still need resumes because companies require them. But that’s the only reason. A well-prepared “journeyman” can certainly find a job without a resume. However, in a good resume development process, the resume is a minor deliverable — it’s just the tangible outcome of a deep discovery process that delivers clarity around brand, ROI value, accomplishments, process, etc.

    The resume is just a summary (albeit a good one, one hopes) of profit driving definers and differentiators. The real deal, the real deliverable, is the confidence, self knowledge, clarity of expression, and go-get-’em attitude that a good resume/branding process delivers. And that supports the research and presentation of the “business plan” at the target.

    (I believe that resumes are dinosaurs and will disappear at some point, but that’s another topic…)

    Let’s talk brand — you bashed branding/personal marketing, big time — and that’s OK, because personal brands, do not get people interviews. And you’re right, it’s not about the job seeker; it’s about the company. But in good personal branding and marketing the focus is not the job seeker, the focus is the target — or at least at the outset, the focus is the industry and its issues, and lasers in on the targets as they are found. In any marketing the needs of the customer should drive the message. And in good personal marketing, it’s the same. The message gets tighter when a specifc target is identified.

    Great, targeted personal brands (those with visibility) get people known, and found, and garner opportunities for being requested to interview. But, that’s great brands. And when I say great I mean tied to VALUE. What’s missing from much of personal branding is the value proposition. I always say the value proposition is what your brand looks like when you take it to work — it’s the thing that drives/supports profit.

    The value prop is what creates desire to initially see the candidate — the value prop is what delivers the promise of skills that deliver profit. Of course you are on-target about your “doing the job to get the job” strategies — and sadly most people will never do that. (Less competition for those that do!) But that doesn’t mean that resumes and brands are useless, just that they are used improperly much of the time and are not tied to obvious value.

    A lot of people who do personal branding and marketing don’t tie the brand to value (the “so what” factor) and that is lethal! I always say a brand=fit and the value prop=money. Money (profit) and fit (chemistry) get you hired. It takes BOTH – Brand AND Value / Money AND Fit / Profit AND Chemistry.

    But unless you know the company, its problems, even its potentials– and how you’d help them fix, change, leverage, or build something that delivers or supports profit –forget it. Resume, branding, even value, are all meaningless without targeted, compelling specifics that deliver ROI. As you so aptly demonstrated.

    We can always count on you to deliver impassioned, controversial, and practical viewpoints! Keep ’em coming :-)

    Deb Dib

  2. Shouldn’t there be new roles for the résumé?

    The thread I’ve seen about ineffective résumés that send the wrong message has certainly captured what so many of those documents are today. I suspect that’s not the fault of jobseekers who are inundated by a sea of pernicious folklore. That steady stream portrays the resume as a “magic” document, governed by arcane, ever-changing “rules,” driven by buzzwords.

    But I wonder if there shouldn’t be new roles assigned to that document. My focus is on the hiring decision maker.

    The hiring decision maker’s dilemma:

    Most jobs are born when a hiring decision maker sees a need for a capability. Naturally, she often thinks of sets of skills, knowledge, and abilities often summarized by job titles. She needs a sales professional, or an accountant, or an EVP.

    Her next step is to get permission to hire. She’ll have that conversation with the person who writes her performance review. Given the money involved in hiring, it might be a tough sell…unless she makes the key argument behind every hiring decision. She will give her boss her personal bond that the person she hires will make the company a good deal more money that it costs to bring the new addition on board. It’s a powerful argument. She will likely be successful.

    But she sees what we all see: too many people who aren’t good at what they do. And she thinks: somebody—just like her—chose that individual as the best in a field of eligibles. If he could make that mistake, so can she. And if she does, the following very unpleasant things will happen, all with her name attached.

    First, she will have broken her ROI promise to her boss, a promise that goes right to the heart of corporate growth. Next, morale will go down. She hired the wrong person, but the job must still get done. She may well approach her best person. “Jim,” she will say, “our new addition is having some problems. Could you show him the ropes?” Jim will probably say yes. But he’s already overworked. That’s why we hired the new person to begin with. If the situation doesn’t change, Jim knows he’s being asked to do part of the new person’s job—but isn’t being part of the new person’s salary. He, the best person, may leave. Where is he going? To the competition, of course. With much of the corporate proprietary information, customer data bases, contacts and more.

    Leveraging the decision maker’s concerns with information that helps her:

    Suppose job seekers focused on the concerns of the hiring decision maker as I’ve just described them. Then the resume could take these new roles:

    A solution for the employer: A résumé should give the hiring decision maker clear and compelling proof of two things.

    First, that the author understands the problems he will be asked to solve. There’s no room for collections of glittering generalities here (sometimes labeled “Summary of Qualifications”). What’s needed is a promise of value, laid out as behaviors associated with the best in the fields, actions that generate profits. Second, there must be living, breathing proof of performance, a transferable track record that documents those behaviors.

    A template for an outstanding interview: Most interviewers have no training in the process. They don’t do it often and, as we’ve seen, they are under some pressure. If the applicant leaves it in the hands of the interviewer, the meeting may well become an interrogation. What both parties need and want should be a collaboration.

    Why then can’t the résumé entice the interviewer to ask the questions that explore the match between corporate need and applicant excellence?

    As a lever for negotiating salary, benefits, perks, and severance: Too often, companies confuse cost with value. They end up offering the applicant compensation that’s less than what’s he’s worth.

    If a résumé can document savings or new revenue, it gives the hiring decision maker confidence that she will be able to deliver on her promise to her own boss.

    It’s not the format, but the function that counts:

    Do we need résumés? The answer is no if we’re talking about what most people mistakenly produce. But in the real world, we need some sort of written material to fill the roles I’ve suggested.

    Why? Suppose I need some expertise and I know you have those skills because we grew up together. I’ve seen your work at first hand. I don’t need anything in writing except your social security number.

    But that scenario is rare indeed. Most hiring decision makers have never met the person who joins their team until the first interview. Most interviewers must defend their choice to fill the position. If we can somehow replace the “magic” document I first described, with an item that fills the roles I’ve suggested, everybody wins.

  3. Deb Dib: Thanks for the view from the “branding” side. It’s important for people to get that perspective.

    Don Orlando: Yours is one of the best posts ever made to this blog. The implication of your very savvy suggestions is that a job hunter would need to do an enormous amount of preparation before even approaching a target company. But, that’s as it should be. If a person won’t do that work, they don’t deserve the job. Or the interview. Kudos for saying it so well. The institutional challenge is for employers to turn the interview process on its head. Anyone got ideas on how to make that happen? It’s the multi-billion dollar question.

  4. All of these comments are very good and I learned something from all of them. I also think the resume in its current form is pretty much worthless. But getting others to buy into that reasoning is difficult, how about some new approaches that get both parties halfway to the promised land,instead. I just wrote about an idea that may do that…basically giving the hiring manager a one sentence, easily found and read summary. Putting a “what can you do for me” segment in it is even better.