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Cranking up your networking intensity!

image Many job seekers pursue networking contacts and events diligently each day. They connect with new people, consistently ask for referrals, attend networking meetings, trade association meetings, and professional associations regularly. These are all excellent, and critical for an effective job search.

However, if you’re looking for an idea that can produce more consistent leads and results, if you’re ready to crank up your networking intensity, if you want to turn your job search approach from a family sedan into a red-hot sports car… Read on!

As I’ve lead dozens of job search classes the last few years, I’ve seen some of the greatest results come from one strategy… focused, mini, networking groups!

What??? Attending large, broadly based networking groups can be a great resource to meet people from various industries and fields. However, they can usually be “hit or miss” when it comes to finding worthwhile contacts for your own job search. Creating your own “mini” group can take the best of aspects of the large group format and rev up your results.

Some of the best networking can occur between people that truly understand what you do and the specific type of role you are looking for. Create your own group of 4 to 8 people that are all in the same field or industry to meet weekly and trade leads and ideas.

How? Go to the large networking events to find others with similar or related backgrounds to yours. If you’re an Accountant, find other Accountants to meet with… or Controllers, or Financial Analysts, or Bookkeepers. They each would understand the subtleties of what you are targeting, and can identify appropriate opportunities as they encounter them. Look for appropriate potential group members at other events, out of your networking conversations, from your LinkedIn connections, or other referrals.

Once you have a few people willing to meet, set up a mutually workable time and place and agree to each come with a lead to share with others to each meeting. The leads might be a job posting, a conversation they had, a referral, or anything else that may be a good fit for someone in the group. Each person is responsible to bring at least one lead each week.

Be Careful! The purpose of the group is to gain targeted leads and ideas, and to be an encouragement to each other in your searches. It is very easy, if you’re not careful, for the group to fall into a “misery loves company” weekly encounter. If everyone (or even just one) ends up complaining about the economy and all the reasons they don’t seem to be able to land a new job, it will be a discouraging time in your week. Set ground rules right from the outset. No one is allowed to complain, and everyone has to bring something for someone else each week. The idea is to leave the meeting each week with fresh activity and hope!

Coopetition? I’m often asked “But wouldn’t I be giving away leads that might be a job for me?” That’s something you’ll have to work out for yourself. However, I’ve heard a great term… “Coopetition”. The combination of Cooperation, and Competition.

Especially with the number of candidates available for most any job these days, the best person will get it. That may be you, or it may be someone else. If it’s not you, would you rather that someone in your group get it, or someone else that you don’t know? Invariably in these groups, no two people have the exact same background. A position that isn’t an ideal fit for you may be a great fit for one of the others, and vice-versa. The groups tend to work most effectively when people share freely and openly.

Having a group of people that understand your field and target well is a terrific resource to gain new leads and information regularly. It’s networking on steroids! Try it and see.


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Can you improve your results with new certifications?

image As I talk to job seekers, I’m often asked if I think they should pursue some sort of certification, degree, or other continuing education in order to improve their chances of landing a new job. My answer… Maybe!

I’m a fan of a good education. I believe it can enrich one’s life, and often, it can certainly enrich one’s career.

However, there are parameters, and many people don’t spend their time, effort, or money well when pursuing new ‘sheepskins’ when their goal is to improve their careers.

Isn’t all education good education? Not necessarily!


Being most familiar with Information Technology (IT) professionals and job requirements, I can give the best examples from that field. In IT, there are literally dozens of certifications and continuing education programs available. Some carry a great deal of weight in the eyes of many employers, and others are barely worth the paper they are printed on. Many of those inconsequential courses or certifications may have value to you personally if you wanted to learn a new concept or skill for your own benefit. However, they do virtually nothing in increasing your value in the eyes of a potential employer.

There are some certifications in IT that are often seen as exceptionally valuable by employers. Some include:
  • ‘Project Management Professional’ (PMP) certification
  • ‘IT Information Library (ITIL) Foundations’ certification
  • ‘Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert’ (CCIE) and other Cisco certifications
  • ‘Certified Information Systems Security Professional’ (CISSP)
  • Various Microsoft certifications, and others.

Depending on the specific type of role you are pursuing, one or more of those programs may be worth your time, effort, and resources.

An advanced degree, such as the MS in Information Security, is highly valued by employers because it provides all of the core knowledge needed for a career as an IT security consultant, a chief information officer, and many other IT careers. The degree also prepares students for the CISSP exam.

On the other hand, without listing specifics, I often see people pursue some continuing education or training that has no real credibility with employers. Sometimes it’s known that the certification doesn’t test for enough real practical skills to be useful. Sometimes the program is not known by enough people to make any kind of impression. Other times the program is not related closely enough to the work you are pursuing. For example, pursuing a Cisco certification if you are a programmer has no real value for most employers, yet many people do pursue similar unrelated programs.

So, how can you tell if it would be worthwhile to gain a new certification or not? Here are some ideas…

Check job descriptions! Review job descriptions from a number of companies of the types of roles you’d like to pursue. If a majority of those descriptions list a particular certification as a requirement, or preferred qualification, then it’s likely worthwhile.

What’s your target? If your target job is primarily focused on one specific skill, a certification in that skill is likely to be viewed positively. If, however, your target job covers a variety of functions, and no requirement for a specific certification is listed, it is less likely that additional training in one skill will be viewed as having great value.

Ask around! Talk to other people in your field. Get MANY opinions in order to form your own. Any one individual may express strong opinions about a certain degree or certification. However, your goal is to get an idea of what is the ‘conventional wisdom’ about certain programs. Use LinkedIn to find staff managers for those functions at various companies and call simply to ask their opinion. Contact people and ask something like…

Hello, Mr. ________, My name is __________, and I’m calling in the hope you may be able to give me a quick opinion based on your expertise. I’m pursuing job opportunities as a _________, and wanted to gage from a number of different employers how much a (degree or certification) in ________ might sway their perceived value of a job candidate. In your personal opinion, do you think pursuing that kind of program would make someone a more highly sought after candidate, or would it have little or no impact?”

See what you get! You might also ask on industry, or field related forums online in places like LinkedIn Groups or other field related sites.

You may find that, given the job experience you’ve already had, that additional certifications don’t add much value compared to the time and resources you may have to invest. You may find that the education you thought would be worthwhile isn’t valued much by the employers you are trying to target. On the other hand, you may find that gaining a certain ‘sheepskin’ may make a tremendous improvement in the response you get.

Do your research and ‘polling’ in advance to determine what makes sense for you!


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Don’t get stuck in “Analysis Paralysis”!

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Too many job seekers accomplish very little from day to day because they believe they have to have everything perfect before they make a call, submit a resume, pursue a job lead, or set a meeting.

They get stuck in “Analysis Paralysis”!!!

I’m a big believer in great preparation, and many of my articles talk extensively about preparing and practicing thoroughly in order to present yourself as professionally as you can. However, at some point you have to just decide it’s close enough and jump in! Otherwise, you end up achieving little.

Some basic realizations can help you put things in perspective and accomplish more:

What have you got to lose??? Often, job seekers are afraid to make a phone call, because they feel that if they don’t do it perfectly, they will blow a job opportunity. That may be true, however, you already don’t have the job! Odds are heavily in your favor that by calling and talking to someone, your chances of gaining interest is greatly improved. By not making the call, you have no chance of gaining an advantage over other candidates. If you call, and somehow blow it, you’ve lost nothing compared to where you started. Don’t put so much weight on each call that it prevents you from making them at all.

It’s all a work in progress! There is no such thing as a “perfect” resume, a “perfect” phone call, or a “perfect” meeting. They always have room for improvement and should all be constant works in progress. The best way to improve them, though, is to use them and then tweak them for the next time around. As you develop a resume, or a phone script, or an “Elevator Speech”, you will best find how they can be improved by the response you get when you use them with someone. Then you can make adjustments, and try again with someone else. You will never get the same benefit out of practice at home, as you will get under “live fire” in a real situation. Using Tom Peters’ phrase from ‘In Search of Excellence’… “Ready! – Fire! – Aim!”. Innovative companies use that approach… you can too.

Fear is best overcome by action! The fear of failure, or of proactively contacting someone you don’t know can best be put aside by following Nike’s advice: “Just Do It!” Invariably, the mental image of what will happen is far worse than the reality. Especially in today’s job market, you will find people willing to help you in some way because they understand it’s a difficult time to be looking for a job. Will you score a home-run, or even a base hit with every call? Of course not. However, the more calls you make, the more meetings you set, the more people you contact, the better you’ll get, and the better response you’ll get as well. Don’t let your fears stop you from doing what’s necessary.

Certainly prepare. However, don’t let your preparation time be the vast majority of your days and weeks in your job search. Get out and talk to people, make phone calls, share your resume, and connect! Don’t let “Analysis Paralysis” take hold of you in your search!


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Networking is not a “One Hit Wonder”

image I had lunch with a friend yesterday who recently began to market himself as an independent business operations consultant. He’s very highly qualified, however, understands clients won’t be suddenly flocking to his door. He needs to network effectively to find opportunities. He never considered himself a “networker”, but he does it very well.

As we got to talking about his success so far, it reminded me how applicable his experience is to a job seeker as well. He’s becoming very good at it… and that doesn’t mean he simply connects with an endless stream of people and moves on.

Effective networking is about building relationships, adding value, and building trust and credibility. Doesn’t it take more work that way? You bet. Does it work? Exceptionally!

Here’s what he’s been doing, and how it applies in a job search as well…

One step at a time. Often, when people are “networking”, they try to get everything they can in one conversation or meeting. The most effective networking often involves an ongoing dialogue over time. It’s not a “hit and run” but rather building a relationship. In my friend’s first contact with a new person, he tries to get to know them somewhat, to build rapport, and establish credibility to have ongoing conversations.

Listen first! Rather than leading with an “Elevator Pitch” and asking for leads, he asks to get to know them first. He asks about their life, their interests, their career, their company, and their challenges. Understanding who they are, what they are facing, and what their interests are, helps him to find ways to be of help or of value in some way without an expectation of anything in return. One of the best ways to be thought of highly, is to show sincere interest in them and to be a good listener!

Offer help. Although you certainly never want to appear as a “know it all” with instant solutions for them, or butt in to their personal life or business when there’s no rapport, you can find ways to be of value to them in the process. Who do you know that shares the same hobbies that might be a good connection for them? Who do you know that has particular expertise in one of their business issues? Who do you know that might be a good potential customer for them? What recommendations can you make for them that are worthwhile for their personal life, interests, career, company, or business activities? By humbly, and unobtrusively offering contacts, ideas, or other help you gain trust, credibility, and good will.

Always look for natural segue’s to what you offer. As a conversation continues, and a relationship forms, you gain greater opportunities to seek help. Most of my friends leads come naturally out of the conversations he’s been having in this process. Often, as they get to know him, and see his sincerity and value, they give him leads without his even asking. As they discuss what he has to offer, they say… you know, you really ought to talk to _____, they are a having an issue you could really help them with.  Furthermore, because of the ongoing relationship, they keep coming back with new ideas and leads over and over again.

Certainly you can let them know what you do in your first conversation, however, if your focus is on them more than it is on what you can get, your results will be far more productive. Sincerity and humility are key! The more you take a sincere interest in them, and don’t try to show them how smart you are, the more likely they will respond positively. Be curious, be patient, be pleasantly persistent, be valuable to them, and you will gain help now as well as build a relationship that will be worthwhile for you down the road!


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Been there, Done that!

image So… I write all this stuff about effective job search techniques, and I get some wonderful feedback from people about how they like what I’ve written, how they appreciate the help, and other kudos… but do these things really work???

It’s fine to throw out a bunch of ideas and advice, but do you have any idea of what it’s actually like down in the trenches of looking for a new job?

There’s all kinds of advice available out there, but much of it feels academic and not applicable in the “real” world. How does it work where the rubber hits the road?

I had a cup of coffee today with someone I appreciate that also writes a blog on job search… Mark Richards who writes Candidate’s Chair. Mark is not a job search expert because he’s been a recruiter, or career coach, or has had some other directly applicable career. He writes from the perspective of a job seeker himself, and relating what’s worked and what hasn’t in his own search (he’s a very successful and highly skilled CFO, by the way, so if you have any leads for him, be sure to let him know). His blog resonates with many people because he relates the same struggles many others face as well.

I believe, and hope, that my blog posts have resonated with people for the same reason. Although I am a recruiter, giving me a unique insight into job search tactics, I believe the reason my advice is practical and real, is that I’ve “been there and done that” myself, and have the shirt to prove it!

As a recruiter, my primary responsibility is really in sales. I have to contact companies, and sell them on the idea that using a recruiter to fill a position is worth their while, and using me in particular is their best bet. Even though making sales calls is part of my daily routine, it’s very different when I have to “sell” myself in a job search. The “product” becomes very personal and rejection is much more personal as well. Although I’ve been self-employed for the last several years, I’ve had to look for a new job multiple times in my career… usually during a recession! It’s given me a good understanding of what it feels like on the other side of the interview table.

Also, I lead 8-week small group classes on an effective job search. Each week the participants share what they did the previous week, what worked, what didn’t, what reactions they got, what successes they’ve had, and what failures they’ve had. We learn what we can, and talk about the emotional fallout from the failures.

In my recruiting practice, I talk to my clients… Managers, Directors, VP’s, and C-level executives about why they chose one candidate over another. What got their attention from various applicants, and what turned them off. I talk to candidates I deal with about their job searches. Asking what they’ve been doing, what’s been working for them and what hasn’t.

From my own job searches, I recall what I did, what worked, what I felt, and what frustrations I faced.

In two of my job searches, I moved to a new city without a job waiting for me. I needed to find something quickly and knew I needed motivation to kick myself out of bed each day to do everything I could to reach my goal. In my case, I intentionally created negative motivation. I went to temp agencies, and found 2nd shift positions in machine shops. I took positions that were simply menial, manual labor jobs… that I HATED! That was the motivation. I had my days free to do whatever I needed to do to find a new job that I wanted, and worked as hard as I could so that I could quit those night jobs as soon as possible! Every morning I woke up, and got out of bed to start making phone calls because I didn’t want to have to go back to the machine shop again each night. That worked for me! Find what works for you.

I found that searching through ads and sending in resumes was not enough. I got results through talking to real people at companies I wanted to work for. I found that waiting for calls back from people took too long. I creatively found ways to become pleasantly persistent. I found that “winging it” in my conversations, networking meetings, and interviews was not very productive. I prepared myself with agendas, with scripts, and with practice in order to present myself better and more professionally than anyone else I might be competing with.

When I write about the importance of networking, persistence, and preparation, it’s not based on “book” information, it’s based on what I’ve observed from my class participants, from my recruiting activities, and from my own experience.

Yes… this stuff works! I know, because “I’ve been there and done that!” Hopefully, as you apply the ideas, you’ll find they work for you too.


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