Do You Have A Focus Group?

Job seekers, like it or not, you are a salesperson. Your talents, skills, connections and sweat are up for grabs and it’s your responsibility to understand who your customers are, what you have they could use, what value to put on those offerings and how they respond to your marketing materials & pitch.

How does one go about finding this kind of stuff out? Follow the lead of successful companies and put together your own focus group. Your focus group should include individuals from your target audience or who come close enough to be able to appreciate the perspective of that audience. Too many job seekers rely exclusively on advice of those who aren’t really part of their target audience. Why is that a problem? Imagine a restaurant turning to vegetarians for their take on a new burger. Imagine an automaker asking 18 year old drivers to evaluate a new mini van versus moms with kids. Doesn’t make sense, right? If the restaurant or automaker followed the suggestions of the vegetarians and 18 year old drivers, imagine how unappealing the end result could end up being to the target customer.

Having individuals with no real need for or understanding of what you do as your sole source of guidance in your job search is problematic. Sure, consult resume, interview and job search strategy professionals for overall concepts, but turn to your focus group for refinement. Ask former colleagues, fellow members of professional associations and decision makers in your networking circle from companies similar to those you are chasing for a moment of their time. Your search efforts will benefit.

By the way, thanks to my friend Dave Isbell of the Michigan State University Alumni Association for inspiring this post. Check out a post he wrote last week for a deeper discussion on the matter. You can find the post by clicking here.

Name That Staffing Company

You know that company you really want to work for, but it doesn’t have any current openings or isn’t sold on your background being a fit for its needs? A simple question may help you gain entry when the odds don’t seem to be in your favor.

The next time a company gives you the cold shoulder, try asking the hiring manager what recruiting agencies the company is likely to turn to for projects or interim staffing solutions. Reiterate your interest in the company and express your willingness to demonstrate your abilities in a temporary capacity. If the company gives you the names of the agencies it partners with, contact those agencies, let them know you are aware of their relationship with ABC Company and ask them what you need to do to qualify to be an option for assignments with them. Let them know you are also willing to consider opportunities in similar settings.

Many companies are relying on temporary agencies right now. If your situation is such you are able to consider project work, don’t miss out on the chance to make a good impression with the companies you’re targeting through temporary assignments.

“I Know What I Don’t Want…”

When I ask job seekers to give me an idea of what they want to do, what I often hear in return is…”well, I know what I don’t want.” Sound familiar?

I have good news for those who can identify with the above. If you know what you don’t want, you know more about what you do want than you are taking the time to consider. Change the way you talk and you’ll see what I mean.

“I don’t want to work in a non-profit,” becomes, “I want to work in a for-profit setting.”

“I don’t want a long commute,” becomes, “I want to work within 20 miles of Lansing.”

“I don’t want to work for less than $10 per hour,” becomes, “I want to work for $10 per hour or better.”

“I don’t want to be holed up in an office all day,” becomes, “I want to work in a setting where my time confined to an office is minimal.”

I’ve blogged about this before when discussing how to sound less negative when sharing your job search efforts with others. I’m restating the point today because a discussion over coffee reminded me how the same poor word choices end up leaving job seekers feeling boxed in and without options. Flipping the thought to a more open and positive direction keeps your focus where it should be, on where you wish to end up versus what you hope to avoid.

Give Me An Example Of…

You know those interview questions that start off with “give me an example of…?” Give me an example of a problem you faced and how the situation was resolved. Give me an example of a situation where you didn’t get along with someone and how you handled it.

When I conduct practice interviews questions like the above tend to get people into trouble. The questions are used to measure three things. Being aware of what those three things are will help you tackle them effectively.

One, can the candidate identify a meaningful example on the spot. It’s easy to draw a blank on these types of questions. Not being prepared is a sure fire way to struggle here. Another reason is often that the person I’m interviewing is trying to come up with an example in the extreme. There is a need to share a huge problem or big personality clash. The truth is, not everyone has something extreme to share. In addition, sharing something controversial and dramatic could also add negative vibes to the interview. Examples don’t need to be outrageous. Picking something that is relevant, yet simple, works. If your a sales pro, speak of a time when what was promised to a customer couldn’t be delivered and how you made things better. If your an IT pro, share a situation when the network crashed during a key time and how you saved the day. For the examples of personality clashes, share an incident, not an ongoing saga, where there was a clash that you were able to work around. There is no need to invite the backstabbing jerk who is sleeping with the boss into your interview. Got it!

Two, can the candidate speak of less than ideal situations in a succinct way, without getting weighed down in the minutia of the negative, and move to solution mode quickly. Though these types of questions have two parts, it’s been my experience candidates tend to dedicate most of their time to discussing the problem, the person they didn’t get along with, etc., and then spend a fraction of a time on sharing the solution, if they even remember the question had two parts. Individuals who show an affinity to focus on the negative and who are more detailed when sharing obstacles than solutions don’t have “hire me” stamped on their foreheads.

Three, can the candidate demonstrate an aptitude to work through obstacles. At the end of the day, employers want to know the candidate can recognize things that aren’t working and figure out how to get a better outcome. That doesn’t mean you have to show you can go it alone. There is a time to handle things yourself and times to invite the appropriate level of management into the equation. Do you know when those times are? Are you one to act or to sit by and wait for someone else to solve something? Can you even tell when something is amiss?

In a nutshell, these questions don’t have to stress you out and don’t require you to weigh your interview down with stories of toxic situations.

 

Unemployment Numbers

Unemployment numbers…they’re up, they’re down, they’re up, they’re down, they’re stagnant, they’re up, they’re down… I’m sure I’m not the only one with a kink in my neck trying to keep track of it all. This week we are firmly in the “up” category. The official percentage is 9.2. I suspect the actual number is higher, but we’ll save that for another day.

If you follow me on Twitter (@RecruiterUncens) you probably noticed I got a bit prickly over the political spin tied to the release of the latest figures. Democrats and Republicans alike just love to use the plight of the unemployed to shred the other side and push for action on agendas they deem important. It drives me bonkers because we have a serious problem here and those with the ability to actually do something about it are too caught up in political maneuvering for election advantages to focus on what counts. I’ve honestly lost the ability to sort out fact from fiction any more. Those of you who think you can, kudos. All I know to do at this point is keep my nose down and focus on the overall effort with as much objectivity as possible.

Back to the numbers. The increase in unemployment numbers didn’t surprise me this time around and shouldn’t have surprised anyone else, media and political figures included. Yes, there are things that Obama, Democrats & Republicans have done or failed to do in the past that are making things worse, but in the present sense, we still should have seen this coming. Several things are happening right now that have me preparing for a bumpy next couple of months. I don’t say that to freak people out. Freaking out isn’t productive. I personally think we’ll all be better off if we can approach the situation rationally and not let all of the drama in Washington DC distract us from a clear strategy. Politicians are trying to win future elections. We, on the other hand, are trying to win good outcomes for ourselves.

So, what’s happening. First, most have followed the substantial spending cuts on the federal, state and local level. No matter what side you’re on in terms of supporting the cuts, logic dictates jobs were going to be lost as a result of them. More will follow as budgets are finalized and sorted out. Hopefully the newly displaced can be absorbed by the private sector in short order. Planning on how to make that happen, especially when many of those who lost their jobs are connected to professions/organizations that were battered in the media in order to gain support for the cuts, is going to be the challenge. Just like the chronic unemployed have to fight all of the negative assumptions automatically made about their abilities, motivation and such, these individuals are in the same boat for different reasons.

Another reason unemployment numbers are going to go up is our plan to scale back on military operations. Again, it doesn’t matter if you agree with the need for this to happen or not. Eventually it will, perhaps sooner than later, and we need to be realistic about what it means to the economy so we can prepare and not be shocked. Military operations help economies. WWII really helped get us out of the Great Depression. As military members and contractors return from overseas, those whose services won’t be needed anymore will join the unemployed for a time. Industries that have been supporting our military initiatives will likely cut back operations and personnel, as well. It makes sense this will happen. Let’s prepare and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the blame games.

The current gridlock in Washington DC over budgets is also a factor. The private sector is stuck in a holding pattern. Hiring is about meeting future needs, not past needs. If businesses can’t predict what the future holds because Congress and the President can’t make efficient and longer lasting decisions, they pull back. Again, it doesn’t matter what your political preferences are, we should all be able to see how these 11th hour negotiations, waffling on regulations/tax codes and short fix budget plans cripple business decisions in our country. Both sides are contributing to this problem and should be condemned for doing so. I’m starting to believe any decision Washington DC can make at this point is better than no decision at all. How sad is that?

Of course, there are many more factors contributing to the job picture in our country than the three listed above. I’m sharing these though because I felt the need to insert some objectivity into a situation where many seemed to be acting shocked, panicked and negative. I personally think it would have been better for our country if our politicians and media personalities, who are smart enough to  know this was going to happen, too, had prepared the public for this outcome and acknowledged this was going to be something we’d have to find workable solutions for. Panic and additional efforts to wedge Americans apart over politics solves nothing.

So, if you’ve made it this far, remember to keep focus and perspective in your search. These numbers don’t mean things are hopeless. I’m still seeing improved job flow. Many job seekers I work with have more positions to apply for these days and are landing more interviews and offers. Salaries are improving. I’m sure there are reports out there that will contradict this, but I don’t care about them. They don’t change the reality of what I am experiencing. In a two week period, 11 people from my networking groups landed jobs. That’s the highest number in that amount of time yet. Some had been looking for years. Several more are nearing offers. These latest numbers don’t change that. Know where we are as a country, but also do what you can to filter out the drama and still see the bright spots in your own search.

Final note, this is not intended to be a political blog. I won’t tolerate any political sparring in the comments for this post. Any comments that take a political side won’t be posted. It’s too distracting to the actual message.

I’m Such A Meanie

I think I’ve shared before that I have a twin sister. As far as twins go, we don’t have many similarities. My sister’s curly jet black hair, green eyes, artistic ability and tendency to say things like “fiddlesticks” when mad are polar opposites of me. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I say fiddlesticks, too. What can I say? We spent a lot of time with our grandmother in our formative years.

Though I’ve always been aware of our physical and creative differences, my sister brought another one to my attention several years ago. It was a doozy. After overhearing a phone conversation I had with a temporary employee who needed to be counseled and eventually terminated for poor choices, my sister informed me should could never do what I do because she wasn’t mean enough to fire people. Though she didn’t intend to call me “mean,” her words gave me pause. As a person who has largely been viewed as a goody-goody by most of my friends and co-workers, it was the first time I’d ever considered my actions could be interpreted as unkind. After stopping and thinking for a bit if her words rang true, I determined two things. First, memories of some events from our childhood reminded me she had more potential to be mean than she was giving herself credit for. Second, sometimes what may seem mean on the surface may actually be kindness in its most genuine and honest form.

Honesty is big in my book and it extends beyond just being honest with myself. So much of what I do involves keeping others honest about how their own actions, or lack there of, affect their ability to reach their goals. Through the years I’ve had to have a lot of difficult conversations with people who may or may not have wanted to hear what I had to say. No matter what they wanted, the need for them to hear it was there so I went for it. I can’t say I enjoyed all of those conversations. The goody-goody in me hated to hear the hurt or anger in the other person’s voice, but I knew hinting at problems or ignoring them for someone else to address was the meanest thing I could do for that person. The truth of the matter is, sometimes people need to get fired, need to fail, need to have that “come to Jesus” conversation with someone who is far enough removed for it not to be personal, in order to form better habits and get things back on track.

When I have to have tough conversations with job seekers about their attitude, presentation, skill set and such, I often hear, “no one has ever told me that before.” That’s probably not the reality of the situation. My guess is no one has ever told them in a direct way that forced them to hear to the unvarnished truth. We are a society that is more inclined to tell people what they want to hear, hint at problems and run from conflict if we conclude the potential resulting drama isn’t worth the effort. I understand it and sometimes do the same with challenges in my personal life. Professionally, however, it’s a different story. At the end of the day I know the job seekers I’m committed to helping need me to tell them the truth. They need to hear what is really standing in between where they are now and where they want to be. So, I’m mean. I’m mean without malice behind my words. I’m mean with love in my heart for the unique individuals they all are. I’m mean with high hopes I can be a part of them finding a way to better outcomes down the road.

To the job seekers reading this post, the next time it feels like someone has been mean to you by criticizing you in some way, take a moment to think about their intentions and the potential truth of their words.  Ask yourself if the message would have resonated had it been smothered in frosting and sugar. Consider if what initially felt mean might have been the most genuine extension of kindness you’ve experienced in your search.

To those on the front lines of helping job seekers find work, tell them the truth. Tell them what they need to hear. Cheerleading has its place, but it won’t help someone get a job who needs to stop and take stock of some things.

Meet Some Special People

I’ve heard bloggers are supposed to post pictures to keep things interesting. I’m not a picture girl, but I’m going to break from my norm to show you some of the wonderful people I get to spend my time with.

Today a group of 10 job seekers and 8 members of the business community came together in Lansing for 3 hours of focused brainstorming. Participants were arranged in 4 groups, with 3 job seekers and 2 business members in each group. Before you think I can’t add, let me tell you two job seekers weren’t able to make it. One had an interview come up (woohoo!) and the other didn’t feel prepared with the information needed to participate. No problem.

In the groups, each of the job seekers got a chance to be in the spotlight for 45 minutes. Fellow group members learned about their backgrounds, skills, interests and talents and then had a nice chunk of time to imagine all sorts of ways all of the above could be put to use in today’s job market. Since the event took place in the basement of Capital Area District Library, we had library superstars Eunice & Liz on hand to help connect participants with any resources they had on hand to enhance the process. Eunice was all over ReferenceUSA this morning providing information on companies and executive leadership in the industries participants found relevant to a particular job seeker.

Today’s event was an experiment. If you’re reading this and wondering why you didn’t know about it, this one was by invitation only to control the initial test run. It went well and I anticipate this is the first of many. It’s no secret I’m constantly looking for effective ways for job seekers to collaborate with the business community and those in workforce development. This seems like a winner to me. Those in Lansing who didn’t get to play today will get a turn. Count on it.

I’d like to pass on a great big thank you to those in the business community who gave their time today. Rich Howard, Cindie Alwood, Jim Bunn, Sue Quimby, Tami Nykamp, Kate Tykocki, Sherry Doody & Shelley Lowe…you made a big difference today in the search efforts of these great job seekers!

To the job seekers…Steve, Blake, Anne, Kevin, Connie, Lori, Jeffery, Beverly, Jesse & Cindee, you are all wonderful, talented, motivated and giving individuals. You approached today with open and creative minds. Good things are coming.

 

 

Jesse, Me, Beverly & Cindee

Cindie, Blake, Me & Jim

Cindie, Blake, Anne, Me, Jeffrey, Steve & Jim

Cindee & Jesse

Steve

Cindie

Beverly, Sue & Lori

Cindee, Sue & Lori

Liz & Eunice

Kevin, Shelley, Connie & Sherry

Tami & Kate

Blake & Cindie

Steve & Jim

He Who Hesitates…

This week four job seekers from my roundtable groups landed jobs. All had one thing in common. The opportunities came at them fast. There was little time to pause and digest. Two of the four actually started their jobs within a few days of getting the offer. The companies found the fit they wanted and were ready to get the show on the road.

Considering the job market has been slow going for the past five years in Michigan, many job seekers have come to believe fast hiring processes don’t exist anymore. They are used to companies dragging things out and go into shock when the opposite happens. Some end up mentally crippled by the efficiency and drown in hesitations…afraid to make a quick commitment after months and years of searching. This is a problem when you have companies finally finding themselves in the position to hire and needing talent NOW to accomplish key objectives.

Hesitating when you have a buyer on the hook, which is exactly what a prospective employer is, can cost you a job. Allowing doubt to show itself can give an employer second thoughts about your true interest and give the impression you’re playing some sort of game. It’s one thing to have doubts because you have genuine concerns that need to be settled and quite another to have doubts because you simply weren’t mentally prepared for a decision to come so fast.

How do you solve this problem? For one, do your homework and ask good questions so you have all the information you need to give a solid yes or no should an offer come quickly. Second, practice making quick decisions in general. It sounds silly, but it really is a practiced skill. How do you practice? When a hiring manager asks when you can interview state an option instead of saying “whenever.” When an interviewer asks about a potential salary range for you, commit to an educated answer instead of “I’m flexible.” When a friend asks where you’d like to have lunch, name a place instead of “wherever you feel like.” When your child asks if he can have ice cream after dinner, answer yes or no instead of “we’ll see.”

Some of these ideas may sound trite, but your mind will sense the difference and migrate to the habit of making faster choices and committing to those choices with confidence. When you think about it, if we aren’t able to make quick decisions on the things that are relatively insignificant, how the heck can we do it when faced with something of great importance?

Strategic Volunteerism

Today I’d like to tell you about Jane. Jane is an absolute ace. She’s professional, smart and gives her all whenever she takes on a project or commitment. Like many job seekers interested in staying visible and positive, Jane spends much of her time volunteering. The hours of service she’s provided to her community have been invaluable, but she has yet to see much momentum in her job search from her efforts.

Though I fully understand the primary purpose of volunteering should be supporting a cause, I want to talk about Jane’s situation because it’s an important lesson for those needing better results in their job search. It is possible to serve your community and make significant strides in your job search at the same time. The key is finding strategic ways to volunteer that showcase the talents you’d like a potential employer to notice.

Jane volunteers for just about everything. One day she’s playing BINGO with senior citizens, another she’s helping dish out coleslaw at a community picnic and yet another she’s stuffing roadside trash into a bag along the highway. These are all good things, but if Jane needs her volunteer efforts to spice up her job search, she needs to blend in activities in line with her profession. Jane doesn’t want a job in food service or parks & recreation. She wants a job managing marketing campaigns. Don’t you imagine there are non-profits and community groups who could benefit from her skills and allow her to showcase them in a visible way? Can you imagine how using her volunteer time in a strategic way could enhance her brand and make more people aware of her true abilities?

Those who know me are well aware I’ve been on a volunteer mission of sorts for the past 2 years. My background in recruiting and my absolute heartache over the struggles of the unemployed in Michigan lead me down a road of helping displaced professionals get back to work in Michigan. Though playing an active role in helping people get back to work was my first priority, without question my professional image, credibility and visibility have swelled as a result. I’m not looking for a job, yet I’m frequently asked if I’d consider this or that. If the day ever comes when I need or want to work for someone else arrives, I’ll be set with contacts who can help me pull it off in a short amount of time.

My message isn’t that Jane must stop volunteering for things that aren’t in line with her profession, but that she take a moment to consider how she can balance out her volunteer time so at least some of the things she is doing enhances her resume and draws attention to her marketable talents. She’s made the case she’s a giving soul. Now it’s time to make the case she’s strategic.

I’m Not Who You Think I Am

Any guesses on my education background? By degree I am a Medical Technologist. That is a 4 year degree with a heavy emphasis on physics, chemistry, biology and math. Medical Technologists are the ones in the various hospital and research labs around the country running tests and digging for answers to medical mysteries. I worked in the microbiology lab of a large Detroit hospital after graduation. I was assigned to fun things like urine, stool, blood and CSF cultures. Probably didn’t see that coming, right?

Most assume I have a background in business or career counseling. I fell into the recruiting profession. It’s a long story I’ll save for another day. The short version is I failed to consider the lack of people involvement when picking my degree, ended up hating the solitude of the lab and, by a complete fluke, ended up working for a recruiting agency. Moving on…

If I’d had a crystal ball as a freshman in college, I may have picked an education path more in line with what I’ve ended up doing. Boy, what a mistake that would have been. You see, it’s the Medical Technologist in me that makes what I bring to the table different from some of my peers. When I got a specimen in the lab I knew I was getting it from someone who wasn’t well. Something was going on with the person and my ability to sniff out clues was crucial. Medical Technologists are hunters, of sorts. The assumption was always that something might be there and every effort must be made to find the hidden and not-so-hidden. Though many of the tests I ran produced normal results, I never let the stats sway my commitment to approach every specimen with my eyes, nose (don’t ask) and brain on full alert.

The habits gained from my dance with Medical Technology often have me approaching searches from the opposite direction of those I’m attempting to help. Many job seekers are convinced nothing is out there so they go through the motions with their search and end up with the negative result they expected. I, on the other hand, am trained to believe the potential for a positive result is everywhere. Because I’m focused on proving something exists and others are focused on confirming their belief something doesn’t, the information we collect is entirely different.

A short way to sum up this long point is that your eyes are inclined to believe your brain. If your brain says nothing is there, your eyes won’t see the obvious. Though it’s important in medical settings to prevent eyes from overlooking things, I promise it’s just as crucial in a job search.