Put off the job search till things get better?

I could make this a very short blog this week by writing “Are you INSANE?” and leave it at that. But let’s try to figure out why all those Internet pundits who get paid to write Human Resource/recruitment/life coaching articles based on common sense seem to have lost theirs.
Here are the arguments for holding off. You might already have seen rubbish articles on the Internet along these lines.

  1. You’re tired out from looking, and just feel stale. It’s a jungle out there. Take a break.
  2. The economy will be a lot better by 2013. (Depends who becomes President, doesn’t it, everyone? Let’s not GO there or this will become a very different sort of blog.)
  3. You might want to reconsider the type of jobs/career you’re been applying for. Perhaps your specialty, blacksmith, isn’t as hot as it once was and there just aren’t enough shoe-less horses around for all of you. Perhaps it’s a good time for you to be looking at new options. “Do you know, I’ve always wanted to be a chef. All these NY1 advertisements for the Culinary Institute make it look dam’ enticing.”
  4. It’s near Holiday time (it’s always near Holiday time – summer, Thanksgiving, and as for Christmas and New Year – puh-leeze). Might as well wait till after the Holiday season.
  5. You could usefully take a break to finish all the chores that don’t get done when you’re working. You’re getting unemployment which helps a bit, so let’s go for it and paint the outside of the house.

Now, there may indeed be reasons you need to take a break. Some aren’t funny, and I’m not going to be my usual facetious self about them e.g. caring for sick relatives. But that’s not really your choice, it’s an obligation /emergency that has to be addressed. For the most part, though, it’s a choice to take a break (ok, your cousin who lives in Aruba says you should visit her for a month. TOTALLY acceptable. In fact, ask if a Scottish blog writer can come along with you). I am however of the opinion that your choice should be not to stop looking.

  • People leave jobs throughout the year, so although the market may slow down in e.g. vacation season, it never actually grinds to a complete standstill. (That may change depending on who gets elected President. Oh, that’s right, we shouldn’t GO there). There are lots of jobs out there, but not as many as there should be, so don’t waste opportunities by not applying e.g. at all in August.
  •  If you’re tired of looking on the Internet, sending out a gazillion resumes and getting nowhere, don’t do it 40 hours a week. The numbers of jobs got through advertising in the papers and the Internet is something like 10% (don’t quote me, research varies), so try not to spend more than 10% of job-hunting time on the Internet.
  • Take time off to go for walks, grocery shopping, whatever. Try networking and chatting to old bosses, friends, people you know through the church. Networking can lead to jobs.
  •  Try a few staffing firms. Too many will drive you doolally, but just using one won’t get you access to all the jobs. I hated to write that last phrase but it’s true. Of course, Merit gets loads of jobs and they’re all great! They’ll let you know what the market is like too, so you can focus your energies more effectively.

Maybe there’s another blog article worth writing about HOW to handle your search without burning out. This one is just saying, don’t take too much time off if you can help it. Every month can add a few more unemployed souls who could become your competition. 

They hire by PERSONALITY?

Yup, that they do. Think about it, lads and lassies. Let’s start with the more mundane jobs – I don’t want to offend anyone with what I consider mundane but e.g. if you’re a minimum-wage barista, then you have to be pleasant to customers, or you’ll start affecting their revenue as customers disappear to the shop a couple of blocks away. You have to be nice to colleagues, too: My local supermarket has in recent months lost lots of friendly, helpful check-out staff because they couldn’t take the less-than-adorable store manager. At the other end of the scale, CEOs known for their abrasive/aggressive style of management often come a cropper when the shareholders start complaining about the excessive turnover of management – there are examples in the newspapers all the time.
So…..personality matters. In the interview process, as hiring managers ask questions about experience, skills, education, they are also trying to gauge whether you will “fit in” (five little letters, huge implications). How do you know what sort of personality they want? Good question. You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not –well, some politicians can, I guess, and there are some movie stars out there who have a screen persona which is nothing like their real selves. But for the most part, you’re you. A good recruitment consultant will have given you a couple of pointers. “Be concise. Don’t ramble on. Have some of the answers ready in advance so you don’t have to hum and haw thinking of the reply.” “Be a good listener; the HR person says the Department likes that. Don’t interrupt with rushes of enthusiasm to show that you have whatever you were just asked. Just nod and smile a lot at the interviewer.”  
It’ll all depend on the job (Duh!). You’ll have to use your own judgment as well as take the advice of the consultant. And of course, you can always ask what the company culture is like….whatever they say, try to tailor your answer accordingly – while still sticking to the truth.
Some things are universal, though. Showing respect for the company, the people you meet, and the interview process. Be on time, smile and be polite when being introduced, to everyone (do you KNOW the number of people who don’t get jobs because they were snotty to the receptionist?), be appropriately dressed, have done your homework about the company, do follow up thank you letters/emails — even if it’s the thousand-to-one occasion when you want to withdraw your application, you don’t want to burn bridges. You might come across that HR Manager again one day. These are universal truths and you stray from them at your peril.
Comments, anyone?

I’ve been out of work for, er, ahem, QUITE some time

There have always been reasons that resumes stop way before the actual date they were sent out to prospective employers. With today’s economy, that has never been more the case. We’re not talking out of work for a few months here, sometimes now it’s two and three years. Do you not say anything on your resume about the recent gap, and hope that no-one minds? If what you have been doing sounds really lame to you, do you think you should write it down anyway because you think you have to tell them something? Do you think that every minute of your professional life should be down there in case people think you’re hiding something?
I am pretty well firmly – oh, the blog’s called “Margaret says” and I’m supposed to be strong-willed – no, make that, I very firmly believe that it’s best to write something. You can’t, of course, lie. As I tell my candidates, there’s heavenly retribution and, even worse, you get found out. However, it’s best to put something there, however short, so that you don’t have the potential employer or, frankly, have the staffing agency worry about what on earth you could have been doing. A couple of lines is enough.
e.g. Jan 2010 –  present. Cared for ailing parent.
e.g. Jan 2010 – Feb 2011. Cared for ailing parent. March 2011 – present . Short-term temporary assignments.
e.g. March 2011 – June 2011. Who-Knew-It-Would-Crash-and-Burn Asset Management. Admin assistant to CFO (laid off).
        July 2011 – present. Looking after family and continued job search.
e.g. October 2009 – present. Full-time looking after family till youngest started school.
e.g. August 2011 – present. Traveled throughout Europe and the USA.

I mean, what’s wrong with any of these? I’m not going to think, and neither will any decent human being of an HR Co-ordinator, that if you’re any good you’d have found a job by now. “It’s the economy, stupid.” So don’t have everyone guessing the worst; give us a clue.   

“I hate my job”

Maybe you have, alas, very good reasons to hate your job. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think but you hate it anyway. It doesn’t matter why and let’s not make this week’s blog a real downer with listing all sorts of ghastly reasons why you just HAVE to win the lottery. The point is you want a new job NOW.

Staffing services are here to help and they’ll try to find a good match and get you out of your Slough of Despond** as quickly as possible. But more of the jobs these days are temp-to-perm. I am stating quite categorically that you really, really, really, really have to need, not want, to leave a permanent job to risk a temp-to-perm situation. What if you get the job and then they change their mind? Budget constraints and all that…..you’ll end up with nothing.
Of course, we’ll want to fill the position, it’s our business. Don’t forget, though, that we’re here for clients AND candidates and we don’t want to see you out of a job, money and your apartment because the client has had to pull the “to perm” bit out of the temp-to-perm equation. So….unless you are financially in the luxurious position of being able not to live pay check to pay check, and have your health care covered, let common sense prevail.

If your reasons for having to get out of a horrible situation are going to involve a chat with Human Resources, the CEO or an employment lawyer (eeeek), then a good employment counselor is there to talk things through with you so that you can come up with the best solution till a new and permanent position appears on your radar.   
There are jobs out there. Not as many as there were years ago, but there are still jobs out there. Don’t panic.
**a phrase from “Pilgrim’s Progress”, a very boring book written in the 17th century. I had to study it when I was 14 and I’m still in therapy.  

Don’t Twitter on Twitter

Social media sites are here to stay. Most of the young ‘uns embrace them, older ones aren’t always so interested (fuddie duddie stick-in-the-muddies) and, funnily enough, the really older ones with teenage grandchildren and time on their hands are quite the dab hand at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Pinterest and the like. These sites all fulfill a purpose, swapping photographs, sending videos to your nearest and dearest and folk you barely know. All of this is just fine. You can have a fun life and share it with the world, that’s what it’s all about.
Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever. Your Sweet Sixteen, you sitting proudly in the car your parents gave you for your graduation (“Yeah, right”, you cry), you atop a mountain somewhere exotic….all brilliant and in the decades to come you can look back and think, ‘Didn’t I look young/happy/thin.”   But wait a minute…you looking decidedly inebriated at your best pal’s 21st….you giving rude gestures to the photographer…..
And those are just the photographs. What about the inappropriate rants about your less than favorite Professor, your ex-boy/girlfriend, how you forgot to take your medication, how your Parole Officer is not happy with you?
Ok, I’m getting silly here….but the point is, the world – potential employers, staffing agencies, in-laws – are judging you on this stuff, and initial negative impressions are very difficult to overcome. You wouldn’t drunk dial old flames, would you? (Would you?). In the same vein, don’t be posting information and photographs that the next morning you wish you hadn’t.   It may come back to bite you in the posterior and there have been many examples of employers deciding not to hire people because they had tacky info about themselves floating in the ether.
Of course, Merit Personnel candidates would never do anything awful….I’m writing this so you can pass the advice along to your friends.

What Not To Wear….Say….Do….

….today’s lesson, gals and guys, will be to talk about the wrongstuff when you visit an employment agency.
First, though, please, a word about employment agencies from our point of view. We are here to help you find jobs, and to help our clients find the very best people to fill those jobs. We help our candidates, for free, with their resumes, with their interview techniques, with advice on how not to blow it. Candidates for their part should recognize that, friendly, helpful, and sometimes informal though we might be, we are still interviewing you, just as our clients do. You will be representing us to our clients, and we want you to make a favorable impression. So…… here are some pointers.
  •  If you are late for your appointment with us, please tell us why, just out of politeness. You wouldn’t be half an hour late for a job interview and not say anything, would you? The chances are we won’t mind, why would we, but we will mind the lack of courtesy.
  •  Don’t wear jeans and really casual wear to meet us — unless you’ve mentioned it first, of course, and had no choice.
  •  Don’t chew gum while you’re being interviewed by us. Similarly, don’t be producing a bottle of water and chugging as you talk, without first saying, “Hope you don’t mind. I’m dying of thirst here”.
  •  Bring an uncrumpled copy of your resume with you. If you can’t, and you’ve said, “The printer was broken”, that’s fine. Not bringing one, or having a tatty copy, without comment, is not good form.
  •  “I’ll need an extra $20,000 to work in Manhattan.” Sigh. If you think this is a reasonable statement, you’ll have to have a Pulitzer Prize-worthy reasoning behind it. Haven’t heard one yet, but I’m always ready to listen.
  •    “I didn’t go to college to be an admin” – when that statement is uttered, it’s usually with a fair degree of contempt and it’s the contempt that won’t get you far. If you don’t want to do any administrative work, that’s more than fine, but administrative support is not a career for non-graduates. It’s a career for people who want it to be their career. Most clients (rightly or wrongly) actually like administrative staff to have a degree, (sometimes two degrees, for goodness sakes). It’s a career for people with a particular set of skills, and a support-staff mentality.  
  •  “Oh, I’m not prepared to do any data entry.” “Oh, I’m not doing any personal work. I’m not getting coffee for anyone.”…..same argument as bullet point above. But we all have what we consider grunt work in our jobs and, remember, you make coffee for yourself at home for free, so what’s wrong with being paid to do it for your manager? No-one (we hope!) is going to make you do stuff you refuse to do. But be aware of the manner in which you tell an agency what you want/don’t want. Rigid and dismissive with us will have us worrying that you’d be rigid and dismissive at the job. Not good.   

That was a bit of a lecture, and I’m relieved to say it doesn’t apply to most of the people who walk through our doors. Basically, all I’m saying is that although we are going to be less formal than an actual job interview, and you can open up your hearts to us and trust us with the information, there is still a level of ground rules out there that will help you bond with us, so that we can help you find the best job for you…..
Comments, anyone?   

5 resume dos, 5 resume don’ts

5 dos:

  •          Bullet points. The days of prose to give an overview of your job are gone the way of the dodo (and, if we don’t watch out, the tiger and the polar bear. But that’s for a whole other blog). Remember that whoever is looking over your resume has limited time to ooh and aah over it, and wants to see accomplishments, level of responsibility, and NUMBERS. My, do employers like their numbers…more of that later….
  •          Start with a punchy verb that’s action-focused. Grab the reviewer’s attention. Examples of action verbs that impress? Led, grew, increased (the good stuff), decreased (the bad stuff), updated, supervised, planned, organized, delivered. 
  •     Let the world know your GPA if it’s good. Don’t be ashamed of it if it’s less than about 3.2/3.3/3.4, but probably best not to put on resume if it’s less than that. Any prizes? Dean’s List? Tell the world.
  •          Vary the layout so that it’s not totally cookie-cutter. However, if your work background is not in the creative arena, don’t be too outlandish. Multi-colored banners of achievements or skills down the side in cute boxes are super for advertising agencies, but tend to tick off financial services HR AND line managers. Fonts that are so exotic that people say, “What’s that one? I’ve never seen it before” will not impress a hedge fund’s portfolio manager. Remember, though, that you have upper case, lower case, italics, size, bold and underlining to ring the changes. Graphic designers of course can go nuts.
  •          Anyone who’s in business and wants to stay in business likes numbers. Such potential employers can see how the candidate minimized the waste, increased sales, reduced the time, reduced the vendor costs. So…if you can think of any achievement that involves numbers, write it down.  

5 don’ts:

  •         Don’t have typos on your resume. Let me put this another way. DON’T HAVE TYPOS ON YOUR RESUME. Proof it more than once, give it to someone else so that an outside eye can spot the glaring errors you missed (you know what you meant, and that’s what you tend to see). Check the tenses for consistency. Current job has responsibilities in the present tense, past jobs are in the past tense — well, once in a blue moon I see them all in the present tense, but then they ALL have to be in the present tense; be consistent. Check with grammar as well as spell check. Sometimes spell check doesn’t pick up on your typos because you typed another actual word e.g. nest is a word, but you’re going to be relocated nest year, not next year? Really? Spell check didn’t notice but eagle-eyed HR Managers might and anal-retentive Margaret certainly did.
  •         Don’t tell fibs! You’ll never get to heaven but, worse, you’ll probably get found out. There may be exceptions to this rule but frankly I can’t think of any. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rather down the managerial totem pole or at the very top. There have been some high profile examples of senior managers having to resign because they lied on the resumes and their mothers are probably still too embarrassed to leave the house. Don’t do it.
  •         Don’t have lots of versions of your resume. It will lead to confusion and headaches e.g. you send out the wrong one with the different and irrelevant objective – not cool.  Keep life simple. Exceptions are when you have two fairly separate sets of skills – you’re a plastic surgeon AND you own a fish-cutting business – but on the whole you only need one, maybe two, m-a-y-b-e 3, versions.
  •         One page or two is fine. Exceptions are e.g. academics and doctors, who need a c.v. formula. If you’re an academic or doctor reading this blog, and need help with your c.v., then I guess you can contact me for advice.
  •         Don’t put your reference list on the resume. Have them in a separate document. To be honest, I don’t know why it doesn’t look good with references at the end of a resume, but it just doesn’t          

As ever, comments on the blog article are welcome. If there are any issues you would like addressed, do please write.

To proof or not to proof…

You’d think it was a given, wouldn’t you, that you should carefully proof your resume? But a depressing number of resumes that end up in front of me have mistakes in them. Some minor, some pretty horrendous.
Two of my favorite examples:
a) Two proofreaders who managed to misspell the word proofreading on their resumes. I mean, what were the odds?
And b) a candidate who wrote at the top of the resume, in bold, upper case
Second phrase rather disproved the first one, didn’t it? It didn’t gain the owner any Brownie points but it gave me the perfect example to show why someone decided to trademark a spell check computer application. Unless you’ve won the National Spelling Bee Championship, or are sufficiently pretentious like myself and think you’re better than spell check, use it. It’s your friend. Mind you, it’s not infallible (see Point 2 below).
Common mistakes:
1) Tenses. When you’ve left a job, started another and updated your
resume, remember to change all the tenses on the job duties to the past tense. Remember to look at words that are in the middle of a line, not just the verb that started the bullet point.
2) Incorrect words. “Enquires” often features in resumes when it should be “enquiries”. The first is a verb e.g. “He enquires whether he should go or not” but the second word is a noun e.g. “I handle hundreds of enquiries a day.”  Spell check doesn’t pick up on it because they’re both actual words, spelt correctly; it’s just that one of them is wrong in the context.
3) Consistency of layout. If you put e.g. “EDUCATION:” then make sure that all the other headings have a colon afterwards. You might think this is a bit of a Duh comment to make but it’s easy to slip.
Read, re-read and re-re-read your resume. Then get someone else to read it for you. It’s amazing the little errors that slip through because YOU know what you meant to say, so that’s what you see. Someone else is often more likely to pick up on typos.
It’s worth mentioning that lots of times you’ll get away with errors because the employers aren’t any better at proofing than you are! But quite often you’ll get a potential employer who’s as anal as I am, and your mistake-ridden resume won’t get past first base. A first impression, and that’s what a resume is, can make all the difference.

What To Wear?

Usually it’s so simple deciding what to wear for interview and indeed on the job that it’s hardly worth discussing. But the younger generation has a different sensibility from boring old Margaret, so that it’s worth a blog article about it. Not that I, Margaret, am the one who decides what’s correct! It’s your potential employers who rule the roost. Here are the guidelines from a major insurance company (thanks for giving me permission to print, chaps)….

Insurance companies are a good standard for deciding what’s appropriate for a lot of New York companies. They are formal without being stuffy. They understand that fashions change – my father would be doing 25 to life if I’d gone home with a tattoo, but times change – and they have adapted. But it’s still a corporate New York business, with old fashioned clients, and senior managers who don’t want to look at anything too out there.

These guidelines are good for all interviews, but they are also a good indication of what’s fine for office wear when you get the job. If you work in a smaller, creative company, the rules relax. And if you work in a high-end fashion environment, “chic and stylish” are additionally what they want to see. However, remember, at the boring end of the spectrum, there are still companies where guidelines are stricter than my nice clients…..suits for women, no wandering around with the jacket off…put it over the back of your chair so that you can slip it on again when you stand up. Yup, alas, these companies still exist. They are great to work for, have good salaries and benefits, so don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Keep the boob tubes and face jewelry for the evenings and weekends.    

Dress Code
The following lists are not all-inclusive, but are intended to provide guidance in choosing appropriate attire.

Acceptable Business Dress
· Suits
· Dresses
· Skirts
· Jackets and ties
· Dress slacks
· Blouses
· Sweaters and Sweater Sets
· Shoes polished and in good repair

Appropriate Business Casual Dress
· Trousers (including Khaki, Dockers, Chinos or Corduroys)
· Collared Shirts (including golf shirts or Turtlenecks)
· Dress sandals
· Blazers/Sports Coats
· Appropriate hosiery (including trouser socks with pants)

Inappropriate Dress
· Jeans or any other denim items
· Shorts or skorts
· Capri, Cargo or leather pants
· Faded, worn, torn or dirty clothing
· Spandex (including stirrup, stretch pants, leggings or similar form-fitting clothing)
· T-shirts, tank tops or midriff tops
· Low-cut blouses (including halter or strapless tops)
· Sun or spaghetti-strapped dresses
· Sneakers or any type of athletic wear
· Hiking, military or construction boots
· Sweatshirts or sweatpants
· Clothing with slogans, logos or pictures
· Beach or hiking sandals (including flip flops)
· Hats

Management reserves the right to make decisions regarding appropriate appearance to include clothing, jewelry, body piercing, tattoos, and hygiene. If an Associate is not dressed in an acceptable manner for the office, managers may take appropriate action, such as sending the Associate home to change on his or her own time. If additional actions need to be taken or if there are questions about this policy, the manager may seek guidance from Human Resources.

One job: four interviews: same ol’ questions

Lovely company, people seem normal and you could work happily with them. Good job, money and benefits. We’ve established therefore that you really want the job. But frankly, the interviewing team e.g. mixture of HR, managers and future colleagues haven’t quite got it together to co-ordinate questions & feedback. In the course of the interviews they all ask the same “difficult” question. Clearly they have all read the same book, “How to Interview People and Thereby  Impress Your Mother”. How do you answer so that you don’t sound stale? Worse, what if comes out that you gave an identical answer to two or three people?
Typical question that is increasingly popular… Variations abound but the theme is similar.
a) “Talk me through the most difficult/stressful thing you’ve had to deal with.”
b) “Something stressful comes up and you have two courses of action. How do you choose which course?”
You don’t have to try to think of completely different examples if you get asked this on more than one occasion . I mean, how dramatic and unpleasant has your work history been? Have an example ready before the interview, though, so that you don’t spend precious moments, when you’re supposed to be upbeat, thinking of something ghastly that happened at a previous job.  It can be anything that you’re comfortable relating e.g. there was a computer malfunction which messed up the deadline for sending out a crucial presentation. e.g. One of your colleagues was going through some troubling personal times and rather messing up the dynamics of the office workload. And so on….  
Just have two or three versions of how to answer.
·         a) “I decided not to panic.”  “I stopped drinking coffee to make sure I stayed calm….Seriously, I thought it through calmly.” “I had to tell the manager but she wasn’t around so I thought carefully how to tell her the situation in a calm manner. I didn’t want her anxious that she wasn’t there to deal with it.”
·         b) “I figured out what the good and bad would be with each course of action and which would cause the least hassle/cost/damage.” “I checked with a colleague with 20 years at the firm and then added that to my idea of what was best.”
Hope you see what I’m getting at here. Have two or three versions ready, just in case. “As I was saying to HR when they asked a similar question….”

Actually, the bigger picture of what I’m saying is, be prepared and do your interview homework. You want to sound prepared but not rehearsed. Have some examples ready and a few trusty phrases that will come in handy