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Thursday
Jun172010

Dealing with Job Title or Tenure Discrimination in Your Job Search

Based on title alone, employers may pass on your profile. They may either think you have too much experience, are too hands-off, too expensive or not interested in doing the role they have open. This happens pretty often since titles and job duties vary drastically from company to company. A "Manager of Software Development" in one place could be synonymous with a "Lead Developer" or even a "Director of Software" someplace else. All of this confusion can create the illusion of being a mismatch. On top of this, your overall years experience can also give off the same mixed message.

Don't be screened out for the wrong reasons. The key is to first know if you are subject to this kind of "Title or Tenure Discrimination" and to understand what the manager's concerns will likely be. Then you can market and position yourself more effectively in order to be considered.

How do you know if your title or tenure may be an issue?

  • You have a total years of experience that far exceeds (by more than 5 years) the tenure requirement for the job.
  • Your current title ranks higher than the open position title and may even match or outrank the Hiring Manager themselves.
  • Your current title doesn't accurately represent your current skills.
  • You have a manager title, but don't do very much managerial work.

What will employers have concerns with?

  • Concern of Challenge: they are afraid that since you have already been exposed to more advanced or managerial work that you will become bored quickly with a role perceived to be lower ranking and/or less difficult.
  • Concern of Focus: they are afraid that, even if you take your management hat off, you will try to resume a leadership role anyway and assert yourself inappropriately to run and direct things.
  • Concern of Retention: they are afraid that if you take a step back in title that you'll see this as a concession and a short term career move that will mean you will ultimately leave down the road to pursue your prior position's stature, focus and income.

So how do you handle this?

  • Clarify your career goals by placing a statement within your resume objective that addresses your receptiveness to other titles and job levels. Many times there is an excellent reason for wanting to accept a lower title/level role. Maybe you miss being more hands-on or are interested in getting trained on a new skill set?  Also be prepared to explain this during the interview. 
  • Define your role. If you are a Manager or  Director, but are much more of a hands-on person, simply flip the order of your functional bullet points to place more emphasis on the active, hands-on responsibilities you had and try to deemphasize your managerial responsibilities. You can also consider placing a % mark next to each primary responsibility so that they can see exactly how you spent your time.
  • Audit your title. Think about whether or not your title is a good fit for what you do. If it isn't approach your manager about changing this. if you can't, consider a parenthetical translation. Ex: Manager, Software Development (Hands-on Web Architect)

Know why the overqualified label may apply to you, what the manager is thinking and how to position your resume and yourself during teh interview to avoid this unfair stigma.

Friday
May212010

Revealing flaws can highlight strengths!

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has shortcomings. You know it, I know it and the manager knows it. And because of this, we all cringe at the thought of answering the dreaded interview question... "What is your biggest weakness?"

But don't panic when you hear this question! Believe it or not, answering this the right way can actually work to your advantage since managers are often more attracted to candidates who are able to openly discuss their shortcomings comfortably. Why? It's simple really...

  • They can trust you to be honest. It shows that you can be honest with yourself and others (even when the answer may reveal something negative).
  • They don't feel the "sell-job," but rather a balanced case for why you are a good fit. Too many candidates come off as "too good to be true".  And as we all know, most buyers are suspicious of the perfect product.  
  • You show your commitment to improve by explaining how you are in the process of working to overcome these things, you demonstrate that you are always looking to get better.

The truth of the matter is that the manager cares a lot less about WHAT you need to work on and cares a lot more about whether or not you know what these limitations are and can be honest enough to admit to and work through them. It's true.

The biggest mistake you can make is to avoid the issue. Think about how foolish you sound when you say you don't have any weaknesses or when you try to trick them by giving them a weakness that really is a strength. "Oh...my biggest weakness is that I am a workaholic and put way too much effort into my job" or "My biggest weakness is paying too much attention to customer".  Next time you try to give one of these fake answers, stop and remember that the manager knows exactly what you're trying to do.

Instead of giving a veiled response, give a real one. Think ahead of time about one honest answer to the following common interview questions:

  • What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?
  • How would your co-workers describe what it's like to work with you?
  • What is the biggest mistake you feel you've made in your job/career?

In your response, make it clear that this is topic you are very comfortable discussing, site a specific skill/ability you sometimes (not always) struggle with and demonstrate how you are working to improve on this. Example:

Manager: "What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?"

You: "That's a great question. I do try hard to be aware of what things I can do to improve in my career. And if I had to choose one thing, I'd have to say that sometimes I struggle with delegating. I want things to go really smoothly and have to work hard to manage my desire for perfection the right way. Because of this, I always make sure I meet with the person ahead of time and clarify the project goals of any delegated task. And I also jokingly warn them about my tendency to micro-manage so that they can let me know if they feel I'm not giving them the rope they need. By admitting to it directly with them, it helps to keep me more in check.  I am actually getting a lot better with this and can guarantee you this will be something that will not get in the way of my work in this job that you are hiring for."

One more thing! Let's discuss what you should and shouldn't divulge as weaknesses. Some things are understandable and quite common points of weakness that are OK to admit to. Below:

Trouble delegating

  • It's OK to admit that you like to have a lot on your plate and enjoy doing as much as you can on your own. Tell them you work on this by setting up clear objectives for delegated projects so that you aren't worrying what is happening or that you like to meet with your subordinates on a monthly basis to get their ideas about the business and to find out what they want to get involved with. Explain that you find this to be a very helpful reminder for you of just how capable they are and this always helps with your delegation aversion, making you feel more confident sharing responsibility with your team.

Difficulty working in loosley run groups

  • It's OK to admit that you sometimes struggle with sharing accountability within a group when things are not well defined. Tell them you work on this shortcoming by always making sure that your team establishes clear roles, responsibilities, deadlines and goals upfront and that these bright lines help you with some of the uneasiness you feel when things are left too vague.

Difficulty asking for help

  • It's OK to admit that you have a lot of pride in figuring things out on your own. Tell them that you work on this by setting a personal alarm to go off when you realize your pride is about to turn into ego and that your stubbornness to get others involved is looking like it might get in the way of the project's success.

By contrast, there are certain weaknesses that you should NOT admit to such as difficulty taking criticism, poor organizational skills, hard time getting along with others, following through with tasks (you get the point).

Bottom line: Don't get caught off guard by this question. Think about it and have a real answer that shows off your honesty, ability to self-evaluate and commitment to improving! 

Thursday
May062010

Connecting with Hiring Managers

Keep in mind that no matter how qualified a candidate may be for the position, the #1 thing that makes the manager pick one person over another is CHEMISTRY...plain & simple!

No, we're not talking about a romantic chemistry here. We're talking about making a personal connection with the manager that will leave a meaningful impression. Think about how much time you are likely to spend with this hiring manager. This will be the primary relationship you must maintain at work (and vice versa for them). Becuase of this, it is critical that they like you, feel comfortable around you and fundamentally trust you. Every candidate must make an attempt to pay attention to this. Good chemistry won't necessarily compensate for a total lack of qualifications, but it will signifcantly upgrade your standings providing you have the baseline skills for the job.

The good news is that making a connection is really easy to do! Conduct some baseline research, find some similar common ground and introduce this into the interview discussion.  The topic you choose should either flatter, interest or entertain them; all while making a subtle advertisement on why you are a person they'd want to work with.

Begin by researching the manager to find out about them prior to the interview (have they developed a product? ever published anything? do they have a blog? ever served in the military? run a marathon? etc..). Learn one interesting thing about them and try to naturally work this point into the conversation towards the end of the interview (using it too early may seem a bit forced). If handled well, the manager will feel flattered that someone cared enough to find out a little bit about them and this will almost always strike up an additional (and interesting) conversation.

Having been a recruiter myself for many years, here are a few true stories about how people have used this technique of making a connection to stand out from the crowd and be chosen for the job:

  • Once I interviewed a women to come work for my company and she quoted my blog verbatim when we began to negotiate salary. I smiled immediately and we both began to laugh. It was a funny way for her to show me that she did her homework (and she also used my own advice to HER advantage). Needless to say I hired her.
  • A candidate researched that the hiring manager had just completed a release of a new software product. At the end of the interview, the candidate brought a few company names to the interview that he felt would be prospective buyers of this product. Even if these weren't "hot" prospects, it was a thoughtful gesture and also advertised his strong knowledge of this marketplace and industry. He was hired.
  • A candidate read that the hiring manager just completed her first marathon. At the end of the interview, she congratulated the manager on this who then began to tell her all about the race. The candidate was also a runner and they ended up speaking about good running loops in teh area. She was hired.
  • A candidate saw that the hiring manager worked at X company in the past and played the name game with them since the candidate knew that company through prior client experience. It turns out they had a mutual contact over there and the candidate was able to suggest this person could act as a reference for them. Since the manager knew this person well, it significantly upgraded the candidate's status and they got the job.

Always be thoughtful about approaching certain topics about the manager to make sure not to get too personal or do/say anything inappropriate. If you use your good instincts (and maybe even a little bit of well-timed humor) you'll find yourself connecting with the manager in a way that most other candidates won't. This will absolutely give you a leg up on the competition!

Friday
Apr162010

Integrity At The Offer Stage

Most people believe that accepting or declining an offer is "their" business. And therefore, they have every right to take their own sweet time to respond, make indulgent last–minute requests or even renege on their acceptance. This kind of self–serving and entitled behavior can lead to real issues for people (to include yourself!).

It's your job search, right? And this is your decision. Why should you think about the consequences this will have for anyone else? Read on...

Because hopefully you're a professional!!! So have some respect for other people's time and effort and also acknowledge how your actions may adversely affect others.

Here are some examples of poor behavior at the offer stage (and who gets hurt):

Taking too long to respond

Who gets hurt?

  • THE HIRING MANAGER, who is in a holding pattern now and can't make any concrete plans for projects that involve this new hire. Let's also not forget how disappointed the manager may be that you are still deliberating over coming to work for them. They're thinking..."You've been back to the company to interview four separate times now and have asked a ton of questions. Shouldn't this have been a quick decision for you?"
  • YOU, because the manager's interest level in you as a new employee is dropping every extra day you take to give them an answer. If you do ultimately accept, you will have gone from being the talented person they were dying to hire to being the "high–maintenance", picky or indecisive new employee.

Reneging on a verbal agreement

Who gets hurt?

  • THE HIRING MANAGER, who now has egg on their face. They "went to bat" to get you the salary number you wanted which probably involved sticking their neck out with their boss or some financial higher up saying..."Don't worry, this guy will be worth it!". Now they have to go back AGAIN and ask for more money and will, no doubt, carry some level of resentment towards you for this.
  • YOU, because if the company does decide to raise the offer, the employer will convert this raise in pay into additional (and potentially unrealistic) expectations of you. Also, if this pay is significantly more than what your peers make in the same role, this could also breed resentment amongst your team too and build up your reputation as the "squeaky wheel" who complained to get a higher offer.
  • THE AGENCY RECRUITER, (if applicable) because a good recruiter should have you pre–closed and this makes them look less competent.

Reneging on an acceptance

Who gets hurt?

  • THE HIRING MANAGER, because they assumed your acceptance to be true and took certain action based on that like organizing training and orientation for you (that you now will never attend) confirming project deadlines (that now will not get met) and cutting all their back up candidates (that they'll now need to resurrect interest with).
  • YOU, because you broke your word and will now have that bad rap amongst this inner hiring circle which is comprised of anyone this hiring manager knows.
  • THE AGENCY RECRUITER (if applicable), because a good recruiter should be in the loop and able to prevent this kind of thing. These events are highly detrimental to the agency /client relationship. It's never a good idea to burn a bridge with your agency, especially if you want them to continue to represent you now or down the line.
  • THE REFERRER (if applicable). If someone actually referred you into this job, these people now all look bad and worse the employer could make the assumption that the referrer knew since they "knew" you.
  • THE RUNNER UP. And what about the candidate who really wanted this job, but when they learned that they were cut or ranked #2 or #3, took another position?

You can prevent all of these scenarios from happening by following a few simple rules:

  • Don't go back for a final if there is absolutely no way you'll take this job.
  • Don't accept a job unless you are completely sure you want it and will stick to your commitment.
  • And finally, stick by your word! If you said you would accept 65K, you need to accept 65K and if you said you'd accept, then follow through and start this new job.
Thursday
Apr152010

Dealing With "Employment Hopscotch"

If you've changed jobs too much in your career, you'll need to control the perception of this. If not, employers will assume the worst – that you are a dreaded "job hopper."

First, understand why being a "job hopper" carries such a stigma. When your resume weaves a history of short job tenures and numerous job changes, companies will often draw inferences that can hurt you, such as:

  • You don't know what you want to do with your career
  • You leave jobs whenever things get tough and challenging
  • You get bored quickly
  • You can't make a long term commitment to a job
  • You are being let go from all these jobs
  • You will leave any job for more money

Let's face it, for some of you, these may be the real reasons! But for many others, there might be a more defensible explanation behind the moves you've made, things like:

  • An acquisition where the company name changed (and you haven't actually switched jobs at all)
  • The job being a short-term contract that ended
  • The company (or you) relocated out of state
  • A reorganization that phased out your department or project
  • Being laid off
  • Leaving for a legitimately better career opportunity
  • Choosing a company that had a far shorter commute

You may ask what the difference is between these two lists above. It's simple. Anything from the first list of reasons will ALWAYS raise red flags with the employer. But the explanations on the second list will generally be accepted without a second thought. If you have the sort of resume that raises job-hopping suspicions, you'll want to make sure that you can detail your career using points from the second of these lists.

How do I know if I look like a job hopper?

The best way to answer this question is simply to use common sense, and to err on the side of caution. If you could possibly look like a job hopper, then you probably will look like a job hopper, to someone, at least. Certain timing patterns on your resume will draw the most job-hopping suspicion:

  • If your tenure at a job is too short (ex: less than a 1 year stint)
  • OR if you have had multiple jobs in a short period of time (ex: 3 jobs in 5 years)

Be aware of this, and if your employment dates put you in jeopardy of appearing to be a job hopper, do something about it. If you don't clarify why you have made a job change, employers will immediately jump to conclusions (and may assume something from the first list, which can be deadly!)

You can very easily control that perception by placing a brief explanation in parenthesis next to your dates of employment. The dates in the sample job history below look far less "suspect" when accommodated with specific explanations.


Team Leader
COMPANY E – San Francisco, CA
11/06 – present
Senior Application Developer
COMPANY D – Boston, MA
10/05 – 10/06 (relocated to CA)
Software Developer
COMPANY C – Boston, MA
1/04 – 9/05 (contract ended)
Software Developer
COMPANY B – Boston, MA
8/00 – 12/03 (laid off)
Junior Programmer/ Analyst
COMPANY A – Boston, MA
6/97 – 7/00 (left for career growth)


Follow this advice along with my other suggestions for writing a great resume: (1, 2).

Thursday
Apr152010

A Personal Connection Improves Interviews

Employers don't hire "resumes" or "skill sets". So, never leave an interview only portraying these things. A sterile and one-dimensional interview will really hurt your chances of getting the job (not to mention the fact it will be very boring for both parties). Learn how to connect with the Hiring Manager and make more of a personal connection and strong first impression.

Do some research on your manager

To make a connection, you need topics to engage the Hiring Manager on. Do your research on their professional and personal background (what's been their job history? Do they have a blog? Have they ever been published? Have they run a marathon? Where did they go to school? What clubs or associations do they belong to? Do they have any interesting hobbies?). The Internet makes this super simple. Just go online and plug in the manager's name. Here are a few ideas:

  • General search engines (Google, Yahoo). Good for general stuff. Make sure you have the right person though.
  • Professional networking sites (Linkedin). Hopefully, they host their profile here.
  • Contact aggregators (Zoominfo). Good for data on their current role and bio.
  • Blog searches (Technorati, Bloglines). See if they have a blog.
  • Company web site - Look at the management profiles and/ or press releases

Humanize the beginning of the conversation

Don't underestimate the power of the first five minutes. Be a human being for a moment and do what you can to kick things off on a more personal note.

  • Good manners - for Pete's sake, ask how they are doing!!
  • Talk about the weather - A never fail ice breaker.
  • Timely anecdotes - "Can you believe that game last night" or "a funny thing happened on my way to the interview" kind of stuff can really warm things up (make sure of course that your story is relevant and appropriate!).

Reference what you learned

Everyone (and I mean everyone) likes to talk about themselves. Share with them what you have learned about them. But only reference the things that you are able to genuinely comment on or that you may have in common. Rattling off every single thing you read about them online will just make you seem like a stalker. Be selective and thoughtful about what you bring up.

  • Tenure - "I noticed you've been with (company) for 10 years. That's great! What do you like most about it here?"
  • Blog - "I saw your blog and really enjoyed your post on...."
  • Personal - "I noticed in one of your bio's that you do triathlons. I'm an avid cyclist but have been wary about doing these races because the swim seems tough. What's it like?"
  • Job History - "I noticed you used to work for (company x). So did I from 95-98'. What a coincidence."

Engage the manager throughout

Think while the manager is talking and after each section of information they give you, make sure to ask at least one thoughtful question.

  • After providing job qualifications - Ask clarification questions or questions regarding rank or prominence of those skills. "What do you think is the most critical skill from within that list that candidates should have to succeed in this role.."
  • After describing the job responsibilities - Ask about how this role gets carried out by the team to understand what the manager's current hot buttons are. "Where do most people on your team excel and struggle with these specific responsibilities...."
  • After describing the company - Ask about the manager's vision for company growth. "Tell me where you see the company in 5 years. I am curious to hear what the companies growth objectives are..."

The key in making a connection is to get them talking about things that interest them. This will allow you to escape the doldrums of the typical one dimensional interview and will make the hiring manager think they have just interviewed an actual person, not just an applicant.

Wednesday
Apr142010

Crocuses (and the 2010 job market!)

The crocus is the first flower to bloom....a welcome sign of positive change to come (going from the cold/dull Winter to the warm/colorful Spring).

We are no doubt experiencing a "crocus" job market right now with subtle signs all around us that things are getting better. Here are some changes to keep an eye out for in the months ahead...

INCREASED RECRUITER SOLICITATION

Companies will either be hiring for new open positions or simply trying to get ahead of the curve to build a candidate pipeline. Because of this, recruiters will be networking like mad to build their databases.

  • MY ADVICE: This can become a real nuisance, I understand. And we all can be tempted to be curt and dismissive with these recruiters. Don't do it! Give these people a brief moment to demonstrate their credibility and long term value to your job search (I think you can spare the 45 seconds!). If they can, establish a connection with them. If they can't, be polite and get out of the call. Whatever you do, don't simply blow someone off and act rude. You never know where that HR person or contract recruiter may end up working in the future.

DE-PERSONALIZED PROCESS

Companies have been very "lean" over the past year and are vastly understaffed. When the economy bounces back, they will likely be hiring back teams of people to fill in their needed bench of resources, not necessarily one targeted role at a time. Because of this accelerated increase in hiring, companies will be trying to create a much more efficient (and unfortunately less personal) hiring process.

  • MY ADVICE: Get ready for a less desirable job search experience. Companies will be looking to automate as much of their hiring process as possible to handle this increased volume. You can also expect the candidate job application to gather a lot more information and go well beyond just uploading your resume. Some of you may potentially find yourself in the occasional "cattle call" with 4 to 5 other candidates sitting in the lobby waiting to interview for the same job. And, no doubt, companies will also be looking to trim HR costs. So get ready to be contacted initially by outsourced recruiters overseas (aka cheap labor). Don't get put off and take any of this personally. Play their game and do what they ask even if you feel their process is inefficient or cumbersome. Remember, you will always get your opportunity to personalize the connection and make an impression the right way during the in-person interview (rest assured, this aspect of the job search process will never go away!).

BETTER SALARIES

The number one thing that raises salaries is competition...plain and simple. As the the number of competing jobs and offers increases, so will your ability to drive your income up.

  • MY ADVICE: Be realistic. The improvement in the economy and job market will likely be consistent and incremental. You can expect the same type of subtle and positive movement with salary ranges. In other words, don't try to aggressively negotiate an unusually high salary range when the job market is only improving a little bit at a time. It will backfire on you since while you may have two competing offers, the other two candidates in line for the job may not have any and will graciously accept a reasonable offer. Be cautious (not cocky) as things get better. And here's the really good news...you can say goodbye to the "low ball" and lateral offer and say hello to market conditions that will allow you to leverage the situation more to your favor.

MORE BACKFILL POSITIONS

So many employees have been "trapped" in their jobs because there was nowhere else for them to go. With over a year of being overworked (and likely underpaid), many people are looking to leave their jobs in 2010. This will substantially add to the number of new growth positions in 2010.

  • MY ADVICE: Always ask "why" the position is open. If it is a vacancy position, take the time to find out why the last person doesn't work out. The employer may give you a lot or a little information on this topic. But either way, you will have some increased insight as to how to sell yourself as the new "solution".
Wednesday
Jan202010

Keep job titles in perspective

As we all know, titles don't always accurately convey what someone does in their job. And in some cases, candidates may feel compelled to edit this on their resume. BE AWARE: while a title discrepancy may not carry as much weight as a misrepresented salary or employment date, any inconsistencies here can raise a red flag. There are far safer (and much more effective!) ways to address this situation if you feel you have a job title that limits or misinterprets your role.

One Candidate Advantage reader wrote recently...

"I need a little advice before my next interview. I have worked as a Graphic Designer for the past 5 years from my former employer. I resigned 3 months ago and recently found out that the Personnel Office had changed my job title to "Communications/ Outreach Specialist". However, I worked as a Graphic Designer. Should I continue to state "Graphic Designer" on my resume? I know that employers do background checks and if they see the new job title, the recruitment manager may reject my application. On all the publications that I designed, it states that I am a Graphic Designer in the Communications Dept. However, on the paychecks that I have received, my title was Communications/Outreach Specialist. Should I state my real job title (Graphic Designer) on my resume?"

This scenario is exactly what I am talking about and this reader poses a great question. Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with this:

First, call HR, your boss or whoever is in charge of this stuff and discuss why you feel it is important for the company to consider changing your title. You can make points that are personal to you (ex: your need for proper recognition of your core duties and a stronger sense of value to the company). You can also make points from the company's perspective (ex: outside world should have a clear definition of your role such as vendors, customers, press, etc..). Keep in mind that if this is a small to mid-sized company and you are the only person that holds this role, you will likely have a good shot at making this change. However, if this is a big organization and/ or there are other people with your same role, this is going to be more of a challenge.

Fight the right fight. You will have more luck editing the back end of your title than the front end of your title. In other words, trying to get upgraded to a Manager/ Director/ VP is a whole other ballgame that introduces a slew of challenges that deal with pecking order, entitlement and also possible income implications. However, changing the job or department aspect of your title should be a little easier. Just make sure you have a thoughtful case to make about why this change is important to you AND beneficial to the company.

If the company won't change your title, you can consider a "descriptor (title)" format. For example: The reader above may consider listing herself as...."Graphic Designer (Communications/ Outreach Specialist)" This accomplishes not only an accurate description of what she does, but it also lists her formal title on file with HR in parenthesis. This approach will allow the candidate to pass a Background Check while having the advantage of being able to clearly interpret her role. Other applications for this advice could be a Managerial level candidate who doesn't want to be written of as not being hands on. One could write... "Manager of Web Development (100% hands-on).

You can also always opt for leaving your resume as is and addressing the title misnomer in the cover letter or objectives summary. Example: "Please note: my current job title is an incomplete label for my role and set of responsibilities. I am a Graphic Designer for ABC company specializing in XXXX..."

And finally, you should always use the interview itself to clear up any title issues. Don't assume because the manager doesn't bring it up that it isn't on their mind. If your title isn't a good accurate description of what you do, address this in the interview.

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