Job Search Angst – Application Woes

The Frustration:

“Why do I have to submit a resume, cover letter, AND still create a profile/submit an application for every single employer.  Enough!  It is all on my resume.”

Why it happens:

Employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS for short) to help them manage their hiring processes.  An ATS can help them do everything from providing EEO information to show compliance with labor laws, to making applications searchable (narrowing down from really large pools of candidates to more manageable lists), to managing communications to applicants (thanking them for applying, notifying applicants when the position has closed, etc.), and so much more.  Because of the astronomical amount of applications recruiters receive, they need tools like these to help them on to the next steps in the hiring process (screening, interviewing, hiring, training).  They are such handy systems and solve so many business problems that employers have continued to overlook one big issue:  the user experience of submitting information over and over to every employer’s ATS is just crazy.  It is redundant and time consuming.

It is unlikely that applicant tracking systems will go away or change significantly any time soon.  Unemployment numbers are still relatively high and because of that and the ease of online applications, employers still receive a high number of applications for most positions.  Since the process isn’t broken from their standpoint (plenty of applicants), they are unlikely to push back to their ATS providers to create a better user experience.   For now anyway.

How to Win:

Tool & Strategy #1:  

A reference document with your complete employment info.

For each position you held, list:

  • Address
  • Contact names
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Salary/Hourly pay rate (at start and end of employment)
  • Start and End Dates

Use this reference document to help get through applications quickly. This document doesn’t have to be polished or pretty – it’s just there for you to use as a quick reference.  Save yourself the extra hassle of looking up information more than once.  Helpful hint:  I store mine in a google doc and have a printed version.  This way I can get to the document wherever I’m accessing the internet – and I can copy and paste much of the information I need.  I use the printed version if the form is one  that doesn’t allow copying and pasting.  I just read from and type from my printed document and get through the process quickly.

Tool & Strategy #2:

Complete resume saved as a pdf, a text document, and a word document.  Having multiple formats will save you when it is time to upload your document to a website (and you will always have the version of the document that is preferred by that system).  If the system parses the information into the application for you, sometimes it will indicate which type of document will parse most easily.  Most of the time plain text documents work best – but read the fine print and check before uploading.  Helpful hint:  be sure to carve out a little extra time to customize your resume each time you apply and when you save the modified resume, save in multiple formats using the your name and the name of the company it is slated for.

Tool & Strategy #3:

Separate job searching and applying into two activities that each get their own dedicated time.  To do this, create two separate blocks of time; one for sourcing jobs  and one to submit applications.  For example, during my last job search I looked for jobs in the evening on my smartphone.  I emailed myself positions straight from my phone and the following morning, I checked my email and applied to the positions I had sourced for the day.  Searching and applying are really different tasks, requiring different websites and documents to be open and using different skills from you.  By grouping like tasks together your work will be more efficient.  Helpful hint: set a target number of applications you’ll apply to each day and stick to it (pick a number that is attainable – three a day is a great number if you are applying daily).  Setting a number will help you manage your time more effectively and keep you on track towards your goal (and will help you maintain your sanity).

Job Search Quick Guide: Referrals

Here’s a quick 4 resources to help you take the next step in getting referrals; asking for informational interviews.

Finding recruiters on LinkedIn is a good place to start (heck, you’re already here). You don’t always have to connect with recruiters though, you can 1. connect directly to any employee at a company – ask them to speak to you about their experience working there 2. build a rapport and 3. ask for a referral.

I have to share with you THE best blog about this type of networking. It was written by Ramit Sethi. Go read his in-depth blog about natural networking – which includes great scripts to help you reach out to people. If you are at all averse to networking but see the value in it – reading his blog is the best place to start.

If you aren’t convinced that you need to start networking to get referrals – let me share one statistic. Referrals are still a top source of hires according to the 2014 Source of Hire report by Career Crossroads.

Need a visual guide to networking your way into a job? check out this infographic created by Heather Krasna.

Get a Referral

I promised in my last post that I would discuss getting a referral – and then today when I started to write about it – I stalled. I didn’t want to do it. It seemed hard and I thought “well, they probably won’t do it anyway” (they, being you – the entire world that is not me). “Nobody ever wants to do this part” I thought to myself. Which isn’t true all the time. But people do resist it. Just like I was resisting writing this post. It is uncomfortable, it is different, and we have to talk about it. It’s the elephant in the room during every career coaching conversation. If you already know someone who works at a company you want to work for – then awesome – you are done! Ask them to recommend you. Game over. But if you don’t already know someone who works there, you need to get it over with and go meet someone. Which means doing IT. The big ugly word. The thing that sends people to support groups en masse – Networking! *Queue dramatic music*

I am not suggesting you go to massive networking events in a suit and shove business cards at people whose names you can’t remember. I am suggesting that you not do that at all.

Now – what I am suggesting is that you set a list of target companies that you are going to apply to. These are companies you really want to work for. Based on location, reputation, benefits…whatever is important to you in your search. Once you have anywhere from 3-10 target companies (if you have trouble figuring out your target company list or getting traction in your search – I also recommend this bookby Steve Dalton) I want you to start meeting and talking to people that work on those companies. We’ll talk about what those conversations look like in my next post. Today, let’s get the ball rolling with a few ideas on how to meet folks that work at your target companies:

  1. Use the advanced search tool on LinkedIn to find people who work at the target company and share another affiliation with you. Fellow alumni are a good place to start. Search company name and school together and there you go. You can also use the best feature on LinkedIn which is, the “Find Alumni” tool on the connections tab. Seriously it is gold – just go there now and use it. I’ll wait………..SEE – it is awesome. Frankly, I think it should be the most prominently featured tool on LinkedIn – it is that useful. Fellow Alums are very open to connecting and talking, so reach out.
  2. Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they know anyone that works at the target company you are focusing on. Don’t give them your whole list at once (unless they are the level of friend that have helped you move houses before – because the whole list at once is that level of imposition). It is so easy for someone to think through their friends and see if they know anyone that works at one company. If they don’t know anyone – the follow-up question is “Do you know anyone who *might* know someone that works there?” Follow-up on any leads anyone ever gives you. Then thank them. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  3. Go to events that are hosted by the company or that employees are likely to attend. This could be anything from a tailgate at your alma mater, a chamber of commerce breakfast, a software meetup group, or a professional association conference. It’s easier than ever to figure out where companies are likely to engage with you socially. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or check out their own website/event page to see what they have going on in the near future. Check out your Alumni Association events for your area. Look up the events for professionals in your specialization or industry (with a keen eye to vendors and sponsors). If you are targeting the right groups – you’re likely to meet someone valuable even if you don’t strike immediate pay dirt.

Hopefully those first ideas three have your wheels turning. This first step is figuring out ways to meet folks where you want to work. That’s the only thing you have to do in round one; engage your network and figure out who you need to speak with.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on how to ask a new contact for a conversation (in certain circles this is known as an informational interview – but I’m aware that most people don’t use that phrase) and we’ll explore what that conversation might look like, including what you need to ask.


Happy, easy networking!

How do I customize my resume?

It’s a common piece of advice: “Customize your resume each time you apply to a job.” But what does it mean? It just means that you need to edit your resume to highlight what is most important each time you apply to a job. Here’s how to do it without spending too much time, without being dishonest, and without looking like a completely different person each time you apply to a job.

1. Scan the job description for key words that you should highlight in your resume. These words can be skills, requirements, experiences, certifications – basically anything that seems to be important to the employer when they describe who they are looking for. Customizing your resume is about including the right elements and making sure they are visible – not inventing experience, skills, or knowledge you don’t have. The key for customizing is that you are just bringing important elements to the forefront.

2. Have a “Highlighted Skills” section at the top of your resume. A three column list of skills near the beginning of your resume is an easy way to bring skills to the attention of an employer. It is also an easy place to begin customizing your resume when you apply for a job. Once you’ve discovered the most essential requirements, update this section first.

3. Use your highlighted skills updates as a guide. Once you’ve updated the skill section – use that list as a guide to review the rest of your resume. Make sure that those key skills rise to the top of your bullet-ed lists for each position on your resume, so employers can easily see in which positions you used those skills.

Okay – I’m about to change gears here. I’ve given you three tips above that will help you quickly customize your resume -so that you are free to do the stuff that really matters in your job search. Which leads me to tip #4…

4. Don’t spend all of your time on your resume (here’s why). Get a Referral.Now that you’ve tailored your resume and have a good idea of what is important to the employer – also speak to a current employee and get a referral. The referral is the most important part. A referral will get your resume looked at and has a good chance of getting you a call for an interview. I’ll talk about cultivating referrals in my next post. Breathe, it’s simpler than you think.

Change

I cannot prepare you for change. But I don’t need to. You are well versed in change. Changes have been happening to you since birth. You’ve made it through the collosal changes of your teen years (and if you haven’t – you are in for quite time!), you’ve probably moved homes a couple times, began and ended relationships, and swtiched jobs/roles/industries enough that it would have convinced your relatives in earlier decades that you had become a grifter. You are an expert.

Consider this your change master certification. Print it and hang it up on your wall. Stuff has happened to you, around you, and because of you – and you made it through. Even though you are a pro, you still probably have to figure out how to cope with the stress and uncertainty that accompanies change. I’m going to remind you of the things that you already know. Hopefully this will help you feel the calm that only a seasoned, certified expert such as yourself would feel:

1. You have a great survival rate so far. If you are reading this – 100%.

2. For every person suggesting you won’t succeed in something new, there are probably a handful or more of people that can tell you how well you’ve done things in the past (and that’s a pretty good indicator that you can do things well in the future).

3. If something has not worked for you in the past, you’ve adjusted and found something that would work … or you’ve known when to walk away.

4. When you care about what you are doing, you don’t accept excuses – just results. It’s made you a great person to work with, for, and around. It also has made you resilient which is an excellent trait for someone navigating changing seas.

5. Pain lessens over time. Professional change can be felt just as keenly as pain you experience in your personal life. Time helps heal both too.

6. You have people in your corner. Look at all of the people you are connected with on here. Having a network means the world. Keep these folks close and keep them in-the-know. You really never know who can help you over the next hurdle (or more importantly, who YOU can help).

7. Breathe.

Practice Makes Confident

Interviewing is a practicable skill. The more you practice answering behavioral interview questions (or questions appropriate to the interview type – more on that in future post) – the more comfortable and confident you’ll be. I’ve attached a link to a best interview preparation tool I’ve found from careerealism.com (no affiliation – I think this list is great and have chosen not to reinvent the wheel). When preparing for an interview, you don’t have to script yourself and memorize a pat answer. Most of us are poor actors and if you sound too “rehearsed” – you risk sounding a little boring. Prepare to the point of being comfortable in answering these questions, but still actively thinking as you speak. Tips for your practice:

  1. Learn and use the STAR method. This method will help you answer questions in an organized, succinct fashion. (google it). http://lmgtfy.com/?q=STAR+method
  2. There’s no perfect answer. These questions determine fit, motivation, and aim to predict future behaviors. Give the interviewer the best information you have to help them clarify these points about you (fit, motivation, your patterns of behavior).
  3. Research the organization beforehand. Review their website, printed materials, and try to speak with an employee of the company before your interview (reach out to your network to see if you can get introduced to a person who works there). This information will help you understand the employers needs, the culture, and the daily operations of the organization – which will prepare you to answer questions in a more targeted way.
  4. Think about what is in it for your employer. This is a marketing assignment – always keep in mind what the value is for them and let that be your guide.

End of the interview – Must do, Must remember:

  1. Thank them.
  2. Get their card.
  3. Promptly send a thank you note.

http://www.careerealism.com/wp-content/resources/the-best-interview-preparation-tool-ever.pdf

Side note – In the prep quide I’ve linked to, I have a preference regarding the first question in the “Ask for feedback” section (underscoring this is a point of preference, and I am not saying that the article is wrong). I prefer not to ask an employer to pick out my negative points right before the end of my interview. Your time may be better spent asking who they ARE looking for – so you can refer that information in your follow-up thank you letter or future interview rounds. It’s handy to have the employer’s own watchwords to use to underscore that you are the right fit. However, if there is an elephant in the room (for example if there is a person on the hiring committee that you’ve had a bad work experience with, or a member of the comittee seems to have a strong objection to you as a candidate) – you may choose to ask for that feedback so that you can get it in the open and address it.

As with ALL advice and ideas, reason the information out and evaluate what will work best for you in YOUR situation.