CIO

Blog: What To Do When You Consistently Place Second For Jobs

Last week I gave a presentation on how to apply one's project management skills to one's job search. After the presentation, I had several discussions and e-mail exchanges with people who were consistently coming up as the second place candidate in job searches. It's a source of frustration and stress for all of us, so in addition to the specific advice I offered them, I developed some ideas on changes we could make to our job searches that would result in making us the candidate of choice.

There are only three key elements in a job search: you, your target market and your connections to that market. "You" can be further broken down into: your resume, your job search methods and your interviews. If your job search is not working, then you must objectively review each of these elements to see what needs adjusting.

Your Resume: A lesson I learned recently is that a resume is not designed to get you a job. Rather, a resume is a marketing device whose sole purpose is to sell an interview with you to a prospective recruiter or employer. If your resume tries to accomplish anything more than that, you're giving away control of your job search by giving the reader the ability to pass judgment on you before they even talk to you.

There are numerous books, articles, blogs and specialists available to help you review and adjust your resume to meet that goal.

Also, even though they are very busy, most good recruiters can tell you how your resume compares to others in your market with similar levels of experience. After talking to several recruiters and reviewing sites like CIO.com (Seven Resume Best Practices and Bullet-Proof CIO Resume), RiteSite, JibberJobber and CareerBuilder for resume tips and hints, I used the combined recommendations to rewrite my resume.

In my case, my reviewers commented positively that I had customized my resume to specific industries and had related my major accomplishments to bottom-line and strategic business results. However, my major accomplishments were scattered throughout my resume, and I provided far too many details for all my achievements. They also recommended dropping the dates on all my experience and education before 2000 and summarizing most of these to only one line per position. They also underscored the importance of customizing each resume to each opportunity using specific key words from the position's specifications and requirements. Finally, they had me create a one-page summary resume as a marketing tool, highlighting a few significant career achievements directly relevant to each opportunity. The recruiters unanimously agreed that the keys to a successful resume are absolute clarity on what you can bring to your prospective employer and concise specifics as to why you are more qualified for that specific job than anyone else.

You can also send your new resume to a few professional resume writers, many of whom offer a free review with suggestions. I requested this free review from two professional resume writers and two executive recruiters specialized in resume redesign. Only one of the professional resume writers responded, but he provided several suggestions and of course recommended that a complete rewrite would produce dramatic results. But even better, both recruiters scheduled a 30-minute call to review line by line what edits and changes they would recommend. I made those final edits and I am now in the process of getting it out to all my executive recruiting contacts and updating the major and specialized career sites I'm using.

Your Job Search Methods: If you're getting calls and even a few interviews, that generally says you're on the right track. But if you're not getting those initial calls or not getting second calls, then your job search methods may be too generalized (e.g. you're following a "shotgun" method of sending your resume everywhere in hopes of hitting something). Another culprit may be that you're not narrowing your job search to targets appropriate for your industry and experience.

Planning your job search takes time and effort to make it effective. Calling a few headhunters, reading the Sunday want ads, and posting your resume on one or two job boards won't cut it any more. Not in this market and not at the senior and managerial ranks-the competition is too intense. Better ways to handle each of these topics are summarized in this blog entry.

Another missing link for many job seekers is networking. Networking is not a spectator sport. Networking is also not effective if you do it alone. You need to get out from behind your desk and into a crowd of people who are doing what it is you want to do. Attend industry forums and conferences, and by all means, participate-ask questions. Have a cup of coffee with friends in the industry. Read up on the latest technology or management methodology and invite several people you know and respect to meet and discuss it together. The idea is to keep yourself involved and enlightened with the topics and people in the industry. These kinds of activities not only keep you energized and keep your technical and communication skills sharp, but they also open doors into the "hidden" market of jobs that never get posted.

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Your Target Market: A job seeker who feels that his or her job search has stalled needs to take an honest assessment of his skills and experiences in light of all the changing market forces around him. The very fact that you are in a job search says something about either your skills or your cost in your prior employer's micro-economy. It might also say something about your prior employer's ability to meet the changing needs of the macro-economy.

Things to consider are:

  • Regions: Has your industry moved across country or even to another country? If so, should you relocate or should you look to transfer your skills elsewhere?
  • Industries: What one or two specific industries do you have the most experience in, and to what specific industries can you potentially transfer your skills and experience the easiest?
  • Firms: Should you move upstream to larger firms, downstream to smaller or secondary firms, or cross-stream to competitors or multi-national firms?
  • Skills: Do you need to take courses or gain certifications to acquire additional skills needed in your industry, or do you need to completely retool yourself to change careers? (Most people change careers two to three times in their lifetimes.)
  • Your Connections to Your Target Market: There's some truth to the old adage "Who you know is more important than what you know." Think about it: We call on recruiters because they have contacts and knowledge of inside opportunities that we don't. We network with peers, friends, relatives and industry insiders because they MAY have contacts and knowledge of opportunities we want. And we research the Internet and industry magazines looking for people that have information or connections we would like. So if your job search has stalled or consistently results in the response, "We've selected another candidate," you should reconsider your connections to your target market. You may need to broaden the number of contacts and sources you have in your chosen target market. Your recruiters and contacts may not be in your target market. They may not be focusing their energies on you for some reason (see #3 above). Or they may simply not be on par with your career goals-meaning they don't have the connections and leads that they say they have.

    For example, if your target market is in technology startups, then your connections should be 90% focused on venture-capital (VC) firms, recruiting firms that specialize in technology startups, and websites, magazines and organizations that identify and assist startups. If you're spending more than 10% of your time in general career job sites, general technology recruiters or similar non-specialized sources, then you are wasting your time.

    As a second example, I was referred by my network contacts to Mark Wayman, an executive recruiter specializing in CXO-level opportunities in the technology and gaming industries. He seemed like a great fit for my skills and experience, so I called Mark to introduce myself. I quickly learned that Mark Wayman is also known as the "Godfather of Las Vegas" since he is known for his very specialized and extensive contacts and relationships with all of Las Vegas' major industry leaders. Thus, if Las Vegas is one of your target markets at this time, then Mr. Wayman is an ideal connection for you to make.

    Your Interviews: If you're getting several first interviews but no second interviews, then something is missing in this critical, final step: the job interview.

    If you're working with recruiters, they can generally find out from the prospective employers what happened in those prior interviews. Alternatively, you could ask one or two recruiters for a mock interview to evaluate your presentation and style. Be sure to let them know you want honesty, not sugar coating!

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    There are also career assistance programs available just about anywhere that can provide mock interviews, and interview practice and evaluation sessions for free or for a slight fee. In the Chicago area, for example, I have met with an advisor from an organization called Career Renewal, and I know several people that highly recommend The Career Transition Centers of Chicago for these and other job search related services, including free resume reviews and courses on how to start a business.

    For those willing and able to pay, there are also professional career counselors. As I noted last week, while I have not yet decided if this is a next step for me, after asking for recommendations from Chicago area leaders I met with Michael Thompson of Interlude Coaching, a highly regarded gentleman with an exceptionally interesting career himself!

    A similar approach is to ask for an informational interview or an information-only meeting with individuals in your target market.

    From my experience, most interviews fail for one reason: lack of preparation, either by the interviewee or the interviewer. Doing your homework on the firm, the industry, the position, and even the interviewer set you up for success.

    After reviewing and adjusting the five key elements of your job search, the improvements you should see should make a major difference in moving your job search forward again!