[ This article is a summary of what I teach my students about finding work. You’ll find more details in this webinar. ]
The L.A. Times ran a column this morning (May 15, 2016) titled: “10 Mistakes 1st-Time Job Seekers Make.” Their article got me thinking about the process of finding work. With graduations in full-swing, I want to share my thoughts on job hunting, interviewing and finding your next job.
Here’s my key point: An employer, or client, is someone with a problem they need you to solve; and they are trying to decide if you are the right person to solve it. Therefore, define yourself as someone who helps solve problems, not simply as a job function. For example, “you enable companies to communicate more effectively with their customers;” rather than “you edit videos.”
Dale Carnegie expressed this best almost eighty years ago. Everyone, especially employers, are looking for WII-FM; “What’s In It For Me?” Everyone knows that you need a job, the key question is why should they hire YOU, rather than the person standing next to you?
Always think in terms of the benefits you can provide the employer, rather than the benefits the employer can provide you.
The first thing you need to understand after graduating is that no one cares about your GPA. Once you start looking for work, its irrelevant. (Well, except to give employers a reason to say “No.”)
The second thing you need to know is that who you know won’t help you a whole lot. Nor will the number of friends you have on social media. What makes a bigger difference is “who knows you,” and, most importantly, “who knows what you know.” If I’m looking for an After Effects editor and I don’t know that you know After Effects, even if I know you, you are not going to get the job.
The driving force behind finding and keeping a job is not technical skills or hourly rate, but relationships, people skills and enthusiasm. This is especially true for older workers.
This means that networking, meeting people face-to-face, telling them about yourself and learning about them is an essential job-hunting skill.
Job hunting is a marketing game, where you are the product. It is very easy, when you get turned down for a job, to feel that potential employers are saying no to you. They aren’t. They are saying no to their perception of you as a product. Somehow, you need to tweak the description of your skills, your work ethic, your ability to learn, your enthusiasm, your interview techniques … to make it more appealing to potential employers.
Pick yourself up, give yourself a hug and get back into it. You, your skills and knowledge, are a product that you are selling to the market for the best price. Don’t take rejection personally – even though we all do. Instead, use that rejection as a challenge to better define the product – which is you.
Job hunting is also a competition. You don’t have to be the best of all possible candidates. You simply have to be the best of the candidates being considered. For instance, I only speak English. If I am being considered for an editing job at Univision which requires that all candidates speak both Spanish and English and the other candidate speaks both languages, there’s no way I’m getting that job. Even if my video editing skills are far better than the other guy, I will lose every time.
There’s a story I tell my students: If you and another guy are being chased by a bear, you don’t need to run faster than the bear, you just need to run faster than the other guy. You don’t need to be perfect – you just need to be best possible candidate out of everyone they are considering.
Job hunting is marketing and the key to marketing yourself is to determine your strengths. While this is easy to say, it is VERY difficult to do. Most of us focus on our weaknesses, not our strengths. We say: “I wish I was taller, smarter, older, younger, faster, richer, better educated…” You get the picture. We obsess about our weaknesses.
However, employers don’t want to know what we are bad at, they want to know what we are good at. And figuring out our strengths generally takes the help of friends, because we take our skills for granted and don’t really think of them as skills.
For example, I’ve always been a reasonably good writer and very comfortable speaking in front of groups of people. I don’t consider these “skills,” I simple consider them part of who I am. What brought this to mind was that when I sat down with a few friends, on one of the many occasions when I was looking for work, and I asked them to describe some of my strengths I found their comments to be eye-opening.
They pointed out aspects of my personality that I had never thought about before. Today, many of the strengths they mentioned are part of my standard presentation when I go to interviews. Remember, your job is to describe yourself to future employers in terms of the benefits they get from hiring you. And that means you need to clearly describe the strengths you bring to the table.
At the job interview, an employer is looking to see if you are competent, will fit in with other members of the group, are interested in the job or simply looking for a paycheck, and whether you bring skills to the company that it currently lacks.
Just as the employer is trying to determine if you are a good fit for the company, you need to find out if the company is a good fit for you. I can’t stress this social aspect too much. You can have all the right technical skills, but if you have an abrasive personality, you won’t get the job. A good employer is looking for people that will work together smoothly to get the work done. During the interview, you are being evaluated as much for how you will fit in as for what you know.
When it comes to the interview, here are the Times Top Ten Interview Mistakes:
I agree with all of these points.
When I am interviewing someone, I’m looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic, asks questions, doesn’t claim to know more than they do, and has a clue about our industry.
I can’t stress how important it is to ask questions during an interview. My standard interview technique is for an associate to spend about five minutes describing our company, then I take about five minutes to describe the specifics of the position. At the end of that time, I ALWAYS ask: “So, do you have any questions?”
It amazes me how many people say: “No, I’ve got a really good idea of what you are looking for.” For someone to be willing to commit 100% of their work-life to a company and yet not have any questions indicates to me someone who is uninterested in the work and planning on phoning-in their job. I have no interest in hiring anyone like that.
During the interview, ask questions, discover if these are people you want to work with, emphasize skills that set you apart from the competition, find out if you can learn from them and don’t worry about the money – yet.
Many bad jobs are made bearable by the people you work with. And many great jobs are destroyed by your co-workers. The interview is your time to learn about your co-workers and whether you can stand to be around them.
When it comes to money remember this: the first person to mention money loses. Let the employer bring it up and let them suggest the starting wage. Your job is to sell yourself – do a good job with that and the money will follow.
AFTER YOU START
No employer really expects a new grad to know anything. What we are hiring is someone with a proven ability to learn and an enthusiasm for the subject. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn will always beat native talent.
The days are long past where we will be working for the same company for 40 years. Change is constant – in our industry and in our careers. This means that you need to work at every job as though it is the resume for your next one.
People skills and communication skills are as important as technical skills. Who you are is as important as your resume. The reputation you build on your first job will follow you for years.
Always, always, always build your network. Who you know is nice; who knows you is far, far better. What you know gets you the interview. How you do gets you the next job.