Securing employment today requires more homework

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on January 18, 2009, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Securing employment today requires more homework

Welcome to Sunday Koa Kākou. Sunday is the day I answer questions you send to me. If you have a question connected to management and leadership, leave a comment here, or email me.

From the Say “Alaka‘i” mailbox:

Up to today I have written 26 articles for this blog, and one has emerged as the runaway winner with the number of follow-up questions and frustrations being emailed to me: Job-hunting? Don’t apply and fill, create and pitch. I’ve answered some outlying questions and concerns individually, however there is a common thread with the challenges you are sharing with me too, and so I’d like to tackle it in our Sunday Koa Kākou today:

I did not say this was easy. You’ve got to do your homework, and be best in class.

“No one is hiring!”

As we can expect, my article has delivered the most value to those who still have their jobs, but find they must now continually prove their worth to their employers: This is not a time where it’s a good strategy to stay under the radar and just get by.

It’s much tougher for those of you who now find you are out of work completely, especially those who haven’t been “shopping the job market” for quite a while: You’ve found that a lot has changed, with technology and generational demographics being two of the more formidable learning challenges. [This past Tuesday’s Job Competencies for 2009: Let’s figure them out, was written to help you recognize others.]

Unemployment levels both nationally and in Hawai‘i are climbing steadily, and I keep hearing from you that “no one is hiring.” I know it’s tough, but that isn’t exactly true; much fewer people are hiring, and they can be much more selective now; it’s the simple rule of supply and demand. It is currently frustrating and frightening for many on the supply side of the equation because we’re in a recession, and consumers of nearly all products and services are holding on to whatever cash they can —and in turn, this affects their willingness to hire, adding to their cost burden.

Thus, Job-hunting? Don’t apply and fill, create and pitch came from the approach of helping potential employers understand why they shouldn’t take the option of not hiring you —the talented, savvy, perfect answer for their needs you— as what could be an even bigger cost and long term risk for them.

The right boss for you, IS hiring

You have to find him, or her.

Let’s go back to this: Why do you suppose my “create and pitch” advice could more easily be taken by those already in a job?

They know the ropes. They already know of the information that someone considered an outsider to the company doesn’t, and they have the insider’s past experience with how best to use that information. They have leverage. If you aren’t yet an insider, you have to do a lot more homework, and if you want to get in, you’ve got to be the one who does that homework best.

What “don’t apply and fill” also alludes to, is this: You can’t talk someone into hiring you, if you simply are not the person they need or want. So before you secure an interview, you have to find out all you can about those two things: What do they need, and who do they want?

You’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself too: If it’s probably not you, keep looking. Don’t take it personally and let it get to you; you’re just not a match, and you belong somewhere else.

In today’s economy, “I can be that person” is probably not good enough. This is the critical third question: Are you that person right now?

For right now, and in all employment situations where there are more job-seekers than job-givers, all potential employers have the luxury of suspending their training budgets, and hiring people ready to hit the ground running with little more than short orientations.

At first it may not seem like it, but this is good news: The right boss for you wants you to find them. You’d be surprised how they can make a job happen when they feel their perfect candidate unexpectedly walked in the door. They know that if they are right about you, you will end up paying your own wages by earning your keep —and then some. (And if they don’t, they’re not smart enough in business to deserve you anyway. Keep looking.)

Seek a company 1st and a job with that company 2nd

There is one sure-fire way to save yourself a lot of the frustration of job rejection. Make sure you are choosing the right company first.

When I was hiring, I was always impressed with the candidate who arrived for an interview having done a lot of their homework: They already knew a lot about my company and my needs, and they had prepared great questions for me. In essence, they already knew we were a match, and they were ready to work: They used the interview to make sure they had complete clarity on all my expectations. Their questions demonstrated what they already discovered, but could further build on.

In an interview, “Is this what you need?” questions are humble and clarify. “I’m the man (or woman) for this job, and this is why you need me” statements are presumptuous and too aggressive —even when they’re true.

Great interviews helped me see that the candidate was convinced my company was what they needed and wanted. They built up my ego (in being smart enough to already work for this highly desirable and intriguing company) and they got me to listen very intently. Now, having secured my rapt attention, they were working on helping me arrive at seeing what my company needed and wanted, and how they were my answer. They were working on part two: Specific job options.

I could see how it would be if we worked together all the time: Our partnership had already started.

If you are an employer looking to hire right now, I welcome you to chip in here:
What, and who are you looking for?