Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Job Seekers – Don’t Like What You See in the Mirror?

I heard of a study done some years ago that stuck with me. Most people, when they look in the mirror, are not happy with their appearance. According to this research, a person has a much lower evaluation of their looks than someone else does. What was the explanation for this phenomenon? Well, it seems that every person has something(s) about their face that they wish was different - for instance the color of their hair, the shape of their nose, or the size of their ears. This one aspect of their face that they don’t like is the exact area that they hone in on when looking in the mirror. However, when someone else looks at that same face, they are looking at the entire package, and most everyone seems to be put together nicely (after all, we were created in God’s image).

Job seekers can get stuck focusing on a small detail that causes them to forget the overall value that they offer.

Many people intuitively and automatically identify one or more factors that they feel are causing them to not get hired. Recently I heard the following explanations:

• Don’t have a university degree
• Live in Jerusalem (too far from the center)
• Over 50
• Don’t speak Hebrew well enough
• Don’t have work experience in the sector

Any of these issues can certainly increase the difficulty in landing work. But keeping in mind that you as a job seeker are a combination of many elements, only one of which it seems is causing you problems, may help in putting things in their proper perspective.

When an employer is seeking to fill a role, they generally have a conception of the candidate that can meet the requirements. Oftentimes it is difficult for the job seeker to infer this vision from the advertised description, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists in the mind of the employees responsible for the hiring process.

When an employer creates their job listing, some of these profile characteristics are included and other are omitted, purposely or not. They can ultimately be divided into two categories: required and nice to have. In a perfect world, all of this would be clear to the applicant from reading the job posting. However, as we all know, we are living in a world far from ideal. For instance, sometimes in the job requirements section there is an entry for a university degree, even including the additional request “from a known university”. It is impossible to understand if this is an absolute requirement or a nice to have; being listed in the requirements section is not always an accurate indication. And whether my university is considered “known” in Israel, especially when I graduated from a university in the US, is totally unknown to me. Another possibility is a requirement for fluent Hebrew – who can accurately define what the employer considers fluent? Other examples can include a listing that previous work experience in the Internet sector is nice to have; I know some of these companies and a candidate that doesn’t possess work experience in the internet sector won’t receive even the slightest consideration, independent of the job listing wording implying it is not a requirement. The unwritten absolute job requirements are silent killers – candidates that are sure they are perfect for the job may not hear back because they don’t live in the right part of the country, are deemed overqualified and/or fall outside the age range.

Let us take a more in-depth look at a situation where the company has a candidate profile requirement that the applicant must have a university degree. You meet all of the job requirements, except this one. You have two options:

1) Don’t apply for the job
2) Apply for the job

Probably readers this far into the article can guess that I believe this job should be applied for, because nobody can know if it really is an absolute requirement, and even if it is, if it may be overcome anyway.

OK, so if you apply for the job, how should you go about it? Alternatives:
  • Include on your CV a fake university and degree that fulfill this requirement
    • Never do this! No additional explanation required…
  • Send your CV without any indication of university/education
    • This is not the best of all worlds, but if you have absolutely no post-high school education, you may be forced to use this approach.
  • Include on your CV that education which you do have, including university courses even if you didn’t graduate.
    • Most people that I come across without university degrees do have some post-high school education credits, whether they be professional classes, junior college, or university courses without obtaining a degree. Listing these may get you to the next round.
I am sure some people may find the reasoning above faulty. Why waste time applying for a job if you don’t meet the requirements? In fact, as a recruiter, I generally agree with this, as many of the CVs I receive are from applicants that don’t approach the published requirements – something tremendously useless! However, if you are close, then I certainly don’t hold it against anyone for trying, and there are times when I have the ability to present a candidate that does match in all ways except for one, and help them to get invited for an interview.

And let’s remember, what is the objective of a CV? The correct answer is to get yourself called for an interview. And for any of the issues that are sensitive for you, including certainly job requirements which you don’t match, it is much better for you to be able to address them in a face-to-face (or at least telephone) interview, rather than when you are a one dimensional CV piece of paper. Keep in mind that according to studies of how CVs are processed, a CV that arrives is checked for 20-30 seconds on average. Therefore, there is no chance that the entire CV is being read in that short period of time; it is simply scanned, possibly electronically. So, if including truthful information in an education section, even if it doesn’t fully meet the requirements, is enough to get you to the next stage, then this approach makes sense.

If we return to the initial concept of thinking about the big picture rather than focusing on a single (negative) item:

• The initial objective in submitting your candidacy is to get to the next stage, giving you the ability to speak with the employer directly. Creating a CV that increases your ability to reach this goal is the only objective when considering what to include. Approaching the company in the correct manner is equally critical. In conjunction with sending your CV in response to job posting that you find on Internet, if you can develop a contact within the company (using LinkedIn or some other manner) to also submit your CV can do wonders for your response rate. An advocate inside the company oftentimes can mitigate the fact that you don’t meet all of the job requirements. I have seen many cases in which applicants arrive to the HR group via an internal company contact and go to the head of the list compared to others whose CVs arrive in response to a public job announcement. Networking is the most effective way to have the employer consider you by looking at the big picture, rather than the small individual details.
• Once you get to the interview, you now have your best chance to make a big picture impression. Yes, it may be true that you don’t have the required university degree; however you have the opportunity to show all of the value that you can deliver to the employer, which sometimes can cause them to reconsider whether the university degree is really so significant for candidates. Or, it may allow them to consider you for another position where you are appropriate.

All job seekers are made up of a variety of skills, aptitudes, and personality. Different subsets of these characteristics are relevant for each individual job, and when going through the recruitment process, if you remember to focus on the attractive overall “package” that you create, you will find that you will move from appearing defensive about particular items you perceive as negative to portraying a more rounded and positive image of yourself as a future employee to the company.

Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror – most people will find you attractive if you give them a chance, so why can’t you?

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