Stay in the Game!

bowl game 2As most of you know, I’m a huge football fan. “Fan” is putting it lightly, really – more like a full blown, psychopath, nut job, ravenous, insatiable football aficionado! I create many analogies that work perfectly with my favorite sport, and today’s blog is no exception to that thought process.

When any top flight football team plays a lesser ranked opponent, somewhere in the lead up to the game you’ll hear the coach of the lower ranked team say “Our goal is to be in the game in the fourth quarter – if we can just hang in there with them, we’ll have a chance.”

Watching a game this past weekend with just this scenario on the field, it hit me – the job search process is exactly like the lower ranked team fighting a bigger, faster opponent. You can’t win the job in the first half of the game – but you can get eliminated from it. Your goal is to get to the fourth quarter – and give yourself a chance to win. You must realize that the job search process is not about finding the right candidate, it’s about eliminating as many of the wrong candidates as possible at the end of each quarter!

In the spirit of the College Football Bowl Season, here’s how the Job Search Bowl presented by Your New Vocation works:

First Quarter – The beginning of the Job Search Bowl is tough. You have to survive the First Quarter to even have a shot at the rest of the game. You must target the right potential employer based on the company’s mission and vision statements and your personal beliefs. You have to find a company brand that you’d be proud to wear for years to come. And you have to find a “champion” inside the company or someone who has a connection to the company (see my blog “Coaches, Champions and Cheerleaders”) to help guide your path. Then, you have construct and deliver your message to the right person (cover letter, resume, follow up notes), and follow up professionally to get a meeting or phone interview (see my blog “Professional Stalking”).

Also during the First Quarter, your resume will get screened once and perhaps even twice by a computer before a human ever sees it. That means you must create a very targeted resume and cover letter based on the points listed in the job requirements or from the conversations you have had with your champion. The First Quarter requires patience, determination and a tremendously positive attitude – no one you encounter will seem to be working with the same urgency as you and it will be easy to get frustrated with the amount of unreturned phone calls, unreplied emails, and the seeming lack of interest in your credentials. Hang in there! The goal for the hiring company or recruiting firm is to reduce the thousands of resumes they got for the position down to a manageable number. For instance, recently an HR friend of mine told me her company received 2200 resumes for some 10 positions they were looking to hire. After the First Quarter, she had that number down to just over a hundred that made the cut.

If you make it to the end of the first quarter, it means you have gotten a phone call or email to set up a preliminary interview (another major screening tool) with a live human being. Congratulations – you have won the First Quarter of the Job Search Bowl and you get to keep playing!

Second Quarter – In the Second Quarter, the game changes a bit. Things will seem to move a bit faster but keep your bottle of patience handy – like the Army, this quarter is fraught with the “hurry up and wait” mentality! Your screener interview will probably be done by a twenty-something who is working their way up the HR or recruiting ladder. They don’t want to do this interview any more than you do, and their goal will be to read the questions and take down or record your answers as fast as possible so they can get on to the next interview on their list. The screener may do one call per half hour all day long, for weeks on end. Talk about monotony! Do yourself a favor and try to schedule the screener interview early in the week or at least early in the morning, so you get someone on the other end of phone who isn’t crispy around the edges and is more conversant than normal! This part of the process will take those hundred or so candidates and cut them in half to around 50 (based on the example my HR friend gave me).

If the human screener interview goes well, one of two things usually happens next: 1- you get to take the “nothing but fun” online assessment tool, or 2- you get moved up the line to a second live human who does a more in depth 45-60 minute phone interview. Both of these options are ripe with danger so be ready to rock and roll with the punches!

You can’t really prepare for the online assessment tool – but you can ask the person who schedules it with you to describe how it works and what it’s used for. Most of the time these are “personality profiles” whose intent is to add a bit of depth to your resume and initial screening while working in a few “decision making” or “integrity” questions for good measure. If they tell you which one they are using (Myers Briggs, Color Quiz, etc) you can look them online beforehand and get an idea of the style of the assessment. However, all you can do when you take one of these is to answer it as honestly and openly as possible. Don’t try to figure out the angle of the questions or waste time with the “oh I get what they really want to hear” line of thinking – it will distort the impression you give to the company about you. Just be you – if you don’t fit what they are really after, that’s going to come out eventually. Better to know it now than weeks and weeks into the job search process with the company!

The 45-60 minute phone interview will probably be done by a senior member of the HR team or recruiting company who has years of experience in digging out the real dirt on you! They are usually skilled interviewers whose sole task it is to expose your weaknesses, trip you up on your resume if you haven’t been totally clear about your background, and to save the company or client time and money by rooting you out of the process. They will sound like your long lost best friend and try to get you to open up about your real feelings and beliefs. Don’t take the bait! Stay on guard and on point about why you want to work for the company, why you made that job change years ago (with the most positive spin possible), and never EVER talk bad about a past employer! You may get lured with a set up like “I’ve talked to several people who worked there and they all said it was a terrible place – was that your experience?” Stay off the rat trap, don’t take the cheese! Keep your answers positive and forward thinking. Always spin the conversation back to the pros of the match of your background and what the company is looking for. If you keep your head, stay positive, and sound like the same person at the end of the interview as the one who started the call, you’ll survive it and move forward.

In some cases the Second Quarter might include both the online assessment AND the skilled screener interview. Their goal is to take that number of 50 applicants and reduce it down to 10-12. If you make it to halftime be very proud – you are still playing the Job Search Bowl!

Third Quarter – The all important second half of the JSB begins with the part that you really wanted to start with – an actual live interview with a hiring manager! When you get the call or email to schedule this event, make sure you get the person’s name you are interviewing with – I know this sounds basic, but I have coached many job seekers who didn’t realize the importance of this info. You want the interviewer’s name and job title so that you can research them on LinkedIn, Google, a personal or company blog, industry websites, etc. Understand that if you are having an interview across the desk from a hiring manager, they already believe you have the skill set to do the job. Now what they must assess is “fit” – will you as a person be an asset or liability to the already existing team.

You must walk into that interview with 10-20 great questions to ask the manager about the company, the culture, their personal journey up the company ladder, etc. You will not have 10-20 great questions to ask if you don’t do this meticulous research! If you were meeting with a recruiter I would tell you that I want you to know more about the company than the recruiter does. You will not be able to know more about the company than the hiring manager does, but you still want to impress them with your knowledge and depth of understanding about the company’s philosophies, products, future growth plans, etc. The goal is for the hiring manager to look at you like you are someone who already works for his team – he just hasn’t given you a key card yet!

Once again, stay above the negatives in your past and far away from negative talk about a past employer. When you get the chance to ask questions, make sure they are framed in a positive manner and are always forward thinking. You want to be viewed as a problem solver and perhaps a person who brings new ideas to the table. The hiring manager should be thinking about how your skill set will help him do his job and run his department or division. If you do this well, you will have survived the Job Seeker Bowl through the Third Quarter! The goal here is for the company to have 3-4 top candidates left in the pool.

Fourth Quarter – You made it – you have played the game well and you are in the final quarter of the JSB! At this stage one of two things usually happens: 1- multiple interviews with other managers or department heads or perhaps a panel interview; and/or 2- the dreaded reference check! Both are critical and again the goal here is to not pick the best candidate to eliminate the 2-3 that don’t stack up.

If you get the multiple individual interviews, make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat your best energy foods, replay the conversation in your head with the hiring manager and find the most positive person inside you to present over and over during the day. The multiple interview game is about impressions. None of these managers will be directly supervising you more than likely, but they provide a little air cover for the hiring manager’s decision. After you get through the gauntlet, the hiring manager will call each of the others and ask “So, what’d you think?” This is not an in depth assessment of your skills – what is being judged is your “likeability factor”. Would this group of folks enjoy being around you or did you make them uncomfortable for some reason. Be respectful, be positive, ask a few great questions about the company, and act like you already work there!

Now, we get to a hot button item – your reference list! You need to supply references in three headings: persons you’ve worked for, persons you’ve worked with, and persons that know you well. The ones you’ve worked for show that you get the company goals and can follow direction; the ones you’ve worked with show that you have a great attitude, are fun to be around and are dependable; the ones who know you well talk about your integrity, trustworthiness and likeability. You only need 2-3 in each heading but make sure ALL of them know that you have just launched the reference missile and that will soon be called to talk about you. Blindsided references are seldom good ones, and again in this stage, the hiring manager is looking for a reason to eliminate you, not hire you. You need glowing, pristine, golden references to make it to the end of the game!

The Job Search Bowl ends with a decision – hopefully to bring you on board to your new vocation! You cannot control much about this last part of the game, but you will never win a JSB unless you get to the Fourth Quarter. The final decision is usually a tough one for a hiring manager – he likes all of the final candidates, but he can only pick one. Stay in the game enough times to get to the end and you will win. Don’t get discouraged if you get to this stage and don’t get the job – you are doing everything right! Just keep playing and keeping staying in the game – your Job Search Bowl Championship ring is waiting!

If I can be of help in your job search process, don’t hesitate to ask. That’s why I’m here!