The Last Job Seeker Guide You’ll Ever Need (Sorta)

Recession. It’s the dirty word that everyone is throwing out these days.  Companies are using it as a cop-out for questionable business ethics and employee treatment.   Anything goes wrong, let’s blame the recession.  The truth is that the recession was years in the making.  I’d say that the signs were obvious as early as 1999, when it seemed like everyone was going back to school or at least changing their profession.  Most folks foolishly felt they could jump on the real estate, IT, and other trends to take advantage of what seemed like “guaranteed money”.  The only difference now is that people stopped fooling themselves and realized one thing: this job market SUCKS.

If Dubbya says were not in a recession, then it must be true!

If Dubbya says we're not in a recession, then it must be true!

As one of my colleagues put it, the gravy days of sales and business in general are behind us.  It used to be that all you needed was a good idea or a product that was in a market had high demand.  Customers would come to you and the only issue was making sure you got through to them before all the other sneezers (thank you Seth Godin, Mr. Purple Cow) in your market contaminated them with their preferred solutions and brands.  Retail stores had to staff up heavily and, even so, they barely could handle traffic.  There were only a few providers in every sector so everyone got a big piece of the pie.  Not so anymore.

Nowadays, the competitive landscape is congested and companies are cutting corners.  Training is not as extensive, quality of service has gone down the poop chute, staffing is minimal at best, and customers are far less interested in what you have to say.  Everyone has heard the ‘ol marketing song-and-dance and they’ve learned to tune it out.  This is a boon for the customers because companies will negotiate more but it is a bane for job seekers, especially those that have dreams to find the perfect job and career track.

In a world where business revenues fluctuate constantly, it is only natural that jobs come and go.  Of course, one of the biggest ways companies love to cut corners is outsourcing and sending jobs overseas.  Those of you that have read my other blogs and articles on the topic know that I am not a big fan of this trend, for personal reasons and many others.

There are plenty of quality job seekers out there.  You may be one of them but how will you find the job that you need or desire in this employment war zone of 2009? How can you survive in this tough economy?  There’s no magical solution here.  It will be painful and much grinding will be necessary to pull it off but, if you read this article completely, perhaps you may feel a bit more optimistic, albeit a bit cynical and realistic.

Contrary to what most people will say, going back to school and shelling out money for certifications won’t make you that much more marketable.  You see, employers have learned to tune out the noise and the myriad of job seekers, to them, is the equivalent of desperate businesses spending millions on ineffective marketing campaigns that, if lucky, will yield a 1% conversion.

Just think about all the people you know that are educated, have their credentials, AND have proven track records.  They may be stuck at a dead-end job or even jobless now.  Do you really think that throwing money into the furnace will bolster your efforts at all?  Maybe a bit but, let’s face it: the schools and certificate providers out there just want their money.  They could care less if you find a job, let alone a good one.  They’re shelling out money desperately to make folks think they have an escape rope out of the economic downward spiral but chances are you’ll just be ending up in yet another over-populated job space – many fish swimming about in a tiny pond.  Big fish eats little fish.  Good game.

Here are the things that I believe will help you get your foot in the door at least.  From there, your keen interview skills, appearance, and a whole lot of luck will help you get further…

  1. Social Networking. Meeting people is an amazing way to find great jobs and get people on the inside.  Not only can you gain insight about key markets and sectors, but you can gain some good recommendations and references along the way.  Heck, the next person you meet may very well become your boss or at least help you get hired.  Get the fishing lines out there and don’t rely on job sites or headhunters to be your primary referral conduit.
  2. Background Check. If you have no criminal record, your driver’s record is fairly clean, and your credit score is good, employers may consider you more responsible and less risky than those that have not-so-squeaky-clean background checks.   More on this in a bit…
  3. Concise Resume. Recruiters get this one wrong all the time.  They’ll load your resume with keywords and make it bloated to the point in which employers will quickly toss your resume aside.  Short and sweet is the key.  Focus on your achievements and soft skills, not just the technical skills.  All too many people make their resume into a grocery list of responsibilities and jargon.  Keep it simple and drive your key points from the very first page.
  4. Solid References. Third-party edification works amazingly well in Sales & Marketing and it does well in the job-seeking process too.  The more high-profile your references are, the more powerful your referrals and recommendations will be.  Friends can be good references as they can provide personality insight but make sure they are at least well-spoken and accessible.  Remember: your references reflect who you are and vice versa so make sure you let people know that you are looking and what kind of jobs you are looking at.
  5. Recognized Certifications. I’d say certifications are more important in certain markets than high-level degrees, simply because they show a real investment in life-long learning and a desire to stay current with your knowledge.  Most universities provide theoretical information and broad, liberal coursework but not very much applicable knowledge.  Certifications are cheaper and, very often, you can learn what you need to on-the-job or through books, interactive software, and the like.

Those are my top 5, at least for technical fields and most white collar jobs.  Blue collar work is a little different but, even there, who you know far outweighs what you know.  Most people can BS their way into a good job and learn on the job if they’re good enough but getting your foot in the door is where things get tricky.  Think about how many resumes the companies you are apped to are probably getting.  Your chances only get slimmer and slimmer.

I feel that the more you can do at the initial point of contact, the better off you are.  Be wary of information overload but, by all means, offer additional information.  The more a potential employer can have to work with from the onset, the less chances you have that they will lose interest or forget about you in the midst of reviewing other applications.  I’d always offer references even if I am not asked for them and it helped me land some of the best jobs ever.

Now let’s mull over the ugly matter of credit scores.  You always here about the 3 to 5%, sometimes even the 8%.  These are the folks that are fortunate and perhaps were born into wealth.  For the rest of us, hard work and persistence is the only way we can jump the vast divide between “just making it” and “well-off”.  The middle class is fading, as some say, as more and more people are living check-by-check.  It’s a brave new world but, historically speaking, we’ve been here before.  It’s just the signs of a major paradigm shift becoming more and more pervasive.  We need to change how we do things and not follow the masses because, obviously, if what the masses did worked, we’d all be better off.

It used to be that only companies with high-value assets and access to massive amounts of cash (a’la financial companies) would be the only ones that would run a consumer/credit report.  Nowadays, even companies that offer pitiful employment packages are being very selective about their employment decisions.  If your consumer history is not relatively spotless, you may not even hear back from a potential employer.  Technically, they’re supposed to disclose if your credit report is what nailed your metaphorical coffin so that you can get your free credit report but most companies cut the corner here.

Now that means what little jobs have not been (or can not be) sent overseas are now screening harder than before.  Companies are adopting more testing platforms to “tech out” their applicants too.  Expect many hours invested before you get a phone call, let alone a face-to-face meeting.  Then you can bank on two or three interviews at the very least before you hear anything solid.  Like I said, it’s going to be a grind to get a good job in this economy but this is not anything new, it just has gotten worse and everyone is feeling it, not just the under-appreciated/over-worked jobbers, such as IT folks and retail salespeople.

The real kicker with credit is that it takes much longer to build or rebuild than it does to tarnish it.  You can be unrelenting in your efforts to pay bills on time or ahead of time, perhaps in full each and every time, but all it takes is one person mishandling your information to result in misbilling, identity theft, and other pesky situations.  Identity theft rates alone are soaring through the roof as people take advantage of desperate job seekers and people afraid to upset the authorities.  Scams include supposed court appointees calling jurors for their personal information and, my favorite, alleged employers offering contract-for-hire/contract-to-hire opportunities where all you have to do is complete a simple application and provide your SSN.  Yes, many people fall prey to this scam.

If you want to be ahead of the game, you may consider going into one of the more thriving industries.   According to sourcs such as Forbes and WalletPop, the thriving, “economy-proof” fields right this moment are Sales, Nursing, Senior/Executive Management, and Finance.  Of course, we all know that many of those industries have had their fair share of lay-offs.  Banks and retail stores have seen major cutbacks and wide-scale closings.  Here are the roles I’d recommend looking at…

  • Sales Representative – Being an outside sales person is grueling work but, if you enjoy travel and long work days, this can be a great place for you to launch a career.  Key skills include sales, presentation, communication, and the ability to persuade/influence others.   Retail sales is on a downward trend unless you are in a key sector such as electronics, which will see a steady increase, thanks to the HD/digital transition and people spending more time at home.
  • Software Design & Development – I love software design and web development quite a bit but making a full-time job out of it, at least working for another person, can be quite frustrating.  You tend to bring a lot of work home with you and deal with aggressive deadlines.  Most places I have observed hire individual people where entire teams should be employed.  Also, I see many people turning to Brazil, Argentina, and other countries to outsource programming jobs so, in spite of what the so-called experts say, you should only pursue this career track if you will give yourself something to fall back on.
  • Nurse – Just about anywhere you go, hospitals and clinics alike are severely under-staffed.  I have friends that are in the nursing game and there are lots of double shifts to be worked but it’s a steady check and you’ll have many options for transferring or moving.  The medical field overall is a good place to be but nursing, in particular, has a great need right now.  A good start may be going for a pharma tech position or at least an assistant role then, of course, going for your RN degree and certifications.  Be ready to work in one of the most face-paced environments out there.  The ability to multitask, provide excellent customer service, and follow procedure is crucial here.
  • Account Executive – This is the guy that basically makes everything come together.  You are in charge of one major account or perhaps several.  It is your job to make sure everyone is doing their job.  You are your company’s primary face to the client.  You must be an effective client liaison, business manager, and communicator, both in the written and spoken word.
  • Accounting/Finance Staff – Companies are in business to make money and, clearly, they need people to manage that money.  Whether you are managing the payroll, investing money, or making sure the financial books are all kept in order, this is a role that will always be in need.  It is hard to send this overseas so you’re pretty safe here.  I have, however, seen these types of roles merged with HR roles so be wary of small businesses cutting corners.
  • System and Network Administrators – Again, this is one of those fields I have seen go downhill again and again.  For now, it is thriving but there are many people in schooling going for these types of jobs.  System and network administrator jobs alike can just as easily be sent overseas.  The trend I’ve seen her is bundling of administrative work with engineering and/or desktop support positions so you better be ready to get your hands dirty and deal with each point of support because employers are trying to consolidate roles more and more now.
  • Administrative Assistant – Sadly, I’ve known some assistants that get paid more than those that went through expensive schooling for supposedly higher-profile jobs.  Truth be told, the suits and real money makers want to avoid operational tasks and monkey work so they’ll shell out big bucks for someone to do everything from getting coffee and grabbing a snack to making callbacks and setting appointments.  Today’s executive assistants are well-respected because, more than likely, they’re doing most of the hard work.  I know some folks that even prepare proposals, presentations, and help manage major projects.  This role has a wide scope of requirements and tasks involved so, really, a broad set of soft and hard skills are necessary to remain competitive.  Strong financial knowledge, interpersonal skills, multitasking, and typing skills are key, at the very least.
  • Business Analyst, Software Implementation – These are the smart guys that saw us CS/MIS/IT guys going for the tech stuff and decided, “Hey, why not just focus on the business end and make money off their hard work?”  LOL..  Really, if you stick to the management and business end of most tech fields, you’ll be paid better and have much more flexibility.  Software implementation analysts are the ones that design the software packages and create specifications for the programmers to run with.  It’s a neat job indeed.
  • Business Analyst, Research – Research is HUGE and I feel that most companies skip out on this, merely following the hot trends and fads of the moment.   Research analysts in general do a bit of everything but the key thing is to bridge the gap between costumer needs and product offerings.  Expertise in the area of CRM, database administration, software design, and technical documentation helps.  Sometimes, research and implementation roles overlap and even merge.  Often, it depends on how large a business is and how much money they’re willing to invest to get things done right.
  • Customer Service – Many companies have realized what a huge mistake it was sending calls overseas.  Outsourcing is still a big trend which is positioning companies such as Sitel and C3i to be major contendors, if they play things smart.  CSR positions are popping up all over, with companies like AT&T and T-Mobile hiring often.  This may also indicate a high turnover rate but the jobs are out there.  Be warned: this is not for everyone.  Much like sales, there are quotas and aggressive performance metrics to contend with.  It can be very fulfilling work if you love helping people (with a 500-pound gorrilla on your back).

Truth be told, you can have any amount of  experts point you to jobs that are hiring and hot industries but no market is bullet-proof.  The more knowledge you can absorb and the more people you know, the better off you will be.  That’s the hard truth.  The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily take money to make money, but it certainly helps.

Going into business for yourself is always a good option but remember that, while it gives you some freedom, it does not equate more free time.  There are businesses that have little or no overheard or major monetary investment but time investment is always a big component.  There are needs out there that need to be fulfilled so we all have the opportunity to make a good living..  Legally too!

Somme solid business ideas to look into include Network Marketing, Public Relations, Copywriting, Technical Writing, Web Design, Graphic Design, Tutoring, Cleaning, and much more. Any flavor of Sales & Marketing is usually worth exploring but make sure you have a solid product/service with a stable and reputable company.  There’s plenty of shady stuff out there, folks – do your homework and make sure everyone checks out!

I do stress this time and again: some people are made to be employees and others are meant to be employers, some of us are followers and others are leaders, some are more team-oriented while others prefer independent work.  You really want to know where you stand and follow through accordingly.  The small business world is not for everyone but, if you’re running out of options, there are ways to get grants and loans, even if you don’t have equity, assets, and credit to leverage.  Some folks will pay top dollar if you have a solid business and marketing plan put together.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it…

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2 thoughts on “The Last Job Seeker Guide You’ll Ever Need (Sorta)

  1. Fun fact: Georgia supposedly has higher unemployment rates than the national average. We’re talking about 7.1ish percent of the general population are unemployed on average throughout the states whereas, in Georgia, the numbers range from 9 to 20% or something absurd like that. I have to say that, as someone that found work the moment I moved here, there are jobs and plenty of them.

    These sorts of numbers are very misleading. You see, some people just rather live off public assistance and sit around at home or hang out on the stoop with their homeys. It’s sad but true. That really skews the numbers. I happen to be in Richmond County, where the situation is not as bad in other areas. Having a military base (Fort Gordon) here really helps stimulate the economy and create countless jobs too.

    The real issue is the lack of good job training and candidates. A lot of folks are poorly-prepared for job searching, which is why I do some freelance work as a career/success coach. Everyone needs someone in their corner to keep them focused on the activity that actually gives you results. Simply wearing a suit and going to job fairs doesn’t cut it. Anyone can do that. You got to network with the right people and leverage unique advantages wherever possible.

    If you need help, drop me a line. I’ve been on both sides of the fence so I know how bewildering the hiring and job search process alike can be. After all, how can you assess someone’s worth and the viability of a job from a few chance encounters? You can’t. It all comes down to luck and a leap of faith a lot of the time so you have to maximize available information and consistent communication in smaller timeframes.

    I can help you. Just drop me a line. I don’t bite.. I promise. =o]

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