Thursday, August 22, 2013

How To Get A Job... For The Hiring-Impaired

This is off the beaten track for me, but I seem to get a number of questions about it from time to time, so perhaps it might be valuable to impart some sage advice from a senior executive on what, exactly, employers are looking for... and how to land that awesome job you've been drooling over.  And just for those who don't exactly comprehend the subtle nuances of normal, articulate speech, I'm going to put this in terms that anyone can understand.

I preface this with the disclaimer that not all hiring managers are alike, and just like employees, some don't know what in the Blue Blazes of Glory what they're doing.  Some are wise beyond their years.  But all of them are looking for the same key traits in a new hire, whether it's Walmart, the Gap, or General Electric:

  • Competence
  • Teachability (humility)
  • Reliability
  • Honesty
  • Good work ethic
Master these traits, and you'll never be out of a job again.  At least not for very long, that is.  A key point to understand is that a new hire that exhibits these traits not only makes themselves look good, but more importantly, it makes the person who hired them look competent.  It helps their career and standing as well.  A good hire is a "win-win."

"But I'm the best employee they could ever consider... how do I get past the gate-keeper to show them how awesome I am???"   How do you get past that "first impression," "first interview" thing?  And speaking of "honesty," shouldn't you be honest about "who you are," instead of "putting on a show" or presenting yourself as "someone you're not"?

Let's let common sense see the light of day for a moment, and examine these traits.

Rule #1 of Getting Hired:   It doesn't matter what YOU think.  It only matters what the person sitting across from you thinks.  

Nobody cares what you think.  Seriously.  The simple truth is that you need them much more than they need you, and you need to approach this process with that attitude.  With unemployment in some sectors reaching over 14-15%, it's all about standing out above your peers... without giving them a reason to look at you like you're from Planet Weirdo.  There are a LOT of others out there hoping that you crash and burn.  You would be wise not to help them out.  "But I'm a unique individual!"  Yes, you are.  And we're going to try to get you hired in spite of that.

The Japanese got it right.  They have a saying, "the nail that sticks up gets pounded back down."  Employers, even at the most hip establishments, are still looking for the 5 key traits that I outlined above.  And all 5 of them have significance in how you present yourself at an interview.   Let's take a look at them individually, and see if we can learn how to reflect them from the very first second you walk through the door.

A good paramedic operates by the "15 second rule."  In 15 seconds of walking through the door, they can tell with 95% accuracy what condition their patient is in, and how serious the emergency is.  Hiring managers are the same way.  In the first split second of walking through the door, you have just ended over half of your interview.

"WHAT!!!???" you protest.  "That's not fair."  See Rule #1 of Getting Hired.  It doesn't matter if you think it's "fair."  It's still true.  Your appearance reflects on your Competence.  If you're truly too stupid to know that you don't show up for an interview in grungy jeans and a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, you deserve to stay in the ranks of the chronically unemployed.  It's Natural Selection at work.  "But I don't have any nice clothes."  Then you better refine your skills at doing recon on the best dumpsters with the most palatable cuisine in the next alley.  Seriously?  Go to Goodwill.  Find something presentable, and fork over the $7.  If you don't have $7, panhandle... borrow... sell blood.  Whatever.

Rule #2 of Getting Hired:   How you look when you walk through the door is one half of your interview.

If  you don't care about your appearance, the hiring manager will assume that you won't care about their values, either.  And for those poor, lost pathetic souls who think they have to wear spiked hair, black fashionista clothes with chains, adornments, and death skull necklaces or dog collars to let everyone know how trendy and unique they are... be careful as you crawl in and out of those dumpsters... they can be slippery at times.  And God Bless You.  You just gave your seat at the employment table to someone with an IQ obviously above yours and probably eminently more deserving.  Save the individual "look" you've been cultivating so carefully for when you go clubbing.  The Donald was right.  "It's not personal, it's just business."  Don't make it personal.  Nobody cares that you're a Goth, unless you're going for a job at Hot Topic... and even THEY have higher standards than that.

Hiring managers want to see "conservative."  They want to see "respectful."  They want to see "business-like."  They want to see "understated."  They want to see "low-key."  They want to know that when it's time to get down to business, you have enough gray cells randomly bumping around in your noggin to recognize that fact and leave the personal expression in your private life, where it belongs.

"Speaking of competence, how important is education anyway?  Bill Gates didn't have a college degree!"  Very true, except for one very important fact... you're not Bill Gates.  You're also not a genius.  If you were, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.  Sorry, but that's the brutal truth.

Education is extremely important.  The benefits of a higher education far transcend most actual data you may have learned in the process, since (especially in the technical disciplines) much of it will be more or less obsolete by the time you graduate.

That degree is symbolic... that piece of sheepskin you (hopefully) take away from your stint at Whatsamatta U shows that you have commitment and tenacity.. that you can follow through and complete large, long-term tasks.  It shows that you can handle the rigors of stress and following instructions.  It shows potential hiring managers that you completed something more complex than that remedial driver's ed class you had to take last Saturday to get the points off your record for that speeding ticket.  It shows that you think enough of yourself to have invested in yourself.  It also shows that you probably have a mountain of student loans to pay off, and that you NEED this job.  Which is not a Bad Thing.  Advanced degrees simply show that you're a masochist.  Just kidding, of course. (Not really)  They show that you have a thirst for knowledge, and a commitment to being the best in your field.  At least that's what I've been told.

"But I didn't even graduate from High School?  How does this help me?"  Sometimes simply accepting the reality of the importance of something can be valuable, particularly if it motivates you to rearrange your priorities a bit, and do what needs to be done to get ahead.  This is a perfect example.

If you don't have a High School diploma, get your GED.  This is a deal-breaker.  Clean toilets if you have to, flip burgers at McD's, whatever... and commit yourself to that goal over the next year.  Get into a GED program at your local community college at night.  Talk to someone at United Way about community Adult Education classes.  The brutal truth is that hiring managers have no interest in someone who doesn't have the commitment or intellectual capacity to complete an educational program that is dead last in the world in difficulty.  Even the military requires a GED.  If you don't have a GED, get one.  Sacrifice whatever you need to, because without it, you're pretty much done.

"But I don't have time/I'm too old!"  The reality is that at the end of the year, you're going to be another year older no matter what you do... so use it wisely.  You can be another year older, and still unemployable, or you can be another year older and have another strata of better jobs available to you.  It's your choice. You don't have a fairy Godmother, and no one is going to wave a wand over you to make you suddenly desirable to a hiring manager.  You have to do the heavy lifting on that yourself.

"But it's not easy working all day and going to school at night... <insert hand-wringing and tearful whining here>"  Nope.  Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy.  Grow up, for heaven's sake.  If "easy" is what you're angling for, nothing's easier than crawling in a random dumpster and not bathing.

The question you should be asking yourself is "Is this really how I want to spend the rest of my life?" and more importantly, "What price am I willing to pay to get out of this dump/pathetic train wreck of a life/God-forsaken sewer of an existence?"  It's not going to spontaneously get better at some mysterious point in the future... in fact, it gets harder.  Do it now, while you still have a life ahead of you to live.  You can pay the price now, or you can Pay The Price later.

Another benefit of getting more education is that it has a tendency to make you a bit more articulate.  How you express yourself (and what you say) is the other half of your interview.

Rule #3 of Getting Hired:  How you speak is perceived as a direct reflection of your intelligence.

This may seem strange, but speaking clearly and articulately makes you appear more educated than you probably are.  To a hiring manager, speaking correct English clearly and articulately translates into "this person is intelligent."

Case in point... If an American-born candidate comes into my office, even if they are dressed neatly and are clean and groomed, and wants to "ax a question," or says "aaaaaight."  they're done.  It's that simple.

"But that's an incredibly racist thing to say!" you protest.  No, it isn't.  It's reality.  I don't expect my clients to have to learn Ebonics or decipher the subtle nuances of a Farsi accent to communicate with my company, and neither will your hiring manager.  Harsh?  You betcha.  True?  Absolutely.  If you can't speak your native tongue fluently and articulately without resorting to street slang, Ebonics, profanity, vulgarity, an accent thicker than the Great Wall of China, even colloquialisms, etc., you are not a candidate that I will ever hire for a position involving contact with my clients.  The good news is that you don't even have to speak English to be a grillman at McD's... much less be articulate.  But to land a job over minimum wage, you'd better brush up on the way you come across verbally.  Not exactly "politically correct," but very little of this guide will be.  If you're passionately into political correctness, do us both a favor and STOP NOW.  Spare yourself the PTS that will inevitably come with having to face the harsh realities of business... and life.

And profanity?  Don't even go there.  Instant rule-out.  Anyone that has to resort to profanity to get their point across, especially in a job interview, screams "This person is terminally unable to effectively communicate," or worse, "This person is dumb as a bag of hammers."

Don't mumble.  Speak clearly and distinctly.  Speak respectfully.  Make eye contact.  Don't stare into space, look around the office, or examine the carpeting for stains.  Eye contact exudes confidence and honesty.

Keep a respectful "distance" from your interviewer.  The hiring manager is not your "buddy," your "friend," a "dude," your "bro," or your "homey," no matter how much you think you've bonded in the last 3 minutes.  They're more than likely your future boss, and are watching to see how respectfully you would treat them and their bosses, should they be deluded enough to hire you.  Some languages carry this to an extreme to emphasize its importance in their culture.   For instance, in Japanese, there is a whole strata of language called "honorifics," whose soul purpose is showering respect on the person being addressed... a show of humility, respect and deference.  Too familiar too soon is a huge red flag.  Back-slapping is closely related to back-stabbing.

Spend some time brushing up on your vocabulary.  Read the newspaper or a non-fiction book.  Look up the words if you don't know them.  Listen to others speak.  Look up the words you don't recognize.  Chances are that if others use these terms, so will your hiring manager, and it doesn't make you look like a stellar candidate to give them a blank stare after they ask you how you feel about the recent resurgence in ancillary revenue inherent in non-negotiable debenture instruments.  OK, so that was an extreme example, but you get my point.  By the way, some truly mean-spirited hiring manages will pepper their interview with certain words to see if you understand them... and if you're honest about whether you understand them.  Snowing them is what they want to see... it's a rule-out.  It makes their job easier, and the decision to round-file your application a no-brainer.  Be honest (see Point #4 above).  Stop them and ask them what they meant... explain candidly that you're not familiar with that term.  This seems contrary to common sense, but to a hiring manager, it's pure Gold.  Someone who's willing to admit what they don't know, and ask for clarification is a "Keeper."  If someone tries to snow you in an interview, they'll try to snow you on the job, where the consequences could be disastrous.

For those who are eagerly awaiting the rest of this blog... I have both good and bad news.  The good news is that you'll be able to read it soon... in eBook format, with illustrations.  The bad news is that I decided to write it after I started this blog, so this is kind of a teaser.  Sorry.  :)

Stay tuned.  The best is yet to come.