I’m in an unusual position these days. On the one side, my wife is looking for work, and on the other I am hiring to fill a position for my company. First off, no, I can’t give the job to my wife. The experience does give me some insights into the stress for both job seekers and businesses in the job market.
Except for a few of us, I’m thinking the top of the class students who get several job offers to choose from, looking for a job is stressful and annoying. We need a job to pay the bills, we see all kinds of places where we are sure we’d do a really good job, but very few of the places we contact is interested to even offer an interview. It doesn’t get better with experience, either. When I was laid off from Reliant Energy in 2009, I didn’t get a job interview for weeks, even though I began applying for open positions immediately and found many for which my skills superbly fit the job requirements and description. I understood the numbers, the factors which drive the traffic of job searches, and I knew the ebb and flow of company interest in applicants. I knew it would be a lot like fishing, where things you never saw controlled your opportunity and access to the decision-makers, but the emotional burden of slugging through the process with no visible results was heavy for all of that. In the end, my job search paid off, though I was lucky to apply at the right place at just the right time. My advice to you job seekers on that count, is that you have to keep trying, so that when the right place and time come together you will be the one who gets that chance. I can’t say it’s unfair, because as much as it feels unfair to get no response to applications and constant effort, there’s no rule that someone has to answer you. I am trying to keep my wife’s confidence and hope up, because I understand how she feels, and we both understand that while there will eventually be a resolution, how and when are out of our reach to know right now.
So now I consider the employer’s point of view. OK, the job seeker is not all that concerned with how the employer feels. I think that’s a mistake, though. While there are bad companies and bad bosses even in good companies sometimes, establishing rapport is important for the job seeker, and it may help to understand that the company, or at least the person doing the hiring, really does want to get the position filled. The thing is, the employer does not want to just get someone in the spot; they need the right person there or else they will be worse off than they were at first.
I have an opening to fill. The position received a fair amount of interest, and I received seventeen applications in less than a week. I started by trying to contact the applicants by phone - since the job involves a lot of talking with customers by phone, this is a primary skill I can test while screening applicants as well. Not everyone was available on the first try, but most did answer right away, and there were only two applicants I could not speak to before I reached my decision for the first cut. So the first thing that jumps out at me, is that if you apply for a job, you’d better have a phone number available which reaches you right away. Trusting emails or your answering machine may mean you fall behind other candidates before you even know you were considered.
The next point that jumped out at me as I spoke with candidates, is how few of them knew anything about my company. In an age where so many online tools exist to research companies, anyone applying for a job with a large firm must be able to show they have done their homework. The fact that anyone applying for the job had to go through the company website means they were only a click away from learning all kinds of things about my company and what it does, how long we’ve been in business, and how we built our brand. When someone applies for a job that way but admits they don’t know anything about my company when I call, that’s not a good sign.
On the other hand, a number of candidates set themselves apart early on by the way they answered questions, and their apparent interest, not so much in getting hired as in getting this particular job. Just as people who apply for jobs are silently praying that the position is not the job from hell, employers are hoping they don’t accidentally hire the employee from hell. A candidate can do a lot to help themselves by just showing they are comfortable with your company.
Another suggestion to candidates, is to know your target. I’m a credit manager, and that means I exchange emails and have phone conversations with a lot of customers. So anyone working in my group has to be comfortable with talking to customers, and with answering a lot of emails, sometimes very complex ones with lots of attachments and details. Several of the applicants did not seem to understand the job, even though the website clearly defined the duties and requirements. A couple spoke in a way that suggested they wanted this job only until they found one more to their liking, which is a bad signal to send when applying to a company for a specific open position.
The best candidates seemed to be able to understand my position, to figure out what I was looking for then show how they were that person. This ability not only helps me set them ahead of other candidates, it assures me that communication with that person should not be a problem once they are on the team. And communication is a huge part of a group’s success.