Since the beginning of 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate has been stubbornly high. Many people have been out of work so long they've stopped looking for a job. Recent college graduates have been lucky to find any kind of work.
In conditions like these, you need every job market advantage you can get. Knowing the right way to go about looking for and applying for a job can be a big advantage indeed.
“There are four common denominators between what an employee is looking for and what a potential employer should be looking for. And they're mutual,” said Roger Haggerty, author of Hire Me: A Practical Guide to Standing Out in the Crowded Job Market.
What both parties want
They are, in no particular order, dependability, integrity, will the prospective employee's skills be utilized properly and will the person fit in with the organization? Haggerty says the answers are important to both the employer and employee, but in most cases neither asks the questions.
Haggerty has spent the last 30 years adding to his expertise. Not only has he hired people, he volunteered through a professional services organization on a committee helping unemployed people get jobs. After providing guidance to his wife, who was preparing for a job interview, she insisted that he write a book.
The take-away from the resulting book is that job applicants have to do more than just respond to an ad or online posting with a resume. That just doesn't cut it. In fact, Haggerty calls that approach “lazy.”
Instead, he says applicants must first do their homework, not so much learning about the prospective employer as much as analyzing their own skills and accomplishments.
What makes you special?
“In the vast majority of cases, they're not looking for people that are duties and responsibilities oriented, they're looking for people who have accomplishments,” Haggerty said. “What have you done that will help my bottom line? What have you done that will help my company be better? Why are you special?”
For example, Haggerty says a truck driver might tell a prospective employer that he's been driving trucks for five years. But the employer probably won't be impressed by that.
What they should say is “I've had an accident-free, ticket-free record over the last five years. I've never had any thefts off my truck.”
“Anybody can drive a truck but someone who can drive it safely and preserve the assets aboard it is even more valuable,” Haggerty said.
So your homework is to evaluate your past performance and figure out what your accomplishments are, verses what you did at previous jobs.
Getting an interview
If sending out resumes isn't the way to go about it, how do you get an interview?
“About 80 percent of jobs are filled through networking, they're not posted or advertised,” Haggerty said.
To land one of these jobs, the candidate needs to know someone who knows someone. It works this way: You're at a networking event and someone says 'how can I help you?' You say you want to meet the HR person or marketing director at any of a number of companies.
Once you are in front of them you ask them for advice on your job search, you don't necessarily ask them for a job or if they have any openings. You simply ask them for advice. Haggerty says they are likely to refer you to someone they know who is looking for someone with your accomplishments.
When you finally do get a job interview, Haggerty says applicants need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions. Remember, the object is to address those four issues of dependability, integrity, skill usage and fit. It's on you to make sure those questions get asked and answered.
“If you've been through the three stages of an interview where there's a screener, a hiring manager and the hiring manager's boss, none of them ask the questions that get at those answers,” Haggerty said. “So there's a whole section of the book devoted to how to answer company questions with those four factors in mind.”
The book also provides over 100 questions an employee should expect and suggestions on ways to answer them, getting to the four common denominator issues.
“What you want to have is a very brief story on each accomplishment, addressing what the problem was, what action you took and what the result was.,” Haggerty said.
Over 55 and no one wants me
A growing segment of the unemployed is made up of people within 10 years of retirement who are completely discouraged by their prospects in the job market.
“A lot of people give up,” Haggerty said. “They say 'I'm too old, over-paid, and so on.' You've got to remarket yourself.”
In many cases, Haggerty says someone in their 50s or 60s has many examples of their dependability and integrity. And they shouldn't hesitate to bring up subjects a hiring manager may be thinking about but not mentioning – like pay.
“If your last job paid significantly more than the job you're seeking, the employer may think that you'll leave once you find a higher paying job,” Haggerty said.
You counter that by bringing it up yourself, noting that your children have finished college and are independent, meaning you don't need to make as much money as you once did.
The bottom line, says Haggerty, is the need to stand out from other applicants. You do that by thorough preparation, stressing your accomplishments and asking a lot of questions.