Alum explains how the job market really works
September 9, 2010
Duff Watkins ’77 knows all about unemployment; he has been fired, retrenched, and told to “go away” many times. Now he’s director-Australia of the Cornerstone International Group, a worldwide executive search company and offers the below advice to prospective and current Centre College students and alumni of all ages.
(This article was originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Centrepiece alumni magazine.)
You snagged your sheepskin; traipsed across the Centre stage; had your 15 seconds of fame; posed for pictures; commemorated the moment; justified the financial investment of your parents, the financial aid office, and the U.S. government; and became a graduate of one of the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the world’s only superpower society. And now you want a job, too?
Well, okay. Life rewards action. Here are the six actions you need to take to land your dream job.
1. Read, study, and learn from the book What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. This helpful guide has been an international bestseller for 30-plus years because it works. It’s a manual for job seekers, updated yearly, with practical, proven, street-smart advice about how to find the right job for you.
2. Discover what you want to do. Define clearly what work you want, because no consultant, prospective employer, recruiting firm, or heavenly being can assist you otherwise. But I don’t know! you exclaim.
Sure you do. You just haven’t thought deeply enough about it. In your heart you already know what kind of work you want. Let that feeling percolate up to your consciousness.
Here’s how: Sit still in calm silence pondering the question for no more than two solid hours. I guarantee you’ll receive insight. Fast. (Your brain doesn’t want to sit there any more than you do, so it will deliver answers once you prove that you’re serious.)
It’s a fact: If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t arrive. Identify a suitable destination before embarking upon your employment expedition.
3. Good news! There are companies seeking to hire you right now. Bad news: They don’t know you exist. So you must find them. This is a simple research project entailing homework, legwork, and networking.
• Homework is researching the companies or industries in which you wish to work (and eliminating those in which you don’t).
• Legwork is hitting the street, phoning up people, knocking on doors, and continually narrowing your focus to companies that do the work you want to do.
• Networking is constructing a web of contacts who can supply you with information and introductions.
to the world of work requires planning
4. Advertised jobs are like the tip of the iceberg. Just as 80 percent of an iceberg is hidden below the water, 80 percent of available and upcoming jobs are not advertised. You locate these hidden opportunities through homework, legwork, and networking. (Detect a pattern?)
5. There are too many jobs available for you. Even in a recession there is a plethora of job opportunities. Your task is to focus on the opportunities that best fit you rather than on every vacancy advertised.
6. Not any job, but the right job. Don’t panic and take the first—and usually wrong—job offered to you. Remember, your goal is to advance your career rather than to begin a dissatisfying string of employment stints.
Five Fictions about Recruiters
1. Recruiters are always looking for candidates. False. Recruiters are always looking for clients, not candidates. You’re more likely to get hit by a piece of Halley’s Comet than to get a job by sending your unsolicited résumé to a recruiter. Avoid cosmic long shots, take earthly action.
2. “Head hunters” will help. A recruiter’s task is to sell a service to potential clients. Your task is to find a job that suits you. Unless there is a genuine benefit to recruiters to assist you, why would they?
3. Recruitment consultants know all the job vacancies. They don’t. Nobody does. For every job vacancy recruiters handle, many more are filled through other means. Since 80 percent of job vacancies are unadvertised, you are more likely than a recruiter to discover them (if you look).
4. Recruitment companies have many jobs on their books. Recruiters do not have a stockpile of job vacancies that they dole out parsimoniously to unemployed people. Recruitment companies snap into action only when hired by a paying customer. The recruitment process is client driven, not candidate driven.
5. Recruiters can tell you the work for which you’re best suited. No recruiter is competent to direct your career. Your job search, career, and life are 100 percent your responsibility. Face this fact unflinchingly.
Five Truths of Seeking Employment
1. Twenty hours a week. Most people have no idea how much work is required to obtain a job. Getting a good job requires effort: 20 hours (minimum) per week. If you’re not investing that amount of time, you’re wasting it. There is no substitute for focused effort.
2. Twenty seconds/50 words. Have something to say before asking others for help. If you can’t state clearly in 20 seconds (or less) and 50 words (or less) exactly what you want to do, then you haven’t thought deeply enough about it.
3. Construct a network. “Networking” (i.e., establishing and using personal contacts) is essential when seeking employment. The network of people who can assist in your job search is constructed, not inherited. You must meet the people you need to know. Is this easy? No; if it were, everyone would already have their ideal job. But if you’re on Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, or any other form of social computing, you already have a network. Plug in and use it.
4. Give the takeaway. In marketing terms, a “takeaway” is what you want the other person to take away from meeting you. Your takeaway is your distinguishing characteristic that shows what you can do for a potential employer. In commercial terms, it is the reason why employers may want to meet you, interview you, or hire you. If you can’t identify your takeaway, you haven’t done your homework.
5. Magic = tragic. Job seekers who believe in magic think that it’s easier for everybody else. They think that getting a good job depends on luck, fate, karma, planetary alignments, age, gender, connections, etc. Believing that worthwhile employment magically comes your way through the efforts of persons other than you is a tragic mistake. Such magical beliefs are just a dodge of personal responsibility. The truth is, finding suitable employment is mostly a matter of working hard and smart.
Avoid These Mistakes Many Job Seekers Make
Your biggest mistake will be underestimating the amount of effort required to find a job. True story: Once, after being fired during a recession, I decided to change careers. Over a five-week period I made 228 phone calls, gained 56 interviews, and received three job offers, all of which paid more than my previous position, and none of which were advertised. That’s the effort required in a successful job search.
Your second biggest mistake will be not thinking deeply about what you want from work (or life). You’ll whine “it’s too hard!” and you’ll be right. It is difficult, even for Centre grads. But subconsciously you already know exactly what you want. Maybe you can’t articulate it yet, but it’s there. The solution is to dredge up your deep desires to the surface of awareness. There are many ways of doing this, but the simplest, most direct method is to sit down, think hard, and write down what you enjoy doing. It may take hours or days to do it, but the effort pays off over your lifetime because your answers determine both the quality of your life and your future income.
Consider a study that tracked the careers of 1,500 business school graduates from 1960 to 1980. By the end of the study, 101 had become millionaires. Of the 101 millionaires, all but one said that they had started with a personal interest, figuring the money would eventually follow. According to the study’s author, Srully Blotnick, “The overwhelming majority of people who have become wealthy have become so thanks to work they found profoundly absorbing.”
Your path to meaningful work is as unique as you. But understanding the way the job market really works will hasten you down the road of success. Just remember the Spanish proverb—“Traveller, there are no roads. Roads are made by walking”—and keep marching.
The 27-Second Interview
Your next job interview will last 27 seconds.
Why? Because that’s all the time you have to form a good first impression.
For thousands of years human survival has depended on how quickly we size up situations or people. Human brains are hardwired to assess other people quickly (if inaccurately).
Employers are human, too. They use shortcuts in making decisions. Your cover letter is glanced at, your résumé is scanned, and your interview is determined largely by the first impression that you create.
So whether interviewing for a job, attending your performance review, or meeting with your boss to request a pay raise, your attire is crucially important. What the interviewer sees must match what you say, because visuals always eclipse verbals. Get it right the first time or there won’t be a second.
Experts and authorities advise you to dress conservatively for job interviews.
Conservative dress means being moderate in style and avoiding novelty or showiness.
A conservative look is traditional and conventional. It avoids extremes and doesn’t distract the viewer. That’s the key. A conservative look is safe because it won’t surprise, annoy, or disturb your potential employer. It buys you that precious 27 seconds of time in which to make a positive impact on the interviewer. When in doubt about what to wear to an interview or meeting, err on the side of conservatism.
You want your personality to stand out, not your clothes. So make sure that your interview attire plays a supporting—not a starring—role. Don’t put your clothes on center stage; do don duds that will be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting.
Will dressing properly get you the job? No.
But it’ll give you a 27-second opportunity to make the right impression.
What the Centre Experts Say
“New grads have to be that much more enterprising because now their competition for available jobs includes highly qualified members of all generations. They should brace themselves for the competition. And professional presentation is critical in writing as well as in appearance.”Laura Stagner Wagman ’00
Director of Testing
Metropolitan Police Department
“Don’t sell yourself short. In this economy, you can’t be too picky, but you can jump too quickly. A good rule of thumb: take a salary that is below you before you take work that is below you or not in the direction you want your career to go. If you love the work, money will chase you.”Church Saufley ’81
Vice President, Human Resources
Kentucky Lottery Corporation
“Some advice for when you get the job (and you will): Remember it is all about what you can do for your company; good companies reward and support positive behavior. Show your worth and be ready and willing to learn your new duties quickly. Always aim for excellent over good. Remember names and keep a sunny disposition. This attitude and drive will get you anywhere you want to go.”Beth Caudill ’06
Human Resources Generalist
Wheatsville Food Co-op
“Know who you are and what you will need from an employer, a job, a boss, etc., and then interview for those specific things. If you know that you thrive when people acknowledge you for work well done, then make sure you ask a potential boss: 1. Tell me about the qualities of the person you most enjoy managing/working with. 2. Tell me how you acknowledge your employees for a job well done.”Denise Starcher ’89
Director of Human Resources
Emerson Network Power
Pompano Beach, Fla.
Duff Watkins ’77 (firstname.lastname@example.org) knows all about unemployment; he has been fired, retrenched, and told to “go away” many times. But he followed the advice in this article and ended up as director-Australia of the Cornerstone International Group, a worldwide
executive search company. Whaddaya know, it works!