Newcomer’s Insights to Job Search

Eight months ago, I started working with an experienced IT Business Analyst who relocated from South Africa to Canada.  While his previous experience was in the banking sector, he recently landed a role with a national gaming after applying to dozens of jobs and being interviewed for 4 other roles before landing this job.

Based on his job search experience in Ottawa with me as his coach, he asked me to pass on the following advice to others facing a similar challenge. In my view, anyone looking for a job whether they are relocating from afar or have been living in the same city all their lives will find some value in his advice, and anyone who has ever looked for a job will find his advice interesting.

Job Search Tips

– Don’t assume an easy transition because there are significant entry barriers to the local job market, e.g. Citizenship status, Security Clearance, and French language skills are all necessary to work with the city’s largest employers federal, provincial, and municipal governments.

– Customize your resumé for each job posting.

– Don’t think you’re going to get a job within two months, one that is comparable to the one you left behind. Instead, be prepared to be very pro-active in your job search in terms of time and commitment.

– Don’t underestimate the value of a partner to assist with financial support and provide networking opportunities through their colleagues and network.

– Be prepared to “sell yourself” in the job market. He came from South Africa where job searchers are expected to be modest and let their resume speak for itself. His experience here is that employers want you to paint a very clear picture in interviews about your value proposition. You have to speak to your strengths and be specific about how your previous experience applies to their needs and priorities.

He feels he got this job offer because I had prepared him with PAR stories and helped him practice giving concrete examples of his experience and skills, after asking specific questions to interviewers to help him determine the right examples to give. For example, when the interviewers told him that Ontario’s gaming industry is highly regulated, he was able to communicate in clear and coherent terms how he managed certain projects in SA’s highly regulated finance sector that turned out to be directly comparable to what his interviewers were looking for.

IT is a hot sector and most people assume it is “easy” to get a job if you have tech skills.  But this is not the case for many job searchers, especially those who relocate to Ottawa, or those just getting out of school, or those with any other limitations.

Getting job search assistance can reduce the time and costs (e.g. every day without a pay cheque is an opportunity cost).  If you’re hitting obstacles, get help!

What should a cover letter cover?

Break through the crowd of cover letter with these tips!

Only send a cover letter if they ask for one.  When they ask for a cover letter, it’s usually because your resume is going to be screened by software or a low level HR clerk, neither of which is equipped to interpret your resume to determine if it matches the job description.  Instead, they want a shortcut.

The purpose of your cover letter is to give them that shortcut. Therefore, a cover letter should be a clear, concise and coherent summary of a match between you and the key/essential requirements of the position. 

Think of it as a fact-matching exercise

List their key requirements in one column then correlate your experience and skills in metric terms with those requirements.  For example, if they require a degree in a field, name your degree and year of completion’ if they ask for X years of experience with a certain software, provide them with your number of years; if they want to know what kinds of projects you’ve worked on, be specific (name of project, duration, objective, your role, budget, results); and so on.  Once you’ve done the two-column exercise, you can formulate a one-page cover letter.

You then refer them to your resume for details.  The cover letter is not for you to emote about how much you admire the company and what a great candidate you are.  The purpose of the cover letter is to give them a good reason to read your resume where you demonstrate your  “job specific knowledge” and provide evidence of why you can perform the required “duties and responsibilities”.

Customize

Cover letters and resumes need to be customized to a job posting.  They are marketing documents that help differentiate you from other competitors.  In order to optimize your chances of breaking through the glut of applications and rise above the noise, get professional help!

How To Leverage Your Goodwill Network Into A New Job

Don’t overlook the obvious. Reach out to people you know, including family and friends, as well as people you have worked with or helped in the past. This is your goodwill network, i.e. people who want to help you because they like, love, respect you. Your job is to make it easy for them to help you!

Let me illustrate with a real-life example. I recently worked with a young woman who moved from Vancouver to Toronto in August this year. She had a specific job target to work as an Underwriting Assistant in commercial insurance.

She started applying to postings online in September but got no callbacks. She was convinced that employers would not hire her until she had completed a CIP credential (she was 1/3 of the way through). I assured her this was not a major obstacle to her job search.

Instead, I explained to her how employers get hundreds and often thousands of resumes in this kind of stagnant economy and look at only a few, maybe the first 25-50. In this kind of economy, employers can afford to be choosy and they will not hire until they feel ‘safe’ with a candidate. It is so important to understand why this is the case and how to overcome it.

Her previous job had been with a B.C. regulatory agency but she did have 1.5 yrs experience with an insurance company prior to that. I suggested a more effective job search would be to contact her previous employer and other insurance industry contacts in Vancouver and ask them if they knew anyone in Toronto that she could talk to.

I revised her resume to highlight the knowledge, skills and experience she offered as an underwriting assistant, specifically how she could help underwriters do their jobs better, get more clients, serve them better, and make more money.

She started by contacting family members that worked as insurance brokers, which led to several referrals and 2 interviews but no job offers. I suggested that she follow up with people that she’d contacted the first time around but who did not respond, to remind them what she was looking for. It’s sometimes difficult, I said, to understand that your job search is your top priority but other people are busy with their own priorities. Reminding them of your request is not bothering them, it’s simply making it easier for them to help you.

By doing exactly this, she learned from her previous supervisor at an insurance company that they were opening a small office in Toronto. He immediately forwarded her new resume to the head of that office. She was invited to an interview. I prepped her, a week later she got a job offer, and she started her new job the following week!

In summary, make a list of everyone you know and tell them your job target, i.e. a specific role with a specific org or kind of org, then ask them, “Do you know anyone I can talk to?” Make it easy for them to help you. By giving them this targeted niche, all they have to do is go through the Rolodex in their head and pull out names. Then follow up!

If you need help following up in an efficient and effective manner, then call me 1-800-798-2696 or email george@jobjoy.com

Lesson from Las Vegas

I just got back from Sin City, the one that never sleeps, where all vices are on display and easily procured!

Las Vegas is an oasis in the desert built years ago by the Mob. That’s quite a story in itself (with its own museum and a whole show at one of the casinos on The Strip).

If you’ve been to Vegas, then you know that every major casino/hotel/resort is constructed around some kind of myth or story. The Mirage takes you into the jungle; the Excalibur into medieval England; the Luxor into ancient Egypt; Caesar’s Place into ancient Rome; the Venetian into romantic Italy; Planet Hollywood…well, that’s obvious.

Walking the Strip reminded me how much we are immersed in story 24/7 wherever we are whether we know it or not. Story is the universal glue that holds civilizations together.

I managed to see a show and pull a few slots, but I was there primarily to make several presentations to other career professionals at the annual conference of the Career Management Alliance.

I was delighted to participate in the Storytelling track at the conference. During the opening panel of this track, we were asked : Why does storytelling deserve this much attention for the careers of our clients?

I thought I’d share with you some of the more compelling answers because just one piece of information can sometimes help to solve the puzzle we call life!

Our personal story is a bit like traveling our road to work each day—we stop noticing the details. We are so enmeshed in our life pattern, that we don’t realize that we construct a thread to our life story with each passing day. We are narrative in action. Our story is our identity and our destiny. I focused on the importance of story in assessment : determining where to work and what to do.

All the panelists focused on the importance of living and telling our stories with more clarity and consciousness. Story can lead us out of dark places and into living with greater freedom and fullness of life in our careers.

Are you living the story you want to tell? What are the stories you are telling yourself about yourself? Are you separating facts from feelings? Are you naming your weaknesses and fears? Are you focusing on your strengths?

Telling your story in a compelling manner is not optional in this age of communications crowded with so many stories competing for attention in the job marketplace!

We discussed the importance of crafting and communicating your story in resumes and interviews. A great career story will be a resume differentiator. Storytelling in resumes doesn’t mean you are writing a novel. As a storyteller, we need to think strategically about what to include and what to exclude; we must select stories relevant to the position.

When telling compelling stories at interviews, you will transition from candidate to individual in the eyes of the interviewer. Do you know that old saying, “the devil’s in the details?” The reverse is true in interviews—sharing “the right details” can tip the scales of a hiring decision in your favor.

In both resumes and interviews, it is important to isolate strengths and accomplishments that fit with requirements.

In an interview with one or more interviewers, engage the audience! Don’t forget that storytelling involves an audience. Listen to them. Get them talking about their needs and preferences.

But don’t try to influence the judges. Tell what can be seen with the five senses, or better yet, a camera. Give them a picture of you in action doing things that demonstrate your capacity to perform in the job.

The tools for telling stories for career development and job search might change—e.g. building an online presence through Linked In, or YouTube, and so on—but the basic principles of effective storytelling remain the same. Know your audience. Frame your story for impact. Give examples with details. Leave them hungry for more.

You are a storyteller. You can learn to tell a better story. Keep the end goal in site. Your storytelling will improve with practice, rehearsal, and focus.

Telling a better story is the beginning of living a better story!

Blow Your Horn

Job search studies regularly show that it is not the best qualified candidate who gets the job most of the time. Instead, it is the strongest communicator. Why?

We live in a storytelling culture. We learn about each other and the world around us through story. Think of all the time you spend reading newspapers, magazine, blogs, or watching tv, DVDs, movies, or listening to radio, audiobooks, or podcasts. We are immersed in story.

A resume, a job search, an interview, a negotiation are each just another narrative, a chance to tell your story. Strong communicators have a gift for storytelling. Who is the most popular person at a party, wedding, dinner, or special event.? The one who tells the best jokes, the most interesting stories, the fascinating anecdotes. We are storytellers and listeners first and foremost.

A successful career transition or a job search requires some storytelling competence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the listener, i.e. your next employer or client. A story does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a social or cultural context. Here is how story fits into your job search.

Every organization has goals and objectives. They hire managers to achieve those goals. Managers, in turn, hire staff to do the work under their direction and guidance. These managers have the power to hire (and fire) individuals. In fact, over 40% of jobs are created for individuals who meet face-to-face with a manager outside of a formal job interview process. When you understand why, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting job offers.

Does the universe line up to facilitate the achievement of those organizational goals quickly and easily? Not likely. We live in a world of adversity. Defensemen seemed to be strategically positioned to knock down our best efforts to score a goal. In the world of work, these defensemen often show up as serious problems, formidable challenges, impact issues, pressure points, and a range of other social and economic variables difficult to control.

Just when a manager thinks they have everything stabilized and under control, life throws another spanner into the works. For example, employees die, retire, go on stress leave, go back to school, go on the mommy track, go to court, or go to another part of the country. There is a regular churn rate among staff in every organization. That is why there are always jobs; any good manager is always looking for good people because they always need new employees to cover the regular turnover of about 25% per year.

The key is to listen first to a manager, listen for the problems, challenges, and other obstacles getting in the way of their organization’s goals and objectives. Understanding their story is the first step to telling your own story with power and purpose. As every good storyteller knows, first know your audience.

If you take the time to listen, then orient your story for the needs of your audience, you will build rapport and establish top of the mind awareness in the manager. He or she will not soon forget you. And, when they need you, they will hire you.

Let me illustrate with a story about Tony. I helped him transition from a hi-tech career as a product manager to a new career working with NGOs. As part of his transition, he visited different organizations and spoke with managers, including the CEO at the Digital Opportunity Trust. They had a good discussion but she did not respond to a follow up. Tony moved on with further education and landed a job with another NGO.

As a result of some volunteer work, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with that CEO, and mentioned Tony’s achievements. The CEO remembered their previous meeting, and requested another. They met again and had an engaging discussion about international development. There was no job opportunities at the time with DOT but Tony asked her to keep him in mind if things should change.

Well, a few years later, things did change, as the Trust grew and expanded its core executive team. They called Tony, he applied, was interviewed, and hired into his “dream job“ as Senior Director, Global Operations.

One of the reasons I put so much emphasis on having my clients write out their stories about enjoyable events and achievements is to help them build a vocabulary of success, a portfolio of stories. Communicating your stories with clarity and confidence is one of the best things you can do in a job search situation.

Tony changed his career by revisiting his personal story, mining it for his authentic talents and motivations, so that he had a new story to tell, one that communicated a new message.

He did not blow his horn in a loud or obnoxious fashion to gain attention; he listened to the music playing around him and added his own voice to the melody. Now, he will travel the world with job joy, doing what he loves and matters most to him.