Month: March 2014

Are job fairs and career expos worth the time?

Workforce Development professionals – those who do what I do – are split on the value of job fairs and career expos. Many of my peers have a number of concerns:

  • Many job fairs are profit-drivers for the organizers, who charge large fees to participating employers.
  • Too many employers who do not have any current openings participate in job fairs. They use job fairs as a marketing venue for their companies, fulfilling their “good corporate citizens” needs.
  • If they do have openings, many employers still accept only online applications. So, job seekers stand in line for several minutes to speak with an employer, only to be handed a flyer with a URL and are sent on their way.
  • With so many job seekers, you cannot have an in-depth discussion with employers.
  • Some employers send their lower-level staff, who are not involved in the hiring process and who do not have answers to job seekers’ questions.
  • Too many employers who participate in job fairs are hiring for commission-only sales positions.
  • Very few employers will make hiring decisions at job fairs.

All of this is true. I have witnessed every one of these concerns.

And yet, I still believe that job seekers should include job fairs and career expos in their job search strategies.

Worth while, or a waste of time? I say definitely worth while, if you are prepared.

Worth while, or a waste of time? I say definitely worth while, if you are prepared.

I have spoken with employers at job fairs where I wonder why they bother to come. They barely mask their boredom and clearly wish they were anywhere else doing anything else.

However, I have also seen employers at job fairs coach job seekers who are ill prepared:

“What kind of position are you looking for? We don’t have ‘anything.’ ”

“Do you have a resume? No? Then here’s how you apply online.”

“Hi, how are…okay, go ahead, take my candy / squeeze ball / pad of sticky notes.”

And while it is rare, I have seen employers make conditional hiring decisions on the spot.

Employers are very busy, and they want their job fair experience to be worth their time. They want job seekers to succeed. But far too many job seekers fail to prepare for a job fair, and when there is a line of job seekers waiting to speak with an employer, they are not going to spend a lot of time with those who are not prepared.

Job seekers who know what they want, who do their homework ahead of time, and who approach employers with purpose, can be very successful at job fairs and career expos. I will discuss how you can prepare for job fairs in a future post.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Does ageism exist among employers?

There is a belief among many mature workers that there is a conspiracy, or at least a preference, to hire and retain a younger workforce; of letting mature workers go to lower insurance and payroll costs; that job seekers are passed over for being “over-qualified.”

Of course, since age discrimination is illegal, no employer will say they are discriminating based on age. But is it truly the case that two-thirds of workers age 45+ have experienced age discrimination?

Or do these workers perceive discrimination when the true cause might be something else?

Many mature job seekers are feeling very real pain, and many can give specific examples about how they have been mistreated, overlooked, or ignored.

However – and I know this is controversial – I believe that ageism might exist, just not to the extent that many job seekers believe.

Many mature job seekers that I work with are slow to recognize that the world of work is vastly different now than it was even five years ago. Today, companies:

  • Are leaning on staff to do more work with a smaller workforce;
  • Are requiring employees to adopt new work styles and new technology;
  • Have an increasingly greater emphasis on current profitability over long-term growth.

All of these factors work against job seekers, mature or younger, who are slower to adapt.

At least weekly, I hear, “All I had to do was show up and shake an employer’s hand and I would be working that day.” I experienced this, too, once upon a time. It is okay to complain to me and to wish things were different, but at some point, you have to recognize that this is not how companies hire today.

Job searching is much more difficult now than ever before, the workforce is much more competitive, and job seekers often are forced to change careers or accept a lower-paying position than they used to.

But, it is not impossible.

I point to myself as a case study. I surprisingly find myself in the age group of “mature workers” (though, I hasten to add, on the younger end). I am blessed with good health, I feel younger than my age, and I make an effort to keep up with current trends. And, I have been offered three positions since 2009, because I used my experience to reinvent myself to what is marketable today. I did not rely on the outdated notion of “a handshake gets you hired,” or on the false belief that sending hundreds of copies of my resume will be successful. Today I am exactly where I want to be, despite not being able to name a single Justin Bieber song.

I know who he is, I just don't know any of his songs.

I know who he is, I just don’t know any of his songs.

I feel for the job seeker, mature or younger, who is having difficulty finding employment. Based on my experiences, though, I know there is a better way.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Agree? Disagree? I am interested in your thoughts and opinions! Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter and let me know, or leave a comment below.

Create your STAR Stories

You find a position you want. You create a resume that shows you are basically qualified. You make sure that the resume includes the key words that are important to this employer, in order to get past the Application Tracking System.

Congratulations! You survived the first round. But there is still a lot of work to do.

According to one study, of the 25% of applications that survive the Applicant Tracking System, only 20% of those will be invited for an interview.

Actually, 4 - 6 interviews out of 100 applications seems high to me, when you consider that each posted position receives many hundreds of applications.

Actually, 4 – 6 interviews out of 100 applications seems high to me, when you consider that each posted position receives many hundreds of applications.

In order to be one of those, you cannot simply rely on your experience; you must highlight your achievements that allow you to stand out from the other applicants. An excellent technique is the STAR Story method.

STAR is an acronym for Situation / Task / Action / Result:

What is the Situation or Task that you faced?

What Action did you, personally, do, specifically?

What was the Result of the action you took?

I prefer to think of Benefits in place of Results, but that turns the acronym into STAB, which is a bit more sinister. We’ll keep it positive and emphasize Results.

Write the story out, in full. Do not skip any steps. Often, the Result can become a bullet point you can add to your resume.

For example, you faced an irate customer, either through your own error or a colleague’s. You took care of the situation (how, exactly?). As a result, the customer was not only satisfied, but bought more product from you, and referred additional business. You excel in converting dissatisfied customers into loyal customers. Bullet point!

It might be easier to think of a Result you are proud of, and work backwards. You created a method to decrease the amount of time it takes to process an order (if you can put a number or a percent on it, “decreased production time by 10%,” this becomes your bullet point). What did you do, and why?

Come up with five to seven STAR Stories / five to seven bullet points, and if I am an employer, you have my attention. You didn’t just “do” things, you “achieved” things. You are standing out from the crowd. You are getting the interview.

Bonus: by writing out your STAR Stories, you have ready answers to (experts say) up to 500 interview questions. You can use your STAR Stories as examples for the “Tell me about a time when…” questions. And because you now stand out from the other applicants, you will get the interview!

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Agree? Disagree? I am interested in your thoughts and opinions! Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter and let me know, or leave a comment below.

Book Review: “Career Building”

I generally do not waste time reviewing job search books that have not been written, or at least updated, since 2009. The practice of job searching is so much more difficult now than it was even five years ago. To be successful today, you have to put much more thought and intentionality into your job search than you might have had to before the Recession.

Career Building, published by the editors of CareerBuilder.com, mines its vast database of employers and job seekers to come up with job search tips, up to 2008. Indeed, Section One, “Finding the ‘One'”, dealing with how to find jobs, feels a bit superficial given the current realities of the job market.

The book really adds value, though, in Section Two, “Tough Love At Work – Workplace Fundamentals,” and Section Three, “When Your Job Isn’t Working Out.”

Fair or not, legal or not, some employers have a practice, if not a policy, of not hiring those who have been unemployed for a period of time. The fear is that those who have not been working, have forgotten how to work. I can’t say whether the fear is valid or not, but I do believe it is the responsibility of everyone who is successfully hired to “pay it forward” to other job seekers by not giving the fear any credence.

Section Two, “Workplace Fundamentals,” spends almost 100 pages giving fundamental, common-sense, excellent advice about how to keep the job once you get it: show up on time, get along with your colleagues, don’t abuse email, leave company property at work, etc.

Section Three deals with how to know when it is time to leave your job, how to professionally exit when it is time, and how to tell the warning signs that things are about to go bad. I see signs that many current employees, who have held onto their jobs through the bad economic times, will begin to seek other employment opportunities, and the advice in this section is particularly relevant.

I do recommend the book, especially if you have been unemployed for a period of time. Skim through Section One, but pay particular attention to Sections Two and Three.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

The Editors of CareerBuilder.com. Career Building: Your Handbook For Finding a Job and Making It Work. New York: Collins Business, 2009. Print.

mzi.xdwtlkko.225x225-75

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!