Apr 12

It’s that time of year again

April 12 Parents are calling in favors, students are scrambling to figure out how to market themselves and e-mail in-boxes everywhere are piling up with resumes faster than the 2010 Mets are finding ways to lose games. Yes, Virginia, it’s job-seeking season again.

This time around, though, job seekers find themselves competing in perhaps the worst job market in 70 years. But, desperate times shouldn’t call for desperate measures. Now, is not the time for job seekers to exaggerate their accomplishments, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear or, even worse, just plain fudge the facts. Yet, according to a survey from HireRight.com, some 34 percent of job applicants now routinely lie on their resumes. Ouch. Talk about  a sign of the times.

A friend of mine sent me a recent cover note and resume from one applicant that, if not containing outright lies, certainly strains credulity. In the cover note which, by the way, is terribly written, the applicant boasts, ‘…I exhibit ingenuity and maintain a high level of commitment and energy in this new economy, which helps me to succeed in many diverse environments.’ Wow. I have three immediate reactions to that dog’s breakfast of a sentence:

  1. Just because the letter writer says he’s ingenious, committed and energetic doesn’t make it so. It’s far better to quote a professor or former employer saying the same thing on your behalf.
  2. He demonstrates these admirable traits in ‘…this new economy.’ Does that mean he wasn’t such a superstar in the ‘old’ economy? Be careful with your wording.
  3. The job seeker can ‘…succeed in many environments.’ That’s nice. But, I want to know the specific experience he’ll bring to my organization. It’s critical to tailor your cover note and resume to meet the prospective employer’s needs. Form letters quickly make their way to the circular file (virtual or otherwise).

This very same job seeker claims to have increased web traffic at a previous employer by 300 percent. Impressive, no? But, what does that mean? Did his company turn on a web site and suddenly attract 300 lost souls? Or, did this particular applicant actually create something notable that had an impact? We’ll never know. Why?

  1. He doesn’t qualify the 300 percent increase in any way, shape or form.
  2. He doesn’t attribute the accomplishment to a senior executive at his previous firm (i.e. ‘John made an immediate impact in our organization and was solely responsible for increasing our web site traffic by 300 percent,’ said Jefferson Davis Birkhahn, president of Schleuter-Brown-Schleuter Communications).

If you want a job, be honest about your accomplishments (or, lack thereof). Study my organization and convince me you understand exactly what sets us apart and how your abilities, no matter how meager up until now, can help me. Last, but not least, write in measured tones that neither glorify your past nor suggest you walk on water. Demonstrate strong writing abilities, a passion for news and a desire to learn and I guarantee you’ll have a much better shot at a paying gig than someone who boasts that he’s ingenious, committed and energetic. Bank robbers can say pretty much the same thing.

Thanks to Greg Schmalz for the idea behind this post.

Apr 23

Referencing the wrong reference

I’m a big fan of networking and believe very seriously in the importance of references and referrals. All three have been fundamental to my success.

April 23 - hire me What happens, though, when the image and reputation of a reference is less-than-stellar? For example, I’d expect a baseball manager would be much more likely to give an aspiring baseball player a try-out if the player said David Wright suggested he contact the manager (as opposed to, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens).

This sort of thing just happened to me. I received a note from a job seeker that referenced someone we both knew, but whose reputation is, shall we say, less than stellar. Truth be told, Pol Pot had a better image.

The job seeker began his note in this way, ‘I’m writing at the suggestion of (insert name of anti-Christ reference) who thought I’d be the perfect, high-level fit for Peppercom….’

Talk about a non-starter. Talk about the kiss of death. Talk about a classic Pavlovian response. I replied to the job seeker in a courteous way, but let him know we weren’t hiring at the moment. But, even if we had, I’m not sure I would have given him a chance. I know that’s wrong. But, aren’t we judged by the company we keep?

For me, it’s a great example of the type of due diligence necessary in today’s incredibly competitive job market. It’s no longer enough to have a great reputation. Nor is it enough to know people who know people who can open doors. You need to also make sure you know the right people with the right reputations. With so few jobs and so many aspirants, referencing the wrong reference is a sure fire one way ticket to Palookaville.