Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It Helps If You Have a Job

We all want financial stability and comfort, but those are hard to achieve without a job that pays well enough and offers a reasonable likelihood of employment next week, next month, or even next year.

My favorite book about job hunting ever, bar none, is called Hardball Job Hunting Tactics, written by Dick Wright, and published in 1983. It apparently wasn’t a big favorite with people who buy books, because I don’t see that it’s in print today, although it is available from various resellers used. That’s probably because Hardball Job Hunting Tactics is written for the kind of person who doesn’t read books. Among the pieces of advice Wright gives is what to do about getting a reference from your former boss--when your final official act on that job was to punch him out. Also, how to describe your time on the prison detail mowing the center strips of state highways as a landscaping job on your resume. And more. Not really aimed at the reading set, as you can see, although the tips in the book could have been a good guide for a job counselor, social worker, or probation officer, or any other person trying to help someone down on his luck through his own folly. It’s one of the most honest job-hunting books I’ve ever read, taking real situations that are negative and showing how to make the best of them. In that respect, the book’s advice is relevant to us all. Perhaps in the Internet age, some of Wright’s suggested tactics wouldn’t work, but plenty are still relevant to the job-seeking process today. If you have screwed up in just about every way possible on the job, I recommend you check out a copy of Hardball Job Hunting Tactics
In contrast to Wright’s book is Harvey Mackay’s latest, Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door. The subtitle is Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You. I like Mackay, and I’ve read previous books by him and thought they were pretty good. That’s why I picked up this one, even though he is no young whippersnapper. In fact, all the testimonials at the beginning of his new book are from People Who Are Very Old. Norman Vincent Peale, for crying out loud. But Mackay is not wasting anyone’s time by dishing out old-fashioned advice. Instead, he is completely up to date about how employment and job hunting have changed in the twenty-first century. He makes no bones about how the onus is now 100 percent on the shoulders of the individual, and likely to remain so. Sure, companies make the traditional noises they always have, but today, those noises are often ominous warnings of layoffs to come. Mackay’s book covers the dark side, losing your job or not getting a promotion, and the other side, looking for work. Bottom line, Mackay advises what others have been saying for a while now: it’s all up to you. You can’t just sit in a corner and pay no attention. And if you did, and find yourself on the sidewalk, it’s time to network, because according to Mackay, networking is the serious way to find a job today.

Networking well requires the ability to make impersonal-yet-personal contact with people with whom you have little in common, whom you hardly know. That’s the truth of it. For Mackay, who is at heart a salesman, networking does not feel insincere. He has nothing but admiration for job seekers who go to heroic lengths to investigate any possible job leads and work any possible career contacts. His interview with a young woman in her twenties shows just how much effort she put into making connection after connection until she finally found the right fit for her. This type of person is likely to ace interviews and get job offers.

Mackay does not underplay the amount of work it takes to find a place to work. Winning job-seekers do significant prior background research on potential hirers. We’ve all heard about doing that, but how many of us have penetrated beyond the company’s bland website to contacts with people who can tell us something about what’s really going on there? You might ask why we should know so much about a company. Here’s why (true story): Say you’ve received a job offer and you move your family at your own expense from out of state in order to take the job. And then, a month in, you learn that your new employer is embroiled in a multimillion dollar lawsuit. If the company loses, it’ll go under. Wouldn’t it be better to know about the lawsuit before you accept the offer? Yes.

Mackay also cites the stories of successful job hunters who refuse to take no for an answer, and in so doing are impressive enough to get a foot in the door. I know a young woman who has an aggressive, sales-oriented personality. She has no fear of talking to strangers and trying to convince them to do business with her company, whatever that company might be. She wants to build sales and gain new clients. Is it any surprise that she has no trouble finding employment?

But what about the rest of us, the ones who are not sales-oriented? The shy ones, the awkward ones, the ones who cannot fake sincerity? The sad truth is that except in high-level technical and professional jobs, and low-level manual and service labor jobs, personality is what gets us hired. That’s it. If they like you, they hire you. We do not all have to be salespeople as such. But we do need to be able to sell ourselves, our valuable and appealing qualities, to the right people, and know how to pass with the people who will never “get” us. That’s a major hurdle for most of us. Mackay does not give specific ideas to transform our personalities (even temporarily) into the successful sales type, but he does give very detailed advice on how to weather intense job interviews with their trick questions, how to negotiate, and many other valuable pieces of information. Still, like a lot of confident people, it does not occur to him that throwing ourselves over the personality hurdle is the biggest obstacle to success. We can see the truth of what he’s describing, but we can’t see ourselves in that picture.

What can help the rest of us, the insecure ones, the ones with difficult personalities, the people with obvious strikes against us like age, gender, race, infirmities, weird tics, and so on? Maybe not this book’s advice directly, but some of the clues and the sources Mackay hands out. He generously includes descriptions of other books that tackle in depth some of the issues that hold many of us back. And for those Baby Boomers looking for work (again!) he included a link I am happy to pass on, to the MetLife Study of the New Realities of the Job Market for Aging Baby Boomers. Its official title is “Buddy Can You Spare a Job?” This study is an eye-opener that could save many of us, regardless of age, from negative job-hunting experiences. It might even be as valuable in determining your personal strengths and weaknesses as an employee as Wright’s Hardball Job Hunting Tactics. Still my favorite.

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