The Job Search By Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Joblink Baltimore Introduction Searching for a job is seldom a positive experience. In fact, it is a dreaded one. However, circumstances arise which make it necessary to embark on this task. People enter the workforce for the first time, seek career growth, have been laid off, or are faced with a questionable future in their current job. Certainly, in today’s uncertain global economy, this presents a whole other set of variables and concerns. The purpose of this essay is to present some attitudinal, social, and practical points as they relate to seeking employment. The first step is to recognize the reality of the situation and take inventory of your personal and family needs. Significant among these needs are no doubt financial ones that are part of life. In the case of losing your job, the accompanying the loss of income is part of this reality check. Bills need to be paid. Community obligations must be settled. Food must be put on the table. Private school tuitions and mortgages are due each month. The pressure and stress can be enormous. The ultimate task at hand is to change the situation by finding suitable and sufficient employment. Easier said than done. Another part of this step is to determine what type of job you need. Is the job something that will be shortterm in the hopes of finding something better down the line? Is the job viewed as a stepping stone in a career progression? In addition, what are your skills and training? Are they specific or general? Are your skills marketable and/or up-to-date or do you need to get additional training from a college or training institute? The answers to these questions are often complex. No “one size fits all” and how you resolve this depends on many factors. However, Joblink can assist in trying to sort things out. The next step is to be on the lookout for suitable opportunities. Organizations like Joblink can provide some helpful information to broaden your search strategies. Casting a wide net to learn of those vacancies that do exist is important. Networking through professional contacts, friends, relatives, and community members is also helpful in getting the word out that you are looking for a job. If you are unemployed, the job search must be viewed as a full-time job. It cannot be approached casually, only attending to the task when you get a chance. While there might be other responsibilities family and personal, you need to put in the time and effort in order to “be in the game”. This involves networking through friends and (former) colleagues. It is crucial that you take personal ownership of the process and don’t just leave it to other parties, family, or friends. Once you begin your job search, you must follow-up on leads promptly and professionally. The job search in today’s economic times can be frustrating and demoralizing. As more people are let go from their organizations, the competition among highly trained and experienced individuals is fierce, trying to secure the relatively few available positions. Attributes like a thick skin, fortitude and perseverance are crucial. There are situations when you may not get selected or even chosen for an interview, yet you feel that you are a match for the position. The key is not to get too high or too low when pursuing seemingly suitable positions. Often there are factors that are beyond your control that may have gotten in the way of you being considered or hired. In today’s economy, a decision may have been made not to fill the position since the time that it was first posted. So, it is helpful to keep everything in perspective. Seeking out employment opportunities is a balancing act. On one hand, you need to be flexible. On the other hand, you can’t be “all over the place” and unfocused regarding what you want. If you appear to lack focus and apply for everything and anything (especially within a single organization), it does not convey that you are appropriately selective. Trying to capitalize on your acquired training, education, and experience will not only cast yourself in a targeted light, but will also maximize your earnings potential. Life Change Readiness Whether entering the workforce for the first time or pursuing your next job, it is important to realize that almost always, that job will come with adjustments. You cannot realistically expect that the potential opportunity will allow you to maintain your same schedule and regimen. The hours might be different, qualitatively or quantitatively. There might be some travel involved. There might be a significant commute involved. In today’s economy and competitive job market, we cannot “call our own shots”. Our lives may have to change in order to gain employment. Therefore, we have to reduce the number of “deal-breakers” that we put out to only what is absolutely essential. Therefore, you need to approach suitable job prospects with an open mind and flexibility; especially, because others who seek jobs will have that flexibility. Making Sense of Job Postings When evaluating vacancies and postings that you come across, you will see a variety of formats, styles, and levels of detail. Some may have a more structured format; some will be less formal. (In general, government postings tend to be more structured and wordy. ) In some cases, especially in today’s job market, you might have to match 100% of the requirements in order to be considered. There might be some level of flexibility by recruiters or hiring managers to overlook a minor deficiency in an otherwise impressive resume. However, not meeting the “deal breakers” or profile of the ideal candidate may lead a lower-level recruiter to disqualify a resume or application. So, it is important to identify the major criteria from the small ones as the latter might not be "deal breakers". In addition, you should pay attention to some key details about a job. The first is the salary. In most cases, it is indicated as a range. While everyone would ideally want to get a salary at the top of the range, that is not always how things are done. Your level of experience and education will often determine what the starting compensation will be. Next, there is full-time versus part-time. Unless the posting indicates otherwise, the hours will be full-time. While there might be some minor variation, you can expect that most full-time positions will be 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday to complete a 40-hour work week. Of course, there is often the expectation that these hours will not be exact, as workflows and customer contacts will not always begin with or end at those times The next detail to look for is whether the job is “contractual” or not. Contractual jobs may be compensated on an hourly or an annual basis. But, they do not include benefits such as vacation and medical insurance. For conventional jobs, benefits will vary in terms of health insurance coverage, paid leave for vacation and sickness, and other benefits. Sometimes this is indicated in the recruitment materials but many times it is not. If you get an interview, the time to inquire about this is at the end of the interview. Another important component to pay attention to is whether the job is limited to certain employees. Some postings may be for internal staff for promotional opportunities. For some government positions, the applicant pool may be limited to current employees of that department or unit. Some jobs require not only eligibility to work in this country but to be a U.S. Citizen as well. In addition, some positions with the government or contractors may require some level of active Security Clearance (see below on “Background Investigations and Credit Checks”). It goes without saying that in order to legally secure a position, you must be eligible to work in the U.S. While being a citizen is not always a requirement, eligibility to work is. Especially in today’s job market, employers will rarely “sponsor” someone who is not eligible to work. It is incumbent on any serious job seeker to secure eligibility before applying. Finally, in applying for a given job you must submit the materials exactly as requested and send them through the stated channel. The channel may be email, fax, or be online. Please be aware of any stated deadlines or “closing dates” so that your application will be considered accordingly. Many placement firms and employers will state that even though they will not be pursuing you for a given vacancy, they will keep your resume “on file” or in their database for a period of time. While there is a possibility that you might get a call back to be considered for a future position, there is no guarantee. Often assignments by corporate staff and recruiters will change, so being in a database alone is not sufficient. Therefore, please apply for each and every position that is posted for which you qualify and are interested. This is especially the case with smaller organizations, where your interaction with a recruiter may have been informal. Do not assume that you will be on the radar screen for other positions. In 2009, submitting a resume or job application in consideration for a job is as easy as it has ever been. Resumes can be emailed, completed on-line, and faxed as well as mailed in the traditional way. In fact, resumes can even be banked in a database for review or automatically submitted without the job seeker’s explicit action. However, a carefully worded or customized resume is critical to being considered for a given position. Failing to send a customized packet geared toward a specific job will either fall short of what is expected or not sufficiently differentiate you from the many resumes that are received. Another way of having your resume noticed is to leverage a connection that you have to the organization or to the hiring manager. Joblink’s extensive network can be of value in many situations. It is absolutely essential that written materials presented in applying for jobs are grammatically correct. Given that most programs like MS Word have spelling and grammar checkers, this makes it much easier. However, there is no substitute for a careful proofread of any materials presented, preferably by an outside party. Also, any printed materials should be free of smudges, tears, and food stains. A malfunctioning printer is never a legitimate excuse for poorly presented written materials. The Importance of the Cover Letter In most cases, a resume should be sent to the organizational contact point accompanied by a cover letter. The significance of a quality cover letter should not be overlooked. In short, a cover letter provides a “bridge” between the job seeker, the job, the organization, and one’s resume. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into the specific structure of the cover letter. However, it is recommended that you first read through the job announcement or description or announcement carefully. Search for (1) the experience requirements; (2) the education requirements; and (3) the major job functions. In the cover letter, you should identify point-for-point how your experience matches up with 1, 2, and 3. Merely sending your resume alone by email and hoping for the best, in most cases, will be an exercise in futility. If you cannot present a match to the contents of the job description within your cover letter, it is likely that you are not qualified for it. Most people will have a cover letter template that is saved and then subsequently customized towards a specific position. It is essential that job seekers proofread the cover letter to make sure that the details pertinent to a previous job applied for are not still in the letter. Public Sector/Government For some job seekers, employment opportunities with the government are appealing. First, there is relatively more job security than in the private sector. Second, the benefits have traditionally been comprehensive. In addition, depending on current political trends, there might be a growth in government positions. However, the compensation is typically below that of private industry. Government employment includes jobs at Federal, State, and municipal levels. There are some differences and similarities among them. With a few exceptions, Federal government job opportunities are accessible through www.usajobs.gov. This system replaces the older paper application process and those interested must apply through that website. USAJOBS is an online portal by which job seekers can sort job opportunities using defined occupational and geographic criteria. You can even set up an “agent” by which an email notification is generated when a job is posted which matches the criteria. Applying through USAJOBS is a somewhat cumbersome process the first time around. However, once the investment of time is made in completing the online form initially, subsequent applications do not take as long. Personal data are saved and can be pulled up to apply for jobs with some level of customization to a particular opening. For some Federal jobs, it is required to provide ”KSA’s”. KSA’s are Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities that a job seeker possesses. There are workshops and materials that are designed to assist job seekers in formulating KSA’s. Given the uniqueness of the Federal application, it is wise to seek out expert advice on how to approach this. Ten Steps to a Federal Job by Kathryn Troutman is a good resource to start. With the Federal and other government systems, job requirements and qualifications tend to be quite rigid. In fact, many automated systems do not include a human element of interpretation until the system matches the applicant’s information with the job criteria. Therefore, it is critical to review the job qualifications carefully and make a judgment of an absolute match as certain elements may be “deal breakers”. Many job seekers who have most but not all of the educational and experience qualifications don’t understand why they did not warrant further consideration. Most likely, this was because the system did not find an absolute match. So, it is important to read and evaluate each posting carefully. Also, provide all of the information requested, as incomplete applications will also be rejected. For government positions, please note that the salary range that is reported if not necessarily the range at which someone will be hired. Often, the government system has relatively rigid rules about this whereby the person hired will start at the bottom of the range and progress upward according to a schedule that is based on job experience. In the private sector, however, there is sometimes more flexibility in the amount of the starting salary. Background Investigations and Credit Checks Organizations conduct background investigations and credit checks to establish a person’s financial stability as well as obviate potential vulnerability to impropriety or being compromised. As indicated above, some positions for the government or contractors will require that you successfully complete a background investigation to obtain some level of Security Clearance. This is because in these positions you might have access to sensitive information which needs to remain secure. Background investigations will require that you furnish many specific details of your past, including past associations (professional and educational) and provide access to your financial status and history. Background investigations take quite a bit of time to complete, possibly up to a year. A typical scenario is where a provisional job offer is made and you could even start employment with that organization in nonsensitive areas. However, if the background investigation is not successfully completed, employment will be rescinded. Even in the private sector, more and more companies are beginning to conduct credit checks prior to employment. This is within their right to do so under Federal Law, if protocols are followed as per the Fair Credit Reporting Act. So, please be aware that a problematic financial history can have serious employment ramifications, not only for “security sensitive positions”! Therefore, it is critical to make sure that your credit history does not contain errors or delinquencies before you start applying for employment; anything of this nature should be corrected or resolved. In addition, your financial past cannot include anything illegal or unethical that could be part of your history. Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills In today’s world, it is essential that you have computer and Internet access. This also includes having a printer to print out readable resumes. Since computers, printers, and technology may fail us on occasion, you must have a back-up. All public libraries have free access to PC’s and the Internet. Companies such as FEDEX-Kinko’s have printers which you can print to for a nominal fee. Please note that the professional standard today is to have work printed on a laser printer, not a dot matrix or inkjet. In addition, operating within the professional world calls for basic computer literacy. At minimum, three necessary skills are the effective use of email, Internet searches and using a program like Microsoft Word. Email is an accepted use of communication which has become standard. Very often, resumes are included as attachments to emails. Searching the Internet for available positions and to conduct research on employer organizations are also functions that are expected. Finally, proficiency with a Word processor is required in order to compose/edit a resume as well as for cover letters. Someone who lacks these basic skills should seek training in order to operate within the employment world. Someone who is in the market for a job and is actively engaged in a job search must check email and voicemail on a regular basis. Phone messages and emails should be returned promptly. If not, you will be at a great disadvantage when compared to assertive job seekers who do. While it is always recommended that you have someone in your home record and reliably forward accurate messages in a timely manner, it is especially critical to do so when you are actively looking. Please make sure that in setting up your outgoing greetings on your home and cell phones that you record them in a way that is professional, clear and understandable. Not doing so will be a turn-off to any company that calls. It is advisable that the outgoing greeting is recorded by an adult and not an infant or child. In the Baltimore-Washington area, there is some public transportation that is available. However, for most jobs, some form of reliable, personal transportation will be required. This applies to getting yourself to a job interview or commuting to work on a daily basis. While depending on rides or loaned cars may be OK in the short-term, a stable solution will be necessary. One of the key skills that employers look for is basic writing skills. Being able to express yourself in writing to convey ideas and technical concepts is often lacking. You do not necessarily have to have the most sophisticated vocabulary. However, you must make sure to use cogent, complete sentences and subject-verb agreement in written reports, emails, and letters. Another skill that is valued and expected in the workplace is basic “mentchlichkeit”. That is not an easy word to translate into English. But, basic mentchlichkeit means that you show yourself to be polite and gracious to whomever you are dealing with in your relationships. Mentchlichkeit also means being responsive, sensitive to the needs of others, and returning calls/messages. Some refer to these as “people skills” which are critical, regardless of your personality. If you feel that your current training, education, and skill set are not putting you into a position to compete for quality job opportunities, it might be worth considering obtaining them. A training course or two, an entry-level internship or apprenticeship, or a relevant degree might be something to seriously consider in conjunction or in lieu of your next job. You should view this re-tooling as an investment in your future, which could have positive income ramifications down the line. Communication Some describe today’s society as “the communication age”. Numerous communication channels are quite available to all of us. Communication is faster than it has ever been and goes beyond boundaries of time and place. In many ways, it is more efficient. Paper communication through letters and memoranda are often replaced by electronic and digital media. For example, documents can be emailed from anywhere to anywhere. Text messages can be sent from any wireless phone to another device instantly. One downside of this trend is that communication and messages are not as thoughtful as in the past. Messages are terse and often leave much to inference. As a result, recipients of messages often make assumptions based on the inferences, some are grounded in fact and others not. Because email messages are not accompanied by a visual or voice context, those reading the message may ascribe a negative or hopeful tone to it, which may or not have been the intent. This is especially the case with text messages in which the number of characters used to convey a thought is kept to a bare minimum. Another downside is the fact that the skill required to write grammatically correct sentences and cogent thoughts has been lost. However, it is still important to frame cover letters, resumes, emails and other materials using proper rules of spelling and grammar. Failure to do so will cause a potential employer to receive a negative impression of you and subsequently not take your application seriously. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it is critical that you do not do anything that will lessen the impression that a potential employer has of you. It is also important for letters and emails to maintain a respectful and grateful tone. For example, a “thank you” email sent the day after an interview will convey a genuine (but not overly flowery) appreciation for being allowed that forum. This is not a difficult or costly thing to do. Also, be sure that your communication is even keeled and appropriate. Emails or letters that are overly enthusiastic, assertive, flowery, or otherwise over-thetop should be avoided. In today’s business environment, communicating by email is acceptable. While email communication is typically shorter, emails should not be casual or resemble a text message. Grammatically correct sentences should be used as well as a proper greeting (e.g., Dear Mr. Jones”). Every email should have a sensible Subject line that matches the content of the email. In such a business context, it is best to err on the side of formality and respectfulness. Also, before hitting the "Send" button, please review the entire email, from top to bottom, and delete any content that might be irrelevant, confidential, or embarrassing. Problems in this regard often occur when someone simply hits "Reply" or "Forward". There are times when someone in the communication chain may not want his/her identity associated with such a digital “paper trail” and that should be honored in anything sent out. In sending out communication and materials, please keep in mind that most software programs have some type of spelling and grammar checks available. It is important to utilize those features. It might also be helpful to have a third party review important correspondence and materials before you send them out. Communicating effectively in person and in writing is key to creating and maintaining any relationship. Experience in the workplace and consulting with mentors should give you a sense of what is professionally appropriate. Obviously, there might be differences in norms and expectations depending on the context. But, it is always better to err on the side of professionalism and cordiality. Specific guidelines for cover letters, “thank you” letters and resumes can be found on Joblink Baltimore's website (www.joblinkemployment.com). Please refer to those materials. Some other things to be careful of are as follows: (1) Remember to include any attachments (e.g., a resume) that you reference in your email before sending. This is a common faux pas. (2) Before clicking “Send”, proofread for spelling, grammar and content. Delete any extraneous material from the body of the email. Often there is a paper trail of correspondence that other contacts have sent you with which they might not want to be directly associated. Please respect that. And if an email contains a “reply” or “forward”, please make sure that what appears in the Subject line matches with the nature of your current correspondence. (3) Use a “neutral” email address for professional correspondence, not one that is cute or funny (for example, email@example.com should be used instead of firstname.lastname@example.org) (4) If searching for a job while employed elsewhere, do not send out such correspondence from that employer’s email account. (5) Make sure that your outgoing greeting on your cell phone or home voicemail is professional and has a name which matches the name you use professionally. Greetings from toddler and other age children should be replaced with outgoing greetings from responsible adults. (6) When in job search mode (and even in general), make sure that home phone messages are collected by responsible children who can take a cogent message and deliver them reliably in a timely fashion. A job opportunity may be at stake here. Self Presentation Everyone conveys a certain image to others. This image is very much a reflection or who we are. In the job market, this image conveys a message of what we bring or do not bring to the table as an asset to an organization. We communicate to others not only by what we say or write, but how we do those things. Here are a few relevant pointers: (1) Physical appearance- always present yourself in a clean, appropriately dressed way. Remember, a mirror is your friend. Personal grooming standards should be normative for the environment in which you will be presenting yourself. If you are unsure as to what is normative, please ask someone who has operated in that environment for awhile. (2) Regardless of how we are referred to in our religious lives, consider using a neutral name. This is especially true if you have an official name that is part of legal documents like your Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Driver’s License, or Passport. Ultimately, you might be completing official documents with which you will be cross-referencing those pieces of identification. Having a neutral name may also be easier for others outside of the community to pronounce. This is especially true if you have a double name like “Rivka Sorah” or “Shlomo Shmuel”. “Rebecca” or “Steven” might be better alternatives to the double Hebrew name. Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties After applying for a position, the waiting game begins. If there is a closing date for applications, it is likely that you will not hear back until a period of time after that date. This is especially the case in government. In most government sectors, some form of response or feedback to an applicant is required by statute. The feedback may be provided by conventional mail or email. Sometimes the feedback will be merely that you are qualified at some level and may be contacted for an interview. The decision of whether you receive an interview or not could be based on a variety of criteria of which you might never become aware. In the private sector, there is much variability in terms of feedback. Some organizations are more responsive than others. Some organizations take the perspective of “don’t call us; we’ll call you” after an application or even after an interview. If you are selected for an interview, you will be contacted; if you are not, you will not receive any reply at all. The amount of time by which you get feedback could be up to several months. At that time, a polite “rejection letter” will be sent informing you that the position has been filled by someone who meets the requirements of the position more closely. Organizations sometimes only send out such letters only after the person hired has officially accepted the offer and has begun working in the position. That is the reason for the delay. A Word or Two on Training: Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards Regardless of whether you are pre-career, early career, mid-career, or more senior-level, it is advisable to determine whether your training is appropriate for your target position. Training can come in a variety of forms. One is formal education. This involves obtaining a degree from an accredited and reputable institution. The degree should be both relevant and accepted as the industry standard. While in some limited cases, a general degree will suffice, in most cases, the degree should be a fit with what is typically seen in job postings. A litmus test for the value of any degree is by consulting with seasoned professionals in that field who evaluate credentials to fill jobs, or someone who previously completed the program and was able to reach his/her career objective in the field. The field of higher education is very competitive and many of the claims are mere marketing ploys to increase enrollment. Make sure that you are not being misled by false promises so that the financial commitment in your education will not be a waste. One new entrant onto the scene is distance learning in the form of online programs. Before considering such a program, please make sure that the program is accredited and that its graduates have been able to find employment. It is always a good idea to ask for names of recent and not-sorecent graduates to determine the value of the program, as well as contact employers to confirm that they recognize the degree. The advantages of obtaining a more traditional undergraduate and graduate degree from a “brick and mortar” school include: (1) a more direct rapport with faculty; (2) more a hands-on interactive component in working with fellow students on project work; (3) experiential or clinical learning; and (4) job placement services in your geographic area offered by a Career Center and connections with employed alumni through professors in the program. So, before investing in any program, it is wise to look for successful outcomes. Shortcuts may be appealing in the short term but may sell you short down the line. Let the buyer beware. As jobs change, so do the work and the skills necessary to perform them. Technology is the most common manifestation of this. Certainly for technology careers, keeping current with the industry standards is necessary to keep your job or to obtain your next one. Even for non-technologically focused jobs, it is quite possible that there is some important product or system on which you must be minimally conversant—often spelled out in the job announcement. While it is quite possible that on-the-job training can be obtained, there will be certain prerequisite skills that will separate those who get the job from everyone else. As intelligent as a person might be, that is often not enough to make a case for your being hired in a competitive job market. Make sure that whether it is a matter of education or skills that you have what it takes for your next job. It is reasonable to re-assess every few years. If there is a skills gap, you probably want to proactively seek out available training resources which will put you in the running to be positively noticed by a prospective employer. Summary Looking for employment is a job in and of itself. It requires perseverance, networking, and communication. As difficult as it is to do sometimes, you must communicate and present yourself with an upbeat and positive attitude. The objective is to present yourself as a potential asset to the target organization so that you are evaluated favorably.