Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Best Books on Job-Searching Tactics

On the tactics of job-seeking, where should you look, how should you act, how should you care for and feed hiring managers, and what should you do with the “76 trombones” (or is it 76,000,000) cacophony of opinions on interviews and resumes?

I may seem critical of tactical job-hunting books, and there are reasons for that.  Interview tactics are hardly set in stone, and will sometimes work and sometimes not, depending on the interviewer.  There are many good ways of writing resumes.  However, sources disagree, often strongly, on the right things to do, and always have.  In the pre-email era, some experts thought resumes should be on plain white paper, while others thought they should be any other color.  More recently, there has been a controversy about sending thank-you letters or messages to interviewers, with one side saying they are courteous and facilitate you strengthening points you made before, and the other saying they are blatantly self-serving nuisances.  In the end, these sorts of things come down to the tastes of the people with whom you interacted, and no fixed dogma will be best every time.  Some books, along with articles and viral emails, will give rather spectacular allegedly real-life examples of jobseeker gaffes:  applicants wearing X-rated T-shirts;  people saying rather vile things about their former bosses;  a man who openly and graphically lusted after a woman pictured on his interviewer’s desk and had to be removed by security, and so on. 
Beware!  Before you take any of this material too seriously, understand four things:
1). The two things you need most to get a job are specific (not general) experience and being personally liked by the interviewer.
2). Very few jobs are lost by choosing the wrong reasonable interview, resume, or office behavior tactics.
3). Limiting your job search to applying for advertised positions is unlikely to get you hired, even if your resume looks like Mark Zuckerberg’s and your interviewing skills resemble Oprah Winfrey’s.
4). Avoiding massive blunders will put you in a “select,” “elite” group of 99% of all jobseekers, most of whom are not finding work.
I do recommend two books on job-hunting tactics.
On interviews, Sweaty Palms:  The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, by H. Anthony Medley (Warner Business Books) is thorough and well reasoned.  Many, many sections on interview tactics, with controversial but good advice. 
On tactics in general, the best book I’ve ever seen, and maybe the best book ever on job-seeking, is What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?:  44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired, written by Cynthia Shapiro and published by St. Martin’s Griffin.  I bought this book in 2010 when I wasn’t even looking for a job, after paging through it at a bookstore (in Korea of all places), and was stunned.  Here is what I wrote about it on Amazon, which should give you an idea about my views on the field in general:
“This book is a fifth-level response to a) employers having certain standards and many biases, b) applicants finding out how to overcome them and display their best picture, followed by c) employers seeking to overcome said overcoming themselves, and topped off by d) strict laws forbidding discrimination of various kinds, which employers, out of nothing more than perceived self-interest, see it in their interest to do.
“The work is made up of many, many outstanding insights that ring true about how getting hired ACTUALLY works. Maybe 2/3 of the book I knew already (I'm a bit of an old graybeard at this stuff), but, even (especially) for me, the remaining 1/3 is worth many times the purchase price. Some tips were hard to swallow, but of course that is to be expected with this super-stressful non-merit-based endeavor, in which the other side has almost all the cards and knows it.
“Two minor quarrels. First, people would not try stunts such as wearing gorilla suits, wrapping resumes in champagne, and so on if they didn't sometimes work. While someone as experienced and sophisticated as the author would refuse to pay off to them, maybe if it's a job you badly want AND there are vast numbers of applicants AND you don't think your qualifications put you in the top category AND the gatekeeper is a woman in her 20s (sorry, but such ploys are similar to those corny bar pickup lines which all women blast but so often work), you might still go for one of those. Second, in one section she gave a recipe for success for something using four concepts that began with the letter C - as the rest of the book was so far above that level, that part seemed to me incongruous and even destructive. So knock it down from 5+ stars to just 5.
“All in all, the perfect job-seeking book for the Great Recession. It absolutely buries the likes of What Color Is Your Parachute, with its long-obsolete ideas that you can impress employers so much as a general resource they will do anything to get you, even create a position for you. The author shows she knows, as do many of the rest of us, that human resources departments should go back to calling themselves "personnel," as what they want are cogs. And no other writer, in any of the 50+ pertinent books I've read or read about, does as well at showing how to get there. This book is not only an unqualified tour de force, but a major milestone in the field.”
So there you have it.  Check Amazon, though - new books on job-hunting tactics come out more weeks than not.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Career Books I Recommend - Personality and Aptitude Matching

On Amazon, and at bookstores, you will see many different books on career topic and vast numbers on another.  The first might be called personality career assessment – efforts in this area seek to connect the sort of person you are with a line of work.  What are you good at?  What do you like to do for fun?  What tasks do you scoop up without real difficulty, and which do you avoid like the clich├ęd plague?  The second subject is the tactics of job-seeking; where should you look, how should you act, how should you care for and feed hiring managers, and of course a “76 trombones” (or is it 76,000,000) cacophony of opinions on interviews and resumes. 
Personality-to-career matching books are excellent at getting you to learn things about yourself.  They offer thinking exercises, list-making projects, of course questionnaire after questionnaire, and much more, and the things are generally quite informative.  What they will NOT do, unfortunately, is tell you what careers are viable.  Perhaps my skills and disposition say I should be a neurosurgeon, but at 55 with no medical training beyond Red Cross CPR it just plain isn’t going to happen.  Some careers have more people trying to get in them than others, and that can change between writing and publishing, let alone between writing, publishing, and going out of print.  Such books are not in the business either of showing what jobs will and won’t be in demand in a few years, let alone the decade-plus most people have in mind when considering a line of work.  You do not want to be spending time and money training for something on the way out, whether it’s your dream job or not.
For personality work, I recommend The Pathfinder:  How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, by Nicholas Lore (Touchstone Books).  This multi-edition classic has the right idea on thinking about yourself and what would work for you. 
Also for personality assessment, the venerable but often updated What Color Is Your Parachute?:  A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-Changers, by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press).  I recommend this classic for determining careers to fit your disposition and interests, and for insights on how employers actually fill jobs, but warn against it for the tactical part.  Much of the material on the latter changed little from 1982 to 2012, when applicants actually could sneak onto the payroll with “information interviews” (in which jobseekers purport to be only interested in the nature of a job or company) and people could impress hiring managers by dressing well, acting smart, and seeming to have transferrable aptitudes for more advanced positions.  It’s been many decades since those looking for work had the best of the overall market, and employers are tougher than that these days – they’ve seen it all before.  Without experience pertaining to the exact position – for example, if a bill-paying company wants an project manager who uses Primavera and has worked in that industry, a telecommunications PM expert at MS Project won’t cut it – you’ll need a lot of luck, no matter how smart or skilled you are. 
A third good volume on self-assessment for work is I Could Do Anything if I Only Knew What It Was:  How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It, by Barbara Sher (Delacorte Press).  This one is ancient by the standards of career books – copyright 1994 – but most of the material is timeless, and you can get a used copy for almost nothing (plus shipping) at Amazon. 
Next week:  Books on job-searching tactics.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One Way or Another, Ryan is Good News

I was quite surprised that Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin U.S. Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate.  I was expecting Ohio senator Rob Portman, a steady choice who would appeal to the political center, which Romney must carry to be elected.  Both conservatives and liberals lauded the Ryan choice, the former seeing a true conservative and the latter seeing someone they think they can beat.  As a Slate magazine headline said, "one camp is very wrong."  Within three months, we will know which. 

In either event, Romney's choice may be the best thing that has happened to this campaign.  Why?  As I noted before, so far both candidates have been short on substantive proposals.  Ryan, a solid fiscal conservative, has made more recent ones than I've seen from Obama, Biden, and Romney combined - he will tell you exactly what he wants to do with spending and taxes.  He, unlike the others, is also a master negotiator, and perhaps more comfortable with working out solutions than either of the presidential candidates. 

The immediate reaction on Ryan was not good on the jobs issue.  Matthew Yglesias of Slate wrote that "the large jobs deficit built up during that period [is] going to receed [sic] further into the rearview mirror, [since] Romney is essentially conceding that the past 18 months of 150,000 jobs per month are good enough to get Obama re-elected, and he needs to wage a campaign about something bigger, [so] the issue that ought to dominate the campaign is going to fade into obscurity." 

I see the opposite.  I see the Republican candidates answering questions on jobs, and on the economy, with proposals much more specific than those currently on the Romney website, which, though now having a headline that "Americans deserve more jobs and more take-home pay" and a link to "Mitt's Plan," offers little more than vague ideas such as "give every family access to a great school and quality teachers," shaky promises the likes of  "replace Obamacare with real health care reform," and economic errors such as "curtail the unfair trade practices of countries like China" immediately followed by "open new markets for American goods and services." 

Watch the Romney campaign website.  I expect that within two months it will have a jobs plan with specific proposals and dollar amounts.  That will force the Obama campaign to respond in kind.  The plans will be, in effect wish lists - both sides will know they will need to negotiate.  After the election, which will probably end with the House, Senate, and White House split in some fashion, jobs will be on more and more people's minds.  Then we will move from the two starting points to real substance and real debate.  That is what we need, whether Ryan is elected or not. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Stimuli Would Help Now?

The July jobs numbers arrived last week, and are still stagnating.  Although only 163,000 net positions were added, it was the most in five months, and was significantly above the 125,000 to 140,000 needed to cover population increase.  The official unemployment rate rose - though only from 8.22% to 8.25% its rounding was announced as 8.3%, the first increase since early spring.  To its credit, the Obama administration did not spin the number of jobs added as positive.

As I mentioned last week, both sides are going nowhere on job policy now, with the liberals advocating only general stimuli.  That viewpoint was taken to an extreme in a Friday Slate magazine piece by Matthew Yglesias (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/08/job_growth_s_been_stalled_for_18_months_and_nobody_s_doing_anything_about_it_.html ).  It started well with the title "The Jobs Stall," and the beginning of the subtitle "for 18 months we've been on track to never return to full employment," but got disappointing, and whiny, with "why won't the Federal Reserve do something?"  The article itself offered few specifics on what this "something" might mean, so here are some possibilities.

First, a WPA-style infrastructure jobs project is badly needed.  The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated over two years ago that fully maintaining our bridges and highways alone would cost $1.2 trillion, a number that would be higher now.  With over 32 million Americans wanting to work full-time and not doing so, wages would not need to be anything like full union scale, and union members themselves would have plenty of work at their pay scales, especially supervising.  We don't have the choice of not keeping bridges and roads in good condition, unless we want to fall further behind (and we are behind) the rest of the Western and Pacific world on infrastructure, including airports, towers, and computer systems as well. 

Second, more unemployment benefits.  Even if you don't like stimuli in general, it is only common sense to see that putting money into the hands of those who don't have it will allow them to buy more goods and services, and largely will not be saved but spent.  True, longer and larger benefits discourage some people from working, but with opportunities so poor, and the median length of unemployment well over half a year now, the vast majority will be rightfully helped. 

So how about a general stimuli, giving almost everyone more money?  No.  Cheapening the dollar will hurt our prosperity, by making imports more expensive, and will not solve the problem, as the jobs crisis is permanent.  How about cutting interest rates further?  That neither.  They can't get much lower anyway - my interest-bearing checking account paid 0.05% last month - and large companies have more money now than they can constructively use anyway.  Extensive relief for those whose houses dropped in value?  Wrong again. We do not need even more encouragement for speculative investments on margin, and if people are working, their being "upside down" on a house they live in is not a problem of true national concern. 

Overall stimuli are not going to solve the problem.  Work's New Age has been caused by automation, globalization, increased efficiency, longer life expectancy, and additional largely good trends.  We can stimulate the economy by helping specific people in need, especially those without jobs, and by sanctioning work that must be done anyway.  If we spread money around more generally, we will only find that the money is worth less and less, with the lack of work as permanent as ever.  If Mitt Romney can articulate this as his position, he may indeed win in November - and the country will be better off.  If he cannot, it will be up to the voters, and the Obama camp, to stop us from seeing only more of same.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's Happening with the Presidential Campaign?

A well worthwhile column was written by David Brooks, in the New York Times, yesterday.  Titled "Dullest Campaign Ever," it accounted how the 2012 effort, while being "incredibly consequential," is also especially unexciting and, ultimately, uneventful.  The reasons Brooks cited were "intellectual stagnation" (both candidates relying on cliches used by their sides for 48 years), "lack of any hint of intellectual innovation" (dearth of new ideas, especially those that would offend their parties), "increased focus on the uninformed" (a response to the failure of partisan voters to consider opposing ideas), "lack of serious policy proposals" (in which Brooks asked 'has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table?'), "negative passion" with both Democrats and Republicans motivated more by hating the others than by loving their own, "no enactment strategy" (failure of either side to say how they would implement their changes), "ad budget myopia" (their tendency to try to 'carpet bomb' the moderates into voting submission), "technology is making campaigns dumber" (fast electronic responses turning tiny things into the main talking points), and "dishonesty numbs" (the apparent apathy of both sides toward journalistic investigation, such as the Washington Post's Pinocchio ratings, into the truth of campaign statements).  Brooks concluded that, strangely enough, "as campaigns get more sophisticated, everything begins to look more homogenized, less effective and indescribably soporific."

At the same time, the Washington Post ran an opinion poll on what election issues were most important to respondents.  As of a few minutes ago the results were 59% for "the economy," 20% for "health care," 8% for "the budget deficit," 4% for "foreign policy," 1% for "terrorism," something rounding to 0% for both "the environment" and "education," and 12% for other.  Though the Post skews to the left in both writing and readership, one issue out of seven getting a majority seems significant.

So, Barack and Mitt, where are we going with the economy?  What are your plans, other than stimulating the economy in general and cutting taxes and spending in general?   How will you make your ideas happen?  Do you think the jobs crisis might be permanent, and if not, why is it getting worse and worse despite our economy showing no other signs of recession?  What ideas, if any, will you consider from the other side?   If you are inaugurated next year and can implement what you want, at what point and with what outcomes will you admit your course of action needs adjustments or even a total overhaul?  If you disagree that the key employment number is the 32 million-plus Americans who want to work full time and are not, why?  How will you convince those on the other side that your efforts are worthwhile? 

As an uncommited voter, I'm waiting for Obama's and Romney's answers to these questions and others like them.  As a patriotic American, I'm hoping we get somewhere on this monumental historical change in the next four years, so we are not starting the next campaign in an even deeper hole.  As an author and economics commentator, I want to see my ideas converted into progress.  But we're now less than 100 days before we go to the polls, and it doesn't look good.

In a democracy, it is said, people always get the leaders, and leadership, they deserve.  I hope, somehow, this time around that proves to be a good thing.