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.

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