Getting a great job – Part 1 of 2

Over the past 25 years, good friends, nieces and nephews and one of my daughters, have come to me asking for advice on their job searches.  For some of them, who’ve taken what I’ve told them to heart, it has worked very well for them.  It’s worked so well for one of my daughters, she’s become the “go-to job search advisor” for her friends and colleagues. One of my favorite nieces recently sought my advice and I updated two key aspects of my advice spiel for vastly improving one’s chances of getting a great job.  The first one is about searching and the second about interviewing. Here is the first of the two:

Most people find a job search highly frustrating.  You work for weeks to get your resume just right, send it out more times than you can count and see little results for your efforts. Finding a job is almost a full-time job in itself.  I’ve had a good deal of experience hiring, getting hired and helping others in the process of getting killer jobs – ones they absolutely love. Let’s get right to the heart of the matter.

The commonly accepted job search process doesn’t work and the odds are slim of finding a job this way. Most of the process for landing a job is flawed and fails those looking for a job as well as those employers who need a skilled new worker.  Sending out resumes and introduction letters is mostly a massive waste of time.  While resumes have some use, it’s later in the process.  The first step in finding a job is deciding where you want to work.  What companies most appeal to you? What company is employing people doing the sorts of things you want most to do? Are there companies that espouse a set of values you believe in? Have you researched the “best places to work in – (your city?)” Spend time researching sites which rate the best places to work.  Ask your employed friends, if they could switch companies, where would they most want to work? Does this take a lot of effort? Yes! Will it force you to ask yourself a lot of very hard questions? Of course!

You’ll know you’ve completed this step when you have a list of companies with 4-5 prospects, maybe  2-3 at the top of the list, that sound to you like places where you would really want to be.  On those top prospects, take your research to the next level and find out everything you can about them.  Go to work on them, as if you were writing a 2-3,000 word research paper on each of them. Focus on what makes them different from other companies and how they fit with your values and what you want to do with your life.  After this research, reprioritize your list from one through five, with the company you want the most at the top, although you’re going to work all five companies.  Your next step in your research effort is to find connections between you and these companies.  Remember the old Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of separation thing?  Send feelers out to all of your past contacts, former professors, advisors, friends, former colleagues, those in your industry, asking “Do you know anyone who works at or deals with X company? If not, do you know anyone who might know someone at X company, or Y company?”  While some people prefer to do this by email or text, I find it often works better to call people on the phone and talk with them about this.  The results are typically much better when you do.   The goal in this Phase 1 of your search is to have a list of five or so companies, prioritized, with potential contacts at each.  You might not have contacts at all of them. That is okay.

Your next step, working in reverse order of your list, is to find a way to schedule as many informational interviews as you can with someone from these companies or failing that, with somebody who knows more about them – a former employee, someone who’s done business with them, a competitor of theirs, etc.  Of course, checking to see if they have job openings and going in for an interview – even if the job does not sound well-suited for you is perfectly okay and a good idea.  If that happens, it meets two objectives; you’ll now have someone at the company you can actually sit across the table from and learn more about the company from them, and they very well might become a key contact for you, even if the job is not even close to what you’re looking for.  This phase has a number of benefits and opportunities for key learnings, including getting comfortable talking about yourself and answering questions in succinct ways that make people either wish to hire you or failing that, want to help you in the next step of your search, by providing you with another introduction.  At every interview/meeting at this stage you will want to conclude the meeting by asking, “Now that you know a bit more of what I’m looking for, is there anyone else you can think of that I should talk to?” Typically, they will think of someone and give you a name.  When they do, ask, “Would you be willing to call XXX, and let them know we’ve spoken and that I’ll be calling them?” Again, 90% of the time, they will say yes.  Make sure you get the full contact info for the person to whom they’re referring you.  If/when you first ask the question, they can’t think of anyone, then change the question slightly and ask “…. is there anyone outside the company you think might be able to assist me with ideas in this area?”  And follow-up in the same way.

You are also going to learn and practice a set of techniques on how to turn an interview into a job, but that is something I will cover in Part 2.

One thing that is going to happen while working on priorities 3-5, (not your top #1 and #2 choices), is you are going to start getting strong hints someone wishes to hire you, and perhaps even make you a job offer.  But your goal is not about getting one job offer; it is about getting multiple good offers and then thinking through which one is best for you.  By the time you’ve practiced on the lower priority companies, you will be in top form when you get to the prospects you want the most.  Your meeting and interview skills will be the sharpest as you will have recently practiced.

Let me anticipate an objection you might have.  You may be thinking, “Okay, suppose I have no contacts at all at my top priority company, how do I waltz in there saying, ‘You should hire me’?  They will think I am nuts.”  Au contraire!  You can’t begin to believe how much you will stand apart from other candidates when you upend the applecart in this way.  When you walk in and say, “While I’m not sure how my skills apply to XX’s goals of “blah, blah and blah,” (remember, you’ve done your research so you know what this company is most committed to making happen), “… but I love your company, believe in what you are doing and want to see if there might be some fit between my skills and your mission before I go and get a job with someone else.”   By this time, your meeting and interview skills will be so good, you’ll easily guide the ensuing conversation to be largely about them, while working in the most compelling and salient parts of your past work experience into what they are looking for.  As you will learn in the next section on interviews, the best ones are when you are in control and ask the questions.  The interviewer will love you and come away wanting to do everything they can to get you to come and work for their company.  I am not making this up!

I’ve shared these ideas with a host of people. Cousins, nieces, nephews, colleagues and friends. About half of them decided I might be on to something and put some effort into this and tried my suggestions out.  Without a shade of exaggeration, every single person who put an effort into using these techniques and the ones outlined in Part 2 (How to turn an interview into a job), were successful.  It has a 100% success rate.  So, give it a try.  What have you got to lose?

Stay tuned for Part 2 – From Interview to Job Offer

TV Top Pick #5: Behind the Curve

The documentary film, Behind the Curve (2019), can be seen on Netflix.  It introduces us to a growing group of people who believe in a conspiracy suppressing the fact that the earth is not round, but actually flat.  Many people, like me, assume things like the Flat Earth Society were long gone.  But they are not and I found a lot to like in this movie and several important lessons, too.

I hate movies belittling or ridiculing people and this movie doesn’t do that. While the movie is unintentionally hilarious, no one makes fun of these people.  It never plays “gotcha” and has a gentle and human approach to providing thoughtful profiles on key followers of the theory that a vast conspiracy involving government, educators and scientists has duped us all (except them) into the delusion that the earth is a sphere.  It also plays into several ideas that have been on my mind lately (as regular readers may notice), such as last month’s newsletter titled Damn Science Stuff where I discussed related issues.

A motorcycle ride to Cave Creek on Saturday morning with my neighbor found us discussing this film and him explaining something called “Anchoring Bias” to me.  My neighbor is a physician, scientist and recognized leader in the field of childhood epilepsy, and knows a great deal about the rigor required to conduct scientific experiments and steps one needs to take to locate, understand and overcome our inherent biases.  It turns out genuine scientists look at problems arising from experiments very differently from the individuals followed in this film. After obtaining a $20,000, highly precise ring laser gyroscope capable of exceptionally sensitive and minute measurements, they set up an experiment. They knew if the earth was a globe and rotating once every 24 hours, then the gyroscope would have to indicate a 15-degree drift or shift, every hour.  Knowing for a fact the earth was flat, they were confident they could disprove this spherical earth conspiracy once and for all. They set up the device, begin the first 24-hour experiment and find, uh-oh, it shows a 15 degree shift every hour.  However, unlike researchers who adhere to the scientific method*, they disregard this rather obvious proof the earth is indeed round and rotating. Instead, they conclude there must have been something “off” with the device or the way the test was set up.  They keep repeating the experiment, encasing the gyroscope in various metals to block energy from the sky or something, to stop the drift.  But of course, it never did, as the earth is still rotating. But never once was the consideration raised that Earth might indeed be a sphere. They were unwilling to accept the data acquired in their experiments.

This is anchoring bias and we’re all guilty of it to some degree or another. Anchoring bias is the tendency to give excessive value to your initial thought or data point (the anchor) and to give disproportionately reduced value to subsequent ideas or facts, even if they appear to disprove the anchor thought.  It often results in starting with a conclusion or belief and working backward to find facts that support your view and disregarding data that does not.  Here is an example.  Perhaps you were to say something like, “The crowd at my inauguration was the largest of any presidential inauguration in history, and specifically larger than my predecessor Barak Obama’s inauguration.” Overhead photos of both events clearly show a larger crowd at the 2008 inaugural ceremony than at the one in 2016.  With that data, if you took the approach that the photos are “fake,” you would end up in the same spot as the flat earth believers in this movie.  My example may sound overtly political, but I picked it more because most readers have heard of this and likely have formed some ideas about it.  I believe truth in politics does matter, but likely is more important in matters of science and public health.  The documentary reveals how easily we humans construct our own realities despite what common sense and logic have to say about it.  The rise of social media makes it far easier for people susceptible to conspiracy theories to find communities which support their views.

Since watching “Behind the Curve,” the impacts of anchor bias and non-scientific thinking seems to appear everywhere I look.  One example is my gradual realization of the strong communities which form around shared belief and the way in which being dismissed and trivialized by “unbelievers” and non-members of the community strengthens these communal bonds. When I was a kid, the fundamentalist evangelical church my family belonged to urged its members to witness to others about their faith. Some even organized door-to-door community outreach or standing on corners distributing religious tracts.  I recall this being horribly uncomfortable and embarrassing and wondered why it was done when it clearly didn’t result in us adding even one single individual to our congregation.  But after watching Behind the Curve, I understand.  These forages into the outside world were not expected to recruit anyone, but to make us highly uncomfortable. Thus, when we returned to the group, it was with great relief and appreciation, full of positive feelings for those who believed the same way we did. Communal bonds were pulled tightly around our shared truth that was unknown, misunderstood or belittled by the outside world.

The other example of this is on Facebook or Email when someone forwards/shares a bit of “news” or tasty tidbit appearing to augment their political position, assuming it is true, because it supports what they already believe. When someone occasionally points out that genuine fact checkers have researched this “tidbit” or “news” and found it to be completely manufactured and false, they respond in the same way as the flat earth conspiracy theorists.  In other words, they accuse the fact checkers of being dirty rotten untruthful scoundrels or shills of the opposition, rather than considering they may be wrong.

Winston Churchill was reportedly quoted as saying, “A lie gets half-way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” I’ve also heard it said that “Lies run sprints and truth runs marathons,” and my experience on earth seems to bear this out, so perhaps I need not worry. Eventually the truth will win out.  It always does.

* As elaborated in the above mentioned newsletter and defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as “Scientific method…is the technique used in the construction and testing of a scientific hypothesis.  The process of observing, asking questions, and seeking answers through tests…”


Top Tier TV Pick #4 – What the Constitution Means to Me

cover of video

What the Constitution Means to Me” is a video adaptation of an award-winning play (Pulitzer Prize finalist and received two Tony Awards) and it makes the transition to film well.  It centers on Heidi Schreck as a 15 year old who earned her college tuition by competing in Constitutional debate competitions, sponsored by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). It turns out one of my good friends participated in these debates and was able to add a good amount of color that enhanced the experience for me.

Reviewers have called it a work of devastating clarity: Funny, compassionate, surprising and optimistic. My recommendation is somewhat reluctant as some might find it painful in parts, but one comes away knowing a great deal more about the document that defines our political landscape.  As a high-school debater, I was flooded with memories of the ingenious way in which debates reveal so many sides of an issue.  The play is impeccably structured with a scintillating script that provides an amazing experience as it unfolds and the amazing ending.  I especially recommend it to anyone with a daughter, or who is a daughter or has had a mother.  Watch it for them. You can find it on Amazon Prime Video.

Top Tier TV Pick #3 – Good Omens

When you find yourself watching a mini-series 4 times, it probably means you liked it.  Maggie and I rarely share the same affection for television programs. So when we are both uncompromisingly enthusiastic about a production, you can be sure it’s special.  And Good Omens is quite special.  Here’s why.

Good Omens, video seriesBesides a 1930’s Bentley, it has the apocalypse and its four horsemen, angels, demons, magic, a hell hound, a flaming sword, the Antichrist and witches.  It is based on a brilliant novel written by two amazing writers – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  The show stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant, a pair of terrific British actors at the top of their game.  American actors Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand and Michael McKean also play key roles, and Englishman Benedict Cumberbatch shows up, too.

What most drives this unabashedly endorsement is that it is pure fun – every single minute.  We’ve suggested it frequently to friends and been rewarded with grateful thanks every time, without exception.  Like the movie “The Princess Bride,” it does not get old.  Suddenly one of us will think of a particular scene, say one of the ones with Michael McKean and Miranda Richardson, and before we know it, the other one is laughing and we’re saying, “Oh God, let’s watch it again.” You’ll find it on Amazon Prime and, rumor has it, there will be another season starting soon.