will be my final column for Information Today, and what a
roller coaster ride it has been during the last several years. Careers
careening, twisting, and turningthe economy dipping, dropping,
and loopingultimately leading to rightsizing, downsizing,
and in many cases, capsizing as dot-com bombs went off everywhere.
When I formed RMC Associates in 1998,the challenge was to find
quality candidates who were willing to entertain employers' opportunities.
No signing bonus, limited stock options, a less-than-desirable
commute, and no significant compensation boost. Well, just let
me know when you find something that matches up. Meanwhile, I'm
busy reviewing my other three offers.
Job applicants rarely waited by the phone like jilted lovers,
and successful companies learned how to compete for talent in
a manner that went beyond just compensation. The pendulum has
taken an enormous swing and many of us feel as if we are in the
pit. Open positions are as rare as hen's teeth. And if
my in box is any indication of available talent, there is an abundance.
The old rule of thumb1 month of job search for each $10,000
of salary earnedno longer seems to apply. It doesn't always
translate into a longer search, but it is dependent on many variables,
including how well you've stayed connected, your salary history,
length of time in your last several positions, and yesalasyour
The issue is rarely addressed and often denied, but consider
the exercise that "Mr. Thorne" detailed in the September 13, 2002,
issue of Silicon Valley Business Ink. Having spent 20 years
as a technical writer, Thorne applied to a company that was looking
for the same. He felt confident that he met all the stated criteria.
Having received no response, he included a cover letter and sent
his resume again with same result. He then had that moment of
epiphany and realized he simply had "too much of a good thing"he
was too old. To test his hypothesis he re-created himself as an
Asian who was 15 years younger. He sent another e-mail to arrange
for an interview.
Thorne then explained to the HR person that he had created the
resume to test his hypothesis. He was told that the reason he
was not considered for the position was that he had held too many
jobs (five over the last 20 years). This held up, as his Asian
alter-applicant had three jobs in 10 years!
Still not convinced? A 2002 survey by ExecuNet appeared in USA
TODAY with the title "Age Can Lengthen Job Hunt." It showed
that on average it took someone 30 to 35 years old only 11 months
to find a management position, while it took twice as long for
someone 56- to 60-years-old.
What's a Body to Do?
It seems unlikely that we'll suddenly find a way to go further
back than that 1 magical hour in the fall or suddenly all become
bioscience brains (where so much of the action seems to be these
days). What is important is that we are as prepared as possible
to spring ahead and that preparation begins with an introspective
Who are you? Are you people-driven (teachers, trainers, salespeople,
managers), prestige-driven (lawyers, doctors), driven to create,
or driven to investigate and evaluate (information specialists)?
Does autonomy or being part of a team hold more appeal? How critical
is the work culture to you? How critical are promotional opportunities
and diverse career paths? What problems have you most enjoyed
solving? What gets you animated and passionate?
Well, you get the drift. And going with the flow could lead
you to consider self-employment.
If you're ambitious, enjoy your work, and have domain expertise
but have not found happiness in the corporate world, you may want
to consider yourself as your next employer. Being a consultant
has become particularly popular for people in information technology
as well as a variety of service industries. Those with an M.L.A.
or M.B.A. or a degree in cognitive science have highly sought-after
Many people originally get into consulting because they have
been laid off. Remember this is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Income can fluctuate wildly and ramp-up time can be lengthy. Successful
consultants have excellent networks and come with enough expertise
to distinguish themselves from others. They arrive with good reputations,
are self-starters, and often can offer a company an alternative
it hadn't considered.
The one skill that is often missing and can be critical is the
ability to market your services. Who would be your potential clients?
Who could you approach within your target list? Can you draw up
a marketing plan, and do you have someone who could help review
Lastly, remember that consultants have to be good listeners
to understand what their clients need. You also need to be a good,
authoritative communicator, both in meetings and one-on-one.
Going It Alone
So if after consulting with yourself and finding that a career
as a consultant may not be for you, here are some tips for finding
the best fit for you and for landing that next opportunity:
Have a clear job goal that reflects your passion,
skills, and needs.
Do your homework thoroughly on your next potential
employer. My guess is that 100 percent of Information Today's
audience possesses the skill set to do this well. Understanding
the overall market sector, company history and performance,
and competitors not only gives you the information you need
to make decisions, it also equips you to ask good questions.
Network, network, network. A job search is all
about letting as many people as possible know that you are looking.
If you attend a business or networking function, you should
be prepared with an agenda that includes things you can give
(information, contacts), things you are knowledgeable about,
and things you want to get, which could be quite similar to
the above list.
Introduce yourself using the "Forrest Gump" rule:
"I'm Forrest, Forrest Gump." It really helps build memorability.
Get involved in committee or volunteer work. You'll
often meet like-minded people who will have an opportunity to
see your positive attributes at work.
Include at least a half-dozen recruiters in your
Identify people in your industry who are centers
of influence. They are folks who are widely known and in turn
are well-networked. If you don't know them personally, contact
them and ask for a few minutes of their time, either in person
or by phone. Explain what you are doing and where you want to
go in your career, and solicit their advice.
Nurture and maintain your network. Be proactive
and remember to thank those who lend assistance. Be quick to
respond to those in need.
Best Foot Forward
The following are some quick reminders on dancing your way through
a dazzling interview:
Make a complete list of questions you want to
ask, study them, and toss them away. These should range from
macro questions about the industry to very specific questions
regarding the position itself. Specifics might include how success
will be measured for the position, what is the most important
task that should be accomplished in the first 90 days, what
happened to the last person in the job, etc.
Be prepared to relate real-life work accomplishments
to the opportunity. You need to be able to tell several engaging
stories of success with projects, work-team accomplishments,
etc., in a concise (fewer than 5 minutes), professional manner.
Be yourself in the interview, and neither party
should make a mistake.
Expect unexpected questions. These can include:
How do you handle someone at work who doesn't care for you?
What did you hope to get out of your previous job that you didn't?
What did you learn from your last work-related failure? Here
the objective is to not appear easily rattled. Pause, take time
with your answer, and by all means keep it as brief as possible.
Don't talk too much. In a first interview you
should spend nearly two-thirds of the time listening. Keep answers
in the 2-minute range.
Be prepared for follow-up questions. If, for example,
you talk about reducing the turnaround time for information
requests, be prepared to tell how this was accomplished.
Don't let the interviewer think you're unprepared.
This applies to your knowledge of the industry and the company
you're applying to, as well as your ability to discuss achievements.
Don't be perceived as either arrogant or someone
who rarely shares credit.
Don't ask upfront about compensation.
Waiting for Godot
Keep in mind that the most common result after an interview
is hearing nothing. As appalling as this is, it is more prevalent
today than when companies felt a need to compete for talent. The
good news is that if you're an information professional, you're
in a good space.
In the July 14, 2002, "At Work" section of the San Francisco
Chronicle, the median age of a librarian is noted as 47one
of the highest of any occupation. Nearly 58 percent of professional
librarians will reach age 65 between 2005 and 2019. And as Peter
Drucker declared in his book Post-Capitalist Society, "The
basic economic resourcethe means of productionis no
longer natural resources nor labor. It is and will be knowledge."
Richard Ream, formerly of Dialog, is the managing partner
of RMC Associates. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.