Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 11 December 2002
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Hiring Line
A Wild Roller Coaster Ride
To survive turbulent times in the job market, you have to do your homework
by Richard Ream

This 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 turning—the economy dipping, dropping, and looping—ultimately 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 thumb—1 month of job search for each $10,000 of salary earned—no 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 yes—alas—your age.

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 journey.

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 skills.

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 it?

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 network.

• 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 47—one 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 resource—the means of production—is 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 rich.ream@rmcassoc.com.

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