Throughout the news we can find reports of low unemployment and the availability of lots and lots of jobs. These statistics could lead you to believe that it is really easy to get a great job. In fact, you might believe it is so easy, you should sit back and wait until the right employer with the right opening knocks on your door. Right? No! (How do you think that is working for the people who actually believe it?)
Candidates need to be ahead of the pack and on top of their game.
The media may have the numbers right, but the reality is that for people with average skills seeking mid-level support or managerial roles, across most disciplines (IT, accounting, finance, customer service, administration, distribution, manufacturing), good jobs are highly competitive and not that easy to capture. It seems that the majority of employers have moved away from hiring for “cultural fit” and training employees in the areas they are weak in and now require candidates to have several years of the exact experience referenced, very specific technical skills and the ability to ramp up with little or no support. They are looking for extremely talented, top-notch workers with a track record of producing what it is they are being hired to do — immediately. It means candidates need to be ahead of the pack and on top of their game at all times!
Credentials play a part in this scenario, but they do not supersede the required experience, unless specifically stated that there could be a slight trade-off. Degrees and certifications can end up not amounting to much if your actual employment experience is very limited or unrelated to what you are pursuing. It’s a sad state of affairs when parents spend $60K on their kid’s education assuming a degree is going to land them a great job and the kid also believes that’s all there is to it. It’s even worse when a mature worker believes that getting that credential is all there is to getting the job of their dreams and they can sit back and wait until they are courted by the right employer. Unless the candidates possess some incredibly hard-to-find, in-high-demand skills, they all couldn’t be further from the actual truth.
Employers want the candidates they select to meet their expectations. For that reason, the bar is set high, and when some qualifications are listed as “desired,” you can bet that without an internal referral, they really mean “We want them. End of discussion.” In addition to having the right experience, technical skills and credentials, it’s also critical to be able to demonstrate strong time management and communications skills. Employers are going to select the candidate who shows interest, proves they can do the job and is able get along with everyone. Without the soft skills, being smarter, more educated or cuter than everyone else doesn’t necessarily lead to a job offer.
The interest or enthusiasm you exhibit, or lack thereof, can be game changing. Responsiveness demonstrates interest. And frankly, your urgency in starting the ball rolling is all you can control. Failure to light a fire under your own butt has repercussions. If you are contacted directly by an employer and you have a strong interest in the job, it behooves you to respond ASAP. Failure to respond at all, or responding days later, gives the impression that you are disinterested or simply lazy. Yes, you may be busy. Who isn’t? How badly do you want the job? An important caveat: That doesn’t mean you need to answer the call you hadn’t expected the minute the phone rings, nor does it mean you respond to an email without first carefully considering your answer and how it will be received.
Employers are usually anxious to fill their open positions. They may have posted job announcements for the same position on a half dozen job boards. Within minutes they may receive hundreds of responses. If you wait weeks or even days to respond, you may be following 20–40 strong candidates who have already been selected. There is no reason for the employer to continue “shopping,” despite your stellar credentials. Using only a passive search (waiting for someone to find your resume online or responding long past the job’s post date) vs. an active search (reaching out to talk toemployees of the specific company you are pursuing, long in advance of a position being posted) and delaying your response often turns into a missed opportunity. When you wait until the last minute to apply for a job (with a posted deadline or not), you could find yourself a day late and a dollar short when you discover that the position has closed or is no longer posted. Or, a day late and $85K short if that is what you had hoped to earn in that position.
There is nothing at all wrong with appearing confident and presenting your value when communicating with a potential employer. But bragging, expecting them to come to you or assuming you won’t have to discuss your accomplishments in detail isn’t going to lead to an offer. The employer may initially be drawn to your credentials and assume your degrees and awards have made you valuable, but it’s up to you to make it clear how you actually meet their needs. Make sure your resume speaks to the position vs. overshooting it. Relying solely on your credentials can take you down a dead-end street during an interview. Responding quickly and clearly, focusing on what they need and how you fill that need, and using specific examples of similar work will allow you to prevail. Hanging around waiting for them to discover your fabulousness probably won’t.