Monday, December 21, 2009

10 Job-Search Rules to Break This Minute

by: Liz Ryan

Old-school job-search advice is the worst. We read and hear it everywhere, yet no one can trace its source. Who made up the rule that we can't use "I" in a resume, for instance? What's worse is that most traditional job-seeking advice doesn't work.

Here are my top 10 most useless job-search rules to break as soon as you get a chance:

1. Never use "I" in your resume.

We've been taught to write a resume like a stiff government document. No one wants to read something like that. "I" is a perfectly wonderful word to use when you're talking about yourself. An HR person who writes in his resume summary, "I'm passionate about helping employees succeed on the job" is stepping out of the formal protocol to tell an employer, "Here's what kind of HR person I am." That's a big plus, not a minus.

2. Never make it obvious (on LinkedIn, for instance) that you're job-seeking.

Poppycock! If you don't include something in your LinkedIn "headline" (the line just under your name) to tell employers and others that you're looking, they'll assume you're employed and they won't reach out to you. A headline like "Start-up Marketing Manager Seeking Next Challenge" gives people a reason to contact you if they've got a job opening. That's free marketing for you. Grab it!

3. Your cover letter should be conversational, while your resume should be formal.

Who says it has to be this way? Lots of hiring managers skip the cover letter entirely. Your resume has to make it clear what you're about, so it has to brim with as much of the brand You as it possibly can. Ditch the "results-oriented professional" for weightier bullets like, "I got our X-25 product out the door six months early to add $10M in quarterly sales." Write a conversational resume summary statement that's free of boring boilerplate like "strong work ethic."

If you're not stuffy yourself, why portray yourself that way in your resume?

4. If you can reach an HR person inside the company, you're ahead of the game.

I wish this were true, but as a 20-year HR leader I must tell you that most HR people are not focused on screening people in -- their role is to screen job-seekers out. You're better off forgetting about HR and finding the hiring manager in the company, either through your network, your LinkedIn connections, or by researching this person and contacting him or her directly.

5. When you're asked for salary requirements, quote the lowest number you can.

Here is more horrible advice that will get you a low-ball job offer, if you get one at all. When you're asked for a salary requirement, give a realistic figure that takes into account what other companies are paying people (right now, not three years ago) with your skills. If you don't have that information, use and to get a bead on it.

6. In a job interview, talk as much of the time as you can.

Here's why you don't want to do this. When you're talking, you're not learning. Your goal on a job interview is to learn as much as possible about the business pain behind the job ad. The more you learn, the smarter and more targeted your interview responses can be. When you have a chance to ask the interviewer a question, take it!

7. On a job interview, make sure the interviewer knows you're perfect for the job.

You won't know what "perfect for the job" means to a job interviewer unless you ask thoughtful questions and get the interviewer talking. Saying "I'm perfect for the job" is pointless until you understand what problem this new hire is intended to solve. Save the self-praise ("I'm smart and strategic") and use your interview airtime minutes sharing concrete, relevant stories about your accomplishments instead.

8. Ask the interviewer, "Can I have the job?"

This is an old-school sales closing technique that typically doesn't work, but does annoy and even repel job interviewers who have heard this pitch a few million times before. If you're going after a sales job, this approach might work, but the rest of you want to leave with a smile and the confidence that you put your best foot forward. If you're really perfect for the job, then you'll hear from them. Groveling is beneath you.

9. Wait until the job offer is extended before discussing salary.

Don't do this. If you wait this long, you're likely to get a lowball offer that will be difficult to change, and you'll have only yourself to blame. Broach the salary topic at the second interview or in the phone call or email that invites you for a second interview. Make sure you and the employer are in the same ballpark before people start getting the idea that you'd work for peanuts.

10. Only go after jobs that look perfect for you, on paper.

It is nearly impossible to put down everything important about a job in a job requisition. You can't get a job unless you go after it. If you have the background to do a job, apply for it.

A job search is a volume affair. The more interviewing experience you have, the more confident you'll be and the more contacts you'll accumulate. Now get out there!

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