What does an employer look for?
I was explaining to a colleague how I was looking for the perfect assignment when he asked, quite sincerely, “are you employable? If you were to look for a permanent job within an organization today, would you be employable? “
Having been successful as an independent management consultant for over 20 years, I was at first shocked but I realized I could not truthfully answer that question. I needed to ask myself, what I would need to give up in order to work for someone else. Why should I?
“Close your eyes and visualize yourself going to work everyday. See yourself in the rush-hour commute. Picture yourself at the same desk working with the same people day after day. Do you see this move as a new chapter in your life’s novel or do you see this as a personal failure? “
This was how Cindy Gordon described her thought process when considering a move back into the corporate world. (“How do I find a job after 20 years of self-employment?” Globe and Mail February 8, 2012)
Which leads me to thinking of those who find themselves in transition from time to time. And most of us have been there at least once. We assume we will find that perfect job because we have the skills, experience, education and network. But that is not always the case, is it? Is settling for second or third best our only choice? Unfortunately family commitments and mortgages can force us into positions we can bear but do not relish.
I do believe we have some control over choosing our careers or jobs even if there are extenuating circumstances interfering with our search for that perfect one. The first is ourselves and the second is the dreaded interview. And since we have some control over the former, let us start there.
Taking Stock of Your Credentials Yes No
You have a relevant academic degree. ___ ___
You have a masters level diploma. ___ ___
You have at least 10 years of career success. ___ ___
You have had positive performance evaluations. ___ ___
You have been diligent in your professional development. ___ ___
You have professional credentials. ___ ___
You have received presentation training. ___ ___
It currently is taking more than 6 months to find the right job. ___ ___
It currently is taking more than 12 months to find the right job. ___ ___
You have taken advantage of transition counselling. ___ ___
You are still looking for the right job fit. ___ ___
If you answered “yes” to 6 or more statements above, you might be currently unemployable.
Yes, you have worked hard to achieve those credentials, skills and knowledge and to build that network. That should count for something. Yes, you should be employed by the best company because you meet their listed requirements. No, it is not fair that you are currently unemployed. After all, a job is your birthright. Well, actually that would depend on whether your family owns the company!
Today, professional transition counselling can assist you in understanding your strengths and competencies, and prepare you for interviews. Career planning books and specialized webinars are also available in plenty to read and participate in, if you have not already done so. Look around. It is not all doom and gloom. Companies are still growing and producing and competing and baby boomers will need to retire at some point, even if their bank accounts force them to stay a little longer in the workforce than originally anticipated. Yes your ideal job is out there, just waiting for you to come along.
So why does it elude you after so many months? Why are you not the right person for that employer? You already know based on the first exercise, that you are educated, experienced, and presentable. (If not, return to Exercise 1 and identify what you are potentially missing.)
What else do you need? Here is another exercise for you to complete.
How quickly can you accurately complete the following?
If you hesitated in answering these questions, or the answers contradict what you thought you wanted or who you were, perhaps you need to rethink what it is you are actually seeking.
On the other hand, if you can answer these four questions honestly and without hesitation, you have indeed reflected upon your needs, your impact on others and your ideal workplace. If as an employer, you would definitely hire yourself, because the gap between you and your ideal is minimal, then count your blessings before moving on.
Count Your Blessings
- You have the education to do the job with your eyes closed.
- You have a successful track record to show employers.
- You have competencies and abilities to impress any employer.
- You can provide stellar references.
- You have been networking with all the right people and made many new friends, personally and professionally.
- You have continued your professional development.
- You have energy and motivation to contribute to the organization.
- You are articulate verbally and in writing and know how to present yourself appropriately
- You are not afraid to be yourself.
Now we come to the second extenuating circumstance. The dreaded interview. As job seekers we have no control over the workplace cultures or job specifications for which we interview, in spite of the research we conduct on organizations prior to that meeting. All the education in the world and the credentials and experience we gain may not in fact provide us with that one basic reality: the importance of initial job-person fit . This has more to do with first impressions, interpersonal dynamics and power politics than job descriptions, decision-making hierarchies and benefits packages. Which brings us back to the first question: In the eyes of the employer, are you employable? And, how do you prepare for the job interview?
Read this typical interview scenario and choose the most likely way you would respond.
The interviewer is sitting at the table reviewing and taking notes, referring to your credentials and experience, assessing how you respond and present yourself when being asked questions. You answer their questions but as the interview goes on, you realize you have no idea whether or not it will result in your favour. You really would love this job so you decide to:
a. Ask a question for every question they ask to demonstrate interest in the job and company.
b. Continue answering their questions and hope you impress them with your knowledge and experience.
c. Look for the right opportunity to start asking them questions to get the answers you need to make a decision.
d. Demonstrate your interest in becoming part of the organization by taking over the interview and describing how you would handle the job if hired.
e. Read their body language and communication style and adjust yours accordingly , and ask good questions only when it is your turn to do so.
Which approach gets you the job?
If you chose:
a. You believe in sharing control when necessary, to your advantage.
b. You are most comfortable being cooperative and patient with those in power.
c. You are empathetic and intuitive, not threatened by power games and with a healthy self-confidence.
d. You thrive in a power position, no matter what the situation.
e. You are collaborative and persuasive and easily adjust to diverse situations and different personalities.
The truth is there is no correct answer. The right approach depends on what the company is looking for. If they are risk averse and perceive you as someone who is cautious and comfortable with taking direction, then choosing Option “B” is the correct response. If on the other hand, they are looking for that “take charge” someone who is unafraid to act now and ask for forgiveness later, you would want to be comfortable with Option “D”. The operative word is”comfortable”. “To thine own self be true” as the saying goes.
So how do we become employable? In the end, there is no magic and no conspiracy.
It is a combination of attitude, preparation, and self-reflection.
- Count your blessings: No one likes a long face and a whiner so get rid of that doomsday outlook.
- Take time to get to really know yourself: your comfort zone, your ability to stretch outside of that zone and how others perceive and appreciate you.
- Articulate on paper or screen, your ideal job in all its elements: operations, tactics and strategy
- Research your ideal company, from structure and stability to pace, personality and reward systems. For example, if they reward cautious decision-making, your love of pushing the envelope will be a tough sell.
- Above all, be yourself. It is tough to keep the façade going and eventually the stress will wear you down and out.
Everyone is employable. But finding the ideal job is the toughest job of all.