Nov 05 2006

The Dance of Getting the Job

Published by at 3:00 pm under Uncategorized

We all have professional skills.  However when you’ve been ‘downsized’ a skill you tend to lack is what to do when a prospective employer likes your resume.  It’s a lot like a dance.  Done well, it’s beautiful.  If you don’t know the steps however, you tend to step on a lot of toes.  Here are some pointers.

OK.  You’ve been downsized, declared ‘redundant’ or any of a dozen names meaning you’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed.  You’re collecting unemployment, have your COBRA insurance in place, and are living off your assets and your separation check.  You’ve literally spammed everyone who could possibly hire you with e-mails and letters.  You’ve posted your resume on the Internet and hooked up with the professional headhunters.  Each day the list expands but you know deep down, you will be employed if you keep trying.

After what seems like a zillion tries a company e-mails you with some interest.  Now the ‘employment’ dance changes from looking for a job to trying to get the job.  With the advent of the internet the new hiring process follows a choreographed series of steps.

1. You e-mail a resume.  Hopefully it is clear, concise, has no spelling errors in it, and it is no longer than two pages.  HR will now seriously look at it, match it to the job you want, pass it along to the person who has the job vacancy and then get back to you if there is interest.  You’ll get an e-mail, letter or telephone call asking for a convenient time to set up a telephone interview.

2.  You will first go through a telephone interview with HR.  Be upbeat and positive.  Nobody wants to hire someone who is bitter at an old employer or desperate for any job with a paycheck.  Don’t lie when asked anything no matter how illegal it is. But, being ignorant is an excellent ploy.  Federal Statutes say your previous employer can only state the dates that you worked there and your last position.  They can’t say what you were paid or the reason you left.  This is why the “To whom it may concern” letter of recommendation from a prior boss is important. A company assumes a significant level of liability when recommending or giving an unfavorable (but perhaps true) accounting of you.

You will always be asked how to contact your previous boss.  If you’d rather they didn’t contact him/her, tell them the name but ‘for all you know’ they too are no longer with the company.  The generic excuse is always you were caught in the same Reduction In Force as your co-workers and your immediate supervisor.  With a high degree of truth you can say you’ve lost touch with your ex-coworkers because they are looking for jobs just like you.

During the HR interview don’t discuss your pay – either previous or what you expect.  If pressed tell them is was competitive on a national pay scale adjusted for the area you currently live in – Living in California has a high cost of living when compared to rural Kentucky.  You can have a better standard of living when in Kentucky being paid on a California pay scale.  If they politely demand your previous pay see #5 before answering.

3. Assuming you passed the telephone screening with HR; you’ll probably then have another telephone interview with your potential boss.  Again be upbeat and positive.  Your emphasis should be that you can ‘get the job done’; you are a ‘team player’, and you’re ‘eager to learn’ the additional skills necessary for this particular job.

The purpose of this telephone call has nothing to do with your skills.  The very fact that you’ve made the initial acceptance and the HR interview says your technical skills reasonably match their requirements.  This telephone interview and whatever face to face interviews you have later are all about fitting in to the “Company Family”.  While our ideals say contribution to the company should be rewarded and butt kissing punished, that isn’t how it works.  You must play along to get along.

4. Assuming the phone interview goes well you’ll be invited for a face to face interview.  Dress appropriately for the job.  It is better to show up in a suit than jeans and T-shirt only to find out everyone else is wearing sport coats and ties.  Listen more than you talk.  You’ll see how the company and the people operate.  Not only are you being assessed on if you’ll fit it, but you need to look at what it will take for you to feel comfortable working there.  Keep in mind you were unemployed when you were invited to the interview and unless they offer you a job on the spot, you’ll still be unemployed when you leave.  If you feel it will be a bad match, politely say “no thanks”.  If all goes well, leave by saying you really enjoyed meeting everyone and look forward to working there.

During your interview n if you notice something dramatically wrong in your potential employer’s facility or processes that you could easily correct, don’t criticize or mention it.  As previously stated this is all about fitting in.  Pointing out defects or (after you’re hired) complaining why your improvements haven’t been implemented; show you don’t fit in.

Don’t let the interview turn into a consulting session unless you’re a consultant.  If you get the sense this more about picking your brain than about hiring you; they’ll take the information you gave them and use it. They won’t offer you the job because you already solved their problem for them. Shut up and listen. Respond with only enough information to make them want more after you’ve been hired.

5.  As stated above; you may be asked your salary requirements either point blank or subtly.  Before you go into the interview look up the salary range for the position you are applying for on the Internet.  Many sites adjust salaries by geographic area, they also adjust the range for the years experience you’ll bring to the job.

Don’t price yourself out of the market but don’t fall for the song and dance of “We’ll start you out at a ‘beginner’s’ salary then in time you can improve your salary”.  Unless you are doing commission sales, what they are really telling you is they underpay and you’ll never get a raise.  Let them offer you a number – it will always be low.  If it is ridiculously low, decline it.  If it is within the range you pulled off the internet, they probably won’t budge.  If you think they have room to negotiate (read: they are a big corporation) tell them you’ll consider the job if it is with the range that they can look up.

6.  Relocation: Wait until they offer you the job before you even discuss relocation.  If they offer it to you, make your acceptance contingent on them flying you and your spouse out for a weekend so that you can look at housing and the area you’ll be living in.  If your spouse doesn’t like the area or what is perceived as the environment, you’ll end up with a job next month and a divorce next year.  Ugly.  If you do find the area with all the amenities you feel you need – schools, churches, shopping, entertainment etc. it is now time to ask about relocation.  Even a 50 mile move involves packing up your house or an apartment for a family of four, putting your house on the market or breaking the lease, putting your stuff in storage,  and finding another place to live etc. Depending on the volume of stuff you have this will cost a minimum of $7,000.

If you’re a homeowner you also have to factor in how long it will take to sell your house.  There is a reasonable distance between when you should relocate compared to a commute.  The IRS has this definition. If your employer says you are ‘so close’ they won’t pay for relocation (but you know it is going to be a 50+ mile commute one way each day), decline the job, unless you like burning through a car each year and working a minimum of 11 hour days.  If you’re told ‘it is company policy not to pay relocation’ what they’re telling you is that they don’t feel the extra expense they must incur in the relocation is worth the talent they hire.  It is silly and foolish to ‘buy’ your way into a job by paying your own relocation costs even if most of your costs are tax deductible.  If they won’t pay relocation (and therefore don’t want to take their own corporate tax deduction or they don’t have the cash to pay for the move), decline the job offer.

7. Benefits:  Make sure you understand the company’s policy on insurance – how long it takes to qualify etc. If they do profit sharing, when do you get into the profit sharing pool?  Is there an overtime pay policy or a ‘comp time off’ in lieu of overtime?  When do you qualify and how long are the vacations.  If they work 24/7 ask what happens on Christmas etc.  You may find yourself at the job when you should be playing Santa with your kids.  When you take the job you’ve got to take the whole package.  Since this will always affect your family, have a big discussion about it before you pack your bags.

MAKING THE ULTIMATE DECISION

Accepting a new job is a risk for you and your employer.  Like what it takes to make a Ham and Eggs Breakfast.  Your employer is the Chicken who makes a contribution with a relative low risk.  You however, are the Pig who must make a major life changing commitment.

I was hired once as a production manager where my specific assignment was to turn a molding department around from a money losing operation to one that was independently profitable in a space of six months.  If I succeeded, I’d get a rather substantial bonus.  With a lot of work and sweat I accomplished it in a little over five months and got the bonus.  Immediately the owner sold the company and fired all the managers.  My real assignment was to make the balance sheet look good so that the owner could sell the company at a higher price.  Sometimes your commitment gets rewarded in strange ways.  The lesson here is before you accept a job try to get a sense of the financial/business health of the company. Here are some indicators that should weigh in on your decision to accept/decline the position:

1.  If the Corporate HQ also has off shore divisions making the same product; your last job might be to transfer the work to the Far East before you pack your desk. Similarly, if they are in a market sector that has a history of relocating products off shore, you might only be putting your finger in a dyke that will break a few months from now.

2.  If several people have quit or were terminated in the position you are interviewing for, this shows there was some serious guerrilla warfare going on that might still be active.  Before you decide consider if you are being recruited to fight on one side or the other: or simply as an employee.

3.  It might be worth stopping into a local bank and see who you prospective employer does business with.  Ask about the financial shape of the company.  Sometimes you’ll be told it’s confidential but other times they’ll tell you the truth.  If they are hiring you because they are close to defaulting on a major loan and you’re the White Knight; it’s risky.

Whatever your decision is there is no such thing as change for the worse. There is however, pain of transition. When you can finally look back at your decisions and actions you’ll see you always came out wiser.

As with all my articles, if this helps please use it.  If it won’t help, ignore it. Or print it out, shred it, and mix it in with the kitty litter to save a few pennies.

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