Is Job Search “Trick or Treating” Hurting Your Chances?

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How often do candidates treat their job search like it’s Halloween?

Do you dress up your resume to appear like you are someone other than you?

Not only is it unethical, it’s impractical. It wastes the employers’ time, but even worse…IT WASTES YOUR TIME as a candidate. Take your kids Trick or Treating, there’s a more effective way for you to stand out.

I can’t begin to count the number of times a candidate has asked me if they should hide their age, change their experience, or try to adopt a different personality, so they can appear to be someone other than themselves. To make it worse, many recruiters either turn a blind eye, or actually encourage this.

It wastes your time because hiring managers aren’t stupid. They read many resumes after they are pre-screened by HR staff & recruiters that read thousands of resumes. So whatever trick you’re trying to pull to mask the truth…they’ve seen it.

The easiest example is age. So many candidates blame a poorly thought out job strategy on age – complaining “I’m too old” or “Hiring managers want someone with more experience”. Guess what…it’s not your age. It’s how you’ve branded yourself, the perception you give, the skills you choose to highlight, and how you describe your skills.

It’s so easy to play the age game, pass the blame to your grey hair, and devise ways to mask your experience. I see it in over half the resumes I look at, and the easiest giveaways are missing dates. Does it take a rocket scientist to realize that if you leave your college graduation dates off your resume, you’re probably hiding your age? Duh!

But what if you get lucky, trick the reader to think you’re interview-worthy, and land the interview? If you’ve given the impression that you’re a hip 30 year old gel-head, what impression will you make when you meet in person, with your thinning grey hair? At best, you’ll make a first impression of disappointment…at worst one of deceit. Either way, at that point, your skills and talents won’t matter - you’ve wasted your time and set yourself up for disappointment.

Why play that game when there’s a better way?

Instead of trying to play Trick or Treat with your resume, why not look for companies that WANT someone like you? There are plenty of companies that want grey hair, and plenty of firms that want younger talent. There are companies that want someone who’s extroverted and others that want a quieter, serious employee. Instead of dressing yourself up for Halloween, look for companies that value someone like you!

OK, How can I find which companies want someone like me?

Information Rules! Talk to your friends who work at target companies…they are your best resource to understand what type of person and what type of personality succeeds within a particular corporate style. Every company has its own unwritten rules, or culture. When employers look at culture, they look for someone who can easily communicate and fit in with 80% of the workforce who have a similar style.

So if everyone at a target company is 40+, been there 20 years, and wears pocket protectors, it might not be a such a good fit for a 26 year old tattooed and pierced woman. If it’s a jeans and t-shirt environment, this company might not be such a good fit for someone who’s experience has been working at a large bank. Or maybe a video game development company with a game room, music room, and weekly happy hours, might not be such a good fit for a guy who looks like Kevin Malone (from The Office). Maybe a guy like Kevin would be happier in a pocket protector environment.

But what if you don’t know anyone at your target company? This is where Linkedin and Facebook can provide such a huge edge. Use your social network to gain introductions to employees at your target companies. But don’t waste the introduction to ask for a job or to pass a resume – there’s a much more valuable use.

Instead, do some espionage. Gain critical information about a company’s culture and style. Ask what type of person succeeds, and what type of person fails within a target company and department. Ask what the hiring manager is like…is she a team player, or a maverick? Ask how does he dresses…casually or formally? Ask about the hiring manager’s communication style…is it open door, or do you have to wait a week to get an appointment?

If you really want some great insight into a company’s style, use guerrilla tactics. Find a nearby bar, and head there at 5:00pm on a Friday. That’s right, use Happy Hour. Talk to a few people, including the bartender, you’ll find people who work for your target company. At a bar, information is so inexpensive...just a round or two of drinks. But think of the wealth of information you can pick up. Plus, you might even get a referral for your offer of drinks. You’ll see how they dress and act, and probably pick up some great scoop.

Armed with all this information, could you figure out if your personality is a likely fit, or if your time is better spent somewhere else? There are so many uses for this information, such as insight as to a company’s challenges and opportunities…so you can show how you’ve already solved these problems and leveraged these same opportunities in your past firm.

When you can clearly demonstrate you’ve already solved an employers’ problems, or maximized the same opportunities…limiters like age, dress, or personality stop being such relevant factors. These are the “20 percent-ers”…the employees whose skills and experiences are so important that fit, culture, and style take a back seat. Now the ball’s in your court to decide if you really want to work at a company where everyone wears pocket protectors, and looks like Kevin.

Instead of trying to trick your prospective employer, doesn’t it seem like a better tactic to treat some employees to a drink – and pick their brains?


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