Both here and on the Dice Discussion Boards are filled with comments from people who can’t find work. At the same time, companies claim a dearth of talent and recruiters have trouble filling positions. Kind of a disconnect, don’t you think?
To figure out what’s behind it, I spoke with several recruiters. Part of the situation, they say, stems from their clients having to contend with certain common elements, while candidate brings individual circumstances to the table.
For one thing, the slack economy and transitions within IT have created a double-edged sword. Megan Slabinksy, District President of Robert Half Technology for the U.S. West Coast and Western Canada, sees some companies requiring too much of prospective applicants. “They’re asking for people with multiple skill sets, who are also highly specialized in one area,” she says. “Companies often have an employee, who over the years filled many roles and moved on. Instead of creating a job description based on need, companies create a job description based on that employee. We may have qualified applicants but the hiring manager will see that skill set, honed over years, as non-negotiable.”
Terri Davis, Director of Client Services at Decision Toolbox’s Dallas office, adds another rub: Some clients “aren’t willing to wait for a good candidate to meet the learning curve on new tech.” That’s a byproduct of the industry’s climate — cautious growth — so excellent candidates are passed over, even if there’s ample evidence they could quickly acquire new skills.
“Candidates can’t fix the hiring managers, who are very picky right now,” adds JR Fent, managing partner at JR Fent Los Angeles. But, he says, while managers are looking for candidates who are spot on, “there are still ways to break in.”
And what are those ways, please?
First, move your job search away from the computer and invest considerable time to networking in-person. That means going to professional gatherings, joining groups and yes, going to lunch. All of these things will raise your profile. It’s not that someone in your network will hire you a week after meeting you. It’s that someone will connect you with a manager who has a position to fill.
Next: You may hate this term, but you’re your own best branding opportunity. Slabinsky and Davis advise candidates to create a carefully articulated “elevator speech” that emphasizes your precise strengths and the kind of position you’re looking for. Then memorize it. You want to be able to use use it at any time.
Then, of course, there’s research. All of the recruiters I spoke to bemoaned the lack of preparation among many job applicants. Sighing, Davis recounted the numerous phone calls she fielded for a specific listing. Few of the callers had bothered to look at the hiring company’s website.
Finally, pay careful attention to your resume, and be aware of how it’s used. Resumes used to showcase the complexity and diversity of your skills. Today’s should focus on specialization, then demonstrate your breadth of experience. Even with this relatively recent shift, recruiters see many people who don’t want to update their resumes.
Some observations are more personal. For example, some great candidates have terrible interview skills. Fenton recently worked with a job seeker whom he knew had potential. Unfortunately he became antagonistic and blew an interview with the team that had initially wanted him. “He had been in the tech field for years and been at the same job for a long time. His world view was sort of set” says Fenton. “It was an awful conversation to have, but he got it.” The client began participating in practice interviews to smooth his rough edges.
The need for strong communication skills is also a common theme. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from here, or anywhere else in the world, you have to be able to interact and speak properly and a lot of people don’t,” Davis observes. “Your answers to questions, whether they are tech or behavioral, should have a beginning, middle and end. You have to be able to communicate effectively in both technical and layman’s terms. Companies are looking for a ‘whole package’ and that includes the ability to mix with some confidence at all levels of an organization.”
Slabinsky coaches job seekers to use, “yes” and “no but…” during interviews. The “yes” is not as simple as it seems. If you want the job, said Slabinsky, “You have to explain what that “yes” experience entailed and how it created a boost for your previous employer.”
The “no but…” can become a way to turn a negative into a positive. Slabinsky, Fenton and Davis all say applicants who don’t have a skill listed in a broad description should highlight a similar experience, describe what they learned, how long it took them to ramp up and what the outcome was. “If you’ve been training or attending XYZ user groups one night a week,” notes Slabinsky, “this will appeal to an employer if you don’t have actual on-the-ground experience.”
A job hunt is stressful and can be demoralizing. Fenton is sympathetic, yet has seen positive change in clients. “Don’t give up,” he said. “Take it as a learning experience. It will get better.”