Some people are just naturally good at job-hunting, or changing careers.
It's no mystery why. As Howard Figler points out in his book, The Complete Job-Search Handbook, the job-hunt requires four families of skills: skills at selling themselves, communication skills, self-assessment skills, and detective skills. Now, since some people have jobs that demand those very same skills, if they are good at their job, they will be good at job-hunting. Same skills required, in both places.
Natural-born job-hunters have a head start on the rest of us; but of course, the rest of us can always learn those skills – selling, communication, self-assessment, and detective work – that those others already possess.
If you aren't a natural-born job-hunter (or career-changer) in the beginning, you can sure learn how to be. The tools are at hand. All you need is the determination to master them!
How do you begin? You can begin to learn selling yourself skills from such articles as http://www.wikihow.com/Sell-Yourself-in-Any-Job-Interview
You can begin to learn communication skills from such articles as http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/CommunicationIntro.htm, or
And there you have it.
Now, some additional thoughts I'd like to share about that last group—detective skills..
I always thought it fascinating that my original mentor in this field, John C. Crystal, was a major in economics (from Columbia University) and a former American spy, who operated behind enemy lines in Italy during the second World War. His job was intelligence; to find out as much as he could. I found it interesting that, as an expert in the job-hunt, he not only had great knowledge of economics (which one would expect) but also detective skills. That. upon reflection, started to make a lot of sense to me.
Let me explain.
If the job you are applying for involves delivering packages, or working in gardens, you probably won't need detective skills very much, at least to get hired. But if the job is more complex, or the organization is, they will hire you because they not only believe you are capable, but more specifically because they believe you can help them solve one of the problems they were wrestling with, before you ever walked in the door.
Therefore, and especially where you are competing with nineteen other equally qualified candidates, you will want to have some idea of what that organization's problems, challenges, needs, etc. are, before you go in there for an interview with that all-important person (there) —: the person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you-for-the-job-you-are-interested-in. That may take some detective work. If you have detective skills, you will be way ahead of the bunch. Bingo!
So, here are a couple of thoughts, about using those skills. When job-hunting for complex jobs in complex organizations.
1. In most cases, your task in the interview is not that of educating your prospective employer about a problem they didn't know they had; rather it involves your finding out what need or challenge or problem they are already well-aware of. And bothered by.
Your job is more akin to mind-reading —their minds — than it is to educating them. Sure, if you're real good at finding out stuff, you may have uncovered – during your research – some problem that the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you is absolutely unaware of. For example, in your research you may have uncovered the fact that, "Gosh, this firm has a huge public relations problem; I'll have to show them that I could put together a whole crash P.R. program."
That's the problem that you think the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you ought to be concerned about. And you may be convinced that this problem is so crucial that for you even to mention it will instantly win you their undying gratitude.
Maybe. But don't bet on it. My files are filled with sad testimonies like the following:
"I met with the VP, Marketing, in a major local bank, on the recommendation of an officer, and discussed with him a program I devised to reach the female segment of his market, which would not require any new services, except education, enlightenment, and encouragement. His comment at the end of the discussion was that the bank president had been after him for three years to develop a program for women, and he wasn't about to do it because the only reason, in his mind, for the president's request was reputation enhancement on the president's part ... "
Interoffice politics, as in this case, or other considerations may prevent your prospective employer from being at all receptive to Your Bright Idea.. Your detective work has got to be devoted rather to finding out what already has motivated them to decide to hire someone for the position you are interested in. What problem is bugging them so much that they decided they need help.2. Your detective skills don't need to discover the huge overarching problem that organization is wrestling with. That's probably beyond the scope of one man or one woman. You only need to discover the problem or problems that are bugging this person who has the ultimate power to decide whether to hire you or not.
Conscientious job-hunters always bite off more than they can chew. If they're going to try for a job at the Telephone Company, or IBM or the Federal Government or General Motors or – like that – they assume they've got to find out the problems facing that whole organization. Forget it! Your task, fortunately, is much more manageable. Find out what problems are bugging, bothering, concerning, perplexing, gnawing at, the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you. This assumes, of course, that you have first identified who that person is. Once you have identified her, or him, find out everything you can about them. The directories will help. So will the clippings, at your local library. So will any speeches they have given (ask their organization for copies, of same). If it's a committee of sorts that actually has the responsibility (and therefore the power) to hire you, you will need to figure out who that one individual is (or two) who sways the others. You know, the one whose judgment the others respect. How do you find that out? By using your contacts, of course. Someone will know someone who knows that whole committee, and can tell you who their real leader is. It's not necessarily the one who got elected as Chairperson.
Often what's bothering this person is the day-to-day friction he or she had with the people they had (or have) to work with. If the job you are aiming at was previously filled by someone (i.e., the one who, if you get hired, will be referred to as "your predecessor"), the problems that are bothering the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you may be uncovered simply by finding out through your contacts what bugged your prospective boss about your predecessor.
"They were never to work on time, took long lunch breaks, and were out sick too often"; OR
"They were good at typing, but had lousy skills over the telephone"; OR
"They handled older people well, but just couldn't relate to the young"; OR
"I never could get them to keep me informed about what they were doing"; etc.
Sometimes, it's as simple as that. You may think they should be bothered by much larger issues. But, in actual fact, what they may be mainly concerned about is whether (unlike your predecessor) you're going to get to work on time, take assigned lunch breaks, and not be out sick too often. Don't overlook the Small, Simple, and Obvious Problems which bug almost every employer. Then demonstrate, in every way you can, that you are one who is free of those kinds of problems or knows how to solve those kinds of problems.
By the way, most of the-people-who-have-the-power-to-hire-you for the position you want, do not like the word "problems." It reminds them that they are mortal, have hang-ups, haven't solved something yet, or that they overlooked something, etc. "Smartass" is the street-word normally reserved for someone who comes in and shows them up. (This isn't true of every employer or manager, but it's true of altogether too many.) Since you're trying to use their language, you should probably speak of "an area you probably are planning to move into" or "a concern of yours" or "a challenge currently facing you" or anything except: "By the way, I've uncovered a problem you have." Use the word problems in your own head, but don't blurt it out during the interview with your prospective employer, unless you hear them use it first.
Postscript: In the interview, your job is to express your skills, experience, and knowledge, in terms of the problems they are bugged by. That is, if you want to be the one person being interviewed there, who stands out from all the rest.
A reader writes: "I'm 42, and have lots of great references from my previous work experiences. But last month for the first time in my life I got fired, and without warning, after being at my new job for just five months. Now, of course, I'm job-hunting, and at one of the interviews last week this prospective employer absolutely grilled me about why I left my previous employment. It was very uncomfortable for me. I'd appreciate some guidance about how to deal with this in future job interviews, what to say, and more importantly what not to say."
In this day and age, one is very lucky indeed if one can get to the age of 42 without having been fired. In a typical group of people, you may find as many as two thirds have been fired at sometime in their lives. Fired, or "laid off," or "terminated," or "made redundant" or any of the other lovely euphemisms our culture has invented. Sometimes, of course, it is "for cause," but more often than not you are simply caught up in the inevitable turmoil of the so-called job-market: companies growing, companies contracting, good management, mismanagement, companies undergoing life pains, companies undergoing death pains.
Of course, dealing with this in the next job interviews is not always easy, but here are some guidelines that may help.
Begin with yourself.
Informal surveys reveal that about 82.5 percent of those who are fired are angry about it (the rest are just relieved). But if you walk into your next job interview with that cloud of anger hanging over you, most employers will detect it. It's as obvious as stale cigarette smoke clinging to a suit. So, before going out on a job interview you must put that anger to bed. The only rule is: get rid of it through words, not through actions. Talking out the events and your feelings in great detail with your partner, a good friend, or a career counselor, can often work wonders. So, get it all out of your system. Then, set your face resolutely toward the future, rather than toward the past.
Turn to others who have been fired.
Often your friends and acquaintances are an untapped gold mine of helpful ideas about how to deal with this in a job interview. Search among your Links on LinkedIn, or your friends on Facebook. Also email any other friends you have. Just gently tell them you've been fired, and wonder if they know of anyone who has been. (You're really hoping they will volunteer that they have been. Surprise! You'll be amazed at what you don't know about some of your friends. When you find a friend who has been through this, who then successfully found another job thereafter, ask them how they dealt with their firing in their subsequent job interviews. To guard against one person's kooky advice, get the advice of at least three such friends, before you formulate your own strategy.
Remember "first impressions are lasting."
Don't let the first thing you blurt out in a job-interview be: "I was fired at my last job," If you thought that was the most important thing about you, then so will the employer. No, the first thing you should blurt out are your skills, your experience, and your enthusiasm for this company where you are interviewing. (It helps, more than a little, if you have done some research on that company, at the library, on the Internet, among your friends, before walking in there.) Save discussion of your previous job, and the manner in which you left it, for later in the interview, after the employer has shown some interest in actually hiring you. (Until then, your previous job history is absolutely irrelevant.)
On the other hand, don't let the interview end without volunteering that you were "let go" at this previous job if it wasn't part of a general downsizing.
If the employer has demonstrated a keen interest in hiring you, then (and only then) volunteer this kind of information: "I think you should know that I was let go at my previous job. There's not much to say about it. I usually get along extremely well with my bosses; but in this case, we just didn't. Human chemistry, I suppose. I'm sadder and wiser for the experience." Say no more. Let it go at that.
Remember, at every job interview the employer is on trial as much as you are.
The purpose of a job interview is twofold: the employer decides if they want you, you decide if you want them. If an employer is obsessed with the subject of your firing, you're probably won't find this a comfortable place for you to do your best. Go on with your search. You can find a place where the job interviewer treats you with respect in the interview, and thinks the most important thing about you is your future, not your past.