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Making an Impression: Is Common Career Advice Outdated?
Welcome to Part II in my series which asks whether or not common hiring practices and career advice has become outdated. I've been out of work for quite a while now, and while I can't claim to have an insider's opinion on what works and what doesn't, I have noticed serious flaws with the process. Since many people haven't seen the conflicts inherent in using 1970s career advice in the age of the internet, my goal in these articles is to get people talking. It's important to ask these questions and determine where we need reform in the system.
In my last article, I covered resumes, which have long been a staple of the hiring process. Today I'll deal with something that every career adviser tells you is absolutely vital; making an impression. I'll admit how generic this topic can be. But I can't tell you how much trouble I've had with networking, or how useless it feels to conduct a follow-up phone call, or even how much I question dressing up for interviews.
As the hiring trends move further and further from merit of the applicants and focuses increasingly on superficial whims of hiring managers, these are things that need to be brought to light.
Applying and Following Up In-Person
It's a widely believed fact that people who do the legwork to submit applications in-person make a better impression on their employers. Always be sure to dress up nicely when doing so, and be polite. Pick up and drop off your applications personally, and always ask to see the hiring manager.
For clarification, I'm not saying this isn't a good idea. I'm asking whether or not it makes a difference.
Let's start at the top. Going door-to-door in job searching is still recommended as the best way to get a job. Except that most companies have websites, and many of those that do will have online application processes. So half the time, you'll just get referred to their website. Yes, there are plenty of small employers who don't have the budget/need for a complex website application, but a lot of those will still post openings and list contact information. Personally, I have never found that online applications place me at a disadvantage to applying in-person. In fact, most employers seem to prefer that.
I'll take it one step further. I went to a job fair last week. Not one person so much asked me for my name, but all of them said, "Go look at our website."
But can't I still talk to the manager?
Chances are the manager won't be the one handing out or accepting applications, but you can always ask to speak with them. There's even a chance they'll be there. There's even a chance they won't be ticked off at you for interrupting whatever they were doing at the time.
Don't let me make you paranoid; I don't presume to think everyone operates under that philosophy, but I have read enough websites to know there is a substantial number of employers who disdain the common practice of what they call "attention-seeking." And the problem is, you don't know who they are.
And even if they're one of the (presumably) majority of HR people who accepts this as the norm, I really haven't noticed that speaking with them in-person has any real advantage. I've done this several times to no avail. I dropped off an application at Barnes and Noble, introducing myself to the manager, but I never heard from them again. He seemed more interested in whether or not I had retail experience (apparently a masters degree in publishing doesn't mean I know anything about selling books), which he could have easily learned from my application.
As mentioned in my article on resumes, HR people are bogged down by the sheer number of applications they receive, so they're looking for every excuse possible to eliminate applicants, not hire them. And this leaves the in-person things in a gray area, because you don't know if the employer is using in-person meetings to eliminate applicants. Compounding this uncertainty, you don't know if they're eliminating people who don't speak to them in person or the people who do.
Well, isn't Networking a good idea?
So I'm told. God knows I'd love it if someone just decided to give me a job on the basis of knowing who I am. But there are issues with that as well.
For starters, I'll admit I'm no good at networking. I live in a relatively small city. I don't socialize well, and I feel very awkward about asking people for favors. But even so, I've always felt this feels exploitative. Honestly, what are the chances that any given person is going to an employer looking to hire someone in their field? "Networking" has the ring of seeking out friends with ulterior motives. And in my experience, it doesn't work. I've actually made connections to people in a position where they could hire me. I've found I can separate people into two groups:
1. People who would hire me, but can't.
2. People who could hire me, but won't.
I do, actually, know a guy who's the chair of the search committee hiring English instructors. I have three years as an English instructor! This guy was good friends with my Uncle when he was an English instructor!
That's networking. But I get the same canned response I get from everyone. "Go to the website." For two years straight, I've been denied interviews. Maybe networking works for super-social, charismatic people, but we need to ask do hiring managers really make decisions based on who they know anymore?
Why not do informational interviews?
So I have to admit I've never done an informational interview, but the way it's been described to me is the ultimate in egg-basket consolidation. It seems as though it combines all the worst aspects of applying in-person, volunteering, and networking into one large waste of time.
1. Spend all your time focusing on one organization without getting paid.
2. Bother people for information that only serves to show them you want attention.
3. Get to know people who aren't hiring on the hopes that one day they will be hiring and give you a job merely because they know you.
Sorry guys. It doesn't sound like a safe tactic. I've heard statistics saying job seekers have to send out a phenomenal amount of resumes to places they're perfectly qualified for before they'll even get considered for an interview. Why take that chance on one company?
Wait, what's wrong with volunteering?
Long assumed to "look good on your resume," and "lead to networking" and "paid positions with the company," volunteering is the biggest joke in the job market today. It's hard to get volunteers. No one wants to work for free. However, put up a paid position and you'll get resumes up the wazoo.
Look at this from the point of view of an employer; who's going to be easier to replace, and who do you want to keep doing the same job until they die? Free labor is free labor. They're not going to give up a good thing.
But surely there's nothing wrong with a follow-up phone call?
Meh. Like applying in-person, it could be used against you, whether you do it or not.
But most importantly, out of all the follow-up phone calls I've made, only once did I find myself talking to someone who was actually responsible for making a decision. (I didn't get the interview) Most of the time, the contact person listed is a lower-level HR person responsible for advertising the job. It really doesn't seem to make a difference.
While I suspect all this advice is outdated, I think job seekers are shoved into the unfortunate position of having to do this all anyway. It's been my experience that none of this will give you the edge on the competition that job councilors say it will. However, by doing everything absolutely perfectly, you might not screw up your chances for getting hired, and the question remains, what can you do to make a good impression?
More to come later.