The Job Search
By Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Joblink of Maryland, Inc.
Searching for a job is seldom seen as a positive experience. In fact, it is a dreaded one. However, circumstances arise which make it necessary to embark on this task. People enter the workforce for the first time, seek career growth, have been laid off, or are faced with a questionable future in their current job. Certainly, in today’s uncertain global economy, this presents a whole other set of variables and concerns. The purpose of this essay is to present some attitudinal, social, and practical points as they relate to seeking employment.
The first step is to recognize the reality of the situation and take inventory of your personal and family needs. Significant among these needs are no doubt financial ones that are a part of life. In the case of losing your job, the accompanying loss of income is part of this reality check. Bills need to be paid. Community obligations must be settled. Food must be put on the table. Private school tuitions and mortgages are due each month. The pressure and stress can be enormous. The ultimate task at hand is to change the situation by finding suitable and sufficient employment. Easier said than done.
Another part of this step is to determine what type of job you need. Is the job something that will be short-term in the hopes of finding something better down the line? Is the job viewed as a stepping stone in a career progression? In addition, what are your skills and training? Are they specific or general? Are your skills marketable and/or up-to-date or do you need to get additional training from a college or training institute? The answers to these questions are often complex. No “one size fits all,” and how you resolve this depends on many factors.
The next step is to be on the lookout for suitable opportunities. Unless you are well connected or have some existing prospects, searching for a job will in most cases start with the Internet. There are an infinite number of sites to use, too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that you should have a current resume, electronically developed, at your disposal in order to submit it to jobs that you target.
There are available resources such as community or government organizations which can provide helpful information to broaden your search strategies. Casting a wide net to learn of those vacancies that do exist is important. Networking through professional contacts, friends, relatives, and community members is also helpful in getting the word out that you are looking for a job. One professional networking tool which can prove to be a valuable resource is LinkedIn. It is a way of connecting with people individually, joining relevant groups, and displaying your professional profile.
If you are unemployed and are serious about your job search, it is something which must be viewed as a full-time job. It cannot be approached casually, only attending to the task when you get a chance. While there might be other responsibilities, family and personal, you need to put in the time and effort in order to “be in the game”. This involves networking through friends and (former) colleagues. It is crucial that you take personal ownership of the process and don’t just leave it to other parties, family, or friends. Once you begin your job search, you must follow-up on leads promptly and professionally.
The job search in today’s economic times can often be frustrating and demoralizing. As more people are let go from their organizations, the competition among highly trained and experienced individuals is fierce, trying to secure the relatively few available positions. Attributes like a thick skin, fortitude and perseverance are crucial. There are situations when you may not get selected or even chosen for an interview, yet you feel that you are a match for the position. The key is not to get too high or too low when pursuing seemingly suitable positions. Often there are factors that are beyond your control that may have gotten in the way of you being considered or hired. In today’s economy, a decision may have been made not to fill the position since the time that it was first posted. So, it is essential to keep everything in perspective.
Seeking out employment opportunities is a balancing act. On one hand, you need to be flexible beyond a limited number of job titles. On the other hand, you must not be “all over the place” and unfocused regarding what you want. If you appear to lack focus and apply for everything and anything (especially within a single organization), it does not convey that you are appropriately selective. Trying to capitalize on your acquired training, education, and experience will not only cast yourself in a targeted light, but will also maximize your earnings potential.
One common pitfall that applies to job seekers is when he/she creates their ideal position (perhaps with a specific employer) and “locks in” on that opportunity to the exclusion of others. The fact is that the desired position might not practically exist, and even if it does, it may not be under the terms that the job seekers finds acceptable (e.g., hours, compensation, working conditions, etc.) Sometimes this focus is based on “inside information” of the organizations needs and optimism that the position will be filled. In this context, one certainly has to demonstrate flexibility and approach the search more broadly.
The opposite pitfall is also true. That is when a person applies for “every job under the sun” with a particular organization. Often it is the same recruiter who is reviewing a resume for all of those positions. Receiving multiple applications across different job titles from a single person may convey a lack of focus and the recruiter might not take the individual as a serious candidate.
If you are in the early stages of your career, it is important to look at occupations, jobs, and organizations in terms of their potential career growth. It is rare that someone can stay with a specific job title and description forever. As one gets older and personal/family financial responsibilities increase, one has to plan appropriately to ensure that he/she is at appropriate “market value” for skills and experience accrued. Therefore, at any given stage of life, one should perform a self-assessment with the guidance of relevant professional mentors who are attuned to these realities.
Another point regarding one’s career path is the “pigeonholing” phenomenon. When evaluating job opportunities, especially at early stages of your career, you should ask yourself whether you are putting yourself on a track that you will be forced to stay in long term. This is an important consideration as your decision will ultimately be reflected on your resume. While a given opportunity may have certain perks (e.g., working in a frum-friendly environment, Shabbos, Yom Tov, etc.) , consider whether it is a “resume builder” or not. It is important to evaluate it in terms of whether it will be something that is to your long-term benefit. Do you want to work for small, relatively obscure businesses for all/the rest of your career? Will this business be using industry-standard tools and methods that will develop your skill sets accordingly? Do you want to work for the government for the long haul? (In many cases, the career “payoff” is working for 20 or 30 years until retirement.) Do you want to work exclusively for Jewish or Orthodox employers or for Jewish nonprofits? Also, being self-employed (often veiled as an acronym depicting one’s initials) has its advantages, it might connote a certain stigma on your resume. While these questions may not have definitive answers, they are important considerations. In some cases, it is difficult to make a transition out of the niche into which you have been limited. One moral of the story is to look at your resume through the lens of a professional recruiter or hiring manager. In light of these issues, having guidance from one or more mentors would be of great value.
Life Change Readiness
Whether entering the workforce for the first time or pursuing your next job, it is important to realize that almost always, that job will come with adjustments. You cannot realistically expect that the potential opportunity will allow you to maintain your same schedule and regimen. The hours might be different, qualitatively or quantitatively. There might be some travel involved. There might be a significant commute involved. In today’s economy and competitive job market, we will rarely be able to “call our own shots”. Our lives may very well have to change in order to gain employment. Therefore, we have to reduce the number of “deal-breakers” that we put out to only what is absolutely essential. Therefore, you need to approach suitable job prospects with an open mind and flexibility; especially, because others who seek jobs will have that flexibility.
For many of those who are Orthodox, there are various challenges in making the transition from the Yeshiva/Seminary into the corporate workplace. It is well beyond the scope of this article to address all of the issues of integration into the workplace. These issues are important, yet can certainly be managed if planned appropriately. Suffice it to say that consulting with mentors in your professional field who have previously navigated those issues successfully is critical.
Making Sense of Job Postings
There are many websites of employers and job boards which are out there. (A description or list is not the focus of this document.) When evaluating vacancies and postings that you come across, you will see a variety of formats, styles, and levels of detail. Some may have a more structured format; some will be less formal. (In general, government postings tend to be more structured and wordy.) In some cases, especially in today’s job market, you might have to match 100% of the requirements in order to be considered. Or there might be some level of flexibility in recruiters or hiring managers to overlook a minor deficiency in an otherwise impressive resume. However, not meeting the “deal breakers” or profile of the ideal candidate may lead a lower-level recruiter to disqualify a resume or application. So, it is important to identify the major criteria from the small ones as the latter might not be "deal breakers".
In most cases, when searching for jobs, it is best to target those opportunities that you qualify, not those for which you believe you can perform the job yet do not meet the requirements. In today’s employment market, companies are not looking that favorably at those who would like to “change careers”, when they have a large supply of candidates who have already performed the same job being recruited.
In addition, you should pay attention to some key details about a job. The first is the salary which may or may not be indicated on the announcement. If it is, in many cases, it is indicated as a range. While everyone would ideally want to get a salary at the top of the range, that is not always how things are done. Your level of experience and education will often determine what the starting compensation will be.
Next, there is full-time versus part-time. Unless the posting indicates otherwise, the hours will be full-time. While there might be some minor variation, you can expect that most full-time positions will be 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday to complete a 40-hour work week. Of course, there is often the expectation that these hours will not be exact, as workflows and customer contacts will not always begin with or end at those times.
The next detail to look for is whether the job is “contractual” or not. Contractual jobs may be compensated on an hourly or an annual basis. But, they do not include benefits such as vacation and medical insurance.
For conventional jobs, benefits will vary in terms of health insurance coverage, paid leave for vacation and sickness, retirement plans and deferred compensation, and other benefits. The value of benefits should definitely be taken into account when evaluating the total compensation, as it is generally thought that its value adds approximately 22% to the base salary. Sometimes this is indicated in the recruitment materials but many times it is not. If you get an interview, the time to inquire about benefits is at the end of the interview, if not already presented to you in written form.
Another important component to pay attention to is whether the job is limited to certain employees. Some postings may be for internal staff for promotional opportunities. For some government positions, the applicant pool may be limited to current employees of that department or unit. Some jobs require not only eligibility to work in this country but to be a U.S. Citizen as well. In addition, some positions with the government or contractors may require some level of active Security Clearance (see below on “Background Investigations and Credit Checks”). A good resource for better understanding the Clearance process can be found on the “FAQ section” of www.clearedjobs.net.
It goes without saying that in order to legally secure a position, you must be eligible to work in the U.S. While being a citizen is not always a requirement, eligibility to work is. Especially in today’s job market, employers will rarely “sponsor” someone who is not eligible to work. It is incumbent on any serious job seeker to secure eligibility before applying.
Finally, in applying for a given job you must submit the materials exactly as requested and send them through the stated channel. The channel may be email, fax, or online. Please be aware of any stated deadlines or “closing dates” so that your application will be considered accordingly.
Search firms, placement firms, or headhunters, may also be of value. It should be noted that these agencies are largely for-profit entities which base their existence on contingency commissions from employers who outsource much of the recruitment process. A search firm might be a significantly sized organization or it might be a solo practitioner who is an independent recruiter. In addition, some recruiters are more responsive and communicative than others. It you elect to work with a recruiting firm, you might be asked to fill out some sort of application and sign an agreement that will ensure their commission if you get a job with one of their clients.
Many placement firms and employers will state that even though they will not be pursuing you for a given vacancy, they will keep your resume “on file” or in their database for a period of time. While there is a possibility that you might get a call back to be considered for a future position, there is no guarantee. Often assignments by corporate staff and recruiters will change, so being in a database alone is not sufficient. Therefore, please apply for each and every position that is posted for which you qualify and are interested. This is especially the case with smaller organizations, where your interaction with a recruiter may have been informal. Do not assume that you will be on the radar screen for other positions.
Today, submitting a resume or job application in consideration for a job is in a sense easier than it has ever been. Resumes can be emailed, completed on-line, and faxed as well as mailed in the traditional way. (This can be both a blessing and a curse, given that the number of resumes to be considers might be staggering.) In fact, resumes can even be banked in a database for review or automatically submitted without the job seeker’s explicit action. However, a carefully worded or customized resume is critical to being considered for a given position. Failing to send a customized packet geared toward a specific job will either fall short of what is expected or not sufficiently differentiate you from the many resumes that are received. Another way of having your resume noticed is to leverage a connection that you have to the organization or to the hiring manager. The network of Joblink or other similar organizations can therefore be of value in many situations.
There are many employment websites out there, too numerous to enumerate here. When searching for a job, it is best to consistently check a select group of websites on a regular basis. If you find an opportunity on a third-party website, it is often best to try to track down the job through the website of the company if possible. Formally applying though that channel is preferable for a variety of reasons. One reason is that doing so will decrease the likelihood of your application getting “lost”. Another reason is that some companies have a referral program and identifying a current company employee might make him/her eligible for a bonus.
It is absolutely essential that written materials presented in applying for jobs are grammatically correct. Given that most programs like MS Word have spelling and grammar checks, this makes it much easier. However, there is no substitute for a careful proofread of any materials presented, preferably by an outside party. Also, any printed materials should be free of smudges, tears, and food stains. A malfunctioning printer is never a legitimate excuse for poorly presented written materials. It is also advised that resume in Word are saved under “xxxxx.doc” file name and not the newer “xxxxx.docx”.
In reviewing openings on the following general job boards, please note that it might be possible to identify the name of the employer on the website. If you have the opportunity to apply through the corporate site, that is often more advantageous. If you can somehow identify and track down the name of the person recruiting for the position, that is even better.
The Importance of the Cover Letter
In most cases, a resume should be sent to the organizational contact point accompanied by a cover letter. The significance of a quality cover letter should not be overlooked. In short, a cover letter provides a “bridge” between four points: the job seeker, the job, the organization, and one’s resume. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into the specific structure of the cover letter. However, it is recommended that you first read through the job announcement or description or announcement carefully. Search for (1) the experience requirements; (2) the education requirements; and (3) the major job functions. In the cover letter, you should identify point-for-point how your experience matches up with 1, 2, and 3. Merely sending your resume alone by email and hoping for the best, in most cases, will be an exercise in futility. If you cannot present a match to the contents of the job description within your cover letter, it is likely that you are not qualified for it.
Most people will have a cover letter template that is saved and then subsequently customized towards a specific position. It is essential that job seekers proofread the cover letter to make sure that the details pertinent to a previous job applied for are not still in the letter.
For some job seekers, employment opportunities with the government are appealing. First, there is relatively more job security than in the private sector. Second, the benefits have traditionally been comprehensive. In addition, depending on current political trends, there might be a growth in government positions. However, the compensation is typically below that of private industry.
Government employment includes jobs at Federal, State, and municipal levels. There are some differences and similarities among them.
With a few exceptions, Federal government job opportunities are accessible through www.usajobs.gov. This system replaces the older paper application process and those interested must apply through that website. USAJOBS is an online portal by which job seekers can sort job opportunities using defined occupational and geographic criteria. You can even set up an “agent” by which an email notification is generated when a job is posted which matches your criteria. Applying through USAJOBS is a somewhat cumbersome process the first time around. However, once the investment of time is made in completing the online form initially, subsequent applications do not take as long. Personal data are saved and can be pulled up to apply for jobs with some level of customization to a particular opening. For some Federal jobs, it is required to provide ”KSA’s”. KSA’s are Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities that a job seeker needs to possess in order to be considered positively. There are workshops and materials that are designed to assist job seekers in formulating KSA’s. Given the uniqueness of the Federal application, it is wise to seek out expert advice on how to approach this. Ten Steps to a Federal Job by Kathryn Troutman is a good resource.
With the Federal and other government systems, job requirements and qualifications tend to be quite rigid. In fact, many automated systems do not include a human element of interpretation until the system matches the applicant’s information with the job criteria. Therefore, it is critical to review the job qualifications carefully and make a judgment of an absolute match as certain elements may be “deal breakers”. Many job seekers who have most but not all of the educational and experience qualifications don’t understand why they did not warrant further consideration. Most likely, this was because the system did not find an absolute match. So, it is important to read and evaluate each posting carefully. Also, provide all of the information requested, as incomplete applications will also be rejected.
For government positions, please note that the salary range that is reported if not necessarily the range at which someone will be hired. Often, the government system has relatively rigid rules about this whereby the person hired will start at the bottom of the range and progress upward according to a schedule that is based on job experience. In the private sector, however, there is sometimes more flexibility in the amount of the starting salary.
Background Investigations and Credit Checks
Organizations conduct background investigations and credit checks to establish a person’s financial stability as well as obviate potential vulnerability to impropriety or being compromised. As indicated above, some positions for the Federal government or its contractors will require that you successfully complete a background investigation to obtain some level of Security Clearance. This is because in these positions you might have access to sensitive information which needs to remain secure. Background investigations will require that you furnish many specific details of your past, including past associations (professional and educational) and provide access to your financial status and history. Background investigations take quite a bit of time to complete, possibly up to a year. A typical scenario is where a provisional job offer is made and you could even start employment with that organization in non-sensitive areas. However, if the background investigation is not successfully completed, employment will be rescinded.
Even in the private sector, more and more employers are beginning to conduct credit or other background checks (beyond a perfunctory “reference check”) prior to employment. This is within their right to do so under Federal Law, if protocols are followed as per the Fair Credit Reporting Act. So, please be aware that a problematic financial history can have serious employment ramifications, not only for “security sensitive positions” per se, but others as well. Therefore, it is critical to make sure that your credit history does not contain errors or delinquencies before you start applying for employment; anything of this nature should be corrected or resolved. Your credit score which is an index of your financial stability might also be looked at. In addition, your financial past cannot include anything illegal or unethical that could be part of your history.
In addition, companies have been known to research prospects on the Internet, searching with engines like Google or looking at social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It goes without saying that you should make sure that you are not connected to anything that will be objectionable, embarrassing, or otherwise cast you in a negative light. You should occasionally do a self-audit on the Internet at least by way of a Google search on yourself to see how you are seen by others by doing a search on yourself using publically available sites.
Necessary Resources, Equipment, and Skills
In today’s world, it is essential that you have phone, PC and Internet access either in your home or nearby. This also includes having a printer to print out readable resumes. Since computers, printers, and technology may fail us on occasion, you must have a backup. All public libraries have free access to PC’s and the Internet. Companies with storefronts such as FEDEX-Kinko’s have printers that you can use to print for a nominal fee. Please note that the professional standard today is to have work printed on a laser printer, not a dot matrix or inkjet.
In addition, operating within the professional world calls for basic electronic literacy. At minimum, the three necessary skills are: the effective use of email, Internet searches and using a program like Microsoft Word. Email is an accepted use of communication that has become standard. Very often, resumes are included as attachments to emails. Searching the Internet for available positions and to conduct research on employer organizations are also functions that are expected. Finally, proficiency with a Word processor is required in order to compose/edit a resume as well as for cover letters. Someone who lacks these basic skills should seek training in order to operate within the employment world.
Someone who is in the market for a job and is actively engaged in a job search must check email and voicemail on a regular basis. Phone messages and emails should be returned promptly. If not, you will be at a great disadvantage when compared to assertive job seekers who do. While it is always recommended that you have someone in your home record and reliably forward accurate messages in a timely manner, it is especially critical to do so when you are actively looking. Please make sure that in setting up your outgoing greetings on your home and cell phones that you record them in a way that is professional, clear and understandable. Not doing so will be a turn-off to any company that calls. It is advisable that the outgoing greeting is recorded by an adult and not an infant or child.
In the some geographic areas, there is some limited public transportation that is available. However, for most jobs, some form of reliable, personal means of transportation will be required. This applies to getting yourself to a job interview or commuting to work on a daily basis. While depending on rides or loaned cars may be OK in the short-term, reliable transportation will be necessary as a permanent solution.
One of the key competencies that employers look for is basic writing skills. Being able to express oneself in writing to convey ideas and technical concepts is often lacking. You do not necessarily have to have the most sophisticated vocabulary. However, you must make sure to use cogent, complete sentences and subject-verb agreement in written reports, emails, and letters. In some cases, a writing sample will be requested which should be an original work which demonstrates this competency. Even if not requested directly, it might still be a good idea to include a writing sample which will show you in a professionally favorable light.
Another skill that is valued and expected in the workplace is basic “menschlichkeit”. That is not an easy word to translate into English. But, basic menschlichkeit means that you show yourself to be polite and gracious to whomever you are dealing with in your relationships. Menschlichkeit also means being responsive, sensitive to the needs of others, and returning calls/messages. Some refer to these as “people skills” which are critical, regardless of your personality.
If you feel that your current training, education, and skill sets are not putting you into a position to compete for quality job opportunities, it might be worth considering obtaining them. A training course or two, an entry-level internship or apprenticeship, or a relevant degree might be something to seriously consider in conjunction or in lieu of your next job. You should view this re-tooling as an investment in your future, which could have positive income ramifications down the line.
Some describe today’s society as “the communication age”. Numerous communication channels are available to all of us. Communication is faster than it has ever been and goes beyond boundaries of time and place. In many ways, it is more efficient. Electronic and digital media often replaces paper communication through letters and memoranda. For example, documents can be emailed from anywhere to anywhere. Text messages can be sent from any wireless phone to another device instantly.
One downside of this trend is that communication and messages are not as thoughtful as in the past. Messages are terse and often leave much to inference. As a result, recipients of messages often make assumptions based on the inferences, some are grounded in fact and others not. Because email messages are not accompanied by a visual or voice context, those reading the message may ascribe a negative or hopeful tone to it, which may or not have been the intent. This is especially the case with text messages in which the number of characters used to convey a thought is kept to a bare minimum.
Another downside is the fact that the skill required to write grammatically correct sentences and cogent thoughts has been lost. However, it is still important to frame cover letters, resumes, emails and other materials using proper rules of spelling and grammar. Failure to do so will cause a potential employer to receive a negative impression of you and subsequently not take your application seriously. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it is critical that you do not do anything that will lessen the impression that a potential employer has of you.
It is also important for letters and emails to maintain a respectful and grateful tone. For example, a “thank you” email sent the day after an interview would convey a genuine (but not overly flowery) appreciation for being allowed that forum. This is not a difficult or costly thing to do. Also, be sure that your communication is even keeled and appropriate. Emails or letters that are overly enthusiastic, assertive, flowery, or otherwise over-the-top should be avoided.
In today’s business environment, communicating by email is acceptable. While email communication is typically shorter, emails should not be casual or resemble a text message. Grammatically correct sentences should be used as well as a proper greeting (e.g., Dear Mr. Jones”). Every email should have a sensible subject line that matches the content of the email. In such a business context, it is best to err on the side of formality and respectfulness. Also, before hitting the "Send" button, please review the entire email, from top to bottom, and delete any content that might be irrelevant, confidential, or embarrassing. Problems in this regard often occur when someone simply hits "Reply" or "Forward". There are times when someone in the communication chain may not want his/her identity associated with such a digital “paper trail” and that should be honored in anything sent out.
In sending out communication and materials, please keep in mind that most software programs have some type of spelling and grammar checks available. It is important to utilize those features. It might also be helpful to have a third party review important correspondence and materials before you send them out.
Communicating effectively in person and in writing is key to creating and maintaining any relationship. Experience in the workplace and consulting with mentors should give you a sense of what is professionally appropriate. Obviously, there might be differences in norms and expectations depending on the context. But, it is always better to err on the side of professionalism and cordiality. Therefore, it is advised in most cases to send employment-related or other important electronic correspondence from a PC, where one can see what is being sent clearly on a larger screen and has the benefit of spell and grammar check.
A word on “Social Media” is in order. This is the new form of communication, which is no longer limited to teenagers and celebrities. The fact is that resources such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are used by corporate America to promote their brand, create alliances, and post jobs. Many companies have ways of staying connected with job openings by being able to follow them on Facebook and Twitter. How deeply and broadly one gets involved in these tools depends on who you are and what your objectives are. Obviously, one does not want to become obsessed or addicted to these channels to the exclusion of other productive activities. But, it is critical for any serious job seeker to have at least a minimal presence on whatever the Social Media of the day is.
Specific guidelines for cover letters, “thank you” letters and resumes can be found on Joblink of Maryland's website (www.joblinkemployment.com). Please refer to those materials.
Some other communication-related points to keep in mind are as follows:
(1) Remember to include any attachments (e.g., a resume) that you reference in your email before sending. It is a common faux pas to omit the attachment.
(2) Before clicking “Send”, proofread for spelling, grammar and content. Delete any extraneous material from the body of the email. Often there is a paper trail of correspondence that other contacts have sent you with which they might not want to be directly associated. Please respect that. And if an email contains a “reply” or “forward”, please make sure that what appears in the Subject line matches with the nature of your current correspondence.
(3) Use a “neutral” and professional email address for professional correspondence, not one that is cute or funny (for example, email@example.com should be used instead of firstname.lastname@example.org)
(4) If searching for a job while employed elsewhere, do not send out such job search related correspondence from that employer’s email account.
(5) Make sure that your outgoing greeting on your cell phone or home voicemail is professional and has a name that matches the name you use professionally. Outgoing greetings from toddler and other age children should be replaced with outgoing greetings from responsible adults.
(6) When in job search mode (and even in general), make sure that if children collect home phone messages, they must be responsible and able to take cogent messages and deliver them reliably in a timely fashion. A job opportunity may be at stake here.
(7) Never engage in communication related to your job search activities in a manner that is connected to a current employer. In most cases, job search activities should be limited to your home. You should not use a work email address or phone number on your resume or send out correspondence from a machine at work. You should not be using Internet job sites to search for opportunities while on the job. Not only can it be electronically tracked, but others will notice that you are doing so. You should also not use your work phone to speak with other employers or third-parties while at work and/or on work time. In some cases, you can use your cell phone to communicate in a private area during breaks.
(8) It is helpful and advisable to take notes to plan in advance for a professional phone call to ensure that you cover any important points to convey. This also applies to leaving a voice mail message. It goes without saying that you should speak clearly, introducing yourself by name at the beginning of the call. If you leave a message, you should state a return phone number clearly. Preparing in this way will ensure that conversations and messages will not ramble or convey irrelevant information.
(9) If you do not hear back from a prospective employer within a timeframe that you envision, never engage in “phone stalking”. This applies to any professional contacts. Phone stalking means calling someone more than once or twice on a given day with or without leaving a message. Persistence is sometimes a virtue in life. However, please recognize that people are busy, things come up, and your inquiry is not the only pertinent matter for the recipient to handle. With many telephone systems having “Caller ID”, it will become evident if someone is calling multiple times. If you are discovered to be engaging in telephone stalking, it will convey a sense of desperation and reflect poorly on your communication skills. In most cases, give someone 1-2 business days to respond to any phone or email message. It is best to leave a voice-mail message and be patient unless you have been instructed to try more often.
(10) When making any phone call of a professional or business nature, or if you are in the job market and expect to receive calls, please make sure that you have a pen and paper directly on-hand in order to record information or take other notes. It can be unnerving for the person on the other end of the call to have to wait for these materials to be located.
(11)In your job-related or professional conversations with those you do not know well, please be aware of the “TMI” phenomenon. That stands for “too much information” by which one introduces into conversation aspects of one’s personal life such as excuses for missing appointments or action items, or even as off-the-cuff remarks. Doing so, might very well brand you in a negative light towards those who are not very familiar with you.
(12) Almost everyone today has a cell phone or Blackberry which puts him/ her in touch with others 24/7. This connectivity is used for both business and personal matters. When you have a formal meeting with others, especially a job interview, it is best to not only silence your cell phone, but perhaps even turn it off (unless there are unusual circumstances). When a device rings or vibrates, the recipient of the call is not only distracted, but has to make a decision as to which matter is more important. In an interview of formal meeting, a ringing or buzzing device will be a “turn-off” to the other party.
(13)In today’s era of electronic communication and social media, there is a tendency of many (young) people to over-use email, texting, instant messaging, or social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) to communicate. This has its place and might be less threatening than a direct conversation in real time. However, it is important for people to also be able to pick up a phone and make a professional call, either as an initial inquiry or as a follow-up. The feedback that one gets from a phone conversation is more direct, immediate, and offers an opportunity to make a positive impression. Just be careful not to overuse this medium (see #’s 9 and 10 above).
Everyone conveys a certain image to others. This image is very much a reflection or who we are. In the job market, this image conveys a message of what we bring or do not bring to the table as an asset to an organization. We communicate to others not only by what we say or write, but how we do those things. We are not only representing ourselves but also representing our profession. How we present ourselves to employers and potential employers will be taken as an indicator of how we feel about our profession and more importantly the image that we will be projecting about the organization towards customers and others. So, we should be aware of this not only on a job interview but when networking in general.
Here are a few relevant pointers:
(1) Physical appearance- always present yourself in a clean, appropriately dressed way. Remember, a mirror is your friend. Personal grooming standards should be normative for the environment in which you will be presenting yourself. If you are unsure as to what is normative, please ask someone who has operated in that environment for awhile.
(2) Regardless of how we are referred to in our religious lives, consider using a neutral name. This is especially true if you have an official name that is part of legal documents such as your Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Driver’s License, or Passport. Ultimately, you might be completing official documents with which you will be cross-referencing those pieces of identification. Having a neutral name may also be easier for others outside of the community to pronounce. This is especially true if you have a double name like “Rivka Sorah” or “Shlomo Shmuel” that you are known by among friends and family. So, if possible, “Rebecca” or “Steven” might be better alternatives to the double Hebrew name.
Everyone should have a prepared “elevator speech”. An elevator speech is a concise (30-45 seconds), coherent presentation of yourself, using the following approach:
• Handshake, eye contact, and name
• Indentify yourself professionally (e.g., Litigator, Financial Analyst, Professional Accountant, Jewish Educator, etc.); do not start with a biography, what you think you can do or be good at
• List a few basic skill areas, or experience areas (e.g., Quickbooks, PeopleSoft, government contracting, Mobile Phone app development)
• Touch upon significant educational degrees and certifications (e.g., Masters in Public Administration from University of Maryland, CPA, A+ Certification)
• Avoid cliché such as “great interpersonal skills”, “multi-tasker”, etc.; instead focus on what you have done, accomplishments and scope, and portable skills that you can offer an organization
• State what you are interested in, including specific job titles (e.g., Financial Analyst, Construction Estimator. Office Manager, Marketing Specialist)
Your elevator speech should be used when networking professionally, with friends and acquaintances, and possibly during an interview (depending on the structure). It is best to practice this speech in front of relatives and professionals in your field of expertise. Please accept any constructive feedback and criticism as it relates to what is said and how it is presented.
When unemployed, the elevator speech might result in follow-up questions about your situation. The contemporary version of what was previously known as “between jobs” is being “in transition”. If there is one positive element of the depressed job market it is that saying that you are in transition has become less associated with the negative stigma of being unemployed. So, following that opening line, be honest, concise and focus on your achievements. It is not good form to bad-mouth previous organizations for which you have worked and supervisors with whom you clashed. You might also want to use the elevator speech to touch upon some of the volunteer activities in which you have been involved, which convey a positive affect while between jobs.
Those in the job market should be at least minimally conversant with current events not only within one’s professional field, but within the world in general. In some instances, “small talk” has its place, even from the perspective of being able to initiate such conversation. But, in any event it is important to keep current so that you will be able to at least respond in some cogent manner as opposed to having to plead that you are out of touch.
In the context of one’s job search, networking is somewhat misunderstood, so a couple points of clarification are in order. The purpose of networking is not to find a job. Networking is an activity that will increase the probability of your being in the right place at the right time. Networking is a means to establishing the relationships by planting the seeds of connectivity which will be to one’s professional advantage. While that eventually might provide a connection or secure an “in” which one could ultimately leverage for a favorable audience with an employer, expecting an immediate payoff by attending a single event is inappropriate.
Networking is a two-way street. In order to be a beneficiary from another party, you must provide something of value in return, most likely in advance of seeking to be the beneficiary. Being helpful to others is key in getting yourself noticed in a positive way. What you might give others in return might just be good-will, but also might be something tangible like a job lead or a referral of a prospective employee.
Networking requires your time and investment. It is also a gradual, iterative process. Cultivating a network is something which takes months and sometimes years to realize the benefits. Getting started early, while in school or before engaged in an active job search. There are some obvious candidates whom you should be connected to including professors, fellow students, colleagues, and personal friends. The objective is to build your network, using the aforementioned parties as one’s starting point and grow it using multiple degrees of separation. Limiting one’s network to those you know personally, from the Orthodox community within the local frum community, or even the Jewish community alone will not be effective. You should also not necessarily restrict your network to just local contacts. The world is a smaller place today and having professional relationships with others remotely might ultimately be beneficial.
Building and maintaining an effective professional network is part of an ongoing process which takes place on qualitative and qualitative levels. There are various tools which can help. Simply picking up the phone every once in a while to reach out is a simple way of keeping up. You can also send emails to groups which can also maintain connectivity, by updating others about your employment situation or circulating an updated resume. Of course, there are various Social Media which are networked in and of themselves in addition to being effective channels to grow and maintain your network. They provide opportunities to not only connect with individuals but to also job groups which are made up of others with similar professional backgrounds and objectives. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are the most popular Social Media sites that are being used professionally for networking purposes.
Being part of local niche groups is also key, as it gives you in-person contact to others. To join some groups, there is a fee; for others there is not. (Even if there are monetary costs involved, the investment will often pay dividends in some way.) Most professional organizations in specific occupational areas or specialties have local chapters will hold events on a regular basis. There might be a training or educational component which will be the premise for the event, but invariably there will be networking opportunities either formally designated as part of the program or informally. Once again, when contemplating which groups to join and which events to attend, it is best to think broadly, as sometimes it is the more peripheral or indirect connections which will turn out to be the most critical for your success.
There are some aspects of networking “etiquette” which will not be presented here. Suffice it to say, that one’s networking activities and involvement should be driven by politeness, cordiality, professionalism, common sense, and restraint.
As a community which has both values and guidelines, there are times when keeping a social distance in the workplace is warranted and people should seek mentorship in this regard. This social distance may have an effect on where people go and relationships that are built. However, this should not preclude developing and maintaining appropriate professional relationships that are required both technically and in the spirit of being a cordial co-worker.
Responses and Feedback from Employers or Other Parties
After applying for a position, the waiting game begins. If there is a closing date for applications, it is likely that you will not hear back until a period of time after that date. This is especially the case in government. In most government sectors, some form of response or feedback to an applicant is required by statute. The feedback may be provided by conventional mail or email. Sometimes the feedback will be merely that you are qualified at some level and may be contacted for an interview. The decision as to whether you receive an interview or not may be based on a variety of criteria of which you might not be aware.
In the private sector, there is much variability in terms of feedback. Some organizations are more responsive than others. Some organizations take the perspective of “don’t call us; we’ll call you” after an application or even after an interview. If you are selected for an interview, you will be contacted; if you are not, you will not receive any reply at all. The amount of time before you get any feedback could be up to several months. At that time, a polite “rejection letter” will be sent informing you that the position has been filled by someone who meets the requirements of the position more closely. Organizations sometimes only send out such letters only after the person hired has officially accepted the offer and has begun working in the position. That is the reason for the delay.
If you interview for a particular position, it is appropriate and advisable to send a follow-up letter or email to express gratitude for the opportunity to present yourself. Not only is it the “right thing to do”, but it also serves to maintain a positive presence on the organization’s radar screen moving forward. Many wonder about the protocol for following up with an employer either after the application or after the interview, if the employer has not reached out. How long to wait and how to follow-up is dependent on a variety of factors, so there is no one hard rule. However, if you have not heard back in a week or two, it is reasonable to send a brief email along the lines of:
Dear ___________: On (date), I submitted my application/interviewed for (job title) with your organization. As I am in the midst of my job search at this time, I was wondering if you could give me a sense of the time frame for any next steps you will be taking on this recruitment. Thank you.
Please allow an employer a reasonable timeframe to respond to an email or phone call relating to these types of follow-ups. Never engage in phone stalking.
The Finish Line: Or Is It?
How to negotiate with a potential employer deeper into the selection process is not within the scope of this article. However, it is important to clearly understand where you stand. In most cases, a job offer is only official when it is presented in writing. This usually takes the form of a letter of offer. In it, the job title will be identified, as well as the overall function that the position will serve in the organization. In addition, the hours will be spelled out as well as the terms of employment. This includes the salary, benefits and any deferred compensation that is associated with the position. It is important to understand that any oral or informal agreement to work for an employer is not a “job offer”. It is important that in the interest of protecting both you and the employer that a formal letter of offer is issued. It is also important to point out that in most private sector employment contexts, employment is “at will”. This means that with requisite notice by either party, the agreement can be terminated, with or without reason. In government employment sectors, termination by the employer usually has to be “for cause”, either as a result of poor job performance or that the position has been eliminated for budgetary reasons.
In rare cases, there will be some sort of employment contract. That is a legal document which represents some binding agreement and is signed by both parties. Unlike “at will employment”, the terms of the contract must be fulfilled by both parties, in the event that either party wants to part ways.
A Word or Two on Training: Obtaining and Maintaining Industry Standards
Regardless of whether you are pre-career, early career, mid-career, or more senior-level, it is advisable to determine whether your training is appropriate for your target position. Training can come in a variety of forms. One is formal education. This involves obtaining a degree from an accredited and reputable institution. The degree should be both relevant and accepted as the industry standard. While in some limited cases, a general degree will suffice, in most cases, the degree should be a fit with what is typically seen in job postings. A litmus test for the value of any degree is by consulting with seasoned professionals in that field who evaluate credentials to fill jobs, or someone who previously completed the program and was able to reach his/her career objective in the field.
The field of higher education is very competitive and many of the claims made by institutions are mere marketing ploys to increase enrollment. Make sure that you are not being misled by false promises so that the financial commitment in your education will not be a waste. One new entrant onto the scene is distance learning in the form of online programs. Before considering such a program, please make sure that the program is accredited and that its graduates have been able to find employment. It is always a good idea to ask for names of recent and not-so-recent graduates to determine the value of the program, as well as contact employers to confirm that they recognize that degree. The advantages of obtaining a more traditional undergraduate and graduate degree from a “brick and mortar” school include: (1) a more direct rapport with faculty; (2) more a hands-on interactive component in working with fellow students on project work; (3) experiential or clinical learning; and (4) job placement services in your geographic area offered by a Career Center and connections with employed alumni through professors in the program. So, before investing in any program, it is wise to look for successful outcomes. Shortcuts may be appealing in the short term but may sell you short down the line. Let the buyer beware.
As jobs change, so do the work and the skills necessary to perform them. Technology is the most common manifestation of this. Certainly for technology careers, keeping current with the industry standards is necessary to keep your job or to obtain your next one. Even for non-technologically focused jobs, it is quite possible that there is some important product or system on which you must be minimally conversant—often spelled out in the job announcement. While it is quite possible that on-the-job training can be obtained, there will be certain prerequisite skills that will separate those who get the job from everyone else. As intelligent as a person might be, that is often not enough to make a case for your being hired in a competitive job market.
Make sure, that whether it is a matter of education or skills, you have what it takes for your next job. It is reasonable to re-assess every few years. If there is a skills gap, you probably want to proactively seek out available training resources that will put you in the running to be positively noticed by a prospective employer.
In the Meantime: Consider Volunteering
Given the unpredictable and uncertain timeframe associated with one’s job search, it might be worthwhile to consider some sort of getting involved in a volunteer opportunity. One track is to volunteer in a job-related context and treat it as some sort of training internship. Such an internship might give one exposure to a certain industry or organization, or occupational area. For students, an internship might also be eligible for college credit.
In addition, one can also volunteer in a variety of non-job-related contexts, for a school, a charitable organization, or other cause which you might relate to, but perhaps never had the time to get involved. While obviously not income generating, volunteering can have positive benefits for one’s mental health by doing something meaningful for others. This can be during times when you are between interviews or otherwise playing the waiting game, anxiously anticipating call-backs from job leads and contacts. Or, it can be a diversion when you just need a break or to get away. Volunteer activities might also provide a solid explanation for any gaps in employment while in transition and demonstrate that you have maintained a positive attitude during those periods. Time spent volunteering of course must be reconciled with one’s personal circumstances as well as the time and energies devoted to your primary job search.
There are obvious tangible benefits to volunteer activities in the spirit of networking. You might be exposed to others “in transition” who might not only be in the same situation but might know of job openings which while not a fit for them, might be for you. You might also find yourself working together with someone who might turn out being your next employer.
So, volunteering has various indirect and direct benefits. While engaged in a volunteer situation, it might very well put you “in the right place at the right time”.
Looking for employment is a job in and of itself. It requires perseverance, networking, and communication. As difficult as it is to do sometimes, you must communicate and present yourself with an upbeat and positive attitude. The objective is to present yourself as a potential asset to the target organization so that you are evaluated favorably.
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