While the Great Recession is quickly becoming a distant memory, a number of people are still caught up in its wake. Many still struggle to find balance and get back on their feet. Optimism is on the rebound however with new opportunities beginning to sprout up daily.
To help improve my own job hunting skills and get a better understanding of the market’s conditions, I recently attended “What Are Employers Looking for Today?” hosted by UW Professional & Continuing Education. The event was focused on empowering job seekers and equipping them with tools and advice to be successful in their job hunt.
Below are a few key takeaways.
Why Companies Hire?

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From the hunting perspective this formula can often seem like rocket science but it’s actually a simple equation. It comes down to two key components.
  1. Can the person do the job?
  2. Is the candidate a cultural fit?

The first question is rather simple to answer; it’s about ticking off boxes related to the position. For example, if a job requires knowledge of Excel and HTML, you won’t be considered for the role if you don’t have these skills. In today’s fast paced work environment employers are reluctant to hire employees who want to “learn on the job.” Thanks to a plethora of traditional and online education options today, it’s expected that if you want a skill, you’ll obtain and perfect it on your own.

The second question is a little harder to answer and is a bit more subjective. “Fit,” as often termed by recruiters, is about how closely a candidate’s values align with the companies. “Values” is large bucket but usually contains issues such as work/life balance, source of professional satisfaction, and long term goals. These items aren’t often apparent on the surface. Recruiters usually get these answers by asking candidates questions about “work preferences.” While there is not a check box per se. Eyes light up, stars align, and things just click when it’s present. In this regard, it’s sort of like dating. If the spark is there, both the recruiter and candidate will know it.

Networking – Laying Tracks for Success

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Ask a recruiter about job hunting tips and they’ll most likely share the golden rule, “Network.” The web may have made the job application process easier but don’t be fooled, hours spent in front of a computer submitting job applications is worth far less than a few minutes meeting a new or established contact to speak about your job hunting goals. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind during a full-time job hunt is to conduct 2 – 3 meetings a week.
Networking is often misrepresented as people looking to quickly climb the career ladder without putting in “dues.” When defined positively, networking is the act of meeting people (established or new contacts) in-person (ideal) or via communication tools – phone, video chat, or email (less ideal). These meetings should be focused on getting to know people you’re generally interested in professionally. Think professional “blind date.”
Discussion during the meeting can vary but it’s best to bring questions to keep the conversation flowing. It’s also good to be prepared to talk about your professional goals and companies you’d like to work for. Many jobs are still found through  Six Degrees of Separation (arguably less thanks to social media). Your contact may not know someone but their friend’s brother’s coworker may be the executive assistant to the CEO of your dream company. Connections are hidden from direct view but easy to dig up when actively searching.

Show Me the Money!

 
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Long held as a sacred topic to be excluded from dinner conversations and family gatherings, money is an inevitable topic during job hunting. Surprisingly during the event, the HR professionals laughed off the question and cited it as a minor component of the interview process.
“It’s merely a data point,” Anne-Marie Archer, CEO of Archer and Associates said. “We use the number to determine if you fit within the pay range we’ve established for the role.”
All the HR professionals at the event noted it’s important to exude confidence in your “ask” however. To get comfortable making the “ask” they recommended checking out government salary data or increasingly accurate tools such as Glassdoor or PayScale. This information will help you understand your market value.
After you’ve conducted research, they advised attendees to keep two numbers in mind. The first should be tied to how much money you NEED to pay your bills. While the second number should be ideal; it’s what you’d LIKE to make. The key difference being the first is tied to survival while the latter is more abstract and tied to increasing quality of life.
The compensation number is important for a variety of reasons but for the job hunter, it will later connect to job satisfaction and security. Ask for too little and you’ll feel undervalued. Ask for too much and you may feel trapped without room to grow or leave because of fear of finding a similar salary elsewhere. There’s no perfect formula but it’s important to do your research and understand your value.Finding Direction in Your Career
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Often one of the most challenging aspects of career planning is determining direction. Unlike schooling which is affixed to a specific “rail,” career paths have many spur lines and can take various turns. Determining the correct path can seem difficult, if not impossible at times but can be achieved with a bit of reflection. David Hardick, Director of Recruiting & HR at Context Relevant gave this advice for finding direction in your career and life in general.
“Often I ask clients to pause and review their life for guidance,” David said. “Start in childhood and walk forward. What points do you notice the greatest feeling of joy and accomplishment? What moments created awkwardness or proved to be difficult? These moments will help you determine what your strengths are and where to focus.”Surviving Unemployment
 
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Easily one of the most difficult experiences for adults, unemployment can be challenging emotionally and mentally. It’s not a situation to be entered into lightly; it has its own set of special challenges. When I entered the job market in the middle of 2009 during the end of the Great Recession, I quickly found myself confronted with this reality. While challenging, it’s possible to overcome the difficulties and come out stronger from the experience.
Below is some general advice shared by the HR professionals at the event relating to conducting a full-time job hunt.
  • “Network in the morning. Your energy will be higher than in the afternoon.”
  • “Act like your best days are ahead of you, not behind.”
  • “Be an employer’s aspirin; present yourself as problem a solver.”
  • “Have four solid success stories you can talk about and adapt during an interview.”
  • “Quantify past job results.”
  • “Resume style is subjective; find one which works for you and make sure it has 0 errors.”
  • “It’s not what you know but often who you know.”
A family friend also shared an important tip I always keep in mind when job hunting.”Unemployment is ultimately a game. There are a set of rules with a handful of financial parameters. It’s up to you as a job seeker to determine how you spend your ‘free time’ – education, vacation, networking, job hunting, etc. You must keep in mind however that the clock will eventually run out; your job is to beat the clock. Find a job before you’re mentally, physically, and financially exhausted. Life gets more difficult when the clock runs out.” – Holland Family Friend

Final Words

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Kudos to UW Professional & Continuing Education for hosting “What Are Employers Looking for Today?” The HR professionals provided a wealth of knowledge and tips on how job seekers can obtain work in the US’ recovering economy. Be sure to check out its website for future events and educational opportunities.
Job hunting is challenging but it’s important to keep in mind it’s possible to be successful when enough time and energy is devoted to the endeavor. I also can’t stress this final point enough. After you land a job, #PayItForward!Help someone else. Pass on a job posting. Review a resume. Sit down for coffee with a stranger. The economy is a human invention. Don’t let it lose its human connection.
[Photos courtesy oferiwst, cta_web, 401(K) 2013, tqhh, andjohan, and Kanu 101]