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Posted: March 16, 2009

Who’s getting hired right now?

There are jobs to be had  but you won't read about them

Liz Ryan

A friend just got hired this week as director of communications for a school at a state university. Another one just started a director-level job at a major foundation and a third took the reins of head of customer support and training at a logistics firm. People are getting good jobs right and left, but you won't read about it in the newspapers because gloom-and-doom is a big seller.
 
Every employer is an organization that has to compete in a tough marketplace. Universities compete for students and for funding. Not-for-profits compete with other not-for-profits for mindshare and, yes, funding. For-profit firms of course, compete in a dozen ways every day on the job. The only way for any employer to come out of this recession intact and thriving is to out-think and outmaneuver its competition. It takes smart people, focused on untangling thorny business problems, to win in the competitive marketplace and employers are starved for that sort of talent. Yet, eight gazillion people seem to be laid off every day. Isn't the job market glutted with talented candidates?
 
No. It's not.
 
There are plenty of capable people out there, but 70 percent of the resumes I see are not going to win their owners interviews at any firm, for any position. It's a national shame that we've educated our citizens about every important life skill except the skill of finding a job and most resumes are downright unreadable. When I work on recruiting projects for employers, 70 percent of resumes go immediately into a large "no thanks" pile by virtue of sentences like "I'm excited about using my many qualifications to help an employer that values the work of its emploees' efforts." I feel compassion for folks who are challenged by the suddenly impenetrable 2009 job market, and I spend many late-night and early-morning hours responding to their queries on my online discussion forums. The good news - embedded in the unfortunate news that most people can't put three English sentences together - is that people who can have a huge job-search advantage. 


There are tons of people on the job market, but they're not, in general, conveying the message to employers that they understand and can surmount the problems a hiring organization is facing. The typical resume says "Here are my qualifications. Look at them. See if they meet your needs," and that's not enough, in 2009. A resume-and-cover-letter package has to say "I've spent time on your Web site, and read some of the news reports about you, and here's what I think. I think you may have an issue in the area of X, and that's good, because I specialize in solving problems related to X. Let me tell you about a couple of the dragons I've slain so far, and see if they sound like the dragons you're facing." That's a very different message, and it's messages like that that win job-seekers interview and job offers.
 
"I've got twenty years of experience in X" is not an impressive summary statement for a job-seeker, but "I led the launch of the TastyLocks edible hair-gel product, generating $100M in revenue in the first year" is. "Seasoned HR professional with experience in Comp, Benefits, HRIS and Employee Relations" says nothing novel or compelling, while "During the Apex-Acme merger, I integrated two teams across forty locations with no plant downtime and a six percent uptick in sales" gets a screener's attention. Vague, say-nothing language like "Excellent communication skills" is a resume-killer, because it says "I didn't know what to say, so I said something that I could have demonstrated in the very document whose purpose is to demonstrate my communication skills." Winning a job in this job market requires a consultant's eye. Question One is: What is this employer up against? Question Two is: How can I make it clear that dealing with this sort of thing is my  bread and butter?

Specificity is key for a job-seeker right now, and relevance is mandatory. Laundry lists of skills and competencies don't help us, but concrete accomplishments, described in context, do. Job-seekers who present themselves as bundles of assorted experiences and functional skills don't get through the selection sieve, but people who use a resume and cover letter to say "Here's my story; I've done X and Y and got Z done when most of us on the team (including me) didn't think it was possible. If you're facing A (and I wouldn't be writing to you folks if I didn't reckon you're facing nothing less) we should talk, because surmounting A and its sister-issues B, C and D is my favorite thing to do in the world - at least, while I'm working."
 
Can you make that shift? Talent-hungry employers are waiting for you to do it. Why wait?

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Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec and an advisor to organizations and job-seekers. Reach her at liz@asklizryan.com or www.asklizryan.com.

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Readers Respond

I think there's way too much emphasis on what people have done,not on what they can do. Resumes exacerbate this. Additionally, I know some fellow managers will hear that designed-to-impress statement and say, "So what?" So you led the TastyLocks launch and netted $100M the first year. Big deal, we're not in TastyLocks' hair industry. What do you know about ours? I'm really disturbed by the employment seeking notion of, "If I succeeded at Company X, success is guaranteed at yours." No, successful people can fail and fired people can perform. Furthermore, some very capable people have never had the chance to prove themselves at previous employers. That's what's missing from so much preparation of written materials for seeking jobs. You're definitely onto something about studying a company and its dragons to then present solutions. However, you do not need experience in order to slay dragons, especially in a fast-changing world like ours where yesterday's approaches can be rendered irrelevant by countless forces from technologies to crushing competitors. Of course, to do this, you need to deal with employers who know what true job competence is. Unfortunately, not many define successful outcomes for their positions as evident by their poorly writen job descriptions. I'd suggest submitting business plans that speak to current needs. Drawing from previous examples sometimes can help. Yet certain doors open precisely because smarter employers don't care about the work you did 5 years ago, they want to know what you can do for them NOW. By Greg on 2009 03 21
Thanks Stephen! I am launching a job-search coaching group in Longmont for folks who'd like a group setting and some concrete job-search instruction to help get their job searches moving ahead. The group starts this Friday, March 20 and continues for six weeks. The details are at www.asklizryan.com/longmont Cheers -- Liz By Liz Ryan on 2009 03 17
Liz, once again everything you say is worth its weight in gold. The path you advocate here is not only primo for job-seekers, but for consultants and freelancers as well. Bravo. By Stephen Koenigsberg on 2009 03 17
Dr. Walker-- You've probably seen this, but since you've been on the road.... Cheers-- Tom By David Walker on 2009 03 17

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