What Color Is Your Parachute? The Mechanics of the Job Hunt

parachuteThis is the second part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of What Color Is Your Parachute?, a seminal guide to your career. These entries appear weekly, each Monday afternoon, and you’re invited to read along. This entry covers chapters five through seven in the 2008 edition (earlier editions are roughly similar). If you didn’t participate from the start, feel free to jump back to the first part.

In today’s second reading for the book club, we’re going to finish off the first section of the book, “The Things School Never Taught Us About the Job Hunt.” This includes chapters five through seven, which focus on a lot of the specific mechanics of the job hunt that we’re all familiar with. Honestly, I find these three chapters to be the dullest part of this book because the advice is similar to stuff that appears all over the place. Thankfully, there is some awesome material later in the book. So, let’s dig in!

Chapter 5: Resumes & Contacts – How to Get In to See an Employer

Right off the bat, the following statement is made: “The primary purpose of a resume is to get you in for an interview.” That’s all a resume does, period; when you begin to add anything to the resume beyond selling yourself as well as you possibly can, you’re effectively dulling the sword. Given that the average resume is looked at for eight seconds before the first cut is made, you need that sword to be as sharp as possible. Bolles offers a lot of questions to ask yourself when seeking material for your resume; here are some other resume tips for building your own.

Think of your resume as a business card instead of a biography. Much like a business card, every item on a resume should be evaluated with the following question: does this item help me get invited in for an interview? If the answer is ever no, just delete it – if it’s not a resounding yes, mark it for potential deletion and be willing to drop it to make room for other stuff.

This issue is something that generated a lot of interesting discussion a while back. The logical conclusion of Bolles’ points about resumes is to strive to keep it short. If you actually use this filter honestly, you’ll find your resume getting quite short. Thus, I recommended something of a replacement for this question – just ensure your resume is one page in length and keep trimming fat until it gets there.

Another key part of the job hunt is contacts. Contacts are people you can call up and ask for help in getting your foot in the door for an interview. This is a big reason why it’s good to have a big, broad social network – these people can really help you when the time comes to find a new job. Bolles touches on this for just a few pages, but I find it a very valuable and compelling point – one that’s worth following up on by reading the excellent Never Eat Alone.

I will say that I’ve never been involved in getting a job where a personal contact wasn’t far more useful than a resume. My high school work was entirely directly connected to family and friends. My first job in college was set up by my academic advisor. My second job in college was set up by a friend I had come to know in my first college job. My first post-college full time job was with the same employer as my second college job. My next job after that was basically fed to me by a person I had come to know well in my first post-college job, and that’s the one I’m still working on. In no case had my resume helped at all, other than to draw some severe criticism once about it being far too long and full of useless stuff (drawing out the red pen from a person during my interview).

Chapter 6: Interviews – The Employer’s Fears

Bolles offers a ton of excellent advice about interviews here, well worth reading over and thinking about if you find yourself in an interview situation. As usual with What Color Is Your Parachute?, there are at least a few that will leave you saying “Hmmm…” and perhaps even disagreeing, but I do think they’re all worth thinking about. Here are three points that really leaped out at me from this section, with my thoughts on them.

In an interview, determine to observe the 50/50 rule. Basically, the interviewer and interviewee should each be speaking about half the time in an interview. If you feel like you’re talking too much, try to draw the interviewer into conversation. Why does this work? Conversation gets the interviewer involved, and everyone likes to talk and share their thoughts when they feel that they’re wanted, plus it gets the interviewer intellectually involved in your interview. I usually try to incorporate a question back to the interviewer in at least every third question I answer, simply to try to start a conversation.

Employers don’t really care about your past, they only ask about it to help predict your future. That means you should help them out. When questions about your past pop up, speak about the traits of that past experience that tie directly into what they’re looking for. Do not spend time slamming your previous employers, even if that place was the most poisonous place on earth – just simply state you were ready for new challenges. After all, that’s the truth of the matter, isn’t it?

Most interviews are won or lost in the first minute or two. Your personal appearance, your courtesy towards others, and your general values are apparent very quickly in an interview, and they’re usually key parts of it. Dress well (and especially, be cleanly), treat everyone with respect and courtesy that you see, and be humble. In my interview experiences, I can think of two instances where the first minute completely destroyed any hope for a candidate – one involved personal appearance (dressing extremely casually and shaking hands by just touching palms like a dead fish) and the other involved ego (an extremely proud candidate who quickly took on the tone of a braggart).

Chapter 7: Salary Negotiation – Getting Paid What You’re Worth

I had a hard time reading this chapter because recently I was involved in interviewing a person who used the exact strategy that Bolles recommends here – and we failed to come to terms with an excellent candidate and hired the second candidate. He told us during the interview that he had expectations of significant salary growth, then he coupled it with a very high starting salary request. We could have met one or the other of these – but not both.

Nevertheless, Bolles does make some good points. Don’t even bother talking about salary until some form of job offer is on the table, then try to get them to state the first salary number in the negotiation. Use that number (and market research) to state a range for a counteroffer, with your lower number in your range being just inside what you think their potential range is. The end result will be a palatable salary for both you and your employer, because you’re effectively boxing in the higher end of the salary range.

From my perspective, it’s far more important to find a workplace you like than a salary you like. I’d be perfectly happy making $20K less if it meant I would be in a workplace where I was comfortable and happy, because it’s a place where you’ll likely spend half of your waking hours. Don’t undervalue happiness in the workplace – if you’ve found a place that meshes well with you, don’t play hardball with salary negotiation and let that job walk away from you.

Next week, we’ll read chapters eight and nine in What Color Is Your Parachute?, covering finding a place to live and choosing a new career. In my 2008 edition, these appear on pages 139 to 184.