Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Get a Job by Thinking Like an Employer

This is one good way to limit your job prospects.

People today are protesting that there are no jobs - as if jobs were a natural right, like oxygen.

But many companies aren't hiring not only because the economy is down - and hiring people is thus unprofitable.  They also aren't hiring because hiring more people just means more expenses and no significant additional income.  So it is not cost-effective to hire people - and in fact, you'd go bankrupt if you did.

A lot of young people don't "get" this.  Yes, even today, people still believe that you can run a company and not make a profit - and that profit is "evil" and bad and should be outlawed.  And if you think this sort of nonsense, you are going to be unemployed a long, long time.

Companies hire people in order to get things done.  And they hope to make money by hiring people - not lose money.  And if you are a money-losing proposition, they aren't going to hire you.

And as I noted in a previous post, they are taking a risk by hiring you - a risk that you will actually work, instead of slacking off, and actually stay around, rather than quit after a year.  And of course the risk that you will not create some huge liability for the company through your actions, errors, or omissions.

It is a daunting set of requirements, and as a young person out of college - immature and unskilled, you are basically not employable.

Yet, most folks do find jobs, even in a down economy.  I never have been unemployed, even during the heights of the recession of the late 1970's and early 1980's.  No one was hiring, but I got hired.  How?

The secret is to think like an employer and try to understand what the fellow on the other side of the interview desk is thinking and what he is looking for.  And once you understand that, it is a lot easier to get hired.

What are they looking for?  A few simple things:

1.  Experience

2.  Willingness to Work

3.  Maturity

4.  Reliability and Dependability

5.  Profitability

The decision to hire someone is based mostly on the last criteria, which is really the sum and substance of the first four things.  If you are going to be a source of cash-hemorrhage to a company, what is the point of hiring you?  They are better off without you.

For a young person starting out, getting Experience can be difficult.  And this is why it is important to work during high school and college.  Even unpaid internships are useful in getting experience.  The more you know about a business and the business world, the better off you will be in the Interview chair.  Just having some work experience - any work experience - shows that you know how to show up on time and behave.  And you'd be surprised how much of work is just that.

And such work experience shows a willingness to work and an understanding of how hard work is.  A lot of young kids from middle-class or wealthy families have never worked a day in their lives - and are looking for jobs right now, right out of school.  Would you hire them?  Knowing that working is so much different (and harder) than school?

And by the way, maybe now is the time to figure out whether your education was any good - or just a waste of tens of thousands of dollars of money and four years of your life.  Probably half of all college graduates have useless degrees in idiotic majors, with poor grade averages.   These are people who should just "not bother" with college, unless their parents are super-rich and just wanted a place to park Junior for a few years.  But for the middle-class, such things are not an option.

Going back to school to get real experience is one option.  Specialized graduate degrees may make you more qualified for a particular profession - but research these carefully first, before throwing more money down the college rat-hole.  And don't overlook skill-based jobs.  Maybe being a welder, plumber, or electrician isn't very sexy or high-class.  But those folks often make six-figures and are out on the golf course every day, at 3:30 - and own their own businesses.  It is something to think about.

And be sure to tout the experiences and skills you do have.  Can you work with PC-based computers?  Every small employer would treasure having someone on staff who could also fix all their Windows problems, on occasion.  Be sure to mention this - or get certified in one of those Microsoft courses.   Very few places, outside of arty shops, are going to care whether you can use a Mac.

Can you type?  How many words a minute?  Almost every job these days - especially white-collar ones - require the ability to keyboard.  If you are still using hunt-and-peck, chances are you aren't going to get hired.  And if you don't have these skills, maybe it is time to get them.  Take a typing course at your local Community College.  It is money well-spent.

Be creative and think about your experiences.  Chances are, you have more than you think.  When I was in Prep School (before they threw me out) I made a sculpture of a cat using the lost-wax process.  I learned, first hand, not only an art, but an industrial process.   Yea, that is an experience - one that a lot of folks don't have.

Maybe you have a hobby - woodworking, metalworking, tinkering with computers, cars, cooking, sewing, whatever.  All are skills - or could be skills - that might be useful in the workplace, or at least show an ability to learn and an ability to apply yourself.

Good grades in school are nice, of course, but not for the reasons you think.  They do not add to the "Experience" pile, but rather to the "Willingness to Work" pile.  Someone who gets good grades shows the capability to buckle down and work.  But of course, there are plenty of people who thrive in an academic atmosphere and fall flat in the working world (and vice-versa).  And that is why often the top GPA people are worthless in the workplace.

Good grades helps in showing maturity.  And here, again, is where young people fall flat.  50 years ago, a 21-year-old might have been given a brand new B-17 flying fortress - and the lives of nine other men - to take care of.  Young people back then were more mature - and more was expected of them.  Today, your typical 21-year-old is about as mature as a 13-year-old was in 1945.

Growing up and acting mature means cleaning up your act.  Tattoos and body piercings show a remarkable lack of judgement, and don't be surprised if your interviews are cut short if you show up with either - or inappropriately dressed.  These things also show a lack of respect for your potential employer.  Why bother even talking to someone like that?  They have already telegraphed their maturity level and responsibility level by showing up with a nose-ring.

Take out the rings and other piercings.  Have the tattoos removed.  Delete your Facebook page, your blog, your party pictures on Picasa.  It is time to grow up and get serious.  And yea, you have to get a haircut, too.  It sucks.

Yea, I know, you want to be an individual and all.  You also want a job.  Pick one.

Unless you are Lady GaGa, you ain't getting both.  And guess what?  She's self-employed.

And maturity ties right into Reliability and Dependability.  Marital status is one of the things that employers are never supposed to ask you about.  And yet, in every job interview I have been on in the last 30 years, every employer has asked me about my relationship status.  Yea, it is wrong, but they want to see some reason why you will show up, even on those days when you don't feel like it.  Single men with beer habits are the least employable.  Young marrieds with babies and bills are the most.

So be sure to mention some reason why you are going to be dependable.  Maybe those staggering student loan debts will come in handy, after all.  They give you a reason to show up for work!

But all of the above is just window-dressing to the ultimate question - will you be an asset to the company - allowing them to expand their business and make more money, or just a drain on their financial resources?  And again, if you don't see the importance of this, then don't bother interviewing and just go back to Mom's basement and do more bong hits.

You need to convince your would-be boss that you are going to be an asset - through your experience, your dependability and maturity and your willingness to work.  And perhaps you will start out at low pay - most jobs do, after all - until you can show what you can do.  But bear in mind that even "low pay" by your standards may still represent a huge loss, particularly to a small company.  Your actual cost, in terms of overhead, could be 2-3 times your annual salary.

Unfortunately, most of the kids protesting on Wall Street aren't going to find jobs - or the jobs they want - anytime soon.  If your attitude is that a job is a right, and by din of your going to college, you are entitled to one, then you are going to make yourself least attractive to employers.  From their immature perspective, they did all that was asked of them - they went to high school, they went to college, and now they are entitled to a job.  The world doesn't work that way, unfortunately.

And this is not to say the world is a harsh, unforgiving place, either.  People want to see you succeed in life, believe it or not, particularly if you are the kind of person who looks like they want to succeed and want to work hard.  We all get to where we are going in life through a series of lucky breaks - where someone saw something in us that perhaps we didn't see ourselves, or someone took a chance on us.  People want to help you - if you only let them.

On the other hand, no one wants to help a whiner, a complainer, or someone who is arrogant and demands a job as a right.  Such employees are a nightmare, if you hire them, and even firing them gets to be problematic.  If you make yourself out to be this second kind of person, it will be no surprise that you don't get hired.  The choice is yours.

Even in a down economy, people are hiring.  Maybe not the job you wanted.  Maybe not the salary you think you deserve.  But people are always hiring talent - it if can be had at a reasonable price.  My partner recently took a part-time job at a local museum.  Not only are they ecstatic to have him, they want him to work more and more hours.  Why?  Well, he has the experience, maturity, dependability, willingness to work, and profitability they are looking for.  And with that, he never has to worry about being "out of work."  There are always jobs for folks like him - in any economy.

Of course, there are alternatives to "Jobs."  You can start your own business and be self-employed.  What's that you say?  It is such a hassle to do that?  There is too much risk?  It is a lot of hard work, with no guarantee of success?   You betcha!  And now you understand what it is like to be on the other side of the interview desk.  And let me tell you, if you think it sucks to be the interviewee, it is twice as bad being the interviewer.

Think like an employer.  And maybe it will lead you to that job.

* * *

UPDATE  November 2013:

I cam across a blog entry about job applications, where an applicant was spiked by a drug test. He passed the urine test, as he had stopped smoking pot several months earlier.

However, a hair test showed use of marijuana - as he had long hair, and it the THC residue (or whatever) was still present in his hair.

I suggested he cut his hair. Seriously. Destroy the evidence.

One employer on the site suggested that it would better for a candidate to just walk away from a job where a drug test is required - if you know that you are going to fail. You are just wasting the employer's time - and you cannot later apply for the job, after you are "clean".

Both good advice.

A lot of other responses were about how "unfair" it all was. Why should an employer care about drug use?

Simple. Stoners are horrible employees. They are late for work, always are "starting something" and are unreliable. A drug test is a good way to weed out troublemakers.

If you want a job, stop smoking pot. Actually, you would be surprised how it helps the rest of your life as well....

I didn't mention it in the original posting, but if you are having trouble getting a job, and you have a major drug or alcohol problem, maybe now is the time to examine your habits.

I gave up drugs and even drinking, when I was 25.  I quickly finished school, got a good-paying job, and went to Law School at night.  I would not have been able to do that, if I was stoned and drunk all the time, as I was in my early 20's.

I am self-employed now, so I can do what I want to do.   But the urge to get stoned and shitfaced has tapered off over the years.  

Funny how that works.