Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Job Search Trick or Treat

How often do candidates treat their job search like it’s Halloween?

Do you dress up your resume to appear like you are someone other than you?

Not only is it unethical, it’s impractical. It wastes the employers’ time, but even worse…IT WASTES YOUR TIME as a candidate. Take your kids Trick or Treating, there’s a more effective way for you to stand out.

I can’t begin to count the number of times a candidate has asked me if they should hide their age, change their experience, or try to adopt a different personality, so they can appear to be someone other than themselves. To make it worse, many recruiters either turn a blind eye, or actually encourage this.

It wastes your time because hiring managers aren’t stupid. They read many resumes after they are pre-screened by HR staff & recruiters that read thousands of resumes. So whatever trick you’re trying to pull to mask the truth…they’ve seen it.

The easiest example is age. So many candidates blame a poorly thought out job strategy on age – complaining “I’m too old” or “Hiring managers want someone with more experience”. Guess what…it’s not your age. It’s how you’ve branded yourself, the perception you give, the skills you choose to highlight, and how you describe your skills.

It’s so easy to play the age game, pass the blame to your grey hair, and devise ways to mask your experience. I see it in over half the resumes I look at, and the easiest giveaways are missing dates. Does it take a rocket scientist to realize that if you leave your college graduation dates off your resume, you’re probably hiding your age? Duh!

But what if you get lucky, trick the reader to think you’re interview-worthy, and land the interview? If you’ve given the impression that you’re a hip 30 year old gel-head, what impression will you make when you meet in person, with your thinning grey hair? At best, you’ll make a first impression of disappointment…at worst one of deceit. Either way, at that point, your skills and talents won’t matter - you’ve wasted your time and set yourself up for disappointment.

Why play that game when there’s a better way?

Instead of trying to play Trick or Treat with your resume, why not look for companies that WANT someone like you? There are plenty of companies that want grey hair, and plenty of firms that want younger talent. There are companies that want someone who’s extroverted and others that want a quieter, serious employee. Instead of dressing yourself up for Halloween, look for companies that value someone like you!

OK, How can I find which companies want someone like me?

Information Rules! Talk to your friends who work at target companies…they are your best resource to understand what type of person and what type of personality succeeds within a particular corporate style. Every company has its own unwritten rules, or culture. When employers look at culture, they look for someone who can easily communicate and fit in with 80% of the workforce who have a similar style.

So if everyone at a target company is 40+, been there 20 years, and wears pocket protectors, it might not be a such a good fit for a 26 year old tattooed and pierced woman. If it’s a jeans and t-shirt environment, this company might not be such a good fit for someone who’s experience has been working at a large bank. Or maybe a video game development company with a game room, music room, and weekly happy hours, might not be such a good fit for a guy who looks like Kevin Malone (from The Office). Maybe a guy like Kevin would be happier in a pocket protector environment. (Picture courtesy / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

But what if you don’t know anyone at your target company? This is where Linkedin and Facebook can provide such a huge edge. Use your social network to gain introductions to employees at your target companies. But don’t waste the introduction to ask for a job or to pass a resume – there’s a much more valuable use.

Instead, do some espionage. Gain critical information about a company’s culture and style. Ask what type of person succeeds, and what type of person fails within a target company and department. Ask what the hiring manager is like…is she a team player, or a maverick? Ask how does he dresses…casually or formally? Ask about the hiring manager’s communication style…is it open door, or do you have to wait a week to get an appointment?

If you really want some great insight into a company’s style, use guerrilla tactics. Find a nearby bar, and head there at 5:00pm on a Friday. That’s right, use Happy Hour. Talk to a few people, including the bartender, you’ll find people who work for your target company. At a bar, information is so inexpensive...just a round or two of drinks. But think of the wealth of information you can pick up. Plus, you might even get a referral for your offer of drinks. You’ll see how they dress and act, and probably pick up some great scoop.

Armed with all this information, could you figure out if your personality is a likely fit, or if your time is better spent somewhere else? There are so many uses for this information, such as insight as to a company’s challenges and opportunities…so you can show how you’ve already solved these problems and leveraged these same opportunities in your past firm.

When you can clearly demonstrate you’ve already solved an employers’ problems, or maximized the same opportunities…limiters like age, dress, or personality stop being such relevant factors. These are the “20 percent-ers”…the employees whose skills and experiences are so important that fit, culture, and style take a back seat. Now the ball’s in your court to decide if you really want to work at a company where everyone wears pocket protectors, and looks like Kevin.

Instead of trying to trick your prospective employer, doesn’t it seem like a better tactic to treat some employees to a drink – and pick their brains?

Executives exploring Career Change: For a free 30 minute resume consultation, or career advice for executives, email your resume confidentially to reCareered (, and we'll schedule a time to talk.

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Chas said...

You perpetuate the myth that older workers lack technical expertise even though "boomers" were responsible for leading the tech revolution.

You confidently state that difficulties in landing a job is NEVER because of someone's age and that us older folks should seek out companies that desire older workers.

Speaking to the former, I have 20 plus years of tech experience as do many of my fellow candidates. Regarding the second, I have actually had hiring managers actually state that they thought that I was too old to be considered. Have you ever checked out the companies that state that they seek older workers. Most offer Walmart type wages and low end jobs.

Regarding "hiding" age, I have been repeatedly chastised by recruiters for listing any jobs past ten years on my resume.

Your condescending, arrogant tone really is so tiresome...

Phil Rosenberg said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, but I think you misunderstood my point in the article, so I'll clarify.

Being a boomer myself, I didn't say at all that older workers lack technical expertise. I do believe that older workers are often challenged to convey this experience in a way that is relevant to today's hiring managers.

Nor did I say that "difficulties in landing a job is NEVER because of someone's age" (sorry for the double negative). The article doesn't say ageism is a myth - it is rampant, even though it is illegal.

I do believe that older workers have much better odds by focusing their search on companies that want older workers. You odds of changing pre-conceived bias is low.

I disagree with removing jobs past 10 years. Instead, I recommend listing older jobs in a single line, but with no detail - detail about jobs that far back wastes resume space with information that not likely to be relevant to your reader. Realistically, your reader doesn't care what you did 10 years ago - you'll be asked to solve different problems using different tools today, especially in technology due to rapid change (notable exceptions: legacy system support).

In addition, few hiring managers will care that you have 20+ years of tech experience, unless that is a direct requirement of the job. Even fewer will care that boomers were responsible for leading the tech revolution - it's ancient history in the world of technology. Bringing that up gives you the appearance of ancient history as well.

What is relevant to a hiring manager is what have you done in the past 5 years, what value you have brought to your employer, what problems you have solved, and direct experience using client platforms (so you can hit the ground running without training, learning, or ramp up).

If you are emphasizing your years of experience over what the employer is truly interested in, you're hurting your own chances by touting what's important to you over what solves your reader's needs. See for more insight.

The purpose of this article gives some solid ideas of ways for boomer candidates to beat it. Hopefully, you'll view it as advice on how to overcome ageism, rather than thinking I'm ignoring its existence.