Friday, April 23, 2010

Why Am I Always 2nd Or 3rd? Question Of The Week

This week, a reader asked why she's getting many interviews, yet always coming in 2nd or 3rd?

There can be many answers to this broad of a question, perhaps having to do with the interview, follow up, resume, other materials, but it all really comes down to perception.

Read more ...

On alternate Fridays, I'm posting a job search question from one of our readers. This was a question sent to me in response to my daily articles.

L.L. shared a question about her own job search, and asked:

"What would you say to someone like me who has been looking for one year, has applied for 55 jobs, was interviewed for 35 of those jobs and came in 2nd and 3rd for 95% of those jobs, and who has a Master's degree in public administration/policy from USC and 12 years' experience as a manager/director in corporate communications, public affairs, media/government relations, philanthropy and public relations, and another 10 years experience as a marketing-communication manager in association management, and 8 years' experience running my own PR firm from 2000 to present with the exception of 2 years as a western U.S. manager of marketing-communications for a national charity?"

Wow! All this in one sentence - from a candidate interviewing for communications manager/director roles. I found myself wondering if this is an example of the communication style L.L. uses in interviews and in written communications. If so, she may be giving the perception of being unskilled in communications. This run-on sentence contains 112 words - 5 of them were the word "and".

I'll make the assumption that L.L. uses her communications skills more effectively in her job search than she did with me. Since she didn't forward me her resume, I looked at her Linkedin profile. Some additional information L.L. related: she's in her mid-50's and is concerned that she's losing jobs to people in their 30's who are graduates of Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley. Since this wasn't much to go on, I looked at her Linkedin profile for more hints of what could be holding her search back.

I found a number of potential reasons that L.L.'s job search has been frustrating.
  1. On a positive note, she's getting a great response rate: She's secured 35 interviews out of 55 applications, a resume response rate of 64% (see: That's an outstanding response rate for today's economy. Yet, she hasn't been able to convert any of her interviews into offers.

  2. While her response rate is very strong, her effort numbers are low: Applying for 55 jobs is barely over one per week. That doesn't sound like she's investing much so effort into a search. Here's help:

  3. First impressions & perceptions: She's not closing the deal by coming in #2 or #3. Consider that most hiring managers form their opinion in the first 2-30 seconds of an interview. In that short amount of time, an opinion may be formed before she even shakes hands or speaks. Hiring managers often form lasting perceptions from non-verbal communications (see:"). She relates that she's great at interviews, but she may be unaware of the perception she gives - she doesn't have the results of someone great at interviews.

  4. Actions reinforce ageism bias: Keep in mind that she's looking for a job as a Communications Director/Manager. Yet, she barely demonstrates a rudimentary knowledge of social media, and it has detrimental effects on her social brand. She seems to feel ageism from her comments, but realistically she hasn't developed the tools she needs to compete in a communications role today.

    She has just 21 Linkedin connections, no twitter account (listed in Linkedin), no Facebook account, no website, no posted resume, and no contact information - yet she lists that she's interested in career opportunities. She may have a Twitter account (I can't determine if it's hers) - if so, there's no picture, no profile, and just 7 followers. If she has a Facebook account, it has no picture, and is completely protected so employers can't find her. She doesn't even have a website for her communications consulting business, nor a blog (she described in her initial comments that she hadn't paid for a website. They are easy to set up and free - I recommend Blogger).

    This results in an uncontrolled social brand. When I Googled her name, I found out that she shares her name with a Playboy bunny and adult model, who enjoys the entire first page of Google (I wish I had a creative enough imagination to make this stuff up). Of course it's not her, but this candidate is a communications director/manager candidate who is clearly not managing her own brand. What perception does that give to employers looking for someone to manage their branding and outside communications? Here's how to correct:

    Lack of social media knowledge also reinforces ageism bias in hiring managers, especially in a communications role - she isn't demonstrating competency in modern communication tools. These aren't issues of cost, because she can set up all of these tools by herself - they are all free. While these may not be listed job requirements, they are likely "nice to haves" as many employers either have social media campaigns or are investigating them. It's a good bet that the #1 candidate demonstrates mastery of these tools.

  5. The 4th Audience: What impression does her resume and personal branding make on the 4th audience - the hiring manager's boss, peers, and team (the people she hasn't met)? The 4th audience often helps a hiring manager make decisions on who the winning candidate is among the top 3 - resume and marketing materials form the majority of their opinions. Do her marketing materials address this audience and their needs (see: Are they Googling her to find out more information?

  6. Inside information: Consider the improvements that inside information can make on interview impression, and your 4th audience impression, to better understand internal company language and WIFT (What's In it For Them). Here are some ideas:
Readers - have I missed anything? Do you have any comments to add to help this candidate close the deal?

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Related Articles:
Question Of The Week - How should I let my network know that I'm looking for work?
Age Discrimination - Job search question of the week

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Dennis M. Buckmaster said...

You're absolutely correct in pointing out the measly 55 application during a year. Getting 35 interviews is good, if these were direct contacts to hiring authorities.

Not as impressive, if they are only to public listings.

You pointed out numerous reason why she may not be making the cut to "hired."

Stating that she was always "2" or "3" means nothing. She could actually be "4", "5" or "20th"; but, the HR department will always tell people they were #2 or (usually) #3 thereby protecting the candidate's self esteem; yet, not leaving enough hope to hang around.

Apparently a case of waiting too long to seek professional assistance - after 35 times of being 2nd or 3rd. Too sad!

I suspect there's lots amiss with her strategy and interviewing. Including: I doubt if she is actually asking for the job, let alone "smoking out" the "objections".

Phil Rosenberg said...

You make a good point Dennis, HR reps often "soften the blow" by giving false feedback that a candidate came in 2nd or 3rd. These tactics may be used to protect applicant self-esteem, to end a call more efficiently, or just to avoid conflict.

As an applicant, listen carefully to negative feedback, but with a jaded eye towards the positive feedback HR gives - postive feedback isn't always honest and often the hiring manager hasn't shared meaningful feedback with HR.

It's human nature to crave positive feedback, but it's honest negative feedback that can truly make a difference in your job search.

Tim said...

The stakes get high when your a finalist. The nerves creep up, you don't want to blow it. When it gets down to the final strokes this candidate is playing "not to lose" rather than playing to "win".
Hiring managers remember candidates that stand above the rest, not beside them. Take a stand, show how you can add value and make a lasting impression.
Play to win, there is no prize for second or third.

Phil Rosenberg said...

Good point Tim. Trying to be just like everyone else seldom is a good strategy in an over-competitive job market.

anita said...

The comments listed above are usefull for most candidates. One more thing to consider is ... to communicate with confidence and a positive outlook on each opportunity no matter how frustrated a person may be in their job search. The question posed seemed to have a frustrated or angry tone to it. A good exercise would be to introspectively evaluate the way we are communicating when times are difficult to ensure we are not inadvertently communicating in a way that was not intended. .

Phil Rosenberg said...

Anita - Good point! Especially for someone in the field of communications.

Carli said...

Very insightful, Phil. I would not have thought to link my Twitter, Facebook or blog to my LinkedIn profile. Thank you for that.

As for applying to 55 positions within a year... does the lady even want a job?

However, I can relate somewhat. I find myself passing the initial interviews and getting to be a finalist, but then the nerves ratchet up and I become a babbling idiot in the final interview. I know my subject matter, the company I'm applying with and use all the usual relaxation techniques. Any advice?

Jane said...

Good question. I have applied for hundreds of jobs, and been fortunate to secure dozens of interviews; most go very well, but none has resulted in an offer. Typically one of two things happen:
A. I'm overqualified or the pay is too low and the employer knows this, in fact may even tell me so....and, no, matter even if I insist, they will know I won't be satisfied and will eventually leave. They hire instead someone who will is currently making that low salary. Or,
B. When I inquire about the job, I'm told they "really liked me" but were overwhelmed with qualified candidates and just found someone else more closely matched to the job description (which are often exceedingly specific). Sometimes, it's an internal candidate, as that's the only place they'd find someone so closely matched to that description.

I think two things holding me back are actually my inability to relocate, and my broad-based background, meaning I'm good at lots of things, not a specialist in any one thing. Some employers think that's great, but in the end, they all want a perfect match of a job description that is like finding a needle in a haystack, and though I do a good job of selling myself and explaining my diverse skillset, I cannot mold myself like playdoh to fit their idea of perfection for that role.