Uncertainty and Doubt Can Dominate a Job Search

Nov 6, 2007

Uncertainty is a constant companion during a job search, and it often follows us on the job.

When you’re out of work, you are frequently plagued with doubt and the fear that you’ll never find the job that’s right for you. Then you see an ad and get excited. This is not only a job for which you are suited, but it’s something that you’d actually be excited to do 40 (or more) hours a week. It looks like a good company and the salary they advertise fits your budget. You sit down and start to crank out a cover letter.

Then the doubts creep in. What are they hiding? If it’s such a great opportunity, why is the position open? Do I really want to do this? The commute is kind of far?and so on.

Next thing you know, the enthusiasm has drained out of you. Your cover letter, if you actually finish it, has none of the exhilaration you first felt when you saw the ad.

In fact, it’s kind of blah: “I’m responding to your ad that I saw on [fill in your favorite job board]. I feel that I am an excellent candidate for this position because, blah, bah, blah.” As you re-read the letter, you doubt that even you would hire you.

If you actually get a response to your submission, you start to wonder even more about the company. As Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.”

How could they respond positively to that letter? They must be pretty hard up to fill this position. By the time you have a phone-screen interview, you’re about ready to advise everyone you know that if they have stock in this company, they’d better sell because the company is in trouble.

Should you deign to appear at the appointed time of the interview, you may be leaning to one side from that chip on your shoulder that’s the size of an emerging nation. Needless to say, you sabotage the interview at every turn, which only goes to prove that you were right in the first place. You didn’t want to work here anyway, did you?

When you don’t get an offer (heck, you probably won’t even get a response) you’re okay with that. Because you turned them down. And you walked away unscathed because you did it to them before they could do it to you. Nope, no two-bit, fly-by-night company is going to hurt you with rejection again.

This, unfortunately, is how many people are approaching interviews these days. Candidates expect the company to treat them badly. No acknowledgement of receipt of the resume, or at best an automated response from some piece of software. Weeks can go by before people are contacted for an interview and then when the candidate shows up, the interviewer is often unprepared or the person the candidate was slated to see is busy and someone else is in his place. Is this any way to staff your company in the dreaded impending recruiting crunch?

Most organizations will read the previous paragraphs and say, “That’s not the way we do it.” But how many organizations poll their candidates to get their perceptions? I don’t mean the ones you hire. Not the ones who successfully navigate the shoals and land a job. What about going back to that incredibly rich source of information, the candidates not chosen, the so-called rejects?

It has been said we learn a lot more from our failures than from our successes. When a candidate doesn’t get a job, we think that they were unsuccessful. Maybe we were as well. Maybe we failed to see what the candidate really had to offer.

If you survey the people who got jobs, you’re probably going to hear all the good things you want to hear about your selection process. But what would those people not hired say? Did we probe their abilities? Or did we look to confirm our first impressions? Did we truly serve our organizations by trying to find the best person for the job or did we opt for the safe choice?

When I’ve polled managers as to which they preferred (experience or potential), they invariably chose both. When pressed to choose one, the answer is usually potential.

Most managers feel they can develop talent and count on their recruiters to provide it. But an insecure or inexperienced recruiter too often makes the offer to someone who simply has done a similar function for someone else before. It’s safe to point to a person’s resume and say, “Well, they’ve done it before for our competition so I believe that they can do it for us.” But some people have 10 years of experience and some people have one year of experience 10 times!

We are not in the business of making safe choices. There’s a saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If we are going to really make our organizations successful, as it becomes a seller’s market for the candidates, then we are going to have to do a much better job of finding and recognizing talent.

Rules for finding and recognizing talent:

  1. Look where you haven’t looked before. Don’t ignore your traditional sources, but don’t rely solely on them either.
  2. Look where your competition isn’t. Job fairs are a great place to mingle with candidates, but it’s also a great place to meet and greet your competition.
  3. Don’t let your first impression also be your last impression. Explore your biases and understand your preferences. Was it the candidates’ skills that attracted you or the fact that they attended the same school you did?
  4. Ask questions that allow the candidates to dazzle you. Don’t overuse closed-end questions that prevent candidates from shining.
  5. Think creatively about where else you might apply their skills if the candidate is not right for the position for which they interviewed. Almost everyone has something to offer. Which managers are more open to developing potential rather than relying solely on experience? Which departments have the time to grow their own?
  6. Sell the position to every candidate, not just the ones you plan to pass on to the next interview. The person may not be right for this position, but they may be perfect for the next. You want them to leave the interview thinking nothing but good thoughts about your organization. Further, this candidate may not be the right engineer, programmer, or nurse for this opening, but the candidate probably knows other people in the same profession who may be better suited. Turn every candidate not hired into part of your sourcing network.

In order to effectively apply these rules, we have to be ready to “Sell and Quell.” Sell our organizations and quell the fears and uncertainties of our candidates. We’ll keep our pipelines full of talent if the word gets out that ours is an organization that treats candidates well even if they’re not going to make an offer. And we’ll keep our organizations full of valued employees if we make sure that our managers remember that those uncertainties don’t go away once the candidates are employed.

They need to keep “selling and quelling” with their current employees because as I said, uncertainty often follows people even when they get the job.

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