It’s time to take a hard look at the ‘you’ package

‘Some 75 per cent of people don’t have the relevant experience or qualifications for jobs they apply for,’ says executive search professional Marie Maguire

‘Some 75 per cent of people don’t have the relevant experience or qualifications for jobs they apply for,’ says executive search professional Marie Maguire

If you’ve been job-hunting unsuccessfully for some time, the last thing you want to hear is that it’s a candidate’s market. In theory it is, but before you slump into a disconsolate heap, bear in mind that plum jobs rarely materialise overnight.

In fact, the average time it takes to get a new job is three to six months.

“Anything over six months would suggest that either the level or direction of activity is inadequate or the expectations are unrealistic. This applies to both candidates and employers,” says Michael O’Leary, chief executive of recruiters, HRM.

Holding your nerve when you’re frustrated, stressed or unhappy at work is tough, but grit your teeth. Taking any job to escape your circumstances is unlikely to end well and moves at middle and senior management should be strategically aligned to your long-term career goals.

There is a discernible step-up in the search for talent here at the moment, signalled by the arrival of heavyweight international firms (with Brexit on their minds) including Korn Ferry and Odgers Berndtson. If they’ve bothered to come, there are clearly sufficient opportunities to justify their investment and this is broadly good news for those itching to move.

However, it may also mean increased competition as candidates who might otherwise have gone to London are looking here instead.

If you’ve already gone for a number of jobs and been unsuccessful, it’s time to take a hard look at the “you” package. Are all your ducks present and in a row?

The “ducks” in question include:

– a concise but punchy CV;

– having a clear career direction;

– demonstrating knowledge and/or up to date awareness of emerging areas such innovation, AI, Big Data and the IOT;

– having strong sectoral knowledge at your fingertips;

– working your networks;

– and, ultimately, applying for jobs you stand a chance of getting.

“Fit is absolutely essential at middle to senior management. Assuming your experience broadly matches, then a demonstration of rounded leadership skills, self-awareness and a capacity for continuous learning are must-haves,” O’Leary says.

Marie Maguire spent 20 years in executive search.  She says a common mistake among job-seekers is going for the wrong jobs.

“Some 75 per cent of people don’t have the relevant experience or qualifications for jobs they apply for,” she says. “People also arrive with 10-page CVs when the maximum should be two with information that communicates results and achievements not your life history or job description.”

Maguire says she was often surprised by the number of senior executives who turned up for interviews with scant knowledge of their potential employer.

“Do your research, be aware of what’s happening in the marketplace, what opportunities or threats are there and how you fit. It’s not unusual for candidates to show very little career awareness and to say things like ‘salary doesn’t matter’. Of course it does. You have a certain worth based on your experience and should be able to put a value on it.”

If your job search is really flagging, Maguire suggests talking to a career coach, getting on the radar of executive search companies and putting a really big effort into networking.

“At senior level, in particular, new jobs often come through personal contacts,” she says.

Maguire does not, however, advocate sending your CV to every executive search company in town. “If at all possible get someone to make the introduction. If you have to cold call, make sure you know the name of the relevant person in your area and suggest a meeting at a convenient time for them.

“Asking to see them tomorrow smacks of desperation as does constantly phoning a search consultant to see if there’s any news about a job you’ve applied for.” 

A real challenge for those travelling for work is finding time to prepare for job change or to do relevant courses – although distance learning and weekend courses have made this easier. “If you’re regularly away, you need to be disciplined and schedule time for networking or studying or job-hunting the way you do for other things,” Maguire advises.

Not getting a job you really want can knock your confidence sideways but, if possible, have the presence of mind to ask in general terms what you could have done better.

But sometimes it’s not you. The interviewer may simply be a creep or you get the distinct feeling he or she is going through the motions because the job is already earmarked.

“It’s perfectly okay to ask why you didn’t get the job, but you won’t always get told the exact reason,” says Maguire. “Some typical reasons for failure include being over-qualified, not answering questions well, going off on a tangent and applying for a role that is clearly a level below your current position.”

O’Leary says that even well qualified job seekers can get pipped at the post for no better reason than another candidate has offered something over and above.

“A lot depends on the individual circumstances, but lack of self-awareness is probably the most common reason why an organisation doesn’t proceed with a candidate,” he says. “This can manifest itself in many ways – an over statement of ability/experience, poor reading of the selection audience, inability to empathise effectively with the organisation and its challenges, and generally demonstrating poor relationship building ability.”

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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