Thursday, September 27, 2012

What are Employers Looking for These Days?

Recently Nick Schulz wrote "Hard Unemployment Truths About 'Soft' Skills" in the WSJ.  While I know many people have been hard hit by the recession, I do also know that sometimes the littlest things make the biggest differences.

Non-Technies Need Not Apply? Nick Schulz reported on the struggle manufacturing companies face to find qualified applicants for open jobs.  With manufacturing becoming more high-tech, it is easy to believe that the work force needs to be more computer savvy and technically competent.  It may come as a surprise to many that the biggest challenge many employers have is finding applicants with the "soft" skills you may take for granted.  These skills include being polite, motivated, enthusiastic, and able to answer a phone professionally.  The hiring managers also noted that sometimes it is hard enough to even find applicants that can pass the drug test.

What New Skills Employers Are Looking For?  Earlier this week I was meeting with a sales executive who has worked for many prestigious wineries in California.  He asked me what skills people are looking for in their sales staff.  I paused, and thought about it for a moment and said, "Someone who does their job."  I felt a little flat-footed, but really most often the hardest thing to find is someone who actually does their job and takes pride in their work.  And when you find someone who does, you don't want to let her go.

New Skills Versus Effectiveness:  Yes, it is true that we have lots of new technology and skills that we want our employees to have.  Knowing how to update a Facebook page is important if you are doing social media and having advanced point of sale system experience will make you a hot commodity--but if you waste your time lost in social media sites or don't actually work to make a single sale using the POS system--you aren't worth anything.

A Peek Into the Entry-level Job Scene

What it is Like Out There:  Recently my college-aged son has been looking for a part-time job.  He went to an informational session at a large logistics company and felt very out of place.  As his mother instructed, he wore his nice khakis, an ironed dress shirt, a tie and his best (read only) dress shoes.  He took his resume and reference list along in a folder.  Reporting back afterwards, he said he was the only guy there that wasn't "sagging" and the only white guy who wasn't sporting dreadlocks. (Please, reader, I love dreadlocks as much as the next guy--but thought it was a very interesting remark)

Set Yourself Apart, Nicely:  Today he is going back for a real interview.  Going over his game plan yesterday, I asked if he was going to wear a tie again.  He said, "Of course, I have to set myself far apart from the mirror-foggers."  Now this is a part-time job during college loading boxes into freight trucks.  He's hoping to get a grave shift and work in a 30 degree warehouse during the holiday season.  This isn't the highlight career for most people--but my son is really looking forward to working hard, getting paid and getting lots of extra hours during the holiday shipping season. 

Learning the Ropes:  Two years ago my son went for his first interview with the parks department to help clean up garbage and pull weeds around the city during the summer.  Getting to the interview, he said he again was the only guy not "sagging" and noted that most of the girls there were wearing short shorts and were baring their midriffs.  When he sat down at the interview table, he asked the interviewer if she would like to see his resume.  While she was shocked that he brought one, she took it and conducted the interview.  He got the job and got to spend many 100+ degree days picking up garbage and fixing playgrounds around Sacramento. 

Getting the reference:  Yeah, so maybe these jobs aren't going to find my son living in a mansion and partying on a yacht--but he's a step ahead of a lot of unemployed people out there.  In his summer job he learned how to work as part of a team, a little about money management and how to do the job his supervisor wanted done.  Never missing a day of work--and only forgetting his steel-toed boots once which caused him to be 5 minutes late to work--made his supervisor happy, and she has been a great reference.  He also has a good job to put on his resume, helping him get the next job.

What Can You do to Improve Your Hireability?

Make Sure you Polish your Soft Skills:    Be polite and approachable when interacting with a potential employer.  Make sure you use good grammar in communications with them and follow-up as requested.  Be consistent in your information, especially when it comes to job history and responsibilities.  Dress appropriately for a job interview.  Don't Sag!  Act professional.  Be enthusiastic about the opportunity to meet with anyone at the company and sincere about your interest in working for them.

Know What's Relevant:  Yes, most likely you have more experience than needed to load freight trucks--so make sure you brush up on your specific experience and know what talents you bring to the role.  If you are applying for a job that requires knowledge of sales tracking software--make sure you study up on it so you can talk intelligently about your expertise on it and discover where you might need additional study.  Be honest about areas that you don't have the required experience, but if you can show how you can acquire that knowledge, you are showing you know a lot about the job.

Act Like You Want to be Hired:  It may sound funny, but I can often tell when someone isn't really into the job hunt.  Statements such as, "Well, maybe it would be better if I continued to work for a friend instead of taking a full time role" or "If I take a job I will lose my unemployment benefits"  are interview killers for me. Why are we talking here?  Didn't you apply for the job?  When you are talking to a hiring manager they are listening for little clues about how likely you are to take the job, and also to keep the job.  When you put up little red flags it may give the hirer pause.  Mulling it over they may decide to keep looking, or bring in that other person who seemed to really want the job.  Don't shoot yourself in the foot--if you are interviewing you should be prepared to take the job.  Or at least seriously consider the offer. 

Crossing My Fingers:  Right now my son is in that interview.  I do hope he's been listening to his mother all these years.  And that he wore a belt!  He'd better pass that drug test.