interviewing

Should I Take a Lower Level Job If I'm Returning to Work After An Extended Leave?

iStockphoto.com |  fizkes

iStockphoto.com | fizkes

 People leave the work force for many reasons, such as having children, performing military service, taking care of ill relatives, or to return to school on a full-time basis. Whatever the reason, when someone decides to return to the work force after an extended period – often measured in years – he or she will encounter additional obstacles unique to those with gaps in their work history [8 Job Search Strategies for Returning to Work After An Extended Gap].

If you were a Director four years ago, you may believe you should automatically return to the same level, or higher, and under certain circumstances, like earning an advanced degree, that may be an achievable goal. In other cases, however, it’s important to prepare for the possibility a return will be at a lower level and/or lower compensation.

Selling yourself and your value as a return presents its own set of challenges. For better or worse, it’s important for job seekers to understand the insider perspective of recruiters and hiring managers.

There’s the perception that you are “out of the loop”, and recruiters/hiring managers will ask, “Is this person’s skill set aligned with current standards and practices?”

It’s essential to consider the reality of the situation. Time off the job can translate into missed skills, and since the starting point is the perception that you are “behind” other candidates, employers will likely focus more on your current skill set and less on your past work experience and accomplishments. For example, if every job is “Salesforce experience preferred” and you don’t have any experience in that software, no amount of impressive metrics on your resume will lift you over that hurdle. Your resume probably won’t make it past the Applicant Tracking System.

And make no mistake – as the returner, your leverage can be weaker than someone who is and has been gainfully employed. After all, an employer may not feel compelled to shower a candidate with money to attract them if their alternative is continued unemployment. Candidates who have been laid off face this same challenge, and some companies may exploit that to their advantage. 

As you develop a strategy to return to the workforce, how can you cancel out negative perceptions and rise to the top of a company’s list of candidates? Here are some important factors to consider.

  • How long have you been out of the work force? If it’s been several years, rapid changes may have occurred. Laws change. Regulations change. Technologies change. Do the research. Study the job postings. Become an expert again.

  • Where are your technical skills today? You’ve done your research and mapped the current landscape. Now it’s a simple game of compare and contrast. Determine if, and in what areas, you have skill gaps and develop a plan to resolve them.

  • Ego. Your ego. Letting go of your past life, or salary, may not be easy, but your number one priority should be to position yourself to get back in the work force. By no means should you work for free, but understand that returning where you were or ahead of where you were when you left the job market may or may not be a feasible option. Focus on the future.

 

As you tackle the search as a returner, consider the following: 

  1. Remember that you have value. It is easy to fall into the trap of self-depreciation, and it will be on your face and in your voice during the interview process. Keep in mind that you would not even be in the game if you didn’t have desirable professional and personal qualities. Be your biggest fan!

  2. Understand where you can realistically re-enter the work force. Self-assessments are an essential tool and effective weapon. Do your homework! If you have clarity on this point, you will be more effective targeting the jobs you want the most. Also, you should note that one of your best tools is Paysa.com, a compensation site that can help you understand the salary ranges for the roles you’re looking at.

  3. Always be training. This mantra is critical to both the unemployed and employed alike. Continuing your professional development – whether working or not – is one of the best ways to bolster a lateral, or even upward, move back into the work force.

  4. Demonstrate positivity. Show your best and most professional self. Positivity is a “soft skill” that can make instant inroads with employers who believe you will be a good co-worker and collaborative team member.

  5. Your next job may not be your last. End up in a lousy job that underpays you? Consider it a springboard to a better opportunity. It’s not going to take long for you to rebuild your toolbox and enhance your marketability. When the time is right, move on to a company that will pay you what you’re worth.


Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

The Essential Job Search Checklist

iStockphoto.com |  Ralf Geithe

iStockphoto.com | Ralf Geithe

Here is a Job Search Checklist we hope will help make your job search easy this summer, especially when the intoxicating sunny weather and cold drinks are too much to resist.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing this month, think of your job search as a multi staged space flight, and during each stage you have a checklist that gets you to the next stage – from Pre-Flight to Splash Down in the ocean, and for our purposes let’s say that ocean is the Caribbean.

Stage 1: Pre-Flight

1.     File for unemployment (if applicable).

2.     Update your resume.

3.     Update your LinkedIn and/or other professional networking profile(s), especially your photo.

4.     Develop your professional story. Write it down. You will need it for your Cover Letters and interviews.

5.     Upload your new resume on as many Job Boards as possible (Monster, Indeed, Glass Door, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder) and create job alerts.

 

Stage 2: Launch (Applying)

1.     When you discover a job opening, carefully study its responsibilities and requirements and match it to your qualifications.

2.     Write a Cover Letter. Use the professional story you’ve already written, then tailor the rest to the specific company and opening.

3.     Apply. Make your resume as Automatic Tracking System (ATS) friendly as possible, and, “no”, there isn’t any way around the laborious online application processes.

4.     Reach out to people in your professional network for help, opportunities, referrals, and/or references.

5.     Have professional interview clothes ready to go.

 

Stage 3: Interviewing

1.     Show up on time, professionally dressed.

2.     Bring multiple copies of your Cover Letter and Resume.

3.     Have an Elevator Pitch ready and rehearsed for the classic interview opener, “Tell us something about yourself.”

4.     Have a list of well-researched questions to ask the interviewers.

5.     Post-interview, send hand written thank you notes to each of the people involved in interviewing you.

 

Stage 4: Re-Entry

1.     You have a job offer! Congratulations! Refer to this list of Champagnes for appropriate action.

2.     Research the fair market value for the job position that you are being offered.

3.     Negotiate your compensation package.

4.     Thoroughly review any employment contract and, when happy, sign it.

5.     Review and update your Career Plan, as necessary.

 

Stage 5: Splash Down

1.     Start your new job.

2.     Update your LinkedIn and/or other professional networking profile(s).

3.     Create an Individual Development Plan, either through your new company or on your own.

4.     Take advantage of any ongoing education, training, or certifications offered through your new company, or consider investing in updating key skills related to your field on your own.

5.     Maintain ongoing communications with people in your professional network, and develop the new connections you make in your new position.

 

Easy, right?


Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

In Search Of The Purple Squirrel – How To Decipher A Job Advertisement

iStockphoto.com |  Paul Carpenter

iStockphoto.com | Paul Carpenter

You are searching for a job and that means reading job posting after job posting; they all start to look and sound the same. Where do the listings come from in the first place, and how do you interpret and prioritize their contents?

To start with, there is no way to determine who wrote the job listing. The job description you’re seeing on Indeed.com likely originated with a template from human resources, who gave it to the hiring manager, who delegated it to a department or personal assistant, who cut and pasted several parts from a previous listing for another position.

You may find that Fortune 500-level companies are more likely to have professionally written job listings that are mandated from above. Still, there are more than enough job listings with murky backgrounds to justify a degree of skepticism. After all, job listings are an imperfect science and will sometimes contain too much, too little, and/or contradictory information.

Despite these failings, however, job descriptions are a vital component of the recruitment process. When read closely, a job description will tell you what requirements, from a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s perspective, are non-negotiable, and contain clues about the position’s day-to-day responsibilities.

Knowing how to decipher the internal language of the recruitment process will only strengthen your candidacy. So, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a typical job posting.

THE JOB TITLE

Let’s take a look at title of Human Resources Coordinator. This indicates that the job is in the Human Resources department, and Coordinator indicates that it is an entry-level administrative position. Easy, right?

Not necessarily. Job postings titles can be deceiving because the actual meaning may vary wildly from one employer to another. The same job may have different titles at different places. One company may link job titles to compensation, while another may pride itself on having no titles at all. The variations are endless.

Job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn include categorizations that are intended to clarify where a specific role may sit level-wise in an organization. These include “Entry Level,” “Associate,” “Mid-Senior Level,” that will often be incongruent with the job title used by the poster, adding another level of confusion. How do you interpret a job title with “Manager” that is categorized as “Associate?” (this is prevalent in sales roles, where someone can be an Account Manager, but doesn’t actually manage anything or anyone other than their own activities).

THE SUMMARY

The summary usually provides glowing general description of the company and a general description of the job. The summary is valuable to read as it provides perspective on how the company markets itself and the role. It’s a great overview but it tends to draw little connection to your technical qualifications for the position. For example:

“The Amazing X Company, a world-class provider of amazing stuff, seeks a Human Resources Coordinator to join its growing team. We’re looking for talent with outstanding communication skills, great customer service perspective, and strong problem-solving and decision-making abilities to support the entire HR process.”

This description is generic, on purpose. It’s trying to present the general profile of the idea candidate from a behavioral side, but doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty technical details. Take it as a guideline to calibrate whether your personality and general background is a match for what they’re looking for.

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

Here is where you are going to start to discover the clues that will help you understand the position and the skills needed to be considered a viable candidate. This area the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. Some sample job responsibilities for a Human Resources Coordinator include:

  • Coordinating pre-employment activities

  • Preparing, maintaining, and ensuring accurate records and files

  • Conducting audits on personnel files and I-9 forms

  • Ensuring compliance with federal and state employment laws

…and so forth.

If you possess direct experience in any of these areas it will help your overall application. Generally speaking, if an employer finds a candidate who ticks all the experience boxes in terms of day-to-day functions, they’re going to give that individual a deeper look. Interpret this as the employer providing you with guidance on what qualifications and past experiences you should highlight in your cover letter and on your resume.

 

REQUIRED SKILLS

This is the meat of the job. Anything you see under “required skills” is considered an essential component of the right candidate and to have a fighting chance for the job you’ll need to have it. Let’s dissect some sample requirements:

  • Bachelor degree preferred

The use of the word “preferred” indicates that the degree is not a core requirement for the position. However, preference will be given to those with a college degree so if you’re applying without a diploma, the rest of your application better be stellar, and you should possess enough skills and experiences to compensate.

  • Minimum of 2 years of experience in Human Resources

“2 years” likely wasn’t chosen at random. They’re looking at candidates that possess a minimum of two years’ experience. The understanding is that this is the minimum amount of time required to build the knowledge foundation to be successful.

  • Direct exposure to employee relations and payroll practices

Pay special attention – this is the most important entry in this entire job posting. This is the experience that will matter most on your resume.

  • ADP experience is a strong plus

Just like “preferred,” “strong a plus” means it’s not a requirement, but candidates who have used ADP in the past will be in a better starting position; if you haven’t used ADP, but do have experience in another HR software system, you’re in decent shape.

  • Strong computer skills with high proficiency in MS Office

It would seem like this is a waste of space in today’s age, but it’s not. The employer included this in the job description because it’s nonnegotiable. Then there’s the soft skills:

  • Excellent written, verbal, and interpersonal communication skills

  • Outstanding organization and time management skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Practice and maintain an environment of confidentiality

The employer is likely going to evaluate these traits in greater depth during the interview. They’re hard to quantify (although a resume riddled with errors could work against you in the area of written communication skills). Just understand, if you are to get the job, you’re going to be expected to live up to these standards.

Many employers also include a section for “Preferred Skills.” This is usually the hiring manager’s wish list of additional skilled and experiences. They’re looking for, in recruiter parlance, the “Purple Squirrel.” This is the candidate that probably doesn’t exist but would check off all of a hiring manager’s boxes in terms of attacking any other work they have lying around – related or unrelated to the core duties of the job. But make no mistake – the candidate who has ALL of the required skills and ALL of the preferred skills will probably be in the best position to receive an offer.*

*Note: I say probably because there are mitigating factors, such as candidate salary requirements, age discrimination, or any countless other dynamics at play.

Here’s some final thoughts on deciphering and approaching job postings:

Tip #1: You have some latitude when duration of experience is specified. Let’s say the listing says “3-5 years experience making widgets”. You should have a minimum of 3 years, but you shouldn’t rule yourself out if you have more than five years. You can apply with 2 years’ experience, and nothing is stopping you, but it’s an uphill climb.

Tip #2:  From the recruiter’s perspective, there is a distinct difference between a Required Skill and a Preferred Skill. But think about it this way - if you’re have 100% of the Required Skills and 50% of the Preferred Skills, you’re in pretty good shape.

 

And that brings us to the important life lesson about purple squirrels. Have you ever actually seen a purple squirrel? No you have not, and you never will. Purple squirrels do not exist, and job candidates who possess all of the Required and Preferred skills tend to pop up with quite a bit less frequency than a hiring manager hopes. Apply to the job.

Lastly, remember that your resume is a marketing brochure and the recruiters/hiring managers are your customers. You are trying to convince them to invest in something – you. Mapping the qualifications on your resume with the Required and Preferred Skills on a job listing will greatly increase your chances of clearing the first hurdle.


 Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.