The tighter job market, and eliminating me, me, me & I, I, I

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Jun 08, 2008 The tighter job market, and eliminating me, me, me & I, I, I

Image from Library of Congress’s website.

The job market is tightening for all jobs, including law jobs. When applying for jobs before and during law school, I often felt that plenty of employers were non-feeling and too unfair. Now that I am on the hiring end, I feel that many qualified candidates are not getting their point across succinctly and persuasively enough to get a job interview and to be hired, and that many underqualified candidates do not appear underqualified at first blush, thus calling for careful screening by employers of job candidates (although I do not support going as far as doing drug testing and privacy-violative background checks). Here is some food for thought, in case some of it has not already been bandied about ad nauseum, and is of any benefit to job seekers and employers:

– Your job application needs to speak to your audience. I receive legions of applications that read all about “me, me, me” and say little about “you, you, you.” Certainly a job applicant is trying to fulfill his or her career and financial needs. However, it is tough for an employer to offer a job interview to an applicant who does not show why s/he wants to help make the employer’s entity a success.

– Your job application should be fully responsive to the job posting. If the job posting asks for salary history and references, either provide the information, or else acknowledge the request and offer to provide that information if an interview is held. Acknowledging the information request shows that you are less likely to ignore assignments at work and that you care enough about the potential job to tailor your application to that job.

– If the job posting requests that a resume be no longer than one or two pages, do not ignore the request. The quicker that a resume and cover letter get to the persuasive point, the better.

– A cover letter and resume should be marketing tools. A cover letter should not be omitted, and it should specifically address the position being applied for, why the applicant wants the position, and why the applicant will be a good fit for the position. With computer technology as advanced as it is, it is a good idea to tailor one’s resume to the position applied for.

– Employers’ focus runs anywhere from zeroing in on pure merit on paper to personally knowing the applicant or those close to the applicant. A job seeker is well advised to make an effort to meet potential employers through such activities as joining relevant professional associations and getting involved with them; and finding employers at places and times where they will have time to speak (e.g., career fairs, and, with trial lawyers, in court).

– Employers such as I ordinarily wish to screen an applicant by phone before blocking out time in a busy day for an interview. Consider whether your outgoing voice message conveys the impression you want to convey to potential employers. If it is hard for you to sound upbeat that the employer has called, consider thanking the employer for the call, emphasizing that you very much look forward to speaking, and explaining that you are in the middle of something that would make it better for you to arrange another time in the near future to speak.

– For the interview, arrive on time and in sufficient time to arrive relaxed, spend at least one half hour getting relevant information about the employer online or elsewhere (and visualizing how you and the employer can make this job a harmonious fit for you both), and be ready to show the employer your best self in handling ordinary and curveball situations. My law firm, for instance, is a fast-paced workplace that requires shifting gears throughout the day; I look for that ability when I interview applicants.

– Welcome all tough questions as a gift that show what is on the interviewer’s mind. Unless the interviewer is a sadist or has been assigned an unwanted interviewing obligation, the interviewer wants to help him or her and the hiring organization maximize benefit and minimize risk in hiring. As unfair or fair as the hiring process might seem to be, the interviewer has little if any reason to focus on anything but trying to succeed in hiring the best candidate for the job at the available compensation rate.

– At the interview, listen actively, and respond to what is being asked. No matter how stressful the interviewing process might be, this is an opportunity to show the employer your ability to deal with difficult situations in an ordinary work day.

– Sadly, racism, sexism and other ugly and unfair bias still permeate society and, therefore, affect the labor market. If such bias arises in the job application, interview, and workplace process, it should not be ignored. The bias might be directed towards the candidate, about other people, or even by the interviewee; none of this should be ignored. Everyone must stand up against such views and behavior.

– Employers prefer to hire people who are psyched about working for them. Good job performance is tougher to achieve by people who are miserable at their jobs. This does not mean that job seekers should lower their job goals. It does mean, at least, that job seekers can try to do their best to increase their interest level in a job that they prefer to be a backup option in seeking better opportunities. One book that can be beneficial here is the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness At Work.

– Know and acknowledge your relevant strengths and weaknesses. I ask interviewees to tell me both, and not to candy-coat their relevant weaknesses. At minimum, when I offer a job to an applicant, I make clear that the applicant is expected to perform at the level set clearly by me in the application and interviewing process unless the applicant has expressed any problem doing so. Everyone has days where performance might fall short;  however, I can only accommodate such problems if an employee tells me there is such a problem. Employers must be educated about laws protecting employees and job applicants concerning disabilities, pregnancy and family leave, and all other legally protected accommodations.

– Employers: The employer-employee relationship is a two-way street. Paying employees does not give you an indentured servant. At the very minimum, the golden rule applies: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Further, although effective employees need to listen well and exercise a sufficient amount of good judgment and independence, the employer needs to sufficiently train employees, to remove the mystery about what is needed to succeed at the job, and to positively nurture and motivate employees to succeed. Furthermore, be honest about the position for which you are hiring. Every job has warts, and job applicants should be informed of them, including but not limited to any expectations to work long hours at short notice at times, and any possibility of switching the job description at times.

– Employees: As much as plenty of energy and time and devotion are needed to land and succeed at a job, always be ready to stand up for what is right, just, and fair if your employer or anybody at your job is urinating on justice and fairness. On the one hand, this might risk your job. On the other hand, if you speak up effectively, calmly, and diplomatically, you might come to the attention of others at your organization or other organizations who will want to hire you for such qualities. Jon Katz.

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