Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Before Applying for the Job: Two Key Questions Every Candidate Must Answer First

Finding a job can be hard, especially if you've been out of the workforce for a while.

One thing I have found with pretty much all of my registered job seekers is that they set some sort of limitations to their job search - I will (or can) only work locally, during school hours, close to public transport, that sort of thing - and then wonder why they aren't gaining quick job search success.

I've said it before, and it is worth repeating here again: employers don't care about candidates wants and needs, they care only about whether (or not) the candidate meets theirs. (This is not to say though that the two parties can't match.) They want to know what benefit to their business they will get if they hire you over someone else.

So there are two key things candidates need to consider before they begin even applying for jobs:

1. What does the employer want? and
2. What sets you apart from other candidates applying?

To consider and answer these two considerations before doing anything else will help you to apply for the position.

Let's look at question 1, "What does the employer want?"...

The answer will be different for every employer, but there are a few aspects that all employers want:
* someone who can do the work well
* someone who will be honest and reliable

In my experience, every time a job seeker applies for a job they believe they are capable of doing the job - otherwise they wouldn't have bothered applying.  Fair call.

But, can they do the job well? This is what the employer wants to be satisfied of before they will invite the candidate to an interview, or offer them the role.  This is where previous experience, licenses and qualifications help a candidate convince the employer that it is a strong possibility within the application process - which helps gain invitations to attend the interview.

In Australia, our nationally accredited qualifications are Competency-based, meaning it doesn't matter who you do your learning through or how you go about it, you'll only gain competency when you can perform at or above minimum standards (as set by the industry)(this is a simplistic explanation, I know).  For example, let's use typing to demonstrate this point.  Let's say that to be deemed competent as a touch typist the learner must be able to type without watching their fingers or the keys being pressed, and type at a speed of 35 words per minute (this is not factual, it is just an example) and have an accuracy level of 98% or higher.

If the learner is able to type without looking, can type at 75 words per minute, but only has an accuracy level of 50%, then the learner (although able to type faster than expected) has not achieved competency. But, if the learner successfully meets all the minimum requirements, in this case able to type without looking, has speed and accuracy at or above minimum level the assessor can deem that competency has been achieved, (so long as they have gathered sufficient evidence to support that competency has been achieved on more than one occasion).

Now back to job searching again: If a person wanted to apply for a typing role, and has been typing for a number of years and perhaps has gained an industry qualification that lists the assessed speed and accuracy, and the an employer wants a person who can type above minimum competency levels, and this information is included within the person's resume, then it would be fair for the employer to assume that (due to the candidate's qualifications and experience) they would be able to 1. perform the role, and 2. perform it well.

Most job seekers fail to research or consider the 'what employers want' side of things.  They see an ad or hear about a vacancy saying for example 'Typist Wanted' and go - I can do that job (or I want that type of job), so they send off their application with the high hopes of gaining an interview.

But hang on a second, did the candidate address that employers need within their resume?  Probably not if they are looking at job search solely from their own perspective. [Note that their answer started with the word "I".]

From the job seekers perspective, they have probably fired off their application because 'the position is close to home' (or 'it is in school hours' or 'the business is right opposite the train station') and "I can do that". In other words, they have focused entirely on their own needs (and wants).  [If the position is too far away, or isn't in school hours, or too far a walk from the train station, they'll either not apply, or if they have to because they are required to by the government, will not make any effort to be successful.]

But can they really expect to be invited to an interview (whether they want the job or not) if the only employer-want they have considered is the 'must be able to type 35 words per minute'?

No, the applicant that is most likely to be chosen to receive an invite for an interview will have sent off their resume to this particular vacancy 'because it is close to home' (if that is important to them),  but they won't have made any mention of that within their application.  And, the successful applicant most probably will have (before they applied) preempted the business' wants and needs, and because of this will have addressed all the stated and unstated employer wants and needs within their resume and application - such as,  that they are a Touch Typist with however many years experience, the type of documents they have created, the different computer systems and programs they are proficient in using, and may even have added some employer-attention-grabbing detail on how due to their typing speed and accuracy they won a company award or incentive or are able to type up eight documents an hour (when most other typists might only pump out six documents an hour) leading the employer to 'see' their worth without the applicant having to make unprovable claims about themselves.

If the employer needing a touch typist doesn't care about speed and accuracy, no harm has been done, the candidate is just demonstrating that they at least consider such qualities as important; but for the employers who want reliable and proficient workers they will have taken note because the resume and cover letter will be a stand-out (that doesn't include gimmicks, so will stand out in the right way!)

Now, when you are researching the industry and employers it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know what the employers want - only to later find out that they don't care about that aspect at all (or only minorly).

I, myself, have made this very (costly) mistake: after having been a self-employed private resume writer for a number of years (having helped a lot of people gain work quickly), when I decided to enter the Employment Services industry to become a paid employee, when I first started applying for Employment Consultant vacancies, my applications all highlightingly pointed out all my wonderful resume writing experience and administration skills (both mentioned in the job advertisements as forming part of the roles). I expected to be an instant stand out - but I wasn't!

That is because this was an assumption I made as to what the employers wanted, not what they actually wanted; and although I did successfully gain a couple of interviews from those initial applications, I didn't get the jobs and I soon learned that those were the employers 'least concern' rather than their major ones, and I was missing out on the jobs because I was focusing on the wrong aspects of the role - which isn't quite as bad from an employers perspective as only considering my own needs and wants. Each of the employers, I soon worked out, valued the same thing: meeting personal KPI's and Outcome targets - and only the candidates that satisfied this aspect progressed further.

And this was the best thing for me to learn too; because it allowed me to adjust all future applications to focus on what the employers really wanted (in my applications and interviews). The moment I did this, instantly invitations came from every application I submitted - until I had a couple of employers offering me the role and the tables turned, and I was then able to choose which job and employer I wanted to work for - at the greatest disappointment for the ones I declined to accept - and the employers competed to give me the terms and conditions I wanted, scared I would accept an employment offer from one of their competitors).

Which leads me to the second question from earlier:  "What sets you apart from your competitors?"

In the above example, I demonstrated to you (and to the employers) that I knew what the role really entailed (after making a few initial mistakes) and showed that I still wanted to do it anyway!  (Not everyone wants to help long term unemployed people overcome their barriers to gain employment - but, and it's okay to think me crazy, I really love it!)  I was able to demonstrate that my knowledge and skills (although gained outside of the industry) would assist me to do the job well if offered the job.  And once I learned how to convince the employers that I was capable of meeting KPI's and Outcome targets (for which I didn't have skills and experience) I started getting the job offers, and the employers were competing to meet my wants and needs.  I had set myself apart from my competitors: I had the skills the employers want, and a demonstrated interest in this line of work - it was the employers turn to make assumptions: this lady will do the job well, and she will be reliable (without you having to have made a claim that you will be reliable!)

So before you rush out your next job application, take time out to research employers and industry answer those two key questions about the type of work and field of interest YOU want to work in.

Remember, job search isn't really about you, it is about how you will benefit the employer. And, if you are lucky, if the employer knows you will be an asset to them, they are more likely to work around your needs to secure you!