The difference between a proactive vs. reactive career strategy is success and mediocrity.
Too many people look for work at all of the wrong times and accept jobs for all of the wrong reasons. The following ideas can help you figure out when and if you should change jobs and how.
Start by determining if now’s the time to start looking.
Use Career Zone Analysis to Determine Your Job-hunting Status
Your current job satisfaction and career trajectory should be the primary determinant of your job hunting status. Use the Career Zone job satisfaction curve shown in the graphic to help figure this out. If you’re highly satisfied in your current position and it continues to offer lots of growth for the foreseeable future you’re somewhere on the left. If your career is plateauing you’re somewhere in the middle. If you find little satisfaction in your work, the future is questionable or you’re underemployed, you’re somewhere on the right of the midpoint.
The best time to look for a new job is when you don’t need to since career growth will drive your decision-making, not the economics. That’s why I suggest everyone should keep their options open. This is how you implement a proactive career strategy.
Implement a 60/20/19/1 Job Seeking Program
Active job seekers should spend 60% of their time networking. They'll find better jobs this way. Recognizing that real networking isn’t meeting as many people as possible; it’s meeting a few people who can vouch for your performance and who are willing to introduce you to a few other people who might have an open opportunity. Making sure your resume and your LinkedIn profile can be found by a recruiter looking for someone just like you should represent 20% of your effort.
Nineteen percent of your time should be spent finding open jobs and using the backdoor to gain entrance rather than applying directly. The backdoor is finding someone who can refer you to the hiring manager or department head and getting the chance to demonstrate your ability with a micro-project of some type. Applying directly is a 100 to 1 shot and should be limited to 1% of your effort.
If you’re on the left side of the Career Zone curve I suggest implementing a 50/50 open-minded job hunting plan. While the overall time is a lot less, half of the 4-6 hours per month spent planning your next move should be focused on networking and the other half on making sure you can be found. Then when a recruiter calls, take the call, and ask about the job itself and the company’s growth plans, not the compensation package.
Don’t Make Long-term Career Decisions Using Short-term Information
Here’s a short list of the criteria candidates use to compare offers and accept one or another. As you look the list over highlight your top five.
Content of the work itself and if it’s intrinsically motivating
Importance of the work to the company’s strategy or mission
Leadership qualities of the hiring manager
The people you’ll be working with regularly
Company’s growth plans and business opportunities
Chance to learn and grow more rapidly
A bigger, more important role
Now categorize your top five factors into one of these three buckets: 1) what you get on the day you start, 2) what you’ll be doing during the first year and who you’ll be doing it with or 3) the long-term growth opportunity. Be very concerned if most of your top five are short term or the mid- and long-term are poorly defined. A good career strategy needs to emphasize what you’ll actually be doing, learning and becoming, not what you’ll be getting on the start date or hope to be doing. Too often candidates, in the rush to accept, take the job that’s most convenient or the one that offers the biggest compensation package. This leads to a common career malady known as “job-hopping syndrome.” Here’s the cure.
I suggest candidates compare all of their job opportunities on all of the short-, mid- and long-term factors. What I've discovered is that rapid compensation growth follows rapid job growth. It rarely leads it.
Don’t Close the Door Before It’s Opened
While turnover is no longer the stigma it once was, what’s becoming the stigma is taking a bunch of lateral transfers for more money rather than more job growth. That’s why I always ask candidates during the work history review why they changed jobs and if they got what they were looking for in the job they took. Without the growth, job satisfaction declines quickly, performance is problematic and turnover increases. That’s why when a recruiter calls and asks if you’d be open to chat about a career opportunity, take the call and say yes. Saying you’re not interested in changing jobs doesn’t mean you’re not interested in changing jobs sometime in the future. That’s why the best time to change jobs is when you don’t need to change.
When everyone has the same tools, uses the same job boards and has access to the same candidates, everyone will get average results. I contend this is the underlying reason for LinkedIn's recent dramatic price drop. On top of this, consider that despite all of the new hiring tools developed in the past 10-20 years, overall quality of hire has not improved. Under conditions of universal sameness, the determinates of which company hires the strongest people will be driven by the skill of their recruiters, the quality of the positions being offered and the engagement level of the hiring managers involved in the process.
The big problem in all of this is that too many companies focus on hiring only active candidates who are skills and experienced qualified. At best this represents 10-20% of the total talent market. Yet these same companies contend their quality problems will end by hiring move passive candidates. However, to reach the passive talent market you can't use the same processes as are used to attract and hire active candidates. I refer to this dilemma as the Staffing Catch-22 Spiral of Doom. To recruit passive candidates you need to convince someone who's not looking that what you have to offer is better than what he/she is doing now. This is not easy to do.
Hiring passive candidates starts by recognizing these fundamental differences:
Passive Candidates are Not Interested in Lateral Transfers
To attract passive candidates you first need to fully understand the work that needs to be performed since the best passive candidates are not interested in considering poorly designed jobs. The passive candidate pool can be dramatically expanded by shifting to a performance qualified attraction and assessment process. This is what esteemed Harvard Professor Todd Rose describes in his new best-selling book, The End of Average, as the key difference between hiring average people and hiring remarkable ones.
Passive Candidates Need to be Recruited, Not Just Identified
The best passive candidates need to be identified, attracted, performance qualified, wooed and nurtured. The best way to find these people is to get referrals. This way you only need a short list of strong prospects to start with to find 4-5 strong finalists. The key to this is overcoming their initial concerns and then convincing them that the job you're offering represents a career move (see below). This is how you improve quality of hire.
This is an entirely different process than sourcing active candidates. In this case a wide net is used to find as many skills and experience qualified people as possible. The weakest are then screened out, the rest are filtered on compensation and the remaining few are urged to accept an ill-defined lateral transfer. If this doesn't work the net is expanded and the process repeated until a hiring manager reluctantly agrees to hire someone. This is why quality of hire doesn't improve.
Creating the Career Move Requires a Consultative Process
The short definition of a career move is a job that offers more satisfaction than the compensation. To make this case, recruiters need to convince passive candidates that their opening offers a 30% non-monetary increase. This is a combination of a bigger job, faster job growth and increased job satisfaction and requires a consultative recruiting process similar to the one used to sell complex custom products. This takes time, a few hours spread over a few weeks, but it's how you improve performance, satisfaction and retention.
Hiring active candidates is more transactional and commodity-like with speed and cost being the drivers of success. This is how you hire good people for ill-defined lateral transfers and wonder why they become disengaged within months after starting.
Technology is Just a Starting Point, Not the End Game
Obtaining prequalified referrals is at the core of passive candidate recruiting. A strong full-cycle recruiter only needs a starting list of 15-20 people like this to generate 4-5 high-quality serious candidates in a few days. LinkedIn Recruiter is a key part of this, especially when viewed as a network of 400 million people rather than just a database of names. All the recruiter needs to do is proactively search on his or her connection's connections to find some top people. Then get the referral. All that's left is to convince these people your opportunity represents a true career move. Too many talent leaders think technology is the solution for better hiring. It's not. It's just a starting point.
Make Sure You Have the Right Talent Strategy
Being more efficient doing the wrong things is why quality of hire has not improved. Reversing the trend starts by recognizing you can't use a talent strategy designed to weed out the below average to attract and hire the above average. As Prof. Todd Rose says, you need one designed to maximize individual performance.
The reason 70% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged is because the apply button is too small and too easy to push.
I’m working on a number of loosely related projects regarding how user experience (“UX”) design concepts can be applied to the candidate experience (“CX”). The common goal of all of these projects is to better match more people with better jobs.
At one of these meetings someone asked me how to redesign the apply button. I suggested to add a time delay feature based on how good people look for and evaluate new job opportunities. Done properly this redesign would open up the pool to a broader group of highly qualified people who were never seriously considered before. I then sketched the following version of this type of time-phased apply button on the whiteboard. As you'll discover, it's actually a metaphor for completely rethinking the current job-hunting and matching process.
This CX-inspired apply button is designed from the perspective of a fully competent person. (FYI - fully competent means the person can do the work, it's not related to skills, but comparable accomplishments.) It doesn't matter if the person is actively looking or not. Instead it's based on the multi-step “get to know each other first” process I advocate.
Explore Ring: The person agrees to an informal exploratory conversation about the career potential of the position. This is a 10-15 minute conversation with a real person, typically a sourcer or recruiter. (Note: Getting the person to find the button is an entirely different process.)
Consider More Seriously Ring: The person is somewhat convinced that a more detailed conversation is required with someone who fully understands the real job requirements. This should be a knowledgeable recruiter. This second conversation is about 30 minutes in length with a dual purpose. First, determine if the person is basically competent to do the work and second, it gives the person a chance to find out if the job represents a career move.
Meet the Hiring Manager Ring: The person agrees to have a phone conversation with the hiring manager. This is an exploratory call only. The purpose is for the person to better understand the job and determine the manager’s style. In parallel the manager needs to determine if the person is worth recruiting and inviting onsite. This step forces the hiring manager to engage early and take full responsibility for recruiting and hiring the best person possible.
The CX-redesigned Apply Button: The person agrees to become a serious candidate for this job and participate in the interviewing process. There is full disclosure early in this process including an in-depth discussion of the performance objectives of the job and any potential challenges that could prevent a person from being successful.
Getting to this inner button takes about 60-90 minutes spread over a few days. This is how much time it takes for any person - whether looking or not - to recognize the potential career opportunity in a new role. Rushing it precludes this initial evaluation process from taking place. Here's why this go slower process is so important:
A poorly designed, skills-laden apply button eliminates 90% of the best possible candidates. These are all of the people who could do the work but are eliminated by ill-defined and uninteresting job descriptions.
The center apply button as currently designed requires people to be perfectly qualified, be open to accept a lateral transfer and have a need to move fast. Very few strong people are in this situation.
When you sell commodity jobs in a transactional “Apply Now” fashion, you compete on price rather than opportunity.
During this CX-modified apply process these two big things need to happen:
Define the size of the career gap. The purpose of the exploratory discussions is for both parties to see if the candidate is motivated and competent to do 80-85% of the job. This also allows the candidate to determine if the other 15-20% represents a potential career move.
Get the candidate to socialize the idea with his or her support team. Candidates always seek the advice and counsel of others before making any important decision. If this is done without some insight regarding the career opportunity, the advice is always to go for the most convenient job offering the most pay.
In order to expand your candidate pool to include more diverse candidates, non-traditional candidates, military veterans, and high-potential people, you need to redesign your company’s apply button. It starts by making it bigger and easier to find, but harder to push.
Last week I was approached by a bunch of recruiters complaining how hard it is to hire top people. Rather than pick one issue to focus on I’ve decided to tackle them all. In no particular order, here’s why the job hunting and hiring process is so difficult to get right:
Companies force fit people into a poorly described job using misguided criteria. A laundry list of “must have” skills, experiences and competencies is a person description, not a job description. These non-job descriptions are then matched to what a person has put on his or her resume which at best is a weak representation of the person’s true ability. Since there’s so much left to the imagination on either side, companies wind up interviewing some poorly chosen mix of people and force fitting the “winner” into some ill-defined job. This could be the reason why 68% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged.
A different process is used to hire acquaintances than strangers. People who are personally known or referred get a few free passes: 1) they always get to the top of the resume pile so they get the first shot at all new jobs, 2) they are judged on their past performance rather than being filtered first on the depth of their skills, 3) jobs are often modified to fit their strengths and offset their weaknesses. This leads to a major job-seeker strategy: Become an acquaintance rather than applying directly.
Too many unqualified people apply and the most qualified don’t. Most non-job descriptions are written to weed out the unqualified. In the process they turn off a majority of the most qualified with the undeterred unqualified still applying in droves. This makes it very difficult to sort the best from the rest. Everyone loses in this situation. Solution: Job seekers need to stealthily ignore the apply button.
Recruiters and candidates alike negotiate the short-term job criteria as a condition to enter into a long-term discussion. What a person gets on the start date – title, compensation package, company name, and location – should be discussed after the job opportunity is somewhat understood and the candidate’s background is explored. Unfortunately, one side or the other (i.e., the one with the most buying power) will cut short the chance for any meaningful conversation due to the "lack of time" excuse driven by short-term thinking.
The best people have the least amount of experience. The definition of top people is that they accomplish more with less experience and can learn new skills faster than their peers. This concept is overlooked when it comes to preparing job descriptions and ignored when recruiters filter candidates based on their years of experience, depth of skills and compensation. Imagine how many great people who didn’t get hired as a result.
Most interviewers overvalue the quality of the person’s personality and presentation skills rather their track record of past performance. Unless the person undergoes an in-depth Performance-based Interview matching past performance to actual job needs, the assessment decision will be flawed. In most cases too much emphasis is placed on first impression, presentation skills and confidence, not on the person’s ability and motivation to do the work required.
Too many interviewers overemphasize technical brilliance. If the interview isn’t about presentation and personality, it most likely involves determining the candidate’s technical brilliance. While technical competency is important, how the person applies his or her technical knowledge on the job is more important. To address this common error, convert the required tech skills into outcomes (i.e., ask “How is the skill used on the job?”) and ask candidates to describe their comparable results.
Not enough emphasis is placed on the soft skills that predict success. Once a person moves past a technical threshold of competency there are more important non-technical skills that determine on-the-job success. Some of these include job-related problem solving, fit with the hiring manager and culture, and motivation to do the actual work. Few interviewers focus on these core drivers of performance.
The assembly line interviewing approach increases the opportunity for error. Fully vetting a person takes at least 6-10 hours of in-depth interviews spread over a few days or weeks. This rarely happens. Instead, some companies put candidates through a series of poorly structured 30-minute “speed dating” interviews. This forces the decision to be made on affability, first impressions and presentation skills. In this case, a “no” vote is safer to make than a “yes” vote with the “most acceptable” person not necessarily the best candidate getting hired.
If you’re an interviewer I’d suggest some of these problems can be eliminated by using a performance-based job description in combination with a Performance-based Interview. Job seekers can level the playing field by first entering through the back door by getting referred then asking the interviewer to describe real job needs. Hiring the right person or taking the right job is as important as any business decision a hiring manager or job seeker is likely make. Unfortunately, few people are willing to invest the time necessary to do it right. Taking ill-advised shortcuts and detours is a sure way to get lost, especially when you don't know where you're going.
Over the past year on these pages, I suggested there were a number of things a job seeker could do to get a (better) job rather than wasting time complaining about the unfairness of the process. Following is recap of what I consider the most important advice on how to hack-a-job rather than applying directly. (Here's a link to the video series summarized below.)
Don’t spend more than 20% of your time applying directly to a job posting. Unless you’re a perfect fit, it’s a waste of time. Here are some ideas on how to spend the other 80% of your time.
Use the job posting as a lead. Once you see a job of interest, search for all the jobs the company has posted. Then use some of the non-resume ideas below to connect directly with the department head or someone connected to the hiring manager.
Become a true networker, not a glad hander. Networking is not about meeting as many people as you can. It’s about meeting a few well-connected people you already know who can introduce you to a few well-connected people you don’t know.
Use the backdoor. If you’re not a direct match on skills and experience you need to be referred by a company employee or someone connected to the hiring manager. This will get you to the top of the resume stack since there are fewer gatekeepers watching the backdoor.
Prepare a non-resume. If your resume isn’t a perfect match, but you’ve done something related, you’ll need to narrow the focus and amplify your accomplishments. A one-page job proposal or a video describing a major comparable accomplishment might just do the trick.
Do some pre-work. An MBA student took my suggestion to prepare a competitive analysis for a company he had targeted. He sent it to the VP of Marketing and landed an interview. Mini-projects like this are a great way to demonstrate your ability.
Send the department head a performance-based job description. If you’re familiar with the job, you might want to reformat the posted job description by describing some of the likely performance objectives. Send this to the department head with a summary of a few of your related accomplishments to get an interview.
Offer a free or low cost trial. There’s always a risk in hiring someone. To reduce this risk, offer to work on a small project on a contract or temp-to-perm basis.
Learn the 2-minute answer to any question. Get a two-minute egg timer. Find a bunch of standard interview questions. Turn the timer over and force yourself to answer each question out loud for the full two minutes using this technique. This will be great practice and a real confidence builder for an actual interview.
Control the interview. Ask the interviewer to describe actual job needs. Then give a two-minute example of something you’ve accomplished for each one.
Divide and conquer. You don’t need to possess every skill listed on the laundry list of qualifications to get seen or hired. Long ago I had a candidate for a controller spot get hired by describing some of the related things he had done extremely well and how he could quickly learn everything else.
Prove you’re not overqualified. There are two dimensions to being qualified for any job. First, you need to be competent to do the work. Second, you need to be motivated to do it. No matter how competent you are, if you can’t prove you have proactively done this work in the recent past, instead of sometime long ago, you’re now overqualified.
Interview yourself and send someone your answers to our Performance-based Interview questions. This Performance-based Interview template will help you get prepared. This video explains the process. To get an interview, send a recording of your answers to someone you found through the backdoor.
Get phone screened if your appearance or age will send the wrong message. In The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired I suggest that a 30-minute phone interview focusing on accomplishments will minimize biases due to first impressions. Job seekers should request this type of phone screen if there’s any chance they won’t be assessed objectively.
If you don’t want to wade through each of the links above, here's the condensed video version. The tips are also hidden in plain sight between the paragraphs in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. Whatever approach you use to try these ideas out, I can guarantee they're more likely to help you get your next job rather than complaining about how unfair the system is.