Your Dream Job Might Start in the Mail Room

There are two talent markets. As shown in the graphic, one offers jobs, the other careers. In order to maximize your lifetime personal growth, you need to find jobs in the career market. Unfortunately, this is not easy and there are many forces working against you. Understanding these negative forces is the first step in developing a career plan and meeting your personal development goals.

The job market is impersonal, time consuming and inefficient. This market is represented by the bottom portion of the hourglass-like image. In this marketplace, people are filtered on their job hunting status, their compensation needs and their current level of skills and experiences. AI is being used to mask these inefficiencies. The jobs being offered are ill-defined and the selection criteria to mix and match candidates rest on shaky assumptions. As a result, satisfaction, performance and success are problematic. In this market, recruiters and talent leaders are pressured and measured on activity, fill rates and costs. Avoiding mistakes is far more important than improving quality of hire.

Sadly, this market is growing. Technology is the cause, not the solution. We have made it too easy to change jobs. Candidates make long-term career decisions as a result of short-term dissatisfaction and who is willing to pay the most and execute the fastest. Technology vendors feed the frenzy, making it easier to change jobs and forcing companies to up the ante with new technology to feed their lust for the quick hire.

This has long-term personal and societal consequences, but few people seem to care in their quest for hiring at scale.

I made these claims at LinkedIn’s annual recruiter hug fest in Nashville a few weeks ago, and while many agreed, those with the budgets feel spending more money to make flawed processes more efficient is the safer bet. In my opinion this follow-the-leader mentality is the cause of the problem, not the solution. I made these same contentions about 10 years ago at a rival recruiter event prior to the rise of LinkedIn and was asked never to return.

The career market is a high-touch relationship-based process where career growth is the medium of exchange. This is the upper segment of the hourglass-like image. In this market, company and candidate needs are fully understood. Jobs and compensation are both negotiated to achieve a win-win that puts the person on a career trajectory that balances short-term economic needs with long-term personal growth.

Unfortunately, there’s a mistaken belief this process takes too long, despite the obvious benefits to company and candidate alike. It doesn’t, especially if workforce planning is integrated with the company’s annual operating plan and quarterly updates. The reason: You only need 3-4 great referrals and a few targeted prospects to make one great hire, but you need 150 resumes of reasonably qualified people to make one decent hire. And because you’re only dealing with 8-12 highly qualified people at the top of the funnel, you’ll be spending more time with fewer people. However, to pull this off, you need a great job – not a job description listing skills and experience – coupled with an exceptional recruiter and a fully-engaged hiring manager.

Some Job vs. Career Planning Insight  

People tend to enter the workforce in a job somewhere in the bottom half of the bottom half of the hourglass. Those that excel in these early spots are typically assigned stretch roles, and if successful move into the upper portion of the job market. Getting through the tipping point where the job and career market intersect is a major game-changer for the person. Those in the career market never need to apply for another job again. Either they are hired or referred by a former co-worker or they’re found by a recruiter who is trained to find top people in any field. If they’re not looking for a job at the time of contact, they’re unlikely to switch unless the new job offers significant upside growth. Accepting these offers accelerates their upward growth path. When these people are looking for another job, they start by networking with the more influential people they’ve met on their journey through the job and career market maze. And once in the career market, they rarely fall back into the job market and the impersonal job hunting process it represents.

While getting into the career market sounds simple, it isn’t. But it’s worth the effort. This means you need to volunteer for stretch assignments irrespective of compensation. It also means you need to commit yourself to succeed regardless of the challenges you’re facing and the effort required. And you can’t make excuses. And you need to bring others along with you. And sometime in the future when you make it, someone will call you a true leader. And they’ll be right.

How to Find and Get Your Dream Job

In a recent post I suggested the primary reason Why Good People Underperform is that the jobs people were hired to do were poorly defined before the person was hired.

As a result of this post a lot of job seekers cried out for help.

It’s a big problem – getting the right job – and it's one I’m working with Prof. Todd Rose at Harvard University to help solve. Rose is the author of the soon-to-be bestseller, The End of Average, and president of the Center for Individual Opportunity. He is currently focused on figuring out how work can be better designed to maximize individual performance rather than force-fitting candidates into ill-defined jobs. He contends that this is one of the reasons the workforce is highly disengaged and why good people underperform.

Until a solution to this problem is available, here’s the advice I offer job seekers to get a job that better matches their needs and interests.

Define your ideal job but don’t tell anyone…yet.

First figure out what you like to do most and what you do best. There needs to be a big overlap here or this “get a better job” exercise is a big waste of time. Define all of the technical skills required to get this job, the non-technical skills (formerly known as “soft skills”) and the size of the teams you’ve successfully worked with and led. You’ll need to fill in any skills gaps before anyone will take you seriously so get started with this right away. Maybe or some other online training portal can help here.

At some point in time, you’ll need to prove you’re competent to do the work you’ve just defined. I suggest candidates prove each strength with a real accomplishment. Here’s a slide deck you can use to get prepared for this. It will guide you through the whole interviewing process.

Find companies that do what you want to do.

Start looking for jobs that best match your interests on Indeed and LinkedIn but DO NOT APPLY! You’ll use these as leads. More companies are using microsites or talent hubs to group similar jobs. Start digging into these and become very familiar with the types of work the companies are doing and any new company initiatives underway. It’s a clue that these companies are expanding if they’re hiring lots of sales people, so check this out, too.

Then follow these companies. LinkedIn has a new feature for recruiters that prioritizes candidates based on their skills and how long they’ve been following the company. So this will help you get higher on the list if you do apply.

Get noticed and get referred.

Still don’t apply.

Instead you need to get referred to people who work at the targeted companies. If you have the skills, are following the company and are referred by someone in the company, you will be at the top of the list. Recruiters always review referred candidates first. However, you’ll need to own this networking advice before getting referred:

Networking is not about meeting as many people as possible. It’s about meeting a few people who can recommend you to other people you don’t know.

Here’s a video on how to implement this 20/20/60 networking plan I advocate.

Make sure you’re interviewed properly.

Make sure you’ve practiced the interview tips in the PowerPoint guide. But the big one is to ask forced-choice questions. At the beginning of the interview ask the interviewer to describe the job and some of the challenges involved. You’ll then need to prove you can do the work by giving an example of something you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable. To ensure all of your strengths and interests are covered, just ask the interviewer if the strength is important for success. Then describe an accomplishment proving you possess it.

Too many interviewers will ask you questions that don’t relate to real job needs, so this more direct approach will ensure you’re assessed properly.

Negotiate the job content, not the compensation.

The essence of a more “dreamlike” job is doing work that better matches your skills and interests. I suggest a career move needs to offer a 30% non-monetary increase. This is the combination of job stretch, job growth and a richer mix of more satisfying work. If you’re being offered a job and have the opportunity to negotiate the terms, focus more on modifying the job in some way rather than emphasizing more money. Not only will the hiring manager be impressed with the approach, you’ll also be more engaged and more productive. The big bucks will follow your performance.

Design, find and get your dream job.

While getting a great job isn’t easy, it’s a lot better than taking a series of lateral transfers and five or ten years later wondering what happened. The above is a realistic way to get a better job. Surprisingly, now is the perfect time to get started finding it.