“And Don’t Forget to Do Your Homework” – Part 3 of the series “Choose Me Hire!”



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Headlines blare: “Why You Should Hire Me.” While times may be challenged, there is work (and jobs) to be had. I’ve been in the people (and teams) assessment business for over 25 years , both as a coach to managers and teams and as someone directly responsible for hiring thousands of people through roles running large staffing / recruiting operations. I’ve designed selection processes, designed and run interviewer training programs, and written and spoken on the subjects of recruiting and selection. From that experience I have a pretty good sense of how and why people get hired. “Choose Me, Hire Me!” is a nine part series on the ways people can improve their chances of being hired.

Part 3 – And Don’t Forget to Do Your Homework.

When your parent(s) reminded you to “do your homework”, they weren’t just talking about school. Getting the right job in a place where you can do well is work – and trolling Craigslist for jobs for which you can send in resumes is the least of it.

When I ran staffing for Barclays Global Investors in the United States I used to kid that anyone who could spell BGI thought they were qualified. While showing up on time, knowing yourself and doing solid information interviewing [see Parts 1 and 2] will generally get you a big toe in the door, it only means you’ve reached a new level of competition. Like the PacMan games of old, you need to be able compete effectively at this next level. And the number of people who respond to any job posting is staggering, so how do you figure out to get a little advantage?

The solution? Do your homework!

In the age of Google there is little excuse for not knowing a ton of information on companies, even those small start-ups that toil in obscure stealth or “private” mode. (For example, Ruby on Rails performance management company New Relic , a company  that does not list its address anywhere on its web site, is likely at 139 Townsend Street in San Francisco – just Google the name and add San Francisco, CA)

For public companiies, http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml is a starting place to read the last 3-5 years of public filings. A vegetarian who believes strongly in being kind to animals? Stay away from Allergan who notes in their annual proxy filings that they still depending on animal testing (baby bunny eyes getting torched as a byproduct of the research they do in opthalmics was their old bug-a-boo). Care to work for a US based energy company that is more progressive? Look at San Ramon based Chevron who notes in their annual reports that they offer domestic partner health benefits, unlike ExonMobil who does not.

Literature searches for any company, (Fortune, Fast Company, Businessweek, Wall Street Journal, your local version of something like The San Francisco Business Times) bring a weath of news items. Again, 3-5 years of history will tell you alot.

Your network – particularly the one you cultivated or expanded earlier – can be of help: a simple “anyone know much about ABC?” will bring information. And while on the networking thought, it’s impossible to use the LinkedIn JobInsider Toolbar with a browser like Firefox and not have it light up with names of people you know on LinkedIn who are connected to somehow the company you’re reviewing when you look at any job board.

You can have a long enough list of things you want to know to drive yourself – and any prospective employer crazy. Here are some questions I’d want answered before I got serious about looking for a role with any particular company – most of them which I would find about through research and networking and not necessarily in any interview:

  • Who owns them, and what is their financial situation? How has it changed over the last three years?
  • What do they do, with whom do they compete, and what are the markets in which they operate. What changes about any of those three factors in the last 3 years, and what’s the projection for the next three?
  • What are their employee demographics: age, gender, ethnic/racial mix, tenure, family structure? What sort of faces do you see when you see the “senior team?” Who is considered an “uncommon” employee and how are they treated? Will be you the ugly duckling who never fits in, and can you be successful with this flock?
  • What types of people get hired there, who does well, and who does not so hot and leaves – and afer how long?
  • What is the real hiring process – how do people really get asked to interview, how do they interview, and who really makes hiring decisions?
  • What’s it like to work there – and when someone says “great”, what does that really mean? What are the specific things that happen at the company or with the culture to make it great – or alternately, not-so-great?
  • What’s a description of a “bad day” at the company? It can seriously vary: when I was with one McKesson company, a bad days was a customer telling you they might drop your business next month. With another McKesson company, a bad day was not getting the phone call soon enough in the day from your customer that had switched suppliers and put all your product out in the street to pick up.

If you get this type of information on a company it will tell you how and who to approach. While there is nothing wrong with zipping in the resume from that job board, odds are not so good it will produce much of a result – Richard Nelson Bolles (His book – What Color is Your Parachute – is still the best job hunting resource in my mind) – pegs this method as having a 4-10% hit rate. Conversely, that is a 90-96% failure rate. People do win the lottery, people do get married/partnered from Match.com – it’s just that the odds aren’t so hot.

Best bet? Put your time and effort wherer they are mostly likely to surface opportunities that match your interest and skills, and that sweet spot according to the research is through working and expanding your network as you do the J. Mike Smith version of information interviewing (see Part 2). Working with others, in a form a “job hunt club” increases those odds up into the 85% range, 8-20 times better than resume for the job posting method.

Next: Part 4 – “Making New Friends” – the not-so-dreaded interview .Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.



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