Your Six Best Friends In The Job Hunt

The wonderful thing about open questions starting with what, where, when, why, who and how – is they help you understand any situation. This includes understanding the employment market, what job you want, how to get it, and how to succeed in it.

Here is why they must become your best friends in the job hunt!

You should use them as follows:

  • a check list on your strategy and progress by applying these questions to yourself.
  • a way to structure your conversation during information gathering networking meetings.
  • to get yourself ready for when employers use these questions on you!

According to the third consecutive annual study by Accenture, one out of every two graduates (51%) will take over 2 years to land their career job. Obviously this statistic may vary depending on your geography, type of major and university or college. However the message is clear:

Qualifying with a college degree is by itself not enough to differentiate you.

Employers will look beyond a college degree, and use questions to identify candidates who:

  • Know what they want to do.
  • Have goals for where – i.e. which employers.
  • Know how to understand the specific needs of those employers.
  • Know how to proactively develop their skills to meet those needs
  • Have goals for when – that drive them to act with urgency.
  • Know their reasons why – that motivate them to persevere and overcome challenges.

This means you need to have:

  • Identified jobs with target employers you are excited about and be able to explain why.
  • A clear understanding of the requirements of those jobs versus your strengths and weaknesses.
  • A targeted self development plan to align yourself to what your employers of choice are looking for – against which you can demonstrate significant progress.

If you just show up to an interview without any of these – then you are sending a loud message.

That message is:

“I don’t know what I want to do. Could you give me a job so that I can see whether I can do it and whether I will like it?”

Obviously no employer wants to take that risk. They will conclude that you did not make enough effort to find out and prepare yourself for their job, and they will worry that you will also fail to make enough effort once you are in the job.

They want to know you have made choices, and taken actions, which ensure that you are highly motivated and driven to succeed in their jobs.

For you to be able to make the right choices you need the right information. It is therefore very helpful if you can follow a proven process that is driven by the right questions.

This is where our friends come in.

I have used these questions to create some simple checklists below which you can use to guide you and structure important networking conversations through three key phases in the process of landing a job.

Note: As I indicated above, these friends are extremely well liked by your potential employers too. Interviewers will ask these exact same questions. The more time you spend with these friends the more you will welcome them in an interview rather than fear them.

To ensure that you are spending enough time on these questions it is worth preparing short written answers to each. This will make it apparent whether you really have an answer or not, and make you much more articulate in any subsequent interview. I urge you to try it!

So here is a quick list you can use to make sure you are covering your bases.

PHASE ONE – TARGET

The first step is about finding your direction – what do you want to do? These are questions you need to be able to answer for yourself, and although they look easy and obvious, many people spend far too little time on them. I regularly meet people in their thirties who still don’t know and the resulting impact on their career is obvious. You are also very likely to be asked these questions by interviewers. The most effective way to find your direction is to combine your personality tests and online research with as many information gathering meetings as possible. You can use these questions both on yourself and on everyone you meet – then see how you relate to their answers.

  • What activities do you enjoy? Why? What activities are you good at?
  • What is your predominant personality type and what activities do you feel you are you best suited to?
  • What type of jobs most involve your preferred activities?
  • What management style and team dynamics do you enjoy?
  • What types of industries would you be proud to be part of? Why?
  • What would give you a sense of purpose?

Because of the importance of your direction to employers, interviewers will often go to the next level of questions below to see how you went about learning the above. They want to know how deep you went and how genuinely committed you are as a result.

They will ask how you are deciding what you want to do:

  • What are your online research strategies? What sites are you visiting?
  • Who are you networking with? How many people per week?
  • How are you building your self-awareness? What personality tests have you taken?
  • Who are you job shadowing? What internships are you doing?
  • What industry publications are you reading?
  • Who is mentoring you?

Initially as you do the above research it is important to spread the net over a wide range of opportunities. After a while however you need to focus your search. You cannot differentiate yourself in a relevant and aligned way – to a wide range of jobs.

This next set of questions will help you narrow your choices down by confirming the desirability of the target job to you and at the same time learn their specific needs in as much depth as possible. So these are questions you ask during your information gathering networking meetings.

  • What are the job’s key objectives & results?
  • How are these results measured?
  • What are the every day activities required to achieve the results?
  • What are the critical skills needed for each activity?
  • What are the top priorities? Why?
  • Which activities have the most impact on the top priorities?
  • Who is affected by these activities? How?
  • What team dependencies are there?
  • What are the most difficult challenges?
  • What are the consequences of success and failure?
  • What attitudes and personalities impact success or failure in the role? Why?

You need this granular level of understanding if you are going to pick a job you are likely to enjoy and be able to prepare yourself for it – which is the next phase.

PHASE TWO – PREPARE

Once you have selected a target employer and understood their needs, in this phase the questions focus on how you are you aligning yourself to their requirements so that you become their ideal candidate. Again these are questions you should ask yourself, however you may well find yourself at the receiving end of some of them in an interview too.

  • What are your competitive advantages for the job? What goals and disciplines do you have in place to drive the development of your advantages?
  • What actions are you taking to fix any perceived or real weaknesses for the job?
  • How will you get relevant experience by going through similar Situations, Objectives, Actions & Results (S.O.A.R.s) to demonstrate you have the knowledge and skills they need?
  • How will you know that you are aligning successfully enough to become “The One” they will want? Who in each target employer is coaching you onto the team?

PHASE THREE – WIN

The focus of the questions in this phase are to make sure you understand the selection process and how you are going to win it. Again these questions are a good check list for yourself, but you will only be able to gain the information you need by addressing some of these questions directly to your connections.

  • Who makes the decisions?
  • What are their key decision criteria? Why are those so important?
  • How can you demonstrate your most relevant strengths to meet their decision criteria? What would impress them?
  • Who influences the decision maker? Why would they recommend you?
  • What are the key steps in terms of: On line aptitude and personality tests, video interviews, face to face interviews, presentations, negotiating compensation etc?
  • How are you rehearsing & practicing each of these steps?
  • Who are your references & what do they specifically need to say about you to your target employer to clinch the deal for you?

I know, these are a lot of questions and in fact there are many more. They clearly imply considerable thought, decisions and above all actions on your part. This requires significant effort in terms of extensive networking and internships with your target employers.

You have to build relationships to be able to ask these kind of questions.

Based on the answers you then need the time to complete the self development and alignment actions before you show up for a final interview.

Do not leave this effort until after you graduate.

Because it takes time and dedication, those who leave it until after graduation are by definition likely to face a lengthy period of underemployment as the statistics show.

The best time to select your targets and make the extra effort to become more aligned to the needs of a target employer is while you are still a student.

Unfortunately many students do not network enough. The most common reasons I get are:

“ I don’t feel comfortable networking – I don’t have the interpersonal skills and I don’t know what to talk about.”

Many students feel they are using up a potential connection’s valuable time. They fear they will not be impressive enough and therefor not worthy of their connections time. Put those thoughts aside.

Every employer I know likes to help students who are clearly trying to take the right steps to align themselves to an employer’s needs.

All you have to do is take the above friends with you. You can use them to start and maintain any worthwhile conversation that will get you the information and guidance you need.

Any network connection will be much more impressed by good questions about their business needs than any attempt to impress them by talking about yourself.

SUMMARY – THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is you don’t need some “out of reach” talent to differentiate yourself.

Anyone can use these questions to help them build relationships, find their interests and understand how to land fulfilling job opportunities.

The more diligently you do this the more effectively you will be able to target employers and align yourself. These questions will guide you to take the necessary actions to build your competitive advantage for the jobs you want. They will help you understand the key evaluation steps your target employers are likely to put you through, so that you can practice presenting your competitive advantage in the most effective way.

For those of you in the College of Business Administration at UCF these are exactly the activities the “GEB” Professional Development courses are driving you to do. Their purpose is to maximize your chances of graduating with a job that you are likely to enjoy and succeed in.

Once in the job use these questions to make sure you remain fully aligned with your boss and their objectives. Use them to make sure you understand and exceed expectations every day. After a period of over-performance do not just wait to be promoted. Target a specific promotion and apply all the above checklists to make it happen!

Good luck. Take the above friends with you at all times!

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