Opinion and Viewpoint

SLAUGHTER: The lowdown on why you can't find a job

July 16, 2011

Viewpoint columnist Robby SlaughterIt’s true, the economy is tough. If you’ve been searching for a job for months or even for more than a year, you have my sympathies.

Yet I believe there may be one factor that’s inhibiting your success more than anything else. The greatest challenge in landing a new gig is making a tremendous shift in perspective.

Years ago, job hunting was a well-defined activity. Polish your résumé, browse the classified ads, follow up with old colleagues, and attend a few career fairs. Getting hired was like washing your hands: lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually, you’d squeak your way into an interview and end up with an offer.

Today, these methods seem tired and obsolete. For a sobering experience, try conducting a social experiment. Play the role of hiring manager and post a fictitious position on a free job board. Within a week, your inbox will overflow with hundreds of applicants.

Imagine trying to filter through that list to determine which candidates are actually qualified. Is it any wonder the old system of entering through the front door feels woefully inadequate? The toughest way in is to directly apply.

Nevertheless, submitting a résumé is more complex than ever. Longtime job seekers understand the importance of tailoring their application to match the position. If the candidate appears underqualified, they will be dismissed in favor of stronger potentials, but if they appear overqualified, they may be passed over out of fear that they will simply leave when the economy recovers.

Older workers often try to mask their age by omitting key dates or early work history out of a concern hiring managers may assume they are unaffordable. Younger candidates will sometimes de-emphasize their education, even if it was recent. Job hunters consciously and ruthlessly self-edit in the hopes of winning an interview. Getting an actual offer seems too remote to even consider.

I believe the biggest challenge facing job seekers is not tweaking their application to match the position, but reinventing themselves to be as intriguing as possible according to the culture of their targeted employer.

In broader terms: Candidates must be tremendously interesting, but not too interesting. You want to pleasantly surprise hiring managers but not be so creative that you annoy them.

This requires some covert intelligence. Every firm appreciates a different level of eccentricity. Effective job-seekers know their target well enough to step closer to the line than anyone else.

The secret to being an interesting candidate is more than unusual methods of delivering your résumé. You need the buzz around you to be equally stimulating, so that those who know your name or type it into a search engine associate you with all kinds of fascinating, relevant information.

This is a process called personal branding, and there is no better road map than the excellent new book “Branding Yourself” by local authors Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy. In fact, this volume is my response to anyone who wants my advice on their job hunt. Buy their book and follow their instructions.

The reason you can’t get a job is not merely a mismatch between your qualifications and what is available. It’s more likely that, compared with all the rest of the people applying, you’re equally uninteresting or far too odd.

Control your personal brand. Reinvent yourself. Present a candidate who gives hiring managers a reason to scratch their chin and schedule you for an interview. Be distinctive to win.•

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Slaughter is a principal with Slaughter Development, an Indianapolis business-process and work-flow-consulting company. Information on his new book, “Failure: The Secret to Success,” is available at www.slaughterdevelopment.com.

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