What I learned about job seeking from hiring someone myself

May 28, 2010

Last week I interviewed and hired a communications specialist for a junior role at my part-time job. It was the first time I’d been in that role for a very, very long time, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

As a consultant, I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process more often than I can say. In fact, being a consultant or freelancer is basically like being a serial job applicant. I always have an up-to-date resume, because even though I have a website with a profile of me on it, I am asked for a resume all the time. I answer Requests for Proposals, Expressions of Interest, job ads, calls for consultants, and all sorts of application processes every month sometimes. I know what it is to apply, believe me.

To hire, well, that’s a newer one for me. But I figured with all my application experience, I’d be an empathetic hirer who could cut right through and find the perfect candidate without any emotion. Boy, was I wrong!

First, there was the shock at the flood of applications. I know the economy has been iffy lately, but I didn’t think PR was hit too hard. But judging from how many applications I got for a very specific role, things are tough out there. I advertised, just with the PR societies and through word of mouth, for someone with 3-5 years experience. But at least half the applications I got were from people with at least double that, some who were as experienced as I was!

I thought I’d find a few people who had most of the skills I wanted, some of the experience I wanted, and who were able to learn the rest. But I actually had several candidates who met every single one of the qualifications with exactly the experience I needed. I think the toughest thing I had to do was narrow down the list to the handful I would interview. Of course, the guy who misspelled “resume” was easy to eliminate.

I’ve decided my pet peeves in the application process are:

1. People who wait until the last day to apply. I was in a hurry to hire and wanted to interview as soon as possible. Waiting until the final resumes came in was a pain. I know, I should have set an earlier end date.

2. Long cover letters. All I want in a cover letter is to know where you heard about the job, where your previous experience is relevant, why you want this job in particular, and that you’d like to talk about this more. Four paragraphs. Not eight. Not a full page outlining every aspect of your experience or interests in 9 point type.

3. Resumes that are organized by skill. I want to know where you worked before and what you did there, not your list of skills. If you’re applying for this particular job where the needed skills are spelled out, I assume you have the general skills. I need to see how your previous work gave you the skills. Maybe this kind of resume is useful when being read by an HR manager (or computer scanning software) but not when it’s being read by the person who would be your supervisor. At least not by me.

4.Don’t spell out your conflict of interest. The job I’m hiring for needs a level of impartiality, as it’s a government issue with a lot of stakeholders. The job ad says that. Telling me up front where your politics lie and your sympathies doesn’t help, in the end it hinders.

I’ve decided I like the style of cover letter where the writer compares the words of my job ad (You asked for…) with their own relevant experience. At first they bugged me, but in the end I’ve decided that this really helped cut to the chase.

Now I’m facing the hard part. I have to tell the other people I interviewed that they didn’t get the job. And I really feel for every one of them. In fact, I feel for just about every applicant. I wish I could hire more than one person. I wish I could help most of the applicants find other work. I know exactly how it feels to be on their side of the table, and I hate that I have to dissapoint anyone. I want to hire them all, but in the end I can only hire one person.

Boy, will I apply for future openings with eyes open wider from now on.


Poor Gen Y, now you get a taste of what Gen X dealt with in our 20s!

April 29, 2010

The recession is over. Haven’t you heard? The media are sure now that we’re all back to prosperity and we’re out of the woods now. The only wrinkle is that the jobs don’t seem to have returned. And according to an article I read in Macleans Magazine this week (ok, the article ran a few weeks ago, but I’m that far behind on my magazine reading. It’s been a busy month!), the poor Millenials, aka Generation Y, are getting the worst of it.

Silly me, I thought those hit the worst were the out-of-work middle agers who lost their secure jobs when they most needed to pay the mortgage, daycare bills and feed their families. But nope, I was wrong. It’s the poor university grad who has to take on some crap job that they are overqualified for because the perfect work experience isn’t dropping into their laps. And I quote:

When Amanda, who asked that Maclean’s not use her last name, got her undergraduate degree in math last June, she wanted to get a job as an analyst. But after four months of unemployment, she took an entry-level position at a Toronto IT firm. While her friends who graduated with similar credentials just a few years earlier started out making about $40,000, she’s earning $30,000.

In fact, most young people entering the job market now are making less than peers who found jobs two or three years ago.

Aww, poor babies. But it sounds a lot like how my entire generation felt coming on the heels of the baby boomer generation. And I think we had it worse, because this recession is just a set back for Gen Y, not a permanent state of affairs like the ones I lived through. I quote again:

Whereas the recession in the early ’80s replaced full-time jobs with part-time jobs, and the one in the ’90s replaced traditional employment with self-employment, this downturn seems to be replacing permanent jobs with temporary jobs.

Um, sorry, but that was exactly what happened to my generation when we left school. There were almost no career jobs. We were all underemployed. And permanent jobs were out of the question. We were lucky to find temporary or contract work. Heck, I built a career out of temporary and contract work..

Why is it tragic that these over-coddled kids have to work their way up and into a career? We did it and most of us are just fine. And back in my day, living with my parents past my early 20s was entirely unthinkable. I worked as a secretary, copy writer, whatever it took, while paying rent and buying food all by myself. Why can’t they do the same?

Post-script: I just re-read this and I think I’m maybe too hard on Gen Y. It’s not their fault the demographics worked in their favour, giving them, up until this recession, anything they wanted in the work world. It’s their parents’ fault. 🙂

Networking Olympics-style

February 20, 2010

Before I became an Olympics booster this week, I had vowed to stay out of downtown the entire Olympic period, other than must-do work meetings and the hockey game to which we have tickets on Sunday.

But then the Board of Trade sent out an email inviting members, of which I am one, to come to a free networking event at the BC Pavilion at the Vancouver Art Gallery. And while I originally said I wouldn’t attend, given that it was downtown and at night (working mom, not much for late-night partying), my husband talked me into it, reminding me that my part-time job is ending and I need to find more work now, which means I need to network.

So after biking home from Burnaby on Wednesday, I cleaned myself up and boarded a bus for downtown to see what all the fuss was about. The number of people milling about is staggering. I walked all around the Gallery, and it seemed like everyone was just walking around, not really doing anything, but with that many people, it sure seemed exciting.

In I went to the Gallery, and headed up to the fourth floor where the reception was. The displays were interesting and eye-catching, and the short 3D movie there is fun, but the touchscreen interactive art stuff was my favourite part of the Pavillion. Then I went to the bar part, and it was packed to the gills with networkers. Of course the giant screens were showing competitions, but people were moving about and sharing Olympic stories. It was kind of the same happy, no worries atmosphere I encountered on the bus to figure skating, but in a business context. I even traded some pins with a man who turned out to be the Mayor of Coquitlam!

It was getting late and I thought about leaving before things ended, but I was convinced to stick around to see “the show.” It seems that every Olympic night at 9:30 pm, there is a fireworks/laser light show in Robson Square, and the balcony of that bar overlooks Robson Square offering the best view possible. So I stayed, and it was phenomenal!

I can’t say I picked up any business leads, but I did reconnect with a few associates and friends, got access to a great venue without any lineups, and got to experience networking, Olympics style.

Good thing PR is recession-proof

February 10, 2010

Now that I have to scrounge up more work (with my part-time job finishing up at the end of February), I was delighted to read that my industry is “recession-proof.”

According to a major PR player at a big agency, quoted in a recent newspaper article:

He says the industry is almost “recession- proof” in the sense public relations agencies are experts at delivering both good and bad news, the latter being heightened at times of economic hardship.

But the industry has much more going for it than simply being the bearer of bad news.

Businesses often find PR to be more cost effective than traditional advertising and find it particularly suited to taking advantage of increasingly popular social media outlets, such as blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I agree with all his points, although lots of communicators I know have found budgets slashed and staff laid off, so I am less sure about the recession-proof stuff. Still, they keep saying the recession is over. And hopefully the post-Olympics time period in Vancouver will mean work will get back to normal and projects will start to flow. Ever since November, between the regular holidays slowdown and then the pre-Olympics slowdown, business in Vancouver has slowed significantly. Once they’re over (if not sooner!), I hope things swing into higher gear and my phone starts ringing off the hook with new business.

Fingers crossed.

Time to hit the hustings again and find more work

February 9, 2010

I’ve been pretty lucky work-wise through this recession. Not only did I have some regular clients that kept coming back with projects for me, but I also had a few very good referrals for new clients. But best of all, I’ve had a part time job to anchor it all down. Unfortunately, my luck has run out.

My part-time job is coming to a close at the end of February. To be fair, it’s not a job, it’s a contract, but one where I act as the Director of Communications for an association, and only have to be in their offices two days a week. The rest of the week I’m available to them and monitor their stuff, but am able to work from home and service other clients. It’s been a lovely spot to ride out the recession. But I knew from the start that it was only short-term.

They brought me in because they couldn’t find anyone to hire full-time. They were looking for someone with 5-7 years experience — an “intermediate,” as they say in the PR profession — but I convinced them that as a senior consultant, I could do the job half time. And I did. But the two men who run this association are very old school. They really want to have someone down the hall they can shout to when they need something done. Things worked well enough with me in the role, but it just didn’t suit their style. And I guess now they figure the economy has changed enough that they can find someone for the full-time gig now. Besides, I didn’t always agree with the association’s politics, so I would challenge them a lot. In many ways, it was good for both us to walk that fine line all the time, but now that they believe they have more options, they really want someone whose ideology is more in line with theirs.

So as of March, I’m back to working from the home office five days a week. I’ll really miss the office environment, and will miss the people too. I’ll really miss the bike commute. It’s been a great excuse to step up my biking, and get my exercise in on the way to and from work. I’m leaving the “job” on very good terms, and have a month’s notice to wrap things up.

Still, it will definitely leave a hole in my schedule and therefore my income, a hole I need to fill pretty fast. Not that I ever stopped networking during the year and a half that i was in this job, but now I really need to step up my meeting and greeting. And looking for work is probably the very worst thing about being self-employed. I love doing the work I’m paid to do, but I don’t love having to look for it.

Feel free to spread the word — as of March 1 I’m available for projects, contracts, and even another part-time job.