How [Not] To Job Search
November 12, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I've heard it all: "You're Too Professional," "Not Enough Experience," and of course, "Just not the culture fit we're looking for." After three months of non-successful job searching, I've decided to turn to the hivemind for help.

I guess I don't know where to begin, but here it goes...I was fortunate enough to land my dream job a day after graduation working with an emerging entrepreneurial community as a Jill-of-all-trades. I managed recruitment, curriculum development, marketing, and internal communications. Following my one-year contract, there were no immediate openings, so I decided to take my severance pay move back to the Northeast. My lease was up, and I've always imagined myself in a bigger city. I assumed there would be more opportunity for cross-pollination and networking. I could not have been more wrong, however.

I came up with a 90-day strategy for landing a job by Thanksgiving (which has now turned to New Year's):

- Design two resumes: traditional and contemporary
- Use my former boss as my primary reference
- Apply online to 5-7 entry-level jobs per day, using keywords such as "coordinator", "community outreach," and "junior"
- Polish up my LinkedIn profile (adding in my involvement with TEDx and make-a-thons)
- Reach out to my networks (especially in the engineering community, since I have a mechanical engineering degree)
-Follow-up with recruiters
-Apply to design competitions for my online portfolio
-Complete any pro-bono work thrown at me

A month ago, I begin tracking data from nearly 200 applications and discovered a few key insights:
-My most successful applications are submitted Monday and Wednesday
-I have a 30% chance of advancing to a phone interview, and from there:
-I have a 20% chance of making it to the final round
-Employers always ask why I'm moving from the Southeast to the Northeast
-Everyone seems confused that I'm not doing something more engineer-y
-In final rounds, employers are amazed by my work ethic, but feel like I don't have the right cultural fit (whatever that means)
-I've completed about 5 take-home creative exams
- I submit most applications for positions in Silicon Alley, or in media (where interdisciplinary skill-sets are appreciated)
- I turned down 1 job offer (in hindsight, I wish I would have taken it)

And now, I'm starting to feel really frustrated. I realize that the job market is still gloomy and I doubt I will land a position by Christmas. Still, I am hopeful. Which leads to my question, What exactly am I doing wrong? I keep thinking that this will hurt my chances of attending grad school (I know, I know...I'm being dramatic). Perhaps a lot more people are going through this, so any anecdata is appreciated.
posted by nikayla_luv to Work & Money (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Why did you turn down the one job?
posted by josher71 at 7:06 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

More importantly, tell us about the one job offer you did get:

Type of company
Job title
Interview process
how you found the job
What method used to reach them

Modeling can be very effective (and, it is rarely used in job hunting).
posted by Kruger5 at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2013

Getting to the final round several times is good, a job is coming.

Any chance your old boss is saying things that are turning off the potential employers? Did it get to the reference checking phase? Did you get any constructive feedback about your performance from your old boss?
posted by shothotbot at 7:13 AM on November 12, 2013

Response by poster: The job offer was working as a community manager for a seed-funded startup. The pay was low, but the team seemed great. I declined in an effort to explore opportunities that weren't as ambiguous. In my former job, my lack of a clear job description (I believe) made me dispensable. I discovered a lot of great opportunities in September just by Googling "3D printing". I've been working with 3d printers since high school.
posted by nikayla_luv at 7:17 AM on November 12, 2013

Stop tracking day-of-the-week statistics and similar measures. They're pointless, distracting, and don't matter. Here's what matters:

- If you can't find jobs to apply to, you're probably looking in the wrong places.
- If you're applying and not getting interviews, it's because of your resume.
- If you're getting interviews, but not having your referenced checked, it's because of how you come across during the interview.
- If you're getting your references checked, but not getting offers, it's because of what your references are saying.
- If you're getting offers, it means all the above lined up right.

Compare your applications against the above, and figure out what's working for you and what isn't. If you're only getting phone interviews 30% of the time, you're either applying to the wrong jobs, or your resume is horrible. If you're only advancing from phone interviews to inperson interviews 20% of the time, you don't perform well on phone interviews. So focus on these three areas:

1 - Take a new look at where you're sourcing job listings.
2 - Get someone to rewrite your resume so it is better.
3 - Find a way to improve your phone interview skills.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:19 AM on November 12, 2013 [29 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, my old boss was not my overseer. I served as a liaison and traveled all over, working with both entrepreneurs and investors. I begin reporting to key boss was very hands-off, so perhaps he isn't the best reference.
posted by nikayla_luv at 7:21 AM on November 12, 2013

I think that many companies are not looking for generalists right now. The slack labor market means they can pick up specialists with particular skillsets (as opposed to back during the height of the Dot-Com or Dot-Com-2.0 craze, when a tight labor market meant that it was worth picking up "smart people" and training them). So I would not position yourself as a generalist / interdisciplinary person / jill-of-all-trades.

I think you'll need far more than two tailored resumes. You'll want to tailor your resume specifically for each employer, emphasizing a particular skillset that you think they need in the job that they have posted. This is something of a gamble but it's better to shoot for it and perhaps miss the mark than not shoot at all, IMO. At many places you will do better looking like a ass-kicking specialist in something than someone who just can't commit to anything in particular.

Rather than a data-modeling operation, treat it as an intelligence operation; you will need to gather as much information (public or otherwise) about the prospective employer, tailor your resume, and pick out particular skills and technologies that are going to pique their interest.

Only getting 30% phone interviews suggests that you're either shotgunning your resume out to a lot of places where you're not really a good fit, or something is wrong with your resume.

On a more subjective level, it's possible you are coming across as too ... "startuppy". Without seeing your resume that's impossible to tell, but it's entirely possible that you are screaming "startup / entrepreneur" and that is turning off more traditional employers. A lot of BigCo people really dislike 'startup culture' and find people who come from that direction to be brash, egotistical, and annoying. Rather than starting off with a 'traditional' and 'contemporary' resume, I'd start off with a resume aimed at established employers and one aimed at startups/entrepreneurial firms.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:31 AM on November 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

You say you are applying to "coordinator" "entry-level" and "junior" positions. Are you aiming too low? You mentioned that you "managed" a lot of things in your previous job. That's above a junior level.

5-7 a day is a lot. You may be spreading yourself too thin and submitting a lot of mediocre resumes rather than a few well-targeted ones.

Take heart that you are getting nibbles, which means you are close to finding the sweet spot.

You sound like you have some fairly unique skills that are kind of all over the map (marketing communications, 3-D printing, design). What exactly do you want to focus on? Are you not sure, or are you afraid the job you really want isn't out there/is too hard to get?

The problem with being a Jill of all trades is that you can come across as both too-skilled and not skilled enough.

All of that to say, without seeing your resume or knowing what jobs you are applying for, I would guess that the problem is lack of focus. Your resumes need to be tightly targeted to that specific job, and your interview responses the same. You need to sell interviewers on the idea that you know what they are looking for, and you are what they are looking for, for that exact job. Your extra skills are great, but not relevant to what they need.

I would also have more than one reference if you can, if only because your former boss might be tired of getting repeat calls about you or just not be available all the time.
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend reading 60 Seconds and You're Hired. It teaches you to create a narrative that describes you and explains all the weirdness of your resume/experience.

"I have a degree in mechanical engineering, I applied that knowledge to optimizing processes in recruiting, cirriculum development, marketing and internal communications at XYZ corporation. While I loved the environment there, I wanted to relocate to fabulous current location to be closer to family and friends/to take advantage of amazing city culture/third object not found. I'm looking for a position that will allow me to use my analytical mind in a creative way. The position you are hiring for seems like a great fit."

Now, you've explained how you use your weird-for-the-market degree, why you moved and whatever else makes sense in the scenario.

If someone asks "Why aren't you pursuing Mechanical Engineering," you should have a pat answer that will put them at their ease. "While I enjoyed studying Mechanical Engineering, I discovered that my minor in Marketing really shaped my career goals. I try to use the analytical approaches that I learned in engineering and apply them to to marketing."

I'd also target your search. The jobs you're applying for are too entry-level. Now is the time to specialize. I'd say with your background that Data Warehousing/Mining might be a great place to start. But I'm an analyst myself, so I'm prejudiced.

Can you go on You Tube and learn some things about data mining software? I've just discovered PowerPivot and it has revolutionized my thinking. You'd think it would be obvious, but even something that's a free add-on can make a HUGE difference in the way you can automate formerly manual processes.

FWIW, my undergrad is in English and I have an MBA. I learned NONE of my current skill set in school.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:34 AM on November 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

"Only" 30% phone interviews is an extremely good hit rate. Please do not be discouraged. An offer is coming soon.

Perhaps you could get a trusted friend to call up your referees, posing as a prospective employer. This would tell you if your references are derailing you or not.

I wouldn't disregard what others are saying, but it's possible that chance has a lot to do with your lack of success so far. There are always more things you can learn and apply about job-hunting, so keep doing that, but taking it all with a little pinch of salt can be helpful. So often, rejection is not personal and not because there's anything wrong with you as a candidate.
posted by tel3path at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Only" 30% phone interviews is an extremely good hit rate.

Assuming the candidate is seriously interested in and a reasonably good fit for every position they apply for, I would disagree strongly with that statement, based on my experience on both sides of the hiring process.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2013

I think the takeaway here about the 30 percent number is "YMMV".
posted by josher71 at 8:16 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't know. I think that getting phone interviews for 30% of the positions for which you applied is pretty good. If you're applying for lower-end positions, they're getting hundreds of applicants for each position, so IMO, 100 applications - 20 phone interviews (and that's an overestimate) - 10 in-person interviews (ditto), 5 reference checks (ditto) - 1-2 job offers makes me think that you're doing okay.

Anyway, I'd describe myself as a jill-of-all-trades but I focus on writing. What do you focus on? I think that it's helpful to demonstrate some kind of narrative when you apply for jobs. Look less at the titles and more at the skill sets. When I was fresh out of school, I applied for a communications director position. It was ballsy but I looked at the list of skills and I had done all of those things. I got an interview where the director of the organization kindly told me that I had shot above my pay grade but oh well. Besides, titles are fungible. When I applied for the job I have now, it had a different title but they gave me a better title.

If you're applying for 5-7 jobs a day, I'd think that you're not giving each application enough attention. With each job that you've applied for, based on what you know now, would you take it if you got an offer? If not, I'm inclined to think that you're wasting your time. If you know what questions people ask you in interviews, you should come up with snazzy answers. You should answer in your cover letter why you want the position for which you're applying.

Saying that you're not the right fit culturally might mean something or it might not. It sounds a little along the lines of "it's not you, it's me." But you can minimize/mitigate it to some effect by showing enthusiasm and interest in the organization and just demonstrating that you're flexible.

Don't stress. I went through this. A lot of people go through this. It's a lousy time to be looking for a job. Stick with it.
posted by kat518 at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you speak with a Southern accent? My company is very masculine, very type-A, and very Northeast-y. I currently mentor a female junior staff member who speaks with a Southern accent, and I've seen her get judged as not being part of the "culture" by people who only hear her voice on the phone. It could be because she's female, it could be because she's not part of our "culture", it could be because she's not a good worker, but I strongly suspect it's mostly due to her accent (she's a good worker, I promise). I've been working with her on polishing her professional presentation-of-self to try and overcome this.

For what it's worth, here's how I'm advising her -- I've not discussed my suspicion with her directly (because I think it's inappropriate that she's being evaluated this way, and probably not something she can directly change), and I've not asked her to change her accent. Rather, I've been working with her on speaking firmly, confidently, concisely and a bit faster (my stated reason for the latter is that she's talking to people who are really busy so she needs to move at their speed -- my unstated reason is that speaking slowly emphasizes her accent). I've also been fighting this fight for her behind the scenes.

Anyway, I don't know if this is helpful or not, but it's something to think about when considering your hit rate on transitioning from phone to in person interviews, particularly if the culture issue is brought up at that stage.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:49 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OrangeDisk,

My accent is very northern, in the sense that I often had to slow down when I lived in the south. But you bring up a good point. I may have to work on my presentation (I often wear my hair curly, along with a women's suit) when interviewing. For instance, showing up more casually at startups might help.
posted by nikayla_luv at 9:19 AM on November 12, 2013

My first impression on "You're Too Professional" and "Just not the culture fit we're looking for" is that you might come across a bit too "serious". Just a thought.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

To not come off as "too engineering" - you need to stop thinking of yourself as an engineer. If you're not looking for that kind of work, you're not an engineer. Done. You're a person with a technical degree. Once people see that degree, they put you in a box. Make your degree the LAST line on your resume, and highlight your experience first. Up-play your community work, and down play your technical hardball (that you've no doubt honed over 4+years in schooling alongside men, but now you need to let it go). Engineers get taught to be super proud about their intellectual prowess and then it totally defeats them when it comes to schmoozing outside of engineering. Congrats on your degree and now let it go.

Finally, women in engineering can be... um... just as cerebral as their male counterparts, and then it comes across doubly-so when it appears on women. Think Anna Kendrick from that Clooney movie "Up in Air." Cerebral, always right, rigid thinking, everything is numbers, not relaxing into the conversation....

It's a shame you turned down that job because of ambiguity because let me tell you, life outside of engineering is ALL ambiguity, and the more comfortable you become with it the more you will outshine your peers. Even as an engineer, the ones that crash and burn are the ones who just cannot handle ambiguity.

I don't know you, so I'm just throwing this out there. Some of the lady engineers I know are SUPER social, but many I know are not.

Also look OUTSIDE of your engineering circle since they (and their HR pals) will ALWAYS see you as an engineer. So ask yourself "where would people in [my field] hang out?" and then go to those meetups/bars/events and just drink and chat. Don't go NETWORKING, go to hang out and meet cool people.

Honestly your work sounds like HR-admin type work, so consider getting your CHRP (SHRM in the US I think) certificate; it's not hard and can be done at a community college. This basically says "I AM SERIOUSLY PURSUING THINGS OTHER THAN ENGINEERING." Then apply to admin positions. Don't discount being a secretary or personal assistant (in the department that you want to learn about) as a way to get your foot in the door.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:59 AM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just popping in to post the link to the T Cover Letter. which I discovered here on Ask.Me
posted by PlutoniumX at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

- Apply online to 5-7 entry-level jobs per day, using keywords such as "coordinator", "community outreach," and "junior"

Basically, these kinds of jobs will not be looking for people with engineering degrees from prestigious universities, because those people are too expensive (case in point, you turned down the job offer you received because of the low pay).

This is a case where you are shooting too low, and potential employers are passing over you in favor of applicants who are a better fit in the sense that their perceived intellectual and professional ambitions are lower than your own.
posted by deanc at 2:25 PM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help! These comments were quite insightful and provided me with several new approaches.
posted by nikayla_luv at 4:29 PM on November 13, 2013

« Older Italian business font wanted   |   What percentage of English words have three... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.