I am certainly not an expert in human resources or career coaching, but I have made a few observations over the years that might be worthy of consideration.
With the difficult economy, technological advances and global competition fewer jobs are safe for one's entire working career. Many people have second careers-some by choice, some by necessity. To fuel that second career, many choose to go back to school. While I am an advocate of continuing education, I would caution with some realities. Going back to school is difficult. It costs money, time and affects one's family. But more than that, people need to be selective in their course of study. If you've done something for twenty years, you've likely become an expert in that field, and that's where your real value lies-often earning near the top of the pay scale. Switching careers is risky in that you'll likely start at the bottom of the pay scale-and worse, competing against people who may have considerably more experience.
I experienced this after earning my license in healthcare administration. I had learned that there was a shortage of nursing home administrators and worked hard to earn my license. After passing my test, I started applying for administrator positions-but what I neglected was the experience of the other candidates. Many other newly licensed administrators had worked for decades in nursing homes-as nurses or social workers. I had the same license, but my nine-month internship certainly could not compete with their experience.
I have always viewed job openings as a competition. It is not whether an applicant can do the job; it is whether he or she can convince an employer that he or she can do it better than every other applicant- through the limited sample of a résumé and interview.
In applying for jobs, we hear a lot about the rules of résumé writing and interviewing. We love rules, although all I think they really accomplish is separating the people who "know" how to apply for a job and those who do not. In a hiring position, I have seen all kinds of résumés, including many of the "what is he or she thinking?" type. In that respect, I am actually surprised at the number of people who don't follow the rules. Is it disrespectful or refreshing? I would say it depends, we hear that resumes should be one to two pages-maybe three at the most. But employers generally want the best applicant, regardless of how a résumé looks. I roll my eyes when I see a ten page résumé that lists every one-day training someone has attended, or every professional article that was ever published. But employers would probably offer an interview if he or she was one of the top applicants.
For most applicants, the goal of a résumé is to get an interview. The interview is a difficult process, whereby employers ask a bunch of usually scripted questions and applicants are supposed to provide a bunch of scripted answers. In this case, it is often charisma and appearance that separates the applicants.
The New York Times Bestseller "Sway" offers an interesting analysis of the interview process. It quotes Allen Huffcutt and his work on job interviews, He states, "We often base the image of the ideal candidate on ourselves. Someone comes in who's similar to us and we're going to click; and we're probably going to want to hire them." He continues, "Everybody thinks they have this ability to see an applicant and make a great decision, truly understand them."
Huffcutt also recommends that hiring managers restrain themselves from delving into "first-date type questions." Huffcutt looked at the top ten interview questions, such as "Why should I hire you?" and "What do you see yourself doing in five years?" and found them all to be meaningless except for one ("What do you know about our company?" was the exception). One of the least productive, and most scripted, is the "What are you strengths and weakness?" question. Applicants are placed in the position of not answering the question or answering the question absurdly. As the book notes, nobody is going to say that their weakness is staying out too late partying and coming to work late. More likely, we learn that the applicant "takes work too seriously" or "is a perfectionist."
Huffcutt's point, in short, is that most job offers are risky and based on limited information-often based more on the applicant doing what he or she is supposed to do, or due to extraneous factors, such as a "gut feeling." It's a difficult problem, for employers and applicants alike.
My wife and I just watched "The Company Men," which did a nice job of portraying the reality that faces most of us in this economy-the prospect of losing a job and trying to obtain another one. Most American jobs are not safe, and things can change quickly that disturb our lives. It affects our souls, our self-worth and our families. And all most of us can do is try to be prepared, "play the game," and hope for a little luck.