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Job-Seeker Rules You Should Break

By Marty Nemko

Many job-searching rules have been around for decades. Some have become moldy oldies.

Here are rules that today’s job searcher should consider breaking.

Rule to Break #1: Your resume should consist of a bulleted list of your accomplishments. If possible, quantify those accomplishments.

In years past, that worked. “I launched a new telecommunication system which saved the company $84 zillion” sounds better than “Duties: in charge of the telecommunication system.” But that rule has been around so long, that everyone’s resumes are filled with supposed cost savings. I’d guess that if you added up all the cost savings employee resumes claim on their resumes, it would be greater than the Gross National Product. Employers increasingly yawn at such claims.

What works better today? Your resume, in one paragraph each, should contain three PAR stories: a Problem you faced, how you cleverly Approached it, and how wonderfully the problem was Resolved. Stories convince employers much more than one-liners, especially when all the other resumes consist of one-liners.

In addition, insert quotes from your satisfied boss, co-workers, or customers. If you were an employer, wouldn’t you be impressed by an applicant’s resume that included “Sheldon is an exemplary employee.” (Quote from most recent performance review.)

Rule to Break #2: The three best ways to land a job are: network, network, and network.

But what if you don’t have much of a network? By the time you build one, you could be homeless. And what if you’re painfully shy and would rather listen to chalk squeak than network? If forced to network, such people will do little of it, do it poorly, and probably remain unemployed.

Fact is, one job search method doesn’t fit all--some people do get jobs by answering ads, especially if you answer lots of well-suited ones. Regularly lots of sources: yes the Chronicle, but also job websites, including those specializing in your field. Directories of such specialty sites include The Guide to Internet Job Searching and CareerXRoads.

Be sure your resume and cover letter are truly wonderful, making clear that you are a superior candidate and superior human being. Before submitting an application, ask yourself, “If I were the boss reviewing dozens of applications, would I likely pick this applicant to interview?”

Rule to Break #3: In interviews, you have to sell yourself.

A decade or two ago, hard-sell worked. The real estate salesmen in Glen Garry Ross come to mind. But today, everyone is resistant to being sold. The harder you sell, the more likely the employer will wonder whether you’re trying to snow him. And hard-sell suggests you’re desperate for a job. And if you’re so desperate, does that mean every other employer in town has rejected you?

Today, what works better in interviews is a candidate who begins with a statement such as, “ “Like you, I’m trying to see if we’re a good fit. Here are my strengths and my weaknesses. (Insert two or three major strengths and one significant weakness.) Do you think I might be of help to you?” That candor tends to make the rest of the interview a more trusting, collaborative process, one in which both the employer and candidate are likely to end up making the right choice about each other. Yes, your candor will cause you to be turned down for some jobs, but you’ll be selected for the right job.

Rule to Break #4: In negotiation, try to get the employer to state the salary for the position. Most employers are wise to that old game, so if pushed to make the first offer, they’ll often lowball. Trying to push the offer up from a lowball is usually difficult, especially in a job market in which more than one qualified candidate is usually available.

It’s often wiser for you, the employee, to make the first offer, for example, “I’m not looking to make a killing. I just want to be paid fairly. Here are some comparable salaries. So it would seem that a salary of $90,000 would be fair.” That practically forces the employer to agree to your request or admit he wants to be unfair.

Old rules aren’t necessarily good rules.

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