January 13, 2009

The Wall Street Journal’s Tips for Tricking Employers

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Readers sometimes point out that I don’t often link to career articles on other web sites. I know. It’s because most career articles are the same-old re-treads or desperate attempts by reporters to write something clever to satisfy their clueless editors. Don’t believe me? Visit The Wall Street Journal‘s Careers web site. You’ll find drivel like this: Explaining Short Job Stints. The article could have been titled, “Let’s Trick the Employers, Boys and Girls!”

This is The WSJ‘s idea of hard-core advice for difficult times. Reporter Elizabeth Garone recommends tricks for deailing with a daunting problem because the experts she cites can’t come up with any useful common sense. Let’s contrast the tricks she offers with some honest suggestions that protect the job hunter.

She suggests: To downplay jumping between two employers in six short months, do what executive-search expert Fred Coon says: Put the blame on your employers. Oh, yah. That’s nice work. Show the employer that you solve problems by blaming someone else. Smart thing to do while you’re talking to a guy about a job.

Instead, try this: Just ‘fess up. “I didn’t choose my last two employers carefully enough. I should have researched their financial viability more carefully in today’s bumpy economy. I learned an important lesson. So that’s what I did before coming to meet with you. I learned that your company’s strengths include… X, Y, Z. I also learned that you could use help with A, B, C. My objective is to have a job that lasts, and my method for getting it is to show you how I can make your business better. May I outline how I think I could help you improve your bottom line with respect to the job we’re talking about?”

She suggests: “Another approach is to move away from a chronological format into a functional, skills-based format. By doing this, your resume will focus on the results you delivered rather than the dates you worked a particular job.”

Instead, try this: Functional resumes are an old trick that any smart manager recognizes is intended to mislead the reader. I’d never use one. Stick to a chronological format, but don’t hesitate to leave that six-week boner off the resume. Keep the resume brief and add a note that says, “This brief resume outlines my experience. I’d be glad to provide additional details when we meet.” That’s honest, and it covers you. In your meeting, ‘fess up as discussed in the previous tip. Resumes and job applications are not legal depositions. They are outlines intended to get an employer’s attention. Keep them honest, but don’t hang yourself.

She suggests: Garone just can’t let this go. I think she realizes her first suggestion isn’t effective, so she belts the dead horse another one. “…there are still tricks to employ. Add a section called ‘Consulting, Freelancing, and Short Term Assignments’…”

Instead, try this: Ah, yes, tricks. Let’s use all the tricks we can, right after we blame the company…! Don’t use tricks. That section title she suggests is another red flag. Any dope of a manager knows that it means you’ve been out of work or had some short gigs. About the only useful note in Garone’s article is that most managers know it’s a tough economy and won’t hold you responsible for all the pain you have experienced. But they will get really pissed off if you play games with them.

She suggests: Whack the horse again and if the employer is a glue factory you might get hired. “This is a great way to list any short-term employment without calling attention to an abrupt ending with an employer.” Yah, here’s your chance to show a manager how you deal with significant problems honestly, intelligently and with integrity. Don’t call attention to problems. That’s how we want our employees to behave. Gimme a break.

Instead, try this: You can do this on the resume, in the cover letter, or in the interview. “My stints with my last two employers were short, as I’ve explained. But here’s what I was able to accomplish at each of those jobs in that very short time… and here are three ideas about how I believe I can do the job we’re talking about more efficiently…” The manager isn’t hiring your resume. She’s hiring your abilities. So rise to the occasion and use the opportunity to talk about what matters — what you can do. Don’t waste interview time with excuses.

She suggests: Garone cites a career coach on the problem of how to deal with written job applications: “Include any employment, even if it’s only for six weeks,” says Ms. Thomas. “If you omit employment on an application, it’s considered lying.”

Instead, try this: Omitting details on an application makes you a liar? I don’t think so. But including it makes you an idiot. The application undoubtedly has a section you must sign stating that you have told the truth. So tell the truth without behaving like an idiot. Fill out as much of the application as you want to, and add the same note I suggested above: “This is a brief outline of my employment history. I’d be glad to provide additional details when we meet.” Again, don’t let an application become a legal deposition. If this approach leads a personnel jockey to toss your application, it’s better to know now that’s their attitude before they waste your time in an interview.

The WSJ has been publishing drivel in its career pages since Tony Lee created the section to sell more advertising. For more on this low point in journalism’s history, see Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter.

My rule of thumb is, if you want good ideas for your career, skip the career publications. Go to the best general business press and study good ideas for business. These often translate very well into methods for job hunting, interviewing, hiring, and succeeding at work. After all, it’s all business, right? The career press would prefer that you believe there’s such a thing as job-hunting and interviewing skills. Listen up. Companies don’t hire you for your job-hunting or interviewing skills. They want to know you do good business.

Although I don’t often link to other career advice, I do frequently find and share third-party tips you can use for career health — but they come from good articles about business, not about careers. In my next posting, I’ll share an excellent article that has almost nothing to do with career health on the surface, but points to profound ways to improve your job search and your work life.

5 Comments on “The Wall Street Journal’s Tips for Tricking Employers”
By Greg
January 13, 2009 at 1:59 pm

On the “Previous Employers” section of my resume, I keep it brief and fill in any holes some time during the interview.

For example, I worked as a contractor for a client for 4 years. The contract was bought four times, although I stayed with the client the entire time. During that four year period, I list the client as my employer so it does not appear that i am an annual job-hopper. I then explain that technically, I had four employers, but the client wanted me to say on. I list the individual employers on a reference sheet.

By Anna
January 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I had to sell my home so my daughter could attend college. I took a chance and moved from the northeast to the southwest; the real estate and taxes were so much cheaper! I did not, until I moved there, realize how different the work styles and ethics were; after four difficult years I came back home. My work history, which was great, now shows 3 jobs in 4 years. I apply online to great jobs (executive assistant), but I just know in my gut that I am being passed up because of this. And, of course, this is the first thing employment agencies mention. I am open to any advice.. Thank you.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 15, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Anna,
I know this is hard and you’re turning to agencies for help. But the best way to land your first job since you’re back is through personal contacts. Rather than rely on agencies, start cultivating contacts with people who can introduce you to others in the companies you’d like to work for. Sorry to make it sound goofy (I suggest this to guys, too), but it’s like trying to get a date with someone you know about but have not talked with yet. You figure out who their friends are and try to work your way toward them through the friends. Some of the articles on the web site will help you with this — check http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/articles.htm.

By Phil Singer
January 26, 2009 at 9:37 pm

….instead, try this: Functional resumes are an old trick that any smart manager recognizes is intended to mislead the reader. I’d never use one. Stick to a chronological format,…

O.K., I know you don’t like resumes. But, you do agree that people have to be able to provide one on demand (too many folks insist on one before they will talk to you). And, you agree that an acceptable resume is “the working resume”, where one describes, in the resume, how one would “do the job in question”.?

So, in trying to construct a “working resume”, I imagine developing it something like this:

Top 4 tasks required by the job: T1, T2, T3, T4.

Evidence that I can do those tasks:
T1: Project from 1 year ago (and a prior employer)
T2: Projects from 3 years ago (and another prior employer)
T3: Projects from 6 months ago
t4: What I am working on now

How does one pull out the main points from a career of more than 5 years without it looking like a functional resume?

By Nick Corcodilos
January 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Phil,

I don’t like resumes being used as a crutch either by a job hunter or an employer. I don’t object to people using resumes when an employer needs to know what you’ve done. Your use of a Working Resume is good, but you don’t need to tie it to projects you’ve done in the past. Why not just outline how you will do the tasks for the new job? Why do people think they have to justify everything with their past? Your ideas for doing the new work should have enough integrity to stand on their own, and to stimulate discussion (an interview). Leave your history on the traditional resume. Use the Working Resume like a business plan, eh?

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