Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Lessons from the job hunt

As I continue my job search I am paradoxically applying for less positions and opportunities, not more. I am also refining my search and being more selective about which jobs I apply for.

This may seem counter-intuitive since I am not in a situation to be picky. I need a job.

My background brings with it a very specific and niche set of skills. Need a quality pianist? I can do that. Need a group rehearsed? I can do that too. Need an arrangement, orchestration, I can plan a worship service, conduct an orchestra rehearsal, make a drum loop. And I can do that stuff pretty well.

The problem is, no one is asking for that. At least not yet.

This time of unemployment has been a time of self-evaluation and self-discovery. I would venture that everyone who has gone through a similar situation has come to a personal assessment like I have. You almost have to.

When I first started looking, I naively applied to positions by answering a question no one was asking: "Could I see myself doing that?" What I have finally realized is that though I could probably learn skills involved in online education, brand marketing, technical writing, or IT support, and probably become really good at that stuff, I don't really have any experience in those areas. It took a while for me to move from imagining myself doing something I've never done, and thinking I could be pretty good at it to realizing I need to reevaluate many of the non-musical components of my previous jobs and ask myself a series of questions to help draw out tasks I have done that are corporate-world transferable. I have discovered that a single piece of paper is all the hiring manager or HR person has to find out what they can about me. They aren't interested in reading between the lines. I need to be specific. The statement: "Helped team communication through web sites and online tools." says very little to an uniformed reader, even though I knew everything that was involved in that task. But in expanding on this statement, I can come up with a couple of bullet points:

  • Created and designed web site functionality and navigation for a members-only web site.
  • Populated web pages with long-form text, photos, embedded scripts, tables, lists, and Twitter feeds, as well as media curation (pdf, mp3, and video uploads) using a content management (CMS) tool.

This kind of content was drawn out of me recently by a hiring manager who asked a couple of follow up questions that answered what probably should have existed on my resume in the first place.

I recently attended a Dick Hart seminar where he laid out several questions to ask yourself. Actually, he suggested to have someone interview you with these questions while you record your answers. He said when you go back and listen, you will pick up pieces that you should include in your resume that you might not have thought of otherwise.

  1. How good was I?
  2. What happened as a result of performing the project or task?
  3. Did I save any money or increase revenue as a result of my effort?
  4. How accurate was I?
  5. Was I ahead of schedule or did I just meet the schedule?
  6. Did I supervise people? How many?
  7. Did I exceed my quota? Show me the numbers.
  8. What was my role on the team?
  9. What impact did I make?
  10. Do results jump out at the reviewer?

I'm sure there are more good questions a mock interviewer could come up with to draw even more out of me.

What have you learned about yourself from your periods of unemployment?