Beating the Competition to Finding a Job

Webinar provides tips for making job searches more effective and exposes misconceptions

6 August 2009

As unemployment continues to climb in many countries, the competition for jobs only gets tougher. If your job search isn’t landing you interviews or you’re running out of ideas for where to look, here are a few tips from the webinar “How to Win in a Competitive Job Market” sponsored by IEEE-USA. Sherri Edwards, who provides career-consulting services to individuals and organizations, presented the session in May. The 1-hour seminar is available online, and best of all, it’s free for all IEEE members. The second half of her webinar will be held on 12 August.

In the webinar, Edwards covers strategies for effective job searches and exposes misconceptions that can hold you back from getting a job.

GAME PLAN According to Edwards, you have to treat your search as if you’re training for a sport. You have to know the rules, have a game plan, and be committed to working that plan every day. The rules include being aware of current job-market conditions, such as what jobs are in demand and the salary ranges in your geographic area. She estimates that salaries overall across the United States, for example, are down about 20 percent from just a year ago.

“As the job market floods, salaries are being impacted, so what you earned last year or even five months ago may be different in today’s market,” she says.

Members in the United States may want to check out the IEEE-USA Salary Service, where you may compare what you’re earning or being offered to what others in similar circumstances are getting. Successful job hunters have to prepare for competition, just as winning athletes do. “Winning is a science of being totally prepared,” Edwards says. “Winners prepare their materials, and they prepare themselves mentally and physically to win so when the opportunity arises, they are ready.”

To get into shape, athletes practice, and the same holds true for job hunters. They get into shape by putting together a detailed plan of action that they work at every day. That means responding immediately to notices of job openings, checking for e-mail responses daily, following up with people, and searching for networking opportunities.

“These are things we have total control over even though we don’t have control over the job market,” Edwards says. “We can control our attitude and behavior and what we are going to do that day. If we procrastinate, we’re our own worst enemy. Get up in the morning and know exactly what is going to happen, and don’t figure it out as the day goes on.”

BUSTING MYTHS Among the misconceptions about job hunting that Edwards has exposed are those that deal with job postings, the role technical skills play in getting hired, and interview techniques.

Applying to job postings is not the most effective way to search for a job, says Edwards, because 85 percent of all positions are filled without being publicized. Most positions are filled by word of mouth. This means job hunters need to spend more time meeting people and being clear to them about what they’re looking for.

“Expand your network by becoming a member of associations such as IEEE and communicating with people who are currently working,” she says. Become visible by volunteering to serve on a board so people get to know you and what you can offer. She also recommends developing a 30-second introduction that includes your skill set or your employment objective so people you meet know exactly which people in their company they might want to introduce you to.

She cautions against responding to blind ads that don’t give details about the position. “You don’t know what the company is or does, their work culture, and what they need from you,” she says. “Guessing at this is not really an effective tool.”

Another misconception is to assume the person who got the job you were trying for is smarter or more skilled than you are. Employers typically make their hiring decisions based on three factors: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And finally, do you fit in? The ability to do the job gets back to basic skills, so that’s why it’s important to know if your skills match those needed for the position. “Will you do the job?” is a way of asking if you have more experience than the job calls for. If you are overqualified, then your attitude needs to reflect that you are excited about the new role and anxious to take it on. In fact, that’s a good attitude to have in any case. Last, will you be able to get along with coworkers? “When people are brilliant but don’t get along with people they work with, they won’t last,” Edwards says.

READY ANSWERS Edwards also dispelled several myths about interviewing, such as “The only people who do well in interviews are those who are comfortable talking.”

“That is not necessarily so,” she says. “Shy people can also do well if they prepare.”

If you struggle through interviews because you can’t think of what to say, she suggests writing out answers to likely questions and rehearsing them in advance of the interview. Focus on those of your accomplishments that fit the company’s needs, and have examples ready.

And don’t offer up your opinion on anything except the position. Employers want to know what you can do, not what you think. Ask open-ended questions of the interviewer about the type of work the job entails and the company. But, Edwards cautions, never ask about money or benefits during the initial interview. Don’t underestimate the importance of doing your homework about the company before the interview. “In today’s market, it’s absolutely unacceptable to go to an employer and not know as much as you possibly can about them,” Edwards says. Check the company’s Web site, search for news articles about the organization, and find people who work there that you can talk with by using social networking sites like LinkedIn.

Edwards’s webinar also covers how to deal with possible bias against older workers, as well as ways to bypass the human resources department to get to the hiring manager.

She will be presenting Part 2 of her webinar on 12 August at 2 p.m. EST. The session will provide tactics and methods that long-term-unemployed individuals can use to find a job.

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