Today, I spoke to Donald Asher, who is the author of How to Get Any Job, a national speaker on careers, and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, MSN Encarta, and USAirways Magazine. Donald talks about his top ways to get a job, if it’s possible to get a job without using the internet, how to stand out in the MBA admissions process, and more.
What are your top three ways not to get a job right now?
Dan, I’d have to say, one, looking for work online only, two, being negative or bitter in an interview, and three, holding out for a lateral or promotion in the worst job market since the Great Depression. Let’s take a look at each of these.
- Job seekers don’t like rejection, so some of them start hiding out in their homes, applying only for jobs posted online. That way their computer talks to other computers, at job boards or at employment portals for companies, but there’s no human on the other end. You can look for work forever without finding anything that way. Those nice little acknowledgment emails are computer generated.You’ve got to get dressed, get out of the house, go have coffee and lunch with people, and do old-school pavement pounding to get a job in this economy. If you’re not emailing and calling people you know or who have some connection with you, your job search may go on and on and on. Get out there and meet that third cousin and the ex-boyfriend of your kid’s music teacher. That’s how people get jobs in good times, and it’s practically the only way to get jobs in this economy. Employers are ignoring the one thousand resumes that come back when they post an opening, and going with people who are referred by current employees. It’s just too much trouble to go through a thousand resumes.
- Some people have been unemployed so long that when they do get interviews, they have a hard time being upbeat and positive in the meeting. Being bitter is understandable, but an interview is a theatrical performance. You have to hide that bitterness and put on a positive face. Complaining about the job market, the economy, those jerks who laid you off, the weather or the traffic on the way over to the interview is a sure opportunity killer.Again, I can understand someone being exasperated, but you have to bottle that up and accentuate the positive. Compare these two statements: “I’ve really enjoyed my time off. I’ve been able to read up on our industry and I’ve been able to spend more time with my kids. I’ve really used the time to my advantage, but I assure you, I am more than eager to get back to work!” That’s enthusiastic. Now try this one: “I’m really frustrated with this economy, to tell you the truth. I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs and nobody’s been willing to give me a chance. I just don’t know what I’m going to do if I can’t get back to work soon. I’m down to my last tank of gas, in fact.” Ouch! Human beings are attracted to positivity and repulsed from negativity. Employers are just human beings.
- There are a lot of job seekers who are holding out for a job at the same level they had before. This does not hold up to financial analysis. Even if you take a huge pay cut, it is almost always better to take a job at some point and keep right on looking for a position that’s more attractive. Sure, your new employer won’t like it if they find out, but so what? You don’t owe employers loyalty anymore, at all, so get some income going and use that job as a platform to look for a better opportunity.
Is it possible to get a job without using the Internet these days?
This is an excellent question! The answer is a bit nuanced, so bear with me here. The research I read says that between 55% to 80% of jobs change hands in the hidden job market. That means that the people who are getting hired did not respond to a posted opening. But, and here’s the subtle part, that doesn’t mean that the jobs they’re getting hired into weren’t advertised on the Internet. They may have been posted all over. It just means that the person eventually hired did not apply because of that posting.
The Internet, when used properly, is the greatest job-search tool invented in the history of human kind, but most people use it very poorly. The best way to use the Internet in a job search is to find people, and to talk to people, first by email and eventually by phone.
“You get jobs by talking to people, not by having your computer submit information to databases.”
By the way, I don’t think that job seekers should avoid applying to postings–it’s just that they shouldn’t let that type of activity take up more than about 30% of their search efforts. The overwhelming bulk of their efforts should be to find opportunity by talking to people. Don’t ask people for jobs. It makes your contacts uncomfortable. Ask them for advice, ideas, leads, and referrals.
It’s also okay to go to any company web site, find email addresses for any humans in the organization, and write to them. It doesn’t matter whether you write to the janitor or the CEO, as long as a human is going to look at your words. Inquire about specific types of opportunities, like cost accounting or European sales. The more specific you are the more likely they are to help you. “Hey, I just love your company. I would like to know if you have or anticipate any opportunities in European sales. I speak French and German, and I have a strong sales background. Who would I talk to about your European sales activities?” Nine times out of ten they’ll ignore you or tell you to apply online, but that tenth time is all you need. This beats the heck out of adding your resume to the one thousand in the queue for most posted openings.
Finally, it is absolutely possible to find a job without using the Internet at all. I don’t have any research to prove this, but it seems to me this works best at the very top levels, officer level, or for jobs that don’t require advanced skills. The country club job search has always worked, and at the other end of the spectrum, nothing beats dressing up nicely, planting a big smile on your face, and walking in to a business and asking for the manager. You may have to stop by a couple or three times, or four or five times, to convince them of your desire. Be sure to stop by during slow periods. Stopping by during the rush hour is the opposite of smart. But here’s what the boss will think: “Why dig through hundreds of resumes when I can see perfectly well that this guy who’s been stopping by every few days is a good choice?”
As an expert in the graduate admissions process, which graduates stand out and which don’t?
I had the good fortune to accidentally write the best-selling guide to graduate admissions. So I’ve spent a great deal of time analyzing why some candidates are admitted and others, many with stronger grades and scores, are not. This is really covered at length in my book, Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way into the Graduate Program of Your Choice. Here are a few tips, though:
- You have to customize each application. Copy and paste may get you into college, but it won’t get you into grad school.
- You have to balance having specific goals with being flexible. It’s a bit of a paradox, but if you don’t have specific goals you may appear naïve and uncertain. On the other hand, if you have specific goals and you appear to be rigid in your conception of them, you’re missing what grad school is all about. Graduate school is transformative. You don’t know what you’ll really get out of grad school until you go through it.
- There are massive differences between going to med school or law school–or getting an MBA or a Ph.D. There are too many little tips and techniques to recount here, but what works for a Ph.D. won’t work at all for law school.
You’ve gotten a ton of columnist opportunities (WSJ, MSN Encarta, etc). Do editors reach out to you or are you proactive?
People contact me. They know about me.
How did you begin to carve out your own niche in the marketplace?
Dan, I always had a desire to be a business writer. Speaking came later. I started out in San Francisco writing resumes and coaching people in their job searches. I sold resumes and gave away the coaching for free. I wrote about ten thousand resumes for people at all levels and with all types of educational backgrounds, everybody from welders to CEOs. Now I travel 200 days a year speaking about careers and higher education to university and corporate audiences, and I’m working on book number eleven.
There are basically two types of people in the pundit business, generalists and subject matter experts, or SMEs. I was always an SME. I specialized in careers and higher education. I bring personal knowledge and expertise to my topics, and that is what editors seek.
I wrote my very first article for a free newspaper that was distributed in a shopping center. My pay was zero. I think it was how to interview for a job, or how to look for a job. I wrote two articles for them. Then I took tear sheets from those articles and sent them to Tony Lee, then the editor of a Dow Jones magazine, The National Business Employment Weekly. This was a major, national publication.
My proposal was for an article for how to look for work during the holidays. I knew they would need an article like that, to fill space during that long stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when most people are not active in their job searches. I also knew the lead time for publishing, so I had a pretty good idea when they would make a decision about upcoming content. Tony bought the article, and I never looked back.
In fact, I’ve only ever gotten one rejection letter. It was from Writer’s Digest for an article on how to sell your writing “from an author who has never gotten a rejection slip.” It was a huge act of arrogant hubris for me to even propose such an article, and I’m sure they had a great time rejecting it. I laugh about it now, myself. I have it framed on my wall.
Donald Asher is known in the United States as America’s Job Search Guru and is a consultant to top MBA programs and undergraduate institutions nationwide on hidden-job-market and self-directed-search issues. For over a decade he has served as the keynote speaker for the Career Development Series of national teleconferences sponsored by the University of Tennessee. He presents at over 100 colleges and universities annually. is an internationally acclaimed author and speaker specializing in careers and higher education. He is the author of ten books and a contributing writer to the Wall Street Journal’s online editions, CareerJournal.com and CollegeJournal.com. He is the education columnist for MSN Encarta, one of the top worldwide destinations on the Web, and is the career columnist for USAirways Magazine, with 2.7 million readers monthly. His recent books include The Overnight Resume: Fastest Way to Your Next Job, How to Get Any Job: Life Launch and Re-Launch for Everyone Under 30, and Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why.