Back in the 1950's, a Time Magazine reporter interviewed a world-famous pianist about his work. The reporter asked: "What's most challenging about playing the piano?" The pianist thought for a moment and replied: "I do OK with the notes, but the spaces between the notes give me lots of trouble."
What he meant, of course, was that he was very competent at the mechanics of playing the piano, but found the subtlety and nuance of making music, getting the "spaces between the notes" right, a continual life-long challenge.
Job seekers are getting great advice today from a variety of sources about pursuing career opportunities. The total job search process is well-documented in terms of how to perform discrete steps such as drafting a resume, preparing and using cover letters, using job boards on the internet, etc. While mastering each of the steps is important, it doesn't necessarily enable a job seeker to address the "spaces between the notes" of the Job Search process. Good mechanics may not be enough to get to the job offer.
Here's a summary of some key issues to address to be effective in working on those "spaces between the notes."
Understanding the first steps taken by the employer is vital for the job seeker, so let's begin there.
Job Specifications: What the company wants
When a position becomes available in a company, the HR function and hiring manager review and reach agreement upon the criteria for selecting the right person. Job specifications define requirements such as education, work experiences, industry background, skill sets and technical proficiencies, which may result in eight to ten criteria for the hiring decision. The specifications, in turn, drive all phases of the selection process, such as resume screenings, evaluation of job fair candidates, interview assessments, etc., through to hiring of the final candidate.
The job specifications are readily available to job seekers in ads, postings on company web sites and other sources. The order of presentation of the specifications also demonstrates what is most to least important and may suggest possible trade-offs and areas of flexibility as well.
The challenge of the job seeker is to get at the "spaces between the notes" by effectively addressing the job specifications at every stage of the selection process – the resume design, the phone screening interview and the job interview. Consider the following:
Resume Design: Send a clear message
A resume screener searches for candidates who match the specifications. A strong, focused resume that captures three or four core competencies plus related accomplishments allows the screener to make multiple connections with the job specifications. The resume screener doesn't need to know all that the job seeker has ever done; instead, he/she is looking for the match between the specs and the background outlined in the resume. Some key points:
- Core competencies are the key skills of the job seeker, those skills that are performed well, with subject matter expertise, supported by solid accomplishments.
- Core competencies should be evident throughout the two-page resume.
- Every job seeker has one set of core competencies, so one resume can be used, mixing and matching the presentation of the core competencies to improve the correlation with job specs as needed. If the core competencies match up well with the specs, then the process moves forward.
Phone Screening Interview: Get "on message"
Recruiters contact those prospects that appear to match up well with the specs to determine if they are viable candidates. Like resume preparation, there are abundant resources available for how to handle this step as well, but some key points to improve performance are:
- Recruiters ask questions because they don't know what the answers are. Respond to the questions asked, avoid using questions to segue into other areas.
- Comments about career, job roles and responsibilities are most effective if the job specs are used to drive the details.
- Core competencies should be presented using the priorities of the job specifications as script direction. Any shortcomings versus the specs should be addressed by citing other, comparable achievements. Finally, close the call with a summary of core competencies and state a strong interest in a meeting to discuss the opportunity.
All other considerations being equal, the job seeker who stays "on message" by presenting his/her core competencies in terms of the job specifications will get the opportunity to interview for the position.
Interview: Talk about the specifications
Interviewing job seekers enables a company to evaluate the candidates, test their own expectations and find the "best fit" to effectively meet their hiring goals. Consider some key points about job interviewing:
- The job specs provide a "road map" for content. Use the specs to share details about career, job roles and responsibilities that connect to the specs.
- Listen to the Interviewer and answer the questions asked.
- Be prepared to ask a few solid questions that demonstrate knowledge and comfort level with the job specifications, which will illustrate that you "walk the talk" when it comes to the company requirements.
A final point: Ask for the job!
Today's job seeker is on a steep learning curve to successfully launch and sustain a career search process. But focusing upon one's career, skills, abilities and goals is not enough. The key issue to address is the company goals and job specs. At each step of the resume/phone screen/interview process, the job seeker is challenged to integrate the job specifications with his/her core competencies, fully demonstrating the connectivity between their skills and company needs. Doing so effectively enables the job seeker to get the "spaces between the notes" right and greatly increase the potential for success in the interview/selection process.