By Bill Broderick
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:
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:
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:
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.