Job Seeker Alarm Bells

I’m convinced that when we look for work through the normal means of recruiters and online job boards, we go about it the wrong way.

This shouldn’t be the way to find work because it’s a waste of energy for everyone.

Over many years in the workforce, I have been and seen many instances where the process of finding work could have been radically improved if it not for certain obstacles that stand in our way – namely recruiters and the employers themselves.

This dawned on me when I had a coffee with a couple of recruiters some time back.  Over the years, I established a good working relationship with them and we met up every so often to  find out what’s happening in the employment market and where possible new contracts may arise.  Our meetings also gave me an idea of what other companies were doing in the learning and development so that I could anticipate the types of skills that they’d were looking for.

It was a really good snapshot of what was happening with other corporates and usually my mind would be one step ahead of the recruiter.  So while they were talking, my mind would be thinking something like this…”Ah…they’re implementing an LMS.   Right, the next step is that they’d be looking at whether they can source external vendors to do the online course development OR they may have an internal team that needs to be developed in how to create online courses with a high probability that it will be in Captivate so they’ll be looking for support in these areas…” 

When the recruiters asked me questions about the type of role I was looking for, I was animated and passionate in my responses which involved being in a company looking to implement innovative learning solutions in the social learning space; or being part of a company where it was a greenfield – one where I could work when I want and how I want on fascinating projects that made a real difference to this world, collaborate and learn from others. A role that allowed me to be autonomous and valued for the contribution that I brought to the team.

I soon realised that the Australian market wasn’t exactly where I was at this moment…yet.

All of a sudden I realised that there would be a disconnect between what their clients may be telling these recruiters and what I was saying.

As recruiters, they will follow the instructions of the person who is paying them. It’s in the recruiter’s best interest to match a candidate specifically to their clients wants (not usually needs).  They’re not going to go ‘out on a limb’ and introduce someone who is passionate about innovative learning approaches and someone who will challenge the status quo.

So what an employer wants, the employer gets.

If an employer wants someone who has blue hair, sings underwater and codes in three different languages, they’re going to find someone exactly like that.

And here’s the next problem.

I have interviewed for many roles in my 23 years in learning and development.  In all those cases, the interview consisted of a Business Manager and a Learning and Development Manager who asked the questions.  The types of questions asked were behavioural event questions – how I would handle certain situations and scenarios in the workplace so that they gauge the potential future behaviour if these events occur in the future.  (Pay particular attention to these questions as they usually are an indicator of the current state of play in that organisation).

In most cases, the Learning and Development manager already has an idea of the type of person and skill set needed – but what happens if the they are not across new innovative learning solutions (or worse, have an outdated view of our field) that could have been deployed in their area?

That is, the skills they thought they wanted are not the skills they actually need?

This has been the situation in two instances in my life.

I entered the new workplace with certain expectations and what I saw was something completely different. Where they wanted someone with instructional design expertise in facilitator-led programs, I realised that instead, they should have looked for someone with e-learning instructional design expertise; or some other skills.  (It’s lucky I have skills across the broad spectrum from instructional design to strategic L&D consulting but then this affects remuneration when the realisation hits me that I am underpaid for the work I do versus the role that I actually applied for).

So how does this occur?  I believe it’s because a thorough job analysis isn’t completed – and dare I say it, some of the Learning and Development managers simply aren’t across all the various types of learning available in the market today.  They aren’t aware of the possibilities of what various learning methods, media and methodologies to be able to create learning teams to deploy a variety of learning to their business.

So if there is no business planning, if your assumptions are flawed based on outdated ideas about learning and development or an ignorance of the new challenges such as technology that face workplaces nowadays, how do you expect a winning team to be created?  So I believe that some employers are also partly to blame for the lack of required skill sets in their own teams.

So what do we do about it?

Many times I have thought that as a job seeker, we simply don’t have the control in this situation.  Our first obstacle is that we need to get past the gatekeeper of the recruiter and go directly to the employer.  We mustn’t let the recruiter be our voice.

Job seekers have to prove ourselves that we fit the exact requirements of what the employer is looking for – we would dye our hair blue, take up underwater singing lessons and learn to code in three languages.  But is this the right way?  Do we want to do all this simply to get the job?

And if we do all this and then join the company, what happens when it fails to live up to our expectations, we aren’t challenged in any way or worse, the job was sold under false pretenses?

Wouldn’t it make more sense if as job seekers (especially those who will work on  a permanent or long term contract basis) ‘try before they buy’?

With my next job interview, I’m going to try that.

I’m going to ask the employer interviewing me if I could meet some of his team members at their place of work and ask them some questions.  I’d like them to give me an opportunity to meet with a business client to hear what their business issues are and their expectations of learning and development.

I’d like to see where they work; how they work; the systems they use; the technology on their desks and how these are used; the environment that they work in; and, the social interactions between my fellow team members to see if I fit in with them.

I know that this will be an impossibility and many employers will simply turn me down as the control is not in their hands anymore.

Comedian Tim Vine sang this song at a recent Melbourne comedy event and I’ve changed it to include some pointers I’ve picked up in my years of job searching.

  • When you look for work, do Google and LinkedIn checks of the people and managers you will work with.  If they have no LinkedIn account or an online presence…alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • Seek out people who used to work for that organisation. If the majority of them say negative things about the culture, …alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • If the organisation isn’t known for any learning and development initiatives or leadership,  or presented at some learning conference…alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • If your reporting line is uncertain (or there’s too many managers and not enough specialists or people to do the work), you can be guaranteed that you’ll be working long hours…alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • If the head of Learning and Development is not specialised or qualified in Learning and Development …alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • When your new company starts talking about cashflow problems …alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • When the CFO quits …alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells
  • If the role has been advertised for months – or same role different recruiting agencies advertising it, tells that the organisation really doesn’t know what it’s looking for…alarm bells, alarm bells, alarm bells

If we can ‘try before we buy’ and listen to those alarm bells with certain items, I believe we would find the right work and employer for needs.  After all, we spend so many hours at work – wouldn’t this be the right way to go about job hunting?  I see it both as a win-win for both the employer and the job seeker.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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