Sunday, March 1, 2015

Advice to Applicants

I’m neither a researcher nor an HR professional, but because of the Great Recession, I’ve had the opportunity to apply for a new professional position for six of the past seven years.  While I was at it, through a variety of positions I’ve held, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and hiring dozens of wonderful professionals.  Applying for new jobs to be the most time consuming and emotionally taxing work I’ve ever done.  Interviewing and hiring new employees, on the other hand, has always been something I’ve found to be so thoroughly rewarding.  This topic is so huge that I’m not sure where to begin with advice, but I think I want to share some mistakes that are easy for each side to make and how to avoid them.

If you’re applying, it’s far too easy to:
  • Limit your search: We all know that the days of searching in the newspaper for job postings are over, or are they? Truth is that some people still use the newspaper, exclusively.  What I know for sure is gone is a time when a searcher can keep his/her eyes on any single source. If you’re running a wide search, you’ll find that districts are all over the place with postings, and if you’re not checking on multiple job boards, you’re likely to miss a lot postings.  

Here’s another truth, you need to connect yourself with as many people as possible if you really want to be hired.  Applying isn’t going to be enough when so many available positions are gathering anywhere from 75-300 applications each these days.  You are much better off if you have people on the inside working to get you into the interview pool than if you aren’t.  If the people to be interviewed aren’t already chosen when the position is posted, most hiring people just don’t have the time to sift through that many application packets, so they’ll turn to people they know and ask if they know anyone who’s applied.   

  • What did I do about this?  I looked everywhere for postings and began noting those places not using standard listing sites.  I also became deeply connected with local educators through Twitter, LinkedIn, and EdCamps, and then asked to meet face to face with anyone nearby.  I was always overwhelmingly humble and gracious to the dozens of people who either didn’t hire me or didn’t even interview me.
  • Blow your “paperwork”
    • Although I promise that I know people who have been hired regardless of spelling and grammatical mistakes on their paperwork, this is really something that ought to be avoided, especially on your resume.  It’s becoming tougher to do in the age of on-line application systems with those pesky little boxes, but it’s still a truth that most, if not all, hiring people say that they just toss submissions with mistakes.   
    • Never lie in your paperwork, but also be careful to not undersell your work.  Humility comes across as a lack of effort when it’s on paper.  
    • Be sure your cover letter speaks to the position and the school to which you’re applying.  Nothing too much, but you should let them know why they’d want to meet you.  How would you make their school better?
    • Consider having a pro help you write your resume.  At bare minimum, have a colleague read it.  They can help with formatting, wording, keeping it to under two pages (a must) and listing your work with verbs and in terms of tangible accomplishments. The truth, I’d even be willing to read it over.  Message me.  
    • Those essays.  Arrrgggghhh.  I know.  In my next post, which will be “Advice to districts,” I’ll write a bit more about the need to end this practice, but for immediate reality, applicants need to write these things.  Just remember four bits about them and you’ll be fine. 1) These are rarely - if ever - actually designed to get the nitty gritty about your approaches, so write from the heart instead of the textbook; it’ll tell them they’re going to hire a person. 2) Tell stories about examples of your work with faculties and students (no names) 3) Unless the prompt is specifically about your dreams for the far future, don’t present ideas that are too far beyond what you know the school is currently doing.  4) Proofread it.  Have others read it.  If your application journey is anything like the ones I’ve been on, you’re writing too much and are in a rush.  Be careful, though.

  • Skip the multimedia
    • This will be another call you’ll have to make, but it our world, there are a lot of people who are going to expect a level of media savvy that you’ll have to live up to. This ought to start with a professional presence on social media sites like FaceBook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn but could continue on to include a YouTube channel, blog, and/or any other site that you feel could showcase your professionalism and abilities.  
    • You can’t use these as your interview, but you need to make them available.  You can’t expect potential employers to sift through all of it, but some of them just might.  
    • The best thing that all of this media can do for you - outside of all of the learning you’ll have access to - is to help with your networking.  You’ll be able to meet acres of people before the interviewing even starts.  That is how you’ll get into the interviews.  
    • Obviously be careful about being too controversial here.   

  • Become impatient:
    • This one’s easy.  Applying and being hired takes a long time.  Schools and districts have things to do besides hire you.  Don’t be in a rush.  Don’t get grumpy when communication takes time.  As an applicant, you need to redefine patience.  
    • Once you send in your paperwork and hopefully get to interview, all you can do is wait.  Some places will call that afternoon with an offer for the next step.  Some places will never get back to you.  Some places will call for a next step, but it’ll take weeks or months.  That’s just the way it is.  

  • Don’t get prepared
    • Many districts these days have a lot of information available.  You need to be aware of what’s going on in the district.
    • In the interview, most places will ask if you have any questions.  I’d suggest finding something interesting to ask about.  I’d suggest asking them about what they’re doing instead of questioning their practices.  

  • Interview like a robot
    • People want to like spending time with you.  Yes, they’re interesting in your professional approach and knowledge, but they have to feel good about talking with you.  
    • Be sure you’re speaking with them instead of at them, regardless of the tenor in the room, which can often be distant.

Don't go too far, in the next little while, I'm hoping to put together some advice for districts and administrators.

As always, I'd love to know what you think.

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