GIVE YOURSELF AN EDGE
When looking for a job, there are many ways to ensure you are better prepared than the next person, writes Rowan Manahan

The recession has brought about two principal areas of difficulty for people in the market for a job. First, there are those for whom the downturn has meant a massive drop in openings and opportunities in their sector. The obvious examples are architects, quantity surveyors, conveyancing solicitors and certain types of engineers. The buoyancy and expansion these professions enjoyed in recent years has declined catastrophically and these job-seekers are desperately trying to reinvent themselves as they approach the market. The second group, which to a large extent encompasses the first, faces a broader and simpler problem: there don’t appear to be any jobs to apply for. That is what I want to address in this article.

Cast your mind back ten years. Back then, a job-hunt consisted of checking the appointments pages of newspapers on a weekly basis, perhaps registering your CV with a couple of trusted recruitment agencies and then sitting by the phone waiting for ‘the call.’ Now, those appointments pages make for very thin reading, and the recruitment agencies have taken as bad a beating as estate agents and the motor trade. Worse than that, the first thing you know about most job openings is the ‘Company Announcement’ puff piece that Joe Bloggs has been appointed to a job you would have loved to apply for, but you didn’t hear so much as a whisper about it.

For anyone job-hunting in Ireland now, there has never been a more divergent jobs market. On the one hand, we have 439,000 people on the live register [the official register of social welfare recipients], more than at any time in the history of the State; on the other hand we still have 1,887,000 people working here. Excepting the bubble of the last few years, this is the largest workforce we have ever had. In a workforce that large, with all the ebb and flow of human activity, job opportunities arise every day. Why then are they so hard to spot?

Simply put, the way in which employers are seeking out talent, and the way in which successful job-hunters are competing in the market, has irrevocably changed. If you want to hunt successfully in the current climate, you need to think like an employer. How does that employer fill a vacancy? The short answer is quickly, cheaply and with minimal risk. The hiring process may take a considerable time, but the employer is looking to minimise the amount of time he/she spends trawling through piles of CVs and interviewing large numbers of people. For middle management positions and above, employers are following the mothering wisdom of “Don’t talk to strangers” – and are making fast, zero-risk hires of people who are in some way known to them.

This means that the old approach of a low-key, passive, job-hunting effort on your part is unlikely to bear fruit. Talk to any outplacement or career management company in your vicinity and they will tell you that 50 per cent or more of management jobs are filled through “some level of personal contact.” And that is in a good year. In tougher times, that percentage rises steeply. So yes, you must register and follow up with the key placement agencies in your sector; and yes, you need to peruse the major papers and recruitment websites and yes, you need to closely monitor the “jobs with us” sections of company websites. But those should not be the bulk of your job-hunting efforts.

The bulk of your exertion needs to be directed toward reaching out, sharing information and asking smart questions to an extended circle of family, friends, colleagues and beyond. Despite what we have discovered about cronyism in certain circles in Ireland; in the wider job market, neither nepotism nor the old school tie result in someone landing a plum job very often. What does happen is that you hear about an opportunity or a change in a company you are interested in. You might hear a nugget of information that allows you to adjust your approach for a forthcoming interview – perhaps an insight into the interviewer’s mindset or just a kernel of knowledge that other candidates won’t have.

You need to reach out both in the online and offline world. Online, Linkedin.com should be your first port of call. You can put a detailed CV up there and then start connecting with everybody in your phone book and email lists. This is immensely valuable when you are trying to research a company/industry and realise that you are just one step away from a bunch of people who know that company or industry. You can ask for an introduction to those people and engage in a quick email exchange to find out what you need.

In the offline world, you have the added advantage of getting some face-time and leaving a lasting impression on the people you reach out to. Either way, your approach must be symbiotic – share your ideas and information, follow up with people you have talked to and make sure that your networking effort is a two-way street.

Other strands you should be pursuing:

  • Companies don’t exist in a vacuum. Start nosing around on the supply chain and the customer channels to find out what’s really going on in the company you are targeting.
  • Talk to government agencies locally and nationally about your sector – Enterprise Ireland, IDA, SFI, County Enterprise Boards and so forth. 
  • Get the macro picture by talking to TDs and MEPs. They will have access to white papers and top line research that pertains to your industry.
  • At a more immediate level, spend time with the head of your industry body and talk about the past, present and future of that industry with someone who is completely plugged in to the sector. Read the trade publication and other articles that relate to your field.
  • If you are taking a course, don’t be a wallflower. Use Linkedin to stay in contact with your classmates, lecturers, guest lecturers etc.
  • Build a profile for yourself – give a talk at a breakfast briefing, write a couple of pieces for your trade magazine, start a blog, guest on a radio programme talking about your area of expertise.

You are not directly saying “Gissajob” to any one of the above, but it’s always possible that the subject might come up in conversation.

There’s an old joke about a camera crew in the Serengeti who are sniffed out by a pride of lions after the wind unexpectedly changes. As a ravenous lioness approaches, the sound man calmly kneels down and tightens the laces on his running shoes. “What the hell are you doing?” hisses the cameraman. “There’s no way you can outrun a lion!” “I don’t need to outrun the lion,” says the sound guy, “I just need to outrun you.” And that, in a nutshell, is the modern job-hunt. You just need to be one bit smarter, one nugget better-informed, one smidgen better-prepared than the next candidate. So get out there and start talking …

Rowan Manahan is the MD of outplacement firm Fortify Services and the author of Where’s My Oasis? and Ultimate CV