A job hunt is already a steep climb for those who are analytical, introverted or frustrated by what feels like a maddeningly random process. Add jitters about a bad economy, and the anxiety only intensifies.
There is no shortage of books, workshops and training sessions to help job seekers. Could they be part of the problem?
Steve Dalton, author of “The 2-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get the Right Job Faster,” thinks so. He suggests that the glut of one-size-fits-none advice makes job seekers feel guilty and defeated before they begin.
He’ll be sharing his advice for Embry-Riddle students and alumni with an interactive virtual professional development workshop presented by Alumni Career Engagement and the campus Student Government Associations on Jan. 24 from 5-8 p.m. ET. Sign up.
Dalton remembers the frustrations of launching his own career.
“I had done everything my career coaches had ever told me to do, but I was still unprepared for the world of job searching when interviews were not provided to me through campus recruiting. That’s terrifying. I did everything I was told and was still unprepared. That’s where my obsession began with career coaching.”
He discovered he had one advantage: Training in engineering. He understood how to apply a discipline of testing, refining and validating results to achieve a predictable outcome. In the 10 years since publishing his first book, Dalton has accumulated quite a bit of data. He attributes the book’s continuing success to growing recognition that analog career advice does not work in the digital world. He says people need access to instructions, not just tips.
“I feel like society has moved in the direction of the book. As we get more familiar with a world where YouTube has always been around, when something goes wrong in our life, we tend to look up a video on how to fix it. When we’re stressed out, we want instructions and not tips, and we’re spoiled now. For whatever reason, the world of career services hasn’t really caught up with that. We still do far more tips than instructions.”
His focus on process is the default mode of a former chemical engineer. As a rule-follower at heart, he wanted to create an approach that identified behavior that worked, and then make it repeatable, leading to predictable results.
After earning his MBA, Dalton landed his dream job. He worked hard to get it. He hated it.
He wanted to make a change and during the financial crisis of 2008, he was not alone. He found himself surrounded by panic-stricken people who lost jobs and were struggling to move back into the workforce because the laundry lists of tips available were failing them.
He realized that he could curate tips into a usable format. He likens what he developed to a recipe that can be tested, rather than a collection of tips, which are more like ingredients.
“I decided to apply my engineering and consulting brains to this challenge, because before, it felt like I was selling snake oil. I was part of the problem I was trying to solve. That’s what set me on this quest to develop what became ‘The 2-Hour Job Search.’”
Don’t Freestyle Your Way to Failure
Dalton says the most common pitfall when taking his approach is improvising changes to his recipe.
“Try the original recipe first. After that, you might make modifications because you have a baseline. A lot of people I have seen who get frustrated have made catastrophic changes to the recipe without realizing it.”
So what is the most important part of the recipe? Although he is a huge fan of internships and co-op experience, networking yields the highest return on the investment of your time, according to Dalton. However, it is networking done with a purposefulness that goes beyond socializing, friending and following on social media. For Dalton, “networking” translates to setting informational meetings to get referrals. It is a methodical, intentional, one-on-one engagement focused on fact-finding
“Networking is the best use of an hour of job search time. It is a numbers game. Your response rate may be low when you reach out but there is still no activity that outperforms the active, systemic advocacy-building taught in my book. It is a muscle you can develop.”
Diversify for Better Data
Dalton also believes in widening your search to different types of employers, pointing out that you are gathering data to refine your own preferences in what he calls a virtuous circle of knowledge gathering. He believes working at scale helps you avoid becoming fixed on one possibility.
“Before you start your search, you don’t know whether you’ll be more successful with smaller or larger employers. The best approach is to try both, get data back from the field, see if one or the other is preferable to you or is more receptive to you. Steer in the direction where you’re getting the best feedback internally and externally. The momentum you get with smaller companies can help you establish credibility quicker. If you focus on learning, you will get job leads. If you focus on job leads, you will get neither.”
The process is essentially the same for those making a job change as those entering the workforce, although referrals are even more essential to those seeking senior positions, says Dalton.
“As you get more expensive to employ, online application is less effective. There are fewer jobs, companies put more effort into it, mistakes at that level are expensive, so referrals play a more important role in the selection process. As you get more senior, the importance of networking becomes even more important. However, the best approach is not different whether you are junior or senior. The same skills that help someone convert an internship to a full-time job help an experienced employee get promoted. It’s this ability to turn strangers into advocates on demand. That’s really what ‘The 2-Hour Job Search teaches.’”
True to his engineering mindset, Dalton dislikes sloppy thinking, especially when it hurts people and arguably, squanders resources that could make companies more efficient and productive.
“I hate how a lot of the blame for unsuccessful job searches is assigned to the job seekers themselves, when the body of knowledge instructing them on how to search is so frankly abysmal. It’s all tips, not accountable to any sort of testing. That infuriates me, frankly. We’re professionals, we’ve had how many decades to figure out the post-job-posting era and there’s been nothing. And that’s really what drives me in my work, to give people something that’s testable and accountable.”
He believes his “recipe” goes beyond finding jobs to help people forge careers that make their talents matter.
“Just follow the instructions. The pain goes away very quickly, and you’ll have that skill for the rest of your life. You’ll unlock so many opportunities you wouldn’t access otherwise, because you have the ability to get people to advocate on your behalf.”
Steve Dalton presents exclusive webinars for Embry-Riddle students and alumni. You can learn more about his job search approach listen to his podcast episode on mastering the 2-hour job search.