Jacks-Of-All-Trades Don’t Get Interviews Because…

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As a career coach, I get a lot of emails that go something like this:

Dear J.T.,

I lost my job after working for more than ____ years at the same company. In that time, I had a variety of responsibilities. I worked in a half-dozen departments. As the company changed, I would take on new projects as needed. I was a “Jack-of-all-trades.”

I thought when I lost my job I’d find it easy to get a new one because of all I have done. I’ve got so many skills and abilities, my resume is three pages long. And yet, I can’t seem to get an interview. As I research positions on job boards, I find myself saying, “I can do that!” But, having applied to over 40 jobs, I’ve yet to get a single interview.

What am I doing wrong?

The answer is simple: When you try to look like a match for everything, you match nothing.

A Job Opening = Specific Problem To Solve

When a company has an open position, what they really have is a particular problem that needs to be solved. The person choose to hire will be the one that can solve the problem the best and is priced right. When you are marketing dozens of things about yourself, a/k/a being a Jack-of-all-trades, you overwhelm hiring managers. In fact, you distract them to the point they are unable to see you as a match. Not only do you appear overqualified, but they may also assume you are overpriced as well…resulting in your resume going in the “no” pile.(Here’s a good example of a Jack-of-all-trades who needed to revamp his LinkedIn profile in order to finally stand out to employers.)

The Solution? Become A “Swiss Army Knife” Instead

If you find yourself in the Jack-of-all-trades situation, I suggest you re-tool yourself to appear more like a Swiss Army Knife: be clear in what each of your key skills is good for and demonstrate them with precision. Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Identify the top 5 skill sets you want to leverage in your next position. You have many skills, but you need to focus hiring managers on the skills you are most passionate about using on a daily basis so you can find a job that plays to your strengths.

Step 2: Map out how those skills support an employer in solving a problem. Clarify how will you use these skills specifically to save and/or make the company money. Ask yourself, “What pain will I alleviate when I utilize these skills for an employer?”

Step 3: Quantify your track record of success in these key skills. You need to be able to back up your abilities with facts. Articulate examples of how you have used each of these skills to help an employer so you can justify the cost of hiring you.

Step 4: Optimize your career tools (i.e. resume & LinkedIn profile), so they reflect your problem solving expertise using the skill sets you chose to showcase. Simplify these documents so the text clearly supports your area of focus. Less is more. Give hiring managers enough information to confirm you can do the specific job without overwhelming them. Your career tools should say, “I can do the job you need, but you’ll need to contact me to learn more.” (Here’s an article where I explain why your resume has only 6 seconds to get a recruiter’s attention.)

Finally, Don’t Forget To…

Once you’ve gone from branding yourself as a generalist to a specialist, you need to do one more thing: start a proactive job search. Just because you revamped your professional identity to be better suited for specific jobs, doesn’t mean employers will start responding to your online applications. If you really want to get an employer’s attention, you need to increase your networking efforts so you can spread the word about your special problem solving abilities as a way to get referred into positions. (This article maps out why your resume is useless without the right networking strategy.)

What other tips can readers share to deal with the Jack-of-all-trades challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site, CAREEREALISM, and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!

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Top Job Interview Tips

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Interview Skills – what really makes a difference?

It’s all pressure isn’t it? Not only do we live and work in a fast paced world, but we also have to be ever adaptable in the world of work, ever-ready to adjust that CV, explore and list our transferable skills, and so on. There’s so much good free information out there these days about how to structure your CV and application forms, that I suspect this has directly impacted on the increasing levels of post-interview disappointment that I am always reading about. Why? Because we’ve become so much better at the “getting the interview” part, that candidates are often failing to then “walk the walk” during the interview. I’ll cover this point in one of the tips.
So, what can be done to improve your chances at the next job interview? I have a number of practical tips for your tool kit. Which ones you adopt will be a matter of personal choice. I advocate all of them of course!

“6 of the best” Job Interview Tips:

• Be tuned in, switched on in advance: At least 30 minutes before you even enter the building, get “in the zone”, relax, breathe, tune in, and be absolutely on your game. Don’t leave it until you walk in the building to tune in.

• “Walk the walk”:
You have ticked all of the boxes in the JD, but do you have relevant and engaging stories for the panel that demonstrate that what you put down on paper lives and breathes for you. These anecdotes should be “locked and loaded” – ready to pull out of the bag as needed during the questions

• Rehearsals!:
This relates to the above point. I’d like you to dig a bit deeper, work a bit harder, at the whole rehearsing the potential answers you might give (to key questions which you will be able to anticipate, knowing the role’s requirements). They should be rehearsed aloud, not in your head. Get used to the sound of your voice, and it’ll pay dividends in terms of confidence and credibility.

• Better company research:
A no brainer? Perhaps, but again, candidates are getting smarter at this. You can download an annual report, get tuned into the company’s vision and objectives of course, but how about connecting with a few (non panel) employees via social networking, and finding out what the key issues are in the company?

• Post interview note:
You will no doubt in the past have followed up an interview with an email note thanking the interviews for their time, and briefly reiterating why you feel you’re right for the role. But how about a hand written, hand delivered card? This can be written out before hand, and left at reception as you leave (or if you’re walked right to the door, then pop back just after!). I’ve know this gesture work many times on a number of levels. The main one is, whether you get the job or not, you will be remembered for such a personalized way of saying thank you. If that idea doesn’t work for you, then a follow up email is a must.

• It’s a business meeting:
This is all about state of mind. If you truly view the interview as a business meeting, it will change the way you approach things slightly – you’ll feel a bit more like you’re sharing the “driving seat”, and I’ve known many cases where the candidate has been successful by adopting this mind-set.

The tips I’ve proposed are assuming you’ve got all the basics locked down; good body language, using their words in the interview, etc. Who’s to say which tips, from any source, are the definitive ones? What I always try to do is add that extra few % for my clients that will make the difference.

Why is advice largely useless?

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If I followed all the advice I’ve been given and it worked as intended, I would be fantastically productive, perfectly healthy, filthy rich, and getting laid all the time. None of those descriptions seem particularly apt. (I exaggerate for effect. In reality I have read advice on all sorts of things. Most topics were more mundane than those I listed, for example advice on relieving stress or staying organized.) If people are constantly inundated with advice, why do they, by and large, fail to achieve the things the advice was meant to help with?
Good question.
Great advice is all around us.
Yet it is in many cases not effective.To minimize frustration & for good advice to create great results I find that it helps to ask myself 3 simple questions.

  1. Do I fully understand the advice? We have different world views and buckets of experience that color our interpretation of the world around us including the advice people give us. We can all listen to the same lecturer and have multiple interpretation of the key take aways. Our sound byte culture doesn’t help in this regard as clips and quotes can be taken out of context. Oftentimes it helps to ask the advice source if your understanding & interpretation are correct (If your lucky enough to have access to him or her)
  2. Is the advice relevant to me? We can understand the advice. We can follow through with action but it might just not be applicable to us. It could be timing. Sometimes I think back to advice I received in the past and find that it’s much more relevant to me now as I’m older.  It could be our physical location. Sometimes a change of scenery can produce massive changes in the effectiveness of good advice and in turn our own fortunes.
  3. Will I follow through advice with sustainable action? This is the killer of good intentions. Following through. Sometimes the advice takes us down a longer road than we would have liked to tread. Maybe a harder one too. Oftentimes we give up before we finish. New Years Resolutions are self advice that often die a forgetful death walking down this road.

Hope this was clear enough and can be of some help to you!

Why is advice largely useless?

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"Follow the Oldtimers Advice." - NAR...

“Follow the Oldtimers Advice.” – NARA – 514272 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illustration of advice

Illustration of advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Right hand thumb rule

English: Right hand thumb rule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Good advice! Or you'll find out just ...

English: Good advice! Or you’ll find out just how slow those lions really are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good Advice

Good Advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb - Pa...

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb – Patent Sticks for Family Correction – Warranted Lawful! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is advice largely useless?

 

If I followed all the advice I’ve been given and it worked as intended, I would be fantastically productive, perfectly healthy, filthy rich, and getting laid all the time. None of those descriptions seem particularly apt. (I exaggerate for effect. In reality I have read advice on all sorts of things. Most topics were more mundane than those I listed, for example advice on relieving stress or staying organized.) If people are constantly inundated with advice, why do they, by and large, fail to achieve the things the advice was meant to help with?

Confirmation bias is my candidate for the top reason. People who succeed (and are most likely to offer “advice”) make up idiotic reasons for why they succeeded, mostly discounting the role of luck, and writing self-serving stories and “prescriptions” that are less about helping others and more about self-aggrandization.

More specifically, this comes down to an almost incredible capacity to ignore necessary/sufficient conditions for a particular piece of advice to work.

For me, a piece of advice that does not have an if… then… structure is completely useless, because my basic bullshit detector filter is a “there’s no free lunch” rule of thumb.

Almost nobody prefaces advice with the condition, “this will work for you if _________ and will not work if ____________”

The presence of that structure, on the other hand, makes me immediately take the person seriously, because they’ve taken the trouble to convert a single example (i.e. an existence proof) into a more general truth statement that is carefully circumscribed.

Also a lot of advice that apparently works does not work because of the content of the advice, but the sheer fact of somebody offering an understanding and sympathetic reaction to another person’s situation. That alone can be enough sometimes, whether or not the advice is valid. It’s sort of a placebo effect. It’s what people call “motivational speaking” as opposed to real advice.