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WORKING STRATEGIES

Remember that employers are individuals, too

Friday, October 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

A friend in the radio business once gave me a tip that still influences the way I write my column, give presentations and make appearances on radio shows.

She told me, “Listeners aren't huddled together around the radio. They're individuals listening in their cars, at home, at work … they don't think of themselves as 'the listening audience.' So don't say, 'You all' or 'As you all know.' Speak to each person individually.”

I knew she was right the minute she said it. As a listener, reader and workshop participant myself, my engagement with any material skyrockets when I feel I'm being personally addressed.

The minute the speaker slips into “you all” language, the impact diminishes.

This lesson came to mind last week as I presented classes on navigating age issues in job searching. One of the dominant concerns of these participants – who are usually over the age of 50 – is mitigating the negative impact age might have on their job prospects. Issues range from a fear of age discrimination to questions about handling salary negotiations to not appearing overqualified.

As we made our way through the conversations it was interesting to note an approach that seems almost integral to job search these days: A sense of “The Employer” or “Employers Today,” as if everyone in that category would have the same response to a candidate.

It's not difficult to conclude that online search processes are primary culprits in this picture. If all you know about an employer is what you read on their website, and your only interaction is with their applicant tracking system, you're not likely to think of them as “Joe” and “Jane.”

In truth, the hiring decision will be made by one individual or a committee made up of individuals, who will be asking one person to join their team, based on what they believe that person can do for them.

As a job seeker, making this shift from “you all” to just “you” means two things. First, you can be liberated from trying to be better than everyone else when you contact managers. They're not talking to everyone else, so you only need to focus on your own abilities.

And second, instead of trying to describe everything you can do, you only need to discuss what this manager needs done.

When the manager says, “Describe your experience with project management,” don't launch into a chronology of your projects overall. Instead give a quick, one-sentence summary and an example that is relevant to that manager's situation, followed by a question to stimulate further conversation.

Here's how this might sound: “You'll see from my resume that I have 12 years of experience managing projects in different contexts. For example, I led a team responsible for migrating 100 users from a legacy software system to a new product, which I understand is very similar to a process you're about to undertake. Is that a project I'd be working on if you brought me on board?”

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@ prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.