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January 26, 2012
Don't Carry Your Own Axe
Here it is, almost the end of January 2012, and I'm sure that job seekers are already full of all the New Year’s advice from recruiters, job board advisors, and consultants. "Reinvent yourself." "Jump-start your job search." Better yet, pay a resume expert to rewrite your resume for the sixth time, because the one you're using is deficient in some way. You know what? Ignore all the advice. It's mostly conflicting views anyway. One expert says this and another expert says that.
The unfortunate fact is that merely sending a resume as an application to a job that was posted online isn't a good way to get noticed. A single online job posting receives tens if not hundreds of applicants. Any one small thing in an application or resume can get it bounced and the candidate will never know what it was that eliminated them from consideration. Except the standard, "At this time, we have decided to pursue other candidates for this opportunity." Well, thank you for that insight!
No folks, a job searcher needs to get off that carousel and have an advocate to work on their behalf. And by that I mean a network. A connection. An in at the company they'd like to work with. A friend, acquaintance, or colleague that can help the candidate by letting them know about openings at their company and by shepherding a resume to the right people — the ones making the hiring decision. A few good words from these connections makes a big difference. And here's another thing. A huge percentage of the available and desirable jobs don't get advertised. Think about that. A human resources person posts a job opening on an online board and the ad goes viral, appearing on many other boards. The result is that the HR recruiter gets hundreds of resumes from applicants and now must spend countless hours wading through them. If someone came to them on a candidate’s behalf with a resume in hand and recommended that person for the job, would the recruiter file that resume away? No. They'd take the time to review it closely because the candidate came with an endorsement. A recruiter would rather have a few highly recommended, already-known candidates to choose from than an influx of unknowns. It makes their job easier.
When I hired people for my company, I always put the word out first among my colleagues and ended up hiring great people that way. Only once did I run an advertisement and I received almost 75 resumes that took me days to narrow down to three interviews. (And that was during an economic boom-era. Imagine the number of resumes I'd get today!) As important as it was, I just didn’t have the time to deal with hiring, and many companies feel the same way. Imagine that process, but on a larger scale.
Even Mark Twain agrees. I've been reading his autobiography and there's a passage where he complains about receiving a letter from a budding author asking Twain to read his just-published book. Twain feels put-upon and writes to an opinion about people who have “axes to grind” or, in Twain's case, favors to ask. Twain contends that we all have axes to grind and the best way to have someone act on our behalf when presenting our “axe” is to: "Never convey the axe yourself; send it by another stranger; or by your friend; or by the (grindstone) man's friend; or by a person who is a friend to you both. Of course this last is best, but the others are good too." The point I got from this is that we're asking for a favor — consider us for a job — from someone we don't know. Even though the job recruiter in this case may have asked for our submissions, they really don’t want them. They would much rather have a viable, vouched-for candidate in their pocket. Amazing that after close to 120 years, Twain's advice is still valid.
Many candidates are reluctant to ask for favors, but you have to do it. Everyone has friends and one of the best ways to get this rolling is to swallow your pride and let everyone know that you're looking. Join a local trade organization or networking group and if you're not already, use social networking sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook. In the end, don't carry your own axe. And carry a friend's when you get the chance. It's the sharpest way to get the job you want and deserve.

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Steve James owned and creative directed an advertising and design studio in Buffalo, NY with the un-snappy name of SteveJamesDesign, Inc. Steve and his family now live in Indianapolis where he worked as a Creative Director and he is currently in transition, flux, metamorphosis, segue, or whatever looking for work is now called.

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