The Applicant’s Role in the Screening Process

bigstock-futuristic-networking-13063529-e1359992609269What can a candidate do to affect the outcome of the screening process? Not much. You can’t set the search criteria for an employer. You can’t make screeners meticulously follow the criteria they have. And you can’t eliminate bias.

You can only present a coherent argument, and make sure that it highlights what you have to offer in relation to the position and the needs of an employer.

How can you describe, explain, or imply a high degree of fit between you/your skills and the needs of your potential employer?

It will not be through the use of buzzwords. It will be through the use of keywords. And the best way to discover the most relevant keywords are to study the employer, read the position description or advertisement carefully, and pull out those elements that seem most important. This introduces the value of “word-farming.” There are some great tools out there that can help you distill a job description down to the most important keywords. We’ll delve into them in a later post. For now, let’s start at the beginning. If you are going to make a coherent argument, you have to do one thing first…

Know Your Goal

Have you ever heard the term “He couldn’t hit the side of a barn?”

 It implies a lack of precision and lack of focus.

How about “shooting from the hip?”

It implies that a person engages in hasty, gut-level reactions, rather than taking carefully-considered and well-planned actions in an attempt reach a goal.

Let’s consider these metaphors and attempt to apply them to our thinking about the job search process.

How specific is your job target? Is it the side of a barn, or the barn window?

You see, shooting at the side of a barn is a really aimless activity. It doesn’t take much talent. You could almost do so by accident. Bored teenagers shoot paintballs at the side of a barn for something to do. A serious marksman wouldn’t bother. A marksman would shoot out the windows (or maybe the lights!)

If you ever shot from the hip, it was probably during a moment of reaction, when you had your guard down, felt attacked or confronted, and responded immediately, in a way designed to help you deflect the arguments of your attacker, or to escape from an unpleasant situation. Is that really any way to approach your job search? Some job seekers browse job postings without specific job titles, employers, roles, or responsibilities in mind, taking an “I’ll know the right job when I see it” sort of attitude. If you aren’t imagining an ideal job, or ideal roles, you’ll be less able to coherently present your arguments, and when interview time comes (if you are that lucky), you’ll be responding to questions in the same way. Shooting from the hip is a terrible way to interview.

Aimless is as Aimless Does.

I have a piece of paper tacked to the bulletin board above my desk that reads “Aimless is as aimless does.” It reminds me to set specific goals to hold myself accountable for reaching them.

Notice that the key point is that your goal must be specific.

Aim for a bullseye, not a barn.

Would you really be happy just having any random job? Probably not.

You might get by. You might pay your bills. You might even be able to do so for quite a while. But don’t you deserve more?

Know Yourself First

You are a unique person. No one else has seen the world through your eyes. No one else can bring the exact same mix of qualities to the table.

There is a job out there that you are a perfect match for. And you aren’t going to find it if you view every opportunity equally.

If you are going to have a great résumé, you need to have a goal in mind. My belief is that your goal should be to find an ideal job. Not just any job, but a job that is a good match for your education, skills, interests and motivation.

When I talk to clients who have been looking for an extended period of time, I usually see a common thread: lack of focus. They are shooting at the side of a barn, and wondering why no one’s giving out marksmanship trophies!

So set a good goal. Make it as specific as possible (we’ll talk more about how to do this in a later post). And understand that you may not reach it.

But, as Benjamin May once said:

“The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach.”

Hey You! Who's a Who-Do to You?

As regular readers will recall, I have been writing a lot about the idea of “gurus” out there who promote themselves as the be-all, end-all authorities for this-that-and-the-other-thing, and contrasting them with “who-dos,” which are people who are out there putting their passion and purpose to work, to change the way we do things in higher education, with social media, in helping people in their careers, and other ways that have positive impacts on society and the world.

Last month, I was glad to applaud our friends over at BreakDrink for their efforts to create free and low-cost-of-entry professional development programs for student affairs professionals, and for their groundbreaking attempt to put together a podcast network of sorts serving the field.

As I said in the introduction to this concept, I would like to take nominations each month and announce a “Who-Do” of the Month.

The Process

Here’s how I would like to do this:

  • I’ll put up a post, like this one, once a month, asking people to submit nominations. Ideally, I’d like to take them in the comment section, so people can read all the good things about those nominated.
  • I’ll post a poll on the blog about a week later with persons nominated
  • People will vote.
  • I will review nominations and votes and have a discussion with an advisory committee (which I am currently putting together-more on the makeup of that, once I have people lined up.)
  • The last week of each month, I will announce the “Who-Do” of the month.
  • In the latter part of Spring semester, I will have a process announced for selecting the “Who-Do” Highsman (get it?) award for the year.

Nominate Someone Now!

Please take a few minutes between now and next Tuesday at noon to nominate someone who deserves recognition, and to tell the world why you see this person as defining the spirit of the “Who-Do.” If you want to send the nomination directly to me, e-mail it to and I will post some of the essential pieces here, so people can at least know who was nominated and why.

Have an Idea for How I Should Structure the “Highsman” selection?

Send me your ideas. I’d love to hear them, and I want to make this process engaging and fun. I’m looking forward to reading the nominations!

How to Tell a "Who-Do" from a Guru: Part 2

Editor’s Disclosure: This post reveals that the author is a 40-something interloper on the “Gen-Y” career network Brazen Careerist. For anyone disturbed by this revelation, the author claims to really only read it for the “stories.” And now, on to the show….

The other day, I got involved in an interesting discussion on Brazen Careerist about whether length of experience matters in establishing credibility these days.

The comment that led off this discussion:

The conversation really struck a chord with me, because I think it is central to understanding, and perhaps navigating, the divide between Millennials and their Gen X and Boomer managers. There is a disconnect between their generation, which wants to be acknowledged for their ideas, and those who came before, who do value ideas, but feel they’ve earned respect through hard work and years of experience (and sometimes feel they don’t get it from the youngsters.)

The discussion about the value of experience and status, versus the value of ideas, goes back much further. The young have always felt discounted, the old disrespected, the rich and scholarly have always felt more enlightened than those who work in the trenches, and those who work in the trenches have valued their experiences in life and work more than ‘book learning.”

My favorite example:

Socrates was a great example of someone who was in fact a great teacher (and a guru), but it’s useful to remember that he’s only thought of this way because of what others said about him, and none of that would have gotten down to us, if it hadn’t been for Plato.

Socrates was actually a stonemason, who spent his days in the Forum taking people down a notch, by asking them simple and pointed questions, giving his observations, and playing devil’s advocate. It was Plato who enjoyed his style, wrote about it, emulated it, and taught it in his academy.

So herein lies the crux of the credibility issue: Are you someone who is engaged in questioning as the means for discovery, in debate as a delivery vehicle for new knowledge and points of view, and in mutual interplay between others who might teach you something (including people you may not agree with, or even find to be “small-minded?”) Are you nimble enough, confident enough, and curious enough, to be engaged?

The key to wisdom, then, is to know a good question when you hear it and a good conversation when you are in it. And to ENGAGE.

There are many, many cartoons that depict a seeker going to the mountaintop to ask a wise guru for advice, only to be met with questions. The punchline here shouldn’t be lost on you…this is how people learn.

So you can’t be a guru if you only learn by osmosis, or repeat back what you have learned verbatim. To be a guru, you must light a fire in others for knowledge, ask them compelling questions, and send them away with their minds racing, frenetic, and full of wonder for the search.

And how will you know if you are a guru?

They’ll climb back up the mountain with more questions.

And this time, they’ll bring friends.

This article is a cross-post to both the Student Affairs Collaborative and HigherEdCareerCoach.Com

It's the End of the World as We Know It, And I Feel Fine

Andromeda GalaxyAs schools around the country start to close out the academic year, honor their student leaders and organizations with awards, check out students from the residence halls, and prepare for graduation, I can’t help but reflect on the ways my life and career path have changed in a few short months. Last Fall, as I was finishing up summer projects, and preparing for RA training, I was also contemplating some major life changes.

I’d planned to start a doctoral program here at the University of Georgia, but I wasn’t accepted. I’d applied to the program for several reasons: first, it’s a great program; second, it is close to my family (in South Carolina) and  Sarah’s family (in Florida) and third, after 14 years in State College, I’d finally reached a point in my career at Penn State at which I’d accomplished what I set out to do. More importantly, I had to admit that I wasn’t motivated by my daily routine, and I found myself more than a little bit discouraged as I faced the prospect of another year of doing the same things.

I’d imagined (and worked quite diligently toward) a return to the classroom. From preparing for the GRE, to writing, fretting over, and re-writing my statement of purpose, I’d been single-minded about getting in to the University of Georgia, so it was kind of a blow to get rejected. Despite what some might expect, though, I won’t say a bad word about U. Ga. or their graduate admissions process, or about Residence Life at Penn State. I have deep respect for, and can honestly say that I learned a lot about myself, from both.

At Penn State, I had many opportunities to learn and grow as a professional, and my work was rewarded by several promotions and many great learning and leadership opportunities. The people there are not just my colleagues or my friends; many of them are family to me, and I will always value the time I spent there and the relationships I forged. And though it would be easy to be bitter about getting rejected from a grad program when you have a generation of experience behind you, good GRE scores and recommendations, etc., I’m not upset with anyone at U.Ga., because I learned something very valuable from the process. It was a simple but powerful realization, and it was this: I don’t love Student Development theory. I think it’s interesting, but my real love is for two things: the people and the process. While I am capable of doctoral-level work, and a Ph.D. would help me get to a logical next step, as a faculty member or senior administrator, I hadn’t really explored my other options enough, and I’d set some aside that were actually important to me (and that I have always wanted to do) because they didn’t fit with what many would consider conventional next steps along a “career path” in Student Affairs.

I’ve known several things about myself for most of my life, but wasn’t giving them a proper place in my personal “scheme of things.” First, I have always been a writer and a story-teller. Some of my earliest memories are of me telling my grandmother fabulous stories. When I was young, people didn’t read me bedtime stories: they asked me to tell them. Second, I’ve always been a “helper” and a “sounding board” for other people, and I like to challenge others to think about what they want to do with their lives. This was apparent in many ways as I grew up, became an RA and eventually moved into full-time work in higher ed. Third, I’ve always been creative and free-spirited, and Fourth, I hate bureaucratic nonsense and as much as possible, I do my own thing, and I seldom apologize for it. My track record on this count is pretty good. I am an original thinker who drives conversations in new directions, experiments, and takes risks. Usually, the results are good. When they aren’t, I explain my rationale, apologize for bad results if necessary, and move on.

Finally, late last summer, as training loomed in the near future, I took a pretty big leap of faith, and registered for a Coach Certification program with the Life Purpose Institute, and began to plan my departure from Penn State. The program was in October and after it, Sarah came down to meet me in Atlanta, and we went to Athens to look at houses for two days. We made an offer on our new house on the second day.

I’d planned to end the semester at Penn State, but finding the house kind of tipped things in a different direction, because it created a new sense of urgency toward unloading our old one and moving on. Pennsylvania winters are notoriously bad for selling houses, so we had to jump right on it. Things started to happen quickly, and before I knew it, the die was cast. After 14 1/2 years in Happy Valley,we were packing up our  life, unloading our junk and starting something new.

The strangest part of this, for me, has been how easy it has been to not look back. I don’t have any “might-have-beens” to dwell on. I did what I went there to do, and I know that I made a difference while I was there. These days, I spend my time writing, and discussing life and career issues with people from all over.  Through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, BrazenCareerist, and the wonderful #sachat community, I’m more connected that I ever have been to others working in Higher Ed.

Since I’m new in business, I spend a lot of time working on ways to bring in clients, do presentations and offer workshops. It’s challenging and very different from working for a large university. I set my schedule, pay for all my benefits, and I generally work alone. I don’t supervise anyone, and I don’t have a boss, but in some ways, I answer to everybody…either I get feedback that my work is helpful, or I work through the silence and keep trying until I find something that is both validating and (hopefully) potentially profitable. I’m not swimming in money by any means. I’ve earned less this year than I earned in a week at my old job, and most of what I’ve earned has gone to pay some of my fabulous guest writers. And let’s not get into what it costs to get certified as a professional coach through a reputable program, or to start a business.

Last August, I only imagined what it would be like to take this leap, and to forge out on my own. I had greater expectations for what the year would bring me, but, like many new graduates heading out into the world, or professionals moving on to their first (or next step), I choose to look back on the year with fondness, to reflect on everything I’ve learned…about business, about careers, about higher ed, and about myself, and to keep moving toward opportunities and experiences around each bend.

I know that I will get where I am meant to go in my career and in my life. I’ve found a purpose that drives me forward, and the realization that I’m doing the driving, so I’m the one who gets to decide where to go next.

It may be the end of the world as I knew it, but I feel fine.

How about you?

  • Have you set aside aspects of yourself as you pursue the “next steps” in your career?
  • Are there ways to incorporate these aspirations and skills into your current job?
  • What risks are you willing to take to create more fulfillment in your life and career?

Do What You Value!

Mickey Fitch’s previous post, “What Do You Value?” got my wheels spinning.

I can’t say it was the only thing, as I have been dwelling quite a bit lately on the idea of living in congruence with my values, using my time to advance the causes I care about, and setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Limited) to help me reach them.

Since it was Earth Day, I also spent time thinking today about how I integrate my values with my lifestyle and how I take care of the Earth, as well as myself.

When I was a peer educator at Clemson, we had giveaway buttons and materials that said “Do what you value!” An interesting turn of phrase. And in that context, it was about sexual decision-making. But doing what you value is a powerful idea that should carry over into your everyday life and your work.

Here are some ways I am trying to live up to my own expectations.

  1. Living in a LEED certified new-construction green home in a transitional neighborhood.
  2. Driving a hybrid car (Prius). It gives me great satisfaction to know that most of my stops at the gas station are for snacks.
  3. Gardening only by organic methods, and composting when I can (I need to get a new composter, as I left the old one in PA, but soon enough we’ll get one.
  4. Spending my money locally whenever possible and avoiding chain restaurants in favor of local cuisine…It was easy in State College, and is becoming easier in Athens!
  5. I only take what I want at dinner, and unless it was undercooked and gross, I eat all of it.
  6. By stopping at having two children (in the interest of Zero Population Growth).

I also believe in volunteering, and as I build my client base for the coaching practice, I’ve been seeking out volunteer opportunities that I would like, and using them to get connected  here in Athens and back in Clemson. Last week it was a 5K race for Ovarian Cancer Research, coupled with a butterfly release that raised money for the daughter of a high school friend who died recently after a 13-year battle. I am also volunteering for the AthFest Half-Marathon and getting involved in other Athfest committees and projects. I met today with a rep from Nuçi’s Space, a musician’s resource center, and I’ll be developing some presentations on career skills for the talented musicians who come into the center looking for a place to practice, to connect with other music types and to get referrals for medical care and counseling. I may soon begin doing free career counseling at Nuçi’s, in the forms of workshops and 1-on-1 coaching. I will explain more of the opportunities soon enough in other articles.

Why am I doing this? Because I love art and music. Because I somehow managed to get pulled in to race planning again because I have done it before. But most of all, I am doing these things because I value them and they make sense.

How do you live your values?

Sean Cook is a Life Purpose and Career Coach, based in Athens, GA. He specializes in work with college students and higher ed professionals. Before becoming a certified coach through the Life Purpose Institute, he earned his BA in Political Science and his M.Ed. in Counseling & Guidance Services from Clemson University, and spent over 15 years working full-time as a student affairs professional.