Find Your Dream Job, Episode 223:
Hiring Myths We Need to Stop Believing, with Dawn Graham
Airdate: December 25, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.
Do you think the business of a headhunter is to find you a job? That’s one of the most common myths about hiring that many job seekers believe.
Here to talk about this and six other common hiring myths is Dawn Graham.
She says when you stop believing these myths your job search gets easier and more rewarding.
Dawn Graham is the career director for the Executive MBA Program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
She’s also the author of the book, Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success.
She joins us today from Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania.
Well, we’re going to talk about seven hiring myths today, Dawn, but let me ask you first, how did these myths get started?
I think there’s a couple of reasons why these myths have gotten started. I think, one, some of these were true at one point but they’ve changed, and for individuals who haven’t been in the job search for some time, they tend to go back to what may have worked at one time or another.
I think that another reason is because people have not hired themselves, so we have a sense of what the hiring process should be, but if you’ve not gone through that process from the other side of the hiring manager, it’s more of an assumption than a reality.
I think there are a number of reasons why these came to be, but I think it’s great we’re talking about them because once you understand what’s happening, you can create a strategy to overcome these myths.
I’m glad you brought that up because we are going to walk through these myths, and there are concrete steps that every listener can take to address them.
Well, let’s start with number one, and that, you say, people often believe that applying online has value. Why isn’t that true, Dawn?
This is one of those myths, Mac, that used to be true. When we moved from the fax machine and mailing our resume and jobs moved online, this was actually a great way to get a job at one point. But this was probably closer to two decades ago, and what’s happened since then is, the internet has been saturated, and any job that is posted can get 200 resumes within the first few hours. Which means it’s highly likely your resume is going to get lost in the crowd, even if you’ve got great skills, so that’s why applying online is more like a needle in a haystack.
Sure, it can work, and there are still times when it does work, but with Applicant Tracking Systems, which are those systems that human resources uses to sort those 200 resumes, what we know is that 98% of Fortune 500 companies are using them, and about 75% percent get stuck in that ATS system, which means that only 25% are getting to human eyes. So, it really reduces your chances of getting an interview if your only strategy is applying online.
Okay, so how do you fix that, Dawn? Should you be boycotting job boards? What can a listener do?
I don’t think you should boycott job boards altogether because they can be a great source of information, and there are a handful of jobs out there that are posted that are real. But one of the things that you can do to…there’s a lot of articles out there on how to beat the applicant tracking system and use keywords, and those certainly do work to some extent, but one of the things I would say is, use the other tools that have come out online like LinkedIn and other social media because it’s relatively easy at this point to figure out who the hiring manager is for a company, or who the HR team is for a certain company, and I would say, reach out to them.
If you’re going to apply online, you need to find a way to stand out, so take that next step, reach out, just to make sure that your resume has been reviewed and is in the pile. And it’s a really simple thing to do with the access that we have nowadays to these companies.
I’m glad you brought that up because I know, I meet people who think that’s difficult and hard to do. But, having talked to employers, I do know there are job candidates that do that, and they’re actually the exception, so if you want to stand out, that’s a great way to do it, isn’t it, Dawn?
Yeah, actually you have to stand out. When you think about the hundreds of resumes they get, some qualified and some not qualified and everything in between, it could just be how you formatted your resume that gets you kicked out of the system. So, here you are thinking you’re a perfect match, and they’re sitting there reviewing your resume right now, when in fact, because of using the word “profile” vs. “summary,” you actually got weeded out and you don’t even know it. Or maybe they had a hiring freeze and, again, you’re sitting there waiting.
If you pick up that phone and make that phone call, you at least know where you stand.
That’s a sobering thought that the wrong word choice can put you in the reject pile.
Let’s move on to hiring myth number two. The hiring process, many believe, is logical, fair, and objective. Why isn’t that true, Dawn?
Well, and this is one of those ones where, if you’ve never hired, you may not realize that…this is a process we trust as job seekers, and the fact is that many companies don’t have an objective, logical, straightforward process out there.
We’re assuming, we apply online, and everything is going to get seen by a recruiter, and evaluated, when in fact, maybe you’re getting six to eight seconds by a junior recruiter who doesn’t understand the job, and getting weeded out because they’re nervous that if they present the wrong candidate to their hiring manager, that they’re going to get in trouble for wasting their time. So, there’s a lot of variability, as well, in how you’re being assessed, because let’s face it, the hiring process itself, it’s very difficult to make it objective. Even when you have things like AI and technology.
Who is programming that but humans? And humans come with a lot of assumptions and biases that are fed into that system. So, here we are believing that it’s an objective process when there’s a lot of unconscious perceptions going on in the background that may get us weeded out through no fault of our own.
What can a listener do to fix that?
I think one of the things you need to first off remember is that because this process isn’t logical or objective, this is one of the reasons why we talked about in the last point, making that phone call. Making that phone call just to make sure that they did get the resume. I think that’s a big one.
Secondly, you need to understand that the hiring process is..when somebody is being hired, a manager is looking for easy ways to eliminate people, so they need to get that 200 down to one, or maybe two, depending on the role. And so, they’re looking for red flags, and one of the things that you want to do, especially early in the process is to make sure that you know what your red flag is, and we all have them. Everybody has them: job hopper, too long in a job, overqualified, underqualified.
There’s a number of things that can be a red flag, but know yours and then find a way to fix it. Whether that’s on your resume or maybe that’s on your application, you want to explain it, but you need to find a way to get ahead of these things so that you don’t get eliminated early on in the process.
Okay, so talk to people, know your weaknesses, and then address them.
Myth number three, Dawn, and I think this will surprise a lot of listeners. People believe that hiring managers have been trained to interview, and most candidates, I think, assume interviewers know what they’re doing when you walk into an interview room. But you’ve found that that is not the case.
It is not, and I often ask people who I work with, “Have you hired people?”
The next question I ask is, “Have you received at least eight hours of training on how to interview or how to assess a resume or anything?” And most people, “No.” And that makes sense because often, a hiring manager has a day job, which is being an accountant or IT Director, whatever their day job is, and they’re not trained to assess candidates. So, what happens is, is that they come up with lots of fun and creative questions like, “What animal would you be?” Something that’s really not valid or assessing your skills, and they don’t necessarily make decisions based on real data.
As a matter of fact, we know that humans tend to make decisions based on emotions, and this is true of hiring managers as well, so even if they ask for a number of things like resumes, assessments, interviews, often these emotions come in and they go with their gut feel. So, all of this stuff is happening behind the scenes, while we believe that a hiring manager is being objective. But the truth is, they also get better as they go, so if you happen to be the first candidate they interview, by the time they get to the fifth or sixth candidate, they’re actually getting better questions, they’re getting a better process, so you may be kicked out of this because they didn’t ask you something in the interview that they just didn’t think of until they interviewed the fifth person.
What’s the solution? You talked about that emotional connection and perhaps an advantage of coming later in the process. Should you bring cookies to the interview and try and get the last slot?
You can try and bring cookies. That may make them happy, it may not get you the offer. But here’s what I would tell all of my candidates, you have to be 100% prepared to leave on the table the value you bring to that job, meaning regardless of the questions you get asked by a hiring manager, you need to make sure you can communicate your specific, unique skills and qualifications for that job.
So, that’s difficult for people to swallow because they still kind of think, “Well, that’s really not fair.” And you know what, it isn’t necessarily fair but if the next guy gets the job because you didn’t do that, it’s not going to be much consolation. So, one of the things that you want to do is, and you hear this a lot, is prepare, prepare, prepare for that interview, and I’m not just talking about, “Here’s how I’d answer common questions.”
I’m talking about, “What does this manager need to know to feel confident that I’m the right person for the job?”
Which means, don’t only give them an accomplishment but pick an accomplishment that’s specific to that audience. And a lot of people don’t realize that an accomplishment that got them the job last time may not be the same one that gets them the job this time. Because it’s a different role, it’s a different industry, it’s a different person. So, you’ve got to do your homework and know what’s going to be important to that person and find a way to communicate that during the interview.
Regardless of what questions they ask you.
Yeah, and you can do that homework before you walk into the room, but you can also ask questions in the interview itself to get a clear understanding of that employer’s needs, can’t you, Dawn?
Absolutely, and that’s why I go back to, if you believe this hiring process is logical and objective and fair, people tend not to ask those types of questions because they think, “Oh, this person knows what they’re doing and if I’m a good fit they will hire me.”
But you also need to know if it’s a good fit for you, and I think it’s perfectly fine to ask questions like, “What about my resume caused you to call me in today? What stood out?” Because then, you know what they’re honing in on and you can really tailor your answers to focus on those things.
Well, I want to take a quick break and when we come back, I want to continue our conversation about hiring myths and what you can do about it.
I hope you’re enjoying my conversation with Dawn. Here’s something else you need to know about how hiring really works.
Recruiters will Google you when you apply for a job. Are you happy with what pops up online when someone puts your name into a search engine?
If not, I’ve got a three-part video course that can help. It’s called How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
Go to macslist.org/wow. It’s free.
You’ll learn what recruiters want to see when checking out a candidate online.
Simple steps you can take on LinkedIn and your other social accounts to get recognized as an industry leader and the common mistakes on social media you need to avoid when job hunting.
Go to macslist.org/wow.
Did I mention it’s free?
Learn how you can attract recruiters and make it to the next stage in the hiring process.
Sign up today for How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
Go to macslist.org/wow.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Dawn Graham. She’s the career director for the Executive MBA Program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Now, Dawn, we were working our way through your list of seven hiring myths listeners need to stop believing, and we had talked about the importance of preparation and how candidates need to get ready for an interview.
Here’s a myth that we kind of touched on, but I’m glad you brought it up because we operate a job board here at Mac’s List, and that myth is that all online job postings are real. Tell our listeners more about that.
Yeah, this is a tough one for people to swallow because it seems like if it’s being posted online and you’re allowed to apply for it, that you should have some shot at it. But what we know about online jobs is that many of them are not, in fact, real, and that’s sometimes on purpose but oftentimes not. And what I mean by that is, sometimes it’s an old job ad that just hasn’t been taken down. Sometimes there’s a hiring freeze and they’re no longer hiring for that position.
Oftentimes, and this is tough, but it happens more than people realize, there’s an internal candidate identified for the job and they have to go through the process of interviewing other people to satisfy a legal requirement in the company. And I know that seems very unfair but I have seen candidates flown across the country for a full day of interviews, only to learn later that there was a pre-identified internal candidate who was going to get the job all along, and it’s a horrible feeling.
So, I feel like when people understand that, sure, you can apply online but there are all these potential factors going on behind the scenes, then you need to know that using referrals, using your network, calling up and making sure that the position is still open and available are tools that you can use so that you don’t sit there and wait for something that may never happen through no fault of your own. Because we know, Mac, that the job search is frustrating, it’s confusing, it’s demoralizing in a lot of ways, it’s not a fun process. And when you get your hopes up, when you’re only responding to a job that, actually, you have no shot at getting because it’s either filled or the company’s no longer hiring, that can just make the process all the more harder.
So, somebody sees a job they love online, they want to find out if there is an internal candidate. How do they do that, Dawn?
This is one of the places where your network can be so incredibly helpful. Because they know if there’s a hiring freeze going on in the company, or they can often tap into their internal network to know if there’s an internal candidate who’s applied for the job and has a good shot of getting it. So, I know people say, “Well, what if I don’t know somebody inside the company?” But here’s the great part.
It doesn’t need to be somebody who works in that department. It doesn’t even need to be somebody who works in that geography.
Often companies have a lot of…people in companies have a lot of connections and can ask these questions and get a lot of data, even if they’re not sitting in that department or in that role. So, I encourage people to use that network to find out.
The other thing is that if you do have a contact that you know well, they can shepherd your resume to the hiring manager which would make sure that you do get looked at, so that’s another benefit of engaging your network when you are applying online.
When you find that internal contact, you learn that, indeed, there is an internal candidate, in your experience, does it ever make sense to pursue the candidacy? Do you see external candidates beat out internal people?
I don’t often see external candidates beat out internal, but to answer the first part of your question, I actually do think that it can be a benefit to pursue that opportunity because the fact is, they’re interviewing people. You may have a great conversation with the hiring manager or recruiter or somebody else in the organization through this process, and they might say, “Wow, this is a great candidate. I know we’re already hiring Joe for this position, but we’re going to have some other openings.” Or, “This department has some openings.” And you may actually find that there are other matches.
Especially in larger companies. So, you go in knowing what’s happening, maybe on the larger scale, but you still do your best and you still build a relationship because maybe it’s not that job, or maybe it’s not right now, but maybe it’s next year. There’s always opportunities to build relationships and those can create opportunities in the future.
You mentioned hiring freezes, Dawn, that might be in place even though a job has been posted. Why would an employer ask for applications if the company is indeed in the middle of a hiring freeze?
There’s a number of reasons. The job may have been posted prior to that announcement, it could be a temporary freeze, it could be that they’re out there collecting resumes to see what candidates are out there and what kind of salaries they’re looking for, so doing a little bit of market research. It could be, you know, from a competitive standpoint, to look like the business is thriving.
I mean, there are so many reasons companies can put these jobs out there, and I think, again, when as a candidate, if you can put yourself in the company or in the hiring manager’s side, you start to see some of the reasons why these things might be happening, and once you know that, you can be a more savvy job seeker.
We haven’t touched on this, but as a job board operator here at Mac’s List, I know there are job listings that are scams. Have you run across those in your experience?
There are a lot of job listings that are scams, unfortunately, because people know when you’re in a job search, you may feel desperate to get out of a bad situation. Or maybe you’ve been unemployed and you really need that paycheck, and they prey on that. Which is horrible, but a couple of quick ways to know if it’s a scam. One, if they ask you for any personal information, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or anything that seems kind of out of place, no company’s going to ask you for that. No company’s going to ask you for money upfront or anything.
Those are kind of the big red flags. But certainly, if it’s a company you haven’t heard of and they’ve reached out to you, or they have a great ad but they don’t have a website, or you can’t find any of their employees on LinkedIn, those are some pretty big red flags that this may not be the most legit, or maybe it seems too good to be true, or they’re pressuring you to make a quick decision.
All of those things should cause you to pause, and step back and say, “Hm, let me check this out further.”
Here’s a myth on your list that I see a lot among senior executives, and it goes like this, headhunters exist to help job seekers find jobs. In other words, if I can only get my resume to the right recruiter, the offers will just pour in. Why don’t headhunters work that way, Dawn?
Trust me, I wish they did.
I know, I know.
We’d all be in great jobs, right?
Just waiting for the offers to come in. Just have to hit refresh on the inbox.
There you go.
A couple of things people don’t realize about headhunters is that, one, they don’t have, often, a database of jobs. Especially the highest levels fill, maybe, maybe 10 to 12 jobs a year. Maybe. So, when you think about that, they’re filling very few of the open roles.
Typically they’re the very senior roles, they’re the private searches, perhaps the company has a new CEO and he’s planning on replacing his team. They’re going to go to a headhunter to try to find a CFO before they fire their current CFO. Or it’s a very unique skillset, so it’s something that it’s very difficult for the company to find on their own.
If you fit in those categories and you’re not a career switcher, you may have some success with a headhunter. They’re certainly not going to be your career coach, but it might be in your best interest to build a relationship with them, just because at some point, they might have an opportunity.
But that being said, if you’re not in those categories, what we know about headhunters is they love LinkedIn and they use it prolifically to find candidates. So, passive hiring, which is headhunters, recruiters, companies, employers looking for candidates online and poaching them is becoming more and more prevalent, because they want to minimize all of the resumes they have to go through, and they want to find the candidates that have what they want without having to do all of that background work.
If you’re not on LinkedIn, and you don’t have a strong profile that really reflects your values, your brand, your strengths, then you’re not going to be found by these headhunters. But most headhunters, when you call them, will say, “You know, we don’t find people jobs. We find people to fill the jobs that our employers, who are paying us, are asking for.” And I think that’s the difference that people don’t see.
Okay, two more myths on your list that I want to get to.
Number six is one we’ve actually talked about on the show, and that’s the idea that you’ve got to have all of the qualifications in a job posting in order to get selected for an interview. What’s been your experience, Dawn?
We know that there are no perfect candidates, just in the same way that it’s very difficult to find the perfect job, and the research shows that women feel compelled to be 100% qualified before applying, whereas men feel like 60% is good enough.
There’s different schools of thought and approaches, but in my experience, job descriptions are often not written with a lot of care. And what I mean by that is, often it’s a recycled job description from the last person who had the job, or it’s more promotional in nature, meaning that they’re putting it out there to make it sound like a great opportunity to get a lot of candidates. So, if you think about it, how many jobs have you seen online that tied to performance measures? Probably very few. So, that being the case, if a job asks for ten years of sales experience, you can have ten years of sales experience but if you’re the worst salesperson in every company you worked for, that’s not what they want.
Think about, what do they really want? They want somebody who can sell their product, in their geography, to their customers. So, I think what you have to do is look at the job description. Dig into what they really need and oftentimes the first two to three qualifications they list are usually the most important. And then, if you have those top two or three, then you should still go ahead and apply. And, of course, if you have a referral, that means that you have that testimony of somebody that the hiring manager trusts, and they’re going to value that a lot more than having every qualification.
Having a referral can really get your foot in the door when you’re missing some of those key things.
Dawn, why are referrals so powerful in a job search? Especially those that come from people who might not know you very well, who might just be a weak connection.
Because hiring managers, one, don’t want to make a mistake. Two, they hate the hiring process as much as job seekers hate the job search. And honestly, they know they can train somebody in some of the skills they’re missing, but it’s really difficult if you hire someone who’s not motivated and hungry and has those personal qualities, to train them on those things. So, they’d rather bring somebody in who has those things and has a referral. Even if it’s a weak referral and when you say weak referral, I assume you mean about a second level contact or something like that.
Maybe somebody you’ve had coffee with once or twice or that you’ve met through an informational interview.
Yeah, I mean, sometimes that person could be the person that sends it to the hiring manager and gets your resume past the applicant tracking system and that’s all you really needed to boost your candidacy there. We know that people who are referred have a one in three shot of getting an interview, whereas people who just go and apply online have a one in ten shot. So, just getting in the door, that’s oftentimes the hardest part, and if you can have somebody say, “Hey, this is a friend of a friend. I think this person could have some skills. We should talk to them.”
That might be all you need to boost you into the hiring process.
Your last myth is this: an employer says, “That’s our best offer.” And so many candidates then go on to say, “I accept.” Why shouldn’t they do that, Dawn?
I think we should be creative. I think we should never accept on the spot. You should be excited and enthusiastic, “Thank you. I think I’m going to hit the ground running. I’m excited about this opportunity. When do you need my response?”
And then give yourself two or three days to sleep on it because, guaranteed, you will think of something you want to ask for, and once you sign on the dotted line and accept, it’s usually too late.
It’s been a terrific conversation, Dawn. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
The website that has everything about me is drdawnoncareers.com so you can find my TedX talk, you can find my LinkedIn Learning, and of course Switchers: How Smart Professionals Switch Careers and Seize Success, which is my new book. But one of the other things I’ve been doing is working with LinkedIn on some courses around my book and overcoming bias in the job search, so definitely check that out as well.
Now, Dawn, you’ve shared so much great advice today. What’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about those hiring myths that we all need to stop believing.
I think we need to come to terms with the fact that there are many things about the hiring process that just aren’t fair. That’s the reality, but once you understand this, instead of trying to fight that, you can use your energy instead to build strategies that make you competitive, in spite of those unfair practices. And that’s what I’m hoping for all of your listeners, is to understand what’s going on behind the scenes and then create a competitive strategy to get around those barriers.
That was a terrific conversation with Dawn. Here’s my number one takeaway: when you hit send on an online application, your work has really just begun. If you want to get an interview, you’ll increase your chances of that happening by getting referrals.
As Dawn pointed out, the people who have referrals are much more likely to end up in conversation with the hiring manager.
Here’s another way to get the attention of a hiring manager: invest in a strong online profile, and if you’re not sure how to do that, we’ve got a free video course that can help, How to Wow and Woo Employers Online.
Get your copy today and sign up by going to macslist.org/wow.
In most interviews, an employer will ask you why you’re looking for work. Do you have your answer ready?
Our guest next week says you don’t want to make up your reason on the spot. How you talk about a past or current employer can make or break your candidacy.
Joining us next Wednesday is Susan Peppercorn. She and I will talk about how to explain why you’re looking for another job.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.