4 areas career strategists need to understand to be more effective

counselor

I recently sat with a customer (client) to critique his LinkedIn profile. A rare moment occurred when I drew a blank and couldn’t suggest verbiage for his Summary.  Perhaps it was fatigue or looking at a profile that was as exciting as watching paint dry or maybe I didn’t have a complete understanding of what a chemistry lab technician does. Whatever it was, it got me to thinking about our role as career strategists.

As career strategist (career advisors, workshop facilitators, Veteran reps, disability advisors, job coaches, etc.) we sometimes hit brick walls like the one I describe above. I believe there are four major areas of the job search we must understand in order to be most effective. The four areas are:

1. Understanding hiring authorities, e.g., recruiters/hiring managers/HR. This is one area on which career strategists need to focus more of their attention. The two players in the job search (career strategist and hiring authorities) seem miles apart in terms of knowledge of each other. On the career strategists’ part, could this be due to a lack of desire to learn because they see it as not important?

This is what I know about hiring authorities. They’re trying to find the ideal candidate (purple squirrel) who can hit the ground running, performing the responsibilities with no to very little training. A personality fit is important but not as important as the ability to perform the job requirements quickly. This proves to be a mistake occasionally, as an employee may not be a cultural fit in the organization.

All hiring authorities are overworked, particularly internal or third-party recruiters who must interview as many as 20 candidates a day and present a manageable number of candidates for the hiring managers to interview (4-10 candidates), which varies depending on the company.

Complaints I hear from hiring authorities start with having very little time to do their job properly. (Read this post to see what I mean.)  They continue with poorly written resumes that 1) are not proofread, 2) don’t fit the job advertised, 3) are simply lists of duties with no accomplishments. Poor interview performances that make them scratch their head is huge complaint. Finally, having the right candidate withdraw from consideration.

2. Understanding industries and job roles. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know exactly what a nuclear engineer does, but I can fudge it when push comes to shove. Whereas one career strategist feels comfortable representing an operations manager in manufacturing, another may not. To do our job properly, we must understand who we’re presenting. This includes knowing how to write their résumés, LinkedIn profiles, who to network with, and how to prepare for interviews.

Some jobseekers are glad to school us on their profession, while others may get irritated if we don’t know the duties of, say, a civil engineer. I recall one of my colleagues feeling inadequate after one of her customer told her he felt she didn’t know enough about what he does and, therefore, he felt like he was wasting his time. Career strategists must take an active role in learning about what their customers do.

What’s the solution? We could learn as we go, but that takes a long time, particularly since a petroleum engineer comes around every five years. Second, we could use sources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook, but this is a source that offers general information and is somewhat outdated. Lastly, we could be honest and ask our customers to explain exactly what they do and what they’ve accomplished.

3. Understanding the customer. Directly related to understanding what our customers do in terms of their industry and job is understanding their motivation for doing what they do. I’ve talked with jobseekers who talk about their occupation with enthusiasm. It’s as if they would do the job for free. On the other hand, I’ve spoken with customers who sound like leaving their past job was the best thing for them.

I sat with a former software tester for a résumé critique. He was let go for allowing his wife access to sensitive information. First he appeared un-enthused, but when he talked about his work, he came to life. What about customers who show no interest in what they did? This is when we have to broach the subject of a career change. This is never an easy subject, for it challenges the customer to think about what she wants to do. Example, one of my customers was a dental assistant and hated it. She knows she wants to work with Veterans because she’s one herself.

Before understanding a customer’s occupation and industry, it’s important to know where she is emotionally. This is sometimes overlooked by career strategist who might assume their customer is fine because all seems fine on the surface; when in fact the customer may be suffering internally. (I’ll admit to advising my customers to fake it till they make it. But in private, it is different.) Many times my customers have struggled to hold back tears as we were talking about nothing in particular. At any moment customers will break down because of their frail state of mind. This leads me to the next and final area.

4. Understanding the role of the career strategist. One mistake career strategists can make is showing a lack of empathy. Empathy comes from an understanding of what it’s like to have suffered. It’s not the same as sympathy. Grammarian.com explains empathy, “When you understand and feel another’s feelings for yourself, you have empathy.”

Sympathy, on the other hand, is “When you sympathize with someone, you have compassion for that person, but you don’t necessarily feel her feelings.” It is associated with pity, which is not what our customers should receive, nor want. I tell the old joke, “If you haven’t been unemployed, you’re not in our club.” I believe those who have been unemployed, like me, understand the feeling and know better how to relate to those currently unemployed.

Shut up. It’s time to listen. Some of the best career strategist I know are those who listen while the customer is talking. Then they give their sage advice. Sometimes I’ll sit with a customer and ask a few questions until I have an understanding of the problems he is having. Only by hearing his problems will I be able to correctly assess his situation and offer proper advice. (I’ve also been known to tell my customers to stop talking and listen. Very effective.)

It is important to know what the trending job-search strategies are, not preach old advice. One obvious example of talking about the “new” would be talking about the importance of being on LinkedIn for people in most industries. Working with customers to develop a résumé that meets today’s standards is also important, which includes “beating” the Applicant Tracking System. Although stressing networking has been around for many years, the importance of it has increased, as the success of searching for work online is garnering increasingly less success. These are just a few of the job-search strategies we need to impart on our customers.

Don’t look for customers’ mistakes; find them. Finally, our job is not to criticize before reviewing. Too many career strategist feel it’s their job to find as many mistakes on a person’s résumé, cover letter, job search activity, etc., before understanding the situation. I’ve seen too many career strategists who are too fast to criticize before hearing his customers’ points of view or strategy. This is a sign of the career strategist trying to show his dominance over the customer. (Nor would I want a customer believing everything I say because of my title.)

Holding our customers accountable is key to their success. One of my colleagues puts his customers on “his plan,”  a simple Excel spreadsheet that tracks their activity and sets goals to complete as the days progress. One of the goals he sets for his customers is reaching out to potential networkers, resulting in possible job opportunities. The only way this works is if his customers follow through with the goals set forth. My colleague is responsible for making sure his customers meet their goals…or it doesn’t work.


Bringing this all together can be a major undertaking. While a career strategist may be empathetic and hold his customers accountable, he may not be strong in the area of knowing what’s in the minds of recruiters and hiring managers. Similarly, a career strategist may be well aware of the various occupations and industries, but be weak in terms of her strategy planning for the customers.

Putting this all together is the trick. There are those who can effectively master all four areas, while others can touch the surface of the four areas. Others may be strongest in two areas and are best utilized for those two areas, which begs to question if managers should identify the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and try to position them appropriately.

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One thought on “4 areas career strategists need to understand to be more effective

  1. Words Matter-Elizabeth Husom

    Great post Bob. A few points hit home. Understanding recruiters and hiring managers is huge. When I have a client in a complicated situation, a shout out to an HR contact helps me to set up a better resume, LinkedIn profile, etc. We should both know/research what people do and feel comfortable to ask. I once had a client who was a scientist working on highly technical experiments. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, and there was virtually no Occupational Outlook-type data. I also had a person who once chewed me out for not fully understanding his job during our initial meeting, so I was a little hesitant, but asked him to explain his job like he would if he was talking to his daughter’s 5th grade class on career day. He laughed and did so. Things clicked, I created proper documents, gave him direction and he had a job soon after. Another great point you made…empathy. Showing empathy and being a cheerleader to clients helps them search from a point of strength, which helps with confidence in networking, changing fields, sticking to the plan, etc. It is a big undertaking to be an all inclusive career strategist, but it’s more fun, our clients are more successful and the referrals grow our businesses!

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