While being in the jobmarket is hard for most, it also evokes romantic visions of getting a great career break at this fabulous company known for its excellent culture, cool products, bleeding edge technology and cut-above-the-rest compensation! Most of us use that as an opportunity to critically examine our strengths and weekenesses, our USP, our inner calling – and last but certainly not the least, our market value. In a freemarket economy, that’s a lot like selling your used car :).
Selling a used car is tough. I don’t know too many people who trust a used car salesman, but here’s the radical idea – we are all used car salesmen working extremely hard to outcompete other similar salesmen to eventually sell ourselves. Only we know the true strengths and hidden constraints of our ‘car’ – only we know what is our true mileage, how good is the transmission system, how strong is the engine, how good is the braking system, and so on. Still, try getting all those true facts out of a used car salesman! All you get is a deliberate attempt to gloss over the facts and present a used car that is promised to be even far better than its brand-new brethern! The buyer of a used card is almost always a value-shopper, and doesn’t want a car that becomes a black-hole very soon – however pretty much everyone in the market selling his/her used car is there for similar reasons – to dispose off the old guzzler. With the limited access to funds, that buyer is looking for an instant nirvana at a considerably lower price-point, and to a large extent, knows that a used car is, well, a used car after all! So, a mating game begins where the buyer must exhibit streetsmart commonsense and highlight the nicks, scratches, dents and flaws in the car that could be used to negotiate and bring down the asking price of the used car. The seller, in turn, will sugercoat the issues and try to sell its bugs as features (doesn’t it sound like real life even for brand new products!) so that even out of a piece of scrap metal, he can salvage some value.
A jobmarket is not very different, except that no one here wants a brand-new employee! Imagine hiring a still-wet-behind-the-ears rookie when what you need is a battle-hardened veteran! As hiring managers, we all want highly experienced professionals – quite often asking for multiple years of experience in a similar job, without even bothering why will someone want to restart his/her new innings at a new job after having been in a similar job for years? So, out we go and don our gear of the quintessential salesman and start bullnosing our resume. Having gone through hundereds of resumes as hiring managers, we all realize the deliberate attempts to cover-up low grades, missing years in the career profile, and the reasons behind quick job hopping and so on. Diving deep further in the resume leads to further enlightment – the role claimed by the candidate turns out that to be nowhere near what has been claimed, the technical details or responsibilities are probably borrowed from the lead performer in that team, and professional references given, if any, are of the weekend beer buddies! In short, everyone is entering the job market with known blemishes, failures and disasters – just that others (especially in a different company, different town don’t know about them – or at least you hope so!). However, honesty is not a virtue always welcomed with a warm embrace in the job market – something that you very quickly learn from your own failures (imagine shouting in the job marketÂ from a megaphone that you are such an incompetant dud that no one wants to keep for more than a week and see how many people want to hire you) and perhaps learn a lot from others’ success, especially when they happen to be half as worthy of getting the new job as you. There was a time when people only wanted to hire consistent superstars – they were the guarantee to any future success. Obviously this can put considerable pressure on candidates who don’t have such impeccable record, and there aren’t too many people who have unblemished record. On the other hand, in the aftermath of dotcom bloodbath and the recent market lows, many companies actually want to hire the serial failures – people who have burnt a few million here and tanked a few companies there – in the anticipation that such experience is worth its weight in gold, and will hopefully help them in avoiding such costly errors. If only the formula for success was built on such simple premise!
On the other hand, seasoned hiring managers know it better than to take the resume and credentials at face value. Most of the time, a smooth-talking candidate might appear like god’s next greatest gift to mankind (or at least to that company), but there is still a sizeable gap between what you are sold and what you actually get! And in today’s world when so much depends on having the right person in the right place, there is no room for any error. Thus, the buyer must exhibit all due diligence to ensure that the ‘used’ candidate is actually what he/she claims to be. An overpromise of performance could not only be fatal for the hiring manager, it could also be a mini-disaster of sorts for the company. And hence, it is not easy to explain why companies go to great lengths to do background checks and reference check on candidates, or fund the employee referrals so that there is an element of being familiarity with the prior work. LinkedIn is a great example of how a highly transparent system of professional networks, relationships and references can be used to effectively assess a candidate’s real work – chances are very high that one can’t really inflate the resume in front of one’s own network who probably know it all :).
Eventually, your reputation (and market value) is only as good as your last transaction. So, even if one does manage to inflate one’s resume and land with this to-die-for job, it is only a matter of time before his inadequacies will be exposed and the reporting manager is forced to bite the bullet.
I think there is an opportunity and a real need for all of us to be the honest salesman when we are in the job market and selling ourselves to prospective bidders. The stars and medals should be proudly displayed and so must be the scars and broken bones! Failures are the stepping stones to success, and the right mix of these could be a very potent and sellable combination. One needn’t feel embarassed about the failures and try to hide them, or lie about them. Every such interaction should be taken as a learning opportunity that only prepares you with the better pitch and an increased self-awareness about your own strengths and limitations. It is my strong conviction that good people eventually finish in the Top 3, so, there is no need to panic in the short-term and take short-cuts to success – all short-cuts are short-lived.
In the job market, everyone is a used car salesman – so be different and be the good salesman 🙂