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Some people are rebels. They stretch the boundaries of any project they are passionate about. And when it comes to looking for a job, the old rules may not apply. They are impatient and intensely motivated. It is this inner drive that pushes them past other job seekers to the top of a pile of CVs.
After spending close to 2 decades in the headhunting business, I've often wondered how it is that some people, despite the prevailing winds of the job market, seem to manage their way through the process with less stress and more results than their equally competent colleagues. You see this all the time in a "down" market, such as the one we have today. Scientists coming from academia will rapidly separate themselves into two camps: those who take the advice of their mentors and proceed cautiously, and those who use their internal motivation, creativity, and a lot of hours to tear up the track.
This month's column concerns that latter group: job-search rebels.
Traits and Techniques of the Rebel
The Single-Minded Pursuit: James Allen, a 19th century author of motivational books, wrote "Above all be of single aim; have a legitimate and useful purpose, and devote yourself unreservedly to it." For the job-search rebel, the search becomes a single-minded pursuit. It is the reason that the rebel gets up in the morning. These few have found that it is possible to get 2 to 3 hours a day invested into the effort, even when employed. (This compares with 15 to 30 minutes, the average daily outlay of time for a job search.)
Attitude About the "Perfect" Resume or CV: Most job seekers will fuss and worry about their resume or CV to the point of wasting time that could have been used in more productive aspects of their search. To the job-search rebel, "good" is better than "perfect" in that it gets him quickly into the job market where he can always adjust the document later to suit a particular situation. Rebels believe that CVs are a work-in-progress, to be modified as needed, sometimes "on the fly."
Contacts With Leaders: In any scientific field at any time there are a small number of people who are at the top of their game. These few, whether they are professors in the ivory tower or directors in major companies, are typically those who get the first calls from headhunters and hiring managers when a position opens. The job-search rebel has the guts to write to these elite few, hoping that their CV will land in a file for later networking referrals from the luminaries.
Their Belief in the Size of the Job Market: Most people gauge the job market by the number of advertised jobs in magazines and on the Internet. It can be fairly depressing to see so very few advertisements and to know that each one of them will receive several hundred responses. However, the job market is not what you see in ads; these represent only about 15% to 20% of the positions that are filled in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology job market. The job-search rebel has a deep-down belief that there is a job out there with her name on it, and she knows that it may not be "visible" until she uncovers it.
Responding to Ads: Despite the fact that there are hundreds of people applying to these same advertised jobs, rebels toe the line and send resumes to those ads that fit their background. They break the rules and don't stop there. Rebels call these companies to ask any source within the firm for the name of the hiring manager. They duplicate their resume mailing to this person, with a customized cover letter written for his or her specific needs.
Follow-Up Calls: No one likes doing follow-up calls, but the rebel job seeker makes them on a regular basis. When directing a letter to a specific person, their follow-up calls will often tell them more about that position and even give them a few minutes to talk about their strengths. Sometimes a busy manager appreciates the applicant showing enough interest to make contact. Of course, some managers would rather not be bothered, but rebels push past negative feelings by being polite and yet persistent, getting an HR person's name and changing their follow-up strategy accordingly. Without offending, they manage to impress that busy manager with the intensity of their desire.
Tell-Me-About-Yourself Preparation: Many job seekers, when suddenly on the line with a real hiring manager and not an HR associate, flounder when asked "Tell me about yourself," or some variant thereof. The job-search rebel knows that it is often best to have things written down. Although they don't want it to come off sounding scripted, the fact that they have written down and practiced a response to this question makes them comfortable. With this comfort comes a professional demeanor that separates them from the competition.
The Rule of Three: The job-search rebel knows the statistics. She understands that it takes three telephone interviews, on average, before one of them will produce a face-to-face meeting; she doesn't stop the search process to wait for the results of interviews. She also realizes that it takes three good face-to-face interviews before one of the firms starts discussing an offer. That is why the rebel is out securing more contacts and multicompany interviews while other job seekers await the "we'll be getting back to you" response from their first interview.
Business Card Networking: One pharmaceutical scientist weaved through the stands at the recent Experimental Biology 2003 exhibit hall, picking up items off of each counter, sometimes talking briefly but always moving on and continuing the process. Most people thought the fellow was a collector of free pens and mouse pads. In reality, this job-search rebel had a fist full of business cards for networking. Whether it is a name from a business card or a list of meeting attendees, cold calls like these are tough to make. But rebels know that they can be the key that opens the door to their next job.
Interview Preparation: The job-search rebel is a fanatic about interview preparation. He or she has done more than the usual homework via Google. They have read and understood the Annual Report for the large companies, and they've asked the business development department at the smaller companies to send them the firm's nonconfidential executive summary. The rebel has found other contacts within the company who are open to discussing the culture of the firm before interview day. In addition, the rebel's scientific presentation has been fine-tuned to fit the specific needs and concerns of the company.
Although I've listed a lot of practices and techniques that you ought to consider using in your search, it is mainly through an attitude change and not by picking up a few new techniques that you will become a job-search rebel. There is no substitute for the mental clarity and creative spark that comes from this kind of commitment. Your job-seeking skills will improve dramatically just by deciding that this project deserves 150% effort.
Just one word of advice for aspiring job-search rebels, though: Don't show up at the interview dressed like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, or Marlon Brando in The Wild One. If you do, you'll very likely remain a rebel without a job.