3 Types of Career Advisers to Avoid

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I was in my office on Sunday morning looking over my list of potential blog posts when my husband walked in.  He handed me a section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (yes, he still gets the newspaper on actual paper, delivered to our house by an actual human, because he’s THAT old school).  He pointed to an article and said, “You should write about this.”

The article was an opinion piece by Elmer Winter, who co-founded Manpower in the late 1940s.  In it, he gives his tips on how to find a job.  He suggests that job hunters:

  • Read the classified ads in the local newspaper.
  • “Place your resume on your computer” with Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs (he doesn’t mention actually looking at ads on these sites, and there’s no mention of any other sites).
  • Call local employers and ask if they’re hiring.  He actually lists the names of these employers and their telephone numbers (no websites, just the main telephone numbers).

There’s no mention of the internet, beyond the suggesting that you “place your resume” on three big boards (and no suggestions for how to make this exercise more effective).

Now truly, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Winter.  He started and built a very successful company, and in his day, he would certainly have been an expert on how to find a job.  He’s been active in the community long after his retirement.  He’s a cool guy.  I looked him up, and it turns out he was born a few weeks before the Titanic sank.  He’s 97 years old.  I hope to be alive at 97, and if I’m alive and sharp enough to write anything for the local paper, I’ll be thrilled.  The point of his article was to give people advice and hope, and I appreciate that.

But the advice he gives is—well, not at all helpful. I feel bad for an unsuspecting job seeker who comes across this article (not to mention the people who are answering the phones at the companies he lists).  These are not techniques for finding a job in 2009.  Candidates who spend the next two days calling all of these companies he’s listed and saying, “Do you have any jobs open?” are going to be disappointed.    “Placing your resume on your computer” is good, but that’s not going to get you a job either.  The landscape has changed significantly since Mr. Winter retired in 1976.  Surely the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel could have devoted this very large space to some more modern, relevant job hunting advice (although I imagine they liked the part about checking their classified ad section).  Maybe this is why newspapers are dying.

One thing I’ve learned since I’ve started this blog is that some folks take what they read very literally, and follow it to the letter…without considering the source.  There is a TON of career and job hunting advice out there, and it’s important to know the background of the adviser before you act on the advice.  Specifically, I’d want to know:

  1. Has this person hired employees, or just placed employees?  There’s a big difference.  I see lots of stuff out there from career counselors and headhunters who have never actually hired anyone.  They’re in the business of selling a product, not buying one.  When Toyota wants to design a new car, do they ask the car salespeople to participate in focus groups?  No.  They ask consumers, because they need to know what buyers want.  You need that too.  When you see advice from people who have not personally hired a large number of people, take it with a very large grain of salt.  It might still be good stuff, but be wary.  Be especially cautious when the adviser’s bio consists entirely of something like, “I have 20 years of experience and am more than qualified to give career advice.”  A writer who expects you to take her advice to heart owes it to you to tell you specifically where she’s worked, when, and in what capacity.  Otherwise, how are you supposed to know she’s legit?
  2. Is this person’s experience recent?  I left my corporate HR job nine months ago, and some things have already changed in the recruiting world.  Job boards fall in and out of favor, technology changes, recruiting techniques change…it’s hard to keep up.  I work hard to make sure I’m talking to people who are hiring right now, so I know what’s going on.  Eventually, though, that will become harder, and my advice will be obsolete.  If I’m still blogging about this when I’m 97, you should probably stop listening to me.  I do think it’s possible to still give good advice when you’ve been out of active recruiting for a while, but you should definitely look for clues that this person is regularly talking to people who are in the trenches.  That’s where you’re going to get the freshest insight into what you need to get the job you want.
  3. Does this person have experience in multiple settings?  If you’re taking advice from someone who has only worked for a few companies, you might be missing something.  This is especially true if those few companies are the same size, in the same industry, or are otherwise similar.  Make sure you’re getting perspective from people who have seen how things work in a variety of organizations.  Every company is different.

The most important rule in finding good career and job hunting advice is to use a variety of resources.  No one has all of the answers, and smart people can disagree.  If you’re receiving information from a number of places, you can more effectively evaluate what works for you and what doesn’t.  There are no right or wrong answers in job hunting (well, except for not telling the hiring manager to blow it out her ass…that’s pretty much a universally bad idea).

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