Rules, Rules and More Rules

Employment Exhibition

Employment Exhibition (Photo credit: Modern_Language_Center)

The rules in searching for a job (or landing that promotion, for those who already have gainful employment) continue to get more difficult.  Sure, the United States is seeing a supposed resurgence of employment in the first part of this year.  There’s been talk that the manufacturing industry even has a surplus of jobs – not sexy jobs, to be sure, but well-enough-paying, respectable jobs that our grandfathers would have been more than happy to have secured.

But with the new technologies available, an ever-shifting paradigm surrounding the way hiring managers and HR recruiters think and operate is affecting everyone out there looking to improve on their professional situation.  And while some of the advice is pretty much a no-brainer (are you using your work email address to apply for jobs?), some of it is downright unbelievable (want a promotion?  Change your name!).  So in the spirit of quick, pithy lists to help you manage your life, let’s take a look at the top five new rules for landing that job, getting that promotion, or simply getting along at work:

  1. Be smart about your job search
  2. Be selfish
  3. Don’t be modest
  4. Do your homework
  5. Modernize


Be Smart About Your Job Search

You would think some of these would be fairly self-evident, but apparently people need to be reminded to present themselves professionally when applying for a job.  From using wacky fonts and customized email “stationery” to using unprofessional email addresses , people are cutting themselves out of the running before the prospective employer even gets the chance to read your resume or cover letter.

But US News goes beyond these simple mistakes to more glaring ones.  How many of us have seen simple, professional notes from colleagues which are appended with long, personal email signatures?  Anything from “live long and prosper” to “patience is a virtue”, religious or political messages, or photos of your pets, might seem cute to you, allowing others an insight into who you are.  But remember that your professional contacts do not need or want that insight into who you are.

Also remember to be considerate of others – if you have spam filtering questionnaires, you might turn away that prospective recruiter responding to hundreds or resumes.  By the same token, check your spam filter anyway to ensure that important messages are not being flagged.


Be Selfish

This is much harder for some people than for others.  But in a world where the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease, it’s important to speak up on matters that are important to you.  That is not to advise that you should become the proverbial squeaky wheel, complaining about every little thing and alienating every person around you.  But at the same time, speak up for your own rights.

Whether you are being honest about your ambitions (“I want his job”), defending your rights (“that behavior is unacceptable”) or aiming for a dream situation (“I want to work from home”), managers are not mind readers, and in today’s fast-paced world of 24-hour connectivity, managers don’t have the time to try to guess what is going through their workers’ heads.

In most cases, it does not hurt to ask.  Of course you need to be judicious about when, where and how often you ask, but if you approach the topic professionally, and if your manager is not a raving lunatic, the worst that can happen is your boss will say “no”.  So speak up!


Don’t Be Modest

For many of us, this is the same thing as “Be Selfish”, and for many of those who see the distinction, this is even harder than the above rule.  But it is just as important, perhaps more so, in the business world today.

Employers don’t only want their workers to tout their own accomplishments during the hiring process – it needs to be done throughout a worker’s career.  Digging your toe into the dirt and saying “aw, shucks” is not going to get the recognition hard workers deserve.  In fact, most employers need these accomplishments spelled out for them – not only about what you did, but how it benefitted the company.

Positioning yourself as a “thought leader” by building Web sites, writing white papers, or speaking at events seems to be the way that successful professionals these days not only find work, but convince work to find them.  Pick your area and go to town, demonstrating that you are good at what you do.  And always be sure to link back to prior work whenever possible, making it easier for these prospective and current bosses to find everything you want them to without them having to search for it.


Do Your Homework

It’s been said that there is no reason to write “to whom it may concern” on a cover letter anymore – a little Web research will help secure a name and title of a hiring manager (or at least the recruiter) for you without too much trouble.  I’m not too sure I agree with that statement, but it is true that you can no longer head into an interview without foreknowledge of the company and its place in the market.

With services like LinkedIn, you can also learn a lot about prospective hiring managers, but be careful.  Don’t “connect” with them until well after you have secured the job.  Be knowledgeable when you talk with them, but don’t be TOO knowledgeable – especially about their personal lives, unless you want to come across as a stalker.

Learning more about the hiring cycles in various industries and companies can also help you stay away from the crowds and keep your activities relevant to those whose attention you seek.



It should go without saying that this is a modern world, and even the most Luddite-like hiring manager these days cannot go without using technology in the job search.  But more than that, there is a whole new attitude towards the whole hiring process, an attitude that for the most part will shun you for being too old-fashioned in your approach.

One good piece of advice is not to format your email like a business letter.  Sure, those of us over the age of 35 were taught extensively how to write a proper business letter, with the date and company address at the top of the letter.  But it just doesn’t work in email – in fact, it looks downright silly, especially considering the fact that a printed email has much of the same information already embedded in its formatting.

Due to the ease of customizing messages, even those printed on paper and sent “snail-mail”, it is considered a big faux pas to send a generic cover letter to anyone.  Sure, you can use various versions of the letters, filling in the blanks where necessary, but in reality re-writing your cover letters from scratch goes a long way towards conveying the proper message to your recipient.  Sure, it takes longer, but it’s definitely worth the effort.


This Changing Paradigm, I’m Gonna Let It Shine

The long and the short of it is that there are no hard and fast rules to secure that job for you, or to keep it once you have it, but there are plenty of new ones which might derail your chances in a split-second.  But a lot of good has come out of this sea-change as well.  Some companies are being more proactive in their own employee search tactics – from assigning mock work before an interview to leveraging social relationships to find the best employees, employers are going beyond the simple “read the resume and ask these ten questions” that our parents (and those of us over the age of 35) have all experienced.

After all, you can fudge a resume (but DON’T, as all of that information is easily checked in this modern world), and you can answer questions brilliantly, but it doesn’t mean you would be good at the job.  Finding out from other people, ideally ones known and trusted by the prospective employer, really adds extensive value to the process on the part of the employer.  Showing examples of your work, or demonstrating how you would handle a specific problem, goes a long way to bring confidence to the employer that they are making the right decision in hiring, keeping and promoting you.

One more piece of advice: take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt and a discerning eye.  Consider the source, and remember that people can put whatever they want out there.  So before you go legally changing your name to follow the advice of some column, or before you omit your resume in your latest job application, think about what works for you.  Following these rules within your own comfort level is the most important factor in not only finding a position that you like, but in finding one that appreciates you for you.

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  2. […] all of my talk lately about changing rules, changing paradigms, and changing jobs, readers might be feeling lost, out to sea, afloat at the […]

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