This interview with Joe Caso, head of his own executive search and career counseling firm, is for women either wanting to get back into the work force at a “reasonable” level or wanting to jump start their career again by changing jobs and moving on. We invite other career counselors to share their expertise and guidance with our viewers.
GSW: For women who have been downsized or out of the job market for some time what do you recommend be their game plan for getting back working at a “reasonable” level? What specific things should they focus on doing over the next 60 to 90 days to create a new opportunity for themselves?
Joe: When you say “reasonable level”, I assume you mean dollar level. Being realistic is the key. Most job seekers are aware of the terrible strain in the employment market today and are willing to make monetary sacrifices to land a new position. I am a firm believer in making sacrifices “within limits”. If a candidate is willing to take too little in compensation they may also have to step way back in responsibility. That has its own set of pitfalls. If the employer wants to “steal” a candidate they are setting themselves up for a problem down the road. The correct answer is a reasonable compromise between the candidate and the company. What I mean is that a candidate may choose to take a little less money for the opportunity to get back to work, but they should see the potential to make additional income and return to their former compensation in some reasonable time frame. If they feel that the company is looking for a bargain hire with no future potential, a candidate should think long and hard about the overall decision to join the organization. It’s always best to have clearly defined expectations on both sides.
As far as the creating a new opportunity goes, networking is still the way a majority of candidates secure a new position. While I feel it’s important to use all available resources in a job search, candidates need to develop a personal marketing plan for their transition with heavy emphasis on networking.
GSW: What specific advice do you have for putting together a really excellent resume?
Joe: Be sure that your resume is a consistent and honest reflection of who you are and have been. Wherever possible, show results and make sure that they are easily recognizable in the body of the document. Give the screener all the pertinent information early on, then follow with details. While resumes don’t win jobs, they do allow candidates to move to the next step. A poorly crafted and badly organized resume can shut the door quickly. If you feel that your resume isn’t doing the job that you would like it to do, consult with a professional or person that you trust to read it over and give you their honest impressions. Be willing to make changes and try different approaches. That’s the beauty of desk top publishing, you can make as many changes as you want and incorporate different ideas, until you have a document that you are proud of.
GSW: How should they go about finding available opportunities. What is likely to pay the biggest dividends re: a successful search, i.e. newspaper ads, career web sites ( which ones do you like?), job fairs?
Joe: ALL OUT MASSIVE ACTION! Do everything you can think of and do it all from the beginning of your search. Please don’t wait until one method fails to try another. Get out there and do it all. It’s not easy to keep up with everything, but that’s your job, for now. Here are some things you can do:
Websites, such as, Monster, Career Builder, Jobs in the Money, Craig’s list, which are staples in a job search are a good start, but they don’t afford you much control. It’s very difficult to follow up and be proactive, but I have lots of candidates who locate positions using the web. On the other side, my client companies all do web searches and, believe it or not, do call in candidates.
Business and social networking sites are very popular. LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, Bintro, etc., are some examples. There are new sites opening weekly. Try and keep abreast of all of them. They all have “groups” that you can join. Select those that you think are most in line with your search criteria and visit them daily.
If you are a member of a professional society check their website regularly. It has become very popular and cost effective for companies to use these vehicles. In addition, there are professional networking groups, like FENG, that post jobs all the time.
All of these activities are important, but the most important is to network, then network some more. Develop your story and tell it as often as possible and to anyone who will listen. You just never know where a lead might come from.
GSW: In the interview what are the key things for the applicant to do to have success?
Joe: Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:
Remember that the interview is not an interrogation. As a candidate, you have the right to ask questions and engage the interviewer. In most cases, when I speak with client companies after a candidate interview they are impressed by the level of interaction that candidates display.
Allow the interviewer to complete their question before you start your answer. Lots of candidates think that if they don’t answer immediately it will be a sign of weakness of unpreparedness, so they start to prepare an answer before the question is complete. Don’t fall into this trap. Listen thoroughly, take a few seconds to digest and reflect on your answer. Let your subconscious mind sort through all possible responses before speaking. Try and give the best answer, not the first one that comes in your mind.
When I go over an interview with a transition client I always ask “what did you do well?” then “what could you have done better?” Eight out of ten times the response will be that they thought of a better more concise answer to a question after the interview was over. With practice you can learn to control your eagerness and will give better answers.
Along the same lines, don’t just ramble on for long stretches of time with an answer. Be sure to take a second to ask the interviewer if you are moving in the right direction. Questions like, “Am I answering your question?” or “would you like more information?” help keep you focused on what the interviewer wants to hear. Remember it’s not about the information you want to give, it’s about what the interviewer needs to learn about you.
At the end of the interview ask the interviewer what the next steps will be and how you should follow up. Professionals are persistent and are not pests. If you ask and gain permission to follow up it’s easy to answer the gate keeper’s dreaded question, “Will he/she know what this call is in reference too?”
Try to relax and enjoy the interview.
GSW: What are the biggest mistakes people make when searching for a new opportunity?
Joe: Most people only go through a career transition process once or twice in their lives so they are unfamiliar with how the game is played. By and large, they are very good at their chosen profession, but lack the experience necessary to launch an effective job search. Here are some of the common mistakes job seekers make:
They go on interviews before they are really mentally prepared. Losing a job is extremely traumatic. In good times, when plenty of new positions are available, the sting was not nearly as great as it is today. The fear of an elongated job search sometimes causes the current population of job seekers to rush their reentry into the job market. Be sure you have a well thought out strategy and are clear headed before you go on your first interview.
They don’t work their professional and social networks hard enough. The one thing I consistently hear from candidates after they complete their job search is “I will never let my network disappear again!”
The nature of the work surrounding a job search demands networking. Enjoy it, embrace it and have fun with it and make it a part of your world for the future.
They don’t develop a “worst case scenario” and judge all potential positions against it. When I work with executives or with any job seeker, especially those who have some sort of severance from their past employer I ask them to consider what they would do if they were still out of work in one year. Would they judge the jobs they are currently considering in the same way then and as they are now? Would they consider relocation, commute, benefits, compensation, etc. in the same way if they were out of work a year as they do now?
I have had many candidates tell me after six or nine months in the job market that they wished they had the chance to rethink decisions about potential opportunities that they passed on early in their search.
They don’t develop a plan or “road map” for their job search. Every successful person that I know has a plan. Without a business plan most companies could not function efficiently. Without a personal marketing plan most successful salespeople would not reach their goals. Without a “career transition road map” it’s hard to conduct an effective job search.
GSW: You are a recruiter and career counselor. In your role as a counselor what value do you add to the person’s new job search? How do you get compensated in this advisory role?
Joe: I have been told by past clients that I help them to focus their job search and take control of the transition process. In most cases, candidates are reactive. They act and respond when the occasion arises. In simple terms, they wait for the phone to ring. In any promotional effort, whether it is selling a specific product or yourself, there are ways to keep active and control the follow up. I try and convince candidates that “activity breeds success”. They have to find ways to proactively move their job search forward. It’s my job to tailor these activities and tasks to their individual style. The activity has to fit them or they won’t continue to do it.
In some cases, candidates only need help in one or two areas. I worked with a candidate last year that was awaiting a job offer, she called on me to talk through her options and then review her offer letter. I helped her to negotiate a better deal by identifying areas in the new arrangement that could be expanded. In addition, her new position was a considerable distance from her home. After reviewing the offer and considering the distance I helped her make a decision. She stayed with her current employer. She told me that the objective advice I gave her was important to her. Her friends and family could not offer her the same impartial counseling. By the way, she lives in the mid-west and I never met her. All of our conversations were over the telephone.
I am compensated for my work on an hourly basis. My clients choose the areas that they would like to discuss and pay me for the time I spend with them.
GSW: Have you always been successful providing career counseling? If not, why not? Have you ever “fired” a client? Why?
Joe: It depends on how you define success. I feel, and my clients tell me, that the advice and counsel that I provide for them is very helpful. I have never had a bill go unpaid or received any negative feedback from clients or those that refer them to me, but I really can’t know if someone was unhappy and choose not to tell me. In the beginning of my work with each candidate I stress the importance of setting clear expectations for our work together. After each session I make sure that we are making appropriate progress.
I rarely have had to dismiss or terminate a client. I can only remember one. The only reason I would take that action is if a candidate was “uncoachable”. I give all of my clients homework to do between sessions and expect that they will do the tasks assigned for their own good. If they are unwilling to help themselves, I can’t add much to the process. There are no magic wands to wave over a candidate to help them obtain a new position. It’s very hard work conducted in strange waters. Hopefully, I can give them sound advice to help them move the process along.
GSW: Briefly give us a couple of examples of successful counseling engagements you have handled?
Joe: As you can imagine in these difficult economic times, with unemployment at a record high, I have worked with quite a few candidates with all sorts of backgrounds. Here are a few abridged case studies:
A mid-fifties Wall Street executive came to me to help him decide on what the rest of his working life would be like. After four sessions we came to a decision. He is now starting a business in a completely different field. He will be doing something he has always wanted to do. As a side note, I am now advising him on starting and growing his new venture.
A parent called on me to work with their son, who had received an MBA from a prestigious university and had been unsuccessfully looking for work for seven months. After identifying some areas of concern and correcting them, he restarted his job search and soon after found a position. While it wasn’t the ideal position he was looking for, it was in his chosen field and will serve as a stepping stone to other situations in the future.
A recently divorced woman came to me to help her return to the full-time workforce. She had been unsuccessful in locating work for some time. We worked together to focus her efforts, revamp her resume, create a cover letter format and refine her interview technique. She began to obtain interviews in the field of her choice. She has had some close calls, but at this date has not found the right job for her. Our scheduled work together has ended, but I continue to check on her and advise her as needed.