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An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

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An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:33 pm

I just inadvertently performed an experiment in human behavior. The results were rather interesting. Here's what happened.

I'm totally busy, just completely absorbed in a number of recruiting projects and my time is stretched as a result. On one project, where we just have too darn many applicants (a molecular biology position), I looked at this big stack of about 20 people that I needed to call and do an in-depth interview on. I thought, "How can I save myself some time but perhaps learn a bit more about which of these candidates is truly top shelf?"

I decided that I would conduct a shorter interview with them by phone and then close by saying that I am sending over about ten technical questions that they can answer for me by email exchange. And, "Don't worry too much about the format and so on, because this is just for my background information." Then, I took ten rather direct questions about techniques, skills and experiences that I would normally ask about "live," and I put them into a 2 pager that I mailed to everyone with those same instructions.

It was amazing how people self-sorted into clear piles of "go" versus "no go" candidates. Many people just sent a very skimpy little reply, with a lightweight effort, and a few people really stretched and did a fantastic job, treating it seriously. The funny part is, each of these molecular biologists said that they were having a hard time in the job market. And here they are, with many of them simply sending a minimal amount of information.

This is why I think that ANYONE who is serious in the job market can succeed. The bar is so low, readers. Just jump on everything you input to a company and make sure you are seen as "top of the stack."

Dave
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Aug 04, 2015 8:47 am

Dave Jensen wrote:The bar is so low, readers. Just jump on everything you input to a company and make sure you are seen as "top of the stack."
Dave


Well said! Having seen this first hand with my wife's recent job hunt, it is so, so easy to get wrapped up things one thinks are "working." The urge to apply for 10+ jobs online per day is so alluring. It feels like "work." I've done this myself, and the results are so poor. And yet, when something unusual happens, like receiving Dave's letter, it's tempting to think that it is less important than the slog.

I think that being able to "un-focus" and try a fresh approach comes in handy for many parts of one's career. In my experience, this is brought up often in sales -- trying new ways to approach old customers, and gaining skills in the process. The job hunt has the added specter of unemployment to make it harder to un-focus.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Nate W. » Tue Aug 04, 2015 5:40 pm

There maybe another reason some candidates just phoned it in. Perhaps the typical molecular biology crowd said to themselves just another hoop to jump through with the typical radio silence or the canned no answer in several months from now. So they move on mentally and make sure they just keep up the carpet bombing campaign rather than focus attentively on the one opportunity. I'll get another opportunity if I just blast away; volume not quality. Mentally, I have been there; drilling dry wells w/o any oil.

Dave, mentioned several times in his posts, "everyone looks like a molecular biologist." There is a good explanation for this. Unlike earlier times, biologists are now trained to characterize their observations on a molecular level, regardless of their field of study. Whether one is a plant physiologist, rheumatologist, or immunologist, scientific problems have to be understood on a molecular level in order for their findings to be published or be strongly considered for federal funding.

By molecular level, I mean that their findings must involve extensive biochemical, genetic, and analytical chemical characterization. So many biologists in different fields use the same techniques and approaches to address their scientific questions. Thus, regardless of their field of study, their resumes are probably fairly indistinguishable because of this trend.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Aug 04, 2015 8:29 pm

Nate W. wrote: So many biologists in different fields use the same techniques and approaches to address their scientific questions. Thus, regardless of their field of study, their resumes are probably fairly indistinguishable because of this trend.


Great observation, Nate. You really nailed it -- I think it's the first thing people jump to when asked to list their "skills." Well, I can do PCR, western blotting, IHC, animal work, etc. etc. This basically inserts them in with the hundreds of other people looking for work; it is also a list of skills a BS-level technician possess.

I would take your observation one step further and say, if looking for work go the opposite: I would cram all of this into one line, like "skilled at standard molecular biology techniques: ____, ____ and ____." And use the rest of the resume space to show that I'm a problem-solver and that I get results.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Ana » Wed Aug 05, 2015 9:09 am

Dave Jensen wrote:I just inadvertently performed an experiment in human behavior. The results were rather interesting. Here's what happened.


You are right, it turned out to be a behavioural experiment for them to answer the question "how much do you want this work"! actions speak louder than words...
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby PACN » Thu Aug 06, 2015 11:07 am

When I was interviewing for a position as a journal editor, I was given a "skills test" where I was given a few papers to read and asked if I thought they deserved to be published. As we were talking about one later, I said to my interviewer "I know this paper was published in your most recent issue; I almost feel like I'm cheating here." She replied that I was the only candidate who noticed-- apparently the only one to look through their recent table of contents. Guess who got the job? Being prepared makes a huge difference.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Dave Walker » Thu Aug 06, 2015 11:19 am

PACN wrote:When I was interviewing for a position as a journal editor, I was given a "skills test" where I was given a few papers to read and asked if I thought they deserved to be published. As we were talking about one later, I said to my interviewer "I know this paper was published in your most recent issue; I almost feel like I'm cheating here." She replied that I was the only candidate who noticed-- apparently the only one to look through their recent table of contents. Guess who got the job? Being prepared makes a huge difference.


Well done! I love hearing stories like this. Preparedness goes such a long way. If it wasn't so arduous finding a job, I would almost say this is exploiting a flaw in human nature: flattery!

A recruiter once told me an interview tip which I have used to great effect: compile all of my research for the job into a folder and write the company name and job position on top. Then, at the first interview, bring the folder along and put it on the table. I don't consider this being a showoff -- for every interview I've had, I had done tons of research and sometimes needed to reference it. It sends a message most others don't think to say -- even if they've done the research, too.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Steven Z. » Thu Sep 17, 2015 9:45 am

When I was last looking I'd get all sorts of "assignments"

In this case, a technically relevant one I'd be inclined to take it seriously.

OTOH I've had off their leash HR people sending me 12 page junk science psychometric testing and in another instance a really asinine and degrading one to write a touchy-feely essay about my childhood. In these instances I've found it best to just walk away. I've also had my respect for HR people severely soured as a result of such experiences.

So it becomes a judgment call when someone is seriously considering and assessing you vs having you jump through hoops for their amusement, to see how desperate you are, or to actually make you go away.
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Rich Lemert » Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:14 am

It occurs to me that the response rate will depend in part on how the request for the assignment is phrased.

If the request comes across as just another hoop to jump through or another item on the recruiter's list to check off, I would be inclined to let it pass. We've all heard the stories about hiring managers hoping to get some 'free consulting' out of their applicants.

If the request gives the impression that you're really trying to evaluate the applicant's potential fit, however, it becomes a different story. Failure to follow-up in this case is now a definite cause for concern.

I also don't believe that it is an undue burden to make the request more 'inviting'. It could be as simple as the difference between "please complete the following assignment" and "in order to confirm your suitability for this position, pleas complete ...."
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Re: An indicator of the true level of interest for people in the job market?

Postby Will S. » Fri Sep 18, 2015 12:06 pm

Dave Walker wrote:
Nate W. wrote: So many biologists in different fields use the same techniques and approaches to address their scientific questions. Thus, regardless of their field of study, their resumes are probably fairly indistinguishable because of this trend.


Great observation, Nate. You really nailed it -- I think it's the first thing people jump to when asked to list their "skills." Well, I can do PCR, western blotting, IHC, animal work, etc. etc. This basically inserts them in with the hundreds of other people looking for work; it is also a list of skills a BS-level technician possess.

I would take your observation one step further and say, if looking for work go the opposite: I would cram all of this into one line, like "skilled at standard molecular biology techniques: ____, ____ and ____." And use the rest of the resume space to show that I'm a problem-solver and that I get results.


Agreed, and I feel very strong about this. I'd think that a life sciences PhD that explicitly lists "PCR, Western Blot" instead of "standard molecular biology techniques", "molecular cloning techniques", "protein engineering techniques" is unaware of how the world works. Kinda like the CS PhD that lists "programming in C, python, java" in the skill list when he should be stating "low level language", "databases", "functional language" or "object-oriented". It's less about what you know, and more about what you can do with it. (Unless the job posting says they want someone with that specific skill, in which case, put it in the resume AND in the cover letter!).
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