The following are excerpts from the Insights Association’s April 24 Virtual Town Hall: The Search for New Employment in Insights. Edited from a session transcript provided by Focus Forward & FF Transcription.
Please Note: The views expressed are the personal views of the panelists and may not be understood or quoted as being made on behalf of or reflecting the position of their employers. Views are presented solely to aid discussion and should not be interpreted as company policy or guidance.
Presenters: Merrill Dubrow, CEO, M/A/R/C Research; Matt O’Mara, Managing Director, Cranbrook Search Consultants; Terrae Schroeder, Head of U.S. Insights, Kellogg’s; Melanie Courtright, CEO, Insights Association (moderator)
Melanie Courtright: Thank you for joining us. Today we are focused on the search for new employment in insights. I want to first make sure that everyone knows that we are now offering free membership to IA if you are between jobs or a full-time student. Please check the membership section on our website for more information. Among the things you have access to with your membership is our Career Center. Here, you can upload your resume, get a complimentary resume review, create customized job alert emails, and see the jobs that are posted by our members and other insights companies. So make sure to take advantage of that. We really want to help you as you go through your job search. One other message to inspire you as we begin is this: companies are hiring. I have my inbox filled with people who say that they are hiring. There are people on this call that are hiring. So, I just want you to know as you go through this that there are jobs out there, and our hope through today’s session is to give you advice on how to land one of those jobs. Let’s turn things over to Merrill to get us started.
Merrill Dubrow: Thanks Melanie, I really appreciate it. Where do I start? It’s an emotional time. This is a hard time for many. People are losing their jobs and it’s very challenging. My belief is that you need to take the time you need. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who just got laid off, who are in transition, and my first piece of advice to them is, relax. You’ve got to get that uneasy feeling out of your body. You’ve got to get out that distaste of being upset, which you have a right to be. So my first piece of advice if you were laid off and emotionally you’re not ready to look for a job, do not do it.
When you are ready to search, you’ve got to put the energy in. You’ve got to insert creativity. You’ve got to use strategy. Your new job, literallly, is to find a new job. If you approach it that way and you put in the time, you’ll have more success. And one of the things that I would suggest doing is, as you go through this, is to have an accountability coach. Whether that’s somebody in the industry, whether that is your spouse, whether that is your best friend. You’ve got to have an accountability coach to just have those discussions and make sure that you’re keeping them updated and you’re really energized to get a new job.
Next is what I’ll call ‘control the noise’. It’s very easy to get distracted. It’s very easy to watch the news 24/7. It’s very easy to look at your stock portfolio during the course of the day and watch it plummet as we talk. Don’t do that. It’s easy to say, I’m going to do it tomorrow because there’s nobody over your shoulder looking. There’s no boss. No colleagues. It’s easy to push things off. You’ve got to stay sharp. There are so many free webinars that you can attend. Attend them, whether it’s one a day, one every other day. It’s something I call ‘900 seconds’. 15 minutes a day, get better at something. Whether it’s becoming a better presenter, a better researcher. You’ve got to stay relevant during this time.
The next point I want to make is be flexible. What does that mean? Look, if I had to look for a new job and I’m in Dallas, and if I had to commute to Atlanta or if I had to commute to Chicago, those aren’t the worst. It’s not the best scenario, but if I had to do it, I could. So be flexible in your geography. You may have to telecommute for a little while or work from home and go to that office once in a while. You may not have the perfect job. You may not have the perfect salary. So the more restrictions you have, the challenging that it’s going to be.
The next point I want to make is to echo what Melanie said. There are companies hiring. You just have to identify them, and you’ve got to make sure it’s the position that you really want and you’re relevant for it and you can handle that position. But if there is a takeaway today it’s that there are companies hiring. Is it going to be harder to find a job? Yes. I’m not denying that. And it’s probably going to be harder than in ’08 and in 2001.
The next thing I want to talk about is to be different. You’ve got to stand out. Now is the time to stand out. Why? Because if a hiring company usually gets 500 resumes, it’s going to be 5,000. Whatever the number was, it’s probably tenfold because there’s so many people competing for those positions. So you’ve got to really, really be different. That might be sending a prospective employer a short video clip. When you attend webinars, you should send follow-up emails to presenters. It’s something that everybody is not going to do. And connect with them on LinkedIn.
Make sure you are getting industry news. Check out career centers on industry websites. Connect with recruiters in our industry. The one I really want to concentrate is LinkedIn Advanced Search, which is really, really critical. There are a hundreds of market research jobs on there. You should be making sure your resume matches your LinkedIn profile because people go there first. If it doesn’t, there’s a gap. You’re going to get thrown out. Endorsements on LinkedIn, don’t care. Recommendations on Linked In, I care a lot about. I look at those and I’m sure I’m not alone. So LinkedIn’s got to be your new best friend. You’ve got to be on it every single day. And the reality is, the more connections you have, the more opportunities you have to meet people, the more opportunities you have to hear about jobs. Keep networking. Reach out to everyone – whether it’s high school or college, if you played sports, if you were in the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts. Reconnect with your old boss.
We use an assessment tool called the AcuMax. It basically tells you how you like to be integrated within a company. It tells you how you like to be communicated with, how you like to communicate. It tells you how you’re wired. It tells you your strengths, it tells you your areas in need of improvement. Anybody who emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I will send you a link to take this assessment. It will take less than five minutes. You will get a 28-page report that I promise will peg you, will tell you some areas that you need to work on. It has three pages of questions for interviewing process. It has coaching tips. This is a valuable tool.
Melanie Courtright: Thank you, Merrill. Next up, we have Matt O’Mara. Matt is equity partner at Cranbrook Search Consultants. Matt, off to you.
Matt O’Mara: Thank you very much. A lot of what I’m going to say is going to echo what Merrill just talked about, but I think it’s important to make sure that we are communicating this effectively. The first advice that I would give is keep calm and carry on. That’s sound advice. But prior to that, and even before that, you really have to give yourself a chance to feel this loss. You really have to recognize and accept that this is a loss before you can start your search. There’s a lot of emotions that you’re going to feel, that you have been feeling, and if you try to skip this step in the process, it will come back to haunt your search. So make sure you take time to set yourself, like Merrill was saying, just kind of do a self-assessment. Surround yourself with people, with the right people for support, and manage those emotions, and then move forward.
The second point is reevaluating and focusing your options. This is the job search equivalent of setting the objectives for a research program. So in the same way that you would have to set the objectives to make sure that you’re thinking through all of the things that you’re going to do on a research event, otherwise your results won’t come out the way you want them to. First and foremost, I always tell people, build a networking plan that focuses on your areas of strength and the targeted roles or firms that you want to look at. There’s a lot of thought that has to go in to building this networking plan, and it can’t be skipped.
Also, at the same time, you can be investing in your personal development. You could be taking lessons on coding, learning a new skill within insights, or being a better presenter, or a better report writer. Wherever you feel you might be deficient, take some time to work on your personal development while you’ve got some time to do that. Once you’ve done the networking plan and you’ve got a lot of those thoughts in place, prepare a narrative that you’re going to use in communicating who you are and what you do. Develop an honest and professional narrative and practice. You should have a readily available 30-second, or 30-, 60-, or 90-second elevator pitch that you can bring – that you can use at any time.
Next, I’d recommend updating and customizing your resume with real focus on adding keywords within the industry. I think this is critical. Updating your LinkedIn profile to match that, I think that’s vital, to match your resume, really expand your job information as much as possible, change your status to open for new opportunities, add information, and make new contacts. There’s no substitute for expanding your network. And you have to be specifically strategic in expanding your network into areas that you want to go into. So that’s targeting companies and targeting specialties. Update your other social media footprint. Employers will evaluate your social media footprint, so be sure that you’re scrubbing what’s out there. As a friend of mine, Erik Qualman wrote in his book, What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube, you have to be cognizant of the fact that you’ve got a social media footprint out there. And, then, like I said, develop materials that you would use in cover letters and customize those for targeted roles and for industries. This takes a lot of time, but go ahead and put that time in to start creating those materials.
Start to expand your network. College alumni networks, your current or your previous work colleagues, but also include vendors and clients, and your personal network. Be open and honest about your status. Your network can’t help you unless they know that you’re actively looking. Just a word of caution, proper networking is difficult. Focus your networking discussions on growth opportunities. You should never ask yes or no questions during networking. If you ask the question, are you hiring? You’re going to hear, no. And, then, the conversation is truncated. Instead, focus your conversations on where this person’s company is growing, what suppliers that they’re using that are in growth mode, and what clients are they working with who are also growing.
As part of that, get referrals in the organizations that might be in growth mode, and also ask for recommendations for LinkedIn. Those are vital. So, as part of the networking call that you might do, you never walk away empty-handed because you’ll have recommendations or, at least, endorsements. Using the advanced search options in things like LinkedIn and other job listings, you can focus on those skills and interest that match what you can provide. And that’s the big thing, you’ve got to provide a match to the hiring company. There’s never been more important than now. I recommend you don’t waste your time applying to jobs that aren’t a fit, that you really do need to stay focused, and you need to be able to prove that value to the potential employer. I also recommend you keep a detailed spreadsheet of all the jobs that you’re applying to, specifically with information about the company, the job title, the salary information, and then the networking status that you might have with that company.
In terms of salary, this can be a tricky item. Some states limit what the employer can ask in terms of salary history, but they can ask questions about salary expectation. Keep detailed notes about what you’re telling people in terms of salary, because you may be willing to accept a lower salary for a company that is a perfect match for you. And it might have a shorter commute. But you may want to ask for something more, for a company that might have some deficiencies, or maybe they don’t have all of the benefits that you’re looking for.
Practice interviewing. It’s important to know and review common interviewing techniques, like the CAR technique or the STAR technique, which are focusing on the actions and results that you’ve directly been able to influence. So customize your responses for those techniques. It’s really important that you put in the homework to have some vignettes, if you will, about what – the things that you can talk about, about some of those common questions. So it’s important to ask about what the techniques are in advance, and then prepare for the unexpected. The hiring person may ask you some crazy questions, be prepared. We have a client who likes to ask the question, tell me something about you, that if I don’t see you for five years, I’ll remember when we meet in the airport five years from now. That’s a good question. It has nothing to do with what you do, but has everything about it tells me who you are.
Interviewing formats are changing and there’s going to be more emphasis on telephone and video, of course, and less in-person. Get comfortable making those connections over the phone and through video. However, the fundamentals haven’t changed, so you’ve got to know the fundamentals and preparation. You’ve got to be prepared. So to paraphrase, “The demise of thank-you notes is greatly exaggerated.” Thank-you notes never went out of style. I firmly believe that a lack of genuine follow-up and interest in the company will cost you. It can cost you a follow-up interview, it could potentially even cost you a job.
Know what, if any, restrictive covenants may apply to you, and if this is a good time to negotiate for relief from any of those restrictive covenants. I firmly believe you should get a copy of your employment agreement with your previous company. Just a word of advice in terms of applicant tracking systems, everybody uses them, so you’ve got to be thinking about that going into this process. They’re all keyword-weighted, or most of them are, and scored by software. So it’s really important to read the job description, customize your resume, and add keywords specific to that job description so that your resume will pass through the applicant tracking system, and then will finally be read by an actual human.
It’s good to know what, if any, assessments you’re going to be asked to do, the number of interviews, any required presentations that you might have to do. The assessment part is important. There are many of them out there and you should be familiar with what those are before you get into the process. And if you don’t get the job know that your efforts haven’t been wasted. You may get another opportunity within that company, or at a minimum, you’ve made contact with somebody and, hopefully, been able to impress that person. That may come into play down the road.
I firmly believe you shouldn’t panic by taking a job that isn’t right for you. I know some circumstances are different, but I tell people this all the time, don’t panic. Don’t take a job that isn’t right for you. It actually might be better, even though it may not feel that way, that you didn’t get hired for a role that isn’t a fit. That all goes back to that first step in the process in understanding where you are right now, and then planning for the future, planning your networking for the future, so that you are focusing on roles that are a fit for you and a fit for the organization.
Melanie Courtright: Next up, I’d like to pass it off to Terrae. Terrae, Head of U.S. Insights at Kellogg’s.
Terrae Schroeder: Thank you, Melanie. Some things that I always talk to people about, whether it’s if they were cut from their job or furloughed or if they’re just thinking about taking a career change is to really take some time to think about where your passion areas are. And I tell people even on my team or that I mentor, if they think they want to go in a certain direction, maybe it’s media or analytics, to go out and research jobs in that area. So, you can do that on LinkedIn. Pull either jobs that are posted in that area or people who have those roles. And look to see what kind of experiences do they have or what kind of experiences are they looking for. You can craft your own learning plan or experiences to build towards that area. So that’s just one thing that I always recommend to everyone, even very junior people in the organization, as they think about where do you want to be in ten years? Go find that role at LinkedIn and start to think about how you build your path to get there.
We talked a lot about networking. I have a friend that recently left her job. She really has a passion for travel, so she started reaching out to folks in that industry to understand what that industry is about. What are the needs of those types of employers? To connect into a new space where she hasn’t been before.
And the other thing I’d add on here is that I know a lot of people in ’08 and ’09 who had lost their jobs and a lot of them ended up, in a couple of years, going back to their old employer. If you enjoyed your job there, make sure you keep those connections open, because that could also be an opportunity as things start to come back to normal. And we talked about leveraging your network. We have at Kellogg a lot of contractors who used to be employees. So, again, keeping that network in place, reach out to companies you’ve worked with, even past companies you’ve worked with to see if there’s any potential contract opportunities that may fill some gaps in the short-term and that may also lead to a long-term opportunity. Trust me, that we are often trying to get our contractors to come work with us full-time, but they are enjoying their independent gig.
We talked about the CAR interview format. I tell people literally go through your resume and write out your experiences from each role. And, so, CAR or STAR is either context, action, result, or situation, task, action, result. I use CAR because it’s shorter, gets to the same point. It’s hard when, maybe it’s ten years since you were in that role, to dust the fog off and think that through. So I always recommend handwriting that out or typing it up, whatever you’re comfortable with. And the other thing I always say is part of this behavioral interview is really understanding how you do your work. A lot of what you’ve accomplished can come through from your paper resume, but how you did it is what we’re really looking for in this behavioral type interview. And as long as I’ve been doing interviews, there’s always things where we’re going to ask about challenges you’ve faced or ways that you’ve had to help either individuals or teams through a challenge. I personally put a lot of weight on lessons learned from the experiences that you’ve had, and then how you applied them to future behaviors or future outcomes. So just as you think through your CAR, keep in mind that’s what that interviewer is looking to tease out – how you get your results.
And then of course, research the company and prepare questions for the interviewer. You could ask about the day-to-day responsibilities. You can ask about the characteristics that they’re looking for. I think it’s always good to ask generally how the organization is set up, as far as what teams that you’ll be working with or collaborating with. And, then, the virtual interview. It’s definitely different. We’ve been doing it the last couple of weeks. We used to have panel interviews, which would be three folks to one. And in this new virtual, we’ve now shifted one-to-one, because it’s kind of weird to do the online panel. So, think about recording yourself to capture things like your clarity and speed of speech, body movements. Trying to keep eye contact can be tough in this environment. But practice helps. And be prepared for the unexpected in this online world. The glitches. We can’t hear you. We can’t see you. Your computer conks out. We talked a little bit about how do you bring your personality to life. It’s potentially even harder to do when you’re not in person, so stories that either connect you to the brand or the company or their products are things where they can connect to you as a person are always good. And, of course, try to find a place where you can eliminate distractions. I’m home today, as I think probably most of you are. I’ve got three kids running around, so one might bop in here, but trying to find a time and a space and a place where you can hopefully eliminate distractions so you can give your full attention to the interview. So those are my tips.
Melanie Courtright: Before we move into formal Q&A with everyone, there’s one point on here about being focused and concise. Can you talk for just a second about that?
Terrae Schroeder: Yes. So I’ve definitely had interviews where the person’s resume was amazing, and then they come in to the interview and we could not get an answer out of them. They just go on and on and on in this direction and that direction. And especially in insights, where I think we’re looking for people who can make a clear recommendation and support that. That, to me, I think is a very important part of the interview process as well. I think the CAR, writing it out ahead of time, will help folks with that. We’re wanting to see that you can pull together the results, the actions, put it together in a concise way that you’re able to then communicate. So part of it is how good of a communicator you are, how good of a storyteller you are. And, as you know, all of those things are very important for an insights person.
Melanie Courtright: There are a few questions about the thank-you notes, specifically saying, do they need to be handwritten, can they be email? Is there a best practice around the thank-you notes?
Matt O’Mara: I think emailing is fine. The old-fashioned handwritten one is great, but email is fine. The important thing is identifying the person, thanking them specifically for their time, and kind of following up from what was discussed during the interview.
Melanie Courtright: There are some questions here around LinkedIn and recommendations. If you’re not permitted to go back to people who were your former manager. Do you just have some encouragement for people around the seeking of recommendations?
Merrill Dubrow: I implore everybody to go out the right way. If you go out the right way, people remember what you accomplished. If you go out the wrong way and you were there for 20 years, people remember how you go out, and everything you accomplished has gone away. So if you’ve gone out the right way and you ask for recommendations, I think most people today are actually going to do it, Melanie. I really do. I know I do.
Melanie Courtright: And I would just add, don’t be afraid to ask. I probably won’t think about it, but a couple of you have already asked me to write you a recommendation, and I’m going to do that this weekend. If they don’t do it that day, don’t be discouraged. I tend to do some of those things on the weekend with a glass of wine in my hand, because it requires me to use more words than I’m typically using. And, so, don’t be afraid to ask because I might not think of it, and then don’t be afraid to wait a few days for the weekend to appear because that’s when some people do those kinds of activities.
We’ve received several questions about if you have been out of the industry or out of a job for a little while. What advice do you have for people with a gap in their employment history?
Matt O’Mara: I think the important thing is, as we were talking about before this, and that is just have a quick synopsis ready to explain exactly what happened. That’s going to be an objection that you’re going to have to get over. And it’s no different than if you were selling to a client and you knew there was an objection. Address it early on. Be very concise about it, and then move on from there. But it’s really important to address it and be specific and move on.
Merrill Dubrow: To build on what Matt said: get involved quickly. Attend webinars. There’s a lot of training sessions that you can take. You can sharpen your skills very quickly. The other thing is volunteer for an organization.
Melanie Courtright: I’ve had several questions about what’s coming that’s new. What are the new things that people are looking for. And in a world with more DIY tools and more technology and automation, what are some recommendations that you have for people in how to compete today versus ten years ago? What’s different post-COVID and post-technology as you’re thinking about hiring?
Terrae Schroeder: So I’m not sure post-COVID, but I think technology is a big one. I feel like technology is the big enabler for the organization and we should figure out how to leverage it to do more and be more impactful. The other piece, at least at Kellogg, as we’ve reorganized into an end-to-end commercial model, is we’re generally looking for people who have that kind of end-to-end experience. So, as far as all the way from innovation, all the way through sales – or at least who have had those different experiences through their career. So I think it’s important to make sure that you’re building your portfolio of those experiences in an insights role, breadth. I would say, generally, in the industry, at least on the client side, there’s probably a lot more breadth roles than there are depth roles, as we kind of need to be a little Jack- or Jane-of-all-trades and understand the full spectrum of the commercial model. I think the DIY tools and things like AI and smart platforms can really enable the organization, one, in communications, so we can push out a lot more information in better ways that can be customized to our end-user. I think there is a lot of ‘democratize the data’, being able to communicate more effectively to more people at the right time that we can really utilize technology for.
Melanie Courtright: Matt or Merrill, anything you want to add to that?
Merrill Dubrow: It’s all about speed. All of our clients want to know, whatever research projects they were going to do, if it was two weeks, now it’s going to be 12 days. If it was 12 days, now it’s going to be 6 days. There’s going to be a lot of companies out there that are going to build do-it-yourself tools and go after AI and some of these other things. I think you’ve got to be really careful. Everybody wants to build products and tools, but you’ve got to make sure you have the right team. You’ve got to make sure you have the right clients. And you’ve got to make sure you can make money doing that because, if not, you’re going to waste a lot of cash and you’re going to be in a world of hurt. So I think you’ve got to be really careful. The pandemic has helped all of us from a business standpoint look at every line – every cost that we have in our enterprise has been looked at. We’re constantly thinking about, how do we do this a little bit quicker? So I think that’s the name of the game. I think it’s just speed.
Melanie Courtright: Yep. All right. Matt, a couple of questions here about looking overqualified and, maybe for you and for Merrill, about salary negotiation. So, first, how about best way to overcome, if you’re willing to take a lower job at a lower salary, looking overqualified.
Matt O’Mara: That’s always a challenge because the hiring company is going to look at somebody who’s overqualified as potentially too expensive or when things do settle down, that that person might be a flight risk in 6 to 12 months. That’s going to be in the back of the mind of the hiring company. Again, you have to overcome that objective and convince the company the reason I’m interested in this role is because you’re in a growth mode. You’re in the place that I want to go to and I want to be a part of that growth. If it’s just, I’m taking this job because it’s the only one I can get, then they’re going to be concerns. Switching gears to salary, I think the important thing is just to have done your homework and understand where you are, where you need to be, but then having some flexibility and making sure that you’re understanding, what are the other benefits? What are the values at that company? What’s the value that company can bring to you and what value can you bring to them? And making sure that your salary matches to what that value proposition is.
Melanie Courtright: If they ask you your salary expectation, some people have suggested being brave and saying, I’d like to save that conversation until I know more about the fit and the value I can bring, maybe because I’m flexible or agile. Is that good advice?
Matt O’Mara: I think it’s absolutely good advice. The only problem is a lot of applicant tracking systems don’t allow you to do that, you have to put in a number. But, ultimately, yes, you want to be able to say, look, I’m willing to have this discussion because I want to know what value I can bring to your company and where there may be a fit salary-wise.
Melanie Courtright: Great. Merrill, anything you want to add there?
Merrill Dubrow: I think we’re going to have to all be a little careful here because companies have the upper hand right now. What I want is loyalty. What I want to know is that, look, if I’m going to hire you here, that it’s going to be for a period of time. I don’t want you to jump ship after six months when the market opens up a little bit. And I’m going to, hopefully, with social distancing, look 6, 10, 15 feet away from them and ask them that question, and look to see if I really believe them. But I don’t plan on lowering salaries because, frankly, it’s a buyer’s market right now. And I think you’ve got to be careful with that.
Melanie Courtright: I would like you to give your best piece of advice as a closing comment, be ‘fill in the blank’. What’s something that they should be as they go through this process? Terrae, be ‘blank’. Your best piece of advice for everyone.
Terrae Schroeder: I’m going to have to say passionate because I know Merrill and Matt talked a little bit about don’t take a job that’s not the right fit for you just because it’s there or your credentials fit. So I think, to me and from an interview process, that’s one of the things that will set one candidate up above two others if they all have very equal backgrounds or experiences, is if we can see they really have a passion for that business or that industry or what they can bring to the table. Because then I feel like they have a lot of long-term potential. And that’s kind of the plus-up factor for me when we’re looking at candidates.
Matt O’Mara: Be resilient. This process is not easy. Keep the goal in mind, but focus on the task in front of you and just keep moving forward and be resilient. It’s not personal, it’s just business, to paraphrase The Godfather. And I’ll add another one, be enthusiastic, be optimistic because there is no substitute for resiliency and optimism.
Merrill Dubrow: Be focused and let the industry help you. Give people a chance to say no, I think you’re going to be really surprised at how many people say yes. The other thing is keep at it. We all have New Year’s resolutions – the gym is jammed in January and in February it’s empty. Why? Because everybody doesn’t have the discipline to keep it going. So be focused and let the industry help you, and I think the industry will not let you down.
Melanie Courtright: I love that. So, I’ve said it to the businesses leaders on our previous town halls, and to this group of job searchers and hirers, I will say it again, do not suffer alone. Let us help you. Let us get you through this. And my advice is to be brave. I really believe in being brave and asking for the recommendation, asking for the job, asking for the interview. Be brave. If you’ve ever said you’re not a salesperson, that no longer exists. You are a salesperson. You are selling yourself, so practice sales. Build a pipeline and be brave. Thank you all very much.