Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bad Advice

Dear Guidance Teachers, Career Counsellors, and other Purveyors of Job-Planning Advice,

Stop with the advice to job-seekers and career-planners to cold call random people in their desired careers to ask for information regarding how to get into that field, already!

I receive at least one call a week from someone who thinks they want to enter the glamorous world of publishing as an editorial assistant. Do you people think I have nothing better to do with my work day?

It's not that I am a self-centred bitch who doesn't want to help earnest job-seekers. I have spent five years as a volunteer executive member of my professional association, attending meetings and answering questions from people who want to enter the field. I have invited the people who demonstrate enough gumption to show up at meetings and ask me questions to e-mail or phone me. I speak at classes. I have written a lengthy blog post (easily found in a google search) about how to get into the field. I have volunteered to mentor people. I'm really grateful for the help people gave me, and I try to pay that around.

But I really dislike receiving phone calls from strangers who want me to do this on their schedule, during my work day. It's not as if they couldn't find information on-line, where people have put it up for anyone to see. It's not as if industry events are a big secret, open only to insiders who know the sekkrit handshake.

It's 2007, people! Phones are passé! They're tools of last recourse, when you're trying to gather information. Google is the job-hunter's friend!

Seriously. You people have jobs, right? The people to whom you're giving your crappy advice may not, but you do, right? And your jobs, presumably, give you lots to do. Of course, since you're career counsellors and their ilk, maybe it's normal for you to spend your days dispensing career advice to strangers. That may well be part of your job description. Let me explain something to you: it's not part of mine. So stop telling people it's a good idea to phone random strangers up and ask them about their jobs. It's not. It interrupts my day, and pisses me off.

Instead, tell them to do what every successful job hunter I know has done: read everything possible about the industry in which they are interested, on-line, and, if possible in printed industry publications. Find out if there's an industry association (have I mentioned yet that Google is a very useful tool for job-hunters career researchers?). E-mail the representative of the industry association who is in charge of outreach, and ask that person if they have time to answer your questions, or if they can point you to someone who can. Attend open industry meetings, where people who answer such questions often congregate and are prepared to do just that. If someone invites the job- or information-seeker to phone, only then should they phone.

But for the love of the letter M, stop telling people that it's a good idea to interrupt people's workdays! It's not. It's especially not when information is more readily available other ways.

A Harrassed Professional

P.S., If you must give this outdated advice, or if information is not readily available through any other means (because the industry in question is mired in the nineteenth century, or perhaps because your job-seekers cannot read or use a computer, or live in remotest Alert, far from any professional association gatherings, please instruct your clients in correct telephone manners! "Hi, it's Fred," is not a good way to introduce yourself to a stranger on the telephone. She may know other people named Fred, and become confused. She may know nobody named Fred and suffer a brief panic attack, wondering whom she met and forgot and if she should have remembered him, knowing all the while that she doesn't imbibe, and therefore has no reason to have forgotten this contact. Continuing the conversation with "I'm wondering about opportunities for someone with my skills and background in your industry," merely leaves the persion wondering what your skills and background might be, at the very least.

A better introductory gambit would be "Hi, my name is Fred, and I'm a student at August Institution [or I'm a pipe fitter, but I'm contemplating a career change]. I'm looking to get into publishing and was wondering if you or someone at your company could spare me a few moments for an information interview." This way the person on the other end of the line a) knows that she doesn't need to remember who Fred is because she's never met him, b) understands that he seeks information rather than immediate employment, and c) has the opportunity to gracefully inform Fred that now is perhaps not the best time, or she is perhaps not the best person. In this way Fred demonstrates some respect for the possibility that this random professional he has interrupted might just have things other than his career on her mind right now.