As if job-hunting isn't hard enough, many people start out with two strikes against them. How do you explain, for example, to a prospective employer:
* You dropped out of school as a teen-ager?
* Your job references are lousy?
* You haven't worked for months?
* You are an ex-convict?
"There are ways to present yourself effectively despite tough breaks in your past," says counselor Dick Wright, who as director of a Job Search Workshop Program in San Mateo, Calif., helped hundreds of hard-to-employ job-seekers find work. He is currently introducing job-search courses in Philadelphia's high schools.
Wright advocates a variety of tactics that he describes accurately as "brazen," aimed at "dazzling" (his word, again) employers into hiring the hardcore unemployable despite their personal histories or disabilities. He outlines his unusual and perhaps controversial methods in a new book, Hardball Job Hunting Tactics (Facts on File, 192 pages, $11.95).
One technique he suggests is the fudging of deficiencies at least long enough to get a face-to-face interview, when the job-seeker can explain how he or she has overcome them. This doesn't mean Wright advocates lying, which he certainly does not. The applicant simply doesn't reveal the whole truth immediately.
For example, consider his advice to a job-seeker who has lost an arm and faces this question on an employment application: "Do you have any physical or health limitations? If so, describe." Many applicants would list the obvious disability, and thereby reduce their competitive chances.
But, says Wright, the key word in the question is "limitations. If you can do the job and can work 40 hours a week, then what are your limitations? Arm or no arm, the answer is 'No.' Your goal is to get the interview, where you can sell your skills."
If the job-seeker anticipates that an employer is going to provide a negative reference, "swallow your pride," says Wright, call up the former supervisor and explain:
"I did not have my act together and was not a good employe, but I have grown a lot since that time. While I know that professionally I cannot count on you for a good reference, could you do me a favor if a prospective employer calls you and verify only the dates I worked for you without mentioning any negative parts of my employment? I really need this from you to get a job and get on the right track."
Because "you can count on a very high forgive-and-forget factor," claims Wright, this technique works about 95 percent of the time.
Ex-offenders submitting a re'sume', he counsels, should avoid a chronological listing of past employment, which puts them at an immediate disadvantage: There will be a gap for prison time. Instead, they should prepare a re'sume' that highlights any skills--if only kitchen maintenance-- acquired behind bars.
Additionally, when asked to list the past employer, ex-offenders should use any non-threatening name by which the prison is known so as to avoid, if possible, using the words "prison," "jail," "reformatory," which could eliminate the ex-offenders from competition.
At the time of the interview, when the prospective employer appears interested in hiring, says Wright, the ex-offender might say:
"I must tell you that I have a conviction record, but I received excellent counseling and work experience and I am fully prepared and anxious to join productive society and make a contribution."
Says Wright: "If you are sincere and come across that way, you will soon find a job. We have seen it happen time and again--even for those who have committed serious crimes."
Wright strongly urges applicants to prepare for the job hunt, not--as many do--simply walk off the street and ask if there are any openings. One of the book's strongest points is its comprehensive guide to completing an application form that shows job-seekers to their best advantage.
He also provides tips for the hard-to-employ on how to uncover the "hidden" job market--where most of the jobs can be found--and how to write re'sume's, negotiate for the best salary and write thank-you letters.
An aggressive, well-conducted search for employment and attention to such details as the follow-up thank-you, Wright contends, is what dazzles employers into overlooking the job-seeker's deficiencies.