Who Defines the Need? | Foundation 3 – Lesson 2

Go back to Job Search Prep Syllabus.

A Business Manager’s Needs

Let’s get you inside the business manager’s frame of mind. You need to understand s how the world looks from a hiring manager’s perspective.

We’ll work backwards from there to understand (1) what problem a company is trying to solve when it hires someone; (2) the new problems a company assumes when hiring someone new; and (3) what this means for how you should approach your job search.

This is where we take the Clarifying Event and start to bring it to light… we’ll look at the manager’s problem and invert it into an “I” based problem statement so you can act on it.

The hiring manager doesn’t care about you. It’s not personal; she doesn’t know you. What the hiring manager cares about is keeping her own job, and maybe getting her bonus. To her, hiring a new employee means training expenses, reduced productivity, time away from business to write job descriptions, conduct interviews, and interact with HR, and additional prep in case she’s called in by Accounting to justify the expense of a new hire. There is also the stress of knowing that these interactions with HR and finance could easily spin out of control into compliance requests, team development requests, or worse.

The hiring manager, therefore, would like for the whole process to just go away. In fact, if she could muscle through for awhile, until the problem disappears, that would be ideal.

In the meantime, the hiring manager is going to look for ways to get through the steps laid out above as quickly and painlessly as possible.

This is the context in which many job descriptions – the 2nd greatest pieces of fiction ever written after resumes – are written.

A Conversation with HR

The Job Description: The [Daytime. Hallway outside the HR Person’s office. Posters of rowboats and eagles line the walls.]

Hiring Mgr: Hey, HR person, we need a new accountant. Bob can’t handle the 85 hour weeks, so he quit.
HR Person: Ok, send me a job description, and I’ll see whom I can find.
Hiring Mgr: Job description? Don’t you already have it from when we hired Bob?
HR Person: No, my computer crashed and I only have job descriptions from more than 3 years ago.
Hiring Mgr: Well use one of those.
HR Person: Can’t you just take half an hour to write one up and e-mail it to me, I don’t want to have to hire someone again in 18 months?
Hiring Mgr: No, I’m swamped. We actually have real work to do in the Accounting department.
HR Person: [stares at Hiring Manager with clear disgust] Fine! I’ll write it up. Tell me what you’re looking for.
Hiring Mgr: Yeah, I’ll e-mail it to you.

The HR person never gets sent an e-mail. Instead of writing a new job description, he posts the job using the description from 3 years ago. Of course, since then, the Accounting department has been revamped and reorganized, but the HR person has his own pressures, and fixing the Hiring Manager’s problem doesn’t rank too high on his list.

And there’s you, fretting endlessly over your résumé, tweaking it so that HR will clearly see that you’re the obvious choice given the perfect match between your skills, experience, and the posted job description.

You call your friend and ask for advice: “The posting says 4 years experience, but I just graduated. What do you think?”

You have no idea that HR is willing to count your summer internships as a year of experience each, and will even count your experience as club president toward the experience requirement. Or that the Hiring Manager could not care less how old you are; she wants someone who can do the job, who will get up to speed quickly, and will show initiative and not waste her time with too many questions… and that’s it.

So you spend hours soliciting advice from friends and family, tweak your résumé four more times, write a clever cover letter, and hit send with baited breath.

We’ll spare you the details of what happens to your information at that point; suffice it to say, it involves a special folder on the network drive, a manila folder, a rubber band, maybe an intern who types a bunch of information into a database, some arguments between HR and the Hiring Manager, a chat with someone from finance, a budget reforecast, org charts, and meetings that end with neither a “yes” nor a “no.”

That’s the optimistic outlook. If the company is using some sort of resume parsing software and you don’t have the right keywords in the right places, your resume will head straight to the trash.

There’s a reason that most companies say that they’ll only contact applicants whom they’re interested in.

It’s OK to shiver in fear at this point, this is scary stuff. It’s also OK, if you were riding in the hardcore moral/ethical bandwagon earlier, to look down and realize your carriage is a mess.

Now What?

Trying to match yourself to a job description is a futile exercise. If you find a job through this method, there is a good chance that you will be — what’s that word we’re looking for here… oh yeah! — unhappy in your new position.

Don’t believe us? Go try it.

(Seriously, have fun working for that Hiring Manager, she sounds swell.)

Look: if you are looking for a job, you will find… a job. And probably not a great one. Using job boards to find a job is like trying to find your future spouse at 2 AM at the bar. After the lights have been turned on. Chances are good that you’ll find something, but something lasting? Not so much.

In short, searching for jobs the old way is the wrong way to go – for many reasons. To do this right, you need to know the employer’s story… at every level.

Actually, knowing the employer’s story is a great first step, but what you really want to be doing is finding potential employers who have stories that you want to become a part of. Finding those employers and selling them on how you can become part of their story takes a lot of creativity.

You Still Don’t Get It?

If you think that being creative means stretching your accomplishments on your résumé to fit a job description, then you’re just not getting it.

Let’s see what happens when you respond to a “need” as defined by an employer and posted on a major job board.

ADVERTISING / MARKETING – Full Time and Part Time

Who We Are:

 Sports Marketing International is an outsourced marketing company for the Sports and Entertainment community. Our clients hire us as a satellite marketing, promotions, and sales office without the headaches, expenses, and overhead that come with doing it themselves. We guarantee results and deliver them with efficiency and integrity. Our company holds itself to the highest standards, working only with industry leaders who share our values.

The Personal Approach:

 Our method is simple: we apply a customer friendly, face-to-face approach to our marketing promotions and sales strategies. By directly meeting with business customers we can dramatically increase our clients’ sales without increasing their budget. Our technique is proven to be the most effective way to penetrate a target market and acquire new, profitable customers.

 What does this mean?

 At this moment, we are looking for energetic, career minded individuals to aid us with our expansion goal. These candidates will be placed as entry level marketing representatives for the Los Angeles area with rapid advancement opportunities in management. Our training program is designed to cross-train the right candidate in all aspects of business and marketing as well as in corporate communication and team leadership. The focus is to prepare them for a position as the general manager of a location, overseeing a variety of campaigns and supervising a team of 20 representatives.

Sounds great, right? Jobs in sports marketing are in extremely high demand, so you should apply now and research later.


Not so fast.

This is what will probably happen after you submit your resume.

It’s relatively likely that your “interview” with this company might be your first ever job interview. Whether you realize that something’s fishy depends on how perceptive you are. We’ve heard that their secretary will not refer to the company by name, probably because they operate under multiple names and don’t want you to realize it. Your first interview will most likely be informational, where they’ll continue the pitch that they started in the job posting. Any questions about what the company actually does or what their entry-level jobs are like will probably get a vague response. You’re also likely to hear, “You’ll have to see it to believe it.” Since scammers usually don’t turn away people, we’re going to guess that you’ll get asked back for a second interview too.

The second interview is where you’ll really get to see the company in action. You will be tagging along with one of the company’s employees. The story usually goes that you end up in a sketchy car with a sketchy person going to a sketchy neighborhood. Once you get there, you find out what The Landers Group does. They sell coupons door to door. Remember that amazing client list? That’s whose coupons you will be selling. You’ll be given one side of the street, and the employee will take the other. You’ll essentially spend the day working for free. How do we know? We’ve found stories from people who have done it like this and this. If you’re lucky, you’ll just end up having wasted a day. If you’re not, you may end up stranded many miles from home or having had a gun pointed at you and with mud all over your only suit.

You’ve been duped.

Why? Because you obeyed the rules and lacked the ability to think creatively.

Instead of working to find a company with a compelling story, you responded to the first job listing that matched your keyword search. You conformed to the need as defined by the company, and you got burned.

If you had a better understanding of how the hiring process works and how you can use creative thinking within the constraints of the process, you wouldn’t have wasted all that time with the scammers.

Got it?


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15 responses to “Who Defines the Need? | Foundation 3 – Lesson 2”

  1. mdabhi says:

    “And there’s you, fretting endlessly over your résumé, tweaking it so that HR will clearly see that you’re the obvious choice given the perfect match between your skills, experience, and the posted job description.”

    I have to say I never thought the hiring process was that awkward? Does this mean that tailoring cover letters and resumes for advertised positions are a complete waste of time? Makes complete sense, as I have applied for positions at the local employment and then never heard anything back!!!

  2. Jason Seiden says:

    Wait, wait… don’t rush to the opposite conclusion!

    Unfortunately, that piece of paper is still the common currency of job seekers, so don’t go writing it off entirely just yet. The key is to remember what the resume is: a proxy for the real you. Similarly, remember what the job description is: a proxy for the real position.

    Your attitude should not be trying to match the resume to the job description, but to match the real you to the real job. If you do this, you may still end up with multiple, customized resumes, but you won’t be fretting, and you won’t be chasing HR.

    If you were a consultant, you wouldn’t provide a proposal to a prospective client at your first meeting, because you’d expect that the company’s “presenting problems” may not be the real ones. Similarly, as Willy points out, the job description may or may not reflect the true needs of the position. So before you engage formally with a resume and cover letter—your “proposals”—you need to try to get the real scoop from someone at the company.

    *Then*, whether you submit a cover letter and resume, or move straight to the interview, you’ll hit the nail on the head.

  3. mdabhi says:

    Exercise: Who Defines the Need?
    Think of a problem something that’s challenging to you, not related to your jobsearch. How would you define the need, what kind of solutions are you look for?

    1.) Define the business need
    What do you need to do? To determine and figure out a way to prioritise incoming documents and items e.g. improve my own effiency and organisational skills. To identify where along the lines I am having problems and it’s not working. Consider other options for impleting a system for maintaining effiency and organisation in my personal life.

    2.) What are the points you need to consider?
    Would be important to explore a wide variety of possibilities. I may need to consider the following points such as Implementing a new filing and organising system, discover new ways of working and changes to my existing process.

    3.) Define the business need for the second part of the exercise?
    How to broaden my current oppurtunities looking for work, while conducting my individual jobsearch (instead of using traditional jobsearch medthods). Identify new oppurtunities by using and discovering new strategies for finding work. Considering other options such as social media tools.

    4.) What are the points you need to consider?
    To consider a wide range of oppurtunities. To explore the following points conducting face-to-face interviews, using Directories such as the Yellow Pages to find companies. Changing my mind-set to a positive one as I will be facing a lot of rejection in this game.

    5.) How are you the solution?
    I am the solution as I will be devising and creating new ways to stand out from the crowd. By reading and putting into practise what I have learnt so far and devising creative ways to get noticed by recruiters.

  4. annamonster says:

    I really like the line you said about finding potential employers who have stories that I want to become part of.

    It reminds me of something my boyfriend always says. He doesn’t ever say he’s ‘going to work’ or ‘has a job.’ He says he’s ‘doing his work’ or ‘working on a project.’ He doesn’t think of a job as a means to a paycheck. Like you said, you can find a job, but it probably won’t be one you want to commit to. We should be finding partners to work with, to produce or create something we want to put out into the world.

    Though I have to admit that job searching makes one desperate. I am guilty of scanning Craigslist and other job boards for ‘marketing’ positions. I actually had an offer of an interview with SMI. I did some preliminary research, but there is another SMI based out of Washington DC that is a real marketing company; however, upon further research, I found that there was no real website for the company that contacted me and so declined the interview. Glad I dodged that bullet.

    This post makes me realize that to find and land a good opportunity one has to be smart and creative, and any job that is easy to get is probably a bad one.

    Question: For the homework, I can’t watch the video…Any way you could summarize the homework for me in writing?

  5. Willy Franzen says:


    The homework is:

    Define the need – find a problem that is bothering you (not related to the job search) and write a “job description” for how you would like that problem solved.

    Define the solution – find another problem – one that you want to solve (and it can be related to your job search) – and tell us how you are going to solve that problem.

  6. jmwatts says:

    I would like to see an example of a good cover letter addressing a company’s realistic needs. Something tells me that what showed up in the career services’ guide book isn’t exactly the ticket.

  7. Willy Franzen says:

    I’ll see if I can do better, but for now here’s a blast from the past. This is the cover letter that landed me my first internship in 2004. The woman who hired me actually told me how good it was, although Jason will probably say otherwise ;). I’ll see what else I can come up with that is more relevant to your job search.

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    As a student at Cornell University in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and an individual devoted to the idea of “country living,” I was drawn to your website in search of internship opportunities. To my pleasure, I discovered that not only were there actually internship opportunities at Orvis, but also included in those opportunities were positions in my particular field of interest, Human Resources.

    I began using Orvis products over twelve years ago when my father taught me how to fly fish. Since then, I have become aware of the tradition that arose out of Charles Orvis’ vision, and I would like to continue in it. I can do so through my education and experience in the field of human resources. Much of my coursework to date at Cornell has been focused on the world of work, and has fueled interest in the management of human resources, which I first discovered when I served on the Search Committee at Southport Congregational Church. As a member of the committee, I played an integral role in the evaluation of over 200 job candidate profiles and the interview of between five and ten of those candidates. These hands on experiences have created a valuable base on which I have been able to build the knowledge that I have acquired in the classroom setting at Cornell. I hope that I can put my experiences and education to use as an intern in human resources at Orvis.

  8. samanthabrie says:

    Define the need: I want to improve my Spanish language skills. However, I have limited funds to spend on a Spanish course, and many Spanish classes for adults are held on weekends, which conflicts with my part-time job. Many free resources are available online, but, while helpful, they don’t provide the human interaction that is essential for developing conversational skills in a foreign language. I need a Spanish-speaker to practice with who can objectively gauge my progress. I want this service to be free, so a conversational exchange situation with a native Spanish-speaker who is looking to improve their English skills would be ideal.

    Define the solution: A problem I have (and that certainly relates to my job search) is that I have many interests spanning a wide range of subjects, enabling me to correctly answer many questions on Jeopardy and in other trivia situations. I suppose I could call myself a generalist. Unfortunately, the current job market seems geared toward specialists who can fit very specific niches. To effectively compete, I must narrow my interests–stop wasting time on things that make me feel lukewarm and start focusing on things that get me fired up! I need to ask myself what I LOVE, make a list, and keep my passions in mind when researching companies I want to work for.

  9. Willy Franzen says:

    Nicely done. I like how your definition of the need for Spanish language skills leads to the idea for a potential solution.

    As for defining the solution, your answer is solid, but try to look to solve problems that other people have. Solving your own problems is good and will help you down the road, but solving other people’s problems will get you a job (or your own business).

  10. jmackey says:

    Define the need: I am currently taking graphic design classes through a university in my city. The classes are informative but far too large for the content we are trying to cover. There is never enough time to adequately critique everyone’s work in the class and student participation is limited due to the need to get everyone’s work critiqued. I am looking for a practicing graphic designer willing to teach, critique, and engage a young, energetic, aspiring graphic designer in a one-on-one or small group environment.

    Define the solution: Since the beginning of February, I’ve had 15 informal conversations with professionals in the field of my interest. At first, I considered it a successful conversation if it lead to another conversation with the same or a new person. Now, when i step back and think about the conversations, I have been too interested in understanding what they do/how they might offer my something unprovoked. I spent less telling an air-tight story about my experience and the role I want. I need to get more focused by defining the roles I want and then pitching them in every conversation.

  11. Willy Franzen says:

    Nicely done.

  12. Roxy says:

    Need: A personal trainer who can motivate me to exercise and eat better – must be able to follow me wherever I go to make sure I don’t sneak snacks and be sure that I exercise for an hour each day, and other tasks as assigned

    Solution: The new apartment I’m moving in to in 2 weeks has not been cleaned yet. I need it to be cleaned so I can move my stuff in. I contacted the landlord but still have not heard anything. If I do not hear back from her, I will hire someone to clean it myself, tell the landlord I refuse to pay for the weeks I couldn’t move in, and send them the cleaning bill.

  13. ebilly says:

    Need: I want to learn how to build a website. Taking a class, either in person or online would work. It must be well structured and informative. It should also include one-on-one help/feedback when necessary. Low cost.

    Solution: I fear/dread/loathe the idea of networking (yes, i know we’re not there yet but it is coming eventually) and I know it is partially because I’m just not good at that sort of thing. I will push myself at social gatherings to engage people i don’t know in conversation. I will ask questions and get them to open up. I will also look into alumni events and sign up for a museum professionals organization. Baby steps.

  14. Krista says:

    Problem: Now that I’m out of college, I’m finding it difficult to meet new people my age. I want to become more involved in my community, so I’d like to see an organization created specifically for young people to work on volunteer projects related to their interests, with other young people. It would be nice if this organization could organize informal get-togethers so participants could brainstorm about civic issues in the community and ways to solve them.

    Solution: I can’t get through to the hiring managers when I apply for jobs. I can’t find their contact info to contact them directly, and when I call HR to check on my application status/who I should address the application to, I get no response from the HR department at all (and no luck in finding out the hiring manager’s name). Since I haven’t figured out a way to circumvent this(and I need to own my job search), I’m going to try to meet two new people a week/get their contact info, note where they work, apply for jobs at their company, and email/call that person to see if they would be willing to get me in touch with the hiring manager. Other suggestions?

    • Willy Franzen says:


      Check out Idealist.org and Meetup.com. They’re both great resources for meeting new people (who might happen to be hiring managers).

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