Written by Susan Lamphiear
Change is hard under the best of circumstances and certainly anyone facing job search or job transition will give an “Amen” to that. Add to that any other ongoing challenges, personal or societal, and it can be almost impossible to bear. Throw in a Pandemic and nationwide unrest and protests created by the latest heartbreaking death of still another Black man at the hands of police, and it’s the definition of overwhelm.
If we could, like Charles Schulz’s character Linus, many of us would like to clutch our blankies and huddle in the corner sucking our thumb. That’s not an option. Even as society cannot wait for the Pandemic to end in order to address long overdue societal changes, those in job search cannot postpone their search until all the other storms pass.
Fortunately, our June 3 keynote speaker shared her expertise in the job search. Her guidance made the usual obstacles and changing dynamics of the job quest seem just a little less scary.
“Change is Gonna Come” Sam Cooke, 1964
“Change is Gonna Come” Jennifer Hudson, 2019
“I’m not your token Black person, Brenda Cunningham explained, speaking before an online audience of job seekers this week. Perfect timing has brought her to speak just days after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. Her presentation, entitled Tackling the Job Search Obstacle Course: Age, Race, Gender, was booked months ago.
Brenda acknowledges the very real racial crisis currently facing the country. Over the years as more beautiful Black lives have been violently taken from us, a state of real frustration, along with anger and upset, has gripped her and the Black community, as the country and the world focuses on the message “Black Lives Matter.”
Brenda stresses she doesn’t speak for all Black people. Over the years, as a Black woman, she’s been singled out, she’s been called the “N” word, and she’s been followed around retail stores. As a result, she has no patience with any kind of “–ism” whether it’s “racism” or “ageism,” in particular regarding the job search. A former engineer in corporate America for over nine years, Brenda’s qualifications also include being author, CEO of PUSH Management, Career Development Strategist, Outplacement Provider, President of the Resume Council of Arizona, and Job Search Coach.
She explains how meaningful it’s been to her during this particular crisis and racial unrest, that other people, not of color, are speaking out and standing up for justice. “Now, we choose as best we can to move on.”
Besides “isms” like racism and ageism, which add to the job search challenges, the Internet has complicated the process even further. It’s no longer possible to simply walk into a business and snag an interview. Instead, via the Internet, dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people find themselves competing for any one job. As a result, human resource departments have attempted to make the process fair by utilizing the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Brenda’s presentation includes tips for navigating the ATS and tips for overcoming other obstacles such as education, age, racism and gender.
Navigating the Applicant Tracking System (ATS)
- If requirements state you need a degree, but you don’t, there’s hope. Brenda emphasizes that she personally wants her medical doctor to have a degree! And experience. However, in other cases experience becomes just as important as, or even more important than a degree. Brenda uses her own career transition as an example. She has a college degree and experience in engineering. However, in her current job in career management, she has developed expertise through experience and certifications. She’s earned trust by joining professional organizations and gained experience in her chosen field. She’s helped many people in her current field succeed. She recently discovered that a CFO she counseled who’s a CFO, with no college degree, who is so successful she changed positions recently right in the middle of the Pandemic!
- On your resume, be sure to articulate your experience or any certifications. If you started a degree but didn’t finish it, put it on your resume but include “course work completed” because it shows you have the determination and intelligence to complete college work. Plus the ATS picks up your experience in college.
- If you haven’t been to college, clearly articulate your other qualifications. For example, be sure to include the military or trade schools.
Tips for Hiring Managers
- If tempted to focus on age, remember you’ll be there some day. Don’t focus on Black Lives Matter while discriminating against candidates based on their age or gender.
- Consider reviewing The Crown Act which seeks to end discrimination against Black hairstyles.
Obstacle of Age
Yes, unfortunately, ageism exists in the job search. Brenda met with a recruiter who said she was having trouble “sourcing candidates over age 55.” Brenda was shocked and hurt, even though she’s not in that group yet, but asked “why?” Brenda has worked successfully with many age groups including people in their 60s.
Brenda makes the following suggestions based on her conversation with the recruiter. Don’t make it easy for hiring managers to exclude you before you’ve even had a chance to meet. Don’t use the phrases “seasoned professional” or “over 35 years of experience” or graduation dates. Instead, Brenda suggests, if it applies to you, use “15 years plus” of experience. Show that you are current by avoiding older email addresses like “aol.com.” Don’t ever use the word “retired.” Market yourself so it’s clear that you are current and energetic.
Obstacle of Gender and Sexual Orientation
Brenda was one of only four women in her engineering class of 100, a field dominated by men. She reminds the audience– on your resume it’s important to articulate how you can do the job so gender does not become an issue. It’s important to remember that if a requirement appears emphasizing the ability to lift 75 pounds, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gender discrimination if you personally are able to lift only 25 pounds. Focus on whether you are mentally and physically able to do the job. Articulate your qualifications on your resume and then in the interview.
Obstacle of Race
As a Black woman, Brenda says, “Stop pulling the race card every time.” A few bad actors exist. That’s a fact. But not everyone in the world is a racist. Not everyone wants to see harm done.
Give yourself a chance to succeed by relying on networking, not just the same job boards everyone else uses. Surround yourself with people who know you and will advocate for you. Networking is vital to your job search.
Was it race or age or gender that kept you from consideration for the job? Or were there hundreds more people qualified? Did you clearly articulate your value in the work place?
If you’re told you lack fit for an organization, that doesn’t mean it’s because you’re Black. Maybe your attitude or personality doesn’t fit the culture of the company.
Brenda explains she was still working as an engineer when she began transitioning to her current role in career development and job search coaching. She gradually earned people’s trust. If you lack experience in a new field, volunteer or accept an internship or join a professional organization. As an example, she joined a resume writer’s group when she was a total newcomer in her new field, and now 12 years later she’s in her fifth year as President of the Resume Writers Council of Arizona.
During her presentation, filled with tips about how to design a job search around obstacles such as education, age, race and gender, she pointedly asked the audience, “Do you really want to work for a company which demonstrates prejudice?”
Robert Zammit, Director, Talent Acquisition
Desert Financial Credit Union started in 1939 when 15 school teachers with $78.75 had a vision to start a credit union. Eighty-one years later Desert Financial serves over 300,000 members in the Phoenix area, having become a $5 billion organization, with the goal of 500,000 members by the year 2025.
The company mission is driven by their belief that relationships drive success. Driven by the family-based environment, employees tend to stay, the average tenure being 10 years with many employees marking 20 years with the organization. One benefit/gesture that Robert particularly appreciated, and showed the organization’s commitment to families, was the $300 he could allocate for his daughter’s sports costs.
The organization is committed to sharing success, lifelong learning, and “Give & Grow” (their volunteering program). As a nonprofit organization, the company gives back $12 million to customers and offers team bonus eligibility to all employees. Benefits include loan payback, 401K match and health insurance. As part of lifelong learning the company offers resources that include training modules for anyone who wants to strengthen abilities in their current role. “Give & Grow” includes designating hours employees can use for volunteer work. Also, since 2018 the organization has performed 5500 Random Acts of Kindness.
Current opportunities with the three subsidiaries include Desert Financial–Human Resources Business Partner and Contact Center Personal Banker (Inside Sales/eBranch). Define Mortgage Solutions–Outside Sales Mortgage Loan Officer and SwitchThink–Data Warehouse Analyst II & III.
To obtain more information, or to apply, visit their website.
Nicholas Bielinski, Direct Placement Service Manager
TEKsystems is a leading IT staffing and services company. They offer a range of services from technical staff to direct placement services to full management of technology projects and comprehensive workforce management solutions.
With over 25 years of experience in the IT staffing and IT recruiting services industry, they are experts at connecting technical professionals. TEKsystems was ranked by FORTUNE Magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Open positions include Project Managers, Software Engineers, Database Programmers/Engineers, Helpdesk/Desktop Support, Information Security, and Field Technicians. Arizona companies are still hiring during the Pandemic. Nick indicates each day things are changing. Work in the beginning is remote but with the possibility for that to change within 60-90 days.
For more information or to apply, contact Nick Bielinski or visit the company website.
The Career Connectors’ website offers a number of free resources to assist job seekers, including online coaching, free DISC assessment, LinkedIn basics, and career advice. Click at the top of the resources page to register in order to receive updates.
CEO/Founder of Career Connectors Jessica Pierce reminded the online audience that Career Connectors will continue their webinars on Wednesdays starting at 9:00 AM until live, in-person events can resume. For anyone seeing the presentation via Facebook, or if you haven’t registered, register on Career Connectors’ website (upper right corner) to receive notices about upcoming meetings and other related career information.
Interview with founders of Black Lives Matter October 2016
How Not to Hijack Black Lives Matter from Psychology Today January 3, 2020
Ted Talk “You Have the Rite?” by Joseph Bamuthi, jazz musician 2019
Getting rid of the distance between us’: Flight attendant says conversation on racism with American Airlines CEO was important reminder Dallas Business Journal June 5, 2020