Michael Junge says he fell into the recruiting field by accident. He was majoring in creative writing at the University of Arizona, and his parents' next-door neighbor worked in staffing. During one of his college summers, Junge did some work for him.
"We got along well and I worked hard, so after graduation he offered me a job," says Junge. "As it turns out, the career choice stuck."
In 2000, Junge started as a recruiter at Kforce.com (then called Romac International). A year later, he was recruited to join the start-up team at Surrex Solutions Corporation in Irvine, Calif., and achieved recruiter-of-the-year status five years in a row before being promoted to national development manager and then director. During that time, the company went from zero to more than $50 million in revenue.
In 2011, Junge was recruited once again: this time to the Google leadership and executive recruiting team, where he currently works.
In addition to his work for Google, Junge recently authored "Purple Squirrel," a career book he describes as "written in and for the modern job market." Junge shared a number of recruiting insights with FINS. Edited excerpts follow.
Elizabeth Garone: You've been in the recruiting business 12 years. How has it changed for recruiters and for candidates since you started?
Michael Junge: Finding relevant talent used to be remarkably difficult. Think cold calling, networking, and mining data from home-grown databases. Now the opposite is true. Online job boards, social and professional networks, and a more globalized talent market have flipped the equation completely upside down. The bigger challenge these days is sorting through the enormous amount of potentially available prospects and investing time on the much smaller group of high probability applicants.
From a candidate perspective, the changes are even bigger and more complex. Recession, globalization, and the constantly evolving Internet have dramatically altered the employment landscape. At the same time, job boards, social and professional networks, and thousands of potential resources call for time and attention. The number of potential distractions in an online job search is almost limitless, and sorting through them to settle on an effective and focused strategy is remarkably difficult.
EG: What was your impetus for writing "Purple Squirrel?"
MJ: The employment game is fascinating to me. I love studying top performers on both sides of the equation – job seekers, hiring managers, and talent hunters. Since joining the industry I've made an ongoing practice of observing the habits, attitudes, techniques, and strategies that set the best apart from their peers and put a job search on an accelerated trajectory. As you can no doubt imagine, many of those things have changed enormously over the years. My goal with "Purple Squirrel" was to put that information into a simple, actionable framework that empowers readers to be exceptionally effective in their job search and consistently inspired in their career path.
EG: What traits do all good candidates possess? Can they be learned?
MJ: Almost everyone I've ever interacted with as a recruiter has had some combination of relevant skills and experiences. Being qualified is more or less an expectation. Otherwise, there'd be no reason to connect. Great candidates are passionate, eager to learn, responsive, and courteous. They're excited to talk about what they do because they genuinely enjoy it and find it interesting. They go out of their way to develop and expand their skills, always looking to improve and get better. They respond in a reasonable time frame, and they treat others with respect. Really smart candidates ask good questions, listen, and use that information to respond in a contextually relevant way. These are traits that can absolutely be developed and cultivated over time.
EG: On the flipside, describe the candidates you never call (or wish you never called).
Provided their qualifications line up, everyone gets a fair shot. If someone is rude, dismissive, or can't back up their resume claims in a conversation, they probably aren't moving forward.
Job seekers sometimes forget, or perhaps don't realize, that recruiters and HR professionals are an active part of the interviewing and hiring process. If you treat them poorly, they have to assume you'd treat others the same way and are obligated to screen you out of the process.
Similarly, if something shows up on your résumé, it's important that you be able to speak about it articulately and confidently. It's a good idea to read your own résumé and look for inconsistencies and areas of weakness in advance. If you find something that you're not ready to talk about or don't feel comfortable supporting in an interview, brush up and be prepared or consider taking it out.
EG: What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to candidates? How about red flags?
MJ: Every once in a while someone will launch into a 30 or 40-minute phone dissertation without ever letting a word in edgewise. It's painful to be on the other side of a conversation like that, and I try to make a point of avoiding repeat performances. Evading direct questions, not having or being willing to provide professional references, and misrepresenting résumé information are common tactics that consistently raise red flags.
EG: With so many options out there, it's hard for a job candidate to know which way to turn. Social networks, job boards, and job coaches are only a few of the choices. In today's job market, what is essential and what is a waste of time?
MJ: Spend your time where talent hunters and potential referrers spend theirs. I'm a huge fan of LinkedIn and think it's a great place to invest energy. The major job boards are still a useful place to post a résumé, and there are tons of smaller niche résumé sites relevant to particular industries and skill sets that can be equally useful.
If you're going to use social networks, start by building a profile that includes professional details and cleaning up anything that might be considered inappropriate to a potential employer. Actually, the second part you should do regardless. Then make a habit of posting content that could potentially catch the attention of talent hunters.
For those in an active job search, Indeed.com is a great resource for quickly identifying relevant opportunities. The site is effectively a search engine specifically for job postings. Going there instead of bouncing across dozens of sites can save a ton of time that can then be invested in more valuable activities.
In this digital age, we often overlook one of the most powerful job search tools on the planet: other people. Employee referrals are still the preferred source of talent for the majority of companies, so offline networking should be an ongoing part of your job search and career strategy as well.
EG: My guess is that you're not able to share any of the big secrets to getting hired at Google. Is there anything you can say about what candidates can do to increase their odds of landing an interview and/or a job there or at any hot company?
MJ: Setting yourself up for success in a highly competitive environment is a long-term commitment. Elite employers are ultimately looking for substance, and that's not something that can be developed overnight. If working for a top company is really a goal for you, be ready to invest time and energy on the front end. Make an ongoing effort to develop expertise in a relevant skill set. Build relationships with top professionals in the field. Go out of your way to contribute and make a difference in the industry. Learn how to write a great résumé and interview like a pro so that you're ready when the time comes and you get your shot with a dream employer.