I’ve got a friend working on a Caribbean island on a large construction project. The island is small and there are few jobs available. Residents are routinely walking on to the job site to ask for work. Their typical approach shows what NOT to do in a job search.
My friend is part of the project management team (he’s an engineer), but isn’t responsible for hiring construction workers. Despite this, a lot of potential workers approach him (mainly because he’s in the office a lot and works a ton of hours). Their approach is direct – they walk up and ask for a job.
The engineer then asks a few questions to learn about the job seeker. First on the list is “what are you good at?” In almost every case, the answer is “No worries man, I do everything.” This answer is useless. It gives no information about the job seeker and fails to give any reason why he should be hired.
The next question the engineer asks will relate to a specific functional area. For example, “do you have any experience with…” tile installation, drywall, carpentry, hvac repairs, electrical, plumbing, etc. Generally, he asks about a skill that is currently in demand on the job site. The answer is almost always the same, something like “No worries man, I’m the best tile installer on the island.” If the engineer asks about a second area, say “Do you have any electrical experience,” he gets the same answer “No worries man, I’m the best electrician on the island.”
Because everyone claims to be the “best on the island” for every skill, the answers are meaningless. They do nothing to differentiate the job seeker.
The next question the engineer asks is for examples of the work they have done, for example, “what types of tile installation projects have you worked on?” You should be able to guess the answer at this stage… “No worries man, I do it all.”
At this point, if the engineer is really busy or having a bad day, he will usually throw the guy out. If he’s feeling generous, he might ask a couple more questions, but they produce the same generic answers. No matter how many different questions he asks, he’s never been able to get someone to give a specific answer. They all are “the best on the island and can do it all.”
The core problem with generic answers is they don’t allow a hiring manager to consider the job seeker. In this engineer’s case, all he wants to know is who to send the potential employee to see. Is the best place the superintendent for flooring, plumbing, electrical, finish carpentry, etc? That superintendent will then make the hiring decision. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what a person is good at, you can’t classify them and consider them for a job.
I expect the workers are worried they will miss an opportunity if they take a stand. For example, if they say they are good with drywall, they will only have a chance if the company is hiring drywall people. If the company is hiring in other areas, but not drywall, the worker would be out of luck. Narrowing your scope to a single job type won’t limit the number of opportunities. On the contrary, it will do just the opposite and open up opportunities. There are no jobs for a pure generalist. Every job requires some level of specialization and certain skills. If you don’t focus on a niche, you will not be considered for anything.
This is the result for the workers on the island. They never get to speak with the superintendent who might hire them.