Interview with Chandra Prasad, author of Outwitting the Job Market: Everything You Need to Locate and Land a Great Position
By IMDiversity.com Career Center Staff
Looking for a job is challenging in a tight job market, but looking for a job when you’re female or a minority can be downright intimidating. Even though the recruitment of both groups is on the rise, most companies still have a long way to go before achieving parity. Meanwhile, diverse professionals continue to face formidable obstacles, including lower salaries and fewer advancement opportunities than their white male counterparts.
Chandra Prasad interviewed over a hundred human resources personnel, career counselors, head hunters, managers, and jobseekers for her book Outwitting the Job Market: Everything You Need to Locate and Land a Great Position. While the book focuses on general strategies for job market success, here the author—an Asian American—talks about which employers are truly committed to diversity, why mentors are especially important to minorities and women, and why shifting demographics mean new challenges ahead.
The former Editor-at-Large of Vault.com, Prasad has been quoted as a workplace expert by Black Entertainment Television, The Christian Science Monitor, the Gay Financial Network, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Your Dream Job Online. Her feature articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal’s Career Journal and College Journal, IMDiversity.com, True Careers, and others.
IMDiversity.com: Do women and minorities need to approach the job search process differently than everyone else?
Chandra Prasad: Jobseekers who are female or in a minority group don’t have to take a different approach, but they may choose to take a broader one. Both groups can enhance their chances of success by looking not only at general job search sites, but also at sites that have the best interests of diverse candidates in mind. IMDiversity is such a resource, as are HACE (Hispanic Alliance for Career Advancement) and The Black Collegian, and there are many others.
Look for company recruitment opportunities too. The National Society of Hispanic MBAs not only has a helpful career center, but also offers a huge annual conference with representation from dozens of corporate sponsors. If you’re in college, ask your career services center which companies will be stopping by campus to interview and how you can submit your resume in advance. Also ask what scholarships and internships are available specifically for women and/or minorities. Many companies, such as Bank One, have programs geared specifically toward diverse candidates.
Q: How can one know if a company is truly committed to diversity or if it is just paying lip service?
A: One of the best ways to find out if a company is truly diversity-friendly is to speak with someone within the organization. In a best case-scenario, you might have a personal contact who works there and will give you an honest answer. But if you don’t already have a contact, be observant. Look around as you’re on your interview—do you see a diverse staff or a homogenous one? Are the executive level and board of directors comprised of only white men? That should send you a message right there. If you establish a comfortable rapport with your interviewer and decide you want to out-and-out ask about diversity within the company, listen carefully to his response. Does your interviewer give a pat and insubstantial answer? Or does he provide real and compelling proof that the company is committed to diversity by citing actual percentages of women and minorities who are employed or by offering details on programs and initiatives aimed at the recruitment and retention of these groups? Another way to check on a company is to scan the web site of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Each month the site posts reports on major litigation settlements by various employers.
Q: In your opinion which companies are standouts when it comes to diversity?
A: American Express, Ford, Fannie Mae, IBM, and Deloitte have all been praised recently for their commitment to diversity.
If you’re looking for employment at large companies and institutions, it’s fairly easy to check on their records. Every year Fortune magazine recognizes “The 50 Best Companies for Minorities,” and it sometimes offers additional rankings according to each minority group. Working Mother magazine offers an annual list of the “Hundred Best Companies for Working Mothers” and the “Hundred Best Companies for Women of Color.” Many reputable business periodicals may give you additional insight into which companies are more attuned to diversity than others. But none of these beats the firsthand observations of someone who has worked for the company. This is especially true when it comes to smaller or private employers because information may not be as readily available.
Q: You talk about the importance of mentors in your book. Is finding a mentor in the workplace more or less important for women and minorities?
A: In general I believe mentors are even more important for minorities and women because these groups may have unique concerns and barriers. A survey by Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization focusing on women in business, supports this idea. The survey found that of 368 women of color, 69% who had a mentor in 1998 had at least one upward career move by 2001 compared to 49% of those who didn’t have a mentor.
One person I spoke with, an African-American manager at Pitney Bowes, said that an early mentor made all the difference in his career. After college he interviewed with an executive at EDS, a global information technology company, and the executive pointed out his professional shortcomings in a highly constructive way—in a way that helped him to improve his raw skills. Before meeting this mentor, he was confused about his career direction, but afterward he was able to buckle down and make the decision to attend business school.
Similarly, a women’s magazine editor I interviewed credits a mentor for much of her success. When this editor was laid off, her mentor took her under her wing and gave her the encouragement and contacts she needed to begin a successful career as a freelancer.
In both cases, the mentoring relationships evolved informally. Two professionals happened to click, and the more experienced began to offer support and counsel to the other. Spontaneous mentorships are very common, but many companies do have official mentorship programs. And some companies have mentorship programs specifically for women and minorities, so it’s a good idea to inquire.
Q: In the workplace, isn’t there a danger of focusing on difference too much?
A: Well, you might not want to be branded as the mouthpiece of feminism or racial identity because any stereotypes or labels, even positive ones, are potentially dangerous. The best way to deal with difference is to acknowledge it—but not dwell on it—and to consider it a factor in your professional prospects. This is particularly important at the start of your career. Choose a company that is noted for embracing diversity, seek out at least one mentor, and constantly strive to keep your skills set current and in-demand. Highly successful minority professionals will tell you that race was not the determining factor in their careers. Success for just about everyone boils down to the same basics: professional excellence, dedication, ingenuity, and a reliable network.
Q: What does the future hold for minority and women professionals?
A: The future looks very bright. Many companies are getting the message that the American demographic has shifted and will continue to shift. According to “Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century,” a report from the Department of Labor, by 2050 minorities will rise from being one in every four Americans to one in every two. Of course, smart companies know that to serve a diverse clientele they need a diverse staff. That is why we see minority and female hiring on the rise and why this trend will certainly continue. The next test, I think, is not women and minorities succeeding in the workplace, but climbing to the highest ranks in substantial numbers—and helping others up.