The misguided job search tactics of the alpha male

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Alpha male

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Being an alpha male can be a good thing.  Alpha males are confident, natural leaders. They’re usually intelligent. They’re analytical and they’re doers. Lloyds is so keen to turn its employees into alpha males, it’s reportedly sent them on a course titled, ‘Hunter-Gatherers in the Corporate Jungle,’ where they’ve been equipped with alpha male traits.

However, being an alpha male is less of a good thing when you’re looking for a new job. Without careful consideration, careers coaches say alpha types can make bad job searchers and repel potential employers.

1. Don’t pretend to be invulnerable

Alpha types aren’t very good at asking for help, say coaches Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson in a classic article from the Harvard Business Review. They tend to consider themselves invulnerable and to suppress emotion until it reaches the surface in an uncontrolled fashion (eg. In an eruptions of anger).

John Lees, career strategist and author of How to Get a Job You’ll Love, says this buried vulnerability can be bad in interview situations.

“Alpha types tend not to talk through what’s going on with anyone,” says Lees. “Especially if they’ve lost their job, it can be quite a dent to their self-esteem and when they get into a job interview, this can leak out in ways they may not have prepared for.”

Leakage can involve defensive body language, says Lees, particularly when an interviewer asks awkward questions such as why you left a previous employer, why you’re on the market now, or what you’ve been doing for the past few months. To avoid this, he recommends rehearsing answers with a friend who can flag the fact that you’re crossing your legs and folding your arms as soon as someone asks a difficult question that triggers suppressed anxiety.

2. Don’t be impatient when networking

Among chimpanzees, the status of a defeated alpha male is determined by the relationships he forges with other male chimpanzees after losing his position. Transposing this to the world of the redundant or frustrated investment banker, this suggests post-alpha status is dependent on successful networking.

Unfortunately, says the head of consulting at one outplacement company that deals with investment bankers, alpha male banker-types are not always the best at this.

“Alpha males will often come out of an environment where the pace of work has been very fast and very can-do. It’s an adaptive behaviour that they’ve learned in the workplace and that they bring to their job search,” says the consultant, “and it puts people off.”

In particular, he says alphas can wrongly expect a quick response to their outreaches to friends and former colleagues who might employ them. They can also wrongly expect recruiters to prioritise them above everyone else in putting them forward for roles.

“The reality is that people have their own issues to deal with and that headhunters are firstly interested in their clients,” the consultant adds. “If someone keeps calling and asking why you haven’t done something to help them find a job, it’s not necessarily going to make you any more likely to help.”

His advice is to back off: stop coming on so aggressively, stop implying that someone should help you find a job because you helped them previously. Ingratiate yourself.  The reality is that it may take you many months to get back into work. Accept this, create a marketing plan and be patient.

3.  Don’t overlook your CV

By virtue of alpha males’ confidence that they will come across well in person, Lees says they will often undersell themselves on paper.

“The alpha male trait is strongly linked to extraversion,” he says, “and one of the traits of extraverts is that they don’t always have the reflective ability that will allow them look at what they’ve done and where they’ve added value. They know they can get their message across when they’re in the room, but they need to manage their message when they’re not in the room too.”

4.  Do be aware of your faults

Ludeman and Erlandson say alpha types tend to think very fast, talk very fast, and not listen to anyone who doesn’t also think fast and talk in ‘Alpha-speak’. They can lack self-reflection, blame others, and be resistant to change.

None of this is helpful if you’re going for a job lower down the hierarchy. In this case, Lee says alpha types again need to be sensitive to how they might come across in interview, and to ensure their demeanour doesn’t betray their potential problems fitting in as a more junior member of a team.

“It’s ok to have alpha male traits if you’re going for a leadership role,” says Lees. “But if you’re going for a lower status position, you need to ensure that your demeanour makes it clear that you’re happy with that.”

Failing this, if you're an irrepressible alpha male, Lloyds may be interested in hearing from you.

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