Where are you lost or stuck in your job search?
This guide is a self-assessment exercise combined with practical tips to help you get unstuck and move toward landing your dream job.
There are plenty of smart job seekers who struggle with finding jobs and/or a satisfying career.
Why is this?
Most people have never been taught how to find a new job effectively.
So they do the things that they “think” they should do — applying for jobs online, posting their resume on job boards, and even creating a LinkedIn profile (even if they’re not sure what to do with it).
But when they don’t get the results they want, they get stuck.
With no immediate results, it’s easy to get frustrated.
They often won’t hear anything back at all from their job applications, so they’re not sure how to move forward.
No job interviews? If yes, ask some big-picture career questions:
• Am I doing what I’m meant to be doing? (Is the work I’m doing the “right job,” or is it just “a job”?)
• Do I have the skills, experience, and/or qualifications necessary for the jobs I’m pursuing (if I’m really honest with myself)?
• Have I conducted informational interviews to really understand employers’ needs for the types of jobs I’m pursuing — and to make new connections?
• Is there another way I can use my skills? (Making a change doesn’t always require going back to school or making a “big” change. It can simply mean using your skills in a new or different way.)
• Does finding another job in this field require something that I haven’t done yet? For example, a move? Taking a lateral job (maybe even with a pay cut) because it will mean developing a new skill set that offers more room for growth? A change in focus?
• Have I asked someone I know/like/trust for their honest feedback about how I’m presenting myself in my job search? Have I asked for feedback from hiring managers after interviews for jobs that I haven’t been offered?
• Am I really doing the “work” of conducting a job search, or am I just doing things that are “easy” or “comfortable” for me?
3 Characteristics of Successful Jobseekers
1. Clearly defined goals — and the ability to research how to accomplish those goals.
This includes identifying companies you’re interested in working for, potential job titles, contact information for people in the position to hire you (or connect you to the hiring manager), and knowledge of the company.
2. The willingness to invest time, energy, and money in their job search.
This includes a strong resume and other career communication documents, the right interview attire, career assessments, coaching to improve skills necessary for success in the job search (i.e., interview preparation, salary negotiation), etc.
3. The ability to document specific achievements and accomplishments in their education, work experience, and/or volunteer work.
If your job search isn’t working, it’s time to do something different.
Treat your job search as a project, with defined objectives, an action plan, and a timeline.
Ask someone you trust (a spouse, friend, another job seeker, or a career coach or counselor) to be your accountability partner — someone who will support, encourage, and motivate you in your job search.
The first step is to figure out where you’re stuck.
You will want to focus on several areas to effectively job search in a difficult job market.
If you are having trouble in more than one area, start with the first reason and “fix” before moving on to the next area.
Know Your Career Direction — Stop & Self-Examine
A successful job search requires that you identify and articulate your “career vision” — the type of work environment, location and lifestyle, and the job you want — so that when you look for potential job opportunities, you can see if it will be a good fit, based on your identified values.
Author Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
The same is true in your job search.
People who say, “I just want a job, any job,” will actually have a harder time finding a job than someone who knows what they want!
With that in mind:
• Have you clearly defined what kind of job you want?
You don’t have to limit your search to this company profile, but defining what kind of work environment is most attractive to you is a good place to start.
• Ask yourself:
– What am I good at?
– What am I not so good at?
– What do I like doing?
– What skills do I need to update to stay current?
• Next, can you clearly describe the value you would bring to the company?
In her book, Resume Magic, author Susan Whitcomb identifies 12 specific needs most companies have. These include the company’s desire to:
– Make money.
– Save money.
– Save time.
– Make work easier.
– Solve a specific problem.
– Be more competitive.
– Build relationships / an image.
– Expand business.
– Attract new customers.
– Retain existing customers.
Think about how you’re able to help an employer meet these “employer buying motivators.”
Once you’re able to define who you are and who you want to work for, then move on to the next step.
Not Getting Interviews? Re-Examine Your Resume
A professionally written resume is ideally suited for one particular job target.
This may be a specific job title (“administrative assistant”) or several similarly suited jobs — for example, senior accountant/finance manager/chief financial officer.
If you’re not getting calls for interviews, your resume may be the issue.
Take a look at your resume:
• If your resume was professionally written, have you changed the wording of the original version? Did you change anything on the recommendation of a friend or colleague? Did you “water down” the language by adding or removing information?
• Did you give the resume writer the strongest examples of your accomplishments — and quantify them with numbers, percentages, and dollars (whenever possible)?
• Are you using the resume to apply for different jobs than it was originally intended? (For example, if the resume was developed to pursue a teaching job but you’re using it to apply for a job at a nonprofit.)
If you wrote the resume yourself — or had a friend or relative write it — consider having it reviewed by a professional resume writer who can give you objective resume advice about whether it meets today’s ATS requirements and is interview-ready.
The process of having your resume written by a professional resume writer can be eye-opening.
Most resume writers will work with you to identify your “personal brand” (what makes you unique as a jobseeker) and collect strong accomplishments that will help define how you can be an asset to your next employer as part of the resume development process.
If it’s not the resume or job target, it may be your job-search tactics.
One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
• How are you using the resume? Are you getting it in the hands of a hiring decision-maker for the type of job you want?
• Are you spending enough time on your job search? If you’re not working, commit yourself to a minimum of 40 hours per week devoted to your job search. If you are working, devote at least 20 hours each week to finding a new job.
• Work smarter, not harder. If you’re applying for 20 jobs online, you may think you need to apply for 40 jobs.
Instead, re-examine how you’re finding out about and applying for jobs.
That leads to the next area where you may be stuck.
Assess How You’re Conducting Your Job Search
Once you have your resume and cover letter, the next step is to get them in the hands of a decision-maker who has the authority to interview you — and, hopefully, offer you the job (or at least advance your job search).
There are 4 major ways to search for a job.
1. Applying for Job Postings Online
This is where most job seekers spend their time searching for a job, but most people won’t find their dream job by applying for posted jobs.
Research suggests that only 2-4% of job seekers land a job using Internet job boards.
Most large companies receive between 200 and 10,000 resumes a month — the majority of these come from online job applications for jobs they’ve posted.
There are many places where jobs are posted online.
These can include the hiring company’s website or LinkedIn Company Page, niche websites (like Dice.com for information technology jobs, or JobsInLogistics.com), aggregator sites (such as Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, or Indeed.com), social media (some companies will post job openings on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), or even Craigslist.
The aggregator sites — also known as the “big boards” — aren’t as effective as they used to be. Listing fees have increased while success rates have declined.
However, you shouldn’t discount them entirely. If you see a job posting on a big board, go directly to the employer’s website and see if the job is listed there as well.
By applying through the company’s website, you’ll not only get the chance to research the company, but you might also be able to identify a hiring decision-maker directly.
And if you can find the hiring manager’s name, follow up your online application with a resume and cover letter by mail. But remember, once a job is advertised, the competition for it can be overwhelming.
2. Employment Agencies/Recruiters
For certain jobs, companies pay third parties (recruiters or employment agencies) to screen and recommend potential employees.
These jobs usually fall into three areas:
• Jobs paying less than $30,000 a year (usually administrative jobs) are usually filled by employment agencies on a temp or temp-to-hire basis.
• Specialized jobs where a closely-defined skill set is desired (for example, information technology jobs).
• Managers and executives making more than $75,000. These jobs are not usually advertised.
In exchange for finding candidates, screening them, and recommending the “best fits,” an employer will pay a fee that is usually equal to one-third of the employee’s base salary for the first year to the recruiter or employer upon a successful hire.
The most important thing to recognize about working with recruiters is that they work for the hiring company, not for you.
They only get paid if they make a successful placement. Because you’re not paying for the service, sending a resume to one of these companies is a good idea, but it won’t always result in success — or even a return phone call.
You can find recruiters in the phone book (under “Employment Agencies”) or online. Use Google to search: Recruiter and [city name] and [job title].
Or look in industry trade journals for recruiting firms advertising for candidates in your skill area. You can also make contact with recruiters or employment agencies at job fairs or through LinkedIn.
Remember, the employer pays the recruiter fee, so you should never be asked to pay a fee to work with a real recruiter.
Don’t be fooled by people claiming to be recruiters who ask you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to work with them.
It’s fine to work with multiple recruiters.
The more recruiter contacts you have, the larger your network and the greater the number of opportunities present. Recruiter relationships are generally not exclusive.
Start with 2-3 and expand your contacts if you’re not getting results. But be honest if you’re asked who else you are working with.
There are also variations of the employment agency you may come across.
For example, if you are employed in a union trade, your union hall may function as an employment agency, offering connections to union jobs.
And if you are between jobs and want to be hired as a day laborer, certain employment agencies specialize in extremely short-term jobs (usually one day or a few days at a time).
Don’t discount the resources offered by CareerOneStop (http://www.careeronestop.org/) or American Job Center (http://jobcenter.usa.gov/). Local or state employment agencies can also help connect you to employers in your area.
Networking remains one of the best job search strategies you can use to find your next job — or your dream job — but it’s probably the least understood method.
Many job seekers think networking means alerting the people you know that you want a new job.
But it’s more than that. Your network is most valuable when you can ask for help in identifying job leads, obtaining information, getting advice, and/or making referrals.
For example, if you want to work at a specific company, ask people in your network if they know anyone who currently works for — or used to work for — “Company X.”
Then, ask for an introduction to that person, and ask them about the company, culture, and hiring practices.
It’s important to develop and cultivate your network actively.
This can include friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, parents of your friends, relatives of your friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, your doctor, financial advisor, attorney, current and previous co-workers and managers, suppliers, professional association contacts, clients, and community contacts (civic leaders, clergy, etc.).
Here are some more opportunities to develop your network:
• Attend networking events (for example, those hosted by your professional organization, Chamber of Commerce, tip groups, etc.). You can also network while you’re attending sports, school, or cultural events.
• Work as a volunteer. For example, serve on the Membership Committee of your industry association.
Getting involved in any charitable organization can be beneficial.
• Participate in online communities. This can be a social networking site — like LinkedIn or Facebook — or an alumni site or your trade association’s website (which might have a message board or email list to connect members).
Be a giver — your willingness to help others will raise your professional profile and make others more willing to help you in return.
• Contact your alumni groups. Your college or university should have an alumni association (often with a directory of members) that can be useful.
You can mine the directory for contacts in your field, even if they didn’t graduate in the same year as you.
Your common interest in cheering for “The Bears” connects you! And look for connections on LinkedIn. Many universities maintain alumni-only Groups on LinkedIn.
• Join your professional association — but don’t just send in your dues…get involved!
As mentioned before, the Membership Committee is often looking for help.
But, the Program Committee (that plans the continuing education events and networking programs) or the Finance Committee (the one that helps line up sponsors — i.e., influential employers in the industry) can also be good choices.
• Your colleagues can be a tremendous resource.
Contact them and ask for help with identifying contact names and numbers, generating ideas about where your skills might be most valuable, and learning more about company culture.
Be sure to ask if you can use their name to “get in the door” with their contacts.
The single biggest mistake most job seekers make is not asking for help from their network.
People want to help you — so let them!
4. Direct Contact
Tap into the so-called “hidden job market” by using the direct contact job search method.
Remember: Companies hire people to solve their problems. Use the “employer buying motivators” list from earlier in this guide to identify the specific ways you can help a prospective employer — and then don’t wait for help wanted ad to be posted to offer your services.
How do you do this? Use the other four methods for ideas:
• Online. Research trends and companies online. Identify key problems from executive speeches, reports, or profiles — or read their news releases on their website.
A good source of information is Vault.com (www.vault.com). You can also identify potential employers using the online Yellow Pages. Are you a teacher?
Every school in the area will be listed.
The same is true if you want to work for a plumbing company, law firm, counseling office, veterinarian, or financial services firm.
You can also make connections with hiring managers through LinkedIn.
• Business Journals. Identifying companies that are likely employers through articles, happenings, and profiles that indicate a current or upcoming need for your expertise.
• Recruiters/Employment Services. This is the perfect example of direct contact. (“Hey, I don’t know if one of your client companies currently needs someone with my skills, but here is what I have to offer…”)
• Networking. It happens all the time.
Someone in your network says, “You know what? You should talk to John Jones at XYZ Company. They could use someone like you.”
It’s estimated that anywhere from 30 to 75 percent of jobs are not advertised.
How are these jobs being filled?
Through networking and direct contact.
How do you make direct contact?
Call, use your network for an introduction, send an email, or write a targeted cover letter and send it with your resume.
You can also use resume distribution services — like ResumeSpider or ResumeRabbit — to send unsolicited resumes to targeted contacts.
But the real key to success is following up.
When using direct contact, persistence is the key!
Do your homework about companies you are interested in.
Always research the company.
The basic information you need is: Who to direct your resume to within the company and whether the company has jobs (or job possibilities) that match your area of interest, education, and/or expertise.
You can’t just send a general letter to “HR,” or one addressed to “President, ABC Company.”
You have to send it to a person. The best people to contact are managers and executives.
Every unsolicited resume you send should be accompanied by a personalized, targeted cover letter.
You are simply “spamming” potential employers when you mass mail 10, 20, or 100 resumes without researching them individually and customizing a cover letter.
Even if you have the most creative resume, you’re probably wasting your time without supporting documentation.
Instead, take the time to develop a customized cover letter listing how your specific skills and attributes can be assets to the company.
Next, make sure you keep a record of the resumes you’ve sent, using a follow-up log.
When you send out a resume, mention what your next step is — for example, “I will be contacting you within the week.”
Make a note in your calendar, and then follow up as promised. When you’re “spamming” employers, you lose the ability to follow up on the resumes you’ve sent closely.
Ten resumes and cover letters that you follow up on are better than 100 resumes with no follow-up.
Follow up on letters by making a phone call.
If you call and don’t get a response, send an email. Leverage your network to get personal introductions. Your efforts will yield interviews.
You can dramatically increase your chances of being interviewed and receiving a job offer by following up with both your network and the person with the power to hire you to influence the selection process positively.
In your job search, you shouldn’t rule out any job search tactic — just consider how effective it is, and spend more of your time on high-impact tactics like networking and direct contact.
Getting Interviews, But Not Job Offers?
If you’re getting interviews, your resume is doing its job — assuming you’re getting interviews for the types of jobs you want.
But what you do before, during, and after the interview can increase your chances of getting the offer.
Before the interview, do your homework!
Review the company’s website and learn more about the key personnel, the work they do, their clients, and potential areas where you might be an asset.
Google the company.
Look for recent news articles about the company. Review the company’s social media profiles (if they exist).
Check out the company on Glassdoor.com (www.glassdoor.com) and see what current and former employees have to say.
Ask your network for help learning more about the targeted company. If you know your interviewer’s name, Google that too.
Check out his or her LinkedIn profile and social media accounts.
And prepare a list of targeted questions to ask in the interview — 3-5 questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework and that, when answered, will give you additional insight into the company.
In the interview, listen carefully. Your interviewer is assessing your fit with the company, but you are doing the same.
You want to make sure that this job is right for you, too! (Remember, we’re looking for the “right job,” not just “any job.”) Practice your interview skills too!
Be prepared to give a “closing statement.”
If you’re given the opportunity in the interview, be ready to summarize (in 90 seconds or less) why you think you’d be a good fit for the job.
If possible, incorporate in the additional information you’ve learned in the interview itself.
Prepare the key points of this closing statement in advance, but practice it until it sounds natural, not canned or rehearsed.
And before the interview ends, ask if the interviewer needs anything else from you to help with the decision — a list of references, work samples, a 30-60-90 day plan for what you’d do in the first three months on the job, etc.
And don’t forget that it’s okay to express your interest in working for the company specifically!
At the end of the interview, ask what the next step is. You want to know if there is another round of interviews, when it will begin, or when the hiring decision will be made.
Ask if it’s okay to follow-up — and if they’d prefer phone or email?
Immediately after the interview, send a follow-up/thank you note.
Handwritten notes are always appreciated, especially if you can mail them the same day (and the hiring timeline allows sufficient time for it to be sent and received).
Otherwise, an email follow-up is fine.
Express your appreciation for the opportunity to meet, reiterate your specific interest in the job and the company, and confirm the “next step” — whether that’s information you’ve promised to provide or what you’re expecting from the interviewer.
If you don’t hear back from the interviewer in the time you expected to hear from him or her, it’s okay to follow-up. Just remember that hiring often takes much longer than expected, so don’t be a pest.
Be respectful in your follow-up efforts.
An example follow-up email or phone call could state: “You had mentioned that you thought the second round of interviews would start this week, and I just wanted to make sure that you had everything you needed from me to assist in your decision-making.”
If you don’t end up getting another interview — or the job offer — try to follow-up with the interviewer to get feedback — specifically, why another candidate was a better fit.
You may not be able to obtain this information (busy hiring managers may not take the time to respond), but if you can get this type of feedback, it can help your overall job search.
If you can’t reach the hiring manager, watch who is ultimately hired, and assess that person’s professional profile and see if something might indicate a key qualification (perhaps a certification or a past employer) that might have set them apart.
Sometimes you just won’t be able to tell, however, and you must simply move forward to the next opportunity.
Get in the habit of rewarding yourself for effort, regardless of your results. If you put in the effort, eventually, the results will follow.