by Marsha King, edited by Kelly Bray
The modern job search is evolving so rapidly, you may feel a little lost trying to come up with the right combination of tips that will help you get the job you want. I have compiled a list of suggestions I’ve given friends and colleagues over the years to help “kick start” their job search. These suggestions apply not only to active job seekers but also for anyone who wants to remain updated and marketable, just in case they find themselves actively looking for a job.
Talk to recruiters
As a recruiter, I am shocked at how few people will call me back. I often say, “Recruiters make the world go around.” Recruiters specialize in networking, knowing the job market, knowing who is hiring and making the connections between job openings and candidates. Why wouldn’t anyone take advantage of this resource?
Recruiters can do more than you think. Most importantly, they can help you to understand your current value in the marketplace and how to increase it. They can also help to connect you with organizations and other resources that you are not familiar with.
Sometimes you may feel positive that you do not want the job the recruiter called you regarding. That’s fine, but call them back anyway. Have a conversation with her to find out about the job and then see if you can connect her to candidates you know who may be interested. In doing so, you become known as “a friend of the firm” and may be considered for other opportunities as they arise. Also, it’s a great way to “pay it forward”!
Scan job postings
We all know of various associations and organizations that are specific to our field. They have websites that you can visit and many of them may also have job banks. Take time to carefully study the available positions in these job banks. The purpose of this is two-fold. The first is obvious; these are jobs that you could consider applying for. The second is that scanning these postings will help you to understand the language of your field/industry. Language is constantly changing. The words we used to describe your work a few years ago have become “buzz words” or “clichés”. For example, I used to work in the Personnel department, which eventually became Human Resources, and in many circles, is now call Human Capital. Using the term “Personnel” on your resume will make you look outdated.
Everyone knows how important it is to network but I will mention that we take for granted the various forums we have at our fingertips: neighbors, church, social events, little league games and even the grocery store. Talk to everyone. And try to reframe these conversations from, “I’m talking to these people so that they can help me get a job,” to, “I need to expand my network so that we can be mutually supportive and helpful to one another.” Take the time to find out what others are doing, interested in doing, and how you can help them in this.
Think of networking as an opportunity to learn more about other people and their needs. This will prevent you from coming across as desperate or needy. And again, a theme you will see in this article is “paying it forward.” This is the perfect opportunity to give back while you are trying to help yourself.
As a professional, there are few things more important than staying current. By nature, once we get into a job, we get comfortable and tend to expand our skills only within that job. Accountants tend to only do accounting. IT professionals tend to only do IT work. This is fine if the market for these professionals is always thriving. But when the market drops and the need for accountants diminishes, you may be in trouble. Therefore, while you’re fully engaged in your job or unemployed, it’s still important to continue expanding your skills.
If you are employed, ask for additional assignments or “stretch assignments” on the job. This can not only expand your skill set but may help your managers see that you are motivated and interested in developing yourself. Get additional certifications and outside development. There are limitless opportunities for professional development. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this. Check out the local park district course list. If you are unemployed, do volunteer work that is outside of your areas of comfort. Offer to assist an educator in exchange for a spot in their class. Not only could this help open doors for you but you will feel very rewarded that you gave it your all.
Customize your resume
It’s surprising how many people still use a generic resume for any given job. Big mistake! Before sending a resume to a particular company, find out as much information that you can about them. Go back and tailor your resume to reflect their language, culture and needs. If they are looking for “Project Consultants,” use that title instead of “Project Manager.” It’s the same job with a different title. If an organization is in the midst of rapid growth and you’ve experienced this in your past work history, mention this. It will help the organization see that you may fit in and that you understand the complexities of a rapidly growing organization. These are small nuances but they can make a significant difference for you.
If you know someone who works for the organization that you are applying to, ask them to help you make your resume more reflective of their organization. And if they are willing, ask them to hand deliver your resume to the right person, preferably the hiring manager.
Interview for everything (even if you don’t want the job!)
I know this sounds crazy but hang in there with me. Interviewing is easy to do, but, it isn’t easy to do well. I know a large number of people who would be a tremendous asset to any organization. But, they stink at telling people about themselves. Or worse, they do not want to “toot their own horn.” Interviewing is not the time for humility. This also isn’t the time to spout off buzz words about yourself (“I’m a team player, I’m results-oriented,” etc). This is a time to help an organization assess what you can do for them. This sounds easy but it isn’t, so I always recommend interviewing every chance you get. Interviewing for jobs that you don’t want helps you practice and build your interviewing skills.
After each interview, assess how well you did and what you would have changed. Practice these changes in front of a mirror or with a trusted friend. Practice telling people why you are the best candidate, what makes you different and back it up with examples. Employers want you to prove you are great for the job by showing them how you demonstrated what they are looking for in former jobs. This leads me to my next tip….
Write out behavioral examples of your successes—and failures
Interviewing has dramatically changed over the past decade. Most employers have trained their workforce to conduct “behavioral interviews” where they are trying to move away from questions like, “Tell me a little about yourself” and towards questions like, “Give me an example of a time where you had to deal with a difficult customer. What steps did you take to mediate? What were the results?” The first question is very subjective and will get little information about what the candidate can do. The second and third question try to predict future performance by looking at past performance—a much stronger indicator than subjective intuition. When I hear managers say that they “know it when they see it” or they “let their gut make the hiring decision,” I cringe. While intuition cannot be ignored, getting real world examples of a candidate’s past successes/failures can give employers insight into her future performance. So be prepared for this.
It’s pretty easy to figure out what type of work performance a potential employer is looking for. If an organization is looking for project managers, they will be asking you to describe a time when you had a large, complex project to manage. They will want to know details such as what you did, how it worked, what you would change, etc. You can greatly improve your interview performance by anticipating this in advance and being prepared with examples. I recommend that you figure out 6-10 areas of performance that a potential employer will want to explore and writing out your responses. The point is simply to be prepared and able to articulate examples of your work history that will point to what you can do for a prospective employer.
Most of my interview tips are self-explanatory but again, it’s surprising how easy it is to get into an interview and say or do things that might ruin your chances. Keep in mind that an interview is a pressurized situation and therefore, it’s a lot easier to do something that you wouldn’t normally do. Our normal behavior changes when under stress. Below are a few tips to prevent this from happening.
Never bad-mouth a former employer or employee. Even if they ask, “Have you worked with someone you didn’t get along with?” do not tell them about your former manager that just wasn’t that smart! We’ve all experienced it but this is not the time to vent. Instead, respond by giving them a few characteristics that you don’t find helpful in the workplace (gossip, micromanagement, politics, etc) and that you find it counter-productive.
Put on your “best personality” hat. If you land a face-to-face interview, the prospective employer has already decided that you can probably do the job. They want to explore this in greater detail but what they are really looking for is whether or not they want to work with your personality! You need to convince them that you are easy to work with, professional, low maintenance, low drama, easy to manage and can even be fun at times without losing professionalism.
Remain positive. Even if you have been without a job for a year or more, do not let this get you down. Given the current economy, it’s taking longer and longer to get the right job. If you are feeling discouraged, find a way to hide this during the interview. It’s an instant chemistry killer! Also, try to view your situation as an opportunity to really figure out what you value in work and life. You can be impressive instead of depressed. One thing to keep in mind is that being “unemployed” does not have the same connotation as it once did. Most employers are much more open to unemployed candidates than they once were. Chances are that someone in the interview chain was also laid off at one point. So don’t feel that you are going into an interview with a black mark on you.
And remember, if you are reading this and are currently unemployed, you will get a job. It’s just a matter of time and effort. Do not give up. Use this as an opportunity to be happier, healthier and more prepared for your next employer.