The turkey has been eaten, and so have the leftovers. The presents have been opened, and the wrapping paper and boxes have long been discarded. The Christmas tree is packed away for another year as are the outside lights. Life, such as it is in this apocalyptic pandemic shutdown, continues anew for another year….or at least until the vaccine arrives.
In my last blog I discussed the problems with doing the same things over and over in your job search and expecting a different result. As mentioned, practice makes permanent, not perfect. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to secure new employment, or just a better position the key question becomes: what do you need to mount a successful job search effort? A good place to start is by hitting the job search reset button, and identifying what are the tools you really need to mount an effective job search.
It Starts with a Blueprint
Home improvements, particularly carpentry, is definitely not an area of strength for me. I get nervous around power tools. The prospect of using a buzz saw or power drill fills me with dread.
However, if I were to start a major home improvement project the first thing I would want is a plan on where to begin. Even someone as technically challenged as me would want to know what equipment and tools I would need and/or have immediately available, a vision of what I wanted to create, and a timeline for completion.
Too often, those in job search approach this task haphazardly without thinking through what they have, what they need, how they will approach it, and in what timeframe. While there are variations in every case I would submit there are 10 key resources you need if your goal is to secure employment.
10 Essential Job Search Tools
Action Plan – Plan the work and work the plan. That simple axiom still holds true. When job seekers ask how to organize their time I suggest taking a week and breaking it into large time components: morning, afternoon and evening. Think of each as being 21 four hours blocks of time across 7 days (e.g. 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.; 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.).
Now, go in and block off as many chunks of time as you feel are reasonably necessary to devote to personal and family time, leisure, household chores and other responsibilities. Then, in the remaining blocks, apportion your time according to four different categories:
- Actively reviewing and applying to advertised online job postings;
- Networking with business associates and colleagues regarding employment prospects;
- Contacting and speaking with agencies or search consultants;
- Actively applying to unsolicited opportunities.
I believe there is a sweet spot when it comes to job search. Too much time devoted to it in a given week can lead to frustration, disappointment and depression. Too little is insufficient to help you identify and apply to a critical mass of openings. What is the magic number? I would suggest more than 15 but less than 25 hours per week.
Exit Statement – If you are unemployed it is inevitable that at some point in your search you are going to be asked this question or some variation of it: “So, why did you leave your last position”? If you are employed but looking the question might be phrased as “So, why do you want to leave your current position”? In either condition, you need to have an answer. More important, the answer needs to be honest, concise and convincing.
In framing your answer keep it to no more than a minute in length. Start by providing factual information relating to your position and how long you worked there. Explain briefly your key duties and accomplishments. Then state briefly the reason for your leaving (e.g. “My position was eliminated due to a corporate downsizing” or “My manager and I had a difference in organizational priorities and we decided to part company”). End my explaining the position you are seeking.
It is critical when delivering this message that you not show remorse, anger or vengeance. No prospective employer wants to hire an applicant who is carrying emotional baggage.
Elevator Speech – The elevator speech has many similar elements to an exit statement. However, the primary difference is that it is intended as a summary of who you are, what you do, your level of education, a summary of your work experience and accomplishments, and a statement of what you are seeking in your career.
Tips and tricks on how to frame your elevator speech can be found here in a previous blog from June 2019:
Resume – A good resume is a prerequisite for any successful job search. However, unlike twenty years ago, that resume is never officially complete. With the advent of applicant tracking systems and key word searches you need to tailor it closely to the job posting requirements. In short, your resume is a work in progress and is never technically complete.
Covering Letter – Some may wonder why I chose to include a covering letter here. Doubtless a few will suggest these are redundant. However, I would argue quite the opposite. A good covering letter can bring attention to key points in your resume, or even highlight critical things that are not. However, the reason I like covering letters is that a well written one will speak to an applicant’s motivation and what compelled them to apply initially.
Network – More than perhaps at any other time having a good network is critical to identifying opportunities in the hidden job market. Understanding who is hiring, and for what, is important since may applicants in a lockdown don’t have ready access to face-to-face meetings, informal lunches, conferences or social venues. Getting a jump on the competition is critical to gaining an advantage. A weakened network leaves you vulnerable and dependent on job postings as you primary source for job leads.
Home Office – Having a dedicated space from which to conduct your job search is critical to success. Your home office need not be an executive suite, but it does need to have a desk, be private, and provide easy access to a computer, printer, telephone, etc. Since most interviews in our pandemic environment are now conducted through Zoom, Webex, etc., it is critical that this space be quiet and free from noise and distractions.
Business Cards – In a regular environment business cards would be print based and something to leave with prospective employers or networking contacts. Absent the ability to engage in personal contacts that “business card” complete with logo can become electronic and be affixed to the space beneath your signature in an e-mail.
Linked In Profile – Of all the social media tools that are available to job seekers the most impactful is obviously Linked In. A compelling Linked In profile that summarizes your career and clearly highlights your area of expertise and achievements is critical.
Mentor, Coach or Support Group – One of the most important resources any job seeker requires is someone in whom they can confide who will offer unfettered and honest advice and counsel. Sometimes, job seekers are too close to a situation to appreciate the consequences of their actions. Similarly, they may be too emotionally invested in a process to objectively evaluate what is happening. Having someone who can offer a sober, second thought can be invaluable.
Reward – All of us need rewards. That is especially true for those engaged in job search. Even at the best of times searching for employment can be emotionally exhausting and psychologically draining. This is especially true in these challenging times. So, when an opportunity arises to take a walk, watch a Netflix production, or engage in a favourite pastime, don’t feel guilty about indulging yourself. These days, we all need to find solace and reward when we can.
A Final Thought….
There is no doubt that job search is substantially more challenging now than it was a year ago. The world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. However, there are three ingredients needed to land a new position. First, you need resilience in order to withstand the ongoing challenges associated with conducting a job search in a time of lockdown. Second, you need the ability to pivot and change with the times, and to apply unique approaches. Finally, the third factor for success is a plan. Hopefully, this month’s blog will provide you with some insights on how to hit the job search reset button in order to position you for success.