If you tell me you’re lost in a seemingly unending job search, I probably won’t say, “it’s a really tough job market”. Instead, I’ll try to find out if you’re engaged in a tenacious, strategic search generated by a powerful networking engine. If you tell me you’re not, I won’t be surprised. In more than a decade of coaching job seekers I’ve seen too many bitter senior executives who feel that jobs should fall on their laps, millennials who haven’t had a professional job since a long ago graduation and all manner of job seekers in between who blame their age, the economy, the job market, the government, their industry, their last boss and many other factors for a search that has endured for months or years.
Most job seekers need to face facts: it is within your control to find a job–one that is “permanent” or one that is part of the burgeoning freelance economy. You’re in the driver’s seat. You can make it happen…in any economy, in any job market, at any age, under any circumstances.
Data from 1,900 women who completed my “Job Search Reality Check Quiz” reveals why many job seekers do not have the success they want and need. The first major problem is attitude: less than 30% of my survey respondents say “I feel confident and positive about my job search”. Of course, searching for a job is not fun—and there are bound to be many discouraging days. But most job seekers I’ve met have low energy levels and the aura of defeat. I don’t have special powers to sense this—a lack of confidence and negative energy is evident to everyone a job seeker meets. In my recruiting days I gravitated to high energy, confident candidates—and employers hired them again and again.
Tip #1: Square your shoulders and believe that with a strategic, professional search you WILL find a job that’s the right fit for your talents.
Confidence is often the result of clear direction. Nearly 80% of my survey respondents do not have “a very clear and realistic understanding of the type and level of position I am qualified for at this time.” In other words, most job seekers are shooting at an undefined target. This lack of clear direction prolongs a job search because you can’t get a lot of traction when you search for many different types of jobs at the same time. When you zero in to a general job type and level, you can narrow your search and also network more strategically. If you really have absolutely no idea what you want to do—or what you are qualified to do—the answers will come when you have a lot of networking conversations within your general areas of interest.
Tip #2: Identify your job search target—the type and level of positions that fit your current professional profile.
When job seekers are not sure what they want to do (something that is especially common among returning professional women), they take an “I’ll do anything” approach. Though 50% of my survey respondents think it’s a smart strategy to appear flexible and open to many different kinds of jobs, it’s actually much more negative than positive. You can’t make it the employer’s job to figure out where you’ll fit. They need your best assessment of how your skills and experience fit specific jobs and teams. When you can’t convey your unique talents, employers don’t get the sense you can do any job particularly well. And if you’re not a returning professional, this “I’ll do anything approach” signals sheer desperation after a long and unsuccessful search.
Tip #3: Don’t sell yourself short by giving an employer a very long list of jobs you’d be happy to do.
Some job seekers know what they want to do, but not how to put it in words. When I ask the long-term unemployed what they’re hoping to do in their next professional chapter, I often hear a long and rambling tale. I rarely walk away thinking, “I should have that woman talk to these three people who are influential in her area of interest”. Instead I walk away somewhat confused, knowing that many potential networking connections could be confused as well. 65% of my survey respondents say they do not have an “elevator speech” (no more than five minutes in length) that “quickly summarizes for friends, colleagues, networking contacts and potential employers the most important work I have done in the past, my specific skills and expertise and the type of positions I’m now seeking.” If you can’t articulate what you’re looking for, no one will be able to help you—and every job seeker needs lots and lots of targeted help.
Tip #4: Develop a concise job search elevator speech—and practice it until you can recite it with confidence and ease.
Another way to get targeted help is to have a list of companies that are your key targets. My advice to those who need to inject life into a job search is always to return to Research Square One. It’s a big world out there with vast numbers of companies of every shape and size. Not all industries, jobs or company cultures are a fit for you. Through personal and professional connections you need to learn about the companies in your area of interest. Which companies are particularly focused on your talents? Do you want to work in a very structured corporate environment—or would you be more comfortable in the more entrepreneurial start-up setting? What kind of products or services will ignite your professional interest? Think about the attributes you’d like your next employer to have…and then make a list of company targets. Once you have at least an initial list, you can direct your networking efforts toward those companies. Only 30% of my survey respondents have “targeted and thoroughly researched (via web sites, current media reports, discussions with current or past employees, etc.) companies that appear to be the right fit for my skill set and underlying work motivations”. A lot of time is wasted chasing after random jobs at companies that don’t really fit your profile or interests at all.
Tip #5: Don’t get sidetracked trying to fit your circle into squares: research the companies and jobs that are a great overall fit for your profile.
Even when job seekers know the companies they’re targeting, they’re often not willing to do the networking that would bring them closer to interviews. Networking still is not second nature to most job seekers—more than half of my survey respondents say they are not “totally on board with the fact that my #1 job search strategy must be networking–and I don’t let any discomfort about ‘approaching strangers’ stand in my way.” I’m continually surprised by the number of job seekers who say “I really don’t know that many people” or “I don’t have anyone else to contact”. Through just professional industry or networking organizations, school alumni associations and Linkedin, all job seekers can spend entire days expanding their professional circles. Gone are the days of asking people out for coffee…so much valuable networking can be done well online. Less than 30% of my survey respondents say “I have exhausted every possible personal networking contact from my past jobs, alumni groups, religious affiliations, other school parents, book groups, tennis groups, country clubs, etc.–and I’ve considered every possible way that I know people, who my husband knows, my sister knows, who my friends know, etc.”
Too many job seekers take the more comfortable, easy way out—spending hours and hours shooting their resumes to every email address they can find online. Only about 40% of my survey respondents know that “the greatest percentage of my job search time should NOT be searching for opportunities on company or mass market job boards.”
Tip #6: Accept the fact once and for all that networking is the #1 way that professionals at every level find new opportunities.
When women tell me they can’t take another day of searching for a job, I ask them if, in fact, they do spend entire days on task. Most often I find out that they have not made finding a job a full-time job. (Read my 9 Lives for Women blog post, “A Day in the Life of A Savvy Job Seeker”.) In the final analysis, you have to put the time in—and if you’re currently working that means nights and weekends. It can’t be an hour here and there—it requires a major, sustained effort day in and day out. When you do commit the appropriate time, you truly leave no stone unturned. Only about 40% of my survey respondents say “Whether or not I am technically “unemployed”, I know that when I’m in job search mode I have a full-time sales job. I’ve adopted the traits of top sales professionals–tenacity, resourcefulness and persistence. I get up every morning and think, “how could I do an even better job of packaging and selling myself?”
Tip #7: Strive for a great performance review as you make finding a job a full-time job.
That’s the clincher right there. Top-performing job seekers always land jobs. —KAS
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