Looking for a new job whether you’re employed or between jobs is like a game of chess. It requires your active participation and intense concentration. And let’s face it: if you’re working, the last thing you want to do after you get home is navigate some company’s career page that may as well have been written in ancient Greek. Conversely if you’re unemployed sending yet another resume off in to the black hole of the Internet is about as appealing as jury duty.
After all, you only have so much patience and can take only so much frustration. But just like in a game of chess you need to have a plan. Before you can put the opposing King in mate, and before you get that job, there are a lot of moves to make. I think this is where it’s easy to lose focus on the game and get stuck.
So how can you get unstuck and avoid the stalemate?
Be specific – you need to clearly identify the job opportunities you’re interested in. Start big and work small. Define the industry or group of related industries where you can use your experience. Next determine who the players are in that space. What positions are they hiring for now? Do your knowledge, skills, and abilities map to any of those roles?
Very often where candidates go wrong is applying to multiple positions at the same company. No doubt the idea is to just get a foot in the door. In some cases it could be lack of experience that drives that strategy or someone who comes from a different industry looking to switch. Regardless understand that companies typically want someone that would need minimal time to learn the job. Unless you have an internal contact willing to advocate your candidacy, your resume will likely be ignored.
Applying only to those roles where your experience and education fits the criteria can also have two additional benefits to your job search. First it shows that you actually read the job posting and through a custom cover letter and tailored resume are able to demonstrate how you fit. And second, and perhaps most important, it can minimize the dreaded “Dear Candidate” letters, where you are thanked for applying and are promised that your resume will be kept on file.
Measure your efforts – the end result of a job search is easy to quantify. You either get a job offer or you don’t. But again it’s about the moves. So what moves can you measure? Plenty!
Networking contacts made in a given week. Set a number that makes sense for your situation. If you’re employed, it may be hard to be on LinkedIn or your personal email all day. However if you’re at home watching The View, you really need to set a higher number. The more connections you make, the more people you interact with, the better the chance of uncovering the next opportunity.
An obvious measure would be the number of resumes sent out. Again though, be strategic. Don’t spray your resume across the marketplace. Be selective.
Next I think would be the number of interviews. Are you getting interviews? This can be the acid test as to whether you are focusing your search on the right industries, companies, and positions. You could further break it down by separating phone interviews from face-to-face ones.
By creating categories you can measure, it helps you understand how your plan is working. If you’re not getting interviews, perhaps it means you’re not sending out enough resumes. Or you could be sending out the right amount of resumes, but the phone interviews aren’t turning in to on-site interviews. It is critical to identify these bottlenecks. And when you do, you need to take corrective action.
Accept Change – No plan is always 100% successful the first time. It requires the ability to adapt and improvise. During the course of the job search for example, you could learn that the role you thought would be a good next step, is actually a step backwards. Or perhaps other factors creep in to your job search like needing to care for a child or parent.
A plan needs to have some contingencies built in. It needs to have some elasticity. If you can do that, then you lessen the risk of losing momentum. And a successful job search is all about moving forward.
Right Now – Okay let’s back it up a bit. You know what you’re going to apply to. Check. You put together some numbers to be able to measure your plan. Check. And you’ve also made the plan flexible. Check. So now what?
All that is left is to actually work the plan! Develop a schedule that works for your current situation. If you’re employed, perhaps it is bringing your tablet or laptop to work and then heading over to Starbucks on your lunch to conduct your search. If you’re at home, you can do the same, of if you’re watching your pocketbook make it the public library.
Whatever time you allot, stick to it. Spend the time to build the habit. The habit will build consistency. Consistency builds momentum.
Time Outs – Whenever you make a plan, you also need to build in some room for fun. Take a time out from your job search. Now that may seem counter-intuitive. You might be thinking that you can lose yourself to distraction easily enough, so why build it in to the plan?
Well I think you have to legitimize it in your own mind. This can be particularly hard if you’re unemployed. After all playing when you should be looking for work is a recipe for guilt. And true, if you play too much, it is counter-productive and can cause you to lose focus.
So creating a “time out” for yourself is not easy and requires discipline, but it does have value in other ways besides keeping you fresh. Now this applies primarily to those who are unemployed, but I have seen it before where the toll of the job search has been so heavy, that it impacts the attitude of the job seeker.
I remember one situation where the person during the course of the interview shared with me that they “were really interested in the opportunity, but had been looking for so long, they figured they wouldn’t get this job anyway.”
Wow! What do you say to that? Companies hire not just on skills, but on attitude. And I completely understand that looking for work can be frustrating, stressful, and maybe even a little humbling, but ultimately people want to work with those they feel comfortable with.
So do take the time to focus on something other than your job search periodically. Keep fresh. A positive attitude can go a long way in making your candidacy stand out.
A good job search plan, like a good chess strategy, is well thought out, but flexible enough to adapt when needed.
You can avoid the job search stalemate by being – SMART – Be Specific, Measure your efforts, Accept Change, do it Right Now, and plan for Time Outs.