It can be tempting to attribute a long job search to factors beyond your control. The factors that I hear jobseekers mention include age, experience (i.e. over- or under-qualified), resume gaps, weight, ethnic background, gender, or some other physical feature. While, at times, these factors and biases do cause problems for job-seekers, nine times out of ten I see that the problem is actually in their job-search strategy or execution.
So, here’s a checklist of 10 questions to ask yourself first, before attributing a long search to factors beyond your control. Your answers will help to put you back in the driver’s seat and on the road to the job you want.
1. Are you positioning yourself effectively? In your resume, LinkedIn profile, pitch, and emails, you should be focusing on your target audience’s number-one question, “How can you help me?” This means dropping the jargon that is only relevant to your current or last job, and using the language of your next. See this blog post to learn how to position yourself effectively by identifying keywords relevant to your job target.
2. Are you taking a “targeted” approach? Trying to be all things to all people is a tempting strategy because this way you don’t rule anything out. The problem with this approach, however, is that people are not going to take the time to figure out how you can help them. Or, they will put you in a place you don’t want to be. Having a specific resume and pitch for each job target (that is, each combination of position/job description and industry/organization-type) is the way to go.
3. Are you prioritizing your job targets, instead of going for “everything” at once? As tempting as it is to take the kitchen-sink approach to your outreach, it really helps to prioritize and focus on one thing at a time, with some overlap. You want to be perceived as an “insider” in the industry or profession you are targeting; to do that you need to focus, build your network within your target, practice your pitch and learn more about your target as you go. Reaching out to multiple job targets at once makes attaining insider status in any one of these targets much harder to achieve.
4. Are you going out and getting what you want, or just waiting for the ad to show up or the headhunter to call? The most successful jobhunters know how to build and leverage their network and contact “strangers” directly to get meetings. LinkedIn can be of great help with these two approaches, as discussed in my book Advanced LinkedIn. Don’t just passively drift around in the currents hoping they’ll take you to the island of your dreams. “Actively” seek out that island and then swim to it! That is, spend 80% of your time actively networking and contacting strangers directly who you want to meet, and just 20% on ads and recruiting firms.
5. Are you being proactive at all stages of your job search? Being proactive means you need to be following up, and keeping in touch, with people in your network or people with whom you’ve met. Don’t let these contacts disappear into a black hole! Clients who know how to network often keep in touch with a simple “Hello and update” email. Remember, only 50% of successful networking is actually meeting people. The other 50% is keeping in touch to build real relationships.
A client illustrated the “proactive” approach by following up on an email to a hiring manager with roughly two dozen phone calls (note: he left only one or two messages). He finally got the person on the phone; they thanked him for being so persistent and gave him an interview!
6. Are you communicating effectively? Is your “message” getting lost because of poor delivery? Get feedback from someone on how you come across in all your communications channels – resumes, emails, phone-calls, cover letters, and in-person meetings and interviews.
7. Are you meeting with both the right people, and enough of the right people? At the Five O’Clock Club, we say that you must have six to 10 “things” (i.e. conversations) in the works with people who are in a position to hire you, because five of those six things will fall away through no fault of your own. Don’t just hang all your hopes on that one position for which you are interviewing! Building up enough volume is key to success. Even if you are doing everything right, it’s still a numbers game.
8. Are you targeting enough positions? If you have only 10 companies that you are going for, each with two positions that would be suitable for you (regardless of whether the position is open or filled), that means only 20 positions exist for your job target. It will thus take you forever to get a job because you have to wait for one of the 20 people to leave (or for a new job to be created). The Five O’Clock Club recommends as a rule of thumb to shoot for 200 positions that exist (i.e. open or filled) across all your job targets. Again, it’s a numbers game.
9. Are you spending at least 35 hours a week on your search if you are unemployed, and 15-plus if you are employed? I tell unemployed clients to treat their job search like a full time job. Get to your desk at 9am and leave at 5pm. If you can only spend one hour a day on your job search, you are in for a long search.
One client told me “there are no jobs.” I said well what did you do yesterday? He said, “oh, I spent an hour on my search, and then I had to take my kid to the doctor.” “How about the day before that?” He said “We had family in town so I spent maybe one or two hours on my search.” How about the one before that? “It was my wife’s birthday so I really didn’t get to do much…” He wasn’t seriously looking!
10. Are you having fun? Take breaks from your search and do what you enjoy doing! If you’re not taking care of yourself, it will come through in your interactions with potential employers. Spend at least a couple of hours a day doing something you enjoy. If you are unemployed and make your search your 9-to-5 “job” as I recommend, then when 5pm comes along, let it go. You’ve put in a good day’s work. Tomorrow is another day.